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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Make an Impact

Not too long ago at work a customer asked me a question. "Why are you so nice?' She asked. I was unprepared for such a question, and I didn't formulate as great as an answer I wanted. I told myself that if anyone ever asked that again, I would be ready to give a definitive answer.

And just this week, someone asked me the same question, this time a coworker. "Dude, how did you become so nice?" He asked.

There wasn't too much time to chat, (the cashier life) but I managed to give a better answer than before. I showed him my cross chain and said, "This is why."

While I am happy to know that striving to be nice is making a difference, it also makes me sad to see that showing compassion to your neighbor is more of the exception than the norm today. While in theory that could be a discouraging sentiment, it should actually light a fire in your heart to make a difference. You can make that difference wherever you are. In school, in college, at work: everywhere. At first being something like a cashier doesn't seem like a place for making a difference, but as I've learned it greatly is.

It's easy just to be nice to family and friends, but it takes a special compassion to be nice to everyday people in the outside world. When people are rude to me on the job, it's tempting to give back snarky responses. With God's strength, I'm able to avoid that. Jesus acted with love, even to the people who put Him on the Cross. If He can do that, then we should strive to be like that.

Being nice to everyone isn't fake, it's genuine compassion. The world needs more of that. YOU can

Make an Impact

Friday, July 18, 2014

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance Review

The first Evangelion Rebuild movie nicely re-introduced the famous Japanese mecha anime. With cutting edge animation, quality writing and epic action, You Are (Not) Alone is definitely a must-watch for anime fans. It's not a perfect film however, and many of the same problems are amplified in the sequel. You Can (Not) Advance furthers the story slightly. The cliffhanger ending from the previous movie doesn't actually become a real plot point until the cliffhanger of this movie! Not only that, but the unnecessary fan service is nearly doubled. Despite such problems, You Can (Not) Advance remains a quality sequel, though is a step down from the previous movie.

The story opens up focusing on another pilot, Mari. Her Eva is sadly destroyed when she eliminates a runaway Angel. Meanwhile Shinji has seemingly accepted his role of being an Eva pilot. Another new pilot, Asuka, makes Shinji's life a little more hectic. Could she secretly have feelings for him however? Meanwhile Rei is trying to get Shinji and his father together for a quality meal. All this and the Angels keep invading! Even though the movie is technically longer than 'You Are (Not) Alone,' not many truly important things take place. In fact, really the only major thing to happen is in the final minute where the supposed "Third Impact" makes landfall. It can be easy to forget however that Evangelion focuses on the main character and his growth just as much as the overall conflict.

It is great to see Shinji active in his role. His quiet, still-wondering-about-everything persona is still present, but there's solid character development between film 1 and 2. Rei continues to be a compelling focus, though for people who didn't watch the original show her story seems very vague. That is a problem that carries on from the first film: vagueness. Why do the Angels want to get to Lilith so badly? What is the Third Impact? There's so much vagueness that one wonders how exactly it will be paid off. Misato has some very welcome backstory, furthering her character. While it's great to see the main characters develop from the previous movie, You Can (Not) Advance introduces some new key players.

Asuka adds a bit of arrogant loudness to the team. Despite her annoying personality, she has a certain likable charm. She adds some eccentric character to the rather quiet team of Shinji and Rei. The other new pilot introduced, and exclusive to the Rebuild universe, is Mari. Like Asuka, she adds a whole new dimension to the story. In fact, she actually ended being more engaging than Asuka! The final new character introduced is Ryoji. This guy adds a sense of charisma not seen in almost any of the characters. Despite the very strange locker room scene with Shinji, he remained one of the more interesting characters.

While getting a bunch of new characters is good, sadly they are often drowned out by the fan service. No matter how you slice it, there's no justification for fan service in anything. Almost all of it here focuses on kids. There's something really wrong if kids (under 15!) are subject to this type of thing. Evangelion has compelling characters and an engaging story, so why the people doing these movies feel the need to add it is beyond me. The action is very awesome, as you would expect from a theatrical anime film. The Angels aren't cannon fodder, but they're starting to feel like gigantic one-shots. Hopefully in the next two films they'll be explored a little more.

Evangelion's second Rebuild continues Shinji's story nicely enough. That's basically all that continues however, the actual grand part of the plot doesn't really further until the last minute.The final scene was also pretty strange in itself, since it literally comes out of nowhere. The soundtrack is fantastic however, and the fights are as great as they were in the first movie. Also, it's hard to beat the intense scene when the Tenth Angel absorbed Unit-00. Sadly the fan service hurts the overall viewing experience. If it continues to add more and more, it's going to be hard to recommend Evangelion to anyone.


Monday, July 7, 2014

X-MEN: Days of Future Past Review

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the greatest continuity-driven comic book series were the X-movies. 14 years ago, the first X-Men came out. It predates even Spider-Man! The film still holds up well today, but it's the sequel which a lot call the best X-film and one of the greatest comic book movies overall. The Last Stand however is often regarded as the worst of the bunch. While I personally think it's very enjoyable, it does feature some questionable things. The killing of Cyclops and the weakened Phoenix were pretty awful decisions. We wouldn't get another X-film until 4 years later, in the form of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (Which many people thought was worst than X3.) It wasn't until 2011 when First Class came out that the film series started to gain great momentum from the comic book community once again. Just last year saw the release The Wolverine, whose ending led straight into the title film. Days of Future Past shares its name with what is known as one of the greatest X-Men stories of all time, so it had a lot to live up to. It is definitely one of the best X-films yet. Not only is it well-written, but director Bryan Singer in just 2 hours and 11 minutes takes the X-Men universe right where it should be.

Like the comic, the film is set in the future where mutants are being hunted by robots called Sentinels. In order to stop this war from ever happening, Professor Charles Xavier sends Wolverine back into the past to change the future. The story starts out very fast, and very confusing if you haven't read the comic or seen the previous films for that matter. In fact, it is essential to have the seen all the main X-films to fully grasp and appreciate what's happening here. The future is established as bleak and depressing, but with a glimmer of hope. The characters are all established nicely. It is however a shame that such a major character like Bishop is seen for so little time only referenced by name once. Most of the film however takes place in the past.

A complaint a lot of comics fans had with the trilogy is that Wolverine was the main focus and the X-Men almost costars. This is true, characters like Cyclops and Storm were regulated to almost background status in those films so the spotlight could be on Logan. While he is of course a major focus here, the film does an excellent job utilizing the whole cast. Michael Fassbender reprises his role from First Class as the Master of Magnetism. Just like in the aforementioned film, he is very big highlight. While it's always great to see Ian McKellen's take on the character, this younger version is fantastic and easily an Oscar winner. James McAvoy returns as the younger Professor X. Unlike his self in First Class, the film portrays him as a broken, given-up-on-life man. He was good then, and he still is good. Jennifer Lawrence returns also First Class as Mystique. She had a considerable amount of screen time in the original trilogy and First Class, so it's natural that she has a pretty substantial role here. There's not much too complain about, though she isn't quite as engaging as Rebecca Romijin's portrayal from the trilogy.

Hugh Jackman of course does another great Wolverine. Like Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, he's become so much the character that it's hard to picture someone else in the role. While I didn't like Nicholas Hoult's portrayal of Hank McCoy/Beast in First Class, he's pretty solid here, a major improvement.  A controversy surrounding the film was the inclusion of Quicksilver. (Evan Peters.) Next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron will be including him also, so fans saw his inclusion as a bit of laugh from Fox to Marvel. Not only that, many people weren't thrilled with his design. Surprisingly, he ended up actually being a highlight and had one of the most memorable scenes in the entire film. It's sad that he couldn't come with Charles and Logan, because as you'll see later there's a scene where his speed would have been perfect. In fact, it's surprising they didn't ask for his help after breaking Erik out of prison.

This is a very different kind of comic book film. There's not really an official "main antagonist." Both Trask and Magneto can be called the villains, also the Sentinels. Trask (Peter Dinklage) was pretty well established. The Sentinels were one of the most hyped things in the entire movie. They don't disappoint power and portrayal wise. However, they are quite different than the ones we're used to seeing in the comics. Instead of being giant robots, they're more Hulk-size and have the ability to adapt. Not only that, but they can open up their heads and shoot a powerful beam. (An attack that is strikingly similar to the Destroyer's in Thor.) While it would have been nice to see the more classic-looking Sentinels, these bots don't disappoint. While there's a lot of fast paced action, there isn't a whole lot of fight scenes like we're used to seeing in these movies. Because of that, there's no really standout action scene. The greatest scenes include Magneto using the outer edges of a baseball stadium to enclose the White House. The soundtrack is fantastic, by far the greatest from any X-Men film and one of the stronger comic book movie soundtracks.

Days of Future Past is a very good watch with little holding it back. Almost all the performances are excellent, namely Fassbender's Magneto and of course Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. The film is very story based with little fight scenes. If the writing wasn't this good, that'd be a problem. The after-credits scene could use a little work, since anyone who hasn't read a comic isn't going to recognize the character in question. (They should have implanted the letter A somewhere.) Still, the film has many standout scenes that are accompanied by a spectacular soundtrack. By the end, the X-Men universe is back where it should be.