Personal Life

I’m pretty sure I didn’t “get” Prometheus.

Posted by Jonathan Nori on June 17, 2012
Personal Life / No Comments

Apparently I have to write this a second time. Woohoo.

So.

I saw Prometheus opening weekend.

Meh.

In fact, that’s an understatement.

I was looking forward to a triumphant return to a film universe that I really thought was imaginative.

Sadly, much of Prometheus was dull, predictable, or unnecessary. It had bright spots, but this movie will go down as being another Alien Resurrection or Aliens vs. Predator entry in in the xenomorph mythos. The DC Elseworlds Superman vs. Aliens one-shot was better.

The acting was excellent, for the most part. Fans of Michael Fassbender will really get a kick out of his outright creepy no-nonsense portrayal of a David-model android synthetic human. The supporting cast was hugely entertaining, while they were alive. Charlize Theron’s character was very likable. The only disappointment was Noomi Rapace, who seemed to be trying to unsuccessfully channel Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.

As I said before, the cinematography was beautiful. The Prometheus ship itself was gorgeous, and the landscapes and camera pulls and pans always left you wanting to see just a little bit more. (But then, with around 100 years of moving pictures under their belt, Hollywood doesn’t really have a good excuse for bad cinematography these days.)

The music was a letdown as well. With all the talented composers out there, you’d think they would have been able to stumble drunkenly across a single musician who could have written a score that didn’t distract you from the movie. Or maybe that was the point.

My big issues with Prometheus had to do with the plot.

Oh yeah, SPOILERS FOLLOWING.

Seriously. The plot: 35,000 year-old cave paintings directing near-future spacefaring humans to distant planets in search of the “alien Engineers” who created life on Earth? Wasn’t this covered in one of the less-popular Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes?

And don’t get me started on the Enterprise-sized plot holes and Ridley Scott predictability. Rapace surgically removes an alien embryo from her womb before it can kill her, ends up covered in blood with a dozen staples across her belly, and nobody notices her wandering around the ship bloody and delirious? Granted, Scott was busy killing off all the rest of the supporting characters at the time in the cargo bay, with a contrived plot device specifically to kill off people so he didn’t have to deal with them. Sorry, rabbit trail. Back to our blood-soaked heroine: Eventually she stumbles into a room full of people, and proceeds to have normal conversations as everyone ignores the fact that she is STILL IN HER UNDERWEAR AND COVERED IN BLOOD. And nobody is concerned by this?

The xenomorphs were…interesting. This was definitely a setup for a future film addrssing the xenos spread through the galaxy (which, thankfully, was NOT humans’ fault, which may be a new concept to some: Us NOT being to blame for every bad thing that befalls everyone in the entire universe).

But even the failures of the plot are secondary to the real disappointment in Prometheus.

The Message.

Ridley Scott must be feeling mortal these days. The years must be weighing heavily on him in his twilight. Questions of life, the universe, God, Creation, and purpose permeate this film.

Unfortunately, the answers this film provides are nothing less than depressing. “Guess what! We’ve found the Creator of all life on Earth! He’s a 12-foot tall alien with identical DNA to us. Oh, and remember the YHWH of the OLd Testament? Changeable, angry, bitter, jealous, and full of smite? Yeah, these gods are just like that. So, in a nutshell, yeah, god exists, but he’s just a small, petty, changeable, and finite as you are.”

So abandon all hope and despair, because there’s nothing better out there.

Not exactly the message *I* want to pay $12 to hear.

If Prometheus was supposed to be instill me with wonder, fascination, and hope? Yeah, I definitely didn’t get that.

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Shameless Plug (for a book that isn’t mine!)

Posted by Jonathan Nori on February 14, 2012
Personal Life / No Comments

Everyone who knows me knows I like reading science fiction, fantasy, and alternative history books. Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, Stephen Baxter’s alternative histories (Anti-Ice was particularly brilliant), and Tolkien are always at the top of my list.

But I read a pretty eclectic cross-section of those genres. For example, I love the Wheel of Time books, but I just can’t get into Game of Thrones. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books enthrall me, but his Space Trilogy leaves me bored. I only read every other (or so) of Terry Brooks’s Shannara series. I devour Kevin J. Anderson when he writes Star Wars novels, but I don’t find his particular kind of magic works in the world of Dune (that said, I don’t care for Brian Herbert, either; I still like the original Frank Herbert novels best). Much to the chagrin of many of my friends, I enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books (I have a soft spot for YA fiction), and I though the Maximum Ride series from James Patterson was pretty fantastic until the careening downward spiral that was The Final Warning.

So, I thought I’d post about a great little gem I discovered called Birth of the Raven by Rachel von Molsdorf. It’s a fun action/adventure, sword-and-sorcery tale, with some angsty teenage romance thrown in. Just the kind of YA fiction that seems to be popular right now, with Twilight on the way out and The Hunger Games continuing to rise as the next big franchise. I know Rachel, and it took me months to get her to let me read what she’d written, and then almost a year to get her to put up for sale somewhere.

So do me a favor and go over to Amazon.com and tell Rachel how good her book is! She’s needs some incentive to part with the next 3 books that she’s already written. Please?

 

 

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Movie Review: New Moon

Posted by Jonathan Nori on November 20, 2009
Personal Life / 1 Comment

Before I say anything else, let me qualify this movie review. I do not have a uterus, therefore my ability to appreciate this movie may be somewhat lessened. (Or, said another way: “You’re not a girl so you just don’t get it.”)

There won’t be any spoilers here, either, because they just aren’t necessary to talk about this film.

I actually liked the first movie. Yes, the movie was angsty and emo, but it was entertaining. and it had a pretty great soundtrack.

New Moon? In a word: Meh.

The characters are still angsty and emo, but I thought the acting improved somewhat over Twilight. The director didn’t try to dress up Bella Swan, so she still fits the picture of the average, ordinary, non-modelesque girl we are beaten over the head with in the books. Jacob is very likable, even if he does spend most of the movie without his shirt on. I was expecting the wolf pack to have a little more bulk rather than just being ripped, but that’s my own built-in vision of the books at work. And this movie had the largest number ofย  male nipples in a single scene since 300.

I thought some of the scene transitions were confusing–while others were brilliant. A particular moment of nicety? The several-month time gap between Edward leaving Bella and the story picking up again (the music here was also fantastic). I think though that in some ways the movie fell into the trap of not really quite explaining things because, after all, “everyone’s read the book.” More time could have been spent making the Volturi a little more menacing, and making the danger that Victoria posed seem a little more tangible.

There was one big disappointment with New Moon: (Hate is a strong word, but) I really, really, really, didn’t like Alexandre Desplat’s compositions. I felt yanked out of the movie every time an orchestration kicked in. To me, it made the movie feel like a romantic drama (think The Prince of Tides or A Walk to Remember). I only remember hearing very small bits and pieces of the music on the official soundtrack, which I really like. I really liked the music in Twilight. My problem with the music in New Moon is that the orchestral compositions never seemed to fit the tone that the movie was trying to portray.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie. It’s not a great movie, either. If you liked Twilight, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like Twilight, this movie is unlikely to turn you into a fanpire–although I have been told by a number of women that it is very much worth watching just for the wolf pack.

New Moon will probably make a kazillion dollars and negate any grounding of my opinion in reality, so take this review with a grain of salt.

Gadget review: Verizon (Motorola) Droid

Posted by Jonathan Nori on November 11, 2009
Personal Life / No Comments

I have a new mobile phone.

Last Friday, the official launch day, I picked up Verizon’s Motorola Droid phone, in spite of the ridiculous and confusing television ads.

Like the iPhone, it’s an amazing piece of hardware. It’s sleek, fast, and easy to use.

Unlike the iPhone, it has a slide-out keyboard and is super-customizable, among other things.

I almost got an iPhone. I’ve used them. I do tech support for iPhone users. I’ve even dabbled in iPhone app development. But there was one thing on the iPhone that I just couldn’t get past: (Hate is a strong word, but) I really, really, really don’t like the on-screen keyboard.

I’ve lost track of the number of phones I demo’d looking for a new one, but none of them were the slick, simple, advanced device I was looking for. Eventually I settled on an iPhone 3Gs, but when I came across a couple pre-production reviews of Motorola’s Droid, I decided to wait until the Droid was launched before making a decision on what phone to get.

It’s been almost a week since I got the Droid. I like it, but it’s not a phone for everyone.

The phone itself, physically, is solid. It feels solid in your hand. It’s got a bit of weight to it. Like it’s a solid piece of metal. It doesn’t feel “plasticy” or “flexy”. The phone has a nice rubberized coating that keeps it from sliding around in your hand, and on a note that only applies to me, it looks and feels like the same non-slip coating used on Lenovo Thinkpads. The color and styling also matches my Thinkpad, which is a nice touch.

The touch screen is very responsive (a requirement to even think about competing with the iPhone–Microsoft, your Windows Mobile team needs to take note of this!). It doesn’t support multitouch, which I guess for the first generation of the device is okay, but as someone who is very familiar with iPhones, it’s somewhat disappointing. The screen resolution, however, is better than the iPhone 3Gs (at least, it looks better).

And now the feature that sold me: The slide-out keyboard. Droid does have an on-screen keyboard, which is better than the iPhone’s, but I still don’t like on-screen keyboards. The slide-out on the Droid feels very solid under your thumbs, and has a nice, smooth slide. The keys light up, which is useful in low-light situations. Unfortunately, the keys are fairly small and smashed together. I think the real estate used for the d-pad on the right could have been better spent making the keys a bit bigger. But the keyboard is still quite usable.

The Droid has 4 electrostatic (meaning they aren’t actually buttons, but spots sensitive to touch, like the touch screen) “soft keys” (meaning the keys themselves can be reprogrammed for different functions) below the main screen. They’re pretty useful, but can take some getting used to for someone with iPhone experience. Blackberry users will be able to make the transition a little easier, I would guess. One of the keys is a “menu” button that opens up whatever menu options are available for whatever program you happen to be running.

For future revisions, I have a suggestion for the soft keys: Make the bar above the keyboard electrostatically sensitive too, to make it easier to scroll vertically when you have the keyboard open. I find myself trying to use the “Motorola” logo as a scroll bar when reading my e-mail in landscape mode.

Like the iPhone, the Droid also has an application store, called “Market.” Unlike the iPhone, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quality control or compatibility testing for the Android SDK market. I’ve downloaded a handful of applications, and several of them have frozen my phone so badly that a hard reboot was required. On the other side, there are some incredible applications for the Droid. I’ve already gone wardriving with my phone, and I’ve picked more than 100 wifi points in Shippensburg, many of them unsecured and configured with default router passwords.

The iPhone’s App Store is significantly more mature than the Market at this point (but Apple has had a several-year head start), but it shouldn’t take much or this to even out. I mean, if people can program something like Fieldrunners (my absolute all-time favorite game on the iPhone) in Objective-C then I would be real surprised if I doesn’t show up for the Droid rather soon (hint, hint).

The Droid is extremely customizable in ways that Apple would never even consider for the iPhone. You can load your own programs on the device, change your icons, replace the default e-mail and text messaging apps, and even download different on-screen keyboards. One of my favorite customizations is the wallpaper. The wallpaper you choose is shown behind the phone menu at all times, even when unlocking the phone. (You can see my current phone wallpaper here.)

Today I decided to run a battery stress-test on the Droid, and I can only describe the battery life with one word: Epic. My phone spent more than 12 hours unplugged today, and six-and-a-half of those hours were spent streaming Pandora radio without wifi, using the internal speakers to play the music. I also sent and received a number of phone calls, text messages, and e-mails, and checked Facebook and The Weather Channel. My phone was still at 10% battery when I got home. I’ll say it again: EPIC battery life. (At least, more epic than an iPhone.)

(If you’re curious as to what I listen to on Pandora, here are the stations I was listening to today: [Angels & Airwaves], [Delirious?], [Vindicated], and [Howard Shore]. I have more than 20 stations.)

Overall, I’m very happy with the Droid. Motorola’s finally got a smart phone winner on their hands. ๐Ÿ™‚

New Rock Band Music!

Posted by Jonathan Nori on October 10, 2009
Personal Life / No Comments

Organizing links to new music I need to buy for Rock Band night:

Tribute by Tenacious D
Kryptonite by Three Doors Down
So Cold by Breaking Benjamin
I Will Not Bow by Breaking Benjamin
Ironic by Alanis Morrisette
Head over Feet by Alanis Morrisette

I need more Microsoft Points. Again.

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Jesus meets the Lord of the Rings

Posted by Jonathan Nori on September 03, 2009
Personal Life / No Comments

Last week saw the premiere of the orchestral arrangement of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The premise is pretty simple: Show The Two Towers, but without the musical soundtrack. The music is all performed by a live orchestra, while the movie is playing.

I saw The Fellowship of the Ring last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was very surprised, however, at the sheer number of people who had never actually seen the movies. Okay, not surprised: shocked, dismayed, and aghast. To me, not having seen Lord of the Rings is very nearly one of Paul’s unforgivable sins, ranking up there with not having seen Star Wars, Back to the Future, Aliens, or The Princess Bride.

But enough about my life as The Critic.

What I really wanted to post about was this car I saw while leaving the Wolf Trap center:

Car seen at Wolf Trap

Notice the sticker above the brake light, and then notice the license plate. There were large door-sized posters on each side of the car, but I was already embarrassing everyone who was with me, so I settled for this one crappy photo.

So yes, I’ll agree with the sticker, but with the caveat that church is spelled with a lower-case “c”. “Church” with a big “C” is something that true believers can’t “come out of”, because the “Church” is the body of believers. A “church” is just a building, or a grouping of like-minded people, or any other “Christian” event where Christ is not present.

And on to the license plate: KJV only. Really? Of all the positive, encouraging, life-affirming, Christ-affirming messages you could preach, THIS is what you get a vanity license plate for?

What happened to peace, love, and justice? [Insert your own “In the name of the moon” joke here]

I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that the driver of this car wouldn’t find my current favorite translation of the Bible to be very, well, “canonical” isn’t the right word…but I’m not going to re-write this sentence to be able to use the word “heretical”.

I would imagine that this translation would also be unsuitable. And this one. And especially this one.

Oh, and if you’re the owner of the car in the above photograph, shoot me an e-mail. We can get together, throw back a few beers, and argue over who has the best translation. Or we could duel it out in Rock Band. ๐Ÿ™‚

Harry Potter and the Luke-Warm Christian

Posted by Jonathan Nori on July 20, 2009
Personal Life / 1 Comment

Okay, so the headline was really just to get your attention. And it was a cute play on the “Half-Blood Prince” title. ๐Ÿ™‚

Last week my wife and I went to opening night of HPatHBP. We’re both fans of the books, and the movies do a passable job. But that’s not what this column is about.

No, this column is about why like Harry Potter.

You see, I’m not afraid of Harry. Well, not just Harry, but Ron and Hermione and Draco Malfoy and Dumbledore and Voldemort. They don’t scare me. They don’t threaten my faith any more than Ariel or Ursula, Aurora and Maleficent, Jack, Lili, and Darkness, or Charles Xavier. My faith is secure. It may not be exactly the same faith as yours, but my faith in the forgiving power of Jesus and the existence of Heaven and Hell (again, though, maybe not in the same way you believe in them) is not going to be brought to its knees by a modern-day fairy tale about a boy and his wand.

Words have power, but only as much power as you give them. I often feel that the people who are the most threatened by Harry are threatened not because he’s “bad for the kids” or because he breaks the Biblical warning against witchcraft, but because they don’t walk in the supernatural themselves.

There is a massive world beyond what we can see. Humans intrinsically know this. We have a deep, inborn desire to know and experience a realm where the laws of physics as we know them don’t apply. I think the real reason Christians hate on Harry Potter so much is because he reminds us of the awesome supernatural powers that we choose not to wield through our safe Christian lives. This doesn’t mean Harry Potter is for everyone, just that it doesn’t threaten my faith or belief in divinely supernatural power of God.

I had a great conversation with someone last week where I got to explain this in-depth. I wasn’t recommending they see the movies or read the books, nor did I need to defend my own enjoyment of the story. Instead, it was a refreshingly adult conversation about how different people walk in different ways, and how we have all sinned, but not necessarily in the same ways.

As Christians, each of us has a journey to make. The destination for us all is the same, but the path is different. We are all focused on the Son, but we all started in different places and follow different roads.

There will plenty for me to be judged by when I meet the Almighty. I’m fairly certain that Harry Potter will be pretty far down the list.

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Book review: The Twilight Saga

Posted by Jonathan Nori on February 08, 2009
Personal Life / No Comments

So I finished reading Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books this week.

Contrary to popular belief (at least if the authors I work with are to be believed), I do read books published by someone other that Destiny Image. Shocking, I know. Try to remain upright.

And sometimes, I even read non-Christian books.ย  Again, try not to faint.

This series was pretty good. Once you get past wanting Bella to get eaten by something, anything, that is. She’s whiny and angsty. Although I’ve heard on pretty good authority that this is fairly common for teenage girls.

Meyer’s writing improves over the course of the series, which is nice. I read books by new writers all the time, and Stephenie Meyers shows a clear desire to improve her writing. I wish more writers were like that.

There is probably a pretty good chance that if you’re reading this blog that you’ve never read any of the Twilight books. Because of that, I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I do want to talk a little about the books.

First, although this is categorized as Young Adult (YA) fiction, I have found that only thing that really eparates YA fiction from Adult fiction is the presence of discussion questions in the back of the book.

Second, these books are really well written. The characters are well-developed, and each has their own motivations for the way they act, and their attitudes. Some characters are flat, but when they’re just playing background for the larger picture, its not really necessary to flesh out everyone, particularly when you have so many characters to deal with.

Third: After 30 years of vampires being defined by Anne Rice, Stephenie Meyer is refreshing. Although I still consider Memnoch the Devil to be one of the best vampire books I’ve ever read, Twilight comes in a close second. Meyer has fun plot twists, hilarious conversations, identifiable heroes, vegetarian vampires, and werewolves (well, kinda, but I won’t spoil it for you).

Meyer never gets preachy, either. Something I’ve noticed in YA fiction is the apparent need by authors to preach their worldview, belief system, social change agenda, or cause du jour. James Patterson and the Maximum Ride series is a good example of that kind of nonsense (note to readers: Do not waste your time or money on Max Ride 4: The Final Warning. It is 300 pages of global-warming-is-killing-the-world-by-causing-giant-evil-hurricanes ridiculousness).

Final analysis? If you like fiction, read the Twilight series. It’s good, clean fun.

And yes, I know I just said “good, clean fun” in relation to vampires to a readership that is primarily Christian. Deal.

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