The Adjustment

This chapter of my life would make a good movie. Or maybe hire a camera crew to follow me around, create a reality TV show that would make a studio executive somewhere very rich. Call it Square Geek in a Round World. It's a true fish out of water story: a nerd from the suburbs tries to figure out life as a first-time farmer.

The one with the wild hair is Ringo.

Sure, I spend most of my work day in front of a computer. But at nights and on the weekends, I'm doing things I've never done before.

Like performing triage for a bunch of chickens rescued from an abusive and neglectful owner.
Like installing an electric fence.
Like riding a four-wheeler at sunset.
Like stacking a ton of hay.
Like picking up a warm egg seconds after it was laid.
Like watching a dozen deer run through the back yard.
Like milking a goat.
Like drinking fresh goat milk.
Like drinking fresh goat milk mixed with strawberry rum.
Like herding ducks out of the garage.
Like herding geese out of the garage.
Like herding chickens out of the garage.
Like learning we should keep the garage door closed.
Like loading a nervous horse into a trailer.
Like driving a truck.
Like driving a truck while towing a horse trailer.
Like driving a truck while towing a horse trailer containing a nervous horse.

I'm still a nerd though. I play video games and board games, read comic books and horror novels, watch movies, and binge my favorite Netflix series. I still do those things; I also drive t-posts and name our goats after musical instruments. Right now, there is a scratch on my left arm from a baby duck (GoGo) who likes to climb on me, and a scratch on my right wrist from a young Flemish giant rabbit (Flash) looking for food. There are scrapes and bruises on me for which I can't identify a cause. There is alfalfa inside my shoes and quite probably poop of some variety on the soles. Early mornings are now a way of life. I've used my pocket knife more in the last two months than I have ever used one in my entire life.

There is still room to grow and lots to learn. I can saddle a horse, but I still confuse the difference between a bridle and a halter. I know latigo is a thing, but I couldn't tell you what it is. Annie and I have a goal of riding the horses through a drive through, but we also need to spend more time taking them off our property first. Driving the truck forward with a trailer is easy, but I need to work on backing it up without jack-knifing. We have one pasture fenced in but need to do more. The hot tub needs fixed. I need to figure out how to put siding up on the barn's exterior. And I should practice milking the goat more.

The short one is Viola.

The country life also has benefits. The ridgeline to our west blocks out most of the light pollution from the city of Spokane so clear skies at night are filled with the expanse of stars. It's also fascinating to watch storms roll in over that ridge and nothing is more relaxing than watching the sun set behind it from our back porch while sipping on a homemade cocktail. Farm-fresh eggs make a delicious breakfast. Same with the fresh milk. Our corner of paradise is literally a scenic paradise. The sunrise chores, labor intensive projects, and upkeep of the house is exhausting, but I also sleep harder and more soundly than I have in years. Studies show the presence of animals is good for mental health and time in the nature eases symptoms of depression; I can provide empirical evidence to support those claims. Hearing our goats bleat, holding a baby turken, the flock of poultry and water fowl swarming around me when I feed them, one of the dogs using me as a pillow, seeing the look of happiness on my kids' faces after they trot on the horses; it all brings me joy. The work is getting easier. The last load of hay felt lighter than the one before it. I'm also losing weight at a faster rate than any other attempt I've made at dieting.

I'm falling in love with our rural life yet maintaining my nerd roots. It's a clash of cultures and a work in progress. Nothing ever goes right the first time, but we get it eventually. This story could make an entertaining movie or television special. So, if you know any producers, send them my way.


Revisiting the MCU

Avengers: Infinity War, is out. Before I take the kids out to see it, we’ve spent the last several weeks on a Marvel movie binge. Until now, my oldest has only seen three of the eighteen movies. Zu and JJ haven't seen any of them. My obsessive tendencies wouldn't be comfortable allowing my kids to see the culmination of ten years’ worth of stories without seeing those preceding tales. They need to know what happened so I don't have to explain it in the middle of the newest movie.

image found on Reddit

Along the way, I noticed some recurring themes and connecting threads between the various films I had not noticed the first time (or second or third times) I watched them. Seeing them all back to back in succession provided a new and refreshing perspective and I am more excited to see Infinity War now than I ever was before. I've also concluded there is a topical filter for each of the three phases; despite different characters, directors, plots, and style, it seems all the movies are about the same thing.

Before we all head out to the theaters en masse to see (what might possibly be) the biggest blockbuster ever, I'd like to review the road so far and explore the thematic joints and tendons (intended or otherwise) linking the films into one functioning body. Warning, there will be spoilers.

The theme I found in Phase One is Responsibility and Control.

image found on Pinterest

In Iron Man, a wealthy, playboy, genius, CEO of an arms manufacturer learns to take responsibility for his actions after being kidnapped by a terrorist organization who used his weapons to further their agenda. The ordeal changes his perspective and he begins to take ownership for his previous actions and his impact on the world, telling a news conference "I had become a part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability."

In The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner attempts to suppress his powers because he feels responsible for the damages he causes when he transforms into the Hulk. The military wants to recreate the experiment that created the Hulk and it is Banner’s responsibility to stop them. He learns that he cannot get rid of the Hulk inside him, so he uses it to stop a madman then retreats to the Canadian wilderness to practice controlling it.

In Iron Man 2, Tony’s life is out of control and multiple parties fight for ownership of the Iron Man suits. The government believes the Iron Man suit should be publicly regulated, Ivan Vanko wants control of it because his father helped Howard Stark (Tony’s dad) develop the arc reactor, Justin Hammer wants control so his company can reproduce and sell it, and Tony believes he should have sole control of the technology because he invented it and it is his responsibility.

In Thor, brothers Thor and Loki compete to replace their father Odin and control Asgard. However, Thor is reckless and irresponsible, so Odin punishes Thor by stripping him of his powers and banishing him to Earth. Loki deceptively takes control of Asgard and Thor's friends travel to Earth to bring Thor home. Ultimately, Thor assumes responsibility, offers himself as a sacrifice, proves himself worthy, and admits he is not ready for the responsibility of being king.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers believes it is his responsibility to fight in World War II. Unfortunately, he's too scrawny and is rejected from enlisting. He's recruited to participate in a super soldier experiment which makes him bigger, stronger, and faster. When he hears his childhood friend's squadron was captured and held as POWs, Steve takes on the responsibility of rescuing them. After locating and destroying several Hydra bases, Steve sacrifices himself to prevent a plane full of weapons from being detonated over an American city.

In The Avengers, Loki appears on earth and takes control of a powerful artifact. Nick Fury brings together Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow as the only people on Earth capable of stopping Loki. They are joined by Thor who feels it is his responsibility to stop his brother.

The theme I found in Phase Two is Identity.

image found on Pinterest

Iron Man 3 follows The Battle of Manhattan (the climatic scenes from The Avengers). Tony suffers from insomnia and panic attacks from his involvement. He spends all his time building dozens of Iron Man suits where he finds his identity. He doesn’t know who he would be if he didn't have his armored suits. Meanwhile, a brilliant scientist named Aldrich Killian attempts to establish his identity after being rejected by Tony Stark a dozen years earlier at a New Year's Eve party. And a struggling actor finds his identity portraying a terrorist to cover up the negative side effects of the Extremis virus developed by Killian.

In Thor: Dark World, Thor is trying to figure out where he belongs. Is he a Hero of Earth or a hero of Asgard? He cannot be in both places. After saving both realms from the fulfilment of a cataclysmic prophecy, he declines an offer to take the throne of Asgard and returns to Earth.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve tries to find his place in modern society. He also learns his old friend Bucky wasn’t killed during World War II; Bucky was experimented on and brainwashed by Hydra to be a biologically and mechanically enhanced assassin. Unfortunately, he doesn't remember who he is or anything from his past, including his friendship with Steve.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, a group of strangers discover their identity and purpose together. Peter Quill is an orphan kidnaped from Earth at a young age and raised by bandits. He wants to make a name for himself separate from the Ravagers. Gamora and Nebula were adopted by a tyrant and trained to be his personal assassins. Both want to be free from their life, Nebula wants to kill her adoptive father but Gamora wants to make enough money to run away. Rocket is a genetically engineered raccoon whose best friend is a sentient tree named Groot. The pair are looking to make a fortune as quickly as they can. Drax is a soldier seeking revenge against Ronan, a powerful alien who murdered Drax's wife and kids. Each of the guardians have their own motives, yet they are all lost and broken individuals with no family. After saving the universe, they stick together because it is the closest thing to a family they'll ever find.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, everyone is struggling with their identity. Tony doesn’t want to be a hero anymore. War Machine and Hawkeye are trying to establish their place as a part of the team. Natasha and Bruce see themselves as monsters yet find solace in each other. Tony and Bruce program Ultron, an AI software intended to be a peacekeeper, but Ultron decides the best way to create peace on earth is to kill all life on earth. Th Vision (a living android created by Ultron) isn’t sure of who or what he is. Wanda and her twin brother Pietro must decide if they are going to be antagonists bent on revenge or heroes helping save lives.

In Ant-Man, Scott Lang, a petty thief and ex-con: to "earn that look in your daughter's eyes, to become the hero that she already thinks you are." He’s given that opportunity by Hank Pym, who gave up his identity as Ant-Man several years ago after losing his wife on a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. Hope believes she should wear the An-Man suit, yet Hank refuses to let her because he fears losing Hope the same way he lost her mom.

The theme I found in Phase Three: Consequences. Either facing the consequences of our own actions or suffering the consequences from the actions of others.

image courtesy of Consequence of Sound

In Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers fight over the consequences of all their previous missions. The UN drafts the Sokovia Accords to hold powered individuals accountable for their actions. This is the result of damages done in Manhattan (The Avengers), Washington DC (Winter Soldier), Sokovia (Age of Ultron), and Lagos (beginning of Civil War) where several Wakandan humanitarian workers were killed. Some heroes submit to UN sanctions while others rebell against it. Their choices are amplified when Steve Rogers sets out to save his friend Bucky who is framed for detonating a bomb at the UN, killing the King of Wakanda. Everyone picks a side and suffer the consequences.

In Doctor Strange, Dr Steven Strange attempts to avoid consequences. He’s a brilliant surgeon but a careless driver and irreparably injures his hands in a car crash. Unable to work, he spends his fortune looking for someone who can heal him. He eventually travels to Kamar-Taj and meets the Ancient One who promises he can heal himself through learning mystic arts. The Ancient One faces the consequences of breaking the laws of nature to prolong her life. A former student of hers, Kaecilius, faces consequences for seeking eternal life and bringing Dormammu to earth. And Mordo grows disillusioned with the way magic is used to bend the rules and seeks to enforce consequences on all who practice magic.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 has everyone involved facing consequences. Yondu and his crew is exiled from the Ravager community for child trafficking. Yondu also faces a mutiny for going easy on Peter Quill. Peter ignores the warnings of his friends after meeting his biological father. Rocket wrestles with the consequences of being an experiment and feeling alone in the universe. Groot is now a baby because of his self-sacrificial act at the end of the first Guardians movie. Gamora and Nebula fight through the consequences of their sibling rivalry. Mantis realizes her error working as Ego's servant. And all the Guardians face the consequences of stealing valuable and powerful batteries from the Sovereign.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker faces several consequences. For ignoring his school work, skipping classes, and quitting his extra-curricular clubs. For being over-zealous as a superhero. For being careless in stopping a bank robbery, interrupting a black-market weapons sale, and trying to apprehend an arms dealer alone. For ignoring Tony Stark’s advice. For the villain’s daughter to the homecoming dance. For keeping secrets from his aunt.

In Thor: Ragnorok, Thor, Loki, and all inhabitants of Asgard face the consequences of Odin’s death. Loki is also held accountable for his deceptions. Bruce Banner wrestles with the consequences of being the Hulk. Valkyrie wrestles with the lose of all her friends and fellow warriors. And the Grandmaster is confronted by his former subjects and the consequence of running the gladiatorial games on Sakaar.

T’Challa also deals with the consequences of losing his father, T’Chaka in Black Panther. More than learning to be king of Wakanda, he also faces the consequences of his father’s choices, which include the return of an exiled warrior whose father was killed by T’Chaka. Wakanda is thrown into conflict when Warmonger returns, and he accepts his consequence for his chaotic and short rule over Wakanda.

Of course, I could be reading more into these movies than I should. Perhaps my interpretations here are figments of my imagination. And there are more to these films than my simple explanations. For example, Iron Man and Doctor Strange both tell redemption stories. Age of Ultron and Winter Soldier both explore the topic of trust. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is filled with resolving daddy issues. And Black Panther is about cultural identity and social justice.

Maybe Infinity War will align with the thematic element I found common in the rest of Phase Three. Or not. I’ll find out soon. Until then, please don’t spoil it for me.


Rampage: a review

I wanted to write an eloquent review of Rampage. I started, then deleted a draft detailing my love for the original arcade game in the late 80's and early 90's. It followed into my enjoyment of the console versions released on the original PlayStation and later for XBOX. Let's be realistic though. Rampage is an atrocious movie. It is undeserving of such an articulately composed review. So, I'll be blunt. This movie should not have been made.

Even though video games usually do not translate into quality cinema, I still had tempered expectations for Rampage. I anticipated a big, stupid, yet somewhat fun film. It delivered on the big and stupid, but failed to provide any fun. When compared to the irresistible and cathartic amusement of its source material, it is unfortunate an unforgivable for the theatrical interpretation to be such an abysmal mess.

this was fun, image courtesy of Bally Midway

As for where the movie version of Rampage went wrong, let's start with the basic plot. Vulture published an article claiming "Why Rampage Is the Most Faithful Video-Game Adaptation Ever Made" yet provided no evidence of the film's faithfulness. Because it's not faithful at all. Rampage (the game) was a simple story about a giant lizard, ape, and wolf destroying one city after another. Rampage (the movie) had a convoluted story about weaponizing genetic modifications, a primatologist's relationship with his best gorilla friend, and corporate espionage. It was also (kinda sorta) about a giant lizard, ape, and wolf destroying some of one singular city. The only continuity between the two mediums is that big monsters destroyed some buildings. In the video game, the monsters were once humans transformed by exposure to toxic chemicals. Lizzie, George, and Ralph then traveled the world attempting to destroy all the cities where they found chemical plants ran by their employer, ScumLabs. In the movie, ordinary animals were exposed to growth hormones from illegal gene manipulation experiments conducted on a space station and drawn to the corporate headquarters of Energyne by some sort of undetectable radio signal. Some of those animals mutated to include DNA of other creatures. For example, the wolf can glide like a flying squirrel and throw quills like a porcupine. Meanwhile, the gorilla was only supersized versions of his original body.

Beyond deviations from the game's origin story and minimal plot, there is much more to the movie Rampage worth complaint. The CGI was inconsistent - impressive at best and shoddy at worst. While the fur and skin creature effects looked great, there were scenes in the movie where it was obvious you were watching The Rock in front of a green screen. The bad guys were just bad. Not so-bad-we-love-them, but over the top, mind-numbingly cheesy, and so bad it's not even enjoyable to watch - like a humorless version of Pinky and The Brain. Anything hinting at their motives was incoherent. The game's original arcade cabinet showed up in the background of several scenes but only as decoration. No one played or even mentioned it; its existence is more a self-congratulatory salute from a filmmaker trying too hard than it is a celebratory nod to the franchise's fans. The only logic of the film's plot is to supply the main characters with quippy one-liners, whatever might look cool to a seven-year-old so they can sell toys, and convenience as a crutch for sloppy screenwriting/lazy storytelling. There are no explanations why the wolf had DNA spliced in from other species while the gorilla did not, or why the crocodile grew so much bigger than the other monsters. Police and military are portrayed as incompetent buffoons for no apparent reason. Characters are introduced and disposed of faster than it takes to flush a toilet. The primatologist has a lengthy backstory including combat with Army Special Forces, working as an anti-poaching officer on African wildlands, and extensive philanthropic work because why not. He's an expert at everything and would be considered over-powered he was an actual videogame character. On top of all of that, the gorilla (who communicates through sign language) has the inappropriate, dirty, perverted sense of humor of a junior high aged boy, and failed to learn how jokes are funny the first time, not funny the second time, and annoying any time after that. Finally, for a film based on a game where the sole purpose was destroying things, the movie's destruction was disappointingly minimal. They spent too much time with intrapersonal conflict between the main characters, the villains hatching their schemes, the military planning action then watching it unfold from a remote location, pointless conversations, and jokes beaten to death through repetition.

The only redeeming quality in Rampage is the trio of heroes. Duane Johnson (the primatologist), Naomie Harris (the genetic engineer and former Energyne employee), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (rogue government agent) fully embraced the silliness of their roles. It's as if they knew they were making a bad movie so they might as well enjoy doing it - which is good for them because I did not enjoy this movie. I really wish I could recommend this movie but I can't. It failed to live up to my lowest of low expectations. It was big, dumb, and boring. It isn't even worth the price of popcorn at the theater's concessions and I've now wasted more words on Rampage here than it deserves.

this was not fun, image courtesy of New Line Cinema


The Borderlands Parenting Method

As my kids get older, I sometimes think parenting is going to get easier. It doesn’t. To be fair, it doesn’t get harder either. Instead, it gets different. Or maybe different is harder. By the time the difficulty of raising a child increases, your skill as a parent has also improved so what others see as more challenging is not of greater difficulty to you. Just different.

I could be wrong though. Maybe parenting does get harder as kids grow up. Perhaps the difficulty level remains constant. Either way, one fact remains true, it doesn’t get easier.

I’ve spent time pondering how things change as my kids grow up. I linger on the issues they face and the best strategy to deal with each individual challenge they experience. I’ve engaged in conversations of how it sometimes seems harder, yet at the same time it only feels like a different kind of difficulty. As I try to explain what being a parent is like to me, my mind wanders to a motley collection of treasure hunters on the alien planet Pandora.

Wait, what?

Pandora is the setting for the Borderlands series of video games. Gaming is one of the ways my kids and I bond. My oldest and I have been playing the first Borderlands game together, going through the story in co-op. Along the way, he’s learning the value of teamwork, problem solving and strategic planning skills, the payoff of trial and error, and relief from dumb luck.

Borderlands is one of my favorite games from the last ten years. A unique art style, seamless blend of a first-person shooter with role-playing mechanics, adventurous Indiana Jones styles story that’s part sci-fi and part western.

Players select one of four treasure hunters, each possesses an individual skillset so each character plays differently. They set out to find a mythical vault on a remote mining planet inhabited by bandits, savages, rakks, and skags. Along the way, you search every locker, toilet, and pile of sticks for money, ammunition, and health kits. You protect locals, take odd jobs, and work as a mercenary while accumulating the ability and powers needed to defeat increasingly bigger and stronger enemies. You choose your missions based on your skill level, careful to avoid those tasks too difficult or dangerous for your character.

image courtesy of 2K Games

While Christian and I have enjoyed our time facing each trial as we explorer Pandora, I realized we were playing more than a game. Our button mashing translates into an allegory for my role of a father.

When you start the game, the first enemies are weak and easily defeated. Yet the character you play is inexperienced and powerless, so those wimpy bandits are challenging for a new player. As you battle ravenous creatures and face off against the violent profiteers, your strength grows. With new powers, those early enemies seem much easier to overcome. You can kill them with one shot instead of expending your entire supply of bullets on a lone thug. However, to continue the main story, you must tackle bigger and badder foes. Missions are progressively more perilous. Boss battles increase in difficulty. Objectives are harder to achieve. The final mission is more difficult than the first, yet it isn’t unsurmountable. It’s a different kind of difficult because your abilities grow along with the power of your enemies. A seasoned player will struggle through later stages of the game the same way a first-time player will struggle through the initial battle.

Just like parenting. With more guns.

Nothing really prepares you for your first child. Read all the books you want. Educate yourself and get advice from experts. You can be mostly ready. Sooner or later though, your child will do something so mind bogglingly absurd your only logical response will be frozen terror and the sudden recognition you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.

A newborn presents many challenges for first time parents. Diapers are confusing to someone who’s never had to change one before. There are products like wipes and powders that must be juggled with a circus performer’s skill. Once you kinda get the hang of it, your baby will pee in your direction (perhaps on you) the moment their privates are free of the confines of their diaper. Dressing your child for the first time can be confusing, and you might feel like you need a degree in chemistry if you want to prepare their bottle with the correct formula to water ratio.

In retrospect, these tasks are simple. After a few months of changing diapers, you could probably do it blindfolded. You can strip them of one outfit and into a change of clothes fast enough to elude notice. Bottle feedings become so routine you’ll inevitably fall asleep while holding a bottle in your child’s mouth. When they cry, you’ll know their either tired, hungry, or poopy; it’ll be trial and error trying to figure out which. The things you once thought difficult will become second nature. You complete these tasks on instinct and muscle memory.

Yet, as you find certain aspects of raising a child easier, new challenges arise. Your kid begins to walk and you quickly discover your preemptive attempts to baby-proof your home were woefully inadequate. When they transition from milk to solids, baby foods will prove to be a more difficult medium for feeding your child. I’ll promise the first time you try to shove a spoon in their mouth, more food will get on the outside of them than the inside. Again, you’ll figure it out. It’ll get easier and at the same time get harder. They get older and bigger and present new challenges.

You’ll face sickness and accidents. You’ll corral crying children in the middle of a grocery store under the judgmental glare of strangers. You’ll fend off the beggings of a toddler who wants only wants you to buy them a treat. You’ll tackle teaching them to dress themselves, brush their teeth, ride a bike, throw and catch a ball. You’ll struggle through school enrollment and dropping them off at their first day of kindergarten.

There’s more. Soon you’ll navigate the world of homework, parent-teacher conferences, school bullies, extra-curricular activities, dating, and juggling all the schedules for everything related to your child. You’ll buy new clothes then a week later, your kid will hit a growth spurt and those new clothes won’t fit any more. You’ll have to figure out what music you feel are appropriate for your kids and determine what TV shows and movies you will allow for enter entertainment. You’ll struggle steering them away from friends who are bad influences.

As each prior task becomes manageable, the next task shows up with increasing difficulty. Your skills and abilities and talents as a parent grow just in time to face bigger and badder parenting tasks. However, it never seems like the new challenges are harder than they were when you were a brand-new parent. It’s not harder, just different. The things that frustrate parents of teens would be impossible for you to face when you were a new parent. Yet everything you experienced from that moment on will prepare you for what is happening now. Even though now is harder than then, you’re also more prepared and capable than you were back then.

Just like Borderlands. With less guns.


A Quiet Place: a review

The best horror movies are built upon a foundation of atmosphere. They use imagery and sound to create a looming sense of dread instead of scaring you with presumably scary things. Fright stems from how the film makers want you to feel, as if the anticipation scares you more than the slashes, jumps and gore of a typical horror film.

A Quiet Place succeeds in weaving atmosphere into the fabric of their their story. It's not the scariest movie I've ever seen, it doesn't even rank in my top ten list of frightening films. Instead, it is the perfect horror film for people that don't enjoy scary movies. It is a stellar presentation from director John Krasinski, who teams up with Emily Blunt (his real-life wife) to craft a beautiful, heartbreaking, and terrifying tale. And it oozes atmosphere.

The story begins 89 days after a cataclysmic event. Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Blunt) are survivors, trying to maintain their health and livelihood along with their three kids. They live in the near-future after earth has been taken over by blind monsters who hunt by sound. Silence is essential to their safety. It's like an episode of The Office (also starring Krasinski) where the employees of Dunder Mifflin are on their longest silent streak. Except, in A Quiet Place, the penalty for making noise is almost certain death.

courtesy NBC Universal

For protection, they use sand to pad every path they follow around their farm and into the nearby abandoned town. Everyone walks barefoot, they use soft surfaces to deaden sound, and sign language is the predominant form of communication. The family was already fluent in American sign language because their oldest child is deaf (a brilliant and emotional performance by Millicent Simmonds). Everything they do must be accomplished in complete silence, from praying as a family around the dinner table, to playing games of monopoly, to rummaging for antibiotics at an emptied pharmacy. To complicate their quiet existence, Evelyn is pregnant and quickly approaching her due date.

courtesy Paramount Pictures

Throughout A Quiet Place, the family lifestyle adds to the atmosphere. Every whispered line dialog and the hand motions Krasinski makes to hush his family generate tension. The pained facial expressions of fear, distress, agony, remorse, and sadness speak louder than any words ever spoken. Every sound effect will make you flinch, from a child brushing against stalks of corn while he runs, to the chitter of small woodland creatures, to the accidental sounds arising from careless movements. A Quiet Place is a very quiet movie. Aside from a lack of vocalized dialog, it keeps ambient noises and the music of a film score to a minimum, allowing for greater impact when the silence is broken.

Noiseless dead air would make most movies boring, however in A Quiet Place, the silences screams. I've never sat in an auditorium so hushed during a movie. The audience in my local theater had moved past the crumple of concession wrappers and crunch of popcorn within the first 15 minutes. No one sucked their soda cups dry. Everyone fought back against urges to cough or sneeze. By the movie's climax, we were all just as silent as the characters we watched, as if even the sound of pants textile against seat cushion when finding a more comfortable seating posture could ruin the movie for all in attendance.

courtesy Paramount Pictures

Any filmmaker who can elicit such a strong response from their audiences is a winner. Additionally, A Quiet Place wins for more than its creative use of silence and the pervasive accompanying creepiness. Yes, there are monsters (or aliens, maybe, the story isn't clear on the creatures' origins) and it is a tale of one family's semi-apocalyptic survival. It is also much more than a movie about beasts and human annihilation. The devastation that preceded the events of the movie are only a backdrop. The constant peril of hiding from deadly monsters is a mere plot device. These elements only serve to tell a bigger, and more important story.

A Quiet Place is about dealing with grief and guilt. It is about our fears of failure and our desire to leave behind a legacy. It is about improvising when the tools we need are unavailable and what we have is inadequate. It is about perseverance in all situations and determination when hope seems lost. It is about how families should function, to love, encourage, and support each other - even in the midst of tragedy, disaster, and emergencies. It is about how the things we do communicate love as much as the things we say. It is about the sacrifices parents make to raise their kids, to educate and mentor them, to provide for them, and keep them safe from harm.

More than anything, A Quiet Place achieves what rare few movies do, they remind us what it means to be human. In A Quiet Place, we discover humanity in a broken, messed up, and dangerous world. While real life isn't inhabited by creatures, part demogorgon and part Cloverfield monster, our world is broken, messed up, and dangerous. Perhaps the best way to navigate life is to love like Lee and Evelyn: deep, unwavering, relentless, and sacrificial.

This is a movie you should see - even if you don't like scary movies. Just make sure you're done eating your snacks by the end of the previews; once the feature presentation begins, you won't want to make a noise.

courtesy Paramount Pictures


The Kids Are Alright

On a Tuesday night a few weeks ago, I was sitting in McDonald's with my laptop and my standard order of a McChicken, medium fries, and a cup of water. When I am writing, I am more productive in public spaces than I am at home. Even with the distractions of people coming and going, I get more work done at a fast food joint or coffee shop than in the comfort of my living room. I prefer Jack-in-the-Box or Wendy's, but anywhere with free wi-fi is fair game for me except Starbucks - it's a bit too cliché.

This writing session was flowing as it usually does. I was typing out a film review in between bites of food, rewatching the movie trailer on YouTube, staring into space trying to determine exactly how to phrase a certain conglomeration of words in a way it would be coherent and reasoned. Then some teens began to enter the lobby. Then some more. And then even more. Three waves of youthful energy packed the place, roughly two dozen when all had walked through the doors. They all appeared to know each other, they bounced from one conversation to the next while waiting to place or receive their orders, a nebulous mass of human forms and boisterous voices.

Normally, customer traffic doesn't bother me. I can continue plucking away at my keyboard as if they're just ghosts in the room, present yet unseen. With this group of kids though, it was different. I stopped typing, looked away from my screen, and observed for the duration of their visit. Sure, they splintered off into small huddles like any other group of teenagers would do. However, they never remained in one conversation for long. They bounced around from one cluster to another. All smiling, happy, eager, and connecting with each other. I watched in wonder.

(like this but less creepy)

I remember being their age. between the ages of 17 and 19, the kids I hung out with would invade various food establishments after church on Sunday nights. We'd roll in, dine cheap, stay for an hour, then leave behind a mess. We were obnoxious, sloppy, and enjoying our time together. Twenty years ago, we were the wayward youth grownups blamed for the downfall of America. The kids I recently observed in McDonalds reminded me of my old group of friends. Descending upon a source of inexpensive edible junk, chatting and laughing the whole time, loving every minute, then leaving.

Yet they were different than the crew from my good old days. I was impressed by how they presented themselves. None wore anything flashy or revealing. None dressed grungy or slobby. Not over the top formal wear like they were on their way to a school dance, just smart and semi-professional in appearance. Each spoke with polite language. They were goofy and boisterous, yet they didn’t use any profanity, insults, or dirty jokes. They were all respectful toward each other and the other customers in the dining area. When they left, it was like they were never there. These teens were just like the kids I grew up with, only better. Their visit filled me with a sense of hope.

This transpired in the weeks after the shooting at MSDHS, before the nation-wide school walkouts and March For Our Lives protests. The kids from Parkland were constant faces on news channels, headlines both praised and criticized them. At the time, I wanted to write something about how great it was to see youth engaged in the political process. Whether you agreed with them, whether they’re right or wrong, whether they succeed or fail is irrelevant. We need passionate and energetic fresh faces involved with political discourse because the decisions our government makes today will affect them and their peers more than it will impact me and my generation.

After the shooting, I avoided writing about the topic. I've talked about gun control before and I probably will again but that wasn't the blog post I wanted to write. Instead I wanted to compose something encouraging those students challenging the adult world, political process, and the way we think about American rights. I was dismayed at the alleged grownups in the room who acted with a maturity level more fitting for grade school playgrounds. Yet I couldn't do it. I tried. There are four different drafts I deleted after I couldn't figure out how to say what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it.

I know what it was like to be young and ambitious and inspired and facing nothing but a wall of condescending elders. I felt like I had words for these kids that needed to be said. I wanted to let them know that they would be mocked and ridiculed for their actions. I wanted them to know how people will go to absurd lengths to defend their sacred cows, and when it comes to Murica, there's no greater sacred cow than the Second Amendment. I wanted to tell them the same thing I tell my son about bullies, their words and actions speak more about them than you.

Much of what I wanted to write about was obvious, the smear campaigns and ad hominem attacks were prominent in conservative media. I saw the fake news stories and photoshopped memes on Facebook. Everywhere I looked, I saw a grumpy old man complaining these kids were too young to have an opinion. Every news channel had a pundit claiming these kids were paid actors. I didn't need to warn them what was already happening was going to happen.

There's more I wanted to say. I wanted to let them know a day is coming when they'd look back and wish they had done things differently and it's OK to have those kinds of regrets. I wanted them to know they would make mistakes and they shouldn't let those errors derail them. I wanted to warn them of the danger of overnight celebrity. Historically speaking, youth and fame are not a good combination. The rush of everyone paying attention to you can be addictive. The lure of the spotlight is powerful and can be taken away as fast as it was obtained. However, I've never been famous; I don't have any legitimate advice from experience.

I hope they have strong emotional support. I hope they don't take these days for granted. I hope they remain engaged and do great things with their lives, yet I also hope they do the things kids their age typically do: attend sporting events and concerts, compete in talent shows, go to prom, graduate, take summer road trips, go camping, register to vote, enlist in the military, apply for scholarships and enroll in a university or trade school, get a degree, fall in love, fall out of love, start a career.

At the end of my high school days, the private Christian college I wanted to attend required all prospective students to memorize a Bible verse from 1st Timothy: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity." I wanted to pass on the wisdom in this scripture to these kids leading the Never Again movement. It doesn't matter if they follow Jesus or not, if they're religious, spiritual, or none of the above. There is power in embracing your youth. Any time a young person finds themselves in a leadership role, older generations will attempt to discredit or discourage them. I wanted to tell these kids to not allow their elders to destroy them, to stand strong, to set an example for their elders so loud and noble and pure that it can't be ignored.

That is what I wanted to write, and I just couldn't do it. Then I witnessed local kids in action. I've spent a lot of time with teenagers as a youth leader, yet those interactions were all in controlled and supervised environments of church youth groups and summer camps. My oldest is now a teenager, yet I don’t see him when he's not around adults like me or teachers or youth pastors. My time at McDonald's was like watching kids in the wild, observing them in their natural habitat. No chaperone. No responsible adult monitoring. No grownups telling them what they can or can't do. Only a herd of teenagers free to do whatever they want and act upon their own desires. I couldn't look away and I was in awe. These were not the Tide Pod eating, Logan Paul wannabe, participation trophy receiving idiot youth my conservative friends warned me about.

Whitney Houston once sang, " I believe the children are our future." On a Tuesday night in late February, I was given a glimpse into days yet to come; someday soon they will be our elected leaders and corporate CEOs. Bring it on. Give them a platform and a microphone. Let them lead. Let them protest. Agree with them, disagree with them. Debate them. Educate them and learn from them. If these kids are our future, then the future is very bright.


Yes, But Kinda

I am a pacifist. Well, I probably shouldn't use those words in that order. A more accurate statement would be: I try to be a pacifist.

As far as pacifism is concerned, I'm a terrible pacifist. I’m bad. I've read and reread many of Stephen King's books, stories and novels that are gloriously violent. I include both Fight Club and The Matrix in my list of all-time favorite movies and both films are smorgasbord of gunplay and fist fights. I own (and play) several violent video games from Street Fighter to Grand Theft Auto to Call of Duty. I watch football and hockey more than any other sport and they're known for player injuries and five-minute penalties for fighting.

To recap: I'm a pacifist with reading preferences skewed toward violence, who still loves bloody mayhem in movies, has no qualms committing acts of violence in fantasy (just averse to doing so in real life), and is a fan of violent athletic competitions.

Outside of entertainment, I still might be the worst possible advocate for pacifism. At least once a week, I ponder how satisfying it would be to throat-punch someone. I would never strike a Nazi, but I wouldn't object if someone else hit a Nazi. Simple schadenfreude (deriving satisfaction from observing someone else's unintentional yet self-inflicted pain and/or misfortune) is one of my greatest indulgences. My inner mind applauds when I see arrogance humbled, impatience forced to wait, or folly find failure. Those are thought patterns a good pacifist would abhor.

The allure is difficult for me to resist. However, I realize how the cycle of violence is ultimately fruitless. And I have written on this topic before. How America has a problem with violence and an obsession with guns. How when everyone is armed, it is impossible to define who is a good guy with a gun. How an armed society is not a polite society. How we all believe the myth of redemption through violence - (or a belief in violence preventing violence).

Since the dawn of humanity, we have had it backwards, placing too much value in vicious methods. Violence begets more violence. It escalates. It isn't a solution, it is an invitation to retaliation. In a violent world, no one wins.

I know these facts, yet I still read books with violent protagonists and villains, play video games where I control violent and heavily armed characters, and watch TV shows and movies filled with acts of violence. My values are walking contradictions. I am one part Tyler Durden and one part Mahatma Gandhi. It is my own cognitive dissonance where I simultaneously avoid and consume violence. I am a spectator and a participant, a critic and a curator.

So I will call myself a part-time pacifist. A pacifist in theory only. An angry pacifist. A lousy excuse of a pacifist. I am one, even if I'm not a good at it.