Wednesday, May 28, 2014

POS on the Page - Going Clear

I have never used my blog to discuss religion before, but it is something that I enjoy studying in my spare time. One religion I was always curious about was Scientology, not from a standpoint of wanting to join that faith, but from the standpoint of wanting to know how and why a science-fiction author was able to create a religion, a religion that many view as either a) a cult or b) a scam. One of my earliest exposures to Scientology was the epic South Park episode, Trapped in the Closet. It did such a great job skewering the religion that it made me want to know more. Then along came this book, and I strongly encourage everyone who is curious about Scientology to read it. One of the best endorsements for this book is that the Church of Scientology is pissed off that it got written.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. 2013, 448 pages (hardcover)

Lawrence Wright is a respected journalist, and one of his prior books on the origins of Al-Qaeda won the Pulitzer prize for nonfiction. Going Clear started as an article for The New Yorker magazine, from his interviews with former Scientologist and Hollywood director Paul Haggis. For the book, Wright expanded the scope to delve deep into both the history of the faith's enigmatic founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and the faith that he created. The book comes about from interviews with over 200 current and former Scientologists, and it contains some pretty explosive allegations of abuse within the church, some of which have played out in courtrooms around the world.

Reading through this book, I was blown away by the scams that L. Ron Hubbard pulled off as he built his faith, preying on the weak and insecure for money and status to build his cult. He was a con artist and liar with a P.T. Barnum level of hucksterism. Questionable labor practices, child abuse, sexual impropriety, financial scams, cutting members off from their families (just like a cult), and many more allegations get revealed in all their sordid details. It also reveals some of the core teachings of the church, teachings that are usually only presented to those that have given hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to the church (although you can find them online now thanks to Google). There are teachings that show the clear sci-fi origins of the faith, including their belief that aliens are real and that all humans are infected with alien souls that cause us problems in our lives. Reading this book leaves you wondering how anyone could possibly believe in this religion, much less think it is a religion at all. As Paul Haggis says: "I was in a cult for thirty four years. Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't."

For a taste of what the book covers, here is a link to the original The New Yorker article that started it all, based on Wright's interviews of Haggis. I strongly encourage you to check it out. LINK  Overall, if you've ever wondered how a cult can flourish in this society, or are just looking for an interesting read, I encourage you to check out Going Clear. You'll never look at John Travolta or Tom Cruise the same way again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

PCP in Theaters - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

As I said in my Summer Movie preview post, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a movie that I wanted to see in theaters, but I had some concerns about there being too many villains but that I'd see the film anyways. So I did see the film, and I both liked it and disliked it at the same time, if that is possible.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2. 2014, rated PG-13. My rating: 7.5 out of 10.

I'll start with what I liked about this one, and then move on to my problems with the film. Visually, the film was gorgeous, especially the scenes of Spider-Man in flight. Those were always a lot of fun when they were happening on screen. Also great were the many fight sequences. Whether he was fighting the Green Goblin or Electro, the fight sequences were very well done and worth the price of admission.

Andrew Garfield was also great as Spider-Man/Peter Parker. The funny quips and sarcasm from the character brought many laughs to the film, which were needed. I think Garfield is better as Parker than Tobey Maguire was in the prior Spider-Man trilogy. Garfield also has great chemistry with his real-life girlfriend Emma Stone, playing the character of Gwen Stacy. Their scenes together had much better chemistry than any between Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the first trilogy.

The downside of this film was that it was seriously disjointed. It felt like too many movies all shunted into one, and the film didn't know what type of movie it wanted to be. And, as I feared, there was a little bit of too many villains all for one film. They don't do enough to establish the villains, with each given about half of the time that it would take for them to properly tell each one's story. It would've been better to have these films separated out into separate ones, one film with Electro and a separate one with the Green Goblin. Since they combined too much into one film, it left the plot feeling convoluted, and often filled with too many contrivances and gimmicks that just harmed my enjoyment of the film. With the next film in the series looking like it's going to have even more villains (the ending of this one sets up the Sinister Six), I worry that this series will become even more flash and less substance than it has already become. Time will tell, I guess.

Overall, I give this film a B, basically. It is entertaining and fun, but if you're a stickler for a coherent plot, this probably isn't the film for you. For a more detailed breakdown of some of the many plot holes in this film, check out this link, they do a very thorough take-down of all the plot holes and contrivances that the film is stuffed with. Warning though, before you follow that link, there are obviously a ton of spoilers in there.

Speaking of SPOILERS - SPOILER WARNING It is a shame we won't be seeing Emma Stone in the next film in this series, because of her great chemistry with Andrew Garfield. Gwen's death was not surprising to those that know their comics, since her character was killed by the Green Goblin, and this film had both Gwen and the Green Goblin so I figured it was coming. The film did a great job with the way that they handled it though. It was a nice touch that she was wearing the same outfit as the one she was wearing when she was killed on the page over 40 years ago.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

PCP on DVD - Fast & Furious 6

Last year's tragic death of Paul Walker made me extremely sad, because although he wasn't one of the best actors, like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, I always looked forward to a new film in his big franchise, The Fast & the Furious. Walker starred in 5 of the first 6 films of this ongoing franchise, and they are delaying the seventh so they can re-work the script to account for Walker's death. I finally had the chance to catch the 6th installment of the series recently on Blu-ray, after not having the time to catch it in theaters last summer.

Fast & Furious 6 - 2013, rated PG-13. My rating: 7.5 out of 10.

The F&F franchise is the definition of a popcorn movie. It's got action, funny lines, and a whole bunch of eye candy. F&F6 takes the series up to a new level of audacity, with crazy insane action sequences that break every law of physics repeatedly. It is easy to forgive the film for doing this though, despite the number of times I thought to myself "oh, come on!" when something ridiculous occurred, simply because even though it was completely implausible, it still looked cool as hell on screen.

F&F6 brings back everyone important from F&F5, including my favorite former WWE star, the tank-sized Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and adds Gina Carano (Haywire) as The Rock's sidekick, and Luke Evans (Immortals, The Hobbit) as the villain, Shaw.

Shaw is a psychotic military expert and former special forces soldier, known for doing vehicular mayhem on a grand scale, similar to the crazy heists that our heroes specialized in. Now, Shaw has set his sights on an extremely valuable piece of military hardware, so government agent Hobbs (The Rock) calls upon the heroes crew to take Shaw down. What follows is a number of crazy, over the top car, tank, and plane chases that have far more mayhem than any other car chase scene ever committed to film.

Overall, the film delivers on its promise of massive quantities of vehicular insanity. There's also a post-credits scene that sets up the next film in the series, as well as redefines a key scene from Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (the 3rd one in the series). I can't wait to see what happens in the next film in the series. Hopefully I'll be able to catch that one in theaters this time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PCP in Theaters - Summer Movie Preview 2014

So, the summer movie season is upon us, and with it comes two things: the end of my grad school hiatus and the resumption of my regular posting to the blog, and my 2nd annual Summer Movie Preview! Although, summer movie season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. We already had Captain America: The Winter Soldier back on April 4th, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a week and a half ago, but those are both considered to be "summer blockbusters" in terms of their content.

Just like last year, I'm going to go through the entire lineup of films from May through August, and break them down into one of three categories: those I want to see in theaters, i.e. the blockbusters that I'm most excited for; those that can wait until Blu-ray (which isn't that much of a loss for me, since I have a hi-def projector so my house is practically a theater anyway); and those I'll only see if I find a way to start getting paid to see movies. I have managed thus far to not see any of the movies from that last category from last year's list as of this writing.

Also, a quick formatting note: all films' release dates listed are approximate and subject to change based on the whims of the movie studios, and I am also just listing the Friday of the week that they come out, in some cases the films might actually be released on Wednesday or Thursday of that week.

Disagree with where I put something? Let me know in the comments!

In theaters movies: (so many blockbusters, so little time. I just hope all of these are good and not a waste of money!)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2) - Although I'm starting to worry a little bit that the film is going to have too many villains, it's a comic book movie so I'm pretty much guaranteed to see this film. Early buzz (as of me writing this on April 21) suggests that the film might not be worth seeing in theaters after all, but I'm sure I'll still see this eventually.
  • Godzilla (May 16) - It looks like we're finally going to get a Godzilla film worthy of the name, unlike the last time they tried to make one for American audiences. My wife doesn't particularly want to see this though, but maybe I'll be able to talk her into it.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) - The latest installment in the X-Men franchise looks pretty bad-ass, and I'm looking forward to their take on one of my favorite comic book stories. Plus, it has Peter Dinklage in it (Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones) so that alone makes it worth watching.
  • Maleficent (May 30) - I like Angelina Jolie on screen, she's one of my favorite stars, so I know I'll be seeing this dark fairy tale related to Sleeping Beauty. Plus, my wife is really excited for this one, so we'll be seeing it for sure.
  • Edge of Tomorrow (June 6) - I enjoyed Tom Cruise's last sci-fi outing, Oblivion, and this one looks like it'll be a very interesting trip as well. I like sci-fi that makes you think, and this film, based on its trailer, looks like it will be a twisty and unpredictable journey.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11) - I liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes quite a bit, so I'm looking forward to the sequel set a decade after the virus released at the end of the prior film has decimated the human population.
  • Jupiter Ascending (July 18) - I'll give pretty much any film from the Wachowskis a shot, and this one looks pretty epic visually. I just hope it's entertaining, like their best film The Matrix, and not just all style and no substance like their worst, Speed Racer.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1) - If this one is a hit, it will prove that Marvel is minting money, since this is a property that most people aren't familiar with, yet somehow it all ties into their ever expanding Avengers universe. The first trailer was witty and made the film look like a lot of fun, so a super-hero movie that doesn't take itself seriously will probably be a success.
After the jump the post continues with what I'll watch from the comfort of my couch, and what I'll try to avoid ever seeing. --->

Thursday, May 8, 2014

10,000 page views!

My blog just crossed the 10,000 page views mark, and I just want to say thank you to all of you for coming by and reading what I'm posting. It's nice to know that at least someone is reading this, considering that I just started this as a hobby. It makes it worth it for me to keep posting, knowing that some of you are enjoying this. So, thanks for coming by and reading! In the future, please also comment more on my posts, I'd love to have more interactions with those of you that read this to know who you are and if you agree or disagree with my thoughts.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

FML - Celebrating Star Wars Day

So this year my family celebrated Star Wars Day for the first time. My son & I were both decked out in Star Wars shirts, and my wife and I sat down to watch Episode IV: A New Hope. She had never seen any of the original trilogy of films before, somehow managing to avoid seeing them until now (although she has seen the prequel trilogy). Since my son is not yet two and a half, we knew that he wouldn't really be all that interested in the movie, nor able to follow it at all. In fact, he checked out from paying attention and went back to playing with his toys about 15 minutes into the movie. But initially, he was very excited, especially every time that C-3PO and R2-D2 were on the screen. The Star Wars tshirt he was wearing had the two droids on it, and he recognized them whenever they were on the screen, excitedly pointing to the screen and yelling "Robots! Robots!"


My wife thought the film was better than she expected it to be, but she still doesn't understand how some people are so pulled into fandom of the saga. I guess since she didn't see it at a young age, she'll never fully understand the passion this series has instilled in so many people. But I look forward to celebrating Star Wars Day in the future, especially as my son gets older and will be able to appreciate the films for more than just a few minutes.

Hope you all had a fun Star Wars Day yourselves, and may the force be with you, always!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy Star Wars Day!

Happy Star Wars Day to everyone! May the Fourth be with you! My son is all properly attired for the occasion, are you?

Also, my blog returns to regular posting next week, since this week I have finals for grad school, so check back on May 13th for my Summer Movie preview!