Sunday, July 29, 2012

I swallowed a bug

At this point in time, I am an enormous fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly.  After much thought, I've concluded that it is, in some ways, as good as if not better than my favorite television show of all time, LOST.  Now, Firefly is a different breed of beast than LOST, for a variety of reasons, but what makes this 2002 sci-fi western so relentlessly entertaining isn't its special effects, its gunfights, or even Morena Baccarin.  What lifts Firefly above standard television fare is its heart, and the loving attention given to the development of its host of characters.

I love LOST for these same reasons.  But Firefly has a certain cheeky humor to it, a self-awareness that carries the narrative along while maintaining a predominant seriousness, and for a show with a scope as vast as this one, such a trait is necessary.  Set 500 years in the future, Firefly chronicles the misadventures of a motley crew of space farers as they traverse the galaxy in search of jobs--honest and not so honest--aboard their reliable ship, Serenity, while evading the grasp of the Alliance, the powerful parliamentary government that is hot on their tail.  I would love to delve into descriptions of the individual characters and the motive behind the Alliance's pursuit, but I feel that the less you know about the show going into it, the better.  I had no idea what to expect when I started watching it on Netflix a few months back, save for a glowing recommendation by my 8th grade math teacher (thank you endlessly, Mr. McClain), and I was simply blown away.

Firefly was cancelled by Fox in 2002 after airing 11 of 14 total episodes, but has since attained a cult-hit status beyond that of any other show I can think of.  Just recently at the San Diego ComicCon, Joss Whedon and the cast held a 10 year reunion panel that was absolutely packed with enthusiastic fans.  It was an emotional 55 minutes, as Joss and the other writers answered fan questions while the cast reminisced on their experiences filming the show, and their appreciation for the fans that were "keeping the story alive."  I'll admit I even teared up a bit.

Right now, you can find Firefly on Netflix or you can get it on DVD.  I'm leaving for college in a few weeks and I think I'm going to buy the DVD set so as to have a hard copy in the event that Netflix fails me.  But to anyone who wishes to enjoy a truly monumental television series that doesn't in the slightest insult the viewer's intelligence, I highly, highly recommend Firefly.  There really isn't much more I can say.  It is film entertainment at its finest.

Once you've finished the series, however, be sure to watch Serenity, Joss Whedon's film conclusion to the series that is so wonderful it deserves its own entry entirely.  See, the fans loved Firefly so much that Joss was able to accrue enough money from Universal to make a movie, pulling together some loose ends and ultimately bring an end to a series that was unfairly swept away from us much too early.  

I'm Still Flying.  It's time for you to start.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I'm having trouble understanding what this is. It has garnered the support (and cool narration) of LOST alum Terry O'Quinn, who preaches a good deal about some revolution of the human spirit/race via the fully realized potential of our five basic senses. And that strange fly-like thing encased in ice? What is it? Why is it important? Terry needs to dish some answers!

And then there's this comprehensive "test" you take that supposedly determines the state of your senses a la a video recording that evokes images of those bizarre tests CRS gave Michael Douglas' character in The Game. Maybe this whole thing is something like The Game, like a super-elaborate test of the human mind and emotions. I haven't the slightest clue, really, but I was turned on to this whole thing while browsing a LOST fansite and saw something called "Mission Icefly" with Terry's face attached to it. If anyone has any novel info on this I would like to know, because whatever it is, the super-secret viral video campaign they have deployed is very effective in evoking a sense of mystery and intrigue. Funny, that's how J.J. Abrams likes to promote things.....

Friday, June 24, 2011

Light Reading

I'm about 150 pages into Thomas L. Friedman's nonfiction book Hot, Flat and Crowded, and I'm genuinely frightened. The book's main objective is to explain the importance of a green revolution in American economics and energy consumption, and how immediate action needs to be taken before we reach Earth's ecological tipping point, in terms of climate change. But here's the thing. Immediate action ISN'T being taken. There's a LOT of convincing evidence compiled from various fields of environmental studies to support that conditions on our planet are getting worse much faster than we have previously predicted, and little to no effort has been put in to combat it. This is largely due to the unfortunately large amount of people who completely disregard the idea of global warming and climate change, hindering progress in any area of environmental conservation, renewable energy development, and "green" political activism.

Friedman, in his book, breaks the nay-sayers down into "three basic varieties: those paid by fossil fuel companies to deny that global warming is a serious human-caused problem; those scientists, a small minority, who have looked at the data and concluded for different reasons that the rapid and extensive increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution is not a major threat to the planet's livability; and, finally, those conservatives who simply refuse to accept the reality of climate change because they hate the solution--more government regulation and intervention."

Friedman will explain in detail his ideas for a green America in the second half of his book, but at this point in my reading, I'm thinking that with such a vehemently polarized national government, it appears action upon climate change and a green revolution are almost impossible to reach right now. Not completely impossible, but almost. As I see it, it all comes down to lack of foresight. Us Americans, along with a good number of other nations, are much too preoccupied with the "instant fix." We plan for the short term, and we do that repeatedly. There is almost no long-term investment in our weaning ourselves off of foreign oil, and a dispiriting amount of effort is put into large-scale, affordable green technology. We are much too divided, and it's sad, because our children will look back on this as the time we could have saved the world, but instead, we badger each other over no singular, coherent reasoning (i.e. fundamental differences between Republican and Democrat rationale) but rather disagreement borne purely of dislike, distrust, and frustration.

So here's a message from a concerned teenager to the American government: Let's kick this oil addiction once and for all. Stop sending our money to an area of the world where it is used to fund terrorist groups we're fighting right now (yeah, that's happening), and start investing in ideas that will save this planet. Here's an idea: cut the military budget, and give money to schools to give us our next great thinkers and problem-solvers. Curtail the production of SUV's and Hummers, in place of smaller, more fuel efficient--and eventually, fuel-free--vehicles. Put windmills everywhere, work on creating more efficient solar panels. Any action that drastically reduces our dependency on oil will, in effect, benefit the entire globe. Oil's price will go down, and as Friedman brilliantly explains in his book, lower oil prices (between $15 -$30 a barrel) mean the collapse of the petrodictatorships of the middle east, replaced by a much-needed economic freedom and the return of womens' rights in the area, as the area will need to depend upon the creativity and economic know-how of its people to survive.

I'm going to continue reading, and when I finish I'll post my thoughts on the second half. But for now, whoever is reading this, I highly recommend you go out and get Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded. It's probably one of the most important books you'll ever read.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Nobody does it alone, Jack."

Monday, May 23rd marked the one year anniversary of the series finale of LOST. I am both delighted and saddened to say that I have not at all moved on. I rewatched the finale that Monday evening, and it alllllll came back. I remembered watching the first episode in the fall of my 5th grade year at Eastwood Elementary and thinking, wow, I'm going to have to convince my mom to let me stay up for this! Thankfully, she obliged, after I coaxed her into watching the Season 1 episode, "Walkabout." For anyone who has seen that particular episode, you won't be surprised to know that she was instantly hooked.

What struck me as so amazing about LOST was that it was so, so many things at once. It was science fiction, with a giant unseen monster, polar bears living in tropical forests, electromagnetic time-travel-inducing frozen donkey wheels; it was a comedy, supported by hilarious dialogue and a top-notch cast; but more than anything, LOST was a drama--a character study of individuals who were, both figuratively and literally "lost." They were flawed and broken, going at it alone. In a sense, before their time on the island, it was themselves vs. the world. It was their being on the island that changed them. They could start over, and fulfill their destinies. Before I delve deeper into the meaning of the show, I want to express my disappointment in the "fans" who hated the finale for its lack of "answers." All I will say is that from the very beginning, LOST has been a character-driven show with cool mysteries, not the other way around. It ending the only way it could have possibly ended, and if your main concern, spanning the entire six seasons was "What the hell was up with Walt?" then you are no true fan of LOST.

But enough ranting. The finale was, in my opinion, the perfect send-off. It encapsulated everything the show was about, everything it stood for, in 2 and a half glorious hours. In fact, I believe that a major message that LOST communicated to its audience is pretty well-stated in the title of this post. By this, I mean that LOST wasn't just a show about people, it was a show about how broken people fix one another. In the pivotal church scene near the end of the finale, when Jack speaks with his father, Christian tells him that the most important part of his life was the time he spent with the other survivors on the island. Without them, he couldn't do what he was chosen to do. They needed him, and he needed them.

I was reading an in-depth analysis of the finale over at Entertainment Weekly recently, and I realized that, along with being about people, LOST was about death, and the undeniable notion that we all one day will die---that death is absolute. The flash-sideways/purgatory/in-between world was not a segue into eternal happiness and bliss, as many would assume after the crowd in the church was washed in a bright white light, but rather the last step before The End. The Sideways world was a chance for the survivors to come to terms with their mortality. Borne of this acceptance is the letting go of hatred and selfishness, and the understanding of love.

If that did not make any sense, I apologize for I don't know how else to explain it; Doc Jenson is better at it here. But that's what I pulled from LOST, and I know that not all will agree with me.....which is where the true beauty of LOST lies. It is a show that will be talked about for years to come, with countless theories created and thrown out the window. It amazes me that I am even talking about a television show in this way. LOST truly was a miracle of modern entertainment, and it will not be forgotten.

Before I end this post, I cannot go without mentioning the magnificent score of Michael Giacchino. The most poignant moments of the finale (and the show in general, for that matter) are bolstered by his music. It's a shame that Giacchino lost the Creative Arts Emmy of Best Original Score to 24---he really deserved it here, particularly for the tracks "Moving On," "Closure," and "Locke vs. Jack"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Big Winner!

My trivia team just won $500 for our Student Blazer Pennant Publishing class! We were part of a trivia night in support of 3 students who will be traveling to Spain and France to student Spanish and French (who would've thought?). Our team consisted of a few teachers and some fellow Pennant staffers, and we beat every other team for a grand prize of 500 bucks. We aren't sure exactly what the 500 will be going towards, but hopefully MINI FRIDGE!. Just kidding

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Muggle's Journey

I can't imagine what it must be like to be J.K. Rowling. Has no greater writer come from such humble beginnings? She stated in an interview that the idea for Harry Potter simply "dropped into her head" one day while on the train, and it quickly snowballed into something pretty big. But I don't expect she believed it would ever get THIS big:

The above picture is a snapshot of Hogsmeade, the fictional wizarding village from the Harry Potter universe. It serves as the hub of the pretty much brand-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park(s). Talk about extravagant. I can write about this place all day, but nothing compares to the experience of strolling down the brimstone walkway, gazing up at the wonderfully lopsided architecture, smelling Butterbeer in the air, and immersing yourself in Harry's world. It's truly entrancing.

The park sits in the back corner of The Islands of Adventure, sandwiched between Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent, and it is easily the most popular attraction at Universal. The words to describe it escape me. The attention to detail, as seen above, is astounding. When you enter the village, it's like walking directly into Rowling's imagination. To the immediate right

is the magnificent Hogwarts Express, presented by a "conductor" who interacts with the crowd at certain times of the day. Continuing in, the Three Broomsticks

stands lopsided and weathered on the left, and next door, Honeydukes sweets shop sells Bertie Bot's Every-Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs to hordes of young Potter fans. Zonko's joke shop is filled to the brim with goofy artifacts and knick-knacks. Dervish and Banges, basical

ly a glorified souvenir shop, contains an assortment of artifacts from the series, like brooms, time-turners, pens, parchment, cloaks, robes, and wands.

The absolute most entertaining and enthralling division of the village BY FAR, is Ollivander's Wand Shop. Much unlike the other shops available for guests to enter, Ollivander's is a show. Wrapped around one side of the building are line ropes which, on the days I visited, were always completely filled with excited Muggles. The times I had waited to get inside, the line had thinned out a little. Our 20 minute wait was worth every second.

When you enter Ollivander's, it suddenly becomes very quiet. A desolate, somewhat eerie sound resonates through out the room. Everything looks EXACTLY like the Ollivander's from the movie. The walls are massive shelves, stacked to the ceiling with wands; thousands of them, all made up to look very dusty and old. Then, "Ollivander" descends from a dimly lit staircase. He introduces himself to the large congregation of Muggles before him, and carefully selects one person from the audience to receive their special wand.

I, admittedly, had hoped I would be picked; but alas, no such luck. My first visit, he chose an older woman, and the second he picked a young girl. Both are extremely, extremely lucky. "Ollivander" offers his chosen person 3 wands, in the same fashion as in the movie. The first two, at his command of pointing and reciting a certain incantation, make flowers "wilt" in the corner,and cause wands to shuffle on the shelves (with the addition of lights and sound effects that enhance the experience). These wands are not meant for the chosen Muggle. The third wand, however, is the one. Music begins as "Ollivander," says to himself, "Curious, very curious," and he hands the wand over. At their touch, a wind whips up inside the room, the music swells, and a soft, glowing light engulfs the wildly grinning participant. Then, with some closing remarks and "tips" on how to properly operate a wand, "Ollivander" leads the group into a section of Dervish and Banges where a large selection of both character AND original wands await to be purchased. I purchased an original, although I came quite close to buying the Elder Wand, but I wanted one completely original to the Park. I chose a handsome looking wand with a phoenix feather core. Easily the coolest $30 I ever spent. (I unfortunately did not get any pictures of the inside of Ollivander's for fear of disrupting the show with my flash. It was pretty dark, and my videos came out poorly, also.)

Now, the castle. Gaze upon it's glory. GAZE UPON IT!

I took that picture on my phone on the way inside. Around the bend is a stone wall that guides visitors into a maze of line separators that lead into the castle. The longest wait we encountered for the castle (and the spectacular ride that lies within it, which I'll get to in a moment) was about an hour--which was perfectly fine, as there was ALWAYS something interesting to look at. We moved quickly through the line outside, while listening to John William's fantastic score, and soon found ourselves inside Hogwarts. We were first presented with the entrance to Dumbledore's office, a great, towering stone falcon sitting atop a hidden staircase. Continuing in, we were then treated to a high-ceilinged room covered corner to corner with Witch and Wizard portraits--some of which were moving around in their frames and speaking to one another. Through this room, the crowd was greeted by none other than Dumbledore himself. The actor Michael Gambon, as Dumbledore, was projected as a sort of hologram behind his desk in an ornate office. The technical wizardry (pun intended) behind this is astounding. He looked and sounded as if he were right there, talking to us. Our line was moving quickly, so as we hurried along, mouths agape as we walked, we were taken by surprise at Harry, Ron, and Hermione (also ridiculously realistic holograms), who had appeared from beneath the Invisibility Cloak atop a balcony to give us an explanation of their intention for us---they wish to save us from a boring History of Magic lesson by flying us around on enchanted benches, under a charm conjured by Hermione .

Now, we arrive at the ride. A park operator asks politely "how many?" and we had four in our group. We received our own bench---which, needless to say, was obviously not a true bench. The "benches" were shaped like benches, but had a large back rest, lapbars and handlebars for support, and they meandered along a moving walkway. We sat down, completely giddy with excitement, and buckled in. We were moving towards a dark hole in the wall. Looking up, I gasped. Hundred s upon hundreds of "floating" candles reflected off of a shiny ceiling, bobbing in the dimly lit room. It truly was beautiful. I only had moments to appreciate it, however, as suddenly Hermione's voice leapt from speakers behind my head. She told us to say "UP" on the count of three. We obliged.
What followed was an experience that is difficult to explain. With a combination of simulated movement, practical special effects and a series of large, Omnimax-esque screens, we flew around Hogwarts. We escaped the clutches of a Hungarian Horntail dragon, evaded the soul-sucking kiss of dreaded dementors, and raced alongside Harry in a game of Quidditch. We zipped though the Forbidden Forest to meet Aragog, the giant spider, and soared over the lake and the tips of the castle, before landing safely in the Great Hall, where Dumbledore, Harry and the rest of the Hogwarts gang wished us good day. Every second of it was convincing. Seriously, there wasn't a moment where I was disappointed--except for the very end, of course.

I rode that ride (called The Forbidden Journey) three times during my stay at the park. When I wasn't in line for it, I was in line for Butterbeer
and oh boy was it something. In the books, Butterbeer is hot and warms the soul. But at Universal, where temperatures regularly reach the high 8o's, a hot beverage is impractical. Instead, Butterbeer is offered as cold, like a soda, or frozen, like a slurpee. Both taste magnificent. Imagine butterscotch, mixed with a twang of rootbeer, and you've got the general taste. It's very smooth, and it is topped with a mysterious, goopy foam that is a unique taste in its own. One cup is a whopping 1,350 calories, and worth every sip.

The park also harbors two rollercoasters: a kiddie one called the Flight of the Hippogriff, and a much more intense, floorless thrill ride called The Dragon challenge, which is designed as a competition in the Triwizard Tournament. On the route up to the coaster sits Ron Weasley's bewitched car, as seen below:

Having read the books fervently as a kid, I was worried that the creation of a theme park may taint the vision J.K. Rowling had for her stories. I was sorely mistaken. The thinktank at Universal really knew what they were doing here, which really makes me happy. They could have easily half-assed the whole thing, raking in cash from die-hard fans, but they didn't. They brought Rowling's world to life, respectful of the content and characters.

If you haven't read the books, please, by all means do. There's a reason they're so popular. They're a saga unlike any other; adventures borne of an endlessly creative imagination. With running themes of death and longing alongside friendship and the importance of courage, Harry Potter speaks to a generation to which the latter are very important. So again, go to the library and grab Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hello there!

It's been quite some time since my last post. Here's an update of my busy Junior year:

-Swim season=success. Best times in all of my events.

-I visited Universal Resort Orlando over Spring Break with some friends and family. We lodged at the on-site Hard Rock Hotel, and with our room keys as automatic fast-passes for nearly every attraction within the park, we enjoyed four days of pure bliss. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is by far one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It requires its own post which I will get to soon.

-Upon arriving home from Spring Break, I have taken up re-reading every Potter book. I have thus far read through the first two, and I plan to start the 3rd sometime tonight.

-I've added quite a few new book titles to the library that is my bedroom shelving unit over the past few months. I've read many and hope to post thoughts on them over the next couple of weeks

After a prolonged winter hiatus, I'm back with all barrels blazing. I hope to continue posting through out the summer!