Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts On... Marriage (old essay)

Old essay, I punched up the writing a little.

For a great many reasons, I am a rarity in the human male population. One of these reasons is that I believe in marriage. I see myself, at some point in the future, finding an insane woman, signing her out of the asylum and getting married. Granted, part of that has to do with my upbringing, since family is a core belief in the Dominican culture. But, a much larger part is based on my own ideas and opinions. Unlike most people, I've actually spent time thinking about what the word "marriage" means to me. Including things like what I'm supposed to do as part of my responsibilities as a husband, what I believe a wife should do as part of her responsibilities, when I think a relationship is at the point where marriage is a viable option, etc. That being said, I don't think that marriage is the end all and be all of relationships. In fact, most relationships should never go into marriage. It is my personal belief that the main reason why divorce rates are so high is that people are getting into marriage without any thought as to the consequences of that decision.

But the question I find most interesting is, why do so many people, both men AND women believe marriage is so important? Think about it. As a species, humans rarely agree on anything in a majority. Yet EVERY SINGLE culture on the planet has some form of marriage contract. Chinese, Latin, Muslim, Hindi, Palestinian. All of them have some way of two people bonding themselves to each other for the duration of their lives. The details are different, but all of them have it! Even people who don't personally think that marriage is for them respect the belief and give the institution itself a measure of respect. Why? What is it about the concept of marriage that carries such weight with people? And before you start trying to answer that question, think about it for a moment.

What exactly is marriage? What are the tangible facets of a marriage? For the purposes of this essay, I'm going with the traditional American wedding rituals, like the rings. Traditionally, there are three rings involved with a wedding: the diamond engagement ring and two gold wedding bands. If one listens to the typical marriage ceremony, the rings are supposed to represent the quality of the love between the bride & groom. More specifically the basic shape of the ring, a circle, is the actual symbol. With no beginning, the circle has always been in existence just like the love between the bride & groom. With no end, the circle continues for eternity, again just like the love between bride & groom. The language is usually flowery and inspirational. But there was a time when the groom did not know the bride, so their love has an origin. And given the 50% (and climbing) divorce rate just in THIS country alone, married love ends. This is also made much more interesting when one considers the fact that the rings are in fact remnants of the "good old days" when women had no legal rights and her existence depended solely upon whom she married. Not to mention that during this time marriage actually meant a man taking possession of a woman as his bride, sometimes in shackles. Over the course of time, the shackles morphed into the wedding rings. Think about it, ever wonder why the guy doesn't have to wear an engagement ring? (I'm also not going to go into the blood diamonds used in the engagement rings, that's a whole other discussion outside the scope of this essay.)

Then there's the marriage certificate, a piece of paper with ink on it. This paper informs the state and federal governments that you and your bride are now to be regarded as a single unit, much like a corporation. And due to that, the government gives this new entity some legal benefits in exchange for some other drawbacks. And speaking of pieces of paper with ink on them, there's a recent addition to the pantheon of marriage facets: the prenuptial agreement. This piece of paper is a binding promise that says if the "always existing and eternal" love stops existing and dies, the dissolution of the union will follow a previously agreed upon path. It is most interesting to consider that a ceremony which has "till death do us part" as its preferred ending, also has an insurance policy just in case the preferred ending doesn't come to pass. Plus, given that the United States prides itself in maintaining a separation of church and state, what is the logic of announcing to the state that you are going through a ritual that is almost universally regarded as a religious ceremony? And if you don't believe me, ask your nearest gay couple about the difference between a civil union & a marriage.

Last, there's the actual ceremony which boils down to rounding up a group of people, a short walk through the crowd, a lecture by some official, a conversation ending in a reiteration of a promise the couple made when they decided to exclusively be with each other, and then another short walk through the same crowd to a party. Afterwards, you're married. The only physical difference is now you're forced to wear a ring. What else has changed in your life? You're now in debt up to $30K to cover the wedding, rings, and dress. Aside from the legal benefits and drawbacks, that's it.

With an ever increasing majority, by the time a couple is ready to get married, they have been living together for several years. They have been intimate with each other and have promised to keep those activities reserved exclusively for themselves and no other people. And the couple has agreed to stay together. After the marriage ceremony, they're still living together. They're still exclusive to each other in terms of physical intimacy. The agreement to remain together is also still in effect. So, what has actually changed now that the marriage ceremony has taken place?

Some of the defenders of marriage talk about how marriage is a promise to be together forever, choosing someone as your partner for the balance of your life. Where before the ceremony, the promise was just to be together unless something changes. The promise made within a marriage modifies the original promise by locking the union down permanently, making the promise be "together forever" as opposed to "together as long as we can stand it". The problem with that particular argument is the concept of divorce. Think about it, you get married and then if things aren't working out, get divorced. Which essentially changes the promise in a marriage from "together forever" BACK to "together as long as we can stand it". Where's the change that getting married brings then?

Others say that marriage is about being placed together in the eyes of God. (The existence of God is beyond the scope of this essay, so I will stipulate for the purposes of this essay that God exists.) Here is where things get extremely interesting. For all the religious and spiritual folk out there, go back and re-read the part of your bibles about marriage. You'll find there that the exchanging of rings isn't important to God. The same goes for the marriage certificate, prenuptial agreement, the wedding ceremony, the vows, or the kiss at the end. The act that places a couple together in the eyes of our Lord and Savior, is the sex the couple has on the wedding night. Everything else is just trappings for the people. And the wedding night isn't necessary either. The FIRST TIME the couple have sex, they are married in the eyes of God. So, did you take your lover for a test drive last night? Well, guess what, you're now married in the eyes of the Lord! Congratulations!! Again, the question: what is the change that marriage brings? Why is marriage necessary and important? Why is the ceremony needed?

Still others say that marriage is just an end to the relentless and draining world of dating. My question is: if you don't want to keep dating people because of the stress... WHY NOT STOP DATING? Don't pick someone and get married. Take some time for yourself! Enjoy being alone! Plus, there are many folks out there that, for one reason or another, jump from one failed marriage to another, which brings marriage down to another form of serialized dating. Still no real changes that can be attributed to marriage.

While a portion of those reading this will attribute my questions to typical male hesitance to being married (despite the first paragraph in this essay), the part that is really interesting is that is seems that society may start to be seeing things in a different light. In my reading on the internet, I have come across several studies that show that marriage rates are starting to drop in this country (presumably, with a corresponding drop in divorce rates) in favor of just living together. Most of the studies have attributed the drop to changing views on the roles of men and women in society and the subsequent shift in how they relate to each other in every part of life. The blurring of the borders and erasing of gender roles has dropped the importance of marriage significantly. It is my belief that in addition to the societal changes, a great many people have been witness to failed marriages, and the confidence society has had in the institution of marriage has been shaken and is crumbling.

With all this, one might ask why I believe in marriage. The fact that I could write this essay is conclusive proof of my disillusionment with the institution of marriage. So, how could I be so disillusioned and still maintain belief? That's easy. I value marriage for different reasons than most. I value the choice. Most people believe that when the bride and groom say "I do", the choice of marriage is over. That is not true. Every day, when you wake up in the morning, you make the same choice. You choose to stay, to deal with the problems, to suffer the hardships, to enjoy the rewards, and to reap the benefits. From the moment you choose to ask that special someone, you made a conscious choice to alter the future of your life. Through a sheer effort of will, you are altering not only your future, but the future of one other person who agreed to join you on this path. This is an amazing thing for me. I am a big proponent for free will and I am always awed and humbled by the power that choice has over the lives of people.

And wearing the wedding ring is a silent sign of that choice. I see someone with that ring, and it's a token of personal power for the wearer. They made the choice. They had the strength to take life into their hands and wrest from it what they want. That's why I believe in marriage. That's why I take it seriously. And that's why I am so critical of it. Something with that much power is worth examining and should be constantly scrutinized. Thoughts?

Thoughts On... Love (old essay)

Again, here's an old essay I wrote, that I fixed up the writing. Thoughts? Comments?

At some point in their lives, every single human on the planet comes up with a definition of love. Some people think it over, others use their own personal experiences, and still others just develop an idea of it as their ambitions take them down the fast track of their lives. In the end, every one has their own definition of love. The problem with that is that love usually deals with two people being involved with each other, trying to show that they love each other with all they have. But when those two people are operating with two vastly different definitions of love, problems are born. The thing is most people don’t sit down and think about what they believe love should be and more importantly, why they feel that way about love. So as their lover asks questions in an attempt to figure out how to make them happy, they are incapable of explaining how they feel because the words just aren’t there. Due to my personal interests, experiences, and lifestyle, I HAVE thought about this particular topic and in an effort to get YOU to think about it, I’ll give you MY definition of what love should be. If you agree, then you can use my words as your own. If not, now you have something to start with.

Love, in its best form, enhances your strengths and renders your weaknesses obsolete. When I think of love, the image that comes to mind is two walls leaning against each other. I know, I know. Not exactly a romantic picture, but there's more to it than immediately comes to mind. In this metaphor, each wall represents a person. Just as a person, the wall has strengths and weaknesses.

Many people believe that they have a soul-mate, some perfect person, out there waiting for them, in order to make them complete. But if you think about that statement, romantic as it sounds, there are errors in it. Are these people saying that they (and by supposition, everyone else) are fractional people, that they are not whole and are dependent on some other fractional person to make themselves cohesive and effective? Can you imagine, dear reader, what that world would be like? Half-people walking around like zombies, not being able to do anything until they are completed by some other half-person.

Looking at it from the point of view of my metaphor, what kind of strength does a wall have if it's full of gaps & holes? How can it stand up to the trials & stresses of this world? Thank you, Jerry Maguire, but I find that belief idiotic. I prefer to see everyone out there as a full person, "actual and whole" (thank you Captain Reynolds) with all the attendant pleasures and pains. And that doesn’t go away or change just because you fall in love with someone. It’s a time tested fact that there is strength in numbers. You can look at any type of warfare or any assessment of computing technology for proof. Keeping that in mind, what sounds stronger and more capable to endure the trials and tribulations of life in the world of today, dear reader, a fusion of two halves into a single whole being attacked from all sides or two individuals standing together backing each other up? That's why my metaphor has TWO walls leaning against each other, you don't stop being an independent person when you fall in love.

And let's not forget that love (and a relationship) happens over time. Which is why I’ve always found it hilarious when people who believe their lovers "complete" them say later on down the line, "They’re just not the person I fell in love with." Of course not! Over the course of their relationship to you, they’ve fused with you to become something else! Everything that made them (and by supposition, YOU) interesting and different, not to mention appealing, is gone and you willingly participated in its destruction. Now, here’s a question to all of you out there waiting for someone to "complete" you. Assume, for a moment, you find someone to complete you. What happens when your "other half" is taken away, as in a car accident? Do you revert into this half person, forever doomed to being an ineffectual zombie since your soul-mate is no longer part of this world? How are you to survive? There’s no one else to save you and make you complete since you only have the ONE soul-mate, right? What then?

This brings us to another aspect of my metaphor: there are two SEPARATE walls working together to stay up. I’m sorry, but I’d prefer to rest assured in whatever afterlife there is that my lover will survive and move on without me. The only way to do that is to make sure she has a life separate from me that can sustain her through the pain of my death, and allow her to heal and move on to the next man she chooses to be in her life, if that’s the path she takes. That is something that only an individual can do, not a fractional person. The question is then, how does that work in the day to day dealings of a relationship? That part is easy. Make sure that no matter how close the two of you get, there is something that THE BOTH OF YOU HAVE that is independent of the other. They have their love of performing jazz music and you have your love of working on cars or something. Does that mean you can’t participate in your lover’s interest? Of course not, show up at their jazz gigs and let them know it’s okay for them to ask you to work on their sister’s car. But don’t take up saxophone and insert yourself into their band or let them start reading up on cars and helping you out. The idea is that while the two of you are going to be sharing the bulk of your time and activities, there should be some things in your life that are just YOURS and same goes for your lover.

At the end of the day, you want to see your lover happy and they want you to be happy. Not because of some magical altruistic quality that love imbues the both of you with, but because, at its best, love is a form of enlightened self-interest. You want your lover to be happy because it makes YOU happy to see them that way and vice versa. Basically, you’re doing it to make YOURSELF happy. Think about the two walls for a sec. If you’re wall A and you’re interested in staying up, you’ll do whatever you can to make sure wall B is at it’s best since they’re holding you up. The best part? Wall B is thinking the same thing about you. Now, developing your own interests (or maintaining ones you had before the two of you got together) does give you things that your lover can take away. And because you love them, you’d stop those interests, but because they’re interested in you being happy, they won’t ask that of you and vice versa. It’s a choice the both of you make in order to make each other happy. And that brings me to my next point.

Love, in its most enduring form, happens because two people choose to be together. It’s a wonderful thing, and it should happen more often. But love is a human conceit and like all things human, it is mortal and can die if not maintained. (The tried and true method to kill love? Apathy. It takes time, but it’s 100% effective.) It starts with the choice of the two of you wanting to be with one another. Then it continues with you saying every day, all day, that you STILL want to be with this person. Out of all the options available to you, staying with your lover is what you DESIRE. It’s not something you need, like food or air. Romantic as it might sound to tell someone that your love for them is the food of your life, that also means that your love for them is crap that you flush down the toilet. Does that still seem romantic? Not to mention the fact that "need" has a nasty habit of turning into "obsession", and that is no longer love. Glenn Close did not love Michael Douglas at the end of Fatal Attraction. She was obsessed.

Staying with your lover because you desire to also helps reinforce the individuality of both you AND your lover, because both of you are mutually desirous of being together. As a fringe benefit, it also gives you a way out of the relationship. When either you or your lover don’t desire to be together, walk away. Several friends of mine have asked me what I would do if I found out my lover was cheating on me. My answer is really simple. I would ask her to choose who she wants to be with, right then and there. If she chooses the other person, I’ll let her go. If she chooses me, we work together to find out what was wrong that led her to cheat and fix it. No games, and no drama. Why? Because as the object of my love, I want my lover to be happy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that she’ll be happy WITH ME. That’s where the ENLIGHTENED part of enlightened self-interest kicks in. I can’t say it’s easy, but it IS simple.

Throughout this essay, I’ve made references to the "forms" of love. That’s because there isn’t just one kind of love. The point of this essay is romantic love, but a great deal of the points I’ve made here work towards all other types of love. Most people have an idea of the different types of love: the love a parent has for a child, the love someone has for their siblings, the love someone has for their friends, etc. But few think about the different forms each of those types of love can take.

For example, there’s "tough love", where someone forsakes a measure of closeness to harden the person they love in order to prepare them for a harsh world. Or "fairy tale love", where nothing else matters but that the two lovers are together, everything else will take care of itself as long as they stay together. This is a type of love that can never exist in the real world, but can provide an exceedingly effective respite from a bad situation. Other forms of love include: un-requited love, where you’re in love with someone who doesn’t share that love. (My speciality!) Sacrificial love, when you give up yourself and your desires and ambitions for the one you love. This is most often what feeds parental love, but other types of love use this form as well. Jealous love, where someone chooses to make sure the person they love is isolated from any threats to that love. Zealous love, where someone subsumes their interests and beliefs in the interests and beliefs of the one they love. And there are more out there.

Love is extremely complex, and I am by no means an expert on the subject. But, if you’re in a relationship or thinking about getting into one, I do recommend you think about what love means to you and make sure you communicate that to your lover. And if you don’t know what love is to you, start with this question: do you agree with this essay? Why or why not?

Thoughts On... Being Alone (Old Essay)

This is an old essay of mine that I recently came across and fixed up a bit. Mostly in structure. As always, thoughts and/or comments are appreciated!!


Recently, it seems that a great many of the people around me are having major issues with their love lives. Inevitably, because I care about the people, I get pulled in to those very same issues. Although for me, it's more in the consultant capacity than anything else. While I am taking part, these issues don't hit me as hard as they do the people more intimately involved.

But the part that is really interesting (and the reason for this essay) is how despite all the issues with love going on around me (both good and bad) I don't seem to share the driving impulse to be with someone and bring my love life into existence. While it would be nice to share my weird, dark world with a woman, I am also comfortable with the idea of being single for the rest of my life. Which ever way my future plays out is fine by me. People I tell this to, all ask the same question: "How can you deal with being alone?"

While technically I am not really alone (after all, I do have other humans around me), it's easy to understand what they mean and the question does have some merit. The wording of my answer varies depending on my mood, but the meaning behind it stays the same. I've been alone for so long now that it's become the natural status of my existence. Like gravity and the chemical composition of water molecules, my being "alone" is a built in function of my world and nothing to be lamented or worried over.

It seems that most people have this latent fear of dying alone with no loved ones around them. No one to care that they were in this world or that they are leaving it. As long as they have at least one person with them (although most would have a significant other and many children), their lives have mattered. I don't have this fear. I believe the reason I don't subscribe to this fear has to do with the fundamental principles upon which I base the way I view the world.

The natural questions to ask, of course, are what are the fundamental principles I'm talking about and how do they influence the way I view the world? While I'm at it, another question to throw in there is how do I see the world? Most of the principles that guide my worldview are beyond the scope of this essay. However, there are three that apply here.

1) The world as we know it, is completely and entirely independent of me.

In other words, if I had never existed, the world would still be here. The rules of gravity, light, television, etc. would all still be the same. Granted, there would be some differences, but the world (the universe, reality) doesn't depend on my being here for its existence. While I am a part of the world, and I am in the world, there is a limit to how far my connection to the world goes and consequently how much I can affect the world. There is a limit to how much I matter. There is a distinct line beyond which I can not reach. By necessity this implies a separation or aloneness here, and this is just based on my existing.

2) The world operates on rules.

To say these rules are complex would be like saying the universe is big. The rules of the world are orderly, concrete and unbreakable, yet fluid, chaotic, and subject to change at a moment's notice. And as if the rules themselves weren't complex enough, they also interact with each other on infinite levels and in infinite ways, creating even more nuances and variations, both great and small. The quest that science has undertaken fully supports this, since the basic mission of any scientist is to understand how the world works. And as anyone can see from how much life has changed in the past hundred or so years, knowledge of those rules, even as incomplete as our knowledge is, can have a powerful effect on a society or a person. This is one of the reasons why I place such a high value on gathering information and learning. The second reason is my third principle.

3) My world is built with the information I gather from everything around me.

The information my senses provide, the information people give me when I interact with them, and how that new information interacts with the information I already have is what makes up my world. Since, according to my first principle, the world is independent of me, the best way to ensure my continued existence is to make sure that my world is as close to the actual world as possible. This places enormous importance on the accuracy and integrity of the information I have. This is why truth, no matter how painful, is always preferable. Because no matter what pain the faulty information is attempting to avoid, the pain that is delivered when my world is shattered by the real world is infinitely worse.

So, what does any of what I just wrote have to do with being alone and my not having a problem with that?

Well let's look at this with my third principle in mind. I stated earlier that I'm not really alone. And, I'm not. There are other people on this planet, and I interact with them on a daily basis. To be completely accurate, this essay is really talking about being single and how I deal with the fact that I may be single for the rest of my life. If my world is built with the information I gather, part of my world is built with my memories & experiences. Since I have been single most of my life, those memories & experiences would suggest that being single is my natural state of being and that being in a relationship is the aberration. Add to that my second principle: the world operates on rules. What rule is there that says I must in a relationship? Or that being in a relationship is necessary or even desirable? In other words, there are many benefits to being single.

For example, being single allows me to build my own world. It allows me to define who I am as person, what I like and don't like, and what I will or will not do without the direct influence of a single outside party. How many relationships are there where one person is completely and totally dependent on the other for everything? Not only regarding financial concerns, but also to define opinions, like a guy asking his girlfriend "Honey, what do I like to eat?" How many relationships define the person's total identity, like a girl introducing herself as "I'm his girlfriend, Diana" which implies the relationship is her identity and her name is a role she's playing in the relationship as opposed to "I'm Diana, his girlfriend." How many relationships define what action can or cannot be taken, like a guy saying "I can't have this burger cause my girlfriend is a vegan." As a single person, those influences are absent in the creation of my world. I am solely responsible for my actions or lack thereof. Another example, I have a great many female friends and being single allows me to be able to spend any amount of time alone with them with no pressure of any kind. For those of you reading this that are in a relationship, imagine being able to spend as much time as you want with someone of the opposite sex without having the thought of what your significant other would say or think about what you're doing constantly running in the background. And these are just a few examples of the freedoms being single provides.

However, all that was stated above is just theoretical. As I said earlier, in my world, my default status is to be single, which means that right now I am the way I am supposed to be. My experiences do not support the assumption that being with someone is the way to be happy and that I should be devoting every ounce of my energy to finding someone to be with for the rest of my life. I have been in relationships that started with great happiness, but then degenerated into mistrust and confusion. Not to mention that during the time I was actively searching for someone, the never ending series of rejections kept me in one of the darkest states of depression I've ever been in for the greater part of seven years. And it's not just my own experiences that go against the assumption. I have seen relationships self-destruct for no reason, seen people stay in relationships that don't even come close to making them happy for years on end, and watched as friendships, that had lasted for years, were destroyed for the sake of relationships.

Another benefit of my worldview is that since I don't make the common mistake that my every happiness depends on being with someone, I'm free to be happy right now as I am and enjoy the life I'm currently leading and not crying about my life while hiding in the dream of what my life could be like if only I had a woman with me.

The statement I wrote earlier, I am not alone, has many facets. One of these was discussed above. Another is that despite my worldview, I have to deal with people who operate under the assumption that being single is a painful situation that must be rectified immediately. In other words, I have to deal with people who operate in a completely opposite way of thinking. How do I deal with these people? This is where a combination of all three principles come in. The other people around me are in their separate worlds, each one with a different set of rules completely distinct from my own and they are working to build their world as they see fit. If my own world has any validity, then I can not, in good conscience, deny the validity of their world, despite the flaws I see in their system of logic.

My world isn't perfect. There are many problems in my life, and the way I see things has helped cause some of them and has helped in developing solutions for some of them as well. But, I can say this, my worldview lets me enjoy my life being single (or being alone) because I don't tremble down to roots of my soul or have despair clutch my heart in a death grip at the thought of spending my life as a bachelor.

As for relationships, I do believe that they offer many rewards and are worth the work it takes to start and maintain one. In my experience, I have seen wonderous transformations occur with two people coming together. And, I am open to the idea that at some point in the future, I will be in a relationship again. But I am not going to let my not being in a relationship stop me from being happy with my life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

These are the lovely bones...

In my experience, it's exceedingly rare for a film to go beyond it's individual parts and become an emotional experience. The visuals, the story, the actors all gel in such a way that the film takes you beyond the necessary suspension of disbelief and into a new emotional reality. That is what I felt watching "The Lovely Bones", and it was fantastic!

The key to the film is Saoirse Ronan. The film would not have been anywhere near as compelling, if it wasn't for Ronan's performance. In her narration of events, she hits the perfect blend of fear, awe, sadness, and hope, adding such subtle nuances to her character that make her feel like your own child. Watching her onscreen, she takes that blend of emotion and overlays it with a youthful innocence and exuberance that serves only to bind you to her even more.

This makes watching her murder all the more painful, and lends a weight to the performances of Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, playing her parents, Jack & Abigail Salmon. Wahlberg & Weisz put in solid performances, but Ronan's performance adds a visceral component, so you feel the Salmon family's frustration at not finding her, and then their anguish at learning of her death, as if you were part of their family. The parallel journeys of emotion that Susie and her family take during the course of the film become your own. You heal as the family does, and you accept the death as Susie does.

In the end, that the point of the film. It isn't about what happens during the film, the events are simple in nature. It isn't about the what you're seeing, despite the film's visuals being utterly fantastic and another mark of Peter Jackson's amazing talent. The true focus of the film is how the events of life, both cruel and benign, affect you and those around you.

Very few movies deal with this subject matter, a soul accepting it's death and the survivor's journey of healing after that death. The ones that immediately come to mind are What Dreams May Come, with a tour de force performance by Robin Williams, and The Five People You Meet In Heaven. I'm now adding The Lovely Bones to this category. Like the others in this category, The Lovely Bones is a very powerful film and I do recommend it. But it's not a film to be taken lightly, and not something you watch just to pass the time.

On a final note, I have to give Stanley Tucci an enthusiastic thumbs up. Every movie I see him in, from Conspiracy to Shall We Dance?, from The Terminal to Julie & Julia*, he always delivers solid, believable perfomances. In this film, Tucci displays a new level of mastery in his craft. Very few people can convey as much just sitting still. His scenes sitting in front of the safe, were chilling to watch. Great job, Mr. Tucci!

* Yes, I watched Julie & Julia. No, I wasn't forced to. And, no I didn't like it. That's a rental movie.

24 Season 8 Premiere -- 2nd Night

Ever since the producers & the executives at Fox decided on the two night 4 hour premiere format for 24, I've had a ball with the start of the season. It always feels like the show is larger than TV for some reason.

Before I start on Hours 3 & 4, I do have to make a slight correction to my review of Hours 1 & 2. I stated that the character Hassan was the president of Iran. I could have sworn that it was stated in the dialog, but it turns out, I was mistaken. While Hassan is the president of a middle eastern country, as always, it's never stated which country. Sorry about that, folks. And now, my thoughts on Hours 3 & 4.

The next two hours have aired, and they are fantastic!! We're now getting some of the B-story lines laid out and I have to say, I'm not liking Dana Walsh's storyline. They started her out as strong, focused, and determined in the first two hours. Now they're ping-ponging her between Strong Walsh at CTU and Fragile Walsh with her ex-boyfriend, which doesn't quite ring true. Even with CTU NY being a relatively new organization, Walsh would never be able to handle working at CTU if it were so easy to break her down. Sackhoff's performance is pitch perfect, I'm just not liking the character.

I do have to say I like the idea of a division of CTU having to prove it can do the job. Until it's disbanding in between season 6 & 7, CTU was a deeply entrenched foundation of the show with very small changes to it.
And Annie Wershing returns as Renee Walker!! YEAH!!! She was awesome in season 7 and I loved her introduction in season 8, but her actions are really solidifying the echoes of previous story lines.

Have you ever wanted to go back in time & talk to your younger self? Give yourself some strong advice and guidance? Renee's introduction in season 7 seemed to have given Bauer that exact opportunity. Now in season 8, we're treated to a re-invention of the "hacksaw" scene in season 2. Not to mention the fact that Walker's in pretty much the same state Bauer was in at the beginning of season 2. Plus, the unusually honorable president, and another love affair between high level CTU agents..... I guess because this might be the final season of 24, the producers decided to give us the "Best Of.." 24 story lines". Now, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we'll have to see how things turn out.

Hours 3 & 4 continue the greatness of season 8, and I can't wait for Monday to hear the words: "The next episode of 24 starts... RIGHT NOW!"

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Best of The Best Returns...

It's that time again. The time for terrorists to quake in their boots, evil hackers to hide in their Matrices, and bad politicians to go on extended vacations... That's right, boys and girls, JACK IS BACK!!!

One of the best things about the month of January is the return of one of the greatest shows on television: 24. Season 8 started last night, and the two-night, four hour premiere continues tonight at 8pm!! I've watched the first two eps and here are my first impressions, to paraphrase a favorite ad slogan: Season 8 is GREAT!!!

First off, the storyline is being debuted very well. It looks like the streak of good writing on 24 that started in season six is still holding strong. There are some strong resemblances to early seasons of 24, but there's enough new material there to avoid the appearance of the writers repeating themselves. For example, unlike past seasons, the politics are being displayed early on. This is a good thing, since the blend of the mind-bending political intricacies and heart-stopping action are what gives 24 it's unique appeal. (Think of it as the perfect mix of West Wing & Die Hard.) That they're introducing the politics so early promises a much more complex storyline. I hope they keep delivering that complexity throughout the season.

In terms of casting, the producers of the show have tapped some exceptional talent!! Mykelti Williamson, as always, puts in a solid performance. Powerful and engaging as Hastings, the director of CTU NY, he has a few steps to take to achieve the position of true successor to Bill Buchanan, but he has the makings. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what he does with his role.

Katee Sackoff, after Battlestar Galatica and Bionic Woman, is there NOTHING she can't do? It's nice to see Hollywood's only humanly proportioned blond actress in a non sci-fi role, though. I definitely don't want to see her typecast. I want to see her as much as possible! Taking up the mantle of Michelle Dessler, Sackhoff's Dana Walsh is powerful, determined and exceptionally competent at her job. Plus, she looks good doing it! (I had to say it, the woman is gorgeous after all.)

Freddie Prinze, Jr is the surprise for me. I'm used to seeing him as the leading man in rom-coms, and the funny guy in everything else. He's stepping in as the next Tony Almeida (even with his choice of romantic interest, Sackhoff's Dana Walsh), Cole Ortiz, director of CTU NY field ops. It's an interesting jump for Prinze, Jr and so far he comes across believably. When the action really starts we'll see if he can keep up.

I did enjoy seeing Slumdog Millionaire's Anil Kapoor as the president of Iran. Kapoor's President Hassan came across as polished, honorable, sincere, and sympathetic. The last president with that kind of mix was David Palmer. I'm looking forward to seeing where Kapoor takes the role. It was also very nice to see one of my favorite bad guys, Doug Hutchison, again. I know he's not the main bad guy, but I really enjoy watching him work. I hope he lasts a good long while in this season.

Series regulars Cherry Jones & Mary Lynn Rajskub reprise their roles with the same power and appeal as ever and for once, Elisha Cuthbert's Kim does not come across as annoying & petulant.

The producers of the show have often stated that 24 takes place about 5 min into an alternate future of the US. The first two eps of season eight reflect this more than any other season so far, mostly in the layout of CTU NY. Voice activated view screens, cavernous body scanners, biometric access panels and my personal favorite, the drone piloting station, all add an air of "one step forward" advanced tech that makes CTU NY appear ahead of the game.

Overall, I believe this was a strong opening for Season 8. I'm looking forward to tonight's continuation and the rest of the season. Rumors have it that this is the last season of 24. I hope not, but if it is, it's looking like it's going to be one HELL of a ride. And what better place to go out in than New York City?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

So, I finally got around to watching Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, I know, I'm slow. But I watched it. I have to say like many other Holmes fans, I was extremely distraught at the idea of Guy Ritchie's new interpretation of one of the greatest characters in literature. (To be honest, ANY new interpretation would have been disquieting.) Given the movie industry's most recent trends of sensationalized realism in their films, I feared that the new Holmes would be nothing more than a skeleton of the character that I have come to love, if that. As it turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong. And I apologize, Mr. Ritchie, for doubting you.

Yes, I liked the movie. I liked it a lot. Overall, I found it engaging, entertaining, and best of all, intellectually stimulating, both in the plot and the execution of that plot. One of the things I found most amazing was how much information Ritchie conveys in this movie. Not a single area of any frame of the film is wasted. In less than five minutes, Ritchie manages to introduce all the major characters, establish their relationships with one another, and lay a surprisingly detailed foundation for the events of the film. With efficiency like that, I wish Ritchie had directed at least two of the Harry Potter films.

In terms of casting, Robert Downey Jr. was a fantastic choice. There are few actors who can combine the necessary traits of charm, detachment, arrogance, insanity, intelligence, and disdain in such form. Downey Jr. flowed through these traits melding them with a touch of irony and sarcasm that made Holmes, the MAN, just as interesting as Holmes, the detective.

Jude Law was also a fantastic selection. Filling the role of Dr. Watson with the character's trademark amiability, increasing intellectualism, and rapier wit, Law is just as much of a joy to watch as his co-star. Law plays off the energy of Downey Jr. with a laid back style that is a perfect counterpoint. Together, they convey the friendship and affection the two characters have for each other beautifully through out the film.

Mark Strong, as the villain of the piece, Lord Blackwood, was fun to watch. Strong gives a nefarious single mindedness to Blackwood, allowing the character to achieve a surprising level of complexity. The influence of his plan, the depth of his manipulations, and his superior grasp of theatricality allow him to be a very believable antagonist to Holmes.

Rachel McAdams, as always, is a pleasure on screen. Unfortunately, her role was short changed in the writing. Irene Adler was the one woman in all of the stories that was intellectually sophisticated enough to not only keep up with Holmes but to actually OUT THINK him. That intelligence was down played in favor of a more romantic relationship which plays well in this new interpretation, but I was looking forward to seeing McAdams display her acting talents with a more cerebral role.

In terms of the new interpretation of Holmes, I think it is a much more realistic vision of him than any other. While it's true that the movie doesn't follow the writings of Conan Doyle to the letter, it does follow the spirit of Holmes. For example, the stories are rife with moments of Holmes bucking the trend by ignoring rank, propriety, and tradition. There are stories were the detective would refuse to take cases brought to him by the highest members of society in favor of more intellectually challenging cases that were presented by commoners. Yet, Holmes has always been portrayed as one of the most proper Englishmen on television. Many a story has Holmes' rooms at 221B Baker St completely unorganized, with paperwork strewn all over the place. Yet, Holmes was always portrayed as a meticulous, and immaculate man. This never made sense to me. In his departure from the accepted, Ritchie has not only breathed new life into Holmes, but also has come closer to what Holmes would have been like in his day.

I also enjoyed the film's vision into the mind of Holmes. In my experience, films have always had difficulty conveying the viewpoint of a genius character. It's only been recently with films like A Beautiful Mind, and tv shows like Numb3rs, that audiences have been given a compelling spotlight into not only how the mind of a genius WORKS, but also how that same genius INTERPRETS the world around them. Now, with "Sherlock Holmes", Guy Ritchie allows us to see the world as Holmes does. Giving us just enough information to follow Holmes, but somehow managing to keep Sherlock 6 or 7 steps ahead. Hearing how Holmes develops his tactics in fighting, seeing the details Holmes observes, and following the reasoning he lays out was a genuine pleasure for me.

All in all, I truly enjoyed this movie. I want to go to the theater and watch it again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thus begineth the New Year...

So, this is my first post in 2010, Year Of The Geek. I guess it would be a good idea to start off with a summation of last year, and then go into the new year stuff. Sound good? Cool.

It's common knowledge that the Chinese have a curse that goes something like, "May you live in interesting times." It's a surprisingly effective curse since whenever humanity faces Events Of Interest, massive amounts of trauma come along for the ride. Keeping that in mind, I can honestly 2009 was an interesting year for me.

Major Points of Interest in 2009:
  • It was the second year of my triumphant return to the world of software development.

  • I reconnected with a bunch of friends from high school that I had lost contact with through FaceBook.

  • I discovered a small talent for karaoke

  • I transitioned out of employment.

  • I crashed my Durango & acquired a Dodge Ram 1500 SLT.

  • I finally managed to find and get an apartment of my own.

All in all, an interesting year.

Now in 2010, things are getting off to a bad start, I now lost my truck. So, for the moment, I have no vehicle as well as no job. So, this year is starting with several interesting challenges for me to overcome. Things aren't looking so good, but thanks to Pandora, I have some hope.

  • I'm hoping to be gainfully employed again.

  • I'm hoping to have a vehicle again.

  • I'm hoping that I don't have to lose my apartment.

  • I'm hoping that some of the "good things" that I've been paying for with all the bad things in my life start appearing.

  • I'm hoping that the bulk of 2010 won't be as interesting as 2009.

Welcome one & and all to 2010: Year of The Geek!!