Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Every Parent's Worst Nightmare

Some shocking news: My best friend called me yesterday morning while I was at work and told me that a girl we knew had passed away over the weekend.  It's much, much worse than that, though.  She was allegedly murdered by her abusive boyfriend.

You can read about the story here.

I first met Amber about three years ago when my best friend and I were out on a Saturday night.  She was with her friend who my buddy was talking music with, and I was chatting with Amber at the bar.  We hung out as a group a few more times, but I saw her very infrequently.  More often than not, I'd hear small updates about her during small talk with our mutual friends, which brings me to about a month ago.

I was out one night celebrating my buddy's birthday, and one of my friends that night mentioned how Amber had been in a horrible car accident.  She was laid up in the hospital for several days recovering from her injuries, and even lost her job for not showing up.  My initial reaction was that her job had opened itself up for a wrongful termination lawsuit, and Amber would collect a pretty hefty payday in the settlement. 

Turns out the "car accident" was only a cover story, and Amber was in the hospital after being beaten up by her boyfriend.  I understand why the cover story was cooked up since cases like this one almost always involve lying so as not to reveal the embarassing and awful truth. 

I never met Amber's boyfriend, and truth be told I can't even remember the last time I would've seen her.  I'm sure it was at least two years ago.  I can't really refer to Amber as a friend either because I didn't know her that well; she was much more of an acquaintance.  But I am very close with her friend who was with her in the bar that night we had all first met, so this is still very tough to handle.

From what I know of her boyfriend, he was the typical super nice guy when they were out together.  He would buy drinks for people in the group, help people out with errands, and be very outgoing and friendly overall.  I guess that's the front that always shows publicly in abusive relationships like this one, and the true colors only show themselves behind closed doors.

I've known several women in my life who had abusive relationships in the past, and even dated a couple of them.  The emotional scars from relationships like those almost always last much longer than the physical ones since they cut much more deeply.  It's truly tragic that these relationships exist, and most times it takes years for a woman to muster up the courage to leave an abusive husband or boyfriend for good.  Even if that happens, women still need years sometimes to really be happy again.  Those emotional scars carry over and affect future relationships for years to come.

There's no way for me to know or find out if anyone reading this post is currently in an abusive relationship, but if you are out there, let me say this: There is hope.  You CAN get out.  You may think you're in love with this person who beats you and/or calls you all sorts of horrible names, but you're really not.  You're in love with a fantasy, an idea of what you think this guy could be like if he'd just stop hitting you.  You may think you're trapped with him because you have one or more kids with him.  The reality is he won't be a good father to his kids if he doesn't respect you.  And if your kids see how he treats you, they'll think that behavior is acceptable later in life.  You wouldn't want a son of yours to grow up beating his future wife or girlfriend, and you wouldn't want your daughter to be a human punching bag either. 

As tough as it might be to talk to a family member or close friend about such a relationship, the potential end results more than justify the actions.  If you need a stranger to talk to - and I understand how talking to a stranger who isn't personally invested can be beneficial at first - there's a great website for the National Domestic Violence Hotline (  Give them a call.

And if you're abusing your wife or girlfriend and reading this, there is also hope for you.  Beating her doesn't make her want to submit to you; it makes her afraid of you.  You aren't a "real man" if you hit your wife or girlfriend, and no amount of money or gifts will make things okay.  The only time it's too late to change your ways is if your wife or girlfriend ends up like Amber.  Deep down you may truly love your wife or girlfriend, and she may still forgive you for what you've done if you show her you're willing to change.

The small comfort to Amber's story is that police have already arrested her boyfriend and charged him with second-degree murder.  Still, I can't fathom what her father would have said or did when he got the call about her.  How does any parent handle outliving their own child?  How do they avoid going berzerk and seek some kind of vigilante revenge?  I'm only an uncle, and I can tell you that if my niece was ever beaten by some boyfriend of hers, nobody would find that kid's body.  I pray that Amber's family does eventually find some source of comfort in this ordeal; perhaps knowing that the man who killed her has already been arrested and faces murder charges will work towards bringing closure.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Early Thoughts on Man of Steel

There's a lot of nerdy things that I dig.  I've already talked quite a bit about being a big Star Trek fan, but I have always also had an appreciation for comic book superheroes.  The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers are just two of the latest examples of superhero movies that I've recently loved, but there is one character who, for me, stands a head above all the rest.

That man is Superman.

I've been a major Superman fan ever since I was a kid.  I rarely ever read the comic books, and that never really mattered to me one way or the other.  One of the reasons why I don't read the source material for many of these superheroes is because comic book publishers are constantly retconning themselves from one storyline to another.  Every so often they'll do a story to really rip up and rebuild one or more titles at a time (Marvel's Civil War story arc from a couple years ago is a good example of redoing lots of things all at once), but more often then not publishers will do a reset in order to tell a new series of stories with their characters.

I have fond memories of watching the Christopher Reeve Superman movies when I was a kid.  I recall having my own cape to run through my backyard and pretend I was flying at supersonic speeds just like Superman.  The original film from 1978 still stands as one of my top five favorite films of all time, and Superman 2 still has, to this day, the greatest all-out brawl that's ever been put to film in my opinion.

I say all this because I saw the teaser trailer for Man of Steel Friday night with The Dark Knight Rises.  If you haven't yet seen it, check it out for yourself:

I'm not one to review something like a trailer because there have been plenty of kick-ass trailers for movies that turned out to be crap, and vice versa.  However, I had to comment on this teaser.  It's not about showing Superman in action, nor is it about showing too many special effects.  It's about reintroducing us to what is arguably the most iconic character in American lore.  It's about creating an emotional impact for the audience.  It's about doing something new with a character who most anyone knows the basics about.

The first time I saw this teaser in the theater, I was caught completely off guard.  It's not what I had expected for a first teaser, and I loved that about it.  When it was over, I looked over at my two buddies I was with in the theater - one of whom said straight up he was not a Superman fan at all - and we all had this look of awe in our eyes.

Zach Snyder is directing Man of Steel, and his film record to date is spotty at best.  His first film was Dawn of the Dead, which was a decent enough zombie survival horror flick.  Then he made 300, which was exciting to be sure, but the story had no depth to it.  He followed that up with Watchmen, a film that I have seen but can't say I either liked or disliked it.  His most recent film was Sucker Punch which I have not seen, but everything I've read online about it paints it to be one of the single worst films of the last decade.

Based on the few images contained in this teaser and Snyder's record to date, Man of Steel will be visually impressive if nothing else.  I only hope the character has the same kind of heroism and awe that Superman has been associated with for 75 years.  Superman: The Movie and Superman II both captured those factors, and I want a new Superman film that I love as much as those two films.  Superman Returns tried to capture that same magic, but it ultimately didn't work.  Man of Steel looks like it could be much more serious in tone than other previous Superman films, which could be a good thing for the character and the franchise.  Rebooting the franchise into something entirely new doesn't spit on the great films that came before it, and it also gives a new generation the chance to fall in love with an icon all over again.

I really want Man of Steel to be something special.  The film doesn't arrive in theaters till June 2013, so I have a good while to wait and build anticipation for it.  If this teaser's mood and tone accurately represents the final film, I think I'm going to be very happy with it.  Of course, the flip side is how much of a disaster the movie could also be if it doesn't work.  At this point, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I made a conscious effort to stay spoiler-free in reading any review of this film prior to seeing it last night, and I was largely successful in doing so.  However, the reviews I had read weren't quite as predominantly positive as I had expected.  I read everything from "major disappointment" to "good, but not as awesome as The Dark Knight" to "the greatest conclusion to the trilogy possible."

As you can probably tell, I wasn't sure of what to expect from The Dark Knight Rises.  That was probably to my benefit so I could watch the movie for what it was versus having it not live up to my expectations.

Not only did the film live up to my expectations, it was better than anything I could have predicted.

Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight, which in and of itself was an interesting direction taken by co-writer/director Christopher Nolan.  That long of a time period between stories allowed for lots of physical and mental scars to heal, as well as new ones to form.  Gotham City is no longer the crime-filled hostile zone that it was early in Batman's career, and Harvey Dent's legacy has led to over 1000 men arrested and put in prison for their crimes.  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) hasn't put on the cowl and cape at all during that time, and he lives mostly in recluse away from the public eye.

This is all the calm before the storm, however.  There's a new force who wants to make a statement to those in power, and his name is Bane (Tom Hardy).  What he wants isn't quite clear at first, but his entrance in the film's first action sequence shows he has the will, the motivation, and the manpower to pull off some serious stuff.

Then there's the mysterious Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who has motives of her own.  She breaks into Wayne Manor and meets Bruce Wayne early in the film, only to make a swift getaway.  She's in cahoots with a rival corporation of Wayne Enterprises for their own financial gain.  She's also radically different from any other version of Catwoman in the past; she's much more of a traditional femme fatale than anything else.

Speaking of Wayne Enterprises, tell me if this sounds like a reflection of modern times: due to a number of poor financial investments the company has made, the company is facing either filing chapter 11, or be bought out by another investor.  Enter Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who Bruce Wayne trusts Wayne Enterprises' future to.

All of these details come about within the first 40 minutes or so of the film, which are individually small parts of the film's much larger plot.  I haven't even touched on Bane's ultimate plan to take over Gotham City or how he plans on doing it.  You'll also notice I haven't mentioned what Batman does in the film, since he doesn't actually show up until a massive bike chase through downtown Gotham City.

There's also John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's quickly become one of my favorite young actors), a young police officer who builds a strong relationship with Commissioner Gordon throughout the film.  Blake becomes critical to the plot by the climactic war that breaks out, but I can't go into too many details about him without spoiling a whole lot of details along the way.

I have to comment on the one major issue I have with the film, though: Batman is hardly in the movie.  He only shows up in costume for the major action sequences in the film, which nearly undercuts the film's title.  His two major battles with Bane are supreme throwdowns, and as awesome as those moments are, they are too far apart from one another.  Batman couldn't show up till halfway through Batman Begins by design, since we had to care about Bruce Wayne as a man first.  In The Dark Knight, Batman was front and center from the beginning all the way to the end of the film.  Here, we had to wait for Wayne to want to suit up again, but Wayne isn't so much the star of this film as he was before.  It's more John Blake and Bane's movie than anyone else's.

Make no mistake though - as compelling as Bane is as the villain of the film, he isn't half as fun to watch as Heath Ledger's Joker was in The Dark Knight.  There are a handful of lines where Bane's muffled voice is hard to decipher, but it's a whole lot better than early trailers made him sound.  Since Bane's mouth is covered with his mask, Tom Hardy can only emote with his eyes for the most part; there were a few moments where his hand gestures played a role in his acting, but he spends the majority of his time staring at whoever he talks to.

Director Christopher Nolan brings all these threads together by the end of the film with stakes higher than anything else done in most action movies.  It's all out war between Batman and the police force versus Bane and his minions, and it's complete mayhem.  What's particularly marvelous is how little CGI is apparently used for most of the action sequences, aside from Batman's flying contraption dodging missiles (if there is more CGI used during some of these action sequences, it's exceptionally good since it isn't easily discerned from the rest of what's going on screen).

This is the rare third part of a trilogy that satisfies expectations while still offering something new to enjoy.  I didn't see the film in IMAX, but I definitely intend on seeing it in the IMAX format.  It's not quite as awesome as The Dark Knight, but it's still a stellar film.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

By Any Other Name

A good friend of mine recently caught the writing bug, and is writing her first novel.  She's already through her first chapter of the book from what she's told me, and all I know of the plot is that it involves a witch of some kind in a modern day setting, with some elements of 50 Shades of Grey mixed in for good measure.

(There's that book again.  I CAN'T ESCAPE IT!)

I already contributed my idea for the book's title: Which Witch Is Which?  She loved it, and if she ended up using it as the actual title, all I asked for in return was a special "thank you" in the inside cover.

I would've been a happy man if the book eventually got published just with using my idea for the title.  However, today she asked me for another favor in relation to her book.  She wanted to give her main character - a woman - a very complicated name that most people couldn't pronounce. 

My last name typically frightens most people when they see it in print for the first time.  What usually happens is a person sees it, stares at it for a few seconds, and then just asks me how to say it.  Every now and then I come across a brave soul who is willing to take a stab at it, and every once in a great while, somebody gets it right the first time around with no help from me.

The funny thing is, the only thing that's really scary about my last name is the first three letters.  It starts with "Tch," which is enough to have most people give up.  Once I tell them how to say it, they realize it's a whole lot easier to say than they originally had thought. 

So naturally, my friend contacted me to ask if I would allow my last name to be the inspiration for her character's name.

I gladly offered it up for my friend to use for her main character.  I've never had a fictitious character named after me before, and I think it's a pretty awesome honor.  I can't wait to see how it's used in the book, and I'm gonna milk this 15 minutes of pseudo fame for every ounce I can get from it.

On a semi-related note, my girlfriend and I have a running joke about my last name.  Her maiden name is O'Connor, so if we got married and she took my last name, she would most definitely be trading down.  Instead, we're going to be super progressive about this should we get married one day, and I'm going to take her last name.  I don't know if this would impact my name being used in the book at all, but at least I wouldn't have to phonetically spell my last name out to anyone who ever hears it in speech.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: Ted

Lots of movies are guilty of a very common sin, that being they include all the best parts and clips in the trailers.  This is especially true of comedies, and one good example of this for me was Talledega Nights.  I can't remember a single moment of that film that wasn't included in the previews, which ruined the film for me.

Ted is the complete opposite of that concept.  The best stuff in the movie can't be shown in the previews because all the best moments are adult in nature.  It's a wonder anything remotely funny can be aired on television ads and avoid looking like nonsense.  Somehow the marketing team put together enough clips on television that are suitable in order to gain attention, but that couldn't possibly be an easy task.

Mark Wahlberg is John, a 35-year-old man who, when he was a boy in 1985, got a teddy bear for Christmas.  He wished that same night that Teddy could speak and act on his own, and when he woke up the next morning, he found out his wish came true.  At first Ted is lovable and cute, and he quickly becomes a celebrity by appearing on news broadcasts and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Fast forward to present day.  John is now working at an auto rental company, and he's been dating his girlfriend Laurie (Mila Kunis) for nearly 4 years.  Ted is still John's best friend, but his 15 minutes of fame have long since passed, and he's now a celebrity that most people have forgotten about (that right there is a possibly storyline that could have been used as the backbone for the movie, since that is an idea that would be ripe for comedy too).  Ted lives with John and Laurie and generally interfering in their relationship by taking bong hits while watching 80s cult classics like Flash Gordon and Masters of the Universe.

Laurie grows more and more annoyed with Ted's antics and forces John into the position of kicking Ted out of their apartment.  Now on his own Ted - who, I feel obligated to remind you, is a teddy bear - is forced to get a job as a grocery store cashier to provide for himself.

This whole story could have still been funny had Ted been a human being, but the sight of a teddy bear taking bong hits, drinking beer, and making sexual advances on women puts a new spin on the idea.  It's sort of a one-joke movie with substituting a teddy bear in place of any human being in the role, but it works.

Ted is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and American Dad.  MacFarlane wrote, directed, and voiced Ted in the film, and he makes a couple references to his previous works in the movie.  He also tossed in a few cameos that I dare not spoil for anyone who hasn't yet seen the movie; they are all priceless.

Network television only allows MacFarlane to go so far with his style of comedy, even while using animation.   Ted is truly MacFarlane Unchained, so any parent going into this movie thinking a comedy about a grown man and his childhood teddy bear better think twice about taking their kids to see this (in fact, I had spotted a woman carrying her daughter who was around 4 years old in the theater, which horrified me).  I don't know if MacFarlane can continue making movies while also running his animated series, but if he does he will certainly have a bright future ahead of him.  This is probably the funniest movie of the summer and possibly the funniest movie we'll get this year.