Confessions of an Egomaniac

April 18, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

 

Two years ago, I wrote my first article for the Bagpipe in the Opinions section about my first Kilter experience. A month later, when I followed that up with a review of Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz album, Emmett Gienapp told me that the whole staff room cheered.

Since then, much of my college experience could be summarized as a cycle of trying to be remembered. I am part of a hall community that thrives on public stunts, with which I’ve taken every opportunity to use my talents in writing and theatre to create an image and boost it. My Facebook page has oft been filled with ironic meta-statements on the nature of connection and bombastic pictures featuring my photogenic personality. During this time I’ve also acquired more nicknames than could reasonably be counted.

When offstage, I sometimes try to keep a low profile and build an air of mystique, only speaking when necessary. The idea is that this way, when an issue comes up that I may want to change, I can reply with an out-of-the-box comment and people might listen. Although to be fair, I don’t know how well I’ve pulled this last strategy off. I tend to talk a lot when I get excited.

What I am saying is that I’ve attempted analysis on how I’m being perceived by strangers and adjusted my life accordingly. Some of this comes from childhood insecurities I’ve struggled against my whole life. Related to this is a well-intentioned, but fear-driven desire to make my best friends in college, and make memories I can take into my adult life.

But despite the many photos, stunts, and memories documented in my file, when I look back at my time in college, I will no doubt see it as a very troubled time in my life. More than that, living my life in a “public image cycle,” always waiting for the next time I can get that high from being the center of attention, has affected my ability to use my gifts responsibly.

The trap comes when you are focused on earning the love of others—which really just stems from a love of self—at the expense of glorifying God. The truth is, one cannot know how they are being perceived, and even if they could, it should not influence their convictions to speak boldly or to love others through ministry, when those convictions are being prompted in your heart by God.

There have been many times when I’ve wondered, because of my insecurities and rapt attention on some constructed, imaginary persona, whether I should be allowed to give opinions, perform, or otherwise live my life in freedom of expression. Is it narcissistic to consider whether you’re showing off too much? Furthermore, is it worth risking being called a narcissist if you think the things you want to do would glorify God and serve your community?     What is the limit on taking initiative? On stepping out in roles of leadership?

I write this article not because I have the answers to these questions, but because I have an opinion on them. More importantly, I want to speak to people who, like me, may also have opinions, but are too worried about what others will think to speak into their community’s discourse with them.

Don’t spend your time in college, or your life, worried about your legacy. It will never be enough, and it will cripple you in places you actually care about.

Don’t spend your life concerned about what others are thinking. You will be disappointed.

When God calls you to do something, you should do it, even if it means more responsibility and the chance that you’ll be in the public eye.

Be yourself. But remember to try, at least imperfectly, to keep your bigheadedness in check. Matt. 5:3 says, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And it seems to me that living life under that philosophy, with a healthy understanding of where your gifts and opportunities come from, will save you from a lot of problems that come with egocentrism.

10 Cloverfield Lane Review

April 18, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

 

This article contains no major plot spoilers.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that many would claim shouldn’t be talked about, out of fear of giving something away and ruining the experience. The disadvantage of that philosophy, though, is that it prevents those considering going to see it from knowing whether they’ll actually like it.

The premise is simple, but intense. We follow Michelle, who gets into a car accident at the beginning of the film. When she wakes up, she is in an underground bunker with two men who tell her the world has ended, and if she leaves, she will be infected by a terrible disease. They have no outside contact. She hears the occasional rumbling of something unknown from the surface. However, she has no way of knowing what, if anything, they are telling her is true.

The film is concerned with themes of abduction and abuse, so it may not be enjoyable for all audiences. But the acting and writing are both pretty good. I can say the film is very different from 2008’s Cloverfield and is in a completely different genre, but fans of the first should enjoy this one as well.

John Goodman has a good, meaty part against type as the mysterious and gruff leader, Howard, and he plays the character with real nuance and subtlety. Throughout the film, Goodman is fascinating and dominates attention, transforming as the story progresses and even working in a bit of his comedy at one point as well. The less familiar leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr., are also incredibly interesting to watch. Here’s hoping they get more work in the future.

The film shares many style elements of others that Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’ company) has made in the past. Out in front is Abrams’ “mystery box,” which refers to a large, mysterious plot element designed to lure in audiences—in this case, the question of what is on the surface. The trailers for this film are obscure, like they were for the original 2008 Cloverfield, and recently, the new Star Wars. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Most of the film takes place inside the house, and everybody wants to know, “what’s in the box?”

The film feels dangerous, although it didn’t surprise me as much as it could have, to the film’s detriment. With such a killer setup, the movie really shines when you don’t know what’s going on and how everything fits together. At the risk of sounding like a genre snob, I’ll say that fans of other suspense movies may be able to predict the major framework of the plot. But it’s well-crafted. Like I said, it’s a good genre thriller; it’s just nothing game-changing.

Many will enjoy it, but as the plot twisted, I found myself expecting other twists that ended up being unfulfilled, and additionally, the stretches of the movie that came between plot points sometimes lagged for me.

Perhaps this was intentional. Even after all is revealed, this film seems to be more interested in the potential of our human minds for paranoia and our ability to imagine destruction, than actual monsters themselves. This is a refreshing and thought-provoking move. By the end, one feels they have witnessed a significant emotional journey, and I found myself trying to link the major conflicts Michelle faces, including the movie’s shifting power relations, the characters’ backstories, and the total entrapment of the house itself.

The house definitely works as a clear metaphor for the entrapment of a controlling relationship. However, there’s some ambiguity, or maybe even muddling, in what meaningful things the film actually has to say about this topic. To be safe, I’ll leave that to a second viewing and your own interpretation.

Perhaps the film can best be summarized with one of its own images, in which the characters look at a large jigsaw puzzle and one remarks that there are pieces missing.

3.5/5 Stars.

A Few Words on Batman vs. Superman

April 1, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

It was a surreal experience watching Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and even after leaving the theatre I must say there’s nothing else like it. On the one hand, I have always wanted to see Batman—my favorite superhero, beat up Superman—who I distinctly remember haunting my childhood nightmares, on the big screen.

Yet the film is an enormous contradiction, and what’s more—it seems to know this and gloat in it at every turn.

Step 1: Cast Ben Affleck—much maligned for his performance in Daredevil, to replace Christian Bale—universally praised for his childhood-defining turn as the Dark Knight, in a film to chronicle Batman’s return from retirement.

Step 2: Enter Jesse Eisenberg—cast against type and with a full head of hair as a high-pitched, sniveling and wisecracking Lex Luthor. He sounds like the Joker.

Step 3: Miraculously turn what by all accounts should be a low-brain, blockbuster action romp into a deeply nuanced and well-thought out philosophical treaty on the nature of heroism and godhood.

You can observe many of these steps from the previews, which ran simultaneously with the much-better marketed and prematurely leaked Suicide Squad trailer. But then the early reviews started pouring in. Affleck put on more than 24 pounds of muscle for the role and was so successful with test audiences that the studio not only sent the film back for more Batman footage, but granted him a three-picture deal with Writer/Director/Actor credit. What?

And the critics panned it. So I went in with no expectations. I mean, after all this, what kind of tone was I supposed to have prepared for?

Now, having seen the movie, there are a few things I can say confidently, without need for spoilers, from a fan’s perspective. As promised, much of Batman’s characterization in this film is based closely on the 1986 comic, “The Dark Knight Returns,”  by Frank Miller, and though I don’t care for that particular take on Batman in Miller’s story, I’ll concede that Affleck embodies that version of the character. He more than meets the challenges of the role and defies expectations. If you like the source material, you won’t be disappointed, and casual fans will find that Next Gen Batman is fresh and exciting to watch. Even though he perplexingly uses a semi-automatic gun now.

The acting from the others is good as well, even Eisenberg’s Luthor. While it may be tempting to judge this film going in, an open-minded audience should be pleasantly surprised with the story’s twists and compelling story.

Watching this movie feels like reading a great comic book. It is epic, fun, and even thought-provoking. Though sometimes the ideas did get a little too heavy to keep up with, I left the theatre impressed with the range and subtle delicacy of the many questions the film provokes about the role of religion in society.

Not only does it pave the way for everyone to pass more Batman and Justice League posters for the next ten years, this messy masterpiece of popular culture managed to both entertain and enlighten.