The Billionth Review of Ender’s Game

I win! Review number 1,000,000,000! Really I’m embarrassed that 999 million-plus other people reviewed the movie before I did, but here’s my take. No plot spoilers.

I loved the book, so that’s naturally a problem going into any film that’s an adaptation, but I felt able to separate the two versions without much trouble. One is the book-universe, one is the cinematic-universe. (OH CRAP SPOILER ALERT THERE’S A BOOK!)

The adaptation, then, has its own life, and has to be judged on its own merits, not as a comparison to the book. And I thought it was okayyyy… but it seemed to struggle choosing which theme to focus on. Like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a complex morality tale, or a blockbuster sci-fi thriller. In the end it felt like it fell short of both.

It also suffers from what I’ll call montage-fatigue. You know how movie trailers can be fun to watch, because they condense everything and move it all along at a superfast pace? Yeah. We can do that for about two minutes, then we need a break. Both ENDER’S GAME and MAN OF STEEL felt like trailers in the way they skipped along the surface of the story, giving snippets of scenes instead of the whole picture. Like the creators were afraid we’d get bored if they slowed down to let us breathe a little. (MAN OF STEEL was far, far worse in this regard.)

My biggest beef, though, will seem like a peccadillo to most: the music.

The score in ENDER’S GAME never lets up. Every single scene is drowning in musical accompaniment, and I hated it. Music in films should be used as a seasoning, not a core ingredient. As a punctuation mark, not a part of speech.

As for the acting – I don’t know. I’m not a great judge of acting, but I know that Harrison Ford never felt real to me. It always felt like “Harrison Ford plays Colonel Graff in the Cityville Community Theater’s presentation of ENDER’S GAME!!!”

But it could have been the direction, for all I know. I know there are scenes where director Gavin Hood should have let us breathe more, and been less afraid of cramming so much in. Give us a full thirty seconds or even a minute of silent reaction when something traumatic happens, instead of a Polaroid version that tells us “Ender was distraught,” and then moving on.

Before I conclude, I’d like to point out that I used the word “peccadillo” in this review, to help me sound more intelligent. I think I pulled that off.

Overall, I’d give the film a B- or C+. Three out of five stars. A “mediocre” on the scale from “crapfest” to “fantastic.” See it if you must, but you’re not missing anything amazing.

Your time would probably be better spent reading a good book.

That Time I Spoke with an Irishman and I Was the Drunk One

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably seen my laments about the phone interview I did for an Irish radio station called Phantom 105.2. By email we established the time he would call me:

how about we record an interview next Tuesday 8th October at 6.30am Irish time – that’s 11.30pm for you

So I was expecting his call on Tuesday at 11:30 PM.

He meant Tuesday Irish time. Which means Monday our time. Which means I had already gone to bed. I woke and took the call.

When I hung up 10 minutes later, it occurred to me that I’d been on Ambien the whole time.

From: Randy
To: Joe
Joe, just a quick thanks, and a slighter longer apology – somehow I got it in my head it would Tuesday for ME when you called, and wasn’t expecting your call, so I was zonked out. That wouldn’t be so bad, but I had also taken Ambien a few hours before… in short, I have a very foggy memory of our call, and I hope there was something salvageably entertaining from it.

I’m still shaking my head at myself. Anyway, it was a pleasure speaking with you (if I recall correctly), and if you need anything else from me, say the word.

From: Joe
To: Randy
No problem at all Randy, that’s quite a funny story really! I must admit I was a little bit curious about the tone of your voice, but I just assumed it was the time difference! Anyway, the interview was absolutely fine, trust me, and I’ve attached the audio for you.

Thanks again,

Joe

Well, there you go.

Oh. You probably want to HEAR it. Fine, here I am, slightly woozy, with the worst parts edited out. I haven’t listened yet. I’m still too scared.

Tantrums

Today I was standing in the gas station, getting ready to purchase my diet soda and a breakfast sandwich, when my back pain flared up.

The pain has been a major hindrance to me for some time. Yesterday I left work a few minutes early, skipping out on a team meeting, because it had gotten so bad. It keeps me from playing with my kids much – sitting hunched over a table covered with Legos is as bad as chasing them around the house. It’s already squashed some dreams – I know that I can’t stand long enough to do any acting anymore. I feel like a jerk because I can’t help people move, or help with some chores around the house. The pain is a huge obstacle in my life.

And yet I’m still in denial – I can’t be one of those people who has this kind of disability. I mean, I’m not disabled, after all; some days I can stand without agony or play with the kids without discomfort.

This morning at the gas station, it all kind of hit me at once, along with a nice flare in back pain that came from standing in line too long. I had a fleeting moment there where I wanted to hurl my giant soda at the ground and just storm out, angry at the universe for the hand I’ve been dealt.

I didn’t; the gas station certainly didn’t deserve that.

As I sit here typing my rotator-cuff impingement is radiating pain down to my elbow, and whatever has been intermittently plaguing my shoulder blade for the last year is humming along as well. I can’t go play catch or Frisbee; I can’t jump on a trampoline; I’m loath to visit Disneyland again this December.

So at times I get a passing sensation of despair or anger; this morning it was anger.

The 2nd Half of My Life

This year I’ll turn 39. As I reflect on what I’ve accomplished this far in my life, I have a lot of holes – things I wish I’d done that I didn’t do. And often, it feels like it’s “too late” to do them now.

I’m not sure why that is. A trick our minds play on us to ensure self-defeat, I suppose. But I plan to fight it.

I’m a big “clean slate” kind of guy. I love New Year’s Resolutions. Starts of the week, or the month, or the year – they all feel like a good time to work on myself. So now, I’m going to set up my biggest slate of all.

I’ve decided I’m going to live until I’m 78. Okay, maybe older, but 78 is actually pretty optimistic given my current health – I’m overweight, with high cholesterol, and my father died of a heart attack in his fifties. One calculator I tried said I could expect to live until I’m 70. I’m going to say 78.

That means my life divides neatly in half. I have a fresh, clean slate for the second half, and it starts in a few months. Before I list what I’ll accomplish in that second half, though, let me delineate what I got done in this half:

  • Finished high school and college, despite major depression and losing both parents before I was 14.
  • Served a full-time mission for 2 years in Argentina.
  • Learned to play a few hymns (now forgotten) on the piano.
  • Learned to play the drums.
  • Got married and had 3 kids.
  • Hiked Mt. Timpanogos.
  • Bought a home.
  • Wrote two novelizations for hire.
  • Performed in well over a thousand stage, sketch, and improv shows.
  • Taught myself to program.
  • Built dozens of websites, now earning money on the side.
  • Built and managed Singlesaints.com, which led to multiple marriages for its members.
  • Sold Singlesaints for five figures.
  • Self-published an Amazon best-selling ebook composed of my tweets and cartoons.
  • Went hang-gliding.
  • Learned to front- and back-flip on trampolines.
  • Drew an online comic for more than a year.

Not too shabby – that’s what I can come up with off the top of my head. But there are things I’ve wanted to do and failed to do. This I will rectify in the second half of my life.

  • I will learn to play the piano. I will be able to read music, and serve in the Church by being able sit down and play anything when needed.
  • I will learn to play the guitar. I’ll record songs of my own composing, to share with whomever might be interested.
  • I will write and sell a novel. Hopefully more, but we’ll see. Writing may not turn out to be my cup of tea.
  • I will lose 40 pounds. I will lower my cholesterol.
  • I will pay off my home and all my other debts.
  • I will work with charities that save children from hunger, from slavery, and from whatever other perils befall them.
  • I will have greater charity. I will be more diligent in my pursuit of righteousness.
  • I will love and serve my wife and children better than before.
  • I will meet my grandchildren, and spoil them.
  • I will continue to beat depression.
  • I will overcome shyness and introversion. I will learn people’s names.

We’ll see what else I come up with in the next 39 years. The first portion of my life approaches its end; now is the time for the even better sequel.

What to Do Next

I’m above average at a lot of things, and truly great at zero.

For instance(s): I’ve been published, and won contests for my writing. I’ve been a paid programmer for years and years now. I’ve written and performed songs – albeit comedic songs – for audiences. I’ve done more than 1000 shows of sketch and improv comedy.

I’ve made dumb little games in Flash. I’ve made a hojillion little websites. I made five figures on the sale of my first business, though I’m yet to repeat that feat. I’m not an artist, per se, but I think I draw very well for a non-artist.

I’m 38, and I honestly have no idea what to do with my life.

I think what I want to do is write. I think. But then I don’t spend my free time writing.

This last month I’ve gotten back into playing pointless video games, of all things. That’s definitely not what I want to do with my life, but there I go, whittling away the hours on pointless crap.

The thought I had yesterday was this: nothing – even the tasks you love – will bring much fulfillment if they’re not accomplishing something meaningful. In my case, I love to make people laugh – it’s the highlight of my day – but I don’t want to be a comedian. I don’t believe I would find satisfaction in it. It’s nice when you can bring a smile to others\’ faces, but I want to do more than that.

I think what every individual would find satisfying is to look at the problems in the world, decide which one bothers them the most, and work to fix it.

I like that. Find the problem that bothers you the most, and work to fix it. That seems like the surest road to satisfaction. Even when you fail, you’ll be failing at something meaningful. It may cut deeper, but when you succeed, it will fill you more than anything lesser pleasure could.

The real trick is believing you can make a difference. Like, I want to fight world hunger. I want to fight political polarity. I want to fight slavery, and child abuse, and addiction, and crime.

Thazza lotta fighting. Especially for someone who hates conflict as much as I do.

I just like making people laugh.

But that’s not going to fill me.