Monday, December 28, 2009

Strength and Beauty

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have doubted James Cameron. But since 1998, his obsession with the Titanic has led him to dwell in the depths of the ocean for the better part of the past 11 years. He disappeared from the public eye and seemed uninterested in returning to his specialty at crafting acclaimed Hollywood blockbusters. The last image I have of him is kookily shouting "I'm the king of the world!" in distasteful self-aggrandizement at his Oscar acceptance speech, even though he wasn't necessarily undeserving of such a statement.

Maybe I shouldn't have doubted Cameron. But in my mind, the odds were against him.

After seeing Avatar last weekend, I learned that an old dog can still learn new tricks (even with his head in the water). Because in all its sweeping, breathtaking glory, Avatar is not just a technical tour de force, but easily the most entertaining film of the year.

Amid big battles, Eastern mysticism, and post-9/11 political parallels, Avatar is of course a love story at heart. And for a film relying so heavily on 3D-rendered characters, Avatar's biggest surprise (and success) is capturing the human condition in the tribal, yellow-eyed alien race of the Na'vi. It's hard to describe, but for me Avatar unlocked some long-lost archetype that made me connect with the love story as if I knew it once before, long ago. My emotions took me by surprise as I seemed to relive some ancient experience.

But despite epic storytelling that deftly weaves action, adventure, and romance, Avatar's obvious weakness is its reliance on so many movies before it. The plot itself is an avatarish amalgam of Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Last of the Mohicans, Donnie Brasco, Aliens, Gorillas in the Mist, and The Matrix, to name a few. To its credit, though, Avatar's execution is strong enough to overcome the plight of unoriginality, making the experience no less gripping and thrilling every step of the way.

Another film that Avatar recalls is Star Wars, specifically the heavily hyped but flawed prequels. Because when you walk out of the theater, you realize that Avatar is the film that Episodes I-III should have been—not just escapist and immersive, but awesome.

George Lucas, meet Jim Cameron. Old dog teaches older dog new tricks.

Related: Audiences experience 'Avatar' blues

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cup of No

The longer I live in this city, the longer I'm amazed by people's addiction to coffee. Every morning, people rely on coffee to jumpstart their day. Otherwise-impatient people wait in long lines at Starbucks, and others make sure they get their caffeine fix as soon as they get to the office. But I just don't understand why so many people are slaves to the java bean.

What's funny is that I actually like the concept of coffee—just not its taste. Because on the surface, the appeal is understandable; what a better way to start your day than with a steaming beverage that awakens your senses and invigorates your body?

But in its darkest, purest form (black), I find the taste overly strong and insipid. Of course, I forgot to add cream and sugar, you say. Yes, that makes it better, but that doesn't say a lot about coffee itself, does it? Think about when you were young, and the only way to make Grape Nuts tolerable was to overload it with sugar. That didn't mean Grape Nuts was a naturally good-tasting cereal, because it's not. It just said more about what it was missing.

But as coffee and its trendy spinoff drinks like frappuccinos become more flavorful with a plethora of additives, at what point is coffee still coffee? Coffee is essentially becoming un-coffee-like when it starts to resemble hot chocolate, a Frosty, or another dessert-type drink in both taste and appearance.

So my question then becomes: Why not just cut to the chase go straight to the hot chocolate? Or is it all about the caffeine?

Man, people and their addiction to drugs...

Something else I find amusing is my parents continually asking if I've started drinking coffee yet, as if they're looking forward to the day that I inevitably get hooked on it, just like they are. (It's not unlike cult members pushing the Kool-Aid on their initiates.) And now that I think about it, maybe that explains my associative aversion to coffee—I view it as an adult drink. And I don't really like to think of myself as an "adult," at least not yet.

So, short of a major palate reversal or grim survival situation, this is one man who will always say no to the Joe—for life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Living with the Dead

A&E's Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal is the best investigative show on TV that no one's talking about. Below is a synopsis of the eerie supernatural series, now in its second season:
Psychic Kids examines the trials and tribulations of children who have extraordinary psychic gifts and sensibilities. Chip Coffey, a renowned psychic medium along with clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller, travels the country interviewing, encouraging, and supporting these gifted children and their parents. Their mission is to educate and inform the kids and their families about these abilities.
I feel compelled to write about Psychic Kids because it's brought tears to my eyes almost every time I've watched it. It's heartbreaking to see the pain of innocent teenagers who are seen as outcasts by their peers, alone every minute of the day with their frightening gift. It's devastating to see children who are too afraid to fall asleep at night because they're constantly tormented by menacing spirits. And it's crushing to see how helpless parents are in protecting their loved ones, even as some don't fully believe what their child is experiencing is real.

The best thing about Psychic Kids is how it brings paranormally troubled kids together to realize that they're not as alone as they thought. They always get the chance to not only face their fears head-on, but to overcome them bravely with the support of their new friends. Chip Coffey does a phenomenal job of comforting, challenging, and encouraging psychic kids of different ages, instilling confidence while empowering them to control and conquer their fears.

By the end of the show, the kids walk away feeling good about themselves, ready to return to their lives and embrace their abilities, which they see now more as gifts than curses. The bonds the kids form and the support they show for each other is touching.

The more you watch Psychic Kids, the truly terrifying thing you realize is how widespread this phenomenon is. We all saw little Haley Joel Osment haunted by ghosts many years ago in The Sixth Sense, but few of us probably ever realized that this super-sensitive condition affects hundreds—if not thousands—of kids, whether they know it or not. Writes's Elizabeth Costanzo:
It is important for all parents to realize that children, especially young children, have open minds and pure souls which haven't yet been jaded by society's constraints or disbelief in the paranormal... Until the belief in the paranormal is crushed by the standards and norms of the adult world, most children, whether they retain any psychic gifts as adults or not, are more susceptible to ghostly visits. They haven't closed the door on the possibility of spiritual activity, and this is why more children than adults complain of "monsters" under the bed or in the closet and ghosts talking to them when no one else is present.

In addition, paranormal researchers and parapsychologists theorize that children are not only more willing to see spirits, but their youth and therefore, their proximity to the "other side" enables them to see and communicate with the dead... As a result, when a young child is "visited" by a spirit or ghost, the child is not necessarily alarmed at the presence because it does not seem "supernatural" in their eyes. The spirit world only becomes "supernatural" when we are conditioned to believe this.
Psychic Kids is different than other ghost-hunting shows. It's the polar opposite of the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, where instead of helping tortured souls cross over, you'll hear meathead ghost hunter Zak Bagans antagonize ill-tempered spirits with such appalling, ridiculous lines like "What if we stole your silver? Would that piss you off?"

Psychic Kids respects the spirit world and wants to change the lives of the living who are down in despair. It's a ghost show that's frightening, enlightening, and uplifting, and it'll make you thank God you can't see dead people.

Well, most of us anyway.