Alien: Covenant (Review)

DISCLAIMER: This review will contain SPOILERS. If you have not seen Alien: Covenant yet, do not read this.

Alien: Covenant (2017) is the third Alien film to be directed by Ridley Scott, and is the sequel to Prometheus (2012) and the prequel to Alien (1979). It follows the story of a crew of colonists who, after their ship is damaged by a phenomenological shockwave, land on a nearby, uncharted planet to investigate a rogue transmission.

I’ll preface this review by saying that I am a huge Alien fan. I was 6 years old when I watched the original chestburster scene, and even to this day, I am perturbed by this gory introduction of the notorious Xenomorph creature. Additionally, Aliens (1986) is one of my favorite action movies, with Bill Paxton’s Private William Hudson earning the #2 spot on my list of Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movie Characters. He truly is The Ultimate Badass.

You can imagine that based upon by love for the Alien franchise (as well as my love for the Xenomorph itself), I was a little bit biased going into Covenant. The trailers had marketed this film to be yet another horror trope-fest littered with clichés, logical inconsistencies, and weak, disposable characters. Moreover, I was worried that Covenant would ignore that story arc set up between Elizabeth Shaw and David at the end of Prometheus. But as it turns out, when you set your expectations low enough for a movie that you know you will be disappointed by, you will not be disappointed by it at all. At least I wasn’t.

With all of that said, I was pleasantly surprised by Alien: Covenant. I enjoyed it so much that I would rank it just barely below Aliens and Prometheus. Therefore, my final rankings are as follows: (1) Aliens, (2) Prometheus, (3) Alien: Covenant, and (4) Alien, not accounting for Alien 3, Resurrection or either of the two AVP movies.

A lot of people seem to hate this movie, and I cannot fathom why. It might be, like I said, a horror trope-fest littered with clichés, logical inconsistencies, and weak, disposable characters, but why should that matter? If the movie entertained me, then it did its job. Also, if people wanted the Xenomorph to make a return so badly yet still hate on Covenant for retreading old ground, then they should have let Ridley Scott tell the story that he set up in Prometheus. Rather than further explore the mythology of the Engineers, fan backlash pressured him into reworking the script into oblivion. This is what we ended up with, so take it or leave it.

In my opinion, Alien: Covenant’s biggest strengths are its soundtrack, approaches to blood and gore, and Michael Fassbender’s performance as David.

The leitmotif (a special word describing any musical piece that is associated with people, places, or things) for the Xenomorph needs to be commended. It added a dark, eerie atmosphere to the scenes, tensely keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and characterizing the Alien as something abominable. In addition, the gore effects were viscerally graphic and disturbing, with Scott recreating the horror of the original chestburster scene by depicting a Neomorph bursting through the spine of a Covenant crewmember. Lastly, Michael Fassbender’s villainous portrayal of David was gripping and undoubtedly the best part of the movie. As a matter of fact, my favorite scene was when, in a flashback sequence, he dropped the Black Goo on the Engineers’ civilization and watched them all die. It will be interesting to learn in the prequel film Alien: Awakening what his motivations for doing so were and how far his God complex could possibly stretch.

Despite these strengths, a minor complaint that I have with Covenant is that it is tonally ambiguous. Halfway through the film, it cannot decide if it wants to be a sequel to Prometheus or its own movie. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see where Scott takes the story from here and whether or not the next installment will be seen as an improvement in the eyes of the objectors to his vision. I for one am optimistic.

Alien: Covenant gets an 8/10. How do you feel about the movie? Do you love it, hate it, or just think that it’s “okay”?

Why Are Dogs So Amazing?

I have an enormous soft spot for dogs. When a dog dies in a movie, I will start crying like a baby. And when a dog is in pain, then I, too, will be in pain. Simply put, I look upon dogs with a unique fondness that I cannot liken to humans.

The fact that dogs are so compassionate is not an accident. As much as I condemn humans for their remarkable capacity for evil and wrongdoing, humans were the ones who have made dogs into what they are today. Humans were the ones who, for the past 10,000 years, selectively bred dogs into domestication, transforming these animals from vicious predators into lovable (and quite loyal) idiots. But what makes dogs special enough to warrant this title of “man’s best friend’?

First, dogs are unconditionally accepting of all our flaws. They do not debate, argue, or contend with us. They care more about receiving love and affection from us than undermining our self-interests to advance their own. For example, when you come home from a long and strenuous day at work, your dog isn’t going to pester you about why dinner hasn’t been cooked yet. Your dog isn’t going to steal your credit card in the middle of the night and spend hundreds of dollars on clothes. And your dog isn’t going to wake up one morning and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore. Your dog will always be there for you, no matter what.

Second, dogs sustain good physical and mental health. One study that was published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that of 400 patients who suffered a heart attack, the patients who owned pets had a significantly higher survival rate than patients who did not own pets. Multiple studies have also found that dogs reduce negative feelings such as boredom, depression, anxiety, and most importantly, loneliness.

At the end of the day, dogs do not extend from or substitute our humanity. Rather, they reflect our humanity, reminding us that despite all our moral shortcomings, there exists good in each of us. However, as delightful as dogs can be, their deaths are emotionally unfathomable. My mother told me that after our dog Charlotte passed away almost three years ago now, the grief she suffered was actually more intense than the grief she felt over her parents. There are two explanations I can offer as to why this happens. The first explanation is that because dogs have been around for such a large portion of our evolutionary history, our brains have been rewired to think of them as babies. The second explanation is that we have been conditioned to think of dogs as symbols of innocence, and thus when a dog dies, innocence dies with them.

The best things that we can do for ourselves (and for our dogs) is to enjoy the time that we do have with them, and cherish the happy memories that they help us create.

Depression Is Your Friend

It’s crazy, right? How can something as unpleasant as depression, the leading precursor to suicide, actually be thought of as a good buddy?

First off, I would like to emphasize that I am in no way praising deep, debilitating depression. Instead, this article is aimed at discussing depression as a form of motivation, not a psychological disorder.

When you think of a friend, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A friend might be someone who you watch a ballgame with. They might even be someone who drives you home when you’re too drunk to drive yourself. For me, a friend is someone so much more than that; someone much different than a family member or spouse.

For me, a friend is someone who attends that ballgame not because they want to get out of the house for a few hours, but because they genuinely enjoy your company. A friend is someone who drives you home when you’re drunk not out of obligation, but out of concern for your safety. Really, a friend is someone who accepts you without question, sees the value that you bring to the world, and looks out for you during hard times.

So how does depression look out for you? Well, for starters I’m writing this post with my fingers. I have a brain that thinks and reasons in order to produce the language that is responsible for the post in the first place. I have a stomach to digest the food I ate two hours ago and a heart that pumps blood to keep me alive. The truth is, depression wouldn’t exist if, along with every organ in my body, it didn’t serve some kind of a survival function. The theory of evolution suggests that our predecessors who did not experience depression were selected against and died off, while those who experienced depression lived on to spread their genes and ultimately create you and me. With that said, depression is as much a part of us as our fingers, stomachs, brains, and hearts are. It is an instrument of survival.

Then again, depression doesn’t get enough credit. We condemn it, scrutinize it, and in many cases medicate it when it doesn’t need medicating. How do you even define depression in a positive light when it is this widely stigmatized and condemnable “sickness of the mind” or worse, character flaw? Well, it’s not an impossible task.

Normal depression, and by extension grief, can be defined as a self-regulatory mechanism in which a problem is continually reflected on and analyzed with the intent of preventing it from reoccurring. It’s almost like trying to solve a math equation that you’ve been stuck on for hours in that you’ll rework the problem over and over until a correct solution becomes evident. The only time the mind-boggling math equation that is depression becomes debilitating is when episodes are prolonged, lasting for weeks and months at a time, and disrupt personal and professional relationships. At that point, you never solve the problem, you just keep staring at it and expecting something to change.

I can tell you with certainty that for every mistake I’ve made and problem that I’ve created, I never would have improved as a human being if I didn’t feel depressed afterward. There were times when I failed a test or said something extremely hurtful to another person, and afterward that was all I thought about for the rest of the day and even the rest of the week. I’d think to myself, “How could I let this happen?” and “What went wrong, and what can I do to fix this mess?”

Don’t get me wrong, depressive rumination isn’t fun. Some of the worst moments in my life were where I would become so emotionally drained, so dispirited, and so, well… depressed, that I couldn’t even move. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t play video games, and I generally couldn’t function normally. Why would anybody want to suffer through such an experience? The answer is that it can be used as motivational fuel when it is channeled into something more meaningful. I look at it this way: you could achieve every major success in the book, but by the time that one failure comes around it’s suddenly the worst thing in the world because you haven’t acquainted yourself with what it’s like to truly lose. To truly face defeat. In this manner, the low points in life help us appreciate the high points and remind us of the progress (or lack thereof) we’re making.

Occasional, not chronic, depression is your friend because it’s got your back. It PUSHES you toward improvement by notifying you that you need to make some much needed corrections in your life. And trust me, you’re better off with than without it.

Five Criticisms of “13 Reasons Why”

Note: Spoilers ahead for “13 Reasons Why.”

13 Reasons Why is a great show—possibly one of the better shows I’ve watched this year. However, I couldn’t help but walk away from it without expressing a few criticisms of the way it handled its subject matter. So what might these criticisms be?

Criticism 1: Too often, it ignores Hannah’s mental health problems.

I do not personally believe that the writers glamorized suicide, but I can understand both arguments. On the one hand, the show did an exemplary job at illustrating the long-term ramifications that suicide has on our relationships. On the other, it deceived the audience into thinking that Hannah’s suicide was a revenge ploy, when in fact it was the result of her deep-seated psychological issues (e.g.: depression, bipolar disorder, histrionic personality disorder, or PTSD) that went unabated.

Criticism 2: It makes it difficult to sympathize with Hannah.

It was difficult to feel sorry for Hannah when she wouldn’t speak up for herself. After being raped by Bryce, why didn’t she tell her parents, or anyone for that matter? If she had explained what happened to her, she could have gotten the help she needed and therefore turned Bryce in. Instead, she allowed her pain to consume her indefinitely, and that made it hard to root for her.

Criticism 3: It places undeserved blame on the other characters.

Clay and the guidance counselor did absolutely nothing wrong. Clay was punished because Hannah expected him to be a mind-reader, while the counselor was punished because he was unequipped to advise suicidal students. Both clearly overlooked obvious red flags that Hannah displayed, but that doesn’t make either of them responsible for her death. The same holds true for everyone else on the tapes, including Bryce.

Criticism 4: It overstates the unpleasantness of high school.

The fact that Hannah was unwilling to cope with petty interpersonal drama (something that we all put up with) means that she probably lacked the emotional resources to solve real problems. More importantly, the show implies that high school is the worst time in a person’s life when it isn’t. Life gets much harder after we’ve graduated high school, and thus in Season 2, the show needs to do a better job at depicting the challenges that we face beyond those relatively insignificant 4 years.

Criticism 5: It imposes unrealistic expectations upon its audience.

It seems that the main message of the show is to “be kind to everybody, because you never know what someone else is going through,” but you know what the fundamental flaw is with that logic? You can never be totally sure when you’re hurting someone else’s feelings. Sometimes, I treat people poorly when I don’t realize it, and the opposite is also true. I should not be expected to moderate my language at every moment of the day on the off chance that someone is going to commit suicide because of some stupid thing that I said.

Despite all of this negative feedback, I agree with the writers’ decision to ultimately display Hannah’s suicide on screen, because by not showing it, they would have downplayed its severity and taken away the whole point of the show.

Overall, I hope that 13 Reasons Why further encourages younger people to seek professional help by driving discussions on highly sensitive topics like suicide and sexual assault, and that Season 2 (if there is one) addresses the criticisms I’ve listed above.

Why “Breath of the Wild” Disappointed Me

Disclaimer: This article will express an unpopular opinion on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you cannot handle negative criticism of a universally beloved game, I would suggest that you stop reading right now.

I’ll begin this article by saying that I do not hate Breath of the Wild. Rather, I dislike it enough that I couldn’t possibly force myself to play it any longer.

I wanted to like the newest Zelda game, but it’s plagued by so many problems that it was impossible to justify my $385 purchase on the Switch. So what did I do? I put an ad out on Craigslist for it, and I sold that sucker for $350. I figured that despite taking the $35 dollar loss, I at least squeezed enough time out of the game to develop a solid opinion of it.

It’s difficult to fathom BotW’s overwhelmingly positive reception. Multiple esteemed critics gave the game perfect or near-perfect reviews, regarding it as a staple of the open world RPG genre, a game with few to no flaws, and even “one of the greatest games of all time.” And while BotW was initially a 9 out of 10 for me, after about 15 hours of play, it dropped down to an 8 and then a 7 out of 10. As such, these next several paragraphs will discuss exactly where (in my opinion) the game goes wrong.

My complaints begin with the lack of sufficient voice acting, which is absolutely inexcusable. Most of the dialogue you will need to read in a text box while characters grunt and moan at you. The voice acting that is present in the game is either subpar at best or cringe-inducing at worst, with actors dispassionately reading their lines like middle school students in a play. I understand that Zelda games aren’t known for impeccable voice acting because until now, they were entirely devoid of it. But this is 2017—open world RPGs of this caliber are supposed to come fully voice acted. Why is it that whenever I’m talking to one of the main characters, for instance the former King of Hyrule or Lady Urbosa, I have to switch from listening to their lines to reading their lines? It completely breaks the immersion factor.

In addition, while expansive and beautiful, the game’s open world is severely lacking in depth. You could spend hours traversing the map without ever encountering an interesting side-quest, activity, or character, as its landscapes consist largely of empty space that stretches on for miles. I always say that a gargantuan open world map means nothing if it consistently lacks compelling incentives to venture off the beaten path. There are, of course, a fair number of shrines and towers you can unlock as fast travel points, but they pale in comparison to Skyrim’s multitude of caves, dungeons, tombs, camps, and outposts. Besides, each region contains 4 to 8 shrines that sit out in the open, while the rest remain annoyingly hidden. This leads to my third complaint.

The game is repetitive. Shrines can be summed up with, “Walk in, solve a puzzle, take a spirit orb,” and there’s nothing more to it than that. Stables are cut and pasted, enemy diversity is finite, and towers are just an excuse to halt progress and artificially inflate play time. Even the game’s own main story fails to add diversity, as the quest, “Captured Memories” has you traveling to 12 destinations scattered around the map just to watch 2 minute cutscenes.  Furthermore, while I have not played through any of the Divine Beasts yet, from what I’ve heard, they are simply glorified shrines that do not measure up to previous entries’ elemental temples.

By the way, what is up with that score? There are perhaps two or three, thirty second tracks that play during your travels in the wilderness. Compare this to Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), two of my most beloved games. Skyrim plays over 80 minutes worth of atmospheric music during your journey, while Ori plays a different track in every level. As a diehard fan of open world RPGs, music is essential for sustaining immersion, and BotW’s lack of a satisfactory soundtrack only degrades its quality further.

Side note: The weapon breaking mechanic is a minor complaint of mine. I can understand people’s frustration with it, but for the most part, it didn’t bother me too much because I always had 5 to 7 weapons in my inventory.

My final complaint is the game’s lightly padded, generic story. Yet again, we are treated to an end-of-the-world trope where a princess needs saving and a fallen hero rises up to defeat an ancient evil. How many times has this story been told exactly? The main premise is that 100 years ago, an event took place known as the Great Calamity that devastated the Kingdom of Hyrule. Link must therefore regain his power to save Princess Zelda and defeat Calamity Ganon once and for all, and characters will repeat this exposition some five, ten, or fifteen times. I lost count.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a good game, but it is not an amazing game. It does not redefine the action open world RPG genre, and it is certainly not the quintessential system seller that reviewers fooled me into believing.

If I had to give the game a final rating, it would have to be a 7/10 (which essentially equates to a great time-killer) and an 8/10 if I was being generous. Nonetheless, I hope that you were able to derive more enjoyment from it than I did. It still has its fair share of redeeming qualities, such as its slick and satisfying combat mechanics, ultra realistic physics engine, and wonderfully crafted puzzle shrines. But unfortunately for me, this entry into the Zelda franchise did not cut it, and I’m so glad that I got most of my money back.

I guess my bar for action-oriented open world RPGs has been set too high. I’ll stick to Skyrim and Witcher.

Should Flag Burning Be Outlawed?

I once asked three of my more left-leaning friends how they feel about burning the American flag. My argument was that there is a fine line in free speech that shouldn’t be crossed, while theirs was that no matter how unsettling, it is ultimately a right that should remain protected by the First Amendment. In any case, the legal status of flag burning is a hotly contested issue that only creates division and discord in our communities, so what should be done about it?

Flag burning has been brought into question numerous times before. President Trump was not quiet on the issue, once writing in a post on Twitter that flag burners should be punished by revoking their citizenship or spending up to a year in jail. In 2005, Hillary Clinton cosponsored the Flag Protection Act, which would have in theory made flag burning illegal nationwide.

The way I see it, the burning of the American flag is an act of extreme depravity that should be condemned by anyone, not just the law. Whether you realize it or not, the flag harbors a vast meaning that’s difficult to grasp by most people. When burned, it communicates that you do not care about your country, and disregards the millions of people who have fought and died for the rights and liberties that you, the offender, are benefitting from. Though it is an extension of free speech that is “technically” protected by Amendment I of the Constitution, its implications are much deeper than protesting the government or voicing outrage.

But let’s say that isn’t your intention. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re burning the American flag because you’re upset with the way the country is being run, so you’re providing a commentary on government ineptitude. Perhaps you’re even upset with the results of this past election. In either or those cases, isn’t there a better approach to take? Isn’t there another, more intelligent and eloquent way that you could deliver your message without directing your hate toward your own country? Because regardless of your intention, the act of flag burning is intrinsically a display of hatred towards one’s own country. It’s that simple.

So yes, in this one man’s honest opinion, flag burning should be outlawed because there are limits to free speech, such as incitements of violence to meet political ends, false statements of fact, and claiming another’s speech as one’s own (i.e., plagiarism). The disregard and desecration of the memories of our fallen heroes should fall under this category. At the very least, those who perform the act of flag burning should incur a minute penalty and at most, a complete revoke of citizenship and jail time.

Because there are only two arguments to the issue of flag burning (you either believe it should be outlawed or not), you might disagree with me. If so, why do you believe it should remain legal, other than because it’s protected by the First Amendment?

Seven Study Habits That Guarantee Perfect Grades

Who else is familiar with that feeling of skimming through the first few questions on a daunting exam, and having no idea what any of the answers are?

That feeling is marked by a great deal of stress. And the practice of test-taking is, in itself, a great source of stress in the lives of myself and so many other college students right now. Therefore, I have outlined 7 study habits (in order of importance) with the aim of achieving perfect grades and ultimately reducing stress levels. Where to begin?

Habit 1: Write a to-do list every day.

The first habit that you need to start getting into if you want to succeed in school is prioritization. Write down everything that you need to do for the day on a sticky note or whiteboard. This helps to provide you with a sense of focus and structure.

Habit 2: Don’t cram.

That’s right, don’t cram. It’s futile and never works, so always begin studying days and weeks in advance.

Habit 3: Remove distractions.

If I failed a test, I’d be lying to myself if I said that I studied “as much as I could.” Really, that’s a simple rationalization for how much I didn’t study.

99 times out of 100, the reason you perform poorly on an exam has nothing to do with the difficulty level of the class, the professor who teaches the class, or even your own work ethic. The main culprit in this scenario is the level of distractibility at the time you were attempting to study for the recently-failed exam.

Distractions are the biggest problems you face in school because they consume large portions of time that could otherwise be spent growing your knowledge. For instance, you could be intensely focused on rereading a chapter in your Anthropology textbook, but all of a sudden you’re notified of a new video in your subscription feed on YouTube. And there goes 15 precious minutes of your day.

To maximize your chances of academic success, you need to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Avoid social media and TURN OFF your phone. If you feel the need to take breaks, do so intermittently.

Habit 4: Don’t study passively. Study ACTIVELY.

This habit is essential if you want to achieve perfect grades. While studying, you need to extract meaning from the material, utilizing as many brain areas as possible that are involved in both memory and cognition. You cannot, for example, passively flip a few flashcards and expect to fully memorize all of the terminology. Real memorization requires a key understanding of the terminology rather than just a familiarity with it. Recall, don’t recognize.

Habit 5: Compose your own exam questions WITH examples.

So how do you “study actively” if you can’t just sit back and flip flashcards? In this college student’s humble opinion, the best method of active studying is to compose test questions that you believe are the most likely to appear on an exam, answer each of them in your own words, and provide them with examples. Rather than just copy definitions straight from the textbook, put your own spin on the terminology while also gathering information from alternative resources such as YouTube, a tutor, and your professor.

Habit 6: Take it one step at a time.

The RAM of a computer is not without its limits. When it’s trying to run too many programs at once, the CPU starts slowing down and sometimes stops working altogether. Your brain functions in the same way.

When you have five upcoming exams in the same week, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. However, if you spend too much time worrying about everything that you need to get done, you risk getting absolutely nothing done. I know firsthand what that’s like. I would look at my to-do list for the day and think there was no conceivable chance that I could get everything done in time. I would become stressed about not studying enough, and as a result not study at all.

The main takeaway from this habit is not to fall prey to ‘analysis paralysis,’ a state-of-mind characterized by the persistent need to overthink. Sufferers of analysis paralysis fixate on what ostensibly can and cannot go wrong, and they’ll think about a problem so much that they miss the opportunity solve it. By now you can probably understand why this manner of thinking isn’t conducive to academic success: if you try to do too much at once, you won’t get nearly enough done in the long run. So take it one step at a time.

Habit 7: Believe in yourself.

This seventh habit might sound cliché, but it’s so very true: have faith in yourself. Research indicates that when students believe they are going to fail their upcoming exams, they do exactly that. They fail. It all comes back to the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy in that our expectations of future events are what cause them to manifest in reality. For example, if Sandra believes that her upcoming chemistry exam will be impossible to pass, she might not even bother studying for it. Why should she? She’s going to fail it anyway.

So what does Sandra do? She doesn’t study, and thus she fails the exam. However, if she convinced herself that she was more than capable of passing the exam, she might have been motivated to make an effort, brushing up on old material, reviewing concepts, and increasing her chances of getting a better grade. Therefore, 99.99% of the battle ISN’T studying to get the A, but rather BELIEVING that you’ve already got the A. Furthermore, even if you study vigorously and don’t receive the grade that you wanted, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you didn’t just give up on the off chance that you might have failed.

Side notes:

– Refrain from using Adderall or other high-powered stimulants to study. As much of an added boost that stimulant drugs can provide, the risks for dependency and addiction aren’t worth it.

– Get a good night’s rest after a long study session, as it helps your brain sort through newly learned material and facilitates the formation of long-term memories. In addition, avoid drinking booze before bed. Alcohol decreases the quality of deep sleep and thus disrupts the learning process.

– Failed a test? Too bad… try again next time!

– Understand that your test-taking abilities do not reflect who you are as a person. You have much more to show for yourself than a few letter grades.

And that’s it—the 7 habits for academic success. Do you practice any of these habits?