Monday, January 20, 2014

The only good presupposition

Ever hear of presuppositional apologetics? Look it up for a more thorough definition, but basically it's a way of proving Christianity (although I suppose that it can work just as well for any particular religion) by starting with the assumption that The Bible and Christianity are divinely inspired. In other words, if you start with the conclusion, you can find your way to it.

If that sounds like a pretty disingenuous way to go about finding the truth, then you're right. However, if you're an atheist like me, the presuppositionist can turn it around on you and say that you're starting with the assumption that God does NOT exist and that Christianity is NOT true.  So, basically Christians and atheists are in the same boat when it comes to proving what's what.

There's just one big problem - such an argument is pure and total horse crap.

It can be broken down really simply if I just start with myself. For me, my quest to figure out what's real and what isn't began with the presupposition that there WAS a God. Many other atheists began that way as well. In other words, we began with the presupposition but were unable to make the conclusions fit. There are plenty of examples, some of them were heavily into the church and were even pastors.

But what about people who start out as atheists and become Christian? Does that put the two positions on equal footing yet again? No, it doesn't, because if one can presuppose God and arrive at atheism, it doesn't matter if one can go the other way around. What matters is that the presupposition was irrelevant if it can get you to either conclusion.

Also, a person's unwillingness to use another's presupposition does not equate to them making their own presupposition. Personally, I don't start with the notion that atheism is true, despite the fact that I get accused of doing so. The only presupposition I make is that there should be sufficient evidence for something before we say that it is true. From my understanding, the God question has failed to meet the burden of proof. I'm not assuming it's true that a God doesn't exist, I'm CONCLUDING it, and my conclusion is subject to change as new evidence comes to me.

So, let's stop trying to equate the presupposition of the existence of something is the same as rejecting that presupposition. Let's just examine the evidence and follow it to wherever it takes us, even if it takes us down a path that proves us wrong.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My football thoughts

If there's one thing I know, it's football. My friends all know me as a bit of a football enthusiast, nay a football junkie. I live, breathe, eat, defecate, eat the defecation, vomit the eaten defecation, and eat the vomited defecation of all things football. In other words, I'm an undisputed expert. Well, after tonight's football game, there certainly is room for many things to say, including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. The ball was thrown - more than once.
  2. The ball was caught - quite a few times.
  3. People (known among fans as "players") ran with the ball.
  4. People commented on these things.
And we all know that there was that one bad thing where the one player did a thing and others said that it was good, but we experts all know it was bad. Plus, there was a time when the man who decides such things said a bad thing was good, and there was that one time he said a good thing was bad. Oh yeah, you know which things I'm talking about.

I think it's pretty clear which team is the best, and which one deserves to go to the Super Bowl. There is that one team which is bad, because they have bad players who do things that aren't good. Of course, there is that one team where it would have been nice to see them do better, and hopefully things will turn around for them next year. They certainly have what it takes to be a great team, but things stood in their way...this time.

And who can forget the players? There's that one guy who's a total jerk, and there's the other guy who's really great. He throws the ball well when he's supposed to do that, but he's also really great at catching when he needs to be (and duh...he clearly does one of those things more than the other, considering his position). 

Ultimately, there's always going to be a team that scores more points and a team that scores fewer points. Some will win many games, others will not. 

Don't listen to those people who tell you things with which I disagree. They're not the real football fans. They just care about the things that are not football. I'm also fairly certain that they have numerous STD's.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part IX - Smells Wonderful

Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII

Here it is! The top three! While I might change my mind about the placement of some of these, I think it's safe to say that I'd always include these ones the top five, at least.

3. Iron Man - I already wrote a full review for this one, so it's hard to come up with anything new for me to say about it. I guess I'm just repeating myself a bit, but the short version is that it's a surprise that this film would rank so high up on such a subjective list when I probably only have a handful of Iron Man comic books. Much of what's great about this has to do with Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance, and just the sheer fact that it captures everything I like about superheroes while giving the character an interesting arc which leaves him in a different place than which he began.

2. Batman Begins - Not surprisingly, I also have a more complete review of this film. While I think that a lot of people would rank The Dark Knight higher than this one, I think that much of that has to do with Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker than anything else. Obviously, I loved that movie as well, considering it ranked at number five on this list. Still, I feel as though this one delivers a tighter story, and as I've said before, it did a remarkable thing by getting me to genuinely feel some emotions when I saw Bruce Wayne lose his parents for the billionth time (if you count all of the other versions in movies, comics, and cartoons that I've seen).

1. The Avengers - Yes, I've written about this one as well. I was alternating back and forth between this being the number one and Batman Begins, but I ultimately went with this. I think that the reason why is because it manages to incorporate so much of what superhero comic books do that you don't see anywhere else, and yet it works just fine in a movie. In theory, it shouldn't make sense to combine so many disparate genres together, but what are superheroes if they're not a mish-mash of various genres? I guess what's cool for me is that it proves that so many of the things that supposedly shouldn't work in an adaptation seem to work just fine. The one thing that also makes this film stand out to me is that unlike pretty much every other action film, it picks up speed as it goes along. So many of these have a great first half with only a decent second half. This has a decent first and an awesome, engaging battle at the end. After all, isn't it better to end on a high note?

Note: If you noticed something funky about the numbering as this list went along, it wasn't just you. I goofed it all up and had to renumber, as I thought I had 54 movies, but I only had 53.

Also, I apparently didn't put the sequels to The Crow on my "Movies I haven't seen" list. I bet you were really concerned about that.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part VIII - Smells Good

Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII

My biases are probably showing more in this list than any other, as I realize that the ones that score highest are ones that speak to me on a personal level, many of them even provoking an emotional reaction - but I suppose that's okay with a list like this.

13. Sin City -  With the possible exception of Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, this might be the closest you can get to reading the comic by watching the movie. Panels jump out on to the screen, and lines of dialogue are pretty much word-for-word. The smartest move was making it three stories rather than one lengthy tale; that enabled fidelity to the source material along with keeping the audience's attention. And for as much as I like this one, I'm somehow not optimistic about the sequel. This sort of a thing stands out for its uniqueness, and a follow-up might be tarnished by that.

12. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army - As a fan of mythology, I absolutely loved the storyline in this one. I don't believe in taking myths as actual history, but I still believe that they're important, as they tell us a lot about ourselves. The villain in this one has a great motivation, and it very well WOULD be sad if all the fairy tale creatures wound up forgotten. Also, this one gives Hellboy a great inner conflict as he's been wanting to be part of the regular world for so long, but the problem is that he'll always be a monster - and maybe that's not so bad. Once again, here's that link to my thoughts on both movies.

11. Scott Pilgrim Versus the World - Confession time: I've never read the comics. When I flipped through the graphic novel at the comic book store recently, I set it down because it was pretty much exactly like watching the movie. I'll probably still get it one of these days, but this is a great movie that didn't get its proper audience. The humor is quirky, the performances are fun, and Michael Cera is most fitting playing his usual role of Michael Cera. There are all sorts of sudden jumps, cuts, and it really requires a suspension of disbelief as it's a romantic comedy that exists in a comic book/video game world. And the most important lesson? Chicken's not vegan.

10. The Amazing Spider-Man - I had a hard time placing this one. If it had been the original Spider-Man movie, then it might have been higher. The fact that a reboot was unnecessary makes it tempting to put it much lower. I'm not sure which way I'm over-compensating. Anyway, this got a lot more right than the original, and the thing that really bumped it past the original is that the dialogue is much more natural - as natural as it gets for this kind of a film. I was a bit disappointed in the costume change, but it looks like it's going to be even more true to the original design in the sequel than it was in the previous series of movies. Here's my full review.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger - This one probably gets bumped up higher than it might have normally for a couple of reasons. The first is that Cap is one of my all-time favorites, and they got his personality right. The second is that I think the first third of this movie is pretty much perfect. The second half is pretty good, and the third half is just okay. Yeah, they were trying to shoehorn it into being a prequel to The Avengers, but that doesn't bother me as much as it does some folks. I was disappointed that Chris Evans got the role when I first heard about it, but he quickly won me over. Steve Rogers is a tough character to play, because you can't do him with even an ounce of cynicism. Evans had me on board when he said, totally convincingly: "I don't want to kill anybody. I don't like bullies." I believed him.

8. The Dark Knight Rises - It says a lot that the lowest-ranked Christopher Nolan Batman movie is 23 spots higher for me than the highest-ranked Burton/Shumacher film. It has its flaws, but they got one thing absolutely right when Bane broke the Bat. It was intense, and I was emotionally invested in the story. It's amazing how little Batman was in this one, but it still felt like he was the main character. I'm a fan of stories that feature a broken character who finds his purpose again (see the next entry) and this one did a good job of it. Bane was kind of wasted at the end, but this all came to a satisfying conclusion. Ben Affleck is no doubt going to be a very different Batman, and that's good, because all that can be said about this one has been with this trilogy. Here's my full review.

7. The Wolverine - This one might get knocked down several rungs as time goes by, but right now I love this movie. Sure, the final battle feels like your typical superhero movie, but the movie as a whole is really about something. It begins with Logan having completely lost the will to live, and as the movie goes on, he not only finds purpose again, but he WANTS to live. I don't think this approaches the same level of high-art of Hamlet, but it's a similar arc in that sense, only the Danish Prince meets death once he embraces life. I feel as though I've been on that path as well, and that's why this one speaks so much to me. Perhaps if there didn't need to be more Wolverine movies, that would have been a more appropriate ending for this one. Also, enough good things can't be said about Rila Fukushima, the actress who plays Yukio. Pay attention to the quick look on her face when the drunks make their move on her at the Canadian bar scene. Priceless.

6. Superman - Yeah, it's dated. Yeah, it gets silly at the end. But could the origin story that takes up the first half of the film be any more perfect? Even the silliness at the end doesn't overwhelm the picture, and even though having Kal El turn back time makes him more of a god than a man, it's still the one picture that showed you could make a serious movie about a superhero. Too bad it took Hollywood a long time to figure that out again, but every one of the better movies on this list wouldn't be as good as they were without this film. No doubt my memories as a kid push this one up quite a bit, but I still enjoy watching it now.

5. The Dark Knight - Speaking of setting new standards in superhero movies, this movie completely changed the whole idea of how they should be done. I don't feel as though I have anything original to say about it, but I guess if you're wondering why it scores lower than Batman Begins, that's because the resolution of the Harvey Dent story, while necessary, feels a bit anticlimactic after Batman finally takes down The Joker. Anyway, just like any other good genre film, the story relates to real life issues like surveillance technology, terrorism, etc. My original review is in two parts.

4. Spider-Man 2 - Yet another story on today's list that features a hero who has lost his way, Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire really nailed the essence of the character with this sequel. Here's a movie where if somebody was unwilling to read the comic books but wanted to know what Spidey was all about, I could sit down and watch this with him or her. It took everything that was good about the first one and gave you more (particularly J. Jonah Jameson) while also giving less of the bad stuff. Being a superhero is tough, especially if you don't have the resources of a Bruce Wayne, and this movie really gets to the heart of it, while still touching on the important motivation for why he'd continue with it all if it was so damned tough. Here's my full review.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part VII - No Stink

Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI

More comic book movies in a reverse numerical sequence!

23. Man of Steel - This one is a tough one for me to place. As I said in my original review, I'm not sure if this is the best of the worst or the worst of the best. It doesn't quite get the whole thing right, but the great moments are really great. I found myself liking it much more on a second viewing - even enjoying the fight scenes a whole lot more. As a friend pointed out to me, this was the first time we really got to see Kryptonians fight the way you'd expect them to fight. Anyway, I'll probably change my mind about the placement of this one several times.

22. Thor - I'm conflicted about this one as well. The special effects aren't all that great, and the story is only okay. When I think about it, it's not that great of a movie, but every time I see it, I'm thoroughly entertained. I think that the God of Thunder is a tough character to pull off, and I think that they went about it the right way by adding just enough humor to move things along without devolving into campiness. Maybe the fact that this is an essential piece in the overall Avengers movie universe pushes this one higher up than it normally would have gone otherwise.

21. Watchmen - I probably would have placed this much higher after my first viewing, but it's gotten weaker with repeat viewings. Alan Moore said that it was impossible to make into a film. Did Zack Snyder prove him wrong? I'd like to think so. It was amazingly close to the original story, and the biggest change was a smart one to make. I know a lot of people, especially those who haven't read the comic, who didn't like it. I think that much of that has to do with the fact that it's such a cynical story, and usually one doesn't want to deal with that when it comes to superheroes. I admire the ambition of this one, and for the most part, I think they got it right.

20. V for Vendetta - Honestly, my ratings aren't based on how true to the comics a movie is, at least, I try not to have one influence the other. I guess it only bothers me when a movie seems to completely ignore the source material to the point where I'm wondering why they even called it an adaptation in the first place. When it comes to this film, and I know I'm not alone on this, I actually like the film better. Yeah, Natalie Portman's accent is pretty awful, as she seems to come from the school of "British people speak with soft voices" school of accents, but overall this movie tells a tight little story, utilizing elements of tragedy, satire, and some fun action scenes. It's like 1984 with a superhero that Shakespeare would create.

19. Hellboy - Speaking of not being much like the comics, Guillermo del Toro changes a whole lot from Mike Mignola's mythology, but I have little problem with that. It's obviously inspired by the comic, and the basic premise is exactly the same. The character is familiar enough to be recognizable as well. Anyway, this movie is a lot of dumb fun with Nazis, a resurrected Rasputin, monsters, and all sorts of craziness. There really isn't anything else like it, and while the plot suffers in the third act, it's clearly a labor of love. I wrote more about both Hellboy movies here.

18. Dredd - Better known as Dredd 3D when it was in the theater, I found myself liking this one more and more on repeat viewings. It's the sort of thing that might go dramatically down the list as time goes by, but right now it entertains the hell out of me. It's not as ambitious in its storyline as I might have liked it to be, but this movie doesn't compromise its vision in the slightest, which makes sense considering the lead character is a man who compromises for nothing and nobody. Here's what I thought after my first viewing.

17. X-Men: First Class - This is a movie that was better than it had any right to be. I was expecting absolutely nothing from it, but when the reviews started coming in, I had to at least check it out. I was surprised by the witty dialogue and pleased to see the characters wear outfits that were closer approximations to what they wore in the comic books than the outfits from the previous movies. The cast was good, and I cared more about Wolverine in his quick cameo than I did during the entirety of his first solo movie.

16. X2 - Also known as X-Men 2, this one doesn't hold up for me as well as I would have thought it would, but it's still pretty good. It takes everything that the first one got right and does it one better. All of the themes of bigotry are there - even with the great "Can't you just stop being a mutant?" line coming from Iceman's mother. The only really bad part though? Wolverine putting the cigar out in his hand. No, it's not that he did that, but that he grimaced as he did it. Wolverine is a badass. He wouldn't even blink.

15. Iron Man 2 - I remember being disappointed with this one when I first saw it, but in repeat viewings, it gets better and better. I think that it had a long way to fall, as the first one will rank up pretty high on this list. I don't think that the father/son storyline worked as well as it could have, and perhaps it juggled too many characters. Still, the performances are fun, the dialogue is snappy, and the action scenes might even be a bit better than in the original. Plus, I love when Sam Rockwell does his little dance at the Stark Expo.

14. Thor: The Dark World - I've only seen this one once so far, but I feel safe putting it up higher than its predecessor. Again, nothing dramatic or Earth-shaking about this one, but it does everything that worked well in the first one and kicks it up a notch. The relationship with Loki is great, including one particular scene where Thor calls him out on his bullcrap. More could have been done with the villain, and I know that some people didn't like the humor, but overall I felt like it was a satisfying ride. Oh, and the special effects were a big improvement, as I found myself more caught up in the world than being aware of the green screen. Now if only they'd stop treating these gods like they were aliens (although I know that has precedence in the comic book.) Here's my full review

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part VI - Little Stink

Parts I, II, III, IV, and V

I continue onward, knowing that I will likely want to change everything after thinking about it.

33. Blade II - This is probably my favorite movie that I don't actually think is good. There's some clunky dialogue (but to be fair - some really fun dialogue, mostly spoken by Chris Christopherson) and some bad special effects (but some good ones too!) The premise is ridiculous, and there are several silly moments. However, it just clicks with me. The two things that I think work really well is the villain, who's almost like something out of Shakespeare in his motivations. Also, Wesley Snipes manages to convey the one thing that is actually interesting about the character - he hates himself. Too bad that angle wasn't explored further, because we might have had something beyond dumb, fun entertainment. Check out Roger Ebert's review - he loved it.

32. Batman - A lot of the movies that are higher up on this list owe a debt to this one, and its influence is still pretty clear. It was the first time since the original Christopher Reeve Superman that Hollywood took a superhero seriously, even though that all started to fall apart as soon as the first sequel. The movie has a great look, and much of it still holds up. Still, the plot just doesn't have much momentum, and much of the dialogue sounds like a series of cool lines that sound good on their own but don't flow very well together. Read my full review here.

31. Batman Returns - I'll probably catch some hell for this one, putting it in front of the original, but I'll stand by it. The bad parts are worse than anything in the first one, but the good parts are better than anything in it. I guess I have a real preference for well-written dialogue, as there are a lot of really great moments in this, particularly every moment with Christopher Walken. It all unravels, and I probably like this more as a Tim Burton movie than a Batman movie, but I still have a soft spot for it. Here's my full review.

30. From Hell - This one gets a lot of mixed reviews, and it really isn't very true to the comic book - so much that I was tempted to not even include it. Still, it follows the basic premise of the original, and it was a fascinating look into the world of late 19th Century Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper, a subject with which I've been very interested in ever since I took the Jack the Ripper Walking Tour in London. I've read some reviews that complained that it wasn't very scary, but I'm not entirely sure that it was supposed to be - it creates a creepy, disturbing mood filled with conspiracies in a world of filth and corruption rather than try to jump out and scare you.

29. Spider-Man - The sheer fact that Spider-Man is my favorite superhero almost made me elevate this one a bit more. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot to like. However, once again, clunky dialogue spoils it a bit for me in repeat viewings. Still, as a fan of the comics, I felt like this was a good representation of a character whom I loved for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, the Green Goblin design looks lame whenever he gets off the glider, and I would have liked to see a Mary Jane whose personality was a bit more like that in the comics.

28. The Rocketeer - I bought this one recently when I saw it cheap on Blu-Ray, and I'm wanting to watch it again after doing this list. I got to see it in the movie theater, and one of my prized-possessions is a personalized, autographed collection of Rocketeer comics by the late, great Dave Stevens. The movie definitely captured the look and feel of the comics, and insert comment about how voluptuous Jennifer Connelly was when she was young (not that she's somehow unattractive now, but she definitely fit the part of a character who was essentially a visual homage to Bettie Page. There's nothing spectacular about this movie, but there isn't anything to really complain about, either.

27. The Incredible Hulk - This movie aims a lot lower than the previous Hulk movie, but unlike the other, it actually hits its target. Is there anything special about this? No, and later we were to see The Hulk done the way he REALLY should be done in The Avengers. However, everybody does a serviceable job in it. The Hulk looks good, and the action scenes are well done - even though he basically just beats up the Abomination at the end. (How the hell do they contain him once he wakes up?) I liked Edward Norton and was disappointed that he wasn't coming back until I saw what Mark Ruffalo could do.

26. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm - Oh yeah, this counts, 'cause I saw it in the theaters. Yeah, the production values are only a degree or two higher than an episode of the TV show, but I said it back when it was out, and I'll say it again - at the time, it had a smarter story and better characterization than any of the live-action Batman films. (Keep in mind, this is before the "Dark Knight" trilogy.) It also had a really entertaining Joker - one that was more reminiscent of the comic book character than any we had seen before. Here's my full review, and check out Siskel and Ebert's review:

25. X-Men - A lot of the better superhero movies owe a debt to this one as well, and even though there are a few lame bits here and there, I still admire this one for its earnestness and how it remained true to the central theme of the comics. Bryan Singer admitted to not having read the comics growing up, and even though they didn't want to create too much of the look of the comics, it certainly was recognizable, story-wise, to long time fans of Marvel's mutants.

24. Iron Man 3 - After seeing this for the first time, I said that it was better than the second Iron Man movie. However, even though I was disappointed with that one, it got better for me when I watched it on Blu-Ray. With this one, the opposite happened. I still like it, and it has all the hallmarks of what was good about the other two movies, but it just has less of them. And the whole subplot with the kid, while not as bad as that sort of a thing could be, didn't quite work for me. Personally, I didn't have a problem with the way they handled The Mandarin because it was such an amusing concept.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part V - Less Stinky

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

I've barely begun the actual list, and I'm already regretting some of my decisions. Oh well, gonna keep on keeping on...

43. Daredevil - Even though I'm pretty low on the list, this still feels too high. It probably would have been even further toward the bottom if it wasn't for the fact that I love the character so much and that I've seen the Director's Cut, which while not a great movie, improves things a bit with some  fun dialogue between Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. The ultimate problem with this movie is that they messed up his origin a bit (he should have gotten in the accident while trying to save a blind man) and that they tried to cram about three major stories into one movie. Also, there was a lot of silliness that didn't help, but I can't bring myself to completely hate this.

42. Batman Forever -  I actually think that the first twenty minutes or so of this movie are entertaining as hell. It's silly and for little kids, but everything is just so big, dramatic, and kinetic. Unfortunately, Two Face is nothing but a generic villain in this, and The Riddler is actually The Jim Carey. Still, this is the first of the live-action Batman films that I put in for my son. He lost interest about halfway through though. Here's my full review.

41. Hulk - Some folks might put this  lower on the list, but I admire it for director Ang Lee's ambition. It certainly tried to be something other than a simple action flick. While it didn't succeed, I still think that there are enough interesting things going on to not consider it a total failure. Ultimately, the only really bad things about it were the hulk-dogs and the exhausting third act. Plus, the CGI hulk didn't always look very good. I do find it interesting that this movie had not only its defenders, but a fair bit of praise from Roger Ebert. One thing that I definitely thought was cool was how it tried to create the feel of a comic book - something that was done to much better effect in Scott Pilgrim Versus the World.

40. Kick Ass - I'm having a hard time placing this one. I like the comic series, and this was fairly true to it. However, there are things you can do in a comic that just don't work for me on film. The biggest sticking point was the little girl who curses and cuts people up. I dunno, when she's a drawing, I'm okay with it. When they actually have a girl act all that out, it just doesn't sit right with me. It's a fun movie, and I was entertained, but I doubt that I'd ever want to see it again.

39. 300 - I loved the comic book, and the movie did a great job of bringing it to life. Unfortunately, it also made me realize that the comic book is kinda dumb. I guess I'm a sucker for history, and the basic premise of the story is one of those can't-miss "last stand" stories. There's a lot to admire here, even if the visual style that was created was ripped off by a billion other movies, to less effect, ever since. Also, the first time the Persian army rushes into the shields of the Spartans is still pretty intense upon repeated viewings.

38. Punisher War Zone - This movie isn't very good, but I'll be damned if I wasn't entertained by it. Of all the attempts to do Frank Castle, this one comes the closest, as at least it seems to acknowledge that he's a violent sociopath - just a violent sociopath who directs his murderous rage at those who you don't mind seeing dead. Turns out that Patton Oswalt is a fan in the same way that I am. I also wrote a full review here. For more fun, listen to the How Did This Get Made? podcast featuring Mr. Oswalt and director Lexi Alexander.

37. Blade  - The beginning of this movie is stupid-awesome. Much like Punisher War Zone, I don't think that this movie is good so much as I love it. The final battle doesn't exactly work, but the film creates a pretty fun mythology, and Wesley Snipes is clearly embracing the character wholeheartedly. Honestly, I had never read a comic with the character before, and he really was probably thought of as one of the "least likely" characters to ever get his own movie.

36. X-Men: The Last Stand - I honestly don't understand the hate that this one engenders. Yeah, Brett Ratner is a hack, and yeah, Cyclops was offed rather unceremoniously, but I really think that the action scenes were done better than the previous two installments. Plus, we got to see the Danger Room! The Fastball Special! "Oh My Stars and Garters!" There was simply too much fun stuff in this for me to not like it. Plus, I kinda liked the whole "mutant cure" story, even though it wasn't followed-through to its full potential. Perhaps this movie's saving grace is that it's relatively short - and it sets up The Wolverine rather nicely. (Even though that turned out to be more of a happy accident.)

35. Superman Returns - This one gets a lot of hate as well, and as much as I liked it, it's slowly starting to not hold up very well for me. Probably its biggest problem was that it was too slavish to the Christopher Reeve films rather than trying to branch out into new territory with the character. I wrote a full review some time ago, and if I was making this list then, I probably would have placed it higher. Anyway, I still like it, but I just don't like it as much.

34. Superman II - Had I seen this movie for the first time as an adult, it would have probably ranked pretty low on this list. However, childhood nostalgia pushes it up further than it probably deserves. Also, the Richard Donner cut improves on the film as a whole, removing all of the Richard Lester randomness (Since when does Superman shoot beams and throw his S-shield?) while sticking on an ending that's dumb as all hell. What else is there to say but the obligatory "Kneel before Zod!"

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part IV - The Stinkers

Finally, it's time to get to my 53-movie countdown (if I did my math right, an idea on which one should never rely). When I was looking through the list, it occurred to me that I probably like a greater percentage of these movies than the average person. (I, for one, am not suffering from any kind of superhero burnout as some critics have been lamenting.) However, I can honestly say that I don't like a single movie on this entry's list. Some I can find a good thing or two to say about, but overall, I consider all of these to be outright duds.

Also, before I get started, I'm going to state that I'm going to make no pretense of objectivity. Sure, a list like this is automatically subjective, but I think that while I am able to say that, for instance, Predator 2 is not as good of a movie as La Dolce Vita, I definitely LIKE the former much more than the latter. So, if those two movies qualified for this list, you know which one would be closer to the top than the other. While I think that there is some crossover between what I like and what I actually think is good, this is completely about my subjective reactions to these films.

With that said, here we go with the clunkers...

53. Batman and Robin - Never has more money been spent to tell me that my favorite genre was stupid and a waste of time. Obviously, there are some comic book films with far worse production values than this one, but the fact that this was done by normally competent people only makes things worse. In interviews, director Joel Shumacher talked about how he didn't want his Batman to still be brooding about his dead parents. Umm...then that's NOT Batman, Joel. Why not make a Hamlet where the Danish prince doesn't give a crap that his dad is dead? Makes just as much sense. Also, there are stories of when the cast would point out to Shumacher that the story didn't make sense, his retort was "It's a comic book!" Why not just take a crap on Batman's face? Here's my full review.

52. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace - Check out the DVD commentary from the screenwriter on this one, as it'll be more enjoyable than actually trying to watch the film. Christopher Reeve definitely had his heart in the right place, but clearly nobody was willing to shell out the money to make a proper Superman film.

51. Blade: Trinity - I probably like Blade II more than any human being should, and I can forgive an action movie if it's mindless. Still, it needs to have some sort of forward momentum to it. This just kind of rambled and wasted a potentially awesome nemesis for Blade - Dracula. I think that Jessica Biel might still have a cool action movie in her though, but she was wasted in this confusing mess.

50. X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Lots of important stuff happened in this film that I was supposed to care about, but I went through the whole thing as indifferent as can be. Just like with Christopher Reeve in the last two Superman movies, Hugh Jackman always has his heart in the right place when it comes to the character. Turns out that the director recently revealed that he was having script pages faxed to him while filming. That's probably the least surprising thing, as it's pretty clear that the higher ups were more concerned about having as many mutants as possible in it than telling a compelling story.

49. Fantastic Four - I always tell people that if they want to see a really good Fantastic Four film, they should see The Incredibles. Sure, it's not exactly the same, but it captures the "superhero team as a family" dynamic much better than this film about the original superhero family. The biggest problem with this movie is that it commits the ultimate crime of ruining one of the greatest villains EVER (not just from comic books) - Dr. Doom. I saw the tool who played him at a comic book convention. The man was the anti-Hugh Jackman, clearly not giving a crap about the character of fans. (Did I put the sequel on my list of films I have no plans of seeing? Well, I have no plans to see it.)

48. Superman III - Believe it or not, I've only seen this movie in its entirety one time, and that wasn't even that long ago. I remember a friend of mine had taped it off of cable, but whenever I came over we'd never get to watch the whole thing, as he'd just fast-forward through all of the boring parts. When I sat to watch this, I didn't hate it, but it was pretty clear that it was made by people who didn't give a crap about the source material. Still, it has a few cool moments, like when Clark Kent fights Superman. (How's that possible? Guess you'll have to watch the movie, bitches.)

47. The Punisher - The Thomas Jane version is basically a bunch of really good scenes from a movie that just doesn't come together. I can't say that I hate this film, but it simply doesn't work. It ranks higher than some other stinkers because once again, I think that the lead actor had his heart in the right place. However, the plot can be summarized as follows: criminals hurt Punisher, Punisher hurts criminals, Punisher waits, criminals hurt Punisher, Punisher hurts criminals, etc. Maybe if I watched this movie in five minute increments, I'd think that it was awesome.

46. Green Lantern - Oh, how I wanted this to be good, and I believe that a good Green Lantern movie COULD be made. Unfortunately, this movie fails on pretty much every level. The special effects are awful, and the story stinks as well. The thing that bothers me is that there's a great mythology here, but they tried to cram far too much of it into one film. And then when they realized that it was too much, they altered it into something stupid - like the whole thing with Parallax, an evil entity who took decades of comics to evolve, bu they tried to sum him up in ten minutes. What they should have done is keep Hal Jordan on Earth fighting Hector Hammond, and the only other Lantern we should have seen would be Sinestro. Then they could have saved Oa and Sinestro's eventual turn to evil for the sequel, both of which would have had far more weight. Oh man, Oa...the center of light in the universe wound up looking like a burnt-out crater in a crappy video game. Ugh.

45. Spider-Man III - The team that made my favorite Spider-Man movie completely mucked it up with this one. I've read that Sam Raimi didn't want to include Venom in this one, and he was right for not wanting that, as Venom added nothing to this. As I (and others) have stated before, there might have been something to work with if this one had ended with Peter getting rid of the evil alien suit and then in the follow-up, he would have to face Venom. Instead, there was too much story, too much mucking with the origin, too much crying, and far too much random Peter Parker dancing.

44. The Crow - I absolutely loved this when it was out in the theater, but I watched it recently on Netflix, and it really doesn't hold up very well. It feels like a poor-man's Batman, and Brandon Lee's performance isn't nearly as impressive as I remember it being. It wasn't horrible, but it's really dated, and I probably would have ranked this higher had I never seen it again.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part III

Part I - Movies I haven't heard of and movies I don't plan to see.

Before I get to my 54 movie countdown, I have one more list of films to get through. These are movies that I have seen, but I don't remember well enough to include them on the list. I will try and guesstimate roughly where I think they would wind up if I had included them.

Movies I'm not including because I don't remember them well enough:

American Splendor  - I remember really liking this story about Harvey Pekar's life, which is basically the same subject of his comic book. Paul Giamatti turned in a fun performance as well. I imagine that this one would probably rank pretty high on the list - easily in the top half, if not the top third.

Ghost World - I read the comic, and I liked the movie. I don't remember too much other than that. This would probably rank in the top half at the very least.

A History of Violence - Never read the comic book, but I thought that the movie was a decent little thriller - not much more than that. It would probably rank somewhere halfway through the list.

Judge Dredd - For crap's sakes - DREDD DOESN'T REMOVE HIS HELMET!!!!! Other than that, I don't remember this as being horrible, but it was more interested in being a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone than an adaptation of the comic book. It probably wouldn't rank at the very bottom of the list, but it definitely not make it past the bottom 25%.

The Mask - Never read the comic, and from what I understand, the movie took a decidedly more humorous tone with the material. I remember liking it, but I have no idea how well it would hold up. I honestly can't even guess where it would belong on the list - probably not the very bottom at least.

Men in Black - This movie was okay, and I can't say much more about it than that. There were enough good parts to probably elevate it past the bottom 25%, but I don't know if it would get much closer than the bottom 33.33333333%.

Mystery Men - I remember this as being pretty uneven. There were some good moments, but overall it didn't quite stick together. Probably somewhere in the bottom 25% but not much further down than that.

The Punisher - Low budget schlock with a character who lacks his defining symbol - a giant skull. Probably be in the bottom 10%.

Road to Perdition - I remember not liking this one as much as the hype made me think that I would. While I don't remember anything particularly wrong with it, I wasn't very engaged in the story either. I'm not sure where I'd rank it, but I don't think that I'm curious enough to watch it again to find out either.

Spawn - I don't mind CGI effects, but I do mind them when there are tons of them and they all suck. It's like the whole movie was screaming: "Hey! Look at this CGI effect! Doesn't it suck?" Dreck. Bottom 10%, easily.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Yes, I saw this. In the theater. Shut up. I think that I even liked it. I'm afraid to see it again and learn just how low I'd rank it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze - Vanilla Ice is in it. GREATEST. MOVIE. OF. ALL. TIME. No, wait, that was Cool as Ice.

Timecop - I read the few comics that this character actually appeared in, and I wanted to check out the movie because I like time travel stories. It was decent, but I doubt it would hold up very well.

Wanted - I remember thinking that if I was a teenager, I would have absolutely LOVED this movie. I'm an adult, so I was merely entertained. From what I understand, it bears little resemblance to the comic book series.

Weird Science - I had no idea that this was a comic book. I'm also not entirely sure that I've seen this movie in its entirety. I think that I may have seen it on TV once or something.

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - Part II

When all is said and done, I will be ranking 54 comic book adaptations. In Part I, I listed all of the movies that I hadn't seen either because I hadn't heard of them or I had no intention of seeing them. Turns out I goofed on that, and I only included about half of that list, so I'll get to the rest of them here.

After that, I will list off some more that I will not be including. These will be ones that I haven't seen, but I don't object to seeing them.

More Movies I Haven't Seen and There's No Way in Hell I Will See:

R.I.P.D. - This movie stars Green Lantern and The Big Lebowski. It looks lame and a poor man's version of a movie I didn't like all that much in the first place. (Men in Black)

Red Sonja - Schwarzenegger supposedly calls this the worst movie he's ever made, and he was in Hercules in New York.

Richie Rich - I'm only interested in Macauly Caulkin movies where he burns his face with aftershave. (Not really.)

Sabrina the Teenage Witch - Just like Josie and the Pussycats, this one might have been fine for its intended audience. I haven't bothered to look into it further.

Sheena - I have one simple rule: No Ka-Zar, no Sheena.

The Spirit - Tired of Hollywood screwing up his stories, Frank Miller apparently decided to screw up Will Eisner's creation.

Supergirl - There was a time when I really wanted to see this. This was also around the same time when I ate mayonnaise sandwiches.

Surrogates - Oops. This belongs on my "haven't heard of" list.

Swamp Thing - I'm only going to see an adaptation of a magical swamp-based comic book character if it's called Giant Sized Man-Thing.

Tales from the Crypt (series) - I'm not much of a horror fan, and I only tend to see them if they're seem like they're something special. Any horror fans think that this is worth a look?

Tank Girl - Wasn't Ice-T a kangaroo in this or something? Crap! Why the hell don't I want to see this?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III - I didn't feel like there were any burning, unsolved mysteries from the first two movies.

TMNT - I didn't start respecting New Kids on the Block when they became NKOTB, and this trick isn't going to work for a bunch of talking turtles either.

Vampirella - Go to a comic book convention where a model is dressed like Vampirella and try to not stare at her boobs. I don't care whether you're attracted to women or not, you cannot resist the boobs. I can easily resist a movie though.

Virus - Would you believe that I actually read the comic book series? It was a perfectly serviceable little horror story, but it didn't scream "Make this a movie!" to me.

Whiteout - I heard it was bad, and the story doesn't interest me all that much anyway.

Movies I Haven't Seen but Might if Given the Opportunity:

30 Days of Night - This looks like it might be a perfectly serviceable action/horror film. I don't expect great things, but it might be entertaining.

Cowboys and Aliens - I know that the reviews weren't great, but it looks like it might be fun, and it has a good cast with both James Bond and Indiana Jones (who's been in a movie with James Bond before).

Ghost Rider - I'm sure that I'd regret it after seeing it, but if it ever shows up on Netflix streaming, I'll check it out.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - Ditto.

Kick Ass 2 - I'll go into this in more detail when I get to the first one, but as much as I like the comics, I don't feel that it works as a movie.

The Losers - I've heard good things about this one; looks like fun.

My Name is Bruce - This was a comic book? Bruce Campbell, right? I'm curious.

Red and Red 2 - Don't know the comics, but I've heard that the first movie was pretty entertaining.

Ranking the comics adaptations - Part I

I love comic books. I love movies as well. This means that I have a pretty soft spot for comic book adaptations. In a way, I'm probably not a good person to ask whether a particular one is good or bad, as I tend to find something good in almost all of them, even the ones where I can objectively see that they're bad. (Although as more and more of these movies are getting made, I'm probably less and less tolerant. If Green Lantern had come out when I was a teenager, I would have thought it was awesome. But with movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man being out there? Yeah, it's not so good.)

For some dumb, obsessive-compulsive reason, I have decided to rank all of the various comic book adaptations. The first thing I did was start with Wikipedia's list of English-language comic book adaptations. This leaves out the Asterix movies, which I haven't seen, but as a fan of the comics, I'd like to one day. From there, I took off every movie that didn't have a theatrical release - so no rubber-eared Captain America nor Dolph Lundgren Punisher. Also, I'm not counting anything that came out before 1978's Superman. (There weren't too many of those anyway - mostly action serials from the 1940s.)

With that out of the way, there are a whole lot of movies that I haven't seen, or it's been so long since I've seen them that I don't feel right categorizing them. So, for the first two parts in this series, I'll be listing off the movies I've never even heard of, movies that I haven't seen and am actively avoiding, movies that I haven't seen but would be willing to see, and the movies where I just don't remember well enough to properly place. I'll give some thoughts about some of these if I've got something to say, but first:

The Movies I Don't Know Anything About - For all of these, I am unfamiliar with both the movie and the comic, and some of them could very well be direct-to-video or TV adaptations. I don't feel like taking the time to research each one of them. Leave me a comment if you've seen any/know anything about any of them.

2 Guns
The Amazing Cynicalman - Nothing amazing about that.
Faust: Love of the Damned
G-Men from Hell - This sounds vaguely familiar.
I, Frankenstein
I Sell the Dead
Model by Day - What is he/she by night? A dentist? Probably.
El Muerto - I'm intrigued by the title.
The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak. - WTF?

The Movies I Haven't Seen and There's No Way in Hell I Will See - I'll tell you why for each of these.

Art School Confidential - This has been on my Netflix queue forever. I was intrigued because I liked another adaptation of a Daniel Clowes story, Ghost World, but I've heard that this movie is only so-so. I'm not totally opposed to seeing it, but it's probably just not going to happen.

Barb Wire - I actually read most of the comics from Dark Horse. The movie seemed to have little in common with them, and Pamela Anderson's acting doesn't exactly bring me running. I understand that she gets naked in it, but I have this feeling that there are other ways one can see that, if one were so inclined.

Bulletproof Monk - Never read the comic, heard the movie wasn't very good. Pass.

Catwoman - Yeah, right. I actually had a free ticket to see this that came in a DVD collection of Batman: The Animated Series. I still have it just in case they ever re-release it in theaters. Seriously though, anybody who likes this movie needs to rethink their standards considering that its star admitted that it was crap. And that costume? Ohhhhhh...sooooooooo....awful.

Constantine - I've never read the comics, and from what I hear, the movie bears little resemblance to them. Making him an American seemed to be the first of many things they got wrong.

Elektra - Okay, Daredevil wasn't very good, and supposedly this one was worse. Why would I do that to myself?

Jonah Hex - The comics are pretty much straight-up Westerns. This movie seemed like something else entirely. No thank you.

Josie and the Pussycats - I'm sure it's fine for what it is, but what it is isn't very interesting to me.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - This looked like crap on wheels and the reviews confirm it. I haven't read the comics, although I'd like to, but this seems to have little to do with them.

Son of the Mask -,

Men in Black II - Didn't like the first one all that much. And did enough copies of the comic exist for this to even count for this list?

Men in Black III - See above.

Monkeybone - Despite all the Oscars and critical acclaim, I'm just going to have to pass on this one.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What can skepticism and freethought offer a person?

I wrote about a month ago how I wanted to start advocating for skepticism and free-thought rather than atheism. It's my belief that those two modes of thinking naturally lead to atheism, so I figure that it's best to put the horse before the cart. After all, advocating a non-belief is telling people that you want to take something away from them rather than offering them something good.

I suppose I should note that while I'd love it if people of all types read my blog, I think that this one is directly addressing the fence-sitters - the people who just aren't sure what they believe. Perhaps you're somebody who believes in God, but there are a lot of doubts that are gnawing away at you. One way or the other, the issue is important to you, and you want to make the right choice. With that said, let me tell you why I think that looking at the world through a skeptical, naturalist, freethinking point of view is best.

For starters, let's get out of the way what WON'T happen to you if taking this path causes you to reject belief in the supernatural in general, and God in particular. Here are a few things you won't have to worry about:

  1. You won't fall into despair thinking that the world has no purpose. We human beings are generally pretty resilient animals. Even though you might no longer see purpose the way you used to see it, that doesn't mean that you still can't create purpose - one that's as satisfying or potentially more satisfying than the one you had before.
  2. You won't lose any sense of awe or wonder about the world, despite what Oprah might tell you. The universe is an amazing place, and it doesn't suddenly stop being amazing when you no longer accept supernatural claims.
  3. You can still believe in love. It's an emotion that you feel. Sure, it's not tangible, but realizing that it's brought about by the natural phenomena of millions of years of evolution among a cooperative species doesn't suddenly make it less real to you. If anything, that's one more thing at which to marvel.
  4. You won't become a drug-abusing murderer who no longer has to answer to a higher power. Even if religious faith "saved" you from drug abuse, abandoning it won't make you revert to your old ways. I don't say this from personal experience so much as from people whom I have personally known. Also, if you weren't a murderer before, it won't suddenly seem like an appealing thing to do. Even if I knew that I could get away with killing a random person, I wouldn't do it. Even if you paid me to do it, I wouldn't do it. Why? Because empathy, that's why. Where'd I get that? From my ancestors who developed it to help them survive in groups when they didn't have fancy things like sharp claws and wings.
Okay, so those are things that won't happen to you. Is that all it is? Just a break-even if you completely alter your approach to the world? How about some advantages? Well, I can name a few:
  1. You can trust your doubt. It's a good thing, and while I hear religious people say that they embrace their doubt all the time, I just don't see that as being a genuine sentiment coming from them. After all, what do they tell their fellow believers when it comes to doubt? Pray about it. In other words, it's okay to doubt so long as you realize that you're wrong for doing so and you eventually have to come back to your original position. With free-thought, you can fully embrace your doubts. Your doubts might even be pulling you in the CORRECT direction. Listen to them, consider them, and then make your decisions accordingly.
  2. You won't be troubled by so much cognitive dissonance. One thing that really troubles a lot of people of faith, Christians in particular, is the issue of how to treat gay people. On one extreme, you have complete intolerance. A bit better than that is "hate the sin, love the sinner" which still puts gay people as doing something wrong for simply being who they are. Recently a friend of mine posted this article from the Huffington Post, where the author abandons that particular phrase, but at the end of it all, he's still left with the thing that homosexuality is a sin; in other words, it's wrong. I see so many Christians struggle with this because on one hand, they don't see how gay people are doing anything wrong, yet they still have to think that it is because The Bible says so. Well, here's a possibility you get to have if you approach things from a skeptical point of view: The Bible might be wrong. This gets to be a very real option, and when you embrace it, you find yourself struggling a whole lot less.
  3. The world becomes less scary. I realize that this one will hold more appeal for some people than others, but I know that before I embraced skepticism, I was troubled by demons. I also know of people who have scary instances in their lives where they feel some sort of presence that makes the hairs on their arm stand on end. The world seems to be full of all kinds of hidden terrors that aren't detectable through conventional means. However, when I hear strange noises or get random chills nowadays, I don't pay them a second thought, and I'm able to move on with my life. You can read more about those experiences and why I abandoned them here and here.
  4. There's no need to fear death. Sure, dying might be scary, but as far as we can tell, our awareness is in the brain, and when the brain ceases to function, there's no reason to believe that it continues on. As it's been said before, there's no reason to think that it will feel any different than how it felt before you were born.
That's just for starters. If that sounds good to you, then what's the next step? What does it mean to be a freethinker and a skeptic? You start with Carl Sagan's maxim: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." From there, determine what counts as evidence, as that's a word that's thrown around quite a bit. But if you want to truly be a skeptic, have your definition be consistent. In other words, don't consider something to be evidence for what you want to believe that you would reject for another claim. (You know,t things like personal experiences. If you can reject it as a likely hallucination in somebody else, then you can't use a different yardstick when you evaluate your own beliefs.)

There are a lot of great books out there by the likes of Michael Shermer, James Randi, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc. to help you to continue this journey if you're ready for it. The best part is that you get to go wherever the truth takes you - you're not bound by anybody's dogma - even your own. You won't have all the answers, and you'll have to get used to using the phrase, "I don't know" but you'll be living as honest a life as you possibly can, and there's a great deal of satisfaction in that.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Can you choose to believe?

I had a conversation recently with a thoughtful theist where we were discussing raising children and passing on our belief systems to them. I was relieved (but not surprised) to hear that she wasn't feeding her children misinformation about atheists like how we're somehow "broken" or "love sin too much" or some other total strawman. She told me that when she explained nonbelievers to her kids, she started off with how God gives us free will, and we can make our decisions from there. I thought that was a really fair response, but it's kinda stuck in my brain, and while I wouldn't tell her to change what she says, I'm not so sure that whether people believe or not is a matter of choice.

I've been told before that my problem is that I need to read The Bible with "an open heart" and "ask God" to help guide me as I do so. I always respond with how that's a strange request, as how can I genuinely ask a thing that I don't believe to help me? Sure, I can mouth the words and maybe even go so far as to think: "Okay, if there is a God, help me out here!" but that's not the same thing as making a genuine request. I compare it to asking Superman for help the next time you're in trouble. Sure, you can say, "Superman, help!" and you can have the mindset where if Superman actually comes along to help you out, you're not going to question it. The point is that in both situations, you're not genuinely expecting help from something that you don't think is actually there.

I think that this works both ways, and that's why it's pointless to try and talk somebody out of belief. If a person genuinely believes in Allah, for instance, and you offer them a billion dollars to stop, he or she might go so far as to tell you that the belief is gone, but if you believe you believe. No matter how much you tell a person that his or her belief is nonsense, that's not going to get you anywhere. If anything, it'll just make that person dig his or her heels in even further.

I should note though that I'm not saying that there's no point in debating beliefs. If it weren't for people who debated with me, along with numerous debates that I listened to, I'd probably believe a whole lot of different stuff than I do now. The point though is that it wasn't somebody trying to cajole me into changing my mind that did the trick. What made me change my mind was a slow process, but much of it had to do with how I approached the world. Different people introduced me to new ways of looking at things, and once I opened my mind up to the possibility that I was wrong, my faith's demise was inevitable.

I realize that theists hate it when atheists compare the belief in God to the belief in Santa Claus, but if any believers out there really want to understand it from our point of view, then don't take it as an insult when I say that it's as likely that I can start believing in God again as I can start believing in Santa. It's not that nothing will change my mind. If I got some empirical evidence for St. Nick, then what choice would I have but to believe in him again? It's the same with God. Yes, I know, belief in God is a deeper, more life-altering belief than the one in Santa, but that doesn't address the reason why I don't believe - a lack of evidence. If I were to ask you to write a letter to Santa next Christmas, you'd look at me the same way I (really want to) look at you when you ask me to ask God to help me with my understanding of The Bible.

So, if you're on board with me that belief is not a choice, then what can you actually choose to do?

1. You can choose to have an open mind. This is a bit of a loaded phrase, as it's unfortunately come to mean that you should give equal weight to any and all claims that come your way. When I say it, I mean that you should be willing to follow the evidence to whatever conclusion is supported by it, and once you reach that conclusion, be ready to change it as new evidence comes your way. That doesn't mean that you can't feel secure in saying, "There probably aren't any chimpanzees that live in my ear." but just be ready to change your mind when a bunch of chimps start flying out of your auditory cavity.

2.  You can choose to expose yourself to other points of view. This step is pretty much pointless if you're not willing to take the first one. Many people only like to expose themselves to the opposing point of view through the lens of those already on their side. This is why you get so many creationists still saying the same old canards like "If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" or "If evolution is true, why is it just a theory?" (If you think that those are good questions, then you haven't looked into evolution from the point of view of those who actually accept it - and not even in the most cursory way at that.)

3.  You can choose to embrace your doubts. When a doubt comes along about a particular belief of yours, you can shut your brain down and blame yourself for not thinking correctly, or you can say, "Maybe I'm doubting this for a good reason." From there, you can put your belief into a holding pattern of "I'm not sure about this." until more evidence comes along to sway you one way or another.

4.  You can take the time to figure out what would change your mind. For instance, I personally believe that it's a good idea to let my son decide how much he should eat at dinner time. I don't make him sit at the table until he "cleans his plate". I know precisely what would make me change my mind though. For once, if he started to look malnourished, that would be a pretty big indicator that I could be wrong. (But not quite enough to convince me entirely - there could be other factors at play.) The point is that I have no problem saying what would get me to think differently. Some people seem to act like it's a virtue to say, "Nothing can change my mind." That sounds pretty unreasonable to me.

5.  You can choose to lie. Unfortunately, there are many people out there who do just this, and I don't judge them for it when it comes to this particular issue. Some folks are afraid to tell their friends and family how they really feel out of fear of being ostracized. In that case, you have people who do things like go to church and pray at the dinner table, but they believe about as much as I do. Like I said, I don't judge, but I would encourage more people to "come out of the closet" in that case, so others can learn that nonbelievers aren't evil people.

That's all I've got. If you've got something else, feel free to comment and let me know.