Star Wars: The Force Awakens Spoiler Free Review

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterOn December 17, my family and I went to see the Star Wars: The Force Awakens preview at our local AMC theater. Although there were lots of people in the building, the lines moved quickly and we got great seats. Here I will attempt to summarize the experience without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it.
From the second that the movie started, everyone in attendance was captured by the nostalgia of the music and the sight of the familiar opening crawl. Cheers and applause echoed from every corner as the Star Wars super-fans prepared to see the film they had waited so long to experience!
From the first scene of the film, I could tell that although I had no clue what was going on, the film leaned heavily toward the original movies instead of the Prequel Trilogy. The special effects seemed far superior to any of the previous films, or any movie I’ve ever seen for that matter. The acting was also phenomenal, as the characters seemed likeable (or villainous!) and didn’t act seriously enough to ruin the fun of the movie, while still soaring high above the atrocious dialogue of the Prequel Trilogy. The acting of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega was particularly good. I enjoyed seeing all of the new characters and alien species, as well as the characters returning from the original films. While the older characters supplemented the new ones well, I never felt like the movie rested on them too much and could’ve relied solely on the new actors. Overall, all of the elements of the movie were nearly perfect except the plot. Although it’s impossible for me to explain without spoiling the film, the plot did seem to have too many callbacks to the original movies. Several parts of the story seemed to be completely reused from the other films. While I personally enjoyed the plot, I can easily see how many people thought the storytelling was lazy.

I thought that the Force Awakens was a fantastic movie that exceeded my wildest expectations that were built up over years of hype. Since the preview, I was able to see the film two more times. I was able to pick up nuances in the film and understand the story better the other times. I would highly recommend that you see the movie at least twice to really enjoy it. There is so much to take in during the first viewing.

I would rate it a 9.6/10, and I really can’t see how the movie could’ve been much better. I suddenly can’t wait for the next movie in the franchise, and I’m sure the force will be with it as it was with this one!


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Benedict Arnold

Benedict_Arnold._Copy_of_engraving_by_H._B._Hall_after_John_Trumbull,_published_1879.,_1931_-_1932_-_NARA_-_532921.tifA name synonymous with treachery and treason, Benedict Arnold’s heroic efforts are remembered by few. Even fewer realize that without him the War of Independence could have been prolonged or even lost.

Born in Norwich, CT on January 14, 1741, Benedict was the second born son of a wealthy businessman. Although he was one of six children, only he and his younger sister Hannah lived past the age of 5. He served in the French and Indian war for 13 days, not even making it near the front lines.

After the war, he became an extremely successful businessman like his father. Many people from the period have commented on Arnold’s greed, with an officer named John Brown correctly asserting that “Money is the man’s God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country.”

When war broke out against the British in 1775, Arnold became a captain in the Connecticut Militia. He participated in the opening battles at Lexington and Concord, as well as opposing the British in the Siege of Boston. After being promoted to Colonel, Arnold proposed an attack on Fort Ticonderoga, an action which many historians agree may have saved the revolutionaries from an early defeat. He then marched to Vermont where he arrived unannounced, to the surprise of folk-hero Ethan Allen. Arnold claimed that he was going to lead the expedition to capture the fort. However, Allen’s men refused to listen to Arnold, so Allen and Arnold came to an agreement that they would both be in charge of the attack. As history has shown, Arnold’s participation in the event has been nearly forgotten.

Following the attack at Ticonderoga, he marched north to Canada where he was involved in a series of unfortunate and humiliating defeats in Canada. In Quebec his leg was shattered by a British musket ball, and he was continuously beaten back south. He was promoted to Brigadier General for his noble actions in delaying the British advance. After several of his peers were promoted to Major General, Arnold was so furious that he attempted to resign, which was refused. Then he was finally promoted, but not given equal status to those who were promoted earlier, which caused him to resign again.

During the Battles of Saratoga (widely considered to be the turning point in the Revolution), Arnold was second in command to Major General Horatio Gates. After a huge argument and screaming match, Arnold was removed from command during the first battle. However, during the second battle, he suddenly appeared on the battlefield on his horse, directly defying the orders of Gates. Witnesses claim he was “Betraying great agitation and wrath.” In a charge that was almost stereotypically heroic and idealized, Arnold led his men to the British lines where they immediately decimated the British force and killed their commander. In one of the final volleys of the battle Arnold was shot in the leg and his horse was killed, which fell on top of his wounded leg, crushing it further.
After the battle, he was finally awarded seniority, which further enraged him as he considered it was an act of pity. Soon he began plotting to switch sides after marrying Peggy Shippen, a British sympathizer.

On August 3, 1780, he was given command of West Point. Arnold drew detailed sketches instructing the British on the best way to take the fort. He began planning secret meetings with John Andre, a British spy. However, when they finally met on September 21, the ship that Andre was to make his escape in, the HMS Vulture, was seriously damaged by cannons on the shore. It was forced to retreat, which forced Andre to make his escape overland. Arnold quickly wrote papers to assist Andre in getting past American guards. Two days into his journey, Andre approached a group of Americans in the road. One of them was wearing a Hessian coat (Hessians were German mercenaries hired by the British), and he thought that they were a British patrol. After telling his entire story to them, he was informed that they were in fact not British but Americans, and that he was now their prisoner. The papers found on Andre confirmed that Arnold was a traitor, and were immediately sent to George Washington. Arnold hastily grabbed his belongings and left his wife and child behind as he raced to a barge and paid the men aboard to row him to the Vulture. Although Arnold escaped, Andre was taken into custody and hanged on October 2.


Fort Griswold – 2013

His military career for the British was rather lackluster. First he pillaged Virginia, burning fields and houses and razing everything in sight. The local militia drove him off however, and he went north to attack Connecticut. He led a vicious attack on New London, CT where his men destroyed the port and then captured Fort Griswold. After the capture of the fort, the fort’s commander gave his sword to one of the British officers as an offer of peace, but was immediately stabbed to death by his own sword seconds later. Once the commander was killed, the British massacred 80 surrendered revolutionaries in the fort. The massacre caused the Americans to hate Arnold even more, and even his fellow British officers regarded him in low esteem until the war’s end.

Temporarily moving to London after the war, Arnold attempted to gain favor in various departments in the British government and military, to no avail. Many British people regarded him as a traitor who switched allegiances due to his insatiable greed. One British critic called him a “mean mercenary, who, having adopted a cause for the sake of plunder, quits it when convicted of that charge.”

By his late 50’s his health had worsened significantly due to his injuries sustained during the war and a host of other ailments. He died at the age sixty after four days of being completely delusional. He received no military honors at his funeral, and died greatly in debt.

Although Arnold was an extremely flawed man, his name is not worthy of the infamy it wallows in, as his contributions to the war on the American side were massive, while his impact while under the British flag was negligible.


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Dead & Company at Madison Square Garden

DCO_FINAL_LOGO_CMYK4On August 24, 2015, it was announced that original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir (guitar), Bill Kreutzmann (percussion), and Mickey Hart (percussion) would be touring with newcomers John Mayer (guitar), Oteil Burbridge (bass), and Jeff Chimenti (keyboard) under the name Dead and Company. As soon as we heard that they would be playing at Madison Square Garden, we immediately bought tickets for my father and I to go see them. Although critics and fans alike were extremely skeptical that Mayer would fail to top the high expectations that people had set for him, we tried to go into the concert with an open mind.

On November 1st, the day of the concert finally arrived and we boarded the train for New York City. By the time we had gotten inside I could hardly contain my excitement as we watched the massive room fill with people. When the lights were first turned off it was nearly filled to capacity with cheering fans who were anxiously awaiting the first song. As soon as the distinctive sounding drum solo kicked off a massive round of applause from the audience, everyone knew that they were beginning the concert with “Samson and Delilah”. Even though I don’t particularly like the song, it was a great choice to start off with. The drums in particular seemed especially up to par, a trait which (thankfully) carried on throughout the concert. For their second song, they performed “Minglewood Blues”, one of two songs I had never heard before. The bluesy guitar perfectly suited the style of John Mayer who performed it very well. The keyboard also shined during this song. Next up was “Bertha”, the first song to showcase John Mayer’s vocal talents. The results were stunning, and the song easily made it into my top five favorites of the night. Nearly everyone in attendance was singing along to the highly catchy chorus and enjoying the extremely Dead-esque guitar licks. After a fancy fade-out of “Bertha”, they immediately jumped into “Sugaree”, a song that seemed to be made for Mayer’s voice and guitar playing. With a hefty 15 minute long runtime, “Sugaree” was definitely a crowd favorite!

dead-and-company-john-mayer-nyc-msg-2015-billboard-02-650By the 40 minute mark, Mayer had begun his last solo vocal performance in the form of “Friend of the Devil”, an immensely popular song from the American Beauty album, which describes the flight of an outlaw avoiding a long jail sentence in the Wild West. Chimenti played the piano very admirably during this song and received loud applause when his abilities were highlighted. After the 10 minute long song reached completion, they played “Crazy Fingers”, a song which I didn’t care for. Although it wasn’t bad, it did seem relatively slow and the energy of the crowd lowered significantly. The lower energy provided a sharp contrast to the unbelievably intense cheering as they began to play “Uncle John’s Band”, which was definitely a contender for the best moment of the concert. Mayer and Weir sang the song admirably, and all of the instruments worked in perfect unison. The consistent sound of the organ in the background created a whimsical and happy feeling, and the cheery guitar lifted the spirits of everyone. Nearly everyone was on their feet during the tremendously delivered song, which rivaled the studio version in many ways for me.

IMG_2566After intermission, they began anew with the extremely popular combination of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain”, which generated lots of applause. After 20 minutes of the two songs, they began “Shakedown Street”, which sent the audience into the greatest frenzy of the night. The very distinctive guitar was accompanied by stellar vocals from Weir and Mayer. The bass and drums also got some time to shine during this performance. After a 7 minute long jam, they began the popular 60’s tune titled “Dark Star”. Weir delivered the best singing I’ve heard in any recordings from the last decade, which caused loud cheering and enthusiasm from everyone. One particularly lengthy held note stunned everyone and caused a surreal feeling to pass over the whole building. The keyboard was also chirping out strange tones and sound effects which added to the psychedelic 60’s atmosphere. “Drums” and “Space” were fun to listen too, even though they aren’t meant to be fantastic crowd pleasers. The two songs seemed far improved from the 80’s, with their running times adjusted to be less boredom inducing, and more instruments thrown into the mix to keep it interesting. After “Drums” and “Space” came “Wharf Rat”, an intensely emotional song sung exclusively by Weir. Everyone was definitely impressed by the soulful voice which seemed even more poignant coming from the far older (and seemingly wise and sage-like) Weir. “Wharf Rat” was followed by a quick reprise of “Playing in the Band” which was played at Albany on October 29th. Although short, it was still fun to hear a little snippet of the song. The last song was “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, a song which I didn’t know but nonetheless enjoyed. It essentially became a giant singalong as everyone pitched in and sang the catchy tune.

Finally came the encore. After several agonizing minutes of speculation, the song was revealed to be “Ripple”, a folksy tune well suited for the encore to a great concert. Mayer did a fantastic job of playing a song which normally has a mandolin lead, on his guitar. My only complaint was that it was too short, and I wished it could have just one more verse!

I’m very glad that I was able to attend the show, and was amazed at how far Dead and Company exceeded my expectations. I would highly encourage anyone who likes the Grateful Dead to buy tickets if they are touring near you, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience!

Click here for an audio link of the entire concert!


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Lost Moon – Book Review

Lost_MoonLost Moon is a non-fiction book written by astronaut Jim Lovell and co-authored by Jeffrey Kluger. The book is centered on the ill-fated voyage of Apollo 13. It does have a unique perspective as it is written by the commander of the mission itself and it also incorporates the writings of his fellow crewmates and everyone else related to the mission such as family members and Mission Control staff. I found myself completely unable to stop reading the book at times, even though the extremely scientific and complicated language used might be a little overwhelming at times.

This book illustrated the plight of the spacecraft in far more detail (albeit less drama) than the movie Apollo 13. Every situation was described in great detail but the flow of the story did not seem to suffer because of the little details. I feel much more educated about not only the Apollo 13 mission, but also about life in outer space and space travel in general.

While this book does describe some aspects of the mission in extreme detail, most of it is relatively easily understood by the average reader. The overall theme is one of survival with oxygen, fuel, electricity, water, and food being scarce resources aboard the crippled capsule. The crew are also fantastic examples of how patience, perseverance, and hard work can save almost any situation, even when you are stranded hundreds of thousands of miles away in a cramped capsule with nearly depleted resources.

Also included are the lesser-known stories of the families of the imperiled astronauts and the extremely overworked men at Mission Control in Houston. While the astronauts are the main focus, the lives of each of the hundreds of men responsible for saving the ship are explored in great depth. Even the minutest conversations are described within the book, creating a very authentic feel that encompasses all of the thoughts and emotions of everyone involved in the voyage. The book does a fantastic job of fleshing out the lesser known heroes, making it the perfect package deal for someone interested in learning more about exploring the vastness of space.

Lost Moon does a fantastic job of describing the lives of the astronauts leading up to the launch, the long voyage away from Earth, the cataclysmic explosion that ruined any chances of a lunar landing, and finally the harrowing voyage back to Earth. I would rate this book 9/10 because although it was very fun to read, it did seem to be a little slow at points. I recommend it to anyone interested in spaceflight, science, and history.

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My 4-H Story


County Fair 2014

My 4-H experience this year has been very different than last year. For example, last year everything was a new experience, while this year I felt more comfortable knowing what to expect.

Last year, I focused more on community service in outdoor education. Due to having a severe case of Lyme disease this spring, I was unable to help out at Two Coyotes summer camp as I had hoped. Instead I was more involved in the fair board and became the chair of a committee. This experience was very different from last year since I have more responsibilities.

For my project, I created and displayed a large collection of my model aircraft and tanks at the New Milford Public Library. I also made a scale model of the M3 Stuart tank that sits on the green in town to educate the residents of New Milford on the history of one of their most interesting landmarks. I think that working on this display is a great example of how 4-H has positively influenced my life, as working on it really improved my attitude and helped me feel more productive. I enjoyed it so much that I worked on another project that I also displayed at the library. This time I exhibited my collection of vintage Star Wars action figures and merchandise.


Introduction to Robotics Class 2015

In addition to working on exhibits, I also attended a 4-H sponsored class where I learned how to build and program robots to do small tasks. This was really interesting and something that I never would have done unless I was enrolled in 4-H. Now I feel very intrigued by robots and would love to learn more about them

Overall, I think 4-H is a wonderful program that has encouraged me to be more active in my community as well as helping myself as an individual.

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Phil Keaggy at Building 24

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My dad and I with Phil in September 2013

On September 18, my family and I drove four hours south to see master guitarist Phil Keaggy perform live at Building 24 in Wyomissing, PA. He is renowned as being one of the best guitar players in the world, as well as being the lead singer of the band Glass Harp in the 1970’s. Since then, he has pursued a solo career where he prefers to play more laid back acoustic pieces that are nevertheless stunning.

After arriving early, we sat down to eat before the show. Within a few minutes, Phil came over and shook our hands and thanked us for coming to see him. Regardless of how great his music is, I always enjoy seeing Phil exclusively because of his fun and upbeat personality, as well as his everlasting humbleness to talk to the people that come to see him, even though he has played in front of crowds of thousands. After we finished eating, it was about time to hear Phil perform. As always, Phil played the guitar almost flawlessly and his singing was just as good as it was 40 years ago! The complete list of songs is as follows:

  1. Mercy (to be released on his next album)
  2. Legacy
  3. Can You See Me
  4. Village Bells
  5. Make You Feel My Love
  6. Fare Thee Well
  7. Chalice
  8. Shades of Green
  9. Your Love Broke Through
  10. Love Divine
  11. Here Comes the Sun
  12. Salvation Army Band
  13. Hold Me Jesus
  14. What a Day
  15. True Believers
  16. My Auburn Lady
  17. Let Everything Else Go

Bldg24PhilKeaggy_FB7-15AThe song list was absolutely perfect, with my favorites being Mercy, Can You See Me, Chalice, Hold Me Jesus, and True Believers. Although I have seen him three times, this was by far the best, as his song choices and singing seemed far superior. I would love to see him again, and I encourage anyone interested to try to see him as soon as possible.

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Lieutenant Hornblower – Book Review

1465355The chronological sequel to Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower is a perfect example of how a sequel can stick close the premise of the first book but still seem fresh and new. Unlike the first book which was a collection of short stories, the sequel is a much longer cohesive story. The action seemed more realistic and less frequent, and the book was written better on a whole. Because of the plots cohesiveness, there was far more character development for each character, as well as more characters overall.

The book is centered mostly on the H.M.S Renown, where newly promoted Lieutenant Hornblower has been stationed. At the start of its voyage, Lieutenant William Bush is also sent to work aboard the ship. Unlike the first book which was told from Hornblower’s point of view, this book is Bush’s side of the story.  Bush is soon joined by the ship’s captain, who is quickly revealed to be a raving lunatic. After a series of events which further prove that the captain is insane, the crew faces a difficult choice as to whether they should attempt to overthrow him as commander of the ship, or to bear his brutal punishments and fits of rage. However, when the captain mysteriously falls down a flight of stairs while searching for mutineers in the dark, the crew is seemingly forced to take control of the ship and face possible court martial.

Although I enjoyed the first book in the series, I did have many complaints about it. I had none of the same issues with the second, which I believe to be one of the best naval adventure stories ever written. A well written book that made sense, along with a fun and intriguing plot. I would give this book a 9.5/10.

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