Category Archives: Places

The Morgan Freeman Presidential Saga Trilogy: Olympus Has Fallen/Deep Impact/Oblivion

When Return of The Jedi came out in 1983, nobody expected to wait 16 years for another Star Wars movie to poorly detail what life was like a couple dozen years before the Second Death Star blew up. If the announcement of the prequels to these years-old films was a geek shot-heard-round-the-world, then what 2013 has brought is a BB gun going off in Altoona. Sure, they’ve tried to downplay it, but it’s pretty obvious what Hollywood has tried to do this year, and it’s a fairly ballsy move that just didn’t seem to pay off the way the filmmakers had hoped.

In 2013, major Hollywood studios managed to bring us both a prequel AND a sequel to 1998′s Deep Impact, in the course of two months. In fact, both are still currently playing as of this writing at certain theaters. Deep Impact was a modest success at the box office, making almost $350 million 1998 dollars worldwide, but has pretty much since been forgotten about, because of the overshadowing stupidity and infamousness of Michael Bay’s copycat, Armageddon. Robert Duvall; Tea Leoni; professional Helen Hunt lookalike, Leelee Sobieski; Laura Innes; and pre-Lord of The Rings Elijah Wood were no match for Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, that annoying Aerosmith song, a box of animal crackers, and pre-Lord of The Rings Liv Tyler, but Deep Impact had heart going for it. And a much more depressing ending. Most of the main characters stood around contemplating their own mortality, accomplishments and frail existence, while a giant Director’s Cut Abyss-style tidal wave wiped out anything and everything in its path. Granted, Elijah Wood driving up a hill to take Leelee Sobieski away from what I presume was a Paul Reiser lookalike isn’t the most plausible or most “real” moment I’ve seen in one of these movies, but at least it doesn’t end with the world having simultaneous celebrations and jet flyovers of a NASA shuttle landing pad.

The other thing it has is MORGAN FREEMAN AS PRESIDENT. I don’t know who made that decision (most likely director Mimi Leder, who was relegated back to TV after Pay it Forward turned out as badly as it did) but this was a stroke of genius. Morgan Freeman quickly became the most trusted movie president since Bill Pullman in Independence Day. He was probably the only person who could give confidence to people by saying, “A bunch of comets are going to destroy earth, and everyone is gonna die, except a few people who win a lottery! Those people will get to live in caves for two years and then come back out to try to make a new life on the drowned and scorched earth! Yaaaay, TEAM!”

I don’t think any of us found the rest of the characters likeable, but, man, did I want to know about this president. Where did he come from? How did he rise to power? What might a younger version of him do if North Korean terrorists staged a meticulously-planned takeover of The White House and held The President hostage inside of the secure bunker? Well, we’ve had to wait 15 years, but just like we eventually found out that Anakin was a precocious junkyard mechanic with a penchant for saying “YIPPEE”, we’ve finally gotten a glimpse at the backstory of Morgan Freeman’s President, in Olympus Has Fallen. And let me tell you, it’s a much better backstory than you’ll find in any Star War! There’s no midichlorians or Jar Jar Binkses either!

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN SPOILERS AHEAD! BEWARE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!

Morgan Freeman was a regular, average, ordinary elderly black Speaker of the House. Until one day, North Korean terrorists staged a meticulously-planned takeover of The White House and held The President hostage inside of the secure bunker. With the President unavailable and the VP in some completely unannounced location, Speaker Freeman becomes the acting president. This was EXACTLY THE SCENARIO I WAS WONDERING ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO! How did they know? The rest of the movie shows how in this time of crisis, he became the strong, stalwart leader that a million people could follow into a magical system of caves with hopes of one day repopulating the earth.

There are a few things that aren’t specifically spelled out, like how I’m assuming he had to dye his hair and get a facelift when he began running for President, so he’d look younger and hipper to court the youth vote. Or how, I’m guessing, since the advanced technology that the U.S. Government had was compromised and used in the destruction of most of Washington, President Freeman decreed that everyone start using 1998 technology that had more failsafes. But all in all, it makes for a pretty good prequel.

I do think they went out on a limb a little by not making President Freeman the main character. See, the main character is actually some former secret service agent who is conspicuously NOT named Jack Bauer. When a giant airplane destroys a whole lot of Washington and the North Koreans kill EVERY SINGLE WHITE HOUSE STAFFER NOT IN THE BUNKER, this agent, Gerard Butler, decides to play John McClane and sneak into the White House and take everyone down himself with a lot of punching and stabbing of people in the head. I’m not joking. SO MANY HEAD STABBINGS. Also, somehow the president’s kid is the only one who has managed to hide and stay alive outside of the bunker. Gerard Butler has to save the kid, then the president, and then kill the bad guy, preferably with a knife through part of his head.

But, Director Antoine Fuqua, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PRESIDENT MORGAN FREEMAN? He doesn’t even STAY president at the end, because Harvey Dent lived and went back to being president!

As a movie, the whole thing’s pretty okay. There’s some ridiculous destruction of Washington, plenty of civilians getting mowed down, some good Die Hard-type stuff, and plenty of over-the-top line readings, especially the hilariously-whispered titular line, delivered by some random, dying secret service agent.

***

As a prequel to Deep Impact, it’s not all that I was hoping for, but it did provide us with an insight into President Freeman’s first few hours as president, and boy did he ever deliver!

****

But what makes this whole plan really crazy, is that they didn’t just make a prequel. They shot a prequel AND a sequel at the same time, like Back to The Future 2 and 3, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Matrix Reloaded. And they didn’t just say “What happened to all of our favorite surviving Deep Impact characters when they came out of those magical caves?” Oh no. They went somewhere even crazier, and I really dug it. They went far into the future, with Oblivion.

MINOR OBLIVION SPOILERS AHEAD. ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Oblivion kind of follows the same model as Olympus Has Fallen, in that it relegates President Freeman to a side character, albeit an important one, and shows a major moment in his life, even if he doesn’t show up until 45 minutes in.

But what the filmmakers, notably writers Michael Arndt and Karl Gajdusek and director Joseph Kosinski, have imagined in the asteroid aftermath is devastating. Humanity never retook the earth. That asteroid, it seems, was sent as the first wave (pun intended) of attack by an alien race trying to take the earth. Somehow, we did win the alien war (maybe by flying biplanes into the ships’ primary weapon shafts or uploading a virus or something), but destroyed the earth and ended up living on a moon of Saturn. Tom Cruise is tasked by Melissa Leo’s character (who was the Secretary of Defense in Olympus Has Fallen and now seems to be in charge of all Earth-related matters) with flying around the remnants of New York (the Empire State Building, a former Pro-Thunderball arena, etc.) to fix droids and enormous water fusion machines, and collect “Dan Smith Will Teach You to Play Guitar” flyers that have been littering everywhere.

UNTIL HIS LIFE GETS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN!

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know this part. He finds a downed ship filled with astronauts, gets taken hostage by a group of freedom fighters, and finds out that everything is not what it seems. And you guys know who the leader of the cave-dwelling human populace is? President Morgan Freeman, who has now changed his name from President Beech to just “Beck”, because of some kind of Cloud Atlas future-speak, no doubt.

I don’t want to give away all the twists and turns, but President Beck helps Tom Cruise discover his true self and who the mysterious astronauts are, and plays a huge part in putting an end to the remaining alien threat.

There are a few continuity errors here and there, but none of those trilogy movies were perfect. Back to The Future had to replace Morty’s dad in the second one, Star Wars had that whole “Clone Wars” monologue that doesn’t make any sense, Lord of The Rings had a car in that one shot, and they never even made a third Matrix movie!

This movie is solidly entertaining from start to finish, even if we’ve seen some of these specific story elements in previous sci-fi stories, like spaceships, aliens, robots, Tom Cruise running, Dune, etc. I give it a four.

****

Oblivion is an epic story and a very strong end for a character that we’ve grown to love over these three movies and 15 years. What they’ve managed to come up with as a third chapter is even crazier than going back to 1885. As a threequel, I give it a solid four-and-a-half stars.

****½

As a trilogy, this is epic, inventive storytelling across a variety of genres, from action-thriller to disaster movie, to post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. It takes real guts to make a trilogy this way, and from a storytelling perspective, it completely pays off. We see President Freeman/Beech/Beck from his political beginnings to his heroic end, from the destruction of Washington, to the destruction of the world as we know it, to the end of the struggle against our alien combatants. His story is that of one of the greatest leaders in all of fiction, that of a man who, through so many harrowing moments, has shown humanity the dignity and courage that we should come to expect of those whom we put in charge. I wish they would’ve sold this as a whole story, though. Maybe that was the big twist, but I didn’t even put the pieces together until I saw the films. I think if people would’ve known that these were sequels and prequels they probably would’ve had a higher box office gross. Despite all this, though, this is instantly one of my favorite movie trilogies of all time, right up there with the first three (of the proposed 6) Baby Geniuses movies.

*****

The Muppets

The Muppets have always been a big inspiration to me. I grew up watching reruns of The Muppet Show, the 9 episodes of The Jim Henson Hour that aired before it was cancelled, the movies, Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street and countless other productions. Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite movies ever, and a yearly staple, as is the classic “A Christmas Together” album with John Denver.

This special that was made for The Jim Henson hour but didn’t air until much later on Nickelodeon was one of the first “behind-the-scenes” videos (now a ubiquitous DVD feature) of any kind I had ever seen, and I found it endlessly fascinating. I watched it every time that I came across it on TV. I might venture to say that it has had a profound impact on where my life has taken me.

I’ve taken puppeteering and puppet-building classes, walked around the Muppet Studio in L.A., briefly met some of the current puppeteers, and last year got to make a piece of puppet magic myself.

‘The Muppets’ seems to have stolen our puppet mount-cam idea without either us or them knowing it.

But enough about me. The reason that I’m throwing this out there is that there are other people out there like me. I would venture to say that I’m at the tail end of this multi-generational fascination with these characters. The last great piece of entertainment produced with Kermit, Fozzie, etc., was Chrismas Carol in 1992, nearly 20 years ago.

The Muppets have languished in the years since then, through various changes in ownership and stewardship. There have been two mediocre theatrical movies (the last one still a lengthy 12 years ago), a failed TV variety show, a Christmas special that had its moments, another horrific Christmas special, and the terrible Wizard of Oz adaptation.

This lengthy period of brand failure is exactly what the new movie is commenting on, and it does so in such a marvelous way that all cause for concern about how it treats the franchise’s history should be thrown out the window.

Briefly, the movie’s about a two superfans (Jason Segel and Walter, a new muppet performed fantastically by Peter Linz) who travel from Smalltown, USA to L.A. with Segel’s character’s girlfriend (Amy Adams) and visit the Muppet studios, finding it decrepit and more-or-less closed. Walter finds out that an evil corporation has taken control over the studio, theatre and Muppets name and plans to run all of them into the ground. It’s up to the three of them to get everyone back together to save the Muppets legacy. To say that this bears some resemblance to the current state of affairs with the company is quite the understatement.

I watched the original Muppet Movie the night before seeing this, and I’d recommend you do the same. In addition to being able to recognize a few callback references to the original movie, rewatching “The Muppet Movie” puts things in the new film in such an interesting mindset. Kermit was once an idealistic leader, inspiring friends to uproot their lives and travel to Hollywood to become “rich and famous”. Now though, all these years later, Kermit has become sort of an out-of-touch recluse, living in a mansion with only his 1980s robot butler to keep him company. Any object that could remind him of the past, and the never-detailed, but often inferred event that caused them all to split up, is draped off. (As a side note, I would love to see this dark chapter in the Muppets history. It would be the most depressing scene ever — even more than this and the [i'm not kidding] attempted suicide scene that came immediately before it, which I can’t find now — but it would be so compelling. Side side note: this is the world where Kermit was never born.) He’s not cynical or bitter — Kermit could never be that — but he’s deeply saddened by how much he believes he let everyone down, which is a burden he’s put on himself since the first movie. Now, years after the split, he views his life’s work as a failure and sees getting everyone together as a fool’s errand, but is talked into it.

The rest of the movie parallels the original’s structure, in the “getting the band back together” sense, but it’s almost a flipped perspective. Instead of it being about the hope of becoming entertainers and being able to make people happy, it’s about the notion of losing your friends to infighting, and your legacy to years of inactivity and a company bent on ruining your name and replacing you with other people/characters. While Walter brings new energy and hopeful naivety, the rest of the Muppets seem like old souls. They’ve aged in spirit and seem a little weary. Fozzy looks a little grey. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, and it’s quite the effectively sad portion of the movie.

But the movie is greatly funny. The music is mostly fantastic, especially if you like Flight of the Conchords, whose Bret McKenzie wrote four original songs (and a reprise), and served as Music Supervisor. I didn’t really care for the Amy Adams/Miss Piggy splitscreen duet, but the Jason Segel/Walter duet, “Man or Muppet” is both catchy and hilarious. The direction (by “Conchords” TV show co-creator and director) is great, with extremely minimal CG work and many, many “How’d they do that?” moments. Segel and Adams are cute and bring great likeable human energy, even if their story feels a bit too much in the forefront.

The Muppet performers don’t seem to miss a beat at all. Considering the only original performer still involved is Gonzo originator Dave Goelz, it’s amazing that all of these characters can still “live” and “breathe” when being performed by other people. It has taken me a number of years to get used to Steve Whitmire’s slightly higher-pitched Kermit, but the range of emotion he was able to wring out of that puppet was remarkable. Eric Jacobson (Fozzy, Piggy, Animal, Sam Eagle) and Bill Barretta (Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Bobo, Pepe, Swedish Chef) are incredible apers of the original Frank Oz and Henson voices and master puppeteers to boot. There is really no difference in the Muppet characters noticeable enough to be a distraction, as in some past productions.

The woman sitting in front of me at the screening and her hippie husband left the theatre complaining about the “Disneyfication” of the franchise. Granted, she was also complaining prior to the movie about bottled water being a scam, but she does have a valid point about the movie, to a limited extent. Yes, everything is slick, polished, and sanitized. There are overhead shots of the Muppet Theatre (Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard El Capitan Theatre repurposed for the exteriors) that show a “Cars 2” billboard prominently in the background. The three new principal roles (Segel’s “Gary”, Adams’ “Mary”, and Walter) do get a little bit too much focus.

But here is why all of those complaints are wrong. Every joke or type of joke in this movie that seemed out of place actually had a precedent set for it in some prior movie or project: breaking the fourth wall, presenting a popular song in a ridiculous way (the muppet show did this every week), the over-top bad guy bent on bringing them down (Chris Cooper, doing a great job in limited screentime), even the ridiculous method by which they travel long distances.

No matter what Frank Oz says, I don’t feel that the characters were ever disrespected, with one possible exception, which I’ll get to later. In fact, I’d say the opposite. The newer characters were either never used (Clifford, Johnny Fiama and Sal Manella were completely absent), or, like Pepe, were pushed to the background entirely. Even lesser-known, older characters like Uncle Deadly, and Wayne and Wanda make appearances.

Oz points to the ubiquitous “fart shoes” joke in the ads as something Fozzie would never do, but in the context of the movie, I think it works. The characters are out of touch and desperate to figure out what people want, and I don’t think Fozzie is below pandering for a laugh. I’d say this movie is truer to the characters than the “World Where Kermit was Never Born” business.

Gary, Mary, and Walter serve as an audience proxy for younger people unfamiliar with “The Muppet Show”. And without Segel’s Gary and Walter there is no real impetus for the characters to reconcile at all, in a not-so-subtle parallel to real-life. Walter and Gary’s storylines are also so simple that they work without being too off-putting, and they’ve found great ways to parallel other character’s stories (the two duets for example).

For me though, and this comes as a side-note, and probably just a personal gripe, but considering he’s the only original performer left, Dave Goelz didn’t have much for Gonzo to do.

I know the last movie, way back when, focused on him entirely, but in re-watching material recently, I’ve realized the hidden layer of soul and sadness that Gonzo can bring, that few others have. The emotion that comes across in this song…

… is something that Miss Piggy and Fozzy are never tasked with. Most of the other characters are just one dimensional, though Rowlf has on occasion brought the emotion in his Muppet Show performances. Because of this, Kermit is left to carry that burden, but his sadness comes from his failures to live up to his ridiculously high expectations of himself as the leader and guy who manages these ridiculous personalities. Gonzo’s pathos has always stemmed from not fitting in, being weird, and not knowing exactly what he is.

Since these characteristics are basically the entirety of Walter’s personality, and his character arc, this brooding side of Gonzo gets pushed to the backburner, and even his comical side does as well. I’d be interested to see his number of lines compared to other characters. I get that not everyone can be properly serviced, but as a member of what I consider to be the core four characters, he feels like an afterthought. You can sense the regret in Fozzie and Piggy, but Gonzo has just seemed to move on. And this overlooking of him is even sadder considering Goelz is the longest-tenured performer here.

I have some mixed feelings about the end, but I have to talk about it in vague ideas. Basically, I feel like it glosses over a majorly important plot point, but the way in which it does this seems to render it fairly unimportant in the overall scheme of things. It sort of takes their literal goal and says their figurative one is more important, which is a great idea, but leaves the main plot as almost a side story.

On the whole though, I felt every emotion I was supposed to, including my normal disinterest in Miss Piggy. I welled up a few times, laughed a lot, and left with a smile on my face, and no feelings of contempt in my heart. I never once thought that they ruined a good thing here, and that’s all I could ask for.

The crux of this movie is whether or not The Muppets are a viable entertainment in today’s pop culture landscape, and I’d say that with the right material (and this is great material… mostly fleece and foam… wocka, wocka), they can be. Let’s hope that the kids that are getting their first taste of these characters feel the same way.

****½

Drive

"Drive" : a new scent for men. From Calvin Klein

How far can you take the idea of creating a nondescript character before you have one that is boring and unlikeable? That’s the argument that’s running through my head as I write about the new Ryan Gosling vehicle (literally), “Drive”.

“Drive” is the story of a mechanic/Hollywood stunt driver/robbery wheelman, who operates under a strict set of rules, like “The Transporter” from “The Transporter”… except without all the parkour/judo/kickboxing, gravity-defying ludicrous automotive action, over-the-top bad music, tied-up Asian people, and shirtless oil wrestling. He shows up someplace at a given time, for five minutes. “If something happens in that five minutes”, he drives them away to safety, if not, he leaves. This is all set up in a pretty brilliant opening, but all of that promise and cool, retro, James Dean withdrawn charisma start to fade away the further we get into the film.

The unnamed driver (more on this later) goes about his business, doing a Hollywood stunt or two, working at Bryan Cranston’s garage, and meeting a doe-eyed neighbor, Carey Mulligan, and her son. He bonds with them, and Cranston tries to get him set up as a racecar driver with a two mob-tied investors (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). And through all of this, Gosling’s driver fails to do three things: drive a getaway car in another heist, talk, and show any discernible characteristics aside from being quietly trustworthy (if it were any other guy, I’m sure it would come off as creepy stalking and not stoicism). Yes, the unnamed Driver probably has the least amount of dialogue of any action movie hero I’ve ever seen. But that’s the point. The movie’s overt 80s motifs (most prominently, title font and score) point towards this being a deconstruction of the talky, quippy action movies of that era and their stars (Bruce Willis and Arnold mostly).

But as much as the promotional materials want to portray this as an action movie (to the point where some woman is suing over false impressions from the ad campaign), it is anything but, aside from the beginning and one fantastic sequence in the middle. The movie plays more like a Michael Mann, slow-burn film where the tension comes from characters who have made poor choices facing inescapable decisions that result in violence. Lots of violence.

It’s not that the movie has a crazy-high, cartoonish body count like something like “Commando“; it’s more that the movie goes along with this slow-paced character drama that sporadically erupts into single acts of extreme brutality. We’re talking heads getting smashed, shot, and stabbed, with seemingly unnecessary close-ups and a lot of blood. And that’s just some of it. The thing is, all of these incidents come so abruptly and are so brutal, that after such long periods of quiet they prove to be immensely unsettling. And that’s the point. It’s there to show you that violent action movies SHOULD BE unsettling, and we’ve become so desensitized to that. But does that make for enjoyable entertainment? I don’t know.

It’s the exact same problem I have with the main character. Does a non-character make an interesting “hero”? We’re supposed to root for this driver because he’s in a tough position. Because he makes a choice to help this woman, a choice that ends up not only putting him in a rough position, but is the first human thing he has done in the film, and perhaps in his life. See, he doesn’t have a character name. He doesn’t say anything. He lets other people make decisions for him. He’s just a driver. He has no characteristics that make him appealing as a person. He has no backstory. But then he makes a decision. ONE CHOICE. And, judging by the song that plays over the end credits, this makes him not only a “real hero”, but a “real human being”. Take a listen:

Surprisingly, I think I liked the first-half set-up of the movie more. I was enjoying the change of pace of having this understated, sub-textual relationship-building between the two leads. But once everything starts to fall apart, the driver becomes so hellbent on getting out of the mess he’s in that he basically turns into a psychopath. He’s truly frightening. It becomes like rooting for Michael Myers to just kill everyone, and is that something we really want to do? Not only that, but is this movie saying that transforming yourself from someone who doesn’t care about anything into someone who will brutally hunt down and murder people make you a hero and a human? Or is it again subverting that idea about old-school action movies?

**

“Drive” gets two stars for trying something interesting and different with its characters, having some fantastic acting, and two-to-three great sequences. It also includes a main character that is terribly hard to root for, surprisingly small amounts of action scenes (despite the advertising all but promising us “Fast and Furious 6″), and off-putting bits of hyper-brutality. I’m completely stuck in trying to grade this movie, as I love the guts it has in what it’s trying to do, but I can’t truthfully say I had an enjoyable experience. I guess that was the point?

How to Be Uniform Snob: Phillies vs. Braves (1974 Throwbacks)

This is crosspost from Crossing Broad.

Quick note: some of the pictures are from Uniwatch’s write-up of last year’s Phillies-Brewers throwback game as well as the excellent “MLB Game Worn Jerseys of the Double Knit Era” by Bill Henderson.

Well then, other than the fact the Phillies got the “L,” that went pretty well, don’t you think? For the second part of their UniTastic series, both the Braves and the Phillies are throwing back to 1974. That’s right, the Powder Blues and whatever disco-tastic getup the Braves rocked back then.

But, what’s that? These teams already threw back to 1974?! Yep. In 2002. Today’s game will look something like this.

I get a lot of questions like this: “How can I be a uniform snob, too?” Thankfully, “turn back the clock” baseball games really offer the best way to let your snob flag fly.

Let me note that this tongue-in-cheek guide is a bit spoiled by the fact that this combination has been seen before, so there’s a good chance it’ll be a repeat of the 2002 game. Of course, that was nine years ago, so maybe it won’t be so cut-and-dry.

  1. Are the players wearing stirrups? Everyone wore them in 1974, few wear them today (or they just wear solid color socks without the sanitaries showing through.)
  2. Are the players wearing the old uniforms in the new style (the extra baggy, extra long pants look of the last ten years)? Note: the answer to this question is almost always “yes,” so make a comment about it not looking “right,” players’ comfort be damned.
  3. Did the teams spring for matching batting helmets? In 2002 the Phillies did, in 2010 they didn’t.
  4. Do the big details match? Traditional belted pants or Sansabelt? Pullover or buttons? (or for the 70s Phillies, zipper?) Are they wearing their normal pants because they’re “close enough” – see the Braves catcher above in Throwback jersey, normal pants.
  5. Are the little details correct? No Majestic logo on the sleeves? No MLB logo on the back of the hats?
  6. Do the tiny details match? Let me lift this quote from the UniWatch Blog (one of the “weekend writers,” Phil Hecken, analyzing the throwbacks worn last year against the Brewers:
    The Phillies, for the most part, got it right. They went with button-down jerseys (so, 1972-3, if we’re talking the period they were representing), but didn’t spring for the retro helmets. OK, it’s a one-off, no big deal. They wore period-correct caps in dark red (almost burgundy). Well done there. It’s tough to tell, but it appears they went with the closed loop logo on the jerseys, more closely approximating the 1987-1988 jersey. Meh. And they elected to go not only with NOB, but they again went with the 1987-88 radially arched nameplates. OK. Not a big deal, to be sure, but how difficult would it have been to get those details correct.
  7. Finally (and unexpectedly, after all the other analysis), how does the match-up, you know, look?

My quick take: It’ll be a fun match-up to watch. The powder blue Phillies uniforms are seen all-around Citizens Bank Park at each game, and they show up every few years in throwback games (and twice in the last two), so we’re a bit accustomed to them. I like the 89-91 away uniforms more (swap grey for powder blue, and the whole thing immediately looks much less “1970s”), but it seems fans prefer the powder blues.

The Braves 1974 uniforms are actually pretty neat – even more “disco-y” than the Phillies, being that they’re made from a template which is out of use. Raglan sleeves still show up, but not with the sleeves in a different color than the body of the jersey. Funky. So, if yesterday’s uniforms were described as “understated” and “classic,” today’s could be defined as “pass the coke.”

For completeness’ sake, let me point out that the 1974 Braves away jersey was the opposite of the home jersey (White sleeves, Blue body). Ahh, the 1970s.

****

It’s always good to see some uniform variety.

Uniform Analysis: Phillies vs. Braves (Negro League Throwbacks)

This is crosspost from Crossing Broad.

I usually stick to NFL uniforms and snide remarks in the comments, but the Phillies have a …UniTastic weekend series against the Braves, wearing Negro League throwbacks on Saturday and 1974 throwbacks on Sunday, so here’s a quick run-down and review for Saturday’s game. Some comments about Sunday’s game later.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much background on the Negro Leagues, much less their uniforms, so this is more of a seat-of-the-pants review than anything grounded in facts and history.

That said, on to the uniforms.

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The Phillies are wearing the uniforms of the Philadelphia Stars. You may have seen this logo floating around, but it doesn’t actually appear on the uniform. The uniform itself is plain, but has some nice details beyond just the novelty of them being throwbacks. Example, the old timey typeface of the arched wordmark and the numbers just gives the feeling of “old school uniform,” the simple, thin, and effective, red piping around the neck, connecting to the arm is a timeless feature which makes them look like a sports uniform instead of a shirt. The 1980s Mets and Indians (among other teams) experimented with this look, but the thin stroke does much more with less than the gaudy patches on those uniforms. Black (navy?) stroke around the lettering is a nice touch to increase contrast. The hat logo is extremely plain; it’s better than the Black Crackers hat, but it’s too plain to leave an impression.

 

 

 

 

A neat detail is that someone finally realized that “Philadelphia” has way too many letters to comfortably fit on a shirt and maintain readability, so they said “screw it” and abbreviated it to “Phila.” Genius. Really. For another example of the letter-overload hassle check out this prototype from the 1992 Phillies uniform refresh.

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Special Note: The slide detailing the prototype is from the guide “MLB Game Worn Jerseys of the Double-Knit Era” by Bill Henderson (who happens to be from the Philadelphia area). He’s hosting a “Phillies Uniform History” discussion on May 26 in Philadelphia. If you’ve read this far into this entry, consider it a “must attend.”

 


 

HqshkThe Brave’s Black Crackers uniforms, again, look like “classic” baseball without the old timey feel. It’s interesting to see that the letters and numbers get drop shadows instead of strokes (as drop shadows are generally considered a more modern look). Vertically arching the “ATLANTA” copy (contrast to the horizontal arching on “Phila. Stars”) gives a dynamic look considering it’s just a plain sans serif typeface with a drop-shadow. Unfortunately, the “A” logo, while unique is simply ugly and does not mesh with the typefaces used for the letters and numbers.

Closing out the review of the jersey, the most interesting detail is the piping down the placket is just like what the Braves have used since 1987. (well, maybe not “just like” – I can’t tell if it’s the same dark-red-dark pattern on both the Black Crackers and Braves uniforms because of the limited resolution of the single [thanks MLB!] picture released). The Braves also used this design in the 1930s, per this picture of Babe Ruth.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I’ll group the pants/socks discussion together. Most uniform aficionados are probably going bonkers (in a good
way) because the league (likely) compelled all player to wear stirrups. The Phillies are wearing solid red (not unlike what you see onOswalt), but the Braves are wearing Navy blue stirrups with spaced White-Red-White stripes. Very cool. BUT, the best part of these uniforms are the off-color pants pocket flaps. We reward attention to detail, and those are awesome.

Fullscreen capture 5142011 15413 PM.bmp

In terms of the game aesthetically, it looks good, but it’s not the most interesting combination if only because both teams are wearing uniforms where the primary color is Red with a dark accent color (either Navy or Black), but part of the appeal of baseball is the unholy number of games in the season, so even if they’re not the most interesting uniforms ever, it’s good to see variety on the Phillies (who have a pretty staid uniform “system”: one home/one away/one alternate) and it’s always good to point out and keep in mind that not all that long ago, the US still saw segregation to the degree that a whole portion of the population was not considered fit for the MLB for no reason other than skin color.

 

 

 

 

 

**** Kind of plain, but a good looking baseball game.

2010 Eagles UniDictions (uniform + predictions) – Week 1 – Packers

This has been cross-posted on crossingbroad.com, a great destination for Philadelphia sports news.

Mainweek1

Being that all predictions for the NFL season thus far are based on a combination of  last year’s results and four pre-season games (The NFL Pre-Season — The four weeks when your friends with season tickets slightly regret their purchase!), we might as well base our predictions on something more arbitrary with little bearing on the actual game*.  Uniforms. 

[*I think some coach or player was once quoted as saying "look good, play good," so creative interpretation of the rules of English grammar aside, I'll leave it at "little bearing" instead of "no bearing."] 

 The big news for this game is that the Eagles will be wearing their 1960 throwbacks.  As detailed at great length previously, I don’t like them.  Classic, accurate, but too plain.  The presence of Kelly Green should appease the loud “bring back the Cunningham-era jersey” people who don’t realize that the throwbacks are not the same as the “Cunningham-era” uniforms (white vs. silver paints, Eagle logo on shoulder, stroke around the numbers, helmet wing details, etc.).  So at the minimum, it takes away their ability to complain about the uniforms, giving more time to complain about things that matter.  Like Kevin Kolb.

With the Eagles wearing green jerseys, this puts the Packers in their White Jersey/Yellow Pants combination.  I don’t think it’s the best combination in the NFL (undecided on that one at the moment), but it’s everything the Eagles throwback is….except it’s not boring.  Something as simple as shoulder striping really makes the look of the “classic” NFL uniform template work well (think of the Bears and the Browns).

The UniDiction

Either 2, 3, 6, or 7 points awarded for each category (safety, field goal, touchdown, touchdown+point after, of course)

Helmet

Eagles: 3 — a white (or black) stroke around the wings would really help.  Really, the design looks unfinished.  A plain green helmet, though historically inaccurate, would look better.

Packers: 7 — there’s absolutely nothing I would change

Jersey

Eagles: 2 — Championship aside, this isn’t one of the Eagles’ better looks.  It’s just green with white numbers!

Packers: 6 — missed PAT because their Green jersey + yellow pants combination is one of the defining images of the NFL.

Pants + Socks

Eagles: 6 — the two green stripes on the white pants definitely add something, and the white stripe on the green section of the socks avoids the “endless field of green” effect seen on the jerseys.  That said, one thick vertical stripe would look better on the pants.

Packers: 7 — the contrast-color/white/contrast-color triple stripe on the pants is nice touch, and the two-tone socks (without anything breaking-up the solid color) work because they would look too busy with a stripe, being that there are plenty of stripes elsewhere.

 Intangibles

Eagles: 7 — authenticity counts and the fan base really likes them.

Packers: 6 — Points awarded for using yellow in their color scheme.  Missed PAT due to the management thinking a uniform from an era with completely different equipment would translate to the 21st century.

Final Score

Eagles 18

Packers 26

Hmm… I may need to adjust my scoring system to add up to numbers which look like real “football scores.”  And so it can go above 28… 

Also of interest, UniWatch (Paul Lukas) on Page 2 posted his 2010 overview of all NFL uniform changes yesterday.  Definitely a must read.

****

The match-up itself gets four stars. Both teams will be wearing “classic” uniforms, and both teams’ colors complement each other.

Eagles 2010 Uniform Round-Up – The 1960 Throwback

This has been cross-posted on Crossing Broad, an up-and-coming Philadelphia Sports destination — heck, they’re the ones who broke the story that Dorney Park was the first rehab assignment for Ryan Howard

Lil’ Shebaz: Patriot, Martyr, Wide Receiver.

It’s that time of year – the notable roster additions and subtractions have been discussed, the expected win-loss record has been decided, the newly featured players have had a chance to step up, and the Cowboys fans have been thoroughly bashed.  What’s left?  Well, three interminable pre-season “games,” and lengthy discussions of uniforms.

We’ll be taking a hard look at the Eagles 2010 uniform situation today, then running a week-by-week season preview showcasing each expected match-up.  (the NFL doesn’t have hard and fast “home” and “away” uniform designations like baseball, so there will be some guessing)

The biggest uniform news this season by far is the addition of the 1960 Kelly Green over White Throwback to be worn for 2 (or 3?) games.  Though most fans (this one included) have generally positive opinions of the current “Midnight Green” uniform sets, others clamor for a return to the Kelly Green, which had been the primary color used from 1948 (or prior?) to 1995.  ”They should wear the Cunningham-era jerseys again” was the typical comment, and I think that most people lump all of the Kelly Green designs together (they look almost the same from the beginning to the last ones in 1995), and, well, the Cunningham “era” is the most convenient point of reference for the “old school” look, if only because the Eagles weren’t a particularly great team during his 1987-1994 run, and the McNabb era is associated with the Midnight Green, though it predates him by three seasons.

Of course, the “reason” (beyond additional merchandise revenue — yes, people even bought the yellow and blue monstrosities from 2007) for the throwbacks is to celebrate the 1960 season, so much of the discussion of “this other Kelly Green design would have been better” is rather moot, but words and opinions are free on the Internet, so here comes the soapbox.  Keep in mind this is not a discussion of the authenticity of the throwbacks or how close they got to the classic look; this is all about the look itself.

Simply, the 1960 throwbacks are boring.  Not because they’re “old,” not because they’re “classicly simple,” but because they’re brutally plain.  Look at what the Packers and 49ers can do with the “classic” NFL template.  I don’t need the modern busy-ness of the Bengals, the Bills, or the Broncos, but the jersey is literally just green with white front/back numbers and TV numbers (what numbers on the sleeves are called).  No stripes, no trim, no stroke around the numbers, heck no logo (the Reebok logo doesn’t count) or even Eagles wordmark.  Sure, they’re authentic, but they’re boring, too.  [I don't think the current uniforms are perfect either; see my comments in future articles.]  Come to think of it, the vaunted “Cunningham-era” jerseys aren’t all that great either; very, very plain, but at least they added an Eagles logo to the sleeves and black stroke around the numbers (on both the green and white jerseys) adds something to it.

The pants and socks are an improvement, with two green strips along the outseam of the white pants, a white belt, then a ~50/50 ratio of white sanitaries over green socks, with a slim white band on the green socks to visually “break” the verdant field.  (triple word score!).

Unfortunately, in the interest of authenticity, the wing detail on the helmet is plain silver.  It lacks both the simple white stroke of the “Cunningham-era” helmets and the more complicated black and white inner and outer stroke of today’s helmets (which also include an arguably excessive silver highlight color to give more definition to the “feathers”).

Ignoring the significance of the 50th anniversary, what were some other, maybe more visually interesting options?

Well, the 2nd most of thought of (in my incredibly unscientific poll of one) Kelly Green uniforms are those funky ones from 1969-1973 with a white helmet with green wings.  (even funkier in 1973 when they had a black stroke around the green wing).  Then there are those “wasn’t disco bad enough” late 70s-early 80s disasters.  Or as I call them Stripezilla 1 and Stripezilla 2, Stripezilla’s Revenge.  Or, they could’ve done something practically sacrilegious and just replaced Midnight Green on the current uniforms with Kelly Green and swapped in the silver pants of the “Cunningham-era” (file by Jeff Shirley from a uniwatchblog.com uniform tweak round-up).

Look for future articles about uniforms as the season approaches, then a weekly uniform-centric overview of each upcoming game.  Until then, enjoy the Eagles in their white over white combo, a look which is unique to their pre-season games.

**½

The 1960 Eagles Throwback gets two-and-a-half indecisive stars. It’s nice to see the Kelly Green on the field, but it’s definitely not the best version, even if executed exactly.

The LOST Finale as a Meta-Metaphor for the Death of a Series

I wonder if the “Man of Science/Man of Faith” argument could be extrapolated to refer to the skeptics vs. those who had faith in the writers.

“Lost” (pun intended) in the hubbub of last night’s “polar”-izing finale, buried beneath the mystical corks, and cliffhanger fights; airplane escapes and journeys into the afterlife together, is a metaphor that I have yet to see in any of today’s recaps, though I have purposely waited to read Jeff “Doc” Jensen’s EW column for fear of it being the only one to taint my idea with his. Most of the disagreement over whether it was a satisfactory conclusion stands between the two camps of fans: people who wanted more “answers” to mysteries of the island (Jacob’s Cabin, The Hurley Bird, Walt and Aaron being ‘Special’, or even why there’s a giant cork in the island to begin with), and the ones who were more interested in where characters’ stories ended. There are those people (NY Times and NY Post, I’m looking at you) who didn’t understand things that were plainly spoken (“What happened was REAL”), but I tend to throw them out, because they obviously haven’t put enough thought into it.

In case there’s confusion, a brief recap of the important points. The entire season we’ve been given what the show’s writers endearingly call the “flash-sideways”. Instead of mixing in the main narrative with flashes of what has happened (flashback), or what will happen in the future (flash-forward) like they’ve done throughout the series (though the term “future” is relative, and makes my brain hurt), they’ve shown us the same characters we’ve known, in a time that we’ve already seen, now in a world whose relationship to the island universe is unknown. Now, the characters are different though, taking us back to the mindsets and issues they were dealing with in the first season, before all of the crazy island adventures changed, and in most cases, killed them. The characters, while having the same hearts and basic characteristics as the ones we’ve come to know, are altered a little bit, but dealing, in essence, with the same baggage as they did in the real world. Much of the enjoyment of this sixth and final season, just as in the first, lies in discovering who these people are in this world and realizing just how much different they are than the characters we grew to know. The only complication of this narrative device is that since we, the viewer, are incapable of coming to an understanding that both of these universes can simultaneously exist, we have to find a way in our own minds to reconcile the two together. “Which one isn’t real?”, or “Which one will become real?” we ask, because we can’t imagine how both of them can exist and still have meaning. My guess early in the season was that each one of them carried the same amount of weight and that the finale would create duel endings (not reconciling these universes), one happy, and one where everyone died. This would leave the viewer to have to decide for himself which one was real or if both were. I was wrong.

The way they were reconciled was by having each character in this “sideways” universe realize that it wasn’t real; that everyone there had died and that it was a holding place for them to move on to “what comes after death”. Everything on the island had happened. Some people died in the course of the show’s run; some lived full lives After Jack Shepherd (A.J.S.). But there they all were, waiting to move on as one group, changing Jack’s “Live together or die alone” mantra to one of “Live together AND DIE TOGETHER”. Their hurdle to enlightenment and realization of where they were in this universe was letting go of petty issues, guilt, fear, atonement, and instead, embracing the love of others. The Island, and the time spent on it were the most important parts of these people’s lives, and all that came before it was just a prelude and backstory. The relationships forged lasted beyond the characters lifetimes and stayed in the collective unconscious until they were ready to “let go”. Once this was understood, they could all go together towards that slightly cheesy white light, to whatever lay beyond. It was a mostly beautiful, and, at the time, slightly sappy ending, that I ate up wholly, reuniting characters but not compromising by bringing them back to life. Dead is Dead. And it seems as though they successfully put to bed the themes of death and love that hearken all the way back to when the first character, Boone, bit the dust as John Locke’s sacrifice to the hatch.

Before the finale, someone at my place remarked about how more than eighty percent of the characters ever introduced on the show have been killed off, and after last night’s episode, I realized that these deaths weren’t merely part of ratings boosting, or shock value, or plot progression, but they were there to bring about discussion on the theme of death. Anyone can go at any time. That’s a phrase I’ve heard the writers say they’ve wanted to impart on our minds for the entire run of the show. They were going to go so far as to potentially kill Jack in the first episode, originally. If you think about it, there’s probably a whole section that I could write about how the smoke monster/man in black was the antagonist because he couldn’t come to terms with his own anger at his death. Sure he wanted to move on (get off the island), but he couldn’t let go of the pain of the past, and parental issues and learn to accept his life for what it was and love. Jacob, as well, stayed around the island, in spirit form, until he was able to let go of his island protector-ship spurned by his guilt over his brother’s death. Michael was trapped as a spirit on the island forever because he couldn’t get past his misdeeds. But this is all discussion for some other time.

What I’m interested in here is the idea of how the show deals with the topic of death, as it relates to the actual death of the show itself. Wow! THAT IS META! Let me clarify that sentence: In the episode, characters are struggling to deal with the idea that their lives are actually over, and they must move on to the next phase together by letting go and embracing a community of love. Hell, the first scene is a coffin coming out of an airplane and the last is a wake/funeral; if that’s not metaphor material, nothing is. In fact, I’d venture to say double metaphor: death of the characters themselves (aside from the specific Christian Shepherd, as the surface example) AND death of the show. Imagine, if you will, that instead of Christian, inside of this casket is a show that has grown with us over the past six years, one that has become our friend, safe haven, source of philosophical debate and stability in a constantly changing world. Imagine that the fan community for the show, one that brings people together in discussion and love, and one that fills living rooms with ten people or more (or less) per week to share in this joint experience is the crowd of characters in pews embracing each other, joyful, weeping, and filled with human emotions. Last night’s episode wasn’t just about characters accepting death and letting the minutiae go, it was about us as fans of the show learning to do the same. But with this show, unlike most, we had to go together. We had to let go of all the unresolved plot points from four years ago and accept that it had ended. And fill the world with love for it and each other. And last night, and this morning, the internet pretty much exploded, with people who loved it, who will remember the good times and cherish it forever in the “what comes after”, and with those who felt burned, angry about the small things, and may never be able to find peace in the resolution. They’ll be haters, but they’ll be stuck in their “waiting room”, ready to be enlightened when they let their cynicism go.

The more I think about it, the more I realize they been trying to prepare us for this the entire season. Obviously, they knew the show was going to die. The entire flash sideways as a denouement not only works in the context of the characters dying, but for the show itself. While the characters were all set up with different life scenarios and what-ifs, many of them better versions of themselves dealing with the same problems, so was the ENTIRE PREMISE of the show itself. “What would happen if Hurley became a successful businessman, or Sayid could protect Nadia, or Sawyer could actually put away criminals instead of being one?” becomes “What if this horrific plane crash never happened?” What would a self-actualized, but slightly askew version of the first season flashback storytelling look like? How would it mirror (oh snap!) the beloved first season that served as the birth of these characters? In the exact same way as the characters went through this season’s sideways stories, not knowing what their place was, we ventured along the same way, only to be enlightened at the end, and able to see these stories for what they were: a waiting room, there to bring us back together with our deceased friends and help us move on to the place after as a group, a “fandom” if that doesn’t sound too nerdy. Bless you LOST, for the friendships you’ve helped create and strengthen over the past six years will surely be enough to carry us over to whatever comes next. I’ve let go.

****½
I think this metaphor pretty much works, but I’m sure there are a few holes you can punch here and there, and I didn’t mean to come off as preachy in more than an “it’s okay to move on” way.

As for the finale itself…
****½
Learning to let go of the minor things, the mysteries, and go back to my first season mindset, where all I cared about were the characters, this was a total success for me. Sure there weren’t “answers”, but that’s life. I’m dealing. The foam rocks falling seemed a little cheesy though, for the -.5 star. Seeya in another life, Brotha.

Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario”"certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

NES Games: BigNose The Caveman


Ah yes, taking advantage of all 8 bits of excitement. You wonder how the people from “Prehistoric Park” feel about the discovery of the mini-stegosaur.

The best way to make a video game accessible to lots of people is this: make the first few levels pretty simple, and then have them get exponentially harder. Sure, you say, most video games follow this pattern. Mario, Tetris. Sonic the Hedgehog” Ducktales is pretty easy throughout, but that’s mostly because the levels are built more as challenging mazes, and you can choose the order in which you want to play them. Don’t get me started on Legacy of the Wizard… I’ve already written 2000 words about that.

I can’t think of a better example of this than the little-known game, BigNose the caveman, which came as a gold-colored cartridge. The main focus of the game was to walk from left to right on the screen and beat up dinosaurs. I really can’t remember if there was a story or not, mostly because I never got very far. I mean, the first two levels are exceptionally easy, to lure you in. They were actually pretty similar to the Mario model, with bad guys coming at you that you had to hit as you walked on the horizon line and jumped over random cliffs. That was something I always wondered about in the Mario world. How can there be so many cliffs on a piece of developed land that don’t have bridges built over them? The Princess’ father must not have been doing a good job in the public works sector. As far as BigNose, well, they barely had the technology to build a wheel, so I’m going to assume that bridges are way out of their league. ( And for all you cavemen out there, I’m not trying to insult you” the last thing I need are commercials disparaging our fine little rarely-updated enterprise)

Strangely enough, though, most of the dinosaurs BigNose encounters are pygmy dinos, with stegosauruseses and triceratopseses no bigger than the eponymous caveman himself. Sure there are giant dinos that appear at the end of major levels, as bosses, but most of them, from as far as I got, were usually seen as just two legs or something. They were way too big. Someone obviously didn’t consult the AMNH before designing this stuff.
If you think about it even more, you realize that there’s no reason for a stegosaur to attack a caveman anyway, unless he was intruding on its nest. Maybe it’s different with mini-stegosaurs though.

The simple attack was using your club to hit the bad guy, and if you picked up some stones you could use them like the fireflower power in Mario, only lamer, cause the stones don’t bounce, and if you miss, they kinda just magically fell through the ground. The hard part is getting the timing right. If you swing too soon, you miss, and too late, you’re hit by the dinosaur, which is why stones are the best option, especially since there are some dinos that need to be hit twice. Jumping over them is always an option, but you can’t jump very high, so sometimes you’ll miss. There are also potions you can buy at some stores that you can use to regain life or kill everything in the frame, making it easy to beat a boss.

Really though, the biggest challenge to this game was actually getting it to work. Maybe it was my system, or just the cheapness of the people who made the cartridge, but it never worked right. I had to do the blowing on the game, then blowing in the Nintendo thing that every kid my age was quite accomplished at. You’d think we’d all be harmonica players. At some point, even that began to not work, and the game would only work if I used the game genie as a buffer.

The music was actually really catchy, even though I can’t remember any of it now.

Overall, the first few levels are moderately enjoyable. The next few are too frustrating. And there’s no continue or save option, so once you lose, you start all over again. I’d say the same thing about Mario, except there’s plenty of opportunity for extra lives and level-skipping in that game. That, and you had some sort of goal to achieve in Mario. If you really want to play a game about cavemen, I’d settle for a Turbo Graphx-16, or an emulator for its games, and Bonk’s Adventure.

*½

One and a half stars for making me feel like I was good at video games, and then tearing that dream away from me. Relatively good music, but a premise that was pretty much just a terrible rip-off of Bonk’s Adventure.