Saturday, July 31, 2010

Full Count

Bill Simmons had a great piece on the lackluster interest in the 2010 Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball in general the other day. Let me just quote a bit for you below that made particular sense to me:
We're feeling the effects of two solid decades of World Series games ending well after the bedtime of any prospective young fan. And don't kids have dozens more choices in 2010 than they did in 1975? Back in 1975, I went outside, whipped a baseball off the wall, dove for it and pretended I was Freddie Lynn. Do kids do that now? Isn't it more likely that they're watching Nick Jr., playing video games, watching DVDs, messing around with the computer ... how could baseball possibly mean as much to a young kid now?

Baseball has become a bore.

I ought to preface that by saying there are few things better in life than watching a ball game on a warm June or July night. The field glows white under the stadium lights and the sound of the bat cracking against the ball echoes into the night. The smell of hot dogs and brautwurst permeates the humid summer air. Children shout scream to pump up the scoreboard's "Noise-o-meter." Old men complain about the pitching. And lack of pinch hitting. And base running.

I love going to the ball park. I absolutely love it. There's nothing better than a live baseball game and I don't care what anyone says about HD this or 3D that. Sitting in a cramped seat, clutching a steadily warming beer and a steaming sausage is about as good as it gets. I find the experience even more relaxing when I don't care about either team. That sounds strange, but then you have to remember the life-or-death struggle every game of every season represented for the Red Sox until October 2004.

So I've had a good run this summer. I saw the Sox play in Baltimore and sure, they lost, but it was the first chance I've had to see Beckett pitch live. I went to a Nationals game in Washington and on this previous Friday night attended my first Brockton Rox game with the family in several years.

And that's what baseball is all about. The game, the plays and the experience. Which is why it's sad to see so many stories of disgust emerging about the *new* Fenway experience, where Yawkey Way is more like an amusement park than a street, the stands are filled because going to a Red Sox game is more of a social outing (look at my Facebook pics! I went to the game!) then appreciating the sport.

I haven't been to Fenway (for a game) since I was in college and in all honesty I haven't missed it much. It's not that I've lost interest in baseball, it's that I've lost interest in the showbiz attitude Major League Baseball has adopted.

Because there's still nothing better than a good ball game with a steaming sausage and a cold beer in hand. If you can still find it for less than $100.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2012: I hope reality is cooler than the movie

2012 may be some distance in the future yet, but the date had an early arrival in my girlfriend's OnDemand cable box.

Now, it's not fair play to critique a disaster movie, let alone an end-of-the-world flick, at least not on a point by point basis. Are there plot holes? Are there parts of the film that don't add up or make any sort of sense? Well, duh. That's par for course.

But how does it stack up to other films? That's the first question that popped into my head during the final moments of the happy, sunshine-filled conclusion of 2012. I'd say you could file this movie in with disaster films genre, cross-referencing it with the end-of-the-world crowd. For the sake of argument, I'm going to stack 2012 up only against it's end-of-the-world brethren, if only because it was so heavily advertised as such.

My list of end-of-the-world disaster films currently looks like this:

Reign of Fire
Dawn of the Dead (remake... I'm no critic, so leave me alone)
Everything else (including, but not limited to, Deep Impact (damn you Elijah Wood), The Day After Tomorrow (damn you Jake Gillen... Gilen... Jilenhall?... whatever), 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later (worse than its predecessor), Legion (although this wasn't bad), and I Am Legend (did not live up to expectations).

(Note: I am not including in this list dozens of science fiction films that deal with the aftermath of this devastation, because those don't count. World-ending disaster must be a primary plot point, not a jumping point for some deeper discussion of humanity. God forbid we use disaster flicks to move beyond stereotypes and actually explore the human condition under duress)

So where does 2012 rank? Well, not good. But not bad either. The Mayan-justifying apocalyptic movie falls well below Armageddon for failing to promote American exceptionalism (aside from a few acts of heroic stoicism on the part of the president, the Americans in the film are self-serving jerks. Oddly, those friendly red Chinese are our saviors in the end), lack of decent monster, overly optimistic view of humanity, less than realistic ending (I realize this is an end-of-the-world film, but if you're an apocalyptic movie fan, you know what is and what isn't a realistic ending).

John Cusack, however, is an unlikely hero. I'll give whomever produced the flick points for casting him in the role of yet another lovable loser trying to stitch his life back together as the Earth disintegrates.

Also, I enjoyed the film managed to combine many, if not all, elements of disaster films into one, 2+ hour showing.

We had a rain of hellfire, a la Armageddon/The Mummy(remake), we had tsunamis as in Deep Impact, we had fluctuating weather patterns from The Day After Tomorrow and something to do with the Earth's molten core like that other movie where they had to drill to the Earth's core and set off a nuclear warhead or something stupid and anyway South Park made fun of it.

To top it off, we even had a cruise ship rolling over after being struck amid ship by a rogue wave. Can you say Poseidon Adventure?

So yeah, I won't recommend it. I probably won't watch it again. And that's the true mark of a great, cheesy film. That you'll watch it again. How many times have I seen Armageddon? Too many to count. Reign of Fire? The same.

But maybe that says more about me than the film.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The LeBronacle

Let me preface this by saying I really don't follow basketball.

We grew up watching three sports in my household and though my recollection could be a bit hazy, the Bruins always came first. I remember my mother and father putting us to bed at the end of the second period, because that was bedtime. We never found out how the Bruins fared until the next morning. I don't know why my parents tortured my brother and I in this manner.

So Bruins first (I still remember sifting through piles of hockey trading cards to find a Cam Neely or Ray Bourque), Red Sox second (another sport where we would have to wait until the next morning to learn the final score - it was never good) and the Patriots a distant third (They sucked until '97; who could blame us?).

I got into it in '08 when the Celtics went on a tear and again this year. Call me a bandwagoner, a fair-weather fan, call me what you will, because I really don't care.

But this LBJ thing is just too much fun. I tuned in last night for the spectacle, because that's what it was, a reality television show with ratings probably higher than the final episode of MASH. I won't bother offering any commentary, other than to say never before have I seen professional sports drift so close to the theatrics of the WWF of my childhood, but I've instead put together a compendium of "hot sports takes" from around the country:

"Does James want a title because he thinks he deserves one? Or does he want to actually, you know, win it? His behavior suggests the former more than the latter. James seems to regard a championship as a birthright, as if it is something to be given to him rather than to be earned. And the more time that passes, the more you cannot help but wonder if James is just another damaged, spoiled, and self-absorbed brat who cannot understand the simplest rules in life." - Tony Massarotti, The Boston Globe.

"I blame the people around him. I blame the lack of a father figure in his life. I blame us for feeding his narcissism to the point that he referred to himself in the third person five times in 45 minutes. I blame local and national writers (including myself) for apparently not doing a good enough job explaining to athletes like LeBron what sports mean to us, and how it IS a marriage, for better and worse, and that we're much more attached to these players and teams than they realize. I blame David Stern for not throwing his body in front of that show. I blame everyone." - Bill Simmons,

"As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us." - Dan Gilbert, majority owner, Cleveland Cavaliers.

"James made a more grandiose show of free agency than anyone ever has, but he didn’t create the culture of entitlement. He’s just the latest to exploit it, and Joyce was right about one thing: all would have been forgiven had he just told his interviewer, Jim Gray, he was staying in Cleveland, basking in his own stardust.

Maybe that was the main selling point in Miami. When the playoff dust finally settles, it won’t all come down on him." - Harvey Araton, New York Times.

"Now - even though he took less money to go to Miami - he will be seen as a mercenary of sorts. And with the way the Heat have been loaded like a team of ringers trying to swoop in and take a tournament, the club might want to add black hats to their uniforms. They will be the biggest curiosity in sport when they begin play this fall, but they will also surpass the Celtics [team stats] and Lakers as the NBA teams that fans most want to see defeated." - Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald.

"In LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat becomes more than a basketball team. It's South Beach meets Cirque du Soleil meets Hollywood meets YouTube meets ESPN meets the '27 Yankees.

Now, a Tuesday game against Sacramento becomes a show. Any game against the Los Angeles Lakers becomes a national event. June is reserved for the NBA Finals. They're basketball's Beatles. LeBeatles." - Dave Hyde, The Baltimore Sun.

"When a major American municipality's identity is that wrapped up in one special athlete, what does it say about Cleveland's self-worth? LeBron made that city millions, made an NBA outpost matter again, and Gilbert has the temerity to call the guy who filled his building "callous" and "disloyal."

You're lucky you had him for as long as you did. He just outgrew you, Cleveland. He fell in love with somebody else. Deal with it.

That doesn't make how LeBron handled everything right, but it makes him look bigger than the place he left." - Mike Wise, The Washington Post.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The District, by way of Stamford, Connecticut

A few notes on traveling.

When in doubt, book a flight. Meg and I flew home for the weekend on last minute tickets from Southwest. Outside of international air travel - where I've always had little reason to complain - I can't stand most airline carriers. There are too many horror stories of flights delayed and then cancelled, less than helpful airline staff and seemingly ridiculous layovers. Southwest is a safe bet, in my book.

But on the way back to the District, we were obliged to drive elderly relatives to New York (or, more accurately, nearby Connecticut) where we caught an AmTrak bound for points further south. It was my first long distance train trip since I was a school child. I have no prejudice against taking a train, but the fact that it's more expensive and less convenient than air travel makes me certain than except for commuters around major metropolitan centers rail-travel will never take off in this country.

I have a few critiques for the good folks over at AmTrak, if they're reading.

First, in my imagination, dining cars should be akin to a moving sandwich store. Small, comfortable, with good food for weary travelers, a full bar with draft beer available, and comfortable seats.

The shipping box and trash-filled dining car left a lot to the imagination. As did the surly employee behind the counter serving frozen salads (which should never be frozen) and microwavable fare about a step below Hot Pockets. The only thing worse than airline food, I've learned, is AmTrak food.

Secondly, air-conditioning sounds like a luxurious frivolity, but when you've got a packed train heading south during a heat wave, it becomes necessary. Please, for the comfort of your passengers (your paying customers!) make fixing a busted AC unit a priority and don't pass it off as a minor inconvenience.

Perhaps most fun were our fellow passengers. There is an unspoken concept of travel etiquette. Please don't lie down and pretend to nap at every stop so as to deter anyone from, God forbid, taking the seat next to yours. The one young lady I watched doing this learned the hard way about karma. She was forced to surrender her section of seating after it became clear the train was full. To a beefy mother and her screaming child. Delicious irony (for those keeping score at home, delicious irony also weighs negatively on the karma scale).

Those are just quick, off the cuff impressions of travel by rail. I actually enjoyed rolling into every station along the way from Stamford, CT to Washington, D.C. Strolling into the center of Union Station and standing beneath it's massive ceiling and rows of overlooking statues after a long trip is certainly an amazing experience. I'll do it again.

Just not anytime soon.