Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Triumph Through The Tragedy


I was raised a Catholic.  While I’m not what you would describe as your textbook Catholic, I still believe in God -- not so much in man and even more so lately.  Part of what we’re taught when we’re young is to simply accept that everything that happens in this life, absolutely everything, is part of God’s divine plan.  It’s one of those sacred canons that you’re not supposed to question, pending a yardstick to the wrists.  Guantanamo has nothing on Catholic nuns I kid you not.

When a mother of three is diagnosed with Cancer in her early fifties and later dies, never to see her daughters marry or have children of their own, we’re supposed to accept that it was all part of God’s divine plan.  Or when the elderly grandparent, having lived a long and hopefully meaningful life, takes a final breath, we’re told it was his time and more importantly, that it was all part of God’s divine plan.  Oh the mystery of the existential always made me wonder why should we accept the mother dying from Cancer or the elderly whose life has seemingly run its course?  Then you have children ranging in ages from 6 to 7, gunned down in their school by a deranged madman, we question how?  How could God allow something like this to happen?  I wish I had the answer to that.

We’re an interesting bunch; Catholics that is.  We occasionally find refuge in the idea of God’s devine plan when things don’t go quite as planned.  When it really hits the fan we pull out the-- it’s God’s will and works in mysterious ways card.  You know because the mysterious will of a deity is completely valid when it allows children to be slaughtered before roll call especially a deity that proclaims to love us as his own.  George Carlin, seen by many Christians as the anti-Christ, once said “I was a Catholic until I reached the age of reason”.  Unlike Carlin, I never completely shared in his atheistic views but where he and I agree is how man uses Religion to fill in the blanks -- to essentially keep the herd moving along with the caveat being -- no questions allowed.  Move along, move along.

When I heard that there was another mass shooting at a school, taking 26 lives 20 of which were children, I immediately thought of my own daughter who’s only two.  I was thankful that she wasn’t at the age to understand what had happened thus prompting those questions that test a parent’s mettle.  It may have been a selfish reaction but I have a feeling when all is said and done and the families are allowed to heal from this unthinkable tragedy, the common denominator is going to end up focusing on the role parents have and haven’t been playing in the lives of their children probably in the last 20 + years.  Let me just tell you, being a parent is easily the most difficult job you could ever possibly have.  Sure you have the self-help books some penned by famous authors such as Dr. Benjamin Spock.  But in the end there are no user guides, no pdf files, nothing but your own life experiences and good judgment that you have to impart onto your child.  If you fall short or fail in that regard there is no do-over, no restart. 

There is so much that we don’t know right now as to why Adam Lanza, 20, would go on such a rampage killing his mother , the 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut and culminating by taking his own life.  I didn’t want to draw any conclusions regarding this tragedy.  Like everyone, there is a time to grieve and heal and then a time to reflect and find resolution.  I see this tragedy broken down into three equally important components, none of which should overshadow the other or be treated like a political football to score points with any issue groups. 

We are living in a violent culture precipitated by a lack of parental guidance at home.  We have parents allowing their children to sit in front of TV’s playing for hours on end video games like Call of Duty.  These first-person shooter games are intensely realistic as they mimic wartime battlefield conditions and some in fact have been partially created and tested by current and former members of the military.  That in itself has caused the Pentagon to take notice.  This is from an article on Forbes.com:

Some have criticized the use of video game technology to train and equip military recruits, citing it as a form of desensitization that makes the taking of lives easier. But proponents argue differently, saying that the use of these video game trainings has allowed for the opposite. By training a soldier in an accurate recreation of former missions, military analysts believe that video game developers are helping to prepare soldiers for the battlefield in a way never before possible.

It’s the very same desensitization that’s affecting our children and that’s what we should find very concerning.  I’ve played these games before and I would be lying if I told you that it didn’t raise my heart rate and put me on edge after just a few minutes of play.  Kids today are spending hours playing these games and parents seem to be just fine allowing it and guess what, video games have ratings systems in place in hopes to preventing the young from playing them.   How’s that working out especially when it’s the parents who often are the one’s buying these games for their kids?

Of the recent mass shootings, each perpetrator shared a similar profile.  They were loners who were extremely intelligent, almost completely lacking in social skills and influenced in part by violent video games.  Though each act of violence has its own distinct context, especially regarding Army Major Nidal Hassan, who was in active duty and who’s act should be treated more as a terrorist attack, over the past decade the social science research community has continued to search for more general frameworks of understanding.  Indiana University commissioned a study of 28 students who were randomly assigned to play either a violent, first-person shooter game or a non-violent one every day for a week. None of the participants had much previous gaming experience.  Researchers found that those who played the violent video games showed less activity in areas of the brain that involved emotions, attention and inhibition of impulses.

But some researchers believe that establishing more precise psychological/criminal profiles in the hope of preventing such events through interventions may ultimately prove elusive.  We may not be able to exactly predict human behavior but what we can do, especially as parents, is to take note of our children and how they behave and the games they play.  It’s inexcusable to allow teenagers to spend hours playing a game that mimics the ravages of war, only to have them become desensitized to it.  We’re no longer in the age of Pac-Man, not when you have games so realistic that they’re used to train soldiers.   This is the first step in addressing this epidemic.

The next step segues almost seamlessly as it concerns our mental health system or in fact our woeful excuse of a system.  I work with the public and this may be viewed as simplistic of me to say but I’m very confident in the fact that I’ve dealt with the gamut of some --shall we say--psychologically challenged individuals.  I say that tongue-in-cheek but in all honesty it’s something that’s always on my mind at work.  To put it bluntly, I’ve dealt with people that absolutely should be institutionalized.  I’ve had someone tell me that their Cable company was remotely viewing them in their homes from a camera placed inside their set-top box.  She was completely and utterly serious and while we often reminisce at work about that incident jokingly, it makes me wonder why someone who clearly needed more than just a pill to get back on the right track again was out and about among the rest of us.  I’ve had people threaten my safety, my life – the list can go on.  All of them by people who are somehow operating under the radar of mental fitness. 

In my home state of New Jersey, the Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital closed on June 30, and the subject of a hearing that was held in Trenton where mental health advocates, legislators and opponents of the shutdown seemed to agree on one point: New Jersey needs to commit more money to support Hagedorn's patients as they move out of the hospital and into the homes of relatives, residential facilities in the community, and other psychiatric hospitals.   As it is being reported, Adam Lanza may have had mental issues and was not properly diagnosed and treated.  The question it raises is: are we doing enough to address the very real issue of mental health in this country or are we simply shaking our heads and making juvenile jokes when someone acts way out of what is generally the norm? 

And to tie it into my first component -- why didn’t Adam Lanza’s mother do something about it?  Reports are saying that she would tell babysitter’s that Adam was to never be left alone.  That in and of itself should have warranted psychological help not to mention it brings into question the veritable arsenal Adam Lanza’s mother seemed to be amassing in her home--her home with a potentially mentally ill son.

This leads me to the third and last component that needs to be addressed and that involves guns.  I’m a gun owner and have been for many years and it’s something that my father taught me to understand and respect from a very young age. I remember feeling both fearful and in awe of it simultaneously.  I was about ten years old when he was comfortable enough to tell me about it. Some of my friends wonder why would I have a gun in the home especially with a two year old.  First, I keep my handgun in a locked safe that only my wife and I have access to.  According to reports Lanza’s mother was a gun collector -- owning handguns and rifles – all accessible to her son.  Now if I knew my child had ANY psychological problems, the last thing I would do is keep my handgun where she could access it.  Let alone a cache of weapons.   It’s basic common sense. 

One of the weapons Lanza used was the AR-15.  It’s essentially a civilian version of the military M-16.  It usually fires a .223 caliber round whereas its military counterpart fires the more powerful 5.56 full metal jacket round.  The clip used in the AR-15 can hold from 5 to 100 rounds.  As a gun owner and someone who believes in the 2nd amendment, I find it ridiculous that ANY gun owner would find it necessary to have a weapon that holds as much as one hundred rounds.  Forgive me how this comes across but my .357 Magnum holds 5 rounds -- I only need 1.  I say that because the issue of gun control is something that over the coming days will be front and center because of this tragedy. 

The fight over gun control is a battle between two diametrically opposing viewpoints – one on the political left and the other on the political right.  Unfortunately, as with most issues, the extreme elements on both sides tend to have the loudest, and often times, most irrational voices.  You see there are those who feel that there is no weapon, or ammunition type, or high capacity magazine that should ever be banned because of an irrational fear that someone like President Obama will somehow summon the Army in black helicopters to come door-to-door, confiscating their arms while burning the Constitution.  

Trust me gun owners, if the President really wanted to do that, you and your AR-15, one in each arm, wouldn’t be able to stop it.  What we do need is more in depth background checks and licensing.  Yes, licensing.  If I have to take a test to drive my SUV then I think taking a test to show that I’m responsible enough to use a handgun is only fair.  The idea of everyone being armed isn’t feasible since most people aren’t mandated to be trained in the first place.  Relying on armed untrained citizens to properly use firearms responsibly would be a huge risk.  The last thing we all want is for guns to be in anyone and everyone’s hands –regardless of age or mental capacity. 

Don’t get me wrong.  There are those on the left who advocate a complete ban on firearms and they’re simply living in a utopia that only exists in their minds.  But to juxtapose this with another hot-button issue, there are those on the right who think abortions, at any stage of the pregnancy, should be banned.  They too show little in the way of compromising.  It’s this inability to find common ground –something so lacking these days – that is why both ends of the political spectrum have little to no trust in each other.  But to make the unfortunate assumption that simply banning guns will solve this issue is just the easy out and all it does is give the opportunistic politician a chance to prop up their brand all the while offering up a false sense of security at the expense of guaranteed rights.   

If there was one element to this story that stands apart from the issues it has to be the media.  I understand the role of the media is to inform but when informing takes a backseat to wall-to-wall sensationalism, a line has to be drawn especially when members of the media feel the need to express their own opinions on the matter.  CNN anchor Don Lemon stated that despite gun violence actually going down since 1990, in his words said “it doesn’t matter” essentially saying restrictions need to be put in place.  I agree to an extent but if the media continues to focus on only one aspect of this tragedy then their doing a disservice to us all. 

To put this into perspective, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009 there were 1,314 children under the age of 14 that died in motor vehicle crashes, and the numbers rose even higher in 2012.  That’s like having 65 Sandy Hook tragedies yet the media doesn’t report that or come out for a ban on certain type of vehicles.  Do we really need cars that can travel in excess of 100 miles per hour?  Where’s the call for a ban on sports cars or sub compacts?

I don’t know what the next few days, weeks and months will come because of this.  I do know that there are no easy remedies out there and anyone who tries to convince you that all we need is that “one” fix, is flat out lying and probably pandering to a particular group.  There’s a saying that through tragedy comes triumph.  I look at my daughter and I wish my faith was stronger --I really do.  That’s the funny thing about faith, you either have it or you don’t.  I want to believe that God wouldn’t want children to be slaughtered and I understand that we all have free will.  

Free will –according to Christianity—the direct result of Eve eating the apple from the “tree of knowledge”.  But I’m still at a loss as to how this all fits into His “Devine Plan”?  By Eve’s actions we are now subject to life without God’s involvement?  Is that our punishment?  And why would God wish to punish us for seeking knowledge?  We pray for things like this not to happen but if they’re predetermined, what’s the point?  I wish it were easy for me to offer myself up to faith, as it was when I was younger.  If there is anything we should all pray for, it’s the ability to find hope in a time when hope is slowly fleeting.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Generally Out-Managed...er

Have you ever wondered what does the term "fair market value" really mean? It's often bantered about in the sports world when an athlete vying for a new contract, tries to sell his talents to the highest bidder. I hear it all the time. To me, it means getting paid for the service you're providing balanced against what others in your specific field are being paid for doing the same. Sounds fairly simple right? You get paid according to what your peers are being paid and how well they perform. That's how it works for everyone- everyone with the exception of one Robert Allan Dickey. 

You see, Mr. Dickey, he's just weird. First off, what's with the name? Dickey. Really? He play's professional Baseball for a living but that's a loose term since he happens to play for the New York Mets. Don't get me started on that - talk about having regrets. He's a pitcher but I'll be damned, he's a weird one at that too. He's a knuckleball pitcher. The knuckleball happens to be a last resort pitch used by those trying desperately to hold onto their career.

It's kind of like when Lindsey Lohan play's Elizabeth Taylor in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie. He's also missing a ligament or a nerve or something in his elbow; weird and damaged goods I tell you. Oh and here's the cherry on the top of this sundae, he's 38 years old! He's weird, old, damaged goods - and he wants to get paid "fair market value". I got his nerve- right here.

I admit he did ok last year. He led the Mets in practically every pitching category including usage of the word "enigmatic" 247 times. He was the first Mets pitcher ever to quote Faulkner in a post game interview that left the dreamy Kevin Burkhardt mesmerized in the moment. Oh yeah, and he won the Cy Young award. It's not that I'm minimizing what he means to the Mets but he's replaceable especially that he thinks he should get both "fair market value" and long term security. Sure I know he's just looking for a 3 year extension but he's 38 years old for crying out loud. And you know I don't like long term relationships plus we all know I've had to put a ring on one player this winter so far - two is pushing it! Damn that Beyonce.

Word on the street is that Anibal Sanchez just inked a 5 year, $80 million dollar deal to return to the Detroit Tigers. That's a lot of coin for a guy who's career record is under five hundred. Then you have that kid with the mental issues in Anaheim, Grienke. He just signed a 6 year deal with the Dodgers worth almost $160 million. I guess I have to agree that Dickey is worth somewhere in between those guys, right? Damn market. Here I was hoping it would bottom out and come to me (that's code word for I was hoping Dickey would finally exibit oxygen deprivation from his Kilimanjaro ascent and sign for pennies on the dollar).

Well needless to say, he's feeling fine, a little peeved but otherwise ok. I would be peeved too if my boss asked me to dress like an Elf at the company Christmas party. Maybe asking him to park the cars took it too far. Oh well, you live and learn. I have to get going now, I'm currently texting Alex Anthopoulos but don't worry, I'm multitasking here. My box of chocolates order from Swiss Colony just got approved - on company credit no less. Now that's winning!

All my best and happy holidays,

Sandy

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This IS the Mega Deal You Were Looking For


There’s something about being in your mid-thirties to early forties where you can say without a shadow of a doubt, what a major impact Star Wars has had on your life.  I remember being so sick and home from school with a cold in 1980 and all I wanted was for my dad to sneak me into the local theater to see The Empire Strikes Back.  Of course that didn’t happen.  Those crazy parents, always being so parental; bless their souls.  Little did they know the scars it left me with as I had no choice but to watch the greatest of all Star Wars films on VHS – FOUR YEARS LATER and after having seen The Return of the Jedi.  Oh the humanity.

Of course I eventually forgave my parents for their…insidious lack of vision – as I’m sure Palpatine would be remissed to point out.  Yes my parents raised a good (hopefully) person who’s turned into a well adjusted, successful adult and a married parent to his own two year old daughter - who’s soon to be initiated into the world George Lucas envisioned some 35 years ago.  So when I heard a few weeks ago that George Lucas announced his retirement from filmmaking and decided to sell Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Corporation, I became full of more mixed and odd emotions than the result of a Luke and Leia kiss.  I felt as if a part of my childhood had been surgically removed via lightsaber and sold to a bunch of pesky Jawas (for $4 billion no less). Yet at the same time I felt that if there was one company that could not only preserve but also cultivate the Star Wars Universe for years to come, it would be Disney. 

The Walt Disney Company already has quite the portfolio having acquired Pixar (which ironically was a subsidiary of Lucasfilm created in the 70’s and later sold in 1986 to Steve Jobs) early in 2006 and most recently in 2009, added Marvel Studios. And with the success of this past summer’s The Avengers, it’s a safe bet that Lucas’ decision to sell to Disney will solidify that company for years to come.  But the questions on the minds of fanboys and girls alike are, “Did the maker sell out?” Meaning will the Star Wars franchise become even more watered down now that Disney is in control?  Granted, that’s somewhat overly critical but I thought about this for a while and with respect to George Lucas, after seeing the prequels, can it really get more watered down for the masses?

"Say Rebel...one...more...damn time."
I get it, George Lucas isn’t Quentin Tarantino and it’s not as if everyone is pining for a Star Wars version of Pulp Fiction (other than me perhaps).  Part of what makes Star Wars so universal is that it speaks to everyone at any age but at its core, lay the very foundations of classic storytelling.  Themes such as redemption, revenge, friendship, loyalty, the very battle of good versus evil, all of which make Star Wars timeless.  As jaded as some Star Wars fans have become thanks to the mixed bag that are the prequels, I’m actually not worried that Disney will suddenly slip mouse ears onto Vader’s shiny dome – well maybe if it’s to sell merchandise – but hasn’t all of that cheese been done already and under Lucas’ force grip? 

"Gratuitous product placement you have"
I’ve always believed that the qualities that make George Lucas as great as he is are some of the very same qualities that have constricted much of his work and disappointed some of his fans.  Like any filmmaker, Lucas has always desired (and more times than not has attained) total control over his films as he was essentially one of the original independent filmmakers in Hollywood.  Sometimes the trade off that comes with total control ends up resulting in tunnel vision.  As much as I’m a fan of his work, I don’t think there’s one fan of filmmaking that thinks George Lucas is a master of the English language.  Dialogue has just never been his strong suit as even Harrison Ford was always fond of saying, “You can write this shit, but ya can’t say It.” – in regards to Lucas’ scripts. 

Another drawback of Lucas’ is his almost fervent desire of filming everything digitally.  Any Star Wars fan worth his salt knows the visual differences between the original versus the prequel films.  Because the technology didn’t exist back in the late 70’s and 80’s, Lucas literally had to create the technology himself thus ushering in ILM.  There isn’t a filmmaker in Hollywood today who doesn’t owe a bit of gratitude for the work Industrial Light and Magic have afforded them but sometimes a good thing can be overused and abused. 

There’s a lack of substance and physical reality to some of the work ILM did on the prequels.  Was it really necessary to digitally create a single clone trooper in a single scene?  Was it necessary to replace actual landscapes with digital mock ups?  Sometimes just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should and Hollywood seems to be gravitating more towards blending technology with traditional techniques rather then totally relying on computers to enhance their films.

It has to be difficult for Lucas to turn what has essentially been his life’s greatest work over to someone else even if it is someone he’s known his entire career.  But letting go of the reigns may be exactly what is needed to bring in new, fresh ideas. Luckily for both Lucas and fan’s alike he’s turning it over to someone who has had a hand in creating some of the most memorable films ever to grace the silver screen, films such as, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to name a few. 

Kathleen Kennedy has been given quite the daunting task of maintaining one of the greatest film franchises ever made.  Kennedy, a highly respected Hollywood vet, has worked along side the likes of Spielberg, Eastwood, Fincher and Scorsese over the years.  She’s one half of the powerhouse producing team of Kennedy and Frank Marshall, her husband, and alongside Steven Spielberg, formed a triumvirate at Amblin Entertainment. 

Letting go for a filmmaker is probably the most difficult thing to do.  There’s a quote that films are never really finished, only abandoned.  I for one feel great hope about the future of Star Wars and what it’s going to mean not only to my child very soon but perhaps even to her children someday.  Plans have already been in place for new films to hit theaters starting in 2015, starting with Star Wars: Episode VII.  Star Wars is rightfully going to become a rite of passage passed down from one generation to the next.  That my friend is what Star Wars is truly about.  Not the special effects or the merchandise or the theme parks. 

In the words of Master Yoda (sort of):  Hopeful, you should be.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Have Knee Will Jerk


We can file this under the title:  Well that didn’t take long. 

Over the weekend we learned of a tragedy out of Kansas City when Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and committed suicide - in front of team officials.  Apparently according to reports, Belcher thanked general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel then shot himself in the team’s practice facility parking lot. 

Police reports over the weekend had a woman reporting that her daughter had been shot multiple times at a home just outside of Arrowhead Stadium.  It turned out to be the mother of Kassandra Perkins, Belcher’s girlfriend. 

There were serious questions as to would the Chief’s ask the NFL to cancel their Sunday game versus the Carolina Panthers but the team chose to play on despite the horror that took place.  It was during that game, which was aired on NBC’s Sunday Night Football that Bob Costas gave an on air opinion of the situation and took the proverbial knee jerk reaction that in my opinion, is beneath him as one of the finer sports broadcasters of our generation.  Here is what Costas said:


BOB COSTAS:

Well, you knew it was coming. In the aftermath of the nearly unfathomable events in Kansas City, that most mindless of sports clichés was heard yet again: Something like this really puts it all in perspective. Well, if so, that sort of perspective has a very short shelf-life since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we have supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games. Please, those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective. You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock with whom I do not always agree, but who today said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article.
 

"Our current gun culture, “Whitlock wrote, "ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead."
 

"Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows?"
 

"But here," wrote Jason Whitlock," is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

First off I’m not against anyone giving their opinion, even a sports broadcaster during a football game.  But for Costas to come out and sort-of kind-of separate himself from Jason Whitlock - by saying he normally doesn’t agree with him but on this he does, is just a cop out if you ask me.  Anytime you try to explain actions of insanity with rationality not only are you missing the point that crazy has no boundaries but you prove the point that good intentions mean jack shit. 

If a mother drowns her children in a bathtub do we place a ban on Mr. Bubble? If a husband cheats on his wife & she decides to snip off his Twinkie with a scissor do we ban scissors or Twinkies if that?  Don't get me started on Twinkies.  What about the mother who drove her minivan full of her kids into oncoming traffic on a  Long Island highway after she did a few lines of coke...what should we ban there Bob?  Minivans?  Soccer mom’s with suspiciously deviated septums?

Human beings are capable of the most vile behavior.  Yes, if guns didn’t exist, perhaps Jovan Belcher and Kassadra Perkins would be alive today.  You could say the very same about minivans or bath tubs and exacto knives. 

I’m disappointed in you Bob, I always thought of you as someone far more intelligent and far less susceptible to knee-jerk reactions to even the most horrible of situations.  I can understand being emotionally distraught, I’ve been there. I guess the culture at NBC has even taken its hold onto you.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fall Movie Review - Skyfall


James Bond will be back. 

That’s been the promise moviegoers have been given over the past 50 years at the end of every Bond film dating back to the early days of Sean Connery.  The world’s most famous spy is back on the big screen for the 23rd time in Skyfall as MGM studios has finally navigated its way out of a financial abyss.  Daniel Craig reprises the role of the British MI6 agent for the third time.  His first sip of the Martini came in 2006, when the series was re-booted and left the audience happily shaken and stirred for the future of the franchise.  

The producers wisely tapped into the original and realistic Ian Fleming source material.  Gone was the fanciful turn that was beginning to embody the Brosnan films.  The studio scored a major box office hit with Casino Royale and continued in 2008 with the somewhat disappointing Quantum of Solace.  

Let’s just say, the four year wait was more than worth it.

In Skyfall we see a Bond, especially since he earned his double-o status in Royale, far more polished if not a bit weary from the realities of the job.  He’s teamed with a fellow agent, Eve, who are both in pursuit of a terrorist(s) who has acquired a hard drive containing the names of MI6 operatives inbedded in terrorist organizations globally.  This may not be an entirely original premise as I’m sure Tom Cruises’ Ethan Hunt would raise an eyebrow to this, however it works for Skyfall and leads into one of the best opening Bond scenes to date.

Sam Mendes, who directed Craig in Road to Perdition, has created not just a stand-alone Bond film with Skyfall but a Bond film that pays proper homage to the 50 year history of the franchise with many alluding references to previous themes of redemption to the joy that is the Bond Aston Martin.  In fact I would consider Casino Royale as the much needed re-boot of Bond with Quantum of Solace transitioning him past the personal loss of Vesper Lynd with Skyfall bringing him back full circle to the roots of his character – both figuratively and literally as Skyfall just so happens to be Bond’s childhood home.

One of the reasons for EON’s reboot of the franchise was the fact that they felt it was headed into a more unrealistic slightly video game-esque genre.  And with Pierce Brosnan getting up in age and no longer under contract, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to go in a different direction casting a younger Bond and stripping the character of its previous fanciful turns, i.e. no more crazy Q gadgets and an almost complete lack of humor.  

In both cases the producers took it too far and in Quantum of Solace you would be hard pressed not to assume you were watching a Jason Bourne film and not Bond.  Mendes and the producers finally realized this and while they have remained true to re-booting Bond, Skyfall does put a smile on the faces of long time Bond fans.

Once again Q branch is resurrected and this time around Q is played by Ben Whishaw.  He’s incredibly young, cocky and the perfect Yin to Bond’s Yang.  No pun intended there, really.  The sly and comedic repertoire between he and Bond are part of what made these films so fun and to see it back in the franchise and done this way was enjoyable. 

Judi Dench returns for the seventh time as the head of MI6, M.  Beyond bringing obvious gravitas and weight to the film, Dench’s’ M, referred to by her aides and agents as ‘Mum’, is about as close to a mother Bond has had.  And without giving away too many spoilers let’s just say at the end of Skyfall, that feeling is more than shown and appreciated by Bond. 

Ralph Fiennes joins the cast as Gareth Mallory, a minister in the PM’s cabinet who’s essentially M’s boss, and with the loss of the hard drive, is intent on seeing M sent out to pasture.  Again without giving too much away, it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing Mr. Mallory again in future Bond films. 
It’s not really a spoiler to mention that Javier Bardem plays the baddie – Silva.  There’s something about Bond villains that either puts them in the forgettable category or the infamous category.   

Bardem’s acting chops clearly put him in the latter.  You can see that Bardem really relished this role and while there were times he came awfully close to camping it up, he kept it just creepy enough to keep it in check.  The scene where he meets Bond for the first time turns into the most uncomfortable yet amusing seduction scene ever in a Bond film.  Yes, a seduction scene. 

Skyfall centers on the relationships between Bond, M and Sliva and how they all interconnect with each other.  Silva is looking to kill M for some past indiscretion and Bond acknowledges the ‘Mum’ relationship that he has with her and takes it upon himself to protect her.  The writers and Mendes do a remarkable job at giving the audience a view into Bond’s history unlike any we’ve seen in previous films.  

The ending will leave you shaken and stirred that the future of Bond is now firmly re-booted and re-set properly and fully.  Bond once again can laugh at himself and the audience can once again feel the future for this iconic character is set to go, even when the ending credits come and tell us, he’ll be back.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

What Can Be Learned From The Yankees Collapse


Ok, I admit, I did my best Quagmire impersonation the other night, in spite of my better angels trying desperately to keep me in check.  Not even Charlie’s Angels could keep me from succumbing to the dark side when I saw the best team money could buy get brutally swept by the best thing to come out of Detroit that wasn’t bailed out by the government.  It’s one thing to get to the American League Championship Series and lose but for the New York Yankees to lose 4 in a row and lose them by barely showing up was hard to watch, even for a Mets fan. 

To think that the Yankees actually made President Obama look thoroughly engaged in his first debate in comparison to their performance against the Tigers.  But I digress, who are we kidding; it wasn’t that hard for me to watch.  I may have revelled in the poetic justice of it all yet I ironically realized in the end that I don’t despise the New York Yankees as some people do, and I’m very ok with that.  Now, as to some of their fans – well that’s a whole different ballgame altogether.

Look I get it.  Who am I to criticize the Yankees for being swept in the Playoffs? My team hasn’t even had a whiff of a whiff of playoff baseball since Carlos Beltran stood like a deer in headlights taking Adam Wainwright’s curveball for strike three in 2006.  You can make a good argument that stemming from that moment the Mets began their spiral into the mediocre mess that they have become today.  And make no mistake about it; it’s rare to find a Yankee fan that doesn’t like to remind us of that among other things.  Because you know, it’s always endearing to be a bully. 

What other things you ask?  How about their 27 World Championships?  Sure I’d be proud of my team if they racked up that many Championships, who wouldn’t?  But I’m pretty sure, no I’m very sure I wouldn’t rub it into everyone’s faces or use it as my main retaliatory weapon anytime someone criticizes my team.  It reeks of elitism – and that is why no one is shedding a tear that Detroit handed the Yankees a beatdown of the ages.  I particularly enjoy the brand of Yankee fan who just about takes personal credit for those 27 championships.  As if it weren’t for their bloviating ad nauseum about their greatness, those teams never would have existed.  Over-compensating much pre tell? We get it, your team is great.

I know I’m not breaking any new ground here saying this.  We all know where the Mets are financially as an organization or at least we think we do and it’s no secret that times have been better.  There’s that certain percentage of Yankee fans that love to say how the Mets are cheap and don’t care about their fans.  Hell at times even I’ve felt the same malaise from this organization but when you look at the facts you realize that to say the Mets have always been cheap is more like a cheap shot than fact. 

It doesn’t take much to Google the numbers and see where the Mets have ranked in payroll over the years.  We all know they spend (spent).  They’re just very good at doing it very bad.   Athlon Sports ranks the Mets the worst of all MLB teams from 2001 to 2010 when it comes to spending in relation to wins.  But don’t try and get intellectual when arguing with these particular Yankee fans.  To them it’s all about the bling and boy do they have the bling in the Bronx enough so that even their mistakes (Carl Pavano, Jose Contreras, Brien Taylor, A-Roid) can be easily swept under the rug.  However even the mighty have their limits as Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have made it clear that they want to get their payroll under the luxury tax threshold.   

Of course there’s that “aura” that playing for the Yankees brings.  Even I fell for it when Raul Ibanez seemed to channel every Yankee great in this postseason with his homerun fest.  Not bad for a 39 year old.  Yet if you ask anyone impartial, which team regardless their finances, has a better crop of young talent making its way up, one would be hard pressed to say it’s the Yankees. 

It’s not like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid here.  I know the Mets aren’t exactly overflowing with minor league talent – as a Mets fan I know that’s hardly the case – but tell me what version of Zach Wheeler or Matt Harvey or even Wilmer Flores do the Yankees have?  If they did, don’t you think one or two would have been promoted this year and don’t try to pull Ivan Nova out of your pinstriped posterior. If he’s really one of their top prospects Brian Cashman has a lot more to worry about than how he’s going to try to convince a team to take Alex Rodriguez off his hands.  It seems Cashman could care less that his team has become the professional sports poster children for AARP as they have the oldest team on average in MLB.  This is what Cashman said about his geriatric lineup:

“I don’t care if it’s old.  I care about if it’s good.”

Well Socrates has spoken I suppose.  Talk about short sighted and the epitome of elitist.  The only reason Brian Cashman can say that is solely because of his owner’s pockets. 

The Mets and we as fans can learn a great deal from the debacle that is unraveling in the Bronx.  Sure if you’re one of those superficial, seasonal Yankee fans that only come out of the woodwork in October then you probably should ignore the warning signs.  Yes having almost unlimited funds can buy great players – eventual Hall-of-Famer players even.  But if history has shown, it doesn’t buy championships.  It’s signing the right players to augment your team, when you’ve developed it enough from within. Sure the Yankees can sign whoever they want and I’m pretty sure they’ll make a push for Texas’ Josh Hamilton this winter.  Talk about lighting a fuse on a Molotov cocktail.  The moment he steps out of his taxi cab onto 42nd street, expect an epic implosion worthy of wall-to-wall TMZ coverage.

Some of those Yankee fans might think I sound like just another jaded Met fan.  Sure it’s been rough the last few years but what they call being jaded I call appreciation.  Mets fans appreciate their team.  Darren Meenan over at the 7Line rounded up hundreds of his troops on the final game of the year at Citifield with his mantra: loyal to the last out.  Now compare that to the empty seats in Yankee stadium during the playoffs.  It was shameful that Yankee officials asked fans to move to the lower decks to keep the empty seats out of the TBS camera view.  Elitist, entitled, arrogant and now you can add indifferent.  There is no other way to define it. 

If the Wilpons can ever get their financial house in order, hopefully with the proper gameplan which includes taking advantage of the amateur draft, including signing and developing the players they draft, and spending wisely in the free agent market, perhaps the Mets can right this ship.  If the finances continue to tighten just enough to keep the Wilpon’s treading water and whatever funds made available are spent poorly, then nothing changes.  The greatest success the Yankees had happened when their core players were supplemented with talent around them.  The opposite of that is what never seems to truly work at least not long term.  All that’s going to do is make you laugh under your breath at your TV when that house of cards comes falling down. 

Giggity. Giggity. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Apple Bites Back


I remember when Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007.  How can anyone forget?  Steve Jobs stood there dressed in his iconic blue jeans and turtleneck with what looked like a prop straight out of Star Trek – but this was far from being science fiction. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.  It was seductive with its sleek, curved edges.  Its screen was incredibly vibrant, nearly covering the entire face of the device. 

Yes it was a device – far more than just the cell phone it was designed to be.  It was…art and I wanted it…bad.  Since then the iPhone has taken the cellular industry by storm and has advanced it immeasurably in the past 5 years.  It set the industry standard and became the juggernaut that it is today – with Apple having sold more iPhones in five years than it has sold Macs in the past 28 years

I admit I’m a bit of a technophile perhaps a borderline tech geek – so sue me.  I probably shouldn’t say that and give anyone an idea.  It seems to be the way business in America – if you still have a business – is done these days.  If you didn’t build it, then I guess the next best thing you can do is sue it – especially if that business is your main competitor and you can claim they’re culpable of copyright infringement.

That’s exactly what Apple did when it sued Samsung in April of 2011 and just a few days ago won that lawsuit with a landmark decision when that jury determined that Samsung “was guilty of patent infringement time and time again on many devices spanning many carriers”.  The jury then slapped Samsung with a fine of over a billion dollars. 

Apple has since filed notices with the courts as to which devices they now want banned from being sold in the U.S.  Here’s the list:

Galaxy S 4G
Galaxy S2 (AT&T)
Galaxy S2 (Skyrocket)
Galaxy S2 (T-Mobile)
Galaxy S2 Epic 4G
Galaxy S Showcase
Droid Charge
Galaxy Prevail

And just the other day Apple included Samsung’s newest flagship the Galaxy SIII, the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Note 10.1.  Keep in mind this is separate from the first decision that was rendered by the jury, so in essence, the lawsuits continue perhaps in perpetuity.  According to the website Engadget, at issue here are some of Apple's utility patents that it says Samsung has infringed upon. The headliner patents at issue are '721 which covers slide to unlock, and '604, which could apply to the universal search feature Samsung has been pulling from its phones recently. Another familiar entry is the '647 patent Apple slapped HTC with in 2010, which has a vague description but applies to clicking on a phone number in an email, for example, to call it.

Ok, so I might have lost some of you with that last paragraph, right?  I mean I’m fairly sure that all you want to do is have a cell phone that actually makes a phone call and maybe do some cool stuff like listen to music and check the internet maybe even toss around a few Angry Birds.  Now you have to wonder if you’re holding some kind of contraband akin to a Mexicali cartel with the ATF ready to bust down your door for crossing the mighty wunderkinds in Cupertino. 

Allow me to get a few things out of the way here.  First, I’m neither a lawyer nor do I try to pretend to be – that in and of itself would just be weird.  My opinions on this matter don’t originate from a legalistic point of view but from what I like to think of as a practical, common sense point of view.  I don’t believe anyone has the right to steal copyrighted ideas and sell them off to consumers as their own.  As a part of the lawsuit against Samsung, Apple claimed that Samsung “stole” many of Apple’s aesthetic designs such as the “rounded corners” of the iPhone and iPad and the universal search function along with the pinch-to-zoom function – which allows you to zoom in on pictures. 

First off, let’s talk design.  Now I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I find it hard to believe that anyone has a corner on the market of rounded cellular phone edges.  And God forbid they make a cell phone with rounded edges, they’re open to litigation for doing so.  In 2006 Samsung designed a cell phone called the F700.  Here is what it looked like.  






Look familiar?  Now who’s to say that the boys over at Apple didn’t take some, I don’t know, divine inspiration from this and use it in their iPhone designs? 

It’s kind of a silly argument that Apple is trying to make because what they are saying is they invented the rectangle.  Elmo better get his checkbook ready because he and his friends on Sesame Street need to cough up some coin if they want to keep using that signature Apple product.  Apple didn’t invent the touchscreen.  No that honor goes to Mr. E.A. Johnson of the Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern, UK around 1965 to 1967.  They certainly didn’t invent the cell phone.  That would be Mr. Martin Cooper of Motorola. 

So what is it with Apple and they’re litigation happy mentality that seems to be on an unending, self-sustained path?  Does the Ford Motor Company get to sue Chevy because it too makes cars with four tires and an engine?  Could all of this be something far grander and far more Machiavellian than trying to take out the expected competition from other cell phone designers?  It’s not like Apple needed the billion dollars, they’re more valuable as a company than some nations – perhaps the U.S. included. 

When Walter Isaacson wrote his unauthorized biography of the late Steve Jobs, he shed a great deal of insight into how deep a dislike Jobs had for Google and it’s Android operating software – the lifeblood if you will of all of the competitors Apple is suing.  In his book Isaacson reports Jobs saying,

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs said. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”


Interesting because according to the history of Apple’s rise to power, it is well know that Jobs was given access to some of Xerox’s technology, including the mouse – and upon paying for the rights to see the technology – Jobs instructed his people at Apple to design a cheaper and better version of Xerox’s mouse.  The better mousetrap – pun intended was underway.  I don’t recall Xerox soiling their panties on that one.

This is pretty simple if you ask me.  This is a new Cold War and Apple has Google and Android in its crosshairs.  Apple doesn’t give two rips about rounded edges or pinch-to-zoom or screen size.  This is Steve Jobs’ final edict as CEO of Apple – destroy Google.  Just like the actual Cold War – the United States and the Soviet Union never fired one shot at each other directly – only against their subordinates – the Vietnam’s and Latin American nations of the world. 

There was a time I really wanted that iPhone.  Guess what happened?  I found the better mousetrap.  This saga is far from over and you can be sure the only winners of all of this and the future litigation's will be the lawyers.  Shakespeare was right I think.  




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Keep F@*k*#g That Chicken


So it seems the fast-food industry has now become the new battleground for politics in the United States.  No, Mike Bloomberg hasn’t put a hit out on Ronald McDonald...yet.  No this time is was the CEO of Chick-fil-A, Dan T. Cathy, who a few days ago proclaimed his opposition to gay marriage – setting off a debate not only on gay marriage but also freedom of speech across the country. 

Since his proclamation, groups supporting gay marriage have issued statements condemning Chick-fil-A and its CEO, calling for boycotts and the ultimate failure of the company.  In fact his proclamation even prompted the Jim Henson Company to announce that they would sever ties with the company, even though they’ve had a relationship for many years. 

When I first heard what the CEO of Chick-fil-A said regarding gay marriage I wasn’t really all that shocked.  The last time I was in a Chick-fil-A was about ten years ago and I then remember hearing Christian music playing in the lobby and I noticed they were closed on Sundays – I assumed to acknowledge the Christian Sabbath.

 I thought the CEO, making such a personal opinion public, was selfish at best, considering the backlash it opened up to all of his employees from those who don’t agree with him.  At worse, it speaks to the foolishness of a business decision that does nothing but alienating its consumers – some of the same consumers who’ve probably been patrons for years, simply because the CEO had to make a grand political statement.  Sure it’s well within his rights, but you’re selling chicken man.  You’re not changing the world one nugget at a time. If you were in business to make grand political statements versus making a profit then you’d be giving your chickens on a biscuit away for free, no?

What I always find amazing is how some of us fall comfortably into our little boxes with the predetermined views that we use to define and separate ourselves from one another.  It’s one of the reasons why I consider myself a Libertarian.  My views aren’t easily sorted and collated.  I’m not your typical demographic.  I can’t be ‘expected’ to follow marching orders; voting a certain way like a good little lemming.  I hate being grouped and I certainly don’t fall in line with what “the cool people” think.  Democrats I’m pretty sure don’t like me thinking that I’m probably a Republican and Republicans think I should be more like them - if I only had a brain- and yes you can hum the tune to that, I did. 

What really annoys me about this poultry fiasco is the rampant hypocrisy being volleyed back and forth – by each side. You have a few groups here, all vying to scale the summit of the socially conscious mountaintop.  Take for instance those who are so incensed by Chick-fil-A’s stance that they’re setting up rallies against the company around the country.  Just as the CEO of the company was within his rights to make his statement, the folks who disagree are well within their rights to do so as well. 

But it would be nice if they were consistent with their ire.  It was just a few months ago that President Obama had the very same opinion regarding same sex marriage until he rightfully changed his mind – whether due to convictions or softening polls with his base is debatable.  Where was this group then?  Where was the outrage?  Quite selective.

Most of us drive a vehicle or are driven by vehicles.  Over 50% of the oil the United States uses comes from OPEC nations.  Countries such as Saudi Arabia have prosecuted homosexuals for their orientation and Iran in particular has put men and women to death for the crime of being homosexual. In fact while giving a speech at the UN, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the very existence of homosexuals in Iran all together.  I have yet to see a rally at my local Mobil station decrying that however.

Look I get it; we rely on fuel.  It’s the lifeblood of our economy and it’s vital to our way of life.  But that doesn’t change the facts and because it would put a crimp in many lifestyles, some choose to take on the evil incarnate that is a fast food joint.  It’s very easy and awfully convenient to thump your chest and scream at the top of your lungs at a ridiculous decision some owner of a company made – a company that has about 1600 locations in 39 states.  But if that decision enrages you how can you justify in ANY way the use of OPEC supplied oil?  If you’re going to have righteous indignation shouldn’t it be somewhat consistent?  Or at least look as if you’re being consistent?  Some people are consistent and walk the walk, but so many others are playing this up far more than the coverage it deserves.

Then you have those who are calling for a ‘Chick-fil-A Day’, an idea spawned by the former Arkansas governor – no, not that one – Mike Huckabee.  Even Sarah Palin, the dimmest bulb in the GOP LiteBrite playset made it a point to head to a Chick-fil-A and snap a Twitter pic with her husband, giving the thumbs up.  You betcha!  It reeks of an Al Sharpton move – total ambulance chasing – and in Palin’s case, in the name of “American Values”.  Sorry I call BS.  It reeks of cheap personal gratification politics. 

I also get annoyed when the argument is made that marriage is an ‘institution’, to be respected and honored and somehow homosexuals will somehow sully that.  Yeah, let’s see the divorce rate for first marriages in the US is between 41 to 50%.  Second marriage divorce rates are between 60 and 67% and the third time is certainly not the charm as the rate is between 73 and 74%.  But somehow, heterosexuals are showing marriage great deference and respect and I didn’t even bring up the Kim Kardashians or Britney Spears of the world. 

Everyone needs to step back for a moment and stop trying to win the award for the most socially conscious citizen in America.  Chick-fil-A isn’t the reason gay marriage isn’t becoming more accepted.  The reality is - it is.  But to those who want to equate religious beliefs automatically with oppression are doing a disservice.  I was raised a Roman Catholic.  I did the whole Catholic grade school thing.  I have many issues with the Catholic Church.  I believe Jesus didn’t judge school children by what their parent’s net worth was.  I believe Jesus drank out of a carpenter’s cup and not the 24 karat gold jewel incrusted joke the Pope sips out of at each mass.  Those who claim gay marriage is going to unravel society as we know it need to admit to themselves that the very institutions they hold dear have done far greater damage to society than whether or not Ellen should be allowed to marry Portia.  It’s time for people to stop listening to the masses, the groups, the parties, the churches, the states, and start listening to themselves and what is inside themselves.  You are your best judge of what is right and wrong.  Never forget that. 


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer Movie Review - The Dark Knight Rises


Even though The Dark Knight Rises has been in theaters over a week now, the Sector still had to offer up an opinion on what is now the final installment in this version of Batman.  Director Christopher Nolan envisioned his idea of the Dark Knight over 10 years ago when the character was on life support thanks in partly to the royal crapfest that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.  From molded nipples on the Batsuit to George Clooney’s wrecking of the iconic superhero, Warner Brothers came within a Bat’s short and curly hair away from ending the franchise.  Luckily the suits at Warners decided they needed to go in the opposite direction from the Burton/Schumacher era into the more “real” world Nolan was offering.

Nolan’s first film in the series was Batman Begins in 2005 which became a huge success both critically and financially and set into motion what would become the judging barometer of superhero films to follow.  With the initial success of Batman Begins, Nolan followed up three years later with The Dark Knight in 2008.  Rarely a sequel to a film enjoys greater success than its predecessor; The Dark Knight has grossed well over a billion dollars and earned the late Heath Ledger an Academy Award for his portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker.  It also set the bar so high for Christopher Nolan, that whichever road he decided to take to end his trilogy would be wrought with some controversy, excitement and disappointments; and make no mistake about it – The Dark Knight Rises – is all of that and then some. 



If you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want to be spoiled – then this is your last and only warning.



The Dark Knight Rises takes place about 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight where Batman with Commissioner Gordon’s acquiescence, takes the fall for the death of Harvey Dent to cover up the villainous actions by the former respected Gotham District Attorney thus keeping Gotham’s citizens from losing hope in the true system of law and order.  Well according to the film the ruse was a success as helped to create the Dent Law – a nod to the Patriot Act? – which in essence, helped to eliminate mob control over Gotham.  But as Bane actually says to Batman in the film, 

“Victory has made you weak.”

Gotham is now relatively crime free and Bruce Wayne has hung up the cape and feeling the years of physical abuse of his body.  The man is a virtual mess with cartilage loss just about everywhere, concussion damage to the brain and who knows what else but it’s his damage to his soul that is far more difficult to repair.  It seems that Nolan has placed Bruce Wayne in a world that no longer needs him but it’s the fight that Wayne only knew and fed off of and has now left him a Howard Hughes type.

I see the parallels between pre and post 9-11 in regards to the Dent/Patriot Act and how the success of becoming secure can create a false sense of calm and self-congratulating.   It also reminded me of the line from The Dark Knight where Dent says, “Either you die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”  Regardless Nolan has done something that probably makes most fanboys annoyed – he makes Bruce Wayne human with all the failings that come with it.  In the comics, Batman would never sulk, or hang up the cape or tire out or become so distraught with the loss of the love of his life to retire.  He’s everlasting in every regards.  Well, in order to create a relatable version of the story Nolan had to show this.  I have no issues with it.  

Even when Alfred admits to Bruce that he destroyed the letter Rachel gave him in The Dark Knight.  The letter which said she was in love with Dent and wanted to spend her life with him.  Alfred decides to leave Bruce because he feels that he’s simply wanting back in the game to kill himself; I can feel how difficult it would be to leave someone you love because you felt it was the only way to save them from themselves.  It also illustrates how the theme of keeping lies for the sake of others always ends up costing in the end.

The character of Bane played by Tom Hardy, had to be the hardest role to play since he had the ghost of Heath Ledger’s incredible performance looming over his head.  Hardy wasn’t horrible by any means but was nowhere near as mesmerizing as Ledger’s Joker and essentially his Bane character was simply the junk yard dog to the real villain in the film.  I had issue with his odd muffled British voice and in fact my cousin reminded me it sounded like Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery from SNL.  That was weird.  Bane comes to Gotham to finish what Ra’s Al Ghul didn’t in the first film. 

Nolan once again mixed canon with creative license by insinuating that Bane was the son of Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul from The Dark Knight, causing fanboys to have meltdowns in their seats.  It did make for a somewhat interesting if not predictable plot point towards the end involving another character who actually is related to Al Ghul.  Another sore point for me was when Bane actually picks Batman up and what seemingly looks like he’s breaking his back, as in the Knightfall comic series. It was at that point in the film where I became disillusioned and felt Nolan was trying to squeeze too many ideas into a 2 and a half plus hour movie.  I guess you can take the movie out of the big studious but you can’t take the suits out of the big movie.

After Bane sorta snaps the Bats back he then kidnaps him, finds time to fly to some remote part of the world, and places Bruce in the prison he spent time in – you know so he can set up a flat screen in his cell so he can watch on CNN as he blows up Gotham.  By the way did I forget to mention that Bane has a nuclear device that’s ready to go cablooey hidden by his people in Gotham.  Did I also forget to mention that one of Bruce’s cell mates pops one of his vertebrae back into place and just a few weeks later, he’s up and ready to rock?  I kid you not it pays to have a chiropractor as your cell mate.  Yeah this part of the film really had me wondering if the writers just said, screw it, its Batman we’re gonna make bajillions anyway.  Really Nolan is this how you want this to end?  Come on.

I wasn’t taken aback by Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle.  In Nolan’s “real” world she’s never referred to as Catwoman, which is fine – she is by default obviously.  Her motivations didn’t explain how it ended with her and Bruce at the café and without spoiling it much further, there was just no reason for her to be with him anymore.  A bright spot however in the film was Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s character of police officer John Blake.  Again I won’t totally spoil it for you but yes, he’s who you’re thinking he is and at the end you’ll get the idea and how overarching the studios influence must have been here. 

I kinda get it.  It definitely leaves the door open at least conceptually if the studio wants to continue with these characters but with a different director at the helm.  I tell you what though, it flies in the face of what everything Christopher Nolan said about this being a definitive end to “his” trilogy.  Perhaps he was just being coy, he did say “HIS” trilogy.   The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a bad film.  It was just an unfortunate victim of its predecessors success; A familiar theme throughout.

Overall the Sector gives The Dark Knight Rises 2.5 out of 4 stars.   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Movie Review - The Amazing Spiderman


We should just get this out of the way but I have been of the mindset that the Marvel/Sony reboot of the Spiderman franchise was done too soon and all about merchandising.  Both I believe are still true but after seeing The Amazing Spiderman  I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did.  I know this is going to hurt all the die-hard fan boys out there who view Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy as the Citizen Kane of superhero flicks but as enjoyable as those films were, they weren’t without their own flaws.  I do get it; Sam Raimi set the bar pretty damn high.  Marc Webb with his take on this classic character pole vaulted it Olympic style and I’m pretty sure soiling the Russian judge’s underoos along the way.


When I first heard that the director, Marc Webb, was going to take a “darker” more intense look at the character I immediately went into eye-roll mode.  Here we go another “dark” superhero movie dripping in angst and then somewhere along the way I found out that Peter Parker would be this brooding, hoodie wearing, teen struggling with the weight of the world on his shoulders – bearing it all on Facebook with witty quotes of course.  All I could see in my mind’s eye was a total screw job by the studios with the suits deciding Spiderman meets Twilight.  Just what we need an Emo Spiderman.  This was my first mistake.


Webb took a bit of artistic license with the backstory of Spiderman and for some of the die-hards that’s totally sacrosanct.  I’m not going to say they’re off base because if Spidey’s your guy and you’ve enjoyed the history of the character, this movie does change things completely but trust me in a good way.  I feel it will be revealed over however many sequels the studio can squeeze out of this version but it should be interesting.  In this version Peter Parker’s parents are missing (or are they?) and have close ties to Oscorp – the company founded by Norman Osborn who in the comics became Spiderman’s arch-enemy the Green Goblin. 


Instead of feeling betrayed by that change I think it’s enhanced this story in ways Sam Raimi’s didn’t in terms of Peter’s father/son relationship, which was never really touched on.  It opens up a whole new level of emotions that you’ll see throughout the film as Andrew Garfield who plays the Parker/Spiderman role flawlessly.  As much as I enjoyed Tobey Maguire’s take on the character he never did physically come across as the wall crawler to me.  Garfield is physically gangly, embodying the lean look that was made famous in the comic book.  If The Social Network introduced us to Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spiderman will make us not forget him any time soon. 


Peter’s love interest in this film isn’t Mary Jane Watson, made famous by Kirsten Dunst in the Raimi films.  Instead we have Gwen Stacy played very nicely by Emma Stone.  Now for those of you who DO know the history of Spiderman, Gwen was Peter’s first love and was killed by none other than Norman Osborn.   I totally see where Webb is going with this and I have to say I’m impressed.  He’s absolutely building an emotional crescendo with – I hope – a huge payoff in the end.  I’ll get into that a bit later but as someone who wasn’t a fan of Miss Dunst’ sometimes annoyingly clueless attitude, the writers of the Amazing Spiderman, James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Cloves have begun to weave a solid story with fantastic character dialogue that will OVER TIME connect with everyone.  Again, I’ll get into that later…patience.


Rhys Ifans plays the dual role of mentor and adversary to Parker as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard.  It seems Connor’s and Peter’s father, Richard,  were colleagues at Oscorp, researching ways to combine human and animal DNA to find cures for diseases, etc.  It looks as if Webb is going down the Island of Doctor Moreau road when it comes to supplying enemies for Spiderman.  Some of Spidey’s enemies from the comics were The Vulture and Rhino.  Can we say potential sequel villain?  Ifans does the role justice and the CGI to create the Lizard wasn’t as horrible as many had been saying leading up to the film. 


Speaking of CG I can now see how incredibly different it is when a film relies heavily on CGI as the Raimi films did and how this film opted for more realistic action scenes that required real people doing stunts the old fashioned way.   Sometimes less is more and filmmakers like Webb and Christopher Nolan who decry the use of CGI should be modeled after.  The CGI in The Amazing Spiderman flowed perfectly and wasn’t overdone, making for a more “real” look and feel to the film.  Having just seen the Raimi films on FX recently, I could point out the differences easily.  The idea of doing things digitally just because you can is quickly losing steam in Hollywood.  Sorry George “Jar-Jar” Lucas. 


Overall this was one of the finest superhero origin based movies I’ve seen.  In spite of the deviations from canon, which if handled by the writers properly, will make for at least 2 more really solid sequels that will give the audience a real sense of who Peter Parker really is.  What I alluded to earlier was in regards to the writing and if you’re going to see this film, just listen and watch the relationship Peter and Gwen have throughout.   If Mary Jane is Peter’s true love and Gwen does actually meet the same fate as she did in the comic, then this film was what Casino Royale was to James Bond.  Peter has to know loss beyond that of his parents to know love and I have a feeling that’s where this is headed over time.  Time is the key to these types of films and it seems the studios are finally learning that they don’t have to cram every single idea and emotion into a two hour block.  Doing so only cheapens the payoff – if any – for the audience. 
The Sector gives The Amazing Spiderman 3 out of 4 stars.

Monday, June 25, 2012

He Stole Their Souls


At first I was unsure if I really wanted to wade into this tragic story mainly because of how disgusted I am with the subject; however psychologists have often said that talking about something unsettling is the vehicle which provides a catharsis.  I’m not sure if it’s really a catharsis I seek since the only emotion I have about Jerry Sandusky is the all-encompassing satisfaction that I would feel from tossing him into a pit with death row convicts high on bath salts.  Here’s hoping the experts are right but more importantly here’s to hoping that his victims who desperately need some solace, can in some way find it.  

Jerry Sandusky was found guilty Friday night on 45 of 48 counts related to the sexual abuse of boys.  The verdict encapsulated what began with Sandusky’s arrest in November of last year which prompted the school to fire the iconic head football coach, Joe Paterno, stating that he exhibited a lack of leadership after fielding a report from assistant coach Mike McQuery who witnessed Sandusky in the Penn State locker room shower in 2001 raping a boy.  Yes, in 2001.  

Now ask yourself this question, if you or someone close to you suspected a colleague - a subordinate – of systematically abusing children and the very least you did was to simply report it to your boss, would you be alright with that especially if nothing materialized afterward?  To those who’ve defended Paterno tooth and nail to the end, did it ever occur to you that Paterno could have asked for Sandusky to step down as his assistant?  He never even demanded an answer from Sandusky, which we know of or even a plea that he receive counseling.  Paterno, himself a father and grandfather could have gone to the police with these allegations, as difficult as it would be considering Sandusky was a personal friend besides colleague.  But he chose not to.  Why?

Some have argued that Paterno didn’t have autonomy over personnel changes. That’s very possible but you can bet that he damn well had a significant say in it but chose to look the other way.  Deniability is so much simpler than the truth and it keeps one’s collegiate football program immune from bad publicity and flush financially. According to the Business of College Sports, the Penn State football program generated over $50 million dollars in the 2009-2010 school year.  Gee I wonder why anyone would even fathom the idea of covering up something as horrible as having a predator of children employed at a school, especially if that predator happens to be one of the gatekeepers to the money pot.

I remember when students of Penn State held a rally in support of Joe Paterno, when his integrity came into question when the scandal became public.  Paterno, like so many in positions of authority at Penn State, hid behind either ignorance or in Parterno’s case, administrative process – as he did inform his superiors at Penn regarding the allegations involving his assistant coach Sandusky – and left it at that.  Case closed.  He was one of many enablers.  His career and honor, which was sterling prior to this display of human depravity, came crumbling to an unfortunate end.  The moral here, just because you've done good in the past for many, it doesn't inoculate you from making the right decision when it matters most - no matter what the costs (financially) may be.  Inexcusable and to the students, where's the rally to support these victims?  

To me the greatest of those enablers was Jerry Sandusky’s wife Dottie, who sat by his side the entire trial and when she was called to testify told prosecutors that she never heard anything going on in their basement, as it was one of the places where Sandusky’s accusers said he was raped by the “Tickle Monster”, Sandusky’s self-given nickname.  I guess when you’re living a life or veritable luxury, you tend to hear what you want, see what you want and literally believe what you want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your lifestyle.  I guess she didn’t hear anything when her adopted son Matt, who at the very end of the trial admitted that he too was abused by his father.    


To the enablers, Joe Paterno, passed away not too soon after he lost his job as head coach from Cancer, has to answer to a higher authority.  University President Grant Spanier was forced to step down and two Penn State administrators, Athletic Director Tim Curley and now retired vice-president Gary Schultz are facing criminal charges for failing to report suspected child abuse and perjury.  Both are fighting the allegations and awaiting trial.  Of course they are. 

Even NBC slithered its way into this story by once again adhering to its sterling journalistic standards, curiously edited the Bob Costas interview of Jerry Sandusky, removing this particular sound bite. The original audio had Sandusky saying

“I didn't go around seeking out every young person for sexual needs that I've helped," Sandusky told Costas in footage that never made the November airing.

Not every, just some.  Shame on you NBC and you really wonder why both MSNBC and NBC are losing viewers by the droves.  You can’t blame it all on Fox.  Take some damn responsibility. 

Arthur Aidala, a former prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney said it best the other night when he said that Sandusky, “Stole the souls of these boys.  Leaving them with years of trying to regain what was taken from them.”  Sadly, those 10 boys who are now men, will most likely never have what we would consider a normal life, how could they?  The only respite these victims can have is that the evil that embodied Jerry Sandusky will never see the light of day again. 

I want to say that something like this could never happen again but unfortunately as much as I question my own beliefs in a higher power, I’ve pretty much given up on humanity.  When the quest for greed trumps the safety of children, how can you find it easy to have faith?  


I have a feeling Matthew Sandusky asked himself that more than a few times.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

HI57ORY



First off, hat tip to the 7Line.com for the title of this article, it was just too fitting not to use. Usually I watch the Mets play upstairs, in the bedroom.  I don’t mind it to be honest; it allots me some relaxation from my day. Even though my wife isn’t much of a baseball fan, she does tolerate my screaming at the television for reasons she has the slightest clue about.  Last night there was a strange yet calm silence directed towards my bedroom television and as a Met fan accustomed to the twisted ire of the Baseball Gods, I increasingly became concerned; can this really be finally happening?

The sixth inning came and went and something inside me said Joe, you need to take this downstairs to the big screen and get the baby.  This is different.  Trust me this is different.  So I go downstairs and my wife is sitting there watching Jerseylicious.  Now you know why I was upstairs.  My wife is addicted to reality television the way I’m addicted to watching the Amazins’, so I really can’t complain but she saw on my face that this was very different.  I literally said to her,  “History is going to be made tonight.”  I got a quick glance a, whatever you say dear.  She smiled and flipped me the remote.  It was pretty obvious that this wasn’t her first rodeo with the Amazins’ and me.

My nerves a wrecking havoc on my body as my mouth is so dry I’m tempted to grab my daughter’s sippy cup.  I pop open a can of Sprite Zero and gulp it as if I just traveled across the Sahara.  My wife noticing my pacing begins to see on Facebook what the whole commotion is about.  One of her girlfriends whose husband, also a die-hard, tells her he’s “about to pop a blood vessel”.  I totally relate.  As a child I can remember my dad introducing me to the legend of Jimmy Qualls and how he became as important a figure in Mets history as anyone.  I remember the exacerbated look on his face as he described every close call, every what if and could have been the Mets had over the years.  My dad’s explanations of the Mets failure to accomplish a no-hitter, instilled in me a true appreciation of what success really is.  And damn it made me wish for it even more so.

I had the extraordinary luck to have attended Tom Glavine’s one-hitter against the Colorado Rockies at Shea on May 23rd 2004.  I also attended Jon Niese’s one-hitter against the San Diego Padres at Citi on June 10th 2010.  While I may not get to many games it seems I’m fortunate to see the special ones.  And even though I wasn’t physically at last night’s game, I can say as most fans probably can today, that I felt I was there in spirit.  I remember the electricity in the air at the Glavine and Niese games; it was absolutely palpable.  I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like being there last night.  As fans we tend to put the game into a different perspective than those who play the game.  We live and die with each pitch.  Yet with every cut to the dugout, the SNY camera’s showed the emotion on the player’s faces.  This was no ordinary game. Last night was so very different even for them.

Yes Beltran’s line drive in the 6th should have been a double.  Not tonight though.  Tonight was our night and Yul Brenner himself could have been heard saying from the grave, “So it was written, so it shall be done.”  Mike Baxter, the local boy who made good, the Whitestone Kid, cemented his name in the annals of Mets history alongside Johan Santana when in the 7th inning he sacrificed his body, slamming into the left field wall robbing Yadier Molina with what would have been another notch in his Met killer belt.  Not tonight Yadier Molina.  Not tonight.  The 8th inning comes and goes.  It’s as real as it’s ever been.  I’m in uncharted territory, a stranger in a strange land.  The tension is unlike anything I’ve ever felt with this team. 

Finally the 9th inning arrives and I’m sweating as if I just ran wind sprints in the 90 degree August weather of Port St. Lucie.  My hands are pressed to my face, praying.  I know it’s silly, why would God care about such things.  However to me, he did last night and I wasn’t taking any chances if he didn’t.  The first out, a liner to Torres in center and I’m thinking, “This can’t really be happening, is it?” My daughter starts to hop on and off the couch and is reminding me that she wants to watch Bubble Guppies.  Not tonight my baby.  Not tonight. 

The second out, a sinking liner to left.  Shortstop Omar Quintanilla and left fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis nearly collide.  Did the Baseball Gods have one last goof left for us after all?  Even my daughter stopped jumping up and down.  It was as surreal a moment as I ever experienced.   Nieuwenhuis dodges disaster and makes the catch.  We exhale slowly and I looked down and saw my daughter, smiled and reveled in the possibility that one day I’ll tell her about the history we experienced together.   

Santana was approaching 130 pitches, well above the 110 range Terry Collin’s had originally planned.  Considering the road he has been down the past two years it makes what’s happening even more unexplainable and amazing.  Having fully recovered from shoulder capsule surgery, I admit I was one of a few who thought the days of Johan Santana pitching for any team were over.  I’m thrilled to feast on this massive slice of humble pie.  If there was anyone who could make a comeback from such a devastating injury for a pitcher, it’s Johan Santana. Silly me.

David Freese, last year’s World Series Most Valuable Player and a St. Louis native, steps to the plate.  I can’t believe the Mets are one out away from a date with history.  Santana falls behind in the count immediately.  We’re exhausted.  I mean he’s exhausted.  I can’t imagine what must be going through his mind at this point.  I’m pacing, mumbling, totally in a zone of my own making at this point.  The count is now full.  He can’t go on much longer and Molina is coming up.  I yell at the screen, “YOU get him out now dammit!” Santana musters his very last ounce of guile.  My eyes are so welled with tears I can barely make out the picture in front of me.  I can hear Gary Cohen’s voice and barely make out the pitch.  Changeup.  Low.  Freese swings and misses! 

Time comes to a standstill as I was standing, hands clutching my face praying and at that moment, sobbing with tears pouring down my face.  There were so many images of my father and I talking about the Mets overwhelming me even as I write this.  It was as if a video montage of my life were playing before my mind’s eye.  I so wish he were here to see this finally happen.  Perhaps he was.  Is this how it’s supposed to feel?  For one brief moment, all the pain all the trials, both literally and figuratively that we as Mets fans have endured the last few years, were exorcised by the performance of Johan Santana.  Whatever happens from this point on, whatever road we take as fans with this team of ours, Johan Santana will forever hold a special if not the most special place in all Mets fans hearts.  Today I feel so, young.