Monday, May 31, 2010

Middle Earth, Middle Innings, Middle Ages

It's a rainy day, I have to go into work and, quite frankly, I'm in a foul mood. Why, you ask? I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just throw it all at the wall and let you decipher the Rorschachian mess:

In a remarkably sucky turn, Guillermo del Toro has stepped down as director of "The Hobbit". At the risk of sounding positively pollyannaish, it's a shame that art has to be so beholden to business. If and when this movie is ever completed, whomever holds the keys stands to make a fortune; that it will happen before the planet implodes in 2012, however, is now unlikely. And here I was, drinking a pumpkin spice latte in my Orc mask, getting all giddy with the Prince of Mirkwood.  *sigh*

Oliver Perez has refused to sequester himself in Port St. Lonesome, and he's rightfully drawn the ire of his teammates. He's the poster child for the old adage, "million dollar arm, ten cent head".

I'm sure the Wilpons would prefer that he Trachsels himself rather than having to Bonilla him, but just how long can they  persist with a 23-man roster (yes, I'm looking you dead in the eye, Gary Matthews, Jr.)? It's not going to take long for #46 to become Public Enemy #1. Scott Boras? Laughing maniacally in his subterranean Arctic lair office.

Facebook caved and permitted shrill, bloody, subjugating fascism to prevail over free speech. I'm not particularly religious, but I get the furor. Islam isn't just a religion in many parts of the world, it also comprises the cultural, artistic and educational tenets (to name but a few) of their respective societies. What I don't understand, however, is the failure of Muslim fundamentalists to comprehend that liberty in this life is just as sacrosanct as paradise in the next. One doesn't trump the other. Tolerance is a two-way street.

When I hear indictments of the "new crusade" , I'm forced to ask, "Is the global Caliphate any different?" Fundamentalists seek in one breath the very thing they decry in the next. Furthermore, I'm beyond sick and well past tired of their justifications. From Beslan to Bali, innocents have paid the price for crimes they didn't commit. But to the irrational, there is no neutrality outside of their sphere, their interpretation, their fist.

I'd joined the military, in part after seeing an Army Ranger being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. I stood dumbstruck as a somber procession of 19 hearses lurched past me on Dover Air Force Base, just in from the Khobar Towers bombing. Throw in the U.S.S. Cole and the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania for good measure.

I've listened endlessly to bin Laden's reasons for the 1998 fatwa. What I never hear, sadly, is the entire story:

What of NATO interceding to halt the Serbian genocide of Muslim Bosnians? Those were American pilots assisting in the effort, Osama. That was an American F-117 shot down. All I ever heard from you, of course,  was indignation over the Iraqi sanctions and our support of Israel. For all the gnashing of teeth over the latter, what of Iran's support of Hezbollah and threatening to wipe a sovereign nation off the map? How about Syria aiding Venezuela and acting as a turnstile for insurgents entering northeastern Iraq? Saudi Arabia bankrolling global terrorism? The unspeakable profanity of American troops soiling the beloved Arabian Peninsula? Hell, the U.S. actually ceded and removed them. Your response? Silence. You amended your demands to include any Muslim country. As Billy Bragg so aptly sang, you're moving the goalposts.

As a father to a child whose world would be irrevocably different from mine, I watched the smoke rise from the towers on 9/11. As a son of liberty, I take no umbrage when a mosque rises from its ashes. See how I did that? No frantic exhortations, no bomb-laden backpack, no airplanes hijacked and flown squarely into the Kaaba. I am host to a seething that can never be excised, mind you, but it ends where your nose begins.

In "Body of Lies", embattled operative Roger Ferris throws this at his captor and soon-to-be decapitator:

"Are you pure or are you just as corrupt as the capitalist Westerners you despise? To me, you are all f---ing slaves. You're slaves to the Saudi oil sheiks and the Wahabi oil money that funds you. And when that oil money runs out, my friends, you will all f---ing disappear into the ashes of history."

Me? I've two qualities which keep me from joining the fray any further: a respect for others and an unabashed affinity for my head. If Sharia comes to these shores, I'll gladly die fighting it. Until then, I'm content to drone on here with the hope that radical fundamentalism gives way to the likes of Salah-ah Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub.

Lest you think I've gone all McNeil-Lehrer on you, I'm aware of the disparity in our sheik-to-geek ratio today. To rectify this, I'd humbly ask that you see "Human Centipede" post-haste and kindly report back with your findings. It looks so bad, it looks good.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

All Good Things...


Well, the winning streak ground to a sudden, bitter halt last night. The land of sausage, cheese and beer provided yet another backdrop to a wasted start by Johan. He's all about winning, but he's also only human; it's surely crossed his mind a time or nine that, with even poor run support, his record could mirror Pelfrey's. And goddamnit, I just knew it was going to be Corey Hart.

As for Manuel removing Santana after only 105 pitches, color me perplexed. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt, since I'm neither in the dugout nor privy to all the ins-and-outs of a 162-game season. But Johan is the ace. He owned the game and deserved to see it through. I'll chalk it up to another case of "Jerrymandering", i.e. Manuel deftly maneuvering around the obvious.

It's funny how elements of the blog sometimes intersect. The Moscow metro map in "Firefox" resembles the cover of "Sounds of The Universe".


As for the actual key of the cosmos, apparently it's B-flat. That makes me wonder if there are or could be some synergies with Phi, otherwise know as the golden ratio. Also, isn't B-flat the predominant key in Jazz?

It's not as though I'd need an excuse, but Memorial Day gives me extra pause. As I sit here in relative lima bean-less safety, blathering ceaselessly about matters entirely unimportant, there are men and women under fire. "World War in HD" is marathoning and HBO's "The Pacific", its exemplary follow-up to "Band of Brothers", just concluded. It never ceases to amaze me that human beings can somehow function, excel and ultimately triumph in conditions that would make mere mortals crumble. The carnage, both physical and emotional, is unfathomable.

I'm ashamed to admit that I was born and raised in rural New Jersey. No, not because of the usual aspersions, but because I'd never taken the time to learn of John Basilone and Robert Leckie. Growing up just a town or two from Raritan, I'd driven past Basilone's memorial countless times. I'd inferred that he was obviously important, but that's where my initiative ended. After seeing John Seda's gritty portrayal, I'm inclined to head home for the sole purpose of seeng his monument up close and personal.


In a similar spirit, I just picked up Leckie's book, "Helmet For My Pillow". His prose is perfectly attuned to the persona put forth by actor James Badge Dale. A sportswriter for the Bergen record, he enlisted in the Marine Corps the day after Pearl Harbor. From Parris Island to Peleliu, "Peaches" was right in the thick of it. His was a life lived, that is for sure, and it's inspiring that even a regular Joe from the Garden State can do the unthinkable and get the girl, to boot.

Hand-in-hand with this book is Eugene Sledge's, "With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa".  Sledge's story took a bit longer to unfurl, but by God did it ever. The things he and his fellow Marines endured were, as Leckie opined, "sobering to the soul." I also found it interesting that Sledge's lifelong friend and fellow Marine Sidney Phillips served right at Leckie's side in the 1st Division. It's a small world, war or no war.

Not to be overlooked is the effort of actor Rami Malek. If his performance doesn't garner an award, I'll be convinced the voters are the same dolts who'd overlooked Viggo Mortensen in "The Road". The arc of Malek's character, "Snafu", was bold and broad. He was an aloof jerk to the new guys. Just when you think he's turning a corner towards something resembling redemption, he sinks even further into depravity.

Finally, with conditions around him devolving into incomprehensible depths, he seems to turn a corner. Your disgust gives way to a glimmer of appreciation. He's human, he's wounded, he's at the end of his rope. By the end, I couldn't help but wonder what sort of life awaited him. Ambling off through the steam wafting across the train station platform, I felt a pang of what he, Sledgehammer and Burgin must have felt upon finally parting: I didn't want to say goodbye and hardly knew how. 

So, to all those who've served, and especially to those toeing the line right now, thank you. Thank You. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wally, Willis and Winning

The Floppin' Phils are 6-8 since Signgate broke. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'. Just as telling is the below graphic from Beerleaguer, which captures their last 5 games in Sistine Chapel-esque fashion.

In another pertinent example of "top kill", my heart goes out to our Gulf Coast brothers and sisters. These folks can't seem to catch a break. If there's any justice in this universe, the oil will help seal their levees.

As a matter of course, Guillermo del Toro confirmed today that "The Hobbit" is on indefinite hold. How's that for timing? I blame Jerry Manuel, whose heir apparent interviewed in Fred's suite during the Subway Series. I'm sure Bob Melvin is a fine man, but precisely when did he become the second coming of Connie Bleepin' Mack?

Say what you will about Wally Backman's past travails, but he was born to manage the Mets. He could undoubtedly do better than 493-508, if given the opportunity. Enough of these milquetoast field  generals. Keep your ever-battling, Yankee-shaven gangstas and gimme some spit 'n vinegar. Dave Singer states the case far better than I here.

Also, Backman partnered with Keith Hernandez to form one of the greatest mustachioed right sides of the infield ever (at least as often as the opposition started a righthander, lest we forget the Teufel platoon).

I'm fascinated by commercial voiceovers. I have to stop whatever I'm doing and figure out whose rich and distinctive voice is trying to sell me something. I've spotted Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Gene Hackman and Jeff Bridges recently. Others who deserve a shot are Gilbert Gottfried, Chandler's girlfriend Janice from "Friends" and the good Dr. Melfi.  

R.I.P., Gary Coleman. Didn't the recently deceased Dixie Carter play his step-mom in "Different Strokes"? They say tragedies like this occur in threes. Since Dana Plato's already spoken for, that leaves Conrad Bain, Charlotte Rae and Todd Bridges. Hey, now there's a stellar idea for a reality television show...

(insert macabre laughter here)

In closing, I just want to say that Wally Backman would never let 19 bajillion barrels of crude oil pollute the Gulf of Mexico. Every single day. For over 5 weeks. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Goose Egg Sweep!

What more can be said about Hisanori "The Samurai" Takahashi? He was lights-out in the pen, he's been fantastic in the rotation and could probably close, too (barring Mike Pelfrey's availability, of course).

If there's anything being a Mets fan has taught me, it's that you can never have enough uniform iterations. Or effective starting pitching coupled with timely hitting. The Amazin's go for the sweep tonight, and judging by the Phils' ongoing offensive woes, it just might happen. With Big Pelf on the hill and Reyes' most welcome resurgence, I'm even more encouraged.

This season has been a roller coaster already and it's not even June. I'd have it no other way, of course. New York Mets baseball is the best theater going.

Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco's "anglatino" name struck me as unique. I mean, how often do you meet a "Pedro Jones" or a "Jeff Garcia"? Oh, wait. Nevertheless, Francisco's forename is "Louis". Now you know, and that's one to grow on.

Kudos to Gary, Keith and Ron on SNY. Where else are you going to hear interesting tidbits about Crazy Horse and Scarlett O'Hara impressions? It was a real treat to listen to them last night, especially after having to endure the away team's telecasts. How does MLB decide which crew gets the nod for Extra Innings broadcasts, anyway? If it's anything like their bizarro blackout restrictions, it's surely a monkey throwing darts.

New Line Cinema has finally released "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy on blu-ray. In an unfortunate repeat, they've chosen to lead with the theatrical versions of Tolkien's masterpiece. After enjoying the DVD extended editions, I'll be waiting for the same this time around. The extra content really does add so much; it's like chewing on beef jerky after enjoying a filet mignon sandwich at The Childe Harold in Washington, D.C. The restaurant has closed, sadly, but that culinary masterpiece shall remain in my heart forever. Literally, I'm sure, since I used to eat there at least once a week. But I digress:

"The Hobbit" is finally in pre-production. The Shire is being recreated in New Zealand, some actors have been officially  named and others are hoping to reprise their roles. But what of the most important character of all, Bilbo Baggins? There's been endless speculation about who will be cast as the little leading man, and the powers-that-be aren't talking. Both producer Peter Jackson and director Guillermo del Toro haven't so much as hinted, so the rumor mill continues to churn away faster than the one in Hobbiton.

Toby Maguire. James McAvoy. David Tennant. My vote? Francisco Cervelli.

In another fit of Tolkien-esque wonder, I've been asking myself a very important question again lately: Rohan or Gondor? If I ever had to pick one in which to live (be still, my filet mignon sandwich-clogged heart), I'd always leaned towards Gondor. The gleaming white city of Minas Tirith, the throne of the united Middle-Earth, the exiled descendants of the once-great island kingdom of Númenor...

Rohan, on the other hand, was historically the little brother underfoot. The horse lords of the Riddermark were but outsiders peering into Gondorian society and its storied bloodlines. In fact, they were actually referred to in canon as "middle men",  inferior to Gondor in every way but a notch above the Easterlings who'd followed Sauron. I think Saruman captured it best in his scathing remarks to King Theoden before doing a triple lutz from atop Orthanc:

"What is the house of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs? You are a lesser son of greater sires."

Ouch.

The older I get, however, the more I feel inclined towards Rohan. I've been told countless times in countless arenas that I'm not good enough, not smart enough, and just plain not enough. But in the end, who pulled Gondor's fat from the fire? I'd gladly trade the gleam of metropolis for the pastoral comforts of home, and that resonates even more from personal experience. Plus, Eowyn was hot.

How much did Aragorn love Arwen to resist her clear advances? It speaks a lot to his devotion and fidelity, especially considering he could have removed his sword from its hilt, if you will, and no one would have been the wiser.

My nVidia graphics card recently went belly-up, but here's to BFG Tech for actually supporting their products! Their replacement process was so painless and positive that it makes me want to write a letter. And I never write letters. The FedEx guy just called and he has my new card in hand, so I'm going to dash home, install it, fire the system up and head back into Lord of The Rings Online. Like I said, I'm a geek. But whereas I used to deny it, I now revel in it (as if you couldn't tell).

One last food-related item: If you're ever in Old Town Alexandria, VA, and looking for an interesting restaurant, check out Vermilion. Not only is their fare, service and decor impressive, they also utilize locally sourced produce, meats, fish, etc. I plan to be in town for the Mets-Nats series in July, so perhaps I'll see you there. I'll be the one dressed as a hobbit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Plane, The Plane...

I watched the first season of "Lost", but my interest waned. From listening to the post-show analysis on NPR last night, it sounds as though I missed quite a bit.

A collective soul? Sartre meets "Survivor"? Goodness. I'll just call it "Gilligan's Matrix" and catch up someday via DVD. Ergo. Vis-à-vis. Concordantly, skipper.

I say that with deference. This show was obviously something special, and to have it compared to the "MASH" finale pretty much says it all. Not many television programs can bring people together en masse like "Lost" did, and it's ironic that this universal connectedness was precisely one the themes it explored. 

With the new "A-Team" movie on its way, I'm inclined to think the Tinseltown brass are warming to my perspective. Everything old is new again and whatnot. In a similar vein, how about "Firefox II"? Now, the conveniently predictable thing to do would be to play up the nouveau-friendly Russian angle, but I'm going in precisely the opposite direction. In fact, the opening scene will be a retro teletype nod to "The Hunt For Red October":

"War to the hilt between Communism and Capitalism is inevitable. Today, of course, we are not strong enough to attack. Our time will come in 20 or 30 years. To win, we shall need the element of surprise. The bourgeoisie will have to be put to sleep. So we shall begin by launching the most spectacular peace movement on record. There will be electrifying overtures and unheard of concessions. The capitalistic countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to cooperate in their own destruction. They will leap at another chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down, we will smash them with our clenched fist." -- Dmitry Z. Manulsky, The Lenin School of Political Warfare

Russia is more dangerous than ever. They sell arms to Venezuela, Syria and Iran, refuse to recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations and dole out nuclear reactors as if the Federation were some kind of plutonium-enriched CarMax™. Add to this geopolitical hornet's nest Putin puppet Dmitri Medvedev's entirely too-large tie knot and perestroika quickly turns to peril.

Clint Eastwood's Mitchell Gant is once again interrupted at his remote cabin. But this time, he has to fly the MiG-31 back into the Soviet Un-- I mean, Russia. Precisely why isn't important right now; perhaps it's the Chechens, or their natural gas monopoly. Details, details...

The catch here is that Gant is obviously too old for the mission. But no one knows the Firefox as well as he. What's the most logical option?

Exactly.

Maybe Shia can be Gant's estranged son, or perhaps some problem child, crackpot, ex-test pilot unemployed genius. Either way, he gets to fly the Firefox back to the Motherland, and if he plays his cards just right, he can also publicly trash "Firefox II" director Ridley Scott.

The KG-- I mean, FSB -- will play a prominent part. The young hotshot doesn't stand a chance and actually prefers it that way. Gant is a dinosaur who thinks Twitter is something you do with a girl in the balcony. The fate of democracy lies in the balance.

I say this with tongue somewhat in cheek. "Firefox" was an iconic movie of my youth and still one of my favorites. It was entralling to think of this monolithic Evil Empire an ocean away, capable of ending my pre-pubescence with the push of a button. Like I said, I'm sentimental. Sue me.

The Phillies come to Shea Sta-- I mean, Citi Field -- this evening. I'm going to err on the side of hope and suggest that their good fortunes continue. With Bay and Reyes seemingly back from the brink, only good things can happen. I'm still somewhat concerned about Wright, but then again he's on pace for another 30-30 campaign.

I've yet to check, but I think R.A. Dickey is going for the Amazin's. Hopefully Moyer takes the hill for Philly; if memory serves, the Mets have fared well against him. But then again, that might have been in the 1980's. Sheesh, there really is something to be said for throwing a baseball lefty.

This may be poor taste, but Moyer should be grandfathered in (nyuck-nyuck) to Major League Baseball's pre-PED testing policies. If this guy was allowed to take HGH, he could very well serve up his slow slop 'til he's 70.

In closing, it was nice to hear "Faith and Fear in Flushing" featured on "All Things Considered" last night. These gentlemen run one of the finest Mets sites on the Internet, so kudos to them for receiving some well-deserved airplay.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kingdom of Mets and Devotion

Let's jump right into it: I'm 38, love the New York Mets and work for a soulless multinational pharmglomerate. I loathe acronyms (I.L.A.), lima beans and the willfully ignorant. I am naturally drawn to all things geek. Sardonic, sentimental, inquisitive, mischievous and tender are but a few of the words people have used to describe me.

OK, not really. But they should. So, without further ado:

"Kingdom of Heaven" is an incredible film. It's truly amazing to think of Ridley Scott's body of work: "Bladerunner", "Body of Lies", "Blackhawk Down", "Gladiator", "Alien", "American Gangster" and now "Robin Hood".

What immediately jumped out during "Kingdom of Heaven" was the tone, if that's even the correct term. There's a cool, cyan feel to the opening, with an ever-present dance of ash and snow. The iciness of both the season and the tragedy befalling Balian are palpable, and it belies the arid climes to come.

The cinematography was described as "ballets of light and color". Wow, how apropos. Rather than blankly and blithely wondering who did such remarkable camera work (as is my lazy way), I've decided to roll up my sleeves and find out for myself:

It was John Mathieson, and I'll be darned if he wasn't also involved in "Robin Hood", "Gladiator" and "Hannibal". In a remarkable aside, he was also a camera operator in Anton Corbijn's film about Depeche Mode's epic "Songs of Faith and Devotion" tour, "Devotional". I take it as a matter of pride that this traveling sideshow of sin was named the "The Most Debauched Rock and Roll Tour Ever", even if it did result in Alan Wilder's departure.

They haven't been the same since, but like many of the Devoted, I hold out hope that "Charlie" will return in some capacity. His recent appearance with the band at Royal Albert Hall was a stunning reminder of the alchemy at work with Martin Gore. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his contributions in arrangements and production were just as integral to their success as Gore's songs and Gahan's signature delivery. He brings a dynamic that makes Depeche Mode, well, Depeche Mode.
Speaking of "staring down the barrel of a gun", the Mets bullpen barely dodged disaster last night. Johan had a stellar start and handed a 5-run lead to Feliciano in the eighth. Pedro got out of the inning unscathed, but Ryota "The Dragon" Igarashi proceeded to give the entire borough of Queens agita in the ninth. It came down to K-Rod versus A-Rod for all the marbles, and things actually went the Mets' way for a change.

Ya gotta believe these last few seasons have been emotionally draining. Heck, it feels like nothing's gone right ever since Adam Wainwright dropped that hammer on Carlos Beltran. So, with this season already offering its fair share of losses and drama, I'll take any win I can get. That it came against that other team in New York makes it all the sweeter.

Bobby Bacala said it best. The Empire State Building will now be alight in glorious orange and blue, as is the tradition for the winner of these Subway Series. My coffee is hot, my beer is cold and no one is actively trying to make me eat lima beans. Life is indeed good (at the very least until the Phillies lumber into town to cast Jerry Manuel's future in doubt once again).
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One more thing about "K.o.H." (that's a bloody @#$% acronym for "Kingdom of Heaven") : Sir Godfrey's band of men should be the subject of a standalone film, a la Tommy Lee Jones and his federal marshals from "The Fugitive". What a treat it would be to see them fighting some earlier battles with their lord, who, incidentally, did so for two days with an arrow through his testicle...