Friday, October 27, 2017

It's Time to Stop Watching NFL Football

No, I'm not going to lecture you about patriotism. I'm not going to browbeat you about "social justice." It's time to stop watching the NFL for other, better reasons.

Last night, on a Thursday Night game, the Baltimore Ravens shutout the Miami Dolphins, 40-0. This comes a few days after Week Seven, in which there were three shutouts on the same day. I've never seen this in my entire life. The nice thing about the NFL, traditionally, is that it represented the very best players in the game. Thus, even teams that couldn't be considered good could generally compete because the talent level was, roughly, the same. This year, we've seen the usual failure of the Browns to field a decent team, but we've also watched teams normally capable of competing fall well into the gutter, including my hometown Indianapolis Colts (they were shutout this last weekend for the first time since the 1980s, which is amazing, considering early 1990s Colts were amongst the very worst teams ever fielded). This is boring stuff. This is Ohio State vs. Akron-level boring. I expect that sort of nonsense in the early weeks of the college game. Once college teams get into conference play, however, the games become infinitely more competitive and fascinating (for a nice example, catch a replay of last night's Oregon State v. Stanford game).

Bad play is not enough of a reason to stop watching NFL football, however. It has been acknowledged that NFL referees have descended to depths of incompetence astonishing even for...NFL referees. As a Colts fan, I endured many seasons of watching NFL referees decide games against the Colts on blatantly bad calls. In Indy, we recognized this as payback for "stealing" Baltimore's team. The refs were old dogs from the NFL's glory days, the 1960s and 1970s. For an excellent example of what I'm talking about, find a copy of the 1996 contest between the Colts and the hapless San Diego Chargers. You will witness cosmic levels of incompetence as you watch the referees hand the game to the Chargers. Instant Replay was supposed to 'correct' the many mistakes made by the officials. It's done nothing but add to the downtime in the game (which defeats the purpose of putting a ball control offense on the field) and allow referees to make the same bad decision twice.

The real reason, however, NFL football has to go is, of course, the issue of CTE. CTE is not a conspiracy theory. Research the science and you will see it's a legitimate condition and it explains the violent, erratic behavior of football players during and after their careers in the NFL. The unfortunate fact of the matter is: Professional football cannot be played the way it's SUPPOSED to be played AND maintain the safety of the players. People watch professional football to see grown men who have turned themselves into weapons attempt to destroy each other. Yes, it goes back to Rome, and yes, it satisfies some deep, human need to witness brutal violence in a safe environment (safe for the audience, that is). I'm no mamby-pamby "SJW," I'm not here to ruin anyone's good time. The simple fact of the matter is, the human brain cannot be protected in a way that preserves the purity of the sport. I suspect our global, corporate slave masters are aware of this, hence, the obvious push for Americans to suddenly have an urge to watch soccer, the way the rest of the world does. But we can resist this. We have a sport here that's exciting in its own way and, for the most part, doesn't ask its participants to sacrifice their mental health for a paycheck.

That sport is called baseball. We used to call it America's Game. Football took over as our military-industrial complex became our primary export and the need to glorify violence as part of the American character became necessary. But We the People are better than that. Anyone who watched Game 2 of this year's World Series is aware that baseball is capable of providing more breathtaking suspense than even the best football games.

Football is very important to me. When I sobered up in the end of 1996, I had developed an obsession with football that replaced my previous, unhealthy obsessions. It got me through the darkest years of my life. Training myself to stop watching it will be difficult. I cannot, however, in good conscience, derive entertainment watching young men sacrifice their future mental health (current, in some cases), no matter how much they're paid in return for it. It will be just as difficult for the rest of the country to leave the sport. But we don't really have a choice. If we are to become a nation that values humans over profit, we must abandon this barbaric sport.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

R.I.P. James Bond

In addition to movies on Friday nights, when I was a kid, Butler University would often have a specialized series of movies on Sunday nights. When I first discovered what my family and I called "the free movies" at Butler, I was in the fourth grade. In the spring semester of that year, Butler ran a James Bond series on Sunday nights. For a 10 year old boy, this was pretty damn close to heaven. They showed the majority of the Connery films and a few with Roger Moore. I grew up with an appreciation of the James Bond movies as, first and foremost, FUN. No matter who played Bond, as long as the film was enjoyable, it passed the basic test. Now, I've been lectured about how different those movies were from the books. I don't give a shit. Books and movies are separate mediums. Let me go through my track record with the Daniel Craig Bond movies:

Casino Royale: Fell asleep halfway through it.

Quantum of Solace: Fell asleep, literally, within ten minutes.

Skyfall: Managed to make it through the entire thing. Was thoroughly disgusted by its attempt to be a Chris Nolan movie.

Spectre: Refuse to watch it.

What a sad, woeful day it is I decide I'm not going to watch a James Bond movie. I endured the 80s and 90s Bonds. I should be able to endure this Bond. But I can't. The filmmakers have done what so many filmmakers have done with older properties that were once fun, dare I say, cheesy good times. Popcorn movies, if you will. They've decided the only way to keep them "relevant" is to make them "serious." And seriousness, in the universe of James Bond movies, is not allowed.

Well, wouldn't you know it...

A few weeks ago I began reading articles on the Internet about how the Kingsman movies are "conservative fantasies." Needless to say, I was intrigued by the very thought of a major Hollywood film somehow getting past the dragons at the gates without a feel-good, "politically correct," rainbow brigade message to further indoctrinate the masses. I had to see what the hell a conservative movie actually looks like! So I used my AMC membership to plop down five bucks on a Tuesday afternoon and watched the Kingsman movie currently in theaters. As with a lot of movies today, it was difficult not to be swept up by the spectacle. Hollywood puts all its money in the flash and bang of its product these days. One thing became rather obvious as soon as the movie got going: It is most certainly not conservative. I doubt I'll remember much of it in a year from now, but I can tell you the one thing it has going for it that the current James Bond movies do not: It is a fun movie. Pure, stupid fun. Exactly what I look for in an action movie.

I rented the first movie this weekend and it reinforced my opinion that the Kingsman movies have replaced the James Bond movies with respect to fun, goofy spy films. They're a little bit more hardcore than the classic Bond films, but that should be expected. The flippant attitude these movies have for polite society is refreshing. I hope to see this series continue and, hopefully, the producers of the James Bond films will either learn a lesson and go back to making fun Bond movies, or, simply, put the series to rest, once and for all.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Not a masterpiece, not a dud. Blade Runner 2049 Review (Yes, there are spoilers)

I remember the first time I saw Blade Runner. It was shortly after its theatrical run, at Butler University, on a Friday night. My dad and I watched it. I was in the fifth grade. My head kind of spun afterwards. The level of atmosphere created had somehow made me drunk. I thought about it quite a bit. Later that school year, when my dad bought our first VHS player, I tried like crazy to rent Blade Runner and watch it again. It was always checked out and the wait list was forever. Contrary to what many contend, Blade Runner was a hit as soon as it was released on video. Over the years, I would look for it every time I went to the video store and it would always be checked out. It wasn't until my sophomore year of high school that I just happened to be renting something else and noticed the damn movie was finally in. I rented it and watched it for a second time. That was the viewing that absolutely blew my mind. I hooked up our (then) two VHS recorders and copied the tape. I wore out my copy of that movie over the next few years, watching it in various environments (and states of mind) and always being mesmerized. To say that it was influential in my development as an artist of several trades is an understatement. The first feature film based on a script I wrote, the god-awful Mr. Id, takes place almost entirely at night. It's a contemporary film noir. It's obviously directly influenced by Blade Runner (don't bother watching it; the profits go to the producer and he still owes many people who worked on the film money and he refuses to pay them; also, as stated, it's god-awful).

So now we have Blade Runner 2049. What I had, up until very recently, predicted would be just another Hollywood cash grab in the wake of Tinsel Town's complete lack of originality has turned out to be an enjoyable film with one plot element I really, really don't like.

The movie moves at a thoughtful pace. That right there should win it some awards for bravery. Whereas the typical modern Hollywood film has bulldozed its way into the second act by about minute five or six, 2049 really takes its time. And that's okay. The filmmakers have created a world we don't mind loitering in while the characters work their way through the plot in a meticulous manner. I was reminded of 1970s science fiction. And that's a good thing. The environment in 2049 is a little different than the original film. The original film feels very boxed in. Despite the magnificence of the buildings looking down on the masses of people, Ridley Scott managed to make it very claustrophobic. The new movie does the opposite. There are places to go in this film. Different landscapes entirely. It's like a video game with all the levels unlocked. That gives the movie a broader, more epic scope. I just happened to go to the theater for a showing on the "Big D" screen, which meant a massive screen and a sound system that literally shook the seats. It was impossible not to be in awe of the effort put into the film. Once the mystery gets going, I was rooting for the movie to come up with something spectacular in the third act.

Here's where the spoiler comes in: Hampton Fancher, who wrote one of the original drafts of the original film (and also Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven), returned as screenwriter on 2049. You can tell, too. The film's most poignant moments have little to do with the actual plot. There are wonderful lines of dialogue such as, "Sometimes to love someone, you gotta be a stranger." But Fancher, or someone else, does something a little odd toward the end of the film. The Big Reveal, when we learn the protagonist is not the lost child of Deckard and Rachel, the movie borrows directly from The Dark Knight Rises. Now, this may just be my own problem, but I was very disappointed that this is where they took the film. The build up to the reveal was so magnificent, I wanted that reveal to be something I (or anyone else) would never have though of.

So there it is. My sole complaint about the movie. Overall, it's a very immersive 2 hours and 43 minutes and you could do a hell of a lot worse. Is it the masterpiece some are claiming? No, it's not. Is it the boring cash grab cynics are calling it? Not by a long shot. It's a good, entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking popcorn movie with images you will probably think about long after it's over.