Thursday, September 29, 2011

Movie Review: Catching Hell (2011)


Poor, poor Steve Bartman.
That's that only thought I have after watching Alex Gibney's powerful documentary on that fateful foul ball in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. With only five outs standing between the seemingly cursed Chicago Cubs and the World Series, super fan Steve Bartman accidentally stopped Mois├ęs Alou from closing his glove over the ball hit by Luis Castillo of the Florida Marlins. The Cubs went on to lose not only that game, but then the rest of the series.
Here's what everyone seemed to forget, at least in the days and weeks after the incident:
- The Cubs had been up 3-0 before the fan interference, but let go of eight runs in the next half inning.
- There was still another game after this one to be played, which the Cubs promptly lost.
- At least a half a dozen other people besides Bartman reached for the ball at the same time.
- The official rule book of professional baseball states that any fan interference means that batter is automatically called out. This did not happen.
Gibney does a fantastic job of pointing all this out, though he doesn't let Bartman completely off the hook. He points out that Alou probably would have caught the ball otherwise. Also, previous video footage shows Bartman waving his arms wildly when the camera is swung towards him.
As Gibney says in his voiceover, "be careful what you wish for."
Yet and still, Bartman obviously got a raw deal. As someone who wears glasses and enjoys walking around with headphones strapped to my head (I can't sympathize with the turtleneck, though) it's an eerie reminder that it could just have easily been anyone, even me. I mean, think about it: if a foul ball is headed straight at you, you're going to be starting straight at it, not thinking, "well, for the good of the franchise, the city and the apparently fragile psyches of the thousands of fans around me, I should take a step back."
Of course not.
You would have done the same thing.
I would have done the same thing.
I'm convinced the crowd instantly turned their ire on Bartman mostly because he looked so distinct. If he'd been a bit more nondescript he might not have had to go into seclusion afterwards. (He really should have invested in some earbuds.)
Even eight years after the incident it's still eerie to hear the shrieks of Cubs fans who were screaming for Bartman's blood after it was decided he would be the scapegoat. I'm convinced that the security guards, several of which were featured here, hadn't stepped in he would have been murdered right then and there. It was that serious.
All this really points to one fact about sports: it's really just a reflection of our inner psyche. At its best sports can show how far we've come as a species. At its worst it shows how far we have to go.
And if what Steve Bartman had to endure is any indication we have a long, long way to go.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review: Skyjack: The Hunt For D.B. Cooper by Geoffrey Gray (2011)


No offense, Geoffrey Gray, but I hope you never find D.B. Cooper.
The story is just too cool to let it be weighed down with gutting facts. Can we just believe in one thing as a nation? What good is any of this madness around us if someone can't casually board a plane, ransom the passengers for $200,000 (in 1971 money; $1.1 million today) and then lash the money to his chest with parachute string, all before making a leaping from the aft stairs of a moving jet with another parachute...and then become the ONLY skyjacking that has gone unsolved in the history of air travel?
If we catch D.B. Cooper then that's one more mythic story I can't believe in.
Can we just let him have the win? Hasn't he done enough?
As far as gripping narrative, though, Skyjack definitely delivers.
I don't want to spoil anything, but we still don't know who D.B. Cooper is to this day. That gives Gray the ability to have a non-ending feel satisfying. We know from reading this tome that if anyone put in the work necessary to find the answers if they were still there to be found, he would be the one who would have found it. You can't say he or anyone else who has carried the torch for this case throughout the years failed for lacking of trying.
Gray is also a really, really good storyteller. I've been interested from afar in the D.B. Cooper case pretty much since I found out about it. I have a vague memory of watching what would have had to have been this 1981 Treat Williams/Robert Duvall alternate history film: The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. Ever since then I've been hooked. This narrative only once again stoked the fires of my interest. I'm a born conspiracy theorist and the idea that D.B. Cooper is part of some larger plot is definitely appealing. At this point, any theory is just as good as the next.
As a journalist, I appreciate the fact that to properly write a true crime novel, true and total commitment is necessary. Gray has that covered and then some.
But hasn't D.B. Cooper given back the value of the $200,000 he stole to our collective imagination countless times over?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Movie Review: Aaah! Zombies!! (Wasting Away) (2007)


The genre of zombie movies is a very capitalistic system.
In both, constant expansion on the preexisting condition is essential to its success. This phenomenon can, and does, create economic bubbles that inevitably burst. This can lead to stagnation and regression in the future.
But every once in a while the entrepreneurial spirit not only pushes the envelope, but tosses it right off the table.
Aaaah! Zombies!! (later re-titled Wasting Away) is a shining example of this concept. The zombie paradigm has been poked and prodded at so many ways it's hard to believe that anything fresh could be wrung out the concept. But just as the invisible hand of the market drove Domino's to stuff cheese in the crust, so this lack of other options produced this movie.
Aaaah! Zombies!! prods more deeply than any other film before it a concept its predecessors only hinted at: the first person view of the zombie condition.
To my knowledge, this is the most in depth exploration of what it's like on the other side. The reason the zombies start in this movie is not unlike the Rage virus in 2002's 28 Days Later: government-created biological warfare gone wrong. That doesn't really matter here. (Well, it does to the plot of the movie, but it doesn't contribute to what makes this movie extraordinary.) Regardless, when the core group is infected the movie goes from being in black and white to color. The rules of the movie are as follows: When it's from the zombies point of view, everything is in in color. Conversely, what the zombies look like to the non-infected humans around them is presented in black and white. The zombies don't realize they're zombies. In fact, they think the humans are the infected ones. Zombies appear to be lumbering corpses to the rest of humanity, but the from the zombie POV the humans are moving and talking extremely fast.
Who has ever gone there before or since?
This film is worth seeing if for no other reason this: if you or I or anyone saw it late night on television, one would almost think the whole thing was a dream. There is no comparison for this movie. This movie has no point of reference except its own.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I didn't forget 9/11, 9/11 forgot me

Hey, remember this guy from your Junk E-mail folder from about 9.75 years ago?

I completely missed the entire sequence of events the first 9/11, so why would my observance of the 10th anniversary be any different? The clock in the corner of my screen says it is 10:14 p.m. That makes sense, me publishing this article with just minutes to spare until it's 9/12; given my history with the date.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was attending one of my twice-per-week laboratory sessions. It was the start of the first full month of my academic career at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. It was just minutes before 8 a.m. when I raced to the bike rack on the eastern side of Teter Quadrangle, unlocked my bicycle and sailed down the steep alleyway that was/is North Teter Drive. I crossed 7th Street and continued onto Sunrise Drive. I quickly put on the brakes. After lashing the contraption to the rack outside the School of Education building I power walked in through the side entrance.
And there I stayed from just a few seconds after 8 a.m. until 11:13 a.m.
Meanwhile, during this time history as we know it was changing forever.
Later people would tell me of watching CNN live at 9:03 a.m. and seeing the American Airlines Flight 175 nearly explode through the opposite side of the south tower. And me? I was obliviously being bored to tears by a recreation of grade school science experiment involving measurement of liquids.
The class actually ended at 11:15 a.m., but one of the teacher's assistants came into the room shaking and holding a piece of paper. We could see her face was red and flustered. She had been crying very recently. As she spoke, she began weeping again.
She related the gory details in a clipped tone. Hijackers had flown planes into the World Trade Center building. They've both collapsed. The Pentagon has been destroyed. There might be another plane down.
Suddenly the work in front of us seemed even less engaging than before.
But as people began quietly and not so quietly freaking out, the stern-looking male/female pair leading the class sought to quiet the classroom. We still had work in front of us, finish your assignments please.
I can't believe this, I thought to myself. The world might very well be ending and I'm going to die right here on the hard metal stool.
But being completely shocked, me and everyone else in the classroom did as we were told, finishing the worksheet and leaving the class in a rush.
Back at Teter Quad, every television was blaring and the same images kept playing over and over again. People were losing their minds.
Nonetheless, the entire day the university refused to cancel classes.
Being the meek and mild freshman I was, I dutifully cut through the campus in chaos and managed to show up for my afternoon English class. I was only one of about six of what is usually at least a 20-strong classroom who bothered to show up. The graduate student assigned to teach the class could barely keep it together the whole time we were in there, which only turned out to be 15 minutes. After managing to squeak out a few barely coherent phrases, she dismissed those of us who had obeyed and attended.
She thought it was best that we deal privately.
So, today, 3,652 days later, what did I do? I woke up just before 7:15 a.m., drove my car to work, arrived just before 8 a.m. and didn't get home until around 5:30 p.m.
Tradition intact.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Myspace: Haven't thought about that in a year

The one and only photo of the author on Myspace. Not recent. If I go missing and you need a picture to put on the billboard, please use something more current.

Think back to a time when you've had the lid on the trash can for too long. I'm talking about the time when you've left the house and didn't take out the rubbish first. Everything inside has been festering the whole time.
You never even thought about it. You've had a nice long vacation. You're ready to be greeted the by the comforts of home.
And you open the lid.
And the smell hits you.
And it's so pungent that the element of surprise is the only thing that keeps the hot trash air hitting you in the face from doubling you over.
That's what visiting my Myspace page today was like.
The reason I thought of that today was because Ash and I were having a conversation on the porch. During our exchange she mentioned Myspace. I felt total and complete, not nostalgia because that's not the right word, but rememberance. As I've discussed before, this is not the first time I've had this feeling towards a website. We're now past the point where only physical objects make up our memories. Virtual destinations are now stops along our path toward this moment.
Is it dangerous? It's certainly embarrassing.
If you click on the above link to my profile (which I definitely wouldn't be upset if you didn't) you'll see it's unchanged. I intentionally left everything as I found it when I checked on it today.
It's me, but it's someone else.
This person is just "in a relationship" and not married. This person lives in Ukiah, Calif. I live in Noblesville, Ind. This person also somehow seems to be simultaneously working two jobs at the same time (due to an editing mistake) and this one works at neither of those places.
This person looks like me. All their interests are the same. (I definitely don't use that e-mail address anymore.) I bet we'd get along quite well in a real social setting, if such a thing were possible.
But this is not me.
This is a time capsule.
Unlike e-mail, social networking is public. There was no expectation of privacy from the beginning, and especially at Myspace. Facebook at least started out as only for Harvard students and then only for college students. It descended downwards. Everyone can still get on Facebook now, but it took a while to get there.
If social networking was a party: Facebook at least started the party checking IDs. Myspace just held the door open while the bouncer wasn't looking.
The point is, long after we're all dead. Our Myspace profiles will still be out there lurking somewhere. I'm not going to delete my Myspace account. There are a handful of people I have no other method of communication with. Even though I've just spent this long writing about it, I really don't have the energy to change anything on it now.
So, Myspace: same time next year?