Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recent sports - lacrosse and flag football

I'm writing this down for posterity because I have a terrible memory when it comes to sports.

 A couple weeks ago a bunch of us alumni lacrosse guys got together in Orange County and played in a little lacrosse tournament.  It was 7 on 7, and we were supposed to play 4 games, 2 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday.  I guess not enough teams signed up, because we only ended up scheduled for 2 on Saturday.  The games were only 20 minutes long, running clock, on a much shorter field.  It was nice and hot out.  My brother Ben played (Josh was in a surf contest), friend Sean and his brother Kevin played (Buck was there as "coach"), and Tanner, Beef, Bonilla, Tim, Whitey, Joe Lee, and Acker.  The first team we played was high schoolers, so we were nearly twice their age.  That doesn't necessarily put us at an advantage; there are a lot of really good high school teams in the OC (don't call it that).  But we beat these guys 4 zip, I think.  I scored one goal, but it was a pretty crappy little goal.  No hard zinger, just a light little close up toss.  Felt good to score, but I don't know if I've ever had a good rip.

The second game was against an alumni team, but these were high school alumni, so we were still 10 years older than all these guys.  We apparently tied 2-2 (but I still think it was 3-2).  No goals for me that game.  After that game, some of the guys from that team invited us to play with them a little later, so Tanner, Ben and I stuck around.  We played one of the really good high school teams that time, and got beat 4-7.  Ben scored a great goal that game.  I scored none, and got beat three times on defense, so technically we lost because of me.  But it was still fun.  Alumni game coming up at Biola in a few weeks!


I'm playing intramural flag football at Biola right now, on a team called "Might Men of Valor."  It's an old team, made up of old guys (and a few young ones), and they're all great dudes.  I knew a few of them from before, but most are new to me, and it's a pleasure to play with them.  Solid athletes and competitors, but really generous and helpful with a complete football idiot like me.

We just had our fifth game of the season, and were 2-2 before tonight's game. We're a good team, but we played two really tough teams in our last two, so we were really hoping for a win tonight.  I'm playing defensive end, mostly, which means my job is simple: rush in and try and sack the quarterback.  That's a position I'm mentally capable of handling, even though there is strategy and technique to it.  I've had a couple sacks so far this year, but I'm just a middle of the road player.  I always go into games hoping I don't pull a major screw-up (and I've had a few -- fortunately, none that cost us the game, but I've done some bonehead stuff out of ignorance of certain calls and plays).  I'm a bit of a pessimist when it comes to my own athletic performance.

So tonight I was in at defensive end again, and in the first half, on the third down, I got inside and sacked the QB!  Then the very next play, the other defensive end, Levi, sacked the QB.  That felt awesome.  My aspirations at that point were for no screw-ups and maybe another sack.

We were up 12-8 in the second half, and the other team had had a good march down the field.  They didn't have very far to go for a touchdown.  The play started, I was rushing on the left side, my offensive lineman was doing fine at keeping me out.  Then a low pass went out to the left of me, and Mac, a linebacker and one of our defensive strategists, blocked the ball!  It popped up right in front of me, and I decided to grab it.  I'm so glad I didn't just stop there, because for a split second I wasn't sure if the ball was dead or not.  I'm just not a fast thinker in the middle of a play.  I was just catching the ball because it was there.  Fortunately, as it dropped into my hands, I had the tiniest voice in my head (followed by loud voices of my teammates) that said "Go you idiot!"  (My teammates did not include the 'idiot' part.)  So I started running!  At first to the left side, but I was already close to the sidelines and there was an opponent that way, so I dodged and shifted right.  There were a few more guys that I got through.  Behind me and to the side my guys were throwing blocks and yelling encouragement.  I couldn't see what they did, but the only opponent that I ran into was this giant of a man (who apparently was practicing with the 49ers recently!  No joke!), and he was the last guy to get through before the end zone.  My legs were already feeling like lead, even though I hadn't run very far at all, and the big dude got a hand on my shirt, which jerked me quite a bit.  Fortunately, I either pulled free or one of my guys hit him, because I heard a "rip!" and was free and tried to just stay on my feet to the end zone.  Teammate Lance was behind me the whole way, shouting "Go go go!"  My legs felt like rubber, like they were going to fall out from underneath me, but I made it!  Touch down!  My teammates then swarmed me and I could barely eek out a smile I was so exhausted.  I don't know why that tired me out so much, but I was light-headed for a few minutes after that.  I also noticed a big tear in my shirt where the big guy had grabbed me.  Boy I'm lucky the shirt gave.

We went on to win the game, but it was close.  For the rest of the game I thought, don't choke don't choke don't choke don't be the goat and, fortunately, it didn't happen.  So that will probably go down as the greatest play I will ever make in my football career, and it was just luck and the support of my team.  And I had to write it down or lose it forever.  I'd remember the end result on my own, but not the details, and I like remembering the details.

Monday, October 25, 2010

That Thomas Kinkade movie...

Jeri and Jon: remember, years ago in the movies folder on bubbs, discussing Peter O'Toole being in a Thomas Kinkade movie?  Well it exists.  It is real.  It is out on Blu-Ray.  And the craziest thing is, the review actually kind of sells it.  It still says it's full of sentimental syrup, but it also says it's got some genuinely good moments, in both writing and performance.

Read the full review here.

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The last time I saw this one must have either been on a tiny TV or on VHS (or both).  At the time it didn't do much for me at all.  I didn't care about the love story, and the action didn't grab me either.  Last night Amy and I revisited the movie on Blu-Ray and a 40" hi-def TV, and it's remarkable what a difference that makes.

Last of the Mohicans was directed by Michael Mann, who knows how to make a good movie and frame an interesting action scene.  I like Heat and Collateral all around; Miami Vice sucked so hard the back of its head caved in, and Public Enemies was a big disappointment, though they both have great action scenes.  Mann makes great use of location shooting, and I love him for it.  In fact, now that I think of it, his locations and photography pull a lot of weight in the effectiveness of each of his films.  In stark contrast to the urban jungle of LA, Mohicans opens with some beautiful mountain-top views of the dense forests of North Carolina.  It then cuts to the dense and lush forest floor, as three characters charge through on a hunt.  As the movie continues we are treated again and again to beautiful unique real locations.  The fort is the only rather visually boring location; it's ugly and full of the "blossoming romance" scenes which still don't really grab me (though a generation of women from 1992 would like to fight me here, I'm sure).  But once the story gets back to the forest we're subjected to more natural beauty.

Then there's the action.  It's hard to make musket fights exciting, because "aim, fire, reload for 60 seconds" doesn't make for thrilling cinema.  Fortunately, the Indians all fight with clubs, knifes, and tomahawks in addition to muskets, and Mann's people choreographed some pretty cool fights that I'm going to revisit as I draw my book.  Mann also adds a unique sense of horror to these fights.  It's not just a choreographed "hack-block-hack," they usually open in a startling way.  The earlier battle when Magua betrays the party he's leading by calmly walking to the back of the column and clubbing a guy over the head is still a shocking moment.  Later, the entourage from the fort is making their way through a narrow valley and a Huron warrior suddenly bursts from the woods and performs a similar execution, and it's equally terrifying.  During the ensuing fight there's a first person shot of Hawkeye braining a Huron who was threatening his girlfriend.  The set-up shot shows the Huron reaching the woman, the next shows Hawkeye seeing this from a short ways away, cut to Huron preparing to execute woman but turning towards the camera, cut to HAWKEYE CLUBBING THE CAMERA IN THE LENS.  Great stuff.

When I watched it for the first time I was warned that it had some gruesome moments.  I'd forgotten all about that warning until we were in the middle of the movie last night, and marveled that the 18 years that have passed haven't really dulled the brutality at all.  It was especially noticeable because my general perception was that the movie was a love story that chicks went ga-ga over.  There are scalpings and hearts cut out and axes to the back and, most memorably, Magua's final fight with Chingachgook on the cliff, where bones are broken and stomachs torn out.

And of course there is the cast.  Daniel Day-Lewis is the big name.  Here's the thing: his performance is fine.  Great, even.  He embodies the character well.  But it's hard to compare with his later roles in In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood.  I think it's because those later characters had accents, eccentricities, and other unique performance-based quirks, whereas Hawkeye is simply a stoic and resolute hero with a basic American accent.  He's not quirky and he's not a scene-chewer.  I tried viewing his Mohican's performance with a more careful eye, tried to consider certain choices and deliveries, but it's tougher when the role is much subtler than the others I've mentioned.  There's a making-of documentary that's new to the Blu-Ray and gets into Lewis' prep for the role.  I tell you what, it looked like a ton of fun.  Days and days of learning survival skills, hunting, tracking and the like.  Even stuff like learning how to reload a black-powder musket on the run!  (When watching the scene, I too cried "baloney!", but the documentary reveals that Lewis thought the same thing until they found a guy who could do it.)

I appreciate the movie much more now, having seen it on Blu-Ray.  The locations are more stunning, the score more vibrant, the framing and colors more painterly.  I'm enjoying taking new looks at films on the format, because it is often like seeing them for the first time.  You lose a lot watching movies like this 4:3 on a 32" TV.  Even DVD doesn't come very close to replicating the true colors and detail of a period piece like this.  Mohicans didn't suddenly rise to the top of my list of favorites, but it certainly rose quite a few steps from the obscure "who cares?" section it previously occupied.

One last note: bonus points for featuring a few seconds of original American Indian lacrosse!  Only movie ever to depict it, and probably will remain so.

(Screenshot swiped from

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride (2009)

Quirky Western with an impressive cast?  I'm in!

It's also done with a "hyper-kinetic" directing style reminiscent of Tony Scott's worst impulses?  Kill me now!

Yes, The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, from writer/director/cinematic-criminal Tiller Russell, was a total let-down.  The cast list is the only impressive thing about it: Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls), Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson, Peter Dinklage, and W. Earl Brown ("Deadwood").  Dwight Yoakam is just a darn good actor.  I haven't seen him in many movies (Sling Blade and Panic Room are it, I think) but he's got a delivery style that's very believable.  His performances aren't wildly different, but they're solid.  Lizzy Caplan, whom I liked in Mean Girls and the one episode of "Party Down" I saw, doesn't bring much to her character.  She doesn't sell the southern accent, and her character and performance otherwise aren't interesting.  (Tiller shares equal blame with Caplan for these problems.)  Kris Kristofferson does his thing, which is fine for what it is but never a surprise.  W. Earl Brown, whom I've never seen outside of "Deadwood," is exactly like his "Deadwood" character.  He's great at it, but no change.  Peter Dinklage isn't in it much, but he carried two sawed-off shotguns and looked crazy, so there's that.

Story-wise, this thing failed to captivate me at all.  I watched the first 20 minutes or so, then started skipping around, desperate for an entertaining scene.  Ransom Pride, a name I assume was intended to be loaded with meaning and depth, or at least "coolness," is a jerk who gets shot in Mexico.  His lover, Juliette Flowers (Caplan), who was not with him, goes to collect his body.  Apparently she's a bad seed too.  She brings the news to Ransom's father (Yoakam) and brother.  Ransom's father is a preacher!  DEEP.  Used to be a bad dude.  NEW.  And Kris's character's name is Shepherd Graves, another name I assume is supposed to be meaningful but just comes off as pretentious or hipster cool.

So now there's the style to discuss.  First off, the movie seems packed with ugliness and disgusting stuff just for the sake of it.  No meaning attached, just "look how edgy I am can you guess what color my shirt is?"  Like using onanism to introduce a character.  Nice!  Classy.  I get it.  You can show gross stuff because you're dark and edgy.  Then there's the editing/directing style.  Lots of weird sped-up or slowed-down shots of skulls and crows and dark things.  Characters speaking Spanish have their translations written in a sketchy script.  Shots of dark cloudy skies rumbling past sped up.  Black and white flashes to a character's dark past, accompanied by whooshy sound effects.  The color has been tweaked, drained of color, contrast upped, made to look harsh and bleak.  Set pictures I've seen online, with their natural color, looked a lot better.  Now, I hate Tony Scott's style, but at least he sometimes has decent movies underneath.  Everything in Last Rites just smacked of empty and artless self-indulgence.  I wondered if, at the first screening, the more discerning members of the cast thought, "Oh geez I didn't know it was gonna be like this."

So, hey, not that you've ever heard of the movie, but avoid it like the plague!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recent movies - Withnail, How to Get Ahead, Cop Land, State of the Union

Boy, sorry for the "less than one per month" posting schedule.  I don't feel as bad, since my blogging friends are doing the same or worse, but I still have a little guilt.  On to movies.

Withnail and I (1987), How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) - (Both by the same writer and director; a spiritual pair, if you will.)  These had been in my queue for long enough where I couldn't remember why I'd put them there, but they were both Criterion releases at one point, and they were described as cult comedies, so that seems like enough of a reason.  Richard Grant is one crazy dude, and I'm surprised I haven't seen him in anything else.  Those eyes were made to play a manic misanthrope, so I'd bet director/writer Bruce Robinson wrote those parts with him in mind.

Withnail is about two actors (read: layabouts, good-for-nothings) who go on a horrible vacation in the country.  The plot is barely there; it's all about the characters.  Marwood (the titular "I") is played by Paul McGann, whom I recognized from his role in the excellent "Horatio Hornblower" miniseries.  Completely different character, so the revelation didn't hit me for a while.  More easily recognized is Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty, now most well-known as Uncle Dursley from the Harry Potter movies.

Withnail didn't grab me like it has so many other people.  It's got a lot of funny lines that I could see people latching on to, though.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising had a similar effect on me.  This is the one where the ad exec's boil grows a face and starts talking to him.  Felt like a Gilliam movie, especially because it was coupled with some sort of anti-advertising message, though it didn't feel as simple as that.  Weird movie.

Cop Land (1997) - I don't know how this one flew under my radar for so long.  I remember seeing it for rent at the library years ago, but I never got around to picking it up, and it wasn't until my friend Hugh recommended it highly that I finally gave it a go.  Written and directed by James Mangold, Cop Land is about a local cop (Sly Stallone) who walks the beat in a Jersey neighborhood populated almost entirely with city cops (i.e. "Cop Land").  The city cops work in New York but live on this island.  They're also all corrupt.  Sly has wanted to be a city cop for years but has a health issue that prevents it.  So, he polices a city with no overt crime, and is not considered a "real" cop.

The cast list is very impressive.  Aside from Stallone, you've got Robert DeNiro as an Internal Affairs officer, Harvey Keitel as the leader of the city cops, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, and Michael Rappaport.  Plus, Janeane Garafalala for a few minutes.  Each cast member brings a lot to the movie, though DeNiro's actually not in it all that much, and Janeane's character doesn't have much to her.

The screenplay is very well-crafted, and I loved Stallone's hang-dog under-stated performance.  It made for a very sympathetic hero.

State of the Union (1948) - This might be my first Tracy & Hepburn movie.  Another Capra flick.  Loved it.  Great husband and wife story about a businessman (Tracy) hand-picked to run for a presidential bid by a ruthless newspaper owner (played by a young Angela Lansbury!).  He and his wife (Hepburn) are distant, and there are all sorts of rumors about he and Lansbury being an item.  It's more of the same great Capra sentimentalism, with some fun and surprising scenes thrown in (most memorably an aerial contest involving Tracy).  Watching Tracy and Hepburn together it was easy to see why they were considered such a great screen couple.  Both are superb actors, and they have a chemistry that comes off as completely genuine.

Side note: supposedly my grandfather Stamper was an extra in this, though we haven't been able to confirm which scene.