Knuckleball! is a hit you shouldn’t miss

As a kid, I remember playing catch with my Dad when he would throw peculiar pitch that didn’t spin like the others — it sort of floated in the air without spinning and seemed like it would never get to my glove. It was, of course, a knuckleball — a pitch that goes against everything that high-heat baseball pitching stands for.

Knuckleball!, a new documentary released last month in select theaters and on Video On-Demand, follows this unorthodox pitch through the lens of two of its purveyors: Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox — who made a career of the knuckleball, and former Tennessee Volunteer R.A. Dickey, who has blossomed onto the scene with the Mets in the last couple of years following a long difficult road as a conventional pitcher.

The film follows the pitch and its pitchers as a metaphor for life: You can’t control it, and once it leaves your hand, it has a mind of its own.

Watch it.

Top 8 short-lived TV shows of the 80s

Ah, the 80’s. It was a time when TV shows wrapped everything up by the end of the show, nobody got killed (think The A-Team), and episodes were filmed before a live studio audience. If it wasn’t the golden age of television, it was at the very least bronze.

But the 80’s were also a decade of trial and frequent error. For every Cosby Show, there were a dozen other shows than never made it past two seasons. Below, in no particular order, I’ve compiled the top eight of these short-lived 80’s wonders:

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The Roman Polanski case gets frantic

Much has been written about film director and child rapist Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland. The reaction is a rather bizarre moment of agreement between both cultural conservatives and liberals who, by and large, agree that Polanski’s pending extradition is well-deserved.

More bizarre is the small group of voices who are calling for Polanski’s release. Mostly associated with the film industry, this group of Polanski devotees have even begun a petition to express their outrage — a petition that insists that the future of Franco–American depends upon Los Angeles prosecutors dropping the case:

On September 16th, 2009, Mr. Charles Rivkin, the US Ambassador to France, received French artists and intellectuals at the embassy. He presented to them the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the embassy, Ms Judith Baroody. In perfect French she lauded the Franco-American friendship and recommended the development of cultural relations between our two countries.

If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski.

The petition signatories —like Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Monica Bellucci, and handful of French crew members — are smart enough, however, to know what possible imprisonment might mean for the now ex-fugitive Polanski:

Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom

Apparently, the signatories are now deeply concerned about justice?

As the great philosopher Brad Paisley says, “When you’re a celebrity, it’s adios reality.”

Clichés of the common crime show

These days, one can’t turn on the tube without finding a show about crime, cops, and the regular folks caught in between.  The number of shows in the genre is endless, but are they all really that different.  Here are at least seven stereotypical ways which may or may not do crime shows justice.

Cliché #1: The Acronymic Title

One way to know a good crime show is if it’s title is an acronym.  Crime shows take too long to be explained in full sentences, so abbreviations must often be used.  There’s CSI(any flavor), NCIS, CHiPS, NYPD Blue, Law & Order SVU, JAG, and ER (only kidding!).

Cliché #2: Perpetual Singleness

People in crime shows have neither children nor spouses.  Many, it could be shown, don’t even have extended families.  Much like patients on hospital shows who seldom if ever have visitors to their room, the crime show crowd does well to have a dog waiting at the door when they get home from a long day.  This leads to much brooding at days end set to the tune of some likewise brooding James Blunt-style emo music, which is understandable, cause you would emote too if you were in a crime show.

Cliché #3: The Crime Show Babe

Likewise perpetually single, the Crime Show Babe has difficulty concealing her weapon due to the tightness of her clothing.  Consequently, when she does find place to stow her gun and badge, it looks as if it’s an awkwardly unwieldy appendage.

The Crime Show Babe has uncanny fighting ability, and is usually able with a swift kick to render an opponent unconscious. There’s always some tension between the Crime Show Babe and her male counterpart, but alas, it will never work, due to Cliché #2 above.

Cliché #4: The Startling Beginning

Nearly every crime show these days begins the same way: two people are going about their ordinary day (often on jog around the lake), talking about ordinary things, when all the sudden, they stumble upon a body.  The girl screams, and the show’s opening sequence starts to roll.

One variation on this is the CSI-style pun to jump start the show.  The lead, while investigating the murder which happened in a funeral home, stops and quips to the camera: “people are just dying to get in.”  Cue the credits.

Cliché #5: Super Crime-show Technology

Let’s face it. The cops in crime shows have better technology than your local precinct. From 50-inch computer monitors to holographic crime-scene reconstruction displays, crime shows have the high-dollar gear — except for one glaring omission: the computer mouse.

For some inexplicable reason, the crime show world has yet to discover that tethered, two-buttoned wonder of a device that we in the rest of the world depend upon daily. Our valiant crime-busting friends must rely on pure keyboarding to track down the bad guys. No pointing and clicking here — navigation by typing is the way it’s done. Need to move something on the screen? Just type it a little to the left.

Cliché #6: Super Video Enhancement

Got a photo that’s a little blurry?  No worries, because the crime labs in crime shows have a super version of Photoshop that’s not available to the general public.  With just a few clicks of the mouse — er, I mean keyboard — one can read a license plate from a mile away in photo taken with a cell phone.  This action is always — without exception — introduced by the phrase “can you enhance that?”

Cliché #7: The Killer Confession

No crime show would be complete without the killer confessing to our heroes in the interrogation room.  No waterboarding necessary here.  The criminals are more than willing to explain why they did it, because surely then we will understand why they had to poison their best friend’s drink at the bar.  Somehow, it all makes sense in the killer’s head, but as our hero will tell them, “the only bars you’ll be seeing from now on are the ones on your cell door.”

That’s seven for the road.  Can you think of any more?

The end of the world as we know it

What would the world be like without humans?

If a recent special on the National Geographic Channel is correct, it would be much better off.  “Aftermath: Population Zero” takes a hypothetical look (and I emphasize the hypo) at what would happen should every human on the planet suddenly disappear.  From the show’s description:

This is the astounding story of a world we will never see. A world without people, where city streets are still populated by cars, but without drivers. Nobody to fix bridges, repair buildings or maintain power plants. After being controlled by humanity for millennia, nature reclaims the earth. But how would that work? How long would skyscrapers, nuclear power plants, and our homes last if abandoned? How would wild and domestic animals fare without us? Will the Eiffel Tower outlast the Statue of Liberty? Aftermath: Population Zero gives us a chance to see the impact of human beings by seeing how Earth would adapt without us.

It’s a concept that could be very interesting — a philosophical pause on an I Am Legend scenario that shows us how humans really are the pinnacle of creation.  It could be interesting, except for the one thing “Aftermath” forgets: humans are a part of nature.

Following a textbook environmentalist script, the show postulates how our nuclear power plants, suddenly unmanned, will explode and cause mass devastation upon the world — we apparently can’t stop tearing stuff up even after we’ve left the building.

Not to fear, the planet soon heals itself and recovers just fine without us.  Even the “green” movement gets a boost without those pesky people to interfere.  As the narrator observers, “Manhattan turns from gray to green.” And as the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty finally crumble after a millennium, we learn that it’s all just part of how “nature is reclaiming the world, city by city.”

All documentaries, even the speculative ones like “Aftermath” — have a moral at the end of the story.  It’s the take-away message that we’ve all learned from what we’ve just seen.  As nearly all traces of human existence are wiped out, our narrator encourages us with the fact that “earth is resilient — in time, it cleaned up every mess we made — all we had to do was get out of the way.”

Sunday Drive

Given the price of gasoline these days, driving at high speeds on a Sunday afternoon is out of the question. But thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we can all live vicariously.

First, the greatest movie car chase of all time, from the 1968 film Bullitt. Steve McQueen, in his 1968 390 CID V8 Ford Mustang, is followed by two crooks in a black 1968 Dodge Charger. He quickly turns the tables on them, and the chase commences. When the music stops, the engines roar, and it’s time to hang on. Read the details of the car chase here, and watch the clip below:

Since we’re competing with the Europeans for the price at the pump, I’m reminded of another high-speed driving flick called C’était un rendez-vous. Shrouded in mystery, this 9 minute film is a high speed morning ride through the city of Paris at dawn — shot in a single take:

Drive safely…

We named the dog Indiana

I’m now back from travels to the hinterlands of Tennessee, where I saw — among other things — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As someone who has long considered Raiders and Last Crusade two of my favorite movies, I’ve looked forward to the next Indy sequel ever since the rumors started flying back in the mid-90s.

Even so, I had low expectations. Overhyped sequels rarely do well. How else does one explain Spiderman 3, a film that competes even with Twister on my all-time worst film list?

Thankfully, Indy 4 avoids such pitfalls. Is it a great film? No. Among the other films of the franchise, it probably ranks 3 out 4. What it is is entertaining, far fetched, and loads of fun. Any attempt to read anything else into the movie is taking higher criticism too far.

If you’re a fan, go see it. If you’re not, don’t even try to comprehend.

The Hulk must be an incredible smoker

The other night, during a television commercial break, something strange caught my eye in a trailer for the new movie The Incredible Hulk:

It didn’t strike me until 10 seconds into the next commercial. Quick rewind (this is the stuff DVRs are made for!). Yes it’s just as I thought:

The Hulk uses tobacco

Notice the dire warning box at the bottom of the credit screen (which looks eerily like a McCain-Feingold style political disclaimer). Yep, just when you thought it was safe to enter the cinema again, they had to go and ruin it.

Nevermind that its PG-13 rating includes “Scenes of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content,” this film contains depictions of tobacco consumption, for crying out loud!

Why can’t they just let the monstrous gamma-ray infected superheroes bludgeon each other to the death without bringing tobacco into the mix? Films these days are getting as dangerous as the front porch of the Baptist church of my childhood, which featured more than its fair share of tobacco consumption.

Ben Stein: Expelled

We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

The opening montage of Ben Stein’s new documentary, Expelled: No Intellegence Allowed (opening in theaters today), contains an orchestral violin rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.” An instrumental piece, the words are not there, but it sets the stage well for an entertaining and engaging look at how “free inquiry” can be anything but in today’s scientific community.

The film’s focus how intelligent design theory (ID) is being excluded from scientific discussions of the origins of life. I watched a screening and presentation by Ben Stein and the producers about a month ago at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, and was duly impressed. To be honest, I had low expectations — thinking that the savvy marketing of the film would outweigh the documentary’s content. I was wrong. Expelled is intelligently designed, allowing proponents of both sides to speak for themselves.

Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins, of The God Delusion fame, makes an appearance that’s almost painful to watch. In his interview with Stein, Dawkins more or less admits that a sort intelligent design is possible — but it must be from space aliens, rather than a loving Creator. And no, I’m not making this up.

Dawkins has reportedly charged the producers with deceiving him at the interview, but the charge seems to be nothing more than sour grapes. I attended a press conference for bloggers Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation where Stein was asked about this. Stein noted that Dawkins was actually paid for the interview in question — not to mention the fact that it’s him, unscripted, speaking on camera.

If you’re a Darwinist, I wouldn’t expect this film to cause you to renounce Darwinian evolution. It’s not so much an argument for ID as it is a case that the suppression of ideas by dogmatic Darwinists is based on something other than science. What the film will hopefully do — if Darwinists can contain their anger — is put the issue back on the table. These days, questioning Darwinism is verboten. This likely has much to do with the fact that to Darwinists, Darwinian naturalism is neutral. How can one question neutrality?

After viewing Expelled, will Darwinists repent en masse and allow ID’ers into their fraternal brotherhood? Doubtful, but perhaps the film will make it a little more difficult to expel their colleagues.

[7 out of 10]

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the best western film of the 21st century, but there’s a catch. It’s three hours long. But, if you do like I did and take three days to view the DVD, you’ll see its worth without giving up the better part of a day.

The cinematography is stunning (the use of the blurred-edge old-style glass of the period as “lens” for the story is brilliant), but the story is even better. It’s a story of hubris, betrayal, and glory — and how a man obtains glory affects the way he enjoys it.

Though he’s billed second, Casey Affleck steals the show. He is by far a better actor than his overtheatric brother Ben. He expertly plays the star-struck Robert Ford, whose youthful exuberance is matched only by his ominous sense of inadequacy.

Only slightly outdone by Affleck, Brad Pitt does a remarkable job with Jesse James. Pitt, like his character, fades into the background for the first half of the film. He then comes alive with a muted, knowing paranoia. Jesse James knows what’s coming, but nevertheless keeps company with Robert Ford.

The thematic elements that pair an outlaw with the instrument of his doom are irresistible, and biblical motifs abound. Robert Ford is Judas to his flawed savior Jesse James, who is a wolf led to slaughter.

[8 out of 10]