November 30, 2016

A Long Time Ago

Almost a year ago, there was a bit of hullabaloo over a movie that was coming out.  You may have heard of it, a little thing called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  You may have even gone to see it, I heard it was kinda popular.  Wouldn't you know it?  Between work and just being me, I never did see it.  Yup, that's right, Wonderduck, the old Star Wars fan from waaaaay the hell back, he never saw the new film.  Thanks to a free movie weekend on one of them premium stations on my satellite dish, however, I have rectified that problem.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I had seen it already!  Oh, at the time it was just called "Star Wars", and it was 1977, but SW:TFA is about as blatant a copy of that first movie as you're ever going to see. 

I'm not complaining.  The first English words spoken in the film are "This will begin to make things right," and if those aren't a shot across the bows of the three prequels, it's only because the shot actually hit.  Director JJ Abrams set out to put the magic back into the franchise, and the best way to do that is to make people forget about the bad movies.  What better way to do that than to take what worked and do it better?

For all that the film has been out for a year, I had managed to avoid all but the most basic spoilers... mainly the things from the trailers.  That took some doing, let me tell you.  But oh so worth it.  The scene from the trailers when the Millennium Falcon goes into combat with some TIE fighters at low altitude?  I knew something was coming, but I didn't expect it to put a gigantic grin on my face the way it did. 

When it's action time, the film delivers in spades.  Modernized X-Wings fight updated TIE fighters, lightsaber duels, Han Solo using a bowcaster, there's even a trench run as another nod to the original movie.  Really, there's so many hat tips to the original trilogy it's impossible to see them all on one viewing... which is one of many reasons I'm glad SW:TFA is on my DVR.  But as with all good films, you're not here for the action.  You're here because of the characters...

The only thing that could have ruined the movie faster than having George Lucas involved would have been if the new characters didn't work.  Fortunately for everybody, they do... mostly.  What few fails the movie has involves them and their oh-so-witty banter.  There are moments where I wanted to curse the name of Joss Whedon for making the "overly cool snark" school of dialogue popular, even though he has nothing to do with SW:TFA.  Nothing directly, at least, but some points in the script are pretty much lifted straight from Buffy or Firefly, and when that occurs, it doesn't fit quite right.  Even if you didn't know it in advance, it's pretty obvious that this is the first film of a series though, because we don't learn diddly-poo about backstories of any of' 'em.  Except for Finn, the ex-Stormtrooper, we learn his entire life story.  Not hard to do when a life story is "taken from family as a child, trained to be a Stormtrooper since then."  Rey, the nominal lead?  Well... um... she was left on a planet bysomeone, and has lived there all her life waiting for them to come back.   Poe, the Resistance's hottest pilot?  That's about it, really.  But there's still time to learn about them, and in the meanwhile, we've got all the characters from the first movies back! 

In a movie packed with great moments, this is probably the best of 'em...
Sure, they're older, but aren't we all?  It was nice to see 'em all in the roles that made them legends.  They certainly kept up with the kids... or, really, vice-versa.  Whichever.  It all works.  I went into it hopeful, and 2-1/2 hours later I wanted to watch it again, so I guess that's a good sign.

I'm not fooling anybody, am I?  My GOD that was fun!  The bang and the whoosh and the Falcon did that thing and X-Wings over the lake and lightsaber duels at night in the snow and... and... and...

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November 15, 2016

Bless You, Boys!

This has the potential of becoming the greatest thing ever.  If he was given a Cubs jersey with "Pope" on the back... or maybe he if he was presented with a "W" flag...?

Ah.  Yes.  St Peter's Square.  Perfect.  Maybe get some ivy on those walls...?

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November 10, 2016

Everybody Knows

The unstoppable beast that is 2016 has claimed another victim.

Leonard Cohen died today at the age of 82.  By the time I first experienced his incredibly rich, almost frighteningly bass voice, he was already legend.  Strangely, it was in the slightly-better-than-mediocre movie Pump Up The Volume, which had a killer soundtrack.  Cohen's "Everybody Knows" was featured throughout the film.

This young duck was stunned... and then he quickly tried to find out more about this guy.  Turned out he'd been around for nearly 30 years by that point.   I felt right at home with I'm Your Man, the album I purchased.  It was all full of synths and drum machines, and it reminded me a lot of the band Double.  Which just goes to show what I knew of Leonard Cohen.

Allow me a digression here... I promise it all ties together in the end.  When I moved to the northlands for grad school, it was actually the second time I'd been there.  The first time was when I went up to find an apartment.  I was graciously shown around the town by a lass I had contacted via Prodigy... yes, that long ago.  I had sent out 25 or 30 e-mails more or less at random to people in Mankato that were on Prodigy, essentially saying "I'm moving there in a few months for grad school, I don't know anybody, will you be my friend?"  Most went unanswered.  One replied "no."  One said he didn't live there anymore, but he owned a bar and grill in town... I should stop in, tell the guy behind the bar that he had sent me, and I'd get a burger and beer out of it.  Sure 'nuff, I did.  And then there was the one who accused me of writing to her because she was female... "yeah, that's so slick."  Well, she wasn't entirely wrong... anyway, she agreed to show me around the town, have dinner with me the first night I was up there, you know the drill.  And she gave me the nickname that stuck with me throughout my Minnesota years: "Slick".  Actually, for many years after she continued to call me that.  Um.  Like I was saying...  Somewhere along the line, it came out that I worked in radio, and she insisted I let her hear some of my stuff.  So, I made her a mixtape in the station's production studio, with voice drops by me.  The catch was, every song had something to do with her.  The featured tune?

I've often joked that "Suzanne" was Cohen singing falsetto.  According to him, he just wasn't quite sure how to use his voice at that time.  Still, a lovely song.  In case you're wondering, that picture at the start of this digression is of a Mankato landmark; my apartment would be just off-picture to the right.  I could see the place from my bedroom window.

I've often wondered just what it must be like to have written and sung one of the most beautiful songs of all time and have it be famous because of the performances of others.  "Hallelujah", off the album Various Positions, was popularized somewhat by John Cale, turned famous when Jeff Buckley covered Cale's version, which then got used in the movie Shrek, though Rufus Wainright's version was on the soundtrack album, and then kd lang did my favorite performance of the song at the opening ceremonies to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

There are at least 300 known recordings of the song.  He's certainly been honored worldwide for the song, both by the public and by fellow musicians, but one wonders... 

Just a couple of weeks ago, Leonard Cohen released a new album, You Want It Darker.  Given the lyrics of the title song, it's hard to imagine that he didn't know his time was short.

If so, then I think it can be said that he went out on his own terms.

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November 07, 2016

Vascilating Back To Normal

Of late, things have gotten a little off-track here at The Pond.  First came the tragic news about SDB, which threw the place into a funk.  Then there was the whole Cubs winning the World Series thing.  Following each game of the playoffs closely tended to eat up entire evenings and nights, setting me up with little time to sleep, let alone blog.  Fall anime got ignored, too... even Hibike! Euphonium 2 got left at the wayside, for heaven's sake.  I've gotten caught up on that, and I'm trying to figure out a three-episode YWA, just to bring that feature back to speed. 

It's a mess around here right now, but these have been extraordinary times.  Just bear with me.  Again.

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November 05, 2016

Cubswatch 2016: Reflection

Now that it's been a few days since the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, I can look back and talk about the whole thing with something like restraint.  Before now, just thinking "the Cubs won the World Series" would make me break out in a huge grin and a case of the giggles.  My boss, who is also a big Cubs fan, played Eddie Vetter's love song to the Cubs, Someday We'll Go All The Way, over the intercom and it was everything I could do to not cry again.

Truth be told, it still makes me tear up.  Anyway... where was I?  Oh, right, the Cubs won the World Series, their first in 108 years.  Did you see the movie Bull Durham?  Do you remember Baseball Annie's opening monologue?  Specifically the part where she says "...there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and 108 stitches in a baseball"?  Almost enough to make you believe in things like curses and stuff like that.  Which I don't.  Never have.  It's never been about the Goat, or Bartman, or stuff like that.  It's been about lousy team management that cared more about making money than winning ballgames.  Once a real owner came on board, he hired the best people to rebuild the team from ground zero. 

Jed Hoyer, GM - Joe Maddon, Manager - Theo Epstein, Team President
And they did.  They based their team of the future around a core of hitters in the minors like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, sprinkled in some veterans like David Ross, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, and Dexter Fowler, and then went out and obtained a pitching staff.  Not one of the Cubs starters came up through the organization... and it worked.  Obviously.  The Chicago Cubs won the World Series!

The victory parade and rally on Friday saw an estimated five million fans gather along the parade route and in Grant Park.  If that number is accurate, and it's anybody's guess if it is, it is the seventh-largest peaceful gathering of people worldwide in history.  It's the largest gathering in American history.  But to get to that point, the Cubs had to win a Game 7 against the Indians, a game that went to extra innings after they blew a 6-3 lead.  A rain delay gave the team a chance to recover their wits and score twice in the top of the 10th.  And when MVP-in-waiting Kris Bryant fielded a grounder with a smile on his face and threw it over to Anthony Rizzo at first, the Cubs had finally won one for not only themselves, but for their fans.

I'll freely admit to showing more emotion after they beat the Dodgers to earn a trip to the World Series.  After this game, I was exhausted... the way the game whipsawed back and forth was emotionally draining.  The final out was as much relief as triumph.  On paper, there was very little way the Indians could hang with the Cubs, particularly after losing two of their starting pitchers... but the playoffs usually aren't about the best team, but the hottest.  The Indians had been very hot indeed, taking three of the first four games in the series, but the depth of the Cubs showed.  One could argue that the Cubs got hot, but it really was more a case of the better team winning.  Make no mistake, the Cubs were the better team.  In fact, they had been the best team in baseball all season long.  It was only during a stretch in July when they played something like 28 games in 28 days just before the All-Star Break that they didn't have the best record in baseball, relinquishing it to the Texas Rangers for a week or so.  Beyond that, they were a massive steamroller.  Some people have suggested that this triumph changes the Cubs... that they've now lost their identity as the "lovable losers", the butt of all jokes, the "wait 'til next year" that never comes.  Maybe so.

I'm okay with that.  I haven't been happy like this since 2009.  Because 40+ years of fandom have finally been rewarded.  The Cubs have won the World Series. 

The Cubs have won the World Series.

The Cubs have won the World Series.

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November 02, 2016

Cubswatch 2016: Eamus Catuli! AC 0000000

The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.  I'm laughing and crying at the same time. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the greatest moments of my life. 

Consider it flown

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November 01, 2016

Cubswatch 2016: "...And We'll See You Tomorrow Night!"

A few days ago, the Cubs were down three games to one to the Indians in the World Series, and they looked like they deserved to be down three games to one.  And then the Cubs did what they've done all year: win.  Which brought us to tonight: the Indians were throwing Josh Tomlin, who made the Boys in Blue look silly earlier.  And they were back in Cleveland, in front of a full house at what might be the loudest stadium in baseball.  Cubs fans everywhere were torqued down so tight it was hard to breathe.  The tension was unbearable.  For two batters.  Then Kris Bryant came up.

433 feet later, the Cubs had the lead.  By the end of the first inning, the Cubs had scored three runs and Cubs fans everywhere began to relax slightly.  By the time Addison Russell hit a grand slam in the third to make it 7-0, Cubs fans began to smile grimly.  One game for all the marbles on Wednesday.  The Indians will send their ace Corey Kluber out on short rest to face the Cubs Kyle Hendricks, 2016's ERA champion, going on normal rest.  I like those odds.


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