Monday, June 23, 2008

My First Trip to National's Park

Pretty much on a last minute whim, I ventured to Nationals Park for the first time this evening. They were hosting the Angels in an interleague matchup, what my friend Bill calls “bisexual baseball”. It turned out that the terminology was very appropriate this evening. Yup, it was “Alternative Lifestyle Night” at the old…I mean, new ballpark tonight. The Washington Gay Men’s Chorus sang the anthem, a Gay advocate named Dr. Moobah or some such nonsense threw out the 1st pitch (a 40 foot strike….at least it was a case where you know who the pitcher and catcher were). The only thing missing was a Rep. Larry Craig Bobblehead doll (it comes in it’s own stall!).

My adventure began when I finished a gig at the National Labor College at about 6, knowing that my wife was away covering the California/Carolina league all-star game, and that my daughter was having her usual hang with her boyfriend. The evening was stormy, so I figured there would be a rain delay, and that scalping a ticket would be easy with a lot of no-shows.

But the main problem right now at Nats Park is parking. I passed on the old RFK lot/shuttle system, keen to see if there was a more autonomous method I could work. I remembered that it’s easy to park on the street up in L’Enfant Plaza, and I was correct. I found a spot right near the hotel. Then I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find the entrance to the Metro. Up the stairs, down the stairs, through the hotel, around the hotel. Kids, I was literally standing next to the post demarking the Metro station, without a clue as to where the access was. The area was deserted, and I just tried all these entrances until I found it by sheer luck.

Anyway, 2 quick stops and I was there. Upon surfacing, I immediately ran into a scalper, who offered me a $60 ticket behind the dugout at face value. Not intending to bargain, I merely asked him for a cheaper seat, at which point he began knocking $10 off, and when he got to $40 I bought it. I folded off what I thought was two twenties, then he came running after me to return an extra that had gotten in there. Wow…an honest scalper!

The seat was fantastic, as was the park. The jumbotron is amazing…like having a giant “gameday” display running during the game. Site-lines are as advertised, all the angles seem good. The food booths look great, but are still offering the same old crap. I had a Ben’s Chili Dog, and they are a helluva lot better on U St.

As always, the new parks have borrowed much of the extra crap that goes on at minor league parks; loud music, stupid giveaways, lots of annoying gimmicks that distract from the game. You know, baseball is just such a bad and boring game that you need a Presidential Mascot race to keep people interested. In this one, Teddy and George held down and beat Abe senseless while Tom ran to victory, apparently ending a long winning streak by Abe. I guess Abe should have skipped the game and gone to the Theatre.

Yes there was a game, and a good one at that, until the Nats’ defense unraveled on them in the 8th. Jason Bergmann dueled with Angels’ ace John Lackey inning for inning, and had a lead after 7. But thanks to Saul Rivera and Felipe Lopez treating the baseball like a bar of soap (bad image for tonight’s game…sorry), the Nats coughed up the lead and lost.

I did leave before it was over, and was shocked to see that I had to wait 10 minutes for a train in the packed and humid Navy Yard station. One thing about NY, you leave anytime from the 7th on, Yankee or Shea, and there are subways lined up one after the other to take the fans.

The Green line finally showed, and two sweaty stops later I was back at the invisible station. I found the elevator up to the hotel, and, dodging the rats on the Plaza outside, found my car unmolested, thank Abner. From the time I left my seat to my car was about a half hour. Not good. But, it was cheap! $2.70 roundtrip on the Metro.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

After seeing the new entry in the Indiana Jones series, I have come to two conclusions. Well, probably about 20 conclusions, but two that I find somewhat definitive.

1). Pretty much without exception, I think sequels are inferior. Oh yes, I know you are all going to say - but what about “Godfather Part 2?” What about “The Empire Strikes Back”?

What indeed? Both movies are fine, but had much less of an effect on me than the originals. The original Godfather, the first time a Mafia story had been written and directed by Italians, was the most completely fresh and distinctive effort in the genre since “Little Caesar”. We all know what “Star Wars” did for Scifi/Fantasy. Their follow-ups, while fine films in their own right, just could not have the impact of the originals.

It’s kind of the same thing as when you try and recreate an experience that was wonderful the first time (like a vacation), and it falls way short. It ALWAYS falls way short. Maybe it’s because the expectations are so high. Maybe it’s because the newness is not part of the equation. Maybe that’s just how it is.

This rule has been so consistent in my life, that it even applied to my dogs. I had a wonderful pet Bichon who was the best, most relaxed and loving animal. She died rather suddenly and heartbreakingly. About 6 months later we as a family decided to get back on the horse (how’s THAT for a mixed animal metaphor) and get another Bichon. While I do indeed love my new pet, she is not exactly the replacement we had hoped for. Almost 3, and she still won’t qualify for totally house-trained, refuses to let me watch a game or movie when I want to without bugging me, tears every toy we get her to shreds, and generally terrorizes anybody passing by the yard. To quote Paul, “You don’t look different, but you have changed”.

But I digress (Oh, really?). Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull suffers by comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark in so many ways that you can’t enumerate them in a blog. It’s pretty much on the level of Temple of Doom. But where is the gross out joke? Oh, Indy has to hold a snake to get pulled out of a quicksand-ish trap.

Most of the stunts are forgettable, with the exception of the triple waterfall gag, which I will deal with in a moment. Even the heavies are no challenge to Nazis. The Commies of the 50’s just don’t give me that same galvanic fear-response that is generated by the Reich. Plus, their motivation is as much in question as is our hero’s. Another item that pales by comparison is the MacGuffin. It''s basically a Visitor’s skull courtesy of Area 51. Certainly not a rival for the Ark or the Grail.

There are things that make it a cut above the usual action tripe we have shoved in our faces; The acting isn’t too bad, the pacing is quite good, the little side and in jokes are mildly diverting. But there are so many mistakes and loose ends, stuff you would never see in a Spielberg or Lucas effort from the 20th century. I remember watching Star Wars with a friend, who turned to me and stated, “there isn’t a hair out of place in this movie”. Well, there’s a whole damn toupee flopping around with this one!

2) (Finally he gets to the second conclusion.) This one will really be a shocker. I have decided that CGI effects are not as convincing as the old fashioned matte method. (Gasps are heard, then crickets.)

In the aforementioned triple waterfall scene, Indy and an amphibious vehicle full of characters plummet down 3 waterfalls, all at least 50 stories high. Let’s forget, shall we, that this would mean certain death for even Greg Louganis, and simply suspend our disbelief. It just did not look real at all….it had a jumpy, metallically fake veneer. Without wanting to, I immediately conjured up the computer screen upon which this action was designed, animated and choreographed.

Here am I, trying to get into the escapist fun that keeps me from thinking about the demise of our once robust society, the lack of good African-American music on the airwaves, the fact that Djavan came on tour to Boston and New York, but NOT to my Washington, DC, the puddle on my new hardwood floors created by my replacement dog….and all I can think of is the process that created this not so special effect. Some escape, right?

I say let’s forget about computer generation altogether, and go back to when real artists ruled the SFX world. Why, I’d even welcome back stop-motion frame by frame Harryhausen effects. I would! I would!