Deja Vu – Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Creed

spaceballs06In the 1990’s the original Star Wars trilogy was the Bible to pop culture nerds. When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out in 1999 the anticipation was what it must have been like 2000 years earlier when the New Testament came out.

Except instead of Jesus Christ we got Jar Jar Binks.

I fell asleep both times I tried to watch The Phantom Menace and the next two Star Wars movies weren’t that much better. So I didn’t have much hope when it was announced Disney was going to crank out a new Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future. In fact I dreaded the new movies as a cynical cash grab that would destroy the childhood innocence Star Wars and all its action figures, Underoos, and Pizza Hut limited edition cups represented.

So what a pleasant surprise Star Wars: The Force Awakens was. Someone who wasn’t a fan of the original Star Wars movies could point out plenty of plot holes, some wooden acting, and the fact the whole two and a half hour feature was basically a commercial for the next chapter, but they could say the same about the originals.  It would be more accurate to describe The Force Awakens as a two and a half hour love letter to those original three Star Wars movies.

This is a children’s movie not made for kids, but for 40 year olds who grew up on R2D2’s beeps and Chewbacca’s roars. Our heroes Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker are even older and grayer than us, but it gives you goosebumps to see them back on the screen again. The final shot left my jaw agape. All of a sudden the next Star Wars movie can’t come soon enough.

Critics have pointed out that many of the plot points for The Force Awakens were nearly identical to that of the original Star Wars movie, which I think was a brilliant move. That is also the strategy the new movie Creed took. Creed followed the same template of its 40 year old forefather, Rocky. In Creed, Rocky is now the wise old Jedi, teaching kind of young boxer Adonis Creed how to use the Force to come out of nowhere and get a chance at a title fight.

I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed Creed and The Force Awakens if I hadn’t grown up on Rocky and Star Wars movies, but I did and so I’m grateful they provided that welcoming nostalgia I’m always chasing when I go to the movies.

 

The Thanksgiving Story

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As I bought a loaf of bread I wished the man at the counter, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“I know of this holiday.” The gray bearded Italian said, “but I do not know what that means.”

As someone who sees it as my duty to educate the ignorant I felt obliged to bring class to session in the bakery. “It is a day when you come together with your family and give thanks.”

“For what?”

“Some people express thankfulness for the bounty of food placed in front of them, others for the company they get to keep. Some are grateful for a day off to watch or play a little football, for some it’s a marker that they made it through another year. I guess in a nutshell gratitude is what Thanksgiving is all about.”

“Oh, yes Thanksgiving. The day you Americans commemorate Native people feeding you when you were starving and reciprocating their charity with a genocide that would have made Pol Pot and Hitler blush, you then celebrate with gluttony and flatulence with the ritual slaughter of millions of birds and by watching a game where underprivileged men are highly paid to try to knock their fellow gladiator to the ground.”

“I suppose that’s one way to put it. But I thought you didn’t know what Thanksgiving was?”

“Do you take me for an idiot?” He asked. “Of course I know about Thanksgiving. It is happiness I wish to learn about.”

We’re Going To Disney World

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I always said the only way I would ever go to Disney World again was if someone dosed me with a truckload of psychedelics or if I had a kid.

Last time I went was 1992. My family took in a French foreign exchange student, as a thank you the school packed the visitors and their host kids on a bus and shipped them up to Orlando. I was thirteen so I had a blast with any dose of freedom. The most memorable moment was on The Pirates of the Caribbean ride when the French boys in the boat ahead of us threw the scrawniest of their number in the water right where the cannonballs seemed to be shooting. The kid was evidently not related to Jacques Cousteau. He screamed and cried as he jumped back in the boat.

Since those innocent days though I have grown a deep seated fear of Disney World and all it seemed to represent. The crowds, the commercialization, the crass idea that you can manufacture and market happiness.

If a trip to Ikea had me one step away from a panic attack, I could not imagine what Disney World would do to me.

And so when my Love Interest requested that we take our daughter there I always turned her down. “Go with your friends and their kids.” or “I’ll drive up there, drop you girls off at the theme park, and I’ll find some  watering hole to disappear into.”

But last month I relented. I rented a car, packed us in, and took the four hour drive to Orlando. The first rule I made to help myself get through this trip as a cheapskate was not to ask how much anything cost. If they started to tell me a price, I’d cover my ears, sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” and hand over the credit card. I broke this rule almost instantaneously as I drove into the theme park and they told me parking cost twenty bucks.

We got out of the vehicle and I prided myself that I walked the extra few booths down to find a shorter line. “These stupid tourists” I snickered as I saved us a few minutes, but I was going in with the wrong attitude. At Disney World as in life you will never defeat the line.

I don’t know if it was the high price of admission, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I feared and the clientele was not how I remembered it. In my memories every other person at the theme park was morbidly obese and every parent was threatening their kids with a whoopin’, but most of the people were trim and civilized towards their children.

You don’t see as many of the costumed characters anymore. You have to pay extra to get your pictures taken with the big dogs like Mickey Mouse or the princesses from Frozen. There were long lines for random supporting characters like the monkey from The Lion King who we started waiting in line for when he walked off and we were told he had to take a break to drink a banana milkshake.

Fortunately the lines for the rides weren’t bad. We went on the Jungle Boat which was filled with bad puns and African stereotypes. Our daughter’s favorite ride was the carousel. Mine was It’s a Small World which would be the safe zone if you did go to Disney World on a truckload of psychedelics.

When you’re there with a two year old though, the rides aren’t that important. The most amazing aspect is seeing it through her eyes, that all this manpower and resources were spent in celebration of an animated rodent.

This is a crazy world we live in, this Disney World.

 

The Great Whiteside Hope – 2015-2016 Miami Heat Season Preview

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As a fan of the Miami Heat since their inception the stakes and my expectations always seemed to rise. When the team first started in 1988 I was happy for them to beat anybody. When we got a few decent players like Glen Rice, Steve Smith, and Alan Ogg my expectations at the start of the season were that we would make the playoffs. When Pat Riley came in 1995 I expected a lengthy run in the playoffs.  When we got Shaquille O’Neal I expected a championship and in 2010 when LeBron, Bosh, and Wade joined forces I expected solar eclipses of legendary hoops.

Now that a year has a passed since LeBron James, Ray Allen, and any realistic hopes for a championship left Miami I’m still numb. It was annoying to watch last year’s Finals and know a Miami Heat team with LeBron and Ray Allen would have clobbered the champion Golden State Warriors.

But without a realistic hope for greatness it’s hard to feel anything with a new season upon us. After going four years where every Miami Heat game beckoned with the possibility of athleticism and skill that had never before been seen on a basketball court, where every playoff game had the pressure often reserved for the fate of civilizations, I’m left wondering now what’s the point of watching? To hope and pray they win 49 games and get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs?

I got spoiled.

And if the Miami Heat fans feel ennui toward the upcoming season how must the players and the coaching staff who were along for the epic four year ride where they went to the Finals every year feel? If last year is any indication when Dwyane Wade decided to sit out every other game, Birdman cut off his mohawk, coach Erik Spoelstra made player substitutions like he wanted to be fired, and Chris Bosh made up some auto-immune disease so he could take the second half of the season off, they were also in a state of existential crisis.

Now it’s year 2 post-LeBron. Dwyane Wade is back. Chris Bosh has recovered from his fictional illness. We have Goran Dragic as a point guard, who is an offensive upgrade from Norris Cole. Rookie Justise Winslow was by most expert’s opinions a top five player from the draft who somehow fell to the Heat at #10. Gerald Green is an athletic shooter even though he has only nine fingers and Amare Stoudamire is instant offense who bathes in red wine.

But our only true chance at greatness lies in center Hassan Whiteside. Last year the  seven footer had a triple double of over ten points, rebounds, and blocks. It’s a feat that hadn’t been done in the NBA in years and it took him less that half a game to accomplish that. He had more 20 rebound games in his first 50 games than any player since Shaquille O’Neal.

In a league that is over reliant on shorter perimeter players, having a true beast in the center like Whiteside often was last season, could be a chance to stand out. Under coach Erik Spoelstra I am a little concerned that won’t happen. In this year’s first game he benched Whiteside four minutes into the game. Whiteside only took four shots and had a sorry stat line of four points and six rebounds. Perhaps our coach thought that would motivate him and maybe it will, but Spoelstra’s track record of getting young players to reach their potential has not been solid, he gives up on them fairly quickly.

But if the Heat are going to go for greatness or at the very least have us spoiled Miami Heat fans care about this upcoming season, it’s Whiteside or bust.

The Pier

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We used to jump off the pier at the south point of Miami Beach. Some would do flips or dive head first, I was only brave enough to jump. It wasn’t life threateningly high, though someone once told me their stepdad spent his adult life in a wheelchair because of a tragic leap off it, but it was a rush that lasted as you sunk ten feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and stayed with you like the salt on your skin until you washed it off.

The pier was closed off and under renovation forever. Maybe a year ago it reopened, child proof with clear signs that there is no jumping or diving allowed.

I took my daughter out there on a beautiful day. Though there was no way she could slither through the fence I still do the math in my head of how long it would take me to dive after her if she did and how I could climb up the rocks while holding her.

But there is no drama or action to this day. We sat in a shady area and the water was so calm and clear even with my awful vision I could spot a parrotfish swimming by. When a tugboat motored through, the waves in its wake scattered out even more sea life. I asked my daughter if she saw the fish, she acted like she did but I’m pretty sure she’s pretending. Then she points out a turtle. I act like I see it as well.

Proper Identification

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I carried my California driver’s license until it expired. My photograph was taken at the Redwood City DMV, months before 9/11 and somehow when I got it renewed they allowed me to keep the same picture from when I was 22 years old. I like to think I aged gracefully, but when I sold my car to a junkman he questioned whether I was using someone else’s ID card.

Last May I finally got my Florida license. I waited in a long line behind a man who kept complaining how long it was taking which in turn was getting me riled up. Eventually it was my turn and I had a new picture taken.

It had been over a year since I had cut my hair and my locks had gotten long. It wasn’t until I stared at my picture that I realized how long my hair had grown. I looked like Michael Bolton. The frightening thing was I actually liked that I looked like Michael Bolton.

But the summer is hot and my hair kept growing and in a fit of energy I decided to rid myself of my hair. I had been threatening to do it all summer with each dread that I felt knotted up in my mane, but every time I pulled out my ID I thought I should keep my hair. Nobody has heard from Michael Bolton after all since he cut off his hair. And if there was one lesson I learned from the Bible it involves poor Samson.

But for the umpteenth time in my life I went against religion. I walked into a barber shop that promised ten dollar haircuts. A man was in the back reading a book. I asked how much he would charge to shave my head.

“You want me to shave that? No, I won’t do it.”

So I began to walk out of the store, when he stopped me. “You OK if I shave it with the machine.” He took out an electric razor.

I said “Yes.” His English wasn’t so great, but I guess he thought I wanted him to shave it with a straight razor. It didn’t take him more than a couple minutes to lop off all the hair I had been growing for months. I asked him what he was reading.

“The Bible.” he said. I started wondering how much the chapter on Samson had to do with him refusing his services.

He finished it up. In the mirror I thought I looked younger, though less like Michael Bolton.

Now when I hand someone my ID I have to explain, it is me but I shaved my head.

And it doesn’t expire until 2023.

 

A Movie Only Donald Trump Could Love – Sicario

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1GZCO

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

This is a statement by Donald Trump, it is also the ethos behind the hateful new movie, Sicario.

I’m all for xenophobia in brainless action flicks, but when a movie paints itself as a serious, pretentious work of art as Sicario does with its long silent shots of landscapes of the US/Mexican border, to portray an entire nation as villainous is more than reckless, it is immoral.

Sicario tells the tale of a female FBI agent who goes to Mexico with a couple fascist CIA agents to fight Mexican cartels. The Mexico in this movie is a land where dead corpses are hung naked in the middle of a busy city. It is a country where tattooed thugs drive around ready to kill you in a moments notice. It is a land filled with such vile creatures, that we should build a wall higher than the one seen in Game of Thrones.

In movies like the original Red Dawn when Russians were painted as the enemy and in Olympus Has Fallen when the North Koreans were depicted as heartless, it didn’t seem so wrong because the movies didn’t take themselves so seriously. Sicario however tries to position itself as high minded, as a true to life portrayal of the dangers Mexicans brings to America, and thus it feels much dirtier.

It’s kind of like how it was easier to laugh at Donald Trump before you realized a large percentage of the population were going to vote for him.

Somewhere in the middle of this anti-Mexican, pro-waterboarding screed could have been a good B action movie. The battle scenes are often intense, and an out of shape Benicio Del Toro as a supersolider is such a ridiculous killing machine that if they bothered to write him a few witty one-liners this could have been a bizarro version of Machete.

The director of this movie Denis Villeneuve hails from Canada. After seeing the venom that spews from his mind onto the screen, not only in Sicario, but also in one of his previous movies Incendies,  I feel if we have to build a wall on the border of this country, we should maybe look North.

Pride

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To those without kids it seems idiotic the way new parents boast about how their children can do the simplest task. Facebook feeds are filled with Moms and Dads sharing with the the world wide web about how their child mispronounced some word or fell flat on their face after taking their first step or some other simple feat that most any idiot can accomplish after downing a bottle or two of cheap liquor.

What those that haven’t been around newborns might not realize is when we enter this world we are not much more coordinated or cognizant than a sack of potatoes. The only two recognizable skills infants have over root vegetables is the ability to cry and expel bodily fluids. So it seems somewhat miraculous when your little turnip can now crawl or your parsnip is picking up a crayon and drawing.

But I try to keep it on the down low when my little rutabaga does something new, because I know the only thing people hate more than a complainer is a braggart. Still, there was a morning where I couldn’t help myself. We live on the second floor and most of the time when we take our daughter downstairs we count down the steps. That particular morning I started “One, two, three, fo–”

I stopped because I thought I heard another voice chiming in. And sure enough my daughter kept counting even though I had stopped. “Five, six, eight, nine.” She skipped a number, but I still was blown away. Where did this come from? I know by her age Tiger Woods could already swing a golf club and Mozart might have already written a symphony, but her being able to count at the age of two seemed supernatural.

So when we got to the playground and she started climbing up the ladder to the slide and a Mom of another two year old said hi and asked how I was doing I couldn’t help myself but to become one of those parents. “Amazing! This girl is able to count!”

Her response has me convinced there is intelligent design of the universe and this woman was created just to put me in my place. “She can do it in Spanish too right?” she asked. “My daughter’s been counting in both languages since 18 months.”

More Misery – Your 2015 Miami Dolphins Preview

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It feels like a lifetime ago, but I think it was just 2003 when I walked into a Los Angeles sports bar and sat next to a bitter guy in a Dan Marino jersey to watch the Miami Dolphins game. He was bitching and moaning every chance he had about how much he hated the Dolphins quarterback, Jay Fiedler, and the coach, Dave Wannstedt. His hatred for them was so absolute, I had to ask, “If you don’t like the coach or the quarterback, then why are you rooting for the team?”

He couldn’t come up with a good answer.

Now a dozen years later I am the bitter man in the Dan Marino jersey without a good reason for why I should be rooting for the Dolphins every Sunday except for out of a sense of habit, and maybe a dose of self-hatred. We are now entering year four of the failed Ryan Tannehill/Joe Philbin experiment with no end in sight. Both the quarterback Tannehill and the coach Philbin have this past year been granted contract extensions, without a single winning season in their three forgettable years together.

If I’m forced to say something nice about quarterback Ryan Tannehill, it’s that he is tough. No matter how hard he gets hit he always gets back up for the next play. Unfortunately that next play is most likely a three yard pass when the Dolphins are eight yards away from a first down. You could blame coach Joe Philbin for his unimaginative play calling (a short screen pass followed by another short screen pass), but the times he would ask Tannehill to throw deep, the ball would end up far from the receiver’s grasp.

The only thing that gives idiots like me hope for the Dolphins to have a winning record this upcoming season for the first time since 2008 is the schedule. It’s as forgiving as you could hope for. Of the 16 games the Dolphins play, only five are against teams that made the playoffs last year, and four of those games are at home where theoretically the Dolphins should have more hope (though Dolphins owner Stephen Ross continues to ignore that by begging the league not to give the Dolphins early afternoon games, he kills Miami’s home field advantage where the South Florida heat has traditionally slowed down opponents not used to Florida’s oppressive humidity). Most positive about the schedule for the Dolphins is after November 29 in New York there are no cold weather games where  for the last few years Dolphins playoff dreams have frozen into ice cube shaped tears.

But looking at the lack of talent on the Dolphin’s coaching staff and offense, it looks like more December tears are in our horizon. While our defense anchored by the addition of Ndamukong Suh should be powerful enough to keep the Dolphins respectable, there are no threats on offense in an era where teams are scoring a historic number of points.

Which leads to my prediction of  7 wins and 9 losses.

I can only imagine how angry that Los Angeles fan of the Dolphins is right now. With each passing year of Stephen Ross’s reign as owner those Jay Fiedler/Dave Wannstedt Dolphins teams feel like the glory years.

The Looks You Get On Summer Days

I walked downstairs at 2:30 in the afternoon and the air conditioning repairman gave me a really weird look when I said hi. Maybe I was being overly sensitive, but whatever the expression on his face was, it wasn’t friendly. Perhaps he was pissed still from a couple months ago when I called the management company to have him fix the air conditioning. He seemed to be working really hard while I was killing time. Then a couple weeks later when I saw him fixing someone else’s unit and he asked me how the air conditioning was running, I was honest and told him, “It’s still not that cold.”

Perhaps he took that as a criticism of his life’s work?

Maybe he was angry at me that while he was working in the hot sun fixing someone else’s air conditioning, I, with towel and goggles in hand, was obviously walking to a swimming pool seemingly living a life of leisure.

Then again maybe he was weirded out by the bathing suit I was wearing. It’s one of those jammers that keep you streamlined in the water, but when you’re walking the two blocks to the pool in the surface world makes you look like a creep with a penchant for too tight bicycle shorts.

As I was about to think about something else, I for some reason scratched my head. I noticed there was an extra weight on it. Oh yeah, my daughter was bugging me to put a pink bow barrette in my hair and I forgot to take it out.

That would explain his look.