Movie Review: The Great Yokai War (2005, Japan)

Movie buffs tired of seeing the same old rehashes or sequels really should give a look at what other countries are doing. Sure, you’ll have to deal with subtitles and a lot of little cultural differences, but you don’t have to be Joseph Campbell to realize that certain stories are universal. Priests are always going to be going into battle with the devil over the souls of the departed, romance is romance no matter what language the lovers speak, and young people are always going to go through rites of passage into adulthood.

Continue reading

Indiana Jones and the “Top Men”

There’s a scene at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that’s always bugged me a little. No, not the one where the crate containing the Ark is being hidden away in that huge warehouse (along with all the other crates containing things the Government wants to keep from us – the cancer cures, evidence of alien life, super-efficient energy technology, etc.), but the one just before that where Indiana slams the government agents at whose bequest he recovered the Ark:

Indiana: Fools. Bureaucratic fools!
Marion: What’d they say?
Indiana: They don’t know what they’ve got there.

Dr. Jones, the dedicated archaeologist that he is, wants the Ark to be studied and analyzed so that all its secrets can be learned. He suspects, with good reason, that the inept bureaucrats in the government will either botch the study or worse, bury it again.

Maj. Eaton: We have top men working on it right now.
Indiana: Who?
Maj. Eaton: Top… men.

But I really think that the government really does know what it’s doing, and hiding the Ark away like they did is most likely the best option.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures
by William DeBuys
Little, Brown and Company

It starts right in the middle of the “action” DeBuys is on a boat in the middle of the Nakai Reservoir, the lake formed by the construction of the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project (NT2) in central Laos. The project is the largest hydroelectric power plant in the country, producing so much electricity that there’s a surplus available for export to Thailand. The reservoir is so new that trees in the flooded area are still standing, an eerie reminder of what was there.

The reservoir itself borders the Nakai–Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. A percentage of revenue from the dam is supposed to be directed to conservation efforts there. And that area is where DeBuys is headed – to track down the elusive saola.

Continue reading

The Trouble with Google Maps

I’m pretty good at reading maps. I’ve never needed a GPS (well, except for that one time I took a rental car to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and even then I missed a turn and got lost). These days, when I’m traveling, I like to go online and print out a map of my route and the local area where I will be.

But often it’s not easy to do. It’s not that the online maps use color shadings that are worse than useless on a printout. It’s a matter of orientation and scale.
Continue reading

Movie Review: Russian Ark (Russia, 2002)

I’m sure you’ve heard the basics of this film. One long, single take of a walk through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and Russian history. The techical achievement is amazing, but for me the historical element was very minor. Sure, there were scattered references to historical figures and events, but they were in no real order. Nor was the movie a guided tour of the Hermitage.  If there is a plot or a message, it’s that museums serve as repositories of civilization.

The whole thing was intended to come across as a dream – and it does that extremely well.

Continue reading

Baseball Families

A little while ago, Joe Posnanski had a fun article on Hall-of-Fame fathers who had sons in the Major Leagues.

He looked at WAR (wins above replacement) to see which sons had the best careers. I wondered “What if you looked at entire families, and went with total WAR?” That sounded like a fun little project…

Continue reading

Random Thoughts on the 2015 All-Star Game

Pete Rose did pretty well in the pre-game show. A little work on knowing when to stop talking and let the other guys speak, and he’ll be OK. He’s got a wealth of baseball knowledge, and is a fine raconteur.

The “Franchise Four” was a pretty neat idea. Rather odd comparing the young expansion teams to the “classic” franchises. Evan Longoria is a very good player, but he’s no Mike Schmidt. But every team does have players to be proud of.

So, Nolan Ryan’s a “Franchise Four” with three teams! Hmm!!!

To those complaining about the selections: This was done via a fan vote. For all the problems with that method, keep in mind that the results will probably be forgotten before the season is out. Sure, you could simply pick the four players with the highest career WAR over their time with the team, but where’s the fun in that?

Same thing goes for the “Greatest Living Legends”….

Mike Trout reminds me of Johnny Mize or Ted Kluszewski. Not just the skills, but the clean-cut, square-jawed, wholesome good looks.

Johnny Mize, Mike Trout, Ted Kluszewski

Johnny Mize, Mike Trout, Ted Kluszewski

By the way, that home run of his was no “monster blast” (like McCutchen’s upper deck shot later in the game). It traveled something like 340-350 feet. Would have been caught in center field… Heck, it would have been caught in right center (370′ to the wall).

In a pitching-heavy era like the present, a low-scoring game is to be expected. Makes for somewhat dull viewing, unfortunately. 24 of the 54 outs were recorded via the strikeout.

Speaking of strikeouts, did anyone else notice that when Jacob deGrom struck out the side in the 6th on 10 pitches, not one of the batters so much as made contact? Looking, looking, swing and miss. Looking, looking, outside, swing and miss. Three swings and misses.

A three-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh, with plenty of top-notch pitching arms available? And all of the big bats for the NL already out of the lineup? Yeah, it’s pretty much over.

While it’s nice to win, the All-Star Game MVP Award is probably the least significant of all the pieces of hardware a player can get. It’s the equivalent of a “Player of the Game” award – the kind where the local radio station gives you a free dinner for giving them a post-game interview. Yeah, there are a lot of great names in the list of winners. But that’s simply because the players in an All-Star Game are already likely to be great players. There’s more luck than talent involved. The list of winners includes such legendary players as Jeff Conine, Garrett Anderson, and Terry Steinbach….

On Short Films

Presumably coming soon to a theater near you is the latest attempt at comedy from Adam Sandler, an homage to early video games called Pixels. Astute fans of pop culture may recall an episode of Futurama that had a segment where the Earth was invaded by video game creatures – but that’s not the source of this movie’s theme.

You’ll have to go back to 2010, to a short film by Patrick Jean….

Continue reading

The 2015 All-Stars

The voting has closed for this year’s Baseball All-Star Game. But even while it was still open, there was a lot of chatter about What’s Wrong With The Voting. It’s nothing new. Fans always gripe about both the voting and the selection process. Being able to complain is part of the fun. One of the lesser complaints is that every team is required to have a representative on the rosters. Often, this means that a “clearly deserving” player is left out. However, when you get right down to it, every team has at least one player who deserves to be an All-Star.

Without further ado, here are the best players on each team.

Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution

by Thomas P. Slaughter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

Pity the poor high school teacher of American History. They have so much required material to cover, along with an assortment of topics mandated by various outside agencies, that they cannot possibly cover everything, much less make what they do cover interesting.

I know from my own education (way back in the Mists of Time – the 1980s, to be precise), that when it came to American history we were briefed on the colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth – and then suddenly it was a century and a half later, and the Revolutionary War was starting in Boston. Slaughter attempts to rectify this omission.

Continue reading