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Confessions of a Cubs Fan: Ode to Opening Day

I do not care what any of the pessimists say, in my mind, 2016 will always be a great year. Despite the unprecedented celebrity deaths or the political divisiveness, what could possibly be better than the Cubs finally winning the World Series?

I remember last November – packed like sardines inside a Cubs bar, as far as you could possibly be within the continental United States from Chicago – watching Kris Bryant smile as he made the final out of the World Series. My eye’s welled with tears. I passionately embraced random strangers. I cheered and hollered and sang “Go, Cubs, Go” with my new friends loud enough to wake the dead. The improbably had finally happened, the impossible had finally happened, the Cubs won. The Curse of the Billy-Goat was finally broke. In that moment, I couldn’t help but share the sentiment of the final lines of the movie Moneyball (2011).

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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The city of Peoria, Ariz., and the Peoria Sports Complex played host to Air Force Week during a 2007 spring training baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers March 21. Airmen were invited to attend and the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard posted the colors. The Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team jumped in the game ball. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Making Baseball Great Again

Baseball, our national pastime. For a while there, it seemed like baseball, the sport built on tradition, was not going to stand the test of time. With spring training coming to a close, it seems like baseball fans everywhere should optimistically look forward to a great season.

So why has baseball struggled?

For the early part of the new millennium, baseball has had an issue of branding. After the steroid era, the sport was in a real funk. Having to rebuild a brand, and rethink a sport which had celebrated offensive power for at least a decade. Baseball also needed to regain trust. Trust of the many players who were seemingly thrown under the bus during the steroid witch hunts, and trust of the fans who felt they had been cheated and deceived by the league. Almost a decade removed from the congressional hearings and Department of Justice investigations, the sport seems to be leaving the past in the past and a new baseball is emerging.

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Don’t Switch Consoles Yet

On March 3rd, Nintendo released their newest gaming console — the Switch — and it looks like it is on track to be another failure. Do not get me wrong here, I have nothing but love for Nintendo, but sometimes Nintendo irks me more than a crying baby in a movie theater.

The first problem is: March…? Seriously, why on earth would they release a gaming system in March? Especially since the Switch will be hitting shelves with only nine games available. Instead of releasing the system immediately, why doesn’t Nintendo wait until November 2017, when most gamers are in the market for new systems, and the number of games accompanying the system break double digits? The news first broke about the Switch in October, 2016, and this would offer Nintendo an additional nine months to promote and manufacture hype.

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Lego My Batman

If you are anything like me, “skepticism” best described your thoughts when learning of The Lego Batman Movie. Yes, I love Lego’s. And yes, I love Batman. But “The Caped Crusader” in an animated film depicted by the world’s favorite plastic block construction toys? Sounded like too much of a good thing to me, perversely so in fact. I just did not think that Lego Batman could do the character justice. I did not think it could tell a Batman tale that anyone over 11 years old could get behind. I am glad to say: I was wrong.

Spoilers throughout.

The premise for the film is a rather simple one—what if Batman believed himself to be the bad ass that we believe he is? That’s Lego Batman, a narcissistic, frat-boy superhero who always saves the day, and always knows the he will. Lego Batman sacrifices friendship and relations out of his commitment to the superhero craft and out of his fear of losing others in the same way he lost his parents. Lego Batman’s narcissism is so profound, that even the Joker is disillusioned by it. In fact, we find that the Jokers criminal behavior is largely attention seeking. He just wants validation from Lego Batman, and to be accepted as the plastic hero’s arch nemesis.

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Who You Should Vote for NEXT Election!

If you are anything like me, the 2016 Presidential Election has grown into something akin to a trip to the dentist. Physically traumatic, emotionally scaring, and the momentary relief experienced upon conclusion, is rapidly replaced with a burning feeling of dread deep within my gut reminding me that I have to do this all in a few years. That was this election. Our collective angst and displeasure prior to the 8th of November, was rapidly replaced with even greater feelings of anxiety and discontent following the election. Our Nation has evolved into a media circus that is Trump, protests, and recounts. Then, in four years, we get to do it all over again! The only person I know truly ecstatic about the candidate they voted for was my friend Matt, a self-absorbed, egomaniac with sociopathic tendencies who decided to write himself in as President on his absentee ballot. Much like the other candidates on the ballot, he was more concerned with title-leadership and self-meriting than actually serving or finding solutions to make the world better.

Look at the two major Presidential Candidates. Both were accused of criminal activities by their opposition. One candidate possessed all the admirable qualities of a school yard bully. He spent most of the campaign placing blame and infighting, and barely seemed to embrace the ideals of his party. The other candidate was the candidate who was pre-ordained by the party elites and big donors to be the victor of the primary (despite popular support for her challenger) and she didn’t seem to understand how to work this thing we call “email”. You could not realistically place your hopes on Gary Johnson, after a few slip-ups his campaign fizzled out faster than a can of pop left open in the fridge.

Even after the election was over, the madness never stopped. With recounts, underway in key swing state, we are doomed to continue living the horrors of the 2016 elections for another month. We knew that no matter who won, we would all lose – our time, our brain cells. Eating raw shrimp left outside on a hot summer day is less nauseating than this past election. Most voters felt trapped between a rock and a hard place, as they were forced to pick the lesser of two evils. America, we could have done better. We should have done better. We need to do better. Today, let’s beginning grooming a unifying candidate for the 2020 election.

America, I have found the solution.

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Livin’ In A Sports-Fans Paradise

maxresdefaultWith the Olympic Games in Rio behind ups and the start of football season around the corner, I came to a realization.  Here in ‘Murica, we are not just about apple pie, gun rights, and freedom – we are also about sports.  In fact, when we really think about it, we would be hard pressed to find a better nation for sports fans.  This is evidenced by the United States’ performance at the Olympic games which ended in 121 total medals.  Few places have both the diversity and depth within their sports culture.  Yes, there are fitter nations or nations with more passionate “futball” fans, but few places have such an abundance of competitive sports.  Those of us within the United States are really fortunate enough to be living in a sports-fans paradise.

But as I watched the Olympics, I could not help but think about the array of sporting events which we have far too minimal exposure to living in the United States.  That got me thinking, what are a few of the other sports from around the world which we do not realize, are even sports.  Sure – football and baseball will always remain the cornerstones of American sporting culture.  We are unlikely to shed the contributions from our Canadian neighbors-to-the-North, basketball and hockey.  The rise in the popularity of soccer and the expansion of Major League Soccer show that it is here to stay.  Since, we have a long history of adapting sports, I got to thinking, what are some of the other sports which would be welcomed in the mainstream American sports culture.  So, in the name of multiculturalism, the shared human experience, and sportsmanship which the spirit of the Olympics breed, I decided to investigate some of the more obscure sports from around the world.  It turns out, most of these are already exist in niche communities in the United States, and I think it would serve us well to integrate these events into our collective, mainstream sporting culture.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – It Will Be On Facetime

Unless you were living under a rock, you will recall the foiled coup d’état attempt in Turkey. The Turkish military attempted to seize control while President Tayyip Erdogan was vacationing on July 15, 2016. The President took to Facetime to encourage the populace to take to the streets in support of the elected government. Now if you are well versed in Turkish history, you will remember that military coups are not uncommon. The military intervened in 1960, 1971, and 1980. In 1997, the Turkish military executed a “post-modern coup”. The military – the secular defenders of the constitution – has initiated coups to restore order and to protect the secular nature of the republic created by Ataturk.

SEDAT SUNA / EPA
SEDAT SUNA / EPA

This is one of the reasons why many find this attempted coup so suspicious. The Turkish government continues to point the figure at Erdogan’s longtime rival, an Islamic Cleric living in Pennsylvania. Yet, accusations that the secular military would support radical aspirations to overthrow the government seem unfounded giving its institutional history. Furthermore, the hasty and unplanned execution of the coup which failed to lockdown national media, the presidential palace, and transportation centers seems out of character for a military which successfully orchestrated 3 previous military coups. For this reason, accusations continue to fly of Erdogan’s knowledge and even orchestration of the coup. Now, the President has the opportunity to imprison his opposition, implement centralized control, and even dismantle the military, the one institution threatening his authoritarian ambitions. This also portrays the longtime Islamist Erdogan as the secular defender of the Turkish Republic, creating an ideal scenario where he can maintain his agenda under the guise of defending secular democracy from elements (in the media, military, and education systems) which he feels threaten the will of the people.

Other theories have circulated that Iran is behind Turkey’s instability, as a means to destabilize western relations with their longtime neighbor. Some argue that Iran is simply trying to set pieces in motion to bring about the Islamic Republic of Turkey. While a secular, democratic Turkey with strong ties to the west and NATO may not be in Iran’s best interest; the creation of a Sunni Islamist government in Anatolia could rise to challenge Iranian interest as well. Either way, all the facts regarding the attempted coup remain a mystery.

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And God Bless Football

The former sports writer in me felt compelled to crank this one out.  Football will never be the same.  Peyton Manning, “The Sheriff”, is finally going to ride off into the sunset.  He will be one of the lucky few to do so after winning on the game’s biggest stage.

I remember in 2003 when Manning led the Colts to three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat the Buccaneers.  I remember the 2007 AFC championship game when the Colts overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat the Patriots.  I remember the 2009 Colts – Dolphins game, when Manning carried the team to a victory despite the Colts having the ball for only 15 minutes’ in total possession.  I remember in 2013 when Denver beat Baltimore after Manning threw seven touchdowns in the season opener.  I have seen every game; and as a Hoosier, I am sure my sentiments towards Manning are obviously clear.  Nonetheless, I have no interests in debating his game play or ranking his Hall of Fame career right now.

The press conference to commemorate number 18s, eighteen seasons in the NFL, was somewhat typical.  As expected, the Bronco’s praised Manning for his contributions to the team during the past four years– two Super Bowl appearances, an MVP award, and the most record-setting offense in league history – and thanked him for coming to Denver.  Manning thanked the teammates he played with, the organizations he played for, the coaches he played under, and the fans he played before.  He did so with the eloquence, sentiment, and self-deprecating comedic wit we have come to expect from Manning.  In the end, Manning delivered one of the most memorable and heartfelt retirement speeches in the history of professional sports (at least in my opinion).

But Manning ended his remarks with something I didn’t expect.  He said “God bless each of you, and God bless football.”  God bless football.  And God bless football? (more…)

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Deadpool is Waiting for You

deadpool1Time for a stupid question, is there anybody out there who hasn’t watched Deadpool?  Well, is there anyone out there other than my dad, who didn’t watch it?  Even he intended to see it, until he learned it was not in fact the sixth installment of the Dirty Harry franchise.  So is there anyone who actually knows how to use the internet, that didn’t see it?  I didn’t think so.

Well, humor me for a second. Maybe you live under a rock and don’t know who Deadpool is?  Or maybe, unlike me, you actually care other people – and spent your Valentine’s Day catering to them instead of sitting through a certain comic book flick with your man crush Ryan Reynolds for the third time.  Either way, instead of wasting your time (and more importantly mine), I am going to provide the top reasons why you should have seen Deadpool.  Or possibly, why you should see it again.

The first reason Deadpool is nothing like the “previous attempt” at Deadpool.  Any dedicated comic book fan, would rather spend a frigid weekend at the Weapons X facility than relive the ending of Wolverine Origins.  This film is nothing like that… in any way.  One of the fatal flaws was of the original, was to sew the lips of the self-titled “merc with the mouth” shut.

As a comic book fan, I am often torn when presented with an origin story. On one hand; it is great to witness the birth of characters I love; and painful when revisionists attempts to reinvent them.  Yes, I had issues with the accuracy of Wade’s origins – and the origins of other peripheral characters like Ajax and Angle Dust – but for the most part these were tolerable and entertaining.

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Have you seen The Man in The High Castle?

Man In CastleThe beloved holidays, perfect for spending time with friends and family. So naturally, I saturate mine with all the series I failed to keep pace with during the rest of the year, among them Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.  I caught the pilot when it premiered back in the beginning of 2015 and was anxiously awaiting November for the release of the rest of the series.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The shows premise is a simple one – imagine the Nazi’s had won the Second World War.  Interested yet?  You should be.

The show is based upon a novel with the same name by Phillip K. Dick.  Now, there are a variety of difference between the book and the show, and I am not really interested in contrasting the two mediums.  I will however add that I have found the shows creation of the character the SS Obergruppenführer John Smith (played by Rufus Sewell) is really a brilliant addition.

The show is very different from most of the other shows on television.  The show is deliberate, in its decisions to create characterization and unravel the plot, something that is a real treat in this era of ADHD inspired storytelling and contrite characterization that is modern television.  The period nature of the show, makes it different and memorable.

What I found most I enjoyed most from the show, was the not-so-subtle political dialog unfolding on the screen.  The show presents three separate interpretations of the United States as it could have been and in doing so forces the viewers to consider many of the most pressing political issues of today.  Characters find themselves living in a surveillance state, robbed of their right to bear arms, and deprived of their freedoms of speech and assembly.  Some of these themes are concepts which Dick explores in his original work; but liberty minded individuals cannot help but recognize that many of these issues are the same political issues with which libertarians currently grapple.  The show is worth a serious look (if you have seen it already it is worth watching again) as it has just been renewed for a second season.  For liberty lovers everywhere, defenders of natural rights and the rule of law, you cannot afford to miss it.

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Star Wars and Story

There is something about the pending arrival of The Force Awakens that I find to be deeply unsettling. As December 18th approaches, that feeling in my gut grows and those nagging voices in my head hound me as I fall asleep. Now, I converted to Star Wars when I was six years old, and have been a devout follower since. I’ve attended Celebrations and multiple Fridays at Comic-Con, yet something haunts me about this latest installment of the franchise.

empire-strikes-back-03At first I thought it was Lucas’s lack of creative involvement. But let’s face it, while George Lucas is a masterful storyteller; some of his greatest decisions as a filmmaker where to employ talented individuals to help him bring his vision to life. When we look at one of the greatest films ever made – The Empire Strike Back – Lucas brought on Irving Kershner to direct, and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to convert his story to screenplay. Lucas is still involved in this project as a creative consultant, and maybe this film will not fall victim to the same snags that prequel trilogy did with an oversaturation of Lucas’s involvement.

Then I considered that maybe my fear was that the new Star Wars film, wouldn’t feel like a Star Wars film. Any true Star Wars aficionado experienced culture shock when watching the prequel trilogy, resulting from an over-exposure to CGI. JJ Abrams has maintained that he will remain true to the practical effects used in the original films. Based on Abrams earlier films, we know that he is no stranger to preserving the integral magic of cinema with astonishing, practical effects.

Maybe my disappointment rested with the issue of “cannon”. Surely, this new film could not exist within the realm of the expanded Universe which has grown exponentially in the past three decades? However, the Expanded Star Wars Universe is in fact, expansive; and there are many contradictory story lines already within. One of the best examples of this was when the origins of Boba Fett were “rewritten”, after the revelation in Episode II that he was in fact, merely an imperfect clone. I made peace with that blasphemous information (though I still maintain that Fett’s original origin story is the better of the two) and I imagine that I will learn to make peace with future revelations, no matter how harmful.

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Title: HOME ALONE ¥ Pers: CULKIN, MACAULAY  /  PESCI, JOE  /  STERN, DANIEL  /  BLOSSOM, ROBERTS ¥ Year: 1990 ¥ Dir: COLUMBUS, CHRIS ¥ Ref: HOM045AG ¥ Credit: [ 20TH CENTURY FOX / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / SMETZER, DON ]
HOME ALONE (1990)
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January 1, 1990
Photo by DON SMETZER/20TH CENTURY FOX/The Kobal Collection/WireImage.com

To license this image (10553328), contact The Kobal Collection/WireImage.com

Spending Time Home Alone This Week.

h-HO00001775Like all true 90’s kids, I have been anxiously awaiting the chance to relive my favorite tale of holiday-hi-jinks on the big screen – Home Alone. In remembrance of twenty-five years since Kevin’s first victory over the “Wet Bandits”, the film will be released for two nights (non-consecutively, mind you) this upcoming week.

Home Alone remains one of the most profitable comedy films ever made. Following release in November of 1990, it topped the box office for 12 straight weeks, and remained in theaters until the following June. But the real success of the film transcends profits and clever screen writing; as the film has managed to cement itself firmly in Nineties nostalgia somewhere between The Adventures of Captain Planet, Nirvana, and the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

Two decades into the new millennium, the film is a warm reminder of how the world was in the pre-digital age. For a moment we can travel back in time to a world before Skype, when internationally calling was actually a complication. We can graciously relive the innocent freedom which we once took so for granted prior to instantaneous and ubiquitous cellphone communications. Or we can once more travel through airport security with ease as we did prior to September 11th.

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