Film review: The Thing (1982)

July 30, 2012

One of my younger associates (an English/French teacher … stop laughing, Jonah) has finally decided to get caught up on some good films that he has not had a chance to see.  I don’t mind saying that I have a modest film collection that I like to view from time to time.  He took a look at my catalog, and selected a lengthy list of films he wanted to see, so I have started a loan program for him.  I am, of course, all about education, and am thrilled when I can share something with someone else.

So, as part of this, now that the summer film season is over, I am going to start a series of reviews on some older films, and I cam going to share a bit as to why they rank among my favorites.  Maybe I will even inspire a little viewing for some readers.  I’m going to start with the films that I am lending out to my colleague.

I think films can be great for a number of reasons.  With few exceptions, great films have to tell great stories.  Films have to set the mood properly, and have to create an environment.  The writers and actors need to allow for character development or at least establishment.  Mood and environment encompass a great many things:  music, set design, cinematography, vsual and sound effects, costuming and makeup.  Costuming and makeup can overlap into character development, though a lot of that is on the writer and actor.

Not all films emphasize all of these elements equally, nor should they.  Take a very strong film like As Good As It Gets.  There is virtually nothing to establish mood or setting, but character development is everything, and it required strong writing and acting to pull off.

John Carpenter’s The Thing, requires a slightly different approach.

Some background:  The Thing is based on a 1938 novella by legendary author Joseph W. Campbell, Jr.  The novella was included in the Science Fiction Writers’ Association Hall-of-Fame (edited by Ben Bova) in 1973 as one of the most significant written works of science fiction of the last century.  In 1951, Howard Hanks adapted the short story into The Thing From Another World, which required changes to the Campbell story because of the limitations of technology in 1951, in addition to the limitations of censorship and standards of the time.  Hawks’ story changes the direction of the story and turns it into a Cold War allegory.  The film is considered a classic despite its shortcomings (the Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry in 2001).

John Carpenter enjoyed the film and the original story, and in the mid 1970s began plans to make a film that would be a more faithful retelling of the novella, rather than a remake of the Hawks film.  In John Carpenter’s blockbuster Halloween, fans will note that The Thing From Another World is playing on television Halloween Night, and is thus in the background of many shots that take place in the last hour of that film.

As I noted above, The Thing, is not really a story of character development, rather it is a film that is based predominantly on mood and setting.  In my opinion, with the exception of AlienThe Thing is the finest example of a gothic horror film ever made (typically this is an honor reserved for the 1931 film versions of Frankenstein or Dracula, but I don’t think either of these are definitive gothic horror stories, let alone the definitive examples.  One of the critical aspects of gothic horror is that the characters are isolated from society.  Much of Dracula takes place in London.  One of the crucial scenes in Frankenstein takes place near a town at Frankenstein’s home.  That’s not really isolation.  There are recurring characters in gothic fiction:  the wanderer, the buffoons (to break the tension, and thus intensifying the more anguishing emotional effect).  The Thing has these.

The story:  Antarctica, 1982.  The film is set at the start of the Anarctic winter at an isolated United State Science Foundation research station.  Life is boring as the station if getting ready for the winter.  The station’s helicopter pilot, MacReady, is playing a computerized  chess game.  He is borderline alcoholic, possibly brought on by time in Vietnam.  He is a sore loser, pouring a class of Jim Beam into the computer when he unexpectedly loses.  That morning, the station is confronted with an odd event.  A dog comes running into the camp, pursued by a Norwegian helicopter, with one occupant shooting at the dog.  The copter lands outside the camp, with the shooter emerging with a grenade.  The grenade slips, destroying the helicopter, but the shooter escapes to continue firing at the dog before he is shot by the station commander, Garry.

Attempts to radio the Norwegian base are unsuccessful, and unsure as to what happened, MacReady takes one of the station doctors, Copper, to the Norwegian station.  They arrive and find the station still smoking, mostly burned down.  They find a strange burned carcass in the snow outside one building, and find another corpse at the radio with his wrist slit.  There was clearly a fight that has resulted in massive bedlam.  They also discover a partially melted block of ice with an empty depression in the middle;  as if something were inside of it, and is now gone.  They recover some video tapes and documents before loading the strange burned carcass onto the helicopter.

Back at the station, the team pieces together some details.  The video shows that the Norwegians had found some large object buried in the ice, and had used thermite to melt the ice.  The charred remains that were recovered show an odd mix of human organs.  MacReady leads a team to the site that where the Norwegians had found the object in the ice, while others continue looking through the Norwegian documents.  Macready and his team find a crashed space craft that the Norwegians had liberated from the ice.  Back at the station, the Americans learn that the Norwegians had also found the remains of the space craft’s passenger.

That night, the Norwegian sled dog undergoes a transformation, into an alien creature, and attacks the other sled dogs in the American kennel.  The Americans are able to kill the alien with a flamethrower.  They then begin to discover the truth.  This alien creature is actually a microbe that invades an organism’s cells and duplicates them, allowing the alien to move around undetected.  This is more disconcerting as the Norwegian dog had been roaming the station for the better part of two days, leading the men to realize that any one of them could be  infected.  Copper determines that there is a blood test that could be used to determine an infected individual, but upon entering the lab, they learn that someone has destroyed the station’s blood supply that was crucial for the test.  Now they are certain that one of them is not who they seem to be, and paranoia sets in.

The other station’s doctor, Blair, begins a computer simulation, and realizes the true horror:  if the alien microbe makes it to civilization, the entire Earth will be doomed to infection and replication within a few years.  Blair kills the remaining sled dogs, and destroys the helicopter and snow cats.  After destroying the radio equipment, Blair is caught, sedated, and locked in a remote cabin.

The station’s cook finds a part of MacReady’s clothing that appears charred, implying that his clothing had been torn off and bloodied, perhaps while manifesting himself as the thing, and cuts him off in the Arctic night.  MacReady makes it back to the station and threatens to kill all of them with dynamite.  He has determined a new test:  blood exposed to extreme heat shouldn’t react, but if each blood cell is one of these microbes, they will attempt to run from a hot needle.  He forces everyone to give blood, and in the process finds that two of the team members are infected.  They are killed, but not before one of them kills another of the group.

The remaining team members go out to give the test to Blair, but find he has escaped.  They notice some of the floor boards in the cabin are loose, and discover a tunnel under the cabin that leads to an ice cave with a partially constructed space craft.  they destroy the space craft, and decide that they must all resolve to die trying to kill Blair … that if they don’t, Blair will simply allow himself to freeze until a rescue party arrives to recover the bodies, and hitch a ride back to civilization.  They proceed to raze the station.  Two of them find Blair and are killed.  MacReady finally uses dynamite to destroy the powerhouse with Blair inside.

The film ends with a lost member of the team, Childs, showing up again.  MacReady shares some alcohol with him, noting that they won’t last long.  Childs asks if they should try to reach civilization, but MacReady seems content to simply wait and freeze.

Which is exactly what he predicted the monster would want to do …. Fade to black.

The Thing is a compelling survival story.  Certainly the stakes are not simply individual survival, but the survival of the planet if the team is unsuccessful.  This story unfolds at first like a mystery before becoming more of an adventure story.  In keeping with its gothic roots, the film is mostly set in the dark of the Antarctic winter, with the team marooned at the station, unable to leave or even communicate.  Not only is escape from their fate impossible, but a call for help is equally impossible.  It is isolation taken to an extreme.  The dark, cold, stormy outside is only interrupted by the spartan station, boring and artificial day-to-day life that is the existence (I wouldn’t say, life) of the team.  Another aspect of setting the mood is the music.  John Carpenter usually scores (and occasionally performs) the music for his films.  For this film, he turned over the scoring to legendary composer Ennio Morricone (Morricone is probably best known for his ocarina and flute theme for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).  Morricone uses a very minimalist approach to the score (similar in some respects to Jerry Goldsmith’s score from Planet of the Apes), though Morricone includes some synthesizer music in addition to some recurring base line which echoes a heart beat throughout the theme.  It adds to the sense of desolation, loneliness, and isolation that the American team must feel.

There is no character development, per se.  Rather, each member of the team occupies a different niche.  MacReady, as noted, is not a people person, nor is he really a leader … yet, he is the protagonist.  He is hardly a classic hero, who has apparently just enough sense to not so much figure out what is happening, but piece together the small parts of the mystery that the rest of the team are able to figure out.  I think making MacReady too smart removes some of his humanity.  The character as presented is an all-to-human person who reacts more out of his own sense of preservation at first, before realizing that escape is impossible, and he simply must resign himself to dying to save the Earth (and without the usual heroes fanfare, because no one will likely know what he did)   MacReady’s portrayal is easily a character that you can relate to.  Garry, the leader of the station, is a stock character:  the leader who has more confidence in his abilities than he should.  The cook, Nauls, plays the role of the buffoon, allowing for occasional humor.  This has the effect of raising the mood so that later the mood can be lowered, allowing the audience to feel the sways in emotional resonance being presented.

In the end:  these men are in Antarctica, not a place one is sent as a reward.  This group is not the best of the best.  Except for one or two scientists who are there doing research, it is easy to see that this motley group is here because they didn’t fit elsewhere or were trying to escape from something else in their lives.  They get along out of necessity, not because they want to.  Keep in mind though, this isn’t like The Dirty Dozen kind of misfits where they overcome their differences to win the day … even as the situation deteriorates, and it is to their advantage to stick together and stay sane, the element of paranoia keeps them apart.  You almost wonder what is keeping one of the people who knows they aren’t infected from just killing everyone.  I can only guess that it would have made for too short a movie, but it is easy to accept that the infected probably realized that given enough time, the uninfected would make their job easy by killing themselves.

What I really appreciate about this film is its ability to deliver such a dark emotional story.  Especially for its time, 1982, very few films attempted, let alone succeeded, in creating an emotional space that gets as dark as this, while at the same time pairing it with a compelling story.  John Carpenter, in later interviews and in the director’s commentary for the film, noted that the story had an accidental resonance in culture of the early 1980s:  the story told of a microbial infection, spread via bodily fluids, which killed without being able to easily tell who had the disease, all while creating intense paranoia about who was infected and who wasn’t.  It was hard to miss the accidental parallels between this film’s story and the emergence of AIDS in the early 1980s.

The film’s ending is intentionally ambiguous.  Certainly, MacReady is willing to freeze to death, exactly as he thought the creature might do.  Childs has been gone throughout much of the final battle.  Are they both the last heroes standing, or is one of them hiding a secret?  John Carpenter has refused to comment, leaving this to the nightmares of the audience to contemplate who has really won this battle.  Author Peter Watts penned an interesting short story entitled “The Things” which is a retelling of parts of this film from the creature’s perspective; giving it a slightly sympathetic motive to the alien as a creature unable to understand the loneliness/individuality of the human race, and only wants to help (akin to the Borg from Star Trek).  The short story was nominated for several international awards, including the 2011 Hugo Award.

Several films, for sake of the box office, refuse to take risks in order to attract audiences.  I appreciate when directors are willing to take risks for making the film right.  Gory films rarely are box office gold, and The Thing certainly risked a great deal in establishing the need for gore to show creature transformations (and subsequently did not make a ton of money at the box office).  The practical effects in some levels don’t hold up to the CGI available today, but there is something to be appreciated from the quality of the practical effects that create the horror elements of the film.  Another risk:  no women.  In 1982, it was unusual for women to be posted at Antarctic research stations.  It would have been no problem to include a woman in the film, giving 52% of the available patrons someone to better relate to, but Carpenter stayed true to the original source material, and to the current reality.  Trying to think through the addition of a female-male relationship added to this film, I can only think that it would have detracted from the story.  On an aside, I think it would be interesting to see this story replayed with an all female cast, but I think a mixed cast begins adding an unnecessary element to the story.  I say this with a great deal of irony, because the only gothic horror film that I would rank ahead of The Thing, is Alien, and that story in fact involved a co-ed team … but more on that at a later time.

For its pioneering darkness and quality, for its integrity to the already strong source material, and for providing a great emotional journey, I think The Thing, is a worthy film for those who want a good (but safe) scare.

Trivia:  According to the (sadly) late Doctor Jerri Nielsen’s autobiographical book Ice Bound (which is a book I would highly recommend), it is tradition at the real US base the South Pole (Amundsen-Scott), upon seeing off the last plane and sealing themselves up for the winter, to watch this film.  It takes a very special sense of dark humor to watch this film under those conditions … kind of like the sick and twisted folks who would show Snakes on a Plane or United 93 as in-flight entertainment.  You have to love dark humor like that!

Awards of Note:

* IMDB Top 250 of all-time (#147 as of today).

* IMDB Top 50 Sci-Fi films of all time (#17 as of today).

* IMDB Top 50 Horror films of all time (#5 as of today).

* Scariest movie of all time (Boston Globe).


Sometimes you forget …

July 23, 2012

… history isn’t as ancient as you think it is.

Earlier this year, in one of my graduate classes (Ethics of School Leadership), our professor told us of his first assignment as a principal at an elementary school in North Carolina.  It was 1970, the year before I was born.  He told us that the school was underperforming on standardized tests, and that he had a mandate to change the school.  He visited the school in May, the year before  he was to take over, and walked from room to room.  The first room was a beautiful kindergarten room, and the kids were gathered around the teacher for story time.  He walked to the next room, also kindergarten, also story time, kids gathered around the teacher.

The first room:  white kids, white teacher.  The second room:  African-American kids, African-American teacher.  A pattern repeated as he went from room to room.  In short, he had his work cut out for them.

I live in a world where the concept of overt prejudice is foreign.  People putting down minorities or women in any serious way is just not tolerated.  I’m not talking about the language, I’m talking about the conceptualization.  In my mind, the days when such overt prejudice existed was so far in the past that it might as well be Ancient Rome.  Yet from time to time I am reminded of these things.  When I go to my autograph shows, there is always a table of visiting alumni of the Negro Leagues.  They tell amazing stories!  These guys are still alive.  Heck, Hank Aaron, the last member of the Negro Leagues to actually play Major League Baseball was still playing in my lifetime.  So I know that wasn’t so long ago. 

I turn for a moment to women.  For just about all of my life, I have known women to occupy just about every job and strata there is.  I have worked under female bosses (Jonah, if you are reading this, don’t think that way you smartass), I have worked with women … I have had problems with a few, but I truly think that was more because of who they were as individuals rather than that they were female.

But I know that isn’t ancient history.  I think of space travel.  The first woman to ever travel into space, Valentina Tereshkova is still alive, and occasionally makes public appearances.  That was 1963.  Maybe there was something to a political stunt about it, but it can’t be denied that she volunteered in an era when space flight was not the safest way to get around.

The United States eventually sent a woman into space … 20 years later.

I remember how interesting it was, even as a 12 year old that it was embarrassing to be catching up to the Soviet Union in terms of civil rights.  There was something so wrong about that.  Yet here it was, far from ancient history, this was something occurring in my living memory.

I knew that Sally Ride had done some work for NASA on the Challenger and Columbia review panels, and that she had taught physics (is there no nobler profession???), and had founded a company that created curriculum, especially geared toward girls in elementary school.

Most of the real trailblazers were before my time.  Even Armstrong walking on the moon … missed that by two years.  Sally Ride was the first person I can remember in my life time who was a genuine bonafide “first to do it” in something important.

 

Like the Challenger and Columbia, she went before her time.  I’m hoping that one day, probably after I’m gone when the time comes to go to the moon, there will be a small fuss made that one of the first astronauts back will be a woman, and that when we get to Mars, it will be such a routine thing that no one will even mention it.  After all, since Sally Ride women have both piloted and commanded space shuttles, and it didn’t kick up much interest because it had started to become so routine.  On the one hand, it sucks that as a nation we have lost such interest in exploring and learning, though in consolation, it isn’t such a big deal when women or Blacks make it into space, because it has become routine.

Notice in the two patches for Ride’s missions:  On the first (STS-7), in the sun are five rays representing the astronauts, one of which bears a cross representing 4 males, 1 female.  In STS-41-G, next to each name is either the female or male symbol;  this was actually the first space mission to have two females.  Today, I doubt NASA would include such symbolism, because as I said, it really is no big deal.

File:Sts-7-patch.pngFile:STS-41-G patch.png


July 23, 2012

Following up to an earlier post, in which I rightfully criticized the NCAA for throwing the book unnecessarily at CalTech because of bureaucracy, I will compliment the NCAA for mostly getting their act together with Penn State.

This morning the NCAA lowered the boom on Penn State for having a poor administrative culture.  In my previous article, I discussed why the Death Penalty was unlikely for Penn State … because of the nearly irreparable damage that it would cause to the other schools of the (approximately) Big 10.  Instead, the NCAA got a bit creative, and got it right:

1.  $60 million fine to the school.  That is not a chump change fine for an athletic department.  What we will need to see is if the school does the right thing and culls that from the football program, or if it lets that fine affect other sports.

2.  A four year ban on conference championships and bowls.  This not only hurts the school in terms of publicity and money that hcould be won in bowl appearances, but because coaches are often measured by their ability to make bowls and win them, this will make it virtually impossible for the program to hire a quality coach for the next four years … putting off rebuilding that much longer.  Needless to say this will also severely hamper recruiting for at least two years.

3.  Reduction in football scholarships from 25-per-year to 15-per-year for four years.  Given the other punishments, this is not such a big deal because Penn State is going to have a monster of a time recruiting, it is not like a number of top recruits will be using those scholarships.   But since that Bowl ban will hamper recruiting for at least two years, this will make it more difficult for the full four.

4.  Penn State officially forfeits all football games from 1998-2011.  Vacating wins is often times the lamest punishment, because while the NCAA will not list those schools wins, most outside publications refuse to acknowledge the punishment, or at worse will asterisk the wins (especially in the case of a National Champion).  This time, however, this decision has one purpose and one alone:  it will remove the last 14 seasons of wins for Joe Paterno, who up until today had been the winningest coach in NCAA football history.  That record will now be permanently stripped, so this punishment is really one that is directed toward one man, or more to the point, that man’s legacy, as the price for his silence.

5.  The part of the NCAA punishment that I am proudest about is that they have given all of Penn State’s current players release to play elsewhere without having to sit out one year.  You can bet that as I write this, coaches and recruiters from several major college programs have already contacted Penn State’s top players to offer them available scholarships to play in their programs.  The non-scholarship players were already free to transfer to any program who would take them.  Many will undoubtedly stick around because football was not their primary goal, and they are still appreciative of the world class education that Penn State offers;  an education that might in the long run be better now that the athletic department’s power at the school has taken a hit comparable to the Lusitania.

The beauty of this punishment is that Penn State will be forced to play.  The death penalty in many ways harmed the wrong people while giving the program some quiet time to rebuild.  Now, Penn State will be forced to put a severely undermanned and understaffed team on the field every single week,and their fans, those who show up, will be forced to see their precious team beaten into Bolivian (as Mike Tyson would say) for a couple of years to come.  For a program that is used to winning and winning, this will be like a form of slow torture;  the football team wearing an invisible scarlet A for “Abuse” every week they go out and lose.

The most important lesson that comes  from this.  Penn State refused to take action, primarily for two reasons:

1.  misplaced loyalty to a longtime staff member who was in a protected position (the football program).

2.  the school wanted to avoid scandal that they saw as damaging.

If nothing else, the lesson taught is that these two reasons are not reasons to avoid stopping staff members who act in an unquestionably inappropriate manner.  I don’t care how many national championships your team has won, if a member of the staff is taking advantage of kids, that person has to be dealt with.  There can be no sacred cows in this case.  The second point is the most ludicrous:  if you think you are saving the school from scandal, the scandal from that + the cover up is multiplied.  Had Penn State taken action 15 years ago, I doubt their reputation would have even taken a hit.  Joe Paterno could have been viewed very heroically turning in a trusted colleague for this.  Instead, everyone’s reputations have been reduced to the punch line of some bawdy joke that will be popular in frat houses for a few years, and then eventually forgotten about altogether.

I would say this is a sad end for those who were in charge, but they collectively brought this down on themselves.


Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

July 22, 2012

The usual warning:  if you haven’t seen it, and plan to, you probably shouldn’t rad this.

 

Christopher Nolan is charged with an extremely difficult film to put together.  You have just had a genre-redefining masterpiece in The Dark Knight, and in case folks though that this was a fluke, he’s also just done Inception, a rare sci-fi effects film that crossed over to become a mainstream hit, and scored an Oscar nod for Best Picture.  How exactly do you follow that up, especially given the decision to not even mention the character from the last film that stole the show?

You go about it the way every other director has in the past:  solid story, great writing, a little originality, and a good cast.

While the plot is visually easy to follow, I think it is difficult to put into words.  To give the short version:  a mercenary, Bane, with close ties to the League of Shadows (the organization of ninja-like warriors who trained Bruce Wayne in the first film, Batman Begins, is intent on finishing the job that was started in the first film:  destroy Gotham.  Bane intends to take over the city using a nuclear device culled from the core of an experimental Wayne Industries fusion reactor to bring the city to its knees, and after having some fun in the chaos, destroy it anyway.

Bruce Wayne has grown old, his multiple injuries catching up to him.  He has not done Batman for 8 years.  Alfred has grown despondent:  Alfred is happy he has stopped going out into the night, but despises that Bruce hasn’t moved on, sitting in his manor brooding while life passes him by.  Alfred finally sees that he has failed as a guardian to raise Wayne properly and leaves him.  Bruce also meets a young up-and-coming Gotham police officer named John Blake who is convinced that Wayne was the Batman, citing his background as an orphan and the pain that this brings to a person, and that he knows Wayne’s front as a playboy is an act.

As Bane’s plan moves forward, the Batman does come out, and Bane promptly dispatches him, sending him to the Central Asian prison that he himself had come from, and now owns.  With the Batman tucked away, Bane takes over Gotham, destroying the bridges that link it to the outside world, and threatens to set off a 4 megaton nuclear device in the city, if anyone stops him.  With Bane in charge, the criminals are released from prison, and the rich have the home sacked while they are put on trial in a sham court, and are slowly put to death while the rabble claim the streets.  The ploy has one problem:  the bomb’s core is slightly unstable, and in five months, it will go critical and explode anyway.

Bruce is able to regain his strength and escape back to Gotham, where he battles Bane once more.  In the end, the bomb cannot be defused, and the Batman hitches it to his flying machine, and flies it out over the harbor where the bomb explodes, but the city is saved.

 

I am omitting a lot of details here (you will note that I didn’t mentioned Cat Woman once).  This is a film in the details for sure, and is a very visual experience.  Does Nolan pull off a great film?  Great with a small “g”, yes.  With this film, I would rank Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy to be on par, beginning to end, in terms of quality, up there with the original “Star Wars” films and the first three “Indiana Jones” films.  This is truly a worthy film in its own right, and the audience I was with last night applauded loudly at the end, if that be any indication.

Tom Hardy is given a damn near impossible task in this film.  Hardy is a fine actor (he played Shinzon, Captain Piccard’s Romulan clone in Star Trek: Nemesis).  As Bane, you never see his face as it is covered with a breathing device the entire film, and his voice his heavily accented.  Nonetheless, good acting + good writing overcomes this.  Hardy gives Bane three dimensions:  he is an immensely strong, intelligent man of conviction (Alfred, viewing tape of an early Bane rampage even warns Bruce that this man is different because his eyes are those of a man of belief;  someone who doesn’t easily yield).  There aren’t many actors that I imagine could pull off a role like that, and Tom Hardy deserves some credit in creating a character that gave him limited acting options.

Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, who is never once referred to as “Cat Woman” … simply as an accomplished cat burglar.  Beyond any doubt, Hathaway’s portrayal is the best.  Looking back to the 1960s TV series, and to Michelle Pfeiffer’s BDSM cheesy performance, the Hathaway performance starts with beautiful writing:  this Selina Kyle is a skilled thief (not some secretary Christopher Walken shoved out a window) who comes from the poor side of town.  She has a past, and cannot find a way out:  she steals things for powerful people, but those people then threaten to turn her in, keeping her employed, but also trapped.  She desperately wants a chance to start over, but there is no opportunity to do so.  Hathaway needs to walk a tightrope in portraying the character:  one who is apathetic to those whom she steals from, but still someone who deep down wants to get out.  There have been characters like this where, in the past, the hero is simply able to convince them to “turn good”.  There is a small amount of that here, but in the end it is handled with greater realism than most ham handed directors would pull off.

There are really only two key weaknesses that I saw to the plot (it is a fantasy film, but one rooted in a bit of reality, so I know that I am getting a bit picky).  The first scene of the movie where Bane is picked up by the CIA is handled pretty poorly.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  A CIA officer flies into an airfield in the middle of Central Asia to pick up a Russian scientist, but then is forced to take three hooded criminals with him for no reason other than “they go with the scientist” … and apparently doesn’t check their bindings really well.

Another key plot point in the film is that Bane needs to bankrupt Bruce Wayne and his company.  He does this by leading an army of thugs into the Gotham Stock Exchange and, while everyone is at gunpoint, initiates some really bad stock trades on behalf of Bruce Wayne and his company.  The next day, Wayne learns that he has gone bankrupt, and while “it may take a few months to figure out and prove fraud”, for no he has to deal with it.  I refuse to believe that in this modern world it would be impossible for something like this to not be reversible, especially given Wayne’s fleet of lawyers.  It just seemed too convenient “yeah, he stole your money in front of hundreds of witnesses, but there is absolutely nothing that we can do.

I thought the film’s ending, which I won’t reveal, was emotionally resonant, and was a fine ending.  While some might see the chances for more sequels, I thought the film actually ended right where it should.

Overall, it is an excellent film filled with some great performances, and is a more than worthy follow up to The Dark Knight.


Never noticed that before …

July 19, 2012

Maybe in my old age I just don’t notice things as quickly as I used to.  Today when I waltzed over to peruse the blog, I noticed a car ad on my blog.  I guess you just get so used to them that it was a whole 30 second before I realized: “I’m a corporate shill for a car company.”  I love the Sox, but I have my standards.  It was time to get a new theme.

Unfortunately, my old theme of “Kubrick” was gone, and the closest thing that they had was “Contempt” … which makes me think that any one of several former actors who worked with the esteemed director are now working at WordPress designing names for their themes.

Rest assured, loyal readers, there will still be a decided pro-White Sox /anti-Cubs editorial board here.


NCAA: Get your F@##!ng act together!

July 14, 2012

Another sad story of a university putting athletics ahead of academics in the name of winning has led to a big name school  getting hit with major sanctions:  3 years probation and twelve sports banned from postseason play in 2012-13; one of the biggest blcks of sanctioning handed out by the NCAA in years.

Which school?  Must be in Florida … at least an SEC school …. must be some school in the Old South … always putting football over academics.

Nope …. the California Institute of Technology

CalTech, noted school that looks down its nose at Stanford while not even acknowledging the existence of public jockocracies like UCLA, USC, or Berkeley has gotten smacked down by the NCAA, and smacked down fairly hard.

What could the biggest bunch of nerds either side of MIT have done to accomplish this act of brazen rule breaking??  Were they offering money under the table?  Maybe free Maseratis for the basketball team?  Free yachts to the sailing team?  No, it was much,  much worse!

CalTech, being a progressive school with lots and lots of fairly responsible smart people hanging around, runs an open-enrollment for courses each quarter … that is, students get to go test drive the class for three weeks before deciding if they want to actually take it for credit.  When you have academically minded people who have a track record of responsibility, this is a great idea!

Unfortunately, that means for up to three weeks every quarter, all of their athletes are technically enrolled in zero courses, thus violating the NCAA requirement that students be enrolled full-time as students for a particular percentage of the year.

If you have more than 2 functioning neurons, you are at this point saying no, it has to be more than that!  Nope it isn’tYou mean schools brazenly vioalte recruiting restrictions, with a dose of “lack of institutional control, and nothing serious happens.  A school knowingly permits a pedophile access to their campus and caps with young kids, and >>nothing<< will happen.  But a little common sense progressive education at an institution whose sports program no one cares about (except, you know, the CalTech community, and what have they ever done).

It is a classic example of poor leadership:

1.  Make rules rigid and make so many of them that they are difficult to follow in the first place.

2.  The rules apply to everyone, except where economic hardship may result (read:  big important college programs), so that the rules ultimately don’t apply to everyone equally (very Orwellian)!

The NCAA, much like the superpowers wielding nuclear weapons, gave itself in 1985 the ultimate power to deal a death blow to an athletic program, the so called college athletics “death penalty”, where the NCAA sweeps down and completely shuts down your program for a year or two:  no scholarships, no practice, no games, athletes are free to leave and go elsewhere, and once that is over, good luck recruiting because the coaching staff is gone (and blackballed by the NCAA show-cause penalty which penalizes schools for hiring coaches guilty of heinous offenses).  The death penalty has been imposed only three times (once against a Division II school, and once against a Division II school).  The first time they sent the codes to the silos was in 1987 against Southern Methodist University.   No one is in doubt that SMU deserved to be penalized in the worst possible way:  players were paid thousands of dollars in signing bonuses, they then received regular “salary” from boosters, rent-free private apartments, etc, etc.  When the Death Penalty came down, almost the entire team jumped ship for other schools.  After being a regular at bowl games, defeating Notre Dame in the Aloha Bowl in 1984, SMU didn’t get back to a bowl game until 2009.  The effects of the Death Penalty were crystal clear:  it didn’t wipe a team out for a year:  it wiped a team out for the college equivalent of 6-7 generations.  However, the NCAA (proving that the “Athletics” overrides the “College”) never accounted for the collateral damage.

With SMU out of football for two years, its conference rivals went scrambling for opponents (college football schedules are usually set several years in advance).  In some cases, the schools couldn’t (keep min mind, one less game is a lot of lost revenue).  Without SMU on television, the TV networks took a hit in ratings and revenue (you may not be aware but football is kind of big in Tessis).  This said nothing of the impact on the local economy of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  The entire Southwest Conference eventually folded as a result, forcing teams to go searching for new conferences.

Needless to say, the NCAA, like the United States or USSR, learned a lesson:  if you are going to set off nukes, don’t do it in a populated area (like Hiroshima), do it in a place where no one cares (like Bikini).  Despite some pretty heinous discoveries, the NCAA has been trigger shy about using severe penalties on big name programs, but has had less of a problem doing this to smaller schools with lesser known programs, or to non-revenue sports that don’t bring economic consequences.  The result is that the football program at Miami or West Virginia knows that it can get away with a lot because the NCAA wouldn’t dare hit it with major sanctions:  they are simply too important.  CalTech on the other hand is a bunch of nerds whose basketball team finally won  conference game for the first time in 26 years … who cares if they get slapped down.  Besides, when the NCAA is ever asked “what are you doing to safeguard athletics”, they can point to successes like this and say “yeah, we caught ’em”.

With the possible exception of stained glass and the Catholic Church, the NCAA moves the slowest of anything.  The NCAA is notorious for looking out for college administrators and not the student athletes.  Common sense is virtually unknown when it comes to rules and most egregiously, their enforcement.  The NCAA needs to wake up and understand that times change, and that not every university follows traditional methodology, and that there needs to be ways of creating exceptions to this.  The NCAA also has to revisit its penalty system to make things fairer for all.  University administrators are supposed to have institutional control over their programs.  If things go wrong, hold the administrators responsible.  Strip new scholarships, fire coaches, fire administrators, strip bowl attendance for a decade.  Make the schools pay restitution to the conference and non-conference teams being inconvenienced.  Hit the schools in the pocket book, and hit them big enough to hurt, while limiting collateral damage.  This way, the Athletic Directors and head coaches of the big football and basketball programs will have to sweat and actually keep an eye on things rather than basking in the glory of a win, and taking the slap on the wrist later, while small schools and non revenue programs get blown up.

It should be about being fair to the students … and while that might be claimed as a priority, actions speak louder than words.

Not to mention, maybe some common sense on behalf of the NCAA  would filter down and trickle into the high school associations that have their own track record of ridiculous and capricious rules enforcement.

 

>end rant<


Relativistic baseball

July 13, 2012

While I have long enjoyed mixing physics and baseball (and the literature on the subject of the physics of baseball is enormous), I have never seen this before.

What if one could throw a baseball at a highly relativistic speed …

The answer appears to be:  not good!