Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pittsburgh Stealers: The 80s movie blockbuster

Dear Honest Matt,

I am a 97-year-old professional Crimean War re-enactor suffering from a condition known as “Explosive Bone Syndrome.” Now, I haven’t much time left on this world, and I have to know, ‘How would this year’s Super Bowl play out as a stereotypical 80s movie?’ In the name of Florence Nightingale, please help an old man see through those rose-colored lenses.


Wow. It is really tough to not indulge a request like that, despite my longtime struggle with 80s movies. I actually missed the boat when it came to many of what people now refer to as classics of the era and if you named your favorite 80s movie, there is about a 65% chance that I either have not seen it or have only seen it in the last three years.

While others were growing up with the shared bonding experience of having seen all these movies, I was busy studying the works of Locke and Hobbes (incidentally a two great names for a late 80s/early 90s buddy cop movie), the mathematics of Archimedes and Newton, and pursuing my hobby of listing things I have never actually done.

I have though, seen enough parody and lived through enough of the 80s to know how to string together a serviceable version of what a campy 80s movie should be. We need both our good guy and our bad guy to be over-the-top extremes of each side. We need a sidekick and an innocent female victim. We need blundering henchmen for the villain, and a plot that will end with virtually no consequence with the villain having learned his lesson in the end. If we can work in a musical montage, a muppet and a robot then we win a prize.

Are you ready Ebenezer? Here we go.

We open the movie with “I’m Alright”, by Kenny Loggins playing over a shot from an airplane looking down over the city of Green Bay, showing from above whatever landmarks Green Bay has to offer. (Some Orson Welles slept here plaque or something? Your guess is as good as mine.) The shot eventually takes us over to Lambeau Field and the camera zooms in and cuts to the clubhouse, where players are seen drinking a beer while watching game tape on one TV with women dancing on another screen. Others are lifting weights. The mullet count reaches four before we see our mustache-sporting hero, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, loom into the doorway. A heavy shadow falls before him. He drops his duffel bag as the song skips off the record. He glares at his teammates watching the television. 

Rodgers: "You think those [explitives] in Pittsburgh are just sitting around the clubhouse? You think they are drinking and following the tube with a week to go before the [explitive] Super Bowl?! GET YOUR [EXPLATIVE] [EXPLATIVES] IN GEAR! NOW!"

The players in the clubhouse stare at Rodgers and occasionally look over to each other. Wide receiver Donald Driver (playing the one-last-hurrah Murtaugh to Rodgers' Riggs), matching the wild stare with Rodgers, finally cracks and begins laughing. Rodgers cracks up as well. The music begins again and someone off-screen tosses Rodgers a beer. Sounds of "Nice one," and "You almost had me, man," echo in the background as Rodgers and Driver walk over to the couch to catch the game film. 

Rodgers pulls out a children's drawing. The picture depicts a sloppy version of a Packer throwing a football outdoors to a child in a hospital bed in a hot air balloon. The drawing is signed, Tracey. (Tracey was the most 80s girls name I could think of.)

Driver inquires, and Rodgers admits that, with the impending NFL lockout, he doesn't know how he will be able to support the orphanage he helps run next year. He begins reminiscing about the kids, and a flashback goes to a 9-year-old girl performing the chorus to "Blasphemous Rumors" by Depeche Mode on the ukulele. (She sings "I don't want to start any blasphemous rumors but I think that God's got a sick sense of humor. And when I die, I expect to find Him laughing," in her most cheery voice. Sorry, that was the best I could do to show her underlying sadness covered by naive childhood happiness.) 

Head coach Mike McCarthy interrupts the flashback by walking over to Rodgers, and in a solemn tone, hands him a note.

McCarthy: "Aaron. They've struck first."

Rodgers opens the note to read out loud for the audience, “No harem [sic] will come to her if you lose.” He looks up, astonished. "Tracey."

Driver: "No harem? They are going to put her in a bordello? Who would threaten to put a 9-year-old in a bordello? Man, I’m getting too old for this s#!%.

Quick scene change to the Steelers' clubhouse. It looks like the bat-cave, with lots of machines with blinking lights that will never be explained. Ben Roethlisberger is yelling at his offensive line. For an 80s villain, we‘ll keep Roethlisberger‘s helmet on and give him one of those LaDainian Tomlinson visors so we can only see his mouth. He is like an evil Robo-Cop. We‘ll also give him the voice of Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe. Let’s also call him Colonel Roth since it sounds like Colonel Wrath.

Colonel Roth: "Harem?! You dunderheadss can't even spell harm right? H-A-R-M. God, your athletic sscholarshipss must have come with a dissclaimer for your professsorss. It looks like I’m going to have to do this myself. 

Roethlisberger wrings his hands menacingly since we cannot see any expression on his face. The audience has no idea what it is he will have to do himself, since the girl is already in their possession. Some sort of PR cleanup perhaps? I don’t know.

Rodgers and Driver climb into their Big Rig, which has “The Crusader” written on the side in a garish paint job and head for Pittsburgh in what will be the only cinematic quest in history that starts in Wisconsin and ends on Pennsylvania.

Along the way they  run out of gas and are helped out by a wizened muppet badger named Buckles and learn a lesson about sharing. 

After Rodgers questions his own ability to see the rescue mission out, they run into some road-orphans (they could exist) who lift his spirit, and he and Driver take them on a clothes-shopping spree at a nearby Sears (gotta have product placement) to the giddy musical montage of the Go-Gos "Vacation". The kids, no longer stuck in itchy burlap, give Rodgers and Driver some powerful words, and the two learn an important lesson about forgiveness.

Finally, at a diner, the pair stop a robbery, and Rodgers yells at Driver for sticking his neck on the line so close to retirement when he has his own kids to worry about.

Rodgers: “What are you even doing on this mission? You have no ties to Tracey.”

Driver: “You think a guy like Colonel Roth would stop at her? My daughters are in just as much danger until we put an end to his madness.” (Foreshadowing like a superstar)

The two share a man-hug. And Rodgers pulls back and holds Driver at arms length at the shoulders. He looks him in the eye, and as we are waiting for him to say something profound and dramatic, we get, “Let’s go get him.” 

Uugghh. Massive letdown for what could have been a great dialogue moment. Whatever. Also, the two learn an important lesson about chainsaw safety earlier in the scene.

The pair pull into the Pittsburgh and charge into the cave/clubhouse to see not only Tracey, but Driver’s two daughters in a cage dangling over a pit of magma and surrounded by the Steelers offensive line. Colonel Roth sees them approach, alerts them to a bomb set for 5 minutes on top of the cage and runs out an escape hatch, cackling.

Big fight scene. Lineman die or are subdued with use of the following objects: rope, rock wall, aforementioned magma, gurney and rhinoceros horn. 

Driver dives for the bomb and hit’s a button to stop the timer at 3 seconds. Fan boys complain for decades about how no bomb could be diffused by a button. He lowers the girls from the cage and leads them out of the cave as a swarm of police cars show up. Rodgers follows Roethlisberger out the escape hatch.

The hatch leads out to the side of a sheer mountain where the two are to have their final showdown. The pair trade basic punches while taunting each other.

Rodgers: “You could never have beaten us in a fair fight. That’s why you took those girls. (A few audience members groan that a character is dictating causality that everyone already knew.) Well, here is your chance.”

Colonel Roth: “Your gang will fall at my feet jusst like the Jetss, and it will sstart with you!”

Roethlisberger reveals a knife hidden up his sleeve and charges at Rodgers, who sidesteps, allowing Colonel Roth’s momentum to carry him off the sheer mountain ledge. Rodgers looks over the ledge and Driver appears behind him and puts a hand on his shoulder. 

Driver: “You think he’ll get fined for a Hell-to-helmet collision?”

Credits roll over training camp the next season as Big Country‘s “In A Big Country“ plays. Apparently the lockout was avoided, and Packers players show the visiting orphans their new Super Bowl rings. The kids are giddy to run on the field, and as they take off down the sideline, the camera raises up over the stadium to show downtown Green Bay.


So there you go Ebenezer, your Super Bowl preview as an 80s movie. I think we can both garner that I am going with the Packers. We got everything in there but a robot ... and I kind of killed the villain instead of reforming him, but what are you going to do? 

Now that I’ve written my own 80s movie, I feel even more confident that I was right to skip the whole decade and let others take the best pieces of those movies and put them into the movies of today … which I still rarely see. Oh well. 

Let me know what you would have changed in order to make it the best stereotypical 80s movie of all time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Roller derby: The world's friendliest rock concert

On Thursday I met with Laurie "Eddie Krueger" Edwards to discuss how she came to juggle the lifestyle of graduate student and roller derby participant. If you know anything about either, you can understand how her lifestyle sounds Batman-esque. It is an unconventional double-life, mixing the responsibility of preparing for ones career by day with dressing up to willingly try to give out more bruises than you receive by night, and I try to do her justice in the feature on her we will be running this week. (Lauire, I'm sorry. I went back and listened to the whole interview, and at least three times cut you off during a great quote to try to get in a stupid joke or comparison.) For the blog, though, I want to discuss the unadulterated good time that is roller derby in general.

In the feature, I do my best to play up the fraternal and social aspect of the team, to show why someone who already spends an absurd amount of time in class and has a part time job would want to get beaten up with a bunch of other women in her off time. The answer: (Spoiler alert) It's a great group of women who will accept you and show you a fantastic time, even though they had never met you prior to joining.

The secret answer is that you get to be part of one of the most fun amateur productions avaliable, as anyone who has ever been to a roller derby has undoubtedly been a second time.

I used to be a regular up at the Boston Derby Dames. The bouts took place at the Shriner's Hall in Wilmongton, Ma., and only sat the 900-or-so rowdiest people who were smart enough to buy tickets in advance. My first attempt to see a bout at the Shriners' hall saw me turned away with hundreds of others who thought, "Seriously, there is no way a roller derby could sell out a half hour before the bout is supposed to start."

The people who left with their jaws hanging in amazement at the popularity of the sport included an astonishing array of people. There were families there with grandparents, mixing with hipsters, punks, bikers, goth kids and whatever other counter-culture group could possibly be represented. There are not many things that mainstreamers, family-friendly-types and counter culture purists can agree on, but it seems roller derby has become an accidental highway of folks wanting to be entertained.

Roller derby is a grassroots amateur sport program built on passion for the sport and passion to have a great time before you die. The crowd understands that the participants are members of the community, and that the outcome of the bout is not nearly as important as the bout itself.

Imagine going to a professional sporting event without the fanatics who live and die by the franchise, calling in to sports talk shows and having a holier-than-thou opinion on everything each athlete does. (Wait, did a guy who loves pro sports enough to cover them for a living just write that?)

That is the atmosphere, where the only boos are directed at unpopular official's calls each girl is cheered for her accomplishments by their teams' fans during the bout, and by the whole audience after the bout. I have yet to see somebody leave the roller derby without smiling.

Also, there is only as much commercialism as it takes to fund the event, and even that is subtle and more charming than anything else. At one bout in Wilmington, the event was sponsored by Cabot cheese, so during halftime, some friends of the team grabbed some boxes of Cabot samples and walked around throwing them into the stands. Otherwise, Cabot had a poster on the door, and that was it. Cupcakes and team merchandise were sold at the door like the world's friendliest rock concert.

For halftime entertainment, sometimes the mascots for the different teams would have a dance-off. The team I supported was the Cosmonaughties, which had a sci-fi astronaut feel to the theme. What were their mascots? A happy robot and a gorilla that yelled at it and chased it. Random, right? The league's other local teams were the Wicked Pissah's whose mascot was an inebriated seagull, and the Nutcrackers, whose mascot was a man dressed as a hip-hop Mr. Peanut and two grade-school boys dressed as squirrels.

The mascots would sometimes try to operate a hand-me-down T-shirt cannon in between bouts, or two friends of the teams would bring out some electric pianos and duel them. The whole thing felt very thrown-together, and yet heartfelt and endearing. If things didn't work or if the mascots' home-made costumes fell apart, you laughed and cheered with them as you would a bunch of kids putting on a talent show. Just by being there you felt welcomed and a part of the overall production.

The bouts are great fun to watch, as they should be, since they are the centerpiece of the event. For those who have not seen one before, it may take some time to figure out the scoring rules and the official's gestures, but soon, you begin to see the strategy, strength and finesse of the competitors and not just a group of girls trying to hip check one another off their skates. (Granted, the prospect of seeing girls try to hip check each other off their skates is probably the selling point that got you there in the first place, amiright guys? Guys?) Anyway, the point is it is an easy sport to understand, and a fun sport to learn.

I believe fans realize that the bouts are shows as well. Sure, each team is trying to win, but the show is in the costume accessories the participants wear, and the makeup and the roller derby alter-ego each girl becomes when the bout starts and the clever signs in the stands. What you end up with is a glam rock sports show with fan interaction, as put together by a female-empowerment group that is both bad ass and a roll model.

Face it, if someone offered you tickets and summed it up like that, your interest would be more than piqued.

Unfortunately, since I have moved to the Capital Region, I have not yet been able to take in the local bouts, but this year's season is just starting. Laurie's team, the Oz Roller Girls, will be in town on Feb. 5 to take on the Hellions of Troy (Awesome name, I know) at the Rollarama in Schenectady. Without experience here, I cannot claim to know that the atmosphere is on par with the bouts in eastern Massachusetts, but I know the potential of local roller derby, and I implore you to discover it for yourself, and give me your take on it.

Official Oz Roller Girls website
Official Hellions of Troy website

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gilles Simon? Never heard of him

On the court, Roger Federer fears no man. If anything, he's probably equipped with an acid stare that melts whatever opponent was foolish enough to step out on the court with him.

Were it me, in an internationally televised major open, while playing a sport that I have made into my career, I would rather face six swarming beehives than Federer. (While it would be the three longest sets of my life, at least, barring some shocking strength, communication and teamwork on the bees' end, I would win and move on.)

 "Bees have no backhand."

There is one man who sees Roger Federer and does not flinch. He is tennis' mongoose to the Swiss king cobra. That man is Gilles Simon. He's French, and he doesn't care how many Grand Slams you have won.

Prior to their second round match in the Australian Open on Jan. 19, Simon had a 2-0 record against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, and very nearly brought it to 3-0 before the day was out. Simon brushed off dropping the first two sets to claim the third and fourth, finally losing on the fifth match point (6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3).

In an interview with the Associated Press after the game, Federer said, "I'm happy I survived a scare like today. It's not the first time ... it does happen. You just try to stay calm even though I'm not playing for much. He's playing for the huge upset, and I'm just trying to get through." He also more bluntly said in an interview with, "Hopefully I don't play him anymore."

Federer said that after a second round matchup, a round that he has been able to glide over lighter than a tiny hovercraft over a freshly-poured stout. The man has not lost the second round of a major since winning his first major (Wimbledon, no less) in 2003. 

To put that into perspective, that was roughly two weeks before Kobe Bryant's Eagle, Colo. incident. It was the brief time period where Clay Aiken was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

"Seriously, why do I know that?"

The man is so on top of his game that, during that same time frame, he has only lost two Grand Slam matches through the fourth round. Raphael Nadal (The Batman to Federer's Superman), in that same time period although with 20 fewer appearances, has lost four times in the first four rounds. (The Wall Street Journal gave me those last two nuggets, but went with "Hawkgirl to Federer's Black Canary".)

Simon defeated Yen-Hsun Lu for the second time in 2011 (We'll call Lu the earthworm of Simon's mongoose diet.) in the first round in order to face Federer. Also, before the Australian Open, Simon defeated Viktor Triocki to win the ATP Medibank International. That should make up for his first round exit in the ATP Brisbane International just prior. No? C'mon. It was played on Jan. 2 in Australia. To the rest of the world, that is still Jan. 1, Hangover Day.

And this was just Welch's white grape juice

I say that 2011 is looking pretty good for the No. 34-ranked player in the world. Not bad for a guy nobody had previously heard of who just lost.

Birmingham City blunder

So it appears now that Birmingham's public courting of Tottenham Hotspurs' Robbie Keane was nothing more than a publicity stunt. At least, that is the accusation of Mr. Keane. According to an article, Keane was given permission to talk with Birmingham about a transfer, but Blues claimed quickly that a move would be too costly.
This is the second time that speculation has been made about a team looking for publicity in a huge transfer that never had a chance coming to fruition. Earlier this month, Blackburn claimed to have made an opening bid for former European Footballer of the Year Ronaldinho from A.C. Milan. Ronaldinho claimed he wanted to leave Milan, but would only play again in his native Brazil.

Perhaps Blackburn and Birmingham were trying to get a rise out of their fans in an attempt to show that they are trying to secure top shelf talent without actually having to go through the trouble of actually doing so. 
Birmingham's home page noted on Jan. 18th that another striker target of theirs, Kenny Miller, whom it looked like they had in the bag, will now be heading to Turkey to join Turkish champions Bursaspor. Feb. 2 is quickly approaching, and if Birmingham wants to avoid a relegation battle, they need help from the striker position.
Currently, Blues' top goal scorer is Craig Gardner ... a midfielder ... with four. Need I say more?