Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Photo: Godzilla's movie poster, from its Wikipedia page.

Some quick bullets about Godzilla 2014.  Bottom line: if you like action movies, monster movies, or war movies (yes; see first bullet, below), you should go see this.

--The real star of this movie (even more than Godzilla and his pals) is the director, Gareth Edwards.  The direction for this movie is truly unbelievably good, much more so than is necessary for a movie like this.  Even critics who didn't love the movie said Edwards did a great job.  The best thing I liked about the direction was that it purposely shied away from shots of the monsters fighting, and instead focused on the people below in a you-are-there kind of way.  It was like combining a Godzilla movie with The Hurt Locker.  If two giant moth monsters were to suddenly awake, and try to get together to mate, and were intercepted by Godzilla, it would look exactly like this to the people on the ground, caught in the middle of it all.

--There are so many nods to other movies in this movie, I lost track.  The ones I remember: Jurassic Park (many scenes; one in particular: the one where Jurassic Park's Dr. Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm sat in the stopped car in the pouring rain, and wiped away the mist from the window to worriedly see outside; this is enacted exactly the same in Godzilla); 2001: A Space Odyssey (many scenes; especially when the guys in Godzilla parachute into the battlezone to the same exact insane singing as in the ending of 2001, when David passed Jupiter and entered the psychedelic light); countless 50s and 60s Godzilla movies, especially the ones where the dino costume seemed way too big (and Godzilla's roar is the same as it was in the 50s, amped up for 2014; oh, and don't miss the Mothra sign); Jaws (the main family's last name is Brody, and someone says, "Are you Brody?" just like in Jaws).  There's a motion-detector that looks exactly like the one in James Cameron's Aliens.  Sounds just like it, too.  That's all just off the top of my head.  There are many more.  This became one of the joys of the film for me--finding all the homages.  This sounds distracting, but it wasn't.

--Not too much acting is expected out of the actors.  When Elizabeth Olson headlines your cast, this is a good thing.  But this isn't a Merchant / Ivory film anyway, if you know what I mean.

--The film has no pretense to be anything more than what it is: A wonderfully directed, at times breathtakingly beautiful action movie that has three monsters.  (I see this as more of an action movie than as a monster movie.)

--The action scenes do not last too long, as a few of Man of Steel's did.

--David S. Goyer and Frank Darabont assisted with the screenplay.  Those are Dark Knight and Walking Dead names.

--There are no subplots involving a dumb romance, or a boring father / son conflict, or a cardboard villain.  Just monsters and mayhem.  The main character / hero saves a little boy or two, but that's okay.  He's supposed to do that, right?  And it's not drawn out or sappy when he does.  This was the problem with 1998's Godzilla, which had very good special effects and action scenes, but aspirations of personal conflict and relationship issues that nobody cared about.

--It's not too long.  Just over two hours.

What else do you need?  Go see it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crazy '08

Photo: Book cover, from

I've been a little crazy myself, in the last year or so, amassing a collection of 1908-1911 T206s from various sources, and displaying them in my office.  'cuz I'm awesome and exciting like that.  From behind SGC- or PSA-graded cases peer the faces of Jack Pfeister, Hooks Wiltse, Red Ames, Dave Brain, Red Murray, Solly Hofman, Clark Griffith, Dots Miller, Fielder Jones, Chief Meyers, Laughin' Larry Doyle, Lee Tannehill, Harry Steinfeldt, Wild Bill Donovan, Nap Rucker, Doc Crandall, Wee Willie Keeler, Al Bridwell, Rube Marquard, Frank Smith, and Cy Seymour.  And Joe Tinker, from a 1911 T205.  All of them played baseball in the year wonderfully carzy baseball year of 1908.  They played for the teams most covered in this book: the Chicago White Sox; the New York Giants; the Detroit Tigers; the Chicago Cubs; the New York Highlanders (soon thereafter known exclusively as the Yankees) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. I've got their T206s, and they're all in this book. 

And it is captivating reading.  Like the cards themselves, the book is a time capsule of 1908.  Life.  Baseball.  People.  Living conditions.  It's all there.  The book is not just about baseball.  In it you see the personalities of all these guys, plus the more popular players I can't afford: Ty Cobb; Honus Wagner; Eddie Plank; Frank Chance; Christy Mathewson; Walter Johnson, and so many more.  You see a typical day and a typical life in 1908--equal parts gritty, harsh, hard, yet alluring.

Countless of these guys played baseball because otherwise they'd be digging and dying in the Pennsylvania mines.  They're spotted by scouts and managers playing for semi-pro or mine teams in the middle of nowhere, for teams of towns with populations less than 500.  They're typically given one chance, and one chance only, by a system in which the teams don't have to sell them to the major league team, and often didn't.  The manager--who was a manager, a general manager, a scout, and a bookkeeper, all in one--would take one look at a player, and say Yes or No based on a five-minute appraisal.  The players in this book (and in The Glory of their Times, which will be reviewed soon, too) all say that better players than they did not play major-league baseball not because they lacked the skill--but because they lacked the good fortune.

Honus Wagner politely declined to play baseball in 1908, he says, so he could go home to his farm and raise his chickens.  Turns out, this was a salary clash behind the scenes.  He played it quietly, like a gentleman, and he got the money he wanted.  A similar salary dispute--and not a disagreement about his likeness being sold with tobacco products--led to his insistence that his T206 baseball cards be destroyed.  They were.  Only about 50 supposedly survived the purge.  The one known to be in the best condition is worth, literally, millions of dollars.  I don't have that one, naturally.  So I instead got Honus Wagner's constant double-play partner, the second basemen to his shortstop: Dots Miller.

Ty Cobb was despised by his peers, his own teammates, the umpires, and the fans.  He was considered the second-best player in the majors, behind Wagner--who was the equal to Cobb as a hitter and as a baserunner, but who was a Gold Glove-caliber fielder at every position, and very well-liked to boot.

Christy Mathewson lost a lot of very important games towards the end of that season.

Fred Merkle's mental lapse wasn't the only reason the Giants missed the playoffs that year.  A rookie pitcher beat them three teams in the final ten days of the season.  Mathewson lost a lot of close games--but still won over 30.  The Giants were 10-6 in their last 16 games.  And so on.

A team could lose their chance to make the playoffs by half a game due to a rain-out.  And it happened in 1908.  The rule that all necessary, rained-out games must be played at the end of the year didn't go into effect until 1909.  Unbelievable.

Ballplayers played amidst terrible conditions, on the field, physically, and otherwise.  It was common for teams to play exhibition games during the season, on travel days between cities, in small towns.  They played 154 games that counted, minus rainouts, plus perhaps a dozen or more games that didn't count.  And the stars were expected to play in all of them.

Very good teams counted on their HOF starting pitchers to the extent that such pitchers pitched both games of a doubleheader, or for three or more consecutive days, or in relief--often all in the same week.  The end of 1908 saw Mathewson, Plank, and Three-Finger Mordecai Brown pitching all of the final dozen or so games.

Most games had just one umpire.  (!)  So players would do things like miss third base by fifteen feet as they were running home, and the lone umpire was looking elsewhere.  The league finally bent and put two umpires on each game.

Spitballs were legal.  Pitchers openly spit and loaded up the ball.  Players were expected to use the very same one ball all game long.  Games were often stopped so a player could go into the stands and retrieve a foul ball.

And so on.  Not just baseball: the serial killer of the Chicago-area farms--a large, unattractive woman who lured men to their deaths through soliciting for romantic partners in the paper--gets its own chapter.  This situation, which I will make into a novel someday, has never been conclusively solved.  Some say the woman escaped capture.  Her name was Belle Gunness.  Look 'er up.

Vaudeville--very popular.  Popular New York players could make a second career--or a first--on vaudeville stages during the off-season.  Many of them did.  One of them, Mike Donlin, left baseball for the stage.  And then came back, of course.

The writing is crisp, and clear, and very authoritative--and with a slight bite and attitude.  It is very quick reading, though I cannot say that non-baseball fans will love it, too.  I think you have to be a fan to read it, but there's a lot of history and 1908 reality here, too.

And this, from George Will, reviewing the book for the New York Times:

"Murphy’s book is rich in trivia — not that anything associated with baseball is really trivial. Did you know, for example, that when the Yankees were still the Highlanders (they played at the highest point in Manhattan) they adopted their interlocking NY lettering “based on the Tiffany design for the Police Department’s Medal of Honor”?

Readers of “Crazy ’08” can almost smell the whiskey and taste the pigs’ knuckles. This rollicking tour of that season will entertain readers interested in social history, will fascinate students of baseball and will cause today’s Cub fans to experience an unaccustomed feeling — pride..."