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Saturday, September 24, 2022

End of Summer Film Festival

Thanks to the case of COVID that I'm still combatting, I've spent many evenings these past two weeks watching films I missed over the past few years -- with an emphasis on genre films that my spouse does not like all that much, including science fiction, overly violent action movies, and disaster films. She's again been away fulfilling a family obligation. 

These are the films I watched, ranked in order of my liking, with a few comments:

Dune (2021) (HBO Max)

This was far and away the best film I saw during the two weeks, but it is not without some significant flaws. I read the novel back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and saw the earlier filmed version not long after it was available on cable after a theatrical run. This version of the film told a compelling story with a clear narrative. I recall that the prior film sort of failed at that, but it's been many years since I saw it. Still, this movie's pacing is kind of slow and the plot turns on a betrayal that is not very well explained. I will watch the next one. 

Midnight Sky (2020) (Netflix)

Ultimately, this film is a disaster film more than a science fiction film. If it didn't star George Clooney it would probably be a lot less watchable. The film makes some strange narrative choices -- relying upon a good number of flashbacks to Clooney's youth and showing some "normal" day-to-day activity on a long-haul space mission. Not all of the threads weave together into a coherent narrative. I mean, ultimately, what was the purpose of this film? It was mostly entertaining, in its way, but the writing could have used a few tweaks. 

The Old Guard (2020) (Netflix)

The premise of this film is interesting -- imagine a small group of people who cannot be killed. Indeed, their wounds miraculously heal in a very short amount of time. This superpower gives them the ability to live for centuries and combat whatever foes they decide to identify. Charlize Theron is the main character (and leader of the fighting force), but she isn't given much to say that is all that interesting. Apparently this is based on a comic book and it has that feel. I kept thinking that someone who has read the comics would have a much better idea of these characters and their relationships. Without that knowledge, the film fails to connect on some level. 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) (Netflix)

If you ever wondered what happened to Jesse after the Breaking Bad series ended, then this film provides some answers. It was good to see some of the original stars make appearances in this film (often in flashback), but I didn't think it was as well-written (or well-paced) as an average episode of the original series. Better Call Saul is generally also better. It is worth your time and maybe should be a bit higher on this list. 

The Outfit (1973) (HBO Max)

This film obviously isn't a recent release, but I had not seen it even though I've read a lot of Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker novels. Those books are terrific, generally, and they work because the main character is basically a super-efficient criminal who nonetheless often runs into bad luck. The life of crime he selects is not easy. This film is not especially loyal to the original book and Robert Duvall did not make a very good Parker. And in this film he's named Earl Macklin. 

Greenland (2020) (HBO Max)

At several points during the film I thought about ending my viewing. The story is clunky, featuring an "extinction-level" event for the planet, but focusing on the survival efforts of one family. The three members of the family are racing for shelter in a secret government bunker, but they become separated across Georgia and Tennessee thanks to a series of unfortunate events. One of these characters is a small child and the ongoing disaster is playing havoc with communications. Their reunion is all-too-easily achieved, frankly, even as it causes the father character to steal a car, fight for his life, and .... make peace with his father-in-law because of a prior act of adultery? The script is kind of a mess. 

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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Debate reunion 2022

Last weekend I traveled back to Lawrence for a University of Kansas debate team reunion. I still have not flown since 2019, so this trip involved a roundtrip drive to St. Louis, an Amtrak across Missouri Friday and Sunday, and then short car trips to/from KU. 

The Friday night registration and banner hanging was on the top floor of a warm academic building. I wandered down to the trophy case on a (much cooler temperature) lower floor and snapped a shot of the national championship trophies on display. 

I found the trophy I helped win in 1983 as well as the others depicted on these bright banners. This is only a taste of all the banners as there are also markers for Final Four teams, top individual speakers, winners of other national tournaments, etc. 

On an sour note, I felt the registration area was overpacked with people. Since I had the sniffles by Sunday, mild fever and body aches by Monday, and a positive COVID test by Tuesday, then I guess my concerns were warranted. Hopefully I was not a superspreader. I masked in some circumstances, but most people were unmasked throughout the weekend. I've only heard of one other person testing positive, but who knows given the state of contact tracing in America? I think my case could have been transmitted from poor ventilation in a hotel. One of my neighbors Friday night was coughing loudly all night. 

The next event was a buffet-style dinner at a local catering venue with plenty of beer and food for everyone. There were some games, but the older alums that I hung out with on the balcony mostly sat around and talked. Lots of fun reminiscing.  

On Saturday morning the debate alumni toured Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks reigning national champion basketball team. They have nearly as many recent victory banners and trophies as debate does:

There was an event remembering some of the KU debaters who have died in recent years (including Frank Cross) and then a cocktail hour and meal at the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence. I was in a wedding there in May 1983 and may not have been back in all that time. Before dinner, I managed to help organize this photo that includes 5 debaters from the 1976, 1983, 2009, and 2018 champions, plus the two head coaches.

Left to right: Former Coach Donn Parson, Brett Bricker (2009), Robin Rowland (1976), Mark Gidley (1983), Quaram Robinson (2018), coach Scott Harris, and me (1983).

Back in 2013, this photo included 5 of the same victors, plus a member of the 1954 team, Bill Arnold on the extreme left. Others pictured: Robin Rowland (1976), me, Dr. Parson, Brett Bricker (2009), and Mark Gidley (1983).

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Sunday, September 04, 2022

Baseball Summer

My spouse and I managed to visit 4 ballparks this summer, taking in 2 minor league games and a Cincinnati Reds game, plus we visited a ballpark used by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League decades ago. 

These are ordered in reverse chronological order. The first 2 photos are from an August 20 game in Louisville between the Bats and the visiting Omaha Storm Chasers. Omaha is a KC Royals affiliate and a friend had nabbed some free tickets (they were excellent!)

As shown on the big screen, outfielder Drew Waters played in his last minor league game prior to his August 22 promotion to KC -- and it was Captain Marvel night at the ballpark. Omaha won 10-6, Waters was on base 4 times with 2 singles and 2 walks. 

Side note: I'm working with a graduate student writing about Captain America's films. 

I've been to Slugger Field many times. In fact, I went to 4 games in 2021, so this season has not been as active a year locally. As I went to 3 last September, I still have some time. 

These next 2 photos were taken Sunday June 26 at Four Winds Field in South Bend, IN. We took in the South Bend Cubs game versus the Peoria Chiefs, which the Cubs won 10-7. Pictured at right is leadoff hitter centerfielder Pete Crow Armstrong, one of the Cubs top prospects. He was actually the NY Mets top draft pick in 2020 and came over in the Javy Baez trade in July 2021. 

Earlier that week, on Monday June 20, we had a picnic lunch at Marsh Field in Muskegon, MI. As noted above, this was an original park for the professional women's team that played there after World War II. Earlier this summer I read Lois Browne's book Girls of Summer about the league and of course "A League of Their Own" is a fine baseball film. 

Finally, back on June 9, we went up to Cincy for an early Reds day game against the Diamondbacks. Thanks are due to my daughter Cate as she had given me a gift certificate voucher as a gift.

The Reds lost 5-4, wasting a fine pitching performance from Tyler Mahle (10 strikeouts in 6 IP with only 1 ER allowed) and an early 3-0 lead. Typically for this year's Reds unit, the bullpen gave up 4 runs in the 9th inning. Josh Rojas (pictured on the screen) hit the go-ahead 2 run single in the 9th and scored the decisive 5th run (rendering the Mark Reynolds HR in the bottom of the 9th moot).

It was fun being back at a major league ballpark and our seats were fantastic. 

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