Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney's Controversial Road Trip

Romney made a point of taking a road trip overseas during this Presidential race, which seems a bit unusual. Having a background with the Olympics (he organized the 2002 Salt Lake City games), it seemed like a natural thing to do, and a good opportunity to appear like a statesman, and make an impression.

Well, he did make an impression. One out of two isn't bad, is it?

The trip seemed like an utter disaster on so many levels, that it really is not funny. Frankly, he probably would be better served just staying home. Perhaps he should have stayed in the world of business that he knows and loves so well, and where he was such a huge success. This being a statesman thing requires considerably more tact than what Romney has shown this past week.

He started out in Britain for the Olympic Games, and it seemed like it would be a positive through and through.
It wasn't.

Romney offended Britain, which is traditionally America's closest ally, by expressing doubts about security, and claimed that he saw "a few things that were disconcerting" about the preparations for the Olympic Games. In the process, he drew rebukes from the Prime Minister of Britain, the Mayor of London, and many others throughout the nation, not to mention many political opponents here in the United States . It certainly made news, but it was not the right kind of news to make.

You would figure that, after a gaffe like that, he might tone it down a bit, and go under the radar the rest of the trip, right?

Nope. He was nowhere near done offending people just yet. In fact, London and the Olympics were really just his warm up.

When he went to Israel next, he once again made headlines of the wrong sort. He snubbed the Palestinians not only by not meeting with their President, but also by referring to the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel . Officially, the United States recognizes Tel Aviv as the capital, since Jerusalem is a bit of a hot potato for many world leaders, given the situation of the city, which is very divided, and which is hardly a settled question yet on the international political scene. This raised more than a few eyebrows.

Yet, he was not done. Citing the economic disparities between the Palestinians and the Israelis, he claimed that "culture", among other things, played a large part of the more favorable status of the Israelis. To make sure I am not taking this out of context, let me put down the exact quote here:

"And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things", he said.

One of the things that this statement does not acknowledge is that Israelis, in effect, control the Palestinians under their jurisdiction, and have ruled over them for a long time. Most people would agree that a people that occupy another, as the Israelis do with the Palestinians, never put the interest of those they are occupying over those of their own people. So, the Palestinians, in a very real sense, have not been allowed to emerge as a people, as nation. Whatever Governor Romney's take on the cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or perhaps of Jews and Arabs, a statesman should certainly recognize this fact, and show a bit more sensitivity and common sense. Instead, he gave a clear indication that he was choosing sides, and in the process, showing unconditional support for Israelis and the status quo in the Middle East. It obviously angered many.

Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani responded tersely, "The statement reflects a clear racist spirit. If Romney came here to rally Israeli and Jewish support in the U. S. election, he can do that without insulting the Palestinian people."

Apparently he cannot.

Romney also showed unconditional support for Israel in the event that they act out against Iran , saying that "any and all measures" should be used to neutralize the threat that Iran poses. Many will interpret this to be tantamount to supporting a war against Iran , possibly just supporting Israeli action, although this comment did not exactly eliminate as a distinct possibility a more active role for the United States . That will raise alarm bells for those who are wary of foreign wars – especially in that region.

Finally, after raising so many eyebrows to that point of his trip, he went to Poland . This trip went a bit more smoothly, as he gave a speech without any hitches, and even met and gained the support of former leader Lech Walesa, although the Solidarity movement distanced itself from Romney. They are, after all, a union, and feel that Romney is too hostile to unions. They reaffirmed their support of unions in America , and in effect, went the other way with Romney, more or less going against him in a de facto manner.

At what was supposed to be a pro-Romney rally, there was an enormous banner instead supporting Ron Paul, while a number of people in the assembled crowd apparently began chanting "Obama! Obama!"

So, Romney now will head back to the United States , with his Republican Convention looming, and continued speculation about who will be his running mate in the upcoming election. He is probably quite satisfied with himself, having raised a good amount of money in Israel , and receiving recognition from foreign dignitaries. But for many of us Americans back home, whom this man is trying to lead, his trip and all these various gaffes were a source of embarrassment. Numerous British, Palestinians, and Poles all expressed, on some level, their desire that he go home.

I would love to do the same myself, and without animosity, wish he would just go back to his mansion(s) in Massachusetts , and disappear from public life. Go enjoy those millions stocked in foreign bank accounts, and retire that patronizing attitude. Nobody will criticize you, or even really care what your opinion is about these matters, if you do not presume to be fit to lead the world's leading superpower, simply because you happened to enjoy success in business. If this foreign trip was a prelude to what a Romney Presidency would look like, God help us. It looks like he would compete with George W. Bush for gaffes and idiocy, not to mention the "born with a silver foot in his mouth" factor. The privileged son feels entitled to the highest office in the land, but he has struggled throughout his Presidential bid this time around, enduring many of the same limitations that ultimately doomed his 2008 campaign. People do not trust him, they feel he is the consummate politician. He was not very popular among Republican, and seemed the reluctant choice for many, who accepted his emergence as the de facto candidate with reluctance, hesitation.

The popular conception will likely be that this trip was not a success, although Romney probably got some things achieved (monetary support in Israel , and a foreign big name endorsement from Lech Walesa). He and his team, as well as FOX News, will surely spin this as a success. But it seems another diversion type of tactic, t detract from the relentless attacks by the Obama campaign to associate Romney as an elite, as a member of the 1%, and not as a job creator, but rather an outsourcer of American jobs. Of course, they would not keep on pounding that point if it were not having an effect, and perhaps a large part of the reason that it has had success is that, indeed, the reason that people do not fully trust Romney, including many unenthusiastic fellow Republicans, is that there is this perception of him as an elite that is out of touch with ordinary, average Americans. I still remember him suggesting to an assembled crowd that he knew what it was like to be unemployed. He was kidding, or at least it was meant to be a joke. But it came across as condescending, coming from a man who is worth over $200 million dollars. There are millions of people who are struggling to make ends meet, who cannot afford health insurance, and who get laid off or lose their jobs, and cannot pay the bills, cannot keep up. Often times, their children suffer. Making light of that for political gain is not going to win you their trust, nor of those who recognize the gravitas of our present national predicament. Romney is rightly seen as a liability, and that is why those outsourcing claims stick so well.
I am not a huge fan of late night comedian Jay Leno by any stretch of the imagination, yet I will end with a joke that he recently told about Romney, and why he is taking so long to announce who his Vice President will be, which perhaps is indicative of the reputation that Romney has earned in the public overall:

"Mitt Romney's search for a vice president continues, as you know. One of Mitt Romney's problems is that he's never hired an American for a job before, so this is new."

There is perhaps a grain of truth to this punch line, and this truth for Romney hurts. At least, it hurts his campaign, and his White House Ambitions But if he is elected, it is America that could be hurting even worse for it.

Romney Angers Palestinians with pro-Israel Comment by Amy Teibel and Karen Laub (Associated Press)


Here are some other links to interesting articles about Romney's recent trip abroad:





Monday, July 30, 2012

Movie Rental Review: Second String

I saw this movie, Second String, selling for $3 at Big Lots, and saw that it had a football theme. Particularly, that it was on the premise of the Buffalo Bills making it back to the Super Bowl and actually winning it this time around.
So, I picked it up, figuring, how bad could it be?
But this was a pretty bad movie, indeed.
Gil Bellows stars as Dan Heller, a down on his luck former quarterback who had at one time seemed like a top prospect, but who was now selling insurance, and in over his head in so doing, at that. He is married to Connie Heller, played by Teri Polo. After one particularly rough day  selling insurance, Dan comes home to his wife, who is excited, and tells him the news that the Buffalo Bills called. He is skeptical at first, knowing that he is likely going to be used as target practice, since his style of quarterbacking is similar to that of the San Diego Chargers, the team that the Bills are preparing for in an upcoming playoff meeting.
When he gets there, he is indeed right. He is treated with disrespect, even disdain, yet he continues on.
Of course, this is a movie, and the Bills offensive starters, and even their back ups quarterbacks, wind up getting sick while eating bad oysters, and are out for the foreseeable future. There is no chance of them being able to return within a month, let alone on time for the playoff game against San Diego within a couple of days.
So, suddenly, Dan gets another chance at a playing career. He is going to be the starting quarterback in a playoff game, and he will be heading a group of similarly burned out ex-pro's, or even never have-beens.
But the game turns out horribly, filled with miscommunication and very poor play. If not for the defense, which remains the Bills starting unit, Buffalo would have lost, and lost badly. It takes a defensive touchdown by Buffalo in the waning minutes to break a scoreless tie, and that allows the Bills to live to fight another day.
Up next, they will be hosting the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game, to fight for a berth in the Super Bowl.
Can you guess who wins?  
With a week to prepare the group, Heller manages to learn the men and their talents enough to beat a highly paid, professional football team, by playing a high risk style, relying mostly on trick plays that wind up working beautifully. Buffalo overcomes a huge deficit to win the game, and qualify for the Super Bowl.
That is when they sign a star quarterback, Tommy Baker, played by George Eads, who comes out of retirement just to get the chance to add to his Super Bowl ring collection, since he already has three rings. He will be the starting quarterback for the Bills in the Super Bowl. Heller is thus cast aside, and finds himself having to face the very real prospect of returning to reality as a salesman, after having been on the cusp of fulfilling a childhood dream.
But, wouldn't you know it? Things turn out badly. Baker is a star, and his ego gets in the way of his working well with this band of outcasts, who normally would never have seen the light of the day in a starting line up, let alone in the Super Bowl. Suddenly, Buffalo is losing badly to the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings (incidentally, another franchise that has been to four Super Bowls, but never won yet), and Heller manages to convince his head coach, played by Jon Voight (you may recognize him as the dad in National Treasure, among other roles that he has played) to give him another shot. At that point, the coach figures, there is nothing to lose.
And just before the half, when Coach Dichter has told Heller to take a knee and run out the clock, Heller decides to take a risk, and tries a trick play that (surprise surprise!) works out beautifully, and provides the Bills their first points in the game.
Coach Dichter is actually quite furious, as Heller had disobeyed his directions to take a knee, and the coach and quarterback have an explosive exchange in the tunnel at halftime. But Heller has nothing to lose, and lets loose like never before.
He manages to convince the coach to let him have his way and make his own calls in the second half of the biggest game that either of them will ever be a part of. Now, it's a new game.
Everything works beautifully, because this is a movie. The professionals on the Vikings, who have been a solid enough defense to take them to the Super Bowl, seem completely lost and unable to stop Heller's trick plays, and unprepared to contain the suddenly real threats of the offensive guys who were supposed to be just the warm ups for the Bills starting units. Instead of a ridiculous blow out, which was the direction the game seemed to be heading in the first half, the Bills manage to make it a close game, and it comes down to a thriller in the final seconds, with Heller and the offense having an opportunity to steal the game!
Can you guess who wins?
All in all, this was not a very good movie. The acting was not very convincing, nor was the plot. Also, it seemed weird that the Bills were playing playoff football in January, and yet the practices were seemingly in warm, summer like conditions, with the grass green and the trees full of leaves. It's hard to believe that not a single person would have caught that.
The movie also starts out with a fictional game between the Giants and the Bills (the Giants were the first team to beat the Bills – just barely, by a whisker – and get them started on their losing streak, so it must have been symbolic), in which Buffalo needed to win to qualify for the playoffs, or go home. Yet, all of the Bills games were at home, which is usually a privilege extended only to the truly elite teams, where you have to be one of the top two seeds. It is not impossible that such a scenario could happen, but it seems highly unlikely, even if you suspend your belief and realize this is the world of Hollywood.
This movie is considered a comedy officially, but there was not a single moment when a smile graced my face through this movie. There was one moment where it came rather close, and that came during the AFC Championship game between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins, when suddenly, for a split second, the Dolphins uniforms looked suspiciously like those of the San Diego Chargers in one clip, before returning back to the regular uniform that Miami usually wears. Weird.
So, it was not really a comedic movie, but it certainly could not have passed for a drama either, since there was a considerable lack of drama during the confrontational scenes.
Hate to say it, but this simply falls under the category of bad movie. It is relatively short, which helped, at least.
There are guest appearances by notable football personalities, particularly Doug Flutie and Mike Ditka.  There are also clips of actual games.
All in all, this is a highly forgettable movie. I would be generous to rate it a 4 out of 10, and was amazed that some people online had rated it higher than that.
Don't waste your time with this one. Not even Buffalo Bills fans will really appreciate this movie. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Harrison's Red Bulls Arena Hosts France's Trophee des Champions

I was fortunate enough to have been at the Trophee des Champions game in Harrison, NJ, between Montepellier and Olympique Lyon. 
It was really a terrific game. Back and forth, intense and even electrifying.. 
Montpellier showed early on why they are the reining French league 1 champions from last season, by showing more energy, determination, and organization early on. That translated to not just the first decent scoring chances, but to the first successful conversion and a well-deserved lead, when John Utaka scored in the 27th minute to give the defending League 1 champions a 1-0 lead. At that point, and through much of the first half, Lyon seemed sluggish and almost overwhelmed.
But that changed rather suddenly with a header by Bafetimbi Gomis in the 44th minute, just before the half, that served as the equalizer.
Still Montpellier seemed like the better team through at least the early part of a very exciting and crazy second half, where the action and intensity was stepped p by both squads, making this a very exiting game.
Montpellier still looked like the better team through much of the second half, particularly early on, although Lyon finally was starting to look like they were in gear.
Montpellier was awarded a controversial free kick after the ball hit the hand of Lyon's Mahamadou Dabo after a free kick by Marco Estrada in the 56th minute.Emanuel Herrera managed to convert the penalty to give Montpellier the 2-1 advantage, and there followed an amusing celebration, where Herrera placed his foot on the knee of a teammate, and looked like he was having his shoes shined.  
But in a back and forth affair, the lead did not last. Lyon's Jimmy Briand managed to beat the goalkeeper in the 77th minute off a great assist by Alexandre Lacazette, who spun around to beat two defenders before delivering the ball to Briand for the tying goal.
After that, both teams had some tremendous opportunities that were not ultimately converted, and at the end of regulation time, the score was nodded at 2-2 apiece. Montpellier found itself a man down after a red card was given to Estrada very late in the game, but Lyon was not able to capitalize during regulation time. It went straight to the shoot out.
The shoot out itself was intense, with both teams missing their first attempts, then recovering to convert their second attempts. But Lyon's goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris showed why he was the starting goalie for the French national team by blocking a shot, and putting Montpellier on the ropes. They never recovered, as Lyon converted all the rest of their shots, to secure their record seventh Trophee des Champions title.
One guy that most likely will want to quickly forget this game is Montpellier's Gaetan Charbonnier. He had an opportunity in the final minutes to essentially clinch the victory, as he had the chance to kick the ball against a wide open, yawning goal right in front of him, as Lyon's goalie, Hugo Lloris, was largely out of the play. But Charbonnier shanked it. Later on, during the penalty shootout, he missed his kick, and that proved very costly for Montpellier, which eventually lost the shootout. Just one of those games, really.
It was fitting that the presentation for the game's MVP trophy, which was rewarded to Yoann Gourcoff , was presented by Youri Djorkaeff, who was not only a prominent member of the French national team that won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euro, but also played for the local Red Bulls before they got their beautiful new home stadium in Harrison. There really could not have been a better selection to make the presentation, perhaps with the exception of Thierry Henry, who is an active player, and had obligations with a Red Bulls away game in Montreal (which the Red Bulls lost, 3-1, by the way).
If you are a fan of soccer, you really should come to a game at this sparkling new stadium. It truly is a gem, a modern looking stadium that provides comfortable seats and an intimiate feel. It has the added bonus of being conveniently located in Harrison, within walking distance of Newark, near Interstate 280 and with the 24 hour PATH train running within easy walking distance. My brother informed me that Henry used to take the PATH train to get to some of those Red Bulls games, which surprised me!
Here are some links to very good articles that I used to help me write this piece:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Concert Review: Bloomfield Summer Concert Series and Brookdale Park: The B-Street Band and The Inferno July 27, 2012

The B-Street Band was actually quite good. The lead singer, Glenn Stuart, sounded very much like the voice of the Boss, and the band did a pretty expert job of sounding like a live version of the E-Street Band, to boot. If you close your eyes, you might actually think that you were seeing Bruce and the band in person. 
Except for one thing, of course. The response was surprisingly subdued. I know this was a tribute band, okay. That did not escape me. But given that this band has been together for over three full decades, that is an indication that they are doing something right. Also, they were playing music by New Jersey’s favorite son, and that they did so very capably, I just thought that they deserved a better response. 
Yet, it was quiet. People seemed to be waiting for the main act, the headlining group, to take the stage, and this hardly seemed fair. Personally, I enjoyed the B-Street Band, and would be willing to make a trip to see them again, given the opportunity. 
At one point, the lead singer even acknowledged this, saying that he knew that most people were waiting for The Infernos, but they could show a little life out there. He invited people to come in front of the stage and dance, although very few actually did. 
They played some standard Bruce songs, including "Dancing in the Dark", "Hungry Heart". One that rather surprised me was from the newest album, “We Take Care of Our Own”. Again, this band got it down pat. See Bruce if you get the opportunity, by all means. I saw him in may, and he was incredible, and rocked the Rock. He is coming around again, this time to the New Meadowlands Stadium, and it will be an awesome few shows. 
But if you are pressed for money, or just want to rock out to Bruce’s music before that, then this could be a good alternative. They really are a very good group. 
        The Infernos Band took the stage, and I’ll be honest in saying right away that I didn’t know what to expect. I had never really heard of them before, so had no idea what I was in for.
But they came out in matching outfits, orange shirts with black pants (at least, the men in the band wore this). They came out filled with energy, and the crowd finally came to life, giving this band the respect that they should also have extended to the B-Street Band. 
        It is hard to put a finger on exactly what The Inferno was like. They are very capable musicians, and the female had a beautiful voice. They did a wide range of material, from oldies dating back to the fifties and sixties, to the most current radio hits, and everything in between. They even had Vince Torrell come out, and he had a very old style reminiscent of the days of Frank Sinatra and old style entertainment. 
At some point, Richie Rosato, currently a member of the Infernos Band, did some of his hits from when he was with the Duprees. The band also covered some stuff from the show Jersey Boys. 
A lot of people showed considerable excitement, and many people not only stood up, but danced, too. When the band announced that they were doing One Direction's "You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful”, which they announced is currently the number one hit, there were teenage girls in attendance that shrieked with excitement. 
It was a fairly star studded evening, for that matter, considering.
Michelle Leonardo, Miss New Jersey 2012, was there, and she sang a piece, and showed off a pretty decent voice. She will be competing in the Miss America pageant in January, and may even have a chance at being voted Miss America. Also, there were some runners up present, as well, and they were all wearing their glitzy crowns. 
I was not aware of this, but The Infernos Band had done some work earlier this year to help out victims of that tragic earthquake in Italy that killed hundreds and was responsible for extensive damage of buildings, including some historic sites, in the country. That is impressive.
So, an evening of good music, and good fun. All for free, at Bloomfield’s Brookdale Park, on a wonderful summer evening. Even the weather cooperated for the most part, only yielding a brief shower during the early part of The Inferno’s set. 
If you live in the area, and are not entirely sure what to do on a Friday evening, this might be worth checking out. I have attended a couple of concerts here now over the last few years or so, and have enjoyed both. It is a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. Pick up something from one of the local places that has excellent Mexican food, or whatever is to your liking, and have yourself a makeshift picnic. I recommend bringing folding chairs, but both times, we took blankets, and that should suffice. 
Come and check it out! 

Here are some related links, if this article sparks some interest:

B-Street Band Website:
The Infernos Band Website:

Article on Free Concert Series in Brookdale Park, Bloomfield, NJ:

New Jersey Free Concerts:

Friday, July 27, 2012

The "Dwightmare" Continues (yawn)

Dwight Howard still wants out of Orlando. He wants as much money as he can possibly get. He wants to go on a team where he might have a chance at a championship, presumably. He wants recognition for his talents, a fact that has become overly obvious over the course of these last months, when he spent much of last season as a distraction for Orlando and other franchises interested in him, as he flirted with the possibility of finding another team, only to eventually decide to stay in Orlando, smiling broadly before  a wildly enthusiastic home crowd. He has a famous smile, and it almost makes him seem likable. The folks in Orlando must have felt happy.

Well, it did not last long. It seemed that as soon as the basketball season was over and summer began, he once again began the long drama of his wanting out, making a very public spectacle of the whole thing.

It seems that he finally caught on that this whole show and dance surrounding him is not pleasing to the public, or particularly to fans. not just Orlando fans, but fans of the NBA. Just yesterday, he called it a "Dwightmare" for fans. But, he made sure to point out, it was a "dream" for the NBA.

Yeah. Right.

He seems just to be all ego at this point, and I am not sure why he thinks he is worth as much fuss as he evidently believes himself to be.

In fact, right now, he is closer to being the poster child of spoiled, childlike athletes who feel entitled to enormous, outrageous, obscene sums of money and publicity. Because he is huge, and can play basketball, he apparently deserves as much press as he gets. We, the gracious public, should be happy to see his face every single night, and to hear rumors that his deal to the Nets is just about complete. No, wait! He's staying in Orlando for the rest of this season. Okay, it's summer, and the season is over, and he is on the verge of being a Brooklyn Net! Just about a done deal....and.....no! The Nets are completely out of the running. Now, he's going to the Lakers! Umm...hold, on a second! He may go to Houston, or to the Mavericks. Maybe the Clippers should pick him up? Now, the Nets are back in the picture? Hmmm...

How he must be enjoying this. This is exactly what he wanted. Also, the NBA franchises that are interested are playing right into it, and probably superficially inflating his monetary value far more than he is actually worth.

Now, I like the Nets. If he goes there, I will root for them, but I will not gain more respect for him, specifically.

In fact, I think he's an egotistical, narcissistic, overgrown child. Indeed, he is the symbol of everything that is wrong with team sports these days. because guys like him make you wonder why they are even called team sports. For Dwight Howard, it is all about Dwight Howard. he reminds me of Shaq, who seemed ridiculously egotistical in his day as well. Even Dwight Howard's use of his own name to create a new word, the "Dwightmare", reminds me of Shaq, and not in a good way.

The fact of the matter is that better basketball players have had more of an impact while remaining far more modest. Talent and class should not necessarily be opposing values, as the "Dwightmare" evidently believes.

I do not, and cannot, profess to know where Dwight Howard will end up. Unless he winds up with the Nets, I will actively root against him. In fact, as the next season's schedule was just announced and looms, I will say here that my two least favorite teams are the Lakers, and whoever Dwight Howard winds up playing for.  This is the type of thing that has been a big turnoff to me, and why basketball these days does not feel as exciting as it did back in the 90's, when there were personalities, sure, but they were in relation to teams, and had loyalty to their teams. That seems to be a lost art form these days.

Another Instance of Seeing Bears....

          It came very near the end, when I heard, more than saw, bears running. I would say they were grunting or even growling, but it was more than that. They were actually snarling, and running, seemingly running mad. I could not so much see them, because there was a dip in the terrain where they were from where I was. Being nervous, I just instinctively went to the nearest boulder and crouched down, hoping the moment would pass. But they started running the opposite way a few moments later.
            I had glimpsed them the first time when they were running away, and caught a better glimpse of at least two of them when they were running the complete opposite way. It was mostly a blur, but they were definitely bears – probably the same ones that I saw in previous months.
             This marked the first time in quite a few months that I saw any bears. I think it must have been May, or maybe early June, when I last saw one. Of course, in between that time, I did see a moose in Maine, something that I wrote about somewhere on this blog. It was huge, enormous, as big as a horse, and that without it's antenna. Never had seen one before, and always had wanted to, so it felt like an enormous privilege to have finally seen one. But the absence of any bear viewings was starting to make me puzzled a bit. Wish it had been a calmer viewing, and not one that seemed to frighten all parties involved. But still, it was a thrill, and I still maintain that it was a privilege to see, to boot!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 NFL Season Preview

            It's just about that time again.
            Are you ready for some football?
            This season looks to be quite intriguing. It was a busy offseason for numerous teams, and not always in the best way. It will be interesting to see how the Saints respond to the whole controversy surrounding them. Will it bring them together, or tear them apart? The last time a team was under such scrutiny, they went undefeated all the way to the Super Bowl, and were considered the best team in NFL history, before losing to the Giants in the last minute of play. Speaking of that Super Bowl, we had a rematch between the New York Giants and that team that I just was speaking about, the New England Patriots, who did not enter last year's Super Bowl with an undefeated record, but still entered as favorites. Still, the Giants managed to win the rematch, and this is probably the greatest Super Bowl rivalry since the Steelers and the Cowboys of the seventies. Can the Giants repeat? How will the Patriots respond, after yet another postseason disappointment? How about the Packers, who went 15-1 and looked like the team to beat, only to watch the Giants dominate them at fabled Lambeau Field? Or how about the 49ers, who came out of nowhere to host the NFC Championship Game, before losing by a whisker in overtime. Maybe the Ravens are finally ready to rise up beyond the disappointing end to the AFC Championship Game, and ready to finally reach the big dance, which would likely be Ray Lewis's last hurrah.
            Of course, those are some of the most obvious teams, the favorites. There are other intriguing stories, as well. How will Peyton Manning and the Broncos work out this season? Will the Chargers bounce back from two disappointing seasons in a row, or are they basically done? The Raiders, who managed to have a perfect 6-0 record against teams in their own division, went 2-8 against teams outside of the division. Are they ready to step forward and become a contender? What about the Chiefs? Can their offense finally get it going?
            The Houston Texans still look good, and their defense should still be strong. They seem to be the big favorite in that AFC North, as the Colts, the team that had long dominated the division, look to be rebuilding with new star of the future, Andrew Luck. They may be very good again in the future, but it would be unrealistic to think that they will be a serious contender this year, after a miserable 2-14 campaign last season. The Jaguars do not appear to be a serious contender, and the Titans are still working on making improvements. They are probably the second best team in the division, but it is hard to imagine that they can enjoy sustained success during a 16 game season, although you never know, right?
            The AFC North produced three playoff teams last season . The Ravens won the division and reached the Championship Game, and were even close to the Super Bowl, until the field goal sailed wide. With an intimidating defense and a solid running game, they are relying on an old formula to try and reach the championship. The Steelers are not much different, and have qualified for the Super Bowl a record tying eight times, three times in recent memory. They have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, too, and you can never discount them. The Bengals finally made it back to the playoffs, but they were not able to muster a win against a winning team last season, going 9-0 against teams that did not have winning records, but 0-8 (including playoffs) against teams with winning records. As for the Browns, they showed improvement, but can they translate that to greater success this season, maybe even qualifying for the playoffs? Time will tell.
            The Patriots have long been the dominant team in the AFC East, but one wonders if that might change, after this latest crushing loss in the Super Bowl. The Jets were contenders recently, but they had a hugely disappointing season last year, and that after coach Ryan had predicted a Super Bowl for the team. The Bills seem to slowly be putting pieces in place, while the Dolphins likely will be the cellar dwellers here.
            In the NFC East, the Giants are the reigning kings, but the Eagles are hungry to bounce back from the embarrassing failures of last season. The Cowboys tend to be unpredictable, but should field a decent team, while the Redskins will likely need some time to make things work there.
            The NFC North has some impressive arms throwing passes, and should be a wild division this year. Tops is Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, only a year removed from defending their championship. They owned a 15-1 record last season, but the playoffs were a let down. They still figure to be the best team in the division, far and away. Detroit finally broke the playoff drought, but following that up should prove challenging. Still, the talent is there. The Bears looks great in 2010, and seemed to look great much of last season, too. But a late season collapse raises questions that the team will need to answer. As for the Vikings? Well, it is hard to imagine them being competitive this season.
            New Orleans is dominant in the NFC South, although the Falcons are capable of sneaking up on them, and should at least nip on their heels. The Panthers saw new life and signs of hope last season, and could show dramatic improvement this season. As for the Buccaneers, they are a mystery. One would imagine they would need at least a good year before former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano makes things work there.
            San Fransisco appears to be back in the NFC West. They enjoyed a very successful season last year and, like the 49ers of old, seem to be benefiting from a weak division. It is hard to believe the Cardinals were in the Super Bowl recently, since they have really stunk these last couple of seasons. But there are signs that they are hungry to get back to success, and they started recovering from a bad start late last year. The Seahawks were division champs a couple of years ago, but they appear far from contention now, as they continue the rebuilding process. The Rams showed some strong potential in 2010, but last season was simply a disaster. They need to show that they are on the right track, and Bradford needs to show the arm that he had back in 2010. It would be surprising if they were as bad this season as they seemed to be last season.
            So, there is no shortage of intrigue and drama heading into this season. Let's see what happens. But before that, I will write a preview of the upcoming season, and will try to analyze each team and each division, and will finish up with predictions. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movie Rental Review: Yes Man

            I had only heard about this movie, and did not remember anything really about it, before watching the video.
            It stars Jim Carrey, and this was his first real comedy role in quite some time, perhaps since Bruce Almighty. It was the funniest and craziest he has been since Me, Myself, and Irene. Yet, it is not all that crazy, and he seems to have lost something from his earlier years. Maybe a certain reckless abandon that he once possessed and made him what he was, but is no longer.
            He plays the part of Carl, a man down on his luck. A girlfriend that he really loved dumped him for another man a few years back, and he has never been the same. Essentially, playing the pity party. He does not feel like going out or doing anything anymore, and just stays home, moping around.
            Some friends begin to notice and express concern for him. One of them convinces him to attend a “Yes” seminar, which amounts to a self-help kind of session. The premise is that you have to say yes to any and all opportunities come your way, no matter what they are.
            So Carl, who is conservative, and lives an organized life, rarely taking chances, now has to live an entirely different lifestyle.
            He is skeptical at first. But eventually, he begins to see it pay dividends, particularly when he meets a beautiful young, exciting woman, Allison, who seems very compatible in an unconventional sense, and adds a lot of spice to his life. He becomes convinced that the “Yes” program is working.
            Suddenly, he finds greater happiness than he ever felt before, and feels that he is truly living. His life in unrecognizable from what it was before, and now he feels like a new man.
            Of course, it does not last. Things fall apart before too long, and he has to piece everything back together again.
I had only vaguely heard about this movie, but recently, the opportunity to watch it presented itself.
For a long time, I felt that Jim Carrey had lost his comedic edge. He was decent in Bruce Almighty, but did not show the same carefree, reckless abandonment approach towards his comedy that he had in his earlier days, with movies like the Pet Detective Series, or Mark, or Dumb and Dumber.
Zooey Deschanel is very good, and cute in the role of Allison. She does a good job, and certainly holds her own in this role, across from the superstar Jim Carrey.
He does not show it so much in this movie, either, but there are traces. He does not let loose like he did in the old days, and yet, there are some really funny parts to this movie, and Carrey nonetheless delivers, albeit in a more subdued manner. Still, it is a good time, and I would recommend this, if you enjoy comedy. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Penn State Sanctions and What It Means to Paterno's Legacy

           Earlier this month, on July 13th, I wrote a blog about Paterno's statue in front of the stadium at Penn State.
            Well, that statue was taken down earlier this week. Many Penn State fans and supporters of Paterno are still angry over this. I heard one woman's reaction on the radio, saying that Joe Paterno did not deserve this, that he was not to blame since he did not actually commit these acts – Sandusky did.
            True, but Paterno was all powerful at Penn State, and he surely had the power to put a stop to the abuse, one way or another. He may have lost a coach on his team - and perhaps a capable one at that – but he likely would have survived an ugly incident with his reputation intact. Since Paterno chose otherwise, favoring instead to take the convenient way out and pushing off the horrific chapter that could prove to be highly controversial if it ever broke out, things are different. Now that the news has indeed broken out, Paterno seemed to have a gut feeling about exactly what this would do to his legacy. I do not know what was on the man's mind in his last days, but it is not unthinkable that there was no small measure of guilt there. Again, he just seemed to know that his reputation would not be salvaged.
            Indeed, it very well might not be, despite the intense loyalty of die hard Penn State and Paterno fans.
            Penn State finally learned it's fate yesterday, as NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the verdict. Penn State will have to pay $60 million in fines, which to my understanding is roughly the cost of the football program annually. It will lose scholarships for four years, and the Penn State football program will not be eligible for the postseason for the next four years. Since this controversy perhaps will scare potential talented recruits away for at least the next four years, and maybe longer, there really is no telling when the football program might hope to recover – if it ever does. This was a four year ban, but who knows if Penn State will ever return to what it once was.
            As for Paterno himself, who had been the winningest coach in college football history, over one hundred of the wins that he recorded from 1998 until the present were invalidated, as the NCAA took those victories away, officially. That means that Paterno, who held the record for wins with 409, now moves him down below several other coaches.
            Speaking of other coaches, Paterno had some disparaging things to say about some of them in the past. He mentioned that he did not like the idea of retiring because he did not want to "leave college football to the likes of Barry Switzer and Jackie Sherrill." At the time, those two coaches headed programs that had faced probation for perceived infractions of NCAA rules. That seems a rather holier than thou thing to say, from a coach who was perhaps beginning to believe all the hype about his own demigod status. Given what we know about the crimes (yes, crimes) committed at Penn state on the watch of Coach Paterno, crimes that he was aware of and did nothing about, this comment seems incredibly absurd and presumptuous, as well as arrogant. He seemed to presume that those two coaches were classless. Will his own approach to the sex scandal at his school be remembered as classy? Most likely, it will be seen as worse, far worse, than the infractions by those two other coaches. Switzer, for example, does not enjoy the greatest legacy, but he will be remembered for other things than the scandal. Paterno likely will be remembered best now for this controversy. All because he wanted to maintain a perfect image for his football team, and for his status as it's head.

            I personally might have more sympathy for Paterno, and those who are agonizing over his legacy being so forcefully torn apart at the moment, if he himself had not taken his image of perfection so seriously. However, there are too many indications that he not only embraced, but even advertised his own merits as the ideal coach. It might not have been him who originated the whole mystique, but he certainly did not seem to show any modesty. In fact, he seemed to actively relish the role, and do everything within his power to protect that image. That would seem to include trying to sweep this whole scandal under the rug and keep it from the public's eye. That was a very imperfect decision, and has gone a long way towards ending the mystique and tarnishing his once unblemished image. I might have a lot more sympathy for him, had he shown some greater sense of reality about himself, and kept his feet planted firmly on the ground, and his head on his shoulders, accepting reality. Instead, he wanted to help perpetuate a self-serving myth, and present himself as larger than life. Given that, there is some measure of justice that the untouchable reputation that he once possessed, and actively fostered, is now gone.
            Another legendary coach, Vince Lombardi of those great Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960's, once said, "Winning isn’t everything, it's the only thing."
            A lot of people have used that quote, and believe in it, even swear by it. I can only imagine that Joe Paterno likely agreed with this quote, although I cannot say for sure.
            I do not agree with it. In fact, I think that much about what is wrong with our society is largely evident in that very quote, and how highly regarded it has become. Don't get me wrong, Vince Lombardi is a great coach, and I cannot help but admire his approach to coaching, or the illustrious history of the Green Bay Packers organization. But I certainly do not agree with that sentiment that the only thing that matters is winning, especially if people begin to apply this outside of the football field.
            There is another saying that Paterno himself came up with, and that became the motto of the Penn State football program. "Success with honor". For a long, long time, it was popularly believed that Penn State actually epitomized this rather self-serving slogan, that it lived up to it's billing. There were boasts that the football players were actually students with strong academic performances, and that they needed to meet Paterno's standards before donning the football uniform. Everything about the Penn State football program advertised the very highest standards of excellence.
            And then, it all fell apart, and quickly.
            This whole abuse scandal will never be lived down at Penn State, and mostly, it is because of those very boasts, and the illusion of purity. The very image of excellence on all fronts and at all times has come back to bite Penn State and it's reputation in the butt, and the scandal now effectively mocks this formerly idealistic image. This thing took on a life of it's own, and tore the pristine reputation apart, so that now, most likely, nobody will ever think of Penn State in the same way. Since Paterno essentially became the face of the success that this program seemed to embody, it is only fitting that he now is the face of it's largest failure, since he himself was apparently far more at fault than most people dared imagine.
            To be sure, this whole thing was an ugly incident, and Penn State would surely have received negative publicity from it if it ever broke out, one way or the other. But I believe the publicity would have been limited to Sandusky alone, and no one would have blamed Paterno or the university itself for any failings, had they done the right thing. But it seems that Paterno took a gamble, hoping perhaps that by ignoring it, this thing might go away. In so doing, he allowed innocent children to suffer, quite literally. Yes, it was a gamble, and it was one that Joe lost. All those years of winning, and now, what he perhaps will forever be remembered for is losing this gamble. Funny thing is, if things had worked out slightly differently, and the scandal has remained swept under the rug, Paterno would still have a largely untarnished reputation, despite his actions (or inactions). But now, everyone knows, and nothing will be the same at Penn State again.
            Once again, I will maintain that some things are more important than football, and more important than winning. Joe Paterno seemed to understand that fully towards the end of his life, but only when he was forced to. Taking his statue down is a statement on the importance of learning that lesson and trying to gain a larger perspective on life before the crime of the excesses of such thinking comes crashing down all around you. I do not know, and will not comment, on whether or not the NCAA's ruling is fair or just or excessive, or what. What I will say is that Joe Paterno seemed larger than life for far too long at Penn State, and his statue is symbolic of that. Pat Forde wrote an article on this subject (see below), and he wrote of Paterno: "His is a fall from grace unlike any in collegiate history."
This horrible tragedy that allowed children to suffer was in large part his doing, because he chose, quite literally, to do nothing, when he was perhaps the main person who could have intervened and put a stop to it. It diminishes his status, as well as his accomplishments, and it is only fitting that the symbolism of his larger than life statue at Penn State should come down. He is, after all, only a human being, and not a God. It might pain some to hear that, but the truth is the truth.

Below is a link to an article, NCAA's Mark Emmert establishes with Penn State sanctions that he's in charge like no one else" by Pat Forde, that I utilized in this blog, especially the quote by Paterno regarding a coupe of other coaches:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sports – Soccer Comes to Yankee Stadium

            Paris St. Germain met Chelsea in an exhibition match yesterday evening at Yankee's Stadium.
            It was my first time at the new stadium, and I must say, I liked it! Very enjoyable, with a cool, unique design that is reminiscent of the old Yankees Stadium, which I never felt they should have knocked down. Still don't, for that matter.
            Still, what's done is done, right?
            Yes, the new stadium is nice. Plus, it was a perfect evening to be there, to enjoy it. The temperature was just right, and the night breeze felt very nice.
            The atmosphere was excited and enhanced the overall feel of the game, and most assembled were pulling for Chelsea. Chelsea is the more established of the two teams, with an illustrious history and some tremendous success over the course of years and decades. Perhaps that was a large part of the reason that they had a de facto home game in the Bronx last night. They were certainly the more famous of the two franchises.
            Yet, Paris St. Germain (PSG) is on the rise, having recently acquired more money with which to acquire better talent, with the eye towards reaching elite European status, much like Chelsea itself has done.
            "Chelsea was one of the best teams in Europe, and Paris St Germain wants to be one of the best teams in Europe," said PSG Coach Ancelotti. He continued, "To reach the highest level in Europe, you have to spend money. Chelsea made this investment 10 years ago, and they are at the top. Paris St Germain started last year. We want to be quickly at the top of European Football."
            Towards that end, PSG has indeed invested big money to attract big talent. They have already what can be considered a star-studded lineup, and they just added to that even more, having just acquired Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva, and Zlatin Ibrahimovic, although Ibramovic did not make it to this game.
            Still, Chelsea figured to be the favored team, and with a relative home field advantage, perhaps that was even more pronounced than usual. Yet, Paris St Germain came to play, and they played well, creating the better scoring chances early, before finally breaking through and scoring to take a lead from a goal in the 30th minute by PSG star Nini, who managed to score the goal, despite the ball bouncing off the leg of Chelsea defender Davis Luiz, who just was unable to clear it and remove the threat.
            For a long time thereafter, it looked like PSG was the better team, as they dictated the tempo. The upset seemed likely, until Chelsea managed to apply strong pressure towards the end, controlling the ball and creating numerous turnovers, before finally breaking through with an exquisite goal by 18 year old Lucas Plazon in the 82nd minute to tie it.
            Both teams had some decent scoring opportunities towards the end of the game, with Chelsea about to take a corner kick for the possible game winning goal, before the refs stopped the game during extra time, ending it with a 1-1 draw.
            All in all, a very intriguing game, and quite enjoyable atmosphere at the home of the Bronx Bombers. It was the first soccer game that the new Yankee Stadium has yet hosted, although it is hosting a big one next month, on August 9th, when Real Madrid takes on AC Milan.
            Below is a link to a decent article "Chelsea, PSG draw at Yankee Stadium" by The Associated Press, from which I got the quotes used in this blog:


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Movie Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

I hesitated in writing this review, largely because of the tragic and horrible Colorado shootings for the opening of this movie. I wanted to see the movie, but have to admit to wondering if it would not be disrespectful to the victims and their family and friends to go see this movie, let alone review it. But that said, I think perhaps the same arguments that were used following the September 11th attacks should apply here. We should not allow this man, James Eagan Holmes, to succeed in stopping our lives as we know it, because he chose to succumb to his darkest temptations and make all the wrong kind of news as a sick and desperate cry for help. That would be conceding too much to him.
For that matter, it would not be fair to judge to harshly this Batman movie, or to automatically associate it with the shooting, which it really had no part of. The movie was long done, and had already been seen by many critics and the privileged few, before the events in Colorado. It would be unfair to simply tag it to this tragedy. It is, to be fair, a violent movie. We know that, and that is what we expect. But it is exactly that, too: a movie. It does not pretend to be otherwise. This shooter apparently mistook real life for a movie, coming to identify with Heath Ledger's joker character from the second movie in this trilogy, and James Holmes shot people indiscriminately of his own accord. It was not the Batman movies that made him do it, it was his own choice. If it had not been Batman, it would surely have been something else. This was a sick man, very unwell. He planned these attacks for a long time, and in the process, lost all sight of the sanctity and value of human life, including, apparently, his own. There will be debate about what might have motivated him. Perhaps he watched too many movies, or played too many video games, or listened to violent music. People will point the finger of blame at convenient scape goats, and this movie, most likely, will be blamed, as well. But he is a grown man, an adult, who made a decision, albeit an unfortunate one. He now will likely rot in a jail cell for the rest of his life, or perhaps he will even get the death penalty. The future will decide that.
I decided to go ahead with this preview, after having written a piece just yesterday on the Colorado shooting, and sharing some of my own thoughts and concerns about the escalation of violence in this country – particularly these seemingly random shootings. I now go ahead with this preview, which I have been working on for some time now (going on days now), and express my thoughts on this latest Batman by putting these actions of a madman out of my mind. Hopefully, I do justice to the movie on it's own merits, and without dodging the issue of Colorado, while also paying every respect to the victims and their family and friends. In no way do I wish to ignore or disrespect their suffering by writing this review of the very movie that the victims were watching on that terrible morning. My thoughts, and my heart, are with them, and I am sure that I am not alone with that sentiment. Again, much of this preview was written before these events transpired (and before I ever saw the movie, for that matter, because I delve into the history of the Batman movies), and I do try and employ humor to flavor this preview. Please understand, again, that this was not done with any intention to deliberately ignore the issue of the shootings, or not to honor the memory of those who were lost or suffered injuries. That said, here goes:

Okay, so this is the highly anticipated review of the most recent installation of the Batman trilogy. Some among my legions of fans and dedicated readers have been clamoring for it, waiting with bated breaths. As you all well know, I aim to please, always. So, at long last, here it is. There is a buzz about the streets. Pupils seem to be dilated more than ever, in anticipation of this momentous event.
Now, people, you can breathe a bit easier. Yes, the wait is finally over. The most highly anticipated summer blockbuster review is finally here!
This was a very different Batman movie series than the different incarnations that we had seen before. Christopher Nolan wanted to revive the Batman story in movie form, following the versions by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher in the late eighties and early nineties. Those movies seemed to get progressively worse. The first, with Michael Keeton starring as the Batman, and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, was very entertaining. It introduced the all black and sleek Batman that has since become a staple in all of the Batman movies since. I remember how exciting it all seemed. The second Batman was a decent follow up, with Danny Devito as the Penguin, and Michelle Pfeifer as Catwoman. The third was Schumacher's first Batman movie, and Keeton was replaced by Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I will not here that Keeton chose to leave the Batman franchise because he did not like the direction it was going in. He was right on many levels, yet this was not immediately obvious. The third installment with Kilmer was the highest grossing movie of the series, and seemed to raise hopes for future movies. But it was the last semi decent movie of that series, with Jim Carrey as the Riddler, and Tommy Lee Jones was Two Face. It also introducted Chris O'Donnell as Robin, and These two teamed up against Batman. It was not as good as the first two, but since it was so successful at the box office, Warner Brothers was excited about the future.
It should not have been. The fourth movie, this time with George Clooney as Batman, Alicia Silverstone being introduced as Batgirl, Chris O'Donnell returning as Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the villainous Mr. Freeze, and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, was a disaster. All momentum was lost, and Warner Brothers shut down this franchise, as they tried to figure out a new direction for the Batman movies. It was a disaster, and most Batman fans (I would include myself here) consider this the worst Batman movie of all time. That would include the Adam West movie of the sixties, which is comically bad when you watch it now (I'm thinking of the shark attack scene here in particular, with the ridiculous looking shark finally being repulsed by the conveniently handy shark repellant). But at least that was clearly meant for young children. That last movie did not seem to have any clear direction, and it was just a hodgepodge of nonsense, for the most part. Also, the close ups of Batman and Robin's asses really did not enhance the Batman movie experience for most fans (one would think, anyway). The whole thing was just really over the top and ridiculous. Warner Brothers did not know where to go at that point.
It was decided that reviving Batman would be desirable, and they gave a chance to then largely unknown Christopher Nolan, and this newer, darker Batman was set for release in 2005. It was called Batman Begins, and the movie really does start from the beginning. It explains everything, from what Wayne's motivation was to become Batman, to the murder of his parents (which he witnessed), to his episode as a child falling into a cave, or old well, and upon recovering his senses, suddenly having the horrifying experience of being completely surrounded by bats, and developing a fear of them.
            It follows him to the remotest corner of Asia, to the Himalaya Mountains, where he learns to fight, and receives instruction in the art of rather severe discipline, both on a personal level and in a group level, as he joins an elite and secretive fighting ninja organization determined not only to conduct themselves with a warrior's honor, but overall, to do whatever they had to do to make the world a better place.
            We watch as Wayne learns the skills and receives the discipline, and it is much easier to see where he got all the fighting expertise that he uses later on, as the masked crusader.
            For that matter, we see upon his return that he plays different, and contradictory, roles. He takes a very strong interest in the weapons and other such goods (such as the body armor that becomes Batman's uniform, as well as the vehicle that becomes the Batmobile). The question posed by Jack Nicholson's Joker of 1989 ("Where does he get those wonderful toys?") is actually answered, and rather brilliantly, at that.
            Also, I think the decision that Bruce Wayne takes of playing an obnoxious, conceited, self-obsessed young multi-millionaire or billionaire in order to deflect attention from any possibility of his being the Batman was a stroke of genius. It really enhanced the movie, and truly made it the work of those who wrote this in the script. It was a very different Bruce Wayne than what I remember growing up as a kid. But it works, and works well. They made it make sense.
This was a dark movie, for the most part. It was more modern, and yet also retained a kind of older feel, on some level. It was not as exaggerated and in your face as the 1989 movie was, but yes, there were elements of that in there in the landscape and layout of the city. Of course, maybe this was just done for dramatic effect. One way or the other, it works.
In fact, all of these movies are darker. The villains in these latest movies, Scarecrow in the first movie, and then Joker and Two-Face in the second one, and finally Bane in this one, really are not quite as over the top or comic book standard villains as some of the ones that we have seen with the Batman series before. While the whole premise of the movie is not exactly believable or based on a true story, it is not quite as over the top as the movies directed by Tim Burton (and the later ones, particularly the one with George Clooney, just got to such a ridiculous level), let alone the television series of Adam West, which was almost comical and ridiculous, and clearly aimed for a very young audience.
            Pardon the pun, but this is not your dad's Batman. This is a much more modern, sleek, Batman, and all of the explanations, all of the back story, is there. It was enhanced even more with the second movie, as the story of the Joker (and of his insanity) was infinitely more believable than the one offered for the Joker in the Burton movie of 1989. These movies just go much farther in answering any leftover questions. They are darker and more extensive as a whole. 
But Batman was supposed to be dark. He is known as the Dark Knight for a reason, after all. And it is not just these newer movies are darker, either. They are far more detailed and complex, and go much further in explaining the reasons for what happens on the screen. We know where Bruce Wayne/Batman got his fighting abilities from. We know where he got all those "wonderful toys", including his uniform and the Batmobile, from. We might not know the full story behind the bad guys, particularly Scarecrow and the Joker, but we nonetheless can understand their rationale for what they do, instead of being asked to just go along with the cartoonish bad guy rubbing his hands together while laughing that evil laugh, and wanting to take over the world, or perhaps just a desire to cause mischief for the sake of the pain it will cause others. These recent movies are far more complex. Far more adult.  For that, they are a bit better, too, because they do explain things that are never explained in any of the previous television or movie incarnations of Batman.
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises is the finale of a trilogy. It stars Christian Bale as Batman, as usual, and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Morgan Freeman returns as Fox, and Michael Caine returns as Alfred, both of them lending acting experience and class to the movie. Tom Hardy is excellent as the villain, Bane. Anna Hathway is stunning and sexy as Catwoman.
Where this movie perhaps comes dangerously close to going over the top is in the introduction of too many superhero or supervillian characters. Yet, a balance is kept, and the movie works. It is very well crafted, and adds the fitting final touch for this trilogy, if indeed these movies end here.
Bane is truly terrifying in this movie. I will admit to not being all that familiar with the character during the days when I followed Batman back as a child, but that is more a statement on my…ahem….age. I am dating myself here, but being a kid that followed comic books back in the eighties, and relying even more heavily on Batman back issues dating from the sixties and seventies, as well as focusing on the old Adam West version of Batman on television, and the newer version of Batman of the late eighties and through the nineties, Bane seemed largely a mystery to me. After doing some research on the character, however, I can see why they would make him Batman's main nemesis for this last installment of this latest Batman trilogy.
Tom Hardy plays a very muscular Bane, who really is almost the perfect villain. He is incredibly strong and intimidating, yet also has an incredible, piercing intellect. For the first time, we see Batman in this series completely overpowered, and seemingly outsmarted, to boot. Bane holds every advantage. He reminded me of a few other villains, and seemed to me a curious mixture of characters in this movie. Part Hannibal Lecter, part Destro, and part Darth Vader (the whole breathing apparatus thing), he simply had a strong, truly imposing presence throughout the film. Hardy overwhelms the scenes that we find him in, and I would rate him as perhaps the most memorable villain in a movie in a very long time. Not sure how long, but he just seems perfect in this movie. Perhaps the last time there was a villain that was so frightening and believable was Dr. Octopus in the second Spiderman movie during the Toby Maguire movies. Again, I was not all that familiar with Bane prior to this movie, but after seeing it, I wanted to make a point of exploring this strange new (to me) character.
Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, looks incredibly sexy as the Catwoman. She is very different in this role than Michelle Pfeifer was in the same role, but she does an excellent job. What makes these movies perhaps truly great is that the characters seem a bit more toned down, if you will, than we find them either in the comic books, or in the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies.
After the masterful and now legendary performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two Face in The Dark Knight, the second of these Batman movies, one might think that Nolan would have a difficult time successfully following that up. He made it so good, that it was a tough act to follow, and a challenge to himself.
Yet, in large measure, this movie is arguable even better, taking to the logical conclusion the increasing power and sway of the villains with each subsequent movie. Ra's al Ghul's mastermind scheme in the first movie was followed up by the destructive chaos of the Joker in the second. Now, the brilliant and brutal Bane proves to be Batman's most capable and dangerous foe yet, going farther than the other villains ever did before.
The movie is supposed to take place a full eight years after the last movie with the Joker, which ended with Batman as the villain, and the presumed murderer of Harvey Dent, who's turn for the worse as Two Face remains unknown to the general public. Bruce Wayne is in hiding, having become a recluse, and there are whispers that he has been seriously injured, or is sick. In any case, he seems locked away in a corner of the Wayne Mansion.
In the meanwhile, Bane has made his appearance in a spectacular aerial heist, and has gotten his hands on a prominent scientist. Bane has made his residence in the underground of Gotham, literally, within the tunnels of the sewers and subway systems. He grows more and more powerful, and continues in this way, being largely unchecked. All of Gotham is in fear of this mysterious and rising powerhouse.
That is when Bruce Wayne decides that something must be done, and suddenly, the desire to raise Batman from the dead begins. Of course, we know that he will have his turn as Batman.
What is most unique in this movie is that every advantage belongs to Bane, from physical strength to intelligence, and even to modern technology. He holds all the cards, every advantage, and even Batman suddenly seems overwhelmed. With Batman out of the way, Gotham essentially belongs to Bane.
Of course, this is a Batman movie, and so, as the title suggests, the Dark Knight rises, and tries to thwart Bane's stranglehold on the city. The twists and turns along the way are well thought out, and there are plenty of surprises. Nothing comes too easily for Batman in this movie, but we see his perseverance, this time, as he seems hopelessly outmatched, yet continues to fight, once again trying to save Gotham from an evil fate.
If you like these most recent Batman movies, you are going to love this one. I think it ranks as the best movie, and that is saying something. It is daring on a level that seemed unthinkable, even drawing on history (there are elements that a historian of the French Revolution might appreciate here) in a strong way, and it very much enhances the movie. It is not a shy movie, and Nolan goes all out in this conclusion to this Batman trilogy.
But don't take my word for it! Get tickets and go see it for yourself. If you are a fan of Batman, I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.