Monday, January 21, 2013

Cloud Nine

The Baltimore Ravens are heading to Super Bowl 47.

That concept has not yet fully settled into reality for me yet.  I`m not sure there`s a word to describe the kind of elation or excitement that I`m feeling right now.  This is unknown territory for me, and it`s a feeling that I will be riding for the next two weeks.  And don`t even ask me what life might be like if (when) the Ravens win on February 3, because I doubt I could fathom what kind of answer I could give.  Right now, the best thing I could guess is that I would become the most obnoxious fan by reminding everyone around me as often as I could that the Ravens are Super Bowl Champions.

For instance, let`s suppose it`s a warm evening in early September: ``Hey Ray, what are you up to tonight?``


See what I mean?

All kidding aside, there was something special about watching Ray Lewis in pregame ceremonies last night.  While the national anthem was being sung, he was being brought to tears between the music and clearly saying the words ``Thank you, Father,`` over and over.  I have to confess getting choked up just from watching that, and the game hadn`t even officially started yet.  When it had finally ended and the Ravens had won, seeing Ray Lewis fall to his knees and thank God was even more emotional.  Oh it was great to see the entire team high five and hug one another on the sidelines, knowing they were going to win.  But Ray`s reaction was something special, knowing this would be his last go-round.

Back when I had made my predictions for the 2012 NFL season, I had said that I expected Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to hang it up after this season.  So far I`m half right on that prediction, and I strongly suspect that if the Ravens do win it all, Reed will call it quits as well.  I wouldn`t be surprised if Ravens center Matt Birk also rode off into the sunset following winning a championship either.  If all that happened, the team would suddenly be short three long-term veteran leaders, and make defending their title next year that much more difficult.  But that doesn`t matter to me at all as a fan.  When the team had lost three straight games in December and changed offensive coordinators midway through that streak, I never thought for a second that they`d make such a playoff run in January.  I expected them to win one playoff game, and then be eliminated in the divisional round.

Then came that ridiculous game in Denver.

The moment that Jacoby Jones caught that late touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to tie the game up, I knew the Ravens would find a way to win the game.  Even had they somehow lost, I still would`ve been proud of them for putting up such a fight on the road.  I had originally expected a very non-competitive game considering the opponent, but they kept moving point for point.  When Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning in the second (!!!) overtime, I knew we`d also beat the Patriots in the title game and move on the Super Bowl.  It was just a question of how close the title game would be.

Once again, my expectations were completely wrong.

I figured that the game would be extremely tight, and probably come down to the final possession just like last year`s title game was.  Joe Flacco could find himself having to drive the offense down the field for either a game-winning touchdown or field goal once again, or the defense would have to stop Tom Brady from carving them up to win the game.  Such an ending would be fitting with last year`s title game and the matchup in week 3 of the regular season.

Hey, at least the first half of the game was competitive.  The second half, not so much.

The Ravens so totally dominated the Patriots it was almost kinda silly to watch.  The Ravens fan in me loved watching the team manhandle the Patriots on both sides of the ball, but the football fan in me expected the Patriots to bounce back in the game at any given moment.  I didn`t even want to go to bed after the game was over because I wanted to watch all the postgame celebration and interviews.  I was on such a high that I wasn`t even tired.

Amid this entire postseason I think I`ve finally figured out who Joe Flacco is.  I was a big Flacco supporter from the moment the Ravens had drafted him five years ago, but when the Ravens started to sink in December, I was jumping off the bandwagon.  He didn`t look like he was progressing as a quarterback or a leader on the field, and he continued to make the same kinds of mistakes he was known for.  I really did doubt the Ravens would be able to win a championship with him at quarterback, which put the team at a particularly difficult time to decide on what to do with the position.  There weren`t any notable free agent quarterbacks coming up in the off season who would be worth taking over Flacco, and there weren`t any slam dunk options coming out of college either.  What option did that leave the team?

Now that Flacco has put the team into Super Bowl 47, I`ve realized he is the anti-Peyton Manning.  Manning has always been an excellent regular season quarterback and leader, but he has a history of collapsing in the playoffs (with the lone exception of the 2006 postseason).  Flacco is up and down in the regular season, but he takes his game to a whole other level in the postseason.  He hasn`t had a truly bad game in the playoffs since the 2010 postseason, and he now has the most career postseason road wins in the history of the NFL under his belt.  Oh yeah, and he`s been to the playoffs and won at least one playoff game every year he`s been in the league so far.  And he`s only 28.

In a league where a solid running game and defense gets most teams 10 wins at least during the regular season, I can take a quarterback who is fairly up and down during that time if he can get the team to the postseason and up his game in the process.  The Ravens have an elite running back in Ray Rice, and their defense will still be solid next year, even without Ray Lewis at minimum.  I know I`m getting WAY ahead of myself talking about stuff like this, but this is what happens when a fan is on cloud nine.

I hope wherever Bill Warble is right now, he`s just as excited and wearing his Ray Lewis jersey every day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

When I saw news reports detailing how James Holmes opened fire on a movie theater audience last July at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, I immediately wondered how quickly his trial would move forward.  In fact, the fact that he was even arrested in the first place somewhat surprised me, since most other mass shooters tend to kill themselves before police show up on scene to take them away (see: Adam Lanza and Seung-Hui Cho).  I've followed Holmes' case over the course of the last several months, and his trial started last week.

And it was then that I found out about Misty Benjamin.

Misty Benjamin is a 30-year-old woman who lives near Aurora, CO, where Holmes opened fire on the movie theater crowd.  She's been following his case more than I have, and even watches his courtroom proceedings in person.  She didn't have any friends or family who were shot or killed in the shooting, nor does she know Holmes personally.

Benjamin was recently interviewed by The Daily Beast where she openly discussed her support for James Holmes throughout his trial.  I was shocked in reading her thoughts on Holmes and the crimes for which he is accused.  I couldn't believe that there was even one person who doesn't want Holmes to face punishment for his actions.  I think the single most bizarre thing that Benjamin had said about Holmes was that she didn't think he was bad himself, only that what he did was bad.

Exactly how does one excuse a man like Holmes, given how much time and energy he had spent in preparing his attack?  I don't see how anyone can separate Holmes from his actions in how horrific they were, but not also think he was a monster as well.  I might be convinced if he had acted out in self-defense or in a momentary fit of rage, but his plan was completely premeditated.  He scoped out the movie theater and planned his sudden entrance to open fire as soon as he was inside.  This crime was not any brief lapse in sanity at all; Holmes was in control of his faculties the entire time.

But wait, there's more.

Turns out there are at least two pro-James Holmes Facebook pages, "James Holmes Is Innocent" and "We Care About James Holmes."  I'm sure there are others as well, but the idea that any such pages exist really terrify me.  Who are these people and why do they think James Holmes could possibly be innocent?

Innocence in a court of law implies that the defendant on trial needs to be proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt that he or she had committed the crime in question.  If such doubt or evidence to the contrary exists, the jury is expected to acquit the defendant.  It's the prosecution's job to present enough evidence to legally find the defendant guilty of the crime (which was exactly why Casey Anthony was acquitted; the prosecution failed to present enough evidence in her trial, so she sadly walked even though everyone under the sun knew she was guilty).

Given all that, how can anyone in his or her right mind think that James Holmes is innocent?  Multiple eye witnesses at the movie theater saw him open fire, and police searched through his booby-trapped apartment to find more weapons stacked away there.  Those two pieces of evidence alone are more than enough to convict the guy, so the trial at this point is little more than a formality.

Here's something even more disturbing: Benjamin mentioned having a boyfriend in her interview, and he knew about her obsession over Holmes.  I've dated some really wacky women in my life, but if I ever met someone who said she openly supported a mass murderer like James Holmes, I would be out the door faster than Usain Bolt.  People who obsess over celebrities and know as many intimate details about them as possible creep me out already.  I couldn't imagine being involved with anyone who had walls covered in pictures of someone like James Holmes in her house.

What exactly does it mean to "support" Holmes anyway?  What's there to support?  Do these sheep not realize that they're falling for the exact ploy that Holmes wanted in the first place?  He opened fire on that crowd to get his name in print and have some brief notoriety before being sent off to prison.  His so-called followers and supporters are giving him the kind of attention he wanted all along.  They're suckers.

The scary truth is that James Holmes is merely the latest example of this kind of perverted obsession.  The likes of Scott Peterson and Ted Bundy received hundreds of letters from women across the country professing their love for them, and even offered marriage proposals in many cases.  What thoughts go through a woman's head as she writes a letter to someone like Peterson, who murdered his wife while she was pregnant with his child?  I've dated enough to know that many women out there want to find a guy who carries some dark side to himself, and ultimately "fix" him so he becomes a nice guy.  I've never understood the concept of the "bad boy," nor have I understood women who are attracted to them.  As confusing as those women have always been to me, they pale in comparison to women who solicit Scott Peterson for marriage.

So here's the million dollar question: Who's scarier here, the criminals themselves or the sheep who flock after them?  I imagine cult artists like David Koresh could be included in this discussion, since he fooled hundreds of people into buying his shtick as well.  He preyed upon people who could easily be duped into joining his cult, though Holmes and Peterson didn't actively recruit followers the way Koresh did.  The women who contacted Holmes and Peterson did so of their own accord, beyond any outside influence.

I've read about conditions like Stockholm syndrome, where kidnapped individuals build attachments to their captors.  They'll empathize, sympathize, and even defend their captors depending on the situation.  These people who feel the need to stand up for James Holmes or Scott Peterson defend them in similar ways to those who suffer from Stockholm syndrome.  If I was more versed in psychology, I'm sure I could write about warning signs or talk about what kinds of people are more susceptible to being duped into obsessing over murderers.  The trouble is, these types of people don't respond to logic or reason.  In fact, I doubt even the most skilled psychologists could help them see the light.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Feel Good Story to Start Off 2013

A few weeks ago, I read a story online about a lifelong Star Trek fan named Dan.  I don't know his last name or where he lives, but Dan suffers from terminal cancer and doesn't have much time left to live.  He wanted to at least see the 9-minute prologue to the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness, before he passed away.  The prologue is showing in theaters now with certain IMAX prints of The Hobbit, but to his disappointment, he did not get to see it when he and his wife went to see The Hobbit in theaters a couple weeks ago.

Thus began a series of events, starting with a request on Reddit.  Dan's wife wrote a post on there as a message to J.J. Abrams, co-writer and director of Star Trek Into Darkness, requesting the opportunity to at least see the prologue in a private screening since Dan isn't expected to live long enough before the film's theatrical release in May.  From there, the post went viral, and a massive campaign exploded from petitioners online asking Abrams to give this fan a chance to see what he had missed.

I was pulling hard that Dan would get his wish.  It's heartbreaking that he is living his final days filled with doctor's appointments and pain, so seeing the prologue would at least bring one final smile to his face.  What a great way to kick off 2013 if Abrams gave this fan his dying wish.

Except JJ Abrams didn't do that.  No, he had something far better in store for Dan.

Dan and his wife got to see the entire working print of Star Trek Into Darkness.

The film isn't quite finished; there are visual effects and some edits to complete, and the musical score is probably only a temp track right now.  But they got to see the entire film as it stands.  I'm sure they are eternally grateful for such an opportunity.  I know if I were in Dan's shoes, I'd feel saying "Thank you" would be incredibly inadequate for something like that.

Last week I watched Ray Lewis' A Football Life on the NFL Network.  The program had been previously scheduled, but the timing worked out in a way since he had announced earlier in the day that he was going to retire following the end of the Ravens' season.  The footage was shot during the 2011 season, right up to the game against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Early in the program there was a story about Bill Warble, a huge Ravens fan in Dundalk, an area just outside downtown Baltimore.  Warble is in his 60s, suffering from terminal cancer with only months to live, but his dream was to meet Ray Lewis in person.  Lewis actually came to his house and met his entire family.  The video below includes their meeting; Warble's story starts at about the 7:34 mark:

Later on, there's a conversation between Lewis and Warble's daughter.  She was in tears from being so grateful for Lewis to come to her dad's house and fulfill his dream.  Throughout the 2011 season, Lewis built a friendship with Warble and his family.  That's genuine heart and love there.  Lewis gave this man a gift that he had carried up until he finally passed after the season had ended.  Even more so, the man's family will carry that gift on with them for the rest of their lives.

Generosity like either of these examples gives me hope that there are still people out there who enjoy doing the right thing.  They don't care about personal gain or interest; they know certain actions will make a difference in another person's life, and that kind of reward doesn't come with a price tag.  Ray Lewis has made his own mission of speaking publicly about his criminal past and the impact it's left on his life.  His life is completely changed for the better, and he now passes that on to anyone else who wants to listen.

J.J. Abrams could have simply given what Dan and his wife had asked for, and they would have been just as grateful as they are now.  Ray Lewis could have stopped by the Warble house once, and that would have been exactly what they had asked for.  Instead, both men did far more than what was expected of them, and that's what the rest of us can take from those stories.  It's one thing to do what someone asks or expects; it's another to exceed those expectations and truly touch someone's life.

I ended up spending a few days putting this post together, and this morning I happened to see a headline that Dan - the terminally ill fan who was allowed to see the entire working print of Star Trek Into Darkness - passed away over the weekend.  While I'm sure his wife and family are grieving over his passing, I would hope the brief joy he had in watching the film ended his life with a positive note.

I've written a number of posts on this blog about odd ball news stories and the like, and while these two stories are rather bittersweet in nature, they share the same positive theme of hope and joy.  The news tends to focus on pretty negative stories for the most part, whether they be the fiscal cliff, murders, or scandals of some kind.  Why news outlets don't find stories like Dan's interesting or worth reporting I'll never know exactly, but it's a real shame we don't get enough good news in life.  I hope 2013 gives us plenty more good stories like these.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

10 Movies I'm Looking Forward to in 2013

I made a list like this one last year around this time, so I figured I'd put another one together for 2013's movie crop.  It's a fun list to compile, and I hope next year's bunch of movies are just as enjoyable as my top ten list for 2012 was.

Trailers are included where available.

10. 42 - I don't know much about Jackie Robinson's early years in baseball beyond what Joe Schmoe off the street knows.  I know he faced plenty of racism and opposition for most of his career, but his story remains inspirational to this day.  I'm a sucker for a feel-good sports movie (e.g. Field of Dreams, Rudy, and We Are Marshall), and this one looks just as good.

9. The World's End - I honestly don't know much about this movie, except that it stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and that it's directed by Edgar Wright.  Those three guys were behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, two great comedies both spoofing and paying homage to their respective genres.  I have every reason to expect this latest comedy somehow involving the apocalypse will be just as awesome as their previous efforts.

8. Jack Ryan - I know, we've kinda been through the reboot process with the Jack Ryan films already with The Sum of All Fears.  Ben Affleck was completely wrong to play a young Jack Ryan anyway, so I hope Chris Pine does a better job in the role this time.  I'm also disappointed with the film's title - is it too much to ask for something more clever than simply the lead character's name?  I'm sure by the time the movie comes out next Christmas we'll all know the name and what it stands for, but what was wrong with the original title of By Any Means Necessary?  I know I'm nitpicking here, but Kenneth Branagh is directing (!!!!) and co-starring as a Russian bad guy.  I'm sold.

7. Pacific Rim - I admit, I wasn't all that crazy about this project when I read about it.  The idea of giant robots and monsters fighting and wreaking havoc on Earth is always fun, but I couldn't get excited about it till I saw the teaser trailer.  Then I realized the error of my ways.

6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Confession time: I have yet to see The Hobbit in theaters.  It was on my list for 2012, so I'm very disappointed that I haven't yet had the chance to see it in its 48FPS in 3D (I'm sure those last few words just sailed over most of my readers' heads).  I'm still going to see it, and so the continuing story will certainly have to be on my list for next year as well.

5. Oblivion - I absolutely loved Tron Legacy from two years ago, and this film is the next project from its director Joseph Kosinski.  He also wrote and illustrated the graphic novel upon which this film is based, so it'll be a faithful adaptation.  And who doesn't love a good post apocalyptic sci-fi tale?

4. Thor: The Dark World - I absolutely loved Thor last year, and the director of this film is an alumnus of Game of Thrones, so he's experienced in fantasy worlds.  I hope the next round of Avengers one shot films are more stand-alone stories instead of just setting up The Avengers 2, which leads me to...

3. Iron Man 3 - For the first time, an Iron Man movie looks like it's got a serious tone to it, and Tony Stark looks like he is in a very dark place.  I was completely disappointed with Iron Man 2 and its lack of focus, so I hope this time around they tell a singular story instead of introducing new characters and underusing them,

2. Star Trek Into Darkness  -

1. Man of Steel I've talked before about my love for Superman and how excited I was for this new take on the character and his legacy.  The first teaser was fairly abstract in nature, but this new trailer shows a lot more of the film without talking much about the overarching story.  It looks like the tone is just about perfect, and I'm curious to see if this is the starting point for WB/DC Comics to build towards the Justice League movie in a couple years.