Thursday, January 27, 2011

All Is Not Bono

It is not easy rooting for the Florida Marlins. Sure, they have won as many World Series titles as anyone in baseball, except the New York Yankees, since they came into existence in 1993. And sure, they field competitive teams each year, despite payrolls that rank consistently near the bottom. And sure, they feature one of the great young pitchers in the game, fireballer Josh Johnson, and the most promising young slugger to reach the majors in many summers, 21-year old Mike Stanton, who last year belted 21 home runs in 51 minor league games before being promoted to The Show and swatting an additional 22 four-baggers for the major league team.

The Marlins are young, talented and fun to watch. Yet something happens each year to remind us that, until they inaugurate their new stadium in 2012, they will remain second-class citizens. Last year, the team moved several of its home games to Puerto Rico, depriving the loyal 5,000 fans who regularly attend games in South Florida of a three game home series against the New York Mets. This year they are again moving a home series, but the reason is different from last year’s efforts to tap the San Juan market.

Earlier today Major League Baseball announced that the weekend series scheduled in South Florida between the Marlins and the Mariners to commence June 24 is being displaced by a U2 concert. The games will be moved to Seattle where, despite facing what will assuredly be a pro-Mariners crowd, the Marlins will be the “home” team.

What In The Name Of Love is going on here? The Marlins will travel nearly 3400 miles to the farthest point of the continental United States to face a hostile crowd and will be considered the “home” team? Let us put this in perspective. The Marlins will be the “home” team in a city they seldom visit. They will undoubtedly be unfamiliar with the area surrounding Safeco Field. As far as the Marlins are concerned they will be playing Where The Streets Have No Name – at least no name they recognize.

One could understand the management of Sun Life Stadium, which the Marlins usually call home, agreeing to host a concert on a date when there will assuredly be no conflicts, say New Year’s Day - but in the middle of the baseball season? Clearly the Marlins are being disrespected. In their present stadium they will always play second fiddle to the Dolphins (Miami will always be primarily a football city) no matter how much they Desire something different.

I keep waiting for the day when things will change, when the Marlins franchise will get the local respect it deserves. Yet, after seventeen years of waiting, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Perhaps the change will come next year, when the team moves into its new, retractable-roof stadium in Little Havana. Until then, however, our roving band of wanderers will have to accept the baseball gods’ decision to send them packing to a “home” in enemy territory. And, if they are swept by the Mariners in what is likely to be the Marlins’ only home series ever in the state of Washington, and miss the playoffs by a single game, they may look back with regret to the final game of the series and wonder whether, if circumstances differed, they might have been able to avoid what may become their Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Scared Straight

His monsters are our monsters. They come not from myth but from the human psyche.

Two of the best horror films of the new millennium are devoid of extraterrestrials, creatures lurking in the shadows and knife-wielding boogeymen chasing unfortunate teens. They are unconventional in that they avoid most of the familiar trappings of the genre, choosing instead to focus on human fallacy as the ultimate source of terror. The two films have one other thing in common: director Darren Aronofsky, one of the best and most creative filmmakers of our era.

Requiem for a Dream (2000) deals with the horrors of drug addiction. It depicts the deteriorating lives of four people who become increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs. The horror is concentrated on the impact that drugs have on those lives, and the drugs themselves become characters in the film, enticing, seducing and ultimately destroying all. It is a powerful, disturbing film, whose images haunt the viewer long after the credits roll. It is, in many ways, the quintessential anti-drug film, one which should perhaps be shown to every teen contemplating experimenting with narcotics.

The film effectively depicts the impact of drugs on a very personal level. Aronofsky makes us care for his flawed protagonists. We feel their longing for better, happier lives, their surrender to drugs as a means of attaining those lives, and the ultimate destruction that follows surrender. The viewer is both engaged (Aronovsky’s films have always contained elements of voyeurism) and horrified by what he sees. The closing sequence, which cuts from scene to scene with increasing speed, depicting the destruction of each character, leaves the viewer gasping for breath, trying to fathom the meaning and impact of the images on the screen.

Aronofsky’s most recent film, Black Swan (2010), takes a different approach. Here, horror comes not from without (drugs) but from within (the mind). The film depicts the descent into madness of a young ballet dancer (memorably played by Natalie Portman, who is certain to earn an Oscar nomination). By the devastating conclusion of the film, when the descent is complete, and the screen fades to black to the deafening music of Swan Lake, we realize that Aronofsky has been toying with our emotions, employing cinematic tricks to stir in us feelings of paranoia, confusion, dread and regret. Yet we do not care because his use of those tricks is seamless and effective. We know we are being manipulated by a cinematic master.

At the conclusion of the film, I turned to my daughter and mouthed the word: “Wow.” It accurately described my reaction to what I had just witnessed. Black Swan may or may not be the best American film of 2010 (David Fincher’s The Social Network, for example, has been given that title by many) but, with apologies to Christopher Nolan’s enigmatic Inception, it may well be the most memorable.

Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan have, in many ways, redefined the “horror” genre. Their appearance at the beginning of the new millennium bodes well for the future of American film, whose path over the coming decades will be shaped, in large part, by the intelligence and creativity of gifted filmmakers such as Aronofsky.