Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Page 46 of 52

Knife To Meet You

True story from NPR:

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”

“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”

Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”

“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.

The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

This! Is!…

Jeopardy!

Tim rocked my world and nabbed some killer free tickets to the final night of the Jeopardy taping at the Kohl Center in Madison. It was the final two tapings of the College Tournament of Champions, episodes that will air May 15 and 16. Here’s what I learned:

– Alex Trebek answers attendees’ questions during the commercial time. He has the same persona on screen and off.

– If Alex screws up reading an answer, like mispronouncing a name, they rerecord him reading it during the commercial and replace the flub with the rerecording. The answer that has Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is a rerecording.

– I know who wins the tournament but I won’t tell.

– The final Final Jeopardy we will see on TV was not the original. One of the contestants did something disruptive as Alex revealed the final money totals, so after they finished they rerecorded the revealing of the Final Jeopardy answers. It was madness.

– It was so weird to see Alex do the things I’ve seen him do on TV so many times.

– If what was shown on the big screen as they taped the show is the final product, I will be on TV twice; once each episode. On May 15, I’m in the bottom left corner of the screen for a few seconds. On May 16, I’m  on for much longer, making strange movements and cheering. We were right in front of the UW band, so look for them and you’ll see me. I’m in a gray t-shirt.

Jeopardy is awesome.

Macho, Macho Men: Vulnerability In ‘Casino Royale’ And ‘The Bourne Identity’

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on April 25, 2008.

John McClane, Rambo, the Terminator. They are the American Action Hero: muscular, terse, a killing machine. They favor spouting clever catchphrases and blowing stuff up over expressing emotion. To them, women are hors d’oeuvres best enjoyed while they serve cold dishes of revenge to bad guys. In recent years, Hollywood has deconstructed this action hero archetype and rebuilt it into the more complicated and affected man.

Two such characters, Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity (2002) and James Bond in Casino Royale (2006), inhabit the stereotypical macho man role but confront emotional walls typical in males and discover the pain that can come with true vulnerability. These men, however, are not just movie characters. They share the same struggle with identity and masculinity with males in the real world.

The James Bond movie lovers have come to know is a suave, martini-drinking womanizer who effortlessly shoots bad guys and jets around in sports cars. But the Bond in Casino Royaleis different. He’s still rough around the edges, an arrogant thug who cannot control his emotions or his actions. When he meets Vesper Lynd, the ravishing femme fatale, she sees through him easily: “You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits,” she says.

After Bond realizes his transparency, he treats Lynd as a meaningful pursuit rather than a disposable pleasure. He begins to trust her. Eventually, he gives in to her. “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I’m yours,” says Bond. He finally drops his emotional armor and allows a woman in, becoming vulnerable for the first time.

But his vulnerability did not serve him well. He learns that she was using him all along for money. The one person for whom he opened his heart carves it up, so he closes it again and takes up the armor. “You don’t trust anyone, do you?” asks his boss. “No,” he says. “Then you’ve learned your lesson,” she replies.

Jason Bourne fights a different battle. When we first meet him he floats unconscious on the ocean with bullets in his back and a tracking device in his hip. When he comes to, he doesn’t know who he is or remember anything until that point, but does know several languages and hand-to-hand combat. He slowly learns that he is a killing machine that only functions because it cannot do anything else.

Then he meets a woman. She drives him on his journey to self-discovery, first by payment, then on her own accord. She helps him as he follows his animalistic instincts to find his identity and his purpose. Bourne finds the man who knows the answers and he tells Bourne the truth: “I don’t send you to kill. I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.” After a death-defying search, he finds out that he is only a shell of a man, a blunt instrument of death.

Bourne’s confrontation with the mysterious man triggers a flashback to right before he was found floating in the ocean. He was ordered to assassinate a dictator but couldn’t pull the trigger because the target’s children were lying next to him. The one time compassion creeps into his heart, he is shot in the back and left for dead in the open sea. That is quite a lesson to learn.

Bond and Bourne experience the same challenges to their masculinity, yet they end up in different places. Bond starts as an emotionless brute, becomes softened by a woman, then is betrayed by said woman and shuts himself off from emotion again. Bourne goes through the same process, except at the end he remains open to Marie and at peace with his existence.

Through both stories run two constants: women and killing. These constants represent two big fears that men have: that if he opens himself up to a woman, she will rip his heart out; and that if he doesn’t fulfill the male stereotype of being tough and emotionless, he will be thought of as less than a man. Not necessarily by women, but by their fellow man.

These fears, at their full effect, can cripple a man’s masculinity and trust in women. They turn them into chauvinistic playboys, forever caught in a perpetual state of arrested development. They are the reason why so many single women claim that ‘there are no more decent guys’—they’ve been taken captive by the fear of being vulnerable.

James Bond and Jason Bourne may be fictional characters, but they have the same dilemma as real men. Not all men are lost causes, however. In fact, none really are. Modern males have a simple choice: remain shadows of men destined for empty relationships and guarded hearts, or fight the temptation to run from intimacy.

Favre’s Retirement Ends Golden Age Of Quarterbacks

Published in the North Central Chronicle on March 28, 2008.

February 3, 1997. My first Super Bowl. It was so exciting; the first game I remember seeing on television and my team was playing. It was my Green Bay Packers. And it was my Brett Favre.

My family hosted the party. I was decked out in my No. 4 jersey and brand new Cheesehead as I watched Favre throw touchdown after touchdown against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. He even managed a rare quarterback sneak for a score. He helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs to Lombardi’s home sweet home; the legendary Lambeau Field. I felt so proud that the Packers were my team and that Brett Favre was my quarterback.

Unfortunately, as every football fan knows, good times like these never last long. Injury, free agency, or retirement always snatches our heroes away from us. Sometimes they make their exit after a tragic injury in the twilight of their career or after a triumphant Super Bowl victory. Brett Favre did neither; he left on his own terms.

My dad called me to tell me the news. “Favre retired.” I should have been somewhat prepared for this; sports writers and non-Packer fans have been calling for his retirement for years, but I was shocked. I felt empty. I have not known life without Brett Favre as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

I spent the next couple of days disheartened. I watched every highlight reel I could find of his top plays and memorable moments. I even got teary with him as he formally announced his retirement (not kidding). I pushed through all of the stages of grief, albeit superficially. I probably won’t reach full acceptance until the season opener when, for the first time in my memory, Brett Favre will not be there to take the snap.

I know this all seems melodramatic. After all, football is just a game and Favre is just a man. But I grew up with a legendary quarterback who started every game and made big plays when they mattered. I realize now how special and rare it is to have such a gift. I’ve never had to constantly shift my trust to the next fifth-round draft pick who would just let me down again. I’ve been able to turn on the television on Sundays during football season and know that, win or lose, the Packers would be okay.

I felt that way because Favre was more than a quarterback. He was the anchor and the image of the Packers organization and of the entire state of Wisconsin. Politicians cycled in and out while Favre kept driving down the Frozen Tundra looking for a score. But even more than that; he was a constant in my life in which I could find solace and inspiration as I trekked through the rockiness of childhood and adolescence. I felt safe knowing that Favre would remain, no matter how good or bad the Packers performed.

What Favre brought to the game was his playground antics, his improvisational skills, his grit, and his pure joy for the game. He was no cookie cutter quarterback. Even Vikings and Bears fans, the Packers’ true nemeses, fell victim of his charm every time he flashed that toothy grin after making a ridiculous play. He threw off of his heels constantly and scrambled in the pocket like a decapitated chicken. He threw the most touchdowns as well as the most interceptions. He was a true gunslinger, a rugged man’s man; the John Wayne of the gridiron.

Still, as hard as it is for me to say, it was a good time for him to go. He broke nearly every major NFL record a quarterback can break and had fun doing it. Even though he didn’t get the second Super Bowl win he wanted, he is leaving on top after arguably the best year of his career, Super Bowl ring or not. (I’m planning on repressing the memory of his last pass; an interception that cost a Super Bowl bid.)

With Favre hanging up his cleats, a golden age of quarterbacks has ended. Steve Young, Dan Marino, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre all epitomized what was great about football and the everyday heroes it can give us. The Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings are talented of course, but they don’t have the spark that made Favre football fun to watch.

Outside of the realm of football, Favre is leaving behind a legacy decorated with not just wins and losses, but also the fond memories of a scrawny redhead who loved to run routes with his dad and imagine he was catching the winning pass in Lambeau Field from one of the game’s greats. That is a bond that time cannot erode.

The march to football season is going to be strange for me and my fellow Packers fans. We will be out of step for the first time in a long time. The sparkle we’ve grown to know and love has faded from the Packers franchise and from the NFL. But once we move on, we’ll be able to get back to beating the Bears and winning the Super Bowl. It is what Favre would have wanted.

On Brett Favre’s Retirement

My first memory of Brett Favre was watching him win Super Bowl XXXI. My family hosted a huge party in our basement. I watched as he threw a long shot down the middle on an audible to Andre Rison for the first score, then to Antonio Freeman down the right sideline for a score. I saw him dive into the near left corner of the endzone for a touchdown. And I saw him thrust his helmet into the air in celebration with that bright smile on.

Brett has been with me since that time. I’ve watched him win a Super Bowl, then lose one, then go into the deepest of ruts. I watched him battle back to the playoffs–making heroic last-second plays to win, and tragic mistakes to lose. He was a gunslinger. No apologies. The plays he made were impossibly reckless, yet he still made them.

He loved to play. Everyone knew this. He got into the habit of hoisting his receivers in the air after they caught another one of his zingers for a score. Every time he attempted a run or made a block, we couldn’t help but laugh, then make sure he was okay. Of all of the records he recently broke, none is as special to Brett as the consecutive games started. As a quarterback, the player that gets hit the most and hardest, he managed to take the hits and keep on ticking. Even when he did get injured, he was back the next week lobbing Hail Marys and tossing the ball underhanded.

He was so close last year to getting back to the Super Bowl. But he was right when he said that it is much worse to get to the Super Bowl and lose than to not get there at all. That’s why I figured he was coming back this year–the team is so talented and motivated to win. But it will never be. He won’t get to add another ring to his fingers.

He’s still a Super Bowl winner, a Pro Bowler, a record holder, a 3-time MVP, and a favorite among fans–even Bears’ fans.

A part of me is leaving with Brett. I mean that sincerely. He’s the kind of icon that inspires kids to play sports and to have fun while they do it. I never went into football, but every time I play a pick up game with my friends, I call the play-by-play for him. Favre drops back, scrambles, evades another defender, sees Driver streaking down the sideline, zips a rocket downfield, Driver’s got it! Touchdown!

As much as it pains me to say, Brett needs to stay retired. He can’t pull a Michael Jordan and come back and play for a half-rate team just because the money is right or he feels better about playing. He will retire as a Packer and stay one forever. I don’t know how my fellow Packer fans will take this. Brett Favre is seriously is a huge part of my life, and that part is now gone. Sunday afternoons and Monday nights will never be the same.

I have faith in Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy, and the entire team. Brett may have led them here, but they can finish it themselves. I have always been and will remain a Packer fan, though the spark that we Cheeseheads love seeing every fall is gone.

Thanks Brett. For the memories, for your dumbass plays, for your constant scrambling, for your enthusiasm, for supporting your family when they’ve supported you, and for giving football fans everywhere something to cherish forever.

The Oscars — ‘Once’ Wins!

I got two of my Oscar picks wrong – not bad. I don’t remember why I didn’t pick Diablo Cody to win, but I’m glad she did.

Yay for Once! It was pretty lame that Marketa Irglova got cut off, but pretty awesome that Jon Stewart gave her time later.

The only reason why the ceremony keeps going so long every year is because of the pointless montages. Besides the standard In Memoriam and a fun one thrown in just for kicks, every one of them should have been cut. Though I did enjoy the “Salute to Binoculars and Waking Up from a Bad Dream” mini montages.

I love Jon Stewart, so I loved him tonight. If you don’t get or enjoy his humor, you probably thought he did poorly. But every one of his wisecracks were great.

I’m glad No Country won. Much has been said about There Will Be Blood, but that movie was Daniel Day-Lewis, and he was properly awarded for it. I think the right choice was made so that in 50 years, when they show another montage of past Best Picture winners, people will still actually like and remember No Country, as opposed to Crash, Around the World in Eighty Days, Million Dollar Baby, etc.

I love movies.

12 Angry Men

Published in the North Central Chronicle on Feb. 22, 2008, as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

I was about 7 years old when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder. I’ve seen the highlights—the slow-speed chase, O.J. struggling with the glove—but I don’t remember the sensational media coverage or the racial debates regarding the verdict. I can only assume the jury felt tremendous pressure to get it right; a guilty verdict would have sent Simpson to death row, while ruling him not guilty would set him free.

The question of guilty versus innocent and right versus wrong has captivated rational minds for centuries. In our justice system, the final judgment of wrongdoers is laid on the conscience and common sense of their peers. But when fallible and differing human beings must unite under one clear, unanimous decision, there is bound to be conflict. And conflict is exactly what happens in Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957).

A young ruffian has been accused of premeditated murder. The judge sends the jury into deliberation of what appears to be an open-and-shut case. The twelve jurors file into a cramped back room to debate the case, but 11 of them have already assumed the defendant’s guilt. The twelfth one, however, is not so sure. He, juror number 8 (Henry Fonda) is the only one who leaves room for reasonable doubt.

So they are forced to endure the stifling heat and convince Juror Number 8 to change his vote. As the tension builds with the humidity, the jurors sweat the details of the case and each man’s faults and prejudices surface. One man sees the defendant as a stereotypical child of the slums and makes his judgments accordingly. Another cares more about making it to a baseball game that night than deciding the fate of a man.

We learn of the case piece by piece through the jury’s deliberation, and slowly we see our own perceptions of the defendant’s alleged crime, and of the jurors themselves, change. Juror Number 8 is meant to be the hero of the film, but he represents more; he is willing to stand up for an unpopular belief amidst heavy and vocal opposition, and his voice of reason and empathy starts to convince other jurors to take change their vote. But I could see a part of myself in each one of the jurors; the reasonable, the indifferent, the stubborn, and the intolerant.

12 Angry Men is similar to Rear Window in that all but about three minutes of the film takes place in one room, creating a heightened sense of claustrophobia for the viewer and for the jurors. In a pressure-filled situation like that, the worst in a person spills out, resulting in ad hominem attacks and irrational behavior. It’s like The Real World, except well-made.

This film should not have worked. Watching twelve men sit in a room and just talk for an hour and a half does not sound very fun, but the actors inhabit their characters and make us believe we’re in that stuffy room with them. We are drawn into solving the murder mystery with the jurors, and we soon start to make our own conclusions, however unsubstantiated or unfair they are.

12 Angry Men succeeds were a good dramatic film should: it entertains us, with colorful characters waging a war of words in a stress-filled environment; and it also makes us think, about the concept of right and wrong and about our own prejudices. With a one-two punch like that, 12 Angry Men deserves no less than top billing on your Netflix queue.

Listen Up, Academy…

My 2007 ACADEMY AWARD PICKS:

Best Picture
Who will win: No Country for Old Men
Who should win: No Country for Old Men

Best Director
Who will win: The Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men
Who should win: The Coen Brothers

Best Actor
Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood
Who should win: Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd

Best Actress
Who will win: Julie Christie for Away from Her
Who should win: Laura Linney for The Savages

Best Supporting Actor
Who will win: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men
Who should win: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men

Best Supporting Actress
Who will win: Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton
Who should win: Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton

Best Animated Film
Which will win: Ratatouille

Best Original Song
Which will win: “Falling Slowly” from Once
Which should win: “Falling Slowly” from Once

Best Adapted Screenplay
Who will win: Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men
Who should win: Coen Brothers

Best Original Screenplay
Who will win: Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton
Who should win: Brad Bird for Ratatouille

Lord of the Rings

The Turner Classic Movies channel is showing Academy Award winning films all day every day this month in a series called “31 Days of Oscar.” I watched Lord of the Rings: Return of the King last night and realized something.

I would remember that trilogy for the rest of my life.

I hadn’t read the books before I saw the first movie. I remember seeing the trailer and being very intrigued. Then I saw the movie and knew I had seen something incredible. I was in 8th grade when Fellowship came out. After that, my friend Tim and I became obsessive teen fanboys. He had read the trilogy plus the supplemental materials before, but we enjoyed the movies together.

I kept a daily countdown until the release of The Two Towers. Every day in chemistry class I would tell my friend Chris how many days were left; he wouldn’t care, but I couldn’t care enough. We bought our tickets in advance and went opening weekend I believe.

We repeated the same process for Return of the King, except I read all of the books before I saw it. I simply could not wait until December to find out what happened. (I’ve read the trilogy twice through since then.) So seeing Return, I had a different perspective, yet I enjoyed it as much as I did the others.

I remember being picked up from school with Tim by my sister Elise. Tim was just crawling into the back seat when Elise began to accelerate. Tim’s foot was not yet in the door, so it got caught beneath the moving tires for a moment. He was pretty jarred, but he made it, and we made to the theater to enjoy what we knew would be the final run-through of our annual ritual. Though we could extend our ritual further with the release of the extended DVDs. I’ve since watched the entire trilogy straight through with Tim—good times.

Lord of the Rings went on to box office and Oscar glory, but it also won the hearts of many youth. My dad never caught on to it; the weird names and twisting plot makes it hard for the Boomers to latch onto it. But it is essentially the Star Wars of my generation. Filmmakers will try for its revolutionary special effects and cultural impact for years. But above all, I will always associate LOTR with the fondness of my youth.

I will think of the great epic story, the lovable heroes, and the grand magic of cinema that creates a world out of nothing to entertain and enlighten the child in everyone.

Here’s lookin’ at you, Frodo.

The Gaze, Ctd.

I was at the Union again last night, working the concession stand. The first band played, then they were hanging out by their merch table. A trio of girls, probably my age, sauntered in and started to flirt with the drummer of the first band.

I’ve seen this before. It has happened to me at shows. Generally, I feel awkward in those situations but I can still find a way to survive. But these girls, and this guy with his pants hanging down (what is this, middle school?), tattoos on display, and drumsticks in his hands, put on a show of their own.

One girl had the dark look; slick black hair, black Uggs, tanned face, eyeliner, and fairly prominent cleavage. The second girl I don’t remember. But the third one, the ring leader, is unforgettable. She had brown Uggs, tight jeans and shirts, and effortless blond brown curls (read: hours in front of the mirror). But all of these features were meant to complement her cleavage. Even more so than the first girl.

(Side note: I was not purposely seeking out cleavage; it sort of found me. But there is a point to all of this…)

My friend at the concession stand had seen them as well and was struggling to contain her contempt, especially with the third girl. She looked flustered, then said, “Sorry, I was just having a problem with women for a second.”

I understood what she meant. She resented this girl’s objectification of her own body for means of gaining fleeting attention from a guy who probably didn’t even know her name. So beyond that reason, and this is my question; why do women do that? I suppose I could answer it myself, but I’d rather hear it from them.

Is it about self-esteem? Attention? Or do girls just do it for fun? Maybe it’s all of those.

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