The Band That Wouldn’t Die (ESPN 30 For 30)

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
The Band That Wouldn’t Die
Year of Release: 2009
Rating: PG
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoiler Alert: The Colts leave Baltimore in 1984.

In the spirit of Telaina’s post that broke new Catch-Up ground earlier this summer with her review of Buffy, it’s time for something completely different: an ESPN documentary.

I’m a little late to the party, but the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries are fantastic. Many of them (including the one I’m reviewing today) are available on Netflix, and clock in around 60 to 90 minutes. Each documentary explores an area of the sports world that either hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure (like Ice Cube’s Straight Outta L.A., which chronicles the Raiders’ relationship with ‘80s west coast rap) or remains intriguing to this day (like Ron Shelton’s Jordan Rides the Bus on Michael Jordan’s highly misunderstood move to baseball). More importantly, the films have provided me with a great reward system for grading over the summer term – for every ten papers I grade, I treat myself to one of these bad boys – and gotten me all sorts of excited for football season even in the face of disheartening news.

The Band That Wouldn’t Die, the second documentary in this series, is directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson of Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man fame. This doc tells the story of The Little Marching Band That Could: the original Baltimore Colts band that stubbornly refused to disappear during the twelve years that Baltimore was without a team. I was drawn to this film for two reasons: I’m a Maryland native all too familiar with the sad story of the Colts, and I proudly marched with my middle and high school bands as both a drum major and a clarinetist.

As a Steelers fan, I’m trained to detest all things Baltimore Ravens. I grimace at the purple and black, the angry red-eyed logo, but I will never be able to watch the 1984 footage of the Mayflower trucks hauling all things Colts through the snow to Indianapolis without a little lump forming in my throat. I was nothing more than a twinkle in my parents’ eyes in 1984, but I remember hearing all about the Colts’ disappearance as I grew up in the ‘90s, listening to my grandfather bemoan the loss felt statewide. The members of the Baltimore Colts band choke back tears in the documentary as they listen to the original broadcast, the mayor’s devastating speech, and then they reveal how, against all odds, the band played on.

The one part of the Colts dynasty that didn’t make it onto a Mayflower truck? The band uniforms, which were very luckily at the cleaner’s that evening. Band president John Ziemann recounts being told that the business couldn’t legally hand over the uniforms, but that he was more than welcome to “take the truck for a walk.” When Ziemann opened the truck doors, the uniforms were all accounted for, accompanied by a sign that read “Go Get ‘Em!” The film documents the band’s retention and use of the uniforms during public parades alongside a barrage of Baltimore Colts highlights: some good (Johnny Unitas leads the team to a last-second championship win over the Giants in 1958), some bad (infamous fan “Loudy” Loudenslager sits in an empty Memorial Stadium as the first Indianapolis Colts game is underway), and some very, very ugly (I’m referring to what else but Irsay’s drunken, pottymouthed tirade at the BWI Airport). But eventually, Charm City arrives at a happy ending when, shortly after a spirited performance on the steps of the Maryland State House, the band brings football back to Baltimore and finds a new home with the Ravens franchise.

As much as is wrong with professional sports today, particularly in the wake of running back Ray Rice’s very public domestic assault (the NFL truly does have the memory of a goldfish), The Band That Wouldn’t Die is a great reminder that football can be a unifying force when done right, and that heroes like John Ziemann are often found in the unlikeliest of places.

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Cabin in the Woods

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: R (So.Much. Blood. So many entrails. And a bloody, decapitated head.)

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Mild

 

First off, let me reiterate again, I’m not a fan of horror movies. This has been on my “to-watch” list since it came out only because it was a Joss Whedon project. I knew I was going to have to watch it in a relaxed haze of alcohol. I needed one (very large) glass of sangria and I watched it on my tablet where the gore was… smaller. I did have to give myself a pep talk. “You made it through Django Unchained and you CARED about those characters. You can do it, Telaina!” I AM glad I made it through—Cabin in the Woods is funny, horrifically bloody, and offers interesting questions about being watched as well as the sacrifices needed to make our world continue to spin on its axis.

The very first scene of the movie lets you know this isn’t going to be your average slasher flick. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins—one of the hardest working character actors in the business and who forever and always be Nate, David and Claire’s dad from Six Feet Under to me) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford who will forever be Josh from The West Wing) are standing around the vending machine in a large, sterile industrial complex. They are friends and having a pretty regular conversation, complaining about their wives, etc. As they begin to walk back to work, they are informed by Lin (Amy Acker) that “just the United States and Japan are left.”

The movie then cuts to five college friends getting ready for a weekend away at the remote cabin of Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth… THOR baby!) cousin. Of course, the cabin has no cell phone service and isn’t on any GPS (these places do still exist—see, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The) and has a mountain tunnel and a cliff on the way. The youngsters pack weed and alcohol and swim suits and music. They need to stop for gas and directions after the GPS gives out. They meet the gas station owner (also known to Sitterson and Hadley as “The Harbinger.”) After scaring the kids, the Harbinger places a call to Hadley and what follows is one of the funniest scenes in the movie. (I won’t spoil it. Top-of-the-line Whedon stuff that contrasts mythical dark superstition with hilarious modern-day cynicism.)

The movie continues this way—flipping between scenes in and around the cabin, to the puzzling industrial complex where Sitterson, Hadley and their team are to some degree controlling the events in the cabin to match a certain set of specs that the viewer doesn’t fully understand yet. One of the most interesting parts of the movie is at several points, we are watching Sitterson and Hadley, who are watching our hapless college students, and we as movie viewers are also seeing them in the background while action is taking place in the Sitterson-Hadley world. While this type of thing has been done in many movies (people being spied on/videotaped, etc.) it is particularly an effective device in this movie. To keep their sanity, Sitterson-Hadley must dehumanize their college student victims, but the viewer of the movie has also been introduced to Curt and Dana and Jules and Marty and Holden without the filter of Sitterson-Hadley, so we see their attempts to approach the massacre as “just doing their jobs” as both appalling and blackly funny. The contrast of the college students’ every move being watched at this remote place where no cell phone and GPS work (two of the things modern people blame for their loss of privacy) is not lost on viewers. Nor is the commentary on today’s voracious capitalism where there is no responsibility to people, the planet, or the future. Everyone is “just doing their job.”

Even on a killing field, Sitterson and Hadley can’t control everything, and Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Marty (Fran Kanz) prove to be especially hardy and ingenuous survivors. The last 10-15 minutes of the movie is a gore fest and include a knife-wielding clown (I almost had to get up and get another glass of sangria), a giant snake, and a merman. (Note that these are all archetypes from horror stories through the ages as well “main villains” in the old horror flicks of the 50s, 60s and 70s.) I handled this river of blood by putting my hand in front of my tablet so I could only see intermittent homicides.

I loved the ending of this movie which might seem unrealistic but also makes a weird kind of sense. Do the good of the many really outweigh the good of the few? What kind of civilization requires repeated sacrifices of the innocent? Can that ever really be a just and good place to live?

Those of you who love horror movies probably saw this while it was at the theaters. For the rest of us, we can now watch it in the comfort of our homes. With alcohol.

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: PG-13 for mature themes, drug and alcohol use, mild sexual content.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoilers: No spoilers here! Carry on!

I’m a community college instructor. I spend many hours a day with eighteen and nineteen year old “young adults.” So each time I’ve answered “no” to the question “but you’ve read/seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower, right?” I’ve been met with a considerable amount of shock and confusion. Fortunately, some friends of mine in Pittsburgh remedied the problem last week when they gifted me a shiny new copy of Perks for my birthday. The movie, not the book. (Yep, I’m not going to make it through this Catch Up without committing multiple cardinal sins, one of which is watching the film adaptation before reading the book.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower might be called the Catcher in the Rye of our generation with its loveably awkward and impressionable protagonist, smattering of life-changing experiences, and mentoring English teacher figures (Paul Rudd’s Mr. Anderson brings the kind of soft touch to this film that Miss Honey does to Matilda). Charlie (Jack & Bobby’s Logan Lerman) is a high school freshman navigating new territory after a vaguely alluded to stint in the hospital. His older sister isn’t much help in showing him the ropes, as she is much more wrapped up in her boyfriend, “Ponytail Derek,” and Charlie eases his loneliness by writing in a diary to a friend he hasn’t met yet.

Enter Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), a hip step-sibling duo of seniors who recognize Charlie’s isolation and include him in their social gatherings. The bond between the three friends grows tighter and tighter as the school year progresses, and it is gradually revealed that each character faces his or her own inner demons. Charlie frequently grapples with memories of his deceased Aunt Helen, particularly her car accident. Patrick is gay, and fooling around with a closeted jock named Brad (Johnny Simmons). Upon giving Charlie a typewriter for Christmas, Sam reveals that her first kiss was with her father’s boss, and kisses Charlie so that his first time is with someone who cares about him. Needless to say, Charlie is head over heels for Sam (who has a boyfriend) at this point, but his shyness prohibits him from making his feelings known. Instead, he rather passively ends up with Sam’s demonstrative friend, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman).

Whenever I talk to friends or students about abuse of any kind – verbal, emotional, physical – I always catch myself saying something along the lines of, “It happens more often than you think it does.” The Perks of Being a Wallflower charmingly captures the rocky transition from child to teenager to college freshman, but the film’s (and book’s) universality applies in a much deeper sense. Beyond raging hormones and new experiences, each of Perks’ characters is guided by what The Breakfast Club’s Allison Reynolds would deem “an unsatisfying home life.” They are discovering, as are many of this generation’s adolescents, that it is not so easy to separate ourselves from our parents’ problems, that despite our best wishes, we often “accept the love we think we think we deserve.” Though a few scenes are pretty unsettling (the cafeteria fight between Patrick and Brad is particularly hard to watch), the ultimate message of the film is reassuring without being trite: even though all of us feel like a Charlie at times, we can get through just about anything with a little help from our friends. And, you know, David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Which I will definitely be blasting the next time I cruise through the Fort Pitt tunnels.