Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dysfunction Junction

Killer jumpsuit Rube

“Ruben Amaro flew the plane straight into the mountain,” John Gallagher.

That pretty much sums up the last 3 years of Phillies baseball and another season lacking hope is staring us Phillies fans straight in the eye.

The 2015 Phillies will play meaningful games in just over a month and the atmosphere promises to be one of the most awkward and dysfunctional settings possible. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read the different headlines coming out of Clearwater. Today marks the first day of a full squad practice but let’s take a look at what has been happening since the Phils finished the 2014 season last in the NL East.

We’ll start with the Ryan Howard in the room. Ruben put his hand on the table during the offseason; the only problem was he wasn’t holding any face cards. Somehow he thought it beneficial to announce to the media that the Phillies would be better off not having Howard on the roster. He took that one from the “No Shit!” department, but where was the gain in saying that? Maybe he thought he needed even less leverage with teams looking to acquire the highest paid position player in the MLB who happens to be aged, oft-injured, and no longer capable of slugging over .400. Maybe he wanted to have painfully awkward conversations with Ryan when no trade offers came in and Ryan remained on the team. Maybe he wanted to have to answer difficult questions from the media regarding Howard. It seems like he must have wanted to have to do these things considering what he said.

With the money Howard is owed, $60 million guaranteed for the next two seasons (25 this year and next then a $10 million buyout for 2017), it was already going to be next to impossible to trade him considering his lack of production. Ruben had to know this considering everybody who half-heartedly follows the Phillies knows this. So I repeat, what did he have to gain by saying publicly that the Phillies would be better off without Ryan Howard? The answer to that question is an even more dysfunctional clubhouse. There’s no reason you can’t say Ryan Howard is our first baseman to the media and then quietly shop him to every team willing to listen. At least it shows a more united front and doesn’t put Howard in the position to come into spring training absolutely dreading having to speak to the media.

Regardless of how he plays it will be interesting to watch Ryan Howard compete this year. How will he carry himself? How many games will he play? How many homers will he hit? How many times will he strikeout on a breaking ball down and away? I’m intrigued just getting to watch him still play every day, it’s like a science experiment.

Ruben is like the anti-Sam Hinkie. Did they both really go to Stanford? Sam at least seems to have a plan, whether you like it or not. Ruben is just lost at sea without a life jacket.

Next we have the only player on the Phillies that other teams find desirable. Once again, Ruben let it be known that Cole Hamels was on the trading block. Once again, I don’t see the need for the public display of lacking affection. It’s obvious that the Phillies are not operating from a position of power in the trade market, and Ruben continually places them in a place with less bargaining power by opening his mouth about what he’s trying to do. The writing is on the wall Rube, so there’s no need to read it aloud.

So last week USA Today broke a story with quotes from Hamels saying that he wants to compete but that the Phillies aren’t going to do that, essentially saying he wants out. That really gives the fans a warm and fuzzy feeling about the team’s best player. You understand where Hamels is coming from, but when you’re still owed $96 million from the only team that’s ever employed you it’s hard to take.

The goal will be for Hamels to pitch his ass off for the first few months of the season so that the Phillies can land the biggest return possible for him. It’s a shitty goal to root for, but that’s the reality.

Meanwhile, the ticking time bomb that is Jonathan Papelbon on a losing team has remained fairly quiet during this off season. The Papelbon situation is a catch 22. I’m of the opinion that Jon is actually smart enough to realize that if he shoots his mouth off or gets labeled as a clubhouse cancer (even more than usual) then he becomes untradeable. And there’s no way that Jonathan Papelbon wants to finish this season with the Phillies. I think he stays in line and pitches like he’s in a contract year to give himself the best shot at getting off this team. If he speaks his mind, it is awfully unlikely that any team will want to take on that headache and that contract (highest paid reliever in the history of the MLB – thanks Rube).

Cliff Lee’s return to the mound is probably the biggest enigma surrounding this ball club. If Lee can return to form it’s possible that the Phillies are not quite as wretched as everyone thinks they are going to be (At 275/1 to win the World Series the Phillies are the biggest long shot by more than double any other team). They certainly won’t hit the baseball, like at all. But if Lee and  Hamels are in peak form they shouldn’t have to be the worst team in baseball. Cliff seems to be in good spirits as he answered questions last week with the help of a Magic 8 Ball.

The reality is that the Phillies will in all likelihood start Dom Brown, Ben Revere, and Jeff Francoeur in the outfield. They’ll replace Jimmy Rollins with Freddie Galvis. Utley and Howard will be a year further out of their primes, same for Chooch. And hopefully Maikel Franco can play his way to the starting 3rd baseman leaving Cody Asche as the main utility man. That doesn’t exactly sound like runs.

So let’s raise a glass to the 2015 Phillies, you’re going to need to regularly to get through this season.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Villain Countdown - Lethal Weapon and Die Hard

Hans.. Bubby!

I was flipping the channels the other day and landed on Lethal Weapon 3. Can you separate those? I’m sure it’s tough for most, just a lot of Riggs’ questionable hair length and Murtaugh seemingly always being too old for this shit. So that’s where I come in. For some reason those movies have stuck with me, maybe it was the lore of Mel Gibson in his prime. Maybe it was the buddy cop aspect with a little Joe Pesci thrown in (from the 2nd one on).

Anyway, the third one got me thinking. The first one was Gary Busey throwing nothing but heat for some sinister blond prick and they weren’t afraid of kidnapping a cop’s daughter. The second one was the Apartheid South African evil doers running heroin and planting toilet bombs, man Murtaugh saw some shit in his day.  The third one was former police officer Jack Travis being as evil and disturbing as a bad guy gets. And of course, who could forget Jet Li’s star making turn as the martial arts expert that damn near killed Riggs and Murtaugh in the 4th installment? I know I couldn’t.

So from there, I thought a list of bad guys is something missing from most people’s lives, but clearly just a list of Lethal Weapon bad guys wouldn’t quench the thirst of my readers needing to know who the worst arch villains were in action movie franchises. From the title I’m sure you can guess where we’re heading. That’s right. We’re on our way to ranking the top 8 bad guys* from the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises!

When it came to maintaining a sense of humor in the face of certain death for yourself or people close to you it didn’t get much better than Riggs and McClane for action franchises that spanned multiple installments from the 80s through the 90s. Y'know?

Before we get in to the actual countdown of villains I would be remiss to not point out a few parts of these movies that  made them so memorable for me. We’re going to hand out some awards.

Best use of bullshitting your way through a situation with acronyms:

“The FAAs got a new SOP for DOAs“ when McClane needed to check the pockets of the terrorists he killed in the beginning of Die Hard 2 because he had a hunch they were up to more than stealing luggage. Wrong place wrong time again, huh John?

By far the most memorable woman from any of the movies in the franchises because of a spectacular nude scene and ultimately heartbreaking death for a boy of 9 who was watching this for the first time on Prism after Shawn Bradley lost a game in 94:

Did they have to kill her directly following this scene? I'm still traumatized.

That award goes to the smoking hot South African blond in Lethal Weapon 2. I didn’t know her name then and I still don’t know but I want to thank the lord for her the same way Jimmy Dugan thanked the lord for that waitress in South Bend.

Biggest dickhead: Ellis, by far. (Die Hard)

Best Car Ride:

This goes to Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 4 for driving a Pontiac Grand Prix off an elevated highway and into a high rise office building. Then driving through the entire floor of the office building while appearing not to run over anything but desks and literally flying out the other end of the building and hopping back on to the elevated highway which had conveniently snaked around the building to be there for them to land on.

Most improbable escape from a suddenly flooded underground aquaduct tunnel:

Shoooo.. that award goes to John McClane in Die Hard: With a Vengeance for doing a 40 MPH 180 in a dump truck and then managing to rig the gas pedal while he climbed the dump truck only to grab an escape ladder and get shot out a tunnel as part of a geyser from the flood waters. You had to be there I'm telling you.

Best extended climax fight scene that involved at least 100+ cops watching Riggs fight Busey to the death in front of Murtaugh’s house and included the actual challenge “Would you like a shot at the title?”:

This award goes to Sergeant Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon 1 for this amazing sequence. Parental advisory on that one.

Best use of the F word:

It’s a tie.

Obviously, you can’t omit every yippy-kay-yay-mother-fu**er. That’s a given

But remember ,“They F**K you at the drive-thru!!” and always check your order before you drive away.

Alright without further adieu..

God, whether they were incredibly brilliant, incredibly ruthless, or both, the villains in these movies stuck with a kid growing up in the 90s.

8. Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) - Live Free or Die Hard or Die Hard 4 for those not willing to figure out what number this one was.


7. The South Africans – Lethal Weapon 2 - Older, racist, embarrassing looking whites that you really needed to see get their comeuppance.

They did, of course. But their trap of setting up a bomb underneath the toilet in Roger Murtaugh’s house made for one of the more memorable and relationship building scenes in a blossoming partnership. It also gave the guys doing the score another chance to throw in that superfluous saxophone that defined the LW movies.

The racist drug dealers were a bit too non-descript to rank on this list of intense villainy but make no mistake about their callous approach to life. I mean, how could they kill the blond like that? At least Murtaugh revoked their diplomatic immunity.

6.  Colonels Esperanza and Stewart and all those goons – Die Hard 2: Die Harder

These guys were sophisticated and tricky. We’re talking overtaking an airport and setting up a control tower from a church sophisticated. We’re talking bringing in a military unit that has actually flipped and become mercenaries working for The Colonel tricky. You have to tip your cap to the owner of McDowell’s from Coming to America (John Amos) for having the balls to slash some throats on his way to a payday. I did not see that coming on first view.

Last smoke ring that guy's gonna blow.

Sidenote – this is one of the funnier moves to watch as the WPHL 17 movie of the week. Plenty of cursing that gets dubbed instead of blanked out. Two of my personal faves.

Actual Line - Amos to McClane: You’re an asshole, but you’re my kind of asshole.

Clean Line – Amos to McClane: You’re a rascal, but you’re my kind of rascal.

Actual Line – Yippee-kay-yay MotherFu**er!

Clean Line – Yippee-kay-yay Mr. Falcon!

5. Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) - Lethal Weapon 3

I just remember him pushing a guy into a hole on a construction site and burying him alive with concrete while at least 5 other guys watched and did nothing. I found it disturbing and still do.

4. Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) – Lethal Weapon 4 – Had to look up that movie name obviously.

Don't worry, they all walk outta that scene alive.
I’m sure it wasn’t his film debut but this is the first time I remember seeing Jet Li kick ass on screen. He was ominous in this flick. I legit think he said about 4 words in this total and that was after his brother was killed in a shootout. He was always lurking with a menacing glare, strangling his people who failed him on rooftops, taking out 7 people at a time, moving quicker than you would think possible, taking guns apart with one hand, and setting Murtaugh’s house on fire with entire families tied up and left for dead inside. Man, Roger Murtaugh is up there for having gone through some shit. 

3. Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) – Die Hard: With a Vengeance or Die Hard 3

“I know the man I know the family,” John McClane talking about Peter Krieg, born Simon Peter Gruber.

Simon Gruber was indeed trying to pull a Hans Gruber and fake a heist with a terrorist act. Gruber brought more of a charm to his villain than those  already recapped. He had no problem blowing up people and buildings but he also really liked to mess with McClane. What a series of riddles, nearly impossible situations, and goosechases Gruber sent McClane and Jesus (Hey Zeus aka Samuel L) on in DH:WAV. It almost made him a bit endearing for me. Sure the killing was senseless but he had flare in other areas, and he even was getting it on with the creepy chick who liked killing dudes with giant sickle like swords.

Great jaw

2. Joshua (Gary Busey) – Lethal Weapon

I’ve written about Gary Busey before in this blog and I feel like this role may have been a turning point in his life. I mean the dude was playing Buddy Holly in the late 70s and geeked out to the max. He had to go to a dark place to pull off the sadistic Joshua in the original film in the series and perhaps hasn’t been the same man since. If you want to see some overacting at its finest sit down and watch Lethal Weapon 1. Riggs is really trying to come to grips with his life crumbling around him and pouring it on to that effect. Meanwhile, Busey is matching him step for step on crazy and its more the look in his eye than anything. Busey is ready to kill and programmed to do so in this classic. He was a worthy adversary but Martin Riggs is Martin Riggs.

1. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) – Die Hard

“Get me my detonators”

“Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho”

“Mr. Takagi..”

“Shoot ze glass”

“Clay, Bill Clay”

“I’m an exceptional thief”

Yeah, he didn't make it.

Hans Gruber folks. He sticks with you.

For your reference:

Die Hard - 1988
Die Hard 2: Die Harder - 1990
Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance - 1995
Live Free or Die Hard - Shouldn't have done it, or the one after.

Lethal Weapon - 1987
Lethal Weapon 2 - 1989
Lethal Weapon 3 - 1992
Lethal Weapon 4 - 1998

*We’re not counting whatever they called the 5th Die Hard and to be honest we’re only counting Live Free or Die Hard, the 4th Die Hard, for symmetry purposes.