Monday, April 30, 2012

Bloggers Have Their Say at Hofstra University's Mets Conference

Article first published as Bloggers Have Their Say at Hofstra University's Mets Conference on Blogcritics.

When Hofstra University held its scholarly themed Mets Conference on April 26-28, they included writers, historians, players, professors, and broadcasters. What is even more interesting is that sports bloggers were included in the mix. As a sports blogger who is also co-head sports editor at Blogcritics Magazine, this opportunity made it apparent to me that Hofstra is way ahead of the game and deserves commendation for giving credit to a growing segment of writers (sports and otherwise) who can no longer be ignored by those in the Ivory Tower or anywhere else for that matter.

As part of the daily program at the conference, "Brown Bagging in the Bullpen with the Blogosphere" was an opportunity for attendees to sit down with a "bullpen roster" of sports bloggers to talk about all things Mets. Representatives from blogs like Amazin Avenue , Faith and Fear in Flushing, and The Lohud Mets Blog were on hand to talk baseball with the fans. Their presence sent a loud and clear message to scholars, sports writers, and fans everywhere: bloggers are part of the conversation - and a scholarly one at that - at this conference and in the bigger picture.

Credit must be given to conference co-directors Dr. Richard J. Puerzer and Dr. Paula M. Uruburu, who had the vision and sense of propriety to appreciate the bloggers and their impact on the public in sports and all genres of writing. Gone is the time when I or anyone else waits until tomorrow morning to read about today's game in the newspaper. We whip out our Blackberrys or iPads and are reading up to the minute news. The "skeptics" who try to belittle bloggers are becoming more and more agitated by these developments, but the writing is on the proverbial (and virtual) wall, and they know it.

For Mets fans this conference was a golden opportunity to be shown appreciation in a time when the Mets organization struggled with financial issues connected to the Bernie Madoff scandal, as well as coped with an injury list that seemingly required a triage tent. The attendees were treated to a good natured and overwhelming positive venue to consider the Mets from a cultural and historic perspective after fifty years as the National League team in New York City. If there was ever a time when Mets fans needed something like this, it was now.

I think Hofstra University, the co-directors, and everyone else connected to the conference should be praised for honoring the Mets; furthermore, I commend them for including bloggers in the program and showing the world that what they write about matters a great deal. Long after this conference has ended that will be a legacy not forgotten by Mets fans or anyone else.

Bloggers are here to stay and are gaining more and more respect as this conference makes evident. Now the rest of the world better get used to it.

Photo Credit- Hofstra University

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Legendary Rock Radio Deejay Pete Fornatale Dies

Article first published as Legendary New York Rock Radio Deejay Pete Fornatale Dies on Blogcritics.

When I heard that Pete Fornatale died, I did not just think that another page had turned; it felt more like an era had really passed away. Pete died on April 26, 2012, at age 66 from a brain hemorrhage after a week in intensive care at Beth Israel Medical Center here in New York. It is not just a sad day for this city but for the country and all fans of rock and roll music.

Pete had been involved in radio since his college days at Fordham University on WFUV, and then he moved on to WNEW-FM in 1970, where his legendary status would begin. He would become one of those deejays known as a "pioneer" by fans and musicians alike, for he took the concept of radio differently than the popular jocks of the day, those with a Top 40 mentality that dominated the city's airwaves.

As a kid I remember having to live with the Harry Harrison and Cousin Brucie type jocks who spun records (all 45s) on AM radio. In those days we all listened to WABC here in New York City and heard the same songs over again and again, and the format included the insufferable "Instant Replay" that could mean you heard Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" five or more times within an hour. Now, that was a great song, but enough was really enough.

Along came Fornatale with the idea of playing records the way I listened to them at home, meaning playing the whole side of an album (or sometimes the whole thing) without commercial interruption. To this young rock music fan this was heaven for sure, since my allowance was small and I had a trusty tape recorder. I can still remember taping Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, the Beatles, and my other favorites this way. Despite the static and the sometimes bouncing microphone (because I couldn't sit still with that music going), I loved those tapes and wish I still had them now.

While many jocks talked over the end of songs, Pete let the music take its sweet time. As a great song like Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" ended, he would be like us at home, letting the needle go out of the groove after the last note and then spoke reverently afterwards. It was like being in the cathedral of rock and roll with Pete being the high priest, and I loved every one of his services and then some.

Over the years I continued listening to Pete, even as he bounced around from WNEW to WXRK and then back to WNEW for a time. He finally returned to where he started at WFUV, and all the while he continued to be the voice that soothed, played the records that mattered to him and us, and seemed to be a pioneer long after the frontier had been conquered.

One of his legacies was his show Mixed Bag, which really stood out as a definitive aspect of his career in its simplicity. Listening to songs the way we did, he "mixed" up genres and artists so that in one show The Beach Boys, Journey, Bob Marley, and Eric Clapton might all be heard one after the other. This probably defines Pete best because, in essence, his greatest accomplishment was understanding his fans and what they wanted, and he was able to do this because he was the ultimate fan of rock music.

Besides his radio work, Pete was a respected rock historian and writer of many books about Woodstock, Simon and Garfunkel and other artists, and the history of rock music. At the time of his death he was writing a book about The Rolling Stones. Pete was also the co-founder (along with the late singer Harry Chapin) of World Hunger Year, an organization that works toward ending hunger and poverty. He remained active in that organziation up until the end of his life.

Pete made an indelible impression on this young music fan and so many other listeners, and for more than forty years his name was synonymous with rock and roll, and I thought of him as just as much of a legend as those artists he loved. The sound of his unique voice may have been silenced, but its memory echoes across time and space. He will be greatly missed and remembered as the guy who changed things on FM radio here in New York forever.

Rest in peace, Pete Fornatale.

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hofstra University Conference Celebrates Mets 50th Anniversary

Article first published as Hofstra University Conference Celebrates Mets 50th Anniversary on Blogcritics.

You may not think that the New York Mets deserve scholarly consideration, but the franchise is getting that and more at Hofstra University's "The 50th Anniversary of the New York Mets," a conference that will celebrate the team's historical and cultural impact on New York.

We Mets fans live in a harsh reality for many reasons, chief among them is sharing the city with the New York Yankees, the big brother across the river that is seemingly the favored son. Of course, I have written a great deal about the Mets, and I have noted their blue collar origins as opposed to the Yankee blue bloods. Be that as it may, the Mets have a firm foothold in New York and many loyal fans, among them those who still remember the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. The Mets, spawned from Giant orange and Dodger blue, are well loved but still struggle after all these years for identity and respect in the media, the press, and in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers.

So while we all want the Mets to be appreciated, this conference at Hofstra will go a long way in establishing the importance of this team and its impact on baseball and the city. Former players like Ed Charles, Rusty Staub, and Buddy Harrelson will attend. There will also be authors, sports writers, broadcasters, and scholars there to add many dimensions to the discussion. Hofstra is billing this as "the first multidisciplinary conference to consider every aspect of a Major League Baseball franchise." As a New York Mets and baseball fan, I am thrilled about that and think it is a very necessary and long overdue event.

I know there are many devoted fans of football, hockey, basketball, and other sports, but I think baseball is inherently an American sport and essential to the way of life in this country. Baseball is played anywhere kids can find a patch of grass (or in my case, growing up in Queens, a patch of asphalt), and there is the angelic sound of the crack of the bat, the pop of the ball in the glove, and the feeling like you are playing like your heroes in the Major Leagues.

Baseball is a family sport. My father went to games with his father, and I went with him, as I plan to take my son when he is older. My mother and her sisters stood outside Ebbetts Field when they couldn't get in and watched the games through holes in the fence. That's how devoted Dodgers fans my family were. They lived and breathed for Dodger blue and rejoiced in 1955 when that one and only time the Yankee blue bloods were sent home losers.

All of this is part of history, and the Mets were infused by the spirits of those Giants and Dodgers fans, and so there is more than fifty years of Mets history because it is a continuation, in essence an inheritance, and the Mets stand (perhaps battered and bruised at times) as stubbornly and loyal as their fans are, with most if not all of us proud to wear the orange and blue as a statement, a bold declaration that the Yankees are not the only game in town - not by a long shot.

It is truly fitting that the Mets get paid homage in such a significant and meaningful way. Mets fans can thank the late Dana Brand, a professor at Hofstra who had the idea for this conference. It is unfortunate that this man, author of the books Mets Fan and The Last Days of Shea, will not be there, but we can imagine he will be in spirit. Also to be credited are Dr. Richard Puerzer, chair of the Department of Engineering, and Dr. Paula Uruburu, vice dean of the School for University Studies, who are the directors of this conference.

Casey Stengel, the first manager of the Mets, was a man of many talents and noted for his confounding wit, but he said it best that he wanted to get Mets fans when they were little and make them grow up with the team. All these years later, I think old Casey was onto something quite profound there, for that is what I have done and many others have too.

Now "The Old Professor" must be smiling up in heaven as his Mets are subject of scholarly discussion at a great university. Casey once said, "The Mets have shown me more ways to lose than I even knew existed." No, it wasn't easy managing those early Mets, but fifty years later we have this celebration of what Casey started.

Despite all the losses and the heartbreak that Mets fans have had all these years, they still love their team and bleed the orange and blue. That's what Mets baseball is all about and, come to think about it, life is too. You learn something very important as a Mets fan: you don't love something or someone because of winning or losing; you love people and things because of who or what they are and what they mean to you, no matter what happens. I guess that is why I am and will always be a Mets fan.

The Mets deserve this honor and hopefully many people will turn out to attend, listen, learn, and celebrate all things about the New York Mets. The conference will be held at Hofstra University April 26-28. Information can be obtained at 516-463-5669 or

Photo Credit-Hofstra University

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jonathan Frid Dies - This Dark Shadows Vampire Is Truly Immortal

Article first published as Jonathan Frid Dies - This Dark Shadows Vampire Is Truly Immortal on Blogcritics.

If you are anxiously waiting for Tim Burton's Dark Shadows film (opening on May 11) starring Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins and are a fan of the original series, you probably cannot believe that the iconic actor who played that role in the TV show has died. Jonathan Frid was 87, but for all those fans of the 1960s soap opera know, he is eternally ensconced in their minds as the love sick but thirsty vampire that became a national sensation.

I can still recall looking at my watch in school, waiting anxiously to get out that door and home to watch Dark Shadows. Filled with eccentric characters living in a spooky mansion on the coast of Maine in fictional Collinsport, Dark Shadows stoked my imagination with images of vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, and ghosts. The "ordinary" Collins folks (and they were really all rather bizarre each in their own way) were bewildered by the preternatural happenings in their house and town.

Frid broke on the scene in the show's second season. As a hapless caretaker stumbled upon his chained coffin in an old mausoleum, the vampire Barnabas is unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace. Looking just like the man in a portrait hung in the mansion's main hallway (because it was actually a portrait of him from the 1700s), Barnabas claims to be a "cousin" from England wearing the same ring, carrying the same cane, and having the same strange hair cut that seemed like a vampire's cowl.

This was certainly a far different soap opera than the ones my mother and grandmother watched like All My Children or The Secret Storm. Here the opening credits showed a silhouette of a mansion with eerie music playing, a sea crashing against a shore, and then the waxy letters of the show's title splashing against the screen. It got me excited every time I saw it, and even the thought of it now still does (even though I haven't seen the show in almost thirty or so years).

Frid's Collins was a vampire with a conscience and a heavy heart, long before all the current incarnations of vampires in sappy movies and TV shows that have watered down the genre. Barnabas is made a vampire not by the bite of a bat but by a witch's curse, because he spurned her love for another woman named Josette. Centuries later in the modern day (1967 that is) Collinsport, Barnabas runs across the nanny to the Collins children named Victoria Winters, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his Josette. Of course, you can see where this is going.

The show had a fresh feel to it back then and was rather experimental, dealing with not just the gothic but science fiction too. There were trips back and forth in time and even into a parallel universe. All of this on a half hour soap opera along with werewolves, gypsies, tramps, and quite a few thieves, and you could understand why this young fan couldn't wait to get home and let the homework wait until after dinner.

Looking at Frid now, many would probably not believe he became a sex symbol, but that he did. In those days before e-mail, Frid was showered with letters from amorous females who found his conflicted vampire sexier than many of the more handsome but rather boring fellows on other soaps. Barnabas just didn't kiss the girls, he sunk his teeth into their throats.

Frid somehow kept the show together, being the center of the action and making it a big hit. I know in later years that I read various things about him disliking the attention he received because of the Barnabas role, but towards the end of his life he seemed to embrace the insanity of being loved for playing an undead Romeo. He even appears briefly in the new Burton film, a fitting connection to his enduring legacy to be sure.

Jonathan Frid, the man who played an immortal who only wished to be normal and see another sunrise, is gone but his legacy as Barnabas Collins will not be forgotten. In pace requiescat!

Photo Credit:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dick Clark Dies at 82 - Bye, Bye, Mr. American Pie

Article first published as Dick Clark Dies at 82 - Bye, Bye, Mr. American Pie on Blogcritics.

Dick Clark never seemed to age and, to many of us, he was the eternal teenager. Transfixed as America is with youth and its culture, Clark seemed to transcend generational boundaries and appeal to an audience across decades and musical genres. He remained until his death a beloved figure; more importantly, he leaves a musical legacy that will not be forgotten.

If you mention American Bandstand to people of a certain age (over 45), they will remember fondly watching a show that brought their favorite musical acts to TV. Bandstand lasted thirty years (1957-1987) and brought diverse acts to the viewing public like Buddy Holly, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. I know as a kid that I took for granted that when I turned on the TV on a Saturday morning that Dick would be there, and the funny thing is that our parents liked Dick (and by default the groups and singers appearing on his show) almost as much as we did.

If Bandstand wasn't enough, Clark also founded a production company and had a hand in making many other hit shows. He also brought to us a wonderful new concept: Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. This show also became a historic broadcast each year, finally giving the kids some alternative to their parents listening to Guy Lombardo. It was immediately a hit and certified his legacy as a rock and roll pioneer and ultimately a legend.

In later years Dick had the stroke (2004) and that impaired his speaking ability, but he bounced back and hosted the New Year's Eve show each year with able assistance from American Idol's Ryan Seacrest. Since there are many other shows that have tried to be like Clark's New Year's show over the years, its impact may have been diminished, but I still tuned every year to see Dick before, during, and the ball in NYC's Times Square dropped.

Needless to say, New Year's Eve will never be the same without Dick Clark. The man changed television and rock and roll - not a bad legacy. He was also a genuine good guy and well liked by all, and you could tell that his musical guests on Bandstand were as happy to sign that wall as they were to appear on the show.

So bye, bye, Mr. American Pie. Rest in peace, Dick Clark.

Photo Credit -

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Titanic's 100th Anniversary: My Grandfather Had a Ticket and a Dream

Article first published as Titanic's 100th Anniversary: My Grandfather Had a Ticket and a Dream on Blogcritics.

As the excitement and interest about the infamous ocean liner Titanic and the 100th anniversary of its sinking reaches a zenith this weekend, I have been thinking about my own family story about the great ship. All families have stories that are told and handed down, and one of my grandfather's great tales was about his ticket to sail on the Titanic, an opportunity which he felt would fulfill all his hopes and dreams. Pop was set to sail on the great ship on April 20, 1912, away from all he had ever known and toward what he felt would be a grand future. Of course, fate had other plans.

Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Pop lived in a tenement apartment with his eight siblings and his parents. The youngest of four sons, Pop got to go to school while his older brothers never did; they had to work as soon as they could get out on the street and do something to earn money. Pop's decided advantage was learning to read and write, something that would give him an edge in the years to come.

Pop had a fascination with the sea in large part due to his father Anthony, who worked as a longshoreman on the city's docks. Pop would go and watch his father working, see the ships great and small, and wish for the day he could cross that ocean. While many of his family and friends spoke about the dream of coming to America, the grim reality that he saw all around him was nothing like the hopeful stories that had inspired them all to come to the USA in the first place.

Unfortunately, Anthony died at thirty-five years old while working on the docks. Pop said it was probably a heart attack, the work being so horrendously arduous and the hours incredibly long. So what little money was coming in from my great grandfather's salary was now gone; therefore, Pop's school days ended and he too hit the streets looking for work after having just completed third grade.

The gritty streets of Pop's New York in the late 1890s must have been an amalgam of every possible horror known about that period and a hell that cannot be imagined. From all the gruesome stories Pop told, his real New York made something like Martin Scorcese's film Gangs of New York seem like a church picnic. Pop saw all the cruelty, the poverty, the squalor, and the inequity that existed, registering it deep down but pushing forward because he had no other choice.

Flash forward to early 1912. Because Pop could read and write, he had secured a job as an assistant for a Doctor Martin who lived near Gramercy Park. Pop's duties included driving the doctor all over the city to various appointments, luncheons, and functions. He also took care of the doctor's papers and mail, and his salary of ten dollars a week enabled him to buy some nice clothes and help his mother.

Pop still dreamed of getting out, away from this fractured world just like his childhood friends actor Jimmy Durante and singer Eddie Cantor, who had escaped the neighborhood. Pop got his first shave at sixteen from Durante's father, and while in the barbershop that day Jimmy's brother Robert, a New York City cop, came in and impressed Pop in his uniform with the shiny buttons. Pop asked him why he became a cop, and Robert told him it was either that or become a crook. Knowing their neighborhood, Pop knew how true those words were.

As he was driving Martin everyday, they spoke about many things. One of the biggest topics in those early weeks of 1912 was Titanic. In an age before TV and radio, this ship's story still had somehow consumed the interest of people everywhere. Pop had been reading everything he could about the ship, and he would tell the doctor about the amenities that would be on board: the electric lights, the elevators, the lavish suites, the swimming pool, and the heated cabins. Martin wondered if he should get tickets for his wife and him, and Pop said that would be a grand idea. The doctor later revealed that he had inquired about the cost for the first class quarters he wanted, and four thousand dollars was too dear for him.

Of course, the well educated doctor and the poorly educated employee talked about the ship from their own perspectives. When Martin said something about, "The name alone is an incredible case of hubris," Pop was not sure what he meant. The doctor had said something about Greek mythology, and this inspired Pop to hit the library to look up "hubris" and read all about the Greek gods, especially the Titans. When he went back and spoke to the doctor about Cronus and company, his boss was impressed.

They continued to speak about the ship and its legacy and eventual curse: it was supposed to be virtually unsinkable. Since ships were the airplanes of that day, imagine if we were told by an airline that a plane was not capable of crashing? This captured Pop's imagination because sinking ships were a reality; he had seen the salvaged wrecks being towed into New York harbor as a boy when he stood alongside his father on the docks. Ships big and small had gone down, sending goods and people to watery graves. The possibility of an unsinkable ship was so alluring, so powerful, and that mystique hovered over Pop's every thought about the famous ship.

In late March of 1912, Pop had worked a straight twenty-four hours taking the doctor to all his emergency appointments during a heavy snowstorm. Martin had always admired his work ethic, but he felt this extra effort deserved some kind of reward. A week later the doctor got in the car and presented Pop a little gift for all the hard work he had been doing: a third class ticket for passage on the Titanic. "Maybe I can't go, Dave," he said with a hand on Pop's shoulder, "but nothing should stop you."

Pop said he was speechless, just staring at the ticket that he could never have afforded; to save $36 would have been impossible for him at that time. Martin knew Pop had a dream, and it was much bigger than being a chauffeur for him. Pop thanked him profusely, went home excitedly, and showed everyone the ticket. During the ensuing days, he prepared for the adventure that lay ahead of him by going to the library, reading all about London, and thinking about how his new life would unfold after he got off the great ship in England.

By the time Pop saw the infamous headline on the front page of The New York Times about the ship sinking, he was shaking as he stood at the newsstand with the paper in his hand. It was as if all of his dreams had hit that iceberg too, sinking deep to the bottom of the icy sea forevermore with the ship that had captured his imagination. How could an unsinkable ship sink? he wondered. Of course, people have been asking that question over and over ever since.

He made his way down to the docks where his father had worked and died, and he saw the eventual arrival of the Carpathia with the haunted surviving passengers, changed forever by the tragic loss they experienced out on that icy ocean. Pop took the ticket from his pocket, shed a few tears, and threw it into the water; he knew the dream was ostensibly over. Wealthy New Yorkers like Isidor Straus and John Jacob Astor had died on that ship, and now this poor New Yorker would never have the chance to set sail on it.

The next day Pop went back to the Durante's for a haircut, and he asked the barber if his son Robert could help him get a job. He became a New York City cop, and later that year he met my grandmother at a dance. They fell in love and were married three days later. Pop always said it was love at first sight, but Nana joked that looks were deceiving, yet they remained married until her death in May 1972, just a few months short of their 60th anniversary.

Pop moved out of the neighborhood, building his own house in Queens where my father and his brother would be raised. Pop lived a life he never imagined when living in the tenement. Never mind the Titanic; he had a place that he could call his own with a bathroom and yard. He must have thought, with apologies to Titanic director James Cameron, that he was indeed king of the world.

Many years later as an old man he would tell this story with dry eyes. He had come to terms with what happened long ago, and even felt in many ways that the sinking of the ship saved him from making a big mistake. His idea to sail to England and work his way down to Italy was not planned out, and he may never have made it. He could have ended up trading a New York slum for a London one, and what good would that have been? He seemed happy but also felt a great sadness for those lost because, as he said, "Most of them who died on that ship were poor just like me."

My grandfather had a dream to sail on Titanic, but it was never meant to be. His one regret after all those years was not keeping the ticket. I said that would have been worth something, but he said he would have never sold it. He would have framed it and hung it on the wall in order to always remember that fate had other plans for him.

Photo Credits:, NY Times

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Hunger Games: Teach Your Children Well

Article first published as The Hunger Games: Teach Your Children Well on Blogcritics.

If you are not sure about taking your child to see this movie because of the much publicized violence, perhaps you should not; however, if you are brave enough to take your ten-year old (or older only) you will have found an object lesson for the day, week, and month, and maybe even years to come. It's that powerful!

The Hunger Games is scary, not Halloween or Friday the 13th kind of scary, but rather frightening in the sense of the possibility that it could happen one day in real life and how children would suffer most. Feelings of emotional heft and abject sadness filled me as I watched this film with my daughter, holding her a little bit closer during certain scenes, and understanding full well why she would hide her eyes during others. I might have wanted to myself but the film is so riveting, so well crafted, it would have been hard to turn away.

Director Gary Ross has made a film that is like the precocious child of the film The Running Man and the book Lord of the Flies, and the heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is someone we root for throughout, despite the hardship she endures and the ugly things she is forced to do in the name of the game. The "game" is that 24 young people (the youngest being 13) are brought in, briefly trained, and set against each other to kill or be killed until the last one is standing. The fact that all of this is propelled by "hunger" in every essence of what that word implies is evident in the most brutal scenes. It is like a play on those sign holding "Will Work for Food" people, but here it is "Will Kill for Food."

Lawrence is more than a revelation; she is beautiful, broken, ugly, brave, frightened, and frightening in alternating shafts of illumination. Ross has done well to build the tension, the ratcheting up of the kill or be killed game, the cat and mouse where the rodent is just as dangerous (perhaps even more so at times) as the feline. As she learns the ropes and bonds with her fellow contestant Peeta Mallark (a terrific Josh Hutcherson), it seems increasingly possible that Katniss will fight to the last man or woman is standing.

The supporting cast is fantastic; in their strange make-up and powdered wigs, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci shine and are emblematic of this warped future world. Woody Harrelson brings much needed comic relief as Haymitch Abernathy, an advisor for Peeta and Katniss who once won the Hunger Games long ago, but now is a jaded drunk who doesn't think they have much chance of winning, or does he? Donald Sutherland impresses as President Snow, the extent of his evil gradually revealed as the film progresses, and we learn that he controls all and will only tolerate deviation from procedure to a point.

All of this becomes a lesson for kids who have too much, have it too easy, and think the world revolves around their iPods and computer screens. As we watched the movie, I was taken with how many people were munching popcorn and slurping sodas in the theater. In a movie like The Hunger Games, where a loaf of bread thrown to pigs in the rain and to a starving girl turns into an important element, it seems incongruous how people could keep the feedbag on throughout, but that may be the whole point.

The Hunger Games teaches a lesson very well, one that drove its points home to my child long after we left the theater. She asked insightful questions, wondered about what she saw, and was deeply impressed by the film. She saw the horror (and there are numerous brutal scenes of violent death) but she also saw the love that develops between Katniss and Peeta, a selfless love that in the end not only overcomes all the brutality but may take them together into the other world instead of winning the contest by killing one another.

This film teaches lessons so well, much the same as did last year's A Better Life, which should have won an Oscar for best picture because it told an amazing story about an immigrant father's love, about overcoming the odds, and fighting for what is right. Like The Hunger Games it is a movie that you don't just walk away from, and we need more of that - much more.

If you want to teach your (older) children well, and you are up to the challenge of taking them to a film that will get you talking and thinking, The Hunger Games is for you. It is not an easy film, and there is a harsh reality that it depicts and the explanations will take time afterwards, but I guarantee you that it will be worth the effort.

Photo Credits:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mets Mix: Opening Day Ceremony Stirs Emotions and Memories of Carter

Article first published as Mets Mix: Opening Day Ceremony Stirs Emotions and Memories of Carter on Blogcritics.

Okay, let's get it out of the way: the Mets are 1-0, tied for first place. They beat the Atlanta Braves before an almost capacity crowd at Citi Field. In the spring sunshine you can't blame the hope springing eternal in the minds of Mets fans, holding their collective breaths to see if Johan Santana could pitch again. Pitch he did - five scoreless innings- and there was a feeling like all was possible, even if it was only for just one day.

There is something about returning to the park on Opening Day, kind of like the first day of school with the smell of newly sharpened pencils, the new clean notebooks, and the bright clothes for another year. There is the smell of spring, the freshly cut grass, the odor of hot dogs, the crunch of the Crackerjacks, and the soda that tastes better than the stuff from a can. There is the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the feeling that you're home again, sitting in that blue seat in an ocean of orange and blue shirts cheering for the team you love. What could be better than that?

Before the game there was the usual pomp and circumstance befitting Opening Day. Everyone looked good in new uniforms, and young and old Mets were on hand for the occasion and to honor Gary Carter. There was a feeling that the Kid was there, hovering over the stadium as a presence almost as powerful as his smile once had been in the clubhouse so long ago.

The Mets wore Carter's Number 8 on their batting practice jerseys as a tribute to Carter, and then would wear the black home plate "Kid 8" icon that they will wear on their right sleeve all season. Current Mets "kids" like Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, Justin Turner, and Josh Thole may not have ever played with Carter (or were even born before that great 1986 season), but they all know how much Carter meant here and they honored him as much as guys like Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, and Bobby Ojeda who played with him.

It was hard to keep a dry eye when Carter's family stood in the outfield against the wall when the tribute in center field was revealed. That home plate icon will be there where it should be, reminding everyone of the true "center" of that 1986 team, the guy who kept things together when they could easily have fallen apart. It was a fitting tribute to a great guy, and the Mets and their fans showed the reverence that was deserved on this day.

So in the spring sunshine we Mets fans had our day. Despite predictions of the team losing 100 games this year and being abysmal to watch, this day proved that there is hope. Santana threw those five innings, David Wright knocked in the only run, and fans had something to cheer about. Carter was honored and the fans went home happy. There's a long season ahead, but Mets fans are smiling today and they have a right to enjoy it. It was a great day to be a Mets fan.

Photo Credits - Daily News

Monday, April 2, 2012

As Gang Green Turns: Tebow and Sanchez - Ryan Knows You Can Take Only One Girl to the Prom

First published on Blogcritics.

One suspects that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is delighted as can be about the newest wrinkle in the Jets soap opera, with Tim Tebow crashing into the party. For if nothing else, Ryan loves to mix things up; he is definitely a "shaken not stirred" kind of guy. There were times last year that the Jets resembled the Titanic, and if anything Tebow represents the iceberg that hit the starboard side. Since we all know how the ship fared, one can only wonder how the S.S. Jets will stay afloat this season.
Perhaps in Ryan's mind there is no impediment, but that is the same thinking that the Titanic's Captain Smith took to his watery grave. Ryan, despite all his posturing and mouthing off, does know a thing or two about football. He is not some young schmuck who inadvertently asked two girls to go to the senior dance. Ryan knows you can take only one girl to the prom, and if he really wants to get to that Super Bowl and dance the final dance, he is going to have to choose a partner.

Make no mistake, this "love" triangle is something right out of Shakespeare, but if we don't want a tragedy on our hands (with almost everyone dead on the floor after the final sword fight), something has to give. Ryan knows it, Sanchez does too, and without a doubt young Mr. Tebow knows it. He came here of his own volition - choosing the Jets over Jacksonville Jaguars, despite knowing that Sanchez had just received a contract extension. Now isn't that just like the girl who says "Yes" when asked to the prom, even knowing the guy has asked out another gal already?

No one knows how this is going to play out this year, but you have to wonder what owner Woody Johnson and GM Mike Tannebaum were thinking. The obvious thing was to grab the headlines away from those NY Giants, but there is something even more insidious in the works here. Could they have given Sanchez the extension full well knowing that they had their eyes on Tebow? That's like asking if Judas gave up Jesus without thinking about those thirty pieces of silver.

I have been watching the soap opera I like to call As Gang Green Turns for most of my life, but I think these latest episodes are about the wildest I have ever seen (and training camp is still months away). So until the next drama unfolds; same Jet time, same Jet station, old chums.

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