Sunday, December 11, 2011

18 in a row



Like a backup outfielder riding the pine in the dugout during a perfect game, I've resisted the urge to talk about the fact that the Packers have won their last 18 games. And with Carson Palmer's Oakland Raiders entering Titletown, I risk it all by breaking my blogging silence.

Expert analysts have started to wage guessing games as to whether they can finish the season undefeated, while also measuring where the 2011 Packers rank with the great teams in NFL history.

Skeptics have rightly pointed out that the Packers have too poor a defense to be listed with the great teams in league history like the 85 Bears or the 72 Dolphins. But I think this fact merely makes the accomplishments of Aaron Rodgers and the offense that much more amazing.

A year ago at this time, the injury plagued Packers didn't look like they'd make the playoffs. They had to win their last two regular season games against the scrappy New York Giants and their rival Chicago Bears just to get in. Prior to the Bears game, actually during the game when the outcome seemed in doubt, I did something superstitious, which I am loathe to do. I gave my dad my cheesehead.

Once the cheesehead was in his possession, the Packers went on to dump the Bears and launch themselves into an unbelievable run the likes of which the storied franchise and its die-hard fans have never seen. Even though it's damaged my gameday experience to not be able to don my favorite foam headgear, the cheesehead has happily remained in northwest Indiana.

After last season's Super Bowl run, highlighted by winning three impossible road games just to reach Dallas, to me everything is gravy. There have been several games this season, especially at Detroit and at Atlanta, where I thought the Packers would finally lose.

Their pass defense does too poor a job rushing the quarterback, their secondary is too mistake prone since star safety Nick Collins was lost for the season to a neck injury. Their tackling has largely been somewhere between adequate and hilariously terrible. And yet, that offense.

With six wide receivers who would be the first or second options on most teams. With a tight end in Jermichael Finley somehow not getting his due considering the accomplishments both of his teammates and his contemporaries like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.

And Rodgers, doing more in Green Bay than Steve Young did in San Francisco, to make fans forget the legend who came before him, who kept the seat warm. I've seen Rodgers described as having Favre's arm, Manning's smarts, Elway's mobility and Warner's accuracy. It's all true at his best. That's why losable games like last week in New York have found their way into the win column. That's why the team is able to overcome it's so-so running game and it's porous, yet opportunistic, defense.

I don't know where this Packers team ranks in history. That's a debate I'll be glad to have with Bears and Dolphins and Steelers fans over a beer at a sports bar in the coming years. What I do know is it's been pretty amazing to have a front row seat for this ride. I never saw it coming when I tossed my cheesehead across the couch this time a year ago.

Monday, December 5, 2011

From the Netflix Queue: Super 8

Super 8 is not a work of high art like the sorts of films that earn attention from the Academy Award or Golden Globe voters, but I found it to be a near perfect movie.

Hollywood films these days have lost their creativity and their ability to grip a person's imagination. The films that inspired Super 8 -- Goonies, E.T., Close Encounters -- had such a profound sense of adventure that they kept their stranglehold on our imaginations decades after the first viewing.

It's hard for me to gauge how Super 8 will be remembered by its true target audience, which I think is probably adolescent kids. My hope is that as years go by and those kids grow up, they'll return to Super 8 the way I return again, and again, to the Goonies.

Super 8 is a film within a film about kids making a zombie movie when a real-life monster adventure breaks out. Director J.J. Abrams does not offer up a story that's overly complicated, in large part because the disasters that unfold are digested by the kids at the center of the movie. Kids have the capacity to handle misfortune better than adults, partly because they're too young to know better and partly because they haven't been corrupted by the harsh realities of real life.

And so, as a town is taken over by the military and a creepy spider-like alien monster haunts the town, the 13-year-old buddies display a kind of heroism and bravery that seems to escape the adults in the town. The entire cast offers superb acting, which is saying something since it seems child actors are getting worse and worse. I love Modern Family, but the acting of Luke and Manny ranges from passable to community-theater bad.

Abrams continues to offer cutting edge special effects in a time when we're all kinda numb to great special effects since every movie seems to have them. The train crash scene near the beginning of the movie is unlike anything you've ever seen. But more than exciting explosions and scary aliens, Abrams delivers a film that is really a simple story about friendship and family relationships. Sure, his vehicle is a little out there, but so was the Goonies and so was E.T.

Set aside the weird Air Force conspiracy, the violent alien abduction scenes and this is a movie about a kid coping with his mom's death, getting to know his dad for the first time and learning to socialize with girls.

If you're my age, then this is a perfect next chapter to the Goonies or E.T. If you're a fan of Alias or Lost, this is the movie you've been waiting for Abrams to deliver.