June 24, 2012

Square pegs in round holes.

The Philadelphia Flyers organization has always been, for lack of a better word, difficult.

They've forced players like Eric Lindros, Eric Desjardins and Mike Richards -- none of whom really fit the mold -- into the captain's role. With mostly underwhelming results.

They gave a nine-year contract to a mercurial 31-year-old goalie who'd never really won anything.

And they signed James van Riemsdyk to an extension based on a handful of good (well, dominating) games in the 2011 playoffs.

That move, in particular, seemed to be a "we helped you, now you help us" kind of arrangement. One of those long-term deals for young guys that are so popular in baseball these days, especially with teams like the Tampa Bay Rays. Lock up the talent and wait for them to take the leap.

But the 2011-2012 season is over, and James van Riemsdyk did not take that leap. Injuries kept him out of the lineup, and his occasional appearances were marred by inconsistent play.

A trade in the offseason seemed very likely, and Paul Holmgren finally pulled the trigger on an oft-rumored move to Toronto yesterday afternoon.

I'm not the biggest fan of this one; I think JVR is a very talented player with a bright future who shouldn't be blamed for a handful of nagging injuries. But he remains unproven over an 82-game season, and it's been clear for a while now that the Flyers have soured on the young winger. We all know how that goes; for better or worse, they've always been quick to correct what they feel are mistakes.

Desjardins quickly handed the captaincy over to Keith Primeau, who ended up being the team's best leader since Dave Poulin. The goaltending carousel has been turning at breakneck speeds for years now; strike out on a Cup run and find yourself out of a job. And Holmgren had no qualms about dumping Richards and Jeff Carter to the highest bidders when it was decided that the two didn't fit into the team's future. Yes, those moves helped the Los Angeles Kings win a Stanley Cup, but I don't think the organization has any regrets.

And I suspect they'll feel the same way about this JVR trade. He could certainly blossom into a superstar in Toronto, but the team was ready to move on. Plus, Luke Schenn sounds like the tough right-handed defenseman that they've long been looking for.

He's also Brayden Schenn's brother, which I think played a big role. A lot is riding on Schenn and Sean Couturier making a leap of their own, going from "talented youngsters" to "top-6 forwards" and turning the Flyers' offense into an unstoppable force. With Luke by his side -- which has already been called "a dream since we were kids" -- the expectations for Brayden are officially sky high. We all saw what Schenn is capable of in Game 1 of the Pittsburgh series. Now he'll be expected to do that on a consistent basis.

The Flyers can be stubborn, but they're also aggressive. Unlike, say, the Philadelphia Eagles, no one doubts that everything they do is aimed at winning a championship. I think Ed Snider would tear the heart out of a living man's chest if it meant his team would take home one more Cup before he died.

And maybe that means they demand too much from the Carters and Richards and van Riemsdyks and Schenns of the world. Maybe not every young forward can handle such expectations, the need to become the next Bobby Clarke or Bill Barber or Rick Tocchet or Paul Holmgren. Maybe the team is still run a little too rigidly, with its overlords a little too insistent on trying to recreate the past.

Only time will tell. But if we do end up looking back and lamenting the loss of JVR, it'll just be another example of the Philadelphia Flyers trying -- and failing -- to force a square peg into a round hole.

June 13, 2012

Prometheus is terrible. Here's why.

More than a few people warned me that Prometheus would be mediocre.

What I didn't realize was that "mediocre" was putting it lightly; Prometheus is easily one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time. And keep in mind that I just saw Battleship.

The interesting thing is, my expectations had already been lowered. I wasn't a huge fan of the Alien franchise in the first place, but all the Internet's kvetching and the massively deflated hype had me thinking that, if what I saw was just OK, I'd be happy.

But it was bad. Worse than bad; an unmitigated disaster.

I don't care how good a movie looks (and to its minimal credit, Prometheus looks pretty good); if it can't hold a simple plot together, if it can't define and maintain characters and their motivations, I've got no use for it.

This is where Prometheus falls apart, at this most basic of levels. I don't understand how Ridley Scott and company could've read the script, which cannot manage the simple task of moving from A to B to C properly, and see any sort of a functional movie. Let alone one that comes with a $200-million investment.

And it's not like Prometheus is anything close to art, where meaningful visuals and symbolism and subtext prop up a story that might be meandering or even irrelevant. It's just a series of cheap summer thrills that masquerade as something deep.

It purports to be about how humans were created, how we would interact with the "gods" who made us, and what we'd do if the gods weren't gods after all. This is addressed, but casually at best. It's mostly a backdrop for space adventure, window dressing for a movie about aliens and albino giants and black goo.

One of the things that made Alien so great is that its characters expertly serviced the plot. You didn't need to know much about Tom Skerritt except that he was the captain; Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto were just maintenance men. The premise was "regular folk on ship try not to be killed by scary alien," and much of the fear stems from your lack of knowledge. What is this alien? How did this all happen? You're dropped into a confusing, terrifying situation and expected to take it all in as best you can.

But Prometheus can't maintain that kind of focus. The plot holes are glaring, and the few vague attempts to build up characters fall flat. For some reason, Idris Elba's captain has a squeezebox that was owned by Stephen Stills. Charlize Theron, with her needlessly sinister glare and woefully unexplained desires, is the laziest kind of "villain." The ship's crew members are nothing but blank slates...until they all decide to gleeful embark on a sure-thing suicide mission.

There's a scientist who, despite an epic discovery that will probably change the course of mankind forever, decides to drink himself into sorrowful oblivion. There's the trillionaire who, with no warning, stows away on the ship to pursue a desire for eternal life that's never even hinted at beforehand. There's a scene early in the movie where Elba's same captain character (who ends up being relatively friendly) laughs with his crew as two scientists stumble around in the dark, probably about to die -- and then suddenly appears concerned the next day when they've lost communication with the duo.

It's telling that Michael Fassbender's no-emotions android is the most fleshed-out character in the whole movie; that may be because Fassbender can convey more with a simple look or gesture than most actors could do with a lengthy, epic speech. He's the glue that holds it all together; he's the reason Prometheus is even somewhat acceptable. Maybe another group of unbelievably talented performers -- think Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton -- could offer up enough subtle substance to make such a fragmented story worthwhile, but this muddled mess was probably beyond help by the time shooting began.

The more I think about Prometheus (or read wonderfully skewering pieces like this), the more I hate it. Even Inception, a movie I previously ranted about, was able to hold together an all-over-the-place plot and offer up a bit of genuine insight. Christopher Nolan's script comes equipped with legitimate opinions on the line between dreams and reality; I have no real idea what Scott thinks about creation and the gods. I just know he can make a pretty movie, one with a big pile of stinking garbage at its core.

If you come across anyone who claims to have enjoyed Prometheus, ask them to explain what happens outloud. Inquire as to why certain characters acted the way they did. Have them put a few minutes of thought into the twists and turns of the story, which is something that the film's creators seem to have ignored, and then find out if they still feel the same way.

Film criticism is very subjective, but bad will always be bad. Poorly constructed, poorly executed, poorly planned-out; these are flaws that no movie should be able to overcome. And Prometheus is no exception.