Pants and a Cactus: The Real Reason Why Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers Broke Up

This definitely happened. Hypothetically, anyway.

The reaction to Jim Harbaugh leaving the San Francisco 49ers for the University of Michigan has been pretty predictable, as it’s simply not normal to let a coach like this go – someone who made an immediate impact and had so much success over such a compact period of time (44-19 over four seasons INCLUDING this 8-8 season and a trip to the NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl every year, except this season obviously) – which Bill Barnwell from Grantland explored recently.

Therefore, it stands to reason that those differences were significant, leading one party to look at the other with such profound disbelief and disdain after hearing an outrageous philosophical belief, that their collective success was instantly rendered irrelevant.

Here is what really happened. Probably.

Harbaugh was walking to lunch with a dejected Colin Kaepernick when they passed a table that 49ers CEO Jed York and some of his cronies were sitting at. As Harbaugh gave the men an abrasive and overly arrogant nod, York locked eyes with him and loudly started talking about his vast collection of pants and their respective materials, texture against the legs (shaved and unshaved), and passionately lectured on the art of spending egregious amounts of crisp “dolla dolla” bills to pay for luxury brands like Tom Ford and Armani.

A visibly shaken Harbaugh then looked at Kaepernick, who was nodding enthusiastically and taking notes while giggling to himself like a small child who inhaled too much laughing gas at the dentist’s office.

Harbaugh then threw his hands up in the air, dropkicked a chair through a window, took a potted cactus, and lobbed it at York. Although some offensive linemen were eating nearby, their attempts to intervene were in vain, as both Harbaugh and York had no trouble penetrating the line and getting in each others’ faces.

Fortunately, there was an unusual amount of security in the area, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance to just fuck around and not do his job. He was eating at the far end of the cafeteria as he watched the Ray Rice elevator video on his Blackberry with a dumbstruck look on his face. At one point, he leaned over to one of his anonymous security goons and drawled, “This shit is like the fucking Zapruder film or some shit. Shit! I can’t tell what the fuck is going on; can we get some tech guys in here to get this from a different angle or something?”

A bewildered staff member leaned forward and stammered, “Sir, I don’t think that kind of technology exists. Sir.”

Goodell kneaded his hands together thoughtfully and said, “Well, I don’t know, can we get Ray and his fiancé to reenact this? I just can’t seem to tell what’s going on…”

Before the staff member could finally throw his official NFL identification badge (purchased from the official NFL store, of course) on the table and quit, the Harbaugh and York altercation caught everybody’s attention. Goodell looked up, and his normally ruddy face turned paler than an albino’s ass.

The security team immediately gathered around him and they all awkwardly shuffled as one to the fight. When they reached it, Goodell peeked over his men’s broad shoulders and shouted, “Hey!”

When Harbaugh, York, Kaepernick, and the offensive linemen turned to direct their attention at Goodell, he quickly ducked behind his men before a sharp elbow plunged into his kidney. He yelped in pain and pushed through his security detail. He took a look at York, who had half a cactus stuck in his forehead. He then looked at Harbaugh, who was standing there with his arms crossed and a petulant lip jutting out of his, somehow, still smug face.

A few seconds of silence followed, as Goodell tried to think of something intelligent to say. Eventually he cleared his throat a few times as some muffled coughs sprung up here and there. He said, “We can do better. I can do better. We have to do better. We will do better.”

For the next fifteen minutes, Goodell did nothing but mix various pronouns and the word “better” together in increasingly creative ways. Throughout the whole process, York stood there in an attentive daze as he slowly bled out, while Harbaugh kept checking his watch, wishing he could just leave or, better yet, tell everybody to go eat their livers.

When Goodell ran out of English words and transitioned into making sounds he thought he heard on TV once, Harbaugh thew his hands up in the air again and proceeded to verbally abuse Goodell. He paced back and forth, channeling the best of Pacino and all the other great orators, using his hands as effective, yet unpredictably deadly, visual aids.

As his sharp words sliced and diced into Goodell’s soul, Goodell went to his happy place. It was 1986 and he was engaging in some lewd sexual conduct with his girlfriend. During a particularly arousing moment, she looked right into his eyes and said, “Ooh, you’re such a naughty principal, Mr. Rooney!”

That was the most pleasurable moment of his life: when his girlfriend compared him to the principal from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The pleasure was only intensified when he remembered that Rooney was favorably compared to Clint Eastwood by the school secretary.

Goodell snapped back to reality in that instant and gave Harbaugh a withering glare. Then he growled, “Cleveland.”

The situation immediately diffused; nobody wanted to get sent to Cleveland. Goodell made York and Harbaugh apologize to each other. York said, “I’m sorry I talked about pants when I know you’re inherently drawn to cheap khakis.”

Harbaugh nodded and sighed deeply. He sarcastically said, “And I’m sorry I blew my fuse. I shouldn’t have thrown the cactus at your head… I guess.”

York glared and yelled, “Roger, he doesn’t mean it!”

Goodell shook his head and walked away. He was disappointed he actually had to do his job today.

So that was really the catalyst that started to rip the relationship’s fabric apart. It’s definitely York’s fault, which is the popular opinion right now, and for good reason. Again: those philosophical differences better have been significant to let a guy like Harbaugh go. Just ridiculous.

All Quiet on the Facebook Front: Urban Crime, Mass Shootings, and Pakistan

On December 16, approximately 130 children and 10 adults were killed in a school shooting in Pakistan. The reaction here in the States was… muted, even on social media like Facebook. Why?

Last summer, I started writing for The Daily Iowan, which is a newspaper run by University of Iowa students. I was an opinion columnist, which meant I could joke about “getting to be a journalist without actually having to do any research.”

But for my first column, I took it pretty seriously and wrote about the surge of mass shootings that had sprung up across the country around that time, as well as race/ethnicity and social class in regards to ignoring the gun violence that occurs on a daily basis. I said this in one of the last paragraphs:

“What is also remarkable is how we’ve come to accept [certain] types of gun violence as being a normal part of society. Or, if we don’t think it’s normal, we still choose to do nothing about it. It’s almost like there are areas of America where that type of crime is seen as being a given, and it’s not until that crime spills over certain borders that we start to worry and get uncomfortable.”

It’s true – we really make a huge fuss about mass shooting sprees, but we’ve become desensitized to the violence that happens every hour, every minute. And yes, you can bet your ass that skin color and money have to do with it.

The vast majority of the school shootings that shook the nation (and still shake their respective towns) took place in mostly white, middle class suburbs. People aren’t “supposed to” get shot in those types of places. I would know – I live in a predominantly white and middle to upper class neighborhood, and the cops have nothing better to do than be extra vigilant for… speeders.

The South Side of Chicago (the bad parts of the South Side, I mean), on the other hand, is a place we all look at (from a safe distance, of course) and shake our heads. We don’t like what’s happening to the people in shitty urban neighborhoods, but we don’t exactly care either. In our eyes, violence is just an inevitable part of their lives.

And that’s just a crummy mindset to have.

Pakistan is on the other side of the world, so by nature it’s hard to truly care about what happens there. As human beings, we show a remarkable ability to selectively choose when to feel empathy towards each other. I mean, it’s not a coincidence we care about our family members and friends more than we care about that one neighbor down the street we never interact with, much less a country we only hear about on the news.

Still, there was something disconcerting about the total lack of reaction on Facebook. I remember after the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and it seemed like every person logged onto Facebook or Twitter to post “RIP” or “I offer my condolences.”

Wow, so poignant!

Yet, 130 dead kids in another country can’t even get some sort of reaction from those same people? The last time I checked, shooting kids is fucked up, regardless of what country you associate yourself with.

Even more confusing is the very fact that the US has been dealing with an unusual surge in school shootings the past few years. You would think we would be, if anything, even more moved by a similar event at this time.

Alas, what do we really know about Pakistan? We probably think about terrorists, and maybe Osama. Maybe we heard something about India and Pakistan having a tense relationship “or something.”

At the end of the day, the mindset we have towards Pakistan is the same mindset we have towards the minorities – specifically black people – who live in our cities’ rougher neighborhoods. We look at them and shrug, saying, “Hey, that kind of violence is just normal over there. What can you do?”

Yeah, the world can’t be a perfect place. Violence will always exist on some scale or another. It’s a wonder we haven’t had yet another world war yet, to be honest.

But I’m not trying to get people riled up and ready to fix all the world’s problems. It would just be nice if we acknowledged we don’t give a shit about some things, even though they are arguably more important than whatever we do “care” about.

Who Else Would’ve Been Awesome for That Surprise “Interstellar” Cameo?

If you’ve seen Interstellar, you know exactly what cameo I’m talking about. [spoiler] is an awesome actor for sure (his name will not be revealed here – you’re welcome), but who are some other individuals that would have been just as great, if not better?

The main thing I’m going for here is the element of surprise. That’s what most cameo appearances are about anyway, so the goal here is to both be surprising and delightful. It’s an added plus, of course, if the person is actually good at acting.

Also, I’m not ranking the following people in any particular order. So don’t get worked up if somebody appears before another person.

Let’s get started!

TOM CRUISE

It’s hard to imagine Tom Cruise accepting a cameo role when he’s still churning out quality movies like Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow with female costars often delegated to the role of “helpless/clueless female” and no real male costar since Collateral (other than ensemble castings like the Mission: Impossible series), but if he can do Tropic Thunder, I’m sure he would be okay with taking a smaller role in a Christopher Nolan film for crying out loud.

Of course, the nature of the cameo was so surprising, he would probably end up stealing the show anyway. [spoiler] almost did it himself (for better or for worse – more on that later), so I don’t see why Cruise – one of the most charismatic dudes out there – wouldn’t be able to do it.

Also, Cruise needs to be the bad guy more often. As Collateral and even Magnolia showed, Tom Cruise is pretty good at being an evil scumbag. Even better, he could finally run on a planet that isn’t Earth, which I’m sure he wants to scratch off his bucket list.

 

Right now, he’s my number one candidate (yes, I did say none of these individuals are ranked in any way, but Cruise was the inspiration for this list). I guess I’m a big homer for Tom Cruise, but whatever.

Anyway, like I said, I’m looking for a sizeable surprise factor. Cruise is always the star of his movies, which makes him an unlikely contender for any cameo role/speculation. Even in Tropic Thunder, nobody knew it was him until they saw the credits roll.

I really think people’s heads would get blown up if Cruise was in Interstellar instead of [spoiler]. Or maybe a wormhole would appear.

Having said all that… a cameo isn’t really supposed to distract people from the movie and especially the movie’s actors. Matthew McConaughey has been on fire for three years now, at least, but Tom Cruise has been on fire for decades; he would overshadow everybody else in the film, which is going too far.

That’s why [spoiler] was such a great choice – established, famous, but not ridiculously so. He genuinely seems like a down-to-earth guy (as a person, not his crazy character). Tom Cruise is already floating out there in a galaxy of his own and that has as much to do with his cockiness/arrogance as it does his long resume.

Here’s another way to put it. When [spoiler] was revealed, people collectively said, “Holy shit.” If Tom Cruise was in that same position, I imagine people would be fairly polarized. Some people would be happy and some people would be grossed out. Then, there would be the profound disbelief, which stems from what I wrote above. Instead of just “Holy shit,” it would be more like “Holy guacamole dumped on a fresh burrito with a dash of cilantro!”

That’s just too distracting, especially for a movie like Interstellar.

Another point: can Tom Cruise dial it down? Going back to Tropic Thunder, the cameo was made for him, and it helped he was in disguise. He was just himself and it worked. If anything, that movie asked him to dial it up.

Yet, none of that might matter – his very presence is just that powerful and distracting. Maybe it wouldn’t work in Interstellar (but I sure as heck would’ve liked to see it happen).

CHRIS PRATT

Think about all the half-assed conspiracy theories that would pop up if Chris Pratt was in Interstellar. Consider Pratt’s role as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy (and the Marvel Universe by association), Christopher Nolan’s superhero history (the Batman movies duh), and the context of the cameo role, and you could start shit up by discussing a massive collaboration between Marvel and DC, leading to a 2025 movie called Avengers of the Universe Versus Batman and Superman: Give Us Your Money or something along those lines.

Plus, Pratt is just on the verge of turning into a true movie star, what with voicing the protagonist in The LEGO Movie, being Star-Lord, and starring in the upcoming Jurassic World.

 

He wouldn’t be a distraction (well… more on that a few paragraphs down) and he’s a good actor. Maybe he could even inject some humor into Interstellar, an evil film that mostly focuses on getting people to cry.

Which I definitely didn’t do.

Pratt isn’t kooky like Tom Cruise, and he’s pretty much universally liked, both because of his recent roles and his role on Parks and Recreation. I think it would be a good fit.

There are only two negatives here: overexposure and the fact that the character is a piece of shit.

Chris Pratt has been in a lot of big stuff lately, including pop culture news, so it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he showed up in Interstellar. [spoiler] is a big name, but he hasn’t been in anything particularly important lately. I mean, it was one of those rare moments where everybody knows exactly who he is, but there’s just something inexplicably monumental – in a good way – about him showing up.

Perhaps the more important question is this, however: can Chris Pratt be a piece of shit? Does he even want to be a character like that? It’s actually more than a rhetorical question because I haven’t seen some of the more serious movies he’s been in, like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty.

IDRIS ELBA

You may not recognize the name, but you probably know his face. He was Stringer Bell on The Wire and is currently the title character on Luther, the excellent BBC One series. He has experience in sci-fi and space-related movies (Prometheus, Pacific Rim, and the Thor movies), like our previous candidates, although that’s not a requirement to be considered.

Elba brings some added diversity to the movie, although Interstellar is more diverse than some (most?) of Christopher Nolan’s films. Still, Michael Caine must feel pretty lonely being the only one with a non-American accent (if I remember correctly) – there’s nobody better than Elba for that particular problem.

And no, Benedict Cumberbatch is not going to be on this list. He’s both too famous and too popular right at this very moment.

Of course, the problem with Elba might be that he’s not famous enough. Having to start his section off with a disclaimer about whether or not you know his name is not a good sign for a big movie like Interstellar.

Oh well, Idris. At least we’ll always have your badass inspirational speech from Pacific Rim.

 

Speaking of diversity, let’s get another cool minority in here.

BARRETT SONN

Just kidding.

How about an actress? Is there someone out there who can supplement the work done by Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain?

???

I have no idea. I really don’t. Here are the criteria we’ve established so far through Cruise, Pratt, and Elba:

  • The person must be famous, but not on an overwhelming level. Cruise is way too famous, Pratt is just right, and Elba isn’t quite there yet – at least in the US.
  • The person must have gone through a dry spell recently. Cruise is always consistently strong, Pratt is at his career high right now, and Elba is a less extreme combination of Cruise and Pratt.

There are not a lot of female candidates if we go by those standards. People like Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson are famous and have been in a lot of things. Someone like Amy Adams isn’t famous enough – a fact that only gets exacerbated because actresses generally don’t have the same oomph as their male counterparts (just making an observation).

Think about it – Amy Adams has been nominated for multiple Oscars (FIVE!!) and she’s recently been in some quality films like American Hustle and Her. Yet, she wouldn’t make that much of a splash in a celebrity cameo, unless you were making a short film for a college class and she owed you.

Because of that discrepancy, it’s almost inevitable that we reverse the criteria and pick an actress that is ideally fairly famous and recognizable right now. That brings us to the following candidates: Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone, maybe Shailene Woodley, Angelina Jolie…

Wait a second. That’s it! Angelina Jolie!

ANGELINA JOLIE

In 2010, Jolie starred in The Tourist and Salt. The next four years, she didn’t really act in any movies, other than voicing the character Tigress from the Kung Fu Panda “franchise.” She just did Maleficent, but whatever. My point is that she’s still a strong household name even though she has mostly been behind the camera for almost half a decade.

She would truly be an unexpected choice for Interstellar; there’s a very possible chance that her hypothetical cameo would be a bigger deal than even Tom Cruise (sorry buddy). Even better, she has the acting chops to convincingly portray an astronaut. She’s the right age for the role too, unlike other actresses with similar clout, like Meryl Streep (sorry buddy).

I am a genius. A goddamn genius.

The cameo character’s sinister motives are also perfect for an evil-looking lady like Jolie.

What are the possible negatives for an Angelina Jolie cameo? None that I can think of, except for the superficial ones that have to do with appearance and her physique. Would she have to bulk up for this, or would she just stay in the ambiguous astronaut suit (which [spoiler] doesn’t do)?

Honestly, I don’t really care. She would be great for the cameo.

HONORABLE MENTION

These are the people I also considered, but didn’t meet the criteria for whatever reasons.

The Actors:

  • Billy Crudup: Not famous enough; he would be an excellent choice for many other reasons.
  • Tom Hardy: Fulfills the non-American accent, although I’m not sure he’s famous enough. At least he was in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.
  • Shia LaBeouf: Just fucking with you… or am I!?!?!?!!??!??!?!?!?!?!!?
  • Leonardo DiCaprio: Very interesting choice. I think it could work, you know, as long as he squints a lot. Really though, he’s way too famous.
  • Josh Brolin: A suggestion from my friend, Kevin. The intangibles are all there: acting chops, age, ability to be a villain. However, is Josh Brolin famous enough on a mainstream level?

The Actresses:

  • Emily Blunt: I would really, really, really love to see that happen. Not enough star power though – but she does have a British accent. On the other hand, she’s married to Jim from The Office. I don’t know how that’s relevant – just thought I should mention it. Grr…
  • Anna Kendrick: Definitely a convincing astronaut. Unfortunately, not even close to enough star power. Plus, she’s way too young.
  • Kate Beckinsale: Intriguing choice, although her career path seems determined to stay away from good movies.
  • Sandra Bullock: Another Kevin suggestion. As a certain movie called Gravity showed, she has all the intangibles and she’s fairly recognizable thanks to a long and fairly steady career. Unfortunately, because Gravity exists, it would be distractingly hilarious to see her show up in another space film so soon.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow: I just want to see her blow up.

So. What about you? Who would you consider for the role?

“Birdman” Movie Review or (The Totally Expected Awesomeness of Michael Keaton)

Hey, that Michael Keaton guy is pretty good! And so is Birdman!

During the late eighties and early nineties, people considered Michael Keaton and Tom Hanks to be equal in both talent and potential. I know it seems egregious now, but it’s true. Keaton ended up portraying Batman in 1989 and 1992, but the nineties were clearly more favorable to Hanks. And that was really the end of “Keaton versus Hanks.”

Enter Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2014. Keaton portrays an actor past his prime – an actor known for his role as an iconic superhero during his apex. The actor is trying to put on a Broadway play and the movie is essentially the week (or several weeks) before the first show.

The film is tremendous in many ways and that interesting twist involving Keaton’s personal life and the movie’s plot is just part of it. Naturally, people have been curious as to whether the movie was written with Keaton specifically in mind for the leading role, and the answer is a little bit more complicated than one might think.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director, claims Keaton was the only one who could pull off the role. Keaton begs to differ, saying he doesn’t think it was specifically for him. Regardless, the relationship works beautifully.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence this movie fully shows Keaton’s acting prowess – something he’s only been able to do in supporting roles recently, like in The Other Guys and the unnecessary RoboCop remake. In Birdman, he takes center stage – literally – and joins the list of actors that can singlehandedly carry an audience’s attention through an extended monologue. Al Pacino, for example, is a member of that list; all you have to do is watch Scarface‘s classic scene where Pacino drunkenly drawls, “You need people like me.”

And who can forget his tirades on journalistic ethics and integrity in The Insider?

Going back to Keaton, he does a great job of conveying passion and angst – instability too – but he has an equally capable supporting cast working with him. Edward Norton portrays a fictional version of himself; his character is obnoxious, arrogant, and undoubtedly talented. When Keaton and Norton share the screen and often clash with each other, sparks violently bounce around their exchanges.

Zach Galifianakis takes on a serious role for once as Keaton’s lawyer/friend and is competent. Emma Stone is Keaton’s daughter and to be honest, she overdoes her acting here. She is a good actress in most cases, but she isn’t quite there yet. Instead, she resorts to doing the I’m-angry-so-my-eyes-will-ludicrously-bulge, which is too bad.

 

If there’s one injustice of acting in Birdman, it’s the underutilization of Naomi Watts. She doesn’t get much to work with; her highlight is probably a brief – but passionate – lesbian kiss with one of the play’s actresses (another quirky character in her own right). Why does it seem like Naomi Watts kisses a woman in every movie she’s in? It’s confounding, really.

One of the most hyped features of Birdman is the insane notion that the vast majority of the film is technically a long take; long takes are when the scene doesn’t change via camera cut, but instead continues with one camera adjusting accordingly. Long takes (or tracking shots) can be astonishing in their power and beauty – Children of Men from 2006 features an example of that.

As it happens, the director of photography is Emmanuel Lubezki, who is responsible for Children of Men and its haunting, gritty visuals, as well as movies like Gravity and The Tree of Life. One of the negatives of tracking shots is the ache it can cause for viewers’ eyes. Camera cuts are like miniscule little breaks, giving the viewers a chance to rest on a subconscious level. If a tracking shot isn’t done right, it’s like looking at life through a lens followed by another lens – ouch. Fortunately, Lubezki adjusts admirably to the heavy demands of Birdman, and I suspect his work will not only get nominated for at least one Oscar, but win too.

One last thing about the cinematography: the lighting and the general mood is reminiscent of Los Angeles, particularly the vintage/retro hues of green and blue one gets from movies like Collateral and Drive. The film takes place in New York City, however, and the atmosphere takes on the role of dirtiness, which is almost synonymous with NYC. It’s an interesting contrast, where one set of criteria can mean different things depending on the context.

The movie’s music is just as clever as the visual effects, seamlessly being integrated within the movie’s plot. The soundtrack is almost completely based around percussion, which makes sense not only in relation to the visuals, but within the context of the scenes themselves. For example – and this may be a mild spoiler – at one point, we see that the music is actually being played by a street musician. It’s those nifty little tricks that make Birdman so refreshing and so great.

In the end, you have to ask one question: do those little tricks serve an actual purpose, or are they just gimmicks? It’s a fair question, but I believe their use was justified. Birdman does a great job of combining two different types of observers: the reliable and the unreliable. When Michael Keaton is on the screen, what we see is not necessarily the truth, especially as the movie progresses and Keaton’s mind continues to go nucking futs.

While the long takes aren’t used exclusively for Keaton’s scenes, they help distort time. The days before the play’s debut blend together and it’s more effective than the conventional method of filming and pacing. So yeah, they aren’t gimmicks.

Across the board, Birdman is solid or spectacular. The acting is anchored by Keaton and Norton and the aesthetics of this movie may go down in history as being particularly influential for future generations of moviemakers and movie viewers.