Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I know about the pending apocalypse

After reading Roger Ebert's four-star review of "Knowing," I decided that I couldn't skip the movie no matter how Nicolas Cage-averse I've become. It's not that I expected to find what I might consider a four-star movie, it's just that I already was curious and Ebert's review made me more so. I also understood that "Knowing" director Alex Proyas ("I Robot," "Dark City" and "The Crow") has skills, even if they haven't always been put to the best possible use. Like many visionary directors, Proyas may be a little too eager to leap over-the-top.

Anyway, I went. Turns out I was both disappointed and engaged by "Knowing," a sometimes-laughable attempt at a serious film that arrives on screen fully loaded, especially if you enjoy shamelessly portentous dialogue and bombastic musical scores. To stoke the musical fires, Marco Beltrami -- who also wrote music for "3:10 to Yuma" and "Live Free Die Hard" -- abandons nearly every trace of subtlety. The dude works hard for the money.

All true, and yet....

If you can separate them from the movies' narrative context, some of the visuals are amazing. A New York City subway wreck is as compelling as anything I've seen this year, and Proyas' finale transcends sense to become a lofty exercise in symbolism and sensation. The movie's ending probably is meant to leave us both chastened and awe struck. I watched with drop-jawed amazement, staggered by the sheer ridiculousness of the movie's conceits and impressed by Proyas' visual bravado.

"Knowing," by the way, tells the story of Cage's John Koestler, an MIT professor who discovers meaning in an apparently random series of numbers that was buried as part of a 1959 project at a Massachusetts elementary school. Koestler, a widower who lives with his young son (Chandler Canterbury) in a house that's only partially renovated, eventually meets the daughter (Rose Byrne) of the student who contributed the series of numbers to the time capsule, which is opened early on. Koestler eventually joins the woman and her daughter (Lara Robinson) in many breathless attempts to avoid what he's certain is a pending apocalypse.

Cage overacts, the movie overstates, and "Knowing" left me wondering what might happen if the Egyptian-born Proyas, who was raised in Australia, ever gets hold of a script that makes sense. "The Crow," I think, remains his best work.

So what, you're asking yourself, does any of this have to do with ballpark prices?

Only this. While reading The New York Times this morning, I came across a story about the food that will be served at Citi Field, new home of the New York Mets. The story's headline -- "For Mets Fans, a Menu Beyond Peanuts and Cracker Jack" -- gives you a pretty good idea where the article is going.

Upscale food at ballparks hardly qualifies as a new phenomenon, but I was fascinated nonetheless. Reporter Glenn Collins informs readers that Mets fans will be able to purchase such delicacies as pulled-pork sandwiches on brioche buns for $9. It's the brioche buns that got me. They'll also be able to sample steamed corn on the cob with mayonnaise cotija cheese and a "dusting of cayenne" for $3.50. If they're in a seafood kind of mood -- and who isn't these days? -- they can try a shrimp roll that sells for $14. Too expensive? Not when you consider that you get shoestring potatoes with it. Besides, if you're sitting behind home plate in a seat that cost you -- or more likely some corporation -- between $175 and $495, you don't want to be dropping peanut shells all over the place.

Which brings me to the apocalypse.....

How are we going to survive as a species if we raise a generation of kids who go to ballparks imploring Dad for another helping of Belgian fries with dipping sauce? How long before we see a generation of youngsters who'd rather have an autograph from the ballpark chef than from one of their favorite players? And -- most importantly -- who wants to eat gourmet food while watching athletes launch giant wads of spit over their the shoe tops?

So, no, "Knowing" didn't scare me. What really frightens me is a culture that's creating ballparks in which Marie Antoinette might feel at home. The end is near, friends. The end is near, and we don't need Nicolas Cage to warn us. We've got spanking new ballparks.

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