Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie Review - Non-Stop

This movie came out last year around this time. Most of Liam Neeson movies now seem to be gratuitous bloodbaths so we decided to take a pass while it was in the theaters.  I watched it on Netflix this week, figuring if the body count got too high, I could turn it off.

Surprising to me, the movie was actually pretty good with a lot of suspense and a fairly low body count. Neeson's character, Bill actually only kills one guy and he sort of deserved it. There are only two leads in the movie. Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks with his usual wild-eyed, unkempt manner. Juilanne Moore plays Jen Summers, a frequent traveler who insists on the window seat. Everyone else on board is a stereotype (the tough NYC cop, the shifty-eyed Muslim, the black hip-hop guy, the frightened little girl traveling alone, the indignant old lady, etc).

Bill is an alcoholic air marshal who's afraid of flying. Actually it's only the take off that scares him. He's on a transatlantic flight clutching the air rests during take off. He gets talking to Jen, his row mate, who helps him calm down. Soon after take off Bill starts getting text messages on his special air marshal phone. The messages are simple. Deposit $150 million in an off-shore account or someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes.

Spoilers ahead. 

After stalking around the plane for awhile, he talks to a fellow air marshal, apparently just traveling for pleasure, and tells the guy to meet him in the bathroom. Bill suspects this guy because he's the only other person on the plane who should be able to access the air marshal network. Bill accuses him of sending the texts, they get in a fight, the other guy pulls his gun, Bill kills him. He finds a large package of cocaine in the dead guy's briefcase. It's almost exactly 20 minutes since the first threat and someone is dead. And the texts continue.

His supervisor on the ground tells Bill that the bank account is in Bill's name, which makes the supervisor very suspicious.

Things go from bad to worse. The next to die is the pilot, foaming at the mouth. The only doctor on the plane is an apparent Muslim (by his clothing and accent). He confirms the poisoning. One of the passenger acts suspiciously and Bill ends up tying his hands up with duck tape.

The passengers start to get scared when Bill yells at them to put their hands on the back of the seat in front of them so he can search them. A helpful guy on the plane, who is some sort of programmer, says he can send a text message to the phone where the texts are coming from, and even if the phone is turned off, the message will make the phone chirp.  This works and Bill hauls the guy who had the phone to the front of the plane. Protesting that he never saw that phone before, he starts foaming at the mouth and dies. Then Bill discovers that there is a bomb hidden in the bag of cocaine with a convenient timer attached to it.

The rest of the passengers have now had enough and when Bill comes out of the bathroom, several stereotypes attack him. Bill manages to survive getting hit in the head twice by a fire extinguisher before suspicious guy gets Bill's gun and gets everybody to listen to Bill's story about the bomb. Nothing like big red numbers counting down to indicate danger. They've got about 18 minutes.

Bill learns from his supervisor that there is a video of him posted by a passenger that has convinced everybody on the ground that he's hijacked the plane. Bill looks at the video and can see, somehow, that suspicious guy and planted the phone on dead foaming at the mouth guy. Then suspicious guy clobbers Bill and takes his gun. And, son of a bitch, helpful guy is in on it too. They are ex-soldiers who have some inarticulate complaint that the country has gone to hell and that by blowing up the plane while making Bill look responsible things will get better. Helpful guy has pulled out their parachutes. Bill carefully explains that you can't parachute from a plane at 18,000 feet without special gear. Suspicious guy says he hadn't planed on getting off the plane. Helpful guy is like, WTF?

Bill has told the co-pilot that he has to take the plane down to 8,000 feet. By the way, they are now on their way to Iceland. The US fighter jets escorting the plane tell the co-pilot to do no such thing. Bill has placed the bomb on the rear door of the plane and the passengers have piled all the luggage on the bomb. The theory is that when the bomb goes off, the luggage will direct the blast outward. If the plane is lower than 8,000 feet, the outside pressure will be high enough so all the passengers won't be killed by decompression. My favorite exchange happens at this point. One of the passengers says "Has this ever worked". Bill says "it's never been tried". Another passenger says "As far as you know". Muslim doctor says "We're all going to die".

Amazingly enough, this works as the co-pilot dives down to 8,000 feet and manages to land the plane with a big hole near the tail, despite the fact that one of the engines blows up for no reason, and most of the business class cabin wall disintegrates. While all this was exciting, I have to say that the special effects were pretty terrible. It looked exactly like a fake explosion on a CGI airplane.

Bill and Jen make plans to hook up while standing on the tarmac with confusion reigning around them.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Baseball cards and Star Trek

If you've been reading my blog for awhile (there's got to be one or two of you) then you know that just about my two favorite things are baseball cards and Star Trek. I was 14-years-old when Star Trek first appeared on television on September 8, 1966 and I'd already been reading science fiction for 4-5 years.

In 2013 I acquired three cards from the Topps 1976 Star Trek set on eBay. I posted them here.

So imagine my delight it finding that there was this card in 2015 Topps Heritage. A card from an actual baseball card set featuring Star Trek!

2015 Topps Heritage Baseball Flashbacks

I'm pretty sure this is a photo from that very first show, "Man Trap".

Even better, the card features Leonard Nimoy, the actor who made Mr. Spock a real character. Although Nimoy was an actor in many other plays and films, an accomplished director, and a poet, to his legions of fans he'll always be that "pointed-eared Vulcan". Leonard Nimoy passed away on February 27, 2015, between the time I ordered this card on eBay and when I received it.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2015 Donruss - Don't get me started

Last year I bought  a hobby box of 2014 Donruss. I was not going to make that mistake again this year. Instead I bought a 30-card rack pack at Walmart for about half the price I paid per card last year. 30 cards is more than enough.

Here's the first card out of the pack.

2015 Donruss #113 Jose Fernandez
The design is little changed from last year. My biggest problem last year was not the design however. It was that the cards are fundamentally boring. All the batters are in virtually the same pose and all the pitchers are pretty much in the same pose as the Fernandez card. Dull, dull, dull. At least last year there were some catcher cards to elevate the tedium but I didn't see any in this pack. 

The designers must have put in long hours on the design, especially in coming up with the horrible mottled orange color for the back. baseballcardpedia.com called the design 'bizarre'. In case you've forgotten, here's what last years cards looked like.

2014 Donruss #94 Roy Halladay

The set was expanded from 200 cards to 245. The last 45 cards are in the Donruss 1981 design.

Of course, where this card says "Atlanta" the 1981 Donruss card said "Braves".

There are a lot of new inserts this year, with many of them having different colored parallels. The parallels may be black, blue, gold, green, red, silver or platinum. Not every insert has the same combination of parallels. The curious thing is, that while the black parallels are always numbered to 1, the other colors are not consistently numbered. The Red parallel may be numbered to 5 in one insert set and numbered to 499 in another. All of the inserts I got this year are new to 2015 except one.

2015 Donruss All Time Diamond Kings #7

Many of the inserts are based on some of the many different sets that Donruss produced in the 1990s and early 2000.

2015 Donruss Elite Inserts #29 R. A. Dickey
I pulled one of this 36 card set. This also comes in black, gold and red.

2015 Donruss Preferred Bronze #25 Giancarlo Stanton
This 40-card set also comes in black, gold and red.

2015 Donruss Studio #6 Rusney Castillo
 A 10-card set that also comes in Press Proof Silver and Press Proof Gold.

2015 Donruss The Rookies #15 Daniel Norris
This 15-card set makes a return from 2014 but has picked up Press Proof, Stat Line Career and Stat Line Season parallels.

The other former Donruss set, Donruss Signatures is also represented. There do not appear to be any relic cards in this year's set.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Topps Opening Day

I took a quick look at some other card blogs and I didn't see anything about Topps Opening Day. Either nobody cares about this product or nobody's gotten around to it.  Into the breech...

You all know what Topps Opening Day looks like, and this year it looks even more like Topps since the regular Topps set dropped most of it's foil. Here's the first card out of the first pack.

2015 Topps Opening Day #43 Nick Castellanos

The only difference between this and regular Topps is that the Topps logo is not foil and, of course, the Opening Day logo. Note that the logo has had a design change, the first change since 2011.

Topps Opening Day used to be a pretty simple set. But over the years Topps has larded it up with inserts and parallels. There are about the same number of insert sets but at least one new parallel.

This year there is a 1/1 parallel, Topps Opening Day Black which I didn't expect to see and didn't. I bought a 77-card blaster and a 20-card rack pack.

I pulled four of these.

2015 Topps Opening Day Foil #6 Matt Carpenter

This looks a lot like the Rainbow Foil cards in the base set. This card is not serial numbered. According to beckett.com and baseballcardpedia.com, there is supposed to be a parallel numbered to 2015 as there has been for the past few years. I didn't get any of those. No mention is made of a foil card or another non-numbered parallel. I tried to get some clarification on Topps worthless website. I found a checklist for Topps Opening Day but it didn't mention there were parallels at all.

2015 Topps Opening Day Mascots #21 Mariner Moose
The Mascot insert is back. The Moose may have been around for 25 years but I've never seen it on a card before.

2015 Topps Opening Day Franchise Flashbacks #4 Robinson Cano
I pulled 4 of this 20-card insert. New for 2015, these cards put you in the way-back machine all the way back to Opening Day 2014!

2015 Topps Opening Day Franchise Flashbacks #13 Elvis Andrus
Another insert new for 2015, I got 2 of the 15-card set.

2015 Topps Opening Day Superstar Celebrations #9 Clayton Kershaw
This insert set has been around for a few years. I pulled 3 of the 20. I like how the description on the back of the card in no way resembles the scene on the front of the card. Except that there are Dodgers involved and presumably Kershaw is in the middle somewhere. The other two I have are similar.

2015 Topps Opening Day Team Spirit #9 Jorge Soler
Another new insert, only 10 cards. This is the first card of this player I've scene. Looking him up, I see he made his major league debut with the Cubs last August. In 24 games he hit .292 with 5 home runs. I also see that the Cubs signed the now 23-year-old Cuban back in 2012 for $30,000,000 through 2020.

2015 Topps Opening Day Stadium Scenes Safeco Field
This 17-card set features photos taken by fans. Wouldn't you love to see a photo you've taken on a baseball card?  beckett.com and Topps.com calls this set "Topps Live". baseballcardpedia.com and I call it "Stadium Scenes".



Monday, March 23, 2015

Randy Johnson Batting

I should have saved that Randy Johnson 1992 Stadium Club card from last week until I got through the rest of his cards I own.

1995 Collector’s Choice Special Edition
You don't see a lot of cards featuring pitchers at the plate. Especially American League pitchers. What is going on here. It appears that Johnson was attempting to bunt. If you look closely, behind the second O in his name at the bottom of the card, the baseball seems to be resting on home plate. I'm guessing that the photographer caught the ball just before it bounced. More interesting is that Johnson did not have an official at bat in either 1994 (when this photo was presumably taken) or in 1995. This must have been a spring training game.

1996 SP
 You also don't see many cards featuring a pitcher on base. But here's Randy Johnson on 1st base despite not having any official at bats in 1995 or 1996. Another spring training photo? Was Randy used as a pinch runner?

1999 Upper Deck #301
 In 1999, Johnson was with the D-Backs so no more designated hitter to hide behind. He doesn't look to enthusiastic here but he had 97 at bats in 1999, with 12 hits, including 4 doubles.

2001 Upper Deck #183
 Since 2001 Series 1 Upper Deck came out in November 2002 (remember when you could start collecting next year's baseball cards before Thanksgiving?), this is most likely a photo from the 2000 season. It looks like he got a good swing but the look of dismay on his face suggests a poor result. While winning his 3rd Cy Young Award, Randy hit .157 with 13 hits, 2 doubles and 8 rbis. Not a bad performance for a pitcher.

2004 Topps #450
 According to this card, Randy Johnson is the tallest player to ever hit a home run. Randy has exactly one home run in his career and that was in 2003. Johnson is no longer the tallest player to hit a home run. In 2004, 6'11 pitcher Jon Rauch, then with the Expos, hit a home run. Rauch has 2 hits in his 11-year career. More recently,  Chris Young, another 6'10" pitcher, hit a home run for the Padres in 2008. Young is now in the American League and Rauch is a relieve, so it may be awhile before we see another real tall home run hitter.

2008 Topps #396
 After two years with the Yankees, Johnson was back in the National league in 2007. In 2007 he only had 1 hit and only 15 at bats. I guess the red bat didn't help. 2008 was a bit better with 7 hits. For his career, Johnson hit for a .125 average with 625 at bats, 78 hits, 14 doubles and 1 home run. He walked 19 times and struck out 296 times.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Song of the Week - Natural Beauty (Live) by Neil Young

Sorry, but this is a long one. It's from Neil's 20th album "Harvest Moon". It's the only live track on the album. After making several noisy albums, in 1992, Neil returned to the studio for some quieter stuff.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

1993 Stadium Club Randy Johnson

I'm in the process of reorganizing the albums where I keep players that I collect. Every once in awhile I'll be posting an interesting card I come across. This was the source of the Bo Jackson card of a few days ago.

Take a look at this card.


There's noting interesting about the back, except for the 1989 Topps card showing Johnson as an Expo.

But the front is great. Johnson is holding a broken bat with a baseball wedged into the break.