Thursday, January 28, 2016

30 Years After the Challenger Disaster

Just about half a lifetime ago, I was working for Stratus Computer in Hudson Massachusetts. During group meetings, we sometimes saw the famous wheelchair Boston marathoners Dick and Rick Hoyt train around the nearby reservoir. I had to run an errand at lunch. I was listening to the Challenger launch on the car radio as I was driving back to work...and...suddenly

....things were not going right.

I got back to work and ran upstairs where the word was already spreading. No Web with live video in those days, but everyone had E-mail, some people could lurk on USENET groups during the day and many had radios in their offices. One of the engineers had a little TV which he brought into the outer office. We just stood and watch replays of the take-off in shock for at least 20 minutes.

Most computer people were gung-ho space people so this was very traumatic for us.

It was also personal. Christa McAuliffe's younger sister Lisa was a Stratus employee. She was in Florida to watch her sister's launch.

A few months later, we planted a tree outside of Building 1 in Marlboro in honor of Christa. While Stratus hasn't been at that location in many years, I'll try to remember to visit that spot this spring to see if the tree is still there.

As an almost 30-year-old, I was cynical having already lived through the assassination of a president, deaths of 3 astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the Viet Nam War, Watergate, the ERA failing to pass and the election of Reagan. But I always loved space travel unreservedly. Still do.

It's one strong symbol of progress, of looking forward, of taking that next giant leap for mankind.

Thinking about the Challenger and Stratus, made me dig out and digitize a photo of myself from the winter of 1986, while at a party at Stratus one Friday afternoon, and a 2015 photo with my sister-in-law, nephew & niece

March 1986 December 2015

Saturday, January 09, 2016

My Best Movies of 2015

I had a feeling when I first saw Spotlight that it would be my favorite movie of the year, and it is. Exceptionally intelligently written, one of the best ensemble casts ever, it brilliantly portrayed how difficult dealing with child abuse in general is and how very difficult it was to deal with it in Boston when the biggest perpetrators were employees of the Catholic Church. It's a powerful and painful movie that never lost track of the importance of the past in dealing with horrors of the present.

I lived in Massachusetts in the '80s and '90s. I was horrified by the former Father James Porter case and utterly dismayed by how little things changed after that case became oh so public. Spotlight insightfully portrayed why things failed to change after former Father Porter went to jail.

The writers, Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer deserve all best original screenplay awards for 2015 hands down. I didn't see another movie all last year that was as solid as this movie. McCarthy also previously wrote & directed The Station Agent (Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson & Bobby Carnivale) and The Visitor (Richard Jenkins) and wrote the story for one of the best animated features ever, Up. Almost everything he touches portrays real people like real people on camera and I love that (yes, even in Up).

I'd long been a fan of Michael Keaton and I'm very pleased that he's been in each of my favorite movies of the last two years (Birdman and Spotlight). Mark Ruffalo gave both a passionate and compassionate performance. And the actors who played the abuse survivors, particularly Neal Huff (Phil Saviano), Michael Cyril Creighton (Joe Crowley), and Jimmy LeBlanc (Patrick McSorely) captured the difficulties of telling their stories.

While much of this movie may come off as religion-bashing and a love letter to The Boston Globe, watch carefully because there were times when the Globe failed and other times when individuals in the Catholic Church tried to help and were rebuffed as no one (including the Globe) believed them.

When I look back at so many movies this year, I've seen many with great performances (like The Danish Girl and Concussion) but they seem to be lacking something in the storytelling. Spotlight lacks for nothing.

My Top Ten Movies

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Big Short
  3. Suffragette
  4. Grandma
  5. Bridge of Spies
  6. Room Youth
  7. Inside/Out
  8. Trainwreck
  9. The Martian
  10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Honorable Mentions: Youth, Ex Machina, Spy, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I have not seen some movies as they either haven't played in Pittsburgh yet or were here very briefly and I've missed them: Room, 45 Years, Tangerine, Anomalisa. [[1/28 - have seen Room now and it's an amazing flick with a career-making performance by Brie Larson. So it's in my "Top Ten" and Youth has fallen to "Honorable Mention."]]

I don't go to movies that are overly violent, so I will not see Fury Road, Hateful Eight or Revenent in a theater, but I might watch them on cable someday. [[Have since seen Fury Road on cable (early morning of the day the Oscar nominations were announced). Charlise Theron and the production values were great. Felt the script was on the weak side, but the journey back to Theron's home was great.]]

I go to most movies shot in Pittsburgh. I tend to avoid movies that look bad to begin with, but saw The Last Witch Hunter as I worked on it. I was the worst movie I paid to see all year. Will Smith gave a great performance in Concussion but the script and photography killed it. Love the Coopers was kind of fun.