Sunday, May 27, 2007

Apparently nobody who knows a shit about Atlanta was available

Moments ago on SportsCenter, Stephen A. Smith showed us again why nobody knows why he's on television, with his fundamental lack of understanding of the city of Atlanta:

Bob Ley: ...In the real world, given where Vick has been in terms of PR issues in Atlanta, how does this issue of dog fighting affect where he is in the minds of Atlanta management?

Stephen A. Smith: I think in the minds of Atlanta management, it's definitely a problem because remember they're not just marketing the football player in terms of trying to get you to come to the games to watch them on Sunday afternoons, but they're using his name to sell paraphenalia, they're using his name to ingratiate themselves to the public at large. You gotta remember a lot of people migrate to Atlanta, that's why it's considered one of the worst sports towns in the United States [Ley chuckles], simply because most people aren't from Atlanta, a lot of people come there from other different places, so you need a marquee name to draw and attract people to your product. And the reality is that when you've got somebody like Michael Vick conducting himself the way that he's conducting himself, and I repeat this on constant occasions in terms of the black athlete, the majority of patrons are white, and so you take that into account and you consider the fact that he's gotten himself involved in this kind of nonsense, you have to believe that it's going to alienate the viewing public, no question about that. The Atlanta Falcons are gonna feel that in their wallet at some point if they haven't started already.

There's a lot in there that's lazy punditry. Let's go point by point.

  1. Are we not yet to the point where it's obvious to anyone that teams care about more than just how a player performs on the field. Of course teams care about image so they can market players in other ways than just selling tickets. So the initial response offers no insight that isn't patently obvious. In this sense, Ley and Smith are at fault. The question is simply stupid. There is no person alive that can say "it won't affect anything." But Smith takes a bad question and answers it first with the obvious, but then leads on to the incorrect.

  2. I have no idea why Stephen A. Smith thinks the Atlanta Falcons have to reach out to the community more than any other city. As of last season, the Falcons had sold out the Dome for 5 years straight, and had a waiting list for season tickets 40,000 names long. Pro football in Atlanta is as big a deal as it is anywhere else.

  3. I believe the transplant argument on why Atlanta isn't a good sports town is flawed, and usually made by people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of the city. Yes, Atlanta is a transplant city. Many people who live here retain loyalties to the cities up North they came from. But that's the case in dozens of cities across the nation. Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio, Tampa, Charlotte all have similar demographics - cities that have increased in population dramatically with rust belt refugees seeking better job opportunities. Further, there is a sizable percentage of Atlantans who either did grow up here (and that number's increasing), or those who grew up in rural areas of the South (places which for the last 30 years did support Atlanta's professional teams). There aren't many 15 generation Atlanta families, like there might be in some Eastern Seaboard towns. But Atlanta isn't a town that only has Red Sox and Giants fans.

  4. The first reason why Atlanta isn't a "great sports town" under the typical definition of an Eastern Seaboard sports pundit: WE DON'T NECESSARILY CARE ABOUT THE SAME THINGS YOU DO. Atlanta has more college football fanatics than there are in probably 10 states of the Northeast. NASCAR's following in the South is a little larger than in Boston. High school sports, even in the metro Atlanta area, are a core source of community involvement and support. Thanks to good weather, Atlanta's participant sports community is significantly larger than most in the Northeast. Name a mid-Atlantic city that has anything comparable to ALTA. Running, cycling, golf, and a host of other activities, I'd argue, are far more participated in in Atlanta than in Boston, where the frigid begets the mud season, begets mosquitoes.

  5. The second, and I believe the most fundamental, reason why Atlantans don't fit Northeastern pundits' understanding of what a good sports city is: Atlantans take a different approach to incompetence from professional athletes from that of Northeastern cities. In Boston or Philadelphia, when a professional sports team performs badly for a few years, the city stews, internalizes the frustrations, talks about it incessantly. My extended family is from the Philadelphia area. Try to tell me that's not how people react. In Atlanta, when a professional sports team performs badly for a few years, fans direct their attention toward something worth paying attention to. Atlantans like basketball, a lot actually. NBA television ratings are typically much higher in Atlanta than in other cities. The Hawks don't draw regularly because they've been terrible for a decade. Atlantans don't mire in misery like Northeasterners do (at least not for professional sports - college football is a different story). Perhaps that's because the professional franchises in the South are just in their third generation, as opposed to 7-10th up North. Perhaps it's because there are other things to care about (see above). Perhaps it's because the weather isn't a constant 34 degrees and raining that makes people that live here, I don't know, not insufferable (sufferable?) misanthropes. Whatever the reason, people here just don't have time to worry about BS like a professional sports team. It's just sports, and guys who get paid to play. Atlantans seem to realize that. I tend to disagree with the premise that you aren't a good sports city if you aren't blindly supporting teams that stink. I actually appreciate that Atlanta is a more discerning sports city.

  6. That was a bit of a tangent, but let me just add that I think it's bullshit that the arbiters of "what's a good sports city" are (Ley) a guy who has worked in a state without a professional sports team since the hockey team left for greener pastures in the Southeast and (Smith) a guy whose sportswriting career almost entirely occurred in the single most miserable sports city on earth - Philadelphia. Misery does not equal being a good fan.

  7. Atlantans do not go to professional sporting events because of marquee names. They go because the teams are winning. This has been the case for every single professional franchise in the city, for 30 years or so. The correlation between winning and attendance in this city is clear. The correlation between "having a marquee name" and attendance isn't provable.

  8. I dispute the argument that the majority of fans of the Atlanta Falcons are necessarily white, or at least that the race of the fans comes into play as much as Smith suggests. One of the reasons why Atlanta is a great city is that it has a vibrant, active, professional, highly-educated African-American community. I'd argue that no major city in America has the kind of Black community that Atlanta has. And that community are among the most fervent supporters of the Atlanta Falcons - and long before Michael Vick wore #7. It's my experience living in Atlanta that the primary allegiance of whites is to a particular college football program, but among African-Americans, the primary allegiance is to the Falcons. That's not to say that whites don't care about the Falcons at all. A lot do care. The point is that the spectators at Falcons games aren't a bunch of white dudes. It's a pastiche as diverse as the city itself. There are thousands of African-Americans who are among the Falcons' biggest supporters. To suggest that the front office of the Falcons has a primary concern of pleasing a white audience shows a complete lack of knowledge of the fans.

  9. Here's where I sort of argue against myself: I think it's kind of offensive to suggest that black Falcons fans wouldn't be as troubled as white Falcons fans by the allegations and rumors against Vick with dog fighting. I find it a colonial, 19th-century stance - to suggest that the whites would abandon the team because of Vick's behavior, but blacks wouldn't. There's no doubt in my mind that thousands of African Americans in this city that are disgusted by dog fighting. The Falcons should be concerned with all of them as much as the stereotypical suburban white rich dude in the stands. That said, and I hinted at this in a previous post, it also wouldn't surprise me if the Falcons took something akin to this offensive, semi-paternalist argument. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Falcons have brushed aside some of Vick's or other player's indefensible behavior because they viewed the fanbase as being composed of a large percentage of African Americans who would be turned off by discipline against African American players. Does this make sense? Here's my thinking, in admittedly coarse language I normally wouldn't like to use: The NBA (in most markets) is selling a largely black league, with a "hip-hop" culture (whatever that means, I consider racist code), to a largely white audience. So they have stupid rules like the bench suspension or dress code to try to make the league less "gangsta" (wtm,Icrc). The result is a paternalistic approach that cracks down on players, possibly unfairly. The Falcons, on the other hand, have a large African American audience. Cracking down on players for doing things like dog fighting, or softer drugs, or general misbehavior/FnDC stuff might turn off the black fans (or so they might think). So they let stuff slide. This, in my view, is equally paternalistic, and wrong. Heavyhandedness on the part of the NBA against the slightest indiscretion to protect the sensitive sensibilities of white audience is wrong. Lighthandedness on the part of the Falcons against actual misbehavior so as to not be accused of cracking down on someone "keeping it real" (wtm, Icrc) by a black audience is also wrong. That make sense? I hope the Falcons aren't doing that.
These are just quick thoughts, so please add something in comments so I can get any feedback and help out working through what I think about this. Generally speaking, I think Atlanta gets a raw deal from the annoying faces who ride the Acela. So I'm a little sensitive about that chuckle.


Saturday, May 26, 2007


This isn't typical post material here, but I feel compelled to write something about it...

MeMe Roth on the clip at this post at Feministing is truly abhorrent.

Of course obesity is a problem in our country. But so are eating disorders and self-esteem of young women in this country.

Jordin Sparks isn't obese. She's not even "full-figured", like Neil Cavuto calls her in the clip. She's tall and broad shouldered. Just like it's reasonable, if not expected, for the daughter of a professional football player to be. Jordin is 17 years old. On her frame, were she to lose 40 pounds (as Ms. Roth predicts), she'd look emaciated. It is particularly shameful to describe Jordin as obese, since she was the youngest competitor on the show, and clearly was someone millions of teenage girls relate to. Also, need I even say that wanting someone to lose a singing competition because that someone weighs a little more (a) is stupid and (b) makes you look like a total ass. Jordin's size and frame are as much her own doing as the fact she's of mixed race. Would Fox offer a platform to someone who thought Jordin should lose because she was half African-American? (Don't answer that...)

I'm a new father of a baby girl. I realize that obesity is a problem, but I'm even more deathly afraid that the public and media obsession with weight could affect her sense of self-worth, or worse increase the likelihood of bullimia or anorexia nervosa. I want my child to be proud of who she is, confident in herself. To know that there are people out there that point out supposed flaws in teenage girls like Jordin Sparks and to know that there are television stations that provide airtime and legitimacy to such people truly makes me a little angry.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007


You could not read this if not for the fact that I was born on this day 30 years ago.

I'm sorry.


I never pass up an opportunity to pile on and stuff...

More correspondence with Messr. Elkon in reference to this post on Stewart Mandel's most recent mailbag.

I wanted to touch on something in the column that Michael only briefly touched on and which I think provides some insight as to Mandel's view toward his job. Done (poorly) in FJM style...

Stewart, is Ralph Friedgen making a huge mistake in leaning towards Jordan Steffy as Maryland's starting quarterback over transfer Josh Portis? What I have seen of Steffy so far has been far from impressive, and Portis seems like a perfect fit for Fridge's offense (a la former Georgia Tech QB Joe Hamilton). What gives?
--Brandon, College Park, Md.

That's a good question.

Nice start for Stewart. Appreciative. And it is a good question. QB controversies are usually news, and an athletic, mobile QB has had success in Friedgen's offense before. Indeed, what gives?

Back when Portis decided to transfer to Maryland from Florida (where, if he stayed, he'd now be competing with Tim Tebow), I assumed Friedgen would just hand him the starting job in '07 if for no other reason than to avoid the wrath of Portis' psycho mother.

Anecdotal and slightly humorous, yet offers no analysis. Akin to "this guy should start because he 'looks good in a uniform' or 'has a name that sounds like a linebacker'".

But without having seen Portis play beyond a few meaningless snaps at Florida, I'm not sure I'm equipped to answer the question.

Thank you Joe Morgan. You are paid to know something about football. You have done exactly 2 mailbags since January. You are under no immediate pressure to provide an answer to this question. You can (a) call the Maryland SID and ask for some practice film, perhaps make a call to Friedgen himself or the OC or QB coach, track down some old coaches at Florida for insight or film, etc., simply do some, ANY leg work on this; or (b) you can say nothing of consequence and either shrug off the question or farm it out.

So I've called in a guest expert, Heather Dinich, the Baltimore Sun's all-knowing Terrpains beat writer, whose Blog is a must-read both for her expertise on the Terps and her highly amusing comebacks at some of the "haters" who post on her comments board.

You choose (b). So a guy from Maryland asks you a question to get some information he might not find elsewhere, and you engage a source he probably already reads (you called her "must read") to answer it. Also, nice dig at message board denizens - gotta defend the turf of elite media.

Regarding Portis, Heather says: "Everybody WANTS to see Portis because of all the hype surrounding him, and his exciting promise of athletic ability, but he's only a 'perfect fit' for Friedgen's offense if he knows it. Ralph has nearly 200 different pass patterns that can be run from about 15 different formations. Until Ralph is convinced Portis has an understanding of everything, Portis is going to be behind Steffy -- who has had more time to learn the system and spent all of last season calling plays in from the sidelines. There might also be a wee bit of politics involved. (Gasp!) It certainly isn't as if Ralph can afford to have Steffy transfer. Bottom line? Neither one of them has proven anything yet."

Heather's response seems more reasoned than Mandel's, but in actuality, it's not really a response. The questioner asks if it's a mistake to lean toward Steffy, says Steffy's been unimpressive in what he's seen, and implies that Portis is a better fit for his physical gifts. Dinich's response doesn't say if it's a mistake or not, doesn't say anything about Steffy's ability on the field, and seems to agree with the questioner that Portis is better physically. She suggests that Portis might not know the system, but she doesn't say that precisely. If it's true, just say it. Then she says nobody's proven anything. So what we now know is that (1) Steffy has had more time in the program, (2) Friedgen's system is complex, (3) and Portis is athletic. What we don't know from this response is (1) whether the hype surrounding Portis is deserved, (2) whether Portis is good enough of an athlete to overcome Steffy's advantage with knowledge of the system, (3) exactly how bad Portis' grasp of the system is, (4) whether Steffy is as unimpressive as the questioner presents, (5) what happened on the practice fields during the spring, (6) what the coaches think, (7) what "politics" have to do with this, and (8) why Friedgen can't have Steffy transfer. Basically all we know is what someone who can look up school class of the 2 QBs can know via Google. And, believe it or not, that response is actually more informative than Mandel's usually are.

By the way, I would have pegged Steffy -- who played a bit in 2004 -- as an eighth-year senior himself, but it turns out he's only a fourth-year junior.

And we're back to the beginning: Anecdotal and slightly humorous, yet offers no analysis.
What's odd about this question is Mandel's incuriosity, how he doesn't really want to do any legwork, and also his willingness to let us know that he doesn't know anything or want to do anything to learn anything.

See, if I'm an editor, on January 9th I'm starting to brainstorm potential storylines for the next season. One that comes up every single year: QB controversies. If I'm a national writer, I'd identify the 5-10 schools where there might be a QB controversy (or even just a new QB) early on, and I'd be at their spring games, I'd watch every second of game film, I'd have close contacts with their current coaches and their former coaches. Off the top of my head, I'd be thinking about this at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and probably a few others. And if I get some emails from people wondering about Maryland, that'd send off a signal that I should be doing the same there. And maybe I wouldn't run a response in the first mailbag that displayed for all to see how little I knew about the situation. Maybe I'd take the time to find something out about the question, serve as an information filter, process and analyze what I learn, and then respond adequately. But that's just me. I'm not a college football journalist, and he is, so perhaps I shouldn't tell him how to do his job. Or perhaps I shouldn't have to.

I'll try to take note on future mailbags to see if Mandel actually answers his questions or if he just relies on conventional wisdom and gut-level responses. I do not expect to learn anything.


Instant Karma's Gonna Get you

So I won't be the first or the last to rub salt in the wounds of Bill Simmons in regard to tonight's NBA Draft Lottery. But I did think it was nice to post the following I wrote (with a little editing) in an email to Messr. Elkon of Braves & Birds fame in reference to this column on who "deserves" the top picks in the draft.

As for Simmons' karma column... well, anyone can shoehorn what you want into a formula that's got completely subjective criteria. Really, the Hawks have less history than the Hornets or T-Wolves? Also, see how team history and traditions fits right into "Loyalty/History" and "Rigging Potential". Why not just have a category on its own of "titles won before anyone who watches basketball was born", give the Celtics a bunch of points and be done with it. I have no idea how he sees Milwaukee as having any worse luck than Atlanta (or more front office competence or better loyalty/history for that matter). But most of all, I love that Simmons' list of bad luck for the Celtics is this:
  • Len Bias - died before most of the guys to be drafted were born. Irrelevant to today's team (of course it was a tragedy, but it was 21 years ago).
  • Reggie Lewis - died 14 years ago. Would be 42 years old today and not playing basketball. Irrelevant to today's team.

  • Demolition of the Boston Garden - not sure how that's bad luck. They moved into a bigger arena with luxury boxes, allowing them to compete with other franchises on a level playing field. If the Celtics were still playing in the Garden, there's no doubt in my mind that Simmons would call it bad luck or unfair and that the Celtics aren't able to draw free agents or pay them enough because of the lack of revenue from the arena. Also, they moved out of the Garden 12 years ago. Irrelevant to today's team.
  • ML Carr era - OK, is this bad luck or is it front office incompetence? You can't get positive points for bad luck and negative points for management for the same exact guy, can you?
  • The Duncan Lottery - OK. Bad luck. You've got one.
  • The Pitino Era - See ML Carr above. Front office mismanagement is not bad luck.
  • The Paul Pierce Stabbing - This happened in 2000, and Pierce did not miss a single game because of the stabbing. In the 2000-2001 season Pierce set personal (at the time) career highs for points, assists, rebounds, minutes, 3 pointers, blocks, and FG%. Yes, it is terrible that he got stabbed. But by all reasonable accounts, the stabbing had little or no effect on his playing ability or the team's strength.
  • The Vin Baker trade - Front office mismanagement, not bad luck. Also, the guys they traded to get Baker (Kenny Anderson, Vitaly Potapenko, Joe Forte) amounted to virtually nothing from there on out. Baker ended up being a bum, but so did the guys they gave up.
  • Red Auerbach's death - When an 89-year old man who smoked cigars his entire life dies, that is not bad luck. Arguably, Auerbach's long life and accomplishments with the Celtics was extremely good luck
  • Doc Rivers' second life - front office mismanagement, not bad luck.
So basically Simmons idea of "bad luck" are a bunch of things that are so outdated as to be irrelevant to the team today or were the sole result of poor front office management. The only item that is bad luck was Duncan going to the Spurs via the lottery.

Compare to the Hawks: Jason Collier dies 2 years ago (and would probably still be involved on the team). In each of the last two years (and 3 times since 2000) a team with a better record has jumped them in the Lottery. And their Bostonian Celtics fan co-owner forced onto the team forces ownership into extensive litigation, handstrings front office from signing players to extended deals.

That's far more bad luck in recent years than Boston can claim. Also, the Celtics lost the Lottery in Duncan's year. That sucks. But this "bad luck" is only amplified because they had the most ping pong balls in a year with a good draft (which is luck). The Hawks had the most balls in a year when the best player in the draft was only Bogut (and still lost it). Objectively the bad luck (not getting the #1 pick when you had the most balls) is the same.

Every team in the lottery has had some bad luck, but lots more bad management. Boston is no better or worse than loads of other teams. The Celtics were no more deserving than Atlanta, Seattle, Portland or anyone else in the lottery.

Of course, now we'll get to see bimonthly columns on how unlucky the Celtics were in this lottery for 12 months.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Flick the Button

Massive backlog. Probably will require an update.

Mindhunters: I had to write this one first because I was sure I'd forget I saw it. Ridiculous, overacted, goofy. Had the courtesy to be short. I'm not sure why I TiVoed this in the first place. You're Fired.

Blades of Glory: Not in the same category as Anchorman or Talladega Nights, but definitely has its moments. I appreciate the way this movie never turned saccharine (and the opportunity presented itself via the Heder-adopted child bit). But for a movie that is 100% dick and fart jokes (which I have no problem with), it kind of pulled too many punches. Will Arnett needed a lot lot more screen time. Positive: the costumes are Oscar-deserving. I bet I'll see this a few more times, so it can't be that bad. Steak Knives (though probably a dull set).

Poseidon: Yeah, I've forgotten I saw this already. Pales in comparison to the original. Not intense, not exciting, contrived. For a movie where your interest in watching it is driven by "who is going to die and who is going to live", it's not a good thing when the viewer is rooting for everyone to die by about the 10th minute. You're Fired.

Nacho Libre: I like that there is a place in this world for physical, gross-out comedy that doesn't mind being sweet, but also isn't overly maudlin. Nacho Libre walked the line, but ended up on the right side of it. It's a simple story, and funny, though not groundbreaking. Steak Knives.

Children of Men: Technically speaking, this is one of the better pictures I've seen. The sound, sets, and cinematography were excellent. The screenplay, however, I didn't think was as great. I kept feeling like I missed something in the first half hour. I didn't understand why Owen's character would risk so much without knowing what he was doing. The refugee camp scenes are indelible, but the soul of the movie was a bit hollow. Perhaps I was oversold on this by hype. Perhaps I need to see this again. Steak Knives.

Idiocracy: I was definitely oversold on this by hype. What was filmed is a great first draft of a screenplay that needed 10 rewrites. Of course, there are a few great moments, but I have a feeling that with the framework of this, they could've had dozens more. As I wrote above, I am a big fan of dick and fart jokes. This movie was loaded with them, but half of them didn't make any sense. Add the fact that the acting was middle-school-play good, and that the special effects looked worse than Sci-Fi network TV movies, and this movie was just not very good. And worst, the premise was fantastic. Unmet potential. You're Fired.

Rocky Balboa: I liked this a lot, actually. It trades on the best parts of the series, but left me feeling happy. Just a nice way to wrap things up, go out the way he wanted. I have a soft spot for a family friendly film that keeps my interest and doesn't go cheap or easy. Here's what I liked best: that the frequent mentions in the film about how boxing has fallen hard because the fans have been disrespected by poor matches, moneygrubbing promoters, and fighters who care more about the next payday than showing their guts and heart in the ring. It's not a huge jump to see this as an allegory to Stallone's own career. He's apologizing for the shit he's thrown at us. I accept the apology. Until John Rambo ruins everything. Sharp Steak Knives.

Clerks II: OK, not family friendly fun, but this is actually pretty similar to Rocky Balboa. Smith, I think, wanted to get back in touch with what worked, way back when. And it works because he makes it sweet, among the good dick and fart jokes and fanboy reference humor. I liked this because it was actually funny (though hit or miss), and it made me reminisce fondly on the original. Sure, nobody actually talks like the characters in this. But the people in Clerks did. Steak Knives.

Beerfest: I need to see this again, but drunk. A good idea, but it seemed, like Idiocracy, that the screenplay needed some editing (Landfill's death needed a reworking). But at the same time, can a movie be bad if it has several funny scenes, is all about getting drunk, has gratuitous T&A, and Jurgen Prochnow. This movie wasn't objectively good viewing while sober, but I'm willing to believe that it can be better. And further, this was a sign, to me, that Broken Lizard has another funny movie in them and that Super Troopers wasn't a one-off. You're Fired sober, will re-rate another time when in the appropriate state of mind.

Night at the Museum: I see why this was a massive hit with the family set. It's not entirely stupid, and the production values and effects were better than I expected. It could've been better, but it wasn't horrible either. Huge positive: Robin Williams wasn't horrendously annoying. This was OK, not a classic, but few live action family films these days are. Dull Steak knives.

The Good Shepherd: Hmm... This probably works better as a book. And it had the feeling of an HBO orginal movie with higher paid actors. But at the same time, it'd be a book I'd want to read, or an HBO original movie I'd like to watch. It'd be a better movie if it were 30-45 minutes shorter, but I'm not sure where I'd cut things. One memorable thing: the son in the movie looked like one of those Conan O'Brien "If They Mated" composites for Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon. And that's awesome. Steak Knives.

The Rules of the Game: For its time, I can see why this was so groundbreaking. The morals of the characters were surprisingly ribald for a movie made today, and I appreciate the subtle class-criticism. But I wouldn't say it was the most memorable film either. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind to analyze this on a high level. My loss. Steak Knives (and I'm probably giving too many that rating this time around).

Casino Royale(2006): Probably my favorite Bond movie of all time, honestly. Far more intelligent, exciting and sexy than any of the recent ones (only GoldenEye comes remotely close). Right script, right cast, right settings, right plot. Craig is fantastic and I can't wait for the next one. The best movie of this lot, and one of my favorite movies that came out last year. Cadillac.

Stranger Than Fiction: Watered down Charlie Kauffman, and not as clever, funny or sweet. The cast is OK, but direction restrained - nobody seems to be having enough fun. Took itself too serious. You're Fired.

The Prestige: I figured it out pretty early on, but that didn't make it less fun waiting to see that I was right. I liked the direction, acting and twists. My expectations were really damn high, and it probably hit 70% of the expected. That's good enough for a set of Steak Knives.

For Your Consideration: The worst Christopher Guest movie. The worst movie of this group. Whenever Guest decided to hire an editor and employ quick cuts in the middle of dialogue instead of panning the camera, he screwed up big time. The result is somewhere between mockumentary and traditional set piece comedy - and it was terrible. Worse, it's not funny. Well, Fred Willard's hair was funny. But everything else about this wasn't. I think the plot is an elaborate performance art joke on Hollywood - basically THIS movie is everything that "Home for Purim" was (an empty reel), and the Hollywood press similarly promoted Catherine O'Hara for awards (when she wasn't that fantastic) just as her character. You're Fired.

Blood Diamond: Too long by 45 minutes, and it didn't know whether to be a serious drama (a la the far superior The Constant Gardener) or an exciting action movie, and the result was wishy washy drivel. DiCaprio was OK, though. Connelly didn't need to be in the movie at all, and she wasn't very good. You're Fired.

Stick It: OK, you know how to pull some camera tricks and the dialogue is filled with teenspeak. Unfortunately, you've made a weak movie. And the way many of the ages of the gymnasts weren't mentioned made it seriously creepy in parts. Jeff Lebowski, you're better than this. You're Fired.

Happy Feet: Singing and dancing = fun and cute. Everything else, especially the shoehorned plot = lame. The entire movie should've been the musical sequences and it should've been 80 minutes long and everyone would've gone home happy. Instead it pushes 2 hours and I nearly turned it off 5 times. And they couldn't have hired a Southerner to do Memphis's voice? You're Fired.


The DaVinci Code: Finally a film based upon a popular novel that is a faithful representation of the book. This movie has it all! And by "it all" I mean the arrogance, dreadful dialogue, and disrespect for the audience. The film perfectly captured and reminded me of everything I absolutely loathed about the book. From a technical standpoint, I'll say that this had a large budget and Ron Howard is basically a good (not great) director. From an actual standpoint, the film is only as good as the source material. So this was atrocious. You're Fired.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Let's talk about television for a minute

TV isn't something I frequently blog about, but recently I've seen a more than my fair share due to circumstance. So some cheers and jeers...

CHEERS to Human Giant. It's hit or miss, as all sketch comedy shows are. But when it hits, it's very funny, and when it misses, it's never as cringeworthy as most SNL sketches. Best of all, I just know they've got some classic sketches in them. Escalating Interview is right there.

JEERS to Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, for the same reason. Both of these shows have spent the last 6 months trying their damnedest to insult the viewers with moronic plot twists, when the soul of the show has completely disappeared. Remember when Desperate Housewives used to have a running mystery? First season, it was "why did Mary Alice kill herself?", second season was the Applewhites and the man in the basement and the disappearance of Zach Young. This season it was the Orson/ex-wife/crazy mother plot, but has anyone noticed that since Marcia Cross left for maternity leave, there isn't a mystery going on at all? There was a single episode where the lady had the body in the freezer. But that was a single episode. For the last 8 episodes, it's been love triangles and sleeping around. All soap opera. There used to be a cheekiness, sneakiness, creepiness about the show. Now, there's none of that. Just self-absorbed, terribly selfish women who care nothing about anyone but themselves. Watch the show through this prism: every motivation of every single character is due to selfish motives - and the plots of particular episodes and story arcs are driven solely by those selfish motivations. Grey's Anatomy is even worse in this regard. That show has never been about anything but selfishness. There isn't a single character on the show without this flaw. In every scene, in every episode, every bit of dialogue includes one or more of the characters acting like spoiled children. Yesterday's season finale was the epitome of this. In a scene that surely will be shown at next year's Emmy's, Sandra Oh's character breaks down after jilting her fiancee with an overwrought "I'm free!" In a season where her character encouraged, aided and abetted her fiancee's reckless endangerment of hundreds of patients' lives, ratted him out, caused him to lose a promotion, engaged in flirting with a former flame in front of said fiancee, and stood him up at the altar, we're supposed to feel any sort of empathy for her character? Really? And stunningly enough, that wasn't even the most selfish act of a character in the episode. The shit-or-get-off-the-pot dialogue between Dr. Shepard and Meredith Grey immediately before a wedding they were both in was a stunning piece of television. On one hand, we had McDreamy's passive aggressiveness (begun with his bragging about flirting in a bar with another woman) about how it's not his fault their relationship isn't working, and on the other hand we have Grey's incoherence - an inability to commit at all against her own shock and horror that McDreamy would look elsewhere - matched with incredulity that she might actually be at fault. Two characters that truly cared about him or herself, and didn't mind intentionally hurting the person they supposedly love in order to make themselves feel better about themselves. It was a shocking, horrifying scene to me. Simply because the selfishness was so palpable, so loathsome. It shocks me that so many people like that show. I find the morality of the characters on this show to be abhorrent.

on the other hand... CHEERS to Entourage, for the exact opposite reasons. Entourage's short season hasn't been spectacular, but it's been adequate, and when I compare Entourage to other shows that get buzz for people in my age group, I think it's very good. Compare Entourage to Grey's Anatomy or Sex & the City, as many are wont to. There's the natural tendency to look at the primary casts and think Entourage is a male show while the others are female, but I think the sensibilities of the various shows go far beyond that. As said above in regard to Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, and Sex & the City was, without a doubt, the single worst offender of the selfishness as plot device, the individual characters in all of those shows are interested only in themselves. Entourage is precisely the opposite. Not an episode goes by where one of the 4 main characters doesn't sacrifice or go out of his way to help out one of the others. Whether it's fixing up Drama's old Lincoln, or helping Turtle get a rare pair of shoes, or putting up every cent E has to help Vince buy the Medellin script, or Ari causing tremendous trouble with his wife by helping out Vince (who isn't his client) on Yom Kippur, everyone on the show is constantly doing things for others. It's a completely different sensibility. In the supposed "female" shows, the main characters drive the story by asking "what's in it for me", but in the "male" show, everyone is on the same team, and the plot is driven by how they work together in order to make all of their lives better (no matter how shallow their group desires might be, the key is that their "group" desires). And you know what, the characters on Entourage lead incredibly happy lives, while the characters in all the others lead miserable, self-involved, nothing's ever good enough lives. Working with others, and putting others' needs ahead of one's own, leads to good things for everyone. That's a theme I can get behind.

which brings me to... CHEERS to Lost. If I haven't written it before, I'll say it unequivocally here. Lost is the best show on television, by far. No other show has the depth, the detail, and the production quality of Lost. But more than any of that, the morality of Lost makes it the best on television. Lost, unlike other shows, rewards selfless, moral and ethical behavior, and severely punishes selfish, immoral and unethical behavior. Lost is a fantasy, but the societal laws that operate in reality apply on the crazy island far more realistically than on dozens of television shows that are set in supposedly realistic settings. Throughout the series, the one theme (among dozens) that continues to resonate the most with me is the idea of community vs. individual information as a resource. When characters keep information from one another, nobody benefits (and indeed, it costs them all). When characters share information with one another, solutions appear (even if new problems arise, the existing ones are solved). I used to look at the series as an allegory to technological advancement. Open source technologies available to many provide countless more opportunities for advancement (because multiple users bring specialized expertise and experiences that offer new uses for such technologies). Closely held technologies limit potential uses and advancements. On Lost, the show presents to us a world where we're all connected somehow - we just don't know it. If we'd communicate and work with one another, our connections might help us solve the problems we face. It's this idea that makes the show so powerful, yet so frustrating to many. It's intentionally frustrating. When particular characters conceal information from other characters, and the effect is that something bad happens, it is maddening to watch at times. But that's the point! When a particular character's insecurities or fears or shame causes him or her to hide something, that's selfishness, or at least weakness - and the show punishes the character for it. It's frustrating to watch someone punished for selfish behavior because on television we're so used to selfishness getting rewarded - Meredith Grey gets McDreamy, Carrie Bradshaw ends up with Big. But the point of Lost is that the punishment is appropriate - our frustration isn't with the punishment, it's the selfishness that is the underlying cause that we're frustrated with. The fearlessness of Lost to discipline its characters, when so many other shows let the characters act like spoiled brats, is what makes it morally and ethically powerful television.

And finally, CHEERS to Homer Simpson for his recent charity work, but JEERS to this rusty tailgate.


So pissed off about that...

Paul Oliver's suspension blows. Easily the best player on the defense.

Will someone proffer a first rounder in the supplemental draft for him? I think he'd be worth it. In fact, were I the Falcons, I'd consider it.



Can a major sport publicly suspend a major superstar for transgressions discovered within (aka, not publicly exposed by a muckraker)?

There were always rumors of David Stern suspending Michael Jordan for the years when he tried playing baseball. Barry Bonds' 2005 season was filled with somewhat murky injuries and setbacks - he only played in 14 games - and that just so happened to coincide with the outbreak of the steroid use controversy.

What about Roger Clemens?

The rumors of his use are out there. There's circumstantial evidence that says he's used.

Could it be possible that Roger Clemens failed a drug test, perhaps multiple tests? If so, and only MLB knew about it, would they make it public? Or would they tell him to retire or face a 50 game suspension?

Here's why I ask: I've seen stories out there right now that say, if all goes well, Clemens' first start for the Yankees this year would be May 28th or 29th against Toronto. Note that date. The 29th is the Yankees' 50th game of the season. Exactly the number of games a player gets suspended for a first positive test for steroids. So if there are any setbacks, or if the rotation doesn't work right or something, they might push his first start back a game. No big deal, right? The timing seems very odd to me.

Naturally, it's hard to keep secrets like this. There's no reason why MLB would cover solely for Clemens (he's a star, but is he "beloved" any more than Bonds?). New York is probably the worst city to keep a secret from journalists. So, yeah, this is all drivel.

But if he starts game #51 for the Yankees, May 30th, tell me you wouldn't think that's a little interesting?

Of course, if he starts game #52 for the Yanks, he'll make his debut, which will already be hyped ridiculously, IN FENWAY PARK. In that case, ESPN will make sure all of us think that game is interesting, even though it really isn't.


Being Up At Weird Hours Means I Pay Attention to the NBA

Dilettante, Peter King style...

1) As someone who wasted an early second round fantasy NBA pick on him, let me just give a big "Po'shyol 'na hui" to Andrei Kirilenko. Dude tanks the entire year. In the Conference semis, his PPG has been double the regular season ppg. RPG up 30%. Nearly a full assist and a full block per game more. Hope your debts to the Russian mafia have been paid off, Mr. Face-looks-like-an-Easter-Island-Statue.

2) I find it a little odd how the Golden State fans received so much praise by big media (sort of deserved, compared to the other fans in other arenas), but it was rare that they were compared to fans in college arenas. Golden State's fans were loud at the right time, fed off the energy on the court, basically did all the right things. But that's a pretty normal occurrence for a regular season conference matchup at about 40-50 gyms on college campuses. Exceptionally great NBA crowd = relatively decent college basketball program crowd.

3) NBA referees make SEC football refs look like honest professionals.

4) Race seems to come up in the NBA more than in other sports. It's come up a bunch in reference to the suspensions in the Suns-Spurs series. Simmons always phrases it in terms of the difficulty in marketing a "black" league to a "white" league - and things like the dress code or harsh suspensions for fighting play into that. Here's something else that I was wondering about that kind of fits into that paradigm: Utah. Utah is one of the whitest states in the country. Arguably, no fan base in the NBA is "whiter" than fans in SLC. So the question I have is whether it's intentional that Utah's best 5 players are a white Russian (Kirilenko), a white Turk (Okur), a white American (Harpring), and two very light skinned African Americans (Williams and Boozer). Utah's a good team, and I don't think it's the situation where the Jazz chose a "whiter" looking team when they could've put together a better, but "blacker" team. But if all things are equal between two possible players for the Jazz to sign/draft, and one might seem "white" and the other not-as-much, would it be in the Jazz's financial interest to choose the player with whom the fans might identify better?

Needless to say, I don't want anyone to think I think there's anything better about "white" players as opposed to "black" players. I think such stereotypes and the coded language are often completely wrong as a descriptive matter, but always wrong from a moral perspective. That said, it's foolish to act as if such stereotypes don't exist, and since they do, I believe that team owners, from a business perspective, would be foolish not to consider stereotypes. I think they do take these things into consideration, though normally under the auspices of "fan relations" or media-training or something like that. The question is whether overt race-based decisionmaking should be allowed, even if it isn't the racism of the particular team (and let me be clear, I don't think Utah does use race-based decisionmaking - but I wonder if it is even considered and set aside) but racism/race-based considerations of consumers or fans. I think this is an interesting issue, and it's been rattling around in my head a lot recently. There's a flip side to it too, that maybe I'll delve into later, regarding the Atlanta Falcons.

5) I think Cleveland will win the East. And they, along with atrocious officiating putting LeBron on the line 20 times a game, might give the Spurs trouble.


Starting 3B for the Texas Rangers: Marilyn Manson

I know I'm a disturbed human being, but what's the first thing you thought when you read this headline?

I know I'm not the only one.


Here come a bunch of quick posts.

Just warning y'all...


One Week Can Change Your Life

Exactly one week ago, 6:54 PM, Friday May 11, the Countess arrived. She's healthy, growing and undeniably adorable.

The last few months preparing for her arrival have been a bit of a haul, but it was more than worth it.

Posting will continue to be intermittent, but probably a little more frequent than it has been for the last few months.