Wednesday, May 23, 2007

There'll be no more waiting.

My dad is a stats man. Since he doesn't have a television at the house, and he probably wouldn't watch it much even if he did, he doesn't ever end up watching any of the Celtics games each year. But he follows it online, seeing how the young players are improving, figuring out where the team will end up in the draft, dissecting all of Danny Ainge's baffling front office moves.

Whenever he gets the notion, he'll put down his current thoughts about the Celtic's status in an e-mail and send it along, and I'll write back with my interpretation, along with what I'd seen on Sportcenter and the glimpses of Celtics games that I'd caught that year. But each season it finally reaches a point with me where the team has just made so many bewildering moves and trampled on my hopes so much that I just can't take it anymore. And when my dad sends me one of those e-mails, I'll write him back and just say "I'm done." I just reach a point where I simply can't spend any more precious time thinking about a Celtics team that has done virtually everything to convince their fan base that they have no idea what they're doing. Around the time the lottery rolls around, I perk up and join back in, researching likely picks for the team and trying to figure out if they have the players to make the leap to the playoffs this year. Each year, my hope returns, a little bit diminished from the time before, but it returns.

But this is it. I can't root for this team anymore, I can't wait for this team anymore, I can't do it. I'm done.

I first got into NBA basketball in the fall 1995, after the Rockets had just won their second championship. I was just starting 6th grade, and my dad handed me an issue of Sport magazine that someone had left behind at work. It was the NBA preview for the coming year. I don't know what happened to me - maybe it was just the time in my life or some part of my personality, maybe I just needed a new interest - but it just took. I read that issue over and over and over, hundreds of times, dog-earing the pages, memorizing their player rankings - Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan were the only "A+" players, but there were lots of "A" players: Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, Clyde Drexler, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber. In some ways, I've never shaken those rankings from my mind - 12 years later, Juwan Howard is still a "B+" player. I'm quite sure I'm the only one who thinks so.

Eventually I cut out all the player pictures and stuck them on the wall around my bed with sticky tack. I would lay there at night, looking at them: there was KJ, grimacing as he drove into a crowded lane. There was cocky Nick Van Exel, disdainfully beating his man off the dribble. There was young Glenn Robinson, gliding to the hoop. There was Karl Malone, lofting a two-handed set shot. I would stare at those pictures and dream of that grace and skill. It was that next year, with no skills, no knowledge of the actual rules of basketball, and absolutely no talent, that I joined the school basketball team for the first time. It was those pictures that made me believe I had it in me.

The issue declared it a virtual lock that the Rockets would three-peat, beating the Magic in the Finals again. They figured that high-school draft pick Kevin Garnett was going to be a huge disaster for Minnesota. They figured the return of Jordan would be dramatic but wouldn't be enough to launch his team to a championship. And it figured the Celtics weren't going anywhere fast. On this matter - and this matter alone, I think - they were quite correct.

I began rooting for the Celtics that season. Sure, I followed the whole league - I knew every player in it for those first three or four years - but it was the Celtics that captured me. They were the hometown team, with this grand history of awkward white guys who played with tenacity and fluidity and success. That year they went 33-49, and drafted a young forward from Kentucky named Antoine Walker whom I believed would be the savior of the franchise. My mom photocopied me Dan Ryan's Boston Globe article about the Celtics selecting Walker, and I hung it on my wall next to the pictures, where Walker's picture smiled out at me, his arms still raised in victory from the stock photo they used for the article: a picture of him celebrating on the court after Kentucky won the national title that year. I was sure that would be us, soon.

But it wasn't us. Chicago won another title that year, on their way to a second three-peat, and our general manager, M.L. Carr, decided to try his and at coaching. The Celtics went an abysmal 15-67, almost an NBA record, and an embarrassment to a fan base used to failure from the hard-luck Red Sox, and the laughably incompetent Patriots, but not from their proud, resilient Celtics. Radio call-in stations were flooded with fans who spewed hatred at Carr, and publicly pleaded for run-and-gun college coach Rick Pitino to come up and save the franchise. People even wrote comic songs about it, I still remember one playing over the radio. "Oh, Rick Pitino, come to Bos-ton. 'Cause M.L. Carr's killin' me..."

And Pitino came. And I waited for it to happen. I knew it was going to happen. And then the NBA draft rolled around.

It was the year of Tim Duncan. Admittedly, there were other players that people were looking forward to - a lanky senior forward from Utah named Keith Van Horn. A flashy playmaker from Colorado named Chauncey Billups. A versatile swingman named Tim Thomas. Some people were even talking about taking a risk on this high school kid from Mount Zion named Tracy McGrady. But was Duncan everyone wanted, and everyone knew it. And the Celtics fans knew we had him all but locked up. I'd watched our team tank all season, waiting for Duncan to come and save us.

Because of unusual trades and the addition of two different expansion teams the year before who weren't allowed to receive the top pick, the Celtics had an astronomically good chance of getting the top pick. In addition, they were also receiving another pick from Dallas, to whom they'd quite brilliantly traded Eric Montross for the rights to, in addition to the getting to move up and select Walker the year before. You can't blame Dallas, of course, for moving down in the draft that year. After all, there were loads of players still available: Derek Fisher, Pedrag Stojakavich, Jermaine O'Neal, Steve Nash, even Kobe Bryant. Dallas, naturally, selected Samaki Walker. I'd like to bet they eventually regretted that.

I bring all this up so that you can see that things weren't all that black-and-white right then. We didn't know who was going to hit big and who was going to bust. I thought maybe all these high-school kids could work out, but they seemed to be too big a risk, I didn't know then who would be big, except for this: I knew I wanted Tim Duncan. I knew he was going to change everything. I knew that it was the dawn of a new era.

But it never happened. The ping-pong balls bounced differently than they should have bounced, differently than they were supposed to bounce, and we ended up with the 3rd and 6th picks. We picked up Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer, both of whom the team quickly decided weren't going to pan out and started shopping them around. Tim Duncan joined David Robinson on the Spurs and led them to a championship two years later. Pitino came, traded all our players for fresh blood, traded those players again, and then left after it became quite clear that no fresh blood, least of all his, was ever going to change our losing ways.

We drafted player after player so uninteresting that every detail about them has already faded from my memory: Jérome Moïso, Josip Sesar, Joseph Forte, Darius Songaila, Dahntay Jones. Jim O'Brian came and left. We traded Chauncey Billups for Kenny Anderson. We traded away Joe Johnson for Tony Delk. Paul Pierce got stabbed in a bar by a random fan. I knew how he felt. We traded Vitaly Potapenko and Kenny Anderson for Vin Baker, who promptly went crazy. I knew how he felt.

Danny Ainge arrived, and promised fresh blood and more talent. We traded Antoine Walker for Raef Lafrenz, then traded again to get him back, then traded him away again for literally nothing. Then we traded Raef Lafrenz, too. We traded to get Ricky Davis, then traded just to get rid of him. We traded desperately, treating each move like a blackjack hand, waiting for that lucky hand that would let us bust the dealer. We kept adding more young players and subtracting the young players we'd traded for the time before, waiting for that one who would take us there. Take us back where we belonged, on the top of the heap. Take us to the place I'd dreamed about, lying on my bed, staring at a grainy black-and-white photo on the wall. I just kept waiting. And I wound up back here again on lottery night, 10 years later. Waiting for Greg Oden. Waiting for Kevin Durant. Waiting for that player to take us there.

But Oden's not coming. Durant's not coming. No one is coming, no one is going to show up and save us, save me from all this waiting, all this hoping, all this dreaming that someday my team will get it back again. And I'm through waiting.

I'm done.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Youk! Youk!

I voted once for MLB's All-Star Voting, but I can't seem to summon the enthusiasm to do it again. I discovered to my dismay that Kevin Youkilis, who's currently batting a robust .342, seventh in the majors, is not on the All-Star ballot. Despite the fact that outside of possibly Garko, Morneau, Teixeira, and maybe Swisher there is not a single first baseman in the American League worthy of consideration for this slot, the only way to vote for Youk is to write him in at the bottom of the ballot. And if I decide to do that, it means I can't vote for David Ortiz, which is something I don't feel comfortable doing either. So I'm stuck.

Maybe Red Sox fans could start a campaign voting Youkilis in as a second baseman, since there's no way Dustin Petroia's gonna make the club as a rookie. Then Youk and Ortiz could make the All-Star Team, and we'd have the added enjoyment of watching Youk try to turn a double play with Jeter after Bonds grounds to short in the first inning.

Alright, that's the plan. Let's do it.

But while I'm all in favor of letting Ortiz represent the Sox at the All-Star Game, it's hard to make the argument that Youk doesn't deserve to go. Let's take a look at price versus performance for AL first basemen this year. Keep in mind that fans across the country are accusing the Red Sox of being the Yankees, and wildly overpaying players in order to keep them around. I've ordered all the AL first basemen in accordance with their batting average, starting with the highest, Youk:

Kevin Youkilis (BOS): .342 BA, .956 OPS. He's 28 years old (the beginning of his baseball prime), and he'll make $424,500 this year.

Now, all of these players are between 26 and 32 years old, so assumably all of them are also in their prime, and are not being paid for their future potential but for their contributions right now. Also, this being first base and not an important defensive position like shortstop or catcher, being a good fielder doesn't count for much here. A first basemen in the American League needs a big bat, games are won with power rather than glovework. Now, find me a more appropriate All-Star in this lot and I will publicly eat crow about how Youk is the most appropriate All-Star choice, as well as baseball's best bargain.

Ryan Garko (CLE): .319 BA, .882 OPS. $383,100. A fantastic find by Cleveland. Do you realize he was never drafted? This is why absolutely nobody cares about the MLB draft.
Mark Teixeira (TEX):. 312 BA, .922 OPS. He'll make $9 million this year.
Nick Swisher (OAK): .287/.898. He'll make $400,000, which, after Youk and Garko, makes him the best bargain of this sorry lot. That's Beaneball for you, though, would you expect anything else? He'll be out of Oakland and in New York, LA, or St. Louis within two years. He's only 26, too.
Justin Morneau (MIN): .274/.884. He'll make 4.5 million this year.
Lyle Overbay (TOR): .255/.810. $1.35 million.
Aubrey Huff (BAL): .253/.672. He'll make $4 million this year.
Sean Casey (DET): .252/.620. $4 million. He's 32 years old, by the way.
Ty Wigginton (TB): .250/.713. He'll make $2.7 million this year.
Shea Hillenbrand (LAA): .237/.534. $6 million this year. By the way, having an OPS of .534 is really, really bad.
Paul Konerko (CWS): .214/.686. $12 million this year. ESPN has labeled Konerko "one of the year's biggest disappointments." Ouch.
Doug Mientkiewicz (NYY): .212/.646. $1.5 million. To be fair, because I like Mientkiewicz, he is an excellent defensive first basemen. But that's definitely not what the Yankees need right now.
Ryan Shealy (KC): .212/.625. $392,500.
Richie Sexton (SEA): .197/.633. $15.5 million. Yes, you read that correctly.

In addition to all of this, Youk is the strongest bat on the best team in baseball, and carrying the offense of a team on which their top two sluggers have yet to hit their stride. Now, tell me honestly: who else could you possibly vote for?

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Books for boys and books for girls

AVI posted this entry about a comment J.K. Rowling made about sexism in Narnia, and I responded so energetically that I ended up running out of room on the comments area. That's a moment you're supposed to stop, rethink, and rewrite, so of course I just copied the comment straight onto my site and kept going. If you've got time, make sure you read AVI's post and the comments before starting into mine. Actually, even if you don't have time, do it anyway. Otherwise this post will make no sense. In fact, reading The Chronicles of Narnia would also be a prerequisite to reading this post. So if you haven't done that, go do that now.

I'll admit that last bit is a little unnecessary. I would be very surprised if anyone who reads my posts has never read The Chronicles of Narnia. Very surprised indeed.

To get to it, though - young female characters in kid's books tend to go in two different directions. Some are the girls in boys' books, who sit idly by, either as a prize or a companion or a caretaker, or sometime as a distraction. They don't swing on birches across the river or adopt runaway dogs as heroic pets, they don't discover underground tunnels near the old warehouse or see shady characters wander into town on a hot afternoon. That sort of stuff is for the boys. Girls don't come along on those adventures.

Girls in girls' books don't come along on those adventures either. They find their own adventures in hidden crawlspaces in the attic or in the branches of the great old oak tree just over the hill from the school grounds. Sometimes boys come along on those adventures, but they're always pale, sissy boys who need to be loosened up, or wild boys who are in tune with nature, and would never try to change the verve or spunk of these girls. These girls are free and adventurous and untamed, and often afraid that marriage will one day tie them down and hold them back from all their free, untamed adventures, that it would make them become 'manageable.'

Eventually, as the girls in the books get older, the girls in them begin to feel that they must change their untamed nature in order to be married - I Capture the Castle; Catherine, Called Birdy; etc. Eventually, they realize that their untamed nature is a good thing, but they still must tone it down some, leave some of it behind, in order to actually move into adulthood. Boys in boys' book make this decision, too, but in boys' books it's as seen as "becoming a man" (a very good thing in the eyes of boys), whereas in girls' books, it's "putting childish things away" (a sad, bittersweet day).

In fact, it's not a jump to say that when girls put their wild, childish sides away in these books, is a loss of their virginal status - no longer are they the unfettered free spirit of their youth, but the responsible, burdened wives and mothers they tried so hard to avoid being.

Lewis never asks that of his female characters. Jill is never punished for her femininity - she loves the beautiful dress that she's given at Cair Paravel, but chooses smarter clothes to go adventuring in. She frolics and flirts with the giants holding them prisoner in their castle in order put them off their guard, but doesn't hesitate to dive into the bowels of the earth to go rescue the captured prince. And in the end, she isn't asked to be the love interest of the boy she adventured alongside, they're allowed to end the story partners and fast friends. Aravis rejects the frilly, perfumed life of a rich man's wife in order to go adventuring, but she never has to give it up in order to find happiness and get married. No compromise ever mars her untamed nature.

The girls in Narnia always end up following their own lot, and while they may sometimes become more maternal, or seem to be lacking a harder edge (it is Trumpkin and not Susan who shoots the attacking bear, as Susan is afraid that it might be a talking - or, good - bear), sometimes those instincts save the day (Jill doesn't kill Puzzle, the foolish donkey masquerading as Aslan, and in turn he becomes their close ally). The girls are too small to wear much of the armor, they are given quivers and daggers instead of swords and shields, but Lewis never asks them to be subservient to anyone - Lucy and Susan rule alongside Peter and Edmund, with a chain of command relating to age rather than sex; Polly is sent as an equal partner on Digory's journey, and it is to Jill that Aslan gives the responsibility of her and Eustace's quest. Whenever someone refers to their ideas as girlish or lacking in bravery, it's always when someone is about to do something phenomenally stupid and is unwilling to listen to reason.

Rowling can disagree with Lewis' statements on femininity all she wants, but he treats all his characters with a deep love and respect, most girls would die for the chance to be Lucy or Aravis. But no girl would ever want to become Cho Chang or Fleur Delacour. Even if they do get to wear lipstick.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

I'll have some of that!

It finally happened. I saw an advertisement for a prescription drug where they list the side effects, and they included, right up front, "may cause death." No, really? Death? Not nausea, rashes, headaches, or erections lasting longer than four hours, but you came at us with "death?" You didn't even mention other side effects, maybe squeezing it between "diarrhea" and "numbness?" You didn't think that would be a turn-off, pointing out that in return for lessening my arthritis, I could also accept a trip 'cross the river Acheron?

In fact, the whole ad ended up being so bad that I couldn't really believe that it was a legitimate advertisement. It was twice as long as an average commercial, and featured the motto "Understand the Risks. See the Benefits." Wait, didn't you say the risk was death? You want to keep that as your motto? Diet Pepsi has "More Cola Taste." McDonald's has "I'm Loving It" - in every possible language. And you have "Understand the Risks?" Why not "F--- It. Life Sux. Use Celebrex." I'm not sure you guys have really gotten the concept of "branding" down pat yet. Maybe you should focus a little more on the actual positive aspects of your product.

None of which you remembered to mention in your advertisement. It's almost impossible to go through an ad without mentioning a positive aspect, but you managed. Wow.

Someone should seriously get canned for that ad.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jive, turkey!

Peracchio transcribed my last post into "jive," which I've always thought is slang for a certain sort of black dialect, but as I can best figure it in this context, means "how black people talk in 70's cop movies." I giggled for hours after reading it, and then started to worry about what kind of crazy time he had on his hands to develop this. But someone was in my office chatting with me and said "oh, they've got translators for that sort of thing online." So I ran a search and found some, and was relieved that Peracchio's new job giving press releases about vein disorders (really) hadn't exploded his head after all. Then I started trying translating myself. Here's a best of list for the best translations of the following phrase:

It's just more information for the consumer. So if 101 Dalmations or Peter Pan is now an R-rated film, who really cares? Parents can still buy the films and show it to their kids.

"It's just more information for the bloomin' consumer. So if 101 Dalmations or Peter Pan is now an R-rated film, right, 'oo right cares, eh, luv? Parents can still buy the chuffin' films and show it ter ffeir kids. Yer can't 'ave a knees-up wivout a joanna."

It's jest mo'e info'mashun fo' th' consoomr. So eff'n 101 Dalmashuns o' Peter Pan is now an R-rated film, who pow'ful cares? Parents kin still buy th' films an' show it t'their kids.

Man! It's plum mo'e info'mashun fo' de consumer. Ah be baaad... So's if 101 Dalmashuns o' Liva' Lips Pan be now an R-rated film, who real cares? Parents kin still steal de films and show it t'deir kids.

Elmer Fudd
It's just mowe infowmation fow the consumew. So if 101 Dawmations ow Petew Pan is now an W-wated fiwm, who weawwy cawes? Oh, dat scwewy wabbit! Pawents can stiww buy the fiwms and show it to theiw kids.

And, my personal favorite.

Swedish Chef
Um de hur de hur de hur. It's joost mure-a inffurmeshun fur zee cunsoomer. Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp! Su iff 101 Delmeshuns oor Peter Pun is noo un R-reted feelm, vhu reelly ceres? Perents cun steell booy zee feelms und shoo it tu zeeur keeds. Um gesh dee bork, bork!

That is all.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How the MPAA gave us back the movies.

AVI, also known as my dad, has posted a quick post about the MPAA's decision to consider glamorized smoking as a category when rating a movie. The U.S Senate is also trying to get into the game by giving the FCC power to control film content and possibly improve the morality of the medium. That first bit of news is funny but relatively unimportant, but that second bit is awfully serious.
Content of movies has not always belonged solely to the studios (more on that later), but it does now, the MPAA does not and cannot change the content of any movie being released in the United States. They rate these movies purely as a method of keeping parents informed on the violence, sexuality, or profanity appearing in every movie released to theaters. Keep in mind that the MPAA does this only for movies, which is a medium available only in venues in which the consumer has complete control: movie theaters, video rentals, and DVD purchases. It is well-nigh impossible to see a movie with an R-rating accidentally, since these are the only ways to view films: for a movie to be broadcast on television, it has be re-cut to meet all FCC regulations.

Jack Valenti, who died a few days ago, created the MPAA system in order to keep the FCC and the government out of movies at a time when that seemed impossible. For years, the government had forced movies to avoid all of the stickier issues of life - no one was allowed to have any really tough problem in their home or anything like that; ideally, no one would ever have any problem tougher than whether Mickey would be able to get that tugboat moored or not. But then television took over as the major entertainment medium of the country, and since no one had figured out how to really enforce decency standards on broadcasts yet, they were crossing a lot of boundaries that the government wasn't allowing movie studios to cross. The studios were already upset to have lost so much of their market share, and figuring that maybe if they were able to show some of the reality about what was going on in our country - this was, by now, the late 60's - they started clamoring to be able to dig into meatier issues in their movies: marital trauma, social rebellion, domestic violence, sexual indiscretion, and the like - issues the government had expressly forbidden them to reference in any way. I'm not talking about showing nudity or having extensive profanity, I'm talking about referencing these issues at all.

Valenti created the MPAA system as a safeguard to keep the government out of the studios' hair. They would evaluate and rate movies according to a checklist morality system, and that way, parents would be to see what each film was rated and decide if they wanted to allow their children to see the film or not. After the R-rating was created, theaters started enforcing that, too, keeping underage kids out of these theaters (as best they could) and not selling them tickets. I have real issues with the MPAA on certain points, but the system has, by and large, been a huge success.

If the MPAA feels that they want to include smoking as one of those categories, there's no real problem with that. It's just more information for the consumer. So if 101 Dalmations or Peter Pan is now an R-rated film, who really cares? Parents can still buy the films and show it to their kids. Their kids'll probably love it.

Every other day we come across facts and figures that show that children today absorb an alarming amount of violent or sexual images over the course of their young lives, and I won't argue that it makes a real effect on the psyche of the youth of our nation. But motion pictures aren't the same thing as broadcast television, this isn't something where these images are broadcast over airwaves, able to be picked up by any receiver; these films are played in the theaters, or available for purchase at local stores. The government can slap on warning labels or force stores to require picture ID, they can station armed guards outside of theaters and announce mandatory 5-year minimum sentences for all 16-year-old ticket agents who sell R-rated tickets to minors. That's all within their boundaries. But they cannot, cannot, absolutely cannot force studios to change the content of their movies. It's a violation of the First Amendment, which - hey! - the U.S. Government wrote.

I don't know why we seem fully willing to forget our principles on items that Americans feel morally superior to, and movies have always been in that category. Since movies sometimes have violence or sexuality, it's our responsibility to force the movie makers to make films that don't have these things. We could force them to make movies about how violence and sexuality is bad, but they already make a lot of movies like that. We don't go to them because they're full of violence and sexuality.

It's possible we could make studios only make clean, acceptable movies by only going to see clean, acceptable movies. Nothing speaks louder than the almighty dollar. But we don't go to those movies because those movies are... well... boring.

In fact, the only thing we can get the public to agree on is that they aren't going to go see movies about 9/11. We have standards, you know.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I'm sorry, but I'll take issue here.

Don't mean to dig at Erin or anything, but her comment on my last post touched off a nerve, since it's something a lot of people have been saying, it's becoming the generally accepted truth, and it's not true: that Babel is a less effective rip-off of Crash, a cheap imitation a year after Crash took the Best Picture Oscar. To watch both movies in the order they were released, it would seem that Babel would just be a Oscar-hungry version of its earlier predecessor, but the opposite is true.

Babel's director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, essentially invented this style of movie: several intertwining storylines end up coming together, showing an overall theme and the connection between disconnected people. He directed most of the defining films of this genre (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), and exec produced some of the others (Nine Lives). When Paul Haggis made Crash, it was Iñárritu that he stole from, taking that style and popularizing it into a more American sort of movie. And ultimately he was more successful with it, as Crash had far more of a broad-based appeal, and really succeeded in clarity of vision where Iñárritu sometimes failed (though you have to give him credit for actually naming his first big movie Amores Perros - literally, 'love's a bitch'). But it was never Haggis who developed this sort of filmmaking, that work was already done for him.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Prestige vs. The Illusionist

I was talking with a friend of mine about a month ago, and we got around to comparing The Prestige to The Illusionist. Both films came out at about the same time, they're both historical dramas about turn-of-the-20th-century magicians, they both center around that "are they for real?" question that surrounds magician movies, and they both have surprise endings. But I hadn't seen both movies. I'd only seen Prestige.

My friend, who I will never trust again, told me that he enjoyed Illusionist much more. "I liked 'em both, but The Illusionist is actually a better movie." I added the film in Netflix, my queue rolled around to it this week, and I finally watched it last night.

It's not in the same league as The Prestige. It's not even close. I'll prove it to you.

Here's 5 Reasons The Prestige is Way, Way Awesomer than The Illusionist:

1. Ace Director Christopher Nolan Beats First-Time Director Neil Burger Any Day of the Week. Lessee here, before directing Prestige, Nolan directed the film school told-in-reverse whodunit classic Memento, followed by Insomnia, a creepy study of sleepless guilt starring an even creepier Robin Williams, and the finest superhero movie of all time, Batman Begins. Burger made a mockumentary five years ago. You gotta check the pedigree before you spend your cash, folks.

I could've followed that last sentence with about 6,000 tasteless sex jokes, but I held it in check. Barely. Wow, that was close.

2. The Acting In The Illusionist Isn't On The Same Par As The Prestige. You question me? Well, you should, because the phrase "on the same par" doesn't exist in our written language. But you also might put forward the valid point that Illusionist stars gifted thespian Ed Norton and fiery indie favorite Paul Giamatti, and so maybe I should rethink my premise before I give Piper Perabo too much credit and make a fool of myself. But you are wrong.

You see, Norton and Giamatti pitched their performances as if they were acting in a movie on a giant scale, a story where the characters tilt the very direction of history, the wrench in the cogs that breaks the machine. Illusionist never reaches that point, it stays small and intricate, a study of mystery in a bigger world. But I don't think anyone ever told the actors, who stay in Epic Mode. If the movie around them matched up, I think I'd find their performances far more dynamic.

Too many terrible things have already been said about Jessica Biel throughout her career, and I refuse to add to them. I thought she was perfectly acceptable in her role, and it would be nice to see her get some meatier roles like this in the future. Good luck to her on that front, though. I'll throw five dollars down right now that she's Thankless Role #3 next year in whatever horror Michael Bay's got coming down the pipe.

In contrast to all of this, Michael Caine gives us a characteristically perfectly paced performance to counterbalance the intensity of Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale focusing very hard for an entire movie. The pathos of their self-loving dedication is surprisingly bittersweet, though, considering that both of them spend much of the plot saying to themselves, "hey, how can I f--- that other guy over?" Except they say it in a very 1900's fashion.

In both movies, the female leads are secondary, but they still carry a good bit of weight for what are essentially penis-measuring movies, if you know what I mean. And while I'm not saying anything against Biel, it's not like her performance can stand up against combined efforts of Perabo, Scarlett Johansson, and Rebecca Hall. Honestly, I don't think she could've stood up against any of 'em, but let's leave that be.

And here's the knockout punch - eccentric yet spot-on performances by Andy Serkis and David Bowie. Bam - it's over. Someone tell the round card girls they can go home.

3. The Magic is Cooler. We get one good magic show out of Norton, and then he sits and stares at a mirror on stage for the rest of the movie. Prestige gives us people shooting each other, and creepy stunt doubles, and blind stagehands, and a lot of dove-crushing.

4. It's Cinco de Mayo, And I Can't Do A List With Only Four. But I'm lazy and I don't want to come up with another reason. So, yeah, this one here's a throwaway, folks.

5. The Surprise Ending. I'm not giving anything away, but I've had half a dozen conversations with people mentioning that when Prestige finished, they wanted to go back to the beginning and watch the whole thing again, and seriously considered just sitting in the theater and waiting for the next showing to begin. I myself found that I would suddenly remember a line of dialogue from the movie a month later, and say "oh... that's what that meant, I thoug... oh, wow!" Watching The Illusionist isn't like that. When the shocking ending is revealed, it's... how can I say this without giving anything away?

Oh yeah, it flat-out sucks.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

TV Done Right

By the way, if you didn't watch NBC's "Comedy Night Done Right" last night, you missed some great television. Between "My Name Is Earl" doing Scratch-N-Sniff night with TV guide, along with having Sean Astin show up to do a send up of Rudy, and "The Office" having a "Women's Appreciation Day," and "Scrubs" getting back to its JD-Elliot romantic roots while guest-starring Keri Russell, it was... it was just some good television. Some real good television. And this is after "30 Rock" finished its season run two weeks ago. Check out NBC's website if you need to catch up, or just click here to watch the whole "Earl" episode right now.

Quote of the night would have to be Dwight Schrute, of course:

"Well, I wish I could menstruate. If I could menstruate, I wouldn't have to deal with idiotic calendars anymore. I could just count down from my previous cycle. Plus, I'd be more in tune with the moon, and the tides."

It's worth spending the $2 to download the episode if you missed it.


On the way to work today, I passed a large truck transporting about 20 or so cows northbound on the highway. As I neared the cab, I saw that it had the Texas State Seal on it, and I glanced to see what department was transporting the cattle - the Department of Agriculture seemed most likely, but I thought maybe another department might have a reason to be transporting two dozen bovines, so I glanced at the logo as I passed. The truck - and it's assumable, therefore the cows - belonged to the Department of Criminal Justice.

I spent the whole rest of the trip trying to come up with a good explanation for the whole situation. I haven't come up with anything yet.

By the way, can someone come up with a good term for jailed bovines? The best I could do was "cowvicts."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Benny Hinn Update; First-Date Movies

Not to take the wind out of anyone's sails, but I think that I'm gonna take a little time before I really launch into this war on Benny Hinn. I want to do some research, know my enemy, study him closely. Then I'll tear into him like a rabid police dog on coke. Until then, I'm still waiting.

I'd like to do some real posting, but things are getting busy, and so I don't know if I'll get a chance or not. But I promised I'd do one and I mean to: I'm still planning on doing a Summer Movie Preview, I just don't think I'll get a chance to do so before Spiderman comes out. Tomorrow.

By the way, I've heard tremendously good rumors about Waitress, out today. I saw the trailer and I think it could be - understand, I'm flinching while I say this - it could be this year's Little Miss Sunshine. There, I said it. If you get a chance, I would bet it's an above-average date movie - the sort of movie that makes your date say "Man, this guy/girl is something special - he/she's got taste, a sense of humor, and an eye for the diamond in the rough. To think, we could have gone and seen The Condemned. How awful an evening would that have been. We would probably have never spoken to each other again."

To be fair, I've had several excellent post-bad-first-date-movie relationships, and also seen some excellent movies and had all my prospects fall apart on the drive home. So maybe I'm not worth listening to on this front.

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