Saturday, January 5, 2008

Saturday in paradise.

It was a busy night here at My Sick Headquarters. There were two NFL playoff games and a political debate mixed in with some more Ebola selling, which made for lots of channel surfing and Internet clicking. I'm exhausted.
The Redskins continue to disappoint, and now they have the rest of the winter and spring to contemplate their issues. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the home team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, so those who figured that Jacksonville was the team who could beat the Patriots may have their chance next week.
The instant replay has almost ruined football for me. There are too many challenges, and I think that referees lean on the challenge to allow them to make rulings on the field that they figure will either be challenged or not. Would you watch something closely if you knew that it would be replayed on a big screen in the stadium? No. The coaches have the benefit of the replay, and their cohorts in the press level tell them whether or not they should throw that red flag. It slows down the game and I don't think the plays are any more accurately called than they were 10 years ago when referees had to rely on their judgement and eyesight.
I'd like to have a few of those red flags to throw in my personal life. There are quite a few "rulings on the field" that I think deserve further review.
On the political front, I didn't pay much attention to the Republicans, and I encourage you to do the same. They look like a bunch of guys who would vote to keep me out of their country club. ABC televised the debates that featured both parties' candidates. A huge group of Republicans, followed by the four leading Democrats - Edwards, Obama, Richardson and Clinton. They did their best to exclude Bill Richardson, and the crowd shots featured several looks at Elizabeth Edwards and the Edwards family, along with Chelsea Clinton. No sign of Bill.
As it is with these things, I am left more confused than I was initially. John Edwards harped on his family of mill workers and pledged to fight for the middle class - whoever they are. Hillary and Obama sniped at each other and Richardson was left with the scraps, and one would figure that his run will end on February 5 when the phenomenon known as Super Tuesday will pare the group down to three.
As for me, I'm waffling between Edwards and Clinton with the majority of my waffle devoted to John Edwards. I have a month to decide.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Two Rockets, no waiting.

I'm on this movie jag lately. Tonight, I caught up with one I wanted to see in the theater but missed called "The Astronaut Farmer." It stars Billy Bob Thornton as a farmer (named Farmer) who, through a series of complicated life events, builds a rocket in his barn with the intent to launch himself into Earth orbit. Does it sound far fetched? Sure it does, but it's more of an allegory about living ones dreams rather than a scientific account of a guy building an Atlas launch vehicle from scrap parts and bootlegged rocket fuel. As a film it is average, but for me being a bit of a NASA geek, having grown up during the space race and all, it's an interesting story. It's preposterous and inaccurate scientifically, but it's still a worthwhile film about family, dreams and belief in yourself that could have been built around a lot of things. This one is about a rocket. If you see it and judge it based on the idea that a guy could build a rocket in his barn, you're missing the point.
The more I hear about this Roger Clemens interview on 60 Minutes Sunday, the more aggravated I get. It's nothing but a big set-up by George Steinbrenner's pal Mike Wallace who asks a bunch of leading questions to a guy who probably had a lawyer sitting next to him and final approval of the questions. Wallace calls Clemens his "friend", and forgive me for not being a journalist, but I don't see how one could do an impartial story about a person accused of a crime if that person is your friend.
60 Minutes has seen better days, and their recent missteps lead me to believe that maybe the entire franchise is a bit of a fraud. After all, it's television - disguised as journalism. We buy it because they put the hard face on it, but really it's just a TV show. Part of me feels like a sucker for buying into the concept for most of my life.
You'll probably watch the program (after the football game, so don't tune in at 7 - more like 8) and I'd be willing to bet that it will strike you as a big lie and a publicity stunt by Clemens and his gang. Do I sound skeptical? If he says he had Lidocaine injected in his buttocks, ask yourself why anyone would have a medicine designed to treat inflammation and joint pain injected into your ass. That's the first question Mike should have asked, but he's too far up Roger's ass to breathe. Question #2, why would he have a trainer do it and not a doctor?
Clemens is too smart to lie in an actual courtroom, and his people know the perfect forum for his denial. Pick a media pal and go on his program. He's scrambling to save his Hall of Fame induction, and I, for one am not buying any of it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

God help us, Iowa is in charge.

Iowa. Population 2,926,324. Ranked 30th in the United States.
New Hampshire. Population 1,235,786. Ranked 41st in the United States.
Between the two of them, they will have a huge impact on who are the next candidates for President in a country of 303,619,006 (as of 12/18/2007). 1.4% of the American public is about to make a decision that will affect the rest of us, followed by Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, Florida and Maine. By the time Super Tuesday rolls around (February 8) we will have heard from over half the states, and millions of dollars will have been spent and we will may not be any closer to knowing who is going to run for president than we were yesterday. What will happen is that the candidates without the big funding (i.e. everybody except Edwards, Clinton and Obama) will have dropped out. All that money spent for what, exactly?
In a country where we have a pill that can give you a 4-hour boner, wouldn't you figure that we would have come up with a better way to decide who is going to run for President? I know, the 4-hour boner is a higher priority, but seriously...
First, Roger Clemens said he did not receive any injections. Then, Roger Clemens said he received injections, but they were vitamin B-12 and Lidocaine. One thing is certain: Roger Clemens is either lying now or has already lied. Sunday, he'll be appearing on America's favorite TV courtroom - 60 Minutes. Great idea Roger. Americans believe everything we see on TV.
Just once, I'd like to hear one of these guys admit that he did what they said he did. Deny, deny, deny. If they have pictures, they deny. If they have betting slips, they deny. If they have witnesses, they deny. They deny in front of Congress, under oath and on American television.
Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear this:
"I make a lot of money playing a game. I'm getting older and the younger players are trying to take my job. I weighed the consequences and I decided that my lucrative career was worth the health risks involved with using anabolic agents. As a competitive athlete, I need every advantage I can get. Since [the sport] is not actively prosecuting star players for using drugs or altering the records we achieve, I decided that the combination of the excitement that my play brings to the fans, the money I earn for the league and the money I earn for myself justified my use of drugs. I only regret that I was caught."
Those stories and Andy Rooney, tonight on 60 Minutes. tick-tick-tick-tick-tick...
It's New Year's resolution season, and millions are making pledges to stop smoking, drinking or gaining weight. Go for it. What I'd like to see are simpler ones:
  • I'd like to see SUV and giant pick-up truck drivers stop tapping the brakes when they go over railroad tracks. What's the point of driving that 5-ton pile of steel if you're going to drive it like a Nissan Sentra? And, take it out in the snow once in a while. I see them parked outside the supermarket with the other paniced shoppers when snow is in the forecast. What are you afraid of? Your vehicle is bigger than my condo.
  • I'd also like highway drivers to resolve to learn the meaning of the Yield sign. It means, Yield the Right-of-Way, specifically, when you're entering a high-speed highway. It does not mean that you put your left turn signal on and muscle your way (at 45 mph) into traffic, causing the drivers in the right lane to either hit the brakes or go left to avoid your slow ass. One copy of the driver's manual, please.

Either of those are easier to accomplish than losing 50 pounds or laying off the Jack.

Note to TV executives: Cut the crap.

Yeah, right. New year - new premieres - no writers - more crap. The writers' strike continues, just in time for mid-season crap replacement shows.
Jesus, haven't we had enough of comb-over and his nonsense? American Gladiators is a 10-year old concept brought back from the dead. Another dopey game show with 100 people they only have to pay scale for and I don't know what Million Dollar Battle of the Sexes is, but it strikes me as another ancient concept that will keep my TV off and help lower my electric bill. Thanks, Writers Guild of America!
Here are some ideas: Put Leno, Conan and Letterman on in prime time. Show us a high-quality movie with fewer commercial breaks. Run some old Sid Caesar Show of Shows or old Milton Berle stuff. Anything but more of these goofy-ass "reality" shows and tired old game show concepts. I want to see real actors and entertainers.
Do I have to think of everything?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The one constant in the Universe.

It still feels like 2007.
Something that you may or may not know about me is that I'm something of a gym rat. From October to March, most of my evenings are spent in our local Emporium of Striated Muscle. I'm there in the summer too, but most of my time is spent on two wheels.
I think it's been 26 years since I started and, with the exception of a dislocated left elbow (1988) and a case of pneumonia (2001) it's been pretty much a daily ritual since 1981. I've been to four or five different places along the way, but one thing is a constant:

The first week of January is a bitch.
Every year it's the same thing. It's resolution season.
It doesn't take
a government survey or a sociologist to figure it out, it's just that goofy thing called human nature. Every year, no matter where I am the place jams up on January 2 with tons of new faces, all encouraged by some witnessed resolution and feeling destined to make-over their abused bodies between now and the time they decide to frighten little children on beaches everywhere.
By which time, they will have long abandoned the idea and gone back to the sofa, still paying the membership fee, thereby creating more space in the gym and helping keep my membership fee lower.
It's a win-win.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What year is this?

The first day of the year. A bogus holiday if ever there was one. The malls were open, as were movie theaters, restaurants, liquor stores and supermarkets. The cashiers at the supermarket got "holiday pay" but the cashiers at the liquor store (next door) did not. Happy New Year.
I figure, it's a holiday mostly because the hungover revelers couldn't get their asses up for work on January 1, so the government figured, "Screw it. Take the day off."
I was awakened last night at midnight by the sound of store-bought fireworks from down the street. It continued for 23 minutes, and I found myself wishing that a tree would catch fire so that there would be some real excitement. It disrupted my sleep and did nothing for the cat's heart murmur. He didn't know what day it was.
Here in the Philadelphia area, it's the day of the annual Mummers Parade. It started 3 hours late because of rain, and should be over by noon on Saturday. It's an acquired taste that I never acquired. As parades go, it's "Ben Hur". Musically, it's ... well ... imagine banjos, saxophones and xylophones. Together.
For all the fuss, you'd think something more important was going on. I'm not big on the even-numbered celebrations - 500th win, 50th birthday - all those things are just numbers, and making a big deal out of changing a calendar is pretty much an excuse for drinking. Not that it's a bad thing, necessarily, but I'd like to have a better reason.
Happy New Year! Guns, fireworks, parades, bowl games and a day off work. Meanwhile, we'll still be writing 2007 on all our stuff for three weeks.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Johnny Cash meets Forrest Gump

Dewey: Edith, I am starting to think that you don't believe in me.
Edith: I do believe in you. I just know you're going to fail.
After I finished telling a co-worker about my latest experience with "Charlie Wilson's War", he told me that I was on "quite a roll" with the movies lately. True, I haven't seen many dogs over the past couple of weeks, but it's easier this time of year, when the studios roll out the Oscar contenders. That's precisely why I hesitated (slightly) in seeing the film I saw tonight, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."
A sign outside the theater said its capacity was "367 patrons," which left us with only 364 more people to fill the place. That's right, after being shut out on Xmas day, I found that New Year's Eve was a perfect time to see a film. Me and two strangers sat through the 5:05pm showing of a film that probably cost the theater more to show than the three of us paid.
I'd read some good things about the film, but since comedy is an odd thing to define, I wasn't entirely sure that my consecutive good movie streak would continue. The first thing you need to find humor in is the fact that Dewey's personal struggle comes as a result of cutting his older brother in half with a machete. Not only does the film find the humor in it, but it contributes to one of the movie's running gags. Come to think of it, pretty much the whole film is a running gag.
If you haven't yet seen the Johnny Cash bio-pic, "Walk the Line," you will not appreciate about half of the jokes in "Walk Hard," so if you're planning to see this one, rent the other one first. You'll thank me later. There are so many "Walk the Line" references that knowing the material is almost essential to finding the humor in "Walk Hard".
We follow Dewey from his brother-killing in 1946 to the present day, through his trials and tribulations, re-invention of himself, re-marriages and several hysterical songs. In particular, his Bob Dylan-esque folk tune ("People say I sound like Bob Dylan - why doesn't anybody say Dylan sounds like me?") his duet with Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer) that turns a phrase, to say the least and a tribute song to help the little people.
There's also a spot-on John Lennon impersonation by Paul Rudd that, for us boomers is as funny as anything in the film. To get to that, though, we have to forget that John Reilly played a similar southern character in "Talladega Nights." I couldn't help but summon memories of Kyle Naughton, Jr. every time Dewey said something ridiculous or called out the obvious, as he does several times, or during the reflective rehab scene where his cohorts come to him as he lies in bed.
Another running joke of the film is that he feels it is necessary to alert viewers that he is talking to "George Harrison of the Beatles" or Buddy Holly (Frankie Muniz). It's funny to someone my age, but he may feel it is necessary when the audience is anyone under the age of 30 who may need a bit of prodding.
Even though most of the film is chuckle funny, there are enough laugh out loud moments to make it worthwhile. You may find yourself shaking your head at times or thinking that the humor is so odd that it's funny by not being funny - which is sort of the idea behind "Talladega Nights." The constant references to the character's name and it's related anatomical synonym are a bit tired, but interspersed almost as afterthoughts, so I forgave most of them. But it isn't nearly as funny as "Talladega Nights" which is a tribute to Will Ferrell and not a dig at Reilly.
Reilly is helped by Fischer and Tim Meadows, who plays his drug-addled drummer. He introduces Cox to several recreational drugs before getting to cocaine, which Meadows advises him is "the next logical step." You'll also recognize Jack Black, Harold Ramis and brief appearances by Jenna's Office-mates Ed Helms and Craig Robinson.
So, you should see "Walk Hard", especially if you've seen the Johnny Cash film. It's a worthy parody. There's enough humor to make it worth at least the matinee price and songs that are good enough to make it believable as a fictional account of a musical "Forrest Gump" without the shrimp, and I'm guessing, the Oscar nominations.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

One for "Charlie Wilson's War"

I don't pay too much attention to World news. As far as I'm concerned, the peoples of the world can take care of themselves and sometimes, the less we know about them, the better. Regular readers know that I rarely write anything about what goes on outside our borders, mostly because I am not politically worldly and partly because I don't care all that much.
As I was driving over to the local art house multi-plex to see "Charlie Wilson's War" early Sunday afternoon, I had a little panic attack. I wondered, "What if this movie totally loses me and I have absolutely no idea what's going on, because I don't pay much attention to these kinds of things?" After all, I was going mostly because it's Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in a film by Mike Nichols, and I'd probably watch paint dry if the three of them were somehow involved.
Early in the attack, I reasoned that the movie wouldn't be as popular as it is if it was a sophisticated study of politics, so my fears were allayed by the ignorance of the general public.
Even if you are as ignorant of world affairs as I, you will enjoy this film, as did I. It starts out in that puzzling fashion that political stories often do, but if you hang with it through the first 30 minutes or so, it will come into sharp focus. The only thing that remains is how is Charlie going to get this accomplished, which I suppose is the point of the thing.
The film shows us how sometimes (or maybe most of the time) oddly unethical or seemingly inappropriate behavior can take place while people accomplish great things. Since the film is based on a true story, and a book by George Crile, we are left to suppose that this is how it happens more often than not.
Tom Hanks has moved into the third phase of his career. He started as a goofball TV and movie actor, transitioned into adulthood and won a few awards along the way. Now, he is the sort of elder statesman of fine film actors and is able to pull off the understated comedic aspects of a complex character with dignity. Julia is ... well, Julia. She is perfect for this role, and we are left wanting more of her, which is good. Philip Seymour Hoffman is perhaps headed for another Oscar nomination, this time as Best Supporting Actor. He is the film's light, and every scene he is in is the better for it. The byplay between him and Hanks is fun to watch. Fans of "Talladega Nights" will no doubt recognize Amy Adams, who does a fine turn as Wilson's assistant. Mike Nichols is one of Hollywood's best story tellers.
There is a reason the film has received such critical acclaim. There is a reason it's usually sold out, and even today, I had to get there a half hour before the start time to ensure a seat that wasn't ten feet from the screen. The reason is that it's a great story told by great entertainers. The moral, as it is, is as timely as today's headlines. The film relates to the current situation in Iraq as well as it relates to 1980s Afghanistan or 1970s Vietnam. The participants change, but the moral is always the same. In the end, it is the point of the film. Those who want to point to Charlie's indiscretions or the methods he uses are missing the point. Don't take you eye off the ball.
Don't worry about the political aspects or the idea that it is about war. It's more a cautionary tale about the effects of war and how the public sees what they want us to see. It is superbly acted, as you could imagine, and the story is craftily told. That didn't prevent the guy behind me from telling his companion, "It isn't as good as the book. You have to read the book." Of course you do, nitwit. How can you tell a 560 page story in 97 minutes? The book ... the book ... you have to read the book. Get back in your Lexus and drive back to suburbia. Book snob.
The downside of the art-house movie experience is that it is often populated by pompous asses who think that they have to state the obvious. Hey, jackass, it's a movie. If I wanted to read, I would have bought the book.
The movie experience is a beautiful aspect of modern society. Don't let this one pass you by and don't read the book unless you want to.

The machine rolls on

I'm always looking for the angle. I'm always looking for the swindle or the scam. Deep down, I don't think there are too many people who do things out of the goodness of their hearts - especially when it comes to sports or entertainment. I'm cynical that way.
Last night, the Patriots' record-setting game against the Giants was televised on three networks. CBS, NBC and The NFL Network, which is a network by name only. Since The NFL Network is only available to 40% of households, it meant that the biggest event of the season so far would not be viewed by a majority of football fans, so the NFL signed up two real networks to help.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went on TV last night and told America that the game was on network television "for the fans." He stressed it and said it a few times. He kept repeating it, as though the more he said it, the more he would believe it and - hopefully - the more we would believe it.
Mr. Goodell: Did you invent The NFL Network "for the fans"? How about all those Thursday and Saturday nights when fans wanted to see a game, but couldn't because it was on a pay-cable channel? Are you in a war with cable companies "for the fans"? Did you hire Bryant Gumbel (the world's worst play-by-play man) "for the fans"?
It was in the best interests of the NFL to show America that game. Forget all that "for the fans" nonsense. It's for the NFL. It doesn't do them any good if the Patriots won (which was a foregone conclusion) and a majority of America didn't see it. Click around the Internet today and you'll see.
When I visited and clicked on the game story, my computer was locked up for 30 seconds while a Sheraton Hotel ad loaded. On Yahoo Sports, there's a Glaceau water ad "congratulating" Tom Brady for a perfect season. There is "perfect season gear" on the web. It's all designed for money, and the more people who saw the game, the more saps will want some trinket or dopey t-shirt commemorating their three hours in front of the TV. I'm guessing that fans were being sold crap on their way out of the stadium last night, too.
The teams pay these guys millions of dollars, and in an effort to recoup some of that money (and make more for the players) they need products to sell. There's a limited time in which to sell this crap, since the playoffs start next week and the "Perfect Season" stuff will go into storage when the AFC Champions stuff goes on sale. Then, the Super Bowl Champions stuff goes out. Thankfully, that's the end of the product cycle - for this year.
It's always about money, and you're always being sold something even if it's disguised as a goodwill gesture by some big corporation who is only looking out for your best interests. The ones who get screwed the hardest are the loyal fans. The ones who make signs and dress in goofy outfits are the real targets. The NFL knows that they have a built-in customer and all they need to do is feed them. So, congratulations suckers.
These are the people who feel superior today because "my team" is 16 and oh. Your team? I'm old enough to remember when the Patriots were laughing stock. They were 2-14 in 1981 and they were 1 and 15 in 1990. Sports is funny that way.
They didn't make any shirts for those seasons.