Thursday, July 31, 2008

Getting it done without Shaq or anyone else for that matter

Does anyone realize how little sense Shaq's rap was about Kobe not being able to get it done without him because he fell in the finals? Kobe in fact did get done what Shaq couldn't do with less help. Kobe beat the Spurs while Shaq had two dark horse MVP contenders in Steve Nash and Amare on his team and lost to the Spurs. Kobe beat the Spurs, how does Shaq have a right to talk?

I've also heard about Paul Pierce hating on Kobe, as if he has a right to do that. Ridiculous. Without looking too much in the stats of it all, Paul didn't beat Kobe, his team beat Kobe's team, and Paul's team had Ray Allen and KG on it.

I'm sick of this notion of us measuring our stars by whether they can bring home a championship. Teams bring championships, stars don't. The truth is that while we don't like the image of a selfish ballplayer, and we like a guy who does all he can to help, a star can't realistically bring home a championship on his own. We have to stop holding a measuring stick up to our basketball stars based on whether they win, win, win, and win again (4 series gets you a championship). Kobe won, won, won (against the defending champ Spurs), and then lost. I'd call that pretty freaking impressive. I'm tired of the notion of whether this guy or that will be the true franchise savior and bring his team a championship because that guy doesn't exist. No one has ever singlehandedly brought his team a championship, and that's the beautiful thing about this game: It takes a team. So let's celebrate the great individuals and celebrate the great teams, and let's not confuse one for the other.

The best players we've had have managed to take teams to the finals by themselves, AI, LeBron James, and now Kobe. That's pretty hard to get any farther than that. Winning a championship is something that also plain just can't happen no matter how good you are, because it's usually a crowded field.

Anyways, there's something awfully barbaric about throwing two guys into a cage in a zero-sum game where the winner gets temporarily praised (until he or they fail/fails to defend their title) as the greatest thing to ever come along, while the loser usually gets fired. The history books on a yearly basis, to lavish the winner and condone the loser. This is why every coach of the year in the last few years, Byron Scott, Rick Carlisle, Mike D'Antoni, Avery Johnson, Larry Brown, etc. has been fired or run out of town in one way or another, because they can't ever live up to their expectations. If people really had some sense of perspective, they'd realize it's not wise to fire your coach just because of a single losing streak. Here are examples of coaches who shouldn't have gotten fired:
-Rick Carlisle, 2006-2007, Indiana Pacers-The front office made a trade: Stephen Jackson, Saraventus Jukavics and Al Harrington for Ike Diogu, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy and they didn't make the playoffs. Not his fault, it takes time for teams to gel after a trade. By that same logic....
-Avery Johnson, 2007-2008, Dallas-Same deal. The GM, Mark Cuban, made a move that by his own admission would either sink the team or elevate them to a championship, it was a risky front office move, and it's not Avery Johnson's fault. You can't get a team to gel that quickly
-Byron Scott, 2003-2004, New Jersey Nets-He had a losing streak in the middle of the season. Big deal: He had made the finals the last 2 years and the season isn't over until it's over. New Jersey made the playoffs for 6 straights years and in some cases, they didn't make the playoffs until the final game of the season. Granted Frank Williams turned out to be good, Byron Scott turned New Orleans into a championship contender this year, which is a similar situation to.....
-Scott Skiles, who got his team to the conference semis and an impressive sweep of the Miami Heat in the playoffs the previous year. They fired him in December of the season because the team wasn't playing well. Well, they weren't playing any better. Here's what John Paxson, Bulls GM had to say:"I don't have a long-term solution as of today. I'm disappointed in the way we're playing, the way we're competing, the energy or lack thereof that we're playing with on the floor. I know expectations coming into the year were really, really high and we're not even close to those. I honestly believe we're a better team than we've played this year." So basically, the guy didn't have a long-term solution, or in other words he has no clue if what he's doing is a good idea. He just admits to being momentarily unhappy and discusses being plagued by his own expectations. Like Cleveland, the act of firing Flip Saunders ensured the season's fate as officially lost. Chicago wasn't remotely in contention for a playoff spot in a weak year in which newcomers Atlanta and Philadelphia made the playoffs.
-Flip Saunders, 2004-2005, Minnesota Timberwolves-Kevin McHale fired Flip and coached the team himself. The end result wasn't that much better, as the Timberwolves had one of the greatest loss differentials from season-to-season in NBA history.
-Paul Silas, 2004-2005, Had a 12-game losing streak somewhere over the course of the middle of the season and got fired for that. He still had his team above the 500 mark at the time but the reasoning was that earlier they were fighting for the division title and now they were in danger of missing the playoffs. Well, firing Silas didn't help any, they still missed the playoffs anyway and the replacement coach had a worse record
-Brian Hill, 2006-2007 Orlando Magic, He got the Orlando Magic into the playoffs for the first time since 2003, but still got fired because they lost the first round in a sweep. Did we mention every other team from the South got swept that year in the playoffs?
-Rick Carlisle, 2002-2003 Indiana Pacers, Got his team to the conference finals twice in a row and won the division outright. Got upset by New Jersey in the conference finals. So basically, this is a team that didn't live up to seeding. It's like if a #1 seed in the tournament got upset by a #2 seed in the elite eight. Big deal. To be fair, most people felt Carlisle's firing was unfair.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

From 1963, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World takes place over the course of a particularly eventful day along the highways of Southern California, where a group of strangers comes across a man's dying confession that a large sum of money is hidden in Santa Rosita, California. The group of four or five different cars and about a dozen people can't agree as to how they're going to split this money so it becomes every man for himself.

The film is also the loose inspiration for the 2001 film Rat Race except it was a far more solid film that doesn't compromise its audience with overly crude or pandering humor. It's based around a timeless concept: the humor of the chase, and that has been used by every great comic Buster Keaton's The General, to Harold Lloyd's vertical version of the chase in Safety Last. And it never gets old.

The film is also directed by Stanley Kramer who primarily made message movies (i.e. Inherit the Wind, Ship of Fools, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) and while it's tempting to think that Kramer was just taking a break from heavier themes and just having fun, the movie isn't entirely morally devoid of any theme. There is a certain undertone amid all the comedy of how money corrupts absolutely. Watching the film a second or third time with that theme in mind might make for a different viewing experience.Stanley Kramer made the film with the aim of casting as many comedians in the film as he possibly could, and he succeeds quite well, so the film ends up being a who's who of the '60's.

It is interesting to note that a great number of the stars of this film are completely unrecognizable to my generation today. They are unrecognizable to myself and I'd like to think I've seen my fair share of TV and movies from the old days. Here is who I knew and didn't know:-I had heard of Sid Cesar because he gave Mel Brooks and Woody Allen their starts, Carl Reiner I knew as the director of some films and I've seen him on Whose Line is it Anyway?
-I had heard of Phil Silvers because I knew he was the inspiration for Sargent Bilko, but I had never seen him in person
-I knew Buddy Hackett, Spencer Tracy and Ethel Merman
-The cameos of the Three Stooges and Don Knotts I recognized fairly instantly
-I had heard the name Milton Berle but couldn't recognize him
-I had not ever heard of Edie Adams or Dick Shawn. Dick Shawn, may I say, is quite funny.
-I knew Mickey Rooney but couldn't recognize him on sight
-I've heard references to Jimmy Durante in TV shows like the Golden Girls, Dick Van Dyke Show and I believe I Love Lucy, etc., but still wouldn't recognize him

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Really great TV: Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Just as people my age in relation to people ten years older than us, might be completely unaware that Pierce Brosnam was the TV star of a show called Remmington Steele and Tom Hanks was once best known for a TV show called Bossom Buddies, I wonder if today's younger generation primarily knows Will Smith through his status as one of the world's most bankable movie stars, as opposed to the star of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."

One would think that Will Smith has matured exponentially since he made Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but in truth, if you go back and watch Fresh Prince of Bel Air, you'll see that it's a pretty good show in fact. There are a couple moments where Will Smith tests himself as an actor, most notably the episode where his dad abandons him and he breaks down emotionally launching into a clearly forced tirade about how he doesn't need his father, before crying "how come he doesn't want me" and embracing his uncle. It's a tear-inducing moment. There's another episode where Will's carelessness in experimenting with speed leads to his cousin Carlton almost getting killed by the drugs. Will's speech where he confesses to his family what he's done is filled with the genuine tear-inducing emotion that TGIF shows like Full House and Step by Step tried and usually failed to induce in the last 2 minutes of every episode.

I also admire how Fresh Prince of Bel Air refuses to dumb down any of its characters to conform to sitcom stereotypes. Well, to be fair, it dumbs down Hillary and Geoffery rather significantly, but the show does a good job at debunking the stereotypes it pigeonholes Carlton in at first. There's the one episode, played for absurdity, where Carlton bets Will that he can't survive a day in the hood. Within a mere matter of hours, Carlton has transformed into someone straight out of a Spike Lee film. Within a more intermediate framework, Carlton is gradually made more likeable as the series progresses and a genuine respect and friendship develops between Will and Carlton that is somewhat at the core of the series.

Most importantly, the portly Uncle Phil, could easily have been portrayed as the stuffy and aloof parent-figure for a couple of laughs but he is virtually never portrayed in an undignified manner. Despite the fact that he's the butt of Will's jokes, there is nothing he does that makes one feel ashamed to have known him or to be his child or nephew. I can't overemphasize how big of a deal that is. Most dads are portrayed as the less competent and less dedicated parent in sitcoms. They are either:
-Obsessed with trying to have sex with mommy (Step by Step),
-They border on being legally retarded (Family Guy, The Simpsons)
-They are bigoted (All in the Family, Sanford and Son),
-They are hopelessly dorky (Full House, Dick Van Dyke Show)
-They are irresponsible monetarily and with everything else and need mommy around to keep her from destroying the house if she leaves for a weekend (Malcolm in the Middle, Home Improvement)
-They can barely remember their kids exist (Everybody Loves Raymond, Just Shoot Me)

Could the Dark Knight be a potentially dangerous film?

I saw The Dark Knight the other day and found it too disturbing of a film for me to really think that it was worth watching. I'd give a review of the film (unlike some other critics, I certainly wouldn't give it 4 stars, even on the basis of whether it's mismarketed), because I think there are a couple more pressing issues.

One thing that worries me heavily about this film, is that it's a PG-13 rating, it's basically the silence of the lambs or seven disguised as a comic book film. It's more a horror film than it is a crime drama, and it's certainly not in the spirit of a comic book film. And I can understand people applauding the film for being a good film, but i get the sense that people are applauding the film for succeeding in pushing the boundaries of the comic book genre to make it dark, scary, psychopathic, etc., but has anyone ever thought that perhaps those boundaries were there for a reason? I think people who are not used to seeing violent films and parents taking children should be plenty forewarned about it.

At the same time, I'm concerned about potential violence that the film could spur and I know I'm now one of those anti-violence-in-the-movies advocates, but I maintain what I'm saying:
Remember back in the days of the Hayes Code when Hollywood didn't want a portrayal of unglamorous lifestyles because they wanted to promote a moral society? Obviously, we think that that's far-fetched and restricted a great number of artists back in those days from telling things in stories, but I do believe that there could be a such thing as too much. There are some examples of how some films have promoted copycat crimes, and issues like that. Studies have shown that on some occasions, the line between reality and what you see in the movies gets blurred and I can see that being blurred here because the film is real. We are influenced by what we see.

I am profoundly worried that with all the excessive praise lavished on the Dark Knight, and the cult following that has grown around the character of the Joker, that the message might be lost on impressionable youths with violent undertones that the Joker's actions were completely reprehensible and disgusting in this film. I could see some guy who's treated like a freak in some high school somewhere get inspired by this film to get the idea that if only he inflicted twisted and sick enough terrorist acts of violence among those who picked on him, than he'd have their respect.

This is what happened on screen in this film: The Joker was a freak, one that a select few might have empathized with when he walked in the room and the mob was picking on him and not taking him seriously, by unleashing reprehensible acts of violence and practically torturing people, he became highly revered and respected. As implausible as I found this, the mob swore allegiance to him and Harvey Dent chose not to shoot him after some small little diatribe. I raised the point in one discussion thread that I think one flaw of the film was that unless there was a direct threat on your life at that very moment, it would have never been in any character's interest to follow him, for any character to have truly wanted Joker to have been in charge, except the mentally derranged people he had at first. I think the mob would have really wanted to see them gone and would have turned on him at any opportunity, especially when he was in prison, they wouldn't have underestimated him, and they would have not cared about what he could do for them if he represented a direct threat to their establishment. They would have gotten to work on bringing him down. The joker is also portrayed as somewhat omnipotent, he knew more details about what and when things would happen in each plan that would have been plausible, and if the script was true to life, the Joker would probably have been killed quicker. It's not relevant whether you agree with the plot holes or not that leads to the Joker getting away with as much as he does, but what is important is that the film makes the Joker such a dangerous and scary villain because it presents us with that illusion that simply unleashing sinister enough acts of violence will get you anything you ever wanted. The film portrays everything in a very realistic setting.

What I think makes this all worse, is the celebration that's going on in response to the Dark Knight's success and the way that some disturbed people might misinterpret all of it. As a result of what we think is a good performance, we've sort of championed the character of the Joker a lot. We have kind of treated the character of the Joker as we would traditionally treat the hero of a film, a lot of us have adopted imdb names with the Joker in them. Maybe we'll all be wearing joker costumes on halloween or wearing joker costumes at one of those conventions. The truth is that what is being glorified is artistic freedom: The fact that the film broke free of the conventions to sugarcoat the violence inherent in comic book films.

At the same time, that's not being explicitly stated: What someone could get the message from it is that not only do you all love the Joker, you love the character, you would secretly love it if someone in real life decided to kill and torture people, and take a town hostage. There's not enough of a message I'm getting out there from all the whirlwind of media and every other source that some young person can be exposed to of "We love the character as a moviegoer but we'd hate for someone to act in this manner in real life." The viral marketing kind of makes it even worse.

I'd be eager to be proven wrong, but I think that's at the heart of what worries me and I'm afraid for some violent school shooting that could potentially happen because of this film. I think the magnitude of response to this film might make it a bigger disaster than any other film.

Interesting that Anthony Minghellia isn't being mourned

So everyone's mourning Heath's death and talking about how the world is deprived of so many pictures becaues he died young. I think that's reasonable and Heath was on his way to being a great actor.

At the same time, I find it curious that the Heath Ledger effect doesn't work for directors as well. I find it curious that the 2 founders of Mirage died premature deaths this past year and while Sidney Pollack's funeral was one of the most widely attended events in Hollywood this past year, no one has felt it's a loss to the world of movies that he won't be making any more pictures. I don't know but I imagine Pollack might have had 2 or three films left in him. He was 74 when he died, which is pretty old, but Altman, Lumet and Scorsesee seem on course to make films into their 80s as does Eastwood.

Granted, Pollack was old, but Minghellia died at age 54. He could have done a dozen more films before he died and while Pollack could be uneven, Minghellia's films were usually Oscar caliber. Cold Mountain almost got nominated, Talented Mr Ripley got him a best director nomination, English Patient won best picture and recently placed #14 on a poll of best films of the 90s. Breaking and Entering was quiet and not widely received but well-received. Minghellia usually tackled books and challenging adaptations which are a much more timeless and consistently reliable source material than what most films are made of, so it's a good bet he would have had many more memorable films within him.