Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Making the Uncomfortable Hilarious

Is this funnier if you have or haven't seen those dumb Coors Light commercials that use NFL coaches' post-game press conference footage?  Anyway, if you're not familiar with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's tirade at a local sports columnist for something she wrote about one of his players, here's an explanation and a video of the outburst.

But tonight, we are here to laugh.  At a man.  Who's 40.  And had his tantrum turned into something hilarious.

The only thing that would've made this more hilarious is if they could've somehow incorporated Gundy's "This was brought to me by a mother... of children" into the gag.

(And I really hope this YouTube video isn't taken down by the time you get to read this.  I've had bad luck with that lately.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Not There: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

The musical biopic genre sorely needed a fresh approach, something that wasn't going to follow the paint-by-numbers "Behind the Music" formula of rise, fall (due to drugs, of course), rise from the ashes, and eventual contentment that most of these stories (Ray, Walk the Line, and the upcoming parody Walk Hard) seem to follow, but could still sum up the career and capture the creative spirit of the musician, and that's exactly what Todd Haynes has done for Bob Dylan with I'm Not There.

Haynes' choice to use six different actors (including Batman and The Joker) to portray Dylan (or a Dylan-esque figure) seems head-scratching, but think of each actor and story segment as a representation of a certain phase of his career (for example, a 12-year-old black kid embodying the early development of Dylan's musical tastes and style, which was heavily influenced by the blues) and the whole idea makes such brilliant sense - even if you're not overly familiar with Dylan's biography, which I'm not - that you wonder why no one's ever tried it before.

Not all of the segments work (Richard Gere's didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the movie), but the flashiest and most radical interpretation is Cate Blanchett's androgynous portrayal of the late 1960s, Don't Look Back incarnation of Dylan that seemed utterly unlikable, yet was surely formed by the endless attempts by fans and media to mold him and his music into the defining voice of a generation, a burden that would probably make almost any artist run and hide.  Blanchett's performance might be seen as too gimmicky to deserve an Academy Award (although you could probably say the same thing about her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator), but she should absolutely score a nomination and if she wasn't already considered the best actress on the planet, this should give her the title.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/26/07

Good Will Hunting, Ten Years Later

Sweet Mother, time flies.  It's been 10 years since Good Will Hunting was in theaters?  Any time it plays on cable, I usually watch.  And once I became interested in studying screenplays, I think this was one of the first scriptbooks I bought.  Unfortunately, this is mostly a photo gallery from the Boston Globe, not an article.  But we kind of know what's happened to everyone now, don't we?

Life's a Blur

You already know this, but the words "based on a true story" seem to be more of a "cover your ass" philosophy these days with biographical films.  After seeing both American Gangster and Mr. Untouchable, I'm wondering which is the truer story.  Maybe both of them are.  Or neither.  Maybe it shouldn't matter, either, unless you're watching a documentary.

10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking

I think of myself as a decent cook, though I'm always looking for ways to improve.  (And it seems impossible not to, with all of the food blogs, websites, and cookbooks that are readily available these days.)  Having said that, I think I've only done about three or four of the things on this list.  And there are a couple of things I can't imagine I will do.  But it's worth a read, especially if you were working over a hot stove last Thursday.

The death of e-mail

My first reaction to this article was "Aw, c'mon!"  I mean, the vast majority of us still traffic and communicate via e-mail, right?  It's ludicrous to say it's becoming obsolete.  But I also know that I send a lot more text messages and send out info via Twitter than I used to even six months ago.  Hmm...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Can We Do That Again? That's What She Said (Episode #34)

At the risk of ruining the "surprise" that Matt set up for the latest episode of That's What She Said, we're having ourselves a little reunion this week.  For what could be the season finale of The Office, Matt asked me if I'd like to come back and play podcast super-friends with him.  And with my nights and weekends currently baseball-free, that sounded like a fun idea.

Any episode that presumably centers upon the augmented, slightly demented Jan Levenson is something I can get behind (that's what he said), so "The Deposition" looked perfect for me.  Of course, this is Michael Scott's show, so his buffoonish naiveté got the spotlight.  Oh, well.

Episode #34 is available for your downloading and listening pleasure, either from the That's What She Said home page or via iTunes. If you liked or didn't like what you heard, please send Matt an e-mail, post a review at TWSS' iTunes page, or leave a comment at the show's blog page.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Attention, Comic Book Aficionados... !

I'd been pouting through most of last night and this morning because I missed The Simpsons last night, with comic book creators Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Daniel Clowes guest-starring.  But I didn't pout too much, knowing that the clips would likely end up on YouTube today.  Someone didn't disappoint me.

10 years ago, this sort of thing would've made my geek head explode.  Affirmation, baby!  Acceptance for comic books!  Now that comics are pretty much woven into the pop culture, however, it gives me more of a warm feeling.  It's even warmer with the show using three guys whose comics are challenging and provocative to adult audiences - the furthest thing from "kiddie books," even when handling mainstream icons like Superman.  Well played, Simpsons crew.

I only wish this had played before I saw Spiegelman speak at the University of Iowa three years ago, so I could've said "Maus in the house!" when he signed my book.  And a Clowes version of Batman - surely with an ill-fitting uniform - would be hilarious.

UPDATE:  Curses.  Foiled again.  What fun is posting YouTube videos if they're just going to be taken down 12 hours later?  This is totally harshing my blog mellow, man.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/16/07

Confronting the Fabled Monster, Not to Mention His Naked Mom

So who's interested in seeing Beowulf?  I'm definitely curious about the animation techniques used and am all for cinematic adaptations of ancient epic poetry.  (Okay, it really comes down to the naked animated Angelina Jolie - you got me.  And I can see that in IMAX 3D, right?)  Maybe it's just who I talk to, but I don't hear anyone eager to see this.  Is it going to be a huge flop?

Barry Bonds indicted on 4 perjury counts, obstruction of justice

This Barry Bonds indictment is sort of ho-hum news to me.  Maybe it's because I just don't care anymore.  And though I think Bonds comes off as a total asshole whose hubris might have finally brought him down, I'm not sure he should be singled out as baseball's steroid guy.  Anyway, the San Francisco Chronicle has been on this story for years, breaking the original story on Bonds' grand jury testimony, and they have all the need-to-know info on the indictment and where it leaves Bonds.

Shadows and Blog

With the continuing tension between blogs and conventional media (especially in regards to sportswriting), readers and peers have been waiting to see what Joe Posnanski thinks on the matter.  Not only is Posnanski a columnist for the Kansas City Star (and arguably the best sports columnist in the country), but he's also gotten into blogging over the past year, which is equally must-read material for sports fans.  Not only does Posnanski tout the virtues of both newspaper writing and blogging, but he also takes a position that is refreshingly candid.

(Tip o' the cap to Billfer)

Sexiest Man Living 2007

Matt Damon was People's choice for Sexiest Man Alive.  Despite (inexplicably!) not seeing The Bourne Ultimatum yet, I did watch Damon seduce Ellen Barkin in Ocean's 13, which provides sufficient evidence.  (Although Damon needed "The Gilroy" to get the job done...)  Anyway, has many more choices for their sexy men of the year.  My favorite choice: Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan.

Beyond the Multiplex

Southland Tales is opening in Ann Arbor this weekend, almost sneaking into town.  (And is No Country for Old Men really not here yet? What the #@$%?!)  I don't even know what the hell the movie's about, but I want to see it.  To me, any film from the director of Donnie Darko should be seen as a major event, but that was more of a cult phenomenon than big hit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lions for Lambs: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

When I first saw the teaser trailer for Lions for Lambs, I was a little bit irritated because it didn't tell me much about the movie, other than Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, and Robert Redford were in it - with Cruise asking Streep if she wants to win the war on terror and Redford scolding someone with "Rome is burning, son!  And the problem is us, all of us, who do nothing!" - and the story probably had to do something with the war in Iraq.

It turns out, however, that the trailer (again, a teaser) captured almost everything this movie is about, which is basically a 90-minute lecture by Redford (though he didn't write the screenplay) directed at three sources: the government, for getting us into this predicament and appearing to be clueless as to how to get us out of it; the media, for brainlessly selling this war to the American people without asking tougher questions and challenging those in power; and young people - perhaps college students, more specifically - for being too cynical and apathetic to affect change in this country when they're in an ideal position to do so.  But the actors most certainly sell it, especially Redford as the antagonistic, yet nurturing professor that many of us were fortunate to learn from in college, along with Cruise in a role that's perfect for him, because his character is just a little too polished, but very opinionated, and arrogant enough to think he has all the answers.

Those who prefer to go to the movies to escape that sort of stuff or just don't prefer having a finger wagged at them will probably hate this thing (and judging from the critical consensus and last weekend's box office, that's the majority opinion), but if you really liked The West Wing, and enjoyed seeing characters trading intelligent, passionate ideas and opinions, engaged in serve-and-volley dialogue that makes you think about the world we're currently living in, you might just dig it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Hope the Poster's Not Better Than the Movie

With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in the lead roles, I was already interested in seeing The Savages.  But the movie's poster might actually have me more excited about the film.  It's a Chris Ware original:

That is a thing of beauty, man.  It just has to be framed on a wall in my home.  I might have to see the movie by myself, however.  Team Casselberry caught a trailer with Dr. Lil' Sis was visiting over the summer, and the subject matter of two siblings caring for an ailing parent seemed to make everyone uncomfortable.  Maybe the poster would make us all feel better.

(via The Beat)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/11/07

Chalk the week off to my aching back?  It's feeling a lot better now, so let's make this here blog look current, shall we?

Why Norman Mailer Mattered

I can't go into a long eulogy or tribute to Norman Mailer, since I haven't read that much of his work (which touches on something I'd like to write about later in the week), but he's obviously an iconic literary figure, the type of which I don't think we'll ever see again.  Everything I've ever read about Mailer made him out to be a rock star within New York literati circles, in terms of his stature, machismo, and provocative behavior toward his peers and the culture at-large.  It's a cliche that I'm sure would turn Mailer's stomach, but his passing really does signify the end of an era.

TV Writers’ Strike Leaves Jilted Authors Looking for a Bully Pulpit

Most of the media coverage on the Writers Guild of America strike concerns how it will affect the television industry, with late-night talk shows going into immediate reruns and scripted programming only having a handful of episodes left to air.  But this is also affecting another group of writers: those who depend on shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report to promote their books.

Industrial Strength in the Motor City

An exciting event for Detroit will be the re-opening of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which has been closed for renovations and expansion since the end of May.  Here's a profile on one of the artists whose work will be exhibited when the museum opens again for the public on November 23.  Julie Mehretu's architecturally-inspired paintings provide an interesting companion piece to the famous Diego Rivera mural.

Leroy “Nicky” Barnes: Godfather or Snitch?

Okay, I'm on kind of a Harlem gangster kick, having seen American Gangster and Mr. Untouchable in the past week.  (Four-sentence movie reviews soon to come.)  Nicky Barnes is a supporting character in Ridley Scott's film, yet depending on what else you see or read, he was the drug lord of 1970s New York City, not Frank Lucas.  This is an interview with the director and producers of the documentary of a new documentary about Barnes.

Little-Bang Theory of Violence: It All Begins With a Toy Gun

I've written before about being the scourge of the townhouse complex I grew up in, running around shooting cap guns from behind fences and trees.  Honestly, I have no idea how I'd react to a little kid doing the same in my neighborhood.  But kids playing with guns obviously carries a far different meaning these days, and apparently, some parents aren't thrilled with a new accessory to the Nintendo Wii that looks a little too much like the real thing in their eyes.  Here's a history of toy guns and the controveries they've stoked.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Detroit: Sports Reporters vs. Sports Bloggers

[This was originally posted on my Detroit Tigers blog, Bless You Boys, but it touches on old media vs. new media arguments that aren't just restricted to sports, so I thought it might be appropriate to publish here, as well.]

And here I thought I was having plenty of fun yesterday, watching college football while zonked out on muscle relaxers for my frighteningly aching back.  While spending the day away from the computer, lying flat in the blissful state of a relatively flexible and painless lower back, it appears that a column written by the Detroit News' Chris McCosky had much the same effect on the Detroit sports blogosphere as tossing a molotov cocktail through the window of an unsuspecting home during family dinnertime.

This was brought to my attention by The Detroit Tigers Weblog's Billfer, so I'll begin by linking to his retort to McCosky's column.  I don't know if I'm quite as outraged as Bill, but it's definitely amusing that a prominent member of the local sports media apparently feels so threatened by bloggers that he deems it necessary to explain why his work should be considered more credible, going so far as to remind his readers that he actually went to school to learn his trade.

Journalism employs trained professionals.  We actually have to go to school for this stuff.  We take our jobs seriously.  There are rules and standards that we are beholden to.  There are ethics involved.  We actually talk to, in person, the people we write about.  If we rip somebody in an article, you best be sure most of us will confront that person the next day and take whatever medicine we need to take.

Just so you know where I'm coming from on this, I went to school to study journalism too, and have some experience working as a credentialed member of the media.  Some of that work included exchanging e-mails with Mr. McCosky for a Detroit Pistons season preview that I wrote for a magazine last year.  (And even back then, he railed against the sports talk radio/message board culture that was apparently making him chase stories he felt he shouldn't have to.)

Maybe that's made me more reverential toward the media than I should be.  I know beat writers, especially, put in long hours at the arena or ballpark pursuing the latest newsworthy information.  They also have to cull that material - most of which isn't usually very revelatory or compelling - into something readable while working on a tight deadline, which can be pretty stressful work.

However, a lot of "reporting" is also watching a game and recounting what happened for the next morning's paper.  They saw it, you saw it, and I saw it.  Would our accounts of the same event that we all just witness really differ that greatly?  Of course not.  The only difference is that the media can go down to the locker room directly after the game and ask Jim Leyland why he didn't take Jason Grilli out after he loaded the bases or ask Grilli why he threw four straight balls when there wasn't an open base.

But really, how often is the answer to that question really informative?  And how often is the person asking that question really going to challenge his or her subject when he knows he's getting a flat, meaningless response?  If Leyland dismisses a question with "It was the right call, and I'd make it every time," how often is a simple "Why?" the follow-up query?  How often does the mainstream media really take advantage of the access and opportunity that McCosky touts as the shiniest badge of honor for his profession?

I'm not saying it's easy.  To ask a sharp, probing question face to face, and risk an angry response that could affect everyone else trying to do his or her job in that clubhouse, can be a difficult situation to deal with.  I've had Dmitri Young, post-rehab, tell me to my face that he wasn't talking.  And I didn't push the issue because it wouldn't have mattered.  He didn't play in that particular game, and I was just looking for an easy interview to post on my magazine's website.  Maybe I should've pushed it, but I didn't want the fledgling magazine I was working for to lose its credential because of my grandstanding.

I don't think a beat writer for one of the city's two major metropolitan newspapers is going to have the same problem.  Would the Pistons really ban the Detroit News from the locker room or press row because one of the players got angry at its reporter?  I seriously doubt it.  Yet many writers act as if such a penalty could be incurred.

Go ahead and boast that you have to face a player or coach the day after bashing him in print.  But that same boast is also frequently used as a shield to justify not asking tougher questions in the first place.  ("Hey, I have to work with these people every day.  I'm not pissing them off to make my job miserable.")

I've probably spent far too long on that particular point, so let's move on.

With blogging and Web sites, it seems the hard work, standards, accountability, courage all of that is bypassed.  Who needs to study this stuff, or attend games, or conduct interviews when you can just sit in your basement and clack out whatever comes through your head, right?  If I rip somebody, or if I get something wrong, who cares?  Nobody will see me.

This is ridiculously reductive.  To McCosky, it "seems" the hard work is bypassed because he apparently didn't look at much to back up his unsubstantiated assertion.  Study what "stuff" exactly?  If Billfer devotes a post to hitters' spray charts or Lee Panas writes about runs created by position, did no amount of work go into that?  Did they just conjure that information out of thin air?  No, they looked far deeper into the game than any member of the mainstream baseball media.  And they did so because the information provided by those who are ostensibly the be-all, end-all authority on sports reporting doesn't tell enough of the story.

That brings up the ugly truth about the sports blogosphere that the mainstream media doesn't want to acknowledge.  They created us.

Fans are increasingly not getting what they want and need from the conventional outlets of newspaper, TV, or radio.  So we, as readers and fans, are either going to seek out the kind of information that's more in line with our thinking, that gives us another way of looking at the game, or just create that material ourselves.  Along the way, we might even find something that we hadn't previously considered, and that feeling of discovery is a refreshing bit of flavor among all the gruel we're consistently served these days.  And if many other fans weren't beginning to feel that way, McCosky wouldn't have felt it necessary to explain that his job is more important than our hobby.

Furthermore, if we "get something wrong," we're most certainly held accountable.  Not only by our readers, but by other bloggers.  It's why there's a comment section at the end of every post, so that readers can offer up an immediate response to something they agree or disagree with, a luxury conventional media hasn't offered them until relatively recently - likely in an attempt to keep pace with new media.  Maybe that's another reason McCosky's so miffed at bloggers.  Maybe his editors are suddenly asking him to keep up with an outlet that's providing a much quicker fix than the next morning's newspaper.

I want my writing to be taken seriously, so if I write that I believe Brad Wilkerson should be the Detroit Tigers' left fielder next season, I'm going to do everything I can to support that belief.  Otherwise, why should anyone bother to read any of my material?  Nothing's more humbling (and embarrassing) than being called out by a reader who can collapse your argument with a simple breath.  No one understands how precious one's time is than those who invested their own into something almost purely out of love and interest.  Those who don't take their work that seriously won't be getting much more of anyone's time.  We don't receive the benefit of the doubt that many attribute to anything that's in print.

But while we're talking about what's in print, let's address another McCosky assertion:

Bloggers are having a field day speculating on how Joel Zumaya really injured his shoulder.  Nobody believes a heavy box fell on him.  So the Internet is rife with stories about how he fell off his dirt bike.

There is not a single Detroit Tigers blog that posted this rumor about Joel Zumaya injuring his shoulder while dirt-biking.  And if I'm wrong about that, McCosky didn't bother to point me to where I'd find this theory.  As far as I can tell, the closest anyone came to that was me addressing that conspiracy theories were being floated out there and linking to a couple of places where such rumors could be found.  I also said that such conjecture was irrelevant.  And do you know what opened the door to such a subject being approached in the first place?  An article by McCosky's colleague at the Detroit News, Lynn Henning:

The details of Zumaya's mishap, and the long lapse between the incident and Thursday's disclosure, raised at least as many questions as were answered.

That was in print.  In a newspaper.  Speculation.  By a professional journalist.  And message boards and commenters ran off from there.  No blogger created that.  Yet apparently, we're all swimming in the same cesspool that McCosky used to soak the brush he's painting the Detroit sports blogosphere with.  This is exactly the type of irresponsible conduct he's charging sports bloggers with carrying out.  And it didn't even happen.  How's that for accountability?

Finally, McCosky proves just how original his thinking really is with the same old, tired shot that all those who find themselves threatened by new media love to take:

But you do have to know most reporters at legitimate news sources work hard to deliver fair, accurate and pertinent information.

And what they do is vastly different than what the clever dude in his pajamas is doing on his computer, down in his basement.

This is right up there with saying that Detroit sports fans still light cars on fire when they're celebrating a championship, the old stand-by writers from other cities pull out whenever their teams are playing one of ours.  It's a throwaway comment that's actually easy, thoughtless hackery.  Should I now make a crack about freeloading sportswriters gorging on complimentary food in the media lounge?  (And the food provided on McCosky's beat at the Palace of Auburn Hills is pretty good.)

I'm also offended because I'm typing this in my home office (which happens to be on an upper level of my house) while wearing a sweatshirt and jeans.  That's pretty much the same thing your sportswriting colleagues wear, based on my personal experience.  The pajamas went in the hamper before I took a shower this morning.  Get your facts straight like they taught you in school, McCosky.  Well... at least he called us "clever."  Maybe that's what McCosky was trying to be here, and this was just some poorly executed attempt at satire.

It's baffling to me how writers like Chris McCosky get so defensive about this stuff.  Ask most sports fans where they get their news, or how they caught up on last night's game.  A majority of them will still probably say the newspaper.  And if they do read sports blogs, they still know who was on the scene to report on events as they occurred.  They hear who's called an "insider" on the radio each week.  They see who ESPN puts on the air as "experts."

So why feel so threatened?  Why act like old man Tom Smykowski in Office Space, having to explain his job to that consultant, Bob Slydell, so he doesn't get laid off?  ("Can't you understand that?  What the hell is wrong with you people?")  Is it because he sees his job changing, and doesn't like it?  Is he having to chase rumors or write website material that you previously didn't have to?  Are bloggers suddenly getting more credit than he thinks they should?  (And if that's the case, let me know where that credit's being handed out, because I think a lot of us would love some of that.)

Maybe that's something he can address in print, after talking to some of the bloggers he criticized.  You know, in person.  Or even via e-mail.  As an accountable professional journalist is supposed to, upholding the standards and ethics he or she was taught in school.  Or is it just easier to attack and move on?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Today's Reading - 11/01/07

An Extra Hour of Halloween Daylight? Thank Politics

This would've been more appropriate yesterday, but since back spasms had me laid out as flat as a coffin for most of the day, I couldn't get around to it.  (No, that didn't stop me from posting on my Detroit Tigers blog.  The painkillers were working then.  And they're working at this moment, along with heat pads.)

Anyway, is it true that Daylight Savings Time was moved back a week to sell more candy?  Apparently, the candy lobbyists are quite powerful.  Next, we'll be hearing how a candy bar a day will help regulate your cholesterol or whatever.

In short: 49855

My fellow Detroit Tigers blogger, Kurt Mensching, has a neat new gig blogging for his newspaper, the Mining Journal of Marquette, MI, and his first post went up on Tuesday.  I'm eager to see what he'll choose to write about.  (Yesterday, he profiled a local high school volleyball player.)  Anybody that references Richard Ford has to be pretty interesting.

Two Pigs

So are you a better, more morally upright carnivore if you know exactly where your meat is coming from?  If you helped raise the pig or cow that will yield the pork or meat you'll be eating for dinner?  Does that make you more in tune with nature or give you a healthier respect for the meat?  I don't know the answer to those questions, but some people feel that way.  I think buddying up to my swine would make me a vegetarian.

Vegans vs. Vegetarians: What kind of diet is best for the environment?

Speaking of vegetarians, would they be helping the environment if they pushed a little further and became vegans?  (So asks the meat-eater.)  It seems like a no-brainer, but as is often the case, the truth is a little more complicated.  For instance, certain types of land aren't suited to growing particular kinds of vegetables.

The Worst Football Coach in the Universe

Maybe the greatest fraud perpetrated on sports fans in the 2000s was the idea that Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis is some kind of genius football coach.  Weis should be sending checks to his old boss, Bill Belichick, and quarterback, Tom Brady, for creating the impression that he was some kind of strategic mastermind.  Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish are likely stuck with this guy after giving him a 10-year (!!!) contract extension last year.