Tuesday, December 30, 2008

For Those Who Had to Watch, We Salute You

Before turning the page on 2008, I have to post one more thing about Motown's gridiron heroes, the Detroit Lions.

This isn't about the firing of coach Rod Marinelli. That was a no-brainer. The man was the worst ever at his job. No one else has ever gone winless in a 16-game season. How the hell do you bring that guy back? So no surprise there.

No, this post is to stand and give a slow clap to the poor guy who had to watch all of the crappy football southeastern Michigan's most prominent professional and college teams inflicted upon its fans this year and describe it those of us who followed the games on radio. Yes, he was paid for it, as a professional broadcaster. But he also surely paid a price, having to endure some soul-crushingly bad football.

We're talking about Jim Brandstatter, color analyst for both the Michigan football and Detroit Lions radio broadcasts. Out of the 28 games he called this season, Brandstatter provided commentary for only three victories. Michigan went 3-9. The pitiful Lions failed to win a single game. He witnessed the worst season Michigan football has had in 46 years. And as we've already covered, the Lions set NFL history for losing all 16 of their games.

Hey, at least we had the option of turning off the TV or radio. (And I did that more this year than I ever have.) Not Brandy. Hopefully, the strength and discipline instilled in him when he played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan helped him through this.

Salutes must also be given to my buddy Big Al, who live-blogged every single one of the Lions' incompetent performances, in addition to posting related news and commentary each day at The Wayne Fontes Experience. (I thought blogging about the Detroit Tigers was tough.) And to my fellow SB Nation blogger Sean Yuille, who authors blogs devoted to both University of Michigan sports and the Lions. Man, that's a tough year.

Can we please turn the calendar on 2008 in Detroit sports? (Except for the Red Wings. You guys are doing a hell of a job and shouldn't be overlooked. Even though I kind of just did that.) 2009 can't possibly be as bad. Can it?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

History is Upon Us!

So when the Detroit Lions set an infamous NFL record by finishing off an 0-16 season today, do you think members of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will get together and have a champagne toast?

It would kind of be like what the 1972 Miami Dolphins do every time an undefeated team fails to break their record. (Although Snopes.com says that's a myth.) Except I imagine those '72 Bucs would be more than happy to get knocked out of the record books. (Unless they had a few Brian Kingman types on that roster.) Lee Roy Selmon and Steve Spurrier will surely gladly pass that baton of suckitude over to Dan Orlovsky and Cory Redding.

If you regularly stop by here, you know where I stand on the Lions and 0-16. I want to see it happen and resent anyone who says I'm not a true fan for that. Maybe it's delusional to think that fresh grass can only grow after the old, dry stuff is burned away, but at least that provides some hope.

Kudos and condolences to my buddy Big Al at The Wayne Fontes Experience, who will be following the march of Detroit's gridiron heroes to the historic oh-fer. Having devotedly blogged the Detroit Tigers' 2008 last-place finish, I know what a drag it can be to follow consistent losing day after day, week after week. Maybe he and I can have our own champagne toast sometime after the New Year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Elephant Orphanage

Did you catch the report on 60 Minutes this past Sunday about the elephant orphanage in Kenya that rescues those left behind after their parents were killed for their ivory tusks? I was blown away by it (which is to say, I stopped eating while watching this - and for me, that's saying something), both by the tragedy of the slaughtered elephants and the heroic care provided by the keepers working at the orphanage.

It's kind of a long clip to watch, but if you have 15 minutes to spare, I defy you not to fall in love with these elephants, especially when they smother Bob Simon with attention and affection.

You can read a transcript of the report here.

Happy Festivus!

Happy Festivus to one and all!

Since I'll likely be deprived of gathering my family around and telling them all the ways they have disappointed me over the past year, I'll have to settle for engaging in Feats of Strength. Surely, I can find a suitable opponent while doing some last-minute Christmas shopping this morning. It will be a Festivus miracle!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Milk: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

If you put yourself through Steven Zallian's remake of All the King's Men, and endured Sean Penn's ridiculous, scenery-devouring performance as Willie Stark, perhaps you began to wonder if Penn was on his way to becoming a new version of Al Pacino, someone who was just going to impose himself upon a movie, yelling and screaming over his co-stars and the script. After watching his portrayal of Harvey Milk, however, I take that thought back because Penn shows what a fantastic actor he can be by totally immersing himself into a character who relishes his free-spirited, hedonistic lifestyle, while also living in fear of hatred and persecution, but eventually finds his identity and purpose in a passionate fight for legitmacy and equality.

Everyone involved with the production does great work here - whether it's James Franco, who exudes a subtle strength and warmth as Milk's lover and best friend; Emile Hirsch, as perhaps a younger version of Milk, who finds fulfillment in a larger cause; or Josh Brolin, who loses his apparent innocence in what he perceives as a betrayal - including Gus Van Sant, who's emerged from the hibernation of smaller, experimental films to create what I think is the best movie he's ever made.

It's not a perfect film, with a screenplay that follows some of the standard biopic story beats and perhaps tries to fit too many characters in - though I certainly wouldn't dare to suggest who would be taken out, as these are real people who all played a role in actual events, and each actor makes you care about his or her character (with the unfortunate exception of Diego Luna, who's really kind of annoying) - but maybe I just felt the end came about too quickly because I was enjoying the whole thing so damn much.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rooting For 0-16 Does Not Make Me Less of a Fan

So I'm watching "SportsWorks" on Fox 2 Sunday night, as Dan Miller, Jamie Samuelsen, and Sean Baligian try to pick apart yet another loss (the 14th of the season) by the Detroit Lions. And there's really only so much to say when the losing continues week after week. Maybe the Lions are showing a little bit of fight at the end of the season, especially as it tries to avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to go winless over a 16-game season, but with only two games left on the schedule, they're running out of chances to avoid pro football infamy.

But while discussing that very possibility, Miller asked Samuelsen and Baligian if they're part of the "moron contingent" of Lions fans that is rooting for the team to go 0-16. And when I heard that, I sat up. Because I count myself among the segment of Detroit sports fans that want to see the Lions suck on a historical level. And maybe my perception is influenced by the echo chamber of my friends, but I don't believe I'm in the minority on this. I think many Lions fans believe that the only way the team has any chance of getting better is for the ownership to suffer the kind of humiliating indignity that they'll never want to experience again.

Apparently, that makes me a "moron." Or as MLive.com's Tom Kowalski put it, not a real Lions fan.

If you want these things to happen and you still want to call yourself a Lions fan, I have a huge problem with that. It might be a silly little pet peeve of mine, but I firmly believe that once you start rooting for your team to lose, you're no longer a fan.

My response to Miller and Kowalski on this consists of two words.

Fuck you.

(What, did you think they'd be "Merry Christmas"? I'm sorry, but no other words better capture how I feel about this.)

Let me get this straight: two members of the credentialed Detroit sports media - who are paid to attend games and watch them from what is essentially an office environment in the press box - are going to tell people whether or not they're fans? Miller, as the radio play-by-play man for the Lions, is literally a professional mouthpiece for the team. Kowalski is presumably impartial as a beat reporter, but when you spend that much time around a group of coaches, players, and executives, it's impossible to remain completely objective. And he doesn't.

Am I less of a Lions fan than I was three years ago? Absolutely! This team - and its entire organization - has given me nothing to root for. Their games are a frustrating, joyless ordeal. And I can't even watch another, better team that might play more enjoyable football. (Believe me; I've tried to find a new team. But what fun is it to root for Pittsburgh's team? Or New York's team?) The Lions have actually drained my love of the sport right out of me.

Would I be more of a fan to blindly surrender my loyalty to a team that has given its fans an utterly inferior - and progressively worse - product for eight years? Am I not a fan because I want the team that represents my community to get better and know, deep down, that it can only be rebuilt once it's completely destroyed?

Miller and Kowalski dispute that line of thinking, asserting that changes are going to be made, so there's ultimately no difference between a 1-15 and 0-16 season. No, there is every bit of difference. Other teams have gone 1-15 or 2-14 before. No team has gone winless. And if the Detroit Lions have to carry that weight around their collective necks, maybe they'll work that much harder to make us forget what a laughingstock they've been.

The fact that I'm hoping for that, that I care enough to have typed out 600 words about all this, makes me a fan. How dare someone in the media try to tell me otherwise.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

I know I saw the original The Day the Earth Stood Still on TV as a child (probably on a Saturday afternoon), but other than the iconic image of the big robot (which I didn't even remember was named Gort), what I mostly remember is that any message that much of science fiction from the 50s and 60s tried to convey was totally lost on a kid who just wanted to see laser guns firing and spaceships zooming through battle. So I didn't carry any nostalgia or affection into this remake.

But as I was watching Keanu Reeves drone his way past Jennifer Connelly's wide-eyed disbelief throughout this new version, I wondered if anyone else would've come up with this story and these characters if they weren't following the blueprint of the original movie, rather than just thinking it would be cool to update the special effects and make the message more pertinent to 2008, and if the answer is no, then what was the point of making this movie? However, I could just be cranky about the borderline criminal underuse of Jon Hamm, whose role could've been played by a Jon Hamm's John Ham sandwich.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A 'Farewell Kiss' For W.

By now, you've surely heard or read about an Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at President Bush during a press conference. Of course, seeing the shoe-chucking in action makes the whole thing a little more real.

So there was a little more significance to throwing a shoe at Bush than just wanting to hurl an object at him. In Iraqi culture, the gesture is considered the worst possible insult, a sign of extreme contempt and disrespect. The journalist yelled "Dog! Dog!" as he was tackled to the ground by security officers.

Speaking of security officers, did it not seem like it took a while for them to get to the guy once it was clear he had malicious intent? Obviously, the Secret Service would make sure there were no weapons of any sort in the room, and the overall space seemed small enough to close in quickly if something had occurred. Still, that's the President of the United States having to duck from an attack, and regardless of what you or I might think about him, that's a little bit disturbing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Punisher: War Zone - A Four-Sentence Movie Review

With revenge stories such a popular film genre (there were two of them last year with The Brave One and Death Sentence), I find it kind of baffling that, in three different attempts, Hollywood somehow can't figure out how to make a decent movie with Marvel Comics' gun-toting crusader, the Punisher.

Maybe it's that filmmakers think they have to do something different, otherwise they've just made yet another revenge movie, or that they think the lead character must be super-heroic since he comes from the comic books, or that they feel Frank Castle has to show a glimpse of humanity to placate a mainstream audience, whereas comic book readers don't care if he just pops into the story, blows off a half-dozen heads, throws out a one-liner, and moves on to the next criminal slaughter.

As someone who grew up reading some Punisher comics (and greatly enjoyed Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's darkly humorous take of a few years ago), I think what makes the Punisher so appealing to comics fans is that they're used to seeing a hero who's content to put the villain in jail because he has to do the right thing and doesn't want to kill, so to see someone whose version of justice is to spray the bad guys' brains all over the wall brings an entirely different sense of wish fulfillment.

Punisher: War Zone definitely gets that right (as you can see here), yet beyond the extreme blood and gore, there isn't any "art" to the violence - none of the slow-motion fetishizing of gunfire or balletically choreographed fight scenes that we've become accustomed to - which reminded me of an interview I read with Ray Stevenson, where he said he wanted to make sure no one left the theater wanting to be the Punisher, and while that might be noble, such a sentiment may have resulted in a movie much less gratuitously entertaining than it could've been.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ubiquitous Hugh Jackman?

First, he's the Sexiest Man Alive. Now Hugh Jackman's hosting the Oscars?

What would Dr. Perry Cox think of this?

My first thought about Jackman hosting the Oscars, even though he's hosted the Tonys before, is "lame." We need a comedian to get us through those three-plus hours!

But I probably wouldn't tell Wolverine that to his face. Maybe he'll compensate by going shirtless several times. Not sure what that'll do for us heterosexual men, though.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Like Music to Your Pants

I forgot that Saturday Night Live wasn't a rerun this weekend, so missed Amy Poehler's (brief) return to the show as Hillary Clinton. ("Is my new job better than being Governor of Alaska? Yes, it is.")

Apparently, I also missed this, closer to 1 a.m. EST. And perhaps not safe for work:

Reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys, no? And maybe the best acting Molly Sims has ever done. (Not a fan.) SNL could get a whole lot better if they became a bit riskier past midnight, instead of, well, lame.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

How I'll Be Spending My Sunday Afternoon

Though the reviews for Punisher: War Zone have not been very kind, I think I could go for some gratuitous violence at the movies. Look at this web trailer; it's hilarious! (And most definitely not safe for work.)

Okay, maybe an assault on the senses. Great pull quotes, though, don't you think?

With the Detroit Lions once again blacked out from local TV - and really, I'd rather be on the business end of one of Frank Castle's big guns at this point than watch that joke of a football team - a Sunday matinee sounds nice. Especially if someone puts his fist through an enemy's head during the story.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Rachel Getting Married: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

Maybe I'm speaking for myself here, but if you've been to (or participated in) a good share of weddings in your lifetime - even if someone close to you is getting married - they all seem kind of the same, and it's kind of the same with wedding-centered movies, as well, with story beats that includes the groom having cold feet, the bride being a control-freak monster, the interfering mother, and the best man/good friend guest who's just a little too cool for school and manages to make some fun for himself.

What's so refreshing about Rachel Getting Married is that none of these formulaic elements apply, so all of the characters and their foibles felt very real, and while watching the movie, I kept thinking to myself that this was a wedding I really would've enjoyed attending - as long as I had some distance from the family drama (enough of my own, thanks).

Anne Hathaway's character, Kym, comes into the story like a looming natural disaster, a destructive force ready to lay her narcissism, manipulation, and guilt trips all over the family that's dared to move on with their lives while she's in drug rehab and living with a tragedy no one should have to carry on his or her own, and though everyone seems to dread her arrival, cringing in anticipation of what terrible thing she might say or do to ruin her sister's nuptuals, you realize that those feelings of hurt, resentment, and hate are only so passionate because they're fueled by an inherent love.

With one of the main secondary characters being a musician (and played by Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio), you might expect music to be a part of the movie, but Jonathan Demme cleverly utilizes the various musicians scattered around the family compound - out in the yard or on the porch, practicing what they'll be playing for the wedding and jamming among contemporaries - to provide a score for the film, and though maybe it's a bit precious for them to be playing sad music when Kym is feeling melancholy, for example, the overall effect is an unexpected, yet understated, surprise.