Saturday, February 17, 2007

Will someone please ban Nate Robinson from the dunk contest?

This will be the only trophy the C's hold this year

The NBA Slam Dunk contest continued its swift journey into obscurity Saturday night in Las Vegas when the best dunk of the night was awarded one of the lowest scores and the man who needs 45 tries to complete 1 mediocre dunk almost won the whole thing again.

The Boston Celtics' Gerald Green took home the trophy after making 4 spectacular dunks: from teammate Paul Pierce off the side of the backboard; over fellow participant Nate Robinson while doing a Dee Brown imitation; off Pierce's lob pass from behind the backboard; and finally over a table set up in the middle of the paint for the one-handed winner.
Green beat out last year's winner Robinson; there were numerous fantastic dunks on the night but the little guy who needs a ton of attempts to pull off his stuff managed to get past Dwight Howard for the finals despite Howard nailing one of the best dunks in recent memory.

Howard, the 6"11 wunderkind of the Orlando Magic, had petitioned the league to allow him to dunk on a 12 foot high rim, instead of the usual 10', for his part of the contest. Apparently taking his cue from the No Fun League, commissioner David Stern nixed Howard's plan, using the standard "integrity of the game" bullshit excuse.

Guys this thing is more tired & washed up than Tara Reid. Couldn't you just look the other way this one time, for the good of the event and the benefit of the fans that are still watching, and let Howard attempt to pull off something that has never been done before?

Evidently not. Stern said no, but Howard responded by pulling off a dunk that nobody had ever seen before anyway, just for shits & giggles.

And he still lost.

To a midget who attempts more dunks than a squadron of cops at a donut shop.

Ever since the days of Spud Webb the Association has been obsessed with small guys with big ups. And back in Spud's day (early '80s), seeing a little dude get up near the rim and throw one down was pretty awesome, mainly because it had never been seen before. Now little guys from the local rec to the NBA can jam with regularity, therefore rendering the awesomeness of the feat a little less, well, awesome. Small guys dunking is still cool, but just not the incredible feat of athleticism it was regarded as decades ago.
Nevertheless the NBA has taken this love affair to ridiculous heights the past two years in this contest. Last year 5' 7" Nate Robinson of the Knicks took home the trophy despite needing 647 tries to execute his winning dunk, ironically with the assistance of Mr. Webb, the 1986 champion and only other sub -6' winner.

So what does the league do in light of that yawn-inducing fiasco? They invite Nate back and adjust the rules, allowing the contestants only 2:00 to complete their dunk, plus 2 extra after the time is up (huh?) Ah, okay.

But before Nate would use all of that time (plus the extra 2 dunks) in the final Howard would be robbed on one of the most creative and impressive dunks in the history of the contest. After wowing the crowd with a fierce throwdown from just inside the dotted circle in the first round that only netted a 43 from the panel of Dunk Gods- MJ, Dr. J, Kobe, Vince Carter and 'Nique- his second dunk defied all logic.

It looked innocent enough at first, as Howard swooped in from in front of the rim, took a toss from teammate Jameer Nelson, patted the backboard with one hand and jammed with his opposite hand. A nice dunk at first glance, but upon further review, and with the help of Nelson's tapemeasure & many slo-mo replays, we notice that Howard had placed a sticker, of himself, up on the backboard at a height of 12'6". Take that, Stern!

Way up there is a little sticker of Dwight's smiling face

And the judges gave him a 42.

And that's why the dunk contest sucks.

Little guys who need extra time to complete their dunks are rewarded and advance while big guys who come up with original ideas are denied and robbed of the chance of living the event up.

Maybe Stern should have let Tim Hardaway enter.

In other All Star Saturday night news Jason Kapono won the 3-point contest, compiling a near-record 24 points in the final to defeat Crazy Gilbert Arenas, and Dwayane Wade won his second-consecutive Skills Challenge title, besting Kobe. Also Charles Barkley beat referee Dick Bavetta in a foot race up and down the court, and a team made up of Bill Laimbeer, Chauncey Billups ans some WNBA chick beat the trio of Scottie Pippen, Ben Gordon, and another WNBA chick in the Shooting Stars competition when Pippen's team was DQ'd for shooting out of turn.

I did not make that up. At least that's what my son told me happened. I feel asleep on the couch after spending 6 hours at the Little League field today.

Well I'm off to the Outback Champions Tour Pro Am tomorrow to catch Bill Murray in person, then maybe I'll have enough energy to watch the All Star Game tomorrow night.

I just hope none of the players get arrested or worse in Sin City tonight.

But I know that Dwight Howard already got robbed.


Friday, February 16, 2007

A night of basketball beatdowns

I just got through watching the NBA's two-headed monster known as the All Star Celebrity Game and the T*Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam (actual name.) And I think I need medical attention.

Why would I expose myself to 4 hours worth of such defense-free, airball & brick-filled video game level trash? Two reasons:
1.) I have a blog now and it's fun to watch shit like this just to rip it later
2.) My son, whom you'll remember just turned 10, loves this stuff

And what 10-year old kid wouldn't love watching young stars like Nick Cannon, (No More Lil) Bow Wow, Reggie Bush, and LaDanian Crybaby Tomlinson? Unfortunately that meant Dad had to endure watching C-listers like James Denton ("Desperate Housewives"), Jonathan My Career Ended Before it Started Silverman, David Mr. Cox Arquette, not to mention real losers like Carrot Top, Chris Tucker and Jamie Kennedy. Plus one of the coaches was Greg I'll Have Another Anthony and the whole mess was emceed by Stu Left Eye Scott. Oh yeah, and Food Channel great Bobby Flay was on the roster as well. Seriously.

Honest to God I though the wife had slipped me a Peter Pan & jam sandwich because it was like I had passed on and entered purgatory.

Did I mention Vegas dinosaur Wayne Newton was an honorary captain? If Celine Dion had sung the anthem my heart would have exploded on the spot.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

As the "action" progressed the score was like 10-3 West after one quarter and the East looked as bad as Britney Spears after a 3-day bender: airballs, turnovers and enough bricks to please a Colombian cartel leader. Things didn't get much better for the east as Bow Wow scored 6 quick points, blocked a couple of shots, and generally looked like the only one who knew what he was doing out there.

But some guy named Tony Potts , who is a weekend co-anchor on Access Hollywood, stole the show. You know, that Tony Potts. Whoever he is this guy came to play. He was all over the place all night and earned the coveted MVP trophy for his monster 14-point, 8-rebound effort in the West's "impressive" 40-21 victory, a fact that really seemed to aggravate Stu-ya, who was slurping Bow Wow big time by practically asking Potts to give the trophy to him. Potts wouldn't budge, though, and the guy did inspire some of the most entertainment in this otherwise sad night.

We can't believe you won it either, dude

The game was so bad that my son & I played a game of NBA 2K7 on the 360 in the middle of it just to pass the time (even he was appalled at the display being presented to us- numerous times he shouted at the TV "I could've made that shot"- and he was right). Unfortunately I got my ass handed to me in that game just like the East as my son used his new favorite 2K7 team (the Rockets), and his new 3-point weapon (Luther Head) to drub my Magic by 27. Suddenly I felt like David Arquette to his Tony Potts.

Next up was the Rookie/Sophomore game, possibly the only game on the planet where there is less defense played than in the NBA All Star game & the Pro Bowl combined. These kids (and most of them are just that) played such "ole" defense in this thing that thirteen guys scored in double figures, 4 players had over 20 points and one, David Lee of the Knicks, went for 30 on 14-14 shooting; Lee continued the Year of the Gator (not counting Grossman)by earning the MVP award.

The score was 77- 48 Sophs at the half as Lee got off to a smokin' hot 8-8 start on a steady dose of alley oops, layups and walk in baskets. It got to the point he was so money that I said to Drew "this guy is hotter than what's-his-name-Potts." For some reason that set my son & I on a laughing jag for about the next 5 minutes. It was that kind of night. For the rest of the night we kept injecting the phrase "What's His Name Potts" into the game, for instance "get the ball to What's His Name Potts", or "Chris Paul is giving What's His Name Potts a run for the MVP trophy"...

In hindsight I guess it was one of those 'you had to be there' type things.

Anyway the Sophs annihilated the Frosh, 155- 114, and not only did Lee go for 30 & 11 but Chris Paul nearly had a triple-double (16 pts, 17 ass, 9 stls) and little-known Monta Ellis of the Warriors threw down 28, most of them on nasty alley-oops from Paul. The kids were led by littler-known Paul Millsap of the Jazz and Rudy Gay of the Grizz, who both had 22 points.

All in all it was a night of terrifically bad basketball by many involved including the East celebs, the Freshmen stars and my 2K7 Magic team.

At least What's His Name Potts had a nice night.


Spring training is underway

This is what I get for bragging about the Florida weather & rubbing it in to my snow-bound Northern friends & family. Today is a blustery 50 degree day and the forecast is calling for 3-6 hours of freezing temps tonight. Lovely.

Hey I realize it's nothing compared to 100+ inch snowfalls and daytime sub-freezing temps of the North but for Florida it's bad enough. That's why I moved here, to escape that kind of crap.

Spring training is underway and the spotlight around Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is already in mid-season, white-hot form. From the minute-by-minute account of his arrival in Fort Myers to comments about his, shall we say, ample frame, the Diceman hath cometh into the world of Intense Media & Fan Scrutiny.

Dan Shaughnessy has already come out with a column railing against the gobs of attention being given to the Japanese phenom the Sox shelled out $103 million bucks to bring to MLB, but I'm sure if Dice-K starts out 8-2 with a 2.30 ERA and indeed throws 5 quality pitches he'll be sucking on his chopstick, too.

It's nice to see the guys down here, though, if for no other reason than to provide a break from the craziness that is the John Amaechi/Tim Hardaway nightmare, the Anna Nicole fiasco and tainted peanut butter.

It's only the first official day of pitchers & catchers reporting but there have already been a number of stories catching the attention of bloggers & news outlets everywhere:

-Keith Johnny Burger King Foulke selfishly denies Sox fans the right to watch him attempt to be a mentor for Fausto Blown Save Carmona

-Mediocre Philles hurler Jon Lieber has a huge overcompen-sation problem

- Kerry Wood has a slip-up on the road to resurrecting his career as a closer

-Barroid Bonds (credit sports aficionado Roger Lodge for that one) finally signs his $15.8 million deal, full of hidden clauses filed under "in case of accidental imprisonment"

-Willy Mo Pena avoids arbitration and signs a 1-year deal with the Sox, thus ensuring Red Sox nation of at least one more season of outfield follies and tape-measure homers

Those are a few of the stories from the first few days of camp. And with the NBA All Star weekend taking place in Las Vegas this weekend baseball will probably take a back seat until the next week, because you can bank on some major stories breaking out of Sin City over the next couple of days.

Be prepared.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'm not gay; I read the S.I. Swimsuit Edition!

Sign #4,286 that I am getting older: I received my Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition today and here I am blogging about it instead of running to my bedroom and...leafing through it , if you catch my drift.

For reasons that are being pondered throughout the blogosphere, Dreamgirls star and insecure music diva Beyonce is on the cover. Okay. I know Jay Z's arm candy is smokin hot, talented and cover girl worthy, but really, the cover girl for the iconic, legendary, career-defining (for supermodels) Swimsuit Issue? And it just so happens that she is wearing her own self-designed suits? This is just a disgusting example of crossover money grubbing; Beyonce's in it to sell her suits (and out-cover arch rival Jennifer Hudson) while SI is trying to sell more swimsuit editions.

Whatever happened to using good old fashioned supermodels to sell the immensely popular edition? (Speaking of which, Leo DiCan't Win-O's new squeeze, Bar Rafaeli, is prominently featured in the issue. Wonder how long it'll be before Tom Brady is picking up those leftovers.)

I find an interesting parallel going on as the arrival of this annual sports periodical's foray into skin mag territory happens to coincide with the firestorm raging over the announcement that a former NBA player has come out of the closet.

Ex-Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz forward John Amaechi told the whole world last week that he is homosexual. That means he was what I will refer to as Gay in the NBA. Not that there's anything wrong with that (how much more difficult would it be to talk about these subjects if Seinfeld hadn't come up with that phrase?) Of course ESPN beat the story to death, mainly because they invented the story in the first place, first with a special ESPN the Magazine exclusive complete with excerpts from Amachei's new book "Man in the Middle"(wink wink) and then the requisite 1,000 follow up stories on Sportscenter, Outside the Lines, The Sports Reporters, Around the Horn, PTI, and

Most people, including current NBA players, interviewed for their responses first replied "who the f**k is John Amaechi?!" Then when their memories were refreshed (marginal NBA player for 6 years, English dude, faded into obscurity quicker than Justin Guarini), most responded with the usual litany of pat answers, ranging from "it wouldn't bother me" if his sexual preference had been revealed while he was still an active player, to "I don't think the world of athletics is ready for an openly gay active player right now." In other words, the usual cliche answers, recycled enough times to fit into easily digestible headlines, stories and bylines.

Then something happened that "shocked" not only the the sports world but spilled over into the realm of the real world: former 5-time NBA All Star Tim Hardaway, at the tail end of an interview with the Miami Herald (and ESPN's) Dan LeB Retard on his Miami radio show, had the audacity to speak his true mind on the subject (a mind that his comments revealed is not filled with many thoughts about social skills or politically correct responses):

"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known," Hardaway said. "I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

Oh it's known, Timmy! Now this response was many things, including stupid, short-sighted, spontaneous and foolish. But another way to describe Hardaway's rant is truthful. Sure he came off sounding like a housemate on the Real World but at least his response was brutally, unequivocally, 100% honest. It's what he feels and he let it be known that is how he feels, idiotic or not. Amaechi himself agreed with this assertion when asked about Hardaway's remarks today:

"Finally, someone who is honest," he said. "It is ridiculous, absurd, petty, bigoted and shows a lack of empathy that is gargantuan and unfathomable. But it is honest. And it illustrates the problem better than any of the fuzzy language other people have used so far."

Amen, John. At least the man was letting everyone know where he stood on the subject, unlike the many athletes who give the cliched "it wouldn't bother me" reply but in the locker room he says " there's no way I would ever want to play with no f-ing --------------(fill in homophobic epithet here.) It's truly amazing to me how these guys can be so disgusted about the prospect of being teammates with a gay player yet have no qualms about sharing their locker rooms with drug users, wife beaters, child abusers, gun freaks, sexual deviants and crooks. Fascinating disconnect.

Anyway, how does all of this relate to the SI issue? I'm not really sure. But the emphasis on sexuality in all walks of life, sports included, helps formulate these thoughts of hate and bigotry in many of these athletes. They see Beyonce on the cover of SI and of course they are going to gather around the issue and ohh & ahh. How do you think Amachei must have felt when things like that happened?. Like an outsider, just like society has deemed him. What needs to be done is the commissioners of all leagues hold diversity training sessions (not led by Michael Scott), which NBA commish David Stern promised to look into as he was banishing Hardaway from the All Star weekend festivities, to make sure the athletes know that there will come a time that they will be playing with an openly gay, active player.

And guys like Tim Hardaway need to learn that there really isn't anything wrong with that.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Slump busters: Duke, Celts snap skids

Let me start out by saying Happy Valentine's day to all the ladies and thank God it's over to all the men out there. Nothing like an artificial "holiday" sponsored by Hallmark & Whitman's chocolates to let your significant other know how much you truly love them. And I can't begin to tell you how special this "holiday" is to me coming on the heels of Christmas and the Bermuda Triangle of birthdays (mine, my wife's & my son's are all within the first 10 days of Feb.)

I would also like to tell my snowed-in family members in New York, Boston & Ohio "good luck, hang in there, and don't worry, it'll be warm in like 11-12 weeks."

As a late winter storm pelted the Northeast New England's two major hoop teams hosted games that held great importance for the participants.

Celtics drop Bucks to end 18-game slide, 117-97

The Celtics (13-38) dragged an 18-game losing skid into their game against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks (19-34) at the TD BankNorth Bank Garden Center, and seeing as they embark on a brutal 5-game West Coast trip following this weekend's All Star Game, it was win now or possibly match the all-time consecutive loss record of 24 games.

Luckily for the C's they had two things going for them tonight: Paul Pierce and the Milwaukee Yucks. Pierce returned Sunday from a 24 game absence caused by a foot injury, but despite his 29 points Boston still lost to the T-Wolves on a last-second shot by former teammate Ricky Davis. But the mere presence of Pierce sparked the team in that close road loss and his performance tonight led the team to a slump-busting home blowout against a team that came in at 8-23 on the road; the win also snapped Boston's 12-game home losing streak (I blame the building's idiotic names-call it the friggin' Garden already and be done with it.)

The Celt's captain poured in 32 points on 12-19 shooting, including 5-8 threes, as the Green waxed the Bucks by 20, 117-97. Phenom-in-training Gerald Green chipped in with 21 points in just 20 minutes of action, and 5 Celtics scored in double figures. Boston dished out 26 assists, grabbed 11 steals, blocked 5 shots and only turned the ball over 9 times in what was an impressive all-around team effort. Granted it was against the Bucks, but if ever there was a team in need of a walkover win, this was it.

"We are never going to get the No.1 pick with this guy playing like that!"

Other notable contributions included Al Jefferson's double-double (17 pts, 10 boards); rookie point guard Rajon Rondo's career-high 11 assists (the kid could be the steal of the draft; he's averaging 10 ppg & 7 apg in February); and Where's Wally Sczcerbiak scoring 17 points after sitting out the past 2 games with yet another ailment (sprained ankle.)


Sadly after the break a new streak could rapidly begin- the first 5 games the C's play after the break are at Sacramento, Phoenix, the Lakers, Utah and Houston. Combined records: 159-100.


Blue Devils get back on track, 78-70 over BC

Meanwhile, just about 8 miles away in Chestnut Hill, the 21st ranked Boston College Eagles were playing host to the reeling Duke Blue Devils(19-7), losers of 4 games in a row for the first time since 1995. BC (18-7) stood in a place Duke is used to occupying- atop the ACC with a 9-2 mark- while the Devils' skid had left them in the middle of the ACC pack and sub-.500 at 5-6.

Unlike sparsely-attended game at The Garden, Conte Forum was packed with gold-clad Eagle fans hoping to witness the home team extend the Dukies' run of misery. When the game started out 7-4 in favor of BC and with Duke tossing the ball away as it had many times in the 4 previous losses, it looked like tonight would be more of the same for the most hated college hoop team in America.

But suddenly the Duke offense woke from its slumber and the defense stepped up and began playing D like the standout Duke teams of old. Led by mercurial forward Josh McRoberts (18 pts, 11 rebs) the Devils quickly tied the contest at 9, and the teams traded scores for a while until Duke took control of the contest right before the half. That's when their suffocating defense and dominating paint play turned a 29-29 game into an 11-point halftime lead, 43-32, with most of the damage being done by McRoberts; the enigmatic big man nearly had a double-double at the break (12 pts, 8 rebs), and his post presence could not be matched by the helpless Eagle team.

I've said all along that what Duke needed to be successful was to get McRoberts off the perimeter, where he loves to set up and control the offense like a point forward but he is useless as a serious rebounder/post player. Evidently Coach K must have said the same thing to him after the their blowout loss at Maryland Sunday because McRoberts was living in the paint, capitalizing on BC turnovers and his teammates' precision passes to hit an array of layups and dunks. While he was doing his damage the Duke defense was holding Eagles star forward Jared Sean Paul Dudley to just 2 points in the half; he came in averaging an ACC-best 20 ppg (he finished with 11.)

The Devils combined their 18-5 run to close the first half with a 22-9 run to open the second and the lead quickly ballooned to 22 points, 65-43 with just under 13:00 to go in the game. It was reminiscent of many Duke games, from the easy baskets to the numerous steals (Duke had 10 steals and forced 19 turnovers resulting in 49 points) to the defeated attitude of their opponent. Even the announcers, Dukie V and Mike Patrick, kept commenting how it looked as if the Eagles were giving up on plays and not putting forth their best effort.

But something happened on the way to blowout city- the Devils went conservative with about 8:00 to play, trying to milk the clock because they wanted the win so badly, that they let BC right back in the game. The healthy lead was cut to a scary 8 points, 74-66, with just 3 minutes left to play and all Duke fans could think was "if they blow this game the season is shot." But a couple of key plays late, including a terrific slashing, Grant Hill-like layup from Gerald Henderson and a clutch 3-pointer from Greg Paulus (15 pts, 7 ass, 3 stls) kept the Eagles at bay and the Dukies snapped their mini-streak at four games.

So everything is over- the Celtics losing streak, the Blue Devil's losing streak, Valentine's Day.

Well, not everything is finished; looks like there will be plenty more of the uglier-by-the-minute Anna Nicole saga and also snow.

Good luck, Northerners. It was a balmy 75 again here today (not to rub it in or anything.)


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Oscar Nominee Review: Apocalypto

: R for graphic violence (REALLY graphic)
Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Raul Trujillo, Jonathan Brewer
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Running time: 2 hrs, 18 mins

DVD Release Date: April

Nominated for:
- Achievement in Makeup
-Sound Editing
-Sound Mixing

First off, I'd like to start out by thanking my Uncle Tony for providing me with the screener of this film. Tony, I couldn't have crafted this masterpiece of a review without you. Thanks. Also I would like to thank my producer...

..sorry, too many awards shows this season!

Let me start off by saying that I wanted to dislike this film in a major way. Ever since Mad Mel went on his drunken, anti-Semitic tirade in Malibu last July, I lost all respect for the actor & filmmaker whom I had previously enjoyed very much. But like Michael Richards, Paris Hilton, and Isaiah Washington, once you cross that line into racial, homophobic, or anti-Semitic territory, you will never be viewed the same way again by a large section of the population.

That being said I was mildly disappointed when Apocalypto, Gibson's much-maligned, Mayan language labor of love, opened to rave reviews and decent box office ($15 million) last December. I thought "how can these people flock to a subtitled movie that's full of gore & bloodshed and directed by a drunken bigot?" I know after seeing the film that the answer is because the freakin' thing is really good! Yes, as much as I wanted to hate this movie, even hoping that it would tank at the box office and send Mad Mel, who financed the whole operation, into the Jew-filled world of debt consolidation., after viewing it, I can see why it not only reaped huge critical acclaim but also has grossed a respectable $50+ million in this country to date. Factoring in overseas revenue and DVD sales, not only will 'Sugar Tits' be able to once again say "I told you so", much like with his Passion of the Christ, but with a budget of $40 million he even made money from it. Amazing.

As soon as the film begins it immediately transports the viewer to 16th century Central America, when the Mayans ruled the land before the Spanish Conquistadors came and wiped out centuries of civilization. In the first scene, we witness a small group of tribesmen hunting in the thick Yucatan jungle. The party chases, traps and ingeniously kills a huge wild tapir, which resembles a giant rat. As they start to carve the animal up, young tribesman Jaguar Paw (Youngblood) hands out certain parts- the heart, liver, and ears- to the rest of the hunters as a reward for the kill. He then slices off the testicles of the beast and hands them to Blunted (Brewer), telling him that if he eats them it will cure his maddening case of impotence. As the naive young man chomps down on the large orbs, not only did I nearly lose my lunch but I thought to myself "I guess those male dysfunction drugs aren't that bad."

The group laugh it up at Blunted's expense after informing him they were kidding about the testes healing powers when a quiet stillness comes over the jungle, followed by the sudden appearance of a wandering tribe. Jaguar Paw's father, Flint Sky, informs the travelers that this is his jungle and they'd better have good reason for passing through. They present a gift of fresh fish and ask for passage through the territory on their way to search for "a new beginning." Flint Sky accepts the offering and allows them to pass, although after hesitating Jaguar Paw appears ready to kill the mysterious young leader of the group. His father holds him off, then upon returning to their village takes his son aside and tells him "fear is a sickness...that has tainted your peace already. I did not raise you to see, you live with fear. Strike it from your heart. Do not bring it into our village."

The warning from his father would prove prophetic because soon after returning to their village he would need to summon all his strength and courage to fight what fate has in store for them. Jaguar Paw has a disturbing dream in which he is back in the jungle and sees the wandering tribesman whom he wanted to slaughter earlier; the man is standing there with a terrified look on his face, breathing heavily. "What do you want?" Jaguar Paw asks him. As the camera pans out, we see why he is panting: his stomach is sliced open and he is holding his still-beating heart in his hand. "Run!" the figure pleads to him, and he awakens with a start. I get chills just remembering that eerie scene.

Upon awakening, Jaguar Paw discovers that his village is being invaded by marauders. Initially, I thought it was the tribe that Flint Sky had let pass coming back to haunt them, but it was actually a group of warriors from a distant Mayan city. As the soldiers set fire to the houses and drag the villagers into the open to be either brutally slain, tortured, raped or taken prisoner, Jaguar Paw hides his young son and pregnant wife Seven in a nearby pit. Soon, the entire village has been plundered and Jaguar Paw, Blunted, and the remaining men & women are secured by their necks to long poles and hauled off into the jungle, leaving a trail of frightened youngsters following behind and wondering what has happened to their tranquil family life.

The party traverses dense jungle, neck-deep waters and barren landscapes on their journey to whatever the invaders have in store for them. Along the way the leader of the warriors, Zero Wolf (Trujillo), asserts his superiority over his captives and charges, threatening to kill his top soldier, the ruthless Middle Eye, for throwing one of the wounded captives over a cliff. We also learn that Zero Wolf's son, Hanging Moss, is present with them, and an interesting parallel is drawn between the two separate father/son dynamics in the saga, wise Flint Sky & innocent Jaguar Paw and evil Zero Wolf & his equally naive protege, Hanging Moss.

Before the group enters the city they come across a creepy young girl in the middle of a desolate field; she is infected by a mysterious "sickness", thus ostracised from the rest of the community. The men are instructed to avoid the girl, but she issues an ominous warning nonetheless: "Would you like to know how you will die? The sacred time is near. Beware the blackness of the day. Beware the man who brings the jaguar...the one he takes you to will cancel the sky and scratch out the earth. Scratch you out. And end your world." Once again, chills.

Finally they arrive at the destination they have been travelling so many miles to reach- a large Mayan city filled with elaborate buildings, sewage-filled streets and thousands of inhabitants. It is a far cry from the quaint, leafy village existence the captives have known all their lives. Soon after arriving the prisoners learn what is to be their fate. Some are to be sold at auction, used as slaves to mine the salt that cakes the city and workers in a thick white powder, while others will be used as bloody human sacrifices to the tribes beloved sun gods.

The entire time Jaguar Paw can think of nothing but his wife and son stuck down in the pit with no way of escape, praying that it doesn't rain and fill the hole, drowning the only family he has left. The way Youngblood's facial expressions capture his emotions is one reason the viewer is so drawn into the film- we want badly for him to escape and save his family, a sure-fire mark of an excellent movie.

It is at this point that the movie changes direction and turns into an extremely gory, extremely tense, vengeance-filled adventure. The men who are to be sacrificed are painted blue and led up to the top of a steep Mayan temple, a shrine lined with many steps that are covered in thick layers of blood. As Jaguar Paw and the others are taken to what will be their final destination, objects bounce down the steps and are scooped up by the people at the bottom. We soon learn those objects are the decapitated heads of the sacrificees, lopped off and tossed downstairs after their hearts have been removed while the bodies are arched backwards over a bloody pedestal. Grim indeed.

After several subjects succumb to this gruesome fate, Jaguar Paw finds himself next in line, and although he is at a loss to figure out how he is going to extricate himself from this predicament, he knows he must find a way in order to keep his promise to return for his wife & son. Just as he is placed upon the pedestal, a strange thing begins to happen- the sky starts to darken as the moon passes over the sun. It is a solar eclipse, an event surely predicted by the sun-worshipping tribe and used by the elders as a way to prove to the commoners that their sacrifices have worked. ("...beware the blackness of the day...") The rest of the prisoners are then spared the more disgusting method of demise and are ordered to be executed by conventional means.

The final act of the film deals with Jaguar Paw's brilliant escape from his captors and subsequent journey to rescue his family before it's too late. It is interesting to witness how the hesitant young villager has turned into a cunning and lethal hunter, thanks to the words of his father, the love of his family and the hardening of his soul after seeing such devastation and bloodshed in the city. Jaguar Paw embarks on a what many have called a Rambo-esque jungle adventure, single-handedly taking out each of his pursuers with a silent savagery that can only come from deep-seeded feelings within, from being without fear in one's heart. His vengeance is filled with heart stopping leaps, vicious animal attacks, incredible escapes and the strategic use of toad toxin.

By the time he returns to his village, Jaguar Paw has grown from wide-eyed student to steely-eyed warrior, a man who met the difficult challenges that faced his society head-on and came out on top. Whether or not he rescued his wife & son, I won't divulge here (you know I don't do spoilers), but like most of the film it's not really about the end results, it's about the journey that gets you there and how it makes you grow as a person.

Upon conclusion of the film, all I could say was "wow", another sure-fire sign of a quality film. The cinematography is breathtakingly gorgeous, the makeup, sets and costumes are incredibly detailed & authentic, the soundtrack is haunting & mood-setting and the acting top-notch. With the use of both digital HD and traditional cameras, Gibson and cinematographer Dean Semler (who won an Oscar for his work on Dances with Wolves) create a staggeringly crisp, beautiful panorama of the era and the surroundings. What amazed me the most is that there are very few wide angle shots; most of the filming is done with tight shots at intimate angles, giving the viewer a real sense of being completely immersed in the tale.

Many have been critical of Mad Mel's liberal bending of the facts in order to get his story across. For instance, the murderous actions by the city dwellers are believed to have been typical of the Aztecs, not the Mayans, a culture that came to power many years after the Mayans were removed from the region. The murals in the city were not attributed to that time period either, and the buildings were also from different periods of history. Also, the Spanish Conquistadors ships that are seen arriving at the end of the film really wouldn't have been there for hundreds more years.

But to those nitpickers I say, get over it. This is a work of fiction, not a documentary, and every film in the history of cinema that depicts a real person or event skirts around some of the actual facts in order to make the story more compelling or entertaining- that's why movies are categorized as entertainment. If you want a straight facts history lesson, watch the History Channel or take a class; don't expect a film to teach everything there is to know about a subject. Many times the actual facts are quite boring and wouldn't keep the viewer interested for very long, a sure-fire sign of a bad film.

As for the excessive violence that has caused many to disregard the film as an overly bloody mess, it's true that the movie is incredibly graphic and gory. However, it is done with the depiction of a primitive culture of people who used savage techniques to get their points across and accomplish tasks. Apocalypto is no more gruesome than carnage-filled teen flicks like Hostel and the Saw franchise, but the setting and realism may make it seem more offensive to some.

All in all, this was a masterful picture that tells many different stories and Gibson himself has said is an allegory for the troubles facing modern society. Whatever reason you choose for watching and interpreting it, just remember that it is a stunning work of fiction, a blood-soaked romp through another era wrought with pain, suffering, tragedy, triumph and survival.

Oh, and tapir balls.


Monday, February 12, 2007

2007 Grammy Wrap: Is it over yet?!

After watching last night's 49th edition of the music industry's equivalent of the Oscars it's no wonder the show has been derisively nicknamed "The Grannys". Many of the performers & presenters were ancient enough to be popular back when Grandma was prom queen .

All together now: how bad was it?

Check out this list of fossils, and their ages, who made appearances on the lavish red stage of the Staples Center:

-Tony Bennett (80)
-Don Henley (59)
-Smokey Robinson (66)
-Burt Bacharach (78)
-Stevie Wonder (56)
-Lionel Richie (57)
-Al Gore (58)

Word has it that they tried to get The Stones, Genesis, The Who and the remaining Beatles to show up, but the combined age of all those stars present at one time would have catapulted the telecast into a multi-dimensional space/time vortex.

The night started out well enough when '80s supergroup The Police reunited to sing their hit "Roxanne"; too bad Sting's voice is so shot from years of scream /singing "Raaaaaaxxxxxaaaannnne" and copious amounts of rock superstar partying that he just couldn't get it up there for the "you don't have to put on a red light" chorus. Instead he kept his voice low & mellow, as if to say "hey, this is how I sing it now and it's still cool." He's right.
(Two asides to the Police reunion: 1. did anyone on the planet NOT own a cassette or album of "Synchronicity"? I challenge you to find someone who wasn't constantly playing that album front to back every week during the early '80s. The freaking thing was so good they had two tunes called Synchronicity on it (BTW, Part II far superior to Pt. I- "we had to SHOUT above the din of our Rice Krispies...") 2. I broke Cardinal Rule #1 of important television viewing- NEVER let the wife operate the remote right before the start of the show. She was still fast-forwarding through paused commercials on the E! pre-show and we nearly missed the Police performance. Not your fault, honey. I totally blame myself.)

Too bad soon after the Police left the stage the show immediately began to go downhill.

Recently ostracised country stars the Dixie Chicks won all 5 awards they were nominated for (Best Record, Song, Album, Country Group, Country Album), proving that in America you are only hated as long as the public is against you; once the masses & pundits come over to your side you can be hailed as trailblazers. Three years ago these Chicks couldn't have won American Karaoke after lead singer Natalie Maines infamously declared that the girls were embarrassed to be from the same state as George W. Bush. Now they have been feted as musical heroes for their freedom of speech-inspired song "Not Gonna Make Nice".

Whatever. Besides being the Everybody Loves the Chicks show, other familiar faces garnered awards, as well as a few fresh stars who somehow snuck into the mix:

-Awards staple Mary J. Blige took home 3 of the Grammy-high 8 awards she was nominated for, Best R&B Female, R&B Song ("Be Without You") and R&B Album ("The Breakthrough").

-John Mayer won for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album and Least Likely Pairing (with Jessica Simpson) since Julia Roberts & Lyle Lovett.

-Red Hot Chili Peppers took home the Best Rock Group & Album ("Stadium Arcadium") awards, and then could be overheard on the stage exclaiming "can you f**king believe they gave us these things at our age. We once performed wearing nothing but strategically-placed socks!"

-Beyonce finally won something that Jennifer Hudson couldn't steal away from her- Best Contemporary R&B Album ("B-Day")

-In the conspicuously lightly covered rap categories Ludacris won three trophies, for Best Rap Album (Release Therapy), Song ("Money Maker") and Rap Star Most Likely to Make the Jay Z-like Boardroom Jump.

-Alt rap/rockers Gnarls Barkley not only took home 2 awards (Best Alt Song & Album) but gave one of the best performances of the evening, an odd but compelling rendition of "Crazy."

-The ubiquitous Carrie Underwood won for Best Newcomer. No truth to the rumor that she shared the award with a still-crest-fallen Tony Romo.

Not exactly ground-breaking entertainment folks. In fact I had to bow out a number of times for fear of either falling asleep or poking my eardrums out with an ice pick.

Let's take a look at the high and low points of the interminable 3 1/2 hour broadcast:

Five Worst Moments:

5.) Unlikely pairings cause numerous 'WTF?!' moments
Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder made for a cute couple, winning the Best Pop Collaboration Grammy for their rendition of "For Once in My Life", but it was more than a tad awkward when they were called up to present an award earlier in the telecast; Tony FORGOT STEVIE WAS BLIND and took off for the podium without him, leaving Stevie to spin and grope for someone to lead him on stage. Classy, Tony.

Those two were nothing compared to the odd couples that followed: Seal and Burt Bacharach stroked each other for a while; Quentin Tarantino took his turn with Bennett and told him he'd love to do a song with him (huh?); Queen Latifah and Al Gore came out near the end and had heads spinning and looked to be the sure winners of the Unlikeliest Pairing of Grammy Presenters Award until... the final award of the night was presented by Scarlett Johannson and Don Henley. Yup nothing says great casting like the hottest starlet on the planet matched up with a grey-haired musical dinosaur. Henley even had the nerve to diss ScarJo when she asked for advice for her upcoming album. Bad move, dude.

4.) Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts do a tribute to the Eagles

3.)Corrinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Mayer perform
This performance brought to you by the makers of Sominex

2.) Smokey Robinson & Lionel Richie performances
Guys, its 2000 and freaking 7. Retire already! Isn't Lionel just riding on his train wreck of a daughter's coattails right now? Would someone eject him from the music scene, please.

1.) The Dixie Chicks accept 5 awards and perform
Causing millions of Americans to exclaim "I don't care if they were right about W., I still hate them!

Honorable mention: Justin Timberlake's mini-cam performance; Mary J's 35 minute acceptance speech; Tony Bennett's shout out to Target!

Five Best Moments:

5.) Tarantino screaming out the nominees like an arena announcer on speed
This guy had no business being anywhere near the joint yet livened up the festivities more than any of the music-related presenters. So what if he was probably coked up?

4.) Blacks not afraid to crack back
-Right after the Police performed Jamie Foxx, clad in a garish silver suit, made the comment "there was a misunderstanding when it was announced that The Police would be opening the Grammy's- Snoop left."

-After winning for best Rap Album, a nattily-attired and newly-sheared Ludacris blasted "all I had to do was cut my hair to get my hands on one of these things?!" He then proceeded to thank Oprah & Bill O'Reilly, two notorious targets of his. Clever, Luda.

-Chris Rock, introducing the Chili Peppers' performance: "this next band had their jocks in socks way before Justin put his "D**k In a Box!" Leave it to Rock to nail the line of the night!

3.)Gnarls Barkley's original rendition of "Crazy"
How do you freshen up a song that's so overplayed the singers themselves appear to be sick of performing it? By dressing up as airline pilots, bringing an orchestra & choir on stage and doing an a Capella version of your tired hit. Then when you knock it out of the park people like your song again. Brilliant!

2.) Shakira performing "Hips Don't Lie"
Ah, no they don't. And those hips are saying "I've got every heterosexual male in the world under my swivelling, gyrating, smooth, bronzed spell." Thank you Shakira, and Grammy organizers.

1.) The Police reunion
What better way to start off a show than with a monumental re-teaming of a band that has been split up for over 23 years? They brought down the house and truly had everyone wrapped around their fingers (sorry).

Too bad the rest of the show couldn't do the same.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Duke & the Celtics: 2 teams coming apart at the seams

-Celtics drop 18th straight, 107-105 to Minnesota

My favorite NBA and college team are both currently in the middle of major losing streaks that have tarnished their images, depressed their fans and elated the haters of the storied programs.

The Boston Celtics losing streak has now reached 18 games and all I can think of is it's a damn good thing Red isn't around to witness the ugliness taking place on Causeway Street these days.

Although the team has been competitive during The Streak (yes, it's reached capital letter status), this loss was the tightest and toughest to take of the previous 17. That's because Boston not only lead the game late, 105-101 with 3:20 to go and 107-105 with 1:17 left, but threw it away down the stretch and lost on a game-winning shot by none other than ex-Celt Ricky Davis.

Davis hasn't met an NBA team willing to put up with his me-first ways for too long since he entered the league 9 seasons ago, but he played more games with Boston (181) than he's played with any other team in his career. Still he was shipped to Minny along with Mark Blount for Where's Wally Szczerbiak and Michael made of Olowokandi midway through last season.

Wouldn't you know that Davis & Blount, along with KG (26pts, 11 rebs, 10 assists), would add to Boston's misery by defeating their former team. Davis had 28 points on 11-17 shooting, including three 3-pointers in an 18-point 3rd quarter output, and also con-tributed 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Blount, a player who always over-valued himself in Boston which contributed to their willingness to let him go, threw in 20 points and 5 boards.

The only positive for Boston (12-38), other than playing hard and nearly winning the game, was Paul Pierce scoring 29 points in his second game back after missing 24 games with a foot injury. His leadership, ability to make 4th quarter shots, and confidence should help the C's end this streak soon. The next opportunity to stop the madness will be Wednesday at home against the equally horrid Milwaukee Bucks (19-32); if Boston can't come up with a win in that one coach Doc Rivers will have the unique dis-tinction of owning two 19-game losing streaks in his coaching career, the first coming in 2002-03 with Orlando, and the Celtics might be a lock to have one of the top two spots in the draft.

That might be the best news to hit the Celts in years.
#16 Blue Devils lose 4 in a row for the first time in 11 years, 72-60 to Maryland
Meanwhile down in Durham, NC, Duke is having its worst season since 1994-95, the infamous campaign when Coach K missed most of the season due to back surgery and the team was led by senior Cherokee Parks. Dark days indeed.

Like the Celts the Devils have been losing while remaining compet-itive; their past 3 losses were by 2, 1 and most recently 6 points to the Tarheels last Wed-nesday (happy birthday to me-hah!) But this time the loss was by blowout, the largest margin of defeat for the Devils since a January 2003 14-point loss to Wake, and it wasn't like it was against a powerhouse team; Maryland was 17-7 coming in, 3-6 in the ACC.

Duke jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead on a jumper & 3-pointer by Greg Paulus (14 pts, 4 ass, 7 TOs) but saw that slim margin oblit-erated by a 19-2 Terrapin run, during which Duke missed 7 of 8 shots and committed 7 turnovers. After Paulus stopped the bleed-ing (temporarily) with another jumper, Maryland ripped off a 10-point run for a 29-9 lead with just under 9:00 to go in the first half. Wow. Not exactly textbook Duke basketball.

The Devils would scrape back and get within six, 58-52, with 8:00 left in the game, but a 10-2 spurt over the next 5 minutes effect-ively iced the game and dropped the Devils (18-7) to sub-.500 in the ACC at 5-6. Now the Dukies face not only missing the ACC tour-nament but possibly the Big Dance as well, unfathomable just 2 weeks ago when they sported an 18-3 record and #10 national ranking.

If the Devils want to right the ship- and with remaining games at BC, Clemson and UNC they'd better do it quick- they have to start playing better team bas-ketball and better team defense. Their main problem has been that the two "veteran" sophomore leaders, Paulus and Josh McRoberts (20 pts, 8 rebs), have been incon-sistent and too passive in making sure the Duke machine stays well -oiled. That means banging the boards, which McRoberts can't do from his favorite spot 19 feet away from the basket, and take care of the ball, which Paulus obviously isn't doing as evidenced by his paltry 1.29 assist/turnover ratio. As a result the Devils had only 9 assists tonight to go with 17 turnovers; during the streak they have 40 helpers and 61 giveaways. Yikes.

Although freshmen Jon Scheyer (a.k.a. the New JJ Redick), Ger-ald Henderson, Jr. and Lance Thomas have shown flashes of brilliance, it's up to the two super sophs to help scoring leader De-Marcus Nelson show the kids the way. Last season I said many times that when Paulus and McRoberts were out of the shadows of JJ and Shelden Williams they were going to dominate the league. Instead they have been the poster boys for mediocrity and under-achievement. To paraphrase the great former Celtics coach Rick Pitino, JJ Redick isn't walking back into Cameron Indoor, and neither is The Landlord. It's time to put those McDonald's All America skills to use, fellas, or you can kiss the season goodbye.

Until they do the only place this team may be going is to the Big Apple for the NIT.

With the loss the Blue Devils dropped out of the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the first time in its 10-year history and out of the AP top 25 for the first time in 200 weeks, stretching back to the end of the '95-'96 season, the second-longest streak in history (UCLA.)


No football for 7 months! Arghhhhhhhhhh!

True story: I was out washing the ride today (it was a gorgeous 75 degrees in F-L-A) and my neighbor, Robin, was doing the same to her Jeep. She's a die hard Eagles fan (which made for some contentious yard-to-yard exchanges before the Pats/Philly Super Bowl), and I said to her "it sucks with no football to watch, huh?"

"I'm walking around here in a fog" she replied.

I knew exactly what she meant.

This is a dark, disappointing day on the 2007 calendar; for the first time in 7 months (excluding the ridiculous week between the Championship games & the Super Bowl) there will be no football to watch this Sunday. Sure we'll have football-related news, mini- camps and eventually exhibition games between now and Sep-tember, but for all intents & purposes the NFL viewing mach-ine will grind to a halt for the next 7 months.

Oh, the humanity!

Q- What's worse than this first Sunday without football?
A- Being Howard K. Stern

So get out those honey-do lists, grab the rake and lawnmower, pick up a baseball glove and get set for plenty of yard work, house work and quality family time because Sundays are once again open for family business.

I repeat: Oh, the humanity!
No football also means I will have to find other things to blog about, at least until the baseball season begins in 2 months.

So here are some of the things we can look forward to viewing while we sit in our favorite recliners staring at the TV with forlorn looks on our faces until the race to Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona begins next September.

1.) Grammy Awards Tonight, 8PM CBS
Tonight the music industry's best & brightest stars take center stage for the biggest show in the business. In the midst of this overcrowded awards season the Grammys stands out as one of the true heavyweights, along with Oscar & Golden Globe, and tonight's lineup promises to make for at least decent viewing for this bloated, normally out-of-touch-with-reality gala: Mary J. Blige (has she appeared on every music awards show for the past 3 years or what?), Christina Aguilera, Gnarls Barkley, Ludacris, Beyonce, Chili Peppers, Carrie Underwood, Justin Timberlake and last & certainly least The Dixie Chicks.

2.) Basketball
The only thing that has fallen faster & farther than the popularity of the NBA is the career of Britney Spears. Nobody I know watches the NBA anymore except The Sports Guy, and with as many articles he writes about the Association I'm convinced he's on David Stern's payroll as well as ESPN's.

Today there are a couple of decent regular season (read: mean-ingless) contests on ABC, Spurs/Heat and Lakers/ Cavs, but the trouble with the NBA is that those 4 teams plus Dallas and Phoenix constitute 100% of the teams worth watching. That's it. Six teams out of 30 that anyone gives a damn about outside of cities with franchises, and even in some of those cities the fans don't give a crap about their own team (see: Boston Celtics.)

Not to mention that the NBA is about as balanced as the NFL, conference-wise. Just like the balance of power was located in the AFC this year, the majority of dominant teams in the Association reside in the Western Conference. Although both conferences sport 7 teams with .500 or better records, there is just 1 team with a percentage above .600( Detroit) while the West boasts 5 such teams, including an .820 team (Dallas), a .780 team (Phoenix), and a .660 squad (Utah.) Translation: the West should dominate in the playoffs and it's about 99.9% certain that the champ will come from the West, just like everybody KNEW the Super Bowl winner would come from the AFC, hence no playoff suspense.

College hoops is definitely more enjoyable than the pro version, and now that football is over I have started to get back into it. There are numerous star-quality players (Texas' Kevin Durant, Ohio State's Greg Oden, Wisconsin's Alando Tucker, Ok. State's Mario Boggan) and a bevy of teams that have a shot at winning it all (Florida, Wisconsin, UCLA, North Carolina, Texas A&M).

Plus, March Madness is just around the corner and everybody knows that is one of the best events in sports.

So we got that going for us.

3.) Oscars & nominated movies
The Academy Awards are next Sunday night and there are a num-ber of nominated flicks that you can catch on video before the big night:

-Out now
: Little Miss Sunshine; Devil Wears Prada; United 93
-Out 2/13: The Departed; Babel; Half Nelson

Most people are going out on a limb and predicting a stuffy, boring event full of few surprises and fewer memorable moments. But let's face it, for movie fans it is the biggest night of the year, yawn-inducing acceptance speeches be damned, and although Ellen DeGeneres is the host instead of Billy Crystal or Chris Rock, it is still worth watching.

Plus you always have to tune in to see if Marty Scorsese is going to get snubbed yet again in his quest for his first Best Director Oscar.

4.) Major League Baseball
It's only 2 weeks until pitchers & catchers report and 17 days until the first Grapefruit League game begins. After that it is 6 months of uninterrupted hardball viewing, a feat that will be made much more difficult thanks to MLB's impending deal with DirecTV, stripp-ing cable subscribers of their right to watch their favorite teams all summer.

But for fans of baseball it is a great way to pass the months without football. For non-baseball fans, well it sucks to be you. You've got a LONG summer ahead of you!

5.) The Anna Nicole Saga
This story is sure to captivate (or sicken) the public for weeks and months to come, at least until we find out how she died and who the father of Baby Dannielynn is. The latest in this sordid soap opera include rumors that Smith's deceased ex-husband, billion-aire J. Howard Marshall, is the father of 6-month-old Dannielynn. How? Frozen sperm, of course.

How weird could this thing get? My mother told me another baby daddy rumor that has Anna's dead son Daniel as the potential father. All together now: "ewwwwwwwwwwww!"

Either way there is going to be wall-to-wall coverage of this story as news develops, so get used to it now.

6.) Family Time
Now's the time to make amends to your family for ignoring, neg-lecting and aggravating them for the past 22 Sundays. In fact I just got back from taking my son to the batting cages/arcade.

So go on walks with your spouse, clean the garage, play ball with your son, take your grandchildren to the park, and use the next 29 Sundays to bond with your loved ones.

Because come next September I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we will be ready for some football.