Saturday, March 31, 2007

March Madness: Final Four Preview

2007 Final Four
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
6:00 PM CBS & CBS HD

2Georgetown vs. 1 Ohio State

2UCLA vs. 1 Florida

I don't have a lot of time-or energy-to go into a detailed analysis of what i think will happen in tonight's national championship semi-finals (altogether now: "hooray!") because I played a 2-hour coaches vs. kids baseball game this morning and I've got a wedding to go to this evening.

That's correct, right at the exact time that Georgetown's Roy Hibbert and Ohio State's Greg Oden tipoff the first game, I will be sitting on the sand (appropriately) on Sand Key Beach watching the nuptials of friends Sam and Debbie. Sam is an Aussie and former rugby player, so obviously he didn't give a damn that his wedding was scheduled at such an unfortunate time.

Therefore I 'm going to give you my Cliff's Notes version of the keys to the Final Four, brought to you by those two special wedding day words: open bar.

Georgetown vs. Ohio State: Battle of the giants could come down to little guys
You can lay money that OSU's behemoth frosh center Greg Oden will be in foul trouble again (he's had 13 fouls against him in the last 3 games) in this one. That's because he will be facing an opponent who is even larger than he is: Georgetown's dominating big man Roy Hibbert.

As those two beat each other up for supremacy in the paint, look for the little guys to steal the show. Ohio State's fab frosh guard Mike Conley Jr. is the type of player you love to watch play, and every time you see him he seems to get better and better. Look for him and high-scoring forward Ron Lewis to do most of the damage while Oden sits out his foul trouble.

But Georgetown may have the better complimentary cast, especially when your next best player is the Big East Player of the Year, F Jeff Green. He alone could take over this game, but with help from sharpshooting guard Jessie Sapp and the sons of two former NBA players, Pat Ewing Jr. and Jeremiah Rivers (son of Doc) and you've got as complete a team that's come from the nation's capital in a long time.

MY PREDICTION: I know OSU is hot (21 straight wins) but I also know that Oden will get in foul trouble guarding Hibbert; Conley will have a huge game and the Bucks will look to Lewis to win it for them again. I just think the Hoyas are too tough, too deep, and will continue to ride the wave glory on the 25th anniversary of its heyday. Hoyas 77, Buckeyes 71

The Bruins will have vengeance in mind when it takes on the defending champs
Last year in the title game the Florida Gators tore the UCLA Bruins a new one, holding them to 57 points on 36% shooting including a miserable 3-17 from beyond the arc. Superstar guard Arron Afflalo was limited to 10 points on 3-10 shooting, the result of a stifling Florida defense, and the Gators chomped their way to their first national title with a 16-point beatdown.

Well you know what they say- payback's a bitch! There's nothing like international public humiliation to spark a team to do better, to dig deeper and reach the level of commitment necessary to erase that ugly memory from everyone's mind and replace it with a payback win.

The question in this one will be which team feels the pressure more- the one defending its title , or the one so desperate to take it from them? At times this postseason the Gators have looked very lackadaisical and/or lackluster in defeating teams like Butler, Purdue, and (for a half) Jackson State. There will be no such room for any kind of stagnant play like that with the Bruins, a team that loves to clog the lanes, get their hands on errant passes, and clamp down on defense.

Afflalo has been leading the Bruins' run to the title game again this season, averaging 18 points in 4 games including a monster 24-point performance in the defeat of 1 seed Kansas last weekend. Speaking of that victory the Bruins unleashed its suffocating defense on the unsuspecting Jayhawks to the tune of 55 points allowed and 41% shooting in the 68-55 win. It could be more of the same for the Gators, especially if it starts slow and Afflalo gets the Bruins off to a good start.

MY PREDICTION: The Bruins and Afflalo are more relaxed and probably hungrier for this game than the Gators, a team that is surrounded by the distractions that come with trying to be the first team to repeat since 1992 and having its head coach smack dab in the middle of a bidding war with hated SEC rival Kentucky. I like the combination of UCLA's defensive tenacity and Florida's sporadic passivity to lead the Bruins back to the title game for the first time since 1995. Bruins 64, Gators 57


Friday, March 30, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Prestige

The Prestige

: PG-13 for violence, profanity

: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, David Bowie, Rebecca Hall

by: Christopher Nolan

time: 2 hrs, 10 mins

The talented director of Memento comes up with another mind-bending, time-shifting thriller that takes the viewer on a fantastic voyage right up until a finale you'll either love or loathe

"Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called "The Pledge"; The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn"; The magician makes his ordinary some thing do something extraordinary. Now if you're looking for the secret... you won't find it, that's why there's a third act called, "The Prestige"; this is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before."
-Cutter (Michael Caine) to the audience at the beginning of the film

My only regret with watching The Prestige is that I did so on the final night we had it rented, because just as I had been told, after the climactic & controversial ending I immediately wanted to view it again.

I'm not sure why but it seems like most films I have seen recently have elicited extreme, polarizing reactions from critics and/or audiences, from Apocalypto to Babel and from 300 to Little Miss Sunshine; people either loved 'em or hated 'em, with very little opinion in between.

Christopher Nolan's latest mental masterpiece has that same kind of effect because many viewers don't enjoy (perhaps because they cannot follow) the director's preferred choice of non-linear storytelling, the same reason why many don't enjoy the work of Babel's Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu.

Nolan doesn't utilize the "front-is-back" method he employed in his groundbreaking 2000 American film debut Memento, but he does tell the tale of two Victorian-era magicians much like a magically constructed house of cards, each layer integral to forming the foundation of the object before they all come toppling down in a complex heap. At the end of the trick it's up to the viewer to sift through the pile and put the pieces back in correct order.
Hugh Jackman plays against his usual hunky, hairy type (although he does bare his chest, much to the delight of the wife) as turn-of-the-century London magician Robert Angier, who comes up through the ranks performing with a wily old veteran Cutter (Caine) and fellow protege Alfred Borden (Nolan fave Bale.) The two young hotshots are both excellent magicians but also are complete studies in contrast, with the methodical, married Angier preferring safe and satisfying illusions while his cunning and risk-taking partner prefers to go for gasp-inducing grandiosity.

Early on a the trio are performing their show-stopping Underwater Escape trick, in which Angier's wife Julia (Perabo in a peek-a-boo performance) is tied up and dropped in a huge glass tank, hidden behind a curtain, and emerges from the water chamber less than a minute later. But thanks to a disastrous last-second decision by Bordon tragedy strikes, causing a rift between the two men that will soon turn into a very unhealthy obsession.

The pair go their separate ways, with Cutter siding with Angier and Borden settling down with his own wife, Sarah, who soon have a young daughter, Jess. Both men move forward with their careers, playing local theaters and halls in hopes of mastering an elusive trick that will put them over the top, while trying to make the other look bad in the process. Thus begins a game of cutthroat one-upsmanship that features fingers being blown off, birds massacred onstage and a shift in loyalties that could decide the others fate.

Borden develops the elusive magnificent trick first, called the Transported Man, in which he steps into a doorframe on stage and reappears through another door on the opposite side of the stage seconds later. Angier soon becomes obsessed with learning the secret to Borden's trick, despite Cutter insistence that it cannot be done without a double, and he sends his new assistant/love interest Olivia (Johansson, once again serving as eye candy and little else) over to Borden to infiltrate his act and learn the secret to the illusion.

Needless to say the plan backfires, although Angier does gain possession of Borden's sacred notebook, a potentially useful tool if he can figure out the code that will unlock the secrets behind the man's tricks. As his obsession gets darker Angier travels to America to meet with revolutionary scientist and alternate power source pioneer Nickola Tesla (rocker Bowie in a terrific cameo) and begs him to construct a teleporter machine just like the one he believes Borden is using in his act.

To tell much more of the intricate plot would give away too many of the surprises that lay in store in the film's final 30 minutes. Let's just say that Angier returns to the big stage with his magical new machine and plays to packed houses during a limited engagement run. When Borden sees that Angier has returned to prominence he sets out to bring him down once again, but when each learns the other's true secret it will prove to be the downfall of many involved, except the one you think.

The ultimate result of how Angier and Borden out-smart each other has been the subject of much debate on the message boards since this film was released last winter and with good reason. A large number of viewers feel the scientific aspect in a story of two masters of mystery & magic was way out of place and sullied their ultimate opinion of the film. Still many others, like myself, thought that the sci-fi element just added to the whole mystical, unbelievable aura of the film and gave it an extra edge over your straight up, run-of-the-mill magician stories.

But love it or hate it there is no denying that Nolan's latest is another example of brilliant, dark, thought-provoking film making. Every thing about the film resonates, from the stellar performances of every cast member to the jaw-dropping cinematography and costumes, and there is no doubt that whether you love or hate the ending you have to respect and admire the ambition of the work.

This is a deep, multi-layered tale of greed, obsession, loyalty & betrayal, love and hate and oh yeah, magic. Be sure to follow the trail of clues along the way, especially when Cutter addresses the audience. Then replay the movie and go onto IMDb to look for all the red herrings and obvious hints you missed along the way.

Because there's one thing I can guarantee you about the Prestige, love it or hate it, when you think you've got it figured out, you don't.
"Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it because you're not really looking. You don't really want to know the secret... You want to be fooled."
-Cutter to audience


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Picture Post: Springtime in Florida

After two weeks of near non-stop basketball coverage I decided now is a good time to take a break from the NCAA tourney and cover something different.

And since I just happened to attend a couple of spring training games recently, as well as that trip to St. Augustine with my son last week, I figured why not do a picture post featuring some of the glorious spring sights of FLA; it's interesting, it's informative, IT'S EASY!

Jays vs. Rays, 3-27-07:

Rays manager Joe Maddon informing the press that he will consume a different brand of wine after each loss

Japanese import Akinuri Iwamura doesn't exactly draw a Dice-K sized media contingent...

...and will someone please get the guy a step stool!?

" Hey, Delmon, you think you can put in a good word for me with management?"

Elijah Dukes may get in a lot of trouble, but I certainly wouldn't mess with him- dude is large.

Does this kid look like the next superstar shortstop to you? (Zobrist)

Despite the plebe number I hear that Carl Crawford will probably make the squad

Hmmm, I wonder where the hell I'm gonna play today? (Upton)

Jays vs. Tigers, 3-17-07:

A guy this big, smiling while wearing all green brings to mind one thing: the Jolly Green Giant

Alex Rios and the rest of the Jays stretch out on a glorious St. Paddy's Day in Dunedin

Have bat, will attempt to destroy any clubhouse

Lyle Overbay was kind enough to sign my son's program, right on his picture

St. Augustine:

An absolutely gorgeous view from atop the historic Castillo de San Marcos

Know your history, kids (and parents!)

The Fort courtyard

Henry Flagler's magnificent church...

...was built in 362 days... a memorial to his wife and daughter...

...both of whom died during childbirth and are buried here

$30 million worth of Tiffany glass adorns the Flagler College cafeteria

I never knew they had Lego buildings in the Old City

A 600-year-old live oak tree sent my son into an asthma attack

That's it for now. Hope you enjoyed it. More picture posts to follow.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

March Madness: and then there were 4

The Hoyas surprise the Tarheels and the Gators hold off the Ducks to join UCLA & Ohio State in the Final 4

JT III has got the Hoyas back in the upper echelon

Ohio State 92, Memphis 76
UCLA 65, Kansas 58
Florida 85, Oregon 77
Georgetown 96, N. Carolina 84 (OT)
2Georgetown vs. 1Ohio State
2UCLA vs. 1Florida

Who woulda thunk it: a pair of 1 vs. 2 matchups to decide which team is the best in all the land?

After many years of huge upsets, shocking collapses and double-digit seed party crashers the best team of this season will actually be culled from the best teams, without some feel-good Cinderella on a 3-week long ride of 15 minutes of fame that inevitably slides back to mid-major mediocrity (hello, George Mason) sneaking in to mess things up.

This year's pairing of two-#1s and two-#2s marks the most top seeds to make the Final 4 since 1993, when three 1s and a 2 played for the title, won by 1Carolina.
Speaking of Carolina, the Tarheels & Hoyas hooked up for what ended up being a classic rematch of their classic 1982 championship game, and the UCLA/Florida meeting will be a rematch of last year's championship, a blow out by the Gators.

Those are some of the more interesting stories to come out of the Elite 8; let's take a look back at how the four teams advanced to Atlanta next weekend.

-Hurricane Hoya slams Carolina as Heels go ice cold down the stretch
The debate is already raging- did the Georgetown Hoyas really win this epic Elite 8 matchup, or did the boys from Chapel Hill simply choke it away?

The answer, as it usually is nowadays, is a little of both. True, the Tarheels were cruising in the latter part of the second half, enjoying an 11-point lead with 12:00 to play, and then proceeded to lay enough bricks to start a new HG-TV show called Masonry Made Easy, a definite hallmark of a world-class choke job.

But the Hoyas didn't exactly lay down and allow the Tarheel Blue machine to roll over them and make them another patch in the Tobacco Road championship drive. Despite being grossly outscored at the free throw line (29-12) and out rebounded for most of the game, GTown never gave up, constantly pressuring Carolina until wear and fatigue caught up with them, and when it did the Hungry Hungry Hoyas were there to take full advantage.

By the time the smoke cleared Carolina had missed 22 of its final 23 field goal attempts including the first 12 of overtime and the Hoyas, who tied the game on a clutch trey by Johnathan Wallace with 31 seconds left, closed the game with a 30-10 run that left the crowd, the Tarheel faithful and the entire audience stunned and exhausted.

It was an epic game that was played just shy of the 25th anniversary (Mar 29) of that memorable title game, when John Thompson's Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing, lost to Michael Jordan's Tarheels, 63-62. The most memorable play of that one, other than Jordan's infamous game-winning corner jumper, is the steal by James Worthy off of Fred Brown in the closing seconds, as Brown threw the ball right to Worthy, apparently mistaking him for a teammate.

The 2006-07 edition of the Hoyas, led by Thompson's son and with Ewing's son playing a pivotal role, might have just returned the favor and put the choke collar around the Tarheels' neck.

-Gators survive (again) and advance to 2nd straight F4
This is called the "been here, done this" pose
Florida continued its march to a second consecutive national championship with a less-than-impressive win over the spunky Oregon Ducks. As in its previous three tourney victories, The Gators seemed to be either sleepwalking or plain disinterested with the proceedings early on, falling behind in the first half for the 3rd straight game and clinging to a two-point lead at halftime, 40-38.

But for the 4th straight time the Gators pulled away from a game opponent in the second half, backed by the sharpshooting of Lee Humphrey (23 pts, including 7-3s) and strong inside play of Joakim Noah (14 pts, 14 rebs.) For good measure underrated guard Taurean Green added 21 points and Corey Brewer chipped in 14 as well; all this offense made it okay that surefire lottery pick Al Horford only had 6 points

After winning its 10th consecutive tourney game it's become glaringly obvious that this is a confident, veteran team that doesn't get rattled when facing early deficits, instead laying in wait while the opponent throws everything they have at them and then, just like its reptilian namesake, waiting for the right moment before tearing the opponents throat out.

Now we'll see if UCLA will be able to learn from its last destruction at the hands of Florida last April and find a way to solve the puzzle of how to defeat the Gators in the postseason.

-Ohio State didn't need a 20-pt comeback to knock off Memphis
The Ohio State Buckeyes had been living life on the edge these past two weeks, barely squeaking by Xavier last weekend and then running down Tennessee in that aforementioned comeback on Thursday. But as a team anchored by two scintillating 18-year-olds, what else would you expect?

The young Bucks passed another freshman exam by advancing the team to its first Final 4 appearance since the heyday of Jim O'Brien in 1999 on the backs of two players of disparaging height differences but possessors of equally large game. Guard Mike Conley Jr., son of the Olympic gold medalist, sparked the Buckeyes with his solid all-around performance (19 pts, 4 rebs, 2 ass, 2 stls), and soon-to-be top 2 draft pick Greg Oden tiptoed around foul trouble to contribute 17 points and 9 boards.

Combine the power of youth with the stability of senior leadership, i.e. senior guard Ron Lewis' game-high 22 points, and you have a team that was able to knock off a decent but overrated Memphis team. The defense did its job as well, shutting down key Tiger contributors Joey Dorsey (he averaged 9 pts & 9 rebs in the reg season but had zero points & 3 rebs in this one) and leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts, who scored all 14 of his points between the final minute of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second, not exactly "crunch time."

So the Buckeyes move on to play the Bruins in the "Who Wants a Rematch with the Gators more? If the Florida/Ohio State BCS championship game rematch does come to pass, it will be interesting to see how the boldness of youth handles the calmness of experience.

And by interesting I mean probably as ugly as the BCS title game.

-Bruins have folks in Lawrence chanting "Rock, Choke Jayhawk" again
This was supposed to be the year. The year that coach Bill Self broke his personal 0-3 Elite 8 curse and the Kansas Jayhawks made it back to the Final 4 for the first time since 2003.
Wrong and wrong.

UCLA reminded everyone that it wasn't ranked in the top 5 in the country most of the season for nothing, dispatching the disappointing Hawks thanks to an efficient offense-UCLA shot 53% from the field- and a "rock" solid defense, holding the high-flyin' Hawks to 55 points on 41% shooting.

The Bruins were led, of course, by their all-everything guard Arron Afflalo. The junior tallied a game-high 24 points on scorching 10-15 shooting, including 3 of the Bruins' 8 treys, and was the glue that held the team together through the punishing defense the Jayhawks laid on them.

If this game were an album it would be the Stones' Sticky Fingaz because both teams combined for a mind-boggling 32 steals, 17 by the Hawks and 15 for the Bruins. Gooey-digited Kansas guard Mario Chalmers did his part to keep the Hawks' alive, nabbing an astonishing 6 picks, while two other players had 5 steals apiece and three pilfered at least 4 balls each. It was like every time one team tried to make a pass or a play, a defender was there to intercept it. Crazy to watch.
But it was the boys from LA who ended up on the winning end of this defensive battle, and now the Bruins will get their chance to avenge last year's humiliating title game loss to the Gators.

Let's hope UCLA brings its stick um.