Thursday, May 10, 2007

NBA Playoffs taken to a ho.......nuva.......level

The play of the underdog Golden State Warriors and a heartbreaking revelation by an on-court hero has rejuvenated the NBA Playoffs

In true California fashion, the rise of the Warriors has brought out the celeb bandwagon jumpers, a sure sign of a fad waiting to happen- Warriors Fever, catch it before they get the boot!

Even though the Warriors collapsed down the stretch last night and wound up losing Game 2 of the Western Conference Semis, 127-117 in OT to the Utah Jazz, the scrappy team from the (other) Bay Area continued to do what they have done best this playoff season:

re-convert former NBA fans who had lost interest in the sport over the past few years due to any of numerous reasons, a group of which I am a founding member.

After commissioner David Stern globalized the sport, elevating it to one of the best professional leagues in the world, and maximized its earning potential to the zillionth degree, something happened to the game itself: it turned into a predictable, me-first snoozefest featuring a few bankable starts, a ton of talented-but-petulant wannabes and coaches who had no more control over their players than Eliot Mintz had over Paris Hilton.

And then along came the 2006-07 GS Warriors. A joke of a team at mid season (19-22), GM Chris Mullin orchestrated a ballsy trade that would either make or break the team- he dealt popular but underachieving players Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavey plus a couple of scrubs for Stephen "Action" Jackson, a guy who never met a strip club he couldn't riddle with gunfire, Al Harrington and a couple of scrubs back.

Although they didn't set the world on fire, Golden State finished the season on a 23-20 run after the deal and eked into the playoffs as the 8-seed with a 42-40 record.

One historic and hyperkinectic dismantling of the NBA's best team, the 67-win Dallas Mavericks, in the opening round later and the Warriors and their brand of fast & furious funball has electrified the league and brought some much-needed-juice back to the NBA Playoffs. Playing in an packed arena in front of collegiate-like crowds, these Warriors have given fans a reason to care again, even if it is only for a short time.

But like I said, it didn't matter that the best show on hardcourt lost the game last night and is facing a 2-0 deficit as it heads back home for Game 3 on Friday night; no, there was an even better thing that happened during & after the game, and it had nothing to do with points & rebounds, wins & losses.
When Jazz guard Derek Fisher stepped onto the court with just over 3:00 to play in the 3rd quarter to a thunderous ovation, you'd have thought the 11-year veteran might have been having the game of his life, yet it was the first time he had seen the court in the series; he had to leave the team suddenly late last week under the vague umbrella of "personal reasons", and no one was sure when he would return.

Rusty, tired and emotionally spent, Fisher keyed a Jazz comeback by forcing a turnover on Warrior's guard Baron Davis late in regulation and then nailing a clutch three-pointer late in overtime to ensure the win. He finished with just five points, three assists, and one rebound in 10 minutes of play, and yet he was the unquestioned hero of the day.


Immediately following the game in an emotional post-game interview with TNT's Pam Oliver, Fisher confessed to the world that he had been in New York with his 1-year-old daughter as she received an operation for a rare form of eye cancer. Having undergone successful emergency surgery & chemotherapy earlier in the day, he and his family flew back to Utah later that evening, and a man who needed a way to channel his raw emotions did it the only way he knows how, by taking the the court and thus entering into playoff history.

As he pleaded with the public to have their children visit an opthamoligist to scan for this deadly disease known as retinoblastoma, tears streamed down the face of everyone watching, and immediately the importance of the game and sports itself took a back seat to real life and the courage of this man and his family.

Best wishes to the Fisher family, and welcome back, National Basketball Association.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

HBO Sunday Night: Entourage

Episode 39: "Return of the King"

This scene of Ari & Nicky working a deal behind the temple next to the dumpster was flat-out hilarious

Now that's more like it!

After the travesty that was last week's episode, which featured unlikable storylines about Ari's frat buddy and a professional brawler, this week we got back to the meat & bones of this season, namely the (love) triangle between Vince, Ari & Amanda and the return of "Medellin".

Plus it had another killer outro scene, which is usually a hallmark of a good ep.

As they enjoy a relaxing day at the gorgeous Del Mar Racetrack, Vince is catching heat from the boys regarding his blossoming relationship with Amanda. It seems that the sexy superagent has given Vince a gift signifying their union, a "love bracelet" as E. describes it, but Vince still tries to deny that anything serious is going on between the two (yeah, okay).

ATTN: THIS WEEK'S MEANINGLESS SIDE-THREAD IS... Drama, suddenly "flush with network funds", puts $1000 down on a 50-1 longshot who may or may not be the son of a horse he won major money on at Belmont back in the day. Vince ups the ante by $5K, while Turtle & E. are in for about $15 bucks. Although the Son of King doesn't come in-he lost by a nose-Drama can't bear to let the sentimental stallion go, so he "ponies" up another $2,500 to save him from the glue factory. But after numerous costly & smelly incidents, Drama gives the animal to his new boss, Eddie Burns.

Hey, at least Pauly Shore wasn't involved.

Meanwhile it's Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holy days, which means not only can Ari not eat until sundown, he cannot conduct business until then, either. This situation proves to be a problem when Ari runs into Nicky Rubenstein (Zodiac's Adam Goldberg in a friggin' riotous cameo) at temple; he's the son of the producer who happens to be green-lighting Vince's white whale, Medellin, and he informs Ari that Benicio del Toro is officially out and his father wants Vince to jump into the part.

This is great, right? Wrong, because the deal has to happen before sundown, but Ari can't conduct any such deal because A.) it's Yom Kippur and B.) he's not Vince's agent anymore. His solution? Out of his love for his buddy, Ari will call Vince and let him talk to Nick to confirm the offer, and then Vince can call Amanda and work out the numbers.

Is Ari really being that nice as to hand Amanda a huge commission on a deal Ari has fought over for the past two years? Not so fast.

Like a high-stakes version of "telephone", Ari calls Vince who then has E. call Amanda to tell her to call Ari and work out the deal. Incredulous that he wants her to go to their temple on Yom Kippur, E. reassures her that Ari & Nick will be waiting for her out back in the alley behind the dumpster, and that everything is in place to get the deal done. She reluctantly agrees, no surprise to Drama: "she'd go to the Gaza Strip wearing a yarmulke for Vince," he says off-handedly.

But when Amanda arrives at the clandestine confab a rift occurs after she informs them that Vince's asking price is $6 mil, not the $3 million Rubenstein had thought, a fact that is backed up by Ari who says he landed the deal, so he should know. Amanda tells them that until she hears from Nick's father, there is no deal, and she drives off.

The cat & mouse game between the producers, agents and client continues as Nick & Ari sneak off to another temple to try and get the approval of the other executive producer, then play phone tag with Vince & E. in an attempt to get the deal finalized before sundown. But the whole thing goes awry when Ari pretends it's Amanda who is holding up the deal by asking for more money when in truth she has done everything in her power to get an agreement worked out.

Things come to a head when Vince & E. arrive at Ari's house, much to Mrs. Ari's chagrin, and they call Nick to tell him Vince is definitely in no matter what the price. Too late, he informs them, because his father pulled the plug on the film and now it's gone forever. This familiar bit of bad news does not sit well with the guys, and even as Vince praises Ari for not slamming Amanda for what happened, Ari implies that it was she who let his dream role get away.

"He would never have let this happen," Vince says to E., referring to the ruthless Ari Gold. "Now I deal with it. Take me to the restaurant."

And with those words we may have seen the last of the ballsy Mistress Amanda.

When Vince arrives at dinner he let's her know that the film is dead-again. She expresses that she is sorry, but Vince doubts her sincerity and admits that he believes she stalled on the deal, either because she didn't orchestrate it herself or because she didn't want boytoy Vince to leave the country for six months during filming.

Flabbergasted & hurt, Amanda calmly tells Vince that the EP called her after sundown and told her that after Nicky barged into his temple for the second time, he became so enraged that he withdrew the offer and scrapped Medellin because of all the woes that have been associated with it. However, she continues, he admitted he did want to work with Vince in the future, and she had even arranged a power lunch to discuss future project ideas for Vince.

Now it's Vinny's turn to be flabbergasted, and he barely knows what to say to her.

"What do we do now?" he asks her, not wanting to hear what was coming next.

"Now, Vince, we say goodbye," she wistfully replies, and with that she walks out of the restaurant to the melancholy thumping of the Pharcyde's (Can't keep) Runnin' (away), leaving Vince to wallow in his own foolishness and stupidity.

By the looks of next week's previews, everything is back in place with our gang: Vince & Co. walk into Ari's glitzy office and demand he gets Medellin out of purgatory, Drama prepares for the debut of his small-screen pilot, and Amanda looks to be out of the picture for good.

Well, as they say, 2-out-of 3 ain't bad.


Monday, May 07, 2007

HBO Sunday Night: The Sopranos

Episode 82: "Walk Like a Man"

The simmering tension between Christopher & Paulie came to a head this week

"Everything turns to shit" - Tony to Carm

I'm not sure if that little slice of wisdom was meant for Carm, or if it was a warning shot fired across the bow by creator David Chase, letting us know that this family drama of ours could be turning into one giant shit storm right in front of our very eyes.

Because this week's episode was filled with more heartache, depression and dependency issues than a month's worth of Dr. Phil. Seriously, I felt like I needed therapy when it was over.

And although I applaud Chase for attempting to include as many characters as possible in this brief mini-season, the fact that so many loose threads have been introduced so far virtually ensures that some of these fibers of narrative fabric will be left dangling, possibly forever.

We open with yet another scene of Tony in bed (by my count this is about the 14th such scene this season, three this week alone). When he ambles downstairs, he finds lovesick AJ sulking on the sofa and Carm attempting to goad him out of his funk with an offering of French Toast. "I know this is hard to believe but food is not the answer to every single problem," he snaps at her.

"Well neither is acting like a whiny little bitch, " Father of the Year candidate Tony chimes in.

(BTW, obviously young AJ doesn't understand the psyche of a traditional Italian woman- food is indeed the answer to every single problem)

Tony brushes off AJ's signs of depression by telling him to take the day off, then asks Carm what they did to deserve such an attitude. Nice parenting, huh?

The other story this week involves the relationship between Christopher and the rest of the family, mainly Tony & Paulie. Chrissy's father-in-law Al is fencing the hot power tools Paulie & Tony hooked up from the Cubans down in Miami, and although times should be good, the lingering venom between the old-school tough guy and baby boomer hothead keeps things icy. When Paulie chastises Chris for not toasting with alcohol, Chris is instantly reminded how none of his so called "family" members really understand his dependency problem.

Meanwhile, Tony has turned into a rat. Okay, so he's not selling secrets about Phil Leotardo and the NY family, or revealing the whereabouts of any missing former business associates, but he does cross the taboo boundary that exists between every mobster and member of the Bureau- the bridge of cooperation.

When Tony sees his Fed buddy, Agent Harris, eating at Satriale's, he decides it might be a good idea if he piled up some federal credit, in the form of handing him the names of the two Arabs who used to frequent the Bing and who may or may not frequent a radical Islamic group, in exchange for a recommendation letter redeemable at any future Federal sentencing.

And just like that the sand in the hourglass of Tony's life as boss of the New Jersey family is about to run out.

Look, say what you will about Tony's personality, lifestyle, and parenting skills, but there is one thing that he could never be accused of and that's being a rat. Granted he hasn't crossed into Sammy "the Bull" Gravano territory here, like Christopher hints at later, and if these guys do turn out to be terrorists he might actually be doing a good thing, but a boss ratting out a potential criminal to the cops goes against everything La Cosa Nostra stands for. And something tells me that Tony is going to pay dearly for this sin.

The Christopher/Paulie situation gets cranked up a few notches when Paulie's nephew boosts some of the tools from Al's shop not once but twice. The first time it happens Christopher bangs on Paulie's door demanding to be reimbursed for the goods, which Paulie politely refuses to do ("you can suck the money out of my ass" he tells him). Enraged that Tony won't do anything about the slight against his family, after the second theft Chrissy enacts a bit of his own brand of justice: he beats Little Paulie silly and then throws him out a second-story window.

Uh-oh. That little action sends Paulie into a fit of rage, and as Christopher is apologizing to Tony, Paulie turns his Caddy into a giant Garden Weasel and shreds Chrissy's $40,000 worth of landscaping into a lot full of lavishly-colored mulch. Classic Paulie.

With an all-out war between the two looming, Tony suddenly brokers a peace treaty and they all meet up at the Bing to bury the hatchet; that's when Christopher takes the plunge back into the deep, dark end of the pool. He agrees to toast Paulie with a glass of scotch, and as soon as he takes that first sip, we know that things will end very badly for Chrissy and/or some of those close to him.

When Paulie starts to razz a buzzed Chrissy about, of all things, his little daughter growing up to become a stripper, and he sees the rest of the guys laughing at him, Chris staggers out of the place realizing that he has lost all touch with the people he once felt closest to. With nowhere else to turn, he heads to JT's (Tim Daly) apartment ready to spill his guts to his fellow AA member ("I'll give you stories that'll make your hair curl" Chris tells him), but he refuses to hear any of his sordid confessions.

"Chris, you're in the MAFIA," JT bluntly puts it, and the reality of that sentence momentarily sobers him up. He's right, and what do people who are in the mafia do when other people reject or humiliate them? They blow that person's brains out, which is exactly what Chrissy does to his screenwriting 12-Step comrade.

To wrap things up, Tony sends AJ to a therapist, and he admits that he is depressed & suicidal, so the doc puts the kid on Lexapro and sends him off to deal with his problems. AJ starts to go out more, but that means getting involved with Tony's buddy Patsy Parisi's son Jason, who is running numbers at Rutgers while getting an education in computers, strippers and booze. When the guys torture a debtor by dripping acid on his toes, AJ gets a rush from the act, and the son's indoctrination into his father's world has come full circle.

Both are depressed, tortured loners who long to be good but lean towards the bad, and both turn to vices to get through their emotional problems. There is a scene in Melfi's office when Tony breaks down, telling her "it's in (AJ's) blood, this miserable fucking existence. My rotting fucking putrid genes have infected my kid's soul. That's my gift to my son."

And that may be Chase's gift to us; in the ultimate Godfather tribute in this season full of them, AJ could take over the family business when Tony is either dead or incarcerated, ascending to the throne just as Michael, the one former innocent & unassuming member of the Corleone family, rose to power in Don Vito's absence.

Or, as some people have speculated, AJ could O.D. from a fatal mix of booze and pills, who the fuck knows.

During the scene in Melfi's office, Tony tells her it will be his last visit, because he can't see the point of therapy. "After all the complaining, the crying and all the fucking bullshit, is this all there is?"

Why do I get the feeling that by the last episode of this epic saga, we the viewers will be left asking ourselves that same exact question?