Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NBA Playoffs starting to resemble the WWE

If you see this man on the street or outside a strip club at 3:00 am, please run quickly in the opposite direction

Ejections, technicals, suspensions, near-brawls, hip checks into the side boards, bloodied noses, clotheslines, name-calling, finger-pointing and oh yeah, an infamous knee-to-the-groin.

No, this isn't the Stanley Cup playoffs on Versus, it's your 2007 NBA Playoffs on TNT and the ESPN family of networks.

While the Eastern Conference semis (CLE/NJ; DET/CHI) have been about as electrifying as a night lite, the wild, wild Western Conference semis are providing enough entertainment & bloodshed to qualify as a sequel to "300".

The series between the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz has ranged from chippy to downright dirty. The culmination of all that jazz came at the end of Game 4, when Baron Davis threw a flying elbow smash to Derek Fisher's dome followed by Jason Richardson clotheslining of Utah's Memhet Okur, a play that nearly incited a riot at Whatever They're Calling it Now Arena.

Curiously, neither player was suspended for their gutless action, but Richardson was tossed from the game.

The Warriors certainly live up to their cinematic namesakes; every game they clang empty Pepsi bottles together off the ends of their fingers as if to say "come out to play" to any team that dare oppose them. If it's not Davis or Richardson defending their turf, it's Stephen "Action" Jackson, a man who never met a shot, or a shotgun, he didn't like, or Mad Matt Barnes, who throws his body around like a bathtowel with a rattail all game long.

I'm gonna miss these guys now that they've been eliminated. Guess I'll have to wait for the sequel.

But just because the Bay Area Badasses have left the building, that doesn't mean the bad blood and cheap shots have to stop. No, the other semi between the Spurs and Suns has gone from bad (Nash's bloody schnozz ) to worse (Bruce Bowen's knee to Nash's nether regions) to worse-er, as a late cheap shot but Robert Horry on Nash (why him?) at the end of Game 4 has resulted in three players being suspended for tonight's critical Game 5 in Phoenix.

Thanks to Cheap Shot Bob's hockey-like hip-check on the Canadian native Nash, Horry will have to sit out two games while Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw of the Suns will each sit one game for leaving the bench in the chaos that ensued.
The fervor over the two Suns having to sit a game for defending their captain is all for naught; the rule book says players cannot leave the bench during an on-court altercation, Stoudamire & Diaw left the bench momentarily to join the fray before being restrained by assistant coaches, therefore they must serve the one-game suspension as the rule dictates.

So as the Warriors season comes to a close the Spurs and Suns are just get heated up. It's now a best-of-three, undermanned war of attrition between the two, and the team with the fewest players eligible and most stitches should win the series.

Just don't pick the team with the player named Cyrus.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Entourage: The Boys are Back in Town!

Episode 40: "The Resurrection"

The boys rolling back into Ari's office meant everything was right with the (fake) world again

"Fuck reviews"-Vince

"Fuck 'em"-E.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me right back in.

Sorry to reference the infamous Michael Corleone quote, something that has been done a zillion times ad nauseum, but I couldn't think of a more appropriate intro for what happened on the show this week.

After suffering through weeks of titillation (Amanda), vegetation (Drama & Turtle's lives) and equine infestation ("KING!"), we, the viewers, were treated to a great episode that not only brought the fledgling series back from cultural irrelevance but also managed to not-so-subtly skewer the greed & power-obsessed Hollywood showbiz machine at the same time.

As the show opens, Vince, Turtle, and E. are waiting for Drama to wake up and cook them breakfast. His new series, "Five Towns," premiered the night before, and evidently Drama's fear of negative reviews has caused him to sleep in and avoid Variety magazine at all costs. His buddies tell him to relax, but just as he starts to do so a bird crashes through the kitchen window and lands in his eggs; a sure sign that the universe may indeed be against Johnny.

Next, we get to witness the scene we've been waiting this entire (mini) season for -- the boys walking back into Ari's office, side-by-side, as Ari & Lloyd stand outside his office to greet them, just like the good old days.

"There they are, a movie star and a TV star all in one family," Ari brown-noses, but Vince & E. aren't back to lap up anymore of Ari's bullshit. They make a single demand that must be met in order for Vince to return to Ari as a client- get Medellin out of purgatory and into Vince's hands.

"Medellin has crabs, gonorrhea, syphilis, it's an incurable super germ," Ari attempts to tell them, but their deal is final- no Pablo Escobar, no Vinnie Chase.

Now that the main players have been officially reunited, the two bumbling buffoon sidekicks finally get some meat on their story lines, too. Drama attempts to cope with the stress of the pilot by hitting a "rub & tug" massage parlor, but after an hour with no results, he reads the Variety review, then stomps out of the parlor in a huff. He bursts into the Variety office of the writer who trashed him, who breaks the sad news that he doesn't have a vendetta against Johnny, he just "doesn't think he's very good" as an actor and neither does anyone else in town. Ouch.

Meanwhile, Turtle heads over to pick up Drama's vintage Lincoln, the one from the show intro that the boys referenced in last week's ep, at a friend, Rufus', body shop. Seems as if the three of them decided to restore the old rust bucket in order to cheer their buddy up or perhaps to lessen the blow of the presumed bad reviews.

While there, Turtle meets the girl of his dreams, Kelly (Lauren London), a gorgeous sister with a nice smile who shares his passion for fancy sneakers. After a few awkward moments, like learning Kelly is Rufus' daughter, crashing the Linc because he was staring at her in the side mirror on his way out, and pleading with Rufus to let him ask Kelly on a date, he finally gets the digits of the girl who is "just like him, only with tits."

While Turtle is beaming and Drama is steaming, Vince, E. & Ari meet with mega-producer Joe Roberts (Micheal Lerner) to try and persuade him to resurrect the Medellin project. At first, Roberts is unmoved by their attempts to convince him it will be this generation's Scarface, but after Vince makes one of the most impassioned, intelligent, and well-written speeches of his life, Joe agrees to think it over.

But in the next instant Ari is on the phone with Joe, and the news is apparently not good. "I feel like you're taking a giant steel catheter and shoving it directly up my cock," Ari tells him when he hears that Joe will make Medellin only if Vince will star in his pet project, a CGI action spectacle called "Matterhorn." When Vince balks, Ari pleads with him to take the deal because if not Roberts is going to buy the Medellin script and bury it forever.

As Vince puffs on a jay and he and E. pound a couple of beers, they search for a way to make their dream project come true. "It's this town. I mean these people buy scripts they don't even want to make," Vince laments, and when E. tells him it's all about power & control, Vinny defiantly replies, "well we cannot let them control us; we can buy the script."

And thus one of the greatest plot twists in series history is born.

E. agrees to chip in his life savings-$237,642-and Vince decides to sell the house to bankroll his dream (curious side note: E. saying he thinks he has more cash than Vince), and the wheels are set in motion for what could be one hell of a ride in getting the Enola Gay of Vince's career off the ground. Ari begs Joe to let Vince buy the rights, and he acquiesces because he saw a passion that rivaled Coppola's for Apocalypse Now with Vince & Medellin that Roberts wishes he had. He even agrees to sell it to him on the cheap-$5 mil, half what he paid- just so Vince can attempt to fulfill his dream.

"Congratulations, you're the proud owner of 150 pieces of paper," Ari tells him.

But their enthusiasm is tainted because after they gave Drama the restored Lincoln, he took off on a soul-searching journey to nowhere in order to contemplate his future in the biz. Only while he is screaming through the Arizona desert headed for the Grand Canyon, blaring the Doors "When the Music's Over" and downing Jim Beam, the "Five Towns" pilot was racking up 16 million viewers, ensuring that Drama's series is officially a hit, in spite of the critics.

In another terrific closing scene, Drama wakes up the next morning in the back seat of the Lincoln to the sound of his phone; it's Vince, asking if Johnny still wants to do such menial tasks as cooking breakfast for them since he is now the star of a hit TV show. Upon hearing the news, he looks into the Canyon as the rock classic "White Room" by Cream blares across the vista, raises his arms in the air, and screams his trademark, "Viking Quest" yell:


Yes, it is Drama, for all of us.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Sopranos: Say Goodnight, Christopher

Episode 83: "Kennedy & Heidi"

Spoiler alert: Christopher dies in this one, and it wasn't a pretty sight

"My friend, the guy I came in with, how is he?"

"You're friend is dead."

As one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the series unfolded, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness. Not for the passing of one of the greatest shows in television history, not for the demise of one of the series' most beloved characters, but for the way the family we've all grown to know & love despite its flaws is literally tearing apart from the inside out.

Most of us could have dealt with Chrissy being taken out by one of Phil Leotardo's henchmen, or collapsing from a drug overdose once and for all, but for the loathsome-yet-lovable Christopher Moltisanti to die from the insane combination of a rollover car accident and the pudgy hand of Tony Soprano was one of the most difficult, and disrespectful things to witness in 83 episodes of this gut-punching drama.

No offense to Mr. Chase, but the Easy-Bake solution to have Christopher near death after the wreck and Tony just evil enough to finish the job can only be classified as a world-class cop out. It was just too neat- Tony accomplished what he wanted to accomplish without having to feel all the guilt of a straight-out execution; after all, Chrissy was just a "snivelling drug addict" who was near death anyway, right?

As the Church Lady used to say, "How Conven-ient!"

But the demise of Christopher did unlock some serious insight into the twisted mind of the New Jersey boss, one that hadn't been explored this deeply since the early days of his sessions with Melfi following his freewheeling, murderous ways.

The show begins with a scene of a dump truck driver unloading some material on a New York City dock. The dock foreman screams at the driver to stop dumping, and tells him that he can no longer unload the content on his property; the content happens to be asbestos-filled tiles & other products.

We quickly learn how the thread is connected when Tony & Chrissy meet with Phil and his captain; Phil, now the new boss of New York, claims he never knew the materials Tony was having dumped was asbestos. "What did you think it was?" Tony asks Phil, smirking. "Fucking Tampax, how the fuck should I know?" he snaps back, and then tells Tony he wants a 25% cut to continue dumping the illegal waste product. Tony tells him it'll be a cold day in hell before he'll pay that kind of juice and he and Chrissy leave, abruptly ending the meeting.

On the ride home Christopher speeds his Lincoln XLT through the winding desolate roads of Jersey, and he and T. have a discussion of what they should do about Phil's demand.

"Let him have's too short," Chris tells his boss, who agrees yet still thinks he would been seen as giving in to Phil's first demand as boss, thus setting a dangerous precedent.

"Whatever happened to "stop and the smell the roses?" Chris asks, and Tony ponders that thought as the truck swerves on the road. As Chris cranks up the infamous addict anthem "Comfortably Numb" by Roger Waters & Van Morrison from "The Departed" soundtrack, the two silently contemplate their lives and where the future may take them.

Re-watching the episode today didn't make what I knew was coming next any easier to view; in fact, it may have been more difficult to see the second time. Fidgety and obviously strung-out, Chris attempts to concentrate on the road and mess with the radio, and he veers into the path of an oncoming car, then swerves just in time to avoid a head-on collision. Instead, his truck clips the other car, then goes into a full-blown Hollywood action pic rollover down an embankment, flipping at least a dozen times before settling upright about 50 feet below.

The impact of the crash has left Chris with severe internal injuries, while Tony, who was wearing a seat belt, was just heavily banged-up. As Chris gasps for breath while spitting blood, he tells Tony, "you gotta help me...I'll never pass the drug test", confirming Tony's fears that the weakest link in any chain is an addicted one. When he sees that a tree branch pierced the baby seat in the back, Tony puts the two facts together and does what he feels needs to be done in order to preserve his future: he places his hand over Christopher's nose and squeezes the last breath out of one of his closest family members.

The rest of the ep deals with Tony's reaction to what he's done. Incredibly, instead of a profound sense of guilt or anguish, he appears incredibly relieved and even somewhat happy over what he did. It's as if Chase decided to dispense with all the "Tony's going soft" rumors and remind everyone what kind of guy this unforgettable character he created really is: a ruthless, brutal, unfeeling killer, someone who would sacrifice almost anyone else's life in order to keep the good times and fast lifestyle his family is so accustomed to living for as long as he possibly can.

In one of the most chilling scenes ever in the series, Tony is sitting in Melfi's office and confides in her some of his deepest, darkest secrets:

"I haven't been able to tell anyone this, but I'm fucking relieved. He was a tremendous drag on my emotions, on my thoughts about the future. Every day when I wake up I think 'is today the day one of my "best friends" dimes me out to the FBI?' And a weak, snivelling drug addict is the worst kind of bet. The biggest blunder of my career is now gone, and I don't have to be confronted by that fact anymore."
Wow. But wait, there's more:

"Let me tell ya something," Tony goes on. "I murdered friends before, even relatives-my cousin Tony, my best friend, Puss, but this..."

Even as Tony snaps awake and we realize the session is just a dream, the revelation of Tony's true thoughts provided one of the most raw, compelling, and unflinchingly nasty portrayals of a contemporary American villain ever. Kudos to Chase for that.

When Tony is forced to sit through not one but two wakes (Paulie's mother/aunt passed away suddenly, also), and after spotting former flame Julianna Skiff at Chris' wake, Tony decides he needs to get away from it all. He arranges a trip to Vegas and tries to wash away his feelings with gambling, drinks by the pool, and fancy dinners, and also by hooking up with one of Christopher's goomahs, the sexy & smart stripper Sonya. After banging her, Sonya opens Tony's eyes to the world of drugs and escapism, first by getting him high after sex with some killer green, then by granting his wish of trying the peyote Christopher told him the two did together.

Let me say, watching Tony high & tripping was also one of the more memorable occurrences I've ever seen on the show. After initially puking, Tony & Sonya hit the casino, where he is mesmerized by all the lights, and he goes on an unexpected winning streak at the roulette wheel. Suddenly, Tony smiles and mumbles "he's dead," then falls to the casino floor in a fit of laughter.
The final scene shows Tony & Sonya in the Nevada desert taking in the spectacular sunset and enjoying the feeling of not having a care in the world. Grinning from ear to ear, Tony raises his arms in the air and screams, "I get it!", and as the words echo around the canyon, we are left to ponder what it all really means.

In the thread involving AJ and his college buddies, he was forced to participate in a racially-motivated beating of a Somali student, and he is having trouble dealing with it at his therapist's office.

"Everything is so fucked up; why can't we all just get along?" he asks as his eyes well with tears.

Exactly what I was thinking, young man.

Unfortunately, we're all past that point now.

By the way, many are questioning the origin of the title of the episode. I found the answer, on my second viewing, to be the names of the two girls who were driving the car that clipped Chris' truck. Make of that what you will, too.