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March 30, 2007

America's Deadliest Sport: Cheerleading

Cheerleading, deadly sport

Today's Friday afternoon light read actually borders on gruesome: the NY Times reports that cheerleaders are more likely to sustain head and spinal trauma than any other female high school or college athletes.

Our country's 4 million high school and college cheerleaders are becoming "daredevils", according to the article on this dangerous trend: "While the sport has retained its sense of glamour, at dozens of competitions around the country, knee braces and ice bags affixed to ankles and wrists have become accouterments as common as mascara." Sounds like some forward-thinking movie director needs to make Girlfight 2: Mouthguard Cheerleaders.

It's the increasingly acrobatic nature of cheerleading that's resulted in six times more emergency room visits by cheerleaders in 2004 than in 1980. Shortly after gymnastics boomed in popularity during the '80's, a lot of schools started cutting their teams due to high injury rates and expensive insurance. "Many gifted female gymnasts gravitated toward cheerleading and, with their ability and competitive nature, they soon pushed halftime routines far beyond shaking pompoms and waving banners."

Cheerleading isn't recognized as a sport in many states, who categorize it as a more fluffy "activity"--hardly surprising considering the history of women's sports. And "activities" aren't regulated, so high school teams routinely do stunts that would be banned in the NCAA.

A few horror stories:

San Jose State University cheerleader Rechelle Sneath fell during a practice and was paralyzed from the waist down. She now uses a wheelchair. In 2005, Ashley Burns, a 14-year-old from Medford, Mass., died after being hurled into the air and landing on her stomach, causing her spleen to rupture. And last year, the Prairie View A&M cheerleader Bethany Norwood, 24, died from complications of a paralyzing fall during a cheerleading practice in 2004.

But some cheerleaders are eager to keep putting their lives in their teammates' hands, like one tough-as-nails 18 year-old who competed at the recent National Cheerleaders Association Championships at Hammerstein Ballroom:

Valerie Smith, 18, a cheerleader for New York Cheer, an All-Star squad based on Long Island, was competing with a broken nose sustained in a practice mishap four days earlier. She wore makeup to conceal her still-blackened eyes.

"I haven’t seen a doctor yet, because I was afraid he might not let me come to this competition," Smith, of West Islip, N.Y., said with an impish smile. "But when you’ve been working 10 hours a week for something like this, I wasn’t going to let a broken nose stop me. Besides, that’s letting down the team."

She said all elite cheerleaders lived by the same motto.

"The glitter, the makeup and the curls in our hair make cheerleading so deceiving," Smith said. "We look like pretty little things. Well, most athletes throw balls around. We throw other cheerleaders around. What’s harder? What’s harder to catch?"

March 29, 2007

Blades of Glory: if the promotional photos are anything to go on...

Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, America's Funniest Couple

... this is going to be the greatest movie of the year.

I can't say anything about the script or direction, but a lot of very talented people are involved with the costume and hair design of Blades of Glory [official site]. One of them is Julie Weiss, who also did costume design for Twelve Monkeys and Frida. In an interview in today's Daily News, she inspiringly connects working on Blades of Glory to her Tony Award-winning design of a theatrical production of The Elephant Man: "That was a story with the theme, 'I'm just a man, accept me for who I am.' Who would have thought I would have gone from Elephant Man to Blades of Glory saying the same thing? It's the same theme." Will Ferrell needs to hire this woman to do the publicity for all his movies.

A post on CityRag features many more stills and promotional shots for the movie. Here's a taste:

Jon Heder, Blades of Glory

Arnett and Poehler, Blades of Glory

As T-Rock pointed out, costumes and hair alone aren't enough to make a movie hilarious. But Will Arnett and Amy Poehler probably are.

March 26, 2007

Shooter: feel the vibration!

Mark Wahlberg, in the old days

Mark Wahlberg has come a long way since the days of modeling underwear and dedicating his book to his dick. He transitioned from Marky Mark into respectability with Boogie Nights, and really moved into the big time when he started appearing in movies in which he didn't have to take his shirt off at any point, even in Planet of the Apes where it actually would have made sense in the story (the exception being the excellent Rock Star.) Nobody really thought he'd win the Oscar this year for Best Supporting Actor for The Departed, but if he had, it wouldn't have seemed that crazy to see "Academy Award Winner" preceding his name on movie posters for the rest of his life.

Then comes his latest movie, Shooter. This movie really made me wish he had won that Oscar, so that he could follow the post-Academy Award tradition of starring in movies that are totally not what respected actors are supposed to star in (Catwoman, The Reaping.)

Not that Shooter is a bad movie, exactly. It might feature more people getting shot in the head than even the record-setting The Departed, and the whole last hour seems to have been structured with the primary goal of blowing up every single object that ever appears on the screen--cars, helicopters, sheds, gas tanks, houses--in an escalation of explosive DIY vigilante militia warfare. Even all those people's heads seem to combust when shot, which reminds me of the trailer for Hot Fuzz in which Nick Frost asks Simon Pegg "if there is a place in a man's head where if you shoot it, it will blow up."

But even more satisfying than seeing Mark Wahlberg blowing up lots of stuff is the return to the days of long, lingering shots of his mostly naked body, in scenes that are hard to see as cinematically necessary. In Shooter, doing some emergency at-home surgery means you have to take off not only your shirt, but also your pants, with just an artfully placed teeny little hand towel to fill in for his Calvin Kleins. Interestingly, it also means doing a lot of whippets.

We all know he's a talented actor, but it's good to see him getting back to muscle shots and guns. Seems like old times.

March 20, 2007

Coors Light asks, why wait till 5:00 to start drinking?

It's 4:53! Start drinking!

In a brilliant advertising campaign combining interactive online media and a slack work ethic, Coors is planning to introduce its new Silver Bullet Express Beer Train to Happy Hour. Which now starts at 4:53.

In creating these ads, Coors noticed that their target consumers, men ages 21-34, do almost all of their online reading at work, and between 3 and 6. Since these guys have already indicated their feelings on the relative importance of doing their jobs late in the workday and, say, reading Maxim.com, the strategy for selling beer to them pretty much designs itself. Regular ESPN.com readers are practically begging Coors Light to launch a speeding beer train across their screens at 4:53 PM local time, signalling that it really is OK for them to have completely given up on productivity for the day, because it's already happy hour!

Avenue A/Razorfish, the agency that designed the 4:53 online beer train, says the ads will also include a Happy Hour Countdown clock. The train and clock will presumably trigger a Pavlovian response in industrious drinker-workers, and give them enough time to get out of the office, down to a bar, and actually be pouring a Coors Light down their gullets by 5:00.

"It’s getting back to the roots, back to a brand promise of cold refreshment," says a VP at Draft FCB, the agency that designed the TV ads that will tie-in with the 4:53 train. Solid American roots of cold refreshment and a 7-minute shorter workday.

March 19, 2007

How to not get scammed

In the aggressively unfunny "Funny Pages" section of yesterday's NY Times Magazine was a great True-Life Tale from Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's legitimately funny weekend quiz show, "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".

In the story, Sagal recounts a learning experience from his younger days, when an older respected writer friend gave him a crisp, new $100 bill to use for anything he needed to help his writing. Within seconds of dropping off the writer friend at the airport, he's already given 40% of it to a con artist.

It's a charming and self-deprecating story about how stupid he felt to not only have been duped by a sort-of attractive woman with a fake story (her invisible car broke down, she didn't have enough cash for a tow truck and the cops were about to ticket her if she didn't move her car), but to have continued playing along even after he knew she was lying: "I probably knew she was lying as soon as she got into my car. But by that point, it had become far easier to continue playing along than to call the whole thing off. She had worked so hard on her scheme that it seemed cruel to disappoint her. And of course, by suddenly expressing doubt, I would be admitting that I had been stupid enough to believe her to that point."

These kinds of scams seem to be incredibly common (other examples I've heard include "my car's brakes don't work and I need $19 to get a cab home" and the slightly more complex "I'm outside with two wardrobes and I lost my keys and need $20 to get a cab to my mother's apartment to get the extra set") and intelligent people sometimes fall for them. So if you are approached by someone asking for cash for some implausible emergency situation, you can do one of the following:

1) Blow them off;

2) Get some dark satisfaction out of playing along with their scam, but offering them the actual service they say they are in need of instead of money. Offer to call a cab or tow truck yourself and pay the driver directly, drive them to their mom's apartment, etc. This won't earn you any good karma, but will give the sick pleasure of watching the con artist's whole story disintegrate before your very eyes; or

3) If you happen to have some meth or gin in your pocket, or if you are a civic-minded prostitute, just skip the extra transaction and give the con artist what you both know they're really after.

If you want to get in on the other side, a good place to start is Simon Lovell's How to Cheat at Everything, a funny and practical guide to hustling.

[tx adm]

March 15, 2007

Tell It Like It Is

If there's one thing Americans can agree on, it's that punching old ladies in the face is a despicable act. Last weekend's assault on 101-year-old Rose Morat, who was punched repeatedly in the face and robbed of $33 on her way to church, has caused an uproar from concerned citizens, community groups, Queens residents, seniors, the police, legislators, the press - you name it. Even worse is the fact that this seems to be a habit. The mugger allegedly also beat and robbed an 85-year old woman, Solange Elizee, shortly afterward. Ms. Elizee lost $32 and her wedding band. The reward for the attacker is currently up around $18,000.

But the question remains - what kind of a person would do this? What kind of a person assaults old ladies in their homes for just a few dollars?

punching old ladies is bad

Also, apparently, the kind of person who wears a fur jacket and rides a pink bike.

March 14, 2007

FDA backs Patrick Kennedy: sleeping pills can make you sleep-drive

Patrick Kennedy after car crash

The FDA announced today that all prescription sleeping pills can, in rare instances, cause those who take them to engage in "complex sleep-related behaviors" including driving. This supports Patrick Kennedy, who crashed his car in Washington, DC last spring after taking Ambien, Phenergan (not a sleeping pill), and, according to the staff at Capital Hill bar the Hawk & Dove, maybe a few drinks.

Only about a dozen reports of sleep-driving while on insomnia medication have made it to the FDA, but they think it's happening a lot more, which is probably true. Other sleep activity that these pills can cause include less dangerous but significantly more bizarre activities, like making phone calls, fixing and eating food, and having sex while still asleep (I'd bet these kinds of things happen a lot more often than sleep-driving, but there is no way people are going to tell their doctor about it.) Drug manufacturers will now have to put warnings of potential dangerous side effects on these "sedative-hypnotics".

So even though you're not supposed to drink while taking Ambien, it sounds like Kennedy was telling the truth when he said that he had no memory of driving or crashing his car that night. His claim to the police at the scene of the accident that he was "headed to the Capital to make a vote" at 3:00 AM is weird enough to make me believe that he was having some episode of sleepwalking, and wasn't just really drunk and incoherent as many people assumed.

He was also prescribed both of those drugs, though maybe now doctors will be more careful about recommending mixing two drugs that both act as sedatives.

Given this new FDA statement, it may not have been appropriate for Kennedy to plead guilty to driving under the influence of drugs that he was prescribed, or to have gotten a year's probation. This incident did also prompt him to go to rehab for a month for a supposed addiction to pain medication (who knows how/if that figures into the car crash), and he has an admittedly long history of addiction problems, but the car crash itself doesn't look like a crime.

Related: NYT article featuring many totally crazy stories of Ambien-related somnulent behavior (from before the Kennedy incident);
Ambien makes you compusively sleep-eat

March 13, 2007

Most irritating restaurant in NYC closed for health code violations

Coffee Shop closed

In what is surely the best unintended consequence of the KFC/Taco Bell rats video, Union Square restaurant Coffee Shop, that even the New York Times is savvy enough to call "once-hip", has been closed for scoring 120 points in Health Department violations.

The restaurant, where you've probably seen the outside seating area infested with vermin incredibly snotty looking scenester-types every time the temperature rises above 45 degrees, got closed last Wednesday, failed a follow-up inspection on Friday, and as of yesterday, was still closed. Heh.

And check out these quotes from the Times article. The writer obviously hates this restaurant as much as I do:

"People are pretty shocked," said Nicole Watts, who stood outside the restaurant yesterday afternoon wearing large sunglasses, a wool shawl and cowboy boots. She had made plans to meet a makeup artist there at 3 p.m. "It’s a meeting about the video we’re shooting for my jewelry line," she said.

"I’ve seen a lot of people walk up and read the signs in the window," Ms. Watts added. "People are pretty shocked."

Sean Thomas, tall, blond and ruddy, and wearing a colorful scarf tied jauntily around his neck, said he had gone to the Coffee Shop each time he visited from London, where he owns a clothing company called White Stuff (slogan: "Lovely Clothes for Lovely People"). "To be honest, I’ve had some good food here and I’ve had some bad food," he said. "I’ve had great margaritas here. It’s just a fun, stylish, sort of buzzy place."

[This next part is just genius] Mr. Thomas turned on his heel and left with his two female companions in search of another place to have lunch. Mike Bael, a squat man with frizzy hair in a ponytail, was standing nearby and said: "I’ve always found it to be an incredibly snobbish place. If you look like that guy, you get served fine. My wife and I always get stuck in the back near a bunch of loud families and have to wait forever to get our order taken. The food’s O.K. One time we looked around and all the people with scarves and British accents were in the front."

The health violations were all for improper refrigeration of food; no sign of rodent infestation. Just far too many tall, blond people with scarves and British accents.

March 12, 2007

First best movie of 2007: The Host

The Host

If you're one of the many people who saw 300 this weekend, yay for you--you helped create the first blockbuster of 2007. But if you're one of the (probably) many more people who got to the movie theater and found 300 to be sold out, perhaps you saw what's the first undeniably kick-ass movie of 2007, The Host [official site].

This movie has gotten loads of positive press for a Korean creature-horror movie, which helped to generate the Ain't it Cool News "on par with Jaws" quote and Wired's great "K-horror is the new J-horror" article. The Host is a horror movie for the whole family: the characters are really engaging and well-developed, the action scenes are fast and scary and cool, and every time it looks like a scene might degenerate into something predictable or sappy, instead it suddenly becomes smart and funny, and often really weird. In this movie you laugh while a family mourns a dead child, because, actually, it's hilarious.

And even though the movie still would have been great if it was just about a scary-ugly river creature that's mesmerizingly graceful as it acrobatically swings by its prehensile tail across bridge supports, it takes on bigger issues, too. Without getting at all preachy, it comments on pollution, military ineptitude, medical terrorism, American exploitation of politically strategic allies, and unethical bureaucracies. If the genderless monster had turned out to be female (it did have some similar features to the creature in Alien, though the CGI was only OK) it would have fit in with some other interesting mother themes of the movie, and might have inspired a delightful title variation: The Hostess.

Great cast, too: both Song Kang-ho and Bae Doo-na were in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and an awesome 13 year-old girl is the definition of intrepid and resourceful. Plus it has a really simple yet scary movie poster.

Here's an excerpt from a letter to viewers from the filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, that Landmark Sunshine Cinema emailed around last week:

Park Gang-du and his family have led ordinary, repetitive lives, never really extending beyond the confines of their small food stand on the banks of the Han River. They are devastated by the emergence of the Creature. Robbed of their peaceful daily routines, Gang-du and his family do the only thing they can: throw themselves into a life-and-death struggle against the Creature to rescue their lost daughter. The film shows how these exceedingly normal people, no different from our everyday neighbors, are transformed into monster-fighting warriors.

But as with all great monster films, the Creature is not the only adversary they have to fight. Have you ever felt powerless in the face of an immovable impasse? For Gang-du and his family, impoverished, powerless "little people," the whole world around them is revealed to be a true monster. They have to fight against it tooth and nail. The film is, in the end, a record of their moving fight to the death against the indifferent, calculating and manipulative Monster known as the world.

I don't know about Landmark, but at the AMC Empire's screenings of The Host, you can see the trailer for Satoshi Kon's cool-looking new movie, Paprika.

March 9, 2007

Hey, America. Giuliani is sort of a jerk, remember?


The polls for the 2008 election are indicating that Giuliani has a good shot at getting the Republican nomination. Bush's continuing unpopularity is probably going to push the party back toward the center. And the disastrous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a huge bonus for Giuliani, who by comparison looked like a logistical and inspirational superman of a leader after 9/11.

But here's the thing. Most Americans that participate in polls aren't thinking very deeply about the 2008 election yet. When asked who they would vote for if they election were held today, their opinion of Giuliani is probably informed almost 100% by what they can remember seeing him say on TV from September 11-16, 2001. By the time the primaries come along, that positive image is going to be seven years old, the media will have had plenty of time to report on all the other stuff he's done, and my guess is that we'll all be reminded that Giuliani is actually a pretty unlikeable guy.

And that Rudy/Rudia drag incident from 1997 (see photo) might have been cute and whimsical in NYC, but as the National Standard (!) suggests, "When it comes to winning over GOP primary voters, if you can make it in New York, you can’t make it anywhere."

Today's papers offer a few reminders of how much this guy pissed people off when he was still Mayor. The International Association of Fire Fighters has written a letter to all members (representing 85% of firefighters nationwide) about his decision in November 2001 to limit the number of FDNY firefighters who could search for the remains of their colleagues to 25. They were mad as hell then, and they still are. An IAFF spokesman says, "The events of November 2001, we think, showed the true character of Rudy Giuliani, and we are going to make sure the firefighters of this country know that story." Makes playing the Hero of 9/11 angle pretty tough for old Rudy [see also The Onion's hilarious article from a few weeks ago, "Giuliani to Run for President of 9/11"].

The Times reminds us that Giuliani and NYPD weren't always so friendly, either. The nasty business between Giuliani and his former police commissioner Bill Bratton over who could claim responsibility for the crime reduction in the mid-90's led to Bratton's resignation, and it appears that the two men haven't talked since 1996. Until now. Giuliani is trying to make nice with Bratton, who is now the head of LAPD, I guess to try to shake his reputation for being a self-serving, paranoid, unreasonable jackass.

So he can enjoy the poll results now, but the days of looking like a hero just by wearing FDNY and NYPD baseball hats are over.

March 6, 2007

Ladies: set your vagina phasers on stunning!

Dr. Warner and his smiling wife/office assistant

[tx to T-Rock for the title]

Vaginal rejuvenation has already been available to women seeking a "youthful aesthetic look" for a number of years, but today's Washington Post dives headfirst into the industry because the city just got its first practitioner: Dr. Christopher Warner.

Dr. Warner (with his wife/office assistant, above, who says that she wants to get the surgery) says that the goal of his practice is to "empower women" by shooting a beautifying laser at their vaginas, which I'll just admit right now is a medical/aesthetic/health/sexual need that I don't think I am totally understanding. What I do understand is some naysayers, such as Dr. Thomas G. Stovall, a past president of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, who says "There is absolutely zero scientific literature that supports . . . the notion that firing a laser of any kind will tighten [vaginal] muscles," and calls the surgery "a ripoff."

But enough about that. The really fascinating character here is Dr. David Matlock, regular on E!'s "Dr. 90210", and world-class vagina rejuvenator and feminist crusader. Matlock has consulted with Dr. Warner and other fledgling rejuvenators across the country. In a related article devoted to Dr. Matlock, the Post details his devotion to women and their ugly, old, malfunctioning vaginas, his branding acumen, and his many legal troubles:

"In 1998 the Medical Board of California sought to revoke his license, charging him with insurance fraud, dishonesty, creation of false medical records and gross negligence in connection with his treatment of two patients." Matlock says that the resulting disciplinary action was racially motivated: "It was completely unfair, and I honestly think race had something to do with it," said Matlock, who is black.

He's also been sued for malpractice 10 times in the last 10 years. In response to the lack of studies proving any kind of effectiveness of vaginal rejuvenation surgery, he says, "Life isn't all about studies." What a maverick!

From Matlock's E! bio: "It's 100 percent about the woman. I'm here for the woman. One hundred percent for the woman. I want what she wants. I listen. All of these procedures have been developed as a result of listening to women."

Listening to women, huh? Hm. I wonder what that conversation was like.

Women: "Dr. Matlock! Could you please shoot some lasers at my crotch to make me feel young and attractive, or at least like I haven't given birth to 4 children?"

Dr. Matlock: "Sure, women! I'm here for you. Now please just sign this consent form detailing more than 40 potential complications, including incontinence and intractable pain. Let's get you empowered!"

March 2, 2007

This week's new movies

Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac

Some great-looking movies coming out today. Here's what the critics have to say.

First up is Zodiac [official site], the first David Fincher-directed movie since Panic Room. Even though this movie is over two and a half hours long, and Fincher is completely up his own ass about it and his inability to cut anything without sacrificing his artistic vision, and Jake Gyllenhaal is talking about how working on his movie helped him develop "respect for my craft", it's still going to be amazing. Why? I'll tell you why. The always Ruffalicious MARK RUFFALO, that's why. Nobody can play a sort of sleazeball detective like that guy can (as he did in the otherwise not great In the Cut). Check out the shoulder-holster-cigarette-sideburns action above. Rawrr!

Manohla Dargis at the Times loved it:

Psychology isn’t Mr. Fincher’s bag; he isn’t interested in what lies and writhes beneath, but what is right there: the visible evidence. And what beautiful evidence it is. His polished technique can leave you slack-jawed, as can his scrupulous attention to detail: the peeling walls of a derelict building in Fight Club, the rows of ant-size letters marching across the pages of a composition notebook in Seven, the bruises splashed across a woman’s arm in Zodiac. There is mystery in this minutiae, not just virtuosity, and maybe, to judge from reports of his painstaking process, a touch of madness.

Stephen Hunter at the Washington Post, not so much. Too talky:

Way, way too much of the film is guys sitting in a room talking about it over and over and over, waiting for a climax that never comes. The movie makes clear the agonizing reality that a manhunt is 99.9 percent talking and record-checking.

Next is Blake Snake Moan [official site]. Or, as A.O. Scott calls it in his review, Chaining Miss Daisy to the Radiator in Her Underwear. He doesn't love the movie, but is crazy about the soundtrack:

For all its willful, shaking-and-shouting intensity, Black Snake Moan never lives up to its soundtrack, which is as saturated with the blues as Hustle & Flow was with the crunk sounds of Southern hip-hop. The songs from the Fat Possum Records catalog that play under much of the action, and two short archival clips of the great Son House explicating the place of sexual jealousy in his music, contain more pain, humor and wisdom than the entirety of Mr. Brewer’s overloaded, overheated script.

And Roger Ebert says:

It may be the most peculiar recent movie ever except for Road House, but then what can you say about Road House? Such movies defy all categories.

Yes, that Road House. I have no idea what he's talking about here, but when Roger Ebert says "you have never seen a movie like this before" and then evokes Road House, it's like I have been personally dared to just try to resist seeing this movie.

While Wild Hogs is not the greatest movie to be released today, and I can hardly believe it was screened for critics at all, the hilarious A.O. Scott review is reason enough to be thankful that this movie got made. After describing how emphatically the movie makes sure we all realize that the four mid-life crisis guys on their bike trip are definitely not gay, he writes:

After camping out one night, for example, they have a conversation that’s overheard by a highway patrolman (John C. McGinley) who decides, based on his misunderstanding of the perfectly innocent things they’re saying, that they must be gay. But the thing is — get this — he’s the one who’s gay! You think he’s a stereotypical homophobe, but he turns out to be a homophobic stereotype. It’s magic!

[tx Trashrock]

Documentation of future dead celebrity presence

Anna Nicole Smith's future burial site

This strange world we live in seems to have reached a new level of meta-weirdness. Fom earlier this week: tourists taking pictures of themselves at the cemetery plot where Anna Nicole Smith is going to be buried.

About March 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in March 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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