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August 6, 2012

Obsure Olympic events

Women's handball, 2012 Olympics

Have you seen the Olympics photo collections that the NY Times has been publishing every day? They're really amazing. It's a more interesting and varied way to see what's happening everyday without all the extra stuff on TV like backstories about athletes' moms and Ryan Seacrest.

NBC is doing an OK good job in their coverage, but they focus so heavily on American athletes that any sport without a leading American contender or team doesn't get much airtime. Plus, have you noticed how long it takes them to show the scores in women's gymnastics? Everyone on the floor starts reacting to scores that none of us can see, and they're hugging and crying or pursing their lips in stoic resignation, and I'm sitting there shouting SHOW US THE SCORE ALREADY! It's frustrating.

Also, there are all the cutesy little features that NBC produces, like last night's bit with Mary Carillo talking about props in the James Bond movies, then riding around in an Aston Martin and screaming, which they show instead of, say, women's handball. Which thanks to the NY Times I have learned is an incredibly tough and hardcore sport where players do things like this to each other:

Women's handball, London Olympics

Wow! And I thought handball was that game Latino guys play in the area of the park with half-size tennis courts, though Wikipedia says the Latino guys are playing something confusingly called "Gaelic handball". The Olympians are playing "Team handball".

And there are other sports I would have no idea about without the Times photo streams. For example, did you know men's field hockey is an Olympic sport? Maybe I missed this because American men don't typically play field hockey, so NBC's coverage is minimal.

men's field hockey, London Olympics

And how about women's trampoline gymnastics?

Women's trampoline gymnastics, London Olympics

News to me.

April 9, 2012

Goon: Canadian minor league hockey = comic gold

Goon with Seann William Scott

The most overlooked movie out right now might be Goon, the raunchy comedy starring Seann William Scott that doesn't involve Stifler or his mom. Goon is a hockey comedy and it's the best extremely realistically violent movie I've seen in a very long time. The violence in Goon isn't about being artistic or stylized, it's about showing you what it's like to stop a puck with your face while a bunch of Quebecois meatheads spit on you. Hilarious!

There are lots of reasons this movie should be doing better than it is (it's only made $4 million at the box office.) Hockey is a perfect subject for a filthy-mouthed sports comedy (e.g. Slap Shot), the script is by Evan Goldberg (who wrote Superbad with Seth Rogen) and Jay Baruchel, two Canadians from the Judd Apatow school of inept, lovable man-children and and good-natured dick jokes. It stars Seann William Scott, who bulked up into a thick-necked bruiser for this role. An inspired casting choice, Liev Schreiber plays an aging icon of Canadian hockey brutality with a spectacular handlebar moustache and authentically flat a's. I think it's the best role I've ever seen him do. And Alison Pill as the rowdy, slutty hockey fan love interest--she's fantastic in everything I've ever seen her in (Scott Pilgrim, Milk, Midnight in Paris) and she's a riot in this.

Sometimes Seann William Scott goes a little too far with the dumb lug routine, but mostly he plays the character as a sweet, sincere boy from Mass who loves beer and mashing the opposing team's faces with his big meaty fists. The character is based on real-life Doug Smith, an enforcer in 1980's hockey. The biggest change to the character was to make him Jewish (his last name is now Glatt), which was important because it allowed Eugene Levy to be cast as his dad and for fans at the games to hold up signs saying "GLATT is Hebrew for FUCK YOU!"

It's probably not going to be in theaters much longer, but you can watch it on demand. Here's the red-band trailer.

February 17, 2012

More from the Linky

Jeremy Lin Hey Girl

The Robot Linky over there on the right of the screen is still having technical problems (how 'bout supporting an RSS feed for Plus, huh, Google?) so here are a few things from the past few days:

  • Inevitable: Jeremy Lin Hey Girl Tumblr.
  • A good piece about the ongoing battle between Presbyterian minister Jane Spahr (an old family friend of mine) and her church. Spahr was the first out lesbian minister leading a congregation and has been marrying same-sex couples within the church for years. She's an inspiring crusader for gay rights in a religious context, and has always spoken about marrying same-sex couples within the church as her spiritual calling, which pretty much means the Presbyterian church is arguing that God is wrong.
  • Nicolas Cage has been talking for years about his innovative acting technique he calls "nouveau-shamanic" and the rest of us would probably call "mental", but now he's comparing his inexplicable career choices to Led Zeppelin, which I hope means he's going to play a Norse hermit blues guitarist wizard soon.
  • Ken Jennings' response to yesterday's "aspirin between the knees" attempt at folksy contraception humor by Foster Friess that became an instant self-parody:

    I call b.s., BOTH my kids have been conceived with an aspirin between my knees. (Long story, pharmacy-themed roleplay.)

[tx, Cushie!]

July 18, 2011

New Yorkers love women's soccer

US women's soccer fans in Germany

Despite the enthusiasm of its adoring fans (above), the US Women's Soccer team lost to Japan in yesterday's final in a really well-played but terribly unlucky match. But even if they didn't win, the ladies of US soccer got a lot of love from the sports fans. I watched the game in a crowded New Jersey beach bar, and there was as much table-pounding, high-fiving, and screaming at the TV screen as when professional men's sports are on. I defy anyone who thinks soccer is boring to watch the second half of that game and just try to refrain from pumping their fists in the air.

Also: I walked through Times Square this evening and tried to pass the W Hotel on 47th Street, but was blocked by about 15 cops who were trying (unsuccessfully) to check reporters' credentials, block rush hour traffic, and hold back swarms of people who were pushing up against inadequate barricades, all holding their phones in the air and trying to take pictures of what had to be some very important people standing outside the hotel.

Wait, that's Abby Wambach! There they were! The US Women's Soccer team in their warm-up suits, standing on the sidewalk, giving interviews, hugging teenage girls, and generally causing complete mayhem by their presence.

After being hustled across the street by some cops, who looked like they were in over their heads, I came upon two less mobbed non-Hope Solo players standing outside Starbucks, signing autographs for somewhat calmer fans. Stephanie Cox and another player who I've so far been unable to identify (possibly Lauren Cheney?) graciously posed for a picture and thanked me for watching.

US Soccer team in Times Square

Wooo! USA! Canada 2015!

June 25, 2010

World Cup in America

Diana Ross at the World Cup opening ceremony, 1994

Now that the US team has done well enough to advance to the next round, it's time for World Cup fever to sweep America! We like sports that we're good at. The game against Ghana tomorrow afternoon (2:30 on ABC!) is probably going to be the most watched soccer game yet this year.

The first time I remember being aware of the World Cup was in 1994, when it was hosted here in the US. In doing some research about that year's tournament, my friend T-Rock happened upon the description of the opening ceremony, which was held in Chicago. Here's the Wikipedia entry. It keeps getting better:

The opening ceremony of the World Cup was held on 17 June at Chicago's Soldier Field. Numerous dignitaries attended, including US President Bill Clinton, Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl and President of Bolivia Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. The ceremony was emceed by Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, Daryl Hall, Jon Secada and Diana Ross gave musical performances. Ross was also supposed to kick a football into the goal from the penalty spot at the end of her performance, with the goal then splitting in two as part of a pre-orchestrated stunt. She kicked the ball wide to the left, missing the goal, but the goalposts were collapsed anyway in accordance with the stunt plans.

From the American perspective, the most important aspect of the 1994 World Cup is definitely the video for Daryl Hall's horrific theme song, "Gloryland", which plays sort of like a 9/11 tribute video combined with a Disney World ad. It also features segments from the opening ceremony, which demonstrate that even a serious sports country like the United States is powerless to resist creating a big ridiculous Eurotrashtastic explosion of kitsch when planning a soccer-related gala event:

You can watch just Diana Ross's failed penalty kick and exploding goalposts here. For future reference, don't stage the crescendo of your globally televised soccer event around a 50 year-old diva scoring a goal.

February 8, 2010

Watch the game, hate your life

FloTV Super Bowl ad

I noticed a theme in some of last night's Super Bowl ads: in addition to the usual inscrutably unfunny Doritos ads and unoriginal but instantly recognizable Go Daddy ads (those people really understand brand consistency) there was an undercurrent of male misery. It's standard for ads to make the viewer feel uncomfortable or insecure, then offer the product as a solution to your self-esteem problem, but a couple of these ads suggested that the problem in your life is not really your athlete's foot--it's your girlfriend.

The Dodge ad was an especially bitter girl-hating ad, which is odd, considering that it's basically one long whiny bitch fest (with a few pissy little jokes thrown in.) It features lots of guys looking directly into the camera, with a voiceover listing all the indignities they suffer as part of living with a woman, such as being forced to separate the recycling. Life for a man, according to this ad, is an endless series of irritations piled on by that bitch you married (or who's pressuring you for a ring, probably) and the only recourse is to drive a Dodge, the one thing in this world she can't take away from you.

Geez, guys, if it's really that horrific to pick up your underwear, you could find a lady with less stringent household tidiness expectations. Or support Chrysler by suffering in silence and driving a shitbox car.

Then there's the poor doofus who let his girlfriend drag him along underwear shopping (above) instead of letting him watch basketball. Another hapless fellow whose simple yearning for happiness has been denied by his selfish cow girlfriend who needs a new bra. Poor, poor widdle man!

The long-suffering man ad that I did like was the one for Dove Men, which is admittedly an absurdly tough product to try to sell during the Super Bowl. Anyway, the Dove Men approach is to depict one man's life, from fetus to adulthood, and the many challenges he has faced and overcome along the way. Living with a lady in this ad can also be a trial, but these difficulties are shown as small victories to be proud of rather than opportunities to complain about how much women suck. And it's funny. A decent ad.

Actually, the Dove Men ad is probably targeted exclusively to women. How many guys out there are going to purchase Dove Men bodywash at the supermarket? They could at least rebrand this line to something like Falcon or, to continue the political metaphor, Hawk. This ad probably presents a less toxically bitter attitude toward women because they're the buyers. (Though I see that Dove got last night's MVP Drew Brees to appear on the website, lathering up a very masculine and non-drying foam in the shower.)

My favorites were the Kia ad about toys going out on the town (particularly the shot of the robot and a human in a Vegas club, both doing the robot) and the Audi ad using Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" as a soundtrack for scenes of an army of draconian eco-fascists handcuffing people for using styrofoam cups. I love it.

You can watch all the ads on Hulu, though you have to watch a few seconds of a Coke ad before you watch each of the other ads, which seems unjustifiably cheap.

October 28, 2009

Phillies/Yankees borderland

Phillies/Yankees fans map

The Yankees-Phillies World Series starts tonight, and the close geographical proximity of the two teams means emotions are running high along the northeast corridor. With Philly and NYC just a two hour drive apart, New Jersey has become the two teams' shared suburban tangle of fandom. Where do Phillies fans stop and Yankees fans begin?

The Times sort of looked at this question today by examining the volume of ticket sales and people looking for tickets for World Series games in New York and in Philly, with a map. Phillies fans seem to be less interested in finding tickets for New York games than Yankees fans are for tickets to Philly games, but there's obviously a huge population difference, and there are fewer Philadelphia game tickets because the stadium there is smaller. For whatever reason, tickets to Philly games are going to be harder to find: "The average ticket listed for Games 1 and 2 in New York is $650, compared to about $1,500 for the three games in Philadelphia."

But that doesn't answer the mystery of New Jersey and where the dividing line falls. A local Philly site has an actual map with Solid Phillies, Solid Yankees, and Leaning areas color-coded. A poll reports New Jersey residents favor the Yankees over the Phillies 44 to 20, but, the site claims, this is due to so many New Yorkers who have "spilled over the bridges with their football teams and packed themselves together in North Jersey like rats."

According to this map, it's Yankees country down almost the whole Jersey shore, while Phillies fans are holding on way up the Delaware River border with Pennsylvania, mostly because New York sports radio airwaves can't reach that far.

This kind of mapping of sports fans in border states reminds me of an exhaustive study the Times did back in 2006, in which they drew a line across Connecticut, showing how Yankees and Red Sox fans divided the state. Mets fans, to their credit, apparently aren't interested in living in Connecticut.

The tricky Yankees/Sox border seemed more important in 2006 than it is now, maybe, but I bet the Phillies/Yankees border will be getting more scrutiny and documentation if the Phillies keep getting into the playoffs all the time.

September 16, 2009

Drag, subtitles

Eddie Izzard

  • Comedian, performer, and eye makeup stylist extraordinaire Eddie Izzard just finished running 1,100 miles across the UK, the equivalent of 43 marathons, in 51 days. I guess if you just keep running, you can pretty much run forever. From the BBC article: "Izzard himself admits people no longer believe how many races he has run. 'I might as well say I've just eaten a car.' "
  • The director of last year's great Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, is going to direct Nicole Kidman in The Danish Girl, the movie where she plays artist Einar Wegener who in 1931 was the first person to become a woman through a sex-change. This one's been kicking around for a while.
  • Tarantino talks about the success of Inglourious Basterds, suggesting that his movies are pretty much the only thing keeping the Weinstein Co. afloat, which is probably true.

    With Inglourious Basterds and District 9 both doing well, maybe 2009 is the year of the popular subtitle.


July 9, 2009

Whip It!

Whip It photo

Whip It! is a new movie coming out in October. On the upside: it's about women's roller derby (some photos were just released), it stars Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell, Marcia Gay Harden, Eve, and my girlfriend Alia Shawkut, aka Maeby from "Arrested Development".

On the downside: it's directed by Drew Barrymore, and it also stars her. And Juliette Lewis, who I sort of like, but sometimes plays slack-jawed and unstable a little too consistently.

But Juliette Lewis in a helmet and kneepads playing a character called Dinah Might I think I can handle. Plus, Kristen Wiig as Malice in Wonderland has the potential to make up for a million Drew Barrymores, and also decreases the likelihood that Whip It! will be a weak sub-Charlie's Angels ripoff.

Ellen Page stars as a Texas indie-rock loving misfit beauty queen who, according to publicity, "throws in her small-town beauty pageant crown for the rowdy world of roller derby" in nearby Austin. Sounds suspiciously similar to Ellen Page's small-town indie-rock-loving misfit girl named Juno who throws in her carefree wisecracking virginity for the emotionally murky and complicated world of pregnancy and adoption.

But there is no room for hyper-stylized sarcasm in roller derby! Young adult novelist Shauna Cross wrote the screenplay based on her own novel Derby Girl, so hopefully the dialogue in Whip It! will be a little easier to take.

Plus, just look at Kristen Wiig's eye makeup in that shot. Awesome.

Here are some more photos.

April 6, 2009

WWE indulges Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke punching out Jericho

This is a photo from WWE's Wrestlemania 25, taken last night in Houston. It's Mickey Rourke, a fake wrestler, punching out Chris Jericho, an actual wrestler. Or at least Jericho is an actual pro wrestler, which makes him a real fake wrestler, while Mickey Rourke is just a fake fake wrestler.

Since The Wrestler came out late last year, Mickey Rourke has been talking all kinds of smack about wanting to get in the ring and do some actual wrestling. As already has been very thoroughly reported everywhere, he got into professional boxing before he started acting, and again during his slow acting period in the 90's, and actually did OK.

Playing Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler encompasses many overlapping levels of reality and make-believe for someone like Mickey Rourke, and the experience seems to have steered his second career away from boxing and toward scripted, choreographed bouts that you can watch on pay-per-view. On Sunday night, upstart whippersnapper Jericho challenged Hall of Famers "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat to a 3-on-1. He beat them all handily, then started taunting Mickey Rourke, who was in the audience.

Rourke then surprised everyone* by stepping into the ring and delivering some bare-knuckle boxing moves. From WWE's coverage: "The star of The Wrestler entered the squared circle, but soon decided he’d heard enough of Jericho’s relentless taunts. Rourke, a former boxer, swung a slew of heavy fists at his tormentor, finishing with a punch that dimmed the lights of the conceited Superstar and dropped both him, and his pride, to the mat." Then he walked off the stage in victory with Ric Flair, one of my childhood favorites.

Here's video, and some more photos.

It's probably psychologically dangerous to indulge the fantasies/delusions of a loose cannon like Mickey Rourke and let him out-perform guys who have been doing this since the 70's, but it makes for good pretend entertainment. Meanwhile, the Iron Man 2 insurers are wondering what they've gotten themselves into. Hopefully he won't get as submerged in his role in Stallone's South American mercenary movie The Expendables.

*not really

February 19, 2009

No Tonya Hardings in competitive yoga

International Yoga Asana Championship

I bet you thought about Neal Pollack a lot more 5 years ago than you do these days. But he's still out there: he had an article on Slate a few days ago about the International Yoga Asana Championship that happened in LA earlier this month. (He's also writing a book about the "weird and circuslike" world of yoga culture.)

In the article, a lot of competitive yogis talk about how strange people think it is to practice yoga like a sport, and the charismatic leader of the competitive yoga circuit, Bikram Choudhury, says wonderful things like, "I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me."

Anyway, to counter the impression that competitive yogis are a bunch of aggressive cutthroats who stomp each other's chakras on their way to the top, the U.S. women's champion says, "The competition gets a lot of flak from a lot of people, but it's not like anyone's trying to crack anyone else's kneecaps."

This Slate article came out the same day that Tonya Harding, the original kneecapper, appeared on HBO's monthly sports show "Real Sports", and said that she's paid her debts for her involvement with the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan and thinks she's suffered enough. She mentions Barack Obama's derisive namecheck during his campaign [video]. Girl, if people as good-natured and benevolent as Barack Obama and the world's greatest yogi are still bad-mouthing you in public, it's probably not ever going to stop.

Tonya Harding does admit that as long as people like Barack Obama keep dropping her name, she'll keep getting more paid gigs, I guess in her new career as a pro boxer. Just give in already and do a season of "The Surreal Life", you'll be fine.

Here's a video of her catching a big catfish, and asking the HBO interviewer, "How much responsibility do you think I need to take?"

August 20, 2008

Another Olympics hoax? What a shock.

Fake Olympics logo

I think we should just start assuming that every aspect of China's Olympics is, to use Wonkette's phrase, an elaborate fake.

We were already taken in by the fake fireworks, the fake little singing girl, and the fake gymnasts' passports. But today's revelation is the best one yet: the Chinese government is allowing protesters to demonstrate in designated "protest zones" during the Olympics, as long as they apply for permits.

So 77 people obediently went and applied for protest permits. How many got them? Zero! And what happened to at least 6 of the applicants when they went to the Public Security office to try to apply? They got arrested! And sent off for "re-education through labor". Shooting fish in a barrel, people.

This clever plan to make the government look like it allows civil dissent while using the fake permit system to detain would-be dissenters hit the press today when two elderly women were sentenced to a year of re-education for applying for protest permits. These ladies probably won't be sent off to break rocks, but could be detained and, as the Times says, "forced to confess their transgressions."

In better news, there are two great sets of photos from today's games in the Times, especially this one of the US men's volleyball team after they beat Serbia, and the one below of Canadian synchronized swimmers.

synchronized swimming at Beijing

August 12, 2008

Little Chinese girls in Olympic lip-sync cuteness scandal

Chinese girls lip syncing Olympic opening ceremony

It turns out that the little pig-tailed Chinese girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony on Friday was actually lip-syncing [news report with video]. The real singer, Yang Peiyi (on the left), has a better voice, but was deemed "not as cute" as the lip-syncing girl by the Communist Party, which thinks nothing of driving talented but insufficiently cute little girls into bitterness and self-doubt by the age of 7.

"The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression," explained the music director.

Well, Yang Peiyi, join the club. I'm sure this girl with killer pipes and crooked teeth would get a lot of sympathy from American singers who have been through the same thing. Legendary vocalist Martha Wash actually sued C+C Music Factory in 1990 after a skinnier woman, Zelma Davis, lip synced to Martha belting out "Everybody dance now!" in the video for "Gonna Make You Sweat" and during live (or "live") performances. [UPDATE: Zelma says she didn't lip sync live. See below] [you have definitely already seen this video, but here it is]

And here's another one: LeShaun, the rapper who did the sexy female vocals for LL Cool J's "Doin' It" in 1996 [video]. She got upset that she was not asked to appear in that video--a few skinny girls were cast instead, which LL claimed was due to LeShaun's pregnancy at the time, "rather than any other of her physical features", according to her Wikipedia entry. Here's a 1993 video of LeShaun talking about her own videos being censored because of a double standard applied to women perpetrating violence in rap videos.

But both Martha and LeShaun got over it, and both went on to record more songs with the groups that cut them out of videos.

Little Yang Peiyi has a pretty mature attitude about her own experience with getting screwed out of a live performance that was rightfully hers because of her looks. "I’m OK with it," she said in an interview on the state TV network. "My voice was used in the performance. I think that’s enough."

"I love my country and am eternally loyal to the Communist Party," she continued, eyes wide with terror. "Please don't hurt my family."

UPDATE: Zelma Davis herself wrote in with a clarification about her vocals in "Gonna Make You Sweat". She writes:

"For the record, I have never lip-synched to Martha Wash's vocals during live performances.

I've performed "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everbody Dance Now)" on Saturday Night Live, Oprah, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, hundreds of concerts around the world, and I have never lip-synched to Martha's vocals."

Thanks for setting the record straight, Zelma!

June 25, 2008

Germany-Turkey throwdown

Turkey Germany flags

This afternoon, Turkey plays Germany in a semi-final game of the Euro Cup. I really love the added political drama of international sports when one country plays its own former colony, like when Senegal trounced France in the very first game of the 2002 World Cup. Games like that don't happen much in the Euro Cup, but the long and mostly exploitative relationship between Turkey and Germany means this game is going to be a good one to watch, even if Turkey doesn't have the greatest chance of winning.

I happened to go see Fatih Akin's great new movie The Edge of Heaven last night at Film Forum, and it's all about messy interactions between Turks and Germans. His earlier movie, Head-On from 2005, was incredibly good; this one deals with some of the same difficulties of the Turkish population living in Germany, but gets into even better stuff about parents and children, the things people will do to try to take care of each other, and the unlikely connections that can form between people from different worlds. It was fantastic, but way too complicated for a brief summary.

The Edge of Heaven's original title in German translates to On the Other Side, which is better. Here are a few glowing reviews, from A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, and the Guardian.

(One note about the cast--the most famous actor in the movie is Hannah Schygulla, who was in a bunch of Fassbinder movies in the '70's, and played the title role in The Marriage of Maria Braun. She's still awesome.)

Germany's Ulrich Schnauss also played a free concert at the World Financial Center last night--I caught most of it. Now I just gotta get some stuffed eggplant and shish kebab and get ready to watch Turkey face Germany starting at 2:45.

In case you're interested, here's some background on the Turkish population in Germany. The short version: Germany invited Turks to come into the country after WWII because they needed cheap labor. Loads of Turks came over, and today make up the largest minority population in Germany, but weren't given citizenship. Most children of immigrants aren't citizens either. So today, there are millions of Turks in Germany, many of whom are 3rd generation residents and may have never been to Turkey, but aren't citizens. It sucks.

Starting in 2000, Germany allowed children of foreigners born in Germany the possibility of citizenship, so maybe things are changing.

UPDATE: Germany won, barely. They pulled out a winning goal in the last minute of the game, plus the whole world missed Turkey's surprise last goal because of satellite broadcasting problems. Bleegh.

February 13, 2008

The strange world of the Westminster Kennel Club

An afghan in a tracksuit at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Everyone's a little dog-crazy today with all the excitement over Uno, the absurdly cute Beagle that won Best In Show last night at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Here are our favorite things about the dog show, which is based on looking at lots of pictures of bizarrely-groomed dogs and reading 1.5 articles about it:

  • Afghan hounds in Florida-retiree tracksuits and sassy kerchiefs (this one is named Ike)
  • The wacky registered names that show dogs have in addition to their regular names that their owners call them. The registered names refer to the kennel club they were bred at and begin with "Ch", like Ch. Colsidex Seabreeze Perfect Fit, Ch. Fuzzy Farm Devil Made Me Do It, Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory, and Ch. Surrey Spice Girl (a miniature poodle, of course.)
  • The Times' coverage of the dog show, which is proudly located in the Sports section.

July 30, 2007

Best news from Iraq I've heard in four years

Iraqis celebrate football win

One of the best things about reading Iraq-related news today is all the pictures of jubilant Iraqis with smiling painted faces, waving flags (and, OK, sometimes guns) and whooping it up over their country's inspirational victory in the Asian Cup soccer tournament on Sunday.

In addition to the obvious horrors of daily life in Iraq, the country also hasn't played in the World Cup since their sole appearance in 1986. Saudi Arabia, who Iraq beat in the final, usually dominates the Asian league. This win has made some Iraqis feel more hopeful for a unified, peaceful country. From the Times: "Ayad Aziz Nader, a bare-chested Baghdadi sweating from the exertions of his celebration, said, 'This football team has given Iraqis happiness and everything which has been missing for them.'"

The pictures of happy Iraqi soccer fans are great.

Iraqi football fans

Iraqi football fans

And Iraqi-American soccer fans, too!

Iraqi American football fan

It's not the most meaningful event in recent Iraq history, maybe, but there's no better PR than a lot of happy young Iraqis having a big nationwide party to boost the country's image. Go Iraq!

I heart Iraq!

July 9, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning

Bronx is Burning

Tonight at 10 is the premiere of ESPN's original miniseries The Bronx is Burning, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Mahler. It runs for 8 weeks, and will air on Tuesdays at 10 after this week.

It's going to be awesome. The book, whose subtitle is "1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City" is an incredibly thorough portrait of the nadir of New York City's troubled history. 1977 represented the culmination of poverty, poor governance, racial tensions, and general urban dysfunction; there were the Son of Sam murders, a nasty mayoral election, the blackout, and ongoing, slow recovery from the 1975 fiscal crisis. Outside the city, New York was seen as a national embarrassment: as the book says of the looting and mayhem that went on during the blackout, "America had expected the worst, and New York had not let it down."

But the real narrative of the book, and the focus of the miniseries, is the rise of the Yankees and Reggie Jackson, culminating in his famous 3 consecutive home runs in the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers. Not surprising that ESPN chose to devote the most time to the sports story, and as Mahler says in an interview in this week's Time Out, "Reggie's three home runs is as much a symbol of New York's resilience as its rebirth," though he says identifying it as the point at which the city's fortunes started to change would be an oversimplification.

But this is ESPN: the reviews suggest that the TV show has no problem with oversimplification. It emphasizes the Yankees story and maybe doesn't deal as much with all the other stuff going on in the city (Daily News review says they've "taken on several major, meaty stories at once, reducing them to their essences and intertwining them.") But it looks like we'll at least get to see Jimmy Breslin covering the Son of Sam murders. He's played by Michael Rispoli, who played Jackie Aprile on The Sopranos, and was also in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, which covers the same historical territory as this miniseries. No mention of hat-loving agitator and mayoral candidate Bella Abzug in the cast list, though, which is too bad, since she is at least as larger-than-life a character as Billy Martin.

Which brings us to the fantastic Yankees cast: John Turturro as Billy Martin, the Yankees' legendarily hot-tempered manager (Daily News reported he maybe got a little too Method during the shoot,) Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner, and Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson. Sunjata is also on Rescue Me, where he plays firefighter Franco Rivera. On Rescue Me, his character typically has a lot of lady troubles, and he plays his dramatic scenes with intensity as well as restraint, which is especially impressive considering how outrageously tragic the storylines of the show often are.

Now's his chance to lose the restraint and cut loose as the preening, egomaniacal Jackson, who always seemed at least as concerned about his image off the field as he was about his baseball games. I hope they recreate the interview he did for Sport magazine where he dropped the "I'm the straw that stirs the drink" bomb. In the Bronx is Burning book, Mahler writes that Jackson later said that interview was "the worst screwing he ever got from the press."

Anyway, Sunjata looks like he's heading into casting territory currently occupied by John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub, where he can convincingly play any number of ethnicities. Also interesting is that in 2002 John Turturro played Howard Cosell, whose quote inspired the title, in TNT's Monday Night Mayhem.

The Daily News has a good special section on the summer of 1977, and the Post has a great article on the chaos of the blackout, part of a five-day series of articles leading up to the 30th anniversary this Friday.

May 21, 2007

Good news! Your book got reviewed in the Wall Street Journal

Bad news: the review is by Dan Quayle.

Sports writer John Feinstein's latest book, Tales from the Q School about the qualifying tournament for the PGA tour, is sure to be popular among Journal readers. Feinstein, who describes himself as "very liberal and obviously not a big fan of Dan Quayle politically" didn't know who was going to review his book until he picked up the weekend edition of the Journal and saw the byline. "Oy vey," he said.

Quayle is quite an accomplished golfer, so his review isn't that much of a surprise. Given history's assessment of his political career, it's also not so surprising that the review identified him only as "a seven-handicap golfer and the chairman of Cerberus Global Investment." It also just so happens that the parent company of his investment firm is in the process of gaining control of Chrysler even as we speak, as the Times helpfully points out.

Here's a picture from 2005 of Dan Quayle with his golfing buddy Alice Cooper at a celebrity golf tournament.

Dan Quayle and Alice Cooper

Which does not imply that Dan Quayle is a rockin' kind of guy: Alice Cooper is a self-described golf monster and also supported Bush.

April 10, 2007

Who's Older?™: Seniors Circuit

Elisabeth ShueSteffi Graf

Today we learned that actress Elisabeth Shue has been training hard for her dream second career as a professional tennis player. "I don't think I'll be playing at the US Open, but, by September, I'd like to be competing professionally, even at the lowest level," she says.

We've been big fans of Elisabeth Shue for what seems like forever--from way back in the Karate Kid/Adventures in Babysitting days, and she was still totally hot in The Saint and Deconstructing Harry. She hasn't always had the most impressive film career, but she's been in enough huge hits to be recognizable for generations to come--so if she now wants to be a tennis pro, no matter how old she's getting to be... sure, why not?

In today's edition of Who's Older?™, please consider still-gorgeous '80's teen movie star Elisabeth Shue, and Olympic gold medalist and multi-year Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf, who retired from professional tennis in 1999.


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