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Archive for October, 2008

It’s All About Me: The Playoff / Unployment Beard (Pt. 3: The Final Chapter)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 31, 2008

The end is the beginning is the end


Ah, it seems like only yesterday that the first few facial hairs of hope started to grace my heretofore unscuzzled visage. I look back at those initial glimmers of promise now and chuckle at how young I was, and how far I’ve come in the 42 days since. Not that I’m quite at Hermit Assassin in Amores Perros level fuzziness now or anything, but I think it’s actually dangerously close to a real beard–not graceful, by any means, and with more holes than an M. Night Shyamalan twist, but furry enough that I actually worry about shit getting caught in my face when I eat now. Examine the evidence:

And they said it couldn’t be done.

Unfortunately, it looks like it’s time for TPUB to go. For one thing, the Phillies (as anyone who has come within miles of this blog or myself should know by now) have won the World Series, and while I never specified what I would do with TPUB if the Phillies won in the playoffs, I feel like I should commemorate the occasion in some way beyond blasting Philly Soul and dancing in my 2008 Championships T-Shirt. Not to mention, I do have an interview coming up this Monday for a job I’m actually semi-excited for, and obviously, the beard has crossed the level from endearingly half-assed to where the hell is he going with this? status again. So I either need to shave it or trim it, and I’m not confident enough in my trimming abilities to be confident that I wouldn’t just make it look weirder. Plus, I’m going as a scruff-less figure for Halloween. Thus, Everything Must Go.

That said, I’m really going to miss the damn thing–so much so that I expect my hand will be quivering as I run the cheap disposable razor down my face for the first time in a month and a half. It gave me an air of confidence, a feeling of maturity, and something to rub when I was in moments of deep contemplation. My mother and one or two of my friends even tried to convince me that it looked good on me in some stages, and at points I was even inclined to believe them. I might want to grow it back at some point–hopefully when I’m already employed and don’t have to worry about people’s judgement while I’m in the tweener stages, and with the knowledge and experience this time to be able to tame it, and craft it so that I don’t just look like I glued a bunch of pubes to my face or something.

Goodbye, old friend. Maybe we’ll meet again someday.

R.I.P. The Playoff / Unemployment Beard, Sept. 12th – October 31st

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Posted in It's All About Me | 3 Comments »

Livebloggin’: Game Five of the World Series (Pt. 2 of ?)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 29, 2008

If this is it, please let me know


After sitting through what could most accurately be described as an inauspicious Sixers season opener (rebounded and d’d fairly well, but that’s about it, and Brand didn’t anchor the team so much as just sort of weigh them down), it’s good to remember that one of my city’s other sports teams is still potentially three innings away from a World Championship. This week has been maybe the most surreal I’ve experienced in my brief tenure as a sports fan–baseball is drawn out enough as it is, without having to spend two days in between innings contemplating pitching match-ups, momentum swings and possible dramatic storylines (like how if the Phillies somehow ended up losing after this, it would have to mark the blackest moment in the city’s sports history, right? Yikes, maybe I did choose to follow Philly at just the right time)

That said, I still like our chances a pretty good deal tonight–good though David Price has been, I’m not convinced he can handle four scoreless innings by his lonesome, and as long as we don’t have to resort to Durbin at some point, I trust our bullpen guys fairly implicitly. And ultimately, this might be a good thing for baseball–this was gearing up to be a fairly anonymous Series, and at least this mishap has given the match a little personality. Of course, it’s a much better story if the Rays win tonight, so let’s hope things don’t get too interesting. In any event, it’s going to be hard for me to resist flipping intermittently to the Spurs-Suns season opener (watching Game Five of the ’05 Western Conference Finals on NBA TV today reminded me just how easily this is my favorite rivalry in pro sports), so forgive an interjection or two from that game.

Anyway, opening pitch approaches. Can Lidge keep history on his side? Can Cholly outmanouever Maddon after 48 hours of labbing behind the both? Who gets to be the hero tonight? Should be one for the ages, no matter what.

8:38: Geoff Jenkins announced as the pinch-hitter for Hamels. I don’t like it–yeah, maybe he matches up better, but I don’t think he’s actually come through in any important capacity since the summer, and I’d be shocked if he broke that streak tonight. But with an unstable Balfour on the mound and a record-enthusiastic Philly crowd behind him, I’ll be willing to suspend disbelief for a couple of pitches.

8:42: HOLY FUCKING SHIT GEOFF JENKINS. A leadoff double over the head of BJ Upton that looked like almost as much of a bomb as Stairs’s NLCS clocker. Jenkins, you fucking prince. Charlie Manuel, you fucking genius.

8:43: Rollins bunts Jenkins over, and the dreaded RISP cloud moves back over Citizens Bank Park for Jayson Werth. Can he put bat to ball and get Not-Favre 90 feet over?

8:45: Somehow, yes. Werth works his patented “Runner on Third With Less Than Two Outs Pop-Up” magic, but with the infield playing in to nail Jenkins at the plate, Aki fails to pull a Rollins and make the backwards shallow-outfield catch. Jenkins scores, Werth safe at first, so long Grant Balfour.

8:49: Earlier today, I realized how much I missed those “Where Amazing Happens” NBA commercials. A few hours later, I wondered how the hell I was ever going to an endure an entire season’s worth of them again.

8:50: J.P. Howell in for Balfour. So much for Price going the distance, although McCarver & Buck helpfully point out that doing so would necessitate the Rays’ having to hit for him too soon. Doesn’t matter, since Utley goes down on three pitches to Howell, causing me to wonder if the Phils aren’t instilling the “hurry-up offense” they so often do once they get a league in big games, seemingly uninterested in providing further offense at the risk of unnecessarily delaying victory.

8:54: Howard pops up, inning over. Down to Madson, Romero and Lidge nail down a glorious anti-climax.

8:57: Hey, forgot that Hamels can still win this thing! A record-setting 5-0, just another reason why winning tonight might not be the worst idea (Reason #1: Not stretching this thing to the very end of the month getting in the way of my Halloween plans).

8:59: Madson freezes Navarro, and we officially start the Outs to Go countdown. (8)

8:59: Uhh, scratch that, as Rocco Baldelli somehow fights off a high and inside fastball…INTO THE LEFT-FIELD STANDS??? I don’t know how that mitochondrial motherfucker managed that one, but we got ourselves another tie game, and Hamels loses his shot at a historic 5-0. Goddamn it.

9:02: Bartlett singles and gets bunted up. Madson out, Romero in, and the chances that we can finish this game without resorting to Condrey or Durbin start to dwindle past the point of comfort. Would it maybe not be the worst idea to let the well-rested Myers come out of the bullpen if necessary, and have Moyer and either Blanton or a three-days’-rest Hamels pitch the potential Games 6 and 7? Well, given the fact that he always gives up two runs in his first inning, maybe it wouldn’t be so advisable. But soon it might be time for a little out-of-the-box thinking.

9:07: Another game-saving play from Utley, who gloves a hot grounder from Aki, realizes he has no play at first, and has the presence of mind to fake the throw, hold on to the ball, and gun down the overzealous Bartlett heading for home. Said it before, say it again–whatta crew.

9:11: PAT. THE. BAT. Burrell comes inches away from a game-breaking homer but manages a lead-off double anyway (anyone else would’ve gone to third or possibly home on the ricochet, but whatever). Sometimes, 1-14 just looks so much better than 0-13. Incidentally, where was that Battle of the Bullpens we were promised?

9:19: Vic advances the pinch-running Bruntlett to third, and then Feliz knocks in Bruntlett with a shot up the middle. Looks like all the momentum the Rays were supposed to get from the days off and from Hamels being out of the game has yet to properly transfer to their bullpen. Still, I guess we should see if ours’ll start holding up before I start gloating too unapologetically.

9:22: Ruiz forcefully grounds out, and then in a move that he damn well better justify with his pitching next inning, Romero is not lifted for a pinch-hitter, and grounds out somewhat less forcefully. In any event, time to start the Outs to Go countdown again (7, 6).

9:25: With every new season, the gap between between 24 and an 80s Schwarzeneggar movie closes a little bit. Not that I’m complaining, mind you–I’m especially looking forward to Jack’s climact knife fight with Bennett in the season finale.

9:28: Crawford singles up the middle, but as has somehow become his trademark this World Series, Upton grounds into a double play (5, 4). Why does this guy seem so fast when he’s stealing second or rounding third (even winning America free tacos in the process), but becomes positively Burrell-esque when running out potential DPs? This has got to be the most frustrating thing in the world if you’re a Tampa fan (and yes, I think we’re going to have to get used to the phrase “Tampa fan” in the years to come, no matter what happens here tonight).

9:32: Pena lifts one into left a little too far for comfort, but it lands in healthy playability for Bruntlett (3). No matter what, the Phils are going to have the lead going into the ninth, with Lidge on the mound to turn the lights out for the 49th and last time this season. Are we getting excited yet? Inversely, can we possibly picture a more terrifying Worst Case Scenario if the Phils don’t pull this out? Actually, let’s stick to the excitement part for now.

9:35: And heeeeere comes David Price. The more I hear about this guy and the more I see him pitch, the more I’m convinced that he’s the baseball Tim Duncan. He sorta looks like him, facial hair aside, they both were #1 picks that were thrust amidst huge hype into extremely high-pressure post-season situations their first years and they both look to be the franchise players for a potentially dynastic team. But most importantly, neither look like they feel anything except fear, adrenaline and sullenness, their perpetually hagdog expressions looking jarringly ill-fitting for such a championship-calliber player and leader. Maybe next year Price grows a goatee, dates a reality TV star and does a Sprite commercial, but more likely I think he chills at home with his phone on silent, wondering why everyone always wants to talk to him so much.

9:39: Rollins flies out and Werth strikes out. Hard not to question Maddon for not putting his No-Longer-Particularly-Secret Weapon in the game as soon as they were lucky enough to tie it against Madson, no?

9:43: Utley walks and steals second, and for the first and last time in history, Howard continues to get pitched to For Fear of Eric Bruntlett on deck. Of course, Howard justifies their decision by whiffing.

9:45: BRAD LIDGE TIME. Goddamn this blog for making it too confusing for me to figure out how to write that in the humongous, screen-shattering size it deserves. CAN YOU FEEL IT PHILADELPHIA?????

9:50: Eva Almighty pops up, and boy is it starting to feel real. Sorry for the shitty series, MLB, but I think we just needed to get this one out of the way. They can’t all be evenly-matched epics like Boston-Colorado and St. Louis-Detroit, I guess. (3)

9:52: Uh-oh, broken bat bloop single for Navarro. Lidge never did do things the easy way. Fernando Perez pinch-runs for Navarro in a way that is in absolutely no fashion reminiscent of Dave Roberts in 2004…right?

9:54: Perez steals second. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK. Zobrist and Hinske, Brad. You’ve done it all year. Do it one more fucking time, please.

9:55: Zobrist lines a beauty to right, that somehow manages to stay up long enough for Werth to get glove on it (1). Holy shit is that a little too close for comfort. And as we always knew it would, the World Series comes down to 2003 Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske. Can he provide the big-game support for the Rays that he did for the Red Sox last year? I’m cuing up the McFadden and Whitehead, just incase.

9:56, 23 seconds: Foul grounder to first, strike one.

9:56, 48 seconds: Hinske can’t check his swing, strike two. Hope you’ve been practicing your McGraw leap, Brad-Brad.

9:57, 20 seconds: Lidge slider, Hinske swings, and

AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN’T NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO STOPPIN’ USSSS NOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

WE’RE ON THE MOVE

10:50: About an hour, a ridiculous amount of texting and IMing, six shots of tequilla and a whole lot of Hall & Oates and Gamble and Huff later, the incredulity of the situation has started to strike me somewhat. The Phillies have won the 2008 World Series….how about that? No weaknesses came back to haunt the team, no brutal ironies surfaced to sap the team of its life and enthusiasm, no holes opened up in the middle of the earth under CBP to swallow the team whole. And as soon as Lidge got that third strike on Hinske, I completely forgot all about all the rain delays, as I imagine the entire world will within the next 24 hours. This will not go down as one of the great moments in sports history. This will go down as very potentially the great moment in Philadelphia sports history. Holy shit am I lucky to have started following this team when I did.

And once again, they did it all as a team. There are no goats on this team. Pedro Feliz and Eric Bruntlett were not exactly on the shortlist of the team’s prospective post-season homers, but Feliz got the game-winning hit, and Bruntlett got the game winning run. My boy Moyer got shelled in his first two series outings, but he redeemed it all with his Game 3 performance, and now fans are chanting his name as he gets interviewed by Peter Gammons. Hell, even Mitch Williams, the guy who give Philly fans ulcers whenever his name was mentioned for a decade and a half, got to throw out an opening pitch. Lidge got the save, Hamels got the MVP, and Phils fans got ammo over Mets fans for years and years to come (IITS friend Andrew Weber on the occasion: “I am not even talking about this. This is too depressing. This is it for six months.”) It’s unreal that it’s as uncomplicated as it all is.

It’s a better story if Tampa Bay wins, sure. But the early-90s Braves needed to lose before they could win, too, and it’s the Braves that turned out to be the team of the 90s, while the Twins were pretty much never heard from again. I don’t cry any tears for the Rays–it would’ve been amazing if they won, sure, but they’ll only get better, and they’ll have their chances soon enough. The Phils, on the other hand–this was their year, and they might not have another. Burrell and Moyer might be on their way out, while Howard, Utley, Rollins and Victorino are not nearly as young as you might think for a group that hasn’t even been playing together for a half-decade. It was a year where just about everything that could’ve gone right did–some minor dips in production, but no major injuries and no major catastrophes, and a post-season where the team did not lose a single game at home. For a team who has had a notoriously tempestuous relationship with its fans, this last month was a gift that should buy them credit for years and years of heartbreak to come.

So will it be another hundred seasons before the next Philly championship? Maybe, but maybe not. I’m hoping this could be the break in city psychology that Boston got with those first couple Pats championships, opening the floodgates for an oncoming period of prosperity and dominance. And if not, well, it’ll take a whole lot to start complaining again. This was as special a season as they come, and the memories–Victorino’s 9th-inning assist against the Braves to save Lidge’s save streak, Howard’s incredible long-balling September to get the Phils back in the playoff hunt, Rollins and Utley’s amazing double play against the Nats to seal the division, Myers’ huge walk-draw against CC to help chase the best pitcher in baseball out of the NLDS, Stairs’ incredible 8th-inning blast against the Dodgers to help seal the NLDS, and Lidge’s strike-out of Hinske and the ensuing pile on as the Phils won their first World in a quarter-century–will last my whole life.

Shine a light, Philadelphia.

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Clap Clap ClapClapClap / Listeria: My Ten Most Outlandish Predictions for the ’08-’09 NBA Season

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 29, 2008

Knew it all along


Well, supposedly we’ll be getting back to baseball sometime this month, but in the meantime, we do have an NBA season starting up which I’m just as excited for. And while everyone rushes to predict another Lakers/Celtics finals–and barring a miracle season where everything goes right for the Rockets, frankly, it’s hard to find fault with that line of reasoning–I’m more interested in the things we don’t really see coming. Last season the Bulls and Knicks were predicted by many to make the playoffs while the Hornets and Sixers were not, and the Lakers were expected to merely creep into a #7 or #8 seed. Even though it seems like so much this season is already pre-determined, there are going to be little outliers like this, and I’m gonna try to call ’em. I’ll be lucky if I get three of ’em right, but hey, at least those two’ll be on record.

10. Against all odds, the addition of James Posey will not automatically make the New Orleans Hornets a championship team. OK, started off with an easy one. But I still don’t get why anyone would think this signing is that big a deal–either the loss for the Celtics or the gain for the Hornets. Yeah, Posey was a big part of two of the last three championship teams, and he adds a lot in the defense and leadership departments, but he’s also just a backup in his 30s that averaged less than seven ppg in the playoffs last year when all was said and done. Tony Allen and Eddie House can combine to cover his role on the C’s without much difficulty, and the Hornets need a whole lot more backing up  Chandler, West and Paul to get over that hump in the West.

9. For the first time in his career, Kobe Bryant will miss 20 games in the regular season.
The ankle tweak he got in that pre-season game against the raptors seems something of a portent–between that, the pinky, a full ’08 season and a very busy summer, as well as Kobe now entering his 30s, it just seems like it’s about time for him to start missing chunks of season every now and then. Luckily, the Lakers are now strong enough without him that they can probably just bump Odom back into the starting lineup and play at least .500 ball in his absence, sacrificing no more than a seed slot or two in the process. And honestly, if Kobe stays healthy all season, it’s hard to imagine how this isn’t a 70-win team.

8. The Washington Wizards will miss the playoffs. This one hurts me a little, because I love this team and few things would make me happier than to see them finally get through the Cavs and go on the deep post-season run they’ve been unfairly denied since their Big Three was assembled. But with Agent Zero already missing half the season, Jamison bound to go down for pieces at some point (and unlikely to match last year’s career season anyway), Thomas and Heywood back to fighting over the center slot, and no particularly promising young’ns in the pipeline, all the Tough Juice in the world might not be enough to get them in the picture in what I expect to be a much more competitive East.

7. Dwight Howard officially becomes the most overrated player in the NBA. There’s no question he’s one of the fantasy and Sportscenter elites at this point, but now in his fifth season in the NBA, this is the year where we ceased to be wowed by D-12’s Superman antics and start to wonder when he’s going to emerge as a true leader on a championship-level team. Stat lines aside, he’s looked out of his depth whenever he’s had to face up to real competition, be they the Pistons of last year’s playoffs or the better international teams of this summer’s olympics. He’s still crazy young–not even a year older than me, scarily enough–but on an Orlando team that got worse if anything over the summer, he’s going to have to start maturing sooner rather than later. And I think this is the year where we realize how long he still has to go.

6. All the big men coming back from big injuries–Brand, Oden, (Jermaine) O’Neal, Bynum–will have statistically disappointing seasons. None of these guys are going to be the franchise saviors that many of their fans want or expect. I doubt any will average more than a 15 and 8, and Bynum and Oden especially might be well under that. However, in all cases, I think their respective teams still get a huge boost from their mere presence and threat of greater production–especially in the case of O’Neal, whose effect on Bosh in Toronto will be tremendous. I think Bosh becomes one of the league’s elite this year anyway, but with O’Neal around to take care of some of the dirty work inside and allow Bosh to stray from the post and be the versatile threat he can be, it’ll have the galvanizing effect that the other O’Neal’s arrival had on Amare in Phoenix last year. The Blazers is the one team that worries me–based on their play tonight especially, it’s hard not to think of them as the Cleveland Browns of the NBA this year.

5. Speaking of Oden–neither he, Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley wins Rookie of the Year. It’s being looked at as a three-horse race, but Beasley’s superficial contributions are going to be slightly underwhelming (especially compared to the whirling dervish that will be D-Wade this season), you’re not going to get much more out of Rose yet than  11/8 lines like he had against the Bucks tonight, and who knows how much of the season Oden is even going to be around for. My money would either be on Russell Westbrook, who despite formidable competition from Earl Watson should be able to grab the not-Sonics’ starting point position and have fun running with Kevin Durant in front of an appreciative OKC fanbase, or Eric Gordon, who could shoot the lights out on a gloriously dysfunctional Clipper team. Maybe those goofy Lopez twins’ll split it, who knows.

4. The Denver Nuggets will be this year’s New York Knicks. How in the hell did this team make the playoffs in the West last year? Oh yeah, that’s right–they have maybe two of the ten best players in the league. Still, it’s hard to remember that when you see what a hot mess the Nugs are on the whole, especially now that they’ve traded away their one decent defender without even getting scraps in return. The breakdown in D, the incompatability of the key pieces, the bad attitude, the coach whose players wouldn’t listen to him if he told them to tie their shoes…remind you of anyone? The only question that remains is how fans at the Pepsi Center decide what syllables to stress to make “Fi-re George Karl!” sound catchy. Oh, and also…

3. Allen Iverson swings a team’s playoff fortunes by getting traded midseason. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It won’t take the Thuggets long to realize how disastrous ’08-’09 is going to be for them, and the next logical step will be to deal the aging Iverson, whose 20 mil coming off the books will go a long way towards rebuilding around Melo and J.R. Smith, the two pieces of that team worth holding on to. Meanwhile, AI is still a potent enough offensive force to make a bubble team playoff-bound, or a playoff team championship bound. Personally, I’m hoping the Pistons end up taking him–that team needs to get broken up but badly, and shuffling around their lineup to include Iverson will either sink ’em or make ’em the legitimate unstoppable force they’ve always believed themselves to be.

2. The Suns finally beat the Spurs in the playoffs. Or if they don’t beat them directly, they at least get on further than San Antonio does. Basic pattern recognition says that the Spurs should be a championship team this year–’03, ’05, ’07, ’09–but basic logic says that they’ll take an unequivocal step backwards, with Manu already missing the first trimester, and everyone but Tony getting another step slower. Meanwhile, the Suns are still one of the most talent-loaded teams in the NBA, and though they might be even older, they’ll finally be learning to play Spurs-style ball a little under Terry Porter, and they’ve still got two of the league’s best twenty-somethings in Amare and the underrated and under-utilized Boris Diaw. Shaq won’t be a difference maker, but he’ll learn to get in the way less, and I have to believe Nash has one more great season left in him. It’s a stretch, but in a West where a lot of once-mighty teams will be struggling, I think the Suns will remain the strongest of the old guard.

1. The New York Knicks make the playoffs. I’m not even going to try to justify this one. Just remember me when it actually happens next May.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Listeria | 2 Comments »

Livebloggin’: Game Five of the 2008 World Series

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 27, 2008

This is the time

The first game of the Phillies season was not exactly encouraging. For seven innings it was all right, especially on the two-run homer Jimmy Rollins hit in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game. But then 8th-inning man Tom Gordon let up five runs in the 8th, and the Phils could not respond, ending up losing the game 11-6 to the perpetually bottom-feeding Washington Nationals (“These aren’t the light-hitting Washington Nationals anymore” proclaimed Yahoo Sports writer Rob Maadii, arguably prematurely). It was the same old story for the Phils–disappointing starting pitching followed by unreliable relief, and an inability for the team’s big hitters to respond in the clutch. 2008 was going to be a fun year, no doubt.

The way this team has managed to turn around all the bad vibes of not merely that fluky season opener, not just the disappointing end to last season, but over a hundred years (and over 10,000 losses) worth of franchise doom and gloom, is nothing short of historic. I’ve been reading through You Can’t Lose ‘Em All recently, Frank Fitzpatrick’s retelling of the story of the 1980 championship Phillies team, and yeah, there are definitely some parallels. Bowa, the team’s veteran all-star shortstop called the team frontrunners, just like Jimmy Rollins did earlier this year, Schmidt, the team’s reluctant hero occasionally irking fans with his lack of emotional showiness, is a dead-ringer for Utley, and flat-footed but power-hitting outfielder Greg “The Bull” Luzinski probably knows how pissed Burrell gets when Charlie Manuel subs scrubby Game 3 hero Eric Bruntlett in for him in late innings.

But the attitudes–of the team, of the manager, of the fans–couldn’t have changed much more between the ’80 team and this one. The ’80 team, for all their heart and hustle, sniped at each other, whined about stats, badmouthed their manager to the press (and were slighted and undercut by him in return), and were intermittently booed by their fans right down to the last game of their improbable division win. Optimisim was conditional at best, and pessimism was ever-pervasive, everyone always leaping at the chance to proclaim the team as good as done. And while it hasn’t always been a honeymoon with this year’s squad–Howard and Burrell’s slumping, Myers’ disastrous first half, the J-Roll controversies–the team all seems to like each other, they all seem to listen to (or at least begrudgingly respect) Uncle Cholly, and they all just seem to get the importance of all of it–the series, the franchise, the city, the moment.

The biggest difference, however, has to be in the attitude of fans. Not only are Phils fans not wary of the worst anymore, they expect the best. Fans on the webboards are already planning their victory parties. My dad, a Philadelphia sports devotee of roughly a half-century, seems dangerously close to letting his guard down for the first time since 1964. If you asked somewhere in the city of Philadelphia who they think was going to win tonight, they’d probably say “The Phillies,” and they’d stare at you in confusion while you waited for them to add a disclaimer. I’ll say it too, why not: I think the Phillies are going to win tonight. Not only would I not bet money against them, I’d strongly consider betting money on them. Sure, it helps that they haven’t given fans a reason to doubt them since August, but anyone will tell you that it’s not just that: This year, it just feels different.

Of course, that’s what the Cubs fans said at the beginning of the post-season, before they promptly dropped three straight. And of course, this Rays bunch does have that Team of Destiny feeling to them, so from a dramatic sense at least, no one would really be surprised if they still managed to come back to win. I’m not so blinded by the team’s success that I’m willing to say it’s all over just yet. But that’s the last qualification I’m going to offer in this blog post. If it jinxes the team, well, I guess my Philly fandom is still pretty green, and I probably have a lot to learn about what it feels like to have a sports team yank out your heart and play drunken foozball with it for the millionth time.

But let’s put it this way–in what other city is John Fucking Oates going to end up singing the National Anthem before what could very possibly be your closeout game in a world championship? Why can’t us, you ask? No reason, as far as I can tell.

8:30 PM: Strike 1 to Aki Iwamura. 80 more to eternal glory. Hamels gets Iwamura to fly out, and Tim McCarver comments that Cole “may never have this chance again.” What, to go 5-0 in a post-season, winning two series clinchers (and undoubtedly, two straight post-season MVP awards) and toppling Josh Beckett for Best Big Game Pitcher in Baseball status? Yeah, and Nick Nolte “may never have the chance” to win People’s Sexiest Man Alive again. (Not a joke, sadly–the 1992 winner. I guess he was the only one that year not to buy into the Zubaz craze or something).

8:33 PM: Three up, three down. Champagne by 9:30 EST?

8:38 PM: J-Roll smokes a ball, and I instantly flash to his lead-off home runs in the NLDS and CS clinchers. Turns out “smokes” is a somewhat relative concept, and it falls to left-fielder Crawford with relative ease. Guess we’ll have to go a little off-book, guys.

8:42 PM: Werth walks, and now a trademark Utley HBP. Him going the entire post-season without getting plunked at least once would’ve been far more conspicuous than Howard going homerless or Myers going facial hairless, so thank God we got that out of the way.

8:44 PM: Howard, met with “M-V-P!” chants, promptly strikes out swinging. Love the guy, warts and all, but if he wins top regular season honors, it would definitely be something resembling a travesty.

8:47 PM: Burrell walks, bases loaded for Victorino. The man could no doubt assure his place in the forever ranks of Philly folk heroes with a blast of some sort here. And sure enough, the Flyin’ Hawaiian comes through once more, singling to right field, 2-0 Phils. THE THRILL OF VICTORINO.

8:51 PM: There has never been a man alive slower than Pat Burrell. It hasn’t really mattered in any big spots (though after a Ruiz fly-out, he might’ve cost the team a run by not scoring on a Feliz single), but it would be remiss of me not to mention that this man somehow runs slower than Anthony Kiedis at the end of the “Under the Bridge” video. And you don’t even get to watch the visual poetry of his pecs heaving from one side to the other while he does it.

8:55 PM: Pena…bunting his way on? Are the Rays really waving the White Flag that early??

8:59 PM: Possibly the most exciting thing about the Phils’ chance of closing it out tonight–no more seeing those Bud Light “Drinkability” commercials ten times a night. Guys, we already have one ad campaign complaining about how people say all beer tastes the same, and it’s only through the involvement of John C. “Miracle Worker” McGinley that it’s even slightly bearable. Pushing your luck with a similarly weak argument (and an annoying buzzword to go with it) is inadvisable.

9:10 PM: Unexciting Phillies inning means I have to keep talking about commercials, but I really do love those Bob Melvin Frutista Freeze commercials. Considering how abysmal last year’s infamous “Rules to Live By” campaign was, and how marginally less dreadful this year’s “Triple Steak Guy” ad was, boy is it refreshing to see a Taco Bell commercial that doesn’t make me want to hide under my bedcovers for the rest of all time.

9:16 PM: A dinky hit by Aki, the Rays’ first of the night, is promptly negated by a weak groundout from Carl Crawford, three outs. Is this going to be one of those classic foregone conclusion games where nobody remembers a single thing that happens because everyone involved seemed to know the inevitable outcome from Strike One? Could it really be that easy? Could I set a record for number of home team jinxes in one blog post? Stay tuned.

9:21 PM: Strike three, Ryan Howard. Pop up, Pat Burrell. Swinging K, Victorino. Well, we wouldn’t want to make it too easy for Cole, now, would we? After all, he may never have this chance again.

9:27 PM: Pena gets the first legit Rays hit of the game, a few feet away from a home run. This is when all the adrenaline and cockiness subsides and I realize that we still do technically have five innings to go in this game with but a two-run lead as cushion.

9:29 PM: Longo pushes Pena in with an RBI single, 2-1. Hm.

9:31 PM: Navarro grounds into an inning-ending double play. I slink back into my arrogant bravado as I would a warm bath.

9:34 PM: This House episode looks weird. I’m sure there’s a reason Cutty is yelling “C’mon, cry! CRY!!” at one of her patients, but it’s sort of hard to guess what that might be.

9:35 PM: Feliz strikes out swinging, and Kazmir is starting to look a little too on point. Thank God he seems to suffer from the same tendencies towards handicapping teams a run or two in the first as Myers, otherwise we might really be in trouble.

9:36 PM: Ruiz’s single to the left side brings up a very, very scary question: Could Carlos Ruiz somehow end up being the MVP of this series? .429 batting average, a key longball in game two as well as that game’s winning RBI, praise from the entire rotation for the way he’s called the series behind the plate…I mean if Hamels wins tonight, he’s practically a shoo-in, but if God forbid he didn’t, would the regular-season .220/Ruiz be the main hitting candidate? If so, he’d have to be the ultimate “answer not even Schwab could pull” in a “Name the last ___ winners of the World Series MVP” first-rounder.

9:37 PM: Hamels, bunting, gets nailed in the left hand, and the city of Philadelphia sounds like a Cavs game after every time LeBron takes a hard foul. The fact that I’m able to convince myself that this won’t be in any way meaningful five minutes from now should be comforting, but I guess we’ll see five minutes from now.

9:47 PM: Two very long plate battles lead to walks to Rollins and Werth and a potentially game-breaking AB for Utley. Too bad he already wasted that HBP, huh?

9:50 PM: Chase, clearly hoping to walk the run home, settles for hiting a hard ground-out into the second-base shift. I haven’t bought into the “Phillies can’t get runs home” hooting because, unlike the Rays, at least they’ve been getting them on base in the first place. But a hit there would’ve been kinda nice, huh?

9:51 PM: Zack and Miri Make a Porno has me thinking I might’ve hardlined a little too much on my Nick & Norah stance–clearly, it is the lesser of two disgustingly precious, gratingly raunchy, “alternative”-baiting evils. Well, probably…need some more info on the soundtrack first, I guess. (And, uh, maybe to see either movie).

9:53 PM: Rollins loses a Baldelli pop-up in the now terrible weather conditions. Well, at least Hamels is still pitching right, huh? Maybe he just won’t let them put bat-to-ball again in the last five innings.

9:55 PM: One thing about this team that never disappoints: Motherfuckers know how to turn double plays. I’d like to say the one Utley just pulled–just managing to tag an advancing Baldelli and then gunning down a speedy Bartlett–was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. But really, is it even in this team’s top five for the last month? Whatta crew.

9:58 PM: Briefly remembering the existence of the Titans-Colts game tonight reminds me that I have to take this opportunity to send a big Fuck You out to Ted Ginn, Jr. The second-year Miami wideout, who received a great deal of hype in the pre-season this year, was a reliable disappointment through his seven weeks of underperforming as the third Wide Receiver on my fantasy team before I finally dumped him for the Colts’ Anthony Gonzalez. Last week, of course, he puts up seven catches for 175 years–approximately 20 times the production I got from Plaxico Burress, my current #1–while Gonzalez has yet to make a catch in the game (and for all I know, is injured or suspended or dead or something). That’s what I get for not selecting DeSean Jackson in time, anyway.

10:07: Working against a strike zone that’s apparently smaller than Chris Cooley’s dick, Kazmir walks Howard and Burrell and eventually gets lifted. Good news for us, but it is kind of bullshit–Kaz is a likeable enough guy, and his final stat line this post-season won’t reflect what should have been a fairly dominant pitching performance. Still, two men on, no outs, Vic coming up…can’t say my heart’s breaking too much for the young’n.

10:17: Victorino and Feliz pop-up, the Rays somehow brave the elements to make the plays, and Ruiz can really solidify his MVP case here with an extra base or two. Hits a screamer down the line, but it lands just foul, as Chooch decides another pop-up to first might end up being more productive. The Phils have held on to games like this all post-season, can they do it for four more innings?

10:26: “You just can not help but think that the elements are going to have something to do with the end of this game,” says Buck, and it certainly does have the makings of that type of “The [Insert Lore Variable] Game” game. Luckily, if Hamels keeps bombing ’em like he does to Aki here, maybe we can avoid making it too consequential.

10:34: BJ Upton manages to steal second without necessitating “Yakkity Sax” getting played over the PA. I hate to say it, but I think this game just got good.

10:37: Pena singles to left, scoring Upton and tying the game. Yup, no doubt about it, we got ourselves a ballgame. Goddamn it.

10:39: Mr. Tony Parker flies out to center, ending the inning. Good on the Rays for not going down without a fight, I suppose. But if they wanted to just kinda lay down and die now, gee golly I sure would appreciate it.

10:42: Oh great, now they bring the tarp out. See you guys at three in the morning, I guess.

10:44: All right, to be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to win in that superlame suspended-game sense anyway–no fans should ever have to stomach the news that their team’s World Series ended three whole innings before it should have, especially with such a flimsy lead. If tying is like kissing your sister, winning like that would be like a second-base makeout with a cousin (one of the ones you’ve known all your life, not like one of the hot second or third cousins you see only once every five years and forget you share the same (great-)great-grandparents for minutes at a time). Nobody–well, close to nobody, probably–wants that.

10:50: Hey, Anthony Gonzalez caught a pass! A big ol’ two-yarder! The evening, and my fantasy season, has been redeemed.

10:52: OK, now the Upton run isn’t pissing me off so much because it tied the game but because it gave Selig and admin on down an excuse to potentially call what could’ve been a game for the ages regardless of outcome. I mean, I guess there are reasons why football is more conducive to bad weather play than baseball, but not really that many, and the prospective public outcry over the Rays’ season getting ended by some bullshit would mean that they would’ve had no choice to let the game play. We finally would’ve gotten to see if baseball looks as awesome and old-school and epic as football does when it’s played in the muck–and during the most important game of the year, no less. I mean, aren’t you sort of curious? It’s not like either team would’ve been more inconvenienced–both teams rely on speed, both on defensive dexterity, control pitching, etc. Why not just let ’em play?

11:06: How many members of the ’07 Giants and Packers do you think are watching this right now and thinking, “Those fucking pussies”? The ’01 Raiders and Pats?

11:13: Game officially postponed. Someone’s gonna catch fucking hell for this. They better, anyway. Well, I certainly didn’t want to have to say this, especially not for some horseshit like this, but I guess we’ll see you here at IITS tomorrow night.

Go Phils.

Posted in Livebloggin' | 3 Comments »

Commercial Break: Life is Short, Air Controversial Commercials

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 27, 2008

Isn’t it time?

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog writing about commerials that have blown my mind. Talking British cheetahs plotting revenge schemes, precocious kids asking Daddy to bring home a new mommy for Christmas, supermodels dancing with overhydrated lizards…we’ve just about seen it all these last 12 months, haven’t we? But in the great majority of these instances, it’s the ad campaign–whether it be controversial, enigmatic, or just somewhat against the grain–that’s doing the brain-melting. In the case of AshleyMadison.com’s little-seen televisual advertising, though, it’s the product being advertized itseelf that I can’t quite get my head wrapped around.

A man wakes up next to a neary-empty bottle of indeterminate liquor, with the arm of a rather heavyset  and loudly snoring woman draped around him. Hungover, and recoiling in horror and disgust over the implications of this alcohol-soaked affair, he slinks out from under the woman’s arm, collects his clothes, and attempts to scurry out into the night without having to further face his regretful conquest. But as he’s creeping down the stairs, he sees a photograph on the wall which gives him a great deal of pause–a picture of him and the fat woman together, in what appears to be a wedding photo. The man sighs. “”Most of us can recover from a one-night stand with the wrong woman,” the voiceover intones. “But not when it’s every night for the rest of our lives!” A picture of the web address appears, with the O in “Madison” being represented by a toppling wedding ring. “Isn’t it time for AshleyMadison.com?”

Wait…what? All through the ad, I kept expecting an obvious, familiar product to be introduced as the key to the commercial–a deoderant, an insurance policy, a steak burrito, something–but instead we have this website I’ve never heard of, and which doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. What could this website  being advertized possibly be used for? I mean, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that it was probably promoting a website that functioned as some kind of dating service for married people. But there’s no way they could advertize for that on TV, right? I mean, such a dating service might not be illegal, necessarily, but it’s certainly on the shady side of moral ambiguity. Even if one existed, it’d have to be spread around through word of mouth and maybe a couple magazine exposes. You couldn’t possibly advertise for it on basic cable, could you?

Well, guess what–AshleyMadison.com certainly isn’t selling morning-after pills. It is, indeed, exactly what I had suspected–a dating service for married people to hook up with each other in a judgemenet, deception and consequence-free environmment. It’s run by Noel Biderman, a sort of anti-Neil Clark Warren who is, ironically, married and (supposedly) faithful himself. The site does not pussyfoot around its intended purpose, but it offers the following justification for its apparent infidelity facilitating:

People don’t stray because it is easy or convenient. Most stray because they are missing something in their relationship and feel they need or deserve more than their primary partner offers. Providing a service like ours does not make someone more likely to stray any more than increasing the availability of glassware contributes to alcoholism. No report contradicts this finding. On the other hand, putting up barriers and making it difficult to stray has never discouraged infidelity; if anything, it simply makes people want to even more.

So basically, AshleyMadison.com takes a stance akin to a parental unit allowing their kids to drink with their friends in their house, so that the parents at least know that they’re doing it in a safe, controlled environment. Of course, Mom and Dad usually aren’t charging Junior and his buds $5 a drink for the privilege, like AM does with contacting other members.

But even if the ethics are completely sound–and I don’t pretend to carry any particular wisdom on that subject one way or the other, though I doubt I’d be thrilled if my parents were cool with it–it still seems a little illicit to be pimped on TV before the midnight hour, doesn’t it? Well, apparently there was a reason why no one I ever talked to about it had heard of the commercial before–eventually, the powers that be seemed to realize the anomolous nature of the plug (which was only on ESPN to begin with), and pulled it from any sort of circulation. Turns out, the ad was a compromise to begin with from the far racier ad they initially planned to air, but it appears that advertizing for adultery will never be subtle enough to fly completely under the radar.

Are these ads, as Biderman suggests, not actually all that out of place when compared to the Viagra and Vegas comercials it would air adjacent to on ESPN? Possibly. But when you start with the explicit commandment-breaking promotion, you have to expect that you’re going to be blowing the minds of people a lot touchier than me.

Posted in Commercial Break | 1 Comment »

I Sez: Reviewing John McClane’s Case for The Oval Office

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 26, 2008

Yippi-ki-yay, moderate voter


(Not my pic)

I was going over the finer points of the plot of the original Die Hard with my roommate and some of our friends the other day. I said something like “well, you know the part where John McClane goes and [….]” and my election-obsessed but not very well action-versed roommate nearly choked on his drink. “JOHN MCCAIN???” Well, no, not quite. But it did get me to consider the advantages that Mr. McClane might have over his near-homophonic election analogue. Not that I necessary endorse voting republican–and really, there’s little doubt of what McClane’s party affiliationwould be –but if The Big O can’t quite cut it for the public as Commander in Chief, who would you rather have as your alternative? Let’s examine the evidence:

  • Race Relations. We’ve all been informed by now of the republican party’s long-standing issue with empathy towards our darker-skinned brethren. McClane, on the other hand, has at least three black compatriots who would vouch for his racial sensitivity, including such esteemed members of the African American community as Samuel L. Jackson, the dad from Family Matters, and that annoying high-pitch voice guy from 2. Think he would’ve skimped on relief towards Katrina victims? Sez McClane, “This [presidency] doesn’t care about skin color. Even if you do.”
  • Wartime Experience. Yes, I’m sure that McCain had bamboo shoots under his fingernails and waterdrops on the forehead and all that, but in terms of sheer panic, how exactly does it compare with crawling through a glass-filled floor with no shoes on, or shooting yourself in the shoulder so that the bullet kills the guy standing behind you, or wearing an “I HATE NIGGERS” (or the less specific but equally inflammatory “I HATE EVERYBODY,” depending on what channel you’re flipping past) sign in the middle of Harlem? But not only has he persevered, he actually fought back against his oppressors, not merely contenting himself with providing his fellow captives with moral support. Sez McClane, “[This country] has got to be running out of bad guys by now.”
  • Economic Savvy. He’s not a businessman by nature, but he’s got a good sense of market analysis, combined with the common sense to know when something stinks. He’d know to look around the current economic crisis to see the real subterfuge going on underneath. “Trust me, I know the man, I know the family,” sez McClane. “The only thing better than blowing up [our country’s finance] is making people think you did.”
  • Negotiations and Open-Arena Debates. McCain may be wary of meeting with certain world leaders of ill repute to air out their respective grievances, but negotiating with some of our more controversial foreign dignitaries and squaring away with them head-on has never been something this maverick has ever shied away from. “Yeah, I got a deal for you,” sez McClane. “Crawl out from that rock you’re hiding under, and I’ll drive [the Executive Branch] up your ass.”
  • Engaging Youth. He’s far from a social radical, he doesn’t care for Pearl Jam or The Cure, and he believes that progress “peaked with frozen pizza.” But unlike McCain, whose attempts to interact with the kids of today have been uniformly cringe-worthy, McClane has a daughter who will soon be entering the workforce, and gives him a unique insight into the issues facing young adults in this day and age. He’s also shown a willingness, if a slight reluctance, to work in conjunction with his juniors when necessary to fight social ills like peer pressure and cyberterrorism. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” sez McClane. “Quit being a part of the fucking problem and [go out and vote next Tuesday]!”

True, he’s not a perfect candidate–his record on family values has been blemished since his divorce, and his past issues with authority have surely earned him more than a couple enemies in the senate. But in times as uncertain as these, we need nothing more than a man of action. And 20 years since he first entered the national scene, there’s still no one that screams action quite like John McClane. Vote early, vote often.

Posted in I Sez | 3 Comments »

Say Anything: The Unsinkable SAW Franchise

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 24, 2008

I want to write a blog entry…

Ah yes, two weeks ago it still felt like summer, and now it’s suddenly once again time for Halloween. While the rest of us are out carving ironic slogans into our jack-o-lanterns, assembling our Ministry and Bauhaus-laden holiday playlists and attempting to come up with as blissfully esoteric a costume as humanly possible (don’t bother, by the way, a friend of mine once went as The Bees That Killed Macaulay Culkin in My Girl, which will never by topped by me, you or anyone else), the powers that be are ensuring that for the fifth time in five years, the latest Saw flick will be raking it in at the theaters. By the time our kids are grown up, concepts like trick-or-treating, haunted houses and uh, getting killed by Michael Myers will all be antiquated notions–the only scares (or candy, for that matter) they will be getting will be courtesy of Billy and Jigsaw.

The brand loyalty and dedication here is what I find so remarkable. Sure, the concept of multiple horror sequels in the same franchise is nothing even close to new–there are probably enough Halloweens, Friday the 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets to occupy AMC’s entire October viewing schedule, after all. But in this day and age, when Event movies seem to necessitate six months of hype in between their trailers leaking to the internet and their actual release dates, the fact that these movies not only come out as regularly as they do, but are as consistently successful as they are….It’s something, all right, especially considering that none of the filmmakers or cast from the first time around are still in the picture (except , of course, franchise cornerstone Tobin Bell, who will once again be starring in this year’s Saw, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure his character has died at least twice already).

It’s remarkable, but I guess it’s not all that surprising. Saw has become nothing less than the ideal horror franchise of the early 21st century, a nearly self-perpetuating series that can formulaically crank out profitable movies at limited expense without leaving their constituents feel cheated. Like all the eternal horror franchises, Saw wisely bases its central premise around a concept, not a set of characters (which, for instance, is why the Scream series could barely stretch into a trilogy–by the end, no one really gave a fuck whether Courtney Cox and David Arquette lived to see a IV). Actors aren’t important to it, nor are directors or screenwriters, or even special effects. All that really matters is how unexpected and ironic the torture/escape sequences are.

Torture Porn,” the sobriquet that Saw, Hostel and their ilk have assumed, is a fairly appropriate moniker, but more for structural reasons than for visceral ones. The torture/escape sequences are laid around Saw like sex scenes in a skin flick, with just the necessary dialogue and character development to give context. Most decent horror franchises are like this to an extent, but most of them also have a central victim protagonist of some sort to provide some sort of stability, which Saw certainly does not. Jigsaw, played by the always supremely creepy Bell (his white-haired company villain in The Firm bumped up the movie at least a half-grade), is the Freddie/Jason/Myers-like antagonistic anchor to the franchise, but even he feels slightly expendable–what his character represents as a plot function is far more important than the character itself, or the actor who plays him.

This also brings me to one of the things that I initially found the most confusing about the Saw series–there is absolutely no one to sympathize with. None of the victims are ever particularly likeable, and while the movies often ask the audience to at least see Jigsaw’s mechanizings from his point of view (he redeems Amanda’s soul, he often claims to “have never killed anyone,” he punishes people that often deserve punishment of some sort), his dealings are so egregiously sadistic that even the idiots who look up to Tony Montana for having a “moral code” couldn’t possibly justify this asshole. The effect of having no one to root for in this movie is that people can either envision themselves in the struggles of these characters that are little more than placeholders at best, or they can simply root for Jigsaw’s contraptions to be as elaborate and gruesome as possible.

The other thing of these movies I find so confusing is how much I enjoy watching them. I got hooked watching the first movie on Sci-Fi tonight before Game 2 of the World Series, and as it progressed into the second movie, I kept finding myself flipping back to the movie in between pitches because I was so enraptured. Something about these movies is undeniably spellbinding–whether it’s the Fincher-like set grit and dim lighting, or the inevitable symmetry of the plots, or the fact that I can never remember which  twists and Rube Goldberg devices belong to which entry in the franchise. They’re tired, they’re largely predictable, and they keep getting worse–but when they’re on, they’re almost always the most compelling thing on TV.

I don’t get it. But I’m downloading IV for the first time as we speak, just in case. I hear Luke from Gilmore Girls is in this one.

Posted in Say Anything | 6 Comments »

I Sez: Goodbye, Katie Holmes

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 21, 2008

You know the holocaust? No longer quite the exact opposite

I remember a Peanuts strip from when I was a kid where Linus is shown crying at what he was watching on TV. Lucy asks him what’s wrong, and he proclaims to her, “ANNETTE FUNICELLO HAS GROWN UP!!!!” I didn’t really understand what was making him so upset at the time–partly because I had no idea who the fuck Annette Funicello was–but a week or so ago, I caught an ad for the new season of misfit ABC program Eli Stone, now apparently featuring one Katie Holmes. It’s hard to explain what struck me about Katie’s appearance so–she’s still definitely Katie Holmes, no doubt–but it was like I was seeing an entirely new version of her. She’s thinner than I remembered, and she has very short hair now. Her clothing looks more like it’s designed to conceal her figure than to enhance it. She looks like she belongs more on the cast of Criminal Minds than on Gossip Girl, or even Grey’s Anatomy. Yup, there’s no doubt about it: Katie Holmes has grown up.

For most, Holmes will forever be associated with Dawson’s Creek, the show that blended the melodrama and heatthrobbiness of Beverly Hills 90210 with the suburban trappings and over-thinking of My So-Called Life to become the definitive teen drama of the turn of the millennium. On it, Holmes played Joey, who in classic teen drama fashion, was cast as the role of the platonic friend to the title character, but became the show’s de facto sex symbol, but far out-charming the hussier Michelle Williams to capture the nation’s heart. She was perky, she used big words, she cared about her grandparents, she was cuter than a million sneezing pandas. And she was forever hanging on the arm of Dawson, playing make believe with him, sneaking into his bedroom at night. She was the fantasy of just about every adolescent male who realized they wouldn’t have much to talk about with Pamela Anderson after sex.

But too often, people forget there was more to Holmes than Joey Potter. Well, not much more, of course–she played a variation of sorts of Joey’s character in just about every movie she was in until she figured out the only way to escape the character for good was to flash her tits as a femme fatale in 2000’s The Gift (just in time for the rise of the DVD format, uncoindcidentally). But for someone like me, who didn’t realize the possibility of the teen drama format until late high school, the Holmes I grew up was the dreamgirl Katie of The Ice Storm, the innocent raver Katie of Go, the slightly badasser Katie of Disturbing Behavior (and the video for The Flys’ super-underrated “Got You (Where I Want You)“). She never branched out too much, but as long as she kept smiling and kept being slightly vulnerable, who would want her to?

Even as the millennium turned, and Holmes started diversifying a little, she still kept that glimmer of the Katie we knew. She played self-righteous lawyer and moral center Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, but in her heated bantering with Christian Bale were unmistakable echoes of her frustrations with Dawson once upon a time. She played a cutthroat, double-crossing journalist in Thank You For Smoking, but when she smiled seductively at Aaron Eckhart, it was the same mouth-corner smile that she flashed at drug-dealing Timothy Olyphant at the end of Go. And yeah, she had that whole debacle with the eventual Mr. Holmes, some loser who got her to go wacky-religious and chow down on some placenta or some such. But even that felt just like another adolescent travail for Katie, a bright, confused girl just looking for her place in the world.

But after watching tonight’s Eli Stone, there can’t be anymore doubt about it–Katie Holmes is now an adult. It’s fair enough–she’s almost 30, which is adult by default by most standards. But she kind of carries herself like an adult now, world-wearier, more confident, no longer the doey-eyed, wistful girl waiting for all that life had to offer. And that’s OK, I guess–I’m not 13 anymore either, pissed off at my parents for not letting me see Go in theaters, and Katie’s still pretty adorable as a post-post-adolescent. Nonetheless, there’s no question that a little part of me died upon viewing Ms. Holmes in this new light. If she has now officially grown up, then I guess I can’t be far behind. And in the meantime, no more leaving my window open at night.

Posted in I Sez | 1 Comment »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Getting Pumped for the ’08-’09 Knicks

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 20, 2008

Where Every Win Over Thirty Is a Blessing Happens

By just about any estimation, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to be one of the most compelling teams to follow in the NBA next season. After putting up one of the best post all-star break records in the league during what just about everyone, seemingly including the team themesleves, had deemed to be a rebuilding year, the Sixers quickly emerged as one of the most exciting young teams around. Then, they really got to work in the off-season, shoring up the lineup with key role players and backups (Theo Ratliff, Kareem Rush, Donyell Marshall), locking down team cornerstones Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams to multi-year contracts, and bringing in a promising young big with draft pick Mareese Speights, and most notably (and controversially), adding the a-list post presence the team had so badly lacked with the landing of free agent Elton Brand. Even if it doesn’t result in the title run fans are hoping for–and it probably won’t–it’s going to be a fun, fun year for Sixers fans.

Yet it’s the return of a team that was, in the estimation of some, “The Worst Team in the History of Professional Sports,” that has me really fascinated. The New York Knicks had an ’07-’08 season for the history books, one of such horrific dysfunction, embarrassing clumsiness and just generally bad vibes that it’s hard to remember that record-wise, there were actually four other teams that had as bad or worse a regular-season. But if you weren’t emotionally invested in the team, as I certainly wasn’t, the games toward the end of the season–the ones after any pretensions the team had of ascending from b-ball purgatory had long since been dashed–took on a kind of perversely thrilling madcap quality, a “lunatics taking over the asylum” sort of charm. On any given night, you’d never know what bizarre, inexplicable sight you’d be confronted with, whether it be the supremely graceless Zach Randolph attempting a three-pointer, the 3’7″, 85 lb. Nate Robinson skying for a dunk and then pounding his chest like KG, or  the wheezing Eddy Curry having a stroke right while attempting to box out. For fans of the sport, especially those without a conscience, it was some must-watch shit.

So, what to do with a team that can’t defend, can’t pass, and in some cases, can barely even jog? Why, bring in Mike D’Antoni, architect of the high-flying, freewheeling Phoenix Suns, of course! With the Suns, D’Antoni had four seasons of 50+ win, playoff-bound basketball, and captured the hearts of a nation with the team’s visceral, intelligent, and positively liberal form of fast-breaking hoops. But after the third playoff exit in four years at the hands of the lockdown, grind-out San Antonio Spurs, D’Antoni was scapegoated for the team’s failure, saying that his loose, offensive-minded style would never win a championship. Understandably, the announcement of D’Antoni’s arrival in New York was met with much scowling and confusion, especially with a somewhat less financially lucrative but far more stylistically logical offer of the Bulls’ head coaching position still on the table.

But the more I think about it, the more glad I am that D’Antoni went in the direction he did. There was no way the Knicks were going to be the Celtics or the Pistons this year–trying to turn them into that fundamentally sound, defensively oriented Eastern Conference-style team would’ve been as laughable
as the Texas Rangers trying to retool in ’09 with a focus on defense and pitching. So failing that, what do the Knicks possibly have to lose by handing the keys to D’Antoni and saying “Floor it”? Worst case scenario, the ‘Bockers are an anarchic mess, which would still be at least one step up from last season because it would at least seem like they were doing it intentionally this year. Best case scenario, you could get some of the wildest, most positively frenetic hoops you’re likely to see this decade–basketball to make the ’06 Suns look like the bruising Knick teams of the 90s by comparison.

For despite all their failings, the Knicks do have one thing on their side (and that’s good, because it might be the only thing)–unpredictability. Things in New York have been in such a state of flux the last few years that pretty much everyone on the team is still an unknown quantity. For all we know, Wilson Chandler could be a more deadly sharp-shooter than Raja Bell. David Lee could win a rebounding title.  Nate Robinson could be as formidable a fourth-quarter presence as Kobe Bryant. Danilo Gallinari could be as fundamentally sound a player as his idol, Tayshaun Prince. Chris Duhon could be the second coming of that guy who led the Piston championship teams of two decades ago. Or, they could all be talentless scrubs that’d have difficulty fighting for the 12th man position on an actual contender. You just don’t know.

Really, though, is there anything the Knicks could do this season that would be considered surprising? OK, yeah, maybe one–win. But while I’d be hard pressed to argue that it wouldn’t take a small miracle for them to be playoff-bound in a tightening Eastern conference, watching the team play in the pre-season has been nothing but encouraging. All the games I’ve seen thusfar have been high-scoring, high-octane affairs, replete with endless fast breaks, improbable dunks (yes, including a couple from The Mouse That Roared himself) and threes raining from the skies like Lil’ Wayne top 40 hits. And as the Knick announcers are always quick to point out, the K-Men seem to be legitimately enjoying playing again under D’Antoni’s borderline-irresponsible system, like a group of middle school bullies that suddely take interest in science class when they learn that they can dissect frogs and make things explode.

So either we get a team that makes a New York Rangers game look lethargic, or we get another unmitigated disaster. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

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OMGWTFLOL: Michael Jackson – “You Rock My World” Video (2001)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 19, 2008

Tried to keep my sanity

In 2001, it was still possible that by the time all was said and done, Michael Jackson’s career achievements could significantly outweigh his weirdnesses. Not probable, mind you, nor even in any way likely–this was, after all, after the incidents with Bubbles, the Elephant Man, Lisa Marie, the first round of sexual misdeed accusations, the big-ass statue, “Heal the World,” the voodoo curses, the skin-bleaching disease, Neverland Ranch, Moonwalker and the 3-D movie. Luckily, Michael still had thirty years of financial success and about a dozen truly classic pop songs to fall back on, so by the team of Invincible‘s release in ’01, it looked like maybe, just maybe he might be able to turn it around in time before the very last of the good will he had earned with the public had been sapped up.

And what better to announce his return to the limelight than with that old Michael Jackson standard, the epic story music video? Ever since the relatively innocuous green-screen vids for “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” from the end of the 70s, MJ’s videos had just grown bigger and bigger, from the zombie meta-movie of “Thriller,” to the harrowing urban tale/ twenty-minute dance-off of “Bad” to the half-hour, cameo and controversy-crazy event premiere of “Black or White,” right up to the zero-gravity insanity of “Scream,” at that point the most expensive music video ever made. Wisely, the video for “You Rock My World” did not try to one-up that masterwork–doing so would have been virtually impossible, unless MJ had figured out a way for his videos to physically jump out of your TV and punch you in the brain–but it was definitely still Michael Jackson Big, albeit of the slightly less bombastic, “Remember the Time” / “Beat It” variety.


(~$25,000 per second, and still worth every penny)

Notably, in the style of Puff Daddy’s similarly-hyped megavid “Victory,” MJ enlisted a bill of famous friends and family to help him out, including Chris Tucker as “The Friend,” Michael Madsen as “The Rich Guy,” classic That Guy Billy Drago as “The Asshole With a Knife,” and of course, Marlon “I Got Out of Bed This Morning!” Brando as “The Boss.” The video begins with Chris and Mike eating at a chinese restaurant, bickering about the check, and watching the girls go by. Mike sees a particularly fine one and follows her into a club, which, like all clubs in the Jacksonverse, has yet to escape the 1940s. Once there, he notices the girl draped around Madsen’s arm, and decides the only way to suitably woo her is to perform a big song-and-dance number, getting the whole club involved.

Naturally, Madsen doesn’t take too kindly to this, nor does Brando or Drago (the guy who peaced Sean Connery in The Untouchables, by the way), and out breaks–you guessed it–a dance-fight. MJ emerges victorious, but not before semi-accidentally lighting the whole place on fire, although luckily Brando doesn’t seem to mind so much at this point (“Bing bang,” he quips to Jackson, appropos of absolutely nothing). He escapes in time, with girl in tow, and the two ride off with an irate Chris. Ultimately, “You Rock My World” had all the elements of a classic MJ story vid–big ol’ dance numbers, action sequences, cameos a plenty–but rather than feeling comfortable and nostalgic like a good throwback should, upon its premiere, it just served to underline how far he had come from the Michael Jackson the public knew and loved for most of the previous 30 years.

First off, the dude looks freaky. Maybe it’s the disease, maybe it’s the plastic surgery, maybe it’s the lifetime of horrific stress, pressure and abuse the likes of which none of us will hopefully ever have to properly contemplate–but there’s a reason why MJ’s hat is pulled over his eyes for 75% of the video. He’s almost entirely white by now (“That’s why I don’t like going to eat with black people, ‘coz when the bill comes, they start trippin’,” gripes Tucker at one point, to remind the audience that yes at one point MJ was a black man), and the combination of his big eyes and pale skin make him look more than a little ghoulish. He looks oddly ageless, which is disconcerting for a man now 40 years old. And his speaking voice makes him sound so delicate and weak that it’s no surprise the superhumanly loud-mouthed Tucker was enlisted to do most of the speaking for him.

The video’s not really any great shakes besides MJ himself, either. Say what you will about the corniness of the MJ videos of the last ten years, but most of them were at least visually compelling and a good deal of them had been legitimately innovative. This one is basically nothing but a rehashing of elements from “Smooth Criminal” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” with little of the charm of either, and there’s nary a morph-effect (or anything that could actually be considered boundary-pushing) to be found. And even by MJ video standards, the cameos are fairly useless–Tucker is predictably grating, Madsen does nothing but stand there and look badass, and Brando’s appearance makes his performance in The Score seem like Stanley Kowalski by comparison (particularly amusing is the video’s six-minute edit, in which Brando has literally one word’s worth of dialogue, a weakly mumbled “…now?“–wonder how many millions he got for that).

This is all unfortunate, because the “You Rock My World” song is a successful update of MJ’s sound to modern times in all the ways the video is not. Produced by MJ and Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins (then on top of the pop world thanks to his work with Monica, J-Lo and Destiny’s Child), the song’s clearly no “Billie Jean” or “Rock With You,” but it’s a lithe, bouncy Pop n B number, with a nice piano hook that almost sounds like something out of 90s UK house and a chorus that sounds like…a normal pop chorus, without any of the insecurities, social messages or other uncomfortable moments that had been regrettably jam-packed into most recent MJ hits. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Usher’s 8701 album, and it certainly didn’t sound out of place in Top 40 radio back in 2001.

But with the albatross of a video attached to it, as well as MJ’s burgeoning race-fueled feud with Sony president Tommy Mottola, the song was only peaked at #10 on the charts–not a particularly strong showing from the man with the most solo #1 hits of anyone since Elvis. Then the weirdness started back up–the Mottola-devil campaign, the baby-dangling, and of course, the second round of sexual misdeed allegations, and the war of MJ’s music vs. his public freakiness had been decided for good. But with a different video, a less-publicized PR snafu…who knows? Maybe he could’ve gone without abdicating his King of Pop throne for at least a few years longer.

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