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Listeria: The Ten Dumbest Scenes in “The Town”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 3, 2010

Heat meets The Departed!!” screamed the rave reviews of the trailer. Having seen those two movies probably a combined 20 times in my life, I was a pretty easy sell for The Town, newfound double-threat Ben Affleck’s heist flick follow-up to the similarly New England-set Gone Baby Gone. Also starring longtime IITS favorite Jeremy Renner and TV stars Jon Hamm and Blake Lively in gloriously quintessential “Hey remember those TV characters that you’ll always associate us with well we can do other things too look at us!!” roles, I knew this was that all-too-rare flick I actually wanted to make the effort to get out to the theaters to see.

And to be fair, the quote was not wrong–except I was kind of hoping it was more of a qualitative statement than a quantitative one. The Town is indeed Heat meets The Departed–it’s pretty much the exact plot of Heat, with even thicker accents and crazier locals than in The Departed. I’m not sure what I was expecting, precisely, but I was hoping for something a little less eye-rolling, something a little more substantial. Instead, it was mostly a bunch of scenes of Ben Affleck trying to imply soulfulness by not smiling and Jon Hamm testing the limits of how disheveled he could get his hair and still look devastatingly handsome (Unsurprising answer: Very.)

Naturally, credibility-straining interactions and cliche-ridden set pieces abound. Here are the ten worst offenders, in roughly chronological order, though it also basically doubles as a countdown since things tend to get dumber as it goes:

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Ten Things I’m Hoping to See in LeBron James’s FA Decision Special

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 8, 2010

It had to end this way. Yeah, you can hem and haw about the morality of the whole thing–lord knows that Adrian Wojnarowski took his crack at it from that angle, and he was certainly well within his right to do so–but really, what’s the point in complaining at this point? If you had woken up groggily at 7:30 A.M. to an ESPN.com headline: “LeBron to Cleveland: ‘I’m Comin’ Home!'” or “LeBron James: In a New York State of Mind!”…it wouldn’t have felt right, would it? After two-plus years of media hype leading up to two-plus weeks of utter media freakout, it would have seemed anti-climactic to just say to yourself “Oh, huh, looks like LeBron decided to go with the Cavs/Knicks/Bulls/Nets/Heat/Mavs/Bafana Bafana/Monstars, how about that” and then go about your day’s business. No, it had to be a media event unto itself, happening at a specific time that everyone knew to anticipate–primetime, no less. It had to happen the day after most of the other high-profile free agents announced their upcoming teams–possibly unwittingly–to whet the public’s appetite for the main event. It had to end like this.

So yes, I’ll be watching tomorrow at 9:00 when LeBron James goes live on ESPN to announce the team he will be signing with as a free agent (and possibly dictating the next ten years of the NBA in the process). I can’t wait, really. But in the interest of accepting this event in the spirit that it was given–that of straight-faced crassness and a severe distrust of moderation–I have a couple ideas of elements for the event itself, to allow it to best reach its maximum potential. (By the way, this max potential does not include LBJ buzz-killingly giving the game away in the first ten minutes, as he’s bone-headedly suggested he will do, so I’ve ignored that bit entirely.) After all, I’m gonna want to see this event marathoned endlessly on NBA Classic in the weeks leading up to July of 2015 or 2016, when we doubtless will be going through all this glorious nonsense once again.

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Listeria: The 40 Most Ridiculous Out-of-Context Pieces of Dialogue from The First Half of LOST, Season Six

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 25, 2010

First and foremost–this article is not meant to come down as any definitive statement about the objective quality of the ABC primetime TV drama LOST. I’ve gone through just about every stage of push-and-pull with the show, and now I’ve reached a point where I watch it instinctively and no longer question why. Few things are as annoying as people who complain about LOST, and one of those things is people who complain about people who complain about LOST, so I’m going to try to refrain from doing too much of either. It’s a fine show, with many flaws. I watched it last week, and I’ll watch it next week. Value judgments are not the matter at importance here.

Rather, I wanted to write about one specific aspect of the show, which has fascinated me for some time–the unparalleled bluster of the dialogue. It’s not that the dialogue is bad per se, it’s just that it has its own loud, hermetic, rhythmically disntcitive feel, one oddly hypnotic in how jarring it is. This was a style perhaps berthed out of necessity, as the show’s tendency to release exposition only in the form of further-confounding questions for five-and-a-half seasons no doubt called for a lot of dialogue which sounded revelatory while actually saying nothing. Similarly, it arguably makes sense even within the LOSTverse, as the show’s characters have been exposed to so much weird shit without explanation over that time period that they would likely inspire respond in turn by adapting a style of speech to reflect that state of affairs.

But whatever the cause, the result is at lot of dialogue exchanges pivoting on phrases like “Do you honestly expect me to believe that?” or “I think we both know who I’m talking about” or “He said to tell you [x]. He said you’d know what that meant.” And at least three or four times a week, the result is what I refer to as an “Oh, of course” type quote. These are the quotes where one character says something dramatic, unforseen, and largely incomprehensible, and after six years of watching this show, there’s no feasible reaction to it as a viewer except to say “Oh, of course.” Oh, of course the guy posing as Locke is actually the smoke monster. Oh, of course Hurley’s guitar case contains a giant ankh with a hidden message inside it. Oh, of course Jack has to blow up the island with a nuclear bomb because doing so will trigger an alternate reality where he has a shot to maybe get another shot at a relationship with Kate. There’s just nothing you can do with these quotes and developments but accept them as entirely sensible and move on.

What really make these quotes sparkle, though, are when they are stripped completely of their context. It’s amazing how these exchanges that seem almost borderline-logical within the context of LOST just sound utterly preposterous when viewed by their lonesome–as Chuck Klosterman pointed out in a recent B.S. report podcast, anyone who didn’t watch LOST eavesdropping on a conversation two fans were having about the show would just be mind-blown at how stupid the whole thing sounded, and that’s doubly true when viewing these quotes in a complete vacuum. So without further ado, and with a huge assist from the thankfully nutso folks over at Lostpedia (without whom this project would have taken many hours and far too much bandwidth): The 40 Most Ridiculous Out-of-Context Pieces of Dialogue from the First Half of LOST, Season 6.

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Listeria: The Ten Levels of Avoiding Sports Media

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 19, 2009

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One of the weird functions of working at night means that the amount of sports news I watch is vastly disproportional to the amount of actual sports I watch, since I’m away for when all the events actually happen and can only see what I deem important enough to tape and watch when I get home at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. But home all day in the afternoon, I invariably end up watching an unhealthy amount of after-the-fact sports news coverage, just because it’s often the only thing on that’s at all worth watching (at least when SOAP and A&E are cycling through re-runs of The O.C. and The Sopranos that I’ve already re-watched recently). Naturally, in the eight hours between the start of First Take and the end of Pardon the Interruption, things can get a little bit repetitive.

All I can hope for during this time period is that certain topics don’t happen to pop up. I can handle endless replays of the same game highlights, or different commentators’ lame jokes about the same blooper reels, but there are certain news stories that have recurred so often over the last year or two, and have become so mundane or asinine over that time, that when they happen, it can force me to actually make the effort to find something better on TV, or turn the TV off altogether (well, usually nothing that extreme, but you know). The mere sight of these buzzwords in headlines fills me with dread and positively ruins my Wednesday afternoon. If you’ve read this far, you can probably already guess most of ’em off the top of your head. But just in case…

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Listeria: The Ten Most Underrated Aspects of the Bulls-Celtics Series

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 2, 2009

Bulls Celtics Basketball

Now that the Sixers have officially put me out of my misery with their humiliating game six home loss to an Orlando team playing without two of their starting five (three if you count Jameer Nelson, who’s been out all series), I can focus all of my NBA playoffs attention on the greatest post-season series of all-time, the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics. I feel relatively safe calling it the greatest post-season series of all-time, despite my limited experience, because I don’t really see how a post-season series could be any better–and if it was possible, that mystery classic series would be so famous and beloved that I wouldn’t be able to watch two hours of NBA TV or ESPN Classic without being reminded of what a famous, beloved classic of a series it was. If you want to make a case that some other series was better because more was at stake or because the historical significance proved to be greater, fine, I can buy that–but if you’re trying to tell me that a more compelling, more evenly matched, more suspenseful series of seven games have been played by two teams, I need video proof. And a bigscreen high-definition TV to watch it on.

Think of it this way: Game one of this series went to overtime, featured crucial missed free throws from the super-clutch Paul Pierce that could’ve clinched the game, an unexpected hero in the form of the suddenly jump-shooting Tyrus Thomas, a triple-double performance from Rajon Rondo, and a playoff debut from Derrick Rose that was the best of its kind since Magic Johnson. Pretty good game, right? Probably a surefire top five game in your average post-season, no? OK, that might only be the fifth best game in this series–certainly no higher than fourth best, and we still have a game seven to come. Every game leaves me with my jaw open at a half-dozen different moments. The cast of characters–from stars, to supporting players, to twelvth men on the bench, to coaching staff–could not be stronger. The last game–Game Six–might very well be the best NBA game I’ve ever watched. In the two weeks this series has been going on, I feel like I’ve lived through a whole decade of Patriots-Colts, Yankees-Red Sox, or yes, Celtics-Lakers. And I’m not alone, either–Game Six pulled in over five million viewers, easily setting a record for cable ratings in a first-round series. And that was just Game Six.

So amazing is this series–so deep in content, history and action–that despite the endless coverage the Series has been getting from all corners (including from one Bill Simmons, who has written about as exhaustively about this series as is possible without breaking the internet), there are still elements that I feel are going underreported, underemphasized, and just generally underrated. Here they are, and I’m sure there are ten more that I’m not even thinking of:

10. The Return of “Sirius”. When I wrote this article a week ago, I didn’t even think about the possible resurgence the song might have as a result of this series. But sure enough, just as playoff basketball is back in Chicago, so is the Alan Parsons Project. In any of the games in Chicago thusfar, you get the feeling that the music guy and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf need to simultaneously turn keys to unlock the button that unleashes “Sirius,” because intros aside, it seems like it gets saved for the very tensest, most pivotal moment of the game. And as in the 90s, as soon as you hear that grumbling keyboard tone to start the song, and then the spectral guitar line comes in, you instantly go from “man, I hate having to sit through these 20-second time outs” to “YES!!! IT IS ON!! IT IS SO FUCKING ON!!! LET’S GO!! LEEEET’S GO!!!!!” If they had any sense in Boston, they’d play it there too, but they’re probably too busy fumbling around with their Dropkick Murphys CDs.

9. The Hinrich Miss. If Kirk Hinrich does not name his first born after Derrick Rose, he damn well better be sending him and his family the nicest fruitcakes in all of Chicago for every Christmas to come until they’re both well into their 100s. With less than a half-minute to go in the third OT of Game Six, and the Bulls up by one, in-bounder Lindsey Hunter somehow got an inbounds pass to Captain Kirk WIDE OPEN under the basket, for an easy layup to put the team up three and ensure that, worst-case scenario, the Celtics could only tie it up and set it into a fourth OT with their last possession of the game. Except that Hinrich whiffed on it–got nervous with Rondo swooping in for the block off the glass, perhaps, and put it up a little too quickly (I’m not entirely convinced that Rondo didn’t goaltend on it a little, to be honest, but it was close enough for an understandable no-call). If he misses that shot, and on the other end, Rondo converts for the go-ahead bucket, the Bulls lose the game and series, and Hinrich has to become Bill Buckner–or at the very least, Jackie Smith–in Chicago, right? It’s the kind of miss that could wreck an entire career.

Luckily for Hinrich (very, very luckily), Derrick Rose made the defensive play of the game at the other end with a block on Rondo’s fadeaway jumper, secured the rebound, and the game was essentially over, saving Hinrich from the pantheon of sports infamy. But man oh man, for those last few minutes, Hinrich probably sweated a bucket’s worth, worrying about the split-second’s worth of athletic clumsiness that might’ve ended up defining his entire career.

8. Poor Rockets Fans. Last night, the Houston Rockets beat the Portland Trailblazers 92-76, to win the series 4-2 and advance to the second round. This was, by all accounts, a very big deal–not just in that the franchise hadn’t gotten out of the first round since 1997, but also in that it represented a step forward for previous playoff flop Yao Ming, redemption for one-time league cancer Ron Artest, vindication for GM Daryl Morey and his innovative, Moneyball-esque style of team structuring, and a bitter, bitter pill for injured/star-crossed superstar Tracy McGrady. And yet, not only was this triumph completely and totally overshadowed by Bs/Cs Game Six, over half the game got skipped on national TV as the early game went for three overtimes and didn’t finish until about an hour and a half after it was supposed to. Now, imagine you’re a Rockets fan living out of state–you’ve waited OVER A DECADE for your team to get to that ever-elusive second round, and you don’t even get to watch it until you’re dropped in well into the third quarter, where the Rockets already had a firm hold on the game that was never threatened. “Oh, I guess we’re going to win. Great. What else is on?”

Not that I necessarily would’ve rather watched the Baby Blazers get shelled for four quarters than to see the unbelievably exciting conclusion of a classic game of a classic-er series, but if I was a Rockets fan—or hell, even if I was a Blazers fan–I’d be fucking livid. And what’s more, I can’t understand for the life of me why TNT continues to schedule the start times of its two playoff games two-and-a-half hours apart, when playoff basketball games NEVER finish that early–in fact, just two days earlier, Mavs fans were probably almost as angry to miss a healthy chunk of their series-clinching drubbing of the Spurs, although Game Five was only a single-OT, so at leas they got to the late game before halftime. Pull the first one up a half-hour, or push the second one back a half-hour, but do SOMETHING to at least allow the possibility that fans of the teams in game two will be able to watch the deciding games in their entirety.

7. Shot Celebrations. The Sports Guy’s done a fair deal of covering this, but I just don’t think it can be stressed enough on what a clinic these two teams are putting on in the various ways one can celebrate making a big play. The peacock-strutting and “threeball”-sign flashing of Brad Miller. The “Oh my lawdy, wah that shot purty” backstepping of Ray Allen. The chest-beating and gutteral wailing of Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. The crotch-grabbing of Ben Gordon. The (laughably unintimidating) mean mugging of Glenn “Big Bay” Davis. The “act like you’ve been there/shot it before” swagger of Paul Pierce (which was even supplanted by a HOLY SHIT AM I REALLY THIS GOOD banshee yawp towards the end of Game Six). Even the “Thank God this game is over because another five minutes and I will have a heart attack” relief of Doc Rivers. The only two not getting in on the fun? Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose–arguably the two centerpiece players of the entire bout. C’mon guys, you might be facing each other in series like this a half-dozen times over the next decade. Loosen up a little bit.

6. The Bulls Comeback in Game Six. None of the recaps of the game seem to address what I feel to be the incredulity of this, but the Bulls were down eight with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Game Six, and came back to tie the game and force OT. It might not sound that impressive now, but at the time, I was practically positive the game was over–fun series, sure, but bound to end a little prematurely. To make up an eight-point deficit in three minutes is fucking HARD to do. I’d wager that of the last twenty playoff games in which a team was up eight with three minutes to go, in maybe one of them does the team in the hole come back to tie or win the game–two, tops–and most of those games would be against teams that were a lot less fundamentally sound than the defending champs. For the Bulls to come back at that point, facing elimination…it’s practically historic. Yet, in this series, it barely even registers as a footnote.

In fact, I didn’t even remember this until rewatching that section of the game just now, but Rajon Rondo actually stepped to the line with under three to go and the chance to drain a couple and make the lead as big as ten–and he badly bricked both. I think if he hits even one of those, the game is absolutely out of reach, and the Bulls drop the game (which, lest we forget, they led by double-digits just a couple minutes earlier, before giving up AN 18-0 RUN to the Celtics to put them squarely in the driver’s seat) as well as the series, in front of their home crowd. It wasn’t right–this series simply had to have a Game Seven–and the basektball powers that be seemed to realize this, leading the Bulls on an incredible run to get them back in the game, and so subtly that no one even seemed to notice what an amazing thing they just witnessed.

5. The Ray Allen Double-Take. Sticking with Game Six, if you didn’t believe this series was getting orchestrated by a higher power–whether that be a God or a refereeing committee–observe the Ray Allen Double-Take. The Celtics were down three with a half-minute to go in the second overtime, when Ray-Ray got the ball on the wing, took one slow dribble as he drifted to the corner, and then hoisted the ball up so quickly that it seemed like he wanted the ball to go in the basket before defender Joakim Noah even realized he had shot it–and it went in. It was by far the most impressive of the 18 field goals (EIGHTEEN!!!) that Ray Allen would make that night, and I don’t think a single other player in the NBA right now could have made that shot. One problem, though–while performing his miracle, Jesus Shuttlesworth couldn’t quite get his left foot behind that three-point line, and despite the You Have Got to Be Kidding Me protestations of Rivers, M.D., the shot only counted for two.

No matter. A couple of drained free throws (by Brad Miller, who got unlimited opportunities to redeem himself for the crucial bricked FTs in Game Five, maybe the 17th-best subplot of the series thusfar) would make it a three-point game again, and Allen would get the ball back on the next possession, this time already behind the arc on the other wing. He got a screen from Pierce to get John Salmons off his back but still had Kirk Hinrich’s outstretched arm to deal with as he raised up. Caucasian, please–swish. Tie game, botched Bulls possession, we’re going to the third overtime. It was like the series was being directed by some Hollywood hotshot, and after Allen made his first impossible shot, the director yelled “CUT! Cut. Ray, babe, that was a great take, but I’m afraid your foot was on the line, so we’re going to have to make some free throws on the other end and thy try it again. Let’s do it from a different angle this time, yeah? OK, take two, action!” It was so perfect, so incredible that it had to have been fixed, except you’d have to be crazy to bank on Ray making either of those shots, let alone both. Except he’s Ray Allen, so maybe not. What. A. Series.

4. Thanks, Sacramento. On the morning of February 18th, 2009, the Sacramento Kings were a whopping 11-43, having lost an astounding 13 of their last 14 games. Two of the lone bright spots on this lottery-bound team were Brad Miller, who was having a typically solid year, and John Salmons, who was actually having by far the best year of his career in increased minutes and responsibility. Neither, however, was garnering the attention of anyone outside of the California capital, until that very morning, when the two players were traded to the Windy City for Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, and a couple of scrubs. The trade only got marginal attention for being the most exciting deal in what was a titanically underwhelming trade deadline (Remember Vince Carter to the Blazers? Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavs? Chris Bosh to just about anywhere? Probably not, since none of them, y’know, actually happened), especially because the deal that Bulls fans actually wanted, and which had the possibility to turn the franchise–something netting them the up-for-sale Amar’e Stoudemire from Phoenix–ended up falling through.

But against all (well, most) odds, the deal for these two third, maybe even fourth-tier players ended up having nearly the effect that everyone thought the STAT deal would. After a 24-30 start, the Bulls went 17-11 for the rest of the season on their way to the seventh seed in the playoffs, and now Miller and Salmons are two of the most important players in a post-season series that might–and likely, should–end up being better-remembered than whoever ends up playing in the finals. Without the two of them, this series probably doesn’t happen. And meanwhile, what about Drew Gooden? When he heard in February that he was getting traded out of Chicago, likely to get cut and end up signing with the perennially contending Spurs, do you think he would have guessed that he’d already be golfing just a week and a half into the post-season, while his West Side buds with the sub-.500 record got to be a part of history? It’s just crazy, the confluence of circumstances that led to this perfect storm of a series.

3. The Doppleganger Down South. With all the hubbub about this series, deserved though it may be, a similarly near-historic series in the Eastern Conference is getting unfortunately overshadowed–the Heat / Hawks series, which is also on its way to an epic game seven. Why haven’t you been hearing about this series? Well, because it’s been almost completely unwatchable. You remember Game Three of Bs/Cs–the only the Celtics won by more than 20, and which was never even close–in other words, the one non-classic in this series thusfar? That’s been EVERY game of the Hawks-Heat thusfar. Check out these final scores:

  1. Game One: Atlanta 90 – Miami 64 (Hawks by 36)
  2. Game Two: Miami 108 – Atlanta 93 (Heat by 15)
  3. Game Three: Miami 107 – Atlanta 78 (Heat by 29)
  4. Game Four: Atlanta 81 – Miami 71 (Hawks by 10)
  5. Game Five: Atlanta 106 – Miami 91 (Hawks by 15)
  6. Game Six: Miami 98 – Atlanta 72 (Heat by 26)

Not counting the game three aberration, no game in Bs/Cs has been decided by more than three points. In this series, no game has been decided by less than ten points. There have been no peaks, no valleys, no unceasing drama or unbearable tension. There have been no clutch threes, no critical missed free throws, no personal vendettas, no burgeoning rivalries, no one-on-one shootouts and no stunning comebacks. That team that’s up double digits at the end of the first quarter? That’s the team that’s going to win the game, and it’s not going to be close. So time to start flipping around for some House reruns or something.

In other words, in every way the Bs/Cs series has been good, this one has been bad. Except that, remarkably enough, it might be just as closely matched a series. These are two extraordinarily even teams. If they played each other 100 times, neither team would probably win more than 55 of those games. They’re both good–it’s just that they’re never both good at the same time, at least not when playing each other. I can’t even begin to explain how this happens, except that it appears to be a regular trait of the Hawks. If you’ll remember, the Celtics-Hawks series last year was somewhat similar–the Hawks would get absolutely bombed in Boston, looking like the Last Team In that they were, but then they’d come back home and be a completely different team, moving the ball, locking down on D, and generating highlights from all corners and everywhere in between. This series is the same way, but without even the home-field advantage to explain it–the Hawks have gotten crushed in Atlanta, and Miami has gotten shelled in A-Town. I do suspect that something about it must have to do with Josh Smith, the streakiest player in all of pro sports–when he’s on, he’s swatting shots all over the gym, he’s muscling into the paint for three-point plays, and he’s skywalking for alley-oops, and when he’s off, he’s chucking ghastly 20-footers, getting scorched by layup drivers and coughing the ball up in traffic.

Whatever the reason, it’s an utterly fascinating exercise in contrast, and if you haven’t been watching enough to embrace the stunning grotesque of this series, I don’t know if you’ll be able to truly understand just how gorgeously balletic–and mind-bogglingly unlikely--Bs/Cs has been.

2. Luol Deng. Yeah, Luol Deng. Remember him? Does anyone–even Chicago fans–remember him? Well, if not, let me refresh your memory. Luol Deng was the guy who was supposed to take the Bulls to where they are right now–to take them to the next level, to make them factors, contenders. He was the guy that was supposed to evolve into the team’s perennial all-star, the focal point of a youthful, athletic, exciting team. Lest we forget, at the beginning of the ’07-’08 season, the Bulls were projected to be one of the best teams in the East, coming hot off their first-round victory over the Heat (who, coincidentally enough, were also the returning champs at that point), and a whole lot of that was due to Deng, who had averaged career bests in points and rebounds that season (18/7), and stepped it up even further in the playoffs, going for 22 and 9. Everyone assumed he was a star in the making, the first real star that the Bulls had had since their glory days in the 90s.

Deng, however, did not follow the script. He took a step back in 2008, his stats limping slightly across the board. Expectations were still high coming into this season, but once again, the growth was just not there, and his stats sagged even further. Around the middle of the season, just a little while after Chicago made the trade for Miller and Salmons, he went down entirely with something called an anterior right tibial stress fracture. This probably should have been bad news, and the Bulls, then still squarely outside the playoff bubble, should probably have been freaking out about the injury, but hold up–turns out, them Bulls play kinda good now with Salmons and Miller in the rotation. So Deng’s nagging injury turns out to eventually be kind of a big deal, and he might be out the rest of the season, and maybe even the playoffs–if they actually make it there. But no one’s really panicking in the Windy City, and no one’s really banging down Vinny Del Negro’s door wondering when their starting forward is coming back to the lineup, as the team’s new seven-man rotation starts to look more and more like the core of something…something special, maybe.

Now it’s playoff time, the Bulls have the seventh seed, they’re firing on all cylinders and they’re giving the champs the fight of their life–they are, essentially, where everyone thought they should have been a year and a half ago. Except the guy that was supposed to be the reason why they were there, the guy who was pegged as the franchise player (and, of course, paid as one, signing for six years and up to $80 mil over the off-season)–not only is he not playing, not only is he not on the sidelines (not where anyone can see, anyway), but nobody seems to even remember that he was supposed to be there in the first place. As Kevin Garnett has his health speculated on, his absence decried, and his profanity-laced reactions to everything happening on the court shown every two minutes over the course of the series, I think I’ve heard Luol Deng’s name get mentioned maybe…twice? How does someone go from being the future of a franchise to barely even being an afterthought in a year and a half?

What will really be fascinating is to see what the Bulls do with him when he (presumably) comes back next season. What position does he play? Do they still try to build around him, or do they use him more as a role player? Does he even start? I have no idea where the Bulls go from here with Luol Deng, but five years and 60-some million says that they still better try to figure out something.

1. Kevin Garnett is Coming Back in Game 7. OK, this one has already gotten a fair bit of attention, but most people still seem doubtful of it actually happening–especially after Celtics GM Danny Ainge basically came out and said, “Kevin Garnett. Is Not. Playing. In This. Motherfucking. Game.” Well, let me tell you here and now–there’s no way KG sits this one out. He just can’t. And you know why? It’s not because the Celtics have been over-exaggerating his injury or healing period to keep him in their back pocket as a secret weapon–though that probably wouldn’t surprise me at this point. It’s not because he wants to be a part of motivational history, having grown up on stories of Willis Reed inspiring the Knicks to a brilliant Game 7 performance with his last-second return to the lineup from similar injury, though I’m sure the comparison is not lost on him. And it’s not because he’s such a warrior, such a firey, blood-spitting, flesh-chomping competitor that it would hurt his soul far too much to stand on the sidelines as his brothers-in-arms had to fight this last battle for him, and that Ainge, Rivers, and whoever else wanted a piece would have to physically tackle and restrain him to keep him from swapping his suit for his gym shorts during halftime–though all that might very well be the case.

No, the reason why Kevin Garnett will be in the lineup at some point in Game 7 is for one simple reason: It’s all there is left. Everything else in this series has already happened. On-court skirmishes? Check. Controversial ref calls? Check. Breakout performances? Check. Career redemptions? Check. Uncharacteristically brilliant plays? Check. Uncharacteristically stupid plays? Check. Heart-stopping, last-second, How The Hell Did He Make That buzzer-beaters? Check. Heart-stopping, last-second, How the Hell Did He Make That response buzzer-beaters? Check. Overtime games? Double Overtime games? Triple Overtime games? Check, check, check. OK, sure, the game could cobble together a mixture of all this stuff that’s already happened, change the cast and circumstances a little, and it’d all still be pretty cool. But there’s only one thing left to really set this game aside from the rest, to make it still shocking and amazing after all that’s already happened, to make it a true Game Seven–and that’s for Kevin Garnett to get his boney ass off the sidelines and into the low post.

And why am I so sure that this will happen? Well, has this series let us down yet? At every turn, when there could have been anti-climax–when the Bulls could’ve pulled away in the final minutes, when the Celtics could’ve gotten tired and packed it in, when Ben Gordon could’ve spent the whole fourth quarter clanging dumb jumpers, when Rajon Rondo could’ve gotten a little too agressive or Derrick Rose a little too creative, when Paul Pierce could’ve just taken over and left the Bulls in the dust–Bs/Cs has instead given us something more beautiful, more incredible then we ever could have hoped. So maybe we’re due for a letdown, maybe the series just doesn’t have that last miracle left in it–and if so, fair enough, and it’d probably be greedy to ask for more. But until I’m proven otherwise, I’m going to choose to believe that this series will get the capper that it deserves. And so, let me tell you–Kevin Garnett is going to walk through that door. You heard it here first.

See you guys at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Listeria | 4 Comments »

Listeria: Ten Moments When Eminem’s Reign Was Officially Over

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 16, 2009

Have you seen the new Eminem video? If you have, don’t worry, I won’t spend too long recounting how awful it is, and if you haven’t, you might as well take a gander now (above) and get it over with. Suffice to say, Em cuts down such sacred cows as Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo, Samantha Ronson and Lindsay Lohan, and worst of all, Brett Michaels. There was a time when Eminem coming out with a video like this might have seemed the definition of fresh, in 2009, it is the definition of, uh, something else. I actually think the beat and hook are kind of decent, but Marshall’s got no tricks left up his sleeve lyrically, and his delivery sounds more demented than ever–and not in that youthful, just-don’t-give-a-fuck way, but in that sad, post-nutso, I-got-too-famous-and-lost-all-touch-with-reality way.

Eminem’s fall from grace has been a tragic and shockingly rapid one. It was as recently as a half-decade ago that Slim was considered to be the most relevant artist in all pop music, selling millions, earning critical raves, even winning an Oscar or two. A mere year or two later, the man’s career was done and done–a truly spectacular flame-out that was only fortunate in that it didn’t (to my knowledge) involve any sex scandals or racist radio interviews. How did this all happen? Well, let’s examine the ten moments that transformed Eminem from seeming like the Bob Dylan of his generation to making a feud with Brett Michaels seem like something close to a fair fight.

  • August 29th, 2002: Feuds with Moby and Triumph the Insult Dog at the Video Music Awards. Arguably the first true sign of the inevitable onset of madness, Eminem took things personally when Triumph the Insult Dog made a couple cracks at his expense during the ’02 VMAs, getting as close as you can to a physical altercation as one can with a hand puppet. And Moby, long of Slim’s shitlist for knocking his music as violent and homophobic, countinued to draw his ire, as Em made the immortal threat that he “will punch a man with glasses.” For a man who always seemed to be in on the joke, it was the first time I can remember where Marshall seemed to be the one putting himself in the position to get laughed at. Sadly, this was not the last time Eminem and Triumph the Insult Dog would cross paths.
  • February 23, 2003: Releases “Sing For the Moment” Single. The first Eminem single that was greeted with…well, not much of a reaction at all. No significant controversy, no real acclaim, nothing. Lyrically all over the place and built on a largely uninspired sample of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” it seemed like Em was just treading water with this one, cranking out another top 20 single just because he could. It’s not nearly as bad as some later atrocities, but throw in that the video was that dreaded staple of the beginning of a musical career’s downslope–the lazily-assembled Look How Many Fans I Have Concert Video–and it’s hard not to see “Sing for the Moment” as being a pretty significant turning point for Slim.
  • May 9, 2003: Pulls the Plug on “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Couch Potato” Video. In another early, disturbing example of Eminem not being able to take a joke, Em forbade Weird Al to release a video for “Couch Potato,” Al’s parody of the previous year’s “Lose Yourself.” Weird Al planned on doing a pastiche of various iconic Eminem videos–in the style of, say, every Weird Al video ever–but Slim put the kibosh on the clip, worried that the video would somehow tarnish his rep as a serious hip-hop artist.  What happened to “Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” Em? Plus, ever heard of a rapper named Puff Daddy? Coolio? You don’t see anybody questioning those legacies, do you? (Interestingly, four years later, Weird Al would have a top ten hit with “White and Nerdy,” a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” for which even Cham would acknowledge that Al could actually flow a little bit).
  • April 23, 2004: Has “Ghetto Pass” Revoked By Steve Harvey. Nobody really knew what to make of “Just Lose It,” Eminem’s sexually confused, meta-puerile,  stream-of-consciousness comeback single released to lead Encore in 2004–five years later, and I feel like it still might be five years ahead of its time. But several key members of the black community had very definite things to say about the video, which parodied Michael Jackson, among other out-of-date targets. For its cruel treatment of MJ–“kicking a man when he’s down,” claimed Stevie Wonder–comedian Steve Harvey made the honorary gesture of revoking Eminem’s “ghetto pass,” meaning he was no longer welcome in the hearts and homes of our country’s African-Americans. It was a statement that was arguably even more ridiculous than “Just Lose It” itself, but it showed that Em, previously untouchable in the hip-hop community in a way no white rapper had ever been before, was losing his footing a little.
  • November 23, 2004: Feuds With Benzino on “Like Toy Soldiers” Single. Previously, Benzino’s feud with Eminem was treated as the one-sided joke that it was–the guy from The Source, whose career as a rapper was so laughable that he had to resort to putting his own “hits” on otherwise legitimately smash-stacked Source compilations? Feuding with the biggest rapper in the world? Yeah, Ja Rule probably had a better shot against 50 Cent. But Em still rose to the occasion, respondingto the bait on “Like Toy Soldiers,” where he recounts the amnesty between himself and the rapper/editor (“I heard him say Hailie’s name on a song and I just lost it,” Slim explains). Em took the final verse to be the better man and walk away from the feud, but the fact that he even acknowledged that there was a feud there was extremely discouraging, as this seemed to signify the beginning of Marshall’s Scarface period–paranoid, seeing threats from every possible corner, and (possibly) coked out and lusting after his sister.
  • June 7, 2005: Releases “Ass Like That.” I don’t even know where to begin. He lusts after JoJo. He mocks Pee Wee Herman (again). He uses the word “pee-pee” (or “slinky,” depending on what medium you’re hearing the song) in the hook. He quotes Arnold Schwarzeneggar for no reason. He raps the entire song from the perspective of Triumph the Insult Dog–replete with mock accent. And to cap it all off, he gets the Crank Yankers assholes to do the video. If you wanted to look at one moment in Em’s career as the official Jump The Shark moment–the moment from which there was absolutely no coming back–it’d have to be this one.
  • January 3, 2006: Releases “Shake That” from Curtain Call. Bad enough that Em was already releasing a Greatest Hits album–nothing says “my career isn’t over yet” like releasing a pointless hits comp less than a decade into your career–but a basic, run-of-the-mill strip club anthem as the hit single? Really? I mean, normally any strip club anthem with Nate Dogg singing the hook is a positive cause for celebration, but coming from Eminem, it just felt off-puttingly rote. A half-decade prior, an Eminem song about a strip club would either involve him getting arrested for exposing himself to a dancer onstage at one, taking a girl to one on a date just to see her reaction, or burning the place down because why the fuck not. You knew he could be doing so much more, and it was infuriating to watch him go through the motions like this. (Side note: “When I’m Gone,” the unfathomably overwrought other single from Curtain Call, was arguably even worse.)
  • January 16, 2006: Marries Kimberly Anne Scott for the Second Time. Uh, what?? The same Kim from, uh, “Kim”? You’d think that after a man cuts your throat and stuffs you in a trunk on record, you’re pretty well purged from his life, but evidently Slim still carried a torch for his ex-wife, and remarried her for all of 82 days in the winter of 2006. It’s hard to explain why this was upsetting, but I guess you could say that it made the vitriol of those early kiss/kill-offs seem retroactively inauthentic. I think they might ahve even gotten engaged a third time after that, officially reducing Marshall Mathers to being a character on Sex and the Trailer Park.
  • August 16, 2006: Appears on Akon’s “Smack That”. Arguably the worst single of 2006, “Smack That” certainly didn’t need Eminem’s help to make it a low point in 00s pop, but he showed up anyway to deliver a miserable, almost surreally phoned-in verse to punctuate the insult. “Shake That” was boring (and similar) enough, but Em seemed determined here to deliver a verse that was as replacement-level as Tim Thomas, sucked completely dry of any of the humor, originality, or even the unhinged craziness that made Eminem so irresistible earlier in his career. This is what he had been reduced to–a completely unemorable 12-bar-for-hire. The fact that it came as the first we’d heard from Eminem since his initial maybe-retirement seemed like a double nail in his coffin.
  • February 21, 2009: Tops the Charts With “Crack a Bottle”. After three years of being almost completely out of the limelight, I was willing to give Eminem one more chance to redeem himself with “Crack a Bottle,” the non-official-single which nonetheless topped the US pop charts on the strength of nearly a half-million digital sales. Needless to say, my faith was not rewarded, as the song was another snoozer of a party anthem, with a non-sensical chorus to boot (“Don’t be a sloppy model / you just won the lotto”???) It even lied on the crutch of guest appearances from 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, neither of which are really the kind of rappers you want if you’re trying to take your comeback song to the next level. Mostly, I had just wanted it to be about something–anything, of minor or major importance–and was very disappointed to find yet another Em effort with no purpose whatsoever. Of course, after seeing “We Made You,” maybe writing about something isn’t the best idea either anymore.

Understand it all a little bit better now? I wish I did.

Posted in Listeria | 9 Comments »

Songs We Take For Granted / Listeria: The Top Ten Things About Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 21, 2009

Son of a gun…

Usually, if an artist has made three separate songs, years apart, that you would consider classics, close to being among your all-time favorites, it would only tend to follow that you would consider them one of your favorite artists as well. Remarkably, even though I wouldn’t even know to say that I like her as an artist–“Mockingbird” and “Jesse,” at the very least, are among the worst songs I’ve ever heard–Carly Simon has accomplished this feat with me. There’s 1982’s hugely underrated “Why?,” which I’ve already expounded upon at great lengths elsewhere on this blog, 1977’s “Nobody Does It Better,” up there with “A View to a Kill” and “Goldfinger” in the Bond canon, and though it took me forever to realize its greatness, 1973’s “You’re So Vain.” (There’s also a fourth if you count Will Powers’ must-be-heard-to-be-believed lost 1983 classic “Kissing With Confidence,” which featured Simon uncredited on vocals and really deserves to get its own entry on this blog some day).

Lately, I’ve been moderately infatuated with “You’re So Vain.” It’s sort of hard to articulate why, so rather, I’m going to break it down to the ten things that most make it the gloriously bitter, time-stamped, self-loathing, heartbreaking classic I now believe it to be.

10. “You walked into the party / Like you were walking onto a yacht.” As far as opening lines on #1 hits go, I’d say this is a fairly enigmatic one. Besides, never having been on a yacht (or a witness to others on one) myself, I’m not even quite sure I know what one looks like when they walk onto one. Nonetheless, the line perfectly sets up the rest of the song, establishing the setting (the jet set crew of the 70s), the subject matter (an entitled ex of some sort) and the tone (very, very bitter). It also sets up the rhyme use of the word “gavotte” later in the verse (n. 1. A French peasant dance of Baroque origin in moderately quick duple meter, 2. Music for this dance.), quite possibly the only time you’ll hear the word on classic rock radio (outside of KISS’s “Detroit Rock City,” anyway).

9. The acknowledgement of deed in the 2nd verse. It’s not until verse two of “You’re SO Vain” that Simon admits her one-time relation to the subject in question, and even then, only with great reservation (“You had me several years ago/ When I was still quite naive”). It’s a sign of a genuinely spiteful love song when the singer clearly has to admit that hey, yeah, there was a time when I really dug this person, but only does so at the last second and under extreme duress, not wanting to give the ex the satisfaction of admitting to the world that they loved/screwed them at least at one point. With that in mind, the explanation of the split–“You gave awaythe things you loved / and one of them was me”–is even more of a killer.

8. The voice tremble on “pretty pair.” Possibly not even intentional, but on that second verse, when Simon sings “Well you said that we made such a pretty pair,” her voice quakes somewhat at the “pretty pair” part, a perfect example of the caustic edge brought on by all the brilliant little details in this song, a deeply-imbued seething that seems completely unforced. That, or it’s just the natural hoarseness of Simon’s voice coming out, but cool either way.

7. The widespread musical influence. “You’re So Vain” is almost unparalleled in the range of artists whose music it has gone on to touch–in terms of covers and direct references, if not in subtler artistic ways. Covered by both showbiz diva Liza Minelli and scuzzy hair metallers Faster Pussycat, interpolated into hits by both Janet Jackson (“Son of a Gun (Betcha Think This Song is About You“), a moderately-successful attempt to recapture the Joni Mitchell magic of “Got Til It’s Gone”) and Nine Inch Nails” (“Starfuckers, Inc.,” you were just a little too a head of your time), even working its way into the ouvres of indie darlings Mountain Goats and Andrew Bird…considering that the song is neither a mainstay of Greatest Song Ever lists or a kitschy piece of retro nostalgia, its endurance has been extremely impressive.

6. “Well I hear you went up to Saratoga / and your horse naturally won / Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia / To see the total eclipse of the sun” Dear lord, could you cram any more rich scumbag signifiers into one couplet of pop vocals? It’s all almost too vivid–good thing she saves it for the song’s last verse, or we might be too nauseated to listen to the whole thing.

5. Mick Jagger on backing vocals. I don’t even know how long it took me to notice these, or if I read about them first, or what, but yeah, that’s Mick singing with Carly on the “don’t you, don’t you, dooooon’t yoouuuuuuu???“s that provide the back end of the song’s titanic chorus hook. Would they be as meaningful if it was someone besides the Rolling Stones lead singer–himself rumored at one point to the subject matter of the song–singing the parts? I dunno, but I definitely fixate on them now whenever I listen to it. Oh, and speaking of which…

4. The conspiracy theories. In the annals of rock history, “You’re So Vain” is rivaled only by Alanis Morissette’s far inferior “You Oughta Know” for notoriously mysterious subject matter. Which member of the “Me” decade is it about? Mick? James Taylor? Warren Beaty? You can read about all the clues and theories on the song’s impressively detailed Wikipedia page, but all I know–when you can auction off your musical secrets for up to $50,0o0, you’re probably something of a success in this world.

3. The Intro. I simply can’t get over how amazing the introduction to this song is. Partly, it’s because for the longest time I couldn’t remember its existence. Maybe they used to cut it on the radio when I was a kid, but as recently as a year or two ago, I would hear those creepy opening bass rumbles, disembodied guitar chords and stray piano notes and Simon’s barely audible “Son of a gun!” whisper and think “what the fuck is this song?” (right up until Simon’s wail finally entered and the wave of familiarity hit). Musically, it has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the song, and after Simon comes in, you never hear that rumbling again. But wow, what a cool thirty seconds of weirdy weirdness to just tack on to the beginning of your big pop song–predating Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by almost three decades. You probably don’t even remember what I’m talking about, do you? Listen to it, really.

2. The windup. You can’t just jump into a great chorus–or, you can, but you’re doing your listeners a disservice by just thwacking them over the head with it without giving them any kind of fair warning. That’s why it’s so important that “You’re So Vain” take the time to gear listeners up for the big one, with each verse coming to a close by Simon repeating the same end phrase with increasing intensity as the music crescendoes in the background (“I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee, CLOUDS IN MY COFFEE, AANNNND…”) The “and” might ultimately be the most important part of the pre-chorus, as the way her voice slides down on it basically drops her right at the beginning of the hook, making the transition utterly seamless. You have to be careful with these things, folks–leave it up to pros like Carly.

1. “You’re so vain / You probably think this song is about you.” You’ve heard it so many times, in so many different settings, now, that you probably never take the time to actually think about what a fucking ingenious line this really is. I mean, yeah, on the surface, it might be a bad joke–of course, the song is about “you,” so how can Carly call “you” for thinking that–but the implications of that are fairly vast. Truth of the matter is, when you hate a person–especially when you used to like, or even love them–you spend way too much time thinking about them, thus likely continuing to feed the very things about them (arrogance, namely) that so turned you off. And when you rant about how terrible they are, generally, it makes you look a lot worse–hung up, deluded, sad–than them.  It’s a bad joke, but it’s one that Simon as a songwriter is almost definitely in on, and one that encapsulates the entire song in its bitterness, obsession and patheticness. And hey, it earned her 50 grand, at least.

Posted in Listeria, Songs We Take for Granted | 3 Comments »

Listeria / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Top Ten Stories of All-Star Weekend

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 16, 2009

Only shooting stars break the mold

asg

Last year, I was visiting a friend of mine at Vassar for almost the entirety of All-Star Weekend, consequently, I missed everything but the game itself, which was slightly underwhelming. Determined not to let that happen again, and with new DV-R in tow, I watched just about everything that could possibly have to do with the weekend this year, as well as a half-dozen old all-star games and about as many old slam dunk contests on NBA TV. Because after all, who needs Valentine’s Day when you can watch Jason Kapono going for a Three-Point Threepeat? With that in mind, my ten favorite subplots of a very entertaining weekend of basketball and basketball-affiliated product:

1o. Terrell Owens: The Michael Jordan of the All-Star/Celebrity Game. Man am I glad I remembered to tape this freak show–a fascinating mix of decades-past-their-prime stars, WNBA players, second-tier celebrities and Harlem Globetrotters. In between Michael Rappaport hacking everyone in sight, Chris Tucker hoisting up ten-feet-wide airball threes, and Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins rimming dunks and blowing easy layups, the one legitimately impressive sight of the evening was TO, who somehow seems far more natural as a baller than as a receiver. On his way to a second consecutive All-Star/Celebrity Game MVP, he hit a three, showed a surprisingly fluid mid-range game, and even skied for an alley-oop throwdown from ‘Nique. It was surprisingly fun to watch–although I was getting legitimately peeved at those fucking showboating Globetrotters, wishing they’d just take the game a little more seriously.

9. The Non-Folly of Youth. What’s with all the dour-looking young’ns these days? I thought the kids were supposed to be all about egos and trash-talking and giddy excitement–most of these guys don’t even look like they have a pulse. Bulls rook Derrick Rose was absolutley stunning in his grace as he picked up apart the course at the Skills challenge, but he executed the whole thing as if it was some Phys Ed exam that he wished he had the foresight to skip out on while he had the chance. OJ Mayo hit some pretty impressive shots in the HORSE(/GEICO) game, but did so with absolutely no enthusiasm and only the very minimum of swagger. Throughout the Rookie / Sophomore game, Michael Beasley’s old-fashioned me-first, ball-hogging was almost a breath of fresh air, a rare example of bonafide immaturity in a land of premature middle-agedom. C’mon guys–I know there’s pressure not to act like idiots and all, but the fogies shouldn’t be allowed to have all of the fun.

8. The Return of LeBrick James. Nothing fills my heart with pure bilious joy as much as seeing The King get dethroned, however temporarily, and his performance in the All-Star Game was pretty unexemplary. Not that his stat line (8-19 for 20, a couple rebounds and assists) was all that horrific, but all of his Big Moments–namely, his Big Dunk Attempts–fell stupifyingly flat. For a man whose every move appears to be calculated down to sub-atomic levels, it was pretty something to see LeBron throw backboard alley-oops to himself that he could barely even catch, let alone finish–Bron-Bron doesn’t always do everything right, but it’s pretty fucking rare to see him do something so wrong. If this was his audition tape for the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest (which he undercut the final showdown this year like A-Rod interrupting Game Four of the ’07 World Series by announcing his intentions to play in) the NBA might just say “No thanks, we’re sticking with Brandon Bass and Jason Thompson.” Well, maybe not, but you know.

7. “Hey Terry, maybe you should make other plans this weekend…” I can’t help but think of the kids at the Gas n Sip in Say Anything, bemoaning the way Diane dispatched Lloyd–“She broke up with you in your car?? That’s, like, your sanctuary!” The termination of Terry Porter as leader of the increasingly depressing Phoenix Suns (I started re-reading Seven Seconds or Less to wash the taste of the last month out of my mouth) was likely inevitable and very possibly a good thing, as Alvin Gentry sounds determined to get back to the SSOL era–though who knows if that’s even possible this late in the game. But I feel like even his biggest detractors would have to admit that it’s pretty fucking cold to be dismissed in the weekend that your team’s city is hosting All-Star Weekend–like not getting invited to a party going two doors down wear you can hear the music and see the people going in and out, but know that everyone’s hoping that you stay away just the same. Props to Shaq for semi-calling out Sun brass for the classlessness of the move–though, to be fair, I suppose trading Amare while he was repping their team in the All-Star Game would’ve been even tackier.

6. Nate Robinson: God Among Midgets. A megafan of Nate’s since his forty-point game against the Blazers last year (which I keep mentioning in the hopes that someone else will remember this and confirm that it was in fact the weirdest thing ever), I had high hopes for his ability to bring the noise and/or the funk in the slam-dunk contest against heavy favorite D-12 this year. A couple of his early dunks were not terribly outstanding–few of the candidates’ were, truthfully, though Dwight’s 12-footer was at least pretty creative–but man, did Mightiest Mouse bring out the theatrical in that second round, rocking the all-green Knicks uni with matching sneakers, providing the kryptonite to Howard’s Superman (and yes, I did need Reggie Miller and his endless “LEX LUTHOR IS IN THE BUILDING!!!!” cries to explain that to me). And while he needed a lot of good sportsmanship and a little ducking from the seven-footer to perform his now-trademark dunk of skying over the big man, it was pretty fucking amazing that he got as close as he did. I’m pulling for you next year, Lex. (I personally prefer Krypto-Nate, though–guess we’ll leave this one up to Clyde Frazier and Mike Breen).

5. The Unceasing Anonymity of Joe Johnson. At this point, Joe Johnson seems positively destined to go down in history to be the best player of his generation to leave no legacy whatsoever. Now a three-time all-star, and a consensus pick for the most underrated player in the league (thus making him slightly overrated, naturally), Joe has nonetheless been cursed with an unassuming name, an unremarkable visage, a style with no immediately identifiable trademarks, and teams neither extraordinary or awful enough to make much of an impression (aside from his limited time with the D’Antoni Suns, for whom he was still sidelined with injury during their most definitive hour). It seemed like Joe’s career might finally have been making the next step, with the Hawks’ hot start and his consistent All-Star respect (including inclusion in the HORSE/GEICO game this year). But the Hawks have started to cool, and Joe failed to make an impression again this All-Star weekend, getting clowned in HORSE and going 0-4 to be the only All-Star left scorless in the main event. Sorry, Joe–ex-Hawks Glenn Robinson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim probably understand, at least.

4. JABBAWOCKEEZ. I sent a text message to friend of IITS Kyle “K-Mac” McFarren on Friday to the effect of “Who the fuck are those dancing mime dudes?” Forgive me, America, for I did not watch America’s Best Dance Crew, and was thus unfamiliar with the masked prancers who appeared in those weird Gatorade commercials, apparently placing them on the same level of excellence and dominance as Usain Bolt and Tiger Woods. But thanks to the All-Star Game, I now know to identify them as JabbaWockeeZ, apparently the hottest dance crew since Omarion and Marques Houston hung up their sneakers a half-decade ago. Not only did they accompany the all-star introductions with their choreographed bits, they also can now claim Shaquille O’Neal as an honorary member, as the Big Cactus came out wearing their mask and appeared in the middle of the cipher for a couple minutes of surprisingly fluid popping and locking, now referring to himself as “The Big JABBAWOCKEE.” Can’t say that I saw this coming, but then again, I wouldn’t have picked Kevin Rudolff’s “Let it Rock” to become the new “Eye of the Tiger” either.

3. A.I.: SAMPSON’D. I’m blown away after only watching the guy for about a year and a half, I can’t even imagine what it must feel like for fans that have been watching this guy since his Georgetown days. Responding to pressure from his kids and their mother, Allen Iverson took the ASW as an opportunity to lop off his trademark braids, echoing a similar step taken by then-teammate Carmelo Anthony at the beginning of the season. With AI doing it, though, it really feels like the end of an era–Iverson was sort of the last man standing from the Dreadlocked Age, with Latrell Spreewell out of the game and Jermaine O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace and then ‘Melo all Undoing the ‘Do. It’s sad to see AI give up his roots, but it certainly seems like the time had come. Will it help out his play in Detroit? Well, you gotta try something, I guess…

2. The Kevin Durant Debutant Ball. Possibly the biggest star of the whole weekend was already done playing by Saturday at sundown. There’s no question that the most indelible impression made by anyone these last three days was made by Kevin Durant, the second year player denied an All-Star berth despite a 26 ppg average (hey, when you have a slot to give David West for being injured and getting open shots from Chris Paul, you gotta give it to him), who took out his frustrations on the Rookie-Sophomore game, where he scored 46 points for the Sophs, crushing the previous record for the game of 36. And if that wasn’t enough, he engineered a brilliant come-from-behind victory–albeit one mostly centered around his ability to make simple corner threes–in the HORSE/GEICO competition, earning an early G-E-I-C, but catching fire and torching his two opponents before they could hang that final O on him. If you weren’t on the watch for any Thunder game you can find on your satellite dial–and really, there’s been no team more fun to watch since the new year–you really gotta be now. This might be the last ASG in a decade to be Durantless.

1. Feel the Love. Apparently, the weekend colliding with Valentine’s Day wasn’t a coincidence after all–there was such an outpouring of love and general positive vibrations this weekend that it’s remarkable that Kenny Smith and Doug Collins didn’t start making out during one of their broadcasts. It’s not just the Dreadlock Era that ended this weekend, it’s the Age of Bad Feelings–with a star nucleus of Kobe, LeBron, Dwight, D-Wade and CP3 (all friends from Beijing and all largely agreeable fellows) now effectively being the embassadors of the league, the NBA’s long-feared “image problem” has gone the way of Steve Francis. There’s no Jail Blazers to be found in these festivities, no Ron Artest, no JO or J-Ho or other such unsavories. The closest thing to an early-00s scowler to be found in these proceedings is Amare, who felt distinctly like an outsider for the game, like a bad kid forced to spend detention in a Youth Group meeting. Perfectly symbolizing the NBA’s new DAISY Age were the co-MVPs, Shaq and Kobe, whose reconciliation–seeming at least semi-genuine this time–appeared to close the books on one of the great Age of Bad Feelings stories, a bitter, venomous rivalry that simply has no place among the modern-day league’s central ideals of maturity, team play and civic responsibility. To put it simply, it’s not cool to be a badass in the NBA anymore. May you live in interesting times, IITS readers…

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Listeria: The Top Ten Scenes from Marley & Me (I Hope)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 29, 2008

Mar-LEY!

marley-and-me

To be perfectly clear on this: I do not care for dogs. Not even a little. The way they smell, the way they yip, the way they have no concept of personal space, the way most of ’em could probably kick my ass if they wanted to–just an all-around unfan of the species. It might mean I’m not a real man, it probably means that I’m dead inside, and it almost definitely means that if I was ever in trouble down at the old mill, Lassie wouldn’t lift paw one to save me. Regardless , I prefer the cold, independent, mutual respect of cats to the disturbingly subservient dynamic of a dog-human relationship.

That said, I find myself utterly hypnotized by recent ads for Marley & Me. It just doesn’t make sense that they would make such a big-budget movie–a Christmas-weekend blockbuster-to-be, and one that seems geared towards adults, no less–out of the antics of a disobedient pooch (I mean, I loved Beethoven as much as anyone, but they really seem to be swinging for the fences here). I know people love dogs, I know the book was a best-seller…but really, do people actually want to see a movie with 90 minutes’ worth of “Boy, Marley, you sure are the world’s worst dog!!” type jokes?

The answer of course is yes, and in fact I even count myself among their number. It’s rare you get a comedy so unabashedly corny these days, one so willing to court mawkish sentimentality and cliche without so much as an aging-in-reverse gimmick as a hook. And it’s even rarer when you get a movie whose preview actually has a clip of the two protagonists chasing their dog around a big-league stadium (uh-oh!!) I don’t imagine I’ll end up seeing it in the theaters, but that doesn’t matter, since I’ve already watched the entire movie in my head. With that in mind, here are (what I imagine) the top ten scenes from Marley & Me to be:

10. As Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston pick Marley up from the pound, they walk down the hall in slow motion, whiel “O Fortuna!” or something equally fire-and-brimstoney plays in the background. As they approach his cage, the pound lady yells out “Hey Marley, we finally found a family crazy enough to take ya!” The camera slowly pans up Marley’s body to his evil, half-open eyes. He looks at Owen and Jen, shrugs, and turns back around, unimpressed.

9. Owen and Jen take Marley out for a walk in a dog park, and see Marley get visibly excited at the sight of a frilly-loooking femmedog. “Awww, he’s in love!” Jen coos. Marley quickly puts this theory to bed by growling at the bitch and attacking its  jugular, resulting in the two getting a lifetime ban from the park. (“MAR-LEY!)”

8. Owen and Jen try to be “intimate” for the first time since acquiring their new bundle of love. Partway through, they hear a loud thump sound from downstairs. “Should we check on it?” asks Jen. “No, no, I’m sure it’s fine,” responds Owen. “We’ll check on him after.” They then hear the sound of breaking glass, followed by an alarm going off, followed by a loud wail coming from their neighbor’s house. Jen and Owen look at each other, stunned, then stimultaneously bury their heads in their pillows.

7. Owen is watching TV with Marley on a lazy sunday. As he flips channels,  he comes past The Aristocats, sending a previously docile Marley into a stark-raving fury. Marley pounces on the TV, knocking over the cable box and breaking it, then chewing through all of its cables just to be on the safe side. (MAR-LEY!)”

6. Jen makes Marley a cute little doggy t-shirt that says “I got my looks from my mommy” on it. Marley takes one look at it, squints at Jen, and bites the shirt out of her hand, tearing it to complete shreds in a matter of seconds. Jen collapses on the couch in shock and then sobs quietly.

5. Owen and Jen decide they need a break, and hire a seen-it-all babysitter to keep an eye on Marley while they’re out to a nice dinner. They come back to find the babysitter on their front porch, frazzled and chain-smoking furiously. “That dog is sick, man! SICK!” she shrieks at Owen and Jen. “Hey, sorry. We’ll take him to the vet before next time,” Owen promises. The baby-sitter stares back with a look of terror and disbelief that says no way in hell will there possibly be a next time. “He doesn’t need a vet. HE NEEDS A FREAKING EXORCIST!!!!!

4. Starting to groove a little bit with his new Best Friend, Owen puts on a copy of Doggystyle in his car stereo while driving with Marley. Eventually he gets to “What’s My Name,” and Marley starts to start to sing along with the chorus: “Bark–Bark–Bark–Baaaaa-aaaaaa-arrrrrkkkk!!!!!

3. Marley plays something jazzy on the piano while wearing sunglasses. I haven’t quite worked out the details to this one yet but I’m positive that it happens at least once.

2. After Owen has a long period of bonding with Marley–much to the annoyance of Jen, to whom Marley is still fairly cold–Jen confronts Owen, yelling at him (in front of Marley) “You know, sometimes I think you care more about that damn dog than you do about me!” Owen tries to assuage her fears, saying “Baby, no, of course I don’t–” He glances at Marley, who is starting to eye him angrily. “Seriously, come on, how could you think that–” Glances back at Marley, who is now giving him a puppy-ish pout. “I mean, uh…” Jen throws up her arms and storms out of the room. After watching her leave, speechless, he goes over to Marley and rubs his coat a couple times. “I know, buddy, I know…”

1. After having officially won over both Owen and Jen, Marley is now lying peacefully in the back seat of the two’s car as they had off as a family for a nice weekend at the beach. As the strains of light MOR rock raise in the background, Marley turns to face in the camera, and says (in the voice of Dennis Leary): “See? I told you they were trainable!” The car speeds off into the horizon, and roll credits.

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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.

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