Ciao D’Antoni

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s time for Mike D’Antoni to go.

This is not just a reaction to the Knicks’ embarrassing performance in Game 3 against the Celtics –when Bill Walker is your best player you are not going to win in the playoffs– but rather a qualitative assessment of his tenure with the team and in the league. The fact of the matter is New York will not win a championship under his stewardship, and pretending otherwise is a waste of time a franchise that has not won a playoff game in over a decade, and a championship in almost 40 years can afford.

This is nothing any attentive basketball fan didn’t know when he was hired. Even coaching the Suns, the “gentleman thief” could best be described as the Mike Martz of basketball. His offensive philosophy put up points in bunches, and with Steve Nash running the show was certainly a thing of beauty. However his inability or unwillingness to focus the same energy on coaching defense, and more importantly demanding effort on that end ultimately doomed Phoenix’s title chances and has hindered the Knicks’ as well (not that they were a particularly willing bunch to start with).

We knew all this going in, so this isn’t a case of buyer’s remorse; Mike D’Antoni was who we thought he was! No reasonable Knicks fan believed he would lead us to the promised land. At the time, our hope was that the lure of playing in his offense would persuade a big free agent (read; Lebron James) to come to New York and rescue the once proud franchise from the nightmare of the Isiah Thomas era. The day he was signed there were even pipe dreams of winning the lottery and drafting Derrick Rose, and look what Chicago has done with Rose and the right coach. Read more…

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Greg Gumbel’s Toupee: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Bracket

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Seriously it hasn't changed in 30 years...


It’s finally here.

I’m one of those people who will tell you that March Madness, from Championship Week to ‘One Shining Moment’, is the greatest time of the year. It combines the water cooler event status of the Super Bowl, with the edge-of-your-seat intensity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all the while managing to crown a true champion (further embarrassing the BCS). It is the tournament that gives us ‘glass slipper’ Cinderellas, ‘David vs. Goliath’ and Gus Johnson unchained. It’s the only way most of America will remember Northern Iowa or IUPUI, and turns 19 year-olds into immortals forever.

It’s also the time of year that billions are lost in productivity, as America falls victim to the quest for a perfect bracket. I’m one of those people who year after year enters the office pool, studiously pours over the teams and match-ups only to lose to Janet from accounting who picked Duke because it was her dog’s name.

As much as we celebrate the uncertainty of the big dance, and as irrational as it was, it used to drive me crazy. How could I finish behind my buddy Rubin every time? Intellectualizing the situation offered no consolation, until finally I stopped trying. Read more…

Stat and Melo… Finally

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

StatMelo

I’ve been waiting for this day for eight long years.

I can still remember Carmelo Anthony’s first game in the Garden, his debut for Syracuse as a freshman against Memphis. With the great ones you can always tell from the jump and Melo was no different, putting up 27 points and 11 rebounds in the opener of a legendary freshman campaign that would end with him (and Gerry McNamara) leading the Orangemen to their long awaited National Championship in 2003.

As an 18 year-old freshman, he dominated the college ranks with a silky smooth game reminiscent of his idol Bernard King. There is a beauty and elegance to basketball played at the highest level; it transcends sport and becomes almost operatic. Five parts running in motion feeding off of each other’s every step, each dribble giving birth to an act of creation, and the supremely talented offensive player serves as the maestro building the pace. As one of the game’s best pure scorers Carmelo is a master of the highest order, and has been since he announced himself to the grand stage.  There’s a reason I’ve been trading him to the Knicks every year since Live 2004. That my favorite non-Knick is finally back on my team is the happiest thought I’ve had as a fan in years.

Amar’e Stoudemire on the other hand should have been a Knick from the start. While Carmelo (and Lebron and Wade) were clearly going to be drafted well before the Knicks slot in the 2003 draft, a year earlier Amar’e was on the board while the Knicks made another of the franchise crippling trades that characterized the post-Ewing era. Instead of taking Stoudemire, New York traded out of the 7th spot in an ill-fated deal, incidentally with Denver again, for Antonio McDyess and the immortal Frank Williams. At the time I was so upset I yelled to the heavens on my geocities page (yes, that long ago) berating them for not taking the next Kevin Garnett. In retrospect the trade is even more indefensible. The Scott Layden, and later Isiah Thomas-eras were fraught with that kind of mismanagement and maddening decisions that  drove many a Knicks’ fan to the bottle. All it’s taken however is two-and-a-half years of Donnie Walsh, and basketball is back in the Mecca.

Knicksfans

 

Does this trade guarantee the Knicks a championship? Of course not. Already there have been opponents to the trade claiming that the Knicks gave up too much to Denver and that Melo and Stoudemire can’t co-exist within the offense. Oh you sad, doubting motherfuckers and Dallas Mavericks fans. The Knicks are better as a team and a franchise after making this trade point-blank, period. But since there are those who can’t let me have one day to enjoy trading for a 26 year-old forward who’s one of the top 5 scorers in the league let me talk some sense into you. Read more…

Review: The American

September 13, 2010 1 comment

The American

George Clooney’s latest star vehicle The American directed by Anton Corbijn, serves as a fitting end to the disappointing 2010 summer movie season. Despite a promising approach, it is hamstrung by overused and trite story elements that blend into a technically competent yet hollow product.

Clooney stars as Jack, a particularly dour assassin forced to go into hiding after his cover is blown during a previous mission. He is able to get in touch with his superior, Pavel (Johan Leysen) who sets him up in a small village in the classically cinematic Abruzzo region of Italy, so he can work on a secondary assignment until the heat dies down. Both men have an understanding that this will be Jack’s last job, as he is troubled by both the nature of his work and the lack of trust implicit in it. In his downtime blending into the scenery, he makes the acquaintance of the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and frequents a brothel focusing his attention on the beautiful Clara (Violante Placido).

 

Jack is assigned to build a specially made weapon for the mysterious Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). The two are not that dissimilar with their somber, business-like demeanor and skilled detachment to their work. The scenes of Clooney’s craftsmanship in assembling the weapon for Mathilde are the strongest in the film and are well served; as it turns out he may not be as safe and secluded as he had hoped. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Jack might not be the only one still harboring a secret.

 

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because these are the same hackneyed plot points inserted into countless other entries in the genre. This could be overlooked if there were some degree of inventiveness in how these well-worn beats are handled, but that is not the case here. The story unfolds almost wholly as you would expect and the climax is muted by predictability. The subplot with Father Benedetto is entirely superfluous and distracting at best even in the moment. Jack’s relationships with Clara and Mathilde are too stilted and uneven to earn the place they go to in the final act, and without them the film’s payoff is negligible.

 

Ultimately, The American’s greatest failure is its deliberately impenetrable star. At the end of the film you know just as much about Jack as you did in the beginning, and care about him even less. Ambiguity and restraint are storytelling devices that too often go unused, but in a project that is so dependent on its lead, the audience needs a reason to commit. By stubbornly withholding anything but the barest of emotion, the story is resigned to simplifying too familiar tropes to get the audience to connect. Clooney does a solid job of managing to keep you curious, if not fully invested; but the lack of worthy supporting characters or a more meaningful story holds back any chance he had of trying to carry this film. Read more…

A Look Back… D2: The Mighty Ducks

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

In the midst of the World Cup, and the United States’ upcoming invasion of Mali, it’s as good a time as any to revisit D2: The Mighty Ducks and the site of ‘The Miracle on Ice’ for my generation; the 1994 Junior Goodwill games. Truly a seminal film, its legacy can still be felt today. I bet you didn’t even know you hated Iceland until this movie was released and taught us how terrible they were. The Ducks got their own Stanley Cup winning NHL team named after them. We’re talking about a movie that did more to make hockey popular in the U.S. than Wayne Gretzky ever could.

This isn’t a review of the film in a conventional sense as we’ve already established D2 as an American classic; but re-watching the film as an adult did raise some questions that I apparently missed growing up.


1. Who is running Hendrix Hockey, and why have they not been fired?

The only representative of Hendrix we meet is Don Tibbles, a buffoonish character who operates with impunity. His first action on-screen is to hire Gordon Bombay on the basis of one peewee hockey championship and the prodding of an old, Norwegian hockey equipment retailer in Minnesota. Then there’s the whole side story about Hendrix having a vested interest in Team USA winning the gold medal, based on all the money they are throwing the coach’s way, including endorsement deals and his own line of high-class loafers (The Air Bombay).

I thought about it and I can’t come close to naming a single amateur coach in any sport, so I’m not  sure exactly what market they were looking to tap into. Couple that with the fact that we know at the very least Coach Bombay was pulling down a hefty salary, there was that rented apartment in Malibu, and Hendrix threw enough money at General Mills to get a Wheaties box in the teams honor. What kind of payoff were they realistically expecting? Since he’s the only suit we ever see, Tibbles may have indeed been the company’s CEO, but there’s no way they wouldn’t have gone bankrupt by then.

2. How did Trinidad make it into the field?

No mismatch here.

Coming off of the success of Cool Runnings, Disney just decided to run with the whole ‘Caribbean nation playing winter sports’ angle. They even went so far as to feature the matchup on the film’s cover art. I guess they overestimated the regional impact of bobsledding. Still, at least Trinidad managed to score against the U.S., which is more than can be said about Italy. Really, 11-0? There isn’t a mercy rule in the Goodwill Games?

More to the point, why were Trinidad and Italy the featured preliminary games? For years, I thought Canada was completely absent from the tournament until further research proved otherwise. It turns out U.S. even played both Canada and the Russian team that managed to beat Iceland in the quarterfinals. Sure these movies weren’t really about the hockey, but if you ask a 10 year-old which countries love hockey, Trinidad and Tobago don’t even make it into the conversation. And that whole Black roller hockey team in South Central L.A. interlude? Really?

3. Is Coach Stansson the greatest villain ever in a kid’s movie?

I do more than sweep the leg.

Let’s start with the name, Wolf ‘The Dentist’ Stansson. He doesn’t need to say a word and his badass credentials have been established. He makes his introduction by breaking into Coach Bombay’s press conference to trash talk his competition… at the Junior GOODWILL Games. He then goes on to mock Bombay’s dead father, encourage his players to injure the much smaller Ducks, and even takes out the Minnesota Miracle Man with a hockey stick. Plus, he pulls off the whole sneering, smarmy European stereotype so well.

With all due respect to the Cobra Kai and the legend of Zabka, I say yes.

4. Greenland is covered with ice, and Iceland is very nice.

There’s not even a question there, It’s just one of the many helpful teaching moments Disney threw in the film along the way. Also, ice cream dates are always a good idea.

Team USA… bigger than the MLB Strike in ’94

5. Nobody notices Keenan (Russ Tyler) changing uniforms and pads with Goldberg? Read more…

The Kid Says Goodbye

June 2, 2010 1 comment

I have a confession to make.

Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player growing up. Yes, despite being a Yankees fan and having Don Mattingly, and a young Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, the man who Sports Illustrated dubbed a Yankee Killer in 1995, stole my heart and nearly drove me to sports bigamy. As a 9-year old at my family reunion, I even went so far as to emulate his slide on the game-winning run that had knocked my Yanks out of the ALDS and left me crushed just an October ago.

Griffey, and his majestic swing led a generation of precocious peewee outfielders, myself included, to add a jerky chicken-wing motion to their batting stances. It was the man they called ‘Junior’ who inspired legions of kids to play with a reckless abandon sorely missing from the sport, and reminded us all of how much fun the game of baseball could be.

Most accounts will report the numbers he left behind as proof of his impact on the game, and they are truly staggering: 630 home runs (5th all-time), a 13-time All-Star and 11 Gold Gloves. As impressive as those numbers are they do not begin to his career justice. He was the greatest player of his generation, and probably the best in baseball since Willie Mays. In 1999, you wouldn’t have found anyone who didn’t think Griffey would eventually own the all-time Home Run record, as well as going down as one of the great defensive players to lace them up. He was the face of a Mariner’s franchise that boasted Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and the criminally underrated Edgar Martinez in their primes, and probably saved baseball in Seattle.

In his last four seasons (1996-99) in Seattle before leaving to play at home in Cincinnati, he averaged .294-52-142.  To put that into context, Mays’ best four-year stretch was .308-47-117. He inspired his own wildly popular baseball video game series for Nintendo, and more than that, made baseball cool again. You can see his imprint in the swagger of C.C. Sabathia, the energy of Torii Hunter, or the awe-inspiring power of Prince Fielder, but to witness that complete package rolled into one man-child was truly once in a lifetime. The fact that he was an African-American star didn’t have the same cultural resonance in baseball then still ripe with Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines et al, but with baseball’s dip in popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, Griffey had as much to do with restoring interest in the game as Cal Ripken, or Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

No, he was never the same player dealing with chronic injuries in the National League, and when he returned to Seattle he was a shell of the former-icon. History will look back on his career as one of the greatest and yet most disappointing. Despite captivating the sport from the day he arrived as a 19-year old prodigy sharing the outfield with his father, for the last decade of his career, it seemed no matter what happened, Griffey could not get out of his own way. He will go down as one of baseball’s greatest What-ifs, despite the fact what he did places him among the game’s immortals. Unlike most of the stars of his era, Ken Griffey Jr. has to this point, remained above the cloud of steroid speculation that plagued the game at the end of the 20th century.

It is regrettable that on a day we should be celebrating and appreciate the breadth of his accomplishments, perhaps for the first time, Junior was upstaged by umpire Jim Joyce and Major League Baseball which stole a perfect game from the record books leaving many wondering what might have been. Instead, one of the game’s greats stepped away from the game with the same sense of poise and respect which defined his career without the fanfare that is so deserved. Here’s to you Ken Griffey Jr., the greatest baseball player I ever saw, and my favorite player of all-time.

Fireside Chats: Cinemablend’s Eric Eisenberg Part 2

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

We pick up with Cinemablend’s Eric Eisenberg for a summer movie blowout. Part 1 is here.
Note: There are very minor spoilers for Iron Man 2 discussed, if you haven’t seen that yet feel free to skip down to the picture of Terrence Howard.


TFTB
: Before we jump into this summer’s slate of blockbusters, I want to spend a minute on Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood for anyone who hasn’t seen those yet. I’ll start with Robin Hood actually. Why would anyone decide that making a prequel that excludes all the good stuff is at all interesting? I’m truly at a loss.

Eric: The tragedy of it is that it appears to be an attempt at creativity that just got out of hand. The Robin Hood story has been told a thousand times and I understand Ridley Scott not wanting to tell it again, but it doesn’t work if you make it as slow as molasses.

TFTB: I was so much more interested when this story was Nottingham and they were focusing on the Sheriff’s perspective. It’s the same type of ego-driven star rewrites that plagued Terminator: Salvation. Still, I suppose they do deserve some points for scope of vision if not execution.

Eric: Agreed, particularly with Russell Crowe in both roles. It would be interesting to map a timeline of where that movie went wrong. I just hope it doesn’t discourage studios or other writers to be creative. There is just way too much “same” in movies these days. I still hold the Disney movie in high regard though.

TFTB: Speaking of, what is your opinion on Iron Man 2, and particularly the criticisms that it sacrificed story in favor of setting up its larger Avengers storyline.

Eric: It’s weird to say, but I feel as though I have a bias in favor of the Avengers stuff. Most people went to go see Iron Man 2 to see just that: more Iron Man, but I went in to watch it as a bridge to the bigger picture and I think most comic fans/regular Marvel movie-goers are doing the same thing. I can totally understand the criticism.

TFTB: I think that’s the biggest problem. If you’re selling it as Tony Stark: Bigger, Badder and Uncut, then that’s what people want to see. From a personal level, I was able to appreciate a lot of the subtler touches they put in expanding the film’s larger universe, but as a stand-alone film the product that was on screen did suffer from those issues, particularly in the first half.

Eric: What they are doing is unprecedented in film, and it needs to be done. I also don’t think that the series has done itself any favors by sticking the fun stuff at the end of the credits. There were plenty of people I talked to in the theater that still had no idea that Samuel L. Jackson was in the first movie, so when he showed up, I would bet that thousands of people went “huh?”. This includes people who own the film on DVD mind you, but there really is no remedy for that unless they start putting it in the promotional materials.

TFTB: It’s just interesting that these films have done so much towards making comic books accessible to a larger public, but at the same time, the divisions in some ways are stronger than ever.

Eric: Exactly. Marvel knows its key audience, but doesn’t seem to know the people it needs to reach out to. Iron Man 2 is a lot more enjoyable if you are willing to put the time in. There’s only so many times that I can explain what a Skrull is.

TFTB: So that explains why War Machine looked different in this one!

Eric: Skrulls?

TFTB: Got to be.

Eric: Congrats, you just lost a huge chunk of your audience.

TFTB: Well that seemed to be more of a problem for Kick-Ass.

Eric: I still don’t understand what happened with Kick-Ass, and I don’t think I ever will.

TFTB: Just looking at this summer, there seem to be a lot of hit or miss projects this year.

Eric: This may put you off, but I think I have to put Inception in that category. I love Christopher Nolan’s films to death, but is everyone going to get that movie?

TFTB: I can’t disagree because I still couldn’t tell you what that movie is about, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to after it’s over, but I have faith in Nolan that it will be a great film even if it doesn’t live up to expectations financially.

Eric: And that comes even after the trailer that supposedly told us what it is about. They just need to put the words “dark” and “knight” in each tv trailer about 70 times  then maybe he can get people hooked.

TFTB: You mean like The Karate Kid? They’re just short of dragging Ralph Macchio out to China and letting him get kicked in the face by Jaden Smith.

Eric: I just hate the idea of Jackie Chan getting old; and I want a Billy Zabka cameo.

TFTB: That’s a must, that and cheesy 80s montage music.

Eric: That’s actually a nice segue into my true feelings about the film. You know an 80s movie when you see it, and The Karate Kid is most certainly an 80s movie, and that is a huge part of its charm. I don’t get any charm out of the new movie.

TFTB: And what about The A-Team? Read more…