Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Oscars According To Solon, 2006 Edition

My good friend Solon is a big time film aficionado, so much so that I always tease him by saying that he refuses to watch any movie that does not end with "fin" across the screen. I actually learned of his movie snobbitude shortly after we met in college when somehow the movie "Big" came up and I commented that I like the movie or thought it was good or something. To call this a big mistake would be a massive understatement. To this day he still snarks about that as in "yeah dude Y Tu Mama Tambien was a really good film. But come on, it's no Big".

Anyhow, every year he sends out an email to all his so called mates where he breaks down the "Big 5" Oscar categories, and this year, with his permission I am sharing it with you. Enjoy.

Greetings all.
Once again, I'm fusing my love of movies with my ability to babble (Babel?), and bringing you my thoughts on the 2006-2007 crop. I'm just glad I am living in Marin County--the only movies I really wanted to see, but didn't, were "Days of Glory," which opens here March 2nd, and "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," which I probably missed earlier this summer. Not too much missed then.
Anyway, I think everyone knows what this is all about; let's hope it's all coherent and credible. Getting right to it then...

(13) UNITED 93

2006 wasn't the best year for movies, but it wasn't the worst, either. None of this year's offerings would be would be in my Top 50, but the top three would be ranked somewhere between #51 and #100 all-time, and the next two would be between #101 and #150, and I could probably go 15-deep with legitimate movies this year. Please note that all of the movies listed below are well worth seeing--any criticisms listed below are only included to draw distinctions between the movies being criticized, and the movies rated above it.

PAN'S LABYRINTH The Spanish Civil War was, by most accounts, very different than any war in Western history up to that time; while it didn't have the carnage of World War One, the ruthlessness and brutality of the warring sides make it, as much as anything else, just an incredibly sad episode in human history. Attempting to make sense of this situation for an adult must have been damn near impossible; I can only imagine what it must have been like for children. Attempting to make a movie that sees the war from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl--one on the verge of becoming an adolescent but still very much a little girl, trying to establish some personal control over the circumstances in which she finds herself--is an audacious move, and Del Toro does it wonderfully. There's nothing wrong with the movie from a straight narrative standpoint, but seen as a psychological study it becomes absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately, the producers will have to make do with the best Foreign-Language film Oscar.

THE DEPARTED At over 2 1/2 hours, this is quite a commitment, but the direction of Scorsese and the editing of Schoonmaker--along with a killer cast--make it all go by quickly. Given the basic framing--mob boss has his gang infiltrated by a cop, while at the same time a cop inside the department is tipping off the mob boss--it would have been very easy for this movie to unravel. But, much like it's inspiration, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, it keeps it all together and delivers big-time (please note that THE DEPARTED is different enough from INFERNAL AFFAIRS that it deserves credit in its own right). There's not a single actor in it that does a bad job, and considering the strong ensemble of players (DiCaprio, Nicholson, Baldwin, Damon, Sheen, Wahlberg, Winstone, et al.), it really is an all-star sort of movie, not unlike an Altman film. While it's not Scorsese's best directing job--really, not even close to his best directing job--it's a worthy addition to his catalogue and an Academy Award for this would certainly not be considered an attempt to right past wrongs.

THE DEAD GIRL Director Karen Moncrieff showed some promise with BLUE CAR, but she has stepped it up with her second film. This film--consisting of five distinct stories about women who are all peripherally connected to a murdered girl found on a hillside--doesn't have a section that lasts longer than 20 minutes, but each of the sections carries enough emotional weight that the collective impact is even more than the sum of its considerably strong parts. It's impossible to say enough about the cast here. Certainly, economy has something to do with it--with one minor exception, no actor is in more than one of the vignettes, so no one's in the movie for more than 20 minutes--but, much like THE DEPARTED, every single person in the movie does a great job. As far as independent films go--and everything about this movie screams "Independent Film"--it's tough to imagine one that is more perfect than this.

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA I wouldn't have guessed it 15 years ago, but Eastwood can make movies. While this movie is getting way too many points for creativity--if I'm not mistaken, DAS BOOT did the same thing just as well (while it was made by Germans, they were West Germans making the movie 40 years after WWII, whose primary purpose was to humanize the soldiers, much like Eastwood set out to do here)--it's still a pretty impressive piece of work. The internal struggle between cultural notions of honor, juxtaposed against the natural human instinct to survive, makes for a compelling narrative. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much of point to the movie, other than to make the movie from the perspective of the "other side"--and even though it's really good, it's a little empty and doesn't measure up to the top 3. That said, if you haven't seen DAS BOOT, you might think it was groundbreaking (no doubt there are other movies of this type, I just can't think of any I've seen at the moment).

VOLVER At some point in the past year, Kanu was over at my house while TODO SOBRE MI MADRE was on IFC, and, at one point, he happened to notice the subtitles and said, "Whoa--that chick just said she had a dick!" My response? "It's Almodovar, dude." Some might disagree, but I believe Almodovar has gotten better as time has gone on, and he doesn't feel the need to shock his audience. Arguably, VOLVER is his straightest story yet; there are supernatural elements, but the intention behind them is sweetness, not shock, and, more than any of his movies, this one has tenderness. While it's probably not as good as HABLE CON ELLA or LA MALA EDUCACION, it's a lot funnier than either. And I can't believe that I hadn't realized before now that Penelope Cruz was put together so well.


Piss-poor, as always.

First things first--at the risk of sounding elitist, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is an overrated piece of rubbish whose nomination is an absolute joke and whose win would be nearly as great a travesty as that of CRASH last year. It's predictable and cliched (the van they were in had mechanical problems, that was such a novel idea), and the ending is, to put it simply, both a bit stupid and a bit ridiculous. I really have no problem with comedies being nominated, as long as they are legitimately worthy of Best-Picture nominations--a few that come to mind off the top of my head are GHOST WORLD and ELECTION--but this movie is not anywhere near their class. I don't even think it's anywhere near the best comedy this year--even if BORAT isn't your cup of tea, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is markedly more clever, and has considerably more depth and profundity than LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

The rest of the lot are fine. BABEL is more a curiosity than anything else; I'm confused as to why the far superior AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS weren't nominated for Best Picture, and now BABEL--which is considerably more tangential and strained, and much less interesting than either of those--is. THE QUEEN is a good movie, although the hype it is receiving seems disproportionate to what it actually deserves. As such--no disrespect intended--I suppose it is a lot like the death of Princess Diana herself.

Only THE DEPARTED and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA would truly be deserving winners.

THE DEPARTED stands to win, but just watch those fuckers give it to LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. None of the others have any shot at all. Well, maybe BABEL does, but I doubt it.

(1) Alfonso Cuaron, CHILDREN OF MEN
(2) Paul Greengrass, UNITED 93
(3) Guillermo del Toro, PAN'S LABYRINTH
(4) Martin Scorsese, THE DEPARTED
(5) Clint Eastwood, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

Although any of the five listed here would have been (or are) worthy nominees, only the top two warrant a win.

Often times, the best directing jobs are not the best movies, and this year is a prime example. Really, without Cuaron's vision, there's not a whole lot to CHILDREN OF MEN, but his direction makes it one of the year's best films. If you had asked me prior to seeing the film to predict what the world would be like in 20 years' time, I'd never have come up with what he has; post-viewing it seems an entirely plausible scenario. While this macro-vision is the movie's strength, there are individual scenes that are brilliant as well; in particular, the one that starts with the flaming car--shot entirely from within the vehicle in which the protagonists are travelling, shot with a 360-degree camera angle--is absolutely remarkable, one of the better movie scenes shot in recent years (to be fair, the final scene of SORRY, HATERS is comparably great, although it was almost certainly not as difficult to make--but it's sure as hell audacious and looks pretty damn cool). This isn't the only great scene in the movie--the opening scene, the battle scene, the scene with Kee and Theo at Bexhill--these are all great scenes as well. In total, it's just incredibly impressive.

Paul Greengrass is one of the more underrated directors today, and I am pleased to see him getting hype for UNITED 93 (which, while a good movie, is not nearly as good as his BLOODY SUNDAY, the best movie of this type and one of the better movies of the last decade). His direction here also is a noteworthy achievement; almost every scene either takes place inside a plane, or in a room with multiple characters--very few of whom are professional actors--having multiple conversations trying to replicate the most chaotic situation in which any of them had ever found themselves. While he takes some feel-good liberties ( e.g., it's highly unlikely that the passengers on the flight ever got inside the cockpit), the fact that it doesn't come off as some B-movie feel-good amateurish rah-rah movie is, in and of itself, pretty remarkable.

While the others all do good jobs, they are helped by external (or internal) factors; del Toro's direction is helped by the incorporation of fantasy elements, Scorsese's is helped by the editing of Schoonmaker (a lock for the editing Oscar, of course--although Cuaron and Rodriguez are nearly as good in CHILDREN OF MEN), and Eastwood is helped by the fact that he is directing a war movie--not easy, but by virtue of their scope they tend to look more impressive than they actually are. This isn't a knock on any of these directors, all of whom had admirable accomplishments--just an explanation for their being rated after Cuaron and Greengrass.


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, BABEL
Martin Scorcese, THE DEPARTED
Stephen Frears, THE QUEEN
Paul Greengrass, UNITED 93

I don't understand how Cuaron was left out and Frears was nominated (and I actually like Frears--but, bloody hell, he's done a lot better job for some of his other movies than he did in THE QUEEN). And, while BABEL's certainly more impressive from a directing standpoint than it is as a movie, but I don't think there's much doubt that they nominated the wrong Mexican director. Other than these, I suppose I can't complain too much.

I've given up on predicting Oscars for Scorsese. But hey, Hitchcock never won, and Kubrick never won, so he's in good company. Inarritu wins for his worst movie yet.

(1) Leonardo DiCaprio, THE DEPARTED
(2) Forest Whitaker, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
(3) Ryan Gosling, HALF NELSON
(4) Leonardo DiCaprio, BLOOD DIAMOND
(5) Sacha Baron Cohen, BORAT

There isn't a whole lot to split the top four performances, any of which would be a deserving winner.

Leonardo DiCaprio is unfairly maligned--probably a product of being in TITANIC--he showed a lot of promise with THIS BOY'S LIFE, and if you follow his career arc since the turn of the century--THE BEACH, GANGS OF NEW YORK, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, and THE AVIATOR--it's clear that he's progressing at a great rate and there's little doubt he's one of the better young actors today. I preferred his performance in THE DEPARTED to his performance in BLOOD DIAMOND--it helps that the former was a superior movie, and it also helps that his character in THE DEPARTED is considerably less cliched (the amoral money-hungry mercenary who eventually comes good isn't overly original--although this isn't to say he isn't good playing the role). In THE DEPARTED, I thought he did a good job keeping it together as his situation becomes more and more chaotic--and while it's always tough to play a character who is, in essence, playing a role within a role, he pulls it off with aplomb. Forest Whitaker is also strong in THE LAST KING IN SCOTLAND. While it'd be easy to overact when playing such a role, Whitaker is completely plausible, always within himself, and never descends into theatrics--unless by design. It helps that he's shot in a really cool style, too (I can't explain it well, having only seen it once, but he's shot in an interesting fashion, with a bunch of quick cuts to close-ups and shifts in focus). And, while I think playing a drug addict is a bit of an assist to having a role considered overrated, Ryan Gosling does enough in his other scenes--where he's teaching, where he's coaching, or where he's talking one-on-one to Drey--that the drug scenes simply enhance his performance instead of defining it. He has no chance of winning, but his nomination is well-deserved.

And, while I've been onto "Da Ali G Show" from the start, I'm amazed that Cohen is able to do what he does at all, let alone do it so well. Obviously, BORAT's not for everyone, but if there's ever any sort of comedic performance that should be rewarded with an Academy Award in one of the lead acting categories, it's one like this.


Leonardo DiCaprio, BLOOD DIAMOND
Ryan Gosling, HALF NELSON
Peter O'Toole, VENUS

All things considered, these aren't too bad, although most of the standout performances of the year were pretty obvious. Peter O'Toole is fine in VENUS, but if it wasn't Peter O'Toole no one would have noticed the performance (not that he isn't good, but he isn't that good). Will Smith? Very weak. Full credit to them for nominating Gosling, that wasn't expected. Leonardo DiCaprio, while great in BLOOD DIAMOND, was better in THE DEPARTED--and given that film's high profile, you can't argue the performance slipped through the cracks.

The smart money is on Whitaker, but I think he has a few things working against him. First off, he is 45, while Peter O'Toole is 72. Second, he's not really the lead character in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND--James McAvoy is. Third, Peter O'Toole has had 7 nominations for Best Actor without a win--unfortunately for him, when he was nominated for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA he had the misfortune of going head-to-head with Gregory Peck in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD--and the Academy is always rewarding actors a little too late, and for lesser performances (John Wayne for TRUE GRIT? Denzel Washington for TRAINING DAY? Nicole Kidman for THE HOURS?). O'Toole wins in a big upset, and then Whitaker wins for his next credible role.

(1) Laura Dern, INLAND EMPIRE
(2) Penelope Cruz, VOLVER
(3) Helen Mirren, THE QUEEN
(4) Maggie Gyllenhaal, SHERRYBABY
(5) Kate Winslet, LITTLE CHILDREN

This is, by far, the deepest of the acting categories this year, as the legitimate nomination-worthy performances go 9-deep (along with those listed above, Maggie Cheung, Naomi Watts, Robin Wright Penn, and Jodie Whittaker all put forth legitimate performances). Any of the top four would be deserving of a win.

Laura Dern's performance in the largely puzzling INLAND EMPIRE stands out as arguably the best female performance since Naomi Watts' performance in Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Much like Watts' Betty Elms/Diane Selwin, Dern's listed as playing two roles--in truth, her character has four distinct and separate performances over the course of the movie--and she is thoroughly convincing and authentic in all of them. Obviously, INLAND EMPIRE is no MULHOLLAND DRIVE--given that I rate the latter as the best movie of the last 10 years, and I don't rate the former among this year's best--but insofar as the performance of the leads go, they are to a large extent comparable.

As for the others, much like DiCaprio, I think Penelope Cruz is not as well-regarded as she deserves to be, largely because it's difficult for her to get a legitimate role in this country--WOMAN ON TOP, BLOW, and VANILLA SKY did not really make the most of her considerable talents. In VOLVER, she plays multiple roles within her role--mother, daughter, sister--and she carries the movie from start to finish, developing considerable depth over the course of the movie. Quite honestly, I'm just glad she got nominated, given that it's a foreign-language role. And, while I think Helen Mirren is great in THE QUEEN, I think her performance is vastly overrated. For the most part, she's just acting like she's got a stick in her ass, just like the real Queen Elizabeth. Of course, the supposedly impressive thing about her performance is the humanizing she does--but, for my money, these scenes are too few and far between to rate her ahead of Dern's dominating performance--or Cruz's, for that matter.

How good was Gyllenhaal? Everyone knows what she looks like--rail-thin, doll-face--and in the two scenes in SHERRYBABY where she threatens to kick someone's ass, she's totally plausible and you're convinced that if it comes down to it, she'll win. That's great acting.


Penelope Cruz, VOLVER
Helen Mirren, THE QUEEN

Wow, look at that, Judi Dench and Maryl Streep got nominated--what a surprise. Other than those two, the nominations were good, of course. I can't believe that Gyllenhaal didn't get nominated, but apparently Gosling fulfilled the junkie quota as far as the nominations went.

Mirren. I feel bad for Winslet--probably my favorite actress, who is about to go 0 for 5--but no one is stopping Mirren this year.

(1) Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED
(2) Kazunari Ninomiya, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
(3) Michael Sheen, THE QUEEN
(5) Jack Nicholson, THE DEPARTED

In the supporting categories, while it's easy to find nomination-worthy performances, you have to set the bar a little higher for a win--and this year, only the top two are deserving.

The truth is that the supporting cast for THE DEPARTED is so deep, I could have filled all five spots here with actors from that movie and made a credible case for each of them. Wahlberg is the best of the lot; when playing a hard-ass--especially a hard-ass cop--it's easy to go too far with it, but he doesn't, which is pretty amazing when you consider that his character really is largely one-dimensional. Ninomiya is also very strong--he's also arguably a main character, not a supporting one--and from someone who is a singer-turned-actor, it's an impressive performance. I thought Sheen was pretty good in THE QUEEN--nearly the equal of Mirren--although the scene where he chews out his assistant seems a little contrived and is pretty weak, even though it's supposed to be a dramatic moment in the movie. The truth is, I thought his was a lead performance, but since the BAFTA's listed it as supporting, I will as well.


Jackie Earle Haley, LITTLE CHILDREN
Djimon Hounsou, BLOOD DIAMOND
Eddie Murphy, DREAMGIRLS
Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED

A poor job, once again. There is no way in the world that Arkin should have been nominated over Carell--not only does Arkin do half of the acting that Carrell does, all he does is overact, except for that one scene in the hotel room with Olive. And, while I thought Haley was good, his acting is shit--no doubt, he's really damn creepy, and until he talks he's really good--but as soon as he's in scenes with dialogue--except for the few lines when he's on his date with Jane Adams (at the restaurant, not in the car)--he's not very convincing. Hounsou and Murphy are fine, I suppose.

I initially thought Murphy had this wrapped up, but I really think there might be something to this whole NORBIT controversy (i.e., Eddie Murphy's new movie NORBIT--not exactly an "Oscar-worthy" film--has just come out with some heavy promotion, and it could be a bit of an embarrassment to the Academy if Murphy wins). At this point, I think Arkin is probably a more likely winner.

(1) Maribel Verdu, PAN'S LABYRINTH
(2) Rose Byrne, THE DEAD GIRL
(3) Marcia Gay Harden, THE DEAD GIRL
(4) Lola Duenas, VOLVER
(5) Carmen Maura, VOLVER

Just like the supporting actor category, I could have filled this with actresses from one movie (in this case, it would be THE DEAD GIRL; in addition to those listed above, Kerry Washington, Mary Beth Hurt, Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy and Piper Laurie all give strong performances). All of the performances listed above are strong ones, and in my estimation any of the top 3 would warrant a best supporting actress win.

Even so, Maribel Verdu is so strong in PAN'S LABYRINTH that she stands above everyone this year. It's a large role, and in many ways she's the most important character, filling the role of surrogate mother and being the one who allows Ofelia to participate in her fantasies. She's brilliantly cast against type here--while she's usually cast as a sexpot, her character in this movie couldn't be more asexual--and she pulls it off without a hitch. Oddly enough, Rose Byrne is in the worst of the vignettes in THE DEAD GIRL ("The Sister"), but her performance is such that it stands out even the story she was given is lacking. The scene where she is talking about her sister to her parents at the restaurant is probably the best acting anyone did all year. Byrne just shades Marcia Gay Harden, who is (along with Kerry Washington) in the best of the vignettes ("The Mother"). Between the two of them, a story that could easily fall into melodrama instead has a very strong emotional impact, and that's entirely down to the two performances.


Adriana Barraza, BABEL
Cate Blanchett, NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Jennifer Hudson, DREAMGIRLS
Rinko Kikuchi, BABEL

By far the worst of all the major categories this year, I don't think there's any doubt they missed the best of the bunch. Blanchett was pretty average with a role that had a lot of potential, in my estimation. I thought Barraza was good in BABEL, but Kikuchi is getting way too much hype for not really doing too much other than acting like she's deaf. I mean, she flashes those guys, and gets naked, but that's about it; I just didn't see too much there that impressed me. Jennifer Hudson is good (I'd have had her 7th here, with Kerry Washington being 6th), but I wasn't as impressed with her as everyone else seemed to be. I mean, she sings, that's cool, but her acting isn't nearly as good as the six I have listed above her.

And Abigail Breslin? Please. It's so comical it's not even worth addressing.

Hudson. "Fat" girl + sympathetic + singing = Oscar statuette.

Please note that all predictions are listed for entertainment purposes only.

The Academy Awards are Sunday, February 25th, 2007. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kanu's Last Minute Valentine Day Guide

Never been a big fan of Valentine's Day - always seemed artificial and forced to me, a way for various business interests to make beaucoup dollars while dressing up what is essentially a manufactured occasion in images of love and thoughtfulness to get you to pay $39 for roses that cost $15 every other day of the year. If you love someone shouldn't you do special things for them a totally random times and more frequently than once a year to show your affection? Anyhow, the point here isn't a rambling thesis on the problems I have with the holiday. The point is to help those of you with less than 24 hours and no ideas as to what to do...

One day left. You don't have any ideas, but at the same time you would like to avoid the "dozen roses/Russell Stover/Spa Sydell gift certificate" trifecta which screams of minimal thoughtfulness and effort. Here are a couple of tips that may help you out:

Get your hands on the album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke by Steven Gerrard look-a-like Robin Thicke, and give it to your lady. Specifically tell her that the song Lost Without You makes you think of her every time you hear it and so on and so forth.

This tune perfectly encapsulates what it is like to be in what I call the ga-ga phase of any relationship - those first 2 to 4 months when you are head over heels in love, everything is perfect, there are no disagreements, arguments, or fights, and sex is playful, fresh, new, and fun. And what better time than Valentine's Day to revive the thoughts and feelings from the ga-ga phase of your relationship? Ditto for the song Teach U A Lesson: playfully and respectfully naughty and teasingly erotic without being distasteful: what relationship couldn't use a little more of that?

Tell her this one makes you think of her as well, and that you want to act it out later tonight. If these two songs cannot spark a sexy encounter with you and your lady, then it's pretty obvious that you need 1) couples therapy 2) to just give up end your relationship.

"Come on Kanu, this is some seriously sissy fairy crap. I mean shit, man, I did some checking around - dude is Alan Thicke's son. Yeah, that Alan Thicke: the dad from Growing Pains"

Dude, no offense, but it doesn't really matter what you think of it. What matters is if she will love it, and unless she is a death metal queen then the odds are that she will, and think that you are super sweet and thoughtful, and that is a valuable commodity. Also, before you completely dismiss R Thicke as a fairy-boy, you might want to know that his voice and musical skills helped him land Paula Patton as his wife- she's the smokin' hott woman in that Lost Without You music video in the above link.

Don't get roses - too obvious and cliche for 2/14. Get her a rocking arrangement of something less conventional, preferably whatever her favorite flowers are. If you don't know what her favorite flowers are, then 1) shame on you unless you are newly dating 2) you still have time to find out from her close friends. Most women certainly won't turn roses down but they would be happier to get something different because it shows a little more thoughtfulness, creativity, and effort.

If you have any skills in the kitchen at all, then instead of going out to dinner, cook her dinner. The more out of character this is for you the better. Get a nice bottle of wine, crack it open, light a bunch of candles, throw on some music, and make a nice meal. This is much more interactive, personal, and fun then going out, and she will think it is super-romantic if you cook her a nice dinner. Of course, if your specialty is Lucky Charms, then going out to a nice restaurant might be best.

If you are going big, then I would recommend anything but a diamond, mostly on the general principle that diamonds are a girl's best friend intrinsically of little value and a hoax perpetuated on America by the DeBeers Corporation over the course of the 20th century. Of course, she probably doesn't agree, and I have been in my fair share of what can politely be described as "disagreements" with chicas on the issue of diamonds over the years, but you can point her in the direction of this article which sheds some light on the issue. Apparently the movie Blood Diamond touches on the other dark side of the diamond business, so you could always lure her to that as well with Leo Di Caprio as the carrot.

That's pretty much it. My last tip involves a bottle of champagne and a Twister mat, but I'm not going to get into it here. But when you do get to sexy time, light some candles and listen to this, and you'll be set.

Of course, the best thing you can do for your lady is to surprise her with flowers/little gifts/thoughtful notes for no reason at several random times throughout the year. Methinks she'll appreciate that even more than you doing nice stuff for her on the day that society tells you that you should.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Four Things Tangentially Related To Football

Normally, walking to work in a pouring rain after forgetting the ol' umbrella would have me in a pretty foul mood, yet today I was Gene Kelly. Pourquoi? Because after the 4th driest January since 1850, our "normal" winter weather pattern has finally returned, whereby it rains in the bay area and snows up in the Sierras. So after 3 planned and aborted ski trips this year tonight I am going up to finally get my ski on, and I'm pretty geeked about it: fresh powder at Kirkwood, getting to see my niece & nephew, staying in South Lake = casinos. Oh, and Chick-Fil-A for dinner tonight.


Moving on, 4 things from this week tangentially related to football or football:

1. Bob Marley's birthday was Tuesday, he would have been 62. Dude is widely regarded as the most influential musician of the 20th century. Less well known was his love of footy, and the fact that it indirectly caused his death (unless you are with the conspiracy theorists who believe that his cancer was introduced into his body by the CIA). He was a very talented footballer, and he & his mates would play pick up soccer every town they went to, and in one game he jacked up his toe. He never got it looked at, it got infected, his rasta beliefs made him refuse medical attention, he got cancer, it spread throughout his body, and that was that.

Ya cyann beet I & I on da football peetch, mon

Anyhow, there is a hell of a lot more to him than smoking weed - dude despised politics but became the most important political figure in Jamaica and was extremely influential in African politics as well, without even really trying. Hell, when Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, Bob was asked by Mugabe to perform at the celebration since his ideas had been so influential in the independance movement. If you are ever looking for a good subject to read, check out a bio on Bob Marley - Catch A Fire or Bob Marley.

2. You have to read this story to believe it. Cliff Notes: US Army decides to hand out soccer balls in Iraq to promote goodwill. They receive the balls but they are flat. No pumps, no needles. They ask to have pumps requisitioned but the C.O. refused saying that it is a waste of time, and he orders them to hand the flat soccer balls to the children, saying that the children should be grateful. Ridiculously the flat balls are handed out, and now the kids throw rocks at the soldiers when they come around. Mission accomplished. In a statement that is beyond bizarro world, the Army spokesman states:

"To focus on the air in the balls, or lack thereof, undermines the American spirit of generosity and completely misses the point of giving."

We are so inept over there that we even managed to fuck this simple task completely up.

3. LD has been hibernating for a while, but he came out of his cave the other day and he came out strong, completely destroying one of the biggest douchebags out there, one Rush Limbaugh, and his assertion that people are ripping on Rex Grossman not because he sucked in the Super Bowl and was pretty poor all year (24th ranked QB in the NFL this year), but because he is white, saying:

The media, the sports media, has got social concerns that they are first and foremost interested in, and they're dumping on this guy -- Rex Grossman -- for one reason, folks, and that's because he is a white quarterback.

Maybe everything becomes racial when you are high as a kite whacked out on pain pills.

4. Zinedane Zidane was in New York the other night and attended a Knicks game, where he left at halftime after chatting with Spike Lee. Rumors are flying that somehow this means that he is going to sign with New York Red Bulls and come play in MLS. I wouldn't pay money to see Mr. Spiceman, but I would pay money to see Zizou, even if he is past his best. Let's all hope this happens - he is better right now, having not kicked a ball competitively in 7 months, than Becks has ever been.

This would get me to an MLS game, certainment.

Y'all have a wonderful weekend.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Italian PM Forced To Go Public Enemy
on Calcio d'Italia

As in "Shut 'Em Down".

Violence in Italian football has been on the rise in recent years and is getting worse and worse. Yesterday a policeman was killed and 150 people were injured in what was essentially a riot.

The Prime Minister of Italy stepped in and suspended all play in all divisions indefinitely, saying enough is enough.

There is talk that he will shut down all of the leagues for a year. If this happens then isn't it safe to assume that there will be 4 or 5 appeals and that all leagues will be back up and running in 2 weeks? (if you don't know what I'm referencing, Bobbeh lays it all out here Gabrielle Marcotti updates the story to conclusion here before becoming an apologist for his beloved Italy).

In the current round of articles there are alot of people saying that the problem has gotten much worse recently and this year. I wonder if there is a correlation between the ramifications (or lack thereof) of the match fixing scandal last year and how they appealed and got their punishments ultimately reduced to a mere fraction of what they originally were (and should have been) - did this simply re-inforce the belief for these hooligans that in Italy you can do whatever you want and ultimately get away with it - not be held responsible, or to use the Bush administration "Hot Word For The SAT Echo Chamber Word Of The Month", did this embolden the enemy hooligans? Did a mondo social re-inforcement of the idea of lack of accountability for one's actions contribute to this? I wonder...

Here's hoping the PM keeps his convictions and fights all of the pressure he will get from the powers that be for him to cave on this issue.

To extend the PE metaphor: Fight The Power Prodi!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Neither Here Nor There, But...

... if you post a video on YouTube about Patrick Vieira wherein:

1) a beautiful woman with the hott Brit accent refers to him as "the absolute bee's knees"

2) some geezer journo says of a theoretical contest of pugilism between PV4 and Roy Keane that PV4 would "knock 'im spark out wiff a right hand - that's an absolute fact"

...then I am going to post it.

Likewise if you make a vid of 6 of PV4's greatest Arsenal goals set to an extremely & horribly cheese-tastic 50s do-wop tune that is so catchy that you walk around singing the chorus for the rest of the day:

That is all.

Went To Bed Kevin McHale, Woke Up Larry Bird. Happy Birthday Big Boi.

If you are an OutKast aficionado, then you probably know that Big Boi's b-day is February 1, 1975, since he raps about it in 2 or 3 songs (West Savannah, Y'all Scared come to mind). I always bob my head and dig on those lines since he is exactly 1 year my junior. So Happy Birthday Daddy Fat Sacks.

So today it's official: I'm Larry Bird. 33, and almost as ugly (but no fucking outside range whatsoever). Someone once told me that both Jesus of Nazareth and Alexander The Great died at age 33, so my main goal this year is to simply make it to 34.

I really want these but can't find them anywhere on-line except eBay. Got the blue ones but really want the red uns. If anyone ever comes across them online let me know and that info alone will be a great present.

The best present of all? Tonight mi primo, the legendary Chris Smith, returns to SF after damn near 6 months in South America. Mucho cervezas will be consumed tonight, and we'll each have a bucket of red paint - it's a double celebration bitches!

Where Have All The Cowboys Hard Nuts Gone?

Yes, that was a Paula Cole reference. Deal with it.

Last week Lauren left Arsenal for Portsmouth, where he joined ex-Gunners Kanu, Sol Campbell, and assistant coach Tony Adams.

Although he hadn't played for Arsenal in over a year due to a serious knee injury and rehab, he was still the hardest nut on the team. In fact, he was the last hard nut on Arsenal. Dude was not to be fucked with, and a hell of a good player at that - always the kind of player you want on your team, and the kind of player you fear if you are opponent who does some stupid unsporting shit. And make no mistake - I am not talking about a thuggish goon who is more an enforcer than a talented footballer; I am talking about a good footballer who is also a warrior and someone who simply is not to be fucked with, because if you fuck with him you do so at your own peril, for it is very likely that he will kick your ass.

L12: Nots to be fucked with

Every soccer team needs a few of these types, and he was the last real hard nut to leave. Arsenal used to have the likes of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, and of course iconic warrior Patrick Vieira, as well as Lauren. Even with these players people used to knock Arsenal by saying "they need a little less Gallic flair and a little more British Bulldog". Now all the hard nuts are gone.

This got me thinking: now that 'Ralph" is gone, who is the hardest nut on the team? Well, Kolo Toure is certainly an absolute warrior on the pitch, so he obviously comes to mind first. The trick with him is that he is a Muslim and a pacifist, and has said so before. He even tried to break up the "Battle Of Old Trafford" when his teammates all wanted to scrap with ManUtd because he is against fighting, so this pretty much disqualifies him from being a hard nut. Close, but no cigar - hard nuts simply aren't pacifists.

What about Mats a.k.a. Mad Jens of North London? He's been in shitloads of confrontations/fights - back in the German league he was even red-carded once for punching one of his teammates in the face during a match. Well he is not a hard nut either: he is a nutter, an absolute nutjob, but not a classic hard nut -just plain crazy.

Hard nut? No. Fucking nutter? Yes.

So who then? Gilberto? He seems like the strong silent type who if he ever blows his stack one day then he might kill someone, but he was pretty damn calm after Robbie Savage hacked him and then hacked him again- if that were Vieira, Roy Keane, or {my god} Vinnie Jones, Savage would have likely been carried off in a stretcher, so you can't really call him a hard nut. Abou Diaby could be but he hasn't played enough matches with Arsenal for us to determine whether he is or not, but he certainly has potential. Other than him, amazingly, I would have to say that it would be Van Persie or Cesc Fabregas - neither one is a huge physical presence, but neither one seems to put up with a lot of shit - Cesc especially has not been afraid to get in the face of, talk shit, and push and shove much bigger and older players when he feels they have done something unsporting. But calling either a hard nut is a stretch.

Anyway, with Lauren's moving on it is official - Arsenal are now completely 100% a finesse team. I wonder what Vieira & Keane would think of all this...

Anyhow, best of luck to Lauren. He was very classy, never complained, played his heart out, and was a hard nut warrior. He won 5 trophies in 6 seasons playing for Arsenal (2 Prem. titles, 3 FA Cups) and also won the 2000 Olympic Gold with Cameroon (if memory serves he scored the winning penalty kick in the final) as well as the 2000 and 2002 African Nations Cups. I'll always remember the FA Cup quarterfinal replay away to Chelsea when Arsenal were reduced to 10 men but still knocked Chelsea out with help from this fine late goal from "Ralph"; Arsenal went on to defend their 2002 FA Cup title by winning it again in 2003.

Best of luck Lauren- I hope the new knee holds up for several more years.