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Archive for October, 2011

Keeping an Eye on the Ball.

It sure sounds like a fair place for two hostile opponents to meet. Half the basketball-related income goes to the owners, half the basketball-related income goes to the players and millions of pro basketball fans celebrate their first victory of the season in the form of, you know, a season. But in the end, there’s nothing fair about awarding 50 percent of BRI to the people who amount to 100 percent of the reason there’s any BRI in the first place.

This, this, a thousand times this. As talks continue and games disappear, Ian O’Connor summarizes the central issue of the NBA lockout: the owners bring no value to the table — they’re basically leeches on the system. “LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose — they don’t play in the NBA. They are the NBA. The entire league. The workforce and the product. The owners? They’re just along for the ride.

Now, the better owners, I think — Mark Cuban, say — understand this. They get that an NBA team is a luxury asset that makes most of its money when it it sold, not as a day-to-day enterprise. And they have a good time playing the owner game and getting to hang around with basketball players.

As an aggregate, however, the NBA owners here are the problem. They’ve been lying about their financial straits, and then trying to pin the “downturn” on their employees. Just because the employees are reasonably well-compensated in this instance doesn’t change the fact that this is classic bait-and-switch behavior by management.

If there’s a reason the NBA is doing poorly at the moment — which, again, is an open question due to all the accounting shenanigans — it’s because unemployment is at 9% and poverty is at 15%. We did not get here because Eddy Curry ate his way to the bottom of a ridiculous contract. Besides, it is not Curry’s fault that somebody wants to pay him $100 million a year for riding the bench anyway. It is the fault of whoever paid him – cough, James Dolan — that exorbitant price. So now, owners want to be bailed out by the powers-that-be for their own terrible business decisions? We’ve seen this movie before. Classic corporate-socialism at work.

I expect the players will probably fold in the end, since, like labor in most situations these days, they don’t have much leverage. But, however it all pans out, let’s remember: The players have the skill set. They create the product. There is no product without the players. In an perect world, the owners should give players a generous share of the revenues (since they’re 100% of the value of the operation), and then be happy they get to own a basketball team. Now, let’s play ball.

Update: “One is, historically, you’ve seen franchises appreciate in value and that appreciation has more than outstripped any cash-flow losses that you’ve had…Secondly, it’s a lot of fun to own an NBA franchise…[B]y and large, NBA franchise ownership has been a good investment. You can’t base long-run projections on how you did in the biggest financial downturn of the last 50 years. On that basis, there are no good investments out there.

Karl Malone’s gonna play the way Karl Malone can. And Kevin Murphy’s gonna sort out this lockout like Kevin Murphy do.

Lithwick: It’s Not Us. It’s You.

For the past several years, while the mainstream media was dutifully reporting on all things Kardashian or (more recently) a wholly manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, ordinary people were losing their health care, their homes, their jobs, and their savings.

For the benefit of the willfully dense — i.e. all the telegenic denizens of the Village — Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick explains the basic meaning behind Occupy Wall Street: “They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want–wait, no, we want– to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else.

Prognosis Fair.

I promised myself I would stop writing six-to-eight-paragraph movie reviews here if one-to-four paragraphs sufficed. Jonathan Levine’s 50-50 is an excellent film to launch the new occasional brevity.

In short, this is a solidly successful attempt at infusing a cancer dramedy with Knocked Up-style Apatowishness — the lowbrow humor, the wry observations, the bromance — and it’s totally fine for what it is. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character here is mostly indistinguishable from his turn in (500) Days of Summer — he’s the good guy bad things happen to — and Seth Rogen’s character here is mostly indistinguishable from, well, Seth Rogen. Given this, your mileage may vary.

My main problem with 50/50 is that it telegraphs its characters’ arcs from the beginning. Gordon-Levitt’s original girlfriend, here played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is just a little too unsympathetic from Jump Street — you know she’ll be out the door by Act 2 — while Anna Kendrick’s helpful therapist is so gosh-darned winsome that it’s no surprise she eventually ends up taking her work home with her. 50/50 would’ve been more interesting, I think, if Howard’s character was a reasonably sweet individual who was just overwhelmed by the burdens of the situation. But that’s now how we’re playing it here.

Otherwise, 50/50 has its moments — I particularly liked JGL’s two stoner/chemo buddies, Phillip Baker-Hall and Matt Frewer (getting typecast as a cancer patient?) And, when the film grows darker in its third reel, it feels reasonably well-earned. All in all, 50/50 is a perfectly benign fall date movie.

The Only Way to Live in Cars.

Well, I’ve been meaning to pair this review with the other Ryan Gosling movie of the moment, George Clooney’s The Ides of March. But since I still haven’t caught Ides and this has been languishing in neutral at the back of the queue…

Boasting a retro feel, catchy synth-pop soundtrack, New Wave credit stylings, and Lynchian bursts of graphic violence, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive basically attempts to be a high-minded, crazysexycool throwback to the Cinemax thrillers of yesteryear. (Put simply, what The American was to the European arthouse, this film — despite its nods to 70’s flicks like Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop — is to 80’s trash.) In this regard, Drive is half-successful: It’s well-made, stylish, and often-entertaining trash for sure. At the same time, the movie fails to live up to the promise of its first hour or so, and ended up feeling a bit hollow.

It doesn’t help that the film probably peaks in its opening minutes, when — after it is quickly established that our main character (Ryan Gosling) is a wizard behind the wheel who moonlights in LA as a getaway driver — we watch him conduct a nighttime job to the Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clock.” Rather than go all Grand Theft Auto in fleeing the scene of a warehouse robbery, Gosling’s Driver (yes, that’s his name) specializes in subtlety, misdirection, and knowing the lay of the land better than the cops do — More often, he’s just hiding the car rather than gunning it…and why is he listening to that Clippers game the whole time? (There’s a reason, and it’s a smart reveal.)

As it happens, Driver’s day jobs are Hollywood stunt man and mechanic for Shannon, a fatherly but perpetually unlucky grifter (Bryan Cranston). Recognizing the kid’s obvious talent, Shannon has been forging alliances with local gangland kingpins Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) – who crushed Shannon’s pelvis for non-payment years earlier — to raise the money to get his charge into stock-car racing. While this plays out, Driver begins to woo Irene, the cute single mother next door (Carey Mulligan). (This usually involves Gosling stoically doting over her ten-year-old son.) But all plans get thrown for a curve when Irene’s ex-husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from the joint, with one last bit of unfinished business ahead of him — business that will, despite the hugely unlikely odds of such a coincidence, bring Driver’s work and home lives crashing together like a multiple vehicle pile-up on the 405…

Drive nicely zigs where you expect a zag in making Irene’s ex-con husband, Standard, a fundamentally decent guy. (And like Robin Hood and Sucker Punch, this is another film where Isaac makes a strong impression.) But soon thereafter, as Driver, Standard, and out-of-nowhere third wheel Christina Hendricks find themselves on that one last job that goes terribly wrong, Drive slips off the road and veers toward B-movie triteness. From here on in, it just becomes a not-particularly-interesting revenge flick. (This is also the point where the movie shifts gears from contemplative “lonely samurai” character study to visceral gore-fest.)

The thing is, for a movie called Drive, there’s actually not much driving to be had here. Now, obviously, the world doesn’t need another Fast and the Furious — We’ve got plenty of those already. But, aside from a quick getaway from that aforementioned botched job, the film never really makes much of the driving aspect of the story after the bravura opening sequence. Instead, Drive just becomes a standard-issue, the-mob-shouldn’t-have-messed-with-THIS-man action-noir, except this time the tortured loner in question tends to wear fancy leather driving gloves.

The other major problem, for me, at least, is Gosling, which is one of the reasons I was going to wait to pair this movie with Ides of March. I still haven’t seen Half-Nelson, but in the films I have seen him in — Blue Valentine, for example — he’s been underwhelming. And, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t buy the Steve McQueen-ish badass bit from him here. (There’s an excessively violent moment here in an elevator which is as ludicrous as it is gratuitous. Er…Gosling is not Jason Statham — that mob enforcer guy would break him in two.) When George Clooney played this sort of deeply recessed, melancholic character in The American, I thought it worked. But Gosling just seems…well, dweeby and desperate to me, one bad moustache away from restraining order territory. A real human being he may be, but I just could not take him seriously as a real hero.

Why does #OWS hate the kittehs?

Everything you need to know about today’s Washington Post. Here is what happened in Oakland yesterday and today at the Occupy Wall Street protests:

The protests in the evening were characterized by increasingly violent encounters between protesters and law enforcement officers. Police officers launched canisters of tear gas into crowds of protesters on Broadway at 14th Street in front of Frank Ogawa Plaza at least four times Tuesday night, sending hundreds of people scattering down Broadway.

And here, via Shani O’Hilton of City Paper, is how the WP covered the #OccupyOakland clash:

Awww, a peace officer patting a kitteh! A kitteh left behind by evil protestors! And note the headline below-the-pic: “Protestors Wearing Out Their Welcome Nationwide.” Fair and balanced. (To be fair, the online coverage is better.)

Update: In the wake of the head injury that has put Iraq War vet Scott Olsen in critical condition, the WP‘s photo editor explains the kitteh decision.

Now You’re Playing With…Pandas.

We’ve explored an alien planet. We’ve thrown down the Lich King. We’ve witnessed the End of the World. And now…we consort…with kung-fu pandas? At Blizz-Con 2011, Blizzard announces the next WoW expansion: Mists of Pandaria, and, er, yeah. Not feelin’ the pandas, guys, sorry. (But, yes, I’m sure I’ll be playing it anyway.)

Half- and Half-Man Marathons.

To follow up on items mentioned here:

  • Two weeks ago, I did in fact finish the Baltimore Half-Marathon: Total running time was 2 hours, 3 minutes, 35 seconds, so I clocked in at just under nine and a half minute miles. I’m totally fine with that, especially given that I only got in six weekend-warriorish weeks of training beforehand. And, other than not being able to walk so well for a day or two afterwards, no serious damage done – I may be up for another long race as early as December. (This is quite a contrast with my failed attempt to run the DC Cherry Blossom ten-miler earlier this year: Then, my feet fell apart. I’m now an enthusiastic convert to the Vibram toe-shoes.)

  • Also, after a slog through A Feast of Crows in particular, I am now totally caught up with George R.R. Martin on A Song of Ice and Fire. And, well, there is a definite drop in quality after the first three books: Four and five are far more meandering (Martells and Tyrells? 1100 pages and Tyrion still hasn’t met up with Dany?) and repetitive (drink every time somebody says “words are wind“) than they need to be. Still, I’ve read worse: Count me in for Winds of Winter, if and when it ever drops. In the meantime, I’ll be ensconced in Steve Erikson’s ten-tome Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Take Oasis, Karl Hungus Bathing.

“‘In the movie, they play it like it’s a drama,’ said Forkan…’There’s no mugging for the camera. Everything has this level of seriousness. In the “Oath of the Horatii” they’re talking about the future of Rome. In the film they’re talking about a rug that got peed on, but they’re as serious about that as the characters in the painting were. I liked that level of drama in these images that were also loaded with humor.’

Hey, I know that guy – he’s a nihilist. From the Twitter archives, artist Joe Forkan discusses his Lebowski cycle with the LA Times. (A gallery is available here.)

Wikileaks on Empty.

Calling the blockade a ‘dangerous, oppressive and undemocratic’ attack led by the United States, Mr. Assange said at a news conference here that it had deprived his organization of ‘tens of millions of dollars,’ and warned, ‘If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade, we will not be able to continue by the turn of the new year.’

Another scalp for the War on Whistleblowers: Strapped for cash thanks to Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Western Union blocking transactions, Julian Assange warns that Wikileaks may have to close its doors soon. That would be a shame: In this day and age, we need something approaching real and undomesticated journalism. (Pic above via, ironically, Facebook.)

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