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Bill Simmons

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Tricksters on the Borderlands, on the Throne.

A few days ago I was watching Touch of Evil, Orson Welles’ fevered monument to America’s fear of and fascination with the Border, which opens with that famous three-minute tracking shot…It hit me (weirdly, I guess, but I spent way too much time thinking about sports) that this shot contained everything you needed to know about the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry.

In Grantland, Brian Phillips looks to the border for insights into the US and Mexico soccer teams. To be honest, I’m not really sold on ESPN’s Grantland experiment just yet. Too much of the site exudes the terrible taste and fratgeek sexism of its editor-in-chief, “Sportsguy” Bill Simmons. Frequent contributor Chuck Klosterman is another red flag to me, for the same reasons. Both consider themselves pop culture arbiters and both are compulsively readable but – Simmons on the NBA notwithstanding — they’re also usually irritating and often wrong.

Still, Grantland does publish worthwhile culture pieces now and again — Hua Hsu on Watch the Throne today is another good one. And, speaking of good Watch the Throne commentary, Matt at Fluxblog has a particularly keen observation on it: “Kanye can’t help but project his intense insecurities – he’s emotionally transparent at all times, and it’s part of what makes him such a fascinating and magnetic pop star. Jay-Z, however, is the radical opposite – his every word and movement is focused on controlling your impression of him…In this way, Kanye is analogous to the Marvel Comics model of whiny, introspective, persecuted superheroes [Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk] and Jay-Z is more like DC Comics’ Superman and Batman, who thrive when creators trade on their stoic, iconic qualities.

Frat to the Future.

To get in the proper mood for Steve Pink’s ’80s throwback (in more ways than one) Hot Tub Time Machine after a long week at work, I made sure to sidle up to the bar just beforehand — conveniently located, at my “local” (Regal Gallery Place in DC’s Chinatown), just below the theater — and knock down a shot-and-pint (of Jamesons and Guinness respectively, of course.) And my best advice for those of you still thinking about testing these bubbling, lurid, time-traveling waters: Better make that a double.

My feelings about Hot Tub Time Machine are pretty close to how I came down on The Hangover last summer. It’s got some funny moments, sure, and I admire its throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks, Anchorman-y approach to humor. (This is vastly preferable to the “let’s make the audience better people in three acts” schtick that was in comedy vogue for awhile — See, for example, Anger Management.) It’s also sort of a kick to see John Cusack, after fighting it for decades, willingly slumming back to his Savage Steve Holland years, and, I’ll concede, the “I want my two dollars” joke made me smile.

At the same time, and maybe even more than The Hangover (which is no small feat), Hot Tub Time Machine feels like it was penned by and for the Bill “Sportsguy” Simmons nation. You could argue its casual misogyny, homophobia, and dumb raunchiness-for-the-sake-of-it is all part of the return-to-the-’80’s experience, but my guess is it’s really all about catering to the army of 21st century mooks that enlist under the Sportsguy’s standard. I mean, do you know the street value of that mountain? (As an aside, I actually think Simmons is a decent writer, and am crawling through his Book of Basketball at the moment. The problem isn’t his talent or his bball savvy, but his judgment and his (lack of) taste. Nor do I blame him for creating mook culture — he’s just one of its clearest expressions.)

More on the mookness of it all in a bit, but, first, the high-concept gist: Just like The Hangover, we have three friends (Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) and a hanger-on (Clark Duke) trying to find themselves by taking a memorable, life-altering Lost Weekend — only this time, it’s in The Past. Adam (Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has his Second Life-addicted nephew (Duke) living in the basement. Nick (Robinson) is a once-promising singer who gave up his dreams for a girl and now spends his day as a personal trainer for dogs. (He touches poo. Ha. That’s funny. Poo.) And Lou (Corddry), the Galifianakis of the bunch, is a perennial loser who may or may not have recently tried to kill himself. (A wasted Corddry plunking out ’80’s power-chords on his dashboard is funny, and one of the many ways he often rises above the material here.)

So, because of Lou’s maybe-meltdown, this ungainly foursome head back to the ski resort idyll of their youth for some manly bonding. Problem is, the Great Recession has hit hard and the place has gone to hell — there’ll be no skiing the K-12 here. And, just when the weekend seems like a total wash, our heroes stumble into the hot tub in question and stumble out 24 years earlier, in the year of our lord 1986 — Adam is still with the “Great White Buffalo” he never should’ve dumped, Nick is still rocking the Kid-‘n’-Play-style hi-top, Lou is…well, still a loser, and Jacob the nephew shouldn’t even exist, and thus has a phasing-in-and-out, Marty McFly in Back to the Future II problem. (And speaking of the McFlys, Crispin “George McFly” Glover is skulking around too, as is Chevy Chase.) Fire up the day-glo and the hair metal, y’all, ’cause it’s time to partay like it’s the MTV era…

And so they do, meaning all the fashion faux-pas and Wang Chung-ish blasts from the past you might imagine from living in the Eighties. But, while there are still a few funny moments here and there, this Hot Tub loses steam and falls ever more flat the longer they spend in the Me Decade. I find legwarmers and Members Only jackets as ridiculous as the next guy, but there are only so many “lordy, the sartorial sense was terrible back then” jokes you can make over the course of two hours. And, other than that, the movie just meanders through its second half without much purpose, or even much sense. Cusack ingests enough shrooms to give the good doctor pause, and is playing Sixteen Candles kissy-face with Lizzy Caplan half an hour later.

And then there’re all the fratboyisms and mookish behavior. To be clear, I wasn’t offended by Hot Tub, per se. (Case in point: I put Jackass in my top 100 films of last decade.) And, to be sure, the sensibilities were different back then in Ronald Reagan’s America — just look at much of Police Academy or Revenge of the Nerds, or even the aforementioned Back to the Future, where, as @kellyoxford recently noted, George wins Marty’s future mom’s heart basically by stopping her from being date raped.

Still, by too often resorting in puerile shenanigans — look, Rob Corddry just got pee on his face! — and particularly in portraying every gal that comes along (Caplan aside) as a dim-witted sex toy, the movie just feels lazy, half-assed, and, well, mook. I don’t want to be the Billy Zabka of this tale, but, while I’m all for nostalgifying the ’80s for a few laughs, at some point, quite frankly, it’s time to grow up.

The Final Four…and the Zebras.

“All four playoff semifinalists are flawed in some obvious and fundamental way. The Lakers get pushed around. The Cavaliers desperately need one more skilled helper for LeBron James. The Nuggets come to play far too often without their thinking caps. And Orlando violates one of basketball’s Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not live by the jump shot.” Michael Wilbon assesses the NBA’s Final Four. (FWIW, I got the four teams correct, but the series so far quite wrong. Neither Cleveland nor LA is winning in five.)

Also, I’ve seen pretty much every playoff game over the past few weeks, and the critics are right: the officiating is terrible this year. The whistles are wildly inconsistent, frequently game-changing, and all too often are stopping interesting games dead in the fourth quarter. I’m rooting for King James, and I hope Cleveland pushes Orlando to seven just for the sheer interest of it, but the end of regulation in Game 4 — when the Cavs got a bailout superstar call for Lebron as he drove out-of-control to the hoop, followed by an exceedingly helpful no-call as Anderson Varajao put the hack on Howard in the final seconds — seemed as blatant a fix as anything I’ve ever seen in the NBA. (Thankfully, Orlando pulled the game out in OT regardless.) Right the ship, Commissioner.

Update: “The NBA’s failure to develop a new generation of decent referees might be its single biggest misfire of the past 20 years.” By way of Twitter, ESPN’s Bill “Sportsguy” Simmons just posted a long piece on the NBA’s referee problem. “I don’t know what the tipping point will be this time around. I just know it’s coming.

Give the Celts — and MJ — their due.

“‘We just wet the bed,’ Kobe said. ‘A nice big one, too. One of the ones you can’t put a towel over. It was terrible.‘” A brief note regarding the Lakers’ historic collapse at home last night in Game 4: I remain down on Bill Simmons, but he’s got an excellent point here: “[L]et’s just say MJ’s teams never blew a 24-point lead at home in the Finals…The Kobe-MJ thing…done. Over. Jordan never would have let that happen in the Finals. Ever. Under any circumstances. Nobody is ever allowed to bring this up again.

The Finals Countdown.

A programming note: Game 1 of the throwback Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals is tonight at 9pm, and ESPN is setting the stage with several “Finals Factors”: Kobe | The Celtics D | Paul Pierce | Home Court | The Benches. The smart money seems to be picking LA, and after watching most of these playoffs I’m inclined to agree with them: While Boston has been wildly inconsistent against suspect teams, particularly on the road, LA has been marching inexorably through the stronger, deeper West. Still, I’ll stick with my original prediction (and my general rooting interests for the East, for Garnett and Allen, and against Kobe & the Lake Show) and say Celtics in 7, even if said outcome will make egregious Homer Bill Simmons that much more insufferable.

Beantown and Da Kid?

Lone Timberwolf Kevin Garnett to end up in Boston? (Marc Stein explains the math.) An Allen-Garnett-Pierce starting trifecta for the Celtics might just make Boston the team to beat in the East…for about a season and half. But, I guess the thinking is they weren’t going anywhere anyway, so why not roll the dice on an all-or-nothing championship bid, while the Atlantic remains definitively dismal? Still, it reminds me of the ultimately failed Barkley-Olajuwon-Drexler experiment in Houston. Update: Sportsguy loves the deal, and also cites the Houston precedent. Update 2: It is accomplished — KG is now the Beast of the East. (Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph better up their D…)

Say it ain’t so, Tim.

So, as you may have heard this past week, and as you may long have expected if you’re a fellow pro basketball fan, it turns out several NBA games might well have been fixed by a crooked, desperate ref with mob connections, one Tim Donaghy. I run hot and cold on ESPN Sportsguy Bill Simmons, but his take on this growing scandal thus far is pretty solid: “When news of the scandal broke on Friday…every diehard NBA fan had the same reaction. They weren’t thinking, ‘I can’t believe it!’ or ‘Oh my God, how could this happen?’ They were thinking, ‘Which one was it?’” (Yeah, I did that.) Also, consider this: “Tim Donaghy didn’t just violate the integrity of the league and rig some games. There’s a good chance he altered the course of the 2007 championship.” Sigh…this is not good. Update: Commissioner Stern weighs in.

The Duncan Dynasty.

So, the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers last night 83-82 to take their fourth NBA title since 1999 (and their third in five years.) Ho-hum. Not to take anything away from the Spurs: San Antonio was clearly the better team in this series and Cleveland, even with LeBron starting to coming into his own, was hopelessly outmatched. But, while I’m loath to agree with ESPN’s Sportsguy too often, he’s right this time — these Finals were a total dud. Bring on next season already.


“It’s an exceptional show, and I’m not even sure ‘exceptional’ is a strong enough word.” I’ve had considerable issues with Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons in the past, but, now that he’s become a fellow Wire enthusiast (see the last few paragraphs), I’m inclined to feel more charitable towards him. “After plowing through the first 37 episodes of ‘The Wire‘ in three weeks this summer, I agree with others who argue that it’s the most important television show of all-time, surpassing even ‘The Sopranos’ because of its ambition and social relevance.”

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