March 10, 2006

The Onion has the last word on the most-overhyped sports story of the week, here.

Any outrage I was supposed to have felt for the "revelation" that a baseball superstar has been on the juice for the past six years was quelched when the writers (and S.I.) apparently thought it newsworthy to publish the hearsay testimony of one of Bonds' former skanks that he only married the current Mrs. because she was black. It was a story of dubious relevance, at best, to the issue of whether Bonds had taken steroids and lied about it to a grand jury, even if Bonds had called a press conference and announced it to the public. The fact that it was an otherwise unsupported allegation made by an embittered and biased witness, the publication of which having the clear effect of hurting people (Bonds' wife and children) who are not public figures, is a truly scummy act by the book's writers and Sports Illustrated.
Profumo Dies: Until I read of his passing, I had no idea he was still alive.

March 09, 2006

I don't often write about high school sports, but tonight's Southern Cal hoops semifinal between No. 1-ranked Compton Centennial and No. 2-ranked Harvard-Westlake* is worth noting. In recent years, the two schools have developed one of the nation's most intense rivalries in high school basketball, more so because of how diametrically opposite they are. One is a predominantly African-American public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the region, the other, a prep school known nationally as a feeder for the Ivy League. While H-W is known as much for its role in educating the progeny of power lawyers, movie execs and bankers, Centennial is part of a school system that was taken over by the state awhile back for poor test scores and misappropriation of funds. It's Duke-North Carolina taken to the nth degree.

And yet, for some reason, the two schools have now played in four of the past five CIF title games, with H-W winning three of them, as well as several epic battles in the state tournament. Although H-W has won most often, the Apaches have the recent edge, knocking H-W out of the state tournament two years ago on the road, and winning the CIF title last Saturday. As always, it was a thriller: H-W coming from way back to take a two point lead with four seconds to play, only to have senior guard Tyre Thompson go from end-to-end on an Edneyesque run and hit a desperation trey at the buzzer to win the championship. This time, it's the Wolverines turn to travel to Centennial, with the winner advancing to the state semifinals next week.

UPDATE [3/10]: H-W won, 60-58 [O.T.]. Tar Heel-bound senior Alex Stepheson led the way with 26 points and 22 rebounds, to go with 10 blocked shots. The Wolverines play Artesia tomorrow for the So-Cal title.

*In the interest of full disclosure, my alma mater

March 07, 2006

A good exegesis as to why Crash won and Brokeback lost, here. The two biggest reasons, I think, come down to the fact that the winner had a much better pre-Oscar campaign (a DVD in every pot, as it were), and that it took place in Los Angeles, and was thus easier for the working members of the Academy to relate. For all the sanctimonious twaddle and hype during the ceremony about what a precious and unduplicable experience seeing a movie "before a crowd of strangers" on "the big screen" is supposed to be, in reality, the race came down to the fact that the winner had been released on DVD months earlier, and its studio took full advantage to make sure that every possible person with a vote would have a copy long before screeners for the other candidates went out.

The other reason, dealing with the locale of the movie, is perhaps counterintuitive, when one realizes that in the first 76 years of Oscar, not a single film set in the City of Angels had ever won the top honor, and only a handful of films had so much as a scene set here. Now that we've had back-to-back winners, it's useful to see what it is the two last two films (Crash and Million Dollar Baby) had in common: they are both films that inhabit the real city, not some glamorous or mythical stand-in for same. Classic films that came close in the past were either period pieces (Chinatown, L.A. Confidential) or were films about Hollywood (most notably, Sunset Blvd. and Singing in the Rain); obviously, such films, while admirable on an aesthetic level, have nothing to do with the ups and downs of normal, everyday life here. Most of the Academy membership are not, by any stretch of the imagination, stars; they may have made a good living off of films, but they still have to inhabit the same universe everyone else does. People who are "stars" can afford the luxury of owning homes on each coast, while dissing the city as fake and superficial; the rest of us just have to make do, and perform the same mundane tasks as everyone else, like go to the supermarket, drive their kids to school, etc.

For the most part, Academy members do those things in Los Angeles, so any film that broaches the topic of what Los Angeles is, as a community, has an appeal. Since most of what "L.A." symbolizes to the rest of the planet is based on what non-Angelenos think, there becomes a dichotomy between the real city and "Hollywood", and it becomes a very rare thing indeed to see that "real city" on the big screen. Not having seen Crash, I can't say for certain whether that film succeeded in doing so, but I can see why it might have appealed to a member of the Academy who isn't making $50 million a picture (the fact that it was shot in the city, at a time of runaway production, no doubt also played a factor). For good or ill, provincialism is universal.

March 05, 2006

A correction from last week: I have seen an Oscar-nominated film. Two, to be exact: Revenge of the Sith is up for Best Make-up, and Batman Begins is nominated for Best Cinematography.

I can safely say that I would not be watching tonight's Oscar ceremony were it not for a familial tradition. For years, my parents attended an Oscar-night party hosted by a family friend, and my late father, who like his son is not a movie fan, had the job of tabulating the results of the Oscar pool. When he passed away, I inherited the task, to my increasing discomfort, as I have come to see fewer and fewer films as the years pass. The two hours or so between major awards now leads to some big-time squirming, so I pass the time napping or catching up on my reading.

If this Patrick Goldstein article in this morning's L.A. Times is any indication, I'm not the only person greeting this year's ceremony with a yawn. Situating the Oscars in the context of other big events that have experienced significant drop-offs in TV ratings, Goldstein argues that there is less interest now in events that "capture the communal pop culture spirit". I would argue that we've entered an era in which movies are just not that important anymore, either as entertainment vehicles or as works of art, and just as film replaced vaudeville in the '20's, and TV obliterated radio drama in the early-50's, we now live in an age in which the time and expense necessary to leave home and see a movie on a large screen isn't worth it to a lot of people anymore.

Something similar is happening to the music industry right now: why buy an album when you can tailor-pick your musical selection over the internet, at much less cost, and without much of the annoying filler. Last month's simultaneous release of a Steven Soderburgh film (an Oscar-winning director, no less) on DVD and cable television indicates that someone gets it; the old methods of delivering the product from studio to consumers isn't necessary anymore, and people are more likely going to choose the method that is cheapest, most convenient, and gives them more control over when and how they see it. People will still choose the cinema to see comedies and slasher pics, since the communal experience in seeing a film with a group of strangers is most enhanced, as well as films that emphasize the visual spectacle (such as any Star Wars or Harry Potter film), but everything else is going straight to video. And that includes the five Best Film nominees, none of which would probably have seemed out-of-place (or, for that matter, particularly distinguished) had they aired on HBO first.

Speaking of "straight-to-video", my one rooting interest tonight will be in one of the early categories, Best Supporting Actress. Anyone who has ever channel-surfed in the middle of the night has probably seen the classic "sequel" to the Ryan Phillippe-Reese Witherspoon vehicle, Cruel Intentions (actually, a prequel). Originally shot as a TV-pilot called "Manchester Prep", with the same director as the original, the show was dropped from the Fox TV schedule in 1999 a month before it was to air, after Murdoch's minions saw the finished product and realized that it was trashy even by their own low standards. Quickly reedited, Cruel Intentions II subsequently became a late-night staple on cable; the Shower Scene alone is worth the two hour investment, though it adds absolutely zero to the plot. Inheriting the role played by Sarah Michelle Geller, Amy Adams is a true trash goddess in CI II, savoring each line with an Alexis Carrington-in-prep-school fury.

So for overcoming such auspicious beginnings, I salute you, Ms. Adams. Take home the Oscar, and make us all proud !!