Friday, May 29, 2009

Diversions: The Villainy of Kobe Bryant

Last week, I put an opinion piece up on Bleacher Report* speaking to the dirtiness of Kobe Bryant. If you are interested, the article can be read here.

*About two weeks ago, I was approached by, Max Tcheyan, one of the Team Members at Bleacher Report, inquiring as to whether I'd be interested in having the content that I write for Royalscentricity essentially reprinted there. Syndication in this no-pay world that is the internet. From what I can tell, anyone can write an article at Bleacher Report, but I could be wrong. At the very least, the invite was a flattering one and does give me more exposure. After all, I'm all about raising my profile...

Now much of the reaction to the piece is expectantly from Lakers fans, who were predictably indignant when faced with the opinion of a non-fan calling into question (what can essentially be boiled down to) the class of their superstar. I get their reaction. It is not informed by objectivity in the least, but I understand a person bristling at the suggestion that someone else might suggest that the play of their favorite player might be anything less than wholesome.

Now, rather than beat the horse (I'll not call that horse dead quite yet) more, I'd like to look at the issue of the polarization that Kobe Bryant brings about in fans.

As I would count myself amongst his "haters", I cannot count myself as objective either, but I am not so interested making a case for his villainy. It isn't the case for or against him that interests me; it is what drives fans to feel the way they do.

First and foremost, it is hard to root for the spoiled rich kid. We all resent them. The lifestyle that Kobe lived as a child was that of the son of a professional basketball player in Europe. Sure, the money wasn't American pro basketball player money, but the actual financial status that was or was not present is irrelevant. The perception is that of child of professional athlete growing up in Europe, living the life of a jet-setter.

Where he may or may not have been spoiled as a child, he was certainly spoiled early by the success he enjoyed in his career, but that success was not without its own fodder for his detractors. The three rings adorning Kobe Bryant's fingers were earned while playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal, who at his peak was the most dominant force in basketball. With the inimitable Shaqtus at his side, it seemed the sky was the limit, but their egos began to clash, they went their separate ways, and Shaq won another ring with a younger, more selfless version of Kobe Bryant. Shaq's fourth ring further underscored a groundswell of skepticism as to Kobe's role in winning those rings. Obviously, he was integral to the success of those Lakers teams, but was he the most integral part of this team.

Closely associated with this issue is the fact that his success came so early that amongst many traditionalists, Kobe Bryant did not pay his dues. The other greats in league history needed to climb the mountain. Kobe, thanks to a crew of teammates who had been climbing that mountain, skipped a few steps. This, of course, leads to a degree of resentment from many. Perhaps were his role different on that team--if he were the workmanlike big man or the selfless point guard--the perception would be altered, but the high-flying shooting guard not especially known for making his teammates better* (at the point when he was winning his rings) is not an easy player to like.

*This was the knock on him in those first post-Shaq years.

This is especially true when said player is being crowned the next Michael Jordan.

And there is the linchpin to the whole situation, really.

A whippersnapper with three rings on his fingers who was at least arguably the second best player on his team is being considered the heir to Michael Jordan's legacy. Michael Jordan protectionists would not stand for that. I would venture to guess that somewhere around two-thirds of Michael Jordan fans loathe Kobe Bryant.

The three early rings worried the Devotees of the Original Number 23. The fact that the threat to The Legacy was not the undisputed leader of the team, or even the undisputed best player on the team--leadership be damned--was unpalatable to the Jordan fan. No one earned his rings more than Michael Jordan earned his six. As fear of more accumulated rings mounted amongst the Acolytes of Air Jordan, the ire focused towards Kobe Bryant grew. The fact that those three rings were won on teams with the force to be reckoned with that was Shaquille O'Neal meant that half of the work towards Jordan's mark was done while standing on the shoulders of a literal giant.

Where the other candidates for Greatest Player in the Game wear their fandom of Jordan on their sleeve (or in King James's case, on his jersey), Kobe went so far as to go one better than Jordan with the number 24.

As Shaq left to win a ring elsewhere, Kobe Bryant, whose reputation had already been tarnished by an allegation of rape while being married, began to pull primadonna move after primadonna move. He demanded to be traded. He publicly entertained committing career suicide by talking about a desire to play for the crosstown Clippers. He derided his lesser teammates. He got suspended multiple times for end of game cheap shots against players who would never dare strike back.

It took years for him to get back to where he had been, but the perception of threat was still there. Along the way, he carried himself like a petulant child. The class inherent in Jordan was seemingly absent in the one attempting to pass him by.

These things do not sit well with many fans. They certainly do not sit well with Jordan Protectionists.

And Kobe Bryant finds himself polarizing fans to a Barry Bondsian degree.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Man on Film: Star Trek

I did not go into this film without considerable trepidation.

Of the works on J.J. Abrams' résumé, there is not one with which I have not taken issue. His directorial debut, Mission: Impossible III, was not good to be kind. "Felicity"--the show that operated in a parallel universe in which everyone spoke in whispers--was not my cup of tea either. Where I truly take issue with the Abrams catalog is with "Alias" and "Lost".

In the case of "Alias", I absolutely loved the first season and a half of the series. There are few series that have reached the heights that "Alias" did pre-Super-Bowl-reboot. Then--and I should lay the onus mostly on the network, ABC, because the show's trajectory from that point on reeks of a meddlesome network messing around in the kitchen--ABC decided that Abrams & Co. needed to de-serialize "Alias" to make it more accessible to the average viewer (read: moron). From that point on, the show lost its way and ended up abandoning the elements that truly made it work: the attempts to balance a personal life with an extraordinary one, all the while needing to protect the ones you love because your involvement in their lives ultimately endangers them. By the end of the series' run, it was such a train wreck that the obligation to watch was one carried out with pain.

With "Lost", it became clear towards the end of the first season that they had embarked on a journey that they fully expected to have been ended prematurely by the network that was airing it. On a dinghy out at sea, they ironically found themselves out at sea, much like the castaways on the island, without a plan feeling things out. As aimlessness became more and more prevalent with the series, anger began to grow more and more inside. The predictable discordant music cues, the preposterous twists, the forced reveal of a crossed path here or there--all began to irritate. By the time a few episodes in the third season had aired, my ire was becoming so great that I had to stop watching, something even "Alias" at its most aggravating had not managed to do.

So, coming into this Star Trek, my primary concern was that Abrams had shown a history of having fleeting moments of brilliant ideas that were ultimately undermined by his inability to execute. As an actual fan of the Star Trek movie franchise and of "The Next Generation" and the first few seasons of "Deep Space Nine" (once that Maquis nonsense took over the show, this viewer jumped ship), his failure to successfully follow through left me more than skeptical heading into the film.

Well, J.J., you can mark one down in the win column in my book.


Sure, I could quibble with slight disagreements between Abrams' vision for elements of the film and my own regarding the Star Trek Universe, but by and large, the film succeeded in what it set out to do. It is an entertaining reboot of a franchise that enables itself to set out on a new path thanks to an alternate reality kicking off (unknowingly) at the onset. The narrative may not be exceptionally rich, but it does manage to escape the trap that so many origin films of late have fallen into: that of making it half way through the film and having your principle characters aptly introduced only to find yourself lacking anywhere to go with the film. Unlike Spider-Man or Iron Man, Star Trek integrates the introduction of characters into the structure of the narrative seamlessly.

Unlike with nearly every film I see, there were no faults at all in casting. Chris Pine plays young James Tiberius Kirk with exuberant recklessness that makes the casual fan forget who William Shatner (the actor, of course, no one can forget Has Been, which is totally awesome). As much as it pains me to say, Zachary Quinto is spot on as Spock. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg own Bones and Scotty. Cameos abound, the oddest one being Tyler Perry in an utter, "What the fuck" eye-rub/head shake/repeat eye-rub moment.

Each character gets a chance to throw in their signature phrases, much to the delight of the audience. A red-shirt gets on a mission away from the ship.

Most importantly, though, a good time is had. Maybe the editing errs slightly to the side of the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking, but it isn't as disjointed as Transformers (in which the action sequences were absolutely unintelligible). As an event film--and this moreso that any other Star Trek film is an event--Star Trek works on nearly every level, which is about all you can ask.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Diversions: Charleston Chew

More than one of you loyal readers have suffered (in person) through my tall tales as to how supremely excellent a frozen Strawberry Charleston Chew truly is. As my memory bore out, the Strawberry Charleston Chew experience was one of mythically awesome proportions. The taste explosion that your tongue is treated to as your saliva succeeds in breaking down the Chew in its petrified state is one that dreams are made of.

Or so my mind wanted me to believe.

You see, the tragic nature of this story is that for years, the scarcity of the Strawberry Charleston Chew has led naturalists to wonder about its utter extinction. Sure, you can find the Chocolate and Vanilla varieties at every fourth corner store, but the Strawberry Charleston Chew is one of such rarity that for years I have been unable to locate them through countless perusals of candy racks by which I will be able to indoctrinate the naïve masses.

Well, children, line yer asses up at the Central Market on North Lamar because the old lady* blew my fucking mind tonight.

While watching the Royals epic come-from-behind win, Jack Attack told me that she had a surprise for me. Lo and behold, there was a pair of the previously presumed extinct Strawberry Charleston Chews sitting in the freezer, awaiting their fate.

And, you will be happy to know, it was fucking awesome.

Jackie, who does not like Charleston Chews because she has only had the lame Chocolate and Vanilla ones, wanted more upon having a taste of her gift, shocked at the realization that, much like the delicacy that is Taco John's Potato Oles, the Strawberry Charleston Chew has otherworldly gifts to bestow upon its devourer.

The Real World: Looking for a Benefactor

Dear Devoted Reader,

Having been struck with one of but a million brilliant thoughts, I have come to the conclusion that I need a benefactor.

Early on, it was clear that I would leave an impact on the world through writing. My inner greatness was destined to shine through, blinding the world with its import. Of this, I have always been sure. Unfortunately, life has gotten in the way.

You see, no matter the unimaginable literary genius that lies within this vessel, life has decided that there are bills that need to be paid and jobs that need to be worked. I think we can all agree that this is a tragedy of epic proportions.

The World is being denied my genius. Work (and a general fear of grant writing) is getting in the way.

So dear wealthy person looking for an avenue by which you can put your money to use, I hereby hijack the spotlight and shine it down on myself. You--yes, you--can be my Magwitch.

Let's just say that you are an escaped convict, washed ashore upon wriggling free from your shackles. I will serve as your Pip, bringing you food, booze, and a file. Or perhaps a more contemporary scenario plays out, and you would like my purely platonic company. I like hanging out. I like "Frasier". We can sit around watching "Frasier" in between the voluminous writing that I can undertake with your help.

In me, rich future friend, you will find a pretty great guy, and the author that is sure to transform the world as we know it through his writing.

My debt is by no means insane, but the leeway to allow for me to pursue my future unfettered (and I would never consider your kindly sponsorship as anything other than something for which to be grateful) seems especially pertinent in this time in which we sorely need a fresh new voice in the American literary scene.

Do not trample over one another. There is room in my heart for you all. Feel free to contact me via my email address on my blogger profile.

I look forward to your interest.

Josh Duggan

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Musicalia: Wilco Streaming Wilco (The Album)

Pitchfork and everyone's mother has linked to this. As was the case with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco is streaming their new album due out in June, titled Wilco (The Album). Its great cover is to the right.

Upon first listen, I have to say it was pretty good. I'll have more to say once I've listened to it 50 times--something that will surely happen.

I will say "You and I" sounds pretty great, but then I've got a soft spot for a certain Leslie Feist.

I guess this is all I need... I get a request to talk about more music from Ryan, and more albums keep coming out. Could someone stop time or fly around the earth against its rotational pull in order to reverse events and time? There's a shiny Andrew Jackson faux-gold (fauxold?) dollar coin in it for you. He's like an American Lion or something.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Musicalia: Bill Callahan Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Over the past three years or so, there has not been an album that I have listened to as much as A River Ain't Too Much To Love despite the fact that Bill Callahan has put out a record since last recording under the moniker of Smog. While Woke on a Whaleheart was not bad by any means, there was something about A River Ain't Too Much To Love that resonated with me on a basic level that the first proper Bill Callahan LP failed to do.

Well, River, I think you've been unseated. On his newest record, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, Bill Callahan has concocted a perfect blend of the darker themes of A River Ain't Too Much To Love and the lusher arrangements and richer production of Woke on a Whaleheart. This merging has meant that I have been virtually unable to listen to anything else when reaching for an album to throw on.

From the opener "Jim Cain"--a shortening of James M. Cain (whose work Double Indemnity I recently blogged about), who had always bristled at the label of a hard-boiled crime novelist and held a passion for being a singer that never worked out--to the closer "Faith/Void"--in which he suggests that "it's time to put God away"--Callahan takes us on a rambling ride through his world, one filled with horses, birds, and wind. Guiding the listener by hand is his voice, the irregular cadence of which allows it to act as an instrument different than most. Fleshing out the entire album are tasteful, unimposing strings arranged by Brian Beattie, and in songs like "All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beasts" and "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" (I've checked and have yet to find out what the chorus means) the rhythm section adds a dimension of propulsion not entirely common in Callahan's work.

What I'm really saying, though, is that I love this new album. When I reach for a Smog/Bill Callahan release, this will be the first one I grab, and that's saying a lot.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: Was I Retarded as a Child?

I know, I know. "What the fuck are you doing up right now?" I kind of fell asleep while writing my column, finished it, and then got around to posting a Royals entry and knew that I could bust out another about something that happened on Saturday night.

First, I will post this link that you should follow to watch the "Opening Gambit" at the very least. I say this if only to give you a true frame of reference for what I'm about to talk about.

I'll wait.

Go ahead.

All right, seen enough?

Now, as a child, I liked "MacGyver". I wouldn't say I wanted to model my life after him or anything, but I'm sure I thought the show was pretty damn cool.

Boy, was I fucking wrong in retrospect. To watch the show, you would think it was produced for Christian television if judging it by its production value. This episode in particular (Trumbo's World) features preposterous POV-through-binoculars-and-camera of carnivorous ants devouring everything in sight in the Amazon basin. The "close-ups" that the binocs and camera afford the characters in the show are patently ridiculous. To get an appreciation for exactly how dumb this is you will have to watch further into that episode, which is actually worth it.

In addition to how ridiculous the production of this show is (oh, there's also a horrible and seemingly unnecessary rear-projection sequence on a small motorboat that suddenly changes to being on a stream), there's the acting. This episode is bogged down by "Babylon 5" alum Peter Jurasik and whoever the actor that plays Trumbo is. And that's obviously already including Richard Dean Anderson, who at this point in his career decided he was going to channel John Wayne with brain damage.

I watched this whole episode Saturday night, as Chad, Mark, and I explored the Roku player. We also watched a special live episode of "Gimme a Break" (which no doubt inspired "Roc Live") and one of the Chaz episodes of "Charles in Charge" in a fit of group masochism that has seen no equal in the history of man. Trust me, this is not something you want to do. And while both of those shows were expectantly awful, it was the shock that set in upon finishing "MacGyver" that stays with me the most.

The most shocking thing about having seen this show is that this was the sixth episode, and it is unfathomable that they continued airing this series after this abysmal episode. Keep in mind, this was airing at the same time as "Moonlighting". Hell, "The Rockford Files" was off the air, what, six years earlier, and in its first season it looked better than that. There should have been no excuses for a show resorting to such archaic production value. The whole time, I kept waiting for a star wipe.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Musicalia: Soundtrack to a Defecation

While taking care of business before leaving work today, the following song (perhaps the best song ever written) came on:

I have to say that I have come to the conclusion that I would prefer that this song come on anytime I drop trou and get to working on what I do best.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Man on Film: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I've been meaning to write up a ton of music stuff, but I kind of have to be listening to the album while I do an entry on it. As I tend to sit down at the computer while I am watching the Royals (there are 20 seconds between pitches, so there's definitely time), this is not the easiest thing to fit in since I use the auditory cues of the broadcast to keep tabs on things. As such, you get my reaction to Wolverine.

First off, I expected this movie to blow hard. Nearly everything I read implied that this was in fact worse than X-Men 3. In the last ten years, I have only seen one movie in the theaters that I hated more than X-Men 3, and that was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (which I wrote a rather angry review of over at IMDB, which I will actually cut-and-paste here*).

*(Spoiler Alert) This film is like having a fat man who ate at IHOP run a marathon and then drop a diarrhea dump on your chest and proceed to use your face as toilet paper

I should preface this review by saying that I was indifferent as to how I might feel about this film going into it. I thought the first film was fairly good. It was entertaining, but nothing that made me yearn for a second one. That being said, I hadn't read a review of this film (and still haven't) and had only heard that it had received mixed reviews. I had tempered expectations going into the theater, but I was certainly open to a good time.

A good time was not had. This film was quite simply awful. I have not seen anything in a long time that made me marvel at the fact that it was actually the finished product of a gigantic summer film churned out by a Hollywood Studio. I saw X-Men 3. While that was dreadful, this was eons past X3 in terms of excrement put to celluloid.

The plot was akin to a second-grader's class project. There was zero character development and not a single moment in which you thought you were seeing an original thought projected onto the screen. While it is a sequel, at some point the things that happen to the characters should matter, and if something bad happens to a character, the events that have molded him or her to that point should affect the audience somehow. Instead, the tools responsible for this screenplay have events happen without emotionally investing the audience in any way, shape, or form as to the fate of the characters on-screen, simply hoping that writing an event will somehow tug at the heart-strings of the audience without ever having to earn it.

I don't know that it is entirely the filmmakers' fault, because it seems that Verbinski & Co. were tied to some P.O.S. script that was churned out in a matter of days to get the cameras rolling, so Disney could bend the movie-goer over and sodomize them while getting paid for it. In the place of an actual story, they were probably told to blow up the film with mind-numbing action sequences and lame special effects.

To add insult to injury, the film clocks in at a mere two-and-a-half hours, which for a film with a plot wouldn't bother me in the least, but when you can write out the entire plot of this film in a matter of moments, seeing that paper-thin storyline stretched into 150 minutes is unbearable.

I could even make an exception to all of the aforementioned gripes and say that there was something in the film worthwhile if there was one performance from the cast that was mildly amusing. Alas, there is not. The actors all seem to have mailed it in, including Depp, who had a single chuckle-worthy moment as a follow-up to an Oscar-nominated turn in the previous Pirates outing.

***********SPOILER ALERT*************** When it comes down to it, all you'll get from this film is an obscenely long prologue to Pirates of the Caribbean 3: The Search for Spock--I mean Jack, because the entire plot of this atrocious piece of refuse is enough to fill a mere introduction to a real story.

Of the X-Men series, I really only loved X-Men 2. I thought the first one was overloaded with way too many characters crammed into the mix just for show. The dearth of characters was such that there was little-to-no room for character development, and the casting of Anna Paquin as Rogue was simply infuriating to me. Additionally, there were way too many villains just kind of hanging around apparently tasked to look vaguely intimidating while doing little else. So fuck the first one.

The second one was amazing. I was shocked. There is really not a disparaging word I have to say about that film. It touches on the themes of alienation and extermination that made the comic books great. The villainous military element was startlingly scary while paring the focus down to a more realistic enemy.

Then there was the third installment which was unspeakably bad. The shitty thing is, there was no way it wasn't going to suck balls with Brett Ratner at the helm. Despite the low expectations, it exceeded the expected awfulness to take a seat directly behind PotC:DMC in the unenviable realm of worst movie of the 2000s*.

*Southland Tales obviously ends up in this category, but I didn't see it in the theaters, thankfully. It also happens that Jeremy, who is apparently as willing as Jackie and I are to see just how bad a movie can get, decided to dive into ST, as well as Wolverine.

So I expected this to somehow be worse than that. Upon deciding to test our tolerance for utter shit, Jeremy, Jackie, and I sucked it up and went on Sunday night. On the phone when we decided to do it, Jeremy suggested that he may actually want to walk out, which he doesn't do.

Well, we didn't walk out.

Don't get me wrong. This was not a good film. It was actually bad.

There was no cohesive thread to the narrative. Much in the same way Pirates 2 came off, Wolverine seemed like a movie of action sequences that was pieced together with little regard for themes, story, or dialogue. As was the fault of the first X-Men movie, there were far too many characters thrown into the film with little idea as to how to utilize them, not that such an undertaking would have been possible in a film any less than nine hours long. Ryan Reynolds and Taylor Kitsch were both very good as Wade Wilson and Gambit, respectively, but had a combined screen time of somewhere around ten minutes. Liev Schreiber is good as Sabretooth, but it feels like they didn't make Sabretooth animalistic enough. Jackman does exactly what he has done for the three prior X-Men installments. He owns the character and pulls off the extreme badass well.

As for the other stuff, the effects were at times solid and at other times laughably bad. The scene where he is inspecting his new claws in the bathroom mirror is abysmal. For most of the movie, the claws look amateurish. Some of the action sequences work. Others are not quite as good.

Going much more into this would be absurd. I don't know why I've written so much. Well, maybe I do. Wolverine was my favorite comic book character as a teen. He took over where Spiderman left off. Wolverine was so much darker. The darkness quenched a thirst for something slightly more adult in the admittedly lighter comic book fare of the Marvel Universe. For the most part, the character has been portrayed well in the film medium. It just so happens that the films themselves have often been lacking. I guess that speaks to Hugh Jackman's skill as an actor.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tube Steak: "In Treatment", You've Still Got It

The second season of "In Treatment" has been every bit as compelling as the first, with Gabriel Byrne's Dr. Paul Weston descending further into his brokenness as he has removed himself from his home and family. Perhaps the most interesting development of this second season has been how he has let his patients into his life as his family structure--fractured as it may have been--has all but evaporated.

Coming off of a tumultuous year in which he fell in love with a patient, was sued for malpractice by the family of another, divorced his adulterous wife, and moved to Brooklyn from his suburban Maryland home. Having nearly blown up his life, it would seem that the writers wanted to test out John Donne's notion that "no man is an island, entire of itself."

Within the dynamic of this season, Paul is seeing patients that seem to address his own need to supplant his estranged family with one comprised of patients. Paternal instincts come to the fore heavily in the April and Oliver sessions. Mia finds new ways to try to draw Paul into her life as a husband figure. There are maternal qualities to his relationship with Gina.

Most importantly, from these small segments of people's lives, once-a-week therapy sessions, the audience is given gifts. Like in Week Four, two episodes after having to move a Mia session to the other room from the dining room and implying her want for the session to occur in there was motivated by wanting to feel special, he brought Oliver--who felt unwanted by his parents and had stopped eating because kids at school (and his father to a lesser degree) were calling him fat--into the kitchen (and into his world) to have a sandwich. If anything can be made of the parentheticals and tangents in that prior sentence it is that the show is rife with subtext.

There is so much going on in each episode--the week's events in each patient's life being uncovered, the patient's past affecting their every decision--that it really is like a mystery every week, as Terry Gross got to on Fresh Air earlier this week.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Diversions: The Smiley Face Killer Strikes Again

Thanks to Chad for giving me the head's up on this, but it looks as though the serial killer I have been preaching about for about a decade now has struck again.

This is how it is every time. 20-something college male goes missing, ends up in river. I like how drunk males found ways to not end up corpses in rivers for thousands of years, and now there are what 15 or 20 since about 1998 or so in the Upper Midwest--a relatively regionally specific phenomenon--but this is mere coincidence.

Do college kids in Alabama not drink within 20 miles of bodies of water? What about in Oregon?

Now I don't necessarily buy into that jibber-jabber about there being a gang of serial killers or that the initial incident in New York that the detectives on the case are trying to link to the midwestern cases is tied in at all, but for fuck's sake there is no way this is all coincidental.
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