Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I present to you a new musical sensation - Wing! What, never heard of her? Where have you been, mister and Ms.? Wing, from what I gather from her Web site, is a Hong Kong native who moved to New Zealand about as decade ago and decided to learn how to sing. Nine CDs later, apparently she's still learning, but you can't fault her for trying. She has tackled everything from the Broadway tunes to Christmas carols and has recorded entire albums devoted to the Beatles ("Beatles Classics by Wing"), the Carpenters ("Wing Sings the Carpenters") and her newest project, "Dancing Queen by Wing" - yep, you guessed it, a CD devoted to the work of ABBA. (Where's Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths when you need them?) But, really, Wing has to be heard to be believed. And even though it's hard to poke fun at a nice lady who performs at hospitals and nursing homes, it's a little easier once you experience the fruits of her labor.

But, as you hunker down with your headphones to marvel at the vocal talents of Wing, keep this in mind - if she can record nine albums, then anybody can. Including you. But not me - I can't sing worth a damn.

I give you ... Wing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

What the Puck?

The National Hockey League (you remember them, right?) has announced that, in an effort to raise fan excitement, the nets will be increased in size next season to promote more goal scoring.

Nice idea, but do you know what else puts butts in the seats? Players! (Not to mention a schedule of games that actually get played.)

Game ... on?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Finally, the Final Four

Let's review. My Final Four predictions were: Illinois, North Carolina, Louisville and Kentucky

The actual Final Four when the smoke cleared: Illinois, North Carolina, Louisville and Michigan State.

Three out of four isn't bad, considering this year. But if you saw the state of my overall tournament bracket - and you will never see that - you wouldn't be so proud of my acumen.

So who win it all? My heart says Illinois, 'cause they have been sorely underestimated all season, even as they stayed at No. 1 and nearly went undefeated. By my head says North Carolina 'cause they have been the most dominant team of the tourney. I guess we'll see what the teams themselves say this coming weekend.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Commercials that are just WRONG

Commercials - their task is to compel us to buy more stuff, not necessarily to entertain us, and definitely not to repel us away with our arms flailing above us. But that's precisely what two such ads have done to me in recent weeks. And it's not even that the commercials themselves repulse or offend me. They're just ... odd. A bit too odd for my taste.

The first such commercial is the one for Van de Kamp's frozen fish products. They depict a natural setting - a playground, a racquetball court - where something is just off. That being the presence of a fish, quite obviously out of water and apparently trying to mouth some words - maybe "Take me to your leader" or, quite possible, "Put me back in the water." The people in the commercial are seen to back away in some form of stilted panic. A clearly despondent man can be see on the racquetball court, his head planted deeply into his hands. In the spot on the playground, a young girl reaches inquisitively for the fish, only to be grabbed by her freaked-out mom.

The tagline for these ads is "Uncomfortable around fish" - i.e., for those who can't deal with preparing fresh fish for your family, come buy our frozen, already-prepared fish dishes such as fish sticks, fried fillets, etc. Obviously the set-up is supposed to be some form of irony (like rain on your wedding day, perhaps). But to me, the scenario is more logical than humorous. If I were walking down the lane and suddenly came across a 3-foot swordfish standing on its back fins and trying to speak to me, I would quite properly think that the End was near and would run away in a fevered panic. And it would not make me hungry for fish sticks.

The other disturbing commercial is, on the surface, even more benign - a seasonal marketing approach by Jell-O to turn its ever-popular gelatin products into "jiggler eggs" for Easter. Thus, three little girls in bunny costumes parade around the room holding big, wiggling, glistening eggs made of Bill Cosby's favorite dessert. Innocent, friendly fun, right? Maybe for you. But in my eyes, eggs should not jiggle. I look at those fruity objects in those kids' hands and all I can see in my mind is that scene in "Alien" involving John Hurt and a meal that did not agree with him. A totally illogical concept to connect Easter joy and sci-fi horror, sure - but then again, we live in a world where fish walk the streets. And where the Red Sox win the World Series.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Devil in a (turtle) shell! Run! Run!

This explains so much when you think about it - really! To think that inside the heart of this benign, docile creatures lurks the very spirit of pure evil. But seriously, folks, shouldn't this story be taking place in Florida instead of Indiana?

Courtesy of my pal Beth.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I saw a screening of "Sin City" last night

I didn't read the original graphic novel, so I have no basis of comparison, but I'm assuming that because of Frank Miller's involvement with the project, the film stays pretty close to the source material. Having said that, I found "Sin City" to be a deliciously bloody (literally) good time. A shade below "Pulp Fiction," but probably only because that movie came first. (And, yeah, I know that "Sin City" was published before "Pulp Fiction" came out, so one could argue which truly came first, but I'm going by my point of reference.) Director Robert Rodriguez is a visual genius, though most of us already knew that. He really takes advantage of his digital backgrounds and allows the real-life actors to effectively melt into their surroundings. And most of the acting is top notch, espeicially the career-reviving performance by a nearly unrecognizable Mickey Rourke. He takes his character, a nearly indestructable force of nature named Marv, and embodies both his fury and his heartfelt emotion. Be warned, though, that "Sin City" is a very violent movie, and the violence is treated in both cartoony and graphic ways. Roger Ebert called "The Passion of the Christ" the most violent film he had ever seen around this time last year; that title may have just been transferred to Rodriguez' "home movie." 3 1/2 stars.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Congressional Steroid Hearings - Strikeout

Re: Yesterday's House committee hearings regarding the use of steroids in Major League Baseball - can the world get those 11-plus hours of its existence back?

I mean, what was really accomplished by what came within a bloop single of becoming a show trial, in which the entire baseball operation was feeling the heat? Oh, we learned that steroids are bad! What a revelation. While this government is fighting a war, trying to figure out how it will pay its bills and haggling over serious issues such as health care and Social Security, several of its elected representatives spend their St. Patrick's Day getting critical face time and brownie points by bantering with Sammy Sosa and company. (You know at least some of the committee members copped autographs when all was said and done.) One obvious question is, "Why now?" Baseball has been dealing in one way or another with the steroid issue for nearly a decade now; it's distressing to think that a book written by former big-league slugger/current ex-con Jose Canseco prompted the Beltway Boys to sit up and smell the pine tar.

This is not to belittle the steroids issue. Studies have more than proven the danger of long-term use of the performance-enhancing drug (even if the jury is still out about how much the performance of baseball players is enhanced). The pain and suffering of the families who testified about how their kids had committed suicide in post-steroids depression was very real - it may have been the only real part of the entire day. But they were the only real winners (if you can even call people in their situation "winner") of the whole enterprise. Losers? There were plenty. Commissioner Bug Selig and players' union head Donald Fehr came across as somewhat whipped by the athletes who power (no pun intended) the game and may have kept the current MLB policy on steroids soft by the standards of other sports. But many of the Congressmen didn't do much better. They ignored the fact that baseball may not be practicing zero tolerance like track and field, but they are doing something to fight a practice that already seems to be major decline. Not to mention that the minor leagues has had a stricter anti-steroids line for years now, a more effective barrier to rampant steroid use in the majors. And the fawning of some of the Representatives approached groaning level at times. Exactly what does it matter what pitch Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Famer who testified earlier in the day, threw to Mickey Mantle when he hit a 500-plus-foot home run off of him?

The two who lost the most threw their statements, though, were on the opposite sides of the steroids spectrum. Much has been said about Mark McGwire's performance yesterday, his tearful opening statement that included his declaration that he wouldn't speak in detail about the suspected steroid use of either himself or those around him. He said that if he said he had juiced up, he and those around him would be scorned and abused; if he said no (like Sosa and Frank Thomas and Curt Schilling and others did), he simply wouldn't be believed. He forgot the third part of that theory - if he basically said no comment, that would be treated as a de facto yes. For all the rumors and allegations about McGwire over the years, his own words yesterday did more damage to his legacy that all of that innuendo put together.

But Canseco, one of McGwire's chief accusers, didn't do much better. Not only was the whipping boy of McGwire and others on the players' panel, he himself came across as a hypocrite by suddenly switching his party line that steroids were good for improving athletic performance. His 180-degree, come-to-Jesus switch to the steroids-are-evil line came across as unconvincing and self-serving. And at least McGwire's tears were believable, even if his message was skewed; the former slugger has always been known as a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Canseco's acting job wouldn't get him work on a D-list soap.

As for Congress' threats to get involved in baseball's steroid policy if the league itself doesn't do more, that came across as hollow within a day, as President Bush has said that he is not in favor of government intervention. So much for that.

It's a shame that on what should have been a great day in sports - the beginning of the NCAA Tournament and the NBA rematch of Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O'Neal - that this grandstanding affair dominated the headlines. Steroid use in all sports is a situation that does need to be monitored and taken seriously. And yesterday's sideshow is not the way to do it. Foul balls for everyone.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

My Final Four picks

For what it's worth. I don't know much about college basketball except that it's fun to watch and the players and fans rarely go after each other. But it seems to be the fashion this time of year to fill out the brackets and see what you're made up in terms of full-court acumen. So - here I go. I'm picking Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky and Louisville, with Illinois defeating North Carolina for the title. There. I did it. I'll be wrong. This is why I don't bet on sports.

Breaking: Robert Blake not guilty

Guess this sets up that long-awaited "Baretta" reunion show!

Jose Canseco, the 'fraidy cat?

OK, I'm confused. Jose Canseo publishes a book about he and half the known baseball world were loading up on steroids and how steroids in fact can be good for your athletic career (he says this, of course, before his liver falls out and his gonads shrink). But when the Senate subpoenas him to show up and discuss his past exploits with the juice on the record, he asks for immunity? Maybe his gonads are shrinking - or maybe he's just getting sound legal advice before he presents himself to the federal government. No, I like the first theory better - it's sexier, for some reason.

Proof that the U.S.-Mexico relationship may be in trouble

Relations between the U.S. and Mexico, while usually good, have been a bit strained lately, mainly because the Mexican government feels that it has been getting the short end of the stick in recent months in terms of immigration policy and the fact that Americans have been warned not to vacation south of the border for safety reasons. Now this - the announcement that the National Football League will play a regular-season game in Mexico City in October, the first time an actual, it-counts NFL game will take place outside of the U.S. Fine - except the more the 100,000 fans expected to pile into Azteca Stadium will get the privilege of watching two of the worst teams in the league - the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. The Corona beer had better be half-price that Sunday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

"Napoleon Dynamite"

Just saw it. Sweet film. But very surreal. Reminded me a lot of my days in high school, though I was not that nerdy. And I didn't grow in Idaho. And I didn't wear winter booties in the middle of the summer. But I did like me some tater tots.

3 stars.

Crime doesn't pay ...

And neither does flipping off the entire nation!

AP Wire | 03/15/2005 | ASU player dismissed for obscene gesture

Chicago Cubs 2005: That's a Wrap?

Now that both of the Cubs' young ace pitchers, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, already have gone down with arm trouble before the team even breaks spring training camp, it's the fashionable thing to declare the season already over for the Chicago National League Nine, yet another piece of coal in the overflowing sack of misery that is the existence of the die-hard Cubs fan. But what about me. Am I about to pronounce the Cubbies dead on arrival in 2005? Am I going to write off the forthcoming campaign as a wash-out, a perpetual six-month black cloud over my head?

Yeah, probably.

Not that great things can't happen. No one saw 1969 or 1984 or 1989 or 2003 coming, after all. In all of those years, the Cubs were supposed to do their usual die-in-August routine, yet they contended for, or actually, made the playoffs. But, then again, as is the lot of us martyrs to the blue pinstripes, we think as much about how all of those seasons ended as to the thrilling lead-up to the finales. And none of them ended with World Series titles, or even World Series invites. They ended with black cats on the field, first basemen forgetting the basics of fielding, or random fans inserting themselves into the action at the worst possible moment. In short, they ended crappily.

I, and others of my ilk, take preverse delight in saying that we are guaranteed admittance into heaven when it's all over because we have lived our Purgatory on earth courtesy of the Chicago Cubs. With Sosa off the reservation for good and Wood and Prior already fragile, it may be time to think of 2005 as another step along the way to salvation.

Or they could go all the way. Hey, anything is possible. (Right, Boston?)

A sequel to "Cheaper by the Dozen"?

Apparently, according to this news brief:

Steve Martin ready for another 'Dozen'

[World News]: LOS ANGELES, March 11 : Steve Martin will reunite with 'Bringing Down the House' director Adam Shankman for a sequel to 2003's 'Cheaper by the Dozen.'

Shankman -- who directed the Jennifer Lopez-Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy 'The Wedding Planner' and the Mandy Moore drama 'A Walk to Remember' -- has become one of the hottest comedy directors in Hollywood.'Bringing Down the House' grossed $132.5 million at the U.S. box office and his latest project -- the Vin Diesel comedy 'The Pacifier' -- took in $30.5 million last weekend when it opened at No.1. Shankman told Daily Variety deals are being worked out for Martin and other cast members from 'Cheaper by the Dozen,' including Bonnie Hunt and Piper Perabo, but he said it was questionable whether Hilary Duff would return for the sequel.The story for the new movie follows the family with 12 kids as they go on a vacation and run into trouble with another family from the neighborhood that has eight kids.

'Cheaper by the Dozen,' directed by Shawn Levy, grossed $138 million.

So what will they call it, "Cheaper by the Nearly Two Dozen"? Will there be a subplot where the adorable Bonnie Hunt will be forced to wear a pregnancy suit during half the movie? Or, wait, they can have Hunt and screen daughter Perabo both be pregnant, and they can have their babies within minutes of each other while Martin shuffles from room to room in the hospital! What an original concept!

Will Martin Short be available?

Meanwhile, Ms. Duff may not be available for this return to comedic domestic bliss. Probably because she has turned into the most expensive cast member, provided actor/Demi impregnator Ashton Kutcher isn't able to reprise his uncredited role as Perabo's idiot boyfriend. (Didn't she dump him at the end of the original?) And, by the way, when Duff's feud between Lindsay Lohan was going hot and heavy, did anyone else have images of a twisted version of the Tupac/Notorious B.I.G. showdown? And we all know how that one ended.

Steve Stone

Cub fans still bemoaning the dismissal of broadcaster Steve Stone at the end of last season will be interested to know that he has turned up as a color guy on ESPN's spring training games. I don't know if he will stay on for the regular season, but considering how many games ESPN and its 37 sister stations air each week, the more warm voices they can find, the better.

Well, here we go ...

This blog has been in the making for ... well, several minutes. Seriously, my brother has been on my case to start a blog for months now, and just recently one of my best friends in the world carved out her own section of the universe and has had a blast in the just the first few days. So finally I figured, what the heck? Thus, this. I plan to talk about almost anything that comes into my head here. It may be a film or TV reviews (that's part of what I do for a living, after all), or a comment abou the news of the day, or a funny (?) joke, or a recipe for seafood. We will see.

In the meantime, I indulge you for patience, understanding and pungent comments. Keep me on my toes and I'll try to keep you on yours.