Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas ...

Some bits of cheer to add to the holiday celebration of you, Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2006. (No, I don't think I'll ever get over that.)

From last year, SNL's Christmastime for the Jews:

From 1977, the "classic" duet of "Little Drummer Boy" by Bing Crosby and David Bowie (click here for a great Washington Post article about the genesis of the mash-up):

A very cute rendition of "Christmas Don't Be Late" by Alvin and the Chipmunks - only, not so much (and, no, I don't know who these people are):

Finally, for the demented out there, the real story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:

Merry Christmas, people. See you on the other side!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The last "Harry Potter" novel will be called ...

Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows.

Oooooo - I'm guessing this one won't be filled with laughs.

Still, it beats J.K. Rawlings' first choice - Harry Potter's Apocalypto.

See what happens when you keep everything to yourself?

Even the nutjobs who run North Korea know enough to set up lines of successions to their absolute nutjob power should they kick off suddently. But nooooooo - apparently that was above Saparmurat Niyazov, the absolute nutjob ruler of the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan. He had been the number-one guy of this Central Asian nation since well before the breakup of the USSR, and after independence in 1991, Niyazov went really nutjob by setting up a cult of personality of the likes that even Stalin, Castro and even Regis would envy. This cat put his face on the money. He had his portrait hung in just about any open space in the country. He named airports, schools, even months of the year and days of the week after himself. And his word was law, and that was that.

And now, for him, that's really that. 'Cause the nutjob is now a dead nutjob, taken out by his heart, which apparently didn't get the memo that Niyazov was the absolute ruler of Turkmenistan. Oh, well. Now the fun really begins, as there will be a lot of would-be nutjobs applying for the job of the top banana. And by "applying," I mean possible gunplay. This is how the best civil wars are created. Or maybe they could just install Borat and be done with it.

(Yeah, I know, Borat is from a differnet -stan. But, really, once you've met one -stan, haven't you met them all?)

Click on the subject line to read more about the death of this particular nutjob.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Taco Bell - blimey!

Just saw a commercial for Taco Bell in which the company's president, Greg Creed, declares the the Centers for Disease Control has given the Mexican fast-food restaurant the all-clear following the E.coli outbreak at several of its East Coast establishments. I don't know what's more disturbing - that some of Taco Bell's burritos may have been guided missiles of bacterial, or that the guy in charge is really a Brit.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How was this a good idea?

A basketball game of the women's college variety was played Monday night in Phoenix between Arizona State and Texas Tech. The home team won 61-45, but not before the contest was stopped with a little over four minutes left to play - on account of rain. That's right, the game was played outside - at Chase Field, the usual home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to be exact. Oh, by the way, Chase Field has a retractable roof. It just happened to be open this night, and there wasn't any opportunity to close it before the basketball court became too wet to continue.

Somewhere, somehow, the powers that be whom had the bright idea to pull this stunt forgot that, in the winter, the desert can get pretty chilly at night. So cold that several of the players wore long-sleeved shirts underneath their tank top jerseys. When you read the story that's attached to this post, you will read that many of the fans who gathered to watch the Sun Devils and Lady Raiders were bundled up "like (Green Bay) Packers fans at Lambeau Field."

Yeah, nothing like hot chocolate and a touch of pneumonia to go with your women's college basketball.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Everybody sing along!

I am not a singer. I don't even play one on television. But there I was, sitting in one of several studios at a karaoke restaurant in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood, about to perform the time-honored Journey power ballad "Don't Stop Believin' " at my friend Tamara's 30th birthday party. What was I thinking, I was, well, thinking to myself.

Tamara is great. She's a writer's assistant for a Top Ten crime drama, and she's also an excellent singer. She's been performing in choirs and a cappella groups since before she was in college. And she loves karaoke. But this was the first time I joined her on one of her musical get-togethers. And I went to the party bound and determined not to sing - even though I had, just in case, practiced in the safety of my shower. But the atmosphere was so addictively cheesy. There we were, Tamara and her boyfriend and her other pals and me, in this sterile room with long couches and the world's largest coffee table. Interspersed on the table were several thick books that were filled with song titles and the corresponding numbers, which were to be punched into the large karaoke machine in a corner of the room. The machine consisted of nine TV screens. The middle one was where the lyrics for the selected songs would be displayed for the performer. The other eight screens were displaying silent images from MTV 2.

Many of the songs were Korean, a few were randomly Vietnamese. But a large section were available in English, even though a few of my favorites were missing. No "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins? And whither "More Than This" by Roxy Music, immortalized in karaoke form by Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation"?

Anyway, the birthday girl took the mic to perform the evening's first song, Jewel's "Foolish Games." The lyrics popped onto the screen, accompanied by images of - Korea pastoral life? (An ongoing theme, I assure you.) And Tamara ... blew the roof off of the joint. (Is it really fun when someone actually can hold a tune at karaoke?) I should have been intimidated. But the atmosphere was intoxicating. And so I decided to throw caution to the wind - besides, if I was going to embarrass myself, might as well do it in front a group of near-total strangers.

My first mistake of the evening was trying to emulate Steve Perry with my first lyric of "Don't Stop Believin' " - I nearly blew my voice off in one moment. But I adjusted myself and finished the song with the requisite amount of early ’80s passion. My score from the machine was good. (Oh, yeah, the machine scored us - very randomly, if you ask me.) And then, later on, I made my second mistake - my second song, "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas. A song that basically says that we're all going to die. Happy birthday, Tamara!

Well, at least it wasn't Sarah Brightman's version. That would have sent the entire party over the cliff.

So for my last number, I went upbeat: Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." I kind of rocked the house with that one, even though the video of Korean pastoral ducks threw me for a bit of a loop. So, in the end, I did have a lot of fun. In fact, despite my better judgment, I'm considering having my next birthday party at a karaoke bar. Though I may have to convince more than one of my friends to come. I'll take a guess that Tamara will be into it, though.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The San Francisco Film Critics Circle ...

Leave to the San Francisco Film Critics Circle to march to the beat of their own collective drummer in bestowing their 2006 awards. You will see that their top movie of the year is a bit off the beaten path, that Forest Whitaker's winning streak has been ended by a gregarious foreigner (and I don't mean Peter O'Toole) and that the best original screenplay award from the Bay Area critics has gone to a small indie that can best be described as teen noir. But there is some stability - right, Dame Helen? After all, her movie was called The Queen.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards (announced 12-10-06)
Best Picture: Little Children
Best Actor: Sasha Baron Cohen, Borat
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza, Babel
Best Director, Paul Greengrass, United 93
Best Original Screenplay: Rian Johnson, Brick
Best Adapted Screenplay: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, Little Children
Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth

Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose ...

Peter Boyle: 1935-2006

Goodnight, funny man.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The BCFA ... now it gets interesting!

Until now, we've been working with outright winners, one or maybe two names or movie per category. But the Broadcast Film Critics Association changes that paradigm because its Critics' Choice Awards process with actual nominations from which the winners will be announced next month. Because the Academy Awards also come from nominations (see, you learn something new every day), the Critics' Choice has become an important precursor in terms of determining what the ultimate competition will be. Thus Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren can't just claim even more hardware just yet; they'll have to wait for a few nervous week to find out what's what.

And for Whitaker especially, a treacherous future may await, for there, in the Best Actor category, has emerged for the first time the name of Peter O'Toole. He's up for his performance in an obscure comedy/drama called Venus, and this is critical because O'Toole, for all of his legendary acting roles (and seven Best Actor nominations from the Academy Awards) has never won a competitive Oscar. You may remember that he received an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2003, but was extremely reluctant to do so because he felt that he still had a chance to pick up a "real" one in him. Well, here we go. Regardless of how good O'Toole is in Venus, the possibility that the Irish actor, who is 74 and has been in shaky health for the better part of 30 years (he's missing a pancreas and a hunk of stomach), could finally take home an Academy Award on his own merits is strong. But it may be nuts to Whitaker and his own breathtaking work as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

Well, that's OK, 'cause Forest will still get to take home the cool Oscar goodie basket - oh, never mind.

Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics' Choice Awards (nominations announced 12-12-06)
Best Picture
Blood Diamond
The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Children
Little Miss Sunshine
Notes on a Scandal
The Queen
United 93

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
(Two Leos? Which one will have the hotter date?)
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole, Venus
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Best Actress
Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children

Best Supporting Actor
Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland
Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Adam Beach, Flags of Our Fathers
Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson, The Departed

Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza, Babel
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Catherine O'Hara, For Your Consideration
Emma Thompson, Stranger than Fiction

Best Director
Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Paul Greengrass, United 93
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Best Acting Ensemble
The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine
A Prairie Home Companion

Best Writer
Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
Guillermo Arriaga, Babel
Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, Little Children
Zach Helm, Stranger Than Fiction
William Monahan, The Departed
Peter Morgan, The Queen

Best Animated Feature
Flushed Away
Happy Feet
Monster House
Over The Hedge

Best Young Actor
Cameron Bright, Thank You For Smoking
Joseph Cross, Running With Scissors
Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine
Freddie Highmore, A Good Year
Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness

Best Young Actress
Ivana Baquero, Pan's Labyrinth
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson
Dakota Fanning, Charlotte's Web
Keke Palmer, Akeelah and the Bee

Best Comedy Movie
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
The Devil Wears Prada
For Your Consideration
Little Miss Sunshine
Thank You For Smoking

Best Family Film (live action)
Akeelah and the Bee
Charlotte's Web
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Best Picture Made for Television
Elizabeth I
The Librarian
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
The Ron Clark Story
When the Levees Broke

Best Documentary Feature
An Inconvenient Truth
Shut Up and Sing
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Who Killed the Electric Car

Best Foreign Language Film
Days of Glory
Letters From Iwo Jima
Pan's Labyrinth

Best Song
"I Need To Wake Up", Melissa Etheridge, An Inconvenient Truth
"Listen", Beyonce, Dreamgirls
"My Little Girl", Tim McGraw, Flicka
"The Neighbor", Dixie Chicks, Shut Up and Sing
"Never Gonna Break My Faith", Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Bobby
"Ordinary Miracle", Sarah McLachlan, Charlotte's Web

Best Soundtrack
Happy Feet
Marie Antoinette

Best Composer
Phillip Glass, The Illusionist
Clint Mansell, The Fountain
Thomas Newman, The Good German
Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel
Howard Shore, The Departed
Hans Zimmer, The Da Vinci Code

And she is telling you ...

On Friday, the Dreamgirls juggernaut to the Academy Awards, which already has had a good pre-game thanks to several critics' awards and nominations, will begin in earnest when the movie version of the hit Broadway musical hits theaters in New York City and Los Angeles, leading up to its wide release at Christmas. The hype machine already had created tons of precious Oscar buzz that's surrounding not only the film as a whole, but especially former American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson, who is considered a near-lock for a Best Supporting Actress nomination (at least) for her performance as the strong-voiced Effie, whose unceremonious ejection from the Supremes-like girl group at the heard of Dreamgirls leads to her performing the show's signature tune, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." It should be a triumphant moment for fans of the musical who celebrate it not only as sheer entertainment, but also for its place in the history of African Americans in entertainment. But behind the joy is another story, that of the original Effie, Jennifer Holliday. She sang that song more than a quarter century ago when Dreamgirls debuted on Broadway, a performance that brought houses down night after night and won her a Tony. But Holliday's road has been hard since then, and the renewed interest in Dreamgirls, instead of giving her a new burst of adoration, has instead opened additional wounds for the performer - mainly because, according to Holliday, the filmmakers and the studios (Dreamworks and Paramount) have all but ignored her contribution to the original Dreamgirls legacy.

Click on the subject line to read the Los Angeles Times article about Holliday, the movie and why she's feeling particularly pained at what could have been a glorious time for her. You will notice, if you read the story, that the studios have no comment about what guided their apparently dis of Holliday at this crucial time. One would hope they would do the right thing by her at some point, though a cameo in the movie would have been nice. One should also note that it's bad PR like this - real or otherwise - that has damaged or outright sunk more than one Oscar campaign in the past. Just ask Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson, among others. Considering how great this movie apparently is - I'll see it for myself this weekend - it would be a shame if unfortunately behavior against the entire production's biggest star screwed things up for everyone involved, then and now.

P.S. If you want a taste of Holliday's talents, play the video below to hear her perform "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." I saw her do this number in person several years ago, but almost 20 years after Dreamgirls, and it put goosebumps on my goosebumps.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The New York Film Critics Circle ...

They've been around since 1935, and their current ranks include Rex Reed, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. They're the New York Film Critics Circle, and they voted this morning on what they thought were the best films of 2006. These are their choices. There's one doozy among them - see if you can pick it out.

New York Film Critics Circle Awards (announced 12-11-06)
Best Picture: United 93
Best Actor, Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress, Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor, Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
Yes, that Jackie Earle Haley, late of The Bad News Bears (the Walter Matthau version) and Breaking Away (the film and the resulting TV series). Turns out that after he grew up, he left the acting world but not entertainment, segueing into producing and directing television commercials. Only recently has he returned to acting; he played a sex offender opposite Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly in Little Children. What we call this, boys and girls, is a feel-good story - child actor returns to make good. The Academy eats that stuff up.)
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best Screenplay, Peter Morgan, The Queen
Best Foreign Film: Army of Shadows
Best Non-Fiction Film: Deliver Us from Evil
Best Animated Film: Happy Feet
Best Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth
Best First Film: Ryan Fleck, Half Nelson

At this point, you may ask, is this Mirren/Whitaker juggernaut starting to get boring? To which I would respond, why don't you ask the two of them about that?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Boston Society of Film Critics ...

The Boston Society of Film Critics was formed in 1981. They also name their runners-up in the categories they judge.

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (announced 12-10-2006)
Best Picture: The Departed (of course, it's just a coincidence that the film takes place in Boston - even if it was filmed in New York City)
Runner-up: United 93 (another connection - three of the four doomed flights on 9/11 originated in Boston. Of course, Flight 93 started in Newark so ... forget everything I just said)

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Runner-up: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Runner-up: Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal (hey, two dames - cool!)

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
Runners-up: (tie) Michael Sheen, The Queen; Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Running with Scissors and The Good Shepherd

Best Supporting Actress: Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson
Runner-up: Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada (interesting, as many have Streep getting nominated for the Best Actress Oscar)

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Runner-up: Paul Greengrass, United 93

Best Ensemble Cast: United 93
Runner-up: The Departed

Best Screenplay: William Monahan, The Departed
Runner-up: Peter Morgan, The Queen

Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Runner-up: Volver

Best Documentary: (tie) Deliver Us From Evil; Shut Up and Sing
Runner-up: 51 Birch Street

Best New Filmmaker: Ryan Fleck, Half Nelson
Runner-up: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine

Best Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth
Runners-up: (tie) Stuart Dryburgh, The Painted Veil; Xiaoding Zhao, Curse of the Golden Flower

At this rate, Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker may want to start figuring out what they're going to wear to the Kodak Theater on Feb. 25. Hopefully Dame Helen won't forget her shoes this time.

Los Angeles Film Critics Association ...

There are many film critics groups across North America. In recent years, they have proliferated like mice in a particularly choice piece of Gouda. But in the beginning, or at least not too long ago, there were four: The National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. Even today, they are still the Big Four from which many good things flow. The NBR spoke on Wednesday. Today it was the guys from the vortex, L.A., who voiced their opinions.

The LAFCA started in 1975. Today there are about 45 members or so, including Leonard Maltin, Kenneth Turan and David Ansen. They're big cheeses, by the way, to continue the mouse metaphor. Unlike some of the other critics' groups, the LAFCA hedges its bets by announcing the second-place winners. Gutsy or playing it safe? You be the judge.

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (announced 12-10-2006)
Best Picture: Letters from Iwo Jima
Runner-up: The Queen

Best Actor: (tie) Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland; Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat (!!!!)

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Runner-up: Penelope Cruz, Volver

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Sheen, The Queen
Runner-up: Sergi Lopez, Pan's Labyrinth

Best Supporting Actress: Luminita Gheorghiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (she and the film are Romanian, in case you were wondering. I sure was.)
Runner-up: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Best Director: Paul Greengrass, United 93
Runner-up: Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima

Best Screenplay: Peter Morgan, The Queen
Runner-up: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men
Runner-up: Tom Stern, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima

Best Production Design: Eugenio Caballero, Pan's Labyrinth
Runner-up: Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland, Children of Men

Best Music: Alexandre Desplat, The Queen and The Painted Veil
Runner-up: Thomas Newman, The Good German and Little Children

Best Foreign-language film: The Lives of Others
Runner-up: Volver

Best Documentary/non-fiction film: An Inconvenient Truth
Runner-up: Darwin's Nightmare

Best Animation Feature: Happy Feet
Runner-up: Cars

Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video award: Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt) and In Between Days (So Yong Kim)

New Generation Award: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (directors) and Michael Arndt (screenwriter), Little Miss Sunshine

The presence of Cohen as the co-winner of Best Actor is very interesting. Does this elevate him to true Oscar bait? Probably not, though it probably does guarantee him a place at the Golden Globe table for best actor in a comedy or musical. (It also begs the question, if he did land an invite to the Academy Awards, would he show up as Cohen or as Borat? Seeing how many people think the ceremony is a big bore, maybe the latter would be better for ratings.)

Washington DC Area Film Critics Association ...

Film Critics in Washington D.C.? Yeah, there are a few. And what do you know - they give out awards as well!

Interesting choice for their top film - but maybe not that surprising, considering the area ...

Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards (announced 12-10-06)
Best Film: United 93
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Thank You for Smoking
Best Animated Feature: Happy Feet
Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth
Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Ensemble: Little Miss Sunshine
Best Breakthrough Performance: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Best Art Direction: Marie-Antoinette

New York Film Critics Online ...

New York Film Critics Online ...

One of the newer critics groups, the NYFCO consists of less than 30 members.

New York Film Critics Online Awards (announced 12-10-2006)
Best Picture: The Queen
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Sheen, The Queen
Best Supporting Actress: (tie) Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls; Catherine O'Hara, For Your Consideration
Best Director: Stephen Frears, The Queen
Best Screenplay: Peter Morgan, The Queen
Best Ensemble Cast: Little Miss Sunshine
Best Breakthrough Performer: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Best Debut as Director: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine
Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth
Animated Feature: Happy Feet
Foreign Language Picture: Pan's Laybrinth
Cinematography: Dick Pope, The Illusionist
Musical Score: Philip Glass, The Illusionist
Humanitarian Award: Deepa Mehta (Water) "for taking risks to create films about the difficulties of social change in India, especially as it effects women."

Top 10 Films (alphabetical)
The Fountain
Inland Empire
Little Children
Little Miss Sunshine
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen
Thank You for Smoking

The National Board of Review ...

The first film group to release its 2006 winners, as has been tradition, is the National Board of Review. The NBR was founded in 1909 in New York City - not to honor the best and brightest of the film world, but rather to protest the mayor's decision to revoke the licenses of several cinemas for the sake of "the morals of community" or something like that. The awards-giving didn't start until 1929; today about 150 people, including some who aren't professional critics, make up their ranks.

National Board of Review (announced 12-06-2006)
Best Film: Letters from Iwo Jima
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Best Supporing Actress: Catherine O'Hara, For Your Consideration
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best Adapted Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner, The Painted Veil
Best Original Screenplay: Zack Helm, Stranger Than Fiction
Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth
Best Animated Feature: Cars
Best Acting by an Ensemble: The Departed
Best Breakthrough Performance, Male: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Best Breakthrough Performance, Female: (tie) Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls, Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Best Directorial Debut: Jason Reitman, Thank You for Smoking
Career Achievement Award: Eli Wallach
Billy Wilder Award for Excellence in Directing: Jonathan Demme
William K. Everson Award for Film History: Donald Krim
Career Achievement in Producing; Irwin Winkler
The Bvlgari Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: Water and World Trade Center

The NBR also likes lists - they have lists for the best films of the year and more:
Top Ten Films
Letters from Iwo Jima
and (in alphabetical order)
Blood Diamond
The Departed
The Devil Wears Prada
Flags of Our Fathers
The History Boys
Little Miss Sunshine
Notes on a Scandal
The Painted Veil

Top Five Foreign Films
and (in alphabetical order)
Curse of the Golden Flower
Days of Glory
Pan's Labyrinth

Top Five Documentaries
An Inconvenient Truth
and (in alphabetical order)
51 Birch Street
Iraq in Fragments
Shut Up & Sing

Top Independent Films
(in alphabetical order)
Akeelah and the Bee
Catch a Fire
Copying Beethoven
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Half Nelson
The Illusionist
Lonesome Jim
10 Items or Less
Thank You for Smoking

So what does this mean? Helen Mirren's superb performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen may be the one lock at this year's Academy Awards, and Forest Whitaker was also getting a lot of Oscar buzz from his work as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. The big surprise of the NBR, though, may have been Letters of Iwo Jima as best film. This was the film Clint Eastwood made right after he directed Flags of Our Fathers, which was the first movie he did about Iwo Jima - specifically, about the men who raised the U.S. flag in the iconic photo from that battle. Letters is the Iwo Jima story told from the point of view of the Japanese; it's not fair to call it an afterthought, but he did get the idea to do it while preparing to direct Flags. Its success at the NBR instantly elevates it into Oscar consideration and could create a not-unpleasant dilemma for Eastwood. After all, the only thing better than having one Oscar-worthy film is to have two in the same year.

Welcome, all my friends, to the show that never ends ...

Well, actually, this show will be over next February 25 when Ellen DeGeneres takes to the stage of the Kodak Theater to get the 79th Annual Academy Awards underway. But the show began in full force this week when the film critics of the continent began dispersing their accolades to the movies and performances they felt were the best of 2006. Until the Oscar nominations are announced in the wee hours of January 23, it is these small groups of learned, (hopefully) informed folk who will set the tone for what may - or may not - be forthcoming from the Academy members. Some have compared the situation to the college football season, when a few polls and a computer determine which two teams will play for the still-mythical national championship, everything else be damned

This period can be both exhilarating and infuriating for true-blue movie buffs. It's fun and fascinating to see how a movie or an actor can take complete control of their category, especially if said movie or individual is a popular choice. At the same time, if a great performance seemingly is ignored, it can be pull-your-hair-out time. And then there is the knowledge that whatever the critics do or say could be shunned by the big boys themselves. Remember a few years ago when Sideways was out and everybody pointed to the work of Paul Giamatti as the sad-sack, borderline alcoholic schoolteacher who nearly lost Virginia Madsen. It would be the year of Jamie Foxx, who so kicked ass as Ray Charles in Ray. Foxx was the consensus choice for Best Actor, but Giamatti was nearly as much of a lock to be nominated. He even beat Foxx out for a couple of critics awards. But on the day the Oscar nods were announced, Giamatti was nowhere to be found, even as the movie and co-stars Madsen and Thomas Haden Church were recognized.

Who will get snubbed by the Academy this time around? We're far away from finding that out. But it's not too early to see what may be in store. This blog, having nothing better to do with its time (at least until spring training or the death of Castro) will keep track of the critics' awards, as well as other pivotal indicators such as the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, as the Oscar approach. You know, for kids.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Just call her ... Curly?

How did she do that?

(In other circles, the better question would be why, but this is the world of pop music, after all.)

Fiji me? Fiji you! (Updated)

Breaking news that the democratically elected government of the Pacific island nation of Fiji has been toppled by the military in a bloodless coup. For those of you keeping score about Fijian politics, this is the fourth coup in 20 years, which has to be some sort of record on a par with Elizabeth Taylor's eight marriages. Though La Liz has had a lot more time to screw up her love life. I wonder how she would do as the head of state of Fiji.

The article about the coup can be accessed by clicking on the subject headline above, but what I love is the rationale for this latest shakeup. The head of the coup, one Commander Frank Bainimarama (obviously it's going to be a cruel, cruel summer over there), says that he is annoyed at the deposed government for being soft on the group who was behind the last coup six years ago. Remember that, Frank - no bitching from you if you get nailed to the wall for this adventure!

UPDATE: Oh, crap - just read a story about how the upcoming season of Survivor is being filmed on Fiji's second-largest island at this very moment. But no worries - E! Online reports that there's been no disruption of the show's production. So far, only the deposed prime minister has ended up on Exile Island.

Cat cuteness!

Because nothing says "awww" like a cat eating mashed potatoes off of somebody's finger!

This is Winston (the cat, not the owner of the finger). He's the co-star of his own blog if you want to see him taking part in more kitty antics.

Somewhere, Will Ferrell sheds a single tear with pride ...

What the Mississippi State University's Famous Maroon Band needs is ... even more cowbell!

Enjoy, and be humbled:

She's a gypsy, the Cookie Queen!

As I have pointed out on this blog before, my friend Beth is a Renaissance woman. Writer, editor, singer, raconteur - Beth may not be able to do everything, but she's pretty damn close. And another part of her skill set is her prowess around the kitchen, particular in matters of baking. Bread, brownies, cakes and cookies - she can pretty much do it all when it comes to a hot oven. And she'll probably hit me for saying all of this stuff about her - but I don't care. Besides, there's a reason for this tooting of her horn, so to speak. Because now we can add to her abilities the art of multitasking.

Beth's main blog already is bookmarked on the right-hand side of my little parcel of cyberspace (--------->). But now she has a new blog with a singular focus on her baking experiences. It's called The Cookie Queen's English , a clever name based on the fact that "The Cookie Queen" already was taken by another person on the Blogger system. But that's OK, as you can get the idea from the title that Beth's second blog will be about cookies - the art thereof, and also other topics related to baking. You can read about her decision to go in this direction here, and I plan to bookmark her new site in the very near future. Feel free to probe her mind about cookies or breads or other such matters. And tell her who sent ya, 'cause any traffic I can drive to The Cookie Queen's English probably strengthens my chance of getting a new batch of brownies from her.

Drunk baby!

There are so many things wrong with this story, it makes you reflect on the line from the film Parenthood when Keanu Reeves' dippy-but-profound character reflects on how you need a license to drive a car or own a dog or even go fishing, but how any dumb schmo can have a kid and become a parent. Ponder that, true believer, as you read the following news story that comes from the Colorado Springs area:

A 2-month-old girl brought to Memorial Hospital on Sunday with a blood-alcohol level equivalent to four times the legal driving limit for an adult was reportedly given formula mixed with vodka instead of water by mistake.

The baby was in good condition Monday after being taken to the hospital by her parents about 3:30 a.m. Sunday.

The baby’s parents did not return a phone call from The Gazette, but a family member told the newspaper the incident was an “accident” tied to an “unfortunate chain of events.” She would not elaborate and did not want to be identified.

The baby’s mother, however, told KKTV she mixed

a 3-ounce formula bottle for her daughter, not knowing the liquid in a water bottle was vodka, according to the station’s Web site. Sarah Smith, 19, told the station the accident happened Saturday night when the baby’s father went into a store to get diapers and she and the baby — who became fussy — waited in the car. She then made the baby a bottle.

Yeah, apparently the vodka was already in the car. And do I have to point out that the baby is not the only underage person described in this article.

Allow me to alter the paraphrasing of the movie quote above: Anybody can have a baby, but not all of them are parents.

Click on the headline to read the rest of the article, if you must.

Friday, December 01, 2006

One decade down ...

It was on this date 10 years ago that I moved from the frigid climes of Chicago to sunny Southern California. It was a transfer and promotion within my company of the time, but for a young entertainment journalist full of verve and promise, it was a tremendously big deal. And how has that move worked out for you, you may ask? Not so bad. A decade later, I am still writing, I am a published author (Snakes!), and I have a small but loyal and loving circle of friends both here and there, including pals back in Chicago whom I care the world about. Plus it's going to be 70 degrees here today while the Windy City currently is under a foot of snow and expecting zero degree temps in a few days! Score!

Here's hoping the next 10 years are even better. A best-seller and a Cubs World Series Championship would be nice.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You make the call!

Adorable, or doped up?

Fidel Castro - we're on the clock again!

Hmmm .... you may recall that last summer, right before Fidel Castro turned 80, it was announced that the Cuban leader would be temporarily stepping down from the post he had held for nearly half a century to undergo abdominal surgery, but that he would be back as soon as he recovered. As a result, festivities scheduled to mark his birthday were postponed until around early December, a time that was seen by many as a deadline for Castro to get all better and prove that he was as ruff and tuff as ever.

Well - the celebrations have begun in Havana, but, lo and behold, the guest of honor hasn't shown up. In fact, El Presidente hasn't been seen in any shape or form since a video of the old coot was shown more than a month ago. And in that video, Castro didn't look too good.

All of which means, of course, that Fidel Castro is dead.

Now I know I said this before, but this time I absolutely mean it. You watch - the final announcement that Fidel has gone to meet his final reward, or whatever the Communists call it, will come around mid- to late December. But he's already in a meat locker somewhere, staying fresh as a daisy so he'll look good when he lies in state. You've got to look good for that; after all, it's your final close-up.

Why all of the subterfuge? Why doesn't the Cuban government just come out and say, "Hey, sorry to be a buzzkill, but the great leader has passed ... but the good news is that we can all be capitalists now!"? Well, that's just now how it's done in Communist countries with totalitarian governments. You remember those fun-loving Russians back in the ’80s. They'd appoint a new fossil to run things, he'd make a few appearances to call Americans decadent and corrupt, and then he'd disappear with a head cold before turning up in a box six months later. In other words, they have a hard time just coming out and saying stuff. Their marriage proposals must be interesting. So, no, they just won't say outright that Fidel is morto. We'll just have to wait for the Cubans' timetable. But trust me, he's gone bye-bye. And too bad, too - he missed the chance to see Britney Spears' bare hoohah.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No way, O.J.

Word has come down the pike that NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch's Mom-and-Pop media conglomerate that has given us such fare as House, American Idol, Cops and the time-honored classic When Animals Attack, has, after an apparent weekend bout of "What the heck are you thinking?", decided not to publish If I Did It, O.J. Simpson's heartfelt tome about how he (would have) savagely murdered his former wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman - had he been in a position to do it, of course. The two-part TV special that would have been a companion piece to the book - that's off as well. (Murdoch himself is quoted by the AP as saying that the whole thing was "an ill-considered project." No shit, Sherlock. Your business acumen astonishes.)

No word on how Simpson reacted to the news of his thwarted plans when he was informed on a nearby golf course while conducting his never-ending search for the real killers, or what will happen to the $3.5 million he - oh, excuse me, his kids - were to receive for his finely honed work. There's also no word about how Judith Regan will sleep at night now that her attempt at self-catharsis has been nipped in the bud. But there is word on how Fox will deal with the two hours of dead air it just picked up as a result of O.J.'s abrupt cancellation. Rumor is that at least one of those hours may be filled by a to-the-death contest of "the dozens" between Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. Now that's entertainment!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ed Bradley ...

On the complete opposite of the O.J. Simpson debacle is the death of 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley, which shocked just about everybody last week and then left those who knew him and those who watched him with a massive degree of sadness. Reading the obits to Bradley and then watching the 60 Minutes tribute to him this past Sunday, I was struck not just by the diversity of his career, but also by the diversity of his life away from the reporter's desk. Jazz enthusiast, philanthropist, skier, loyal friend - it's the kind of life any person, let along any journalist, aspires to achieve. Bob Schieffer called Bradley the coolest guy he ever knew, which is one hell of a great quote, but not as good as what Andy Rooney said about his colleague, maybe one of the nicest things I've ever heard one human being say about another.

"I don't have enough years left myself to ever get over missing Ed Bradley," Rooney said.

It sounds like that will be the case for everyone who knew him, no matter how old they are.

Read Rooney's entire commentary by clicking the subject line.


I really can't believe that People magazine passed me over again for the title of Sexiest Man Alive. I mean, George Clooney, please. What does he have that I don't? Well, besides the chiseled good looks, the charisma, the charitable heart, the tons of money, the Italian villa, the pot-bellied pig and the freakin' Oscar. Take all that way, and he's just another hot stud who gets laid a lot. Nothin' special.

I mean, come on - there's no comparision!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rancid Juice ...

And now, more than 10 years after the fact, the ultimate indignity from America's most notorious acquitted murderer. In two weeks, O.J. Simpson will be the star of a two-part television special with the lurid title If I Did It, Here's How It Happened. Yes, he's going there. Simpson - whom, you will recall, was once a hero - will tell the world how he would have killed his former wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman on that notorious June evening in 1994. If he actually did it, that is.

Of course, this is all being done to promote a book, written by Simpson between his regular trips to the golf courses of the world in search of the "real killers." Of course, this special is being aired by Fox, a network that is home to some top-notch quality entertainment such as House and 24, but also has been known to air anything within and without the boundaries of good taste in search of ratings. Of course, this two-night "event" will garner boffo numbers - or maybe not. Maybe, for once, the viewing public will refuse this latest serving of Juice push themselves away from the dinner table of trash TV, unwilling to give this small man another minute of their attention.

Then again, what the hell have I just done.

If I Did It will air ... oh, look it up yourself.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Word today that the New York Mets - not exactly my favorite baseball team for very personal reasons that no Cub fan needs explained - and CitiGroup have reached a longterm, multimillion dollar agreement that includes the naming rights to the Mets' new ballpark, which currently is being built alongside the team's current home, Shea Stadium. Thus, come 2009, the Mets will play in CitiField, a modern facility that is being crafted to resemble the Brooklyn Dodgers' old ballpark, Ebbets Field, at least on the exterior.

All of which is fine and dandy - after all, big money deals for the rights to brand athletic stadia have become de rigeur in recent years. But there had been a budding movement to have the Mets break with modern tradition and name their new place after one of the major icons in baseball history, Jackie Robinson, who played his entire career in Ebbets Field or Brooklyn. (Even the cynical New York Post had endorsed the idea a while back.) It was only a couple of months ago that the United States Tennis Association named its New York facility, where the U.S. Open is played, after Billie Jean King. Much was made of the millions of dollars the USTA walked away from in order to honor a person who was a true pioneer of the game of tennis, on and off the court. And the Mets playing in Jackie Robinson Stadium would have been the ultimate monument to the man who did more to change baseball, and the society in general, than any other player in history, millions be damned.

Of course, they could split the difference and go with Jackie Robinson CitiField, or Jackie Robinson Park at CitiField. But I won't be holding my breath.

Friday, November 10, 2006

This post is brought to you by the letter B and the number 37 ...

It was on this day 37 years ago that Sesame Street premiered on public television, ushering in a new era of children's entertainment and education. It was my favorite show when I was a tot, and even today in my advanced age, I still will turn in on occasion when I need a quick smile. The show, while it has evolved over the years, still is the cream of the crop when it comes to teaching tiny ones about numbers and words and other simple concepts. Plus it's not as creepy as that damn Teletubbies program.

In honor of the Street's birthday, I thought I'd lay down some facts about one of my favorite Muppets, Big Bird. Yes, I did own a Big Bird when I was younger. You could make his bill move by sticking two fingers into the back of his head. (Oh, the things that will amuse the young.) His full story can be read by clicking the subject lines, which will take you to his page on the Muppet Wiki site. (Yes, a Muppet Wiki. The evolution of man's intelligence is complete.) But here are some bullet points.

* Big Bird is 8-foot-2 in height, which means he could throw down over Yao Ming if he wanted to. He's also only 6 years old, which means he must have one hell of a thyroid condition.

* He's a golden condor.

* He's the only Muppet, so far, to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

* His best friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus, was the original lead singer for The Doors before he was fired and replaced by Jim Morrison.

* He has a teddy bear named Radar, a homage to the character on M*A*S*H played by Gary Burghoff. Radar also had a teddy bear.

* The primary actor who plays Big Bird, Carroll Spinney, also plays Oscar the Grouch.

* Big Bird once appeared on an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

* Among the items found in Big Bird's massive nest: a mailbox, a football helmet, a bubble gum dispenser and the mummified corpse of Jimmy Hoffa. (One of these things is not like the other.)

* Among his more famous cameos on other shows was a memorable scene opposite Allison Janney on The West Wing. What is not commonly know is that the two briefly dated after they worked together but broke up due to the bicoastal nature of the relationship.

* Big Bird has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with a few droppings.

* He has recorded several musical albums, including the cleverly titled Big Bird Sings!, but flopped as a hip-hop artist when his rap debut, Flippin' the Bird, was a commercial disappointment. Though not as disappointing as Kevin Federline's "effort."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Priorities ...

On this, definitely the most important U.S. election day in a generation, maybe the most important since 1860, it should come as no surprise that there would be breaking news bulletins aplenty inundating us in the hours to come. I don't know if we thought that this would be the first one, but it does say a lot about this country and the media that covers it.

Whether the (inevitable?) end of the Spears-Federline blessed union is a bellwether as to how the election will go, I have no idea. Maybe we can go back in time and gauge what the voters did in the first elections after an Elizabeth Taylor divorce. In the meantime, crack open a 40 and a bag of Cheetos in memory of a love gone toxic.

Do your duty ...

Unless you live under a rock or some sort of undisclosed location, you know that today is Election Day, the one time every two years when we, as the drivers of the American Dream, can check under the hood and make sure that the parts are working in the way that we want them - and if they're not, swap them out in favor of new equipment. It's also a day that thousands of people have literally given their blood, whether on a battlefield or right here on native soil, for so that we may voice our opinion freely. Remember that as you journey to your local polling place to cast your ballot, and as you make sure your ballot is cast correctly. Never let anyone, including yourself, take your right to vote away from you.

If you need help figuring out where you vote, go to this site. Don't count on anybody calling you with information about where, and when, to vote. Chances are they are not your friend.

I voted today bright and early, at 7 a.m., when the polls opened here in California. I have made it a point to vote in every election precisely for the reasons cited above, but this year especially it was important for me to do it first thing in the morning. My local polling has shifted around in recent years, from a high school to a gay and lesbian center, to an elementary school, to a community town hall. This time around, I voted at a synagogue. And I am happy to report that by the time the polls officially opened, there was a line of about eight people, spanning all strata of race and age and apparent social standing, waiting to do their civic duty. This is significant because in 2004 - when we were voting for president, no less - I went to vote some three hours into the day and was only the third or fourth person at my polling station. If the turnout this morning was any indication, this could be a big day. Why, we could get maybe 55 percent of the eligible voters doing their job - still pathetic compared to other democracies, but for the U.S., where it seems like people care more about who wins on Dancing with the Stars or American Idol than who represents them in Congress, a big deal.

So I went in, I filled out my ballot, I cringed as the electronic counting machine temporarily lost juice and then had to be powered up. But eventually I was tallied and I got my sticker. Then, while leaving a local restaurant with my breakfast, I passed a small group of teens entering with a parent or teacher in tow. "Hey," I overheard one of the kids saying, "he's already voted." "Yeah," I thought to myself, "that's how it's done. And in a few years, it will be your turn."

From my head to God's ears. And, hopefully, to yours.

Tag, you're it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick (!) or Treat?

And now, in honor of Halloween, a truly frightening image ...

... Paris Hilton reading a book.

The fact that the book is Sun Tzu's The Art of War is just a bone-chilling bonus. And no, I don't know what it all means.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia ... (or, Curtains for Cross?)

Will, o Lord, will there ever be a time when celebrities learn the benefits of keeping their homemade porn under lock and key? (Or maybe, just maybe, not making it at all, or at least destroying it outright once they're, er, done with it?) But then, what would the tabloids or other assorted sleazebuckets do with their time? Still, after the sordid examples of Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Jamie Foxx or Colin Ferrell (or, way back, Rob Lowe - or way, waaaaay back, Jayne Kennedy), you would think that the stars would have gotten the lesson that the nudie pics or film that you make for your own consumption could easily fall into the hands of someone with, say, questionable ethics.

(I'm not counting those stars, usually of the D-or-below-list, who enthusiastically take part in their own debauchery becoming public fodder, usually for profit and profit. And why are those usually the people we don't want to see naked like Tom Sizemore or Screech from Saved by the Bell. Huh?)

But I digress.

The latest victim of the lost porn syndrome is Marcia Cross, the redheaded beauty who plays the painfully neat and repressed Bree Hodge on Desperate Housewives. Bree, of course, would never have naked photos of herself lying around the homestead on Wisteria Lane. Or if she did, she certainly wouldn't have accidentally thrown them in the garbage, potentially for all to see. But that's all fantasy, folks. In real life, Cross or her new husband, Tom Mahoney, or someone in their employ or otherwise seems to have done just that.

According to the New York Daily News (story can be accessed via the above subject line), more than 200 photos of Cross are now in the hands of one David Hans Schmidt, a peddler of celebrity smut of all kinds - some procured legitimately, and some not so much. Not all of the photos are of the R-rated variety, but apparently enough are to get Cross' attention. Among the shots are those of Cross showering outside in the altogether, and Schmidt has quite conveniently said of the flame-haired actress that "the carpet does match the curtains."

Lovely. Class like that is in such short supply these days.

Cross wants her photos back, but Schmidt says that, since they were indeed in the trash, the pictures are no longer hers. And there's probably some validity to his argument, since cops often will wade through a suspect's refuse for evidence and get to keep it on those very grounds. Schmidt, to his "credit," has offered to sell them back to Cross, but apparently his price was too high for Marcia's people, and now the chance of them seeing the light of day are pretty good.

In my mind, both sides have screwed this up, beyond the obvious. Schmidt should have published them or sold them immediately, not allowing Cross to even know about what was going on until it was too late. And in any other situation, Cross should have beaten Schmidt to the punch by making a quickie deal with for a fresh batch of nude shots, thus circumventing Schmidt's unsavory business. (She's pregnant with twins, though, so that option was probably not viable - even if she had even thought seriously about doing it.) So now we're going through this nasty business.

Don't get me wrong - I for one would love to see Marcia Cross nude. But on her terms, not because some glorified pimp is trying to make some blood money off of somebody's mistake. Maybe the up side is that this will finally scare celebs into keeping the skin trade among themselves.

Then again, Paris Hilton still walks the earth.

Note: Of course Schmidt has his own Web site. You'll have to look it up yourself, but I love his stern warning that he will turn in any "snuff film producers and agents" who try to do business with him. Glad to know he cares.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Detroit Tigers fans couldn't leave well enough alone ...

I blame the 1985 Chicago Bears for this.

(with apologies to Justin Timberlake, like he cares ...)

Tigers Back (click at your own risk)

"I announce to you a great joy! We have a Pope!"

OK, it's not a new Pope. It's a new manager for the Chicago Cubs. But in Cubdom, the anointment of a new sucker, er, field boss is a big deal, an almost holy event. Of course, that's because the event often resembles a human sacrifice. But this time may be different, because Lou Piniella has come to town, and he has not been a guy who suffers fools or crappy players lightly during his managerial career, which has included stints with the Yankees (and George Steinbrenner), Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays. The fact that he actually has a World Series ring (he won with Cincinnati in 1990) is a very big deal. So is the fact that he is no wallflower, that he has a reputation as a take-charge manager who's not above getting into the face of a slacking player or a irascible umpire.

But can Piniella do what no manager has been able to in nearly a century - bring a World Championship to the North Side of Chicago. Lou thinks he can, and so do I. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb - the kind of limb that long-suffering Cubs fans often fall off of, but what the hell.

The Chicago Cubs will be World Series champions by 2008.

Ha!, you exclaim as milk or soup or some liquid shoots out of your nose while you laugh uncontrollably. And, sure, I could be wrong - again - about this. But I say this for two reasons.

1) Piniella, knowing the Tribune Company's reputation for stinginess, made the big bosses swear on their portfolios that they would give him carte blanche when it came to pursuing the players he deems necessary to pursue the National League pennant and beyond. And if he's not satisfied, he'll walk in New York minute. Because Piniella doesn't need the Cubs. His legacy as one of the top managers of the past 20 years is secure. Bringing a world title to the Cubs would be the perfect icing, but it isn't his end-all be-all.

2) There's very recent precedent for a manager joining a team in a rut or one that just blows and turning things around in short fashion. In fact, the last three World Series champs had just that situation:

2003: Florida Marlins, managed by Jack McKeon, who joined the team that May after a sub-.500 start.

2004: Boston Red Sox, managed by Terry Francona, his first year with the club.

2005: Chicago White Sox, managed by Ozzie Guillen, his second year with the club.

Throw in this year's World Series-bound Detroit Tigers, run by Jim Leyland (his first year there), and you have a trend. So, I say, why not Lou Piniella and the Cubs?

One thing is clear: Anyone who's involved with a World Series champion Cubs team will be a god in the Windy City for life. And if you stop believing, you stop living. So I will stick with my prediction, and you can throw it in my face if I'm wrong.

If I'm wrong.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The best of times, the worst of times ...

The sports world, of course, is not immune to the highs and lows of human experience that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. And it's not especially uncommon for a great story and a sad or stupid story to take place in sports in the same day, even within hours of each other. Indeed, that's what most sports fans call "Saturday." And this past Saturday was no exception, though the chasm between the two events in question was especially vast this time around. On the one end of the spectrum, you had the ultimate (though not, perhaps, final) triumph of the Detroit Tigers, The Artists Formerly Known as the Doormats of the American League, as they clinched the pennant and a trip to the World Series in a form that can only be described as "cinematic." And at the other end - the dark, dank end - there was the savage and idiotic mid-game brawl between the football teams representing the University of Miami and Florida International University.

First, the brawl. Nobody who is a fan or even an occasional observer of the college football game is unfamiliar with the reputation of the University of Miami Hurricanes. Or should I say, reputations. For football - excellence, with five national championships, two Heisman Trophy winners and countless NFL players produced. For everything else - sleaze, with many arrests and convictions amongst the players over the years, in addition to scandals that have prompted NCAA investigations and penalties and overall thuggish behavior. Much of that black cloud over the program had dissipated over the years thanks to the efforts of former coach Butch Davis and his successor, current coach Larry Coker. But two things have happened this season: signs of the old times have slowly crept back into the Miami culture and - truthfully, even worse in the eyes of many a Miami booster or administration - the team lost some luster on the field, with a current record of 4-2, shaky by Hurricane standards.

That fourth win, a 35-0 pasting of the "powerhouse" Florida International (currently 0-7) squad, is where the current troubles took place. There had been the usual trash-talking between teams, and a questionable late hit by an FIU player. But the fun really began early in the third quarter. After catching a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, making the score a hardly-imposing 13-0, the Miami receiver pointed to the FIU bench and bowed to the crowd in the Orange Bowl. The very next play, the kicking of the extra point, an FIU player tackled the Miami place holder and punched him. Things quickly escalated after than, with both benches emptying and even local police unable to calm things down for several minutes. (By the way, the cops were sponsoring an event at the game that night called - I shit you not - "Join a Team, Not a Gang Day.")

The video of the fight is, unfortunately, a sight to behold. Players on both teams acting like madman, launching themselves at each other, swinging helmets like they were clubs and stomping on each other with metal cleats. It makes you proud to be a human being.

The good news is that everyone involved was wearing a big number on their chest and back, which makes the penalty phase quite easy to sort out. The bad news is that the penalties, so far, suck. Between the two programs, 31 players, including 13 from Miami, have been suspended for - one game. Yeah, that's it, one stinking game. Oh, and that game, against perennial also-ran Duke, is a virtually walk-over even for a so-so Hurricane team. The only person who seems guarantee to lose his job is Lamar Thomas, the color commentator for the Hurricane TV broadcasting team and a former Hurricane himself from the "glory" days. He sure did add color to the melee by encouraging the Miami players for defending "our house" and expressing a desire to "go down the elevator to get in that thing." (For an illuminating view of Thomas' resume, click here.) As for Coker, already under fire, he's still around, but will likely get axed - not for this, but for not measuring up to elite Hurricane standards. Meaning wins and losses, not conduct becoming student-athletes.

I'd make this simple - everyone involved with the brawl, on both sides, is out for the year. If you used your helmet or cleats as a weapon, you're gone - from the team, and from the school. And we're handing your ass to the authorities, and they can determine whether charges should be filed. And if the administrations of either Miami or FIU don't do this, then they're gone as well. 'Cause college football isn't a right, boys and girls. It's a privilege. And just like other privileges, it can be revoked.

Plain and simple, the Miami brawl was a bastardization of sports. Which makes it all the more important that fans could turn to the Detroit Tigers as if it was a cleansing shower from the filth of the violence. The three-run homer that Tiger outfielder Magglio Ordonez blasted into the Michigan sky Saturday night - his second of the game, no less - did more than send the Tigers to the World Series for the first time in 22 years, on the very day back in 1984 that Kirk Gibson hit two home runs to clinch the whole enchilada for Detroit. It did more than remove the yoke of failure from a team and a fan base that had suffered through 13 straight losing seasons, including a near-record 119 losses just three years ago. In true Ruthian fashion, Ordonez's blast also made for a very special 11th birthday for his son, Magglio Jr. Before the game, the father - who had been struggling during the playoffs - had promised the son that he would hit a home run to mark the day of his birth. Instead, he hit two. The first tied the game against the Oakland Athletics. The second propelled Motown into baseball ecstasy and made a little boy's day.

You can't make up shit like this up. And, on a day when the worst of sports was all too visible, the sight of Magglio Ordonez with the biggest smile on his face, with his beloved son stuck to his side, made even the most jaded fan remember why they liked sports in the first place.

BTW: Lamar Thomas is on ESPN Radio right now and, sadly, is not apologizing for his comments - not really, anyway. Have fun getting a new broadcasting job, sport.

UPDATE: [3:14 p.m.] Miami has extended the suspension of sophomore safety Anthony Reddick, who used his helmet as a weapon, to indefinite status, and Florida International has kicked two of its suspended players off the team and also has made the suspensions of its other 16 penalized players indefinite. That's a start.

UPDATE 2: [3:27 p.m.] Lamar Thomas has officially been relieved of his duties as the color commentator for the University of Miami's football broadcasts on TV. Must have been something he said ...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ...

What you are looking at is the construction of an igloo of chocolate, the centerpiece of the Eurochocolate festival that just started in Perugia, Italy. Yeah, a chocolate igloo - made of nearly four tons of the stuff, mostly in the form of 10 kg bricks of dark chocolate.

Er ... I'm a bit too distracted to talk now, so just click the subject line to read up about Eurochocolate. And then I dare you not to go buy a Hersheys bar afterwards.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cat fancy ...

Ah, kittens. Lovable, adorable little balls of fluff. Even those who are allergic to them, who may even hate the grown-up versions, usually manage to find a soft spot for the cuddly critters.

Wade Pilloud, a school principal in the small Minnesota town of Indus, says he loves kittens too. Has even raised them for a living, and owns two cats himself, he also says. That's why he shot two kittens on the property of the school he works at.

Or, rather, worked at. Pilloud resigned after word got out of his shooting spree, and he may face firearm charges for what he said was a humane act. Seems that the young kittens' mommy had been killed by an animal trap. The babies, he says, were starving.

For the parents of some of the school's students, that rationale wasn't good enough. They raised safety concerns, and the fact that some of the kids heard the gunshots probably didn't help either. So Pilloud is out of a job and maybe, eventually, his freedom.

I have a question. Did it ever go through Pilloud's mind that the best remedy for hungry kittens may not have been a bullet between the eyes, but rather - and I'm just wondering out loud - SOME MILK???!

Some people should not be allowed around our children. Or our cats.

Note: None of the kittens in these pictures were shot or otherwise harmed. At least, not that I know of.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Who is the real leader of the free world?

Let's put it this way - who's the only guy you know who can hang out with President Bush and Oprah Winfrey - in the same freakin' day?

His aura and power and grace is almost enough to make us forgive that lousy haircut. Almost.

"I didn't do nothin' I have regrets about."

Folks, if you want to begin your Friday the 13th like I always do - seething mad - click on the subject line for the story of Mark Downs, a not-so-mild-mannered T-ball coach out of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, who has just been sentenced to prison for offering one of his players, aged 8, $25 to injure a 9-year-old autistic teammate so that Downs wouldn't have to play him.

Yeah, you read that correctly. The subject line, in fact, is the quote Downs (by the way, a father of four - think about that one for a minute) gave to the press as he was being led away to prisons in handcuffs. "I didn't do nothin' I have regrets about." Lovely.

The price for Downs' crimes? Up to six years in prison. Considering the code in most of these facilities about felons who hurt children, I'm thinking Downs' time behind bars won't be especially pleasant, especially considering the inanity of the crime. Boo hoo for him.

(Note: The story behind the subject line is from last month; I'm still looking for a current article on the wires about the sentencing again. Also, maybe, a photo of this tool so you can spit on him.)

UPDATE: Here is an article about the actual sentencing of Downs. Some in the media have questioned the severity of the sentence against him, that probation or maybe community service with the autistic may have been a better punishment for him. Keep in mind, though, that Downs most likely had the chance to plead guilty to something to avoid a trial. He may have had a chance to be a man, and if so, he apprently declined. He'll learn what it's like to be a man in jail.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two games for the price of one ... oh, never mind!

Despite the name of this blog and the obsessive nature of the Chicago Cubs fan who operates it, baseball has not been a common topic at this tiny piece of Internet real estate. A lot of that "neglect" may be because of the current state of the Cubs baseball club, which didn't exactly play to impress this past season. (Translation: They sucked. Hard.) But baseball comes today because this particular day is maybe the dumbest on the season's calendar. That's because tonight the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics will play each other in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, which will begin at about 8 p.m. (ET) tonight - at the same time that Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals will commence.

This is at least the third year in a row that there will be this one-night overlap of the two LCS matchups, where baseball audiences will have to choose which game to follow. In some cases, the choice will be made for them. Fox, which owns the exclusive contract to both the LCS and the resulting World Series, will air one game on its over-the-air network and the other on its FX cable channel. Which game gets the broadcast slot will depend on the region, so for those cable-less households - and they do still exist - they'll be out of luck if, say, they live in Oakland but are die-hard Mets fans.

Why is this such a big deal? Because for many years Major League Baseball was one of the very rare league (the NFL being the other) where all playoff games were guaranteed national coverage. This could be done because of the relatively low number of contests in MLB's baseball cycle, and also because, in the cases where more than one game was played on a day, games would be played in the daytime. There was even a time, boys and girls, when World Series games were played during the day. Ask your mommies and daddies about those heady times, when they would often sneak their transistor radios into classrooms to subversively listen to the broadcasts. Or maybe they were lucky enough to have understanding teachers. One of my friends, who was a child when the Mets won their miracle World Series in 1969, told me about the thrill of having a old TV rolled into a school assembly so the kids could watch one of the WS games out in the open. (She lived in the New York region at the time, thus the special treatment. And, yeah, ’69 should have been the Cubs' year. That's another topic for another time, painful as it is.)

Alas, the days of daytime playoff baseball, at least for the LCS and World Series, are long gone, a victim of the increasing importance of the All-Mighty Dollar. Because ratings for daytime baseball are not spectacular (i.e. they suck. Hard.), The Powers That Be try to have as many games in prime-time - all of them, actually - as possible to maximize value. How this is better than the alternative, I don't know, particularly when the actual games often don't start until almost 8:30, which means that young kids - the future of the fan base, by the way - often are in bed well before the games end or even become exciting. But that's what the big bosses want, which is why we have tonight's overlap. You would think that MLB would have learned from the ill-fated 1995 season, when this freakish monstrosity called The Baseball Network rules the TV landscape and led to the entire playoff cycle being run with overlap, so that most communities only got to see one LCS. It was an universally condemned situation, which is one reason why The Baseball Network was gone in 1996.

Would it have killed MLB and Fox to have, for this one day, one of these games played under God's natural lighting? It would have been cool to have the Mets and Cardinals play in the sunshine of Queens - to have little kids and grown-ups alike playing hooky to go to the ballgame or sneak their tiny radios into the classrooms and boardrooms, or fire up their computers and listen to the streamed play-by-play. Instead, as is often the case, MLB has taken the easy - and the wrong - way out for the sake of a few bucks. Idiots.

UPDATE: God, in his position as the Ultimate Baseball Fan, has settled the schedule overlap in his own way; the Mets-Cardinals game has been postponed due to rain. So everyone watches Detroit-Oakland tonight. So there.

A Big Gulp to swallow ...

You may not know this, but I am not a fan of the Chicago White Sox baseball club. In fact, the White Sock is the natural blood enemy of the Chicago Cub - one of five blood enemies that the tiny creature of the North Side must contend with for survival. White Sox fans especially can be nasty critters, as I especially discovered during this past year, when said fans proved to be sore winners by lording their World Series triumph over their less fortunate cousins to the north.

Despite their dispositions, though, I sympathize with my baseball brethren over the increasing selling-out of the White Sox management. It was bad enough when they replaced the old Comiskey Park, one of the grande dames of baseball parks, with a new Comiskey that more resembled a strip mall than a place to play ball. Years later, that blight was made worse with the stripping of the time-honored Comiskey name in favor of a corporate logo, U.S. Cellular Field. For a few pieces of silver (actually, $68 million), one of the great names of both Chicago and baseball history was trashed, though many in the Chicagoland area have not gotten the memo and still refer to it as its Christian name. (Other call the ballpark "The Cell," a nickname that has more than one connotation if you've ever spent an April night there. A few even refer to the place as "The Joan," based on the fact that the lovingly quirky, Chicago-born actress Joan Cusack does their commercials. Never mind the fact that Joan and her brood are, for the most part, loyal Cubs fans. But I digress.)

Now comes the announcement that, starting with the 2007 season, all night games at New Comiskey will begin at 7:11 p.m. local time. This is a result of a new endorsement deal with, yes, the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, the idea being that every time the start time of the home games is announced, it's instant pub for the home of the Slurpee and Big Gulp. Now, on the surface, this isn't an entirely big deal. It's not like that's such a major shift from past history, when most White Sox games started at around 7:05 p.m. It's just so freakin' ridiculous. First of all, the price of this promotion is a mere $500,000, which won't buy a right-handed middle reliever with a sore arm these days. Second of all, it's another sign of how far sports entities will go to raise a few bucks. It's bad enough that so many stadiums have corporate names slapped onto them or that every aspect of the broadcast is sponsored. ("This crotch-scratching break is sponsored by Preparation H!") But this - this is just silly.

One wonders why the White Sox didn't take this idea all the way by having all day games start at 7:11 a.m. Maybe the idea of fathers waking up their sons at 4 in the morning to catch a ball game at The Joan was a bit too much.

Click the subject line to perpetuate the insanity.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ol' Googly Eyes is back ...

Hmmm ... In the "why don't you go away already department," we have Jennifer Wilbanks, whom you may remember as the real-life "runaway bride" from last year. You know, the Georgia chick with the crazy eyes who skipped out on her fancy-schmancy wedding and faked out the entire country into thinking that she had been abducted before she turned up out West as just another bride with cold feet. Well, if you click on the subject line above, you will read about how Wilbanks is now suing her former fiance for half of the $500,000 he earned through selling his rights to the whole story to Regan Media. She's also looking for - get this- punitive damages.

Now, let's see - it was Wilbanks who jumped her own wedding, made everyone think she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by two unknown culprits (including a Latino man, and you know how lovely it is when we through stereotypical minorities into the mix), then was arrested for giving false information to the cops. She pleaded no contest (i.e. the wimpy way of admitting guilt) to those charges. So it was Wilbanks who admittedly broke the law. Oh, and let's also throw in that she got her 15 minutes of fame with media appearances - and that she allegedly made a cool half million through the sale of her rights to the story. (Jami Gertz is still on standby, by the way.) Oh, apparently she has used none of her proceeds to pay back the local authorities for the $40,000 or so they spent to find her bony ass, even though she really was faking the whole thing.

Seriously, can she just go away. Frankly, why am I giving her any additional pub? I'm an enabler. Great.

Frankly, if anyone should be suing anying, the ex should be suing her for pain and suffering. Or the Cookie Monster should be suing Wilbanks for stealing his act. And that's only because Marty Feldman is dead, and therefore can't sue anyone.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Another cute commercial!

Though I bet this stuff is vile. It was vile when I had to drink cough syrup as a child. Today, I just drink cough syrup for sport.

Priorities, people, priorities!

Took you long enough, Yahoo! guys. This story of most critical importance broke over three hours ago? What took you so long? Maybe you're upset about dropping the YouTube ball. Well, get over it and keep your heads in the game!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The cutest commercial ever!

If this doesn't make you smile, you're probably dead. Or have no soul. Or hate dogs, which is pretty much the same as having no soul. Unless you're allergic, and even then, it's not the dogs' fault that you're allergic to them. It's probably yours. ’Cause you're without a soul.