Saturday, May 31, 2008

I probably shouldn't bring this up, but ...

As of today, the last day of May, the Chicago Cubs have, at 35-21, the best record in Major League Baseball. Anyone want to take a guess as to the last time the Cubs had the top record in baseball on May 31? Anyone? Take a wild guess.

I don't know if this means anything, but it's kind of cool. Freaky, weird and batshit scary, but cool nonetheless.

You haven't lived ...

... until you've watched Kill Bill in Spanish. It's like reading Shakespeare in the original Klingon. Somewhere, probably in his spacious but cluttered media room, Quentin Tarantino is smiling.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Anjali's grace ...

An update on Anjali Datta, the brainiac from Dallas I wrote about yesterday who has been denied the honor of being her high school's valedictorian solely because she had the temerity to post an unprecedented GPA in only three years instead of the required four: As you can read in this well-written editorial by Jacquielynn Floyd of the Morning News, she and her family are taking this boneheaded move a hell of a lot better than I would. And maybe, in the process, they're teaching all of us, including the twits in the school district's administration, a more valuable lesson than can be found in any textbook.

I still would have sued, though. And I know for sure than my mother would have. That's why I love her!

Whoa ...

The Cubs find themselves down 8-0 to Colorado in the third inning this afternoon at a very blustery Wrigley, only to score nine runs in the sixth and seventh to win 10-9? A typical day at the Friendly Confines when the wind is blowing out, sure - except the Cubs usually lose these types of games. Hmm ...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What sweet hell (in academia) is this?

Someone tell me if the schoolyard was this screwed up when I was in high school 20-plus years ago? Because there are two stories that seem to indicate that something is topsy-turvy in the educational system. Specifically, that the meek get stomped on and that excellence can cock you up.

In Dallas, a young woman named Anjali Datta should be celebrating her extraordinary achievement. Not only did she finish at the top of her class at Grapevine High School, she may have done so in record fashion, earning a GPA of 5.898, which is believed to be the highest such average in the school's history. Yet Anjali isn't the valedictorian of her school - which, in this case, also comes with a one-year scholarship courtesy of the state of Texas. What's her crime? Was she caught cheating? End up pregnant? No, Anjali's offense is that she's graduating a year early. Under the policy of the school district, a high school valedictorian "shall be the eligible student with the highest grade-point average for four years of high school."

Yep, because Anjali was literally too good for the room, she's losing out on this once-in-a-lifetime honor and all that it entails. The prize - and the scholarship - are going to the student with the next best GPA, a mere 5.64. And you know the school district knows it's in the deep water, because they're bending over backwards to keep this from being a larger firestorm it already is (not to mention, perhaps, trying to keep it out of a local courtroom). They've made up a title for Anjali, "Valedictorian - Three-Year" (are they kidding?) and even offering her an opportunity to address her 470 classmates at graduation ceremonies - you know, just like a real valedictorian.

My high school class was nearly as large as Anjali's, and I busted my ass to get valedictorian - and there wasn't even an automatic scholarship on the line in my case. I ended up fourth, along with a truckload of academic honors - and yet I was annoyed, pissed off at myself. And I lost - if you want to put it that way - but I lost fair and square. I can't imagine how Anjali and her family are feeling now, and no fake titles or token doodads can ease that hurt. If I were her, I would tell the district to stick that "Valedictorian - Three-Year" certificate where the sun doesn't shine.

At least Anjali will land on her feet; with that GPA and the press generated by this stupid controversy, she'll be awash with scholarship offers, maybe already is. And a 5-year-old named Alex Barton may end up OK as well in the long run. But how will that knowledge help this poor kid, who was actually voted out of his kindergarten class by his peers, with encouragement from his butthole of a teacher? This lovely story of academia takes place in Florida (duh), where Alex, who had recently been diagnosed with a form of autism, was sent to the principal's office after a disruption in class. When he returned, according to Alex's mother, he was made to stand up in front of the class while his peers were instructed to tell Alex what they didn't like about him. Allegedly the teacher also chimed in with the helpful fact that she "hated [Alex] right now". Then - because the class was learning about voting - there was a vote taken, a la Survivor, and Alex was ejected by a 14-2 margin.

The "teacher", Wendy Portillo, said today that the vote wasn't intended to kick Alex out of her classroom for good - just for the day - and that she wanted the young boy to hear from his fellow students how they were affected by his behavior. No charges will be filed in this case, but the jury's still out as to whether Alex - or Portillo - will be back at the school any time soon. Meanwhile, Alex and his mother have received worldwide support, including an invite from Dr. Phil to be on his show, and messages from as far away as Iran. Maybe Portillo would be more comfortable teaching there - she sounds like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's type of instructor.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why Pandas Shouldn't Party with Amy Winehouse ...

It's always sad to see cute critters go down the path of ill repute, but that seems to be the case here, as the cuddly star of the upcoming film Kung Fu Panda enjoying some roughhouse with a member of his flock suddenly has a bad reaction to something he took at a recent soirée held by none other than Grammy-winning train wreck Amy Winehouse. Let this be a lesson to you wannabe world-famous mammals - this is what can happen to you when you hit the big time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why baseball rocks (most of the time) ...

Less than two years ago, Jon Lester was battling lymphoma. Last October, the left-hander was the winning pitcher for the Boston Red Sox's World Series clincher against Colorado. Tonight, Lester threw a no-hitter against Kansas City.

And this, boys and girls, is why when someone offers you a ticket to a Major League Baseball game, you never, ever turn them down. Because you never know when you're going to see history.

Hollywood: Land of Innovation

As if the recent announcement that Werner Herzog will cast Nicolas Cage's manhood in a retelling of the infamous crime drama Bad Lieutenant wasn't chilling enough, now comes worth, courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter, that former movie studio MGM is planning new versions of both Robocop, the badass police officer-as-cyborg hit that briefly put Peter Weller on the map; and Red Dawn, the so-bad-it-sucks war epic that made World War III hip for the young people (aka the first Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey mash-up). I blame The Hills for this.

A real "Morehouse Man"

Not to get too high-minded for a blog whose main concern is whether the Cubs won last night and which star is pursuing which bad idea for a movie, but I did feel the need to point out that in some ways, the times really are a-changing, and for the better. Less than 50 years, a man of my complexion living in the Deep South was almost as likely to end up hanging from a tree as he was to be able to vote for his preferred candidate for President of the United States. Today, not only is a man of my complexion a very viable candidate for that same office, but in Atlanta this past weekend, more history in that vein was made.

At the all-male, traditional black Morehouse College - the college that produced, among others, Martin Luther King Jr. - Joshua Packwood gave the valedictorian speech at graduation ceremonies on Sunday. Packwood maintained a 4.0 GPA while majoring in economics. He studied abroad in places as diverse as China, Costa Rica and Switzerland. He's already landed a posh job on Wall Street. And Packwood also happens to be the first white valedictorian in Morehouse's 141-year history.

White students are not unknown to Morehouse, though they are still something of an anomaly there - Packwood is the only Caucasian in his class. But the 22-year-old also had a comfort level with African-Americans prior to his admittance to Morehouse. He attended a predominately black high school in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. His mother was married to an African-American, and thus Packwood has mixed-race siblings. And Packwood himself has dated interracially. Nor was this a token admission on the part of Morehouse - the recruiter who worked with Packwood didn't know the young man wasn't black until after several phone conversations. (Indeed, when I heard Packwood interviewed on National Public Radio last week, his voice did sound like he had a little, shall we say, color in his bones.) But Packwood, who turned down full rides from a couple of Ivy League schools to attend Morehouse, wasn't looking to be a mere blip either. He made the most of his time there, and not just in the classroom, eventually becoming one of the most popular students there - a student many of his classmates nicknamed "Tom Cruise," which I presume was a compliment.

In some ways I feel bad writing about this story, because it kind of defies what should be the best part of Packwood's tale - that race, when distilled through the filters of character and achievement, really doesn't matter. Of course it does - not as much as in did in my grandfather's day, but still, it can easily be the elephant in the room. And Packwood, despite his advanced course in race relations, will still have to deal with it at some point during his life, just as I have and Barack Obama has and Oprah Winfrey has. Still, it's worth focusing on the "novelty" of Packwood to stress him as a perfect example of what fellow Morehouse Man Martin Luther King once said about people being judged not for the color of their skin, but the content of their characters. And if Packwood's success provides encouragement of just one young man, no matter his hue, then shining the spotlight on him will really be worth it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I announce to you a great joy ...

I've seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Whatchmacallit, and it is good.

Not great, mind you. There will really never, ever be another Raiders of the Lost Ark, in for no other reason that it was the first and, at the time, unique. But in terms of what it's supposed to be - a ripping summertime yarn with great stunts, a few laughs and some genuine corny moments - it gets the job done. And, at just over two hours, quite efficiently as well.

Obviously I won't give away the precious details of the film lest some of you actually want to see it for yourselves (duh). But suffice it to say that:

• Harrison Ford - grayer and gruffer - acquits him well as the older Indiana.

• Karen Allen is as pretty and feisty as ever as the returning Marion Ravenwood, aka Indy's True Love.

• Cate Blanchett's accent is a little too Boris-and-Natasha for its own good, but at least she seems to be having a fine time chewing the scenery without the burden of shooting for an Oscar hanging over her head.

• On the other hand, Shia LaBeouf's greaser hair should be up for an Oscar nod come February. (As for the big question, is he or isn't he … sorry, not telling.)

• While there are slow patches, they never are to the point of pure boredom. And the set action pieces are well above-average.

In short, despite some of the buzz emanating from Cannes, among other places, this one doesn't suck. But please, Steve and George, let's let things lie here. In some ways, they got lucky that three of their four Indy movies worked, let alone that one of them was a classic. But I don't want to see Dr. Jones helping the Beatles find Ringo's missing ring.

One more thing: As my friend and I left the theater, she commented on how kids who weren't around when Raiders was released in 1981 may ask their parents why Crystal Skull cribbed so much from National Treasure, the adventure film that Nicolas Cage made before designing to follow in the footsteps of Harvey Keitel's penis. Hopefully their folks will tell them what really came first.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Members only?

In what may be either the most intriguing or the most horrifying story to come out of the entertainment industry this year - and yeah, that includes the writers' strike - Variety is reporting that Nicolas Cage is set to star in a remake of Bad Lieutenant, the notorious 1992 Abel Ferrera shockfest of a crime drama that starred Harvey Keitel as, well, a bad lieutenant - a very troubled police detective who took perverse delight in rousting women, gambling and, in one notorious NC-17 scene, cavorting around fully nude. What's more, the remake will be directed by Werner Herzog, who's no wallflower himself (he was, after all, a frequent collaborator with actor Klaus Kinski, who made Keitel look like Pat Boone by comparison).

Production on the re-imaginataion of Keitel's penis will start up this summer. Hmm - suddenly, that actors' strike doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Susan Sarandon Wears Her Love of Her Kids on Her Sleeve - and Elsewhere ...

Susan Sarandon has a lot going for herself: An Academy Award; a beloved (and younger) husband significant other; apparently well-adjusted children; a great head of red hair; and a kickass body and still fresh-faced looks that are the product of either good genes, a Dorian Grey-like portrait in her basement or the best cosmetic surgeon on the Eastern seaboard. And now, she has something else in her corner as well. At the "advanced" age of 61, Sarandon has obtained what seems to be her first tattoos - the first initials of her three kids, Miles, Eva and Jack Henry, intertwined on at the top of her back, along with a smaller one on her right wrist in honor of her daughter.

The tats made their "debut" at the Speed Racer premiere last week, and Sarandon explained her decision to go under the needle at this time to the British tabloid The Daily Mail, saying that her body has just "a few more years anyway," so why not?

At the same time, Sarandon also denied having any procedures to maintain her relatively youthful look, pointing to her lifestyle (no smoking, lots of water, etc.) and the presence of longtime partner Tim Robbins as the reasons she still looks so fantatic. And while she says she won't rule out going the plastic route down the road, she seems unimpressed by the results of some of the surgeries she's seen: "[T]here are certain people who can do it within the bounds of fixing a little something here or there ... it's when people start looking like somebody else, their lips start to get weird, or they are younger looking at 65 than they were at 30 and they have that burns victim terrified look, that's just bad taste."

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Sarandon has had a bit done here and there, but you can't blame her for holding out on us - not out of personal pride but more out of sharing who her fantastic doctor is lest he or she be swamped by a flood of prospective clients. But considering some of the chop shop work that still permeates in Hollywood and beyond, maybe Sarandon's coming clean would be something of a public service. (No names, please - though you can probably figure out whom I'm talking about.)