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Thursday, September 30, 2010

M.S. Ride 2010 with Team PCAS

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Casual Critic — Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano's The Great Philadelphia Fan Book

The Great Philadelphia Fan Book proposes to be a defense of the often-berated Philly sports fan. While filled with interesting tidbits and historical background to some of the city's most infamous events, the book is hurt by at least one author's poor writing, up-yours attitude, and a whoa-is-me tone.

Co-written by Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano, two sports talkshow host on Philadelphia's 610 WIP, the book offers a history of Philly sports and our fandom from 1960 to its publication in 2003. It includes insights into the Philly sports fan, including our love-hate relationship with Mike Schmidt and Randall Cunningham, our lustful hate of the Dallas Cowboys, our former sports-fanatic mayor now governor, Ed Rendell, the worship of Bobby Clarke (the player) and disgust with Bob Clarke (the general manager), and even why we boo. In fact almost every chapter offers insights to events or personalities that strike a chord with the current Philly fan: Buddy Ryan, the Broadstreet Bullies, the 1980 Phillies, and '83 Sixers, just to name a few. The book even explains every national sportswriter's favorite shot to take at Philadelphia because they have nothing better to say — the fact that we booed St. Nick.

I can safely say I hate the Dallas Cowboys and bleed Eagles' green as much as anybody. I grew up during Dallas' dominance over the Birds in most of the '80s with my dad and two of three brothers being Cowboys fans, the third brother somehow latching on to the Rams, and mom not really caring. Eagles-Cowboys Sundays were huge in our house, and I heard more than anyone should ever have to about the stinkin' Cowboys. But, even I found The Great Philadelphia Fan Book a bit over-the-top and whiny at times.

Having listened to Gargano and Macnow for years on WIP, I felt I could easily discern who wrote what. Macnow must have winced painfully to see his work alongside that of Gargano. The South-Philly accent might work on radio, but yo, you gotta do better in a book, youknowwatimtalkinabout? I had fun with the Philly-slant of the book, but it just went too far. Besides Gargano's writing, a major flaw of the book was it's inability to see beyond the Philadelphia skyline.

The booing of Donovan McNabb at the NFL Draft was the primary example. After gushing over the Wing Bowl, an annual WIP promotion created by the morning show headlined by Angelo Cataldi that was literally turning away people from a packed Wachovia Center this year, they barely mention Cataldi in the booing of McNabb. I've enjoyed Cataldi for years, and attempted to get a link exchange going between his site and mine. But devoting just a line or two to the fact that Cataldi — the brainchild of this idiotic train wreck that many saw coming for weeks, and obviously would be mentioned every time McNabb had any success — was "involved" at the end of the chapter was weak. The fact that it was about wanting Rickey Williams with the pick (even before the two careers began to play out), doesn't make it any less stupid.

The other complaint I had with The Great Philadelphia Fan Book was its desire to support Philly's fatalistic attitude. A book needs to stay above the idiots — like the nitwits who watched the Super Bowl and were screaming "McNabb sucks!" right before he took the Birds on a TD-drive to bring his team within three points in the fourth quarter — and the guys who want to rehash every big loss after every new loss. It's old and tiresome from fans, and worse in a book.

Despite its flaws, this is a fun, easy-to-read book, which will help Philadelphia fans relive glories of the past and understand some moments we'd rather forget. This is one for the true fan.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Unimpressed by Outlaw Premier

I was really looking forward to the premier of Jimmy Smits’ new show on NBC last night, Outlaw. He was terrific in NYPD Blue and West Wing, which I thought could have continued with him as president, and I may have been the only fan of the short-lived CBS show, Cane. I only saw a little bit of Dexter, so I don’t have much of an opinion on that show.

Unfortunately, I’m guessing Outlaw is going to meet the same fate as many of the shows I make a point to watch lately and get axed pretty quickly. At least this time I can say I’m not necessarily a fan yet. I was hoping for better than what I saw in the premier, which re-airs Friday at 10 PM EST in what I believe is meant to be the show’s usual timeslot.

The premise of the series just seems a little awkward, as did the pilot episode. Smits plays Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza, who resigns from the bench to defend, shall we say, those who need it the most. Last night it was an accused cop killer who had been spared execution and awarded a new case – with Garza tipping the decision in the defendant’s favor before he resigned.

I have to think there would have been a little more protest than his buddy asking him if he was crazy before he could have taken the case. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, the words “conflict of interest” might have come up once or twice.

More troubling is the idea that Garza and his team are going to “parachute in” to take cases he deems important enough throughout the country each week. It just seems like each episode has the potential to be somewhat formulaic and almost idealistic. Everything happened so fast in the first episode, and more importantly had the feel of happening too fast, there was a hollowness to it. I get that Law & Order and every other court room drama wraps things up in an hour, but there’s at least a sense (or in L&O constant reminders) that time has passed.

There was also nothing special from Smits. Garza has some vices that are probably supposed to offset the idealism, and he’s dealing with his father’s disapproval of his stances as a judge. Garza survived the recent accident that killed his father, which ensures that the internal conflict will be an ongoing theme. But it was just sort of “there.” One moment for Smits was decent when Garza had to deal with a member of his staff announcing that she was in love with him. They’ll need more of that to salvage the show.

As a fan of Smits, I’m hoping the pilot episode tried to cram too much into the first hour and that the show can recover. But my guess is that a lack of real grit dooms Outlaw to a midseason cancellation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Jerry Lewis-ethon Needs to Go

I just happened to catch the beginning and the end of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon hosted by Jerry Lewis over the weekend, along with a few moments of it during the day on Monday. Listening to Lewis reminded me of watching All in the Family reruns with the incessantly inappropriate Archie Bunker. The only difference was that excusing Lewis as a relic of his time is more difficult when he continues to open his mouth in our time.

I admit to being biased against Lewis ever since hearing his comments in a 2001 interview in which he said, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house.” I’ve already had my rant about how disgraceful it is that he continues in his role with MDA after these asinine remarks.

Yet, watching Lewis over the weekend was downright embarrassing for reasons that go beyond his ignorance, which is still on display. The former star of the ‘50s made it pretty clear with his opening monologue that the telethon is all about Lewis. He babbled on about how his Hollywood friends are there for him every year, the year-round effort that the telethon is for him and his staff, and so on. Even when he got around to the idea of the money being raised helping people with muscular dystrophy, Lewis referred to the recipients of this assistance in his classically patronizing “my kids.”

Lewis actually referred to the fact that the MDA Telethon has outlived all of the others as if it was an achievement. I guess it’s possible that the elderly Lewis honestly doesn’t understand that the other organizations have given up their telethons in deference to the notion that they are degrading to the people they are supposed to be serving.

I’m not even convinced that telethons needed to become extinct if they had been done in the right way. The need to raise funds is just a reality for non-profit organizations.

In fact, the few moments that I saw between the opening monologue and the close of the show suggested that everyone around Lewis “gets it.” I saw a country singer with MD perform, another guy with MD was apparently a part-time host, and I saw local hosts talking in respectful, mature terms about the good that the funds being raised could do. The telethon showed that it might just be possible to hold one of these events without degrading the people it’s meant to help, though I’m not convinced that the underlying concept of a telethon doesn’t make this impossible. That’s another debate for another day.

For whatever reason, Lewis no doubt continues to draw people to the telethon and helps raise millions of dollars, which is no doubt why MDA continues to tolerate him. It explains why they overlook his crude jokes about people in the south, his ridiculous comments about smacking Lindsey Lohan, and his ancient, high-pitched voice he uses when he attempts self-deprecating humor.

But when the man closes the show by spending several minutes talking down to a small girl (who I assume had MD), continues to encourage the public to pity people with disabilities – flying in the face of the goals of the vast majority of disabled people seeking equality in society – and is protested against year after year by people with MD, the cost of those millions raised must be questioned.

As Lewis balled his way through a farewell tune that he apparently sings every year, I couldn’t helped but wonder if he was really weeping over the end of his annual day of relevance. The self-praising act, with tears clearly flowing over how overwhelmed he was by his own annual effort, was truly train-wreck television.

I’ve heard that the MDA does many great things, and I have no reason to question those assertions. It’s time for them to do one more great thing for people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities by making his tear-soaked finale a weepy goodbye forever by ending their relationship with Lewis.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review of The American

Memo to the movie industry: Filming a big star in a European setting still requires some semblance of a story before it can be called a movie.

At least I think that used to be the case. Now that The American was the top box office “hit” on Labor Day weekend, I’m not so sure of the above statement. Although, considering that I was counted among those box office receipts, the fact that the movie was “number one” really only proves that we thought it had the best commercials among movies we hadn’t seen yet.

It’s entirely possible that the rest of the people who helped make this movie tops at the box office also left the theater wanting to warn our fellow saps waiting in line to see this bore-fest to save their money.

There’s simply no discernible plot for the first 40 to 60 minutes of The American. I will admit that the movie actually did a good impression of a gripping movie in the first 10 minutes, but those few moments quickly evaporated into George Clooney being the brooding hit man.

Eventually it becomes clear that Clooney, whose character name I just don’t care enough about to look up, plays an assassin who is having a mid-life crisis. He’s apparently realized that killing people for a living might not have been the best choice and has made it difficult to connect with people. I say “apparently” because the audience is pretty much left to guess what the character is thinking.

We see a lot of Clooney working out and putting together high-precision guns. The first was no doubt for his female fans, and I’m guessing the guys were supposed to be enamored by the know-how with guns. Instead, it was just dull.

The character is never developed enough. For instance, he kills his lover in the beginning to cover his tracks after she sees too much about who he is. But there’s never anything to go with it. There’s just a quick comment to his boss that he killed her. It fits the cold killer persona, but if the audience is going to buy into his transformation we needed more from him – specifically on this incident. There was nothing.

Why is the life he chose suddenly bothering him? It wasn’t enough to just put his life as an assassin in front of the audience and assume we’d figure it out. Of course the average audience will get why someone might be bothered by killing for a living. But we didn’t choose that life – he did. And he’s clearly done it for quite some time. Even if the guy was turning 50 and was evaluating his life, it would have been something. It would have been weak, but it would have been better than what we got.

Even if all of the pieces are willing picked up by the audience member, and the seven minutes of action in the movie was enough to keep a conscious state going, there’s no reward. The ending is a bit cliché, and, once again, there is no real explanation for it. The audience can infer why Clooney’s character became the target, but even the possible answer left me unsatisfied.

For fans who like looking at George Clooney semi-naked, which is his basic dress code during plenty of this movie whether he’s working out or visiting his favorite prostitute, The American works. The rest of us should skip it – or at least we should have.