A deadly virus breaks out in China, as officials there do their best to contain information surrounding the epidemic. Then it spreads across the planet. Is this current events or the first chapter of Max Brooks’ zombie pandemic thriller World War Z?
Turns out, both. I’m rooting for the coronavirus, by the way. Wuhan, incidentally, is a cozy city about 200 miles inland from Shanghai that you’ve never heard of (perhaps) and never visited (definitely) and yet it has a larger population than that of New York City.
Number-one overall draft pick Zion Williamson at last made his NBA debut for the Pelican West last night. The game tipped off at 9:30 and then Zion sputtered through the first three quarters with five total points. Then, after 11 p.m. local time, long after many had gone to bed, lightning struck.
In a brief window, Zion scored 17 consecutive points for the gulls, including going 4-for-4 from beyond the arc (something he’s not particularly renowned for). Zion finishes with 22 in his NBA debut as the Birds fall to San Antonio.
When The Schiff Hits The Fan
It’s going to require a 2/3 vote in the Senate to remove Donald Trump from office. That means at least half the Republicans in the chamber will have to vote to impeach.
That ain’t happening.
But with every minute of time Adam Schiff gets at the podium, the congressman from California is laying bare just how open-and-shut this case against the president is. He’s concise, he’s direct and he’s even-tempered. But he’s also candid: a vote against impeachment is a vote against the Constitution. You’re voting for power, not for integrity.
Here’s The Washington Post on Schiff. Two lines stand out in case you’re not in the mood to click on the link. One…
“… that is what the trial is about. It’s about making clear to the entire country that Trump did exactly what he is accused of, but that his own party, suffering from political cowardice and intellectual corruption, do not have the nerve to stop him.”
“If abuse of power isn’t impeachable, then the president is king.”
There’s still an unbeaten in men’s Division I basketball. Did you know that? I did not know that. Moreover, this 20-0 squad is not one of the seven schools that has at one point this season occupied the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
All hail San Diego State.
Granted, the fourth-ranked Aztecs have not played a ranked opponent. It will be interesting to see if they can somehow land a No. 1 seed if they never meet a ranked foe and go through the regular season undefeated. No opponent has come within 9 points of them since early December.
Yanni Wetzell, the team’s leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer, is a 6’10” Kiwi grad transfer with previous stops at Vanderbilt and a D-2 school in San Antonio. He’s a former world-ranked junior tennis player.
Five Films: 2000
Almost Famous: How could we put this one any lower when it inspired the name of this daily exercise in pedantry? The only fast note for me was when Bill Miller rips Russell a new one over Penny Lane’s near-suicide. But the final scene redeems it. “To begin with… everything.” 2. Gladiator: Were we not entertained? We were. The opening battle scene was Braveheart in a wintry Bavarian forest. Awesome. 3. Sexy Beast: Ben Kingsley won an Oscar for portraying Gandhi. He deserved one here even more for portraying a character that couldn’t be any further from that one. Love this film. If you’ve never seen it, change that. Ian McShane is also excellent. 4. You CanCount On Me: Sweet little film about adult siblings played by Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. 5. Traffic: Muy depressing, but in terms of vehicular-related one-word titles, way less pretentious than Crash.
Finding it odd that I spotted this on Twitter and not YouTube.
Mr. Schiff Goes To Washington
The Democrats don’t stand much of a chance of winning this Senate impeachment trial, but thanks to forthright representatives such as Adam Schiff, they do stand a decent chance of exposing the Republicans in both the Senate and the White House for the corrupt individuals they are. In the wee hours of the morning Mr. Schiff proposed an amendment whereby Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate trial and who himself was appointed to the bench by a Republican president (Bush II), would have the final say over whether or not a proposed witness is relevant and would be heard from. The Republicans struck even that measure down.
Tells you all that you need to know.
That what is taking place right now in this same chamber mirrors so closely what happened in a film that came out 81 years ago is sad. But it’s true.
The Worst And The Whitest
Read this tweet to compare what’s going down right now with what went down during then President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. And remember, the “crime” Clinton committed was lying about having oral sex in the Oval Office with a member of his staff (yes, Beavis, I wrote both “member” and “staff”).
Here’s an easy analogy to explain how the White House and its lawyers are behaving: Say they’re the school yard bully holding your glasses high above your head and demanding you read a note. And you’ve told them you want to read the note and will do so if you can just have your glasses back. And they say, “If you can read the note, why do you need your glasses?” And this keeps going round and round.
That’s what’s happening in our “venerable” Senate right now. Please note: I was never the bully or the bespectacled kid. I was probably eating a sloppy joe.
The Kid’s In The Hall
Twenty seasons. Five World Series rings. Sixth all-time in base hits and most games played by a Yankee. Derek Jeter (“Number 2, Derek Jeter”) came up one vote shy of being the second player ever elected unanimously (teammate Mariano Rivera is the only one) to the Baseball Hall of Fame. So now No. 2 is No. 2 all-time in terms of percentage of voters who put them on their ballot (99.7%). We don’t yet know who the outlier was but you might guess he lives in New England.
Uh, Larry Walker was also elected, just barely, eh.
“The Cincinnati Bengals Are On The Dock”
At some point in the 1990s at Sports Illustrated our beloved writer Jack McCallum (that dude who managed to get along with EVERYONE) was put in charge of Scorecard, and I’m pretty sure it was he who came up with the weekly segment “This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us.” The “Apocalypse” note was a way of winking at the absurdity of American sports, or our values, without sounding like a shrew week in and week out.
A brilliant idea. The world’s going down in flames. You can either get mad about it each week or you can go Kurt Vonnegut. So it goes…
So here’s the NFL, earnestly informing us that the 2020 NFL Draft will take place outside at the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. And that players picked will be whisked by boat up to the stage (P.J. Fleck has to love that). And let there be show girls. Plenty of show girls.
Every draftee should also shake the hand of Wayne Newton upon reaching the stage, no? And let’s hope next month’s NFL combine includes a swim test, or are you prepared to jump in and save Derrick Brown if his boat capsizes?
Five Films: 1999*
The Matrix: Never mind the revolutionary filming techniques or the slick costumes. The story is something right out of a Ray Bradbury novel and looking back 20-plus years, unbelievably prescient. The matrix IS real, Neo. But the line I’ve also never forgotten? Man is a virus. 2. The Sixth Sense: It was a few scenes in, when Bruce Willis was talking to Haley Joel Osment’s mom in the living room, that I began to figure out the conceit. You? 3. Galaxy Quest: Tim Allen’s other space man character is more likeable than Buzz Lightyear. With an incredible supporting cast that included Tony Shalhoub, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell and Alan Rickman. By Grapthar’s hammer… 4) The Blair Witch Project: I’ve never seen it a second time, but the first time I saw it I did not fall asleep at all that night. That’s the mark of a great horror film. 5) Office Space: What makes it both funny and sad is that it’s all so accurate.
*We left out one film because the first rule of that film is that it does not exist.
Those were some of the derisive names the wave of gun rights protesters who showed up at the state capital in Virginia were being called online yesterday. On Martin Luther King Day. Something sad about seeing a mass of scared, angry middle-aged white men toting guns on a day used to commemorate a man of civil rights and peace who was mowed down by an an angry middle-aged white man with a gun.
It made me wonder: What happens if you yell “Fire!” at a crowded pro-gun rights rally.
In Portland, Damian Lillard erupts for a career-high 61 points as the Trail Blazers knock down the Warriors in overtime, 129-124. Lillard was 16-16 from the line and 11-20 from beyond the arc. That’s 49 of his 61 points right there.
From our count there are only 19 different players who’ve ever put up 61 or more points in an NBA game. Also by our count, 14 of those 19 did it once. Wilt Chamberlain, meanwhile, did it 29 times. He was prolific in every way.
Peace Of Mind
It’s been heartening in the past few years to see so many people come around on the band Rush. Neil Peart’s death was treated with the appropriate respect, there’s a popular doc about the band on Netflix out right now, and they were even voted into the Rock and Roll HOF seven years ago. Alex Lifeson’s “blah blah blah” speech remains one of the high points in that institution’s often stuffy history:
So as I see Jann Wenner’s list of R&R HOF nominees this year—Whitney Houston, the Notorious B.I.G., Nine Inch Nails, T. Rex, the Doobie Brothers and Depeche Mode— I think, okay, cool, a few edgy picks here. But it’s yet another year where two massive and important bands are left out:
Boston and The Go Go’s.
The cool editors at RS never liked Boston but this band made two albums (six total) whose songs are still being played on AOR today. And in the late Seventies and early Eighties these songs were everywhere. With good reason. They invited you to “turn it up” and RAWK: “More Than A Feeling,” one of the all-time rock classics (they should be inducted on this song alone the way Journey should’ve been with “Don’t Stop Believin'”), “Somethin’ About You,” “Don’t Look Back”, “Smokin’,” “Peace of Mind,” etc. No one sounded like Boston and no one does today.
They’ve sold 75 million albums worldwide. Someone out there likes them.
Then there’s the Go Go’s. Simply the best all-female rock band of all time. Name another. The Runaways? Good band, first ones there, but they never put out as many hits as the Go Go’s. And while there have been plenty of all-female groups, these are the only two that played all their instruments. Heart is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Heart!
Now, I heart Heart, but it’s just two sisters and their catalog is at best equal to Belinda and the gals’. But one of them is married to Cameron Crowe. Maybe that’s part of it.
I’ve stanned this before and I’ll keep stanning it: Boston and the Go Go’s belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wake up, gang.
Move over, Clemson (oh, they already have). The world’s most dominant football team is Liverpool of the English Premier League. Yesterday the Reds defeated Manchester United 2-0 to move to 21-1-0 (that one being a 1-1 draw against that same Man U. squad back on October 20th) on the season.
Led by top goal scorers Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Mohamed Salah (Egypt), pictured above, the Reds are the defending Champions League champs and are now aiming for the first undefeated season in Premier League since Arsenal in 2004 (the only team to have done it since the 19th century).
The Beatles will always remain, at least for us, the greatest band from Merseyside. But this Liverpool unit is beginning to draw comparisons.
Five Films: 1998
The string of strong, outstanding years ends, but there’s still an all-timer in this year’s class…
Saving Private Ryan: The first 20 minutes of this film are like the most turbulent white-knuckle flight you’ve ever been on. But it holds even after that first flurry of punches. I could’ve done without the maudlin book-end flash-fowards. And the parade of TV stars (Ted Danson, Nathan Fillion, Bryan Cranston) is a little weird. Did not win Best Picture. A shame. Earn this. 2) Rounders: A film that was released about two to three years too soon, just before the Texas Hold ‘Em craze took off. It’s outstanding, even if Matt Damon is basically playing Will Hunting as a law student. Great performances by Ed Norton, John Malkovich and John Turturro all. 3) Shakespeare In Love: This won Best Picture and it’s actually quite good and clever… or at least that’s what I remember from the first and only time I saw it. 4) The Big Lebowski: Guilty. I’m the guy who likes but does not love this film. The characters are wonderful and eccentric but the story is sooooo slow. Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. 5) A Simple Plan: It’s No Country For Old Men in the snow, but 10 years before. A terrific overlooked flick.
Also: We’ve never seen The Truman Show. Or The Thin Red Line. Did see and liked Run, Lola, Run.
I just like that Tom Brady’s kid brother is doing the news…
Chiefs. Niners. Always nice to see two franchises that existed at the time of the first Super Bowl but who’ve never met in a Super Bowl meet for the first time. In Miami. And two quarterbacks who’ve never been there arrive for their first. And yet it’s just another Bill Belichick-trained QB, Jimmy Garoppolo.
And who’s this Raheem Mostert dude that rushed for 220 yards for San Fran yesterday? Turns out he’s 27 and played at Purdue. I didn’t know him. Now I do.
Others have said it, but we’ll add: the most impactful play of the 2019 NFL season was Seahawk tight end Jacob Hollister being stopped just an inch shy of the end zone by the Niners in the last moments of the regular season. If Hollister scores the Niners are a wildcard team and have no home games. Who knows?
Past Midnight Oil
We haven’t mentioned the Australia fires because, honestly, we’re just too heartbroken about it. Some one billion animals have supposedly died, and that’s far too much suffering for innocent creatures for us to want to spend much time thinking about. We’ve been to Australia twice. It’s paradise. Or was.
I think back nearly thirty years to a band, an Australia band, that tried to warn us all and implored its listeners to prevent this tragedy. The band is Midnight Oil. The song, “Beds Are Burning.” Some lyrics:
The time has come to say fair’s fair To pay the rent, to pay our share The time has come, a fact’s a fact It belongs to them, let’s give it back
Once again the artists and the scientists are right. Once again the political leaders and the plutocrats only listen to money. And they’ll only act after it’s too late. Human nature. Sad.
We do have one suggestion, however: A Bob Geldof-ian mega-concert to raise relief funds for this damaged island. Think of the lineup: AC/DC, INXS (get a fill-in for Hutchence), Midnight Oil (who should headline), Men At Work, Air Supply (don’t laugh!), Little River Band, Jet, The Vines, Silverchair, Tame Impala, even Kylie Minogue. I’m sure I’ve missed a couple; fill it out.
This morning Twitter is ablaze over the fact that The New York Times couldn’t settle on just one woman to endorse for president, so it named two: Elizabeth Warren AND Amy Klobuchar. Even the mighty NYT, in a matter as simple as a presidential endorsement, had to have a sidepiece.
There’s also the implicit suggestion that it takes two women to equal one man. Either way, NYT, get off the fence and choose one gal (says the lifelong bachelor).
Brad To The Bone*
*The New York Post ran with “Jen Ex” and that’s way better than ours…
For some actors or actresses, awards season comes and it’s just their time. That’s the situation for Brad Pitt, who took home a Best Supporting Actor SAG/AFTA award last night (to add to his Golden Globe and soon-to-be Oscar). Pitt, who was our favorite thing about OUATIH, has been showing off quite a self-aware and self-deprecating sense of humor during these acceptance speeches.
Here he was last night: “It was a difficult part, a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get on with his wife. It was a big stretch,” said Pitt, who also quipped, “I get to add this to my Tinder profile.”
Ex-wife Jennifer Aniston also won last night for her role in The Morning Show. It sure feels as if Ross and Rachel may just get back together!
Two takeaways from the Netflix doc, “Beyond The Lighted Stage,” the story behind the band Rush: 1) Bassist and lead singer Geddy Lee is the son of Holocaust survivors. If things go differently in a Nazi concentration camp, we never get any of these songs (“Closer To The Heart,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight”, etc). Then think that 6 million Jews were wiped out in that abomination. How many other future human contributions were squandered there? 2) When drummer Neil Peart lost both his teenage daughter (car accident) and wife (illness) in a year and a half period, the aloof and hyper-intelligent drummer took off. On his motorcycle. Across North America. And Central America. According to the doc, Peart traveled 55,000 miles on his motorcycle. That’s like going from New York to L.A. and back eleven full times. Apparently he wrote a book about the odyssey, Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing World, which we’d now like to read.
Five Films: 1997
Each year is better, or at least as good as, the last. This is the fourth consecutive strong year in a row from this decade.
L.A. Confiidential: “Forget it, Russell. It’s Chinatown.” The best L.A. film noir since Chinatown stars two then-unknown Aussies, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. Great performances by Kim Basinger and Kevin Spacey, who was in the midst of quite a run. 2) Good Will Hunting: Higher than you might think, but the story here is pretty damn perfect and the relationship between Robin Williams and then virtually-unknown (except for School Ties) Matt Damon is much more authentic than the one between Jack and Rose in another film. How do you like them apples? 3) Boogie Nights: And the Oscar for unbridled ambition goes to Paul Thomas Anderson, the director who was only 27 when this was released. The two most audaciously bold, quality films of the decade were both set in L.A. This and Pulp Fiction. 4) Titanic: Lots (and lots) of folks made sport of trashing this film at the time, but it holds up. And ever since Leo has been king of the world! 5) AustinPowers: Allow myself to introduce… myself… I didn’t think Mike Meyers could improve upon Wayne’s World, but he did. Should we shag now or shag later? Yeah, baby, yeah! Silly and just a perfect send-up of James Bond’s entire ouevre.
Aslo see: Wag The Dog, Jackie Brown, Life Is Beautiful (it hurt not to include this last one).
I dunno what ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza, a fixture on their Sunday Night Baseball telecasts who also happens to be a paid consultant for the New York Mets, was thinking here. She’s essentially saying that cheating is not okay, but snitching is worse.
Then she goes on to “Men’splain” her comments on Twitter, which doesn’t help:
What did Mendoza think was going to happen if Fiers went to the Astros or MLB first (for all we know, he did)? Has she been paying zero attention to what’s going on in this country the past six months? In the immortal words of Geno Auriemma, “What a dope!”
ESPN should dismiss Mendoza, like, immediately. She wants to work in the shadows, go for it. Keep your job with the Mets. Don’t talk to us about baseball, though. Our guess is that the WWL gives her the Groundhog Day treatment and has her disappear for six weeks because she saw her shadow.
Meanwhile, the Mets tossed newly hired manager Carlos Beltran onto the George O’Leary Memorial Garbage Heap of History by canning him (“mutually agreed to part ways”) for his part as a player in the Astros cheating scandal. There’s nothing more Mess than baseball having a scandal, in another league, and it somehow affecting the Mess. Remember when Anthony Weiner was Queens’ most notorious Carlos?
Jose, Can You Cheat/By The Dawn’s...
That’s Jose Altuve after he hit a series-ending walk-off home run against the New York Yankees in the ALCS last October. Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP and SI Sportsperson of the Year that year along with J.J. Watt, would be named MVP of the ALCS.
Here’s the problem, though, as the photo above suggests: he was wearing a buzzer under his jersey that would tip him off about pitches. In this photo he’s warning his teammates to not pull off his jersey in celebration. According to people who were there, Altuve was yelling some form of “Don’t rip off my jersey!” to teammates as he rounded third. Watch him go into a rope-a-dope cover up as he approaches home plate.
Two people, one of them Carlos Beltran’s niece, alleges that Altuve was wearing a buzzer beneath his jersey during this game. If Altuve is not suspended, he may become the most-beaned player in baseball next season. And he’ll deserve it.
At the time, The Athletic’s and Fox’s Ken Rosenthal asked Altuve about his telling teammates not to tear off his jersey. You can watch the clip here.
Now I don’t know if Altuve is telling the truth or not, but I will point out that he asks Rosenthal to repeat the question. Kind of the way Bill Barr asked Kamala Harris to repeat the question at his hearing when asked if he had ever been asked by the president or anyone at the White House to investigate someone. At times a liar needs a few seconds to process an adequate response, which is where “Can you repeat the question?” comes in.
Laura The Explorer
We don’t know exactly when Fox News’ Laura Ingraham began drinking the Rachel Maddow Kool-Aid, but twice in the past week she’s pushed back on elected Republican officials to be more accountable. On air. To their faces. What a time to be alive!
First, Ingraham scored an interview with No. 1, a.k.a. President Trump, and asked him to name more specifically the nature of the “imminent” threats that in his mind made it acceptable to assassinate General Soleimani. That question prompted the famous “four embassies” response.
Then, last night on her show, after Arizona stand-in senator Martha McSally made news (and campaign donation hay) by calling a CNN newsman a “liberal hack” for a perfectly valid question, Ingraham had McSally on her show—and asked the very same question. And when McSally attempted to deflect, she wouldn’t back down. Chris Wallace. Shepherd Smith. Now, Laura Ingraham. Soon Donald’s only friends at Fox will be Fox & Friends (and Sean, of course).
Five Films: 1996
Two thoughts: 1) Was there ever a year with so many deserving films in which such an undeserving one won Best Picture (probably, but this year may be the best example with The English Patient winning). 2) This is the third consecutive year with a deep lineup of films and we haven’t even gotten to Titanic or Saving Private Ryan yet. Were the 1990s the best film decade since the 1940s?
Fargo: The brilliance of the Coen brothers was never on better display 2. Jerry Maguire: Tom Cruise in his best role since he was Joel Goodson , with Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Renee Zellweger stealing the show. More Cameron Crowe brilliance. Cruise still does not have an Oscar. 3. Trainspotting: If a movie could be arrested for delinquency, this one would be. What a rush. 4. Swingers: I remember going to see this at a now-defunct theater on Broadway at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon and the only other people inside were dudes, mostly sitting by themselves. You’re so money and you don’t even know it. 5. Primal Fear: Edward Norton is tremendous in his first major role. He transcends what could have been just another slick ’90s (see: Presumed Innocent… or don’t see it) crime procedural drama.
Worthy, but not in our Top 5: Sling Blade, Kingpin (saw this on a plane, with the headphones on, and was laughing so much that people in other rows turned back to give me the stink eye…or maybe I had gas…. not sure), Beautiful Girls, Big Night, Shine.
Also, a leftover from yesterday’s list, 1995: While You Were Sleeping.
The star witness of President Trump’s impeachment trial (unless Rudy Giuliani cracks), Lev Parnas, sits down for an interview with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC (part 2 of the interview airs tonight). Without rehashing it here, some thoughts:
–Let’s introduce a new term for the blossary (blog glossary): “implausible deniability.” You know how many an accused suspect can assert plausible deniability, as in, yes, they’re the suspect but within reason they can deny the charges? Lev’s bombshells last night, atop all the other evidence seen so far, makes the deniability assertions of President Trump, VP Mike Pence and AG Donald Barr more and more highly implausible.
–Where would we be as a nation without the freedom of the press? Right now we’d be Russia. We really are no better except that we have a First Amendment.
–The Epstein Factor: When Lawrence O’Donnell asked Rachel Maddow, as she was handing her show off to him, WHY Parnas came out on record, her answer was succinct: “For his safety.” As Jeffrey Epstein’s death demonstrates, state secrets can die in jail cells if the right (or wrong) people get to you in time. By putting his stories out there, Parnas actually increases his chances of not being found dead in his jail cell because the motivation to silence him before he can speak vanishes. Of course, snitches get stitches, but we’ll see.
–Parnas was anything but a hostile witness. He was likable, even. And he did not speak with a thick Boris-and-Natasha accent. The fact that his lawyer never interjected also tells you how eager he was to tell his story.
— Will this matter to Moscow Mitch and the krewe? No. Sadly. They see all of this as a death struggle for the (white) soul of America, as does their base. There is no law that is inviolate, no principle too sacred, if adhering to it means the loss of power. Because then (in their warped minds) you hand the country over to those kale-eating, rainbow-shirt wearing liberals. Democracy no longer sounds like such a good idea if white values are not in the majority.
Pardon The Eruption
This is not the climactic scene from a Steven Spielberg film. This is the Taal Volcano in the Phillippines, which erupted last week.
This BBC story can explain better than I do why and how the volcanic eruption actually creates the lightning, i.e., it’s causal, not coincidental.
Continuing with the “Natural Phenomena Stories We Didn’t Get To Last Week,” this lunar eclipse in the Persian Gulf led some souls to consider it a sign that evil has taken over the planet, as they say devil horns.
We didn’t see it that way. We saw it as a giant neon pink bikini, which means that the SI/Maven Swimsuit issue cannot be that far off, now can it?
Where In The World?
Earlier this week I asked my high school friends on a group text, “Where’s the best place in the world you ever visited?” I didn’t ask my college friends, because they all would have answered, “South Dining Hall.”
Anyway, my good friend Oz has gone scuba diving here. Do you know where this is? Answer at the bottom of today’s column.
Related: It’s awe-inspiring what nature does when man stays the **** out of the way.
Five Films: 1995
Waterworld: Kev–just kidding. 1) Braveheart: “Freedommmmmmmmm!!!!” Didn’t see this until a year after it had come out, and I’ve only seen it five to ten times since. Mel Gibson not only made an outstanding film, but revolutionized the way war scenes are shot. It feels as if prima nocie is the ultimate goal of the current presidential administration 2) The American President: There’s that Rob Reiner guy again, directing a wonderful little romantic comedy set inside the White House. If this feels a little like The West Wing, that’s because they’re both written by Aaron Sorkin. The first two movies on this list are often on TV and I often stop everything to watch them. 3) Toy Story: Woody and Buzz Lightyear in a fable that anyone who’s ever been a child can relate to. The grosses on this franchise? To infinity and beyond! 4) Nobody’s Fool: My friend Mark Beech introduced this film at the first annual Johndance Film Festival and I flat-out fell in love with it. Paul Newman, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis and an ensemble cast in a wintry setting in a small town in upstate New York. Newman’s at his very best here. See it if you haven’t already. 5) Se7en: An easy elevator-pitch conceit turns into a compelling film with a head-turning twist at the end. A good friend once pointed out, for the next time you watch, to note how much care director David Fincher takes in pointing out how radically different Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman work, from a procedural standpoint. What an unbelievable year for Kevin Spacey, who had both this and The Usual Suspects.
This was a stronger year than I remembered. Besides the above you had Clueless, Tommy Boy, While You Were Sleeping, Casino, Heat, Mr. Holland’s Opus and Apollo 13. Wow. And it really does pain me to not put Tommy Boy on this list.
Answer: Rock Islands, Palau, western Pacific Ocean
The OG of Jeopardy, Ken Jennings, validated his status as the show’s GOAT last night. Jennings defeated the two other greatest champions in the show’s history, defeating James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter with three victories in four matches in this ultimate tournament of champions (the tourney could have gone a max seven matches if everyone had won two apiece after the first six: first man to three won).
The tourney, which was also a celebration of the career of host Alex Trebek, netted Jennings $1 million and the other two $250,000. Jennings pulled away with a Final Jeopardy win in Game 2 by correctly answering this question: “He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy.”
Answer: Who is Iago?
I don’t even remember him from Shakespeare In Love, but whatevs.
Coming Apart At The Seams
So two of the last three World Series champions cheated and the common denominator is Alex Cora. Lifetime ban, anyone? I’m for it.
If you come at me with “How is this different from steroids?”, I’ll tell you exactly how. First, yes, they are both cheating. But the differences are dramatic: 1) this is being done not by players but by a coach 2) It’s pre-meditated and it’s sophisticated. The more planning a malevolent act requires, the more time someone has a chance to reconsider the consequences of his actions, 3) This was done systematically over the course of seasons all the way deep into the playoffs.
I’m all for not allowing confirmed steroids users into the HOF. They cheated, too. But this is more pernicious. The Astros and Red Sox, winners of the 2017 and 2018 World Series, respectively, should be given the maximum punishment a franchise can be.
And Alex Cora should never be allowed to work in Major League Baseball again.
Once upon a time there was a three-star quarterback from the John Hughes-ian Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, an NFL coach’s son, whom Notre Dame offered a scholarship to as an insurance policy.
Then he won a bunch of games as the team’s starter. Then he became an assistant coach. Then yesterday Tommy, er Tom, Rees, was promoted to offensive coordinator at the age of 30. The Fighting Irish now have their very own Lincoln Riley/Kliff Kingsbury/Joe Brady type.
What is telling is when you hear established and respected voices from within the program extol Rees so unreservedly. Here’s former offensive guard Quenton Nelson, the best player of the Brian Kelly era:
And this is Michael Bartsch, who spent 10 or so years in South Bend as the school’s football SID and is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers:
This works out well for senior quarterback Ian Book, who has a strong kinship with Rees. We’ll see how it works going forward. The Irish are going to miss super stud receivers Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet (a tight end), who should be second- and first-rounders, respectively.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Marie, Uh?
Today’s White House-related scandal, or at the one atop the menu, is news that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, the fly in the ointment to Donald Trump’s Hunter Biden scheme because she’s actually honest, was being trailed and surveilled white at work in Kiev.
By whom, you might ask? By Americans.
Texts turned over to House investigators by Lev Parnas, Giulaini’s Eastern bloc stooge (or is it the other way around?) suggest that Republican Congressional candidate Robert Hyde was monitoring her movements in Kiev, berating her presence, and reporting back to Parnas.
Meanwhile, is there anyone involved in this mess with whom Parnas did not pose for a photo at one point?
Yovanovitch has clearly risen from fired Ambassador to feminine role model to Best Picture Oscar waiting to happen as soon as someone buys the rights to the book she needs to write. We see either Frances McDormand or a toned-down Julianne Moore in the title role, with flashback-to-youth scenes going to Emma Stone. Although if they cast Eddie Redmayne, they’ll probably have a better chance of winning the Oscar.
Five Films: 1994
Find us a stronger year for films at the top in the past 50. Maybe 1976. Maybe.
The Shawshank Redemption: This adaption of a Stephen King serial was overshadowed by the year’s more buzz-worthy films at the time of its release, but it stands the test of time. Oddly, there’s not one line of dialogue from a female throughout. Has anyone ever traveled directly from Maine to Zihuatanejo? 2. Pulp Fiction: Quentin Tarantino broke all the rules of story-telling and it worked. Like Catch-22, the story is not linear or in chronological order. Also, notice how he sets up numerous Hollywood tropes (don’t go back for the watch!) and then resolves them in atypical ways. A classic. 3. Forrest Gump: Incredibly hokey in so many ways, and yet in the final 20 minutes or so you feel it tugging on your heartstrings, wherever those are located. I’m not a smart man, Jen-nee, but I do know… 4. Four Weddings And A Funeral: Hugh Grant was an unknown over here when this was released, but he did not remain that way for long. Utterly charming love story, with good use of the term “skulking.” Kristin Scott-Thomas is wonderful. Yes, Andie McDowell was the love interest in two of our favorite films from the early Nineties, but I’m still quite sure a mannequin would have stood in just as well. 5. Hoop Dreams: Another film released this year was titled Reality Bites. They could have used that title for this stunning doc about inner-city high school basketball stardom.
Heavy scribbling day today so we’ll just do the cinema stuff and save the rest for tomorrow. Questions? Call the Complaint Dept. at 1-800-SUSIE-BE
Five Films: 1993
Groundhog Day: We walked in hoping for another satisfying Bill Murray comedy and walked out realizing we’d just been given a lesson on life and how to live it (hint: We’re all living the same day over and over…only the scenery changes). You could spend a week in a Philosophy 101 course dissecting this film. It’s incredible. Always wondered how they came to choose “I Got You, Babe” as the wake-up tune. 2. Schindler’s List: We watched this last year for the first time since it was first release and came away far more impressed. Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley are both fantastic, but it’s the performance by then-unknown Ralph Fiennes as the sadistic, sociopathic concentration camp commandant that takes it to another level. 3. In The Line of Fire: Maybe this was the year of epic supporting actor performances. This may be my favorite Clint Eastwood film, but it’s John Malkovich as the creeper wannabe assassin that gives you goose bumps. 4. Dazed And Confused: As a child of the Seventies, I can only look on in awe on how many of the details Richard Linklater got right here. Plus, there’s a bounty of burgeoning young Hollywood talent here besides Matthew McConaughey: Ben Affleck, Anthony Rapp, Adam Goldberg, Joey Lauren Adams, Miller Jovovich, Parker Posey and of course, Tim Lincecum. Strange that the film’s star, Jason London, never made it really big. He had all the tools. 5. A Bronx Tale: Sort of a PG-version of Goodfellas, but Chazz Palmientieri and Robert De Niro do the story justice. The kid’s really terrific, too. What ever became of him?
Almost but not quite: The Fugitive, Jurassic Park.
Though his mind was not for rent/To any god or government/Neil Peart was so joyfully content/banging skins for our entertainment
Rush drummer Neil Peart passed away last Tuesday due to complications from glioblastoma (brain cancer). He was 67.
Read this brief tribute from The New Yorker. Two things for me stand out. First of all, a “Dude, check this out” regarding the band’s breakthrough concept album, “2112”, is exactly how I was introduced to Rush back in 1976. I was too young to “get” the trio, but I did recognize an originality and a fierceness of will. Also, was this band from another planet (or just Canada)? This suite of songs remains seared in my memory:
Second, this closing line from author Amanda Petrusich: “If you can’t have a good time blasting “Tom Sawyer,” then some awesome part of you has withered. I say, raise a joint to Neil Peart tonight, and go get it back.”
Peart was more than the band’s drummer, though that was more than enough as most musicians considered him the greatest living practitioner of the kit. Peart was also the band’s lyricist, and those lyrics spoke to earnest, idealistic and free-thinking contrarian youths for generations. Here’s Peart’s words from “Free Will”:
You can choose a ready guide In some celestial voice If you choose not to decide You still have made a choice You can choose from phantom fears And kindness that can kill I will choose a path that’s clear I will choose free will
And here’s Peart/Rush from our favorite Rush tune, “Spirit of Radio”:
Invisible airwaves Crackle with life Bright antennae bristle With the energy Emotional feedback On a timeless wavelength Bearing a gift beyond price Almost free
All this machinery Making modern music Can still be open-hearted Not so coldly charted It’s really just a question Of your honesty, yeah your honesty
One likes to believe In the freedom of music But glittering prizes And endless compromises Shatter the illusion Of integrity,…
In other words, just play good music that listeners can jam to and forget all the market-share and payola crap. Our guess is that Peart wasn’t a fan of ClearChannel or IHeartRadio.
Here’s Peart, an avowed agnostic, discussing morality and faith and the existence of God, of a god, in a 2015 interview. We couldn’t agree with him more:
And people will say to me “Why are you a faith-basher?” And I say well, I don’t feel like a faith-basher, and it’s not something I’ve thought about all day. It’s something that my life has been full without any of that aspect, I don’t really understand it or understand why it’s needed, and it’s a kind of brainwashing in almost all cases where poor children have been brought up and formed into these molds, that you are suddenly this ‘ism’ that is after your name from the time you’re born. They don’t choose it, and for whatever reasons they never do question it, where I did from the beginning. I went to Sunday school as a little kid and when they’d tell us to sing the song about god watches each sparrow fall and all of that, and I said well no, I don’t really think so. When you look at the world now, I saw the comic and the great writer Stephen Fry the other day talking about that, he said people would say “what if you went to heaven and met God?” And he said oh, that wouldn’t be a pleasant meeting. I’d say why did you create those parasites that grow behind babies’ eyes and destroy their vision on the way out and all of that. That’s not any kind of a god to be worshiping, is it?
And I always say too, if I’m going to go up to heaven and meet St. Peter and Jesus and God and Allah and Buddah, whichever one you wanna pick, I’m gonna be okay, because I have lived a life based on that and I believe in generosity and charity and kindness and courtesy, those are things that just seem good to me anyway, I don’t need a threat to make me behave that way and I don’t need a reward.
Neil has his answer on this one now. Either way, what does it matter? He lived an exemplary life and gave far, far more than any of us can ever repay.
To Shell And Back
This is Diego the tortoise, the last of the red-hot lovers. In the 1970s only a dozen or so Espanola giant tortoises remained on the Galapagos Islands, most of them female. Then Diego was flown in from the San Diego Zoo, a assumedly a disco ball was hung somewhere, and Diego went on to sire hundreds upon hundreds of tortoises. He single-handedly—though no hands were involved—went on to save his species from the brink of extinction, as there are now more than 2,000 of his kind.
Diego, estimated to be more than 100 years old, will be released from his sexual enslavement back into the wild by the Galapagos National Park. Now he’s really going to crush it.
On Christmas Day the Tennessee Titans were 8-7 and heading to Houston for a game they absolutely had to win to make the playoffs. The Titans beat the AFC South champs that Sunday in Houston (35-14), then they beat the AFC East champs, New England, in the wild card round (20-13) and this Saturday beat the AFC North champions, Baltimore (28-12). Never mind that Baltimore is south of New England–whatevs.
Now the Titans, behind primary weapon and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, visit AFC West champion Kansas City. We doubt any team has defeated four consecutive division champs, on the road all, to advance to the Super Bowl.
Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner with Alabama, has had a HoF-worthy three-game run of runs: 211 yards rushing at Houston, 182 yards at New England and 195 yards at Baltimore. He’s been the MVP of the postseason so far.
Meanwhile in Kansas City, the Chiefs, losers of 7 of their previous 8 home playoff games (preposterous!), fell behind 24-0 in the second quarter at Arrowhead Stadium yesterday. And somehow, led by QB Pat Mahomes and a dubious decisions by Texans coach Bill O’Brien to run a fake punt from his own 31 on 4th-and-7 with a 24-7 lead, the Chiefs were in the lead at halftime . They’d go on to score 51 of the next 58 points after that 24-0 hole to win 51-31.
And up in Green Bay, after his Seahawks bowed out, Marshawn Lynch, who was tailgating before a game in Oakland and passing out tequila shots just one month earlier, offered sage advice: “Take care y’all chicken.”
The Oscar nominations were just announced and Joker leads with 11, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix). Appears that Commodus is finally going to get a thumbs up from the crowd. We’ve seen five of the nine BP nominees and will have to put Joker on our list.
Of the ones we’ve seen, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Ford V Ferrari are our two favorites. The latter won’t win because it’s not daring enough, I’m certain, but it’s Matt Damon and Christian Bale doing their thing and for us that’s usually more than enough.
Brad Pitt will win Best Supporting Actor and Laura Dern and her insane gams will win Best Supporting Actress.
By the way, thanks in part to the Marvel Comic Universe (and also to the sniff sniff Academy), the last time a year’s highest-grossing film was even nominated for Best Picture was in 2010, Toy Story 3. The last time such a film won? 2003, with The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King, which wasn’t even the best LOTR film but the Academy had to thank Peter Jackson for all of the revenue. The last time a film was a year’s highest-grossing, won Best Picture, and had no influence from sci-fi or comic books? 1988, Rain Man.
Correction: 1997, Titanic. Sorry to the Leo fans out there.
Five Films: 1992 (and then five more)
The year lacked a definitively stand-alone classic such as Goodfellas or The Silence of the Lambs had been the previous two years. And yet 1992 had quite the deep bench, deeper than in most years. Thus we’re adding a full second unit.
A Few Good Men: Rob Reiner, yet again. Get past the cheesy 80s soundtrack and the trapped-by-its-era attempt to fashion sexual tension between Demi Moore and Tom Cruise. Go to the actual story and the script as well as arguably the greatest courtroom scene in film history. You think there’s a better film than this from 1992? You can’t HANDLE the truth. 2. A League Of Their Own: At the time this was marketed as a Madonna film, but what it really was was the beginning of Tom Hanks’ massive career comeback. I’ll stake this as the best performance of his career and in some ways he was Jimmy Duggan at this point in his career. He’d win two Best Actor Oscars in the next two years, primarily, I think, out of respect for what he did here—where he was not even nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Incredible. Geena Davis wasn’t too shabby herself. 3. Unforgiven: If this isn’t Clint Eastwood’s best Western, it may be his most professionally done. And Gene Hackman makes a great villain. 4. Wayne’s World: Schwing! The most creatively silly and joyful comedy since Airplane! Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey not only turned their SNL sketch characters into celluloid heroes but also mocked countless tropes of cinematic storytelling. Just a wonderful goof, not to mention the resurrection of Robe Lowe’s career. 5. A River Runs Through It: Brad Pitt at his golden boy zenith with the breathtaking Montana wilderness in a supporting role. A film that in every reel knows what it is and what it’s trying to say.
2nd Five: 1) Reservoir Dogs 2) My Cousin Vinny 3) Scent Of A Woman 4) The Last Of The Mohicans 5) Glengarry GlenRoss
Do you know the man in the No. 3 jersey above? If you do there’s a 50% chance that you’re a college hoops writer for The Athletic. His name is Filip Petrusev and he’s a 6’11” sophomore at Gonzaga University. A Serbian by way of a tony Connecticut prep school (sort of like Rory Gilmore without the Paris baggage), Petrusev is the leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for the Zags, who just happen to be the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
I’m a sportswriter who generally stays on top of most sports (Roger Federer? Still not retired. There, see?) and I had no ide who Petrusev was 10 minutes ago. Truly.
The Zags, who defeated the University of San Diego 94-50 last night, also have Ryan Woolridge, who is their leader in assists and steals. I wouldn’t be able to pick Woolridge out of a lineup, be it a police lineup or a Zags starting five.
Is that a me problem or a college hoops problem? Maybe a little bit of both, but more the latter.
It’s not a Zags problem. The Spokane school has been around the scene as a college hoops potentate now for two decades. No, the problem, at least to me, is that college hoops’ best talent now stays one year at most or goes off to Australia or somewhere else to play in their gap year before entering the NBA draft. Whereas future NFL starters must play three seasons of college football first, where we get to know them and build a fan relationship with them.
Forget the ethics of it. The legality. The trampled rights of nineteen year-olds not being able to maximize their earning potential. College hoops is in trouble because its best programs (Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina) ordinarily turn over their entire starting lineup year-to-year nowadays. That’s a formula that killed Charlie’s Angels and it may kill college basekball as well, at least until mid-March.
So here’s my proposal. And before you slam it because it’s against NCAA rules, etc., let it breathe a moment. Forget about telling me why it can’t be done and tell me if college hoops (and the NBA) would be better off it were instituted. The plan:
After a player’s freshman season he becomes eligible for the NBA draft. A franchise may select him, but he still must play three years of college hoops, just like his gridiron counterparts do. The difference is that the NBA franchise must pay him. I’d suggest the following graduated rates…
–If taken in the first half of the first round, $1 million per year. In the second half of the first round, $750,000. First half of the second round, $500K. Second half of the second round, $250K. The player is paid while in school but not by the school, by the NBA team that chose him.
If the player is taken after his freshman season, he’d be paid for two more years under that structure. If after his sophomore season, one year. But the team retains the rights to that player and they’ve used one of their two very valuable draft picks to retain him. Easy peezy, right?
Now, you could end the entire solution there, but if you want to make it a little more sophisticated, you could have the “Cold Feet” addendum. If by the end of that player’s junior season the NBA franchise who selected him no longer believes he fits into their plans, for whatever reason, they can toss him back into the talent pool. The player still keeps the money he was paid for that one or two seasons. What does the team get in return? An extra pick in the first round somewhere. So if the team no longer fancies say, a Zion Williamson, they’d relinquish their rights to him and would get a second pick in the first round at the end of it.
Everyone wins. College fans get to know players better. College players who are at the top level get paid. NBA teams get a developmental system without losing top-tier talent to Australia or Lithuania or wherever. It makes too much sense, right?
Rome, If You Want To
Bookmarking The New York Times‘ “52 Places To Travel in 2020” guide. Some people’s mouths water at NFL Mock Drafts (or Way Too Early Top 25 lists). Us, this is what gets our salivary glands going. Gotta travel jones…
Even if you don’t make it to any of these spots, the guide is so well done. It’s a treat to behold.
Five Films: 1991
The Silence Of The Lambs: There’s simply not a wasted scene in this film, which begins and ends with two nightmare scenarios—a girl trapped in a lair of a dangerous man. Except this girl’s not so helpless. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) and Best Actress (Jodie Foster). And every statuette well-deserved. One of the all-time greats…and you’ll never listen to “American Girl” quite the same way ever again. 2. Thelma & Louise: I remember Susan Sarandon coming on to promote this film on Letterman and telling him, like the week it opened, that she believed this movie had “legs.” That is, that it would have staying power beyond the first weekend in the theater and beyond. The very title of the film now conjures the thought of two friends who are willing to make a suicide pact rather than relent to corrupt forces. Also, it’s Harvey Keitel’s first “Mr. Wolf” role of the decade, though none of us yet knew it. These first two films would make a Top 5 in any year. 3. What About Bob? Our two favorite Bill Murray films were released in the early Nineties—this and Groundhog Day. Here Murray taps into the fact that no one can play sweet and naive while also being an oblivious troublemaker quite as well as he can. It took a lot, I mean a lot, to make my old man laugh out loud, but he did watching this. Baby steps. 4. Defending Your Life: Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks in a beguiling little film about purgatory, of sorts, and what would happen if a tribunal had to decide whether or not the life you lived merited advancement to heaven. A line we’ll never forget, as Brooks attempts a stand-up routine here. “You sir, how did you die?” “Onstage, just like you.” 5. Dead Again: Remember when Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson were a big, big deal? This was actually a smart, intricate little murder mystery with some supernatural stuff thrown in as I recall.
Never saw Boyz N The Hood, what can I say? Or Barton Fink. JFK was a letdown. The Prince Of Tides was drech–read the book.