Thursday, November 15, 2007

the streak

On Tuesday, October 16, the Cleveland Indians won Game 4 of the ALCS. Since then, none of the three major Boston franchises have lost.

- the Red Sox took the last three games of the ALCS, and then swept the World Series in four games.
- the Patriots have won three games in a row, as part of their 9-0 start to the season
- the Celtics have won their first 7 games of the NBA season

The latter is the most surprising. Apparently this is the best start since 1972-3.

Which is kinda weird, seeing as there was this guy named Bird who played on the team throughout the 80s, along with a few other pretty good guys.

I don't think this team is as good as the '86 Celtics. Of course, the entire league is flatter now - there are more teams and the average team is, IMO, worse. Individual players are better than they were in the 80s, but team play is a lost art.

The Celtics have the advantage of playing in the awful Eastern Conference. They won't play the Spurs or Suns until February. Of course the streak won't last that long, as they have a stretch in December where they play the Pistons and then go on a four-game West Coast road trip right after Christmas. The last game of the four is at the Lakers, and it's the second game in two days.

Of course, the Lakers might have gotten rid of Kobe by then, so who knows?

I'm talking about the Celtic's winning streak, which we all know isn't going to last, to avoid talking about another streak, which I don't want to jinx.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tommy and Tom

I had been mulling over a post entitled "Tom Wilkinson kicks ass" raving about his performance in "Michael Clayton". In this film, he has a supporting role as a lawyer who has a manic-depressive moment while interviewing a witness for a class action suit.

He strips naked and professes his devotion to one of the plaintiffs. (Thankfully, and with all due respect to Mr. Wilkinson, this happens off camera.) Problem is that his job is with the defendant's team.

Tom Wilkinson was "just another one of those British actors" before he really made an impression in "The Full Monty". Then he started getting more interesting roles. He really broke through with a masterful performance in "In the Bedroom" as the father of a boy who is murdered by a vengeful husband. He is still doing mostly supporting performances, as is typical for actors of his age, but he shines again in "Michael Clayton".

It is very easy to do a hack job playing a person with mental illness. Most actors just behave weirdly and illogically, and with excesses of anger and sadness, and that combination is supposed to represent mental illness. (BTW, Nicole Kidman did even worse than that in "The Hours" but because she had a fake nose on and had been jobbed for "Moulin Rouge", the film she deserved recognition for, she got an Oscar for "The Hours", even when she was the weak link in the trio of actresses in that film. But I digress. Well, not really since my point was about portraying mental illness.)

Anyway, Wilkinson is masterful at conveying the logic of a man undergoing a "moment of clarity" induced by going of his meds. He realizes that his job essentially consists of defending a rotten corporation that consciously did a cost-benefit analysis and decided to poison its customers. I think it is easy to play such a role incorrectly: to either be too righteous or too nutty. Wilkinson does a great job portraying a person aware of his own mental illness and struggling to decide which of his thoughts are valid and which are solely a result of manic depression. And under all of that is his own legal knowledge, which bursts through in a moment when he's discussing with George Clooney the firm's options in terms of trying to keep him quiet.

Or, to put it differently, Wilkinson is handed a very complex, realistic character and does a masterful job bringing him to screen. I really think he steals the film from George Clooney, who is no slouch in "Michael Clayton" by any means.

Based on what I've seen so far, I would put Wilkinson in the lead for any "Best Supporting Actor" consideration for 2007.

And that brings me to Tommy Lee Jones. I had last seen him in "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada", where he did a fine job playing a bilingual rancher investigating the death of a Mexican who he'd worked with. In "In the Valley of Elah", Jones is again playing a man investigating a suspicious death, in this case the death of his son, Michael, a soldier recently returned from Iraq. "Elah" is an interesting film - it would be really easy to do a hack job of a film like this, stridently criticizing the war in Iraq and the concomitant dehumanization of everybody involved. Paul Haggis does a much better job than that. The story is well-balanced and, indeed, seems very friendly to the military perspective throughout. And a key to that angle is the great job Jones does playing a career military man.

"Elah" succeeds magnificently because it "keeps it real", depicting the soldiers with such detail and care that it is easy to imagine these people being people one knows in real life. The horror of the war zone is communicated mostly through videos Michael had recorded with his cell phone, that were damaged in fire and which we see only distorted scenes from. As more details come out about Michael's death, his father's feeling of confidence and of understanding the world are gradually beaten down, though he soldiers on throughout.

I don't know quite what to say about the film as a whole. I think the best anti-war movies and stories are the ones that simply show what happens when war is going on. With the ill-conceived war in Iraq, this should be fairly simple, and yet doing the simple is often very difficult, because the temptation for overt anger and grandstanding is so great. Well, "Elah" his the mark exactly right.

The film is bookended with two scenes where Jones is dealing with the American flag. At the beginning of the film, he sees a building with the flag upside down, and pulls over and finds the person in charge of the flag, a Salvadoran, and explains to him that the upside-down flag is a symbol of distress while they take the flag down and put it back up in the proper position. At the end of the film (is this a spoiler?) he drives by the same flagpost and puts up a flag from Iraq sent by his son, and specifically flies it upside-down, while using duct tape on the flagpost to keep it fixed in that position. The implication is a bit melodramatic, but people are melodrmatic from time to time, especially with symbols like flags.

Jones might get a Best Actor nomination, the film and the writing should. I would rate Jones' performance very highly, though still a notch below Philip Seymor Hoffman in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead". Hopefully one of the two will win, but more likely something awful will happen like Tom Cruise winning. (OK, I shouldn't prejudge "Lions for Lambs", but Cruise makes it so hard not to.)

In summary, I highly recommend both of these films. "Elah" is probably a better film, but I think Wilkinson does the better acting job.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Patriots 24, Colts 20

Well, the Pats won the big football game and now have the inside track for the best record in the NFL and #1 seed in the playoffs.

And still, I'm not terribly pleased.

There are two things that really bothered me about the game: the penalties and the poor tackling.

The penalties were ridiculous. There was a combination of bad officiating and then the Pats starting committing stupid penalties, which made it harder to complain about the actual mistakes the officials made.

There were three pass interference calls on the Pats, two on defense, and one on offense.

There was one pass interference call on the Colts.

The first PI call on Assante Samuel seemed ticky-tack to me. The charge seemed to be that Sammuel grabbed the receiver by his jersey, which prevented the receiver from being able to catch the ball. At first glance, it seemed like the pass was uncatchable in any case. And any contact was minimal. But Sammuel did grab the jersey, so I can let this one pass.

The second PI, on Ellis Hobbs, was absolutely ridiculous. Hobbs was covering Reggie Wayne, and the pass was underthrow so Hobbs turned and went for the ball, while Wayne crashed into Hobbs while going for the ball. When I first saw the play, I thought Wayne had committed offensive PI. Hobbs had position and went for the ball. By the rulebook, that means that it's not PI when Wayne crashes into him.

The third PI was called on a Colt on a long pass to Randy Moss that he caught. Some commentators are citing this flag as evidence that the refereeing was fair. Um, guys? Don't you notice the difference between a PI flag thrown on an incomplete pass and a PI flag thrown on a completion? Let's not be children here.

And then there was the offensive PI called on Randy Moss which was completely ticky-tack, if that. Moss had one hand on the receiver but was not pushing him or moving him, and was whistled for OPI.

Some people argued that the PI calls did not change the game, but given Vinatieri's difficulty kicking the long FGs, I think it's hard to support that claim when the PIs give 37 and 40 yards respectively.

And then there was the tackling by the Patriots on Addai. God that was horrendous.

If this had been a playoff game, I would be happy with "survive and advance". But it was an ugly win and the bad officiating really tainted things.

I have to give credit to Randy Moss, who deserved the game ball. Once the Pats figured out in the 4th quarter to stop messing around and to go with their best weapon, they started moving the ball more efficiently. There was nobody on the Colts who could cover Moss, so the simple plan was the better one.