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oscar run xix: shark tale

I'll make this short and not so sweet. Shark Tale was the worst movie of 2004 that I have seen, worse even than Bridget Jones 2 (which also starred Renee Zellweger ... hmmm). I have no idea who this movie was for ... every "joke" was an in-joke that would have gone over the head of any kids who were watching (unless they've all been watching The Godfather and Jaws and Ali and Jerry Maguire when their parents weren't looking), and beyond the self-congratulatory feeling that comes from recognizing the various bits that were stolen from other movies, there was no joy to be had by adults. Meaningless to kids, stupid to adults ... that doesn't leave much of an audience. It's not enough to simply throw a thousand pop-cult references onto the screen. Meanwhile, the "acting" was atrocious ... none of the big names did any acting, to be honest, they all just played themselves, and badly. Compared to this, Shrek 2 was Citizen Kane. Two on a scale of ten.

all bonds, all the time

Jim Mohr, someone I never heard of writing in the San Bernardino County Sun, which I never heard of, bares his claws:

"I'm not going to allow you guys to ruin my joy," he told the vultures, many of whom couldn't conduct a real investigative report, let alone spell the two words. The majority of sports media out there, including those who work at ESPN and Fox, should not classify themselves as journalists.

They live on rumors, innuendo and hype. Rewritten press releases are the majority of their stories. They play themselves into the story so often the lines become blurred as to what is real and what is not.

To them Bonds is an enigma.

He refuses to answer their questions, which often have the substance of baby food, and he won't acknowledge the pack mentality that is so common among these vermin.

They wanted to challenge him on steroid use, but none of them had read the grand jury transcripts where he supposedly admitted to getting a clear substance and a cream from steroid distributor BALCO.

That report was released in the San Francisco Chronicle last November, not by Chronicle sportswriters, but by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, two of the newspaper's best investigative reporters.

They did the research, they obtained the transcripts … and then it fell into the hands of the sports media, which hyped up the report of the report, did not investigate the claims further, but instead called "outside sources" to comment so they could hype the story even farther....

The piranhas asked Bonds 48 questions. Of those, only five pertained to his pursuit of one of the most coveted records in baseball lore.

joe sheehan on bonds

Joe Sheehan discusses The Press Conference at the Baseball Prospectus site (this might require registration, which costs money ... the Prospectus is worth it, although I should add a disclaimer, since I have a slight continuing connection to the organization).

The fact is, Bonds was correct in much of what he said yesterday. The media does keep running back to the same stories over and over. There are larger problems in our society than athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. Whether steroids are cheating isn't the black-and-white question it's been presented as, not in a game that turns a blind eye to the kind of amphetamine use baseball has seen. His blanket accusation that everyone in the room had lied at one time or another was unfortunate, almost certainly erroneous, and provided an easy way to paint Bonds as a bad guy.

I wrote this in December, but it's worth mentioning again: Bonds is facing these questions in part because he was betrayed by the system. His grand-jury testimony, and that of others, was leaked to the media. That is the biggest crime in this situation to date, and almost no one has addressed it with the same gusto as they have the connections between Bonds and his personal trainer. Where are the investigation and the indictments for that crime? ...

My position on steroids in baseball is the same as it's been all along: we don't have enough information, and the hysteria over the issue is a media creation. The things we do know for sure--that survey testing in 2003 showed 5-7% of players were using steroids, that random testing in 2004 actual coincided with a higher level of offense, that the players who have been known to test positive, or been associated with BALCO, are far from an All-Star team--would not lead to the conclusion that steroids are a rampant, game-warping problem....

[M]any people believe that Bonds used steroids.

The issue is that it's just a belief. If we're going to have these conversations, we need more than that. We should expect a higher standard than, "Well, he's a jerk, and he got bigger, and he hit a bunch of home runs, so he did it." Until we have more information, all the information, and can analyze this issue with the same rigor that we do this trade or that free-agent signing, it's incumbent upon us to make that most dissatisfying of statements:

I don't know.

bonds addendum

I should clarify one thing here. I don't blame the Chronicle's award-winning reporters for following the BALCO story. They are doing their job, doing it in a way not enough of their peers would bother with, and deserve praise for that. I think it's unfortunate that grand jury testimony is made public, but that's not quite the same thing ... those reporters are doing their job, as they should.

What I do notice, as a vocal fan of Barry Bonds, is that there are a lot of press people out there who seem to have an agenda against Bonds (and again, I am not referring to Fainaru-Wada and Williams). I can only speculate on why this is ... and I emphasize, I'm guessing based on what I read and what little time I have spent talking to journalists involved in this. Barry Bonds apparently treats the media like shit. The media hates him for this, and does what they can to retaliate.

This leads to a lot of false reporting, a lot of opinion couched as fact, and a lot of pure hatred. To use a recent and obvious example, based on the information we have been given, including the excerpts from the grand jury testimony, Barry Bonds has never, not once, ever in his life admitted to using steroids. Does this mean he didn't use them? No, but ever since the grand jury leaks, there have been numerous comments about how Barry admitted to using steroids. That's not true, but it gets trotted out regularly.

For whatever reason, most of the media slants their coverage of Bonds in the worst possible light. Gregg Pearlman got it right all the way back in 1997 with the title of his on-target essay: "The Sun Glinted Off His Jewelry as He Homered to Win the Game."

I am biased in favor of Bonds, I admit it. I don't think he did steroids and I don't care if he did. I like watching him play for the Giants, and that's pretty much the end of the story. But I live in the Bay Area, and I get to watch the press work Bonds over all the time, and it's tiring. And so it's a pleasure to watch Bonds give some back in that press conference.

barry transcript highlights

Highlights of today's press conference:

On Jose Canseco: "I was better than Jose now and I've been better than Jose his whole career.... For somebody that brags about what he did, I don't see any of your records."

After the fifth or sixth steroid question: "You guys are like rerun stories. This is just -- this is old stuff. I mean, it's like watching Sanford and Son, you know, you just, rerun after rerun after rerun. You guys, it's like, what, I mean, you can't -- it's almost comical, basically.... It's become "Hard Copy" all day long. Are you guys jealous? Upset? Disappointed? What?"

On all the scrutiny he receives: "I was raised to protect my family, keep my mouth shut and stay quiet. You don't just all of a sudden turn off who you are as you grow up. I just never wanted that part of my life as I saw some of the things my dad went through personally, being so outgoing and doing things, and suddenly he wasn't there and people turned their backs on him and messed him over and all that stuff. That wasn't something I wanted in my life. I just wanted to do my job and go home. I made my choice. It may not have been the right choice. It may not have been the choice of what America wants or what the people want, but that's my choice, that's my decision. But it doesn't make me a bad person. It doesn't make me an evil person.... I'm an adult and I take responsibilities for what I do, but I'm not going to allow you guys to ruin my joy."

On the fans: "Boo me, cheer me, those that are going to cheer me are going to cheer me and those that are going to boo me are going to boo me. But they still are going to come see the show. Dodger Stadium is the best show I ever go to in all of my baseball. They say, "Barry sucks" louder than anybody out there. And you know what ... you've got to have some serious talent to have 53,000 people saying you suck. And I'm proud of that."

About why he gets so much attention while chasing Babe Ruth: "Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and Babe Ruth ain't black, either. I'm black. Blacks, we go through a little bit more.... But Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever to play the game of baseball. It's an honor to even be here, you know what I mean?"

More about the scrutiny, and the press attention, and the racism: "I think it's because I haven't given you guys what you wanted, that's all. I just chose that road. It wasn't -- it wasn't for any bad reason, it was for my own personal reasons, my own safety net as you could say, just to play the game. I don't -- I don't care about the other parts of it. I just care about the game and playing the game. I mean, I guess if I would have given you guys what you wanted, smiled all the time and did everything, I'd have endorsement deals and the whole nine yards, but that wasn't the road that I wanted because that's not what I really care about."

Should he apologize? "What did I do?... I'm just sorry that we're even going through all this rerun stuff. I'm sorry that, you know, this fiction all stuff and maybe some facts, who knows, but I'm sorry that, you know -- we're all sorry about this. None of us want to go through this. None of us want to deal with this stuff. We want to go out and do our job. But what's your purpose and what you're doing it for, rewriting it, writing it over and over and over and over again, what's your reasoning? What are you going to apologize for when you're wrong?"

On how to repair any damage that's been done: "We just need to go out there and do our jobs, just as you professionals do your job. All you guys lied. All of y'all and the story or whatever have lied. Should you have asterisk behind your name? All of you lied. All of you have said something wrong. All of you have dirt. All of you. When your closet's clean, then come clean somebody else's. But clean yours first, okay."

Is steroid use cheating? "I don't know what cheating is. I don't know cheating, if steroid is going to help you in baseball. I just don't believe it. I don't believe steroids can help you, eye/hand coordination, technically hit a baseball, I just don't believe it and that's just my opinion."

What does he say to his kids? "None of your business because I wouldn't let you in my house."

barry speaks

Great press conference. He called every reporter in the room, categorically, liars, and asked them if they thought an asterisk should be placed against their names. He was unrepentant, insisted that his life was his business and not theirs, told them their endless rehashing of shit was like watching Sanford and Son reruns, when asked what he might tell his kids he said he wasn't going to answer because reporters don't get to go inside his house. It was a big fuck you from Barry to the people who hate him. It was great.

Oh yeah, when asked if he worried what fans thought, he said that his relationship with fans is better than it has ever been. And he's right. On Opening Day, we will give Barry Bonds the applause he deserves. It will be our own big fuck you to everyone who hates Barry.

hunter s. thompson queries

A couple of HST-related questions (you know, for my parents, HST meant Truman).

I talked to Neal and he wondered about the importance of Thompson. Based on all the eulogies that are popping up, I'd say he was more of my generation, but I tried nonetheless to come up with a contemporary example: who is the Hunter S. Thompson of today, that would explain his importance to someone who knows Thompson only from Johnny Depp's impersonation?

I couldn't come up with anyone. Journalists aren't really anything anymore ... maybe teevee pundit types? I mentioned Bill Maher, if Bill Maher was like Depp in the movie, but that doesn't get it, does it? Maybe if there was a journalistic equivalent of Ol' Dirty Bastard? Nah, that's not right, either. Thompson was crazy, he was smart, he knew stuff, and he took lots of drugs and drank lots of liquor and shot lots of guns ... who among us today is that dangerous? I suspect that's why Thompson is being so greatly mourned: that kind of danger is gone from our lives.

But that's my first query: who is the Hunter S. Thompson of today?

Second query. There's the old saw about deaths coming in threes, and in fact, Thompson died the same day as Sandra Dee and John Raitt. But I'm more interested in the death of Dr. Gene Scott. Scott and Thompson were both doctors, both were disreputable, ornery, socially inappropriate ... they had a lot in common, I'd say, except for the part where they weren't much alike at all :-).

So here's my second query: if deaths come in threes, and the first two on the list are Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Dr. Gene Scott, who would be the appropriate person to complete the triangle? Does anyone know how Professor Irwin Corey is doing these days, healthwise?

what i like and don't like

A conversation with Charlie in the comments section led me to compose this guide to Steven's movie writing. It's helpful, I find, to understand a critic's subjective approach, and while you can figure mine out just be reading a hundred of my reviews, perhaps I should try to establish my approach here.

Among the things you might look for in a movie, I'd include narrative (and throw in character development), acting, and the overall look and feel of a film (cinematography, general atmosphere, sound, stuff like that).

Plot is very important to me. If a mundane movie nonetheless pulls the proper plot levers, it will at least keep my interest, even if I don't much like it, while a good movie that seems plot-less will generally lose my attention. This isn't always the case, but when an anomaly arises, it's usually full of character development, which isn't the same thing as narrative thrust but which works for me pretty much as effectively as a good narrative. (Example: I love L'Avventura, even though "nothing happens.") This means I often miss the point of more abstract movies, and you should take my opinion there with the proverbial grain of salt. David Lynch will never be my favorite director, which is as much about me as about him.

Good acting always wins me over, although of course my notion of what constitutes good acting may differ from your own. (I think Marlon Brando is the greatest of all film actors, if that helps place my taste preferences.) I don't mind "filmed stage plays" if the acting (and writing) are good ... I think Streetcar Named Desire is a great movie, even though some complain that it's "stagy." If you see me saying good things about a bad movie because it has some good acting, you should take that opinion with the aforementioned salt. And I can't abide awful performances ... I don't mind "non-performances," but I hate awful ones. Awful ones often get Oscar nominations if they are the right kind of awful.

I notice that "other stuff" and don't object to beauty, but for the most part, I assume I can find beauty in a coffee-table book, so if a movie is beautiful but empty, I will be harder on it than most people (see salt, above).

All of the above might offer clues as to why a movie like Tetsuo would rank near the top of the "Steven hates it, other people like it" school of films. Simply put, if you object to the idea of lumping the aesthetic beauty of a movie under "other stuff," you won't agree with many of my comments on movies like House of Flying Daggers ("the Elvira Madigan of its day").

The above might also explain my taste for good series television. Television rarely features the kind of beautiful "other stuff" that movies offer ... even a good home theatre doesn't match the glory of seeing a gorgeous movie on a big screen ... although Deadwood looks pretty damn good in hi-def ... series television, programs that keep our attention for many episodes, relies to a great extent on writing (teevee is a writer's medium the way movies are a director's medium), acting, and narrative, which are the things I like most. So I'm a sucker for something like The Wire, with its complex characters, intricate narrative, and excellent writing, even though it's a show that isn't even particularly "pretty" by teevee standards (it's not even shot in hi-def).

Finally, like all good Paulettes, I'm mortified by what I'd call "cheap sentiment." I don't mind a good cry at the movies, as long as I feel it is earned. When Fred and Ginger have their climactic dance in their movies, I always cry with joy. When Bonnie and Clyde get killed, I always cry with sadness. It's fine with me if a film works hard at creating characters of depth and humanity, characters I care about, characters that earn my tears. But for the most part, movies get our tears in cheap ways, time-honored crap that always "works." When I see that happening, I might cry, but I hate myself for it in the morning. And I will be brutal with such movies when I write about them. Hence my reaction to a movie like On Golden Pond ("What a piece of shit it was"), which won Oscars for Hepburn, Fonda, and screenwriter Ernest Thompson ... I gave it a 3 on a scale of 10, thought the acting was of the "so bad it gets an Oscar" school, thought the movie was, in Kael's words, "material for milking tears from an audience." If you like cheap sentiment, you'll probably like a lot of movies I hate. Remember: I'm the guy who gave I Am Sam a 1 on a scale of 10.

Addendum: sample Steven ratings (scale of 1-10):

10: From Here to Eternity
9: Heavenly Creatures
8: Lost in Translation
7: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6: Rush Hour
5: The Village
4: Alien: Resurrection
3: Forrest Gump
2: The Postman
1: Robot Monster

P.S. I love Robot Monster.