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what i watched last week

Oldboy. It took me three years, but I finally got to the second film in Park Chan-wook’s “revenge trilogy” (I saw Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in 2006). I thought the earlier film was the work of a stylish director with little to say. Oldboy is much better. The violence, implied and actual, remains excruciating, but where I said about the first movie that the violence was “cool and pretty,” this time it’s not cool at all … I’d call it gruesome and funny, which I understand is an odd combination. And while Mr. Vengeance had a plot that was at times incoherent and at times shallow, Oldboy’s narrative grabs the viewer from the start and never lets up. And the themes, of love and taboos, and the allusions, to Kafka and Memento, make Oldboy into a full experience. Don’t get me wrong … if screen violence bothers you, stay away from this one. #75 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top films of the 21st century. 9/10, which appears to be the highest rating I’ve ever given to a movie in Korean (I haven’t seen many).

mr. marmalade

Tonight we went to see our friend Arthur in the play Mr. Marmalade. It’s his last play before he heads south to study acting at USC, so we didn’t want to miss it. As is often the case, he showed versatility, playing four different roles, and managing to suggest the differences in each, although I’m not sure the playwright gave him much to work with in that regard. But it is entirely possible I just missed the point … I found myself clueless about the intentions of the play, but on the ride home, Robin laid it down quite coherently, and I wondered why I hadn’t seen what she had seen, since her take was clearly on target. Mr. Marmalade is about a four-year-old girl with imaginary friends and a home life that sucks. The girl, like her five-year-old friend, is played by an adult, and I didn’t think either of them dove into their little-kidness they way Lily Tomlin or Gilda Radner, or even Paul Reubens, might. But Robin contended that the girl had a truly fucked-up life, that led to her very adult fantasies, and that there was no way a girl with that life would have acted like just another four-year-old. Makes sense to me, but even then, I don’t think the playwright pulled it off.

Still, it was intriguing, and the performances were as good as the material allowed. A couple of the actors were quite impressive, and Arthur was his usual fine self. It’s no surprise that he has been accepted into a top program in Los Angeles, and while I know there is lot of luck involved in the process, over the years that we have had the pleasure of watching him perform, it has become clear that he has the talent to succeed. We wish him luck, and are proud to have seen him and been exposed to everything from Shakespeare to Mr. Marmalade.

friday random ten, 1979 edition

1. Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Anybody remember this guy?

2. The B-52’s, “Dance This Mess Around.” The video is terrific, the B-52’s before their first album had come out.

3. Earth, Wind & Fire, “Boogie Wonderland.” More popular than Funkadelic.

4. Marianne Faithfull, “Working Class Hero.” She was far from working-class, but she’s always done right by this song.

5. Gang of Four, “Anthrax.” Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax, and that’s something I don’t want to catch.

6. McFadden & Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” This enormous hit waited 29 years for Barack Obama to win the nomination for president.

7. The Specials, “A Message to You Rudy.” Better think of your future.

8. Pearl Harbour and the Explosions, “Drivin.” For some reason, in the late-70s/early-80s, this band opened for just about every punk and New Wave band we saw. The list of bands I saw fewer times than I saw these guys would include some pretty good acts.

9. Nick Lowe, “Cruel to Be Kind.” This one goes out to Charlie.

10. The Village People, “Go West.” Fans of the Gunners will enjoy this video:

retiring a phrase

I’ve always resisted the standing ovation. Oh, I’ve given my fair share, but my notion of when they are deserved seems to be different from most people’s. I’ll be sitting at a baseball game, and the hometown pitcher will get pulled with one out in the 7th inning and his team up, 5-4, and the crowd will stand and applaud. My question is, if you give a standing ovation to a mediocre performance just because you’re still ahead, what do you do when you win the game? The pennant? The World Series? The only possible reaction to a championship would be to leap off the top of the park in suicidal joy.

This works for negative stuff, too. If you say fuck you to every person who stands in your way for a couple of seconds at the game, what are you going to do when he says he’s going to kick your ass? You have to kick or be kicked, because the escalation started the minute you said fuck you.

There has been some dissent from some people who are happier with the job President Obama is doing than I am. One friend, a scholar on presidential history who is a proud Democrat, thinks I’m too hard on Obama and far too premature in my complaints. He offers up a reasonable argument, and I trust his judgment, on this and many other matters. Another person has suggested, perhaps in line with what I started this post discussing, that when you have our first African-American president, one who had many struggles on his way to the White House, one who follows arguably the worst president in American history … when you’ve got a president like that, you don’t haul out the big ammunition. You disagree with him, sure, but the fucking dickheads are Bush, Cheney and the rest, not President Obama. To extend the lame baseball metaphor, and run it in the opposite direction from what I think I was talking about in the first place, Obama is pitching in the top of the second … his team has lost its last eight games … he retired the side in order in the first, but he’s allowed a couple of baserunners in the second. Now isn’t the time to pull him out of the game and tell him he sucks … now is the time to visit the mound, see how it’s going. He didn’t lose those previous eight games … he’s just trying to finally win one.

I am bothered by the worshipful behavior of the Obama zealots, who think he can do no wrong. I have my areas of disagreement with him. He also has a good chance of being the best president I’ve had in my lifetime, and I’ve been through eleven of them, now. He’s in the top of the second. He has plenty of time to become a fucking dickhead, but that possibility is many innings away from today. And I daresay it is impossible for him to be as fucked up as his predecessor. So I need to find a better way to register my occasional complaints. Therefore, with this posting, I retire the phrase “fucking dickhead,” allowing it to rot in peace alongside Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.

barcelona-manchester united (spoilers)

A couple of thoughts. First, the Messi-Ronaldo “who is best” angle. My sense is that both players are admired for their skills, but that Messi is generally more popular than his Portuguese counterpart. If I had to point to one reason among many why that is true, I’d take a minor play in today’s match. Messi, as usual, was dribbling through the entire United side. To be honest, in the early parts of the match, it seemed like he was trying too hard … accusing Messi of working too hard is like accusing Marilyn vos Savant of being too smart, but he was taking on that one extra player too many. But gradually he settled into his game. Anyway, to that minor play. Messi was flattened by two or three United players … the referee blew his whistle and called a foul. By the time the tweet had left his whistle, Messi had spotted the ball, gotten up, and started a brand new dribble before he realized the ref had stopped play. It is perhaps unfair to single out Cristiano Ronaldo for the frequency with which he hits the ground to draw a foul … he is merely the most famous practitioner (Barca’s Carles Puyol isn’t bad at it, himself). But one thing he doesn’t do is get right up again. Messi, the little guy, doesn’t stop playing just because he hits the ground. And that’s one reason he is popular.

I hesitate to offer up non-expert commentary about any soccer match … my skills are not up to it. But here goes. Much of the pre-match analysis centered on all of the Barca players who would be missing the match … they were defenders, and it seemed like a mismatch to put a second-line defense against Ronaldo, Rooney and company. But the crucial absence might have been United’s Darren Fletcher, suspended due to a red card in the previous match. Barcelona, with their usual group of central midfielders, dominated that part of the field … Xavi and Iniesta were among the best players on the field, which is a lot more than you can say for Carrick or Giggs. If Barcelona controls the midfield, their remarkable ability to also control possession results in very few chances for the opposition. United only had two shots on target the entire match, and you’re not going to win many matches when that’s the case, no matter who is playing defense for Barca. Having said that, the Barca back line of Puyol, Yaya Toure, Pique and Sylvinho had a terrific match as well, so my “analysis” is probably completely worthless.

One thing is certain: I can’t wait to see Xavi and Iniesta playing for Spain in next year’s World Cup.

barcelona-manchester united preview

It sounds like sour grapes when fans of a losing team claim their club was better, but probability laws remind us that the “wrong” team will win more often than people realize. One way to deal with this is to construct a sports season that works to bring the best to the top. The NBA, for instance, plays 82 regular-season games in order to eliminate the 14 worst teams, leaving 16 for the playoffs. The more games in a season, the less chance the “wrong” teams will advance … if the regular season was only 2 games long, you’d find some poor teams winning both of their games, but 82 games is considered enough to weed out the bad clubs. In the playoffs, teams meet in best-of-seven series, and seven games is hopefully enough to give the better team a strong chance of advancing. Again, just due to random factors, the “lesser” team will advance a certain percentage of time … no, I’m not doing the math here, I suck at it … and since there are many seven-game series to be played, the likelihood that one or more “lesser” teams will advance all the way to the finals is reasonably high. Finally, when the two teams meet in the finals, the “lesser” team will triumph on occasion … if they played best-of-100, the better team would almost always win, but best-of-7 allows the lesser team a chance.

My point is that it takes a lot to make it to the finals of a sports competition, and among the factors you must deal with are the random ones. So not only do the better teams at times lose in the finals, the better teams don’t always even make it to the finals. So, when you get an ideal matchup of great teams, be thankful … that Super Bowl you’re looking forward won’t always feature the two best teams, and it is not guaranteed that you’ll get Kobe/LeBron in the NBA finals (granted, I’ve switched from teams to players in that example, but the NBA doesn’t seem to have any great teams this year, so people are looking forward more to a matchup of the marquee players).

The UEFA Champions League has a complicated structure … complicated enough that I’m not entirely sure how many teams participate. There are several qualifying rounds where champions from smaller leagues and not-quite-champions from bigger leagues play each other to determine who will join the champions from bigger leagues in a 32-team tournament. Those 32 teams are then broken up into 8 groups who play mini-league competitions, each team playing the other twice (home and away). The top two teams in each of the eight groups advance to a knock-out format, home and away, until there are only two clubs remaining. Those two clubs play one final match at a neutral venue for the title. For a variety of reasons, including the random ones referred to above, the two teams left standing at the end of the tournament (which this season began more than ten months ago) are not always the two best clubs in Europe.

This year, the random factor may have been defeated. The two teams meeting today probably are the best on the continent. Manchester United are the defending champions of Europe. They have won the English Premier League three years in a row. They won the English League Cup. They won the Club World Cup. They are, for what it’s worth, the richest club in the world. During the season ending today, they played 38 matches in the Premier League, 6 League Cup matches, 5 FA Cup matches, 2 Club World Cup matches, 12 Champions League matches, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Just in the knockout phase of the Champions League, they had to beat Inter Milan, Porto, and Arsenal, all great clubs. Barcelona are no chumps, either. They won the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey. In the knockout phase of the Champions League, they defeated Lyon, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea.

There are also great individual talents ready to take the field today. Man U’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca’s Lionel Messi finished 1-2 in the voting for last year’s FIFA World Player of the Year, and the only expected difference in this year’s award is that it will be Messi/Ronaldo instead of Ronaldo/Messi.

Finally, there is the “beautiful” aspect. Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” As soccer’s detractors know, a soccer match can be a soul-deadening waste of two hours. And, far too often, the most crucial matches are the ones where the managers retract into a defensive shell, fearful of giving up that one goal which will lose the match. Correct me aftewards if I’m wrong, but Man U and Barca both play attractive soccer. Pep Guardiola, manager of underdog Barcelona, has come right out and said his team’s best chance is to “play beautiful.” Everything is in place for a great match.

after all, she saved baseball

You know, I get pissed, and I post stuff. I'm not backtracking, but I want to make something clear: I think Judge Sotomayor is a fine choice for Supreme Court Justice, and I applaud President Obama for making that move.

I'm suffering from something akin to survivor's guilt. On a day when I get to celebrate 36 years of marriage, many of my friends find out they aren't allowed to celebrate 36 seconds of marriage. On a day when people are properly celebrating Sotomayor's nomination, I find myself thinking of those friends, and their friends, and all of the gay people of California who would like to be married.

But this shouldn't detract from Sonia Sotomayor.

fucking dickheads, homophobic creeps division

I wish I could see the irony in the California Supreme Court upholding the bigoted Prop. 8 on the 36th anniversary of our own wedding. But I suspect irony is the last thing on the minds of the many people who have been told once again that their love is second-rate in the eyes of the law, and in the eyes and hearts of those dirtbags who voted for the proposition in the first place.

Nor is irony the main point to be taken from the news that, again on the same day that the California courts allowed the gay-haters to steal the rights of their fellow citizens, our first African-American president announced that his choice for the Supreme Court will be, if confirmed, the first Hispanic justice on the Court. Californians might recall the stupid and racist Proposition 187 from fifteen years ago, the so-called "Save Our State" initiative that, as the New York Times wrote at the time, was "heartbreaking, and tortuously complicated," noteworthy for "its inhumanity and its impracticality." A federal judge eventually ruled that the proposition was unconstitutional. Perhaps Justice Sotomayor will have an opportunity to impact future attempts to ban gay marriage in the USA.

I'd be remiss without mentioning another Latino judge, California Associate Justice Carlos Moreno. Moreno was said to be on the shortlist for the spot Obama has awarded to Sotomayor. Like her, Moreno is a Latino. Moreno cast the sole dissenting vote in today's 6-1 decision. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that President Barack "Now That I'm President, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Seems Like a Good Idea" Obama bypassed Justice Moreno.

happy 36th anniversary to robin


I scare myself just thinking about you

I scare myself when I'm without you

I scare myself the moment that you're gone

I scare myself when I let my thoughts run

And when they're runnin' I keep thinking of you

And when they're runnin' what can I do?

I scare myself and I don't mean lightly

I scare myself it can get frightenin'

I scare myself to think what I could do

I scare myself it's some kinda voodoo

And with that voodoo I keep thinking of you

And with that voodoo what can I do?

But it's oh so, so, so different when we're together

And I'm oh so so much calmer, I feel better

For the stars have crossed our paths forever

And the sooner that you realize it, the better

Then I'll be with you and I won't scare myself

And I'll know what to do and I won't scare myself

And then I'll think of you and I won't scare myself

And then my thoughts'll run and I won't scare myself