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February 2011
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April 2011

denny fitzpatrick and me

As the Final Four approaches, I am reminded once again of the 1958-59 California Golden Bears, who won the NCAA tournament, and the 1959-60 Bears, who lost to Cincinnati in the final. Denny Fitzpatrick was a senior on the championship squad.

I mention this because he was my favorite Cal player. Honestly, without looking it up, I can’t name anyone else who played on those teams, outside of Darrall Imhoff, who had a 12-year career in the NBA. I can remember the name of the play-by-play radio announcer, Bud Foster, but the players? Only Fitzpatrick and Imhoff.

This interests me for this reason: if Fitzpatrick’s career ended with the 1959 championship, and he was my favorite player, then I was listening to college basketball on the radio when I was five years old.

Sports memories can do this to you, because the exploits are part of recorded history. Outside of cataclysmic events like an assassination, it’s hard to know when something you remember actually occurred. You remember that bike with the broken spoke, but you can’t narrow down when you actually had that bike, beyond saying it was probably when you were 8 or 9. But it’s a fact that Denny Fitzpatrick was done playing college basketball in March of 1959, which allows me to put a fairly specific date on my memories of him.

I’m not sure which seems more weird, that I listened to Cal basketball on the radio when I was 5, or that I can remember something when I’m 57 that happened when I was 5.

prince at the stone

30 years ago today, I saw Prince in concert for the first time. I’ve written about it several times, and don’t have much to add to those earlier memories. It was the closest I’ve ever come to being there at the beginning of a superstar’s career … he was touring in support of Dirty Mind, three years before Purple Rain.

I remember the crowd being more diverse than any I’ve experienced, before or since. It truly was black, white, Puerto Rican, everybody just a freakin’. The venue was The Stone, a San Francisco club across the street from the legendary Mabuhay Gardens.

I was 27 years old.

mildred pierce

Just a quick comment after watching the first two of five parts … I’ll save the rest until the series ends.

It is very hard to ascertain whether it is the directing, the writing, or the acting, but the character of Veda in this version is almost bad enough for me to quit watching, despite the fact that I like the rest of what I’ve seen so far. Knowing that a different actress will play the character in the final episodes gives me some hope, but so far, the conception of Veda is misguided at best. Perhaps it’s inherent in the novel, but it’s bad. You can never decide if you hate Veda because you are supposed to, or because the dialogue and acting are so awful. (And I can’t really blame the young actress, who seems to have been given an impossible task.)

One more thing, that relates to what I said yesterday about another show. I love Kate Winslet, and she’s excellent once again in Mildred Pierce. I don’t know how Emmy categories are drawn up … I feel like they change every year … but there is a lot of Emmy talk about Winslet’s performance, and it is warranted. But if she ends up in the same category as Emmy Rossum in Shameless, Winslet is second-best.

Finally, I have to pass this along, even though I suspect it’s a prank. Veda is played in the early episodes by 11-year-old Morgan Turner, and then in the later episodes by 23-year-old Evan Rachel Wood. Wood has noted in the publicity for the series that she was worried about doing a full-frontal nude scene until she talked to Winslet, who has done more than her share of them over the years. Kate told Evan not to worry … eventually, the only real problem was that Wood had to wear a merkin, since they apparently didn’t have Brazilian wax jobs back in the day.

Anyway, someone in the comments section at Salon seems to have confused the two actresses:

So the 11 year old daughter is doing a nude scene with a full pubic "merkin". Is this really artistically necessary to the plot of the movie? Progress, anyone?

I really do hope this person is pulling our legs.

what i watched last week

Tomorrow Never Dies. #49 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. To find out why, drop me a note and I’ll add you to the FB group. 7/10.

Let the Right One In. A second viewing, two years after I first saw it. This time I noticed the way it satisfied the desires of the art-film crowd while simultaneously serving up a decent level of gore for the vampire fans. Few vampire films look as good as this one … few art films are as willing to go the extra mile in vampire scenes. It’s an odd, lovely combination. For awhile, I considered including it on my Facebook Fave Fifty, although ultimately it didn’t make the cut. #84 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the Top 250 Films of the 21st century … when I wrote about it two years ago, it was only #118, so its reputation is climbing. 8/10.

Animal Kingdom. Australian “family gangster” movie that is very low-key, which makes the violent moments stand out more than they might otherwise. It’s a dramatic version of the comedic slow burn. Much of the acting is subtle, such that you might think no acting is being done. But the acting matches the overall tone of the film. And Jacki Weaver, in an Oscar-nominated role as the gang’s den mother, somehow manages to be both subtle and flashy. It has been described as an Australian Goodfellas, but the tone of those movies is so different, I don’t think a fan of one would necessarily be a fan of the other. 8/10.

Sid and Nancy. #48 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list, and reviewed in that place. 9/10.

shameless, season one finale

Like so many series from Showtime, Shameless is almost a great show. There is a lot of great acting, along with a couple of parts that I suspect are written in such a way that it would be hard to play them properly. Joan Cusack suffers in that regard … more important for the show as a whole, William H. Macy’s Frank Gallagher is also susceptible … in both cases, you can’t tell if the characters are poorly written or the actors aren’t getting it right. I’m blaming the writers, since Cusack and Macy are so good so often in other material.

Showtime specializes in series that are part drama, part comedy. More often than not, the drama takes over … Nurse Jackie isn’t funny, Weeds used to be funny but that ended long ago. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does point to what makes these series almost-great. You’re never sure what the tone is meant to be, not because it’s ambiguous, but because it can’t make up its mind.

Still, Shameless has much to recommend it. It can be very funny indeed. Despite the regular sex, drugs, nudity, and crime (all of these at one time or another with characters who are minors), it’s a family show in the truest sense: the core of the series is how the Gallaghers maneuver their way through their poverty-level existence while remaining true to each other.

The one person who lifts Shameless above the almost-great is Emmy Rossum. This is not to dismiss the other great acting on the show, but Rossum is astounding. It’s too easy to write, but I’ll do it anyway: her first name signifies what she will deserve come the next awards season. Although I had seen her in other work, such as Mystic River, I admit she never caught my eye, and what is probably her most noteworthy role, in the “Sarah Brightman” part in The Phantom of the Opera, has never been on my list of must-see films. So I come to Rossum on Shameless with a clean slate. But no longer. It is impossible to exaggerate how strong she is as Fiona, the oldest child of the Gallagher family whose job is to serve as mother, father, and sister to her clan of siblings. Despite being heartbreakingly beautiful, she pulls off the tough veneer of Fiona without showing how much work she must have put into it. She’s great in the funny moments, she’s even greater in the dramatic moments, and she rarely overplays her hand, which is appropriate, since Fiona tends to keep things close to her vest. And it wouldn’t be a Showtime series without sex, so it must be said, Rossum takes on her sex scenes with aplomb … she is as hot as she is beautiful. When all else fails, the camera can just focus on her enormous doe eyes. Plus, in one brief scene that came as a complete surprise to me (who as noted above hadn’t seen her in Phantom), she belts out the “Star Spangled Banner” and reveals a terrific singing voice (which isn’t really a revelation, since she was singing in the Metropolitan Opera when she was 7).

There’s a reason that last paragraph is twice as long as any other in the post. I’d give the first season of Shameless a B+, but I’d give Emmy Rossum an A+ without resorting to grade inflation. It’s one of the great performances in recent television history.

annual boring fantasy baseball post

I know these bore most people, so I don’t bother with much text. I just list my team. This is the 25th year I’ve played fantasy baseball. There were times when I helped run dozens of leagues. Those days are thankfully gone, and the main remnant, outside of some continuing friendships, is that I don’t have the energy for much more than one online league a year. This year, though, I ended up in two, because my daughter called a few hours ago and asked me to be in her league. So I have two teams.

The first was an automated draft. My biggest mistake was that I didn’t set an upper limit for how many outfielders to draft, so I ended up with 9 of them. Only 6 can play at any one time, so I have some trading to do. Here is that team:

  • C:   Jorge Posada
  • 1B: Ryan Howard
  • 2B: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Mike Aviles
  • 3B: Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Johnson
  • SS: Yunel Escobar
  • OF: Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Jayson Werth, Jay Bruce, Chris Young, Nick Markakis, Rajai Davis, Dexter Fowler, Ryan Raburn
  • SP: Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Javier Vazquez, Jake Peavy
  • RP: Joe Nathan, Jonathan Broxton, Chris Perez, Matt Thornton, Brandon Lyon

Honestly, I don’t think much of this team.

The second team was a live draft. I had about an hour to prepare … maybe that was for the best. They don’t tell you the draft order until the beginning of the draft, and I was placed in the #2 slot. The first guy picked … well, I can’t remember who he picked, but the player’s name wasn’t “Albert Pujols” so my first choice was an easy one. My daughter picked next and grabbed Tim Lincecum. Here is my final roster for that league:

  • C:   Victor Martinez
  • 1B: Albert Pujols
  • 2B: Martin Prado, Brian Roberts
  • 3B: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Reynolds
  • SS: Rafael Furcal, Miguel Tejada
  • OF: Matt Holliday, Jayson Werth, Andre Ethier, Delmon Young, Torii Hunter, Marlon Byrd
  • UT: Omar Infante
  • SP: Josh Johnson, Jered Weaver, Max Scherzer, Ted Lilly, Shaun Marcum
  • RP: Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Thornton, Craig Kimbrel, Joel Hanrahan, Hong-Chih Kuo

I suspect this is a better team than my “real” one.

the bright side of brian

Grant Bisbee has an excellent guest piece over at the Baseball Prospectus site … it’s a pay site, and I don’t know where this one lies on the paywall, but as always, if you aren’t a subscriber, what are you waiting for? It’s a thoughtful look at Brian Sabean, one that smartly examines how Sabes helped create a champion, written from the perspective of a stathead fan who has suffered long and hard for his Giants under Brian.

He emphasizes two points. First, that Sabean and his folks built a great pitching staff (how much of that was Sabean is unclear), and then refused to trade the best parts of that staff (which is clearly Sabean, and yes, we all know about Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano). The Sabean Offense was so dismal, Bisbee points out, that Sabes must have been tempted on a daily basis to trade some of the great pitching for someone who could hit. But he didn’t do it, which established the strength of the championship squad.

Second, as even a hater like me has noted, Sabean is never satisfied, is always ready to make that last adjustment when necessary. As Bisbee states, “A proactive in-season approach to roster-building can be a mixed bag, but in Sabean’s case, it’s one of his strongest qualities.” And that quality definitely helped turn a crappy offense into a tolerably mediocre offense, which was just enough.

Check this article out, it’s worth your time.