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February 2014
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so that's where those streams are coming from

I wanted to watch the San Jose Earthquakes take on Toluca in the CONCACAF Champion’s League last night. We have Comcast, though, and Comcast, in our area at least, does not carry any of the networks that were showing the game. So I did what most U.S. soccer fans did back in the dark ages before soccer took over our televisions: I hunted down an illegal stream and watched the game on the computer.

At halftime, I had to go out for a bit, but since the match went into extra time, I was back in time to watch the last 30 minutes. I went to the site with the links to the various streams, and chose one, but the connection didn’t work. No problem, there were other choices, and it’s common to lose the stream, anyway.

Except I noticed an explanatory note on the screen to explain why the match was unavailable. The Slingbox wasn’t working.

Understand, it didn’t mean my Slingbox … that’s not even connected. It meant that someone else’s Slingbox was offline for some reason.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand the technical aspects of this stuff, and I’m sure someone will point out how mistaken I am. But when I read that, all I could think of was that across the country, soccer fans were relying on some generous person using their Slingbox to send the signal our way.

BTW, he wasn’t offside. (Thanks to Ryan Rosenblatt, who I think was first to post this.)

gordon not offside


the chris and steven all-stars, version four

Once, many years ago, when my sister and I were sitting at an Oakland A’s game (a doubleheader, as I recall), we decided to choose All-Star teams. The idea was that we would wait five years, and then see who picked the best players.

Five years later, we looked, and saw that Chris had won. So we did it again, for another five years, picking a new set of All-Stars. And five years later, we looked, and saw that Chris had won again. So we went for a third try, for another five years, picking a new set of All-Stars. And five years later, we looked, and saw that Chris was now 3-for-3.

This evening we picked our fourth set of “Five Year All-Stars”. I’m going to win this time, I promise! The rules are simple: fill out a roster (we decided the positions the first time around), and see which of us does a better job of predicting how players will perform over the next five years. (Spoiler alert: it’s Chris.)

Here are the 2014-2018 All-Stars.

Chris (three-time defending champion):

  C: Buster Posey
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Dustin Pedroia
3B: Adrian Beltre
SS: Hanley Ramirez 
OF: Mike Trout (as champion, she got first pick), Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez
RP: Craig Kimbrel

Steven:

C: Wilson Ramos
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
OF: Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, Ryan Braun
SP: Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner
RP: Aroldis Chapman


the walking dead goes the extra mile (spoilers)

I’ve long been one of those Walking Dead fans who thinks the show is at its best when it’s just pushing the envelope on how many ways they can find to blow off the heads of zombies. There are some very good actors on the show, but there are also actors who aren’t as good, and the latter seem to be featured about as often as the former. This leads to a problem whenever they stop to take a breather and address personal conflicts and the philosophical issues that arise in a post-apocalyptic world. The Walking Dead is great television when it does that material justice; Season Two, on the other hand, came to a stop from which I, at least, almost didn’t return.

But last weekend’s episode, “The Grove”, was arguably the best in the show’s four seasons. (I say “arguably” because at least one person disagrees.) The most obvious way The Walking Dead gets away with so much violence is that the victims are usually not people … zombies are dead. When a still-living human dies on the show, the emotional impact is greater, or should be. The show (I refer to “the show” rather than singling out particular creators because The Walking Dead has already been through several show runners) goes so far over the top with zombie killings that it turns scenes of massive destruction of zombies into something of a running joke. Zombie-on-human killing is different, especially when the victim is a character we’ve come to know. (Again, it helps when it’s a character we are interested in … the characterizations are erratic enough that I find myself wishing at times for this or that character to get eaten.) When humans kill humans, it is usually due to power struggles between nominal good guys and bad guys, and that’s the kind of killing we’re used to from other shows and books and movies. There have been a few instances where humans killing humans fall outside of that scenario, though, and those scenes are wrenching. Perhaps the worst of these came when Lori died giving birth, after which her son Carl shot her to ensure she didn’t come back as a zombie.

But “The Grove” went beyond all of this, crossing taboos, presenting us with the unthinkable, yet also letting us see why it had to happen. And part of why the episode carried such a jolt is that The Walking Dead has spent four seasons laying the foundation for what happened there. The good scenes and the bad ones, the boring philosophical discussions and the more interesting conundrums that emerged gradually, all of it came together, and for the first time, I felt like I was watching a great show.

It helped that the episode featured Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman, two of the most reliable actors on the show. McBride’s Carol had long been one of the characters that irritated me, but Carol is an example of a character that has been allowed to change over time. Not always in good ways … Carol is not the most likable character on the show … but McBride does well to get us inside the character. Coleman’s Tyreese seemed like a token black character when he first appeared, but he wasn’t killed off after a handful of episodes, and his story is the equal of the others. The performances of the young actresses playing the two sisters, Lizzie and Mika, were variable but largely good enough.

The evolution of the children in the series is important. Most of the show delves into the way the living adults, spending all of their waking hours trying to survive, are as much “walking dead” as the zombies. In the children lies what little hope The Walking Dead offers (and it’s precious little, indeed). The growth in Carl is the most obvious example, although I’m not fond of the character. But Carl is learning how to be a grown up. Lizzie and Mika, secondary characters for the most part, have been tutored by Carol to adapt to the new world, but Carol’s teachings aren’t having the desired effect. Lizzie, in particular, doesn’t understand that the zombies are dead … she thinks they’re just “different” humans, and it’s a scene both lovely and horrifying when Lizzie is found playing with a zombie as if they were friends. In “The Grove”, Lizzie goes over the edge, or rather, we see that she’s been over the edge for a long time. She kills her sister, without hurting her brain so Mika can “come back”. Even in the context of a post-apocalyptic world, the act is shocking, and shows that the people behind The Walking Dead have been serious all along.

It doesn’t end there. Carol and Tyreese realize that Lizzie can no longer be around other people, and there is only one way to prevent that from happening. And so Carol takes Lizzie for a walk, and shoots her in the head.

Paul Vigna wrote, “[T]his was one of the sickest episodes of ‘The Walking Dead’ in its entire run. All the darkest crevices of the human psyche come out … and while it’s one thing when you see a character like the Governor do shocking, demented things, it’s far more upsetting and uncomfortable to see a child, a little girl, doing them. But that’s where this show went tonight. It’s hard to imagine any other show on television would go that dark. You really have a build an audience up for it, because it’s not an easy thing to swallow at all.” It was indeed “sick”. But I didn’t decide it was great because it was sick, not exactly. It’s that in “going that dark”, The Walking Dead plowed past the gleeful destruction of thousands of zombies. It made death matter, and it held hope and its possibilities to the fire. I’d given up on ever saying this, but “The Grove” was an A.


by request: mr. peabody & sherman (rob minkoff, 2014)

My brother-in-law chose this one for the occasional outing four of us share. (His previous pick was 42.)

There are some OK things about Mr. Peabody & Sherman. The punning groaners are hit and miss, but everyone will laugh at a few of them. The oddball history “lessons” are also hit and miss, but the Da Vinci segment is pretty clever. This is a movie a family could see together, which generally means it’s harmless, which means I’m not really the audience for it.

The biggest problem is that they’ve expanded a four-minute cartoon into a feature-length animated extravaganza. Four minutes was about right … maybe five. It was a little cartoon with puns and a good feel for the kind of humor that would appeal to adults as much as to children (typical of Jay Ward’s work). There was no need to make a 92-minute movie out of this material. This is likely me speaking taste-preference jive, though, since the early box office returns are good. (They better be … the damn thing cost $145 million.) I don’t have the patience for these movies. I’d be far more content to watch an old Peabody & Sherman cartoon and find another way to while away the remaining 87 minutes. But people are going to see it, so what do I know?

To make matters worse, they’ve added an emotional core to the characters that left me cold. I really don’t need to see Peabody and Sherman acting out troubled father-son problems, and I don’t need them to tell each other “I love you”. It’s a movie about a genius dog and his pet kid, fer chrissakes! Jay Ward never stooped to this kind of crap, and it’s an embarrassment to see it on the screen. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is harmless when it’s not trying to be The Story of Father and Son. The animation is elaborate, most of the voice characterizations are good, and if you like modern comedies more than I do, you’ll have a passable time at the theater. Me, I’m giving it 5/10.


opening earthquake

Tonight, the San Jose Earthquakes begin their 2014 MLS season, the last they will spend in tiny Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University. Next year, they’ll be at their new home.

Sports offer an easy way to see how time passes. Here is the oft-posted picture of my ticket from the very first MLS game:

mls opener

Might seem like no big deal, but hey, it made Wikipedia. Here’s the entry for April 6, 1996:

  • Fighting breaks out in Monrovia, Liberia, between various rebel factions struggling for power in the country's interrupted civil war. Several foreign nationals leave the nation.
  • Major League Soccer kicks off in front of an overflow crowd of 31,683 packed in Spartan Stadium, to witness the historic first game. San Jose Clash forward Eric Wynalda scores the league's first goal in a 1–0 victory over D.C. United.
  • Turkish authorities begin Operation Hawk, an army offensive against rebels from the Kurdish Worker's Party in southeastern Turkey.

War everywhere, and a soccer match in San Jose, California. I was 42 years old and still in grad school. Eric Wynalda saved the league from what would have been a crushing embarrassment if the first game was scoreless:

Since then? The Clash got rid of their stupid nickname and returned to their roots, re-adopting The Earthquakes from their pre-MLS days. They won the MLS championship on two occasions, saw the franchise move to Houston, saw an expansion franchise return the name Earthquakes to the league, and now it’s 2014.

Times change in other ways. The optimism of Phil Schoen and Ty Keough in that ESPN intro seemed silly at the time … for some people, it still seems silly, I’m sure. But MLS is still around, with 19 teams now. And that old saw about how the U.S. would finally accept soccer when all of those kids playing the game grew up? Well, there’s this … I hope he doesn’t mind:

sean

Not sure when this was … around 1997, I’d guess. That’s my nephew on the field at Spartan Stadium. He grew up to be an analyst for … the San Jose Earthquakes. He works with some of the same people who played on those old Clash teams. Times change, indeed.

And as the U.S. Men look towards this year’s World Cup, we have memories like this to look back on. Here is the what was named the second-best moment in U.S. soccer history:

And #1:


music friday, 2014 edition

I thought to myself, pick another year. It’s too soon to have an opinion on 2014, and I’m so old I probably won’t have anything interesting to say by the end of the year.

Then I noticed that Metacritic has calculated the critical consensus on 2014 so far, and the best-reviewed album of 2014 is (drumroll):

I have an opinion about music in 1988. I’d like to be able to prove that I loved Lucinda Williams back then, when she was still mostly unknown, but due to the proprietary nature of my online world in those days, I can’t just dig up all of my pro-Lucinda rants from CompuServe forums at the time. Not that I was an early adopter … her self-titled album, now revered, was her third, and I hadn’t heard the first two. Hell, she even gives the lie to my Theory of the Trajectory of Rock Star Careers … she was 35 when Lucinda Williams was released (I can mark my own aging by watching her … she and I, and my wife, were all born in 1953).

We saw her several times in concert, mostly as a deserved headliner. But we also saw her open for Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Willie Nelson, and she always belonged alongside those greats.

I thought she might find it odd that her 1988 album is at the top of the 2014 critics charts. But then I learned that its reissue was entirely her idea:

Hi y’all. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to announce the re-issue of my self-titled album, Lucinda Williams, is finally here.

I can’t even begin to explain what this album means to me…. It was the first record where I truly found myself…. Or, at least, figured out what it is I do. And it has shaped me as an artist from that year forward.

For decades, people have wondered why they couldn’t buy this album in stores…. So, when I decided it was the right time to get this music back out into the world and into the hands of my dearest fans, I knew I wanted to do it in a way that would somehow say thanks for all of your faith over the years…. And that’s exactly why we’re here.

I can only imagine this is going to be fun…. Rock on!

- Lu

It may be cheating to use a 1988 album to cover 2014, but what the hell, Lucinda was ahead of her time … this album is now seen as a cornerstone of Americana, yet that genre wouldn’t really be “invented” for several years.

Here are a couple of extra videos. This is a 2001 live version of my favorite song from that ‘88 album:

Changed the Locks

And, just to piss off my wife, who loves Lucinda Williams but not this particular song:

Joy

Maybe she’ll like this better, from 2000, “aim and shoot” as the cameraman says, so it’s not the best recording, but hey, it’s Lucinda and Bruce Springsteen, even though it cuts out after 10 minutes:

Another “Joy


blogging and throwback thursdays

Sometimes I get inspired, and there are blog posts every day. On the other hand, I’ve been doing this blog since for more than 12 years, and I’m running out of things to say.

But one way the Internet has changed since 2002 is that we have so many places to express ourselves. Straightforward blogs are out of fashion … too many words. People post Facebook updates, or hangout on Google+, or tweet, or use Instagram, or do all of these things at the same time.

I do this, too, although I limit myself to Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. But when I’m not particularly inspired, I miss a couple of days of blog posts. Still, I’m “posting”, just not here.

For instance, a few weeks ago, my niece mentioned that she used to like watching late-night shows, but having a kid around has changed her schedule a bit. I told her that no one watches late-night TV anymore, that we just wait for YouTube, but she noted how overwhelming and time-consuming that could be.

So I started a little … I guess you could call it a meme, except no one does it but me … every day or so, I post a few videos from the previous night’s late-night shows on Google+, calling it “Late night with Julie Machado”. The shows do most of the work for me … they are, to varying degrees, locked in to social media, so that, for instance, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show will have posted highlights before they’ve even aired on the West Coast.

Something called “Throwback Thursdays” has popped up recently. I enjoy reading what other folks offer … I’m not sure, I think it’s only on Facebook. And a couple of Thursdays in a row, I’ve posted a vintage photo on FB. It’s the kind of thing I would normally put on this blog, but let’s face it, a lot more people see the stuff I put on Facebook, anyway.

I haven’t gotten around to tagging those FB photos with a “Throwback Thursday” pointer, so perhaps I could pretend I’m a guerilla in the throwback battles. In the meantime, here are the photos I’ve posted recently:

vignette

winterland


what i watched last week

The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincente Minnelli, 1952). The perfect post-Oscar movie. It won five of the statues itself, including Best Supporting Actress Gloria Grahame (who is fine but who has a very small part), Best Screenplay, which is a joke, and Best B&W Cinematography (Robert Surtees), which is deserved. It’s one of those Hollywood movies that exposes Hollywood for the junk it produces, and pats itself on the back for such a brave expose, without ever making a serious attempt to figure out what’s wrong with Hollywood. It is somehow self-congratulatory and self-critical at the same time. I can’t say I enjoyed it much. #908 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10. A better drama with a Hollywood backdrop is In a Lonely Place, with Grahame as the female lead opposite Humphrey Bogart.

Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935). As interesting today as it must have been on its release, Ruggles of Red Gap plays with stereotypes about English and (especially) American behavior, giving Charles Laughton a comedy role the same year he made Mutiny on the Bounty and Les Misérables. The English stereotypes are not unlike those found on Downton Abbey, but the Americans are nothing like Shirley MacLaine in that show. The main reason is that the Americans in Red Gap, Washington are Westerners (it takes place in 1908), where everyone slaps each other on the back and calls their friends things like “Sourdough”. Charlie Ruggles (perhaps confusingly not playing the titular character) is a rich American who refers to Ruggles (a gentleman’s gentleman) as “Bill” or “Colonel” while explaining that where he comes from, everyone is equal. Once the film moves from England to Red Gap, we get to see Ruggles/Laughton find the true meaning of America when he’s the only person in a bar full of cowpokes who can recite the Gettysburg Address. It’s an obvious setup for an inspirational moment, which works none the less, on the level of “La Marseillaise” in Casablanca. Laughton is both funny and creepy as Ruggles, with an odd way of mugging that is reminiscent of Andy Kaufman playing a foreigner. But whenever things look to fall apart, ZaSu Pitts steps in to save the day in her inimitable fashion. #897 on the TSPDT list. 8/10. Leo McCarey’s comic touch is seen to great advantage in Duck Soup and The Awful Truth. And ZaSu Pitts is one of the many great things about Greed (not a comedy, of course).

Akira (Katsuhiro Ohtomo, 1988). 7/10.


true detective, season one finale

I suppose this post needs a spoiler warning.

For me, the serial killer plot was always going to be a MacGuffin. At least, I hoped it was. Otherwise, True Detective would have been merely a well-made, excellently-acted procedural with lots of gore, a Criminal Minds with HBO-level violence. I would have watched that show, because Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are so good in their roles, but I wouldn’t have called it a classic. Every minute we spent with Rust and Marty was well-spent, and if it took a murder case to bring them to the screen, then I’m fine with that.

But ultimately, there wasn’t much else to the show. Yes, the writing and direction and cinematography were excellent. But if that’s all you’ve got, you’ve just offered up another show about evil people doing evil things in ways that we are invited to enjoy vicariously. There had to be something more. It certainly wasn’t going to be found in the female characters, none of who had any depth at all. No, this was about Rust and Marty, and if those parts had been screwed up, all of the production values in the world couldn’t have saved it.

So the ultimate success of True Detective lies with McConaughey and Harrelson, along with Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote the series. They were fascinating, complex characters presented by two actors willing to go wherever the parts led them. Sure, McConaughey’s role was showier, but Harrelson matched him every step of the way.

There seem to be a million theories about what this or that meant, and if that’s your cup of tea, more power to you. I never cared about them. When the detectives were moving in on the killer in the finale, I was uninterested in the plot ramifications. I just wanted to know how events would be reflected in the lives of Rust and Marty. I’m with Alan Sepinwall, who argued that “the epilogue pivoted away from the case and instead showed that time and circumstance had genuinely changed these two men.” And I also agree with Alan that what we will remember about this season down the road is not the mystery plot, but the two characters and the actors who played them.

Grade for Season Finale: A-. Grade for Season One: A-.


blu-ray series #8: akira (katsuhiro ohtomo, 1988)

The original idea was to watch Porco Rosso, one of Miyazaki’s fine movies, with an eight-year-old boy. That didn’t work out, so I pulled Akira off the shelf. Oops! Just a warning: this isn’t a movie for an eight-year-old.

I’m not very knowledgeable about manga-based anime, so much of what made Akira so revolutionary is lost on me. I watched the Trigun series and two Ghost in the Shells, and that’s all I can remember. My anime experiences are dominated by Miyazaki. I’m willing to accept that Akira is an important film in anime history, and leave it at that.

It’s an impressive looking movie, and the conclusion, when Tetsuo transforms into … well, whatever it is … is imaginative, even awe-inspiring. I don’t know the connection between the name of the character Tetsuo and the movie Tetsuo, which also features a person who becomes one with metal, but I assume such a connection exists (I think Tetsuo came after Akira … at least, the movie did).

Akira is fiercely ambitious, and it is easy to understand its large following. But if, like me, you come to Akira with no prior knowledge, you may be overwhelmed. The movie is erratically coherent (or occasionally incoherent, take your pick), which is perhaps to be expected when you are adapting something that runs more than 2000 pages. I was able to follow the basic narrative, and simply accepting the fantastic world of the film helps get through anything too puzzling. But most of what I am describing is of the “admire more than like” category. Despite being confused, I don’t have any desire to watch it again to pick up on things I missed the first time around. I might want to watch that ending, though … it was pretty cool. 7/10. Tetsuo: The Iron Man might match up well with this, but I hated it so much I can’t really recommend it. Watch a Miyazaki you’ve haven’t seen before, that should work.