Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Oscar Picks 2011

Oscar, looking...oscarly.
Oscar time!  It's the biggest TV event in this country behind the Super Bowl, and this year has been a particularly good one for film.  I've always thought of myself as a decent judge of what is good and what is bad (at least as far as movies go), so why not step out in public and make a few bold predictions, eh?  Well, okay, some aren't all that bold <coughkingsspeechcough>, but others might surprise you.  I'm not picking all of them (what do I know from dust bunnies about sound editing?), but I'll hit the high points that everyone cares about.

I'll say upfront that my credibility on some of these is going to be weak, since I haven't seen every nominated film.  However, I have seen several, and I'm an avid enough observer of the cultural zeitgeist that I can pretty well gauge a film or actor's chances based on buzz.  Does that make me an infallible film critic?  No.  Does it matter since no one is providing oversight of my "work" here?  Also no.  So read on, and challenge my picks if you feel I'm being an idiot.  Or, you know, praise them if you think I'm spot on.  Whatever.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arsenal Update: Relegation is a good thing...seriously

One of the intrinsic aspects of English soccer that is so difficult for Americans to accept is the concept of relegation.  In 'merica, if a team is in the NFL or MLB, by God they stay there, no matter how crappy they are.  It just feels...weird to kick them out, even in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting banishment.  How else do you explain the continued presence of the Oakland Raiders?
But what we have to learn to recognize is that relegation energizes the sport, because it makes both ends of the standings matter. 

Of course the teams at the very top of the league--currently Man U, Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea, and Tottenham--fight with tooth and claw into the spring.  Barely ten points separate those 5 teams at the time of this writing, so the championship in May could literally rest on whether a team collects a win or a draw a now.  This is not notably different from any American sports league heading into the end of the season, with the exception of there being no playoff tournament in the EPL (despite inaccurate reporting to the contrary in this space.  Though, really, the entire season functions as a round-robin tourney, so I wasn't TOTALLY wrong).  However, a key difference can be found at the bottom of the table.  The three teams who finish in last in the EPL (currently Wigan, Wolverhampton, and West Ham--wow, tough year for W's) do not qualify for play in the league next season.  They are replaced with the top three finishers in the Football League Championship, England's second-tier division. 

Think about the stakes here.  English football clubs are businesses, like any other pro sports team.  But the range of wealth is much broader than in American leagues.  All NFL, NBA and MLB owners are extremely wealthy, collecting hundreds of millions in revenue every season regardless of the quality of the team.  Sure, losers may not make as much in ticket sales and merchandising and whatnot, but revenue sharing and TV deals even out the take so that it is still a very comfortable wage no matter your finish.  There is even a certain amount of speculation as to whether some American professional sports teams do simply collect the paycheck, put a substandard team on the field year after year to hang on to more of that cash, and damn the fans.  Beyond the prospect of higher draft choices, there simply is no incentive for team owners to try to assemble and invest in the best possible team, but for that mythical "honor of the game."

Now, imagine if, after finishing dead last in your division, you can no longer play with the big boys.  Pittsburgh Pirates, have fun in AAA; welcome to the Bigs, Columbus Clippers.  Oh, and Columbus gets your share of the profits next year. 

What this amounts to is hunger.  Every team, as an organization, is hungry to make it to the big time.  England has hundreds of independent football clubs that play professionally at some level.  Technically speaking, any twenty of them play in the EPL with enough sustained winning.  And the English Premier League is the biggest professional sports league in the world.

Let that one sink in, NFL fans.  Super Bowl Sunday is a big day:  111 million viewers in 2011, $3 million per 30 seconds of commercial time, nonstop sports news coverage.  Attracts worldwide attention.  Now imagine Super Bowl Sunday every weekend from August to May.  Twice per weekend. 

There are perennial EPL teams that seldom if ever get relegated, sure.  But any one of hundreds of smaller, truly community teams can have a chance at the big time.  The teams that dwell in the bottom half of the EPL want desperately to stay there, in the league, to keep the momentum moving upward.  So when you get into the home stretch of a season, as we are now, you have motivated teams at both top and bottom of the standings playing for more than just pride.  Take today's match of Arsenal vs. Wolverhampton.  Wolves is second to bottom in the standings going in, Arsenal 2nd place overall, a few points behind Manchester United.  Arsenal of course needs the win to keep pace or gain on Man U for the championship.  But Wolves is just as motivated, maybe more so, because of what could await them next year.  So they've been playing giant-killer this season, fangs bared.  They beat Man U last week, ending that club's bid for an undefeated season, and also checked off wins against Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea.  Because they're hungry.

Arsenal won, but only because they relentlessly attacked and never took their foot off the gas, trying to expunge from our memories the ugly draw to Newcastle last week (the first time in EPL history a club has given up a 4-goal lead), who are another of those hungry teams that is freshly back from the relegation woods this season.  The final tally was 2-0, but it could have been more had Wolverhampton rolled over.  But they are fighting simply for survival in the big time...and that cannot be underestimated.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sit Down, We're Not Going Anywhere: Shaun of the Dead

Okay, so this is a recycled piece, but since it hasn't technically aired in this space, I think it's worthy of putting out here.  Back in October I had the pleasure of participating in Zombiepalooza, a month-long festival of the macabre hosted by Amanda Hocking, current superstar of the indie publishing world.  My inclination, rather than submit a piece of flash horror fiction, was to write a reflection on my personal favorite zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead.  It's one of the few entries I've managed to generate in the feature I'm calling“Sit Down, We’re Not Going Anywhere.”  For refreshment, it deals with movies you must watch again and again, to the point of delaying better activities if said film is encountered unexpectedly, such as on basic cable.  As a bit of a formality, SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW…

You’ve Got Red on You:  How Modern Life Parallels Shaun of the Dead

Have you ever taken a look at your life when you’re in the middle of a workday?  Most of the time we shuffle along in our daily routines, blindly pursuing the next waypoint in an ever-repeating loop.  Get up earlier than you’d really care to, so you can get on the road with enough spare time to sit in slow traffic, all for the pleasure of spending the next 8-10 hours in whatever corporate-funded cell you’re required to occupy.  Head home in same slow traffic, feel vaguely guilty for not doing more constructive things with the few free hours you have left in the day before getting to bed too late to feel good in the morning when you have to get up earlier than you’d really…  Anyway, the point is that modern existence has become a series of urgent but stumbling steps toward the next poorly defined goal, in a constant fog of distraction and ennui.

This is why, when watching Shaun of the Dead, you must watch very closely to determine exactly when the world has fallen apart around the titular hero.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review of "Saying Goodbye to the Sun" by David McAfee

We’ve all been there, haven’t we gentlemen?  You see her in some social setting, a bar, a party, a church social (if that’s your thing), and you just know.  That has to be the one.  The one you’ve been searching for without realizing it.  And you build up enough confidence to say a few words to her, and the words with which she responds seal it for you forever.  You can’t imagine being with anyone else.  You talk, you dance, you share your stories.  As your relationship progresses, you feel yourself being changed into someone different, unlocking potential and at the same time locking away parts of yourself forever.  For most of us, this transformation is a metaphorical one.  For Vincent Walker, protagonist and narrator of Saying Goodbye to the Sun, the transformation means eternal life accompanied by the soul-consuming thirst for blood.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cleaning a Little House

I see it's been a week, so I thought I'd just get a few things off my mind and on the virtual paper here.
-No new installment of The Archeress yet.  I have at least one more written, but I'm not yet sure if it's the "next" one.  Still thinking about what to do with that smoking guard...

-As you can see on the right side there, I've added a blog roll to the main page.  I'm going to be adding to it as I go, but it will certainly be a repository for the pages of authors who've been kind enough to let a hack like me review their life's work, along with a fairly random collection of webellania that I typically take in.  The newest I'm happy to say is the sailing blog of a close friend and fraternity brother, my2fish.  Even if you're not a sailor (and my single experience trying to sail proves that I most assuredly am not), check it out.  He's also perhaps the world's biggest Bill Murray fan.  He's saaaailllinnnnggg!  AHOY!

-I've got a book review ready to roll out, probably tomorrow.  It's actually very convenient timing to bring it out, since the author, an indie whose work I've really grown to enjoy, very recently reached the point that he can move to writing full time.  That's right, he's losing the day job.  That's the dream, baby, that's the dream.  Stay tuned for that.

-I'm also chewing on an idea for a short feature of pieces on my favorite authors.  It'll be sort of like reviewing my favorite books of all time, but I hesitate to call them reviews, since most of it will be gushing about them.  Sort of like my "Sit Down, We're Not Going Anywhere" series, but with books.  So far the list includes Crichton, Twain, Poe, and Diana Gabaldon (how's that for eclectic?) but I'm sure it will keep going from there.

That's about it at the moment.  I really do have stuff, but between the weather and the day job, blogging takes a back seat lately.  Later!