Sunday, December 8, 2013

What I have been listening to lately #70

I go back and forth over and over again about which of these is my favorite song by the New Pornographers.

Letter from an Occupant


My Slow Descent

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What I have been watching lately #6-- a better documentary about Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali

Ali Frazier I: One Nation Divisible is all about the first Ali-Frazier fight in March of 1971. It's much better than Thrilla in Manila.

What I have been listening to lately #68

What I have been watching lately #5- Thrilla in Manila

 This weekend I watched the 2008 HBO documentary Thrilla in Manila. The story of the third Muhammad Ali - Joe Frazier fight from the Philippines in 1975 is so compelling that it would almost be impossible to make an unwatchable documentary about the subject. Director John Dower comes close, however-- Thrilla in Manila is little more than an 86 minute hatchet job on Ali that I found incredibly difficult to watch.

As a kid, I started following boxing in the mid-1970s, and I remember not liking Muhammad Ali-- too young to understand the social and political context in which he boxed, I saw him as a loudmouth and a bragger. I knew nothing about Ali's outspoken resistance to racism and white supremacy, his conversion to Islam, or his refusal to take part in the US war against the people of Vietnam. I almost always rooted for Ali's opponents-- especially Leon Spinks (who had the added appeal of being from my hometown of St. Louis). The only thing that gave me pause in my anti-Ali feelings was the fact that my mother, who otherwise never showed much of an interest in or opinion about professional sports, sometimes expressed admiration for Ali.

 I was looking forward to watching this documentary, but almost from the first minute, it became obvious that Thrilla in Manila was going to be nothing but a hate-letter to Muhammad Ali. It rehashes a bizarre set of new and old accusations in an attempt to belittle Ali-- Ali as a puppet of the Nation of Islam; Ali as a supporter of the KKK; Ali as a chronic womanizer; Ali as a supporter of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos; and, above all, Ali as a hateful bully towards Joe Frazier. Frazier is interviewed throughout the film and clearly was bitter and angry towards Ali many years later, not just for being called an "Uncle Tom" and a "gorilla" back in the seventies, but also for the wealth and prestige that Ali has continued to enjoy in his retirement. (Frazier, in contrast, lived the last years of his life in a small apartment in the same building as the gym he ran in Philadelphia.)

The movie, however, does little to put the trash-talking by Ali against Frazier in any kind of real perspective-- to some degree it was just part of the long tradition of boxers promoting up-coming fights by pretending to hate each other, and Frazier certainly participated in that along with Ali (for more on this, see videos at the end). There's no denying, however, that the war of words between the two fighters went well beyond the usual bounds in boxing, but this film doesn't tell the whole story-- for example, that Frazier continued (like many in the US who sought to belittle Ali) to refer to his opponent as Cassius Clay even almost a decade after Ali had changed his name.

The most ugly and disturbing part of the movie actually comes early on when Joe Frazier claims that Ali's current health problems with Parkinsons are some sort of divine retribution for his name calling against Frazier. After that, it was hard to take any of it seriously, which is a genuine shame. The great Ali-Frazier rivalry desperately needs a great documentary to put it in its full context-- Thrilla in Manila is absolutely not that movie.

 Trailer for the film

1974 appearance by Ali and Frazier on Wide World of Sports that ends in a brawl

What appears to be a staged phone call between Frazier and Ali

Ali and Frazier on the Mike Douglas Show

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Picture of the Day

In 1970, Jane Fonda was arrested on spurious drug smuggling charges while travelling around the country working to bring an end to the Vietnam War. (For complete details, click here. For a short history of the raised fist salute, click here.)

Below: A 2009 photo of Rosario Dawson carrying a small purse with Fonda's mug shot on it.)

The complete mug shot 
I'm not sure why, but it appears that they took mug shots of Fonda two days in a row.

As an added bonus, here's a album cover photo of John Lennon giving the raised fist salute. I don't think he had been arrested or anything.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NHL playoff update #3

In case nobody told you, the Los Angeles Kings, after losing the first two games of their playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, came back to win the next four (and the series).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Combination book and movie review #1

Historical background: As a child growing up in the mid-to-late seventies, I was certainly aware of both the book Jaws and the movie of the same name. According to family legend, when my parents went to see Jaws in the movie theater, my father became so frightened at one point in the film that he stood up and shouted "WATCH OUT" at the screen. I also found the movie to be terrifying when I finally saw it on television, although not as terrifying as Jaws II, which I saw in the movie theater in 1978 when I was ten years old-- for some reason I slept by myself in my sister's room later that night, and I was unable to sleep because I had become convinced that the twin beds in her room were actually a pair of killer whales.

The book Jaws was also the first book that I ever read cover-to-cover that I thought I probably shouldn't be reading-- after all, it had a woman swimming naked on the cover and at least one scene in which people vomit. I can clearly remember hiding in my bedroom closet while reading Jaws, only to be caught by my father. Much to my surprise, rather than taking away the book or telling me not to read it, my dad was fine with the whole thing and even went so far as to tell me that I could read any book in the house whenever I felt like it.

Review of the book: Peter Benchley's novel has all the main elements-- the shark, the ocean, the greedy town fathers, the police chief, the young marine biologist, the crusty, old fisherman-- but it isn't very good. Despite the fact that the book is really just about a big fish that terrorizes a town, Benchley manages to also work in some marital infidelity, the specter of the mafia, and a surprising amount of horrifying sexism. 

Review of the movie: The movie, on the other hand, is still great.

Friday, May 3, 2013

NHL playoff update #2

Here's what you need to know about last night's round one playoff game between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings--
  • The Kings did much better than they did two nights ago in game one (especially for the first two periods). They played the kind of tough, aggressive, chippy hockey that no one likes except when it's their own team that's playing it. The Kings only managed one goal, however.
  • The Blues tied it up in the third period on a relatively lucky goal that when in off of Patrik Berglund's skate (click here for video).
  • Just when it looked like the two teams were headed to overtime for the second night in a row, Blues defenseman Barret Jackman scored on a wrist shot on a three man rush.

  • The Blues now lead the series 2-0.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NHL playoff update #1

Here is everything you need to know about last night's round one/game one playoff game between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings--
  • The Blues dominated the game from almost the very start-- physically, in time of possession, and in terms of shots and scoring opportunities.
  • Despite this, the Blues managed only one goal-- by Alexander Steen in the first period.
  • Predictably, the Kings did put together a brief bit of attacking pressure right at the end of the game. And, also predicatably, they scored (a goal by Justin Williams with 31.6 seconds left-- click here for video).
  • The Kings dominated the early part of overtime.
  • When Kevin Shattenkirk got a double minor high sticking penalty midway through the first overtime, I assumed the game was about to be over.
  • It was, in fact, over, less than a minute later, on Steen's shorthanded goal (see video below).

Game two is tomorrow night. Just in case you want to watch Steen's game-winning goal over and over again, here it is--

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The mystery of who Blake Griffin sounds like has been solved

This year, unlike many other years, I have decided to watch some of the NBA playoffs on television.  Because of this, I have gotten to see over and over again the same Kia Optima ads featuring Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers (pictured above). It struck me that Blake Griffin sounds remarkably like someone I'd heard before, and, after a little research, I was able to figure it out.

First, here is one of the commercials. Listen to grown-up version of Blake.

Second, here is the opening scene of the 1998 movie Rushmore. Listen to the math teacher (starting around 0:38).

Clearly, the two men sound almost exactly alike. The only question is-- why?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

FA Cup semifinal update

And in other fighting news, yesterday's FA Cup semifinal match between Wigan and Millwall featured a battle between Millwall supporters and police, with predictable reactions from the press. I'm not sure who will end up being the poster child for this particular outbreak of fan violence-- the frightened girl or the grinning man fleeing with the police officer's hat.

When baseball players fight, they call it a "brawl"

This week's fight/brawl between San Diego Padre Carlos Quentin and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke (which left Greinke with an injured shoulder), reminded many baseball fans of other fights/brawls from the past. One of the most famous has to be the fight/brawl that took place on August 12, 1984 between the Padres and the Atlanta Braves.

This next one's not so famous-- in fact, I don't remember it at all. But it has the Cardinals in it and, more importantly, a rare instance of Ozzie Smith losing his cool.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Abandoned books and/or movies #13

These are the movies that I have started and then stopped watching over the last six months or so. The ones marked with a * are movies I have seen before.

Downhill Racer-- Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, skiing-- I had wanted to see this movie for many years. However, I didn't like it.

The Americanization of Emily-- James Garner is a plus; World War II is a plus; Julie Andrews is a minus. I tried to like this one but couldn't.

Getting Straight-- I'll watch almost anything Elliott Gould does; apparently not this one, though. 

Black Cat, White Cat*-- The best romantic comedy ever made about Gypsy mobsters in the former Yugoslavia. I actually love this movie; I just wasn't in the mood for it on that particular day. I own the soundtrack as well-- it's great, too.

Hidden Fortress-- They say that this movie by Akira Kurosawa (above) inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars. It was pretty good, but I kept falling asleep.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy-- I was on a bit of a Woody Allen-kick at the time. This pretty much put an end to it.

What Have I Done to Deserve This?-- Directed by Pedro Almodovar; I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided I wanted to watch this one.

Something Wild-- Boring; I stopped when they got to the high school reunion.

Up in the Air*-- I enjoyed this movie when I saw it in the movie theaters.

Salvador*-- I'm not sure you could pay me to sit through an entire Oliver Stone movie these days, not even if it has Jim Belushi in it.

Three Kings*-- In my mind, I love this movie and was really, really looking forward to watching it. It features one of my favorite living white American male actors (George Clooney) and my favorite African-American rapper/actor/director of all time (Ice Cube). For some reason, though, I just wasn't interested this time around.

The Getaway*-- I really like this movie and was quite excited to come across a very cheap DVD copy while out shopping one day. It probably just wasn't the right time to watch it.

The French Connection*-- A hard-hitting portrayal of the reality of life on the police force or neo-fascist swill? You can decide for yourself and let me know.

The Hit*-- I'm not sure why, but this movie failed to grab me this time around. 

Alphaville*-- Boy, do I remember liking this movie way back when I saw it at college.

Shaft*-- I had just watched Across 110th Street and figured I wanted to see another blaxploitation movie. It turned out that I didn't.

"Hockey ought to be sternly forbidden, as it is not only annoying but dangerous." Halifax Morning Sun, quoted in Michael McKinley's Hockey - A People's History