Monday, April 14, 2014

The Vox Review: Draft Day

I've always believed that critics should expose their biases up front. Before any essay, reviewers of books, albums and movies should be required to list their likes and dislikes in each genre, so that the reader understands the author's pre-formed prejudices. For instance, Rolling Stone's longtime and legendary film critic Peter Travers has never given a Martin Scorsese picture anything but a perfect four-star review. Suppose I wanted an honest critique of The Wolf of Wall Street? Well, I know to stay away from Pete. Sure enough, he revered Wolf as a "cinematic landmark." Now I don't believe Marty has started his next project, but you can be damn sure that Peter Travers already likes it!  

I'll play by my own rules, of course: I'm a sucker for all Spike Lee Joints. I'm an Oliver Stone apologist. I heart Cameron Crowe (and his wife, Nancy Wilson). I believe this decade's summer blockbuster culture is destroying the movie industry. I don't like remakes or reboots. I don't like Gen Y hunks in hero suits. I don't like burning buildings and parachutes. Most of all, I hate Hollywood manipulation. If the package is too neatly wrapped, I'm offended. I want to rip off the bow, crumple up the paper, then chuck it at the wastebasket, and, most of all, I want to miss. That doesn't mean I'm an art-house non-comformist with a nose for negativity. For my Alexander Hamilton, I simply want $3 of authenticity and $3 of originality. The director can spend the leftover $4 any way they desire: a happy ending, a saved character, or a few lines of audience-tested, manufactured schmaltz. But, nowadays, wanting more than $5 of freshness is a fruitless expectation. You are getting a load of super-sized predictable and recycled crap with your tub of popcorn. Therefore, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm admittedly not the best writer on our staff to tackle Draft Day. But if you read my CST bio, you'll see that one of my primary focuses is Cleveland Culture. So we'll plow through this review together, even though we both know what's coming.

Midway through Draft Day an ambivalent Mrs. ExVox asked me, "Is this a good movie? I mean...take Cleveland out of it...Is this is a good movie?" I didn't answer because, thankfully, that would be an impossible task. DD wears Cleveland like a badge of honor. Our city is beautifully dressed, from the Eleven River Condos near the Westlake Marina to fist-pumping shots of the C-town skyline and First Energy Stadium.  90% of the movie was filmed in Cleveland, and there's a heartwarming landmark at every turn. I was so giddy seeing Dennis Leary, proud and defiant, in a Browns jacket that the details of DD might as well be insignificant. This is our long overdue moment on the silver screen, considering that the majority of Major League was shot in Milwaukee. Major League, however, benefitted from a funky spirit accentuated by a politically incorrect script. Draft Day, directed by Ivan Reitman, isn't nearly as fun or creative. On a bust scale, it rates somewhere between disaster and dud. For my readers thirsty for real life Browns analogies, think Gerard Warren and Tommy Vardell.

Needless to say, Kevin Costner is pretty darn good at being Kevin Costner. That's not necessarily a compliment or an insult. Costner just has a knack for representing all of his past characters in each new role. Playing beleaguered Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr., Costner channels the conviction of Crash Davis, the idealism of Ray Kinsella, and the perseverance of Jim Garrison. I would normally say he carries the film, but there's no place to carry it. He's saddled with a ridiculous opening premise...Weaver trades three future first round draft picks to Seattle for the first pick overall, despite the fact that he's not even sure who he'll select! At 59, Costner's onscreen romance with 41-year old Jennifer Garner is almost as far-fetched. Cool Kevin can pull it off, but there's no saving the vapid archetypes surrounding him. Leary, famous for liking football, porno and books about war, spews forced, cliche-laden bravado as Coach Penn. Garner talks a good game, but lacks the tools to be believable. Ellen Burstyn, as Weaver's widowed mom, is a contrived waste of space and dialogue. The bright spots are Josh Pence, in a snarky turn as the projected first overall pick, and his agent, played by Sean Combs with convincing swag.

For all of Draft Day's purported realism, it feels like an advertisement for the NFL and ESPN. Chris Berman kicks off the flick with his grating, tired shtick and Jon Gruden makes a cameo or twoservin' up his trademark bland blather and droppin' any G at the end of a word. The fact that Commissioner Roger Goodell makes an appearance is a testament to the film's safe, vanilla themes; after all, would Goodell have signed off on any script that dared to truly examine the boundaries of pro football—a la Any Given Sunday? Draft Day's supposed baseball counterpart, 2012's Moneyball, was much more nuanced and truthful even with it's MLB license. The mood of Moneyball is accurately stark and melancholy, while Draft Day is at the opposite extreme with it's lighthearted, sappy overtones. That's not to say Draft Day fails because it's a romantic comedy disguised as a football drama. No, Draft Day is a victim of its own shallowness. Like most characters in DD, NFL General Managers are presented as exaggerated stereotypes. Even at the film's semi-entertaining climax, Jacksonville's naive GM is the intellectual equivalent of Rick Moranis in Reitman's Ghostbusters—eager to be maneuvered and hoodwinked for the sake of the plot.

I felt a pulsating tension in the theater during Draft Day that reminded me of seeing 1986's Howard the Duck, a worse than forgettable motion picture based in Cleveland. Lea Thomson sported a WMMS Buzzard sticker on her backpack and the Severance Mall crowd erupted with prideful cheers. It was a similar vibe during the equally-awful Light of Day, an intense 1987 drama about a blue-collar Cleveland bar band. See, we were ready to buy-in despite the artistic pile of shit that was shoveled at us. Moviegoers were seemingly on edge during Draft Day, maybe because of what's at stake at the actual upcoming NFL Draft. The film offers some uncanny parallels to the Browns' current situation. Does Sonny Weaver stay with Brian Drew, his current, gritty, modest-armed signal caller coming off an injury, and surround him with elite talent or does he dump his game-manager QB and rebuild with Wisconsin's All American consensus stud. Bo Callahan. Surely, new Browns GM Ray Farmer faces a similar dilemma with Brian Hoyer and the all-important fourth pick that could land a top college quarterback. I won't spoil Draft Day by revealing Sonny Weaver's decision, but I'll use this space to lobby for the following to happen on May 8...

"With the 4th Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select"...ANYONE BUT A QUARTERBACK!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What we think the Indians will do in 2014

altCleveland Indians 2014 Season 

April 1, 2014


Barely out of first place in the AL Central
I guess this year I am more optimistic than some, and more than Vegas. Last year starting pitching and offense was the mystery and the bullpen was supposed to be king. This year I'm thinking some big years from some contract players--who will be here past the trade deadline if the Tribe contends--carries the team to a successful year. But will need more than this to play meaningful games in October again.



Second place in the AL Central

The Tribe falls short of the playoffs after an up-and-down season. The pitching staff will be the Achilles heel for the team as the campaign winds down. To that point, ace Justin Masterson won't make it past the trade deadline.




Second place in AL Central

This is a solid Indians club even with the losses of two key members of the pitching staff from 2013. You've got to love the chemistry, and the lineup should be good enough to put the Tribe back in one of the wildcard slots. However, a quiet off-season has sapped some of my optimism. I'm hoping we don't have another 2007-08 situation, when the front office added nothing to a team that finished one game from the World Series, only to falter the following year

Second place, AL Central
Hard to handicap most MLB pitching staffs, but I don't see a Kazmir or 2nd half-Ubaldo on our roster. We learned last season that Tito's team will scrap, persevere and feed off the small successes of bench players. Still, the key to another playoff could be in Columbus right now- Trevor Bauer and his four-seam fastball.


Normally a stupid wresting analogy would go here. Maybe Justin Masterson is The Undertaker. Is Carlos Santana Randy Orton?


Second place, AL Central

Last year the starting pitching was better than anyone could have expected, they will need that again and I just don't see it. The good news is last year just about every offensive regular under performed, if even half of them could live up to expectations there is hope to be in playoff contention in September. I love the make up of the team, but Detroit just has too much talent.



Second place in the AL Central

My brain tells me 89 wins but my heart aches for 92 or more. Unfortunately, I see the Tribe finishing in second and just out of reach for the post-season.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Vox Lox: Breaking Up with the Cavs

If it seems like this column is always in crisis, well, it is. And if there is no crisis, I'll create one. I prefer to write with my back against the wall, my wallet empty, and some Mark Wahlberg-defying-all-odds flick as background noise. I like to pretend that my very life depends on the sanctity of the next word. I am Pip with a rage-filled heart, reinvented and relevant, screaming for Estella and for his own freedom. Simulating such sweeping themes gets tiring, but it's the only way to write with an alter ego:

This week I let go of the longest and most dysfunctional relationship of my life, the floundering and feckless Cavs. They emerged in my youth when I needed them most, after the Force folded. They carried me through high school and my parents' divorce with crisp passing and superb shooting during three 50+ win seasons. Eliminations at the hands of the Bulls hurt badly, but, in retrospect, history tells us it was an honor to lose to MJ. They energized me while I blew off college with four Fratello-led playoff appearances, unlikely after two roster turnovers. They took me to wuthering heights during my diaper-changing years. And even after my daughters learned that the Chosen One was a fraud, well, that just strengthened our cavalier-resolve. The team needed us more than ever, so I latched on to Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions like they were a briefcase full of "choose life" cash and I was freaking Begbie.

This season, of course, offered a post-season promise from ownership. The Cavs were certainly primed for a better than average performance with a defensively-addicted coach, a young, explosive backcourt, two healthy Andys, and the expensive leadership of veteran Jarrett Jack. After Chris Grant impressively flipped Bynum into Deng, I was still all-in. Why wouldn't I be? I'd given my winter nights to this team for 25 years and the post-LeBron payoff was finally in effect. Understand, I'm not here to explain how it all went to shit. I have no interest in speculating why this squad sleepwalks during the most urgent moments of their season. I only wish to convey that their effort, intelligence and execution has been awful enough to alienate even the loyalest of supporters.

So farewell, Cleveland Cavaliers. We'll always have Richfield, Vitaly Potapenko and Delonte West. We may bump into each other on the weekends at a neighborhood bar, from time to time. I'll look up and say hi; you may even look cute for a minute or two, but our romance was entirely one-sided. Sure, I'll occasionally creep your whereabouts on Twitter when I'm feeling wistful. Or ask Jason Lloyd how you're handling life without me. But I believe it was Keane's frontman who crooned, "I'm getting older, I need something to rely on." And I just couldn't count on you, CC. Sad thing is, I was an easy, low-maintenance lover. I never required a championship or a superstar. All I wanted was some type of game-time affirmation. That was, apparently, too much to ask.


Seahawks (+3) over Denver, 2 dimes
Season: 16-16-3 (+1 dime)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

All we are saying is give Pettine a chance

It took twenty-five days, but the Browns finally found their coach.

This man awaits your blind acceptance. 
That's three weeks and change of looking like the lonely 8th grader at the school dance, hands in the pockets of his freshly pressed Dockers as the ballad-y strains of Extreme's "More Than Words" echo through the crepe paper-strewn gymnasium. (Author's note: I'm not projecting here, just offering a very specific metaphor. Lay off, damn ya!) 

Six-hundred hours of poisonous whispers regarding a head coaching position that's allegedly viewed by as "radioactive" by league insiders. Thirty-six thousand minutes of Twitter filling up with easy jokes (some made by yours truly, admittedly) taking shots at the low-hanging fruit that is this clown show of a franchise. It got so bad that national scribes were writing pity columns defending the downtrodden denizens of Cleveland from mean old outsiders dogging the city and its awful football team.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The ridiculous backlash against Richard Sherman

The fact that there was so much backlash against Richard Sherman after his epic post-NFC Championship Game-interview rampage against the vanquished Michael Crabtree strikes me as utterly ridiculous.

Obviously, the interview was shocking. Every interview with a frigging sports figure reminds me of the most aggravating thing about Jim Tressel. Saying nothing at all and doing it snidely. The last thing you expect to see in an athlete interview is candor, raw emotion, or screaming about how you just dominated your opponent.

"When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're gonna get." Let's be real--that line is awesome.

You really don't expect to see such amazing interviews, of course, unless you're watching boxing, MMA, or pro wrestling. The best description of what I think happened came in the form of "sports-entertainment" type analogies, such as the following:

And that I think best sums it up. Richard Sherman, by all accounts, is a great cornerback. He is also, by all accounts, a kind, decent, smart dude. Forbes magazine clearly noted that Sherman specifically did not curse, walk off mike, or break eye contact with the camera. Come on, the guy knew what he was doing--and he did it so well he got a solid chunk of America hating him. That's called a heel move, and can make you rich. Sherman pulled off an epic interview, with "professionalism" (in a sense) to boot, and did it expertly. Whether you think it was the time and place for it is another story.

Maybe this would be a better time for it (the first 16 seconds or so):

The sanctimonious reactions to Sherman from some were just idiotic. I could see the knee jerk reaction from some fans being that Sherman (or his actions) were "classless" or "unsportsmanlike", but unfortunately what will be remembered are not only the holier-than-thou sportswriters calling him out, but also the too many racist assholes who took to Twitter immediately to show the dark side of too big a part of this country of ours.

As you can see by the postgame press conference--after Sherman took a shower and let the adrenaline fade a little bit, you can see what kind of interview he is--a superb trash talker and a funny interview subject that I'm sure any sportswriter would love to quote. That's "mediocre"--in case you didn't get it the first time. In the same minute that he thanks both Seattle and San Fran fans, and calls his own fans "a-holes" for throwing things at an injured opponent.

My favorite reaction is any--ANY--Browns fan or writer who could possibly criticize Sherman. The freaking Browns sell officially NFL-licenced merchandise and name sections of the stadium in homage of a couple of trash talking cornerbacks. And those cornerbacks are revered to this day in Cleveland.

Some final thoughts. 

Using trash talk to get an advantage over your opponents isn't anything new, breakthrough, or particularly offending. See "Ali, Muhammad", or "Jordan, Michael". But of course, see "board, chalk" for what happens if you can't back it up. Sometimes getting under your opponent's skin is a good strategy. Sometimes it's not. Let's see if Sherman tries to raise the ire of a certain Denver quarterback before the Super Bowl, because I am doubting he wants Peyton Manning to get any additional incentive.

If you say the criticism has nothing to do with Richard Sherman being a dreadlocked African American, you're full of it.

If you say that trash talking Crabtree isn't as unsportsmanlike as the cocky spin of the ball Tom Brady did after his touchdown--with his team down only 10 with 3 minutes to go--think about yourself. 

If you say it's nothing like Aaron Rodgers' belt-move--which also pro wrestling derived and earns him millions in endorsements-think about yourself.

And finally, that idiot Bob Frantz posted a video on his site of Richard Sherman "(getting) the taste smacked out of his mouth". I have zero problem with you wanting someone to smack a trash talking player. But don't try to judge someone for talking smack by using a phrase made popular by a smack talking athlete. It just makes you look stupider than normal. Not that Frantz would ever understand this or any irony.

Seahawks fans should love Sherman. Opposing fans should hate him. That's what he wants. But don't think that you're better than him--or that what he's doing is all that different from a ton of other athletes. He just took it to the next level.

WWE style.