Sunday, January 25, 2009
Readers (all seven of you) beware: This synopsis may contain spoilers:
The Wrestler is a hard movie to watch. A patina of doom and desperation shellacs every scene in this story about washed out, sad eyed professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson.
This is no uplifting Rocky-like tale. Nor does it follow the rise-fall-redemption template of the recent spate of musician biopics. The Wrestler is about a man who’s hit bottom only to discover there’s nowhere else to go but down. Watching that negative trajectory play out on screen is an exceedingly uncomfortable experience.
Part of that discomfort stems from Darren Aronofsky’s directing style. Several scenes resemble a documentary with a hand-held camera shakily following a shambling Mickey Rourke around the New Jersey hinterlands as he readies himself for a match. The bouts are held not in the packed arenas of The Ram’s 1980s heyday, but in the bingo halls and high school gyms of the low-paying indie circuit.
The wrestling action is intimately filmed; the camera tightens around the two performers as they wince from the real pain of pulled punches and chairs to the head. An ECW-style hardcore match is especially difficult to watch. Here, Aronofsky unflinchingly shoots The Ram and his opponent brutalizing each other with lamps, thumbtacks and barbed wire. He then shows us the cringe-inducing backstage aftermath of medics removing glass shards from the combatants’ scarred, blood-covered bodies. The latter is something you will not see during the average episode of Monday Night Raw.
What’s especially sad is that The Ram takes these beatings for essentially chump change, and must rely on a concoction of pain medications to push him to his next miniscule payday. Memories of past glories keep him going, as does the reverence of younger wrestlers and the adoration from the rabidly vocal group of fans who attend his small-scale shows. Ultimately, however, he keeps wrestling because there’s nothing else he knows how to do.
The punishment Aronofsky heaps upon The Ram is not just physical. The former star lives at the poverty level in a trailer pathetically decorated with newspaper clippings of his heroic past. His relationships with other people, meanwhile, are tangential at best:
During the week he works at a grocery store, where his mean-spirited dick of a boss humiliates him with cheap jokes. He spends much of his money on a hot-but-aging stripper, played by the still very gorgeous Marisa Tomei. Nor does he have a relationship with his teenage daughter, whom he deserted long ago. All of this adds up to a lonely, beaten-down existence with little hope for something better.
This sad circumstance is wholly embodied by Mickey Rourke, whose own demons have been well-publicized in the months leading up to “The Wrestler’s” release. Simply put, this movie wouldn’t work without Rourke’s pained presence. His straggly, peroxide-blond hair and craggy moonscape of a face are disturbing wonders to behold. Physical and psychic pain surround him like some weird dark aura. It is hard to separate the character from the man, a fact that only strengthens the gravity of Rourke’s performance.
Rourke’s work makes it easier to overlook the cliché-ridden elements of the narrative: The machinations of The Ram’s attempt and ultimate failure to reconnect with his long-lost daughter, for example, are trite and predictable. Tomei is solid as the stripper-mom with a heart of gold, but there’s very little chemistry between her and Rourke, making her actions toward the end of the movie rather unbelievable.
All that said it is morbidly fascinating to watch Rourke’s take on a man of a bygone decade where people listened to Ratt without irony and considered pro wrestling a legitimate sport.
I also admire Aronofsky for not bailing viewers out with an easy-to-digest message or feel-good resolution. His grim vision scarcely gives viewers a chance to breathe. While this kind of brooding meal may not be for everyone, those that can endure The Ram’s sad tale will have much to chew on afterwards.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The Cleveland fan’s worst case scenario is taking place behind me as I write this entry. Steelers v. Ravens, the one AFC Championship game no self-respecting Browns’ backer would ever want to see. Cheering for either team is like choosing between syphilis and gonorrhea ...so while I’ve been keeping tabs on the game during dinner, I’m not really paying attention to the proceedings. And anyway, I need a rooting interest to get into a game, and I’m kind of rooting for a tactical nuclear strike.
However...if I had to choose between Pittsburgh and Baltimore to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, I’m going with the Ravens, baby, all the way. My decision was surprisingly easy, and revolves around one simple concept: There are no Ravens’ fans in Cleveland.
Have you ever seen a Baltimore jersey around here? The only person I ever saw wearing Ravens’ gear within city limits was Jerry “The King” Lawler at then-Gund Arena during SummerSlam ’96. And Lawler’s not even a Baltimore fan; he was just trying to draw cheap heat from the crowd.
But you can’t turn around in this city without running into a transplanted Steelers’ fan, or worse, the transplant’s imbecile cousin, the Cleveland-born Pittsburgh supporter. A 30-minute trip to the grocery store this afternoon witnessed three decked-out Steelers’ fans getting grub and refreshments for today’s game. Drive around town and you’ll see Steelers’ stickers on back bumpers, Steelers’ flags flapping in the breeze from front porches, Steelers’ Starter jackets (do they still make those?), Steelers’ hats, Steelers’ enema bags, and on and on.
Pittsburgh fans routinely take over our stadium during the Steelers' bi-annual blowout over the Browns. I do not need to see these losers crowing over another Super Bowl victory for the next xx months/years while Browns 2.0 continues to flounder about like a beached trout.
Mind you, it would not be fun to see the Ravens get another ring. In my view, one of the worst moments in Cleveland sports’ history was when Baltimore, five years out from blowing town, won it all. It was awful watching a strangely addled-looking Art Modell hoist the Lombardi. But Art’s gone, and I don’t view the Ravens as “the old Browns” anymore. They’re just another team in our division the Browns have to overtake.
So join me my fellow Cleveland fans in choosing the lesser of two evils. I wish it did not have to be this way.
Good film, Doubt. I'm always critical of a play's ability to successfully translate to the bright screen but Doubt's ambitions are smoothly understated and buried under the religious rough of great performances. It's hard to handicap a boxing match between Scandal and Paranoia, or in Doubt's case-- Seymour Hoffman and Streep...so it occurred to me while watching Doubt that writing my Pix column and then wagering my hard earned on the NFL is truly an exclamation of my own faith. My existence is one of cynicism, anxiety and dysfunction, but Vox Pix is my weekly exercise in belief. Regardless of last week's gambling catastrophe, I stand before you naked and confident, with only My Faith to cancel out Your Doubt. We've all incorporated that feeling into Vox Pix this season, as I was alarmingly inconsistent. And there is surely a legion of non-believers even as I head into today's game showing a slight profit versus The Crookie. Walk on.
Steelers 20 Ravens 6
Eagles 26 Cards 23
2 dimes on Pittspuke -6.
1 dime on Arizona +4. (Cards at +170 is tempting, but the Eagles win on a David Akers field goal.)
Against the spread: 1-3
Against the Crookie: 0-1
Against the spread: 4-4
Against the Crookie: 1-1
Season/Playoffs vs. the Crookie: 26-21-3
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Cavs last night--coming off a disastrous loss in Chicago Thursday (which I was unlucky enough to watch in person)--playing without Z and Delonte, and with Ben Wallace and (supposedly) LeBron fighting illness looked like a sure thing to get their first home loss of the night against New Orleans, one of the best teams in the West.
But it turns out that the team, in both on-court performance and coaching strategy, were amazing. A mixture of Lebron playing point guard, then center, frustrated the Hornets beyond belief. And it's kinda hard for me to believe LeBron is sick--check out 1:14 of the game highlights.
Now the road trip...
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Well I just sat on my couch on an extremely snowy Chicago morning and watched the Cavaliers dominate the Celtics again on DVR, and I enjoyed it as much as last night. Not sure if that makes me a total geek or what, but this is a good feeling! It was a statement, now they need to do it on the road.
Obviously at this point the Cavs are a much better team than the Celtics. I know there are ups and downs to a season, but it is hard for me to fathom how this team started 27-2. They just don't have the depth of the Cavaliers. Now, I know the Cavs can hit a shooting slump very fast and drop an easy game, but the way they look tonight is how they looked during their winning streak. And Lebron during a game looks nothing like the 4th grader he was acting like during that Olympics practice video.
This January stretch will be a test. Good teams on the road, that's about all that's slowed down the Cavs this year. (Oh, and the Washington Wizards once.)
Theses must be from an upcoming commercial, but LeBron does look good brown and orange. Inside the 10 you wouldn't be able to stop a jump ball fade. The thing that is shocking is that he didn't wear cowboys gear, maybe it's a local commercial, we'll have to see when it comes out if it isn't out already.
Good hire, Randy, good hire. I say this without knowing a damn thing about Mangini's coaching preferences. Similar to how I decried the foolish hiring of Romeo Crennel the day of his first press conference, the Vox intuition declares that the Mangenius era will produce more wins than losses and multiple playoff appearances. A few scribbles in the Vox notebook:
- Talkin' Terry Pluto suggests Mangini has no interest in being a celebrity; he only wants to coach football. Well how do you explain Mangini's appearance at The Vesuvio, Artie's Bucco's acclaimed Italian restaurant in North Jersey?
Artie: "Tone, you know who's in tonight? Mangenius."
Tony: "I should go say hello."
If he's OK with Tony Soprano, he's OK with me.
- Mangini and Mrs. Vox share a birthday on January 19. Coach is three years older.
- My middle name is Eric. That has to mean something. And more importantly, how long til I send out an email referring to Coach as Ric "Mahler" Mangini.
- Mangini, like the Vox, is a pizza bagel. Follow me, here-- Indians GM Mark Shapiro is Jewish. That means his sister must be Jewish. You know what I'm getting at. Even if Mangini didn't convert when he married Julie, I consider our new head coach to be a Jew by (reverse) injection. Doug, there may be a story here. Mangini, the first Jewish NFL head coach since Marv Levy?
- Mangini had a hand in drafting Nick Mangold and Vernon Gholston. I smell Malcolm Jenkins at #5. Please Eric!
- Mangini hates Belichick. We hate Belichick. Mangini taking the Jets job and then snitching on his mentor wasn't quite Tommy Gunn turning on Rocky Balboa or even Bo backstabbing Woody, but it was possibly the most compelling sports story of the millennium. I get the impression Eric would trade his first born to win a football game. And while I know it's just a game- and I make a concerted effort to ensure Cleveland Sports doesn't spill over into my personal life- I want to win right fucking now. And I want to win big. Romeo may have wanted to win as badly as I do, but he sure didn't show it. Now I don't need a coach to wear his emotions on his starter jacket...on the contrary, I prefer him to play it close to the vest. But every time I saw Romeo, I saw a blankness in his eyes. Similar to when Ryan ran into our old, toilet-clogging, high school friend at B-Dubs.
When I observe the Mangenius, I feel like his devious mind is always churning in search of that slight advantage to edge the competition. But it's going to be a mammoth task. The popular sentiment is the Browns have a lot of talent. They don't. There are only about three or four players on both sides of the ball that could start for good teams. We are still recovering from Dwight Clark, Pete Garcia and the NFL setting us up to fail because we were desperate for football and the Panthers and Jags became contenders too quickly. The first step will be permanently benching DA and playing smart every Sunday. And the Browns haven't played smart football in 20 years.
You want it, I got it. Go get it, I buy it. Tell 'em other broke brothers be quiet.
Panthers 28 Cardinals 17
Titans 20 Ravens 16
Giants 27 Eagles 26
Chargers 24 Pittspuke 20
The Vox Get it & Bet it Big Play: 2 Dimes on the Chargers at +6.5, our first playoff oddsmaker error. The money line is tempting, but I'll fight through that shit and take the easy points. Some books may give you 7 right before game time. Bet an extra dime if you can find the half point.
Against the spread: 3-1
Against the Crookie: 1-0. As I stated last week, Philly was the only team I was comfortable enough to wager on. I won a dime when the Eagles covered. Should've been two dimes, but I gave one back when I parlayed the Eagles outright with the over.
Friday, January 2, 2009
GOOD RIDDANCE PHIL AND ROMEO
While many observers credit Coach Crennel for keeping his mouth shut while Dr. Phil and management rendered him powerless, I consider Romeo's silence and lack of assertiveness another indictment of his pathetic tenure as HC of the CB. I understand about staying in tune for the sake of club harmony, but if I'm going to fail...I'm going to fucking fail My Way. Phil, if you want to pick my coaches and tell me when Brady should play, then you coach the goddamn team. I'm gone, Phil. I have enough problems with in-game strategy, clock management and my players coming out flat almost every week. I don't need to be micro-managed by a glorified scout with a poor draft record. You do the fucking press conferences, Phil. I've never had anything intelligent to say, but you are an absolute catastrophe when dealing with the media. Hey, on draft day 2007, Savage wore a Ravens T-shirt under his dress shirt and tie for good luck...and then proudly admitted it to the press! F U Phil, go root for Baltimore.
Thanks for posting, Tom. Like everyone reading, I have been maniacally following sports in this town for a quarter century and I have NEVER, EVER experienced an executive with PR skills as poor as those of Phillip Savage. And I have never seen a coach as bad as Romeo. That includes Butch, Chris "Runaway Train" Palmer, Randy Wittman, Coach Luke, Pat Corrales, Belicheat, Bud Carson when the bottom fell out in 1990, Terry Robiskie, Randy Ayers, Doc Edwards, See You Next Tuesday Silas, etc. I repeat: I have never seen a GM as clueless with basic communication as Savage and a coach so unprepared on game day as Romeo. They say Romeo is the nicest guy in the NFL and Phil is an upstanding Christian; God Bless'em both and I'll see them in the promised land, but right now I'm just looking forward to sundays in the fall free of embarrassment and void of slow linebackers, jackass receivers, meaningless field goals, inexperienced corners and low-IQ quarterbacks.
Kevin, nice analysis. I'm looking forward to friday night for the pure circumstance of it, but the Cavs-Celtics "showdown" won't mean all that much unless we end up with the same record. The media will be blowing this game waaaay out of proportion because of the winning percentages (much like they did with Boston and LA on Xmas day), but you can be sure SVAC will have some perspective. It's nice for the fans, but it's one game in January that nobody will remember when we see the Celts in May. Z is out and even if Boston wins, they can't beat us at the Q in the playoffs and they know it. We outscored them in our series last year, and we'll run them at the Fleet center because we're hungrier, better coached and we have the best player on the floor. That being said, Boston is more dangerous than I ever envisioned. Rondo is playing almost flawless and Doc has their role players running on all cylinders. But they're going to miss Posey bailing them out with big threes as the shot clock expires. And they won't have PJ Brown to save them anymore. Cavs are George McFly this season and the Finals are our density, Lorraine.
To the business at hand--
Falcons 28 Cards 27
Chargers 33 Colts 28
Dolphins 20 Ravens 9
Eagles 24 Vikings 17
2008 Regular Season: 25-20-3
I'm sure pieces of this article have been rehashed over the past week on the radio or in print, but after reading it's amazing the Browns were able to win 4 games.
Pat McManaman of the ABJ outlines here the way the front office worked in the Browns structure...
What started out as a coach-GM partnership eventually frittered into a GM-takes-the-turf scenario
That fact became more and more apparent as Monday went on and more and more folks started talking about the Browns' situation.
Lerner conceded Monday morning that former GM Phil Savage had final say in the hiring of assistant coaches.
Savage always was in charge of the draft.
And, as Savage said many times, he chose the 53-man-roster.
This had coach Romeo Crennel in a position of leading a team of players he didn't choose or draft and working with coaches that were not his.
Consider a head coach working with two coordinators he did not hire. That's what Crennel did this season.
This is not to say that Crennel did not like and respect Rob Chudzinski and Mel Tucker. He did.
But Savage picked them.
Coaches deserve the right to pick their staff and have strong input on players. Crennel didn't have either, a situation reminiscent of the position in which Al Davis has placed his coaches in Oakland.
The coaching staff, for instance, did not favor the drafting of linebacker Beau Bell or tight end Martin Rucker.
Savage decided to do so, and even traded a future draft pick to acquire Rucker.
As the season went on, neither played. Because the coaches did not think they could.
Jerome Harrison was used as a change-of-pace back, and at times, it was effective. But the coaching staff did not think he could handle a larger workload. Same with Joshua Cribbs, who had trouble learning plays at receiver, let alone quarterback.
Draft picks also found homes in Cleveland for a longer time than the coaching staff deemed worthy. Word around the league was that if a player was drafted by the Browns, he'd get three years no matter what he did.
Guys like Antonio Perkins, Babatunde Oshinowo, David McMillan, DeMario Minter and Isaac Sowells were carried for two or three years because the guy who drafted them decided on the final roster.
Disagreements were exacerbated this season over the use of the quarterbacks — Brady Quinn was lifted in the loss to the Houston Texans because of his broken finger — and over the front office's decision not to add veteran help at receiver or cornerback.
The coaches believed all year long it was playing with cornerbacks who were not starting caliber, and they felt the lack of a second receiver hurt Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards.
The total result: The coaching staff felt handicapped by decisions made by folks in the front office who were not on the field or in the meeting rooms every day.
Some of these problems come from front-office structure, certainly.
Most league observers reacted with great surprise when they learned Crennel did not choose his coaches.
They wondered how the team could set up that structure, and why Crennel didn't fight it.
But some of it, too, was personality.
Then-President John Collins wanted to remove Savage after his first season. It seemed (and was) ridiculously early in Savage's tenure to make that move, but some of the reasons Collins gave then make sense now.
Then, when Collins left, Savage stepped into a power void.
And after the following season — a bad one — Savage gave Crennel a list of assistant coaches he had to fire. Savage then hired the replacements.
When Tucker replaced Todd Grantham a year ago, it was assumed Crennel had asserted authority. The move was Savage's.
Both Savage and Crennel received contract extensions in the offseason, but Savage got one more year than Crennel did.
The Browns were coming off a 10-win season, so things looked positive.
When the team started losing, Savage started to make statements that he did not coach the players. One report (from Channel 3's Jim Donovan) said Savage drew up a list of possible coaches for Lerner following the loss to the Denver Broncos — with seven games remaining.
Crennel never went public with his concerns. He also never demanded changes in the structure — even after he learned that alleged statements and questions Lerner asked through Savage were never actually voiced by the team's owner.....
People thought Butch Davis has a huge ego, it seems that Savage isn't far behind in his. After reading the article it makes me wonder how many draft picks Savage wasted on non-NFL caliber players/projects, which are fine for a good team, but not a team that needs players. I'd like to think that this team does have talent, but it wouldn't shock me if the new GM has to clean house with some of the players.
With some down time around the holidays and new year, I've decided to do some statistical analysis involving our beloved Cavaliers. Perhaps because I'm from Cleveland and need to pinch myself to prove the 26-5 start is for real... or because I'm tired of the local naysayers who tell me the Cavs haven't played anyone... or because all we hear from ESPN is how they should start printing the Boston Celtics NBA Finals tickets already... for whatever reason, I wanted to take a more in-depth look at the Cavs schedule so far this season in comparison to the agonizingly vaunted Boston Celtics.
I decided to look at who each team played, if it was home or away, the wins and losses for each of those games, and the winning percentage for each team. With that data, I was able to compare various stats to get an idea of how strong (or weak) the schedule has been and unearth some interesting details. I admit I'm no statistician or mathematician... nor an Excel expert (which I dropped the data into to calculate the averages) so I'm sorry if there are any errors.
In looking at the details, one might say it is splitting hairs, and well, yes it is... the teams have the same amount of losses, with the Celtics having two more wins. But it is in these details you can see certain nuances. For example, the Celts opponents do have a higher average winning percentage (.476 to the Cavs' .461), but the Celts have played two more home games (and two more games overall.. the two teams have played the same amount of away games). Speaking of away games, the Cavs opponents in those away games have a higher winning percentage than the Celts', while the Celts' home opponents are higher. (Most people would agree it is generally harder to play away games in most sports... unless you are the Cleveland Browns... so the fact that the Cavs played "better" away opponents may say something). Another little nuance that I noticed is that the Cavs have played two home and home series (which I feel is generally tough being you have to beat a team two games in a row), one recently against the impressively energetic and young Miami Heat. One series (against the Sixers) they played away, then home. Against the Heat it was reversed. They are 3-1. The Celts? They haven't played any home and homes yet. Another detail I looked at was back to backs... and more telling... back to backs on the road, home then away, and away then home. Two of the Cavs losses on back to backs were BOTH the second night AND on the road at two very good teams... the Pistons and the Hawks. Again, it seems like splitting hairs, but looking at how close the records are, those two losses are important. The Celtics lost AT HOME the first night of the back to back to the Nuggets (a team the Cavs swept already) and the Pacers.
Basically, the conclusion I made is what I had figured before I did this... after 30+ games, there is no such thing as "not playing anyone". While the Cavs opponents overall have a worse winning percentage than the Celtics', I believe nuances within the Cavs schedule have evened that out, including a tough 4 games in 5 nights in which they went 3-1. And let's not forget that one of the Celtics' wins (and conversely one of the Cavs' losses) was opening night in Boston against the Cavs. With the ring ceremony and subsequent crying act by the NBA's resident Oscar winner Paul Pierce, the Cavs had basically no chance of winning opening night.
I'm not sure if the Cavs are better than the Celtics... man for man (at least starting lineup) they probably aren't. But we took Boston to the final minute of Game 7 last year with Lebron having a HISTORICALLY bad series (and missing a layup in Game 1 for the win), blowing a huge lead, Boobie getting hurt, a team that had only played 30 games together after most of the starting lineup was traded, and no Mo Williams. This year we haven't played that many good teams because we ARE that dominant team that makes everyone else look bad.
Below are graphics of the summaries for each team, followed by each schedule with opponent, home or away, and opponent winning percentage.