Thursday, May 27, 2010

'Iron Man 2' review

Ambition is a scarce commodity in the Hollywood of 2010. It seems half the output from Tinseltown, both real and rumored, is either a sequel, prequel, remake, or reboot, any or all of which may be unnecessarily filmed in stunning three-dimensional videography!
While Hollywood continues to swallow its own tail, comic book company/movie-maker Marvel Studios, purchased by Walt Disney Co. late last year for $4 billion, is taking some initiative with a planned crossover series of films culled from its expansive superhero universe, culminating in the spandex-saturated, multi-hero extravaganza “The Avengers” in 2012.
“The Avengers” shared world will likely include The Incredible Hulk, who had his own tepid cinematic reboot in 2008, as well as Thor and Captain America, both of whom have big budget biopics scheduled for next summer. Rounding out the marquee names of this super-powered posse will be Iron Man, the billionaire playboy industrialist turned heavily armored champion of world peace.
If it all sounds nerdishly complicated, it is. Interweaving a series of films together over the next two to three years is certainly bold, but Marvel and its Disney overlords must be careful to give each hero his own fleshed out franchise while simultaneously funneling the whole works into a big blowout Event Movie in 2012.
“Iron Man 2” is Marvel’s first official post-buyout salvo into “The Avengers” storyline, and it’s mostly a successful one. While not quite as good as the lively first film, the sequel delivers a solid, character-driven narrative as well as the requisite crunchy action scenes. Even with the inevitable “Avengers”-related proceedings making the film cumbersome and unfocused, these moments don’t do irreparable damage to what is a strong stand alone sequel.
In “Iron Man 2,” Tony Stark, who publicly outed his alter ago at the end of the first film, has used the Iron Man technology to foster a peace treaty between the major super powers. Stark’s celebrated peacemaker status comes with pressure from a slimy U.S. senator - played to the deliciously detestable hilt by Gary Shandling - to hand over his invention for military application.
The stress of the entrepreneurial rock star superhero lifestyle is exacerbated by a prison-tattooed Russian genius (Mickey Rourke) with a long-standing familial grudge against Stark, as well as a sorta-kinda budding romance with assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and some increasingly worrisome health issues.
The story, even without the “Avengers” slant, is subplot-heavy and introduces a couple of new characters to an already well-stocked cast. Still, as long as director Jon Favreau is concentrating on his leading man’s troubles, the plot never feels cluttered in the overstuffed manner of numerous action sequels.
This is largely thanks to Robert Downey, Jr., who embodies Stark’s vulnerable brashness perfectly. Downey is fun to watch, even early on when he and Paltrow talk over each other’s lines in the queasily cute style of a ‘50s-era screwball comedy.
Somewhat less enjoyable is Samuel L. Jackson’s shoehorned appearance as the ominously eye-patched Nick Fury, who wants to recruit Iron Man for his anti-terrorist S.H.I.E.L.D. squad. The scenes between Jackson and Downey, while brief, have a dutiful feel about them; a “let’s-get-this-out-of-the-way” air that depletes some of the film’s early momentum.
That time may have been better spent fleshing out Rourke’s revenge-seeking Ivan Vanko. Besides a very cool action scene on a Monaco racetrack, Rourke isn’t given much to do besides look disturbing and mutter in Russian accent. Harnessing Rourke’s natural off-the-wallness with a bigger role would have made Vanko a far more affecting villain than he is here.
After the slog of the “Avengers”-themed middle half, however, “Iron Man 2” finds its bearings by returning to Stark’s strained relationships with Pepper and friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Downey’s chemistry with his co-stars carries the proceedings to the predictably action-heavy conclusion, including a bombastic battle alongside the newly super-suited Cheadle in a New York City botanical garden.
“Iron Man 2” is not as breezily enjoyable as its more tightly focused predecessor, but extraneous sequences aside, the film is not just a two-hour trailer for “The Avengers,” either.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jim Brown Piles On

In the wake of the Cavalier Debacle, 2010, everybody seems to have an opinion about Lebron's future - from former NBA player and Cleveland native Charles Oakley to former Cavaliers Coach Paul Silas to almost any ESPN, Sports Illustrated, newspaper reporter, and fan with a heartbeat.

So is it much of a surprise that Cleveland's most decorated and arguably greatest athlete chimed in on the matter? Of course not, considering Jim Brown has been known to give an opinion or three on topics related to sports, society, and culture. Brown has had a very positive influence on many young African-Americans since his retirement from football, but the Hall of Famer has also had his fair share of controversy and personal demons. Through it all, the Cleveland fans have supported him, cheering him wherever he goes. That's one of the several reasons his recent comments to a Baltimore radio station are so shocking and hurtful. When asked about Lebron, Brown said:

"I think he's gonna leave, and I think that the treatment that he's getting right now is going to be the motivating factor. You know, it's so unfortunate that a man that's got so much would feel so bad right now because of what he couldn't do. I think he's being treated unfairly. I think the expectations were too high, and I don't think he's gonna stay in Cleveland because of it.

I think as one man, there's only so much you can do, and for people to analyze you and to basically say humiliating things about you, when you've given all those things through the years to that franchise, I think it's an atrocity. . . . If you believe in a human being, stick with them when they're up and stick with them with they're down."

There are so many things wrong with Jim Brown's assessment, it's hard to understand what Brown has been observing over the last 7 years and if he even watched the Cavs-Celtics playoff series, particularly Game 5.

  1. As much criticism as Lebron has gotten locally from fans and media, the venom has been just as bad, if not worse, from the national perspective. Cleveland fans watch Lebron almost every game. Nobody understands just how good Lebron is more than Cleveland fan. The national fans and media saw him inexplicably fail in Game 5... and they pounced.
  2. If Jim Brown thinks Cleveland fan is critical, what does he think New York fan would be like after a Game 5 performance like LBJ had if he was a Knick? Or in Chicago if he becomes a Bull? Our "criticism" would seem like a giant Kumbaya session around the camp fire in comparison.
  3. Is Lebron above criticism? Apparently Jim Brown thinks so. Doesn't it come with the territory of being a professional athlete, especially if you are the reigning two time MVP and one of the best at what you do?
  4. Jim Brown talks of unfair expectations. What expectations are we talking about? Winning and NBA championship and providing maximum effort? Nobody expects LBJ to be perfect. He has certainly "earned" a few bad nights. But that is what makes his Game 5 performance so mysterious. We all saw Lebron have one of the greatest NBA playoff games in history when he scored 25 straight against Detroit a few years back. We've seen him fight to the last minute of Game 7 against Paul Pierce and the eventual champion Boston Celtics. So to see him standing at times with his hands on his hips in perhaps the most crucial game in Cavaliers history was a little perplexing and deserves, if nothing else, some questioning.
  5. Lebron has made millions. He was on the cover of SI while in high school. He's declared that he wants to be a global icon, a billionaire. Oh yeah... and he's arguably the best player on the planet. The expectations, and subsequent criticism, on Lebron are what they are because he is Lebron. I'm sure he could have found a much less scrutinized job, far away from the limelight. But that's not really how Lebron is wired anyway... He LOVES the spotlight.
Chris Rock did a very funny stand up routine in which he talked about men asking for or expecting praise and justification for "being a good dad". "What do you mean 'you're a good dad? You're supposed to be a good dad!" he joked. '

Well, that is how I feel with our "too high" expectations of Lebron. If I could talk to Jim Brown, and had the stones to say it, I'd evoke my inner Chris Rock and ask, "What do you mean expectations are too high for Lebron? He's SUPPOSED to have high expectations!"

Is it crazy of us Cleveland fans to expect an apology from Jim Brown after such an insulting, uneducated rant based on a very small percentage of the fan base? Brown has yet to release a statement to justify his comments. And he probably won't... he probably feels our criticism of him is too harsh and unwarranted.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Season ends, craziness begins...

The shock of last Thursday's Cavaliers elimination is finally reduced to mere throbbing.

Now comes the guessing, the hurtful rumors (to many people in a rumor I won't repeat, and to the City of Cleveland in the rumors about LeBron's destination), the conjecture, the talk about Calipari and LeBron, etc. etc.

Is there any doubt that despite what most basketball writers want--LeBron returning to the Cavaliers--the big boys at ESPN will do anything to stop? Check this website out.
ESPN's entire site geared around LeBron hysteria--and barely any talk about why he should stay in Cleveland. Not to mention the tons of reasons he would.

Thanks @azv321 for the picture.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day of Reckoning (Part One)

Okay, Tuesday night was bad. Wednesday may have been worse with the national media LeBron bash-fest, while Cleveland collectively sat around and tried to figure out what the hell just happened.  We still don't know.  And we may not even find out tonight.  But then again...we may.  It's Thursday now.

Despite the sudden bluster from New York thinking this is all of a sudden their golden ticket to the LeBron sweepstakes, this series isn't over. True, the Cavaliers have looked listless, but if anybody doesn't think that a national embarassment can't wake a team up, please check again.

Time to focus on the positive.  This team won the most games in the league.  They have the best player in the world.  He's our guy, and he very well might come back tonight.

Go Cavs.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Down with the King

“Good night! Can’t grab a f***ing rebound. Allen is hot. Pierce is into it. Sloppy. No chance. No heart. No mental toughness. They can all go to hell.”

Such was the “breaking point” moment for CST contributor Froms during last night’s Cavs-Celts Game 5 apocalypse. Froms sent me the above staccato, outrage-fueled text message mere moments after Ray Allen sunk a three-ball near the beginning of the third quarter, when Boston outhustled the lethargic Cavs two possessions in a row to balloon its manageable six-point halftime lead to a seemingly insurmountable 12. At that instant, LeBron James and the Cavs seemed as broken as my melodramatic, text-abusing friend.

What a strange trip this post-season has been. Over my last 20-plus years of Cleveland sports fandom, I’ve seen many inexplicable sights, both good and ill, and have shushed the emotional slalom from its energizing heights to its bone breaking valleys.

Never have I felt such abject dislike for a Cleveland playoff team as I do these Cavs right now. While this fanbase has witnessed its well-documented share of sports disasters, those sickening moments were never due to lack of effort. There is no excuse for the bizarre passivity this team is displaying.

What I saw yesterday – and to some extent throughout these playoffs – is nothing short of mystifying. I have no idea where this roster’s collective head is at. Is it floating in the stratosphere with LeBron James, whose signature Game 3 performance just five days ago now seems like a sweet dream?

LeBron-related rumors of varying paranoia and lunacy are making the rounds on the off day: Local sports blabber Les Levine opined that #23 needs Tommy John-style ligament surgery on his elbow, which would shelve him for the entirety of next year. Message board chatter includes allegations that LeBron is on some kind of talent sapping pain medication, or tanking it on purpose in order to grease the skids of out of C-town, or that he’s otherwise distracted by the champagne wishes and caviar dreams of impending free agency.

Crackpot maunderings aside, there’s certainly something going on with the guy that’s made him a bystander during crucial points of this series. But if LeBron’s elbow is indeed troubling him, then where did that dynamic Game 3 performance come from?

I understand the man is not some basketball cyborg incapable of a bad game. If anything, Cleveland fans have been spoiled by Lebron’s greatness and perhaps unfairly expect a near triple double every time he laces up. LeBron said it himself during last night’s post-game presser: “When you have three bad games in seven years, it's easy to point them out.”

But one underperforming playoff game is not what this is about. No, this is LeBron at least giving the appearance of not giving a damn in what could be called, without hyperbole, the most critical playoff series in franchise history.

Is it his elbow, is it the Celtics’ admittedly stout defense, is it frustration toward Mike Brown’s questionable player rotations and an unhelpful supporting cast? I don’t know, but what we saw last night defied the logic of 600-plus games watching this kid tear up the league:

A tentative LeBron standing motionless on the wing while Anthony Parker or Andy Varejao clomped around the key trying to create their own shots; a timid LeBron deferring again and again even as Boston took control of the game; an impatient LeBron hoisting truly awful looking 20-foot jumpers that clanked off the side of the rim.

Coach Brown, LeBron’s teammates (see Williams, Mo) and a resilient Boston squad are all reasons why Cleveland’s starting down the barrel of elimination today. Still, if the crude saying about “shit rolling downhill” is correct, then that particular ball of excrement was given its first nudge by the King himself.

Everybody hurts

The press today about LeBron and the Cavaliers is absolutely amazing. And totally deserved. And totally perplexing. I wonder if we will find out exactly what is going on with LeBron right now.

I'm not piling on, I'm not hating. I'm confused, and hurting.

Breakdown of Game 5.

Horribly true analysis from Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst, too.

Game 6 - it's kinda big

Sports Guy thinks it's huge. 

(Game 6 will be...) a game in which LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have more pressure on them than any team in the history of the second round, and also a game that could determine how the next 12 years of NBA titles unfold and possibly assassinate professional basketball in Cleveland

Game 5 Catastrophe

I am still too much in pain to put much thoughts into words, but guest Todd sums it up pretty well:


that game was bullshit.

1. jamison cannot guard garnett. Varejao is the only option, but he's a good and proven one. I still think Jamison should play the 3 and guard Pierce
2. Parker blows anything that walks near him. He's a 25 cent hooker.
3. Moon should be playing until Mo can make a jump shot, drive, or not turn the ball over
4. Shaq can get the entire celtics team to foul out by the third quarter if Brown gives him the minutes.
5. LeBron needs to pull his head out of his ass and drive to the basket. The problem is that the celtics know that Mo and Parker can't shoot for shit, so they all sag off and double/triple him. This is why Moon, Varejao, and Gibson should be used more to bring energy and to keep the defense honest.
6. If Ray Allen doesn't have to play defense or rebound, he saves all his energy to run off screens and shoot 5-6 from 3 pt range. See item 2. Parker and Mo couldn't guard me, and combining that with Jamison on Garnett and it all makes sense.

This is a match-up series and Brown refuses to accept that his beloved Parker and Mo are not getting the job done. They aren't bad players, they're just horrendous match-ups in this series. Jamison is good against most 4's, but Garnett is just too long for him. He's got to adjust and start wearing those old bastards down with some young legs running them all over the floor. At least Moon, Gibson, and Varejao run like crazy. They cut to the basket. They get in your face on defense. They are annoying to guard and to score against. That counts.

Of course all this is irrelevant if LeBron shoots well, but it would be nice to get a tactical win in this series instead of having to rely upon LeBron to just dominate all the time. How many fast breaks did Cleveland have? Steals? How much did they press the ball on either end? How many horrible box outs did Mo and Parker have? At least if Booby misses a box out he is capable of hitting an open 3. The turnovers...puke. Those were a symptom of the horrible spacing and lack of respect that Boston had for Parker and Mo/West to hit open jumpers.

Starting 5:

How annoying would it be to have to play against those 5? You've got long, quick defenders around Shaq. They have mismatches all over the floor. Allen gets Moon or LeBron. Pierce can try and post up Jamison. Andy will annoy the crap out of Garnett. Moon or LeBron gets Rondo, both of whom are quick enough and jump high enough to give him trouble shooting. That saves Mo/West/Parker/Z/Hickson to come off the bench. If you only have one of those guys in at a time it won't kill you. I think Z is a good fit in this series as long as Hickson or Andy is out there with him to take Garnett.

The good news? LeBron has to be really pissed off at himself right now and the winner of game 6 wins the series. Boston is not going to go into Cleveland and win a game 7 if the Cavs play like they should in game 6. The bad news? If they lose game 6 it takes LeBron from 90% back in Cleveland to 30% back in Cleveland. That's a lot worse than a stupid playoff game.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Game One to Remember

Everyone's blood pressure was rising during Game One, and it was an amazing game to be sure. Even in the first half, I was never panicky, because it seemed the Cavs missed a ton of layups--and that is a lot better sign than missing a ton of jump shots, because you know that layups are eventually going to fall, and the fact that the Cavs were getting good looks was a good sign. Not as good a sign, that Rajon Rondo was absolutely unstoppable--again against the Cavs. I don't know what the secret is to stopping Rondo, but my gut says it's initials are D.W.

Anyway, so many amazing moments, from Delonte's swinging dunk, to LeBron's 3rd quarter ending shot, to Shaq's takeoff and throwdown. But of course, it was "Air" Mo Williams huge dunk that got the game totally turned around. It was so unexpected that I didn't realize what happened--it was too loud for me to hear the announcers and I couldn't tell if the layup that I figured Mo was trying to get off actually made it to the rim. But wow--that's the Mo that we wanted to see last year, and the Mo we know we have.

This might be a collection of highlights we want to see for a long time...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Round Two

Well some are playing this up as a possible payback for 2008, where the Celtics knocked the Cavs out in 7 thrilling games, on their way to a bought NBA title.  Me, I think it's just payback to a team that the Cavs hate as much as their fans.  Between the mindless trash talking of Kevin Garnett, the peskiness of Rajon Rondo, the thumb-twistiness of Glen Davis, the old man camped out shooting threes, and everything else on that team, LeBron can't stand them as much as I can't.  So here we go.  Twelve to go.