Friday, February 25, 2011

CST does the Oscars: The Social Network

With the Oscars taking place at the end of this month, Cleveland Sports Torture is revisiting some of the films nominated for 2011 Best Picture. These reviews may contain spoilers, so readers beware.

“The Social Network” is a movie trying to capture an elusive truth: Just how did a Harvard undergrad build the online global phenomenon that has reached half-a-billion people and made its creator dizzyingly wealthy?

The technical side of this world-altering endeavor is not so much in question, at least for those of us with advanced degrees in computer science. The ownership of the still-growing beast that is Facebook is another matter, however, and such is the crux of David Fincher’s briskly entertaining if factually untrustworthy Oscar nominee.

Top Ten Films of 2010

Vox in the Box quietly turned 5 years old, last month. I had a shot of tequila and threw a snowball into a fucking pine tree. Went inside, had a "sandwich." Thought about writing. Didn't. Fell asleep thinking that I'd write when I woke up. Did not. But I did have half-a-cheescake for breakfast and watched He's Just Not that into You. So much for opening paragraphs. They're overrated. This morning, I celebrate the way I started in January of 2006. Counting off my favorite films from the previous year. Roll'em:

10. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Oliver Stone has always been a victim of his own ambitions, and his Wall Street sequel is more of the same. Like most Stone films, it prods along with the highest intentions and then the narrative gets lost amidst well-acted, murky scenes and politically- charged, preachy motifs. Nevertheless, Money Never Sleeps demands relevancy. Not only because Michael Douglas grabs you by the balls in his iconic Gordon Gekko role, but also because the film is uncompromising in detailing the events of our economy's collapse in the fall of 2008. Just as no excuses were necessary for Gordon's ruthless, unquenchable desire for excess in the original film (1980s greed is now viewed as a charming personality-part of that decade's nostalgia), the sequel is equally unapologetic in it's scathing commentary on the ineptitudes displayed by our government and largest financial sectors.

Stone, unfortunately, can't suppress the hollywood-urge to save the relationships at the heart of the film. And, perhaps, since the banks received a necessary bail-out, then so did hotshot Jake Moore (Shia Labeouf) in his romance with Gekko's daughter. But their reconciliation feels fake, especially with the audience dizzy from the financial speed chess played by Jake, Gekko and Bretton James (an all-of-the-sudden-very-intimidating Josh Brolin). Using a reformed, older and wiser Gekko as his mouthpiece, Stone takes a giant swipe at corporate America's penchant for moving money in circles to show a profit rather than old fashioned ingenuity. Yet, oddly enough, Money Never Sleeps is an endorsement for American resiliency. If you don't work in the banking industry, you may not appreciate how banks changed their lending philosophies literally overnight. Even Stone would have to admit that, 23 years later, coffee is still for closers. Wall Street II just takes a little too much cream and sugar.

9. Winter's Bone
Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter is a rich and forbidding piece of art. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence in a star-making performance) is a poor, hardass teenager on a mission to find her drug-addicted father. The film is steeped in deep-south authenticity in the vein of Monsters Ball, Sling Blade, and Boys Don't Cry, but is surprisingly amplified by a virtually unknown cast. If you dig layered messages, character redemption, and a worthwhile payoff, this ain't your gig. Winter conveys almost a singular theme of survival, and unflinchingly depicts Ree's suffering and fruitless quest. Speaking of fruitless, it would be one of the great miracles of our lifetime if Winter's Bone wins Best Picture on Sunday night. The odds are set at 4000-1!

8. The Social Network
Stylish sets, slick script, scintillating soundtrack. Something so shiny on the surface usually lacks soul, and Social Network is no exception. Aaron Sorkin's smart dialogue works much better on television. Feels a bit manufactured in a movie. Most reviews were loveletters from critics bowled over by the film's style, but at what cost? Midway through it, I realized I didn't give a shit whether Mark Zuckerberg got over on the Winklevoss twins or vice versa. And maybe that was the point? Despite the stellar acting, the characters in Social N are as lifeless as the majority of your facebook friends. The film purports to be a commentary on new millennium communications, but is often relegated to a semi-riveting, snarky, GenY revenge flick.

I was hoping for a docudrama that exposes the destruction and disintegration of our culture caused by Facebook. Look, if you've had a drink or two with me at Pub on Lee over the past two years or so, you know that I believe Fbook has taken over the world for worse. Ever play the decade game? Pick two events that had the most impact or shaped each decade. I don't remember the 70s, but I'll go out on a limb and say Watergate and the Vietnam War. The 80s leave more room for debate. I say the Challenger Explosion and the fall of the Berlin Wall. You say the assassination of John Lennon and Black Monday. Same with the 90s: I'll pick the OJ trial and Clinton sex scandal, but you can argue it was Magic Johnson testing HIV positive or the emergence of the internet. But last decade, there are no arguments. 9/11 and Fucking Facebook. That's it. Case closed. And since Facebook has evolved into a dominant cultural force, I was looking for a film with a sturdier plot and a lot more depth.

7. Toy Story 3
I love kids, but I don't like kids' movies. Or kids' TV shows. Or kids' music. My daughters may hear fluff like "Wheels on the Bus" in Grandma's car but I exposed them to Springsteen, Heart and PDiddy when they were still in diapers. GrandmaVox argues I'm robbing them of their childhood; I counter that I'm just serving their artistic taste buds an early appetizer, like my dad did when he took me to R rated movies when I was 9 years old (I turned out OK, right? Right?? Don't answer that, fellow CSTers). But I'm a sucker for the Goose, and I easily obliged when she asked to see Toy Story 3. I figured I'd fuck around with facebook mobile and dominate my slush 'n popcorn while Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody (really?) did their thing.

Of course, you know what's coming- I was strangely entertained. Moreover, since I hadn't seen the first two films, I was delighted when the Goose happily filled me in about Andy's plight. We have so many priceless moments as parents, but, for me, nothing compares to seeing your child smile ear to ear while walking out of the theatre. My father and I didn't have a whole lot in common growing up, but we did have the Center Mayfield, the Severance Mall MultiPlex and whatever they called the theatre (The Mayland?) that turned into a bookstore and later transformed into the douchiest place on earth. You know it as the Boneyard, these days. Break out your Affliction T-shirts and get your d-bag on.

6. Chloe
Since I'm the only person on earth that has seen this film, please watch this teaser and then tell me with a straight face you didn't just put Chloe in your Netflix queue.

5. The Fighter
CST's Senior Writer gets the damn thang done here. Superb review, and spot-on, but I enjoyed the film more than Doug did. Mainly because of the rather unexplainable Mark Wahlberg Effect. It's a weird phenomenon that I can't put my finger on, but I am physically and mentally unable to dislike any movie that stars or features an appearance by him. It's not like he's a tremendously dynamic or gifted actor. He's not. He's certainly capable, and outstanding in Boogie Nights, but there are much better actors all over the planet. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, he's a game-changer for me. Same with Amy Adams. I spent most of the film fixated on her, wishing for five minutes with "Charlene." She's your modern-day Lea Thompson; just trade in All the Right Moves, Some Kind of Wonderful and Back to the Future for The Fighter, Doubt and (eek) Leap Year. So, I guess I don't mind being manipulated by sports films the way I originally thought. Just as long as Adams and Wahlberg do the heavy lifting.

4. The Town
Since I've copped to my Wahlberg fetish and I'm already in confession mode, I'll admit to liking The Town before I saw it. If you've read me long enough, you know about my Point Break obsession. And, of course, I enjoyed Heat and Inside Man; bank robberies are the criminal extension of the American Dream. They've been romanced every which way on screen, and The Town was a thrilling course in advanced thievery. My affection for the film, however, is in direct conflict with one of my core beliefs: Ben Affleck can't carry a movie. But, while Town easily rates as Affleck's best acting job, it quickly becomes Jeremy Renner's playground. Credit Affleck's smart direction for that, too. It's intriguingly similar to The Fighter, as the love/hate relationship between two alpha males becomes the real crux of both films. We're in Affleck's territory, here; he delivers his best on-screen speech since pep-talking Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting when he angrily confronts Renner in regards to their upcoming heist: "All you care about is your coke and your X-Bawx!"

3. Blue Valentine
Seems like just yesterday, Michelle Williams was playing second fiddle to Katie Holmes in one of the most annoying/compelling shows in television history. You may have overlooked her heartbreaking, textured turn in Brokeback Mountain, but there's no denying Williams' masterful performance here. Valentine is like Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love album, on screen. I've never seen a more realistic portrayal of a crumbling marriage in a lifetime of seeking out these kinds of films. I was sick with discomfort, as director Derek Cianfrance deliberately dissects a failed relationship-- doomed from the first meeting. "The Future Room"-- a theme room at an adult motel where Cindy and Dean attempt to avoid divorce-- is filled with the kind of unnerving, striking symbolism last seen in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. But, while Eyes enthralled me and spurred repeated viewings, Valentine took me to places in my mind I'd prefer not to visit for a long time.

2. Brooklyn's Finest
When Ethan Hawke declared "So I smoke my camel lights and ride my own melt, " he became the Generation X poster boy. I watched Reality Bites in the dorm room of a girl I dated for about 15 days, arguably the best two weeks of my college life. We'll call her Winona. But when I think back on our brief romance, one short conversation always stands out. And I can't shake it. She didn't like Ethan because, in her words, he had "fucked up teeth." To this day, I wish I had responded that I don't care what the hell he looks like-- based on Dead Poets Society and Reality Bites, Ethan is the best young actor since my man EStoltz. But I bit my tongue, and silently nodded in agreement. I cheated on myself that night, but I finally got Ethan's back in this column. So, Winona, if you're reading this...did you see the kitchen/bathroom scene in Training Day? Before the Devil Knows Your Dead? Ethan is an acting clinic, and Brooklyn's Finest is another Hawke tour de force.

While the film isn't as cleanly scripted as Training Day, Antoine Fuqua delivers yet another intoxicatingly original, savage cop drama. The genre had been stale for years, until Fuqua arrived. Cops as criminals is hardly a new idea, but Brooklyn's characters are potently complex and drowning in the kind of moral ambiguities that made Tony Soprano famous. Credit Fuqua with the resurrection of Wesley Snipes, who stays even with the talented Don Cheadle in the film's most engaging scenes. Richard Gere, dangerously close to useless in his last ten films or so, instantly engages us with his best turn since Primal Fear. Critics will snipe about the film's predictability and Italian-cop, Irish-cop, Black-cop stereotypes, but Brooklyn succeeds with sharp direction and powerful performances. The ending is a pulsating convergence of three unconnected stories that proves Fuqua always has a firm grasp of what's at stake in his exposition.

1. Black Swan
In the winter of '96, I was this close to flunking out of college. It was my third year, but I was still a freshman in the eyes of the University. I was failing classes (at least the ones I didn't drop first), sleeping through lectures, even cutting in the afternoon for no good reason other than to watch All My Children (the streak stopped at 19) and/or One Life to Live (here's what to do when you don't find the rainbow's end!). I still can't recall why I dragged myself to class on a chillingly supercilious wednesday morning in early February, but I'll never forget that day. English 202: 19th/20th century Brit Lit with Professor Barbara Rigney, and she was about to change my life. I was writing rock lyrics, and not even half paying attention to the class' analysis of "Leda and the Swan" by William Butler Yeats. All I knew is I was surrounded by about three dozen nerds that all read the poem they'd been assigned and I hadn't even bought the fucking textbook. And then Professor Rigney said it: "Yeats was the Jimmy Morrsion of his generation." This 60-year old Doctor of Literature had referenced the Doors, and woke me up from a two and a half year slumber. By the end of her lesson, I learned Yeats had crafted a political and sexual masterpiece about a swan-rape that could be interpreted a thousand different ways (And the beauty of it?: there could be no wrong answer when it came time for me to turn in my term paper!). I walked out of that classroom an English major, and I will never forget the poem's last two lines: Did she put on his knowledge with his power/ Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Fifteen years later, watching Darren Aronofsky's dark drama The Black Swan, I was back in Professor Rigney's class- inspired, shocked, saddened and filled with conflict. Nina (played flawlessly by Natalie Portman) is Leda, complacent in her own rape. Or, maybe, a willing participant in her own seduction? Her mother, instructor and rival all wear the masks of swans, but are still methodical in their destruction of Nina. Or does Nina destroy herself? My colleague at CST, Kevin, wrote a fascinating comparison of Black Swan and The Wrestler, and perhaps we need only to look at Aronofsky's companion piece for the answers. Like Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Nina couldn't see past her own pain. With no identity outside of the ring and stage, Ram and Nina become victims of their own art. Every achievement is seemingly undermined by delusion and doubt; every revelation is plagued by fear and obsession. By the time Swan concludes, the separation between reality and dream is no longer significant to Nina or the viewer. All that's left is the literal and figurative resurrection of the protagonist, as Aronofsky takes us to previously unseen heights in filmmaking.

See you next Vox. And, until then, the balcony is closed.

I am Roger Ebert in the box.
Parting is...inevitable

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No conflict of interest here, root against the Clippers!

A good friend and anti-Twitterite gentleman I know pointed out something quite wonderful about the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers:  They don't play that team from Miami any more this year.  So no worries whether to root for the Axis of Ego or against the Cavaliers draft position (via the Clippers #1 pick).  Hooray! 

But never fear, you can still root for Toronto, Detroit, and the team that keeps pretending they're in Brooklyn already.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Baron Davis... and his beard... are coming to Cleveland
Hans Gruber, the evil mastermind in Die Hard, famously said:  
"You asked for miracles Theo, I give you the F.B.I."

In the NBA, if you need a miracle, I give you the L.A. Clippers.

The Cavs have shipped Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clip-machine for Baron "Greatest Beard in the World" Davis and most importantly, their 2011 #1 draft pick. Right now, that pick would be in the top ten, but without their second best player, it may end up being a lottery pick. Yes, for the first time in a while the glass is half full - the Cavaliers could have two lottery picks or, God willing - the #1 and #2 picks in the next draft. More than that, they didn't have to give up their trade exception and Davis' contract expires next year. And let's not forget about Antawn Jamison's expiring contract as well. Suddenly, the Cavs have a ton of flexibility and chance to stock pile good young talent. That's now on Cavs GM Chris Grant.

Terry Pluto has a good in-depth look at the trade, including pointing out that the Cavs essentially bought a top draft pick for $12 million. God bless Dan Gilbert and his willingness to spend money, in contrast to Donald Sterling, the much criticized owner of the Clippers. It's obvious, the only way the Cavs were going to get better was through the draft. This is how the Oklahoma City Thunder turned their franchise around so quickly. Hopefully, the Cavs can follow suit.

Despite getting a miracle, Hans Gruber ultimately got a bullet in the stomach and fell to his death from high above Nakatomi Plaza. Let's pray that Chris Grant and the Cavalier organization do a little better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CST does the Oscars: The King's Speech

As "Oscar season" winds down, Clevelanders whose first loves include the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians may be reluctant to run out and see an English arthouse movie about royalty seven decades ago.  Especially with the gag reflex that may involuntarily rise up every time they hear the phrase "The King's Speech."

But I can assure you, this film is no self-congratulatory, tone deaf celebration of ego.  And there's certainly no Jim Gray in this production.

Instead, what director Tom Hooper has created is nothing short of wonderful.

The film is about Albert, Duke of York, and his work with speech pathologist Lionel Logue as he struggles to overcome his severe stammering problem.  The relationship between British royalty and Australian commoner is touching, relatable, and somehow gets the audience to root for a blueblood like "Bertie," as Lionel insists he call the Duke.  Colin Firth has virtually swept the Best Actor awards leading up to the Oscars, and with good reason.  He gives depth and real humanity to the Duke, from his browbeaten little-brother-prince role through his rise to become to become King George VI (father of the current Queen of England) during the lead up to World War II.  Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel, a cheeky Australian who disarms Albert with his directness and unfamiliar familiarity with the future King, and he's also seen as a frontrunner for an Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actor category.

Monday, February 21, 2011

NCAA basketball shakeup and it's murky at the top

After a crazy week in college basketball where each of the top four teams lost, the polls released this President's Day just add to the confusion which makes college basketball so interesting. Even though I could never claim to be a huge college basketball fan, I love Ohio State, March Madness, and the Big Ten basketball season, in that order.  I never sit around on a Wednesday night watching Clemson and North Carolina play a regular season game or anything (unlike, say, football, where I'd basically watch any game.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Today's NBA Makes My Stomach Turn

It's time for the Melo-drama to end. Please!
As the years passed from my teens to my twenties to my thirties, and I matured (somewhat) from a kid to an adult, my taste buds matured along with me. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cheesecake, coffee, hummus, crab legs, shrimp, a variety of spices (things I couldn't stand or wouldn't even think to put in my mouth as a young boy growing up on the mean streets of South Euclid) – they all became palatable. Some (cheesecake and coffee for example) even became something I craved, or in the case of coffee, needed on regular basis.

That is not the case when it comes to athletes. As I've gotten older, my distaste has grown and is reaching the point of self-induced starvation. A hunger strike, if you will, because today's athlete is not only unpalatable, he's become down right rancid. Gone are the days of savoring every bit of your favorite athlete, every last crumb of your favorite Brownie. The Bernie Kosars, the Brian Brennans, the Minnifields, the Dixons - yesteryear's athlete was endearing, was loyal, was team and city-first. That, unfortunately, has given way to today's loathsome "Generation Me" athlete.

Which brings us to this weekend's NBA All-Star festivities... or as it should be renamed... The Carmelo Anthony Show.

Why aren't we mad?

"Decision" night in Cleveland wasn't pretty.

For Cavaliers fans, the tenor of the 2011 NBA All-Star break as compared to last year is what Beethoven’s 5th symphony performed by the Cleveland Orchestra is to a Cannibal Corpse song strangled to inharmonious death by your neighbor’s delinquent son’s garage band.

Last year we had exciting thoughts of the conference-leading Cavs trading for that one last piece that would jettison them into heights heretofore unknown while also keeping a certain soon-to-be free agent in town after he lifted the club to its first ever championship.

Twelve months later and we’re staring dumbly into the still smoking ruin of what has become one of the worst franchises in modern professional sports. Instead of talking about post-season runs and big ticket trades, we’re weighing the possibility of the Cavs acquiring expiring contracts and draft picks as a third party in the hot-again Carmelo Anthony trade talks. Things are so bad that a regular season win against the Lakers is treated like Game 7 of a playoff series.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

All this tree talk is starting to make me nervous

Seems like trees are in the news a bit too much for my comfort this week. 
First, some Alabama fan poisons some sacred tree at Auburn, leading to an outpouring of emotion.

Today a windstorm knocked down the nation's Christmas tree in Washington, and it was something like 40 years old.

At this rate lets just say that Buckeye fans should feel a bit nervous.  What next, a tornado turns the Buckeye nuts into deadly flying projectiles??

Not sure if I'll be able to sleep tonight.

But I'm probably less nervous than the Stanford Cardinal mascot.  There's a bright side I guess.

(By the way, sorry if the format of this post is messed up. I'm trying the new Android Blogger app for the first time.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

CNN's weird photo for NBA "Thanksgiving"

On the homepage of today, David Aldridge talks about "Black Thanksgiving," otherwise known as NBA All-Star Weekend.  Now I won't wonder why Thanksgiving was the holiday chosen for the metaphor, since the weekend of partying would be more akin to, say, St. Patrick's Day, but nonetheless, I'm just wondering why, of every possible all-star photograph CNN could have featured, they chose this extremely weird shot?  What exactly are they doing?  Why is Dwight Howard holding the ball like that, and smiling so weirdly?

I'm thoroughly confused.  Oh well.

A couple thoughts about Blake Griffin's dunks...

Deadspin has put together a thoroughly enjoyable collection of virtually every dunk by Blake Griffin this year. Obviously he is fun to watch. But a couple things stood out to me.

First--Many of his dunks are so powerful that the ball gets through the rim, net, and maybe sonic barrier faster than I've ever seen before.

Second--Even without a running start, Griffin gets so much momentum that he has to hang or swing on the rim just to avoid falling on his skull.  And not once did I think that he was showboating in the very least.  Noted clearly at the 1:08, 1:23 point, but especially at the 1:30 mark.

Third--Every time he has a pure breakaway, that is a clear indication that (a) the crowd gets collectively excited, probably especially Bill Simmons, and (b) they will be disappointed, because almost every one of the breakaways ends with the simplest one- or two-handed jams.

Fourth-The exact opposite happens when someone is in between him and the hoop.  Simply amazing.

Fifth-Griffin will almost certainly try to take one on JJ Hickson's head next time the Clippers and Cavaliers meet.  That will be fun.

Enjoy.  Thanks Deadspin!

Video after the jump.

Woke up thinking of Montell Jordan. Must be spring training.

I'm not sure what was going on this morning.  When I woke up, I was thoroughly confused on what day it was.  But, oddly, it wasn't panicked confusion like so many mornings.

No stress over work, things on my checklist, or the fact that I still had to see "The King's Speech" before the Oscars.

I don't know if it was the fact that Mother Nature gave us a (brief) respite from the brutal winter.  The fact that I actually got some exercise yesterday and slept like a rock. Whether it was the Cavs playing .667 basketball over the past 3 games. Maybe it's that we're heading into a three day weekend.  Or maybe it's just that spring break (whoops, I mean Spring Training for those not named Miguel Cabrera) is finally here.

But when I realized it was Friday , not Thursday, immediately I had a huge flashback. To some song lyrics that, to be honest, I'd be totally okay with never hearing again.

It's Friday night, and I feel all right...

For some, that meant cheesy nights at the bars in the Flats or on High Street in Columbus.  But for many (including me), it's a flashback to Kenny, Carlos, Omar, and all the 1995 Indians.

The Montell Jordan song that was ubiquitous during the spring and summer of 1995 was the Indians' unofficial theme song in the locker room after so many insane come from behind victories.  A season that will never be forgotten by Indians fans, like water to a parched man in the desert.  The season featured so many crazy comebacks, in fact, that the Indians gave away a fantastic CD with all the calls from Herb Score and Tom Hamilton commemorating the game during the 1996 season.  (I still have it on my iPod, and here's the "Wow" Manny Ramirez-Dennis Eckersley game. Jump to the 6:50 mark for instant gratification.)

So basically, this Friday did start out all right.

Hope Springs Eternal.

If you are so inclined, the music video is after the jump.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Does anyone give a damn that LeBron was happy for the Cavs last night?

So LeBron was happy for the Cavs last night?  LIKE ANYONE GIVES A DAMN.

Shut up.  Please.  Nothing you say will fool people into thinking (a) you are a nice guy, (b) you care about the Cavaliers players, fans, and organization, or (c) that they might not be joining the millions...AND MILLIONS...of Heat haters out there come playoff time.

Cavs beat Lakers, continue improbable C-town trend

I don't know what the deal is with painful Cleveland teams lately and defending champions.  We have enough cliched "The ____" events in sports history that we certainly don't need a new one, but lately it seems like collectively they can be called "The Tease".

Last night's improbable (let's just say that's understated) win over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers came out of nowhere--or more accurately, came after a 55-point loss to those same Lakers in Los Angeles last month, and of course a losing streak of something like 300 games.  But over the last week, one could conclude that C-town absolutely OWNS LA, punctuated by two of the more exciting plays you will see in the doldrums of February highlights--JJ Hickson's utter dismissal of Blake Griffin of the Clippers, and Christian Eyenga's monster baseline facial served up to Pau Gasol last night.

A decent taste is left in Cavs' fans mouths as the All-Star Break hits, as opposed to the crapburger we've been served all year long.

Coming against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, it was obviously even more surprising. But that just continues an instantly confounding trend that has surfaced over the past couple years.  As you remember, the Browns, reeling into 2008 week six, looking lost at 2-3, shocked the undefeated (and reigning Super Bowl Champion) New York Giants 35-14, and ended their 11-game winning streak that had carried over through their SB win over the Patriots.

And of course, this past fall, led by extremely green quarterback Colt McCoy, the Browns went to The Big Easy as 13-point underdogs and beat the Saints 30-17.

All three times, the Cleveland teams looked hapless, hopeless, and just sad.  Fans were restless, distraught, or just plan defeated. And all three times, CLE teams came out of seemingly nowhere for a huge win.  Of course, in the case of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers, this doesn't mean that much, but we can all just take one day to smile about our Cavaliers.  An let's just all enjoy the posterizing of Pau Gasol.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where the girls are: Ex-Clevelander pursues MLB batting practice 'dream'

Once in a while, we contributors to Cleveland Sports Torture emerge Gollum-like from our pit of self loathing to deliver a positive and inspiring Cleveland-related story. Indeed, sometimes the people on the fringes of sport are more compelling than the “famous” athletes we pay good money to watch. This is one of those moments:

Justine Siegal is making a habit out of breaking glass ceilings. In the summer of 2009, the Cleveland Heights native helmed first base for the CanAm League’s Brockton Rox to become professional baseball’s first female coach. The experience only lasted two months, but it powered her already strong belief that girls and young women belong on the baseball diamond.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CST does the Oscars: True Grit

With the Oscars taking place at the end of this month, Cleveland Sports Torture is revisiting the films nominated for 2011 Best Picture. These reviews may contain spoilers, so reader beware.

Saturday night, I decided to take the lady out for a special Valentine's date - first, we had a great dinner at Jekyll's Kitchen in Chagrin Falls (I highly recommend it) and then we went to see Oscar nominee True Grit. While the Coen Brother's latest film is not the most romantic movie in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I loved it.

The western is a remake of a 1969 John Wayne film of the same name. I did not see the original, but you can find several articles comparing the two versions, including this very good review by Charles Moore. What struck me about the movie was that there were no scintillating action scenes, no explosions, no mind (or building) bending special effects, no sparkling vampires, and no wizards. There weren't even elaborate sets or costumes that you might expect to find in a 2011 western. The movie was not spectacular in the visual sense, which is why the movie is so great. It is carried by the actors and subsequently, the characters they portray.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Will it ever end?

This is typically the time of the year when national sports analysts and hosts come down off their nauseating Superbowl high. Weeks of over-saturated, beaten-like-a-dead-horse football talk transitions into America's red-headed step child of sport - basketball. The NCAA Tournament is just around the corner and NBA teams are distinguishing themselves as pretenders or contenders. During the last few years, it meant it was time to talk about the Cavaliers, their league leading record, their MVP superstar, and their chance to finally break the curse. This year, just one year later, the Cavs are making headlines for a completely different and disastrous reason. Heading into Wednesday's home game against the Detroit Pistons, they had already broken the record for most consecutive losses in an NBA season, which by the way was owned by a previous Cavaliers bunch (only in Cleveland). And after a disinterested loss to those Pistons, the losing streak reached 26 and they have now tied the record for most consecutive losses by ANY professional sports team... ever... matching the infamous 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record.

Amazingly, the Cavaliers have won one stinkin' game since November 27th (they beat the N.Y. Knicks on December 18th). Since starting 7-9, the Cavs are 1-35. Think about that for a second - Thanksgiving was November 25th. They've won one game since Thanksgiving weekend. Considering the Browns lost their last four games of the season (last winning on December 5th against the Miami Dolphins), Cleveland fans have celebrated ONE  professional sports win since the first week of December. Ouch!

In comparison, here are some numbers to consider since December 5th:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In the lap of the Sports God

Dear Omnipotent Sports Deity,

There’s no doubt You’ve had a busy 24 hours lifting the spirits of one fanbase while dashing the hopes of another. The Super Bowl is Your Christmas Eve and like that red-suited wish granter from the North Pole, You deserve at least a small reprieve from Your toils.

Still, as Packers Nation basks in the afterglow of the biggest day on the American sports calendar, I just wanted to take a moment to thank You for giving a rather less fortunate fanbase a small but not insignificant respite from an especially torturous year of athletic agony. For Cleveland fans, there was an unappetizing entree on Sunday's championship game menu, so thanks a heap for saving our collective palates from the bitter aftertaste of another Steelers’ Super Bowl title.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bin Laden even scares a couple tweeting journalists

Shortly after the Celtics-Lakers game on Sunday, apparently a Lakers ballboy approached Boston Celtics sweetheart Kevin Garnett to ask for an autograph, and was told (and reported via twitter by Yahoo's Marc Spears and ESPN's J.A. Adande that he told the ballboy "you've got a better chance of catching Bin Laden."

A couple things. 

Good for Garnett.  It's not like he snarled at some random fan after the game--this was an opposing team employee and Boston just finished what turned into a blowout over the Lakers.  If I saw a Browns player signing for some Steelers' ballboy, let's just say that player would be the topic of conversation on sports radio for a couple weeks. Was the "Bin Laden" reference over the line?  Some might think so.  But it's not specifically insensitive to the victims of 9/11, although certainly a curious reference. I'm gonna let it slide.  After all, it's not like Garnett is the first to reference this.  Time Magazine put it on their cover.  Nine years ago.  Plenty of columnists (as well as satirists and comedians from Chris Rock to Bill Maher) have pointedly referenced our inability to track him down.  So in my opinion, Garnett's slam is fine, and people who were offended may just be looking to be offended by something.

And the original tweets by Spears (@spearsnbayahoo) and Adande (@jadande) were promptly deleted, but not before being retweeted (and therefore distributed beyond control) by lots of Twitter users.  Now, Spears and Adande said they deleted the tweets because basically all the @-replies were clogging their twitter streams.  Could be--but you can ignore those.  But that excuse sounds is ridiculous.  Adande has over 100,000 followers, and Spears over 20,000.  This isn't the firs time they have gotten a lot of retweets, and they get a lot of messages too, I bet.
More likely, this was them thinking "maybe we shouldn't report that."  But why? Are they physically scared of Garnett?  Scared of their access to players being cut?  Scared of David Stern yelling at them?  I have no idea.  But if a player said something within earshot of's fair game.  Deal with it.

Me, I say screw the balboy. The Lakers should fire you, too.  And if Garnett gets fined for this comment, that's just ridiculous.

CST does the Oscars: Inception

With the Oscars taking place at the end of this month, Cleveland Sports Torture will be revisiting some of the films nominated for 2011 Best Picture. These reviews may contain spoilers, so reader beware.

“Inception” is a film that sent many of its viewers directly from the theater to the late-night diner across the street to avidly dig into the many mysteries and meanings director Christopher Nolan packed into 148 brain-bending minutes.

Nolan’s high-concept conglomeration of sci-fi, espionage and old fashioned skullduggery certainly works as an “idea movie” - one that questions the nature of our waking lives while suggesting that reality as we understand it is a relative concept. Where “Inception” stumbles is in its attempt to connect a highfalutin hypothesis to interesting characters or a truly compelling story. Peel away the thinky surface and you’re left with the rusty workings of an ordinary and surprisingly dull “one-last-con” flick.