March 2006 Archives

I get irritated by commentators who claim that major-college football and men’s basketball are a priori corrupt. (I’m talking about you, King Kaufman.) I don’t disagree with the assertion; I object to the conclusion as an unsubstantiated premise, an article of faith.

On the other hand, we often create this mythic aura of purity around underdogs, such as the surprising Bradley Braves in the current NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But Cinderella is no virgin, says Jacob Leibenluft in a Slate article supported by compelling anecdotal evidence:

“If Duke and UConn are the Yankees and Red Sox of college basketball, then Bradley and Wichita State are the NCAA’s Royals and Tigers. They have less money and less talent than the sport’s bluebloods, but that doesn’t make them any more honest.”

A First

After nearly 35 years, I have given my first thought to the perfume industry. Slate evaluates some surprisingly good celebrity fragrances, and discusses how they’ve revitalized the industry. Plus, you get to snicker at the extreme manliness of Cumming.

Matt Zoller Seitz continues to clearly and insightfully break down the new season of The Sopranos. In his post on “Join the Club,” he makes a connection that seems obvious now, but it eluded me when I watched the episode: With Tony’s brain playing out an alternative existence, The Sopranos is paying its respects to Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective.

The March 19 episode, Seitz writes,

“felt like a muscular American response to Potter’s masterpiece, from the hospital location to the expressive, knowingly nostalgic use of pop music. ... The tone of this extended sequence is very Dennis Potter, but the unexplained identity swap has a touch of David Lynch’s Lost Highway about it.”
Yet the “identity swap” is mysterious only in the purgatorial reading that Seitz subscribes to. It’s a reasonable interpretation, but a limiting one.

Joyful Discomfort

The unfortunately neglected Happy Endings has the unfixed, casually natural sexuality of Pedro Almodóvar, the existential screwball absurdity of I ♥ Huckabees, an offhanded but sincere interest in serious themes, and the voyeuristic allure of watching people try to extricate themselves from traps set by their own stupidity and greed. Plus: a Wizard of Oz for the 21st Century, and the kinda crappy clarity of Asylum.

Link Dump

Odds and ends before we head off to New Orleans for a wedding. (Congratulations Theo and Jenny! Please do not spawn; the world has enough journalists.)

  • For those who like articulate, incisive writing about inarticulate, blind characters, check out this treasure trove at The House Next Door, along with this insightful review of the season premiere of The Sopranos.
  • Roger Ebert offers a fascinating, thoughtful review of Unknown White Male.
  • And Slate, prompted by the World Baseball Classic, asks: Why is baseball season so fucking long? I was surprised at how compelling I found the argument that baseball could indeed operate much like the NFL — 16-game seasons over four months — and still have meaningful results. The author essentially claims that baseball’s pace, timbre, and casual attitude toward losing are functions of a long season, rather than a necessity because of the need for a large sample size.

Last Words on Crash

Final thoughts on Crash at the Oscars:

  • From Roger Ebert.

  • From his Web site’s editor, Jim Emerson, who also offers this nugget about the recent disconnect between Best Picture and Best Director winners:
    “Perhaps the professional membership of the Academy is, in a roundabout way, distinguishing a kind of authorial vision from lesser directorial efforts when it separates the Steven Spielbergs from the John Maddens, the Roman Polanskis from the Rob Marshalls, the Ang Lees from the Paul Haggises ... “
  • And Emerson again and yet again. (I like Mr. Emerson.)
  • And, surely, this is a joke. Right?

Family Matters

Junebug has an affection for empty physical space, silence, and the way sound travels through a house at night. The result is a typically indie meet-the-parents family drama infused with eerie, unacknowledged loneliness. Plus: a dully competent Proof.

Neko Notes

With the release of a new album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, out this week, it’s time to catch up with Culture Snob favorite Neko Case. Harp magazine has a wonderfully perceptive interview here, and I’ve posted an audio recording of my interview with her last summer here (14 minutes, mp3, 2.7 megabytes). (My original article is here.)

Sign of the Times

Ladies and gentlemen, your new Bill of Rights. About damn time somebody fixed it.

Honoring Altman

At The House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz collects contributions to the Robert Altman Blog-a-thon Weekend, honoring the lifetime-achievement-Oscar recipient. I shan’t participate with new writing, but offer this appreciation of the director’s The Player excerpted from a longer essay.

The hand-wringing going on right now about the state of Hollywood and the Oscars is a bizarre mix of long-overdue self-awareness and stubborn self-delusion. Observers have noted with much shock that people aren’t going to movies that much and that none of the Oscar nominees is a genuinely popular movie. But these are long-standing trends.

In Praise of Hate

What the hell is happening with the delayed polarization that Crash has engendered? Nobody got terribly worked up about Paul Haggis’ sincere, overstuffed race-relations drama when it was released in April. But as the buzz started building that Crash might (gasp!) win the Best Picture Oscar, indignation showed its ugly face.