Saturday, July 25, 2009

Media Roundup on That Recently-Leaked Controversial Video

"[LeBron] has been grievously wronged here. Our people and resources are in full support of [him] as [he] deals with this abhorrent act."

“[He’s] shaken and kind of paranoid,” the source said. “Everyone is very nurturing to [him]- which [he] appreciates- but you can tell the whole thing has devastated [him]. It’s all so reprehensible.”

"No, the reason the video has gained such traction, and the reason everyone is so upset — and I can assure you, I've yet to talk to a single person, blogger, blog reader, ESPN employee, sideline reporter, upright walking normal human being, who wasn't profoundly disturbed by this — is because we all felt somewhat complicit with [James]. Everyone felt like they knew [him]. They didn't, of course. But everyone with an interest in the world of sports was present for [his] rise."

"[He] was the victim of a crime and is taking action to protect [himself] and help ensure that others are not similarly violated in the future. Although the perpetrator or perpetrators of this criminal act have not yet been identified, when they are identified [he] intends to bring both civil and criminal charges against them and against anyone who has published the material. We request respect of [LeBron's] privacy at this time, while [he] and [his] representatives are working with the authorities."

"But. I have never met [LeBron James]. If I ran into [him] on the street today ... I'm not sure I could look [him] in the eye. I'm not sure anybody could."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

#5 Film of the Decade- Traffic

5. Traffic- Steven Soderbergh (2000)

Most successful filmmakers have a through-line, a theme--an obsession even--that appears again and again in their work. Woody Allen is obsessed with New York obviously. Werner Herzog is preoccupied with nature. Off the top of my head, I can name ten Steven Spielberg films featuring divorced parents. That's just what artists do. They have interests and attractions that inform and underline their experiments. That theme for Steven Soderbergh--pretty much the only thing linking his films--is experimentation itself. He seems addicted to taking risks, and Traffic was no exception.

After he, you know, pretty much created the '90s independent film movement with sex, lies, and videotape at twenty-six, Soderbergh could have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars for any studio movie he wanted. Instead he eschewed studios altogether for a black-and-white movie about Franz Kafka. And after a few more indies, he could have stayed that course as the guy who never messed up his big shot by never taking it. Instead he branched out Orson Welles-style with a one-for-me, one-for-them track: Schizopolis for me, Out of Sight for them, The Limey for me, Erin Brockovich for them. This brings us to Traffic in 2000, which is his signature film because it combines all of these outlooks. Everyone wins.

The movie was a hit but, looking back on it, it's a bit of a tough sell. Under the murky, no-easy-answers umbrella of the war on drugs, the film covers three plot-lines and perspectives that take place in nine cities, each story with its own visual palette. There are one hundred thirty-five speaking parts. It's sprawling and complex, but it's always in control. I know I'm only talking about Soderbergh when writer Stephen Gaghan won an Oscar for his screenplay, but the fact is: one guy has replicated this greatness, and one has not.

Not Jesus, despite the way I'm talking about him.

Likewise, directors usually get too much credit for the film's visual style, but Soderbergh acted, for the first of many times, as his own director of photography here under his psuedonym Peter Andrews. He even operated the camera. He was solely responsible for the look of the film, the grain and exposure of which would be copied or built upon for the remainder of the decade. (By the way, he also used non-professional actors, handheld camera, and digital video before anyone else and better than anyone else this decade too.) To hear him tell it:

"The issue of how to distinguish the three stories visually arose about and I decided for the East Coast stuff, tungsten film with no filter on it so that we get that really cold, monochrome blue feel. For San Diego, diffusion filters, flashing the film, overexposure for a warmer, blossomy feel. And for Mexico, tobacco filters, 45-degree shutter angle whenever possible to give it a strobelike sharp feel. Hopefully those distinctions would be enough to bring you back into each story line after you cut to somewhere else and come back. Then we took the entire film through an Ektachrome step, which increases the contrast and the grain enormously. I'm going through a phase where I'm in love with degraded grainy contrasty imagery, stuff that I think you'd have difficulty talking some cameraman into doing. When the film reaches its release print stage, it will have gone through seven generations."

What he doesn't mention is that Ektachrome is a still photography development treatment that, especially at the time, was unpredictable. He took $48 million worth of footage and took a pass through chemicals that could have completely ruined everything he shot. Again, risks.

Still, none of this sumptuous visual language would matter if this wasn't a completely gripping film, which it is. This is probably the quickest two-and-a-half hour film you'll ever see. As thoughtful and uncompromising as it is, it's also damned entertaining. Years after the fact, that's what you forget. And while most films of its type--multiple plots that weave in and out of each other--sometimes have a weak or inconsistent thread, this does not. The viewer is never disappointed to cut back to the Ohio story or away to the Mexico story. They're all engrossing.

Just as each cut serves a purpose, each tiny performance in Traffic contributes to the whole. People like Salma Hayek and Albert Finney seem happy with glorified cameos, and Soderbergh coaxes powerful work from people who had never proven themselves before or since (Erika Christensen, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Topher Grace). But Benicio Del Toro is still the most affecting. He plays against type as a paunchy, monosyllabic cop who is caught in the middle of everyone else's agenda. Most of his dialogue is in Spanish, and it adds to the transformative aspect of his performance. It's as if he's a different actor than the one we're familiar with. He's more tender, more wounded. The movie proves that there are no quick answers to drug abuse and the resultant violence of it, and by the end of the film, Del Toro's character is the one who understands that the most. He is the squinty eyes through which we see everything.

In both approach and execution, Traffic never takes the easy way out. We've already felt the ripple effects of what it achieved. But more important than how influential it became is how enjoyable it was.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chris Attends the Pro Football Hall of Fame

A few weeks ago, on my trip from Philadelphia to New Orleans, I stopped in Canton, Ohio to take in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was the wrong time to go because an entire wing was closed for construction, to the point that the Hall gave me a voucher to come back another day. The improvements are needed, however, because I found the whole museum outdated and poorly arranged. You'll see what I mean as I show you the photographic (and video) evidence.

The first floor is dedicated to the early history of the game, so there's a lot of boring no homo stuff like this. I'm not saying that I don't care about Yale's 7-0 victory over Princeton in 1923, but...well, I guess I don't. The gist of the first floor is: Yale, Red Grange, George Halas, Jim Thorpe, Lombardi, AFL-NFL merger. I just saved you twenty bucks.

Here I am learning about Tom Dempsey's record 63-yard field goal, with the use of the Hall's state-of-the-art facilities.

The best part about the museum is that you get to run into real-life celebrities.


We'll have more fun with nicknames further down.

Once you're out of that early history section, there's this afterthought of a room that was installed once they realized, "We don't have anything for fans of Team X Founded after 1975." The Saints one was already out of date though. I don't expect them to have the all-time win-loss record correct all the time, but it's kind of a big deal that we won the division three years ago. We're not the Patriots or anything, but it would be nice to list that next to the other stuff.

Lest we forget the contributions of Alfonso "Chino" Portillo. Yeah, his nickname was "Chinese."

Now we're getting to the Hall of Fame itself, with the busts of all the inductees. Naturally, this room is the most impressive in the building. The busts line the walls, and in the middle of the room there are banks of monitors, where you can watch video highlights of each of the players. The only problem is that the room itself is dark while the busts are individually lit, which makes photography difficult.

LT. Unfortunately, this is not realistic because there wasn't a huge lightning bolt/cross/LT earring dangling down. On the plus side, I did get to show Wifey some video highlights. She looked suitably impressed/intimidated by his ferocity.

Wifey took pictures of every funny nickname, so there are about thirty of them that I'm not posting.

Real Art Shell or statue? I was there, and I couldn't tell.

Jim Brown, Best Player Ever 1a. The lighting presented problems. This was actually the best one we took.

Otto Graham, Best Player Ever 1b.

It's funny because he murdered two people.

These guys were watching highlights on those aforementioned monitors. After every play, they would exclaim, "Peace!" It was simultaneously endearing and annoying. They reminded me of myself.

The top floor highlights the contemporary game with things like Jamal Lewis jerseys or Peyton Manning shoes. It's supposed to compliment and reinforce what was downstairs, but the two aren't compatible at all. For instance, downstairs they haven't bothered to change most of the passing records from Marino to Favre. Again, it seems inconsistent and cheap for a national museum. Mixed in with that are actually interesting artifacts though, like this draft card that secured Reggie Bush.

This is my stab at being part of the national media. I'm grateful for the modesty provided by the shadow. I'm waiting for a Brett Favre floor.

The museum touches on other aspects of pro football. There are little features on Arena Football, World League, and games played internationally. This was so good that it had to be my first uploaded YouTube video.

Shattered windows in front of each broken rushing record from Brown to Payton to Smith. This was legitimately cool.

Best Player Ever 3.

Jim Kelly was a recent inductee, so there were entire lockers of his memorabilia, and he got mentioned in almost every feature. It was weird that there was barely anything on, say, Joe Montana, but Jim Kelly was everywhere you turned. Cool shoes though.

Look how interactive Canton is. You can throw a ball into a hole, man. This is next level.

The trivia was ridiculous. It asked me what Deacon Jones' birthday was at one point. About ten years out of date as well.

All in all, a disappointing trip. But I checked it off my list.