Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eli Manning: Squash Superstar.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Which Superhero Are You?

Your results:
You are Superman
























Superman
75%
Spider-Man
70%
Iron Man
70%
Green Lantern
60%
Catwoman
50%
Supergirl
45%
Robin
40%
Wonder Woman
30%
Batman
30%
Hulk
25%
The Flash
20%
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.


Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz



Incidentally, I really think they should screen for gender. I'm not totally comfortable with Catwoman showing up as 5th on my list, well above Batman.

---

I hung out with my buddy Pete last night, which is always a good time. Apparently, my previous post about Casino Royale convinced him to see the movie, and he said he's glad he did. MGM, can I get a kickback here?

However, he also called to my attention something perhaps more disturbing. My previous post also left the impression that I was snubbing "Live and Let Die" in the anthology of Bond tunes. Terrible oversight on my part. Let's correct that now with the official list of best Bond theme songs, excluding the classic 007 theme, of course; we're just talking about theme songs from the movies themselves.

1. Live and Let Die
2. Thunderball
3. Nobody Does it Better (Dr. Z, I don't care what you say, this is a quality Bond song)
4. The Living Daylights
5. You Know My Name

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Weird Football Weekend

This weekend, I'm cheering against Arkansas (my wife's favorite team, and therefore one I generally cheer for unless they're playing Miami or Michigan), and for hated rivals Notre Dame and Florida State. All these teams, of course, would help Michigan greatly, especially Notre Dame if they can squeak by USC.

BTW, to anyone who isn't in favor of a Michigan-TOSU rematch, I'd ask this: name one team, apart from TOSU, that's better than Michigan. I'm fairly confident you can't do it.

In any event, it's a bizarre weekend. Cheering for Florida State and Notre Dame makes my stomach churn.

---

Speaking of stomach churning, this is not. (Hey, good segue into a recipe, huh?)

I don't like to go all Martha Stewart on you (insert insider trading joke here), but I had to share a recipe I came up with this weekend for leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Try it, and I guarantee you'll like it, unless you're keeping kosher (shalom and l'chaim), or are a vegetarian (pussy). "Southwest Turkey Club" is probably the most accurate name for this creation, but you can call it "Phil's Turkey Club". Or pass it off as your own and thank me later. Whichever.

ingredients:
- leftover Thanksgiving turkey (you can use turkey cold cuts, I suppose, but it's probably not as good)
- thick sliced bread (preferably Texas toast-style, but a loaf of fresh-baked Italian will work just as well if sliced a good 1.5 to 2 inches thick)
- bacon
- lettuce
- tomato
- mayo
- chipotle pepper (these usually come canned, and at least in my supermarket, in the "international" section, which is their way of saying "overpriced")
- pepper cheddar cheese (pepper jack will also work)

how-to:
- toast the bread lightly
- dice the pepper (and whatever you do, do NOT rub your eyes or take a leak before you wash your hands after such dicing)
- mix about 3 tablespoons mayo and 1 diced pepper (if you like it really spicy, use more chipotle peppers)
- pile turkey on the bread, along with bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato, then spread the chipotle mayo on the bread and serve
- eat and enjoy

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Casino Royale: The Review

I saw Casino Royale for the first time on Saturday night. I'll see it at least once more, then advance purchase the DVD, and make a final judgment as to how it stacks up with the fabled 007 series. I can say this, though: you will not come out of the theater feeling as though you'd be happier setting $8 aflame to see what it smells like. And that's better than you can say for most movies these days.

Let's break down "Casino Royale" by the essential categories.

Originality - Prequels are a tough sell for the brain. On one hand, they expect you to forget everything you know about the character and understand that they're starting from Square One. On the other, they expect you to appreciate the end result of the character development and some of the little moments that hint at what's yet to come. For instance, in one scene, Bond orders a vodka martini. The bartender asks if he'd like it shaken or stirred, and he replies, "do I look like I give a damn?" If you're a longtime fan of the Bond series, it's a mildly amusing in-joke. If you're watching an action movie about a secret agent named James Bond without knowing what's supposed to happen later on, it's a throwaway line without context. So like I said, I think prequels require a little bit of mental gymnastics, and some accomplish their purpose better than others.

This one accomplishes its purpose pretty well, I think. We learn a tremendous amount about James Bond, the man, and how he became 007. Pretty much everything from how a guy on a government salary came into owning a lavishly expensive Aston Martin to how he came to be the misogynist, cold-blooded killer we all know and love is covered. Previous Bond movies were pretty light on character development, and Casino Royale takes up the slack. That alone gives it serious points for originality.

Plot - Good, and pretty realistic, a change from previous Bond movies. Is it that far gone to believe that MI6 would be trying to take down a terrorist financier and that he would be organizing a high-stakes poker game to make money after losing millions in the stock market? I don't think so. Okay, the idea that said financier would knowingly allow an agent of the British government into such a game might be a stretch, but not ridiculously so. The final act (the movie does not, in fact, end with Bond pocketing $150 million from the poker game) advances the plot nicely, not to mention the character of James Bond. It does drag a little in parts, though. For instance, they could have snipped a good 10 minutes of the card game. And the stuff with MI6's contact in Montenegro was predictable.

Action - Excellent. The movie portrays Bond, at first, as something of an amateur at the whole "killing bad guys" thing, as the opening scene shows him dispatch a courier in a rather messy, and somewhat un-Bond-like manner. The scene involving the construction site chase is stellar. My lone complaint: the scene in the sewers, showing Bond tortured in perhaps the most painful of ways for a man, really should have earned the movie an R rating. Yes, when you get old, these are the things you think about. However, since I'm over 17, have no children and have already been as poisoned and jaded as I'm going to get by televised violence, it doesn't bother me. Since that's my only complaint, the action earns full marks.

Cinematography - Is this even the right word to use? Screw it, I'm doing it. Anyway, the movie is filmed well. The black and white opening is a nice touch, and the movie as a whole does a nice job of conveying the dark and gritty feel they're trying to get.

Bond Girls - The brunette in the Bahamas (can't be bothered to remember her name) is an 11 on the 10 scale, a 1 on the binary scale, and a 6 on the Clydesdale scale. Vesper Lynd, the Bond Girl for the bulk of the movie, is well-played, and sufficiently attractive, but she's not blowaway gorgeous or anything. In a neat twist, she's actually there to advance the plot and the character, as opposed to just being good scenery. Unrepentant chauvinist that I am, I can't decide if that's a good thing or not, but it makes the movie work well in this case.

Music - "You Know My Name" is the best Bond theme song in some time, certainly since "The Living Daylights" or "Nobody Does it Better". Chris Cornell was a good choice to do the song. They didn't go for a one-hit wonder (i.e. "Diamonds Are Forever", "The Man With The Golden Gun"). They didn't go for a hot "artist of the moment" with mediocre musical talent (i.e. "Tomorrow Never Dies", "For Your Eyes Only"). They didn't screw around with a superstar who was desperate to "explore the studio space" and thus do too much with it (i.e. "Goldeneye", "Die Another Day"). They just picked a good, solid musician and said, "make a kick-ass rock tune out of this." And he did. Well done, Chris! Also, they do a great job of holding off on the classic 007 theme until the perfect time.

Villain - It's hard to gauge Le Chieffre against previous Bond villains, because unlike most of the previous ones, he's not trying to take over the world or anything. But, as said above, he's realistic. There are almost certainly people like Le Chieffre out there right now (perhaps not possessing a birth defect like bleeding from the tear ducts), making money and financing the bad guys. Chances are, there are NOT men like Ernst Stavro Blofeld out there, plotting world domination. But, in this sense, the movie is hoist upon its own petard. When Le Chieffre gets his comeuppance, we don't feel any grand sense of relief or anything.

Bond - Daniel Craig is easily the most credible physical presence since Sean Connery. He also looks completely comfortable with a weapon, something you couldn't always say for Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton. He lacks Moore's charm, but I think that's partly by design, at least for this movie. Bond's just starting out as 007, and is portrayed more or less as a thug for the first part of the movie, which Craig nails perfectly. He's got the action hero part down pat. We'll have to see how well he can handle being the ladies' man in future movies. In Bond lore, it's universally accepted that Connery and Moore were the best, then a step down to Pierce Brosnan, then several steps down to Dalton and George Lazenby. Right now, Craig is on Brosnan's level, but I think he has a chance to enter the Connery-Moore pantheon.

Gadgets - The whole movie is basically an advertisement for cell phones. But beyond that, there's not much gadgetry. No Q appearances in this one. After the invisible car from "Die Another Day", that's not necessarily a bad thing.

As I said, it's far too early to say where Casino Royale stacks up among the Bond movies. Certainly, we can say it's better than Moonraker, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill. Where it ultimately ranks is a question for history to decide, but my snap judgment is that it belongs among the all-time best in series history.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Phunwin as Movie Geek

You've seen movie geeks before. We all have. For example, the guy who dresses up as an Imperial Stormtrooper on the opening night of Star Wars VII: The Phantom Cash Grab, or the legions of people who attend Star Trek conventions in hope of bedding the one chick there who actually bears a fleeting resemblence to Seven of Nine (while being perfectly willing to settle any of the dozens of women who look like Worf).

I believe on some level, we all have movie geekishness (is that even a word? No? Screw it, I'm moving on) over some movie series. Well, tonight, my inner movie geek comes out.

From the moment I heard that "Casino Royale" was hitting theaters on 11/17, I was counting the days. In fact, I couldn't wait any longer and went to the North Pole and froze myself with strict instructions for my wife to come get me on the morning of the 17th. Instead, she left me there, had me declared dead, cashed in my 401(k), collected on my life insurance and moved to Hawaii. I was unfrozen 500 years in the future (bad news: Eric Cartman STILL hasn't gotten to play the Nintendo Wii), but fortunately, they had the technology to send me back to today. Yup, my plan worked flawlessly.

I am, to put it mildly, a James Bond geek. I know more Bond trivia than is healthy. I'm fairly confident that little bits of knowledge like "who are the only two people to play different characters in Bond movies?" have pushed out more important stuff like "how does the Rule Against Perpetuities work?". (The answer to the first question is "Charles Grey and Joe Don Baker", the second is, "I haven't got the first damned idea.")

In the style of the guys I mentioned in the first paragraph, I am perfectly willing to show up at the premiere of Casino Royale with a tuxedo and a replica Walther PPK, although I'm somewhat less than willing to pay $100 for a rented tuxedo and another $200 for a replica pistol. Still, I'd do it if the opportunity arose. That's how much of a geek I am for Bond movies.

I'm looking forward to Casino Royale more than any Bond movie before. The Bond series has been careening downhill for sometime now. They're still entertaining movies, of course, but the penchant for gadgets and special effects has gotten out of control, as has the need to suspend disbelief, and not for the first time (who can forget "Moonraker"?). The breaking point came when we saw Bond tooling around in an invisible car, inside an ice palace, trying to chase down a North Korean colonel who somehow accumulates enough money and technological know-how (despite being from a country with a per capita GDP of $1700) to build a massive laser capable of wiping out whole batallions.

Mercifully, MGM opted to hit the reset button and do a prequel. And prequels, of course, are all the rage. As we all know, Hollywood has run out of ideas. But by doing a prequel, they can tell what appears like a new story, when in fact it's a way of admitting that they screwed up the movie franchise and want to start over. It's very clever, and it works. Look at how the Batman franchise (another favorite of mine) has been reinvigorated by a darker, tougher Batman and a more down-to-earth story. They're hoping to do the same thing with Bond in "Casino Royale": there's no grand S.P.E.C.T.R.E. plot to blow up the entire world, just a storyline about targeting a guy who finances terrorists. That's perfectly plausible (and timely, too).

We'll see where they go from here, but I'm looking forward to nourishing my inner movie geek tonight.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Confessions of a Sports Bigamist

My wife told me it was time to get help. "No, it's cool, I can handle it." No dice. The gaggle of family and friends in my living room agreed with her. They didn't like me the way I was. They didn't like what this problem was doing to me. I couldn't handle their accusing stares and sharp words, and decided it was time.

I checked the local newspaper for dates and times of meetings, found one I liked and went down to the local community center. A few burnouts stood outside, puffing furiously on cigarettes. Inside the community center, the stench of desperation hung like a fog. I looked around, didn't see a soul I knew. "This is hard", I thought. "I'm not sure I can handle it."

I half-listened to the stories of families and friendships torn asunder by this all-too-common problem, thinking, "nah, I'm not like that." I thought maybe I could sneak out without anyone noticing. I started to edge toward the exit, but before I could, the group leader, a man fully recovered from his problem, pointed to me and said, "I see we have a new member with us this evening. Why don't you introduce yourself to the group?"

Damn. Busted.

Time to face the music.

"My name is Phil, and I'm a Sports Bigamist."

"Hi Phil!"

"Hi. I've been following college football since I was 8. That's how I learned to count by sevens...which, come to think of it, is about the only practical use for that skill. Anyway, I grew up in the far reaches of Upstate New York."

"You mean Buffalo?" interjected a guy with a San Francisco Giants cap and an LA Dodgers t-shirt. Wow, I thought I had problems.

"No", I responded, "a lot farther north than that. Suffice to say, there wasn't a lot of big-time sports in the area. The closest thing to a local sports team was the Montreal Canadiens. Well, there was the Montreal Expos..."

"WHO?" asked the entire room.

"Never mind. Anyway, growing up, I was pretty much left to my own devices when it came to picking my teams. Not much local pressure, no real strong family ties to any one team or other, and no real role models when it came to this stuff. I fell in love with certain teams for one reason or another, but when it came to college football, I had a really hard time of it. I loved the tradition of Michigan football, the maize and blue, the most awesome football helmets ever, the famous fight song, the three yards and a cloud of dust philosophy of Bo Schembechler, the 32 (at that time) Big Ten titles. But I also came to love the 'in your face' philosophy of Miami football..."

"Miami-Florida or Miami-Ohio?" asked someone.

"Miami-Florida," I responded. Retard. I continued, "the great passing game, the legitimate 'us against the world' philosophy before it became an embarrassing cliche, the ultra-talented teams. I just couldn't pick between the two, and frankly, I've been conflicted ever since."

"Let's all thank Phil for sharing. And welcome to the group, Phil."

After the meeting, I was talking to the person sitting next to me. He was wearing one of those half-n-half jerseys that people often buy when their favorite player gets traded. The ones Ray Bourque made popular when he was traded from the Bruins to the Avalanche. In this case, he was wearing a Jay Fiedler Jets-Buccaneers jersey, which I didn't even know existed.

"Yeah, there's some real sad stories here. You saw the guy who can't pick between the Dodgers and Giants?"

"Yeah, I did. How's he live with himself?"

"Don't know. There was a guy who used to come around here who cheered for Duke and North Carolina."

"Really?"

"Yeah. We think he shacked up with some girl who cheered for the Cubs and Cardinals."

"Enablers."

"Compared to them, you're not so bad, Phil. Hey, you're not cheering for Ohio State, right?"

I uttered an unprintable expletive at the mention of THE Ohio State University. Not only had they spoiled more than a few Michigan seasons, but they blatantly stole the 2002 national title from The U.

He chuckled and said, "It's not as though Miami and Michigan play each other. The last time it happened was probably before you started following college football."

"It was 1988. I was young and foolish then." As opposed to being old and foolish now.

"What side were you on?"

"Can't remember. It's all a haze to me. Maybe that's why I'm here."

I said my good-byes, promised to return next week, and left the meeting. It was cool outside, with just a slight mist in the air. The kind of weather that reminds you that it's college football season. And that, in turn, reminded me of my problem. But there's hope in the air, too. I'll get through this.

I've just got to take it one day at a time.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Mets in 2007...And The Perils of Losing Internet Access

I meant to post this some time ago, but unfortunately, I've been struck with a combination of computer problems at home (we had a combination of a squirrel chewing through the cable line and something I'm not tech-savvy enough to describe, so I'll chalk it up to "computer boo-boo"), and have been buried with work, thus limiting my goof-off time. So, as the St. Louis Cardinals are poised to become the worst World Series champions since the '88 Dodgers (by the way, that's not a dig against the Redbirds; I'd much rather be known as a weak World Series champ than a great team that didn't get there), here's my rather untimely discussion of what the Mets need to do for 2007:

1. Have Plans A through G for the rotation.

As it stands, the Mets are poised to head into 2007 with a rotation that looks something like this: Tom Glavine (who I believe will be resigned for something like 1 year and $12 million), John Maine, Oliver Perez, a free agent to be determined and Mike Pelfrey. Brian Bannister will be waiting in the wings, and Pedro Martinez will hopefully be shoehorned in around July or so. Steve Trachsel will be gone, and Orlando Hernandez may not return, to my wife's chagrin; she loves to call "el Duque" "Dookie"...which might be a more appropriate name for Trachsel, given how he pitched this postseason. It's too bad she's not more schooled in baseball terminology; she could make endless jokes about how he likes to throw the old number 2. (That's baseball-speak for a curveball, for those of you in Rio Linda.)

Here's the thing about that proposed rotation; it's got more question marks than the Riddler. A 41-year old, a guy with 24 career starts, an ultra-talented headcase who posted an ERA over 6, a rookie and an overpriced free agent. Waiting in the wings are the new Kirk Reuter and a guy being held together with spit and bailing twine. Yikes. I'm not saying it can't work; look at the upside: Glavine should have at least one more good year, Maine looks like the real deal, Perez has filthy stuff and appears to have harnessed it (if he can pitch that well in game 7 of the NLCS, he'll be fine), Pelfrey's got great stuff and won't be relied upon heavily and they should have the money to lure one of the top 3 free agents. But still, there's not a sure thing in the bunch.

I've harped on this before, and probably will continue to do so, but the failure to trade for Zito looks worse now than ever. Did that cost the Mets a berth in the World Series? Amazingly, it probably did not; offense, relief pitching and Tom Glavine in Game 5, the team's supposed strengths, were what let them down. It's hard to imagine any starting pitcher doing much better than Maine and Perez did in games 6 and 7. Only Steve Trachsel's complete and utter implosion in game 3 could have been averted, and even then, Jeff Suppan shut out the Mets. So Zito would likely have changed nothing. So why does it look worse? Look again at that rotation; there's not a 200 inning guy in the group. Glavine's a 6 inning pitcher, as is Maine (who I don't believe has the build or stamina to be more). Perez could be, but one has to assume that he'll be prone to the occasional train wreck, thus taxing the bullpen. Pelfrey will surely be on a 100 pitch limit (thankfully, the Mets organization seems to have learned something from destroying Doc Gooden's arm). The bullpen was taxed like a Massachusetts resident this year, and it showed in the playoffs. Zito's 200+ innings would have been a welcome addition. Instead of having a leg up in signing him, the Mets will go in as co-favorites with the Yankees and Padres.

I am not sanguine about Jason Schmidt; that declining K rate spells disaster for a power pitcher. Anything beyond a 2 year contract will be a poor investment. Daisuke Matsuzaka will probably be a Mariner. The other options on the market are uninspiring. Jeff Suppan has been mentioned, for example. If I was to point to one free agent as a "holy crap, he got HOW much?!?" candidate, it would be him. Suppan is a mortal lock to be dramatically overpaid by someone. One playoff series does not a superstar make.

So if the Mets can't get Zito, they need to go for quantity over quality; pick up a bunch of starting pitchers and hope 5 good ones stick. Bringing back Hernandez and keeping the underrated Dave Williams around would be good progress toward that goal.

2. Make a Decision on the Corner Outfielders.

It's hard to imagine that Cliff Floyd will be back. If he can be resigned for a bargain rate, wonderful. But Floyd's injury history, after a fairly healthy 2005 (150 games, his most since 1998), reared its ugly head once again. He's averaged 109 games per year and turns 34 next year, so that trend seems unlikely to reverse itself. Realistically, he should be DH'ing, with the occasional fill-in as a 4th OF. Moreover, the Mets desperately need another power righty bat in the lineup. Carlos Lee would be a perfect fit, but I think the Rangers signed him to a long-term deal. Endy Chavez is nothing more than a 4th outfielder, pinch runner and defensive replacement; as great as his defense was, his bat was a tremendous liability in the playoffs.

In right field, Lastings Milledge proved he wasn't ready for prime time. Will he be next year? The Mets would seem to have little choice but to find out. They decided he was more valuable than Barry Zito, so they might as well play him and let things shake out where they may. Milledge will be 22 next year, but has little else to gain from AAA. With other expensive needs on the roster, a cheap, homegrown option in right field would seem to be the way to go. Milledge will simply have to sink or swim. One good sign: he showed plate patience in the big leagues, after being a very patient hitter in the minors.

3. Find a Second Baseman.

Jose Valentin did a nice job as a fill-in at second base, but isn't a long-term solution. He wore down as the season went on, which shouldn't be a shock considering he's 37 years old. The problem with that is that Valentin struggled mightily as a utility player. So, he can't be played everyday, because he'll wear down, but he can't play sporadically, because he needs to get into a hitting groove. The ideal solution might be to let Valentin man the position for 120 games or so, and work Anderson Hernandez in steadily, in the hopes that his bat will catch up with his glove.

4. Beef Up the Bench.

The Mets' weak bench was exploited in the NLCS. Julio Franco is the team's only reliable pinch hitter, and he can't play forever (or can he?). Endy Chavez and Chris Woodward are valuable players for their defense and ability to play multiple positions, but neither is going to give the team a big hit off the bench. A good right-handed bat who can make the opposition pay for bringing in a left-handed specialist would be very helpful.

Note that I'm not concerned about David Wright. Yes, he was lousy in the playoffs. Yes, he was clearly nervous. Well, why shouldn't he be? He's a young player in the playoffs for the first time. It happens. He'll be fine. I'm less optimistic about Aaron Heilman. The track record of relief pitchers who give up big playoff home runs is not a real positive one, and the psychological scars could linger.

On balance, it's still a very good team, and they should be the favorites to recapture the NL East next year.