NBA Preview – Eastern Conference

Well, have not written anything like this in a long time, but we’ll see if we remember how.  A lot of changes in the NBA this offseason, although mostly in the form of arms buildup.  The rich got richer, the poor destitute and the middle class more middle.  Really with the money problems abound in the league (even with former players), it was hard not to see this coming, with the luxury tax scaring the crap out of teams and whatnot.  While the league prognosis is a foggy because of this, the reality on the court is we are back to a 1980s sort of oligopoly.  There are “gangs” fighting for territory, well known brands, and so while only 8 teams or so have real hopes this year, the matchups among those 8 will be memorable.  So without further ado, haiku for the East, in order of predicted finish.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron is so damn good

Cavs D, outside shooting too

Defend Dwight this time

2. Boston Celtics

KG back, knees fine?

Rotation full of old men

Can Rondo be great?

3. Orland Magic

Hedo gone who cares

Carter in better cross board

If Dwight scores look out

4. Atlanta Hawks

Low funds but smart team

Crawford Smith give bench some depth

Top 3 hard to crack

5. Washington Wizards

Flip can really coach

Lots of scoring lots of points

Defense still needs work

6. Miami Heat

Dwayne Wade really great

Beasley could be great real soon

Who else plays for them?

7. Chicago Bulls

Derek Rose franchise guy

But defense needs to step up

Luol Deng could help

8. Philadelphia 76ers

Have horses for speed

Sync with Brand needed for wins

Could be covert good

9. Toronto Raptors

Lots of shooting here

Almost no defense here too

But games will be fun

10. Detroit Pistons

All that money buys

Is a couple of role guys

Where is the nasty

11. Indiana Pacers

White white so so white

The cast of hoosiers when they

Need the Pittsburgh Fish

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Uniforms are green theirs is

State cold accents real funny

Who cares about team

13. Charlotte Bobcats

Larry Brown can coach

Team defense always real sound

Can’t win games 4 2

14. New York Knicks

Fly up and down court

Without purpose or playoff hope

At least games are fun

15. New Jersey Nets

Will Russia buy them

Will Brooklyn ever have them

Will their fans watch them

Advertisements

Startling Redskins News

Obviously, it has to be The Onion:

WASHINGTON—Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn held a press conference Sunday to reassure fans that, despite an inability to effectively execute their offense, defense, or special teams, the Redskins were still somewhat comparable to a real football team. “It’s been a tough season so far, and even though we are 2-4, we still have players, uniforms, Motorola headsets—all the components that technically constitute an NFL team, sort of,” Zorn said while grimacing and making a “so-so” gesture with his hand. …

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

So, how does one go about reviewing David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames?  I’ll admit I have been a fan ever since catching him reading some of his material on an appearance with David Letterman many years back.  Indeed, between that, his “Santaland Diaries” bit on NPR, as well as other contributions, you sort of know what you are getting.  What can be said about Sedaris’ latest is that it delivers on all of the dimensions that you do expect.  The characters of David, Hugh, his family, Normandy (which is featured quite a bit) and the Rooster (who is sadly underutilized).  In particular his reminiscence of furniture and an old boarding house in Chapel Hill he used to live in, was particularly guffaw-inducing.  And as usual, he still manages to deftly combine with with some poignancy, such as his recollection of the old lady who he befriended (probably too strong a word) in his apartment.  The book ends with a seventy-page or so larger story about his quest to quit smoking, which is a longer form than I usually expect from him – but a good story to end with all the same.   Really, Sedaris’ books are critic proof, and the only question to ask was – is this funny, and was it worth reading?  Wait, I guess that is two questions.  Anyway, I certainly enjoyed it.

Good Hair

Good Hair is a rambling, genial, free flowing conversation about the phenomenon of African-American hair.  Chris Rock, the producer and narrator explains early on in the film that his interest in the topic was piqued when his oldest daughter complained that her natural hair was “bad hair”.  Thus begins his exploration of the topic, and the film covers a very wide – possibly too wide – range of topics in the field.  Some of these topics include simple motifs of beauty presented to black women – a visit to a place that sells extension hair is particularly revealing – weaves, relaxer and the black hairdressing industry.

How the black hairdressing industry is covered in this movie more or less describes the method of the film overall.  Rock wants to make a point about how seriously black women take their hair, so he is at a black beauty salon, on camera, just talking to the women in much the typical genial Chris Rock persona that fans of his (or people who watch TV) are probably well familiar with.  The discussion about hairdressing and the career path it is supposed to take leads to the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the people in Best in Show.  Indeed a very peculiar feature could be made about Derek J, a prime contender for the crown.

However, this is not the only topic.  Rock then explores the topic of hair relaxer and visits a plant where it is produced.  Relaxer traditionally has been created using Sodium Hydroxide, and we get amusing takes of women and men, and Al Sharpton, describing the burn.  However, there are alternate products on the market, and less damaging ingredients, but the movie does not seem to explore them.  Indeed if there is a criticism to be levied at the film it is that it veers away from poignant points.  While there might not be much poignancy to be had from a performance “haircutting” competition – the amount of chemicals used to look “beautiful” does have some poignancy and is a provocative topic.  Rock indeed is curious and gets some provocative insight, but when it looks like a real thesis could be developed, he veers away.  This is also true in a later segment where he discusses the value chain for weaves, and explores who is exactly actually financially benefiting from the zeal about black women’s hair.

While this tendency will probably make Good Hair more palatable and entertaining for a general audience, it holds it back from having the sort of impact as an essay that it could have.  On the other hand, perhaps that is just as well.  With the film that Rock, and conspirators from his old HBO show (Jeff Stilson, who directed, Lance Crouther co-wrote) put together, the aim was clearly more genial and audience friendly.  Chris Rock fans (like me) will go expecting Chris Rock to do Chris Rock things.  To that end, it is not a disappointment.  Rock is a funny, curious, host and his persona carries much of the exposition through.  The movie is a very entertaining time, but Rock shows flashes of it being a little deeper than that.  The topic and how it weaves into socio-economic issues in the African-American community are interesting, and here Rock shows that a fascinating movie could be made about those issues – even if this one is content to simply be a conversation starter.

Ceiba

In beautiful Washington, DC, this week is Restaurant Week.  As many cities have, this is when restaurants throughout the area offer prix fixe menus for lunch and/or dinner so diners who might not ordinarily go to a restaurant can have a full experience.  Of course, the experiences vary, as some restaurants offer severely restricted menus or hidden charges that can drive costs up.  My last trip on Restaurant Week took me to Taberna del Alabardero, a renowned Spanish restaurant, which was frankly a severe disappointment.  Spanish aficionados (at least traditionally) might call their flavours muted – I call them non-existent.  However, after much deliberation, I took the plunge again at Ceiba, run by the management group that runs a few other well regarded DC spots. (Tenpenh and Acadiana, to name two)  Ceiba is a sort of pan-Latino restaurant, that offers a good selection, and a pretty solid Restaurant Week deal, as I had a choice of any of the entrees on its regular menu.

If there is one virtue of Ceiba I could be completely smitten with it was the service.  I got to the restaurant at 7:15 for my 7:30 reservation and got all checked in, and got to the bar while waiting for the rest of my party to show up.  One of my friends who was not on the intial list was in the neighborhood, and the restaurant accomodated him with no problems.  The waiter was patient and offered explanations for any item, and while the service was a little slow, for a good conversational meal, it was no problem at all.  It was a wholly pleasant experience.

The overall menu was solid.  At the bar, I ordered a Batida, a mixed drink served in a surprisingly girly cocktail presentation, with tamarind extract, pineapple juice, passion fruit puree and Pitu Cachaca.  The colour was a not particularly appetizing brown, and the taste was fine but a little too sweet.  The Peruvian Summer (Macchu Pisco, passion fruit puree, ginger ale, lime simple syrup) was more refreshing.  The appetizer was the Bermuda Fish Chowder, a hearty red chowder served with rum and a sherry pepper sauce.  Both the rum and the sauce gave both a good kick and some sweetness.  It was a good soup.  The beef empenadas saltenas, with olives, eggs and raisins, however, was truly outstanding.  It was the one dish that was not just good, but creates that visceral need in my tastebuds, the mental crack that great cuisine offers.  The entree I had was the Slow Braised Pork Shank, which sits in a bowl of Cuban beans and rice and collard greens and is accompanied by a habanero chile, bread crumbs and orange.  The flavor was deep and very strong, and meat had the tenderness and flavor one’d expect.  The rice and beans make a solid pairing.

The only real source of disappointment was the desert.  My Espresso Chocolate Cake was a bit dry.  It did not have the fudgy melt-in-your mouth quality one’d expect, though the flavor was certainly not bad.  However, in a way after thinking about it further, the desert sort of summarized the meal.  The individual dishes were pretty good, the service was excellent, and there is nothing I can really complain about.  However, aside from those empanadas, there is nothing I can praise to the sky either.  It is no orgasm on a plate, that’s for sure.  So while Ceiba is a good restaurant, even possibly very good – it still resides in my mind as a measured accomplishment, and not the transcendent life altering meal I was hoping for.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

After much suspense searching for a sponsor, Screen on the Green, the annual series of movies on the National Mall made its grand return. To debut this season, they harkened back to Steven Spielberg’s 1978/1980 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Given the ubiquity of Spielberg, some of the more purely commercial movies of the earlier age tend to get lost – I mean everyone knows Jaws but how many free associate that with Spielberg. I remember seeing it on the old ABC Saturday Night Movie when I was something like 8 years old – frankly I barely remember, so I was approaching it fresh. We know the film was made in 1978 and then re-issued in 1980 with some changes – and it is the 1980 “Special Edition” that is the film of today. What I did not know was whether the film, effects and all, still worked nearly thirty years.

But work it does, and the sense of wonder and awe associated with the sheer notion of an alien race contacting us is latent. Along with Contact, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the rare film that has the sort of academic fascination with extra-terrestrials that frankly, you’d expect in real life from actual scientists. The most amazing thing about something like Independence Day is the unusual lack of “holy crap!” sentiment coming from the characters – the most earth shattering site you’ll ever see, and yet it is played as if it is equivalent to a deer crossing (not that that is not exciting – hey, my life is boring too) Here, when the characters (most notably the family man played by Richard Dreyfus) see the UFO and are implanted with the image, they are awestruck and cannot shake what they have seen. Spielberg augments the acting with symbols everywhere – a sound pattern, a ship in the Gobi desert … like M Night Shymalan did in Signs (almost undoubtedly influenced by this film), the resolution of the signs are not important, but they evoke wonder and curiosity.

In fact, the Dreyfus obsession ends up causing his wife and children to leave, and this is where the film is very weak. Like many of the animated Disney fare, our hero needs to ford ahead with their quest (which this kind of is), but how do you get rid of the inconvenient family. The reactions of Dreyfus’ wife and children to his changed mood seems kind of ham handed and is thoroughly unconvincing. It was as if Spielberg did not how to get rid of the family and just picked any ol’ method. However, thankfully, this is just a small quibble, and it does set up Dreyfus’ journey to the site of his vision and the inevitable alien encounter, which is appropriately awesome, even thirty years later.

The site of the UFO is pretty convincing by 1980 standards, much more so than the effects of Superman for instance, which looks quite dated. The aliens when depicted, do work, and when we go inside the UFO, the columns of light and machinery are both amazing, implausible (in a good way) and mysterious. The road to the end is a little rocky, but the payoff is brilliant.

P.S. Yay, if you google “incest, olive garden”, look what you find!