Thursday, May 29, 2008

Harvey Korman: 1927-2008

"What a fucking blow." -- Uncle Junior, "The Sopranos".

Harvey Korman goes to his grave knowing that millions of people will continue to admire him for his brilliant turn as Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. For my money, he was, with Gene Wilder, one of the more underrated comic actors we've seen. And it's all there in Mel Brooks' classic film, even though Harvey leaves quite a resume.

A lot of people will name the infamous "Gone With The Wind" skit he was in on "The Carol Burnett Show". The scene still holds up, it's on a lot of lists as being one of the funniest ever on television. The lists are everywhere, they'll have the classic SNL skits, the Dave Chappelle "Rick James" skit, Ed Ames throwing the tomahawk on Johnny Carson, and on every list, you'll have the Carol Burnett skit. Harvey also has the unfortunate honor of providing the voice of The Great Gazoo on "The Flintstones" (often cited as that show's "Jump the Shark" moment). And he was on the train wreck that was The Star Wars Holiday Special, the one where Bea Arthur sings. Many remember Korman and Tim Conway as a comedy team, a team that frankly seems dated.

Beyond all of that, Harvey was a favorite of Mel Brooks. He had a way with delivering a line about "the piss boy" in History of the World: Part I. But his shot at immortality was of course Blazing Saddles. It was Harvey's moment, and he simply nailed it. The thing about those great, classic comedies that you remember are the performances by the main players. Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase & Bill Murray are all essential to Caddyshack. The same goes for Blazing Saddles. You need Alex Karras punching that horse in the face. You need Cleavon Little, and Gene Wilder, and Madeline Kahn and Slim Pickens. But imagine that movie without Harvey Korman. You just can't. There are so many scenes with Korman that immediately make you laugh out loud.

My personal favorite is when Lamarr auditioned for the biggest scum of villain he could find to "derail" the plans of saving Rockridge:

Bart (giving his qualifications): Stampeding cattle.
Hedley Lamarr: That's not much of a crime.
Bart: Through the Vatican?
Hedley Lamarr: [smiling] Kinkyyyy. Sign here.

He has those great scenes with Slim Pickens, where Lamarr uses such big words he uses "his tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore." My favorite exchange:

Taggart: We'll work up a "Number 6" on 'em.
Hedley Lamarr: "Number 6"? I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that one...
Taggart: Well, that's where we go a-ridin' into town, a whampin' and whompin' every livin' thing that moves within an inch of its life. Except the women folks, of course.
Hedley Lamarr: You spare the women?
Taggart: NAW. We rape the shit out of them at the Number 6 Dance later on.
Hedley Lamarr: Marvelous.

And that was Harvey Korman in that classic movie, doing that voodoo that he does so well. Korman really didn't do much following History of The World, save some bit television guest roles and some voice work. But we'll always have Rockridge, always have Hedy -- I mean, Hedley -- Lamarr. Wilder, Karras John Hillerman (who played Howard Johnson, and became more famous from "Magnum P.I.") and Brooks are really the only ones left from Blazing Saddles. I think Korman's career was very similar to that of Ted Knights. Both were key supporting players on classic television shows, both did voice work for animated series, and both gave unforgettable performances in comedies we'll never tire of watching.

José Guillen Got It Right (AND He's A Royal)

I've never found anything even remotely worth liking about José Guillen. He's been the 500-pound elephant that's invaded every team's clubhouse he's ever been in. And he famously tussled with one of my all-time favorite players, Hal McRae, when Guillen was a member of the (then) Tampa Bay Devil Rays, managed by Hal. Who would have thought that Guillen would be the one to finally do for the Royals the very needed thing that hadn't been done since...Hal McRae?

Keep in mind, I'm still trying to get past the fact that Guillen found out how to speak fluent English. I never could get past the idea of Guillen showing up for his first press conference at Kaufman Stadium, wearing uniform #11 for the Royals, a number which Hal wore as both a player and manager for the team. After learning about Guillen's surly past, I figured it was his way of sticking it to Hal. There's a part of me that still thinks that. In fact, when a reporter brought up the fact that Guillen was wearing the number donned by McRae for years, he seemed overjoyed, despite their checkered past. I don't think it's slanderous in anyway to suggest that Guillen is a major prick. EVERYONE swears by this. He might be the one guy you can say, without reservation, has a worse reputation than Barry Lamar Bonds. I know some who really like Barry. I can't find anybody who takes a liking to Guillen. Dayton Moore was besieged by anyone to avoid the guy like the plague last winter, when he wanted to throw that stupid money at him. It was almost like Dayton knew he was auditioning for Ned Beatty's role in Deliverance, knew he was going to get ass-raped, and went ahead and enjoyed it.

I defended the signing of Guillen, similar to the signing of Gil Meche. Mostly this is because I subscribe to the idea that the Royals absolutely have to overpay for free agents, especially free agents who wouldn't get that sort of money from any other team. It's the only way the Royals can be taken seriously when they want to attract GOOD free agents, let alone keep some of their younger players to long term deals. I defended Guillen when he struggled mightily at the plate, as whispers that turned into screams suggested that being off steroids had brought Guillen down to earth. He has a canon for an arm in right field, something the Royals defense desperately needed. I had him penciled in for .265/33 HR/110 RBI with an on-base percentage around .365 and a slugging percentage north of .500. Not numbers that justify the contract Dayton Moore got him to autograph, but hell it'd be at least SOMETHING.

Now I'm again José Guillen's biggest supporter, because last night's infamous tirade was worth the entire free agent contract. The Royals haven't had an outburst like that since Hal McRae legendarily ripped phones out of a wall and tossed them at foolish beat writers. That was in May, 1993. That Royals team went on to win, and frankly win big at times. Not enough to win the (then) American League West, which was clearly going to be taken by MVP Frank Thomas and the White Sox. The Royals finished 3rd in the West that year, going 84-78 but playing very well after McRae's outburst. It was George Brett's final season, and he could only DH. That Royals team had no regular hit over .300, and Catcher Mike Macfarlane led all Royals in homers with 20. Jose "Chico" Lind was the everyday 2nd baseman, and ex-Twins Gary Gaetti and Greg Gagne found Jesus and were actually vital to that team's success. The point is, after McRae shook a little life into everybody, the team finally started winning. And Kevin "Sleepy" McReynolds was on that squad!

Last night, Guillen really spoke for what the franchise has been since Brett's retirement. The face of the franchise for year's had been Mike Sweeney, and even though he is probably the nicest guy to have ever played Major League Baseball, I never really got the feeling that winning games was something that drove the guy. And I don't see it this year. Alex Gordon has all of the tools to become a David Wright, but sometimes he looks like he'd rather be on the beach hanging out with Patrick Swayze's crew in Point Break. If you shot David DeJesus with truth serum, he'd probably go on and on about how he's the luckiest guy in the world because there wouldn't be another team in the majors that would dare pencil him in their starting lineup, let alone ride the bench. I still expect great things from Mark Teahan, but he and John Buck constantly disappoint me and are mostly reminders of the Carols Beltran trade. The Royals still don't have a shortstop, anybody resembling a shortstop, or any clear cut idea on who would even be a backup plan for a shortstop.

So let's all applaud Guillen for if nothing else his moment of honesty. No burying Guillen here, only praise. He's right in saying nobody wants to win more than Manager Trey Hillman. We already knew Guillen was never a big reader of "How To Win Friends And Influence People", but I think he might have influenced some by finally telling it like it is. Yes, it'd be better if a Gordon or Teahan showed such passion. And Guillen may not even hit his weight. But maybe this guy has more of Hal McRae in him than I thought.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Royal Issues

There are eight game losing streaks, and then there's getting swept in back-to-back four-game series. And that's where your 2008 Kansas City Royals are on the day after Memorial Day, which is really the first time to assess the state of what could be another sorry season.

Unfortunately the Royals can't play the Tigers every day (Detroit is tied with KC for last in the American League Central, and the Royals would be deep in the cellar if not for the way they've handled the disappointing Tigers). Starting with Jon Lester's no-hitter last Monday, the Royals have had just a dreadful East Coast swing. They get six games at home starting tonight against the Twins. Somehow, they have to find a way to take four of six before hitting the road again next week at the White Sox and Yankees.

Getting swept by the Red Sox and Blue Jays was beyond brutal, mostly because the Royals have no offense. They have to find a shortstop, somehow, because Tony Pena Jr. isn't the answer now or for the future. They need to stop fucking around with Mark Teahan and simply move him permanently to first base and give up this whole Ross Gload thing. Gload shouldn't be an everyday starter anywhere. Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star has the perfect idea of who the Royals should shake up their lineup. I'm not sold on the idea of Teahan leading off, but I like the idea of Joey Gathright playing center field everyday because of his quicks and defense, so I'd lead him off and hit Teahan 3rd. If I'm Trey Hillman, here's a lineup I'd start with tonight:

Gathright, CF
Grudzielanek, 2B
Teahan, 1B
Guillen, RF
Gordon, 3B
Butler, DH
DeJesus, LF
Buck, C
Somebody not named Pena, SS

Not anything close to perfect, but a shakeup is needed. The Royals pitching is decent enough. Planet Zack Greinke is finally becoming the ace we all thought he would. Brian Bannister is going to be a solid starter for years to come, and has been much better than his 4-6 record. Gil Meche is exactly what we all thought he would be, which is a good 3rd starting pitcher. Unfortunately, he's been the Royals number 1 since opening day, which means he's always going up against other team's aces. Luke Hochevar is coming around, but you can't expect big things from him this year. The Royals now have one of the best closers in the game in Joakim Soria, but of course he hasn't had any chance to save any games since the day before Lester baffled the Royals lineup.

Last week, George Brett said the AL Central was there for the taking, even for this team. That's a bit optimistic, even this early, even from the greatest Royal of them all. To paraphrase Rick Pitino from his Boston Celtic Days, "George Brett isn't walking through that door. Hal McRae isn't walking through that door. Amos Otis isn't walking through that door." Who I'd like to see darken their door is somebody who can solidify the shortstop position, a position the Royals have NEVER gotten big production from (save Jay Bell's 1997 season, when the Royals were again dreadful). And I'm still not big on David DeJesus as a long-term fix in the outfield. This team really needs some sort of jolt to transfix their overall mood.

It's just too bad Barry Lamar Bonds can't play the field, because he'd bring all sorts of fun to this club.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

We could have just thrown in your Kansas City Royals as an annual death pool candidate, but word came down earlier today that Director Sydney Pollack has gone to his great reward. He's mostly remembered as an award winning film director, although a number of his movies don't hold up like many of his contemporaries, and I found him much better as an actor in small roles.

There are two great small but effective performances from Pollack that I'll always remember. The first was in Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut, where he played Victor Ziegler, a horny old man who ultimately warns Tom Cruise's character to stop going to those crazy orgies. Or at the very least, stop snooping around as to who's behind all of those masks.

The second, and most recent, was his brilliant turn in one of the final episodes of "The Sopranos", where he played Warren Feldman, an insane former doctor who becomes friends with Johnny Sack in a prison hospital. "Let me spare you the awkwardness," Warren tells Johnny when they first meet. "I killed my wife. Not that it's any excuse. I had reason to believe she was cheating on me at the time with her chiropractor. Granted, I was abusing cocaine at the time. And alcohol. But I came home one day, shot her four times. Twice in the head. I killed her aunt, too. I didn't know she was there. And the mailman. At that point, I had to fully commit." The episode ("Stage 5") finds Johnny dealing with the death sentence that came from almost 40 years of chain smoking, contemplating his legacy and ultimately dying in the prison hospital. But it's Pollack's performance that steals every scene. Yes, David Chase made it a point to cast old film directors in small roles throughout the course of the series, but Pollack made the most of his moment here.

The irony from that role is Pollack died in the same way that Johnny Sack did. Found out about a spreading cancer only to pass months later.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obscure Movie Of The Week: Sleep With Me (1994)

This is the movie that is mainly remembered for Quentin Tarantino's cameo in which he explains how Top Gun is actually the biggest homosexual movie ever, detailing all of it's homoerotic subtext to Todd Field's character at a party. It's also the first film where Parker Posey shows us her tits.

Sleep with Me is a bizarre love triangle of a movie with a simple premise. Joseph (Eric Stoltz) marries Sarah (Meg Tilly, in what looks like one of her final roles), oblivious to the fact that his best friend Frank (Craig Sheffer) has been in love with her his entire life. And from the beginning, it seems that Sarah's a lot more interest in Frank than she is Joseph. Well, that's because she is.

Joseph and Sarah are too young to get married. Joseph seems to think his engagement is nothing but an excuse to throw a big party. Both are happy with all of the friends in their lives, including Athena (Parker Posey), who seduces Joseph, and Pamela (the late Adrienne Shelly, who steals every scene in the film). But Sarah is really happy to have her true soul mate Frank around. She even privately confesses her feelings to him at her rehearsal dinner, while Joseph is busy trying to find new ways to get smashed out of his mind. In fact, we never see Joseph (Stoltz in perfect form as he always is) show anything resembling loving feelings towards his life. And really how can he with the likes of Parker Posey and Joey Lauren Adams crashing his poker party? Frank comes off as sympathetic, even though he covets his best friend's wife, because it's implied he'd be the better husband.

Six different writers wrote different parts of the movie. Tilly, Smoltz and Sheffer do most of the heavy lifting, but it helps to have Posey and company as strong support. All of the characters seem extremely real. And then we get to the final scene and finally meet a guy named Sid, who you'd never expect to hang out with this group.

Sid would be the film geek played by Tarantino. Even the people who write "Sleep With Me" off remember Tarantino's scene. It's his only scene, and he's there to dissect the homosexual movie that is "Top Gun." Yes, his monologue has become the stuff of legend, but Tarantino paid a big price for it. Turns out the "Gay Top Gun" scene was written by QT's old friend and writing partner Roger Avary. No matter what story you choose to believe, Avary did actually co-write "Pulp Fiction" with Quentin, and was even on stage with him at the 1995 Oscars to accept his Best Original Screenplay award (where, in a moment that was funny and also a jab at awards favorite Forrest Gump, Avary told the world he really had to go pee). Roger Avary intended to use the "Top Gun" monologue in one of his own movies. Tarantino barked it out in "Sleep With Me" without Avary's permission or even knowledge. Stoltz, who around the same time starred in Avary's Killing Zoe, told Roger about the incident before the film was released. So began the fall out between the two writers, which is a shame because Tarantino and Avary seem to work better together than they do alone.

"Sleep With Me" also marks the final theatrical release of Meg Tilly's career, which is a shame because she's miles ahead of her crazy sister Jennifer in terms of talent. While we're saddled with Jennifer ruining movies, Meg has officially retired from acting. This may not be the equivalent of Ted Williams homering in his final at bat. More like John Kruk getting a base hit in his last trip to the plate, only to retire a few years too early. At least she can still go to sleep nights with the knowledge that she isn't JENNIFER Tilly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What is Rolling Stone?

I stopped getting Rolling Stone in late 2000. It was after Jann Wenner and company went public with how they needed to really change with the times and basically become Maxim. Which they clearly never intended to do. But the big problem was that articles in RS, no matter the content, were going to be a lot shorter. Gone were the long in-depth pieces that made the Hunter S. Thompson's of the world household names. Wenner's thinking was that nobody had the attention spans for that sort of thing. Those longer articles were what I actually wanted from RS, and I checked out when they announced the change.

And I'm still out, basically because anything I want from them I can get on their website, even though anything new is fast food as opposed to the epic sweeps of the earlier work. Yes, I know Mac G suggests we should all give Wenner and Company another chance. But the above picture shows us that Rolling Stone wants to remain all things to all people. Or it could be they really wanted to run a cover with a picture of Old Man Henley in a shirt Radar O'Reilly would wear in MASH. The interesting thing about their latest cover story is that it's written by Charles M. Young, who wrote the LAST cover story for the Eagles for Rolling Stone, in 1979.

So who's Rolling Stone trying to attract? Yes, their website is still a source for new music (from established acts). They're often late to the party in terms of finding new artists, something they were quite good at during their first 10 years. But other magazines and of course the internet beats RS big time in that area. They've had the same film critic for over 20 years. Peter Travers is good in this area, but we usually learn about these films before Travers has a chance to put his own spin on them.

Making the cover of Rolling Stone used to be a sign that you officially arrived. This was, and to an extent still is, the case if you weren't a musician. Television from SNL to Letterman to Seinfeld to The Sopranos and last week's The Hills are perfect examples. The Eagles put out their "new" album back in November, 2007. And RS is just now running a cover story on their "bitter feud/big comeback." If Rolling Stone wanted to be at the start of that thing, they should have gotten the story after the album sold it's first million copies. Back in NOVEMBER. Shit, 60 Minutes beat them to this. In NOVEMBER! I would have been fine with the late-to-the-party effort, had Young's piece been even more detailed and in-depth, like he was in 1979.

Last year, RS did a good piece on the "bitter feud" regarding Pink Floyd. An article that would have been even better had the "smaller stories" mantra not been in place. What Wenner and Rob Sheffield and others don't recognize is that people will still spend incredible amounts of time reading and getting into things they're interested in. Vanity Fair still does that. Hell, Maxim even does this on occasion, and they continue to offer many more suggestive pictures than the RS cover picture of "The Hills" babes. Blender does a better job of detailing the catalogs of bands like The Stones and Bowie and the Eagles and Dylan, going back and revisiting their entire bodies of work. It's better than what itunes does with their "Essentials" on artists. When Blender does this feature, which they do each month, they'll detail every album, grading which ones are crucial and which ones to avoid at all costs.

Rolling Stone's original mantra was famously "All The News That Fits". Now they just offer bits of news that make you go elsewhere to get a whole lot more.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Obscure Movie Of The Week: The Jazz Singer (1980)

"There are two types of people in this world. Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't" --Bob 'Bobby' Wiley (Bill Murray), What About Bob, 1991.

Three things regarding Neil Diamond surprised me this week after listening to his new album Home Before Dark:

  1. Neil's never had a number 1 album, although that little fact changes in a big way next week as his new album is slated to become his first.

  2. Neil isn't the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (I assumed this was a given, more on that later)

  3. The first ever winner of the Razzie Award for Worst Actor in a movie was given to one Neil Leslie Diamond for The Jazz Singer.

Regarding the last one, I assumed Neil was critically panned for the only movie he's been in where he isn't portraying himself. I'm just surprised that Neil was the award's first ever recipient, although after seeing the movie, one wonders if the Razzie's themselves weren't invented just for Neil's attempt at an acting career.

The movie was a horrible idea from the start. As charismatic -- and often cheesy -- as Neil tends to be performing his music, he's timid and awkward in the role of Jess Robin. Roger Ebert mentions that Neil spends most of the film "looking at people's third shirt buttons, as if he can't be bothered to meet their eyes and relate with them." That's about right, although it is worth mentioning that at one time, while on tour Diamond's contract rider stated that anyone caught looking at him or making eye contact was to be fired. Robin is a Jewish cantor in his father's synagogue, but still has dreams of moving from New York to Los Angeles in the hopes of hitting it big in the music industry. This sort of nonsense gets cold water thrown on it by Robin's father, played by....Laurence Olivier???

It needs to be mentioned that it this point in his distinguished acting career, Olivier had gone completely batshit nuts. In fact, he performs this movie with some bizarre, seemingly made-up accent with broken English, going out of his way to ham it up with every scene. Olivier would famously call the movie "This piece of shit" just after filming it. He'd later apologize to director Richard Fleischer, writing him a handwritten ten-page letter to give an explanation as to why he was making so many movies strictly for the money. That has to be the only reason Sir Laurence took time for this. His character says he "haff no son" upon learning Jess is getting a divorce.

What Papa Robin doesn't realize is that when the opportunity presents itself, his son will perform with an all-black singing group. In an all-black club. Wearing BLACKFACE! He's busted as the "white guy" by a heckler played by an up-and-coming Ernie Hudson. So maybe a life 3,000 miles away would do the boy good (never mind the fact that at the time, Diamond himself was almost 40-years old). Jess needs to leave his wife and babbling idiot of a father for the riches that come with becoming a rock star (the Robin family's motto is that Jewish cantor's are poor because....God is poor). When he gets to LA, Jess immediately meets the woman (Lucie Arnaz) who has his dreams mapped out perfectly.

Jess gets in a minor fight with his new girlfriend, decides to hitchhike, take up smoking, grow a beard and play at seedy honkytonks for an entire year. When he finally returns, everything is right in the world as "Hello Again" plays while Jess finds Arnaz's character waiting for him...with a brand new baby boy, which we are just to assume is his. Which is a good thing because his father accepts Jess again because he's given him a grandson. And of course Jess becomes a major star. He becomes Neil Diamond.

There are those who swear by this movie, despite just how awful it is. Search for "Neil Diamond" in youtube, and you'll see the polarizing effect he has on people with the many comments on any video. You don't want to piss Neil fan off. These people are the reason there's a 25th Anniversary deluxe edition of "The Jazz Singer". They like the fact that "Hello Again" is played at least four times during the movie. The soundtrack also gives us other Neil signature tunes like "Love On The Rocks" and his over-the-top anthem "America". So I think a lot of people are confusing their fondness for the movie's songs with the content of the movie. Many of the scenes in "The Jazz Singer" were were ad-libbed on the spot without any idea where they would be placed. The film went through two directors (Sidney J. Furie was the original hire), and Diamond had a hard time getting worked up for a scene where he has an argument with Arnaz. Oddly enough, Diamond made his band perform a Barry Manilow song to get him filled with enough rage to pull off the scene.

So acting wasn't in the cards for Neil Diamond. He's had a music career like nobody else. Many immediately think of Neil as an adult contemporary softy. But he's loved in all walks of music. He sang "Dry Your Eyes" in The Last Waltz with The Band during their last concert. Urge Overkill famously covered "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" in Pulp Fiction. So he's got a lasting legacy in movies without "The Jazz Singer". Neil's now gone the Johnny Cash route, collaborating with producer Rick Rubin for a second album. Rubin strips away the gloss and sentimentality that usually follows Neil, and his music is better than ever. Yes, there are those who like Neil and those who don't. Then there are also those who compare Neil to Elvis, notably when it comes to "Sweet Caroline". The King used to cover "Sweet Caroline" on tour towards the end of his career, and die-hard Neil Diamond faithful will have none of it. These are the Neil fans who have a soft spot in their heart for "The Jazz Singer".

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Husker Fan Fascination With Announcers

The Lincoln Journal Star has been doing segments this week on Obsessions of Husker Football Fans, and briefly dived into how some fans view some national announcers as "Anti-Nebraska". That's not necessarily the case, but it's easy to trace where enthusiasm over who's calling the games comes from. It starts with the Husker radio announcer. Before there was "one guy", there was a time when numerous local announcers could call the games on different stations.

Everybody points to Lyle Bremser as the gold standard. Bremser was the voice of the Huskers from 1939-1982, and his most famous call is obviously his brilliant "Man, Woman & Child" call of Johnny Rodgers punt return in the 1971 Nebraska/Oklahoma Game of the Century. Bremser was to radio what Keith Jackson was to television -- at least in Nebraska. He was succinct and crips, always painting the perfect picture on radio that put you right in the action. And as the "all the way home" call on Rodgers run suggests, Bremser displayed perfect passion for the home team at the appropriate moments. It's that famous call of Johnny the Jet's moment that allows Bremser's voice to live on, and he nailed it, like Vin Scully calling the last inning of a Sandy Koufax no-hitter.

Bremser was followed by Kent Pavelka, who also became a fan favorite because he ultimately was the biggest fan who just so happened to have a microphone. Pavelka was an unabashed homer, Harry Carey calling a college football game. Hell, Pavelka would also throw in the occasionally "Holy Cow." You never had to worry about which side of the fence Pavelka was on. He worked out because he was All-Nebraska and made no apologies for it. Pavelka would be the most depressed man walking the earth when the Corn lost, and overflowed with enthusiasm over an 8-yard gain. His most legendary call is Tommie Frazier's 75-yard touchdown run in the Nebraska/Florida Fiesta Bowl, more famous than Jim Nantz's call on television. Pavelka was in love with all things Husker football, so excited that during the 1995 Nebraska/Colorado game, he noticed on a series when both Jason and Christian Peter sat out a defensive series that "Nebraska was playing with their Peter's out." And Nebraska fans loved every second of it, never mind the fact that Pavelka still managed to give listeners all the necessary information regarding what was happening on the field.

So the big problem is that Post-Pavleka, there hasn't been an identifiable radio voice, at least not one who encouraged fans to turn the television volume down to listen to the radio. Paul Aaron and his billions bought the exclusive rights to carry the Husker Radio games (and not just football either). Aaron wanted to put his own stamp on things, and Pavelka was suddenly out. And it seemed like nobody else wanted Kent to leave the Husker airwaves. Warren Swain followed, and he even though he wasn't bad, he wasn't great either. Swain lost his chance at his own Bremser/Pavelka moment during the 1997 Nebraska/Missouri game. He at first called the pass "incomplete", only to excitedly rally after Adrian Fiala noticed Davison's dive. Instead, the call of Matt Davison's catch from that game became one of Brent Musburger's signature moments, which is ironic because until then (and sometimes afterwards) Musburger was viewed as "Anti-Nebraska" by some Husker faitful. But really, if anyone should have an axe to grind with Nebraska, it's Musburger, if only for getting busted for having an open can of Coors Light after calling a Husker game in Lincoln a few years ago. Swain's biggest sin in the eyes and ears of Husker Nation was that he wasn't Bremser or Pavelka. Sure he was serviceable enough in calling the game, but from a radio perspective, Husker fan wanted a clear homer in that booth.

Which leads to the absolute train wreck that was Jim Rose as voice of the Huskers. As far back as 1993, Rose was, as Christopher Moltisanti would say, the "hair" apparant. He was hosting "Sports Nightly" and certainly had a knowledge of Husker history to go along with a great sounding voice. This was a time when sports-talk radio had yet to really take off, and Rose had something going with that nightly show. It was a great listen on commutes down I-80, and I for one assumed one day Rose would be calling Husker games and be quite good at it. And then something happened. Reports suggest an oversized ego enveloped Rose. He wound up leaving KLIN in Lincoln to work for Entercom in Kansas City, where dreams of doing some play-by-play work with the Royals danced in his head. Shortly thereafter, Swain was out, and Rose rode back into Nebraska to ultimately be named the new voice of the Huskers (despite Pavelka still openly pushing to get the gig back).

Rose never could find his voice in that seat. It seemed like he wanted to be Mitch Holthus, Lyle Bremser and Keith Jackson all at once, all the while trying to invent new phrases to describe a down and distance which ultimately confused the listener. There was an article in the Omaha World Herald where he distanced himself from all things Pavelka. And on-air during the games at least, it was just a mess and difficult to try to even listen to. Listeners wound up hoping every game was on television, even pay-per-view, just so listening to Rose wasn't the only available option. Greg Sharpe is the new man at the mike, and he's obviously a great talent with an impressive resume, but the jury's still out as to how much Husker Nation will embrace him.

Of course the thing that works against anyone as the Husker radio voice is that now almost every game is televised. And just like Steven M. Sipple says in his article, if one of those announcers bad mouths Nebraska, they get the anti-Nebraska tag. But come on. Shouldn't respectable announcers have pointed out all of the WRONG things from, oh, say the 2007 season? The worst situation to be in when watching a game is having a crazed fan yelling at the announcers for how bad the team is playing -- and this happens ALL the time!

The only broadcaster I can think of who gives the impression that he goes out of his way to poke at the Huskers would be Mark May, and I'd say a lot of that comes from spending a lot of air time with Trev Alberts, who was CLEARLY a Husker Homer. But again, criticizing the Huskers and the state of the program especially last year was supposed to happen. You can't blame anyone doing the play-by-play or color for that, whether they're from here or not. What I can't understand is why some people expect network announcers -- with no ties to anything Nebraska -- to become Kent Pavelka during a Husker game.

It's not just a Nebraska situation (plenty of other team's fans hate Musburger, even though he's now becoming the voice of college football). But when you look at the landscape of sports broadcasters, I'd say the majority of them have gone out of their way to be downright kind to Husker Nation. Chris Fowler has repeatedly stated how much ESPN's College Gameday loves to come to Lincoln. He's gone on national radio and waxed nostalgically about having a steak at Misty's on Friday night, and hitting the O Street bars after they wrap up on Saturday. "They (Husker fans) get it," Fowler says. Keith Jackson introduced Tunnel Vision for at least two years. Jim Rome has an open fondness for Husker Fan. I'm still trying to find the video on youtube of how brilliant Bob Costas was in describing how it feels for Nebraska fans after Osborne won his first National Championship.

It's what Costas did at that moment that some Husker Faithful want from every announcer, all the time. I wish every announcer would call a game like Don Criqui did in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Criqui gets excited at all of the proper moments for both teams, and let's the game itself breathe. Ironically enough, Criqui is now the voice of Notre Dame football for Westwood One. And that's what Nebraska Football has been missing since Pavelka left the building: An identifiable voice. If for no other reason, it's needed to stifle those who firmly believe the Brent Musburger's of the world put on their headset just to piss off the natives. Brent did let everyone in on a little signal USC quarterback John David Booty used to pass to receivers during last year's USC/Nebraska game. Who the hell knew then the Blackshirts were better off with Musburger at the helm than Cosgrove?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Obscure Movie Of The Week: Kill Me Again (1989)

Not just a great reason to post that picture of Val Kilmer, but also a good time to give the link to Maxim's great article on the 15-year anniversary of True Romance. It's three pages of fun to click through. Interesting to note the two biggest stars to emerge from that now cult classic are Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini. But that movie's never been obscure. Kill Me Again, and earlier Val Kilmer effort, is. And it's directed by John Dahl, who also gave us the previously mentioned classic The Last Seduction. Oh, and Michael Madsen's got a pivotal role.

This is Dahl's directorial debut, and it's in the same genre as "Seduction. And just like "Seduction", Kill Me Again only found a life after garnering critical acclaim. The original studio shelved the film, and only received limited release following the positive reviews. The movie's a major turning point in Kilmer's life. It's the second movie he made with now ex-wife Joanne Whalley, and, if you believe Kilmer's interviews, the movie where he loaned Michael Madsen money on the set and didn't get it back for years. But on to the actual film. Whalley plays Fay Forrester, a character cut from the same cloth as Bridget Gregory/Wendy Kroy from "Seduction". Fay and her man Vince (a never better Michael Madsen) have just swiped $800,000. In full Bridget Gregory mode, she gets in a fight with Vince over the money, and winds up tracking down Private Investigator Jack Andrews (Kilmer) for help. Fay wants Jack to help her fake her own death. In return, Jack gets $5K up front, and $5K when she's "dead".

Jack's got his own problems. In fact, he just lost his right pinkie finger because he owes big money to big time loan sharks, so he not only sees this as a nice pay check, but he becomes mighty attracted to Fay. So you know where this thing's going. Yes, the $800,000 belongs to the same goons Jack has on his payroll. So Jack concocts a scheme to declare Fay dead, only to have Vince find her still alive. So now you've got a crazed Michael Madsen after Fay, the money, and now poor Jack. Imagine the Madsen character from Reservoir Dogs and you know what you're getting from him here. In fact, I'm sure movie geek Quentin Tarantino saw this movie and knew he had to cast Madsen in Dogs.

Kill Me Again is not nearly as clever as "Seduction", but Dahl does get that star making performance from Madsen. He's over-the-top, sadistic, and everything you'd come to expect from him playing a low-life. And Whalley, who's good but not Linda Fiorentino good, keeps you riveted enough to pay special attention. She does have a doe-eyed sweetness to her that adds to her performance. Kilmer's performance is unique for him. You can see Kilmer actually TRY not to exude any sort of charisma at times, but he can't help himself.

Unlike "Seduction", our girl doesn't get away with the whole thing. It's a nice debut from Dahl, who cuts his teeth here before frying bigger fish with his next two movies, Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. But this movie's extremely re-watchable an a suitable beginning for a director who specializes in the attention to detail required to make a decent film noir. Yes, Kilmer was a whole lot thinner then, and frankly I'd like to see he and Madsen appear in more movies together. Yes, they were both in The Doors, but if Madsen finally paid Kilmer that money back, it's certainly time for them to reconnect on film. Because as great as both can be in movies, it sounds like they're both equally as nuts off camera. Director (if you can call him that) Joel Schumacher called Kilmer a "psychologically disturbed human being." In fact, Schumacher calls Val "the most psychologically troubled human being (he's) ever worked with." Kilmer, who at least one point in time lived in New Mexico, admitted to owning a gun because he lived in the "homicide capital of the Southwest and 80 percent of the people in my county are drunk."

I say put Kilmer and Madsen and Ray Liotta in a movie with Linda Fiorentino. Have the equally nuts David O. Russell direct. You won't even need to bother with a script for that thing.