Archive | March, 2011

You must be choking

27 Mar
Proteas Forever

Proteas Forever

It’s hard being me. I support Arsenal football club and South African cricket. Maybe it’s masochism, maybe I have some strange attraction to extremely talented emotional cripples. My depression over our recent ICC World Cup exit to vastly inferior opposition (yet again) has lifted long enough for me to vent a little, so here it is.

I’ve never thought that the label of ‘chokers’ was quite fair when applied to our cricketers. Certainly, the first accusation of choking came after we conspired to draw (and thus lose on a technicality) in the semi-final against Australia, but it was only Allan Donald who choked after Klusener had rescued an almost-lost cause. I used to be happier with complacent or arrogant or immature as a general description of our historical problem. I now realise that all of those adjectives are true, but ‘choker’ most of all. The trouble is that the cricketers themselves still keep persisting in denial about it. Apparently they spent all the press interviews in this WC being edgy or aggressive when the question was raised — which ironically is a great symptom of chokiness.

A choker in golf is someone who gets the shakes and misses a three-foot putt for the tournament. In cricket, it’s more systemic fear, panic, lack of confidence and poor decision-making. Getting upset about the question in press conferences shows that the fear and lack of steel is there in abundance. The sooner we’re able to say, ‘Yes, we’re chokers; won’t it be embarrassing if you’re beaten by chokers’ the better.

To add to the catalogue of chokes from earlier World Cups, we collapsed under the littlest pressure from hapless England, and we scored a last-minute victory over India — who have their own choking problems at the moment. That victory was allegedly evidence that South Africa was over their jitters, but it wasn’t. Rigid and fear-driven captaincy and unnecessarily risky running were the highlights of the contribution from our senior players. Then Johan Botha took risks to get us back in a position where sensible cricket would have sufficed and immediately took a rush-of-blood risk and got out. We only won because one of our bowlers got lucky with the bat — a feat that he would probably not replicate more than once in every twenty attempts. In other words, we did plenty of choking, but were out-choked by India.

When pressure finally was applied in the knock-out stages, we managed to get into a winning position, where calm cricket would have got us home easily, but Kallis went aerial for no reason whatsoever and was caught (shades of the loss that we engineered against the West Indies a few tournaments ago when we chased a low target by handing out catching practice). Then Duminy played half a sleepy cross-bat shot in homage to every number 11 batsman in the world and got bowled. Then someone who actively encourages people to call him ‘Faf’ called for a suicidal run for no reason and dismissed Our Last Hope TM.

The point is, Dear Proteas Cricket, you are chokers. You work hard enough to raise hopes and then you freak out and dash them in a flurry of immature, brain-freeze panic. The sooner you leave denial behind, the sooner you can battle the choker tag head on, and the sooner you can stop being the most depressing sporting franchise in history. Here’s to another four more years to wait for potential to be fulfilled. Let’s hope we still have the potential to fulfil by then.

CSI: Criminally Obvious

22 Mar
CSI Miami

Can there be anything more ludicrous than pretty police people in leather jackets, standing in superhero supermodel pose? Yes. Watch the show.

I’d heard so many people raving about CSI, and so I was chuffed when our national broadcaster picked up the Las Vegas series (about 3 or 4 years after its US broadcast date, but still). And then I watched its MTV mediocreness and wondered what on earth all the fuss was about. Granted, there are some compelling moments, but all the faux-edgy grislyness and blue-toned, science-is-cool-on-TV music montages…

I could live with them, I suppose, if the stories were up to the hype.

Some of the episodes really left an impression on me. First, there is the one in which a footballer or someone appeared to have been mauled to death by a wild animal, but it was actually a cheerleader maxed out on PCP who ate his guts and then got ecoli. All of this for an incredibly ham-fisted ‘Kids, Don’t Do Drugs’ message.

Then — and please correct me if I misunderstood the following scene — there was an episode in which an illusionist gets burned beyond recognition in front of his stunned live audience. Lead character Whatsisname finally gets a brainwave, rushes to the morgue, and with extra sticky sound effects he chops off the fingertip of the deceased, graphically gloops the bone out of the charred tip, sticks his own digit into the dismembered flesh finger-puppet, and takes a fingerprint with it, establishing that it wasn’t the magician after all, but some poor sap who got in his way. What?? A) They didn’t take fingerprints first?? and B) it was necessary to do all that gruesome, hands-on PT instead of just whacking some ink on there from the start?

I can only assume that I missed some crucial plot point in that episode, and so we’ll give Las Vegas the benefit of the doubt there. It is very stupid, but surely not that stupid.

But then there’s CSI Miami, more recently brought to our screens (although I note to my horror that this was a 2002-3 season! Man, we’re slow in this country). I thought maybe this was the CSI that was deserving of all the accolades, what with the comeback of Caruso and all of that. But no.

The episode this week (‘Tinderbox’) involved a night club that burned down, killing many people etc. etc. I could just about tolerate the fact that although the fire was only burning the curtains at the time, one of the CSIs (coincidentally present) phoned it in as a ‘major structural fire’. I could just about believe that a club featuring indoor fireworks had no sprinklers and only one hydrant. I almost didn’t throw something at the screen when — with the fire localised on the stage and two exits open — the 200-or-so patrons in the club were panicking too much to leave at a rate faster than one person every 5 seconds. But it was all over for me when Caruso arrived in the aftermath, and in his most momentous tone said to other trained, we-do-this-every-day CSIs, ‘We’re going to find out what happened here. And this building……. will be our WITNESS!!!!!!’

I had to dive for the remote and switch it off before my brain actually fossilised around the edges, like the scabby part of the cheese when the wrapper isn’t on all the way around.

I actually think I might try that Caruso move. Maybe give it a go when you get to work too. I’ll enter a room full of my colleagues and I’ll say very loud, “I’m going to write something today, and I’m going to use….. my COMPUTER!!!” or maybe, “I think I’ll have some coffee. And I’m going to make the water hot….. with the KETTLE!!!”

Less Funny Than Actually Being Murdered by Persians

15 Mar
Meet-the-Spartans

"This... is... PARTA the reason why comedies don't win Oscars"

One of the promos for Meet the Spartans says, ‘The 300 had it coming’. That much is very true. Frank Miller’s original testosterone fest took itself so seriously and was so wrapped up in its own computer-generated awesomeness that it was aching for some well-aimed ridicule. Unfortunately, the spoof version not only fails dismally in almost every way to aim its ridicule well, but it’s also used up the universe’s one chance to do so. We’ll never see anyone dare to spoof on The 300 ever again, and someone deserves a punch in the airbrushed abs for that.

I have to confess that I only managed to sit blinking at Meet the Spartans for the first half-an-hour. (Our broadcaster had proven to be steadfastly unadaptable yet again, and so there was a short gap before Survivor). The opening 20-25 minutes is apparently the best part of the movie in any case. It received an aggregate score (across all its US reviews) on metacritic.com of 9/100, which feels a little generous. It really is irredeemable.

The reason why I bring this all to your attention is that I found one of the user reviews on metacritic interesting. One viewer — clearly the person that the writer had in mind when he penned the script on the toilet roll in a flurry of cubicle-inspired excitement — gave the movie 10/10. This is not unusual. Any film that gets hurt by the critics will get an over-compensating score from some or other sympath. I was more interested in the reasons that he gave. He says:

Some movies are good and other ones are not. some people don’t like Monty python and some do. Reason why i’m talking about this is you don’t have to like this movie because of it’s kind of humor… i wonder what do you expect from a spoof because i got what i wanted (a stupid movie based on another and making fun of it).

He’s making an argument from genre here, suggesting that the movie’s bad reception has to do with a prejudice against the kind of humour employed by spoof as a genre. On one hand, he has a minor point — these movies are ultra-transparent about what they’re offering, and if you don’t find absurdist cross-references to other media funny, then don’t watch. But on the other hand, he’s so wrong that he deserves to be kicked into a bottomless pit by a shouty man in oh-so-tiny leather underpants.

The problem with Meet the Spartans is not that it is a spoof movie. The problem is that it is an incredibly, breathtakingly soulless spoof movie. The genre admittedly turns up a number of love-it-or-hate-it examples, but there are a host of spoof comedy classics, among which I’d include: Airplane, Top Secret, Loaded Weapon I, and of course the first offerings of the Austin Powers and Shrek franchises (but none of the sequels; Austin Powers II & III are some of the worst films in history). I also have a soft spot for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (again, not the sequel) but I’ll understand if you disagree. The point is, the allusions that the good exponents of spoof make to other genres tend to be witty, sometimes passing subtle comment or making a sly criticism. The jokes are funny on their own terms, and the characters have life of their own too (the endless take-offs and the horrific caricature-ridden sequels can make us forget how vivid and successful a character Austin Powers was as a 007 parody). Spartans aims much, much lower.

Take for example the scene parodying Leonidas’ slaying of a wild animal in his youth. In Spartans this animal is a big penguin — a dancing penguin — in an obvious reference to the money-spinning animated dancing-penguin movie from the previous year. This is standard spoof fare so far– the joke is set up, waiting for the punchline — but what to do with the reference now that it’s on screen? A good spoof movie would want to take the joke somewhere, adding a twist to it, tying it into the parody. All that Spartans could manage was the mere reinforcement of the source of the original: ‘Hey! He’s got Happy Feet!’

Thank you. Yes. We got that.

Spartans does not fail because it sits within an often-maligned genre. It fails because it is a relentless string of unconnected media references that go little further than aiming at recognition, and that have nothing to say about the movie or the genre they’re supposed to be critiquing. Britney Spears is trashy, Simon Cowell is mean, [joke about genitals]. Even just half and hour of this made me wish for an honourable death. Or really any kind of death.

Today’s Scandal is Tomorrow’s Sales Pitch

14 Mar

eskomAdvertising has the limitless ability to surprise — not because the ads themselves are that surprising — but because of the shamelessness of it all. Eskom’s new campaign seems to be telling us that they are clean-energy pioneers. ‘Who is pioneering the solar water heating system movement?’ they ask. ‘Whose lack of infrastructure investment led to crippling energy shortages over the last decade?’ one might respond. I know it wasn’t entirely their fault, but are our memories supposed to be that short that we’re to believe that they are motivated by love for the environment rather than sheer necessity?

Oh, and weren’t they working with government to try to get some nature reserve turned into an open-face coal mine?

Septic Blatter, Stupid Refs and the Football Everyone Else Wants to Watch

11 Mar
van persie

In Robin's dreams on Tuesday night

My last two posts were written from the couch while I was watching Arsenal trying to re-enact the Battle of Blood River against Barcelona.  Having done ever so well, and with their noses still in front with only a half-hour to go, Robin Van Persie took a shot on goal and was sent off for it. This decision — given the high stakes game — may rank as the worst refereeing mistake in all of football.

Of course, something like Maradonna’s ‘Hand of Dog’ incident that won the World Cup was on a far bigger stage, but it was understandable that the ref could have missed the cheat. This one was just so impossible to explain.

Van Persie had got a silly yellow card — even in that case a little harshly — in the first half, but was now through on goal about to take a shot, when the official flagged for offside, and the ref (somewhere behind him) blew his whistle. One second afterwards, van Persie took the shot that he had started taking. Such a deeply offensive action was this that he got a second caution and was sent off. Being the lone striker in front of a midfield barely hanging on, there was no way he could be replaced. Everyone including the ref knew that such a decision would effectively end the team’s season in that moment.

What is impossible to understand is how that could ever be an offence. ‘Kicking the ball away’ is cardable, because it is petulant, wastes time and may even prevent the opposition from using an advantage. But surely one needs to actually kick the ball away in a petulant fashion? In other words, there must be actual evidence of intent. In one second, a player was expected to hear the refs whistle among a crowd of 100,000 screaming fans (many of whom may be blowing whistles), change his plan to avoid shooting on goal, and turn around. Instead, he completed the fluid action in which he was already involved and took a shot on goal. Bear in mind that not taking a scoring chance because you think you hear the refs whistle could also cost you the game. And even if van Persie had heard the whistle and yet still continued with the shot he was busy making, so what? There are fifty balls in the stadium. Let that one go. It wasn’t defiant and it didn’t waste time.

FIFA president Septic Bladder and his yes men seem to be the only one’s who find it a beautiful part of the beautiful game that refs can utterly destroy an entire season of work (and for some a lifelong dream) by having a split second of dire stupidity. They still refuse the help of TV referrals or second opinions of any kind that use technology. There seem to be only a small handful of people in the world who think this, and yet they all somehow ended up on the FIFA board. There are enough great moments in football without having to manufacture controversies at the hands of referees.

If Sepp wants controversy for its own sake, I suggest that he applies it to his salary first: Accounting for normal human error, let his salary fluctuate between 75-105% of its contract value, but every now and then it must also be subject to random acts of absurdity. Perhaps in February his salary should get ‘sent off’ until next season. Perhaps some months he should have to pay FIFA because someone doesn’t like his suspenders that day. And of course the randomness won’t offer the chance of a lottery-sized increase on his already (no doubt) bloated salary, because in the parallel world of officiating mistakes, no ref ever sent on a 12th player.

So, Sepp, we get it. You like soap operas where there is a super-villain whose many injustices get the ‘water-cooler talk’ going at the office the next day. So go and write a soap opera. Just keep it out of football.