Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 47: How Good Is 'The Basketball Jones'?

I mentioned this blog, which made Time's best blogs list of 2011, a couple of days ago, but now I reckon this may just be my favourite basketball site going around. Yes, even better than my perennial addictions ESPN, The Wages of Wins, and Grantland. Check out these gems from the past few weeks:

Tracking the wackiest preseason predictions for 2012-13

Jokes that we can't make now that mediocre centres are less likely to make the All-Star Game

Yao Ming playing golf

Celebrating the Pixie Point Guards

Al Jefferson has an Al Jefferson-sized bed

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Murakami Annoys Me

To date I’ve read two books by Haruki Murakami – ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Kafka On The Shore’, and am two-thirds between ‘1Q84’.  On one hand, Murakami’s books are very readable. On the other hand, his writing annoys the shit out of me. Murakami doesn’t write the world the way it is, but how an introverted teenage boy would like it to be. Everyone is young, and everyone is beautiful (not to mention ‘mysterious’). If a male and a female meet on more than two occasions, it’s highly likely they will end up having casual sex. Murakami celebrates his characters for being anti-social and self-absorbed - the ideal existence of a Murakami character would be spending days alone naked in a cabin reading books (which I think one of them did in ‘Kafka On The Shore’). And Murakami wants so badly to be European or American, you wonder how he could ever have stood living in Japan at some points. Still, as I said, he’s very readable, and the covers to his books are pretty cool, so I guess his writing can’t be all bad can it?  

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 46: Time's Best Blogs of 2011

OK, I'm a year too late, but I quite liked these blogs amongst Time's best blogs of 2011:

Kill Screen (excellent videogames blog)

Catalog Living (witty captions to homewares photos)

The Basketball Jones (basketball of course)

Pushing Ahead of the Dame (an analysis of almost every David Bowie tune)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 45

I'm currently reading Poor Economics, which brings together the body of poverty research to explain what seems to work in solving poverty and what doesn't. For those who don't want to read the whole book, this website offers an excellent summary, along with relevant data and research.

The top 100 unintentionally dirty comic book panels. Plenty of Batman and Archie.

Political Kombat 2012:

Romney vs Cain & Santorum
Romney vs Gingrich & Paul
Obama vs Trump

If cereal characters were real...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sportswriting Doesn't Suck: Gideon Haigh and Bill Simmons

Currently, my two favourite sportswriters - hell, probably two of my favourite writers of any inclination - are Melbournian cricket writer Gideon Haigh, and basketball/American sports/general pop culture writer Bill Simmons. I enjoy them both for quite different reasons though. Cricket is at heart a traditionalist's game, and Gideon Haigh is one himself to a large extent, though not one that is blind to the sweeping changes that are being wrought on this once amateur sport. The most recent book I picked up by him, 'Sphere of Influences', is fairly critical of the increasing commercialisation and proliferation of cricket, and the growing global control of the main Indian cricket authority, the BCCI. This commercialisation and control is best exemplified by the Indian Premier League, a Twenty20 league where franchises put in mammoth bids for the world's biggest sluggers, which Haigh worries will overtake Test cricket as the ultimate ambition for young cricketers. Still, he is more than just a nostalgic - Haigh very much sees a place for Test cricket within the future of the game, and constructively tries to outline what that place is - even if he is cynical about what the actual outcome will be. Apart from 'Sphere ...' I've read four other books by Haigh: 'The Green and Golden Age', 'Inside Out', 'All Out' (on the 2006-07 Ashes series), and the hilarious 'The Vincibles' (about his club cricket team, the Yarras). All of them are full of dry, memorable phrases and descriptions, for example: '[Damien] Martyn is one of those cricketers who renders the game so simple that you want to pluck up your bat with the cratered edges and start your career all over again'. One could say the same thing about Haigh: in a sportsworld full of hyperbole, cliches, tautologies, and irrationality, his writing is a refreshing breath of clarity, classicism, and simplicity.

Bill Simmons, by contrast, doesn't read like a classical writer at all. His most recent book 'The Book Of Basketball' encapsulates his writing is a oversized nutshell - it's bloated (something that Simmons notes on more than occasion within the book itself), and full of contradictions, half-baked theories, and pop culture references, both common and obscure. Simmons' moniker is The Sports Guy, and like an obsessed sports fan, he sometimes overthinks things to the point of absurdity (for example, his preview of the 2011 NBA All-Star Game). But it's also that very obsessiveness that makes his writing so absorbing; avid sports fans will recognise themselves in the gamut of emotions and irrational thoughts that Simmons catalogues. When I read 'Now I Can Die In Peace', his book about the long wait he endured for his beloved Boston Red Sox to win the World Series, I could relate to every page even though I knew very little about baseball. And his half-baked theories are entertaining to read about, such as his 'Ewing Theory' (the theory that the New York Knicks played better without their star Patrick Ewing), as well as the analogies he draws between pop culture and sport, for example his analogy between Oklahoma City Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Avon and Stringer from 'The Wire'. Whenever there's a new Simmons NBA column, I have to drop everything and read it straight away; I may not agree with a lot of what is being said, but it's always a fun read nonetheless.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

'Uncanny Avengers' #1 and 'Saga'

A few weeks back, I was somewhat pessimistic about the Marvel NOW! initiative, and even went so far to say that it might turn me off Marvel Comics for good. Well, this week saw the release of the first of the Marvel NOW! comics, Rick Remender and John Cassaday’s ‘Uncanny Avengers’ #1, which I picked up, partly out of curiosity and partly because ‘Avengers’ comics are on my standing order. ‘Uncanny Avengers’ is basically the flagship title for the new, mutant-friendly Avengers that have arisen from the events of ‘Avengers Vs. X-Men’, with Captain America feeling guilty that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes haven’t done enough to help the mutant community in the past. As a result, long-time X-Men Wolverine, Rogue, and Havok (as leader) have been added to the roster of this ‘uncanny’ Avengers team, joining long-time Avengers Captain America, Thor, and the Scarlet Witch. (As my wife would say, ‘How many Avengers are there?!’)

Anyway, I thought the first issue wasn’t bad, although I wonder if that wasn’t in large part due to the art of John Cassaday, who I still think is one of the best comic book artists (up there with JH Williams III, Frank Quitely, and Bryan Hitch) going around today. Cassaday’s art gives every bit of interaction within the book, whether it’s teammates arguing or fights with supervillains, a bit more weight. At the moment, the mashing together of the X-Men’s and Avengers’ worlds is intriguing, and is being well-handled enough to make it seem like all the pieces fit naturally together. However, it remains to be seen whether the concept will still have legs beyond the first ten or so issues when the novelty value wears off.  

I have no such reservations about ‘Saga’ (from Image Comics) though, the first six issues of which were released as a trade paperback this week. ‘Saga’ is the latest ongoing series from Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote two of the best series of recent years, ‘Y The Last Man’ (about a world in which all males are wiped out except one) and ‘Ex Machina’ (about a superhero who becomes the Mayor of New York), both of which would make excellent TV series if the right team got a hold of them. ‘Saga’ would too; it’s about two lovers (she with wings, he with horns) that come from different worlds who are continuously locked in war, having to protect themselves and their newborn child from the various forces being marshalled against them. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have assembled an interesting cast of supporting characters, including a young girl ghost who had her lower half blown off by a landmine, a freelance bounty hunter and his 'lying cat' (it tells when people are lying), and perhaps best of all, the uppity, somewhat absurd Prince Robot IV (pictured below). The language that Vaughan uses is also more engaging than most sci-fi/fantasy epics, as the characters’ conversations are a bit looser and dirtier than is usual for the genre. ‘Y The Last Man’ and ‘Ex Machina’ both proved that Vaughan plans for the long-term, so it should be fascinating to see how he develops this world over the next five years or so.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Album Review: Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

Another album review which I've posted over at 'The Guardian' music website.
An excellent, if uneven, album from Coldplay, “Viva La Vida” contains some of the best (and “weirdest”) tracks that the band has ever recorded. The title track may have initially thrown listeners with its strange subject matter – a king brought low and about to be beheaded by revolutionaries?! - but it sold bucketloads. “Violet Hill”, though a love song, isn’t much more conventional, and coming after “Viva La Vida” it sounds like U2 having wandered onto a pre-Napoleonic battlefield in the French countryside. Track no. 3 “Lost!” is the best track of the lot, stomping along at an almost martial pace before Will Champion’s wonderful haunting backing vocals lift it to a whole other level at the end. And then there’s the gorgeous, racing “Lovers In Japan”, which will forever remind me of standing with my wife watching the band at Rod Laver Arena as images flashed across the screen and yellow confetti fell from the roof. Alas, though some of the album’s interludes are brave they are somewhat distracting, but “Viva La Vida” still stands as a triumph for Chris Martin and his ambitions to charm the world.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 44: Supermodels and Superheroes

I was a teenager, and I was waiting at either at the doctor or the dentist, when I was flicking through the fashion magazines in the waiting room. (It beats 'Better Homes and Gardens',) Anyway, one of the magazines - I think it was 'Vogue', but I haven't found anything to confirm this - had a photo shoot which combined the world's top supermodels with characters from Marvel Comics. As you can imagine, this made a huge impression on my teenage mind, but as I didn't have the foresight or gumption to swipe the magazine from the waiting room, for years it remained only a quickly-glimpsed memory.
Well, thanks to the magic of the internet I can find those pictures again. A blog called 'Secret Oranges' has uploaded all the photos for '90s teenage fanboys to relive. The two photos that I best remembered were those of Claudia Schiffer arm-wrestling Wolverine, and Christy Turlington gliding the spaceways with the Silver Surfer.


But there were a couple that I'm surprised I didn't remember as clearly - these two of Kate Moss in the gym with the Hulk and the Thing, and Naomi Campbell as the biker chick of the Ghost Rider.

If only nerds read fashion magazines, these pictures might be more well-remembered than they are.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My All-Time Detroit Pistons Starting Five

I've been following the Pistons since 1989 (yes, when they were champions, get off your high horse Bulls fans), and in that time there's been a number of players I've had a fondness for.* But who would I pick on my 'all-time' Pistons starting five over those 23 years? To get in my final five you had to be good, but being a bit of a cult figure didn't hurt as well. Let's roll:

My first pick (at power forward) is my all-time favourite Piston, "Big" Ben Wallace.** Not only did he wear my favourite number (#3), and have an awesome Afro, he showed you can be a formidable force simply through rebounding and defence, giving credence to non-scorers everywhere. Plus, the Pistons have built their championships on defence, so it seems appropriate to have the four-team Defensive Player of the Year in the line-up.

At shooting guard, there are only three players worth considering: Joe Dumars, Rip Hamilton, and Vinnie Johnson (that traitor Allan Houston doesn't count). I'm going for Joe D, who was always classy, spent his whole career with the team, and has spent his whole post-career with the team as well. At small forward, I'm picking my teenage idol Grant Hill*** over Tayshaun Prince, given that Hill is probably the best 'all-round' player (and perhaps most intelligent player) ever to pull on a Pistons jersey.

At point guard, I'm going for Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups, over the leader of the 'Bad Boys' championship teams Isiah Thomas. Say what? Yes, Isiah is generally rated as the better player, mainly because he was a high scorer, but Chauncey scored quite a bit himself, and he seems like he was just an all-round nicer teammate and opponent. It's hard not to root for a guy who got bounced around five different teams in his first seven seasons, and still came up smiling.

Which brings up to the final position. I did consider Dennis Rodman (with Wallace playing at center), but since he pretty much replicates Wallace's skills that might make the team a bit unbalanced. Rasheed Wallace was considered too, as was new star Greg Monroe. But, at the risk of upping the 'bastard' quotient in the team I'm going for Bill Laimbeer at center - the team can afford to have a little bit of nasty in it, and Laimbeer was a decent scorer and proficient rebounder. But I'm going for Dumars as captain, just to be safe.   

* Even Olden Polynice.
** I forgive him now for leaving for Chicago, because he had already delivered us a championship and he came back, even though we were rubbish again.
*** I forgive him now for leaving for Orlando - six years of crippling foot injuries is punishment enough.