Friday, November 21, 2008

Ohio State vs. Michigan

One need only watch a Michigan football game to understand why they have no souls. No sooner does the viewer see the opposing team commit the most atrocious unforced errors, or the line judge reverse a Michigan fumble by throwing a flag on a non-existent penalty, or the referee award a reception when the Wolverine receiver was well out of bounds, to wit, a Michigan team stumbling onto outcomes that, even in defeat, are far in excess of what their modest efforts on the field deserve, than he realizes that Wolverine nation has entered into a Faustian bargain at the cost of their eternal spirits. In return, they are to enjoy unmerited, though not unsurpassed, success on the football field.

I know of no Wolverine victory that was not aided by favoritism from the referees, or sloppy play on the part of opponents who, quite unmolested by the sluggish maize and blue defense, seem only to desire that the Wolverines have the ball again. I am aware of no Michigan defeat whose margin was not made narrower by the same. But even so, I strongly suspect that it was not with Lucifer that this pact was made, but with some minor demon in his employ.

I have reached this conclusion by perusing the college football archives since the time of Woody Hayes, and in that vast expanse of history I can find only one mention of a Michigan national championship, and a disputed one at that. In the decade of the fifties alone Ohio State managed twice as many. One imagines that Lucifer could have made Michigan nearly Ohio State’s equal had the bargain been with him. For this reason I feel confident that they have bargained with a lesser being who cannot lift them up to stand eye to eye with the Buckeyes, but only far enough to give them a good sniff of our flatulence.

Nevertheless, that rectal aroma is more than they deserve. Witness the 1998 game with Ohio State. Facing third and very long near their own goal line, but leading 14-3, the Buckeyes complete a long pass for a first down, a play that surely would have broken Michigan’s backbones if Wolverines were vertebrates. In steps the minor devil, and the referee rules a Buckeye fumble that replays conclusively proved was no such thing. Michigan gets a field goal and manages to stay close to the nation’s best team.

Or have a gander at the 2005 Penn State game, perhaps the Michigan game par excellence. Behind by a single score and with time running out, Michigan begins its drive by completing a pass in an area of the field generally reserved for coaches, bench warmers and the team cheerleaders. Typically, teams catching the ball there must return to the spot where they started the previous play and lose a down. Not so the Wolverines. Later in the drive, Michigan coach Lllllloyd Carr requests that the game be played for sixty minutes and two seconds, rather than the standard one hour, and this request is granted. At the sixty minute and one second mark, when most teams would be heading for the locker rooms, Michigan scored the touchdown it needed to win the game.

I could provide as many more examples as there are grains of sand in the Sahara. I invite the good reader to research on his own, if he has the stomach for it. The point here is that, if not a favorable wind, than at least a light breeze has blown in Michigan’s favor for as long as I have been acquainted with the gridiron sport, and that clearly some Hellspawn is responsible. Perhaps it is not strong enough to make them the leaders and best, but it more than suffices to irritate the rest of us who play the game without arcane interference.

There is good evidence that this sulfurous charm extends beyond the borders of the football field. Consider our thirty eighth president, Gerald Ford. A former Michigan football player, he got his ass into the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office. And how did he accomplish this? Not in the manner of the thirty seven presidents who came before him, i.e., by being on the ticket of a successful presidential campaign. Instead, Gerald Ford could do no better than the House of Representatives, and yet when first Spiro Agnew and then Richard Nixon fumbled their political careers away, he slipped into the Whitehouse without ever having earned the honor. If there has been a more perfect display of Michiganity, I have yet to hear of it.

But this year is different. Certainly, the Michigan win over Wisconsin had all the hallmarks of a typical maize and blue victory, Michigan State watched Michigan score a new kind of touchdown invented ad hoc by the officials in the replay booth, and Utah was struck by the same old affliction in the early going, but taking one game with another it seems clear that the minor devil, patron of the Ann Arbor pigskin, has come down with palsy. His modest powers have waned, and we see exactly what sort of record Michigan would have every year but for his sinister intervention. Fallen upon hard times even before this, at least against the noble warriors in Scarlet and Gray, Michigan comes stumbling into Columbus with lacerated hands, bludgeoned ribs and swelling of the brain.

Let our eleven warriors brave and bold take full advantage of this window of opportunity. Next year, no doubt, either the demon will recover or another bargain with another villain will be struck. This is our year, our time, to mete out to our northern neighbors in proportion as they deserve. May our boys with the beautiful silver helmets, riddled with Buckeye Leaves, not grow overconfident. Let justice be done, let goodness and decency thrive. Tomorrow, November the twenty second in the year of our Lord two thousand and eight, may Ohio State deliver such a thrashing to Michigan as to send them home howling and begging for mercy, so beaten in body and spirit that for a period of two years, they dare not return to Columbus, Ohio.


Monday, July 14, 2008

The All-Time Ohio State Football Team

It is generally acknowledged that THE Ohio State University football team is the most successful, tradition-laden, talent-filled football program in the entire world. The supporters of other powerful programs, like Notre Dame, Penn State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Florida State, USC, LSU and Miami of Florida will readily acknowledge the superiority of the Buckeyes, as well as offer thanks for the many innovations and lessons that the men in Scarlet and Gray have given them over the years. In celebration of Ohio State, and as a culmination to the All-Decades teams we have named, let us choose the very best of the best of the men who have worn the uniform.


Troy Smith. No quarterback in Buckeye history has combined the patience and arm of a pocket passer with the quickness of a scrambler quite like Mr. Smith. Though this is not always the case, in 2006 the Heisman Trophy was awarded to the right guy.


Bob Ferguson. He was big, even by the standards of later decades. And he was fast. Those who saw him play, which the humble blogger must admit that he has not, generally say that Woody never had a better fullback. He came within a few votes of winning the Heisman himself.


Archie Griffin. Watch out, Mr. Griffin, because a young lad named Chris Wells is poised to surpass you, but for now we'll sti
with the universe's only two-time Heisman Trophy winner (and three-time All-American).


Orlando Pace. They invented statistics like the pancake block just for his sake. He took on other All-Americans and left them flattened in the dust. Any questions about his impact can be answered by looking at Pepe Pearson's stats in 1997, the year after Mr. Pace left, and compare them to 1996, when Orlando was still mowing down the competition.


John Hicks. An offensive tackle who came in second in the Heisman voting? The best lineman on what may have been the best offensive line in history: the 1973 Ohio State offensive line.


Jim Lachey. Did not start regularly until his senior year, he did not give up a sack the entire season, and went entire seasons in the pros without giving up a sack either. This was an offensive lineman who finished second in the state in the hurdles.


Jim Parker. Perhaps the greatest lineman in history, he was a multiple All-American and multiple All-Pro who could not be withstood. Anchored the line for the 1954 National Champions, paving the way for Howard Cassady.


Nick Mangold. Ohio State has had quite a few solid centers, but only Mangold was called the best prospect of the last fifteen years by pro scouts. Looks set to have a very fine and long NFL career.


Jan White. An All-American in a program known for allowing other teams to have the great Tight End athletes. One of the Super Sophs who won the 1968 National Championship.


Paul Warfield. His name was synonymous with excellence, both in the pros and in college. A multiple All-Pro, he ran alongside Bob Ferguson on the undefeated 1961 team.


Chris Carter. In a program famous, in recent decades, for its wide receivers, the two old school guys are still the best. Chris Carter, before a long and distinguished pro career, was an All-American for the Buckeyes.


Jim Houston. A sophomore on the 1957 National Champions and two-time All-American, he went on to have a long career for the Cleveland Browns. Woody said he was the best defensive end he ever had.


Mike Vrabel. It is generally acknowledged that this Buckeye All-American is the primary reason for the New England Patriots' recent success. At Ohio State, he was a sack specialist who could stuff the run too.


Jim Stillwagon. Another Super Soph from the 1968 squad, Mr. Stillwagon was twice named All-American as well as an Outland Award winner in 1970.


Dan Wilkinson. He wasn't at Ohio State very long, but he had perhaps more impact than any sophomore in Buckeye history. The number one pick of the NFL draft and All-American, he labored in the pros for a long time.


Randy Gradishar. No one was better than this two-time All-American, who in 1973 finished sixth in the Heisman voting. He went on to be All-Pro seven times for the Denver Broncos.


Chris Spielamn. For Buckeye fans who came of age in the 1980's, Spielman was synonymous with Buckeye Football. A tackling machine and two-time All-American, he went on to multiple All-Pro honors.


A.J. Hawk. It took a lot for Tom Cousineau to get knocked off the list, but no linebacker in recent memory has equaled what this two-time All-American did (keep an eye on Lauranaitis for his senior season!).


Shawn Springs. This number three draft pick and All-American with a long NFL career was the epitome of a shut-down cornerback. Quarterbacks simply did not throw in his direction, and for a very good reason.


Neal Colzie. Another stalwart from the 1973 defense, this All-American was a great kick and punt returner as well. There are plenty of other talented CB's from which to choose, but we think Mr. Colzie edges them out for the second CB spot.


Jack Tatum. The national defensive MVP of 1970, yet another Super Soph and 1968 National Champion. He was a two-time All-American and went on to a fabulous pro career. No one hit harder, no one was faster, only no one his size was stronger. You couldn't design a better strong safety, cornerback, monsterback or linebacker. Along with Jim Parker, Orlando Pace and Randy Gradishar, he might be the premier football player in Ohio State history. They just don't come any better.


Tim Fox. A very difficult decision. Do you take another strong safety and three-time All-American Mike Doss, or the all time interception king Mike Sensibaugh (yet another Super Soph)? We'll say that Mr. Fox edges them out for the final spot. An All-American and member of the 1973 defense, Tim Fox had an equally successful pro career when he was done playing for the Scarlet and Gray.


Mike Nugent. Never has Ohio State had a kicker with such range and accuracy. Ever.


Tom Tupa. Three-time All-American Tom Skladany is an acceptable replacement, but Tom Tupa was an All-American in an age when kickers and punters were finally out of the Stone Age.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It has been a long time since we heard from Indiana Jones. In the interim, Harrison Ford changed, the world changed, cinema changed, but Steven Spielberg set out to deliver a movie as if it were old times. He waited nearly two decades to film the fourth installment, but if the wait between sequels is a positive boon for a movie maker, I would suggest he did not wait long enough. Perhaps he should have waited an additional two hundred years.

Set in 1957, when Indiana Jones would have been about as old as Harrison Ford is now, the fourth movie of the series replaces Nazis with Soviets, and the bulk of its action takes place in South America. The evil Commies are looking for a weapon, just like Hitler was in the two previous movies that matter, and they think they have found it with a strange artifact, thousands of years old, made of crystal and carved by unknown methods into the shape of a vaguely humanoid skull. Indiana gets caught up in all the fuss, and along the way meets up with some characters from his past while performing death defying stunts and such.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a diseased movie whose manifold infirmities have caused dozens of symptoms which ravage the celluloid. One disease is certainly George Lucas, who, if the tales are true, had too much of a hand in developing the movie. Another disease would be a rich, successful director with little reason to push himself and switch off the auto pilot. A third sickness would be a certain actress who one would swear has not acted since 1981 and failed to get all the rust off before stepping in front of the camera.

The symptoms of these diseases, to paraphrase Shakespeare, maintain such a politic state of evil that they will allow no good parts to intermingle. I say this with only the faintest trace of hyperbole, because in the entirety of the film there is almost nothing worth praising. The first act is an attempt to squeeze every single iconic fifties cliché and scrap of popular history into about a twenty minute time period. Other than Marilyn Monroe getting her panties revealed by an updraft, I think they managed to include them all. I found it distracting and entirely too cutesy. The first three movies were set in the thirties, and that was about it. Costumes fit the time period, at least as far as I could tell, but they never made a fetish of it. For some reason, the filmmakers decided that Harrison Ford, in the fourth film, needed to experience the entire decade in less than a half hour, and the result is distracting and entirely inappropriate for setting the mood of an Indiana Jones movie, on the order of a laugh track for Terminator II.

The characters that we knew from Raiders of the Lost Ark are gone, replaced by caricatures, as if lifted from a third rate sitcom. The banter that passes between them is as uninspiring and hackneyed as can be imagined, with entire exchanges bereft of the slightest mark of distinction, the merest hint that this is a conversation that belongs to these characters and not to any of a million underdeveloped roles languishing, never to be produced, on dusty shelves around Hollywood. These words are not the dialog of artistic inspiration, but merely an average of all the other conversations on like topics, an average that fits as well in your film as mine, but belongs in no film at all. That David Koepp, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, men with a combined total of over a century of experience in the industry, should make characters and scenes and dialog like this at this stage in their careers pleases me very little.

If David Koepp could not muster the energy to fashion a decent script, one can hardly credit Spielberg with a significantly better effort. His action sequences are glossed over, run through with ease, and Harrison Ford and the other actors take their cue from him. At no time does one feel that Indiana Jones is actually in danger, like we did during the magisterial truck sequence in the first movie, or during any one of dozens of sequences from Raiders and Grail. There is no effort to delve into the action and make it feel exhilarating. It feels as safe and secure as if it had been rehearsed a hundred times, like a dance number in a Broadway musical.

There is a moment when Indiana and Mutt (Shia Labeouf) are riding a motorcycle and being chased by bad guys. Indiana gets pulled from the motorcycle into a car, Mutt steers the bike to the other side of the car, and Indy pops out the other window and back onto the bike. It is accomplished in about five seconds with maybe five or six different shots and has no greater effect than that of a moderately clever sight gag. Contrast this with the aforementioned truck fight in the first movie, which is its own miniature film with a good beginning, middle and end. Along the way we feel every bump and bruise, we feel Indy being dragged along the ground, we fret when the grill on the front begins to bend and we see no way out for him. But this can only be achieved with an effort, which apparently Mr. Spielberg could not be bothered to spare.

As damaging as anything else about the movie is the lack of restraint on display, a lack which makes mystery and awe wither. When the credits roll after Raiders, the Ark is still an enigma, still awe-inspiring, still not completely knowable. Crystal Skull manages to turn its artifact and the beings behind it into something mundane. Too much is revealed about them; too much is made explicit and obvious. What a director does not show is every bit as important as what he does show, and Mr. Spielberg did not restrain himself enough.

This problem of restraint is also evident with the action sequences which, when shown in the trailers, made me uneasy from the outset. When Indiana Jones was entertaining back in the 1980's, it was with far more modest action pieces that were marvelously well directed at their best. Spielberg even managed to create a successful sequel with the third movie, but the intervening years have done something to him. Where before the action was grounded in a certain amount of believability, it is now absurdly exaggerated, well beyond the bounds of good taste. Pushed to a certain extent, an action sequence can be thrilling. Pushed too far, it becomes commonplace and boring. The trap of the sequel has ensnared even Steven Spielberg, who, in trying to outdo himself, has instead undone himself. Crystal Skull will take its place next to Alien Resurrection on the shelf of sequels that, I am prepared to swear, never happened.

Final Grade: D+

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ohio State Football All 2000's Team

With the horrors of the 1990's behind us, Buckeye fans were eager for a brighter future, and Coach Jim Tressel gave us just that. With three appearances in national title games, with a 2002 national championship, as well as multiple Big Ten titles and a 2005 class which produced five first round draft picks, the program seems to be back where Woody would have wanted it. For the first time since the 1970's, Ohio State has won the decade against Michigan, with two seasons remaining, and looks like the favorite to win the 2008 national championship.

Though there is still more to come before the decade is finished, already an impressive array of talent fills the All-Decade team. Nothing is set in stone, but here is a look at the best of the decade so far.


QB Troy Smith - Heisman Trophy winner and All-American, no one else can hope to match him in this time span.

FB Jamar Martin - Branden Joe was a very good runner, but Martin was more of a complete package.

TB Chris Wells - 1,600+ yards in 2007. And miles to go before he sleeps, and miles to go before he sleeps.


OL Nick Mangold - Called the best Center prospect to come out of college in the last fifteen years, an All-American who jumped right into the starting position in the NFL.

OL LeCharles Bentley - Either Bentley or Mangold would have to move to guard, but neither one can be left off the All-Decade team. An All-American.

OL Alex Boone - Another year to go, his agility is reminiscent of Pace and Hicks and his strength is unquestioned.

OL Kirk Barton - An All-American and part of the powerful 2007 O-Line.

OL Alex Stepanovich - A number of talented athletes could go in this last spot, including Datish and Olivea, but we'll go with Stepanovich because... just because.


WR Michael Jenkins - Strong career with great numbers to back it and a good attitude as well. No relation to the CB with the same last name.

WR Anthony Gonzalez - There is plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, but Gonzalez was stronger than either Holmes or Ginn and was just as fast. Keep an eye out for Robiskie in 2008.

TE Ben Hartsock - At a position which Ohio State does not generally stack with talent, Hartsock was a solid performer in all aspects.


DE Vernon Gholston - A physical specimen non-pareil, one wonders what would have happened with a senior season. All-American and #6 pick in the NFL draft.

DE Will Smith - Is beginning to dominate in the pros like he did for OSU, helping them win a national title. Big Ten Defensive MVP and All-American.

DT Quinn Pitcock - An All-American who caused no end of troubles for offenses as he charged up the middle.

DT Tim Anderson - Never attracted too much notice, but did great work for the Buckeyes' in 2002 and 2003. Continues to perform well in the NFL.


LB A.J. Hawk - The best LB to don the Scarlet and Gray since Chris Spielman. Described by some as a force of nature. Two time All-American and Butkus award snub.

LB James Laurinaitis - Let's see what happens in 2008; Hawk's position at the top is not entirely secure. This one will almost certainly be another three time All-American for the Buckeyes.

LB Matt Wilhelm - An All-American that the 'experts' said could not make it in the pros. He is now having the last laugh. An integral part of the 2002 national champions.


CB Malcolm Jenkins - Holds his own with the best Buckeyes of all time, and he still has a senior season to impress us some more. No relation to the WR with the same last name.

CB Nate Clements - A tough call with Gamble waiting in the wings, but Clements was a lock down corner, and he is now getting, in the NFL, the recognition he should have gotten in college.

S Mike Doss - Three time All-American? Say no more.

S Donte Whitner - Got some All-American recognition, but the NFL valued him a bit more accurately. Will Allen, Nate Salley and Donnie Nickey are acceptable alternatives.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ohio State Football All 1990's Team

When the Ohio State football program, at the end of the 1980's, was in decline, the University turned to John Cooper to turn things around. Having had a brief but successful stint at Arizona State, in which he defeated the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, he seemed like a decent pick for the job. But little noticed was the fact that Cooper, in three tries, never beat rival Arizona in their end of the season match up, managing only a tie during the 1987 campaign. This despite ASU having a record that was as good or better than Arizona each year.

What John Cooper did for ASU, he also did for Ohio State. He brought some top talent into the program, managed a Rose Bowl win, but performed atrociously against the eternal rival. In the 1990's Ohio State produced enough talent for multiple national championships. In no decade other than the seventies did so many top athletes put on the Scarlet and Gray, but only twice could they conquer the Maize and Blue.

It was a decade of great teams and terrible heartbreaks. There were some memorable wins but too many losses against teams that had no business beating the Buckeyes. Nevertheless, the talent from that decade is well worth celebrating. Here is your humble bloggers choice of the All '90's Team.


QB Joe Germaine - As good as Hoying was, no one had accuracy and grace under pressure like Joe Germaine. He deserves the nod for the 1997 Rose Bowl alone. It was absolutely criminal that he spent two years alternating with Stanley Jackson.

FB Matt Keller - The days of the Woody Hayes fullback were long gone at this point, but Keller was a good athlete and solid performer.

TB Eddie George - No explanation needed.


WR Terry Glenn - Possibly the most explosive receiver in Ohio State history.

WR David Boston - With his almost TE size, a good complement to Glenn. Great Hands.

TE Ricky Dudley - Ohio State is not known for its Tight Ends, but Dudley was a strong receiver and a decent blocker.


OL Orlando Pace - Could well be the best offensive lineman in Ohio State history, and that's a proud history! They invented the pancake block stat just for him.

OL Rob Murphy - If he had been academically eligible for his senior year, this one would have been a three time All-American.

OL Korey Stringer - It says something about your program when a lineman of this caliber is not the greatest Tackle of the decade.

OL Jason Winrow - Solid performer and All-Big Ten honoree.

OL Alan Kline - Four year starter, All-Big Ten from the early nineties.


DE Mike Vrabel - All time sack leader at Ohio State, perhaps the most versatile defensive end the Buckeyes have ever had. Led a ferocious defensive of the mid to late nineties. Two time All-American.

DE Jason Simmons - Finished career with 27 sacks, a stalwart on the '93 defense.

DT Dan Wilkinson - Only played for OSU as an underclassmen, but left an indelible impression. Oh what he could have done for the '95 team!

DT Ryan Pickett - Fickell was good, but we must give the edge to Mr. Pickett, also from the '98 squad.


LB Andy Katzenmoyer - Injuries ruined his pro career, but this All-American was everything a linebacker needed to be. Some belittled his '98 stats, but when Bailey, Diggs, Johnson, and Pickett all returned for the '99 season up front and the run defense was still far inferior, you knew something was missing.

LB Na'il Diggs - Without this All-American, the '99 team would have been a disaster instead of just a disappointment.

LB Steve Tovar - You can't argue with two All-American honors. It's a shame he never got to play on a memorable Buckeye team.


DB Shawn Springs - Ohio State has never had a better coverman than this All-American and #3 draft pick.

DB Antoine Winfield - Another in a long line of standout secondary men for OSU. All-American.

S Damon Moore - All-American, a starter for both the '96 and '98 powerhouses.

S Rob Kelly - There are many solid athletes to pair with Moore, we'll take this solid performer with a decent pro career.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Movie Review: Leatherheads

As the timing goes, so goes the comedy. Timing is, of course, important for any sort of film, but in comedies it assumes a role of such prominence that the success of the entire piece is dependent upon it. An unlikely character is pardonable; poor action choreography is of no moment; we can even forgive a distracted and unfocused plot, but if the comedic pace is off the comedy simply cannot be successful. In Leatherheads, George Clooney’s third directorial effort, there are sporadic moments where the project works, but these are islands in an ocean, and they grow sparser as the movie progresses.

It takes place in 1925, at a time when the popularity of football was centered around the college game. Jimmy ‘Dodge’ Connelly (George Clooney) is the de facto captain of a professional football team from Duluth, Minnesota, an impecunious squad which must forfeit a game because it does not have money to provide a second game ball when the first is stolen. They travel from blue collar Midwest town to blue collar Midwest town, drying their laundry by hanging it outside the train as they go, changing destinations if their next opponent goes bankrupt in the middle of the week. In an effort to achieve greater financial stability for the league, Connelly recruits a young Princeton star, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to play for the team. But Lexie Littleton, played by Renee Zellweger, is a reporter who has been hired to try and uncover an embarrassing secret in Carter’s military service, and when she begins to travel with the team, Connelly and Rutherford both begin to fall for her.

As a football player, the smooth and handsome George Clooney is miscast. His character is a forty-something football veteran who has made a living for years doing little else. When his Duluth team temporarily disbands and he seeks employment, he comes face to face with the reality that he has no skills or education to make him attractive to an employer. And yet, this uneducated Midwestern football player, who gets in multiple fist fights during the course of the movie, is oh so smooth with Ms. Littleton, master of the frank look and the tilted head, the slight caress to the chin before his soft lips brush hers. No French noble was ever more debonair. My grandfather played semi-professional football for a blue collar Midwest city back in the 1920’s and I can tell you that this is not how he wooed his women. Nor, to judge from his stories, did his teammates operate anyway similar.

There is more than just Clooney’s effete charm that feels out of place. The radio announcers sound like they are working for ESPN, for instance. I have heard old time radio broadcasts and the cadences and rhythms and vocal tones of these men sound nothing like what one hears today. A couple hours with some archival tapes might have helped to add some authenticity to the picture.

The football action isn’t impressive either, not that this distinguishes the movie from any other football movie I’ve ever seen, but it would be nice for once to see a football movie in which the director was less interested in rigidly composing the action of a play to the point where it feels stilted and the camera interferes with the flow. Why not just line the boys up and let them play some football with the cameras rolling? This would have the added benefit of cutting down on plays which one sees two or three times in a season but in the movie one sees with a frequency that makes them boring.

But these are small complaints. A bit more problematic is the script itself, which often has trouble choosing a story to pursue and leaving many in their incipient stages. In the beginning of the movie some ado is made of a new recruit from high school that will be joining their team at the next train stop. It turns out that the teenager is a whale of a man and capable of beating the snot out of anyone who comes near him. But after this introduction, his importance in the movie is reduced to appearing in the background during some of the games. One wonders what the point was of spending time introducing him. There are a couple distracting scenes which seem to have been filmed simply because they were opportunities for slap stick comedy, not because any role they play in bringing us to the third act. And the third act itself is less satisfying than it might be because the various threads of plot are not brought together in a last madcap rush of adrenaline, but rather fizzle out one by one. The end of the second act, to the extent that I am even confident I know when this occurs, doesn’t leave one yearning for the third as it should, tingling with anticipation.

A comedy can survive, however, with a middling story if the scenes are funny enough. The Good Lord knows that Monty Python’s Meaning of Life is not as good as its predecessors, largely due to a wandering script with little cohesion between scenes, but many of the individual scenes themselves are hysterical. Leatherheads has moments when it is amusing in a charming and clever way – mainly when Clooney and Zellweger are interacting – but all too often the right notes just aren’t hit at the right tempo. And not enough hay is made with the different characters’ objectives, which are at cross purposes with the others, nor with all the deceit and trickery in which they might have engaged.

Worst of all, the movie can’t – or perhaps it is more correct to say refuses – to keep its momentum going. For all the other irritations, the worst part is when Carter’s back story, whose culmination is premature, deviates into some sort of government-worshipping morality tale when Congress assigns a commissioner to the professional league – something which, as far as I can tell, is entirely fictional – who starts to impose order on the affairs. What would we poor folk do without a government? The commissioner immediately imposes rules, licenses the players – God forbid that people start playing football without bureaucratic say-so! – and with a threatening stare and a tough-guy voice begins to generally throw his weight around. In a scene which flattens the momentum – a scene devoid of the quick banter that provided the most humorous moments – the story slows down so that the tough guy can deliver a lecture and, one cannot help but feel, so that Mssr. Clooney can lecture us a little as well. It was far too serious, too slow and too preachy for the movie in which it appeared.

For all that’s wrong with it, however, it still has its charm. Zellweger and Clooney have some very good moments filled with snappy dialogue, and Randy Newman’s score is the perfect compliment to the picture; indeed, his score is what the movie should have been: relentlessly lighthearted, brisk, old-fashioned and too caught up with having fun to slow down and get serious. Maybe Newman should have composed the score first and the script could have been written, and the scenes shot, while the artists listened to it on their IPods.

Final Grade: C+

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Movie Review: Doomsday

Neil Marshall, director of the recently released Doomsday, is still in the early stages of his career and as of yet it is difficult to assess his overall ability, especially when each opus sends a different signal. His first movie, Dog Soldiers, was a surprisingly decent flick that could very easily have been pure schlock. After that he made Descent, another opportunity for awfulness that he adroitly turned into a very respectable effort. After these two lower budget, minimal scope efforts, he graduated to something grander in reach and far more expensive, but in doing so revealed that his ability, at least as of yet, is not up to the task of a bigger production.

The Scottish director, even with his more successful efforts, never demonstrated much proficiency in screen writing. Descent’s plot, which he penned, is very simple, even rudimentary. It involves getting a group of female spelunkers lost in a cave system and then stirring in some humanoid monsters. It does not, on the whole, delve very deeply into character, but the different roles do at least display distinctive personalities, and with careful craftsmanship Marshall makes the most of the premise. Doomsday is his attempt at a more intricate plot, but its failure as a story may be an indication that Descent’s simplicity was not obscuring a latent talent in writing awaiting an opportunity to better express itself, but rather may have been the very extent of that talent. It is the viewer’s further misfortune that, during his latest project, the director’s abilities, which indisputably are there somewhere, either abandoned him or retreated deep inside.

Doomsday is another post-apocalyptic tale, this one, like 28 Days Later, set in the British Isles. The entire nation of Scotland has been quarantined due to the outbreak of what is called the Reaper Virus. When, decades later, the virus shows up again in London, a team of trained specialists, led by Rhona Mitra, is tasked with penetrating the quarantined land to find a man believed to have the cure. Things, the good reader will be unsurprised to learn, do not go as planned.

Directing talent can be a mercurial thing and oftentimes one gets the feeling that certain director’s are good without them knowing exactly why. A director like Hitchcock who grows into his talents over time is no mystery at all; it is the Francis Ford Coppola, the George Lucas, the Wolfgang Petersen who requires an explanation. Perhaps some directors grow too self aware and begin to strangle their art with wrongheaded, over-deliberated decisions where, in their better efforts, instinct would have gotten them smoothly through. Maybe they lose courage, or success satiates the hunger that drove them to excel. Whatever the reason or reasons, Neil Marshall has been stricken with the same syndrome, which I shall name after Lucas, whose fall from ability exceeds in depth those of Coppola, McTiernan and Petersen, among others, as much as the Pacific Ocean does the Olentangy River.

Mr. Marshall’s mistakes come early and often. The beginning of Doomsday, when the scene is set and the characters and obstacles introduced, moves at the pace of a hurricane, almost eager to be done with itself. This is in stark contrast to Descent, which was far more circumspect about its first act and never seemed to be in a rush to move on. Anyone who has ever gotten into trouble at school and was made to wait until Dad or Mom came to mete out a punishment knows that the anticipation is often worse than the sentence. So long as the wait is not too drawn out, this same principle of tantalizing expectation can work to augment just about any sensation and Marshall used it to good effect in his previous movies. Its absence is a disappointment as well as a harbinger of things to come.

There is a scene when the team first enters Scotland whose basic premise recalls a bit from James Cameron’s Aliens. Transported by armored vehicles, the team, in pursuit of their objective, enters an abandoned building where they come under attack and must make a chaotic retreat. One could do a case study on the difference between lazy, uninspired filmmaking and the better crafted variety by comparing and contrasting the scenes from these two different movies. James Cameron did not do profound character studies in his sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, but what he did quite expertly manage was to give each role a distinguishing personality as well as establish an interesting and believable group culture and dynamic. By the time Cameron’s space marines must infiltrate the seemingly abandoned compound, we are already quite invested in what happens to them. When things start to fall apart, skillful directing and editing tell the tale from multiple perspectives, and each step along the way is a well developed mini-story all on its own. No such brilliance is to be found in the Marshall version, which is a haphazard collection of action and gore which would almost make as much sense and be just as emotionally satisfying if the shots were randomly rearranged. If he had spared half the attention to detail, tension and development in this scene as he does to the scene in Descent where the spelunkers must cross a chasm while hanging from its roof, it would have come out alright. Sadly, he seems to have contracted indolence during the preparations for shooting.

In depicting the quarantined savages, Marshall does not seem to be concerned with much detail, a further indication of lassitude. The traditions and institutions of a society of that sort must be rooted in basic survival, shaped by the austere environment in which they live. If the bulk of a nation were to die off and the remainder cut off from the rest of the world, the most immediate concern for any survivors would be clean water and food. Do they farm? Do they hunt? How do they live off the land? Shelter was provided, of course, by the dead civilization before them, but how do they eat? The director is quite unconcerned with such questions, but these are questions which could lead to a fuller, more satisfying development of the world in which the story takes place. Instead of a society, we just see wave after wave of heedless warriors who, when not engaged in battle with the forces from London, are engaged in grotesque partying, thanks in part to gasoline and electricity which is still, apparently and inexplicably, readily available.

Apart from the aforementioned problems, the movie suffers from the usual illogic whereby the importance of motive, perspective and even location is sacrificed to bring us more violence and gore. By illogic of motive I mean that characters do things to help maximize gore rather than behave like the individuals they presumably are. Like automatons in a video game, they leap out in front of automatic weapons, maniacally screaming, so that we may see their bodies erupt and blood spurt. By illogic of perspective I mean that villains suddenly show up at the right time and place, as if they were omniscient, when a character with more human-like senses and less mystical knowledge would not have known where to show up to try to foil the heroine’s plans and, as it happens, have a high-adrenaline car chase. By illogic of location I mean that all matters of travel time, distance and location are forgotten so that the right confrontation or meeting can be had, whether it be a character implausibly hiding nearby in enemy territory with an available train so that a serendipitous escape can be made, or characters ranging, by automobile or helicopter, all over the island of Britain in mere moments.

But none of this is appreciably worse than scores of other forgettable action movies through the years. What makes Doomsday stand out as particularly bad is its ridiculous depravity. The survivors of apocalypse, Marshall would have us believe, will groom themselves like punk rockers and behave like inebriated teenagers at all times. There is no event in this fictional Scotland that is too mundane to be greeted with a wide open mouth, a strident howl, and a furious shaking of the head. Physical violence is the norm, and great delight is taken from the most degenerate and horrific rituals, all accompanied, of course, by open mouths, eye makeup, and screaming. Humans devour one another, and cadavers are abused for pure shock value. There is no tenderness in these people, no refinement, no culture, no humanity. And yet there have been numerous peoples, throughout history, who have been subjected to terrible emotional trauma and who have lived at a subsistence level without descending to the sheer wantonness we see in Doomsday. An exploration of the pathologies that result due to the Reaper Virus and the quarantine could be interesting, but Neil Marshall gives us only monstrous caricature.

It may be that at no time does a critic do more important work than in eviscerating the bad art of a promising director. Rather than let him continue to stray down the path begun with Doomsday, rather than let his Lucas Syndrome go untreated, let us ridicule his mistakes so that they can be corrected. We’ll stop of short of the point reached with David Lean where, after Ryan’s Daughter was roundly criticized, he stopped making films for fifteen years, but let us proceed far enough to nudge Mr. Marshall onto a different course, the one suggested by his first works. I add my weight, meager as it is, to the collective effort. This way, we might yet enjoy the long career of a talented artist rather than suffer through decades of similar offal wondering what became of that guy – what was his name? – who made Descent.

Final Grade: D

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ohio State Football All 1980's Squad

The 1980's were the first decade without Woody Hayes as coach since the decade in which the Nazi's were toppled. After Woody's demise the program was entrusted to Earle Bruce, a Woody disciple who had successfully turned around the program at Iowa State. But after his first season, in which a late USC drive in the Rose Bowl left Ohio State two points shy of a national title, Earle was never able to take his teams quite so far. Towards the end, the program had slipped and the decade ended on a very sour note.

In investigating why "9 and 3" Earle lagged behind his mentor and predecessor, it immediately becomes apparent that the defense softened during these years. The offensive stars of the 1980's compare favorably enough with past decades, and the linebackers were as strong as any group yet, but there is a distinct paucity of the high quality defensive backs with whom OSU had thrived under Woody and, after Earle's first class graduated, a complete lack of the powerful defensive linemen who used to fill the trenches on Saturdays.

The final scores demonstrate this decay of the Buckeye defense. From 1981 to 1985, Ohio State registered one shut out, and Earle Bruce teams had only three in his final seven seasons. Compare this to Woody's 1977 and 1973 squads, who each registered four shutouts. In this seven-year span, nine teams scored 30 or more points on the Buckeyes, compared with only two teams in the 1968-1977 period, and none managed it in the regular season. From '68-'77, only 21 teams put up 20 or more on the Bucks, while 33 teams did it in the '81-'87 period. While it is true offenses opened up in the early eighties, the top ten scoring defenses were not dramatically different, and though Ohio State was consistently in the top ten in the 1970's, they never once made the top ten list in the 1980's.

But for all that, it was still a successful decade. Earle Bruce got five bowl wins, even though many of them were lesser bowls than the Buckeyes were used to, and Ohio State still managed four wins over Michigan. If the defensive talent had been as deep and broad as the offensive talent, it might have been a tremendous decade indeed, but there is still plenty to celebrate. Let's see who tops the list.


QB Art Schlichter - Oh what he might have done in the NFL without fewer off-the-field problems! He still was the Big Ten MVP in 1981 and a good enough passer that people forget how well he ran.

FB Keith Byars - The era of the Woody fullback was over, but this tailback, who nearly won the Heisman Trophy when he wasn't injured, was big enough to play some FB in the pro's.

TB Tim Spencer - One of Ohio State's all-time leading rushers, room must be made for him even if it means shifting Keith around a bit.


WR Chris Carter - Probably had the best hands in Ohio State history, a phenomenal All-American and long time pro player. His presence on the 1987 team might have been enough to turn that season around.

WR Gary Williams - A fine and nearly forgotten receiver from the early eighties; one of Schlichter's favorite targets.

TE John Frank - Little dispute over this one, perhaps the finest receiving tight end OSU has had in the modern era.

OL Jim Lachey - Yeah he was All-American, yeah he was a multiple All-Pro, but did you know he finished second in the state track meet in the hurdles?

OL Kirk Lowdermilk - Mr. Lachey's buddy on the O-line, he had a long and distinguished NFL career.

OL Joe Lukens - Three-time All-Big Ten honoree, probably should have been an All-American

OL Bill Roberts - Passed over by awards committees, this powerful tackle was a first round NFL pick.

OL Jeff Uhlenhake - An All-American, Cooper's favorite of his early linemen.


DT Jerome Foster - The one true star of a group that lacks punch, Mr. Foster was a sack specialist for the early Bruce teams.

DE Erik Kumerow - Earle's OLB were DE's too. Erik stands out among a moderately talented bunch.

DE Rowland Tatum - Another solid OLB/DE, an All-Big Ten selection.


LB Chris Spielman - There was defensive talent at Ohio State in the 1980's, you just have to know where to look. No one was ever better than All-American and future All-Pro #36 Chris Spielman.

LB Marcus Marek - All-American and all time tackles leader at OSU. A four year starter.

LB Pepper Johnson - An All-American with a distinguished pro career, this Detroit native found his true home in Columbus.

LB Orlando Lowry - A solid OLB/DE and future NFL player. Paired up with Rowland Tatum in the first part of the decade.


DB William White - A good cover man at the end of Earle's Buckeye tenure, All-Big Ten, he had a nice pro career.

DB Shaun Gayle - Another solid DB with a long pro career, he labored on the forgotten 1983 team.

DB Sonny Gordon - Another All-Big Ten pick who played along side Mr. White.

DB Garcia Lane - All-Big Ten and partner to Shaun Gayle on the 1983 team.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ohio State Football All 1970's Squad

It is quite probable that in no other decade has Ohio State produced more talent than during the 1970's. The combined record of these ten teams reflects this, as they compiled an incredible 91-20-3 mark. But at the same time that Buckeye fans were enjoying nearly uninterrupted success, they were dealing with the frustration that comes with coming close to, yet never achieving, championships.

On new fewer than three occasions, Ohio State went to the Rose Bowl undefeated and untied and, with a win, would have won a national championship. Each time they lost, to Stanford, UCLA and USC. On one other occasion they made it to the Rose Bowl undefeated and pummeled USC, but an earlier tie with undefeated Michigan, in Ann Arbor, left them in the #2 spot.

The decade started with the senior season of the Super Sophs. After avenging a los to Michigan the previous year, they lost to thrice defeated Stanford in the Rose Bowl and lost a national title. Four years of Archie Griffin followed soon after, but in three of those years, despite defeating Michigan, they lost the Rose Bowl. The one year they did defeat the (then) Pac 8 team, they tied Michigan. A promising 1977 squad came up just short against the Sooners and Wolverines and then, inexplicably got pounded by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The 1979 squad, the first coached by Earle Bruce, started slowly but, by the end of the season, was rolling over opponents and found themselves ranked #1 in the nation in the AP poll before falling by a single point to Charles White and the USC Trojans.

The decade was a study in contrasts. For the first time since the 1930's, a decade would pass without an Ohio State national title. Perhaps the greatest decade of talent ever assembled, led by two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, failed to bring home a national title, despite being so close for so long. Finally, an aging Woody Hayes, whose teams were beginning to underperform - especially the immensely talented 1977 squad - lost his cool one last time and got himself fired for an embarrassing punch to the face of an opposing player. The resurgence of Buckeye football in the late sixties had yet been tinged with the tragic loss to Michigan in 1969, the last game of the decade. Perhaps that fateful game hung over the team in the coming decade.

Nevertheless, the All 70's Squad might be the best that Ohio State, or indeed any college, has ever offered.


QB Cornelius Greene - Probably the best scrambler in Ohio State history, he developed into a decent passer with more experience. Won the Big Ten Silver Football award the year Archie won his second Heisman.

FB Pete Johnson - Combined power with speed, his legs never seemed to stop chugging. Led the nation in scoring and, the year Archie won his second Heisman, ran for over 1,000 yards!

TB Archie Griffin - Any questions?


WR/WB Brian Baschnagel - A utility man, he ran the ball and caught the ball and, in the pro's, even played some DB. An underpraised but integral part of the middle 70's juggernauts.

WR Doug Donley - Woody's teams did not pass much, but when Schlichter arrived receivers started getting some attention. The best of them was Doug Donley.

TE Doug France - A first round draft pick, he went on to be a tackle in the NFL, in case there is any doubt as to what sort of TE Woody looked for. Not often used to catch passes.


OT John Hicks - Woody went so far as to say that John Hicks was the best lineman he ever had... better even than Jim Parker. In 1973, despite teammates Griffin and GRadishar finishing 5th and 6th in the Heisman voting, and despite playing offensive tackle, Hicks finished 2nd in the Heisman balloting! Case closed.

OT Chris Ward - Some would argue for Schumacher in the second spot. Both were imposing tackles; we'll give the edge to Mr. Ward.

OG Ted Smith - An All American and member of Woody's most beloved class, 1975.

OG Ken Fritz - Another All American offensive lineman from the 1970's. When multiple All American lineman don't make the All Decade team, you know it was a good decade for talent.

C Tom DeLeone - Another toss up with Steve Myers, from what we have seen, DeLeone might have had a small edge.


DE Bob Brudzinski - Some of Woody's assistants insisted that Robert was as good as Jim Houston. This All American sure lasted a long time in the pro's.

DE Van DeCree - All American and member of that 1973 defense. Was there ever a better one?

DT Pete Cusick - Injuries cut his pro career short, this All American was part of the immovable 1973 defense.

DT Aaron Brown - Another All American and sack specialist from the 1977 team.


LB Randy Gradishar - They just don't come any better. Finished 6th in the Heisman balloting in 1973, considered by many to be Ohio State's all time greatest linebacker. 7 time All Pro.

LB Tom Cousineau - #1 pick in the draft, he preferred to play in Canada at the start of his career. One of the best conditioned athletes ever and a tackling machine.

LB Rick Middleton - Patrolled on defense with Randy Gradishar, a first round draft pick and possible oversight for All American honors.

DB Tim Fox - A long career in the pro's awaited this All American Ohio State safety. Prominent member of the 1973 and 1975 teams.

DB Ray Griffin - Archie's brother and another All American. Some said he had more talent than #45.

DB Neal Colzie - Also a wonder on special teams, this CB intercepted passes when QB's dared throw in his direction.

DB Mike Guess - Overlooked for All American honors, he started four years and was named All Big Ten three times. Helped the 1979 squad to an undefeated regular season.