Saturday, June 29, 2013

Twerking, Purple Pools, and Child Stars: Breaking Down the Miley Cyrus 'We Can't Stop' Video

   I had to.
   For the record, these are legit, minute-by-minute first impressions of this video. I am a Miley Cyrus virgin, if you will, and all of the post-‘Can’t be Tamed’ stuff is new to me (basically ever since she had that ridiculous haircut). However, all of the hype on social media made this out to be like one of the more WTF-ey experiences of my summer, so come on this journey with me, and for best results, watch along with the link below. See, I include that stuff to make it easy on you, because I appreciate you and try to be classy about it, probably unlike what we are about to watch together.
   Best of luck to you all.

0:01—Is that an ankle monitor? Is this Lindsay Lohan? Am I on the right thing? I am already confused.

0:03—Shameless Beats promotion. Wow.

0:09—When Miley first reached into her mouth, I swear to God I thought she was just going to yank her teeth out like a row of dentures. Turned out to be putting in a grill, but I am literally ready for anything.

0:17—After some angry combing of Miley’s hair, we have some gal with smoke coming out of her crotch. You cannot make this stuff up, folks.

0:26—Is that a money sandwich? And who is that guy? Is that one of Miley’s friends? I wonder how she approached him. “Ay yo (because that is how she talks now), I wanchu to be in my video and eat this sandwich with hunnets in it.” And if you are the dude, how do you say no? I feel like I would just try to eat around the money so I could pocket some later.

0:38—After some more advertising for those weird egg-meets-lip-balm things, we have the following sequence: a skull made of French fries, a vintage Miley tongue-shot (man, who thought those words would be put together three years ago, amiright?!), some weird double-mouth girl, a guy who seems to be eating a tongue, and then the French fry skull being smashed. Well this is just sensory overload.

0:43—And there is Hannah Montana’s butt. I think I choked on my own spit a little. But hey, things cannot get much worse than this, right?

0:44—Wrong, Tyler-from-one-second-ago, wrong wrong wrong. Hannah Montana is now spanking the Nicki Minaj-looking gal next to her. Mistakes of the past, friends, mistakes of the past.

0:47—This round of spanking is reciprocated back to Miley. Well I’m not sure what I was expecting . . .

1:08—Ok, let’s ignore the teddy bear dancers for a second (again—wow) and appreciate what is so far my favorite shot of the video. I love the dude in the background right here. Miley trying to take center stage and all for the chorus, but now this guy doing all his little hand signs and that “yeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhh” nod. Stole the show. Hilarious.

1:14—So Miley’s been on the bed this whole time, writhing around and stretching her gum and trying to be hot, but gosh it is just not working for me. She just has that psycho-vibe now. Totally unfit for our Celebrity Crush Power Rankings, and no amount of twerking will sway me.

And how about that horrible polygonal face doing the deep-computer voice? The budget clearly ran out on them—the Beats must not have covered the poop-electronic voiceovers.

1:25—That dude from seventeen seconds ago is back! And get this—he does the exact same thing in this new shot. Stands there, rocks his hand to the beat twice, and adds nothing to the song. Who is this guy?!

1:26—Gosh, you feel like it would be time for a twerking montage sooner or later.

1:27—Anddddddd boom goes the dynamite.

Guys, Miley Cyrus was just clearly out-twerked in her own video, and it was not even close. The exercise bike spank move and the standalone attempt did nothing to help her case either. Poor showing.

1:49—Someone was high for the last fifteen seconds of this video. “Guys, guys . . . guys, I got somethin’ to say—this idea for the thing . . . we have these goats, right? And—and they’re wearing sunglasses because of the fame and the music and it’s all jus wow, and then—and then there’s a purple pool and a Barbie that kinda looks like Miley but kinda doesn’t and then they kiss and everyone in the pool is like yeeeeeeaaaaahhhh because we fight the system.”
“. . . that could work.”

1:56—Anyone else have an incomplete F*** sign on YouTube? So ironic.

2:02—More crotch-smoke! This is quickly becoming the birth/conception video of the monster from Lost. Totally understand why it went to the island now—explains the whole show.

2:23—I apologize, I totally neglected the actually content of the song. In case it was not obvious, Miley Cyrus and her purple-pool-pals own the night. And are ‘bout that life. As a result, they simply cannot stop shooting smoke out of their crotches and poser-twerking and spanking Nicki Minaj lookalikes. Sounds fair.

2:27—As we cut to the deep-computer voice again for the bridge, we have a lovely shot of some rando-dude rubbing white bread on his face and then eating the face-oil-soaked slice. We have an entire 60 seconds to go.

I am suddenly reminded of the whole Liam Hemsworth thing, and while I am Wikipedia-ing whether they are engaged or married I come across a total gem. Did you know Miley Cyrus was in Big Fish back in 2003? This is pre-Hannah Montana! Wow! In the credits she is listed as Destiny Cyrus. What are the odds she goes back to that name? 10-to-1? 5-to-1?
But anyway, Miley and Liam have to be lurking on that list of couples that you literally do not understand how the hell they are together. I mean, for his birthday one year, she gave him a chocolate penis-cake (sorry innocence, but in these dark times, you have to be blunt), and then she ate the whole thing! That was the gift: her eating it—he did not even get a piece. Absurd.

2:38—Miley breaks a liquor-shaped piñata so a bunch of cigars tumble out, and that same all-star from the background runs up and lights one. It is settled: he was not even supposed to be on set—he was just in it for the quality herbage. Exceptional.

2:44—Dang, guys. You know what this needs? More aggressive, unattractive body-grabbing.

2:46—Thanks Miley!

3:14—Man, this house party is outta control: where’s Billy Ray? But actually, where the hell is Billy Ray Cyrus? That guy has dropped off the face of the earth. A better question though: who cares? I just touché-d myself . . . wow, that looks a lot like ‘touched myself’. Disaster averted. It might be time to wrap up.

3:30—We close with essentially a giant ‘eff you’ to just about everyone. The last fifteen seconds are literally alternating shots of Miley flexing her butt and sticking her tongue out, which means I have pretty much satisfied my life quota for both of these Cyrus-related things.

I wish I had an eyewash station.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

True Ice in his Veins: Why Nik Wallenda's Skywire is Still the Story of the Week

   Wow, what a week in sports, friends. We crowned a NBA Champion in the Miami Heat, the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in hockey, the NFL fulfilled its annual quota for a WTF-crime (Deadspin or something should really do a Criminal of the Year—maybe that can be our thing; I can write it down next to the Celebrity Crush Power Rankings), and Spain’s international soccer team beat Just-happy-to-be-here-Tahiti 10-0.
   Oh, and a guy freaking crossed the Grand Canyon by walking on a wire.
   Although folks in Chicago might beg to differ (not folks in Miami though, they don’t care about anything), Nik Wallenda’s quarter-mile Skywire event was the story of the week, and if you ask me, one of the most intense things I have ever seen on television.
   It is not every day you father rushes home, bursts into the family room, and tells everyone to turn on the Discovery Channel. There was Nik, all by himself, 1500 feet above the bottom of the Grand Canyon, balancing on a cable barely two inches wide, with no net below him. If I can tell you one thing about watching this live, it is that the worst moment was when you first see it. My heart jolted. I could not look away. I waited. In those first few minutes, all you do is just wait for something horrible to happen. There is very little quite like it.
   The Discovery Channel made two brilliant moves: putting a microphone on Nik, and putting a camera on him. By far the craziest shots were from our hero’s perspective—a top-down view of his feet as they step . . . step . . . step high above what would absolutely be certain death. Even watching at home, it was nuts. As a spectator, there was no looking away; it barely seemed an option in your brain.
   As mentally taxing as it is to watch, it is impossible to fathom the mental toughness of a highwire walker themselves. Consider that Wallenda was essentially a constant stream of prayers and thanks and assurances for all 22 minutes of his walk—it takes one hell of a focus and one hell of a presence of mind. If a bird swoops down and he jerks up to react—game over. If that wind that harassed him catches him even a little off guard—game over. If sweat rolls into his eyes, he has to just deal with it, because clearing his vision would see him waiver—game over. That is why the microphone was such a great move. We heard all his mental checks throughout the whole thing; he reminded himself where he was, what he was doing, what he had left to do—the guy was sharp.
   The prayers, too, were very telling. Does it not just make sense, for a guy who has formed a career out of death-defying stunts, to have such insane faith, in not only God, but himself? Whether you are a believer or not, it was downright inspiring. This is someone who comes from a long line of highwire-walkers, someone who has had extended family members die from doing this very same thing, and someone who continues to achieve through some types of adversity that the rest of us might not ever feel. Amazing.
   In sports analysis, there is a lot of talk about the people who are considered to have “ice in their veins.” Michael Jordan, Adam Vinatieri, Abby Wambach, Muhammad Ali, Tim Tebow, David Ortiz—these were the guys and gals who, in their primes, just plain finished the job, and looking at that list, you have a group of people who, as lame and cornball as it sounds, had faith in themselves. That is where it starts. That sees the ice begin to flow in the veins—you have to believe you will deliver, hope alone is not enough (this might be a whole other article, but LeBron James might be growing to realize this). Bottom line: Nik Wallenda has ice in his veins, and he belongs among the top clutch athletes of our time. He is doing what no one has ever done before, in a way few of us have ever experienced. He is doing it with grace, poise, and an amazing story to back it all up.  This is a guy to keep track of in the years to come.
   Celebrate your championships—these moments are a dime a dozen, and there is nothing quite like them, but there is even less like crossing the Grand Canyon on a highwire, and we should definitely not lose sight of that. Few sports experiences have been as gut-wrenchingly intense as this, but darn it if I cannot wait for the next Nik Wallenda feat.
   We have one of the all-time greats in their field putting on a show before our very eyes—let’s give him the respect he deserves. Nik Wallenda has always delivered—quietly, humbly, assuredly—not something we see a lot in the modern world of sports.
   Then again, not a lot of Nik Wallenda is seen in the modern world of sports, and maybe that is the best thing of all. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Thoughts from Game 7: How to Handle Things When the Bad Guys Win

   Fifteen minutes into Game 7 of the NBA Finals, my old pal Emilio shows up to our little reserved corner at the sports bar. The first obvious question my friend Nolan and I throw at him, “Who ya going for tonight?”
   Emilio replies confidently, “Boston!” and we all laugh. We explain to him that this game features the Heat and the Spurs, and his response was oddly appropriate. “Oh yeah? Don’t know, don’t care. Either way I’m waking up tomorrow and the world is still turning.”
   It was funny at the time, but wise Emilio had just uttered the single biggest drink of water we had all night. More on that in a minute.
   Some general thoughts on the game: I think it would be easy right now to call out Tim Duncan for missing that game-tying shot (and the tip-in that followed) at about the 30-second mark in the fourth quarter. Take a step back though: he was the Spurs’ leading scorer last night, and the only San Antonio player to top 20 points. He made it to the free throw line more than any other player on either team (he and LeBron tied with eight attempts each), and finished with a more-than-respectable 24-12. Meanwhile, Tony Parker went 3-for-12 from the field, Danny Green was a stiff 1-for-12, and Manu “My bald spot spreads with every miss” Ginobili had arguably the worst fourth quarter in recent Finals memory. Duncan played his guts out, and it is downright silly to point the choke-job finger at him. The Spurs as a team shot 37% from the floor for Chrissake.
   On the other side of things, the Heat offense last night essentially was channeled through three people: James, Wade, and Battier (Mario Chalmers took fifteen shots, sure, but at the same time, it’s Mario Chalmers, and to say that anything channels through him is absolute heresy—plus this is my blog and I do what I want). Battier shot the lights out (6-for-8 from three!), Dwayne Wade had a 23-10, and of course, LeBron went psycho. The Spurs dared him to take threes, and he made five of them. Look at the points in the paint for this game—San Antonio executed their defensive game-plan pretty darn well, actually—they outscored the Heat in this area 48-24. The Heat just made the jump shots, and that made the difference.
   The difference sucked though, right? The bad guys won! A brash, cocky, inflated group of players (from the worst sports city in America nonetheless) beat out the small-market, team-first, quietly-brilliant group of guys from little old San Antonio. Tim Duncan, the best power forward of all time, is not going to have the perfect ending. Gregg Popovich might not be on the coaching Mount Rushmore. Manu Ginobili seemingly threw away (quite literally) his shot to be considered an all-time great player. A lot of things were in the balance last night, and when we saw the zeroes, the bad guys had all the glory, and the good guys had joyless, empty-handed second.
   But in sports, the bad guys win all the time. Duke beat Butler. Kobe Bryant, a rapist and one of the worst teammates ever, has won five championships. Ben Roethlisberger, another rapist, beat Kurt “Sorry Tebow, but God saved all the winning for me” Warner in the Super Bowl. Sports are designed so the best teams win, not so the good guys win. This is not Hoosiers, or Rocky II, or The Karate Kid. This is real life, and real life, obviously, is far from fair. Life is not a movie, so in life, the bad guys do not always see the just desserts.
   So what can we do? What can the 66% of ESPN’s SportsNation who declared their allegiance to the Spurs last night do in the face of this loss? You have to dig deeper than the “selfish” LeBron Jameses or the “dirty” Dwayne Wades. In this modern NBA, one that is rife with me-first thugs and, as my dad likes to bluntly put it, “goddamn gangbangers”, you need to dig a little deeper to find the good stuff. Shane Battier is on that Heat team, and he might be considered one of the most selfless players in basketball. LeBron James has done a ton of community work during his career, and while that good-guy side might be overshadowed by The Decision and the old Welcome Party “not one, not two . . .” videos, it is still there. LeBron the father is still there too. Sitting behind us at the bar was a born-and-raised Miami couple, who had been cheering for the Heat since the team arrived in town in 1988. That Game 7 must have been a pretty cool moment for them (and hey, it seems not all Heat fans are shoving out early).
   There are some silver linings to be found, and while it might look bleak for the Spurs right now, things will turn around. As wise Emilio voiced mere minutes into his arrival, we woke up today and the world kept turning. The good guys will have more chances. That is the beauty of sports—they are not going anywhere, so there are always going to be more feel-good stories. There will be more Little Giants against the 2007 Spygate Patriots, there will be more Jamaican bobsled teams, and there will be more Miracles on Ice, on the girdiron, and on the hardcourt. There will be more movie moments, maybe not today, but soon.
   So congrats to the Heat, and to their fanbase (except for that total douche who was in the third row last night wearing a freaking Steph Curry jersey—you will receive none of my acknowledgement and may you burn in sports hell—by the dubs, I am not bitter), the better team won, and this championship was well-deserved. To everyone else, hang in there. Laugh at Lebron’s receding hairline. Reminisce of the days when Pop blew off sideline reporters. Applaude the Battiers. Legacies will sort themselves out, and really, what was this to the resumes of the Spurs’ stars, a gold star? They will be fine.
   Let’s look back on a terrific NBA season—we had some classic games, remarkable achievements, and an offseason full of good old-fashioned drama ahead of us. Did everyone come out a winner? Of course not (Suns fans, how the heck are ya?!), but sports are not supposed to work that way. When things do work out though—wow, is it sweet.
   We waste too much energy complaining about the bad guys winning in sports, so let’s take a lesson from one of the best, and let’s take our talents somewhere else.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Taking Flight, Former Gladiators, and the Darth Vader All-Stars: Man of Steel Review

   The first Superman movie came with one of the greatest taglines of all time, “You will believe a man can fly”, and for film-nuts around the world, the heart of its greatness lay in the sole fact that, for a moment, they did. Now, Man of Steel is asking us to do more. It is asking us to return to the origins of Kal-El and believe in not just a man, but a symbol, and through all of its grand ambition, it somehow pulls it off.
   One thing that you have to understand going into this flick is that, far and away, this telling of the Superman story has much more of an alien-oriented focus than, say, the Christopher Reeve portrayal. Man of Steel wants to emphasize above all else that Superman is foreign here on Earth—he does not belong; he is inherently different. The story begins with the fall of Krypton—finally captured like it was meant to look, thanks to some beautiful CGI work—and goes on to follow the newly-named Clark Kent as he discovers his powers, his purpose, and his true origins. Throughout the tale, however, the viewer is constantly reminded of the divide between Superman and humans. Whether it is in tales of childhood heroics (or in some cases, the lack of heroics), tragedy, or modest triumphs, our hero faces the consequences of being an extraordinary being on ordinary Earth, and Man of Steel achieves this incredibly.
   This is a Superman really unlike any other, in the sense that it brings more emotion, more weight, and more scope than ever before. It is one of the most ambitious superhero movies in recent memory, and the result is nothing short of an absolute epic. Superman struggles with his orphanage, his relationship with Ma and Pa Kent, the imminent threat of General Zod, and the ultimate acceptance of who he is to mankind. It sounds like a lot to put onto one man, but Henry Cavill handles the Supes with grace, authority, and assurance. He may not have all of the dorky charm of Reeve back in the day, but above all, we have a truly noble Superman here, and one that I would love to see again.
   The supporting cast is admirable as well, especially seen in both Superman’s biological and adopted fathers. Russell Crowe is terrific as the tragically-fated Jor-El (he also has his best action scene since Gladiator in here—be excited, you can finally cheer on the Crowe again), and Kevin Costner has a good chance to break into the Darth Vader All-Stars (you know, famous movie dads—Darth, Mufasa, Sean Connery from Last Crusade, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood, and Vito and Michael Corleone) as Jonathan Kent. There is a forecast of man-tears in this one, and it is all his fault. Wow. The other notables, like Amy Adams as Lois Lane or Michael Shannon as General Zod, bring the appropriate level of respective charm and intensity. Look out for Ayelet Zurer as Superman’s real mother and Antje Traue as Zod’s primary follower—they do not have a ton of screen time, but they do quite well in spite of that. No one phones it in here, and thank goodness.
   What is most astounding about Man of Steel is that for all that it is trying to do, it rarely misses the mark. The multitude of conflicts that Superman faces here, both on a psychological and interpersonal level, come to a head at some point or another in the flick, and all of them saw me appropriately stunned, awed, or with my mouth hanging open like an idiot. They all worked. Prepare for some ‘wow moments’, because they are certainly coming.
   Speaking of which, I can say with full confidence and a good deal of reflection that Man of Steel has probably the best action sequences I have ever seen in a superhero movie. In terms of raw one-on-one fighting between Kal-El and the bad guys, you probably have not seen combat this intense since the now-infamous armored truck chase in The Dark Knight. Superman flicks in the past have been relatively light on brawling, but this one provides it in droves. It is fast, powerful, and at times even brutal—especially in terms of the final showdown between our hero and General Zod. Probably one of the best final battles in superhero-movie history; it is exceptionally done. Beautifully shot, intensely choreographed, and unflinchingly relentless, Man of Steel somehow manages to succeed as a pure action movie even in the midst of its epic themes.
   If I have any gripes, it is that the dialogue (especially with Zod) can occasionally be campy, and some of the symbolism with the Supes can be spread on a little bit thick. Subtlety was never what this movie was about, but it might have helped—when you have the fairly-obvious Christ pose sticking out amidst one of our hero’s many acts of valor, it can be a little overwhelming and a tad forced. In this way only, its ambition can be seen as a little bit of hindrance. There was just so much they wanted to do, it is hard to be quite sure if they achieved it all to the very maximum.
   All in all, though, these are things that will be forgotten in the wake of another stirring Hans Zimmer score, the best action Zach Snyder has ever directed (better than 300—he never leaned on slo-mo), and profound successes on the emotional front. This is the most feeling we have had in a Superman movie since we first believed that a man could fly.

   Is it perfect? No, but Man of Steel is one of the most purely satisfying superhero movies to come around in a long time. Grand in its ambition and spectacular in its scope, this is a Superman movie that, like its hero, strives to be something greater, and it became just that. An 8.5 out 0f 10 is where it lands—and it is a glorious one at that. Never fear—Superman is here, and he is everything you hoped he would be.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Bus Stops Here: The Breanna Bogucki Story

   I usually do not bring into According to Dazz what I do for Medill at Northwestern, but this was different. For the past few weeks, I have been working on a multimedia package for a class concerning various outlets for adaptive sports in the area, particularly for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. Through my talks with Special Olympics Illinois, I was introduced to Miss Breanna Bogucki, a young Special Olympics athlete about to complete her freshman year of high school.
   Breanna has high-functioning autism, but that is hardly the first thing you notice about her. She has a lot of athletic talent (over 50 Special Olympics medals in just over six years of competition—count ‘em!), a bright personality, and a terrific passion for singing to boot. In less than two weeks, one of her original songs will play to open the Summer Games—in front of over ten thousand people.

   Her story was a joy to tell, and honestly, two and a half minutes does not quite do her justice. A total inspiration. Thanks everyone, and enjoy the audio piece (the first link!)—and if you want to see one of Breanna’s performances, I threw the YouTube video in at the end.