Friday, February 22, 2013

Melissa Stark Profile for "Philadelphia"

I didn't get this reaction from her, though my eyes were sealed with fatigue...
It's funny...I remember watching Stark on ESPN's "Scholastic Sports America" as a teenager, and of course, she was a big honking deal on "Monday Night Football." So, it was cool to meet Stark, who just oozes professional competence. She could have been the CEO of a bank or a lawyer.

To wit, I've never had anyone--male or female--deliver a firmer handshake. It was tighter than the lid on an unopened jar of pickles.

I wrote a front of the book piece for "Philadelphia," which you can read right here. But here are a few observations, aside from Stark's kung-fu grip.

--Stark hosts "First on the Field," NFL Network's pre-pre-game show. The show airs Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., which meant I had to be at NFL Films at 6:30 a.m. That meant I had to be up at 5:00 a.m. and on the road by 5:30 a.m. That was absolutely brutal, though I did get to visit NFL Films, which was beyond awesome. 

--Hanging out in a control room, which I did for a goodly portion of my time there, is fantastic. You get to see how a TV show is put together and it's a super-sarcastic, chummy vibe. 

--Afterward, I met up with my wife, her mother, and her uncle for brunch. I should have stayed home. My eyes drooped, my head felt as huge as a parade balloon. I spent a majority of Sunday just limping around my house. When Cameron was in Egypt's land...

--I had pitched this story to the mag's wonderful deputy editor, Christy Speer, before Thanksgiving. On December 14, she calls me to say, "Hey, it's a go, can you get this to us on January 2nd?"

I could not say no. One of my goals was to write for Philadelphia. I had been pitching Christy stories for a year. Seriously, it was non-stop; I thought she was going to block my email. This was it.

By the time I reached NFL's PR to arrange a visit to the studio, it was December 23rd. Holiday stuff and other assignments meant that I couldn't write and do the secondary reporting until December 26th. Oh, and I had another assignment due on January 2nd. And Christy was on vacation... 

--But I'm really happy with the piece. And the editing process, combined with Grantland, was like a master class on feature writing. I know it made me a better writer.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of "A Good Day to Die Hard"

OK, sports fans: Who is this? 
After a week of being immersed in various writing projects--from Marvin Gaye to copy editing to pitches--I really wanted a nice, hot slice of escapism. Something oozing with violence and stuffed with gratuitous nudity. I thought "A Good Day to Die Hard" would be perfect. 

Oh, boy, was I off. 

Now, before everyone goes into a spiel about how movie critics hate fun and only like movies centered on suffering and atmospheric lighting, let the record show that I loved the first "Die Hard." But the series has gotten away from what made it great: terrific comic writing and John McClane's everyman appeal. 

Why go the stupid and noisy route when action flicks have gotten progressively more savvy about character development and drama? Look at "Iron Man" and "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight." 

I'm rambling. You can read the review, which I wrote for "The Weekender" right here.

P.S.--I'm tired of writing about this McClane, hence the photo. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why You Haven't Seen Me In A While...

The source of three months of immense pleasure--and torment.
I've been immersed in reporting, researching, and writing my first piece for ESPN's Grantland, a look at Marvin Gaye's epic rendition of the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

Now it's up, and I couldn't be prouder. You can read it here and if you don't tap your feet while listening to Gaye tear it up at the Forum, well, I don't wanna know you.

Will have more movie stuff up soon, folks.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review of "Warm Bodies" and My Plan to Fix the Oscars

Honestly, a movie like "Warm Bodies" exemplifies why the Academy Awards needs to be divided into two halves. (You can read my review for "The Weekender" here.)

Jonathan Levine's clever, totally rewarding romantic comedy is going to be forgotten by March, when the spring break blockbusters get released. Hell, it may become an afterthought by Valentine's Day, when the latest, inevitably regrettable "Die Hard" comes out along with the newest Nicholas Sparks thing geared to teenage emotions, "Safe Haven."

What happens right now is that studios wait until the last possible minute to release their goodies in time for Oscar consideration. This explains why the following Best Picture nominees premiered or were released wide in November or afterward: "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Amour," "Les Mis," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook," and "Life of Pi."

The logic that's presented is the only time that matters for movies is the last two months of the calendar year. Everyone is bombarded with so much stuff that it's hard to remember what came out in September, forget about April and May. It's not fair for audiences, critics, and filmmakers. Movies get rewarded for timing more than quality. 

Here's what I propose:

1.) First-half winners: Give out Oscar nominations for movies released before June 30th: Five in every category. (Maybe then, "Moonrise Kingdom" would have gotten more than one friggin' nomination.)

2.) Second-half winners: Give out 5 Oscar nominations for movies released from July 1st to December 31st: Five in every category.

3.) In February, hold the lavish Academy Awards ceremony, where the nominees from both halves face off to see who's the best of the best. 

What are your thoughts? I'd love to know.