Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Best Thing Out of Baltimore Since The Wire

I can't say I'm at all enamored with Jalen's Little League experience, so far. I've been sitting on the outline of a post that itemizes my complaints, but I can assure you "jersey" won't make the list.

These appear to be made of that "Dri-Fit" material that's all the rage among runners who see nothing wrong with paying $55 for a short-sleeve Nike shirt. And, while it's silly for six-year-olds to wear their last names on their jerseys, Jalen can take the field knowing that he's wearing the same number I'd worn during my late-90s run in adult rec-league baseball (and basketball).

Quite the legacy to live up to, J. Let's not end up like

Saturday, February 27, 2010

TBG Eats: Subway for Breakfast

Current Weight: 168.2 lbs.

One of my favorite scenes in Adam Sandler's kinda-sorta (I'm gonna say it...) underrated flick Big Daddy is the" McDonald's breakfast" part:

My barbershop is adjacent to a Subway restaurant and after my Saturday head-shave, I strolled next door. There was just one Subway sandwich artist behind the counter -- couldn't have been more than 16 or 17 -- and the clock above her read 10:57 AM. Subway stops serving breakfast at 11:00 AM.

I'd never ordered off of Subway's breakfast menu, but I'd meaning to do so for some time. Most of you know I'm not normally a breakfast guy, but considering the time of day, the meal I was about to consume was closer to a cross between breakfast and lunch. If such a word existed, it might be called "brunch".

It took a minute before I finally decided on a sausage and egg white sandwich. Another minute was wasted as the sandwich artist seemed thrown by my awkward ordering technique:

"Ummm...can I get a 'sausage and cheese' on flatbread, but without the cheese and with egg whites, instead?"

The young lady tossed my sandwich into Subway's communal microwave. In the meantime, two more customers had queued up behind me. The first person ordered a six-inch sandwich of some kind. I don't remember what it was, but I know it was a relatively simple order and not from the breakfast menu. Our two orders were finished almost simultaneously. It's now MAYBE two minutes past 11:00 AM.

The second guy who was behind me in line tries to order breakfast...and is denied!

"But, it's like TWO minutes after 11!"

[Gesturing towards me] "HE got breakfast and he was right in front of me!"

"You haven't even put the breakfast stuff away! I can see it! It's right in front of me!"

Yeah, the last one was my favorite, too.

The demure teenager working the counter stood her ground, though. She was very polite about it and the customer seemed more amused than annoyed. He left without ordering anything. I briefly contemplated the blog possibilities before remembering my surroundings -- a neighborhood with a Black barbershop -- and realized the likelihood of the disappointed customer coming back to get his breakfast sandwich. In italics!

My sausage and egg white sandwich concoction doesn't appear to be a "real" menu item here, but it was still a solid little meal. The sausage seemed to be unusually salty, but it's a nice-sized patty that's split in half. The thawed-out egg whites are what you'd expect from any place that's not your favorite diner, so I was glad I opted for the addition of Subway's southwest chipotle sauce on top.

The flatbread sandwich isn't the most satisfying breakfast around -- I could've slaughtered a second one immediately after the first -- but, as long as you're not looking for that "lumberjack breakfast bloat", this meal will fill your needs and your belly.

Just get there before 11:00 AM, yo.

Grade: 3.5 (out of 5)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Meeting My Readers

Longtime TBG reader Josh Da Cane spent this past week here in San Diego on business. I first met him in 2008 while on my own business trip to Washington DC. This time around, Josh met Mrs. Bootleg and my son, Jalen. It safe to say they all hit it off, as my wife helped Josh with a load of his laundry, while Jalen inquired as to our guest's favorite number. J immediately ran to his toy box and presented Josh with the corresponding die-cast NASCAR replica of Tony Stewart's #14 car.

This got me thinking of the other readers I've met through my writing over the years.

Nick'a: First met in 2003. The undisputed highlight of his first visit to San Diego was a member of our bar-hopping party running afoul of the San Diego Police Department. The "walking down the street with an open beverage container" charge was fun, but it was the "resisting arrest" part that sealed the deal. In 2005, I flew out to the east coast for his wedding. The late evening/early morning after-party long after the bride and groom had retired for the evening remains the craziest personal anecdote that I never wrote about. Then, in 2007, we hooked up for
the greatest travel diary EVER.

Mathan: First met in 2006. He and I had
written together on the same pop culture/entertainment websites for a few years and we had the chance to hook up while I was in Las Vegas for work. Once I got past the jarring imagery of someone who was taller and skinnier than me, I was able to relax and appreciate the fact that Mathan bears an uncanny resemblance to this guy. His extensive and eclectic musical taste is one of Mathan's defining characteristics, so imagine my surprise – while flipping through his collection of highbrow hip hop CDs – to find this coaster amongst the classics. Math's hidden shame. Also, I mispronounced his name nearly 100 times during the week I was out there.

Jeff: First met in 2007 (I think). I'd also shared website real estate with Jeff as his old
Saturday Swindle Sheet music news column followed my own Friday Bootleg. Great guy. We went up and down the bar scene in Pacific Beach swapping several piercing behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the people and policies at Inside Pulse that challenged the patience of two anonymous internet superstars. Late that evening, I had a breakfast burrito at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. Best breakfast burrito I've ever had, but I've never been able to remember the restaurant's name or location. I'll never give up the search.

Marco: First met in 2009. He's from Houston, so we hooked up at a Padres/Astros game at Petco Park. I'd have been surprised if there were 5,000 people in attendance that night. Ten minutes before the first pitch a half-dozen Astros fans began heckling…well, everyone. They were on Padres SP Josh Geer as he came in from the bullpen. They were on Astros' leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who was stretching in the outfield. They even gave it back to the fans, ushers and security who admonished them. I watched a replay of the game after I got home and several of their taunts came through loud and clear during the broadcast. Marco just so happens to be an incredibly accomplished photographer. You can view pics from his California trip
right c'here.

NY Jon: First met in 2009. We got together at a bar in Albany, NY last summer while I was out there for baseball's
Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown. I still have his text from that evening: "I'm here. Look for the six foot six gay black guy." We watched the Yankees/A's game, drank whiskey-pickle juice shots and ate jerk burritos. The insane evening ended outside a Dunkin' Donuts – in the pouring rain – with me cramming the fourth of four maple bars in my grateful, grateful mouth.

Dunkin' Donuts in the wet, wee hours on the mean streets of Albany. The bar's been set pretty high Joe, Tom, Sam, Jeff, Michiewah, Elena and every other TBG reader I haven't met.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Sirius XM Commute: The Lox, Mase & Mobb Deep

During my last few months on the full-time music beat at Machine Gun Funk, I began an infrequent piece called "The XM Commute". Every morning, after dropping Jalen off at school, it's just me and my satellite radio. Roughly six-and-a-half miles of surface streets and stoplights allow me the opportunity to hear at least three songs in their entirety.

Sirius XM Channel: "Backspin" (Old-school hip hop)

Some links may be NSFW, so click with caution…

The Lox featuring Lil' Kim and DMX
Money, Power & Respect: The Lox (Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P.) are casually more known for their highly publicized falling out with former boss, Puff Daddy. In January 1998, they released their debut album with this as the title track. Depending on whom you ask, the single greatest year for rap music is 1988, 1994 or 1998. If you're picking '98, THIS track had better make your mixtape. I never bought the contention that The Lox had sold their soul (or their sound) for Puffy's shiny suit conglomerate. I'd heard their underground stuff from earlier in the '90s and they kill it here. Great chemistry, combustible lyricism ("I sneeze on tracks and bless YOU.") with effective cameos from Lil' Kim and DMX. I've bashed Kim for years, but her sultry hook and undeniable sex appeal fit the vibe, while DMX – at his peak – might be the least appreciated great mainstream rapper of all time.

Feel So Good: Now, here's an act who was watered down under Puffy's occasionally oppressive production. Mase's early 1990s association with Cam'ron and the late underground legend Big L didn't exactly portend samples of Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" or Miami Sound Machine, someday. Mase has been retroactively vilified by those who've forgotten how HUGE he was in 1997. After several years featuring an increasingly gritty industry sound – to say nothing of the whole bi-coastal claptrap – rap fans were ready for recess. Mase's mumbling monotone gets a lift from the familiar beat, while the video – at the time – was a visual confectionary. I'd completely forgotten that this was the first single of Mase's 4x platinum Harlem World album. 4x platinum! This guy!

Mobb Deep
Drop a Gem on 'Em: Tupac Shakur's feud with the entire east coast rap scene didn't result in a whole lot of listenable music (exceptions include the incendiary "Hit 'Em Up" and much more languid "California Love"), but this ultra-rare diss track from the east coast lives up to its title. Havoc and Prodigy take aim at Shakur – without mentioning him by name – as well as the tired west coast gangsta subject matter of the era:

Over the projects, your game – I'm above it
It's combat, gats, bangers and all that
You'se a small cat, whatever you on…get off that.

Mobb Deep later fans the flames of the rumors that 'Pac was sexually assaulted while at Rikers Island and that Biggie's "Who Shot Ya" track was actually a subliminal shot at Shakur. After Tupac died in September 1996, the east coast declared victory a de facto truce and never responded, en masse, to the ranting and ravings of Tupac's final days.

For the most part.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination – 02/21/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)

(1) The Simpsons ("The Color Yellow") - Best. Episode. Ever in Years. A brilliantly subversive – but, good-natured – assault on African-American culture and Black History Month. Seth MacFarlane wishes he could capture two minutes of the wit here for The Cleveland Show each week. The rapid-fire one-liners were a throwback to The Simpsons' heyday while the assorted points-of-view were trimmed with the storyteller's character traits (Grandpa's senile inclusion of Abe Lincoln, for example). Hunt this one down (Hulu?) if you've sworn off the show in recent years. Two little things did bug me, though: (1) Didn't Lisa already answer the "Do I have any relatives who aren't degenerates?" question in
Season 9? (2) Not one scene with Mabel (19th century Marge) and Virgil (19th century black Homer) kissing? Huh.

(2) The Cleveland Show ("The Curious Case of Jr. Working at The Stool") - Maddeningly inconsistent from week-to-week, this was one of those episodes that's given me false hope all season long. The younger Cleveland's subtle, meticulous sabotage of his father's life was a splendid array of sight gags – and for my money the non-alcoholic beer bit was better than the shaved 'stache gag. Not everything worked, as Madonna-bashing was played out 20 years ago and David Lynch's voiceover work as Gus the Bartender was awful, but then again, I'm guy that was laughing at Junior's fright-induced "moo", so what do I know?

(3) American Dad ("The Return of the Bling") - In an accidental bit of nice timing, this hockey-themed episode aired the same night as the United States vs. Canada Olympic hockey clash. According to's Bill Simmons (on Twitter) the U.S. win is the first time his "Stomach Punch" level of losing applied to an entire country. Speaking of things that don't make no damn sense: I've never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, so all the references were lost on me. And, is there a point to the "Reginald" character? He's written exactly the same as The Cleveland Show's "Rallo", but he's a koala bear. A "Ko-Rallo" Bear? A "Ko-Rallo" Bear! Feel free to use that.

MVP: Ian Maxtone-Graham and Billy Kimball…the writers for "The Color Yellow". For real, y'all…I could've had a half-dozen quotes of the night from that episode alone.

Quote of the Night: "Take it outside, Lassie. We've still got three 'Jackie Robinsons' and a 'Tuskegee Airman'. And, SO many 'Obamas'." - Groundskeeper Willie, backstage at Springfield Elementary's Black History Month pageant.

Current Standings

The Simpsons – 50
The Cleveland Show – 43
American Dad! – 30
Family Guy – 26

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Lighthouse"

Three Things I Dug:

RouNEWsseau: Mira Furlan's "Danielle Rousseau" character never received any extended development or proper send-off before Furlan had a falling out with the show's creators (weakly explained away as a disagreement over travelling to Hawaii) and was written out of the show. Claire is now filling Rousseau's role as the paranoid, weapons-wielding queen of the jungle and -- surprisingly -- I'm pickin' up what she's throwin' down. Emilie de Ravin is nailing the whole on-the-fringe-of-sanity detachment. The scenes with her casually dangling an ax off to the side and, later, processing Jin's lie about Aaron and the temple were subtly effective touches. Those scenes actually made the decidedly less subtle "cold-blooded murderer" Claire believable.

The Line About the Lighthouse: I've enjoyed most of the in-jokes the writers have slipped into some of scripts (last season's Hurley/Miles wink-wink debate on how convoluted things had gotten comes to mind). So, in an episode that is almost certainly going to polarize the show's hard-core fans, I'll dredge up goodness wherever I can. And, Jack's "how come we've never seen that before?" line when he and Hurley finally reached the lighthouse tickled me a bit. I'm willing to bet that Jack spoke that line just ahead of the 12 million people watching at home who had the exact same reaction.

The Heel Team: I'm...liking the bad guys, so far. In an epic war of good vs. evil, I'll take Dark Locke, Killa Claire and the young Ben-shootin', POW-torturing version of Sayid any day of the week.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

The Lost Will: The "Claire Littleton" revelation in the alternate timeline couldn't possibly have been more contrived. Jack's mom couldn't find her deceased husband's will? Fine. It's silly, but, whatever. Then, after finding the will, she's surprised to find the name of his illegitimate daughter (and Jack's half-sister) in it? She'd NEVER seen her husband's will before that very moment? Really? Mrs. Bootleg and I had a trust written up five years ago. She checks it WEEKLY to make sure I've haven't tried to slip in the names of any unknown kids or well-meaning strippers.

The Rest of the Lighthouse: The phantom mirrors were bad enough. Then, we got Jack's inexplicable overreaction to seeing his childhood home in said mirrors. THAT'S the image that drives Dr. Jack over the edge? For six seasons, he's been the man of reason and rational thought whose practical belief system has been tested and tortured. So, a picture of his house drives him to wanton vandalism and screaming? And, later at the lighthouse, what was with Jacob's cold-ass diss of Hurley? ("Some people will do what they're told from the back of a cab, some need to look out at the ocean".) Damn, son.

Jin's Lie: I must be missing something obvious, but why did Jin recant his story to Claire about Kate and Aaron? Jin was just a few feet away from Claire when she did that bad, bad thing with her ax. She clearly stated her history and past encounters with the (other) Others -- even if some/most of it was just Claire's paranoia talking -- so what did Jin hope to achieve by intentionally directing her back to the Temple?

The Verdict: I'm not even going to get into this episode's biggest development, other than to say this -- if you're going to introduce a new character out of the blue, especially a child, then you damn sure better not write him as such a petulant ass from the get-go. The intermittent slivers of Claire-gone-crazy kept this one afloat, but it's time to f*****g do something, Lost. Anything.

Monday, February 22, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Cranberry Apple Walnut Chicken Salad from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 167.8 lbs.

WAY back in the 1990s, I dated a girl who changed my life. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, "dated" probably isn't the right verb to use considering my courtship of her lasted ten times longer than any other aspect of our relationship. This past weekend, I stumbled across her Facebook profile. She's married with four six kids. SIX!

Back in the day, we were just kids, ourselves. One of us was the epitome of '90s ethnic chic: baggy jeans, Timberland boots, In Living Color-inspired idealism. And, of course, the other was me.

Boiled down, our friendship was essentially a gender-bending twist on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (or Freddie Prinze Jr's She's All That for those of you too lazy to Google Pygmalion). She and I worked together and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn she'd bet some pogs or a laser disc on the success of imbuing me with "cool".

She started with the easiest target – my hair. I was still rocking the flat-top, having ignored the Afrocentric memo from Arrested Development* to grow it out. So, at her urging, I shaved my head clean.

*--This would be the Arrested Development that white people loved in the '90s before the OTHER Arrested Development came around last decade that, according to Nielsen, not enough white people loved.

Next, she passive-aggressively ridiculed my wardrobe: made up mostly of just-above-the-knee jean shorts and an inordinate amount of purple. One weekend, we went shopping and in two days we'd rebuilt the contents of my entire closet. She even convinced me that every woman alive prefers guys in boxers, not briefs.

Finally, she re-did my diet. She detested red meat and eschewed fast food, so I absolved myself of the same gastronomic sins.

From then on, I've kept my hair short, kept abreast of what's egregiously unfashionable (conceding that I've no idea what's actually IN fashion at the moment) and wear nothing but boxers. And, for about five years after this girl left my life, I avoided red meat altogether and ate fast food just a handful of times.

Whenever I went out to eat, the entrée-sized chicken Caesar salad was my go-to main course. My ensalada obsesión was a long running joke with my closest friends. By the time I met the future Mrs. Bootleg, I weighed 159 lbs. My
salad days truly were…salad days.

Several years ago, the entrée-sized salad became a popular menu item at fast food restaurants. Marketed to women and disingenuously positioned as a healthier alternative to burgers and fries, eateries like McDonald's and Wendy's were moving crazy amounts of salads – even the ones topped with fried chicken or chili.

Carl's Jr. is taking a different approach. The chain has enlisted the subtle, understated and wholesome sexuality of Dr. Kim Kardashian in the ad campaign for their Grilled Chicken Salads. The "too hot for TV" version of the below spot can be found on Carl's Jr's Facebook page – or so I'm told.

The Cranberry Apple Walnut Grilled Chicken salad includes nothing but things I like in its name. There's feta cheese and raspberry vinaigrette dressing, too. The walnuts are glazed, the cranberries are dried…I like these things. Some of these ingredients I really like. So, why is this salad so unexceptional?

Well, for starters, the chicken is served piping hot from either the grill or the microwave. I ordered mine at the drive-thru window and by the time I got back to my office, the steam from the chicken had congealed the feta cheese and wilted the lettuce. If the resultant mess had been shoved between a multi-grain bun, it could've been called a California Chicken Club. For a salad, I expect more than a plate of soggy sandwich innards.

CJ's "spring salad mix" is a bitter assortment of cheap, leafy greens that needed a lot more dressing to mask their harsh taste. The walnuts and cranberries might've helped, but the teeny amounts provided could barely fill a single spoon.

Sorry, Kim. The days of hot women influencing my food decisions have come and gone. I am now free to appreciate your commercials for their inherent artistic value.

Grade: 1.5 (out of 5) Calories: 460 Fat: 23 (both with dressing)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TBG (Finally) Sees: G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra

10-Word Premise: Live-action cartoon continues tradition of making terrorism accessible to kids.

Starring: Channing Tatum as this guy. Rachel Nichols as this gal. Sienna Miller as
this gal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as this guy. Christopher Eccleston as this guy. And, Marlon Wayans as the make-believe character who alienates a segment of angry white fanboys for being a Black guy cast in the role of an action figure that was white.

Before we begin, here's a six-month old e-mail that I received from m'man Jag:

Surprisingly, Marlon Wayans wasn't the worst thing in the movie (although he was still pretty bad) but the whole movie was quite terrible. Marlon wasn't even the worst actor as that honour can be bestowed to Channing Tatum, who played Duke. This guy is one of the worst actors I've EVER seen. Like, I'm talking a Keanu Reeves/Paul Walker level of thespian.

The Best Thang(s): I can't remember the last time I willfully watched a film in which my expectations were this low. Now, let's be clear: G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra is howlingly awful at times. But, for guilty-pleasure purposes, I was eating up Gordon-Levitt's scene stealing from beginning to end.

The mid-film twist that reveals his character's true identity caught me completely off-guard (yeah, yeah…you saw it coming from the beginning, sure) and his "You can call me…COMMANDER" proclamation was probably my favorite scene in the movie.

Christopher Eccleston is the only other actor here who appears to be even remotely interested. As a double-dealing weapons producer, he hams it up as something akin to an ersatz Dr. Evil from Austin Powers infamy, but with a slightly more annoying accent.

The Worst Thang(s): In defense of Channing Tatum, I don't think his flat, emotionless acting can crack the worst three performances in this film. Rachel Nichols (as Scarlett) is the least convincing hero this side of the cast of Heroes. And, her lack of chemistry with Wayans' "Ripcord" character includes the worst cinematic kiss in my lifetime.

Sienna Miller's Baroness isn't much better, but Miller does what she can with a preposterous romantic subplot/backstory involving Duke, her dead brother and evil hair dye. Meanwhile, Dennis Quaid's military caricature may have finally unseated
this performance as the most offensive to the armed forces.

There's not nearly enough space here to rip everything that's wrong with this film, so I'll try to summarize: (1) The incessant and overly-long flashbacks slammed the brakes on the story each and every time. (2) The Storm Shadow/Snake-Eyes stuff should've been better, but isn't allowed to get beyond its clichéd kung-fu hooey. (3) The plot holes are enormous – The Baroness is carrying an indestructible weapon's "kill switch" on a giant box (with a giant button) strapped over her shoulder? Cobra's trying to destroy Washington DC, even though they've already infiltrated the highest office in the land?

The Verdict: In the category of "bad movies that insult things close to my heart", G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra isn't Batman & Robin bad. Without a single protagonist like in the Spider-Man movies or "ignore-the-plot Autobot and Decepticon CGI distractions" in Transformers, you're left with a comic-book movie that's plays like a spoof of comic book movies.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

TBG (Finally) Sees: District 9

10-Word Premise: Apartheid with aliens. I assume that description hasn't been used.

Starring: Sharlto Copley as the one-third amicable, one-third annoying and – for most of the movie – one-third [spoiler deleted, but it also starts with "A"] guy. David James as the stereotypically sinister/sadistic/vicious (you can only choose one, y'all) mercenary. And, Louis Minnaar as a slightly more evil version of Jack Tripper's
father-in-law in the short-lived spin-off, Three's A Crowd.*

*-- I found the picture in the above link by typing "Three's A Crowd" into Google Images. An unsolicited word of warning: if you're at work, don't type "Three's A Crowd" into Google Images. Just trust me on this, y'all. Don't. You're going to do it, anyway, aren't you?

The Best Thang(s): Copley's performance is a wild-eyed kaleidoscope of emotions. He plays a low-level operative named Wikus van de Merwe who's assigned the Herculean task of leading the effort to relocate 1.8 million aliens far, far away from the hard-working people of Johannesburg, South Africa. Reverse "white flight", if you will.

In the first few scenes, Copley mugs for the film crew following his team through the alien's shanty town. His character's false bravado belies a repressed insecurity that comes off the screen clear as day. Watching his physical and emotional breakdown – from panicky denial to begging and bargaining to forced acceptance had me openly rooting for him by film's end.

The most persistent criticism of the film seems to be the film's final act, in which the high-level concepts are tossed out the window in favor of a guns, ammo and chase-tastic climax. It worked for me, though, as something of a whiz-bang reward – the proverbial pot boiling over – as the greater tension between humans and aliens is left to slowly build throughout.

I thought the rather ambiguous ending was effective and the assortment of documentary-style closing shots of officials who articulated their own uncertainty through an array of explanatory theories was actually satisfying.

The Worst Thang(s): While I enjoyed District 9 tremendously, it took a while for me to look past the premise. The aliens were basically bipedal shellfish who walked among humans – in segregation, but still. It had been about 30 years since the aliens "arrived" and I'm not sure the kind of comfort level exhibited by the humans who interact with them could be achieved in 300 years.

Also, one of the film's primary antagonists is killed by the aliens – torn apart, actually. I couldn't have been the only asking why the aliens – nearly 2 million strong, we're told – hadn't tried this 5-on-1
human Awesome Blossom approach before. It would've taken them 20 minutes to take over South Africa.

The Verdict: Probably a little overrated due to Hollywood's obsession with oversimplified racial analogies, but District 9 is still a fast, fun little film. I don't know if it's worthy of a "Best Picture" Oscar® nomination, but it wouldn't take much of an argument to convince me that it is.

Friday, February 19, 2010

TBG TV: The Michael Vick Project

When/Where: BET -- Tuesdays at 10:00 PM

10-Word Premise: Redemption of the rare Black athlete who breaks the law.

Starring: Michael Vick as the most hated man in white America (save for the infrequent 72-hour periods after Kanye West does something stupid at an awards show);
Kijafa Frink as Vick's fiancée (she's also, somehow, one of the show's executive producers and credited with handling the family's finances); The D.O.C. as Vick's mom (most of you won't get the'll just have to trust me, it's funny) and Marcus Vick as the family's redshirt f***-up.

The Best Thang: It goes without saying that The Michael Vick Project isn't going to change anyone's opinion of the guy, but there's actually a little bit of heart buried beneath the usual reality show self-aggrandizing. Vick kinda-sorta drops his macho veneer long enough to let viewers know that he cried himself to sleep during his first few weeks in federal prison. We don't see the brutha cry on camera, but the rest of his family fills the tears quota quite nicely. In the second episode, Vick shares the story of how he told his grandmother -- who was suffering from advanced Alzheimer's -- that he was leaving for "training camp", instead of prison. She died a few months later (while Vick was still incarcerated) and Vick's recollection is pretty powerful stuff. (Although, listening to his fiancée mispronounce "Alzheimer's" did taint the moment a wee bit...)

The Worst Thang: The first two episodes have been surprisingly even-handed and included comments from Wayne Pacelle (President of the Humane Society) and Major Ted Hull (who oversaw Vick's stay in federal custody). But, at its core, this is still a transparent attempt to resurrect Vick's brand name, as opposed to the man. Vick appears contrite and says all the right (read: remorseful) things, but everyone else keeps using the word "tragic" to describe his downfall. And, instead of Vick and his family attacking the legal system, a series of "man on the street" interviews were included in the second episode to play the "how did Vick get 23 months when so-and-so did worse and got less time?" angle.

The Verdict: I've pretty much abhorred reality shows since their televised infancy, but The Michael Vick Project is morbidly interesting. Vick is essentially auditioning for his next NFL contract with this show, since the handful of plays per game he ran with the Philadelphia Eagles couldn't possibly be enough to convince another GM to give him a chance. Not surprisingly, no one with the NFL is touching this show with a 10-foot pole (no game highlights, etc.), so I'm curious to see how his season with the Eagles is handled.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination -- 02/14/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5, 3, 2, 1 scoring)

(1) The Simpsons ("Boy Meets Curl") -- There were three things that vaulted The Simpsons into the week's top spot: (1) The show's first few minutes of "date night" satire. (2) The rapid-fire one-liners from the third act. (3) An abysmal effort from every one of Seth MacFarlane's shows. Truth be told, this was not a good episode.
Eight years ago, the writers penned a razor-sharp send-up of Canada and the Olympics ("The Bart Wants What It Wants"). This time around, the comedic target was mostly the sport of curling -- a pop-culture piñata that's been beaten to death. the secondary story (Lisa develops an addiction to crossword puzzles, Dash Dingo's video game, Corey Hotline Olympic pins) was similarly recycled cud.

(2) American Dad! ("May the Best Stan Win") -- How many times can this show go to the "Stan and Francine fight, Stan and Francine make up" plot? The cyborg Stan from the far-flung future should've been funnier (in a "caricature of a caricature" kind of way) but the first few minutes of his obnoxious Mexican-Canadian schtick killed off the comedy for me. And, as someone who works in the contracts industry, I can't stay silent on this anymore: Tearing up a contract does NOT invalidate the document! It doesn't! I know how real cops feel when they see TV cops stick their finger in a bag of cocaine and taste-test it.

(3) The Cleveland Show ("Buried Pleasure") -- This one pretty much lost me after the Rear Window spoof. I'll be the first person to admit that The Simpsons isn't what it used to be, but that show's
brilliant 1994 riff on the Hitchcock classic simply can't be topped. And, certainly not with the lowbrow, sophomoric set-up used here. The physical abuse storyline was simply bad slapstick, while the Rallo/Cleveland, Jr. "pregnancy" stuff was simply bad.

(4) Family Guy ("Extra Large Medium") -- Unfunny AND mean-spirited, this one will go down as one of the worst episodes of the show's run. I'm the last person to get offended by a fictitious sitcom family, but the Down's syndrome stuff was needlessly over-the-line. And, tying it to a throwaway gag at the expense of Sarah Palin's young son was pretty repugnant. McCain/Palin were mocked earlier in the evening on MacFarlane's The Cleveland Show and, infamously, in a Family Guy episode from last season in which Stewie (dressed as Hitler) wore their campaign button. You've made your point, Seth. Move on.

MVP: Let's go with Agnes Skinner. Her mocking "How's my ice taste?" line was positively Shaq-tastic and, for the first time that I can remember, she showed some love for her son, Seymour.

Quote of the Night: "I traded away my pearls. Without them, I'm just a big Maggie!" -- Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons)

Current Standings

The Simpsons -- 45
The Cleveland Show -- 40
American Dad! -- 28
Family Guy -- 26

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "The Substitute"

If you missed it last week, m'man Joe Reid posted an excellent take on the early direction of Lost's sixth and final season. Worth a look for fans of the show.

Three Things I Dug:

Happy-Go-Lockey: The opening (alternate) sequence with a wheelchair-bound Locke experiencing a series of sad-sack moments – and taking them all in stride – put a smile on my face. For the past five seasons, the Locke character has been written as pathetic and naïve – even when he seemed to be in control – so it was refreshing to see him laugh off his face-plant on the front lawn as the sprinklers came on.

Ben's Eulogy: Buh-rilliant. Michael Emerson's portrayal of Ben Linus – a man whose entire reason for being has been stripped from his soul – continues to be the best thing about this show. Ben may no longer know which end is up, but the realization that he and Locke were kindred spirits – to say nothing of the deadpan "sorry for murdering you" bit – was a nifty little sequence.

Princess Sun: If I remember correctly, it was Sun's idea to bury the real Locke ("Locke-thentic"? "Locke Classic"? He needs a differentiating nickname). In the next scene, it's Ilana and Ben who are carrying the corpse, followed by Ben and Lapidus digging the grave. Nary a bead of sweat broke across Sun's perpetually pouty countenance. Who knew "Sun" was Korean for "Mrs. Bootleg"?

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

Whiskey Sawyer: I loved the palpable tension between Jack and Sawyer in the season premiere from a few weeks back. Jack's grand plan had seemingly failed and it cost Juliet her life. Even though he later recanted, when Sawyer proclaimed that he was going to kill Jack in retaliation, it was one of the best delivered lines of the series' run. Instead, that conflict is broken off as Sawyer's been mired in a lampoon of the grieving boyfriend. Last week, he tossed Juliet's engagement ring into ocean. This week, he stared blankly into space while sipping whiskey in his underwear. (And, where the hell did he get an engagement ring? The Zales Station?)

The Hugo/Locke Payoff: I dunno, y'all. The timing of the (alternate) "Hugo owns the company" revelation seemed awfully convenient. The problem, to me, is that the writers spent an ungodly amount of time establishing these "six degrees" connections between the Oceanic passengers in the first few seasons. Unless they plan on addressing most, if not all of them in the next 12 weeks, the occasional reveal will keep coming off as cheap pandering. Does anything in the alternate timeline even count?

"You ain't Locke": One of the more frustrating things from last season was the way Sawyer's character was written. He started out as the bad-ass de facto leader of the 1977 castaways. Once Jack, Kate and Hurley arrived, Sawyer spectacularly lost his con-man mojo as his Dharma kingdom fell apart. Now, with the brownest of the brown liquors on his belly and still overtly grieving his true love, Sawyer can once again read a few ambiguous verbal cues and proclaim Fake Locke to be…fake? Come on.

The Verdict: Decent, but I'm still waiting for this season to get out of first gear. Mysterious children traipsing through the jungle and Ben Linus, European History teacher aren't exactly instilling me with excitement for next week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Ketchup F'd Me Up

I'm sitting here with a full splint on my wrist that extends half-way up my forearm. Earlier this evening, a doctor told me NOT to use my left hand for anything -- not even typing. I'm three sentences into this post and I've learned two things: (1) it IS possible to achieve a negative WPM and (2) I should've listened to my doctor.

Last August, I tore the tendon in one of the fingers on my left hand. Did I ever get around to writing a post
about that? The drugs I'm on at the moment have wrecked havoc with my inherent sense of self-serving recall. Anyways, the splint on my finger came off for good back in December, but I've never regained the dexterity in my injured digit.

Even worse, my left hand has grown demonstrably weaker than the right. Thanks to the fact that my mom's a southpaw, I was taught at an early age to tie my shoes, open jars and turn doorknobs as a lefty. At times recently, I haven't been able to make a fist with my left hand.

Tuesday evening, around 6:00 PM, I reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of ketchup. My family goes through that condiment like crazy, so Mrs. Bootleg bought the 64-ounce size. I felt something pop in my hand when I applied the slightest bit of pressure to the plastic bottle, so that I could take it out of the fridge. I couldn't move my left hand and a sharp pain began shooting through my wrist and in the middle of my hand.

At Urgent Care, the doctor seemingly wanted nothing to do with me. After I explained what happened, the doctor gave me two choices: an injection of something called Toradol or a couple of ibuprofens. There was no offer of an x-ray or half-assed attempt to manipulate my immovable hand. The doctor simply suggested I schedule an appointment with a rheumatologist in the morning. I let her talk me into the Toradol injection and she went on her way.

Ten minutes later, a nurse entered with a comically-long syringe. She picked up on my apprehension and initiated the following conversation:

Nurse: "Don't worry, Aaron. Toradol is like a localized shot of morphine. Think of it as high-functioning aspirin."

Me: "Uh...I'm, like, violently allergic to aspirin."

Nurse: "Are you sure?"

Me: "Yes."

Nurse: "Did you mention this when they checked you in?"

Me: "YES."

Nurse: "[Actually annoyed] Oh. Well, Toradol really isn't aspirin, but I can check with the doctor."

Nurse: [Returning] "The doctor says Toradol's not good for you."

No sh*t.

So, here I sit with my wrist in a splint.
More machine now than man. Twisted and evil and typing with one finger. Coincidentally, it's the same finger I'd like to save for the American health care industry.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Very Private Public Debate

There aren't many things that I'm passionate about.

I believe that adjective applies to me with regards to this lightly-read blog and my favorite baseball team, but in the grand scheme, I'm not passionate about a lot of things I'm "supposed" to be passionate about. For example, the national political discourse has gotten so toxically divisive, that I only come up for air in an election year on Election Day. I wasn't raised in a religious household, so I don't know the power one finds in their faith.

And, I assure you, there's no passion in pushing papers for ten hours a day.

Of course, I am passionate about my family.

I hit the marital lottery with Mrs. Bootleg and when it comes to our son, Jalen, we'll do anything for him. But, when is "anything" actually not enough?

Y'see, I used to be passionate about the public school versus private school debate.

I wanted my son to get the best education possible, but I also wanted to expose him to different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences through the classroom. For years – hell, decades – I've believed the public school system to be the place to achieve these goals. In truth, I still believe this…so, why is my son finishing up a three year run at a private preschool/kindergarten and about to start first grade in another private school this fall?

Why am I so conflicted about this?

Is it because my six-year-old son has developed a sense of self-awareness that I didn't realize until I was at least ten years older?

How should I have reacted the first time Jalen noticed he was the only African-American in his class? How do I tell him to get used to it, if we choose to continue his private education? I was "the only Black kid in class" pretty much from K-12 and while it makes for a tired punchline, it also gets into your head. I was years removed from high school before I resolved my own absence of identity.

Is it because many of my friends from high school and college went on to become public school teachers?

I know it sounds ridiculous and probably is ridiculous, but I always feel like I'm pissing on my friends' chosen profession whenever I answer the "Where does Jalen go to school?" question in mixed company. Many of these people know how strident I once was on my preference for public schools, so in addition to insulting them, I'm also a hypocrite. Awesome.

Is it because I think I'm better than you?

Please. But, I don't want you to think I think that. If I may share a maudlin moment: Mrs. Bootleg and I both grew up poor, put ourselves through college and busted our asses to have the little bit that a decent household income can procure in San Diego County. In many ways, it's the same unexceptional existence led by anyone else. But, private schools are stereotypically associated with prestige, pretension and
Jo Polniaczek. And, if back-to-back Writer of the Year awards didn't turn me into an elitist prick, nothing will.

We love Jalen's school. Last week, J was at the dinner table rattling off countries in South America. Last month, he "directed" a school play about the life of Martin Luther King (and, that's a whole other blog post, y'all…) This spring, he'll give a kindergarten graduation speech that is sure to topple the top two bawling moments of my life (#1:
October 15, 1988 and #2: the day Jalen was born…in that order). Just three moments from three years at his school.

Private, public moments.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A's of the Decade: Starting Rotation & Closer

Starters: Tim Hudson (1999-2004); Barry Zito (2000-2006); Mark Mulder (2000-2004) and Dan Haren (2005-2007)

Closer: Huston Street (2005-2008)

Summary: Hudson was the ace of those beer league A's teams in the first half of the decade. During his six years in Oakland, he posted a .702 winning percentage (92-39). Hudson was traded to Atlanta for three sacks of crap. Zito won 102 games with the A's and picked up the AL Cy Young Award in 2002. He was never that good again, but Zito parlayed that dusty trophy into a $125 million free agent deal from the Giants.

Mulder went 81-42 over five seasons in Oakland. Unfortunately, he's remembered mostly for an inexplicable collapse at the end of the 2004 season when he put up a 7.28 ERA over his last 10 starts and all but single-handedly cost the A's a playoff berth. Coincidentally, Haren came over in the trade that sent Mark Mulder to St. Louis. Haren won 14, 14 and 15 games during his three seasons with the A's.

Street makes the list simply by not being Octavio Dotel or Billy Koch. He was solid over his first three seasons (2.58 ERA), shaky in his last year, but still recorded 94 saves with the A's.

Favorite A's Moment: If I had to pick just one moment, it would have to be the
final game of the 2000 season. Tim Hudson went eight innings, striking out ten, as the A's defeated the Rangers 3-0 and – with the win – won the American League West for the first time in eight years. The silver medal goes to Barry Zito's start against the Rangers on July 15, 2005. M'man Vig and I were at the Coliseum that evening and watched Zito throw no-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings before a Kevin Mench home run broke it up.

Runners-Up: Rich Harden, Keith Foulke

Worst of the Decade: Kirk Saarloos, Octavio Dotel

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A's of the Decade: Designated Hitter – Frank Thomas

Years: 2006, 2008

Other Candidates: John Jaha (1999-2001); Jeremy Giambi (2000-2002); Ray Durham (2002); Erubiel Durazo (2003-2004); Scott Hatteberg (2002-2005); Mike Piazza (2007); Jack Cust (2007-2009)

Summary: I'm sad to see The Big Hurt finally hang 'em up. He was one of the last superstar players to hit the scene during the seven-year stretch (1987-1993) when baseball established itself as my favorite sport. It'll just be me and a bottle of bourbon when/if Ken Griffey, Jr. ever decides to retire.

Thomas had several All-Star nods under his belt when he signed a $500,000 one-year deal with the A's prior to the 2006 season. He was coming off of two injury-plagued years in which he appeared in only 108 total games. Through his first seven weeks with the A's, Thomas was hitting .178/.300/.373. From May 22 until the end of the season, he hit .302/.408/.603 with 32 HRs.

Arguably, his most impressive contribution to the '06 A's might've been his underreported influence on the mercurial Milton Bradley. Thomas never had a reputation as a good teammate, but whenever Bradley seemed primed for another self-immolation, Thomas was quick to calm him down.

Favorite A's Moment: I could go with Thomas' first game back at Comiskey as a visiting player. In his first at-bat, after receiving a standing ovation from the White Sox faithful,
he homered. But, I prefer the July 6 game against the hated Angels. His two-run walk-off home run was the difference in a 7-5 win. Watching the A's delicately slap, hug and high-five the brittle Thomas was an added bonus.

Runner-Up: Erubiel Durazo

Worst of the Decade: John Jaha

Friday, February 12, 2010

A's of the Decade: Catcher – Kurt Suzuki

Years: 2007-present

Other Candidates: Ramon Hernandez (1999-2003); Damian Miller (2004); Nancy Kendall (2005-2007)

Summary: To some degree, Suzuki's a wee bit overrated by every A's fan. He gets too much credit for the ERA of the pitching staff. His league average offensive output looks a lot better inside the A's anemic line-up. And, for me, his call-up in 2007 hastened the end of the Jason Kendall era (.658 OPS!) in Oakland. This alone should put Suzuki within the imaginary pantheon of ballplayers credited with saving baseball over the past 15 years. Ripken, McGwire, Sosa…Suzuki. Rolls right off the tongue.

Favorite A's Moment: One of Suzuki's most endearing/annoying qualities is his Vlade Divac-knack for flopping to the ground on any pitch thrown inside. On
August 15, 2008, DJ Carrasco of the White Sox threw one in the general vicinity of Suzuki. Hit the deck! On the next pitch, Suzuki launched a walk-off home run. The sequence was even turned into an A's commercial (100% Owned) for 2009 season tickets.

Runner-Up: Ramon Hernandez

Worst of the Decade: Jason Kendall

Thursday, February 11, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 166.8 lbs.

Grilled cheese sandwiches were the second thing I learned how to cook during my believe-it-or-not obese pre-teen years. For what it's worth, scrambled eggs were the first. I made these early meals in my mom's coal-black, cast-iron skillet – a cooking utensil that she bought three years before I was born and still uses to this day.*

* -- That's the short version of my mom's "cast-iron skillet" story. Her first-person account was forced upon anyone ever invited over to our house for as long as I lived with my parents. In her director's cut description, the skillet was the first item she purchased when she moved away from home. My mom somehow spun the skillet story as an uncomfortable metaphor for Black empowerment and the tumultuous early 1970s.

The making of a great grilled cheese sandwich isn't as simple as it seems.

As a 10-year-old culinary neophyte, I'd have killed for a lightly-read blog such as this one to advise me: white bread, not wheat; two slices of name-brand American cheese (no store-brand, no reduced fat); one soup-spoon scoop of Country Crock straight into a pre-heated (a tick above "medium" heat, but NOT "medium-hot" or "hot") skillet…then, another scoop o' buttery spread when it's time to cook the other side; and a small plate to sit atop the sandwich while it cooks in order to contain the heat and ensure an even browning.

The end result is crispy, buttery, the ooey AND the gooey. Sadly though, without my mom's skillet – and the residue of "old Black woman cooking juju" its absorbed over the years – my grilled cheese sandwiches only realize 95-98% of their full potential.

Carl's Jr. gets in on the old-school comfort food act with the introduction of their Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger: (from their website) charbroiled 100% Black Angus beef topped with crispy bacon, slices of melted Swiss and American cheese, and mayonnaise served on toasted sourdough bread.

I ordered the $4.49 "Six-Dollar Burger" version and was pleased to leave the drive-thru window with a bag that weighed about the same as a cinder block. The Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger looks good, as do most things sandwiched by sourdough and oozing cheese over beef and bacon. Aaaaaand, then there's the taste.

In the description above, you'll notice that Carl's Jr. doesn't disclose how many slices of cheese go into a Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger. Odd, since the company issued the usual self-serving fast food
press release that trumpeted four slices of cheese. I'd understand if the about-face was intentional. Four slices of cheese is just two too many – for anything edible.

Every bite filled my mouth with the gloppy, gummy magma of melted fake cheese. Like a bad horror movie, the blob overwhelmed everything in its path. On my burger, a bit of the bacon's glorious saltiness survived the cheese slaughter, but the porcine remains were mostly unidentifiable.

Of course, I also fell victim to Carl's Jr.'s hit-or-miss meat quality. I've had their "Six Dollar Burgers" when they're hot and relatively juicy by fast food standards. I've also been served CJ's burgers that were cold and chalky. Let's just say, my burger was not hot and relatively juicy. And, where in the hell does the fast food industry procure its "sourdough" bread? The taste and texture is often a closer approximation to an especially yeasty English muffin.

Carl's Jr. has smothered my childhood memories with a processed cheese pillow.

Grade: 1 (out of 5) Calories: 990 Fat: 69g

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TBG TV: Lost - "What Kate Does"

Three Things I Dug:

Dr. Ethan: Obviously, the writers are building v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y to the inevitable "alternate timeline" Ben Linus fate, but if this gradual burn includes excellently delivered in-joke nods to continuity like Dr. Ethan Goodspeed, then I'll be patient. Bizarro Ethan slayed me with his bedside manor (he has some!) and his "I don't want to stick you with needles if I don't have to" line was a brilliant bit of business for those of us who remember his original storyline from several seasons ago.

Shut up, Jack: I'm kinda grasping for positives this week, so I'll gleefully acknowledge Jack getting mouthy with the (other) Others and the brief beatdown they unleashed upon him, afterwards. Back in season three, the original Others seemed content to get into Jack's head during the time he was their prisoner. Meanwhile, this new mystery group cuts right to the chase with their fists o' fury, poisoned gel-caps, etc.

The Cabbie: Perhaps, I took too much pleasure from an otherwise mundane moment, but when the corpulent cabbie escapes Kate's carjacking by opening the driver's side door and running away...I loved it. If years of TV and movies have taught us nothing else, it's that carjacking victims can never escape their situation, unless the carjacker lets them escape. I'm always appreciative of a simple, relatively unpredictable twist on a tired refrain.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

The Clichés: Hated the lack of subtlety in the Sayid torturing scene. We even got a throwaway reminder from Sawyer that Sayid used to torture people just to set up the scene. Watching a great character follow the "dose of his own medicine" meme right down to the "whimpering victim" schtick was weak. Miles was equally wasted in a week where he was primarily used to fetch water or shooed away by Jack when he needed quiet time with Sayid. Also receiving clichéd character development votes: Alternate Claire's "It's coming!" stressed labor proclamation and Sawyer's tearful "I was gonna marry her..." development.

Enough with the Mystery: This is the final season, Lost writers. When Jack asks what's in the pill, I shouldn't have to wait through three commercial breaks to get a damn answer. Yes, I DVR'd it and was able to blast past the commercials, but that's not the point. The obvious retort is, of course, rhetorical: Would viewers rather wait 30 minutes for an answer or 3 years? But, when the answer is as predictable as the gel-cap conundrum, dragging it out only serves to jerk around the audience.

The Stolen Cab: For the second straight week, the writers roll out an absolutely implausible plot point. My jab about last week's empty airport restroom was only semi-serious, but the notion that Kate could jack a cab in Los Angeles, drive over to a body shop to get her handcuffs removed, drive BACK to the exact spot where she dumped off Claire, give Claire a ride and make TWO stops for her all without even a whiff of
bacon in the rearview mirror is lunacy. I lived in Los Angeles for 22 years and taxi cabs there never roam outside of downtown or beyond a five-mile radius of LAX. As oblivious as my people are, someone would've noticed a random cab roaming the distant suburbs. Guaranteed.

The Verdict: This was a bit of a letdown after last week's soo-POIB season premiere. I won't beat it up too much since we got a pair of significant revelations regarding Island Sayid and Island Claire in the final 15 minutes. But, at the same time, I can't fall in lockstep with everyone who loves everything about Lost all the time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TBG Sees: Precious

Last Saturday was "date night" for me and Mrs. Bootleg, as my mom and my aunt were in town for Jalen's 6th birthday. There was a brief bit of cinematic negotiation, as the wife made an 11th hour push for Avatar. So, I encouraged her to seek out the opinion of her most trusted resource for movies – m'man Joe Reid. His eviscerating review swayed Mrs. Bootleg to my first choice -- Precious.

Befitting the film's independent status, we had to drive nearly 40 minutes in the rain down to a small cinema in San Diego's Hillcrest community. While most of San Diego County sits to the extreme right of the political and social spectrum, Hillcrest is an eclectic spread of 21st century
counter-culture. Best restaurants in town, colossal bar scene and the friendliest people in the city.

I'd estimate that our theater had room for no more than 80 people. And, if that wasn't enough proof that we were at an independent cinema, Mrs. Bootleg was positively crestfallen when she learned the snack bar didn't serve nachos.

Honestly, one of the aspects of the evening that I was looking most forward to mocking was the trailers. Independent movie trailers! There were only three and they did not disappoint: a
Steve Buscemi film sandwiched between two previews in subtitles. I assume this description applies to at least 60% of the collective trailers shown before indie flicks.

As for our feature presentation…

Gabourey Sidibe plays the obese, illiterate title character in 1987 Harlem. She's only 16, but her horrific home life – incest, intense physical and verbal abuse – sends Precious into sporadic daydreams akin to a real-time mechanism of repression. Mo'Nique plays her inert, yet inhumanly brutal mother.

Admittedly, I'm in no way qualified to make this pronouncement, but with apologies to Penélope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick, there aren't four better supporting actress performances than Mo'Nique's here. Quite a few of us African-Americans had been following her stand-up act 15 years before this breakthrough performance and it always seemed her comedy came from a dark place.

Wherever that place is, she parks herself right on its couch and becomes evil incarnate. The physical brutality she unleashes on her daughter is awful enough, but I especially dug the toxicity of two dialogue-free scenes: the withering stare she directs at Precious as the child is forced to eat the enormous dinner she prepared for her mom and the blank premeditation as Precious returns home after the family's welfare has been cut off.

Sidibe is equally impressive. Several months back, I read a review that lamented her lack of range in this film, but that's missing the point. Precious has had all the love and hate and sadness and happiness pulverized out of her. Her spirit isn't broken, it's been obliterated. Sidibe's character finds – and conveys – strength with the birth of her son and the film's final 30 minute definitively puts the "lack of range" complaint to rest.

Precious is a challenging exercise for the sensibilities. The incest scene – shown as a flashback, with frenetic cutaways – is appropriately grotesque. Precious' recounting the details of the birth of her first child (a daughter born with Down's syndrome) on her kitchen floor will cut your heart out.

My only critiques are relatively minor. The lesbian alternative-education teacher with the heart of gold (Paula Patton) was transparent and two-dimensional (although, I appreciated the cameo from a certain '80s sitcom actress). The very real sociological struggles that African-Americans confront with regards to education and dark-skin/light-skin are teased, but not explored (understandable, given the time constraints). And, Mariah Carey's turn as a dowdy, yet fierce social worker left a lot to be desired.

A terrific film otherwise and y'all know who me and Mrs. Bootleg will be rooting for on Oscar® night.

(One more critique: The scene where Precious absconds with a 10-piece bucket of fried chicken and outruns the fast food employee who ostensibly chases after her? Yeah.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

TBG Drinks: Fullsuit

Brewed By: Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Brewed In: San Diego, California
Type: Belgian-Style Brown Ale
ABV: 6.3%

What They Say: "Fullsuit is brewed with the changing seasons in mind. Firm toasted malt and roasted nut flavors are underpinned by a hint of vanilla that comes from aging the beer on French oak. Belgian ale yeast adds a peppery, fruity character to the beer’s slightly dry and warming finish, making it perfect for the (kind of) cold Southern California winter."

Website: At this risk of running afoul of any web-designing beer elitists out there, I freaking love the Karl Strauss site. Yes, the home page is a little blocky, but it's clean and easy to read. The "Brews" page not only shows the full assortment of beers by their names/types, but it also offers up a visual of what's inside the bottle. I know it's not the same as seeing a pour in front of you, but it's still a nice touch. The "Eats" tab takes you to maps and menus of their six Southern California restaurants (get the beer-brined pork chops and thank me later). And, the obligatory "Who We Are" and "Beer Gear" areas aren't at all intrusive.

Why I Picked It: The first time I had Karl Strauss (Amber Lager) was during my last semester of college at San Diego State. Two friends and I finished two pitchers in our on-campus pub, right before our "Marketing 471" midterm. In the pantheon of bad academic ideas, this isn't as high on my personal list as you might think. I got a "C" on the exam and, like steroids and baseball, no one really knows the true impact of BAC and test-taking. Anyways, I fell in love with the Karl Strauss brand back then. While I don't drink it much anymore, I'll always find time for one of their seasonal releases.


Presentation (5): Isn't it standard operating procedure for "winter seasonal" offerings to at least hint at winter on their label? I get that the average high in San Diego this time of year is 66 degrees, but the drab all-brown look didn't work for the local baseball team in the 1980s and it's hard to get behind it now. 2

Originality (5): Even the most conservative accounts estimate that brown ale was being brewed in England as early as the 19th century. Some go as far back as the 1600s. Anything this old and brown is usually honored with a cardboard cutout stapled to the wall inside a second-grade classroom during Black History Month. That doesn't make it original. Sorry, Harriet Tubman. 1

Body (10): A rust-colored pour with minimal head and lacing, Fullsuit doesn't hold up better or worse than any other brown ale out there. That's not an insult -- it's aesthetically pleasing in a pint glass, but with an ale's thinness and level of carbonation. 6

Taste (10): There's a toasted spiciness here that hits the tongue immediately. That gives way to slightly bittersweet vanilla notes which never really take over the taste, but should've been stronger and/or stuck around longer. If Karl Strauss could've combined this flavor tweak with a more substantive mouthfeel, I'd have gone higher with my score. 7

Efficiency (10): It's hard to imagine someone doing epic damage to a six-pack. It's plenty smooth and goes down just fine, but the bitterness -- while not at all pronounced -- really lingers. Fullsuit is one of those beers that you'd start your night with, but not spend an entire evening. 6

Versatility (10): It'll take about half a bottle for the extremely casual beer drinker to appreciate Fullsuit. I'm not trying to paint an overly-complex picture of a relatively simple brew, but no one will ever confuse this with $2.00 Bud Lights during your league's bowling night. Karl Strauss is arguably the most recognizable brewery name in San Diego, so a little reliance on the locals' brand awareness could get this beer into a Chargers playoff party. 6

Grade: 28 (out of 50) -- Good Beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happy 6th Birthday, Jalen!

At some point, I'll have recovered enough to recap today's insanity. For now, know this: do NOT host a child's birthday party at a bowling alley. It took a double-shot of awesome to keep my skull from exploding today and, thankfully, the gods of birthday cake and Super Bowl commercials were on my side:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery - That Game on Sunday

Two Weeks Ago Outright (Total):

Joe: 2-0 (7-3)
Tom: 0-2 (5-5)
Aaron: 1-1 (4-6)

Two Weeks Ago vs. Spread (Total):

Tom: 1-1 (6-4)
Joe: 1-1 (3-7)
Aaron: 1-1 (3-7)

The Spread Sez: COLTS (-4.5) v. Saints

Aaron: At their very best, the gap between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning isn't as pronounced as the media would have you believe, now that Manning is thought of as a cross between Johnny Unitas and Jesus. Everyone picking the Colts says the same thing: Indy hasn't lost a game all year when they gave a damn. My retort: Brees is the best QB the Colts have faced all year.

In Week #3, Kurt Warner threw for 332 yards vs. Indy. Tom Brady threw for 375 yards vs. Indy in Week #13. Brees WILL get his yards. And, while I'm hard-pressed to call the Saints the better team, if my life depended on it, I'd bet on the Saints' Sean Payton outcoaching Indy's Jim Caldwell with room to spare. I know how clichéd New Orleans' underdog story is, but...they've been through so much. Did you hear about that hurricane?

Final Score: New Orleans 28, Indianapolis 27

Joe: Here's how good this Indianapolis Colts team is: the running theme for people who hate them this week has been that they're boring. Boring! That's, like, the go-to insult when you have absolutely no other legs to stand on. It's what people said about those late-'90s Yankees teams, when they weren't whining about payrolls. (It's what people would be saying about Avatar if the film's story wasn't a laughable abomination.)

This Colts team isn't some plodding machine, grinding out 13-10 victories every week. They score. They like the long-ball. They're doing it with wide receivers who are both Haitian (!) and white (!!). Their QB went on SNL and did this. They're a fun team to watch. They're "boring" because they don't lose enough. Which I totally get. I love the underdog as much as anyone. I'll probably be rooting for the underdog on Sunday. I've been in Drew Brees's corner since he was at Purdue (beating Notre Dame) then San Diego (surviving the curse of Doug Flutie). And Cam's right, the Saints aren't at as big of a disadvantage as you've been told. But all things being equal (and they might be), I'm gonna go with the team who's been there before.

Final Score: Indianapolis 34, New Orleans 27

Friday, February 5, 2010

2009 Final A'ssessment: - Relief Pitchers

Andrew Bailey - (26 saves, 4.63 ERA)

2009 Grade: A

The Good: Your AL Rookie of the Year finished with just 49 hits allowed in 83.1 innings pitched and 91 strikeouts. From June 14 until the end of the season, Bailey gave up six runs over 45 innings (1.20 ERA). His splits were virtually identical between left and right-handed hitters (both slugged .248(!) off him) and home and road (sub-.200 batting averages for both), while Bailey's second half of the season was demonstrably better than his first. Compare this kid's freshman year with Jonathan Papelbon's 2006 rookie season and those of you who've never heard of Bailey can get an idea how good he was.

The Not-So-Good: My A's have an annoying tendency to overwork certain relievers and Bailey endured a 10-game midseason stretch (May 21 to June 10) in which his ERA was 4.85. He had pitched in half the A's games through Memorial Day, but Oakland seemed to be more appreciative of Bailey's arm in the second half of an otherwise unspectacular team season. In addition to overworking arms, Oakland's coaches have been maddeningly inept when it comes to "fixing" pitchers who struggle for extended stretches. Not an issue for Bailey in 2009, but something to keep tabs on going forward.

And, the rest… Erstwhile Chicago Cub Michael Wuertz parlayed a 78.2 innings, 102 strikeouts season into a 2-year extension from the A's last month. His slider is truly one of the handful of must-see pitches in the game. 2008 feel-good fluke Brad Ziegler was solid (3.07 ERA) after injuries and illness torpedoed his first two months of 2009. Santiago Casilla took his straight-as-a-string stuff (5.96 ERA) across the Bay to San Francisco, after the A's non-tendered him. And, journeyman Kevin Cameron appeared in just 11 games, but it was enough for Mrs. Bootleg to buy me his jersey-shirt for Father's Day. Hey, YOU try finding joy in a 75-win season.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

TBG TV: Lost - "LA X"

Three Things I Dug:

The Little Things: I loved Ben's catatonic reaction after killing Jacob, followed by Michael Emerson's brilliantly delivered "Why did he let me kill him?" line. Miles' briefly referring to a distraught Sawyer as "boss" – calling back to their former employee/employer relationship – was well done without being too sticky-sweet. And, in two of the most awesomely intense moments of the entire series: Sawyer's "If she dies, I'll kill him" dagger and Dark Locke's phenomenal "I want to go home" line/look.

Two Timelines: It's been easy – and, FUN – to bash the show's writing and direction over the years, but credit where it's due: Lindelof and Cuse are heading to the finish line on their terms and clearly don't give a damn in creating an accessible storyline. Put off by last season's convoluted time-travelling tale? Then, you're sure to run from this season's concurrent narratives. I'm on board with it and already appreciate the possibility that crashing on the island was actually the best thing that could've happened to the castaways.

Big Smoke!: That opening fight scene with the Smoke Monster was GOLD! ONYX!

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

The Other Others: At what point does the Lost Island become Gilligan's Island? Those 1960s castaways seemed to stumble across new island inhabitants every week, which lent to the show's absurdity. I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to a point, but come on. An entire populace is just now revealed and the explanation for their absence in the first five seasons is "they were hiding behind that wall"?

Retroactive Hate: Can't say I'm excited to see the return of two characters who I couldn't wait to get off my screen six years ago: cocky, obnoxious Sawyer and fugitive bad-ass kung-fu Kate. The evolution of Sawyer, especially, was one of my favorite aspects of last season and now – for a few scenes – I get to hate them all over again this season.

LAX Ladies Room: I know made this point on Wednesday night, but it bears repeating…an empty women's restroom in an airport? I mean, come on. Come on!

Verdict: Lindelof and Cuse went on record in last week's Entertainment Weekly, admitting that not every question would be answered by the end of the show's run this spring. If they'd rather distract their loyal viewers with balls-out episodes like this one to get our minds off of "whatever happened to Walt?", I can live wit' it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination – 01/31/2009

Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)

(1) The Simpsons ("Million Dollar Maybe") - A sweet, solid little diversion that was the easy winner on a Sunday night in which Seth MacFarlane's trifecta of cartoons simultaneously (uh, in their respective time slots) stunk up my TV screen. As is so often the case with today's Simpsons, several elements of the plot harken back to past seasons. But, Homer winning the lottery was a decent twist on the done to death "Homer, Marge, falling out, reconciliation" show. Nifty little visuals, too, like Bart log-rolling a helpless, weightless Homer and the liquidated Circuit City spoof.

(2) Family Guy ("Dial Meg for Murder") - OK…points for Stewie's "Oh, NOW everyone can understand me" line. Otherwise, there wasn't much more to like. Whenever Peter isn't the focus of the episode, it seems the writers have no earthly idea what to do with him. This week's solution: have him raped…in two different scenes. Roughly, 15 minutes apart from each other. Hilarious. And, any potential that "Prison Meg" might've had was negated by the fact that the character is barely on screen most weeks. (C'mon…is Mila Kunis that busy?) I just couldn't get into her animated, pretend plight.

(3) American Dad ("A Jones for a Smith") - Yeah, see, here's the thing. The comedic aspect of crack cocaine has been played out since In Living Color and Arsenio Hall made Marion Barry a night-in, night-out national punchline in 1990. Piling on with the "government assistance" and "fellatio-for-pay" jokes seemed equally lazy and unoriginal. All of MacFarlane's shows brazenly wallow in gross-out gags, but American Dad is almost always the worst of the bunch. The last few shots of Stan – in nothing but his, ummm…"distressed" underwear – might've set a new low.

(4) The Cleveland Show ("Our Gang") - I couldn't help thinking there were several movie references in play here, but, if so, none of them resonated with me. Cleveland as the oblivious drug lord was 22 minutes of unfunny. His character works best when he's playing directly off his son, Cleveland Jr. or his stepson, Rallo. Instead, they're both shoved into the background with a story that builds to an unsatisfying extended riff on feel-good endings with a bit of deus ex machina tossed in for kicks.

MVP: Oh, it's Homer Simpson, I suppose. He ends up doing the right thing in the end (natch), plus dribbled a small ball made of Twizzlers in one scene while being dribbled, himself, by Bart in another. He might be the hardest working man in show business (with apologies to 1998-2002 Nate Dogg).

Quote of the Night: "Wait…I'm shooting AT the Nazis? That's not how I remember it." - Montgomery Burns

Current Standings

The Simpsons – 40
The Cleveland Show – 38
American Dad! – 25
Family Guy – 25

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TBG TV: 5 Cryptic Spoiler-Free Thoughts on Tonight's Lost

(1) Wait...wasn't he on the island when Oceanic 815 crashed? What's he doing on the airplane now?

(2) Hey, it's Jay Leno! No, really, it is!

(3) "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." That's the theme of this season, right?

(4) Anyone who tries to shoot at the Smoke Monster -- in its "Smoke Monster" form -- deserves the horrible, horrible death that awaits them.

(5) I've accepted the show's convoluted storylines and plot devices, like time-travel, immortality and island polar bears. But, I'll be damned if I'm buying an empty women's restroom at ANY airport, much less LAX.

Monday, February 1, 2010

TBG Beats: Shuck n' Jive

M'man Sam writes:

Did you see the video that Nas did with Nick Cannon? The shuck and jive one? It was pretty over the top and I thought the song was actually a little too catchy (though that was probably part of the point).

Blackface? Watermelon? Massa?

Oh, Nas. You
marshmallow militant, you.

I agree with both your points, Sam. Particularly, the inherent catchiness of this intended-to-offend ditty. What can I say -- I'm a sucker for the Old Negro pronunciation of the letter "R". I'm just not sure that the intended message will get through to the audience.

The video feels like an ineffective outtake from Chappelle's Show -- satirical, but simplistic. And, without any of the barbed-wire substance that makes great satire stay with you. Am I supposed to be shocked by the blackface? Sorry, Nas, but Public Enemy's use of it in the
Burn Hollywood Burn video was infinitely more effective.

In 1991, Public Enemy was a much more credible messenger of Black pride than Nas has ever been. Nas has been screaming "hip hop is dead" since his 2006 album of the same name. But, let's not forget that in the face of scathing public criticism from the same bojangin', money-makin' acts he was criticizing, Nas softened his stance to avoid alienating his dwindling fanbase.

As I wrote in
my review of the album, Nas has always been more bark than bite.