2019 NRL Grand Final

Last Sunday evening, the NRL Grand Final played out at Stadium Australia with the Sydney Roosters edging out the Canberra Raiders. This is the twentieth successive decider held at the venue, which has hosted the tilt every year since being built in 1999. 82,922 fans were in attendance, including a sea of green from the nation’s capital. The boys from Bondi became the first club to defend an NRL premiership in 26 years, while this also marked the Raider’s return to the finale after a quarter-century. The latter was the currently ‘the longest grand final drought in the league’.

Cronk

Retiring halfback Cooper Cronk played in his ninth Grand Final. He made history as the first combatant to contest three successive finales since the Paramatta Eels of 81-83. Cronk became the second most-capped NRL player ever, having amassed 372 first grade matches. This is second only to his former teammate, Cameron Smith, who stands as the only man (so far) to have hit 400 career tussles. Cronk is the stuff of legends, how he played in last year’s championship despite a broken scapula. He has earned the right to be in the conversation as a potential league immortal. He was likewise sent off in fairy-tale fashion, something that eluded his long-time running mate, Smith.

Finals fever

The build-up to the chip was dramatic. The Roosters overpowered the mighty Storm, outplaying them before a partisan crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground. While I did not follow the Raiders, they must be the real deal to have upended powerhouse Melbourne, in Melbourne, during opening week of the Finals. Winning in Mel will never come easy; they have so much history and firepower. Any crew who beats them at AAMI Park is worthy of commendation.  

The chip was also not only about the players, but the coaches and referees as well. Two great tacticians gave us a master class in coaching during these Finals. Ricky Stuart won three premierships as a player with the Raiders, before bringing his talents to the Harbour City. There, as a young mentor, he made the Finals thrice, winning in his first try. Since then, fifteen years would pass before his return to the decider. Meanwhile, this represents the third Grand Final for Trent Robinson after seven years with the Roosters. He has a perfect slate so far.

Match in review

The match unfolded quickly, with Sam Verills notching a try after the 7th minute. Latrell Mitchell then booted the conversion. Latrell was shaky, going only 3-5. Perhaps the pressure of the moment had gotten to him. Regardless, he converted another one, and the Rooster led 8-zip early on. Late in the first half, Raiders five-eight, Jack Wighton, scored a try. Trusty and reliable Jarryd Croker netted the goal, cutting the deficit to 2. 8-6 was the score at the break.

The early second half was notable for Cronk’s stint at the sin bin. This occurred at the 49th minute, after his professional foul against Josh Papalli. The commentators slammed the decision, mainly since Cronk easily gave up twenty kilos to the latter. ‘What was he supposed to do?’ However, even with the Roosters down to 12 men, the Raiders were unable to capitalise. This was pretty much the story of the entire match, with the Raiders gaining more chances but failing to deliver. They were in their opponents’ 20 far more than Sydney. They withered in the moment of truth, when their season was on the line. Croker’s kick evened it out during Cronk’s down time. However, that was as far as they got, as they did not score again. Their inability to exploit was not due to ineptitude; the Chooks should also be given credit for a suffocating defence, a hallmark of Robinson’s squads.

The overturned six again call was what defined this grand finale. This involved the Raiders being robbed after the lead referee vetoed his assistant’s judgment. They were so close to the line that they could almost touch it. With another six more shots at target, the trophy was theirs to lose. Instead, they were crestfallen and became bystanders as Teddy raced down the field to score in the 73rd minute. Game over!

The Churchill

There was one final controversy to end the season. Hulking Jared from the Roosters was behind the podium, expecting to be announced as the Churchill medallist for being best on ground. Alas, Canberra five-eight Jack Wighton got the nod instead. Awkies. There were only three judges for the Churchill: Mal Meninga, Darren Lockyer, and Phil Gould. Jared must have been ahead or equal among contenders at the time. The mix-up was reportedly with Lockyer. Regardless, this marks one of the rare times that the ultimate man of the match was awarded to a player from a losing side. Six years ago was the last time, with Daley Evans securing the medal. This was an incredible comback for Wighton, who was convicted and given a suspended jail sentence last year. He has found a home as a hooker, probably the best in the game right now.

Roosters reign supreme     

What a night, what a year. Hard to believe that the first match took place in mid-March. After twenty-four rounds, four weeks of Finals footy, countless tries, a handful of golden points, and three memorable State of Origin rubbers, there can only be one team standing. In spite of the controversy, the injuries and the adversity, the Sydney Roosters are your 2019 NRL Premiers.

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On this day…

On this day in ’94, the NBA agreed to shorten the three-point line to twenty-two feet in a move to make offensive players score more. Air Jordan was one of the main beneficiaries, setting new career-highs in three pointers made and attempted, nearly doubling his prior stats. When you look at the L today, the three-point shot has become an integral part of most teams’ systems. Twenty-five years ago, this was not the case. During that season, Magic swingman Dennis Scott set the single-season record for most trifecta conversions. This would stand until Ray Allen shattered it ten editions later.

Artform

The three-ball is not as glamorised as the dunk. B-ball fans have been spoiled by facials, posters, reverse slams, alley-oops, transition jams, and and-ones. If the three is Larry Bird, the dunk is MJ and the Mamba. However, you can’t argue with the facts: made three-point baskets are worth 1.5 times more than dunks, layups, and other field goals. In recent years, the Dubs have turned the three into an artform; they have made the 3 into their biggest offensive weapon. Nowadays, pulling up for threes during the break is not uncommon. Personally, I agree with the commentators: this is not a wise move. Rather, opt for the sure deuce than pull up for an ill-advised dagger. In this day of the 3, I’ve noticed that players have consistently gone for the home run rather than earn the two the old-fashioned way. This is my view: any open shot is a good one. If you turn down an open three, shame on you. Problem is, NBAers have been jacking up bad shots with increasing level of difficulty. We know that playing hero ball would cost you.

94

Though the line was diminished in 94, it wasn’t until 04 that the three became a staple in a team’s offence. D’Antoni’s Suns were among the first outfits to rain threes. Four of their starters lived beyond the arc, including Shawn Marion and his unorthodox release. They became known for their ‘seven seconds or less’ mantra, winning a lot of meaningless games along the way. A banged-up Steve Nash was deemed the most unselfish player in the L. However, during the playoffs (when every game counts), they did not fare as well. This led observers at the time to conclude that the run-and-gun approach will not win you championships. Before the Suns, there were the Boston Celtics of Jim O’Brien. While similar in style, Obie’s success was much more fleeting. After squandering a 2-1 lead against the Nets in 02, they capitulated and never reached the same heights. They employed a similar brand, with floor spacing, high-volume threes, and ball movement.

Innovative

D’Antoni has since resurfaced with the Houston Rockets (after stints with LA and NY). Harden’s offensive brilliance earned him the MVP, but the Warriors have become their bogey team. So far, they have been unable to unseat the Dubs in the postseason. Shame, since theirs is an offense that is highly innovative. The brunt of their point production comes from three areas: the paint, the charity stripe, and from downtown. They rarely attempt perimeter shots. They put up a lot of threes and thus misfire a lot as well. They live by the three, and conversely, they die by the three. Meanwhile, Harden has been known for feasting at the line. He also has a killer step-back, and his euro step is a thing of beauty.

Divided by two


We can divide the NBA three ball into two eras: pre-94 and post-94. The pre-94 era is rather unremarkable. I doubt that NBA teams put up ten attempts per game before then. The pre-94 period is notable for Larry Bird doing a hat trick at the All-Star Game, with Craig Hodges duplicating that feat. A lanky guy named Reggie Miller entered the L in 87, while the late Manute Bol once made 6 money balls. This was notable since Bol was 7-4 and big men were (supposed) to stay close to the basket. Meanwhile, a few years since the change, a young gun named Ray Allen entered the L. He would go on to have a long career, split between four stops. He made 2973 threes in an illustrious career, with 385 postseason long shots. Both were of historic merit. He was one of the greatest shooters in league annals, both because of his longevity and his accuracy. He was also a big-game player.

Over a decade later, another special assassin entered the L. His name is Steph Curry, son of Dell. Steph’s the real deal: not only can he drain buckets in bunches, he does it in style. From head fakes to step-backs, in transition or off the dribble, he can do it all. Plus, he has the swag to boot. To put it in perspective, Curry stands as the only player to have been unanimously adjudged as the regular season MVP. This was after his 50-40-90 spell while also ending up the leading scorer. During that magical year, Chef Curry likewise topped 400 3’s, the first (and so far only) cager to do so. This was all after he was written off as being too risky due to his injuries. He’s also proven that he can win a few chips along the way, and his splash brothers partnership represents the best shooting backcourt ever.

Evolving

Over the years, the three pointer has evolved – in its use, in the players, and in the systems. The fact remains that triples are the great equaliser. For every three two-point shots, only two three pointers are needed. Great players have benefited from the shorter line: from Michael Jordan to Steve Nash, Ray Allen to Steph Curry. The three-ball has constituted an important part of coaches’ repertoire, including those of Obie and D’Antoni. There has been talk of extending the three point line, and going further, even appointing a four point line. The trifecta inspires more debate, posturing and reactions than perhaps any other shot in basketball. That three is the magic number in the L is no longer a question; it is a reality.    

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A Breaking Bad inventory

Today we’re going to review one of the greatest TV series ever made. Breaking Bad (BB) may have concluded in 2013, but it left a lasting imprint. I’ve watched every episode of the programme over the past two months. This is usually not the case; Stranger Things is the only other show that comes to mind recently. Years ago, Dexter likewise enthralled me, and I ran the gamut. On the surface, BB masquerades as a heavy drama, but there’s so much more to it. Simply put, BB is as compulsive viewing as it gets. Here are some observations about BB:

  1. The opening sequences to the episodes are done differently. Sometimes they seem irrelevant, until the unfolding instalment says otherwise. There was one where the two Salamanca cousins were wreaking havoc, but we did not know them. Another had a child catching spiders. There were a few that were shot in the desert. Kudos to the team: the camera work was always brilliant.  
  2. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) loves wearing baggy clothes. The Jesse character, one of the show’s leads, always preferred two sizes bigger. Whether it’s jeans, sweaters or jackets, you can count on Pinkman. Funny enough, his fashion style reminded me of my younger self. I used to favour larger dimensions than slim or regular fits, but I’ve changed my getup thereafter. ‘But you know the business and I know the chemistry’.
  3. It’s not all drama. BB has its share of comic relief. One time, Jesse picked up Walter (Bryan Cranston) at the airport…in their meth RV. Another time Walter brought home a massive pizza and tried to make peace with his wife. She didn’t accept his olive branch, leaving him frustrated as hell. In his failure, he flung the oversized pie, which landed on their roof. Meanwhile, Walter loves cooking in his underwear, which gets the attention of Krazy-8 (the local distributor). This leads him to ask: ‘Are you a f…king nudist or something?’ Walter’s preference has been parodied a little, including Neil Harris’s famous strut at the Emmy’s. Jesse also keeps addressing Walter, as Mr White, which reminds me of Hugo Weaving. In Matrix, Agent Smith (Weaving) keeps calling Neo (Keanu) as Mr Anderson. BB is also not on the same level of gratuitous violence as GoT, which I reviewed last week.
  4. Trophy don’t lie. During its five-year run, BB amassed a total of 16 Emmys, including multiple wins by Cranston and Paul. The former notably transitioned into a producer role during BB’s time. Walter White is middle America, from a house with mortgage to a lowly job as long-time high school Chemistry teacher. At the start, he was having a mid-life crisis. The sudden on-set of lung cancer enables an epiphany, and he spends his last years as the local ‘cook’.
  5. Call me Heisenberg. The appellation was pure genius. Mr White hid behind that imposing persona, with its historical undertones. Runners feared him, and they dare not say his name. This allowed him to focus on cooking the purest and bluest meth on the market, even if methylamine was an issue. As a side note, White had also been addressed as W.W. (his initials). He uses American poet Walt Whitman as a scapegoat to hide his true persona. ‘Say my name.’
  6. The bell. There’s this old guy named Hector who’s confined to a wheelchair. He used to be a key figure in the Mexican cartel before Father Time got the better of him. The bell is his only means of communicating. So, people learned that getting an alphabet in front of him was the best bet. Don Salamanca would ring the bell for every correct letter. Now this is tedious work but not unrewarding. I just found the whole bell thing as very fresh. You don’t see that on every day telly. When he keeps ringing the bell to confirm ‘Walter White’ as his nephew’s killer, this seemed like a watershed. Meanwhile, his banishment to a wheelchair was no coincidence as he had authored many crimes during his time.
  7. Los Pollos Hermanos: the best chicken in town. Apart from Walter and Jesse’s home, one restaurant named Pollos Hermanos figures prominently in the series. As you will know, one Gus Fring owns the fast food chain. The stores are a front for Fring’s drug and money laundering business. Pollos becomes a default meeting place for his associates. Mr Fring apparently owns 12 stores; the pollo frito looks very succulent. In killing Fring, Walter bit the hand that fed him. He would become like a nomad, and his colleagues were not pleased. Why ruin a good thing, where everything went like clockwork?
  8. The Big C. When my mentor asked the class what’s the Big C, they replied, ‘Cancer’ in unison. Wrong! Conscience, that’s the Big C. BB has both – in spades. Walter H. White has cancer, while Jesse struggles with his conscience. After losing his partner Jane to an overdose, shooting Gale point-blank, and seeing Todd gun down the kid, Jesse was breaking. Just like cancer, no amount of chemo can negate the build-up of guilt inside. Like Pinkman, the horror you witness gnaws at your shell and you become disillusioned. Things had deteriorated to a point where Jesse works as an informant to the DEA. At series’s end, Jesse has lost all interest in cooking meth and the syndicate forces him to cook batches. He wants nothing to do with Mr White. The remorse has eaten him alive. ‘Yes. Lung cancer. Inoperable.’
  9. What’s with those titles? Seven Thirty-Seven; Negro y Azul; Box Cutter; Problem Dog; Madrigal. At some point, these titles would mean something. Every ep is a much-watch. I tried watching The Sopranos a few years back, which forms an interesting comparison. Both are crime dramas, with strong performances, and plotlines. While I had access to Sopranos, I never ventured beyond the third or fourth series. In case you’re wondering, Sopranos has more Emmy nods (21), and has likewise been hailed as a classic. Yet BB is practically the gold standard when it comes to crime dramas, where every ep counts or no ep counts. BB provides a revealing look into the dark side, dealing with themes and issues that are both familiar and foreign.
  10. Family man. Throughout the series, Walter reiterates that he did this for his family. One reason was behind all the cooking, all the lies, all the murders: to ensure that his family has a bright future. He cooked thousands of pounds of ice, swiped gallons of methylamine, hoodwinked his family, and his murders cut across the heirarchy. He convinces his wife that he sources weed, and for a while, blatantly denies that he owns a second cell phone. He is able to deflect attention from the DEA for most of the show’s run. Regardless, he loves his family dearly, buying them the best cars, and paying for their rehab, but is nowhere to be seen during his daughter’s birth. Instead, he is doing a drug run – prioritising greenback over his daughter. He has a strong bond with Flynn, his only son, but resorts to deceit to cover his tracks. All this time, he hides under the mistruth that he is winning big in gambling. He is so adept at fabrication that he has a tailor-made response for everything. Lying has become his second nature. Given, he has more money that he can count, but for what? Walter’s family can’t splurge since doing so would alert the Feds. As someone else has told me, you also can’t bring your riches to the next life. ‘I am not in danger. I AM the danger.’

As you can see, BB is must-watch entertainment. From Heisenberg to the DEA, Pollos Hermanos to the Big C, BB is a binge-worthy (some say cringe-worthy) concoction that will keep you hooked. No wonder critics could never tire of heaping praise (and accolades).

Rating: 5/5

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Game of Thrones reviewed

Game of Thrones (GoT) is an epic adventure into another universe. We are teleported to the two continents of Westeros and Essos, seeing sword fights unfold, hearing of squires, direwolves, and whitewalkers. We behold the three-eyed raven transformed, and sight ‘the oldest profession in the world’. Based on George R.R. Martin’s chronicles, the series equivalent has been lauded for a massive and talented ensemble, sumptuous filming locations, and superb storylines. Both loyal and casual observers have been debating the show since even before its run. I must admit that I only started watching GoT early this year. I have taken in almost every episode of the first six seasons, but I’ll probably skip the last one as I heard it wasn’t up to par. While I admit that the show has been over for months, allow me to provide my informed opinion of the programme.  

Greatest ever?

When people talk of GoT, ‘the greatest ever’ and ‘in a league of its own’ are common reactions. I would admit that GoT is a very good programme and may even have the distinction of being called great. However, I would stop short of calling it as one of the best, even though it is one letter away from GOAT. Regardless, GoT is unlike perhaps any other programme on telly. The period drama is not a novelty. With its depictions of war and brothels, Rome would come to mind. How about The Vampire Diaries? The Tudors? Even Spartacus? These shows have varying degrees of success, but none soar higher than GoT.

Plotlines

Since GoT is epic in scale, multiple storylines are necessary. There’s Jon Snow with the Night’s Watch together with his trusty sidekick Sam. He breaks from tradition in his dealing with the wildlings but his daring and EEO makes for a great Lord Commander. Meanwhile, Dany is the mother of dragons who recruits armies so that she could claim victory at King’s Landing. Emilia Clarke essays a solid rendition as the aspiring Queen. Then there’s Stannis Baratheon, who calls himself ‘the one true king.’ He is bunched with Sir Davos and the Red Woman. Tyrion Lannister may not be physically imposing but makes up for it with wisdom. Peter Dinklage gives the role of his career as Tyrion, winning three Emmy’s along the way. Not only is he guileful and witty, he also does a pretty good Briton accent. We follow Arya Stark from the North and beyond, as she makes enemies and allies. She would work for Tywin Lannister, live on the run, before finding Braavos. She repeats the names of every animal on her hit list, vowing to avenge her family. Valaar Morghulis (‘All men must die’).

Power dynamics

GoT is rife with backstabbing, traitoring, secret alliances, misogyny, even barbarity. In some cases, women are not treated well. The ending to season 5 is exhibit-A. There is a balance of injustice and retribution. Oftentimes, the scumbags get what they deserve. This is a long list and the best example would be King Joffrey, who stands as the most vile, retched, detestable character on the show. After his reign of terror, he met His Maker. Walder Frey butchered an entire clan; he ended up being butchered himself. Tywin Lannister sentenced his own child; he got an arrow for his troubles. Whether it’s royals, lowly soldiers, or influential clergies, poetic justice does not discriminate. However, in some instances, the good guys perish: what befell the Starks would be a fitting example. Myrcella Baratheon was another unwitting casualty. The series displays the relevance of power dynamics: how people handle this. Many would kill for it, and when it’s finally theirs, they’ll make sure to eliminate the threats, even if this is their own kin. The biggest prize of all, the biggest carrot dangled, is the Iron Throne. Through six seasons, only one family has sat on that imposing chair, though many covet this.

Mythical creature

While other series seek to dispel myth, GoT revels in them. That’s why dragons are featured, paraded as Dany’s pets who do her bidding. They annihilate all her enemies. Then there’s direwolves, who function much like dragons, though they are less majestic. Who could forget the magic water in Braavos? Or milk of the poppy? The whitewalkers remain the most feared villains; they snatch babies, but are they real? Even the actions of some characters seem stuff of legends. During his trials, Tyrion averted disaster as two gentlemen agreed to fight for him. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case in real life. When the protagonists are in danger, someone – or something – would intervene. Even Jon Snow had seemed superhuman given the right healer.

Stunning visuals

In this regard, GoT plays more like a videogame than TV production. We see the turrets, the snow-capped mountains, the garrisons, the battle scars. If we were to judge a series on the merits of its choreography, GoT easily gets a 5/5. The programme is one of the most visually astounding projects on TV’s for all of its run. Have I mentioned that it has killer plotlines? I have not read the books, but I heard they’re really something. They also require a lot of hard work, thus making me admire those who could spare the effort. The show has done exceptionally well when cleaving closely to the source material. However, GoT has gotten only mixed results when doing otherwise. In particular, the last season had been a little mess.

Thanks for the memories

The show does what great series have done: giving viewers a bit of everything. From laughs to magic, anger and bitterness to satisfaction, action to walls of silence, GoT is escapism. I remember meeting a die-hard once; this was before Season 8. He told me that he’s sighted every episode so far. He might have even done the books; I couldn’t remember. ‘I love Game of Thrones’, he admitted. Seeing the sun set on GoT is rather sad; I was hoping for another 3 seasons. Yet maybe season 8’s mixed bag is an omen: GoT has run its course. Like all good things, GoT must come to an end.

Rating: 4.75/5

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The Farewell reviewed

Yesterday, my friend and I caught a movie at the cinemas. I’ve only heard about The Farewell last week, having stumbled upon the trailer. We both liked what we saw and agreed to see it. Having a July release in the States, Farewell had just opened here last week. Reviews of the film were overwhelmingly positive. Awkwafina, fresh from her breakout roles in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich, was praised for her standout performance. Critics have noted that the small-budget picture was a breath of fresh air against the cavalcade of summer blockbusters. My friend admitted that his co-worker raved about Farewell, though he had heard of this production ‘two months ago’.

Orient

The majority of the film was in Chinese (with English subtitles) and this struck me. Only the first fifteen minutes or so was set in the Big Apple; the rest was shot in Changchun. Obviously, I did not know that the writer-director was Chinese-American. Farewell also had an all-Asian cast, which included veteran actor Tzi Ma. Farewell tells the story of Billi (Awkwafina), an aspiring writer who returns to China with her family in order to give her Nai Nai a proper goodbye. This was upon learning that the latter had stage 4 lung cancer. Apparently, in China, relatives do not inform their kin if they have a terminal illness. Thus, the film shows a clash of cultures between East and West. There are chopsticks as opposed to spoon and fork. Moreover, the next generation such as Billi and her cousins lock horns with their elders. At one point, Billi’s uncle says that Americans put themselves first while the Chinese put family first. As my friend pointed out, it’s a case of the individual versus the collective. There is constant debate on whether living in China is better than the US, and vice-versa.

Wedding

The family converges on Changchun in the guise of celebrating Hao Hao’s nuptials with a woman from America. While the planning occupies them, Nai Nai is their real concern. They talk about their fears, their future without the matriarch, life, and death. They stay together as this reunion is decades in the making. They ache more for Nai Nai than for themselves. Haibin, the eldest son, even gives a teary speech during his son’s wedding. Before the end, her clarifies that they were ‘tears of happiness’. Meanwhile, Billi is conflicted: whether to inform her dear Nai Nai of her malady or obey the wishes of her family.

Dramedy

The slow pace also struck me. Billed as a comedy-drama, this was more deliberate than comical. Of course, Farewell had its fair share of laughs. I remember this cute kid with a trasher haircut saying ‘Don’t call me Little Bao. I am just Bao!’ Most of the spoofs stemmed from the cultural differences. There is a special place for Awkwafina in Nai Nai’s heart, always looking out for her. The former repays her grandmother’s love, volunteering to stay in Changchun and care for her. At times, Billi struggles to communicate in Chinese. This is both a blessing and a curse. She is able to hide things from her grandma, as the latter cannot understand English. However, her limitations hurt her. For instance, she has to ask the equivalent of congrats while making speech on stage.

Lost in Translation

My pal commented before the movie that Billi is a very different role from Peik Lin in Crazy Rich. While the latter was riotous, Billi is rather reserved. With her simple look and unassuming persona, Billi is Peik Lin’s alter ego. That doesn’t remove an inspired performance from Awkwafina. The movie reminded me a bit of Lost in Translation, a slow drama with a punch, the female lead giving a laudable effort. Like Farewell, a female director (Sofia Coppola) was also at the helm. Both projects also garnered universal acclaim. Though critics and audiences have adored Farewell, this wasn’t the best film of the year. While there are similarities, this is likewise no Dead Europe. I saw that one with the same chum a while back. I recall it as having a very disappointing ending.

Rating: 3.95

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Sabado nights

Don’t let the title fool you: this post has nothing to do with nights. FYI the heading need not always reflect the article’s content. For instance, there is little or no catchers in Salinger’s novel. I am not here though to give a stance on that observation. Rather, I am here to share how I usually spent my Saturday afternoons when I was a teen. My junior year of high school, I discovered this thing called UAAP. This was no coincidence, as in years prior I did not have the chance to do so. Let’s just say that I am thankful for NSTP and some serious class work, which then ensured that I could follow the action. For more information about the former, check out my older post.

UAAP

Of course, I’ve heard about the UAAP, the premiere collegiate competition in the country. Students battled it out in various sports, doing it all so that their uni would emerge as the overall champion in the comp. Almost all of these sports were not televised on TV, everything except the all-important men’s basketball. Athletes have up to five years of college eligibility, and the games were always intense. After all, these were the finest schools in the country and there were no holds barred. They had the best jerseys, the optimal players, the coolest commentators, and they battled it out in the Big Dome.

Comp

During my time, there were eight teams in the field. The season had two stages: the elimination round and the Final Four. In the former, teams followed a dual round robin format where they matched up against the rest of the league twice. The teams with the four best records advance to the playoff level. The top two squads obtain a twice to beat edge in the next round and the two Final Four victors play each other in a best of three championship. Thus, the UAAP was a short season, with each quintet playing a minimum of fourteen weekends. This mostly overlapped with the first semester of the school year. Perhaps I feel nostalgic because of the advent of September, where the business end of the games would unfold.  

Fave

The Blue Eagles were my favourite team during these tilts. Run by the Jesuits in a sprawling campus on Loyala Heights, Ateneo is an Ivy League school. Their prestigious location and long history mean that only the best recruits could join their varsity. They are among the perennial frontrunners in the comp. I am not only a fan of their colours, but I like their style of play. During my time, LA Tenorio was their best player. Dude was able to nab a triple double in the classification phase. Of course, the point guard was able to parlay his college success into a long, decorated career in the PBA.

Rivalry

Any convo of the UAAP wars would not be complete without mentioning the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. Said fireworks is the most storied and enduring tussle in the history of local college hoops. I remember during those days that the air changed whenever their next game rolled around. Ateneo were always slow starters and La Salle – led by the electric Joseph Yeo – would get off to flying starts. It was like the Celtics-Lakers, which had a little of everything: terrific offense, stingy defence, dagger three’s, hard fouls, one-on-one exploits, teamwork, ball hogs, ball hawks, no-look passes, ball fakes, and Cold Wars that could escalate quickly. They usually went down to the wire, sometimes even to the last few possessions.

The play

Game One of the 2006 Men’s Finals was one of the most memorable matches I witnessed. Down one with one tick left, Ateneo coach Norman Black called timeout and drew up a play on his board. Point guard Macky Escalona fired a touchdown pass from half-court, faking once before hitting Doug Kramer perfectly underneath the basket. The giant then turned and sunk the layup. Easy. The play was reminiscent of Grant Hill’s full-court pass to Christian Laettner. This was also a good comparison since it kept their title hopes alive, although the US NCAA is single elimination. Sadly though, my Eagles would lose the next two tilts – and the series. I remember that finale for being a stormy encounter, with the typhoon Milenyo and flooding forcing the postponement of Game 2.

Teamwork

The UST quintet, under the direction of new coach Pido Jarencio, shocked the Eagles with their hard-nosed play, versatility, and poise. They did not have stars, but their teamwork was their strength. Some would also say that they have the best team colours, and it is hard not to agree. Meanwhile, a UP cager named Axel stole the scene for being one of the best rebounders despite his height (5-11). He just had an uncanny nose for the ball, his height be damned. The Tamaraws of FEU were a powerhouse team in those days, bolstered by the talents of Arwind Santos and Dennis Miranda. I recall how they almost won the chip against the Archers, but Arwind rushed his tip just as Denok’s shot was on the verge of dropping through. I remember my classmate saying ‘Mataas kaya yung point guard ng FEU.’ I told him he’s not that tall, only 5-8. I would later learn that I was feeding my friend bad information as Miranda was a legit 5-11, and NOT 5-8. Yes, he was indeed tall for a one. Speaking of facilitators, there was a time where Adamson’s slight point guard went down the court and made a post-up move not once but TWICE. This play intrigued the announcers to say the least. How about the time when a certain centre named Howie became a hot potato at the free throw line? Or those Maroons, who, in spite of a dismal start, almost made the Finals? There’s a lot more to the games than jump shots.

A portrait

All this is old info, more like a time capsule or even an anachronism. The guys I’ve mentioned have long moved on to greener pastures. But once upon a time, they were my heroes. They were the hot topics in our section, and those precious years where I tuned in were a portrait into my youth.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood reviewed

Once upon a time in Hollywood had scaled the box office for two weeks when my friend and I finally saw it. ‘The ninth film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino’ was not only an audience champion but critics have likewise raved about it. The film is also notable for featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in their first picture together. Aside from those two, Hollywood also had Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning and Aussie Margot Robbie in smaller roles. Set during the last years of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the production reminded me of my recent Baldacci read, with its retro vibe, older technology, and where everything was cheaper. Hollywood also had the staple of seventies culture: hippies, free love, smoking joints, and bell bottoms – to name a few.

Dalton and Booth

When I asked my friend if he liked it, he answered that he did. We agreed though that it was a slow movie. For starters, the film is lengthy. Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a fading TV star. His shining role a few years back seems like ages ago. He is always with his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt). The latter functions as his all-in-one assistant. Unknown to his workmates, Dalton lost his license a few months back and Booth has been driving him everywhere since then. Booth is also his handyman and his runner. Both Booth and Dalton talk with a Southern drawl. Of course, if you’re wondering whether that duo is real, then you’re somewhat mistaken. Dalton and Booth are not actual persons, but they are fictionalised. I thought the pair were purely imagined, but some research showed how other performers inspired their characters.

Italia

Dalton lives next door to Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski in an exclusive neighbourhood. They do not interact until much later, despite being adjacent to each other. This is a nod to the film’s tagline of ‘multiple storylines…’ Tate is the budding movie star who becomes pregnant. As mentioned, Tate and Dalton do not cross paths for much of the film, living mostly in different circles. Rick’s career had deteriorated to a point where his agent, Marvin Schwarz (Pacino), was convincing him to head to Italy for a career resurgence. Initially reticent, Dalton eventually agrees to go. After six months and four Westerns abroad, he comes back to the land of the free. He is a changed man, with an Italian wife in tow.

Lighter moments

Hollywood reminded me of The Sopranos. There are a few lighter moments, especially a scene where Rick forgets his lines. That scene was reminiscent of a famous TV boo-boo a while ago. The picture isn’t all about castings, lines, and stuntmen; the Manson family likewise figures. There was also an eerie scene with Pitt, who scours the Manson valley in search of George, a former colleague. The latter has a hard time hearing and recognising him, mistaking him for someone else and not fully comprehending his statements. George watches the show, FBI, with his fellow hippie, while Dalton and Booth would watch it on the same day that the latter pays George a visit. Ironic.

Old School

Hats up to Tarantino for resurrecting a bygone era, complete with classic autos and vintage products. There was also a Bruce Lee sighting, although the real Bruce wouldn’t be one-upped by Booth. Calvin’s dog was a life saver, rescuing the distressed before bedtime. The image of the iconic Pan-Am jets was rather nostalgic, as was the price for a movie ticket.  The climax, though fictionalised, was classic Tarantino with blood, guts, and gore. The ensemble cast made their mark: Damian Lewis, a familiar face from Homeland, took on the role of big shot Steve McQueen. Kurt Russell also had a bit part. I likewise recognised one of the cult members in the apex, who portrays Robin in a popular series. This film was also significant as being Luke Perry’s final outing.  

Likes and dislikes

I loved the imagery, the story, the unbridled ending, the fullness of the players, the pulsing characters brought to life, and the vibe. I disliked the running time, the surplus of scenes, and the slow pace. Not a bad introduction to Quentin, but not a great one either.

Rating: 3.8/5       

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