Archive for Television

Weekend Wrapup In The Form Of Bullet Points

Posted in Entertainment, NFL Football, Personal, Sports, Television, The Wrapups with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Since I had a busy schedule for the entire weekend, my posting on Friday had to be pushed back until today — in addition, since my schedule is still pretty hectic for the next couple of days, today’s  wrap-up is going to be briefer than normal, with a lot of short points rather than lengthier diatribes.  However, if time ends up allowing it after all, I’ll try to have something lengthier up later on — in the television world, I believe they would call that “bonus coverage”.  Or something like that.

But I wouldn’t necessarily count on it — I’m headed into the time of year when I’m preparing heavily for two main things: the plethora of fantasy baseball drafts I participate in, and arrival of several guests from out of town for the main one of those drafts.

Which means I have a brief vacation coming ahead — but not starting until next week — but it doesn’t mean we won’t have some great content upcoming as well.  I’ll have my second annual diary of the NCAA Tournament coming up on Thursday, and my notes on the upcoming fantasy baseball season will be arriving sometime around three weeks from now, just in time for the start of the season.

But in the interim, here comes my bullet point presentation on the weekend (and week) that was.  So without further ado, let’s get on with it, shall we?

— Lo and behold, the Chicago Bears apparently have an officially licensed NFL draft hat?  Don’t you actually need draft picks for that to come in handy?  Maybe I can get Jay Cutler to autograph one for me — I’m sure that will make up for the lack of any activity during the first day of the draft for my beloved Bears.

In other NFL news, there has been a flurry of other activity around the league.  In one of those moves, LaDainian Tomlinson has signed a two-year contract with the Jets, apparently to fill the role the departed Thomas Jones had with the team.  Unfortunately for New York, LT has lost a lot of tread off of the tires, and the likelihood of his making a positive impact with the team at 31 years of age and with nearly 3000 career carries isn’t good.  It’s much more likely that he’ll be taking away carries that should be going to the explosive Shonn Greene, which won’t help the Jets at all.

Meanwhile, Brady Quinn has been dealt to Denver in exchange for — well, not much of anything really.  Quinn never really got a chance to do anything in Cleveland, but he should at least be given an opportunity to compete for the starting job in Denver.  Of course, I’m not really sure it says much about your upside when Mike Holmgrem thinks that a washed-up, turnover machine like Jake Delhomme is a better option than you are.

— Instead of watching the draft, what I plan on doing is trying to catch up (before I fall behind) with the new WWII television series on HBO, The Pacific, which premiered last night.  The miniseries — which will run for ten hour-long episodes — is from some of the people who brought the critically acclaimed Band of Brothers to the small screen.  While Band focused on the European theater, The Pacific follows the action in the Pacific theater and the war waged against Japan.

If it’s anything as good as Band of Brothers, The Pacific will be well worth watching this spring and summer on HBO.

— Another good piece of television I’ve been watching for the last several weeks has been The World At War, airing on Friday nights (and repeated at other various times) on the Military Channel.

The World at War is a documentary originally run on ITV (a public service network in Great Britain) in 1973.  The series is noteworthy for a number of interviews with historic figures from the war (including Karl Donitz and Albert Speer), as well as raw footage from the time, much of which had never before been seen before the series was broadcast.

I remember commercials for the documentary series — then available on VCR tapes — being broadcast during local programming when I was younger, and never having seen it, I was thrilled at getting a chance to watch it now.  Even thirty-seven years after it originally aired, The World At War remains an excellent look back at the most momentous event of the 20th century.  While the documentary definitely has a more dated “look” to it, the content is relevant as ever.  For anyone who wants the whole series, it’s also available on Amazon for a great price as well.


Watching Holmes On Holmes Might Save You A Lot Of Money

Posted in Entertainment, Personal, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Mike Holmes, star of the show about renovations gone wrong -- Holmes on Holmes

Since I started my home renovation almost three years ago, I’ve found myself watching a lot of programming on HGTV and their sister channel, DIY.  On a lot of these shows, I’ve seen ordinary people — not trained or licensed in home remodeling or repair — tackling a number of hefty projects around their houses and making it look (relatively) easy in the process.

But it’s not anywhere near that easy for people to do a lot of that kind of work – something I’ve found out numerous times during my own project.  In cases where the job was overly complex, or required skills beyond our capability — like the plumbing or our bathroom tiling jobs, for example — we hired out skilled contractors to handle the jobs for us.  When it’s something that’s crucially vital to the safety and security of your home, hiring a professional should be the safest way to go, right?

Except it’s not.  I’m thankful that the people we hired were tremendously professional and did the jobs they were hired for in a timely fashion and correctly (according to the codes and standards required by the state), but it’s a fact that there are a lot of contractors out there who don’t know what they’re doing at all, or who bite off jobs that are well beyond the scope of what they’re capable of doing — and the homeowners who hire them often find themselves in situations that leave them with structural problems, unfinished jobs, and safety issues — all while costing them ungodly amounts of money in the process.

My education as to how prevalent these situations actually are has been coming lately from the HGTV show Holmes on Holmes, the current season premiere of which will air on HGTV Sunday night at 9:00 ET.  The show, which originated in Canada, follows around contractor Mike Holmes as he attempts to repair and fix botched jobs by contractors who range from the inept to the flat-out unethical.  The show has been one of the highest-rated shows on HGTV Canada during its run, and it’s been running almost daily in the afternoon on HGTV the last couple of weeks, where I’ve been able to catch it.

Needless to say, the show has been a complete eye-opener.  In episode after episode, I’ve watched families whose lives had been driven almost to ruin, whose finances had been all but wiped out, by contractors who either couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do the job properly.  There have been examples of contractors who literally stole tens of thousands of dollars from helpless homeowners, often leaving them with houses that were in ruin and — in some cases — unsafe to live in.  In every one of those cases, it was left up to Holmes and his crew of workers to fix the problems, with the price tag largely being absorbed by the show and on more than one occasion, Holmes himself.

In every one of these cases, the family afflicted hired a contractor who seemed to be the right person for the job.  But what I’ve learned over the course of watching the show is that there are far too many people out there who aren’t doing quality work the way it should be done — and that it’s really easy to find yourself a victim of a botched job if you’re not careful.  For anyone attempting to embark upon a renovation project who’s looking to hire someone for the job, just watching a few of these episodes could save you thousands of dollars and countless headaches.

MY spider-sense was immediately tingling when the contractor dodged the question of permits for our renovation project

How easy could it be to fall for a one of these con artists depicted on the show?  When my home renovation project was started, the first contractor my wife and I talked to about doing the framing on our extension seemed eager enough to take the job — but he wasn’t able to give specifics on budgeting for material or labor, he wasn’t able to give a clear and concise plan for how the project would unfold, and he was evasive when it came to discussing the needs for permits or adhering to code — all red flags according to Holmes (and to me at the time).  We thankfully passed on doing business with this guy, but I had a relative who did hire him for a much smaller job — and who got taken when he took money from her and never did the work.   I remember hearing about it and thinking “That could have been us — but far worse”.   As thankful as I am that we apparently avoided any mishaps along the way of our renovation, I wish we had known then what we’ve learned since — and that I’d seen a show like Holmes on Holmes way back then.

Holmes deserves tremendous credit for shining a light on some of the problems in the building industry, in which the contractors have all kinds of protection within the law, but homeowners have far fewer.  His show is well worth checking out if you have the time — and if you’re thinking of doing a remodeling project.  You just may end up saving yourself a lot of money down the road if you do.

Watching This Show Makes Me VERY Hungry

Posted in Entertainment, Television with tags , , , , on February 3, 2010 by thelasthonestman

One of my recent television discoveries was purely accidental.  I was flipping through the satellite guide a few weeks back and saw a show called Man vs. Food running a marathon on the Travel Channel.  I wasn’t sure what the show was, but the title was intriguing enough, so I flipped over to it.  Needless to say, I was hooked, and I’ve now made it a point to try to catch as many of the reruns of the show’s most current season (its 2nd) whenever possible.  Tonight, Man Vs. Food will be live from Miami and the Super Bowl with a two-hour special, on the Travel Channel at 9:00 ET, and I’ll be one of the ones watching.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the show before, the premise is pretty simple: host Adam Richman (an actor who has two qualities necessary for a show like this — extensive culinary experience and a hearty appetite) travels around the country, sampling popular local dishes at restaurants, diners, and other eating establishments. We’re not talking about high-brow dishes either — no, the choices on this show’s menu are all American classics: pizza, hamburgers, steaks, chili, sandwiches, and more, often coming with unique compositions or constructions.

The highlight of every show is a local “eating challenge” at one of the local establishments in the host city for that week, where Richman tackles a dish that’s often larger than what I manage to put away in a whole day’s worth of eating.   I’ve seen the host tackle 12-pound hamburgers, 12-inch, 22-pound stuffed pizzas, a 74-ounce steak challenge, and foods made with multiple Naga Jolokia peppers, certified as the hottest peppers in the world (so hot, that not only are they rated with an intensity of more than 100 times that of Tabasco sauce, they’re also smeared on fences in India to keep away wild elephants).

As much as I love burgers, I can't even fathom putting this down in one sitting

The eating challenges are absolutely staggering in their size and intensity.  Normally, I’m not a fan of anything that even resembles competitive eating — there’s something unsettling to me about watching one person plow through a ton of food, while knowing how many people in the world still go hungry every day — but Richman is admittedly not a competitive eater (along the lines of a Joey Chestnut).  The challenges themselves, while huge helpings of food, aren’t impossible for the heartiest appetites to overcome.  And boy, do they all look tasty — at some point in the episodes I’ve seen, invariably, I find myself heading to the fridge.

After now seeing most of the episodes of the show’s two seasons, I’ve made a note to myself to check out some of the establishments spotlighted the next time I’m in any of the cities that have been featured (for the regular dishes, and not any of the monster challenges, of course).  The Man vs. Food episode tonight will see Richman tackle a 48 ounce Steak Challenge.  While it’s probably safe to say that none of the dishes you see on the show are the healthiest options for a person’s diet, if you a fan of good food as a guilty pleasure, this show is pretty easy to consume.

Justice Served Hopefully Sends A Message

Posted in Entertainment, News/Current Events, Rants, Television with tags , , , , on December 23, 2009 by thelasthonestman

Our society has gone off of the deep end when it comes to people and their quest for celebrity.  A look through the archives here, and some of my diatribes towards reality television and its worst offenders, should tell you enough about how I feel about those who are willing to do anything and everything — no matter who it affects and how — in order to get their fifteen minutes of fame.

Which is why I’m smiling ear-to-ear this morning with the announcement that Richard Heene — the father of “Balloon Boy” and the “mastermind” behind the hoax that riveted the attention of much of the country back on October 15 — has been sentenced to spend 30 days in jail for his role in the fraud he helped perpetrate on the public.  In addition, Heene will also be on probation and will be unable to profit form his criminal act at any point over the next four years.  His wife, Mayumi, will be facing sentencing of her own shortly, and the family is still looking at having to pay back the costs incurred by state and local officials during the search efforts for their son — which at the moment, could exceed $50,000 by the time everything is accounted for (including a fine they could owe the FAA).

My satisfaction at the news is somewhat tempered by the desire I had to see an even stricter punishment levied on the reckless and irresponsible Heenes.  The couple — or at least Richard Heene — has been borderlined obsessed with making the family television celebrities, no matter what the cost, even if it involved using their own children as pawns or putting them at real risk and in danger.  Neither Heene has apparently understood what their responsibilities as parents entails, and I would not have shed a tear to see both of them sitting in jails for longer than a month’s time, and with it, their children removed from their care.

Still, there’s no doubt a great deal of love from the three Heene children for their parents (since none of them are old enough to fully understand how reprehensible their parents’ actions in using them for their own advancement truly has been), and only further harm would be done to the children themselves if they were taken away permanently from their parents, or if either Heene spent a longer time behind bars.  The children are going to have enough to suffer from because of this incident in the future — not only will the financial repercussions impact their future, but how would you like to be “Balloon Boy” or one of his siblings and have to attend school — and listen to the taunting from your peers — for the next decade? — so at some point, the interests of the true victims here, the children, have to be taken into utmost consideration.

Hopefully, this bit of justice will be a grim example of what lies ahead for other people who put attaining celebrity ahead of everything else.  And maybe those of us in the public can make a resolution in the upcoming year to stop giving people like Richard Heene what they so desperately crave — our attention.

I Know Enough To Exploit It

Posted in Rants, Ro-Sham-Bo Award, Television with tags , , , , on June 2, 2009 by thelasthonestman

cartman and his mother

Let’s get this straight before we start — I do not watch reality TV.  And I most certainly do not watch Jon & Kate Plus 8, the reality show on TLC that details the lives of Jon and Kate Gosselin and their sextuplets.

But I don’t have to watch the show to know about them and the mess they’ve made of their lives, thanks to the controversies around the couple — allegations of infidelity at the forefront — now beginning to seep into the daily news sources that I peruse on a regular basis.  It’s an assault on the senses that isn’t just limited to the tabloids in view when you’re in line at your local checkout, but now even “reputable” news sources are covering this mess of a family.

One can almost insert their own punchline and come up with some new names for the show if they choose to keep it going at this point:  How about these:  Jon & Kate Plus 8 = Ten Children & No Adults, Jon & Kate Plus 8 … Plus The Mistress and the Boy Toy, or Jon & Kate Plus 8 Minus Half Of The Stuff Following the Divorce?

Are those in bad taste?  Well, they couldn’t be in any more bad taste than the show itself at this point, which — no matter what the original intent of it was — has evolved into what will be either a sham display of togetherness solely for the sake of higher ratings, or a uncomfortable, close-up at the disintegration of a family in real-time — again, all in the name of higher ratings.  Of course, the other intent involves a weekly paycheck for the duo — not to mention, a continuation of this “couple’s” fifteen minutes of fame.

If you watched this reality show, you were dumber for the experience -- though still not as dumb as Paris and Nicole

If you watched this reality show, you were dumber for the experience -- though still not as dumb as Paris and Nicole

From my own perspective, I’ve often questioned what type of person puts themselves on display in the genre of the reality show to begin with.  I’m not talking about reality shows that happen to be about a celebrity, as those are an entirely different scenario altogether (and more a case of said celebrity trying to promote themselves, which is half  of what being a celebrity is all about in the first place).  I’m talking about those shows focusing on “regular” people.  As an example of those, my wife loves to watch ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette — me, I can’t stomach these shows, as I’m completely convinced that almost all of the participants are in it for nothing resembling true love, but for everything resembling self-promotion and the pathetic attempts to create some form of celebrity for themselves.

The show Jon & Kate Plus 8 — which started airing in 2007 (three years after the couple’s sextuplets were born) — may at one time been born of honest, well-meaning intentions.  Maybe there was a time when there might have been some positive aspect to a viewing audience being granted a close look at the lives of a couple in the unusual position of raising eight young children (though what that might have been, I’ll admit to being at a loss — but I’ll play along).  But whenever that time may have been, it’s long gone now, as it’s clear to everyone watching that the couple — and by extension, their family — are facing huge issues in the future as Jon and Kate Gosselin struggle to save their marriage.

But one has to wonder if that — or the well-being of their children — is even at the forefront of what this couple views as their priority list at this point.  You could be forgiven for thinking that continuing their runs as “celebrities” is more important for either of them than anything else.  It’s what their own family members are not only thinking themselves, but are starting to say publicly.  Kate Gosselin’s brother-in-law has expressed his concern over his nieces and nephews being turned into a “commodity”, with their every actions televised for the world to see.  Her sister-in-law has gone as far as to call the entire show “staged”, which would make it less of a look at a family and more of a fictionalized sham designed to maximize ratings and create a perception of the couple that is little more than a Hollywood creation.  Even the Pennsylvania Department of Labor is getting into the act, investigating whether or not the show is violating child labor laws by using the children in the show.

It's all the media's fault -- that's why we're smiling for this picture for the network!

It's all the media's fault -- that's why we're smiling for this picture for the network!

Meanwhile, with a world of controversy swirling around them, the couple has decided to blame — wait for it — the media for their problems.  “It kills me”, says Kate, talking about the exposure of the couple’s marital problems in the tabloids.  Husband Jon claims innocence in regards to the accusations of his marital straying, also pointing the finger at the media as a supposed culprit — as if the media were the ones forcing him out at 2 AM with women other than his wife.

Granted, as I’ve said, I’m not exactly the foremost authority on the reality show genre — but didn’t they invite the media into their lives in the first place when they decided to do this show?  Weren’t they the ones who wanted the cameras there to record their lives in the most minute details?  Oops — I guess I missed the part where the deal involved only those things that made them look good, or those things that put money into their pockets.  Silly me.

I don’t have any sympathy for this pair of fame-grabbers — if their priorities are so out of whack as to lead them into the personal messes they seem destined to enter, then so be it.  They’re getting what they deserve, even if their fame is now a double-edged sword that’s turned out to not be what they expected it would.  My sympathies are for the children, who really have never had a “normal” childhood up until now — and who certainly won’t have one as the media circus around the couple intensifies.  They’re the ones who are the innocents in this, and the emotional trauma they’re likely going to be subjected to is something no child should have to bear.

Coming up on next week's episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8

Coming up on next week's episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8

Obviously, if Jon and Kate Gosselin really cared about their children, they would have told TLC to take their cameras and shove them — contractual commitments be damned — while retreating out of the public eye, giving them the opportunity to focus on saving their marriage and protecting their family from harm.  But of course, they’re not doing that, but instead are plowing ahead with a new season of the show, exposing their children to the prying eyes of a viewing public that’s watching each week with the mindset of a racing fan who tunes in only for the horrific wrecks.  And what a wreck this might end up being for everyone involved.

You see, Jon & Kate won’t walk away — even if it’s in their family’s best interests — because if they do so, their time as “celebrities” and all of the perks that provides, will come to an ignominious end.  And their actions are showing to the world that fame, money, and celebrity are really what matters most to them both.  If there were any justice, the show’s ratings would collapse, leaving the couple and TLC with a failing show deserving of cancellation — but of course, we live in a world where justice is sadly lacking more often than not;  Jon & Kate Plus 8 drew a huge audience for its season premiere, numbering almost 10 million voyeurs (more than double the ratings for the previous season’s finale).

But while the show may never win an Emmy, and the stars won’t win any “Parents of the Year” awards anytime soon, they can take pride in receiving this week’s Ro-Sham-Bo honors (with an dishonorable mention going out to their sponsor, TLC).  And while they might be tempted to give the media some credit for this distinction dishonor, I can assure you — they earned it all on their own.

A Look Back At The Thrilla In Manila — And The Ali-Frazier War That Still Rages Today

Posted in Boxing, Sports, Television, The Wayback Machine with tags , , , , on April 16, 2009 by thelasthonestman

ali-frazier1Once their names were almost inseparable — Ali and Frazier.

Now, they are two men who couldn’t be any further apart, by any means you might measure.  One is a hero to millions, remembered as a legend and one of the greatest his sport had to offer, wealthy and famous wherever he goes — even if he’s now only a shadow of the man he once was.  The other has faded into relative obscurity, now living in near poverty in an inner-city neighborhood far removed from the glamour of the spotlight, a figure still angry and bitter over his treatment by his rival many years after the fact.

And well he should be.

cosell-aliWhen I was a kid and was first introduced to boxing, the one fighter I got to know immediately was Muhammad Ali.  And why not?  At the time — 1976 to be exact — he was the Heavyweight Champion of the World back when that title still meant something, and he was arguably the most famous athlete of his time.  It was impossible not to know who Ali was, even if you didn’t follow boxing.  No athlete of modern times — exact possibly Michael Jordan — was more well known in the United States, and it’s not a stretch to say that no athlete in history has been more recognized around the entire world than Ali was.  He wasn’t just a sports figure — he was a celebrity with greater recognition than many a world leader or famous actor.

So why wouldn’t he become my favorite boxer as I took my tentative first steps into becoming a fan of the sport?  Everyone seemed to love Ali, and I would be no different, quickly becoming a fan.  Being too young to know better, I was almost hostile to my father’s suggestions that Ali was “washed up” when we sat down to watch his fight on network television (remember those days?) against a complete unknown — well, at least to me — Leon Spinks.

ali-holmesAs you would expect, I was devastated at the time when a old, slow, and out-of-shape Ali was out-hustled by the raw, inexperienced Spinks, who captured the champion’s crown in a 15-round unanimous decision.  I was giddy with excitement when I heard the news that Ali had recaptured his title in New Orleans seven months later against Spinks, still too young to realize that this would be his last hurrah.  I was devastated again when Ali retired, then when he lost to Larry Holmes in an ill-advised comeback, then yet again when he lost to Trevor Berbick before he finally hung it up once and for all.

At the time, I would have told you without fail that Ali was “The Greatest”, as he had always proclaimed.  But I grew older and wiser, and as I became a huge fan of the sport of boxing — and in turn, studied its history — I realized that my view had been a myopic one.  While I would always acknowledge Ali as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time and one of the greatest boxers as well, I would eventually replace him at the top of both my all-time list of heavyweight champions (with the immortal Joe Louis) and the list of all-time pound-for-pound greats (with the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson).

But that re-ranking aside, I still knew everything I could about Ali, didn’t I?  I knew about his dramatic emergence onto the boxing scene in the early 1960’s, about his conversion to Islam, about the unjust suspension of his boxing license and the inspirational comeback he’d made to the ring. I knew all there was to know about his underdog victory against George Foreman to regain his title, and all you could know about his battles with his epic adversary, Joe Frazier.  Right?

It turns out I didn’t — and I’d harbor a guess that I’m not alone.

ghosts-of-manilaNow showing on HBO this month is an outstanding sports documentary Thrilla In Manila.  If you haven’t gotten a chance to see it, and you know or care anything about either boxing or Muhammad Ali, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  In addition, I highly recommend also checking out the outstanding book Ghosts of Manila by author Mark Kram — I’m not sure if the the documentary was based off of or inspired by the book, but much of the material found in the former is in the latter and in even greater detail.  Both documentary and book take a look back at the bitter Ali-Frazier rivalry — one that hasn’t let up, even now, some thirty years plus later — that would culminate in a ring on a brutally hot morning in the Philippines.  Both tell not only the story of the fight itself, but the mostly untold story of the callous and cruel verbal attacks made by Ali against a man in Frazier who never deserved it, the bitter personal war that it would cause between two men that had started as friends, and the damage that it would lead to for both men — with its effects still felt today.

ali-frazier-poster3Everyone by now knows the background behind Ali unjustly losing his boxing license due to his refusal to be inducted into military service during the Vietnam War — but far fewer people know of Joe Frazier’s lobbying on Ali’s behalf behind the scenes to have that same restriction lifted.  And while it would be easy to claim that Frazier’s actions were more self-serving than noble — after all, without Ali there could never have been the money Joe would make in their megafights together — it’s hard to feel that Frazier’s actions were anything but noble when it’s revealed that the then-champion helped Ali financially when the latter was in need during his exile, a selfless act that was done entirely in private and away from the prying eyes of the media and world-at-large.

826620boxer-muhammad-ali-taunting-rival-joe-frazier-at-frazier-s-training-headquarters-postersAnd how were Frazier’s actions repaid by Ali when his suspension was finally lifted, and the dream fight between the two warriors — and tentative friends at the time — made?  Whether it was an attempt at psychological warfare or simply just an act to help sell the fight to the world, Ali turned on Frazier with vicious intent, savaging Frazier to the media and anyone who would listen, labeling the champion as a “Uncle Tom” and an ignorant buffoon who was only a tool for the white man and a traitor to his race.  It was an inaccurate and unfair depiction of a proud man in Frazier who had been born in the poorest part of South Carolina, who had worked hard while growing up in the toughest part of inner-city Philadelphia (a far cry from Ali, who had come up in more prosperous surroundings in Louisville), and who had seen as much racism first-hand as had Ali — even if he wasn’t the type to publicly decry it.

The enmity between the two men, which had simmered through the loss of the title by Frazier to George Foreman in Jamaica, the letdown of their second fight (a 12-round decision win for Ali),  and Ali’s shocking triumph over Foreman in Zaire, grew to a crescendo by the time their rubber match in Manila arrived.  Ali took his insults of Frazier to a new level, referring to his challenger as a “gorilla”, mocking his physical features (Ali would take to pushing his own nose flat in an attempt to mimic Joe’s), and even taking to punching a toy monkey meant to depict Frazier while at his press conferences or meeting with the media.  It was an ugly side to Ali that those in his camp have excused as simply another act of showmanship — just a way to sell tickets;  however, those in that corner ignore the reality of how deep an insult the term was to Frazier, and how troubling the usage was in referring to an African-American.  Coming from another black man, it was doubly so.

The book and the documentary touch on all of this and much more.  If you’ve looked at Ali through rose-colored glasses over the years, both of these looks back will be a stark wake-up call and a disappointing reminder that our heroes are as flawed, even more so in some cases, then those who idolize them.

manila-2The culmination of the blood feud between Ali and Frazier would be their epic struggle in Manila, and both the documentary and the book give great insights into one of the greatest heavyweight struggles ever.  Everything that is good — and bad — about boxing was in display on that morning in the Philippines.  While Ali had taken the fight largely due to believing that Frazier was washed up following the beating he took at the hands of Foreman, Frazier trained for the contest as if he was going to war for his life — and in many ways, he was.  The fight would be more of a contest of survival than a sporting event — Ali himself would say afterward that this had been “the closest to dying he had ever been” — and it can be said that while two men went into the ring that day, neither came out whole.  Both Ali and Frazier left part of themselves behind, and neither man would be the same again physically — or mentally.

manila-3The fight itself was a war;  Ali dominated the early rounds, nearly knocking Frazier out while showing an aggressive tact he rarely had exhibited since his return to the ring in 1970.  But in the middle rounds, the former champion would rally, muscling Ali at every opportunity while pounding the now-stationary fighter in the ribs, kidneys, liver, and hips at every opportunity with his brutal left hooks, each thrown with the intent of knocking Ali out.  Frazier surged ahead on the scorecards, but as the fight entered the last rounds, Ali had begun to rally again.  Constant punching to Frazier’s face had swollen his right eye almost shut.  Unbeknown to anyone other than Frazier and his trainer, the great Eddie Futch, cataracts had rendered the fighter unable to see with his left eye, and with his vision impaired in his right eye from the pounding he’d received, Frazier was now fighting essentially blind.  Ali would rain punishment on a tiring Frazier, who despite the beating, refused to give up.

After a beating in the 14th, Futch — against the protests of Frazier — would signal to stop the fight.  Ironically, in the corner opposite of theirs, Ali was begging his trainer Angelo Dundee to cut his own gloves off, seemingly unwilling to answer the bell himself.  The shocking juxtaposition of the two — the eventual loser wanting to continue while his corner fought to protect him from risking his own life in his quest for victory, while the eventual winner was looking at the abyss and hesitating, while his corner urged him onward — poses the question:  How would the lives of these two men — and our remembrances of them both — have been forever changed if Frazier had answered the bell for the 15th round — and Ali had not?

ali-oldThe aftermath for both is well documented.  Ali would go on to fight again, but never be the same.  Frazier also would fight on, but his career was essentially finished that day in Manila.  Over time, the wars each fought in the ring would take their physical toll on both men.  Ali today is a shadow of his former, glib self — the effects of his years in the ring and his battle with Parkinson’s Disease well evident.  Frazier also wears the effects of the punishment he took.  But while so much has faded over time with both of these men, one thing is as strong today as it was then — and that’s an utter disdain of Ali by Frazier, the latter still embittered by his treatment so many years ago.

The documentary and the book tell us a lot about both of these men, whose stories are forever intertwined with one another.  What I took out of it was that Ali wasn’t quite the hero I once thought he was, and Frazier was never the villain he was often portrayed to be.  Both were proud men and proud fighters.  There is a great deal about both to admire — and a great deal about both that neither should be proud of.  Which, I guess, makes them both human — like the rest of us.  No more — no less.

joe-frazierThe lasting image I take from the HBO Special, though, is that of Frazier watching the tape of his fight with Ali.  There’s a haunted, troubling look on his face as he watches his younger self attacking and stalking Ali in the ring, an almost wry smile coming up from the corners of his mouth as you can see him reliving every blow being struck.  You can sense that, for Frazier, a part of him is still in Manila, still chasing after the elusive Ali.  In some ways, he’s a ghost of a man chasing down another spectre — even after all these years — a spectre he’ll never be able to catch, no matter how badly he wants to.