“Sugar and Spice”– 2001′s Guilty Pleasure

Three and a Half Stars out of Five

In New Line Cinema’s ‘Sugar and Spice,’ we are told to “get ready to cheer for the bad girls”… and cheer we do. The story focuses on five high school cheerleaders who decide to rob a grocery store’s bank when one of them gets pregnant with twins. Since the five of them are as close to a family as they will ever get, they decide to split the money five ways– with the plans for their newfound wealth ranging from money to raise the newborns to money to pay for college tuition and a horse.

Although the storyline may sound ridiculous and weak, the film is entertaining, funny and engaging, taking its place next to last year’s guilty-pleasure cheerleading film, ‘Bring It On.’ The five girls, though different as night an day, share a chemistry both in the script and on-screen, and before the film’s end audiences will not only be cheering for the young criminals, but believe in them and their stories as well.

One of the main elements of ‘Sugar and Spice’ is just how different the main characters are, yet how well they fit together. Diane, the main character played by ‘Pleasantville”s Marley Shelton, is a perky romantic who’s main love in life shifts from cheerleading to her babies when she discovers she is pregnant. Although many films would portray her character as promiscuous and her situation as yet another statistic, screenwriter Mandy Nelson looks at the situation of a pregnant high schooler in a new limelight. Not only does the father of the baby (played by ‘X-Men”s James Marsden) stick by her side, but the couple look at the twins as a blessing. Despite their parents disowning them, the two are determined to make it on their own– both taking on new jobs in order to pay the rent while still staying in school.

Diane’s best friend Kansas, ‘American Beauty”s Mena Suvari, is as mouthy as Diane is friendly. Although the two appear to be complete opposites at the film’s start– Kansas comes from a broken home and grew up tough, while Diane had a loving family and grew up believing that everything really does come up roses– they quickly resemble each other more and more as the film progresses. Kansas’s parentless background also plays a key part in the film, since Kansas’s mother is an inmate at the local prison who eventually teaches the girls all they need to know about robbing a bank.

The remaining three girls range from a brainy cheerleader, a virginal religion freak and a cheerleader obsessed with talk-show host Conan O’Brien. Each girl provides her own on-screen chemistry that helps make the film’s cast irresistible, as well as her own background that eventually tie into the film’s main focus of robbing the bank.

All the young actresses in the film, including the villainous wanna-be cheerleader Lisa (‘Full House”s Marla Sokoloff), bring hope to the young Hollywood scene. They are all very talented and beautiful and deserve to be working much more than they currently are. Suvari shows audiences yet another side to her, playing the white-trash bad girl as splendidly as the wanna-be bad girl in ‘American Beauty’ and the angelic virgin in ‘American Pie.’ Marley Shelton plays the wide-eyed optimist perfectly, and gives the audience a glimpse of an aspiring film star destined for greatness.

The magic each actress brings to the film and her part though is just half of what makes the film so irresistible. Another main part of the film’s charm is the script. If Nelson had written this film in any other way, chances are it would rank somewhere near ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ when it comes to delightful teen films. Instead, Nelson gives the audience a witty script that never takes itself too seriously, new ideas and smart, charming characters that, despite their many flaws, give audience hope that no matter what life throws us, all will be well in the end.

The other main element in ‘Sugar and Spice’ that makes the film succeed is the chemistry the cast shares between one another. Audiences already know the talent these young girls possess, but to see them work together gives the audience a chance to see what a talented ensemble was cast. Out of the five main girls, only one– Shelton– had any real background in cheerleading. Amazing since the girls perform like they were all state-champion cheerleaders back in the day. Their cheerleading-less background though only illuminates the trust the cast shared, because not only were they trusting each other’s acting abilities to make a great film, they trusted each other with their lives when they were doing the on-screen cheers.

‘Sugar and Spice”s soundtrack is the final element of the film that makes it the enjoyable romp it is. Featuring modern day classics like ‘Rock ‘n Roll Part Two’ and danceable new tunes, the soundtrack provides the final element in the film that will get audiences riled up and ready to cheer– or at least cheer on their favorite cheerleading robbers.

‘Sugar and Spice’ takes its place next to ‘Bring It On’ as a truly fun film that will make audiences smile, and most of all, cheer. It is light-hearted, funny and leaves the audience with the hope that everything can be okay as long as you have a smile on your face. A definite must-see for both the young, and young at heart.

Opera – A Source of Innocent Merriment: The Mikado

Yum-Yum drawn by Gilbert For months after the opening of Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, people asked me whether the film was an accurate account of the making of The Mikado…and the answer was yes, to a mindboggling degree. While his idea for a story about a Japanese executioner had truly resulted from W.S. Gilbert’s close call with a falling Japanese sword, surely he had long been aware that the British Empire was fascinated by Japan.

For centuries, the tiny island had closed its doors to the West. When they were prised open in 1853, 32 years before the operetta’s premiere – how this was accomplished is colorfully examined in Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures –- merchant ships scurried east to bring home goods that were uniquely “made in Japan.” At first, in England, these imports were primarily embraced by the Aesthetic Movement, a trend parodied by Gilbert in his 1881 Patience. By 1884, British interest in Japanese life and products had become so widespread that an exhibit of five blocks of Japanese-style streets, populated by some 100 Japanese citizens, was built in Knightsbridge, London. This is where Gilbert bought the fateful sword.

Sullivan approached A.B. Mitford, who had been in a British envoy to Japan, regarding suitable music. However, his score remains resolutely Western, and indeed English, from a play on the song “A Fine Old English Gentleman” when Ko-Ko enters, to a madrigal, to even a little of Bach’s Fugue in G minor during “My object all sublime.” Likewise, Gilbert’s lyrics incorporate such traditional folk phrases as “derry down derry” and “tra-la-la.” Only two pieces in The Mikado are in Japanese: the phrase “O ni! Bikkuri shakkuri to!” at the end of Act I (which Ian Bradley, editor of The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, translates to “surprise, with a hiccup”) and the “Miya sama” chorus, a genuine Japanese anthem.

Score aside, the original D’Oyly Carte production strove to be as authentically Japanese as possible. As shown in Topsy-Turvy, Gilbert did engage a woman from the Knightsbridge village to teach the female singers how to bow, giggle, and use their fans; and the entire cast was coached in the correct way to move in kimonos. Liberty of London, which had led the field in textiles during the Aesthetes’ hunger for Japanese goods, supplied the theater with the fabrics for sets and costumes, even sending its own special envoy to Japan to make the selection. As a result, some the male performers wore genuine silk garments purchased in Japan, or expert reproductions of them (armor had been considered, but the real thing was found to be too heavy…and too small). The first Katisha wore a 200-year-old Japanese robe. Unfortunately, critics of the time did not appreciate such touches, complaining that the ladies looked like bolsters, that they were shaped too much like the men (remember, this was the era of corsets and bustles). However, the D’Oyly Carte company stood by such authenticity…and in fact continued to use some of the original costumes right up through the early 1980s.

King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook

Flour. The most basic ingredient in bread, cake, cookies, pasta. And still, the most easily overlooked. For years, I just picked up whatever happened to be on sale at the grocery store, and never gave my selection a second thought.

But then, someone suggested looking at the King Arthur website, where you could order specialty flours, along with other baking items. I still thought it a trifle silly–ordering flour through the mail? But perhaps serious bread bakers would be tempted–not me.

Fast forward a couple of years, and my new husband insists on King Arthur flour–”It really is the best,” he says seriously, before launching into an explanation of protein ratios and how they affect rising and baking, etc. etc. I try, and I’m hooked. I always love getting their mail-catalog, with wonderful recipes and photos in every issue (their workers are some of the most wholesome looking people I’ve ever seen! must be all that homemade bread!)

So, this year for Christmas, I bought a copy of the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook for my husband. (Angling to get more bread? You bet!) Plentiful recipes for bread, cakes, pies, cookies, rolls…if you have a sweet tooth, buy this book.

Baseball – Pedro, Chemistry, Hair, and Nelson

The fans just don’t get. They don’t want Pedro Martinez to pitch for the Yankees because it will destroy the team chemistry, because he has long hair, because he has a friend who is a midget, and because he says dumb things to the media. All those negatives really hurt the Red Sox, didn’t they?

What is team chemistry? How many fans have ever been in a major league team’s locker room? How many fans know what goes on between and among players before, during, and after a game? Do the media report what really occurs or do they limit what they report for fear of incurring the players’ wrath and creating less cooperative sources? Can Yankees fans rely on John Sterling to tell them what is really going on?

The Yankees won five straight World Championships from 1949-1953. The team chemistry they had was epitomized by Hank Bauer. When a Yankee, almost invariably a rookie or a player who came over from another team, didn’t do what he was supposed to do, Bauer would snarl, “Don’t mess with my money.” Winning creates team chemistry.

The issue of hair “style” is idiotic. Compare Randy Johnson to Mike Mussina. Who is more clean cut? Who is the better pitcher? Compare Jason Giambi before and after he became a Yankee. Did Yogi Berra look like a ballplayer? Did Casey Stengel look like Connie Mack?

Two Casey Stengel quotes speak volumes about players and teams. “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in,” and “The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” Make sure that the players have short hair and no beards but ignore their philandering. And all the Yankees players love Joe Torre.

A team is composed of individuals who cannot be prevented from BEING individuals. The Yankees may try to stop players from expressing their individuality but they can succeed only outwardly. David Wells will always be David Wells regardless of what happens. Bernie Williams will always be Bernie Williams. The difference is that David Wells’ actions usually are not condoned by those in power so Wells is looked upon as a rebel. Bernie Williams can never express Wells’ intensity but the media tell us that he cares and that he just expresses his caring differently. Fine. If Pedro wants long hair, so what. Only a fool would value the length of a player’s hair more than what the player can contribute to winning.

The entire midget business is disgusting because few if any in the media have taken the time to discover the facts. Jennifer Royle of the YES Network did. The midget is Nelson de la Rosa, who is an actor from the Dominican Republic, has had a role in the Island of Dr. Moreau, and is Pedro’s friend.

Pedro and Nelson came into the Red Sox clubhouse before a game with the Yankees at the end of September. Some of Pedro’s Red Sox teammates had their picture taken with Nelson and then some made mince meat out of Pedro’s actor friend when Pedro let him run around the clubhouse. According to Royle, “…Red Sox players made vocal, inappropriate and tactless comments. At one point, Derek Lowe inquired if he could ‘buy one of those’ while Curtis Leskanic mimicked the line from Austin Powers, ‘I will call him Mini-Me.’ Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz then yelled out they thought De la Rosa had a significantly larger body part than Millar. Curt Schilling was loudly humming the theme song to Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in front of his locker.

Pedro has been criticized as not being concerned about his teammates. Does anyone wonder why?

There are twenty five players on a team and there are twenty five individuals who are different from each other. There must be only one common bond, and that common bond is winning. No matter what else occurs, no matter what else they believe, no matter what else they want to do, the only thing that must supercede individual desires is the desire and commitment to win. How many World Series games did Yankees pitchers win this year? Pedro won one.

It was Always Roger’s

The record was always Roger’s, or at least it was his ever since October 1, 1961. For almost thirty years, there were never any real challenges and now it seems that the thirty years can be extended to more than forty years. Oh, Reggie had a great first half in 1969 but tailed off and wound up with 47, and George Foster had 52 in 1977 but never really hit them at a pace that made him a serious threat. Then came 1994 and the season of no World Series. When baseball resumed, offense increased dramatically and so did home runs.

Baseball’s rulers had to get the fans to return to the ballparks and offense is directly related to attendance. Shrink the strike zone, juice up the ball, and let the players get bigger and stronger any way they could. After all, isn’t America a free country? It worked. Fans returned in greater numbers than ever before, little infielders blasted opposite field home runs, and the players were the greatest in the history of the game. Right.

Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998. He had hit 52 in 1996, 58 in 1997, and followed the 70 in 1998 by hitting 65 in 1999.

Sammy Sosa hit 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999, 50 in 2000 and 64 in 2001.

Barry Bonds set the “new” record with 73 in 2001. A record that had stood for thirty seven years was surpassed twice in 1998, twice in 1999, and twice in 2001. Kind of makes one wonder.

McGwire retired after the 2001 season in which he batted .187 with 29 home runs. How many times did Babe Ruth or Ted Williams or Willie Mays bat .187? McGwire had undergone surgery to correct patella tendonitis but the knee remained too weak for the new “record holder” to perform efficiently. McGwire used androstenedione, which is a natural forerunner of testosterone. He had always been an outstanding power hitter, but the closest he came to Maris’ record was when he hit 49 in 1987. He was never close to being a great hitter, as his .263 lifetime batting reveals.

Sammy Sosa’s home run high before the strike year was 33 in 1993. He reached 40 for the first time in 1996 and then began his streak of hitting at least 50 a season in 1998. Sosa has been caught using a corked bat although the supplement issue is still in the realm of speculation.

This brings us to Bonds, Barry Bonds, who has testified before a federal grand jury that he used a clear substance and a cream supplied by the Burlingame laboratory but that he never thought they were steroids. The giant Giants’ slugger stated he believed he was using flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis.

The issue is NOT whether the methods McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds employed were legal. The only issue is the fact that McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds all enhanced their on the field performances, McGwire and Bonds by using chemicals and Sosa by using a doctored bat. Their “accomplishments” will be questioned forever and their “records” must be viewed differently.

Barry Bonds’ last “regular” season was 1999, when he was thirty five years old. Barry batted .262 with 34 home runs. It was after that season that Bonds, unlike any player in the game’s history, started to reach his peak. Most players reach their peak between twenty six and thirty, but Barry was the exception.

After the 1999 season, Barry had appeared in exactly 2000 games with a lifetime average of .288. He averaged 1 home run for every 15.68 official at bats. Starting with the 2000 season, Barry has hit a home run every 8.22 official at bats. Babe Ruth average one home run every 11.76 official at bats for his career, and one home run for every 12.39 official at bats for this last four seasons.

Considering the circumstances, there is only step that must be taken but, based on the past performances of those who rule, it won’t be taken. When Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run, eclipsing Maris’ record for the first time, the Maris family was present. Now, baseball commissioner Al Selig must hold a meeting that will be attended by McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and the Maris family. In a simple statement, Selig must proclaim that neither McGwire nor Bonds holds the single season home run record. Selig must declare that Roger Maris holds the record for the most home runs in a single season and that he has held it for forty three consecutive seasons. End of story.

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