Monday, April 26, 2010


Not that I've been a fountain of information around here lately, but vacation is upon me so things will be quiet around here for two weeks as I visit with friends and family on the East Coast. Philadelphia, DC and Pennsylvania, here I come.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fantasy Baseball and all that

As I've said before, ESPN's 30 For 30 series is better than 90% of the films I've seen since the ambitious series began back in November of last year. Last night's episode focused on a silly little game called fantasy baseball and its (obsessive) humble beginnings in 1980 by a group of fervent baseball fanatics. While I can honestly say I've only jumped into the fray of the fantasy leagues a year ago, as a kid (also obsessed by baseball, both playing it and watching it), this type of interaction with a sport I dearly love is beyond words. I can remember spending endless hours playing old baseball board games as well as inventing my own: placing my baseball cards on the ground with the players in their respective positions and rolling dice for results. One was a single,two double, three triple, four out, five strikeout and 6 homerun, calculating the stats on pieces of paper over a month long period. Oh, if only these kids today could get off their cell phones.....

So I find myself in a very enjoyable league this season with some dear friends and some complete strangers, but it's just as time-consuming and possessive as "Silly Little Game" purports it to be. I log in 5-6 times a night to study the stat lines. I watch Baseball Tonight (after a Rangers loss, I'm sure) and closely watch for 'my guys' and their results. Really, what other reason would I have to care about how the Milwaukee Brewers do on a Tuesday night? Bottom line... its a helluva lotta fun. And depressing. I was in a solid fourth when I went to bed last night, and find myself eight out of ten tonight. A 3 point slide can do that type of destruction. As I type this post right now, listening to the Rangers/Red Sox in the background, I've checked my stats twice! But, if that's all I have to lament about, then I suppose I should be a very happy guy.

My Fantasy team in all its 2010 splendor:

Ivan Rodriguez- as a fan of Carlton Fisk since I was 10, I refuse to use the "Pudge" moniker! A week into the season, I dropped Geovany Soto and picked up Rodriguez. A great choice, as he currently leads the NL in batting average.

Ryan Howard

Dan Uggla

Ian Stewart- hopefully a small hidden homerun secret that will help me this year. Playing in Colorado helps too.

Erick Aybar

Jose Lopez

Adam LaRoche- really hurting me so far... under performing due to injury.

Jayson Werth

Shane Victorino

Jason Kubel- damn that new Target field looks nice. Maybe if work takes me back up there eventually, I can score tickets.

Jason Heyward- a steal on my part, if I may be so humble. My jaw dropped open when I drafted him for my last pick, stunned he was still there.

David Ortiz- had him on the bench since game 3. Big Papi looks to have lost it.

Carlos Gomez

Rickie Weeks

BJ Upton- steals mean so much in fantasy baseball

Jason Bay- man, he's gotta get thing going. I snapped him with one of my first picks, thinking a hot NY deal will energize him.... plus the low left field in Mets stadium when he was bashing homers over the Green Monster last year? Still early though...


Jon Lackey
Naftali Feliz- if only he'd get a chance over Frank Choke-sisco right now.
Mariano Rivera
Jake Peavy
James Shields
Octavio Dotel
Edwin Jackson
Darren O Day
Barry Zito

my WHIP is giving me great results. If you don't know WHIP, then this whole post probably made your eyes glaze over.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Comedies, Anyone?

Hot Tub Time Machine

Godard once said the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. Steve Pink’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” certainly takes valuable swipes at the 1980’s, and the amazing thing is that for two-thirds of the film, it does transform itself into a highly enjoyable 80’s romp. It’s just that the other third, obsessed with that displeasing state of “now” humor (which equals improvised comedy full of vulgar, mean spirited put downs and gross out sight gags) high jacks some of the fun. Still, for an hour or so, “Hot Tub Time Machine” is a sharp comedy with cosmic overtones. Starring the always likable John Cusack- who established himself in 80’s comedies and seems to feel right at home as one of the four modern men who find themselves trapped back in 1986 on one eventful night that- “Hot Tub Time Machine” also develops a sweet relationship between him and music writer April, played to dizzying perfection by Lizzy Caplan. It’s this peripheral romance that gives the film its zeal. Caplan, who is a newcomer to me but has obviously been around on the small screen for years, hits the perfect mixture of 70’s hippiness and 80’s sweet girl persona. From the first time they meet on-screen at a party, Cusack and Caplan make their connection feel real and inspired. I almost wish the entire film could have been about them. But, director Pink has more important things on his mind, such as a male-on-male blowjob and hand soap designed to look like ejaculate on someone’s face. I understand today’s comedy has to reach a certain shock value (which is depressing), and “Hot Tub Time Machine” has that built in for audience acceptance. It’s just the film really soars when it tries to connect on a smaller level. That’s the kind of comedy film we could use more of today.


And speaking of independent comedy, Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” certainly qualifies as that. Yet it’s probably more ugly and unappealing than the problems I had with the big budget “Hot Tub Time Machine”. Baumbach’s films have always been a niche commodity, dealing with upper class growing pains and intelligentsia. But with this film and his previous one, “Margot At The Wedding”, Baumbach has apparently given up connecting with anyone in middle America- or really anyone outside the ledges of New England or uber-pretentious Los Angelites. Ben Stiller is Roger, a cynical and troubled man just released from a mental hospital who travels to Los Angeles to house-sit for his brother. Once there, he begins an on-again-off-again relationship with Greta Gerwig, his brother’s personal assistant. If you thought Nicole Kidman was a psychological terror on wheels, just wait until you see Stiller as Greenberg. Continually pushing everyone away at a moment’s notice and constantly complaining about the minuscule habits or ticks of other people, Baumbach has created a genuinely chaotic protagonist that alienates with full force. I felt as if maybe I should’ve donated my 9 bucks for Baumbach to visit a therapist instead of working out the problems of his upper class life with such virulent cinematic skills. It wasn’t always this way. “Kicking and Screaming”, while meandering a bit much on the sours of love, was an absorbing ensemble. Likewise, “The Squid and the Whale” gave us a young man confused and pessimistic, wrapped in a cloak of growing up awkwardness which allowed the viewer to review the awkwardness of our own teenage years. With “Greenberg”, there’s nothing but a wasteland of pretension and West Coast grunge. The one thing I did like- Stiller making a grocery list with two things on it, whiskey and ice cream sandwiches.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trailers I Love

So not safe for work......

Sunday, April 11, 2010

70's Bonanza: The Jericho Mile

It's ironic that in a career of films whose main criminal masterminds take extraordinarily intelligent measures to avoid prison, Michael Mann's first film would be a study of incarceration. He starts there and never wants to go back. "The Jericho Mile" could be placed in that vein of inspirational sports movie, but it plays much better as a gritty prison film with humanistic overtones. Not available on DVD, Mann's first film is everything I've been anticipating.

Starring Peter Strauss as convicted murderer Larry Murphy stationed at Folsom Prison, he spends his idle days running in the yard. Somehow managing to avoid the racial squabbles and nationalistic sects that buoy the prison's population, Strauss is the strong silent type that will make up a majority of the figures in the rest of Mann's muscular career. Like Neil Macauley or James Caan's Frank in "Thief", Murphy is an articulate, studied man who speaks without contractions. In two of the film's best scenes featuring conversations between him and prison shrink Geoffery Lewis, Strauss lays out the reasons why he's in prison with a determined, steely gaze. And he finishes his outlook with the typical zen Mann outlook on life- "what went down went down... and I belong here." But all is not tranquil for Strauss as his best friend (Richard Lawson) is eventually murdered due to some shady dealings with prison gang leader Brian Dennehy. Strauss then throws himself completely into a regiment set up by the prison brass who see something special in the inmate's afternoon yard dashes and hope to propel him into an Olympic qualifying event.

Written and released as a television movie in 1979, "The Jericho Mile" was filmed inside Folsom Prison, mixing up the actors and utilizing real life inmates. Never shirking away from the tension and violence that exists behind bars, Mann and writer Patrick Nolan wrap a compelling story around territory that could turn mawkish. In large part, the success of "The Jericho Mile" is attributed to lead actor Strauss- who reminds one of a young bulky Mickey Rourke- and who inhabits his character with real depth and intelligence. Often times, prison movies minimize the characters into types, and "The Jericho Mile" avoids those pitfalls, eventually emerging as a personal story of conviction and defiance that has one rooting for the idea of a man who could literally run away from his guilt-ridden past.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Independent Gaze: Azazel Jacobs' The GoodTimesKid

Filmmaker Azazel Jacobs (son of pioneer avant garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs) only has two films under his belt, yet his unique way of dealing with whimsical romanticism and mid life crisis are achingly real. His debut film, "The GoodTimes Kid", completed in 2005 and given a cozy (i.e. very limited) release in 2006, succeeds in spite of its art-house pretensions... which is to say it's full of unbroken long takes and a distinctively muted emotionalism that lingers in the mind far longer than expected.

Opening with a case of mistaken identity, Rodolfo Cano (Gerardo Naranjo) receives a letter stating his application to the army has been accepted. He shows up to the recruiting office and observes the other Cano (played by Jacobs himself) before following him home. Curious as to this other Rodolfo's life, he knocks on the door and, mid raging fury at her boyfriend's passive dismissal of her, meets the girlfriend, Diaz. Played with deceptive sexiness and charm by Sara Diaz, she's a gangly, magnetic screen presence highly reminiscent of a Latina Olive Oil (which has to be some sort of inspiration). After settling down and a messy bout of refrigerator punching, Diaz and the new Rodolfo strike up an almost non-verbal relationship that lasts through the night and into the next day.

Jacobs paints his portrait of this floating trio with a stunning sense of connectedness. The influence of Cassavetes is tactile. At once playful via its long takes and body language comedy, "The GoodTimesKid" veers into honest realism on a dime. When the two Rodolfo's eventually meet, the battle for the heart of Diaz is not won by fists (although there is a hilarious scuffle that begins and ends abruptly) but through a touching walk down the street at night and the spurned Rodolfo recalling how scared he was the first time he saw Diaz. Just like a previous scene where the new Rodolfo and Diaz connect in the dark with a flashlight illuminating their grinning faces, Jacobs is clearly not afraid to allow the uneasy messiness of life to shine through in quiet moments.

Closing with an act of self sacrifice, "The GoodTimesKid" naturally segues into Jacobs' second film, "Momma's Man". Gone is the loopy attitude around new found attraction. It's replaced with a bout of mid-life crisis where husband and new father Mike (Matt Boren) visits his parents in New York, then finds himself afraid to leave his childhood home. "Momma's Man" is the film where the youthful revolutionaries of "The GoodTimesKid" are forced to grow up. I had the misfortune to watch these films in reverse- with "Momma's Man" being a respectable but average view over a year ago while "The GoodTimesKid" was a lightning bolt experience last week. It's safe to say Jacobs is a filmmaker whose cinema of loneliness, anxiety and anger complement each other in mysterious ways. And the final image of "The GoodTimesKid", with Diaz slowly absorbing the action taken by the new Rodolfo and filmed with an unwavering three minute static shot as a source tune by Gang of Four echoes over the image, is haunting in more ways than one. Facing the future, the expression of confusion and bewilderment on her face exemplifies that maybe, just maybe, we'll get a later film that dares to explore what happens to her after this. In Jacobs' seemingly connected universe, it's only fair.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Cinema Obscura: The Dark Side of the Moon

DJ Webster's "The Dark Side of the Moon" belongs in that late 80's/early 90's direct to video market that suddenly became prominent when independent films were being plucked from obscurity at film festivals and turned a tidy profit. More chances were given and creative freedom was broadened some. Shown at a select few sci-fi film festivals in 1990, "The Dark Side of the Moon" is highly entertaining for its prescient mixture of horror and science fiction.... a film that pre dates the dead-in-space theory five to six years before the predominant favorite of that genre, "Event Horizon" and the more recent "Sunshine". It also tosses in some weird ideas about the Bermuda Triangle and the Devil, weaving together a story that offers a few chills and some mordant humor.

The crew of a spaceship in 2022, traveling through the dark side of the moon, come across a ship that lost communication over 20 years ago. Upon investigating, they find a fresh dead body onboard and stir up something evil at the same time. With a cast of recognizable character actors such as Joe Turkel of "Blade Runner" fame and veteran television actor John Diehl, "The Dark Side of the Moon" carries its low-budget attitude with some sleekness. The sets are believable (except one character apparently chain smokes in space) and director Webster infuses a shrewd sense of paranoia and dread as the astronauts begin to turn on one another.

Webster would not be heard from again in or out of Hollywood, but the sordid screenplay was written by Carey and Chad Hayes.... brothers who are still producing out-there thrillers. After writing the "House of Wax" remake with the delectable Elisa Cuthbert, their latest venture included "Whiteout".... aka the film I rented only for the sexy Kate Beckinsale and ended up fast forwarding through the final 30 minutes. Since most of the pleasures of "The Dark Side of the Moon" lie in its creepy ideas and finale, there's hope for these guys to strike something original.

This film has never been released on DVD.