September 20, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1988

Honorable Mention – Bird: I grew up playing alto sax and I still have a well-worn copy of Charlie Parker’s Omnibook. So when Clint Eastwood came out with Parker’s biopic in 1988, I was right there. Really well-done, and it gave us our first look at Forrest Whitaker as a lead actor.

5. (Tie) They Live and Bull Durham: I have a lot of love for both these films. They Live is a wonderful sci-fi “B-movie” romp. And Piper is awesome in the lead role. No, there is no argument about this. Bull Durham is one of the greatest sports films ever. And damned funny to boot.

4. Scrooged: This movie grows on me each time I see it. I love Murray in this and the flashbacks of his life are great. And Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present is a joy.

3. (Tie) The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and A Fish Called Wanda: Another strong year for comedies. Naked Gun is, in my opinion, the apex of “spoof” movies. Just solid from top to bottom and non-stop laughs. Wanda is a more refined comedy, but just as hilarious. Kevin Kline deserved that Oscar for his role as Otto West. “Oh no! K-k-k-ken is coming to k-k-k-kill me!” Hey, it was so funny it killed a guy. Go Google “Ole Bentzen” if you don’t believe me.

2. Big: What made Big so effective is not only Tom Hanks’ ability to play a man-child with that sense of wonderment kids have, but that all us remember a point when we were kids that we simply wanted to be…big. Twenty-five (!) years old now and not dated in the least.

1. Die Hard: You know a film has become a cultural touchstone when it is used to describe other films. It also doesn’t hurt that Die Hard kicks a hundred different kinds of ass as well. There isn’t a down moment in the film. And while some people say Billy Zabka played the biggest jerk ever on film (Johnny Lawrence - Karate Kid), I still say Hart Bochner holds the title hands down as the coked-out L.A. businessman Harry Ellis. I cheered when Gruber shot him.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Akira, Biloxi Blues, Colors, Midnight Run, Eight Men Out, Alien Nation, Frantic, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Waxwork, Rambo III, Twins, The Last Temptation of Christ, , Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, My Neighbor Totoro, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Coming To America, Bat 21, Mississippi Burning, Beetlejuice, Big Top Pee-wee, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Pelle the Conqueror, Bloodsport

Underappreciated x2 – The Big Blue and Willow: Luc Besson’s The Big Blue is an almost-hypnotizing story about a rivalry between two free divers. The scenes underwater are incredible. Willow catches a lot of flack as a “Star Wars with swords” movie or a rip-off of Tolkein. Maybe, but so what? It’s an entertaining, fun movie. Better that than some pedantic, slow-moving, sub-par rip-off like the Sword of Shannara books.

Guilty Pleasure – Action Jackson: I can’t defend this movie. It’s ridiculous. But I love it. Carl Weathers kicking ass is always a good time in my book. And Craig T. Nelson plays one of the most evil, insane guys to ever cross the screen and has fun doing it.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Phantasm II: Where to begin? The Tall Man harvesting bodies from town to town. Flying silver balls with assorted appendages of death. Strange Yellow Ichor. Dwarfs coming out of barrels. And a crazy ending. All that said…I love this movie and the whole series. I don’t know why. But they’re great.


As you approach, hit and pass 40 on life's freeway, you notice a couple of things. More gray hair is practically a given. If you pull a muscle or twist an ankle, you don't bounce back as quickly. But for me, the most noticeable thing is that you cannot eat the way you used to.

I will be the first to admit that I was not a "good" eater, in that I didn't follow the food pyramid, or trapezoid or whatever shape they're using now.* But I was a good eater, in that I could put food down. It just happened to be pasta or pizza or fat steaks. Nachos too....mmmmmmm, nachos.

Yeah, well those days are over. Running on a diet of fried foods and slabs of beef apparently causes some problems in middle-age. Like your stomach feeling like a road flare is in there. Or having a gallstone the size of baseball.

So I have had to become reacquainted...let's be honest, acquainted, with eating vegetables on a regular basis. And as much as I hate to admit really does work. All those pains have gone away, I have more can't deny the evidence. I guess those doctors are on to something with this "eating healthy" thing

This isn't to say I don't still have steak or pizza. Let's not go crazy here. But you have to make adjustments as you age. Which is kind of annoying. But it's better than ignoring it and keeling over.


* Maybe a dodecahedron? I'd be all for a food chart like that.

September 19, 2013

Movie Review: M*A*S*H (1970)

Now, fair's fair Henry. If I nail Hotlips and hit Hawkeye can I go home too? - Capt. Augustus 'Duke' Forrest (Tom Skerritt)

Director: Robert Altman

Writer: Richard Hooker (novel), Ring Lardner, Jr. (screenplay)

Producer: Ingo Preminger, Leon Ericksen

Studio: 20th Century Fox (US)

Major Stars: Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, Elliot Gould, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Rene Auberjonois, Roger Bowen, Gary Burghoff

Note: In keeping with my policy about movies 25 years old or more, I feel no compunctions about revealing what happens in the film. With that in mind, there may be SPOILERS below. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to avoid this review.

Without a doubt, M*A*S*H is the funniest war film you will ever see in your life. And while it hardly has anything you would normally associate with a war movie, it touches on many aspects of wartime in a very subtle manner.

The film is set in the Korean War and focuses on the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and in particular two doctors; Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce (Sutherland) and Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Gould). Through the movie you pretty much laugh non-stop at their antics, which including baiting and teasing the two uptight officers in the unit; Major Frank Burns (Duvall) and Major Margaret Houlihan (Kellerman). The film comes to a peak at the end during a football game between the 4077th and the 325th Evac Hospital, which is absolutely gut-busting hilarious.

So it all sounds like a great comedy with just the trappings of a war movie, right? But there’s a lot more to it.

  • One of the scenes has Pierce operating on a wounded soldier. He makes jokes and has the nurse scratch his nose all over the sound of a bone saw amputating the soldier’s leg.
  • Pierce and Hawkeye are rushed to Japan to operate on a soldier in a top-flight military hospital. The soldier happens to be the son of a Congressman. Would a regular GI get that treatment?
  • There is a Korean teenager named Ho-Jon who works at the camp. When he is drafted, Hawkeye tries to get him out of service by slipping him drugs to raise his heart-rate.

And that leads to a moment that you almost miss. The original script had Ho-Jon getting wounded, returning to the 4077th and dying on the operating table. The film edited most of that out. But you do see him in the operating room. And then after that, at a poker game with the doctors, you see a jeep drive off and the doctors stop playing for a moment. The jeep holds Ho-Jon’s corpse.

It’s a moment like that, that encapsulates the suffering war causes and how the survivors deal with it, that pushes M*A*S*H beyond being “just” a comedy. The plain fact is that Hawkeye and Trapper John act like maniacs because otherwise they’d go mad from all the suffering and death they are confronted with. The whole movie is one long look at how these soldiers cope with the war. And that is what makes Altman’s film not only a good comedy, but a good war film as well.

See, war films don’t always have to show the war to be effective. You have obvious films in that category, like Casablanca, and others you may not know about ( The Best Years of Our Lives - the damn film won seven Academy Awards but you barely ever see it on television or mentioned anywhere). That is the kind of war film M*A*S*H is; it focuses not on the battles, but on how those battles affect the soldiers who fight them and the people associated with them.

So where does a film like this rank? My method is simple (have I talked about this yet?); I start at the bottom of the list. If I think the film is better than the one listed, I go up a peg. That continues until I can’t go any higher. Which is how I find myself slotting it (at this time) between Where Eagles Dare and Braveheart. And I didn’t see that coming.

Not that M*A*S*H isn’t deserving of that kind of ranking. It’s a great movie that makes you laugh and think at the same time. But I thought going into this list that it would likely be in the middle tiers. I was wrong, which is only more of a testament to the actors and director.

Without a doubt, see M*A*S*H if you haven’t done so yet. It should also be a permanent part of your movie collection.


As the immortal Shane Falco once said...
Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.
I know about the first one. The third one is pretty subjective. But the second one...I must admit I will likely never know how true this may or may not be.

This is all I have as far as scars go.

You can barely see it. It's not even a cool scar. I got it from a piece of glass when I was seven. People trip on the sidewalk and get cooler scars than this.

I'm not saying I want a huge, disfiguring scar. Just one that adds a little character or allows for a cool story.

Oh, this scar? I got this from saving a wayward nun in Mexico from the Sinaloa drug cartel. Then she showed me a trick with a bottle of Tequila...

Nope. I got the "I was a dumb kid who couldn't handle glass properly" scar.

This must be a guy thing. I am pretty sure the number of women who want a scar is a number approaching zero. Probably just zero.

September 18, 2013


I love coffee. Love it love it love it.

If I remember correctly, I had my first cup when I was 10 on a Sunday after church. If you are (reasonably) asking "Who was letting a 10-year-old drink coffee at a church??" well...the early 80s were a wild time.

Since then, I have grown to enjoy it more and more. With some reasonable guidelines.

  1. More filtered coffee than French Press: As good as a French Press is...and it allows the fatty oils of the bean to remain in the coffee. Which ups the cholesterol content significantly. And as you blow past 40 on life's freeway, you actually have to start giving a shit about that stuff. Filtered coffee keeps the oils out of the brew.
  2. No coffee that came out of an animal's butt: I don't care how trendy or neat it is to drink Sumatran coffee that came from a bean that passed out a civet's ass. I. Won't. Drink. It.
  3. No more work coffee: This was a new rule as of today. I had a cup of work brew that tasted like something dead. And then proceeded to flavor my burps like that all day. You're welcome for the visual. I'm buying a cheap $20 coffee maker and avoiding the problem entirely. The worst part? My company used to carry Green Mountain Coffee. Now it's the kind you find stuffed in a carafe in some $30 hotel room in Dubuque, IA.
But coffee overall is a wonderful and miraculous drink. Consuming it cuts down on the risk of Type Two Diabetes (probably the main reason I haven't gotten it yet), Parkinson's and dementia. The latter two matter a lot to me because my grandfather suffered from both. It also lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke. Show me another beverage that does all that.

All hail coffee!!

My Five Favorite Films From...1987

In making this list, I realized that 1987 was an extremely strong year for movies. For some of these, it has been really easy to pick the five films. Here it was really tough. Tough enough I copped out twice to use ties.

Honorable Mention – Cry Freedom: Phenomenal story about South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko and newspaper editor Donald Woods. Denzel Washington’s first major role was playing Biko and you could see just how good an actor he would become.

5. Raising Arizona: I always want to give Nick Cage a pass for all his recent crap because of this movie. He was just flat-out great as Hi.

4. Lethal Weapon: The series slowly devolved into utter foolishness by the end. But the first film in the series was fantastic. You had the humor, but there was a cold edge to it that the others lacked.

3. (Tie) Spaceballs and The Princess Bride: Trying to choose between these two movies was impossible. The first was Mel Brooks’ last great movie. I don’t think he did anything else worthy of his history until The Producers hit the stage. And the other is a remarkable fairy-tale/comedy that has some emotional depth. Are you telling me you don’t want to cheer when Montoya finally slays Count Rugen?

2. (Tie) Robocop and Full Metal Jacket: And here’s another example of not being able to choose. Robocop is a wicked satire of the 80s mentality wrapped in a solid sci-fi plot. And FMJ is a harrowing look not only at war, but at how we make the men who go to fight the war.

1. The Untouchables: Love, love, love, LOVE this movie. Ness against Capone. DeNiro in an incredible role. Connery winning his Oscar and deserving it for the role of Malone. Just a solid movie from beginning to end with no let-up. And it had what I think is one of the best movie posters ever made.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Wall Street, Prince of Darkness, Hellraiser, Gardens of Stone, Adventures in Babysitting, Withnail and I, Roxanne, Throw Momma From The Train, Can’t Buy Me Love, Less Than Zero, Some Kind of Wonderful, Broadcast News, Good Morning, Vietnam, Empire of the Sun, The Last Emperor, Evil Dead 2, The Lost Boys, The Witches of Eastwick, The Monster Squad, Fatal Attraction, The Secret of My Succe$s

Underappreciated – Hamburger Hill: This Vietnam War film seemed to pass by without a lot of notice. Which is a shame, because it is an excellent look at the insanity of war. The story of the capture of Hill 937 is brought into even sharper focus by the fact it was abandoned less than a month later. You should definitely watch this movie if you get the chance.

Guilty Pleasure – Predator: “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Best. Line. Ever. An alien-hunter killing off US Special Forces and their commander going solo at the end to kill the Predator, who then decides to nuke the jungle because he’s a bad sport. How can you not like that?

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Bad Taste: If you know someone who likes Peter Jackson’s LotR trilogy, throw this into the DVD player and freak them out. Jackson’s first film ... and it is just nuts. Aliens harvesting New Zealanders for food, and eating barf as an appetizer. Jackson’s character holds his brains in his head with a belt. It’s bizarre as Hell but oddly fun.

September 17, 2013

So Why Isn't Dewey In the Hall of Fame?

So in Chad Finn's piece today about various Boston sports items, his last entry touches on one non-Boston event; the retirement of right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero. Here it is in full:

Twenty-three right fielders are in the Hall of Fame. By Jay Jaffe's terrific JAWS system, Guerrero rates roughly in the middle statistically among those 23. He clubbed 449 homers, posted a .931 OPS, won an MVP and finished in the top three three other times, had throwing arm that made the NRA envious, and his most-similar-by-ages list includes Willie Mays five times and Manny Ramirez and Duke Snider three times each. He retired this week. He'd get my vote in five years.

While no metric is perfect, JAWS isn't bad. It essentially allows for a comparison between a player and how an average Hall of Famer did at the same position. It averages the career WAR (Wins Above Replacement*) and the seven-year peak WAR total for a player. So, for example, Babe Ruth's career WAR is 163.2 and his WAR7 (seven year peak average) is 84.7. Average them (163.2+84.7 / 2) and you get 123.95, which is rounded up to 124.0. In this way, we can compare players at the same position from different periods.

Vlad the Impaler current ranks 21st right now among all-time Right Fielders in JAWS at 50.6, just off the pace of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield (19th all-time).

But there is a man who ranks 15th all-time, who played 20 years and, in my opinion, is one of the best right fielders to ever play the game. Of course, we are talking about Dwight Evans.

Of the 13 men** ahead of Dewey in JAWS who played right field, 11 are in the Hall of Fame. One has a shot to make it there (Larry Walker) and one is banned from the sport for life (Shoeless Joe Jackson).

That also means that Dewey's JAWS is better than 12 Hall of Famers at the right field position, including Winfield, Willie Keeler and Enos Slaughter. And he's still ahead of potential HOFers like Guerrero and Ichiro.

Now, JAWS isn't the be-all and end-all when it comes to deciding Hall of Fame worthiness. But it does make a basic case that Evans should at least be considered. He fell off the ballot in 1997 when a ridiculously deep class came in that year***. But the Veterans Committee will be voting on Expansion Era players in 2014. Which means we should be seeing their list soon. Evans, at a minimum, should be on that list. And frankly, he should be voted in.


*This represents the number of wins a player was responsible for at their position by not being a replacement-level player.

**One slot is reserved for the average of the 23 Hall of Famers at the position. Right now, that composite is 13th on the list.

***On that ballot - George Brett, Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and Carlton Fisk. Yeah, it was a little deep in awesome.

Movie Review: Der Untergang (Downfall) (2004)

We didn't force the German people. They gave us a mandate, and now their little throats are being cut! - Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes)

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Writers: Joachim Fest, Traudl Junge and Melissa Müller (books), Bernd Eichinger (screenplay)

Producer: Christine Rothe, Bernd Eichinger, Wolf-Dietrich Brücker, Doris J. Heinze and Jörn Klamroth

Studio: Constantin Film Produktion (Germany), Newmarket Films (US Distribution)

Major Stars: Bruno Ganz, Ulrich Matthes, Thomas Kretschmann, Alexandra Maria Lara, Heino Ferch, Juliane Köhler, Christian Berkel

Downfall is a remarkable film. Chronicling the final days of Adolph Hitler as the Russians surrounded Berlin, it shows us not only his final collapse, but how it affected those around him in the Reichsbunker and the citizenry of Berlin. It almost, almost makes you feel moments of pity for Hitler, which only testifies to Oliver Hirschbiegel's skill as a director and Bruno Ganz's skill as an actor.

The material for the film came from numerous books, but a majority of it was provided by Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge. She died two years before Downfall was released, but we watch this film primarily from her perspective. Clips from an interview she gave shortly before her death bookend the film and provide a very sobering analysis of her role in history.

In the film itself, she is portrayed by Alexandra Maria Lara. Lara does a very nice job of having Junge sway between hysteria and competence, which is what it must have been like in that bunker, having to take dictation on the last testaments from murderous men and then talking to them as if they were just your average person.

There is not enough that can be said about the entire cast. Not only were the characters well-acted, but they all looked like their historical counterparts. I went online and compared photos of the actual people and the actors/actresses who portrayed them. It is remarkable how much they look alike. And that just enhanced their performances. Ulrich Noethen played Himmler amazingly well, getting exactly right his facile loyalty to Hitler and his ultimate loyalty to himself. Ulrich Matthes as Goebbels was pitch-perfect as the man who most believed in Hitler's vision but was constantly overlooked by Hitler. And Juliane Köhler as Eva was like watching an archival tape. She was fantastic.

But the performance of the film, and one of the greatest I have ever seen, was Bruno Ganz as Hitler. I cannot imagine what it is like to have to portray a man like Hitler day in and day out. And Ganz did it so thoroughly; from the voice to the walk to the look, Ganz was Hitler.

Ganz gives a performance that will make many people uncomfortable, because it shows Hitler as human. You see the things you expect to see; Hitler ranting about the Jews, making insane commands to divisions that don't exist and condemning the German people to their fate because they are "weak."

But then you see Hitler being gentle to his secretary during her first interview. You see him crushed when he has to put his dog down. In what I thought was the most remarkable scene of the film, you see him shed a single tear when he finds out Albert Speer, who in many ways was Hitler's closest friend, has not carried out his order to burn Germany to the ground before the Allied advance but still swears his personal loyalty. And it throws you off because you almost feel for Hitler...and then you remember he is Hitler. Ganz's performance is just stellar.


Site of Future Awesomeness

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