Friday, December 31, 2004


I didn't have access to a lot of cinema where I grew up, in Lakeview, Oregon in the '60s and '70s. We had one indoor theater, the Alger, run by the late Donald R. "Bob" Alger, which operated from early September through May, and one drive-in theater, the Circle JM, also operated by Mr. Alger, in the summer months of May through early September. Show days for the indoor theater were Wednesday through Sunday, and the drive-in added Tuesday to that schedule, so in the summer the only day there wasn't a movie available was Monday.

In those days, before the home video revolution, it wasn't unusual for Mr. Alger to be as much as a year behind the release patterns of major movies. If one waited to see, say, Jaws at one of Lakeview's two venues, one would have seen it in the summer of 1976, a full year after it first appeared in theaters and set box-office records. So there was always an element of frustration for anyone who lived in my hometown, paid any attention at all to what was in theaters and had any desire to see the latest movies when they were in first-run release (My buddies and I were definitely part of this group, if not its sole members).

However, where Mr. Alger excelled as a timely film programmer was in his willingness to book one-night-only horror shows composed of fairly recent releases (within, say, six months or so)-- his (and, of course, our) special nights were Halloween, any and all Friday the 13ths, and New Year's Eve. It was because of his enthusiasm for these (undoubtedly less expensive) specialty engagements that my buddies and I stayed very much up-to-date on just about every significant horror film of the period, and were very lucky indeed to be exposed to a large portion of the offerings from American International Pictures, Amicus Productions and, of course, the Hammer Studios. Under Mr. Alger's popcorn tutelage we saw everything he brought in-house-- to have missed an Alger Theater horror night was inexcusable. Some of the titles we gorged on included The Dunwich Horror, The Crimson Cult, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Asylum, The House That Dripped Blood, The Green Slime, The Fearless Vampire Killers (or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck), Count Yorga, Vampire, Cry of the Banshee, The Return of Count Yorga, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Whatever Happened to Jack and Jill?, The House That Screamed, Trog, Willard, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, Tales from the Crypt, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Evil of Frankenstein, Scream and Scream Again and probably 40 or 50 others that I can't remember off the top of my head. (I have a feeling that I'll be returning to this general subject in a bit more detail sometime in the near future on this very site).

I'm mindful of the wonderful times I had screaming and being genuinely scared by most, if not all of the movies cited above, because it's now about 15 minutes before midnight, New Year's Eve, 2004, and 25-30 years ago on this night I might well have been feasting on one of the above titles while silently fretting about the terrifying mile-long walk home once the featured horror was finished. Also, it turns out the last film I will have seen in this calendar year is one from that select group that Mr. Alger failed to bring to town, one that I caught up with thanks to my best friend Bruce, who gave it to me for Christmas, one that was far more enjoyable than I would have ever guessed: Ray Milland and Rosey Grier in The Thing With Two Heads (1972), on DVD as part of MGM Home Video's indescribably wonderful "Midnite Movies" series.

This wacky sci-fi comedy is essentially a bigger (but not much bigger) budgeted version of AIP's earlier, and far tackier, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. In fact, the two movies comprise the double feature MGM has made available on its disc (At a Best Buy price of $9.99, just about any MGM Midnite Movies double feature is well worth the meager price, but this one is one of the best). Ray Milland is a bigoted transplant surgeon who is nearing death and wishes to find a suitable body onto which to graft his own head, expecting after a month or so to decapitate the original head and take over the new frame as his own. Through a complicated series of events that are thankfully taken less than seriously, the donor ends up being Mr. Grier, and when he overrides Milland's wishes and stages an escape from the transplant hospital the whole middle of the movie is given over to a wacky (and overlong) chase-- it's AIP's goofball answer to the question probably nobody ever asked: What would the The Defiant Ones be like if the white guy's head was stitched onto the black guy's body, so instead of being chained together, they had to inhabit the same body? Lots of police cars are wrecked, and lots of time is given over to the pained look on Milland's face as Grier forces him to escape on a speeding motocross bike through a race in progress. And I take that pained look to be acting, by the way. Milland seems to know exactly what he's into here and he's an awfully good sport about it (one would have to be, if one were a veteran of Hollywood films who found himself, in the waning days of his career, going through the length of half a film strapped to the back of an ex-football player). But then, so is Grier, who gets off some pretty funny lines at the expense of Milland and his frequently racist exasperation-- his "Now you got to go," directed to Milland's head after being rebuffed in the bedroom by a girlfriend who understandably hesitates at the thought of having sex with her suddenly two-headed boyfriend, is priceless.

In fact, the whole enterprise is jauntier and more freewheeling than I would have guessed, thanks in part to its appearance during the first beats of the blaxploitation movement-- and on that note, there's plenty of funky music to be enjoyed during the lengthy chase sequence too. And you've got to see the little impromptu musical number that plays under the closing credits-- it's not exactly Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi taking unexpected musical flight, but it's guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and wonder what the hell the filmmakers thought they were doing.

I'm sure there's far better films with which to spend the waning hours of 2004, but considering the year that just passed, with its bizarre politics, horrible worldwide disasters and moments of personal unease and uncertainty, something as unpretentious, silly, yet essentially sincere as The Thing With Two Heads seems strangely to be the right choice after all. I promise to start 2005 off on the right foot with House of Flying Daggers... but then again, there is The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant still be to seen...


My sincere thanks to "Anonymous" for leaving the comment regarding my recent article about Flight of the Phoenix. As I said in the piece, my only real frustration with the movie came in its soundtrack music choices. After a very clever use of Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" over the opening credits, which cleverly foreshadows the trouble Dennis Quaid and his passengers are about to encounter, every other soundtrack music choice the movie makes is either lazy, obvious, detrimental to the intended effect of the film or downright worn-out. My main complaint centered around the appearance of the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'," which the filmmakers (or the studio?) decided not only had to be slapped over the sequence where the plane takes off on its ill-fated journey, but then again over the end credits!

Anonymous (aaargh!--- please e-mail me or leave another post and let me know who you are... unless, of course, it was your intent all along to be anonymous, in which case, please feel free to remain so) added his/her discontent over the use of The Doors' "The End," which she/he feels is an easy go-to signifier for any filmmaker who wishes to convey druggie disorientation or some other aspect of the "hippie" experience. But other than Apocalypse Now or, I suppose, Oliver Stone's bombastic love letter to Jim Morrison and his group, I couldn't really think of another movie that used "The End." However, Anonymous' comment did make me think that this was a good question to initiate what I hope will be a recurring feature on this blog: Frustrated Filmgoers 101. And the question that this session will revolve around is this:

What one song do you think should be banned from further use in movies?

Please explain why: Is it just a lazy choice by a director who wants to convey information cheaply and with little effort? Is it a song that is just too obviously a comment on the scene it's being used with? Does it, when it's used, typically hobble a scene rather than enhance it? Or is it just that it's been heard a thousand times since Martin Scorsese first laid down "Jumping Jack Flash" over that introductory barroom scene in Mean Streets, thus virtually pioneering the use of rock and/or pop music as soundtrack ambience or commentary in the movies? (Yes, the Beatles could probably be said to have done it first, but I think the intent and effect of A Hard Day's Night was somewhat different than Scorsese's...)

I'll start things out myself and say that, in addition to my utter disregard for "Gimme Some Lovin'," I almost always immediately tune out of any movie that slaps together a montage sequence and decides the best musical accompaniment for it is the Rascals' "Good Lovin'." These songs should be banned from use in any more films, unless the context is something really perverse, like, say, putting them to use over one of Catherine Breillat's typically morose and grotesque meditations on sex, like the recent Anatomy of Hell. Now, that might not make me tune out... immediately, anyway...

Let our first class commence!


Okay, so my quick fix doesn't seem to have worked. I have contacted the good folks at, who have been very helpful to me so far in my little on-line adventure, so I hope that they continue to shine light on curiously dark corners of this experience for me. I will let everyone know when things are up and in order so that you can leave your name, if you so choose, when writing on this site. Thanks!


Hi, folks! I've gotten a few more comments lately, but as I'm still pretty new to the blogging universe I think I may have had things set up incorrectly. What I would like is for you to leave your name, or whatever username you choose to use, so I can get to know some of the people who take the time to comment on what I've written. So far, though, I've only gotten comments from "Anonymous," even though I know that several different individuals have left messages. I think this may be due to the fact that up to now you've been given no other option, when you attempt to comment, than to post as "Anonymous," unless you have a blog account. This is not how I wanted the system to be, and I certainly didn't think things were set up this way. Hopefully I've fixed the problem, and I should be able to tell after posting this quick note. If the matter is not fixed with this post, I will send an inquiry and try to get information on how to make comments accessible to anyone using whatever name you choose, whether you're a blogger account holder or not. And anyone who happens to read this who may know what I'm doing wrong and can suggest a quick fix, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks to those who have left comments so far, and particularly to the "mystery reader" who recently left a note on The Doors after the article on Flight of the Phoenix. Sounds like a good topic, actually...

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Sometimes lowered (or nonexistent) expectations end up being rewarded. Case in point: there’s a movie in theaters now that many may never even consider seeing amidst all the Oscar bait choices floating around. But those seeking respite from grim, eat-it-it’s-good-for-you options are likely to find the pop pleasures of the new remake of Flight of the Phoenix amply satisfying.

Dennis Quaid takes on the Jimmy Stewart role as the pilot of an ill-fated plane that crashes in the middle of the Gobi desert while carrying a group of oil riggers, and one insinuatingly creepy last-minute additional passenger, and he fuses his particular brand of charm and rugged intensity to the pilot’s arrogance and reticence over taking on the role of leader of these desperate survivors. He, and the entire cast, is aided enormously by director John Moore’s resistance to the kind of Bruckheimerian traps into which he could have easily fallen; there are no Con Air-esque histrionics on display here, from the performers or the director. Moore’s visual style is pleasingly fluid, energetic without being overbearing, and charged with exactly the right kind of gravity to effectively propel this kind of suspense film, and he largely resists the temptation to overedit his action set pieces into geographical incoherence. He also knows the value of the eerie quiet of the vast, engulfing environment into which the characters are dropped, set against the way the danger can suddenly and perilously loom, like the twisting, swirling bloom of a freak sandstorm, or the fear in a man’s soul as he tries to decide whether taking action will serve to save himself and the others or only deplete energy and supplies enough to bring them all one day closer to death.

The movie plays nimbly with this kind of popcorn existential drama, and the cast of typically underused actors—including Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie, Tony Curran, Tyrese Gibson and Scott Michael Campbell—all get opportunities to stand out in ways that aren’t often afforded members of other supporting casts that are more generically conceived. All these folks are terrific, but the stand-out, and I can hardly believe I’m saying this, is Giovanni Ribisi, in the Hardy Kruger role, the reptilian, unaccountably hostile tag-along passenger who may, or may not, hold the key to the group’s survival (my wife has even requested immediate execution for the suggestion that Ribisi’s performance is, in her estimation, one of the year’s best).

This prickly oddball, an aircraft designer who suggests the possibility of constructing a new plane out of the wreckage of the old one, holds back revealing his knowledge partly out of fear and antisocial paralysis, but also, as we become increasingly aware, because he digs the power it gives him over his fellow survivors. Yet he also wants, on some infantile level, just to fit in, and the actor’s instincts to highlight the character’s off-putting eccentricities work, for once, to emphasize the warring impulses raging within that bleached-blonde egghead. In movie after movie Ribisi has indulged in his strange attraction to these kinds of tic-ridden, vaguely repellent social misfits, and his ghastly and grotesquely miscalculated work as a mentally retarded man who falls in love with the similarly impaired Juliette Lewis in Garry Marshall’s brain-dead dramedy The Other Sister made me hope never to see him on screen again. But here he’s discovered the joys of modulation, and his big moments aren’t so flailing and lopsided as to make you wish he’d just spin off inside his own skull and stay there.

By the time Ribisi is offered a handshake of reconciliation from Quaid’s captain, with whom he’s had, shall we say, a testy relationship, and returns the gesture with the unexpected intimacy of two hands enveloping Quaid’s one, you feel the intelligence of the director’s concept of the movie as a whole, where a solitary shot of a corpse half-buried in a dune has as much power as a thundering electrical storm, jelling and finding safe harbor in this heretofore none-too-subtle actor’s quiet actions. The whole movie locates and executes its primal pop power in the same effortlessly muscular way: it delivers on its promise and barely breaks a sweat.

My only complaint: the hackneyed use of incidental pop tunes on the movie’s soundtrack. Things begin promisingly enough. An opening credit sequence that follows the doomed plane as it soars over the seductive dunes of the Gobi is matched to Johnny Cash’s hit “I’ve Been Everywhere.” As Cash runs down the roster of all the places he’s visited, the specter of the movie’s disaster is cleverly suggested in the song’s lyrics when the singer casually drops a hint that the reason for his extensive worldwide mobility may be that he’s a serial killer on the run from the law. But no sooner than the oil crew gets on board for their aborted trip home, the soundtrack kicks in with songs made exhausted from overuse, such as James Brown’s “Night Train” and, most egregiously, “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group, featuring Steve Winwood’s agonizingly strained vocals. These tunes don’t comment on the action meaningfully, the way “I’ve Been Everywhere” does; they’re just demographic sops intended to goose the movie in an incongruously feel-good direction. In much the same way, a misconceived sequence of the crew merrily (!!) working on the new plane in the sweltering sun while dancing to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” should have been cut altogether. And the use of a Massive Attack song, to the exclusion of the movie’s very effective score, during an excruciatingly intense encounter with possibly murderous desert smugglers nearly cripples the scene. But it’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” that stands as the biggest offender. I’d love to track how often this song has been used by filmmakers to paper over emotional and narrative holes they’re too lazy to fix themselves, and I’d also like to seriously suggest a moratorium on its further use (and while we’re at it, how about ignoring the back catalog of Diana Ross and the Supremes for a few decades as well?) Giovanni Ribisi is one thing, but I never want to hear “Gimme Some Lovin’” ever again.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Well, my wife Patty has baked and distributed a whole bunch of seriously good chocolate chip cookies throughout our neighborhood and circle of friends, I made a shepherd's pie for our neighbor across the street, a recent widower, the holiday shopping and driving is, thankfully, now all finished, the girls are snug in their beds, full of excitement and anticipation (they spent a good five minutes kneeled in front of our fireplace tonight, calling out to make sure Santa hadn't already arrived and gotten stuck in the chimney). I'm writing this in bed while Patty lays listening to the Average White Band, This Mortal Coil and Paul Westerberg on her iPod. We're both settling in for not a long winter's nap, but hopefully at least a decent night's sleep before being invaded by the mad little chickens in their trendy sleepwear (Nonie sports the latest from Dora the Explorer while Emma rides the cutting edge in Incredibles PJs featuring Violet, the Invisible Girl) for the beginning of Christmas Morning 2004. This year there's plenty to be grateful for, plenty of love to share, plenty to look forward to in the coming year, and plenty to be nervous about as well. Getting the Christmas spirit this year has been a tough order for me to fill, but it's been made a lot easier thanks to my girls, and keeping in mind that making sure they have a straight and pure access to everything wonderful about the season is about the highest calling a father could have this time of year. I'm so grateful every day, but on Christmas day especially, to have them and to have Patty by my side on this adventure. Together I feel sure we can make the happiness of this most excellent day extend into the darkest recesses of the rest of the year, even if doing so might challenge every fiber of our fragile neural networking. If it does, and I'm sure it will, then all the better, for upon attaining even a measure of that happiness will come an appreciation for it that might not come if it were merely a simple gift. Here's to 2005, then, and all it might bring. May it be the fulfilling adventure we expect, bumps and all...

And what would Christmas be without a couple of holiday-themed movies to while away the afternoon while the kids gambol at your feet, buried in a mountain of new toys? Here's a couple of suggestions that stand to be at the ready near my DVD player tomorrow:

1941 All the joys of the Christmas season come crashing down on Hollywood Boulevard in high style in this underappreciated epic comedy. I cherish the moment when Ned Beatty brings down half his house in a mortar fire mishap intended for a Japanese sub lying quietly off the Santa Monica coast; as he flails about, rotating the turret straight through walls, windows and holiday decorations, one of his kids (Christian Zika), bedecked in full Indian chief headdress, runs up beside him and, with a mixture of awe at the old man's macho audacity and genuine annoyance, yells, "Dad! You're ruining Christmas!" It's a line I reconfigure and use throughout the year, and it's only one of the small treasures this overscaled elephant yields upon close, appreciative inspection.

Die Hard What says the holiday spirit better than Bruce Willis firing an automatic weapon at terrorists while treading barefoot over broken glass? Those terrorists, who've gone and spoiled his wife's office Christmas party by assassinating her boss and taking over the high-rise where she works, aren't even political-- they're in it for the money! And that's just another way this wildly amusing thriller, which provided the template for seemingly hundreds of knock-offs, none of which were a fifth as amusing as this one, connects with the materialism of an good old-fashioned American Christmas.

And when things get a little too tense and egg nog just isn't the answer anymore, let The Ref warm your cockles like no other holiday classic could. This caustic comedy puts burglar Denis Leary in the middle of a familial maelstrom of vindictive behavior between a man and a woman (Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis) he's holding hostage. This movie will put any holiday annoyances or troubles with relatives in proper perspective, unless your family is just too busy throwing punches by the light of the tree to pay attention to the movie. In which case I recommend an emergency screening of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All The Way, which oughta serve to sober just about anybody up.

I've been extremely busy with life this past week, but I'm hard at work on a couple of pieces that should be ready for posting by Tuesday or so. For any of you who might be champing at the bit (ha!), know that something new is on the way. Thanks so much for reading, for checking the site out, and for (hopefully) coming back for more.

Wait... What's that sound on the roof? I thought we got rid of all the rats in the attic. If not, those are some pretty big rats thumping around up there. And that strange, faint jingling... I'd better go check it out. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Amidst all the pre-Christmas madness, I think I'm actually going to try to get out to a movie sometime before Saturday. Since my choices are pretty much limited to what's in the Glendale-Burbank area (largely by my unwillingness to brave holiday traffic to get to The Life Aquatic or Million Dollar Baby, which are still in exclusive west-side runs, where all the real people live, don't you know), it's starting to look a lot like House of Flying Daggers or Ocean's Twelve might be among the last movies I see theatrically in 2004. Of course, I'll use the excuse of trying to come up with a timely top ten list to see as much of what's left on my wish list as I can, including the Wes Anderson and Clint Eastwood movies, as well as A Very Long Engagement and Bad Education, before I actually undertake that task. I also have some new DVD releases at the ready, including Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate and the highly regarded action thriller Infernal Affairs (which, unless it happened while I blinked in mid September, was scheduled for a theatrical run from Miramax that it never received... Hmm, where have we heard this one before?) So I'm projecting a top ten list to be posted here sometime the first week of January, and while I can in no way pretend that I've seen everything there is out there to see (and what year has that ever been true anyway?), at least I'll have enough under my belt to make a reasonable stab at a list that might actually be worth looking at. And now it's off to the movies... I hope!

Monday, December 20, 2004


I was never particularly tempted to see Barbet Schroeder's The Valley (Obscured By Clouds), a French head trip picture that was popular during my early college years, even though it sported a fairly popular art film actress (Bulle Ogier) who, it was said, wasn't averse to casual nudity, and also featured music by pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd. The prospect of staying awake until 2:30am (I don't think this movie ever played anywhere before 12:00 midnight during its entire American run) to witness a psychedelic take on Lost Horizon never held any appeal for me, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never had much desire to discover for myself whether my predispositions and prejudices about the film were in any way warranted. And though his Maitresse (1976), which features Ogier and Gerard Depardieu, is on more solid ground creatively, I've always felt Schroeder's tendency toward oddities of film language and sensibility worked better in his early documentaries, like Koko the Talking Gorilla (1978) and his devastatingly fascinating, horrifying, and funny General Idi Amin Dada (1974), where his subjects needed only to express themselves, to be, in order to lend themselves toward the faintly surrealist shadings favored by the documentarian.

But this week I "experienced" Schroeder's first movie, More (1969), a shambling, druggy "story" spottily narrated by a math student who wants "to live, to burn all the bridges, all the formulas, and if I got burned, that was okay too." It's a good thing this guy's okay with getting burned, because it takes very little running time to suss out that More is going to shape up (if it can even be said to have a shape) into a post-summer of love cautionary tale of a clean-cut young fella who gets in over his head with drugs, all for the (zombified) love of a Warholesque heroin addict played by Mimsy Farmer (who is also not averse to nudity; alas, she's no Bulle Ogier-- the movie's funniest scene comes when, after an argument, she lays down on a bed and invites him to do whatever he likes: "But I'm warning you, I'm not going to move!").

More is jampacked (using such an action-oriented descriptive when talking about a sluggish drag like this just seems weird, man) with aimless wandering through scenic European locales (where the movie was a hit when first released), "wild," dimly lit parties designed to scare your grandmother, lots of hash smoking, a hint of lesbian sex, more than a hint of full male frontal nudity, and long, dull patches of dialogue that might seem improvised if only the actors didn't come off so authentically impaired, in a pharmacological sense, that a suspicion they weren't capable of much creative spontaneity seems more than reasonable.

The three-and-four-word sentences that make up much of the dialogue are actually credited to Schroeder "in collaboration with" Farmer and the other addicts-- er, actors. And really, if you were a first-time director, wouldn't you want to defer credit for the creation of your screenplay to your coconspirators if this kind of exchange was the result? (The setting is one of those "wild" parties):

PCWOH (after some consideration): May I kiss you?
USBGAW (incredibly): No. Beard's too long.
PCWOH (somewhat more incredibly): I dig it that way.
USBGAW (shrugs, officially now the recipient of the favor of a film director's fantasy): It's up to you. I stink, and I prickle!
(PCWOH hops on USBGAW's lap and proceeds to grind on him in a most unpleasant manner. Mercifully, Schroeder cuts away to a long, anthropologically oriented hash pipe-loading sequence...)

Our student hero eventually hits the dregs of full-on heroin addiction, a scenario which I'd be willing to bet felt almost as tired at the time this movie was released (around the time of Easy Rider, when happy endings were not the cloth of which most youth-oriented films were sewn) as it does today, in the wake of The Panic In Needle Park and the even trendier, zippier Trainspotting. One ends up wishing for the movie to suddenly take an unexpected turn, featuring, say, climactic wholesale machine-gun slaughter of the entire fuzzy-headed cast a la If..., another surrealist fantasy, of a sadistic bent, that was popular around the same time More was sweeping the continent. But cooler (and I mean really cool, man) heads apparently prevailed.

One aspect of More that does not disappoint is the music, which is, like that of Schroeder's The Valley..., provided by Pink Floyd (or, as they are credited during the film's opening title sequence, "The Pink Floyd"), and which is even more rife with dated, daisy-eyed psychedelic imagery and monotonous chord progressions than their work on the later film. A friend of mine recently observed that he knew he'd grown up when he realized that Pink Floyd was nowhere near as profound as they had once seemed in the altered states of his youth, and that that was not a bad thing. While I still hold their 1977 album Animals in high regard and continue to be thankful that neither excessive classic rock airplay nor Alan Parker have totally ruined The Wall for me, I still wonder how many fans of More-era Floyd, or Barbet Schroeder's movie, will still hold it in high regard once this musty artifact of Continental drift and Purple Haze is loosed into the harsh light of the digital age next year (a DVD release is apparently being readied).

And anyone who might discover that More fails to hold up to their youthful experience of it isn't likely to be consoled by the director's late drift into the arena of generic psychological potboilers like Single White Female, Before and After, Desperate Measures and Murder by Numbers-- though his Our Lady of the Assassins (2000) was thought by some to be if not a return to form, then at least to a form of serious intent. For those seeking such intent that does hold true by the test of time, the documentaries on Idi Amin Dada and Koko are by far the most solid ground in Schroeder's oeuvre. Alas, despite its hip time capsule credentials, More is in most ways simply a fairly typical first film, featuring all the excesses, indulgences, diversions and distractions, as well as the expected trendy patronization of the youth culture craze of the time, that one might expect; no more, no less.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


Just a few random particles that have been bumping around in my head on this bizarre day in Dodger History...

In the aftermath of Steve Finley's monumental grand slam that clinched the National League West division title for the Dodgers on October 2, 2004, Dodger fans saw Jose Lima pitch metaphorically blistering shutout ball in game 3 of the NLDS on October 16,2004, the same game that saw Shawn Green jack two out of the yard. Final score, Dodgers 4, Cardinals 0.

Both Finley and Lima are now gone, and since then we have had nothing to do but watch and see what general manager Paul DePodesta would do in the off-season to keep the momentum going, to build on the growing strengths of this (relatively young) ball club, to position the Dodgers for another strong first-place showing in the NL West.

In the past seven days, I've had to digest the signing of an ex-Giant for whom I've never held much good feeling-- more grudging respect for his talent as a offensive presence than his fielding ability at second base-- and almost no respect at all based on his personality off the field (except, of course, for that rancorous relationship with Barry Bonds-- anyone who tells it like he sees it to that mutant, damn the public strangleholds and other discomforts, gets at least one check in the plus column from me). After a few hours and a good night's sleep, I came away pretty excited, truth be told, about how Kent might fit in with the club, and that DePodesta, in pulling off a big signing that no one saw coming, might likely have something else up his well-pressed sleeves that could be an even bigger surprise.

Sunday came, and A's pitcher Tim Hudson was, according to his own agent in a story published in the Orange County Register, as much as in the bag. Hudson would be a rental arm, but one that, if he panned out, could be resigned for 2006 partly on the money saved by not resigning Finley. Right?

The first three days of the week, and no word about Hudson. The thing with the guy from the place all the sudden didn't look like such a sure thing, and it seemed to the average fan that the twiddling of thumbs heard from DePodesta's suite at that Anaheim hotel where all the lords of baseball had gathered this week was louder than a John Bonham drum solo.

Thursday, December 16, 2004.

The rumors about Adrian Beltre being courted by the Seattle Mariners became fact around the same time that the e-mail featuring season's greetings from Frank and Jamie McCourt arrived at my desk. Okay, so Beltre's gone-- five years, $64 million from the Mariners, who just two days ago spent $50 million on Richie Sexson (a rumored Dodger acquisition from last season). DePodesta's rumored offer (I've not seen any numbers in print as yet) was for six years, and a option for a seventh, but for less (not substantially less, at least as you and I would see it) money. So as I see it, it's not so much that the Dodgers let Beltre slip away as it is that Beltre decided he no longer wanted to play for the only organization he's ever known, the one that cut him enormous lengths of slack as he matured in the major leagues from a 19-year-old with loads of potential to a 25-year-old stud who (in his contract year) led the majors in home runs and came in second in NL MVP votes. Beltre and Boras may have been asking DePodesta where the love was, but right now Dodger fans are asking Beltre the same question.

The Beltre thing had just stopped ringing in my ears when my friend and fellow Dodger fan Steve, who had also called and broke the Beltre news, rang up to inform me that the Atlanta Braves had a new pitcher as of about 3:00 pm-- one Tim Hudson.

Beltre-- dangle, dangle, slam! Hudson-- dangle, dangle, dangle, slam! I eagerly turned on the TV in hopes of catching something from the DePodesta news conference that was sure to come, but it never appeared on ESPN or FSW (1 or 2). Perhaps I just wasn't paying close enough attention-- too busy trying to earn a living at the same time, I guess-- damned distractions!

So here it is, 9:15 pm. The dealing was not done, and it may not be done yet.

As of about 8:00pm, several papers and radio stations were breaking that there was a blockbuster trade in the works. "Yes? Yes? Tell me more!" I said, leaning eagerly toward my radio speaker. The three-way deal would have Randy Johnson sent to his holy grail, his field of dreams, Yankee Stadium, and in return the Diamondbacks would get Javier Vasquez and a couple of prospects (including a highly touted catcher, Dioner Navarro), who they would then deal to LA for... Shawn Green, Brad Penny and Yhenzy Brazoban???!!!! What the--???!!!

There was Jim Tracy on sports talk radio, sounding extremely disappointed as he tried to put the best face on what sounded, on the surface, like a drunken proposition that wouldn't make it past an even more drunk fantasy baseball league commissioner. Lasorda, on another station, was trying to do the same thing, but in that specifically Tommy way that seems to prevent him from putting two coherent sentences together as he stumbles to assemble a rough cut of the company line in his head and then articulate it. The most heartening thing I got out of the Tracy comments was his admission that this trade would not immediately result in a team that he'd want to field in 2005, given expectations set by the 2004 division champs and their owners, and that something else was still and definitely yet brewing in the Dodger root cellar, away from prying eyes and drooling loudmouths like 1540 The Ticket's Dave Smith and AM 710's Joe McDonnell. If this deal goes down, and it looks right now like it will, Jamie McCourt's really gonna have something to scratch her head about concerning fan attendance in the coming season.

And this is all the gristle I had to chew on as I sat down to try to order my thoughts for this piece...

But lo and behold, it seems the story one thinks is written is never quite finished. A quick check on to suss out the name of that Yankee catching prospect. Can the Dodgers survive a potential battery of Dioner behind the plate and Duaner firing from the mound? I thought, once I arrived there. But when I took a closer look at the web site's top story, thoughts like those, designed to distract myself from the prospect of a very depressing summer at Chavez Ravine, were quickly tossed aside. According to the ESPN report, "sources say" the Johnson for Vasquez for Green, et al, deal may not go down:

"A proposed three-team mega-trade that reportedly was on the road to getting done Thursday night hit the skids.

A baseball source told ESPN that several obstacles stand in the way of a trade involving the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Dodgers, and that the deal rapidly exceeding the complexity of last year's failed Alex Rodriguez-to-Boston trade might never happen at all.

Earlier reports indicated that the teams were closing in on a trade that would send Johnson to the Yankees, Javier Vazquez and prospects Eric Duncan and Dioner Navarro to Los Angeles, and Shawn Green and pitchers Brad Penny and Yhency Brazoban to Arizona.

The trade was proposed before
Adrian Beltre agreed to a $64 million, five-year deal with the Mariners on Thursday. By failing to re-sign Beltre, the Dodgers may rethink their role in the trade,'s Jayson Stark reported.

Other issues that threatened to derail the trade include the waiving of Green's no-trade clause. A source close to Green told that the Dodgers outfielder is happy living in Southern California, where he grew up, and has expressed no desire to leave Los Angeles.

How much money the Diamondbacks would receive from the Yankees is also a point of contention. Sources told Stark that moving Duncan and Navarro would preclude the Yankees from sending money to Arizona.

Another obstacle that reportedly would derail the trade is Vazquez's salary; he is due $34.5 million over the next three seasons and Los Angeles apparently wants help from the Yankees footing the bill.

There was no confirmation from any of the teams that a deal has been proposed. Johnson's agent, Barry Meister, declined comment when reached by

'We're still in conversations with a lot of different clubs about a lot of different possibilities,' Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said earlier Thursday. 'We have talked about some three-way deals and some four-way deals. I don't know if it's going to happen or not,' he said."

Oh, so the trade was proposed BEFORE the Beltre signing. And now that the purse strings seem to be unraveling, none of the three teams would comment on a story that, just hours before, they were commenting on like crazy, as if Green and Penny and Brazoban had already picked out the cactus pattern wallpaper lining for their lockers.

I hope this trade folds, and folds quick. A couple of hours ago, when it looked like an inevitability, I was busy trying to reassure myself that DePodesta couldn't possibly propose and/or accept such a lopsided gobsmack like this one unless he had, as Tracy intimated, something REALLY big in the wings just waiting to be unveiled and act as salve for the wounded hearts of Dodger fans the world over.

But after the blink-blink-he's gone theatrics of the Beltre and Boras show, and the Hudson Deal That Was But Never Really Was, I found myself beginning to lose faith in DePodesta's ability to pull the trigger on the really big deals that might bolster unqualified confidence in fans (forget trying to please professional cynics like Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers at the Los Angeles Times, whose appetite for salt to rub in the wounds of Dodger fans makes them seem even more like blind cattle gathering at the lick than they already would).

Now there seems to be a glimmer of hope that the total dismantling of 2004's Little Blue Engine That Could might not be as complete as we all thought a mere two hours ago, or at the very least that DePodesta does have a head on his shoulders and wouldn't accept these kinds of terms even if there was a Beltran or a Delgado coiled and waiting to spring out of the box.

I mean, I had come to terms with the loss of Penny-- a very good pitcher who, thanks to that little nerve problem, never got a chance to settle into my baseball solar system-- and even Green, another highly paid star entering a contract year whose performance over the past two years made him seem far more replaceable than Beltre.

But the thought of having to gut out being pitched to by the startlingly good, potentially great Yhency Brazoban in several series over the course of the season was just too much to bear. The cries of agony over the loss of Guillermo Mota had barely begun to still, for God's sake, and now they're gonna ship Brazoban to a division rival? Say it ain't so, DePo, say it ain't so. I'm going to bed now, and I sincerely hope that when the sun rises the darkening gray of this Thursday will have been replaced by a good Friday draped in a much more pleasant shade of blue.


Back to film school this weekend on Turner Classic Movies. There are quite a few treats, some rare, some not-so-rare, but all worth catching and all much more fun than last-minute Christmas shopping (all times listed are Pacific Standard Time):

Friday, Dec. 17

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Go "all gay" with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and a leopard named Baby in Howard Hawks' manic (and romantic) comedy of sexual sublimation. Not the first screwball comedy made during Hollywood's heyday, but perhaps the juiciest and most revelatory. (6:00pm)

Saturday, Dec. 18

Ice Station Zebra (1968) Positioned right alongside TCM's Scorsese documentary and the documentary Howard Hughes: His Women and His Movies, though admittedly as a sidebar oddity, this popular Cold War submarine thriller from director John Sturges is part of the channel's prep work for Scorsese's upcoming Hughes biopic The Aviator-- it was purportedly Hughes' favorite movie, one he saw perhaps hundreds of times. (Letterboxed; 12:45 am)

The Big Country (1958) Feuding families vie for water rights in the old West in William Wyler's panoramic Western epic. Never one to hold a critical candle to the likes of The Searchers or Rio Bravo, this is a grand entertainment nonetheless. (Letterboxed; 7:00am)

Monkey Business (1952) More Cary Grant screwball antics courtesy of director Howard Hawks. Here, Grant and wife Ginger Rogers regress to childhood as the result of a botched search for the fountain of youth. Marilyn Monroe has a supporting role. (7:15pm)

Clash by Night (1952) An embittered woman seeks escape in marriage, only to fall for her husband's best friend (happened to my wife just last weekend-- kidding!) in Fritz Lang's delirious drama. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan and, again, Marilyn Monroe. (9:00pm)

(TCM also screens Some Like It Hot, preceding Monkey Business, at 5:00pm, and ends their mini-Monroe fest with her last film, The Misfits, following Clash by Night at 11:00pm.)

Sunday, Dec 19

A terrific Buster Keaton triple feature headlines TCM's Sunday Night Silent Movie program, beginning with The Cameraman (1928) at 9:00pm, followed by a short documentary Buster Keaton: So Funny It Hurt! at 10:15pm, then College (1927) at 11:00pm and ending with the brilliant Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) at 12:15am. These all recently appeared in a Buster Keaton DVD set, but this is a good opportunity to catch them without laying down the $70 it costs to put them on your shelf.

This has been a very hectic and harried week for me-- very typical pre-Christmas stuff in many ways, but also full of new and constant challenges that pop up in my path on a seemingly hour-by-hour basis. I am preparing some new writing, but with things the way they have been it may be Saturday before any of it actually appears on the blog. I have not given up-- this thing is barely three weeks old, for Hecuba's sake-- and I'm enjoying the challenges and rewards writing in this new format. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to visit and to read. I hope you will also get used to dropping a line or two in the comments section for the articles, should you be moved to do so.

Whoops-- something else just came across the board: Adrian Beltre just signed with the Seattle Mariners. Looks like I'll have to keep writing about the Dodgers after all, Jennifer (and take off that Padres gear when you log on here, sister...)

More to come!

Saturday, December 11, 2004


The guy on the left doesn't like Barry Bonds either...

I've just finished watching the full-length, uninterrupted Jeff Kent press conference (you can watch it too at, and I think I'm ready to say something that, as a Dodger fan and a Giants nonappreciator, I never thought I'd ever say to our new (Second baseman? Third baseman? First baseman?): "Welcome to Chavez Ravine. I never liked you-- Is it the mustache? The smug attitude? The fact that you were a Giant?-- but now that the deal is done, I'm glad you're here." I might also add something along the lines of, "Now, please just hand over the keys to the motorcycle to Mr. DePodesta, keep your eyes on the scoreboard when you're at your position so you never forget how many outs are left, and let's have about 110 RBI per year during your two-year contract, okay?" Kent may well be the jerk that I, and many others who don't know him, have always supposed him to be, but as long as he keeps his mouth shut and his bat hot, and as long as he manages to coexist with Milton Bradley as a teammate in a common cause and not as one half of an ongoing Dodger Dugout Deathmatch, I look forward to seeing what he can bring to the field in 2005.

That press conference was, in my humble opinion, the real thing. It's rare to see a multimilionaire athlete approaching the end of his career react with such naked emotion-- aren't these guys supposed to be hopelessly jaded and untouchable? As a kid, he followed the Dodgers with his dad enthusiastically. And during what might be the peak years of his career, he shared a league with them and played them with genuine fire. When he spoke of both of these facts, Kent was barely able to maintain his composure. And unless you're a professional smart-ass like T.J. Simers, you may share my suspicion that this display of emotion might be evidence that the man is where he wants to be, which might translate well on Opening Day, April 5, 2005, at (whaddaya know?) SBC Park. (One fantasy scenario I can't wait to see play out is Bonds trying to beat out a throw to second, flashing kleats on his old dugout nemesis who's now wearing the hated Blue).

Of course, Kent's presence raises questions about the fate of Alex Cora, as well as DePodesta's commitment to landing Adrian Beltre. It's obvious that while Cora might be an even more natural and effective defender at second base, his numbers on offense cannot compare, and if Beltre stays it's likely that Cora will be relegated to spot starts as a replacement or to fit in with specific matchups of the kind that Jim Tracy loves to (micro)manage. But if Beltre somehow slips out of DePodesta's net, Kent provides options at third (with, presumably, Cora at second and Choi at first, or perhaps Cora, or another piece of the puzzle to be revealed later, working third), and could even stand at first with confidence, should Choi not pan out offensively. Obviously, if Beltre re-signs, the prospect of Kent playing first and Cora retaining second base, all the better to preserve those spectacular DPs in concert with Izturis, is tantalizing too, especially to a Dodger pitching staff who already knows how golden Cora's glove is. And if Beltre doesn't, Kent becomes only an adequate replacement for his pop in the lineup, unless DePodesta then turns around and uses the money he saves on Beltre to acquire another bat that would turn a lineup as good as 2004's into one that is markedly better.

The Kent deal is notable also in that it was, in this age of relentless speculation and punditry, a complete surprise to everyone feverishly following the hot stove league. I like what that says about DePodesta's ability to fashion acquistions and packages without drawing unnecessary attention (did anyone see Brad Penny coming?) and his willingness to pull the trigger on potentially alienating deals (do I really need to mention Paul LoDuca?). And that he got Kent for two years and $8.5 million is fairly remarkable. As one post on Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts blog noted, this is the only major free-agent acquistion of this year's offseason that hasn't been instantly and universally decried as ridiculously inflated.

If DePodesta does decide that Beltre is too expensive, it may have as much to do with an educated suspicion (one that I don't necesarily share) that his 2004 performance was a contract-year fluke as it does with payroll, and that Beltre, once signed and fat (it's a metaphor, dammit) and happy, might lose his focus or somehow otherwise fail to build upon the success he enjoyed last year. I only hope that DePodesta can find a way to sign him for a less outrageous sum than the ceiling might allow. Imagine, Dodger fan, getting to see how a lineup featuring Izturis, Werth, Beltre, Kent, Green and Bradley might fare in a National League West that will feature Colorado in flatline mode; San Diego with bolstered pitching (Woody Williams, along with Jake Peavy and Dodger killer Adam Eaton); Arizona hoping that Troy Glaus isn't 2005's answer to Richie Sexson and that Russ Ortiz will more resemble his Giant version than the mediocrity he was as a Brave; and San Francisco counting on their increasingly geriatric lineup to be snappy enough to get them all the way to Armando Benitez.

Yes, it gave me shivers when I first heard the news, but if the Kent acquisition is the first piece in a puzzle DePodesta will be craftily assembling this winter, then I'm going to be genuinely excited to see him slowly reveal those pieces. You don't have to like Jeff Kent to know that he could be very good for this team. Besides, anybody who has that much animosity for Barry Bonds can't be all bad, now, can he?

P.S. I'd also like to express a word of thanks to the Anaheim Angels for acquiring Steve Finley. After that grand slam at Chavez Ravine that sealed the division title on October 2, 2004, my heart might have always had a place for Finley as a Dodger. But he was asking too much for too long, and DePodesta was right to pass Finley along. He's a terrific player, and he'll be great for the Angels. And he's still in Southern California, so seeing him play won't be a difficult proposition. But I think more than anything I'm just grateful that he's the hell out of the National League West. Finley was always one of those players that I dreaded seeing come to the plate, especially in clutch situations (just ask your average Giant fan why), and he was dangling in front of Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco for a while there. So now Dodger fans can appreciate the old guy's talents from a safe distance and wish him well... that is, until the Dodgers-Angels 2005 World Series...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


One of the negatives in being a latecomer to films that end up getting talked about or written about in any meaningful way is, the weeks or months of reviews and critical analysis and general consensus have a way, no matter how rigorously their influence is avoided, of seeping into and affecting a viewer’s preconceptions. I came to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind quite late, long after all the rapturous reviews had piled up, and found it far less emotionally effective than expected, and perhaps just a shade too clever as well. And seen a slight distance from the pre-election hubbub over its “politics,” Team America: World Police looked to these eyes like a gigantic missed opportunity, an ostensible satire that too eagerly replaced a coherent point of view with frustrating juvenilia at almost every turn, potential pitfalls the South Park movie craftily avoided (more, but not much more, on Team America in my next post).

I’m not sure what the general level of expectation was in the critical community, or in the Empire magazine British fan-boy base, when Mike Hodges’ latest crime noir I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead was released (in America this past summer, and in England months earlier). But after the unexpected American art-house success of Hodges’ Croupier (which flopped in Britain initially, until it was re-released there in the wake of its stateside reception), Paramount Classics was certainly less than shy in reminding potential ticket-buyers of the connection between the earlier film and Hodges’ most recent work, and even more aptly the fact that he directed Michael Caine in the seminally nasty Get Carter way back in 1970. They also found plenty of enthusiastic blurbs with which to adorn the DVD box—Ebert and Roeper seem duly impressed.

Personally, however, the expectation level was quite high—I had quite liked Croupier, but was more interested to see what Hodges would do in 2003 with a film that was more directly related thematically to the 1970 film. Unfortunately, the film played in Los Angeles only briefly, and as I have alluded in previous posts, it is much more difficult for me to get out to the theater to see everything I’m interested in these days-- if a film doesn’t get much more than a couple of weeks in movie houses, or if it ends up limited to a brief west-side run, the likelihood I’ll get a chance to see it, however high my level of anticipation, is quite slim. So, like many others will who may or may not know of the new film’s lineage, I finally caught up with the picture on DVD, the format that has proven to be a boon for filmgoers like me who find themselves perpetually behind the cinematic curve, release schedule-wise.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead turns out to feel less “thematically related” to Get Carter than simply a somewhat narcotized remake of it. The new film ups the ante on a particular aspect of personalized violence, but, no matter how much Hodges and his company of actors (including Owen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Charlotte Rampling and Malcolm McDowell) take advantage of the even more permissive standards of film content that have resulted from the passage of 34 years, Get Carter remains the nastier film (by far) and the more interesting one (by far) as well. Rhys-Davies, a small-time drug dealer, is raped at the hands of McDowell on behalf of a shadowy crime boss as payback for some unknown transgression, and the humiliation of the assault proves too much for the young thug, who promptly stumbles home, soaks in a bathtub for 12 hours, then slashes his own throat and bleeds to death. News of his brother’s death brings Owen, a ex-thug of some reputation who has spent the past year as a logger living out of a beat-up van, out of his woodsy exile. Owen returns, with considerable hesitance, to the mean streets of London to investigate his brother’s death and, of course, avenge him. Upon arrival, he connects up with entrepreneurial ex-girlfriend Rampling, who may or may not know something about what’s happened, and discovers both the fact of the suicide (as opposed to a more direct murder) and evidence of the rape, which, somewhat incredibly, went unnoticed during the initial coroner’s inquest.

The rape is the catalyst of the movie’s important events, of course, and when Owen expresses disbelief to a second coroner that his brother would have engaged in homosexual activity, the coroner informs him that there was ejaculate found in his underwear and that in cases of rape even a heterosexual man may involuntarily become erect and have an orgasm mid-assault. The clinical delivery of the information, and Owen’s rather passive resistance to, and then acceptance of it, hints that the movie might eventually, in its own unhurried time, attempt an investigation of the kind of masculine ideology that posits male-on-male rape as the most devastating violation imaginable. But despite its clunky writing (the coroner’s information is delivered to the audience in the most obviously expository way and left cold on the slab) the scene ends up the high-water mark of a movie that, faced with the difficult task of challenging the assumptions of a class of underworld gangster (and, by extension, all men who hold similar fears of violation), takes the road of least returns; Hodges remains frustratingly on the surface, accepting those fears at face value, staying comfortable with the notion that homosexual rape might even be worse than murder and would certainly rate a similar sense of outrage and need for vengeance.

The movie’s disinterest in anything but dressing up and muddying the chronology of the most perfunctory elements of its Carter-ish revenge plot ultimately reinforces this perception; it’s almost as if the pall of depression experienced by Rhys-Meyers, and then Owen, settles over the entire film, reflected (barely) in the dazzlingly dark streets and funereal pace at which the film’s simultaneously elemental and obliquely dramatized plot strands unfold. Hodges misses a chance to dig deep into a risky and challenging subject. I was left feeling as somnolent as Owen's lead character, fuzzy and disoriented as the movie sputtered to a halt at the very point it started. The writer-director would have been well advised to transplant some of the caustic zest of the Warren Zevon song from which he filches his film's title, but alas, the movie is only sleepy.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Here it is, raining beautiful rain in Los Angeles on November 27, 2004, two days after Thanksgiving (I can’t wait for the 11:00 news and all the breathless and panicked “STORMWATCH 2004” reports). The unseasonably hot fall that we’ve come to expect in this city never really materialized this year—it has actually felt like autumn and, dare I say, winter around here lately. And as I sit this afternoon enjoying the sound of the rainfall and feeling the chill in the air with my family about me, I’m reminded of one of my favorite essays about the rain. It was written by Lauren Kessler, director of the literary nonfiction program at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication and appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of Oregon Quarterly, the university alumni magazine. Since it so beautifully encapsulates my experience with the weather in Eugene, and my fondness for the wet stuff—I long for it these days--I felt like sharing it whole cloth rather than taking the time to fumble about with my own less eloquent thoughts. So if you've an appreciation for the glories of skies that seem low enough to touch and "the peaceful tedium of long, wet days that (drive) you not just inside the house but inside yourself," please hop right on over to her site and experience for yourself Lauren Kessler’s pretty much perfect “I Love the Rain.”

(Thanks to Ms. Kessler for being very generous about my belated attempt to secure permission for use of this essay. She suggested that she would be more comfortable with a link to the site, but since it had already been published here that she was fine with it remaining on the blog. However, I believe in respecting the initial wishes of the author, and I apologize for my zeal in getting her words out there in my own way. By directing you, dear Reader, to her site I hope, and I'm sure she does too, you may find other things to read and think about that are as compelling to you as "I Love the Rain" is to me.)