Thursday, October 30, 2008


There’s not many places I know of where you can sit down deliberately early in front of the box office, break out a couple of sandwiches, and within minutes find yourself in a conversation with a well-known and remembered Hollywood character actor. But that’s just how I started off my evening at the New Beverly this past Sunday waiting to see the double feature tribute to actress Wendie Jo Sperber, I Wanna Hold Your Hand and 1941. I was the first in line and only about five minutes after I settled in and starting mowing on my homemade dinner I was joined by renowned actor and garrulous New Beverly fixture Clu Gulager.

I had met Clu previously, standing on line this past April for Joe Dante’s Movie Orgy, but I hadn’t seen him since. Incredibly, he remembered who I was and for close to an hour, before the line finally started to form, he and I talked about my writing, his movies, our mutual film geekdom— Clu is a addictive filmgoer and has seen many movies you and I have probably never even heard of; he was repeatedly appreciative of my recommendation of Let the Right One In, and I believed him when he said he would see it the next night-- and our love and concern for the New Beverly Cinema. He was on a first-name basis with several others who eventually showed up, fellow film geeks, filmmakers and the people who love and support them. Joined by my friend Sal and his brother, we struck up a long conversation with a filmmaker by the name of Jason (Jason, sorry, but I didn’t catch your last name!) who is readying a documentary on grindhouse auteurs that should be fascinating, and Clu eventually hooked up with a couple of long-standing actor friends who enjoyed spending time with him before the movie reminiscing about their work together. When I talk about the sense of community that seems to have coalesced around the New Beverly Cinema over the last couple of years, Clu Gulager seems to be right at the center of it, which is in its way a perfect tribute to the theater’s spirit of survival and history.

The evening was a giddy and happy one, if a little disappointing in terms of attendance. The movies just couldn’t pull in the crowds we've (I’ve) become accustomed to seeing at New Beverly special events like the Joe Dante Film festival and others hosted by the likes of Edgar Wright, Patton Oswalt, Diablo Cody and, yes, Clu Gulager himself. Even so, those who were there in the crowd Sunday night were either already true believers in the early Zemeckis-Gale canon or at least eager to be converted. Producer –writer Bob Gale and actress Nancy Allen introduced I Wanna Hold Your Hand and paid moving tribute to their friend, the late Wendie Jo Sperber, with testimonies to her lively personality and iron will. The movie itself was perhaps more fun than ever. The two times I saw it on its original release (once coupled on a desperation double-bill with Magical Mystery Tour), it played to empty houses, the laughter generated by my best friend Bruce and I bouncing off the walls to the indifference of the auditorium and probably the annoyance of the few others in the audience. But at the New Beverly the audience roared appreciatively to the broad but finely tuned comedic talents of the movie’s terrific cast, fine actors who just happened to be adept and sharp comics as well. (Allen, Sperber and Theresa Saldana were eager students, according to Bob Gale, of the subtle wit of the Three Stooges.)

Me and Bob Gale

The Q & A featuring Gale, Allen, Sperber stunt double Leslie Hoffman and actor Perry Lang, was extremely entertaining and went blessedly long as the conversation swung from the happy lightning-in-a—bottle experience of making I Wanna Hold Your Hand to that of enduring the seven-month-long production schedule of 1941. I was grateful to be able to express to these folks personally just how much I love 1941, but it was clear to me (and fellow 1941 connoisseur Mr. Peel, who sat right in front of me for the show) that the cast and Gale were far more ambivalent about the experience and the final product. Gale referred to the movie as “a glorious mess,” and Allen, who suggested that anybody who was working in Hollywood at the time was either in 1941 or wanted to be in it (and I think she’s right), endorsed Zemeckis and Gale’s tighter original script—the one that existed before all the script pages added by Spielberg as he began piling gag upon gag—and believes that it would have been a better movie with a stronger producer (perhaps Gale) and had it been directed by Zemeckis. I tend to agree with her on the first point—if anything, 1941 is a template for the wretched excess of Hollywood in the late ‘70s and ‘80s insofar as a producing credit here stands primarily as a tool for padding one’s resumé rather than for contributing to realizing the vision at the heart of the movie. If Spielberg had been subject to a stronger hand, one who could have creditably said “no” to the wunderkind director, just coming off of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then perhaps the movie would have ended up a tighter ship. But it also would not have ended up being the 1941 that I have come to love over the last 29 years. And though I value the acerbic directing talent on display in I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars, and even as late as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I’m not at all sure that a young Robert Zemeckis would have had a better handle on the gigantic scale of 1941, coming off the relatively modest Hand, than did Spielberg, who packed the movie with enough visual jewelry for 10 movies based on the undeniable natural moviemaking chutzpah coursing through the veins of his previous pictures.

When 1941 finally screened, at almost 11:00 p.m., I was practically unable to sit still at the prospect of getting to see this movie on the big screen again. This was the theatrical cut, which was the only one available to appreciative audiences (as well as derisive ones) before the movie’s laserdisc issue in 1995, when the movie was expanded (based on Gale’s only existing Betamax copy of a televised version which showed on ABC in the mid ‘80s) and given proper room to breathe. Even Mr. Peel, the biggest 1941 fanatic other than myself than I’m aware of, seems to think that the theatrical version is the one that works best, if only for the fact that it is easier to take (that is, shorter and less demanding on the viewer’s patience and ability to endure loud noises and lots of people screaming at the top of their lungs). But though it was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill to see the movie again in any form, I have to admit I missed the extra half-hour of connective tissue, expanded gags, whole silly sequences (like the one, concocted whole-hog by John Milius, in which the Japanese soldiers invade Slim Pickens’ Christmas tree farm and kidnap him while dressed like Douglas Firs)—the extended version has superseded the original, far choppier cut which now, to my eyes and ears, plays, ironically enough, like a slightly bowdlerized TV version (John Williams’ wonderful musical themes often end up dangling like loose ends as other scenes stomp back into our field of vision, accompanied by their own glorious musical magic, cutting short scenes I’ve come to love and know should be there.)

This is, however, in the afterglow of seeing the picture again, foul nitpicking. There’s just too much great stuff going on in this movie to justify the churlishness that greets the mere mention of it in some circles, on the edges of the frame-- pay closer attention to Ned Beatty’s three boys next time you see it, and the beautiful perversity of that sequence with Colonel Madman Maddox (Warren Oates) at the Barstow airstrip-- and square in the middle of it—the U.S.O. dance sequence, which had the New Beverly audience bursting into applause, and the accompanying dogfight between Wild Bill Kelso and the trainer plane piloted by Captain Loomis Birkhead (Tim Matheson) and sexy aviatrix Donna Stratton (Allen) down a sparkling (miniaturized) Hollywood Boulevard. Then there’s Lionel Stander (“Close, Ward. Close.”); Eddie Deezen and Murray Hamilton “trapped like beavers” on a Ferris wheel (Gale’s hilarious story of Hamilton’s real-life aversion to Deezen was one of the evening’s highlights); the glorious physicality of Wendie Jo Sperber as Maxine, a part that Mr. Peel correctly suggests could have just been a crass friend- of-the-ingénue part in someone else’s hands, but which in Sperber’s becomes a great Sturges-like blast of relentless sexiness and determination that just gets better and funnier as the years pass; Slim Pickens on the pot (“You ain’t gettin’ shit outta me!”); Robert Stack watching Dumbo and getting interrupted with news of the mania breaking out on Hollywood Boulevard (“Now what?” he mutters); Joe Flaherty as Raoul Lipschitz, emcee of the U.S.O. radio broadcast, surveying the post-melee damage (“Maybe next time we could bring some Negroes in and stage a race riot!”)—stop me before I lose my readership! The spectacle itself on display in 1941 is often funny on its own—that Ferris wheel spiraling toward the ocean after being hit by Japanese torpedoes (“FIRE AT THAT LARGE INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURE!”) is ethereally beautiful, a great moment in the history of special effects in the movies, but it also makes me laugh like hell to think of Hamilton and Deezen (and the Dummy) riding it into the drink. And who doesn’t gasp, in horror and in delight, at the sight of that house sliding off its foundation over the cliff and into the sea?

Do I look as nervous and flustered as I actually was?

Right after the Q & A I managed to muster up the courage to speak to Nancy Allen, who I’ve kinda had a crush on since Carrie, and who couldn’t be less like the uber-bitch Chris Hargensen she played in that movie. Allen graciously indulged my fumbling attempts to express how much I’ve always enjoyed seeing her in movies, in personal favorites like 1941, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill and in surprise appearances like the one she made in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. And I must say, it was not hard to remember how lovely she was in Dressed to Kill by seeing her in person—she is genuinely beautiful, and by all evidence a sweet and sincere person, especially when the subject turns to her dear friend Ms. Sperber, as well as a fine actress who we just don’t see enough of these days. She is the one responsible for this 48-year-old man buzzing through the packed lobby of the New Beverly, just before 1941 started, chirping to anyone who’d listen about how I just got my picture taken with Nancy Allen!

After the lights came up at around 1:15 a.m. and Mr. Peel and I commiserated for a moment or two, I headed home, unaware that there was still a 1941-related delight in store. As I was driving up La Brea Boulevard, nearing Pink’s Hot Dogs, I got a text message from Sal that put a smile on my face. (“I stopped at Pink’s, and guess who’s here—Clu Gulager!”) And as I crossed Santa Monica Boulevard and made my way toward the Fountain Avenue back street that I usually use to avoid Hollywood traffic, I had a spark of inspiration. Rather than take my usual route, I turned right off of La Brea onto Hollywood Boulevard. As I came down the street, which was relatively quiet at that time of night, I could see all the way down the stretch from the Chinese Theater to the Pantages, and for a moment I imagined I was in one of those miniature cars that tooled along the rain-slick streets while Wild Bill Kelso and Captain Birkhead buzzed the boulevard in their fighter planes. It wasn’t exactly a moment of life imitating art, but it was surely one in which life butted up against art, and under the cloak of a quiet night life, for once, ended up not automatically getting the short stick. 1941 was a special movie to me before I ever saw Hollywood Boulevard with my own eyes; now my own eyes gave me just one more reason to hold the movie dear.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


There are movies that are plainly hysterical—throw a rock and you’re likely to hit anything from Armageddon to Zathura that might conceivably qualify under this umbrella of nerve-racking exhaustion, with stops along the alphabet for treats like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 300 and Santa Sangre, just for starters. Rare is the film that embodies a certain hysterical style while dealing with hysteria as its actual subject. But in the late ‘70s, a trio of movies written by the young screenwriting team of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale did just that-- I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) and Used Cars (1980), directed by Zemeckis, and 1941 (1979), directed by Steven Spielberg, are among the best comedies of their generation, serving up a classically framed, goosed-up examination of American obsession, desire and panic. Together, Zemeckis and Gale trafficked in the kind of nasty, caustic characters which, combined with the Bobs' authorial in-your-face prankishness and glee (especially in Used Cars), linked them directly to the morally adrift protagonists found populating late-period Billy Wilder comedies like Kiss Me, Stupid, The Fortune Cookie and One Two Three. The foul-mouthed abandon of Used Cars, suffused with loyalty to a vision of corruption and thoughtless ambition as key elements the quintessential American biography, particularly on the eve of the Reagan era, was equal parts chilling and exhilarating, like a belly laugh at the edge of the abyss.

(The Bobs’ vision steered into the mainstream with the success of the Back to the Future movies, which were exhilarating in their own way, but driven, as Pauline Kael suggested, by a much more conventional set of values than the ones at the dark, blistered heart of Used Cars. On his own, Zemeckis has moved further and further toward meaningless technical experiments like The Polar Express and Beowulf. Gale, on the other hand, has worked primarily as a writer in television and video games, yet he managed to direct and release a whimsical fantasy called Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road in 2002 that has the closest thing to the old Zemeckis-Gale bite of any of their projects since 1980— the movie opens with Michael J. Fox’s yammering yuppie getting run over by a bus, while his wish-granting angel played by Gary Oldman looks on with a “what-can-you-do?” shrug.)

Used Cars plays out in a happily curdled present which entirely justifies the nostalgically tinged panic and mass hysteria at the center of the Bobs’ first two produced collaborations, I Wanna Hold Your Hand and 1941. Wild-eyed Americans running wartime Los Angeles like their own personal madhouse in 1941 most certainly could have spawned the perhaps more tempered hysterics who make their way from New Jersey to Manhattan to see the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in the first Zemeckis-Gale movie. I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a reflection of the relatively innocent genesis of Zemeckis and Gale’s generation, yet it’s built around the women, not the men, who made the Beatles their primary obsession. All the elements are there—Nancy Allen’s Pam and her diligent responsibility to, and eventual libidinous rebellion against, her fiancé and the white-picket-fence future in store for her; the sober careerism of Theresa Saldana’s Grace, a journalism student who may not be able to do everything it takes to get exclusive pics of the Fab Four; the anti-establishment leanings of Susan Kendall Newman’s Janis, which give way more easily than we might be comfortable with to the charms of a mop top; and Wendie Jo Sperber’s Rosie, anchored more solidly in the values of the ‘50s but more willing than any of her other friends to submit to the crazed pleasures the music of the Beatles brings roaring to her consciousness. Bobby Di Cicco’s relentlessly annoying greaser Tony Smerko (Smirko?), milquetoasty Larry Dubois (Marc McClure) and psychotic fan “Ringo” Klaus (Eddie Deezen) fill out the broadly stroked, none-too-flattering picture Zemeckis and Gale paint of the men in their ranks. I Wanna Hold Your Hand sees the hysteria of a generation of young people whose heads and hearts were turned by the Beatles as a necessarily positive phenomenon, a hysteria whose energy would, in some cases, be channeled into more sobering, challenging pursuits as the decade’s promise began to turn sour. It’s a giddy jewel of a movie, the only Zemeckis-Gale movie to have even the slightest patina of golden-hued optimism—and at its best it makes clear just why and how this music and these musicians could reduce an entire generation into a near pre-verbal state of worshipful enthusiasm. The enthusiasm carries over from the filmmakers themselves; in I Wanna Hold Your Hand they seem inseparable from their subjects.

I’ve written so often and so worshipfully myself about 1941 that to go on about it yet again might seem redundant. But I’ve never balked at repeating myself, either literally or in spirit, so let me just say that I was among the many who figured 1941 for some sort of large-scale cultural crime when I first saw it (three times—mm-hmm!) on the big screen when it came out during the Christmas of 1979. I was among those clucking that Spielberg had it coming. But for what, exactly? For making three terrific movies in a row? The movie’s sheer gigantism blinded me, I think, to the multitude of charms, both large- and small-scale, that it had to offer, and though I did pay to see it three times, and even though I remembered great huge chunks of it better than I remembered some movies I professed to love, I continued to insist that it was a disaster. The wild-eyed vision of an American public susceptible to mass hysteria—this time inspired not by Beatlemania, but by rampant paranoia based on fear of the Other and near-fatally mixed up with a potent nationalism (inspired in part by social impotence)—was clearly of a piece with the thrumming, not entirely tonal vibrations at the heart of I Wanna Hold Your Hand. But I was too overwhelmed by the noise of the movie itself—to say nothing of the noise of the conventional wisdom about it jangling just as loudly in the press over that Christmas break—to have anything like a genuine response to what I was seeing. Here’s what I wrote in May 2007 about encountering the movie again some three years later:


“I encountered 1941 on HBO, and somehow, scaled down to a 19-inch TV screen, stripped of the deafening soundtrack and rumble of artillery and exploding bombs coming at me from every which way, I discovered myself laughing. A couple more viewings and I became convinced I was completely wrong about this movie from the start. How could I have missed the brilliance of the USO dance set-piece? Or the maniacal wonder of Warren Oates’s sputtering Colonel “Madman” Maddox? Or the subversive glee in which Spielberg, and just as importantly scenarists Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, dismantle a nation’s paranoia and jingoistic fury in the context of this nation’s last great, justifiable war? Or the way the movie comedically embraces and simultaneously dismantles prevalent racist stereotypes of the era? Or the way John Williams’ score (his best and most joyous, in my opinion) dances about and accentuates the big moments as well as the small? (I collapsed in delight upon noticing the flourishes of flutes that sonically decorate puffs of smoke erupting from the cigar of psychotic pilot Wild Bill Kelso, played by John Belushi as Bluto Squared, and furious.)

I’ve seen 1941 at least 20 times in various formats since its 1979 release—I even got to create the closed-captions for the re-release on video and laserdisc of the uncut version that Universal unveiled in the mid ‘90s. And though the conventional critical wisdom is still largely negative, it was absolutely wonderful to discover some years later than Pauline Kael, who never wrote a full review of the movie, was a fan of 1941. In her review of Used Cars (which she also loved, God bless her), she wrote of Spielberg’s movie:

1941 had a choppy beginning; it seemed to start with the story already under way, and Spielberg overdid some of the broad, cartoon aspects—some of the performers seemed to be carrying placards telling you what was wacko about them. But the U.S.O. jitterbug number is one of the greatest pieces of film choreography I’ve ever seen, and the film overall is an amazing, orgiastic comedy, with the pop culture of an era compacted into a day and a night. Its commercial failure in this country didn’t make much sense to me. It was accused of gigantism, and it did seem huge, though part of what was so disarmingly fresh about it was the miniature recreation of Hollywood Boulevard at night in 1941, with little floodlights illuminating the toy cars tootling around the corners and toy planes flying so low they were buzzing through the streets.”

And I was delighted to find out online friend and film critic Paul Matwychuk is quoted on as proclaiming 1941 as ‘the most underrated film of Steven Spielberg's entire career.’

But for all of my experience with 1941 since its original release, the irony is, I’ll probably never again get the opportunity to see it the way it was meant to be seen-- on the big screen. I’d love another chance to experience 1941 the way I should have back in 1979, with my newfound appreciation, and the movie’s gigantism, intact. And in this time of war, I wonder if Spielberg and Zemeckis and Gale’s none-too-flattering picture of American patriotic fervor and fear of The Other turned in on itself might find a more sympathetic audience.”


Read the first sentence of that last paragraph again. You will now understand completely why I am so elated to relate that, confounding all my fatalist projections, I will be given the chance to see a very rare screening on 1941 and I Wanna Hold Your Hand this coming weekend, and you will too. This coming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, October 26, 27 and 28, Michael Torgan and the good folks at the the New Beverly Cinema will be screening the two films on a glorious double feature (the 35-mm print of I Wanna Hold Your Hand has been struck brand-new), and for an exceptionally good cause.

This year is, of course, the 30th-anniversary of Zemeckis and Gale’s first produced collaboration, and the New Beverly will be celebrating not only the films, but also a woman who starred in both of them. Wendie Jo Sperber, the delightful actress who was a member of the Zemeckis-Gale stock company from I Wanna Hold Your Hand all the way through the Back to the Future series, died four years ago after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. In conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the screenings this weekend are being held as a benefit for weSPARK, the support group Sperber founded in the shadow of her own diagnosis with breast cancer. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the life and talent of this wonderful spark plug of an actress than by coming to the New Beverly sometime this weekend and enjoying some of the best work, particularly in Hand, that she ever did on the big screen.

And if you come out Sunday evening you can raise a large cup of Diet Coke and a buttered popcorn to Sperber’s memory in the presence of some of those who knew and loved her most. Appearing live at the New Beverly Sunday evening only will be Nancy Allen, who appeared memorably in Carrie, Blow Out, Robocop and The Last Detail and costarred with Sperber in I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and who now acts as programming director for the weSPARK organization. Also at the New Beverly Sunday will be Bob Gale, who will undoubtedly have at least 17 great stories to tell about Sperber and the movies they made together. Rounding out Sunday night’s bill of luminaries will be renowned Leslie Hoffman, who often worked as Sperber’s stunt double (and who I suspect may be responsible for that hilarious moment in Hand when Wendie Jo hurls herself out of a moving car in order to get to a pay phone and call in to hopefully win Beatles tickets); and veteran actors Perry Lang (1941) and Read Morgan (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai). Camera technician Andy Romanoff, who pioneered the Louma Crane that was used extensively in 1941 will appear with Hoffman at Monday night’s screenings.

More information on the weekend screenings is available from Lee Christian, who is organizing the event and has created a website devoted to the 30th anniversary of I Wanna Hold Your Hand. A multitude of thanks in advance is due to Lee and to Michael Torgan for making this once-in-a-lifetime double feature available to us fans of these underappreciated movies who could never reasonably expect that we would ever again have the chance to see them screened the way they were meant to be seen. And to be able to see them and also make a small difference in the operations of weSPARK, and by extension perhaps the lives of other women who are suffering under the same diagnosis that took Wendie Jo Sperber from us four years ago, well, that is a special honor indeed. There are many wonderful movies out right now and coming out this weekend (Let the Right One In and Changeling, to name just two) that I am happily anticipating. But this double feature of 1941 and I Wanna Hold Your Hand really is a dream come true, and as such unmissable. It will rank right up there with Joe Dante’s Movie Orgy as one of the essential movie experiences of the year. And what a coincidence—that one happened at the New Beverly too. Folks, come on out this weekend, and every week after this one, and show Michael Torgan and everyone at the New Beverly just how much we appreciate everything they do to keep this kind of exciting revival cinema alive in Los Angeles. They are not the only game in town anymore, and thank God for that, but they’ve been doing it longer than anyone else, and there’s a real community spirit at this venue that really should be experienced. In that way the New Beverly Cinema is unlike any other theater in the city, and the spirit of appreciation, tribute and hilarity that will be rippling through the auditorium Sunday night will be just one more convincing moment of evidence as to why. See you there!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Naturally, writer-director Kevin Smith, never one to back away from courting or exploiting an opportunity to thrust his movies into the spotlight by any means necessary, is enjoying publicly scratching his head over the supposed gaffe on Saturday Night Live this past week which resulted in a truncated version of the title of his upcoming comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which went “porno-less” on an advertisement that aired during the show.

Smith explained to the Chicago Tribune’s Marc Caro that “a Make a Porno-less ad was prepared for Monday Night Football-- they wouldn't take the Make a Porno version, as football is a "family-friendly entertainment"... which is why you can see all manner of erectile dysfunction ads during the game.” Apparently the porno-free ad was mistakenly shipped to SNL, which, Smith notes, is “arguably” one of the only network shows that wouldn’t have any problem running the ad with the movie’s full title.

Actually, it seems to me that most network TV shows have lately been so swept up in the competitive art of envelope-pushing and striving, in the shadows of feature films and the non-restrictive cable networks, to keep up with the Corleones and the Sopranos, that mere mention of the word “porno” hardly ranks as much more than a tempest in a teapot (or a teapot in a tempest). What would have been too “shocking” for anything but Saturday Night Live 10 years ago is, let’s face it, run-of-the-mill sophisticated for shows as varied as 30 Rock, CSI, Big Brother and even something as innocuous as Two and a Half Men. (Hasn’t the star of that show even had a well-documented history with porn stars and other well-known luminaries of the sex industry? I thought so.)

I’ve seen ads for Zack and Mri Make a Porno during the recent baseball playoffs, and I can’t imagine that they haven’t run unexpurgated on other “family oriented” shows, all without much of a fuss, apparently. Which is what makes the noise from the Monday Night Football folks so humorous. Sport fans and sports talk radio hosts are perhaps the nation’s most porn-obsessed demographic. You can’t listen to any sports talk show at any hour of the day or night without getting an earful about Jenna Jameson or Hooters or some other “just guys” kind of buzzing around what the MNF brain trust would like you to believe they’re protecting their audience from by running ads which feature Traci Lords popping bubbles (off-screen) in a very unusual way but otherwise avoid the word “porno,” as if context meant nothing. Of course, someone will undoubtedly point out that the excision of the word was intended to protect the young kids watching the football game, which is just another variation of that old horse about bleeping swear words on cable from movies kids have already seen in theaters, words they’ve heard and used thousands of times at school and with friends. It’s all about appearances and not allowing any explicit acknowledgment of what Monday Night Football knows is common subject matter for 21-st century sports fans young and old.

But don’t think Kevin Smith minds. A whole new audience is now even more curious about his seemingly mysterious comedy’s subject matter and plotting to circumvent the movie’s hardly restrictive “R” rating come opening weekend. Which is in itself lots of fun to talk and blog and be outraged about, but it is also, as Smith’s last few movies have proven, no guarantor of the movie’s ultimate success, either artistically or at the box office.

That said, I have high hopes that Zack and Miri Make a Porno will turn out to be as much fun as those ads have promised. I’m willing to forgive Seth Rogen for Pineapple Express based solely on those four seconds I’ve seen of him acting in the titular (Heh-heh! He said “titular”) motion picture dressed as a UPS delivery man. And I will follow Elizabeth Banks anywhere. (She was terrific as Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s entertaining but relatively toothless W.) So when I recently received an unsolicited promo in an e-mail, I felt an irrational urge to share it. Of course, the e-mail is primarily a shameless advert for a magazine called Mean which, being the all-seeing, all-knowing pop culture maven that I am, I never even heard of until this communique. But attached to the missive was a keen short film directed by Tony Kaye (Lake of Fire, American History X) entitled “This is Not Sex,” featuring Banks and Rogen in a just-this-side-of-salacious serving of misperceived and quite suggestive Hollywood star behavior. (At any rate, it’s far funnier than Banks and Rogen’s other recent collaboration, the sluggishly performed Sarah Silverman knockoff "I’m Fucking Seth Rogen.”)

Seth Rogen & Elizabeth Banks In "This Is Not Sex" Directed By Tony Kaye from Mean Magazine on Vimeo.

Press play with me and enjoy. And maybe if we’re lucky Zack and Miri Make a Porno will find Smith inspired by the freshness of his two stars (and the experience of working outside the boundaries of the refried Quik-E-Mart world of Clerks 2) to serve up a comedy worth talking about a week after its release, instead of just in the week before.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Though I’ve never met Peet Gelderblom in person, he’s been a close friend of mine for nearly four years. Peet was one of the first people to directly contact me after I started this blog in November 2004—he wanted me to contribute a re-edited version of one of my first posts as an article for his prestigious 24 Lies a Second website. The fallout from that collaboration with Peet and 24 Lies editor Jim Moran resulted in an transcontinental back and forth that has made room for mutual constructive criticism and input on various creative projects that have come up in the interim, and even an old-world-style pact to marry off his sons to my daughters, which will theoretically produce results even more precious than a good piece of film writing. (You didn’t think I was kidding about that arranged marriage idea, did you, Peet?)

Over the past year Peet’s film writing gave way to a new obsession-- cartooning—and this past month saw the publication in book form of the entirety of his output so far, a series of film-inspired single-panel pieces which themselves inspired the ongoing strip known as Directorama, all of which are available in this new volume. It’s a brilliant book—sharp, precise, broad, knowing, bawdy, even poignant—and seeing Peet’s progression through his cinematically firmamental narrative by turning a page rather than waiting for each new weekly Internet installment adds weight to his achievement (some of which is directly related to seeing formerly exclusively electronic works wedded, as beautifully as they are, to the supposedly waning print format). Why, it’s even got a foreword by Yours Truly which, on the strength of Peet’s original concept and charmed execution, the book survives quite nicely, thank you.

Though we have still yet to exchange words in person, I recently, along with the rest of the wired world, had a chance to hear Peet’s speaking voice for the first time when he talked about Directorama with the good fellas who head up the Movie Geeks United podcast. Not to be outdone, Peet and I went keyboard-to-keyboard recently and chatted about movies, growing up movie-obsessed, movies, movies, and, of course, Directorama, and it went a little something like this:

Dennis Cozzalio: First of all, I have to say it was a delight to hear your actual voice on the Movie Geeks United podcast, but a bit of a shock to hear you pronounce your name, which sounded nothing like my Americanized phonetic bastardization of it.

Peet Gelderblom: Well, that's nothing compared to how I bastardized the English language in that interview. Dutch is impossible to pronounce correctly. Just stick to phonetic American--I wouldn't want you to risk a throat disease in trying to nail our hard G.

DC: What were some of the movies that got you started along the path of a movie-obsessed life?

PG: Are you ready for an atheist's confession? I believe the very root of my movie obsession may be found in church.

DC: Again, Ingmar Bergman must be nodding his head in approval from the afterlife. Your obsession origin story is starting out like the setup for a Directorama gag!

PG: I kid you not, sir. Where I grew up in Holland, there used to be some sort of a commission which screened children's movies every Saturday morning for the price of one guilder or so, and they used the local church as their cinema. They actually had a screen up on the altar where instead of offering up solace and scripture they projected movies like Flipper, Famous Five and Tintin and the Lake of Sharks. In school, we would always get flyers with a synopsis of the movie that was playing that month and I was there every single time, with or without a friend, through sickness and health--a true disciple. I was raised agnostic, but in many ways film has become my religion. This explains a lot, doesn't it?

DC: My friend Peet, bowing at the flickering, craven image of a celluloid dolphin!

PG: But of course, it didn't stop there. I cherish the times when my big brother and I were allowed to stay up and watch Clint Eastwood flicks together with my Dad on late night TV. Whenever a Western was aired that looked a bit old for our taste, my Dad would re-spark our interest by saying: "Great, an oldie. All the more will die!"

And then there was the summer of 1984, when I truly, deeply realized how much I was addicted to the movies. We went to Canada and made a camping trip up North. As soon as the sun went down and mosquitoes appeared, we rushed to the nearest Multiplex to see Romancing the Stone or The Temple of Doom, the first Indiana Jones I ever saw. Boy, was I hooked! Doom is still one of my favorites: a relentless, celluloid beast that swallows the audience whole; the very definition of unadulterated cinematic experience. With my first-earned money I bought a VCR. That's when I developed a taste for movies so atmospheric you thought you dreamt them: Altered States, The Elephant Man, Don’t Look Now, Runaway Train, The Brood, De Vierde Man, After Hours. I've always liked that hypnotizing mix of darkness with lyricism.

DC: Your work first came to my attention through 24 Lies a Second, the now-defunct website created by you and Jim Moran, which originated in a mutual interest in the films of Brian De Palma. What was the first De Palma movie you ever saw?

PG: Gee, I'm not sure. Either Dressed to Kill, Carrie or Blow Out. In my memory I discovered these three pictures almost simultaneously. Whatever it was, I watched it in horrible pan-and-scan and was mesmerized anyway. What really triggered my interest in De Palma were a few preview clips of Body Double on TV; that marvelous beach scene and a bit of Jake Scully running to save Gloria from that hulking Indian with the giant drill. I was too young to be allowed to see it in the cinema, but I made a vow to rent Body Double as soon as it became available. The restrictions for theaters were harsh, but in the early ‘80s a 13-year-old could go and rent Faces of Death and no one would blink an eye.

DC: Did you, like so many film geeks (myself included), commandeer your family Super-8 movie camera and direct your own productions as a kid?

PG: Yes, yes, I certainly did. I started out filming the family on vacations and went on to direct my own shorts. I starred as the son of Flash Gordon in one of them. Remind me to burn the original after this interview, will you?

DC: I will do no such thing. Not unless we can burn some of mine at the same time! How elaborate did your productions get?

PG: You wouldn't believe the art direction. I made a miniature moon with huge, gaping craters out of clay, broke off the wings of my brother's F16 toy model to make it look vaguely like a rocket and shot these against a clear blue sky as backdrop. Next shot would be me, Flash junior, behind the wheel of our Volkswagen, watching the stars like a hawk. What's funny is that I shot everything in sequence, because I tried to avoid editing. Three seconds of my Dad sabotaging the spaceship - STOP! One second of my Mom puppeteering an alien I created - STOP! And on and on and on. The films were silent, but I played a cassette tape with bits of roughly synchronized soundtrack during screenings. I kept on churning out Super-8 shorts until I was 15 years old or so, always using the same circle of friends. They must have hated my guts; I was a demanding little fuck. I asked them to trash their bikes, spit ketchup blood out of the corner of their mouths, or had them beat each other to a pulp in simulated slow-motion. Nothing has changed much since then, except that I use actual slow-motion now and the CEO of Philips is one of my cast members.

DC: How long have you been drawing/cartooning?

PG: For as long as I can remember. My room was a giant pile of unfinished comics, ‘zines and school paper illustrations. Ironically enough, by the time I went to Graphic University, when I was around 18 years old, I simply stopped. Other hobbies and interests took over: music, writing, filmmaking. Apart from the two birth cards that I drew for my sons, I didn't pick up a fine-liner again until about two decades later, when I started posting cartoons on my blog. Drawing is like biking, though: you never forget. I'm still more or less on my old level in terms of pure skill, but my visual sense has developed over the years. Having said that, Directorama is drawn in an intentionally rudimentary style; I know my limitations.

(Click on the cartoons to enlarge)

DC: Describe the genesis of Directorama.

PG: Shortly after Ingmar Bergman's 89th birthday, I posted a dull, gray cartoon of him behind a colorful birthday pie, with the Grim Reaper sitting beside him.

A week later I read in the paper that the man had died, which came as a big shock to me. Antonioni passed away only a few hours later, and almost immediately the idea behind Directorama presented itself: What would happen if these two met each other in the afterlife? What would they and other late filmmakers of their pedigree think of movies that are made right now? What if this whole pantheon of cinematic greats in heaven would be forced to inspire their successors?

DC: It seems to me you could draw a direct line from your “Nighthawks” essay, a 24 Lies a Second original in which you posited an alternate universe of movie characters from throughout film history colliding with each other to comment on issues of watching and seeing films, straight to Directorama. How did ”Nighthawks” affect your thinking and how you ended up developing Directorama?

Peet with 24 Lies a Second editor Jim Moran

PG: Writing “Nighthawks” was a big deal to me, and it's to Jim Moran's credit that I finished it at all. It might be the most radical thing I've ever undertaken, and it still has a special place in my heart. Too bad people weren't ready for it. Perhaps they'll never be! Mickey Mouse and Travis Bickle in a Yellow Cab stuck in the Twilight Zone, getting all meta on film--the sheer audacity of the concept demanded a huge leap of imagination on the part of the reader. The quiet reception made me realize that the Internet doesn't lend itself well to long-form experiments in non-expository film criticism. Directorama uses a similarly far-fetched approach to its subject matters, but served up in bite-sized chunks and with the added value of illustration.

DC: Did you get direct comment on “Nighthawks” that led you to believe it wasn’t being accepted? Because I’ve always thought that the Internet was the perfect place to allow yourself the rope to take on a meaty and difficult concept like the one you tackled with that essay. And I certainly think you came up with some fascinating, well-executed ideas in that piece.

PG: It may have worked better on paper, that's all. The plain fact is that I don't know if people cared for it or not. Maybe it'll spark a comment or two when it's reissued on The House Next Door, now that people know where I'm coming from.

DC: How do you see Directorama fitting in with your other writing and filmmaking? Is it a complementary enterprise, or something that exists on its own plane?

PG: There's an astronaut and an astrologist in me. The astronaut wants to create stuff, the astrologist theorizes. Both sides feed off on each other. Over time, I've found that more and more of my abstract musings seeped into my filmmaking, while my articles on film became increasingly creative. In that sense, Directorama is an ideal middle ground. It allows me to philosophize in the most expressive manner possible.

DC: How does Directorama work as commentary? What are your targets, the concerns you want to address through the strip? And how does Directorama work as a form of film criticism?

PG: Directorama is supposed to be fun, first of all, and readers shouldn't expect a well-rounded thesis or detailed analysis. What I try to do is carefully choose the scenarios that allow me to provoke the right questions. That Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles pretty much hated each other's guts is not something I made up. I'll use actual quotes from different directors to juxtapose contrasting points of view on the medium, leaving it up to the reader to make up their own mind. Altman really did think that film is an actor's medium, for example. And obviously, when a trio of directors fabricate their ideal woman and end up blasting her to bits, I'm giving a somewhat stinging commentary on the way actresses are handled in Hollywood.

DC: The strip is genuinely funny, sharply satirical, and even has moments of true poignancy in its subtext and in its surface concerns. What are your greatest satisfactions with the finished strips and with the new book? Any disappointments or dissatisfactions?

PG: My biggest satisfaction lies in having the freedom to do exactly what I want, without concession, and still have people enjoying my stuff. I don't need to stick to someone else's briefing or cater to a specific demographic, as is the case with my day job. The Internet is great that way. You find something you're passionate about, put in a little effort and you can bet that somewhere out there is a niche audience that'll appreciate it. My biggest regret is that I see considerably less movies than I saw before I embarked on this project. It just takes a lot of time to produce these and I have other loves and obligations. The stripped-down backgrounds, the orange robes and the choice of four fingers instead of five... they're all ways to save time. I'd love to publish more episodes per week, but it's simply not realistic.

DC: Can you envision an extended future for the strip? What can we look forward to in Volume Two?

PG: The new website ought to be a sign of my dedication. Who knows? I just follow my muse. Right now, I'm very excited about the new season, which will start off as soon as I've created a little buffer. It will really delve into the issue of auteurism and what that still means today. I'll also introduce the strip's first original character. You've already heard his name on the Movie Geeks United podcast-- it's none other than Allan Smithee. His entrance will seriously piss off the other directors in movie heaven, because Smithee is the anti-auteur, the ultimate Hollywood hack! So that's gonna be a lot of fun to play around with. In time, Directorama may expand to include other things than the current strip. We'll see...

DC: What were your thoughts when you saw the book for the first time?

PG: This will make one hell of a Christmas present for Dennis. When will he make me one?


Check out Peet’s appearance on Movie Geeks United (available for streaming or download directly below), and don’t forget to order the book right away too. Directorama would indeed make a great addition to any cineaste’s library and, yes, a great Christmas present too, even though it does not slice through tin cans or cut potato slices so thin you can see through them or instantly frost your favorite beer mug. (Peet has intimated to me, however, that he is considering including a Popeil Pocket Fisherman with all future orders of Volume Two.) And you can keep up to date with all further developments related to Directorama and Peet Gelderblom at the Directorama website. There’s plenty coming up just over the wide-screen horizon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


“Till I opened my eyes and walked out the door
And the clouds came tumbling down
And it's bye-bye goodbye I tried
And I twisted it wrong just to make it right
I had to leave myself behind
And I've been flying high all night

So come pick me up
I've landed...”

- Ben Folds, “Landed”

Well, the Fat Lady may have sung tonight (after Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., neither of them remotely rotund, sang the National Anthem), but it was really the tune carried by Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels, setup man Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge that set the tone for what turned out to be the deciding game of the NLCS. Jimmy Rollins led the game off with a home run and, despite one last bomb from Manny Ramirez into the right center field bleachers, the Phillies never looked back and the Dodgers were never really in the game. Chad Billingsley flopped for the second time in the series, going not quite three innings and looking terribly overmatched and under-confident all the way. Russell Martin looked tired, ill-at-ease and not up to the task of hitting fourth behind Manny, and he swung the bat like it. Blake De Witt snuffed out two potential Dodger rallies by hitting into two suffocating double plays, the first one first-pitch swinging just like Andre Either in that crucial Game 4 loss Monday night. And Rafael Furcal supplied a genuine freakism by setting a dubious LCS record—three errors in one inning, this from one of the most dependable, athletic, naturally spectacular players in the game at the shortstop position. Both Casey Blake and Matt Kemp missed deep center field home runs by mere feet, long outs gathered up by series villain (and damn fine center fielder) Shane Victorino. Jeff Kent had his shot in the eighth inning with two men on and two men out but struck out, and Nomar Garciaparra could not extend the ninth inning, popping up on the infield in front of the Phillies dugout for the final out of the 2008 Dodgers’ improbable, thrilling, heartbreaking run into October. (The Dodgers tried to conjure the ghost of Kirk Gibson, it being, after all, 20 years ago this very night that Gibson ripped the game-winning homer off of Dennis Eckersley to kick-start the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series triumph. But it would take far more than replaying that familiar videotape on the Diamondvision screen to inspire the kind of comeback that would elude the Dodgers this game.)

Truth be told, the Phillies showed themselves to be the grittier, better team in this NLCS and they deserve to play the other gritty, determined team—the Tampa Bay Rays—in the fall classic. Cole Hamels did not, like Dan Haren and Brandon Webb and Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano (and Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield), roll over and play dead. The Phillies’ defense remained coiled and alive and ready to spring into dazzling action at the crack of a hard line-drive that should have been a base hit but instead was magically turned, over and over again, into an out. And the Dodgers, despite we fans’ insistence that it wasn’t over till it was over, looked deflated in the wake of that frustrating Game 4 loss Monday to Philadelphia, a game they had in hand until the eighth inning, a game they should have won, and they played like it tonight. Maybe I allowed myself to believe a little more than I normally would in the Dodgers’ chances in part because of the gigantic boulder than the Rays have managed to roll up the hill this year, in the shadow of back-to-back previous seasons with the worst record in baseball. If the Rays could do it, why not the Dodgers? Well, if the Phillies are better than the Dodgers, one has to think that, barring an unlikely Red Sox comeback to overtake Tampa for the ALCS, that the Rays are the best team of the four possibles going into the Series and that the Phillies are likely to have their hands full with these young upstarts. And the Dodgers, for all their looseness and fun and the incredible run they had from the beginning of September until the evening of October 15, 2008, were simply not as good all the way to the end as they could have been, as they often were.

I’m sad tonight, you bet. I stayed after the game and watched Tommy Lasorda come out and speak to the 2,000 or so fans that hung around in the stands, not wanting to let go of the season just yet, all the while the Phillies and their small group of faithful celebrated along the first base dugout. I saw Nomar and Manny both return to the field, a half hour or so after the final out, still in their uniforms, suggesting to me that they weren’t quite ready to let it go either. And I wish that the Dodgers were flying back to Philly tonight, perhaps to the same destiny as the one they arrived at tonight, but at least having left Dodger Stadium to something more than the bittersweet reminisces of the roller-coaster ride of a season that played on the Diamondvision screen, perhaps flying east on wings borne by the adrenaline-fueled cheers of 56,800 fans who, if for only one more game, still believed. But that’s not the way it is. Cubs fans and Brewer fans and Angel fans and White Sox fans already know this tune, the one the fat lady sings so pure and true, and we Dodger fans are learning it right now. (Red Sox fans will be the next to be serenaded.)

And so, rather than allow myself to get mired in the misery of dashed hopes, I choose to think back on the excess of joy and happiness and giddy highs provided by this 2008 Dodger team and think about the possibilities for a rejuvenated franchise that seems, for the moment, to be traveling in the right direction at last, after 20 or so years wandering in the Southern California desert. When I remember all the laughs and thrills watching this simple, beautiful game, played by these youngsters and seasoned professionals, all rejuvenated by the presence of late season additions like Casey Blake and, of course, Manny Ramirez, I realize how special this season really has been. (I’ll never forget taking my six-year-old daughter out to see Manny’s first game-- she fell in love with the dreadlocked superstar that night, and I think she fell a little bit more in love with baseball that night too.) The 1988 World Series Dodgers were a team I was aware of (I moved here in 1987), but I didn’t start following them with any consistency till about 1990, and I didn’t become a real fan until, ironically, 1994, the year without the World Series. So postseason magic has been in short supply since I’ve been paying attention, and even though the spigot was shut off early I have most certainly enjoyed drinking deep from it during the last two series, and I fully expect that the Dodgers will be in a great position to quench my thirst yet again this time next year.

So thank you, Joe Torre, Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, Blake De Witt, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, Cory Wade, Jonathan Broxton, Chan Ho Park (way to get that one hitter to ground out tonight, Chan Ho), Hong-Chih Kuo, James McDonald, Joe Beimel, Takashi Saito, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Angel Berroa, Rick Honeycutt, Don Mattingly, Mariano Duncan, Larry Bowa, Kim Ng, Ned Colletti, Tommy Lasorda, and yes, Frank and Jamie McCourt (but not Andruw Jones), for a truly maddening, thrilling 50-year anniversary Los Angeles Dodgers season. May 51 be, like Nigel Tufnel’s amp, one better than 50, a loud, fulfilling blast that makes good on the many promises, big and small, held within this wonderful summer and played on a sound system only turned up to 9, maybe 10. 11 is going to sound good.

And now I can go back to writing about movies, which is in many ways a relief. When movies break your heart, they most often do so with that intent, with (hopefully) a streak of artistry to help expand the experience of pain into one of greater understanding. But baseball, despite its individual artistry and the beauty of the game itself, has no design other than the one imposed on it by the rules, the efforts of its players and the fickle winds of circumstances which can change several times during the course of one game, let alone an entire season. The pain of heartbreak brought on by the ups and downs of baseball is perhaps less profound, but it is also less immediately easy to shake because it can seem so random, so unforgiving, so unmoved by the individual devotion of the people who follow the game closely. I look forward to a few months unbuffeted by hopes raised and dashed on the diamond, to being once again more exclusively susceptible to the crazy highs and modulated lows (and the dropped-out bottoms) that only movies can provide. But then February will come again, and those perfectly kept outfields will come calling again, and I will respond.

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, and good luck to the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2008 World Series should be a very good one indeed, even if my boys can’t be there.

Monday, October 13, 2008


The Dodgers came out fighting in Game 3, showing the kind of moxie with the bats and with the brushbacks that they couldn't muster in Game 2. Hiroki Kuroda stepped up and made a fairly clear statement that the Dodgers were not to be pushed around, especially on their own field, after Russell Martin took the first of two plunks for the team early on in the game. Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino took exception to being buzzed by Kuroda (as would I have), but other than the head shot itself everyone knows that intimidation is the name of this part of the game, one that the Phillies kickstarted in Game 2 and one which the Dodgers, to their credit, finally responded, albeit a game late. Final: 7-2 Dodgers, sparked by a five-run first inning, including a bases-clearing triple by Blake De Witt.

Joe Torre believed the momentum had swung back toward the Dodgers after that win, and deep into Game 4, with the Dodgers leading 5-3, it seemed as though Torre was right and the series would end up tied. After all, the Dodgers survived Chan Ho Park wild-pitching in the tying run to make it a 3-3 game and managed an extra two runs (one off of a solo home run by Casey Blake) to take into the seventh. But then, after a lights-out inning of relief from Hong Chi Kuo, the reliver's return in the seventh looked shaky immediately, as he served up a runner on first right out of the gate. Enter Cory Wade, the Dodgers' stalwart middle reliever, who is about as reliable as anyone on the staff. Wade promptly gave up a two-run tying home run to Victorino, who belted it into the right field bullpen. Then, after a two-out single by Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Broxton was called in and tried to groove a 3-1 fastball past seasoned pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, who launched it for another two. In what seemed like the flash of a one-two punch to the temples, the Dodgers' 5-3 lead inverted to a 7-5 deficit, one that the Phillies, despite a eighth-inning threat begun by a two-out Manny Ramirez double off of Brad Lidge, would hold until the final out.

All is not lost. Obviously the Dodgers are going to have to roll the boulder uphill the rest of the way. But it can be done. Jon Lester proved earlier today in the Rays' happy 9-1 rout of the Red Sox that even the most confident ace can get pantsed on the national stage, so there's no reason to think that the Dodgers can't similarly bend Cole Hamels over in Game 5. And there's certainly no reason to fold up the tents altogether, no matter how insistent Joe Buck might be that this thing is as good as over. The Dodgers cannot clinch on their home field, but we knew that at the end of Game 2. So what? The Phillies, however, can clinch on the hallowed grass of Dodger Stadium on Wednesday if the Dodgers don't come out with the same fighting spirit that they displayed in spades on Sunday night and held up for seven innings tonight. (It wouldn't hurt my feelings if they kept the game ball as far away from Chan Ho Park as possible too.) I don't relish the idea of being there in person to see Philadelphia win the pennant. When I'm in the park in person on Wednesday night I'd much rather see the Dodgers close out the home stand of the NLCS with a decisive win like the one they served up Sunday. So even if it does turn out to be the last game played at Dodger Stadium this season the boys in blue will have taken us out on a high note. But it won't be the last game. The Dodgers have a hell of a battle ahead of them, but I truly believe they are still in this, especially if Charlie Manuel decides it's a good idea to bring Jamie Moyer back out for Game 7. The best is yet to come, Dodger fans.

(Thanks, Sal!)

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Kuroda at home could spell heartburn for Phillies hitters in Game 3

Could Hiroki Kuroda and his success against the Phillies this season be enough reason to believe that the Dodgers have more than just a fighting chance of setting this series back on, at the very least, an even keel? Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated seems to think so. That, and the ever quieting bat of Ryan Howard, plus the fact that Jamie Moyer has only ever faced two Dodgers before-- former American leaguers Casey Blake and, of course, Mr. Ramirez, who has Manny-handled the aging pitcher plenty in the past-- and Moyer's faced none this season so far.

Plus, Jon Weisman has some words of wisdom and patience for Matt Kemp which, if all goes well, the budding superstar hitter will heed.

Right now, I'm off to bless the radio and hope that the mellifluous tones and poetical flights of Vin Scully have many happy events to convey to Dodger fans all along the Dodger Radio Network this Sunday evening. (I'll be watching Fox, but skipping the Joe Buck commentary.)

And of course I'll check in afterward to either jump for joy or rationalize why the series is not over yet... Stay tuned, and Go, Blue!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The Chad Billingsley of the NLDS Game 2 fails to arrive in Philly for this second game

Ben, Brian, everyone-- Ah, baseball, it is a fickle mistress, fer sure. (Can an “it” be a mistress? Just asking that question kinda freaks me out.) And that's part of what's fun and fascinating about it, I think. (Not the freaking out part.) While I was prepping at the end of the school day on Friday, my supervising teacher and I turned on Game 2 in her room just in time to see the Dodgers go from two down (4-2) to six down (8-2). Oof. In the time it took my daughters and me to walk home, the Dodgers were back in it thanks to Manny's three-run blast. But despite two very close calls from Casey Blake and Nomar Garciaparra it was just not to be-- Blake's long center field out might have been a homer in Dodger Stadium, or if he'd it anywhere other than the deepest part of Citizen's Bank Park, and the score would have been tied; and Nomar could have tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with one of the patented dramatic knocks he comes up with every so often, but instead he whiffed. Final: 8-5 Phillies.

A three-run differential numerically accounted for, as you intimated, Ben, by Brett Myers' (I'll say it) unusual performance with the bat. On the mound he was as I expected-- solid, but vulnerable, and even Lidge allowed men on base that had Philly fans very nervous a couple of times down the stretch. But, geez, Myers gets one hit all year, and then suddenly turns into C.C. Sabbathia at the plate and gets three hits for three RBI? What the hell?! Now, that's a clutch performance. Nice job, Brett. I'll give Philadelphia all the credit in the world for making this an exciting series from a pure baseball standpoint-- two hard-fought and relatively close games so far, and though I'd prefer it were 1-1, there's little choice but to take the 2-0 disadvantage and expect better given that the teams are now on their way back to Los Angeles. The Dodgers don’t look weak-kneed, so there's no reason t think they will go quietly, if at all, on their home field. And yes, I will be there on Wednesday to cheer them on.

For the deep thinking about the series so far, it’s hard to beat Jon Weisman’s analysis—he’s a Dodger fan, but he’s not a wild-eyed homer. (I'm looking at you, Rex Hudler.) He’s willing to take the hard look while letting his passion for the team come through, and he always has excellent conversations with his readers too. No better place, I think, to stay in tune with what’s happening in the NLCS than Dodger Thoughts, if you’re a Dodger fan, that is. (Jon is taking a break after Game 2, but keep an eye on those comments—there’s only about 1,200 of them since Game 1.)

Huge game on Sunday. Hope it’s another great game of baseball, and a lot more fun than the first have been. Go, Blue!

Thursday, October 09, 2008


The game starts in six minutes. I'll be working and "watching" it on the computer. Here's Jon Weisman. Go, Blue!

Monday, October 06, 2008

A FEW HAPPY NOTES ON THE ASCENDANCE OF THE LOS ANGELES DODGERS and other matters of the utmost importance

For anyone who actually cares about such things, the news that the Dodgers completed an unexpected sweep of the Cubs Saturday night to clinch a berth in the National League Championship Series will be old news indeed. And certainly “unexpected” is a bit of an understatement—if you believed the conventional wisdom oozing from sports talk radio geniuses handicapping the week’s action beginning at Wrigley Field last week, it was utter foolishness to even suggest that the Dodgers had a chance against the team with the best regular-season record (97 wins) in the National League. Such an admission, let alone a prediction of the Dodgers winning any more than one game in the series, would have been tantamount to admitting your complete lack of knowledge and credibility regarding the game of baseball. Hell, even die-hard Dodger fans wouldn’t predict anything better than a split at Wrigley, with L.A., best-case scenario, returning home needing two wins to clinch. Everyone knew it was the Cubs’ year. Everyone knew it was the Cubs’ series to lose. Well, that part was right anyway.

Confident Cubs fans enter the Friendly Confines unaware that the Battle of Little Big Horn is about to break out

It’s a very unusual feeling to have my team rolling with momentum in the postseason, coming off an impressive and emphatic three-game sweep in which they led for 23 out of 27 innings, behaved like loose, fun-loving athletes and played like world beaters, pitched like demons, hit like the demons chasing those demons, and all while perched on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm and energy supplied by the man who, by all rights, should be voted the National League MVP for what he did to revitalize the Dodgers, Manny Ramirez. (Red Sox Nation can grumble all they want about Manny’s Fenway exit, but the fact remains they were a very good team with him—and remain so, having just won the ALDS on a run carried in by the man replacing Ramirez in their lineup, Jason Bay—yet the Dodgers, a .500-or-worse club at the time Ramirez came to L.A., have been utterly transformed by his freewheeling presence and unconscious bat.)

MVP Manny golfs a homer off his shoelaces in Game 1 of the Cubs-Dodgers NLDS

So on we go. I had a ticket for a Game Four on Sunday night that was, thank God and Joe Torre, not necessary. (As much as I wanted to be there to see them clinch on Sunday, I could not root for them to lose on Saturday, and I don't regret for a minute missing that opportunity.) As soon as the Dodgers clinched Saturday night, my loving wife hopped on the computer and procured for me another ticket for Game Five in the NLCS, and though I would love to be proven wrong by another offensive/defensive Dodger juggernaut I believe that this time there will be a Game Five. The Philadelphia Phillies will face my Dodgers in a best-of-seven beginning Thursday night in Philadelphia, and again, I would expect and be quite happy with a 1-1 split coming out of the City of Brotherly Love, which would mean that the Dodgers would have three games at home to finish things up, and I would be there, if all goes well, to see them clinch a World Series berth at the end of that third game at Dodger Stadium. It should be interesting. The Dodgers swept the Phillies at Chavez Ravine at a time in the season when they were getting beat by far lesser teams, and then had their heads returned to them by the Phils in a reciprocal four-game sweep during their final East Coast swing. So the teams play each other tough and pretty even.

Russell Martin's bases-loaed double drives in three during the Game 2 rout in Chicago

But that all happened before the Dodgers pulled an unexpected pounding of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ two ace pitchers in September to begin a run that resulted in their going from 4 ½ games down to 4 ½ games up on Arizona, winning the division, and against all odds sustaining the excellent baseball they’ve played ever since. And they’re not done. My prediction: the Dodgers in five games over the Phillies. They clinch here in Los Angeles, with me there in the reserved section off of third base to see it live. And then (wait for it, Jonathan), they meet Boston in the World Series, a rematch of the exhibition games played here at Memorial Coliseum to kick off the season way back in March. Only one difference: back then Manny Ramirez wore red and white. Now he’s wearing Dodger Blue and he’s shown an entire team how to play like the game means something, like the game is once again fun. Mr. Lapper, when the World Series schedule has been secured, we will settle on the terms of our bet. For now, enjoy your triumph over the Angels (Oh, how I was hoping for a Freeway Series) and get ready for a lot of hair-raising October baseball. This is going to be fun.

This Boston fan knows the score, past and future

Just a note on my whereabouts: I dropped a comment last week suggesting that I was going to be having “trouble getting around” in the coming weeks and that I probably wouldn’t have a very high profile in the blogosphere for that period of time. Unfortunately, a couple of you very thoughtful folks thought I might have been suggesting that I was having some sort of physical problem that was literally making it difficult for me to navigate in the three-dimensional world. Well, it’s not exactly a Mark Twain-early demise type situation, but I am glad to report that my comments were meant only to convey that for the next few weeks I would likely not be much of a presence on my blog here or on anyone else’s. I have discovered that student teaching in kindergarten (and soon fourth grade) during the day and working at night leaves damned little time for anything other than coming home, brushing my teeth, doing a little lesson planning, then flopping into bed, only to have to get up in about five hours and do it all again. I have already put myself through the guilt-and-unease wringer for allowing myself to post only once a week over the past two or three weeks, and unless things lighten up unexpectedly between now and mid-February my output is likely to remain at that glacial pace until my teaching assignment is wrapped up. I will have time during Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I hope to take advantage of and use to sit down and do a lot of writing. But right now it’s difficult for me to even find time to sit down for a movie, let alone to make the much more concerted effort it takes to write about one. (My wife and I made it out to see Appaloosa Friday night, and the movie was so loping and casually paced—a potentially much more positive trait in the hands of a more capable filmmaker than director-star Ed Harris—that it nearly put me to sleep.)

Fortunately or not, during this moment of limited attention to SLIFR, there are many juicy things on my plate that I am hoping to deliver to you more sooner than later, including a talk with Peet Gelderblom about his recently published Directorama, a book collecting his wonderful comic strips of the same name; an up-close look at Werner Herzog’s God’s Angry Man; an exhaustive look at some of the great offerings on the L.A. revival and repertory scene for the traditionally bounteous month of October; more than just a glance toward one of my favorite genres, especially for this time of year, horror films; another look at Breaking Away at a time when I’m beginning to prepare for a grand bike tour of the Oregon Coast next summer; and in the light of my current midlife career change, a revisiting of one of my favorite films about education, Nicolas Philbert’s To Be and to Have, perhaps in concert with Lauren Cantet’s new film about teaching, The Class. There’s so much I want to do this fall, here on the blog and there in my life, and one of the main lessons I seem to be learning, finally, is that there is simply no way to do it all in the 24 hours we are allotted for each day. As a teacher one of the things I have to condition myself for is the pacing of the lesson, how to best present the material to the student in language accessible to them, and at a rate of speed that encourages their engagement, retention and understanding. It is that way for me in all things as I find things spilling off the sides of the plate I’ve filled for myself. I thank you all, you lurkers and you loyal SLIFR readers, for giving me the assurance of your continued presence even when I’m not working at my most prolific here. I hope to return to a more productive pace soon and keep giving you more reasons to want to come back.

Look for that extensive roundup of L.A. repertory and revival cinema, including a spotlight on a very special event coming up at the New Beverly Cinema, coming up before the weekend. Until then, Go, Dodgers!

Boy, does this feel weird. And wonderful.