Monday, October 26, 2009

Thoughts on the Worst World Series of All Time

Well, Mets fans, our nightmare has come true. Yankees vs. Phillies........ goddammit to hell. It's like the culmination of everything that has sucked for us over the past few years. It was bad enough when we choked and the hated Phils made the playoffs in '07... worse when we choked again and the Phils won the whole damn thing in '08... this year, we didn't even have the opportunity to choke, and now we are faced with the most horrifying World Series imaginable and forced to make our very own SOPHIE'S CHOICE....

It's like 1999 all over again, only worse. Don't get me wrong, I have not forgotten how much we hated the Braves back then... but despite idiots like John Rocker who tried to make it personal, it was mainly because they were so good and they had our number. I booed Chipper Jones mercilessly but I didn't exactly hate him personally -- I hated him because he owned the Mets like few others ever have. (In fact, nowadays, I feel a bizarre kinship with ol' Larry because I believe he truly misses Shea Stadium as much as I do.) The Phillies don't necessarily have our number, and I believe that even they are self-conscious of the fact that the only reason they've had the opportunity to win anything in recent years is because the Mets keep shooting themselves in the foot. Not to say that the Phils don't have a powerhouse of a team, but their success is more a testament to the Mets' failures than anything else. Hell, even their fans are horribly self-conscious and suffer from intense inferiority complexes -- how else to explain their anti-Mets chants even after winning the freakin' World Series last year? (Seriously, if the Mets won the World Series, bad-mouthing the Phillies would be the LAST thing on my mind!) Even the players couldn't help but trash-talk the Mets during their own victory parade last year. Or best of all, their blatant thievery of the Mets' ultimate rally cry, "YA GOTTA BELIEVE!" Really, Philly, you're that insecure? The whole thing is pretty sad, and it's infuriating to see this team put on a pedestal. So in that sense, my hatred for the Phillies is far deeper and more personal. I don't respect Rollins, Victorino and Hamels the way I begrudgingly respected Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz -- I hate them as ballplayers and as human beings. The Phillies are a bunch of dirty, trash-talking goons and their fans are a bunch of ignorant, insufferable, bandwagon-riding neanderthals wearing Chase Utley jerseys that they just bought last October. In a few short years, the Phillies have become the cancer on baseball's testicle.

Meanwhile, since the Yankees have pretty much lain dormant for the past eight years, I'd almost forgotten how much I hated them -- but that loathing has quickly returned over the past couple of weeks. I am surrounded by far more Yankees fans on a daily basis, and it would be sweet if they lost just to clear my Facebook news feed of their nightly blather. Not to mention NYC in general -- dear lord, the buzz of the Yankee machine in this city has been more annoying than ever. (Did anyone else read Mike Lupica's ridiculous article about how Yankees fans are the greatest fans in the world? It's good for a laugh!) And don't even get me started on A-Rod -- my hatred for him almost cancels out any semblance of respect I may have for guys like Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera. I don't even care about the steroids, but how anyone can cheer for such a sniveling, whining little shit is beyond me. Indeed, after all these years, the Yankee Empire remains evil incarnate.

So, yeah, it's a tough call. If I could root for the plague or an earthquake or a goddamn nuclear holocaust, believe me, I would. But since I can't..... I suppose that I will be "rooting" for the Yankees in the 2009 Fall Classic. It's almost unfathomable, but in this case, it's kind of like a FRIDAY THE 13th film where you find yourself rooting for evil Jason to knock off the douchebag camp counselors. I can deal with evil more than I can deal with fucking douchebags, and the only thing worse than a pompous, gloating Yankee fan is a pompous, gloating Phillie fan. When a Yankee fan gloats, I can roll my eyes and ignore him -- but a gloating Phillie fan is enough to make me want to break things. Besides, you gotta figure that a Yankee win will be quickly forgotten, anyway -- they are, after all, a dime a dozen -- whereas a Phillies win would actually be fairly historic and we'd never hear the end of it. I'd rather endure a day or two's worth of annoying-but-ignorable "THAAAA YANKEES WIN!" spewage (which, again, is almost like white noise at this point) than have to hear about a Phillies repeat for years to come -- especially during the nine times the Phils visit Citi Field next year. And perhaps most importantly, I can always say with some level of honesty that I'm pulling for the Yankees for the sake of my grandfather, the greatest Yankee fan I've ever known, who died last December. If the Yanks can make themselves useful by honoring Tony Sarnicola AND breaking the hearts of Phillies fans in one fell swoop... well, I could live with that.

But understand this: Regardless of whether they're playing the Phillies, the Braves, or the Nazis, I will never be able to bring myself to utter the words "let's," "go" and "Yankees" in succession, nor express the slightest inkling of positive vibes towards them. It just goes against ever fiber of my being -- so in that sense, when I say I'm "rooting" for the Yanks, I really just mean that I'm rooting for the Phillies to lose. I watched maybe a few innings of the 1999 World Series and will likely watch even less this year. Is this all making me sound like a very bitter person? Yes indeed. But like it or not, the worst World Series of all time is upon us, and as much as it pains me to say it........ Yankees in 5.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Aren't.... Get It?

Where the Wild Things Are is a 339-word children's book that takes about five minutes to read. For decades it has captured the hearts and imaginations of children, while reminding crusty old adults exactly what it is like to be a kid themselves. I don't really have a childhood connection to the book, myself, but I've been excited about the movie adaptation ever since I first lay eyes on the amazing trailer, which was filled with magic and wonder and pathos that made me (and most people) very happy. I re-read the book at Barnes & Noble before heading to the IMAX theatre last night -- it once again tapped into the nine-year-old deep down inside (well, some might argue that in my case, it's not very deep at all... but that is neither here nor there) and I was fully prepared for the wild rumpus to start.

But... I'm sorry to say that as a 101-minute movie (the equivalent of reading the book about 20 times in a row), WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is bloated, plodding, painfully forced and stunningly boring at times. There are things to like here and there, but they are few and far between -- in the end, it just doesn't work.

I hesitate to put the full blame on Spike Jonze, a filmmaker in whose visions I have tremendous faith. I realize that the production was riddled with controversy and Warner Bros. hated his original cut and changes were made and who knows what else. Most likely, this was a project that was probably doomed to fail. That said, Jonze's talent for imagery and grasp of the bizarre are some of the few truly positive aspects of the film. He also successfully captures the tone of the book -- the opening scenes with Max and his wolf costume and his mother are particularly brilliant and, at first, seemed to justify the anticipation for this film. Max himself was pretty much perfect -- kind of a pain in the ass, but really, just a lonely kid with a vivid imagination trying to figure shit out.

But then Max embarks on his journey and discovers the Wild Things and from there we must endure a solid hour of superfluous padding that literally had me nodding off a couple of times. The exhilaration that Maurice Sendak accomplished in six wordless pages of rumpusing is never once matched. Sure, there's some tree-bashing, pile-sleeping, high-jumping, and fort-building... but it all happens very slowly and episodically and just feels forced.

Giving recognizable human voices to the Wild Things was a mistake, too. I was a little concerned about this from the get-go, but because the trailer was so great, I figured maybe it wouldn't matter. Well, it does. Visually, the Wild Things are cool -- I love that they decided to use people in costumes instead of full CGI -- and the digital eyes and mouths are seamless. But hearing the unmistakable voice of Tony Soprano is distracting (not to mention that it sounds like he was practically eating the microphone while recording the dialogue, but that is beside the point). Plus (and this may be the heart of the matter, which we should have known from the start), the whole point of the book is to stir a child's imagination -- and by giving distinct voices and personalities to the Wild Things, it strips the story of its very essence. Obviously, this had to be done in order to make a feature film -- and, well, therein lies your problem.

What I'm saying is, the movie is a failure that -- surprise, surprise -- never should have happened in the first place. Not the first time this has happened to a beloved story-turned-film, nor will it be the last -- but based on the level of anticipation that existed for this film, I have to consider it one of the bigger letdowns in recent memory. Damn shame. Certainly doesn't tarnish the book in any way, though... so hopefully future generations of children will continue to read it while the film collects dust in the $1.99 bins at Best Buy.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm sure the movie is raking in tons of cash as we speak and will be a huge financial success. Does this mean we can expect more adaptations of children's books in the near future? Probably. My #1 pick: CAPS FOR SALE, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the Peddler! "TSZ, TSZ, TSZ," indeed!

Friday, October 2, 2009


There's no easy way to describe A SERIOUS MAN, the Coen Brothers' latest masterwork. On one hand, it's vintage Coens, loaded with irreverance, zaniness, memorable supporting characters and a protagonist who stumbles into drama in spite of himself. But at the same time, it is shrouded in a darkness so intensely brutal that by the time it's over, you feel as though you've been repeatedly bludgeoned with a sledgehammer. It's hilarious but eminently disturbing -- indeed, most of the humor results from awkwardness, discomfort and sheer disbelief at what is transpiring. It's not exactly schadenfraude because you'll take no real pleasure in the misery that unfurls -- but you can't help but laugh... perhaps to keep from curling up into the fetal position and crying yourself to sleep.

It's the story of a Jewish family living in Minneapolis in 1967, loosely based on the Coens' own experiences. Larry Gopnik tries hard to be a good husband, father, brother, neighbor, physics professor and Jew, but no matter what he does, he can't seem to catch a break. After his horrible wife informs him that she's leaving him for a family friend, Larry stumbles into a series of escalating hardships. These hardships include, but are not limited to: Extortion by a Korean student... endlessly bickering kids... a leeching-but-well-meaning brother who spends most of his time in the bathroom draining a boil on his neck... a property dispute with a white-trash neighbor... lustful thoughts for the nude sunbathing housewife next door... maddeningly unhelpful rabbis... an ominous tenure hearing... non-stop Jewish guilt... it never ends. Some of these things are more serious and cause more stress than others, but everything that happens adds a little more fuel to the slow-building fire. Watching this movie is like watching a catastrophic multi-car pileup from above -- you see the first two cars collide, and then a couple more, and a couple more, and just when you think that the carnage has gotten as bad as it can possibly get... a tractor trailer comes along and brings with it a whole new level of chaos.

The performances are pretty much outstanding across the board. The cast is loaded with no-name talent, with a few character actors sprinkled in (kudos to my girlfriend, Rachel, for recognizing BOSTON PUBLIC's Fyvush Finkel as the Dybbuk in the prologue!). Michael Stuhlbarg is Oscar-worthy as Larry -- watching him try to keep it together as he endures debacle after debacle is as brutal as any horror movie I've ever seen. There are a few twists that are literally jaw-dropping and Stuhlbarg plays it all beautifully. Meanwhile, Fred Melamed makes the aforementioned family friend, the despicable, pretentious, manipulative Sy Ableman, one of the most reviled characters I've seen in a movie all year. Tremendous.

Oh, and the ending? All I can say is.................. wow.

It's funny that I should choose this movie for my first blog entry in almost two months (sorry about that, by the way... goddamn I'm lazy), because it really defies reviewing. Nothing I've written here, nor any other review I've read, can do it justice -- it has to be seen to be believed, and then discussed and mulled over for hours afterwards. Time will tell if it has the same longevity as other Coen Bros. classics -- but based on the fact that I am still reeling nearly 24 hours later, it's clearly the kind of film that sticks with you and stews in your brain long after the credits roll. I hereby anoint A SERIOUS MAN one of the Coens' best -- and, so far, one of the few absolute must-see movies of 2009. Seriously!