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Here’s a List of Movies Where I Walked Out….

Posted by on Apr 8, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 2 comments

 

 

Last night, I almost walked out of my first movie the year.

But morbid curiosity kept my ass parked in the seat and my eyes fixated on the screen.  This movie has to get better — I thought to myself.  It just has to.  So, I decided to stick it out until the very end.

Big mistake.  It didn’t get better.  It got worse.  Way worse.

The two lead characters kill themselves in the final scene.  They offed themselves by inhaling the poisonous exhaust fumes of a 1975 Winnebago.  No folks, I didn’t make this up.  Seriously.  That’s how the movie ended — two lifeless bodies charred like day-old brisket locked in a smoker.  Roll the credits!

Anyone up for some Lucille’s barbecue, afterward?  Never mind, doggie bags.  Two caskets, please.

Oh, and the movie was advertised as one of those light comedy-romance road trips supposedly filled with lots of wisdom and reflections of life.  Buckle up!  Start the engine!  Pure joy!

Man, I wish I’d walked out.

On average, I see about 20 to 25 movies per year in theaters which comes to one film every two weeks.  My walk-out frequency is about ten percent, which means I don’t fuck around, folks.  Yes, I storm out of 2 to 3 movies per year.  My departure rate would be much higher if I didn’t do some serious screening and filtering.  I do read critics reviews and tend to see movies on subjects that interest me.  I stay away from horror films and Adam Sandler movies, which for me is kinda’ the same thing.

Here’s a short list of ten well-known movies I remember walking out on.  Obviously, I’ve stormed out of many lesser-known (now forgotten) movies.  This list of ten movies includes some better-known and even widely popular films I couldn’t stomach until the end:

 

BIRD [1988] — This was Clint Eastwood’s pet project for many years and for him a departure from the usual westerns and crime dramas.  It’s an overly-long film biography based on the all-too-short life of jazz great Charlie Parker (a.k.a. “Bird”).  This sure sounds like a compelling story.  The soundtrack alone stacked with Parker’s original recordings and outtakes would seem to be more than enough to carry the film through to the end.  But I made it only about midway.  Every note is flat instead of sharp.  Parker sure loved his dope.  If he shared a few snorts, I might have lasted a bit longer.  Congrats, Bird — you were my first walk out.

 

LA DOLCE VITA [1960] — This Italian classic directed by Federico Fellini was made two years before I was born.  I saw it much later on at a retro-cinema which played nothing but old movies.  Wow.  What heaping pile of shit.  Yeah, sure.  I get all the cinematic breakthroughs film students woo about that were abundant throughout this film, and I sure love European period pieces from this era.  But holy spaghetti, couldn’t someone at least have written a decent script for starters?  Unsure if perhaps my earlier impression was wrong, I tried watching this again on television many years later (perhaps my tastes had changed, or perhaps I even matured — wishful thinking, indeed).  The second viewing, I didn’t make it as far as the first time.  Don’t ask me how La Dolce Vita ends.  I don’t know.  I don’t want to know.  I will never know.  I don’t care.  But if someone’s made it through to the end and can report it involves Winnebago exhaust fumes, please message me.  I’d be delighted to give it a third try.

 

STAR WARS [1999] — I forgot which Star Wars movie I hated.  Well, just about all of them.  But the one with Liam Neeson as a swordfighter with a giant man-bun where Natalie Portman plays a queen who looks like she has lip cancer was the worst of the worst.  I kinda’ liked the first Star Wars movie, but everything made since then has been horrible (I’ve only seen three films to be fair — realizing this franchise with spaceships, special effects, and grunting gorillas isn’t suited to my taste).  I made it through about an hour and 20 minutes of the Neeson-Portman Star Wars (Phantom Menace) but then gave up.  It was playing at the $1 movie.  I was tempted to ask for my buck back but the manager might have called the cops.  Damn place was packed with geeks, many apparently seeing the movie for the up-teenth time, hanging on every word from Portman’s lip melanoma.

 

LORD OF THE RINGS [2001] — I’m not into midgets, dancing ferries, and weird-looking old wise men with wild hair and long beards — although that last remark hits just a little too close to home.  I bought a ticket to the first Peter Jackson movie (I hear this was a trilogy — but all it took for me was ONE STRIKE, and I was OUT).  Beforehand, I was kicking and screaming and knew I’d hate it.  But hey, it won “Best Picture,” so everyone’s right and I must be wrong.  Well — I was right, again.  About 40 minutes into a parade of waddling midgets and doddering old people, I turned to Marieta (wife) and said, “fuck it….we’re out of here.”  She replied, “thank you!!!….I thought maybe it was just me.  Let’s fucking go!!!”  Great minds think alike.

 

MONSTER’S BALL [2001] — I had to see what all the hoopla was about surrounding Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning performance, even though from what I can tell she’s never made a decent movie — including this one.  At one point, Berry screws hillbilly hunk Billy Bob Thorton, who plays a redneck racist (I know, so hard to buy into the casting).  If the scene of Thorton banging Berry isn’t enough to make you squirm and storm out and head straight for a shower with a fresh bar of Lava, then nothing else will.  Afterward, I felt as though I’d overdosed on a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at a Ku Klux Klan rally.  Bwwwwwaaaaah.

 

NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE [2004] — Dumb as fuck.  I lost IQ points inside the theater.  Give me some credit, please.  I gave it the old college try.  I gave it my best shot.  The movie theater was packed with pimply 14-year-olds all giggling like schoolgirls high on paint fumes.  Looking back now, I think the scene of the suicidal Winnebago I witnessed last night was funnier than Napolean Dynamite.  Total dreck.   By the way, what happened to the actor who played the lead?  Did he do a McCaulay Culkin?  No one’s seen him sense.  So, perhaps the film wasn’t totally without redeeming qualities.

 

THE BLACK DAHLIA [2006] — Not exactly Brian De Palma’s best work.  Wish I had a Full Metal Jacket because after seeing this I sure felt like Scarface.  Pre-crazy Angelina Jolie stars in this movie about a true crime that happened in Los Angeles during the 1940’s.  Josh Hartnett co-starred.  Something about Josh Hartnett seriously creeps me out.  I can’t stand the guy.  Gawd, this movie sucked.  Lasted about 40 minutes and then split the cinematic crime scene.  De Palma should have been charged with pickpocketing in a mass class-action lawsuit for making this film.

 

CASINO ROYALE [2006] — I’ve seen just about all the James Bond films.  This marks the downfall, the turning point where the franchise turned sour for me, which wasn’t entirely Daniel Craig’s fault (though he desperately lacks the panache and humor of his predecessors).  Casino Royale was a dull remake of an earlier film that wasn’t very good to begin with.  The Bond franchise has since become an extended 2-hour commercial, a shameless succession of product placements and little more than an excuse to squeeze every last dollar out of a corpse of creativity.  Even the once-great villains in Bond movies are boring as fuck.  Producer Barbara Broccoli, who inherited this film dynasty from her late father should not be allowed anywhere near a movie studio unless she’s holding a garden hose.  And besides, the poker scenes were atrocious.

 

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY [2011] — Someone should have received an Oscar for somehow making writer-spymaster John le Carre so boring as to be utterly unwatchable.  I thought such a thing would have been impossible.  Hard to believe the great Gary Oldman couldn’t salvage this snoozefest that seemed to be shot through a cloudy camera lens that desperately needed a blast of Windex.  This might be dullest, slowest-moving, most pointless movie I’ve ever attempted to stick through.  I didn’t make it and surrendered to the Russians about an hour in.  So dull, it makes the thought of attending an insurance seminar instead seem like a wild sex orgy.

 

ANCHORMAN 2:  THE LEGEND CONTINUES [2013] — I blame myself entirely.  What in the hell was I thinking even remotely considering this would be something I’d enjoy?  It can’t really be that bad, can it?  Well, yeah — it was that bad.  Holy shit — what an awful movie.  A painful experience.  Makes Mall Cop seem like Serpico.  Of course, defying all human decency, Anchorman and Anchorman 2 earned millions at the box office and they’ll probably make a dozen more.  The official title of this excruciating exercise in filmmaking is “The Legend Continues.”  Please, dear god.  Don’t let this legend continue.  Makes Police Academy 6 look like Vertigo.

  ______

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Like Minded People

Posted by on Apr 1, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 1 comment

 

 

What does it mean on social media to click the “like” button?  Liking something may not always mean what you think.

 

Everyone wants to be liked.

On social media, likes are the metric used to measure popularity.  Likes are an affirmation of mass approval.  Admit it — we’ve all checked to see if someone liked our posts.  When you see a dozen likes, it feels pretty good.  When you see zero likes, it kinda’ hurts.  Social media has become a coterie of high school cheerleaders.

So what exactly does it mean when we like a tweet on Twitter or like a post on Facebook?  Are we agreeing with the content?  Are we praising the person who tweeted or posted?  Or, are we simply saying — I find this post pleasing, amusing, interesting, or comforting?

This isn’t rocket science.  I think most can agree on a common definition;  To like something means “thumbs up” to the poster and the content.

The last few days, I’ve engaged in a few private conversations through Facebook chat about my liking of various posts.  I’ll keep the names and specifics out of this discussion because they’re irrelevant.  Let’s just say I liked one post which contained a strong religious narrative.  I liked another post which contained a political statement that I believe is wrong, but which nonetheless I found to be both crafty and provocative.  One person messaged me alarmed that my Facebook account had been hacked.

Since my Atheism and Leftism are pretty much a matter of public record, why would I ever like a post by a Christian proselytizing biblical scripture, or like a statement by a Trump supporter?  Such actions do seem odd for someone so passionate and seemingly set in his ways.  Isn’t liking the post an “affirmation of approval,” as I suggested earlier?

Not necessarily.  I like just about any post — indeed, anything I read — which is thoughtful.  I especially like posts where a friend, an associate, or even someone unknown to me appears have taken considerable time to prepare and then share an opinion.  I like people who think and are willing to pressure test their ideas within our town square known as social media.  Contrast this with re-posting memes, which are typically antithetical to honest discussion and debate.  Re-posting memes are for lazy people who are unwilling to do their own thinking.  I wish there was a DON’T LIKE button for memes.  I’d pound the hell out of it.

So, why would I ever like a pro-Christian or pro-Trump post?  The reason is simple.  If someone takes the time to post a comment about a topic I introduced, particularly if that comment is original and thought-provoking, I say that post deserves my respect.  Hence, that’s what the like button is for.

Unfortunately, I think way too many of us now use likes as stripes on a sergeant’s sleeve.  We divide ourselves into camps which have become more like bunkers.  Likes are weapons to be used sparingly.   We reserve our ration of likes for what our allies post.  Given the lack of a scoreboard, most arguments come down to — the post with the most likes wins.

In these often combative times on social media, one way to encourage more civility is to break away from our comfort zones and echo chambers.  Sure, it’s not easy.  We feel safer among our tribe.  Still, I increasingly try to search for common ground with adversaries whom I disagree with on issues (admittedly, some instances are futile).  Finding common ground can be a mutual beachhead where everyone wins.  Perhaps the other person will increasingly come to see things my way.  There’s also the very real possibility that I might change my mind about an issue if provided with enough evidence.

The bottom line is — it’s okay to like someone with an opposite persuasion.  It’s also okay to like their counterargument even if we disagree.  We need to start liking far more people who are smart, engaging, and open-minded — and start ignoring people who are dumb, divisive, and close-minded.

Now, can I please get a few likes?  Otherwise, I’m going to be devastated.

_____

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Are the Family Members of Politicians Fair Game for Criticism?

Posted by on Mar 30, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

 

 

Yesterday, the husband of Trump Administration spokesperson Kellanne Conway was caught deleting a series of personal tweets that were highly critical of the president.

My question is — why?

Why did Mr. Conway feel any need to delete something he believes?  Furthermore, why was this newsworthy?  Mr. Conway isn’t running for anything.  He holds no position inside the Trump Administration.  He’s a private citizen.

Doesn’t every individual have the right to an opinion and the freedom to express it?  If Kellyanne Conway’s husband tweeted out that President Trump acts like a chimpanzee, why does it matter?  His personal comments are no reflection on her.  It’s only a reflection on him and an honest expression of opinion.

I’m baffled as to why family members of politicians should be required to fall in iron lockstep with orthodoxy.  Does anyone really expect each family member of every elected official to agree 100 percent of the time on all the issues?  If that’s the case, then that’s not a marriage.  It’s blind servitude.

Politicians will say what they say and do what they do.  But the many wives, husbands, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers of those who run for high office should never be expected to subjugate themselves nor hide their views.

My opinion on this is non-partisan.  It doesn’t matter which family member of what politician belonging to whichever party is expressing an opinion.  Everyone should be entitled to their views.  Moreover, no action, no embarrassment, and no arrest should negatively reflect on the politician.  When President George W. Bush’s twin daughters were caught drinking while underage in the midst of his presidency, that shouldn’t have been newsworthy.  They were typical 19-year-old girls doing what most college students do.  Leave them alone.

Many years ago, actress Elizabeth Taylor was married to Sen. John Warner, a Republican from Virginia.  Taylor was widely criticized when she broke ranks with her husband and announced during a campaign interview that she was pro-choice on abortion.  She still loved and fully supported Sen. Warner.  She even campaigned at his side.  But the couple had an honest difference of opinion on that issue.  So what?  Taylor managed to deflect the criticism because, well — she was Liz Taylor.  The family members of most candidates and family members aren’t quite as lucky.  They’re muzzled.

I think it’s terribly unfair to attack the family members of most politicians.  This especially applies to the way they look.  Perhaps the most unfortunate recent instance of a family member who faced constant ridicule for her physical appearance was Chelsea Clinton.  If Chelsea had been anyone else but the first daughter of two controversial political leaders, she wouldn’t have attracted a second glance nor even a mention.  But since she was a Clinton, Chelsea even as a child became an inviting target.  I find resorting to such depths disgraceful.

What about the current administration?  What about President Trump’s kids?  What about his wife?  What about his ex-wives?  Are they fair game?

It all depends.  President Trump has appointed at least two of his immediate family members — daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared — to be advisors and adjunct diplomatic envoys.  Both have offices inside the White House.  Both have voluntarily assumed various responsibilities of leadership within the administration.  Hence, both became fair game.

What about more personal stuff?  Should Ivanka have been asked about her daddy’s dirty deeds as she was in an interview a few weeks ago when his serial peccadillos came up during a televised media appearance?  Absolutely.  She’s fair game because she’s a high-profile advocate for her father.

Trump’s two sons — Donald Jr., and Eric — are also fair game.  Why?  Both Trump sons have openly tweeted many times and frequently spoken out in the media on serious political matters, especially relating to their abrasive father.  They’ve also launched public attacks against critics and have even spoken at political rallies.  Even more pertinent — there’s clear evidence both are profiting handsomely from their cozy business relationships which are tied to their obvious association with the White House.  Both are completely fair game.

First Lady Melania Trump is a much tougher question to ponder.  Surely, grace and even some latitude should be extended to the person who’s married to the president.  Traditionally, first ladies have been expected to assume a certain role, and willingly become a servant.  Were she to face cameras and be interviewed, I’m not sure there’s any rationale for Melania to be asked about such a private matter.  Unlike Ivanka and Jared who are globetrotting the world willingly advancing the Trump agenda, Melania seems much less linked to policy.  That said, her “anti-bullying” campaign does seem ironic given the attack dog nature of her husband.

It’s hard to remember the last independent and outspoken first lady who deviated in any meaningful way from the president’s platform.  Betty Ford comes to mind on the Equal Rights Amendment, which was a hot topic during the mid-1970’s (President Gerald Ford was against the ERA).  But she didn’t stay in the White House for long (just two years) and became far better known for her advocacy of addiction issues after the Fords left the White House.

It seems at least two close Trump Family members deserve to be excluded from public criticism, and even matters of mass speculation — what’s often referred to in the media as “palace intrigue.”  According to my knowledge, daughter Tiffany Trump has kept her distance from all the turmoil.  She hasn’t given any interviews nor expressed her opinions on social media.  It seems terribly unfair to lump her in with political activism and thus subject her to criticism.  Secretly, she may harbor some serious concerns about the harm her father is doing to the country.  Who knows?  I say, leave her alone.

Barron, Trump’s 12-year-old son, also deserves a pass for no other reason than he’s way too young for scrutiny and shouldn’t be subject to the same spotlight as his older brothers.  During the 2016 presidential campaign, I found speculation about Barron’s mental capabilities to be quite disgusting.  Perhaps Barron will turn out as bad as his dad.  Then, maybe he’ll take another route in life.  But please — let’s give the kid a chance.

Sadly, President Obama’s immediate family was viciously attacked, especially by the far-Right.  Obama’s two daughters — Sasha and Malia — appeared to be excellent students and model children.  But that didn’t stop the racial slurs.  The ceaseless barrage of stomach-turning comments about the first family went on for eight years.  It was despicable.

Which brings me back to Mr. Conway, who made those nasty tweets about President Trump.  I say, leave him alone.  And let Kellyanne Conway do her job without being queried about her husband’s views.

It’s time we allow all individuals to express their personal views without regard to their last name and who they’re related to.  It’s also past time we leave those alone who, for whatever reason, choose not to be involved politically.

_____

 

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My Ten Favorite Baseball Movies

Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 1 comment

 

 

Baseball season starts today.

I’m not much of a baseball fan, that is, except when I gamble on the games.  Then, I become a fanatic.  I don’t have a favorite team.  I cheer for whichever team I bet on.

Baseball is strange.  Unlike football, baseball doesn’t come across particularly well on television.  Yet for reasons I can’t explain, baseball is far superior when it comes to being the subject of movies.  At least a dozen outstanding baseball movies and documentaries instantly come to mind, which you’ll read about shortly.  Meanwhile, I struggle to come up with even a single great movie about football.  Or, basketball.  Or, most other sports.  Go figure.

What follows are my all-time favorite movies about baseball.

First, let’s begin with my four “Honorable Mentions.”  This means movies well worth seeing, but didn’t quite round all the bases and crack my top ten list:

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Mantle (2005)

Mickey Mantle carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders.  He was the most popular athlete in America on the most storied franchise in sports history during an era when the country was at the height of its world power when nothing seemed impossible.  Mantle’s towering home runs and infectious “aw-shucks” attitude masked deeply hidden insecurities.  He played hard on the field and then partied much harder off of it.  Was Mantle, as some insist, a tragic hero?  That’s for us to decide in this mesmerizing film directed by George Roy, who produced several other terrific sports documentaries.  Mantle steadfastly refuses to lionize the ex-New York Yankee great.  Instead, this gripping hour-long biography from HBO Films provides an honest and revealing portrait of a shy country boy from rural Oklahoma who made it big in New York City and then slowly threw it all away one drink at a time.  His story passionately told through surviving family members and several notable celebrities who grew up worshipping “the Mick.”  The final scenes of a once-great Mantle reduced to a broken man overwhelmed with grief and consumed by regret is heartbreaking.  “You talk about a role model….,” Mantle tearfully says during his dying final hours.  “….Yeah, I’m a role model — don’t be like me.”  This documentary can be watched in its entirety HERE.

 

A League of Their Own (1992)

Penny Marshall directed this fun caper about an all-ladies baseball team based on a real pro baseball league for women which existed during the 1940’s.  Buoyed by a terrific script, an outstanding musical soundtrack, and excellent performances throughout from an all-star cast, A League of Their Own has become one of the most successful baseball movies of all time — both at the box office and by critical acclaim.  Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Jon Lovitz, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall, and Bill Pullman are each perfectly cast in a movie that will leave you laughing and cheering in equal measure.  See the movie trailer — HERE.

 

Sugar (2008)

For every multi-million dollar earning superstar who makes it big in the majors, unnamed thousands do not.  Failing to make it as a pro is a tough reality for anyone to face.  But it’s even more of a devastation to ballplayers born in the Caribbean, for which baseball has become one of the only exits out of a life of poverty.  Over many decades, a vast number of “immigrant athletes” arrived in America dreaming of success.  Each young man carried the longshot hopes of their families back at home.  Most struggled in the minor leagues for a few years before eventually being cut by management.  They return to the barren sandlots where the seeds of ambition first took to bloom and fade into oblivion.  Sugar is a little-known movie (mostly in Spanish with English subtitles) about a once-gifted pitcher from the Dominican Republic.  He’s determined to use his left arm and a wicked curveball to lift himself and his family out of the slums of Santo Domingo.  He dreams of buying a Cadillac with his first paycheck.  Then, upon arrival in the Midwest, reality sets in.  Trapped in a foreign land, riding buses between ball fields, and lacking the language skills that might offer other alternatives, Sugar increasingly feels isolation and loneliness.  The stress of making it to the majors and signing the big contract that can alter the lives of loved ones back at home is slowly corroded by the ticking time clock on every young ballplayer, leading to the depressing self-realization that for most people, dreams don’t come true.  If this movie sounds sad, well it is sad — in parts.  But it’s also surprisingly uplifting.  I’ll leave it at that and let the suspense linger.  Watch the movie trailer HERE.

 

Brooklyn Dodgers:  The Ghosts of Flatbush (2007)

No team meant more to the people of a place than the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Ghosts of Flatbush is the true story not just of a baseball team, but of neighborhoods otherwise segregated by race, class, ethnicity, and religion — which all unite as one community to cheer on the beloved team at Ebbets Field.  This documentary does a terrific job explaining why the so-called Brooklyn “bums” were such an integral part of so many people’s lives.  Oddly, the Dodgers weren’t popular because they were winners.  To the contrary, the club struggled for a half-century — in glaring juxtaposition to their two snobby rivals across the East River — the glorious dynasty known as the Yankees up in the Bronx and the deep-rooted Giants who played in uptown Manhattan.  Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue may have been just a subway ride away from Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, but the working-class team and its loyal fans might as well have been from a different city on the other side of the planet.  We learn why the great Jackie Robinson was such a transformative historical figure, not just in sports as the first Black man to break baseball’s longstanding color barrier, but as an icon for American culture.  After spending decades near the bottom of the standings, by 1947 (Robinson’s first year) the Dodgers were every bit as talented as the hated Yankees.  Then, just when Brooklyn finally beats the Yankees in the World Series for the first time which sends Flatbush into a frenzy, it all vanishes.  The Dodgers break millions of hearts by packing up and moving to Los Angeles.  The move wasn’t just a devastating blow to fans.  The club’s abandonment came to symbolize an economic shift and cultural sunset on Brooklyn that plagued the borough for the next half-century.  The full two-hour movie can be seen HERE.

______

Now, here’s my top ten countdown:

TOP TEN:

[10]  Major League (1989)

Before Charlie Sheen went cocaine crazy, he starred in some really good movies — most notably Wall Street.  However, Sheen is better known for playing “Wild Thing,” the erratic pitcher in the romp camp comedy Major League.  Never to be taken too seriously, this fun movie features a rogue team of misfits who play for baseball’s perennial laughingstock (at the time) — the last-place Cleveland Indians.  Comprised of by an ideal cast — including  Tom Berenger, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, and Corbin Benson — Major League became an instant crowd-pleaser and grossed millions at the box office.  Unfortunately, that massive success led to two awful sequels which followed.  But later misfires don’t detract from our enjoyment of the original.  Watch the movie trailer HERE.

 

[9]  Bull Durham (1988)

I’ve heard several movie buffs insist Bull Durham is a woman’s movie.  Are we allowed to say “Chick Flick?”  I’m not sure about that.  Writer-director Ronald Shelton based his film on real-life experiences when he was playing minor league baseball years earlier for the Durham Bulls (hence, the film’s unusual title).  Susan Sarandon is caught in a love triangle between a rising baseball star (played by Tim Robbins) who is destined for the major leagues versus a fading has-been who’s aging fast and likely in the last months of his final season (played by Kevin Kostner).  Bull Durham successfully blends drama, romance, baseball, and comedy into a film that’s established a lasting legacy with movie audiences.  It’s often ranked among the best sports movies ever made.  I don’t rate it quite so high, but it’s certainly a well-crafted film carried by excellent performances throughout.  Bull Durham’s trailer can be seen HERE.

 

[8]  Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

One year before Robert De Niro was cast in his breakthrough Academy-Award winning role in The Godfather: Part II, he played a struggling major league catcher with diminished mental capabilities.  Adding to the challenges of trying to be a regular guy on the team and fit normally into society, he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness during a midseason pennant race.  Fearful that his disease will create even more problems and quite possibly trigger a release from the team, with the help of his best friend (a pitcher played by Michael Moriarity), the duo tries to keep the catcher’s terminal illness a secret.  Based on a book of the same title written 15 years earlier, Bang the Drum Slowly is sometimes referred to as baseball’s Brian’s Song.  This mostly-forgotten film often gets overlooked in the broader pantheon of great sports movies.  But it certainly merits a place.  The chemistry between catcher De Niro and Moriarity, along with club manager Vincent Gardenia is often deeply moving.  There are scenes which stick with me to this day, decades after seeing the movie.  The film’s credibility is enhanced by being shot on location at old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium during midseason while the respective pro teams were away on road trips.  From the empty beer cups littering the outfield to the towels laying all over the locker room, everything looks and feels very real.  This isn’t really a romanticized story about baseball.  This isn’t a story about illness and death.  It’s the story of friendship and the power of the human spirit.   Watch the film trailer HERE.

 

[7]  Eight Men Out (1988)

What really happened with the ill-fated 1919 Chicago White Sox?  They were a great team which intentionally lost the baseball World Series to satisfy personal grievances with their tight-fisted owner and collect bribes from shady gamblers determined to bet on the fix.  Why they did it and which specific players were involved and to what degree is one of the worst scandals in sports history remains a subject of lively speculation nearly a century later.  This movie won’t reveal any hidden secrets, nor solve lingering mysteries.  Still, Eight Men Out remains a thoroughly entertaining account of what made eight players on the very best team in baseball abandon their desire to win a championship in exchange for revenge and profit.  Critical reception to this film was (and is) mixed, and I can appreciate both sides.  Non-baseball fans may be underwhelmed by the story of corrupt ballplayers who were kicked out of the game and were given lifetime bans from baseball as a fitting punishment.  Yet, most hard-core baseball fans love this film and many sympathize with the players as victims.  As the umpire, my ruling is — Eight Men Out is a broken-bat lead-off stand-up triple.  The official trailer can be seen HERE.

 

[6]  The Natural (1984)

Every boy dreams at least once about being Roy Hobbs; stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th; glaring at a mighty fastball; taking a backbreaking swing; then cracking a game-winning home run out of the park into the upper deck light towers.  It’s the stuff boyhood dreams are made of.  Director Barry Levinson completely understood this fantasy.  Accordingly, he crafted one of the greatest baseball movies ever — The Natural.  Robert Redford plays the aging ballplayer Hobbs with a mysterious past.  Glenn Close plays his long-lost love interest and muse.  Audiences will also recognize the rest of a stellar cast — which includes Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, Darren McGavin, and Michael Madsen.  However, the dramatic film score by the great songwriter-composer Randy Newman steals the film.  Combined with mystifying visuals in the hands of a masterful filmmaker like Levinson, this makes for a cinematic grand slam.  When old-fashioned filmgoers complain they don’t make movies like they used to — what they likely miss are movies like The Natural.  This film is a throwback to a time when honesty, integrity, and a person’s character mattered most and baseball was looked to as the kettle of those noble virtues.  Watch the final dramatic home run smash HERE.

 

[5]  Ken Burns:  Baseball (1994)

Measured either by ambition or sheer volume, filmmaker Ken Burns’ nine-part film masterpiece on the history of baseball might convincingly be argued as the best movie of its kind ever made on the subject (I considered placing this artistic gem as my #1).  I wasn’t sure it was fair to compare documentaries alongside mostly fictionalized stories, which comprise most of this list.  But then I realized leaving them out would be a grave injustice.  Ken Burns:  Baseball originally aired on PBS back in 1994 over a two-week stretch.  It became one of the most watched public television programs ever.  Nearly 25 years later, it continues to stand the test of time.  Baseball was a daring follow-up to Burns’ epic breakthrough documentary series on the American Civil War which had been completed a few years earlier.  Taking on something so sacred as “the national pastime” seemed an impossible reach.  However, Burns stepped up to the plate and whacked our most lofty expectations out of the park.  This film isn’t just about baseball.  It’s really the story of American culture’s coming of age during the 20th century, manifested in its most popular sport — baseball.  Unapologetically patriotic, informative, riveting, inspirational, and downright poetic in parts, this is the quintessential duel-purpose documentary which somehow satisfies both general movie audiences and academic purists.  Burn’s storytelling techniques influenced a whole genre of documentaries for decades to follow, which remain with us to this day.  This opening monologue, running about three minutes long, is absolutely brilliant.  Watch HERE and see if you agree.

 

[4]  Pride of the Yankees (1942)

What’s not to love and admire about the heroic story of the great Lou Gehrig, played by movie legend Gary Cooper?  One year to the day before the film’s release, the ex-New York Yankee great died tragically from ALS, a dreaded and debilitating disease which not only took Lou Gehrig’s life but also his name.  Gehrig is aptly idolized in Pride of the Yankees, which became the first great sports movie.  It received ten Oscar nominations (more than any other film on my list).  His relationships with family, teammates, and fans are sentimentalized in a way that likely wouldn’t be believed today.  It might even seem a bit hokey.  But back then, Americans badly needed something to cheer for.  America desperately needed heroes in those dark months after the attack on Pearl Harbor when the outbreak of the war wasn’t going well for the U.S. and its allies and the future of the world seemed in peril.  Even in death, Gehrig was a lighthouse of life, exhibiting class and dignity until the very end.  With hundreds of thousands of servicemen about to be shipped off to battles in the Pacific, the Atlantic, Europe, and North Africa Pride of the Yankees was a reminder of just what exactly they all were fighting for.  I really liked this musical montage with clips from the movie — check it out HERE.

 

[3]  Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball has the added intrigue of being a true story.  Brad Pitt plays the role of Billy Beane, the former real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics during a time when baseball’s playing field wasn’t level.  Teams with fewer resources and small payrolls simply couldn’t compete with the far-richer mammoth franchises.  Facing financial and competitive disadvantages, Beane (aided by a colleague perfectly portrayed by Jonah Hill) came up with an unorthodox idea that came to revolutionize baseball and later other sports too, focusing almost exclusively on the use of analytics.  The book of the same title effectively explains the technical minutiae.  But how does a movie intended to appeal to mass audiences make data-driven decisions in cramped offices seem interesting?  Answer:  Call in Aaron Sorkin to write the script.  As is typical with most of Sorkin’s work, Moneyball’s snappy dialogue becomes almost rhythmic.  Somehow, we begin to understand why spreadsheets create singles.  It’s not bats that put curveballs down the third-base line.  It’s calculations and percentages.  Still, the purists continued to have their doubts.  Even Beane begins to doubt himself and questions his own system.  Then during the middle of 2002 regular season — lacking anyone on the roster who even remotely might be considered a superstar — Oakland goes on a 19-game winning streak, tying the American League record for most consecutive victories.  Soon thereafter, every team in baseball wants to hire Beane.  Even clubs that don’t offer contracts adapt his brilliant use of sabermetrics.  Hence, baseball is a game changed forever.  Unlike most of the other films on this list, there’s little sentimentality to Moneyball.  It’s very likely the most accurate portrayal of what the game is today.  See the trailer HERE.

 

[2]  Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams has become so mythologized as a cinematic fairy tale that its most famous quote “If you build it, they will come” is now the motto of every believer carrying a dream.  The film has come to symbolize the virtues of sticking with one’s own faith even when there’s compelling evidence to the contrary.  Believe in yourself even with others may not.  Kevin Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer with a wife and daughter.  However, these are tough economic times in the American heartland.  Costner’s family appears to have run out of options.  Their crisis is worsened by a crazy idea inspired by a vision one evening, a voice from the sky which instructs Costner’s character to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield.  The film seems preposterously implausible on the surface but somehow convinces us all that our subconscious gut instincts are both real and should even be pursued.  Field of Dreams is made all the better by strong supporting roles played by Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster (in what most fittingly was his final film appearance).  It’s hard to convey the mesmerizing quality of this film without seeing it.  Many critics consider it the best baseball movie ever made.  Hard to disagree.  But I think there’s one film that’s even better.  Watch the official trailer HERE.

 

[1]  The Bad News Bears (1976)

If there’s one film which perfectly captures the times in which it was made, it’s the 1976 baseball classic, The Bad News Bears.  It’s cynical.  It’s profane.  It’s joyous.  It’s a double-barrelled middle finger to the establishment.  A scathing takedown of suburban American life in all its competitive-infested hypocrisies, the misfit Bears take a flamethrower and incinerate every common societal expectation.  Against all odds, each individual, by working together as a team, manages to create his and her own self-identity.  Incited by a heretical set of values preached but rarely followed, the film manages to incriminate what we normally define as success.

Walter Matthau plays an alcoholic loser and emotionally distant loner tasked with the undesirable role no one else wants — managing a last-place little league baseball team that’s terrible.  The Bad News Bears works completely because it treats the kids (all ballplayers) as real people worthy of respect, instead of cute muppet-like caricatures often portrayed in similar movies.  It’s hard to appreciate just how scandalous the anti-PC script and characters were 42 years ago when this movie was released.  Yet instead of a movie degraded by bratty kids cursing gratuitously and even being subject to several instances of emotional abuse, what we see instead is the very first movie which shows how most kids growing up in America really talk and behave.  Rolling Stone wrote in its review:  “These pre-teens are unwashed, obnoxious, cynical, fractious, gleefully profane, unrepentantly juvenile, and deeply untrusting of any sort of authority — in other words, just like the kids you probably played team sports with.”

There numerous metaphors throughout the film — some obvious, others more subtle — intended as a stinging social commentary.  Yet oddly enough, The Bad News Bears is still often classified as a kids’ movie, when it’s really a blistering revelation of misbehaving adults.  The movie also has an unusual and little-known connection to Field of Dreams — Burt Lancaster’s last movie.  His son, Bill Lancaster wrote the script for The Bad News Bears.  It’s often been said that baseball’s history is the story of America.  If so, then this the chapter where we’re all forced to gaze into the mirror and decide whether or not we like what we see.

By the way, Chico’s Bail Bonds (which really did sponsor the team and branded the Bears’ uniforms) is a real company based in the San Fernando Valley, where the movie was shot on location.

WATCH MORE HERE:  Here’s a one-minute clip which highlights the majesty of this movie.

SEE MORE HERE:  Watch this 3-minute clip of a film critic who explains more about the genius of The Bad News Bears.

Note:  Do not be confused by the horrid 2005 remake of this movie, starring Billy Bob  Thorton, which is unwatchable.  Also, skip the two sequels missing Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal.

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Finally, if you’d like to see what movies didn’t get on base, here’s a link to the IMDB WEBSITE PAGE with a nearly-complete list of all the films made about baseball.

Follow the discussion about this article on FACEBOOK HERE:

 

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Las Vegas is the New Mall of America

Posted by on Mar 27, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 1 comment

 

 

Given a national tidal wave of retailer bankruptcies and thousands of store closures, why does the Las Vegas Strip defy all odds and increasingly look like the new Mall of America?

 

Las Vegas used to be called “Sin City.”

Now, it’s “Shopping City.”

The iconic decorative fountains outside in front of Caesars Palace are now obscured by a pop-up retail store hawking Samsung smartphones.  The pirate ship at Treasure Island has been torn down and hauled away, replaced by a lousy barbecue joint with a mechanical bull.  Every casino along Las Vegas Boulevard has a shopping mall or is connected to a shopping mall.

Indeed, everywhere you look up and down The Strip, there’s a trendy retail store or chain restaurant.  Sales pests leap out of nowhere, begging to clean your jewelry or talk you into a miracle skin cream.  Shopping has become so pervasive that it’s become increasingly difficult to find the way into a casino amidst a disorienting maze of overpriced clothing stores, perfume shops, gourmet burger bars, and kiosks selling junk knick-knacks that nobody needs.  Playing cards used to symbolize the Las Vegas experience.  Now, it’s credit cards.

Even off The Strip, several so-called “outlet malls” packed with hundreds of retail stores cater almost exclusively to tourists.  Near downtown, there’s a giant complex called Premium Outlets (which just announced plans to start charging to park, begging the question — who pays for parking just to shop?).  South of Mandalay Bay, there’s an even bigger shopping outlet known as Town Square.  Just south of that mall is another outlet mall named Las Vegas South Premium Outlets.  Parking is still free there, at least for now.

Even the swarms of visitors who drive into Las Vegas from the west can’t escape the shopping craze.  What’s the first thing you see when crossing the California-Nevada border?  Not a casino.  Answer:  The Primm Outlet Mall.  Who in the hell drives four hours from Los Angeles across the desert to swerve into Nordstrom Rack?  Hmm, I guess there are no stores left in California.

Las Vegas doesn’t need Gamblers Anonymous.  We need Shoppers Anonymous.

What’s truly baffling is this trend defies absolutely everything that’s happening across the rest of America.  Retailers just about everywhere are in very serious trouble.  More than 10,000 stores affiliated with national chains closed down last year.  Retail bankruptcies are at an all-time high.  More than 50 retailers have gone out of business just within the last year.

Toys R Us is bankrupt.  Perfumania is bankrupt.  Rue21 is bankrupt.  Payless Shoes bankrupt. RadioShack is bankrupt.   The Limited is bankrupt.  Gymboree is bankrupt.  Vitamin World is bankrupt.  Aerosoles is bankrupt.  Styles for Less is bankrupt.  That’s the short list.  READ MORE

K-Mart is about to be bankrupt.   Sears is about to be bankrupt.  JC Penny is about to be bankrupt.  SteinMart is about to be bankrupt.   Burlington is about to be bankrupt.  Men’s Warehouse is about to be bankrupt.  Joseph A. Bank is about to be bankrupt.  That’s another short list.  READ MORE

These are even worse times for shopping malls.  They simply aren’t being built anymore.  Not with Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, and other retail giants offering far better value and easier convenience.  Who wants to visit a mall and walk three miles to grab a few things when one megastore offers the same thing at a cheaper price — plus a hot dog and drink lunch for $1.50?

Of course, the real culprit in the demise of malls and retail stores is online shopping, and more specifically the explosion of Amazon.  E-shopping has revolutionized consumer culture.  It’s far easier to find the perfect replacement part or the ideal sweater on a home laptop and then have it delivered to our doorstep.  No doubt, Amazon will continue cutting into the market share of brick and mortar retailers, which will increasingly find themselves following K-Mart into bankruptcy court.

So, given what’s happening everyplace else, why is Las Vegas such a mystifying exception?  It makes no sense.  It defies all logic.

Clearly, these retail stores on The Strip don’t offer any bargains.  The prices for goods and services are usually much higher in casino malls than back at home.  Sure, tourists will buy t-shirts and souvenirs.  That’s to be expected.  But who flies to Las Vegas on their vacation to purchase a smartphone?  Or, a bottle of perfume?  Or, a pair of pants?  Or, a pair of sneakers?  Or, any of the other millions of products for sale at a considerable markup?

One plausible theory is that most Las Vegas visitors expect to lose money.  Hence, rather than blowing $1,200 at a craps table as the tourists used to do, by splurging on an $800 iPhone and $400 handbag instead, at least there’s something left to show for the act of self-indulgence.

Still, I can’t shake the undeniable fact that at least some (albeit small) percentage of gamblers depart the casino with more money than they started with.  A very tiny number might even get rich.  But everyone who walks into a shopping mall and then buys something loses money.

Why is Las Vegas so different when it comes to retail shopping?  I can’t explain it.

Thoughts and feedback are welcome.

 

Correction / Update:  I’ve been informed the Samsung store at Caesars is now gone.   So, don’t rush there to buy the new Galaxy S9.

 

 

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