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bull durham. [another day, another baseball movie.]

“Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?”

“Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live … is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. That about right? We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”

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You don’t have to know me that well before you realize I’m not one to speak in absolutes, especially when it comes to cinema. I’ll praise the things I love, I’ll critique the stuff I don’t – so long as it’s in the right context – but I’m allergic to any claims that make our experience of the the world narrower. Five greatest this and ten worst that is bullshit clickbait, not a way to engage film — or life for that matter. People can continue to ask me for my five favorite movies until the end of time [it happens constantly], but I will never give a straight answer. The parameters of the question are nonsense.

And yet, while I live my whole life by the creed above, I have absolutely no problem saying that Bull Durham is the greatest movie that will ever be made about baseball. It’s the exception that proves the rule.

Bull Durham is one of those rare instances where a story embodies the essence of what it depicts. The movie isn’t about baseball, it is baseball. It reverberates with the same heartbeat you’ll hear deep down – if you can tune out all the extra bullshit – at the core of the game.

Bull Durham reveals that baseball is more than a sport, it’s a religion. The faithful worship a deity that is romantic and holy, but unvarnished, profane, and steeped in the ordinary dailiness of life. The articles of faith demand a streak of irreverence in the devotions of the faithful.

It should come as no surprise that it was written and directed by a man who played minor league ball for five years — not some casual layperson or weekend warrior, but a true believer, properly initiated into the faith.

Players are among the faithful, many as devout as the impassioned supplicant of any other god. After all, religion is humanity’s attempt at finding some level of agency and order in a chaotic universe. You can’t control droughts, plagues, natural disasters, or the mystery of death, but maybe you can negotiate with the higher powers who can. Which is what makes it a direct analogue to baseball.

More than in any other sport, a ballplayer isn’t in control of the outcome of their actions. The variables in baseball are crueler. A perfectly executed pitch can result in a weak, broken bat single that finds a hole, driving in runs or breaking up a no-hitter. The hardest hit ball all day may become just another zero in the box score. It’s why ballplayers are by far the most superstitious athletes in the world. The game, like life, isn’t fair. It’s a game of hanging breaking balls and missing your pitch; not a game of inches, but fractions of an inch. On every single pitch, a slight, barely perceptible tilt in angle separates success from failure. Greatness and mediocrity are separated by a razor’s edge.

Crash Davis — philosopher, poet, and career minor leaguer — explains: “You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, OK? There’s six months in a season. That’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

Playing a game like that for a living, it’s understandable one would seek the rituals and offerings that might appease the gods.*

And if baseball is a religion, Crash Davis is high priest. Nuke Laloosh** may be a force of nature, an insane talent, but he may pitch an entire, bright but relatively brief career without ever truly understanding the game. But Crash pours over the minutia in order to read the meaning – quite literally – between the lines. He lives and breathes the game, putting in the work everyday well after it’s clear that those twenty-one days in the show are all he’s ever going to get.

But Bull Durham isn’t just a hymn to the players who understand the true holiness of the game, it’s just as much a hymn to the zealots, the happy few whose love of the game defies the boundaries of reason. There are plenty of baseball fans, even rabid fans of their clubs, who remain reasonable in their reverence. Perfectly ordinary folk. And then there’s the sort whose devotion runs deeper than that, to a degree that looks ridiculous to those outside the fold. It gets to the point where our belief is barely metaphorical anymore. Deep down, we almost believe that baseball is a key to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Annie and Crash reflect this faith back to us. And like us, they see the world differently than most. It’s no coincidence that Shelton has written both of these characters as philosophers pondering the mysteries of the universe, as readers of fiction and poetry who speak in grand romantic metaphors. That’s the sort of soul most likely to fall this deeply in love with the game. You’d be hard-pressed to find this particular brand of disciple who wasn’t. [That is by no means meant to discredit other lovers of the game, those who hold a deep and abiding affection that never reaches this degree of absurdity.]

You can definitely enjoy Bull Durham as a great film, even if you don’t care about baseball. It’s a well written, well-crafted film, populated with lovable (now iconic) characters, and immensely quotable dialogue. It’s sharp, well paced, and wonderfully shot — a scene that comes to mind is when they switch to handheld while we hear Crash’s thought process during a particular at bat. [I love that scene, especially when Crash tells the bat boy to shut up. Classic. I’ll laugh at it ever time.] And you’ll definitely enjoy the film more if you appreciate baseball to any degree.

But, like baseball, there’s another level under the surface for those with eyes to see. Visible to those whose love of the game exceeds rationality. For this sort of disciple, and I obviously consider myself among them, Crash Davis is our high priest, Annie Savoy is our patron saint, and Bull Durham is our blessed sacrament.

*In case you’ve any doubt that a player’s superstitions can reach religious levels, take the case of batting legend Wade Boggs as an example: He ate chicken before every game [one and a half chickens a day]. He woke up at the same time every day and ran sprints at 7:17 pm. He beat a path from the dugout to third base by taking the exact same route, there and back, every time. He drew the Hebrew for ‘life’ in the batter’s box before every at-bat [he isn’t Jewish]. He asked Sherm Feller, the public announcer at his home park of Fenway, not to announce his uniform number during introductions, because Boggs once broke out of a slump on a day when Feller forgot to announce his number. Are you sure it’s only a coincidence that he was one of the greatest hitters of all time? The dude once went a an entire season — 719 plate appearances — in which he only struck out 34 times! Something was working.]

**In a sad coincidence, Steve Dalkowski – the man who inspired Shelton to write the character of “Nuke” LaLoosh – died last week due to complications of Covid-19. He never made it past the minors, but one season, in 62 innings, he struck out 121 batters and walked 129.

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halloween movie fest 2017 is here (and not a moment too soon)!

You wouldn’t know it from the weather in Brooklyn, but the time has come for another Halloween Movie Fest. Or, as my great-great-grandather always used to say, “Thank God, it’s Halloween Movie Fest!” Or, TGIHMF. (How would I trademark that? I feel like it’s definitely going to catch on with a wider public.)

HMF is my favorite annual glorious waste of my own time. I really need it this year, because the world is falling apart and depression is a fucking asshole.

I am so ready for this excursion into the familiar world of Halloween and its related cinema, a tradition that began for me in 2009.

I love Halloween, with its deep reliance on story and myth. For me, it’s like an entire holiday dedicated to telling ghost stories around a fire on a chilly autumn evening. HMF has come to be a means of extending that feeling throughout more of the month.

For previous fests, I would select a specific number of films and watch a movie a day. [That’s always the format for Another Day, Another Movie]. However, this year I’ve chosen 31 films, one for every day of the month, and I’ll get through as many as I can. I hereby promise all four people who read this blog that I will watch no fewer than 21 films. However, I doubt my schedule will allow me to watch a movie a day for the entire month of October. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try, but odds aren’t great.

The 2017 list includes some straight scary fare, a few horror comedies (because obviously), some lighter Halloween-friendly films, and Room 237, a documentary about interpretations of The Shining and the intense devotion to the film’s many mysteries (I might be stretching my own premise a bit with that last one).

19 of the 31 are films I’ve seen before, so obviously I’m leaning into some favorites I’m in the mood to rewatch. Many are films I loved after seeing them for the first time during previous Halloween Movie Fests.

Here are the films, in no particular order:

  1. Shaun of the Dead
  2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  3. The Shining
  4. Room 237
  5. Under the Shadow
  6. Don’t Breathe
  7. The Void
  8. XX
  9. 28 Days Later
  10. What We Do in the Shadows
  11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  12. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
  13. It (2017)
  14. The Haunting
  15. House
  16. Phantasm
  17. Beetlejuice
  18. Dead of Night
  19. Pet Sematary
  20. Housebound
  21. Pontypool
  22. Cabin in the Woods
  23. The Babadook
  24. Let the Right One In
  25. It Follows
  26. The Evil Dead
  27. Evil Dead II
  28. Army of Darkness
  29. Coraline
  30. The Devil’s Backbone
  31. Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some movies to watch.

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night two: ‘cronos’. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

ensminger-cronos-splsh

“I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I think it’s better if we stay together.”

The second night of HMF and I’m revisiting a favorite from nights of Halloween past.

Guillermo del Toro’s debut feature has all of the themes he comes back to again and again. Del Toro himself said:

“To me, Cronos contains the essence of what I want to do … a sincere declaration of how I view the world.”

Both literally and figuratively, this is vintage del Toro.

His best work uses and subverts genre trappings and fantastical horror to showcase the beauty and monstrosity of humanity. The horror of the monsters in the del Toro canon always pale in comparison to what humans are willing to do to one another in a quest for power, money, or youth.

Del Toro said of Cronos, “I do what I’ve done in Devil’s Backbone, what I’ve done in Pan’s Labyrinth, etc. Which is, I take the central monster figure and I make it the saddest figure in the tale.”

This is a story of the inherent tragedy of vampire lore. One of the central themes in many vampire stories is the loss of humanity in the pursuit of immortality. The inability to accept the reality of death results in a half life. Vampires are immortal, they reject death, but only by becoming death. They live forever, but only in darkness, only by consuming life itself. #fucktwilight

These stories are often about the destructive potential of the human quest for immortality. Thus, Guillermo del Toro is the perfect storyteller for the genre, and it in turn is a perfect playground for his first feature.

Cronos is arrestingly grotesque and beautiful, often at the same time. A monster story about what it means to be human. A horror film about love, family, redemption, mortality, and sacrifice. Or to put it more simply, Cronos is Guillermo del Toro at his best.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Most definitely. As is easily seen above, Cronos is included amongst my very favorite Halloween Movie Fest films from the seven years I’ve done it.

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night one: ‘near dark’. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

 Boy, you people sure stay up late.”

“We keep odd hours.”

And we’re off! Night one kicks off with Kathryn Bigelow’s cult classic about a guy who tries to convince a young lady to engage in some casual sex, and as these things often go, she turns out to be a vampire. Our young cowboy finds himself thrown in with a gang of asshole vampires who terrorize bar-flys, truck drivers, and hitchhikers along remote portions of Texas and Oklahoma highway.

The film is pretty to look at, and it’s easy to see the DNA of a directing style that would eventually win Bigelow a ton of awards for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. 

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Critics liked Near Dark, and as I already mentioned, it became a cult classic. In some ways, I can see why. The idea itself was an interesting take on both vampire movies and neo-westerns, and at times it delighted in its own violent mayhem. It also featured a synth soundtrack by Tangerine Dream that had some great moments.

However, overall, this one was just too nonsensical in all the wrong ways for me. The writing and story just didn’t hold together at all. It was erratic and silly, but to me it didn’t seem to be so intentionally. Everyone has the sorts of holes and weaknesses that prohibit enjoyment, and Near Dark had too many for me.

If anyone wants to have a specific conversation about what didn’t work for me in Near Dark, I’m game. I just didn’t want to go on and on bitching about it in this post. That’s just not what I want RtM to be. I’m also totally down if someone who loves this movie wants to enlighten me concerning its virtues. I would genuinely enjoy learning to see it through a fan’s eyes.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No. There’s definitely something I’m missing. It’s got a big following of folks who love it and rewatch it, so I’ll leave them to it.

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win win, and more generally, thomas mccarthy. [things i’m thankful for #26]

I loved this movie. Everyone should watch it.

I fell in love with all of the characters early on, and delighted in them for 106 minutes. I want to write like Thomas McCarthy does. All three of the films he’s written and directed are perfect (The Station Agent, Win Win, The Visitor. He also wrote the story for Up.)

He’s a master at writing these small, intimate stories that restore my hope in the beauty of interpersonal relationships and the power we have to love each other, and heal each other, and just how much we all need one another. It was exactly the movie I needed, at exactly the right moment. Right down the The National playing over the closing credits.

Seriously. Watch this movie.

 

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five things i’m thankful for. [#16, 17, 18, 19, 20]

I’ve been gone for a few days, eh? I’ve even considered placing the blog on an official hiatus since only four people read, but for now I am going to keep plugging away purely for my own benefit, which is probably the point, anyway. To be honest, I’m in a lot of pain right now, battling depression to the greatest extent I ever have, which is really saying something. That makes it really hard to be thankful for things, but I’m going to try, and hopefully I won’t get fired from my job before I can get healthy enough to be a real person again, or at least half a person.

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#16. Take Shelter

This movie was stunning. I could feel it, even through the pain of recent days. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain were revelatory, giving performances of tremendous nuance and beauty. It was also, for its flaws, such a beautifully healthy marriage, which you  almost never see in film. (Although, the trailer makes it seem like that’s not the case.)

The themes of mental illness and isolation in this movie, as well as the worry about becoming the same as a mentally ill parent, hit so close to home. Yet, it was comforting instead of overwhelming to see themes I feel lately projected before me.

One of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, while never giving away too much at one time. I wouldn’t  be able to set up the film as well as the really well-crafted trailer lays it out, so just watch that if you’re curious:

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#17. The Gods Themselves – Isaac Asimov

“Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.” – Friedrich Schiller

A brilliant book by the man with the most prolific science fiction writing career of all time. His grasp of issues was way ahead of his time, in so many ways.

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#18. Community

A new episode may never air again, but I’ll always cherish the seasons we have. Until it is officially cancelled (it’s still just on hiatus, right?), it’s my favorite show on television.

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#19. Jeremy Lin

I’m a Knicks fan. Have been since my emergence from the womb. So, obviously I love watching this story unfold. This kid is electric.

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#20. Emily

My wife is the best. That’s all there is to it.

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villains, part one. [the many lists of 2011.]

With the heroes dispensed with HERE and HERE, it’s onto the villains. Enjoy.

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1. Voldermort – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

All these years of movie lists, Voldemort had to make it onto the list eventually. He’s not just a villain, he’s the villain of the last decade+. He is the evil wizard. Everyone knows his name, Harry Potter fan or not. An entire generation’s Darth Vader. And Ralph Fiennes played him to perfection in each of the Harry Potter films.

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2. The Alien – Super 8 

It’s not new, but I think that this alien reveal was as satisfying as the reveal in Signs was disappointing. A creature of a delightfully strange, yet familiar, biology, from across the stars. I loved this movie, and the alien played no small part in that. It wasn’t just good enough to keep me from enjoying the rest of the movie, it was a huge part of what made the movie work.

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3. Men Who Hate Women – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The villains in this movie weren’t just bad guys. They were disgusting, stomach-turning monsters. What made it all the worse was that they are so commonplace in the world. Men across time have truly been capable of this sort of disgusting evil. They are powerful characters that stay in the consciousness, which is exactly what Larsson had in mind in their creation, making it impossible to ignore the violence perpetrated in systems that favor sexism and abuse.

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4. Sakharine / Red Rackham – The Adventures of Tintin

One of the villains in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started taking Daniel Craig’s pants off. The actor portraying the villain in this movie gets to take Daniel Craig’s pants off every day… Daniel Craig.

He was perfect as the villain, especially in the storytelling pirate sequence when Craig is Red Rackham. I LOVED the pirate scenes. Lots of anger on the internet about this movie, but I love it. Up with Tintin!!

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5. Nigel – Rio 

Two words: Jemaine. Clement. Comedic brilliance. I fricking love Jemaine, and I loved this character. Although, it could be argued that the true villain in this movie was Will.I.Am for sucking up the joint and making for a decidedly painful musical number. However, the rest of the cast (especially Jesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan) makes up for where Will and Jaime Foxx led things off course at times.

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heroes, part two. [the many lists of 2011.]

I’m so frustrated with how slowly the lists are coming along. Grrr.

I hope I’m not still posting them into March.

Here are some more heroes. See part one here.

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7. Dogs – The Artist and The Adventures of Tintin

I love every character in this movie so much, but The Dog is the real hero. No?

And it goes without saying that Snowy is a major hero in The Adventures of Tintin. Totally badass doggery.

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8. Hugo Cabret – Hugo

As a young boy struggling to find the truth, to understand his place in the world, and to discover a family, he is a hero for many of us struggling to do the same thing.

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9. Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre

I guess when you are adapting one of the most famous pieces of literature in history, it’s hard to make it one of 2011’s great characters. So, I suppose this is largely in praise of Mia Wasikowska’s performance as the young woman who had just about everything possible go against her, and yet remained strong, self-possessed, and loved well in spite of her life’s difficulties.

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10. Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Maybe I shouldn’t include another violent character as a heroine. I will anyway, because there is a part of me, deep inside, that is just so tired of the realities of this world. I want there to be an avenging angel who violently preys on the monsters and villains who prey on the weak and unheard. Maybe it isn’t one better part of me, but it is a part of me I’m not ashamed of either.

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11. Everyone – Beginners

I absolutely loved this film and the characters that inhabited it. So much of it resonated with me, and the faults, courage and beauty of these characters stay with me still. You should see this movie.

 

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