Friday, October 20, 2006

BASEBALL: I Blame the Towels

Watching Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Cardinals, I noted, while observing the towel-waving fans of the Cardinals, that real baseball fans don’t wave towels. They yell. They clap. They make noise. They live and die with every pitch in the playoffs. They do not participate in gimmicky promotions. So what happens when I arrive at Shea Stadium for Game 7 of the NLCS? They’re handing out towels. Diamond Vision even urges everyone to “wave your towels.” They didn’t hand out towels for Game 6. Why now? Why would they do that? The Mets go on to lose a heartbreaker in Game 7.

The Mets had no hits between the second and eighth innings. No hits. Jose Valentin struck out with the bases-loaded and one out. Cliff Floyd struck out with two men on and no outs in the ninth. Carlos Beltran struck out – looking – to the end the game with the bases-loaded. The Mets’ offense humbled – twice in this series – by Jeff Suppan. That’s one I won’t live done anytime soon.

Endy Chavez’s amazing catch, robbing Scott Rolen of a homerun, is just a footnote now.

Of all the questions that will haunt me in the off-season the one that will give me nightmares isn’t Should the Mets have bunted instead of using Floyd as apinch-hitter but Why would the fans at Shea wave those towels? Why?

Monday, October 09, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: The Departed

Here’s the nuts and bolts of Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Departed: Bill Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is selected by the Massachusetts State Troopers to go undercover in Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) Irish mob. At the same time, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) moves his way up the ranks of the State police to Staff Sergeant in a special investigations unit. Sullivan’s de facto father figure is Costello. So the police have a man in Costello’s ranks and Costello has a man in the police ranks.

The opening sequence sets up the contrasting paths of Costigan and Sullivan in excellent fashion. We see Costigan living a dank and violent life trying to insinuate himself into Costello’s crew and Sullivan’s quick rise to a position where he can exert some manner of control over how much information about Costello is known. Soon enough Costigan and Sullivan both earn the confidence of their respective organizations. And thus does the cat-n-mouse game of dual informants begin as both Costello and the police realize that there’s somebody on the inside.

The set-up is amazingly well done. The story, based on the Hong Kong movie, Infernal affairs (which I haven’t seen), is transplanted to modern day Boston. DiCaprio is excellent as the almost unhinged undercover man. Damon is strong as the all-business, ready to move up the ladder, eager beaver policeman with the hidden agenda. Nicholson’s performance is good too. He wasn’t as distracting as I’ve come to expect from him in recent years. I was half-expecting a hammy Joker redo, but that wasn’t the case. The supporting cast of Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone and, heck, even Anthony Anderson all do great jobs.

Scorsese’s directing lacks the stylistic signatures he exhibits in other movies. But he still wields a mean camera and even with the close-ups and still-standing camera, he soaks in every detail through the lens better than most in the business.

What The Departed lacks is pacing. While it never lags and keeps moving forward at a nice clip, the tension as Costigan and Sullivan close in on finding each other is almost nonexistent, outside of the final 20 minutes or so and a few scenes patched in the middle. Those final 20 odd minutes save the movie from being just another average cops and robbers movie. As new motives are discovered and concealed identities upturned, the whole thing climaxes with a frantic bloodletting that, in pure Scorsese fashion, is done with nonchalance and urgency. As the identities of Sullivan and Costigan become jeopardized, we see the real identity behind each character, which leads to more surprises and a nice twist concerning loyalty versus self-preservation.

Overall, I quite enjoyed The Departed. Tight story, some nice surprises to keep the audience guessing, and solid performances. I kept hoping for more white-knuckle intensity, which wasn’t sustained. Ultimately, it’s a few jabs short of setting up a knockout punch, but intriguing and clever nonetheless.

Friday, October 06, 2006

BASEBALL: Mets 4 - Dodgers 1

I attended Game 2 of the National league Division Series last night. A friend picked up some last minute tickets in the picnic area. All my years of going to Shea and I’ve never watched a game from our there before. We could only score single seating, which meant our seats weren’t located anywhere near each other. The security in the picnic area was out of control. Tickets are checked at every step of the way from section to section; from returning from the bathroom. We had e-mail printable tickets, which printed without the section number, which set some of the staff into a tizzy. We had called to verify the section and was told that it wouldn’t be a problem. But this one guy had to call in a “supervisor” even though I had an e-mail with the section number on it in addition to the printed out ticket. I understand it’s the playoff, the ushers and security have a lot going on but, Shea’s security is notoriously boneheaded. The picnic area situation just added to the general perception.

Barring that, the picnic area is a pretty neat place to watch a game from. It’s loud and raucous in its own way and the way the crowd noise from the stands echoes out, it feels eerily removed from the action. Eric and I started the game in our own seats. I was in the last seat in the top row closest to center field. It was a chilly night and the wind was whipping around centerfield, but I had my playoff orange and blue ski cap with me, so I was prepared.

And what a game! Glavine pitched masterfully for six innings. Another friend, Frank, in attendance somewhere in the mezzanine, texted me that “tonight's the night,” which is Frank-speak for a Mets no-hitter. Of course, just a few batters later, the Dodgers secured their first hit.

Endy Chavez was a great catalyst for the offense. He bunted his way on and scored. He singled. He later squandered a bases-loaded opportunity, hitting into a fielder’s choice, but Julio Franco legged out a potential double-play grounder to allow another Mets run. Small ball was the order of the day. Once again Willie’s handling of the bullpen and bench was superb.

Eric made quick friends with other fans in his section and they made room for me on their bleacher so I joined him after a few innings (the requirements I had to meet to secure a spot on the bleacher were 1. I was a Mets fan and 2. I wasn't fat. Two for two). There were some characters out for the game. We had Kowalski, a young man wearing camouflage thermals under his Mets jersey. The back was emblazoned with the name “Kowalski” and sported the number “69.” I couldn’t believe it. But, later, we saw an old guy wearing a “69” jersey. This must be in homage to 1969, right, and not something else (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)? I hope so. But back to Kowalski: he paraded up and down the bleachers waving a towel with a scowl on his face. If the crowd wasn’t standing, he implored us to stand. If we were standing, he was imploring us to do something more. I’m not sure what he expected. He also danced to anything that played. But he saved that special something for when Wagner came out. The scowl went perfectly with “Enter Sandman.”

There was also “Peanuts.” This very gregarious – and drunk – fan was the de facto mayor of our section. He clutched a bag of peanuts in one hand and a beer in the other. He also had a peanut skin on his tooth for the entire game. By the 8th inning a loving chant of “peanuts, peanuts” went out in his honor.

Fun fact of the day (from

Glavine, who has 290 regular-season wins, defeated Hong-Chih Kuo, who has one victory. Here's a surprise: Not only was that not the largest differential in postseason history, but it wasn't even close. The "record" was set during the 1925 World Series, when Walter Johnson of the Senators (397-257 at that time) defeated Emil Yde of the Pirates (33-12).

Great time, great win, great seats for $30 at the last minute.

Only one more win until the LCS. Let's go Mets!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: American Hardcore

Arriving at the theater to see American Hardcore about 10 minutes before show time, I found myself at the end of a long ticket line. The line was full of old people, so I knew that they were probably waiting for tickets to The Queen rather than American Hardcore. I went inside and found the automatic ticket machine. I punched in the movie title and show time. Due to some glitch in the machine, it spit out senior citizen priced tickets rather than the regular adult priced tickets. Fortunately, the ticket-taker didn’t notice the error, but if he had, I would have argued that by hardcore standards I was a senior citizen.

And it’s the youth and vitality that began the American hardcore punk scene that’s on display in American Hardcore, a documentary directed by Paul Rachman that chronicles the messy and chaotic beginnings of that scene, covering the years 1980-1986. Through interviews with key players and some very good live footage of such luminaries like Bad Brains, Black Flag, Void, SSD, among others, it does yeoman’s job of portraying this vibrant and underground scene.

American Hardcore’s narrative, if there is one, bookends the music from the beginning of Reagan’s first term to Reagan’s subsequent re-election in 1984 and, related to the actual scene, Black Flag’s break-up in 1986. The film is pushed along by live footage and interviews. There is no voice-over narrator illuminating any of the anecdotes told. For example, the straight edge movement is mentioned, it’s importance ascertained, but the why and where, for instance, that straight edge became so important is never expounded. There’s something laudable about the “either you get it or don’t” attitude, and I don’t mean that in any elitist way. The people who were there speak about what it was like. Their comments are buffered by the live performances. And that’s it. Just as the DIY hardcore scene today remains an “either you get it or you don’t” community of people who get it.

And I wish to emphasize that last part: there is still a solid and ever evolving DIY hardcore scene in America today. The movie ends with many of the people involved in the years of 1980-1986 as declaring that hardcore punk died. (The book, American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush, a major source for this documentary, annoyingly declared the same thing.) I understand that, for many of the participants of those early, seminal bands, the scene lost it’s momentum after 1986, but for the film makers of a documentary that purports to chronicle this time to ignore the fact that hardcore continued and thrived after 1986 is, well, quite odd.

Of course, I know that hardcore continued after 1986. I went to my first hardcore show in 1986 - Corrosion of Conformity at the CBGB’s Sunday matinee. Later, in the early 90’s I would be in a hardcore band and also co-found a hardcore record label. (Disclosure: I am longer involved with the label, but it is still kicking and better than ever.) I don’t state this resume as a knee-jerk defense to declare, “Hey, hardcore was around for me too,” but to ask: why document the early era yet discount its impact? The reason why the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag, etc. are as influential as they are is precisely because hardcore remained a vital instrument for so many after 1986. I’m not sure what sort of post-script there should have been, but it seems not only dismissive to American hardcore/punk community that rode the crest of that first wave as it is to those original bands to imply that what was accomplished dried up when they left the scene.

Just as the hardcore scene began as a response to the Reagan era and to the lame music landscape of the late 1970’s, the era that followed the years American Hardcore documents, began a as response to the violence and chaos of those early years. There was the Revolution Summer in D.C. and the Youth Crew scene in New York that, arguably, had an impact, for better or for worse, just as great as that first scene.

Ultimately, the flaws I find with American Hardcore, another viewer may see as virtues and vice versa. This fact is a strength of the film and of hardcore. I thought, for example, that at times that it got bogged down in cataloguing the scenes sprouting in different cities. There would be a city name and then quick clips of 4 or 5 bands playing. Another viewer may revel in the fact all these bands get face time, no matter how quick.

The focus lay mostly in L.A. and D.C., rightly so, with a healthy side of Boston. It also maps out the flag-bearers of New York, Texas, and the mid-west states. But there’s a strange disconnect of all this. After the third person or so comments about what was happening in Portland with Poison Idea, all we get, almost out of nowhere, is an amazing, albeit, too short clip of Poison Idea playing. There’s no further discussion as to why this band from Portland became the band that everyone else cites. Just that all too quick clip featuring Poison Idea bursting into song – with an almost svelte Jerry A and Pig Champion to boot. Some more insight into the actual personalities that made these years so amazing may have worked better. And I’m not talking about the Ken Burns treatment – though I would have like to have seen some more still photography featured – but to simply get into a few of the band’s heads a bit more. Obviously, I understand the idea to give as many bands their due and not all can be given justice but here’s an omission: no Dead Kenndys mention whatsoever.

Essentially, there’s too much fertile ground in those six years to include everything. In fact, Black Flag and Bad Brains could probably use their own documentaries. But some of the stuff seemed to come out of left field. For example, we see a member of Flipper saying, incredulously, about how some guy Moby once said in an interview that he sang for Flipper. Cut to Moby, who explains that the singer of Flipper was in jail and he filled in for two shows because he knew the words. There’s no framing for that anecdote, and no further discussion about it. Why is it there? Is it accusing Moby of lying? If it was there to explain about the happenstance and chaotic nature of the scene and how others pitched in to help bands work it failed miserably. It didn’t even work as comic relief: “Moby sang in my band? I don’t remember that.”

But these quarrels with the movie are my own. Anyone remotely knowledgeable with the hardcore scene will have his or her own catalog of flaws. And, while I may be critical of these flaws, it doesn’t mean I thought the film wasn’t well done. I was entertained throughout and happily soaked in all the music and images. I suppose, due to my somewhat anal-retentive personality, that I fully support making order out of chaos of the birth of hardcore. I understand the importance of archiving and documenting the years that preceded my own involvement in the scene.