Tuesday, November 30, 2004
(By the way, great date film, Kika. Laugh even once during that rape scene -- and Almodovar's really trying to make you laugh -- and the date's over. Kinda like the Deniro/Cybill Shepherd date in Taxi Driver.)
Since All About My Mother, bigger and better things have been expected from Almodovar, and his audience in the U.S. has grown. There was a lot of anticipation behind the newest Almodovar ouvre, La Mala Educacion ("Bad Education" in Ingles), starring the hot latin actor of the moment Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, The Crime of Father Amaro, Y Tu Mama Tambien). Sadly, the movie doesn't quite live up to expectations.
The story in a nutshell: Enrique, an up-and-coming director, is approached by Ignacio (Garcia Bernal), an actor claiming to be a childhood friend. Enrique doesn't recognize the actor, but does recognize a story Ignacio has written, about Ignacio's childhood abuse at the hands of a priest, and his love affair with another student at his all-boys Catholic school -- Enrique.
Naturally, Enrique wants to make a movie out of the story, and we watch this movie-within-a-movie unfold alongside flashbacks, and Enrique's present-day investigation of Ignacio's story. Ultimately, since this is Almodovar's take on film noir, the plot (or plots) turn to blackmail and murder.
To say that Bad Education is a disappointment doesn't mean it's a total failure. There are a few moments of classic Almodovar in the film. An early scene in which Bernal, as a lounge-singing drag queen that looks disturbingly like Julia Roberts, hustles a patron, shows some of the old Almodovar humor. Another haunting scene shows the first encounter between the young Ignacio and his molester, overlaid with shots of grade school age boys playing in a lake, while the Ignacio sings "Moon River" to the priest.
Still, Bad Education gives you relatively little in return for what it puts you through. While some claim that a homophobic MPAA's fear of some fairly graphic male-on-male sex scenes earned the film an NC-17 rating, I'd bet that the implied sexual contact between two children (the young Enrique and Ignacio) had more to do with it.
Still, sex isn't the problem with Bad Education. The real problem is a lack of substance. The film has an interesting premise -- a film noir based on recent church scandals, with a reinvention of the "femme fatale" thrown in for good measure -- a few decent plot twists, and good performances by Garcia Bernal, the child actors who play the young Enrique and Ignacio, and Lluis Homar (who is the spitting image of Kelsey Grammer) as a former priest with a secret.
Still, a noir crime will always leave you empty if you don't care about the victim, the criminal, or the investigator trying to get to the bottom of it all. The film falls apart around the central character of Enrique, Almodovar's filmic alter-ego. Although the text epilogue tells us that Enrique went on to continue making films with passion (and in case you don't get the point, the camera lingers on the word "passion"); the grown-up Enrique comes off as a callous, cynical, cold fish of a guy. You find yourself coming to the end of the movie wondering what, exactly, was the point.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
The link up top is to one of Madden's columns in the Daily News, in which he elects -- in the true Thanksgiving Spirit -- to declare 10 Major Leaguers "Turkeys". Ain't that sweet? Here's his list:
1. Nomar Garciaparra
2. Sammy Sosa
3. Kevin Brown
4. Kevin Millwood
5. Jerry Colangelo
6. Jason Giambi
7. Jose Valentin
8. Brian Anderson
9. Jimy Williams
10. Alex Gonzalez (Marlins Edition)
The offseason lends itself to three kinds of baseball columns in the mainstream media. There are the gossip columns where our pals in the Fourth Estate tell us what "highly-placed" sources in such-and-such organization tell them are sure-fire deals, 95% of which never come to fruition. Lots of others mind the gossip column because of its abysmally low accuracy rate, but I think that rumors, so long as you take them with an appropriately large grain of salt, have value even if they're completely wrong. I mean, I'd rather hear an inaccurate baseball trade rumor than not have any baseball news at all.
Second type of story is the fluff-piece. These are human interest stories, reports of charity events the players or teams are throwing, whose parent survived cancer, that kind of thing. Fluff-pieces also cover profiles of obscure team personnel.
The third type of story, which gets delivered with much more gusto than the two others, is the hatchet job. This is where the columnist gets to even scores -- real or imagined -- by dissing those that have wronged them. Sometimes they're simple, mildly embarassing reproaches -- if you see an article where the columnist takes a player to task for not being the leader that the team needs, and then calls on the player to "make his voice heard", that's code for the player needs to do better post-game interviews. Often, they're nastier, like this "Turkey List."
Sammy Sosa, #2 on the Turkey list, is Madden's white whale. I doubt Madden has skipped an opportunity to to slam Sammy in three or four years. If I recall correctly, the feud goes back to Sosa snubbing the New York Baseball Writers dinner, which Madden organizes. Ever since, Madden has taken unusual pleasure in Sammy's drops in production, his corked bat scandal, the unsubstantiated rumors of steroid use.
Aside from Sosa, Madden picks on three players (Garciaparra, Brown, and Giambi) each of whose prime sin was getting injured. Aside from Brown's broken hand, none of those injuries was intentional -- unless you doubt that Giambi actually had parasites and a tumor, or that Nomar actually had a torn Achilles tendon.
Madden's slam of Jerry Colangelo, while accurate, seems an outgrowth of the Steinbrenner/Colangelo feud that dates back to 2001 or earlier. Kevin Millwood's place of honor is an oblique attack on universally-despised agent Scott Boras, who has apparently screwed his client by misreading last year's free agent market. No idea what sins, if any, Valentin, Anderson, Williams and Gonzalez committed against Madden -- heck, maybe they were just thrown in to round out the list.
I guess that's why I object to this kind of column. There's a lot of personal stuff that seems to go into these hatchet job pieces, of which the public is seldom made aware. Last year, after Madden changed his mind on the "Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame" issue, Madden related an anecdote in which Blyleven was extremely rude to Madden and another reporter back during Bert's playing days. Madden averred that Blyleven's rude act had absolutely nothing to do with Madden's refusal to give Bert his Hall of Fame vote for the first several years Blyleven was on the ballot. I'll take him at his word on that. But there's still the problem that all those years Madden wrote that Blyleven just wasn't great enough for the Hall of Fame, no one knew about this potential bias.
I guess I just wish that when Hatchet Job time comes, the columnists would come clean about any unreported bad business between themselves and the hatcheted ones. Next time Lisa Olson puts the smackdown to Jason Giambi, I'd like to know if he's been one of the long list of clubhouse sexists she's encountered in her career. I'd love to know why no one likes Jose Valentin (although, looking at his numbers, that .286 OBP last year is scary) and what on earth Brian Anderson has done to earn a reporters ire.
I'll tell you one thing, I doubt that any of this is just based on what's happening on the field.
[UPDATE: There's a lesson here about trusting yourself. About 10 minutes after first posting this article, I was re-reading the Madden article where he talks about Blyleven farting in his face. I noticed that Madden spelled Blyleven's first name "Burt" (like the guy that used to play Robin on the Batman TV Show) rather than "Bert" (as in "...and Ernie"). So I thought "Good heavens, I've been misspelling Blyleven's name for the past 17 years!" and immediately changed all my "Berts" to "Burts". Turns out I was right, Madden and the Daily News' editors were wrong. I correct myself, which just puts me right back where I started from.]
Monday, November 22, 2004
The guy behind the counter falls into that category of near-perfect salesmen: focused, friendly, he made you feel like you're the only person in the store. His first suggestion looks great, the next few suggestions went on some interesting tangents, before he locks on what he and my girl agree is a good look.
Anyway, we have his undivided attention until someone steps to the counter right behind me. He quickly turns away and says "Oh, hi Paris!" in a tone of voice that's just a little too enthusiastic.
So I have a sneaking suspicion of what's going on behind me, but there are rules for celebrity-watching in New York. Kind of like the rules for going to the zoo, just slightly different.
Rule one is no gawking, at least not when you run into celebs in the wild. If they're working on a movie or doing a public appearance you can stare at them all you like, but if they're just buying groceries, it's creepy.
Rule two is no "Hey, aren't you that guy from that movie?" If you know who the celebrity is, you can say hello. Asking them who they are is bush-league.
Rule three is that the rules for talking to celebrities are no different than they are for talking to any other stranger. You probably wouldn't interrupt a stranger in public while they're talking on a cell phone, or in between bites of a meal, so it's probably not nice to do that to someone just because you've seen them in the newspaper.
So, rules properly remembered, I simply ignored the young lady behind me, who rattled off a half-dozen brand names at my sales guy, and continued trying on the frames we'd set aside and talking to my girlfriend. Eventually, a slim girl in a green sweatsuit walked into my eyeline, to look at herself in the mirror. She was attractive, but relatively non-descript except for two things 1) she was carrying a small dog in a pouch in her top, which made it look like she was pregnant and 2) she was Paris Hilton.
Not having anything to say really (what were the options? "You and Nicole Richie are some real spoiled broads?" or "I hear you showed some amazing technique in that video?"), we collected the names of the two "finalist" frames, for when I return with my eyeglass prescription, and left the store. On the way out, we passed Paris' bodyguard, a big guy who was perfectly positioned to flatten anyone coming into or out of the store.
NOTES/Week in Review
The baseball silence right now is deafening. The team that's making the biggest moves right now is the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals/Limbo Barnstormers, a team that's technically homeless, ownerless, and directionless. The big moves involve names like Jose Guillen, Cristian Guzman, and -- get this -- Vinny Castilla.
That's quality stuff.
Blogger reaction to this thin time is all over the place. Bronx Banter is talking Thai food, the Futility Infielder is talking torn labrums, and Will Carroll Presents is blinking on and off like the sign at Kenny Rodgers Roasters.
In local news, the Mets extended Kris Benson. The world sleeps more soundly knowing that the Mets have secured a third #4 starter.
In Yankeeland, the big news is more a low grumble about pitching. Pedro visited last week, and the ongoing he said/she said on whether the Yanks offered a contract is what passes for entertainment around these parts. Scott Boras is still on a napoleonic power trip with Carlos Beltran, so there's no news on that front.
I don't see a Curt Schilling Thanksgiving bonanza happening this week.
In the world of hoops, Ron Artest, with a little help from his friends, managed to one-up Frank Francisco in the sports punk Hall of Infamy. Doesn't look too good for Pistons fans, either.
Throughout the years, the fans have gotten farther and farther away from the action at sporting events. Compare Fenway Park to Yankee Stadium, or Shea. Some of it is bad design, a little more of it is safety concerns. Hard foul balls lead to the screens behind the plate, pucks into the stands lead to plexiglass barriers in hockey -- that is, when there is hockey.
Now crazy players are a hazard, on the same level as foul balls and hockey pucks. This Artest incident is just another element that's going to press venues to create more separation between the crowd and the game. I think it'll only be when we're all watching sporting events from behind a moat and a barbed wire fence that the idiots out there -- both on the field and in the stands -- will realize what's being lost, here.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
That's a tough year. One thing you don't need to hear after a year like that is about things your wife supposedly did back when she was dating R. Kelly, much less be blackmailed by some jackass who has gotten a copy of one of Mr. Kelly's amateur films.
In a word, yuck!
The timing of this release, coming fast on the heels of Sheff's second-place finish in the AL MVP race, is fishy. Were Sheff's people holding the announcement, so it wouldn't detract from Gary's MVP hopes? Or were the tabloids holding the story, hoping to piggy-back this on an MVP award?
We'll probably never know.
Sheff's shown a lot of grace this year--in everything other than how he handled his relationship with former friend Barry Bonds, that is. But he played hurt, he produced on offense, he came clean with the grand jury, and now he's sticking up for his wife. Good job, all around.
Congrats to Vlad Guerrero, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Johan Santana for their MVP/Cy Young honors. Also congrats to former Yankee manager Buck Showalter on his AL Manager of the Year award.
Check out today's Prospectus Triple Play over at Baseball Prospectus. It's near and dear to our heart, and it gives some good explanations on why the Yanks shouldn't sign Carl Pavano, why dropping Jon Lieber's option was probably a good idea, and reveals at long last who was the Yank's ALCS LVP (that's Least Valuable Player).
Saturday, November 13, 2004
I've thought about this sort of thing a few times since Doug Pappas, whose blog has a place of honor on my blogroll for as long as I have one, passed away. Is there a Baseball Blog Hall of Fame for those on-line diaries that have passed into history? Ed's promised that the Bambino's website will never go dark, Greg Tamer and later SABR tooks steps to ensure that Doug's website would remain available to the world on-line, after his untimely passing. Gunn is now talking about editing and publishing his Redbird Nation writings.
Makes you wonder if there are plans afoot to make sure other surefire Hall-of-Fame blogs, like Bronx Banter, Aaron's Baseball Blog, Futility Infielder and Bat-Girl are never lost to the world, even if their proprietors should decide to pull up stakes on their domains and websites?
Anyway, if there is to be a BB Bloggers HOF, I'd nominate Cossette, Gunn, and Pappas for the first ballot. Will, for what it's worth, you ain't gettin' nominated, because Will Carroll Presents' retirement is about as permanent as the first two Michael Jordan retirements. C'mon, snap out of it! The way that things turned out means the world needs more of ya, not less.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
NL Cy Young
Yeah, I know, Clemens over Johnson is so not a stathead thing to do. Johnson had the better year, Clemens pitched in a tougher division. Roger's team was the wildcard, Randy's was in last place. VORP places Randy and Roger 8 runs apart, not quite a win's worth of difference. That's close enough for me.
There's one guy at the top, and about a dozen guys behind him who could go in any variety of orders. Discuss.
We've already heard back from the BWAA on this one. Greene got jobbed -- I don't think the voters appreciated the Petco effect on Greene's stats -- but I have to feel good for the Pirates organization, which got its first Rookie of the Year. 'Bout time.
The Impaler put up big numbers, and held together an Angels team that couldn't stay off the DL (Anderson, Glaus, Salmon, Erstad, Donnelly, Percival) or out of the doghouse (Jose Guillen). Not sure what else you need to do to be the MVP. Sheff gets jobbed on this ballot because I fear my own biases (yep, I'm a wuss).
Near-Bondsian dominance. In a year without a supernatural performance, Stigmata Ankle Guy would've taken home the trophy.
Buck's an old favorite, who turned an ugly team around this summer. It was an amazing job, but he should enjoy this award while it lasts. If Buck doesn't know what I'm talking about, he can just ask Tony Pena.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
The Golden Child
A year ago, this would have been a Hell-Freezing-Over event: Derek Jeter, of "past a diving Jeter" fame, is the 2004 AL Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
Jeter's defense has been one of the most contentious issues of the past 10 years. Sabermetricians -- you might call them stat-heads, Moneyball-types, or reality-based baseball analysts -- have held that if you look at the number of plays Jeter doesn't make on the field, (rather than just looking at his errors, or his highlight-reel plays) Jeter sucks as a shortstop.
Some numbers. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) a stat that measures the number of balls hit into Jeter's defensive zone, and what he did with those balls, lists Jeter as worst among qualifying shortstops for the years 2000-2003. Bill James' stat, Win Shares, had Jeter at 1.36 Win Shares for 2003, 14th out of 14 players who had 600 innings played at short that year. Baseball Prospectus' Davenport translations put it this way:
Year/Rate(100 is average)/Runs Above Average
Looks bad, doesn't it? I can't do rankings for each year, but those negative numbers are pretty bad -- they mean he was allowing about 20 runs per year more than a regular shortstop. However, something interesting happens when you look at the numbers for this year:
Now, 102 isn't usually Gold Glove material, but it is a big improvement. The improvement could be seen in other figures. Jeter registered 7.2 defensive win shares in 2004, tied for 3rd in the league with Miguel Tejada, behind only Bobby Crosby (7.5 dWS) and Cristian Guzman (9.6 dWS). As reported by Aaron Gleeman and Brother Joe, UZR has Jeter as the 7th best shortstop in the league, at -4 UZR runs.
Part of the reason that defensive metrics don't get the respect they deserve is the type of disagreement we see here. One metric lists Jeter as the 7th best in the league and slightly below average in absolute terms; another lists him as the fifth best, and slightly above average; yet another has him as the league's third best shorstop, and well above-average defensively.
Yet all three measures agree on two things: 1) Jeter improved a lot from 2003 to 2004, and 2) Jeter was not, by any measure, the best defensive shortstop in the AL this year. My highly-unscientific eyeball perception of Jeter said the same thing -- you saw less "past a diving Jeter" this year than ever before. Jeter looked more comfortable working with Miguel Cairo than he had with his dance partners of the past few years -- Alfonso Soriano, Chuck Knowblauch, and Enrique Wilson.
But at the same time, you knew you weren't looking at Ozzie Smith, circa 1982 here. Except for one day, with one play that (I believe) won Jeter this Gold Glove. When they woke up the morning of July 2, 2004, just about everyone in America saw Jeter make an incredible running catch of a pop up down the line in left field, and then do a faceplant into the stands. Heck, if you're the one person in America that didn't see it, click the header -- MLB links to it in the article about Jetes winning the gold glove.
It is unfair that Jeter won the award when he wasn't the best fielder in the league, and when the voters probably placed inordinate weight in one hype-filled play.
Based upon the numbers, it looks like Miguel Tejada should have won the Gold Glove. Clay Davenport has Tejada as BP's gold glove vote, and Tejada tops the list in UZR. Other candidates with better or equal claims to Jeter's include Guzman, Crosby, Jose Valentin, Carlos Guillen, and Julio Lugo.
Still, I'm happy for Jeter, but somewhat sad for the Yankees. Defense tends to get worse as players age, and if Jeter continued on his career trend -- that is, if this year was just a fluke -- then Jeter will be a horrific shortstop in four or five years.
And no matter how horrible he is, he will remain a shortstop, because he now has "2004 Gold Glove Shortstop" on his resume. Even when he has all of the range of one of the monuments behind center field.
After years of being every organization's favorite diversity interviewee, Willie Randolph has finally put his hands to the helm of a major league club. Omar Minaya signed Willie on as Art Howe's replacement this week, meaning that not only does the Yankees' bench coach fulfill his dream of becoming a manager, he doesn't even have to move his family to take the new job.
Still, Mets' clubhouse can be a treaturous place, full of high expectations and low blows. Here's some unsolicited advice to Willie on how to survive in Flushing, by way of Mario Puzo:
1. Keep Your Friends Close, but Keep the Media Closer
The key to Torre's success as Yankees manager might not lie in his prior managing jobs with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, but in his experience as a broadcaster. The media can kill managers who they view as insufficiently forthright (Howe) or manipulative (Bobby Valentine).
2. Get Yourself a Wartime Consiglieri
Randolph's biggest perceived failing is his lack of actual managing experience. This is the kind of thing that's likely to bring his in-game strategy into question early and often this season.
One way to defuse this criticism is by hiring an old crusty baseball guy to be his bench coach. Requirements are big-league managing experience, a willingness to play second banana, and a guy personable enough you'd want to sit next to him every inning for the next 162 games. If you answered Don Zimmer, you're on the right track.
3. Make Sure John Franco Sleeps with the Fishes
The Mets are a veteran team, where many of the players might have better relationships with the media, and with ownership, than their manager. Finding and eliminating anyone who undermines his authority is a must for Willie's survival in Flushing.
Two of the biggest clubhouse lawyers on the Mets were in the news this week. John Franco, who has some unsavory friends to go with his poor performance, has been told he won't be pitching for the Mets in 2005. Good riddance, fromWillie's point of view. Junior GM Al Leiter is now a free agent, the Mets will likely buy out his 2005 $10 Million option this coming week. He might be back at a discount rate, but there's more hope of Al getting along with Randolph: after all, the two were teammates on the 1988 Yanks.
4. Be a Good Godfather to the Mets' Kids
The Mets stand to have a great left side of the infield with phenom thirdbaseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes. While most reports on Wright's makeup are extremely positive, Reyes has frustrated many by failing to follow a running program that the team established in hopes of preventing further leg injuries to the fragile shortstop.
Reyes will likely be the key to the Mets hopes in 2005, and Willie's most important job will be to make major leaguers out of Reyes, Wright, Victor Diaz and Craig Brazell.
(And Willie, if you need some help keeping Reyes' legs healthy, I have a friend who swears he could fix Jose right up. So give Will a call. Maybe you'll help get him out of the post-election blues.)
5. Don't Be a Fool For Those Big Shots
Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the Lord of Met Manor and his heir, have an identity problem. They want to be hands-on with their ballclub, like Steinbrenner. They want to have a corps of "baseball guys" in the front office, like George has. They want a winning ball team.
But the way it's worked out, they're closer to the Dolans than to the Boss. Willie's going to have to earn their respect in order to be effective -- remind them that he knows a thing or two about winning, and that this is why they hired him. A bad, early sign: the Wilpons apparently want to hire the runner-up in their managerial search, Rudy Jaramillo, as Willie's hitting coach. That's a bright idea, along the lines of making the runner-up in the Presidential election the Vice President.
To Mel, or Not To Mel
Some say he's gone for sure, and that Neil Allen's on the way from Columbus to take over as Torre's pitching coach. Others say that Mel Stottlemyre still doesn't know whether he wants to retire or keep coaching.
Either way, the result will be somewhat disappointing. I wish that the Yanks would approach the hiring of coaches the same way they do other personnel decisions -- pay top dollar to recruit the best. If Mel's gone, you'd think it would be worthwhile to try to lure Larry Dierker out of retirement, or some other reknowned pitching coach, to try to get Javy Vazquez back on track.
Now, maybe Neil will be a great coach. As Jay Jaffe points out (2nd half of the post) he's had some success with the Clippers. Maybe Mel will return, in which case the 2005 season might be a wash for some pitchers. Either way, folks should make their decisions sooner, rather than later.
Odd spectacle this week, with the Diamondbacks hiring, and then firing, Wally Backman. Backman's managing future seems permanently imperiled by his history of domestic abuse, alcohol-related arrests, and financial instability. Worse was that the team that hired him didn't think to do a thorough backround check before putting the man in charge of a multimillion dollar roster.
Jon Lieber's option was dropped this week. The Yanks hope to re-sign him for less dough.
Fred Hickman is the first casualty of budget cuts over at the YES Network. Suddenly, the Yanks' TV and radio broadcasts are taking the look of a soap opera.
Nomar at second? Pass, I think.
So far this off-season Rocco Baldelli and Lance Berkman have both blown out their knees playing backyard games. You'd think that people would learn, after Aaron Boone's contract was scotched...
Yes, I know that some non-baseball related stuff happened last week. Maybe I'll be ready to talk about it next week.
Monday, November 01, 2004
But writers’ observations about the Yankees’ alleged character problem lack credibility when you know from experience that they were perfectly ready to write it the other way. If Mariano Rivera, whom we generally agree is not a gutless loser, has a better inning in game 4, then the Yankees would have been gritty pros, and the Red Sox would have been underachievers who talk too much. The sports media present a world in which only one team in thirty has heart, and they’ll let you know which one it is right after the last out of the World Series.