Trouble with Angels

Okay, so we swept Boston: Good! Okay, we're, for the moment, a game ahead of Seattle in the Wild Card standings: Nice! Okay, we're back within striking distance of the division lead: Great!

But here's the thing: If we want to avoid another disappointing early-exit October, we have to take the East. Forget about the Wild Card. Let the Red Sox have it--or the Mariners or the Tigers; it doesn't matter. Of course, sneaking into the postseason that way is better than not making it at all, but take a quick glance at the AL standings.

Right, should the chips fall the way they would if the season ended now--more or less the way they'll very likely fall a month from now--we wouldn't be starting the playoffs with a five-game series against the team we just swept in the Bronx. We'd be headed to dreaded Anaheim, and not for a quick stop-in at Disneyland.

The absolute worst-case scenario, given that we survive September and earn a spot in the postseason, is an opening round meeting with the Angels--the only team with a winning record against the Joe Torre-era Yankees. For whatever reason (Vlad? Too fast-paced? Cross-country jet lag? Garrett goddamn Anderson?), this club straight up has our number. To make matters worse, this year's version of the California Angels of Los Angeles via Anaheim is arguably the strongest since the World Series winners of five years ago.

So, I repeat: We have to win the division. We have to play as sharply as we did in this Boston series when Seattle comes to town in a few days, and, of course, when we visit Fenway in a couple weeks. We have to play the way this veritable all-star team should play against bottom feeders like Tampa Bay and Kansas City and Baltimore (i.e., trounce the hell out of them). We cannot endure another lapse like the recent one in Detroit. A-Rod has to keep putting up those MVP numbers. Matsui and Cano and Damon and the rest of the lineup have to continue getting key hits and driving in runs. Wang and Pettitte and especially Clemens have to keep pitching with the same urgency they displayed these past few games. And, not least of all, Mike Mussina needs to get his shit together. Fast.

I'd much rather have to deal with Cleveland or Seattle or even Detroit in a five-game Division Series than kick the postseason off with a pair of games in Southern California. I've got a hunch, too, that Torre, Cashman, and the Boss feel very much the same on the matter.


Stars, Bright-Shining or Otherwise

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been posting less lately (unless you count this stuff) because I've been doing a bunch of writing for someplace else again, and haven't really had much of note to comment on anyway.

But here are some brief thoughts...

This summer's incarnation of Team USA is just ridiculous: Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, etc., playing like a team and humiliating all comers. This squad looks damn-near on par with the Jordan-Magic-Bird-Barkley Dream Team. Which is to say, I might actually tune into the Olympics next year.

This band is very good. Click on the song called "Caney Mountain" and agree with me. I'm going be reviewing their CD, Buckle in the Bible Belt, so, I guess, look out for that.

I haven't heard either the new 50 Cent or the new Kanye album in their entireties yet, but I like "I Get Money," the best track the former's put out since his debut album, more than the latter's "Stronger," which loses its novelty on repeat listens and starts to wear rather thin. I also prefer the odd-but-interesting "Ayo Technology" to the disappointingly so-so "Barry Bonds," despite the presence of artist-of-the-year frontrunner Lil Wayne.

We just finished watching the first season of Big Love on DVD. Color me impressed. To my tastes, it's the strongest HBO show since The Sopranos hit the air. The whole endeavor's so well-executed, from the admirably unsensational and sympathetic realization of the central, polygamist Henrickson clan to Harry Dean Stanton's Roman, uniquely unsettling among tv villains. Can't wait to check out Season 2; unfortunately, we don't have HBO for the time being, so we'll have to twiddle our thumbs until the DVD release.

And finally, I typically pay little attention to Hollywood's off-screen goings-on--I had no idea that Steve Coogan and Courtney Love were ever in any way involved, and only knew that Owen Wilson and Kate Hudson were from spotting them together at those Warriors playoff games--but this is so sad. Nathaniel linked to a thoughtful piece by Matt Zoller Seitz, and I will do the same. I hope Owen gets well soon. He's a wonderful actor, and so far as one can tell, seems like a genuinely good guy.



As readers of this blog may have noticed, I like to make lists. In an attempt to compartmentalize this nagging impulse, I've created this blog, on which I (or, if I can talk her into it, perhaps Teresa sometimes) will post a new top ten list every day (give or take, right?). I've kicked things off with (naturally) ten lists. They're on broad topics for the purpose of establishing a sort of framework; subsequent daily lists will probably be narrower or more marginal in their focus. To be clear, this blog will include no substance whatsoever, no running commentary, no explanations: just lists. And "top" always means "favorite," just for the record.


You Can Count on Me

About a week ago, I managed to get back in touch with a guy who was my best friend growing up. As kids, we learned to skateboard, played alto sax in the school band, hunted werewolves in his yard, pretended to crowd surf on his parents' waterbed, stayed up all night watching MTV, and went to see 3-D laser shows at the planetarium. Prior to the emails we've recently exchanged, we hadn't talked in a decade. Now, flashed forward those ten short years, we discussed degrees and careers and (at least in my case) marriage. Somehow, we've come an awfully long way from skateboards, werewolves, and laser shows.

Maybe that's why Superbad rings so true, and hits rather close to home--mine's now in Western Canada, his in Western Pennsylvania, both an awfully long way indeed from the tiny Southern Illinois town where we grew up. Now, I hope, in retrospect, that my friend and I weren't quite as dorky as Seth and Evan, the movie's BFF's. But it's entirely possible that we were: I was chunky and had learned a lot more of what I knew from pop culture than from actual experience; he was lanky and (sorry, man) somewhat socially awkward. Now, he has (according his Facebook page anyway) over 200 friends, and I'm happily married to a brilliant, beautiful woman. How in the world did that happen?

Superbad, like the also superb Knocked Up earlier this summer, is about--more than boobs and dicks and alcohol and drugs--growing up. That probably sounds a touch cliche, and it is: Isn't that the point of all coming-of-age movies, from American Graffiti to American Pie? The difference is that Judd Apatow and Co. are--amid said boobs, dicks, alcohol, and drugs--concerned with making movies about not just growing up per se, but in various ways, about developing into thoughtful, responsible adults.

That's why Superbad's morning-after denouement registers as bittersweet. Seth and Evan's relationship has, if not run its course, at least served some real purpose. By learning to be loyal friends (the image of Seth carrying passed-out Evan from the police-crashed house party feels oddly iconic), they've readied themselves to be good partners for their romantic interests. If not for Jules and Becca, their high school crushes--the movie ends happily, even hopefully but guarantees nothing outside Seth and Evan's good nature and ultimate functionality--then for some women someday. Or maybe, as Richard Corliss suggests (and perhaps oversells in his hasty pan), not women necessarily.

Either way, it struck me then that Superbad's filmic kindred spirit isn't, finally, Knocked Up or The 40 Year-Old Virgin or, for that matter, non-Apatow sex comedies like the Porky's or American Pie movies. It's Terry Zwigoff's filmization of Ghost World. Both movies indulge quirk, embrace social misfits, and crack wise, all the while lamenting the inevitable end-point of close adolescent friendships. Think of that heartbreaking scene where Enid and Rebecca sit together on the bench outside the hospital and, in effect, concede that it's over, that they've grown apart and in different directions, that they're not going to be sharing that apartment and continuing to elude independent adulthood as planned.

Then think again of Superbad's penultimate shot: Seth staring fearfully up the mall escalator as his best friend's face fades from sight. You might at first suspect that dude's just freaked out by the prospect of spending an afternoon alone (albeit in a public place) with the girl of his dreams--and you'd be partly right, of course. But more than that, it's separation anxiety setting in fast, the wistful realization that actually getting what he ostensibly wants most means no more sloshed slumber parties with his buddy. At the end of Ghost World , we watch as Enid leaves town on a Greyhound bound for nowhere. Evan's just going to Dartmouth in the fall.


We Pack and Deliver Like UPS Trucks

What's been on:

*Puffy Amy Yumi - "Tokyo Nights"
*Lil Wayne - "La La La"
*M.I.A. - "Paper Planes"
*50 Cent - "I Get Money"
*Alan Jackson - "I'll Go on Loving You"
*Susumu Hirasawa - "Mediational Field" (from Paprika)
*Mirah - "La Familia" (Guy Sigsworth remix)
*Miranda Lambert - "Guilty in Here"
*Lee Jung Hyun - "Believe"
*The New Pornographers - "Go Places"
*David Banner f/ Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, & Akon - "9MM"
*Morrissey - "I Just Want to See the Boy Happy"
*Bryan Hyland - "Sealed with a Kiss"
*Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Kiss Kiss"
*Kanye West - "Young Folks"
*Rihanna - "Push Up on Me"
*Cansei de ser Sexy - "I Wanna Be Your J. Lo"
*Kelly Willis - "Sweet Sundown"
*Jin - "Open Letter 2 Obama"
They Might Be Giants

I'm late getting to the recent deaths of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman (as, let's face it, I usually am with most things here at JLT/JLT), but I did want to say something on the subject.

It seems an odd coincidence that this particular pair should pass on the same day since, in their respective primes, no two figures arguably (Fellini is a contender, as well, obviously) better represented art cinema with a capital 'A'. Though it now seems dated and cliched--partly due to being the subject of countless parodies and partly due to its own stone-faced seriousness and heavy-handed symbolism--Bergman's The Seventh Seal remains perhaps the most famous of postwar European films. Likewise, Antonioni's L'Avventura, with its Old World vs. New World theme and barely-there narrative, is unmistakably a key turning point in the development of the contemporary art movie.

Of course, as a teenager eager to be initiated in the cult of Serious Cinema, both were eye-opening, and for a long time, Bergman and Antonioni were among my favorite filmmakers. I semi-exhaustively sought whatever I could get my hands on by either, ordering VHS copies of Smiles of a Summer Night and The Virgin Spring and Red Desert (probably my favorite Antonioni) from my local library. When I first saw Persona, at age 14 or 15, I was pretty sure it was the best movie ever made, give or take Citizen Kane.

Alas, nerdy film snob that I am, I've subsequently outgrown Bergman's austere moral universe and (to a lesser extent) Antonioni's Euro-Art existentialism (though I still adore his rigidly architectural mise-en-scene). I've moved on to the greener pastures of Dreyer and Bresson, Ozu and Mizoguchi. I await with baited breath the latest releases from Hou Hsiao-hsien and Abbas Kiarostami and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, dutifully observing that the art film hot spots have shifted east since the mid-century heydays of Bergman and Antonioni. But you know what? I would've probably never navigated my way there without first "discovering" The Seventh Seal and L'Avventura, and for that I owe these departed masters a tremendous debt of gratitude.