Thursday, July 30, 2009

A real kick in the crotch...

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew this day was coming. Or something very much like it, anyway. I woke up late, had some lunch, and ran to grab a few things at the grocery. I was, in these moments, blissfully unaware of what awaited me when I tuned in to ESPN Radio. Then I heard those dreaded words. The order of them didn't matter, the context didn't either. The only thing that mattered was that they were all there.


I am a baseball fan. An unapologetic one. These days, I'm a rare species. It's easy to poke fun at the pastime. Games are too slow. Players have no loyalty. Everybody's juicing. The commissioner's a stooge. The rich get richer and the small markets serve as funnels for the big boys.

I get it. Baseball isn't popular anymore. After today, it isn't hard to see why.

I've been a Red Sox fan since I was ten years old. If you know me, you know the story. Nomar was a rookie shortstop, I was a shortstop in Little League. I love the way he hit. A lot of doubles, high average, like me. Since that time, I have followed the Sox passionately. I was amazed by Pedro's run of brilliance from '98-'00, died a little inside when Aaron Boone went yard in '03, fell into the depths of despair (and was later rescued) during the "Bill Mueller" game, followed the same pattern in '04 on the way to the first title in my (and many other's) lifetime, and watched again in '07 when Josh Beckett cemented his postseason legend.

I love this team. And for years, I was convinced that they alone had remained clean during the infamous "steroids era." Manny has always been kinda pudgy, I'd say. Ortiz looks like a teddy bear, he can't be using. Now, both have been outed as users as more leaks have sprung from the 2003 list that outed A-Rod. These guys are Red Sox legends, the kind of players you stand in your back yard impersonating the stances and swings of. So what do I do now that I know that they were very likely cheating when they won the franchise's only two championships of the last 90 years? I wish I could be like some who say they're Brett Favre- level bored of hearing about steroids in baseball, that everybody was using except for Griffey, Maddux, and Ripken, and that we should all just move on. I wish I could, but then , I've called for Barry Bonds' records to be expunged from the books, for A-Rod's and Giambi's MVPs to be revoked, for year-long bans for anyone caught using anything resembling anabolic steroids. And now two of my top-ten favorite players of my lifetime are cheaters, destroyers of the fabric of the game that I love. So I can't, with any level of honesty, just say, "Oh well, everyone was doing it then, this doesn't affect the way I feel," because it does. Bill Simmons recent column about David Ortiz (back when we could assume that Ortiz's decline was due to age rather than PEDs) says it better than I can.

I'm depressed about all this, of course, but it's not like I'm going to search out another team to root for. Like Nick Hornby says in Fever Pitch, I'm an addict, and because I refuse to acknowledge my addiction as a problem, no matter how much it hurts or embarrasses me, I'm going to keep it up. I can only hope Ortiz quit using when stricter testing was announced (we know Manny didn't) and that by '07 he was clean. That's what we addicts do, we rationalize, using even the most pathetic pieces of minutiae to support what we know is indefensible.

Even though I no longer think of baseball players as the infallible heroes of my youth, I wish I didn't have to think of them as the innocence-destroying harbingers of death of my adulthood. All I need now is for Ted Williams to be uncovered as a coke-dealing pedophile who corked his bat and fought for North Korea during his two military stints to make my day complete.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Comedian, A Sociopath, and A Blue Demigod walk into a bar...

OK. So I just got back from a screening of Watchmen, the film I have been waiting for more than any other pretty much since The Dark Knight came out last July. I am admittedly one of those geeks for whom the graphic novel hold special significance. However, unlike many others I was not reluctant to see Watchmen brought to the silver screen. In my book, nothing is unfilmable. Even the Lord of the Rings trilogy, fraught though it was with head-slapping moments, especially throughout the last two films, was put satisfactorily to celluloid (or whatever it is they use these days). As I said, my anticipation was running high, and though early reviews were mixed, I was expecting to be wowed.

First, let me say a word about adaptations in general.

They're tough to pull off. I get it. I understand that certain things must be sacrificed in the transition from page to screen. My complaints in the adaptation department usually come instead from superfluous additions to plot or character development. Again, I understand the difficulty. It's why I can watch the Harry Potter films with a general sense of gladness at getting to experience Hogwarts and go along for the ride even though the films leave a lot to be desired. All that to say this: I was ready to be lenient with Zach Snyder. I was ready to pull punches and play nice and not let my geekdom trounce my previously stated good will towards all things adapted.

That didn't last long.

Watchmen does a lot of things right. That is, it reaches the level of the graphic novel a couple of times and in general it keeps its head above water. When it falls short, however, it does so with disastrous results. Zach Snyder films like a thirteen year old horror movie addict. He's as subtle as a sledgehammer, the Steven King of the screen. Nothing can ever be inferred. He shot and cut the movie as if compelled to duplicate the intensity of every frame of the graphic novel he was never going to be able to replicate. Problem is, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were all about subtlety, even when heads were crushed and blood sprayed and flesh tore. The word gratuitous is overused, especially with regards to film. However, Snyder pushes the G button as many times as his two hours and forty-one minutes allow. The blood and guts and broken bones do not add to the impact of the film; they lessen it, because the audience's attention is constantly being drawn away from the narrative and towards the extraneous bits of diced-up bad guys. Plus, Watchmen contains perhaps the most unnecessary and useless sex scenes in the history of film.

Now, I don't want to come off as Mr. Anybody-could-have-done-this-better. That isn't true. Sure, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky (both at one time attached to direct) probably would have made a better movie out of Watchmen, but, then again, they didn't. Snyder hits the mark with the look of the film and with the performances he gets from nearly every actor. The cast is excellent almost from top to bottom. Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), all give excellent performances that nail the moods and mannerisms of their characters. The problems with the film do not come from the players. Give Snyder some credit for showing these guys where to go and be glad he got them there. Unfortunately, as good a job as Snyder did coaxing out solid work from his actors, he did as poor a job with the soundtrack. There is not even one song during the movie that does not immediately distract the audience's attention from the action on screen. Music in films - especially pop music - has to serve to enhance the scene without overriding it. The music in Watchmen is antithetical to that principal. The crappy part is that those songs chosen, like, "All Along the Watchtower" actually play a part in the graphic novel. Or at least their lyrics do. However, when reading a novel, you only read the words, you don't hear the music or have to deal with the conflicting mood created by its presence. The music is a huge distraction.

Other than that, there are hits and misses. Overall, the film feels jumbled and disorderly, whereas the novel has a superbly clean, clear structure. At times, the film feels like an overloaded ship without a rudder. It is difficult, especially, I'm sure, if you haven't read the novel, to keep up with all the goings on and maintain an interest in the maddeningly episodic narrative unfolding on screen. In the end, Watchmen (the film) is a noble failure. A valiant attempt, but one that scuffles in the hands of a director who seems doomed for Saw VI, rather than any more films attempting to achieve the rare and dynamic combination of serious and cool. I don't begrudge Snyder for undertaking the venture; it took more balls than a lot of directors would have shown. Unfortunately for us all, he was running without a governor.

I've watched The Watchmen, and I think once was more than enough.