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Cheap Thrills
2006-11-25 05:43
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Hot Stove season means I go to the movies again. I went to see "Borat" and "The Departed" over the last two days and found them both mildly enjoyable. "Borat" is a tight, well-made comedy but I didn't love it (most everyone else in the theater seemed to enjoy it more than I did). I appreciate that it is mercifully short--shouldn't all comedies clock in under 90 minutes?--but essentially the movie is put-on. Sacha Baron Cohen cons people, he puts one over on them and the results are supposed to show America as it really is. I'm not buying it. What I learned from this movie is that drunk frat boys can be sexist, bigoted creeps, that rednecks say the darndest redneck things and that born again Chritians are hopped-up Jesus freaks. I mean, tell me something I don't know. There is something that is altogether too easy in all of this. The Borat character can be very funny in subtle, observational ways, but part of the comedy here is to be aggresive and hostile. It's Reality TV-based satire, "Jackass" with subtext. Part of the thrill for audiences is seeing how far Cohen will go, how far will he push the envelope. He doesn't disappoint, though he he clearly knows how far to go. For instance, he approaches a group of black kids in a tough neighborhood and in short time is able to disarm them. However, he isn't rude or offensive with them as he is with easier, less threatening white targets.

Cohen is a modern version of Andy Kaufman, and his Borat displays a vulnerability and sensitivity that Kaufman rarely brought to his characters (with the exception of Latka). And it's Borat's vulernability that makes the movie winning--the audience let out a collective "aawwww," when Borat was down-on-his-luck--they really liked him. "Borat" moves along at a brisk pace and it's over before you know it. Ultimately, I just can't get into making people look like morons (even if they are morons) for the sake of "exposing ignorance." I think it's mean and cheap. That's just me, though. Cohen is convincing and he does have some fine moments. I'll be hard-pressed to forget the naked-wrestling scene, which managed to go from hilarious to flat-out gross to daring and then hilarious again.

I expected "The Departed" to be good cheese and I wasn't let down. I mean if Scorsese can't make a gangster movie anymore then you know he's really shot. He's like The Rolling Stones in this one, the old rocker still doing his thing. In fact, the movie opens up with the Stones' "Gimmie Shelter." Unfortunately, Scorsese doesn't have the same sly sense of humor that his old friend Brian DePalma used to have, and there is no joke, no irony to the use of a song that not only sounds like a song that Scorsese would use in a gangster movie but one that he has already used ("Good Fellas"). But that's never been his strength, and otherwise, this an enjoyable ride. The movie moves by quickly and without much consequence but it is hammy fun. The young cast adds a level of self-consciousness to it all though. It's like watching kids play cops and robbers. Marky Mark, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon grew up in a generation of American boys who idolized Scorsese's tough guy movies. Now they get to play tough too. Marky Mark has the hammiest role of the three but I thought he was funnier than he was tough. Damon handles his role well, but I just couldn't buy DiCaprio--who I enjoyed in "The Aviator" and "Catch Me if You Can". Didn't buy him as tough or tortured. Scorsese tries to add some emotional heft to the movie through DiCaprio's character and it doesn't stick. But the movie still clicks along so that DiCaprio doesn't kill things. Unlike "Cape Fear," another Hollywood turn by Scorsese, "The Departed" never becomes turgid.

The movie is too long and there is a boring subplot with a woman (in a thanklessly written role). But Nicholson is fun and his right-hand man is pretty scary. Alec Baldwin chews up some scenery too. In all, it's like "Glengarry Glen Ross" meets "Oceans 11." I'd say that it is one of Scorsese's most entertaining movies in years. That said, the movie slipped out of memory quickly after I left the theater. Fun fluff but really it's just the same old song.

Comments
2006-11-25 07:09:36
1.   OldYanksFan
Can we please, PLEASE talk a little about A-Rod? (kidding).
I have some questions/thoughts on DM and how he translates to MLB.
I see him as being very successful, but I see 2 factors that might derail him.
1) A longer MLB season and less rest between starts and
2) The HR ball.

Does anyone know the sizes of Japanese parks compared to MLB? We all know that larger parks translates into less HRS. Also, what is this guys GB/FB ratio? Is he a ground ball pitcher? The average MLB player is stronger then his Japanese counterpart, and many MLB players swing for the fences more then their Japanese counterpart.

If all of DM's long flys/warning track outs become HRs, his numbers will be drastically different then his Japanese numbers. A 3 run HR as opposed to a long 3rd out makes a big difference in one's ERA.

2006-11-25 07:10:01
2.   OldYanksFan
(hey.... I got shotgun!)
2006-11-25 08:37:09
3.   Bob Timmermann
Japanese parks are about the same size as MLB parks, although in a lot of them the ball carries better in some places.

I don't know the park factor of the Seibu Dome (officially the Invoice Seibu Dome, the corporate named stadium adding an unrelated corporate name), is not an enclosed dome and is open to the elements on the side.

One of the players who holds the Japanese record for home runs in a season, Alex Cabrera, had his 55 homer season at the Seibu Dome.

http://tinyurl.com/y7veor

2006-11-25 09:17:44
4.   Shawn Clap
I thought The Departed was one of the better films I've seen in a few years. I was afraid that Scorsese was going the way of Tim Burton (as in down the tubes in a big hurry). But this is a redemption for Gangs of NY and The Aviator.

Scorsese's films have been too fairy tale - too cheesy mythical, even Casino was overly fantastical. But the language in the Departed seemed true to life. And it was expertly cast. Marky Mark is a douche-bag and is perfect.

But anyway Scorsese is going to play the Jeter role at the Oscars (as in snubbed). By the way: Who voted Jeter sixth place on their ballot? Think about it. That numb-nuts gets paid to write about baseball, a subject he or she clearly doesn't understand.

2006-11-25 09:19:26
5.   Bob Timmermann
Link to the voting here:
http://griddle.baseballtoaster.com/archives/558959.html
2006-11-25 09:21:43
6.   OldYanksFan
3 Thanks Bob. The only MLB history I've found on Alex Cabrera is 80 ABs in 2000 with Arizona. He did have 5 HRs, so he does have some pop, but not enough MLB history to draw any conclusions.

It might be instructional to find some players that have decent (sample) histories in both MLB and Japan, to see what their HR history is.

Any thoughts? Any players you can think of offhand?

2006-11-25 09:28:25
7.   unmoderated
what about our old pal Cecil Fielder? He hit 38 HRs for the Hanshin Tigers in 1989, and went on to hit 51 with 132 RBI in 1990 for the MLB Tigers.
2006-11-25 09:57:39
8.   EricGagnesGoggles
Sooo...
"The movie moves by quickly..."
and then
"The movie is too long..."
2006-11-25 10:11:41
9.   Bob Timmermann
6
From my experience, which is somewhat anecdotal, when foreign players go to Japan (with the exception of Korean star Seung Yeop Lee), they are usually players in MLB with poor strike zone judgment, but a lot of pop. Or they will develop some pop as they face easier pitching. For examples, guys like Tuffy Rhodes (who also hit 55 in a season), Andy Sheets, and Benny Agbayani, have done well in Japan.

Cabrera still strikes out a lot more than he walks and he is easily the most dangerous hitter in Seibu's lineup.

In general, the big OBP guys in MLB don't go to Japan because they would kept on in MLB where OBP is valued much more highly than it is in Japan.

An NPB lineup is usually constructed this way:

Speedy leadoff guy
Bunting guy
Good hitter
Big power hitter
Sort of good power hitter
Kinda good guy
Bad foreign player
Catcher
Really bad hitter

2006-11-25 10:40:17
10.   The Mick 536
First, Borat. The fight scene transcends comedy. Unexpected, gross, and hilarious, it catches ya off guard and never lets up. Sorta like the scene after the credits in the new Bond movie. My favorite scene has to be the dinner scene. The people really tried to be kind. Novel bit. Etiquette teacher to prep him. Toilet paper--who wipes? Menages a trois in his country. Woman he put down was better than OK. Did not like the way the evening ended, though. Did the dinner end because he invited an aging tart or a black woman?

The Departed was a cop/procedural movie, as much as a gansta movie. Like the Michael Connally serial presently running in the Times, at some level the Govt. does stuff ya don't want to know about. Parallax View. Very dark movie. They'd sell anyone for anything that suits them and they don't give a damn about our security. War is all government knows how to do and they don't know how to do it well. That is how Jack gets away with murder. What does he know? Who does the last shooter work for?

Sorry Alex. Superb Baldwin. Just thinking about himself. Great Jack. He too was all to himself. Prizzi to the 10th power. I'm going back to hear the riffs and to see the rest of the sex scene he wrote (if Marty lets them go out of the can). Thought that Leonardo diCaprio played a role that I hadn't seen before. Ray Winstone stole the show.

Liked the comment about the woman. Flamingo wasn't she. Marty don't do dames well. Weak. Woman shrinks have to compete with Dr. Melfi. And did she have to get pregnant?

2006-11-25 13:16:38
11.   C2Coke
8 I saw the movie and kind of understood what Alex meant because I had the similar feeling. The story lines move fast, but at the same time I kept catching myself checking my watch.

The music killed me too. The two things I couldn't stand were the music and the woman.
And no, I didn't think she had to get pregnant. To think an educated woman like her knows a thing or two about birth control...

DiCarprio-- though not nearly as good as Tony Leung(he was absolutely superb), the actor who played the same role in the original-- seemed like he tried hard to get away from his usual pretty self.

The Departed was a good translation from the original Infernal Affairs. Though at the same time, there's a reason why the 3 Mafias got one Oscar and Scorsese has none. The orginal to me was still better.

2006-11-25 15:28:46
12.   randym77
Rumor has it that the Reds want to add Craig Wilson to their collection of former Yankees. They need a righty first baseman to platoon with Hatteberg. And Wilson hit well in Cincinnati when he was a Pirate. He has a reputation for being "clutch," though he didn't show it with the Yanks.
2006-11-25 17:16:01
13.   mikeplugh
Nice write up Alex. In Japan, we don't get films until several months later. I recently saw The Devil Wears Prada, and thought it was brilliant. It isn't brilliant in the "Oscar Caliber" sense of the word, but it captured all that was good about Hollywood fluff when they were still concerned with story, acting, and depth.

Sure, there were a few things that I didn't like in the film, but Streep is a genius and the rest of the cast played their predictable roles with a sense of flair and inventiveness.

I hear so many good things about Borat, so I'm sure I'll see it if/when it arrives over here, but I've always been more of an Albert Brooks kind of guy when it comes to comedy. A little dry and a little intellectual. I still like the stupid "Three Stooges" brand as well, but a heady comedy is the best.

As for Scorcese, he'll always be good, but there are no real auteurs in the modern realm of directors. The 1970s and early 80s saw an amazing group of directors burst onto the scene and produce some of the finest cinema in the history of the artform. He was one of them, along with his mafia-film brother Francis Coppola. The music scene and film scene has changed so much since those days. Everything is overproduced and has too many bells and whistles. It used to be, a song could survive with a simple break beat, one baseline, and killer vocals. It used to be, a film could survive with a few incredibly written characters, some beautiful lighting, and a single camera that only panned, zoomed, and occasionally dollied. Now music has 1000 layers and you almost drown in the songs. Films use so many camera tricks, cg FX, million dollar sets, and famous faces that you drown in the meaninglessness of it all.

That's my rant for today. Long time no see Alex. Thanks again.

2006-11-25 19:43:42
14.   Alex Belth
Oh, I liked Baldwin. He was perfect, especially in the scenes when his shirt was soaked with sweat. Marky Mark was the ideal douche bag too. Scorsese has had some good female roles in the past--he's not nearly as one-demensional as a guy like Spike Lee in that regard. After all, look at "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." Ellen Burnstyn won the Oscar and they even made a TV show out of it. I like that one. It's a little strange, casting Scorsese out there in the west doing a mom/son buddy road picture, but it's expressionistic and interesting. The bratty kid was really good. Nice cameo by Jodi Foster as the Ripple-drinking delinquent.
2006-11-25 20:53:50
15.   joejoejoe
I saw a great sports documentary on DVD over the holiday. 'Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos'. It's a fun slice of life from the 1970s in NYC with a lot of intrigue and shady characters. Think of the book 'The Bronx is Burning' retold through the New York Cosmos. 'Once In A Lifetime' is also a detailed look behind the scenes of an upstart league in terms of expansion, television, gate, and (lack of) profitability. Also featured are some nasty stories about famous NY sportswriter Dick Young, who heckled the first Pele press conference - apparently because he thought it was a disgrace that Pele was paid more than Hank Aaron and soccer was for fruity foreigners with long hair.
2006-11-26 05:42:13
16.   sabernar
15 I idolized Giorgio Canaglia when I was a kid in the 70's.

According to Newsday, it looks like the Yanks are interested in signing Zaun as their backup catcher. His offense looks decent enough for a backup (career .725 OPS), but does anyone know how his defense is? And how he handles pitchers? Then again, I think he's older than Jorge - I think Zaun turned 35 this year.

2006-11-26 05:49:39
17.   sabernar
oops, that should be 'Chinaglia'
2006-11-26 07:42:40
18.   Matt B
Alex, the bratty kid in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was Alfred Lutter, who went on to become one of the Bad News Bears...the one with the clipboard, crunching numbers.

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