Monday Morning Critic – 8.17

On tap this week:
— Baseball
— More rampant stupidity that is my life
— In defense of Armond White
And slightly much more!

When I was in high school I was an amateur wrestler. And a pretty decent one at that. I took a 4th at a conference invite as a senior, lettered for three years, and always was fascinated by the art of the grapple. And with all the soccer I’ve played over the years I never did anything outside of it for fun and games. So, at the urging of a couple friends, I decided to enroll in a jiu-jitsu class at a local martial arts dojo.

Yeah, perhaps not my brightest idea, but I need another workout besides the gym during the week and it’s supposed to be good for the footwork. Getting between the sticks is one thing, but sometimes you need to get outside your comfort zone and into something different.

And it’s at times like this I remember why I stay on the pitch.

It’s not that the workout was above and beyond what I was used to, because it wasn’t. It was a good, hard workout that left me sweating and breathing hard but it wasn’t the sort of one that breaks you. But it wasn’t the workout that left me wondering why on Earth I’d done it. It’s the few times I actually started to learn submissions that I realized how painful they really are.

Yeah . . . . you watch the UFC and see like an armbar and go “Hey, that doesn’t look so bad. Why’s he tapping out so quick?” and until you get put in one you don’t realize that it’s really painful. Sempai Will really knows how to do it and tapping just was the only option that made sense. Granted it was only practice, as Shihan Gangi was only showing us as opposed to letting us roll, which made sense as I would’ve taken a beating from the high school kids who are also in the class, but man. Sometimes trying new things makes you realize things.

Soccer always came easy to me. It is why I played competitively for so long; I was better then most people at the game. Not as much now, of course, but I’m still pretty good. But I forgot how tough it was to do something athletically that I had never done before. It’s a weird feeling that I’d forgotten; usually most things I’m just good enough of an athlete than I can hold my own outside the wheelhouse. So this is going to be fun, to say the least.

But then again, thoughts like these kept me out of the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

I was reading on Roger Ebert’s blog about his thoughts on Armond White, who had made headlines in the geek community at Rotten Tomatoes by absolutely crucifying District 9. He was one of the few to do so, and you can read his words here. It is quite the verbal laceration of a film I thought I was excellent, but I can see why he eviscerated it. It’s a thoughtful, eloquent piece and I can see why he wrote what he wrote. Reading Ebert’s follow up kind of ticked me off, though, and it’s a line in particular that bugs me.

‘It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2” but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll.’

Part of cinema, I’ve always thought, is that it’s a shared experience. It’s why I love being in the cinema, probably having spent more time in the dark with a huge screen and a couple hundred strangers then doing anything else since I was a teenager, but the fact that Ebert spends his life trying to share cinema and then now just lifts his head up in the air because someone disagrees with him is kind of shocking.

I’ve been reading and watching Ebert since I was a kid. “Siskel and Ebert At the Movies” was a staple of my childhood and from how he spoke, he always discusses the universality of cinema. And the one thing I always got about Ebert is that he liked discussing films he disagreed with others on. He and Siskel always had the best arguments on stuff neither agreed on and it was one of the staples of the show. So to see Ebert go from defending someone’s ability to like (or dislike) a film to just dismissing their opinion outright is a bit disappointing. I expect more from Roger, especially in this case.

Reading a profile of White is to see why he thinks the way he does. He’s an incredibly bright man who has a different view of cinema, much different from most of the film critics in this country, but it isn’t a bad thing. The fact that White disagrees so often should be a good thing. The problem with film critics in this country, it seems, is that people don’t trust them anymore.

A film critic, a true one, is one who does for it a living and not as a hobby. Hence why I don’t call myself one; I’m a guy who writes about movies. Nothing more. Anyone on this, or any other web site in our little niche, who wants to talk about themselves in higher terms is deluding themselves. My buddy Matt, who is the main film critic at a local paper, is the real deal. And the numbers of guys like Matt are shrinking with the collapse of the newspaper, and the diversity of opinion is disappearing with it.

So the shrinking collection of film critics in this country have a bit of a dilemma and with the shrinking of numbers comes with it a bit of groupthink. It’s a little tiresome to hear the same opinion about nearly every film. There’s a lockstep of opinion about most major films and it gets tiresome to read nearly the same opinion on the same film. Wait until Oscar season and you’ll see what I mean. There is no true difference of opinion once the prestige pictures come out for the most part. It gets annoying because there seems to be a series of talking points distributed to most major film critics because they repeat them like parrots.

Someone like White, who usually disagrees with major sentiments, serves a useful purpose. A lot of times he’s correct, too. Synechdoche, NY was one of the more painful cinematic experiences of my life and yet it was disturbing to see how many people went nutty for it. Same with The Darjeeling Limited and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; both of those films were the type that made you think “Are they still filming this movie and sending footage to the theatre” kind of long and painful. And yet nearly every critic (save a couple) raved about the same things about both flicks OVER and OVER to the point where it feels like it’s been bought and paid for by the same group.

The beauty of cinema is a shared experience, I’ve always thought, but it’s never the same experience for everyone.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s Film – For Love of the Game


There’s something inherently American about the game of baseball that no other sport can really grasp. Football is a hairy-knuckled cousin of soccer. Hockey is Canadian and we’ve just borrowed it for our own purposes. Basketball has always been more of a world game then an American one, despite our having invented it. Baseball is the sort of father-son experience that is uniquely Americana in the world sports lexicon, and the baseball movie (when done well) is one of American cinema’s strongest contributions to the silver screen experience. And for all the horrid films Kevin Costner has forced upon audiences worldwide, every time he makes a film involving baseball all is forgiven. Heck, he’s made a handful of masterpieces outside of baseball films that excuse nearly his entire library of work. But it’s in America’s past-time where we can find Costner’s cinematic redemption.

His first two baseball films are certified American classics: Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. They both featured stories about one thing: the love of the game. And in that vein he collaborated with Sam Raimi (yes, THAT Sam Raimi) to try and recapture that magic. And for a while, it works. It’s just when it gets away from baseball and sidetracked by one of the many flashbacks it doesn’t work as much.

The film’s main premise is about a man reflecting on his life at a critical point. He’s conquered every mountain possible with his team, the Detroit Tigers (kudos to the film-makers for getting Major League Baseball to license their trademarks for the film instead of using fill-ins), and they’re about to get sold by their long-time owner (Bryan Cox). He’s probably going to be traded, along with anyone else of value, so this is his probably his last game as a Tiger. His catcher (John C. Reilly) is at the end of his run, too, and to top it off the love of Billy Chapel’s life is about to leave for a job overseas. As he pitches the game of his life, he reflects on everything that got him there.

When it comes to the baseball, Raimi crafts a near perfect film. When it’s Billy Chapel discussing the game or how it’s changed in his lifetime it is a gut-wrenching film. We can see the love of baseball through his eyes and it’s obvious that Raimi is a baseball fan with the love and care he provides for it. As Chapel goes through his life, the romantic entanglement doesn’t work. It’s not that he and Kelly Preston don’t make for a pleasing couple; they just don’t have the sort of chemistry one needs to make a film like this work.

Solid recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Inglourious Basterds – Brad Pitt leads a bunch of Jewish soldiers behind enemy lines in World War II France to do one thing: kill Nazis.

SEE IT – I did see this already, review up Thursday night or so, and it is awesome. One of the year’s best.

Post Grad – Alexis Bidel is a college graduate trying to find her place in the world.

See it – Bidel is unusually good at picking good projects to star in. And when she headline something, it’s a film I go to see.

Shorts – Robert Rodriguez establishes his bonafides as a kid’s flick director.

Skip it – Outside of the first Spy Kids film, all his kiddie flicks suck. This one won’t be anything different.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

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