I May Be In The Minority…

…but I still think baseball movies are better than football movies, for the same reason the game is better. As I wrote in the first installment of this monologue/diatribe. The very thing that defines football, its speed, is the same thing that typically – please note I said typically – holds it back from being as good a subject as baseball. Baseball, by its very nature, allows time for introspection. This is a gross simplification, but at it’s core, football is action, baseball is drama. Yes, football can be dramatic and baseball has plenty of action, I get it. But I stand by the overall premise.

So as before, I’m including the Rotten Tomato score, or in the case of older films the IMDB user rating, scaled to match the 0-100 scale. The following are from number ten, up to my all-time favorite baseball and football movies.

10. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, 1976, 87. Let’s just start with James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor. Billy Dee is a fictional Satchel Paige, Mr. Jones a stand-in for Josh Gibson, and Richard is -well, Richard is Richard, in this great look at barnstorming team of ex-Negro League . A very, very funny movie that still manages to take a serious look at the awful state of segregation.

10. Rudy, 1993, 84. Yeah, a lot of people are really pissed right now. First, this idiot says baseball movies are better, and now he’s saying Rudy is just tenth!?! I’m outta here! That’s okay, maybe we’ll see you another time, like when I explain why Star Wars isn’t as great as everyone thinks it is. Anyway, as for Rudy, I like it a lot. I just like nine other football flicks more.

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9. Damn Yankees, 1958, 76. The only musical on either list, it’s all about the wish fulfillment of a broken-own old guy who sells his soul to lead the Yankees to the pennant. No, it isn’t the Alex Rodriguez story, but it does feature Ray Walston as the Devil, and man, he is so, so bad. By which I mean good. And as the poster says…

9. Friday Night Lights, 2004, 81. This look at big-time football in small-town Texas was the basis for the even more popular TV series. Awfully good, but only the third-best high school football movie.

8. A League of Their Own. You can tell the competition is heating up when I have to list this flick all the way down at eighth. Lori Petty is at her best, Geena Davis is great, and Tom Hanks merely turns in about his eighth-best performance – which is just terrific. Like Bingo Long, it’s a very funny movie that manages to take a serious look at the obstacles faced by a minority – this time, women in sports.

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8. Radio, 2003, 36. The movie about the challenged kid that’s adopted by his high school team. Let me just say that the aggregate rating of 36 is insane. I can understand it might not be your kind of movie, or your favorite, but to say it’s bad is ridiculous. Ed Harris is excellent as always, and Cuba Gooding Jr. again proves he is one of the most under-utilized actors today. If you don’t cry during this movie, never come back to this site again.

7. The Pride of the Yankees, 1942, 92. And if you don’t cry during this movie, just leave the damn planet. I can’t even write any more without Niagra Falls hitting me…

7. We Are Marshall, 2006, 49. Again, lots of tears, and how the hell did so many critics get this wrong? This is as good a time as any to mention that it was very, very difficult to rank the Lou Gehrig bio-pic so low, but there are just so many damn good baseball flicks, they can’t all be number one. On the other hand, I really didn’t have to struggle with the number one football flick until it got to the top three.

6. The Bad News Bears, 1976, 96. The third highest-rated baseball film on Rotten Tomatoes, and damn, is it good. Tatum O’Neal is just as good here as she was in her Oscar turn in Paper Moon, and Walter Matthau is at the height of his curmudgeonly powers. And was any 14 year old ever as badass as Kelly Leak? Thank you, Jackie Earle Haley.

6. North Dallas Forty, 1979, 85. Amazingly, there was less profanity in this gritty film about pro football than there was in the movie about Little Leaguers. Nick Nolte and Mac Davis play the stars of drug, sex, and booze fueled team in Texas. Yes, kiddies, it was in fact based on the Dallas Cowboys, based on a book by a former Cowboys wide receiver. I have to say, if they had cast an actual actor in the role of the QB, instead of first-time actor and hot-at-the-time country singer Mac Davis, this could have been the best football flick ever. Like, Burt Reynolds…who will pop up later.

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5. 42, 2013, 79. Of the two Jackie Robinson movies, the one not starring the Hall of Famer is by far the better. Two reasons; first, in 1950 they chose not to portray anything close to the abuse Robinson endured. Second,- well, let’s just say I’ll take Jackie on the diamond, but on the screen, it’s gotta be Chadwick Boseman. And for the 315 million of you that never saw Get On Up, the biopic of James Brown…you are missing Boseman in an even better performance.

5. Paper Lion, 1968, 63. I probably have this rated higher than any other list you could find, but it’s my list, dammit. Alan Alda is perfect as Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton, who actually did attend a tryout with the Detroit Lions. Plimpton’s son has stated that his father handled the pressure with more grace than was portrayed in the film, but, come on, it’s funnier to see Alda scream at Alex Karras than just shrug it off.

4. Eight Men Out, 1988, 85. A terrific film about the Black Sox scandal, with a terrific cast, highlighted by John Kusack as Buck Weaver, and the film’s director John Sayles in the important supporting role of journalist Ring Lardner, who broke the story. Sayles bears a remarkable resemblance to the writer. Pop quiz: Which is the director, and which the journalist? Careful now… The answer, later.

4. Jerry Maguire, 1996, 85. Much like The Blind Side, football serves as more of a backdrop than the driving force of the film. Take out football, and The Blind Side is still a great drama about a family adopting a kid who needed a chance. Take out football, and Jerry Maguire still needs Dorothy to complete him. I just don’t know where Rod Tidwell is gonna get his quan. Cuba Gooding Jr. was great in the role, of course, but thank God he won the Oscar, or we would have never seen one of the best acceptance speeches ever. Yes, it’s a damn shame #OscarsSoWhite this year. More on that another time.

3. Bull Durham, 1988, 97. Tied for the top rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I have at times said this is my favorite baseball movie of all time. And if I were to revisit in another five ears (or maybe five weeks), it may be again. Because “I believe in the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball”…and all the rest of it. Yes sir, Crash Davis. Yes sir.

3. Brian’s Song, 1971, 91. THE male tearjerker movie. The football version of Bang The Drum Slowly – except that this was based on fact, of course. Billy Dee Williams scores again as Gale Sayers, and James Caan gave probably his best performance as the doomed Brian Piccolo.

2. The Natural, 1984, 81. This too has taken the top spot for me at times. While some criticize what they see as the bastardization of Bernard Malamud’s dark theme of the pursuit of fame, I say – screw you. It’s Robert Redford. I’ll take the climax of the falling sparks reflected in Wilford Brimley’s glasses any day over the downbeat ending, thank you. Absolutely the most beautifully filmed sequence in any sports movie, maybe any movie. Thank you, Caleb Deschanel, one of the greatest cinematographers ever.

2. Remember The Titans, 2000, 73. Hopefully, every high school football team views this at least once before their season opener. Denzel Washington is – he’s Denzel, okay? It’s a bit redundant to say he’s great. Will Patton really shines in this for me, though. Denzel is amazing reading his grocery list, I’m sure. I love his performance, but Patton was just as good, and to me, had the more difficult role as well, as the character that had to change more. Great, great movie.

field dreams jej
You know this speech by heart

1. Field of Dreams, 1989, 86. Dennis Schwartz. Ralph Novak. Michael Wilmington. Dessen Thomson. Rita Kempley. Robin Clifford. David Sterrit. Peter Travers. Richard Corliss. These are the nine critics who thought the sublime treatment of fathers, sons, baseball and yes, dreams, was “gooey..” “hard to swallow” “mush”, and “the male weepie at its worst”. Gee, sorry none of you ever had fathers or dreams. Art is subjective, of course, and I’m really not calling any critic out for their opinion, especially not Sterrit, Travers or Corliss. But, come on. Even if 90 percent of the movie was crap, it would still make my top ten for two scenes alone. James Earl Jones’ great soliloquy on baseball..”The one constant through the years”, and the amazing presence of Burt Lancaster. Burt Lancaster, and that twinkle in his eye as he says, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes…”

longest yard
Game ball.

1. The Longest Yard, 1974, 81. Please, for the love of all that is holy, please note this is the original, not the remake that somehow asked you to believe Adam Sandler was not only funny, but a pro quarterback. Burt Reynolds is at his best, blending the hard edges of roles like Lewis in Deliverance with the wise-cracking sardonic wit from, well, The Tonight Show. Burt’s a funny guy. Anyway, the football scenes between the prisoners and the guards are great, and the grim battle of will between Eddie Albert’s corrupt Warden Hazen and Burt’s just-doesn’t-give-a-damn Paul “Wrecking” Crewe give the film the heft it needs to have something more at stake than just a game. It’s easily my favorite football movie…

…and I may be in the minority, but it still wouldn’t crack my top five sports movies. Football movies just aren’t that great. Oh, and John Sayles is in the color photo. Double reverse psychology for the win!

If You Get It Right – That Would Be Phenomenal!

by Rob Steele

Two things that happened last night that bugged me.

They happened during the Royal Rumble, which if you don’t know, because you live under a rock or something, is a professional wrestling pay-per-view done by the WWE. Yes I consider wrestling to be considerably more of a sport board then something like golf, because golf is primarily a guy swinging a stick at a ball in what feels like slow motion, and then walking. Now that’s actually to the spectator point of view I understand that there’s a lot more that goes out in the sport. I can hear the complaints now. “Rob like you gotta line up the ball and figure out where it’s going and there’s the wind and this and that.”

You know what shut up. It’s not a sport it’s a competition. I’ll give you a competition it’s not a sport. In sports people get excited. You don’t get excited in golf, or if you do you have to whisper it. So no, golf is not a sport.

In professional wrestling, yes, the outcomes are preordained. I don’t consider wrestling to be “fake.” I consider it to be scripted. There’s a big difference. Yes a lot of the punches thrown don’t actually connect with anything. That’s fine. But when you have somebody pick somebody else up and throw them and there’s no wires involved, there’s a bit more reality going on.

Now do these guys know how to land properly? Yes. Thus making it essentially a stuntman competition. Look at it that way and it’s fun, as opposed to golf which is boring no matter how exciting you try to make it.

So at the Royal Rumble last night there was a new participant in the WWE. He’s a guy I’ve known for quite some time (not personally). I’ve watched him wrestle. His name is “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles and he was known for over a decade as the face of Impact Wrestling, or TNA Wrestling, or TNA Impact Wrestling (if it would pick a name that would be nice) but my point is he’s actually a fairly big name wrestler who just happen to not be in the WWE- until last night when he was entering number three in the Royal Rumble.

I had two problems with this happening the way it did. Problem number one when he was introduced. Actually there a few things with his introduction, let’s start with his theme song. He’s had the same theme song, or at least a variation thereof, for as long as I’ve known him. (2004) When it kicks in, you automatically know who’s coming- in this case: AJ Styles.

Last night they didn’t do that and that bothers me because they started off with some kind of slow country music thing, which is not exactly what his theme song sounds like, and it never picked up. It made him look boring. AJ Styles is not boring.

AJ-Styles-Royal-Rumble-16-645x370
The Phenomenal One has FINALLY arrived. Can he save the WWE?

This is the WWE we’re talking about here. Vince McMahon, you’ve got the money splurge a little bit and get the song. I’m pretty sure AJ owns at least part of it by now. Of course they could not use his song because this would mean they have to acknowledge other wrestling companies. In a sense, I know, the announcers didn’t last night they said, “oh yes! He was the IGJPRFQ champion just like Brock Lesnar was!” Whatever the hell alphabet that was, it wasn’t the same as saying he was the five-time heavyweight TNA champion the six time X Division Champion and however many time tag team champion. (he’s got a lot of belts) And that doesn’t include New Japan or ROH. Did they mention any of those? No. Why? Because the WWE doesn’t care about history. (Which is why they’re dooming themselves by repeating it. More on that in a moment.) My point is that saying that might have actually built him up a little bit. And we can’t have that in a newcomer now can’t we?

The other big thing that bugged me was the way he was eliminated. If you don’t know about how to eliminate someone from a Royal Rumble match, you have to throw your opponent over the top rope and, yes, you can have up to, I think, they had at most 30 people in the ring at a time – up to 40 competitors. Last night there was just 30 – which is plenty.

AJ Styles was the third of the participants. A new one is introduced every two minutes or something (I wasn’t paying that much attention because I tuned and specifically to watch AJ and after that I didn’t care about the WWE- I’ll get to that in just a minute) He was eliminated a good half an hour later. That’s a pretty good run, but he was eliminated by a guy named Kevin Owens (formally Steen- of ROH)

What bothers me about him getting eliminated by Kevin Owens was not that he was eliminated by Kevin Owens. It was that Owens looked at AJ and said “welcome to the WWE!” before throwing him over the top rope. Here’s my problem with that. Kevin Owens has been with the WWE maybe six months. They got the absolute newest guy to say “welcome to the WWE!” Like he’s been there long enough to say that! If that have been said by Kane, who’s been there for 20 something years, or if it been said by Bray Wyatt, who’s still relatively new but has more than 6-months under his belt, I would have had a better time accepting that phrase being used there.

With Steen Owens, saying it, that doesn’t sit well with me.

What I was saying about not caring where the rest of the match, I didn’t. Still don’t. Especially since Triple H won the belt. Oh goody, nepotism at its finest! And that’s my biggest problem with the WWE. It is no longer about the wrestling. It’s about the ownership, namely Vince McMahon and Triple H, and how much wrestlers are willing to kiss their asses. In some cases, literally. I wish I didn’t mean that.

But there’s a bit of hope.

AJ Styles is not one of the biggest guys in the world. He’s a cruiserweight. Over the weekend, the WWE also signed Austin Aries (who I do know incidentally) to a deal with NXT – the minor leagues of the WWE. Couple those signings with the addition of a number of new “high flying” cruiserweight-style stars and we could see the return of the cruiserweight division which has been kept rather low-key in terms of being involved in the whole “Vince and Triple H Ego Show.”

You know. The way wrestling used to be. When it was fun. They have a great opportunity here and I honestly hope they don’t screw this up.   If they don’t, that would be Phenomenal.

I May Be In The Minority…

…but don’t worry, your regularly scheduled rant will return in this slot soon enough. For now, we’ll return to those halcyon days of yesteryear in 10th grade English: choose a subject, then compare and contrast, Mr. Vandenberg. Today we’ll learn why baseball movies totally rule, and football movies are the worst.

Baseball is a far different sport than football, as George Carlin famously described in his classic routine. Baseball, played at its own pace, encourages talk and reflection. Football, governed by the ever-ticking clock, is best discussed and digested after the game. In my mind, films about the sports reflect this aspect as well. Of course there are exceptions, as we’ll see. But baseball films tend to be more personal, deeper and richer than football films. I’ll rank my favorites from 20 through 11, comparing the baseball movie to its football counterpart. I made the cutoff at twenty because frankly, there aren’t a lot of great football movies. This forced me to leave out some pretty good baseball flicks like The Sandlot, Alibi Ike, It Happens Every Spring, Angels in the Outfield, and Ed. Yeah, just seeing if you were paying attention with Ed.

I haven’t matched films for similar themes, although in some cases they do match up well; this is simply my personal ranking of the movies. I’m including the Rotten Tomato score, or in the case of older films the IMDB user rating, scaled to match the 0-100 scale.

Jackie-Robinson-Story

20. The Jackie Robinson Story, 1950, 63. Not a great film, but it’s pretty awesome to see one of the all-time greats portraying himself, even a deeply sanitized retelling of his struggles. The story is better told in the terrific 42.

20. Everybody’s All-American, 1988, 30. A college star fades, and finds that life sucks. Dennis Quaid is good, at least.

19. The Life and Time of Hank Greenberg, 2000, 97. This documentary shows that Greenberg had his own battles to be accepted in baseball. The lesson of America: don’t be different.

19. All the Right Moves, 1983, 53. Tom Cruise does good work as an angsty high school football star.

18. Fear Strikes Out, 1957, 82. Tony Perkins is terrible as a ballplayer, but exceptional portraying the emotional battles of Red Sox star Jimmy Piersall.

18. Varsity Blues, 1999, 40. A CW take on high school football, years before the CW began.

17. Ballplayer: Pelotero, 2012, 88. Great documentary that focuses on two kids in the Dominican Republic and the signing process in the MLB. By the way, Dominican means Shortstop in Spanish.

17. The Replacements, 2000, 41. Coach Gene Hackman turns to a bunch of scrubs when the real players go out on strike. Keanu Reeves proves to be a baller.

16. 61*, 2001, 80. This HBO feature follows Maris and Mantle in their chase of Ruth’s single season record. Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane shine in their respective roles. Thank you, Billy Crystal! Yep, that Billy Crystal, who not only produced the film, he directed it as well.

16. Knute Rockne, All American, 1940, 68. Pat O’Brien plays the legendary Notre Dame coach, and Ronald Reagan impersonates George Gipp. You know, win one for the Gipper? Yeah, we got eight years of him because of this movie.

15. Major League, 1989, 82. C’mon, you know this movie. I’ll say, “Just a bit outside”, and leave it at that.

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15. Any Given Sunday, 1999, 51. Al Pacino is loud, Cameron Diaz is mean, and Dennis Quaid (again) plays ball. At least Quaid and Jamie Foxx looked like they could play.

14. The Rookie, 2002, 83. Damn, that Quaid guy sure likes sports roles. Here, he plays high school coach Jim Morris, who at the age of 35 regained his fastball and played two years in the bigs. Yes, it’s a true story. Amazing.

14. Invincible, 2006, 71. Another “old guy makes it” story, in this case with Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, who debuted with Philadelphia Eagles at the age of 30. Oddly enough, this is the only film at which Dick Vermeil never cried.

13. The Stratton Story, 1949, 83. Jimmy Stewart plays pitcher Monty Stratton, who managed to get back to the minors after losing his leg in a hunting accident. The film won the Oscar for best screenplay.

13. The Blind Side, 2009, 66. Another real-life story, about the journey of Michael Oher, who came from a tough background to a career in the NFL. Naturally, the white lady won the Oscar. Yep, I went there.

moneyball

12. Moneyball, 2011, 94. A great look at the mechanics of how teams are assembled, and sabermetrics. Yes, I am a geek. Oh yeah, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill rock this flick.

12. Undefeated, 2011, 96. This story of a small-town, resource poor team that won it all won the Oscar for best documentary. No flippant comment; this is a great movie.

11. Bang The Drum Slowly, 1973, 88. Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarity are terrific in this story about a not-too-bright catcher and the world-wise pitcher who takes him under his wing.

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11. Semi-Tough, 1977, 80. Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, and Jill Clayburgh are at their peak in this funny, sexy look at two football pros, their mutual girlfriend, and the weirdness that was the 70s.

The average Rotten Tomato score for the baseball flicks is 84. For the football movies, it’s 59.6. While these are my personal rankings, the overall scores for baseball compared to football changes little including the top ten. So those rankings may be biased, but they’re not my bias. And we haven’t even gotten to my personal top ten movies – sure, there are some great football flicks, but nothing that stands up to the best of baseball.

So maybe football movies aren’t the worst, unless they’re football movies with Adam Sandler. For once I’m in the majority – football movies aren’t as good as baseball movies. The worst critic’s consensus score was 63 for The Jackie Robinson Story; all other baseball-themed films scored at least 76. There are twelve football movies that scored under 76, five under 50. Baseball just lends itself to storytelling better than football. Add a great cinematic team, and baseball is magical in a way that football just can’t reach.

I may be in the minority, but I’d rather watch a replay of Game One of the ’88 World Series than Super Bowl 50 live. Or even It Happens Every Spring.

I May Be In The Minority…

…but exactly how did Adam Sandler’s latest flick, the direct-to-streaming The Ridiculous 6, set viewership records on Netflix? In its first thirty days of availability, more people watched this movie (sorry, won’t refer to it as a film, and yes I’m one of those people) than any other film in its initial 30 days. That’s right, an Adam Sandler flick was more popular (at least initially) than any other movie.

The-Ridiculous-Six-movie

So…a movie with a resounding rating of 18 out of 100 on Metacritic is the people’s choice for streaming. This explains a lot of the political scene today…but I digress; that’s a topic for another time. The quick answer regarding The Ridiculous 6 is that Netflix promoted it very heavily; they should, they produced it. Sandler certainly has an established fan base. And of course the title plays off Tarantino’s The Hateful 8.

But this isn’t really about Adam Sandler, either; well, not eventually. But for now, let’s look at Mr. Sandler’s last 10 movies. I’m not including voice work here or strictly acting appearances, just flicks that he produced and or wrote – you know, basically the Happy Madison productions.

Title                                                               IMDB user score           Metacritic score

The Ridiculous 6 5 18
Pixels 5.7 27
The Cobbler 5.8 23
Blended 6.5 31
Grown Ups 2 5.4 19
That’s My Boy 5.6 31
Jack and Jill 3.4 23
Just Go With It 6.4 33
Grown Ups 6 30
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan 5.5 54

 

Please note there’s a ringer in there, and that would be Just Go With It. Sandler was not a writer for the project, but it is a co-production of Happy Madison, so I’ll let that in, just to help the guy out.

So the average rating for his last ten pictures – movies in which he had control – is a resounding 5.53 out of 10 for user ratings – that is, people who watch movies – and 28.9 out of 100 from the critics.

Now, if you like Adam Sandler’s movies, go ahead, like ’em. I’m not saying you’re wrong – I’m saying you have weird taste, but then again, I loved Chappie. Let’s look at the two movies that put him on the map:

Billy Madison                  6.4       16

Happy Gilmore                7.0       31

Wow, the critics REALLY hated Billy Madison. Anyway, that average of 6.7 and 31.5 is quite a bit better. And to cheat a little, while there was no Happy Madison production company as of yet, Sandler’s writing partner for the first two flicks (Tim Herlihy) did write this classic:

The Wedding Singer       6.8       59

Now we’re looking at an average user rating of 6.7, and a Metacritic average of 35.3. And yes, that’s STILL pretty crappy, but a damn sight better than what he’s done lately. I can’t even see the trailer for Jack and Jill without throwing up in my mouth a little bit. The old Adam Sandler would just say that; the new Sandler says it, shows it to you, describes how it tastes, then shows you again. Then laughs about it, then shows you a third time.

Happy-Gilmore-Poster

And that’s the issue as I see it. He’s forgotten what’s truly funny. Remember his days on Saturday Night Live? Of course they weren’t all treasures, but he did a lot of genuinely funny bits. Happy Gilmore is overall, one heck of a funny movie. Sandler didn’t let himself devolve into the excesses you see in the dreck he’s been doing for the past several years. He’s certainly never done high brow comedy; that just isn’t his thing. He’s certainly a very smart guy, and capable of excellent performances; just watch him in Funny People or Punch-Drunk Love. In the right team, he delivers.

And that as I see it is the entire problem; his team. Sandler, in my view, has surrounded himself with the old gang, the guys he came up with, and in almost every respect, that is admirable. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from, and he’s taking the boys along for the ride. Problem is, it looks like none of his gang is willing or perhaps even capable to tell him no. As in, “Adam, love you man, but playing your own twin sister – just, no.” I have nightmares about a movie I’ve never seen. And I will NEVER see it.

Jack-and-Jill

Sandler is on the same road that other great comics have traveled, former mega-stars like Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey. Oh, sorry, you actually liked Pluto Nash and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Like Sandler, they lost their touch too. Of course I’m not in their inner circle (I’d like that, though, there’s probably some leftover Cristal from 1990).

So finally, here’s the point. Successful people don’t surround themselves with yes men; they gather teams with differing viewpoints, people who have the courage to say, “Seriously, man. You cannot play your own sister.” And to come back around to politics, why would you vote for someone who obviously doesn’t listen to differing opinions, someone who brooks no dissent in his own camp? Lincoln’s cabinet was famous, perhaps infamous, for the battle of wills and ideas. And Lincoln actively encouraged this; he wanted to hear all the possible sides of every argument, so he could make the best decisions possible. I believe that’s a problem a lot of today’s candidates have, and the problem Mr. Sandler has as well.

I may be in the minority, but I’m holding out hope for the next Happy Madison project: Adam Sandler as “Abraham and Mary Todd”.

Free your mind!

Let me guess – it’s 2016 and you made some New Year’s resolutions – right? What you’re really thinking is that you can’t wait for February – so that you can return to your old habit and not feel guilty.  Habits can be a trap for people in leadership positions – whether they are in business, politics or in any other industry.

Simply making a New Year’s resolution to have a more open mind in 2016 likely won’t be enough to turn things around. There are behaviors and practices that, through repetition and perseverance, can help leaders and anyone else develop a mindset that’s open to imaginative and better ideas. Continue reading “Free your mind!”

I May Be In The Minority… by Todd Vandenberg

…but I think there’s a place for a non-sports column on a (mainly) sports site. Actually, Baseball Beer BBQ has always been about much more than sports; this is just my part of the reboot/relaunch/rebirth/rediculousnesses of that. Continue reading “I May Be In The Minority… by Todd Vandenberg”

“The Muse You Are Looking For” by Lee Vowell

As I was stuck on a boat Sunday afternoon forced to listen to the drivel that is Fleetwood Mac (even worse, the album was recorded live showing the true banality that becomes that band) and then followed up by the Killers’ terrible album, Battle Born, I waited in hopeful anticipation to listen to the newly-released Muse album, Drones, on Monday. I have found the last two Muse albums (the Resistance from 2009 and 2012’s The 2nd Law) to be musical experiments that should have just become unreleased basement tapes. I was hoping that the newest Muse album would not be the third consecutive disappointing album the band released. I like what the band did early in their career, I must admit, so maybe what the band had done over the last few years, and my distaste for it, just proves that I am an old man who tells new sounds to stay off his lawn, metaphorically speaking. Early Muse is simply great, though, and the band promised me personally via interviews with very public magazines that this new album would be like their old days, and so I held out all hope that the album would drive from my brain Fleetwood Mac’s creative emptiness.

Before we get to Muse, though, I do want to touch on the Barenaked Ladies album, Silverball, which was released last week. I understand the differences between the way the Barenaked Ladies and Muse approach making music are vastly different. One, BNL, is truly a band that makes pop records and usually an album that is a collection of singles from the band would be better than any specific album of original music they would release. The band has a number of very good singles. Those releases cover 20 years. The albums, though, are hit and miss. BNL has now gone three straight records without former co-lead singer/writer Stephen Page. While Page was not the sole driving force behind the band’s commercial success, he was one of two driving forces, along with Ed Robertson. The group misses Page’s influence. Nearly all of their best singles come from the Page-Robertson era. Consider “If I Had a Million Dollars” without Page; it is not fun. I wonder what BNL would be like if Page were still with the band, and though this may be just popcorn dreams, I hope he one day returns. The group still produces quality pop music, just not at the level it did when Page was a part. The band also appears to have made a carbon copy of their previous release, Grinning Streak, in terms of song flow. This is not necessarily bad until the end song, “Tired of Fighting with You.” This song sounds exactly like the last song on Grinning Streak in terms of production and pace. The problem is that “Tired…” is not a good song and should not be on the album. Why the band chose to mimic the previous album so closely, I do not know, but songs like “Tired…” would not have made the cut had there been three or four Page-Robertson offerings ready to go. I am afraid that a band that the world really needs (because the world needs bands that make very solid, not overproduced, pop songs) does not have a lot of ideas left. Page does not have to return for the band to continue, but I think the group, and therefore the world, needs him to rejoin. Silverball is not a bad album, but it lacks charisma. If you like the Barenaked Ladies, get this album. It is not their best, but it has a number of good songs (“Toe to Toe” being my favorite). If you do not care for BNL, I would move on from this one.

Muse has, at times, had the opposite problem of the Barenaked Ladies. The band is three very talented musicians who tend to have too many ideas and then they let those ideas control the making of a record. The 2nd Law is an experiment in electronic music. The Resistance was overtaken by too many wind instruments. Muse is a band that rocks! They have the capability of making great music that incorporates electronic and symphonic influences without the need to have those be the primary driving forces of an album, but sometimes the band seems to lose singular focus. Maybe it is a rock trio thing? Rush is another great band with talented musicians, but for a good portion of their later career they became so self-engrossed they seemed to lose sight of the fact that people wanted to hear Rush, instead of three guys in a band called Rush. My worry over the last two Muse records was that they were turning into Rush. The two groups are not dissimilar. Both bands like a big sound with driving guitar with songs that can border on epic. Is it coincidence that an English band like Muse chose to get back to basics in the Canadian homeland of Rush? (The album was recorded at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, B.C.) Probably. But it is pretty chewy scenery nonetheless.

So, do Muse get back more to the older sound? Mostly, yes. The beginning of the first song, “Dead Inside,” was a little scary, though. The song starts off plastic and electronic. I was thinking, “Oh no, guys. You promised!” Two minutes in, things change. The group’s sound morphs into something resembling a track from the album, “Absolution”: enveloping production, big guitars and drums and lead-singer Matt Bellamy singing strongly. Bellamy’s voice has always been one of the band’s most underrated but important qualities. There are many bands that can successfully create a wall of sound, like Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, but none of them have singers who can carry songs on their own like Muse. Bellamy’s voice is an instrument and it is one of the best in rock. He is at his best when his singing adds to the tension of the often-rising bridges and choruses of the band, and while he accomplishes this many times on Drones, the first time I heard him sing this way on “Dead Inside” I realized I could relax and that this album would be ok.

The second proper track (there are two tracks on the album that are basically segues and one falls in between tracks one and three, the other between tracks six and eight), “Psycho,” is more of the same as track one. The bridge of the song has a vocal texture that sounds exactly like a Manson song. The texture is a bit different for Muse, but it works well. Other standouts from the record are “The Handler” and “Revolt,” and all these represent a Muse sound from five years ago.

One song that might be the difference between a Muse fan finding the record to be really good or not so good is “Aftermath.” I would not call the song pop, but others might. The song sounds like Muse, but does it sound like a watered-down Muse? That is a question all Muse fans must ask themselves. On this particular track, I will not try to convince you either way.

The album’s penultimate song is one that few rock bands would dare try. “The Globalist” is a ten minute opus that takes slight twists and turns, but ends up on the right road. Muse has done this type song many times before and has no issues with successfully pulling it off. Your top ten singles recording artists for the most part would never dream of doing a song like this, and hardly any would have the talent to know how. The final song, “Drones,” is purely vocal and a bit overproduced. If the band had left “Drones” off the record, the album would have suffered nothing.

There has been some criticism of the record, but it has received mostly positive reviews. The criticism seems to come mainly from the fact that Muse has made a concept album, and therefore tried to do something serious. The album follows a protagonist’s journey from abandonment to indoctrination as a “human drone” and eventual defection. The question is, if a person were not interested in how a band sounded in the first place, would a concept album draw them in? Did Muse make this album thinking, “We will pick up so many new fans if we address this issue!” First of all Muse has addressed serious subjects before, just not as an entire album. Secondly, the album is full of great rock music. Take what you will from the lyrics and subject matter, but can you sit back and turn the volume up and enjoy this record? Absolutely! And that is why you purchase the album today. Right now. And it sure as hell beats Fleetwood Mac any day of the week.

Dodgers In Trouble? by Lee Vowell

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers homer. I want them to win every game, but when they do lose I am insane enough to think 1) I somehow something to do with it (Was it what I wore that day? Is it because I watched the game?), and 2) this will be the first loss in a string of around 874 of them. As I write this the Dodgers have been shut out twice in a row by the evilness to the North, the New York/San Francisco Giants. Part of the issue with the last two games is what has concerned me for the entire season thus far. And so, I share my pessimism with you now. Continue reading “Dodgers In Trouble? by Lee Vowell”

Pacquiao’s Policy of Truthiness by Lee Vowell

I am a hypocrite. I like boxing. I always have. I hate violence. I always have. The fact that I enjoy sanctioned violence is hypocritical. But still, I like boxing and I cannot seem to stop. I used to be in Gold Gloves when I was a teenager. I liked it. The thought of actually hitting someone with my fists repulses me, though. I hope I never have to do it. But I don’t mind watching other people getting paid to do it well. I am a hypocrite. So is boxing. The sport is there for the athletes who box well to make lots of money. Then the sport turns on itself as it has since the Floyd Mayweather and (allegedly) Manny Pacquiao match this past Saturday. Lawsuit after lawsuit from all kinds of people and angles, trying to chip away at those people involved in a match that made at least $300 million. Saturday’s match could have put boxing back in the public view of entertainment sports, but almost immediately the business of boxing reminded everyone why it fell from the graces of the sports-minded public in the first place: it’s a dirty, backstabbing and cruel business. I like boxing. Boxing hates itself. Continue reading “Pacquiao’s Policy of Truthiness by Lee Vowell”

Ichabod Hyde: The Interview with Paige Turner

This interview by Paige Turner is a Baseball Beer and BBQ (BBB) exclusive.

Ichabod Hyde has been the front man for Bitchhead for nearly 25 years. His band’s music has been called anything from “techno bluegrass” to “Appalachian industrial.” Known more for their live shows, and small, mostly local and fiercely loyal cult following, Bitchhead releases their 12th live album later this year.

BBB: Your band has famously never produced a studio album.  Why is this? And do you see this fact changing at any point? Continue reading “Ichabod Hyde: The Interview with Paige Turner”