November 16, 2012

Holy Motors reviewed.

Holy Motors is, without a doubt, the most batshit crazy film I've ever seen in theaters. It's also one of the best. If you like alternating between perplexed guffawing and mouth-agape befuddlement, this one's for you.

The plot is hard to pin down, in a good way. The best explanation, without saying too much, is that it's a series of mini-movies. One features a creepy leprechaun-type person hopping around a cemetery, another bursts into a very manufactured Kylie Minogue performance that ends with the kicking of a mannequin head. There's parental disappointment and simulated motion-capture sex.

It should be unintelligible, and it kinda is. But there's something about a director who tells his story with confidence and a clear vision, who paces properly and ensures that all his scenes have the same style, the same uncertain tone underneath, that can magically tie a film together thematically. I've never seen any other films by Leos Carax; I didn't even know who he was until 12 hours ago. But I'm blown away by his ability to entwine a series of seemingly unrelated scenes and make them flow so wonderfully.

To create a movie this bizarre, you need the perfect actor. Someone who fully grasps what you're trying to do, who buys into the insanity and throws himself (or herself) into a role. Or in this case, six or seven. Denis Lavant is that person. Oh, he's that and more. He'll never win Best Actor or any kind of serious awards, but you may never see a better performance. He's a goddamn chameleon, and you'll spend the whole two hours wondering what he'll do (or look like) next.

It's hard not to compare Holy Motors to the year's most engrossing, if not high-grossing, independent film. The performances in The Master were stunning, but I don't think Paul Thomas Anderson was fully able to turn his ideas into a movie. It wears being incomprehensible like a badge of honor; you can fight to piece it together, but I'm not sure how much it helps. Even if we're supposed to be absorbing the events through the boozy, unstable eyes of Joaquin Phoenix's character, there's still something off. It's not fleshed out. And it's not because of a lack of trying. It's a lack of substance.

By contrast, there is too much substance in Holy Motors. It's overflowing. Everything feels linked, even if the separate scenarios are so loosely tied together that the only connection is you're sitting in the same seat still watching (ostensibly) the same movie. When the guy hugs his monkey wife and pets his monkey child, you nod approvingly. Of course that's what happens next. It builds up to a certain absurdity so that practically anything is expected and/or accepted. The only way to describe it is an almost unimaginable level of brilliant, entrancing filmmaking.

I walked into the theater a little sleepy and totally unprepared for what I was about to witness. My friend Rob Turbovsky had recommended the film wildly, and I'd done no research beforehand. No trailers, no reviews. I hadn't gone to a movie fully blind since my brother and I randomly walked into The Proposition six years ago.

And I'd recommend the same for all viewers. I actually considered not writing this review, out of fear that it could spoil certain aspects any readers, but I couldn't resist. Holy Motors has its cinematic fingers wrapped around my throat. I had to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, because it's that mesmerizing.

In fact, this review from Mike D'Angelo of The A.V. Club says it better than I ever could:
"It’s the kind of bugfuck cliff-dive that’ll still be celebrated decades after most of 2012’s prestige awards-bait has been forgotten."
If I had to make an early top-10 list for this year, it would include Moonrise Kingdom, Undefeated, Sleepwalk with Me and Wreck-It Ralph. The Avengers was pretty close to perfection, too. But the only movie that's really gripped me this year, gotten into my head and refused to come out, is Holy Motors.

November 13, 2012

This is going to get worse before it gets better.

The worst part about the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles season? It doesn't end until December 30.

There are seven weeks left. Seven games remaining, seven more chances to further reinforce that the Eagles are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

29th in points scored per game. 22nd in points allowed per game. Tied for 28th in sacks. 31st in turnover differential.

Todd Bowles hasn't improved the defense. In fact, he's kinda made things worse.

Michael Vick or Nick Foles? With a patchwork offensive line that now includes a guy signed off the street, it won't matter.

The time for queries, for "what'll fix this," that's long over. There's no bouncing back from 3-6, from a five-game losing streak, from a minus-65 point differential.

But you're not allowed to simply wave the white flag; there are tickets sold, concessions to peddle, beer to drink and Sundays to fill. So the machine'll plod ahead, all of us awaiting the inevitable.

Andy Reid will go about his business, refusing to give up on his guys, the ones that cost him his job, the ones that everyone else has abandoned. Unless they find new, unprecedented ways to embarrass themselves, he'll survive until Week 17, hoping against hope that it won't be his last game as head coach of the Eagles.

But it will be. The day he fired Juan Castillo (or, if you believe Les Bowen, the day he chose Vick over Kevin Kolb) was the official beginning of the end. Reid was rightly desperate, but the only bullet left in the chamber just sped up the downward spiral.

It felt like this year might be something special. A full offseason to gel, a well-regarded draft, a handful of contract extensions and placated veterans.

Talk about being dead wrong. And any anger I felt has already bypassed sadness and evolved into apathy. In fact, this is the last thing I expect to write about football until the offseason. I won't miss it.

Now it's all about the little things. Finding new ways to occupy yourself on game day, either by watching other teams or (gasp) going out into the world. I was blessed enough to spend Sunday on a bus from New York City to Washington DC, cut off from all forms of televised sports. I think the only Eagles fans luckier than me were the dead ones.

November 6, 2012

The case for, and against, B.J. Upton.

In 2007, a 22-year-old named Melvin Emanuel Upton hit .300/.386/.508 in 548 plate appearances for the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He was 10th in the American League in OPS and ninth in slugging percentage. Bossman Junior had arrived.

Those same Rays, now sans-Devil, made the World Series in 2008. After a very quiet sophomore season (nine homers, .401 SLG), Upton socked three dingers in the ALDS and four in the ALCS before coming up lame against the mighty Philadelphia Phillies. Perhaps superstardom wasn't in his future, but the kid obviously had the kind of talent that most teams would treasure.

But here we are, late in 2012, and B.J. Upton is available to all who may want him. And not only that; he's affordable! The second pick in the 2002 draft, with 118 homers and 232 steals at the age of 28, can be had for the low, low price of (probably) $65 million over five years.

By comparison, Josh Hamilton is asking for (and probably won't get) seven years and $175 million. He's a 31-year-old former drug addict, albeit one who hit 43 homers in 2012. If he's big risk/big reward, Upton is medium risk/medium reward. You seemingly know what you're getting, but is he worth such a (relatively) modest commitment?

Upton's averaged a .416 slugging percentage since his breakout 2007 season, which is about right. I don't think anyone expected him to slug around .500 for his career, and he's become a steady 30-double, 25-homer kinda guy. The real concern is his on-base percentage, specifically how it's sunk like a stone. Starts at a mighty .386 in 2007, steady at .383 in 2008, plummets to .313 in 2009. And it's gotten worse -- his .298 OBP in 2012 puts him in a class with famed flame-outs (and, sigh, occasional postseason award winners) like Delmon Young and Gordon Beckham.

So what happened to B.J. Upton? Maybe just time and regression. Eric Seidman of Phillies Nation reminds us that "offense is declining across the sport," which doesn't explain such a massive fall but does provide a new context in which to view Upton's numbers. He also notes that his unadjusted OBP over the last three seasons falls in line with the American League average, favorably comparing B.J. to Shane Victorino and implying that Upton would essentially provide what Shane brought to the table from 2010 to 2012.

I think we'd all take that. But I still find it disconcerting that Upton's numbers have gotten worse, not better, as his career goes on. His strikeouts have increased every year since 2008, reaching 169 this past season; maybe the league figured him out, or maybe Upton couldn't make the adjustments necessary to go from good to great.

Then again, if B.J. Upton had a yearly OPS that matched his monster 2007, he would cost a lot more than $13 million per year. You get what you pay for. And it's conceivable that Citizens Bank Park could be part of the cure for whatever ails him; Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay consistently ranks as one of the worst parks in baseball for hitters.

It couldn't hurt the Phillies to get younger, and while Angel Pagan or even the aforementioned Victorino might be smarter (read: cheaper) investments, Upton provides more upside. Plus, there's no guarantee that skimping on center field would mean using that money wisely in other areas. Big-market teams should spend as such, and if Ruben Amaro Jr. is looking to snag lightning in a bottle with his new centerfielder, Bossman Junior's skills and potential make him the best bet.

November 1, 2012

The great debate continues.

Fourteen months ago to the day, I engaged in an enjoyable debate with my friend Matt Kakley over who deserved to be the 2011 American League MVP. I said Jose Bautista, he (kinda) said Curtis Granderson. And, of course, it was Justin Verlander. Shows what we know.

But that didn't stop us! Mr. Kakley and I are back again for round two of our great debate. The topic today: Which franchise has a rosier future, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox?

King Myno: I hate to take us down this road, because it involves two teams that are endlessly overanalyzed by all members of the national sporting media, but I'm fascinated by what the future holds for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

One team went 95-67 in 2012 and made it to the American League Championship Series. The other went 69-93 and temporarily assumed the role of "most embarrassing franchise in baseball."

On paper, or at least a very small piece of paper containing only the information listed above, it's a no-brainer. Obviously, however, it's more complicated than that. The Yankees are spending roughly $130 million on just seven guys in 2013 (and one of them is A.J. Burnett) while Boston has pretty much wiped the slate clean after a disastrous season. Both franchises are beyond rich; only one has a ton of flexibility.

But even after their drubbing at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, I believe that things are brighter in New York. They've still got: Robinson Cano and his .929 OPS. CC Sabathia and his 3.38 ERA in 200 innings. Derek Jeter's seemingly neverending Derek Jeter-ness. Alex Rodriguez's quietly productive .272/.353/.430 season. Sixty-seven combined homers in a "down year" for Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. A boatload of available money to bring back Hiroki Kuroda and fill in some of the blanks. The return of Michael Pineda?!

I know that it's not getting better for a lot of New York's older guys -- and it could certainly get much worse -- but it's not like Boston is a lock to spend all their newfound cash wisely. And if the Red Sox turn their focus to player development and internal improvements, rather than throwing $150 million at Josh Hamilton, that's a long-term move that won't pay off for a while. There could certainly be another few rocky years ahead.

Neither of these rosters are the envy of the league, especially since Boston barely has one, but I don't think the Yankees are at risk of bottoming out. When in doubt, go with New York.

Matt Kakley: With the drek that is the Phillies' roster, it doesn't surprise me that you're spending so much time thinking about the Sox and Yankees. It also doesn't surprise me, given your propensity to make brash, shortsighted statements, that you'd go all in on this aging Yankee squad.

While there's no question that the Yankees were better than the Sox this past year, we're talking about the future here; throw those records out the window. I also wouldn't be foolish enough to say the Sox will post a better record than New York in 2013 (meaning, of course, the Yankees; I hope they'll do better than the Mets).

When I look at the future, there are just some things I can't get beyond with this Yankee squad; one of them being $211 million. That's the amount owed for four more years of Teixeira and five years of A-Rod. If any team can handle multiple albatross contracts, it's the Yankees, but those will loom large.

I think A-Rod can stay relevant if he reinvents himself as a hitter, and Teixeria still has decent pop, but they're unlikely to remain middle-of-the-order bats going forward.

Add to that figure the likely (and absolutely necessary) long-term deal for Cano, a possible contract for Grandy and the $100 million (again, deserved) for CC and you've got yourself a team with nowhere to go but down.

I'll take our youngsters and cash flexibility in 2014 and beyond.

KM: Cash flexibility? Once upon a time, the Red Sox had that and a bevy of talented players. Now you've got John Lackey, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and blank. A big bunch of blank.

Speaking of John Lackey, you blew a lot of bucks on him once upon a time. Same with Carl Crawford, and you locked up Adrian Gonzalez for $154 million only 19 months ago.

Now only Lackey remains, and you'd give him away for a bag of balls. I know that was under the old front office, and part of what Ben Cherington did this year was clear out most of the garbage in preparation for building his own team. And kudos for that; it takes guts.

But now you've got all this money, and no players, and the pressure is still on to build a winner. Do Boston fans want to watch another 70-win team? Especially when their once-proud franchise still reeks of dysfunction? The best way to calm a fanbase is to win, and the only way to win when you don't have enough good players is to buy (or develop) a bunch of them. And developing, as we all know, takes time.

This year's free agent class is relatively barren. Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Zack Greinke, a few decent mid-level guys. Smart teams, or at least teams that are more than one or two pieces away, will probably refrain from any craziness.

But if the Red Sox sit on their hands, they won't be good next year. They may not even be very good in 2014. And as more and more teams lock up their stars before free agency (Joey Votto, Andrew McCutchen) who's to say that a can't-miss stud will ever fall into Boston's lap? Is there a mix of mild spending and relative patience that will allow the Red Sox to strike at just the right time and return to dominance? Perhaps, but that's far from guaranteed.

And while Boston is deciding just how to construct its next great baseball powerhouse, New York will be competing for the AL East, like they always do. Yes, the Yankees have many aging stars, and everyone but Sabathia (and eventually Cano) is wildly overpaid. But they're still talented, and like I said, they're backed by a whole bunch of cash. They can get away with overpaying.

Plugging holes is a lot easier than building an entire boat, especially when you're still working on the blueprint. I don't love where the Yankees are right now, but I'd take it over the nebulous void in which the Red Sox currently reside.

MK: You forgot about my fantasy favorite Clay Buchholz, but I see your point ... though it's wildly overblown.

David Ortiz will probably be back -- so will Cody Ross -- and a bunch of guys will be offered arbitration (Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway). There's a core there, and one that will be better than .500.

When the Red Sox were the best team in baseball in 2007, it was with a mix of stud homegrown prospects (Pedroia, Jacoby, Kevin Youkilis, Lester) and a handful of "hired gun" stars (Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell). It's that philosophy that the team seems to be going back to.

There are some kids ready to come up and contribute in a big way over the next year or so (Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa) and the team now has the cash flexibility to sign a few big guys that could put them over the top when the time is right.

You say the fanbase is impatient and will demand immediate results, but you've apparently been down in DC too long. The fans are clamoring for the team to avoid guys like Hamilton and Greinke, recognizing that reckless spending at the expense of the future isn't the way to build a great team.

If they were truly concerned about fan pressure, they would have kept their high-priced stars and run it back one more time; there was enough talent there to roll the dice on a better outcome.

No one up here expects this team to compete next year. The big trade has afforded them some breathing room to make smart, long-term moves, and I trust that this ownership group and front office has seen the error of their ways and will go back to what worked. Keep in mind, Cherington has actually been with the team since before John Henry and company came into the picture.

Also, mock the big money for Gonzo all you want, but I see no issue with that deal. He struggled this year, but he's a good enough hitter to earn that money.

KM: The future may be bright for the Boston Red Sox, and kudos to the fans if they're really ready and willing to take 'er easy and see how this all plays out.

But better than .500 in 2013? I don't buy that. And certainly not better than the Yankees, that's for sure.

Mariano Rivera will be back. Andy Pettitte will (probably) be back. A healthy Brett Gardner will return to the outfield, along with a top free agent like Torii Hunter or (gasp) the aforementioned Josh Hamilton. If the Yankees win less than 90 games in 2013, I'll eat my hat. And I don't risk hats lightly.

As you alluded to previously, I am a Philadelphia Phillies fan, so I've watched a team get old fast. And I've certainly seen bloated contracts come back to bite everyone in the ass.

But even the 2012 Phillies won 81 times. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missed 170 games between them. Roy Halladay only made 25 starts. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded at the deadline. And yet the team was still somehow mildly competitive.

Granted, the NL East is not the AL East. But a lot had to fall apart for the Phillies to even fall to .500, and I don't expect nearly as much to go wrong in New York. Neither of us knows exactly how things will be five or six years from now, but I firmly believe that the Yankees will use their money and their preexisting talent to weather any storms that may come their way. It's what they do.

And yes, I do feel disgusted for being suckered into writing several hundred words on the most oft-discussed rivalry in sports history. Congratulations.

MK: If you look all the way up at the top of this page, I said the Sox would not be better than the Yankees in 2013, or maybe even 2014 -- I'm looking at the years beyond that.

And I don't see .500 as out of reach in the least. Lester and Buchholz should return to form under John Farrell, and (gulp) Lackey is healthy for the first time as a Red Sox. He'll probably be mediocre at worst, even though I hate him and would prefer he fail out of spite.

Mariano will be a year older and coming off major knee surgery, so there's a strong chance he won't be his old self. Rafael Soriano will be gone. Is Torii Hunter a game-changer? Probably not. Can Hamilton's liver survive in NYC? Probably not.

Again, neither of us has a crystal ball, but the way things look today "on paper," the Red Sox have the chance to get a lot better. I just don't see a whole lot of room for improvement from the Yankees.

The question becomes: How long can they tread water with what is currently a good team? My guess is that the weight of bloated contracts eventually buries them deep in the sea.

So sorry to have dragged you into such a discussion on this "over-hyped" rivalry. If you'd like, we can get together in another 14 months and do one on the Orioles and Nationals.