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don't throw back that ball, keep it

The baseball season is over for Giants fans, but I can still drag out a happy memory from 2002, a season that didn’t end well. It was the third year I had full season tickets, which meant I went to every home post-season game, including Game 4 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, which was played 14 years ago today, October 13, 2002. The Giants were up 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series. The Cards’ SS was a future Giants’ post-season hero, Edgar Renteria. The starting pitchers were Andy Benes for the Cardinals, in what was to be his final game as a major-leaguer, and Livan Hernandez for the Giants.

The Cardinals jumped on Livan for two runs in the first, and Benes held off the Giants until the sixth, when two straight walks sent him to the showers. J.T. Snow doubled off of reliever Rick White to tie the game, which is how it stood until the bottom of the 8th. White was still pitching, and in fact had retired six straight after Snow’s hit. There were two outs, with the dangerous Barry Bonds at the plate. You youngsters out there might find it hard to believe, but those of us who there during the latter part of Barry’s career won’t be surprised by what followed. Bonds had been walked 198 times during the regular season. He had been walked four times in five games in the NLDS against Atlanta. The Cardinals walked him seven times in the first three games of this series, and they walked him again in the 6th inning, when he scored after Snow doubled. So here in the bottom of the 8th of a tie game, two outs, no one on base, pitcher has retired six in a row ... and St. Louis manager Tony “The Genius” LaRussa walked Bonds intentionally.

Up came Benito Santiago. Benito had three hits including a homer in Game One, and two more hits in Game Three.

This happened next:

The Giants went on to win, 4-3, and won the series the next day, setting up the ill-fated World Series against the Angels. Benito Santiago was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.


the great escape (john sturges, 1963)

A perfect title for a movie that excels as escapist entertainment without offering anything more.

I feel like The Great Escape is remembered fondly by those who saw it on its release. It did well at the box office, and we watched it again mostly because both my wife and I recalled liking it long ago. It is very straightforward, constructed in an easy-to-understand manner, with an effective slow build until the actual escape (the film is too long at almost three hours, but once it gets there, it delivers). Whatever liberties are taken with the actual events, the downbeat ending is very much in tune with those events, and perhaps give The Great Escape slightly more resonance than other blockbusters. But it is a stretch to make too much of that resonance.

Bruce Eder thinks highly of The Great Escape:

John Sturges' The Great Escape could easily be the most under-appreciated movie of its genre and decade ... Beneath the fact-based heroics, the humor of many of the portrayals and Elmer Bernstein's rich, rousing score lay the elements of a classic tragedy. While ordinary viewers responded to the driving dramatic forces among the characters ... critics and scholars viewed the movie as an artless, empty blockbuster. They were looking for self-conscious subtlety and obvious artistic touches in a story that required only a straightforward, unpretentious telling. The Great Escape expresses its depth and drama through action rather than ponderous dialogue, and in that sense, was probably too true to its subject for its own good, at least in terms of achieving critical respect.

Eder’s description of the film is accurate, but he concocts a straw-man critic that I don’t think exists. The Great Escape is far from artless, but who exactly needed “self-conscious subtlety and obvious artistic touches”? Movies that emphasize action are not rejected by critics, who, as far as I know, hate “ponderous dialogue” as much as the next person. The Great Escape is what it wants and needs to be, and audiences respond to that. There is no need to “elevate” it beyond its clear virtues.

The “based on a true story” angle is about as close to real as it ever is. There was an escape. Americans were not an important part of that escape, but for box-office purposes, Steve McQueen and James Garner were signed up and given big parts. The most iconic scene in the film, McQueen’s chase on a motorcycle, never happened. McQueen asked for a motorcycle scene because he liked to ride. That no American tried to escape on a motorcycle is irrelevant ... it’s the best scene in the movie, the one people remember fifty years later.

The Great Escape is a fine adventure that holds your attention for nearly three hours. That is good enough. #807 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.


the phantom carriage (victor sjöström, 1921)

I spent a lot of time in my formative years as a film major watching silent movies, and while I don’t see that many any longer, I don’t go running in the other direction when one turns up. Silent movies are often lovely to look at. The one thing that I usually find bothersome is the acting style that was prevalent at the time.

The Phantom Carriage was my first Swedish silent film, and that makes for a pretty small sample size. I can’t make any pronouncements about silent Swedes. But based on this example, not everyone was utilizing exaggerated body language and expressions. The acting in The Phantom Carriage is fairly naturalistic, not at all distracting to the modern audience. Sjöström also utilizes a variety of narrative tricks, most notably flashbacks piled on flashbacks, so of course I was confused part of the time. But, given the supernatural nature of the story, that was appropriate.

The phantom carriage of the title is driven by a servant of Death, and both the servant and the carriage are see-through, not of this world. If the special effects seem a bit amateurish today, they were likely quite impressive in 1921, and again, when the effects are a bit clunky, it merely adds to the supernatural feel. Since the cinematography is stellar, the look of the film never disappoints, even when the effects are lacking. “Lacking” is the wrong word ... it’s only lacking when compared to modern CGI, but The Phantom Carriage isn’t a highly-regarded film because of its special effects, it is highly-regarded because of its artful look at existence and morality.

You can easily see why Ingmar Bergman loved this film. Its influence is all over Bergman’s work. This is a good thing when it comes to the use of symbolism and stark photography. But I admit I thought The Phantom Carriage bogged down as it addressed the hoped-for rehabilitation of a drunk. It felt too much like a Message Picture, which is rarely my kind of movie.

Still, The Phantom Carriage works. Victor Sjöström not only directed, but also starred and wrote the screenplay. There is a confidence here that pushes aside most complaints.

#957 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.


ash, the evil dead, s. clay wilson, and my wife

My wife doesn’t have a birthday. She has a Birthday Month. So I have to be on my toes all through October, not just on the 4th (which is what the rest of us would call her birthday).

Last night we settled in to watch TV. She wanted to start with Designated Survivor, the new, so-so- Kiefer Sutherland show. I was feeling a bit sad ... silly, really, but I wished we liked more of the same TV shows and movies. Designated Survivor may turn out to be a show we watch together, but it kind of gives “common ground” a bad name.

After that, we watched the season opener of Ash vs Evil Dead. This is more like it, I thought, I like this show a lot, which reveals my real definition of “shows we watch together”: something I like that she tolerates. Except she doesn’t tolerate Ash vs Evil Dead, she likes it, too. And she occasionally laughs, which if you know Robin, you know laughing at TV isn’t a regular occurrence. But it’s one of the reasons I love her so ... she’ll sit quietly as a comedy plays, then laugh at arguably the goriest show in TV history (gore isn’t inherently funny, but ridiculous, over-the-top gore is).

And if Season One was the Goriest Show of All Time, Season Two had an early scene that easily topped anything we’d seen before. And we laughed. I can’t find the scene on YouTube, which is probably just as well. The best I can do is this Season Two trailer, which was apparently too gory for Comic Con:

Later in the evening, we spent a few minutes chuckling over a couple of S. Clay Wilson drawings.

Now I ask you: what kind of moron would think he and his wife had few shared tastes, when she laughed at Evil Dead and S. Clay Wilson?

Yep, I’m a moron.

And my wife is the greatest.

stevenrobin