Thursday, June 21, 2007

Trailers of the Week: Wake Me When its Autumn

Although today's calendar technically marks the first day of summer, we are already midway through the annual all sequels and blockbusters all the time fare that the major studios so graciously offer us at this time every year. And thus far the pickings have been, shall we say...uninspiring. This became all the more evident when trailers for a trio of upcoming fall releases popped up on the internet this week promising cinematic goodness still months in the waiting. Daylight savings can't get here fast enough.

No Country For Old Men

The Coen brothers first film since the much reviled The Ladykillers in 2004, which by the way I didn't think was as awful as its reputation and actually enjoyed more than Intolerable Cruelty, but still felt like the brothers were in a holding pattern of sorts, why were one of the most unique modern filmmakers wasting time remaking a perfectly fine film? No Country for Old Men premiered at Cannes last month, and while it came home without any prizes, it did receive copious amounts of praise. Judging from the trailer, it looks like a return to the Blood Simple/Miller's Crossing vibe for the Coens. "The Ultimate Badass" indeed. No Country For Old Men opens in select cities on November 9th (that better mean Los Angeles buddy) and throughout the country on November 21st.

There Will Be Blood

After having four films released in a five year span between 1997 and 2002, there has been no Paul Thomas Anderson directed films in the five years since, though he did assist Robert Altman on A Prairie Home Companion. I am one of the rare, but devoted, persons who thought his last film, Punch Drunk Love, was also his best. I also loved Hard Eight and Boogie Nights and have an interesting love-hate relationship with Magnolia, which I actually thought worked best during its most indulgent moments; i.e. the opening montage, the singalong and the frogs. There Will Be Blood, the first of his films that is an adaptation (of the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil!) and not an original story, looks to be his most ambitious work to date. Looks like he boned up on his Terence Malick during preproduction. This is not an official teaser, but just something that he gave the good people at the P.T. Anderson fansite, Cigarettes and Red Vines as a way of whetting their appetites. Consider my appetite duly whetted, sir. There Will Be Blood opens in select cities on November 21st.

Margot at the Wedding
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While I found his first two films, Kicking and Screaming (not the Will Ferrell soccer movie) and Mr. Jealousy a little too "clever", and at the time partially placed the responsibility of my less than impressed response to Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic on his contribution as co-writer, his last film The Squid and the Whale, changed my tune on Noah Baumbach. It was my favorite American film of 2005, an honest, devastating but hilarious take on divorce and its effect on children. His latest film stars Nicole Kidman and his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh as sisters reuniting for Leigh's marriage to Jack Black. It opens in limited theatres on October 19th.

And as a special bonus, here is the first photo from what will be one of my most anticipated films of Autumn 2008, Spike Jonze's third feature (and at that point, first in six years), Where the Wild Things Are, the adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Pitching Dan Haren

Early this afternoon the Oakland Athletics were one out away from being no hit by a forty year old pitcher, they have no regular everyday starter with a batting average above .300, they are six games out of first place in the AL West to the hottest team over the last month, the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim), at one point their entire outfield was on the DL, currently their DH is on the DL, as is their closer, and two of their starting pitchers, on top of which, coming into the season they didn't have a clear cut number five starter. Yet, they are three games above .500 and that is all due to some exceptional starting pitching, foremost being opening day starter Dan Haren. This is my pitch (pun fully intended) for Haren to be named not only an All Star, but to the AL starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.

Haren is still an up and comer, he doesn't have the sexy name, he's not the Rocket, Dice-K or Schilling, he's not the sexy strikeout specialist that Johan Santana or Justin Verlander are (though he does have 14 more K's at this point of the season than Verlander), and most importantly he doesn't play for a team that wears pinstripes or has a red B on their cap. But what he has been during the first two and a third months of the season is the best pitcher in the AL and running neck and neck with the Padre's Jake Peavy for best pitcher in the entire major league.

Let's look at Haren's stats:

E.R.A: 1.70 (1st in AL, 2nd in MLB)
Opponent's Batting Average: .178 (1st in MLB)
W.H.I.P: 0.87 (1st in MLB)
Strikeouts*: 70 (8th in AL, 13th in MLB)
Innings Pitched: 90 (tied for 2nd in AL, tied for 4th in MLB)
Walks Allowed: 21 (7th in AL amongst pitcher with at least 75 innings pitched)
Record: 6-2 (7th in AL, I will get more into this)

* (As discussed in Sam Walker's book Fantasyland (thanks by the way, Heath), strikeouts are one of the most overrated stats in baseball, strikeouts are not the most effective strategy because most take about seven pitches to achieve, eating into pitch counts and shortening the length of a pitcher's start)

In comparison, let's look at the stats at this point of last year's opening day starter for the A's, the San Francisco Giants' newest ace, and millionaire a hundred times over, Barry Zito.

His line:

6-5. Era: 3.87. 44 K vs 38 Walks. WHIP: 1.35. Innings Pitched: 74.1.

This isn't to slag on Zito. He's a solid pitcher and it wasn't like the A's made any effort to resign him and after a pretty awful start (including a nice trouncing by his former team) he's vastly improved, allowing only two earned runs over his last three starts. He'll be fine. The sight of him in a Giants uniform is still disturbing, but hey at least it's not the Yankees, Angels or Red Sox. Oh by the way, Harden v. Zito this Saturday!

What I meant to show by comparing his stats to Zito's is that Haren has thrived when given the leadership role and along with the surprising Chad Gaudin (winner of his last five decisions, second in the AL in ERA) a former relief pitcher thriving in his new role as starter, he's getting the young injury plagued and hitting slump prone Athletics through a very tough part of the early season and keeping them in a position to make a late season push for the Wild Card.

Nothing short of a long term injury or monumental collapse over the next few weeks will keep Haren off the All Star team. He will probably be the A's sole representative, it'd be nice to see Nick Swisher makes the squad, but with him toeing the line of .300 and not leading any significant batting categories in the AL, sorry Nick I don't think second in the league in walks is your ticket to the Mid-Summer classic, it seems unlikely. Despite having the second best record in the Major League during the 2000s, the A's usually have only one All Star per season, who could forget the glory of 2005 when middle relief pitcher Justin Duchscherer stood proud as the A's sole representative (this despite a 88-74 record), while the Yankees, the team with the best record during the 2000s, usually has half of its hitters in the starting lineup, two to three pitchers, the coaching staff, batboys and their player's mistresses all accounted for.

The one thing I see standing in Haren's way from being named the AL starter, well other than he's not a Yankee or Red Sox, is his relatively-small-for-his-amazing-stats win count of six. But let's, as the American Beauty poster urged, look closer. Since losing his first two games of the season, he has not lost a single decision, oh by the way his total ERA for his two loses? A whopping 0.69. Is it his fault he's on the most anemic hitting team in the entire league? Further proof of his hard luck, the line for his last start Monday versus the Red Sox: 7.2 Innings Pitched, 2 Earned Runs, 1 Walk Allowed, 9 Strikeouts. This is a dream start for most pitchers in the major league. It actually increased his ERA by .06 points. He leaves the game with a two run lead and guess what happens? Injury fill-in closer Alan Embree blows a save in the bottom of the ninth. Earlier this year, Haren had a three start stint versus the nadir of the league Tampa Bay and Kansas City (sorry, Heath) where he got three straight no decisions. Over the course of those three games he allowed four runs, pitched 21 innings and struck out 24 hitters. I repeat: he got no decisions in all three games! In three games versus the Devil Rays and the Royals, the A's couldn't get him more than three runs to give him the wins he deserved (they did win the Devil Rays game, getting three runs in the bottom of the ninth, after Haren was taken out of the game). If Haren was on the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Indians or any team with solid hitting and reliable relief pitching, he could conceivably have a record of 10-1 right now.

Being a pessimist, I am predicting Josh Beckett gets the nod. Luckily the voting for pitcher is entirely up to the coaching staff, which I believe will be the A's since they lost last year's AL Championship series to the Tigers, and not the fans, so Japan cannot stuff the ballot box with Dice-K votes and since Schilling is on record as saying he has no plans on retiring, there won't be the old "give the retiring guy his last start" deal in effect. All this leads me to believe the man taking the mound in July in Whatever The Fuck Its Called These Days Park in San Francisco will be the most deserving pitcher.

If you are still unconvinced, here's a picture of Haren (next to A's second baseman Mark Ellis) with his doggie!
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