The Last Time the Dodgers Won the Pennant
The last time the Dodgers won the pennant, in 1988, the year of Kirk Gibsons's Roy Hobbes-ish homerun and Orel Hershiser's dominance, they had more pennants than any NL team: 18. Now, with 19, they're tied for second with the Cardinals and one behind the Giants.
Here are the teams who've won the NL pennant since the Dodgers last won the pennant:
- Giants (5)
- Braves (5)
- Cardinals (4)
- Phillies (3)
- Mets (2)
- Marlins (2)
The only NL teams to not win a pennant since the Dodgers last did it are the Pirates, who last went in 1979, the Brewers, who went as an AL team in 1982, and the Expos/Nationals, who have never been at all.
In terms of postseason appearances, the Dodgers, with 31, are second only to the Yankees (who have 53). For pennants, as mentioned, the Dodgers are tied for third (19). With World Series titles, they're fifth (6). The farther they get into the postseason, the more they're screwed.
I had no real dogs in this NLCS hunt. I wouldn't have minded the Cubs going back-to-back, to make up for the century-long drought; but the Dodgers, per above, have had a real dry spell. Plus Clayton Kerhsaw needs to go. We should only have so many Ken Griffey Jrs and King Felixes and Rod Carews.
Last night's pennant-clincher at Wrigley Field was a blowout. The Dodgers scored one in the first, one in the second, one in the third and had the bases loaded with on one out. That's when Cubs' manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen. I don't really follow the Cubs but when relief pitcher Hector Rondon came in, and they flashed his season ERA, 4.24, I was taken aback. Was that the best they had for this situation? With the season on the line? At first it seemed a pretty smart move: Rondon struck out Logan Forsythe on three pitches. Then it didn't: Enrique Hernandez, who hit a homer to left in the 2nd inning, hit one to right. At first I thought: double in the gap. Then it sneaked over the fence for a grand slam. Hernandez added a two-run job in the 9th to add his name to list of (now 10) guys who've hit three HRs in a postseason game—beginning with Babe Ruth in the 1926 World Series, and ending with Jose Altuve in Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS. Ruth is the only one to do it twice.
I watched all of this at the Quarter Lounge, surrounded by Cubs fans, whose hopes dimmed then darkened. On the plus side they had last year; and they still have a good young team; and they're not Pirates fans.
Two years ago I wrote a post about LA's postseason futility entitled “Dodgers Dodge Another World Series.” Wait 'til this year, I guess.
Movie Review: Goodbye Mr. Loser (2015)
It’s fascinating watching a time-travel comedy that relies on cultural knowledge without having real knowledge of that culture.
At one point in “Goodbye Mr. Loser,” for example, Xia Luo (Shen Teng), the titular loser, who’s been transported from his sad life in 2016 back to his senior year of high school in 1997 where he can rectify things, is standing in his old room skimming VHS tapes and looking for a singer named Pu Shu. Then he has an epiphany. Pu Shu isn’t famous yet! Neither are his songs. But he knows them. He can sing Pu Shu’s songs, and anyone else’s, and become famous himself!
My thought: Who’s Pu Shu?
But yeah, you still get it. More: I found myself laughing at “Goodbye Mr. Loser.” A lot. Once Luo shows songwriting talent/theft, his principal demands he perform in the school talent show. Cut to: Luo, dressed in Bruce Lee Game-of-Death yellows, leaping around the stage and singing Jay Chou’s 2006 death-metal rap about nunchucks. Cut to: Perky moderator awarding first prize to ... a primary school boy for his song “I Offered Petroleum to My Motherland.”
And how cool that the Chinese movie industry can make this joke now. Does that mean those days are gone? Where kids win awards for idiot (and super dull) propaganda? I’m curious.
The main point is that, despite the cultural dislocation, the comedy travels well. It's other parts that don’t.
Without the Beatles
I never liked the main character. Ever.
During the cold open, sure, when he’s being chased at a wedding by his crazed wife, he seems hapless enough. Then you get the backstory. He’s at the wedding of Qui Ya (Wang Zhi) because 20 years after high school he still has a crush on her. So he shows up, pretends to be rich, is revealed to be a fraud, gets drunk, reads bad poetry to her on bended knee, and—the topper—when his wife, Ma Dong Mei (Ma Li, a standout), shows up and pleads with him to leave with her, we find out she holds down two jobs and he has none.
Dude. Man up.
And what does he do back in ’97? Starts out by making a pass at Qui Ya, mortifying her. Then he demands the seat next to her and stares, while she squirms uncomfortably. He’s like a stalker here. And that’s the least of it. Once he becomes famous (and marries Qui Ya), he turns into a major asshole: yachts, bikini babes, affairs, tantrums, outlandish clothes and hairstyle. At the 2016 wedding, he’d worn a feather in his lapel and been mocked for it, so in his superstar incarnation he wears bigger and bigger feathers. It’s a good gag. But him? He’s just awful.
Not to mention...
OK, so fans in China have noticed similarities between “Finding Mr. Right” and Francis Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” from 1986. I actually had to familiarize myself with “Peggy Sue”’s plot again, since I hadn’t seen it since 1986, but there are similarities—including the whole “stealing the song” idea. In Coppola’s movie, in 1960, Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) gives her then-boyfriend, the hapless Charlie (Nicolas Cage), who’s pining to be a rock ‘n’ roll star, a song with which he can achieve his dream. It’s called “She Loves You.” I remember watching that scene back in 1986 and suddenly getting pissed off. Wait, she’s stealing the Beatles’ song? For this schmuck? So he can become a star? What happens to them? What the hell, Peggy Sue? Who wants to live in a world where the Beatles are usurped by Nicolas effin' Cage?
This movie takes that and times it by 100. Xiao Luo keeps stealing songs. He keeps stealing Jay Chou’s songs. He creates a version of “The Voice,” where, on one episode, a young Taiwanese contestant sings one of his songs, which throws Luo into a rage. Who is it? Jay Chou, of course, unknown in this world, and perplexed by the odd shadow Xia Luo has cast over his life. It’s supposed to be funny but it’s kind of creepy.
Is there comeuppance Xia Luo? Of course, but it’s a little stupid. He comes to realize that he loves (yawn) his old wife, Ma Dong Mei, whom he’d already palmed off on his dopey friend Chun. So he visits their small apartment. He tastes her food again. Most of this bit is so ennervating I could barely watch. But finally he leaves. Back to his riches and fame, which aren’t enough anymore.
Oh yeah, then he’s diagnosed with AIDS. Then he dies. Lesson for everybody.
No place like home
The death, though, releases him from that particular timeline, and, like in a dream, he winds up back in the bathroom of the 2016 grand wedding ballroom where it all began. He’s so grateful to have his old life back—to being Mr. Loser again—that he clings to Dong Mei wherever she goes. But even here, lesson learned, he’s pathetic.
I’d still recommend it for Americans curious about Chinese movies. “Goodbye Mr. Loser” was a huge sleeper hit in China in 2015. Made without stars, it grossed $226 million—the seventh-highest-grossing film of the year, just behind “Jurassic World”—and it’s already spawned a Malaysian knockoff. The Hollywood one, I’m sure, isn’t far behind. Question: Does Coppola get a cut?
Movie Review: Marshall (2017)
If you’re wondering why it’s Connecticut v. Joseph Spell rather than any number of Thurgood Marshall’s more famous civil rights cases, particularly Brown v. Board of Education, it’s because the film’s screenwriter, Michael Koskoff, is a plaintiff’s attorney from Bridgeport, Conn. A colleague had researched the Spell case extensively and encouraged Koskoff, who had defended a member of the Black Panthers in the early ’70s, and whose family has a performing arts background, to write a screenplay about it. So he did. His son, Jacob, a screenwriter in Hollywood (the Michael Fassbender “Macbeth” movie), helped.
Susan Dunne, at the Hartford Courant, has a great piece on Koskoff here.
I like all of that. I like that a prestigious lawyer wrote a courtroom drama about a sensational-but-forgotten case involving one of the most famous lawyers of the 20th century. I like Chadwick Boseman’s turn as Thurgood Marshall, full of pop and verve and charm, and I like the sense of him as a marshal, a Lone Ranger, going from town to town and righting wrongs. I like the cameo at the end that lets us know the distance we haven’t traveled.
I just wish I’d liked the movie better.
Friedman > Gad
We get too many subplots. Marshall’s wife is pregnant, they hang out with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, then she has a miscarriage. Marshall’s local counsel Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) is a young insurance-defense lawyer who is basically snookered into the case. His wife, Stella (Marina Squerciati), is angry at him for even taking it, but at the local synagogue, piqued by a bigoted friend, she comes around. Then she finds out about her family in Europe. The Holocaust looms. Crazy bigots are on every other street corner, and synchronize attacks on Marshall and Friedman. The lawyers have battle scars. Oh, and one of the jurors has a thing for Friedman.
In reality, Friedman was an attorney in good standing who mostly needed counseling on how to present racial matters, not how to present a criminal-defense case. This description of Friedman by Daniel J. Sharfstein for Legal Affairs in 2005 is way more interesting to me than the movie’s fumbling version:
A few years older than Marshall, Friedman had practiced law with his brother, Irwin, since the 1920s. Unassuming in his dark three-piece suit and matching bow tie, his short black hair neatly combed back, Friedman was developing a reputation as a tenacious advocate with a flair for courtroom drama.
And why didn’t we get this scene?
Bridgeport was not a hospitable city for African-Americans: A 1933 Connecticut law banning discrimination in public places was not enforced. Friedman was allowed to take Marshall to lunch at the Stratfield Hotel restaurant only because he was the hotel’s lawyer.
Spell (Sterling K. Brown, Chris Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson) was accused by his employer, prominent socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), of rape and attempted murder, and right from the beginning (not at the end of the second act, as in the movie), Spell tells his lawyers that it was consensual sex. It’s basically he said/she said—but with the “he” black and the “she” white and well-connected. His story has fewer holes but you’re dealing with all-white jury in 1941. So who knows? I like that, too. It’s not super obvious which way the jury will go.
By the time the jury delivered its verdict (not guilty), Marshall, as in real life, had already moved on to another town and another case, but the movie implies that Strubing wanted something from Spell after it was over. Tenderness? Forgiveness? At least publicly, that wasn’t the case. From The New York Times, Feb. 3, 1941:
Mrs. Eleanor Strubing, socially prominent Greenwich (Conn.) woman whose Negro butler was acquitted last week of charges that he attacked her, said today "the verdict leaves the women of America at the mercy of any one who may seek their ruin. ... The law has failed utterly in this case. My indignation is boundless.”
The state’s governor, too, was swamped with mail saying the verdict was “beyond all belief” and “a disgrace to Connecticut,” while the district attorney, Loren Willis (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”), considered an appeal. It was like the O.J. verdict; white people were incensed.
What’s odd and tone-deaf about the movie, particularly in this weekend when Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual harassment is all over the news, is how the defense discredits Strubing’s story. They imply she’s lying because she didn’t go for help; she didn’t scream. It ignores what panic does to people. I felt like I could’ve argued her case better than the D.A.
Overall, “Marshall,” directed by Reginald Hudlin (“House Party,” “The Ladies Man”), is a sleeker, glossier version of history than I like, but the ending, particularly once you know the cameos, is powerful.
Marshall continues on to his next case (in reality Oklahoma, here Mississippi), where, via a bad phone connection, he gets the good news from Friedman. He smiles and leans against the wall ... and into the picture we see a “Whites Only” drinking fountain. I would’ve liked just that, just that reminder, but the movie demands Marshall get all Jane Pittman on us, drinking from the fountain before walking out to meet his new clients in his next civil rights case. Who are they? Parents dealing with the horrors a racist system does to their children. Why is that powerful? They’re played by Trayvon Martin’s parents.
It’s like Marshall has stepped through the past and into our time. It’s like that role, that Lone Ranger role, moving from town to town and trying to extract a small piece of justice, never ends.
Rooting for the New York Yankees is like Rooting for White People
Imagine if the Houston Astros hadn't done its job, we'd be getting Yankees vs. Red Sox in the ALCS again. Lord.
Last night the Cleveland Indians didn't do its job and so “for the first time since 2012” (as SI intoned on Twitter), the New York Yankees are going to the ALCS. Yeah, that five-year-long wandering in the wilderness they went through; I don't know how their fans stuck it out.
Overall, it will be the Yankees' eighth ALCS this century. Since 2000, we've had 18 LCSes and the Yankees have been in eight of them. The Indians remain stuck on three. Scratch that: two. This will be Houston's third LCS this century, and its first in the American League. The team with the most is the Cardinals, who have nine.
But to Yankee fans, those aren't the numbers that matter. The numbers that matter are 40 and 27. As in pennants and rings. They've been stuck on those since 2009 and want to move on. They want to add to them. Continually. Ad nauseum. And in case you don't know, the team with the most rings after the Yankees is the Cardinals, who have ... 11. The team with the most pennants after the Yankees is the Giants, who have ... 20. So no one's close. The Yankees have most and want more.
Last night, watching all of this at the QL, our local bar, with too much drink in me and surrounded by too few people who cared about the game, I thought of the famous slogan from the early 1960s: “Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.” Meaning a powerful, faceless, pointless entity. A machine that kept producing this product on an assembly line. Rah.
I thought of the update while stewing (stewed) at the QL: Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for white people. When I got home I plastered it all over Twitter. I interrupted Yankees fans online celebrations with it. Many didn't get the reference, of course, and thought to educate me by bringing up all the non-white players on the team.
In the remaining LDS, I'm rooting for the Nats (with zero LCS appearances and zero pennants) over the Cubs (last year's feel-good story). Mostly, though, I'm just rooting for Houston. To end it already.
Kansas City Royals, we hardly knew ye.
My Favorite Thing Today
Then why are we disputing it— Julius Ghost 🦆 (@JuliusGoat) October 11, 2017
ALDS Game 5: Who to Root For
Right now there's some mainstream-media confusion as to who is the underdog (and thus who you should root for) in tonight's winner-take-all American League Division Series matchup between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland, you see, went to the World Series last year. They forced a Game 7. They were one measly run from winning it all. And this year they set a modern record by winning 22 straight games. They had the best record in the American League. They's a powerhouse.
The Yankees, meanwhile, haven't won it all since way back in 2009. (I can barely see back that far.) The team, for once, is not totally made up of high-priced free agents (although it's still got its share of those), but its heart is a couple of young, hungry, powerful players, like 6' 8“ monstrosity Aaron Judge, and 1930s Warner Bros. gangster Gary Sanchez. They've been dubbed the ”Baby Bombers," which is a cute name, and they do cute things. After a player hits a homerun, for example, the others, rather than congratulate him, conduct a mock press conference in the dugout. And they've turned a hapless Tampa Bay Ray fan's sign of disapproval, a thumbs down gesture after a Todd Frazier homerun, into a talisman. Now when they do good things, they use this gesture with each other. Shows that fan of that team that never won anything.
So, for some in the media, the Yankees are not completely the Goliath here. If you squint, like until your eyes are completley shut, they're a little bit of David.
In this frame of reference, both teams are due. The Yankees have won 27 World Series championships throughout their storied career, which is an average of one every 4.15 years. And it's been eight years now, nearly twice that. Their fans are bereft.
The Indians have won two World Series championships throughout their less-than-storied career, which is an average of one every 56 years. They last won it all in 1948, which is longer than 56 years. But is it twice that? No. So whose fans are truly bereft?
A few more stats to continue the discussion. I posted these on Facebook yesterday.
Before baseball's expansion era began, meaning from 1903 to 1960, the New York Yankees won 25 pennants. That's 44% of all possible pennants they could've won during this period. The second-best AL team (the Athletics) won 8 pennants—or 14%.
The Cleveland Indians won 3.
Once the expansion era began, and the number of league rivals grew from eight to 10 to 12 to 14, and now 15, the Yankees couldn't dominate the way they once did—but they still dominated. Since '61, they've won 15 pennants. That's 27% of all possible pennants they could've won during this period.
The second-best AL team during this era (Orioles, BoSox, A's) won 6 pennants—or 11%.
The Cleveland Indians won 3.
But here's the best measure of the success, or not, of the two teams. Warning: There's some math involved.
In both eras, i.e., from 1903 to today, the Yankees, with their 27 rings, have won 24% of all available World Series titles, while the Indians, with their two, have won 1.8%. So for the Yankees to reach the Indians' current percentage level of titles to opportunties, i.e., that 1.8%, they need to not win a World Series title for a while. How long?
The answer is approximately 1,350 years. Until the year 3366.
Essentially that's how much misery the Yankees and their fans have to make up in order to to reach the current misery-level index of the Cleveland Indians and their fans. Just a thousand years. And change.
That's also my answer as to when I might begin to root for them. If the Yankees haven't won another World Series title by the year 3366, I'll consider it. I might throw them a bone. Until then, nah. Until then, I have another hand gesture for the Baby Bombers and their fans. It's a little less polite than the one used in Tampa Bay.
Movie Review: Wolf Warrior II (2017)
It’s got a great open. I’ll give it that.
In a single shot, we see Somali pirates attack a freighter, the panicked faces of the crew, and then, moving with grace and purpose, there’s our hero from the first “Wolf Warrior,” Leng Feng (Wu Jing), diving into the water, upending the hijackers’ inflatables and fighting and defeating them underwater before he—and this is still one shot, by the way—pulls himself into one of the remaining inflatables, grabs a rifle and picks off the lead hijacker (who’s aiming at him) with a crack shot from a hundred yards away. Cue credits.
Then it gets stupid fast.
I don’t mind the overt nationalism, the literal flag-waving, the Chinese businessman who dismisses his Chinese citizenship only to cling to Leng Feng and that very citizenship once the bullets start flying.
No, it’s the racism, stupid.
Not your typical travelogue
In case you haven’t been following Chinese box office receipts (most westerners), or reading this blog (ditto +), “Wolf Warrior II” is the movie phenomenon of the year. Last year, Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid” shattered Chinese box office records by bringing in $526 million, which was a startling, tough-to-beat amount. But this shattered that. In China alone, it grossed $852 million. Add the $20 million it made abroad, and “Wolf Warrior II” is the first Chinese movie—hell, the first non-Hollywood movie—to enter the list of the top 100 movies in terms of worldwide gross. It does for the movie business what Leng Feng does for geopolitics: Makes a stand for China.
The first “Wolf Warrior,” which came out in March 2015 and grossed a respectable-ish $80 mil or so, was all about border security and protecting the homeland. “Don’t even think of going back when you break into China!” Leng tells the movie’s villains. This one is about protecting Chinese nationals abroad. The movie may revel in explosions and violence amid a bloody civil war and an Ebola-like disease in a fictional coastal African nation—things that normally put one off travel—but it ends with a shot of a Chinese passport and this message:
“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China: When you encounter danger in a foreign land, do not give up! Please remember, at your back stands a strong motherland.”
China literally means “center country” (jung guo), as in “the center of the world,” and once upon a time it expected the world to come to it. No longer. Its official message now is the message of “Scarface”: The world is yours.
The last time we saw Leng Feng, he was triumphant and chatting up his superior officer/girlfriend, Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan). So what’s he doing alone on a freighter off the African coast? The backstory comes sepia-toned.
- The Wolf Warrior team returns the remains of a fallen comrade to his family, only to find them inches away from death at the hands of a nasty developer—until Leng Feng takes care of that dude. For his troubles, or his temper, he gets three years in prison.
- During his prison stay, his girlfriend is kidnapped and killed by terrorists. The only clue is a specially designed, striated bullet that did the deed. Oddly, it’s undamaged. More oddly, he wears it on a chain around his neck as a talisman.
That’s why Africa. His search for the killer has led him here. Shame. The Chinese don’t do Africa, or black people, particularly well.
In this fictional country, Feng is godfather to a fat African kid, Tundu (Nwachukwu Kennedy Chukwuebuka, making his film debut), who is both li’l rascal (selling bootleg porn), and pudgy comic relief (forever interested in food). When the bullets fly, and Feng goes above and beyond to get him to the safety of a Chinese warship, Tundu runs down the plank crying for him mom, who’s stuck in an inland city. Feng promises to bring her back, setting in motion the rest of the movie. Later, Tundu sees his mom via Skype, and cries. He cries while eating. He’s got a big bounty in front of him, courtesy of the Chinese, and he’s both crying and stuffing his face.
But that’s not close to the worst of it. Here’s the worst of it. More than halfway through, in the quiet after a battle, Feng and He Jianguo (Wu Gang), an old, wise, former career soldier, watch as the Africans celebrate another day of living by lighting a bonfire and dancing. “Our African friends,” says He. “Once they’re around a bonfire, they can’t help themselves.”
While the movie is obtuse in its racism, it’s concise in its anti-Americanism—although with an odd corresponding need for western approval. Sure, the movie’s villain, Big Daddy (Frank Grillo), goes out in a blaze of racist glory (“People like you will always be beaten by people like me” he says to Leng Feng), but first he has to give grudging admiration: “I guess the Chinese military isn’t as lame as I thought,” he sneers. Ditto Leng Feng with the U.S. military. The female lead, feisty American girl Rachel Prescott Smith (Hong Kong actress Celina Jade), mistakenly thinks the U.S. will come to her rescue. “You think the U.S. Marines are the best in the world?” Leng Feng asks her. “They may be, but where are they now?” The point is we lack spirit. We cut and run. China doesn’t. They steam into port while we flee.
Except ... our Marines may be the best in the world? Under the circumstances, that’s kinda sweet.
If you can get past the racism and the geopolitics, “Wolf Warrior II” is your typical action-adventure, with an indestructible hero, near-indestructible villains (including 6’ 6” Ukrainian martial artist Oleg Prudius), and tons of explosions. The spoiled soldier redeems himself while the hectoring middle manager doesn’t. Leng Feng’s original goal—rescuing Tundu’s mom—keeps growing, as he’s responsible for more and more civilians, in worse locations, even as the bad guys close in. Oh, and it turns out Big Daddy is the one who uses striated bullets. Shocker.
Comparisons to mid-80s Stallone are inevitable. Like Rambo in “Rambo II,” Leng fights for his country’s honor abroad; he rectifies past wrongs and imagines future greatness. Like Rocky in “Rocky IV,” he drapes himself in the flag. Leng literally wears it on his sleeve so his rag-tag group of Chinese nationals and African locals can safely drive through a war zone. “Hold your fire!” the African soldiers shout. “It’s the Chinese!”
So what does it all mean? Why did the ultra-patriotic “Wolf Warrior” do meh box office while this one went gangbusters? Because sequels do better than originals? Because “I” was local and “II” international? Because “I” was released when Obama was president and “II” came out during the first hot, idiot summer of Trump?
Maybe the better question is this: When will Chinese movies begin to do better internationally? They’ve already got the production values, the tropes, and the explosions of Hollywood. What’s missing? A white face? But that doesn’t explain the international popularity of stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Will Smith. Does the movie contain too much nationalism? Or maybe the wrong kind of nationalism? Almost anyone can imagine themselves American, after all, but only the Chinese get to be Chinese.
That’s one of the great ironies about “Wolf Warrior II”: The movie about Chinese power abroad is really only powerful at home. But make no mistake: There’s a lot of power there.
Nice Knowing You
This was tweeted on Saturday by Tony Schwartz, Trump's ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal,” who tried to warn us all a year ago June, in a shocking, sobering assessment of the then-GOP nominee by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker. Not enough people read it, or listened to those who did. Not enough voters sobered up:
Wag the Dog. Trump is willing to start a NUCLEAR WAR & kill tens of millions of people to divert attention from his failures. He is a madman— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) October 7, 2017