Sunday, October 29, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

by Ryland Walker Knight

I was on that bandwagon from the beginning, spending quite a bit of time in the early part of the year helping to hype this B-picture beast. The excitement faded, as expected, and by the time my Grand Canyon adventure was over SNAKES ON A PLANE was low on my priority list. Also, I knew I wouldn't be seeing the movie opening night amongst a giddy crowd. So I approached last Wednesday night's screening with a little trepidation. Luckily a lot of college kids came out and paid $2 to see the movie with me and my girlfriend and Derp. We laughed a lot and had a grand time. There's a lot of slack direction, especially in the first act where it looks like the filmmakers shot each scene once from maybe two setups. And there's a few ingratiating "types", like the haughty, impatient Brit. But there's also Sam Jackson. Late in the film when the AC onboard the plane fails, a passenger tells Jackson, "It's getting hot in here," to which he shrugs, "I'm from Alabama--hadn't noticed." That line reading pretty much sums up the movie's tone: You came here for fun, now enjoy yourself, fool. And I did. It could never live up to the internet frenzied buildup but it delivers when you're surrounded by a whooping, cackling rowdy audience. And by the time Jackson gets to say it, that belly laugh excitement-release is, well, enough for me to say I can't wait to go to sold out midnight screenings as often as possible.

02006: 105 minutes: dir. David R. Ellis: written by John Heffernan & Sebastian Gutierrez

Friday, October 20, 2006

Marie Antoinette


by Ryland Walker Knight

It certainly seems easy, and chic, to dismiss Sofia Coppola's career as a film director, amping up her apparent "poor little rich girl" persona as a critical debunker. But envy is not an analytic argument. Envy is a facile batting of the eyes, as supercilious as all the shoes and cakes and gowns and champagne a young princess could ever hope to cloud her life with. Of course, Sofia's life is enviable to legions of hip, would-be jetsetting shoppers with funny money to burn. But that's not what the film hopes to inspire in its audience, even if it meets those ends. MARIE ANTOINETTE plays not as polemic history lesson, as many would hope (the politics are sublimated, mostly kept off screen), but as a near naked autobiographical justification for downright girliness and Coppola's latest defense for the vitues of adolescent vaccum ennui.

The best lesson Ms Coppola has gleaned from her famous filmmaker daddy was "get the best editor you can--they'll save you every time." And often a good editor helps add to the allure of an auteur, garnering somewhat undeserved acclaim for the director. Many directors live and die by their editors (Scorsese) and it's no different for the Coppola clan. For the patriarch, on his best films (those four from the 01970s), this was the unparalled Walter Murch, who also lent a master touch to each film's sound design. For his daughter, this helping hand is the undeniably talented Sarah Flack, whose skills have helped elevate a number of films, including Sofia's previous film, LOST IN TRANSLATION. The elliptical nature of both films is a clear sign of this editor's influence. In Coppola's first film, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, the narrative was weightless, unbouyed, willing to drift from memory to memory; it played like a series of idea fragments caught surreptitiously and organized like jigsaw. LOST IN TRANSLATION sought an ennui cloud nine by way of Antonioni and the results were highly successful until the last minutes when the core relationship was no longer about isolation but a vague romantic possibility Scarlett Johansson's lonely naif Charlotte dreams up (and acts out?) with Bill Murray's washed up movie star Bob. All the ellipses within the film hit the right notes, matched by its perfect soundtrack, to carry you in the film's rhythm but the ending fails. The Jesus & Mary Chain's plastic rock can almost save it, but not quite: a final shot of Bob's limo winding along Tokyo's freeways is impressive, and evocative of the previous theme, but that whispering on the crowded street was a cop out. Unfortunately, the trend continues in MARIE ANTOINETTE. After an hour and a half of staggering beauty the film falls in on itself with forty-five minutes left. Its final handling of the titular royal's demise is another hollow cop out one cannot forget (or forgive) despite an indelible, inspired parting shot.

The film's opening may be its best moment, validating any worries (or giddy excitements) one might have concerning the New Wave & Post-punk soundtrack: Over Sex Pistols title cards, Gang of Four clang into gear singing, "The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure" before we get our first image of Marie reclining for a pedicure, eating cake and taking a moment to smile at the camera. Film logic tells us this scene comes from Marie's present, an Austrian castle, but the costuming (including her hairdo) and setting tells the reflective viewer this is from the Marie's near future as queen of France. The chair Marie lays in echos the bathtub we will see her take solace in later, as do the cakes and pedicure prefigure the stylistic shopping orgy played out to Bow Wow Wow's never-subtle "I Want Candy" anthem. And the look she gives the audience is just the first glance at empathy: there are so many closeups of Kirsten Dunst emploring the camera to love her that I lost count.

Much like the diorama worlds Wes Anderson dreams up to stuff his wide-angled frames, Ms Coppola's films offer a hermetic landscape, exemplified to its utmost with her version of Versailles. Populated opulence, the French court remains oblivious to the last, happiest partying, shopping, indulging; the decadent solipsism never flags. We're trapped there, too, surrounded by Coppola's reverence for the look of the period, if not its history. The film is carried along not by any plot but sheer visual splendor, eager to celebrate the big budget costumes and real palace sets cinematographer Lance Accord so deftly captures, placing our princess in a gilded cage, color coded to her mood.

Dunst plays Marie as naive, reading her lines flat as if reciting from a mental list of the right & wrong situational sayings. She comes to life when unscripted, partying or playing with her daughter, further fostering the rigidity of the court. It comes as no surprise that the only members with any palpable vitality are King Louis XV (Rip Torn can growl all he wants all the way to comic pantheon) and his sultry, black sheep mistress Du Barry (Asia Argento was born to play hookers, I think). Which isn't to say the rest of the court is poorly acted, in fact plenty are good performances. The most surprising is Jason Schwartzman as the effete dullard of a punchline, Louis XVI, who would rather hunt and eat than plow his hot little new wife like everybody else wants to. But the best acting (aside from Argento) is done in two minor, non-court roles by two enormously talented actors inconcievably underused: Steve Coogan as Ambassador Mercy and Danny Huston as Marie's brother Emporer Joseph of Austria. Coogan pops up on cue throughout the film as Marie's sage shoulder to lean on but Huston is onscreen for maybe five minutes and blows away the entire cast. While not as august and imposing as his father, Huston uses his size to fullest effect: he never appears a bully but you can see the cower in Schwartzman as they walk side by side. But then, as soon as he swoops in to delight, he's gone.

Outmatched princess

There's another sustained twenty minutes or so before Marie withdraws to her personal haven at Petit Trianon with her daughter in tow to tend an odd flock of assorted farm animals--and fuck a pretty boy Swede--but once that sets in, its earnest naivete wears thin. The soundtrack starts drawing attention to itself when The Strokes yell "I want to be forgotten, and I don't want to be reminded--so please don't make this harder..." and the clumsy portrayal of Marie as fierce wife instead of foolhearty mother near the close doesn't help Coppola's cause. By the time Marie bows to the obfuscated, angry mob outside her veranda--and silences them!--we've practically checked out, all the pleasures beforehand forgotten in this haze of mixed-confused-tenuous metaphors and arch characterizations. When she says, "I'm saying goodbye," riding away from Versailles, it's hard to believe Sofia will ever say the same to her glamourous life. But then, why should she? She doesn't have to worry about a populace storming her mansion and demanding her head. Maybe that's the problem we're faced with: there's not enough responsibility at stake in this plastic world of celebrity fucking where trash is culture; even for the overly educated who remain addicted to the boob tube as a barometer, to say nothing of the internet and blogosphere.

By engaging Versailles as ignorant bliss, marred only by society squibblings, and populated by children of prominent Hollywood figures, Coppola aligns herself with the royalty against her will. Are we to infer that under societal constraints Sofia has backed herself into a girl's only corner where all she knows how to do is shop and party? Or is this a broader critique, taking aim at Hollywood in general? The film is, in the end, about youth conforming to adulthood's ugly reality, carving out a personal Eden, however temporal and inconsequential, amidst the whirlwind of accusatory looks and letters adults throw at the young. That playtime ends so abruptly should come as no surprise but this rejection of politics (& violence) forces the viewer to step back and reevaluate. There are better films tackling this phenomenon, Coppola already made one with her first effort, but MARIE's flaws help it raise questions for its target audience better. The point is, according to the film (and I suspect the biography from which Coppola adapted her screenplay), Marie and Louis were not ready to grow up when asked to--they needed more time--and with a soundtrack culled from Coppola's childhood we can only guess this is how she has felt. I can't really sympathize with growing up the daughter of a legendary American filmmaker and following in his footsteps to become another world-famous director but I think there is a generational arrested development at play today. We can't ignore the real world forever--there's a time to grow up, like now--but for some (like the cineaste) it's been a hard road out of solipsism into our modern age. Chances are this cautionary bent is lost on the ones who need it most (Straighten up and fly right, Super Sweet 16's!) but nevertheless it will remain an elegy for this generation of hermetic hipsters whose hair hangs greasy over lined eyes instead of standing tall like bouquets.

02006: 123 minutes: dir. Sofia Coppola: written by Coppola, based on Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey.

[Fans of Huston can look forward to him playing Orson Welles next year while Coogan devotees can salivate at the prospect of an Alan Partridge feature. Also of note: Schwartzman has a writing credit to go with a co-starring gig on Wes Anderson's new movie, THE DARJEELING LIMITED.]

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Burn Out/Fade Away

Ambiguous ending
by steviesellout

I watched BROKEN FLOWERS for the second time last night, and aside from a few things that bothered me a bit this time around (the fact that Bill Murray plays a "Don Juan" who happens to be named Don Johnston struck me as sillier and more pointless than it did before, and the “stalker in a Taurus” one-liner awkwardly standing out as the only joke of this sort in the movie), I still liked it. It's not great--I think it was one of those films that people wanted to like more than they did, the idea of Jim Jarmusch and Murray working together perhaps better than the thing itself. Still, I thought it was a good, small movie, with everyone's favorite late-career-success-story doing pretty much exactly what we've come to expect from him: turning in a performace so minimal that to call it "extremely understated" is, well, an extreme understatement. As tends to be the case with the second time around, the things I found to like and dislike about the movie this time were the small things, which I had either not noticed the first time or that had faded from my memory in the interim. Christopher McDonald's performance as the husband of one of Don's exes is amazing in that he manages to somehow get the used-car-dealer-ness (he's a realtor, which I suppose may or may not be a step up the career-respectability ladder) so pitch-perfectly, and simultaneously showing you the basic humanity of the character, and making him somehow likeable, although perhaps in a sort of pathetic way--and all within his 10-odd minutes of screen time. This is impressive because it would have been easier for McDonald to simply play up the repellant aspects of the character and just be an obnoxious parody of a realtor, rather than being someone who you feel like you've met.

But this wasn't supposed to be the point. What I wanted to touch on was a disagreement my girlfriend and I had immediately after watching the movie. During the final scene, she, sensing the way the movie was headed, declared, “I have a feeling I'm going to be frustrated with the end of this movie, and sure enough, when the credits rolled came the obligatory “That's it?!!” For those of you who haven’t seen it, the movie ends without Don figuring out which one of his old girlfriends is the mother of his son, and without meeting the son either (or rather, not knowing whether he’s met his son or not, and for that matter, suspecting the whole thing might have been a hoax), which is admittedly a somewhat unresolved ending. But what struck me was this hadn’t struck me at all; to me it seemed perfectly natural that the film ended the way it did—in fact, I can't imagine it going any differently.

The only argument I could come up with was the old "in real life, things don't end up in tidy little packages," line, to which she naturally replied with the standard response: people see movies to get away from real life, and part of the reason people like to see movies with resolutions is because they so rarely get them in real life. Of course I agree with that in theory. After all, would we really want to watch an action or adventure or other “nonserious” movie where you don't know if the hero lives or dies in the last scene? But we don't watch those types of movies for realism anyway, and you wouldn't find me complaining that STAR WARS or BACK TO THE FUTURE is unrealistic. But with a movie like BROKEN FLOWERS, where the film's strengths lie in its refusal to abide by standard movie conventions, where there are no heroes or villains or even any real climax, I think it would sort of cheapen the whole thing to have a resolution

"But all the movies do that now. I feel like it's kind of a new thing," my girlfriend argued. For a second, I thought of making the observation that the same thing could be said about talkies in 1930, but thought better of it. I replied that with a tidy resolution, you would have no reason to ever think about the movie again, nothing to talk about when it was over, no reason to wonder what it all means or try to piece together the clues and solve the mystery, even though you know that’s not the point.

So then it’s just a ploy to get you to see the movie again?” She was making me look bad at this point. But it made me realize something: I’ve always liked unresolved stories, or at least stories where there’s a lot of room for interpretation (and I’d say this extends to music, art, etc.) to the point where I think I’ve come to take it for granted that this sort of story is better than one where everything is explained—I regard ambiguity as a sort of end in itself, and I think a lot of people I know are the same way. But at what point does this become lazy filmmaking, or lazy storytelling? I suppose it is easier in a way to write a story that just ends abruptly without explaining things or offering a proper resolution, but is this really the case? And does “easiness” make something any less valid? People might accuse Jim Jarmusch of not knowing how to write an ending to BROKEN FLOWERS, which reminds me of a conversation I had with someone once where he referred to fade outs in music as being used because the songwriter “doesn’t know how to finish the song.” The absurdity of this statement is I think self-evident—it’s not like this guy was a music snob who only listened to songs without fade outs or anything—but it’s worth explaining anyway. The fade out is finishing the song, and Jarmusch did write an ending, it’s just not the ending that you may have wanted or expected. The fade out in the song, like the abrupt, unresolved ending in the film, is a tool, and nothing more. Used correctly (and I’m not trying to say there’s any sort of universal absolute for correctness), I think it can enhance the experience of the work, and in the case of BROKEN FLOWERS, I don’t think there was really any other option.

What does everybody else think?

02005: 106 minutes: dir. Jim Jarmusch: written by Jarmusch

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Week End

by Steven Boone

WEEK END is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film about a hateful bourgeois couple traveling through a rural stretch of France strewn with dead bodies and burning vehicles. Looks like the end of the world. It’s the tumultuous late '60s, but this particular doomsday feels strangely like a JACKASS stunt, or those smarmy anti-smoking commercials. With rape and cannibalism. WEEK END takes not taking itself seriously way too seriously.

I’ve always found Godard pretty tedious, even when he’s serving up airy souffles like BREATHLESS and BAND OF OUTSIDERS. He loves cinema, sure, but nowhere near as much as he hates the hypocrisy and self-delusion of the ruling classes worldwide. (Damn. He should have been a union organizer or a terrorist. Maybe he was at some point.) His lucid politics, his ideas about civilization versus barbarism, his idea of a joke (amateur Python), his solidarity with the oppressed, his pessimism about human connection... all these rueful observations he expresses in apocalyptic rants, gags, verbal riffs and visual non sequiturs that resurface later as damning correlatives to said riffs. But, for all the operatic tracking shots, he has little rhythm and no heart. If that’s your thing, eat up. In the dark of the theater, I prefer singers over scientists.

Godard’s brilliance and right-on radicalism don’t add up to an essential filmmaker. WEEK END plays the way I suspect the elaborate social provocations of Euro auteurs like Noe, Haneke, Ozon and von Trier will come off in the near future—like snotty tantrums. Storytelling, what’s that? Actually, all of these guys know how to tell a story, but they’re too smart(-ass) to bother most of the time. The film-of-ideas is just as tiring to me as the novel-of-ideas. Everything’s random access, nothing you need settle down to watch in the dark. Hang it in a gallery or lay it on the coffee table, but feel free to look away, drift and return the way you might if Godard himself were crowding you, dispensing his wisdom along with a tiny whiff of bourbon.

WEEK END messes around with title cards and jarring sound transitions in the manner of later films like FIRST NAME: CARMEN and EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF. While his mouthpiece characters resist all forms of hegemony in word and deed, his picture and sound follow suit, refusing to cooperate with Hollywood’s soothing formal dictates. An absurdly long, xxx-rated monologue about a sexual threesome accompanies the ultimate stylistic sin: The camera zooms in and out at random while an ominous music cue drops out intermittently, senselessly. Might as well be gonzo porn scraps. But as the backlit protagonist in her underwear drones out the story to her lover, the effect satisfies neither a porn nor cinema jones. It’s just Godard being rebellious, nerd-naughty.

Later, he orchestrates an even longer shot tracking an endless traffic jam out of the Old Testament. All kinds of surreal and gory events pass through the frame in “real” time. All I could think of was the amount of money and manpower it must have taken to pull this silly scene off. Maybe that’s what Godard wants us to think about.

A child of the Nazi occupation of France, Godard has admitted to being a cinematic resistance fighter down to his socks. WEEK END is what happens when a resistance fighter sprays the machine gun so indiscriminately he kills even the thing he is presumably fighting for—in this case, true cinematic poetry.

01967: 105 minutes: dir. by Jean-Luc Godard: written by Jean-Luc Godard

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Flower of My Secret

by Ryland Walker Knight

This is the first Pedro Almodóvar movie I have actively disliked. It was the only film from the Viva Pedro! series I had not seen that Netflix had to offer so I quickly queued it after having enjoyed his MATADOR so much. The romanticism is there, the palatte as vibrant as any of his recent works and plenty of humor from Chus Lampreave as yet another strong-willed, stubborn mother. Yet, for all that flair, I wasn't distracted from the cliche-ridden, hackneyed plotline. I know, all of his films have cliches and spin out melodramatic stories. However the other films spin those tropes around and attack them, sometimes schematically, but always to lend pathos to otherwise outrageous characters. None of that is present here. It's a slight work by a major filmmaker who seemed to have one or two great ideas for images (a rally against the university's president is gorgeous & hilarious in spite of the tears Leo tries to hide) but no good angles on his transparent plot to flesh it out. All we get is a committed performance from Marisa Paredes as Leo, a performance plummed from real hurt and anger but is, ultimately, a pain to watch given how trite and humorless her dialogue is written. Perhaps he was trying to make a movie like the romance novels Leo writes under the pseudonym Amanda Gris but that does not work either: an attempt to comment on how fiction can inform us, teach us, but there are no valuable lessons here, which is a shame. Manuela Vargas plays Leo's faithful housekeeper Blanca with another obvious secret and Joaquin Cortes is her complicit son, Antonio. By the time all truths are revealed, little else is except allusions to classics spoken out loud by the overly jolly Juan Echanove as Angel, Leo's editor and unlikely love interest. Do yourself a favor and watch Paredes in ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER to see her inhabit a far superior role tailored to her skills and personality, and where we first saw Pedro's ambition--and success--to elevate his characters above caricatures and cliches to a place where his meta textual aims hit their targets.

01995: 103 minutes: dir. by Pedro Almodóvar: written by Almodóvar

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Departed

Marty Departed
by Ryland Walker Knight

Remember when the first time you saw a Martin Scorsese classic and you nearly bounced in your seat giddy, grinning at the screen? It usually happened within the first five minutes: I love the Ronettes!; this city is grimey and disgusting--a real rain, yeah; pool is sexy; did you see how the camera moved in on him into the freeze frame? That sense of cinematic enthusiasm was sustained for the entire picture through to the climax, racing for that finish line you didn't want to see around the bend. Okay, not all the time. By the end of some you're worn out, ready to quit, checking your wristwatch. Even in GOODFELLAS you can feel the weight of the film by the end, all that nihilism and Catholic guilt like heavy drapery on your shoulders, its fringe dusting the floor. Some will argue similar slants against THE DEPARTED but I was thrilled for the entire running time, eager to watch it again as soon as the last reel slipped through the projector. In fact, I'm going back tonight.

Even if, like me, you haven't seen the original Hong Kong film INFERNAL AFFAIRS, you've seen elements of this movie before in nearly any cops and robbers picture. What you haven't seen is this kind of premise. We all know about the duality of men, cops and robbers in particular, but having them impersonate one another to infiltrate the other's world is as exciting an idea as imaginable. I know, there probably is another film outside these two with a similar plot (maybe another blind spot, SERPICO?) but this one is so slick it's easy to forget the past and dive in with our eyes open.

Matt Damon is the ostensible lead since we follow his Colin Sullivan from the first scene to the last, from wide eyed youth to dead eyed adult. His doppleganger, introduced shortly after Colin's youthful prologue, is Leonardo DiCaprio's anger management case, Billy Costigan. Both actors are groomed to look alike and often Scorsese will shoot them from the same angle in sequential scenes to hammer home this point of duality. It's obvious, yes, but like every stylistic choice in this film, an effective one: the pacing is perfect, the use of musical cues is just right (songs are repeated as character themes instead of scoring), and every line of dialogue from the top notch screenplay pops. There's never a dull moment and plenty of hilarious asides from Alec Baldwin (as dufus blow hard Captain Ellerby) and Mark Wahlberg (the ever-angry Staff Sargeant Dignam) to break up the bleak attitude with some comedic punctuation. The entire all star cast is great, including the old guys who work as father figures as well as Chief Good Guy & Evil Mastermind: Martin Sheen's performance as Captain Queenan is the least showy in the picture and helps balance his opposite, the one from all the ads, the one the bigs hope to lure you the paying customers in with, the big bad powerhouse that is Jack Nicholson. Jack doesn't just chew scenary in this picture, he's stuffing his face letting the juices drip all over his goatee. At this point in his career it's hard for Jack to play it straight, without irnoy, and it works for the most part to some truly funny ends in some sparklingly well acted scenes with DiCaprio. There's moments that remind you of the very unironic brilliance from, say, THE LAST DETAIL, but if you wanted a performance that played by the rules you came to the wrong show.

Nice tie

In a lot of ways it's as much a vanity project as either of Scorsese's two previous films yet this one has the deft screenplay those two lost somewhere in their endless re-writes. William Monohan uses an Irish background to sculpt his reworking of the orginial material and by keeping the Italian element out of the picture (but not the Catholic) Scorsese is set free to focus on perfecting his craft for the film at hand. His indulgences are a roving camera we've not seen as effective since KUNDUN and some of the best editing with Thelma Schoonmaker since their first collaboration, RAGING BULL: it's flashy but economic, like the film as a whole. It's also freed his actors and we finally get to see all those traits Marty's been hyping in Leo since GANGS OF NEW YORK was announced: poignant vulnerability, untapped ferocity, a believable man's swagger. Vera Farmiga has the unlucky role of the only female in the picture but her performance may beat all the men's, elevating her Madolyn above the plot device she may have been in the screenplay.

Above all it's entertainment the picture aims to provide and it certainly succeeds. It may be one of the most entertaining movies I've ever seen. And not just from a thrill-a-minute action standpoint: it's a thrill to see such skill in the end result.

02006: 149 minutes: dir. Martin Scorsese: written by William Monahan, based on a previous screenplay by Alan Mak & Felix Chong

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The pillow's drowning: Oh yes, we're drooling.

Chavvy came through
by Ryland Walker Knight

The American League Championship Series begins Tuesday night in Oakland. Yes, the A's came to play in the Divisional Series and swept the Twins. They played "mistake-free baseball" according to the Twins' catcher Joe Mauer, while the Twins made mistake after mistake. For me, it was a joy. I wear my hat with pride in these Seattle streets. I've been attracting a lot of attention, some distasteful but mostly congradulatory. Even from a devoted--and drunk--Minesota native who told me, "That Torii Hunter sure lost the game for them."

That much is true. We won with determination. The Twins fell apart. A perfect sweep never trailing at any point in the series.

But it's back to worrying because those Tigers out of Detroit are no baby cubs: they have fangs and claws and ferocity. The Yankees--and all the East Coast biased media--underestimated them and they paid the price. Their pitching staff reverted to its early season dominance and their offense never gave up, even in their Game One loss, always fighting, applying pressure. There's no doubt their fearless attitude is going to help a soaring confidence level.

But the A's are pretty happy right now, too. I just hope they aren't complacent. And from what I've read, that's not the case. Frank Thomas keeps grounding the kids after big wins and reminding them, "There's still more games, more series we got to win." The champagne's great but you gotta remember the big picture: The World Series.

Frank's happy

Manager Ken Macha rarely sleeps a full night. He's up early planning, working hard to prepare. His staff works hard too and this commitment has shone through his players this year. The team was banged up the entire season but always found ways to win. They got hot like always in the second half and showed they deserved to win the AL West. Frank Thomas has said this is the first club he's been a part of in 17 big league years that never had a squabble or prima donna moment--just a bunch of guys who love to play the game right. And that's what we fans have to count on: that diligence to play mistake-free, hard-nosed baseball until the final out. Because the Detroit Tigers have the same philosophy. There won't be an inch to budge.

But I can't stop grinning thinking about this match up. It's a pretty evenly matched series with a slight edge going to the Tigers for shutting down what, on paper, seemed like the best lineup to ever see the limelight in the postseason. But I think with home field advantage and an energized, devoted club eager to keep proving themselves the A's can win it in six. However, I'm sure there's a Tigers fan writing this same blog right now talking all about their monumental triumph. Should be fun. With fingers crossed and hat snug I wait patiently. Go A's!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Still drooling.

by Ryland Walker Knight

After a two-year hiatus (including a late-season stumble last year), the Oakland Athletics have won the AL West and are competing in the playoffs. I was pretty heartbroken following their last few flame outs in the postseason but my expectations were pretty high going into those series. This year I'm a little more realistic. And skeptical. The end of the season was a little distressing, to be honest.

Last week I attended the series opener against the Mariners here in Seattle. All they had to do was win and the A's would clinch their AL West title. And things started out great with a home run by Milton Bradley in the top of the first. Estaban Loaiza was even relatively effective. Then, in the 5th inning, with the A's up by six runs (9-3), the Mariners began to batter the A's bullpen. Going into the bottom of the 9th, the A's still lead by three but that apparently wasn't enough for the usually lights-out Oakland closer (and reigning Rookie of the Year) Huston Street. The Mariners tied the score and wound up winning the game. I was flabergasted, speechless as we exited.

The A's went on to win the series and clinch their pennant but their final series against the Angels was yet more dispiriting. They lost that series playing sloppy only to win the final game of the season. I must admit, my hopes for this playoff run are significantly less than in years previous. Especially drawing the Twins at home for the Division Series.

The Twins have been on a ridiculous tear, playing a Major League best 71-33 since June. They have the best home record in the Majors as well at 54-27. They also have the best pitcher in the game, Johan Santana, and the batting champ, catcher Joe Mauer, plus a serious MVP candidate in firstbaseman Justin Morneau. It's a tall order for a team with its best pitcher (Rich Harden) still recovering, its marquee player (Eric Chavez) enduring a trying year beset by injuries and a mediocre bullpen struggling down the stretch.

What the A's do have going for them is their best lineup since 2001, a better starting pitching rotation than the Twins and a lot of veteran excitement. At the top of their lineup, Jason Kendall and Mark Kotsay have never played in the postseasn and are quick to declare their own excitement. Frank Thomas is back on the big stage to prove himself once again after a season's worth of proof he's still dangerous and capable. But good will won't win ballgames. Timely hitting, good pitching and reliable team defense do win ballgames. Luckily, the A's have all three. But so do the Twins.

The one thing the A's have over the Twins is a key mental edge: when cornered, considered the underdog, the Oakland Athletics have routinely prooved they can rise up. Granted, that was always in the regular season, climbing the standings to the top by the end of the schedule. But that's part of that good will factor that won't necessarily push Oakland over the equalizing line.

For now I'm just hoping the A's make it intereting. I'm pretty much conceding game 1 against Santana since he never wastes a pitch and can take his excellent stuff deep into games, handing the ball to Joe Nathan, the best closer in the AL this year. But I think the A's could do some damage against the rest of the Twins' banged up and inconsistent rotation. But let's not forget Barry Zito is 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA in the postseason. If he can keep it close, maybe the A's will make a real push to put some pressure on the Twins early in the series. Maybe that way they can break their streak of exiting early and show the Yankees who's boss on the big ALCS stage. Having attended two Oakland wins in New York I know the A's can beat them. But first things first: make the Division Series interesting enough and don't give up. I can't help drooling about a possible win but I'll try wiping my mouth for now.