"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do, I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

al yellon rants about the Cubs, the universe, and everything
:: welcome to 'and another thing!' - voted by readers as Best Cubs Blog 2004

:: Cubs' final 2004 record: 89-73, 3rd NL Central, -16. Last game: 10-8 win over Braves
:: Al's final 2004 record: 51-41, .554 (44-37 home, 7-4 road)
:: Cubs' 2004 record in all other games: 38-32, .543 (1-0 home, 37-32 road)
:: Next spring training game: Thursday, March 3, 2005, vs. A's at Phoenix, 2:05 pm CT
:: Next game: Monday, April 4, 2005, vs. Diamondbacks at Phoenix, 4:40 pm CT
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:: Saturday, December 04, 2004 ::

Movie Review: "Ocean's Twelve"

2004 appears to be the year for sequels that are better than the original.

I speak of Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2, both of which exceeded the #1 of the series... and now Ocean's Twelve, which of course is not the twelfth movie in the series, but the second, after 2001's "Ocean's Eleven", which was a remake of the Rat Pack film of the same name made in 1960.

It's rare for a sequel to get the entire original cast back, but they did it for "Twelve", and that's one of the reasons this film works so well. You already know the characters and their relationships, and they can pick up right where they left off...

Which is, in fact, exactly what they do. After a brief "prequel" which purports to be right after the original, establishing the relationship between Brad Pitt's character and a new member of the cast, a cop played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, the movie moves quickly, showing Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the casino boss who's still pissed that Ocean's 11 ripped him off, wants his money back and one-by-one threatens each of the original eleven, telling him they have two weeks to get him his money, with interest.

OK, there's the setup. They get together, figure out that they're too "hot" to do another job in the USA, so off to Amsterdam and Rome they go, with gorgeous European scenery shots (and one of the weirdest plane-landing sequences you'll ever see), and then...

Well, I can't really say much more without spoiling the whole thing. Suffice to say that a little more than halfway through the film, most of Ocean's crew is in prison, and the movie seems to sit there and do nothing and you're thinking, "Damn! This is boring!" There's some of Zeta-Jones being a good cop, and something about a French master thief, and you're thinking, what does this have to do with anything?

Which is, of course, exactly the moment at which this becomes madcap comedy. Tess (Julia Roberts), Danny's wife, who appears in the opening scenes and then vanishes, is suddenly brought back into the plot... but I can't tell you how, because that'd ruin the whole thing. Suffice to say that it involves Bruce Willis.

And there's a scene on a train, that lasts only a few seconds, between two of the "Twelve", one wearing a Red Sox cap and one wearing a Yankees cap... there was a ton of delayed laughter at the screening I attended after this scene, showing how delicious this was, and it is key to the plot, believe it or not.

It's funny, and there's good chase scenes, and the music is fabulous, and of course, they've left an opening for "Ocean's 13", if they want to.

Better than the original. Steven Soderbergh does it again.

AYRating: *** 1/2

:: posted by Al at 4:04 PM [+] ::
...
:: Thursday, December 02, 2004 ::
This Sign Is Still Wrong!



Let's have a quick math lesson about the numbers in this sign, recently changed to reflect next season (photo taken today, December 2, 2004), of which the first two digits purport to be how long it's been since a Cubs division title, the second two how long since an NL pennant, and the last two how long since a World Championship:

2005 - 97 = 1908. Check.

2005 - 60 = 1945. Check.

2005 - 01 = 2004... uh, nope. Last division title = 2003.

Where the Lakeview Baseball Club made its mistake was not changing the "00" they put up on September 27, 2003, the day the Cubs clinched the NL Central. On that day, and for the remainder of the 2003 postseason, it was correct.

But as soon as the calendar changed to 2004, it should then have been changed to "01". It wasn't, and so now it's wrong.

It should either say: "015996" or "026097".

But "016097" is wrong. I e-mailed them last year and got a poorly spelled form letter saying that I was wrong. I've just e-mailed them again. Will post here if they send a response.

Doesn't matter. Their math doesn't work, whether they think so or not.

:: posted by Al at 3:39 PM [+] ::
...
:: Wednesday, December 01, 2004 ::
NOT Yawn

Yesterday I wrote about the Cubs' plans for a rotating advertising sign behind the plate, and of their new 80-seat addition next to the first base dugout, both fairly minor money-making schemes, and in the grand scheme of things, insignificant.

Today it was revealed that the Cubs want to hold concerts at the Yard, maybe as soon as Labor Day weekend of 2005, with the first one possibly given by Jimmy Buffett, who is a big Cubs fan and also played one of the first concerts given at Fenway Park last year (the above-quoted Sun-Times article has a Bill Zwecker sidebar in which Buffett claims the Fenway shows helped break the Red Sox "curse". This is just plain silly.).

This is a really bad idea, everyone. Sure, the Cubs draw nearly 40,000 people 81 times a year, but concert crowds are way different from baseball crowds, and I am not saying this in a negative light, because I have been part of many concert crowds myself. It'd have to be at night, which would bring way more noise and traffic into the neighborhood.

And, concerts at baseball parks invariably destroy the grass. They were lucky at Fenway and at the Cell in the last year or two, because the times in and around the concerts did not include any rainy days.

But I remember back in the late 1970's when Bill Veeck, strapped for cash, scheduled concerts at the old Comiskey Park, and in 1978, after a Rolling Stones concert, there was a storm the next day which drenched the field before they could get the concert setup out of there, and the field was virtually unplayable for the rest of that season.

Finally, if the Cubs want to piss off the neighborhood groups who don't want any changes to the existing ballpark setup, or the city of Chicago, they sure have picked a really good way to do it.

It's not worth the money, Mr. MacPhail. I think this idea ought to crawl back into its cave.

:: posted by Al at 9:39 AM [+] ::
...
:: Tuesday, November 30, 2004 ::
Yawn

The Cubs today made two announcements of changes to Wrigley Field, subject to the approval of the city Landmarks Commission, which must sign off on such things, and is expected to do so on Thursday:

first, that there will be a rotating advertising sign put behind home plate, as there is in literally every other ballpark today, and

second, that they will make permanent the seating that for the last few years has been known as the "VIP Box", two rows of seats adjacent to the first-base dugout, totalling 80 seats, probably to be sold at the same price as the $250 behind-the-plate seats added a year ago.

On the second, this is long overdue -- those seats were basically given away to politicians, friends of players and employees, and other MLB friends. Quick math says that for 80 seats for 81 games at that price, the Cubs gross $1.6 million.

On the first, there will no doubt be anguished hand-wringing that the Cubs are "selling out", that they are tainting the sainted brick walls, and for me, this is no big deal. Frankly, it won't be much of a big deal for most people at the ballpark, because they won't see the sign. Its presence is mostly for the CF television camera, and sometimes I forget that the Cub experience of many of you is not at the ballpark, but via television.

Look, if you're upset, ignore the ads and focus on the game. Or make a list of every rotating-sign advertiser and write them and the Cubs and tell them you'll boycott them, if that'll make you feel better.

For ill or good, this game has become all about money. Ticket prices are going up 17%, and that, hopefully, will be put to the player payroll, or most of it. Last year's increase in ticket prices mirrored the player payroll increase.

And if the approximately $5 million that the Cubs can take in from this sign can help them buy a player who can get us to the place that our big brothers the Red Sox finally got to in 2004, I'm all for it.

Ignore the ads. Watch the baseball. That is, after all, why we are Cubs fans.

:: posted by Al at 6:00 PM [+] ::
...
:: Monday, November 29, 2004 ::
Movie Reviews And Cub News

OK, so I wasn't the first to report the Sammy-to-the-Marlins rumor; it shows up here and here in the last couple of weeks.

I consider my source impeccable, and since the Mets talks, as mentioned here last Thursday, may be breaking down, maybe the Marlins deal is being revisited, and though Castillo and Encarnacion aren't great players, they would fill needs, and by the "addition by subtraction" theory, this may allow the Cubs to sign Carlos Beltran.

This is movie-screening time of year, and I saw two pre-release screenings and paid to take my son to a third this past weekend, and I'll start with the latter, since it's the one burning up the boxoffice, taking in $33 million on the holiday weekend.

"National Treasure"

Here's what you get when you ask a nine-year-old who you take to a movie like this, what he thinks of it:

"It was good."

OK, so my son is nine, and maybe he doesn't have a career ahead of him as a movie critic.

This movie is rated PG, and I don't think it's inappropriate, age-wise, for nine-year-olds; in fact, we ran into one of his classmates there and there were other similar-aged kids at the Saturday afternoon showing. There's no nudity or bad language, just a few car crashes, fires and explosions.

The plot seems ripped off from "The DaVinci Code", the Dan Brown novel, but this film has been in development since 1999, before "Code" was written. "Code", in fact, is now in production as a film, with Tom Hanks cast as the lead, Professor Robert Langdon, and when I was reading the novel I thought Hanks would be perfect in that role, so kudos to the producers for that bit of casting.

Now, if they'd just cast Diane Kruger as the young French woman who helps Langdon in the DaVinci quest, the movie will be all set.

I mention Kruger because she seems wildly miscast in "Treasure" as Dr. Abigail Chase, a higher-up at the National Archives, and she tries real hard to hide her native German accent, but it never really works. She is nice eye candy, though.

The story is preposterous, but you watch it and buy it, up to a point, mainly because of Nicolas Cage, whose look of perpetual surprise works here by telling us, "Hey look, I know how stupid this is and YOU know how stupid this is, but let's have some fun doing it anyway, OK?"

There's some neat technology and some cool chase scenes, and as such, it's decent mindless entertainment for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

AYRating: ** 1/2

"Closer"

Still haven't figured out how to pronounce the name of this film. Is it "closer" as in "more proximate to"? Or "closer" as in "What LaTroy Hawkins Was Not For The 2004 Cubs"?

If you figure this out let me know.

This movie is based on a stage play of the same name, and revolves around four characters:

Alice (Natalie Portman) is a self-described "waif" who has worked as a stripper.
Dan (Jude Law) is an aspiring novelist who makes a living writing newspaper obituaries.
Anna (Julia Roberts) is a high-end photographer who, as the movie starts, is coming out of a bitter divorce.
Larry (Clive Owen) is a dermatologist (Owen played Dan in the London stage version, interestingly).

These are four seriously screwed-up people. As the movie opens, Alice is being run over by a car, saved by Dan. She has punked-out purple hair. They exchange platitudes and somehow find themselves attracted to each other.

Then Dan meets Anna, who is photographing him for his book. He kisses her just before Alice, by then his lover, comes into the room. Later Dan, in a weird way, gets Anna to meet Larry, who he doesn't even know. (I won't spoil this, it's delicious.)

I really can't tell you more without spoiling the whole thing, so I won't. Suffice to say it's about relationships and betrayals and how regular, ordinary people deal with them. The characters seem real, probably because they are so flawed.

There's lots of sex talk and bad language, but oddly, no full nudity, though scenes were originally shot with Portman nude. Mike Nichols, the director, apparently took a fatherly interest in Portman and edited all the nude scenes out. The movie, if anything, is better as a result.

AYRating: *** 1/2

"The Aviator"

Here's how much of a preview screening this was: at the end, after the opening titles (and doesn't that drive you nuts? You see a whole movie and THEN you see who's in it? I wish film directors would put at least the producers, cast, director at the beginning. Anyway.) -- the screen said "END CREDITS TO FOLLOW" and then abruptly ended. Guess they hadn't finished them, and this movie won't open in most of the country till January.

Go see it when it does. Most Americans are familiar with the story of Howard Hughes, who made a fortune in oil in the early 1920's, then went to Hollywood to try to become a movie producer (he did have some success, and this film opens with his production of "Hell's Angels", widely panned at the time, now revered as a classic) and then his forays into aviation, and finally, his descent into insanity.

The film ends right after World War II, because after that, Hughes did give in to his madness, and spent most of his last years holed up in a hotel room in Las Vegas, naked and with his beard and hair and fingernails grown long.

This movie shows hints of that, and though you might not think the very-recognizable Leonardo DiCaprio could pull this off, he does so, particularly by the end, when he's made up as a near-dead ringer for Hughes.

The movie shows his long-time relationship with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett, who's terrific), and implies that they did love each other, but Hepburn couldn't put up with his womanizing and eccentricities. The womanizing is somewhat glossed over, though he pulls the same sorts of things on Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale).

Reasons are given for why he might have descended into madness, as we see a couple of really effective scenes in men's public washrooms, of all places, and we also see how he battled to keep his TWA competitive with the main other airline of the time, Pan American. Alan Alda as a US Senator holding hearings on Hughes' alleged WW II wrongdoing, and Alec Baldwin as Juan Trippe, head of Pan Am, are good as the "evil" men in this film. Baldwin, in fact, is starting to make quite a career for himself as the bad guy ("The Cooler").

This is a lively, well-photographed, richly colored film, with great period music, and one of the most realistically photographed plane-crash sequences I have ever seen. And you'll die to see Gwen Stefani of the band "No Doubt" as Jean Harlow.

Yes, Jude Law's in this movie too, in a brief appearance as Errol Flynn. Law's not in every movie released this holiday season, it just seems that way.

This film is in the traditional "limited release" on December 17, and should be everywhere in early January. There will be many Oscar nominations, including possibly Best Picture. It's long (two hours, fifty minutes), but well worth your time.

AYRating: ****

:: posted by Al at 9:40 AM [+] ::
...
:: Sunday, November 28, 2004 ::
A Sosa Rumor You Haven't Heard

The usual reliable sources (and though I can't reveal them, this comes from someone I absolutely trust) have told me that the Cubs are exploring the possibility of trading Sammy to the Marlins.

In return, the Cubs would get Luis Castillo and Juan Encarnacion.

Castillo would become the starting second baseman and leadoff man. He has almost no power, but does draw some walks (.368 lifetime OBP). He's a switch-hitter who Jim Hendry considered acquiring a year ago when he was a free agent. It appears that the Cubs have no interest in retaining Todd Walker, which is too bad, but Castillo would be roughly equivalent, better defense and more speed, but less power. I also heard that Walker may be close to signing with the Texas Rangers, which makes little sense unless the Rangers are about to move Alfonso Soriano.

Encarnacion would play right field, of course. He appeared to be getting better in 2002 and 2003, but regressed last year, which he split between the Dodgers and Marlins. He'd likely be a placeholder until the Cubs can either develop someone or make another deal.

Both players will be 29 years old by Opening Day.

The money doesn't completely match up -- the two Marlins are due to make a little over $9 million combined in 2005 -- but this is where Hendry has to get creative, maybe involve a third team, as the Rockies did when they dumped Mike Hampton's deal, and I do have confidence in Hendry to do this, and further, making such a deal might free up enough money to acquire Carlos Beltran. An outfield of Patterson, Beltran and Encarnacion would be just fine with me.

Stay tuned, and remember where you heard it first.

:: posted by Al at 4:33 AM [+] ::
...

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