Monday, April 29, 2013

April Director - Mikio Naruse

Another month comes to a close, and so it's time for another director. I will continue in the direction I've been taking - counting down my favorite Japanese directors. If Oshima is 6 - and Kurosawa 5 - #4 is Mikio Naruse.

Naruse is probably the least discussed of these, of my favorites, if not of the acknowledged greats of Japanese cinema. He's not very well represented on DVD. Things were much worse in the past - when I started tracking down Japanese films, in the late 90s, it was possible to see a decent selection of Ozu or Mizoguchi - 6 or 8 films anyway - Kurosawa was very well represented, as always... Oshima and Imamura were not so easy to find - but Oshima stuff was around, and Imamura was alive and active, and his new films were being distributed, and he got (in 1998 or so) a full retrospective that toured the states... Naruse did not get that treatment for another decade or so, and even now, is the least available of these filmmakers on DVD, at least region 1. But - there was that retrospective a few years back - and seeing a sweeping selection of his work, in a short time, was, for me, as overwhelming as one could expect. I wrote up most of it at the time - so in place of the capsules here, I will point you to what I wrote then. Part 1 and part 2, and some overflow, here.

You will find most of my general thoughts about him scattered among those reviews - I could offer some generalities. Compared to his most canonical contemporaries - I think where Ozu works with simple setups, and uses editing to put together his stories, and subtly disrupt the surface (which he does - I think he is one of the most radical mainstream filmmakers imaginable), and Mizoguchi moves his camera to shape and exploit space (something Ozu does with editing), Naruse works with composition. That is - Ozu combines shots to create space and meaning; Mizoguchi moves the camer to do it; Naruse builds in in shots on screen. He uses depth, layers, symmetries, positioning characters in the middle of complicated backgrounds, complicated spatial arrangements caught in single shots, single set ups, etc. He uses static compositions to create complex images - a style that I think turns up in a few later directors, sometimes more than the moving camera or montage heavy styles of Ozu or Mizoguchi. Imamura, Ichikawa do this a lot as well - I don't know if they got it from Naruse, it's not exactly unique - but he is a master. Probably not THE master - check out that fish atop this blog! - but he'll do.

That'll do. And so? a more or less straight list - though you can find more, sometimes quite a bit more, at the links above. Finally - is there a filmmaker ever who paid closer attention to money?

1. Late Chrysanthemums
2. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - worth noting that Hideko Takemine might well be the most beautiful woman ever put on screen, especially in front of Naruse's camera.
3. Wife! Be Like a Rose! - comedy! and masterfully handled, at that...
4. Mother
5. Floating Clouds - an interesting film, because, despite his reputation as a melodramatist, maybe something of a miserablist - this is one of the few films that don't end on at least a stubborn note - I have to quote myself: For good bad or indifferent, Naruse's heroines usually have to keep going at the end - their stories don't really end - some episode ends, the film can end, but they have to get up in the morning and go back to whatever it is they do.... His films usually end with the woman ascending the stairs... This is an exception.
6. Every Night's Dream
7. The Sound of the Mountain
8. Repast
9. Summer Clouds
10. Lightning - almost a comedy!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Random Ten Normal Service Resumed

Things are returning to normal in Boston; the streets are open, the trains are running, with delays for the usual reasons. Yesterday, I saw the power of a puppy on the red line - there was a kid, year or so old in a stroller, screaming her eyes out - then a lady came along with a little dog, and stood beside her - and the kid stopped howling to look at the dog. It was very sweet.

Anyway - let us now go to iTunes for some randomly selected musical numbers:

1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - We Came along this Road
2. Henry Kaiser - The Andy Griffith Show Theme: The Fishin' Pole
3. The Long Ryders - Masters of War
4. Atoms for Peace - Judge, Jury and Executioner
5. Rage Against the Machine - Know Your Enemy
6. Richard Thompson - Let it Blow
7. The Beatles - Don't Pass Me By (go Ringo!)
8. Outkast - Mamacita
9. The Pretenders - The Wait
10. Lift to Experience - Into the Storm

And video: hey, Ringo!

and the Pretenders sounds right:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Auteurist Roundup Spring '13

I've slipped back into my worst habits in writing about film - that is, not writing about film. Been ages since I have managed as simple a thing as writing up notes on what I've seen lately. This despite seeing some pretty good films this spring. No answer for that put to write a post, so here goes. These are the films by important directors that have come out this spring. Most of them deserve more, but you have to take what you can get...

To the Wonder - 10/15 - good old Terrence Malick. He managed to get this one made in a year or so instead of the usual 8, but the results are basically the same - gorgeous looking, brilliantly edited, but still fluff. He has somehow acquired a reputation for depth and seriousness, though I can never see why. He makes films that look like advertisements - full of gorgeous photography, beautiful people twirling (my god, do they twirl) with their hair and clothes billowing around them, edited to music, the whole thing flowing along as a kind of image of Beauty and Wonder - all that's lacking is a clear product being sold. Though this time, the product seems a bit more obvious than usual - it seems to be the Catholic Church. Okay - for all the snark, the truth is, I rather liked this film - more than anything of his since Days of Heaven. There is a story of sorts - Ben Affleck in Paris meets a Ukrainian woman with a kid, takes them to Oklahoma (I guess it is), where they don't quite settle, she leaves and they scuffle while apart, then she comes back and marries him for the green card, followed by a marriage with its good and bad moments, etc. Javier Bardem, meanwhile, shuffles around visiting the poor and downtrodden, while afflicted by Malick's voiceovers. And somewhere in here, among the fluff, there are some very fine moments, not just the usual nature photography (which is as ravishing as ever), but some almost documentary looking footage of the town, houses and people, of parades and schools, trees and streets and walls. It is at its best in those moments of documentary detail. It is also, like Tree of Life, a bravura editing performance (as is Upstream Color) - how he puts this stuff together is always breathtaking.

Upstream Color - 11/15 - Shane Carruth comes back with another experimental science fiction film. This one has a clear enough plot: a thief raises worms that he feeds with some kind of hallucinagin that lets him form a psychic bond to people; he uses one on a girl, and steals all her money, and somewhat inadvertently ruins her life along the way. When he is done, she wanders off to a man who makes sound recordings, who extracts the worm from her and puts it into a pig - which allows him to have a psychic bond with both the pig and the girl. She gets on with some kind of life and meets another man who seems to share her memory - he's obviously been in the same situation she's in. They fall in love, somewhat uneasily - and in the end find the sampler.... Like To the Wonder, this is largely an exercise in editing - told in a similar elliptical style, with very little dialogue or conventional narrative - but the underlying story is much stronger, and more convincing, and the style fits the story and its themes, its hallucinatory qualities, its blurring of identities. And, I suppose, I just prefer the tone of this to the mysticism Malick deals in. This does not look like an ad.

Beyond the Hills - 13/15 - latest film from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu; in this one, a girl, Alina, comes back to Romania from Germany to join her friend, Viochita; the latter lives in a monastary. Alina's plan is to convince Voichita to go to Germany with her - Voichita does not want to go; she has turned religious. Alina stays, trying to convince her to leave, but she is a bit crazy, and madly in love with Voichita. She has an episode, they put her in the hospital, but she comes back, as everyone thinks she would be better off with friends - but things go from bad to worse. She tries to go to her foster parents, but like Alex' parents in a Clockwork Orange, they have taken in a boarder... so no matter what everyone wants, she keeps landing back at the monastery, where she cracks again, and they have no answers but to try to exorcize her, which goes very very badly.... It is a fairly magnificent film, really - the best by some margin that I have seen this year. It is very complex. I think you could say there are three stories running parallel: the first is the friendship, which is itself rather complicated - Alina loves Voichita, Voichita has changed, moved on - that creates tension, between love, change, loyalty, obsession, and the fact that both of them seem to need help - Alina seems to know this - they are both in trouble, one going crazy, one torturing herself with crackpot religion... Second is a fairly obvious and straightforward religious allegory: Alina comes to the church like Christ in the guise of one who is naked and hungry - she is a test; how will they react? The answer is clear enough - they treat her like Christ himself was treated, literally - rejected, scorned and finally crucified... And finally - there is a diffuse commentary on the world - the film is set in the modern day, but this is hidden at times, and at other, is clearly important in its ambiguity - the fact that things aren't noticeably different than in communist days is probably to the point. We see the poverty and trouble of society; we see hints of the abusive system the girls grew up in. The politics are subtle, and I can't pretend to know what is going on, but it's there....

Spring Breakers - 7/15 - Harmony Korine is back - I don;t know. 4 college girls decide to go on spring break. Having no money they rob a chicken shack. In Florida they are arrested at a party and bailed out by a skeezy rapper played by James Franco who pulls them into crimes - his war against Gucci Mane, a gangster. A couple of the girls go home, starting with Selena Gomez, who's only willing to go so far in sullying her image after all... Two of them stay and go over completely to the rapper's life of crime. After reenacting Wild Things in the pool, they go to kill his rival - Franco goes down, but the girls wipe out Mane's gang and drive away in his convertable. The American Dream! Despite the exploitation story, it's just Korine - fake outrageousness, moralizing, pop culture references, colors, and artsty talkiness, repetitive voiceovers and forced partying. Dumb, pointless, amusing - Franco is fantastic, the girls are indistinguishable (they're all playing Britney Spears one of the actresses says - sounds right - this is Mr. Lonely Part II). It's got a couple scenes - "look at my shit!" - that almost justify its existence, but that's not really enough.

Like Someone In Love - 12/15 - Kiarostami in Japan. Starts with a girl at a bar arguing with someone on the phone, a man who doesn't believe her. Meanwhile she has to go on a date - she is a prostitute - she argues with her boss, saying her grandmother is in town, but it doesn't help. She goes, though she drives by the station looking at the poor old woman standing by a statue waiting to see her.... So she goes to her date, which is with an old man, a translator, who tries to entertain her, but she falls asleep. The next day he gives her a ride to school and there she runs into her boyfriend - who starts talking to the old man... he assumes the old man is her grandfather, and the old man does not deny it. The boy talks about the girl - when she comes back, he offers to fix the man's car (he's a mechanic) - but they run into an old student of the professor. Later -t he girl calls the old man, panicky - he takes her home, and the boyfriend shows up, ranting and raving - it ends with a brick through a window. That's a lot of plot, I suppose, for Kiarostami - though he moves through it in his customary way. It's the details - he's kind of the opposite of Malick and Carruth and their elliptical rush from image to image - he stays put, letting long scenes play out - some dialogue, but some not; some dialogue with two people on screen, sometimes just one side of the conversation - or one side of a confrontation at the end. These are never static - the scenes evolve, characters evolve, relationships are changed and recreated, worlds are filled in behind the scenes. Something like the boyfriend's conversation with the old man - the boy seems threatening at first, but as he talks, seems increasingly harmless. He loves her - he wants to marry her - but he also says, he wants to marry her to control her, so she can't ignore him. This kind of endlessly shifting understanding of the situation is Kiarostami's bread and butter - this might not be as exhilarating as Certified Copy or some fo the Iranian films, but it's still first rank work.

Night Across the Street - 11/15 - the last film by Raul Ruiz, set in Chile. An old man about to retire seems to be living in his head - taking classes with Jean Giono; remembering childhood adventures; politics (Ibanez, a dictator in the 1920s); walking around with Beethoven - or images of talks with Long John Silver... Along with this, there is a kind of radio show, about his memories, and scenes in a boarding house, where a man turns up to kill him, or to be killed by someone else. Everyone ends up shot, I guess, though - the central images - marbles of time - keeps coming back, and certainly animates the events. Lovely little film in any case.

Stoker - 10/15 - Here is Park Chan-wook working in English, with somewhat underwhelming results. It's somewhere between Shadow of a Doubt and a ghost story - a man dies - his brother turns up at his funeral, and soon moves in. The women of the house are Nocole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, both more than a little mad. In any case, people start dying - Park plays with the idea of the supernatural without committing to it - then, at the end, switching away to a simple serial killer plot, at which point the eyes roll.... Indeed - the script is crap, but Park gets about as much out of it as is humanly possible - and the actors are very entertaining.

Side Effects - 10/15 - A Steven Soderbergh thriller, slickly made, a bit soulless. A woman's husband gets out of jail (for insider trading) - she is depressed and drives her car into a wall. The psychiatrist evaluates her, sends her home, puts her on drugs - she reacts badly, and continues to be erratic and depressed at home - she finally gets to a drug she likes (recommended by her former doctor, Catherine Zeta Jones channeling a bit of Barbara Bel Geddes) - it makes her alert and healthy, but also makes her sleepwalk - but she wants to stay on it... then - she stabs her husband... while sleepwalking. Much trouble for the shrink, fears of malpractice, he loses everything - then he starts to suspect - something is wrong: the old shrink wrote a story about the drug - things happen - names don't match up, the crazy woman quotes Styron, everyone quotes Styron - everyone tries to stop him, but he finally gets her with a placebo truth serum, and slowly traps her, by convincing her that the shrink/lover sold her out. And so - she turns state's witness - then gets arrested herself, and all is well. It is all very slick, but that's about all. I kept trying to remember if this was the plot of that Raul Ruiz film a few years ago - Isn't this the plot of that Raul Ruiz film a few years ago? (Shattered Image) Is it? I don't know. Either way, it's a Hitchcock pastiche that works well enough, is very nicely made, but is a bit flat...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More Bombing Comments

Well - I suppose, being a Boston area resident, I have some obligation to say something more about this very interesting week. First thing to say, obviously, is to note that it took the law 4 days to get the guys who apparently did this - that is impressive. And, given the suspects' behavior, it looks pretty good that they got the right guys - so that, while there was a lot of misinformation and noise around this thing, the officials zeroed in on the perps and got them...

How they got them - there is some controversy about that. Tom Watson probably gets at the issues best - the implications of near martial law, imposed because of one guy with a gun and maybe some homemade bombs; the implications of making these things ubiquitous media events. I have to admit - I have mixed feelings about the way the police handled things Friday. It does seem excessive - it's worrisome that one guy can shut down an entire city, a whole metropolitan area. But - well, there's a lot on the other side. There's no escaping the fact that they got the kid. Granted, they got him after they lifted the lockdown - that might be related. But they got him. And more importantly - they got him alive - and they didn't get anyone else.

While I probably do share some of Watson's concerns about this lockdown, I think paranoia about what the government might do is not too different from paranoia about terrorists. You can't live as if terrorists are going to blow stuff up every week; when they do, you have to do something about it. (I am about to quote the Maltese Falcon here - twice, actually... - beams and partners...) I think maybe the officials extended the lockdown too far - Watertown, Cambridge, parts of Boston - quite reasonable; all of Boston? maybe not. But - I can see why they did it, and as far as I can tell, it worked. It was a police action - an active shooter, well armed and desperate, on the loose somewhere - the lockdown served to get everyone else out of the way. Without it, there was always going to be a very real chance of mistakes - mis-identifications, people interfering with the police, people getting caught in the middle of the kid turned up again.

All this happened Friday, April 19 - Patriot's Day proper, and more recently, the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings, and the 20th anniversary of Waco. I found it hard not to think of that when this ended - I think the only people the cops hurt in all this episode were the two suspects. Given the nature of events - the potential for arresting the wrong people, or just the danger inherent in getting into shootouts with desperate criminals - getting through this clean is impressive. And now - they have a suspect in custody, taken alive; he will be arraigned and indicted and tried, he will have a lawyer and somewhere along the line give interviews (frigging McVeigh did...), and probably apply for parole like Charles Manson. And all of that, I think, is what will really vindicate our freedom. It's more important than the possible overreactions on Friday.

Finally - read Pierce for the details.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Bombing

I was out of town this weekend, up in Maine, like I usually am on Patriot's Day. I used to go to the Red Sox game every year, back before they sold out every game, but haven't done that in years - the money and the hassle of getting tickets overwhelmed the fun of the game and the event, and once I stopped going to the games, I had no desire to be anywhere near the crowds.... So - I usually take advantage of the long weekend, go out of town, celebrate the weekend with the rest of the family.... So I heard about the bombing when someone sent an IM - then I got a couple calls, saw things come up on Facebook... and watched the news in shock. It felt surreal - to see all this happening on TV, in places I walk through every day. The sugar heaven store blown half to pieces... it was very hard to wrap my head around.

Today, the building where I work opened again. Yesterday I came back home - I had the day off anyway, but the block where I work was still closed anyway - so my brother and I went to Redbones and I waited to find out whether the company was open again today. They were. So off I went. It's a very strange sight - we're more or less on the edge of the area still sealed off - the cops had possession on one side, the media, and various onlookers held the line, watching down Boylston street for something to happen. There was another media encampment at the edge of the Public Garden, blocking the foot paths through the garden. Cops directing traffic, national guardsmen on duty here and there. People coming to see, to pay homage, carrying flowers - and people like me, going to work, trying to figure out what was going to be happening in our neighborhood. Once I got into work, I suppose things went back to normal, more or less - though you could look out the window and see cops and bomb-sniffing dogs and sight-seers and TV trucks and crews and cameras. And everyone kept checking the net for news. Rumors are flying around - everyone has a theory - I guess it's all pretty hard to avoid.

And in the background, those damned poisoned letters - though I see someone has been arrested there. Whether this has anything to do with the Patriot's Day bombing, it makes an odd repetition of what happened after 9/11 - the anthrax letters were, I think, almost more disturbing than the initial attacks. They couldn't match the carnage and horror of the attacks, and these ricin letters can't match the carnage of what happened Monday, but the anthrax scare made it seem much more intimate - something that was going to continue, that would keep haunting us. It made it harder to isolate the attack, treat it as a discreet event, with specific actors - made the whole thing more diffuse....

All right. I don't have a lot to say about this. The evil of the attack is obvious enough, me saying it isn't going to change much. I don't want to try to guess or speculate on who did it or why - I don't want to play politics at least until we know what the politics are. I hope the cops catch the perpetrators - find them, arrest them, arraign them, indict them, try them, convict them, and lock them away - and do it clean, with strong consistent evidence - I don't want to watch a documentary in 20 years about how the cops got the wrong guy and the real killers got away.

Otherwise? I don't think there's much to say. It's not the kind of thing that really changes anything. I don't feel less safe than I did last Thursday, the last time I walked that way down Boylston street. This kind of mass murder attempt is rare - it's not going to be less rare in the future. It's not less rare now than in the past. Bombings have happened throughout our history - not a lot, not enough, most of the time, to do much more than check through your security measures, make sure you're covering the obvious stuff... then getting on with your life. I think. (Shootings are another matter - because they happen more often - because the mass shootings that get all the press are a tiny blip in the sea of violence and terror that results from guns in the country. Which is why this stuff is disgraceful - the NRA owns congress, and no one else, except a few rubes. If Sandy Hook can't convince republicans to vote for mostly symbolic, but still useful, gun regulations, then they have no souls.)

Enough. I don't have much to say about what happened Monday, except that once the cops open up the streets, I'll be walking by the site more or less every day. Shopping at stores and eating at restaurants and going into the library, across the street from where the bombs went off. It's going to be there, inescapably, in the corner of my eye, and the back of my mind, for the rest of my life, more or less.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Music

Off we go, without much ado...

1. Soft Machine - Fire Engine Passing with Bells Clanging
2. Deerhoof - No One Fed Me SO I Stayed
3. Beatles - Back in the USSR
4. James Brown - It's a Man's Man's Man's World
5. Television - Guiding Light
6. Puccini - La Boheme: Viva Parpignol! Parpignol! Parpignol!
7. Beck - Mixed Bizness
8. Jack White - Missing Pieces
9. Mozart - Don Giovanni: Credele? Ah no, Mio Bene!
10. Outkast - Mighty "O"

Video? looks like a day for Culture - here's some Puccini for you:

and Sir Paul:

Friday, April 05, 2013

Friday Music, Better Late than Never

Maybe not that late... between innings in Toronto, so here goes:

1. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Journey
2. Earth - Crooked Axis for String Quartet
3. OOIOO - Asozan
4. Outkast - A Day in the Life of Benjamin Andre
5. Charlie Parker - Ornithology
6. Mission of Burma - Absent Mind
7. Yoko Ono - No, No, No
8. Iron & Wine - Teeth in the Grass
9. Sonic Youth - Master-Dik
10. Thomas Dolby - Hyperactive

Video - let's be topical, sorta - for Roger and Gene: "At the Movies" - the Bad Brains:

And - you know, Thomas Dolby made some really cool videos...

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Roger Ebert

I imagine every film blogger will write something about Mr. Ebert's passing. (I suppose as it happens that included Roger Ebert himself.) What can I add? Well - that, for me at least, it is right that the internet be full of Ebert today. I was not a fan of his before the internet. I watched Siskel and Ebert on TV, fairly faithfully at times, especially when it was on PBS, and the first few years afterwards - but stopped somewhere in the late 80s. Sometime after Blue Velvet came out - an important point. I remember that episode - I remember being somewhat awed by the clips from the film. I had to see it; I did; I loved it. It is ironic, because Ebert hated it - and when I read his review of it, in one of his books - it soured me completely on Ebert. Blue Velvet was one of the films that made a real film lover out of me - and he was on the wrong side.

So I put him down as a middlebrow bore, a TV personality whose influence came from the fact that everyone had heard of him. It didn't help that I came across something he wrote against Kiarostami in the late 90s - by which time I was eye-deep in art films, and loved Iranian films. But -

The internet happened. Ebert's reviews showed up on the web. You could find them and read them. And this is the thing: once I read Ebert, I understood Ebert. I didn't always share his taste, and I have too say - for a first rate critic, he screwed up more details in films than anyone I know of... But almost no one, and certainly no popular, mainstream film reviewers, could match his ease with the language - and none of them could get their personalities into their prose like he could. And - none of them had his kind of personality, his generosity, curiosity, enthusiasm for film. Though even there - I found that though I came to respect his film reviews (they form a kind of baseline - when I check a films reviews, I always check his - they are a kind of baseline for opinion, and they always give you an idea of what the film is like), what I really loved were his other writings. Essays, on films or other subjects - the kinds of memoirs he has been writing in the last few years - blog posts - I found as his focus broadened, his best qualities were more and more evident. He's a solid reviewer, a decent critic - he's obviously a profoundly important figure in the film world - but he was a genuinely outstanding writer.

I will end with this. I saw him once, at Million Year Picnic, a comic book store in Harvard Square. He was with Andy Ihnatko, a computer writer - they were talking about Love and Rockets, leafing through the books. I didn't bother them - may have nodded as I passed them, on the way to buy whatever I was buying at the time (probably something like Richard Sala or Julie Doucet, this being the late 90s, and that's what I remember reading then) - but it made me very happy. Maybe that's when I became a fan - if he liked the Brothers Hernandez, I could forgive him for hating Blue Velvet. In any case - the world will be poorer without him.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Baseball Predictions, 2013

Spring has been a long time coming this year, but there is one unmistakable sign - baseball! Somehow last year I did not manage to get a post up at the beginning of the year - I blame Bobby Valentine; at least it saved me the embarrassment of picking the sox for the post-season. Anyway - this year -

AL East:

Toronto - the truth is, I don't think this division can be picked in the least. Toronto seems to be the consensus, having imported a host of top class players - but note that they imported them from the Marlins and Mets - those teams did not win with Reyes and Johnson and Dickey and company, why are the Jays so much better? Now - in fact, I suspect the Jays will have a heck of a team - but... it's a little too easy to pick them. I have Jose Batista in my fantasy league, though, so you can be assured I'll be waving the Canadian flag any time I can.

Boston - Ah, well... I don't know what criteria I have used to pick the order of these teams - but I might as well go with the rooting interest. One game in the book, they sure look capable of winning some games - though I think the real question with this team is going to be the rotation. If Lester and Buckholtz bounce back (as they can - they are young...), if Lackey and Dempster can be effective and stay on the field (I'm more optimistic about Lackey's effectiveness and Dempster's durability than the opposites), if Dubront can be a bit more consistent - there's a lot to like. They won't be hammering the ball, but they ought to be driving line drives and doubles all over the place; they have speed; they have very good defense; they have what looks like a deep and effective bullpen. It's fragile - that rotation, especially, can go to hell in a hurry - but if they hold up, this is a team that can do a lot more damage than anyone outside of Boston thinks...

Baltimore - with all the angst about the Sox and Yankees it is easy to forget the Orioles, who won, a bit earlier than they were supposed to. I don't know if they can sustain it - probably not, a lot of luck went into last year's run - but they got some decent pitching, and at least some of it could get better... No, I don't really believe it... I do think they will continue to hit pretty well - something better from Wieters seems a safe bet, I think Davis and Jones will continue to produce - they have enough core to hang around, but getting into the post-seasomn is going to be a struggle.

Tampa Bay - let's see how far pitching can take a team. Though if Myers is ready or Jennings steps it up, they could be all right. And the pitching can take them quite a ways. But without things working out, they are thin...

New York - this is a rooting interest. But looking at the team they're running out there - holy crap! They are old; they are all hurt - Texeira and A Rod and Jeter, Granderson too. They do have some pretty decent pitchers, and Cano, and financial resources... but the team on the field today is sub-Astros quality - and not going to get better for a while. I don't think they are going to be able to overcome the missing players this year. Maybe enough of them will come back to not embarrass themselves - but I suspect the worst for the Yanks. Heh heh heh.


Detroit - I think they might be the safest pick in baseball - 90 odd wins, and the division. They have a great top of a rotation; they have a great middle of the lineup; they have - well, some talent around that. And they have holes. But they are in a weak division and they are going to get to 90 wins - the post-season seems a safe bet here.

Chicago - They are still around. They never quite seem to make up their minds if they are going to contend. I think they got a bit more last year than they have a reason to expect this year, which means they shouldn't trouble the Cats, but will probably finish second easy enough.

KC - All their good young hitters regressed last year - so - they'll probably come back this year. I don't know if they have enough pitching - though they did load up on Tampa Bay pitchers. Second place is in reach, if things break for them.

Cleveland - probably not for the Indians, though who knows - Tito ought to steady them, they have some interesting players, and brought in a bunch of interesting failures (the likes of Drew Stubbs...) They could be respectable. Or hopeless. Probably a bit better than hopeless. 72 wins, that sort of thing.

Minnesota - there's talent hanging around this roster too, but not enough to trouble anyone. I took three hitters and a closer on my fantasy team, so there is that. Here's hoping for that big Justin Morneau comeback!


Angels - on paper they are a beast, though perhaps thin in the rotation. In fact - I am not sold on them, though they should get past 90 wins easily enough. They might be this year's version of the Yankees - hammer their way to the post-season, then get bumped by the Tigers or Rays or something...

Rangers - they lost a lot of talent this year, but I think they have enough of a team to hang around (though they have to do better than yesterday.) The pitching is still decent, starters and bullpen, they have a strong defense, they have hitters - they don't have the anchor of someone like Hamilton, but they are pretty good. They should hang around the wild card race.

A's - teams that rise too fast do tend to settle a bit, especially young pitchers; but they have real talent - they are certainly capable of hanging around. I hope they do - at least, I hope they stay in contention over the next couple years - I hate seeing good young teams that fall apart. They could be TAmpa west...

Seattle - they don't look nearly as bad as they have in recent years... that's not saying a lot.

Houston - poor bastards.

NL East:

Washington - this might be the best team in baseball. ALl that pitching, starters and relievers; a killer infield; Bryce Harper. I expect they will stay a force for a while. They seem determined to put a team on the field. A good thing.

Atlanta - they seem to have done a neat job of retooling on the fly, without dropping all that far out of contention. Now, they are putting together another good young team - Hayward and all those Uptons, good young pitchers, good young infielders - they should be in the wild card hunt, and in position to take the division if things go wrong in the capitol.

Philly - fading, but still dangerous with all those pitchers - and the ever present possibility that the old hitters will rise up for one last gasp. Everything went wrong last year - if things were to go right this year, they could slither into the post-season and cause trouble. Their problem is that they are in a tough division (well, behind 2 tough teams) - it will be hard to get close enough...

Florida - is Giancarlo Stanton the loneliest man in America? is he checking out houses in Boston and New York as we speak? Will some surprise team pull the trigger for him? (Washington? Detroit? San Francisco?) What odds do you give that he will last the year in Miami?

New York - poor bastards.


Cincinnati - this is another division that is very difficult to predict. The Reds, though, are another contender for the best team, in the game. Pitching - Cueto, Latos, etc. - Chapman, Marshall, Broxton; Votto and Bruce and Phillips and Choo and - they're really good. Deep and talented with a track record, with promise - a good bet, I think...

SL - they have some old timers who could fade, but plenty of solid talent - I don't hate them anymore, so I can take a cooler look at them. They have front line pitching, pitching depth; they do rely on some ancient outfielders and some uninspiring, but useful, ball players - but still seem quite capable of continuing to haunt the post-season...

Pittsburgh - this is being perverse, there are probably no reasons to pick them ahead of Milwaukee, but I am going to do it anyway. I was thinking Andrew McCutcheon might be the loneliest man in America, but in fact, they have some decent players around him. Maybe. Sometimes.

Milwaukee - They are probably better than Pittsburgh - though they weren't all that great with Greinke and Hart and one is gone and one hurt... We will see.

Chicago - hopeless. Some nice players getting developed, but still...


SF - might as well. Part of what gives you pause is that they did what they did without getting the best from a bunch of players - if Pence and Sandoval hit, if Lincecum comes back - this is a team capable of greatness. Though even without that, they should slither into the post-season, and are then more than capable of winning it all, with all that pitching.

LA - on paper, there is a lot to like; in the real world - I don't know. But talent will out, sooner or later - chemistry and the like are not going to win and lose ball games very often. The pitching is impressive - we'll see where it takes them.

Arizona - trading players like Upton for character guys is a good way to finish fourth. Character only really matters when you are finishing fourth and you don't want guys punching each other in the dugout.

Colorado - I believe they are again devoid of pitching. There were a couple years there where Rockies starters were getting drafted in fantasy leagues - not so much anymore. Make what you will of that.

SD - they seem to creep a little closer to not being an embarrassment every year - so who knows. They also seem capable of winning games for no conceivable reason, which is worth something.

So: all right - who will do what? Wild Cards - AL: Boston, Texas. NL: Atlanta - SL. World series? oy - Detroit vs. Washington - though Boston/Washington is the one I want.


MVP - should have been Trout last year - might as well pick him this year.
Cy Young - Verlander, until someone else beats him
Rookie of the Year - wishful thinking, sure, but Jackie Bradley Jr.

MVP - there's a fair amount of competition here. Braun generally puts up the numbers, though it might be a matter of time before he puts up a 50 game suspension. Votto has one and could get another any time. How good will Bryce Harper be? can Hayward step up a notch? could Stanton's team win enough to make anyone remember he exists? can Kemp stay healthy? Ad Gon recover? Will Posey keep playing like he has? I'll say Votto, this year.
Cy Young - Strasbourg is bound to win it sooner or later.
Rookie - I should have an opinion - there seem to be lots of pitchers around this year (the AL has more offense) - I'm going togo with Shelby Miller, though that might be because I have him in three different fantasy leagues. Sad, I know, but hey, you have to root for something!