Movie Reviews And Other Updates

Nov 21, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Greetings blog faithful, on a mid-November day when the Minnesota skies are schizophrenic, alternating between the dead of winter and the pleasant glow of a sunny, but short, day. We deal with it. Today has been quite busy for me, getting some new writing done and some old writing edited (more on that later) and I find myself facing 4:00 as if it’s some sort of deadline. I’ll allow it to feel like that. Time to get this written and posted. It might be short, out of necessity, but it should be worth a read.

First of all, let’s get to the first part of today’s headline. Barbara and I have visited the Alamo Draft House, here in Woodbury, twice over the course of the last week. Once again, I will make my statement that Alamo Draft House has saved, and totally revived, my interest in seeing movies at an actual theater. For decades, and I do literally mean continuous sets of 10-year increments, I was adamantly opposed to “going to the movies” as I had done most of my life before then. At some point, people lost their minds and became rude, self-centered, and just plain jerks. Going to a theater, no matter how great the film, was an exercise in doing everything I could to not strangle someone or dump an entire tub of buttered popcorn on their head. Basically, it was all the perfect example of the fact people are terrible in public, and this started way before cell phones and other things that now ruin public life. At Alamo Draft House, all that is cured with the pre-movie announcement that talking, cellphones, and any other noises will not be tolerated and the offenders will be flogged. Or at least kicked out. It makes movie going fun again. The food & drink service at your reclining chair isn’t bad either.

So, last Saturday we got together with former neighbors Dave and Nichol to see “Ford v Ferrari” at Alamo. The pizza was actually really good. The movie was terrific.

Great stuff, on the big screen! (Click on any image to enlarge)

I can sum up what an entertaining film it was with this single anecdote. My wife is very well read, and very knowledgeable about a vast range of subjects. Walking into the movie, she had basically no idea about sports car racing and endurance racing. Nor did she have much experience with the Carroll Shelby and Enzo Ferrari rivalry. I had read the book “Go Like Hell” a number of years ago, and tried to tell her how great it was at the time, but that sunk in about as well as it might have if she tried to wax poetic about the latest romance book she’d just finished. Not that she reads romance books (I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed that, actually) but I’m just making a point. And here’s the anecdote: She REALLY liked the movie. She might have loved it. There’s a fine line there, but when your wife is actually trying to physically steer the car with an imaginary wheel, while watching the racing scenes, that’s a pretty good indicator that she was into it. Dave and Nichol liked it too.

Matt Damon (who plays Carroll Shelby) and Christian Bale (who plays under-appreciated and/or misunderstood driver Ken Miles) were fantastic. The tension in the movie is palpable. The storyline is easy to follow and all true. The racing scenes are beyond anything I’ve seen on the big screen. In a lot of ways, it’s a masterpiece.

Barbara had, of course, heard about the 24-hours of Le Mans but had no real appreciation for it. No real understanding of it, either. As popular as that single race is, the whole sports car prototype side of racing is still a niche application in the overall universe of going fast. In their case, it’s about going fast for a very long period of time. 24 hours, actually. But that doesn’t mean the racing isn’t thrilling, and very dangerous. The movie presents that masterfully, as well as the backstories about the wrestling match between corporate (sponsor) control and those who know damn well how to prepare and drive these cars. In any type of racing, those two sides of the equation often end up at loggerheads. So there you go, I just used the word “loggerheads” in a blog. First time ever, perhaps?

Bottom line: Well worth the price of admission, no matter your initial interest in the subject matter. And again, Damon and Bale are brilliant, as are the cinematography and the story.

Complete and utter brilliance

Just two nights later, Barbara and I returned to Alamo for another flick, but this one was a “one night only” installment of one of Alamo’s best ideas. They play classic films and host “movie parties” in their honor. Still the same great service, and they relax the noise rules to allow guests to chime in with their favorite lines, but still a great way to see a movie back on the big screen while being played through their magnificent sound system. When we saw the movie party scheduled for Monday night, featuring the all-time classic “This Is Spinal Tap” Barbara bought tickets immediately.

I’ve seen “Spinal Tap” too many times to count, but only saw it once at a theater. Not surprisingly, because it’s such a deep and brilliant film, I recall thinking it was fun but also not totally “getting it” at the time. Over the decades, the sheer brilliance of the movie soaks in.

This movie didn’t just break a mold, it created a whole new genre. The term “mockumentary” did not exist before Rob Reiner brought this movie to life with a brilliant cast, featuring Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Reiner himself, playing the spot-on role as documentarian of this fictitious but totally “real” hard rock band.

Did you know that the movie was almost completely improvised? The cast knew their characters and simply played them, making up the brilliant lines on the spot. That’s why they’re so often talking over each other, because that’s how it would be in real life. When Reiner was done shooting, they had about 100 hours of film. Editing that down to 90 minutes must have been a real challenge, but what you end up with is 90 minutes of pure genius.

Did you know that McKean, Guest, Shearer, and the other guys on stage were really playing their instruments? They absolutely were.

Did you know that a lot of people (including Ozzy Osbourne) were fooled into thinking they were a real band? And when the songs from the movie were put on an album, it sold very well. Not because it was a soundtrack, but because hard rock and metal heads thought it was great. Amazing.

And this goes to 11. 

And now back to one of the subjects I mentioned way up at the top of his blog. Writing and editing…

As you may know, when I put my writing hat on I’m a serious detail guy. Even with my own life story “Bats, Balls & Burnouts” I was starved for details. Ravenous, one might say. Or, as I said to myself at the time to keep from getting lazy, “the beauty is in the details.”

Well, when writing fact-based fiction, the details will be what separates a good story from a great one. I’m as much focused on gathering real details as I am on stringing the words together. I’m not going to say writing comes easy for me, but I could. I know I can write. I’m good at it. It doesn’t stress me out at all. But gathering details and finding a way to season the words with just the right amount of them, is work. There are no shortcuts. Today, I took another big step in adding that seasoning to “How Far?” and I’m thrilled by it.

I knew, up front, that I had a lot of digging and research to do on the hockey side of the story. I never played the game. I’d never been up to Roseau. I didn’t know that many guys who had played at an elite level, so I went about making sure I fixed that. The people of Roseau rolled out the red carpet for me, and that inclusion and warm welcome translated into a real understanding of the environment and the folks who live there. When former Roseau resident Paul Broten (the youngest of the three legendary Broten brothers who all went from the Roseau Rams, through the University of Minnesota, and then on to great NHL careers) agreed to help out as a technical advisor, the tales of Roseau went from interesting to very, very real. The beauty is in the details.

I knew I had an advantage when writing about my baseball character. I was born and raised in the game. I played it until I was 40. I know almost every nuance about training, playing, and getting better. I can still smell the pine tar, 23 years later. But, I quickly discovered that when my baseball character goes off to college at the University of Minnesota, I wasn’t really sure what that was like. I went to Southern Illinois – Edwardsville. If my guy had gone there, I would’ve had it covered but the story wouldn’t work. So I needed a mentor.

I researched the Sports Information department at the U of M, and saw the name Sullivan Bortner as the person who does that PR and communications work for the Gophers baseball team. I reached out. I was looking for advice and introductions, to get the same type of flavor for U of M as Paul Broten was giving me for the hockey segments. Sullivan came through. I love it when people you’ve never met are intrigued enough to just “come through” like that. It reaffirms my belief in humanity.

Sullivan reached out to Brain Raabe who not only played baseball as a Gopher, he also did that at exactly the same time as my character. They would have been freshman teammates in 1987 had my character actually been a real person. Brian instantly agreed to speak with me.

My newest advisor, in his younger years as a Twin

Thanks to Sullivan, who set the whole thing up and actually stayed on the line with us after he merged our phone calls, Brian and I had a 30-minute chat this morning that seemed to fly by in a flash. He’s a great guy and we have a ton in common. Brian played at U of M and then was signed by the Twins. He had a very solid career that was highlighted by trips to the Major Leagues with the Twins, Mariners, and Rockies.

Within just a few minutes, I felt like I had known Brian forever. That’s the beauty of baseball. In effect, I had known him forever, thanks to all the intersections and crossed paths we’ve shared, despite the fact we were nine years apart during our pro careers.

Importantly, I was able to run by him some of the descriptions about life as a Gopher that I’d already written, to get his opinion as to whether or not that stuff would have, or could have, happened. I’m thrilled to say I had guessed right on much of it, but just in the 30 minutes we spoke he gave me so much more flavor and detail it was amazing. I got off the phone feeling like I’d gone to school myself, and my appreciation for all he offered was immense.

I even ran the concept by him that I’d like for him to actually be in the book, as a friend or roomie of my character. He said yes without hesitation. I can’t wait to write the next chapter, and the many more that follow. Brian is eager to stay in touch and do his part of make sure I get it right. I love it when people “come through” like that. Again, huge thanks to Sullivan and to Brian. This stuff is priceless.

Tomorrow, I head down to St. Louis. My buddy Lance is flying in at the same time, and we’ll hook up at the airport, then we’ll grab my rental car and drive downtown to the Hilton at Ballpark Village. Our buddy James “Oscar” Noffke and his amazing better half Alicia will meet us there, and we’ll head to The Hill for dinner. On Saturday, we’ll attend our “celebration of life” in memory of our dear friend and former roomie Bob “Radar” Ricker. I can’t wait to see everyone. We all need to share this. I really don’t suspect there will be any closure. How could there be closure after tragically losing a guy who was so instrumental in all we were and all we ended up being. But it will be so good to see a lot of the guys and be there with them. I’ll be home on Sunday.

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this one. I was staring at 4:00 when I started and now it’s 4:50. Time to get this posted.

If you somehow worked your way from top to bottom here, and liked what you read, there’s an easy way to scratch that itch. Just click on the “Like” button at the top.

See you next week.

Bob Wilber, at your service and so happy for things like Alamo Draft House and people who “come through.”



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