The curious case of Paul America

Paul America

An image from Paul America’s screen test, circa 1965.

I’ve done a lot of research on distant cousins up and down my family tree over the years, uncovering some fascinating stories and learning a lot about ancestors dating back centuries. I’ve written about a few of those stories here on this blog (see links at end of this post), and I’m sure there are many more to find. However, it was pretty striking to learn about a much more recent story, involving a much closer connection.

The story of my late cousin Paul Johnson, aka “Paul America,” is straight out of the movies, both figuratively and literally, and involves none other than ‘60s icon Andy Warhol and other characters from the wild decade in which I was born. I had only heard bits and pieces over the years, tales of a wayward teen with matinee-idol looks who spiraled downward in a haze of drug addiction and, ultimately, an untimely death at too young an age. Continue reading

America’s pastime on the silver screen: Baseball movies good and bad

Robert Redford

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in ‘The Natural’

As fall turns toward winter I always start watching more movies, both at theaters and at home. At the same time, I’m in withdrawal since there’s no baseball to watch and the Giants’ off-season looks to be pretty quiet, so I started recalling my favorite baseball movies…especially since I’ll probably be watching many of these yet again in the coming weeks as I await the start of spring training.

I’ve seen dozens of lists of top 10 baseball movies and top 10 sports movies over the years, and usually have disagreed with them (as you no doubt will with mine – and you can vote on your favorite below)…but I don’t think I’ve ever actually done one. My list stretches to 15, but who’s counting? Continue reading

Thoughts on ‘Moneyball’ the movie

There’s been a lot of criticism among the sportswriting community about the new movie “Moneyball,” based on the best-selling book of the same name by Michael Lewis chronicling the 2002 Oakland A’s and how they changed their approach to building a team after being gutted by the loss of key free agents to big-market teams after the 2001 playoffs. Much of the criticism is levied at the factual basis of the movie. Several columns I’ve seen have picked apart what’s true and what’s not in the movie, railed against the portrayals of certain characters, and generally criticized the fact that this is a movie to begin with.

Moneyball Movie PosterThat’s true among some of the diehard fan base as well. One friend of mine – a lifelong baseball fan like I am – said he couldn’t understand why this was a movie to begin with. The A’s didn’t even make it the World Series, he reasoned. This could be about ANY team that tried and failed. He missed the point of the movie, but then again he hasn’t seen it, or even read the book. This is a story about thinking differently, bucking the odds, sticking to your guns, and believing in what you’re doing when nobody else does.

I agree with some of the critiques of the movie if you solely compare it to the real story of the 2002 A’s and pick apart everything that doesn’t stack up. There’s barely a mention of 2002 A.L. MVP Miguel Tejada or Cy Young Award winer Barry Zito, or the two other star pitchers, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Chad Bradford is made out to be the ace of the bullpen when in fact he was an effective if unspectacular reliever. Certain player trades and signings have been changed a bit to fit the broader story. And the portrayal of manager Art Howe is about as off-base as any fact-based character portrayal in recent memory. The real Art Howe – a tall, slender, tanned, and affable longtime big league player and scout who managed the A’s at their most recent heights in the late 1990s-early 2000s – was and is nothing like the pasty, schlumpy, grouchy and pretty selfish character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I knew Art Howe back in the 1990s, when he was a scout for the Dodgers organization and I was working in their minor league system. He’s a great guy. But the character Hoffman plays makes a great foil for Beane in the film, as does the Grady Fuson character who clearly is also a dramatization to a certain extent. Continue reading

Superheroes deserve some logic too…

There’s a lot of talk about the glut of superhero movies lately, and debate about whether fans are burned out. I don’t think fans are burned out…I think Hollywood screws things up half the time, and fans know good ideas from bad ones.

Comic book fans are very VERY much into the mythology and continuity of their favorite characters. I’m convinced one reason the first Batman series fell apart so quickly was the continual rotation of actors playing the lead character…and the weak choices of who those actors were. Fast forward to the current Batman series, easily the best comic book movies ever, and the inspired choice of Christian Bale and the gritty edge to the films bring us compelling films that happen to be comic book adaptations, not campy comic book travesties like the final couple of Batman films from the 1990s.

The critically panned Daredevil wasn’t bad. Maybe another actor could have done more with it, but Ben Affleck wasn’t bad either. Likewise, Superman Returns wasn’t bad, and Brandon Routh was, well, at least somewhat acceptable as Superman, despite being a little young for the role given the history the movie tried to adhere to.

Captain America

The Human Torch

So fast forward to today. Hollywood is making mistakes and doesn’t seem to learn from past lessons.

Captain America can’t be the same guy as Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch.  Chris Evans played Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four in TWO movies. Then a couple years later he all the sudden is Captain America? And in between that he starred in yet another comic book adaptation, The Losers. The fact that Captain America and the Fantastic Four are both Marvel products makes it all the worse.  With as much attention to detail and long-term development as Marvel has put into the hugely ambitious buildup of The Avengers, how do you borrow a member of the Fantastic Four and ignore that series? Continue reading