Sing Street.

Sing Street is a coming-of-age story, set in the 1980s, that also serves as an homage to the distinctive pop and new-wave sounds of the first half of that decade along with the new medium of the music video. Written and directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed the wonderful 2007 film Once (now a Tony Award-winning musical), Sing Street uses largely unknown actors and original music that manages to evoke classic ’80s pop tunes without directly ripping them off, and includes all kinds of little visual cues to remind those of us who grew up in that era of the atmosphere of the time. The film earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy (it’s both), but didn’t earn a Best Song nomination, and was totally overlooked by the Oscars. I named it my #10 movie of 2016 on my post last weekend. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and available to rent on amazon and iTunes.

The film follows Conor, the youngest of three children of squabbling Robert (Aidan Gillen, a.k.a. Mayor Carcetti from The Wire) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy, a.k.a. Mrs. S from Orphan Black), as he’s moved from a posh private school to a free school run by the Christian Brothers called Synge Street, named for the Dublin street on which it’s located. (The street and school are both real.) Conor’s bullied right away by the tough kids in the new school, but spots an attractive girl standing across the street – complete with ’80s big hair – and lies about being in a band to try to impress her, asking her to be in their first video. Then he has to make a band, which becomes Sing Street, and launches the remainder of the story, along with the film’s wonderful soundtrack.

Each Sing Street song is a thematic copy of something that’s popular at the moment, like Duran Duran’s “Rio” or Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.” If you remember the ’80s act Danny Wilson, who had a minor hit in the U.S. in 1988 called “Mary’s Prayer,” their lead singer Gary Clark wrote most of the music for Sing Street, and has a clear knack for this sort of knockoff – the song that sounds like some other song, but has enough of a hook to work on its own, with new and often quite clever lyrics. I’m far from the only person who thought “Drive It Like You Stole It” was robbed of an Oscar nomination – neither Sting’s version of the same song he’s been rewriting since “They Dance Alone” or that awful Timberlake song where he trolls the entire world deserved a spot over this one – but you could make a case for “Up” or closer “Brown Shoes” too.

The story itself is a little light, and we’re mostly just following the two main characters, Conor and Raphina, as they start to grow up a little, make some mistakes, and develop a sort of teenage crush. Everyone else is comic relief, including Conor’s manic, frustrated musician brother Brendan (played by American actor Jack Reynor, who’s great except for his bad Irish accent); Mark McKenna as rabbit-obsessed multi-instrumentalist wizard Eamon; and even class bully Barry, who has a predictably awful home life but gets his little moment in the sun. And Carney works in several ’80s music-video tropes, including shots of the main couple running out of a concert hall or the two of them running down the alley in the half-light, as well as clips of the band filming amateur music videos that imitate the stuff they’ve seen on TV.

Carney himself has said he regrets the ending, joking that he wishes he’d killed the two protagonists off, but I found his comments puzzling because, before I saw his comments, I didn’t think the ending was so unambiguously happy. Other than the clear reference to “Rio,” except for Conor getting poured on as opposed to Simon LeBon basking in sunshine, the ending seemed open-ended and doubtful to me. There’s no real reason to believe good things are going to happen to either character in what would hypothetically follow the final sequence. It’s an escape, because the film itself (and the music videos that inspired it) is an escape, but the characters are only escaping from, not escaping to. To compare it to the other great musical of 2016, La La Land, there’s probably no chance Conor and Raphina are staying together for long. They’re two kids in something like love, doing something rash and impetuous that probably won’t work out, but so what?

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo has a star-making turn as Conor, playing him with little flashes of the charisma of a lead singer, but primarily as a shy, slightly nerdy kid who’s barely coming into his own over the course of the film. He was 16 when it was filmed and won’t turn 18 until this October, if you want to wonder what you’ve done with your life. Lucy Boynton has less to do as Raphina, but she manages to pull off a solid combination of insecurity and superficial haughtiness, while also proving to be quite the chameleon as the costume and makeup folks run her through a series of looks that are unquestionably ’80s and best left there. (She’s also going to appear in the upcoming film version of Murder on the Orient Express.) Walsh-Peelo is the one I’d like to see some more, though, since he sang his own vocals and has a certain presence even behind his character’s meekness.

For more on how Carney & company created the convincing sounds of a band of teenagers who’ve just started playing together, I recommend this piece from MIX magazine.

Stick to baseball, 3/4/17.

No new Insider content this week, although I believe I’ll have a new piece up on Tuesday, assuming all goes to plan. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers Mole Rats in Space, a cooperative game for kids from the designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Desert. It’s pretty fantastic, and I think if you play this you’ll never have to see Chutes and Ladders again.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book now has two positive reviews out, one from Kirkus Reviews and one from Publishers Weekly.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Top Chef, S14E14.

This episode was called “Comida Final.” It’s Brooke versus Shirley, no mas.

* I could be reading way too much into facial expressions and body language, but I don’t think these two like each other. Either they’re really just sick of being so close to each other all the time, or they are just not mutual fans. It happens.

* They’re facing the classic Top Chef finale challenge: Prepare a progressive four-course meal. They pick their sous-chefs from the season’s contestants to date, with Shirley choosing Casey (because she thinks Brooke will take her), Brooke taking Sheldon (who would have been my first pick), Shirley taking Katsuji (who deadpans “because I’m Mexican?”), and Brooke taking Sam. I think Brooke won that draft.

* The third sous-chefs turn out to be the two contestants’ chefs de cuisine, which is kind of cool for those guys – they tend to be a little anonymous below their famous bosses.

* Shirley is clearly crafting a story across her four dishes, basing it on food memories with her family. Brooke’s seems less focused on a narrative, but says her theme is “definitely local ingredients.” I don’t think the story matters unless the judges can’t decide who won. Has anyone in a Top Chef finale lost after clearly outcooking his or her opponent?

* They’re shopping at some sort of open-air market – more like a grocery store than last week’s farmers’ market – with 10,000 pesos, about US$500.

* Brooke says “There’s a lot of Shirley yelling … and there has been for months now.” Yeah, I don’t think they like each other. Oh well.

* So it sounds like Brooke forgot to order pork belly. Then it gets really weird: She asks to use Shirley’s, which is awkward enough, but then it turns out Shirley ordered it for a ‘backup’ dish in case she doesn’t like the suckling pigs (piglets) she bought. Doesn’t Shirley have every right to say no? Granted, Brooke has short ribs as her backup plan, but ultimately ordering the correct items is the chef’s responsibility.

* They’re having a pre-finale dinner at Dreams Resort in Tulum. I really want to take a very long vacation down there. They’re surprised by their families at the dinner table – Shirley’s husband, Brooke’s husband and son Hudson (who, by the way, has gotten so much bigger since her last season on the show). I can’t imagine being away from my daughter for the amount of time this show requires – and she’s done this twice!

* I’m always surprised when I see how much ink Brooke has. Not that I think anything of it, but for whatever reason it doesn’t line up for me.

* When they walked in the kitchen, I was reminded again how much stronger I think Team Brooke is.

* Shirley, to her great credit, ends up giving the pork belly to Brooke. Meanwhile, Katsuji is butchering the piglets – and he’s a kosher chef, so he probably never cooks with pork at his restaurant.

* You don’t see whole red snapper very often as a consumer, but those fish Shirley has look amazing – and particularly fresh.

* Shirley’s making broth for her ramen, and I think she’s trying to make a pork broth, which is a long process, probably not something you can simulate in a couple of hours.

* Brooke asks Sheldon how he cooked his octopus “the other day,” in case you were wondering how compressed the filming schedule was. She’s got Sam making three garlic items to go with it – a garlic oil in which they’ll sear the octopus, garlic chips, and a garlic puree.

* Shirley’s also making noodles by hand for the ramen, and is using an old-fashioned hand-crank that won’t stay clamped to the countertop. This is the main reason I own the overpriced KitchenAid pasta-roller attachment. It works.

* Brooke is making chamomile flan, which turns out to be a problem because of some oven issue, but I just want to say that chamomile is gross. It’s related to ragweed (to which I’m very allergic) and tastes like some sort of grass. I like tea-flavored desserts, but, you know, how about Earl Grey?

* Anyway, the flan takes a lot longer to cook than anticipated (she says “it’s like the oven just took a shit”), so there’s a good chance it’s going to end up eggy and a little dense, rather than the silky texture of good flan.

* Shirlye’s mom and sister are there along with her husband. Her sister is adorable. Brooke’s folks are there; her dad has some strong mustache game going.

* First course: Shirley does snapper crudo with chili soy vinegar and crispy shallot. She calls it “Let me take you to Lijiang.” Brooke does a raw, warm oyster with grilled swiss chard and bacon. Daniel Boulud praises the presence of bacon flavor without fat, while Jonathan Waxman loves the amount of liquid in the shell.

* Jonathan Sawyer, who has the most metal hair we’ve ever seen on Top Chef, thinks Shirley’s dish was beautiful, but the elements weren’t balanced – Tom points out that you can’t get all three elements in one bite. Tesar is there too, and says Shirley’s dish was nice but calls Brooke’s “soigné.” I know that’s a compliment, but that word was tired the moment it moved out of the fashion world.

* Second course: Shirley serves top ramen with egg, kimchi, purslane, rendered pork fat. I’m not bothering with her goofy dish names. Brooke serves charred octopus with orange annatto broth, radishes, garlic puree, garlic chips. The octopus is an enormous hit; Padma calls it “finale food,” and Sawyer says he’d put it on any menu, anywhere, and would recommend it to anyone. Boulud praises the two presentations of garlic, and how it still doesn’t dominate the dish. I’m having a hard time imagining that much garlic in a dish without that becoming the predominant note.

* Joachaim Splichal says Shirley’s broth was very flat, and Tom thinks the rise of ramen in the last decade makes it look worse in comparison. Sawyer also doesn’t care for the noodles.

* Third course: Shirley made braised piglet shanks with wild rice, lentils, blanched spinach, and habanero onions. Brooke made braised pork belly and beans with charred onion and purslane, with a reduction of the bean braising liquid over the top. It’s all rich, comfort food. Tom loves the wild rice; Joachim says, “being German, I haven’t had pork like this since I left Germany.” Graham Elliott likes the choice of cut too.

* Brooke’s dish is just as much of a hit. Boulud “cleaned ny plate.” Sawyer praises the proteins and the sauce; Martha Ortiz there thinks the beans were the star and reminded her of Mexican cuisine. That’s high praise.

* If you can read Spanish, Ortiz’s biography on her official site is something to behold. It makes her sound more like she founded a country than two restaurants.

* Fourth course: Brooke’s dessert is an chamomile and aged rum flan with candied cashews. Shirley’s dessert is rice pudding with tropical fruit (I see dragonfruit, mango, and passion fruit), lemon-lime snow, and some sort of brittle. Joachim says it’s one of the best desserts he’s ever had.

* Brooke’s mom won her neighborhood’s second annual flan cookoff, earning her an ovation from the diners. That was cute.

* You can tell right away that the texture of the flan is off from the diners’ reactions, and everyone says the chamomile and rum flavors aren’t there. (You’d have to infuse the chamomile leaves in the dairy for a while.) Meanwhile, they’re all inhaling the rice pudding.

* We see Shirley’s mom asking her daughter how to say “I’m proud of you in English,” shortly before Shirley and Brooke return to the room. Shirley goes to see her mom and asks “haochi ma?” meaning “how did it taste?” (literally, “delicious?” as a question), to which her mom says “very delicious,” and then says in English, “Beautiful Shirley, I am happy Shirley, I am proud.” It got a little dusty in my living room at that point.

* Judges’ table: Tom calls out Shirley for the lack of enough chili or mint to go with each bite of the fish in her snapper crudo. Gail thinks it was smart to “set the stage” with the light first course. Graham claims Brooke’s first dish was “too much right out of the gate,” but Tom doesn’t find it too acidic and likes the “smack in the face” to start off. Shirley says for her ramen she was trying to mimic the big flavors of the taste of the packet you’d get in instant ramen, but the judges all seem to agree the broth came up short. Brooke credits Sam for the garlic chips, and overall her octopus dish gets perfect marks (that we see). Tom is still raving about the wild rice in Shirley’s pork shank. Graham says that the diners were debating whether Brooke’s was a pork dish or a bean dish, but that I think is a sign of its success. Tom says “everyone here can attest that I like rum,” but neither that flavor nor that of chamomile weren’t in Brooke’s dish. Gail notes the inferior texture of the flan itself. Padma says Shirley’s dessert was her favorite dish of the night; Graham says it was creative and provocative, and Tom loved the textures and flavors.

* Tom says Brooke won the first course, and when Gail says the octopus was her favorite dish of the night, Tom seems to agree. There’s some fake drama here when they discuss the dessert, but I think this was a rout: two dishes for Brooke, one for Shirley, and one toss-up. Tom even acknowledges this when he says that if he looks head-to-head, he “can make a really clear argument for who I think should win.” Yes.

* And there’s little surprise here. Brooke is Top Chef. I had her ranked at the top after episode one, and she never budged. Shirley ending up second over Sheldon or Sylva was the big upset, but Brooke came pretty close to running the table. She’s also now the second chef to come back via Last Chance Kitchen to win, after Kristen, who beat Brooke in the latter’s first time around.

* I’ve criticized this season of Top Chef more than any other season I’ve covered here with recaps, and I think everything I said still holds, but this was a strong finale in every respect. I wanted to eat all of that food. I got ideas for dishes or twists on dishes from the last three courses. (I never prepare shellfish at home, and I’ll leave crudo to folks who source better fish than I can.) One chef cooked well, the other cooked like a champion. And the emotional moments in the finale felt genuine.

* That said, I sincerely hope we are done with the mixed veterans/rookies format, and that wherever the next season takes place, only a few challenges will focus on regional cuisine. I always want fewer gimmicks – you can fire your sudden-death quickfires into the sun, guys – and would like to never see any of these “you can only cook with one hand behind your back, and we’re pumping half the oxygen out of the kitchen” challenges again. I’m truly just here for the food, even if I never get to taste any of it. And, hey, if they want to do Top Chef: Philadelphia next season, I’m just saying the baseball offseasons give me a lot of room in my schedule.

* EDIT: Vulture interviewed the two finalists, where they at least contradict some of my speculations above.

Author: The JT Leroy Story.

I’ll be doing a Facebook Live event on Monday at 11 am ET as part of our buildup to the April 25th release of my book Smart Baseball. I also have a new boardgame review up at Paste, covering the cooperative game for kids Mole Rats in Space, from the designer of Pandemic.

Author: The JT Leroy Story is an unusual documentary because its subject, Laura Albert, recorded many of the phone calls she made during the time period where she was posing as the bestselling author who, it turned out, wasn’t real. Albert herself does most of the talking in the film, which makes it so much more compelling than many documentaries (but raises reasonable questions about the reliability of what we’re hearing), and makes the film’s revelation at the end that much more effective of a stomach-punch and an explanation for so much of what came before. The film was nominated for a Writers’ Guild award for Best Documentary Screenplay and is free on amazon prime.

JT Leroy was a fictional author who wrote real books, an HIV-positive teenager/young adult who had worked as a truck-stop prostitute and been pimped out by his drug-addicted prostitute mother, and who expressed genderfluid feelings before that was part of the common vernacular. He was either the creation of Albert, a woman in her mid-30s at the time of Leroy’s ascension, or a separate ‘avatar’ who expressed himself through her; Albert seems to vacillate between explanations, but is clear that this isn’t dissociative identity disorder, at least. She ‘became’ Leroy to write, and wrote fictional stories about what were supposedly his real-life experiences. Leroy’s first two novels, Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, were critically acclaimed and became best-sellers, earning the author a cult following that extended to the celebrity world, only some of whom appear to have been aware that Albert was the actual writer behind the works.

In 2005, a New York article outed Albert as the writer behind Leroy and her sister-in-law as the person acting as Leroy in public, with the New York Times later corroborating the story. Painted as a grand hoax, Albert’s authorship of Leroy’s works doesn’t seem analogous to hoaxers like James Frey or plagiarists like Q.R. Markham; Leroy’s novels were original works of fiction, and never presented to anyone as fact. At most, they were said to be based on fact, or inspired by it, which is false but shouldn’t alter anyone’s perceptions of the quality of the content. (I haven’t read any of Albert’s works under any name and thus have no opinion on whether any of it is good.)

Author attempts to answer two questions about the scandal. One is simply to tell everyone what happened, because the story was major news for a few weeks in 2005-06, and then faded away as such controversies do, especially since in this case the only harm done to anyone was to the film company that eventually sued Albert for fraud. (She signed the option contract as JT Leroy, rather than under her own name.) The documentary gives us the story from Albert’s perspective, punctuated by dozens recordings of phone calls with her publisher, her therapist, her friends, and celebrities who befriended Leroy or Albert (including Billy Corgan and Courtney Love), plus a few others who appear on camera to discuss their roles in helping bring Leroy to the reading public.

The second question is always the toughest for any documentary to answer – the reason(s) why – although in this case, Author at least gives us the central figure’s own explanation with some supporting evidence. The filmmakers here chose to leave the biggest revelation until the end of the film, a gimmick that I found extremely effective, because instead of essentially absolving Albert up front for everything that comes afterwards, Author tells you everything that happened (through Albert’s lens) and then finishes up by giving us a clue on what spark may have started the conflagration.

Author lacks the completeness that a thorough documentary requires; Savannah Knoop, who posed as Leroy in public, appears just once near the end of the film, and Geoff Knoop, Albert’s husband at the time, is nowhere to be found. All we’re getting is Albert’s retelling of the story, in which she takes some responsibility but also depicts herself as someone wronged by media coverage of Leroy as a “hoax” rather than an avatar of a pseudonymous writer. I admit to finding hoaxes fascinating, largely for the motivations of the perpetrators and their general belief that they won’t get caught, and Albert has a reasonable complaint that she’s been treated unfairly. If you thought the novel had literary merit, is that merit diminished at all just because the author wasn’t actually male, young, genderfluid, or HIV-positive?

Klawchat 3/2/17.

Starting at 1 pm ET. Questions go in the chat widget below, not in the comments!

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

Klaw: Pull your shirt off and pray. It’s Klawchat.

Henry: Keith, what has happened to JJ Schwarz? I’m a UF fan, and obviously he had a great freshman year. Last year seemed bad, and this year looks even worse in the early weeks (obviously small sample). I’m totally with you that there’s zero chance he catches in the pros, but why has the bat fallen apart so drastically?
Klaw: I think other teams started pitching him differently and he hasn’t made the adjustment. Not sure he’s even a first-round consideration any more.

Patrick: Keith, as a fan, what should i be paying attention to in Spring Training? Especially with young pitchers I hope will help my favorite team sooner rather than later?
Klaw: Health is the biggest thing. If you’re talking about watching performances, really you just want your pitchers throwing strikes and showing their usual velocity by their third or at worst fourth times out. But don’t get hung up on any spring stats.

Steve: Have you seen Heywards new swing? Besides being way to early to see if its sustainable or productive for him, does the loading and swing path look more natural and promising than what he previously had?
Klaw: On video, and talked to scouts who’ve seen it, and basically there’s nothing positive to say right now.

Cedric: Any thoughts on the DeJong/Zabala trade?
Klaw: I answered this on Twitter by linking to my Mariners report. Zabala is the only real prospect in the deal.

Robert Luis: What can you tell me about the abilities and projections of 19 year old Cuban Luis Robert? Any favorites to sign him when he becomes eligible?
Klaw: He’s already getting hyped well beyond his abilities. Who can sign him depends on whether he becomes eligible before or after the signing period ends.

Dan: Jim Bowden threw around a trade: Almora and Happ for B. Hamilton. Thoughts?
Klaw: Utterly ridiculous – I wouldn’t trade either guy straight up for Hamilton – but not even the dumbest one in the article. That would be Quintana for just Kyle Tucker and David Paulino, the latter of whom isn’t even top ten in the Astros’ system. That’s probably less than half the return the White Sox should expect for Quintana. There’s a real disconnect from real-world values here.

John: I haven’t heard much about Jake Mangum or Greg Deichman from draft analysts. Both seem to be hitting very well in the SEC but neither get much mention. Do you consider either one a 1st round possibility?
Klaw: Mangum is a freshman. He’s not eligible. Deichmann is just a corner guy who’s not a day-one prospect – and he isn’t hitting well “in the SEC,” because LSU hasn’t played any SEC opponents yet. Their schedule to date includes Maryland, Hofstra, Nicholls State, New Orleans, Army, Air Force, Pencil State, Backwater U, and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Luke: Trevor Rogers, the high school LHP from New Mexico, is already 19. Will his age affect his draft slot?
Klaw: Age is more important for position players than pitchers. For arms, the disadvantage of age – reduced physical projection – may be mitigated by reduced risk of injury.

Joaquin P: If the pirates were to trade Meadows (for Quintana perhaps) could they put Bell in RF and Will Craig at 1B? Are they better this way given how bad Bell has looked at first?
Klaw: Craig’s not major-league ready, and Bell has to play left, not right.

Jon Orr: Thoughts on Austin Gomber? Saw him in spring training and his breaking ball looked really loopy and didn’t seem to have sharp break
Klaw: Just another guy.

Chet: What do you see happening with Kyle Funkhouser this season?
Klaw: I have no idea, and I mean that quite literally – the range of possible outcomes there is enormous. If he comes out and walks 60 guys in 80 innings, I won’t be surprised. If he comes out and dominates two levels of A-ball, I won’t be surprised. He’s shown so many different looks the last two years that I feel very little confidence in any forecast I could make.

Brian: Arcadia? You’re a little too young for 80’s tunes…
Klaw: I was 12 when that song came out.

Jason: The Cardinals have two former interesting players in camp: Daniel Bard and Austin Wilson. Is there anything left to optimistic about either?
Klaw: Probably not, but the change of scenery was probably the best thing that could have happened to Wilson, and I’d say he has the better shot of the two to restore some value.

Jimmy: If Harper is healthy all year- .325BA 40 HRs?
Klaw: Yes. In other words, if he’s healthy all year, I believe he can repeat 2015.

Lou: Hi Keith! Wondering your thoughts on the Cubs big 4 starters all posting career low babips last year? Their defense and positioning must play a large in that right? But lots of teams have good defensive players and smart analytical departments that can improve positioning, what makes (or made) the Cubs so much better? And if it is defense and positioning, why would we expect the numbers to regress?
Klaw: I think it’s more defense and positioning than it is just pitching, but we’d expect it to regress because defense and positioning include some randomness too. You can position ‘perfectly’ and still not get to all of the balls in play you expect to get to. I think last year the Cubs got to more of those balls than we would have anticipated.

Nick: Can Chesney Young turn into something like a Neil Walker, or am overly optimistic and assuming too much power (I’ve read it’s near zero).
Klaw: There’s nothing similar about those guys at all. He has virtually no power.

Derek: I’ve seen a few breathless pieces about the Harper-Machado-Kershaw free agent bonanza of 2018-19. Often these articles list Matt Harvey along with those others. Harvey’s been a great pitcher, no question, but I’m very skeptical about his return to greatness. The surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome is no joke and Jaime Garcia is probably the most successful guy to have come back from it. Not to mention that Harvey’s a Tommy John guy and the number of guys who’ve had both procedures is quite small. If I had to bet on whether Harvey ever throws 200 innings in a season again, I’d probably bet he doesn’t. What do you think?
Klaw: I would agree. Bet the under on that.

Nick: How does Hunter Greene compare to other recent HS RHP phenoms? Guys like Bundy, pre-TJ Giolito, and Taillon.
Klaw: Nobody has thrown this hard except Pint, and Greene does it much easier. Giolito and Bundy had better secondary stuff at this age. Greene is probably the best athlete of this whole group. And he can play plus defense at short.

Vander: Heard anything new about Jo Adell?
Klaw: His season starts on Monday.

Tracy: Keith, is it me or do you also get miffed when you see people basking in all the “great” weather we’re having? Folks, long stretches of sixty- and seventy-degree temps in February is not normal. For those where there should be snow on the ground, put the damned flip-flops away!
Klaw: I get more miffed when I see idiots, often idiots in government, ‘gloating’ on cold days that climate change must be wrong, because we seem to have no problem electing people who are so stupid they don’t know the differences between climate and weather or between income and wealth.

Andy: Do you watch Top Chef with your daughter? My son (a little younger) would love the food aspects, but I’d like to avoid all of the human drama that sometimes gets played up. I really don’t want to watch Chopped to satisfy his food competition wants.
Klaw: No, because of the language, but we did watch the last two episodes of Project Runway with her this year because she really wanted to see the dresses (and she was super annoyed at who won), which meant a little chat about what language she might hear that would be inappropriate to repeat.

Josh C: Do you think Ramon Laureano can play center or is he strictly a corner guy?
Klaw: Corner guy.

Ron: HI Keith-Sorry to hear about Kiriloff’s injury. Another bad luck bite on the Twins. Hope he comes out of it in good shape and ready to go next year. Losing the year of development is the worst thing. Do you have any favorite eating places in North Dakota? Ever been here? Thanks!
Klaw: Drove across it in 1998. Didn’t eat anywhere special – it wasn’t quite so easy to find good spots back then – but we loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Ed: Will you be updating your AZ eats this month? Will be there later in the month. Any kid friendly places on your 2016 list (which I have been using as my guide). Will be in Scottsdale most of trip.
Klaw: I might, although there won’t be many changes. I’d add Tacos Chiwas and Tratto, and I think one or two places closed. The core recommendations wouldn’t change, though.

Alex: Feel you’re the most accurate when it comes to projections, so what kind of ceiling do you see for Sandy Alcanatara and Junior Fernandez? Any chance Fernandez can stay as a starter?
Klaw: Very good chance Fernandez can stay a starter, although Alcantara has a better chance to stay a starter and a little more ceiling. I’m going to spend at least two days on the Cards’ back fields later this month, and that group of Latin American arms is the main reason.

Jerry: Do you think it’s ethically wrong to download music cds from the library onto your computer? If so, what if you delete them after a couple of weeks?
Klaw: Still copyright infringement, even if you delete them. You can just listen to almost any of them on Spotify for free anyway, so why do it?

Fritz: Thanks for all that you do – I’m an Insider to read your work. What is the best way for an organization to evaluate its scouts?
Klaw: I don’t like the idea of just evaluating long-term outcomes, because we know how many outside variables can screw that up. (Ryan Westmoreland comes to mind as the most extreme example.) But I would try to match up short-term grades and projections – the scout said this guy had a 60 curveball, he’s in pro ball now, other scouts say it’s a 50, he’s not getting many swings and misses on it, so that’s a mistake in the grades. A team could execute on that plan of accountability, and scouts would understand how they’re being evaluated too.

Cedric: RE: the DeJong/Aneurys trade, is Drew Jackson just another guy?
Klaw: Yes. Can’t hit.

Andrew: Regarding Quintana – is his contract situation (he’s a relative bargain) actually over-inflating his perceived value? In other words, he’s good and inexpensive, but how much better does he really make, say, the Astros? I’d be inclined to hold on to Tucker and Martes if I were Lunhow…
Klaw: He’s a top 10 pitcher in the AL, maybe in all of baseball, on a wildly team-friendly contract. I don’t know if you can overstate his value.

TK: So … our new AG likely committed perjury regarding communications with Russia. We’ve got that going for us now, too. Is this real life?
Klaw: I agreed with the impeachment of Bill Clinton when he committed perjury (later acquitted) over a trivial matter. I certainly agree that Sessions should be removed form his post for committing perjury over a more serious matter.

Chris: Re ignoring spring stats, wrt Bird his showing some pop is worth noting given the injury he’s coming off, right?
Klaw: Yes, it at least indicates he’s swinging without pain or restriction.

Adam: I was having a conversation with a friend during the Oscars and they said their issue with Ryan Gosling is that he’s a bad actor who picks great movies. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Klaw: I disagree. As evidence, I submit his performance in Drive.

Adam: Jesus Sanchez in the Rays system is a name I stumbled upon on another prospect list, and they almost made him out to be the second coming. Does he have potential to shoot up lists next year?
Klaw: He was #13 on my Rays list this winter. Second Coming is a bit much, probably from scouting the stat line.

Adam: AJ Preller traded Max Fried for Justin Upton and then did NOT trade Upton for Michael Fulmer, ultimately taking Eric Lauer with the compensation pick used when Upton signed with the Tigers. Oof
Klaw: Fried for Upton has the potential to look historically bad for them.

Kay: Could Nimmo play well enough in CF to make a platoon of him and Lagares? Compliment each other well enough with the bat and he can’t be worse than Grandy or Conforto out there.
Klaw: I do not believe Nimmo can play CF that well, even if his knee is 100%.

Shaun: Your top five disney world restaurants?
Klaw: Jiko, Via Napoli, Raglan Road (not as good as it once was, but still a good place for a pint of Guinness and some bangers and mash). But Disney Springs has some new places I haven’t tried, like Rick Bayless’ Frontera Cocina, and a sushi place from Morimoto.

Alan: Johan Camargo seems to be getting rave reviews in Braves camp. Anything more than a utility guy in the future?
Klaw: If that. He has never hit anywhere he’s played and he’s 23.

Dan: Long-term, who project as the better SP: Lugo or Gsellman? Thanks, Keith.
Klaw: Gsellman.

Kay: What is the single biggest difference in the way people like yourself evaluate prospects that might lead to big differences in opinion?
Klaw: People who try to write about prospects but don’t see them, or see them but can’t evaluate what they’re seeing, or don’t have good sources to discuss players with are not going to produce good content. Better at that point to simply report what happened and link to folks like BA or MLB or Fangraphs or me.

Craig: Klaw, who would you say is the most well-known person you attended Harvard with? And did you ever socialize with them?
Klaw: Paul Wylie was there while I was and I met him twice. Couldn’t have been nicer. I know some entrepreneurs were in my class, like the guys who founded LinkExchange and sold it for a few hundred million. I met them once or twice. The daughter of the Aga Khan was in my class but I’m not sure if I ever saw her. I believe Karenna Gore was a year behind me. I also remember a classmate from the Houghton family, whose name adorns one of the buildings on the Yard; I had one class with him, but didn’t know him well, and I remember him largely because he took his own life during our sophomore year.

Cedric: TIL that Matt Harvey once threw 157 pitches in a college game. Should that coach have been criminally prosecuted?
Klaw: He’s still the head coach at UNC. And people praise him.

John: Jake Mangum is definitely not a freshman.
Klaw: Sorry, his bio page at MSU still says “freshman,” but I can see now they haven’t updated that. Looks like he’s age-eligible this year.

Ryan: Just saw the news that LeFou will be gay in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake? Thoughts? I understand the importance of representation, but do you have a problem with changing established character traits–even though his orientation was never established? Does it feel like pandering?
Klaw: I saw this news item and didn’t give it a second thought. A character’s sexual orientation shouldn’t be news unless (as you imply) it’s changed from established canon.

Ron: Klaw, between Republicans claiming they have inherited a terrible economy and liberals claiming that it is fantastic, how would you characterize the economy that Trump inherited?
Klaw: I’d say it was growing, but in a way that isn’t addressing inequality and may be exacerbating it. The Republicans are lying, while the Democrats are exaggerating (a lot).

bartleby: from your book cover “and the right way to think about baseball” – don’t you think that’s a bit arrogant?
Klaw: I think I could not possibly care less what you think. Is that arrogant too? My bad.

Elliot, Baton Rouge: Hey Keith, aside from Alex Lange (who I’d be curious to hear your draft projection on) are there any other legit prospects playing for LSU this spring?
Klaw: I think Lange is a reliever or low-end starter, tops. Not a first rounder. Deichmann is a draft guy but not a major prospect IMO.

Paul: Generally prefer getting stuff on my Kindle these days, unless there are lots of graphics in a book. Which format would you suggest for your book?
Klaw: Not many graphics in the book. A few tables that should display just fine, one or two graphs. I tried to stick to words over numbers wherever I could, and we moved most formulas (like explaining OBP or linear weights) to the footnotes so the book would be a more fluid read.

Ian: When evaluating a high school pitcher, how important is it for you that they spin something adequately? Can a kid with a good arm and clean mechanics learn how to spin the ball as he matures?
Klaw: Might be a million dollar question. Guys who can’t spin anything scare me, because I wonder if they’ll ever have anything more than a 45 breaking ball. Now I wonder if that will even translate to lower spin rates on fastballs too. Eovaldi, the paragon of fastballs that didn’t spin enough, never had a good breaking ball either.

Joe: I think it’s easy to forget that Addison Russell is 19 days older than Dansby Swanson and only 63 days older than Alex Bregman. I feel like Russell is somewhat forgotten about when people talk about the great SS in the game right now. Does he have an MVP caliber ceiling?
Klaw: I think he does. There’s a lot of untapped offensive potential in Russell. Had he spent another 18 months in the minors and destroyed AA and AAA, maybe we’d look at him differently?

Kevin: Would you rather have a pitcher who can ride his fastball up in the zone, or one who sinks it effectively?
Klaw: No preference. Both work, although I might argue that pitching up requires more skill (command and/or spin) than pitching down.

Kay: Klaw – you get to step into the box for BP against any pitcher in the league, Theo Epstein style – who do you pick? And how do you fair?
Klaw: You could lob it to me and I might not square it up. Putting a decent swing on a pitch with a wood bat requires hand and wrist strength that I could never have.

Erik: The economy will never grow like it should be unless the abomination know as Dodd-Frank is repealed. Any problems with Trump should be mitigated by his promise to cut overly onerous regulations
Klaw: Define “overly onerous regulations.” I for one am a fan of clean air and water, for example. I’d like to see more onerous regulations on those topics, so that black people get clean air and water too!

Rob: Thanks again for your vaccine related discussions. For better or worse, people take very seriously what public figures have to say (and we need more rational voices than that of De Niro and Mccarthy). You’ll never convince the idiot on twitter that you’re arguing with but, hopefully a silent reader on the fence, will be swayed in the right direction.
Klaw: You’re welcome. I’m hoping a few people see the links I post and decide to vaccinate their kids, and that other folks with platforms like I have also speak out on public health and science topics.

Joe: What was harder: writing the book, or doing the self-promoting? For me, I think the self-promoting would be harder, but that’s mainly due to my personality. Have you enjoyed/not enjoyed that part of it?
Klaw: Writing is always easier for me because it’s so solitary. I’m not one to promote myself or my work beyond a tweet here or there.

Archie: Serious question….if a guy at a lower level school pops up as a serious draft candidate, do you automatically start to wonder how he ended up there? Are there enough late bloomers who may have been undeveloped and/or overlooked in HS that would keep you from assuming that a high level guy in D-II, III, or NAIA has some sort of makeup issues that led them to that level?
Klaw: I think we get more late bloomers, especially pitchers, than other sports do.

GFY: There’s nothing more annoying than someone who is super arrogant and I think you’ve officially crossed that line with your reply to the “is it arrogant” question. Have a nice life.
Klaw: If you couldn’t see the humor intended in that answer, well, between that and your profane message to me, I truly do not want you as a reader.

JR: While the Mets haven’t said anything official, reading between the lines it appears they (or at least Collins) still prefer Bruce over Conforto (Bruce has been given the same treatment as other veteran starters this spring – not traveling on road games and penciled in as RF starter for home games). How shocked would you be if Bruce is starting RF and Conforto is on bench or in AAA to start the season?
Klaw: I wouldn’t be shocked but I’ll mock the hell out of the team if they do that. That’s plain shooting themselves in the foot.

BD: Surprised S Kieboom was DFA’d? He can help someone right?
Klaw: I hadn’t seen that. Thought he’d be a decent backup catcher with occasional pop but no OBP. Nats are a little flush with catchers though.

Henry: Keith, is this the first season that every MLB team has an analytic department, even a bare bones one to measure performance? I was thinking the other day how the industry has changed full circle on this in a relatively decent amount of time, which is a very good thing. It makes the sport far more enjoyable to evaluate. Thanks!
Klaw: I believe all 30 teams have this now, yes.

Matt: I can spare about $10/mo to go towards either a subscription like the Washington Post or the ACLU. Any idea which organization would get the bigger bang for my money? Don’t really want to give money to a cause that doesn’t need it as much as a different one may.
Klaw: If you want the most bang for the buck, find a local food pantry, or a local shelter for victims of domestic violence, or something similarly small and focused. That will produce the best return and will most directly help people who need it.

Corey: Do you think Brian Johnson can still end up a solid 3/4 starter in the big leagues ? Assuming he’s depth for this season in Boston, can he crack the rotation next year or is he a trade chip ?
Klaw: I do, but he has to get all his velocity back for that to happen and it wasn’t there at the end of last summer.

John: No one wants to acknowledge the two elephants in the room: an aging populations and slowing global growth from large economies like China starting to mature mean long run domestic real growth rates are going to be slower. Those manufacturing jobs are never coming back and we will need a basic income framework at some point. Of every 100 manufacturing jobs lost since NAFTA passed 85 went to automation, 5 became obsolete, 5 went to China or Mexico, and 5 went somewhere else.
Klaw: I am seeing more acknowledgement of the automation issue, although it’s not part of the mainstream political discourse. Better to just scream “JOBS” real loud and hope for the best.

JJ: I, for one, appreciate your arrogance. It’s arguably your finest quality. Keep it up!
Klaw: Uh … thanks?

Thomas: What is Renfroe’s ceiling?
Klaw: Hunter’s? If he hits, above-average everyday RF. I don’t think there’s more than a 45 hit tool there, though.

Ted, Atlanta: over/under 10 HR, 15 SB for Dansby this year
Klaw: Over on both.

Jake: You get to make one law that every single human must follow – what is it?
Klaw: Never put ketchup on steak.

Justin: Regarding your suggestion with Wheeler coming into relief once every rotation turn; wouldn’t it be more beneficail to him and the team to just have him in extended ST or in low A ball. It seems like a big risk both to the team (being short in the pen and Wheeler by not letting him work his arm strength up, especially if its a close game and he can’t locate.
Klaw: That’s also an option. I tried to lay out a few possible plans that the Mets might pursue, discarding anything I know they don’t do.

Ben: If Price needs TJS, do Red Sox have enough depth there, or will they look to acquire another starter?
Klaw: They don’t have anyone to replace the 5-6 wins he’d be worth. But I don’t know if they’ll make a panic trade now, either. That’s a recipe for a bad decision.

Alan: Anything new out of Braves minor league camp?
Klaw: Minor league games don’t begin until the week of the 13th. Anything you ‘hear’ now is static.

Joey Bagodonuts: Pencil U really recruited me hard. Glad I didn’t go there.
Klaw: But their graphology department is top notch!

David: Thoughts on Dermis Garcia Yankees?
Klaw: 80 raw power. 20 defender. Maybe a 30 bat right now – a long way off and a long shot to have value.

Keith: What order would you put the following in terms of likeliest to reach top of the rotation status? Kopech, Keller, Alvarez?
Klaw: That is the order in which I ranked them on the top 100, and the order in which I’d answer that question (because the combination of ceiling and probability of reaching ceiling is a major criterion for me).

Zac: Robinson Cano had 39 HR’s as a 33 year old 2B last season, which is the most HR’s by a 2B in the AL since Alfonso Soriano in 2002. Is Robinson Cano the best all around 2B since Joe Morgan, or am I underrating Roberto Alomar?
Klaw: Cano’s probably going to retire as the best 2b since guy-who-won’t-read-Moneyball, and will almost certainly end up a Hall of Famer.

Trader: I would submit that global trade is the single most important issues that is either horribly understood or subject to the worst effects of populism. It is jaw-dropping to see things like the Border Adjustment Tax even being proposed. It has as much potential as anything to push us closer to 3rd world status. and highlights just how far we have fallen in terms of leadership and economics — on all sides.
Klaw: Free trade might be the only thing on which most economists agree – it’s a net positive for all countries involved. The continued popularity of protectionism speaks to 1) poor economics education in American secondary schools and 2) how pandering to existential fears remains a winning formula for electoral success.

Kay: Arrogant bastards unite! Seriously, you’re just straightforward and have strongly held beliefs. This is something I like and respect about you. Dark sense of humor is a bonus.
Klaw: Thank you. And that is what I hope to be – I’d rather give strong opinions I can back up, and some day have to explain why some were wrong, than refuse to give strong opinions for fear of just that. Oh, and back to the book title thing – you want the book to have a strong title and subtitle to get the consumer’s attention, even if it might seem offputting. “Hey, this guy thinks he’s got the right way to think about baseball? What the hell is he talking about?” is a good reaction. Read some of it, buy the book, yell at me later.

Tom: Thoughts on Archie Bradley 177 innings into his MLB career?
Klaw: Ask me again about him and Shipley and Ray and Corbin in a few months, now that Romper Room has closed its Phoenix location.

David: Why are there some who feel Gleyber is overrated?
Klaw: Why are there some who believe vaccines cause autism? People believe all kinds of stupid shit. I will say I didn’t get any negative feedback whatsoever after ranking Gleyber #4 overall.

josh: Why is it that any time someone brings up a honest discussion about regulations someone always acts like the Republicans want to take away everyone’s clean air and water? Talk about a strawman….
Klaw: Maybe because Trump literally just signed a document to start to roll back a major clean water rule?

Anonymous: What do you think of Heyman’s sentiment today that he would be surprised if Hunter Greene is not the 1st pick in the draft?
Klaw: If you’re asking me where I’d put $100, Greene or the field, I’d put the field. One, because he’s not so much better than everyone else (like Harper or Strasburg) that I feel confident he’s going to be 1-1 today, three months out. Two, because no HS RHP has ever gone 1-1, and ignoring that is pure base-rate neglect.

Joey Joe Joe: Surprised at how little interest there was in Joe Blanton?
Klaw: Yes. He was pretty dang good last year.

Clint: Fernando Tatis jr = next Machado? Or am I thinking to big league?
Klaw: I wouldn’t say =, but I’d say “might turn into.” He’s a pretty special talent.

JD: How do you see the college pitchers in this draft? Any real standouts for you?
Klaw: None has come out very good, other than perhaps McKay – whom, I learned this week, at least one team up top prefers as a hitter. (I think that’s crazy. A 1b without power, who’s also a LHP up to 95 with a good CB? Easy choice.)

Rob: What kind of ceiling do Alvaro Seijas and Johan Oviedo have? Legit arms?
Klaw: Those are the other two I’m hoping to see in Cardinals camp (with Fernandez and Alcantara), plus the Cubans they’ve signed in the last year. I’m probably going to spend more time in the Palm Beach/Jupiter area than anywhere else in Florida.

Frank: No question just a comment. If the state of Texas wants a transgender person to use the bathroom of their birth then they can’t complain when they complete in sports against those of the same birth sex. Anything else would be hypocritical, not like that would ever happen.
Klaw: This is a valid point. Also, once again we get back to the fallacy of two biological sexes. But that’s science, and science ain’t real popular in Texas political circles right now.

Ron: I thought Dozier had the most homers for a 2nd baseman since Soriano? Or how many of the 42 included as DH?
Klaw: Baseball-Reference shows 40 as a 2b, 2 as a DH. That stuff, while absolutely accurate, is why I never get hung up on “most X by a player at position Y” stats. Dozier had 2 homers as a DH. Was he magically not able to play second base on those days? Like, he woke up and put his glove on his right ear instead?

Kay: Is consistency really all that much to ask for? From ball players, to umpires, to politicians, to friends and their beliefs.
Klaw: It’s the hobgoblin of rational minds, apparently.

Klaw: That’s all for this week’s chat. Thank you as always for all of your questions. I’ll be holding a Facebook Live session Monday morning to talk about Smart Baseball and answer chat-style questions as well, so please come join me there and tell your friends about this amazing book that tells you the most arrogant way to think about baseball! Enjoy your weekends, everyone.

Music update, February 2017.

Big month for new tracks, enough that I started out with 30 songs here and couldn’t cut any lower than 24 without taking out something I liked. I’ve got five metal tracks and two rap songs at the end, but before that we have returns from a bunch of my favorite artists, several appearing in new projects.

If you can’t see the Spotify widget below you can go directly to the playlist here.

WATERS – Hiccups. Friend of the dish Van Pierzalowski returns with the first new single from WATERS in almost a year and a half, and true to form it’s an upbeat indie-pop track with a big hook, definitely something to be sung by ten thousand people in an arena with the volume turned up to 11. (Because it’s one louder than 10.) WATERS’ third album, Something More!, is due out May 19th.

MisterWives – Machine. This NYC indie-pop outfit appears to be channeling Shakira with this funky, swirling, brass-heavy, stomp-along track that feels lush and intricate below the vocals. I think there’s real crossover potential here. The lyrics are a bit of a weak spot here, though, like rhymes from a teenager’s Poetry notebook: “Maybe I’m a dying breed/But I believe in individuality.” Yeah, no one else believes in that any more, it’s just you.

Johnossi – Hands. I heard this track, with lyrics about police profiling of African-Americans, and assumed Johnossi was an American singer of color … only to find out it’s a Norwegian duo singing rather well about an issue that I associated mostly with the United States. It should be a hit if for no other reason than the closing couplet “fuck them haters, we don’t care/put your hands up in the air.”

White Reaper – Judy French. White Reaper rocks your lame ass. Their second album, The World’s Best American Band, is due out April 7th.

Love Thy Brother featuring Ariel Beesley – Love Me Better. This actually came out last year, and I just whiffed on it because on first listen I couldn’t get past the singer’s weird pronunciations. The Montreal duo, actually brothers, teamed up with model/singer Beesley for a very catchy electronic track with an undeniable groove behind the verses, although I think when the music drops behind the choruses the song loses some momentum.

Ten Fé – In the Air. I think I’ve exhausted songs worth sharing from Ten Fé’s debut album, called Hit the Light, which has been my favorite new record of 2017 to date. (It’ll be surpassed shortly, with some big releases coming up this month and next.) Most of the songs I’ve liked from Ten Fé have had heavy new wave influences, but this one is just a straight pop song, something you might have heard on the radio as easily in 1980 as today.

Beach Slang – Bored Teenagers. These Philly punks supposedly broke up during a concert last year, then got back together and fired some members … I don’t know, I’m just here for the music. I do think it’s important that bands with “Beach” in their name deliver on that promise by playing punk or garage or even surf rock, as opposed to Beach House, who are basically just false advertising.

Bleached – Can You Deal?. They’ve doubled their membership over the last two years, adding a bassist and a drummer, and are about to release a new EP, with this punk-pop tune as the title track. It’s a bit of a slow starter, but when they hit the gas in around the midpoint it finally sounds more like a Bleached song.

Future Islands – Ran. I suppose they’ll never top their performance of “Seasons” on Letterman, but this is a good fascimile of that track, with the same pronounced bass line and ’70s soft-rock feel over a contemporary drum beat.

Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution. I’m a longtime DM fan, especially of their more goth-rock late ’80s heyday (think “Never Let Me Down Again,” not “Just Can’t Get Enough”), so any new single from them would make my list, but this felt a little soft for a lead single, like we got an album track instead of the song to make you want to run out and get the album.

Coast Modern – Comb My Hair. This LA duo reminds me a lot of WATERS and a little of Best Coast, with a dash of post-Pinkerton Weezer thrown in, which, uh, waters down the sound a bit. They could do with a little more complexity here, but from the handful of singles Coast Modern has put out to date I think it’s clear they have the ability to craft some solid hooks in the California indie vein.

Space Above – Let It Still. Space Above are a side project for The Naked & Famous keyboardist Aaron Short to do more experimental keyboard-driven songs, but there’s still a clear melody at work on this mesmerizing, textured single. The group’s debut album, Still, dropped on February 17th.

Strand of Oaks – Radio Kids. Timothy Showalter, who records as Strand of Oaks, seems to be at his best when writing nostalgic tunes about being a kid and listening to music. This psychedelic rock track, from his newest record Hard Love. reminds me of “Goshen ’97,” the best song off his previous album.

Mew – 85 Videos. This Danish group, whose singer calls their music “indie stadium,” is about to release its seventh album in late April, with “85 Videos” the lead single. The band has dropped the progressive trappings of its early career in favor of a more dream-pop approach with immaculate production and great technical skills, but without forsaking a good melody that wouldn’t be out of place in ’85.

Sarah Chernoff – Warm Nights. This solo debut from the lead singer of Superhumanoids shows off Chernoff’s incredible voice in a different milieu, over a bass-heavy, almost jazzy groove that’s evocative of a dark club or some sort of intimate venue for a concert. I’ll list just about anything she does on these updates.

Ride – Home Is A Feeling. Shoegaze has come back around again. Slowdive is back, Ride is back, Lush is back … I’m waiting for the Swervedriver/Catherine Wheel double bill. Ride hasn’t released a proper album since 1996, but have put out two singles in the last month – this and “Charm Assault” – presaging an album due out this summer.

Aristophanes – Humans Become Machines. Aristophanes (born Pan Wei-Ju) was introduced to the west on Grimes’ Art Angels album, where the Taiwanese rapper took the lead on the track “Scream.” It’s definitely disorienting to hear a high-pitched female voice rapping in Chinese, but Grimes produced this track, which is good enough for me.

Joey Bada$$ – Victory. The lead single from Bada$$’s upcoming second album is an ode to the NBA, which doesn’t do much for me itself, but his flow really stands out to me, even above other more popular “alternative” rappers like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole.

CyHi The Prynce – Nu Africa. I’m not trying to change the world, I’m not looking for a nu Africa … wait, that’s the wrong song. CyHi, a frequent collaborator with Kanye West, is playing wordgames here as he tries to squeeze a slew of African country names into the lyrics (I counted 22), but there’s also a very old-school Native Tongues sort of Afrocentrism here, with an argument that black Americans should do more to help develop the “motherland.”

King Woman – Shame. You don’t see many women singing on doom metal tracks, but this is Kristina Esfandiari’s band and she is the dominant presence on this song, although I wish her vocals were produced more towards the front of the mix. It’s like Diamanda Galas doing guest vocals for Pallbearer.

Sleep – The Clarity. I didn’t realize this seminal stoner-rock act, best known for the single-track 2003 album Dopesmoker, had recorded any new material since that record, but this song first appeared on a compilation in 2014 and showed up on Spotify this week. It’s a nearly ten-minute dirge of vintage stoner metal, veering towards doom.

Ignea – Petrichor. A female-fronted symphonic/folk metal band from Ukraine, formerly known as Parallax, Ignea just released their debut album under this name, although several of these songs (including this one) have appeared previously. Their sound is fascinating, and also taught me a new word: the OED defines “petrichor” as “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”

Havok – Intention to Deceive. Havok are an old-school thrash outfit that draws heavily on 1980s influences like Overkill and Vio-lence, the latter of whom could easily have recorded this song – which has very timely lyrics about authorities distracting the public with trivial controversies while greater ones go unreported.

Mastodon – Show Yourself. This might be the poppiest song I’ve ever heard from Mastodon, and I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s the shortest track from the band’s upcoming album, Emperor of Sand, which comes out at the end of the month, and still has progressive/technical elements but rides on a strong vocal hook that introduces the song.

A Man Called Ove.

A Man Called Ove was one of five nominees for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, won by the preseason favorite, the Iranian movie The Salesman, whose director had won previously for the amazing film A Separation. Ove was Sweden’s submission for the award, and it is a perfectly serviceable movie but not remarkable in any way. It’s just very well-made and well-acted, but it’s based on a best-selling book of the same name that seems like the sort feel-good pablum that offers a superficial meaning-of-life message like “be nice to others.”

Ove is a grumpy old man, recently widowed, obsessed with following and enforcing rules, making enemies of everyone in his little planned community. He’s utterly miserable and tries multiple times in the film to kill himself to be with his beloved wife, Sonja. When a new family moves in, with the father Swedish and the mother, Parvaneh, of Iranian descent, they interrupt more than one of these suicide attempts, and the mother seems totally immune to his misanthropy, forcing herself into his life, making him teach her to drive and even to watch her kids one night, to the point where she cracks his exterior and gets him to tell her (and us) his life story. In the end, Ove becomes a changed man, a friend to all, a grandfather surrogate to her kids, and I’m sure you can guess what happens after that. (It’s available to rent on amazon and iTunes.)

This movie goes nowhere without the performance of Rolf Lassgård as Ove (pronounced “OOH-vuh”), a turn that won him the Swedish equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Actor. Ove is the only nuanced character in the entire film, a grumpy old man whose grumpiness is a cover for misery, loneliness, and a return to the chronic shyness that plagued him pre-Sonja. There’s something inexplicable in his resistance to kind overtures from neighbors, or simple requests from one woman he’s known for decades to help fix her radiator. (The reason turns out to be both funny and stupid at once.) It seems like Lassgård had a harder task because he was playing a character whose complexity was compromised by the absurdity of his behavior.

The story itself is faintly ridiculous, not least because the movie never gives us a single reason to think that Sonja, who is kind, intelligent, and very pretty, would have the slightest interest in the insular, moody, and unromantic Ove. He doesn’t so much pursue her as stalk her, and she responds by more or less leading him around by the nose. They have almost nothing in common, and their personalities are dead opposites. I can see why she illuminated Ove’s life to the point where he says there was nothing before Sonja and there is nothing after her, but what exactly did she see in him?

(Incidentally, part of why I found Sonja so compelling was her taste in literature. When they first meet, she’s reading The Master and Margarita, my favorite novel ever.)

Parvaneh is too relentlessly positive to be realistic, and the fact that she’s already very pregnant at the start of the movie means we know that baby is going to pop out before the film ends, probably at a dramatic or inopportune moment. (It’s like Chekhov’s gun.) The story checks all the boxes about modern prejudice – we see Ove get over his casual sexism, racism, and homophobia over the course of the film. And one of the various subplots in the story, the fate of Ove’s neighbor and former rival Rune, has an utterly ridiculous deus-ex sort of resolution that undermined all of the details that came before it. None of this made Ove’s revival in the film’s final 20 minutes any less emotional to watch, but when A Man Called Ove was done, I had the distinct feeling of having consumed a lot of empty calories.

Oscar picks and movie rankings.

It’s Oscars Sunday, and for the first time since the 2013 ceremony, I’ve seen the majority of the nominees for Best Picture and several other categories. Here are my rankings of all of the 2016 movies I saw, based on release date or Oscar eligibility. Any linked titles go to reviews. As I review a couple more of these this week, I’ll update this post to link to them.

1. La La Land
2. Moonlight
3. Manchester by the Sea
4. O.J.: Made in America
5. Tanna
6. Arrival
7. Everybody Wants Some!!
8. Tower
9. The Lobster
10. Sing Street
11. Fences
12. Loving
13. Zootopia
14. Hell or High Water
15. Moana
16. Hail Caesar
17. Fire At Sea
18. Love & Friendship
19. Kubo and the Two Strings
20. Author: The JT Leroy Story
21. Midnight Special
22. Louder than Bombs
23. Finding Dory
24. Life, Animated
25. I am Not Your Negro
26. A Man Called Ove
27. The Red Turtle
28. Hidden Figures
29. The 13th
30. Phantom Boy

I’ve still got a half-dozen or so 2016 movies I want to see, which I’ll mention as I go through the remainder of the post.

I don’t pretend to any insider knowledge of the Oscars, so any predictions here are just for fun, and I think I only managed to run the table of nominees in one category, so don’t take my opinions too seriously.

Best Picture

Who should win: I’ve got La La Land as the best movie of the year, although I think Moonlight is more than worthy too.

Who will win: The heavy betting has been on La La Land all year and I don’t pretend to know any better.

I haven’t seen: Lion, which I’ll see eventually, and Hacksaw Ridge, which I won’t see because the director is an anti-Semitic domestic abuser.

Who was snubbed: All the movies I have in my top ten that didn’t make the final nine nominees would have been extreme surprises if they’d earned nods. I think O.J.: Made in America was the best movie not nominated, but if we’re limiting to realistic candidates, then Loving would be my pick.

Best Director

See above. I know sometimes these two categories are split, but I usually don’t understand it when it happens, and can’t imagine that happening this year.

Best Actor

Who should win: Casey Affleck gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in years in Manchester by the Sea. The only reason I could see for him to lose out to Denzel Washington would be Affleck’s off-screen issues – he has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment.

Who will win: I’d give Affleck 55/45 odds over Denzel.

I haven’t seen: Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) or Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge).

Who was snubbed: Colin Farrell was terrific in The Lobster. And A Man Called Ove fails utterly without Rolf Lassgård’s performance as the title character.

Best Actress

Who should win: I think Emma Stone for La La Land, but I’ve only seen two of the five nominated performances.

Who will win: Stone seems like a lock.

I haven’t seen: Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), or Natalie Portman (Jackie). That last film just hit digital last week, so when it becomes a rental option I’ll see it. I won’t see Elle.

Who was snubbed: Amy Adams for Arrival.

Best Supporting Actor

Who should win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight.

Who will win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight.

I haven’t seen: Dev Patel (Lion) or Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals). I’ll get Lion soon.

Who was snubbed: I thought Kevin Costner was pretty great in Hidden Figures, one of the only characters with any complexity in that film. Shannon was excellent in Midnight Special, but he’s just kind of great in everything.

Best Supporting Actress

Who should win: Viola Davis for Fences, which was really more of a lead performance. She owns the second half of that film.

Who will win: Davis.

I haven’t seen: Nicole Kidman (Lion).

Who was snubbed: Octavia Spencer got a nomination here for Hidden Figures, so was Taraji Henson submitted in the lead category for the same film? If Henson was eligible for this category, she was better in a harder role than Michelle Williams’ brief appearances in Manchester by the Sea. I also thought Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) and Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) were worthy.

Animated Feature

Who should win: Tough call for me, but of the four I’ve seen I’d give the nod to Zootopia for the best combination of animation quality, story, and voice acting.

Who will win: I think Zootopia wins this too.

I haven’t seen: My Life as a Zucchini opens in Philly this upcoming weekend and in Wilmington the following Friday. I’m dying to see it.

Who was snubbed: Finding Dory wasn’t a great film by Pixar standards but I think in many years it gets a nod, perhaps losing out because there were two other Disney films in the category.


Who should win: I think of the three nominees I’ve seen, I’d give the nod to Arrival.

Who will win: La La Land.

I haven’t seen: Lion or Silence. Adnan Virk loved Silence – I think he named it his top movie for 2016 – but I think I’ll pass given its length and my short attention span.

Who was snubbed: Hell or High Water was beautifully shot, with wide pans of the New Mexican landscapes.

Documentary Feature

Who should win: It’s almost unfair that the seven-hour O.J.: Made in America documentary (from ESPN) is eligible in this category, but it is, and it’s among the best documentaries I’ve ever seen regardless of length or format.

Who will win: O.J.: Made in America. If anything else wins, it’ll be a travesty.

I haven’t seen: None. I got all five here.

Who was snubbed: Tower was absolutely deserving of a spot over at least three of the other four nominees; I could see an argument Fire at Sea over Tower, even if I don’t agree with it.

Foreign Language Film

Who should win: I have only seen two of the five, and neither of the two that appear to be the critical favorites. Tanna would be more than worthy of the honor, but I can’t say if it’s better than the two leaders.

Who will win: It sounds like The Salesman is going to win, because it’s a great film and because of the Muslim ban’s effect on its director.

I haven’t seen: The Salesman, Toni Erdmann, or Land of Mine. I will probably have to wait for digital options for all three.

Who was snubbed: I haven’t seen any other foreign-language films from 2016, but am very interested in seeing two films on the shortlist, Neruda (from Chile), which I just missed the one weekend it was playing near me, and The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (from Finland), which hasn’t been released anywhere here or online that I can see. That latter film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes through 13 reviews.

Music (original song)

Who should win: Tough call for me, but I think La La Land‘s “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” hits the right combination of great song and essential to the film’s story, over Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go,” which I’d say is the better song outside the context of the movies. That said, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a national treasure and I will never be upset to see him give an acceptance speech.

Who will win: I get the sense “City of Stars” is the favorite here.

I haven’t seen: I didn’t see Jim: The James Foley Story but I’ve heard the nominated song, “The Empty Chair.”

Who was snubbed: Sing Street‘s total absence here is a farce. “Drive It Like You Stole It” was my favorite from the film, but I could argue for a couple of others as well. Also, my favorite song from Moana was actually “We Know the Way.”

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Who should win: This is Moonlight‘s to lose.

Who will win: Moonlight.

I haven’t seen: Lion.

Who was snubbed: The screenplay for Loving was deemed to be “adapted” by the Academy, although the Writers’ Guild classified it as original.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Who should win: The Lobster.

Who will win: La La Land.

I haven’t seen: 20th Century Women.

Who was snubbed: Tanna.


On August 1st, 1966, Charles Whitman, a white, Catholic 25-year-old who had trained as a sharpshooter with the Marines, murdered his wife and his mother, then went to the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower and began targeting and shooting anyone he could see, killing 14 and wounding 31 others. It was considered the first mass “school shooting” in U.S. history and the worst mass murder in Texas history to that point.

The documentary Tower, which was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, recreates the 96 minutes from when Whitman first started shooting until he was killed by policemen who, with the help of one courageous civilian, cornered him on the observation deck. By using first-person accounts from survivors and witnesses, Tower tells the story of the shootings via animation, some of it overlaid on actual footage from either that day or that time period. It’s an utterly gripping account that comes as close as possible to putting the viewer on the scene, and focuses on the victims, both those killed that day and those injured or involved who had to carry those memories for the rest of their lives. The film is available to rent on amazon and iTunes.

Whitman’s motives remain unknown to this day, although there are multiple theories, including that a brain tumor pressing on his amygdala had caused him to have murderous or delusional thoughts. Tower doesn’t get into Whitman’s story at all; in fact, he never appears in the film, not even in animation. Instead, the documentary gives us the stories of the people who are rarely if ever mentioned when the story of the Tower shootings are told.

One student, Claire Wilson, who was eight months pregnant and walking with her boyfriend was among the first people shot by Whitman; she survived, thanks to the help of multiple good Samaritans, two of whom eventually risked their lives to drag her to safety, but she lost the baby and her boyfriend was killed immediately. Another student, John “Artly” Fox, was one of the men who went into the open to bring Claire out of the sniper’s sight so she could get medical attention, and after three months in the hospital, she survived. Tower brings the two of them together for the first time since the shootings at the end of the film. A boy delivering newspapers was shot while on his cousin’s bicycle; he survived, but his parents were first told he’d been killed before finding him alive at the hospital. Air Force veteran Allen Crum, then the manager of the campus co-op store across the street, came out to break up what he thought was a fight, then realized there was a sniper and decided to make his way to the tower itself, eventually joining the officers on the observation deck and providing cover for them as they crept up on Whitman and killed him.

Many of the principals are still alive today and appear twice over in the film – as themselves, near the end of the documentary, but in animated form as their younger selves during the reenactments. The animation gimmick works incredibly well, more than simply hiring actors would have (if such a thing were even feasible), because it allowed me at least to focus completely on their words. There’s no question of someone overacting or rendering a person inaccurately here; we get their memories, enough to give us a fairly complete picture of those 96 minutes of hell, and a closing segment as those still alive discuss life after the shootings. And because this story is rarely told – victims are largely numbers, and modern accounts will always focus on the killer instead – there are tons of details here I’d never heard before, as well as the angle that elevates some of the day’s heroes over the murderer in the telling.

I’m floored Tower didn’t advance and earn of the five nominations for Best Documentary Feature. It’s better than the four nominees of normal length, with a clear narrative and a strong angle that remains important to this day (perhaps even more so, as the current federal government wants to ensure people with serious mental illnesses have easy access to guns). And it did something novel, combining animation with real footage to provide an accurate historical rendering of a major event in American history – one that I would say is somewhat forgotten outside of Texas, perhaps because school shootings have become so commonplace. It’s better structured than I Am Not Your Negro, more compelling than Life, Animated, and lacks the fatal flaw of The 13th. For it to fall behind all of those films defies understanding.

Stick to baseball, 2/25/17.

I wrote one Insider piece this week, on how the Mets should handle their rotation, with six capable major-league starters right now, but five of them coming off of some kind of injury last year, from Thor’s bone spurs to Harvey’s TOS repair surgery. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the worker-placement game Ulm, which works fine mechanically but has a theme that’s just so overdone for me.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book just got its first official positive review, from Kirkus Reviews.

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