Dec 06

Root Beer reviews: AJ Stephans

IMG_2519While many root beers strive to make a bold statement, sometimes to the point of being the blue-tuxedoed uncle at your best friend’s wedding, AJ Stephans is daring only in its restraint. It dials back the sweetness and doesn’t linger, living extremely in the moment, not like a brash teenage snowboarder but rather a delicate piccolo artist inhaling each note, otherwise rapidly forgotten. Lack of edge prevents it from reaching the top tier, but unpretentiousness prevents it from sinking to the bottom.

Sampling date: December 1, 2015

Ingredients: Pure carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 175 calories, 0 grams fat, 44 grams sugar, 30 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Orange, Massachusetts

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) AJ Stephans Root Beer
6) River City Root Beer
7) Cool Mountain Root Beer
8) Rat Bastard Root Beer 

Dec 04

Root beer reviews: Sparky’s

Sparky IMG_2499After a short 39-month hiatus, I’m pleased to return with the seventh in my series of root beer reviews.

Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer is a line-drive base hit, nothing unconventional, nothing that would bring a crowd to its feet, but neither a routine grounder to the right side for an out. Its engine revs at the outset of each sip, coasting into a pinching sweetness that is more cocky than coy.

Sampling date: November 30, 2015

Ingredients: Carbonated filtered water, pure cane sugar, honey, natural and imitation flavorings, spices, sodium benzoate to preserve freshness, phosphoric acid and caramel color

Nutritional information: Not provided

Headquarters: Pacific Grove, California

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) River City Root Beer
6) Cool Mountain Root Beer
7) Rat Bastard Root Beer

Feb 27

My favorite films of 2013

Well, this puts a period on the sentence that was my last big paragraph of filmgoing for a while.

Now that I’m working for the Dodgers, my years of going to movies by the bushel will take a break. I saw nearly 60 of 2013’s films, but that number is going to come crashing down in 2014.

So for perhaps the last time for a while, here is my annual ranking of the films, using the system I designed long ago.

As I’ve said before, it’s a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “best” film, but only a “favorite” film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic.  Here’s the boilerplate explanation:

Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges?

Quality (1-10): As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it’s the most important – I’d rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

Two last quick points: I wouldn’t get caught up in single-point distinctions – those don’t amount to a significant difference between films. I could tinker with the grades every time I revisit the list.

If you want to look back, here are four past charts: my favorite films of 201220112010 and 2006.

I will say this – I’m less enchanted with my system than I have been in the past. I don’t tend to award much variance in ambition, and I’m having more trouble distinguishing between objective quality and emotional resonance. But this isn’t the time I’m going to change things up, so here we go …

2013 A O ER T Comment
Blue Is the Warmest Color 3.5 9.5 10.5 23.5 Loved the deep, patient exploration of the arc of a relationship – it at once had an intimate and epic feel.
Gravity* 5 8.5 10 23.5 No film mixes cinematic and spiritual ambition better this year. A thriller in more ways than one.
Short Term 12 4 9.5 10 23.5 Spot-on great storytelling of both a character and a place.
Much Ado About Nothing 4 8.5 10.5 23 A movie that I found easy to cherish – a loving and lovable homage with its own originality.
12 Years a Slave* 4.5 9 9 22.5 Unassailable in its worth and inner integrity. I can’t explain why at times I felt numb. “Roots” had more impact.
Her 4 8.5 10 22.5 Takes what could have been a sitcom story and turns it into something extraordinary and moving.
Saving Mr. Banks 4 8.5 10 22.5 Strong movie throughout, and the stuff about the flawed fathers got to me.
Captain Phillips 4 8.5 8.5 22 Intense. Hanks builds to some phenomenal moments. Somali parts well-played.
Dallas Buyers Club* 4 9 9 22 Legitimately strong story that should transcend qualms about who the protagonist is. Leto is amazing in it.
The Way Way Back 4 8.5 9 22 Touching and sincere.
August: Osage County* 4 8.5 9 21.5 Adeptly juggles numerous stories and got at the true contradictions of family life and love. Underrated at Toronto.
Mud 3.5 9 9 21.5 Really engrossing story, superbly acted by the kids. Troubled somewhat by the ending.
The Past 4 9 8.5 21.5 Another complex multi-person relationship drama. Tough but good.
The Place Beyond the Pines 3.5 9 8 21.5 Very strong, though Mendes’ character would have benefited from more development.
All Is Lost 4 8 9 21 Taut and nearly silent, but the main question was, why wasn’t their cursing in every minute?
Inside Llewyn Davis 4 8 9 21 A good personal journey movie, that maybe stops short of the knockout punch its ending should have.
Frozen 4 8 8.5 20.5 Definitely more depth than advertised, but also strong in humor and music. Didn’t quite get why secret had to be a secret.
The Wolf of Wall Street 4 8.5 8 20.5 As a comedy, very ambitious with some great moments, but also lagged for me in places.
What Maisie Wants 4 7.5 7.5 20.5 A rough story to tell but it works.
The Iceman 3 9 8 20 Rock solid, with Michael Shannon giving dominant performance.
Blue Jasmine 4 7.5 8 19.5 Hits some great notes – liked even if I didn’t love.
Despicable Me 2 3.5 8 8 19.5 Worked very well – I think I liked it more than the original.
Enough Said 3.5 7.5 8.5 19.5 Loved the exploration of a mature relationship, just wish big reveal hadn’t been so delayed and sitcommy. I miss Gandolfini.
Prisoners 4 8.5 7 19.5 Strong, gritty movie, a little slow-paced in first half but pays off.
Stories We Tell 3.5 8 8 19.5 A really interesting film if a bit rough around the edges.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby* 4 7 8.5 19.5 Liked the material overall and the two-part experiment, but not convinced it wouldn’t be better as one piece.
Fruitvale Station 3.5 7.5 8 19 Narrowly focused but important and heartbreaking.
How I Live Now* 4 7 8 19 The quest is a weird one, but it’s a beguiling fantasy.
Labor Day* 3.5 7.5 8 19 Liked this maybe more than I should – kind of a indie-spirit Hallmark movie.
The Armstrong Lie 3.5 8.5 7 19 The crazy denial comes to life.
The Short Game 3 8 8 19 Funny to see this at around the same time as “Bad Words.”
42 3 7.5 8 18.5 Liked the acting more than the script – mostly a paint-by-numbers telling of a great story.
Nebraska 3 8 7.5 18.5 Might be selling short its ambition, but though I enjoyed it, not sure what it adds up to.
Philomena 3 8 7.5 18.5 Pretty intimate and well-told story.
The Spectacular Now 3.5 8 8 18.5 Touching. Liked that drinking was key element but not central. Shailene Woodley too adorable to be an outcast, though.
Admission 3.5 6.5 8 18 Underrated – didn’t all ring true, but hard not to notice the attempt.
Bad Words* 3 7 8 18 At times profane for the sake of it, but among the most fun films of the year.
Can a Song Save a Life* 4 7 7 18 The joy of making music. Even its darkness is kind of bright. Tremendously likeable.
Casting By 3 8 7 18 Nice piece of work on an area that deserves attention.
In a World … 3 8 7 18 Fun story and a nice showcase for Lake Bell.
Picture Day 3.5 7.5 7 18 Tatiana Maslany expectedly adorable, and it was an interesting (and slightly strange) ride.
The Invisible Woman 3 8 7 18 Solid period piece, with Fiennes beguiling as Dickens.
To the Wonder 3.5 6.5 8 18 Eloquent, beautiful love story sandbagged by inexplicable lack of attention to Affleck’s character.
Out of the Furnace 3.5 7 7 17.5 More true grit, a la Prisoners, which perhaps was better because its antagonist was better.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler 4 6 7 17 Worthy subject and occasionally moving but far too on the nose in places.
Night Moves* 3.5 7 6.5 17 Low, low-key film struggles toward the end after it all goes down.
Rush* 4 7 6 17 Beautifully shot with good lead performances, but fairly conventional storytelling for a sports film.
The Croods 3 7 7 17 Ends on a good note but kind of tedious in the midsection.
Turbo 3 7 7 17 No great leap but a likable enough tale.
American Hustle 3.5 7 6 16.5 I’m probably being harsh on it, but was not involved in the story until the final hour, and it didn’t stick with me after.
Austenland 3.5 6.5 6 16 Points for the ambiguity in the love story, points against for its clumsiness.
Oz the Great and Powerful 4 5.5 5 15.5 Uninvolving script and really questionable casting.
Monsters University 3 7 5 15 Harmless but pointless for me.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone 3 5 6 14 Gross miscalculations about Carell, Carrey and Wilde characters undermined what might’ve been a really good comedy.
Spring Breakers 3.5 5 5 13.5 Certainly not your typical Spring Break movie, certainly stylish, but did not make me care at all. This year’s emperor with no clothes.
Planes 3 5 4 13 A sorrowful rehash of past aspirational animations.
Before Midnight 3 5.5 4 12.5 Pretentious as ever in the first half, hardly groundbreaking in the big fight in the second. The love for these films remains mystifying.
Dom Hemingway* 3 4 3 10 Aside from a couple good moments, thought this was pretty much flatulent.
You Are Here* 3 3.5 3.5 10 Matthew Weiner’s feature was the biggest disappointment of the year.

*Seen at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

Dec 09

The next big move – going to work for the Blue

Any of you who have been reading Dodger Thoughts for some length of time have by now grown accustomed to change, whether it’s personal to me (my three children have been born since I launched the site 11 1/2 years ago) or the site changing hosts no fewer than five times.

Maybe this is the biggest change of all.

I have left my full-time job at Variety to join the Dodgers themselves as director of digital and print content.

I will be writing plenty over there, as part of an overall series of duties that involves managing and producing content for the Dodgers’ publications and website.

As you can imagine, it’s an opportunity that was too intriguing and exciting for me to pass up, which is why I’m willing to give up the longest job I’ve ever held, a position at Variety that has brought me more great memories than I can begin to mention and placed me among a group of colleagues that have been such a pleasure to be with.

It’s also why I’m willing to put Dodger Thoughts in storage – though again, this isn’t exactly as newsworthy as it might have been, before I essentially took a vacation during the 2012-13 offseason, to focus on an extremely busy awards season for Variety. I did find a rebirth on Dodger Thoughts during the 2013 baseball season, but it was always in competition with the other directions I’ve been pulled in.

So while it would be premature to get into specifics about my new duties with the Dodgers, I can say that one of the greatest appeals for me is that for the first time, writing about the Dodgers will move from avocation to vocation, from hobby to primary activity.

I’ll feel safe using Vin Scully (my new colleague!) as my role model. I’ll consider it my job, as an employee of the Dodgers, to inform and to entertain, in service of the organization. You can be sure I’ll be taking that responsibility very seriously. But don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of fun along the way. There’ll be no shortage of insights or stories, great and small.

As always, thanks for your support, whether it’s been for 11 minutes or 11 years (you know who you are). I’ll be working fast to get up to speed in my new office at Chavez Ravine, and I’ll certainly tell people here when I start to have something to show you there. In the meantime:

• Since this move puts the Dodger Thoughts community in flux, reader Linkmeister has once again invited people to come hang out at his blog, Elysian Fields.
• In addition, please follow me on Twitter at @jonweisman for updates.

Thanks again!

Nov 17

Pies, nuts and O’Malleys

So much in Los Angeles changes fast. Treasure the good things that don’t.

“Hello, Doris!” goes the chorus of regulars at the Original Farmers Market, when they stop by to see Doris Perez, who has been there as long as they know. …

… On a recent Saturday morning, after flipping on the lights and tying a black apron over her crisp white shirt, the 78-year-old, who has 4 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, set to work arranging the jams, knickknacks and nut butters in precise stacks and V-patterns on almost every inch of countertop.

“Top of the morning!” said a kind-looking man in a khaki windbreaker just as she was finishing up.

“And the rest of the day to you!” she chimed back to Peter O’Malley.

The former Dodgers owner, old-fashioned and courtly, likes to stop in to see Perez as his father, Walter, did before him. (Walter was partial to Du-par’s chicken pies, she says: “He used to buy them by the dozen.”) …

Nina Lelyveld in the Times, “Dishing up cheer for 50 years at Farmers Market”

Nov 15

The ‘Wallflower Syndrome’ Award Goes to ‘Short Term 12’

A year ago, I published a couple of pieces for Variety on what I called “The Wallflower Syndrome,” named in honor of 2012’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and describing films that weren’t getting the awards consideration they deserved, in large part because they didn’t have the right pedigree, or they simply weren’t loud enough to grab people’s attention.

Wallflower Syndrome plagues Oscars

More musings about the Oscars and the Wallflower Syndrome

This year, I’m making “Short Term 12” winner of my just-formed 2013 Wallflower Syndrome Award. It’s a wonderful movie, with an absolutely superb performance from Brie Larson, that really should be seen and considered with the best film work of the year.

Nov 06

The evolving mindset of the Dodgers

J.P Hoonstra of the Daily News captures how these Ned Colletti Dodgers are not your slightly older sibling’s Ned Colletti Dodgers. Too much interesting stuff to excerpt here, so go read the whole thing.

One interesting aspect of the story is that the Dodgers’ recent focus on college pitchers comes about a decade after they seemed to succeed in bucking the arguments in Moneyball that college players were the way to go. From Dodger Thoughts, June 3, 2003 (and understand this was written with some horrible Dodger drafts still fresh in my memory):

… I’ll post again after the Dodgers make their first-round selection in today’s draft. The big question: Will they again buck the growing wisdom, racing from radical to conventional, that it is safer to take college players than high school players?

James Loney appeared to make the Dodgers look smart last year in going the old (high) school route with his stellar Rookie League season in 2002 at age 18. This year, however, Loney is batting only .252 with an OPS of .688 in the A-ball Florida State League, so although he may of course make it, it’s not going to be a cruise to the majors after all.

It’s not that college players are locks to succeed. Bubba Crosby, for example, was a college man. Scouts rated him a dubious first-round pick in 1998, and only recently has he begun to even challenge that assessment. And as a Stanford graduate, it pains me to note that ever since Mike Mussina and Jack McDowell, baseball has been littered with the carcasses of lumpy Cardinal pitchers – the latest being Jeff Austin, who tied a major league record in May by allowing home runs to the first three batters of a game.

Nevertheless, there is solid research out there for anyone to see that your odds are better if you allow colleges to help you weed out the suspect prospects. If you don’t, you’re much more likely to end up with an abysmal draft history like that of the Dodgers.

There isn’t much advantage in getting a younger guy – the point is to try to get the right guy.


Nov 06

Why Yasiel Puig’s reckless driving case has been dismissed

Holly Webb of reports on the dismissal of reckless driving and speeding charges against Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig (link via Tony Jackson of Dodgerscribe).

… Judge David Bales presided over the case. After reading the charges, he read a letter written by the Dodgers’ Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Lon Rosen on Puig’s behalf. The letter detailed Puig’s involvement in the Los Angeles community and called him “an asset.” Rosen said that Puig was active in several charity organizations that worked with underprivileged youth in the area. The letter also said that Puig had attended charity fundraisers for an orphanage in Zambia.

After reading the letter, Judge Bales addressed the courtroom and emphasized that Puig’s case was not treated differently or specially in spite of Puig’s fame and media presence. Judge Bales said “The state of Tennessee is the prosecuting entity, I have nothing to do with it…All cases are treated the same.”

Defense Attorney Mike Little pointed out to Judge Bales that prior to this event, his client had a clean record. And although Puig did not have insurance papers with him when he was pulled over, he did have insurance at the time and brought those records to court. Attorney Little recommended community service.

After taking everything into consideration, Judge Bales decided to dismiss the case against Puig. His reasons were Puig’s lack of prior record, the fact that he currently lives out of state, and Puig’s active participation in community service activities. …

Nov 04

Garvey, John, Torre take another shot at Hall of Fame

In the ever-more-complicated process for reaching baseball’s Hall of Fame, the latest batch of previously rejected candidates includes Steve Garvey, Tommy John and Joe Torre.

Tommy Lasorda is among the 16tet that will have a say in the process.

Of the names on the list, Marvin Miller strikes me as most deserving. Craig Calcaterra has more at Hardball Talk.