DID YOU READ

Review: “The Last Play at Shea,” Billy Joel and the Mets.

Review: “The Last Play at Shea,” Billy Joel and the Mets. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Billy Joel was the perfect choice to play the last rock concert at Shea Stadium because, as the entertaining though slight documentary “The Last Play at Shea” makes clear, Billy Joel is essentially the New York Mets of rock stars. Joel and the Mets, Shea’s primary tenants for 44 years, have a remarkable amount in common and eerily parallel timelines: Joel’s father, for example, left his family the same month the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles, paving the way for the creation of the Mets.

The film’s explicit comparisons are mostly temporal, but careful viewers of this slick doc will sense a deeper kinship between the two: memorable and at times miraculous success, debilitating and at times miraculous failures, bad luck, worse decisions and some serious inferiority complexes. The Mets, who live in the shadow of their crosstown rivals the Yankees, have fewer championships (two) than Billy Joel has failed marriages (three) in roughly the same span of time. Many of Joel’s biggest hits — “Piano Man,” “Movin’ Out,” “My Life,” “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire” — are about frustration, disappointment and dissatisfaction, the primary emotions felt by any Mets fan during almost any given baseball season.

Though the film takes its name from Joel’s two-night, venue-closing stand at Shea in the summer of 2008, it’s not really a concert film. Instead, it cleverly weaves highlights from Joel’s shows and the history of the Mets. A mostly nostalgic portrait with a warm voiceover provided by Alec Baldwin and talking heads ranging from Mets greats like Tom Seaver to Joel’s friends like Christie Brinkley, it focuses on the major triumphs of both the team and the artist, never dwelling for very long on the negative side of things.

As a historical document, its treatment of both its subjects is superficial. Seemingly important words and phrases like “Casey Stengel,” “Jerry Koosman,” “The Stranger,” “The Nylon Curtain,” are never uttered. Joel’s third wife Katie Lee appears briefly, but her relationship to Joel is never explained. The Mets’ two World Series defeats (including a soul-crushing loss to the Yankees) don’t come up at all and Joel’s continuing, frustrating retirement from pop songwriting since 1993’s “River of Dreams” is barely mentioned, except for an on-stage acknowledgement that he sold out Shea without putting out an album in 15 years. Realistically, there’s enough material here for two different documentaries and shrinking them both into one 95-minute movie comes at a cost of some depth.

04272010_LastPlayatShea2.jpgWhat is here, though, moves along briskly with fun anecdotes from Joel and the former Mets; I particularly enjoyed learning about Shea groundskeeper Pete Flynn, who tended to the stadium’s Kentucky Bluegrass for every one of its 44 seasons and who, according to Mike Piazza, would watch the occasional promotional events where children were allowed to run on his field boiling with rage at their intrusion. Non-Joel fans might chide director Paul Crowder’s on-the-nose soundtrack selections — his choice, for instance, to score Joel’s interview about his traitorous ex-brother-in-law and manager to the soundtrack of “Honesty” — but they accurately reflect the directness of Joel’s music, which has always been more about storytelling than poetry. If Crowder’s technique is blunt, it’s never more so than his subject’s.

“The Last Play at Shea” strikes a celebratory tone throughout, not surprisingly, given that one of the two primary producers, Steve Cohen, worked as Joel’s live production designer and director for 36 years. (According to Cohen’s statement in the press notes, he developed the film on orders from Joel.) As enjoyable as “The Last Play at Shea” is, there are enough moments of richer insight nibbling at its edges to make you wonder what it would look like if had it been shepherded by folks who weren’t longtime employees of its subject. Its most fascinating segments are the ones that reveal, often indirectly, the darkness in Joel’s life. This is a man who loves music who has been repeatedly hurt by the music business, who’s sold more than 100 million albums but who seemingly can’t stand the way he looks, repeatedly putting down his physical appearance and describing himself at one point as an “unbelievably not good-looking guy.”

Back when it was still around, people talked about Shea the same way; Mets star Darryl Strawberry even calls it “a dump” in the film. They tore that wonderful dump down to make room for the Mets new home, Citi Field. If Shea and Billy are as linked as “The Last Play at Shea” argues they are, that makes you wonder what he will do next.

“The Last Play at Shea” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “The Last Play at Shea,” Spitfire Productions, 2010]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.