Welcome back to BCB After Dark, the stylish stop for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Thanks for stopping by for the party tonight. We’re pretty crowded, but there are still a few tables available. Tell us if there is anything we can do to make your time with us more enjoyable. No cover charge tonight, but there is a two-drink minimum. Which you bring yourself.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Tonight the Cubs finished off a sweep of the Mets with a 6-3 win in Queens. The Cubs scored six runs in the first inning and made that lead hold up, despite not scoring again. It was the Cubs’ first three-game sweep since they played in Philadelphia right after the All-Star Break. And it was the first time the Mets were swept in a three-game series all year.
Last night I asked you if you thought that rookie pitcher Javier Assad would make the Opening Day roster (if healthy) next year. So far, you seem to be impressed with the young Mexican hurler because 79 percent of you thought that Assad has a place on the roster waiting for him next Spring.
Here’s the part where I talk about movies and jazz. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
To close out our tribute to the late, great pianist and Chicago legend Ramsey Lewis, we have this quiet piano piece that Seattle’s KNKX radio re-released this week upon Lewis’ passing. I believe this is from 2006 and it’s “Clouds in Reverie.” It’s just Lewis and his piano.
I started to write about the 1981 crime thriller Thief on Monday night/Tuesday morning and promised to finish it tonight. You should certainly go back and read that if you haven’t already. What I can say about it is that it’s a stylish neo-noir that takes enough of a break from the cool shots and pulsating electronic music to actually give stars James Caan and Tuesday Weld a chance to act from time to time. The film, which is the directing debut of Michael Mann, is certainly worth watching.
Caan stars as Frank, an ex-con who is working as a jewel thief, a skill he learned from his mentor inside prison, Okla (Willie Nelson). Frank also owns a bar and a Cadillac dealership which are real businesses, but he mostly uses them as a place to launder the money he makes from jewel heists.
But Frank actually wants to put his life of crime behind him. He has a “vision board” (actually just a folded up piece of paper) with pictures on it that he carries with him everywhere. One of his goals is to settle down and start a family with Jessie (Weld), a cashier at a diner that he has just started dating. But he ends up having to do one last job before he retires.
As an aside, in the history of movies, has any “one last job before retirement” plot ever worked out well for the protagonist? I’m sure it probably has, but I’m not thinking of one. Maybe one where they are only planning to do one job, but then there is always a sequel.
The film opens in typical Michael Mann fashion, a rainy night in Chicago, shot at stylishly odd angles and with pulsating music in the background. It cuts to Caan as Frank drilling into a safe. It’s a dance of a drill and sparks set to the tune of the Tangerine Dream soundtrack.
Some Spoilers to follow:
Frank breaks open the safe and steals only the jewels and cash, leaving anything of else of value behind. He takes it to his usual fence, who examines the haul and tells him that the man he re-sells the jewels to wants to meet him. Frank’s not interested and the two men agree to meet to finish the sale the next day.
The next day, Frank’s fence turns up dead. It turns out that the fence’s boss, Leo (Robert Prosky) is a big man in the Chicago Outfit and he decided to eliminate the middleman so Frank would have to deal with him. (I’m not sure the film ever specifically mentions he’s a member of the Outfit, but Prosky as Leo is made to look a ton like Joey Aiuppa, the head of the Outfit at the time.)
Frank has no interest in working for Leo, but he’s forced to change his mind after meeting with Okla in prison. It turns out that Okla is dying of cancer and he doesn’t want to die in prison. Frank agrees to work for Leo for one job in order to earn enough money to bribe a judge to grant parole to Okla, as well as to earn enough money for Frank and Jessie to start a life together.
After Okla’s death, Frank begins to substitute Leo as a father figure and mentor for Okla. That can’t be good. I won’t go any further on that point, but as anyone can guess, Leo doesn’t have Frank’s best interest at heart and the betrayal leads to a showdown.
Oh, there’s also a subplot about some crooked Chicago cops noticing Frank (because he’s seen with Leo), demanding a payoff and then beating Frank up when they don’t get one. I thought that was the weakest part of the film. Frank is in enough trouble with Leo and Frank isn’t the type of person to go to the cops for help anyway. I think it is just in there to satisfy neo-noir’s requirements that there has to be some police corruption and to add to the violence total.
The film starts out in this stylish proto-Miami Vice style with the first safe robbery, but it quickly moves into something more familiar at the time—the story of a man whom has been dealt a crappy hand by life trying to make something of himself. It’s in this middle part where the film discovers its heart and becomes something more than a by-the-numbers New Hollywood crime drama. Frank confesses to Jessie what he is (a jewel thief, an ex-con) and how he wants to move beyond that and he wants Jessie along for the ride. Caan shows a lot more vulnerability here than you would normally see out a character like this. The way that Caan and Weld interact on screen—two broken souls who have somehow found each other—makes the ending better.
At one point, Jessie has to confess that she’s unable to have children, which derails part of Frank’s vision-board plan. But Frank just says they’ll adopt, only to later learn that adoption agencies aren’t in the habit of placing kids with ex-cons. Here Caan allows himself to get vulnerable again, losing his cool and exploding at the agency. That lack of emotional control isn’t something you’d see out of the normal “cool, tough” guys of the 1970s like Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood. Their whole schtick was that keeping your emotions under control at all times equals strength. But Caan deviates from that here, although when his back is up against the wall with Leo, Frank is able to keep his wits about him.
If you feel attention to detail is important, then Thief is the film for you. Mann consulted with several (presumably) former safecrackers as to how the actual mechanics of a job like the ones Frank pulled could be carried out. But more importantly, the camera takes you into the details whether you like it or not. Thief was not only Mann’s first feature film, it was also the first film as cinematographer for Donald E. Thorin, who went on to do the same job for such hit films of the eighties and nineties as An Officer and a Gentleman, Against All Odds, Purple Rain, Midnight Run, Scent of a Woman, First Wives Club and many others. After watching the camera work in Thief, you can understand why so many directors wanted to hire Thorin afterwards.
The camera is normally in tight on the machinery that Frank is using. If Frank is breaking into a safe, you’re going to get a closeup of the drill going through metal. If he’s using a blowtorch, the camera shows the sparks flying out of the dark background. Frank visits a foundry at one point and people are pouring hot, molten metal in the background. The visuals of steel and sparks and flame all dance to the tune of the Tangerine Dream electronic soundtrack. If you like machinery and flames, this is the film for you.
Also watch Thief if you just want to see Chicago in the 1970s. There are a lot of street scenes that shows the city in all of its gritty, run-down glory. As I mentioned earlier this week, it also features either the film debut or almost-debut of Chicago actors Jim Belushi, Dennis Farina and William Petersen.
On one level, Thief is a stylish neo-noir heist movie for the 1980s. You can certainly enjoy it on that level and I did. But James Caan often cited Thief as the film that he did his best work as an actor in and you can enjoy it for that as well. It’s a character study of a cool, tough guy who is hiding some real vulnerability. But don’t worry. When it comes time to kick butt, Frank kicks butt.
If you want a different view, here is Siskel & Ebert’s review of the film back in 1981. Some of the dialog is NSFW. Also, if you want to avoid spoilers, stop the video well before Ebert stops speaking as whomever made this video put parts of the ending of the film after the review. If you want Ebert’s full review of the film, you can find it here.
Just a reminder, Thief is available on Amazon Prime at the moment.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and the movies.
I’m basing tonight’s poll question on this article in The Athletic (sub. req. naturally) by Sahadev Sharma about three bright spots of the Cubs this year. In fact, he calls three players: Seiya Suzuki, Nico Hoerner and Justin Steele as the “building blocks” for the future.
I think most Cubs fans would agree that those three have been bright spots this year. Sharma admits that other players, like Brandon Hughes, Nick Madrigal and especially Keegan Thompson, could also have been considered, but he considers the trio of Suzuki, Hoerner and Steele to be the most-likely foundation upon which the “next great Cubs team” will be built.
I’m not going to ask you if you think Sharma picked the right three players. Instead, I’m going to ask you which of those three will be the most important player on the Cubs going forward. When the Cubs win their fourth World Series later in this decade (and they will), which one of those three players will have played the largest role in bringing that about? Which one is the most irreplaceable?
I’m going to give you a “Someone else” option tonight so if you want to write in “Keegan Thompson” or “Christopher Morel” in the comments, I’ll let you do so. And I’m not asking if one of these three players will be the best or most important player on the next Cubs World Series champion. Maybe that player will be Pete Crow-Armstrong, Jordan Wicks or some free agent like Carlos Correa. But I am asking who will be the most important player going forward who is currently on the team.
So who is it? Who is the most important building block currently on the Cubs? Suzuki? Hoerner? Steele? Someone else?
Who is the most-important building block currently on the Cubs?
This poll is closed
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