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BCB After Dark: The importance of utility

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks you who should have been the choice to be the Cubs Opening Day utility player

World Baseball Classic Pool A: Italy v Chinese Taipei
Miles Mastrobuoni
Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the coolest pre-party for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s the last week before Opening Day and we’re looking forward to spending all season with you. So glad you stopped by early. There is no cover charge tonight. We’ve got a few tables still available. Bring your own beverage.

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.

Last week I asked you how your opinion of the World Baseball Classic had changed after the 2023 tournament. In first place was “I always liked it, but now I like it more” with 43 percent of the vote. Those who have always loved it and still love it were second with 26 percent. In third place, with 15 percent, were those who dislike it and still dislike it about the same. Only 11 percent of the people who didn’t like the WBC before said that they’ve changed their minds.

Normally I don’t do a movie essay on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, but since this is actually Monday night’s edition that was preempted for the Nico Hoerner extension story, there’s one tonight. But you can skip it and the jazz if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight I’ve found this video of saxophonist Stan Getz playing with trumpeter Chet Baker in Stockholm in 1983. Chet sings in this one. The song is “Just Friends.” I don’t have a lot of information beyond that.

The first German version of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues in German) came out last year and was an international smash. The Edward Berger-directed film stars Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch and Daniel Brühl and won four Academy Awards this month: Best International Feature, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Production Design. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and three other production Oscars.

So this is a film that has won a lot of accolades. However, I’m not convinced that it deserved all of them. And I will say that if you’re going to watch just one version of All Quiet on the Western Front, you need to watch the 1930 version. The 2022 version may look great, but its beauty is really only skin deep. The more you dig into the film, the less you’ll find.

Let’s start out with what the film does well. It’s a glorious-looking movie with grand epic scenes of the the battles of World War I. Yes, there’s a lot of CGI going on here, but that’s true of every epic picture these days. As such, it’s not really a problem for me that the film won the Oscars for cinematography and production design. All Quiet looks great with a lot of attention to detail. One can see the work that went into it.

The actors are good with what they have to work with. The film is also in German, which rights a wrong of the previous two pictures. Last time, I wrote a little bit about the shameful history that Germany had with both the novel Im Westen nichts Neues and the 1930 version of the film. So it’s good to see that after 93 years, a German is finally willing to make an adaptation of one of that nation’s greatest novels of the early-20th century. (Although Netflix had to bankroll it.)

But whereas the novel and the earlier adaptations were a study of what war does to young men and society, this version of All Quiet has one message: War is bad because men get killed in gruesome ways. Yes, the 1930 version was certainly antiwar, but its indictment of war goes much deeper than “people die.”

The 1930 version sticks much closer to the novel than the 2022 version does. The 1930 version is hardly a comedy, but it does lighten the misery from time to time with some more light-hearted moments. The 2022 version is two-and-a-half hours of grim misery.

I said that the film looked glorious, but there’s a caveat there. The film seems gratuitous in the ways that it lingers over all the horrible way that people can die. The 1930 version has a shot of a pair of arms without a body hanging off some barbed wire, so it hardly sanitizes the war. But the 2022 version seems to want to try to top each atrocity with every fresh kill. We got the point after the first few mutilations.

But that’s not really the most egregious error of the 2022 version of All Quiet. The original version kept the time and location of the events vague in order to give the story a more universal feel—and to concentrate on the soldiers, for whom the names and places of the battles were irrelevant. This version clearly takes place in 1918 and in very specific places in France.

That’s not a fatal error, but the reason they do that is. Because the 2022 version of All Quiet constantly interrupts the story of Paul, Kat and the other soldiers in order to give a history lesson about the armistice talks. Now we have an All Quiet with real people and real events and grounded in history.

And why? We have Daniel Brühl (whom you may know as Zemo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) playing Matthias Erzberger, the real-life civilian government official designated to ask for an armistice from the French. Of course, if you know anything about Germany of 1918, all real power was held the generals, who give Erzberger his marching orders. The way the generals forced Erzberger and the civilians to sue for peace would lead to the “stab-in-the-back” legend that became a rallying cry of Nazism shortly thereafter.

What does this digression do to the film? On the positive side, it shows a bunch of uncaring generals living it up in luxury while Paul and his company get blown to bits. However, the idea that the rich and powerful declare the wars and the young and the poor fight it is hardly a new insight. It’s fine to emphasize that again, but it doesn’t add a lot to the film.

But the less-flattering way to look at this is to show that there were “good” Germans (Erzberger) and “bad” Frenchman. Erzberger tries to negotiate and get the best deal he can for Germany, but Marshal Foch uncaringly declines listen to his entreaties, instead giving him a brutal “take it or leave it” offer. Foch’s luxurious living quarters are constantly contrasted to the brutal life of the soldiers in the trenches.

Now yes, the German generals are mostly portrayed about as negatively as Foch is. But why does the film think that Foch and the French should have been more understanding of Germany? Who invaded whom? Whose country is getting pillaged by the German army? In the 1930 version, Kat’s food raids on farms mostly take place off camera. But in this version, we see Kat raiding the farms and then we see young French children, armed and devoid of any remaining humanity, trying to kill the Kat and Paul. I mean, how dare these French people react violently to the German soldiers who are blowing up the countryside and stealing their food?

(I think the answer goes back to the old theory that the harsh peace conditions that the Allies placed on Germany is what led to the rise of Nazism later. Even if that’s true—and the historiography is way too complicated to go into here—it’s not Foch’s job to be able to see that far into the future. Nor was it France’s job to be nice to Germany or they’ll vote for madness.)

But the worst part of this decision to add the armistice talks to the film is what they replaced. Presumably to keep the running time at 2 12 hours, all the scenes with Paul going home on leave and dealing with his family and hometown are cut from the film. But those were the most powerful scenes of the 1930 version. Second, those were the scenes that showed how war transforms a society beyond just killing people. Those were the scenes that illustrated how war had changed Paul and that the idealistic poet and philosopher who signed up was long dead, even should he physically survive the war.

This decision also lets the common German people off easy. In the 1930 version, the people of Paul’s hometown are shown to be as clueless and uncaring as the generals. Paul’s father sits him down to explain how Paul and his mates can “push on to Paris” at one point. Father and son don’t even speak the same language anymore. But all that is gone in the 2022 version.

The 2022 version of All Quiet on the Western Front is the cinematic equivalent of junk food. It looks great and there are some sweet performances in it. But once you finish it, you realize that there are a lot of empty calories in there.

Here’s the trailer for the 2022 version. Yeah, it really does look great. But it’s beauty is rather skin deep.

Welcome back to all of you who skip the music and the movies.

Tonight’s question is about Monday’s roster decision, and in particular the decision to keep Miles Mastrobuoni on the Opening Day roster and to send Christopher Morel down to the minors. Also the decision to trade Zach McKinstry to the Tigers, although that’s probably less controversial.

There was a three-way battle for that utility position on the Cubs and Mastrobuoni ended up winning it. You can’t say that Mastrobuoni didn’t have a good spring. Although he missed much of Spring Training as he was away with Italy in the World Baseball Classic, he did go 7 for 20 with six walks to only four strikeouts. There were no extra-base hits in that total, but he did hit two doubles in the WBC and went 5 for 18 there.

But Christopher Morel was no slouch this spring either. Morel was 14 for 52 with four doubles and four home runs, which tied for the team lead. And for all the troubles that he had late last year, Morel did hit 16 home runs last year for the Cubs in 113 games. Mastrobuoni has zero major league extra-base hits in his career (albeit in only 17 plate appearances). Morel’s infectious personality was also one of the bright spots of the 2022 season.

Both Morel and Mastrobuoni are defensively versatile. Both have played every position in the field (in the minors at least) except first base and catcher.

I assume the decision to trade McKinstry has fewer critics, although he has more major league experience than either Morel or Mastrobuoni. McKinstry hit .206 after coming over from the Dodgers last year, albeit with four home runs in 171 plate appearances. But this Spring Training, McKinstry was a sad 3 for 38 with a double at the plate.

So assuming that the Opening Day “utility” position on the Cubs was going to be held by either Morel, Mastrobuoni or McKinstry, who should have gotten it?


Who should have been the Cubs Opening Day utility player?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Miles Mastrobuoni
    (130 votes)
  • 1%
    Zach McKinstry
    (2 votes)
  • 32%
    Christopher Morel
    (64 votes)
196 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so very much for stopping by. It’s the most important week of the year before October and we’re glad to spend it with you. We know you have a lot of choices for late-night Cubs/jazz/film talk in a fake on-line nightclub setting and we appreciate that you picked us. Please get home safely. We can call you a ride if needed. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.