Saturday, August 30, 2008
To add insult to injury, the commissioner's office has told Eric Hosmer to stop practicing. There's much more on the matter here (membership required) and here. It is all related to the Pedro Alvarez nonsense coming out of Pittsburgh--both are Scott Boras clients--but I think the last thing the lowly Royals need is something this ridiculous to be imposed upon them.
Both sides are happy in Kansas City, so what gives with the decree from on high mandating that Hosmer not play after already suiting up for three games in Rookie Ball?
That other team in Kansas City that I've been souring on for a few years now is about to start playing that game they don't play very well. If they keep playing it as poorly as they did last year, it seems as though a change will be made.
All I can say about that, is that I wish it happened about four years ago. The time has come, Clark. Cut the cord.
- not write about the Royals being insanely depressing
- not write the long past due review of Tropic Thunder
- spout off about politics
Hot on the heels of what could at the very least be considered an extremely well received acceptance speech from Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, John McCain saw fit to name his vice presidential running mate. The person he chose was one that most were not thinking about, but by now, this is news to no one.
Up until 2006, his running mate had exactly six years of experience on the Wasilla City Council and served six years as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. I know people who spent a fair amount of their childhood in Wasilla. It's never been described as anything resembling a booming metropolis. After two terms as Mayor, the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee served for two years as Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a post the nominee resigned from citing pervasive corruption from within and shortly thereafter blowing the whistle on fellow party members.
Perhaps the résumé was not the determining factor in selecting a running mate in McCain's mind, though. The determining factor certainly wasn't familiarity with the running mate, as they had reportedly only spoken once prior to the phone call asking for acceptance of the nomination.
Just to complete this exercise, here are some of the neophyte's stances, beliefs, and actions while in office (all taken from wikipedia, so I guess this could be typified as lazy research, but you'll get my point):
- originally supported the building of "The Bridge to Nowhere" until national scrutiny grew so large that it was no longer tenable
- is being investigated for impropriety in having fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan after Monegan refused to fire a trooper who was in the midst of a custody battle with the Governor's sister, which is the second recorded incident in which the nominee has been accused of firing a person for political/personal reasons
- Monegan's replacement was a man who had previously been accused of sexual harrassing a subordinate
- publicly supported Pat Buchanan's bid for the presidency in 1996
- advocates drilling in ANWR
- does not believe climate change is man-made, discounting the science as 'unreliable' and attributing the melting of the ice in the Arctic Circle to causes other than human activity
- threatened lawsuit against Republican United States Secretary of the Interior, Dick Kempthorne, after the Department of the Interior designated polar bears an endangered species, all from fear that the designation would hinder oil and gas development on Alaska's northern and northwestern coasts
- is pro-life
Of course, the Governor of Alaska is Sarah Palin, as we all know now. The motivation behind the nomination seems fairly clear.
I can't speak to the mindset of the woman who feels as though she has been slighted through the political process for her whole life.
I can say that if it were the group I most closely associate myself with being slighted politically I'd view the nomination of such an unqualified person for the reasons that seem to be no more than shameless pandering as a slap to the face.
Moreover, what does it say about the Republican Party when the best candidate they have to try to woo away some of the spurned Hillary supporters has the résumé of Sarah Palin?
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
We got in, obviously. And excepting a jackass not heeding the advice of the staff before the show and shutting their cellphone off* because it interferes with their equipment and the dude working on growing dreads directly in front of me having sharted at about 8:01, the experience was great.
*The abuse of cellphones has become a plague on society. People are so attached to their fucking cellphones--and as such so detached from the world that exists outside of their ever shrinking bubble--that they can't interact properly in public anymore. If you're asked to turn your cellphone off, turn your goddamn cellphone off. This goes for airplanes, movie theaters, studios where broadcasts are being recorded, and especially the counter of a business where the employee is supposed to be helping your inconsiderate ass. HANG UP YOUR FUCKING PHONES, YOU SELF-INVOLVED FUCKS! All right, that's the last cellphone abuse rant for at least a day. I'd say I apologize, but when people are on their cellphone for an entire workout session at the gym this world is past fucked on the matter.
Being one who is terrible at remembering orders of setlists, I'll wait until I see one posted to insert the link to it somewhere in this general vicinity. What I can tell you is that once again, many of the songs have been radically reworked. If you've seen Sam Beam and company more than once, you know that he's not one to rest on his laurels. If you've somehow managed to not have heard Iron and Wine releases past Our Endless Numbered Days, I can tell you that much of what has come since has the vibe of, say, "Free Until They Cut Me Down" or "On Your Wings" but with much more instrumentation (three guitars, organ/piano, two men on percussion, violin through a pedal). Basically, think outro from "On Your Wings" with a full-on freak out. But honestly, if you haven't heard the new Iron and Wine stuff, I don't really want to talk to you.
Moving on... As has generally happened when I've seen Iron and Wine, the 400 or so people in the studio were treated to a four-song set of low-key, Sam and Sarah tunes to warm us up, kicking it off with "Each Coming Night". Unlike what was to follow, they played it pretty close to the studio track. From there on, there were some pretty drastic rearrangements. To illustrate my point, I've now seen "Boy With a Coin" performed twice. Each time it was completely different than the album, but neither version matched even remotely. "Woman King" was very different, at the end devolving into a primordial musical muck--re-forming on the other side into (if memory serves me correctly) "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)". The complete reinvention of "Love and Some Verses" was spectacular, while their rendition of "Upward Over the Mountain" was incredibly moving.
Perhaps the most fun part of the show (aside from the constant cheering for Paul Niehaus repeatedly encouraged by Sam), however, was wondering how PBS was going to get around all of the cursing. For instance, in the closer of the regular set, "Trapeze Swinger", "Fuck the man" is a very central lyric. In "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car", there's an easily miss-able lyric on "birds shitting". It really seemed like they played just about every song in the Iron and Wine catalog that cursed, which is really funny to me.
But you'll see all of these things soon enough. If you get a chance to see him proper before then, do so.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
As this is essentially a platform for me to spout off about whatever tickles my fancy, prepare for my barely informed political views to litter the net.
I am excited about the Democratic ticket. Obviously, I have written before about how I feel about Obama. To paraphrase my prior statements, I have a political man-crush on him. I have often found myself agreeing with what politicians have had to say, but the occasions that I have actually been moved by what a politician has said have been rare to say the least.
From the moment he took the podium at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Barack Obama has spoken to my political hopes and dreams. He has inspired often. He has restored a bit of the hope I once had for the future of the country I call home.
Sure, there have been bumps in the road. Some of his votes and statements after seizing the nomination have incensed those further to his left.
His FISA vote rankled his most idealistic supporters, but to vote against what amounts to a National Security bill in this climate would distanced him from many of the centrist independents that he'll clearly be relying on to win this election. Too much hinges on this election to be that reckless. And unlike his opponent, who later bashed Obama, he actually showed up to cast his vote. Absolving the phone companies for their complicity in the wiretapping program may be upsetting, but the alternative would merely tie up the courts costing the taxpayers what would surely figure to be millions of dollars when all is said and done. Moreover, any domestic wiretapping is still subject to judicial oversight in the form of obtaining warrants, so much of the outrage from the left wing of the party seems to me to be at least a little on the alarmist side.
There's no getting around it: To win the election, Obama will have to hedge to the center.
All that being said, keeping up with the election has been a bit tiresome of late. There's been very little that has happened, and honestly the partisan bickering and growing mud-slinging can wear on a person.
In choosing Biden as his running mate, Obama has given me something to be excited about again. Biden was the only other candidate for the Democratic nomination I was really excited about when the primaries began. Now that he's the Vice Presidential candidate, I'm ecstatic about the ticket. Maybe an Obama/Webb ticket would have been better, but he pulled his name out of contention ages ago, and Biden certainly offers the experience needed to legitimize the ticket in the eyes of the doubters.
I can safely say I'm looking forward to the Vice Presidential debates that are sure to come, as Biden will no doubt give his opponent a proper lashing.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Is it too early to hope for them to just take a dive and make a run at the first pick of the draft next year?
Hell, Soria got tagged last night.
I'm just glad I wasn't watching as the Royals squandered a great Gil Meche start.
Maybe the Royals will decide to re-send Newman back to Omaha and call Rosa up to see what they've got. I'm sure that starts his service time sooner than they want, though. Is it worth not having him up and having to watch Newman, though? I kind of think it's not.
And not that I'm trying to relish the injury of a Royal, but maybe the broken face of Mitch Maier will lead to the call-up of Kila and the shifting of Gload to the outfield where he can rip balls down from the wall with aplomb.
Only it won't. Gathright will get called up, and we'll have to wait and see if Kila is ready for the bigs.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Slight misrepresentation aside, I would have to say I agree for the most part with his take on the series. I do disagree on his admiration of Jennifer Carpenter, the actress who plays Deb, Dexter's adoptive sister, who I find to be irritating and strange looking, but the attraction issue is obviously a matter of subjectivity that is anything but universal*. I also thought it a bit odd to force "The Shield"--a show that I am personally a fan of--into his review of "Dexter", solely because of the anti-hero aspects of each show, where the comparisons more or less end there. To pick a review apart any further is probably a little ridiculous, though, so I'll end this moronic exercise in critical nitpicking and get to my point.
This fact became increasingly clear to me when a good friend who shall remain nameless but seemed normal to me until this point confessed not two weeks ago to his first crush being Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl in Popeye.
Quint's take on the two seasons of "Dexter" is that they're both very good (agreed), but that the simplicity of the first season worked better for him, which is totally fine. I'm certainly not saying that he cannot have this opinion, or that his opinion is wrong in any way, shape, or form. What I am saying is that I thought the first season was merely pretty good television with some really great acting and some stellar episodic writing, but it was perhaps lacking a gripping nature to its season-long story arc.
Don't get me wrong, the first season was good. Hell, it was good enough to get me to keep watching for a second season.
The second season, however, was amazing. Honestly, I am hard-pressed to come up with a season of any show (other than "The Wire") in the past five years or so that was more addictively great than the second season of "Dexter". As soon as the vigilante serial killer, Dexter, has the cross-hairs trained on him, the show becomes an entirely new level of great with intrigue at every turn and lives hanging in the balance, especially our hero's. The tension engulfs every episode as the season builds to its fruitful climax, and any viewer cannot help but feel sated at completing the second season.
My only worry is that I truly cannot see how the show can go anywhere but down from where it is now, as it reached such great heights that it would seem impossible to continue producing a show at the level of excellence it achieved last season.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Right before the midnight deadline passed, they got Eric Hosmer's name on the line for a mere $6 million minor league contract. Another Boras client, another signing just under the wire.
Obviously, Hosmer may not pan out--maybe none of their signings do--but I have to say it's nice to see them spend the kind of money they're spending on building up their farm system. The deeper the farm system, the better they can be in the long term, as free agent acquisitions are merely short-term solutions whereas a strong farm system allows them to reload early and often, much like the Braves did through the '90's and the Marlins seem to be doing lately.
Once again, the internet has been spotty at best, so I'm going to wait to post a review of Tropic Thunder. I may try to go to it again in the next day or two to focus it a little more.
Friday, August 15, 2008
As far as their drafts under Moore's watch are concerned, they seem to have decided that they don't need to worry about slot and previous signability issues as much, going more for the talent than the price tag. It is certainly nice to see such a shift in philosophy (not to mention the seemingly more studious approach to the whole thing--we're not talking about Colt Griffin being drafted here). The Tigers were willing to draft players who fell as the result of signing worries and righted the ship pretty quickly. Sure, they seem to have gone overboard on the excess front pretty quickly as all reports are that they'll be slashing their exorbitant payroll, but they were able to obtain the likes of Miguel Cabrera because they took guys like Andrew Miller, who fell because of financial concerns.
Granted, if Eric Hosmer does not sign, the Royals get a compensatory pick (I seem to remember having read that it's the fifth pick overall), but I worry about the tone that sets when the Hot Stove kicks into high gear. Detroit was legitimized once they started showing no hesitancy at spending money and accordingly showing free agents that they were trying to build a winning team. The Royals can do that, too, and can learn from the extremes the Tigers went to.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Carlos Quentin: Black Hole Sucking Balls into the Vortex of His Plate-Covering Midget-Squat Batting Stance
Now, I could vent about the dismal play of the Royals in Comiskey X, or whatever they're calling that place now, and how Kansas City finds new exciting ways to get into the record books (Four straight long balls given up! Finally! We waited so long for this!). I'm not going to though.
Carlos Quentin got hit by a pitch again. This marks the sixth straight game in which he's gotten plunked.
He deserves it.
Even Ozzie Guillen understands why he's getting hit. Straight from Rick Gano's AP post-game write-up:
"Carlos is a hit magnet. … The way he hits, (he) stands over the plate,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “If Carlos gets hit the way he gets hit, I don’t mind that. But if he gets hit the way I don’t think he should get hit, then it’s a problem."I can't stand watching Carlos Quentin bat. He squats down so low that his strike zone is about six inches from top to bottom. He stands six feet two inches tall. Not only is he trying to win a limbo contest without bending over backwards, but he practically stands on the plate. As far as I'm concerned he's cheating.
Crouching down to the point where your knees are higher than your butt is ludicrous. Not only does he look like he's trying to get a cheap base one way or another, but he looks ridiculous doing it. When Quentin's at the plate and the Sox aren't facing K.C., I turn the channel. When he's playing against the Royals, I watch in the hopes of him getting beaned again.
And sure, he's leading the American League in home runs (or at least he was yesterday), so it's working for him right now, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
So kudos go out to those who are taking back the inside of the plate. Hurrah, Kyle Davies! Hats off to you, Josh Beckett! Keep up the good work, David Aardsma! Domo arigato, Diasuke Matsuzaka! Fight the good fight, Jon Lester! Huzzah, Zach Miner!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I think it's time to take a break. Maybe I'll go see what these retard advocacy groups are all up in arms about. What they should be pissed about is all the roles of retards being given to guys like Sean Penn and Leonardo DiCaprio instead of guys like Chris Burke or that little guy in Simon Birch. Isn't that essentially like blackface?
Make that 18 innings without a run scored, by the way.
We Royals fans want this dream to come true. We don't ask for much. We get even less. Is it too much for us to get just this one insane breakout?
I don't think so.
So maybe the Royals have lucked into the next Steve Balboni. Isn't it sad we have to hope for that?
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I'm sitting here watching them get dominated by Javier Vazquez, managing a mere five hits through eight innings. He has ten strike outs, and before the third strike on DeJesus to give him #10, David looked at his bat and exhaled as if he were completely overwhelmed.
Brian Bannister managed to give up four hits, three of which were home runs, but he did make it a full seven innings, which is the first time he's accomplished that feat since June 23rd. That was also the last time he won a game. I don't think that's mere coincidence.
Honestly, aside from Zack Greinke becoming The Enforcer lately, there hasn't been a lot to like. Now, while I'll have to wait for the insider's knowledge on the subject until the sure-to-come entry from Sam Mellinger, I can say that it was pretty sweet watching the game Saturday with a casual baseball fan and getting to see Greinke peg Delmon Young, inciting an intervention which prevented a mound charge from the noted hot-head. Now I didn't have the time to rewind the game back to the second inning, but if I had been able to, I'd imagine that Delmon spent a little too much time admiring his fifth(!) home run of the season. Coming hot off the heels of a suspension-yielding start for a retaliatory bean ball, Greinke--ever the calculator--waited until he was nearing the 100-pitch mark yet again and nailed Delmon Young.
I loved it.
Much more than that painful first outing of Josh Newman that just ended.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Now much of these writings have been dedicated to the two franchises I follow mostly closely, the Royals and the Chiefs, so already I'm painting myself into a corner in which no one is interested in anything I'm writing about. Sure I could keep writing about Jason Segel's cock or Donna Reed being hot--apparently I'm not alone, as I just got a hit from someone who did a search for "hot Donna Reed"--but those posts really don't drum up that much traffic and I don't feel like I'm getting any repeaters for that anyway. In the end, I do need to keep writing about things that interest me.
So post #200 finds me exploring what feels to be a shifting in primary fandom.
I am a fan of two unsuccessful teams.
The Chiefs have not won a playoff game since January 16th of 1994, when Joe Montana led them to the AFC Championship game only to fall short in Buffalo. They have lost their last six playoff games, three to Indianapolis, one to Miami, one to Denver, and that one to start it all in Buffalo. It's been a long fourteen years. The Chiefs have lost their two most iconic players before their time due to death (Derrick Thomas) and a freak neck injury (Priest Holmes, who actually persevered through the injury that ended Bo Jackson's career). They have opted for perhaps the most conservative coach in the history of the NFL. They were awful last year, signed no free agent of true significance, sit something like $30 million below the salary cap, and had what on paper looked to be an all right draft but currently have their top two picks already nursing injuries on the sidelines. It certainly doesn't look like they're getting any closer to winning that elusive playoff game.
To even have to say that a playoff victory is elusive should speak loudly to the state of the Chiefs fan.
The Royals have had one winning season since the strike-shortened 1994 season. I may be mistaken, but I seem to recall that they are the only team in the history of Major League Baseball to have three straight 100-loss seasons. Almost any talent they have had hasn't blossomed until they're in a different uniform. They've been historically bad and don't have being an expansion team to blame for such ineptitude.
Even worse, I was not old enough to appreciate their sole World Series win, with the 1987 Series being the first I was able to watch. Many of my baseball memories as a youth are of seeing the Royals play the Twins in the Dome, though, with Bo Jackson seeming to be superhuman, and George Brett raking many a-double, and Saberhagen shredding the Twins. That all happened before the strike. Before the Royals turned down the chance to move to the National League. Before Herk Robinson. Or Allard Baird.
Since then I've had to take solace in the fact that I called Aaron Guiel's second home run in a meaningless game for an awful team. I've gotten to see Mike Sweeney destroy the Twins, but spend much of his career on the DL. I've gotten to see the Royals trade Jermaine Dye to the Rockies for Neifi Perez.
So, while the Chiefs have been frustrating, they've at least enjoyed enough success to have made the playoffs. The Royals have simply been terrible with very little upside.
Last year, at this time, I was immersed in reading up on preseason Chiefs news. I didn't think they were going to be good--probably in the 7 - 9 area--but I was interested. The Royals were about to break their string of 100-loss seasons with a 69 - 93 record, which was a step in the right direction but was nothing to get excited for.
Then last football season happened. The Chiefs were horrible. Unbearable to watch. The only bright spot on the whole season was the play of Jared Allen, who established himself as arguably the best pass rusher in the game. And he caught touchdown passes. And now he's a goddamn Viking.
To add insult to injury, the man who built the team up in his first ten years on the job only to have it crumble under his watch over the following ten years retained his job. I'm not a person to call for someone's head without cause. As much vitriol as I spit out, I don't think it stems from some irrational place. I'm not quick to freak out about things on a large scale. Sure, if someone drops a ball and the game is on the line, I'm going to verbalize my displeasure, but I don't play the part of the reactionary who wants that player cut. If there is a long line of futility and sub-par job performance, then the pattern does speak to me. Carl Peterson has established himself as someone who should no longer be in his position. And after last season, it looked like the Chiefs would have to move in a Peterson-free direction. Clark Hunt saw things differently, but I think I speak for at least a segment of the fan base when I say that I'm a bit disenfranchised.
The Royals, although mired in what looks sure to be another losing season, somehow seem to be on the upswing. Under the direction of Dayton Moore, the GM brought in from the Braves organization in the hopes of injecting their winning tradition into the Royals flailing organization, the Royals have made what seem to be largely shrewd moves. They now turn Bill Bavasi's refuse into a borderline prospect, wild arms into possibly league-average starters, sketchy middle relievers into pitching prospects, historically bad bullpens into the strength of the team, and Mexican League starting pitchers into one of the best closers in the game. Obviously, the Royals are not going to contend for the division. They might, however, contend for signing real free agents. Someone who could affect their win-loss record in a positive way. They have thrown a lot of money at Jose Guillen and Gil Meche, and both have paid off at least intermittently. Their rotation looks to be possibly taking shape for the future with Rosa, Cortes, and Hochevar giving hope to the believers in their respective settings. Sure, their farm system is still lacking in offensive firepower past a Hawaiian with power and question marks and first-round draft pick Mike Moustakas, who is without a clear position but murdering the ball regardless, but you get the sense that Dayton Moore may be able to remedy this situation.
So I find myself in the strange position of not giving a shit about the Chiefs. I'll watch their games. Don't get me wrong. But I'm not investing any time outside of watching their games and the posts following the games. What is there to hope for?
When you ask that question about the Royals, you can actually come up with an answer. Or at least I can.
So my priorities are shifting. I'll be watching for the Royals to be active in the Hot Stove bidding wars, just like they were last year. I'll be monitoring their farm system. I'll be reading all those great Royals blogs. I'll be largely ignoring the Chiefs.
And I think I'll be happier for it.
Friday, August 8, 2008
I haven't really weighed in on the whole saga because who gives a fuck what I think about it, but I'll remain silent no longer.
I know the Packers were moving on without him once he announced his retirement. I know they think Aaron Rodgers is the future or at least feel that they need to find out what they've got in him. I know it's hard on the fans and the franchise to have their most iconic player who happens to hold just about every passing record known to man flip-flop back and forth between retiring and not retiring. I know some of the players think it is time to go with Aaron Rodgers.
But this is Brett Fucking Favre. Can anyone really think Aaron Rodgers is taking them to the NFC Championship Game this season? Hell, I don't even think he's the best quarterback on the team without Favre. I'd be willing to bet money on Brohm being their starter by next season. With the same team and Rodgers at the helm last year, the Packers are lucky to get to 9 - 7.
Will the Jets make the playoffs? Probably not. But they aren't exactly a good team. It will give me something to talk about with my Jets fan friends, Leo and Brian, as I'll certainly be more inclined to watching Jets games now.
At least he'll still be wearing a classy uniform. He'd have looked horrible in that new Vikings uni or that atrocious Buccaneers one.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
The Baseball Project is the fifteen-years-in-the-making love-child of Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, who discovered one another's love for the game all the way back in 1992 but were never able to get around to recording until last year. Fifteen years must have given them plenty of time to think about what they wanted to record because the subject matter ranges from unjust statistical requirements for perfect games to the mysterious death of Ed Delahanty to reminiscence of a childhood trip to a pennant race game between the Dodgers and the Giants to Black Jack McDowell's middle finger.
Honestly, the subject matter is particularly appealing to me. There's no point in glossing over the fact that my fandom of baseball will largely affect my feelings on this album. A unique point-of-view is given to the McDowell finger-incident at Yankee Stadium, as Scott McCaughey and Mike Mills had actually been partying together within days of the incident. The importance of Fernandomania to the Mexican population of Los Angeles is illustrated in a Spanish language ode to Fernando Valenzuela by a displaced former resident of Chavez Ravine. Harvey Haddix's lost perfect game in the 13th inning and the frustration in the pursuit of perfection encapsulated by the preposterousness of having pitched 12 perfect innings only to have your team not score a single run for their cause is the stuff that makes baseball's lore so rich and endearing. Each song is complete with liner note introductions to each song detailing what informed them.
A rock album about these things will more than likely appeal to me. That being said, I have The Minus 5 "Down with Wilco" and have listened to it twice in the five or six years I've owned it, and I'm no longer the insane R.E.M fan I once was. Me liking this album was no sure thing. But songs like "Ted Fucking Williams" with its Bolan-y rollick or the deft exploration of baseball's duplicitous villification of Mark McGwire of "Broken Man" or the country rock stomp "Harvey Haddix" are good songs, regardless of subject matter.
So, yes, there's been a good record made about baseball. Bet you never thought you'd see that day. And now you can listen to an album in which David Wells is name-dropped in not one, but two songs, and mentioned in the liner notes to another song.
Honestly, though, the thing that is most abundantly clear upon watching the film is that James Franco has been wasted in roles that were ill-suited for him pretty much since "Freaks and Geeks" went off the air. For the past few years, he has toiled away in serious roles (either as a lead in what amounted to be a crappy film or a supporting character in films of varying degrees of success while having his talents under-utilized), acting opposite of formerly great actors and never-will-be's in schlock that has been largely beneath him. Luckily, Pineapple Express is no Flyboys, and the great James Franco has stood up to reclaim his reputation in the role of Saul Silver, Dale Denton's drug dealer.
It certainly doesn't hurt that he finally has a great cast, director, and script to work with. Many of the usual Apatow troop are present. There is the obligatory creepy cameo by Joe Lo Truglio. Kevin Corrigan is back to play the odd tough guy. Ken Jeong, Craig Robinson, and Bill Hader have supporting roles and cameos. Apatow mainstay Seth Rogen is obviously also present. Newcomer to the group, Gary Cole is really fun. Danny McBride is funny as shit. The beautiful Amber Heard is hilarious as Dale's girlfriend. Hell, Rosie Perez manages to not be distractingly aggravating, which I was not sure was possible.
Of the Apatow productions, one could certainly argue that Pineapple Express has the most technically proficient director, too. Terrence Malick-approved David Gordon Green gets to take the reigns here, and the result is the best looking film Apatow Productions has released. It is certainly the most demanding. There are chase scenes and explosions and stunts galore. With Green manning the megaphone and guiding the film, there is nothing that is not executed exceptionally. The multiple fight scenes are pulled off without any hitches and successfully balance the look and feel of an action film with the intrinsic comedy of the Rogen/Goldberg screenplay. The car chase in the police cruisers manages to be both insanely funny and dramatically intense at the same time. This is simply a good looking film.
What makes the film, though, is the Franco/Rogen connection. Their energy brings the film to life. Sure, they're mostly bumbling retards who should probably have died about four different times in the film, but their stumbling through their absurd predicament is what makes the film so great. Essentially, the audience is treated to a stoner modernization of the wrong man story Hitchcock was so enamored with in films like The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps, and North by Northwest--the greatness inherent in that being that you've got two people who are absolutely ill-equipped to pull themselves out of the situation in which they find themselves mired. Pineapple Express is not some dumbed down stoner flick like Dude, Where's My Car? or Half Baked. There is an actual narrative that is patently absent in other films of the stoner ilk. Hell, just saying there is a narrative is enough to set it apart from that fare. Dale and Saul's quest is not to find their misplaced car or get to fucking White Castle. Theirs is one of survival. They are thrust into an action film, and the marriage of the two forms is bliss.
As I have said in other reviews of comedies, I will refrain from revealing any jokes, as the freshness of the humor is especially important in my eyes, but it should come as no surprise that just like the action, the comedy in the film works. Franco and Rogen's comedic instincts are superb, and there should be no disappointment in anything in the film from the humor standpoint.
Pineapple Express is another winning film from Apatow Productions and leaves you wanting more. I guess that's all you can ask. They can only make so many films a year.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
In other news, Zack Greinke's final pitch plunked Nick Swisher in the hip, and my first thought was, "THAT's how you hit somebody."
Greinke said the right things afterward, that he had trouble with the fastball inside to lefties all day, that the 7th was his worst inning, it was hot out there, so maybe he just a little tired.
So then I thought, "THAT's how you avoid a suspension."I couldn't help but laugh at the suspension line. When you watch the replay, there can be no doubt that Greinke is trying to hit that creepy bearded Swisher. He pegs him right in the ass. And it looks like it hurts. It's pretty nice to see.
Maybe Mellinger is right, and the Royals have found their new rival. It shouldn't be too hard to learn to hate these White Sox.
Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is historically great. Sure, this is an en vogue statement. He died tragically young. The buzz behind his turn was deafening. The climate was obviously ripe for this groundswell of acclaim.
There is also a general public yearning to pay respect to the posthumous performances of those who have passed, even when such adoration is not warranted. It's the same kind of mindset that governs the voting for the Oscars with what amounts to semi-annual career achievement awards given out to undeserving performances.
Ledger's performance operates entirely outside of that sphere of thought. Anyone who saw Brokeback Mountain could see his capacity for inspiring awe in an audience, as his performance was the one that pulled that film out of the realm of the ordinary. Granted his track record was anything but spotless, but it often seemed like the material was beneath his skill-level. This material is not. The anarchic, amoral villainy of the Joker in Nolan's Batman universe is so unsettling and unpredictable that perhaps a lesser actor could have emblazened the Joker into the collective psyche of the film-going public. I'm not sure that many other actors would have gone to the great lengths that Ledger did in placing himself in that mindset, though.
This Joker goes into the pantheon of movie villains. Its home there is instantaneously apparent. Put him in the conversation with last year's chilling Anton Chigurh, Nurse Ratched, or Regan in The Exorcist and the others on the shortlist for greatest villains in the cinema's history.
First, it is probably necessary to determine what separates Ledger's Joker from Nicholson's. Nicholson was all fine and dandy. It was perfectly in tone with Burton's vision. He stole the show, much like you could argue Ledger does in The Dark Knight. He had fun with the Joker, and I don't think there would have been many arguing against Nicholson having owned the role. Where Nicholson's Joker is in line with Burton's somewhat more overt comic book tone, Ledger's Joker is legitimately scary in Nolan's slightly more contemporary starkly realistic take on the franchise.
In his largely faceless introductory scene, we are introduced to the Joker in a sepia-tinged daylight bank robbery that would have fit more in a modern crime epic directed by the likes of Scorsese or Ridley Scott than in a superhero flick. It is this scene in which we are introduced to the brashly unpredictable actions of the Joker. His reputation precedes him, or at least the revelation of his face. As each henchman perishes at the hand of another once his utility to the heist has run its course, there is no pause in judging this a different Joker. The ballsiness of his plan to rob a mob-run bank when combined with the fact that he systematically eliminates five of his own men over the run of the first six minutes of the film take care of any hesitancy to view him in an entirely unique light. The fact that his own henchmen are gossiping about him as if he's a spectre lend an air of mystery and unease to him before his face is even shown. And even though you kind of know that man whose back is to the screen on that street corner in the open is the Joker, his initial facelessness lends to that mysteriousness.
His proposition to the mob bosses that follows is boldly hilarious and emboldens the impression that he truly follows no code. His shockingly funny magic trick and his calling out of squealers show that there is no fear in this Joker. Each time he flashes his lizard-like tongue action that marks the entire performance or every time he swoons quasi-drunkenly you can't help but marvel at the flair Ledger embodies the role with.
As the movie rolls on and his special brand of havoc is unleashed on Gotham City, the thing that sticks out is the sheer lawlessness his actions are meant to elicit. With each domino his actions topple, men and women are meant to forsake all rules of a morally-driven society in favor of a primal survivalism. His recruitment exercise, his ferry experiment, and ultimately his deconstruction of the white knight are all motivated by the sport of forcing chaos upon those who try to hold fast to a moral code. The harder they hold on, the harder the Joker hopes to make them fall, and his success is what strikes fear in the audience the most.
Amazingly, at the same time that fear lies deep within, there is the surface reaction of laughter at the Joker's way of carrying himself. While his motive is unnerving on a basic level, the way he carries himself is endearing. You at times find yourself almost rooting for the Joker to succeed. As he blows up a hospital, you find yourself laughing. He does crazy-ass shit. He stops by the wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser after having a gun to his head and follows his hand cleaning by blowing up the hall behind him. He dances maniacally over his shocked henchman as Batman lays on the ground. He burns a mountain of his own money with Lao on top of it because he simply didn't need it to begin with.
And maybe the beauty of the performance lies in that duality. The audience falls in love with the sociopath and perhaps that's the most disturbing aspect of the whole performance. Regardless, it is a sublime performance that has clearly struck a chord if you can judge that by the box office receipts.
Gil Meche has all four starts he's made since the break and has an ERA well under 3.00 in his last eleven starts.
Greinke has been flashing some dominant stuff and actually shredded the White Sox over the weekend.
Speaking of the White Sox over the weekend, how about that brawl and the later ejection of Greinke. Maybe it's not the responsible sports fan sentiment to root for your team to start brawling, but it is refreshing to see the Royals refuse to take shit off anyone. Greinke pegging Swisher in the ass later was the icing on the cake. Maybe the aggression will strike fear into the hearts of all comers. And sure, the bases were juiced, and Carrasco probably didn't mean to hit the clearly volatile but not particularly fearsome Miguel Olivo, but I'm not really caring that he charged the mound because this is a team that has been lacking in the fire for quite some time. If nothing else, I think Olivo and Guillen bring a passion to this team that was altogether absent prior to their arrival.
And let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Royals are not contending for the AL Central title this season, but maybe they can make that step back towards respectability that we Royals fans so desperately long for.
Our desires are simple ones.
Give us something to root for.
God knows the Chiefs won't.
And maybe the film has its negligible flaws--the continuation of Bale's scrambled voice while in Batman mode, the general dullness of Rachel Dawes as a character, the slightly big leap that the viewer has to make to buy into Harvey Dent's descent--but those complaints are minor and ultimately forgettable when they have been outshone so brightly by everything that succeeds. The list of success is not a short one. The screenplay is exceptionally smart and has great emotional depth. The score is phenomenal. The opening sequence with the eventual reveal of the Joker is extraordinarily sharp and masterfully sets the tone for the entire film. All of the action is edited superbly and choreographed seamlessly. There is little to no detachment when Bale is in suit or an effect is being inserted into the film--the dive into and escape from Lao's tower fortress in Hong Kong is convincing at all times. The starkness in Wally Pfister's cinematography gives this film a feeling of realism that no other superhero film even remotely approaches.
Just as in the first film, Christian Bale imbues his Bruce Wayne/Batman with a selfless determination to thwart the evils in Gotham that makes this film work. Without his realistically innate optimism and faith in man, The Dark Knight and its predecessor fall on their faces. As much as there are other great performances in this film, without the steady grounding of Christian Bale, this film would have failed.
The relationship between Michael Caine's Alfred and Bale's Bruce Wayne is also integral to the film. In addition to providing much of the comic relief in what is otherwise a relatively dark film, the variously maternal and paternal wisdom that Alfred provides the hero with allows Wayne to make the right decisions. And to say that Caine adds a certain degree of class and pedigree to the film should go without saying.
When speaking of class, the contributions of the oft misused Morgan Freeman--I am hard-pressed to come up with more than a role or two that he has done between The Shawshank Redemption and his playing of Lucius Fox that were even remotely worthy of him--and the chameleon Gary Oldman should not be overlooked. Freeman and Caine can be so convincingly authoritative that no disbelief need ever be suspended when words spill forth from their mouths. Luckily, the screenplay is so well thought out that there is no occasion in which either should not be believed. Gary Oldman has so thoroughly disappeared into his role as Jim Gordon that you could place him in "The Wire" as one of the few doing things right and he'd be right at home.
The public faces of the quest for justice are also solid. Maggie Gyllenhaal does what she can with a mostly archetypal character, and aside from an interrogation that sticks out slightly in a tonal sense, her Rachel Dawes is one that does not irritate. For most people, that is a step up from Katie Holmes. Where Rachel Dawes is not
a particularly well-rounded character, Aaron Eckhart gets to explore a wide range of emotion as Harvey Dent, upon whom hope for Gotham hinges precariously.
Without these performances maybe the film wouldn't be great. Without the performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker, the film wouldn't come even remotely close to the heights it reaches. Ledger's unnerving turn as the ultimate "agent of chaos" absolutely places this film into the canon. While certainly helped by the hushed chaos of the often single-note score that simmers under much of his action, the physicality and speech patterns that the late Ledger chose to inject into his Joker puts anything Nicholson did in Burton's film to shame. When he crashes Dent's fund-raising party at Bruce Wayne's penthouse, he does so with such whimsical malice that you can't help but react with laughter while feeling a sincere fear. The beauty of his entire turn is that as utterly scary as his actions are there is an undeniable draw to his sociopathy. While absolutely fucked up, his pencil trick is absolutely hilarious.
It is from the Joker that much of the horror of The Dark Knight is derived. While much of the action in the film is the result of retaliation against all that Batman has helped to do, the horror that the Joker unfurls on Gotham once he's given free reign by the cowering mob bosses is what is unnerving. Everything he forces upon people is meant to undermine the human moral code. He pits man against man repeatedly, taking away the perception of choice and imposing a much more primal survival instinct in its place. The fear of a society without a moral compass is so much scarier than anything in a slasher, and the depths of amorality that the Joker tries to take Gotham City to are stark to say the least.
The citizens of Gotham are justifiably panicked in The Dark Knight, which makes Batman's belief in them ever more moving. While they certainly give him hope in the end, his sacrifice for the betterment of Gotham is undeniably affecting, and his love for man is the force that carries you out of the theater with a strange swell of bittersweet pride in the actions of a character in a movie.