Saturday, May 31, 2008

(Tribe 2008): The Crisis (with apologies to the descendants of Thomas Paine)

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer bleacher bum and the sunshine Cleveland Indians fan will, in this crisis, shrink from the support of their team; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Possessing the worst-hitting squad in the modern history of this team, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as "a winning record" should not be highly rated.

The Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Minnesota Twins amongst other major teams across the league that can actually hit baseballs out of the freaking infield to enforce their tyranny, have basically declared that they have a right (not only to WIN) but "to stick our mangy heads further down in a swirling vortex of utter and total suck" that is the AL-Central and if being drowned in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon Earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to the god damnable Boston Red Sox.

Whether the contendability of this team was declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now enter into as an argument; my own simple opinion is, that had we have been able to win one more ALCS contest game eight months ago, it would have been much better.

We did not make a proper use of last winter, neither could we, while we were in our perpetually cash-strapped state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own; we have none to blame but ourselves (or perhaps the cold, merciless, spotty, cackling, ball busting, luggage-skinned hag that keeps this region's grandest optimistic hopes in an airless, cast-iron safe at the bottom of the Marianas Trench).

I thank providence, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it (or if nothing else a lot more free time once this team completes its fall from contention, if that is to be the Way of Things).

Once more the Indians are hitting and scoring; our newfound momentum is materializing fast, and we shall be able to open the next month of the campaign with our dependable twenty-five men, well prepared and clothed.

This is our situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious summer; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a triumphant Chicago — a depopulated Progressive Field — Tom Hamilton leaping in despair from the WTAM broadcast booth — summer without hope — our glorious ballpark turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for White Sox, and a 2009 pennant race to provide for, whose father we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.

May 31, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Ungainly title aside, the fourth film in the Indiana Jones series (and the first one since 1989), brings the legendary character into the 21st century largely unchanged from when we last met him, which starts things off on a pretty hopeful note. However, the increasingly tiresome machinery that drives your typical "summer blockbuster" can't help but make this reintroduction to an old friend an ultimately soulless and suspense-free adventure: in effect, no different than riding the old Iron Dragon coaster at Cedar Point.

This isn't to say that I despised this movie (nor do I hate that particular roller coaster for that matter), but my expectations for Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull were apparently set far too high and the resulting ride, while not unpleasant, was still just a ride, and not a particularly memorable one at that. As far as its place in the franchise is concerned, Crystal Skull isn't the worst of the bunch (that distinction is still held by the ungodly excruciating Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom), but it was nowhere near as satisfying as Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, never mind the original action classic Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Frustratingly, Crystal Skull starts off looking like it just might be up to the standards set by two-thirds of the original trilogy. The opening 45 minutes of the movie is easily the best stretch, beginning in the typical James Bond fashion that the series holds dear. We meet up with Indiana Jones being held prisoner by a gaggle of Russian soldiers led by Cate Blanchett (doing her best Nastasha Badenov impersonation). The Russians are in search of a special box hidden away in a vast Army supply warehouse (you can see the inevitable sight gag coming here from a mile away), and Jones reluctantly assists them before making a break for it and kicking off the first of many stunts and special effects set pieces to come.

Once Jones is safely back at his day job, we are gradually brought up to speed on what's been happening in his life over the previous twenty years (which apparently have passed in real time). As a decorated WWII hero and "part-time" teacher, Jones may be flintier with the passage of years but is still tough enough to believably hold his own in fistfights with men a third of his age, and it's a pleasure to see him on the silver screen again. Now paired up with teenager "Mutt" Williams (a rebellious, leather-clad hellion straight out of The Wild Bunch), Jones heads into the jungles of South America for unexpected reunions with an old flame and an older colleague, while tracking down the artifact that is the namesake of the movie.

It is at this juncture that Crystal Skull starts to veer sharply away from the other three films silly to the extent that it becomes the cartooniest of the Indiana Jones films by some distance (especially when you get to the nonsensical jungle jeep chase sequence and the attack of the CG ants), which would be of no major issue if it weren't for the plot, which ultimately transports the film to a place uncomfortably close to The X-Files (and tell me you didn't think of that one while eyeballing the CG-heavy climax of this film) or Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Luckily, the tone remains light throughout, avoiding the morbid excesses of Temple Of Doom, with the only "darkness" appearing early on during an eerie sequence set in a fake suburban development built in the middle of nowhere for a very specific purpose.

In the end, my feelings regarding this film aren't that dissimilar from, say, Spider-Man 3 (or any of the three Star Wars prequels, for that matter) in that commercial concerns were apparently far more important than making a movie that was worth a two decade wait. Is this really the best Spielberg and Lucas could come up with (considering they've been knocking this idea around for nineteen years while waiting for "the right script" to appear)? I went back and viewed the original trilogy to have something to compare Crystal Skull to and eventually came to the conclusion that, despite the relentless action sequences that keep you in your seat over the two-hour plus running time, this is a movie almost completely lacking the charm and writing that made the first and third entries in this series so enjoyable (I am also getting increasingly exasperated with obvious CG gimmickry, but that is an entire separate post in itself).

Ah well, here's hoping Wall*E and The Dark Knight (the only other two movies I am really excited about seeing this summer) prove to be more worthy of the hype than this one. Much as it pains me to say, make sure you catch Crystal Skull as a matinée or simply hold your fire and wait for a DVD rental: it just ain't worth ten bucks a seat.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull rating 3/5

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

(Twenty Years) Part 14: Emancipation

It was a year and change after I became the assistant manager of the store that the day we had been waiting for all these years finally arrived: Deak had decided at last to walk away from Record Den and was negotiating the sale of the store to Greg. Typically, we found out later through other sources that selling to Greg hadn't been Deak's first choice (shocker!), but apparently no one else had been interested in buying out the location, leaving him with no choice but to work with Greg's terms. I don't even want to think about what would have happened if he had sold a store out from underneath us again, but it certainly wouldn't have been pretty.

As you might have guessed by now, Greg's nearly three decades of loyal service to the Record Den chain were richly rewarded at the end as Deak relentlessly attempted to squeeze as much dosh as possible from anything not nailed down. The negotiations, such as they were, followed a similar pattern throughout: Deak ratcheted the price of every display fixture and desk organizer on the premises as high as he dared, and then Greg would endeavor to argue him down to a suitable meeting point. There were even a few times during this process when Greg would outright refuse an offer, either trying to play hardball or from outright disinterest (this was the case when Deak was asking silly money for the internet rights to the "Record Den" name, which we wound up declining).

Interestingly, we noticed during the negotiations that Deak still seemed to place a high value on the "Record Den" name on the wholesale front, yet he had to know as well as we did that our name was Mud as far as the industry at large was concerned. In reality, the only true value the words "Record Den" had to anyone was with our customers, none of whom had any idea of the credit shenanigans our company had pulled with the majors over the previous decade. That said, it's pretty surprising that Greg was able to get us an open account with WMG (Warner Music Group), and nothing short of miraculous that he eventually finagled a way to buy direct from Universal (the biggest of the Big Four, and the Godzilla of music distribution).

While I'm sure that Greg's longstanding reputation with many sales reps and promotional execs is a lot of what greased the wheels with WMG and Universal (particularly the former), it's also fair to assume that our new company name helped put their respective credit departments at ease. The creation of "Walrus Music" as a corporation was a deliberate move to separate this new venture from the old "Record Den" in the eyes of our would-be creditors. The name was the end result of Greg and I volleying Beatle-themed ideas back and forth for a day or so in search of a cool sounding company name. I would like to note here, for the record, that I think "Walrus Music" was a bit too obvious a choice: I was trying to come up with far more obscure points of Fab reference in my ideas. That said, I have to admit that Greg probably had a point when he noted that my favorite idea might not be the most inviting-sounding business name ever (
"Hello, this is Slagger's! Can I help you?"), and since he was putting up the dough to start the corporation, "Walrus Music" won the battle.

With no announcement (save for the few friends and store regulars who had been aware of the situation) or fanfare whatsoever, Record Den officially became Greg's business at the end of March, 2001 with the newly-incorporated Walrus Music taking over all operations. While we looked exactly the same on the outside, it felt wonderful walking into the store that day, knowing that we would never have to deal with Deak on a professional basis again and relishing our new found independence. Finally the masters of our own destiny, we started working out new ideas on changing things around to our liking, and wouldn't you know, the first major change to the store occurred within days of Greg's taking control ... about two, to be precise.