Sunday, August 31, 2008

(Flickr Post): Swept

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What the hell is it with the Indians lately? With the 2008 season all but lost, they jettison three of their most popular and talented players (all of them respected clubhouse leaders, to boot), and then start to play some of their best baseball of the year in the weeks afterward. Of course, whenever they start to get too good, and the fans start to wonder if maybe they just might mount some kind of Hollywood rally, the Indians have to go out and remind everyone just how badly they can suck when the occasion warrants ... and you don't get many more occasions than this one.

With the '08 season about to enter its final month, my brother and I hatched a nutty plan to catch three games in three days at the Prog. Two of those games would be against the pathetic Seattle Mariners, arguably the worst team in baseball this year. The third game would be against the far tougher (and AL-Central leading) Chicago White Sox, but would feature our staff ace Cliff Lee, gunning for his league-leading twentieth win.

Seattle, though, came first ... and my god, those games were ugly, including this one. Suddenly hapless in the face of such utter mediocrity, the Cleveland Indians team lost all three games to Seattle. All. Three. Games.

Luckily, as was the case last Labor Day weekend, the Cleveland Air Show was going on above our heads, and we were offered plenty of opportunities for distraction as groups of military jets thundered about in the atmosphere around the park on another incredible, crystal clear day.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Wall-E: another summer and another new classic from Pixar. Ho-hum.Another summer and another new classic from Pixar. Ho-hum.

The title character of Pixar's latest triumph, Wall-E (an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class) is the last of an army of worker robots dispatched to clean up the titanic mess left behind by the previous tenants of Earth generations before. Possessed of a timid, yet curious disposition (and a huge fan of the musical Hello, Dolly!), Wall-E secretly collects odd pieces of junk he comes across while doing his work, decorating his little converted home with such jetsam as Zippo lighters, hubcaps, plastic eating utensils, Rubiks Cubes, traffic cones, and iPods.

It's so rare and welcome to have a modern film let moviegoers piece together what is going on without any title cards or narration, and Wall-E is all the more impressive since it doesn't ever underestimate its audience. Even while the circumstances of Wall-E's existence and situation are made clear, the near-total lack of dialogue in the opening act of the movie lets you sit back and drink in the rich, intoxicating visuals, some of which are among the most astonishing yet produced by Pixar (even if they happen to depict the Earth as a hazy, dessicated megalopolis left completely uninhabitable by its previous tenants).

During one otherwise unremarkable day, Wall-E witnesses the arrival of a huge spaceship, which drops off another, far more advanced robot before blasting off back into the skies. This robot, named Eve (for reasons that become clear as the story progresses), is a sleek, egg-shaped probe with a nuclear-tipped right arm. Starved for any substantial companionship after 700 years of compacting and stacking trash, Wall-E is so taken with Eve that he manages to stow away when events conspire to lead her back heavenwards, and this is where the real "adventure" in the film begins.

Wall-E on the surface is an old fashioned sci-fi-tinged romance with many thematic undercurrents running underneath. Interestingly, most of these elements appear to be sourced from other genre classics: the opening sequence recalls the eerie, melancholy solitude of The Road Warrior, the character of Wall-E brings to mind the sweet innocence of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, the movie's second act is set on a massive spacecraft that recalls in part the soulless, dehumanized future seen in THX-1138, while the inhabitants of the craft (and the overall state of the Earth we see at the film's beginning) seem influenced by the blistering, righteous anger of Idiocracy. While it is certainly not uncommon for Pixar films to keep adults interested with cultural references and clever writing while entertaining the kids with antics, Wall-E is striking in how "grown-up" most of these underlying messages are (I certainly can't think of many contemporary animated movies that so fiercely send up the effects of "dumbing down" and runaway consumerism).

One could certainly make a case that the third act of Wall-E plays the "green" card in an almost heavy-handed fashion, but director Andrew Stanton's remarkable achievement of actually making you care about the fate of a gaggle of robots by this stage of the game easily makes up for any sense that we're being preached at for a scene or two. That said, I suppose this kind of thing rubs off easier with some people than with others, so your mileage may vary.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it until I finally jinx these guys once and for all, but Pixar never ceases to amaze and delight me. Especially in the wake of such movies I went into with great skepticism as Cars and last summer's surprisingly affecting Ratatouille, I have come to expect nothing less than home runs from this company, and they continue to knock them out of the park, with Wall-E representing yet another new peak in an already fearsome repertoire of greats. Without any hesitation, I proclaim this to be the best movie I've seen in 2008.

Wall-E rating: 5/5