Monday, May 25, 2009


It's not very often that a picture gets to me the way this one did.

A brief, shattering reminder of what this holiday, mostly seen as merely "the kickoff of summer," is really about.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Remember that line in Jurassic Park uttered by Jeff Goldblum about scientists being "so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."? I always find it blackly amusing that the writers of such cautionary dialogue work for an industry which functions in exactly the opposite fashion. Remember back around 1996 or so when Lucasfilm thought aloud: wow, special effects have come so far so fast in only a dozen years that we can finally make all new Star Wars movies the way we wanted to the first time!?

Yeah, I think we all know full well how that little plan turned out.

It seems like this same kind of thinking also applies to Terminator movies, which is kind of ironic in that Terminator 2: Judgment Day (still far and away the best of the series) was the incredible technical achievement that nearly singlehandedly kicked off the modern age of digital special effects. While this leap forward in technology has admittedly resulted in some truly amazing spectacles (like, say, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park), it has also presaged a whole new generation's worth of action sequences so inhumanly surgical and antiseptic in nature that they carry all the dramatic weight of a Mortal Kombat match.

In the wake of The Rise Of The Machines (the awful third film in the Terminator franchise), I felt insulted that the first two films somehow weren't enough for Hollywood and that trying to go beyond that seamless basic story was not only pointless and a blatant exercise in derivative greed, but would only lessen the impact of the originals (see also: the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, Alien3, et al.). Unfortunately, Terminator Salvation, while certainly far superior to The Rise Of The Machines (I believe this is what is referred to as "damning with faint praise"), fails in the end to alter my opinion one bit.

Perhaps the most clinically interesting aspect of Terminator Salvation is that this movie is, in essence, a high speed mash-up of a dozen different science fiction movies. You can almost make a parlor game of calling out the influences for each scene and plot development as they come along. Director McG isn't so much a "director" in this project as a DJ, and this movie is a peak hour set of old classics reconstituted, remixed, re-arranged and played back at high volume. Bits of exposition, revelation and visual reference lifted from old science-fiction chestnuts are everywhere: Return Of The Jedi, The Road Warrior, The Matrix, Aliens, A.I., The Phantom Menace (uh oh), Blade Runner, War Of The Worlds, and, uh, Body Parts.

There isn't a whole lot I can tell you of the plot, but then again the foreshadowing is so heavy-handed in the exposition that even a third-grader can figure out the "central plot twist" to this movie. Let's just say that after a big (and costly) break in intelligence-gathering operations, John Connor (a quite frankly wasted performance by Christian Bale) and the human resistance are preparing to deal a devastating blow to the central hub of Skynet, though it also appears that the machines are also ready to hit first by targeting Connor and his unwitting father, Kyle Reese (and if you don't know how Reese can be Connor's unwitting parent, then you really must be terribly bored right now to be reading all of this).

Much like other recent franchise reboots, Terminator Salvation attempts to blaze a path to fanboy redemption by repeatedly paying homage to the original films: numerous shots, sequences, lines of dialogue and visual references pepper this new film, constantly attempting to create threads and associations to the Cameron films. Many of these nods elicit a knowing chuckle or a nod of approval, others become heavy handed to the point of distraction. Also like any good reboot, this new movie wisely forgets the previous chapter ever happened: the sole connection here to The Rise Of The Machines lies in the character of Kate Connor (whom we last met as a veterinarian played by Claire Danes).

As always, I try to not let plot holes and unexplained happenings bother me too much in films like these, though there are always a few bits that manage to penetrate my suspension of disbelief. Without going into spoilers, I'll list a few below:

1. Considering the fact that it possesses the sum total of all military and artificial intelligence prior to the point of its creation, are you telling me that Skynet never heard of or manufactured a Magnetic Anomaly Detector?

Do waterbots (or whatever the hell those things I saw in The Matrix a decade ago are now called) not work in the open ocean?

3. As with many similar-scaled baddies in movies like these, eighty foot tall headless robots have the disconcerting ability to noiselessly tip-toe up on one-story buildings while undetected by anyone inside.

4. Bad news for future dentists and dermatologists: everyone in the post-apocalyptic future has absolutely perfect skin and blindingly white (and straight) teeth. This actually becomes pretty distracting at times when things are supposed to be pretty intense and dramatic.

5. I sure hope anti-rejection medication is still plentiful in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

6. At a few different points in this movie, I started to think about the beliefs and performances of the principals in the first two Terminator movies. After watching this film (and assuming it is to be accepted as canon), some questions can now be raised about why certain characters behaved the way they do in the first two movies considering what happens in this one.

7. I have had just about enough of this modern school of digitally-edited action film in which everything happens at the very last microsecond before disaster can strike. Sure, it was really cool about 15 or 20 years ago when people in movies first ducked just out of the way of airborne cars, or hit the dirt just as something huge explodes behind them, but enough already. It's time to find a new paradigm here, action directors ... I have definitely "been there and done that" as far as these sequences are concerned.

8. There is a rather glaring continuity error set up by this movie dealing with a brand new series of Terminator met by a handful of the main characters during the Skynet Central sequence (this error only becomes apparent if you remember Reese's dialogue from the first Terminator movie). I stumbled across this error hours afterward while editing this review, and I'll let y'all figure this one out for yourselves if you can.

Look, I'll be honest here and admit that I was diverted and amused for the movie's two hour running time. But let's call a spade a spade: Terminator Salvation is really just another in an endless stream of those factory-made summer blockbuster roller coaster rides: a lot of fun and thrills while it's going on, but ultimately pretty silly once you get your wits about you as the final credits roll. As long as you're cool with that, you'll have a fine old time.

Terminator Salvation rating: 3/5

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Small Victories


As promised, I took an Ambien before bed time last night and slept wonderfully, though I guess getting any quality sleep would qualify as semi-miraculous after the last five days.

These pills require you to have at least eight hours of time handy to devote to uninterrupted rest, so until I get a handle on this (hopefully temporary) insomnia problem, I'll be heading to bed a bit earlier for a while in order to giving myself plenty of time to figure out if I'm gonna conk out on my own or with a bit of chemical assistance (be it in pill or organic form).

I'm not sure if it was the after-effect of the Ambien or if my internal sleep timer is still mysteriously out of sync, but I felt heavy-lidded and a tad lethargic at work this afternoon, though nowhere near as foggy-brained as I felt on Tuesday night.


The Cleveland Indians won only their second series (and their first in almost exactly a month) of the season early this afternoon against the Chicago White Sox. For a club that is playing with the worst record in all of baseball, only in the last game or so have the Indians begun to look like a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Pitching remains crucial to the team having any chance for a successful season, and the call-up of Jeremy Sowers to fill the fifth starter role does not look like a long-term answer to that problem (especially with proven starting commodity Aaron Laffey now working in the bullpen as the team's long relief man). On the other hand, Cliff Lee has been pitching like a man possessed over his last few starts, having fully regained his incredible 2008 form and is only now finally getting some help from the Indians offense. This team has a long way to go to reach .500, but at least there is now a glimmer of possibility.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Having a very crappy start to the work week: didn't fall asleep until the sun was shining Monday morning, and wound up sleeping most of the afternoon away to get some winks in. Then it got worse: I managed maybe 90 minutes of REM sleep this morning (from, say, 11 AM - 12:30 PM) after eight hours of fruitless, frustrating stage 1.

Sooo, it looks like it wasn't the 5-Hour Energy Blast thingies after all (or, if it was, they have somehow thrown my circadian rhythms all out of whack). For the first time in my life, I have full-blown insomnia. Ugh.

Luckily, Sarah has Ambien. One way or the other, I will be very rested tomorrow morning. Beyond that point, we'll see how this plays out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

(Un)Naturally Wired

Last Wednesday, I decided to try out those Five Hour Energy things you see at the gas station in shotglass-sized sealed plastic bottles and come with, like, 8333% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin B-whatever. Greg has been using a similar brand off and on at work since giving up on pop, and he reported that they worked pretty well.

For those of you who have never tried one of these, it was like doing a shot of overripe, squished berry juice (there is also a Lemon/Lime brand which simply tastes awful). The concoction took about a half hour to really get working, but when it did I felt very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed indeed. Alert. Flushed. Smiley. Bouncing on the balls of my feet. "Yeah! Let's go!" That kind of thing. And, true to the label, there was no discernible "crash" at the end, just a kind of realization about six hours later that I no longer felt that spring in my step.

I tried another of these bottles on Thursday and then on Friday, and something kind of odd happened: the "rush" or feeling of excessive vitality did not recur either time, but suddenly my ability to fall asleep in a period of less than 2-3 hours was severely compromised. I think I went to bed at 2 AM on Friday morning and didn't really go beyond stage 1 until sometime after 5. Not good.

Friday night was the worst: no sleep at all, and Saturday is an 11.5 hour shift. Ugh. I went to bed at 1, closed my eyes, and basically listened to the Sarah's bedside fan whir and thrum all night until my alarm went off at 9 AM while I tossed and turned and cursed my own existence. Once "awake," I stumbled into the shower, feeling like a walking corpse, and swore off these stupid energy things ... after I had one more on Saturday to make sure I didn't keel over behind the counter at 5 PM.

The timing of this episode was actually kind of funny: a week ago, a couple of old Record Den employees had stopped in and we recounted some good old times. In the midst of this chat, we had a discussion of being able to pull all-nighters with little ill effect in our early-mid twenties and how we could never do one of those again these days! Ha ha! No way, Jose! Amusing.

Anyway, I managed to keep myself pretty busy on Saturday (spent the entire evening alphabetizing 1000 pieces of Sony/EMI product), and despite getting a bit headachey as evening fell, I managed to make it through the day. Once I fell asleep Saturday night (which did take a while), I was completely out the whole rest of the night. Mmmmm REM sleep. So relaxing.

So, yes, these things seem to work pretty well, but caveat emptor ... especially if you are an old and decrepit hippie like me.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Another Springtime In Hell With The Cleveland Indians

Nearly two years ago, following the Cleveland Indians' defeat at the hands of the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, I took some solace in the loss to the idea that this team would be back to take another shot at a championship berth in 2008. My co-worker Jeff didn't share that optimism, and he reminded me of just how difficult it is in the game of baseball for any team to simply repeat a postseason appearance, never mind a championship. A few months later, the events of the 2008 season proved him correct, and as time goes by, I start to wonder if what we saw at the end of 2007 was a mirage and the true reality of this team lies is the surrounding years.

Jeff was more upbeat on his outlook for this year, as the run-up to the beginning of the 2009 season felt altogether different than the last few, from an extended period of spring training in the team's new facility in Goodyear, Arizona to the adjustments that had been made to address the weaknesses that had plagued the team over the previous campaign. Free-agents had been signed to shore up the perceived issues in pitching and defense, and new talent from the farm system was evaluated to build the best possible team for the new year. By Opening Day, the only true Cleveland shortcoming that could be immediately seen was the starting pitching rotation (now significantly weakened with the trade of C.C. Sabathia and the offseason Tommy John surgery to the elbow of Jake Westbrook). Once again, we are learning anew that the funny thing about baseball is just how completely wrong you always are when it comes to figuring out just how things are going to play out over a season.

So it was that I entered the 2009 season with the usual eternal optimism that afflicts us baseball fans: everyone starting off the marathon once again, anything being possible, expect the unexpected, etc. Boy, did we get it: at one month into the 2009 season, following their worst opening stretch in nearly a century, the Cleveland Indians sit dead last in the American League Central Division with a record of 8-14.

If there is one thing keeping the die-hards from standing in the middle of the Hope Memorial Bridge and staring down soulfully at the murky depths of the Cuyahoga River, it's the fact that despite the ridiculous level of hapless suck the team is exhibiting right now, the Tribe remains only a handful of games out of first place in the American League Central: across-the-board mediocrity seems to be endemic as of right now. One cannot assume this situation will last forever, of course, and I'd personally feel far better about things if the Indians can manage to finish the month of May at .500 or better ... a place this team has not been since, oh, last spring. Since there is no guarantee that stupid interleague play will be any kinder to this squad than last year's abysmal pounding, I'd like to have a little bit of cushion going before we run headlong into the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinatti Reds, thankyouverymuch.

The more things change, the more they stay the same: the Indians' offense, such as it is, remains helpless against off speed pitches and strikes out at a rate that leads the American League. Aside from the split series against the hated New York Yankees at their shiny new billionaire's bandbox, the Indians have scuffled at the plate, often struggling to produce even a single run with bases loaded and less than 2 out.

Not all is lost in this department: Victor Martinez has been batting nearly .400 and is certainly making up for time lost to injury in 2008, while Asdrubal Cabrera has found his swing again and is spraying singles and doubles all over the outfield. Travis Hafner, despite recently being added once again to the Disabled List, showed tantalizing glimpses of his past Pronk-like glory for a couple of weeks. On the whole, Cleveland batters have been patient and exacting at the plate, wearing down starting pitching early and drawing nearly 100 walks, which leads the league. That said, perhaps the batters have been a little too patient: the Indians' batting average with runners in scoring position has been abysmal, and coupled with the previously mentioned strikeout rate, has left the team hard pressed to come up with runs in the clutch, let alone at any other time, unless they happen to be blasted out of the yard.

After a disastrous start, Cleveland's starting pitching has at least gathered itself into a semblance of its usual form. The victories are mixed: on one hand, staff ace Cliff Lee has started to draw a bead on the form that led him to 22 victories in 2008, while the arguably more-talented Fausto Carmona remains maddeningly inconsistent and well short of his 19-game- winning 2007 form. Elsewhere, Anthony Reyes has managed to pull off a shaky kind of Paul Byrd-like highwire act, while sinkerballer Aaron Laffey and off-season signing Carl Pavano (of all people) have been the most consistently dependable starters to date.

Perhaps the biggest issue currently facing the Indians is the terrifying performance of their bullpen, particularly the once-trustworthy duo of lefty Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis, who became our default closer in the second half of 2008. Even more so than the first half of last year's campaign, the bullpen has been a model of consistency in the category of "fail" since Opening Day. Perhaps the most glaring statistic I can put on the table: the bullpen has given up nearly 30 runs in the 8th innings so far this season (which is a hell of lot considering we have not yet played 30 games yet). The back end of the equation has also been a bit wobbly, with $20 million dollar closer Kerry Wood looking at times more like Bob Wickman than the ironclad game insurance Tribe fans had been expecting, though the jury remains out on that particular acquisition for the time being.

Lastly, shoddy defense, primarily at the corner outfield positions and the left side of the diamond has been a nagging issue, creating an extra strain on an already dangerously-thin pitching situation. While this in itself is generally not as damaging to our team as the pitching has been, the amount of extra outs being doled to opposing teams is a troubling issue, especially since more often than not, the Tribe's opposition finds ways to exploit these opportunities.

So, what and where are the fixes? Calling up new help from our restocked farm system has certainly been on the minds of many the last couple of weeks (certainly following the immediate splash made by reliever Tony Sipp), though it appears that no league-ready pitching exists in Columbus or Akron that has not already been looked at during spring training. I'm not even sure that calling up AAA-mashers like Matt LaPorta can do much for an offense that seems to have the talent, but is missing some vital spark somewhere that remains frustratingly intangible and inaccessible.

Once you eliminate the above, you have to focus on the idea of a managing change, and while every team has a group of fans who are always calling for heads to roll, their screaming sounds more and more like a viable option the more games this team loses. I am not now (and have never been) a member of that eternal "FIRE ERIC WEDGE" crowd ... but after seven years and one postseason run to show for it, I have to admit that my patience is at last beginning to run out.