Monday, July 20, 2009

Drifting, Falling

Took in an Indians game on Sunday with Sarah, my brother, and my niece. On the plus side, it was a beautiful (if unseasonably mild) summer day with a very welcome cool breeze that kept us cool as we sat in direct sunlight for the entirety of the proceedings.

On the minus side, I forgot my camera (oops), and this was perhaps the most uninspiring game I've seen yet from this team, who managed to come back from an early deficit to tie the Seattle Mariners at 3-3, only to once again have the god damnable bullpen fritter the game away in late innings. The fact that we were starting to join in the heckling of Kerry Wood during the ninth inning should speak volumes as to just how dispiriting this season continues to be on even long-suffering masochists such as I.

Oh, and my updated win-loss attendance record: 16-11 (.593). Hmm, looks like I might want to restrict the number of games I attend this season if I wish to keep a winning percentage...

NP: Foals Antidote

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

( My Moon-Landing Jam Session

With the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing approaching this Monday, there are going to be many interesting reminiscences and re-visitations of this historic occasion all over the airwaves. Perhaps fortunately for you, reader, I can offer no historical or sociological input of my own as I was just about to turn a month old as this event unfolded. I'm sure I was duly impressed. Really.

Anyway, in lieu of my own infantile observations and reflections on this momentous day ("waaaaaahhh bottle waaaah"), I offer you the recollections of a certain Mr. David Gilmour (click post header to access link), who spent the occasion in a BBC studio with the rest of Pink Floyd, providing an one-off improvised soundtrack to the proceedings, the performance of which can be viewed below (goat bless Youtube).

Monday, July 06, 2009

From Bad To Worse: 20 Questions Concerning The Cleveland Indians

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I took in our first ball game of the year, a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, I wrote the following:
With this victory, Cleveland took the series and hopefully boosted themselves another step closer to possible contention in the American League Central.

Ha ha ha. Oh, I kill me sometimes.

Immediately following that night's win, the Cleveland Indians stopped screwing around with .500-level ball and went back to outright tanking the year: the team went a miserable 2-14 for the rest of June, returning to levels of horrifying all-around suck not last seen since, er, April. By the time Sarah and I made it to another game on July 4, the 2009 season was for all intents and purposes a lost cause. Sigh.

A bigger development this past weekend: the news came down that Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro had just guaranteed the employment of hugely unpopular head coach Eric Wedge and his staff through the end of the current season. I suppose it is currently feasible that another one of this club's patented second-half breakthroughs is only a matter of time away as this seems to be the way Wedge clubs operate. However, it is also conceivable when looking at past evidence that if the Indians perform well enough from now until the end of September, Wedge will wind up keeping his job into the 2010 season.

Quite frankly, it is exactly this possibility that upsets die-hard fans the most: we've already accepted the early end of this campaign, and we're willing to see the rest of this mess through in order to (once again) evaluate some major league-talent lurking about in AAA ball and try and rebuild for next year. That said, the mere idea of possibly having to go through all of this frustration once again next year with this same coaching staff is intolerable. Enough is enough, Shapiro: I have nothing personal against Eric Wedge, but it's time to move on. Hell, after this year, even he might agree.

Even with the speculation as to status of Wedge's job now laid to rest (for now), dozens of other questions surround this team as we head towards the All-Star Break and, eventually, the season trading deadline at the end of the month. I've listed 20 of the more pressing queries below:

With Shapiro and Wedge and the players all accepting the blame for the woes of this team, is the entire organization flawed from top to bottom?

If that is the case, should Shapiro be fired as well as Wedge at the end of this year?

If that is to be, then how long before this entire organization can be righted and set back on a winning course?

What in the hell is going on during Spring Training and why does it look like this team has drilled relentlessly on everything but actually playing baseball?

What is wrong with our much-vaunted scouting staff, particularly in regards to evaluating pitchers?

Why does this team only seem to "put it all together and hit the afterburners" during the stretch run in August when it's usually too little, too late?

With the season already in the toilet and showing very little hope of a turnaround, why is Grady Sizemore playing at all and not undergoing needed elbow surgery instead?

Will the dominating 2007 iteration of Fausto Carmona ever re-appear, or is the tentative, apparently fragile pitcher that we see on the mound in his stead all we have to look forward to until his contract is up?

While we're on the subject of Carmona, what exactly was/is being done to correct his mental and mechanical issues in Arizona and the minor leagues? Is this a Roy Halladay-style complete rebuild or a kind of double-secret rehab assignment without end?

Just how ungodly awesome is Shin-Soo Choo?

Is the return of Travis Hafner a recurrent mirage?

Who is the real Kerry Wood?

Just how bad is the news with Jake Westbrook's delayed return to regular pitching? Is this going to be one of those rare Tommy John Surgery stories where it doesn't work out in the end?

How long before Carl Pavano is dealt? Kelly Shoppach? Ryan Garko? Jamey Carroll? Ben Francisco?

How far up Eric Wedge's shit list is Jhonny Peralta and will this affect his standing (or employment) in the ballclub?

With the recent additions of Jose Veras, Winston Abreu, Mike Gosling and Chris Perez, I believe we are now on version 3.0 of the 2009 Indians bullpen. When Rafael Betancourt returns at last from the Disabled List, will he pitch again for Cleveland, or is a deal in the works?

Speaking of the bullpen and people named "Perez," is Rafael Perez in need of more time in Columbus before he can be trusted again in a tight game?

With over seventy different lineups used thus far, when will we finally see a stable, standard batting lineup from Wedge?

What will be the respective futures of superstar catcher Victor Martinez and staff ace Cliff Lee after 2010, when both become eligible for free agency (and with the likelihood of the Indians to afford what these two will be worth on the open market, will they even be on the team by the end of this year, for that matter)?

If we are to trade Lee and Martinez now or in the offseason, in what state does that leave this team in for 2010 and beyond (especially if our farm system/scouting operations are as compromised as they appear to be by a systemic tendency to focus on players of a certain personality in lieu of a certain level of ability)?

The next 4 weeks may be very interesting indeed as far as answering the trading/dealing questions is concerned. Beyond that timeframe, there will be a lot of waiting and seeing going on both in the stands and behind the scenes. How this team handles the second half of this season, whether Wedge is able to create another late surge to semi-respectability, what kind of deals Shapiro can engineer in a league currently awash in tight divisional races, all of these factors will play into the decisions that may have to be made by Indians owner Larry Dolan in the offseason. For now, Dolan is staying mum and letting things play out. Who knows, when all of this is over (one way or the other), he might not be so willing to stand pat once again.

P.S. About the only good news to be had in all of this: my new adjusted attendance record is now 16-10 (.615). Ph33r!

Clash Of The Titans

On July 4, two of my favorite guitar players on the planet occupied the same stage at the Royal Albert Hall. Man what I would have given to see this up close and personal.

Ladies and gentlemen, David Gilmour and Jeff Beck playing a ghostly, drifting take on the 19th century hymn "Jerusalem":

Gilmour and Beck then ended the evening with a lighthearted take on the latter's 4-decade old single "Hi Ho Silver Lining":

The internet rules.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Public Enemies

Alright, I'm gonna come right out and say it: despite all of his proven acting qualities, Christian Bale is flat-out boring in a straight-up "hero" role: give me more of Alfred Borden, Patrick Bateman and Trevor Reznik and less of this dull, Kevin Costner-esque stoicism. Were it not for the high-powered charm and pure star presence of Johnny Depp as infamous serial bank robber John Dillinger, Public Enemies would be a complete snooze despite all the squealing tires and chattering Tommy guns.

Public Enemies traces the fall of Dillinger, and his pursuit by Special Agent Melvin Purvis of the FBI. A lot of this will be familiar enough territory to anyone who knows a little about the history and characters of the Great Depression: what little additional insight we are given here is an explanation of how the extremely popular Dillinger suddenly became a real problem for the all-powerful Chicago crime syndicate. There are also some interesting background scenes detailing the changing role of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, along a few unpleasant interrogation scenes that serve to illustrate the completely ruthless techniques which Hoover's Bureau would become infamous for.
I might have been able to accept such a dull, stony leading man if I could have had some additional back story and interaction with the Texan special agents Purvis employs as the film winds on, but we are told hardly anything about these men and they are given precious little to say. Pity. I realize, as with most superhero movies, that most people are going to see this film for the bad guy, but do we always have to have "good guys" who are simply by-the-book "good guys" and not every bit as charismatic or interesting as the villains?

Speaking of charismatic, Public Enemies always gets right back to being interesting whenever Dillinger is onscreen. It would have been easy for Depp to go all Captain Jack Sparrow with his character since Dillinger is basically the lone wild card in a cast full of straight men, but Depp wisely lets his natural charm do most of the work for him. Portrayed as a kind of dashing, old-school romantic anti-hero (he'll robs banks, but not the customers, for example), Dillinger is mindful of what his adoring public thinks of his exploits, but also unafraid to get his hands bloody when the situation warrants. He also has displays an amazing proclivity for escaping from jail (which is the basis of two of the best scenes in the movie), which incenses the proud Hoover so much that he eventually instructs Purvis to "take the white gloves off" and capture his quarry by any and all means necessary.Since the 1933 setting prohibits lingering shots of garish neon lights gleaming on wet sidewalks, it comes as a bit of a surprise to see Michael Mann's name show up at the beginning of the end credits. Most of Mann's usual stylistic flourishes seem to be muted here, though filming in High Definition video makes for a few strange-looking scenes to eyes so accustomed to standard film. More irritating (though only occasionally employed) is that jittery documentary-styled "you are there" camerawork, the effects of which seem especially pronounced in HD.

For a day-off summer movie matinee, I was entertained enough by Public Enemies, and it certainly looks to be of significantly higher quality than its July 4 competition. That said, the recent benchmark for these period crime movies remains The Untouchables, a movie that so brilliantly sums up the genre as a whole that you can't help but compare and contrast while watching this one. Public Enemies is a movie that tries hard, but ultimately falls into the vast, unremarkable summer wasteland of "been there, done that."

Public Enemies rating: 3/5