Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Keeping Things Going

Yes, in the interests of keeping things happening around here, I wanted to talk a litle about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, since I saw finally saw it today. I'm still waiting to fulfill the dream of going to the theaters and getting to watch a movie in an empty theater. You'd have thought going to a 12:20 showing of a movie that's been out for six weeks on a Tuesday afternoon would meet that requirement, but nooo. Eh, it's not like the other 9 people in there were distracting, I'd just like the opportunity to do my own Mystery Science Theater 3000 some day. Wonder how much that would cost to arrange? Probably too much. Enough mindless rambling, let's discuss the movie.

- I enjoyed it, first of all. Unlike a lot of the other superhero movies, it doesn't seem to be trying for anything deep. It's a movie about people with weird powers fighting other people with weird powers, with some relationship/friendship stuff thrown in. I laughed more at this movie than I have at any movie I've seen in recent time, certainly more than any comic book movie (although Ghost Rider had it's funny moments, and no, I don't mean Nic Cage tryng to act).

- Jessica Alba's eyebrows kind of scared me. Why go blonde with your hair, but leave the eyebrows dark? It's odd. Beyond that, I had heard Sue described as "bitchy" in this movie, but honestly, I didn't see it. She was stressed. She's trying to get married to someone she loves, but it keeps getting delayed, he seems terribly distant at times, and they've got people poking into their lives constantly. I had two friends get married last year, they were both pretty stressed, and they didn't have to deal with a shiny alien showing up and threatening the entire planet, so I think Sue's frustration was understandable.

- I like the bachelor party scene. Reed busting a move with the ladies, Sue's initial reaction, followed by her teasing Reed later on.

- I like that Reed's sideburns were just a little gray. It's sort of a classic Reed Richards look; all he was missing was a pipe (Reed used to smoke a pipe, before Marvel Comics decided heroes couldn't smoke, which meant no more cigars for Wolverine. Keep in mind, it's still OK for Wolverine to graphically claw half of a guy's face off, but no stogies!)

- Andre Braugher = good stuff. I've enjoyed Braugher since he was on Homicide: Life on the Street. Granted, his role here is kind of limited, since he has to play the tightass general that won't just trust the heroes, but willingly trusts a lunatic, but I think he does a good job. He doesn't act wild or out of control, he portrays a man who is trying to protect people, but is forced to rely on a guy who is out dancing in clubs and having weddings. It doesn't excuse teaming up with Doom, but you could see how confidence in the heroes could be a little low.

- I've always been a fan of the Thing. Even as a big orange guy with super-strength, he still comes off as a gritty underdog somehow, which makes him fun to root for. He recognizes what's important about life (having people to care about), and he savors having a relationship with Alicia, even if he isn't quite the looker he'd like to be. Also, the look on his face when he and Johnny switch powers? Classic. He's like a kid with a new toy, which if you could control fire, you would probably have that look on your face too.

- Overall, it isn't a great movie, but it was fun to watch, and they did a good job of capturing the Surfer's tortured soul. He doesn't enjoy his job, but it's the sacrifice he makes to protect the people he cares about, even though on a spiritual level, it couldn't have been doing him any good to be responsible for the deaths of who knows how many planets?

- My final thought is simply that Stan Lee looked really damn old. I mean, I know he is old, but he looked really old, like he might turn to dust any second now. Him getting turned away at the wedding was a nice touch (apparently a homage to what happened in the comics when Reed and Sue got married).


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cardinals '07 Midseason Review

We're a little past the halfway point of the season. So where do the Cardinals stand? Well, they're still defending World Champs, so suck on that, fans of the other 29 teams! At 40-45, they're on pace for 76 wins. That doesn't sound good, until you remember that at the 40-game mark, they were only on pace for roughly 65 wins, so hey, big improvement. They've shown some improvement in other areas, now ranking 11th in the NL in runs/game, and 14th in ERA. That puts them roughly in the bottom third in both categories, which they haven't done for a full season since 1990 (11th out of 12 teams in runs/game, 8th out of 12 in ERA). But like I said, it's better than where they were 45 games ago. So let's go a little deeper.


- The Cardinals are in the unfortunate position of having too many potential starters. It's unfortunate because none of them are really good enough to separate themselves from the pack, so every start is a roll of the dice as to whether the starter gets bombed, or manages to pitch competently.

- On the youth movement front, Wainwright seems to be settling in, though his walk rate is still too high. But he's probably the best they've got right now. Thompson has had his good and bad starts, with the good being really good, and the bad being really bad. It's what you would expect from a starter with a lower strikeout rate than Suppan. Brad is just a little too dependent on his defense for his success. Reyes has been sent to AAA, called back up, and sent back down again. He actually seems lost at this point, as to what he has to do. The braintrust seems less than inclined to let him do it his way, their way doesn't seem to be having great results, so what's his option?

- The fruits of the last couple of free agent markets have been mixed. Looper struggled, went to the DL, and has been so-so since his return. I think he can be a solid guy for the back of the rotation, but he's not going to get back to where he was the first month or so. In other news, Kip Wells has gotten his ERA below 6.00, thanks to the magic of getting dumped in the mop-up relief role. Good spot for him. Sadly he's going back to the rotation after the Break. Really, I think just paying him the rest of his contract to go away would be the most helpful Kipper could be, but it ain't my money, so what do I know?

- Stopgaps are doing about what you would expect. Maroth reminds me of Mulder last year, before the wheels came off. He can be great, he can suck out loud; it's a roll of the dice. And it's all based on guile, because the guy has zero velocity. Wellenmeyer. . . has been better than I expected, but than I'd have wanted him to be, seeing as his good performances help keep Iron Bill stuck in Memphis. Still, that's not Welly's concern, and he has had some good starts (along with some bad ones. Like I said, all these guys are varying degrees of mediocrity).


- The bullpen had a period there where it slipped a bit, which really isn't too surprising. They've been forced to carry a heavy workload, what with the general ineptitude of the rotation, and guys keep getting shuttled out of the 'pen, to bolster the weak rotation rotation.

- Izzy continues to provide a steady performance. He still makes things interesting, but that's his style I suppose. At least he gets the job done this year. Franklin's held up nicely, and earned himself a new contract, despite not doing the thing he was supposedly signed to do (spot- start). Russ Springer has been OK. Thompson has been up-and-down in relief, just like as a starter. Wellenmeyer was fine out of the pen, limited opportunities he had. Randy Flores stinks. End of discussion. Tyler Johnson was doing very well, then the wheels fell off, now he's hurt. Percival's done pretty well thus far, as has Troy Cate, subbing for TJ. Kelvin Jimenez is thankfully, no longer with the big league club.


- YaMo's back from injury, and even though his hitting stats have dropped, he's still better than Bennett/Stinnett. Plus, teams are less inclined to run on him, compared to the other two. Albert's struggling from lack of protection/lack of good pitches to hit. His AVG is twenty points below normal, his OBP ten points, and his SLG is a whopping 115 points below career norms. He still probably chases too many pitches outside, but it isn't in Albert's nature to be Barry Bonds, and calmly accept some godawful number of walks. Eckstein has hit well, when he's been there. Rolen is doing better than he was, but the slugging is still way down. It's .380, and Willie McGee's career slugging was .396. Think about Rolen hitting for less pop than McGee. I like Willie McGee, but that's a bad, bad thing.

- Oh, and Adam Kennedy has played horribly. That is all.


- Well, Duncan's rebounded nicely from that weird knee infection. He's got the highest SLG on the team (.547, 31 points above Albert's), probably benefitting from hitting near Albert. His defense seems to be improving as he grows more comfortable in left, which is a plus. Edmonds hasn't played since June 15th, might not play anymore this year if his back doesn't clear up. He wasn't doing great before, but his being hurt has a trickle-down effect to the rest of the team, same with Eck.

- Encarnacion has an OPS of .763, which is exactly league average. Sums up Juan pretty well, don't you think? Exactly Average Juan Encarnacion. But he's better than what cam before, even if most fans seem unwilling to cut him a break. Anytime he doesn't get to a fly ball, it's because he gave no effort. Well, technically, "no effort" would involve Juan sleeping naked on the field, or still being in bed at home. You could say "less than 100%", but I'd question how they would know that. Am I defending Encarnacion? I guess I just have lower expectations for him than most.


- The trickle-down I mentioned earlier is something most fans get pretty easily; namely, that the more your bench guys have to play, past a certain a point, the worse they do. It's good to get them work, but they're bench guys precisely because they can't play every day. Miles has had his average drop from .310 to .290 since the Mets series, because he's playing every night, and he's making more errors because he's playing out of position at SS. Jimmy Eds being hurt overexposes So Taguchi, who's seen a similar decline in his numbers as he's been forced into the everyday lineup.

- In contrast, some of the kids that are getting limited opportunities are doing alright. Ludwick seems to be adjusting to major league pitching. Brendan Ryan is good with the glove, and hitting well enough that I want him in the lineup, to help keep Kennedy out (which would probably overexpose Ryan, but we don't know that for sure about him yet.) Skip Schumaker is still mostly useless, though. And finally, Spiezio's continued to improve his offensive numbers, and how about a big hand for his relief appearance in the Oakland series?

So where does the team go from here? Walt Jocketty apparently said the Cardinals will be buyers at the trade deadline. If they mean this, and aren't just trying to trick teams into giving them better offers for useful players, I'd say this is a very bad idea. I'd be impressed if they could do it, but I do not see the Cards as contending for a playoff spot this year, and would prefer they not mortgage the future on some desperate hope that they can overtake two teams for the division, or how ever many teams are in front of them for the wild card.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Very Quick Die Hard Review

I saw Live Free or Die Hard on Thursday with my dad. Not a bad flick, though it might have been just a little too over the top, especially the part with the semi, the fighter jet, and the overpass. I would like to hear the pilot's official report of that incident. 'The pilot received what was believed to be official confirmation that the terrorists were in the semi-trailer. The pilot launched a missile, except it missed, hit an overpass support, and caused the collapse of said overpass. Despite expenditure of considerable munitions, the pilot failed to kill the suspected terrorists, and was forced to eject when his VTOL engines were damaged by falling chunks of overpass.' I can't imagine that sequence would earn him a promotion.

I went off on a tangent there. So much for quick review. Fortunately I don't have much else to say. I didn't enjoy the film as much as Die Hards 1 or 3, and I think the main thing I'm going to remember about the movie is that I can't recall ever seeing non-robotic, non-alien bad guys that were so damn hard to kill. People getting hit by cars, falling out of helicopters, launched into walls at high speed, and they just wouldn't die. Crazy stuff.

On the whole it wasn't as good as another flick I watched with my father called Seraphim Falls. It's a cowboy flick with Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan. Yeah, about the two guys you'd least expect to see in a Western, but there they were Bronsnan's character trying desperately to avoid death at the hands of Neeson and, while going through five horses in a movie that runs under two hours. Near the end of the movie, it starts to get real weird, as either there are some real oddball characters running around in the desert, or else Brosnan and Neeson were sharing hallucinations. It does have some of those moments where it's clear a character is doing something simply so more backstory can be revealed, like when Brosnan builds a fire to draw his pursuers into a certain spot, then just hangs around watching them during the night until Neeson sneaks up behind him and makes him lose his firearm. I hate stuff like that, especially when it's as obvious as it was there.

Beyond that not a bad flick, you could probably find it pretty cheap to give it a looksee, you might enjoy it more than me (and I wasn't disappointed by it for the record, just slightly annoyed in places).