Tuesday, July 31, 2007

His Name is Win

So. The Red Sox have acquired Eric Gagne, the most appropriately named guy in sports history.*

You have to like this deal if you're a Sox fan. Our bullpen just went from extremely good to embarrassingly good, and we didn't give up all that much to do it.

But before Theo and co. go patting themselves on the back too hard, let's remember the following things:

1. They could have signed Gagne in the offseason. Instead, they signed Joel Pineiro - a failed starter with an ERA over 6 - for $8 million. In case you missed it, we shipped Pineiro to St. Louis this morning for a bucket of balls and a pitching machine. And we had to throw cash into the deal.

2. His name may still mean win, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking this is 2004 Gagne. Take a gander at his stats. His strikeouts per nine, strikeouts to walks and WHIP this year have been highly mortal compared to his prime. Opponent's average has held steady, but opponent's OBP is at its highest since '01. Granted, his prime was ungodly. But let's just hope no one has any illusions of him taking over for Papelbon. I'm even uncomfortable with talk of him taking the main setup/sometime closer role from Okajima.

Man, that sounded pretty negative. Let's get back to the fun part: You do this deal in a heartbeat. This is the kind of deal you really appreciate in October, when you're looking anxiously towards the bullpen for arms. Right now? That's going to be a stress free glance. We have three freaking guys who deserve to be closers in that pen.

The price for all this was Gabbard (at the absolute peak of his value) and two prospects, David Murphy and Engel Beltre. Murphy was ranked 16th by Sox Prospects. Beltre didn't make the top twenty. You're not going to get this deal done any cheaper. Losing Gabbard isn't such a big deal with Lester looking good, Schilling coming back, and Tavarez still in the organization. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking we ripped Texas off - this was fair value and made sense for both sides. But we didn't pay a dime over fair value, something you can't often say when you get the best player in a deal.

Which is what we surely did get. We got the man named win. How awesome is that?

*Because sadly, Enos Slaughter never killed anybody.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Problem With World War Hulk

Just got through reading Incredible Hulk #108. If you haven't read it yet? Just don't. Wow. No kidding. Miek is just like Rick Jones, huh? Fascinating. Can I have my $3 back?

I figured going into this "crossover" that the main action would mostly be confined to the miniseries and Incredible Hulk. I was wrong. It's just the miniseries.

Whatever you thought about Civil War, you have to admit that it was the rarest of things: A crossover that actually worked. This was a story so god damn big that you actually wanted to read all the tie-ins. Every character was affected by the event, and the tie-ins seemed to provide critical info. Recently I went through trying to pick out the "must read" stuff from the event for Melissa, and I realized that the tie-ins were all important only if you cared about the characters in those books - and if you did they were absolutely vital.

So after that bunch of relevant crossover books, World War Hulk is like cold water to the face. Remember back in the days of, for example, Secret War II, when the Beyonder would just show up in every issue so it could be a Secret War II tie-in? World War Hulk reminds me of that. (Okay, so I bought a bunch of random back issues when I was a kid. We've all done things we're not proud of.)

The point is, you can't have a crossover that's only about one character or one threat. It doesn't work. World War Hulk is a sad reminder of crossovers gone by, back when you'd cringe when one of your monthly pulls had a (sigh) crossover issue. You'd know that for one month, nothing important was going to happen in that book.

This is all pretty sad because World War Hulk is actually a pretty cool story. The main book has been kickass - its first issue had one of the best Hulk fights ever, and there's been a long history of awesome Hulk fights. It's just not a story you can tell across multiple titles. We all know nothing significant will happen to the Hulk in a tie-in. We know nothing important is going to happen to any of the characters fighting him in these tie-ins. So what's the point. So far, all of WWH has taken span in the space of maybe three hours, and all in one location, so the books are practically tripping over each other. This should have been done like Planet Hulk. Planet Hulk got the trade dress and was hyped like an event, but was all just contained in Incredible Hulk.

What worries me is this: There's every chance that this story had to be a crossover just to get people to pay attention to it. That we're back in an era where people think you can't change the status quo of a comics universe without a crossover. You can also argue that a lot more people are reading this series because it's a crossover.

I'd counter by saying that I was really excited about this event before it started. But after reading just a handful of the terrible tie-ins, all I can say is, "Is it over yet?"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

YouTube debate, part 2

Just realized my last post about the YouTube debate didn't talk at all about the format, which was after all supposed to be the "historic" part of all this. (If you're interested you can watch the debate here.)

Those of you who watched the Mass. Gubernational debates (Yes, I love the word "Gubernational" as much as you do), will remember the debate where they played video questions from "average citizens" like Shonda Schilling and Jasper White. Very down to earth.

Well, this YouTube debate was not like that. These were most definitely real questions from real morons with webcams. And oh were there some morons. Like the guy who introduced the debate by challenging the candidates not to dodge questions, or worse yet, the guy who wanted to know, "How will you be different... without the usual platitudes and stuff we're used to hearing." Holy crap! You mean the candidates will stop spouting platitudes if we tell them too? No fucking way! Man, why didn't we think of this before?

Thing is? For all the nutjobs, for all the crazy shit and the stupid shit, the YouTube questions actually did make for some goddam entertaining moments. If you're going to go to the trouble of making and posting a video question, you probably have an axe to grind. And boy did people.
Basically every question had some kind of combative tone. My favorite? This awesome John Edwards slam.

Here's the thing. CNN could have given us all sensible questions. They could have gone the Shonda Schilling and Jasper White route. For all the talk about this being open, it wasn't a live chat, they could exercise editorial judgment. And, as they showed us at the beginning, they did. They weeded out dumb shit like kids asking the questions, for example. But no seriously posed question was out of bounds. That means we got stuff like the guy who asked if African Americans would ever get reparations. We got a soldier who wanted to know how Hilary Clinton could be taken seriously in an Arab world where women are second class citizens. We got an atheist kid asking why we shouldn't be afraid by all the god talk. We got a country music video about a guy who hates taxes.

Okay, so maybe we could have done without that last one. But the funny thing is, somehow, improbably, impossibly, this felt like real Americans being heard. This cacophony of opinions, disharmony screamed real life. This was shit that would not be asked in a standard format debate. Mostly the candidates squirmed out from under the questions, but sometimes its fun to watch people do that. Take this nutjob. Richardson sort of squirms and tries to make him happy because that's what politicians do: try to make people happy. Then Biden says what we're all thinking: "If that's your baby, you've got a problem."

In the end, I think it told us at least as much as any normal debate. And the thing is, I came away immensely psyched to see the Republican version. I mean holy crap. If the public has this much rancor to loose on the Dems, think how much worse it'll be for the Republicans. How cool will it be to see all the crap pissed off Daily Show viewers hurl at those guys?

Of course, the Republicans sense this too, so they're trying to pull out, citing the dems refusal to appear on Fox News. Of course, this is downright cowardly. CNN didn't weed out tough questions for the Democrats or anything. There were plenty of oppositional questions. If the Republican party really wants to perpetrate the charade that CNN is on par with Fox in terms of credibility, let's hope their credibility takes a similar hit.

I find myself thinking about what my friends would send to these candidates, or at least people like my friends, or people at poetry night. In other words, actual people. Somehow this stupid gimmick of a format has me believing that the Republican candidates will actually have to face the American people.

Even if most of those people are still just morons with webcams.

How George W. Bush Gave Me Hope

The year was 2000, a Presidential election was going on. And I didn't think it mattered who won.

I followed it, sure. I made big lists of reasons to support each candidate, even though I couldn't vote. I was well informed on the general positions of each candidate. In the end, I decided Gore was the better pick, if only because George W. Bush was so utterly and flagrantly stupid. I lamented, and still lament, the death of the McCain campaign.

But in the end, I didn't really think it would matter. I didn't think either president would enact substantial change. Having had the same president for all of my adolescences, I didn't get how much the President mattered.

So all I can say is, George W. Bush, thank you. You have proven that one man CAN make a difference in the highest political office in this country. That by shear force of will, you CAN change things, even when your approval ratings are the lowest in history. You showed me the president has power.

And oh sure, you used this power entirely to fuck up the country. Granted. But without you to show us all just how much damage one man can do, these little presidential elections wouldn't have nearly the urgency.

Some other political thoughts while we're here:

Watched the CNN YouTube debates on CNN's website. Some observations:

- If nothing else, this debate narrowed the field for me nicely. This really is a three man race between Clinton, Obama and... Joe Biden. Edwards killed himself for me. This guy always feels like a used car salesman. I don't want a used car salesman to be president. There was not ONE question that he answered head on in that debate. Not one. It was always, "I think what you're really asking" and "I think this brings us to a larger point." Gag.

- Biden meanwhile managed to be engaging and straightforward in all cases. He was realistic about Iraq, and said what we were all thinking about that gun video - namely that the guy in the video was a nutjob. I'm not a fan of his "Where America can, America must!" talk, and I don't think that'll play well after 8 years of Bush, but if you must vote for a white male in this election, this is the guy!

- There wasn't nearly enough screentime for Gravel. And boy did he let us know it. It's not that I think he could be President, or that I think he has anything interesting to say, or really that I think he adds anything at all to the debate. But man is he fun to watch. There is a man who can rile himself up. Can we make him press secretary or something? Then we could see him on the Daily Show every night. We need more Mike Gravel in our lives.

- According to Dennis Kucinich, we can get out of Iraq by sending text messages. What a let down. After an impressive showing on Maher, I thought this guy could be cool - but he looked like such an idiot last night. He gave me that "I'm embarrassed for you" feeling whenever he was onscreen.

- Goddamit, but I'm starting to like Hilary Clinton. She's just so fucking competent. She's the smartest person in either race. Almost all of her answers on substantive matters last night were honest and well thought out. Very little soundbite speak. Plus, how awesome would Bill Clinton: First Man be? Unfortunately, she'll probably get creamed in a general election.

- If I had to lay odds on it, the next president of the United States is going to be a black man. When did you ever think you'd hear yourself thinking that?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

...Or maybe they're not

Hey, maybe Kenny Williams reads this blog!

The post below was written based on a report that came out this morning that contract negotiations had broken down and Buehrle was likely to be traded.

Now word just came out that they're signing him after all, and giving him the no trade clause he was originally asking for.

The power of the blogosphere strikes again!

(Yes, that was a joke)

The White Sox Are Dumb

Kenny Williams is a very good general manager, if you can say that about a guy whose team is about as competitive as Kate Moss at a hot dog eating competition. So when he turns down a no-brainer deal from one of the best young pitchers in the game, you have to figure he has a good reason.

I'm not going to bother telling you that four years, $56 million with an automatic option if traded is a no-brainer deal for Mark Buehrle. You know that. (Or you don't follow baseball and are reading this post anyway. Either way.) So if Williams won't close the deal, it means that either:

1). He thinks his team is going to suck for the next three years or so, and would rather trade for prospects and put up a "Wait until 2012" sign on the lawn, or:

2). He know something about Buehrle that we don't.

Given that Buehrle pitched 8 scoreless yesterday, I don't think we're talking about 2. I think we're talking about 1. I think he sees a potential here for a Mark Mulder-for-Danny-Haren type of trade. Or even a Josh Becket and Mike Lowell for Hanley Ramirez and Annibal Sanchez kind of deal (with Jermain Dye as Lowell). Which, you might argue, are pretty good scenarios that might appease the White Sox faithful, who ought to be outraged by this non-signing.

Only one problem: Williams isn't going to get anything like that. Buehrle's trade value has to have plummeted as a result of these contract discussions. Right now, Buehrle's just a half-season rental. For a team to trade major assets for him, they'd have to be either confidant to the point of hubris that he would deliver them a title, or they'd have to believe that he'd sign a long term deal with them. But thanks to these talks, we know Buehrle doesn't want to leave, so the odds of him embracing a new city with a home town discount seem remote.

Just as importantly, by striking down this deal, Williams has indicated that he is desperate to make a trade. You know what happens when one guy is desperate to make a trade, and the other guy is just kind of interested? The desperate guy gets a colonoscopy, that's what.

Of course, now that I've said all that, the Red Sox will probably trade Jacoby Ellsbury for him or something, in the universe's never ending quest to make me look stupid, and teach everyone not to overestimate the intelligence of sports execs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Transformers: 1986 vs. 2007

You know, if they'd only released this movie last year, the title of this post would have seemed so much cooler.

Anyway, I saw the new Transformers movie on Monday (review here), and yesterday I rewatched the good old fashioned 1986 movie. You know where this is going - it's time for the classic head to head category breakdown. If the new movie wins, it's blasphemy. If the old movie wins, it's ludicrous. I'm pretty blasphemous, and also pretty ludicrous. Which will prevail? Let's just get to the categories, shall we?

Massive Battles
2007 - There's only one real battle in the new movie - but holeeeey shit is it a good one. The movie's act three battle is so breathtaking you might need CPR. Shit gets blowed up good, transformers fight, transformers die. It's awesome.
1986 - There are so many damn fights in this movie. The encounter with Unicron at the end isn't really much of a battle, but that still leaves you with a half dozen firefights and brawls to choose from. Some of those scenes are awesome - like Hot Rod and Kup's escape from the Quintessons, and certain parts of the Earth invasion. Others - like the scene where 10 previously important characters die in 10 seconds - not so much.
Verdict: 1986 doesn't lack for trying, but it just doesn't have any scenes that can match the thunder of the final battle in the new one. Edge: 2007

2007 -
The Autobots all get a little personality, but nothing particularly deep. The only character with any real development in the movie is Sam Witwicky, who gets all warm and fuzzy for his car and his hot girl, and learns that sometimes you have to sacrifice, and sometimes you have to instead kill the bad guy.
1986 - Rewatching the movie as an adult, I realized that it's really a coming of age story for Hot Rod. It's done just subtly enough that you don't see his emergence as a hero coming, but it sort of makes sense when it does. It's not grade A but it's there. There's also some subtle character work with Ultra Magnus, who's thrust into a position of leadership, but has little moments where you can tell he's not up to the task, culminating in his tragic quasi-fatal heroic stand against Galvatron.
Verdict: 86's robots have at least as much personality as the 07 bots, and many more have significant characteristics. Hell, Hot Rod and Kup's growing mutual admiration is at least as deep as any given relationship in the new movie. Edge: 1986

Climactic Duel

2007 - Optimus Prime and Megatron have a knock-down dragout fight through the city that leaves buildings crumbling, and sees a falling Prime almost crush some guy.
1986 - Christ, which one? The actual climactic duel between Hot Rod and Galvatron is pretty good, but it's mirrored earlier in the movie by the unreal awesomeness of the be-all-end-all Megatron vs. Optimus Prime fight. This final battle between the two arch-foes has more gravitas every time you watch it, and is a fitting end for both characters.
Verdict: The 86 Prime/Megatron fight may never be topped by anything ever. Edge: 1986


2007 - The All Spark, which brings life to metal things and also kills you when you shove it in your chest. And is the cause of the Cybertronian war I guess. And also goes from gigantic to small when Bumblebee touches it right.
1986 - The Matrix of Leadership, a weird globe with handles around it that goes into the chest of the head good guy. Its main purpose seems to be blowing up Unicrons, and giving Hot Rod a trailer.
Verdict: Both McGuffins are incredibly nonsensical, but I'm going to give it to the All Spark - at least its only power isn't to blow up one specific bad guy. 2007

Bad Guys
2007 - There are 9 Decepticons in the film. Unfortunately, half of them are introduced in a downright comical montage right before the final battle.
1986 - Let's see. There's the full Decepticon army, headed by Megatron for starters, then the new threat of Galvatron and his henchmen, the Quintessons just for shits, and because all of that wasn't epic enough, let's throw in a planet that transforms into a massive robot and eats other planets.
Do I even need to say it? 1986

2007 - Dear fucking lord. You will believe a pontiac can fly.
1986 - You know, in my memory, the animation on this always looked fucking spectacular. Rewatching it, I discovered that it does look fucking spectacular - once every 10 minutes or so. The animation is extremely uneven - you can tell that a lot of different people were drawing it.
Verdict: Did I create this category just so the new movie could win it? Maybe. But it's undeniably important. 2007.

2007 - At one point, Sam Witwicky's parents accuse him of masturbating, and are relieved to discover he was instead having sex with a hot chick who was hiding in the closet. For example.
1986 - Admit it, when you were a kid, you giggled like a school girl when Ultra Magnus said, "Damn it!"
Verdict: For the first hour, the 07 movie was basically a comedy, which made its slow scenes a ton more watchable. The 86 movie well... let's just hope you weren't watching it for the dialogue. 2007

2007 - What plot? I guess they're trying to protect the All Spark or something... which means taking it to a city for some reason? Whatever, robots fight.
1986 - What plot? I guess they're trying to blow up Unicron or something... which they have no idea how to do, so they spend the second act fighting Eric Idle and also shark monsters. Whatever, robots fight.
Verdict: So neither movie's plot makes a ton of sense. Here's the difference. In the 07 movie they spend the entire movie building up for one fight. The 86 movie opens with a massive battle, and is all kickass adventure from there on in. The scenes almost even manage to build on each other more or less logically! 1986

2007 - Sam Witwicky is the star of the show, a compulsively likable lead character who gives us a perfect perspective on the transformers, allowing us to see both their scale and their humanity. The rest of the humans all have their moments too - if only there weren't so damn many of them.
1986 - Awww.... isn't it cute? Daniel learned to use his very first exo-suit!
Verdict: The Witwicky kid isn't annoying?! This is going to take some getting used to. 2007

Final Tally: In a shocking upset, 2007 takes it 5 to 4! I'm actually flabberghasted here. I had no idea I was this blasphemous! I think I even disagree with the final result! I must be getting less ridiculous in my old age. I'm going to go watch the Kremzeek episode or something as punishment.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Transformers Review!

If there's one thing I hate about movie reviews, it's the way most of them spend half their space recapping the plot of the movie. By the time you've read a Roger Ebert review, you can probably skip the first hour of the movie.

That said, I'm going to start out with a plot summary of Transformers. Here goes: Giant transforming robots fight to the death.

That's it. That's the entire plot. Oh sure, there's a McGuffin in play here, and there's a ton of other random business involving the humans. None of it matters, and really, the movie doesn't try to hard to pretend that it does. I think if Michael Bay read that plot summary, he'd more or less kind of nod.

And really? For all the geekier portion of fandom reveres it, that was basically the plot of the 86 movie too, and for that matter, almost every cartoon, comic book, coloring book, or choose your own adventure staring the Transformers.

Okay, now that we've got that over with, the real question: should you go see it?

Answer: Yes. For the love of Primus, yes.

First of all, you need to know this. Whatever its deficiencies in plot, they are more than made up for in tone. Transformers hits the perfect balance of not taking itself seriously and not making itself a joke. The movie is extremely funny when it wants to be, and only when it wants to be. The dialogue in this movie isn't just serviceable, it's fantastic. The movie is delightfully free of all the crappy lines you expect it to contain.

No one is more important to that tone than Shia LeBouf as Sam Witwicky. Normally, you hate this character. But here, he's exceptionally, compulsively likable. It's really difficult to overstate how good LeBouf is in this movie. He carries the first hour on his back.

Okay, now we can talk about the robots.

Whatever you think of the new robot designs - and I hated them at first - there's no denying they look great in motion. These transformers looks sharp, alien, and most importantly agile. These aren't lumbering metal giants - these are action stars. They bound across highways, leap over other cars, and climb buildings with incredible speed and grace.

The other thing they do is transform. If this movie proves anything it's that things transforming into giant robots is still really neat. You find yourself craving transformations, and movie does not disappoint. Transforming is integrated into the action scenes just enough and every time it happens, it's very, very cool.

Of course the movie isn't perfect. Like so many Transformers stories over the years, it suffers from an excess of fleshlings. At least half the human characters are completely extraneous. Off the top of my head, I can think of a half dozen scenes and several entire characters that could have been omitted without losing anything. In a couple of places in Act II, it drags a little. The plot, as I mentioned, is totally inane. There's probably a few too many scenes with Frenzy.

And basically none of that matters. Nothing in this movie is so bad that it will detract from your viewing experience. Afterwards you can look at it objectively and point to things that could have been done better, but there is not one part of this movie that is painful to watch. Hell, there isn't even a part of this movie that isn't fun to watch. You will be solidly entertained for the entire hour and forty minutes you are in the theater. It is worth your $10. It is worth your time.

And you will get to see giant transforming robots fight to the death. I mentioned that, right?

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