Monday, January 28, 2008

Git R Done

After this offseason, I don't think I'll never need to get on a roller coaster again. I've experienced enough up and downs this winter to last me a lifetime.

First Tejada was traded, then he wasn't. Then he was traded to the Astros. And just in the nick of time too. Man did the Orioles dodge a bullet there.

Then Roberts was traded to the Cubs, then he wasn't. Who knows why that deal fell apart...

Now Bedard has been reported to be traded to the Mariners after word was passed along that the centerpiece in the deal, CF Adam Jones, was told by the M's to fly home from Venezuela, where he was playing winter ball. Now both teams are denying that the deal is done, even though sources on both sides of the trade say that it is a done deal.

And now comes the show-stopper... word is that Peter G. Angelos has yet to sign off on the deal. The reason? He's unreachable today because of what The Sun calls "personal issues."

Unless Angelos is attending a funeral or some kind of dire family emergency, he should find the time to approve what could be one of the biggest trades in franchise history. And last time I checked, funerals aren't all-day functions.

I'm so sick and tired of being pulled along with these trade rumors, only to hear that the trade was snagged when Angelos got involved. When is Angelos just going to become another part of the process, and one that doesn't slow down the process by a day or two?

Now, this may be a formality. Who knows what's really going on behind the warehouse doors. But one things is for sure, the Orioles need to close the deal on these trades from time to time or else their reputation for being difficult gets even worse and the O's find them selves exiled on Pratt Street.

People close to the team are saying that the deal will be announced tomorrow. I sure hope so.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

2007 Oscar Nominations

OK, so I finally got around to seeing all of the nominated films for Best Picture. Here are my thoughts on...

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

I think it's safe to say that NCFOM and TWBB are the two best films of the nominees for Best Picture. NCFOM was a tense thriller involving engaging and terrifying characters forced into situations that would make normal men crumble. It's without a doubt one of, if not, the best film the Coen brothers have ever made. However, I think the last half an hour of NCFOM was a bit weak, a downer to an exciting film up to that point. And for that reason, I don't think it should beat out the year's best film, There Will Be Blood.

TWBB is a character study from Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a corrupt oil tycoon in turn of the century Texas. Day-Lewis' portrayal of Plainview is downright gripping, and in my opinion one of the best performances I've ever seen, right up there with Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone in The Godfather, and Robert Duval's Apostle E.F. in The Apostle. It's a performance full of depth and discussion points. People will no doubt be talking about Daniel Plainview well into the future. Oh and by the way, Day-Lewis' performance isn't the only great thing about TWBB. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) gives a solid performance as Plainview's rival, false prophet Eli Sunday. Kevin J. O'Conner, Stephen Sommers' (The Mummy) comedic go-to-guy, shines in a small amount of screen-time as a drifter claiming to be Daniel's brother, and Johnny Greenwood's (Radiohead) score is haunting. It brings me deep regret to inform you that his score was unfortunately disqualified for Best Score because a portion of it was not written for the film. And like Day-Lewis' performance being one of the best I've ever seen, Greenwood's score is one of the best I've ever heard. Meanwhile, Paul Thomas Anderson has cemented his status as one of the most focused and intriguing directors working today and deserves the statue for Best Director. There Will Be Blood is quite possibly the best film of the decade thus far.

The rest of the field is filled with solid films in their own right, but none of them can match the intensity and complexity that TWBB and NCFOM bring to the table. Atonement does everything well, but does nothing great. It's lead actors (James McAvoy and Keira Knightly) manage to portray heartbreaking young lovers who are torn apart by a deceitful lie in a limited amount of screen time, but the shift in the film's focus is jarring, albeit necessary. However, this causes Atonement to be two different films in one, neither of which are grandiose enough to steal the Oscar from TWBB or NCFOM.

Michael Clayton is an engaging corporate and legal thriller, and George Clooney shines as the title character, a down on his luck legal "janitor" who gets caught up in crisis of morals when one of his colleagues stops taking his medication and suffers a breakdown of conscience in the middle of a high-profile corporate case. Clooney is essentially himself in every role, but here he manages to inject the right amount of desperation into Clayton, and manages to keep his cool at the same time. In the end, MC is another corporate scandal movie, and at least half a dozen of these potboilers are released each year. The only difference here is Clooney's performance and sure-handed script and direction from Tony Gilroy.

Rounding up the year's Best Picture nominees is the general public's darling film, Juno. Ellen Page gives a great performance full of sarcasm and wit, but first-timer Diablo Cody's hip dialog is forced at times and the film wears its art-house movie heart on its sleeve. There are at least 5 movies that deserve to be nominated over Juno, but that's not to say it's a bad film. Just overrated. And since it's so popular, Juno stands a good chance to take home the trophy. It just doesn't deserve to.

Of the films that were slighted, Zodiac is the biggest tragedy. David Fincher's workmanlike study of the terrifying Zodiac serial killer case is a two and a half hour Unsolved Mysteries episode in the vein of All the President's Men. There is a lot of talking, but Jake Gyllehaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo all make their characters interesting. But the star of the movie is the Zodiac case itself, which lends itself well to today's age of media blitz events like the Beltway Sniper.

Sean Penn's Into the Wild was another movie that deserved more recognition. Emile Hirsch plays the troubled Christopher McCandless, a rich-kid who decides to trek across the country when he graduates college instead of follow in his parents footsteps. This allows him to meet some fascinating supporting characters such as Hal Holbrook's mournful turn as a lonely old man seeking to adopt McCandless, knowing that Chris headed toward trouble in Alaska. Hirsch, like Ben Foster and Ryan Gosling, is one of young Hollywood's best actors and this is his movie, and he doesn't disappoint. He brings the right amount of angst and humility to a man who didn't know what he wanted, but not knowing what he wanted was the exact thing he did want.

And finally, the other film that deserved more recognition this Oscar season was the non-traditional musical, Once. Instead of being another tedious dialog-as-song musical, Once is actually about music and musicians, not demon barbers or jailed songbirds. Once tells the story of a starving artist songwriter who meets and eventually falls for a piano-playing Czech girl in modern-day Dublin. The two record an album together while mending each other's broken hearts. But it doesn't turn out like you think it would. After all, this isn't the Hugh Grant/Drew Berrymore rom-com, Music and Lyrics. At any rate, the music in Once is great, but sadly, the film was practically shut out, earning only one nomination for Best Song when all five nominations for Best Song could have easily come from this film. Shockingly, the Disney film Enchanted earned three for Best Song alone. And if that's not a crime, then I don't know what is.

So this Oscar season is no different from any other. A lot of films do get the recognition they deserve, but a lot of other films don't. And while many people dismiss the Academy Awards for its pretentiousness, they still do a good job selecting the year's best films. At any rate it gives us something to talk about.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sound the alarm

It sounds like Peter Angelos is up to his old antics.

Roch Kubatko from the Sun wrote this in his blog yesterday and it doesn't sound good.

Of course, we're going to believe that Angelos was indeed the one who killed the deal. He's repeatedly killed deals in the past, or changed his mind, or just stalled until the deal shriveled up and died. So when reports come out of Chicago that Angelos first approved a Roberts trade, and then changed his mind, thus killing the deal, excuse me if I don't give Angelos the benefit of the doubt.

I don't know what Angelos is thinking. Doesn't he realize that Roberts needs to be traded? That he'll help this team get better by being traded for 3-4 good prospects? That he's a goner after 2009 because he's sick of losing anyway?

Andy MacPhail may not be the team's savior like we'd hoped, and he may be asking for too much and taking too long to make decisions himself, but I do believe that he could get some deals done to improve this team and get a rebuilding process started. But not if Angelos is going to treat him like every other front office executive in the past by overruling him left and right.

This doesn't bode well for the O's. They are already viewed across the league as being difficult to work with, so this latest development isn't going to help their image at all.

So unless MacPhail can somehow convince Angelos otherwise, it looks like us fans should do what we always do around this time of year, and lower our expectations drastically.

While we weren't expecting a Wild Card run in 2008, I, among many, was looking forward to watching the young prospects that had been received in trades for Bedard and Roberts. But now it's looking more and more like we may only have to look forward to watching the players we got back from the Tejada trade, and some more mediocre free agents.

And at this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Miguel Tejada trade get reversed somehow. I'm sure the Astros could say they were traded damaged goods. But if that happens, you'd have to think that it wouldn't be Angelos' doing.


Either way, this once promising offseason has been tarnished. And at this point, it's going to take a miracle to save it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Vampire Weekend

Every so often, a band comes along with so much hype, that their actual music is lost in the shuffle. Hype inspires backlash before one single note is even heard. So when a band like The Strokes, The Arctic Monkeys or Arcade Fire is crowned a legendary act before they even release a debut album, I try my hardest to wait until I hear a song before I state my opinion.

Vampire Weekend appears to be the next band victimized by the hype machine. Hailing from New York City, and bringing with them a unique sound, they've been labeled everything from the next Strokes to the saviors of ska music.

Easy there, fella.

After listening to their self-titled debut the entire way through for the first time, I couldn't help but feel let down. First off, the entire album clocks in at about 30 minutes, so there isn't much time to hold onto a certain song or image before the song ends and the next one starts. I initially thought that VW seemed more like a ska-influenced Weezer, with lead-signer Ezra Koenig intent to become the next Rivers Cuomo, penning two and a half minute ditties designed to get toes tapping. The band's tongue in cheek videos don't hurt either.

But after repeat listens, I was able to get beyond the hype and the brevity of the songs to appreciate what is there, and it is dominated by some damn fine instrumentation. The guitar work on this album is worth the price of admission alone. The opener, "Mansard Roof", begins with some puffs of an organ before erupting into a stringy volcano of deliciousness during the refrain.

"Oxford Comma" keeps the organ puffs but manages to be more drum-driven, which helps accentuate the lyrics which show off Koenig's witty wordplay. Then comes "A-Punk", a highway speed chase of a song, with more of the warp-speed guitar work heard on "MansardRoof". It's probably the albums most accessible song, and the music video is a perfect fit.

The second half of the album drags a bit as the band struggles to stretch their ska-influenced sound over an entire album, but there some standouts such as "Campus" and "Walcott".

Vampire Weekend is probably going to become a popular band, and that might instantly turn off some fans who "liked them first" and/or rebel against anything "commercial". But VW is a fun band. They're not going to force you to examine the world today like Arcade Fire or reinvent modern rock like the Strokes, but they will make you smile, and sometimes that's all you need.

ALBUM SCORE: *** (out of ****)

Monday, January 14, 2008

3:10 to Yuma

Ah, the Western.

What was once a staple in Hollywood has now been relegated to generic western entries such as American Outlaws and Texas Rangers. That isn't to say there haven't been some solid westerns of late, namely Open Range and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

So when the overly positive reviews for 3:10 to Yuma popped up upon its release, I took one look at the cast and said "I want to see that."

I didn't get to see it in theaters but I did manage to catch it on DVD recently. And the buzz was spot-on. This was a great neo-western film.

On paper, the recipe for success is all there. First, get James Mangold, director of Walk the Line, to direct another stellar cast made up of Christian Bale (who is arguably the hottest actor working today, and no I don't mean by looks), Russell Crowe (who's had a bit of a downturn in his career lately but seems to be bouncing back nicely) and Ben Foster (a young actor who is right there with Shia LaBeouf and Ryan Gosling as the next big thing).

Bale plays Dan Evans, a beaten down Civil War soldier with an artificial leg. The railroad wants his land, and the man who owns it is intending to sell, regardless of what Dan thinks. His son thinks his father is yella, and his wife secretly doubts his ability to stand up for his family as well.

Even worse, Dan's livestock has escaped their holding cell and have wandered half-way across the state. While he tries to round them up, Dan and his sons stumble across Ben Wade (Crowe) and his gang, including second-in-command, Charlie Prince (Foster), who've just knocked off a armored wagon filled with Uncle Sam's money. Wade is the kind of guy who will make you famous, but also seems to have morals, as loose as they may be. So he lets Dan and his sons go, but relieves them of their horses so Dan won't go running back to town, shouting about Wade's newfound riches.

Eventually, Ben and his crew wind up in Dan's town anyway, and Ben goes and gets himself caught when he shacks up with a bar maid. And when the law needs volunteers to get Ben Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison, Dan volunteers, in need of the money that's being offered.

Along the way, Dan and Ben realize that they are each other's equal when it comes to values and morals, and even though Ben repeatedly admits to being no good, stating "doing good deeds would be contagious so I never did any". Meanwhile, Dan thinks that there might be something worth while in Ben and things get even worse when Dan's older son tags along, and appears to respect Ben Wade more than his dear old dad.

Eventually, Ben's gang catches up with Dan, and are hellbent in rescuing him. And although the script is vague with this notion, we begin to wonder where Charlie's desire to free Ben comes from. Is he secretly in love with Ben? Does he just look up to him as a father? Or is he just evil enough to believe that no one in their gang should be locked up, regardless of the crimes they've committed?

Up until the ending, 3:10 to Yuma manages to be slightly above average, and somewhat of a disappointment considering the talent involved with the film. Bale, one of my favorite actors, fails to inject Dan with anything that resonates with the viewer, besides just being a shade above pathetic. Crowe manages to create a nice balance of pathos and decency in Ben, but it's Foster who again steals the show with his psychotic portrayal of Charlie. Sadly, his screen time is limited.

However, the ending is tense and extended, which heightens the suspense even more. It's like the shootout in Heat, but at the end of the film where it should have been all along. And when the final frames roll, we're blown away with what we've just witnessed, asking ourselves if the heavy decision a character makes is believable. And the more one thinks about it, the more realistic it becomes.

3:10 to Yuma knows it has a good hand, holds it until the perfect moment, and then slaps it down on the table to the dismay of the rest of the players. The ending is a stunner, and makes the somewhat average proceedings all the worthwhile.

FILM SCORE: ***1/2 (out of ****)
BEST SCENE: Film's extended climax.
FILM STATUS: A classic neo-western that should help the genre's resurgence.

Coming down to the wire...

After reportedly being close to a trade that would have sent Brian Roberts to the Cubs for pitching prospects Sean Gallagher, Sean Marshall and 2B/SS prospect Ronny Cedeno, the Orioles have slowed down their trade talks to a crawl.

Nothing appears eminent and the Orioles have repeatedly said that they are content going into the 2008 season with Brian Roberts and Erik Bedard on their roster.

Of course, this is a negotiations ploy, but as the days pass without action, it appears more and more like it could be a reality.

And while I am glad to see that Andy MacPhail has high demands for his 2 best players in Roberts and Bedard, I am beginning to worry that he isn't willing to budge.

Now, this could play out beautifully if the Cubs or Mariners get nervous as the season approaches and pull the trigger on the trades that MacPhail wants. But it appears that those teams aren't willing to give up their best young talent, regardless of how good Roberts and Bedard may be.

And therein lies the problem. Someone has to flinch. Hopefully it won't be the Orioles, but if it comes down to the wire, they may be forced to.

Entering the 2008 season with Brian Roberts and Erik Bedard on the roster points toward complete disaster. Both players have a better chance to lower their value than raise it, and both players have had injuries in the past that have sidelined them for extensive periods of time.

Having their value drop from ineffectiveness or injuries would force the Orioles into a corner that they wouldn't be able to fight their way out of.

They need young talent. They need it now. And they need to start the rebuilding process as soon as possible. Waiting for the trade deadline in July 2008 is not acceptable. There are too many risks involved. And most important, it pushes the rebuilding process back to 2009.

The Orioles may need to take a hard look at themselves and realize that they need to move these guys before the season begins, no matter what the cost. Yes, there is still time to hold out, to force the teams who covet Roberts and Bedard to cave in, but with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in a month, time is of the essence.

Taking one fewer player in a deal, or substituting a top prospect with a lesser player isn't the end of the world. Especially for Roberts, who I believe is grossly overrated by Oriole fans. The Gallagher, Marshall and Cedeno deal was bashed when it was reported as completed, but it seemed like fair value for a 2B in Roberts who is on the wrong side of 30 and is sure to start declining soon. Gallagher and Marshall are both candidates for a mid-rotation spot and Cedeno has posted a .900 OPS in AAA the last 2 years, but has struggled in the majors thus far.

If you're going to hold out for the best package, it better be Bedard. If we're forced to keep him, it doesn't hurt to have an ace on your team for 3 months or a year, especially if he maintains his current level of performance.

But if you hold onto these players too long, like the Orioles have done all too often in the past, you're playing with fire.

And the Orioles will be the ones who get burned.