Sunday, April 27, 2008

Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica

Modest Mouse's prior studio release to Good News for People Who Love Bad News is of a very similar standard of high quality. What I find interesting about them is their ability to cover a wide range of styles and moods despite the singer Isaac Brock's voice's tendency to sound a bit silly. It's perfectly suited for offbeat songs like "3rd Planet", and you'd think it wouldn't work as well if they tried to get harder, but it does. "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" is the perfect example of how he makes it work. The verses feature a double layer in both a falsetto and baritone that mix effectively, and the chorus is shouted and distorted. Mix in a great bass line and atmosphere and you have a song way cooler than you'd expect out of the band that did "Float On".

"3rd Planet" is fairly innocuous and catchy on a casual listen, but if you pay attention to the lyrics it's deeper than meets the eye and sets the tone for the whole record. "Gravity Rides Everything" follows it well, with pleasant strumming and a nice refrain. "A Different city" is another example of how they can make a serious track just as well as a quirky one. As the album goes on, some tracks are musically interesting but a bit overlong, sticking around when they don't need to, and others seem like silly throwaways, even if they're much darker when you pay attention to their lyrics. Still, although it's not as tight as it could be it's still quite good most of the time, solidifying Modest Mouse as one of my better liked artists. "What People Are Made Of" is the last song, and puts it together well, although the version I have is a rerelease that tacks on four extra tracks, all of which are alternate versions of existing songs, three of which appear originally on this very album. They don't add that much, but it's hard to say more music is a bad thing.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Hime - Season 1

My Hime is in sort of a jack of all trades, master of none situation. It's part comedy and part action, with both sides being adequately done, although neither are great. Almost all the fighting is done by girls with the power to summon special weapons and spirits to do their bidding. It was actually better than I expected, with some nicely stylized scenes here and there. The atmosphere in the private school where most of the show takes place is the normal, likable anime setting. It's cute but not really funny, but I have to give it some credit for making the requisite love triangle stuff less than completely stagnant.

At first the various characters are mostly fighting against other spirits, but eventually they are turned against each other due to some sneaky villains and misunderstandings. The plot is pretty solid, with some mystery and nice twists, and the background of how everything works is interesting. My main problem with the story was the mood swings. The first half of the show is normal, comfortable stuff where there's a bad guy who gets stopped at the end of every episode. The second half is more continuous, and gradually gets more and more depressing as it goes on and bad things continue to pile on the remaining characters. Then the ending comes and it's like it never happened. The second season isn't a continuation, but apparently rather a completely new story that just reuses most of the character designs and personalities, so I'll have to see how it really compares at some point.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I only recognize Jason Segel as the moderately creepy friend of the main character in Knocked Up, but it turns out he can write and carry a good comedy too. Nicholas Stoller is another one of Judd Apatow's cronies who have been getting their directorial debuts in movies he's produced, and again, he's fine at effectively filming scenes, if not adequately pacing things. It's a little too long, and it seems like it keeps going after the conflict should be over. Still, it's a funny movie and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

After getting left by his girlfriend, played by the cute Kristen Bell, for a rock star played by Russel Brand, Segel goes to Hawaii to try and get away, only to discover they're staying at the same hotel. Little trite of a plot for a movie, but they make it work. Mila Kunis is the girl he turns to to help get over his problems, and of course things develop from there. Surprisingly, I think my favorite character in the movie is the rock star. Normally he'd be a huge jerk that would probably get bit by a shark or something, but he's always funny and actually gets a bit sympathetic eventually. Some other recognizable faces make humorous appearances, and male genitalia is used to comedic effect multiple times. It's not as smart as some of the other Apatow stuff, but I liked it most of the way through.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Matewan is a movie from the 80's about coal workers in the 20's trying to unionize while the evil mining company terrorizes them. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a well-filmed, well-acted film with some depth to it. There are a lot of actors in it who I recognize from modern TV shows, so it was a bit of a weird experience seeing President Roslin, Bob Kelso, and Anthony Cooper in the setting, but the story manages to hold up. Chris Cooper is a union organizer, and James Earl Jones is one of the miners.

The movie starts off showing you what kind of town it is, as a bunch of black laborers are brought off a train on the way in and jumped. They manage to make their way in anyway, only to be introduced to the excessively unfair conditions of working for the company. Cooper begins organizing the union secretly with some people who are already involved, but the company won't take it lying down and things escalate with double crosses, betrayal, and increasing violence. I certainly didn't expect most of this stuff to happen when I was told about a movie about coal miners. Sayles knows how to make a movie, and Matewan's a pretty good one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Liveblog 11: Wang's Making the Leap

After the last game I blogged, the Yankees were one game over .500, 2-1. Now they're... one game over .500, 8-7. Still, they're only one game behind the division leading Boston Red Sox, and have the next two games to try and take the lead for themselves. The team's not in great shape right now. Derek Jeter was injured with a Quadricep strain, Jorge Posada has a bad shoulder, back-up catcher Jose Molina was doing terrifically but is now sitting with a hamstring problem, Wilson Betemit is on the DL with pinkeye, Joba's on family leave after his father collapsed, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have only had two good games in six combined starts, and Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi have both been slumping horribly. But things aren't all bad. Jeter's come back and hit well, Jorge should be catching again soon, Joba's dad is doing better, and the lineup has shown signs of life in the last couple games.

The biggest bright spot is Chien-Ming Wang, who's been brilliant with a 3-0 record while the rest of the starters have gone 3-6. He's been a bit lucky, still not striking out many and actually not getting as many ground balls either, but he faced the Red Sox last time and pitched a complete game, one run gem. This has been his first good April. In 2005, he was still in the minor leagues. In 2006, he was mediocre. In 2007, he was injured. He still managed to win 19 games the last two years, so it will be interesting to see how well he does with a good start. He was awful in the playoffs and I still don't think he can be a true ace with the way he pitches, but he's still one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball and I hope he can do well again tonight.

Top 1 - First pitch strike starts the game. Jacoby Ellsbury, speedy center fielder and earner of free tacos, grounds out to Wang on the second. Pedroia walks on the next four pitches. David Ortiz, who has been terrible so far, checks his swing but grounds out to Alex Rodriguez, moving Pedroia to second base for Manny Ramirez, who almost won the game against Mike Mussina by himself a few days ago. He doubles, easily driving in Pedroia, equaling his team's offensive output against Wang last time around. Wang works Youkilis down and away, striking him out on four pitches. That inning raised his ERA to a whopping 1.57.

Bottom 1 - Clay Buchholz is the pitcher for the Sox. He somewhat-infamously fell to them in the draft because of character questions after he helped steal and sell his classmates' laptops, but he has pretty impressive stuff, especially the curve and change. A debate this off-season was whether he or Joba is the best pitching prospect in the game right now. I'd take either, although I like Joba more because of the fastball. Melky pops out to the shortstop. I read that there's been an overly high percentage of infield flies this season, although you can chalk that up to the sample size. Jeter lines a single off Sean Casey's glove at first base. Clay's fastball isn't as good as it was last time out. On a 2-0 count, Abreu hits the third heater he sees to right center for a no doubt homer, Yanks lead 2-1. A-Rod follows it with a monster shot of his own, passing the Sox' own Ted Williams for 15th place all-time. Too bad he couldn't do it in Fenway. I'm glad I say Buchholz on my fantasy team tonight. Matsui works a full count but flies out to center. Posada, DHing, grounds out, ending the inning.

Top 2 - JD Drew lines a single over Jeter's head. The only real music my roommate listens to is from Rock Band. It doesn't make any sense. We hear those songs all the time anyway because we play the game constantly, why do you need to hear the song normally too? Wang walks Varitek despite him being hitless in his last 18 at bats against him. Figures I'd say something good about Wang and he'd look kinda crappy in his next start. He walks Casey to load the bases, no outs. Jesus, Wang. Lugo hits an RBI groundout, and the runners move up. John Flaherty in the booth just said something about sinkerballers being one pitch away from getting out of it. Except he got the one pitch and there's still two outs left to get with no force double play available. Lucky play, Ellsbury squibs a grounder to Wang who flips to the catcher, allowing them to run down Varitek for the second out, runners on first and second. Pedroia grounds out to Cano, and the inning ends without too much damage, but Wang's ERA has grown to a behemoth 1.88.

Bottom 2 - Despite working on hitting to the opposite field in Spring, Giambi grounds out thanks to the shift once again. He had a nice at bat though, a bunch of pitches. Cano also grounds out weakly. He is so frustrating to watch when he isn't hitting. Backup-for-the-backup-catcher Chad Moeller singles off Pedroia's glove. Or it's an error, whatever. Cabrera strikes out and the inning's over.

Top 3 - Ortiz falls victim to the same shift as Cano, one out. That was a strange play. Full count, Wang strikes out Ramirez on a fastball that was quite obviously in the zone. But Manny was convinced it was ball four, running down the line before hearing the call and yelling at the umpire, sticking his finger at him. I'm surprised he wasn't thrown out. Youkilis flies out to Melky, three outs.

Bottom 3 - I'm distracted right now. Jeter grounded out. Abreu lines out to Pedroia, who could have easily stepped to his left to catch it, but instead elected to half dive, half fall over for it. Rodriguez strikes out, on to the fourth.

Top 4 - Matsui actually just made a decent play in left field, making a catch against the wall. Varitek doubles down the right-field line, beating out a strong throw by Abreu. The play was really close. Casey singles, Varitek scores as the throw by Melky was up the line, tie ball game. Lugo grounds out to A-Rod, who is able to hold Casey at second. Kind of a funny play, Wang looked back at Casey who stumbled and basically crawled back to second, but no one was there. Ellsbury lines out to center to end the threat. Wang's ERA has exploded to an unfathomable 2.08.

Bottom 4 - Matsui singles up the middle. He's been quietly pretty good with the bat so far. Posada flies out, Giambi's up. He dinks a single to short right, first and second for Cano. He can only fly out to deep center, moving Matsui to third base. After a long at bat, Moeller gets a double to drive in the run. He's two for two and seen fourteen pitches. Very good night. Cabrera walks on five pitches, the bases are loaded for Jeter. Time to break it open. Jeter comes through, singling to right and driving in two runs. That knocks Buchholz out of the game. He really couldn't command the fastball effectively and that led to his downfall. Julian Tavarez is in to relieve him. He's not doing a very good job of it, letting Cabrera score on a wild pitch to Abreu. He does strike him out, though. On to the fifth.

Top 5 - Pedroia doubled and Ortiz singled him in, score's 7-4. Wang's lucky the offense is backing him up tonight. Another single by Ramirez, Ortiz almost got picked off rounding second. Wang really doesn't have it tonight. You have to wonder how much of it is his unfamiliarity with Moeller. Youkilis singles to left field, and this is getting retarded. Drew singles under his glove, two runs score, and Wang's been forced out of the game. Completely inexplicable. This is why I don't think he's an ace. Ross Ohlendorf's coming in to put out the fire. In my experience he's not great at preventing inherited runners from scoring, so Wang's possibly looking at eight earned in just four innings. He strikes out Varitek looking on a quite delayed call. The umpire's messing with the Sox hitters' heads. Casey singles again, driving in Youkilis, tie game. Shucks. He strikes out Lugo looking too. Too bad he couldn't do that to Casey. Ellsbury walks on four pitches. Pedroia singles, two runs score, 9-7 game. Unbelievable. Ortiz struck out, but I don't really have it in me anymore to keep blogging. I'll come back if things change significantly for the better.

Wrap-up - The Yankees game back the very next half-inning, scoring four runs to make it 11-9. They scored four more in the eighth to produce the final score, 15-9. Hawkins and Bruney did well in relief. Ugly win, but it's still a win. Mike Mussina gets a chance to redeem himself tomorrow, pitching against Josh Beckett.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

MLB 08: The Show

I don't play many sports games at all, but I like baseball so I thought I'd try a new one. Most people preferred The Show to the 2K series this year, so I got that one. It's a pretty fun and accurate simulation of the sport. The last baseball game I played was All-Star Baseball '99 for the Nintendo 64, with Larry Walker on the cover, so it's been a while. In that time, pitching has gotten more involved and hitting has gotten harder. In that old game, you only had to pick a pitch and location and it would go there, and when batting, you could line up the icon with the pitch icon to swing at it. Now, you have to time a multi-part meter right to execute a pitch well, and hitting requires you to rely on your own vision much more and swing smartly. There are some helpers you can use to make it a little easier like pitch guessing, although the online league I'm in has them turned off because apparently they have amazing eyesight. Fielding and baserunning is pretty intuitive, and how close the gameplay has gotten to real baseball is impressive, although there are still some weird gaffes like runners taking bases when there's no way they would have been able to, and stealing bases is a cakewalk.

The presentation and commentary are pretty good. There are some weird inconsistencies, like an often repeated animation of the umpire throwing a ball to the pitcher without the ball ever actually going into his glove, and fan animation repeating too often, but the amount of stuff they crammed in is cool. Most of the big pitchers and hitters have authentic windups and batting stances, and there are nice touches like playing arguing close plays. Rex Hudler is annoying and some comments are either repeated too often or used in inappropriate situations, but it's definitely better than it used to be.

I haven't played online much, but the integration of leagues and mail are nice, and weekly roster updates are great. I've spent a lot of time with the "Road to the Show" career mode, and besides missing most of my created pitcher's rookie season with an out-of-nowhere "fractured head" injury, it's pretty interesting to build up his skills and move him towards his goal. I wish your stats improved based on how you play instead of using arbitrary skill points, but it's still cool. Too many little things prevent The Show from being a full experience. How does it not even have a home run derby, a simple feature present in that game I played nine years ago? It's not important, but it's something. I am not and will never be a sports gamer, but I'll probably continue to get enjoyment out of this for a while.

Friday, April 11, 2008

School Rumble - Season 1

The plot and humor of School Rumble are often a bit too repetitive, but generally it's a pretty easy watch. It takes place in high school, but it's not about the classes. It's about the biggest love triangle ever made. I can't even describe it succinctly. I can think of only one situation in the season where two people actually like each other, and they're highly peripheral characters. But it can be simplified down to the central core of the conflict. The school rebel, who's really not very tough at all, likes a girl who likes a guy with no personality who's leaving in a year. I gotta say, it would be a little more interesting if the other guy was likable in any way, but he's just a cutout to cause the central frustration that drives the show.

That's not all there is though. They go out of their way to develop quite a few characters, making it seem a bit more like a real school than just the backdrop for their principal cast. There's plenty of different humorous events, like a school-wide athletics competition culminating in an over-the-top battle where squads of four try to knock each other over. Harima, the aforementioned rebel, is probably the best character. He starts off in a weird place but quickly becomes sympathetic. Despite his reputation he's a good person, and the show balances around him. School Rumble isn't the most intellectually stimulating thing you'll ever see, but it's pretty enjoyable.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ah! My Goddess - Season 2

The second season of Ah! My Goddess, entitled Flights of Fancy, continues from the first, and there is some continuity there, it's just hard to care so much when not much really happens with the characters. The show is still well animated and charming, but Keiichi's inability to do anything with his life starts to wear on your nerves after about 40 episodes. Yeah, it's not so easy getting closer to someone when her magical sisters are always making you explode, but he's about as spineless as you can get. It's the same Japanese nerd fantasy of an introvert like them ending up in a good situation but being unable to do anything with it you see quite a bit, but it comes off as more tolerable because the circumstances around it are more interesting. I wish it was a little more creative instead of ripping off Norse mythology so much (apparently Japan can't get enough of the Yggdrasil Tree), but in general it's pretty entertaining.

There's some new plot developments, like the introduction of Peorth, another angel, who competes with Belldandy for Keiichi's affections. This might have proven interesting if there was any chance of him changing his mind, but he's too loyal and good-hearted to ever betray anyone. There's a story arc near the end involving sexy demon mothers and time travel and those sort of fun things. Sometimes it's hard to tell if it wants to be a romantic comedy with action elements or an action show with romantic comedy elements, although it usually leans towards the former. In any case, the general wet blanket personalities of the two leads make for some frustrating moments, but the show usually overcomes it with everything else being pretty solid. I'd be fine watching a third season, which should be doable with all the manga there is to adapt.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Weeds - Season 3

Continuing directly from the last, season three is 15 more episodes of quality television. Nancy's world continues to spin out of control as everything that can go wrong basically does. Her business expands, which also increases the amount of trouble she can get into. She also gets a real job as secretary to a manipulative businessman who goes around building up religious suburbs, whose current project is Majestic, the town quickly enveloping the main setting of Agrestic. He's not really a likable character, but he helps provide lots of intriguing plot turns. The secondary characters are pretty good this season, including more of the awesome U-Turn, thug drug dealer extraordinaire, and one of the Olsen twins playing a hyper-Christian pot user.

There's been some changes in her two kids. Silas seems like less of a complete tool, although that might be because he's getting more of what he wants. Shane is visibly older than he was when the show started, and has now become obsessed with facts, something that hasn't seemed too interesting yet. He kind of gets the short end of the stick the whole season, and a development near the end of the season shows how he might be regressing. The finale's another good one, not as dramatic as the first two, but enough to make me wonder not just what happens next but where it's going to happen. It's a pretty cynical show, but quite enjoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Prison Break - Season 3

After escaping from prison in the first season and running from the law in the second, where could the show go next? Back to prison - in Panama! Season three was a bit of a retread, sort of an accelerated remake of the first, except the conditions were worse. Most of the old characters manage to find their way into the situation, some former criminals now helping from the outside and old law enforcement now in jail. The show's running low on good female characters, which can happen when you keep killing them off. I think the actress who played Michael's love interest must have quit, because she didn't even show up to film her death. Luckily, the new snarky evil agent that's in on the conspiracy is female to help balance it. Except I always hate those characters.

While it's a little convenient for them to have to break out of jail again, it's hard to be bothered too much by the contrivance when the show is called Prison Break. It's still entertaining to watch Michael's schemes come to fruition, I'm just not sure how much longer the formula can hold up. Now that they're out of prison again, hopefully they can stay out and the rivalry between them and The Company (ooh!) can actually develop and go somewhere. Serial shows like this have to change to stay good because there's only so many ways you can make running away from something interesting. The third season wasn't worse in a significant way, the story just wasn't compelling since it was a retread of old ground.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Heroes - Season 2

The strike rushing the story arc didn't help things, but the second season of Heroes was a significant letdown. It didn't start out too badly, it just degenerated quickly and was basically a mess by the time it ended. It wrapped up back in December so my memory's a bit fuzzy, but everything's kinda held in a general distaste. I still like the idea of the show and hope they can make a comeback in season 3 so we can chalk this up to a bad situation.

Problem #1: Faulty time travel logic. Hiro travels back to feudal Japan and then proceeds to completely screw up history by changing everything about how his childhood hero's life turns out. What repercussions does this have on the modern day? None, of course. Peter starts off screwing around in Ireland, picking up a wee lass, but eventually loses her in an apocalyptic future before traveling back to the present. He then follows an obvious villain around who convinces him to help prevent that future from happening. Part of Peter's motivation is to get the Irish girl back. I don't know exactly how alternate timelines and all that are supposed to work in the Heroes universe, but if somebody was trapped in a possible future, I wouldn't think the best way to get her back is to make sure the place where she is never comes into existence.

Complaint #2: Peter is an idiot. With his power, he's one of the central characters by default, but he's a complete moron in season two. He follows the villain around despite everyone telling him he can't be trusted, and despite the fact that he has the ability to read the guy's mind at any time and discover his true motivations. He only discovers the truth in time to stop the world's destruction in an absurd moment that of course takes place in slow motion.

Issue #3: Pointless plot tangents. Nikki tries to continue her life with her son, but runs into problems, none of which have anything to do with what's actually happening. The split-personality bit is getting old, and the way it resolves makes me wonder what the point was. I also wonder what the point was of having her husband survive the grave injuries he sustained in the previous season if they were going to kill him off anyway. There's also a subplot involving a couple Mexicans that seemed to bear absolutely no relevance whatsoever. When you kill off a character and then revive them five minutes later, and that causes the fans to be disappointed, you've done something wrong.

Grievance #4: Inconsistent characterization. You'd think by now that Claire and her father would stick together through thick and thin, but unfortunately she's not quite done being an angsty teenager. The entire subplot with the Bennets and Mohinder and the Company (why can't TV writers ever have better names for evil monolithic plot-device organizations?) was a big mess of pointless betrayals and anger. It seemed like they were forcing conflict where it didn't belong. Again, I'm pretty sure the strike spelled doom for this season if it wasn't doomed already, but I'll give them a chance to fix it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chuck - Season 1

Discussion of these next few shows was put on hold because I wasn't sure if the seasons were actually finished or just delayed by the strike. But I saw announcements for new seasons of all three recently, confirming that the current ones were done.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about Chuck. The super-spy angle is pretty interesting, most of the main characters are likable, and it's usually an enjoyable, somewhat humorous watch. On the other hand, the specific storylines are often less than creative, the romance stuff is a little too high school, and it's rarely funny enough to make me actually laugh out loud. The show's more cute than straight-up funny. There's nothing wrong with being cute, it just doesn't make you the most compelling thing in TV.

The center of the conundrum is Morgan, Chuck's best friend. Once in a while he's funny, and it's very hard to really hate him, but in general he doesn't add that much to the show. Replace Morgan with the show and the show with your life, and that's kinda what's up. Not to just dismiss it though, it does have plenty of moments. Chuck's a really good main character, Sarah's a solid love interest, and it's hard to go wrong with Jayne from Firefly as a gruff, no-BS government agent. They do a reasonably good job of fleshing out the backstory and making it an interesting setting for Chuck to exist in. I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be a comedy or a drama, because it often seems focused on humor and the general vibe is kind of silly, but it has the hour-long format and many melodramatic moments. If the idea of a computer nerd accidentally having all of the Government's secrets dumped into his brain and being forced to become an anti-terrorism weapon appeals to you in any way, give it a shot.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


This series still hasn't been fully released here on DVD but finished its run on TV and it's one of the better anime series I've seen. The art is really well designed, with appealing characters and interesting monsters, and the animation is fluid and stylized. The action scenes aren't the best I've seen, but they're pretty good for something that has to have a new installment every week. Some of the secondary characters are a bit annoying, although they never bothered me too much. The real appeal of the show is the plot, as there is a continuous storyline throughout the fifty episode series. There's lots of twists and surprising moments, and while it seems strained a bit by the end, they still managed to pull off a conclusion that was unexpected and not as lame as it seems like anime endings usually end up being.

Blood: The Last Vampire was a well-animated, brief film that stirred some interest without really delivering on it, and Blood+ is the realization of that potential, although the setting and story are mostly different. It's about a young girl who's really an ageless vampire-like creature, who's been recruited to fight a bunch of other creatures as her blood is the only way to kill them. A lot of stuff happens, as she tries to protect what remains of her family and deals with many different enemies, both human and supernatural. There are some flashbacks and sometimes it can get a bit confusing, but I really liked it most of the time I was watching.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Weeds - Season 2

The second season builds off the first perfectly, and by the end you can't help but be impressed by the skill with which they balance the humor and the twisting plot. The first season at least had vestiges of a sitcom, as Nancy dealt pot while balancing everything else in her life. But the story in season two makes it a full blown serial. In order to branch out, she decides to make a grow house with her friends she's made in the business. She also has to figure out how to manage a boyfriend in an inconvenient line of work. There's more family trouble, and Silas reveals himself to be not just a jerk but also a horrible, selfish bastard. Andy has multiple schemes to get out of his military obligation, and Shane sees a change in his public image.

One thing in the series that deserves mention that I haven't brought up yet is the choice of music. When I was getting used to it it seemed a bit annoying like the selections in Juno, but I grew to like all the obscure songs they found that fit the scene perfectly. Most of them are enjoyable to listen to as well. Another thing is Kevin Nealon. He only plays a secondary character, but like he always is, he's usually pretty funny, and the developments in his feud subplot with Celia are great. I've already jumped into the third season, because this is one addicting show.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Liveblog 10: The Season Begins

It's not Opening Day, but it's the deciding game of the first series this year against the Blue Jays. In the first game, the Yankees won due to good and somewhat lucky pitching by Wang, Joba, and Mariano. Melky had a big game, making two good catches and sneaking a game-tying home run past the wall in right. A-Rod drove in the team's first run of the season. In game two, the pitching wasn't so good, with Mike Mussina being decent but not good enough against AJ Burnett, who's usually hurt but impressive when he isn't and who can opt out after this season. A-Rod homered, but that was about all the offense they got. Ross Ohlendorf looked pretty good in the ninth, though. Tonight is Phil Hughes' first start of the season, and thanks to quirky scheduling for Spring Training, the first time he'll pitch on TV since the playoffs. Here's hoping he holds his own against Dustin McGowan, who emerged in impressive fashion last year.

Top 1 - Phil's on the mound. Let's see if he can reverse his bad Stadium split from last year. Fastball doesn't have the velocity it did in Tampa but he gets Eckstein to ground out weakly. He strikes out Stairs looking on a beautiful curve. After looking at a few breaking pitches, Rios is also punched out looking at a fastball at the knees. Nice start.

Bottom 1 - The crowd has already taken to doing a "Hughes" call with two strikes and two outs. Pretty nifty. McGowan strikes Damon with a nice fastball out of the zone. Jeter grounds out afterwards. If anyone's following on Gameday, don't trust what it said in the first inning, I don't think they even got the number of pitches right. Abreu swings weakly at the third strike, and we might have a pitcher's duel tonight.

Top 2 - Wells pops out to deep second, nice play by Cano. Not off to the hottest start but I'm excited about his potential for this season. Thomas skies one to Melky on the first pitch. Overbay takes a couple balls before grounding to second. Woo.

Bottom 2 - A-Rod hits it hard but right to third. Giambi works a full count and then walks. No hits yet but he's gotten on base twice. Cano up, hitting sixth again, which I still find interesting and great. He grounds into a force but just beats out the double play. Still needs to work on plate discipline, no need to swing at a pitch outside like that. Gameday's pitch identification isn't flawless yet, because I know McGowan's fastball ain't 86 MPH. Non-speedster Cano steals second, but it doesn't matter because Matsui didn't check his swing in time and is called out.

Top 3 - Hill is right on Phil's pitches, fouling two off. He smacks the third to Melky in center. Scutaro flies out to right. Phil's coasting. Zaun hits a grounder sharply but Giambi snags it. I don't know what's wrong with Michael Kay, it's one thing to bring certain possible outcomes up when it's been five or six innings, but he can't wait until the third is over.

Bottom 3 - Molina's playing again instead of Jorge, who's still got a bad shoulder. It could just be small sample size but Phil pitched better last year with him catching. He singles up the middle. Kay's calling the Yankees' three young pitchers (Hughes, Joba, and Kennedy) Generation Tres. This is a terrible nickname for two reasons. One, it sucks. Two, why would you want to evoke Generation K, a similar situation for the Mets that turned out to be a huge flop? Melky draws a walk, and Kay says it was the second in the inning, but quickly corrects himself. Damon up with opportunity knocking. Paul O'Neill's grousing about lost opportunities when teams don't bunt with runners on base like this. Someone show that man a run expectancy chart. Damon hits it hard, but right at Rios. Jeter's on my fantasy team, so he has two reasons to come through here. Unfortunately, the bastard grounds into a double play.

Top 4 - Interesting storyline this year involves Jeter and the new Stadium. He can set the record for hits at this Yankee Stadium, but he'll have to get at least 91 this year, before they move. He should do it, but he might not. Eckstein pops a duck-fart double down the left field line, and that's the first baserunner for the Jays. Stairs bounces a grounder that moves Eckstein over, and the shutout's in jeopardy. Rios singles cleanly, running his hit streak against the Yankees to 23 games, and Hughes will not have a 0.00 ERA this year. Oh well. Rios goes for second and Cano misses the ball, allowing him to move to third. God damn it. Wells works a full count but strikes out swinging on a nice curve. Thomas does the same, looking at a fastball. He thought it was inside and Gameday agrees, but usually it doesn't help to argue with the umpire, and he gets ejected.

Bottom 4 - The overhead camera shows it was inside too. The new Gameday has problems. Sometimes it will just duplicate at bats, and then you have really confusing looking pitch sequences for a bit. Abreu stings a single to right. A-Rod pops out to deep second. Zaun is starting to annoy me, as does any catcher who jerks the glove a little too much on borderline pitches. Giambi grounds out, but Abreu makes it to third because no one was covering the base thanks to the defensive shift. Kinda funny. Cano hits it well but right to stairs, and another chance wasted.

Top 5 - Hopefully a quick inning here to make up for the last one. Hughes is getting called high strikes on the curve, which makes things a bit easier. Overbay grounds out on the fourth straight offspeed pitch. Hill grabs another curve but hits it lazily to Matsui. Scutaro draws a walk, which is a silly thing to allow him to do. Zaun lines a double right on the line, and Phil's gotta step it up. A-Rod botches a grounder and Eckstein beats the throw, allowing another run to score. Stairs grounds out, inning over. Someone tell Kay he can only say so-and-so works into and out of trouble if they don't allow any runs to score. I swear he has like six things he knows how to say. I'm gonna microwave something, the offense needs to do something.

Bottom 5 - Matsui dinks a single the opposite way. That's how to get started. Zaun just stole a call with his stupid jerk move. Someone hit him with a bat. Molia pops out to Hill ranging to his left. Melky managed to ground into a double play before I finished the second part of preparation for my overly-elaborate microwave dinner. You know what's irritating? This game.

Top 6 - Phil's still in, although I expect this is his last inning regardless of what happens. He almost hits Rios with a bad curve. Bruney's in the bullpen, and I don't think Kay is contractually allowed to mention him without saying he lost twenty pounds since last year. Rios flies out on an ill-advised swing at a 3-0 fastball. Another bad curve comes close to Wells, who then pops out to right. Shannon Stewart, in for Thomas, looks at a strike. He grounds out to Jeter. He could pitch the seventh without getting to 100 pitches, but I don't see him getting the chance.

Bottom 6 - While I was fumbling with my gravy pouch, Damon worked a full count, and then he doubled to right field. Jeter was down 0-2 but drew two balls before getting hit by a breaking ball. It's time for something to happen. If nothing else, they're making McGowan throw a bunch of pitches, but the Jays' pen ain't shabby. Abreu walks and A-Rod's got the bases loaded. There's butter and gravy on this corn. There's a wild pitch and the runners move up, now they're trailing 2-1. A-Rod strikes out, and now Giambi's got a chance to be the hero. He lines an out to Rios and Jeter scores to tie it, but Overbay cuts off the throw and gets Abreu at third, end of the inning.

Top 7 - Billy Traber's pitching, so while Hughes can't get the win, he can't lose either. He matched McGowan, pretty good first start. He strikes out Overbay, and his night's done. Ah, the life of a LOOGY. Bruney's in. Hill works the count full before grounding out to Cano. Scutaro pops out to right field, now let's get a lead.

Bottom 7 - But before that, we'll have to listen to Kate Smith sing "God Bless America" for the 800th time. Seriously Yankee Stadium, enough. And YES, you don't have to show it. Cano weakly grounds out on a pitch from reliever Brian Wolfe. Matsui strikes out. Molina breaks hit bat and grounds out. It's Joba time.

Top 8 - I don't get this sudden debate over Joba's fist pump. Every player I've heard from doesn't mind it, including notoriously angry O'Neill just now, so radio hosts should just find something new to argue about. Zaun strikes out looking. Eckstein grounds out on a nice play by Cano. Who does Kay think he is using "demonstrative" to describe excitable pitchers? Speak like a human. Stairs singles to the right side. Rios flies out to Abreu. Offense!

Bottom 8 - Melky singles to right field. I'm smelling a pretty good year from him. Scott Downs coming in to face the lefty Damon. Damon bunts, and reaches base thanks to a bobble by the pitcher. I guess Girardi needs a run expectancy chart too. Jeter bunts as well, and almost gets a hit out of it. I guess you can't argue with second and third with one out. Abreu dunks a single in front of Wells, Yanks take the lead. A-Rod's down looking on three pitches. MORE LIKE K-ROD AM I RIGHT? Giambi gets hit, and has reached base three times this season despite having yet to get a base hit. Cano flies out, and Mariano will try to protect a 3-2 lead again.

Top 9 - Wells grounds a single up the middle. Stewart grounds to third, moving Wells to second. Another ground ball moves Wells to third. Hill looks at the third strike, and another close win for the Yankees. Last year, Rivera recorded his second save of he season on May 3rd. This year, April 3rd.

Wrap-up - If the bullpen keeps going like they have this year, it will be a good season. They've allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings. They started off on a similar good footing last year, but the difference is they haven't been overworked yet. Phil looked good, and it's encouraging when you can win two of three games against the Jays' rotation when you haven't had a good offensive performance yet. Ian Kennedy pitches tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Xavier: Renegade Angel - Season 1

From the creators of Wonder Showzen is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Xavier is a strange creature who claims to be a spirit guide searching for his father's killer, but most of the time he's just a moron or a jerk. He wanders the earth with his echoing voice and snake left arm, trying to help people he meets, but he just ends up causing chaos and destruction wherever he goes. The computer animation looks awful, which initially almost prevented me from watching it, but it ended up not being a problem and even a part of the series' strange charm. Xavier's really a great character, and his endless, confusing speeches and interactions with the people he encounters are almost always hilarious.

As the show goes on, the focus shifts a bit from weird comedy to weird experimentalism. It's still funny, but there's a lot of introspection as the truth of Xavier's youth becomes revealed to him. The last couple episodes in particular are not like the rest, with a slightly creepy tale of a gorilla becoming the spiritual leader of the planet and a drawn out argument between Xavier and himself. Although sometimes it's hard to stomach the main character, the show is still usually very funny and a unique experience to watch. It's a bit off-putting at first, but worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

South Park - Season 11

South Park has been funny for a long time now. It's not as consistent as it used to be, which can happen when you've been on the air for over a decade, but when it's on its game, it's still great. When it started it lived off the shock value of little kids swearing and fart jokes, but over time it's matured and said a lot of smart, real things about the world. It's always a treat when you suddenly realize what real-life issue Matt and Trey are cleverly lampooning. As you can see from the intro, the cast has been expanding quite a bit and is now reaching Simpsons-level proportions, but the episodes usually focus on the four boys and a few others so it doesn't seem like there's many one-trick ponies. It's become a pleasant routine to get seven new episodes every six months, and I hope it last a while longer.

There's no shortage of good episodes in season 11. In recent years they've gotten into multi-part episodes, and this time they had their longest and perhaps best yet, "Imaginationland", which stretched over three episodes. Funny, ironically epic, and they even managed to pull some comedy out of Gore and the Manbearpig. "The Snuke" is a spot-on (if a little late) parody of 24 that jabs at Hillary and "Lice Capades" spoofs disaster movies with equal skill. The Easter episode was excellent, as was the one that took Guitar Hero down a peg. The only ones that weren't great was probably the lesbian one that parodied 300 and the homeless one, but they weren't bad either, parodies were just getting a bit boring. The 12th season is already off to a decent start and I'm wondering where it will lead.