Monday, July 23, 2007

On the Road AGAIN!

I know that I haven't yet blogged about my great Red Sox Road Trip - went to games in Atlanta, San Diego and Seattle and had an awesome time! I promise to do so soon.

But I'm headed north to New England tomorrow morning - a trip that will include the Police reunion concert at Fenway on the 29th and three games against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway - as well as a week on Block Island.See you when I return...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The latest installment in the "Harry Potter" series arrived in theaters last Wednesday, and I had the chance to take it in today. It was definitely NOT a disappointment - it was wonderfully crafted and a great adaptation of a very long novel.

I must admit, that the timing on the release of each film works to benefit them. Just enough time has elapsed since this book's publication, that I can really only remember the basics of the plot, and I'm sure this is true for most of the general public. This really works to the advantage of the filmmakers, because MOST viewers can't remember many of the minute details of the novel. Of course, the Potter fanatics will know that director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Gonldeberg have trimmed many small subplots.

The basic story: Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts School under a cloud of bad publicity, following the death of Cedric Diggory in the TriWizard Competition. The Ministry of Magic is trying to discredit reports of the return of Lord Voldemort, and are scapegoating Harry. Also arriving is the new teacher of Defense against the Dark Arts, Dolores Umbridge, whose been sent by the Ministry to take charge of affairs at Hogwarts.

The films have gotten darker and darker with each installment. I wondered about the many young children in the theater - most of the political undertones escaped them, I know, but many must have been very frightened by the film. Although a small ray of hope is shone during the closing scenes, the feeling of doom for our heroes is palpable.

The performances are terrific. It's amazing to look back at footage from the first film, and see how much the three principals have grown physically and talent-wise. Daniel Ratcliffe displays some real acting chops. His scenes with Gary Oldman could have shown some real weaknesses in his talent; instead, he proves worthy of competing with the veteran actor. The supporting cast? Well, since there is nary an acting lord or dame who hasn't appeared in the series (they still have a chance - there are two more films!), you expect high quality. I adore Alan Rickman as Snape, Jason Isaacs as Malfoy, Maggie Smith, and Emma Thompson. New to the series are scene stealers Helena Bonham Carter and Imelda Staunton as Umbridge.

The latest "Harry Potter" adventure is definitely not a disappointment. Satisfying for fans of both the books and the movies. As a matter of fact, I may have to pull out the last book and have another read, just to remember what happens next to young Mr. Potter.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mid-Season Thoughts

Like the Red Sox, I've been taking a few days to catch my breath - and get rested for the second half of the season. In many ways it's been a dream first half - in first place by 10 games, the Yankees in chaos, our pitchers pitching well.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the first half of the 2007 season:
1. May 13th - the Mother's Day miracle. The Sox come back with six runs in the bottom of the 9th - what more can you ask for?

2. Red Sox players hit four home runs back to back. Unbelievable.

3. Curt's near no-hitter in Anaheim. I was on the edge of my seat those last few innings - when I wasn't pacing the room.

4. Hinske's face plant catch in right. Wow.

5. Ortiz, caught in a run down between 1st and 2nd, decided to hug the 2nd baseman. Awesome.

6. Pizza gate!

7. Manny pets Tavarez in the dugout. I couldn't stop laughing for an inning.

8. Our two fantastic Japanese acquisitions. We had high expectations for Dice-K, but no one expected the kind of performances we've seen by Okajima. I'm so glad he was chosen for the All-Star game - so well deserved.

9. Our Bull Pen. Yes, we all know pitching is what makes the difference, and it's been so nice to be on the positive side of that equation for once. Not only have they been effective, Francona has used them effectively!

10. Youks! Talk about coming into your own. He's been outstanding this year - grinding out at-bats, playing some great defensive first base - and even hitting an inside the park home run.

11. Beckett. That's all you need to say. Let's hope Joshua Patrick can continue strong in the second half, because we really need him.

12. The promise of the future: Jacoby Ellsbury. Fast! And such a great human interest story - the first Navajo to play in the majors.

As for the second half of the season:
1. The offense needs to heat up. Our two biggest bats, Ortiz and Manny, are not playing up to their usual level - Manny only has 11 home runs, Ortiz 14. I'm not sure injury is a factor (I heard today that Ortiz is having an MRI in Boston today), or just haven't shaken off the off-season dust yet. But if we're to stay in first place - and if we hope to go beyond the first round of the playoffs - they've got to get locked in.

2. Lugo and Drew. I've been unimpressed with them so far, but I'm willing to cut them a little more slack. We're in first and have that luxury. Lugo showed some signs of life in the last few games, so maybe he's ready to explode. I like Drew, but he's not producing at the appropriate times. So come on you two, get with it!

3. We also need the Yankees to continue to struggle. Or maybe not. We've shown some signs of complacency of late - and the rest of our scheduled is packed with lesser teams. If we hope to make a place for ourselves in the playoffs, we need to stay sharp - or get sharper. A surging Yankee team might motivate our guys a little more. Or it could kill our chances. So, okay, let's hope the Yankees continue to play mediocre, less than 500 ball.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Review: Ratatouille

What a delight! This new film from Pixar is the story of a rat (Remy) who loses his colony, but becomes attached to an incompetent young chef, Linguini. Remy, on the other hand, IS a chef! So the two join forces, and soon become a culinary phenom in Paris. Remy calls the shots from beneath Linguini's toque - and they are the toast of Paris. Much to the dismay of the restaurant's head chef, Skinner. Skinner knows the truth: Linguini is the son of the Restaurant Gusteau's founder - and heir to it.

The scenes behind the scene at the restaurant are wonderful - full of authentic detail on how a gourmet kitchen is run. The female chef, Colette, is the true embodiment of a woman trying to establish herself in a gourmet kitchen. As the famed restaurant critic Ego, Peter O'Toole makes a real impression - much more so than the other voice artists.

The true joy in the film, though, is the animation. Pixar is coming closer and closer to making their animated creatures look and act like real people. The rats in the film are so close to real - you see their fur rustle in the wind. When the colony of rats swarms and flees en masse, it is so real that I actually cringed! You have to often remind yourself that these are vermin - the scene where they assist Remy in the kitchen is a real torment for those who love sentiment and love clean food at the same time!

A lovely film. I really enjoyed it - and will add it to my DVD collection when the time comes. Be warned that the film runs much longer than you would expect from an animated (aka "chilren's film) - it runs over two hours. But you won't want to miss a single cel!


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Who's now? Who cares!!

I realize that July and August are the doldrums in the sports news industry. The only thing going on really is baseball - some golf, some NASCAR, some soccer. But we're months away from football in any form - or basketball.

So the geniuses at ESPN have come up with their "Who's Now" feature. Basically, they made a list of 64 sports figures, put them into a bracket formula and - voila. Viewers vote on stars in each "round" - picking who is more important in the sports world.

Frankly, who cares if some ultimate fighter is bigger than an X-games skateboarder? Who cares if David Beckham is "bigger" than Tiger Woods? And who cares to listen to Stuart Scott and his band of idiots debate it?? It's such a contrived way to fill time...

Rant over! (And how can you pick between Tom Brady and David Ortiz??)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Review: Live Free or Die Hard

Ah, summer. When life slows down and the summer crop of films requires no thinking for the viewing public. Following "Fantastic Four" and "Oceans Thirteen" (among others), comes another popcorn film, "Live Free or Die Hard."

Bruce Willis returns to the role that propelled him from primetime tv star to movie star (Can you believe that was in 1988?!) - John McClane, officer with the NYPD who always seems to find epic trouble. This time out, he's asked to escort a computer hacker to DC after it appears he was involved in a glitch in the nation's computer systems. When McClane arrives, he must protect the kid (played by "Mac" from the tv commercials, Justin Long) from a death squad, sent by the mastermind of a plan to cripple the country by crippling the country's computers. McClane and Matt end up playing the cavalry, stepping in to find and stop the cyber-terrorists.

Willis has the part of McClane down pat. There is no need for exposition or character development - it's an action movie that doesn't aspire for more. There are some nice moments between Willis and Long, and between Willis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his daughter Lucy. I am crazy about Kevin Smith, so I really enjoyed his appearance as one of Matt's hacker buddies. But I have to agree with other reviewers who have called Timothy Olyphant's role as the baddie weak. Of course, no one can measure up to the original "Die Hard's" villain, Alan Rickman, but I never got the hate on for Olyphant's Gabriel.

Incredible special effects and cgi work. The stunts were unbelievable - really, a lot were totally unbelievable. But you must suspend your sense of disbelief in these movies. Willis clearly was having a great time making the film, and he's in good enough shape that his participation in some of the wacky stunts is believable.

You won't find the answer to the world's problems, you won't weep from some personal revelation you receive through the film's message, but you will find a fun 2 hour break from the summer heat. Light entertainment with no after effects.


Monday, July 02, 2007

All-Star Mike

Yeah! Mike Lowell got picked for the American League All-Star team! He's a reserve, but I'm so glad that the other players recognize what a key ingredient he has become. It will be his fourth AS appearance - he went three times for the Marlins - but his first in the AL and his first for the RS.

Also on the team are David Ortiz - a starter at 1st - Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon. It's a shame that Youkilis didn't get chosen, but that's how hit goes.

Hoping that the Red Sox bats come to life tonight. They've lost two in a row to the Rangers - both my one run and both outings full of lost opportunities. Ortiz is really struggling at the plate - I think he's got some kind of lingering hamstring problem which is preventing him from getting the power from his lower body. We played less than .500 ball in June, yet remain 10 1/2 games ahead of the nearest competition in the AL East. Although it's nice to have a comfortable lead, I hope we don't fall victim to complacency as the season draws closer to the end.