Friday, September 10, 2010

Vanilla Vox

Editor's Note: About a decade ago, I had an email exchange with The Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes. He poked fun at Dwight Gooden after Gary Sheffield suggested the Indians make Doc their closer. I took issue with the beat writer's barb; after all, didn't Hoynsie know that Doc was the Tribe's best regular season starter in 1998? Hoynsie, one of the most talented writers at Ohio's largest (and very mediocre) daily, said he respected Doc for never ducking the media and always getting up for big games, but attributed Gooden's troubles to a fear of throwing strikes. He nibbled and nibbled, said Paul. Eventually you just gotta throw strikes and trust your stuff. Although I only half agreed with that assessment, it stuck with me. SamVox has recently been a writer in hiding, lacking drive and confidence. But, today. he is staring back at you- cracks in his face, weak arm and all-- finally ready to bring the heat.

Please allow me to re- introduce myself, I'm a blog of wealth and takes. A year ago, I thought I'd hit the proverbial rock bottom. I stood alone in sold-out Ohio Stadium (the place where two of My Life's Top Five Moments occurred) and watched a victory over SC slip away, ever so slowly. Consider that I have been to numerous OSU football and basketball games (including the '85 Citirus Bowl), and I had never witnessed a loss. After the Trojans game-winning drive, I realized there was truly nothing I could count on except death, taxes, and an obscene amount of traffic on Lane Avenue. Less than 16 hours later, I'd witness the annual defeat that is the Browns home opener-- and a reporter from The Weather Channel drive over a Browns fan's foot...twice actually, because he rolled over it AGAIN when he put his vehicle in reverse after the initial contact. I remember feeling quite surprised, at the time, that it wasn't my foot crushed by that SUV. Apparently that weekend was only a warmup for the real devastation LeBron Raymone James had planned for us, so humbly afflicting our town with his actions in Game 5, The Decision and The Press Conference (more on that below). About nine months ago, the Sports Guy listed all three of our teams in the top ten of his Fifteen Most Tortured Teams column. An easy choice, but Bill's rock bottom moments for the Browns, Cavs and Tribe now need some updating. This town was already synonymous with persecution and depression long before we even considered how low we could sink in the first two quarters of 2010, and here's where I normally talk about unprecedented scandal and corruption in Cuyahoga County, the Plain Dealer's Sheriff McFaul witch hunt, job losses, Mayor Welo's latest gaffe, ignorant GOP carnivores, and the death of John Hughes (all right, that wasn't impactful to northeast Ohio but if felt right to end that sentence...and, like Connor Oberst once proclaimed: if it feels good, then I'll give it a try). But I do have a word count tonight, so off with the horns and on with the column--

The Vox Rock Bottom State of Affairs (or Affairs of our State):

Indians: CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee facing each other in Game One of the 2009 World Series was hard to digest, and Simmons cited it as rock bottom for Tribe fans. It stung when CC won a ring but seeing Cliff Lee win both games he started for the Phils was particularly painful, especially when you consider that Lee couldn't even make the Tribe's post-season roster two years prior. If Lee finds his 2008 Cy Young form just a few months earlier, well then surely the Red Sox couldn't overcome a Sabathia-Lee-Carmona 1-2-3 punch in the 2007 ALCS. But the economic reality of MLB is not a problem exclusive to Cleveland. Fact is, we play in a winnable division ever year and the Dolans have invested millions in scouting, development and our overall farm system (and Matt's political aspirations?!). No reason the Twins should be out-executing the Indians, year after year. That's on Shapiro and his staff, it's that simple. Through trade blunders, embarrassing free agent signings, and Wedge's inability to manage strong personalities, the once proud and trendsetting Cleveland Indians ballclub has been relegated to a side show. And when I say side show I mean exactly that, having been a spectator to the first ever PuppyPalooza at Progressive field on August 26th. I went to my fair share of Columbus Clipper games during my OSU days, and never saw something so minor league. Bring Your Dog Night is a desperate promotion from a big league front office clinging dearly to any semblance of respectability. I stayed inside the Loge to escape the puppy hysteria and concluded pro baseball at the corner of East 9th and Ontario had officially hit rock bottom; the sellout streak seemed a lifetime ago. I would classify the rise and fall of the Indians as Shakespearean, but, by most accounts, Will hated dogs.

Browns: Simmons argues the Browns' worst moment was when the team moved in '95, but that would discount all of the suffering we've endured since they've returned and somehow morphed into the worst run organization in the history of pro sports. You could reason we bottomed-out mid-season 2009 when our new GM was escorted out of the complex, our new coach was shredded by a music magazine (and compared to Augustus Gloop), and our team was an unwatchable 1-11, including a last second loss in Detroit- which seemed to feel OK because of the "entertainment value." Look, if you found anything redemptive in losing to the Lions...that, my friends, was rock bottom. Except it wasn't. Perhaps the lowest of lows occurs when you can't even honor your franchise properly. Only the Browns could eff up a "Ring of Honor." Now this may seem insignificant when compared to the holes on the team's roster and performance the last few seasons, but how hard is it to bring a few living legends together to toast past greatness for fifteen minutes? For the Browns, even that turns into a tough task, and a PR nightmare. Clearly, Jim Brown can utter some ridiculous statements, but I'm not piling on him like the rest of the local media. Reggie Rucker got your back in the PD anyway, Jim. I don't even care who was disrespected in the Brown/BigShow power struggle. What's most bothersome is the usual lack of leadership out of Berea. Randy, speak up. Saw you in your suite during Aston Villa's recent win over Everton, and I don't begrudge you an EPL team- or the satisfaction of following your Villans. And I know that shyness is a curse, believe me. But, Randy, sometimes an owner is required to be a uniting presence among divisive competing forces. And Jim Brown is still a force, regardless of his delusions. We all know the Browns, in Mike Holmgren, finally have an organizational voice that appeases the media and fans. But ownership can't always hide behind Holmgren. Let's settle the stupid shit, and then figure out how we're going to start 2-0 this season for the first time since 1989. From rock-bottom to 8-8 this year. 9-7, if you're nasty.

Cavs: Look, it was hard not to blog about Bron when it was all going down. I suppose, at some point, I reached a wretchedly numb status. Or maybe it was just pent-up anger, and the Vox won't write angry (see Gilbert's letter for reasons why; even if it excited the fan base, it was amateurish and hypocritical).

But seeing LeBron dance was the most pathetic thing I've seen in 25 years following pro sports. The most disturbing and provoking image from the Heat's WWF Press Conference was how happy LeBron looked. That was honestly the happiest I've ever seen LeBron. I studied him for seven years, and never saw him happier. And that includes his Rookie of the Year and MVP ceremonies, his bullshit documentary, and the Cavs winning the Eastern Conference three ago. He was finally in is element on that stage, with his boys, in a new jersey surrounded by fair-weather fans that will never worship him the way we did. That Press Conference will be ingrained in my mind for years to come, the unexpected symbol of my hatred for LeBron and other select members of Generation Y. To reiterate the obvious: you don't dance until you win something The Drive, The Shot, The Fumble, The Move, Mesa, Lofton Held at 3rd Base, Game 5, The Decision...those events slowly chipped away at my existence. But The Press Conference was MY rock bottom. So where do we go now? North, Miss Tessmacher, North. 


Vox has always streamlined the personal, so we can't overlook that Mrs. Vox is now Mrs. ExVox. Since it sort of sounds cool, I suppose she'll stay on as a supporting character in my column. Not as relevant as, say, a Mr. Furley, but maybe a very restrained cross between Lilith on the later seasons of Cheers and Principal McVicker from Beavis & Butt-head. (Please, someone consult my lawyer before I write that sentence. Oh wait, I fired him and then went on to the set the new standard for self-representation in the court of family law.) Also, excuse my innocent flirtation with another notable cleveland sports blog this summer. I thank them for the opportunity and greatly admired their tenacity, but I'm home now. On the hallowed grounds of ClevelandSportsTorture, in the heart of VoxVille. I am, and therefor, I write. Finally, I can't ignore that we are toiling in a different world since I published the last Vox in the Box (#21 on May 21, 2009). With social media dominating the planet and suddenly making every blog so infinitely accessible, I'm coming to terms with the dangerous reality that my audience will be increasing from 6 readers to, like, 16. As much as I enjoyed catering to my original, faithful half-dozen, I'm going to have to branch out a bit. Not unlike Pearl Jam, who were sadly and reluctantly forced to exchange intimate club shows for sold out stadiums and front-running fans just waiting to hear Daughter. Eventually, even Eddie began holding the hand that held him down. WIth that admission, I give you the always diluted and never tarnished Random Top 10:

SamVox's Top Ten Movies of the Decade (2000-2009)

Honorable mentions include: The Patriot, Oceans 11, The Woodsman, The Wrestler, No Country for Old Men, Revolutionary Road, Unfaithful, Brokeback Mountain, Monster's Ball, The Departed, Meet the Parents, Crash, Closer, 2 for the Money and Angels in America.

1. 25th Hour
I wrote in my review of Inside Man that Spike Lee keeps kicking convention's ass, while most Americans want the same old movie cliche for their $7.50. And 25th Hour is THE joint- Spike's finest hour, based on David Benioff's underwhelming novel about a convicted drug dealer's last day of freedom before a seven year jail sentence. Spike was the first director, of course, to take on 9-11. He doesn't specifically deal with the events, but reminders of the tragedy often serve as a scene's backdrop, and permeate the mood of the film. As always in Spike's movies, the city of New York is another charcter- this time, a metaphor for Montgomery Brogan's sadness and confusion. During the closing credits, Bruce Springsteen's "The Fuse" uncompromisingly reinforces 25th's layered message of a broken humanity quick to blame, at war with it's own regrets, friendships and selfish visions, and somehow coming clean throughout the process.
Vox Definitive Moment: Montgomery Brogan's (Ed Norton) hate monologue before owing up to his own mistakes, talking to himself in front of the mirror:

2. Vanilla Sky
Caught Cameron Crowe's adaptation of Abre Los Ojos with Mrs. ExVox, and it kept me in a nervous trance from the second I sat down. Critics junked it as a jumbled vanity flick and most movie-goers totally dismissed it, but, boy, I'm a sucker for a morality play on a playboy's mortality (don't steal that line Peter Travers, it's mine). Years later, it would remind me of Girl6. Girl6 is neither Mrs. ExVox, a Spike Lee Joint, or the blonde bartender at Parnells (the only other person I know that owns the film). Girl 6 won't be revealed so cheaply, and neither will Cameron's masterpiece.
Vox Definitive Moment: The supremely suitable soundtrack, complied by Crowe's wife, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson

3. Match Point
Leave it to Woody Allen to craft a murderous thriller about old fashioned greed and lust, and then tautly present the film's theme as luck, pure luck. Allen spares us a moral commentary, deflects his protagonist's sins, and show's us the difference between success and failure really is a few random inches, here and there.
Vox Definitive Moment: Umm, Scarlett Johansson in the rain?

4. Little Children
The brilliant title works on so many levels. Most obvious, the grown-ups in the film acting as little children. Or maybe the adults in the film use their children as a guise for their own poor choices and motives? Moreover, the serious issues are just a vehicle for a sly satire of suburbia- the over-the-top protective parent, the stay-at-home mom's club obsessed with judgement and gossip, and an entire neighborhood existing under the self-righteous facade that society has created for couples with children. And in the end, the audience is surely more sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill man who had exposed himself at the public pool.
Vox Definitive Moment: Do I even have to write it? Kelly Leak in the passenger's seat...

5. Sideways
I don't laugh much at the movies. Too busy people-watching, analyzing and stuffing my fucking face with popcorn. But Thomas Haden Church was beyond hilarious, and I laughed my ass off WIngs-style.
Vox Definitive Moment: Miles. Can't we just... go back to the motel... and hang out... and get up early, play 9 holes of golf... before we head home?
Jack: Listen, man. You're my friend, and I know you care about me. And I know you disapprove, and I respect that. But there are some things that I have to do that you don't understand. You understand literature, movies, wine... but you don't understand my plight.

6. Training Day
A countdown without Ethan Hawke? Not on Vox's watch. (Please, I was tempted to sneak Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Brooklyn's Finest on this list.) But the real triumph here isn't Hawke's underrated and introspective performance, but rather young director Antoine Fuqua putting a unique charge in the normally stale cop-drama genre. Denzel Washington was born to play Detective Alonzo Harris, and supporting cast Eva Mendes, Macy Gray. Snoop Dogg, Raymond Berry, Dr. Dre and Tom Berenger are all given the latitude to excel.
Vox Definitive Moment: Perhaps the greatest scene in film history: Reluctant rookie detective Jake Hoyt playing cards with his ruthless gang captors, fearing his death may be minutes away but not ready to play his hand. What happens next is now just movie lore- a desperate fight, the well-acted bathtub scene, the irony of karma...and the viewer experiences every turn almost as piercingly as Jake does.

7. Hustle & Flow
There's something disarming about a badass Memphis pimp, cutting a track in his living room on a makeshift PA with his whiter than white producer-- DJ Qualls from Road Trip

8. We Don't Live Here Anymore
Nate from Six Feet Under burns the only working copy of his novel, writes a "shitty poem," and it gets published by The New Yorker. This inspired a number of poetry submissions by yours truly to The New Yorker...after all, this film is proof they publish stuff by average writers!? Well, they don't. And fuck The New Yorker. Did you guys even read The New Orleans Diaries? I sent it four times.

9. Cast Away
I'm not a huge Tom Hanks fan, but you can't deny his skills here. An actor in full command of all of his tools. And, in the end, it was all just a love story.
Vox Definitive Moment:

10. Almost Famous
I walked out of Crowe's love letter to rock-n-roll a bit disappointed, but God bless repeated viewings on HBO. It gets better and better every time I watch it. You may want to try that approach with this column.
Vox Definitive Moment: "Russell. Jeff. Ed. Larry. I really love your band. I think the song "Fever Dog" is a big step forward for you guys. I think you guys producing it yourselves, instead of Glyn Johns, was the right thing to do. And the guitar sound... is incindiary. Incendiary."

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners, saints
As heads is tails, just call me Lucifer
'Coz I'm in need of some restraint

I am Mick Jagger in the box.
Parting is...inevitable.