I was fortunate this week to land a summer job assisting on the pilot for the new 90210 series that will air this fall on the CW Network. I'll start on Monday (6/30) and it goes until the middle of August just before I return for a 5th season of Lost. I have to take this time to vent about about the lowly state of affairs for my San Diego Padres. This team is unwatchable. How many times can you get two men on base with less than two outs and not be able to knock a guy in? I guess this has been a long time coming because the close games they've lost this season were games they won the last three seasons. I think this team is in for a few long seasons as I think their whole draft philosophy is fundamentally flawed. Yeah, we've got Chase Headley playing well, but is there really anybody else in the farm system that another team is coveting? Do we have the next Justin Upton? At best, scouts say Headley will be a solid major-leaguer, not an all-star player. John Moores has spent $400 million of San Diegan's tax dollars to build Petco Park, yet he refuses to pay above slot in the amateur draft like the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees do, to build up the farm system with "the best available" players. Instead this franchise opts for low ceiling players because they're easier to sign. This might save the franchise money, but it will guarantee a weak farm system. The Padres' farm system consistently ranks in the lower third of all teams because of bad luck and or poor draft choices. Let's take a look at the draft choices this team has made since 2000 and see who has made an impact, if any. In 2000, they drafted a left-handed pitcher named Mark Phillips. I believe he was out of baseball by 2003. The second round was better with Xavier Nady, now starting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 2001 was a complete waste with the selection of Jake Gautreau. The 4th round was better with the selection of Josh Barfield, who had one good season before his career hit the skids with the Cleveland Indians. 2002 was better with Khalil Greene, although six years later, still can't hit a breaking ball. 2003 was a potential steal with Tim Stauffer. Most agreed he was a solid pick, but after confessing he was hurt he agreed to sign at a much lower amount. After a few promising major league starts in 2004, he still hasn't regained his college form. 2004 brings us the most embarrassing bomb yet. Getting the first selection of the first round, the Padres thought they would make a bold statement by drafting local boy Matt Bush over Stephen Drew and Rickie Weeks. While Drew and Weeks haven't played to their potential yet, I doubt Bush will ever play one day in the majors. The jury is still out on the 2005 pick as Cesar Carillo has had arm problems. If he can come back as strong as he was at Long Beach State, he could be special, but there's a lot of ifs there. Chase Headley was drafted in the 4th round that year. 2006 might just have the most potential as Matt Antonelli was the 1st rounder with Chad Huffman in the 3rd and Cedric Hunter in the 5th. All of these guys will be with the Padres within the next few years. 2007 was a "safe" pick with left-handed pitcher Nicholas Schmidt. Most scouts describe him as a "control artist". Basically a diplomatic way of saying: "fringe stuff". Can you say Brian Lawrence, Part 2? For 2008, let's just say that opposing teams' scouts were howling with the selection of Allan Dykstra, a first basemen with no other positional ability. Being just a few months younger than Adrian Gonzalez, one wonders what the front office is thinking. Is there a place for him? Go figure. I've always advocated Moore's position of not paying huge salaries to over the hill free agents, but his timidity at paying top dollar for the best available talent in the amateur draft seem hypocritical. With the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks fielding far more athletic (and home grown) talent I fear we're at the beginning of another stretch of losing seasons. I hope I'm wrong.
Went to see M. Night Shyamalan's new flick last night, The Happening. While by no means a very good movie, it did have a few moments of that tingling, unsettling atmosphere that Shyamalan established in his best work in films such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. Perhaps what's most disappointing in this film is the lack of narrative momentum or climax. Without giving too much away, the film starts in Central Park in New York City where suddenly all activity has come to a stop. Then one by one, people start killing themselves. One area the Fox marketing team has punched up in the promotional campaign is that this is Shyamalan's first R-rated film. The film gets its R-rating in the first 10 minutes as we see a woman stab herself in the neck with a hair pin, and then we get a disturbing reminder of images from 9/11 when we see construction workers hurl themselves from the top of a high rise construction site. I've always admired Shyamalan's early work because of his restraint from such things, but in this film, the blood and gore flow. As the news spreads about the mayhem in New York, everyone assumes its some kind of biological terrorist attack and the paranoia level increases. We cut to Philadelphia (where all of Shyamalan's films are shot) to high school science teacher Elliot Moore played by Mark Wahlberg. On Elliot's chalkboard is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that says: When the bees disappear, mankind will die within four years. This serves more or less as a clue as to why these "attacks" are occurring. When Philadelphia learns what is happening in New York, Elliot and wife, Alma (ZooeyDeschanel) along with best friend, Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) get on a train to Harrisburg. With everyone on the train glued to their wireless devices watching the unfolding events (where one person with his I-phone shows other passengers video of a man being torn apart by lions at the Philadelphia Zoo) the train abruptly stops at a rural Pennsylvania town because the conductors have "lost contact with everybody". Stranded without a car, Elliot and Alma take Jess while Julian hitches a ride with another group to find his wife in New Jersey who he fears the worst has happened. Elliot eventually meets up with a man willing to help them who claims all of what's happening is because of the plants. He believes the plants are releasing a toxin as a reaction of survival. It's all about natural selection. Alma believes he's crazy and doesn't want anything to do with him, but Elliot is intrigued enough to stick around. Soon, they're on the road only to be stopped again by the discovery of dead bodies on the highway and people hanging from trees. Elliot the scientist begins to theorize in his head how the "virus" works. Stay in rural areas, and stay in small groups of people. Because the virus attacks in New York and Philadelphia started in parks, Elliot believes large groups of people are bigger targets. Of course that theory goes to the wind (literally) when a neighboring group of people start shooting themselves. That's it! They've got to outrun the wind! If they can stay ahead of the wind, they'll avoid the virus. Being that we're in rural Pennsylvania, Elliot and Alma run into every oddball in the countryside. Two teens that have tagged along with Elliot are violently gunned down by unseen people boarded up in safe house and then they meet an older woman (Betty Buckley) at another house who hasn't had contact with the outside world in years. All of these encounters lead up to the real reason why Elliot and Alma seem immune to the virus. That part I won't give away, but I will say that it's a resolution that's rather cheesy and flimsy. It's this flimsy resolution that really takes the air out of the tension and makes the film less satisfying than it should have been. Unlike his past films where Shyamalan always has his patented trick ending up his sleeve, there are none here, which is a good thing considering how I didn't think it deserved a trick ending. There's no doubt that Shyamalan is a good craftsman. Working with longtime collaborator cinematographer TakFujimoto, Shyamalan really knows where to put the camera and how to frame shots to create tension. It's his script and dialogue that are less adept. Even in his lesser films (The Village) Shyamalan gets good performances, but here, most the cast especially Deschanel seem out of place. There's no real emotional connectivity to any of these characters because their performances are stiltled. This was a real missed opportunity because the talent involved would've made an unforgettable thriller, instead we get left with a lackluster work of mediocrity. Cast: Elliot Moore-Mark Wahlberg Alma-ZooeyDeschanel Julian-John Leguizamo Jess-Ashlyn Sanchez Mrs. Jones-Betty Buckley Frank Collison-Nursery Owner Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan Music by James Newton Howard Edited by Conrad Buff Director of Photography-TakFujimoto Running Time: 91 minutes Rated R for violent and disturbing images