Monday, December 12, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Any Given Sunday

Sometimes, you go into a movie expecting a lot, and you're left disappointed. Sometimes, you go into a movie not expecting much, and being pleasantly surprised. And sometimes, you go into a movie expecting mediocrity, and you get it. Such was the case with Any Given Sunday, rated a middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie is about a football team (obviously), struggling to make the playoffs as all teams do. They suffer an injury to their starting quarterback, and the film follows the rise and fall of the backup quarterback, played by Jamie Foxx. He starts out nervous and wild, but shows flashes of brilliance, and becomes one of the big stories of the season.

There are ups and downs, crises of character, and the whole gamut of experiences that we so often encounter in Oliver Stone's films. But the thing about trying to make a non-traditional football movie, a football movie about football players, rather than the team, is that most of the time, you get caught. You get caught between exploring the various characters and their trials, and trying to tell the story of a football team. You delve into the players because as a writer, that's where you wanted to go with this movie. But you follow the team because that's what a lot of movie-goers want to see, and, if we're being truthful, football sells.

Don't misunderstand me, though. There are definitely bright spots in the film. Lawrence Taylor actually does a damn good job portraying a half-crazy defensive star whose injuries put his life at risk. And as a Redskins fan, I can completely identify with an up-and-down season with an intrusive owner. Finally, Al Pacino's big speech (a mandatory in all sports movies) is quite good...and not just because it's used in a montage at Caps games.

But there are too many parts that feel like they're trying to say something that just don't go anywhere. There are so many concurrent storylines that it feels like none of them really get fleshed out appropriately. There's a doctor who over-medicates players (and his intern who disagrees with his actions), a linebacker who's trying to get to a performance incentive, the two quarterbacks each with their own set of circumstances, a legendary coach who's time may have passed, a severe owner who inherited the company from her father, assistant coaches, secondary players, and a whole slew of family and friends.

I'm reminded of a quote from a quirky Michael Douglas movie called Wonder Boys:
"...it sort of reads in places like you didn't make any choices. At all."
I think in all work, you have to make decisions to leave things out, to say that this is the story I want to tell, and the only stuff I'm going to include is the stuff that makes this story more complete. The storyline with the team doctor is interesting, but it's utterly useless to the main storyline of the coach, or the secondary storyline of the quarterbacks. I feel like, for as important as teamwork is to football, this movie needed to be a little less about the team.

The Last Word: Fine. It was fine. Worth seeing once, not worth seeing again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Double Movie Reviewed - The Crazies (1973 & 2010)

How's this for reviewing efficiency? A double review of the original and the remake of The Crazies. Buckle up.

The plot of both movies focuses on a man and woman, a couple who find themselves in a town where people are beginning to act strangely, a result of a crashed plane carrying dangerous chemicals. The government steps in and attempts to first contain, then eliminate the infected people, with brutal results. The couple, along with a small party, move through the city and attempt to escape the madness.

(1973)

The original film, directed by horror legend George Romero, is a fairly typical horror story these days: infection, deaths, hysteria, many many more deaths, and a morbid ending. While predictable, though, the story and the acting are able to carry it enough that it's plenty entertaining.

One of the convenient things about this story concept is that it doesn't demand that the movie create fantastic special effects. In fact, part of what makes the story compelling is its utter realism. You don't have to believe in the living dead or alien invasions or ghosts to be able to buy into the concept of the story. It's simply a town where everyone is losing their minds. Additionally, this non-difference between infected people and regular people is a precipitating factor in one of the turning points late in the movie.

The Last Word: The original flick is definitely enjoyable. It obviously suffers from unexceptional special effects, but it survives that shortcoming to still be an entertaining movie.

(2010)

The remake of Romero's original can best be described as "modern." The basic story is consistent, but the execution is considerably darker, and things turn morbid quickly. It's a fairly predictable adjustment of the old story, incorporating a lot more panic, fear, and bloody, bloody murder. It's got my brother's favorite actor Timothy Olyphant, who I laugh at because his name is from Lord of the Rings.

But seriously, for a remake, this version has a pretty different tone. It's heavy-handed, violent, and gory. That's not to say that it's not enjoyable; it has its place. But in the modern translation, some of the finesse of the original is lost.

The Last Word: A tense, action-packed ride that follows two people through an increasingly unstable world. It's not going to blow your mind, but if you want to just curl up and be frightened, you're in business.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Highlander

There can be only one.

For whatever else you might think of it, Highlander gave us one of the all time great lines in movie history. And there are plenty of reasons to either love or hate Highlander, depending on your ability and/or willingness to suspend reality, and put aside some completely over-the-top acting.

The story is interesting enough, as it attempts to incorporate a medieval fantasy story into modern times. It's clearly written by a young man, but as I've got the maturity level of a pimply 15-year-old, I can appreciate it. Connor McLeod (Christopher Lambert) is a Scottish highlander who discovers that he's one of a select few Immortals, destined to live forever until decapitated by another Immortal, culminating at an epic battle in New York City (I told you, it was clearly written by a young man).

The fight scenes are good. They're not the insane fight scenes that you get in a lot of new movies, but that almost makes them more believable. They're angry and loud, and while they don't give you the "oh shit!" moments that modern action scenes do, they seem to fit into the story perfectly.

The actual story progression is fairly slow, though, and outside of Sean Connery, the acting is gratuitous. While the concept of the story is interesting, the execution of it, particularly the modern portions in New York, are bland and uninspired. I think it'd be better served by spending more time following the many lifetimes of the various Immortals. It's possible that some of the sequels or the subsequent television show go into this, which is why I'll probably end up checking them out at some point.

There are a few well-placed Queen songs in the movie, and the villain is well-cast and, though he's a little much sometimes, well-acted. The love story is a little far-fetched, but in a world with people who live forever, some irrational acts by a woman don't seem so unreasonable. And in the end, you do find yourself rooting for the hero, which is kind of mandatory for any solid action flick. I think it's a film that gets over-appreciated sometimes, under-appreciated other times, and the reality is that it resides somewhere in the middle. Overall, I liked it as a time-killer, and am glad that I finally got around to watching it.

The Last Word: A neat concept along with plenty of Queen songs and some intense swordfights make for a decent enough movie, which is how I'd classify Highlander: decent enough.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movie Reviews - Lightning Round

I know it's been a while since I posted a review, and I've seen several movies in the meantime. Additionally, the year is coming to an end, and I'd like to have most of these movies reviewed by the end of the year, so you can prepare yourself for my "Movies of the Year" post (which will undoubtedly be dominated by movies that did not come out this year).

So, in order to provide a more complete picture of my film experience this year, I'm going to be going through sort of a "lightning round" of reviews. They'll be a little shorter than usual, but they'll be posted much more frequently. Hopefully I'll get through any movies you were hoping to hear me write about. If, after the first of the year, there are any movies I didn't review that you were really hoping to hear me talk about, by all means, badger me.

The American League MVP

So ends another awards season for Major League Baseball. And whether you were rooting for Hellickson or Hosmer, Halladay or Kershaw, Braun or Kemp, we can all agree that the award winners all had tremendous seasons, and each deserves accolades for their accomplishments.

That being said, neither Justin Verlander nor any other pitcher should ever win an MVP award.

(Yeah, it's gonna be one of those posts. Pull up a chair, get out your angry pencils, and let's do this.)

The fact that they're eligible for the award should not encourage baseball writers to cast their votes for pitchers. A change in the eligibility will never happen, because baseball prefers ambiguity (see: strike zones). But writers need to take it upon themselves to make this one of those dozens of "unwritten rules" in baseball, because plain and simple, pitchers cannot be the league's most valuable player.

I'd imagine I've got at least half of you riled up at this point, thinking that I've got a lot of nerve. And maybe I do. But I've got my reasons.

First, there is some truth to the thinking that pitchers have their award, and hitters only have the MVP award. The Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player Award each have long histories that we can look back at and remember some of the great seasons we saw. In 1999, baseball created the Hank Aaron Award, to be awarded to the best hitter in each league. In fact, the award was likely created specifically to allow for the possibility of a pitcher being worthy of an MVP award. You know when you started hearing about the Hank Aaron Award even existing? This year, when people wanted to justify voting for Verlander for MVP. Hank Aaron was a tremendous hitter, but the award is essentially meaningless if nobody knows who's winning them.

Additionally, the Hank Aaron Award incorporates a fan vote component, which makes the award intrinsically flawed. Fans are stupid. Unsurprisingly, the AL award has gone to AL East hitters every year since 2004. And by the way, Hank Aaron spent all of two seasons playing in the American League, hitting .232 with 22 HR and 95 RBI in 222 games. If you're going to perpetuate this farce, you should at least have another name for it in the American League. Babe Ruth, anyone?

But I think the greater argument here is that, quite simply, a pitcher can't come close to the overall impact of a position player, and that includes starting pitchers as well as relievers.

First, let's address the one stat that gets cited often to compare pitchers to hitters: wins above replacement (WAR). The theory behind the statistic is that, over the course of a season, by playing well (or poorly), a player at any position gives his team an adjusted chance at victory when compared to a potential replacement player. The statistic uses a theoretical AAA player as the replacement. The concept of trying to value hitters against pitchers is useful for GMs in salary-planning, and for those MVP votes in which a pitcher earns consideration.

Two issues, though. First, the use of a single statistic to determine value between a starting pitcher and a hitter is always going to have flaws, simply because the roles are so incredibly different. Second, it's apparent that baseball writers are not acknowledging WAR as a make-or-break statistic with regards to MVP votes. Matt Kemp posted a WAR of 10.0 in 2011, the highest since Barry Bonds in 2004. That span includes three different MVP seasons by Albert Pujols. I'm willing to cede that the actual NL MVP, Ryan Braun, has his own viable portfolio, but you'd think that, if we're referring to WAR at all, a guy who has a WAR that's 30% higher than the next closest player would be a shoo-in for the MVP.

(As a reference, Verlander posted an 8.6 WAR; Jose Bautista posted an 8.5.)

We're all quick to admit that wins are one of the most of the most team-dependent statistics on the planet. But if Verlander had, say, 20 wins, rather than his major-league best 24, would this have even been close? (If you're unsure, look at Cliff Lee's 22-3 2008 season, and the fact that he finished 12th in the MVP voting after a season with a similar lack of a front-runner. Or look over at the NL, where Clayton Kershaw posted very similar numbers to Verlander this season, yet also finished 12th in his league's MVP voting). You're wondering if Detroit was that good? They rated third in the majors in batting average, fourth in runs, fourth in on-base, fourth in slugging. They could put up runs with anybody.

So maybe Verlander gets an anecdotal bump in his resume as a result of his no-hitter in early May; it certainly put Verlander front and center. The relative difference in the impact of an everyday player versus a starting pitcher is similarly anecdotal. Obviously starting pitchers have impacts beyond their innings (saving the bullpen, etc). And obviously hitters have impacts beyond their own at-bats (base-running, "protection" for other hitters, etc.). But I think we've got one more piece of the puzzle that pushes starting pitchers out of the discussion: weather.

If there's a rainout, or even more so if a game is postponed, a starting pitcher's rhythm is off, and he likely doesn't come back in the subsequent game. We saw it in the playoffs this year; weather pushed both Verlander and CC Sabathia out of Game 1 after 1.5 IP and limited them each to one full start in a five-game series. Meanwhile, in the same series, Robinson Cano hit .318 and drove in 9 runs, and Delmon Young hit .316 with three home runs. The fact that an act of nature can almost completely negate the potential positive contributions by a starting pitcher for a game, and the fact that they only pitch in 35 games every year, is the last piece of evidence I need.

In the end, I think that a Most Valuable Player in baseball should be the epitome of a baseball player. To me, baseball is defined by the 162 game season, by far the longest in American team sports. It's a grind, and a guy who's able to get up ~150 times and compete at a tremendous level, that's the guy who's the best baseball player. A guy who has to perform 35 times a year, no matter how impressive he is during those 35 times, just doesn't capture the essence of baseball.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal

I'm probably going to piss off a lot of people with this post, and alienate other people, and maybe get through to a couple as well. But I'm too upset with what I hear from too many people to not talk about this.

By now, most people know the testimony. Former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of molesting eight different young boys over a 15-year period. Head coach Joe Paterno comes into the picture in 2002, when graduate assistant Mike McQueary observed Sandusky doing something to a young boy in a locker room shower (his grand jury testimony says sodomy, the testimony by Penn State higher-ups says McQueary reported a more vague level of fondling or other sexual contact; either way, up to no good). McQueary spoke to his father, who told him to speak to Paterno, and things went up the ladder, where a decision was made to bar Sandusky from bringing children to the campus.

How many people here are morally culpable? Probably everyone. But there's an order to things, and Paterno is not at the top of the list. How would I sort the villainy? Well, starting here:

Sandusky
Sandusky
Sandusky
Sandusky
Sandusky

Let's not lose sight of the actual situation. Jerry Sandusky is a sick and deplorable human being. He's far and away the villain here, since, you know, he was the guy who was actually raping children. Everyone else who's at fault (and there are plenty) would've never been put in a position to disappoint if Sandusky just wasn't a monster.

Mike McQueary

McQueary actually witnessed Sandusky in the act of committing one of these crimes, and what did he do? He called his dad and asked him what to do, then called Paterno the next day. McQueary was 28 at the time of the incident. He was a grown-ass man who saw another man raping a child, and did nothing. I can maybe understand being scared; it's an inconceivable thing to see, and in seeing it, you have to think that the perpetrator is capable of anything. So maybe you're too frightened to confront the guy alone. But come on. I'm sure other people were in the building; get a mob together if you're scared. And if nothing else, you call the cops.

The report said that both Sandusky and the victim made eye contact with McQueary at the time of the incident. So that kid saw an adult come across him being assaulted, and the adult walked away, and left him with his assailant. If we're making a list of things that will do severe psychological damage to a child, that's got to be on that list somewhere.

University President Graham Spanier
University Vice President Gary Schultz

Athletic Director Tim Curley

Curley was the person to whom Paterno reported what he heard from McQueary. Curley, along with Schultz, are the two people held legally responsible for their failure to report this incident to law enforcement authorities. They also both face perjury charges for what is believed to be dishonest or incomplete testimony to the grand jury.

Additionally, some combination of these three individuals came up with the response plan for Sandusky's assault, which was to take away his locker room keys and ban him from bringing children onto campus. ESPN's Jay Bilas addressed the toothlessness of this "punishment" perfectly by interpreting the message from Spanier as essentially saying, "Just don't do it here." It indicates an utter disregard for morality, and a complete focus on preserving university image. It's complicit, and disgusting.

Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar

This excerpt is from an ESPN article available here:
Victim 6 is taken into the locker rooms and showers when he is 11 years old. When Victim 6 is dropped off at home, his hair is wet from showering with Sandusky. His mother reports the incident to the university police, who investigate.

Detective Ronald Schreffler testifies that he and State College Police Department Detective Ralph Ralston, with the consent of the mother of Victim 6, eavesdrop on two conversations the mother of Victim 6 has with Sandusky. Sandusky says he has showered with other boys and Victim 6's mother tries to make Sandusky promise never to shower with a boy again but he will not. At the end of the second conversation, after Sandusky is told he cannot see Victim 6 anymore, Schreffler testifies Sandusky says, "I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

Jerry Lauro, an investigator with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, testifies he and Schreffler interviewed Sandusky, and that Sandusky admits showering naked with Victim 6, admits to hugging Victim 6 while in the shower and admits that it was wrong.

The case is closed after then-Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar decides there will be no criminal charge.

Nice work, counselor. Way to serve and protect.

Head Coach Joe Paterno

Paterno is the face of Penn State, and there's no denying that this happened on his watch. There's also no denying that Paterno was aware of something involving Sandusky; he has admitted as much, and said that he wishes he had done more, in hindsight.

We don't know what Paterno really knew. We know his testimony indicated that he was aware of an incident occurring between Sandusky and a child, and others' testimony corroborates that. We also know that he didn't hear about the incident from McQueary until the day after the event, and he was undoubtedly aware that McQueary apparently didn't think enough of the incident to contact the police at all. What we know now about Sandusky's continued harassment makes the choice obvious, but given the limited information regarding this one incident, and the question marks about the words McQueary actually used to describe the incident, and the fact that Paterno had known Sandusky for thirty-odd years, it's not cut and dry.

Consider your own job. Imagine a subordinate (we're talking about your job, because I have no subordinates to imagine) reported to you that another employee was engaged in a sexually inappropriate act with a child. Your main responsibility is to put that subordinate in touch with the appropriate person at your organization, or if you are the appropriate person, to get in touch with the authorities. After connecting the relevant parties, it's not your business anymore.

Paterno got Curley involved. Curley conducted his investigation (however much of a sham it might have been), came to his conclusions (however blind), and implemented his resolution (however insufficient). We don't know what Paterno was told about this process. It's not inconceivable that he was lied to by Curley and Schultz about the investigation, since those two are already suspected of lying to the grand jury.

Jemele Hill wrote a piece for ESPN (applauding Penn State for firing Paterno) that includes the following paragraph:
"For those who continue to cling to the notion that because Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation, he should be allowed to finish this season on his own terms, I pose this question: If that 10-year-old in the showers with Sandusky was your brother, cousin, nephew, friend or neighbor, would you be satisfied with how Paterno handled the situation?"
First, I think we can all agree that if it was your brother, you would want Penn State University brought to the ground. Not metaphorically; literally leveled with dynamite and wrecking balls. And you wouldn't care who was inside. You would just want someone to pay, and the more people who pay, the better. So let's try to appreciate that adding that level of emotion isn't going to result in reasoned discourse.

Second, flip the switch. What if Sandusky was your brother? Your cousin? Your friend? Wouldn't you look for ways, consciously or subconsciously, to convince yourself that the worst isn't true? Wouldn't you want to get your hands off the situation and put it in the hands of people whose responsibility it was to handle these kinds of situations?

American media, particularly sports media, tends to try to look at everything in a vacuum. One of my favorite shows, PTI, consistently asks un-nuanced all-or-nothing questions of its hosts. And maybe the best part of PTI is that Michael Wilbon and especially Tony Kornheiser offer decidedly measured and broad-scope responses to these questions. Taking the whole picture into account shouldn't be so rare.

But as I peruse through Facebook messages, and Twitter posts, and the comments attached to the various articles regarding this horrific story, I find very little in the way of thoughtful discussion. What's more troublesome is that I also haven't found much among those people who are paid to be insightful, like ESPN's Hall.

Another couple quotes from Hall's article:

"There have been 40 counts of felony sex abuse of minors levied against former Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky, and though I am sickened by what Sandusky is accused of, our judicial system presumes his innocence until he is proved guilty.

But we're free to judge Paterno outside the constricts of the law. A lengthy indictment spells out what he did (or, more disturbing, what he failed to do) and what he knew."

"If Sandusky is proved guilty, he is obviously the worst monster in this sordid horror story. But it isn't a stretch to suggest that Paterno played the role of Dr. Frankenstein. He didn't create the monster, but if Sandusky is guilty, then Paterno is at least partially responsible for the tragedies of every one of the victims assaulted after that unidentified boy in the shower."

Throughout the article, Hall acknowledges that Sandusky's guilt is yet to be determined, and she consistently uses terms like "accused of" and "alleged." Paterno receives the benefit of no such doubt.

My last point here is in response to Hall's last point, and a point that is going to echo in the voice of every sportscaster on the planet, and I'm going to be angry about it every time. She declares that Penn State was courageous for ousting Joe Paterno. Her claim is that today's world sees football coaches as the "final authority" for high profile schools, and it's important that the Penn State board of trustees exercise their authority here.

My final response to that is my own post on a friend's comment on Facebook from last night:
"Everyone's mad. But Paterno leaving the school isn't going to make anyone less angry or hurt or disgusted or shocked. His departure is a front page story for a couple days, then PSU gets to shrink away while other tragedies (and other sports stories) overtake it, and the general public will forget and move on. But a lot of good people who rely on Penn State football for a thousand different reasons are going to suffer. What Sandusky did was damnable and shameful. What's happening to Paterno is just a damn shame."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Haphazard NBA Lockout Comments - October

First and foremost, I don't know anything. I know there are all sorts of arguments and debates, and different sides think different things and bla bla bla. So I'm no expert on the subject. But I did notice something that would indicate that the owners are total liars.

Here are a couple paragraphs from Yahoo's article on the NBA canceling all of November's games, and declaring that it would be impossible to play a full season at this point:

“It’s not practical, possible or prudent to have a full season now,” added Stern, who previously canceled the first two weeks of the season.

And he repeated his warnings that the proposals might now get even harsher as the league tries to make up the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be lost as the lockout drags on.

“We’re going to have to recalculate how bad the damage is,” Stern said. “The next offer will reflect the extraordinary losses that are piling up now.”
Harsh circumstances, and harsh words. And at first glance, sure, you can understand how owners would be upset about all that lost money.

But hold up. Wasn't it part of the NBA's premise for the lockout that the league was losing money simply by operating? And let's be clear here, we're not talking about losing a few grand, or a few hundred grand. The line used in the article is "hundreds of millions of dollars." If the NBA is going to lose that much money by not playing games (AND not paying players to play those games), I think maybe they were pulling in a decent rake from the regular season.

The second part is more obvious: the players are losing their share of that money as well. You can think whatever you want about whether NBA players are "worth" what they're paid, but the fact is that the market has determined that 20 point-per-game guards are worth about $10 million a year, because that's what they make. And while it may behoove NBA players to accept a small pay decrease in order to help grow the league, they're entitled to fight for the right to a share of the pie.

For kicks, I did a little searching and found out how revenue was split in 2008 in other leagues (NBA owners are demanding a 50/50 split).

Percentage of revenue paid to top-level players (not including minor leagues, as of 2008)
NFL - 59%
NBA - 57%
NHL - 56.7%
MLB - 52%

The new NFL collective bargaining agreement actually has the NFL players' share plummeting down to about 48%, but that might be more appropriate based on the draw of individual players in the NFL versus the draw of the franchise itself. Browns fans like the Browns regardless of who's quarterbacking the team. I cite Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb, and Tim Couch, and the fact that Joe Mandi still loves the Browns. Or the nightmare of teams Washington has put on the field, and that the Skins have still boasted the first- or second-highest gross weekly attendance in football every year since 2006 (when apparently ESPN believes people began attending football games).

Anyways, I think it's a fair argument that NBA players are a greater part of the draw for their sport than the individual players are in any other sport. People go out to see Kobe or LeBron or Melo more than they go out to see the Cavaliers, the Knicks, or the Heat. It seems sensible that they'd command a higher share of the revenue, from a very basic standpoint.

I'm sure the issue is much more complex than I'm giving it credit for. But today, like most days, I'm siding with labor.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MLB 2011 Awards

American League

Rookie of the Year - Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
(13-10, 2.95/1.15, 117 Ks in 189.0 IP)


A case can be made for several other players, including Eric Hosmer and Mark Trumbo, but Hellickson has one number that I think sets him apart. Hellickson had 189 innings in 2011, good for 27th in the AL. Now, 27th isn't all that incredible, but as a rookie, to provide 189 innings for your team is pretty impressive. The fact that Hellickson gave those innings at a 2.95 ERA clip means that he did yeoman work for a playoff team. Well done, sir.

Cy Young - Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
(24-5, 2.40/0.92, 250 Ks in 251.0 IP)


It's not close. Jered Weaver, James Shields, and CC Sabathia all had nice seasons, but Verlander led the league in wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. He was simply the best pitcher in the game, and rightfully earned consideration for the AL MVP award.

MVP - Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
(.302, 105 R, 43 HR, 103 RBI)

This was my toughest call of all the awards this season. Miguel Cabrera won his first batting title and continued his mastery of major league pitching, but didn't do much that we haven't already seen from him. His teammate Verlander was far and away the best pitcher in the league, but probably needed to hit a magic number like 25 wins to win the MVP. Curtis Granderson was nearly an across-the-board producer, but hit just .262 for the division champion Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, and Dustin Pedroia were all great, but all played for Boston, so they'll sap votes from each other.

In the end, I think Bautista will benefit from the same factor that will cost Cabrera: being measured against himself. Cabrera has been a regular factor in MVP races, with two 5th place finishes for Florida, and being 4th and 2nd the past two years for the Tigers. He was great, but he posted just the 7th highest home run and RBI totals of his career. On the other side, Bautista's home runs and RBIs fell off, but the real story about him is that he grew into a hitter. He added 42 points to his batting average, and 69 points to his on-base percentage. Despite dropping 11 home runs, his OPS actually went up. Nobody thought Bautista was the real deal; the fact that he might be even better than his number said in 2010 will win him the AL MVP for 2011.

National League

Rookie of the Year - Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
(4-3, 46 saves, 2.10/1.04, 127 Ks in 77 IP)

Washington Nationals' rookie Danny Espinosa showed plenty of pop and was a fantasy star, but when it comes to real live baseball, it's more important that you help your team win, and Kimbrel was extremely effective in this regard. He tied John Axford for the NL lead in saves, and his averages and strikeout rate indicate that he was as effective a closer as there was in baseball last season. He may have stumbled a little towards the end, but baseball is about the long haul, and Kimbrel shone all season long.

Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
(21-5, 2.28/0.98, 248 Ks in 233.1 IP)

Like Verlander, Kershaw takes home pitching's triple crown (W, ERA, K), and again like Verlander, I expect Kershaw to win the Cy Young. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay both had very good seasons as well, but Kershaw was a pinch better, and I think any bonus Lee and Halladay will get from being on a more successful team will be mitigated by the fact that they may take votes from each other. Ian Kennedy tied Kershaw with 21 wins and posted very good averages, but Kershaw is the total package. He'll take it down.

Most Valuable Player - Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
(.324, 115 R, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB)

Kemp was incredible in 2011. He led the NL in runs, home runs, and RBI, and finished tied for second in stolen bases. What makes this even more impressive is his utter lack of support. The Dodgers next two best players in each category combined to total 123 runs, 28 home runs, and 127 runs batted in. Ryan Braun had a magnificent season as well, and if Braun had been able to edge Jose Reyes for the batting title, I might sing a different tune. But as it is, Kemp was a do-everything player for a team that needed a do-everything player just to break .500.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

NHL 2011-2012 Preview

I won't lie to you; I'm a new hockey fan. In my life, I've probably watched 250 hockey games, and 200 of them were in the past three years. The vast extent of my knowledge comes from watching Capitals games and playing hockey video games...including NHL Breakaway '98. Granted, there are only like three players still in the NHL from that game, but between Jagr, Pronger, and Brodeur, I get that little historical edge that some of my colleagues lack...

...okay, they have the same edge, it's just fun to remember Breakaway.

Anyways, despite my limited experience as a hockey fan, I'm excited to offer you my preview of this year's NHL season. I'll give you a quick blurb on each team and let you know who I expect to make the playoffs, who I expect to advance in the playoffs, and what players I expect to win a couple of the higher-profile trophies this season.

* indicates predicted playoff team

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central Division
  1. * Nashville Predators - Pekka Rinne is an elite goaltender who gets put into good situations by a great defensive team, led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, indisputably the best pairing in hockey (with apologies to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook). There are again questions as to where the goals will come from, but the questions were there last year, and they found a way to win.
  2. * Chicago Blackhawks - The aforementioned Keith and Seabrook are a dynamic duo, but the real bright spot for Chicago is their offensive prowess. Between Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa, they've got four of the most gifted scorers around. Points, both on the scoreboard and in the standings, should be plentiful.
  3. * Detroit Red Wings - Skilled veteran leadership is abundant for the Red Wings, and I believe Pavel Datsyuk is one of the five most talented players in the game. But a tough division and my complete disdain for Jimmy Howard force me to put them third in the division, and 5th or 6th in the conference.
  4. * St. Louis Blues - David Backes is one of my favorite players, and I acknowledge that as a factor in my picking the Blues to slide into the playoffs. But they're a talented young team that could get even more talented if David Perron is able to return from a concussion suffered last season. Of course, they'll have to overcome the Jamie Langenbrunner curse that killed the Devils early and ended the Stars' season...
  5. Columbus Blue Jackets - Columbus actually had a good offseason, picking up Jeff Carter to center the top line. But they play in an impossibly tough division, and Steve Mason doesn't seem to be the goalie we thought he was two years ago. Here's hoping they can retool and improve, though, so my brother can enjoy playing with them in NHL '13.
Northwest Division
  1. * Vancouver Canucks - I really don't like them, but they play in a weak division and they're damn talented. Ryan Kesler is going to miss early time, but the creepy Sedin twins should be able to generate enough offense to overcome his absence, and the whole back end (goalies and defensemen) for the Canucks is full of plus players.
  2. Edmonton Oilers - Taylor Hall is just one of a plethora of talented but unproven players on the Oilers, including this year's #1 overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who made the opening roster due to injuries. It's too much to expect them to be a playoff team this season, but they're headed in the right direction...finally.
  3. Calgary Flames - The Flames continue to basically be a two-man show, with Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff highlighting an otherwise pedestrian squad. Former Capital Scott Hannan signed late in free agency, and you have to wonder how much his value took a hit because of his mistake in the playoffs last year that gave a breakaway goal to Tampa Bay in overtime.
  4. Colorado Avalanche - I do believe the Avalanche vastly overpaid for Semyon Varlamov, but there's no denying the guy's talent. And future draft picks are unknown quantities. Varly has a chance to dominate on any given night, regardless of the opponent. And it goes unnoticed sometimes, but Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny actually make the Avs pretty strong down the middle.
  5. Minnesota Wild - I wish I could say that the Wild will get back into the playoffs this year, but I just don't see it. They made a couple big trades with the Sharks, getting Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley, but they had to give up Martin Havlat and Brent Burns, which to me is mostly a push. The other Niklas Backstrom can be a very good goaltender, but he needs help that he's not going to get.
Pacific Division
  1. * San Jose Sharks - I do get a kind of gratification from making "gutsy" calls, but there's simply no picking against the Sharks this year. They were dynamite last year, and they rearranged their team to be a little stronger defensively by adding Brent Burns from Minnesota. The potency is there for San Jose to win it all this year.
  2. * Los Angeles Kings - Conventional thinking is that, to be successful come playoff time, your team has to be strong down the middle. That means centers, defensemen, goalie. By adding Mike Richards in the offseason, the Kings have two elite centers (Richards and Anze Kopitar), a great defenseman in Drew Doughty (and a should-be-better guy in Jack Johnson), and one of my favorite goalies in the league, Jonathan Quick. They're geared up for a run.
  3. * Anaheim Ducks - I really wish they were still called the Mighty Ducks, but I guess that ship has sailed. The Ducks have probably the best single line in hockey, with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. Jonas Hiller has good skill, but he gets a ton of shots sent his way because the Ducks can't/won't play defense. They're a fun team to watch, but I don't expect more than another first round exit from them.
  4. Dallas Stars - The loss of Brad Richards is a big one, but the front line of Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, and Loui Eriksson is more potent than it gets credit for. If Sheldon Souray can recapture some of his old magic, and if Kari Lehtonen can be solid in net, Dallas could give Anaheim a run for 3rd in the division and the last playoff spot.
  5. Phoenix Coyotes - I'm not of the belief that Ilya Bryzgalov was some elite goaltender who didn't get enough opportunities to succeed by playing in Phoenix. I think he's a nice goalie who had Keith Yandle and a gritty group of forwards in front of him. That being said, I don't feel good at all about Mike Smith or Jason LaBarbera. Yandle, Shane Doan, Daymond Langkow and company are good, but not good enough for anything other than 5th place.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division
  1. * Pittsburgh Penguins - From a personal standpoint, I really don't like the Penguins. But from an objective, "how well is this team going to do this season," you really can't like them enough...assuming they're healthy. Sidney Crosby is obviously one of the most electric players in the game, and as soon as he's back on the ice, Pittsburgh will have three top flight centers. They showed they can win without Crosby last year; with him, they're a powerhouse.
  2. * New York Rangers - The story for the Rangers always starts with Henrik Lundqvist, perhaps the best goalie in the world. New York has built their team around supporting him, surrounding him with shot-blocking defensemen and gritty forwards. Adding Brad Richards to partner with Marian Gaborik should make their top line a lot more productive, and while they still won't blow anybody out of the building, they shouldn't need to.
  3. * Philadelphia Flyers - I think the Flyers overall did a pretty poor job in the offseason, but that's from a completely chemistry-immune standpoint. We all heard that Richards and Carter were locker room problems, so I can't argue their departures completely, but there's no question that the talent level in Philly is lower than it was a year ago. Their only hope can be that Bryzgalov solves their goaltending question.
  4. New Jersey Devils - I really wanted to predict the Devils to leapfrog the Flyers and get into the playoffs. I truly believe last year was an aberration, and that they'll be a better and more explosive team than in 2010-2011. But they traded Dave Steckel to the Maple Leafs just before the beginning of the season. Mark my words: they'll rue the day.
  5. New York Islanders - The Isles should actually be improved this year, with more developing talent on board, and John Taveres seemingly coming into his own. But they're still soft at goalie with Rick "Glass Jaw" DiPietro and the unproven Al Montoya splitting time. Growing pains are likely, but a fast maturation is possible.
Northeast Division
  1. * Buffalo Sabres - So, initially I had the Sabres out of the playoffs altogether in my preview. But I knew they were in it last year, so I figured I'd better give due diligence. Good thing. While I think Ville Leino was overpaid, Thomas Vanek and a healthy Derek Roy give the Sabres a stronger front line than they had last season. To say nothing of the fact that Christian Erhoff should dramatically improve their blue line offense. And we all know who Buffalo's goalie is.
  2. * Boston Bruins - Last year's Stanley Cup champions figure to be back in the playoffs, despite the long season they played. Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask are a great 1-2 punch that give the Bruins every chance to win, every night. Zdeno Chara leads a very strong defensive corps, and though the forwards aren't superstars, they showed last year that they can plant the puck when they need to.
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs - The aforementioned acquisition of Steckel probably doesn't merit this, but that was my deciding factor between Toronto and Montreal at #3 in the Northeast. Phil Kessel is a great scorer, and Dion Phaneuf is a dynamic defenseman. If youngster James Reimer can take the next step in his development in goal, the Maple Leafs could surprise some people.
  4. Montreal Canadiens - I hate the Canadiens, for obvious reasons. But unlike the Penguins, I can feel comfortable projecting a mediocre finish for Montreal. I've never thought much of Carey Price, and I actually think P.K. Subban is overrated. They've got solid veterans all over the lineup, highlighted by Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, and Brian Gionta, but I just don't see a scary team when I look at their depth chart.
  5. Ottawa Senators - Speaking of unimpressive depth charts...jeez. Granted, if Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson can turn back the clock a couple years, they'd have a couple of legit 80-point threats. But clocks don't normally work that way. Erik Karlsson is a nice young defenseman, but the depth is suspect, and having Craig Anderson as the starter in net has to terrify Ottawa fans.
Southeast Division
  1. * Washington Capitals - The Caps have won the Southeast four straight seasons, and there's no reason to think they won't do it again. An active offseason has them reshuffling their lineup, but there's still a lot of skill across the board. Most of all, they boast perhaps the best top 6 D-men in hockey, with Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dennis Wideman, and Jeff Schultz. I'll tell you this, though: if the Caps don't at least get to the Conference Finals this year, there's just no way Bruce Boudrou survives next offseason.
  2. * Tampa Bay Lightning - Tampa was one of the big stories during last year's playoffs, winning three straight to oust the Penguins, then sweeping the top-seeded Caps in the conference semifinals. Most of the team returns, and their offense has still got a trio of superstars in Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier. I don't see them getting the same insane performance out of Dwayne Roloson this season, though, so I see them as more of a 6 or 7 seed.
  3. * Winnipeg Jets - Why not, right? Last year's Thrashers might not have scared anybody, but you know the Jets will draw a crowd every night, and there's more skill on this team than you might expect. Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane are very solid and very young, and Dustin Byfuglien might be the most exciting player in the division, because anything can happen when he's on the ice. Ondrej Pavelec showed flashes of dominance at times last year, so why not a storybook run to the playoffs (before being crushed by the Penguins)?
  4. Carolina Hurricanes - They still have a fabulous center in Eric Staal, a workhorse goalie in Cam Ward, and a budding star in Jeff Skinner. But while Tomas Kaberle was a nice acquisition, their lineup still feels thin. And I mean, come on. There's a limit to how many Ruutu's I can project into the playoffs...it's zero.
  5. Florida Panthers - The Panthers have already outperformed my expectations, as I didn't think they'd win a game. Truthfully, though, it's a ragtag bunch that could have some really good nights. Jose Theodore has been unimpressive in the past few years, but he's still got some fight left in him. Stephen Weiss, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, and former Capital Tomas Fleischmann all have decent scoring touch, and Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell, while overpaid, both have some upside. Still...I don't see a ton of wins going their way down south.
Eastern Conference Finals
Pittsburgh Penguins over Washington Capitals

Western Conference Finals
San Jose Sharks over Chicago Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Finals
San Jose Sharks over Pittsburgh Penguins

Hart Trophy
Winner - Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
Finalist - Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Finalist - Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils

Vezina Trophy
Winner - Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Finalist - Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Finalist - Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks

Norris Trophy
Winner - Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Finalist - Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Finalist - Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

Monday, October 10, 2011

What's This? What's This?

Not unlike Jack Skellington, I find myself confused with the feelings I have tonight. The NBA just announced that they've canceled the first two weeks of the regular season, and most expectations are that more games will be canceled before all is said and done.

Inexplicably, after a decade of not caring about the NBA, I find myself saddened to hear this news. Last season was perhaps the NBA's best in just as long a time, with the Dallas Mavericks upsetting the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, but even before that, the entire playoffs were incredibly competitive and entertaining. The second act of Miami's dream team held an opportunity for all sports fans to root for or against a "super-team." Between Kobe's Lakers, the old Big 3 in Boston, the Derrick Rose Show in Chicago, a Knicks team that has a full season of Carmelo and Amare, and a burgeoning elite team in Oklahoma City, there were plenty of teams set in the path of the Heat and Mavericks.

Not even mentioning the Wizards' potentially growing team, there was plenty to look forward to with this year's basketball season. I won't lie and say that I'm not kind of excited about the NHL's opportunity to pull in some of the NBA's disillusioned fans, but it's a damn shame that the NBA is wasting this chance to build on the best product they've offered in years.

Figure it out, guys. Nobody benefits from games being canceled.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book and Movie Reviewed - Twilight

I decided to combine these two reviews, since A) they're about the same story, and B) who wants to read two different reviews for basically the same thing? So here we go.

For anyone who's been living under a rock for the past few years, Twilight is a story about a girl, Isabella Swan, who meets and falls in love with a vampire, Edward Cullen. You know, typical high school love story.

Actually, kind of, yes. The main characters are regularly overwhelmed with emotion, a very "high school" reaction to meeting a cute boy or a pretty girl. The explanation is that there's something special about Bella, her blood in particular, that makes her irresistible to Edward (and very appealing to other vampires as well). Which, okay, I mean, regular human dudes all want to get drunk with Minka Kelly, and regular human ladies all want Tom Brady to take them to the dance. So the concept of an innate attractiveness isn't so far-fetched.

The story is totally and completely a love story, which means that it's not going to appeal to everyone in every mood. When you're not of the right mind going in, the intensely strong emotions, teenage angst, and the countless obstacles to a "happy ending" can be frustrating, or downright depressing. But in the proper context of your own mind, it's an appealing story with some interesting, if fairly one-dimensional, characters.

As is often the case, the book offers a much deeper look at the inner workings of each character. You get to experience Bella's initial frustration, then watch as it slides over to curiosity, then grows to romance, and finally to...well, I don't want to call it "love," because it's something different from that. I don't believe that "love" can develop as quickly as things progress in this story. Something more like infatuation is what develops between Edward and Bella. But their devotion to each other is something that can only develop over time, and the movie just doesn't take long enough to show how it blossomed.

My other main qualm with the movie is that it occasionally features bizarre cinematography that I can only classify as "artsy." It's the kind of stuff that turned The New World into my least favorite movie of all time. I'm sure it was an attempt to set itself apart from other young adult books converted into movies (read: Harry Potter), but I've never been one to care much for nonstandard filming techniques or attempts at artistry using light layers or unique shuttering or whatever else movie people would call the stuff that they did. I just know that there were a few moments when I found myself colossally bored while the director explored different ways to film Robert Pattinson and the state of Washington. We get it, he's handsome, and the Pacific northwest is dreary.

That being said, as a guy (and one who's in a constant state of disillusionment when it comes to romance), some of the book dragged a bit. I get that the content was necessary to illustrate how deeply Bella was falling for Edward, but I wish the author had managed to have it manifest in a little more activity. Not action necessarily, just, something.

All in all, I'd rate the two equal when compared with other similar media. They were both solid, not the best, but entertaining.

The Last Word: I know I'm sort of behind the times, so my recommendation mostly falls on ears that already made their decision regarding the book and movie, so the most I could offer is, if you've seen/read one, but not the other, go for it. You'll enjoy it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Clash of the Titans (2010)

I never saw the original Clash of the Titans. I thought about getting it first from Netflix as I did with The Crazies and Dawn of the Dead, but for whatever reason, I ended up just getting the new one. Maybe at some point I'll go back and check out the original, but probably not anytime soon. I wasn't exactly wowed by the reboot.

The plot follows the myth of Perseus. I'm sure liberties were taken, but not knowing the original story, any discrepancies are incapable of bothering me. Which is kind of nice, having seen how people lost their shit when the elves showed up at Helm's Deep in the second Lord of the Rings film. The basic story is that Perseus is the half-human son of Zeus, he and other gods make various decisions regarding the mortal realm, monsters get involved...you know, standard mythology.

The special effects were pretty impressive, resulting in some very entertaining battle scenes with the aforementioned monsters. Perseus' traveling party also has some interesting members, which make the adventure more fun.

But the effects don't overtake the weakness of story or tepid acting in Clash of the Titans. While the action scenes are intense and fun, you simply do not care at all about the characters or their hardships. I think part of this comes from the innate difficulty of creating tension when a character may or may not be immortal. The fear of death is what makes a lot of stories engaging, and you're not really sure how mortal the half-son of a god is. Great acting could trump that (see Gandalf in Lord of the Rings), but there's no Ian McKellen in this film.

As I said, normally I watch the original movie before the remake, and that lets me feel comfortable watching the newer movie later, on the assumption that it'll at least be a little more watchable from a special effects standpoint. That's the circumstance with The Crazies, (though I actually enjoyed the original of that movie as well). So I don't expect to be watching the original Clash of the Titans any time soon.

Of course, that won't stop me buying that rum and..."Releasing the Kraken!"

The Last Word: I feel like the movie tried to get by on a few quotable moments and some dynamite effects, which happens all too frequently these days. The effects were fine, and the quotes were okay, but such things do not make a great film.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie Reviewed - For Your Consideration

Some of Christopher Guest's work is masterful. Best In Show was a great story about a lot of really compelling characters, portrayed perfectly. A Mighty Wind had a lot of that same magic. This Is Spinal Tap was decent, though didn't have the impact on me that it did for many others. So it stood to reason that I'd enjoy For Your Consideration, which features a lot of the same cast (Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, John Michael Higgins).

Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way.

For Your Consideration is a movie about a movie, which might make some of my description confusing. Anyways, the film is called Home for Purim, and it features a few lesser-known actors. Some way or another (it's never fully explored), a bit of Oscar buzz is generated about one of the leads, then another, then another. FYC follows the actors, the director, and other ancillary characters as the movie is tweaked, then completely altered, filmed, and reviewed. Their reactions are stereotypically Hollywood-ish, taking the whispers of awards and running with them, as far and as fast as possible.

Watching actors portraying "actors" acting like actors should have been an easy road to humor, but mostly it comes across as frustrating or disappointing. Honestly, the movie makes you wonder if the on-screen talent in the real world is just as shallow and jealous, and ultimately clueless. We all hear nice stories about Tom Hanks or Kiefer Sutherland, but who knows if they're accurate. Certainly we're at least willing to believe that a lot of Hollywood stars are more like the guys from Entourage and less like the guys from The Lonely Island.

Guest is well-known for having some looseness with his scripts, and sometimes that creates some gems, as I mentioned at the outset of this review. Honestly, A Mighty Wind and Best In Show are two really, really funny movies. For Your Consideration, though, shows you the risk you run when you allow actors to improvise dialogue. It can get messy, and unfocused, and if it's not funny, you just have a crummy movie.

The Last Word: Go watch the other two movies I mentioned. For Your Consideration is a pass.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Movie Reviewed - The Winning Season

I'm kind of a sucker for Sam Rockwell. He seems to do so well in every role he has, and does especially well when his character is some kind of sinner. Choke was strange, but entertaining. People will look at the lineup for Matchstick Men and deride it because of Nicolas Cage, but Sam Rockwell does fantastically well, and actually, Cage does a very good job as well. The Green Mile was fantastic all around, and Rockwell was as good as anybody.

As I've done with several other actors, I went through Netflix's instantly available movies and added anything that looked interesting and had Rockwell, and The Winning Season was on the list. So, even though my brother chided me for watching it instead of Iron Man 2 (which I've also seen in the meantime), I decided to kill some time one afternoon at work and watch this film.

The basic story is pretty straightforward: Sam Rockwell is a drunk who used to play basketball. An old friend offers him a job coaching the girl's team at his old high school. Once you get past the ludicrous idea that a girl's varsity team would have an independent coach, the plot carries alright. Rockwell does a great job of portraying a guy who you could believe has a good heart, but is buried under the demons of his past.

The progression of the movie is predictable, but sometimes that just means that you get a standard feeling of satisfaction at each turn. Early troubles, moment of clarity, small successes, obstacles, overcoming them, new and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, redemption, etc etc. It's completely unsurprising, but it's pretty well-written and very well-acted, so I wasn't bothered by that. Though, truthfully, I'm not someone who gets bothered by predictability very often.

I laughed more than a couple times at the film, and Emma Roberts is cute in a "man I wish I was still in high school" kind of way...as she so often is. And Sam Rockwell is very good, as he so often is. I'm glad I watched it...about as glad as I am that I watched Iron Man 2.

The Last Word: I don't know if I'd say it's a must-watch, but if you're bored and in mixed company, you could do a lot worse.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Fanboys

Let's start with this: I love Star Wars. I know that it's got its flaws, and that a lot of people hated episodes 1, 2, and 3. But my dad watched Star Wars about a dozen times in the theater, and my whole family caught on to the fever. The Star Wars universe has produced some great stuff, like Star Wars - Pod Racer for Nintendo 64 and Knights of the Old Republic for Xbox. This movie, though, doesn't register quite so high on the list.

The plot of the movie is kind of questionable. By that, I mean that I was actually finding myself questioning parts of the plot. Like, "Really? I don't buy that." The basic story is that a few friends who've grown apart over the years are brought back together when one of them finds that he's got terminal cancer. The whole group loves Star Wars, and since Episode One won't come out until after the friend's expected demise, they resolve to break into George Lucas' home to steal the film and watch it while he's still around.

Here's the thing. This movie had all the makings of being really, really good. Anytime you have nerds creating a self-deprecating piece of media, you've got a chance at something fantastic (see: Internet). And they got kind of a fantastic lineup of supporting cast/cameos. William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Danny Trejo, Danny McBride, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Craig Anderson, and Will Forte all make an appearance at some point, and they all do pretty well. Oh, and Kristen Bell is walking around the whole time, looking awesome like she does.

So where did it go wrong? Well, the lead cast was actually pretty weak. Even Kristen Bell, as smokin' ass hot as she is, can't really carry a movie. The four main guys are all relative no-names, and none of them is some diamond in the rough that ends up blowing you away with his performance, like Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Superbad. Furthermore, as I said before, the story doesn't really engage you as well as you'd like, and it seemed like a conglomeration of scenes, rather than a fluid film.

In the end, I wish the movie had been better than it was. So many worthwhile contributors went in on the movie, you'd like to believe that they could put together something impressive. Especially when you're adding in the various Star Wars references that a guy like me can appreciate, it's a damn shame this wasn't a more well-made movie.

The Last Word: It had its moments, but mostly Fanboys was a disappointment, for how good it could have been.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Big Fan

Maybe I think Patton Oswalt is funnier than he is. I recently watched a brief stand-up clip of his, and while I chuckled a couple times, I didn't have any laugh-out-loud moments. But somewhere in my head, I have it that he's some kind of comic genius. I know a friend of mine has relayed a few jokes of his, and he re-tells them better than Oswalt delivers them himself, so I'm sure that's part of it. Thankfully though, watching Big Fan has helped me to view him a little more objectively.

The story follows Oswalt's character Paul, a deadbeat toll booth operator who's a tremendous New York Giants fan. He's a typical fanatic, owning lots of memorabilia and calling in to late night radio shows to give his take on his favorite team. One fateful night, he has an unpleasant encounter with his favorite player, and Paul has to figure out how to react to an internal crisis. He's got friends, family, a detective, and reporters who try to get him to do one thing or another, but in the end he resolves his situation in his own way.

Oswalt is certainly believable as a kind of loser, living with his mother and being cynical and snarky towards his lawyer brother, and anyone else who isn't either a sports celebrity or in the same dregs as himself. And really, while the film doesn't boast a particularly impressive lineup of actors (Michael Rapaport is the only other big name here), everyone seems very real. It's movies like this one that make you wonder how much of our assessments of people's acting ability is related to their attractiveness. Like, is Natalie Portman a good actress, or do I just want to take her home with me?

In the end, though, the solid acting doesn't make up for a mostly uninteresting story and a script that doesn't make you care about any of the characters. Maybe their soulless interactions are part of what make them realistic, but if real life were that interesting, I wouldn't watch movies. I'm looking for something more when I watch a movie, and it just wasn't there in Big Fan.

The Last Word: I don't think I'd recommend it, but I couldn't say it was a total waste of time. Definitely not a contender for my "Movie of the Year" list, though.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dancing

Dear October 2011 weddings,



I plan to be able to step on the dance floor and not look completely white when we meet. See you then.



Cordially,

-Joe



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie Reviewed - No Strings Attached

You might be shocked to find out that No Strings Attached is one of only three movies I've seen in the theater this year (the others being Super 8 and the final Harry Potter movie). Less shocked when I tell you I saw it with a girl. The thing is...it might have been the best of the three (we can get together and talk about how disappointed we were in the final Harry Potter movie some other time).



The movie stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and the premise is simple enough to ascertain: they want to bang, no strings attached. Or at least, things start that way. It wouldn't be a movie if it worked out, so obviously someone starts getting, well, attached. Then there's romance and sweet moments and humor. I mean, it's a romantic comedy, you basically know what it is before you start watching it.



Part of what made this movie really good was that I didn't have any sort of expectations of it being anything spectacular, precisely because it was a romantic comedy. But Portman and Kutcher are equal parts adorable and hilarious, and the supporting cast is phenomenal. I'd cite specific examples, but to mention everyone who contributes positively would take several more pages than I'm comfortable writing in a single blog. Suffice it to say, all of the ancillary characters serve their purposes beautifully, from comedy to companionship to the necessary frustrations of any film romance.



The one thing that detracts a little bit is that Kutcher doesn't do a great job of convincing the audience that he's weighed down with his emotions. He's romantic, but mostly just in a casual, friendly, funny kind of way. I don't ever feel like he's losing himself in the romance; he's just a willing participant. So when the story has its more poignant moments, they're carried by Portman's character, which isn't a bad thing (more screen time for her is always good), but makes you care a little less about whether or not they get together at the end of the movie.



Kutcher's lack of depth aside, though, this is a very, very funny movie. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes romantic comedies, or anyone who likes comedies and can at least stomach some romance. I haven't seen Friends With Benefits yet (like I said, three movies in the theater), but my exceptionally positive experience with No Strings Attached has me thinking I'd better find a way to watch it.



The Last Word: Funny, funny, funny. Oh, and Natalie Portman looks GOOD.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Rock Star

I remember seeing commercials way back when this movie came out, and thinking it'd be fantastic. I've never really been one to go to the movies much, though, so I never ended up going to see it. Time passed, and someone gave it a fresh and emphatic recommendation when I came across it as an available movie to watch instantly on Netflix. So on a lazy Sunday, I gave it a chance.



It was...fine?



Mark Wahlberg plays Chris, a singer in a tribute band who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he's extended an offer to join Steel Dragon, the band to which he played tribute. It's a fairly pedestrian story that we've seen a few dozen times: the rise to fame, falling into bad habits, losing touch with loved ones, suffering disappointment, and later finding some level of redemption. There are precious few surprises to be found in this film.



That doesn't make it bad, though. Wahlberg really is quite a good actor, and he again does well in Rock Star. Jennifer Aniston plays Wahlberg's girlfriend/manager, and she does very well at capturing both sides of her character's feelings towards the protagonist: she loves him and helps him harness his talent, but also gets frustrated with his foray into the prototypical "rock star" lifestyle. The secondary characters are useful, but usually a little over the top. It came across a little spoofy, but still entertaining.



It was perfectly fine, and interesting enough to keep my attention for the duration. I don't know how my friend watched it and felt so strongly about it, but that's neither here nor there. The end result was a solid movie, though not spectacular. I don't regret putting the time in to watch it, which is as much as you can hope for out of a random movie.



The Last Word: Fantastic? No. But entertaining enough to kill a couple hours.



Friday, August 12, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Visioneers

Within the first few moments of this movie, I knew it was going to be weird. It's set in a mostly modern but slightly futuristic America, where a particular company holds vast influence over its employees, and in fact most of the country. The company pushes for productivity above all else, telling people that they'll be happy if they're productive.



Zach Galifianakis plays a middle manager named George Washington Winsterhammerman, who comes in to work one day and discovers that one of his employees exploded. Yeah, kaboom. Turns out, he's not the only one, though. There's an epidemic of explosions going across the country. The explosions seem to happen to people who have trouble staying "stable" within the rigidity of the their super-structured lives.



GWW notices that he's experiencing some of the same symptoms that are being reported as precursors to explosion (things like dreaming or over-eating), and he tries his best to quell them, but he finds that he can't overcome these "symptoms," and starts to re-evaluate his whole existence.



It's a difficult movie to describe, because it's kind of funny, but doesn't really make you laugh. And for certain the creators of the movie had some kind of real-life critique in mind, but the metaphor is a little fuzzy. On a vague level, it's obviously about resisting conformity, but it's done in a kooky enough way that you're not sure if that's the actual intention of the film.



Still, Galifianakis is entertaining, and utterly believable, and the rest of the cast is strong and effective as well. And as I said, it does have a good humor to it, despite a lack of real "jokes." And the end, while a little confusing, does leave you with a sense of hope, or happiness, or some other positive feeling that is, as of right now, indescribable.



The Last Word: I don't think I'd go out of my way to watch it, and I'm not at all surprised that it wasn't widely released in theaters, but it's a solid movie for a Tuesday night if you've got nothing better to do.

Book(s) Reviewed - Shadows's Edge and Beyond the Shadows

I learned a little something as I tried to start writing my review of Shadow's Edge; it's tough to create distinction in your discussion of books in the same storyline by the same author. The Night Angel trilogy (which began with The Way of Shadows) has three books, like most trilogies. But the second and third books are just sequential progressions from the same original story. The writing styles are identical, the characters are mostly already developed, and neither can be good (or bad) without the other also being good (or bad).



As it is, they're both pretty good. The original story focused mostly on the main character, Kylar Stern, and while his story was compelling, I think stories do well when you care about many characters, not just one main guy. In that regard, the second book and particularly the third offered a considerable upgrade. I'll now talk about them individually.



Shadow's Edge



The second book was exactly what you'd expect out of a second book. We learn much, much more about the ancillary characters who seemed interesting but about whom you didn't learn anything in the original book. We also see Kylar develop from his panicked, nervous youth into a formidable (but still pretty emotionally unstable) adult. And maybe most importantly, we have three villainous "entities" (you'll understand if you read it) developed for us who take us through the remainder of the series.



Like most middle issues, the main characters face considerable hardship and sorrow over the course of this book. The author does a good job of making you a little bit incredulous at what happens. Like, "Hmm, I wonder how they're gonna get out of this...OH. They're not." And though some of the deaths are definitely disappointing, they add a degree of unpredictability to the book, and they're all useful for pushing the story forward.



One thing that struck me as strange, though not necessarily in a bad way, was that this book could've been an ending, rather than a transition. The story culminates in a pair of great battles, and a crucial character is slain. But the story leaves enough unresolved that a third book makes good sense.



Speaking of...



Beyond the Shadows



The most satisfying part of the third book was the three...well, I don't know what you'd call them, but they're these three guys who are all incredibly powerful, and only get minimal exposure in the first two books. They remind me of that Simpsons episode where the Italian mob gets in a fight with the Asian mob, and there's the little guy in the white suit who's just standing there until the Simpsons go inside, and Homer's like, "But the little guy hasn't done anything yet!" Well, the little guys end up pretty damn big when this trilogy comes together.



Kylar Stern ends up being marginalized a little, because the grand scheme is so, well, grand. But he plays his part well, and the book becomes more of an orchestra of events, rather than a trio as the first two play out. Without reading the first two, you'd be completely lost and mostly apathetic about the characters, but with the long buildup, the last quarter of the book is a frenzy of excitement, drama, and emotion.



Overall Thoughts



If I had one complaint, or not so much a complaint but a slight drawback, it's that for the first half of the first book, there's almost no mention of "magic" or anything supernatural. Then you get hints and references, but nothing overwhelming. But by the last book, everything is magically charged, half of the main characters are casting spells, and you get the impression that anybody who isn't magically talented is kind of useless. Things don't necessarily play out that way, but it feels weird when anyone "normal" is able to contribute.



Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with magic. The Harry Potter series is one of my favorites (or rather seven of my favorites), and my movie and video gaming preferences include plenty of spells. I just prefer that magic be more balanced, less powerful, or more costly. It basically ran things after the first book, and that was somewhat frustrating at times.



Overall, though, I enjoyed the series a lot. It wasn't a cathartic experience like Harry Potter or Hunger Games, but it was entertaining, and it helped me get back into a mindset where I want to read books. And what else could you ask for out of a book?



The Last Words: Both books were compelling, and by the third book there were many characters who you really did care about. The second book was a little more depressing, and the third was a little too "epic," but neither to the extent that it wasn't well worth the read.



Friday, July 15, 2011

Washington Caps

With the final free agent signed this morning (Alzner 2 years 2.57 mil) I am really starting to get pumped for next season. While there are still decisions to be made in camp I thought it would be interesting to see what the starting line combinations could be on opening night. Here we go:

LW C RW

Alex Ovechkin Nicklas Backstrom Mike Knuble

Brooks Laich Marcus Johansson Alex Semin

Joel Ward Jeff Halpern Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera Mattias Sjogren Matt Hendricks

D

Mike Green Roman Hamrlik

John Carlson Karl Alzner

Jeff Schultz Dennis Wideman

I think Jay Beagle and Erskine round out the scratches. While some people might envision things a little different this is how I see the Caps starting out the year.

First Line: Ovi, Backstrom, Knuble.

I think this top line for the pass two years stays intact because of the familiarity. Keeping this line together will provide offense to start the season until other players find their role and learn the system.

Second Line: Laich, Johansson, Semin

This comes down to talent and money. To me if you are paying Laich like a 2nd line center he has to at the least play wing on the 2nd line. Semin is a world class talent when he's on. Finally I think Johansson really matured towards the end of last season. Johansson's speed and ability to handle the puck should allow this line to really contribute.

Third Line: Ward, Halpern, Brouwer

Lots of people see Halpern as a fourth line center and I think that will eventually happen once Sjogren (or Eakin) really step it up and learn the style and speed of the NHL. However I think Halpern with these two wingers provides grit, defense and physicality.

Fourth Line: Chimera, Sjogren, Hendricks

When did you ever see our fourth line contribute goals last year. It didn't happen. I think Chimera paired with either Sjorgren or Eakin's speed will cause a lot of havok from a 4th line. As I said above I see Halpern sliding back to this role if either young guy can make the next step.

D Pairs:

Carlson and Alzner together is a very easy decision. They logged big minutes against top talent. I thought for a while on the other two pairs and decided that Hamrlik was brought in for a reason. That being to give Green a complement combo Dman that can both play D and chip in offense. And that is what Green has become a overall solid D man. I think Schultz will rebound after a terrible year. The mono over the off season seemed to slow him down and leave him weak which (for a guy can struggle with both) caused him to struggle. He will provide stay at home D while Wideman can jump into the rush.

Sjogren vs Eakin:

The reason I went Sjogren over Eakin was for two reasons. First Eakin really struggled at the development camp. I think the incredible about of hockey over the last year has taken its toll on him. I think he will still be run down at camp and not be able to show off the speed and skill that almost got him a spot last year. The other reason for picking Sjogren is simply that he came to the Caps over several other teams. Its possible that his friendship, Johansson, and respect for Backstrom caused him to pick the Caps. However a more likely situation is the Caps told him they would give him every chance to make the team. With a tired Eakin being his competition he will be successful in making the team.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Reviewed - Catching Fire

(If you haven't read the first book of the trilogy, The Hunger Games, you shouldn't read this review; things will be given away.)

Catching Fire is the second installment in the Hunger Games series. The first book, you may remember, is one that I spoke glowingly of when I reviewed it about a month ago. Because of how much I liked it, my expectations were sky high for Catching Fire, and honestly, I wasn't even remotely disappointed.

Catching Fire picks up right where The Hunger Games leaves off, with Peeta and Katniss returning to District 12 as victors of the 74th Hunger Games, a brutal contest between youths from around the country, drafted into mortal combat.

Their victory was marred by their methods, though; the Hunger Games always has a single victor, and Katniss' trickery was read by many districts as a sign of rebellion. After an unpleasant meeting with President Snow, she sets her efforts on convincing the country of Panem that her tactic was driven by her overwhelming love for Peeta, rather than defiance. Peeta goes along with this, though he deals with the excruciating truth that Katniss was acting in defiance, while his love for and devotion to her is absolute. Their individual anguishes are born of different pain, but the author makes them similarly palpable.

Part of their victory tour takes them into District 11, the home of Rue and Thresh from their Hunger Games. Their presentation to the crowd, and the emotion of the scene, creates maybe my favorite moment in the entire series. I won't spoil it, but if you've already read it, you'll agree with me when I say...

...CHILLS.

The book strikes me as very much the "Empire Strikes Back" of the trilogy, which I guess is how most trilogies work. It continues the original story, and offers a character-building and plot-pushing bridge between the introduction and culmination of the story. It starts much more slowly than The Hunger Games, but finishes with intense and frantic action. I would still say that The Hunger Games is my favorite of the series, but Catching Fire is right there, neck-and-neck.

The Last Word - Listen, I highly recommend the whole series, so it's tough for me to make an individual recommendation on this specific book. But it's great, as entertaining as The Hunger Games. Go. Read it. GO.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Movie Reviewed - We Are Marshall

So if you know me at all, you know I'm a sucker for grief. It's kind of my favorite thing when I'm watching movies or TV. It's not to say that I enjoy seeing other people in pain, of course. It's more that, in movies, I think we all look for opportunities to connect with the characters. And grieving folks are the kind of folks I can connect with.

So, naturally, a movie about an entire town that grieves is something that I'd expect to be able to appreciate plenty. We Are Marshall follows the surviving players and coaches of Marshall University and how they endured through the tragic loss of most of their colleagues, teammates, and friends in a horrific plane crash. Just as much, it's about the town of Huntington, and how it was devastated by the tragedy.

For such a heart-wrenching story, though, the grief of the college and the town just didn't feel real enough. My heart strings are easily plucked, but for most of this movie, they sat idle. I'm not sure if it's because you don't have a chance to get to know the people who die before the crash, or if the movie's intention was to show the triumph of the survivors rather than their pain.

One thing's for sure, though: this movie did not suffer for acting prowess. Matthew McConaughey is brilliant as Jack Lengyel, the enigmatic coach who reached out to the grieving community and pushed the institution and the NCAA to help Marshall play their next season. Kate Mara and Ian McShane play the fiancee and father (respectively) of the team's deceased quarterback, and both perform admirably in relatively minor and layer-less roles.

But the real star of this film is Matthew Fox. He expertly portrays a man torn between his grief over the loss of so many of his dearest friends and his devotion to the game and school where he worked and lived with all of them. Before the very end of the movie, I had We Are Marshall pegged for three stars on Netflix, but Fox's scene in the locker room after the game against Xavier was poignant, emotional, and perfect. If you haven't seen the movie, I suggest you don't click here, as I'm sure it doesn't hold the same gravity without having seen the character's anguish. But I just couldn't write this post without linking to the video of it.

The Last Word - It was a good movie that wasn't quite as emotional as I'd hoped, but is brought up a level by Matthew Fox's tremendous performance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Predictions

Other people like ESPN's Chad Ford rely on insider information to determine which prospect will be drafted by each of the various NBA teams on Thursday night's NBA draft. I use what limited information I have about each player's pro potential, and what I perceive to be each team's needs. Remember 2009, when I inexplicably put DeJuan Blair ahead of Austin Daye? Well, Blair is a solid contributor on a good team, and Daye is a do-nothing forward on a crummy team. So maybe I'm not always wrong.

Anyways, here we go. A wide open draft lottery gets predicted by an amateur...right now:
  1. The Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving, guard from Duke University. The Cavs are feinting that they're still considering Derrick Williams at the #1 pick, but I don't buy it unless they work out a deal with the #4 pick. Irving and Williams are neck-and-neck in this draft, but Irving would be harder to replace with the talent I expect to be available at #4.
  2. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Derrick Williams, forward from the University of Arizona. Even the Timberwolves can't mess this one up, right? Whoever doesn't go #1 is a no-brainer at the second pick, and while Minnesota has made some no-brain picks in the past (drafting Ricky Rubio, then drafting Jonny Flynn, then drafting and trading Ty Lawson), Williams is a lock for #2. It's possible they trade the pick, but Williams will go second, for sure.
  3. The Utah Jazz select Brandon Knight, guard from the University of Kentucky. When you're consistently a good team, you don't have many opportunities at high draft picks. But they've made the most of their limited opportunities, grabbing superstar Deron Williams with their only top 5 pick since 1982. They're back at the top of the draft with a pick they acquired for Williams, and I think they'll use it on the most similar player to Williams in this draft. Knight is smart, agile, and motivated, and he's a great finisher at the rim. He might not be the next Deron Williams, but he also might be.
  4. The Cleveland Cavaliers select Jonas Valanciunas, center from Lithuania. I went back and forth on this pick, and this is where the draft really shakes loose, so each of these picks has a huge impact on the next few. Valanciunas is apparently locked in for another year with his Lithuanian team, which people say is scaring teams off. Hogwash, I say. The Cavs are among several teams that love love love the big man, and I think, with two top picks in the draft, they know they've got a couple years before they can expect to compete. So pick the guy you want, and be patient. And send a coach over there to keep him on the right path, basketball and otherwise.
  5. The Toronto Raptors select Enes Kanter, center from Turkey. I'd like to find a way to have Kanter drop to the Wizards at #6, but realistically he'll go at four or five, and I'll sigh. Anyways, Kanter is a banger with good hands, the kind of guy who can really improve his teammates. His presence, along with the hopeful development of Ed Davis, could allow Andrea Bargnani more freedom to possibly grow into a legitimate star. Good fit.
  6. The Washington Wizards select Kawhi Leonard, forward from San Diego State University. As I said, I think the Wizards would love to have Kanter as a Robin to John Wall's Batman, and they should explore trading up to get him (especially if they can unload that nightmare Andray Blatche). But if things go as I project, I think Leonard is a nice piece. He's unrefined, and he's still growing into his body, but his intensity is the real deal, and it shows in his defense and rebounding. It does mean the team is still on the lookout for a Robin, though.
  7. The Sacramento Kings select Jan Vesely, forward from the Czech Republic. The Kings have a sort of patchwork team right now, one without much of an identity. They've got some interesting pieces, particularly Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Vesely should slide in easily, even though he's still unrefined. He can play either forward slot, and has a lot he can do from mid-range offensively. The Heat's big three they ain't, but Evans, Cousins, and Vesely could definitely guide the Kings back into the playoff hunt.
  8. The Detroit Pistons select Bismack Biyombo, forward from the Congo. Detroit allowed the highest field goal percentage in basketball last year, which is simply unacceptable from the way this franchise has won titles in the past. Biyombo is one of the mysteries of this year's draft, but the physical tools are there to be a defensive force immediately, and a defensive superstar soon enough. There's risk, sure, but there's reward as well.
  9. The Charlotte Bobcats select Kemba Walker, guard from the University of Connecticut. Charlotte is paltry up front, but two things prompt them taking Walker in my estimation. First, he's the best player on the board by a good margin. Second, the word is that Charlotte would like to get someone who can contribute right away, which jives with my assessment of Michael Jordan's preferences. Which are wholly speculative, of course, but as good a guess as anybody's.
  10. The Milwaukee Bucks select Alec Burks, guard from the University of Colorado. Apparently the Bucks cooled on Brandon Jennings pretty quickly, as he's now been the subject of trade rumors. I think Burks is a good fit for the team either way. He's a slasher guard who can make his own shot. There are concerns about his ability to hit jumpers, but some good old-fashioned practice should take care of that.
  11. The Golden State Warriors select Klay Thompson, guard from Washington State University. Golden State's top two scorers from last season were Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, their starting backcourt. So why would they draft another two guard? Well first, Thompson would be a nice complement to either Curry or Ellis, making both expendable if needed. The Warriors could really use a center, but they're better off trying to get one via trade at this draft position.
  12. The Utah Jazz select Jimmer Fredette, guard from Brigham Young University. Honestly, when I started putting this together, I thought the Knight pick at #3 would preclude Fredette going to Utah here. But the reality is that Utah's most glaring need is scoring punch, and if Fredette has shown one thing, it's a knack for putting the ball in the bucket. Utah's best move might be to simply go with a small lineup and try to play Suns-style basketball, running and gunning. Could be fun to watch.
  13. The Phoenix Suns select Tristan Thompson, forward from the University of Texas. Kind of a coup for the Suns to land Thompson, who's more like a top 10 talent in this year's draft. He's a do-everything forward, but in a good Jeff Green way, not a bad Joe Alexander way. He might not project to be a superstar, but I'd be pretty shocked if he wasn't still an effective NBA player in ten years. His character and ability should make him a lifer.
  14. The Houston Rockets select Nikola Vucevic, center from the University of Southern California. The Rockets are a mess. They have needs basically across the board, and since there's no lightning in a bottle at this point in the draft, I think they'll go with the most projectable guy out there. Vucevic played three years of college ball, improving each year, and becoming a very good scorer and rebounder by his junior season. He's not Dirk, but he's got a good shooting touch and can help any team. It's a start.
The Wizards pick again at 18, which will probably be the last pick I watch live. The draft is basically a crapshoot after #9 (and Valanciunas could fall back into that area as well), but one guy I'd like to see Washington take with their second pick would be Jeremy Tyler. He's got size, athleticism, and skill, but is utterly lacking in maturity. My dream scenario would have the Wizards acquiring Shane Battier, and letting Battier groom Tyler. But that's probably just that: a dream.

Good luck to all the teams in the lottery, and here's hoping that the Wizards are a winner on draft night. And also that there are lots of trades. Big ones.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...