Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
For whatever reason, Roland Emmerich's disaster movies got worse and worse as I grew up. Independence Day was (and remains) and awesome helping of jokes, emotion, explosions, and lots and lots of cheese. I loved it then and love it now. I remember Godzilla being mostly laughable, but I've sat through it a few times on TV since then. But I cannot stand The Day After Tomorrow. I saw a couple scenes on FX (it's ALWAYS on FX these days), and I found it empty and boring. The one thing I will applaud is that Emmerich loves to center the action around a flawed, grounded everyman (Jeff Goldblum, Matthew Broderick, and Dennis Quaid). It holds true to the saying "It's amazing what humans are capable of when they must..."
I went into this movie expecting an awful mess of CG, no plot, and lots and lots of cheese. The first 20 minutes doesn't help the plot since they breeze through 3 years in a couple scenes while trying to introduce several different storylines. The good news is we don't spend too much time lounging around. The end is near. The sun's increased activity is melting the Earth's core and it's going to cause a shit-ton of problems (volcanoes, earthquakes, and tidal waves).
This time around, John Cusack walks us through armageddon. He's a has-been author/limo driver that barely sees his kids. He catches wind of the bad news from a conspiracy hippy nut (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) while camping at Yellowstone. And then just like that, it goes from bad to worse to worse-than-worst. California gets the Earthquake to end all earthquakes and Yellowstone blows it top like a hydrogen bomb. I enjoyed this much more than the disaster in The Day After Tomorrow because you can easily see the destruction. Instead of blizzards and rainstorms (low visibility), we clearly see the quakes, waves, and eruptions. Despite it being 100% CG, the visuals are pretty amazing.
And on top of that, the family dynamic is surprisingly NOT terrible. John Cusack has to run into LA and rescue his kids, ex-wife Amanda Peet, and her new boyfriend Tom McCarthy before it all goes to hell, and there subsequent trip around the world is fast paced and pretty entertaining. The supporting characters (Danny Glover, Oliver Platt (awesome), the bad guy from Serenity, the boss from Just Shoot Me, and some rich Russian guy) provide a wide range of people to be invested in.
However, the biggest and most glaring drawback is the goofy plot. It's hard to sit back and believe everything that's unfolding. The Dalai Lama drives a pick-up truck? We care about saving the giraffes? Wait, wait, wait... Africa???? Really? Plus, the tone is all over the map. There's subtle humor like Arnold's press conference (too bad it wasn't really Arnold), and the looks that John Cusack and Tom McCarthy share. There's a welcome intensity at some moments, but it's ruined with jokey gags like the one with the puppy. And finally, it seems like there's just an endless wave of death. Phone calls between people about to die. Seeing large groups of people wiped out. Watching some of the supporting characters sadly die... I just couldn't tell what this movie wanted to be.
If your smart, you already know what this movie is going to be. The destruction is ambitious and jaw-dropping, but the plot blows. The only saving grace that makes me consider sitting through this again when it's on FX is that most characters are worth watching. It's definitely a dumb movie, but still an entertaining, dumb movie.
Monday, November 16, 2009
So how do you turn 10 sentences into 101 minutes? Kudos to the suits at Warner Bros. for staying true to the themes of the book, while also giving the film some substance. This very easily could've been another Christmas-Season-Toy-Marketing movie (something that your pals at Disney tried/failed to do 20 years ago), but it is probably the polar opposite. Spike Jonze and company add layer upon layer to this Max's story, and each character adds a different dynamic to the kid's psyche. Max's life isn't roses, and he's surrounded by modern social dysfunction like ADD, a fractured family, and (gasp!) environmental concern. When he finally snaps, he imagines himself off to a mysterious island full of giant Wild Things. It starts well, but Max eventually realizes that the monsters on the island are even more dysfunctional than the monsters in his household. Like LOST meets The Office.
And to me, pain was the underlying essence of the movie. While Hook, for example, was a children's tale re-imagined with a magical Spielberg environment, Wild Things hits us with a solid dose of fear and insecurity. At times, it's is so hell-bent on storytelling from a confused 9-year old perspective, we are often left with frustrating, confused scenes. I don't remember the actual Wild Things being so whiny and childish in the book, but what else would a child know? I don't remember them being so relentlessly unhappy, but I suppose that's how frightened/lonely/insecure children would see it. There are a few scenes where this leads to utter stupidity (owls), and does nothing but pro-long the movie. In the book, Max eventually grows lonely and misses his mother; in the movie, Max realizes his escape is actually more combustible than reality.
A solid movie, but I ultimately left feeling uninspired. I have to admit that the kid in the movie ----- unlike 99% of movie kids (see: Phantom Menace, Dick Tracy, The Neverending Story, One Tree Hill, etc, etc, etc) --- was NOT annoying. The voices were fun, especially Tony Soprano as a friendly (...or is he?) wild thing that delivers the tear-jerker scene, and Paul "Bowling Pin" Dano as the biggest loser of the wild things. And a few people are complaining about the hipster soundtrack -- I'll say that's it only feels wrong for some of the movie, although Herb will probably blast the entire thing. Lastly, enough can't be said about the original way it was filmed, with giant larger-than-life puppets rumbling around the woods. Creepy, just like the original book was. HHhhooooOOOWWWWwwwllL.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
- Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach
It's revenge time. Because I stood by the Stillers and backed them in an office wager the last time Cincy played Pittsburgh (we lost), I've been stuck wearing the same ugly Bengals tie to work this week. Needless to say, I'm festering with anger. So imagine how the team feels!! This is the statement game of the year. For the past 10-15 years, every once and a while, a team will creep up and challenge the Steelers for the divisional crown. Last year, it was Baltimore. In 2005, the Bengals actually won it, but then choked in the playoffs while hosting the Burgh. Before that, the Browns briefly challenged, but Tommy Guns dispatched them in the Divisional round with a rousing comeback. Anyway, this year, the Bengals have surfaced again. We're used to fending off pretenders, so there's no need to fear, Steeler fans. I'm going to provide with the Top 10 reasons why we will win this Sunday, and inevitably go on to capture the division.
I'll give the Bengals credit: it's hard to sweep division rivals, yet they manhandled Baltimore, a much more impressive win than their win earlier this season. We beat the Ravens 3 times last year, but every one of those games was tough. There's no way the Steelers find themselves in a similar position this year. They won't let the Bungals take both games this year. Sometimes it's as simple as that.
9. Mike Wallace is dangerous
This guy came out of nowhere. On a team with TWO SUPER BOWL MVPS starting at wideout, Braveheart is stealing the show. At first, I was impressed with his straight-line speed, but lately he has proven himself a reliable 3rd-down target. Combine him with Ward's brains, Santonio's hands, and Heath Miller's size, and we are a DANGEROUS receiving team. I haven't seen us this strong since the days of Ernie Mills, Yancey Thigpen, and Charles Johnson.
8. Vegas loves us (7 point favorites)
Think about it. It's a tough-as-nails divisional game against a team that beat us earlier in the year. In spite of that, Vegas has us as favorites by a TOUCHDOWN! They don't expect this to be close, and you shouldn't either. The Steelers bring such a quiet swagger to the table. We know how to prepare for these kind of games in a way that Cincy will never know.
7. Steeler depth
We've seen injuries to Polamalu, Aaron Smith, Travis Kirschke, Larry Timmons, Ryan Clark (not an injury, just a precaution), and Willie Parker. And yet, the only noticeable absence was Polamalu. Everyone else has been ably replaced by an endless stream of capable backups. In fact, 3 of them (Mendenhall, Tyrone Carter, Keyaron Fox) have stepped up and played huuuuuge games.
6. Heinz field advantage
It's later in the year. Pitt is playing the night before against Notre Dame. This field is going to be mangled, and no one knows how to handle a shitty field like the Steelers. I wouldn't be surprised if Ochostinko stumbles on a few routes and Benson falls at the line of scrimmage. Couple that with the Pittsburgh fans and the Steeler's intimidating home jerseys.
5. Mendenhall keeps us two-dimensional
If Qui-Gon were around, he'd be on his deathbed stressing "He will.... bring balance..." I don't know how the O-line turned it around from a year ago, but them and Mendenhall have been locked in these past few weeks. He's also a much better receiver than soon-to-be-unemployed Fast Willie. If we get the play-action going early, this might end up a rout.
4. The Bengals will not be able to run the ball
Who are the most dangerous runners in the league? Number one is Adrian Peterson followed closely by Chris Johnson. Also in the discussion is Cedric Benson, yet the Steelers held all of them under 100 yards rushing. No team has been able to effectively run the ball, and Denver was ABYSMAL on Monday night. Their longest run was maybe 7 yards, and they probably averaged less than 2 yards a carry. The Bengals' only hope is Carson Palmer.
3. Ben Roethlisberger is having his greatest season ever
Perhaps he should be accused of rape more often, because Huge Ben is on a mission this year. He's tied with Peyton Manning for the top completion percentage in the league (over 7o%), he's on pace for more than 4000 yards, and he's picking apart opposing secondaries in the no-huddle. And what about his fancy highlights and 5 o' clock shadow? The chicks don't need to be forced into loving that.
2. The Defense has re-established their dominance
Run defense. Pass defense. QB pressure. It really doesn't matter. The defense is so well-rounded that they look even better than last year's historically great squad. We're tackling better than I've ever seen. The crazy formations (1 down lineman, 5 prowling LBS, and 5 DBs) are scary and effective. I've already mentioned the depth we've seen on defense. I love seeing them assemble the convoy on turnovers. The list goes on and on. The only gameplan that teams like to try against us is the dink-and-dunk West Coast offense. The Seahkawks in SBXL, the Patriots all the time, the Cardinals in SBXLIII, the Broncos this year, the Vikings this year, etc. etc. That kind of attack only works if you're QB is patient and accurate (really only Brady can pull it off against us). The Bengals don't use that kind of passing attack. Palmer loves to throw timing routes further down the field (flag outs, flag ins, skinny posts, deep hooks, etc.) If we get pressure on him early and get him moving his feet, those kinds of patterns will constantly be disrupted.
1. Troy Polamalu is playing this time
The only person that would hurt us more by being out is Ben Roethlisberger. The defense was noticeably slower and susceptible to giving up 3rd down conversions. With the best safety in football back in the lineup, the defense is unbeatable. Last week he took over the game. He ran down Brandon Marshall to make what could've been a huge gain just a modest one. He sprinted into the backfield to take out Moreno. He followed that up with a clutch interception. The Bengals bested the Steelers by marching down the field on a long, clock-bleeding drive that was sustained by several 3rd and 4th down conversions. With Troy in the game, there's no way he doesn't make a play on one of those, especially the 4th-and-10 that broke our back.
PREDICTION: Steelers cruise, 34-13
You know you're curious, so watch the two clips below.
Friday, November 6, 2009
How many years am I going to get out this? You have to think about the player's relationship with the team and if he's going to be around town for a while. You have to consider age and whether or not they might be the kind of guy to jump ship for a bigger contract. Because let's face it, there's nothing more embarrassing than buying a jersey and then the guy immediately skips town...
How can I stand out from the crowd? Yeah, you can pick one of the guys from the list below and be like everyone else. Or maybe you could blaze your own trail and pick someone few others have. I bought a Steelers Larry Foote jersey, and the guy didn't miss a game over the next 4 years of me owning the jersey. Even though he was a mediocre player, it made every sack, tackle, or interception that much more awesome because Larry Foote was doing it. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, so I suggest you pick a player that's right for you.
There are other serious questions to consider before committing to a player, but my last point was a good segway. The following list is the Top 10 most marketable atheletes. For some reason, everyone is buying their jerseys, and I'm going to try and tell you why. It's important to remember that these are the top ten best selling THIS year, and are projected to remain the Top Ten through the end of this season.
WHO I'D BUY INSTEAD: Antonio Gates
The reigning running champ and #1 fantasy stud, AP should really be 5 spots higher on the list. You might think that people don't want an ugly purple jersey, but the truth is Minnesota is plagued by stupid fans. You see, AP would be much higher on this list, but stupid yokels chose to buy a different Minnesota jersey instead...
WHO I'D BUY INSTEAD: Jared Allen
8. Troy Polamalu
The only defensive player to make this list, Polamalu is an easy person to like. He's constantly praised as one of the top safeties in the league, he's still young, he's got long term plans in Pittsburgh, and he's on the cover of Madden. If you bought a Troy jersey before the Steelers started winning Super Bowls, you're probably a little peeved that everyone else has one now, but I'll give credit to anyone who bucks the trend and avoids a QB.
If your a Colts fan, you think he's top QB of all time. If you're anyone else, you think he's an overmarketed, boring hayseed that should be remembered as a guy that should have won more than one Super Bowl. I'll concede that Manning is a consistent all-star, and definitely one of the all-time greats, but if doesn't win another Super Bowl, I'd say his career is ultimately disappointing.
WHO I'D BUY INSTEAD: Reggie Wayne
6. Reggie Bush
WHAT!?!?! Ok, I can understand morons buying a Reggie Bust jersey after he won the Heisman and was paraded into New Orleans, but he has down absolutely NOTHING on the field since then. He's probably less famous than his fatass fame whore ex-girlfriend, and that's saying something. So why are people still buying his jersey? I suppose it's because the Saints are 7-0, and much like the other Saints team of recent memory, I'd say they're overrated and overrhyped. Since stupid fans enjoy the overhyped, they choose Bush.
WHO I'D BUY INSTEAD: Darren Sharper
Whatever. I'm sick of Favre. The Steelers proved that if you solely rely on his 80 year old arm, you'll lose. All you millions of people that buy this jersey are retarded. He'll probably be gone next year, and then your jersey will just be stupid and you'll never wear it.
WHO I'D BUY INSTEAD: Adrian Peterson
There's no way I can conceivably defend this pick. The only person on this list that's worse is Reggie Bush. If, 4 years from now, Mark Sanchez isn't any better and people still buy his jersey, then he would be as bad as Bush. Jets fans are fickle and want to believe this guy can lead the franchise. It's okay being desperate, but there are better options out there.
WHO I'D BUY INSTEAD: Bart Scott
Huge Ben Ruthlessberger is a two-time champ, and no matter how much people want to knock him, he's an elite QB in the NFL. Ok, so maybe he's a jerk, and maybe he raped a girl, and he's dumb for riding motorcycles without helmets, but so what? He's a one-of-a-kind franchise QB leading the greatest team in football history. Since I made the mistake of buying Willie Parker's jersey after Super Bowl XL and he's probably leaving town after this year, I might cave and buy Big Ben just like everyone else.
I get it; the biggest market in the country, the fact that he recently KO'ed asshole Brady (who you won't find on this list) for a big Super Bowl victory, and he's a high-profile QB. My knock against Eli is that he's quiet and inconsistent. But really, who else is there in NY? I wouldn't trust taking a receiver after the Plax incident. Brandon Jacobs is having a bad year, and the big bad defense is no more. If you're a Giants fan, it's smart to go with the safe pick here.
I hate Romo-san. The critics hate him too. He's only popular because he's the Dallas Cowboys QB and he's alright in the regular season. Remember last year when the big debate was "Okay, Brady and Manning are 1-2. Who would you put 3, Roethlisberger or Romo?" Hah! What a joke. Big Ben went on to capture his 2nd ring, and Tony Romeo went on vacation before the season was over. If you must cheer for America's team, I highly suggest DeMarcus Ware, instead.
BONUS: At the beginning of the season, Favre's Vikings jersey was number one, and MICHAEL VICK's Eagles jersey was number 2. For some reason, he's quickly fallen off the list. Oh wait, not just some reason... it's because he's only played like 10 snaps.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
You'll have to see my NHL 09 review to get half the story, because the mechanics and game engine remain the same. And that's not a bad thing because NHL 09 was the best hockey game ever created. This year, EA Sports decided to concentrate on updating and adding a few new features, so that's what I'll look at.
1. Boardplay - This takes some getting used to. To make the game more realistic, you can now pin guys into the board and struggle for control of the puck. This means that the old way of doing (plowing into them with huge body checks against the boards) has largely been done away with. In many cases, if you go full speed into a guy on the boards, it'll just be a glancing check. They want you to pin them and fight for the puck. I thought it would slow down gameplay, but it really doesn't. It makes cycling a more important aspect of the game, which I'm all far. By and large, a welcome upgrade.
2. Fighting - One of the sore spots of NHL 09 was the fighting. This year, they revamped it and developed a first-person fighting system. Guess what... it also stinks. You have to dodge, aim your punches, block, pull their heads down, so it's pretty strategic. But still, fights are over way to fast and I'm just not a fan of the first person view. The only cool thing is that when your guys loses, he gets a black eye for a game or two.
3. Music - Hands down my favorite new feature, the custom music option allows you to use music from the PS3 hard drive. You can play these playlists while navigating the main menus (hello Backspacer), but the real fun is during the game. You can set specific songs for certain in-game events, customize songs for specific teams, or easily set a song or playlist for every arena in the league. For me personally, my Pens come out to Thunderstruck. Bang on the Drum plays when I score goals (as a nod to disgraced Pen, Jaromir Jagr). The Jaws theme comes on when we get a Power Play. I even have annoying arena songs like this and this and this to play during stoppages in play. The only drawback is that songs start from the beginning, so if you want a specific section to play, you need to crop the song before loading it to the playlist.
4. The Crowd - Never before has a hockey accurately captured the emotion from the crowd when the home team scores. Never ever. In fact, I can't think of any sports game that has accomplished that. I enjoyed the NCAA games where the screen shakes from the noise of the home crowd, but usually in hockey and football games, you see low quality crowd (most of them duplicates) woodenly stand up. It sucks.... but not anymore. In NHL 10, when the home team scores, the crowd roars, everyone jumps to their feet, and the clones are less noticeable. It's little things like this that maybe aren't necessary in a hockey game, but when they are done right, the game is sooooooooo much better.
Most everything else that matters (create-a-player, gameplay mechanics, play-by-play, etc.) remains that same. The result is once again the greatest NHL game of all time.
A while back I said you all should be watching FlashForward, but I'm beginning to regret those words. It's hard to explain, but I'm just not hooked on the show the way I should be, and I don't really care who caused the blackout, why, and if the future will come true. Normally, when I back a show, you can take that to the bank. So I'm a little hesitant about giving out my seal of approval again. After watching the much hyped premiere of V (along with 14 million others), I must say that you should definitely check it out.
LOST started as a critical and commercial hit, but when they ventured into heavy sci-fi territory, the viewers were leaving faster than DUI castmembers. So what should we make of an expensive, network show built on sci-fi? The story starts with big, ID4-like mother ships hovering over the major cities across the globe. Before the people start to run for the hills, a giant screen projects the leader of the Visitors, Anna (Morena Baccarin from FIREFLY!!!!), and she tells everyone that they come in peace and promise to share their knowledge and technology with all the world. In a weird turn of events, the NY crowd below actually accept this at face value and begin to applaud, but we'll come back to that later.
Meanwhile, lead character Erica (Juliet from LOST!!!!), is an FBI agent investigating a spike in terrorist chatter that coincides with the V's arrival. Perhaps they plan to take advantage of this distraction and attack the US? Her and her partner (Alan Tudyk from FIREFLY!!!!) check out abandoned hideouts, but the terrorists are always one step ahead. Hmmmm... sounds like a plot device I despise (a mole in the group!!!!! whoa!!!!!).
Meanwhile, Erica's dickwad angst-ridden son resents his overworked mother for their shitty family though his dad is no father of the year. Because he's a moron teenager, he rebels against his mom and befriends the V's and applies to become an ambassador. He sucks and you'll hate him.
Anna is true to her word and they start opening healing centers. They offer tours of their awesome spaceship. She even goes on national TV and is interviewed by a PLEASE-TAKE-ME-SERIOUS-AS-A-JOURNALISTTTTT Scott Wolfe (I'm no fan). I'm very much intrigued by how Anna handles herself, and it's easy to see that, though she pulls off the friendly visitor facade, and it seems genuine, you can't help but sense something sinister going on.
Let's also throw in a Catholic priest that is suspicious of the Visitors and wonders how they fit in to God's plan, and another guy (Morris Chesnut) with a shady past who wants to propose to his girlfriend. The priest finds out about a secret meeting where all will be revealed. Someone from Morris Chesnut's shady past also tells him about the meeting, which just so happens to be the next step in Erica's terrorist investigation.
That's where we're warned that the V's aren't friendly, but actually want to annihilate the humans!!! They've been infiltrating every level of our society for years and years, disguised as humans, and preparing for the next phase (INVASION!!!). That explains the spike in activity from the terror cell (they're a terrorist cell comprised of aliens!!!). That explains why the humans were clapping in New York (the aliens led them in applause to provide a positive first impression). And that mole..... it's Erica's partner ALAN TUDYK!!! He crashes the meeting with a team of aliens and they kill a bunch of people. Erica and the priest escape and vow to form a resistance group. Also, during the attack, we find out another one of the humans is also an alien, but one opposed to the Visitors. He wants to help us!!!
Trust me, I didn't make this sound that cool, but it really is. I'm definitely going to tune in next week, and you should too.
Every year, Sports Illustrated polls current NFL players and personnel to see who they think is the league's dirtiest player. This year, the top draw is Hines Ward... in a landslide. As a lifelong die-hard Steeler fan, I take issue with this, and I'll tell you why in a second.
First, let's recognize how awesome Hines is for how he handled it.
"I beat Joey? Wow," Ward said, with a laugh. "How can I be the dirtiest player on the field -- a little, old wideout with no speed? I don't know whether to be happy or mad about it."
Ward wore a grin as wide as a jack-o'-lantern's as he answered questions following practice yesterday, suggesting he's more amused than anything by the dubious honor.
Now, I live in Southwest Ohio, near Cincinnati, so I experience my fair share of Steeler hate. Almost everyone here condemns Hines Ward as a dirty player, and some go as far to label him a horrible human being (!?!?!?!). I can understand them hating him like I hate Chad Ochostinko, but I will never concede that he is a dirty player.
I think there are a few specific things that draw the hatred. First, Hines Ward loved to stiff arm DBs, and especially loves to stiff arm them right in the face mask. Dumb fans know that you can't tackle somebody by grabbing the facemask, so they probably assume that Hines can't do it either, but they're wrong. Secondly, the crackback blocks. This is probably what got him recognized by other players. Whiny little DBs are so used to dishing out the hits that they never expect to get blasted. It's your job to keep your eyes open all the time, and if you're not paying attention when Hines is running at you, you'll get your head knocked off. But let's be clear: THE HITS ARE LEGAL, NOT DIRTY!!! He doesn't lead with his head. He doesn't take out their knees. He doesn't leave his feet and spear the guy. He just runs them over with his shoulder. Watch this video of him decleating Ed Reed, Bart Scott, Keith Rivers, and others.
This guy is a shoe-in Hall of Famer, and opposing coaches love saying how this is the kind of guy you want to build your team with. I'll never understand why everyone considers him dirty, but it's probably because they are used to seeing whimpy WRs every week. Whatever.... go Steelers.
So as I was watching it last night, I said to myself, this is terrible. Why do I watch it anymore? Look at what it happening in Season 6.
First off, Matt is a mime that robs convenience stores with a fake gun. It's downright laughable and completely stupid. Is there a television character that is more clueless and hated than Matt McNamara?
AC Slater working with McNamara/Troy?
So what's the deal with Teddy? She was a goofy druggy last season, Katee Sackhoff is replaced by Rose McGowan, and now Teddy tries to kill the entire McNamara family. Is she with Matt? When she asked Sean about Matt's inheritance / or lack of one, she kind of flashed a Ben Linus look. What happened to great side characters like Escobar, Ava, and Kit?
Even Sean is getting annoying, he's all about Teddy. His best work was a as a new divorcee circa Seasons 2-5.
But thankfully, Christian is still in perfect form. Arrogant, distasteful, and a complete asshole, as there have been times during this season where I have simply laughed out loud at his quotes. He is the only thing keeping Nip/Tuck afloat.
A show the continually pushes the envelope with outrageous situations and scenarios is bound to simply run out of ideas. Seasons 1-3 was about as edgy as you can get on TV, but still with a coherent plot and solid character development. Recently, the events just get more weirder and less systematic. This fact has been happening since Season 4 started, but I have been holding out hope that it would get better. Watching it last night, I now know that it never will. Nip/Tuck's best days are simply long gone.
"best" scene of Season 6 thus far...