Archive for March, 2009

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March Madness: Day 1 & 2

March 20, 2009

Ah yes, folks, it’s my favorite time of the year: the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship, a.k.a. March Madness. With 75% of the first round complete, my bracket still looks in good shape. I’ve missed a total of 5 games, which probably has me around the national average, but I still have all my Sweet 16 teams alive.

My misses so far:

West Virginia vs Dayton: I penciled in Dayton in my first draft and thought they were certainly capable of the upset. However, at the end of the day I had to admit that West Virginia is the better and more seasoned team and I went with them. I can’t say I’m shocked by this upset at all though.

BYU vs Texas A&M: This was a pretty even match. I went with BYU because Lee Cummard is a beast and they seemed like the stronger team. Missing an 8 seed vs. 9 seed game is a pretty minor mistake anyways.

Tennessee vs Oklahoma St.: Another really even 8 vs 9 match. Oklahoma St. has decent depth and a star in James Anderson, but Tennessee is certainly the more touted team. This was the last game I filled out in the first round, so I could’ve gone either way on it.

VCU vs UCLA: Every analyst in the nation was predicting this upset and I think for good reason. I wasn’t jumping on any bandwagons making this pick because there are solid reasons for taking VCU in this game. First off, Eric Maynor is a beast… better than anyone on UCLA, Darren Collison included. Secondly, VCU won a tournament game just a few years ago. Thirdly, UCLA is just not that good this year. They have a decent squad, yes, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t lose by 10+ to Villanova tomorrow.

Clemson vs Michigan: I’m not sure why I went Clemson on this one. I made a list of my favorite out-of-state teams for the 2008-2009 college basketball season and Michigan was on that list simply because I think very highly of Manny Harris. I prefer Michigan over Clemson and since neither team is all that dominating, I’m surprised I didn’t go w/ the team I like more. I guess I figured Trevor Booker’s presence in the middle would be the difference in this game. I guessed wrong.

It sucks being at work while all these games are on, but I did get to see Washington vs Mississippi State and Gonzaga vs Akron yesterday. Thankfully, today is the only day I’m missing the action because I took tomorrow off and I always have Sundays off. I’ll be in Seattle rooting for the Huskies.

I should have another update tonight after the rest of today’s games.

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Choke Lives Up To It’s Name

March 15, 2009

What’s wrong with this picture? A film based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club (arguably one of the 20 best films released in the past ten years), can’t even gross $3 million domestically? You’d think that just attaching “from the author of Fight Club” on the poster would be enough to put the uneducated asses in the seats. I use the word “uneducated” because I think anyone that is familiar with Palahniuk’s work is going to fall into one of two categories: biased fanatic or biased hater. I never read Fight Club, but I’ve read three of Palahniuk’s other novels (Choke included), and they’ve all left a sour taste in my mouth. His writing style has an air of pretension that’s hard to overlook, the stories are ridiculously absurd, and his characters are unlikeable and morally retarded. I realize that’s often what he’s going for, and sometimes that formula can be engaging, but Palahniuk’s stories often come across heartless, and sometimes we just need somebody to root for. Choke was the first of his books I read and it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’ve stumbled across someone with a unique and clever voice, but his novels are kind of like Fight Club: you’re getting punched in the face repeatedly, yet sometimes you act like you enjoy it.

With that said, this is a review of the film, not the author’s collection of works… but I think it’s important to understand how I feel about the source material, since I clearly didn’t like the story and I was expecting disaster as soon as I saw the trailer. The movie version is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book and some of the scenes and characters are so sexually indecent that I’m sure this had to be pushing an NC-17 rating and it’s hard R-rating had to factor in keeping it from playing in a lot of theaters. The story is about Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a sex addict who chokes on food in restaurants during his spare time in the hopes that his rescuer will feel responsible for his life and send him loads of money over time. Victor also regularly visits his mother (Anjelica Huston) in the hospital and we get flashbacks in his upbringing that help explain why Victor became the adult he is today. Yawn.

At least the acting in the film is decent, as Rockwell and Huston are both capable thespians. They do what they can with their characters, but neither invoke sympathy in the viewer. It’s hard to fault the actors, however, when the characters are clearly written to be completely amoral. I’m already tired of bashing this movie, so I’ll end by saying that I kind of hated it even though it lived up to my expectations. I’m sure anyone that can admit they are a fan of the novel will probably like the film as well… but don’t go into this thing blind, expecting Fight Club caliber.

Score: 3 out of 10 (Painful)

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Hamlet 2 Review

March 14, 2009

Hamlet 2 is a film that almost every one skipped while it was playing in theaters, as evidenced by it’s whopping $4.8 million domestic gross during its theatrical run. I’ve been seeing trailers for this movie for a while now, however, and I’ve always thought it looked kind of funny and the plot sounded so ludicrous I couldn’t help myself. It’s important to realize that you’re watching a satire of a genre–down on luck teacher inspires tough crowd of students (think Dangerous Minds)–and keep in mind that this film is a parody that should not be taken seriously. It will help your overall enjoyment if you watch it with this mindset. I thought that would be a strong chance I’d start this film and never finish it, but I was sold as soon as Steve Coogan’s drama teacher is near tears after listening to yet another scathing review from his nemesis, the school critic, who happens to be a 12 year old boy that misuses vocabulary and often times doesn’t even make sense in his writing. It’s quite funny to see a grown man’s hopes and dreams legitimately affected by a critic that hasn’t even started growing armpit hair.

I’m going to keep this review short and end by stating that Hamlet 2 is a decent comedy in the parody genre. It succeeds in ways that films like Disaster Movie and Superhero Movie continually fail at (i.e. being funny). We’ve all seen this formula before, so the plot doesn’t offer much in the way of originality or surprises, but I found it to be an enjoyable film overall. If you decide to skip it, however, you’re not going to be missing out on a whole lot either.

5.5 out of 10 (Worth Watching/Recommended)

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Son Of Rambow – Sequel or Homage?

March 12, 2009

I first started hearing about Son Of Rambow when it was in theaters and I wasn’t really sure what it was all about. Was it a horrible idea for a sequel in the Rambo franchise? Was it an homage? Did it even have anything to do with the Sylvester Stallone films? I didn’t really know, but I kept the name of the movie in my head and when it started popping up on a number of “Best Movies of 2008” lists, I decided that it was time to give it a chance.

The film is definitely not an entry in the popular action franchise, although the original Rambo does play a roll in the plot of this film. The story centers on Will, a young London boy, whose family is so religious and restrictive he must find bizarre ways of entertaining himself, such as drinking from the water fountain on days he knows his class will watch a movie (he is forbidden to watch TV), holding the water in his mouth until he is sent outside the classroom, and then spitting it into a fish bowl, keeping track of his efforts on a monthly basis. He also spends a vast amount of his time drawing and creating his own stories. It’s during one of these “time outs” that he befriends Lee Carter, who wastes no time identifying himself as the school trouble-maker. This unlikely bond leads to the two boys creating their own film version of the Rambo franchise, an idea inspired within Will after Lee Carter leaves him alone with the bootlegged film playing in the background.

The story may sound somewhat silly, but to say it’s simply an homage to the Rambo films would be a cruel injustice. The story tackles several important themes focusing on the power of friendship, the battle between self-choice and family values, escapism, and abandonment issues. While the name “Rambo” might turn heads and give this film attention, it’s the friendship between Will and Lee Carter and their personal battles with their own families that are going to turn viewers into fans.

I was really surprised by the acting from the young kids in this film. Bill Milner, who reminds me a lot of Freddie Highmore, does a very good job playing the secluded Will. You feel his depression at his isolation and lack of experience, and share his joy when he’s able to break through his shell. Not only does Milner do a fine acting job, he looks like a future star. This film really belongs to Will Poulter, the kid that plays the troubled Lee Carter (and if you’re wondering why I keep using first and last name, it’s because that’s how he is referred to 100% of the time). Poulter does a great job of playing the school lawbreaker, a personality which ultimately is a projection of his own troubled relationship with his brother, whom he idolizes, but may or may not know that Lee Carter even exists. It’s no coincidence that Will Poulter was recently cast in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, due out in 2010… the kid is enormously talented and I hope to see him take on even more challenging roles in the future.

As a whole, I really enjoyed Son Of Rambow. It’s a quirky and funny film, with good acting from its young cast, and a solid story that deals with several thematic issues. I’ve seen a number of people put it on their “Best of 2008” lists and I’m pretty sure I know why. It’s a good film, yes, but the ending is phenomenal. It will pull at your heart strings and tap your tear ducts. It’s such a good ending that I think a lot of people are finishing the film thinking it’s much better than it actually was. I don’t want to get out of line and dub this as one of the great films of 2008… it’s not quite that. However, it is a very good film and the ending will leave you thinking it was great.

Score: 7 out of 10 (Must See)

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Updates Coming Soon

March 11, 2009

I haven’t had time to update the page recently, but I will be starting to do so again very soon. This week I finished reading the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and I’m planning to see the film tomorrow, so I’ll have my thoughts on that adaptation posted very soon. Also, I will have a review for Milk very soon and a bunch of other movies. I also heard the new Brother Ali EP this week and will post my thoughts on that very soon. Lastly, I’m long overdue on my Harry Potter vs. Twilight rant.

Peace.

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The Yankee Years by Joe Torre & Tom Verducci

March 1, 2009

Started: February 15th, 2009
Finished: March 1st, 2009

First off, let me state the fact that I’ve never reviewed a book in my life, but considering that I’m a writing major and have some professional writing experience under my belt, I don’t feel that I’m unqualified to express an educated opinion.

The Yankee Years first caught my attention because it was making headlines on ESPN due to stirring up some dirt in the Yankees organization. I don’t even remember what the headline was, but it probably had something to do with Alex Rodriguez, since that guy attracts controversy like he gets a bonus for it in his contract. I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the fact that Joe Torre had written a book about his time with the Yankees, but when I saw that Tom Verducci, a reputed baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, was the co-author I figured it was worth my time.

Make no mistake, this book is Verducci’s baby. Despite first billing and an authoring credit, Torre’s involvement is limited to extensive interviewing and vocal contributions, but has nothing to do with the writing as far as I was able to tell. Though this book wouldn’t have been possible without Torre’s involvement, I think his name on it is mostly a sales strategy. Verducci puts together a well-structured and chronological book with sharp prose that keeps the reader interested. Some of the writing does get repetitive at times and some of the quotes used don’t contribute much, but overall, I found the book to be a quick and interesting read.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a baseball fanatic, but The Yankee Years made me realize that I completely lose touch with the game come playoff time. I’m sure this is due to the fact that baseball, despite being a great sport, is kind of boring to watch and also because I don’t have a vested interest when the Mariners miss the playoffs or get knocked out. This has caused me to miss out on some incredible games. Think what you want to about the Yankees, but over the past 15 years or so, they’ve been involved in some of the best postseason series and games of all-time. If there weren’t box scores and footage to prove the results, you’d think that some of these accounts were fictitiously written for the movies. From Aaron Boone’s game-winning homerun in extra innings, to Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, to the Yankees coming back from a sub-.500 record as late as July to make the playoffs in 2007, there definitely was a story to be told here.

The thing that surprised me the most about the book is how it made me feel about the Yankees. Without a doubt, in my lifetime, the Yankees are my most hated team in any sport. I’ve always felt like they’ve been able to buy their way into the playoffs due to a ridiculous revenue stream and payroll flexibility, and with 12 straight postseason appearances, six league championships and four World Series Rings, that might be hard to argue. However, after reading this book, I feel like I may have been a bit ignorant. The most amazing thing happened as I was reading the first half of this book: I found myself liking the Yankees for the first time in my life. No, not the Yankees as we know them now, but the team that won four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000. It’s easy to learn to hate a team that constantly wins, but I think a lot of my hatred was misguided. I’ve always despised the Yankees because of their huge payroll and ability to buy their roster rather than develop it, but those teams that won the championships were built of gritty, hard-nosed and reasonably priced veterans that had a will to win (Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, David Cone) and young, upcoming future superstars produced from the Yankees own farm system (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte). When Joe Torre was hired before the 1996 season, the Yankees had a modest (in comparison to now) payroll and their attendance was merely average compared to the rest of the league. It was due to this run of championships and success that the Yankees have become the colossal revenue-building monster that it is now. It wasn’t until the 2000s (after the Yankees last championship) that they seemingly started signing every big free agent that went on the market. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the Yankees, but I think you have to respect what they accomplished in the late 90s. Those championships were earned, not bought, and they put together an incredible run that deserves all the accolades it receives.

With that said, the last half of the book made me hate the Yankees even more than I did before. Not only has revenue sharing and an increased ability by other teams to exploit inefficiencies cut into the Yankees advantage, but the Yankees front office hasn’t been able to make intelligent decisions (especially regarding starting pitching) and has wasted a staggering amount of money on the free agent market. The list of failures is vast: Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver and Randy Johnson are just the beginning. On top of that, it took the Yankees 11 years (from Andy Pettitte in 1996 to Joba Chamberlain in 2007) to develop a quality starting pitcher out of their own minor league system. The book describes all these misguided decisions in detail and explores how the Yankees bought a team of superstars that lacked the will to win that the late 90s Yankees possessed. Also, these superstars didn’t mesh as a team and there were often clashes of personality in the dugout and on the field.

After reading this book, I realized that the Yankee championships were legitimate and hard-earned, Joe Torre is a remarkable manager (he got them to 12 straight postseasons, including six years when the team was clearly in decline despite an increasing payroll), and that my current hatred of the team is valid. Alex Rodriguez is still a piece of shit and may arguably be the most unlikable player in all of sports. This book didn’t help his image any; his own manager thought of him as a self-centered, whiny, attention-whore.

Without a doubt, this is an absolute must read for any fan of baseball.