Monday, January 31, 2011

the end of football as we know it...

This Sunday's Super Bowl is the last guaranteed football game we'll ever see.  For now.  I'm pretty sure that even though resolving the collective bargaining agreement mess isn't going to be pretty, we'll have a fresh season come September.  (Maybe a couple of pre-season games get scratched, but who cares about those anyway?)  There's too much money at stake for all parties involved, and I think the NFL is smart enough to learn from the mistakes baseball made back in 1994 and is still paying for today.

But does that mean we want football back exactly the same?  Absolutely not.  So while we have the chance to debate these things, here's a few items for consideration:

  1. The Tuck Rule - I have to mention this first because it cost the Jets a trip to the Super Bowl this season.  Well, not really.  The Jets taking too long to get themselves motivated was the biggest factor.  But it wasn't the only one.  When Mark Sanchez was hit in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, it was ruled a fumble on the field, which allowed Pittsburgh to return the ball for a defensive TD.    The points off that play represented the difference between victory and defeat for the Steelers. Just a week earlier, the tuck rule was used to reverse a call in the Chiefs-Raiders wildcard game, even though it seemed obvious in that play that Matt Cassel was not attempting a pass at all.  Not every forward arm motion is a pass, but cocking your arm back usually is.  So why is a backwards arm motion a potential fumble situation, but not a forward one?  This insanity has been a source of frustration since the spotlight first shone on it in the January 2002 Patriots-Raiders game.  Even Mike Pereira, former NFL Vice President of Officiating, thinks it's time for this rule to go.  That's an opinion no one should take lightly.  Solution?  You want to know when a ball has been passed? When it's left the quarterback's fingertips.  If you can knock it from his grasp before that? Fumble, plain and simple.

  2. Coaches' challenges - I pointed this article out to friends last week, and to quote myself from then, "instead of the 2(+1) system they have now, [how about] teams only get one challenge, and they can keep reusing it as long as the challenge is always good?  It does create more pressure not to use it early, but I am ok with that. It pretty much creates pressure on using it at all. A team should only be challenging when they are sure something was wrong. The coaches won't be worried about using it early if they are confident it was a bad call that will be overturned. Which is different from the current system which basically gives them opportunities to challenge borderline calls just in the hopes that it would get overturned."  Solution? Well I pretty much just outlined that, I think.

  3. The Pro Bowl - "Please, somebody put the Pro Bowl out of its misery."  That's how Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders put it on his Twitter account.  And he's right.  Mike Zanoni over at the Sterling Shakers agrees, saying there is nothing wrong with having no all-star game for football, especially when the risk of injury is greater for what is a meaningless game, and the lack of skills competitions makes the weekend anti-climactic.  Solution? The Senior Bowl.  This would be the perfect chance to highlight some of the names that are going to be showing up in the draft, and the players in that game actually have some incentive to give it all they've got - a big game on a nationwide stage could help boost their draft potential.  Plus, going from the Senior Bowl to the combines to the draft keeps attention on the NFL alive right through April.  Kill off the Pro Bowl and put the Senior Bowl in its place the week before the Super Bowl.

  4. Subjective calls - What happened to you, Ed Hochuli? You used to be cool, man.  But lately it seems like your calls have become more and more uneven.  In that same Jets-Steelers championship game, you called Eric Smith for unnecessary roughness but did nothing about James Harrison's identical hit later in the game.  This after the questionable unnecessary roughness call a month earlier on Ndamukong Suh in the Bears-Lions game.  That Suh hit was with a forearm, and was nothing compared to Harrison's hit.  Maybe I am just more sensitive to Hochuli's calls ever since 2008, when he cost my Chargers a playoff spot in a game against the Broncos, but he needs to get a little more consistent.  When TMQ - the best football column out there - can call you out on three major mistakes in a championship game, something is obviously wrong. Solution?  A big slice of humble pie should do.  Which starts with me saying that right now, I personally think Mike Carey has supplanted Hochuli as the best ref in the game.  I know that won't cause Hochuli to lose any sleep, but it's a slippery slope, and then the next thing you know, he is the Danny Davis of the NFL.

  5. Peter King - on the opposite end of the spectrum from TMQ, is King's MMQB.  While King can offer some interesting analysis (in between bits of fanboy fawning for Tom Brady), his column's segments confound the English language.  When you talk about Ten Things, stick to ten (or call it something else).  When item 10 is broken down into parts a.-m., you don't have ten things.  You have twenty-two.  Much like when you have Quote of the Week I, II, and III.  It can't be the Quote of the Week if there are three of them.  Could you not just call it Quotes of the Week?
In the end, football is still the best sport we have right now, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.  Just as long as that doesn't include the Canadians.

Friday, January 28, 2011

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133 years of motion pictures has brought us to this.  They even get a Wilhelm scream in there.

I love that the robot seems to be designed as some love child between Kim Jong Il and Fireball from The Running Man:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

more Hollywood machinations

I may try to come up with some sort of regular roundup of interesting movie news to post here.  I don't know how that will work yet, but I keep realizing there's a lot of stuff I want to share.  It will likely only be once a week - there are plenty of sites and blogs out there completely focused on these things that can offer every breaking bit of information or rumor, so there is no point in getting into that game.  They have sources anyway, so I'd just be ripping them off.  Instead I'll just use them as my sources so I can pass along what seems like the most interesting news.

Like the news that Javier Bardem has been offered the part of Roland in the upcoming Dark Tower project.  I love the ambitiousness of the plan to bring the whole Dark Tower series to life through a mixture of movies and television, and it's about time Hollywood realized the potential of using these two mediums in tandem, rather than one as a source of material for the other (in either direction).  I haven't seen Biutiful yet but between his work in The Sea Inside and No Country for Old Men, I have no doubt that Bardem would be perfect for the role.

Perfection is not something I think of when I hear the name Elmo.  I am an old school Sesame Street guy - Grover, Oscar, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird.  When they introduced Elmo I had already moved on from Sesame Street, but the character always seemed too easy for me, with the baby voice and referring to himself in the third person.  The other characters had personalities.  Elmo just seemed too cutesy.  But I have to admit, I am curious to see Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, which just premiered at Sundance.  I'll take any opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at anything Jim Henson-related.  I just wish they could've put the spotlight on one of the other characters.  Elmo gets enough attention as it is.  There doesn't seem to be a trailer yet, but here you can check out a quick interview with the film's creators.

Finally, I want to try to showcase at least one new trailer in these posts.  Robert Redford is a mixed bag as a director, but this looks like it has potential, and I am surprised the story has not been told on film before (that I am aware of).  Here's hoping it pays off when it's released in April...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar nomination update

so how did I do on my predictions?  I did a pretty decent job on the number of awards the front-runners would be up for, starting with being right on the money with The King's Speech leading with 12 nominations.  Seems I didn't give enough credit to True Grit, which came in second with 10 (I didn't even have them in my top five), and too much credit to Inception and Black Swan, which I had pegged for 11 nominations each (they landed 8 and 5 respectively).  I had 9 predicted for The Social Network (it ended up with 8), and 8 for The Fighter (which ended up with 7), so overall not too bad.  I really expected Black Swan to score more technical nominations like costume design and art direction (Harry Potter? really?), and how did it not grab a screenplay nomination?

As for the category breakdowns, I have to give myself props for calling it 100% right for both Best Picture and Best Actress. (That's the first time I've called every Best Pic nomination correctly, even from when there were only five nominees.)  I think the biggest surprise overall is Javier Bardem getting a Best Actor nomination (no one was talking about Biutiful before today, but they will be now).  Jacki Weaver did manage to get in there for Animal Kingdom over Mila Kunis (another reason I was so off with Black Swan).  And it seems Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake did cancel each other out, but I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by the appearance of both Jeremy Renner and John Hawkes.  Renner was the best part of The Town (which, like I said yesterday, could easily be the 11th nominee for Best Picture) and even though I haven't seen Winter's Bone yet, John Hawkes is a fantastic actor - Deadwood, The Perfect Storm, Eastbound & Down, Me and You and Everyone We Know... he's been doing great stuff for awhile now.

And no Waiting for Superman for Best Documentary?  That's just shocking to me, though the list is full of great choices (I haven't seen Waste Land, but the others are all excellent.)

I'll do another list of my predicted winners right before the awards are handed out February 27th.  We'll see if I can outguess Roger Ebert.  Free junior Western bacon chee for everyone if I win.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oscar nomination predictions

The nominations get announced tomorrow morning at 8:30am Eastern.  And while it was always more fun trying to predict the Best Picture nominees when the field was limited to five (I hate the 10-nominee field like Hook hates Pan), I still can't resist seeing how close I can get to the final tally.  So here's my list, followed by a few scattershot thoughts on the other major categories:

Best Picture:

  1. Black Swan
  2. Inception
  3. The Social Network
  4. The Fighter
  5. The King's Speech
  6. Toy Story 3
  7. True Grit
  8. 127 Hours
  9. Winter's Bone
  10. The Kids Are All Right
And not to hedge my bets, but I wouldn't be surprised if The Town sneaks in to that 9th or 10th spot.  (The top five would be my choices if this was 2009. Or 1945.  Or any year in between).  

Best Actor: Colin Firth is the front-runner to win it all for The King's Speech.  Expect to see James Franco, Mark Wahlberg, Jeff Bridges, and Jessie Eisenberg round out the category. (Dark horse: Ryan Gosling)

Best Actress: Natalie Portman is the most surefire bet you could make this year. But since there has to be other nominees, I'm expecting Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), and Jennifer Lawrence.

Best Supporting Actor: I think Christian Bale leads the pack right now, but his temperament may come back to haunt him on Oscar night.  Geoffrey Rush will be nominated, Mark Ruffalo is likely, and I think Vincent Cassel has a decent shot.  Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake might cancel each other out, and give an opportunity to someone like Matt Damon.

Best Supporting Actress: I give the edge right now to Helena Bonham Carter, if only because Amy Adams and Melissa Leo may split votes between them.  All three will be nominated though, as well as Mila Kunis and Hallie Steinfeld.  I've heard people talk up Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom, but I think that movie will end up being too little-seen to get her enough votes.

Best Director: As Picture goes, so goes Director.  But there's not 10 nominees here, so who gets left out?  David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, and Tom Hooper are locks.  And since directors nominate directors, and the other DGA picks were Christopher Nolan and David O. Russell, I wouldn't bet against them.  Sorry, Coen brothers.

I'll stop there.  Dissecting the writing categories, effects, documentaries (expect Waiting For Superman and Inside Job) - see, I've got thoughts on them all but lunch hour is almost over.  So overall, I'm looking at The King's Speech to lead the pack with 12 nominations, Black Swan and Inception tied for second with 11, The Social Network with 9, and The Fighter with 8.  I'll look to update tomorrow to see how close I came.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

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This could be the greatest film ever...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

a double dose of political frustration

Yes, I fall on the left side of politics. I'm comfortable with the label of progressive, though I wouldn't be surprised if someone referred to me as liberal or Democrat (though I am not registered to any party). I'll give you two reasons why I am fine with that:

First is Citizens United. I really don't consider it hyperbolic to say that it was the worst Supreme Court decision since Plessy vs. Ferguson. And as we reach the one-year anniversary of the decision, the Washington Post points out that it would likely take a Constitutional amendment in order to reverse this decision, and that is a long and difficult process (which of course would be railed against by special interests funding their campaigning with money now allowed by the Citizens United ruling). And while Republicans love to drum up the talking point about liberal activist judges legislating from the bench, there has been no discernible push-back on Citizens United, a decision that reversed over 100 years of precedent. Seems that legislating from the bench is acceptable as long as the decisions favor your party's interests.

The second item is something that I knew was only a matter of time. The healthcare debate is getting its second go-round in the House right now, though debate is a very loose term here, since it is ultimately proving to be a chance for Republicans to throw out some sound bites, rather than any actual back and forth about effective policy and ideological differences. And it will ultimately prove pointless since enough votes for repeal don't exist in the Senate and Obama would obviously never sign the bill in any case. So for a group of politicians that campaigned on the idea of getting back to the business of helping America recover, the Republican-controlled House has spent all of time since taking office on two items - reading the Constitution aloud and reopening the debate on a bill that they know will ultimately end up with a vote they will lose. I fail to see how either of these actions help Americans recover and move forward, but this is not the worst part of the new debate.

What concerns me most (and what I alluded to before as inevitable, before I went off into a bit of a tangential rant) are the attacks directed at the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO exists specifically to offer non-partisan information to legislative members so that any debate can have specific information to fall back on. Ezra Klein does a great job of showing how Republicans are now beginning to look to discredit the CBO, basically because the CBO did not tell them what they wanted to hear. It's a rather childish approach to having a civilized debate, especially when, as Klein mentions, Republicans "regularly mention the CBO results that they think help their case."

It's things like these that let me feel so comfortable with my political identity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

quick update...

No, I haven't already abandoned this blog, in case someone among the very few of you is wondering. But I realized the template I started with is already too limited for my purposes, so I've been focused for the last couple of days on improving it, and that has meant design work instead of content. Hopefully I'll have it all fixed up in the next day or two and can get into a more regular routine. In the meantime, go check out this crazy but real Buddhist temple (which I'll tease with a picture below).

Friday, January 14, 2011

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

looking forward...

January is a graveyard, a pit for Hollywood to dump its detritus on a public stultified by holiday overindulgence and cabin fever.  That's how we end up with gems like Season of the Witch and Country Strong.  And while I was hoping that The Green Hornet might surprise everyone and prove to be a fun little slice of mindless entertainment, the prospects for that are looking worse and worse.  The only saving grace for the month is the holdover of films from late last year (The King's Speech, The Fighter, Black Swan, True Grit, and so on) looking to stay fresh in voters' minds as they reach for the brass ring of Best Picture.

Realizing that most people are not going to be satisfied with the new releases currently trying to trick us out of our money, the studios are starting to draw our attention towards the future, hoping we'll remember they are occasionally capable of offering something actually worth the eleven bucks.  Which explains why all of the following seem to have sprung up just this week:

That's Social Network alums Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara, respectively, in the first looks at their next big roles.  Garfield is obviously starring as Spider-Man in the reboot of that franchise (no more Sam Raimi or any connection to the previous films), while Mara takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander in the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which reunites her with her Social Network director, David Fincher.

Spider-Man isn't the only big comic franchise giving us a peek this week.  Below is the first image of Sinestro, the main enemy in the upcoming The Green Lantern:

That's the one that worries me the most though.  Not that I ever really read Green Lantern anyway, but I don't know how well all this cosmic guardian power ring stuff is going to play.  Very few of the comic book movies over the past decade have required the level of suspension of disbelief that is one will. (Maybe the Fantastic Four films, but I think this goes well beyond even those.)

Pictures never really do a film justice though (the X-Men looked just as foolish when those first pictures came out before the original movie).  It's not until you see some footage that you can really get a sense for how well a movie might work.  And until now, Battle: Los Angeles is not a movie that was high up on my radar.  Not until I saw the trailer released this week:

That actually looks like it has some potential.  Then again, that's what I started thinking after that last Green Hornet trailer too.  We'll see what happens come March 11th when it hits theaters.

UPDATE: Of course, only and hour or two after I wrote this post, I come to find out there is a new pic of Captain America going around as well, and I'd be remiss if I didn't include that, since it seems relevant to the topic.  So here it is:

Franco. American.

Tuesday night I saw 127 Hours, and while (contrary to my older brother's opinion) it's not the best film of 2010, it is still an excellent movie.  And quite simply what makes the movie worth seeing is Franco's performance as Aron Ralston.

I was a little wary when I heard that Danny Boyle was going to make this movie.  You have to wonder, after all, how to make a guy stuck alone in a canyon for five days something you want to watch.  Besides his self-amputation (and don't tell me that's a spoiler - if you don't know about that then you've been living in a deeper pit than Ralston was in), it's hard to imagine much excitement.  But the movie works, and like I said, that rests solely on the shoulders of Franco.  The movie is pure character piece, and a bad actor would've turned it into a TV movie of the week.  Franco really manages to emote the full range of what this guy went through without ever dipping into melodrama.

Melodrama like this:

Now tell me, how many other actors can you picture doing daytime soaps and Oscar-worthy performances within months of one another?  But that's just the tip of the iceberg for Franco.  When I read this article - The James Franco Project - a few months back, it really boosted my appreciation of the guy.  I mean, I always remember thinking he was good, going all the way back to the Freaks and Geeks days (which if you haven't seen, you should stop everything immediately and go watch now).  But the New York magazine really opened my eyes to the kind of guy he is, just enjoying every possible aspect of his life and always trying something new and different.  Read the article if you get the chance - it's a bit long, but it kept me interested the whole way through.  By the end, you'll probably feel like I did, and want to be like Franco just a little bit more.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

class of 2016

Trevor Hoffman has retired. I'm glad I am able to say that saw him play, not just on TV but also at the ballpark in front of a home field crowd (several times in fact, in 2006 and 2007 at Petco Park, as great a place to see a game as any).  He and Mariano Rivera (who I've also been lucky enough to see live) will go down as the two greatest closers in baseball history.

They're also the only two closers who are guaranteed a place in the Hall of Fame. (There are five guys considered closers already in the Hall, but of those, four were hybrids of starting and closing, and each have over 100 wins.  Only Bruce Sutter could be called a true closer, in the modern sense.)

But while Rivera keeps chugging along, we now know that come 2016, we can look forward to Hoffman entering the Hall. (The idea of Hoffman not being a first-ballot guy seems almost impossible.)  What really impresses me, though, is how much that moment is going to mean five years from now.  At that point, we will get to see Hoffman and Ken Griffey, Jr. - another first-round lock - announced as the newest members of the Hall of Fame.  And the reason that stands out is because it's going to be a rough few years for the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Compare 2016 (Griffey and Hoffman) with the choices of 2013.  That year, the guys who become eligible will include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens.  When you think about the fact that this year, Mark McGwire got 19.8% of the vote, and Rafael Palmeiro got 11%, you have to wonder how they are going to deal with the next few years.  All of these players who were considered the modern greats and have now been tainted by the steroid scandal - now it's the Hall of Fame's issue.  And the next few years are are going to be spent arguing how we handle that issue.  So it's nice to know that, come five years from now, we'll be able to elect a couple of guys above reproach and have a Hall of Fame class that truly meets the definition of the word 'class'.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book club: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle discussion

Part of what originally set me on the path that ultimately led to this blog was the need for a discussion area for the selections I make in the book club I am running.  We just finished reading our second book, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, so for all my book club people, feel free to start posting your thoughts in the comments section for this post.

And if you happen upon this and are not in the book club but want to join, just drop me a line and I'll be happy to add you to the list.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inception - "like a training bra for experimental art"

That's not me saying that.  I still think Inception is a fantastic movie, one of the best of 2010.  But it never hurts to hear some opposing viewpoints, and this write-up does the best job I have seen of that.

Not every criticism hits its mark (number 12 in particular makes me think the author should have dug a little deeper into the real plot of the movie, and that's all I'll say without getting into spoilers), but there is a lot of great stuff in here.  The guy obviously knows both film craft and history.  And the movies he mentions or provides clips of are all worth seeing.

So give it a read if you have the chance.  But be forewarned, there are obviously spoilers if you haven't seen the movie yet.  (And if anyone wants to discuss the movie or the article, feel free to get into spoilers in the comments section as well.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Catching up to 2003...

Continuing my pattern of being late to the game in adapting technology (see: cell phones, RSS), I've gone and gotten myself a blog.  I know - how trendy.  At this rate I should be on Twitter in 2017.  But I figure this blog will be a good place to direct all the random thoughts, links, and other nonsense that I generally either post on facebook or dump into people's inboxes.

The name? Well, the term supergeneralist is something I am pretty sure I picked up from Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point (thought I can't seem to confirm that through a quick Google search).  But if I am remembering correctly, it refers to someone with a broad knowledge in a large variety of topics.  It's a term from the medical world (again, if memory serves) but I think it applies nicely since I try to be pretty well-versed in most subjects and also since this blog will be covering a fairly wide range.

I have no idea if anyone will pay attention to this or not, but the worst case scenario is that is helps me keep track of things I find interesting enough to be suggesting to others. Movies I've just seen (or want to see), news articles and thoughts on current events, good books (including the book club I run), overuse of parentheses - it'll be an assortment of things on my mind.  Plus it keeps me writing, which is something I've gotten too lazy about and should be doing more often.  So we'll see how this takes shape over time...