Archive for February, 2009

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Oscars 2009 Wrap Up

February 26, 2009

First off, I went 14 of 24 in my Oscar pool, which is decent. I mostly missed the random categories like Best Animated Short and Best Short Live Action. I did make one big blunder, however, picking Benjamin Button over The Duchess in the Best Costumes category. I’ve seen enough footage from The Duchess to realize that was a shoo-in.

Secondly, let’s address snubs: no film got snubbed worse than The Wrestler. As it stands now, The Wrestler is one of the three best films I saw all of last year. With that said, I’d clearly put it in the running for Best Picture. I certainly liked it more than Benjamin Button and while I’m yet to see The Reader or Milk those typically aren’t the kind of films I see usurping The Wrestler from my top 3. Darren Aronofsky probably deserved a Best Director nod and the documentary-like cinematography should have gotten a nom in that category; along with The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millionaire the camera work in this film stood out to me more than any others. Also, it’s weird that Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” not only got nominated for Best Song in all of the other award shows, but he also won, yet he was completely absent from the Oscar ballot. Go figure. Finally, the Best Original Screenplay category was one I wasn’t very familiar with (I haven’t seen three of the films), but the script for The Wrestler was better than In Bruges; that much I can say for sure.

As it happened, however, The Wrestler earned a total of two nominations (and it’s quite arguable that Marissa Tomei’s Best Supporting Actress nom was undeserved), but I think you can make a solid argument for seven nominations.

Other snubs:

The Dark KnightBest Picture
Chris Nolan – Best Director

Most Deserved Oscar – Heath Ledger as The Joker. I predicted a nomination for Heath after just hearing him talk over the teaser trailer. I could just sense that he was bringing something special to the table… plus my unwavering faith in Chris Nolan made me think that he picked the right guy for the job. I think ten years from now when people talk about the best performances of this decade, Heath Ledger’s Joker is going to be at the top of a lot of lists.

Most Underserved OscarBenjamin Button winning Best Visual Effects. Okay, we get it… the character ages backwards by computer effects and lots of good makeup. Yippee… How cool. Neat. Not quite the “wow factor” of seeing Tony Stark put on his Iron Man suit or seeing the BatPod in action, flipping an 18-wheeler on it’s back and then doing a 180 off a wall. This was the most bizarre win of the night IMO.

Biggest Shocker – Sean Penn taking down Best Actor. Again, I haven’t seen Milk, so I might be out of line… but all the hype was for Mickey Rourke and Frank Langella, and I have seen both of those performances and the hype is deserved. No one was really talking about Penn winning, so I’m sure I’m with the rest of the world in being surprised by this award.

Okay, that is all!

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College Basketball – Pac-10 First Team

February 23, 2009

This year I’ve been following college basketball quite rabidly and I can’t help but try to put together my own rankings sometimes. Here are my picks for Pac-10 First Team as of today:

James Harden, G, ASU (21.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.7 spg)
Jordan Hill, F, ARIZ (18.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.0 bpg)
Jerome Randle, G, CAL (17.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 45% 3PT)
Chase Budinger, G, ARIZ (17.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 41% 3PT)
Darren Collison, G, UCLA (15.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 41.5% 3PT)

It’s kind of tough to call. Harden’s the best all-around player in the Pac-10 easily and Hill is 2nd in points, rebounds, and blocks, so I think they are both cinches. I was a Collison hater not that long ago, but I think he’s played his way back to the top PG in the conference, ranking 1st in assists and 2nd in steals while averaging 15 PPG. Budinger is just solid across the board, putting up good numbers in every category except blocks. He’s like a white version of Harden with less talent. I can’t really see a good argument against his placement here, especially since Arizona has been nearly unbeatable since his face got stepped on. Randle is my bubble boy; he’s a scoring beast that also ranks 2nd in the conference in assists while shooting lights out from three. I feel like I’m snubbing USC’s Taj Gibson though, especially since my First Team is guard-heavy and lacks a true center. Gibson leads the conference in blocks by a large margin and averages almost a double-double on top of that. I could see an argument for him over Randle. It’s also tough to leave UW’s Jon Brockman off when he averages a double-double and leads the league in rebounds… but I think he’s a Second Team guy right now. I had Isaiah Thomas on my last First Team, but aside from his scoring, he’s not putting up nearly the numbers that Randle and Collison are, so despite my home school bias, I have to drop him. As it stands, there could be three Huskies on the Pac-10 Second Team with Justin Dentmon having a great season also.

Thoughts?

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Jason Vorhees Lives

February 19, 2009

I must note that I grew up on the Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street franchises, starting my fascination with the horror genre as early as five or six years old. I can even remember my dad taking my brother and I to see Jason Goes To Hell when we were 9 and 8 years old, respectively. So Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees were like my Leonardo and Raphael growing up. With that said, I still have a weakness for my old favorites, at a time in my life when all other horror films generally don’t interest me. I’ll be sad the day they stop making films for these horror icons, but weaknesses aside, I’m not interested in seeing these sons of bitches in space or Manhatten.

This remake thankfully takes the series back to its roots: Jason Vorhees, alone, slaughtering a bunch of promiscuous young adults at Camp Crystal Lake. This film is more of a reboot than a remake, however, as it takes concepts from the first three Friday The 13th movies and rolls them into one. We see Pamela Vorhees (Jason’s mother) decapitated before the opening credits are finished and Jason sports a bag over his head for the first 40 minutes or so before finding his trademark goalie’s mask. It was a shrewd business move to pay homage to the story and get to vintage Jason as soon as possible since no one really gives a damn about his mom or a pre-hockey mask Jason.

Friday The 13th gives you pretty much what you expect. We have Jason Vorhees stalking teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake and dispatching each of them systematically, trying to outmatch his last murder via uniqueness, weapon choice, and gruesomeness. Along with the standard mayhem, Friday The 13th doesn’t disappoint in the female nudity department either. It goes without saying that we (males) want to see boobs and death in these flicks and Friday The 13th delivers.

One thing that stood out about this remake is how fast and agile Jason Vorhees is. Jason has always been depicted as a lethargic and stupid monster relying on unexplained ubiquitousness and the stupidity of his victims to get his kills. In the update, Jason is seen sprinting, tossing and aiming objects with pinpoint accuracy, and generally outsmarting his competition. However, he’s still dumb enough to fall for the classic “I’m your mother” bit.

I’m not going to dive into the script or the acting in this film because if you’re watching the 12th installment in the series and expect quality in these departments, you probably walked into the wrong theater. Friday The 13th is yet another solid horror remake from producer Michael Bay and should satisfy fans of the series. I thought it was a notch below the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (also a Bay-produced film), but much better than Rob Zombie’s Halloween. I’m looking forward to more Jason flicks and for the upcoming A Nightmare On Elm Street reboot, another horror remake Bay is involved with. I can’t wait to see who they cast as Freddy Krueger.

Score: 6 out of 10 (Recommended)

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It’s Official! Griffey’s Back!

February 19, 2009

Okay, my initial reaction to this news is excitement. Griffey is the best player to ever play for the Mariners… and his 11 years in an M’s uniform has to be amongst the best 11 offensive years for one team in the history of baseball. Certainly, by the time Griffey left the M’s before the 2000 season to become a Cincinatti Red, he was well on his way to obliterating Hank Aaron’s all-time homerun record. That record has since been eclipsed by the freak show that is Barry Bonds, whose obvious steroid use leaves his accomplishment tainted. How great it would have been to see Griffey break and hold on to that record, huh? The Kid was really someone you loved to root for. He was the best player on a struggling Mariner team and he was so good, that I often see people posting online from across the globe that say he was their favorite player growing up. Something about Griffey just stood out and everybody loved him. It’s incredible sad that his career as a Red has been riddled with injuries because he could be a HR King we all would be happy to see. Griffey averaged 36 HR a season during his 11 years with the Mariners… a number somewhat hindered by modest power his first four years and an injury-depleted 1995 season. Since joining the Reds in 2000, Griffey has averaged 25 HR/year and has exceeded 36 HR just once with 40 HR in 2000. Needless to say, one can only wonder what a healthy Griffey would have been able to accomplish by keeping pace with his prime numbers… Alas, we will never know.

As far as how productive he will be for us? Who knows… There’s some small possibility that being home in a Mariner uniform (wearing #24?) and supposedly being as healthy as he’s been in years (I’ve heard that before though) could lead to a huge year. However, at 39 years old and with a long history of injuries limiting his abilities the past several years, it’s hard to be so optimistic. No matter the case, at $2 million for one year, Griffey coming back to Seattle is well worth the price. It gives fans something to look forward to in what should otherwise be a pretty bad season for us.

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In Bruges Review

February 15, 2009

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’ve seen In Bruges on a couple of top ten lists and nominated for a couple of awards, including the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. I wasn’t too excited about it, however, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The plot about a couple of hitmen having to flee to Bruges because of a botched murder didn’t exactly reek of hilarity or originality to me. It didn’t help matters much that the first 20-30 minutes of the movie were boring enough for my girlfriend and best friend to quit watching it. I wasn’t exactly intrigued either, but I didn’t want stop watching it and hold onto it for several months instead of sending it back to Netflix, so I stuck it out… and I’m glad I did.

If you can stick out your initial boredom, you’ll actually find yourself watching a pretty funny film that is highlighted by the best performance of Colin Farrell’s career. I’m going to go ahead and spoil something that I don’t think is that important by saying that the characters of Farrell and Brendan Gleeson find themselves in Bruges because Farrell has accidentally killed a child while assassinating a priest and his boss (played fantastically by Ralph Fiennes) intends to give him one last vacation before his partner is to kill him.

What really stands out about In Bruges is the great dialogue the actors have to play with. The script is pretty good and gets much funnier in the second half of the film. I’m not exactly sure how this film gets nominated in the screenplay category while The Wrestler, a much superior film does, but it is a solid effort. Colin Farrell’s character is especially funny and is given several unique scenes to display his somewhat morbid sense of humor. Harry, the boss played by Fiennes, is the highlight of the film, however. I’ve never really thought of Fiennes as funny, which may be why his work in this movie really stands out as hilarious… although it is weird to see him being called “Harry,” whom he has been trying to destroy for two films as Lord Voldemort.

In Bruges is a pretty funny character piece. It’s more of a dramedy than a full blown comedy… and the pacing is troublesome at times, especially the first act of the film. It picks up nicely though and I found it to be a pleasant surprise. It’s not a must see, but it’s worth watching for its humor and for a Colin Farrell performance actually worth watching.

Score: 6 out of 10 (Recommended)

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The Wrestler: Top 3 of 2008

February 15, 2009

I had pretty high hopes for The Wrestler. Its director is responsible for one of the most memorable films of the past decade with 2000’s Requiem For A Dream and the praise for Mickey Rourke’s performance in the film has been overwhelming, with a number of sources claiming him the favorite for Best Actor. I also had a couple of people whose film opinions I hold in high regard tell me it was their favorite movie of the year, so even though I quasi-hated Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain in 2006, The Wrestler had me quite excited to watch it.

When I heard that Darren Aronofsky was making a movie about a retired professional wrestler trying to deal with life after fame, I was already hooked, so it’s no surprise that I loved the story. I’d say it’s criminal that writer Robert Siegel (former Editor-In-Chief of The Onion) didn’t get a nomination, but I’ve only seen two of the five films nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category (Wall-E and In Bruges), so I’m not really sure. Regardless, the team involved here did more for character development within a couple months of Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s life than David Fincher and company could accomplish over eighty years in the life of Benjamin Button. No matter the case, anyone that can cause emotional resonance utilizing a dead beat professional wrestler who might as well be Hulk Hogan gets kudos from me.

Aronofsky has a tendency to make his presence overwhelmingly known in his projects. Pi was just flat out weird, Requiem For A Dream was a masterpiece, utilizing close-up vignettes for drug use and an unforgettably haunting and hypnotic score, and The Fountain might as well have been called Pretentious Shit. The director decides to take a more subtle approach with The Wrestler, displaying his uniqueness by filming the movie with a hand-held camera that gives it a documentary-like aesthetic. It’s almost like we’re taking a look at a couple of months of the life of a real person rather than watching a movie with fictional characters.

Mickey Rourke deserves all the praise he’s received for this film. As many have said, the role was built for him and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. They pretty much took Rourke’s life and paralleled it with Randy Robinson’s and then subbed out “acting” for “professional wrestling.” I still think Frank Langella might be the favorite for Best Actor, but I don’t think Rourke winning would be an upset at all. Marissa Tomei also earned a nod for Best Supporting Actress, and while she looks great at 40+ playing a stripper, her performance wasn’t one that people are going to remember years from now.

I really can’t say enough about how good this movie was. There are so many good scenes in it that I don’t want to waste my time describing each one… a couple of personal favorites are The Ram working in a deli interacting with customers and The Ram at a fan fest signing with minimal attendance looking around at the other fallen wrestlers and seeing a bit of himself in each one as the melancholy score plays in the background. I also loved the ending, which has received a few complaints for its ambiguity. I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all, however, and I said “Credits” two seconds before they started, so I clearly thought it was a perfect spot to end the film.

When all is said and done, The Wrestler stands as one of my three favorite films of 2008, right up there with Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. It’s without a doubt a must see, if not spectacular film, that will probably grow even stronger in viewers’ minds over time.

Score: 8.5/10 (Must Own/Potentially Classic)

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Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot

February 10, 2009

I came across Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot looking over a list of someone’s top 25 films of 2008. This film caught my eye because it was directed by Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA from The Beastie Boys) and it focused on a group of the best high school players in the nation in 2006 preparing to play in the inaugural “Elite 24” game at famed Rucker Park in Harlem. It wasn’t a hard sell for me… a documentary directed by a Beastie Boy following the story of the most talented senior class of my lifetime? Uhm, “move to top of queue” please.

While there were plenty of talented players to choose from, Yauch decides to center his film around Michael Beasley (#2 in 2007 draft), Kyle Singler (2007 ACC Rookie Of The Year), Brandon Jennings (#1 ranked senior last year, now playing overseas), Donte Green (#28 pick in 2007 draft), Kevin Love (#5 pick in 2007 draft), Tyreke Evans (top 5 recruit this year, now playing PG for Memphis), Jerryd Bayless (#11 pick in 2007 draft) and Lance Stephenson (top 15 senior this year).

Considering that Beasley, Green, Love, and Bayless were college superstars last year, some of these players already had a ridiculous amount of exposure before this film was released, so I was familiar with all of the players already. Regardless, it’s interesting to see these guys still in high school and on the brink of stardom. You can see why Beasley dominated at Kansas State last year; the guy is a Man-Child at 17 and can be seen scoring at will against his superstar peers in the big game. You also get a glimpse at his personality that may not be apparent in other media coverage. Beasley is the court jester, literally; his mouth is jabbering away the entire time he’s playing (“You ugly as shit, Donte”), he always seems to be planning a prank, and the man just seems annoying as hell. I wouldn’t want him as a roommate, that’s for sure.

Kevin Love is also fun to watch in this film. Not only do you get a great high school highlight reel that includes a game-winning shot at the buzzer and a backboard shattering dunk, but we also get to see a still baby-faced Love and can appreciate how much he has matured as a man and as a player from the time this film was shot to now. It’s quite the transformation.

Basically, I was thoroughly entertained by this documentary, both as a fan of film and a fan of college basketball. I wouldn’t even be mad if Yauch could make this an annual series detailing the year’s best high school players… the only problem is, I’d like to see the film before everyone in the world has seen the guy succeed at the college level already. I think this is a good documentary, in general, but a must see for any fan of college basketball and last year’s draft class.

Score: 6.5 out of 10 (Recommended/Must See)