Archive for June, 2015

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Inside Out (2015)

June 29, 2015

Starring: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Director: Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc.), Ronaldo Del Carmen

Bottom Line: Boy, I hate to say it, but Pixar’s Inside Out is one of the most overrated movies I’ve ever seen. It’s at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8 on IMDB with a top 60 ranking in their top 250 of all-time. Those are extremely strong ratings and with Pixar’s nearly flawless track record (I’m looking at you Cars 1 and 2) the superlatives being tossed around concerning this movie seemed quite reasonable. When my wife turned to me about thirty minutes into it and asked “is it almost over?” I had a sad moment of realization that Pixar had dropped the ball on this one.

Now, I don’t want to say Inside Out was bad, but it was dangerously close to bad – and it certainly wasn’t the borderline classic critics have made it out to be. It’s the story of a young girl named Riley and the emotions in her head (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear) as her family moves from Minnesota to the busy city of San Francisco, leaving behind friends, memories, and the frozen lakes she used to play hockey on. It’s actually a pretty good concept, but the setting of a girl’s head is tough terrain and I really didn’t think the execution was all that great. Inside Out is at its best when all the emotions are together in “Headquarters” interacting with each other hilariously, but Joy and Sadness quickly get separated from the rest of the crew and things get… quite a bit messy and surprisingly boring. During their quest to save “Friendship Island,” “Hockey Island,” “Family Island,” etc. from collapsing and disappearing from Riley’s memory forever, the duo encounter Riley’s old imaginary friend Bing Bong, a cotton candy/elephant/dolphin hybrid that is about as pleasing as Jar Jar Binks was. Seriously. Once the conflict starts in Inside Out and Joy and Sadness take a tour through Riley’s head when the depressing reality of moving to San Francisco really kicks in, the movie’s momentum halts and the story feels like a drag. The best moments of the movie take place outside Riley’s head and that’s a problem.

As usual, Pixar does a good job in the animation department. It’s little wonder that the Bay Area-based company could bring San Francisco to life with such amazing detail. I particularly liked Riley’s encounter with broccoli pizza and SF’s ubiquitous dedication to organic foods – an especially funny touch considering I visited SF last week and the one restaurant I ate in offered only organic food. The voice talent is also well cast and does a good job. The concept and story here are pretty good, I just expected it to be better.

Overall, I found Inside Out to be funny at times and I liked Riley’s story, but I didn’t much care for what was going on with the emotions inside her head – those were the scenes where you just want it to be over already. The themes of growing up were somewhat touching, but they were so much more powerful and well done in Toy Story 3. I also felt like Inside Out was more tailored for kids only than almost any Pixar movie I’ve ever seen. Inside Out isn’t terrible – I would definitely recommend it to families – but it was a massive disappointment for me personally.

Replay Value: I don’t know if I can watch this movie again, but I feel like I might owe it another viewing.
Sequel Potential: Highly likely.
Oscar Potential: Basically a shoo-in for Best Animated movie based on the critic’s reviews.

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

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Theory Of Everything (2014)

June 22, 2015

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
Director: James Marsh (Man On Wire)

Bottom Line: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what didn’t sit right with me about The Theory Of Everything, but I just can’t say I loved it. It’s a biopic about the relationship between renowned scientist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde – and maybe that’s my problem. This is a movie about falling in and out of love, while Stephen’s remarkable achievements in science and his impossible fight to stay alive with ALS feel like background music. That’s not to say the story isn’t interesting or touching – the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are nothing short of remarkable – I just wanted the movie to help me understand what makes Hawking so important to scientific theory, how he defied the odds of ALS, and how he was able to author what is arguably the most notable book of science in our history despite all his physical limitations. The Theory Of Everything skims over all this, at best. What we are left with is two great performances in a mildly moving romcom about a man that is noteworthy for so many other reasons. For 2014 biopics about historic scholars, The Imitation Game is much more my speed.

Replay Value: Feels like a one and done film to me.
Sequel Potential: Biopic, so no.
Oscar Potential: Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor and the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, as well as Felicity Jones for Best Actress.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Jurassic World (2015)

June 13, 2015

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio
Director: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)

Bottom Line: I remember when rumblings of a Jurassic Park 4 first started and there were rumors of dinos with guns in the plot and I can’t say I was excited about the prospects for that film. I am happy to report that while some aspects of that concept made it into Jurassic World – in the form of trained raptors and Vincent D’Onofrio’s character wanting to use dinosaurs for military purposes – this movie is much more in the spirit of the first JP film.

From the moment I heard that Jurassic World would feature a functioning park, I couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen. As a huge fan of amusement parks, an operational version of John Hammond’s vision from the first film really intrigued me and the creators of this film bring Jurassic World to life in stunning detail – it looks and feels like a combination of Universal Studios, a high quality zoo, with a splash of SeaWorld. Indeed, the scene-stealing Mosasaur is set up very much like Shamu. The set designers do an incredible job and the park is set up exactly as it looks on the impressive Jurassic World website. We have a petting zoo with young dinosaurs, kayaking down a prehistoric river, and venturing into the fields with live dinos in the (not so) indestructible Gyrosphere. The dinosaurs also look great, but it’s an interesting testament to Steven Spielberg’s original visual effects team how little improvement there has been in that department since the 1993 film.

The plot is similar to past films – a couple of kids make the trip to the island to visit their aunt and tour the park before all hell breaks loose when the Indominus Rex escapes its paddock. The what? Ah yes. In this movie, the park has been open for ten years or so and attendance has dropped while watching a T-Rex feed has become as ho-hum as checking out a tiger at the local zoo. So much like our real world would, the powers-that-be ponder how to turn things around and come up with the idea of creating their own dinosaur: the Indominus Rex, a combination of the tyrannosaur and something else everyone will be able to guess before they even realize it’s supposed to be a surprise. Watching the I-Rex cause carnage is great summer blockbuster fun and seeing velociraptors respond to human training was far less lame than I was expecting.

Like all the Jurassic Park sequels and quite unlike the original, the cast plays second fiddle to the dinosaurs. Chris Pratt is always enjoyable, but as Owen Grady, the raptor whisperer, his usual welcome charm and sense of humor is far less prominent than it has been in most of his other roles. Bryce Dallas Howard is okay as the kids’ aunt and park operations manager; I can’t think of any role of hers that I’ve ever thought she’s been particularly good in and this one is no different. The best addition to the cast has to be Jake Johnson (of “New Girl”), who plays a control operator rocking a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt he found on eBay and gets most of the films laughs.

Jurassic World was about as satisfying as I could have hoped for. It’s visually stunning, action packed, and plenty of fun. Michael Crichton and John Hammond would be proud.

Replay Value: I already want to see it again and I think it’s a minor travesty that I didn’t watch it in Imax 3D.
Sequel Potential: This franchise probably won’t die before I do.
Oscar Potential: Set design, visual effects, and sound all have strong chances through the first half of 2015.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)

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MLB Awards – through the first third of the 2015 season

June 10, 2015

Note: I compiled this post over the past two days, so some stats don’t reflect yesterday’s action.

American League MVP

1. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays: .310/.367/.582, 47 R, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB, 3.6 WAR
2. Nelson Cruz, Mariners: .329/.384/.613, 33 R, 18 HR, 39 RBI, SB, 2.0 WAR
3. Prince Fielder, Rangers: .356/.414/.547, 27 R, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1.6 WAR
4. Jason Kipnis, Indians: .338/.414/.518, 41 R, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 8 SB, 3.7 WAR
5. Mike Trout, Angels: .283/.373/.561, 42 R, 16 HR, 33 RBI, 8 SB, 3.2 WAR
6. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: .320/.427/.558, 31 R, 12 HR, 38 RBI, SB, 2.3 WAR
7. Stephen Vogt, Athletics: .290/.385/.544, 27 R, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 2.2 WAR
8. Brian Dozier, Twins: .268/.344/.527, 47 R, 11 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB, 2.3 WAR
9. Adam Jones, Orioles: .311/.348/.509, 30 R, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 3 SB, 2.2 WAR
10. Eric Hosmer, Royals: .306/.378/.490, 32 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 3 SB, 1.9 WAR

Comments: Josh Donaldson has been an absolute monster this year. I figured moving from pitcher friendly Oakland to hitter friendly Toronto would give him a boost, but he’s on pace to hit over .300 with 43 homers and 116 RBI. Pretty sick. With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion mostly scuffling through April and May, Donaldson has carried the Jays offense to .500 record. As a Mariners fan, Nelson Cruz sure feels like the MVP right now. I can’t imagine where the M’s would be without him. 10-48? Cruz accounts for about 75% of the M’s total offense. Prince Fielder has the lowest WAR on this list (probably because he’s a negative on defense and on the bases), but that offensive line is pretty impressive and his Rangers actually have a winning record. Of course, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera make their obligatory appearances and Trout will probably climb out of reach on this list as the season progresses. It’s worth noting the lack of any Astro on this list, but that’s largely because Jose Altuve had a pedestrian May.

National League MVP

1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: .340/.466/.650, 44 R, 16 HR, 47 RBI, 9 SB, 3.1 WAR
2. Bryce Harper, Nationals: .326/.464/.706, 44 R, 19 HR, 46 RBI, 3 SB, 4.0 WAR
3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: .332/.409/.608, 33 R, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 10 SB, 2.9 WAR
4. Dee Gordon, Marlins: .366/.390/.433, 32 R, 16 RBI, 20 SB, 2.9 WAR
5. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: .329/.407/.589, 37 R, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 2.6 WAR
6. A.J Pollock, Diamondbacks: .321/.369/.495, 40 R, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 14 SB, 2.5 WAR
7. Todd Frazier, Reds: .282/.356/.587, 37 R, 16 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, 2.8 WAR
8. Joc Pederson, Dodgers: .253/.377/.566, 34 R, 17 HR, 33 RBI, 2 SB, 3.1 WAR
9. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: .300/.391/.520, 38 R, 8 HR, 30 RBI, SB, 2.3 WAR
10. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: .240/.325/.558, 36 R, 19 HR, 49 RBI, 4 SB, 2.4 WAR

Comments: Goldschmidt and Harper feel like options 1a and 1b here. It’s so close, I can barely call it. Bryce edges Goldy in WAR, but Goldschmidt is hitting .340 while on a 30/30 pace… as a first baseman. Who does that? Oh, Anthony Rizzo also. I wonder how many people outside of Arizona that don’t have him on their fantasy team realize that A.J. Pollock is having an MVP-caliber season? Joc Pederson is having a pretty absurd rookie season for the Dodgers. I think most believed that he had 30/30 potential somewhere down the line, but he’s on a 40 homer pace in his rookie year. It’s kind of weird to consider a .240 hitter an MVP candidate, but it’s even stranger to exclude a guy that leads the MLB in homers and RBI. If Stanton can cut back on his NL-worst whiff rate and get a bit luckier on his BABIP (.275), he will vault up this list and his power numbers could get crazy.

AL Cy Young

1. Chris Archer, Rays: 7 Wins, 1.84 ERA, 11.71 K/9, 0.95 WHIP, 5.40 K:BB, 2.8 WAR
2. Sonny Gray, Athletics: 7 Wins, 1.65 ERA, 8.01 K/9, 0.91 WHIP, 3.48 K:BB, 2.3 WAR
3. Dallas Keuchel, Astros: 7 Wins, 1.85 ERA, 6.88 K/9, 0.92 WHIP, 3.05 K:BB, 2.2 WAR
4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: 9 Wins, 2.51 ERA, 8.85 K/9, 0.96 WHIP, 3.52 K:BB, 1.4 WAR
5. Chris Sale, White Sox: 6 Wins, 3.04 ERA, 11.31 K/9, 1.01 WHIP, 5.47 K:BB, 2.3 WAR

Comments: Chris Archer has been really, really good and has only gotten better as the year has progressed. In his last three starts he’s posted strikeout totals of 11, 15, and 12. What. Chris Sale has been pretty unlucky to be #5 on this list.

NL Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer, Nationals: 6 Wins, 1.85 ERA, 10.43 K/9, 0.91 WHIP, 7.50 K:BB, 2.8 WAR
2. Gerrit Cole, Pirates: 9 Wins, 1.73 ERA, 9.92 K/9, 1.10 WHIP, 4.53 K:BB, 2.0 WAR
3. Jacob deGrom, Mets: 7 Wins, 2.42 ERA, 9.35 K/9, 1.00 WHIP, 5.06 K:BB, 2.0 WAR
4. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: 5 Wins, 1.92 ERA, 7.68 K/9, 0.95 WHIP, 4.25 K:BB, 1.7 WAR
5. Jason Hammel, Cubs: 5 Wins, 2.76 ERA, 9.12 K/9, 0.89 WHIP, 8.44 K:BB, 1.7 WAR

AL Rookie Of The Year

1. Lance McCullers, Astros: 2 Wins, 2.32 ERA, 10.45 K/9, 0.90 WHIP, 6.00 K:BB, 1.1 WAR
2. Devin Travis, Blue Jays: .271/.336/.504, 24 R, 7 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB, 1.4 WAR
3. Carson Smith, Mariners: 1 Win, 2 Saves, 1.38 ERA, 10.04 K/9, 0.73 WHIP, 5.80 K:BB, 0.5 WAR

Comments: No real standouts in the AL yet. Devin Travis was making a pretty strong case before getting injured. McCullers has been lights out for the Astros in 5 starts. Smith probably should have been the Mariners closer a month ago.

NL Rookie Of The Year

1. Joc Pederson, Dodgers: .253/.377/.566, 34 R, 17 HR, 33 RBI, 2 SB, 3.1 WAR
2. Kris Bryant, Cubs: .282/.392/.469, 31 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 5 SB, 2.2 WAR
3. Chris Heston, Giants: 6 Wins, 3.77 ERA, 8.03 K/9, 1.19 WHIP, 3.67 K:BB, 1.2 WAR

Comments: This will be a fun race to monitor for the rest of the season. Pederson and Bryant are truly elite talents. Heston threw a no-hitter yesterday, but I have a feeling the opposing pitcher in that game, Noah Syndergaard, will pass him on this list by midseason.

Surprise Team

Minnesota Twins – The Astros have been incredibly surprising, but everyone knew they were going to be really good… eventually. The Twins though? I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Granted, the Twins have one of the better farm systems in MLB, but all of their premiere prospects (Buxton, Sano, etc.) are yet to arrive. Trevor May, Mike Pelfrey, and Kyle Gibson have been amazing in the rotation and the Twins have posted one of the AL’s best records despite ace Phil Hughes struggling during the first 2.5 months.

Dissapointing Team

Seattle Mariners – If you would have told me that Nelson Cruz would be hitting .320 with 18 HR and 39 RBI and that Felix Hernandez would have nine wins in early June, I would have guessed that the Mariners were about 10 games over .500. Instead, they are 6 games under. As someone that has watched the M’s closely, it’s pretty obvious what the problem is: a lack of offense in general and a lack of timely hitting specifically. We are bad at getting men on base, but when they get in scoring position we are even worse. It’s hard to blame anyone in particular, but Robinson Cano has been absolutely terrible. He’s not hitting with any authority and he just doesn’t seem like he even cares anymore. I’ve seen him get picked off twice while not paying attention and seems like his effort level never goes above 80%. It’s scary to think Mariners fans might have to watch this for seven more years.

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Back From The World Series Of Poker…

June 4, 2015

…and back to blogging soon!

Here are some things I will be posting about:

-How well I did with my poker goals in April and May
-How my week at the World Series Of Poker went
-my awards for the first third of the MLB season

and reviews of movies I will likely be watching over the next month or so:

-The Theory Of Everything
-Selma
-Foxcatcher
-The Drop

and in theaters:

-Pitch Perfect 2
-Entourage
-Love And Mercy (Beach Boy Brian Wilson biopic starring Paul Dano)
-Spy (Melissa McCarthy comedy)
-Jurassic World
-Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (limited release, Sundance winner)
-Inside Out (Pixar)

Also, I decided to scrap my idea of picking my Franchise Four for every MLB team. As is typical for me, I couldn’t just pick four players off the top of my head, I had to put hours of research into each team so I could make sure I got it exactly right. Since I’m just doing this for fun, I just don’t have that kind of free time.