Friday, January 6, 2017

Movie, Picture or Film: Hell or High Water



I didn’t see a zillion movies last year, but the best one I saw by far was Hell or High Water. When I saw it in the summer it was one of the first times I understood why so much of the country would vote for Donald Trump.

That’s because hell or high water is a movie for its time and place, and struggling America 2016 is that time and place. Throughout the film the bank robbing brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) drive past empty business after empty business in small town after small town. They drive past scrap yards and junk yards and billboards advertising ways to get a little money by selling your stuff. The interiors of houses in the movie are run-down and the people are having a devil of a time getting by.

The plot involves the bank robbing brothers trying to stick it to “the man” and more specifically a certain corporation that has been screwing them over (I won’t get into more detail as it’s a key plot point). But watching the brothers drive from depressed small town to depressed small town and passing boarded-up business after boarded-up business was like dropping in on Trump voters who are pleading for somebody to put them to work. If you watch it for nothing else, watch it to see that demographic.

It's the best acting job by Chris Pine I’ve seen from him, and since I only really have seen him in the Star Trek reboot, I’m not sure how much of a ringing endorsement that is. Let’s just say William Shatner wouldn’t have been able to play this. It’s nuanced, subtle and dimensional. Ben Foster is also excellent as his no-good brother.   

Jeff Bridges is getting the lion’s share of the acting kudos because the almost-retired Texas ranger is a character role, and Bridges excels in playing characters. There are even a few references to towns featured in Bridges’ breakout role, The Last Picture Show. While Bridges kills it, this is a role that a lot of solid actors would chew on very well. Casting Bridges, while excellent, was almost too easy.

On par with Pine is the man who plays Bridges’ Ranger partner, Gil Birmingham. As a half-Cherokee, half-Mexican, Birmingham gets simultaneously praised and badgered by Bridges. Not long ago Bridges’ patter would be accepted by everyone, nowadays it comes across as uneasy. The result is feeling more sympathy for Birmingham’s character, and since everyone automatically likes Bridges immediately, this builds more sympathy for the law.

And that’s an interesting thing the film does, creating sympathy on both sides. You end up rooting for both the bank robbers and the law chasing them.

That takes great acting on both sides, previously discussed, and the interpretation of a good script. Taylor Sheridan wrote it (he’s more known for being on Veronica Mars and Sons of Anarchy, both show’s I’ve barely watched so I have no previous knowledge of his work) and David MacKenzie directed it (nothing familiar to this point) and they should be rewarded in the coming months by various places that hand out statuettes.

With all the loud fast-paced blow-em-up special effects around, Hell or High Water is a refreshing change and worthy of your time. (There's some gunplay, but it's shown to be life-changing and not just done for the sake of explosions.) It should be back in the theatre once it’s nominated for stuff, and it’s my choice for the top film of 2016.

Rating: Film

(For an explanation of my ratings system, read this)  

photos courtesy: imdb.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Movie, Picture, or Film: Rogue One, A Star Wars Story

Felicty Jones as Jyn

Rogue One: A Star Wars story is a decent flick, but I'm not sure I'd ever watch it anywhere but the theater ever again.

That's not true. If I was idly looking for something to watch and the only other Star Wars option was the prequels, then I'd watch it.

Even then that's not completely true. If there was some sort of marathon showing of all the Star Wars films from one-through-nine with all side films included, then yes, I'd watch it again.

This is all a long-winded way to say that as part of the Star Wars universe it's fine, but it's not something I would choose to watch if other, better Star Wars options were around. Would you rather see Princess Leia spitting one-liners with Han Solo and Chewbacca or would you rather see Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) spitting one-liners with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)? There's nothing particularly wrong with the new people, but there's only one Leia and there's only one Solo and that's all there is to it.

I do appreciate the Firefly/Serenity connection with Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO, although he is so expressive it's a bummer just his voice makes an appearance. Yeah, they motion-captured him and turned his movement into the robot's, but that's just not the same. Mads Mikkelsen provides the James Bond connection. There are enough references to the other films to keep the Star Wars aficionado entertained, from the color of the milk to sly mentions of other characters.

Indeed, everything about it is done well and fits into the Star Wars universe. I really, really liked seeing the AT-AT's in the tropics, it's such a counter from the snow. The special effects are excellent. It's cool that the filmmakers used original but unused footage from 1977 in various spots around the picture, not just in the action scenes. Peter Cushing is a little stiff but that's to be expected.

The only major complaints I have heard around the picture concern the woodenness of Forest Whitaker's character, Saw Gererra. I didn't have a problem with that. I see it as he's supposed to be a little out there to draw your attention to him.

What's notably missing from the picture is the outrageously stilted dialogue one expects from a George Lucas-scripted Star Wars. There's a little technical jargon but nothing incredibly outlandish.

Still, the only real reason to pay attention to this picture is because of what it's connected to. If it was just a plain old sci-fi movie about rebels stealing something from an evil empire, it'd already be forgotten and I wouldn't have wanted to go see it. But because it's a Star Wars movie about The Rebels stealing plans for The Death Star from The Empire, I went and saw it.

Pretend that people still bought DVD's and in six months time Rogue One is sitting on a shelf next to The Original Trilogy. Which one would you watch? For the sake of completion, you might pick out Rogue One. That's about it.

Rating: Picture (barely) 

New to the ratings system of Movie, Picture or Film? Explanation here.

AT-AT's on vacation
photos: IMDB.com

Friday, December 30, 2016

College Football Playoff Thoughts


The only reason I'm giving the Washington Huskies even a remote chance against the Alabama Crimson Tide is became Joe Tessitore is calling the game. You know about The Tess Effect/Rule of Tess, right? He's called some ridiculously wild finishes. The first game of the season he did was Notre Dame/Texas. I'm just saying.

As for the second game, I'd like to see the Clemson Tigers win it but it's hard to go against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Would another team that didn't even make their conference title game get selected for a 4-team playoff that doesn't play home games in Columbus? The only exception might be that team in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

With this, there's been plenty of talk about expanding the CFB Playoff to eight teams. But if you really think about it we'd be in the same mess. Let's figure it went this way:

All Power 5 Conference Champs: So that'd be Alabama (SEC) Washington (Pac-12) and Clemson (ACC). We're all good there. But then that means the Penn State Nittany Lions (Big 10) and Oklahoma Sooners (Big 12) also make it.

So who are your 3 wild cards? Ohio State is obviously one of them. That leaves two spots.

If you're going straight with the CFB Playoff Rankings, then it's two more Big 10 teams. The Michigan Wolverines are 6th (behind Penn State) and the Wisconsin Badgers are 8th (Oklahoma is 7th).

But that leaves out the USC Trojans, who lots of people say are playing the best of anybody, but they have 3 losses and didn't make their title game either. And what about the Western Michigan Broncos, the undefeated Group of 5 team? The Colorado Buffaloes were ranked 10th and sent to the Alamo Bowl. The Florida State Seminoles were ranked 11th but they're in a fancy bowl.

Also, where do you play the quarterfinals? It's kind of set up that the "New Year's Six" bowls will just become the quarterfinal and semifinal locations, but you know that's up for debate (read: straight cash when it becomes real). More issues than answers.

Plus, think about it: once you get past the top 4 teams this year it would be a pick'em anyway. Is there really that much difference between USC and Oklahoma? Wisconsin and Western Michigan?

And then there's the issue of the schedule. Adding yet another game pushes the playoffs either further into December (which really kills the other bowls) or further into January, where they run up against the NFL playoffs.

And the whole education thing. Missing more class and whatnot. You know, these are still officially amateurs who have to go to school and don't get paid (while the head coaches, schools and NCAA rake it in). But that's a topic for another day.

8-team playoff proposal from 2014


images coutesy: cfbmatrix.com, sportsfansspeak.com




   

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Movie, Picture, or Film?



I plan on doing a series of motion picture reviews so you might as well know my ratings system. I put motion pictures into three general categories: movies, pictures, or films.

“Films” are the best. Casablanca is a film. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a film. Django Unchained is a film. These are top efforts, required multiple viewing, and worthy of reverence- as much a piece of art can be. They are well-crafted and purposeful.

“Pictures” are the next step down. If I am willing to see it more than once, it’s a picture. Pictures are the toughest to determine and have the most variety. Maybe they aren’t the toppermost of the poppermost, but there was clearly thought and intent behind them aside from “straight cash, homey.” “Fletch” is a good picture. A picture could become a film over time. The upper end of a picture is very close to a film and sometimes meanders across both categories depending on the day. “From Russia With Love” and “The Big Lebowski” are examples there.

“Movies” are one-shots. Tom Cruise makes movies nowadays. They are not rewatchable, not even when “there’s nothing on.”

An example: The original Star Wars trilogy is a series of films. The second trilogy is a series of movies. And the first of the new trilogy (not the “Rogue One” spinoff), looks like a series of pictures with the potential to become films.

Now that you know, let's get started... 

picture: cliparting.com

Monday, November 28, 2016

Have We Just Seen The Best 10 Years In Oregon Duck Football History?

Short answer: Yes. These have been, without question, the best ten years in Oregon Duck Football history.

Actually, the stretch from 2005-2015 was actually the best 11 year stretch in Oregon football history. They went to 11 straight bowl games (12 counting the first-ever College Football Playoff title game) and won six of them. They went to six BCS/CFP games and won three of them- two Rose Bowls (the 2012 win being their first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years) and the Fiesta Bowl. They went to two Championship games and.... well, let's move on. They won at 10 games in a season at least 8 times and 7 years in a row (2008-2014). Chip Kelly was head coach four of those years and he finished 46-7, the best percentage in Oregon history by any measure and his worst season was his first year, 2009, when he went 10-3. Can you imagine in your worst season as a football coach you went 10-3? That's insane.

From 1964-1988, Oregon didn't make a bowl game. That's 27 seasons, and I think that may be a record. I went to games in the early-to-mid-1980's when the Ducks were just about giving away tickets. I've seen how bad Ducks football can be. In 2010 (the year after making the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1994) when Oregon went undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 1916 I tried to tell newcomers to Eugene how just insane it was that the football team was actually good  and they wouldn't believe me. They thought this was normal. I showed these newbies tape of the 1983 Toilet Bowl, when the Ducks and Beavers played the last scoreless tie in college football history, and they looked at it like I look at footage of The Beatles in concert. Astonished and perplexed that such a thing could really have happened, that somehow it was all some sort of dream.

That dream came crashing down the last two years. For being a quarterback whisperer, Mark Helfrich couldn't find a successor to Marcus Mariota even half as good as he was. Maybe Vernon Adams was half as good, but he couldn't stay healthy enough to prove it.

That's because whoever was in charge of recruiting offensive linemen wasn't as good as whoever did it on Chip's staff. I'm inclined to believe that Chip was the offensive lineman recruiter, because the drop off seems to have happened after Chip left. It would make sense that the guy who invented the Blur Offense would be the best at talking linemen into it.

The Oregon defense has also not been the easiest to recruit. It's a weird situation. The guys get to play a lot because the offense works so fast. But that means a lot more guys get to play a lot because the defense is on the field with much less of a break. And they'll never be the focus. It's a lose-lose-lose situation.  

And that's where Mark Helfrich found himself at the beginning of 2016. Another quarterback hole, and the defense was too bad to keep going the way it was, so he went with another transfer QB and tried Brady Hoke as a defensive coordinator. You know what happened there.

So it looks like Helfrich is all but done. On the outside given his total body of work it doesn't make sense, as he's 37-16 in his four years- yes, four years, the same length of time Chip was head coach- as Oregon's head man.

But half those losses came this year. And 24 of the wins came in the first two years. He's 13-12 since Marcus Mariota left the Moshofsky Center for the last time. When a "prominent donor" (that founded a shoe company you may have heard of) has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into making Oregon Football a sensation off the field- the originators of the flashy uniforms, better training and recovery facilities than some NFL teams, and some of the cleverest social media campaigns around- and that team goes 4-8 and gets outmanned by an Oregon State team that barely seemed to know which way the goal line was at the beginning of the season- well, something's going to happen.

Sliding back to a half-empty stadium would still be twice as many people as were there in the bottom-feeding days of the 1980's, when the Oregon athletic department honestly considered dropping out of the Pac-10 in football and joining up with Portland State in I-AA. Yes, I'm serious. 

The last ten years were not the norm in Oregon football history. They were the best ten years, and it's not even close.

Even counting the 4-8 season this year, over the last ten years, from 2007-2016, Oregon has gone 101-30. Rich Brooks spent 18 years as head coach and went 91-109-4. Mike Bellotti spent 14 years as head coach and went 116-55. Yeah, it's been a good run.

What's next? Who knows? Just know it won't ever be the same.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Problem If the Cubs Win the World Series



Face it, you only remember them because they are bad.

Simply: The Cubs are followed nationwide and are considered interesting because they have been bad for so long. If they win a World Series and then go back to being bad, then they are the new Florida Marlins, and (aside from the tragedy of Jose Fernandez) nobody cares about the Florida Marlins. 

If the Cubs win the World Series, baseball loses the “lovable underdog” that it’s had for the last 40 years. Because let’s be honest, it wasn’t until the proper advent of cable and satellite television in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s that made the Cubs “The Cubs.” Before then, they were just bad.

Around the country, independent television stations recognized what cable could do for them and bought their way onto systems by building satellite dishes in their backyard and offering to beam their signal to whichever community would have them. They became known as “superstations.”

WTBS in Atlanta was the most proactive as they were run by a forward-thinking mega-rich young whippersnapper (that’s what I call anybody under the age of 30 who owns a yacht) named Ted Turner. He saw that cable television could do for him what franchising quick-service restaurants did for Ray Kroc and began offering his station to fledgling cable companies.

Ted Turner, young. On a yacht. That he owned.

Even though WTBS showed mostly Andy Griffith re-runs and Atlanta Braves games (because he also owned the team), cable systems around the country desperate to have different options than what people got over-the-air took up Teddy boy on his offer. Soon WTBS was broadcast from Atlanta to Anchorage and all points in-between. Housewives in Alaska became Dale Murphy fans. Turner was then able to package his new crazy idea, a 24-hour cable news channel, along with WTBS, and his media empire continued to grow.

As the Cubs radio network was already pretty expansive around the Midwest, the Tribune Company- who owned the Cubs and WGN (and thus WGN showed lots of Cubs games)- followed Turner’s lead but concentrated on putting WGN in markets that already were Cubs radio affiliates. But cable systems outside of the Midwest also took WGN, and because Wrigley Field looked so good in the daytime, the Cubs attracted more than just baseball fans, but people who longed for the nostalgic ballpark experience.

Millions who could never before watch the Cubs, and Wrigley Field, and constant daytime baseball became Cubs fans. America loves an underdog, and the Cubs also represented “old-time” baseball, whatever the hell that really means. Nostalgia is a powerful drug and even 100 years ago in 1916, for example, retired baseball players were complaining the game “wasn’t like it was when we were young.”

Not everybody in America can be a mega-winner, and so the Cubs resonated as a team to follow, to hope for breakthroughs. They played in an old, nostalgic ballpark and played baseball the way everybody did when they were kids, in the daytime, and they weren’t very good, and people from North Bend, Oregon to Biscayne Bay, Florida, could watch them and cheer for the underdog. People who struggled in their own lives looked to the Cubs as a sports team they could relate to, and perhaps more importantly, as a sports team that could relate to them.

The Cubs not having lights wasn’t a real problem until TV networks began running the MLB schedule, not the teams, or their “superstations.” The networks began demanding that nearly all baseball games were broadcast at night. Up through the mid 80’s, all teams played dozens of weekday day games a year, not just a handful. The Cubs ceding to demand (and the increased revenue) by becoming the last ballpark to add lights, in 1988, made them just another team who could play at night.

The Cubs playing in a ballpark built in 1914 wasn’t a cause for nostalgia until the “great retro-ballpark revolution” because before that happened there were five ballparks built before World War Two that were still being used- Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and the original Comiskey Stadium on the South Side of Chicago. When that was demolished and replaced in the early-90’s by the last cookie-cutter stadium, Wrigley Field became the oldest ballpark in Chicago and grew in stature nationwide as a symbol of nostalgia (there’s that word again).

The Cubs not having won a pennant since 1945 was a big deal, but three other teams were right there with them when it came to World Series futility- the Red Sox, the Indians, and the Giants. When Cleveland won the pennant in 1995, that snapped their 41-year drought and magnified the Cubs streak. When Boston broke their curse in 2004, that magnified the Cubs streak. When the Giants won their first San Francisco World Series in 2010, that pinpointed the Cubs streak even more.

And if the Cubs win the World Series? Then they’re just another rich team that plays at night and bought their way to a championship. The Cubs have had lights for more than a quarter-century now, and their day baseball games have dwindled. There are now just two ballparks left built before World War Two, and the third-oldest park is now Dodger Stadium, built in 1962. The Cubs are the only team that hasn’t won a World Series since before World War Two. Hell, they haven’t won since before World War One. If they win, then the only thing is the ballpark. And that ballpark has never seen a World Series Championship.

You may say the Cubs mystique will never die, but what happened to the Boston Red Sox after their 2004 World Series victory? They’re just another one of the “haves” now, and all the history they had for not winning- The Curse of the Bambino, Ted Williams, Denny Galehouse, Carl Yastrzemski, Bucky Bleeping Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Bleeping Boone… is fading away. The Sox are just another team, and Red Sox Nation is as hated just like any other fan base that’s won a World Series in the last decade. Same for the San Francisco Giants, who went winless in the World Series for 56 years. After winning three titles in five years, now they’re just another team.

The Cubs are popular because they haven’t won a World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president. If they win, then the Indians will be the team that’s gone the longest without winning the World Series, and that “only” 68 years.

The “loveable underdog” label for the Cubs will be gone, and gone forever. Is that something you really want to see? Because you then won’t ever look at them the same again, even if you watch them on WGN.