Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thought - Easter

If you know me at all, or maybe if you've read enough of my posts, you know that I am not a religious person.  I'd go so far as to say that I am anti-religion.  I believe all religions are fictional and that they create more harm than good.  I understand the reasons why people seek out religion; the desire to feel connected, to be a part of something greater than yourself, to attempt to understand the world around you, to fill a void inside you that is difficult to satisfy.  I get it, I really do, and I find it interesting from a sociological perspective that so many humans believe so many different versions of "how the world came to be".

And, while I am anti-religion, I would say that I know more than the average person about various world religions.  I look at them all as equal mythologies, which has a negative connotation among the people who are practicing them, because they see mythology as fiction and their religion as the truth.  However, mythos is Greek for story, so a mythology is just a collection of stories that explains the world.  Every culture has a mythology, and of course different religions sprang from different culture's myths.  My #2 mythological specialty is Greco/Roman, where I am especially interested in how those myths effect our own culture and language.  My #1 mythological specialty is Christianity, having spent all of my childhood in various churches across the country.  I hold Western Mythology on an equal level with Greek Mythology; both are a culture's attempt to explain the world in a way that can be understood, both have very entertaining stories, and both are entirely fictitious.  The major difference, however, is that the majority of Greeks understood that Zeus wasn't actually living on a mountain and watching their every move.  The Greeks knew that their mythology was just that; stories.  These stories served as a moral compass, and in that way were greatly important.

I view Christianity and the Bible in the same way; as a collection of parables, stories, and lessons that serve as an example for the way our culture should behave.  But being raised in church taught me very quickly that most Christians are not like most Greeks; they believe that their myths are literally true and that all other myths are literally false.  And this isn't true of only American Christians but of almost all modern religious participants.  Believers all over the world are turning to their culture's myths as the true word of their God or gods, excluding all other beliefs as evil, false, or blasphemous.  I use our country as my prime example because that's what I know best, but it's not just the Western World that is so egocentric.  And this sort of religious obsession really limits followers' knowledge of other cultures, world history, and even the origins of their own religious practices.

Easter is a wonderful example of this, and of how Christians specifically have convinced themselves so thoroughly that their religion is the one true myth that they have forgotten that other religions impacted theirs and that their messiah might not be the reason for every season.  I wrote about this phenomenon as it relates to Christmas as well, which you can read about here, but, since today is Easter, let's look at a few misconceptions Christians have about this holiday.

  • This day, Easter Sunday, has zero historical significance.  Had Jesus of Nazareth been a real person and had he actually risen from the dead, that fact would have nothing to do with this date.  At the First Council of Nicaea, it was decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox.  The date moves every year and is completely arbitrary.  So, if Jesus did indeed come back to life, he did not do so exactly 1,983 years ago on this date.  As a Christian, you could celebrate the resurrection of Christ next week, last week, basically any time you want to.
  • This date was chosen by the Council because it was already an established pagan holiday.  The Germans had for centuries been celebrating springtime, the equinox, new life, and new growth at this time.  As with Christmas, Christians choose this time to be the date of their holiday not because it was actually when an event from the Bible occurred, but because so many people were already celebrating something.  The two ideas, Resurrection and spring, were successfully melded together, and so now many Christians believe that Jesus is, once again, the reason for the season, but he just isn't; he was added in to a preexisting holiday in order for the Church to get more publicity.
  • Even the term "Easter" is pagan.  It comes from the Germanic goddess Eostre, who was celebrated during the spring equinox.  Basically, the pagans chose the date, created the celebration, and named it after their deity.
It's one thing to believe that one religion is true and the rest are not, and it's another to shut your eyes to the history of the world.  No, Christians did not invent Easter.  No, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  Just like Christmas, other cultures were already celebrating at this time and a new religion decided to claim the holiday as its own.  It actually worked very well and was a smart move on the part of the Christians, even if they couldn't eradicate the pagan traditions totally.  That's why, in America, our traditional Easter celebration is a combination of religious and cultural practices; church, eggs, rabbits, Jesus, grass, chicks, feasts, etc.  This is what America is; a tossed salad of traditions that combine in interesting ways.  I don't see anything wrong with this, but don't tell me that Easter is all about Jesus while stuffing your mouth with Peeps.  Attempt to understand that your religion is not the only one that exists in the world.  It was created and impacted by so many different cultures that it can never be truly independent.  We can argue whether or not it's true another time.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie Trailer - Arthur Newman

Director: Dante Ariola
Starring: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche
Release: April 26th, 2013

I really don't know what to think about this one.  Ariola ...don't laugh ...is an unknown, Blunt is fine, and Heche may just be the worst actress of all time.  The story seems interesting I guess, but not very special.  So I would say let's just leave it up to Firth, but you never know what you're going to get with him.  Should we expect Love Actually or The King's Speech?  Or will we get What a Girl Wants or The Last Legion?  I'm leaning toward the latter, and I may just pass.

Friday, March 29, 2013

DVD Review - Gun Hill Road

Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Starring: Esai Morales, Harmony Santana, Judy Reyes
Year: 2011

I've lived a fairly easy life.  I mean, everyone has problems, but mine were never huge.  I grew up in small town America, we were never rich but always made due, my family was loving, and I've always liked myself and have known who I am.  So, sometimes I feel as if I have a difficult time either connecting to or understanding the problems that characters face in various gritty movies.  I can't fully appreciate the struggles of minorities in inner cities, the problems that broken families face, or how hard it can be for some people to "find themselves".  So as I prepared to watch Gun Hill Road, I assumed that there might be a disconnect between myself and a story that I have never even come close to experiencing.  But I could not have been more wrong.  I guess I had forgotten that when you make an excellent film the details cease to matter, and the true greatness of the story shines through regardless of the limited scope of the viewer.

The Movie

Set in the Bronx in New York City, the story centers around two characters: Enrique and Michael.  Enrique is a father, a husband, and a convict.  Having just served a three-year sentence for a variety of crimes, he prepares to reenter his old life.  But, of course, things have changed.  His friends may still be the same, but his family is another matter.  His wife, Angela, has become distant and has developed a new life all her own.  And his son, Michael, seems to be a completely new person from the boy he left behind.  These problems meet him at home and compound the issues that he is already facing as an ex-con: a strict parole officer, a grueling job, the easy life of crime that tempts him, and the secrets of prison life that he can share with no one.  As Enrique attempts to keep his life together, his biggest challenge is his growing boy, who has problems of his own.

Michael is less than thrilled at the return of his father.  While Enrique was away, he felt free to live his life the way he chose and to become the person that he had always wanted to be.  Now Michael is afraid to show his true self, because that person is a woman.  Viewing himself as a transsexual, he fears that he will not be accepted by his father, as he is not accepted among other teenagers.  Calling himself Vanessa and speaking poetry at a local club, Michael tries in vain to establish a defined life for himself.  But his father is filled with hate, fear, and loathing, and as Enrique fights to regain control of his family, Michael slips further and further away.  To rediscover the love that they once had for each other, father and son will have to face the truth of their new lives; that everything has changed, that nothing is easy, and that sometimes the person you long to be is not who you've become.

It's safe to say I was not prepared for this film.  I was not ready for it to be as profound as it was.  Like I said before, I didn't think I'd relate to, understand, or appreciate a story about a Latino transgendered male-to-female teenager living in the Bronx who's father had just returned home from prison.  That just isn't anything I've ever had to deal with.  But I felt it.  I was forced to feel it.  There was a reality to the film that could not be denied.  It could have been a story about anyone from any time and I would have gotten the point.  By the end the details and the set up didn't matter; it was a story of a father and a son who had problems and tried their best to fix them.  And again, I guess that's what great movies do to you.  They use a plot to set the scene, yes, but then the plot disappears and what you're left with is passion, heartache, pain, misery, love; feelings.  And, man, I felt it.

Green, as both the writer and the director, deserves a boat-load of credit.  His techniques and shots were so subtle and light that I almost forget that someone made this movie, that it wasn't just footage of someone's life.  He allowed the actors and the moments to speak for themselves, and didn't make the mistake that so many directors make; becoming so self-absorbed that the film becomes about the people who made it, not about the ideas it was trying to convey.  And the actors themselves were spot on as well.  I have never seen Morales do better.  He was the epitome of a tortured soul, and he really made me like his character, even after all the awful things he did.  Santana was also very strong.  As a transgendered male-to-female herself, she knew exactly how it felt to be in the situation that the movie portrayed.  And she did it all while living in a group home and acting in her very first film.

Obviously, I really liked it, but I understand that it may not be for everyone.  Many people might be hesitant to watch such a bold film about such a personal topic.  It's not an easy movie to watch, and it doesn't hold back.  During one scene in which a character kicks another repeatedly I could literally feel each crunch of boot into body.  Each emotion was shown so clearly by each character that it was almost painful to see.  And the story included many adult themes and sexual situations, some of which would most likely make some individuals uncomfortable.  But, for me, the details were superseded by the emotions, and I felt them clearly.  Don't watch Gun Hill Road on a whim, with a crowd, or to kill time.  Watch it if you want to experience something real, whether or not it may hurt.


Video - With as aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the widescreen video is clear and effective.  Much of the action takes place at night, with a very good dark/light ratio.  As with many dramas and as opposed to many action films, most of the camera work is focused on facial expression and emotion.  So the HD video doesn't get to strut its stuff, but it's there.

Audio - There are zero sound options with this film.  No language selection, no audio choices, and no subtitles; the DVD is produced in Dolby Digital.  The sound quality of the movie is passable but nothing excellent.  Music and dialogue are properly balanced and well constructed.

Extras - With the DVD there are two extras; a trailer and an interview.  The trailer is an excellent summary of the film, and the interview, with writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green, is great as well.  He talks about the background, location, and other aspects of the film in a sixteen minute segment.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  I was taken aback by just how good this film was.  It was fresh, interesting, haunting, painful, and real.  As an audience member, it was refreshing to see such raw emotion, and to not be led around on a leash by the director; I was left to learn about, view, and experience the film naturally, without being told what I was supposed to feel in each scene.  The acting was great and the film was concise.  The video quality was high, the audio was fine, and the few extras were interesting.  Overall, an excellent film that I hope more people see.

✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Replay

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Movie Trailer - White House Down

Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Release: June 28th, 2013

Stop making bad movies!  There are so many things wrong with this film: 1) Emmerich is the man responsible for Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012.  2) Channing Tatum is the biggest tool bag in Hollywood.  3) Foxx (who's real name, btw, is Eric) plays the President.  4) Someone already beat you to the punch with the EXACT SAME MOVIE! (Olympus Has Fallen).  5) Action movies suck.  And 6) Yes, blowing things up is cool, it attracts my attention, and I have to resist the urge to watch, but you can't just blow things up and expect a good movie to appear when the smoke clears.  Sometimes my brain hurts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sports - MLB Opening Day

While Opening Day is right around the corner (April 1st), the season actually starts on March 31st in Houston.  That's right, the world-famous Astros get the opening game in their stadium.  Well, last year it was the Marlins, so maybe this is an improvement.  The Astros did make news this season by switching to the AL West, but they made the wrong kind of news in every other way last year, by basically being a way for NL Central teams to get cheap wins.  As a Cardinals fan I regret that they are gone for exactly that reason.

Who must they face first in their new uniforms and new league?  The Texas Rangers.  The best of the West.  The team famous sports writer Olie Coen chose as his World Series pick.  Not an easy way to start the season.  The Rangers should blow the Astros out of the water all season long, starting on Sunday night.  Bud Norris gets the start for Houston, and while he's usually great at home he went 7-13 last season with an ERA of 4.65.  Not great.  Texas tabs Matt Harrison, a hard-working starter who went 18-11 last season with an ERA of 3.29.  And while the Rangers scored the most runs in the MLB last year (808), the Astros scored the least (583).  That's an average of 5.0 runs per game vs. an average of 3.6.

So I'll take the Rangers over the Astros Opening Night, and I'll call the score at 5-3, why not.  Check it out on ESPN at 8:00 pm on March 31st.  Should be a great MLB season; looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thought - Marriage Equality

I try not to be political on my blog.  I write here because I like to talk about sports and movies, and I hope to some day be an actual film critic.  I do post my thoughts on some issues, but they're not usually too controversial.  But today I feel like I need to speak my mind, and what better place to do it.  I promise tomorrow to return to sports and Thursday will most likely see a DVD Review.  If you disagree with this post please feel free to comment, but I reserve the right to moderate.

Today the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments concerning the definition of marriage, especially as it applies to homosexual couples.  Now, my long standing belief (I can remember writing on LiveJournal in high school about it) is that it is ridiculous for the government to be involved in marriage.  Anyone who has ever gone down to their local courthouse and told some lady that they were not first cousins with their fiancee knows how silly a marriage certificate is.  And then there's the ceremony, which does absolutely nothing other than make you feel married and/or give you a hangover.  So while I understand why the government steps in for insurance and tax reasons, it has always seemed odd to me that what is basically just a commitment ceremony should be so highly regulated and argued over.

That said, the marriage ceremony and certificate have become symbols of marriage in our culture; without them Americans can't really feel married in the eyes of others, regardless of how long they have been with their partner.  So it is important to people to get officially married, even if many marriages end in divorce and even if they are not religious.  I know that for me it was a declaration of my intent to stay with one person for the rest of my life, and a way to show my friends and family that I was starting a new chapter in my life.  My wedding was the very beginning of my adult life and it symbolized my choices.

Homosexual couples want the same thing that I wanted; a recognized symbol.  Yes, it's silly that you have to get a specialized license, like you're a street vendor or a truck driver.  And yes, it's silly to non-Christians that you have to say some meaningless phrases from the Bible in order to get anyone to actually perform the ceremony.  But, ridiculous as it is, it matters, and what homosexual couples want is the ability to go through the same pointless rituals that heterosexual couples can do so easily.

Now, I don't want to get into the same overused arguments that everyone has heard ad nauseam.  I know that opponents say that it's a slippery slope and that it will lead to people marrying their dogs, that it's a religious ceremony and therefor can't include gays, or that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.  And proponents will say that marriage isn't hurting anyone, that it doesn't have to be a religious issue, or that the "sanctity of marriage" is a nullified term.

But, for me, the key idea here is that of equality.  Are people equal or not?  If we believe in this country that all humans are created equal then we can't make any exceptions; equality is an absolute.  We must, by definition, treat each other as equals, regardless of race, wealth, religion, intelligence, sex, or sexuality.  All humans must be given the same respect and rights until they have broken the social contract, which homosexuality does not do.  And if we don't believe in equality than we need to stop pretending that we do and change some wording in the Declaration of Independence.

The question is not whether homosexual couples are entitled to the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.  The real question is, assuming we are all humans of equal standing, does anyone have the right to stop them.  I believe that marriage should be an option regardless of sexuality and that it is unethical to prohibit it.  We are all created equal as members of the same species and we have the same rights as humans.  We cannot choose to hold some rights back from a select few except in cases of the breaking of the social contract or the harming of others.  Homosexuality does neither of these things, and therefore does not change the equal standing with all other members of society.  Marriage equality matters, as it is both ethically important and ethically necessary.  I hope that the Supreme Court feels the same way as I do.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Colony

Director: Jeff Renfroe
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton
Release: April 12th, 2013

Oh, you almost got me.  I love post-apocalyptic movies, and I'm a sucker for the "I heard the stories about when the Earth was warm" lines.  But you may have gone one step too far, and you may have made a fatal mistake by casting Bill Paxton.  He has only been believable one time and that was in Aliens as a meat head with a giant machine gun.  No, I don't think I'm gonna let myself be tricked into seeing this one, but it was a close call.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

DVD Review - After Fall, Winter

Director: Eric Schaeffer
Starring: Eric Schaeffer, Lizzie Brochere
Year: 2011

I'm always wary when I come across a movie that is written, directed, produced, and starring the same person.  I mean, how can you have time and energy enough to put that much of yourself into a film?  And giving all of that, how can you have anything left in the tank to edit, censor, critique, judge, or just enjoy?  It's just not a great idea to make one film the definition of your life; it's almost guaranteed to fall short of its expectations.  And such is the case with After Fall, Winter, which, furthermore, is a sequel to the equally self-indulgent film Fall.  It's obvious that Schaffer put his all into this movie, and he deserves some applause for not holding back.  But in doing so, the film became completely about him while totally ignoring his audience.  So, while he might love his movie, it's hard to imagine that anyone else will.

The Movie

The story is centered around the life of Michael.  Living in New York City and slowly slipping into a deep depression, he struggles just to keep his head above water.  Michael is a writer, and although his last novel was very successful, no publishers will pick up his new manuscript.  Going further and further into horrible debt, he sells his apartment, moves into a slum, and attempts to figure out what to do next.  Luckily for Michael, a friend unexpectedly lends a helping hand, offering him a place to stay, for free, in Paris and a chance to regroup, refocus, and get his life back on track.  Not knowing what else to do and still keeping up some hope that his new book will take off, he moves to France and thus begins a new chapter of his life.

Although not speaking the language and also not knowing many of the customs, Michael attempts to explore and understand his new home.  Right away he meets a woman, a stunningly beautiful Parisian named Sophie who he can't stop thinking of.  And even though she wants nothing to do with this arrogant American, he refuses to give up and the two very slowly get to know each other.  However, they are both keeping similar secrets that threaten to destroy their budding relationship; Michael is a masochist, desiring to be punished, humiliated, and beaten by a dominant woman, and Sophie is a dominatrix, torturing men who pay her for this pleasure.  And while neither want this practice to enter their actual love life, both are haunted by the choices that they have made and by the lies that constantly hang over their chance at happiness.

It's hard to decide where to start when pointing out the problems with this film.  As I mentioned before, Schaeffer took on way too much and then couldn't deliver great quality in any facet.  His directing was heavy-handed, his writing (especially the dialogue) was juvenile, and although his acting was perhaps the best part of the film, it was still not wonderful.  There was a sense that if he had just focused on one aspect he could have done it very well and professionally.  But, sadly, he didn't and so the movie became unfocused as well.  Conversations dragged on much too long and were never believable, side stories kept getting in the way while not adding much depth, and the background music was repetitive, distracting, and generally annoying.  Technically speaking, Schaeffer is definitely no Scorsese.

And putting all that aside, the plot had issues of its own, the most major being that I never once believed that Michael and Sophie were in love.  Any passion they showed felt forced and the sex between them was strange at best.  In a film filled with intriguing taboo practices I was surprised to not feel much of anything at all except bored.  I was never rooting for the couple to make it, I never cared whether they found happiness or not, and it never mattered to me that they were sado-masochists who's souls could never be filled with anything meaningful.  And that, I guess, was the problem that I had with the story; I just didn't care enough.  I was never invested in or made to feel passionate for the main characters, and that's not good.

Now, it wasn't all bad.  There were some redeeming characteristics that kept me watching and semi-interested.  Schaeffer himself created a very interesting character in Michael, someone who was so full of pain inside that he desired a woman to give him physical pain and to tell him that he was exactly as horrible as he felt he must be.  And Michael's relationship with Sophie was interesting, as it created a sort of role reversal, with him needing to be loved and wanting to talk through every feeling, while she desired space and had trouble opening up.  But these positives just weren't enough to overwhelm what became a very dreary and depressing film; one that never captured me as an audience member and just left me feeling empty.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video was HD quality.  The shots were crisp, clear, and in high contrast.  Although there was no action and the picture wasn't called upon to be wonderful very often, there was still a high standard in all scenes.

Audio - There are zero sound options with this film.  No language selection, no audio choices, and no subtitles; the DVD was produced in stereo.  Music and sound play a very minimal role in the movie, as dialogue is the key to the plot and action.

Extras - There are almost no extras to be had on this DVD.  However, there are two trailers for the film on the disc, one theatrical and one unrated.  Also, there are two trailers for Horizon films; They're Out of the Business and Modus Operandi.

Final Thoughts

Skip it.  Although this film is both disturbing and thought-provoking, I can't recommend watching it.  It's just too depressing, too overdone, and too much.  Yes, there are positives, but the negatives overwhelm them and make After Fall, Winter interesting yet dismissible.  The video quality was high, the audio quality low, and the extras unremarkable.  All in all, not an impressive movie.

✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ - Replay

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Movie Review - Safety Not Guaranteed

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson
Year: 2012

Mark Duplass is living the dream.  He and his brother Jay started out as independent filmmakers (Puffy Chair, Baghead).  And while most indie visionaries fizzle out, Duplass kept going.  He began acting in more major roles (Humpday, Greenberg) and starting creating more major films (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Cyrus).  And while you could accuse him of selling out to Hollywood, you can't accuse him of abandoning the offbeat humor and skewed viewpoint that made him interesting in the first place.  Safety Not Guaranteed is a perfect example of just that; it's a quirky original film, but it's sold it's soul to the devil, leaving it halfway between indie flick and box office bomb.

The story centers around Darius, a young women who has become completely lost in her own life since the death of her mother.  She is currently an intern at a local magazine, and when a wacky story falls into her lap she leaps at the chance to cover it.  In the form of a help wanted ad, a man named Kenneth has asked for a partner to go back in time with, bring your own weapons, safety not guaranteed.  As Darius and Kenneth become friends, they must decide if they can trust each other, how much of each of their back stories is true, and what will happen if the time machine turns out to be more than a hoax.

If nothing else, this movie deserves credit for originality.  It's a cooky premise, but the characters really sell it and keep you guessing the whole way through.  There is some great humor, a few really touching moments, and in general some good acting that supports a good movie.  And that's where it stops.  I can't point my finger at any one great thing.  Duplass was likable, Plaza was passable, and Johnson may have stolen the show as an asshole journalist, but nothing wonderful stands out.  And by the end the actors were in over their heads and the plot was fizzling out quickly.  Safety Not Guaranteed was a good movie, and an entertaining one.  But it fell just short of great.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Friday, March 22, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Kings of Summer

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias
Release: June 14th, 2013

This isn't a trailer.  It's barely even a teaser.  You can't just show a sixty second clip of nothing and tell us that critics love your movie.  Sure I'm intrigued, but it's not like this director is established and we should just trust his body of work.  You can't be unknown and try to tease us to see your film.  No one will see it, you'll still be unknown, and I will personally dislike you.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Movie Trailer - Girl Rising

Director: Richard Robbins
Starring: Cate Blanchett (voice), Anne Hathaway (voice)
Release: March 2013

I don't know why I'm on a documentary kick right now.  I don't even like them that much.  They annoy me because they are usually so selfish and overbearing.  If there is an issue that you strongly believe in and you want to make a film about it in order to educate the world, fine, good luck changing thousands of years of human behavior with a ninety minute movie.  It doesn't even matter if you have a strong message and a good point, you just can't expect magic from showing us some sad stories.  We see terrible things every day and we barely even flinch.  Documentary filmmakers may be trying to do some good, but they've got to know that they're failing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sports - Bracket Picks

So here are my tournament picks.  I would say let's remember the honor system and refrain from copying my bracket, but you know what, copy away, cause I have no clue this year.  I picked very conservatively, so there won't be any shockers, but I did pick quite a few upsets in early rounds and I resisted the urge to be a homer and choose Duke to go all the way.  Let the Tourney begin!


1 Louisville
vs                                1 Louisville
16 N.C. A&T
                                    vs                         1 Louisville
vs                                9 Mizzou
9 Mizzou
                                                                 vs                          1 Louisville
vs                                12 Oregon
12 Oregon
                                     vs                         4 StL
4 StL
vs                                4 StL
13 N.M. St.
                                                                                                vs                          1 Louisville
6 Memphis
vs                                6 Memphis
11 St. Mary's
                                    vs                         3 MSU
vs                                3 MSU
14 Valpo
                                                                 vs                          2 Duke
7 Creighton
vs                                7 Creighton
10 Cinci
                                    vs                         2 Duke
2 Duke
vs                                2 Duke
15 Albany


1 Gonzaga
vs                                1 Gonzaga
16 Southern
                                    vs                         1 Gonzaga
8 Pitt
vs                                8 Pitt
9 Wichita St.
                                                                 vs                          1 Gonzaga
5 Wisconson
vs                                12 Ole Miss
12 Ole Miss
                                     vs                         4 KSU
vs                                4 KSU
13 Boise/La Salle
                                                                                                vs                          1 Gonzaga
6 Arizona
vs                                11 Belmont
11 Belmont
                                    vs                         3 New Mexico
3 New Mexico
vs                                3 New Mexico
14 Harvard
                                                                 vs                          3 New Mexico
7 ND
vs                               10 Iowa St.
10 Iowa St.
                                    vs                         2 OSU
vs                                2 OSU
15 Iona


1 Kansas
vs                                1 Kansas
16 W. Kentucky
                                    vs                         1 Kansas
vs                                8 NC
9 Nova
                                                                 vs                          1 Kansas
vs                                5 VCU
12 Akron
                                     vs                         4 Michigan
4 Michigan
vs                                4 Michigan
13 S. Dakota St.
                                                                                                vs                          1 Kansas
vs                                11 Minnesota
11 Minnesota
                                    vs                         3 Florida
3 Florida
vs                                3 Florida
14 NW St.
                                                                 vs                          3 Florida
vs                                10 OU
10 OU
                                    vs                         2 Georgetown
2 Georgetown
vs                                2 Georgetown


1 Indiana
vs                                1 Indiana
                                    vs                         1 Indiana
8 N.C. St.
vs                                8 N.C. St.
9 Temple
                                                                vs                          1 Indiana
vs                                12 Cal
12 Cal
                                     vs                         4 Syracuse
4 Syracuse
vs                                4 Syracuse
13 Montana
                                                                                                vs                          2 Miami
6 Butler
vs                                6 Butler
11 Bucknell
                                    vs                         6 Butler
3 Marquette
vs                                3 Marquette
14 Davidson
                                                                 vs                          2 Miami
7 Illinois
vs                                10 Colorado
10 Colorado
                                    vs                         2 Miami
2 Miami
vs                                2 Miami
15 Pacific


1 Louisville
vs                         1 Louisville
1 Gonzaga
                             vs                       1 Louisville
1 Kansas
vs                         2 Miami
2 Miami

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movie Trailer - No Place on Earth

Director: Janet Tobias
Starring: Chris Nicola, Saul Sterner, Sonia Dodyk
Release: April 5th, 2013

Documentaries about the Holocaust are always tough to watch, but this one looks quite different.  It's told from an interesting point of view and seems to have some notes of happiness and hope.  Should be moving, educational, and original.  I'll definitely be checking it out.

Monday, March 18, 2013

DVD Review - Bath Salt Zombies

Director: Dustin Mills
Starring: Brandon Salkil, Josh Eal, Ethan Holey
Year: 2013

As far as I knew, bath salts were something I bought for my mom for Christmas.  They smell nice, they look like rock candy, and they are a cheap & easy present.  I heard about "bath salts" about a month ago from a friend who works on a college campus.  Apparently this new drug is making the rounds and is causing quite a stir.  It is a substituted cathinone, with effects similar to amphetamine or cocaine.  The interesting thing about "bath salts" is that they are small white crystals, look like epsom salts, and are often packaged and labeled "not for human consumption", which inhibits their legal prosecution.  Anyway, as Joe Friday would say, those are "just the facts".  Bath Salt Zombies is less about science and more about drugs making people want to eat other people.

The Movie

The story begins with two plot points that set the scene: 1) after a "salts" crackdown in the south the movement has traveled north and has found a new home in New York City, and 2) a government strain of top secret super drug has been compromised and has found its way to the streets.  The top dealer in the Salts Market is a group called the Dragons.  Highly organized and professional, they have created a monopoly on the drug and stand to make a huge profit.  However, independent dealer Bubbles hopes to get in on the action, as he and his partner have created a brand new strain of "salts" that is both highly profitable and highly addictive.

In the background is Agent Forster, a DEA officer who has made it his personal goal to stop the flow of "salts" into the city and to take down the Dragons, with or without a SWAT team.  As he pits himself against this elite crime syndicate, a surprise emerges; Bubbles and his partner have unknowingly created a mutated version of this hip drug that has killer side effects.  Ritchie, a local junkie, becomes an unwitting participant in this deadly game, and must learn to control his new urge before he becomes something that no one ever saw coming; a Bath Salt Zombie!

First of all, lets lay it all out there.  This is a movie about drugs that turn people into zombies that desire human flesh.  It has numerous bloody decapitation scenes, faces are frequently torn off, two different women get naked and then get violently murdered, and various body parts are constantly being ripped off, eaten, and/or flung about.  It is not a film for the faint of heart, it is not for children, and it is in very poor taste.  That said, it's a B-movie, what did you expect?  You either are or are not a fan of independent horror films that rely heavily on the gross-out factor in order to be even remotely successful.  Bath Salt Zombies is not World War Z or 28 Days Later.  It's more The Toxic Avenger or Halloween Night.  You've got to know what you're getting into if you want to have any chance of enjoying this very strange movie.

Now that we understand what we're dealing with, let's pick it apart.  The acting, for instance; it was not as awful as it could have been, but it wasn't Oscar-worthy either.  Salkil was appropriately disturbing and whacked-out as a mile high zombie flesh-eater.  Eal played the part of a karate-chopping cop well enough to be entertaining.  And the amateur drug dealers stole the show as two nerdy wannabees in over their heads.  The set and effects were passable, but obviously low budget; fake blood sprays, silly mutant drug addicts, and what I can only guess were rooms in the director's actual house.  But, again, it's hard to judge the film too harshly because it never aspired to be Brokeback Mountain.  It was what it was, and what else can you expect when you probably asked your friends to be in your movie and you probably all got stoned right before shooting.

All that said, it wasn't horrible.  I'm not saying it was great, but I watched the whole thing, I laughed a little, and I moderately enjoyed myself.  But then again, I like zombie movies, I like campy horror flicks, and I don't mind a little gratuitous sex & violence.  This actually wasn't Mills' first project, and you could tell; it was as professional as a trippy slasher movie can be.  It was well made for it's budget and was fun while it lasted.  I mean, it was short, which was probably a great idea, because I'm not sure how much more face-eating I could have watched, but it was good enough to not turn off.  And I actually liked the fact that they referenced "salts" correctly, up to a certain point.  It added a small amount of relevancy to what otherwise was a ridiculous plot.  I'm not saying that the majority of people will fall in love with Bath Salt Zombies, but it wasn't as awful as it appears at first glance.


Video - Shot in 16:9 HD, the picture wasn't a distraction, but it wasn't amazing either.  Like I said, it was decidedly low budget, but did fairly well within those restrictions.  There's no need to watch this on Hi-Def equipment; you won't see anything special.

Audio - There are zero sound options with this DVD.  No language selection, no stereo choices, and no subtitles.  And the mixing during the film was quite bad; the voices were turned too far down and the music was turned way too far up.  That said, there was an interesting soundtrack of punk/rock songs, if you're a fan.

Extras - Again, almost no options here.  You do get an extremely odd cartoon at the beginning of the movie featuring a slacker kid who makes a deal with the devil and then attempts to eat his own mother.  So there's that.  Otherwise, your extras are a trailer for the film and a commentary version with Mills and Salkil, where they explain their reasoning behind various parts of the film.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Bath Salt Zombies is like a B-movie from hell, but one that somehow comes across as funny and watchable, if barely.  Don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed, but check it out if you're a fan of zombies/slashers/horror.  The video is fine but not wonderful, the audio is poor, and the extras are almost nonexistent, so don't spend top dollar on this DVD, as it's nothing to write home about.  Just watch, enjoy, try to accept it, and you might have a good time.

✰ ✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ - Replay

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sports - The Feisty Foxes

So last night was my fantasy baseball draft.  I'm a part of my wife's sister's league, the Gold Hitters.  It's basically my wife's family, it's a 14 team league now, and it's a lot of fun.  I started in 2009, and although I've always liked baseball (and especially the Cardinals) it was then that I began to learn the game and its players.  I didn't do so hot the first year, but I've been improving:
  • 2009 - 10th of 12
  • 2010 - 4th of 12
  • 2011 - 5th of 12
  • 2012 - 3rd of 14
But it's the playoffs that always get me.  My guys are hurt, they go cold, or I'm just not prepared, because I always lose when it counts.  This year I hope to keep moving up and soon win the Championship.  Anyway, here's my team this year.  I drafted last, but then I got two picks in a row, so it wasn't too bad.
  • Ca - A.J. Pierzynski (CWS)
  • 1B - Billy Butler (KC)
  • 2B - Brandon Phillips (Cin)
  • 3B - David Freese (StL)
  • SS - Troy Tulowitzki (Col)
  • LF - Jason Kubel (Ari)
  • CF - Jon Jay (StL)
  • RF - Andre Ethier (LAD)
  • Uti - Michael Young (Phi)
  • SP - Justin Verlander (Det)
  • SP - Zack Greinke (LAD)
  • SP - Jordan Zimmerman (Was)
  • SP - Ian Kennedy (Ari)
  • SP - Hiroki Kuroda (NYY)
  • RP - Craig Kimbrel (Atl)
  • RP - Steve Cishek (Mia)
  • BN - Carlos Ruiz (Ca, Phi)
  • BN - Colby Rasmus (CF, Tor)
  • BN - Brandon Moss (1B, LF, RF, Oak)
  • BN - Jeremy Hellickson (SP, TB)
  • BN - Wade Miley (SP, Ari)
Usually I pick power hitters early (1B or 3B), but this year I tried to pick middle infielders and pitchers early, and then fill in the rest with second tier guys that are still powerful.  We'll see if it works.  My pitching is strong, I just need guys to produce home runs.  Hopefully Tulowitzki is back to form this year, and Kubel's power last year wasn't a fluke.  I feel like I got a lot of good players cheap, like Ethier, Jay, and Moss, but again, we'll see.  Should be a great season!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Movie Review - Manhattan

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep
Year: 1979

Woody Allen is a polarizing figure; you either love him or you hate him.  His films are extremely self-centered, always about tangled neurotic love, stuffed with Jew jokes, usually set in New York, full of harsh sexual humor, and often consist of him speaking very quickly for about ninety minutes.  However, he must be doing something right, as so many of his movies are considered film and cult classics: Annie Hall, Deconstructing Harry, Hollywood Ending, Midnight in Paris.  He does a lot right for a lot of people and nothing right for a few.  As for me, I'm a fan, and I have never seen a better Woody Allen film than Manhattan.

Taking place in, you guessed it, New York City, the story is exactly what you would expect; an aging Jewish man, Isaac, living in Manhattan, twice divorced, dating a high schooler, writing novels and for television, walking around in a self-loathing fog.  That is, until he meets Mary.  She is everything that annoys him and makes him anxious; confident, intellectual, beautiful, talkative, neurotic.  And as he begins to fall in love with her, he can picture himself having a happy future for the first time.  This love story is as beautiful and dysfunctional as NYC itself, enveloping many lives and breaking many hearts.

I knew going into it that I would like Manhattan because it's classic Woody Allen.  I knew I would like the New York vibe, the quick wit, and the comedic anxiety.  But I didn't know that Woody Allen as a director would shine so brightly in this film.  Scene after scene was perfectly shot, creating a cinematic masterpiece that should be shown in every Film 101 class in the nation.  Set all in black & white, there was a mood and a feeling that permeated the story, and allowed for some great acting against a wonderful backdrop.  The movie was quick, engaging, hilarious, and set a high standard for romantic comedies that has only ever been matched by When Harry Met Sally.  If you love film you have got to see Manhattan; it defines the term.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thought - Precise Play

I have always been nervous around large groups of people.  I know that no one likes crowds (packed theatres, a busy zoo, frantic grocery stores), and that we all have different ways to deal with this anxiety.  Me, I refuse to go, and if I truly must put myself in those situations then I try my best, but if I start to feel overwhelmed I just shut down.  I go inside myself and tune out the chaos and noise around me.  That's how I've always dealt with my own neurosis and I get along quite nicely.

When I became a parent it quickly became ...apparent ...that I would have to put myself in situations that might make me uncomfortable.  Crowded libraries, age-diverse playgrounds, museums; I want my kids to visit and enjoy these place even though they make me feel acutely crazy.  Thankfully, my wife loves to take the kids to festivals and the like, so I'm not put in these situations all the time, and when I am I can deal with it.

But a new problem has arisen, and it's very troubling; the places that we want to investigate and enjoy are not only crowded, but actually seem to promote the things that make me nervous and inhibit the play of my children.  These places are noisy, busy, physical, messy, unsupervised, and surprisingly noneducational.  When I take my daughter to a science museum I expect to learn, play, explore, talk; basically have a nice quite time and leave having experienced science.  I don't expect to need to protect her from obtuse 8-year-olds, yell to be heard, pick up after others, and leave feeling like I've just been bashed over the head with sounds & colors.

At what point did education become over stimulation?  Why is there no place to play in a precise manner other than my own living room?  My daughter wants to learn and I want to teach her.  But other people get in the way of that goal and ruin enjoyable experiences.  Perhaps it's not the museum/playground/library's fault, but more of a cultural problem.  Is that the only way to entertain today's children, to let them run, scream, throw, and destroy?  I'd like to think not.  I'd like to think that other parents feel as I do; that it would be nice to find a quite place to sit down, learn, and leave feeling relaxed.  Does that place exist?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Movie Trailer - Frances Ha

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner
Release: May 17th, 2013

This trailer confuses me a little.  On one hand, I like Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Greenberg); he works with Wes Anderson and has that quirky New York vibe.  On the other hand, I'm not sure how well I'll relate to the story of two female best friends trying to make it in the big city & following their dreams.  I just don't know.  Rental?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sports - NFL Free Agency Update

With Free Agency starting yesterday we have a lot of new homes for a lot of impact players.  And of course, there are a ton of key guys still out there to be signed.  Let's take a look at what has gone down in the last week and how the teams & players are faring in Free Agency.

  • Mike Wallace (WR) - The talented receiver has left chilly Pittsburgh for the warm beaches of Miami.  So the Dolphins have a great receiver now, but who's gonna throw to him, Ryan Tannehill?  I just don't have much faith in that guy.
  • Tony Gonzelez (TE) - The Falcons will have a services for one more year, as he announced that he's not retiring after all.  I think this is a good move for both team and player, as Tony still has a ton left and Atlanta is very close to a Super Bowl.
  • Anquan Boldin (WR) - In a surprise move the Ravens traded Boldin to the Niners for basically nothing.  SF has got to be very excited; he's an impact player and a guy who always comes up big when it matter.  I understand why Baltimore did it, but tough loss.
  • Percy Harvin (WR) - Another marquee receiver to get traded was Harvin, from Minnesota to Seattle.  Russell Wilson has got to be very happy with this deal, as Harvin has speed and explosive ability, but like Wilson himself.
Miami - The Dolphins are making waves, adding Wallace (WR), Ellerbe (LB), and Wheeler (LB).

Buffalo - There's a change of guard as the Bills lose Fitzpatrick (QB), Levitre (OG), Wilson (S), Barnett (LB), McGee (CB), and Merriman (LB).

Baltimore - The Ravens may lose their entire team; Boldin (WR), Lewis (LB), Ellerbe (LB), Kruger (DE), Birk (C), Pollard (S), and Williams (OG).

Cleveland - Helping their D by adding Kruger (DE) and Groves (LB).

Tennessee - Quietly adding nice players; Levitre (OG), Wilson (S), and Walker (TE).

Kansas City - Making big moves with new players Smith (QB), Robinson (CB), DeVito (DT), Avery (WR), and Fasano (TE).

Philadelphia - Changes is Philly, adding Chung (S), Casey (TE), and Sopoaga (DT).  Losing Asomugha (CB), Jenkins (DT), and Dunlap (OT).

Green Bay - Losing a lot of veteran; Walden (LB), Woodson (S), Saturday (C), and Driver (WR).

Arizona - Dropping a lot of pieces; Groves (LB), Gay (CB), Bradley (LB), Doucet (WR), Wells (RB), and Wilson (S).

There are a lot of big name guys still out there to be sorted through and signed; Avril (DE), Jennings (WR), Reed (S), Long (OT), Quin (S), Welker (WR), Amendola (WR), Bush (RB), Jackson (RB), and Mendenhall (RB).  Look for this weekend to be a big signing period, with some contracts being signed in the next few days.  The NFL season is one step closer!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Big Wedding

Director: Justin Zackham
Starring: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Robin Williams, Ben Barnes
Release: April 26th, 2013

This many big names together in one film that isn't a four hour epic always frightens me.  And then I saw the trailer and I was truly afraid.  I would say, "Why do they keep making these horrible romantic comedies" but I already know the answer; because your average person isn't very smart and will pay money to watch them.  Sure, everyone has guilty pleasures and some people watch movies for entertainment or escape, but find your happy place somewhere else.  Make the world a better place; stop supporting Katherine Heigl.

Monday, March 11, 2013

DVD Review - 28 Hotel Rooms

Director: Matt Ross
Starring: Chris Messina, Marin Ireland
Year: 2012

It starts with sex.  And while, yes, it then follows up with more sex, that's not what it's about.  The beginning of a film can be both deceptive and revealing, and the beginning of 28 Hotel Rooms is no different.  When the first scene of a movie opens and the title appears, we start to form opinions and expectations; we do this with every movie we watch.  But they can change, these ideas, they are forced to change as the movie itself changes.  And that is why we keep watching; to see if our assumptions pan out or if we get to be surprised.

The Movie

The beginning of the film is the beginning of a relationship; sex, laughter, sharing, uncertainty.  And as the two unnamed characters get to know each other, we start to know them too.  The man, a writer from New York, has a girlfriend, but travels alone promoting his new book.  The woman, an analyst, is married but leaves her husband at home to work all across the country.  The two begin an affair that spans, you guessed it, twenty-eight hotel rooms.  Their relationship starts out based on physical attraction, desire, and loneliness, but quickly turns into much more.

As what started out as a few trysts becomes a relationship, life gets complicated.  The closer the two become the harder it is to let go, the harder it is to be away.  And when they're away, when they are participating in their every day lives, there is always the knowledge that waiting in the next hotel room is a person who turns them on, who understands them, and who is everything they want in life but are too afraid to take.

It's safe to say I was surprised by this film, even though it was relatively what I thought it would be.  When I first heard about it, it sounded decent but not special.  Ok, so two people meet up in hotel rooms, cheat on their significant others, and become closer than they thought they would.  And while that is exactly what happened, I reiterate that it's not what the film is about.  Decide for yourself what the true meaning is, but you'll get more out of watching 28 Hotel Rooms than a cheap ploy.  You'll get passion, sensuality, pain, heartbreak, love, intimacy; basically everything that a relationship brings to you in real life.  All in all, the film is a summary of love; eighty-two minutes of life put on film.

Perhaps what surprised me most was the acting.  Every line but one was spoken by the two main characters.  So, obviously, they had better be able to carry a film with no help, and they did.  Messina, who you might recognize from a dozen projects but might never be able to put your finger on, was excellent as a goofy, angry, idealistic writer who wants love above all things.  Ireland, who has been around but hasn't done anything big, was solid as a structured, success-driven, closed-off young professional who takes what she wants and pays the price later.  Both actors did what it took to pull off an adult and modern version of what amounts to a classic love story.

Speaking of adult, this film is not for everyone.  Both characters are shown nude, having sex, screaming obscenities, and leading lives that are not morally exemplary.  However, putting those themes aside, the film is one that can speak to anyone.  It has global appeal, as it is about what we all desire; love, companionship, and the feeling that we are wanted.  28 Hotel Rooms is a deceptively poignant film that somehow is not typical, despite being simple and universal.  It is anything but lighthearted, and it may not be for the fragile or frigid, but give it a chance and it might surprise you.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the video quality was good, but it doesn't catch your eye.  For one thing, all of the camera work takes place inside hotels, often with sunlight purposefully glinting off the camera, or else in the semi-darkness, as the couple is in bed quite often.  But even without being used to its full potential, the quality is high.

Audio - All options here are in English, with the choices being between Stereo, 5.1, and subtitles for the hearing impaired.  As with the video, various hotel rooms are not ideal for showing off Hi-Fi sound.  Only two characters speak, there is almost zero action, and the music that is present is either playing softly in the background or else creating a haunting mood.
Extras - The features here are minimal, which is surprising given the very attractive Oscilloscope DVD case, which is big, paper, and has an insert that folds out to reveal various screenshots.  However, don't go searching through the folds looking for a bonus disc, because you won't find one.  All that the unusually large case holds is a single DVD, which has about as many extras as the box.  There is no commentary and no "making of" sections.  What you get are some interesting deleted scenes, including an alternate beginning and an alternate ending.  There is also an interview with director Matt Ross during the Sundance Film Festival that is intriguing, especially his ideas concerning improvisation and organic cinema.  And lastly, you can watch the original theatrical trailer, and also four more Oscilloscope trailers including Monogamy, Bellflower, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Four Lovers.

Final Thoughts

Recommended28 Hotel Rooms is a surprisingly touching film that, although flying underneath the big budget radar, is worth watching.  It is sexy, deep, sad, and darkly real.  The fluidity of the acting and natural feeling of the movie are worth seeing.  The audio/video elements are all that you need, but won't blow you away.  The extras are interesting, but the DVD itself won't be the crown jewel of your collection.  All in all, a solid and intriguing film that could find a place in the hearts of a surprisingly large number of audiences.

✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Replay