Friday, January 10, 2014

PLAYOFFS!

Two years ago, I was Vegas-bound for my little brother's bachelor party, which just also happened to be the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs (aka, the conference semi-finals).

Well, it's that time of year again: the best weekend in professional football.  Three of these four games have #Revenge angles to them so this should be one helluva fun ride. Here are my picks.


New Orleans Saints (11-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (13-3) (-7.5) -- 4:35 pm -- FOX

Rain is predicted for Seattle (shocking, I know). That obviously hurts Drew Brees and the Saints. The Saints are a home team, plain and simple. I was a little surprised that defeating the Eagles in the Wild Card game (despite being in Philly) came down to the last drive and a late FG. I thought the Saints would take care of business, no problem. The Eagles defense, though improved at season's end, is nowhere near that of the Seahawks. That troubles me for their changes in this game.

The Saints might have revenge on their mind after getting throttled here in-season but I just don't see it. Rain, stifling D, #BeastMode, 12th Man and all that crap. Seattle laying the points is the play. They'll definitely win and I think cover.

Speaking of #BeastMode, it has been a little bit more than three years since he busted out, to these Saints even:


Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ New England Patriots (12-4) (-7) -- 8:15 pm -- CBS

God would I love for Andrew Luck and the Colts to go into Foxboro and send Tom Terrific and the Greatriots packing but I simply don't think the Colts have enough playmakers on offense or that its defense can keep up. This should also be an interesting test for Chuck Pagano and the Colts coaching staff going up against Belichick. Personally, I look for Pagano to get thoroughly out-coached. He might be able to beat cancer but I don't see him beating Grumbles McGee.

There will be hoodies and grumbles
All of that said, Luck was simply ridiculous in the second half last week against KC and he's tough to bet against so I won't. Taking the Colts and the points and hoping they can keep up, drive-for-drive long enough to cover but the Pats will win the game.

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) (-1.5) @ Carolina Panthers (12-4) -- 1:05 pm -- FOX

This is shaping up to be the closest looking game in the sports media world. SF lost at home to the Panthers 10-9 earlier in the season but were decidedly not at full strength on offense. Michael Crabtree is back and he has been playing out of his mind. I still struggle with Colin Kaepernick, however. Before smacking the Packers upside the head with that late 40+ yard run, he really was not playing all that spectacularly last week.

My issues with Kaep are minor compared to my issues with Carolina. I think their vaunted defense is a tad overrated and that Ron Rivera, while maybe a defensive guru, is a dunce as a head coach. I fully anticipate Jim Harbaugh to gameplan the shit out of Rivera. Harbaugh might be a complete fucking maniac but as a Michigan Man AND former Bear, he's my kind of maniac.


Also not sold on Cam in high pressure NFL games and, most importantly, simply don't think they have enough weapons to do real damage to the Niners. All in all, Lurch Papa should be happy Monday morning. 49ers are the pick despite the whole West-Coast-to-East-Coast stuff and make it to their third straight NFC Championship game in Harbaugh's first three seasons. Impressive stuff if it happens.

San Diego Chargers (9-7) @ Denver Broncos (13-3) (-9.5) -- 4:40 pm -- CBS

Ah yes, The Battle of the FACES.

This:


 vs.

This:


To me, this is the most intriguing game AND betting line. Considering San Diego beat the Broncos in Denver only a month ago, 9.5 seems like an awful lot to lay here. Nevertheless there's too much pressure on Pey-Pey for him NOT to win this game. Wes Welker is also back and healthy, leading me to believe that Denver will put at least 45 points. As well as Marmalard has been playing this year I don't think there's quite enough firepower on the San Diego side to keep up.

 **********

Enjoy the games, everybody. A little Yes and Please! to send us to the weekend. In honor of SI's Swimsuit Issue coming out next month, I'll just steal today's featured model of the day from CNNSI.com, Emily DiDonato:








Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from TGS!

"Let's just say that on this day, a million years ago, a dude was born who most of us think was magic, but others don't and that's cool. But we're probably right. Amen."


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Movies! The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The season's second big franchise sequel is Peter Jackson's second chapter in his Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, aka The Hobbit 2.

Interestingly enough, after last year's marketing push for the high frame rate ("HFR") version, nary a peep was made about it this year. In fact, while still released in standard 2D, regular 3D and 3D HFR, the latter was not even screened for critics.

Also, like all of Jackson's movies (especially Tolkien-related ones), at two hours, forty minutes you certainly get your money's worth. Whether the film could have used a little more generosity with the editor's scissors, I'll leave that for you to decide (my take: a little bit).

As with Catching Fire (see below), the second installment far exceeds the first (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), so let's get to it, shall we?



CAUTION: SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW!!!!!

As the movie opens, it's one year after the events of Part 1 and Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the rest of the Dwarf party are still on their journey to get to Erebor/The Lonely Mountain, all while being hunted by the terrifying white orc, Azgog The Defiler.

Hey there handsome!
As they're on the run, Gandalf decides to take them to the land of the Wood Elves, who are led by Thranduil (Legolas' father). However, before leading them into the forest he discovers some Black Speech graffiti and, after some telepathic communication with Galadriel,  decides to leave the group to find out, once and for all, what the deal is with the so-called Necromancer , but not before instructing the group to stay on the path No. Matter. What.

And, despite such warning, the party predictably gets trapped within the forest, only to be saved by some of the Elves who are out hunting giant spiders. Apparently giant spiders have been setting up shop in the forest with increasing frequency, all part of the growing darkness in Middle Earth.

Anyway, Legolas and his love interest, Kate Austen-Elf, take the group to Thranduil. He offers Thorin a deal, which, being a dick with a long memory of how the Elves didn't help when Smaug first came calling, Thorin rejects, leaving them all in prison (sans Bilbo who has been wearing the Ring far too much). But despite needing the deal, I don't entirely blame Thorin. Thranduil is a big prick too.
Oh, Kate. Even as an Elf you'll always be Yes and Please! to me
Invisible Bilbo helps the Dwarves to escape, through the basement, each Dwarf in a barrel floating down the nearby river. Azgog and his boys just happen to show up at the same time (I also doubt these Orcs would just take on the Wood Elves so willy-nilly, at least at this point where Sauron is nowhere near full strength) while the Elves also realize of the escape. This sets off a gigantic, and extremely well-done set piece of the barrels going down the river, with the Elves AND Orcs in pursuit, also fighting each other.

At the end, Bilbo, Thorin and the other escape, Azgog is called back to Dul Galdor and Kate refuses to return home, choosing instead to follow the dwarves and help them on their quest.

Gandalf, meanwhile, has made way to the tombs and/or cells of the Nazgul, only to find them emptied. He finds this...troubling to say the least and orders Radagast to take this news to Gandriel while he goes to Dol Goldor to investigate further. This leads to a very cool scene that finds Gandalf seeking to lift the concealment spells cast around the abandoned castle and leads him coming face-to-face with the Necromancer who he learns (and we all know) is, in fact, SAURON! They battle. Gandalf loses and ends up imprisoned in a cage that gives him full view of Sauron's Orc armies leaving Dul Galdor to do God knows what.

While this is going on, the Dwarf party meets a resident of Lake Town, The Bard, who they pay to smuggle them in. While there, they get discovered but promise to share in the wealth of the Mountain when they get there and defeat the dragon (they likely think Smaug is dead anyway), leading the townspeople to embrace them and their cause.

Long story short, they make it to the mountain. After believing the myth was false, they find a way in anyway.  Bilbo confronts Smaug in the best scenes in the film. Simply put, Smaug is INCREDIBLE. One of the best totally CGI creatures EVER.


This all leads to a battle of the Dwarves vs. Smaug, that ends with Smaug flying his way to lay waste to Lake Town while Bilbo can only lament "What have we done?"

-FIN-

FINAL GRADE: A

Randomness:
  • Love Bilbo's continued usage of the Ring. Really cool that he can understand the spiders when he has it on. Is Bilbo's Ring usage giving Sauron strength?
  • Cheers for Martin Freeman who really has Bilbo nailed. So many subtle facial expressions and mannerisms. Great stuff.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch continues his banner year in entertainment, ably voicing both Smaug and Sauron.
  • The Dwarves outside of Thorin, by and large, remain indistinguishable blob to me.
  • Peter Jackson needs a heavier hand in the editing room. The little side trip with the Bear-Man Boern seemed especially unnecessary, as did most of the Lake Town scenes.
  • Surprisingly did not hate the additions of Legolas and Kate that Jackson created solely for the film. Although, Legolas does seem to an even more capable warrior here than he does in the later LOTR trilogy.
  • What will we do when Ian McKellen is gone? Between Gandalf and Magneto, he's brought two of Nerd-dom's most important characters vividly to life.
  • The RedLetterMedia guys have a typically humorous, Half in the Bage review here.

Movies! The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

'Tis the Season for Christmas blockbusters and Oscar bait which, for the former category, typically means SEQUELS!

Catching Fire is the second installment of franchise based on Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy (the final installment -- "Mockingjay" -- will be broken into two separate movies, naturally).

I had to look back to see if I had reviewed Part I but alas, I had not. While I enjoyed Part I, Catching Fire is several degrees better. Whereas Part I does a sufficient job of making the possibility of getting chosen for The Games during The Reaping sufficiently terrifying (not to mention Katniss' home District sufficiently bleak), we never got a sense of the Capitol's brutality (aside from, of course, children murdering each other in The Games).

Not so in this one.  Here, the Capitol's fascism is really, REALLY ramped up and the movie is better for it, as the stakes are made clearer, and the coming "revolution" much, much more plausible.  Anyway, on to the plot...

CAUTION: Spoilers May Follow!

We're nearing on the one year anniversary of Katniss and Peta's "victory" in the last Games. For those who don't recall, there are NOT supposed to be two winners but Katniss' quick thinking kind of boxed the powers-that-be into a corner last year such that the she and her "lover" both had to be spared. Of course, their "romance" was always a sham -- a way to endear themselves to the mob. But they're now about to go on tour to all the Districts in advance of this year's Games and have to look the part again.

Anyway, by breaking "the rules" Katniss has become a symbol of hope of sorts to the masses, meaning that she is a threat to the regime and must be crushed.  Thus it is that the President Snow, Donald Sutherland, pays her visit just before she leaves on her tour and threatens her to continue to convince the masses that she and Peeta are madly in love or her family and her District will suffer the consequences.

The tour of the Districts begins, with Woody Harrelson's Haymitch (drunk as always) and Elizabeth Banks' Effie in tow. Each stop in each District requires remembrances of the District's tributes (who, remember, were MURDERED in the Games). These events go better in some Districts than others. Inevitably, in the Districts with higher allegiance to the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta are rock stars. In those that are a little less enamored with dictatorship (and which are under heavy military occupation, something we really only caught small glimpses of in the first movie), the reception is considerably frostier. Nevertheless, Katniss and Peeta continue to play their parts, even going so far as to announce their "engagement" in advance of their final stop in the Capitol. President Snow, however, remains unconvinced.

The new Games Master (the former one having been, err, uhh, "dispatched" for the disastrous ending from the last games) is Plutarch Heavensbee, played masterfully by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He recognizes the corrupt decadence of the Capitol (he tells Katniss that the party in her honor at the Presidential Palace is "obscene") but claims he is driven by ambition to climb the ladder. He commiserates with President Snow about what to do about Katniss. His grand scheme is to "make her one of us" (i.e., a decadent Capitol-ist - see what I did there?) in the eyes of the rest of the population, while at the same time crushing the throats of the Districts ever harder with the stormtroopers' jackboots.

This all seems to be working to fine effect until Katniss' hometown boyfriend (ah yes, I forgot to update you all on the supposed "love triangle") is about to be killed, which is stopped by a combination of Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch. Snow, watching on CCTV, decides that Katniss isn't the only problem but rather that ALL of the Games' winners likely think they are invincible and thus all must be destroyed. Thus, in announcing the 75th Games, he announces the Big Twist. The Reaping will be from the pool of past winners.  Of course, for District 12, this means that Katniss will 100% be the female tribute while either Peeta or Haymitch the male tribute (guess which one!).

Back to the Capitol for all the pre-Games hype, training, etc. It's all very, very well done. The CGI on the training and the Games are stepped up a notch. The public contempt the players demonstrate in their interviews is pretty cool and must be quite surprising to the citizens of the Capitol. And it all ends in a cliffhanger that sets up the final installments quite nicely.

FINAL GRADE: A

Randomness:
Yes and Please!
  • Jennifer Lawrence, as always, kills it. Can't wait to see her in a completely different role (yet again) in American Hustle.
  • Nearly role remains perfectly cast. Even Stanley Tucci's (back as Caesar and as great as ever) sidekick who has all of one or two lines is played by Toby Jones, who is not a nobody.
  • Other highlights: Jeffrey Wright, who is excellent in everything and Jena Malone as former winners brought back. Woody Harrelson's reaction to Snow's announcement of that the new tributes will be reaped from the winners is also excellent.
  • Even Elizabeth Banks' Effie demonstrates some real empathy and, frankly, embarrassment, at what Katniss and the other winners have to go through at the hands of the Capitol. It was a nice touch when she basically apologized to Katniss without saying anything (and that she is seemingly ultimately in on the revolt plan).
  • Most of the players don't die at each others' hands. Instead, there are numerous obstacles built into the game such as poison gas, killer baboons, floodings, etc. I don't know about you, but if I were a viewer at home (again, no scenes showing any citizens actually watching this stuff), I'd be PISSED if that's how most of them died. I would want the hand-to-hand combat and all the MURDERING!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Random Crap for a Friday in December: MOVIES!

I've seen two new ones in theaters, two on Blu-Ray:


Forest Gump outsmarts a bunch of Skinnies. What's not to like? But seriously, the movie, based on a true story of one man's struggle to save his crew from Somali pirates was entertaining enough, if not a little long at the end.

Hanks' acting is great, as is that of non-actor Barkhad Abdi, playing Muse, the head of this particular pirate crew.

Overall well done. Standard Paul Greengrass style. Like I said, a bit on the long side and it starts to drag a bit once the action moves from the container ship to the lifeboat. You'll also leave wishing the Navy SEALs did more badass stuff.

As one can expect, no Yes and Please entries in this film.

Grade: Solid B.  Likely will not buy on Blu-Ray.


aka Thor 2

Despite the success of Iron Man, Marvel's GIANT Avengers gamble started with the introduction of Thor. The first movie was a commercial success and, with Kenneth Branagh's direction, even somewhat accepted as a critical success (77% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Despite this, I'd say expectations were on the low side for this sequel. The initial trailers were, how you say, "underwhelming". People were also questioning how much could really be done with the character outside of The Avengers framework.

Well, suffice it to say, from TGS's perspective, the sequel was also a success. In fact, my regular movie buddy and I both thought this was better than the original.

With Tom Hiddleston's Loki getting the lead villain role in The Avengers, and despite his role as the bad guy in the original, he takes on an even larger role here and I don't think I'm alone in saying that more of Loki can never be a bad thing. The action set pieces are much grander in scope than in the original, with very well done f/x.

What I liked best was that the bad guys in the movie - some weird alien things - actually invade and fuck the shit out of Aasgard. Considering the Aasgardians are supposed to be Gods, even to the other non-Earth dimensions, it was pretty cool to see them get Pearl Harbor'd in this movie as they did.

Grade: B+ and, being the nerd that I am, I will own on Blu when it comes out.

Yes and Please Factor: Natalie Portman with honorable mention (but not full status) to Kat Denning's Boobs.


Red
(Blu)

Don't know why it had taken me so long to finally see this but oh well, I did. Eh, it's okay. Kind of entertaining. The best part is probably Karl Urban playing a bit out of character as the kind-of bad guy. I do know it wasn't good enough to make me need to see the sequel so there's some time saved!

Grade: C+

Yes and Please Factor: Mary-Louise Parker

 
I loved you in The West Wing!

Spring Breakers
(on Blu)

I was a bit tipsy when I attempted to watch this and I don't think I even made it a full thirty minutes. Seriously have no idea what this movie is or why it was made. The only reason it was tempting in the first place is because it advertised to be four young, hot sillies prancing around in bikinis the whole time. On that score, it delivered as promised but that premise is a lot less interesting than I anticipated.

One positive note, this song did feature prominently and it is awesome.


Grade: Incomplete.  Can't say I'd be likely to go any higher than a C-minus (like D) if I saw the whole thing.  And it would only be that high because of boobs.

Yes and Please Factor: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson half naked? About as Yes and Please as you can get.