July 28, 2010

Movie Review #42 Salt


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Salt (2010) Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber Directed by Phillip Noyce

Director Phillip Noyce really likes spies and the CIA. He directed Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, and The Saint (which was awful). Sticking true to his form he comes to us in 2010 with yet another spy/CIA flick called Salt. Originally this film was to star Tom Cruise as the maybe Russian spy who the CIA can’t catch up to and honestly I don’t know how that would’ve worked. I actually think the dynamic that Angelina Jolie brings to the movie is one that is vital for the film (meaning yet again if you don’t buy into her…you may not like the film). The plot is quite simple and as the action grows the stakes in the plot grow (probably a bit too much actually), but the simplicity in the “Who is Evelyn Salt” tagline really makes for an interesting first 20 minutes. The movie is a good summer ride that won’t keep you guessing (with many predictable plot turns), but keeps you entertained the whole way through. I think since Jolie and Cruise were both linked to this film it is fitting that I am having a hard time deciding which film (Salt or Knight & Day) is the best action movie thus far of the summer).

Salt is the story of CIA officer Evelyn Salt (the always good in kick-ass action roles, Angelina Jolie) who is implicated in a plot to kill the Russian President. She claims she is innocent and flees the scene in order to save her husband from harm. On the hunt for the now rogue agent is Ted Winter (played well by the always good Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (played fine by Chiwetal Ejiofor)…though it is really unclear what the specific jobs of theses guys are (as is often the case in these types of movies…anybody find out what Jessica Biel’s job title was in the A-Team yet?). The action is fierce and it starts out hot and fast and really never lets up, the only problem I found with that, was that in order to keep up that pace some storylines had to be sped up and probably not explained or built up properly…but no harm no foul I get that the “Bourne-like” pace was a key element to the film. I really liked the movie and it was nice to see Jolie in something other than a “Grocery Store” gossip magazine (isn’t that story like a decade old now?), she really oozes strong take charge woman and can pull these roles off well. I highly recommend Salt. As it stands it is the top summer action flick narrowly beating out Knight & Day which was also a fun popcorn movie.

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Ok so there is one scene in the film where Jolie has to dress up in disguise as a guy and it’s really disturbing, but other than that part she really is a vision on-screen and carries this film admirably…good for a strong 6.5 on the scale.

Food For Thought: What’s next for Jolie…what else perhaps the role she was born to play…Cleopatra, out next year. She also has an interesting film co-starring Johnny Depp called The Tourist (which is getting good buzz) out later this year. Up next for Liev Schreiber is also interesting…the yet to be titled film coming out later this year is a huge ensemble film comprised of short stories by different directors who include Brett Ratner, Bob Odenkirk, and Elizabeth Banks…hmm we will see how that works.

July 25, 2010

DVD Review #44 Green Zone


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Green Zone (2010) Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear Directed by Paul Greengrass

Michael Moore was probably right to say that this film was “Stupidly marketed as an action flick” and that it was “the most honest film about the Iraq war he has seen”. Green Zone really moonlights as an action flick while being much more effective as a cautionary tale about CIA wars. It also happens to be based on a lot of facts (based on both Iraq war vet Anthony Gonzalez and the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City) and though this particular story is fiction it’s not far from many truths that are generally accepted by most officials about the Iraq War and its WMD wild goose chase.

Green Zone is the story of Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (strongly played by Matt Damon) who is working to find WMD’s in Iraq now that Baghdad has fallen. The problem is that every time he puts his men in harms way to clear a site, the INTEL seems to be bad and there are no weapons (you couldn’t make up a story like this). After getting fed up with bad Intel Miller decides to “go rogue” and teams up with a savvy and “old school” CIA agent (played by Martin Brown and done well) that leads him in the right direction. The action in the film is actually really well done and the writing is very solid. I think I wanted a bit more from the storytelling aspect of the film, but in order to walk the line as this film attempts to walk between Action and message, I think they oversimplify and speed the time-frame up a bit too much. I forgive it for that because I certainly agree with the message and don’t turn a blind eye to the reasons we were sold on this war in real life. It does a good job at selling its message and entertaining, so for me it worked well. Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs, and Khalid Abdalla all do a fine job in there respective supporting roles. Look (at the risk of offending people this is the only clear way I can put this) if you’ve turned a blind eye to the reasons we went into Iraq and are fine with the case the Bush Administration made for going to war then you won’t like this film, for the rest of us logical people, Green Zone is a very good movie.

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Green Zone didn’t score that big at the Box Office but it will score well here on my Scale, a very good and fast paced film that is meant to remind us to take a second look at what media and politicians are feeding us…a strong 7.0 on the scale.

July 19, 2010

Movie Review #41 Inception


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Inception (2010) Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt Directed by Chris Nolan

He has impressed us with Memento (2000), tricked us with The Prestige (2006), and entertained us with both Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark knight (2008), so what does Chris Nolan have in his “Utility Belt” for us in 2010…well only the best film of the summer and perhaps the year. Nolan delivers big in a film that takes you on a wild ride through the dream world. It challenges all your senses with its crisp and beautiful special effects and pokes at your psyche with its wild metaphoric story that will often confuse you, but surely always entertain you. I have waited all year to see a film that comes even close to some of the great films of last year (see Top Ten films of 2009 List)…well my wait is over…Inception is that good (and thank god cause I was starting to worry Hollywood).

Inception is the story of Cobb (played well by Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a mind thief who serves big business. Cobb and his partner Arthur (played very cool by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have one last big job to pull off that could help Cobb clear his name. Along for the ride is a team of mind experts that include Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Ken Watanabe…all very good. The job has something to do with planting an idea into the mind of young business man (the always creepy Cillian Murphy) so that he may break apart his recently inherited company. The job requires them to delve deep into the unconscious mind diving into dream upon dream upon dream…each dive taking them deeper into the mind and increasing the risk that they may never wake up. Does that sound hard to follow? Yeah it is actually and complicating matters further is the constant projections of Cobb’s dead wife that keep showing up within those dreams (played by Marion Cotillard who is very good). If the story sounds like too much I would tell you to go anyway, frankly the gravity-less fight scenes and wonderful cinematography should be enough to entertain you even if you get lost in the unconscious maze that Nolan has built. If you are an attentive movie watcher this film is right up your alley as it’s layered story that shatters relativity as you know it will pose a challenge for you to solve and will keep you guessing for the most part. I highly recommend this one (though I will warn you this isn’t the one to go to if you want to make out or text your way through it) Inception is the best of the year so far…it delivers.

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Not since The Matrix have we seen such mind bending creativity in both writing and filming…a very good 8.0 on The Scale and an early favorite for a Best Picture Nomination.

Food For Thought: DiCaprio has literally 25 films on the horizon to look forward too, but his next project is called Hoover (2012), where he will star as the disgraced FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Gordan-Levitt (who we hope to see getting more roles) has Live with It coming out later this year about a young man dealing with cancer. And don’t look now but Batman 3 is on the horizon (2012) with Nolan once again helming it.

July 18, 2010

Fantasy Baseball Update #5 (The stretch run is now!)

So I’m in contention in all but probably one of my 5 leagues (yes 5 I know at least 2 too many) so I am not complaining, but jeez every time I pick a league to chronicle on the blog I get hammered with injuries and I end up making a thousand moves so I don’t have to show up and tell you all how I’m in 9th place and I’m packing it in. Well I’m not packing and despite the likes of (Pedroia, Beckett, V-Mart, and Ellsbury) being hurt (notice what team they are all on?) I am still in the hunt. Since the last update I have made about 50 moves so let me introduce you to my new team, let’s break it down!

Stock Up: Angel Pagan (NYM) with so many OF’s not producing why not stream the position (at this critical time) and put in some of the hot hands around baseball that are available? Pagan is batting over 300 with a little pop (6 HR’s) and some good speed (20 Steals) so if you have any of those Stock Down OF’s why not give him a try. John Jay (STL) he is getting a lot of at bats and so far he has produced a 370 AVG. Ok one more OF for you to try in lineup: Corey Patterson (BAL) yes that guy that was once on the Cubs, he has had a nice resurgence with the Orioles…280 AVG, 16 Steals, and even some pop 5 HR’s. If you need some infield help don’t look now but Gordon Beckham (CWS) is actually producing finally, over his last 5 games he has 2 HR’s and 9 hits, had I not made a deal for B Phillips I think this guy would’ve ended up in my lineup. Ok how about 2 pitchers that have let you down before and are primed to make it up to you…c’mon you know you love name recognition…Wandy Rodriguez after a brutal start has bounced back nicely lately…5 earned runs and 25 K’s over his last four starts (3 wins!). Edinson Volquez so maybe he finished last year on a bad note, and yes yes he was suspended, and yeah he hasn’t pitched this year yet due mostly to injury, but if you need pitching help he should’ve caught your eye with his first start (6 innings, 3 hits, 1 ER, 2 BB, and 9 K’s) might want to grab him before someone else does. Finally if you haven’t noticed yet you might want to pick up Chris Perez again (since Kerry Wood is hurt), he should be able to help those who need some saves.

Stock Down: I’ll make this quick Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and sadly Raul Ibanez are all now droppable in 10 team mixed leagues. As for pitching if you want to give up on Dan Haren I won’t kill you for it, but remember his strikeouts are still worth something and if he gets moved here in the next two weeks you may regret it.

Deep Sleepers-Well I’m not usually one to listen to hype, but if you are, you may want to give White Sox pitcher Daniel Hudson a try, I know he gave up 5 ER’s in only 4 innings in his first ML start, but he has great minor league numbers and he has been the talk of the town for awhile, so if you have room I would stash this guy and hope to get 5 or 6 good starts from him when he gets right. He really isn’t own-able in 10 team mixed leagues, but if you are in a deeper league or just need some temporary help in the OF why not give are old friend Mike Cameron a try since returning from injury for the Bosox he has 3 HR’s and is batting a nice 283 so far.

Time to take a closer look at: Juan Pierre he is owned in 94% of 10 team leagues…this guy (who has 38 steals…that leads the Majors) should be owned in 100% of leagues! Look I have overlooked steals all year (as I became apathetic since Ellsbury went down) but I still have a chance to gain some ground and I was shocked to find this guy just laying around out there. If you need steals…he can deliver!

Some advice from the guy in 4th place-It’s time to make a drastic move if that is what is necessary. We all know how much you like Jon Papelbon or Manny Ramirez, but if they aren’t getting it done for you, you have to trade or drop them so that you can help the areas that you need help in. I traded Papelbon (who I love as a player) for Phillips and though it was hard to let him go, I needed a 2nd baseman bad (without Pedroia I was struggling) so follow my lead and cut ties with those guys who aren’t helping you but you love rooting for.

Alright so at last check my #1 team (or at least my favorite of my five leagues) The Boston Lagers was sitting in 4th place…with some savvy trades and the rise of NL ace Josh Johnson I find myself in 3rd and climbing…I may actually have a shot at this thing!

Boston Lagers (ESPN-Custom) 10 Team, Standard scoring (with XBH extra base hits and OBP on base percentage) as the two extra stats in hitting and (K/9 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched and BAA batting average against) as the two added pitching stats. Roster = C, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, SS, OF, OF, OF, UTIL, UTIL, UTIL. Current Place-3rd

This league has mostly savvy fantasy players with a handful of baseball fan newcomers…the draft was competitive (see draft review in Fantasy Update #1) and the talent is spread out.

HITTING:

C-Mike Napoli-His AVG (251) has predictably dipped, but his 15 HR’s has been a big help for me.

1st-Prince Fielder-Well 21 HR’s and a 263 AVG is a down year for my first round pick, but I’ve setteled down at yelling at him from my couch.

2nd-Brandon Phillips-Losing Pedroia killed me but after my recent trade for Philips I can breath easy he has had a nice year 299 AVG, 13 HR’s, and 11 Steals.

3rd-Jose Bautista-I can’t believe this guy has kept it going but he has 25 HR’s and counting.

SS-Rafael Furcal-What a nice comeback year from Furcal…333AVG, 15 Steals, and how about 6 HR’s!

OF-Andre Either-He was on fire before the injury, now he has cooled off, but still an asset to this team.

OF-Bret Gardner-I need him for steals here (25 Steals) at least until Ellsbury comes back (please come back!)

OF-Josh Hamilton-What a year for the new Natural, My MVP’s numbers speak for themselves 448 AVG, 22 HR’s, 66 RBI’s, and 53 XBH’s…wow I lucked out.

UTIL-Adrian Gonzalez-I gave up the farm (including V-Mart who I just got via another trade) to get him, but it’s been worth it (20 HR’s and a 307 AVG), this also gives me some flexibility if I need to move Fielder for another need.

UTIL-Lance Berkman-I think his OBP of 369 has allowed me to keep putting him out there, but still I’m waiting for a consistent hot streak…it may not be coming.

UTIL-Juan Pierre-Again until Ellsbury gets back I need him in there everyday.

BENCH- My bench has become a revolving door for spot guys…Rolen, Gomes, J.D. Drew, and Jose Lopez all have come and gone here. D.L. Pedroia and Ellsbury.

PITCHING:

I was panicking for awhile as Liriano was getting tagged, but he has still been good enough to keep putting out there(3.76 ERA and 125 K’s). My ACE Josh Johnson has really been awesome (how bought them 2 shutout innings at the All-Star game and his sub 2.00 ERA how about 1.62…that’s Pedro like!). The rest of my starting staff who include Matt Cain 3.30 ERA, and Zach Grienke 3.67 ERA(who I acquired via trade) have bounced back of late. Relief: Jenks 20, Bell 25, Franklin 17, Axford 11, and now Chris Perez 8 in terms of saves allowed me to trade Papelbon recently. D.L. Josh Beckett.

I hope to keep moving in the right direction.

How am I doing in my other leagues?: 1st place, 2nd place, 2nd place, and 5th Place.

Good luck to all in Fantasy and Reality!

DVD Review #43

The Wolfman (2010) Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins Directed by Joe Johnston

The Director of The Wolfman (Joe Johnston) has done some really nice work in the past with films like The Rocketeer (one of my childhood favorites) and Hidalgo (which I thought was solid…you know the one about the horse racing in Arabia…no?), but nobody seems to give him much do, until now that is, his next project is certainly his most ambitious, Captain America (The First Avenger) coming in 2011, so let’s see how his warm up to that (The Wolfman) did on my treacherous Shawshank Scale.

The Wolfman is a very traditional telling of an old classic. Lawrence Talbot (played admirably by Benicio Del Toro) returns home after his brother has been killed by a beast in the woods. Upon returning home he finds his brothers ex fiancĂ© (a solid Emily Blunt) and father (a been better Anthony Hopkins) there to tell him what has happened. In an effort to capture the beast Lawrence is attacked and injured by it. Any guesses to what happens next? The story has layers and I’m sure its intend is to surprise you with these textbook plot points, but that really doesn’t matter here. The film is watchable because its old school style is charming and in a way refreshing. It probably runs about 20 minutes too long, and its story and acting isn’t one for the record books, but despite that I would expect those who attend a movie called “The Wolfman” may get just what they showed up for.

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) It’s color and the effects are a lot better, but I think this Wolfman pays homage to the old one, it serves as a tribute to the way things were, and for that it gets a good 6.0 on the scale. (now Mr. Johnston let’s see Captain America!)

DVD Review #42

Brooklyn’s Finest (2010) Richard Gere, Don Cheadle Directed By Antoine Fuqua

Antoine Fuqua knows his dark cop movies (he directed the very good Training Day and helped bring Denzel an Oscar with that one), in this one he goes for a more layered feel (think Crash meets Pride and Glory). I like Fuqua as a director, he may not knock these films out of the park, but he keeps you interested and knows you to do drama. I actually think his style would be great as an hour long drama on TV, because I don’t think people flock to theaters for these types of films, but they will stay up to watch.

Brooklyn’s Finest isn’t your typical cop drama, it visits places you'd probably rather not go. It has both a realistic moments and well placed “hollywood” moments. Eddie (played well by Richard Gere) is a cop about to retire, and he is doing his best to keep his various partners alive and out of trouble. Tango (played well by the always solid Don Cheadle) is a cop in deep cover who is losing it. Sal (played by Ethan Hawke who looks a little strung out these days) is a cop who is stealing drug money to help by his family a new house. These three storylines intersect while some other very solid role players show up to help progress them (namely Will Patton, Wesley Snipes, and Ellen Barkin who is feisty in this). The film moves along at good pace and you are generally interested throughout. I do think the ending is fitting though it is a bit predictable. Brooklyn’s Finest won’t win any of these guys Oscars, but it will entertain those who like rugged cop dramas…it beats watching another C.S.I. episode.

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) One of the better movies of the year (though so far that’s not saying much) Good acting, well crafted drama and cops shooting drug dealers…what more could you ask for from Fuqua? Brooklyn’s Finest earns a solid 6.5 on the scale.

July 12, 2010

DVD Review #41 (2009 Must See catch up version)

Ok so since the summer looks to be a bust thus far and it’s been hard to convince me to see the likes of Toy Story 3 and Twilight 3 (both of which I’m sure are fine but not my summer cup of tea) I will go back to my must see list of 2009 and finally get to some of the most well received films of lat year. Let’s see if any can crack my Top 10 List of 2009.


Invictus (2009) Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman Directed by Clint Eastwood

This movie is wonderfully acted, its cinematography and music are also perfect (Eastwood always nails those things), but it ultimately comes up a bit short for me. Bill Simmons (ESPN’s The Sports Guy) really was right when he suggested that the 30 for 30 documentary series (also on ESPN and it has been one of the best things on TV this year) really captures this moment better than the film. Invictus is about the 1995 World Rugby Cup champion South African team which one won the championship right on the heels of Nelson Mandela being released from prison and the Apartheid being abolished. It is an amazing story that is all the more amazing because it is a true one…I think the film fails due to the inability to capture the tone and feeling of the country well enough, and the aforementioned documentary (The 16th Man) succeeds for that reason…it captures the conflicted feeling brilliantly. Invictus is still a better than average film, but if I ever need to teach someone about this bit of history I will show them the ESPN documentary before this film, the film seems to have been made with the idea that everyone watching knows the whole story of what happened in South Africa...and as we know America can tend to be a bit myopic and perhaps that's why the film didn't quite work at our box office.


(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Invictus is a good film certainly worth watching, but if you want to be moved by this piece of recent history you better watch ESPN’s “The 16th Man” part of the 30 for 30 series. Still an admirable piece of work from Eastwood and a well deserved 6.5 for the effort and acting.


The Blindside (2009) Sandra Bullock, Aaron Quinton Directed by John Lee Hancock

First off I will concur with the Academy and say that the very (Erin Brockovichy) performance of Bullock was Best Actress worthy, but the movie as a whole Best Picture material…um no, maybe close…but no. John Lee Hancock got sports right in The Rookie 2002 (solid film), but failed to get history right in The Alamo 2004 (awful movie), and though The Blindside is his best overall work as a director it still wasn’t good enough for me to be in the discussion for Best Picture (but it wasn’t the worst one in there…A Serious Man I’m talking to you here). The Blindside is well done and everyone should agree the Michael Oher and Leigh Anne Tuohy story is one that is both touching and inspiring, but the film though very likable, seemed to me to be missing some important relevant information about Oher’s life. Anyhow the film is good if not great and certainly was worthy of being the surprise hit of 2009 that it was.


(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Though it borders on 7.0 I was only able to give it a good 6.5. It won’t crack my top ten but I was glad to have seen it and recommend it to sports fans and non sports fans alike.


A Single Man (2009) Colin Firth, Julianne Moore Directed by Tom Ford

A Single Man is a very stylish film that both capture your eyes and mind with its dark and plain story telling style of an ordinary man called George. Colin Firth really does give a tour de force performance with the title character, and if you don’t like him and his performance then you won’t like this film. Tom Ford really does a nice job keeping us interested with the cinematography and music, but the story is just too ordinary for us to be really moved…so we are just slightly moved by the end. Also given the ending which is lackluster in it’s final moments I can’t help but feel that I would’ve liked it more if it was just left 5 minutes earlier…just cut to black and leave us empty…but it is resolved like most films and because it is resolved it lacks greatness (in this case…I usually do like things being resolved).


(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Colin Firth is great and the movie is an interesting one, but not worth a top ten spot or more than a 6.5 rating…however I will be in line for the next Tom Ford picture.


Youth in Revolt (2009) Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday Directed by Miguel Arteta

Miguel Arteta takes on the loved C.D. Payne novel and does a good job with it. Michael Cera was probably born to bring both Nick Twisp and Francois Dillinger to life. The screenplay is well written and the casting works all around (look for the funny Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover to steal some scenes here), but the movie isn’t top ten material. It can drag at times and the witty dialogue doesn’t come across as fresh and witty as it should. But still I recommend people see it because it is certainly worth a watch.


(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) I really like the young actor Michael Cera but he has to do something different before he is typecast permanently into roles like this. Youth in Revolt gets a good 6.5 on the scale.



July 5, 2010

Movie Review #40

Knight & Day (2010) Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz Directed by James Mangold

James Mangold is an interesting Director, you never know which direction he is going. He has directed great dramas like Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line and then when everyone thinks that’s his wheel house, he goes and directs something like Kate and Leopold (a time travel romance which wasn’t awful) and 3:10 to Yuma (a western that is also not bad)…so naturally next for him an action romance. I think he is turning into a director that I must watch, I just really like how he handles the acting and the structure of his films.

Knight & Day is the action tale of super spy Roy Miller (played very well by Tom Cruise) and his efforts to thwart a plan that is both clumsy and confusing (but don’t let it bother you). He meets June Haven (played pretty solid by Cameron Diaz…who I don’t usually like) along the way and she naturally gets sucked into the action. I could detail the plot that puts Cruise and Diaz and in a variety of beautiful places, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. The only way you are going to like this film is to like the chemistry between Cruise and Diaz, and for me it really worked. I think both these actors are playing this kind of part at the right time, that is to say both are at the right age to make me believe a romance like this one could work and I want to root for it. It reminds a lot Mr. and Mrs. Smith (a solid film) but this is more fun than that film. I think Cruise is at his charming best and Diaz is funny and does her part well. Mangold really uses a lot of blackouts and funny “fade to black” moments to move the story along at a rapid pace, thereby not really giving you time to consider the goofy plot and just constantly thrusting you into the next action sequence. It’s fast pace works to its advantage and not the other way around (like some other movies A-team I’m talking to you here) because the story isn’t that relevant anyway…it’s just these two characters bottom line. I would say if you like Cruise go see it, he really is in top form, and if you like Diaz and Cruise it is a must see.

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) This summer has been made for the 18 and under crowd (with Twilight, Toy Story 3, Karate Kid, and How to Train your Dragon all big winners so far) so for me it hasn’t been great, but as an older moviegoer this adult action romance worked well…it deserves a high 6.5 (I was tempted to go 7 but couldn’t do it) and it is just a tad stronger than Iron Man 2 for the best of the year so far (though I hope it doesn’t finish at the top).

Food For Thought: It’s fourth of July weekend so what else…Turkey burgers and Ribeye Steaks…make sure to use charcoal and if you can find it, the mesquite flavored is really good. Cruise has Mission Impossible 4 coming out next year (and I will be going to see it) and he also has the long waited for Hardy Men (with Ben Stiller as the Hardy Boys grown up) also out in 2011. Diaz has two films next year as well, The Green Hornet and Bad Teacher.