Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Best and Worst of Halle Berry

The "Best and Worst" series profiles the best and worst work of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week I take a look at the filmography of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" star Halle Berry.

Films starring Halle Berry that I've seen:
The Last Boy Scout
The Flintstones
Monster's Ball
Die Another Day
X2: X-Men United
X-Men: The Last Stand
New Year's Eve
Movie 43
The Call
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Kevin Hart: What Now?

Best Performance: Monster's Ball (2001)
Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress for this role and after finally checking out Monster's Ball earlier this month, it's easy to see why. She's a vulnerable, show-stopping powerhouse as the widow of a recently-slain death row inmate (Sean Combs) who develops an unexpected bond with the corrections officer that oversaw her husband's execution (an equally great Billy Bob Thornton). It's kind of a shame that her Oscar win didn't result in her landing more dramatic roles because she absolutely has the chops for it. 

Worst Performance: Catwoman (2004)
This was a VERY easy decision. Berry's turn as the leather-clad crimefighter that possesses the magnificent attributes of a cat is an elite case of a performer stooping well below their talent level for a paycheck. Watching an Academy Award-winning actress meow in people's faces and be stirred into a frenzy over catnip is without question some of the most cringeworthy shit I've ever seen in a movie that was released theatrically. 

Best Film: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
In an era where cape-clad heroes dominate multiplexes pretty much year-round, X-Men: Days of Future Past has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. It wasn't a megahit by superhero movie standards (it only grossed $233.9 mil in North America) and since the rights to the X-Men brand aren't owned by the Marvel mothership, Days of Future Past has essentially slide into a realm of obscurity. This stunning level of anonymity paired with its stunning ambition makes Days of Future Past an underappreciated gem in my eyes. Bryan Singer's return to the franchise he helped launch back in 2000 features the heavy volume of excellent performances, inventive action setpieces and intimate character moments that you seldom see from other films in this densely-populated genre. 

Worst Film: Catwoman (2004)
Over the years, I've discovered that the "worst movie of all-time" label often ends up working as a reverse hype train. A majority of the times that I've sat down to watch a film that has this dreaded label attached to it I've either found them to be not nearly as bad as advertised (Wild Wild West, Fifty Shades of Grey, Nine Lives) or ended up enjoying them (Freddy Got Fingered, The Room, That's My Boy). Catwoman marked one of the rare times where I felt that a film actually lived up to its horrific reputation. The level of incompetence on display in this Razzie-winning affair is almost impressive. Everything from the acting and writing down to the editing and camerawork feels like it was done by a group of people that failed out of film school after the first week. On top all of its glaring technical and creative deficiencies, Catwoman also happens to unfold at the pace of a snail marathon. While I've seen a dozen or so comparable piles of shit since it was released, Catwoman remains a very strong contender for the worst movie I've ever seen.

Thank you for reading this week's installment of "The Best and Worst of". Next week, I'll take a look at the best and worst work of "Flatliners" star Ellen Page.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Concert Review: Thy Art is Murder-- Allston, MA-- September 19th, 2017

Lineup: Thy Art is Murder/Fallujah/Ghost Bath
Venue: Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA
Date: September 19th, 2017

Ghost Bath: Tapping a melodic black metal act to fill the opening slot on a bill that features two of the more buzzed-about young death metal/core acts in the scene right now was a bold move by the promoter who booked this tour. While it was definitely a strange choice considering the musical styles and fanbases of their tourmates, Ghost Bath managed to be a tolerable opener that brought a nice dash of rawness to this otherwise polished, technical affair. Their reliance on repetitive  melodies/riffs caused them to get a little stale around the 20-25 minute mark of their set, but Ghost Bath was still pretty alright overall.

Fallujah: After voluntarily skipping their previous two Massachusetts shows with The Black Dahlia Murder and Between the Buried and Me/Devin Townsend, I finally got the chance to see Fallujah on the touring cycle for their latest album Dreamless. Since I'm an unapologetic fanboy of this band, this performance unsurprisingly filled me with a borderline sad level of joy. The setlist was damn near perfect (they legitimately played every single one of my favorite songs from Dreamless), their musicianship was flawless and above all, fill-in vocalist Monte Bernard (The Kennedy Veil, ex-Alterbeast) did an excellent job of capturing the tone of the band's material without mimicking former vocalist Alex Hoffmann's style. While Bernard's involvement with The Kennedy Veil makes it unlikely, I'd be completely cool with him becoming the permeant vocalist. I'm not going to pretend like I'm not very concerned about how this vocalist search will end up panning out, but for now, I'm just happy that they were able to put on a great live show without Hoffmann as their frontman. 

Thy Art is Murder: If you're looking for someone to blame for the resurgence and/or continued relevance of the deathcore movement in extreme metal, Australia's Thy Art is Murder should be the band you direct your anger at. How they were able to pull off the miraculous feat of reviving a genre that had pretty much died once genre leaders Suicide Silence and Whitechapel decided to take their music in new directions in the early 2010's becomes abundantly clear when you see them in a live setting. Their knack for establishing an atmosphere of pure, visceral devastation with their music is a gift that only a small number of bands in the scene right now possess. The Land Down Under's finest export since Crocodile Dundee backed up their terrific track record as a live act with yet another high-energy performance that showcased their ability to reduce a room into complete ruination.    

This hour-long headlining set combined the more straightforward death metal-inspired style they introduced on their newest album Dear Desolation-which was released last month-with a healthy amount of crowd-pleasing, breakdown-heavy favorites from their previous two LP's (2012's Hate and 2015's Holy War). Despite the slight stylistic differences between these releases, the band managed to compose a setlist that featured a majority of the most crushing tracks in their catalog, which sent the near sell-out crowd at the Brighton Music Hall into exactly the type of chaotic frenzy metalheads live for. Adding to the madness was the always imposing presence of vocalist C.J McMahon. McMahon, who recently re-joined the band after a year and a half away, was as sharp as ever vocally and did a great job of inciting the crowd without ever coming across as a hxC douchebag. While they'll never be among my personal favorites, Thy Art is Murder's live shows are always a ton of fun and do an excellent job of reaffirming why they've gained such a rabid following over the past six years.

Ghost Bath 5/10
Fallujah 9/10
Thy Art is Murder 8/10

Cerebral Hybridization
Amber Gaze
Carved from Stone
Scar Queen
The Void Alone

Thy Art is Murder:
Dear Desolation
Slaves Beyond Death
The Purest Strain of Hate
Shadow of Eternal Sin
Violent Reckoning
No Absolution
Absolute Genocide
The Son of Misery
Puppet Master
Coffin Dragger
Holy War
Light Bearer

Reign of Darkness

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2017 NFL Power Rankings: Week 3

()=Last week's ranking
1. (1) Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Los Angeles Chargers
2. (3) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Chicago Bears
3. (6) Atlanta Falcons (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Detroit Lions
4. (4) Oakland Raiders (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Washington Redskins
5. (7) New England Patriots (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Houston Texans
6. (10) Detroit Lions (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Atlanta Falcons
7. (17) Denver Broncos (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Buffalo Bills
8. (2) Green Bay Packers (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
9. (11) Baltimore Ravens (2-0) Week 3 opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars
10. (8) Seattle Seahawks (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Tennessee Titans
11. (5) Dallas Cowboys (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Arizona Cardinals
12. (13) Tennessee Titans (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Seattle Seahawks
13. (15) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) Week 3 opponent: Minnesota Vikings
14. (9) Minnesota Vikings (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
15. (16) Miami Dolphins (1-0) Week 3 opponent: New York Jets
16. (12) Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) Week 3 opponent: New York Giants
17. (18) Carolina Panthers (2-0) Week 3 opponent: New Orleans Saints
18. (19) Houston Texans (1-1) Week 3 opponent: New England Patriots
19. (24) Washington Redskins (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Oakland Raiders
20. (14) New York Giants (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Philadelphia Eagles
21. (21) Los Angeles Rams (1-1) Week 3 opponent: San Francisco 49ers
22. (20) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Baltimore Ravens
23. (26) Arizona Cardinals (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Dallas Cowboys
24. (22) New Orleans Saints (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Carolina Panthers
25. (23) Buffalo Bills (1-1) Week 3 opponent: Denver Broncos
26. (25) Los Angeles Chargers (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
27. (27) Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Green Bay Packers
28. (30) Indianapolis Colts (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Cleveland Browns
29. (28) Chicago Bears (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers
30. (29) Cleveland Browns (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Indianapolis Colts
31. (31) San Francisco 49ers (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Los Angeles Rams
32. (32) New York Jets (0-2) Week 3 opponent: Miami Dolphins

Week 2 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

MVP: Tom Brady (Patriots)
In a shocking twist, Tom Brady followed up an underwhelming game with an unreal one. Brady effortlessly carved up the Saints horrid defense at the Superdome on Sunday, scooping up 447 YDS and 3 TD's in the Patriots 1st lopsided win of 2017. With the JV Patriots (aka the Texans) headed to Gillette Stadium in Week 3, Brady should once again put up big numbers.
Honorable Mentions: Carson Wentz (Eagles), Drew Brees (Saints), Derek Carr (Raiders)

LVP: Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
Jameis Winston's season debut didn't go exactly as planned from a fantasy standpoint. Thanks to the Bears 4 1st half turnovers, the Buccaneers ran a very conservative offense for the last 2 and a half quarters, which subsequently caused Winston to have a pretty quiet game (204 YDS, 1 TD). Winston will look to put up bigger numbers this week when he faces a Vikings defense that just surrendered 243 YDS and 2 TD's to Ben Roethlisberger.
Dishonorable Mentions: Kirk Cousins (Redskins), Cam Newton (Panthers), Matthew Stafford (Lions)

Running Back
MVP: C.J. Anderson (Broncos)
A running back took over the Broncos/Cowboys game on Sunday afternoon and it wasn't the one that people expected it to be. C.J. Anderson had one of the most impressive games of his career to-date as he shredded the Cowboys disorganized D for 154 total yards (118 rushing, 36 receiving) and 2 TD's on 28 touches. Anderson has looked pretty solid to start off 2017 and appears like he can be trusted as a weekly RB2.
Honorable Mentions: Todd Gurley (Rams), Ty Montgomery (Packers), Kareem Hunt (Chiefs)

LVP: Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) 
The league's reigning rushing champion looked mortal for the 1st time in almost a full year. While gameflow certainly didn't help, Ezekiel Elliott got eviscerated by the Broncos front 7, finishing with a career-low 22 yards (8 rushing, 14 receiving) on 13 touches. Zeke will remain in the RB1 conversation when the Cowboys square off against the Cardinals next Monday night.  
Dishonorable Mentions: Jordan Howard (Bears), DeMarco Murray (Titans), LeSean McCoy (Bills)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Michael Crabtree (Raiders) 
The Raiders resident touchdown vulture repeatedly swooped in for the kill against the Jets on Sunday. Michael Crabtree's 3 TD grabs capped off another solid performance (6 REC, 80 YDS) for the veteran wideout, whose career has been revitalized since joined the Silver and Black back in 2015. With his constant involvement in the passing attack and uncontested monopoly on the Raiders redzone targets, Crabtree is locked in as a high-end WR2.
Honorable Mentions: Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos), Davante Adams (Packers), Martavis Bryant (Steelers)

LVP: Amari Cooper (Raiders)
Not everyone can feast in a dream matchup and Amari Cooper ended up being the Raider who was left starving this week. The Jets defense held Cooper to just 4 receptions and 33 YDS receiving on an afternoon where they allowed 45 points and 410 total yards to the Raiders high-powered offense. Cooper has been susceptible to putting up duds in excellent matchups since he entered the league in 2015, so there's no reason to be concerned about his productivity at this point in time.   
Dishonorable Mentions: Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants), Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals), Brandin Cooks (Patriots)

Tight End
MVP: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
The Rob Gronkowski that fantasy owners know and love was out in full force in Week 2. Gronkowski feasted on the slew of different defenders the Saints deployed to cover him, posting 116 YDS and a TD in 6 receptions. Gronk did miss the last few series of the game after suffering a groin injury early in the 4th quarter, but he currently appears to be set to suit up against the Texans this Sunday.
Honorable Mentions: Travis Kelce (Chiefs), Jason Witten (Cowboys), Delanie Walker (Titans)

LVP: Jimmy Graham (Seahawks)
For a 2nd straight week, Jimmy Graham was the biggest victim of the Seahawks anemic passing attack. Graham reeled in a single pass for 1 yard as porous offensive line play once again forced Russell Wilson to run for the hills 90% of the time he dropped back to pass. Unless the Seahawks can suddenly start giving Wilson more than 0.3 seconds to throw, Graham won't be worth starting in any league.
Dishonorable Mentions: Austin Hooper (Falcons), Julius Thomas (Dolphins), Kyle Rudolph (Vikings)

Defense/Special Teams
MVP: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens defense made life hell for the Browns young offense, picking 3 sacks and 5 takeaways (4 INT, 1 FUM REC) in a dominant 24-10 win at M&T Bank Stadium. This unit has a strong chance of continuing their strong start when they travel to Londontown to face the Blake Bortles-led Jaguars in Week 3.
Honorable Mentions: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals

LVP: Jacksonville Jaguars
R.I.P. Sacksonville September 10, 2017-September 17, 2017. The Jaguars D came crashing back to Earth in week 2 after an unreal performance in the season opener, mustering a sack and an INT in a disastrous 37-16 loss to the Titans. The Jags will likely find a happy medium between their performances in the first 2 weeks of the season when they make their annual trip to jolly ol' England this week to face the Ravens, who have surrendered 3 sacks and turned the ball over 3 times in their first 2 games of 2017.
Dishonorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots

Monday, September 18, 2017

Movie Review: Mother!

If any traces of doubt still existed about Darren Aronofsky's status as a certifiably insane individual, Mother! will undoubtedly erase them. The seventh film from the whacked-out filmmaker that has brought unsettling, psychologically-draining films like Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream into the world is a deranged, artsy nightmare that offers up ambition, lunacy and narrative incoherence in equal measures.

To say that Mother! is a difficult film to comprehend would be one hell of an understatement. Trying to decipher the message Aronofsky is conveying here is like trying to read a dense novel that's written in a language that you don't speak or understand. There are little things to latch onto here and there (especially during the bonkers climax), but attempting to put together all of the mismatching, allegorical puzzle pieces that are dropped during this two-hour stay in a secluded house of horrors is an exercise in futility that generates an endless string of questions with nothing that even resembles a logical answer. I already feel bad for the poor film analysis students that are going to be forced to try and make sense of this convoluted spectacle of unhinged arthouse filmmaking a few years down the line.

Mother! is too scattershot, pretentious and baffling for me to recommend yet too unique, strange and well-acted (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer are the standouts in the impressive ensemble cast) to completely condemn. It's essentially a "make your own adventure film" for philosophy buffs that is designed to generate a strong visceral reaction and be discussed/debated for an extended period of time after viewing. I commend Aronofsky for continuing to have the balls to make films that go to such great lengths to challenge their audience, but for the first time since 2006's The Fountain, the master of mindfuckery failed to parlay his endless supply of envelope-pushing creativity into an unshakeable piece of art.     

2.5/5 Stars

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Best and Worst of Domhnall Gleason

The "Best and Worst" series profiles the best and worst work of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week I take a look at the filmography of "mother!" star Domhnall Gleason.

Films starring Domhnall Gleason that I've seen:
True Grit
About Time
Ex Machina
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Revenant 

Best Performance: Ex Machina (2015)
Gleason has been one of the most active young actors in Hollywood over the past several years, but his turn in Alex Garland's endearing sc-fi mindfuck Ex Machina was the only time he really stood out to me. While his performance isn't quite up to the level of his co-stars Alicia Vikander and Oscar Issace, Gleason's mix of empathy and naivety makes his character's relationship with the film's robot protagonist (Vikander) feel very believable.

Worst Performance: About Time (2013)
The failure of this performance is more of an indictment of Richard Curtis' obnoxious, overly sentimental writing than Gleason's ability as an actor. Tim Lake is one of the most insufferable, manipulative, and whiney fake "nice guys" I've ever seen in a romantic comedy and even though it was inevitable given what type of move this is, the fact that this douchelord got to live happily ever after with the love of his life (or more accurately, the woman he had to repeatedly travel back in time and lie to in order to win over) made me want to vomit.

Best Film: True Grit (2010)
True Grit is essentially a 2-hour highlight reel of everything that's great about the Coen Brothers. The dialogue is sharp, the acting is outstanding, the cinematography is stunning and the storytelling is as vivid as a Diamond Head sunset. This is easily the best western to come out of Hollywood since Unforgiven as well the Coen's finest work of the 2010's to-date. 

Worst Film: Unbroken (2014)
Lou Zamperini deserved better than this steaming pile of shit. What should've been a remarkable, touching story of perseverance ended up being a molasses-paced series of contrived melodramatic set pieces that contained as much emotional resonance as an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. 

Thank you for reading this week's installment of "The Best and Worst of". Next week, I'll take a look at the best and worst work of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" star Halle Berry.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Week 1 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

MVP: Matthew Stafford (Lions) 
In a wonky week where little-owned guys topped the fantasy leaderboards (Alex Smith, Jared Goff, Sam Bradford), Matthew Stafford was the only longtime fixture of this beautiful fake game to deliver a stellar performance. The 29-year old justified the record-breaking $135 mil contract extension he received last month by shredding the Cardinals defense for 306 total YDS (292 passing, 14 rushing) and 4 TD's on Sunday afternoon. Even with his well-documented history of struggling against teams with winning records, Stafford should be a viable fantasy play most weeks.
Honorable Mentions: Carson Wentz (Eagles), Tyrod Taylor (Bills), Marcus Mariota (Titans)

LVP: Russell Wilson (Seahawks) 
Despite looking healthy for the 1st time in nearly a year, Russell Wilson put together a thoroughly underwhelming performance during the NFL's kickoff weekend. A combination of horrific offensive line play and a surprisingly effective Packers secondary that prevented the Seahawks WR's from getting separation for most of the day led to Wilson having a very quiet afternoon (208 total yards, 0 TD's and a lost fumble) at Lambeau Field. The Seahawks signal-caller has a decent shot of rebounding against the lowly 49ers in Week 2.
Dishonorable Mentions: Eli Manning (Giants), Tom Brady (Patriots), Kirk Cousins (Redskins)

Running Back:
MVP: Kareem Hunt (Chiefs)
Ladies and gentleman, the league's next headline-grabbing star might've been born in Week 1. The rookie recovered from a brutal fumble on his 1st-ever NFL carry in triumphant fashion by putting together a record-setting performance (246 total YDS and 3 TD on 22 touches) that helped the Chiefs pull off a massive upset victory over the Patriots last Thursday night. While he clearly won't put up insane numbers like this every week, Hunt should be a key cog in the Chiefs offense and a legit RB1 option all season long.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Gillislee (Patriots), Leonard Fournette (Jaguars), LeSean McCoy (Bills)

LVP: Le'Veon Bell (Steelers)
Le'Veon Bell's performance on Sunday should serve as a poignant cautionary tale for any player that's thinking about holding out of training camp for a new contract in the future. The Steelers star back looked sluggish and aloof as he mustered a sad 48 total yards (32 rushing, 16 receiving) on 13 touches against the Browns on Sunday. With the Vikings stalwart D traveling to Heinz Field this weekend, I wouldn't bank on Bell suddenly returning to form.
Dishonorable Mentions: Joe Mixon (Bengals), Paul Perkins (Giants), Ameer Abdullah (Lions)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Stefon Diggs (Vikings)
Stefon Diggs had the distinct pleasure of being the 1st receiver to steamroll the Saints hilariously inept secondary in 2017. The Vikings top WR picked up 93 YDS and 2 TD on 7 receptions in the Norsemen's impressive victory on Monday night. Diggs will be in the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 mix against the Steelers on the road in Week 2.
Honorable Mentions: Tyreek Hill (Chiefs), Antonio Brown (Steelers), Adam Thielen (Vikings)

LVP: Jamison Crowder (Redskins)
Jamison Crowder's bid to become a breakout star in 2017 hit a bit of a snag in Week 1. Pierre Garcon's projected replacement as the Redskins go-to underneath receiver was nothing short of abysmal against the Eagles, picking up 14 YDS and losing a fumble on just 3 receptions. Crowder and his cohorts on the Redskins offense will look to wash away their miserable home opener in a road bout with a thoroughly unpredictable Rams squad.
Dishonorable Mentions: Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers), Martavis Bryant (Steelers), Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos)

Tight End:
MVP: Austin Hooper (Falcons)
Austin Hooper made the most of his 2 receptions against the Bears on Sunday, posting 128 YDS and scoring what proved to be the game-winning 88-yard TD early in the 4th quarter. Even with this impressive line, Hooper still strikes me as a huge boom-or-bust play this season in the Falcons high-powered aerial attack.
Honorable Mentions: Jason Witten (Cowboys), Coby Fleener (Saints), Zach Ertz (Eagles)

LVP: Jimmy Graham (Seahawks)
You know shit was ugly at the TE position when Greg Olsen's 18-yard performance against the 49ers' god awful defense wasn't the biggest dud of the week. The debut of the new leaner, quicker version of Jimmy Graham was a complete disaster as the 30-year old Pro Bowler mustered an alarming 8 YDS on 3 receptions against the Packers shockingly stout passing defense. Like the rest of his offensive counterparts, Graham has a nice chance to redeem himself against the 49ers in Week 2.
Dishonorable Mentions: Greg Olsen (Panthers), Rob Gronkowski (Patriots), Jordan Reed (Redskins)

Defense/Special Teams:
MVP: Los Angeles Rams
The Wade Phillips-era in LA got off to one hell of a start as his group feasted on the Scott Tolzien-led Colts, picking up 4 sacks, 3 takeaways (2 INT's, 1 FUM REC), a safety and a pair of defensive scores in their huge 44-9 win on Sunday afternoon. We should get a more accurate gauge of what this defense is capable of when they take on Kirk Cousins and the Redskins, who are coming off a 4-turnover performance against the Eagles, in Week 2.
Honorable Mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers

LVP: Houston Texans
In a week that was stuffed to the brim with notable underperformers, the Texans D registering no sacks or takeaways against a Blake Bortles-led offense might've been the most stunning. This heavily-lauded group looked collectively flat in their home opener as they allowed 23 of the 29 total points the Jaguars scored in this shocking upset. There's too much talent spread throughout this group to write them off completely, but this is definitely not a good sign for their prospects in 2017.
Dishonorable Mentions: New England Patriots, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings