Monday, December 5, 2016

The Best and Worst of Emma Stone

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 "La La Land" star Emma Stone.

Films starring Emma Stone that I've seen:
The Rocker
Easy A
Friends with Benefits
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The Help
The Amazing Spider-Man
Gangster Squad
Movie 43
The Croods
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Magic in the Moonlight
Irrational Man

Best Performance: Birdman (2014)
Stone rose to fame in the world of comedy (Superbad, Zombieland, Easy A) and despite her decent turns in The Help and The Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn't really sold on her as a dramatic actress. That all changed after I saw Birdman. In a film that featured award-caliber turns from seasoned Hollywood heavyweights including Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, Stone's turn as the newly-sober daughter of Keaton's character manages to steal the show. Her passionate, soul-bearing performance successfully brings a grounded presence to a film that is otherwise full of unapologetic insanity and weirdness. 

Worst Performance: Aloha (2015)
There was a lot of backlash from professional critics stemming from Stone being cast as a half-Asian/Polynesian character. Personally, I was more offended by her god awful performance than the case of semi-whitewashing surrounding her casting. The typically likable, magnetic Stone somehow manages to come off as alarmingly robotic for the duration of this insufferable romantic dramedy.

Best Film: Superbad (2007)
The time has come for me to once again heap a disgusting amount of praise on Superbad. I strongly believe that the high-school party comedy that launched the careers of Stone and Jonah Hill, and made Seth Rogen a superstar deserves to be considered an all-time classic. A majority of the R-rated comedies that have come out in the past decade are indebted to the over-the-top vulgar yet heartfelt formula that Superbad expertly employed. I haven't laughed as hard or as frequently at a movie since I saw this in theaters on opening weekend and I wouldn't be surprised if I never did again.  
Worst Film: Aloha (2015)
Cameron Crowe managed to get his career back on track with the heartwarming family film We Bought a Zoo after going through a decade-plus cold streak following his 2000 masterpiece Almost Famous. Of course, Crowe proceeded to murder that small amount of goodwill by dropping a Biblical-scale disaster in Aloha. No amount of gorgeous Hawaiian backdrops can make up for Aloha's appalling sappiness, incoherent plot and uncharacteristically terrible performances from its talent-loaded cast (Bradley Cooper, Stone, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams). I'm curious to see where Crowe goes from here, but given how hard this bombed, I'd be surprised if any studio gave him a chance to redeem himself anytime soon.   

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 "Collateral Beauty" star Kate Winslet.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Concert Review: Animals as Leaders-- Boston, MA-- November 30th, 2016

Lineup: Animals as Leaders/Intervals/Plini
Venue: Royale, Boston, MA
Date: November 30th, 2016

Plini: Plini has been the most hyped instrumental band of 2016 not named Polyphia and after seeing them perform, I completely understand why. The Australian jazz fusion/prog rock trio played 40 minutes worth of gorgeous, winding musical adventures that reminded me a lot of Collective-era Scale the Summit. These guys have the potential to turn into the genre's next seminal act and I'm mildly ashamed that I didn't take the time to check out them out sooner.  

Intervals: While I have a lot of love for Animals as Leaders, the main reason I went to this show was to see Intervals. Their latest release The Shape of Colour was one of my favorite albums of 2015 and I was dying to finally them perform as an instrumental group (the previous time I'd seen them was during their brief stint as a traditional prog metal band). Thankfully, their performance ended up living up to my ridiculous hype level. Aaron Marshall is one of the best guitarists in the game right now and it was fucking awesome to watch him rip through a 40-minute set of his distinct, wildly upbeat brand of prog. I'm elated that Intervals has returned to being a full-time instrumental band and I hope can catch them headline sometime in the near future.

Animals as Leaders: There is no more reliable live act in metal right now than Animals as Leaders. Every single time you purchase a ticket one of their shows you know you're going to see a virtuoso musicianship clinic and last night's show at the Royale was no exception.

Given the fact that I've seen them six times and their stage presence is understandably stoic, there really isn't much to say about their performance aside from gushing about just how fucking talented they are. The level of precision that Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes and Matt Garska play borders on robotic and it allows every single song-regardless of how I feel about I studio version- to be captivating live. Watching top-tier musicians play in person that makes my inner music nerd weep with joy and that special (and arguably pathetic) feeling that comes with seeing them live is the biggest reason why I'll continue to go see Animals as Leaders every time they're in the Massachusetts-area.  

What will ultimately make this show standout from the previous times I've seen them is the fact that they played in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,000 people. Their ascent from playing before bands like Carnifex and Cephalic Carnage on Summer Slaughter six years ago to mid-size club headliner with one of the most passionate, devoted fanbases in metal is remarkable and something I never expected them to pull off as an instrumental band in a genre that is incredibly hard to breakout in. This wave of success couldn't be more well-deserved and with yet another impressive effort put forth on their just-released fourth LP The Madness of Many, I fully expect their popularity to grow even more in the coming months. Animals as Leaders is a wonder to behold live and an absolute must-see for any fans of complex, heavy and melodic instrumental music.  

Pilini 8/10
Intervals 8.5/10
Animals as Leaders 8.5/10

I'm Awake
Sure Shot
Black Box

Animals as Leaders:
Tempting Time
An Infinite Regression
Do Not Go Gently
The Glass Bridge
The Brain Dance
Physical Education
Inner Assassins
The Woven Web

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Best and Worst of Natalie Portman

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 "Jackie" star Natalie Portman.

Films starring Natalie Portman that I've seen:
Leon: The Professional
Mars Attacks!
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
V for Vendetta
Black Swan
No Strings Attached
Your Highness 
Thor: The Dark World
Jane Got a Gun

Best Performance: Black Swan (2010)
Portman's Academy Award-winning performance as a ballerina whose life is turned upside when she lands the lead role in Swan Lake is so haunting, intoxicating and layered that one Oscar doesn't seem like enough of an honor for it. The transformation she makes from unassuming, sheltered young woman to obsessive, paranoid lunatic is truly terrifying and serves as the anchor for one of the most insane psychological thrillers ever made.   

Worst Performance: Your Highness (2011)
Comedy has never been Portman's strong suit and those lack of chops were on full display in David Gordon Green's medieval stoner comedy Your Highness. Portman can't keep up with the rapid-fire improv bombs dropped by her co-stars (primarily Danny McBride and James Franco) and her visible discomfort on-screen went a long way in dragging down the quality of this thoroughly average film. 

Best Film: Black Swan (2010)
Darren Aronofsky is one of Hollywood's most twisted, dynamic directors and there's no finer example of his demented genius than Black Swan. Black Swan is the type of movie that takes pleasure in twisting the viewer's brain into a pretzel. The constant uncertainty and misdirection as to what is actually going on makes this a brilliant, enthralling mindfuck that dominated my thoughts long after the credits rolled.    

Worst Film: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
I was born in 1992, so like a lot of people in my generation, my first exposure to Star Wars came with The Phantom Menace. When I first saw it in theaters as a kid, I legitimately loved it. I found everything from the Podracing scenes to Darth Maul's double-edged lightsaber to be cool as shit. I was such a big fan of this movie that I even dressed up as Darth Maul for Halloween that year. That love disappeared when I re-watched The Phantom Menance when I was about 14 (roughly 2-3 years after I watched all of the original trilogy) and realized that everything outside of the final fight scene with Darth Maul was pretty awful. The primary plot surrounding Queen Amidala (Portman) and the liberation of her people is dumb, Jake Lloyd is god awful as young Anakin Skywalker and Jar Jar Binks is arguably the most punchable fictional character in the history of cinema. I feel for every Star Wars fan that had their souls crushed by this weak-ass movie after waiting 16 years for a prequel.  

 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 "La La Land" star Emma Stone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

As We Proceed Episode #5

In this month's episode of As We Proceed, Feliciano and I discuss Frank Ocean's decision to boycott the Grammy's, new songs from Freddie Gibbs and John Legend, and A Tribe Called Quest's hotly-anticipated comeback album We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service.


Week 12 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

MVP: Drew Brees (Saints)
Drew Brees once again set the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on fire in Week 12. Brees embarrassed a Rams pass defense that has been one of the best in the league for most of this season by hanging 310 YDS, 4 TD's and a 1-yard rushing TD on them in a huge statement win for the 5-6 Saints. Brees will be back in the friendly confines of the Superdome in Week 13 to face a leaky Lions pass defense that has allowed the 5th most fantasy points to QB's this season.
Honorable Mentions: Kirk Cousins (Redskins), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Colin Kaepernick (49ers)

LVP: Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
Russell Wilson's otherwise strong November ended on a pretty sour note in Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks signal-caller had no answers for the Buccaneers shockingly aggressive defensive game plan, putting up just 231 total yards (151 passing, 80 rushing), 0 TD's and 2 INT's in a rough road loss. Wilson and the Seahawks return home in Week 13 to take on a banged-up Panthers secondary that has allowed multiple passing TD's in 4 of their last 6 games.
Dishonorable Mentions: Andy Dalton (Bengals), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)

Running Back
MVP: Mark Ingram (Saints)
Mark Ingram's 2016 campaign continues to deify logic. The up-and down Saints running back was able to gas a Rams rushing attack that has held the likes of David Johnson and Jay Ajayi to under 100 yards this season for 167 total yards (146 rushing, 21 receiving) and a pair of TD's on 15 touches on the afternoon. Ingram has yet to piece together back-to-back impressive performances this season and that benchmark seems like its going to allude him once again as he is set to face a Lions defense that has allowed the 5th least fantasy points to RB's in Week 13.
Honorable Mentions: LeSean McCoy (Bills), Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys), David Johnson (Cardinals)

LVP: Frank Gore (Colts)
Frank Gore was practically doomed to fail in Week 12. With Andrew Luck sidelined by a concussion and an already talent-deprived offensive line missing 4 starters tasked with blocking for him, the Steelers stacked the box and ended up holding the ageless workhorse back to 31 yards (28 rushing, 3 receiving) on 16 touches. Gore has another rough assignment in Week 13 as he faces the Jets 4th-ranked rush D.   
Dishonorable Mentions: Lamar Miller (Texans), Rashad Jennings (Giants), Matt Forte (Jets)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Antonio Brown (Steelers)
Antonio Brown reaffirmed his status as a fantasy football legend with a magical performance on Thanksgiving night against the Colts. Brown made the most of a pretty moderate amount of targets (6), hauling in 5 receptions for 91 YDS and 3 TD's. 2016 has been a down year by Brown's absurdly high standards (82 REC, 998 YDS, 10 TD's through 11 games), but he is still a top 5 fantasy receiver and an uncontested weekly matchup-proof starter. 
Honorable Mentions: Tyreek Hill (Chiefs), Davante Adams (Packers), Michael Thomas (Saints)

LVP: Amari Cooper (Raiders)
You could make a solid argument for giving the LVP to Julio Jones after his quiet afternoon against Patrick Peterson or Brandin Cooks following his shocking doughnut against the Rams, but given the ease of matchup, I have to give this dreaded distinction to Amari Cooper. Cooper let Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts and Clive Walford get all the shine against the Panthers depleted secondary, finishing the game with a paltry 22 yards on 4 receptions. Even though he's only found paydirt 3 times in 2016, Cooper has had an excellent sophomore season, and is a strong contender to be a top 10 wideout against the Bills in Week 13. 
Dishonorable Mentions: Julio Jones (Falcons), Allen Robinson (Jaguars), Brandin Cooks (Saints)

Tight End
MVP: Jordan Reed (Redskins)
Despite suffering a separated shoulder in the 2nd quarter, Jordan Reed managed to play through the pain and put together his best game of the year so far. Reed served as the catalyst for the Redskins 2nd-half offensive explosion, picking up 95 yards and 2 TD's on 10 receptions in their narrow loss to the Cowboys. Reed's status is up in the air for Week 13, but he'll be a must start against the Cardinals tough pass defense if he's active. 
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Eifert (Bengals), Delanie Walker (Titans), Travis Kelce (Chiefs)

LVP: Eric Ebron (Lions)
A week after finally delivering a top-tier performance, Eric Ebron slipped right back into the realm of disappointment. The Lions tight end was invisible on Thanksgiving against the Vikings, putting up a goose egg and only getting targeted 1 time on a day where Matthew Stafford threw the ball 40 times. Despite his erratic play, Ebron should be used as a TE1 for his week 13 tilt against the Saints.  
Dishonorable Mentions: Zach Ertz (Eagles), Greg Olsen (Panthers), Jason Witten (Cowboys)

MVP: New York Giants
The Browns got an early jump on the holiday season by showing off their immense generosity and giving the Giants D a ton of fantasy points. The Giants were able to string together one of the impressive beatdowns of the Browns helpless offense to-date, picking up 7 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries and a TD in their 27-13 win in front of the eternally-suffering Dawg Pound. The Giants have turned into a viable fantasy defense over the past month, but their owners should look for other options in Week 13 as they face a Steelers offense that has only allowed 3 sacks and committed 1 turnover since returning from bye in Week 9. 
Honorable Mentions: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers

LVP: Buffalo Bills
The Bills D once again failed to capitalize on a sensational matchup in Week 12. The Bills picked up a mere 2 sacks, forced 0 takeaways and allowed 21 points to a Jaguars offense that has been dysfunctional and turnover-prone for a vast majority of the season. The Bills have fallen from grace after their incredible start to the season and shouldn't be played in any circumstances in Week 13 as they travel across the country to take on the Raiders potent, turnover-averse offense. 
Dishonorable Mentions: Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans

Week 13 NFL Power Rankings

()=last week's ranking

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Quick Movie Reviews: Hacksaw Ridge, Bleed for This, The Edge of Seventeen

Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson is officially back. The controversial thespian's return to the director's chair is a heartfelt, narrative-driven antithesis to the flood of masturbatory, propaganda-filled Iraq/Afghanistan war films that have been released in the past several years. Hacksaw Ridge is every bit as focused on Desmond Doss (a phenomenal Andrew Garfield) the man as it is on his remarkable military accomplishments and that focus on character development allows the film to have the emotional backbone that the genre's recent entries have sorely lacked. The scenes detailing his upbringing in Virginia paint a vivid, powerful picture of the events that made him so staunchly oppose violence and get you firmly invested in what happens to him once he steps foot on the battlefield in Okinawa. While the scenes away from the carnage of Okinawa struck me the most, the combat sequences are undeniably impressive. Gibson makes sure the viewer feels the unrelenting terror that defined that The Battle of Okinawa with graphic, long-cut battle sequences that highlight the mass suffering and loss of life that both sides endured during this nearly three-month conflict. Hacksaw Ridge reinforces Gibson's talent as a filmmaker and is easily the best war film since Saving Private Ryan.
4/5 Stars 

Bleed for This: Writer/director Ben Younger's (Boiler Room, Prime) return to the big screen after a decade-plus hiatus isn't exactly the runaway success many had hoped it would be. His dramatization of Rhode Island boxer's Vinny Paz's unlikely return to the ring after suffering a broken neck in a car accident is as formulaic and cliched as a fact-based sports dramas could possibly be. There's numerous inspirational training sequences set to '80's hair metal, at least a half-dozen of the obligatory "I'm not going to give up" monologues sprinkled throughout the film and of course, Paz's family is a bunch of self-absorbed, overbearing pricks that don't always have Vinny's best interest at heart. However, when a film is as well-acted and engaging as Bleed for This, the avalanche of cliches found in the script can be somewhat forgiven. Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart are sensational as Paz and Kevin Rooney, Paz's washed-up, alcoholic trainer respectively and despite Younger's overly conventional narrative approach, the perseverance and unwavering mental toughness that are found in Paz's story is hard to not be impressed by. Bleed for This is a respectable albeit completely unessential entry into the endless mountain of sports biopics that is worth checking out if you're a fan of Paz or boxing films.
3.5/5 Stars

The Edge of Seventeen: The Edge of Seventeen is an A++ example of a film that has fallen victim to the cruelness of the hype train. While it has a handful of poignant scenes, features an impressive lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld and absolutely nails the painful awkwardness that plagues the actions and conversations of high school-age kids that feel like they don't fit in, there's nothing in this movie that hasn't been done better by countless other coming-of-age movies in recent years. Unlike other recent coming-of-age standouts (Dope, The Spectacular Now, The Kings of Summer), The Edge of Seventeen doesn't have the healthy amount of heart, laughs or insight needed to offset the lack of innovation present in its storytelling and become something really memorable. It may be a pleasant, entertaining movie with some solid acting and bursts of amusing dialogue, but it's not one that I see myself ever revisiting in the future.
3.5/5 Stars