Thursday, May 23, 2019

2019 NFL Position Rankings: Top 30 Tackles

30.Laremy Tunsil (Dolphins)
29.Taylor Decker (Lions)
28.Eric Fisher (Chiefs)
27.Riley Reiff (Vikings)
26.Braden Smith (Colts)
25.Mike McGlinchey (49ers)
24.Taylor Moton (Panthers)
23.Marcus Cannon (Patriots)
22.Jason Peters (Eagles)
21.Ricky Wagner (Lions)
20.Nate Solder (Giants)
19.Ronnie Stanley (Ravens)
18.Charles Leno Jr. (Bears)
17.Bryan Bulaga (Packers)
16.Rob Havenstein (Rams)
15.Russell Okung (Chargers)
14.Taylor Lewan (Titans)
13.Lane Johnson (Eagles)
12.Alejandro Villanueva (Steelers)
11.Anthony Castonzo (Colts)
10.Terron Armstead (Saints)
9.Trent Williams (Redskins)
8.Jake Matthews (Falcons)
7.Ryan Ramcyzk (Saints)
6.Mitchell Schwartz (Chiefs)
5.Duane Brown (Seahawks)
4.Joe Staley (49ers)
3.Tyron Smith (Cowboys)
2.Andrew Whitworth (Rams)
1.David Bakhtiari (Packers)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Best and Worst of Will Forte

“The Best and Worst of” series chronicles the career highlights and lowlights of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week, I take a look at the filmography of “Booksmart” star Will Forte.

Films starring Will Forte that I've seen:
The Brothers Solomon
Baby Mama
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy
Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
That's My Boy
The Watch
Life of Crime
A Futile and Stupid Gesture
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Best Performance: MacGruber (2010)
Forte is a comic that has a gift for being a manic scene stealer in supporting roles (Keanu, Tim and Eric's Billon Dollar Movie, Beerfest) and even turned in a terrific, understated performance in Alexander Payne's road drama Nebraska. However, MacGruber is always the first thing that comes to mind when I hear or see his name. This ludicrous character he cultivated for years on Saturday Night Live hits its peak in the unfiltered, anything goes environment of an R-rated movie. The veteran funnyman nails every smug insult, preposterous threat and bit of physical comedy he's asked to do in this suitably over-the-top parody.

Worst Performance: N/A
As I just mentioned, a lot of the work Forte gets is supporting roles in dumb comedies and the dude crushes it every time. To me, he's in the category of people like Fred Willard, JB Smoove and Kate McKinnon who just show up and manufacture laughs-regardless of how good, bad or mediocre the project is.

Best Film: MacGruber (2010)

The love I have for MacGruber is immense and eternal. I'd go as far to say that it's arguably the most underrated comedy released this decade. With the help of a sensational cast that bought into exactly what they were trying to do (Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillipe, Val Kilmer, Maya Rudolph, Powers Boothe), Forte and Jorma Taccone turned their recurring Saturday Night Live sketch into a seriously funny movie that perfectly satirizes the one-of-a-kind absurdity of 80's action movies in addition to MacGyver.  

Worst Film: Baby Mama (2008)
Saturday Night Live legends Tina Fey and Amy Poheler finally brought the beautiful comic dynamic they displayed on television for years to the big screen with Sisters in December 2015. Their first pairing as co-leads in a movie seven years earlier was a far less successful endeavor. Outside of the scenes featuring Steve Martin as Fey's hippie boss, the jokes don't land very often and the emotional beats of the story almost always feel forced.

Thank you for reading this week's edition of “The Best and Worst of”. The next victim of my praise and ire will be “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” star Kyle Chandler. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum

After two carnage-filled adventures, audiences know exactly what John Wick is about. The action is going to be beautifully choregraphed, the body count is going to be massive and Keanu Reeves is going to damn near kill himself doing stunts/fights in nearly every scene. So how does this franchise not only maintain the momentum established by its predecessors, but manage to improve in its third go-round? Simple: Add some exciting little flourishes to the mass carnage while also continuing to effectively utilize its established playbook.

A premise centered around a worldwide contract being placed on Wick's head after he broke one of the few sacred rules (no killing on Continental grounds) that brings a sense of order to this assassin underworld at the end of the last movie is the perfect opportunity for director Chad Stahleski and writer Derek Kolstad to dig deep into their creative bag of tricks. By bringing in some elite martial artists (Mark Dacascos, Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman) to help diversify the type of fights Wick gets into and embracing the sense of playfulness that comes with more of an emphasis on martial arts combat, Stahleski and Kolstad stage some very inventive setpieces that are an absolute joy to take in. Within the first 30 minutes of the movie alone, Wick gets into a "quiet" fight in the middle of the New York Public Library, fends off several attackers with the help of a horse in a crowded stable and stumbles into a warehouse that is full of antique weapons and promptly gets into a glass-shattering, knife-throwing duel with the guys who followed him in there. Stahleski, Kolstad and Reeves clearly love making these movies, and the sheer exuberance they display in adding new wrinkles to this exquisite ballet of violence they've created is why the John Wick series remains such a unique, giddily entertaining product.

Gunplay may have taken a bit of a backseat to fists, swords and knives this time around, but I'd be remiss if I went the whole review without talking about the signature shootouts that helped turn the John Wick brand into a word-of-mouth phenomenon. There's two scenes in particular here that are serious contenders for the most chaotic, claustrophobic and badass gun battles of the entire series. A portion of the climatic sequence at a familiar location involving Wick, a shotgun and some poor souls who didn't realize full body armor wouldn't be enough to save them from the wrath of the Baba Yaga is worthy of an over-the-top standing ovation while new castmember Halle Berry gets a chance to display her natural action star prowess alongside Reeves during a lengthy showdown in a Moroccan Kasbah that makes especially good use of long takes. I'd like to think that John Woo is somewhere shedding a tear over the heartfelt homage Stahleski pays him every time he steps up behind the camera to direct a brutal yet beautiful gun fight.  

Even in a franchise that has done nothing but excel and innovate since its inception, John Wick: Chapter 3 is a standout. It has electric pacing, an intoxicating style that hasn't lost an ounce of freshness and above all, demonstrates the tremendous rewards that are reaped when a group of talented professionals take the time to meticulously craft action scenes where the viewer can see every single thing that's going on. Throw in a surprise ending that organically sets up a universe-altering battle for the next chapter to top everything off and you have yourself a perfect little action movie sundae. As long as every figure involved with the production remains invested in putting together a diverse, cool and technically-astounding product, I will never get tired of John Wick.
Grade: A

Monday, May 20, 2019

MCU Superlatives+Updated Rankings

It's honestly kind of hard to believe that Marvel's "Infinity Saga" is now over. Clearly the MCU isn't going anywhere, but we've reached the end of a vastly impactful era for the superhero giant and it's only natural to want to reflect on the massive body of work they've produced over the past 11 years. I took the past few weeks after seeing Endgame to reflect on what were the best and worst things to come out of this mega franchise's opening act as well as update the definitive ranking of all 22 films now that everything's been wrapped up. Below you'll find 10 superlatives that cover everything from villains to what character I'd most like to see integrated into the MCU's next phase along with the aforementioned rankings featuring write-ups on all of the post-Black Panther titles. Hope you enjoy.

Best Action Sequence: "Airport Fight", Captain America: Civil War

This should be the blueprint for every superhero action sequence. The scale is epic without being overwhelming, there's too many badass moments to put in a concise list and it also provides great introductions to characters (Tom Holland's Spider-Man, Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther) that went onto play pivotal roles in the success of the recent MCU entries.

Worst Action Sequence: "Spider-Man vs. Vulture", Spider-Man: Homecoming

Jon Watts did a comically poor job with all of the massive action setpieces in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but the finale was easily the most cringeworthy lowlight. This shaky "two flying objects repeatedly ramming into each other while the camera sits 5,000 miles away" garbage is eerily reminiscent of the DCU disaster Man of Steel. Fingers crossed Watts addresses these woes on Far From Home because everything else about this current iteration of the friendly neighborhood webslinger is pretty damn great.

Best Villain: Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok)
To be fair, Loki has a distinct advantage in this category because he's the only recurring villain outside of Thanos in the entire MCU thus far. That being said, it's a testament to Hiddleston's tremendous performance that the character never managed to get stale. His balance of charisma, wit and menace made him a consistently formidable villain that made every scene he appeared in riveting.

Worst Villain: Red Skull
(Hugo Weaving, Captain America: The First Avenger)
Looking back on this wave of the MCU, there's no shortage of villains that flat-out stunk. Ultron, Ronan the Accuser, Yellowjacket and every single member of the cornucopia of antagonists from Iron Man 2 were all anonymous benchwarmers that contributed absolutely nothing to this championship team. If I were to anoint a leader from this group of worthless footnotes, it would be good ol' Red Skull. Outside of Weaving's grating overacting, there's literally nothing memorable about the character. Dude basically just shows up, adds a whole lot of cheesy garbage to the handful of scenes he appears then (thankfully) gets sucked into a wormhole to never be heard from again*.

*(I know Red Skull returned as the keeper of the Soul Stone in Infinity War, but he's had about 90 seconds of screentime since making his comeback and is not played by Weaving, so he might as well be dead).

Most Underrated Movie: Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 swung for the fences with some ballsy creative decisions (the twist surrounding The Mandarin, having Tony Stark's struggle with PTSD following the events of The Avengers play such a prominent role in the subplot) that were bound to be polarizing and I believe they paid off tremendously. There's a level of unpredictability, emotional resonance and a masterful comedy/tragedy juxtaposition here that is going to be difficult for any future film in this series to match.  

Most Overrated Movie: Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)
While the creative team (directors Anthony and Joe Russo, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) behind this project ended up being responsible for the immensely satisfying Infinity War/Endgame climax, their MCU debut wasn't exactly graceful. Outside of some great action scenes and a much more assured performance from Chris Evans as Captain America, this is a slow, wildly convoluted movie that is far more frustrating than it is entertaining.

Best Film: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
I have a tendency to gravitate towards shit that is off the beaten path in the world of cinema and Thor: Ragnarok is definitely the closest thing Marvel Studios has to one. Taika Waititi brings his signature goofball style to a Thor universe that was in need of some creative juice after losing some momentum with 2013's The Dark World and it results in a delightfully odd little movie that is trippy, exciting and extremely funny.

Worst Film: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Newly-minted MCU directors Cate Shortland (Black Widow), Chloe Zhao (The Eternals) and Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi) will naturally be facing a ton of pressure to live up to the quality standard Marvel has established on their collective inaugural voyages as blockbuster filmmakers. The good news for this trio is that it's going to be borderline impossible for any of them to make a project that even flirts with the level of suck Age of Ultron achieves. I don't know if Joss Whedon didn't know how to handle the addition of more characters or just simply wanted nothing to do with this franchise anymore, but this movie is a headache-inducing mess that is as overstuffed, dull and confusing as a superhero movie can possibly be.

Character I Most Want to See
Incorporated into the Next Wave of Movies: Blade
There's almost no chance this happens because Blade has no ties to any current character and is rumored to be getting a series on Hulu like seemingly every other character Disney doesn't feel comfortable putting onto the big screen, but the half human/half vampire warrior is a charismatic badass that would allow Kevin Feige and co. to tap into a gritty, horror-laced underworld that is unlike anything they've explored thus far.
Dream Casting Choices: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Y'lan Noel, Lakeith Stanfield, Jovan Adepo, Trevor Jackson

Updated MCU Rankings: (pre-Infinity War rankings with full write-ups can be found here:

22.Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Grade: D+
21.Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Grade: C+
20.Iron Man 2 (2010)
Grade: C+
19.Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017)
Grade: B-
18.Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)
Grade: B-
17.Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Grade: B
16.Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018):
As a goofy reprieve following the doom and gloom of Infinity War, it's a triumph. As a standalone project, Ant-Man and the Wasp is merely a pretty good superhero flick that's biggest accomplishment is somehow managing to have even lower stakes than its predecessor.
Grade: B
15.Ant-Man (2015)
Grade: B
14.The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Grade: B
13.Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Grade: B
12.Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Grade: B+
11.Captain Marvel (2019):
After a questionable, ambiguous start in the depths of outer space, Captain Marvel finds its footing once the action shifts to Earth and it turns into a buddy road trip movie (think of it as the less quirky cousin of Thor: Ragnarok) driven by a solid script that has a couple of nice twists along the way, manic fight scenes and the strong, smartass rapport between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson. With the growing pains out of the way, Carol Danvers now has a good chance of being a pillar in the next wave of movies.
Grade: B+
10.Thor (2011)
Grade: B+
9.Doctor Strange (2016)
Grade: B+
8.The Avengers (2012)
Grade: A-
7.Avengers: Endgame (2019):
I'm well aware that putting this outside the top 5 is a hot take, but hear me out. While Endgame is an excellent conclusion to this 11 year, 22 movie saga filled with huge laughs, rewarding emotional payoffs and breathtaking moments that should prove to be unforgettable as time goes on, the inevitably busy narrative and undoing of the apocalyptic damage Thanos did made it a slightly weaker movie than Infinity War. 
Grade: A-
6.Iron Man 3 (2013):
Grade: A
5.Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Grade: A
4.Iron Man (2008)
Grade: A
3.Avengers: Infinity War (2018): 
Infinity War truly was as harrowing as a mainstream blockbuster can possibly be. It represents a rare instance where the superheroes were legitimately overmatched throughout and that feeling of impending doom that runs through every frame of this film made it a unique, enthralling genre standout.
Grade: A

2.Black Panther (2018)
Grade: A
1.Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Grade: A

Friday, May 17, 2019

2019 NFL Position Rankings: Top 20 Tight Ends

20.Hunter Henry (Chargers)
19.Chris Herndon (Jets)
18.Mark Andrews (Ravens)
17.Greg Olsen (Panthers)
16.Jordan Reed (Redskins)
15.Delanie Walker (Titans)
14.Jack Doyle (Colts)
13.Jimmy Graham (Packers)
12.Trey Burton (Bears)
11.Austin Hooper (Falcons)
10.David Njoku (Browns)
9.Eric Ebron (Colts)
8.Vance McDonald (Steelers)
7.Kyle Rudolph (Vikings)
6.Evan Engram (Giants)
5.Jared Cook (Saints)
4.O.J. Howard (Buccaneers)
3.George Kittle (49ers)
2.Zach Ertz (Eagles)
1.Travis Kelce (Chiefs)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

As We Proceed Episode #37

On this episode, Feliciano and I unveil our picks for the top 10 hip-hop albums of the 2010's. This 90 minute farewell (for now) tour can be seen below. I'd like to thank anybody that checked out an episode over the past 3 years, the legion of people (special shout outs to Aaron at Sound and Vision Media, Dave, Pedro and Makala at Lynn Community Television for making us sound as coherent as humanly possible, Joe, Dane and Henrique for volunteering their time and talents on several occasions and Lil Pump for providing us with a running gag that made us laugh for nearly a year) who helped us out along the way and Feliciano for somehow thinking it was a good idea to partner with me on a creative venture. I didn't exactly know what I was getting into when the seeds for this podcast were planted during a spontaneous meeting at a roast beef place in December 2015, but it ended up being one of the most fun and fulfilling things I've done during my brief time on this planet thus far. I'm glad that I had a forum to talk about hip-hop with a good friend for so long and hopefully one day we'll make a glorious, violent hand gesture-filled return to the airwaves.

-Chris Maitland    

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Concert Review: Meshuggah--Boston, MA-- May 14th, 2019

Lineup: Meshuggah/The Black Dahlia Murder
Venue: House of Blues, Boston, MA

The Black Dahlia Murder: There's no bigger party in death metal than The Black Dahlia Murder. No matter where they're placed on the bill or who they're playing in front of, vocalist Trevor Strand is going to be armed with a huge grin, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Brian Eschbach will be yelling goofy shit at the crowd in between songs and their blistering melodeath jams are going to inspire circle pits galore. Consistency, a true roaddog mentality and the childlike joy playing music for a living brings them will define their legacy long after their days of delivering evil music with a smile are over. May the Immortals never die (or at least not lose all of the aforementioned qualities they've displayed since their inception).    

Meshuggah: I'm always in awe of just how damn heavy Meshuggah is live. Their records are more than suitably crushing, but in person shit just gets silly. Every song hits with the sonic force of an AC-130 and basking in that level of aural devastation is enough to fill any extreme metal enthusiast with a tremendous amount of glee.

Unrelenting heaviness and the precision in which its delivered may be the primary attraction of a Meshuggah performance, but I made a point to hone in on some of the complementary parts of their show that get buried behind all of the monstrous riffs this time around.

First off, their light show is simply unreal. A friend of a friend who also does lighting for touring bands told me a few years back that the guy in charge of Meshuggah's lights is his idol in the business and after observing the visual sorcery that was going on around the band, I began to understand that admiration. The light show is honestly every bit as intricate the music being performed on stage. Their setup, which features a trio of massive custom light rigs nestled right behind the members of the band that are standing at the front of the stage along with the house lights, syncs up to each tempo change and is even color-coded to reflect the tone of the passage that's currently being played (darker colors for the extreme parts, lighter colors for the atmospheric sections). Paying such close attention to what was going on around Meshuggah made me realize that I need to be giving more credit to the people responsible for handling the lights at shows. Lighting is every bit as important to the concert experience as the music itself-especially when you're dealing with an artist that emphasizes  establishing a particular atmosphere at their shows.

Secondly, I tried to watch Tomas Haake as much as possible. Haake is arguably one of the most respected drummers in metal history, so his talent is far from being slept-on. However, I felt like I never appreciated just how great he was until last night. To put it simply, the dude is superhuman. He's busting out unorthodox fills and patterns that are completely unique and unbelievably complex like they're the most routine thing you can do on the drums. Greatness is defined by making the the difficult look effortless and being in the presence of someone who possesses it is always staggering.

Meshuggah may not be a band I listen constantly, but the sheer force they produce when they take the stage combined with their relatively infrequent touring of the United States make them a must-see every time they play in the Boston-area.
The Black Dahlia Murder: A-
Meshuggah: A-

The Black Dahlia Murder:
Malenchantments of the Necrosphere 
As Good as Dead
Statutory Ape
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse 
On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood
Kings of the Nightworld
Everything Went Black

Born in Dissonance
The Hurt That Finds You First
Rational Gaze
Future Breed Machine
Straws Pulled at Random 
Violent Sleep of Reason