Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Week 12 NFL Power Rankings

()=Last Week's Ranking

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quick Movie Reviews: Spectre, Spotlight, The Night Before

Spectre: The James Bond film released immediately after series standout Skyfall was pretty much bound to be a letdown, but even with lowered expectations, Spectre still manages to underwhelm. Spectre has the look of a spectacle with elaborate setpieces and exotic backdrops galore, but no amount of big-budgeted action scenes and pretty scenery from various locations around the world can disguise how routine this film is. The story especially embodies the pedestrian spy film formula as Bond takes on a tech-savvy global terror group called "Spectre" led by the mysterious Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a criminally underutilized Christoph Waltz), who has been responsible for a majority of the deaths of Bond's loved ones in recent years. This really simple setup is somehow stretched into a nearly two-and-a-half hour film that's often dull, frequently underdeveloped and brings back the overwhelmingly hokey vibe that hasn't been present in the series since Pierce Brosnan played the British superspy. The only thing that saves Spectre from going completely off-the-rails is the work of Daniel Craig. Craig continues to portray Bond in a refreshingly gritty manner and his excellent performance makes even the most trite sequences in this film somewhat bearable. Spectre is a passable, but completely forgettable entry in the Bond series. It would be an absolute shame if this truly was Craig's swan song to Bond. He deserves a much better finale than this.
3/5 Stars

Spotlight: A few times a year, a film will come along and tell a under-the-radar true story that needs to be heard. For 2015, that film is Spotlight. Spotlight tells the story of a group of Boston Globe investigate reporters -known as the "Spotlight" team- who uncover the rampant child molestation among priests in the Boston archdiocese  and susbquent cover-ups by the higher-ups in the Catholic Church. While this story was published in 2002, the general public has somehow largely forgot about it and that makes this film an essential reminder of just how impactful the information the Spotlight team uncovered is. The dramatization of these true-life events does an excellent job of telling this story in a riveting, thoughtful manner by exposing just how widespread the corruption and cover-ups in the Catholic Church ran while also honoring the immense psychical and emotional pain the victims of these heinous cases of abuse endured. The only disappointing aspect of Spotlight is that no one out of the highly talented ensemble cast gives a true standout performance. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber and Brian d'Arcy James all turn in good performances as the reporters and lawyers that helped bring this story to light, but none of them are memorable enough to draw serious contention for nominations once award season rolls around. Spotlight is one of the finest cinematic accomplishments of 2015 so far and I will not be the least bit surprised if it ends up emerging as the frontrunner for Best Picture.
4/5 Stars

The Night Before: The Night Before sees Seth Rogen and his cohorts finally trying their hand at a holiday film and it ends up being one of the finest projects the polarizing stoner comic icon has ever produced. The Night Before focuses on a group of friends (Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie) in their early 30's enjoying the final installment of their 12-year tradition of partying together on Christmas Eve before they finally accept their various adult responsibilities. The trio is excellent together as they fire off jokes and establishing a friendship that feels entirely believable. The star-studded supporting cast including Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Jillian Bell (Workaholics), Ilana Glazer (Broad City), Mindy Kaling and a scene-stealing Michael Shannon only adds to the brilliance by manufacturing a ton of laughs in their limited time on screen. The parade of sex-and-drug fueled humor that drives Rogen's films is still very much present here, but what's surprising about The Night Before is just how heartfelt it is. The film's messages about friendship, first-time parenthood, growing up and relationships are intelligent and poignant. Contrary to popular belief Rogen's films aren't always simple stoner comedies with nothing meaningful to say, but even as a longtime fan of his work, I was surprised by how many deep and emotionally-resonant the messages in this film were. With it's non-stop laughs and season-appropriate warmth, The Night Before is an instant holiday classic.
4.5/5 Stars

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Best and Worst of Seth Rogen

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 "The Night Before" star Seth Rogen.

Film starring Seth Rogen that I've seen:
Donnie Darko
The 40-Year Old Virgin
You, Me and Dupree 
Knocked Up
Kung Fu Panda
Pineapple Express
Zach and Miri Make a Porno
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Observe and Report
Funny People
The Green Hornet
Kung Fu Panda 2
The Guilt Trip
This is the End
The Interview
Steve Jobs

Best Performance: This is the End (2013)
Seth Rogen is often accused of playing characters that are too autobiographical, so it's only fitting that his finest work as an actor to-date comes in a film where he actually plays himself. Rogen draws big laughs throughout as he brilliantly skewers his loveable stoner persona and manages to be one of the standout performers in a cast full of comedic heavyweights.

Worst Performance: The Guilt Trip (2012)
Rogen's performance in The Guilt Trip is a textbook example of an actor unsuccessfully leaving their comfort zone. The overly sentimental material paired with the straight-laced nature of the character he's playing results in an uncharacteristically awkward performance from Rogen.  

Best Film: Superbad (2007)
Every decade has a high school comedy that defines it. The 80's had Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The 90's had Dazed and Confused. For the 2000's, this title goes to Superbad. The film only improves upon repeat viewings and the ensemble cast featuring Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Rogen, Bill Hader, Emma Stone and Christopher Mintz-Plasse couldn't be more perfect. As far as I'm concerned, Superbad is the most relatable, hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt high school comedy ever made.

Worst Film: Observe and Report (2009)
Writer/director Jody Hill is responsible for one of the funniest shows to hit the airwaves in the past decade (Eastbound and Down), but his track record on the big screen is nowhere near as impressive. His second film, Observe and Report, covers similarly dark territory as Eastbound and Down with not even a quarter of the laughs. Just about everyone in the movie (namely Rogen and Anna Faris) are woefully miscast in their roles and the film is more often just plain morbid than morbidly funny.

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 "Creed" star Sylvester Stallone.    

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Week 10 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

MVP: Kirk Cousins (Redskins)
Kirk Cousins became the latest quarterback to victimize the Saints abysmal defense (20-25/324 YDS/4 TD) without even breaking a sweat. Despite trending upwards with 8 TD's and 1 INT in his last 3 starts, Cousins 2015 season has been full of glorious highs and soul-crushing lows, and that type of erratic play makes him a risky play in weeks where he doesn't have a creampuff matchup.
Honorable Mentions: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Jay Cutler (Bears), Joe Flacco (Ravens)

LVP: Peyton Manning (Broncos)
Peyton Manning may have passed Brett Favre to become the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards during Sunday's game with the Chiefs, but I'm sure he'd like to forget about everything else that happened on the field on November 15th, 2015. Manning played arguably the sloppiest game of his career (5-20/35 YDS/4 INT) and ended up getting pulled for backup Brock Osweiler midway through the 3rd quarter. A slew of both recent and lingering injuries have brought Manning down to earth and forced the future Hall-Of-Famer to finally show his advanced age. Manning's has already been ruled out for Week 11 with a partially torn plantar fascia and unless he's able to make a miraculous turnaround, he won't be viable a fantasy starter whenever he returns.
Dishonorable Mentions: Andy Dalton (Bengals), Drew Brees (Saints), Marcus Mariota (Titans)

Running Back
MVP: Jeremy Langford (Bears)
Even the most optimistic Bears fan couldn't have predicted that Jeremy Langford would play this well in relief of injured superstar running back Matt Forte. Langford did his best Forte impression by crushing the Rams defense in both the rushing and passing game, finishing the afternoon with 182 total yards (73 rushing, 109 receiving) and 2 TD's on 27 touches. As long as Forte is sidelined, Langford's status as a true dual-threat back makes him an excellent RB2 play.
Honorable Mentions: Charcandrick West (Chiefs), Adrian Peterson (Vikings), Matt Jones (Redskins)

LVP: Darren McFadden (Cowboys)
Darren McFadden has been impressive since he surpassed the recently-released Joseph Randle on the depth chart and became the Cowboys starting running back, picking up over 100 yards from scrimmage in all 3 of his starts coming into Week 10. That level of production was nowhere to be found this week as McFadden got stuffed all game long by the Buccaneers middling defense, finishing the day with just 58 total yards (32 rushing, 26 receiving) on 20 touches. Even with this weak performance, McFadden is the undisputed top back on a Cowboys team that is committed to running the football. McFadden should be a borderline RB1 in Week 11 against the Dolphins weak rush defense.
Dishonorable Mentions: DeAngelo Williams (Steelers), Antonio Andrews (Titans), Jeremy Hill (Bengals)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Antonio Brown (Steelers)
Antonio Brown followed up his record-setting day against the Raiders in week 9 with another masterful performance (10 REC, 139 YDS, 2 TD, 1 2-point conversion) against the Browns banged-up secondary in Week 10. Brown's post-bye week schedule is all over the map in terms of matchup difficulty, but he should be locked in as a top-flight WR1 for all of them.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Floyd (Cardinals), Martavis Bryant (Steelers), Brandin Cooks (Saints)

LVP: Dez Bryant (Cowboys)
Dez Bryant took a big step back this week after his impressive performance against the Eagles a week ago. Bryant grossly underperformed against a thoroughly terrible Buccaneers secondary, finishing the day with just 45 yards on 5 catches. Matt Cassel looked Bryant's way early and often-targeting him 12 times on his 29 pass attempts-but Bryant was uncharacteristically sloppy, committing 2 drops and running a ton of poor routes throughout the game. The Cowboys offensive woes should come to an end with Tony Romo returning to the lineup in week 11, but Bryant's lack of burst and inconsistency since returning from his foot injury in week 8 is a bit of a cause for concern. Bryant will be a mid-level WR2 until he returns to full health.
Dishonorable Mentions: A.J. Green (Bengals), Randall Cobb (Packers), Alshon Jeffrey (Bears)

Tight End
MVP: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
Shocker of the century: Rob Gronkowski finishes another week at the top of the fantasy tight end rankings. Gronkowski (5 REC/113 YDS/1 TD) was having a relatively quiet game until he snagged a career-long 76-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter that swung the game back into the Patriots direction. Gronkowski continues to play like a man possessed and with Julian Edelman out of the lineup indefinitely with a foot injury, he should be seeing even more targets in the Patriots high-powered offense.
Honorable Mentions: Gary Barnidge (Browns), Jordan Reed (Redskins), Richard Rodgers (Packers)

LVP: Tyler Eifert (Bengals)
Tyler Eifert was one of the primary victims of the horribly inefficient play of Andy Dalton on Monday night, putting up just 26 yards on 3 receptions in the Bengals ugly loss against the Texans. Eifert probably isn't worth starting in Week 11 as he has a brutal matchup against a Cardinals defense that has surrendered the 4th-least fantasy points to tight ends this season.
Dishonorable Mentions: Martellus Bennett (Bears), Travis Kelce (Chiefs), Eric Ebron (Lions)

MVP: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs defense took advantage of Peyton Manning's abundance of miscues to have their finest outing of 2015 so far. The Chiefs picked up 5 sacks and INT's and allowed just 13 points to the Broncos in their shocking victory over the current AFC West leaders. The Chiefs are in the midst of a 3-game winning streak and the play of their defense has been one of the catalysts for their recent success. They'll be a great play against the struggling Chargers offense in Week 11.
Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans

LVP: Denver Broncos
It's not completely fair to give the Broncos D this distinction because their poor performance is almost entirely attributed to Peyton Manning turning the ball over or failing to sustain a drive for any substantial length of time on every possession. Regardless of the cause, the Broncos defense fantasy performance (29 points allowed, 2 sacks, 0 takeaways, 0 TD) was still an undeniable disappointment, especially considering how dominant they've been this season. The Broncos defense has a good shot of returning to form in Week 11 against a Bears offense that is dealing with a ton of injuries on their offensive line.
Dishonorable Mentions: St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals  

Week 11 NFL Power Rankings

()= Last week's ranking

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Concert Review: Parkway Drive-- Boston, MA-- November 15th, 2015

Australian metalcore act Parkway Drive have made their long-awaited return to the United States for their first American headlining tour since March/April 2013. The month-long trek- which features Miss May I and fellow Aussies Thy Art is Murder and In Hearts Wake in support-to promote their new album Ire stormed into the House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts last night and proved once again with their fierce performance why they're one of the biggest powerhouses in modern metal.

In Hearts Wake: They had already finished up by the time I got to the venue. I'm not really familiar with their stuff and what little I had heard of their material didn't impress me, so missing their set didn't bother me in the slightest.

Thy Art is Murder: Anyone that's looking for a tutorial on how to do deathcore right needs to go to a Thy Art is Murder show. The breakdowns are colossal, their energy is off-the-charts, and C.J McMahon is an incredible vocalist whose vocals only become more powerful and sinister in a live setting. Aside from the head-scratching decision to open with the mid-paced "Absolute Genocide" from their new record Holy War, their setlist was pretty great. The material from Holy War sounded excellent live and the trio of cuts ("Shadow of Eternal Sin", "The Purest Strain of Hate", "Reign of Darkness") from their breakout album Hate hit as hard as ever. In a very hit-or-miss genre that's been rapidly losing steam over the past several years, Thy Art is Murder remains a reliably great act that's at their best in a live environment.

Miss May I: This marked the third time I've seen Miss May I this year and per usual, they were pretty solid. The biggest difference between this go-round and the previous two times I'd seen them in 2015 was the emphasis on material from their recently-released album Deathless and the improved clean vocals from Ryan Neff. Deathless is the best album they've put out since 2010's Monument and the more technical and catchy nature of the songs from that album made this performance more enjoyable than the other times I've seen them. As for Neff, he's shown a substantial amount of improvement as a vocalist since the first time I saw them back in 2012. He was the weakest aspect of the band's live shows for a long time, but this time around his strong, clear vocals made him their standout performer. Miss May I will never be a band that blows you away with their performance, but their consistency and high energy levels make them a more than respectable live act.

Parkway Drive: After seeing them at Warped Tour 2010 and 2014 and being a fan of theirs for seven years or so, last night marked the first time I got to see Parkway Drive headline. To be completely honest, I wasn't nearly excited as I should've been to see them because of how underwhelming their new record Ire is. Ire is the first of their records that I didn't enjoy and I was concerned that the wealth of material they were bound to play from it was going to ruin the show for me. Once again, my worries about were quickly put at ease once when they broke out a pair of Ire tracks in "Destroyer" and "Dying to Believe" to open up the set. The massive riffs, gang vocals and cheesy breakdowns made these tracks rousing and fun as hell live. "Destroyer", "Dying to Believe" and the rest of the material from Ire may be simplistic and disjointed, but it thrives in a live setting. While the Ire material was surprisingly impressive, the older material still made up a majority of the high points of the set. "Carrion", "Idols and Anchors" and "Romance is Dead" saw vocalist Winston McCall conjuring up his finest vocal performances of the night and garnered some of the strongest crowd reactions of the night. While Parkway Drive slays whatever songs they play, these tracks from their first two records (2005's Killing with a Smile and 2007's Horizons) stand a cut above everything else they've ever done. Hopefully the strong reactions to the aforementioned tracks inspire them to play more old material on their next headliner. Parkway Drive is one of the genre's truly elite live acts and I hope that they'll do another headlining tour in the States before too long.

Side Notes:
-Parkway Drive guitarist Jeff Ling tore his hamstring in a surfing accident a couple of weeks before this tour started and was forced to perform in a wheelchair. Ling didn't let the constraints of a wheelchair take him out as he was often smiling and exuding as much energy as he possibly could given his condition.
-To make Ling feel more involved in the show, bassist Jia O'Connor went over and spun him around the stage at numerous points throughout the set.
-A kid on the floor was having someone from the mezzanine section throw open beers down to him. Remarkably, he caught every single one without spilling a substantial amount on anyone else.
-A couple standing in front of me and my friends was practically having clothed sex during Thy Art is Murder and Miss May I. It was equal parts hilarious, confusing and disgusting.    

Thy Art is Murder 8/10
Miss May I 7.5/10
Parkway Drive 9/10

Thy Art is Murder:
Absolute Genocide
Coffin Dragger
The Purest Strain of Hate
Shadow of Eternal Sin
Reign of Darkness
Light Bearer
Holy War

Miss May I:
Relentless Chaos
Bastards Left Behind
Our Kings
Masses of A Dying Breed
Turn Back the Time
Hey Mister

Parkway Drive:
Dying to Believe
Dark Days
Vice Grip
Idols and Anchors
Deliver Me
Wild Eyes 
Bottom Feeder
Romance is Dead

Home is for the Heartless

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Best and Worst of Brad Pitt

 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 "By the Sea" star Brad Pitt.

Films starring Brad Pitt that I've seen:
True Romance
Fight Club
Ocean's Eleven
Ocean's Twelve
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Ocean's Thirteen
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Burn After Reading
Inglorious Basterds
The Tree of Life
Killing Them Softly
World War Z

12 Years a Slave
The Counselor 

(Note: Due to time constraints and the lateness of this post, this installment will be abbreviated)
Best Performance: Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Pitt's charismatic and often hilarious performance makes Lt. Aldo Raine one of the most memorable characters to ever appear in a Quentin Tarantino film.

Worst Performance: The Tree of Life (2011)
This horrid performance (Pitt spends just about every moment he's on screen yelling at his kids) can entirely be blamed on the film's writer/director's Terrence Malick. Malick prefers employing painfully obvious symbolism and gratuitous nature shots to tell a story over actually writing a script with any substance or coherence, reducing Pitt to a thankless, woefully underwritten role in his hollow, pseudo-philosophical examination of the "true" meaning of life.

Best Film: Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club is one of those rare movies that renders you speechless after you've finished watching it. This film is an intelligent, flawlessly-acted, mind-bending, hilarious and brutal piece of satire that is easily in my top five favorite movies of all-time. 

Worst Film: The Tree of Life (2011)
Pretentious, meandering and utterly pointless, The Tree of Life is all of the worst elements of independent cinema rolled into one insufferable snoozefest of a movie. 

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 "The Night Before" star Seth Rogen .