Thursday, July 21, 2016

Album Review: Revocation-Great is Our Sin

There are not too many active musicians in the present day who can match the blue-collar work ethic that Massachusetts-based extreme metal outfit Revocation has exhibited throughout their career. They've released a whopping seven projects (six full-length albums and an EP) in the past eight years and have not displayed an ounce of fatigue along the way as they continue to push the limit of what they're capable of as musicians with each new release they put out. Their latest offering Great is Our Sin-their third LP released in the last 35 months-is yet another booming, logic-defying success story for the death/thrash quartet.

The key to Revocation's longevity and consistency is their ability to make subtle changes to their sound without abandoning the unique combination of thrash and technical death metal that's defined them since their inception. Great is Our Sin is no different as it sees the band putting out their most thrash-influenced record since their 2009 breakout album Existence is Futile. Centerpiece tracks including "Theatre of Horror", "Communion" and "Copernican Hersey" grant guitarist/vocalist David Davidson and new drummer Ash Pearson (ex 3-Inches of Blood) the opportunity to run wild on their instruments and bring back the full-on aural assault vibe of their back catalog gems like "Deathanomics" and "Pestilence Reigns". There are a solid amount of departures into other genres throughout the album (the sinister, straight-up death metal of "Only the Spineless Survive, the unexpected, bizarre prog of "Cleaving Giants of Ice", the melo-death of "Monolithic Ignorance"), but Great is Our Sin is ultimately driven by fast, energetic and pissed-off songs that go full throttle at the listener's throat and never let up.  

This may be the most straightforward thrash project they've released in ages, but the finest moments of Great is Our Sin end up being the sprawling, multi-genre tracks. "Profanum Vulgus" features balls-to-the-wall aggression and speed broken up by a staggering progressive mid-section while "Crumbling Imperium" regularly shifts between blistering sweep-picking and melodic riffing/soloing before ending on a death metal groove riff so punishing that it makes the finale of their 2013 standout track "Invidious" look like something from the Cats soundtrack. Revocation excels at playing a lot of different metal subgenres and despite their many successful forays into single-genre fare, they're at their absolute best when they're combining a number of styles on the same track.
It really shouldn't be the case given their track record, but the unwavering quality of Revocation's music continues to surprise me. Revocation's consistency is a welcome anomaly at a time where a lot of modern metal bands seem to be losing their killer instinct and flare for creativity faster than ever. Every generation of metal has an unheralded act that never gets the level of attention or praise they deserve and Great is Our Sin further solidifies Revocation's grasp on that unfortunate yet commendable distinction for the 2010's.    

4.5/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
1.Crumpling Imperium
2.Profanus Vulgus
3.Only the Spineless Survive

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

5 Highly Ranked Players to Avoid in Fantasy Football: 2016 Edition

We may still be a week away from the opening of training camp and about a month and a half away from the start of the regular season, but it's never too early to start speculating about what quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and defenses are being overvauled in the wonderful and often confusing world of fantasy football. Here are the five players that I think should be avoided at their current draft position.

Quarterback: Carson Palmer (Cardinals) (Average Draft Position: Yahoo!: 54.7, 54.0, ESPN: 73.7)
Palmer has looked revitalized since joining the Cardinals in 2013 and was a legitimate MVP contender for a majority of last season. However, he ended the 2015 season on a horrendous note with a trio of terrible performances (6 TD, 7 INT, 55.5 CMP%, 65.3 QBR) punctuated by a 4 INT performance against the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. The shakiness Palmer demonstrated down the stretch paired with his age (he'll be 37 in December) and checkered injury history makes his status going into 2016 murky at best. Taking a quarterback in the first half of the draft isn't the ill-advised decision many self-proclaimed fantasy gurus make it out to be, but if you're going to spend a precious early-round pick on a QB, they shouldn't carry the vast level of uncertainty Palmer has surrounding him. 

Running Back: Jammal Charles (Chiefs) (Average Draft Position: Yahoo!: 17.0, 19.0, ESPN: 14.9)
The days of Charles being a stalwart fantasy player could be in jeopardy. He turns 30 in December and is coming off of a season that was shortened by a torn ACL (the 2nd of his career). Charles has the advantage of not having the wear and tear most bellcow running backs have at this point of their career (he didn't become a full-time starter until his 3rd season in the league in 2010) and playing in a rush-first offense that has a shortage of playmakers, but with the emergence of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware in his absence last season and the uncertainty of his surgically-repaired knee will hold up over the course of an entire season, Charles is unlikely to perform at the level fantasy owners have come to expect from him in 2016.

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman (Patriots) (Average Draft Position: Yahoo!: 34.4, 44.5, ESPN: 41.4)
Despite having only 1 1,000+-yard season and zero double-digit touchdown seasons over the course of his 7-year career, Edelman is perennially coveted as a top-end WR2 that sometimes flirts with WR1 value. With Tom Brady suspended for 4 games and concerns about the status of his surgically-repaired foot, that value should be in question for 2016. With guys like T.Y. Hilton, Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks-who have similar floors and much higher ceilings- going in the same area, taking Edelman this high in any non-PPR league doesn't make much sense. 

Tight End: Jordan Reed (Redskins) (Average Draft Position: Yahoo!: 40.4, 41.9, ESPN: 34.1)
Reed is one of the most gifted pass-catching tight ends in the league as evidenced by his 87 reception, 952-yard, 11-TD breakout season in 2015. Unfortunately, he's also one of the biggest wild cards in the league. He has yet to play a full season since he entered the league in 2013 and his play before last season was very erratic. Reed is an unnecessary risk at the stage of the draft he's typically being selected at, especially when you can wait a round or two and select a more seasoned, less injury-prone player with similar upside such as Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker or Travis Kelce.
Defense: Carolina Panthers (Average Draft Position: Yahoo!: 72.2 78.3, ESPN: 80.9) 
The Panthers defense was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. While they should be solid once again, I don't think they'll be able to match the high level of production they put up for most of last season. Their revamped, Josh Norman-less secondary is unlikely to scare any competent opponent they face and it would be kind of miraculous if they were able to put up another 44-sack season with only one elite pass-rusher (Kawann Short) on their front. I think the Panthers defense will ultimately be fine in 2016, I just don't think they should be considered an elite fantasy option.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

2016 has been a banner year for comedies so far and the movie gods have blessed moviegoers with yet another vulgar, consistently hilarious gem in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Like other recent comedy standouts Popstar and Keanu, Mike and Dave boasts a unique premise (After placing an ad on the internet looking for dates for their sister's wedding in Hawaii, two hard-partying brothers end up bringing two harder-partying girls posing as conservative, "nice girls" in order to get a free vacation to the ceremony) that serves as the perfect playground for the cast to flex their comedic muscles. The four leads (Adam DeVine, Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) switch off stealing scenes throughout the film thanks to their tremendous improv skills and the supporting cast is full of colorful, insane characters that perfectly complement the zany brilliance of the top-billed actors. This is one of the most stacked top-to bottom ensemble casts to appear in a comedy in recent memory and the film does a great job of disturbing the laughs fairly evenly and giving each member of the group their time to shine. The often over-the-top obscene and inane humor of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates will definitely prevent it from resonating with some audiences, but it should do the trick for comedy fans looking for a fun twist on the typical bro comedies that populate multiplexes this time of year.

4/5 Stars

Happy Retirement Charles Tillman

Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman announced his retirement from the NFL yesterday after 13 seasons (12 with the Chicago Bears, 1 with the Carolina Panthers). Tillman holds a special place in my heart because of the integral role he played in me becoming a Bears fan over a decade ago. He never commanded the spotlight like his teammates Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs did during the Bears reign of defensive dominance from 2005 through 2010, but his excellent cover skills, relentless physicality and trademark "Peanut Punch" that led to a remarkable 44 forced fumbles for his career made him a force and the unheralded heart and soul of those havoc-wreaking, takeaway-happy units. In addition to being one hell of a player, he's the rare athlete that's a legitimately great human being. His track record with charity work is remarkable and you'll be hard-pressed to be find a person involved with the NFL in any capacity that has anything but glowing things to say about him. It was a privilege to watch Tillman play for all of these years and I hope he enjoys a prosperous and happy retirement.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Best and Worst of Anton Yelchin

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 late"Star Trek Beyond" star Anton Yelchin.

Film starring Anton Yelchin that I've seen:
Alpha Dog
Charlie Bartlett 
Star Trek
Terminator Salvation
Like Crazy
The Beaver
The Smurfs
Fright Night
Star Trek Into Darkness
Green Room

Best Performance: Charlie Bartlett (2007)
Yelchin's first true leading role (he co-lead Alpha Dog with Emile Hirsch and Justin Timberlake) ended up being the moment where Hollywood realized that he was going to enjoy longevity in the industry. This Ferris Buller-inspired comedy centered around the title character's (Yelchin) unlikely rise to popularity after becoming the resident therapist to the student body of his high school largely works because of Yelchin's performance. He gives the type of magnetic performance here that makes you overlook the by-the-numbers quirky comedy vibe and story structure and just enjoy the ride for what it is.

Worst Performance: Like Crazy (2011)
I don't know if it was because of the poor material he was handed or it was simply a case of an actor phoning it in, but Yelchin's performance in Like Crazy was inexplicably terrible. He played this role with the lack of conviction and effort that you don't usually see out of a talented, established actor. Like Crazy is an epic stinker on Yelchin's otherwise very impressive resume.

Best Film: Star Trek (2009)
J.J Abrams worked his cinematic magic to the fullest extent with his 2009 reboot of Star Trek. Abrams pulled off the unbelievable feat of making the Star Trek franchise more accessible to the masses without dropping the complex, epic feel that hardcore fans have become accustomed to over the series' 50-year run. This version of Star Trek raised the bar for modern blockbuster entertainment and is by far the best large-scale pure sci-fi film to be released since The Empire Strikes Back.

Worst Film: Like Crazy (2011) 
2011 marked the year where I made my deepest exploration into the world of cinema to-date by seeing about 80-85% of the notable mainstream and independent films that were released theatrically in the United States. Of the 153 films I saw from that year, none was worse than Like Crazy. Every single character is a vile human being, the dialogue is cringe-worthy and the plot is nowhere to be found. Like Crazy is a deadly cinematic bomb full of pretension and hollow observations about modern romance that shouldn't be experienced by anyone that's not a fan of inflicting immense torture on themselves.   

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 "Bad Moms" star Kathryn Hahn.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters

March 3rd, 2016 was a crucial day in world history. At approximately noon EST, Columbia Pictures released the first trailer for their female-led reboot of Ghostbusters starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. The release of this trailer triggered a catastrophic event that permanently changed the face of the free world as we know it. Upset nerds came out of every corner of the internet to spew intelligent comments like "WOMEN CAN'T BE FUNNY!!!!" and beg for mercy as writer/director Paul Feig completed the miraculous task of eviscerating the precious legacy of a film that's about four people running around New York City fighting ghosts with what are essentially leaf blowers that shoot laser beams four months before it was released. The trailer went onto to become the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube's 11-year history and the level of distress and emotional damage that it brought upon the deeply oppressed fanboy community will never be forgotten.

It's poetic that all of this outlandish, bone-headed and largely sexist outrage was aimed at a film that's as gleefully silly as Ghostbusters. This movie never stoops low enough nor aims high enough in terms of comedy or plot to elicit the type of extreme reactions it's been almost universally generating. This movie was intended to be a fun, lighthearted re-imagining of a classic big-budget popcorn flick and that's EXACTLY what it ended up being. It's unfortunate that the wild biases that led to over-the-top opinions on both ends of the spectrum has ruined any chance of Ghostbusters getting a fair shake in the court of public opinion. 

As expected, the leading actors are almost solely responsible for the film's success. When the central villain (Neil Casey in a Razzie-worthy performance) starts getting substantial screen time and completely moronic primary plot kicks in around the hour mark, the talent and immense likability of the top-billed actors prevents the film from imploding. McCarthy and Wiig do a good of job playing against type as the film's straightwomen while Jones and cast MVP McKinnon do a great job of shouldering the comedic load with their electric energy and relentless zaniness respectively. The mainstream accessibility this comedy/sci-fi blockbuster genre requires and the light PG-13 they went for in order to appeal to families definitely prevented McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon and Jones from unleashing their full comedic arsenal, but there's no denying that each role was perfectly cast and that the foursome possesses the type of believable camaraderie that can't be manufactured by Hollywood. 

The only real surprise that Ghostbusters has up its sleeve is the emergence of Chris Hemsworth as a viable comedic performer. I knew Hemsworth was a naturally funny guy from seeing him interviewed on various late night talk shows since he became a fixture in American cinemas following the release of Thor in 2011, but I never expected his turn as the Ghostbusters dim-witted receptionist Kevin to be one of the strongest parts of the film. The sense of timing and fearlessness he approaches each gag with makes him seem like a seasoned comedian instead of a dramatic actor/action hero making his first sizable venture (he had a bit part in last year's Vacation reboot) into the genre. Given how much he stands out in a cast headlined by proven comedic heavyweights, Hemsworth can officially add comedic powerhouse to his rapidly growing acting repertoire.

Ghostbusters is amusing and pleasant enough to be a worthwhile viewing experience yet not nearly funny or inventive enough to be really memorable. I urge everyone that ends up seeing it to not let the thick cloud of online negativity surrounding it or the in-name and spirit-only affiliation with the beloved 1984 original influence your opinion in any way. If you approach Ghostbusters with an open mind and reasonable expectations, you'll probably have some fun with it.

3.5/5 Stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Best and Worst of Kristen Wiig

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 "Ghostbusters" star Kristen Wiig.

Films starring Kristen Wiig that I've seen:
Knocked Up
The Brothers Solomon
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Date Night
Despicable Me
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Skeleton Twins
Welcome to Me
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The Martian
Zoolander 2

Best Performance: The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Wiig has strayed from her comedic roots quite a bit since she left Saturday Night Live in May 2012, but none of her other forays into the world of dramatic acting have been as impressive as her award-caliber turn in The Skeleton Twins. Wiig gives a captivating yet heartbreaking performance as a manically depressed woman in her late 30' who's on the verge of committing suicide, when she's forced to reevaluate her life after reconnecting with her estranged twin brother ( an equally impressive Bill Hader) following his failed suicide attempt. The strength of Wiig's performance has forced Hollywood to start taking her seriously as a dramatic actor.

Worst Performance: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
For all of the excellent dramatic work Wiig has turned in over the past few years, there are also complete stinkers like The Diary of a Teenage Girl. None of the promise she showed in The Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me is on display here as she sleepwalks through her role as a cliche irresponsible, hard-partying, absentee mother. While Wiig didn't portray the most vile character in this film, I still got pretty infuriated every time she appeared on screen. I really hope Wiig avoids starring in moronic, ineptly-constructed garbage like this in the future.     

Best Film: Knocked Up (2007)
Judd Apatow solidified his place in my personal comedy hall-of-fame by following up 2005's hysterical, heartful The 40-Year Old Virgin with the equally brilliant Knocked Up two years later. Knocked Up is one of those special movies I could heap praise on for hours on end without even coming up for air. The laugh-out-loud moments are abundant throughout, the dramatic elements are well-executed and feel entirely rooted in reality and above all, this film marked the moment where I realized just how great Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel and Jay Baruchel are as comedic actors. Without question one of the top 3-5 funniest movies I've ever seen.

Worst Film: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) 
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is one of those rare films that pissed me off to no end while I was watching it. The writing is awful, the acting rivals that of a community theater production and the characters are universally insufferable. Even as a someone who is a sucker for Sundance coming-of-age movies, I couldn't find anything redeeming about The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

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 "Star Trek Beyond" star Anton Yelchin .