Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I should hate Derek Jeter. All Red Sox fans should. He was a great ballplayer, one who tormented the Sox for years and years. During the heyday of the Yankees, he always had his hand in shattering the hopes and dreams of Red Sox Nation time and again, as he led the dreaded Yankees to five World Series titles.

jeter2But looking back now, now that we have won three World Series of our own, broken the Curse, and remained one of baseball’s most well-run organizations, it is possible to look back at the career of The Captain with some respect.

Had the Sox never come back from that 3-0 deficit in 2004, and never emerged as champs again in 2007 and 2013, Jeter would probably remain one of the most hated people among Sox fans. But finally, we overcame him and his team, and are champions ourselves, so now we can give him the respect that he deserves.

I know that he is being lauded as such, but I don’t think that Jeter is a top-5 Yankee of all-time. It is impossible to crack that list, with the truly impressive list of some of the best players of all-time sporting the pinstripes during their careers. Despite his Gold Gloves, he was never really the best defensive shortstop out there, and his bat would never destroy you. But his timing would. When there was an incredible play to be made, or a clutch hit to be had, it always seemed that it was #2 doing it.

Off the field, despite having an impressive list of gorgeous A-list girlfriends, a string of beautiful women leaving his apartment, he was never embroiled in controversy, as so many athletic stars are these days. He kept his nose clean, at least to the best of our knowledge. And this allows us to like him even more, because he never became a true villain in the sense of someone like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

We were only able to hate him because he was good.

I watched his final game at Yankee Stadium the other day, and when he came up in the bottom of the ninth, it was almost guaranteed that he would do something. Hitting a walk-off single to secure a victory for his team was pretty much expected. Sure, they may have tossed him a ball that was easy to hit, but he still got it done. And that is all that matters. It was a perfect sendoff for a magnificent career.

jeterI always liked that he wore #2, now the final single-digit number that a New York Yankee will ever be able to wear, as his will be retired soon. Letting him have that number was a historic move, and he honoured it throughout his career. He does stand with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle, and that single number on his back was always a symbol of that, of his greatness.

Even as a fan of his most hated rival, it is easy to look at Jeter with respect, and some admiration. He had a great career, and in five years, it is all but guaranteed that we will be seeing him again when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

It is a place that he belongs, among all the other greats of this amazing game, and as much as I don’t want to see another Yankee cap in bronze there, he deserves it, and he belongs there. Even just being the all-time hits leader on such a hallowed team is enough to get him in to Cooperstown, in my opinion.

In a season that served as a year-long sendoff for #2, it has become tiresome reading all of the articles about him. Seeing all of the strange, and somewhat cheesy gifts that teams presented him with over the course of his farewell tour. But now that it is over, with only two games left on his career (being played in Boston, no less), we can really look at him and appreciate what he has done for the game of baseball.

He played, he won, and he did it with class.

Congratulations to Derek Jeter on a great career. I won’t miss seeing you rip the hearts out of Red Sox fans, but I will miss having you be a part of baseball.

Because that’s where a true ballplayer belongs. A part of the game, forever.

Homeland: Season 3 (TV Review)

Homeland: Season 3 (TV Review)

Even after I felt that the second season of Homeland fell a little flat, I was still interested in watching the third go round. Despite season 2 not being as good as the incredibly good first season, it was still excellent television, and I wasn’t yet finished watching Carrie, Brody, and Saul, get things figured out and keep America safe.

HOMELAND (Season 2)Season 3 starts off where the second left off, right after the bombing of the CIA building in Langley. Brody, looking extremely guilty, needs to get away as fast as he can, and he disappears, going off the radar for an extended period of time. We don’t even really see him until a couple of episodes in, when he resurfaces.

The central plot of the season is to find out who was behind the CIA bombing, and then doing something about the increasingly hostile situation in Iran.

A couple of very good things about the third season:

  1. The story of the Brody family, and how they have coped with the lies and deception of their patriarch was very good, I thought. Much of this focuses on Dana, the teenage daughter of the disgraced Marine, the man thought of perpetrating the attack on the CIA, and known to have wanted to bomb himself and the Vice President during Season 1. Her trauma is good, and the story doesn’t seem out of place in an espionage thriller. It gets a little far reaching when her boyfriend gets involved, but it’s still pretty good.

    Dana gets an increased role in the third season.
    Dana gets an increased role in the third season.
  2. We again get to see Carrie go off the rails. Claire Danes has been great throughout the series, and she really nails it for the majority of this season as well. She plays the role of a woman suffering from bi-polar disorder to a T, and we can’t help but believe her plight. We can understand her problems, we feel bad for her, and we silently curse some of her stubbornness. While her crying and yelling does get a little tiresome at points, she is very good, as her multiple Emmys for the series can attest.
  3. There are a couple of good new characters that are introduced to the show, including Fara, a new analyst with the Agency after the bombing wiped out a major section of their manpower. The great Salieri appears in this season as well (F. Murray Abraham), as a friend and co-worker of Saul’s.
  4. Saul is in it a lot more than usual, and he is awesome as usual. He is perhaps my favorite character on the show, and he shines again in Season 3.
  5. There is a shocking ending, which Homeland has become known for. The end of the season definitely leaves us wondering about the direction they are going to take in the current fourth season.

Aside from all of the positives, the series still hasn’t managed to recapture the delicious tension from the first season, which I found to be edge-of-the-seat viewing. While the events of Season 3 are interesting and sometimes exciting, it sometimes causes weariness with the continued, Is Nicholas Brody a good guy or bad guy? story line. But it still works, just not as perfectly as it did during their first run.

Homeland Season 3 is definitely worth watching, of course. It isn’t perfect, but it still holds plenty of intrigue to keep viewers interested if they are trying to get caught up so that they can watch the fourth season that is currently airing. For those who enjoyed Season 2, keep on going with Season 3, as it won’t cause much disappointment, and there isn’t a ton of drop off from the excellent television they have got us used to.

Thirteen Days to Midnight (Book Review)

Thirteen Days to Midnight (Book Review)

If you could only have one superpower, what would it be? How about being indestructible?

In Thirteen Days to Midnight, author Patrick Carman has put together a very strong YA novel. The story focuses on a teenage boy, who has to overcome the guilt of being in a car accident with his foster father, leaving the man dead. He is perplexed by the final words that his friend/caretaker says to him, when he hears him say, “You are indestructible,” right before the car hit the tree and killed him.

thirteen2Jacob doesn’t think too much of it, until he returns to school after a period of mourning, and meets the new girl: the beautiful Ophelia James, or Oh, as she likes to be called. She sports a cast on a broken forearm, and Jacob has the honor of being the first to sign it. Taken in by her beauty, he wants to write something memorable, and witty. The only thing he can think of, are those final words he heard before the crash: You are indestructible.

From here, Jacob, Oh, and best friend Milo discover that there is power in the words, and that Jacob has control over it. If he says the words to someone, he can actually make them immune to anything, until he decides to take the power back. Only one person can have the power at the same time, but it opens a ton of possibilities for the trio of teens.

Thirteen Days to Midnight is a highly entertaining read. We are taken on a fun (to begin with) journey, where the kids take their time in establishing the rules of the power, considering how to use it to do good for people, and testing the limits of it. This allows us to read the descriptions of the many acts they undertake to see if they remain indestructible, and it lets our own minds run wild with the possibilities.

Of course, there are problems that arise. Jacob begins to discover that everytime he releases the power, his body begins to crave having it back, and when it is with others for too long, it begins to take its toll on them, both physically and mentally.

Here we get to learn more about the power, about the creepy, yet wonderful cult-ish book store owned by Milo’s father, the perfectly named Mr. Coffin. There is a history between Milo’s dad, Jacob’s pseudo-father, and the power, and the history is quite intriguing. Our heroes need to decide how to reign everything in when it seems like it is spinning out of control, and deciding how much responsibility weighs on them to do the right thing with it.

There are parts of this book that drag slightly, and some parts where the explanations are fairly confusing to understand, especially when it comes to the origins of the power, and how it really works when a life is saved, and is passed back and forth between people.

Regardless, this is a very good YA book. It is accessible to both males and females, and Carman is able to write a good, entertaining book without many of the downfalls of many recent YA novels. There is no sex, aside from a couple of very G-rated comments by Jacob, and even though there is a fair amount of implied violence, it never gets to the point of some books, where the violent descriptions are actually quite shocking. There is good balance here, but it doesn’t leave the reader any less entertained.

Generally, the pacing is quite solid, and the characters are likable. The subplots also do a good job in keeping the story moving forward, as there are several of them that add to the intrigue of the story.

Thirteen Days to Midnight is definitely a book I would recommend to kids, especially for those who are growing tired of series books, and want something with the same kind of excitement, but without having to commit themselves to reading an entire series of books. Now that I’ve said that, watch Carman turn around and make this into a series. But whatever, this is a fun book to read, with a fairly original premise.

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Film Review)

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Film Review)

It is tough to write about a film that has received so many accolades and hype since its release, as Blue is the Warmest Colour (or La Vie D’Adele) has. With a Palme d’Or award from the lauded Cannes Film Festival, all the way to a perfect five-star rating on Netflix, there probably isn’t much that can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said.

But, of course, I’m going to give it a shot, offering my opinion.

First off, I will say that the acting performance by Adele Exarchopoulos may be the best female acting performance I have ever seen.

Like, ever.

Seriously.

It was such a great performance that she was awarded the Palme d’Or, along with the director of the film, and her co-star, Lea Seydoux: something that had never happened before. The actresses became only the second and third women to even receive the award.

Adele Exarchopoulos, in perhaps the best performance I have ever seen.
Adele Exarchopoulos, in perhaps the best performance I have ever seen.

Exarchopoulos plays the lead role of Adele with incredible perfection. She is lost and vacant, while at the same time being indifferent and observing and taking in everything around her. The film was created with acted scenes, and candid filming, leading us to see scenes that seem so simple as to watch her eating or sleeping, but manage to make her even more of a real character. Apparently the actresses were only allowed to see the script once, so their performances were a combination of knowing the lines, and improvising them, in order to provide the most realistic portrayal possible. And it completely works.

If some films are attempting to provide a real view of life, to see real reactions but onto a big screen, Blue is the Warmest Colour may be one of the best examples I can think of in doing this. It is definitely up there with the magnificent Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series that went about its acting and script in the same way. And it delivers something for us as an audience: a real view of what this girl, Adele, would be going through.

She starts the film as a high school student, in love with reading but disengaged from everything else. She goes about her life as she is supposed to, hanging out with friends, going for drinks, having sex with boys. But everything changes for her when she meets a blue-haired girl by the name of Emma, and her world is transformed.

She becomes happy, in her own sedate kind of way.

Adele is beautiful, with her unkempt hair always lazily thrown into a disaster of a bun on the top of her head, her full lips that form around her large front teeth, always giving her a childlike quality that is undeniable. She dressed pretty poorly, usually wearing many layers, or frumpy shirts that don’t accentuate the beauty in her that others see around her. The director went as far as not having a hair or makeup artist on the film, having the actresses very rarely wear any makeup, adding further realism to their characters. They don’t need to be prettied up for Hollywood; they need to be real.

After an incident with a friend, where they kiss, Adele realizes that her disinterest in men may be something more than just not finding the right person. She engages in a full on, sexual relationship with Emma, one that teaches her the true meaning of love, success, passion, and loneliness. Their relationship lasts for years, as we watch Adele grow up, become a teacher, and live her life, in search of the elusive happiness that always seems to be at her fingertips, but she is never fully able to grasp, or enjoy. This again speaks to the acting of the film, as we believe and understand what she is going through, and watch her on the screen, wondering why she can’t be happier, or smiling all of the time. She is, after all, in love.

But like everybody, she makes mistakes. Relationships are never perfect, which is comparable to what we know of Jesse and Celine in the Before series. No matter how perfect a love story may be, there has to be bumps along the road for it to be real. “Tragedy is inevitable,” as one of Adele’s literary instructors tells the class. The bumps along the road, and that inevitable tragedy, bring us to heartbreaking scenes, where we watch as things fall apart for our character.

As far as films go, it is nearly perfect.

warmestAs with most movies going for realism, Blue can be congratulated on its use of subtlety to tell the story. A simple, fitting soundtrack goes along with direction that doesn’t always require dialogue to understand what a character is going through. The film is not particularly wordy, and Adele can have us understand how she feels based on a look in her brown eyes, or the slight curl in her lip that breaks into a smile. It is subtle, yet sublime.

It is impossible to discuss this movie, however, without taking a look at the sex scenes. In North America, the film received an NC-17 rating, due to its prolonged and graphic sex scenes.

And probably deservedly so.

Of course, people have argued whether the sex in Blue is the Warmest Colour is art or pornography, and sure, I could see both sides of the argument. When we see Adele and Emma engage in long, steamy, graphic sex scenes with one another, we could question the intentions of the director. Did he want to make smut, knowing that people would talk about a film where two beautiful women have sex for long periods of time? Or is he using the sex to tell the story?

Watching it, and quite surprised at the detail of the scenes, I felt like I was learning more about the characters, not watching porn. Sure, there is full female nudity, and the sexual acts between the two girls pretty much encompasses most things you could imagine two girls doing with one another, but it felt like it had a purpose. Watching them together for the first time, we see the needs Adele has, her realizations and release of who she really is, something that she had fought against in the past. For us, maybe it is just watching two girls perform oral sex on one another, but for her, it is an awakening. And it works wonderfully well in the film. As hard core as some of the scenes are, it really does come across as needed for the film. As with real relationships, the sex is a part of the story, and one that need not be glossed over just because a director was trying to achieve a specific rating.

Now, as good as Blue is as a film, we can wonder if it would have received the praise it did without the sexual controversy. Even without the sex scenes, it still would have been a good film, but would it have been as great? Would it have generated the same buzz that it did at Cannes? Or does the sex make it even better, because we see as the actresses commit completely to their roles, truly becoming Adele and Emma, in every single way imaginable? Of course, we can never know the answer to that, but the same question could be asked of other incredible foreign language films such as Sex and LuciaTalk to Her, or Y Tu Mama Tambien. Maybe the nudity got people talking, but the film speaks for itself.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a wonderful piece of film making, and worthy of all of the praise it has received. Even at an even three hour running time, it is easy to watch all at once, and be constantly fascinated by the story that is unfolding on the screen. We are given a true, honest story of love and loss, of self-discovery and coming of age.

And being backed up by, in my opinion, the best acting I have ever seen by Adele and an incredibly strong performance by Emma, doesn’t hurt either.

This film is absolutely worth it. Maybe you will be talking about the sex scenes after you watch it, but I truly feel that most people will talk about the story instead. A masterpiece.

About A Boy (TV Review)

About A Boy (TV Review)

Nick Hornby writes some good books. They provide escape, along with a slice of real life, with characters that are undeniably easy to relate to, and are often stuck behind their own rules and foibles, forced to grow up at some point in their lives.

It has been many years since I read About A Boy, or saw the film version that served as an excellent adaptation, with Hugh Grant in the starring role.

aboutAlong comes a TV series, based on the same concept as the original novel and the film that followed it.

I had not heard much, if anything, about this series, but when it popped up on Netflix, I gave it a shot, with very little expectation.

But, in the first 12 episodes, About A Boy proves itself to be a very worthy TV series. It is fun, interesting, full of solid characters, and even manages to tug at the heartstrings a little bit.

The story is virtually the same as the source material. This time, Will is neighbors with Marcus and his odd mother, and they become friends as the show progresses. Eventually, Marcus has become an important part of Will’s life, and one that is powerful enough to affect his decisions. At first, this is not a problem for Will, as he likes spending time with the kid, primarily because it allows him to be a kid himself. Marcus is an oddball, and needs a male influence in his life, as his father works in Antarctica with penguins. Despite the best intentions of his mother, he needs someone normal who can help guide him through life, how to be a little bit cooler, and how to break free of the often Norma Bates-like hold she has on his life.

Things begin to change when Will meets Dr. Sam, a woman who literally checks all the boxes of everything he had dreamed about in a woman. For the first time, Will truly cares about someone, and he knows that she is going to change his life. Will is forced to look at his life, and how he wants to live it. Does he want to continue to be a man-child? Does he want to remain as the fatherly influence in Marcus’ life? Or does he want to carve out his own path with Sam, who even to viewers, comes across as pretty much the perfect woman. It doesn’t hurt that she is played by the gorgeous Adrianne Padlicki, who we know from the TV version of Friday Night Lights.

about3This debate that Will is faced with provides us with the heartwarming moments of the series, and it is done well enough to truly enjoy, without getting too sappy, or too cheesy.

The cast of the show is solid across the board. David Walton is strong as Will, being goofy enough that we believe he doesn’t want to grow up, and charming enough to understand that he can be successful enough with women, and be able to get a great catch like Dr. Sam. Minnie Driver (remember her!?!) plays the overbearing mother, and Marcus is played by Benjamin Stockman. As often annoying as kids can be on the screen, Stockman plays the role well, being perfectly awkward in all of the situations he is thrown in to.

About A Boy is worth a watch. It is great that there is no laugh track, and it doesn’t feel like it is trying too hard. It is not focused on being a pure comedy, and not completely focused on being a drama. It does a good job of blending both elements, and it makes it come across as pretty natural, and easy to watch. A short first season makes it a perfect nominee for a good old fashioned Netflix binge watch.

For fans of the book or the film, the TV series will not be a disappointment. It stays pretty true to the origins of the story, and doesn’t veer far enough to alienate any fans. While the same kind of wit may not be there as there were in the British novel or British TV show, but it felt like it was a little more emotionally touching than the first two versions.

The series hooked me enough that I am curious to see what they are going to do with a second season, if there is one (as planned).

I would recommend checking out About A Boy.

Rikers High (Book Review)

Rikers High (Book Review)

A novel about a teen who has been sent to Rikers Island due to a fairly small charge, and becomes stuck there for months due to an ineffective court system seems like a pretty solid read. Plus, the novel is written by someone who spent years teaching at Rikers Island, to top it all off? This should be something good. Looking over some of the reviews for this novel on Goodreads, it seemed to be fairly well received, getting a score of 3.8/5.

Perhaps I would be getting into the novel version of Dangerous Minds, where a teacher really can make the difference in the life of a young, troubled person?

Sadly, I found none of these things to be true about Rikers High, and really feel that this novel was superficial and flat, in the end.

Martin is a teenage boy, sent to prison on a charge of “steering,” which involved him telling an undercover cop where to by weed in his neighborhood. A harmless enough charge, given that we are told time and again that Martin is a good kid. But he gets stuck on Rikers for months, due to what we are shown to be incompetence by his lawyer, and a system that just doesn’t care.

Returning to the prison after one of his failed court dates, Martin is caught in the middle of a scuffle between other inmates, and has his face slashed by a razor blade, leaving behind a four-inch scar that will be with him for the rest of his life.

rikers high2Eventually he is moved over to another section of the prison, where they send the students to school, so they can continue with their educations, or get their GEDs, or whatever else. There Martin is supposed to find his inspiration, influenced positively by the teachers he encounters, and the new people he is forced to live with.

The story is pretty straightforward, and we know from the start that it is on a finite timeline, because we know that Martin is going to be getting out of prison soon. So we know that he won’t be there to graduate in some heartfelt storyline, where his teachers break down and cry over all the positive changes he has gone through. In fact, he is only in the school portion of the prison for about a week, leading to one of the major problems of this novel: everything is superficial, and rarely goes beyond the surface of what could have been an emotional story about change.

Sure, Martin would love some revenge on the guy who cut his face, but despite feeling angry a couple of times, nothing really comes of it. He is able to stay away from the regular prison issues, and is able to fight off his anger, fairly easily.

All of the characters in Rikers High, Martin included, are pretty flat. We don’t really learn anything about any of them. And this definitely left me not caring that much about them. No details about the lives of his friends are given, so we can’t relate to them at all. There is no sympathy for the characters, only knowing what is happening. The writing in the novel very much felt like we were distantly being told a story, and we were not at all involved in it, as readers. This left the whole story lacking, for me.

The character that meant to be the inspirational teacher, does very little in my mind to deserve that. He treats the prisoners with respect, which is great. He holds their attention in class, but no reason is given why. He teaches them English, and has them do a series of amateurish assignments that are directly from cliched movies about great teachers. For some reason, these tough kids totally buy into these assignments, and really take their time and care to do them well. They even engage in deep conversations during class time. But why? How do they trust this teacher? It is just assumed, from our first meeting with him, that he is the good guy, and people really like him. That’s it, the only explanation that is offered.

In fact, the inmates like all of their teachers, save one. I feel like it’s rare to find a high school where kids like, and respect, all of their teachers, let alone one on Rikers Island. I found the whole school portion of the novel to be unrealistic, and almost pointless. Martin really doesn’t learn anything from the school. We know that he was smart before he walked into the prison, and nothing about that changes during his time there. He feels some kind of bond with his English teacher, which, again, we are unsure of why it is happening, or what it stemmed from.

The author, Paul Volponi, taught at the Rikers high school for years, and states at the beginning of his book that many incidents that he writes about are based in fact. That may be true, but it somehow seems almost too tame for what one would expect.

Another issue with Rikers High is that there is very little suspense in the storyline. Will Martin ever come face-to-face with the kid who cut him? Will he get out of prison (we know, without a doubt, that he will)? What little build up there is, really fizzles into nothing. The head goon on their ward, who controls everything, offers some potential incidents that could have changed the course of the novel, but literally nothing ever happens with him. He acts tough. Martin doesn’t bite. Moving on. There is also the story of the kid in the bunk next to Martin, which I suppose offers the emotional end to the story that it needs. Sanchez, who is going to be soon going upstate to the adult prison to finish his sentence, is looking for a way out. I guess the fate of this kid helps Martin understand something that he didn’t before…no, wait. He definitely knew all he learns before. Perhaps this incident was just something to reinforce the idea that…prison is bad?

Even the “suspense” building up to one of Martin’s fateful last evenings on Rikers, seems to be shallow. There isn’t much more to it than that. We have seen these types of scenes before, and this one was stolen right from The Shawshank Redemption, which did it emotionally and brilliantly. Rikers High, on the other hand, did it without flair or real concern over what was happening.

I did not like this book, and would find few YA readers to recommend it to. I feel that even a younger audience would see through the skimpy characterization and general lack of interesting incidents to keep the plot moving forward. We never feel scared about Rikers High, and it actually seems like a pretty decent place, which couldn’t have been the intention of the author. There was potential here, and not having read any of his other works, I don’t know if this is along the same lines of his other writing, or just an idea that was there, but just didn’t take off.

I think that the average YA reader wants some more depth in the books they read, and I didn’t find that there was much depth at all in Rikers High.

Anchorman 2 (Film Review)

Anchorman 2 (Film Review)

A person has to dig pretty deeply in the history of comedies to find an instance where the sequel is as good as the original, not terrible, or even watchable.

Considering more recent attempts to continue a comedy franchise have not been good. Think how much of a photocopy The Hangover Part II was compared to the fantastic original. It was impossible to even eke out a laugh there, because we had actually seen each of the gags before. How about something a little more distant, like Ace Ventura 2? It should make us pretty worried about how the sequel to Dumb & Dumber is going to end up. Probably not good, despite how much we may still love the original for its amazing stupidity and fun.

anchor3Which brings us to Anchorman 2. There is more to the title, something about the legend continuing, but who really cares. This film is absolutely terrible. The first version of the story of Ron Burgundy became a bit of a cult-classic, a highly quotable film with some humour that was not completely run-of-the-mill. It was not a purely slapstick film, but made its fame on its weirdness, which made it so great.

Cut to the second installment. There is an impressive array of repeated jokes from the first one, so if you feel like hearing/seeing them again, but with ageing actors performing them, here you go. Need another round of jazz flute? Check. Maybe some more (now more purposefully attempted to be random) “catchphrases” from Burgundy? There is an endless supply, like they just threw them in there wherever there was the slightest pause in the dialogue. Maybe you didn’t think Brick was odd enough, and thought his adorable quirkiness from the first film needed to be blown up into full-on psychosis, to the point where he isn’t funny, but just a sad attempt to get laughs? Definitely check on that one. Ron Burgundy warming up before going on air? Yup. Making mistakes on air? Of course.

Even the greatest scene from the original, the battle between the networks and their news teams, had to be perfectly recreated. Sure, it gives us a chance to see a ton of cameos, with the likes of Will Smith, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Liam Neeson, Jim Carey, Marion Cotillard (seriously? She is a tremendous actress, what was she doing here?), John C. Reilly, and others showing up. But by that point, we just don’t care anymore. We have seen the fight before, and it was funny, and original, and ridiculous. In Anchorman 2, it was lame, over-wrought, and worthless to the plot.

I have long said that Will Ferrell should not get to star in his movies. He was always much better, and far funnier, in small, secondary roles. Let Vince Vaughn run a movie, and have Ferrell as the best friend or something. That works. His lines are funny when you hear a few of them per film. But here, he is unleashed, and it is truly terrible. By the end of the film, his acting becomes increasingly putrid, and we even grow to despise the famous Ron Burgundy voice. In this film, he is definitely more of a lead actor, whereas in the first one, there was definitely more time taken up by the secondary characters. They are cheated a little bit here, as the focus is more on Ron, and the consistent over-acting of Ferrell. Yes, I realize that this is a comedy role, and a silly one at that, and that I shouldn’t critique the acting, but seriously…watch it. He is bad. And annoying.

The only slightly redeeming part of this film, and something they completely underused, was Paul Rudd. I like that guy. He makes me laugh. But he only had a few lines. And they were the only ones that could even elicit a snicker from me while watching it. The rest, was pretty much garbage.

anchor2Oh, I forgot to mention the pretty racist stuff that goes on as well. Sure, Burgundy’s womanizing ways of the first film were funny, but in this one, where his new boss is a black woman, it gets pretty uncomfortable with the racism. Not funny uncomfortable, just odd, misplaced, and in poor taste.

It is not a mistake that I haven’t mentioned the plot of this film. Simply put, it is abjectly terrible. I get the idea of the new news network, and the changing of the media at the time. Okay, go with it. Maybe they could have something intelligent to say, a running commentary below the surface…no. Ron needs to go blind instead. And raise a shark as a pet. And sing a silly song. All of this happens.

I don’t normally hate movies. I either love them, like them, or am indifferent to them. But I really hated Anchorman 2. The fact that it is nearly two hours long, and that I watched all two hours of it, makes me angry.

We, as fans of the first film, shouldn’t have expected anything from this movie. It was, after all, a sequel to a comedy, which never works out well. But the complete disregard they put into the making of the film comes across as a money grab, which makes me feel bad about making the first one such a hit.

Anchorman 2 is garbage. Even though it is now on Netflix, and free, I’d still skip it. Keep quoting the first one, because there is nothing of value here in the second.

Mile…Mile & a Half (Film Review)

Mile…Mile & a Half (Film Review)

This adventure documentary, which can be found on Netflix, is about a group of friends, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and sound technicians, who set out to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in California. The hike is over 200 miles, crosses snow and desert and mountain passes and rivers that are bigger than they might seem. It will take the group 25 days to cross the entire trail, and show us their adventures along the way. 

Mile…Mile & a Half works for two simple reasons: 1. the scenery is absolutely incredible. Having talented people on the hike means that there are beautiful panoramic views of waterfalls and mountains throughout the film. It is incredible to see the untouched nature that lies in California, a place we often imagine with only beaches, surf, and bustling cities. But there remains a massive part of the state that is open to those who want to see it, and the JMT is a great example of that. The second reason this film works so well is because of the people. They are fun, and enjoyable to watch throughout the film. These are not jacked-up adrenaline junkies, doing crazy things that normal people could never pull off doing. They are regular folks, who love the outdoors. This is not a life-testing hike, and despite a couple of dangerous spots, we know that they are going to come out alive on the other side. There is nothing terribly extreme about the JMT, just a ton of natural beauty, enjoyed by some pretty fun people, that by the end of the film, we totally wouldn’t mind meeting along the way on a hike. 

mile2Perhaps the best part of the documentary is the other people that the group encounters along the trail. They aren’t making a film selfishly, about themselves, and about overcoming the obstacles of nature. They are making a film about being in it, and loving it. And a part of that is the lives of the other people that they meet along the way. They give them screen time, and we get to know their stories as well. The teachers from Colorado who join up with their group. The young painters, who hike every day with heavy loads of canvas and paints on their backs so they can get some incredible views in the early morning light. The musicians, who they meet near the end of their journey. And the Japanese woman, who is doing the trail alone, but in the end realizes that she really wants to share in her success, and wants the camaraderie.

While the film is about nature, it is about people too. And that is what makes it such a fun watch. While they challenge themselves, they remain real people, and they like to have fun. They get goofy, give each other nicknames, make bets, and play games along the way. 

For those who love nature, and perhaps have never seen the incredible, pristine beauty that California has to offer, Mile…Mile & a Half is a worthy film for you to watch. 

NFL Prediction Time!

NFL Prediction Time!

Here comes an attempt to guess the correct standings for the National Football League, which will get underway this week. I’ll also give a shot at guessing team records, which will basically be a massive failure, but hey, why not give it a shot? (* denotes a playoff team)

nfl2AFC East:

  1. *New England Patriots (12-4)
  2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
  3. New York Jets (7-9)
  4. Buffalo Bills (4-12)

Is anybody choosing a team other than the Patriots to win this division, which is possibly the worst in football? When the main competition is quarterbacked by guys like Ryan Tannenhill, Geno Smith, and EJ Manuel, they kind of seem like a lock. Brady did a lot with little last year, and they seem to be better off this year. 

 

nfl3AFC North:

  1. *Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
  2. *Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
  3. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
  4. Cleveland Browns (2-14)

Kind of a toss up for me between the top 3 teams here. The Bengals have their moments, to be sure, but I will go with the Steelers, after a couple of down seasons, but their lofty standards. Give the Bengals a wild card berth. 

 

AFC South:

  1. *Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
  2. Tennessee Titans (8-8)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)
  4. Houston Texans (5-11)

The Colts are the cream of the crop here. A lot of experts are picking bigger things from the Titans this year, but I am definitely not sold on Jake Locker picking up his game that much, and I think there are questions on their O-line. 

 

AFC West:

  1. *Denver Broncos (13-3)
  2. *San Diego Chargers (10-6)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
  4. Oakland Raiders (5-11)

The Broncos are the pick for one more year, barring any type of injury to Peyton Manning. The Chargers got the offense rolling last year, and they should be able to overcome a questionable D to get the wild card.

 

NFC East:

  1. *Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
  3. Washington Redskins (7-9)
  4. New York Giants (5-11)

Ugh. This division is pretty ugly. Even as absolutely brutal that Dallas D is, they still are the least awful team in this division. The Eagles have potential to be very good, but I think they take a step back this year. 

 

nfl4NFC North:

  1. *Green Bay Packers (12-4)
  2. *Chicago Bears (10-6)
  3. Detroit Lions (7-9)
  4. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

A healthy Aaron Rogers means a division crown for the Packers. I like the Bears this year too, thinking perpetually that Jay Cutler will figure it out and have a great year at some point.

 

NFC South:

  1. *New Orleans Saints (11-5)
  2. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
  4. Carolina Panthers (6-10)

Big drop for Cam Newton and the Panthers. You need receivers to catch the ball! Saints take it easily, over a couple of teams that are improving, but not there yet. 

 

nfl5NFC West:

  1. *Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
  2. *San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
  3. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
  4. St. Louis Rams (5-11)

Sorry Rams, but Shaun Hill is not an answer at QB. They needed to address this earlier than after Sam Bradford got injured, which we all kind of knew was going to happen at some point. He has been a band-aid over the past couple seasons. The Champs and the Niners are still among the best teams in the NFC, and the whole league. Seattle is just too silly good at home to not think they will go 8-0 or 7-1 at home again this year. They will take it once again. 

 

Way Too Early Super Bowl Pick:

I’ll go against all the traditions and statistics, and pick the Seahawks to win it all again. If they have home field advantage in the playoffs, they will roll, but I think they are good enough to go into Green Bay, New Orleans, or San Francisco and take a playoff road game. I’ll take them beating the Patriots in the big game. 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Book Review)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Book Review)

I was beyond excited to see that my favorite author, Haruki Murakami, had released a new novel recently. I was initially drawn in by the very cool cover the book offers, but seeing his name at the bottom of the page made me nearly giddy.

I love Murakami novels. All of them. There has not yet been one that has disappointed me, and they are all great, for their own reasons. For those who have not read him yet, it’s time to get started. Read Kafka on the ShoreThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84, Norwegian Wood. Read them all. His stories are incredible, unbelievable, and written (and translated) so beautifully, that it is understandable why he has achieved such high sales across the world, specifically in Japan (where Colorless Tsukuru sold 1 million copies in its first week of release). 

Easily one of our best current writers.
Easily one of our best current writers.

There was no disappointment in reading the wonderfully titled Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. In this novel, Murakami may have created his most straightforward, and honest, work of fiction to date. There are things that are typical of all of his novels: strange meta-physical happenings that have profound effects on the protagonist, extensive discussions about music, whether it be pop music or classical, and several overtly sexual scenes, sometimes in dreams, sometimes in reality, where the male character “releases” himself into the women in his life. All above can be found here as well, save the metaphysical. He gives us a hint that something like that could be happening, but never completely goes there, making this work more of this world, and more simply pure than some of his other novels. 

The story focuses on the titular character, Tsukuru Tazaki. A native of Nagoya, he discusses his high school group of friends, and how the five of them were completely inseparable. After high school, he leaves to study in Tokyo, leaving his other four friends behind, where they make lives for themselves in Nagoya. One fateful day, after years of going back to his home town to visit them, they unceremoniously cut him off from their circle of friends, and from their lives. Tsukuru is shocked, and is provided with no explanation as to why this is happening. He is now faced with a life completely alone. His friends were everything to him, and they had been as close as any group of people had been. Despite always feeling like a bit of an outsider, simply because his name does not translate into a colour (the names of his friends all contain the Japanese words for red, blue, white, and black, which led to their nicknames of their corresponding colour), he knew that he belonged with them, and could not, for the life of him, figure out why he had been ousted from the group with no explanation. 

Like so many Murakami characters, Tsukuru is a man lost and alone in one of the biggest cities in the world, and he lives a simple life that includes working at his dream job, as an architect who gets to fix and build train stations, something he had been obsessed with since an early age. 

Eventually, one of his girlfriends convinces him that there is a hole in his life, simply because he does not know why his friends abandoned him. He needs to find out. And so, Tsukuru undertakes a journey to find his friends, and confront them about what had happened. 

Murakami does a great job of building up the suspense of this situation. We all feel for this man, left alone, for years, always being forced to wonder what happened with his friends, and not being able to move forwards, without truly understanding his own past. He will travel to Nagoya, and across the world to Finland, to get his answers. 

As always, there are wonderful descriptions of Tokyo, and some of the areas within the monster city. For those who have visited Japan, or for those who live there, it is easy to use his descriptions when describing Shinjuku stations, or Tokyo station, or parts of Ginza, and be able to transport yourself back there, as if you were seeing it again. It was also great to have him branch out of Tokyo, and the time his hero spends in Helsinki is perfectly described as well, managing to capture the city in very few words. Murakami has never needed paragraph after paragraph to enable his readers to get the vibe of a city, as he can capture its essence with seeming ease. 

The beautiful disaster that is a Tokyo train map.
The beautiful disaster that is a Tokyo train map.

We wonder along with Tsukuru what could have happened with his friends. There is no evidence, and it really does seem to come out of left field. Does it have something do to with him leaving for Tokyo instead of staying in Nagoya with the rest of them? Is it because one of the girls had developed feelings for him? Does it have anything to do with the very sexual dreams he has of the two friends that were female? In waiting to find out, Colorless Tsukuru becomes quite the page turner. And, despite how wonderful it was, it is kind of nice that this book is a modest 386 (small) pages, compared to the weighty 1000+ pages that 1Q84 offered. 

For fans of Murakami, this book is an absolute must read. He maintains the things that make all of his novels so wonderful and entertaining, while making it different enough that we can probably relate to it even more than his other work. So many people feel burdened by their pasts, and their attempts to rectify the things that have taken place in their lives. Tsukuru is one of those people, and we can feel his needs every time he listens to the piano music of “The Year of Pilgrimage.”

There is no disappointment in finding out what happened to his friends, and as usual, Murakami manages to create characters that are truly haunted in their lives, wrestling with their own demons, regardless of what their exteriors may demonstrate. That illusion masking reality is a common theme in his world, and it comes across crystal clear in this novel. He shares how it aches when you are lonely, and when you find someone that you feel may be right, you just want to hold on, even if it is not the smoothest ride. Despite the risks, there are rewards. For Tsukuru to move forwards, he has to look back, and this is seen clearly by his girlfriend Sara, who pushes him to get in touch with those who had damaged him so completely, 16 years before. 

I poured through this novel, and loved the whole thing. It was everything that I could have wanted from a new work from my favorite author. I would of course recommend this book to his fans, and they should be running out and buying it as soon as they can. For those who have not read his work before, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage actually serves as a great, and accessible, introduction to his work. It is not too weird, without crazy sheep-men, or alternate universes. This is a straightforward book, that is an absolute pleasure to read.