I’m Grey on Black Friday

As another Thanksgiving weekend winds down and the stampedes at every Target, WalMart, and Best Buy are slowing to reveal their trampled victims, I’m a bit less in awe of all that is Black Friday than I have been in the past. People camped out for several days, they went without sleep, they devised strategic plans that actually involved them choosing to stand in the bitter cold or in endless lines, but something else happened: the people not participating bitched incessantly. As someone that enjoys doing that when it concerns an ideology or practice I don’t like, I think it’s a bit shallow this time. If you want to put yourself through that Black Friday insanity, that’s fine with  me. If you think taking a week off from work to pitch a tent in your local Best Buy parking lot in order to save 50% on a TV, Ok. But, saddling up your high horse to dispute the tenets of consumerism and preach the merits of a family holiday one day out of the year is truly disappointing. Everything you are saying is legitimate. People shouldn’t care so much about material objects, they should take more time to relax and enjoy the company and fellowship with family, and the advertising cycle that we are confronted with is unfathomable. I concede, I hear you.

However, where is your message when you aren’t a part of a unified front trying to stem the tide against the Thanksgiving night shoppers? My concern is that the message is lost because it’s only being broadcast in a reactionary fashion. Consumerism and our incredibly corrupt economic foundation is egregious but that is just as true the day after Thanksgiving as it is the day after and the one after that. Using the emotional appeal that family is the reason that people should use to supplant their urge to Black Friday shop is fairly weak considering it’s our “family” tradition that requires us to buy every new gadget and toy for one another just to survive the Christmas season which coincidentally begins on Black Friday. I don’t know, I think I’m as sick of the Black Friday bitchers as I am the Black Friday shoppers. Black Friday is just every other day in concentrated form so if we choose to get uncontrollably upset for these amplified reasons that are perceivable every single day then shame on us. We lose our right to complain if it’s just simply a convenient platform from which we pass judgment. I’m not making an argument here, I just noticed more bitterness this year and it made me realize that it is quite detrimental to the underlying point that should be made on Black Friday and every other day. We don’t need smart watches, 10 Christmas gifts, or to have a week of our lives carved out based on a percentage discount, but we also don’t need critics who perpetuate, 364 days a year, the issue that they are criticizing.

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The Five Signs You Might Drive Like a Moron on the Highway

For those of you that do not know where I work, I work in grocery distribution in Shipping/IT/Claims at a large distribution center about 35 miles from my home. Because I normally work twelve-hour shifts, during the winter months it is rather usual for me to drive to work in the dark and drive home in the dark as well. Since the route I take to work is mostly main highways, it is safe to say that I interact with quite a few other drivers on a daily basis. And in doing so, I have managed to compile a mostly comprehensive list of traits that if you possess them, might make you an idiotic driver.

1. You might be a moron if you do not use your turn signals

Vehicular safety 101 here. While switching lanes and exiting (or making any other turns to be honest), use your indicators. Failure to do so not only makes you an inconsiderate driver, but can also be dangerous in the case of sudden turns or other moronic movements caused by drivers who are simply not intelligent enough to use their turn signals. All vehicles are required to have turn signals equipped, let’s all be smart and safe drivers by taking advantage of this feature.

2. You might be a moron if you constantly drive at variable speeds on the highway

Just this morning, one of these such instances popped up. When I drive on the highway, I will typically stay in the range of 65-75 miles per hour in order to maintain good gas mileage while having a constant speed, which will assist better in estimations for arrival times at work. This morning however, as I was sitting in the right (proper) lane, some nitwit in a SUV comes zooming up behind me, and then just sits on my tail, despite decelerating at least 10 miles an hour just to simply sit on my tail. I thought that perhaps this person was just going to get off at the next exit, but that was not the case. I then slowed down to 60 MPH in order to get them to pass me in the left lane, and instead they maintained their tenuous grip on reality by slowing down even further. Chances are that this person was driving distracted (food, phone, radio, what have you) and instead of being a responsible adult and a proper motorist, they chose to not have their full attention directed toward the road, and thus did not notice that the car in front of them (me) was going 20 MPH slower than they were just a minute ago. Of course, the fact they were driving a SUV did not help either, which brings me to my third point.

3. There is a definite probability that if you drive a SUV or a Pickup Truck, that you drive like a moron

I understand the degree of usefulness of a sport utility vehicle or a pickup truck. However, the compact SUV (CR-V, Escape) has become the mini-van of our generation, with the two-row, and smaller (by comparison to other three rowers) three row vehicles evolving into the new soccer mom favorites. Which is rather annoying, because they’re built higher up, and it is simply much more difficult to make fun of someone who drives a SUV than a mini-van.  But you know what the worst part about them is? On the highway, and especially at night, people drive these things like they’re Corvettes. And, because they are built higher up, when they have their headlights on they shine like a floodlight directly into the back of whatever car the idiot driving it is currently tailgating (usually, it’s me they tailgate). I understand that you can lower your rearview mirror to decrease the brightness, but you cannot do that to your side mirrors, which reflect the glare just as bad. And because drivers of SUVs and pickups think that they are the Second Coming and have places to get faster than anyone else, they are typically the ones who will ride your butt and shine their godawful headlights all up in your business. There’s something to be said for souping up cars, because (for the most part) they are meant to handle and drive better and faster than most anything else on the highway. Yes, the guy driving the VW Rabbit with the body kit can be a bit annoying, but compare that to the jacked up pickup truck with smoke stacks in the back. One of these belongs on asphalt, the other in the West Virginian mountains where you’re related to everyone in the county, and you still marry them because the fact of the matter is, you are improving the intelligence of the local gene pool, because it is that low. When on the highway, just know your place amongst other drivers, and stop spewing smog through my sun roof.

4. Tractor-trailer drivers can be the Absolute WORST morons in the driving world

On the whole, I don’t mind tractor-trailer truck drivers. It is the bad ones that soil the reputation of them as a whole. I believe, that if a truck is going over 80 MPH, that they should be pulled over. Compared to everything else on the road, trucks are monstrosities, and can be extremely dangerous due to their weight, cargo, and blind spots. Add speed into that equation, and you have a master recipe for disaster. Drivers that spend excess time in the passing lane, belch black smoke, or constantly speed are idiots. Sometimes, I will intentionally get in front of trucks that are in the passing lane and force them to slow down by decelerating. And if they try to pass in the right lane, it is very simple to speed up because pretty much any car out there is going to have more pickup speed than a tractor-trailer truck.

The other bad part about these trucks, is that because their acceleration is very poor, merging onto highways via inclined on-ramps can be one of the more frustrating things about driving. As stated prior, because I work at a DC, there are always trucks coming and going, which means the probability of me becoming stuck behind one is very high. And, the on-ramp to the local highway from distribution is a rather steep incline that merits truck drivers a speed of about 40 MPH while entering a highway.

And last, but not least:

5. You are definitely a moron if you do not know the most basic rule of highway driving

Drive right, pass left.

 

And please, for the love of God, do not “do the mess around” like John Candy, while driving.

NFL Week 12 Picks

Bad bad week last week. 1-3-1. Overall: 28-26-1

Green Bay minus 4.5 v Minnesota: Tolzien has played well and Minnesota’s defense is horrendous. Pack win 34-20

Chicago plus 1.5 at St. Louis: Battle of backup QB’s. Bears run D will have to stop Zac Stacy but Clemens won’t be able to win this game for the Rams. Bears 23-17

New York Giants minus 2.5 v Dallas. Who knows with these matchups but the Giants have won a few in a row and the Cowboys don’t win big games especially not on the road. Giants 31-27

New England plus 2.5 v Denver. Brady won’t lose two primetime games in a row. This one is at home and Denver is a little banged up. Patriots 35-34

New York Jets plus 3.5 at Baltimore. The Jets are terrible on the road but hey, they got blown out last week, so I’m sure they’ll bounce back right? That’s how it has been all season. Jets win 23-14.

“Catching Fire” Ignites New Life into ‘Hunger Games’ Franchise

As I sit here on this cozy winter night on my couch with wireless keyboard on my lap and Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat beer in hand, let me regale you the tale of what happened last night when I went to see the next installment in The Hunger Games franchise, Catching Fire.

Now, as you may have previously read, I rather disliked the first Hunger Games movie. I felt it took a pretty good book, and made it worse. The first novel was imperfect but built on a solid concept, in which a quality film could have built a firm foundation. Yet, it failed utterly. If you wish to read that certain post, I’ll save you the time of digging and quick link you to it. https://pictureperfectbottledrage.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-hunger-games-how-and-why-the-book-and-movie-should-have-been-better/

Usually, I’ll provide spoilers with a movie that I review. Not so this time. What I’ve discovered is, that with movies I dislike I need to provide all the reasons why it’s terrible. I need to spoil the movie to you the reader so that you do not waste your money in seeing it. Instead, because I liked this movie, I’ll merely tease you with spoilers, and tell you why you should go see it. A good production is literally worth gold, and I’ll encourage the development of those works of art. A bad project is worth flushing down the toilet, and thus I should discourage the masses from viewing such filth.

Which leads me  to assess the franchise as a whole, starting with the books and first movie. The Hunger Games franchise can be brought to life by this complex analogy. The overlying concept is like Aztec Gold. It’s shiny, valuable, creative, pretty, and intelligently made. Suzanne Collins then puts this concept into a book, and is like Hernan Cortez melting down all the Aztec Gold. It’s still shiny, valuable, and it’s still gold, it simply lost some of its intelligence and attractivity along the way. Then, the first movie comes along. This is like black market traders buying and selling the melted down gold bricks. The original vision (concept) gets a bit lost, and even the nice features of the gold start to get tainted as it switches hands and is used as a means to an end instead of as a work of art.

THANKFULLY, if we stick with the analogy, the second movie is like someone put a curse on all the Aztec Gold (sound familiar, Captain Jack?) and it all had to be brought back to one place to start from scratch in order to end the curse. All the gold is back in the same place with some of it restored, maybe not for the right reasons, but it’s there nonetheless. This is where we pick up with the second movie, if you still follow my analogy.

First and foremost, we switch directors. Which is a godsend. Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) takes the film into an entirely different direction than Gary Ross did. He takes the ideas that the second novel was built on, and creates a film based on them. All the parts of the book that drag on for too long or that the plot gets lost in (such as the overlong Arena setting and overemphasis on the teenage romance) get slimmed down and trimmed to fit in a fast paced movie focused on the characters and the setting, instead of the futuristic mushy love story told by the first movie.

Secondly, we get set and cinematographical (I may have just made that up) redesign. Remember how I said that the setting in the Capitol should reflect Rome? Francis Lawrence hits that nail on the head, keeping the futuristic feel but also paying much homage to ancient Italy. There are nice wide angle shots that capture how Panem should have been imagined by most of the readers. And for those of you that did not read the books, it gives a grander and more epic feel to the entire movie.

Third, it’s more menacing. Certainly the books get darker as the series goes on, but this movie actually feels PG-13 instead of the lighthearted romp that was the first film. The government is clearly defined as the real enemies, and it shows. Unlike the first movie where the villain and even the roles of the Gamemaker and President were totally passed over (even though they weren’t included in the book), it is clear who the antagonists are even if the film tells us “remember who the enemy is”. The peacekeepers uniforms have (thankfully) been redesigned, which although still imperfect reflect a much more totalitarian feel. Patrick St. Esprit (Sons of Anarchy, Green Zone, Super 8) plays the head Peacekeeper in District 12, and does a pretty good job for a guy that I laughed at when presented on screen because of the pushover character he plays in SoA. Instead, he channels Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars more than anything else, which is a remarkably good thing.

Fourth, the casting. Although Jennifer Lawrence as the protagonist is still a ridiculous babe, she might only be the fourth best actor in the film. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is wonderfully cast as head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, and is beyond a doubt the best actor in the movie. Lenny Kravitz reprises his role as Cinna the stylist, and Jeffery Wright ( Agent Felix Leiter in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) contributes well to the expanded cast, as does Woody Harrelson who comes through yet again as the mentor Haymitch Abernathy. More new cast members arrive (and will stay for the remainder of the sereis) in Finnick Odair (Sam Clarfin, Pirates of the Caribbean on Stranger Tides), who plays his role fantastically, as well as the sexy damaged goods that make up Johanna Mason (Jena Malone, Into the Wild). I do still wish that President Snow were replaced by a more diabolical actor, but Donald Sutherland does his best to personify the films villain.

Finally, the soundtrack. I critiqued this in my last review, and it picks up considerably in this installment. Although the composer (James Newton Howard) remains the same, the times where the score is edited into the movie make quite the difference. From soft piano to Chris Martin singing the end credits song, it is a marked improvement.

Besides the obvious upgrades, everything about the movie seems real, as you identify so much better with the characters and setting. The PTSD that the characters experience from the trauma in the games is real. The brutal violence and oppression of the Capitol based regime draws parallels to not just historical fascism, but our own current government as well. The plot, which is more setting and character driven, feels conceivable and believable. We are finally sitting in Panem and buying into the universe that Collins created, even more so than those of us that read the book. This is no longer a strict romance movie (sorry to disappoint all the girls aged 12-20 that flocked to the theater last night), but instead it has turned into a work of art.

Is this movie perfect? Certainly not. The “love triangle” between Katniss Everdeen (J. Lawrence), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is muddled at best. Katniss’ true thoughts and feelings are never really dissected, and it’s hard to see the motivation for some of the decisions she makes relationally. Gale, like in the books, is a very shallow and undeveloped character, and the adult audience is unsure of the relationship between Gale and Katniss even though the teens and tweens will swoon when the two “lovebirds” appear on screen in romantic moments. The movie also suffers from some poor source material, although the second Collins novel is a good read, it is far from great and has many imperfections and inconsistencies which you’ll notice in the film. Is that the film’s fault? No, but you’ll notice it nonetheless. And finally, it also suffers from a poor prequel. The movie has to constantly be referencing the previous movie, because after all, it’s built right on top of it. Changes in between movies may leave some viewers confused, although rest assured that the changes made from first film to second are more than likely for the best.

The Hunger Games : Catching Fire is a well done movie based on rather good source material. Neither the book or the movie will ever enter the realm of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series, but the franchise takes a giant step in the right direction with this most recent film. It boldly showcases the bleakness and oppression of the fascist regime in the fictional Panem, and even draws fantastic parallels to the entertainment industry’s hype machine that is responsible for such debacles that are “music television’s” VMA’s. Where this movie is at its best is when Catching Fire draws allegorical comparisons to the culture that created it. I rarely say this about a movie based on a book, but in this case….

The book is good.

But the movie’s way better.

8/10

My Year at the Movies (ranks in order of best to worst of movies I have seen that have been released this year)

1. Rush

2. Star Trek Into Darkness

3. Man of Steel

4. Catching Fire

5. Pacific Rim

6. Despicable Me 2

7. Monsters University

8. The Great Gatsby

9. Oblivion

10. Elysium

11. World War Z

12. Oz the Great and Powerful

13. Fast and Furious 6

14. Iron Man 3

15. Hangover Part 3

16. Thor : The Dark World

17. A Good Day To Die Hard

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 Review : Are Eminem’s Newest Songs More Creative Than His New Album Title?

There used to be a time when the best joke in junior high was coined by Chris Rock who said “You know the world is crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, and the best golfer is a black guy.” Of course, Rock was referencing Marshall Mathers, the controversial rapper from Detroit also known as Eminem, and his demonic alter ego Slim Shady, who together formed 1/6 of rap group D12. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Mathers shredded the mic and was on top of the world (being the best selling artist of the decade between 2000 and 2010), all the while creating a stir with his insane lyrics that he spit with an unmatched natural talent. He reached his peak in 2002 with one of the greatest rap albums in history, The Eminem Show, along with releasing his most popular song to date in “Lose Yourself”. Since then, he’s battled pill addictions, family problems, fame problems, and the death of close friend and fellow D12 member Proof. After realizing the effect his Slim Shady persona had on his personality, he ditched the other half after the comeback album Relapse, and focused on aspects of his rapping that didn’t include previously common themes such as graphic murder, feuds with other rappers, and diss tracks aimed at “haters”. The album to follow was labeled as Recovery and was very commercially successful, sporting themes of redemption and resurgence, spawning hits such as “Not Afraid”, “No Love”, and “Love the Way You Lie”.

The only question is, where would Em go next? He took the rap world by storm after being introduced by Dr. Dre, created a whirlwind of controversy for a handful of years, quietly went away, came back, went away again, and came back better than ever with his previous two albums, Recovery, and the collaboration with Royce da 5’9″ (the other half of “Bad Meets Evil”), Hell : The Sequel. Now though, he’s 40, still doesn’t give a damn about a Grammy (even though he has 13), and is over battling addictions and family problems. That means, even though he has a lack of current event material to write about, Marshall would have to tap into his creative side to come up with content for The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

Which, if you have ever seen him freestyle, means he is still completely comfortably at home. He reasserts his dominance over other rappers lyrical and natural rapping ability in “Rap God”, at one stretch he raps at a speed of 6.5 words per second. In “Headlights” which features fun.’s Nate Ruess, he finally forgives his mentally ill, alcoholic mother who he previously berated in his career with “My Mom”, and “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”. Eminem also brings up past events with “Stronger Than I Was”, lamenting his broken, twice divorced relationship with ex-wife Kim Scott. The best personal history track is doubtlessly “The Monster”, which features Rihanna, with its only weakness lying in the fact that it too closely resembles Recovery‘s “Love the Way You Lie”.

Digging up the past is not where we find the strong points on MMLP2, however. Instead, we find the best tracks stemming from Mathers’ ability to assemble creative lyrics out of seemingly nowhere. Lead single “Berzerk” is rather quirky, sampling both The Beastie Boys and Billy Squier at different points, produced in a style that is reminiscent of “The Real Slim Shady”. There are a few parts that are just a little too strangely mixed for me however, as I feel like the strength in this song lies solely in its chorus. This collection hits its stride with “Survival”, “Rap God”, and “So Far…”, the lattermost sampling Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”. “Rap God” is simply a lyrical onslaught, with “Survival” sporting a hard beat and explosive distortion, in Em’s fast rapping style in a very reminder of “Till I Collapse”.

So overall, what’s the verdict on the LP? There are places where Eminem has matured as a rapper, and he will straight up tell you about it. And really, that’s the only place where this album suffers. There is not a bad track on this record, I just simply do not terribly care about the past traumas that we’ve heard Marshall rap about before. And with a lack of current drama in his life, his hilariously lyriced tracks (“Without Me”, “Superman”, “We Made You”) are thrown out with his Slim Shady persona. If I want to listen to Eminem rap currently, I want a meaningful track such as “Stan”, or “Beautiful”, or an adrenaline filled diatrabe such as “Till I Collapse” or “Won’t Back Down”.

Which, he does deliver, practically in spades. “The Monster” is his best meaningful track, and it’s very interesting to see the contrast of “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and “Headlights”. “Rap God”, and “Survival”, along with sections of “Berzerk” showcase Em’s ability to write and rap lyrics like no other.

Is Eminem the best rapper in the world? Probably not. Is he still one of the best writers and pure skill rappers on the planet? Without a doubt. Despite all the media and pop radio attention, the raw talent that Marshall Mathers showcases is evident even when he’s over the hill, and isn’t overflowing with reactionary content to write about. 8/10

NFL Week 11 Picks

Last Week: 3-2 Overall: 27-23

New York Jets minus 1 at Buffalo: Woods and Johnson are both out for Buffalo and Manuel looked bad next week. Jets win 20-17 unless Geno gives it away.

Washington plus 4.5 at Philadelphia: Philly doesn’t win at home. Washington has had a long week with extra time to prepare. They fought back in the second half of the first matchup and the offense last week was fine. Desperation mode brings out a win for the ‘Skins 31-28.

San Francisco plus 3 at New Orleans: The 49ers looked bad at home last week so what better time to go on the road against a team Kaepernick plays well against? Niners behind Kap win 34-31.

Denver minus 7.5 v Kansas City. Primetime game in Denver brings out the best in Peyton. I don’t think this is close. Denver 34-13.

Jacksonville plus 8 v Arizona: Second week in a row I’m going with the Jags but what makes you trust Arizona on the road? Cardinals win 23-17.

Unleash the Christmas Madness

Light the Gingerbread Cookie Yankee Candle, guzzle a Venti Peppermint Mocha Starbucks Latte, crank up Deck the Halls and for the love of all that is good, press play so I can watch Will Ferrell adorn yellow tights and frolic in all of his Elf glory- IT’S CHRISTMAS PEOPLE! Well it’s actually November 14, 2013 but just as newly elected New Jersey Governor is as good as the President elect, (shouts, “Christie 2016!”) it might as well be December 24th, complete with Maya Rudolph reading us a Best Buy bedtime story.

For quite some time I have unsuccessfully hid a deep dark secret of mine, but here I am to proclaim it to the Internet. My name is Susan B. Johnson and I do not like Christmas- oh the shame. As much as all of this obsessive holiday hoopla makes me want to scream, I am vowing to give it somewhat of a rest this holiday season. I will let my heart grow a size or two but definitely not three.

A few of my favorite Communication scholars will help me express how I plan for us all to live in Christmas harmony:

Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher and literary critic in the 1900s. His theory of Carnivalesque suggests that holidays such as Carnival, are isolated events in which the dominant culture allows for subversives to behave radically in a “safe environment.” People are given a few days a year to be boisterous, drunk, nude, over indulgent, and riotous, to ensure that for the rest of the year they act according to social rules and regulations. These few days a year are a release to keep people from feeling oppressed enough to incite an uprising. Bakhtin, however, saw a power that he believed the dominant culture neglected. He viewed holidays as catalysts for change. From these infrequent days of ignoring social norms and responsibilities, by acting out on the one day without consequences, he thought people might start to question why there are consequences at all and who they benefit. People might be able to see the social hierarchy more clearly by extending the holiday’s power into the rest of the year.

Antonio Gramsci, an Italian revolutionary thinker of the 1900s, founded the idea of incorporation, in which the dominant culture incorporates a counter-culture movement into order to strip it of its power. A common example of this is the grunge culture. Grunge encouraged its supporters to reject consumerism, to buy used clothes rather than buying new from multinational corporations. Therefore, worn, ripped, baggy, and faded became the trend. Fearing the counterculture’s power to affect sales, the same multinational corporations that grungies hated, welcomed grunge with open arms. They ripped and bleached and wore their new clothes to look used and sold the trend in a safe way. They made it easy for people to appear as though they joined the movement without making sacrifices that the movement depended upon, thus taking away the counterculture power.

I’ll make all of you Christmas lovers a deal- I will recognize Bakhtin’s theory that holidays, Christmas included, have power and therefore are beneficial to a progressing culture, if you recognize that, in Gramsci’s words, Christmas has been incorporated.

Christmas is powerful, I truly believe that. It spreads messages of peace, generosity, selflessness, and family. It asks all of us to slow down and reflect on what is important to us, asks us to be thankful for what we have, and to spread our wealth to those who have less than us. We put our professional aspirations on hold and focus on others, an indulgence that is dangerous to the dominant culture should it spread outside of the Christmas season.

Christmas has also been incorporated. We are encouraged to show our generosity, our selflessness, our love for our family through material gifts. We buy gifts and make care packages to send overseas to the less fortunate. In doing this, we buy gifts from a corporation, and ignore the possibility that this same corporation could be the ones exploiting our less-fortunate gift recipients for their cheap labor. Instead of questioning the system and seeking to transform it, we buy things. Incorporation provides a “safe” way to fulfill our desire to be compassionate. Instead of asking the dangerous question of why, for example, there are people in our communities who work full time and still cannot feed their families, we can buy them a box of instant mashed potatoes and some cranberry sauce and feel just as satisfied.

Now, if you want to enjoy material holiday pleasantries, like your house falsely smelling of freshly baked cookies or drinking sugary drinks, be my guest, I will not chastise you for it. But do me a solid in return, please? Add a moment of reflection in there too. Why do you like these things? Why do they mean so much to you? How do these small pleasures affect other people? Are you using them to ignore the bigger picture?

While you slurp down your Peppermint Mocha Latte and every latte after that, give the Colombian coffee farmer a second thought. 

Do not allow your Christmas contribution to the food bank to be a justification to support Welfare cuts or hate of the inconvenience of healthcare reform.

Do not allow Christmas to be an excuse for the one time a year you make time for your family.

Do not compensate the lack of time you spend with your aging grandparents or brother who lives across the country with an espresso machine.

Do not calculate your love for your children based on the number of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

Embrace the power of Christmas as a catalyst for change.

Even I admit, Christmas has power, but it’s not in the Santa Clauses or the metallic bows or 8 foot Douglas furs. It is in the chance for self reflection. Instead of trampling each other to get our sons the PS4 on Black Friday, why don’t we say, “I love you son, let’s spend time together.” Instead saying “Merry Christmas” when we work at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, let’s say, “I will fight for you,” and let’s keep saying it into the New Year, the summer and back around to the start of the Christmas season again, November 14th.

10 Under the Radar 2013 Tracks

1. The Vaccines – “Do You Want a Man? (John Hill & Rich Costey Remix)”

This is a little gem of pop-rock perfectly completed with watery basslines flying all over the place.

2. Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play”

Extremely well produced and poignant R&B. What’s not to like?

3. Mikky Ekko – “Pull Me Down”

Mikky Ekko is very close to breaking out into the mainstream. This is his first big single, but you might recognize him from the song, “Stay”, which he wrote for Rihanna.

4. Volcano Choir – “Byegone”

Justin Vernon (from Bon Iver) is involved. So, its good.

5. FKA Twigs – “Water Me’

Production straight out of the 22nd century, and a weirdly interesting video. Neo R&B at its finest.

6. Phoenix – “Bourgeois”

A great, energetic synth rock ballad.

7. Jai Paul – “All Night”

Great slow jam.

8. Daft Punk – “Instant Crush”

Obviously, “Get Lucky” gets all the attention from their newest album, but “Instant Crush” is a great track as well, though less dance-y.

9. Ryan Hemsworth – “Perfectly”

A very pleasant 3 and a half minutes, that seems to stick in my head all the time.

10. Shlohmo – ” Later”

One of my favorite electronic music songs of recent memory.

 

The Correct Guide to Scoring Settings in Fantasy Football

Let’s face it. The vast majority of men, or even football fans in general have at the very least one fantasy football team. It is estimated that over 19 million people have a fantasy football team. The only problem is, everything is so scattered across multiple websites such as NFL.com, Yahoo!, ESPN, and CBS Sportsline, that somewhere along the line the standard system of scoring gets lost in the plot. Fantasy managers will argue until the end of time how a league should be scored and what makes the most sense, but I am here to enlighten you on how the league standard should be.

You should aim for 12-14 teams in a league. 10 is too small, and 16 is too much. In a 12 team league, the top six should make the playoffs with no playoff byes. In a 14 team league, the top eight should make playoffs with the top two receiving playoff byes.

To begin, fantasy football is an offensive game. It is about scoring points, racking up yards, and using skill positions to reward good players with points that help their team at the very least compete in real life. The primary objective in football is to score a lot of points, just like in fantasy. As such, the way that points are scored (touchdowns hopefully) should always carry the most weight. Like it or not, in order to create a fantasy version of the game it needs to bear an approximation to how scores are created in the reality version. You win by scoring touchdowns, not by throwing for just 400 yards. The touchdown is almighty, and will always be six points universally. Also, all bonus points for long plays or X amount of yards after a certain amount get thrown out. Those simply do not make sense.

Quarterback

1 QB Slot per team

1 Point for 30 yards passing – A good quarterback should generally have three times the passing yards as a good running back has rushing or three times the passing yards as a good receiver has catching. Just as a 150 yard receiving or rushing game is good, so is a 450 yard passing game.

1 Point for every 10 yards rushing – Universal.

6 Points for Touchdowns – Universal. Even with quarterbacks. Yahoo! standard is 4 points just to balance out quarterbacks with other players, but let’s be honest here.  You have one field marshal on your team, the guy who is calling the plays and reading the defense. He is going to be the most valuable player if your team wins consistently. He should be rewarded in such a way.

-3 Points for Interceptions and Fumbles Lost – Turnovers are killer. Even though some fumbles can be the fault of the offensive line, some interceptions can be the fault of the wide receiver. A 2 TD 3 INT game should not be rewarding. That’s simply not a good (or a standard Jon Kitna) performance.

-2, 0, 2 Points for Completion Percentage Below 50%, between 50 and 70, and above 70 – completion percentage is HUGE and never scored. Although some of it relies on the receivers drops, if you complete less than 50% of your passes, or you complete above 70%, you should be penalized and rewarded accordingly.

2 Points for 2 Point Conversion – Universal.

Wide Receiver

2 Slots, flex option. It’s hard to find teams outside of one that Peyton Manning or Drew Brees is on that uses more than either three wideouts, or two wide receivers and a tight end on a consistent basis. Our settings will be similar.

1 Point for 10 yards receiving – Universal.

6 Points for Touchdown – Universal.

0.5 Points per reception – You have to reward wide receivers for catching the ball, simple as that. One point is simply too much, and can drastically alter the game, especially with running backs. Half a point is a perfect medium.

-.05 Points per drop – Just as catching giveth, dropping taketh away.

1 Point for 10 yards rushing – Universal.

-3 Points per fumble lost – WR fumbling is inexcusable.

2 Points for 2 Point Conversion – Universal.

Running Back

2 Slots, no flex option. A team hardly utilizes more than two running backs in a game unless one is injured. Your team should follow suit.

1 Point for 10 yards rushing. – Universal.

6 Points per Touchdown – Universal.

1 Point for 10 yards receiving – Universal.

.5 Point per Reception – Universal.

-.05 Points per drop – Universal.

-3 Points per fumble lost – You simply cannot put the ball on the ground.

2 Points for 2 Point Conversion – Universal.

Flex Position (WR/TE)

We go one flex position that is receiving only and no tight end slot. Generously, one-third of the NFL has a good consistently receiving tight end. The value in the tight end is not just their pass catching skills, but blocking skills just as much, which are not measured in our offensive style of scoring. This cannot warrant a standalone tight end slot, but for those that wish to take a chance and grab a premier end, there’s still room to stick them in. Otherwise, just go with a third wide receiver.

Scoring the same as Wide Receiver

Kicker

You must have one kicker in fantasy football, bar none. The kicker is essential to scoring plays, and is on some occasions in reality, the leading scorer on the team. Drafting kickers is also rather fickle, because although you want a kicker from a good team that puts points on the board, you also want one that kicks the most field goals because they are the most valuable. Scoring should be as follows

1 Point for Extra Point

3 Points for field goals 0-39 yards

3.5 Points for field goals 40-49 yards

4 Points for field goals 50+ yards

-1 Point for PAT missed (not blocked)

-2 Points for field goals under 29 yards missed (not blocked)

2 Points for Game Winning Field Goal

Defense/Special Teams

This is where it gets the most complicated. The defense and special teams (minus kickers) are units, and as units should be a little more involved in scoring than individuals. It’s like a pitcher in baseball or goalie in hockey. Prevention of scoring is held in the utmost regard, especially when it comes to a unit like a defense in football. Drafting individual players on defense is foolish, because since we do not draft entire 11 man offenses individually, we should not do the same for defense. Because a defense (and Special Teams) is a team effort instead of a skill position effort, they will be displayed as so. Yards against should not be counted for or against a defense. Touchdowns, as I said earlier, rule supreme (as should winning the game as the unit). You can leak like a sieve on defense, but if you limit the amount of scores you have done your job well.

6 Points for Touchdowns – On Defense or Special Teams

2 Points for blocked kicks

2 Points for kick returns into opponent territory

2 Points for punts inside the opponent 15

4 Points for Team Win

2 Points for Safety

3 Points for INT or Fumble Recovery

1.5 Points Per Sack

12 Points for Shutout

7 Points for 1-9 Points Allowed

4 Points for 10-19 Points Allowed

0 Points for 20-29 Points Allowed

 

 

 Agree or disagree with how I think fantasy leagues should be scored? Comment and let me know!

Thor The Dark World : An Adult’s Scathing Review

Typically, I go into a movie theater watching experience with expectations. Usually, if it is an installment in a franchise that has produced good films, or an adaptation of some other sort of medium that I enjoy, my expectations are rather high. I hated Iron Man 3 because it was a betrayal to the previous two franchise films (and the good ideas of the comic book medium), while conversely I loved Pacific Rim because I had no expectations whatsoever. Rotten Tomatoes gives Iron Man 3 a 79% “Fresh” Rating, whereas they give Pacific Rim a 72%. However, I hated the former title and thoroughly enjoyed the latter, all based on expectations.

This all being said, I went to an opening night showing of Thor: The Dark World with average expectations. I liked the first Thor movie, which although far from perfect was fun to watch. I disliked the need for political correctness by creating a multicultural Asgard (which runs adversely to all Norse mythology), and thought that the chemistry between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) was very poor, creating an unconvincing dynamic. I did like the visual elegance that director Kenneth Branagh brought with him, and praised the acting of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who stole the show from his pretty-boy brother. The plot was simple enough, and featured a vulnerable Thor who was stripped of his superpowers for arrogant abuse by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, in need of a paycheck) and marooned on Earth. In it, we found out that what they classified as “magic” in Asgard is the same as science on our planet, with the explanation for the Bifrost transportation being that it was an Einstein-Rosen bridge. Although a complex concept in reality, it was simplified enough to fit into the movie and actually make sense at its inception. The ending also perfectly set up the following film that would star both Loki and Thor, segwaying in a way that made linear sense. I gave it a 6.8/10 in my Marvel movie reviews, and I stand by that. Nothing particularly special, but a solid if not spectacular installment on the road toward The Avengers.

Now though, we’ve entered “Phase 2” of The Avengers storyline. It started off with a box office bang with Iron Man 3, which was still riddled with as many plot holes and problems as all of Tony Stark’s bullet-ridden suits. Seeing that I thought Thor was the weakest installment in “Phase 1” (at a 6.8/10), I quite rather enjoyed the other origin stories up to and culminating with The Avengers, increasing expectations. With a change of director for the second Thor movie, my expectations started to plummet, as Alan Taylor (whose only pertinent credits are directing six episodes of Game of Thrones) was handed the keys of this movie, in a typical Marvel cost-cutting, quality disassurance move. Expectations started out high, but started coming down like Mjolnir being summoned into the hand of the god whom Thursday is named after.

Beware, there are spoilers below. I don’t know how to go in-depth with a review without hitting on some major plot points, so only read this after you have seen the movie (if you plan to see it), or if you do not plan on seeing it.

The film starts out embarrassingly bad. In an attempt at a Peter Jacksonesque Lord of the Rings prologue, it is explained that Odin’s father (Bor) was in a war with a race known as the dark elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who seeks to destroy the universe by covering it in darkness using a weapon known as the Aether (which is basically PCP). Obviously, he loses the war, and somehow tricks the King of the Asgard into thinking he died when in reality, him and some of his followers simply went into suspended animation to be awoken when the Aether returns to the universe. Bor takes the Aether and places it in a stone column, and hides it where “no one can find it” (OBVIOUSLY somewhere on Earth).

Let’s pause this all for a second. Malekith has the dumbest motivation of any villain yet. He has no sensible goal. “Destroying the universe” means destroying everything, including himself. Even if he manages to somehow survive, what is he going to do once the universe is destroyed? Sleep in because everything is dark now? How does he even know that Bor hid the Aether? And if he was defeated once with it, how is it going to make him into an unstoppable force when he comes back?

Okay, I will shut up. But these questions seriously entered my mind during the opening ten minute sequence. I was horrified. It could only get better from here I thought, as the movie switched to present-day Asgard where Loki is due to stand trial for his crimes from The Avengers. He is pretty much given a slap on the wrist, and is mostly bawled over by his mother who is just so disappointed that her adopted son felt like becoming a king in his own right, since his road to the Asgardian throne was blocked. He gets set up in a nerfed prison cell, where he is left to look like an emo strung out on crack cocaine, even though the only thing that is actually punishing him is absolute boredom.

Thor, of course, is off being an oppressor. Apparently him and his compatriots have to go re-conquer the “Nine Realms” because after the destruction fo the Bifrost in the original Thor film. they decided they wanted to be free from Asgard’s rule or something like that. Of course, Thor will have no part of this, as he must go easily slay hundreds of their warriors to beat them into submission and into bowing to the Crown. The entire fight sequence is confusing. Enemies wear what seem to be iron helmets and other sorts of medieval gear while wielding laser guns, all the while being beat up and murdered by axes and bows and arrows. Nothing makes sense, but the freedom fighters must be quelled.

Of course, back on Earth we immediately visit Jane Foster (Thor’s unconvincing love interest) who is attempting to get back in the dating scene in London, but she just cannot keep her mind off of the thought of washing her clothes on Thor’s abs just one more time. As luck would have it, her partner in crime Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) is there for some welcome comic relief, as she impolitely interrupts Jane’s dinner date with shocking coincidental news of a scientific phenomenon (cue techno-babble). They come to an abandoned warehouse where objects start disobeying laws of physics and disappearing in midair, at times reappearing in strange places. Jane craps herself due to the scientific constraints of such a discovery, and starts theorizing on what it could be when all of a sudden she discovers the column, where in a trippy LSD moment she is teleported to some dark space and infected by the Aether. Ruh-Roh Raggy!

(Side note: if you add a red gleam and a bit of a gaseous presence to the Venom life form from Spiderman 3, you will get what is exactly the Aether. This movie would have been amazing if after being infected, Natalie Portman’s character returned to Earth and ripped open her jacket to reveal a black Spidey suit. That would have made my life complete.)

All of a sudden, I had a (second) glimmer of hope for this movie. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a horrible nonsensical plot twist where instead of being a superhero film, Thor : The Dark World is about the dangers of Class A recreational drugs and how crystal methamphetamine affects the body and makes you see weird things, like thinking that the prologue of the movie was awesome. Unfortunately, this isn’t a D.A.R.E. production, but instead an actual Hollywood film that someone somewhere thought was a good idea.

The foray into dramatic demon possessed existentialism ends with Jane reappearing in the warehouse with her friends outside talking to police, realizing that she has been gone for several hours in what seemed like moments to her. Before she returns though, the movie quickly cuts to Thor in Asgard talking to the racially incorrect Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba) who alerts the god of thunder that Jane has apparently disappeared (Heimdall is assumedly all-seeing and can see even tiny specks of humans on other planets) off the grid and cannot be seen. Concerned for her safety, Thor takes the Bifrost to Earth as soon as she “reappears” and lands next to lame Jane in the parking lot being surrounded by police. With bad script writing in conjunction with pitiful acting, Foster is overcome with fake emotion when the Norseman she loves finally reappears. Of course, even with the Bifrost being repaired, it becomes known that Thor has not visited Jane since the first Thor film, which makes for a thoroughly unconvincing relationship even though he claims he loves her and misses her, despite possessing the ability to visit Earth at any time. But oh no! The Aether within Jane acts out, and Hemsworth’s character is utterly astonished, and beams the duo back to Asgard to ascertain what is wrong with her.

As Jane and Thor materialize at Asgard, all of a sudden Jane has a flashback! She’s been here before, except with a Jedi Knight instead of a God! There’s even a scene where the two of them are whispering sweet nothings to each other on a bench in front of a waterfall. And then you realize that Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones has nearly interchangeable scenes with this movie. And then you start laughing, because it is hysterical how similar the two are. This is the beginning of the end. Scenes that do not contain Loki and are not the final battle scene are eerily reminiscent in a horribly bad flashback way of Star Wars Episode I and II. What we soon learn is that Asgard = Naboo = Theed. Same space ships, double-bladed swords, Gungan bubble shields, fighter ships, and defense lasers. It is cringe worthy. At this point in time, my friends and I were just sitting in the theater disruptively laughing and quoting the horrible lines from the first two Star Wars prequels. We got shushed multiple times as we quoted Anakin and Padme, as I swore that if Thor and Jane started running playfully through a field that I would walk out of the theater.

This just happened.

This is actually a scene from Star Wars, photoshopped in Microsoft paint by yours truly. The scariest thing is, this could easily be from The Dark World.

But it gets better! Romeo and Juliet realize that the mortal earther is going to die (even sooner than expected) if she doesn’t get the venom removed from here, so off to the Asgardian emergency room they go! As Jane lies on the table, she gets analyzed by their high-tech equipment and she starts spouting some more techno babble about how this magical equipment is actually some type of medical scientific technology they have on Earth. The thing she does not realize is, that NOBODY CARES.

This is where, if you sit and think about it, the movie gets its most embarrassing. Unlike a fantasy film where supernatural forces are merely explained as being simply such, the movie attempts to become science fiction, which is fiction grounded in a somewhat feasible sense of futuristic reality. They try to explain how certain miniscule things work that have no relevance to the plot whatsoever, and instead leave gaping holes where they should at the very least attempt to form roots.

Of course, the movie simply cannot go five minutes without a predictable ‘plot twist’ or mindless action. As we saw a little bit previously, the release of the Aether on Earth triggers the alarm clock that happily awakens the singular emotional dark elf villain and his second in command, who he for some reason that they wrote into the script, has to be turned into an enhanced warrior known as a “Kursed” (I think it might help their cause for universal domination if they learned to spell correctly. Or wait, maybe that is why they want to destroy the galaxy, because they disagree with how things are spelled). Somehow, Celeborn the dark elf of Lorien obtains supersecret stealth cloaked spaceships that he transports an army of uglies on to obtain the Aether and destroy the Asgardians forever.

But lo! Watching is Heimdall the Seer, guarding the city of Asgard from all foreign dangers. Of course, he should have been canned in the first movie for failure to fulfill his duties as gatekeeper, but here he commits the gravest sin of all by failing to see these supersecret poorly cloaked ships, even though he can see Natalie Portman walking in London from galaxies away (makes sense, right). Even Captain Kirk can find a cloaked ship, but Heimdall utterly fails.

Actually, this is a lie. Because he does see one as it flies past him, which further exemplifies how this movie makes zero sense. It is like the classic Sam Rockwell scene from Galaxy Quest. Heimdall sees the ship, but is just totally flummoxed by his own imbecility that it takes a bit to register in his scatterbrain what is going on.

After about a millenia of watching the tortoise fly across the sky, he comes to his senses and takes out a dagger, charges it, and takes a flying leap to disable it (that’s exactly how it should be approached, right? See invisible spaceship. See spaceship fly. Fly spaceship, fly! Run at spaceship. Pull out dagger. Attack and destroy spaceship with dagger and bare hands). Whaaaaaaaaaaaat just happened.

At this point, I am just going to stop recapping the movie because it is simply too painful. The rest of the movie includes the villain’s best bud who is supposedly invincible getting inexplicably stopped, the meaningless and emotionless death of Thor’s mother, the scientific jargon techno babble that spouts from Jane’s mouth that makes sense to nobody (including these pole like weather instruments that function as teleportation devices that Jane somehow creates), and the reveal that Loki can now shape shift instead of simply casting holograms (would not have this been useful in The Avengers?).

The bright point of this movie is Tom Hiddleston. Every scene with him is practically gold. Even though the storyline and plot points that involve him make ZERO sense at times, he is a pleasurable dandy to watch on-screen. If it were not for him, this movie would rank up there with the worst Marvel has ever created.

For its pure entertainment value, the final fight sequence is fun to watch even though it is nonsensical. Although it makes you wonder. The scene takes place in London with a seemingly familiar alien invasion occurring. The main question I have in my mind is, where is S.H.I.E.L.D and why isn’t somebody trying to let a nuke off the chain like in The Avengers? The series continuity and logic is so impeccably flawed that it is hard to imagine that all the Avengers characters really do exist in the same universe.

The glaring problem with the fight scenes in this movie is that Thor is never actually in danger himself. He’s basically invincible when he has his hammer and his powers, and doesn’t outmaneuver his opponents, just inexplicably outbrawls them. The fun with the first movie was that his powers were stripped from him and he was just a normal human being. In this movie, he full wields his superpowers in a way that does not put him within a 39 1/2 foot pole of being in actual danger. Who knows, maybe if he lost the fight he could join the pointless “dark elf” Malekith with his evil plan to sleep in past 8 AM.

To conclude, this is a film for the ADD generation. Scenes are sloppily and quickly cut, assorted and jumbled together, with witless dialogue intertwined with bright lights and fancy stylized action that features weapons and combat that makes little practical sense. There are a few witty jokes written in, with most given to Loki (it is my opinion that Tom Hiddleston ad libbed them because the script was so bad) who just as in the previous two films that he is featured in, creates quite the splash. Unless you like brainless action (in other words, if you’re a fan of Transformers 3 or Die Hard 5), please do yourself (and the world) a favor and avoid throwing Marvel more money than they don’t deserve. I’m sorry they got my $8 so quickly, make sure you don’t make the same mistake. 4/10

My Year at the Movies (ranks in order of best to worst of movies I have seen in theaters this year)

1. Rush

2. Star Trek Into Darkness

3. Man of Steel

4. Pacific Rim

5. Despicable Me 2

6. Monsters University

7. The Great Gatsby

8. Oblivion

9. Elysium

10. Oz the Great and Powerful

11. Fast and Furious 6

12. Iron Man 3

13. Hangover Part 3

14. Thor : The Dark World

15. A Good Day To Die Hard