Who Dat 12th Man? Danny California’s 2014 NFL Divisional Round Playoff Predictions and Analysis

Last week’s Wild Card Playoff round was just as crazy and interesting to watch as promised. The first game between Indy and KC was a wild one, with (as I predicted, at least, the comeback part) the Colts coming roaring back from a 28 point deficit to humiliate a Chiefs team that put a hurting on Indianapolis (even without Jamaal Charles) in the first half. Andrew Luck is starting to cement himself as the most elite quarterback of his draft class, and perhaps is destined to be the NFL’s best someday soon. Following that game, New Orleans went into frigid Philadelphia and behind journeyman kicker Shayne Graham’s leg, the Saints found a few rounds of birdshot left and shot down the Eagles and their playoff hopes in the final seconds. On Sunday. we saw Andy Dalton post his best postseason QB rating yet out of three total games (at a 67.0 rating, yikes) and the Bengals get destroyed by San Diego despite the flurries and the fact that Philip Rivers is still under center. And finally, in what seems to be proof that cold weather isn’t as much as a factor as I thought, San Francisco went into the negative wind chill temps of Lambeau Field and pulled out a close win over Green Bay.

This weekend promises more balmy temperatures (even in Foxboro, Massachusetts) compared to last week, and also throws the teams with first round byes into play, making things a little bit more interesting.

Saturday, January 11th Games

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks, 4:35 PM EST

According to popular consensus, most people though that the Saints would win last week. With Drew Brees at the helm and a better tested coaching staff and roster, New Orleans held the slight advantage over Philadelphia. Typically, Saints football is thought to be Brees throwing for four scores and the defense doing just enough to ensure that the don’t get outscored. Last Saturday though, perhaps everyone not nicknamed “The Wolfman” was surprised as Brees threw two pretty bad picks, and the defense and running game stepped up and came through to produce a win for the Saints. New Orleans also exorcised the demons of playing on the road in the playoffs, going into frigid Philly and shutting down rushing champion Lesean McCoy. It seemed though, that the Eagles lost the game more than the Saints won it, as some key mistakes and overt conservativity of Nick Foles doomed the Philly offense. If the Saints are going to advance to the NFC Championship game, they will have to keep their turnovers down (3 against the Eagles was almost too many), and have an aerial attack that was missing when these two teams met earlier this season in a Seattle blowout.

The Seahawks have been one of, if not the favorite to win the NFC since the start of the season. With a healthy Percy Harvin alongside weapons Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch leading the way on offense, Seattle plays punishing defense on the other side of the ball which paves the way to victory. By giving up the second fewest PPG on the season built on giving up the fewest offensive yards, Seattle’s defense is the reason this team wins, and is even capable of scoring by themselves by leading the league in INTs with 28, and forcing the fourth most fumbles with 15. Add in an offense that scores the second most points in the NFL per game and has the third most rushing yards on average, the ‘Hawks control the clock, make minimal mistakes on offense, and force mistakes on defense. There really isn’t a better all-around team in the league. Combine that with CenturyLink field and the “12th Man” that the crowd dubs themselves as, and it’s hard not to pick them to go all the way. And yet, in this divisional round, I am doing the unheard of and picking New Orleans. The Saints have already been embarrassed in Seattle, they know what it’s like and will deal better a second time around. They’ve gotten the road victory monkey off their back and their defense is coming together well as a unit. Last week they shut down McCoy to the point where he was completely irrelevant, which I believe they can replicate against Lynch. And, I think Drew Brees is due. To have him go on the road and throw three touchdowns is exactly what is needed for the team from the Big Easy, with Shayne Graham delivering again to send the Saints to the championship game. 27-24 New Orleans

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots, 8:15 PM EST

Anybody who watched last week’s Wild Card game involving the Colts had to be astonished. I haven’t talked to anyone yet who turned it off at halftime thinking it was over, but I’m sure those piteous people exist somewhere. Andrew Luck led a seriously insane comeback against the playoff greenhorn Chiefs, and helped solidify his name as the best up and coming quarterback in the league. Unfortunately for Indy, their defense was exposed and they lost a few players to injuries which never helps in a playoff run. But, they still have the explosive TY Hilton and talented Luck to put up points on the scoreboard in a hurry. The Colts are riding momentum right now having now won four straight, and for a streaky team like theirs this is nothing but good news. The only serious problem shown on Saturday was the running game. Trent Richardson is turning out to be totally useless with Donald Brown completely taking over the ground attack. Although when a team is down by 28 they shouldn’t really be running the ball, it’s still a little concerning that Richardson is such a bust. Indianapolis also signed ex-Patriots receiver Deion Branch to plug the gap filled by Darrius “Todd Pinkston” Hayward-Bey. Whether this helps or not is yet to be seen, but it would be nice to see Branch burn his former team once or twice at the ripe age of 34.

Of course, the Patriots are used to these January battles with the Colts, this time without Peyton Manning at the helm of the opposition. That means that Tom Brady and Emperor Belicheat will have an evil game plan that is tried and true, and this time around should result in Brady receiving high fives from his teammates. The thing I don’t like about New England is that they’re rather untested during the regular season. Sure, they beat Denver and New Orleans, but most of the other games they played were really soft. The AFC East is a partial joke, as the Bills are a bad team, the Jets are a bad unpredictable team, and the Dolphins are an above-average mediocre team. Still, the Patriots managed going only 4-2 in their own division, losing their other two games to playoff teams Cincinnati and Carolina. The Patriots are also banged up on offense, missing all of their good pass catchers (Gronk), as Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman will need to come up big for Tom Brady. Stevan Ridley has also shown some promise on the ground, basically splitting carries with LeGarrette Blount, who between the two of them average 4.75 YPC. New England’s defense is underrated too , as their run defense is the only thing that is a problem, which against the Colts isn’t a real problem at all. If Andy Reid’s Alex Smith can throw for four TD’s against Indy, just imagine what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can do. I don’t want the Patriots to win, but the combination of a good ground attack, solid pass defense, the home crowd in Foxboro,. and the intangibles that are the Brady and Belichick combo should pull it out against the young Luck(y) upstarts. 38-27 New England

Sunday, January 12th Games

San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers, 1:05 PM EST

The Niners managed to pull it out last week against Green Bay, I’ll give them that much. The only problem is, they played such a close game against the weakest division champion outside of Philadelphia. Colin Kaepernick overcame his mistakes by using his legs to torch the Packers defense, who you would have thought would have learned by now to keep a man spy on the QB. Michael Crabtree also came up huge for San Fran, grabbing 125 yards worth of passes, completely overshadowing Number One receiver Anquan Boldin in the Green Bay game. They also played good downfield coverage, not allowing receivers to run loose in the secondary and letting Aaron Rodgers beat them. This should be a low-scoring, grind-it-out defensive game, just like the 10-9 Carolina victory that these two teams played back in Week 10.

Of course, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the Panthers would be here after starting the season 0-2. Looking back on their season though, it is almost amazing how nobody could have seen how good this Panthers team was. Their only bad loss was to a Buffalo Bills team on the road by one point. Their other losses were in New Orleans where everybody loses, and against the Seahawks and the Cardinals. They weren’t really gifted with an easy schedule either, as they had to play the West (Seattle, San Fran, and Arizona all had 11 or more wins), the Saints twice, and the Patriots and Dolphins. Going 4-3 in those games is a testament to the talent of Carolina, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve given up the least points per game of any team, along with only an average of surrendering 80 yards a game on the ground. Although not a high-caliber offense, being able to grind out yards on the ground and having a multi-talented quarterback in Cam Newton give this Panthers squad enough to work with in terms of reaching pay dirt. All the Panthers have to do is shut down Kaepernick’s running game, and they’ll win this game. 17-12 Carolina

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos, 4:40 PM EST

Well, the Chargers sure proved me wrong last week. I don’t know if it was more of the Bengals channeling the Bungles of old, or San Diego actually putting a charge into something, but that was one game that I got sorely wrong. They’re playing good football, Philip Rivers isn’t making mistakes, and the running game dominated last week. Except, again, you were playing the Bengals who turned the ball over in embarrassing fashion. Don’t expect that from Peyton Manning and the best offense in NFL history this week. Although the Chargers have played Denver pretty well this year, I don’t see this game being very close. It’s Manning time, and he’s going to reign. The good news is, since San Diego beat the Broncos once this year already, all those bothersome people who say “it’s so hard to beat the same team three times in the same year” can keep their traps shut. But come on, this is the Denver Broncos, and this is Peyton Manning, who will have Wes Welker back in addition to every single other offensive weapon this team has. Denver cruises. 38-24 Denver

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The Best Teases of 2013 – My favorite Movie Trailers for Films Released this past Year

As a movie lover/obsessor/collector, if there’s one thing that I love it’s those ten minutes before watching a movie in theaters where you’re tantalizingly teased about films that you’re highly anticipating to see. When I was a teenager, I remember that throughout 2008 I had most of the previews memorized and in what order they came in, with Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator Salvation, Star Trek, and Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen being the highlights. Studios spend millions of dollars on trailers to give viewers sneak peeks, and to entice those that aren’t ready to throw our money and firstborn to the producers. A well put together trailer can do wonders for a film, as you can either sit there and laugh/troll the trailer, or look to your friends and say “that looks good, let’s go see that”. For obvious reasons, the latter is the desired effect. So, I’ve decided to compile some of what I thought were the best trailers of the year with short descriptions based on my thoughts about the movie and trailer.

#5. Iron Man 3

If there’s one thing I despise, it’s deceiving trailers. I understand that Marvel and idiot director Shane Black didn’t want to spoil the plot twists in the movie, but boy did this trailer make the movie look awesome. The great line “I offer you a choice. Do you want an empty life, or a meaningful death?” wasn’t even uttered in the film because the “Mandarin” wasn’t even the “Mandarin”. I really just want to live in this trailer.

#4 The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

This is another deceiving trailer. Jackson teased everybody beautifully with this, the fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, fans of An Unexpected Journey, and fans of the novel series. Then, he created his own egotistical tale and ran away laughing with everybody’s money. Jerk.

#3 The Wolf of Wall Street

I confess, I have not yet seen this movie. But, from what people have told me and from what I’ve read, this trailer is spot on. All the excess, partying, and ridiculousness that comes along with the Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Matthew McConaughey led movie is portrayed in a great fashion in this trailer. Also, as Thurston pointed out in his top 10 tracks of 2013, who doesn’t love Kanye West’s epic romp, Black Skinhead?

#2 Man of Steel Teaser Trailer

This trailer really divided people, because they felt like it was too short and didn’t really offer much insight into the film. But, Zack Snyder and his production team knew exactly what they were doing when they borrowed the music in the trailer. There are very few soundtrack pieces that are better than the latter part of The Fellowship of the Ring‘s track “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum”. The Gandalf the Grey death music is simply perfect.

#1 The Great Gatsby

I was a bit disappointed with this movie, as I thought it couldn’t make up its mind as to what it wanted to be. I still enjoyed it enough in theaters and later added it to my collection, but it wasn’t all that this trailer summed it up to be. Featuring Beyonce, Florence + The Machine, and revealing Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”, this tease is a work of art, and beyond a doubt the best trailer for any movie that was released in the year past.

The Wild, Wild Wests : Your Guide to the Correct Predictions and Analysis of the 2014 NFL WildCard Playoff Weekend

It really is amazing what a difference a year can make. A year ago, my Washington Redskins had just come off the NFC East division title and were set to host their first playoff game against the upstart Seattle Seahawks. Everything was going well, RG3 was firing on all cylinders as the ‘Skins put up a 14 point lead that quickly started to fade as Griffin III got injured and was kept in the game by Shanny, which basically took away RG3’s playmaking ability. A healthy Robert Griffin would’ve had Pete Carroll selling used cars out of his back yard, but we all know the ending to this story. Washington proceeded to go 3-13 this year, forfeiting their Number 2 overall draft pick to St. Louis from the trade up to grab Griffin, and Mike Shanahan got canned because of disagreements with Darth Daniel Snyder.

Just as one year can make a difference to my favorite team, so can it affect the overall playoff scheme in the NFL. So if you need to make some quick cash, read the factual predictions and analysis that I have below, and prepare to become a rich man.

Saturday, January 4th Games

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts 4:35 PM EST

Remember when people were talking about KC running the table and being undefeated? Obviously that hasn’t been realistic since Priest Holmes was their star player, but Andy Reid has certainly turned this team around. In a division where three out of the four teams made the playoffs, Kansas City’s 11-5 record can be rather deceiving. They haven’t really beaten anybody very good, and other than blowing out horrible teams like Jacksonville, NYG, and the Redskins, they’ve lost to every playoff team except for a game against Philadelphia. There are some great things about this team, with Reid doing an amazing job turning the keys of the offense over to an electric player in Jamaal Charles, and creating a terrific defense that can take advantage of the offense controlling the clock. But, Alex Smith is still their quarterback, and he fails to make plays when he needs to, lacking good receivers to help him out. I like what this KC team has built so far, however they’re not battle tested enough to survive in the world of the playoffs.

Indianapolis on the other hand is perhaps the most battle tested team in the league. They’re very streaky, and despite the loss of veteran offensive leader Reggie Wayne, have come together to see the emergence of TY Hilton and a team with a defense that is built to bend but not break.  They’ve beaten both number one teams in each league, and wrecked the Chiefs during the regular season at Arrowhead. They also beat the 49ers, but got shellacked by the underrated Arizona Cardinals and the terrible St Louis Rams. The Colts have built a reputation on starting slow but coming back, led by Andrew Luck who has cut his interceptions in half from last year. I don’t think they’re going to come out guns blazing, even though they are on a three game win streak. Two of those wins came against the awful teams in Houston and Jacksonville, and the other was against KC who turned the ball over four times to gift wrap the victory to Indy. I expect them to be down 14-3 or so at the half, but to come back and force Alex Smith into a bad play or two and coast to victory. 27-17 Indianapolis

New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles 8:10 PM EST

I love the Saints and cannot stand the Eagles and their obnoxious fans. As I’ve said before, living in the great state of Pennsylvania is torture if you’re not a fan of either of their football teams. Steelers fans are like the village idiot, whereas Eagles fans are like the village drunk. You simply can’t win either way. Although the Saints are playing away from the friendly confines of the Louisiana Superdome, I really think this team is vastly underrated. People say “oh, well the Saints are playing on the road so they’re definitely going to lose this game.” Yes, all their losses have come on the road this season. But look who they were playing. They barely lost in a game that they should have won to New England, they lost to the best team in the NFC in the most hostile atmosphere (whose crowd noise registers on the Richter Scale) in Seattle, and they lost to division champion Carolina. Granted, they also lost to the most inconsistent and unpredictable team in the NFL in the New York Jets, as well as the St Louis Rams (who, it may be noted, embarrassed the Colts as well), but they also beat a healthy Chicago Bears team on the road. Don’t forget that this team has the best statistical quarterback of our current generation in Drew Brees, and a much improved defense under Rob “the Wolfman” Ryan.

Philadelphia isn’t exactly a pushover this year though. They’re probably the most volatile team in the playoffs, capable of losing hysterically or creating an utter blowout. Nick Foles it seems is the answer to the Eagles’ quarterback search, and with one of the most talented running backs (and rushing champion) Lesean McCoy, their offense is very potent even without mentioning playmaker Desean Jackson. However, like Kansas City, their record is a bit deceiving. They played in the worst divison in the NFL, and yet failed to have any convincing victories against any of those horrible teams, even losing to the Giants and the Cowboys once each. For being gifted three turnovers by Kyle Orton and the Dallas Cowboys last week, they still almost found a way to lose the game. The defense is a leaky siv, and it seems like their team almost quits in the second half letting teams back into games with ease. They also have only beat one team that is currently in the playoffs (the Green Bay Packers), and that was when Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles have several things going for them, such as the weather and the Saints on the road, but barring a massive offensive output, I don’t seem them winning this game. 24-20 New Orleans

Sunday, January 5th Games

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1:05 PM EST

The Chargers in my mind simply don’t belong here. Yes, they’ve played in the second best division in football, but if Philip Rivers wasn’t having a career year this team would be under .500. San Diego has quietly been able to beat playoff teams in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and the Chiefs backups, but they have also lost games to the dreadful ‘Skins, Texans, Raiders, and Titans. Keenan Allen has had a breakout season, and it seems that Ryan Mathews might finally be restoring decency to the running game of the Chargers. Danny Woodhead has also been a key acquisition, fitting nicely into the utility playmaker role by catching the second most passes on the team and rushing for over 400 yards in a backup role. This team is all about offense, with a defense focused on bending as much as possible and trying to desperately not get outscored by the opponent. Even though their D is middle of the pack where PPG (points per game)  is concerned, they rank fourth to last when it comes to YAPG (yards allowed per game). It’s all about the offense in Sea World, where if the Rivers doesn’t dry up, the team has a chance to win.

Cincinnati is a bit of a question mark in these playoffs. They have beaten Indy, San Diego, Miami, New England, and Green Bay, but they’re playoff untested. Remember how they got blown out by TJ Yates and the Texans last year? This team is virtually unchanged, sporting a better defense but benefitting majorly from a division that has gotten considerably weaker. Andy Dalton is progressing and maturing, but still is missing a soul. AJ Green has turned into a monster of a wide receiver, capable of torching any cornerback for a huge gain. Giovani Bernard still has the run of the year, but the split carries role he gets with “The Law Firm”, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is hindering his talent. The trouble with this team is that if Dalton does nothing, this team will lose. Without a threatening running game, Dalton has to put points on the board by himself, and have a good game for the Bengals to win. Which, with the Chargers defense and undefeated Bengals record at home, shouldn’t really be much of an issue. 34-20 Cincy

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers, 4:40 PM EST

The Niners are 12-4. And they’re a five seed. The Packers have won eight games, and they’re a number four seed. It really sucks to be San Francisco, because they’re going to lose this game even though they’re such a good team, and only because they play in the same division as the Seattle Seahawks. Why? There’s only one thing you need to look at. The weather. In Green Bay on Sunday, the high is going to be 1. One degree Fahrenheit. With a low of -19 at night. The record low in San Francisco for January 5th is 39 degrees, a whole 38 degrees warmer than the highest predicted temperature on Sunday. The furthest North San Fran has had to play this year was against Seattle, in September. There’s no way this tropical team is going to be ready to play in the utterly bitter cold that is at Lambeau Field, where Aaron Rodgers and the Packer faithful will thrive and create a hostile environment for Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49er team. 35-10 Green Bay

The Anchorman 2 Review – Does the Legend Really Continue?

The second Anchorman movie starring Will Ferrell as legendary newsman Ron Burgundy does what few comedy sequels do nowadays. 1) its run at my local movie theater, along with the gutter trash that is 47 Ronin pushed films American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street out to make room to show, and 2) it is a sequel that is not a carbon copy of the first movie as it took nine years to finally be made and released.

Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues picks up right where the last movie left off, with Ron Burgundy and wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) being famous evening news actors, this time for a prestigious news firm in New York City. Things come to a head when nightly news anchor Mack Tannen (surprisingly played by Harrison Ford), announces his retirement and declares that one of them, specifically Veronica, will be his replacement. Ron, in turn is fired because of his numerous on-air screw ups, being deemed by Tannen to be the worst news anchor he has ever seen. Ron is completely dismayed, as his ego can’t handle such insult, so he issues an ultimatum to Veronica that it’s either him or the news job. Only an idiot would make such a statement, Veronica concludes, and Ron is kicked out and unemployed.

Being the “legend” that he is though, Ron isn’t out of work for too much of an extended period. He returns to San Diego and is barely able to hold a job, and in one of the funnier scenes from the movie, is ultimately being fired from an emcee gig at Sea World for being drunk on the job and making crude depressing comments. After a failed and rather lame suicide attempt, he is approached by a hiring agent (played by Dylan Baker, Dr. Curt Connors in Spiderman 2 and 3) for the GNN (Global News Network) a new 24 hour news network that is just starting in New York City. Enticed by the opportunity to return to doing what he was born to do (reading the news), Ron goes on to recruit his old team to take back the news with him (David Koechner, Paul Rudd, and Steve Carell). Throughout the rest of the film, Burgundy takes his team back to the number one spot in the nation, raises a shark, goes blind, and lives in a lighthouse besides doing what he was born to do. And of course, there’s the obligatory news team battle that features an overkill of cameos including Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kanye West, Vince Vaughn and Will Smith.

Anchorman 2 really is a different kind of comedy, a little different than expectations would normally be. Ron Burgundy’s team is at first placed on the graveyard shift, because they were deemed to be the least talented group of news anchors. Ron lets his ego get in the way from the get-go, as he foolishly places a bet with the daytime news anchor on who can get the highest ratings. Burgundy then develops a plan that instead of telling the world the news that is normally reported (weather predictions, politics, crime), they will broadcast what the world wants to hear. So they start showing only sports highlights, car chases, cute animal stories, live dangerous weather broadcasts, and other feel good and entertaining stories that shoot the GNN’s ratings through the roof. Other news networks rush to emulate them, at the cost of journalistic integrity everywhere. This is where The Legend Continues deviates from other comedies, in that the central meaning of the movie is woven throughout the plot. It lampoons MTV News, E! News, Yahoo! Front Page News, and everything that we’re supposed to believe is “news” nowadays. Instead of paying attention to what matters most and has the most influence on our lives, we’re bombarded with images from the red carpet, what celebrity is dating who, and what the newest adorable kitten can do when wearing a sweater. Anchorman 2 successfully satirizes this aspect to the highest degree, which is mostly where the film succeeds.

Of course as expected with a Will Ferrell movie, comedy is going to be the core, most of it rather crass. The jokes in this movie aren’t nearly as successful as The Legend of Ron Burgundy, as some of the fall quite flat resulting in a few forced laughs of the idiot genre that Anchorman dwells in. I found myself laughing a little bit more than I would like to admit, with lines such as “Who the hell is Julius Caesar, you know I don’t watch the NBA!” becoming stuck in my head along with the image of Steve Carell gnawing on a head of lettuce and barking “Gin!”. The jokes don’t come as natural as in the first, and it doesn’t measure up to the other major obscene comedy of the year, This Is the End.

For a comedy sequel, Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues does very well. Most comedy sequels either fail to reinvent themselves (The Hangover Part II) or are simply straight up garbage (Austin Powers in Goldmember)Anchorman 2 treads lightly on the line that is “not funny”, and could well hit that mark if it proceeds to a third installment, much like The Hangover “franchise”. For the time being though, this movie succeeds for some different but interesting reasons. 6.5/10

My 2013 at the Movies (ranks in order of best to worst of movies I have seen that have been released during 2013)

1. Rush

2. Star Trek Into Darkness

3. Man of Steel

4. Catching Fire

5. Pacific Rim

6. This Is  The End

7. Despicable Me 2

8. Monsters University

9. The Great Gatsby

10. Oblivion

11. The Wolverine

12. Elysium

13. World War Z

14. Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues

15. The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

16. Oz the Great and Powerful

17. Fast and Furious 6

18. Iron Man 3

19. Hangover Part 3

20. Thor : The Dark World

21. A Good Day To Die Hard

Deja Vu All Over Again

It’s seriously like I am back in elementary school.

In elementary school, I was a smart kid. A “gifted” one. One that was always ahead of the class and learning things that other kids couldn’t understand, and learning them better and faster than those that did comprehend them could. I wasn’t a super-genius, not some kind of Ender Wiggin wunderkind that was destined to save the galaxy;  I simply had an above average intelligence.

We had what were called “reading buddies” in kindergarten. You had a “buddy” who was in 3rd grade who would help you learn to read through partnership while learning to take books out of the library. Except, I was a better reader than he was. I had read my first “chapter book” (The Boxcar Children) by the age of 5, and was on to more chapter books by the next year. My reading buddy was still stuck in The Berenstain Bears (which I did like), but only casually flipped through at that point in time. So as it turned out, I started teaching him how to read. It even got to the point where I started getting books that were below my reading level out of the library simply for the reason that I could teach him to read better that way.

It was like that all throughout elementary school. There were not really any accelerated classes, and besides the “gifted program” they had for kids with an elevated IQ, I was mostly stuck with my classmates learning subject material. I never tried or applied myself, and coasted through elementary school with straight A’s across the board, not yet having learned what “real work” was like. School was easy, play was fun, life was good. Aside from my slave driving parents that is, who liked to burden me down and teach me character building and discipline with chores. I mean, why couldn’t I just play RollerCoaster Tycoon all the time? (Side note, I suppose I am thankful now for the way they raised me then. I eventually beat every RCT map anyway.)

I bring this up now, because I see my current job as elementary school. Without going terribly in-depth, I’m exceedingly good at what I do. It isn’t anything terribly special, but I am just good at it. In less than 8 months of employment, my bosses have put me in three completely different areas of the warehouse that I work in and I have excelled. In all three areas, I have been offered promotions but have turned them down because the hours of work were not what I wanted, and the pay raise wasn’t enough. After the ninth such offer, I finally found one that suited me and started the application process, which I am currently still going through (which is why I still have time to write this while at work). The sad thing is,  in my opinion I haven’t even done anything special while I’ve worked here. I have done my job. I have even read about twelve books and done my fantasy research every Sunday morning. And still with only eight months of employment under my belt, one of the supervisors who isn’t even my boss said that I’ll be “the next clerk turned supervisor”, referencing a coworker who recently went from being an hourly associate to a salaried supervisor (which is about a 1.5x pay jump). One of the stockers even went as far as to talk about me (and subsequently tell me about the discussion) to the Union President about how the ‘new young guy’ is one of the few people who actually “gets it”. Yet, I don’t think I have gone above and beyond my duties, I’ve just showed up when I was told to and done what I thought consisted of my job. Apparently, just doing that is deemed going above and beyond the call of duty. It’s like elementary school all over again. I am not even trying, yet I’m blowing away the competition.

Which leads me to a couple of points. One, that if you’re a fan of or have read my past blog (a link is posted on the “Meet the Writers” page if you’re ignorant to this fact), how absurdly pathetic my past employer was. In eight months here without working nearly as hard as I used to, I have attracted the attention of multiple “higher-ups” who have set about in a way to best utilize my skills and reward me for doing good work, something that was glaringly missing from my previous occupation. To synopsize, I was only ever given one opportunity for advancement at my old employer (which I took) and at the same time, one small pay raise from above the abysmal depths of minimum wage, in more than five years of work. That goes without mentioning the fact that I never called off, always came in on time, and always stayed as late as needed, whenever I was needed (which was always Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

Of course, said ex-employers have also have the audacity to plan opening a new store soon, at an expense of millions of dollars and the mistreatment of their staff, regardless of personal talent.

It also made me realize several things about myself. Right off the bat I realized the fact that without my past blog, and without writing about what a terrible company I was employed for, chances are I would still be there. I would be stuck in the doldrums of underacheiving mediocrity and a life that ill befit my talents. My life would be entirely different now if for some reason I had succeeded in reconciling with the grocery store. I’d like to think I did myself a favor in displaying such truths on the interwebs and thus getting myself canned, but in my vaunted opinion the old Company still owes me recompense for unemployment.

In turn, I started to question not just my motivation but how my motivation is contrasted with that of others. What drives me? Do I have any long-term goals that are more than just fantasies, or am I simply being a temporal hedonist? Am I just trying to get by with the least amount of work for the greatest personal profit?

Some of those questions I can’t answer because I have not yet matured to the point where I know most everything about myself. Every year I look back and see that I’ve grown in leaps and bounds in the year prior, but usually just through temporary personal experiences instead of time invested journeys. I have learned that I am not terribly hard to please, in that I am satisfied with just getting by and flying under the radar. I dropped out of college because I didn’t feel the need to attend or even try to go back, because I could easily get by without it. I stayed at my old job because it paid the bills that I needed to survive. It wasn’t until I needed a new job that I applied myself to upgrade my life and take it somewhere that it hadn’t previously been. I found out that when driven by need, that I was capable of taking myself to a better personal state.

But as my state improves, need starts to disappear and I return to the vicious cycle of lethargy. In order to best use my talents and elevate my personal being, I have acknowledged the fact that I must learn how to be driven by my wants. And not just my desires, but how I can best use the talent and motivation behind those ambitions to better others in the world around me.

What I needed, was a goal and a plan of attack. I am a list-writing person, who sits at his desk at work with all sorts of scraps of paper in his pockets littered with things that need to get done. So, I came up with an idea for a long-term goal and started a list.

I have decided to write a book. I have faintly sketched out the details, creating a plot that is loosely based on a modern day retelling of the Greek Mythological story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, with the story being told through the eyes of Jason’s Guardain Angel.

Of course it is a long way from the inception of an idea to it becoming fully realized. As a perfectionist when it comes to things that I’m good at, each chapter will more than likely receive multiple re-writes and revisions before a rough draft of the final project will be a reality.

Which is where you as the reader comes in. As I have stated above, I’m not terribly competent with long-term goals, so keep me honest and ask me how progress is going. Just don’t ask to read any of it, because the answer will always be the same. Secondly, in more direct relation to this post, find out what motivates you and what you’re good at. Make a plan to achieve a long-term goal that won’t just affect you, but will have a positive affect on others around you as well. Accordingly, as friends hold you accountable for your hopes and dreams, hold them accountable right back to ensure that they are making an effort to better themselves in a way that truly reflects their unique talents. And if you are having trouble finding that motivation, remember that that horrible cliché about there being no better time tha now is actually true. Especially, during the Christmas Season, which I have found is always a good time for miracles.

The “Invasion of the Vorticons Award” AKA Our 2013 Best Video Game Award

As the year winds to a close, we’ll start the tradition of naming a handful of our favorite entertainment mediums. Since the video game release season is basically over, we are going to begin there with our Commander Keen named trophy, the “Invasion of the Vorticons Award”.  It has been an interesting year, highlighted by the newest generation of console launches, the best-selling video game (and entertainment launch) of all-time, and the annual releases of  new Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and sports franchise games. But which one is the best one to come out this year? Below I will highlight a handful of the runner-ups and then conclude with what I believe is the best title.

Runner-Ups

The Last of Us – Naughty Dog Studios

From the studio that brought you the hit franchise in Uncharted, Naughty Dog strikes gold again with this fantastic tale that is one of the most visually stunning (if not the most visually stunning) games to be released on the PS3. Capitalizing on the zombie craze that is currently the fad of the land, the story comes to you in a post apocalyptic setting that crosses the United States as you play as a duo that is in search of a cure for the zombie plague.

To be honest, I haven’t played more than an hour of this game (what I did play was awesome though). Since I don’t own a PS3 I can’t give it a 100% accurate review, which is one of the reasons why I can’t name this title as game of the year. If it truly is going to be the very best game of the year, it has to be available to a wider audience. I also feel like the post apocalyptic theme (especially that involving zombies) is getting a tad overused nowadays. It was cool and unique four or five years ago, but it’s a little bit well-worn now. Still, an amazing game.

Grand Theft Auto V – Rockstar Games

This is the best-selling entertainment launch in history. Let that sink in. With a budget upwards of $200 million, and profits in the billions, this game redefines the open world genre of gaming. It included a massive playable space, one of the most varied online experiences in gaming, and one of the most fun campaigns in a GTA game to date, it is very very hard to not name GTA V as the best game of the year. I have invested the most time into this game’s online as I have any game’s multiplayer this year, even beating out my favorite Halo titles. Not to mention the fact that the character system is flawless as well as the single player “campaign” being a blast to play, fixing most of the faults from GTA IV and creating some hilarious scenes.

The only drawbacks to this game are the spatial anti-aliasing that occurs on some of the campaign and online, as well as the glitches that GTA Online launched with. Most are fixed now, and they’re constantly tweaking and adding content that should extend the life of the game. Grand Theft Auto V falls just short of the best game award which goes to…..

2013 “Invasion of the Vorticons Award” Game of the Year – Bioshock Infinite – Irrational Games/2K Australia

Although it has been losing to the previous two titles in most awards this year, Bioshock Infinite is definitely #1, as both I and the Associated Press critics agree. This game is mind-blowingly and mind-bendingly good. Set in a dystopian universe of 1912, it centers around a floating city in the clouds named “Columbia” and the exploits of a man who is supposed to pay a debt by rescuing a girl being held captive there. The game is filled with political, religious, racial, and social tones that compliment every aspect of the game and storyline. As you delve deeper into the game, you find just how complicated the game truly gets as it presents a complex concept in a way that is easily understood through the gameplay and character interactions. As a first person shooter, the controls and gameplay mechanics are fluid and innovative, borrowing in parts from the older Bioshock games all the while reinventing itself. The story is just so amazingly well done, with characters beautifully developed that you will feel completely attached to. The plot has unexpected twists and turns, and I can say beyond a doubt that I have never been more emotionally invested in a game before in my life. Everything is done right in this game, from the thankful exclusion of multiplayer and most micro transactions, to the hardcore addition of 1999 mode. The best part is, no matter what gaming system you own you can play Bioshock Infinite as it is available on PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and Mac OS X. The only people who are critical of this game are those that haven’t played or haven’t finished it yet. Bioshock Infinite is truly the masterpiece of the year, and will go down as one of my favorite games of all-time.

Phil Robertson : A Guide to (Smart) Freedom of Speech

By now, we all know that television network A&E has put Duck Dynasty clan leader Phil Robertson on suspension for comments he made in an interview for GQ magazine. Those comments were especially disparaging to homosexuals, as Robertson in essence compared homosexuality to bestiality amongst other statements that weren’t exactly kosher. To be honest, I would have thought his comments about Louisiana being perfectly fine during the Jim Crow law time period would be more offensive, but in today’s society gay is the new black.

To be clear, Robertson is allowed to have his own opinions. He is more than entitled to say things that don’t include making threats to the POTUS or falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Which, his comments were not either one of these things. He is more than allowed to say what he did.

Which is why he’s not going to jail over this. Robertson exercised his freedom of speech perfectly fine. There will be no legal consequences for his actions. But, as we have seen, there are private repercussions.

Does anybody remember the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance where Bruce Willis’ character was forced to wear a walking sign on the streets of Harlem, which prominently featured the “n” word? This case is very similar. Willis isn’t stepping outside his bounds as far as free speech goes. He is, however stepping outside the bounds of good taste and intelligent thinking. He also must realize that his actions are going to incite a certain response and reaction from the native population. In other words, he’s probably going to get killed. It’s the same thing with Robertson (minus the getting killed part). He’s allowed to make certain remarks, he just needs to realize that made in such a public forum that it is going to garner him a certain reaction which he must be prepared to deal with its fallout.

I’m sure that somewhere in his contract, A&E has reserved the right to put any cast members on suspension for any matter of things, especially public comments that could reflect on the television company. This is not wrongful termination, or even termination at all (it’s a suspension, not a firing). Robertson made comments that could hurt the reputation of the company, and the company has to take disciplinary action, plain and simple.

People also fail to realize that before Duck Dynasty was ever a thought for a TV show, that A&E existed as a company. They don’t need Duck Dynasty to survive. They are not committing suicide as a company. In fact, they have probably cashed out so hard on the popularity of this show in the past three years, that they could go a decent amount of time with it on ice and still be fine. It’s not their wallet they care about, it is instead their reputation. In all likelihood, it’s a suspension based on a breach of contract of some type, so they would have to go back on their signed intent in the first place if they were to not suspend Robertson.

Phil Robertson is entitled to his freedom of speech which he exercised. But he then must understand that whatever comments he makes, he is also subject to other people’s (including A&E) freedom of reprisal. This is not an attack on Christianity, it’s a suspension of a man for being dumb enough to not just answer questions honestly, but to take them a step further. If he was Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wicca, Buddhist, what have you, it wouldn’t have mattered. If he made those comments he would still have been suspended no matter what. It may have been a “trap” by GQ to make him answer these questions, but Robertson is also entitled to the freedom of being smart enough not to answer those questions, or answer them in a different manner.

This all being said, I don’t care enough about these ZZ Top lookalikes and their scripted show to be sad or anything about this outcome. Just be aware that if you’re going to comment on it, I expect you to be intelligent enough to think the entire situation through.

Oh, and in case you’re curious. Remember the government shutdown? There’s more important things to be paying attention to right now, like THE BUDGET FOR THE GOVERNMENT BEING VOTED ON. Kind of the whole reason there was a shutdown in the first place. But, I’ll let you get back to your cable programs in the meantime.

I’m Sorry Mr. Jackson, I am for Real – Your New ‘Hobbit’ Movie is a Total Disgrace

I had been looking forward to watching The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug all year-long. After how I lukewarmly received its predecessor in An Unexpected Journey, I hoped and read that director Peter Jackson would be back in form for the sequel. Before going to the midnight screening, I read a few reviews (spoilers didn’t matter as I have read the novel time and time again) which all said that the middle piece of the story was by far better than the first. I was excited. The trailer made it look awesome, and after the way that Jackson stuck to the book’s main plot points (although taking a few liberties, primarily in the main villain of Journey), I had little doubt that he would do stick to the storyline’s guns again.

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_theatrical_posterUntil, that is, I watched the review that my favorite critics gave the film. Ty Burr and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe gave the movie a 3/4 star rating, but in their video review said there were several parts that may ruffle the feathers of fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original work, including a cross-species romance. All of a sudden, this pit developed in my stomach and I was much afraid.

The movie starts out amicably enough, with a flashback straight from the book that I am glad was shown, when Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) meets Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in the town of Bree. There, Gandalf convinces Thorin to reclaim his ancestral kingdom of Erebor which was taken over by a dragon when his grandfather Thror was king. From there, Jackson throws the book out the window and hurries the movie along so he can get to the final destination of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain where Smaug the dragon sleeps on piles of dwarf gold.

It picks back up with the Company of dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf being chased by an orc-pack astride wargs (large, wild wolves) that are closing in. Gandalf knows one point of safety ahead, the home of Beorn the skin-changer, who at night takes the form of a bear-like creature that is rather dangerous. Gandalf warns the Company that Beorn has no love of dwarves (or unexpected guests), but he gambles that his hate of orcs and the evil that pursues them will be greater. It is this scene where we first see Jackson set fire to the novel. Instead of a good chapter of the book dedicated to the creation of a friendship with Beorn (including where Gandalf mentions that he slew the Great Goblin), our vaunted director creates an action sequence where the bear form of Beorn inexplicably attacks the dwarves, and after being repelled changes back into his human form as he grudgingly welcomes the dwarves with little or no explanation. Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt nails the role of Beorn, but is only given a handful of lines and little screen time, as the film hurries along to Mirkwood, where Jackson continues his butchering of the book. Such crimes (with limited spoilers) consist of the following :

-Trimming and cutting Mirkwood down to one trippy sequence (which is actually accurate and done well), and one action scene involving Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the spiders that capture the Company (minus Gandalf, who has gone on his own quest).

-Forcing Legolas (Orlando Bloom) into a starring role and making him seem like an entitled and uptight prick, which is nearly the polar opposite of his character in Lord of the Rings.

-Creating a major character and love interest for both Legolas AND Kili the dwarf (Aidan Turner) in Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, from LOST) in a predictable and unconvincing romance.

-Commuting the timeline and sentence of the dwarves to the Elf-King Thranduil’s (Lee Pace, Lincoln) prison to one day instead of months.

-Changing the scene where Bilbo creates a stealthy escape for the dwarves from prison in shipping barrels into an absurd action scene that involves Bombur destroying orcs while in his barrel, Legolas and Tauriel engaging regiments of orcs with the ease of Peyton Manning in a pee-wee game (all the while swinging from tree to tree and running across the river like little monkeys), and the wounding of Kili by a poisoned arrow (which he does not know is poisoned), which predictably can only be healed by elf-magic that Tauriel possesses.

-The twisting of Bard the Bowman into an outlaw, where in the book he is in fact the defender and voice of Lake-town.

-The ruining of the arrival of the dwarves into Lake-town.

-Creating another action sequence in Lake-town where Legolas and Tauriel along with three dwarves that got left behind in Lake-town from the quest to the Mountain, engage orcs led by Bolg who are hunting Thorin Oakenshield.

-Having a poor end to the Dol Guldur – Gandalf storyline that is non-canonical.

-Making a middle sequence of a film series where nothing except rising action and exposition is created. Nobody major dies. Nobody major lives. Nothing major is resolved. Everything, literally everything, is left in limbo for the next movie.

-For this last point, lets review the major events of Jackson’s first middle movie The Two Towers with The Desolation of Smaug. Granted, The Two Towers is a novel where things are meant to be somewhat resolved, but Jackson could have easily incorporated any event into Smaug that creates some resolution. In fairness, we’ll let Towers have twice as many resolved events as Smaug simply because of the book length.

The Two Towers  

Eomer destroys the Uruk-Hai, is expelled from Rohan.

Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard, persuade him to attack Isengard.

Gandalf comes back to life, meets with Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn.

Gandalf releases Saruman’s spell on Rohan King Theoden, Theoden rallies Rohan.

Saruman creates an army to pillage and destory Rohan.

Saruman’s forces meet Theoden’s at Helm’s Deep, Saruman gets defeated.

The Ents led by Treebeard attack Isengard and win a decisive victory.

Frodo and Sam capture Gollum who becomes their guide to Mordor.

The three reach the Black Gate, and turn aside at the advice of Gollum, who starts to progress as a character through Smeagol his alter-ego.

They are captured by Faramir, who takes them to Osgiliath.

Despite being tempted, Faramir lets the trio go after Frodo nearly gives up, Gollum becomes fully evil and bent on waylaying the ring bearer after a perceived betrayal and capture at the hands of men.

The Desolation of Smaug

Bilbo and the Dwarves are attacked by spiders in Mirkwood, then are captured by the wood elves.

They escape imprisonment by the elves.

The 13 and one Hobbit meet Bard and are  smuggled into Lake-town.

The Company makes for the Lonely Mountain, they reach it, and Bilbo attempts to find the Arkenstone as requested by Thorin.

The Company awakens and engages Smaug.

Gandalf infiltrates Dol Guldur.

The Two Towers totals 10 events. The Desolation of Smaug totals 6, of which two are still unresolved, bringing the total to 4 actual happenings. To wrap this section up, that simply means that a lot of nothing happens in this movie. It is a bad second installment. Jackson rushes past major events and makes them minor ones, and instead hurries up all for the big finish in the end, which never actually happens. It’s like running a 5K race as fast as you can, only to realize once you hit the 5K mark, that it’s actually a 10K race. You’re exhausted and deceived, but you are only halfway there.

And then there’s the romantic story between the Elf and the Dwarf, which is just complete rubbish. It hogs so much screen time and so little viewer investment, that it robs time from the main character of Bilbo (you know, the hobbit that the movie is named after) who is so wonderfully played by Martin Freeman. Jackson decides to sit there and go through the motions of a baseless romance instead of continually developing his main character.

My other main critique of the movie (on a strictly film basis) is that just like the predecessor, Peter Jackson relies on the overuse of CGI in action sequences. He cannot make up his mind if he wants to make a movie for kids or a darker movie for adults ; as the action scenes are comical in nature, and with the computer generated goblins, creates a sillier and less scary atmosphere than in Lord of the Rings. He populates Desolation of Smaug with video gamey fight numbers, and then juxtaposes it to a room full of rotting corpses that best demonstrates his inability to decide who exactly his target audience is. I have had people ask me if there is a fundamental (novel based) difference between goblins and orcs in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings because of how different they appear in nature. It is decidedly for a turn of the worse.

As much bad as there is in this movie, there is just as much good. The cast is wonderful. From the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry) to Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), almost every role is extremely well acted and perfectly cast (with the exception of Tauriel, who shouldn’t have had a role to cast for in the first place). Smaug is beautifully animated and voiced, and all scenes with him in it are worth the weight of a gold-plated Dragon (yet another Jacksonian “twist”). Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) isn’t given nearly enough screen time, as too much instead goes to the Master’s assistant in Lake-town, in a horrible and forgettable role played by Mark Mitchinson. His disgusting, unibrowed character is the largest casting and character creation mistake outside of Tauriel ; with those two characters omitted and the stick removed from the behind of Legolas, this cast would be perfect.

The plotline with Gandalf infiltrating Dol Guldur is very interesting, and although somewhat ruined by how it concludes, is very dark and mysterious as well. Jackson also well demonstrates how Bilbo is being consumed by the ring in just his short possession of it. Although at times a bit preposterous, the action scenes can be quite comical and have some really cool shots, despite the dramatic loss of realism.

Without reading the book, the movie is good, but not great. Several plot adjustments and character omissions could give his film a significantly higher grade, but unfortunately it turns out to go no where, and fails to be a sum of all its parts. This is Jackson’s worst film set in Middle-Earth yet, despite all of the potential it had. 6/10

But if you read the book, here’s your review.    

The film is an utter betrayal of the novel for the following reasons.

1. Beorn did not attack the Company as in the film, and expounded his character to a rough friendship with the dwarves, and a true one with Gandalf. When he skin changes into a bear, in the book he is still able to control himself. He intentionally kills goblins and wargs, and nails their skins to his property to ward off intruders. It works.

2. Tauriel does not exist, nor do any events involving her.

3. The Master of Lake-town’s crony does not exist.

4. Legolas and Azog are not present in The Hobbit book. Azog is actually dead at this point in time.

5. The Dol Guldur storyline is wrong for many reasons. Gandalf does in fact infilitrate the fortress (twice), but here’s a side note. In Lord of the Rings lore, Gandalf and Sauron are the same race, being angelic creatures who have descended upon the mortal to guide (in the case of Gandalf) or corrupt (in the case of Sauron). Sauron is more powerful than Gandalf and Gandalf fears him, but they have the same basis at the least. When he sneaks into Dol Guldur (the second time), Sauron (once under the guise of the Necromancer) flees to Mordor, fearing being discovered by Gandalf before he can openly present himself as the Dark Lord. There, the Grey Wizard finds Thorin’s father who has gone mad in prison, and obtains the Lonely Mountain map and key to give to Thorin. Gandalf barely escapes, but escape he does. The movie gets it all wrong with Gandalf losing a ridiculous “battle” with Sauron’s spirit, and ending up imprisoned in a cage. In the novel universe, not only would the Grey Pilgrim never risk a battle with the spirit of Sauron, but he wouldn’t allow himself to get utterly embarrassed and jailed. There’s a reason this guy once snuck through Moria and into Dol Guldur twice, he’s kind of a boss. He also wouldn’t fear a stupid orc like Azog, as this is a guy that went toe-to-toe with a Balrog.

6. The timeline is skewed. The Company spends months wandering in Mirkwood and in the cells of the Elvenking. There were also assaults on the Woodland Elf realms by orcs, but none happened when the dwarves where there. In fact, one of such attacks happened and coincidentally freed Gollum, who was being held captive by the Wood Elves, as Gollum then pursued the Fellowship into Moria. Everything is commuted to one continuous happening instead of events being spread across time.

7. Mirkwood is wrong. Much MUCH more happens in the forest than in the movie, as the dwarves wander lost and practically starved to death before being captured by the Spiders, where Bilbo uses Sting and the Ring to free them. Besides spiders, there are also flies that Mr. Baggins has to fight off.

8. Barrels out of Bond. Bilbo had worn the Ring consistently throughout having snuck into the halls of the Elvenking. It took him some time to find out where the dwarves were being held, how to reach them, who had the keys, and how to get them out. When he finally formulated a plan, he stuffed the dwarves physically in each barrel to sneak out under the noses of the elves in complete stealth. There was no escape fight, as the elves did not realize that their prisoners were missing until they surfaced in Lake-town.

9. Lake-town is wrong. Although the setting and Master are correct, Bard was not an outlaw or imprisoned, in fact he was known as the defender of the town. Seeing as the dwarves were smuggled in, their arrival is greeted with surprise and hope, as the citizens hope that the Mountain King will restore the Kingdom under the Mountain again and bring everybody wealth. No dwarf gets left behind in Lake-town either, and Bard shoots the Black Arrow from a bow, not some type of lance caster.

10. The discovery of the side door is also incorrect. This is how Thorin escaped from the Mountain when attacked by Smaug in the first place. Although he forgets the exact location of the door, he knows it exists and that it is in moon runes. In perhaps the dumbest scene of the movie, the dwarves “give up” when told that the door will be illuminated by the “last light of Durin’s Day”. It occurs to none of them (even though it occurs to every audience member) that the last light isn’t daylight, but instead moon light, as dwarf runes (as evidenced in Moria) are often written in moon script to hide the entrance.

11. The dwarves never engage Smaug. Bilbo steals a golden cup from the horde, which after much riddling and flattering talk with the dragon (which did happen), Smaug furiously erupts realizing part of his treasure is missing. He then goes off to wreak havoc on Lake-town, where he meets his demise. The entire sequence of the dwarves plotting and creating devices to attempt to off the dragon are all out of Jackson’s mind of meddle.

11. There is no fight in Lake-town. No invading wolves or orcs, no Bolg, no Legolas, no Kili, no love story, nothing. The only fight that occurs in Lake-town involves a very large dragon.

All these facts leave me completely puzzled. The first movie was criticized for sticking too close to the book (for the most part), as critics felt that the story took too long to develop. Here, Jackson throws the book into the trash and creates a movie that is “inspired by” the novel instead of “based upon” it. It seems that he does not know how to correctly incorporate events into a movie to make it whole, instead drawing one out and rushing the other. It also confounds me that he could shoot one movie at the same time as another, and yet have two completely different variations come out. One was well grounded in the source material, whereas the other takes monstrous liberties on it.

It also upsets me that Peter Jackson felt like he could do this to J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. In essence, he is saying that the story he has and wants to tell is better than the story that Tolkien told, which is 110% incorrect. There’s a reason that Tolkien’s novels did so well, and became so legendary and famous that Jackson could make such a profitous franchise out of it. PJ’s ego is basically saying that he is more intelligent and creative than J.R.R. This assertion is so hilariously false, as one of these men directed Meet the Feebles and Braindead, whereas the other created an entire language, universe, and novel series all out of his own imagination.

If you are a fan of the novel like I am, you are going to find this movie offensive. This is the worst amount of liberties that Peter Jackson has taken in any LOTR based film yet, and it shows. It’s the same old story of Hollywood basing movies off good source material. If something is good, you do not change it and mess with it, especially with its core events. If it can be visibly improved (such as The Hunger Games : Catching Fire), go ahead and take those liberties. But for something that is such a work of art as Tolkien’s, this movie is a sad moment, and a betrayal of Jackson’s responsibility to guard the franchise that we the fans love. As a fan of the novel, the Lord of the Rings universe and its details, this movie merits a 2/10 as corresponds to a film adaptation of a beloved book.

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. This Is  The End

7. Despicable Me 2

8. Monsters University

9. The Great Gatsby

10. Oblivion

11. Elysium

12. World War Z

13. The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

14. Oz the Great and Powerful

15. Fast and Furious 6

16. Iron Man 3

17. Hangover Part 3

18. Thor : The Dark World

19. A Good Day To Die Hard

Why I Love the ‘Christmas Season’

It’s simply bound to happen. You know exactly what I am talking about. There’s going to be someone in your group of friends or family that is going to hate Christmas. They’re going to spew on and on about how it has simply become a season of rampant capitalistic commercialism that has turned whatever base it used to stand on into a season of greed and madness surrounding the accumulation of stuff. Then there are the people who hate on the religious founding of the holiday, and then argue about how it was founded by the Pope to counter a pagan holiday, and that Christ wasn’t even born during December. Furthermore, you will also have those that insist there should not be a set aside day or “season” that promotes generosity because well, people should always be generous not just at Christmastime.

I’m here to say that I do not care what those people have to say. It simply doesn’t matter to me. Call me selfish, simple-minded, or traditional.

I don’t care.

Normally, I’m a rather complex person with tastes that stray away from the category of simple. Sure, sometimes the small things in life, like a cool summer breeze or watching a sun set while driving across an open expense, I enjoy and will point out. But for the most part, I like chaos. I’m a fan of a busy life with many intricacies, I like things with a compounded meaning and deep creativity, and can at the very least pretend to appreciate it on all levels.

But when it comes to Christmas, I don’t over think it and do not nitpick it. Those people who naysay the Christmas Season are honestly probably not wrong in what they have to say. Sure, it’s overwrought with commercialism and probably isn’t the exact time of year when Jesus Christ was born, but as I said earlier, I don’t care. To me, the Christmas season is something to be enjoyed rather than critiqued. It’s like the music of my favorite band, Oasis. Sure, half of Noel Gallagher’s lyrics are total nonsense. Even he will admit that he hasn’t the faintest idea what “slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball” means in Champagne Supernova. But as he later explains, it doesn’t matter what he think it means, because when 60,000 people are all singing it together all with different meanings for each one, the original nonsensical intent ceases to matter.

Commercially speaking, Christmas is a time when the best movies are released. I have great memories of Lord of the Rings, (up to five December installments as of tomorrow), The Chronicles of Narnia, Night at the Museum, I Am Legend, Seven Pounds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Avatar, True Grit, and Sherlock Holmes. It’s also when Egg Nog comes into season, Troeg’s releases their Mad Elf Ale, McDonalds has their holiday pies, and all coffee and donut outlets have festive themes with their peppermint and gingerbread coffees. Stores, and especially malls, are decorated in Christmas fashion. Everyone is playing Christmas music, and since I no longer work in retail it doesn’t earn my temperamental scorn. Especially here in the Northeast, it usually snows a few times which adds to the ‘Winter Wonderland’ theme. There just seems to be some sort of feeling in the cold air during the month of December that vanishes in January. In December, the snow and chill seems almost magical. It’s like it belongs there, and is fun to interact with. When the Christmas Season dissipates, the cold instantly feels dank and dreary. There’s no Christmas to look forward to, no froofy holiday coffee flavors to warm you up. Instead it is a cold dark emptiness, with your black coffee that tastes like stale cigarettes in lukewarm water.

That holiday spirit obviously isn’t completely made by the things you can buy to stimulate the economy and promote greed, as I’m told. It’s the time where family and friends aren’t pressed into service at Work or School, and the busy schedule and hectic pace of life slows down to the tempo where I can schedule things that I want to do, instead of things that I must do. There is time to see beloved family members whom I haven’t seen in too long, or friends who are off at school or have graduated that finally have some time off back home. I am not forced to go into work on Christmas or Christmas Eve, instead I know those days I can set aside for catching up on some of the people that matter most in my life. I can finally schedule a 16 player Halo 2 LAN Party, because I know that I’ll have at least sixteen friends free on a Friday night for once.

Sure, we can delve, dissect, and debate Christmas and its applications all day long. But you won’t change how I love the ‘Season’ surrounding it.

It’s a magical world out there right now. Gather your friends and family, and go explore it!

The Death of Paul Walker and What it Should Mean to You

In case you didn’t notice, American actor Paul Walker was killed in a car crash this past weekend. As the media is wont to do when a celebrity dies, investigations and coverage is running in an overflow of excess. Any of you that use social networking are also privy to the fact that many people are critical of those members of the proletariat that post material in memoriam of Walker, because they say that humans die every day that have more needs or have done greater deeds than a Hollywood star. They further say that people should not post things about dead celebrities since greater masses of people die every day.

Those that say these things in an outrage are simply wrong.

Firstly, this needs to be put out in the open. Paul Walker’s death is not a tragedy. Although by definition, “tragic” means dreadful or disastrous, it is not tragic. The connotation that comes with a tragedy is the implication that innocence or goodness has been destroyed through harmful forces outside of the control of the innocent. The fact of the matter is, Walker was a passenger in a fast sports car, which was reportedly being driven in excess of a safe speed. Cars are and always have been death traps, especially at volatile speeds which was the case. When driving at that speed, the driver and passengers accept responsibility for all effects to follow. As a result, innocence is lost. When something happens to a person that is unfortunate, but a direct effect of their action or inaction, the result can no longer be deemed tragic. It can be unfortunate, it can be sad, but the word “tragedy” has too strong implications and should be reserved for truly tragic events.

Moving forward, let us tender the following two statements as fact. When somebody inherently “good” dies, it is a sad occurrence. Especially when they pass at what seems like an early time; a time that could have been used touching and improving the lives of others around them.

Transitively, the death of Paul Walker is sad because of the kind of person that he was. However, it is going to be sad to so many more people than the death of an average person. This is because throughout his film career, Walker managed to reach out and touch the lives of untold millions of people. When you go to see a (good) movie, through the storyline and acting you are placed in empathetic touch with the protagonist. To me, Walker was a good enough actor that through the Fast and Furious movies that I watched and own, I felt for his character in Brian O’Conner. I wanted to see Brian succeed, to witness him overcome his weaknesses and create a circumstantial outcome that was best for him and the people he loved. Again, transitively that makes me feel for Walker, through the character he portrayed. Although I do not feel for Walker as much as I would someone like Tom Hanks, whose roles I identify and empathize with more than Walker’s, during the two hours of a Fast movie, Walker is my protagonist.

Putting this into another view, imagine how you would feel if your current favorite (alive) singer/songwriter died. The lyrics they have written, and the melodies they have composed would cease to continually be created. The essence of their being, the emotion and creativity they wrote with, and the emotions and lyrics that you identified with, would be somewhat of a memory. In the duration of the songs you listen to, you are totally empathizing and placing yourself into the shoes of the singer. They have now touched your life and are a part of you. Truth is, part of you is going to be sad if they passed away.

Although Walker’s death isn’t very personal to me particularly, it is sad. However, it is personal to some people, which I can still identify with. When Sean Taylor (Washington Redskins safety) died in 2007, I will be the first person to admit that I was personally in a somber mood. Taylor was one of my favorite players on my favorite football team, and was in the midst of a career year on the rebound from having personal problems. I liked Taylor and it was upset to see him gone. He touched my life enough that I posthumously bought his jersey so that I could remember the player that he was.

There are people who have had their lives touched by Paul Walker in a significant way, like Taylor was with me. Yes, some did not personally know him, but like the death of a character in a book, they empathized and were placed in the shoes of his characters, transitively being placed in the shoes of Walker himself. And yes, the death of a good person on any scale is sad, but not every person has the opportunity to be a part of so many lives like a movie star can. If someone who could not have possibly known Walker is bemoaning his passing, be respectful and let them be. Their influences and lives are different from yours, so treat your reactions to them as such. Remember what you were told to do as a child, and fully think through what words you are going to attribute to yourself before you make a foolish statement.