Monday, February 20, 2017

Sports: College Basketball (February)

A month before March Madness and college basketball is getting more exciting. For this month's post ahead of the tournament, I'm going to look at the conference leaders and explore the standings to see what teams are at the top. I'll look at each conference through the top 25 as well and determine which conference is the most powerful this month.

West Coast
The only remaining undefeated team is Gonzaga and they are at the top of the West Coast. The next team in this conference is St. Mary's ranked twentieth. The remaining teams in this conference are not ranked so it could be the easy schedule that allows Gonzaga to skate by without a loss. They have beaten some tough teams from other conference like the Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona.

Big East
Second-ranked Villanova is another team in a weaker division that has managed to make it this far in the season with only two losses. The toughest conference opponent is the Creighton Bluejays. Villanova is the defending champs so they are not to underestimated as we approach the tournament. 

Big 12
The Kansas Jayhawks are one of the toughest team in college basketball. Their only two losses have come from the opponents in their conference, ninth-ranked West Virginia and unranked Iowa State. Close behind Kansas are the fourth place Baylor Bears who faced Kansas this Saturday. The Jayhawks came out on top. West Virginia is another top team in this conference able to put up a fight. 

This West Coast conference is often overlooked because their games come later at night. Arizona is ranked fifth and will be the first team in the second place of a tournament bracket section. Oregon is close behind in 7th place. 

The North Carolina Tar Heels are at the top of their conference in the standings but are ranked behind Louisville. They'll face off on the 22nd of this month. This conference always has been tough since I can remember and remains so now. The Duke Blue Devils are on the rise with some impressive wins. Virginia and Florida State also look like tough opponents. 

With Kentucky on the decline, the Florida Gators have risen to the top spot in the SEC. The Wildcats remain higher ranked for now but they'll meet again in Kentucky on the 25th after a blowout for Florida earlier this season. The other two teams that might make waves are South Carolina and Alabama.  

The next time I check in on this sport, it'll be the conference tournaments. I'm excited for basketball to really heat up and make some wild predictions for the tournament. 

Sports: NBA (All-Star Game)

The midpoint of the season is when the best players gather to compete for the All-Star game. Hosted in New Orleans, the All-Star game is not a defensive battle. There were plenty of dunks and balls flying off the rim from attempted dunks as players broke records for points in any All-Star game. This competition is not a match of the best players at their peak performance but a battle for style and a toss up for an incredibly high scoring game. The Western Conference came out on top.
With the football season at its end, I've had more time to catch up on basketball and assess which teams are going to be playoff contenders. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers are still at the top spot with Lebron James leading the charge. They did lose Kevin Love for a major portion of the season and have shown some signed of weakness that could be exploited by other top teams in the conference.

The Boston Celtics are the Cavs greatest competition with Isaiah Thomas as their top player. Only three games back from first place, they could easily swoop in a take home field advantage for the whole playoffs. Other teams that looked to be competitive in the playoffs but probably won't prove much of a challenge are the Washington Wizard, Toronto Raptors, and my favorite Atlanta Hawks. Rounding out the eight teams in the playoffs are the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Detroit Pistons.

The trade for Kevin Durant has taken over all of the headlines as the Golden State Warriors seem unstoppable. Their matchups against the Oklahoma City Thunder have been highlighted because of the Durant drama with Russell Westbrook but Steph Curry and the Warriors have put them away easily as the Thunder are in seventh place.They've also met their playoff nemesis, Cleveland twice this year and split the games.
The Spurs led by Kawhi Leonard, an All-Star starter, are putting up an impressive performance this season. Their four games back from the Warriors and will not be an easy opponent to put aside. The top four are filled out by the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. The remaining four teams that are in the playoffs at this halfway point are the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Denver Nuggets. Looking forward to an exciting second half of the NBA season. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Movie Review: Fifty Shades Darker

The sequel to the successful sex romance tells a little more of the mind-numbingly boring story of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). The first film left off with them breaking up but Grey continues to his relentless pursuit of Anastasia that is not borderline creepy but way past it. He buys up enlarge pictures of her that are being sold at a friend's photography gallery display and continues to send her gifts. Anastasia has started working at a small publishing company under her jealous boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). 

Anastasia agrees to have dinner with Christian and they reignite their passionate romance though she still has reservations despite his insistence to give her money. Christian is still in touch with his old lover and the one who taught him about BDSM, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger). Anastasia is also being stalked by one of Grey's old submissives Kate Kavanaugh (Eloise Mumford). These strange occurrences never amount to much and the drama is alway overshadowed by the need to show another sex scene.

The plot continues the trend of the first one with a plodding boredom that never sparks any excitement or interest. They even throw in a random helicopter crash to add to the romance but it competes for the dullest helicopter crash in movie history. The consequences are negated quickly and there is no pressure. They constantly try to push stories that would have been better in a horror or action thriller. The movie fails on the romance as the actors continue to lack any chemistry.

Eventually, the romance leads to a sloppy marriage proposal that only works because Grey is a billionaire who can afford rooms in a skyscraper and a workout room. The details of Grey's wealth always remain vague with random words like "multinational" thrown around to make it seem legit. 

Nevermind the awful performance of the actors, the silly writing, and dull plot, Fifty Shades Darker still managed to perform decently at the box office. It only made just over half what the first film made and I think it will continue its downward trend for the final film of the trilogy. This series is pretty ridiculous and ends up being a spoof of itself. Somehow it has garnered popularity and made enough money to make the creators millionaires. 

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Based on the popular novel by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey tells the tale of a wealthy billionaire and his lover as they pursue BDSM. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is tasked with interviewing the wealthy mogul Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) to help her roommate. There is an evident attraction that only grows as Christian shows up in her life continuously and sends her expensive gifts. Anastasia finds his intrusions bizarre but can't help but be attracted to his wealthy lifestyle and multiple talents. 

The movie is really boring with a plot that plods along spotted with the occasional sex scenes in a bland attempt to engage viewers and I guess appeals to women. The first book was exceptionally awful but I don't think I will ever read the second or continue the series. Grey's behavior is that of a possessive stalker and seems to be able to get away with this behavior because of his wealth and status. Anastasia resists and sees that there is still something good in this man she has come to know. She worries about his past and the older woman who corrupted him in his youth.

Christian proposes that Anastasia must sign contracts to continue to see him, first a non-disclosure so that she doesn't gossip about their relationship and then a contract specifying their relationship as a dominant and submissive. The chemistry between the two actors is a dim flame and the paltry acting mixed with ludicrous dialogue make anything spoken in the film hard to take seriously. The sex feels like softcore pornography that is afraid to push any boundaries hardly exploring the many aspects of BDSM. 

The source of drama is Anastasia's decision of whether to stay with Grey or not. Despite his six-pack abs, billions of dollars in fortune, and limitless talents, Ana still has reservations about whether she wants to continue to participate in the depravity of the Red Room with him. She sees his addiction to inflicting pain and is frightened by his zealousness. 

The movie ends abruptly and awkwardly after an overlong run. The movie was very successful at the box office after the novel was a bestseller. E.L. James tapped into some formula that allowed her novel to have mass appeal and the movie actually felt like an improvement in my opinion though there was only so much that could be done with this material. The series of books are a trilogy so there will be two more of these films to go through. 

TV Show Review: The Young Pope

HBO's strange new drama mixes comedy and absurdity into a strange show about a pope ascending too soon to the leadership of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) used to be a simple priest named Lenny Belardo before political dealings make him the Holy See. At the forefront of these religious machinations is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who quickly realizes, he has more on his hands than he bargained for. The young pope assigns the nun who raised him Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) to a high position, much to the chagrin of Cardinal Voiello. Lenny's mentor Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) is jealous of his young student and reacts bitterly to the appointment.

Pius the 13th immediately enacts strong decrees and refuses to let television cameras record his image preferring to remain mysterious and distant from believers. He demands respect for the church and commands that the faithful must seek out God, not the other way around, even as attendance and membership decline. The other cardinals conspire various ways to dispose of the pope but he seems immune to all of their attempts to slander and discredit him. He negotiates a deal with the Italian prime minister and charms other foreign dignitaries, using his youth and charm.

His childhood friend and pretty much brother Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) feels guilty when a young gay man commits suicide over a new regulation that restricts homosexuals from entering the church.  He also becomes involved with a Mexican gangster's mistress, which leads to more trouble for the pope. One thing that does help the Pope's stature is his somewhat supernatural power like helping a barren woman conceive, eliminated evil nuns, and cause plane turbulence. 

The final episodes revolve around the investigation of a priest in New York accused of molestation. Pope Pius sent Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Camara) to investigate and he works to discover the awful truth. The show does not shy away from the complicated subjects and highlights the absurd nature of the church's decrees. The creator Paolo Sorrentino takes a mixed look at religion showing both positive and negative effects of hard-lined faith. 

The Young Pope takes a strange look at religion with an odd mix of humor and drama. I understand how some viewers could find the episodes slow and boring as things take a while to take hold. I found the characters enjoyable and interesting with the political intrigue of the Vatican. Despite the pope's ridiculous behavior, there are worse villains and the pope becomes endearing for the way he handles these difficult situations. I enjoyed this limited series but couldn't see it continuing on for more than one season. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Grammys 2017 Winners

The Grammys are a time to look back on the year and music and to look ahead at what is to come as artists are awarded for their work the year before and introducing their new hits that will be earworms in the year ahead. There were some political statements and stunning performances, upsets and deserved recognition. The Grammys are declining in credibility and importance as music is changing. They are adapting slowly but perhaps not fast enough. 

Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year
Adele, 25, Hello
In a year of strange winners, Adele sweeps the awards despite the strong performance from Beyonce on her album Lemonade and her song Formation. The Recording Academy decided to not spread the wealth and gave every award to Adele. This decision makes the Grammys seem out of touch with current listeners and underappreciative of the true talent that Beyonce clearly is. They have decided to become predictable and somewhat boring with their decision and decrease their relevance in the process. Adele did have a passionate tribute to George Michael during the show in which she messed up and had to start over making her seem relatable. Even she in accepting the award said that she thought Beyonce truly deserved the award. It was a bad decision by voters who are afraid to take risks. There is no doubt that Hello is a smash hit song, catchy and moving, but 25 is not that impressive of an album in its entirety. 

Best New Artist
Chance the Rapper
Chance has been everywhere this year and this award was probably the easiest to predict. He also picked up the Best Hip-Hop Album for his streaming only album. He's a bit over religious for my taste but it is impossible not to acknowledge his musical talents and clever wordplay. Chance was the shining star of the show and thanked God multiple times after receiving his multiple awards. He also helped write some of the songs on Kanye's album The Life of Pablo and released a free album the year before. Chance the Rapper is an interesting new future path that rap is taking that I look forward to listening to in the future. 

When all said and done, I have some new music that I'm listening to like Best Rock Album Tell Me I'm Pretty by Cage the Elephant.
Also excited to listen to Best Dance/Electronica Album Skin by Flume.
Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth won Best County Album and I enjoyed that a lot too. I'm looking forward to another year of music and hopefully, the Grammys will become more conscience of the current trends.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

The pistol-wielding rampage continues as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns with a new mission and a new reason to take vengeance. The film begins with Wick on a quest to recover his car that was stolen from him in the previous film, he uses the vehicle, pistols, and his handheld combat skills to take out a whole crowd of gangsters in a chop shop then sues for peace with the leader. Wick desires only to return home and properly grieve for his lost wife. He has adopted a new dog and reburied his weapons and suit. Just as he thinks he's about to get out, circumstances drag back into the violent life of an assassin. 

Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) knocks on Wick's door and demands repayment for a debt that Wick acquired when he needed help making his exit from the assassin life. The debt is symbolized by a marker, a round disc that has Wick's bloody thumbprint, a rule that means he must help D'Antonio or risk death by the Continental assassin guild. Enforcing these laws is Winston (Ian McShane) who also restricts violence in his hotel across the world. Wick refuses D'Antonio's demand and has his house burned down as punishment. Forced to concede, Wick goes along with D'Antonio's mission to kill his sister, Gianna D'Antonio (Claudia Gerini).

Wick meets his match when he takes on the mission, travels to Rome, and has to face Gianna's bodyguard Cassian (Common). The two got at it in fun one-on-one hand-to-hand combat as Wick can't simply overpower the opposing assassin and they contend with each other. Wick completes his mission only to be double-crossed by D'Antonio and nearly assassinated by D'Antonion mute henchwoman Ares (Ruby Rose). The killers shoot it out through an EDM dance party, catacombs and a museum in the violent headshot brain splatter that has become a signature part of John Wick action sequences. 

This movie takes a little more time to develop the plot and explore the world of the assassins. The political dealing have major repercussions and a bounty is put on Wick's head that nearly every assassin in New York takes up. Wick is forced to seek help with the Bowery King  (Laurence Fishburne) of a homeless army of assassins. With his help, Wick is able to take on D'Antonion in an awesome fight scene through a crazy mirrored exhibit. Wick finally has to finish his revenge scheme by breaking the rules of the Continental setting up what would be an even bigger third part to the series.

R-rated action movies are my favorite genre of film and John Wick: Chapter 2 hits the sweet spot of a cool plot and eye-catching action sequences. Director Chad Stahelski does a great job showing what is happening amid all the chaos and is set to direct a Highlander film, exciting news. The world of the assassins grows and the Wick's challenges only grow larger as his focus and force lead him through armies of men. The nonstop fighting and interesting environment make this movie a constant entertainment and at the top of my favorite films for 2017 so far. Looking forward to seeing a sequel in the future.