Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie Review: The Finest Hours


Disney's Coast Guard rescue thriller kept the pacing accelerated through the first part but suffered from a slow ending. The Finest Hours was divided up into several stories that intertwined between rescuers, lovers and the sailors at risk. 

The beginning focused on the love story between Bernie Webber played by Chris Pine and Miriam Webber played by Holliday Grainger. They met after talking on the phone for a while so there was some interesting chemistry, and director Craig Gillespie did a good job quickly establishing their romance. 

The plot rapidly moves to the storm that threatened the crew  of the T-2 tanker with Casey Affleck's Ray Sybert taking the lead. The whole crew was staffed with good actors like John Ortiz, Graham McTavish, and Josh Stewart. The acting was pretty superb throughout this movie. Eric Bana was the Coast Guard chief and brought some depth with a Souther accent. Rachel Brosnahan who had a great role in House of Cards also pops up near the end. Ben Foster was part of the crew and he delivers a good performance as usual.

The really breathtaking part of this movie were the crashing waves and the great effects. I especially enjoyed watching this movie on the XD screen of my local Cinemark Theater as the boat rode down on the waves. Director Gillespie kept the tension high through the first part of the rescue and the only thing I can think as to why this movie didn't get great reviews was the slow ending. I think the mixed advertising between romance and action movie plus the January release led to the weak box office weekend but maybe people will catch it on rental since it's worth the watch.

NCAA Men's Basketball: January 2016

So like my NBA post, my NCAAM post will be a bit of a rehash of what happened this month and focusing on the top ranked teams. I know a bit more about college basketball since I have been hanging out in Big Blue Nation for the last two years and picked up some knowledge, though I have a Kentucky Wildcats bias. I'll try to look at which teams are succeeding and venture some thoughts on the upcoming March Madness.


Two teams lead the polls but I'll stick with the AP Top 25 as my main source but won't discount the USA Today Coaches poll. In the AP, the Oklahoma Sooners are at the top for now. I am aware that the new rankings will come out tomorrow so my timing is a bit off but at the end of the month the Sooners are at the top followed closely by the North Carolina Tar Heels.
This weekend was exciting because the Big 12, the conference wiht several top 25 teams including the Sooners, the 4 Kansas Jayhawks, the 9 West Virginia Mountaineers, and the 17 Baylor Bears, faced off against the SEC, conference of the 20 Wildcats, the 5 Texas A&M Aggies, the LSU Tigers, the Florida Gators, and Georgia Bulldogs. Many of these games were fulling of excitement with teams narrowly avoiding upsets and showing just how competitive and unpredictable college basketball can be. 

I'm sticking with the Top 25 for now but I want to analyze each conference at a later date. Continuing down the list Iowa out of the Big Ten holds the 3 spot, Villanova is at 6, Xavier, Maryland and Providence round out the top ten with the aforementioned SEC and Big 12 teams. With the wild nature of the tournament, I would be a fool to think any of these teams will make it to the championship but the odds favor one of them.

This season has been full of surprises with the former champions, the Duke Blue Devils, down at 24 and dominant teams of the past like Kentucky and UConn struggling to stay ranked. The season goes until the first week of March when the conference tournaments begin so I will try to stay updated and post about it. I love March Madness basketball and will post a lot of predictions and analysis when that gets underway!

All Images are the property of the NCAA or the respective teams!

Sports: NBA (January 2016)

For my first update on the the National Basketball Association I'll have to do a bit of catchup on the season so far and highlight the all-star game that is about two weeks away. My focus will be on the top eight teams in both conferences and picking who might be venturing into the playoffs this summer. 

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know that much about basketball but even a novice sports analyst like me can pick out the trend of the Golden State Warriors dominating nearly every team they face and leading the Western Conference with only four losses so far. Though I did recently hear they struggled to the final buzzer agains the awful Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers. 
Trailing right behind the Warriors are the San Antonio Spurs who have been such a dominant team for so long and it will be hard to count them out as the playoffs get closer but they did go down to the Warriors and Cavaliers recently so the two conference champions got a chance to show their strength.

Topping off the top four in the West are the Oklahoma Thunder who look strong and the Los Angeles Clippers who have been weakened by recent drama. I will keep an eye out on both these teams and highlight them in future posts.

The bottom four of the top eight, that may get too confusing, in the Western Conference are the Memphis Grizzlies, an old favorite, the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets, and the Portland Trailblazers. This area of the standing is the most likely to change but many of these teams are familiar with the playoffs and know how to sustain throughout an NBA season. It will be interesting to see how they all do as we move forward.


The East is led by Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lebron strives to bring a championship back to his hometown but will be challenged by the Toronto Raptors only two and a half games back. The Chicago Bulls and the ailing Atlanta Hawks, my old hometown favorite, take the next two spots at the top. Close behind are the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, and the Detroit Pistons. 

As the season progresses and without the distraction of football, I hope to tune into more basketball and get a sense of all the teams in the league. The All-Star break will give me a good time to revisit the standing and mark a halfway point in the season. I look forward to analyzing basketball a lot closer now that I'll get to blog about it. Stay tuned!
All Images are property of the NBA or their respective teams!

Book Review: Apex Books of World SF 1-4

It took me about six months to get through these four magnificent collections of short stories written by authors from across the globe. There is no pattern to these stories and each one contains a surprise that shifted my worldview or made me think differently about science fiction. These stories contain something for everyone from aliens to robots to wizards to shamans to ancient spells to fantastic future. I highly enjoy each new book unable to decide on a favorite.
I recently finished book 4 though none of them need to be read in order and even the stories can be read out of order just starting one and getting lost in a foreign, yet strangely familiar, sci-fi or fantasy world. Editor Lavie Tidhar did a great job making each story seem wholly different while letting them flow from one story to the next and editor Mahvesh Murad continues this tradition in the fourth book. This series has so much to offer and truly hope they continue to put out new books in the future.
There are so many stories and it is hard to pick out one in particular amongst such a stellar crowd but I would recommend taking time after each story to let it sink in and I often find myself rereading passages or even whole stories to reacquaint myself with this awe-inspiring concepts. Some stories have a lot of action while others delve down deep into a single character's thoughts. As I mentioned, some stories go so deep into the past but use a method of future time-traveling to explore these traditions older than the written language, that's the kind of twisted awesomeness I encountered in these collections.
I would have never encountered some of these authors if they had not been translated and conveniently added to this collection in English. I would've remained wholly ignorant of stories that have changed the way I see the world. After all, when aliens come, they will see us all as the same species. It's so interesting after being inundated with thousands of stories about aliens landing in the USA to start to imagine what other countries would think and how futures are imagined in places outside of North America. I didn't often think about how close-minded even my imaginative fiction reading was until I picked up this collection.
I would recommend every one of these collections to any serious reader of science fiction and anyone that appreciates something that will change their way of thinking. The writing is top notch though many authors are writing in their second language. The ideas in these books are so cool and mysterious. I also saw one striking familiarity of the human condition no matter if someone was telling a story from the other side of the globe. The Apex Books of World SF are a great collection, and I hope there are more to come!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Movie Review: Anomalisa


This isn't the first time I've found some of Charlie Kaufman's brilliant writing a dull affair. I came into Anomalisa with the promise of a human story told with animation. I found this movie to be pretty slow and boring. Not much happens like life, but also the story hardly goes anywhere that I found worth exploring or thinking about later.

I'd heard this movie started out as a radio play and I ran with the fact that most of the voices are done by the same actor, male and female characters all share the voice of Tom Noonan. This was a bit odd but I was willing to look past it and follow the plight of Michael Stone voiced by David Thewlis. He's miserable and lonely as he lands in Cincinnati to deliver a speech on customer service.

The main plot surrounds a romantic encounter between Michael and a scarred woman named Lisa voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. There are some interesting scenes and the romance seems cute but I found it quite slow and grueling to sit through. 

Overall, there isn't much to say about this movie and it's short. The animation was spectacular and used in creative ways. I like Kaufman's work but this isn't one of my favorites. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Republican Presidential Debate #7


The finale debate before the Iowa caucus next Monday sans Donald Trump was quite a snoozer and not because I was just tired. I'll be looking into the numbers to see how the ratings compare to Donald Trump's impromptu rally to raise money to support the troops, or whatever it was really for. I can't really  know what is going on in this campaign but I can interpret as much as I can from the media.

The fireworks were simply not there as if all of these candidates have decided to get together and not attack each other. There were a few attacks back and forth, mostly against Rubio who seems to get bullied as the most viable candidate on the stage. Cruz is on the way down once he loses the votes in some of the more liberal states unless he can swing some momentum from an Iowa win. 

Trump successfully drew the attention away much to ire of the hosts and Fox News all together Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio clashed a little. Bush still looks like he's coming from behind and feels very upset about it. 

Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Ben Carson did not do much to improve their positions from behind. None of the campaigns made a statement that will sway voters one way or another. A lot of the candidates sought to just not cause damage to their campaigns. Ted Cruz and Rubio both suffered a little from the extra combative debate while Trump was allowed to talk in his own speech.

The first votes come in on Monday. Candidates like Kasich, Santorum, and Huckabee will most likely dropout soon if they don't gain any sort of following in Iowa. I think Fiorina will try a bit longer as well before dropping out. The biggest face-off will be between Trump and Cruz as they are both in the lead at the moment. I look forward to seeing who can capitalize in Iowa and gain momentum to move forward to New Hampshire. 

I will hopefully write another political blog after the Iowa Caucus analyzing the results from both parties so stay tuned for more analysis. My predictions are a Donald Trump win with Ted Cruz in second. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush will be three in four. 

For the Democrats, I think Hilary Clinton will win but Bernie Sanders will come in a close second, which can be spun as a victory since he has come from so far behind. I would like to think that Sanders still has a chance to win but from my media bias, he seems to have been counted out. The votes will determine it all!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Movie Review: The 5th Wave


The 5th Wave is a decent sci-fi thriller with Chloe Grace Moretz leading the way in the fight against the alien invasion. There were some good parts but also some over the top awfulness that gained a few eye rolls and sighs. 

There isn't much to the plot. Moretz's character Cassie Sullivan survives the first few waves of the invasion pretty easily and the filmmakers wasted the talents of Maggie Siff and Ron Livingston as Cassie's parents. The special effects were good enough. We are spoiled in 2016 when even the throwaway YA ripoff that is scrounging for money can throw some decent explosion and destruction our way.

The story takes an odd twist splitting up between Cassie and her younger brother Sam played by Zackary Arthur. He is drafted in the military under the harsh command of adult characters played by Maria Bello and Liev Schreiber. In a strange force of the plot, they push young kids into squads and Sam's squad is led by Zombie played by Nick Robinson of Jurassic World fame. This is the first of Cassie's romantic interests.

The story really gets lost in the romantic subplot between Moretz and Alex Roe's Evan Walker. Explanations come fast and rushed like most movies based on books and the acting was inconsistent with some really weak parts. I was surprised at Maika Monroe from It Follows delivering such a weak performance as a rough and tumble soldier in the squadron.

The story wasn't all bad, and I found some good parts to enjoy to not feel like I totally wasted my money going to see this in theaters. They did set it up for a sequel but with weak box office numbers, I'm not sure how that will happen. I look forward to these young actors maturing and becoming the new Hollywood elite, or crazy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Movie Review: 13 Hours


Michael Bay's political action movie had some decent acting and a fast-paced plot. It was one of Bay's more thought-provoking and intense action thrillers and a welcome relief from wherever the Transformers series is going. I have enjoyed Michael Bay's films before for their popcorn fun, yet this one take a much more serious tone that handles the subject matter with a modicum of solemnity.

There is a budding tradition of war movies at the beginning of the year from Lone Survivor to American Sniper and now 13 Hours. This movie is at the bottom of the three but still intense enough for fans of the genre. I was drawn right in and even though I saw the late night viewing was able to stay engaged throughout, which is really all I can ask for of a January release.

The acting was superb for the most part. As I was not an avid viewer of The Office American adaptation, John Krasinski was a new face, especially in an action movie. Krasinski's acting was probably the weakest of the bunch but still not bad. His character Jack Silva takes center stage and introduces us to the city of Benghazi, and the viewer follows him through the attack. I think Krasinski was just adjusting to his new role as action star and has a bright future in the genre if he chooses to continue.

The supporting cast was really amazing. It's nice to see James Badge Dale getting more lead roles as he is usually relegated to villain sidekick or momentary in the film gangster. His character had some emotional depth and I know it can't be easy to pull of those action scenes. Pablo Schreiber is also an upcoming actor who has been awesome in almost every role I've seen him in from two HBO series and a villainous turn on a popular Netflix series. David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, and Max Martini played their roles well and helped this film tremendously.

The political nature of the topic wasn't overly drawn upon in the narrative. There were only a few mentions of nameless political leaders not sending help to the stranded soldiers. David Costabile plays CIA's Bob and represents the uninformed bureaucrat who prevents the super smart soldiers from doing their job, but of course he gets told what to do by the end after the fiasco has played out.

I enjoy movies that recognize our service men and women and always appreciate ones that do so respectfully. This movie had to tread complicated ground as these soldiers were hired by the CIA and the story was "untold' or at least not the one peddled by the media for controversy. This movie didn't concern itself with why these soldiers were fighting or who they were fighting as most of the militants were faceless Libyans though a few get multiple shots focused on them where they are always cast as menacing. I would be curious to see the other side of this story but Hollywood has a long way to go in that department.

Overall, the action was fun, the acting decent, and the plot fast and not too political. There was several moment of intense violence and Bay knows how to draw out the tension. This movie won't be swaying any voters but it entertained me for a bit over two hours. Seven out of ten stars!

Monday, January 25, 2016

TV Premiere: X-Files Revival (Season 10)


Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have returned for a six-episode event that will stand as the tenth, and hopefully not last, season of the X-files saga on FOX. Now I'm a bit of a newbie when it comes to the extensive x-files lore but thanks to a wonderful woman, I'm committed to going through all the old seasons and experiencing the awesome conspiracy driven, alien invaded, paranormal activity, and all sorts of other odd happenings with the two FBI detectives. 

Scully and Mulder serve as a great opposition to one another but also the tension in their relationship has grown to a point that they even have a kid together. X-files has spawned nine season, two movies, numerous books and even I've heard a video game somewhere out there. It has quite a following of devoted fans that have brought back David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson over a decade later into the heart of a new conspiracy that could change everything they've ever done.

The stakes are high as Mulder and Scully are summoned by their old boss Skinner played by Mitch Pileggi and convinced by a conspiracy theorist played by Joel Mchale to investigate a woman's abduction. Mulder, of course, wants to believe what the woman says but Scully, of course, is skeptical and seeks a medical explanation. The wear and tear of years of investigating clearly shows on Scully's skepticism and even she admits something is going on here. 

The X-files got right back into and will be showing again tonight to give the fans an extra treat and not make them wait a week. Unfortunately, these means the season will be over even faster. I hope they find a way to leave it open and possibly pass it on to another generation but then the X-files is so fun and campy, it may not function well in this new technology driven generation. One awesome thing about the new episodes was the dramatic improvement in special effects. There is one especially cool alien spaceship crash. It makes me want more sci-fi alien shows and movies to come out soon. 

The end of the first episode brings back a old character in a hilarious new way and blows a lot of smoke signals for avid viewers to chase. I am so excited about this show that I may do weekly updates if I can keep up!

NFL NFC Championship

Not much to say about this blowout and most everyone is already looking towards the big game in less than two weeks but I thought I would revisit it this morning before we totally forget the Arizona Cardinals and their failure to the history books. The Carolina Panthers dominated from the start. 
I'm pretty satisfied to say that I was right about my picks this weekend though I've been totally wrong for most of the season so maybe next year I will gain some credibility in this department. It has been fun blogging about football, more fun than I think politics will be as that starts up soon. Anyways, the game was pretty one-sided and the Panthers look like a great opponent to take on the Denver Broncos. The most exciting part will be Cam Newton taking on the Denver defense. 

The Cardinal had a whopping 4 turnovers and that was just when I stopped paying attention. The Panthers dominate on both sides of the ball so it will be hard for the Broncos to take them on throughout the game. The biggest weakness was shown in the Panthers second half of the previous game but this game they seemed to have it under control. I predict a Panthers win in Super Bowl 50!

As football comes to an end, I will make a difficult transition towards basketball. It's difficult because there aren't any set of games I can analyze all at once. My first attempt should appear in a January summary and then I'll do a monthly run before taking on March Madness then preparing for the NBA playoffs. But I get ahead of myself. There is still a great game to watch February 7th! I hope it's not a blowout like the last time the Broncos made it to the big game.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sports: NFL (AFC Championship)

A matchup of the titans in the professional football gave us a great game that came down to the wire but in the end the Denver Broncos triumphed. 
Bill Belicheck, the head coach of the Patriots, warned that many of his players would be injured but most of them were able to play. The Broncos got off to a fast start after stopping the Patriots opening drive. Peyton Manning managed to throw a touchdown and take the lead that the Broncos would never relent for the rest of the game. 

The Patriots managed to respond but showed they were having trouble containing the Broncos constant blitzing. Tom Brady continuously got attacked in the pocket and though he was able to pull off some miraculous passes every once in a while, it wasn't enough to compete with Manning and the Broncos. Another hint of weakness was the missed extra point on the Patriots first touchdown. This would really come back to haunt them in the final seconds.

The Broncos were in control at the start of the second half and the Patriots made an effort to come back but Denver contained them through most of the third.

The fourth quarter was were much of the breathtaking action took place. Brady had several chances to drive down the field but each time the Broncos defense stopped him until the two minute warning. Brady drove down and found Gronkowski for a touchdown. The Patriot were still down by two because of the seemingly unimportant missed extra point. They had to go for two, and it didn't work out. The onside kick also failed and the Broncos are going on to Super Bowl 50!

I'm excited to see the Denver Broncos take on whoever they will face from the NFC Championship! Their defense looks strong and Peyton Manning shined on offense. It will be a great matchup and I look forward to it on Sunday, February 7th!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Movie Review: The Boy


Continuing on the awful January horror movie tradition, The Boy takes on the haunted doll sub-genre of horror and stars The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan as an American nanny hired by a deranged older couple to care for their son. The son just happens to be a doll and though at first Cohan's character Greta finds this odd, she still signs on for the job desperate to hide away and earn the excessive amount of money she will be paid.

The Boy contributes to more awful horror movies. I'm not sure how this movie was produced, it seemed like such an awful idea in the first place. I'm such a sucker for these earlier year horror flicks though and find small enjoyment in the slow build. There were a few clever jump out scares and the mysterious grocery boy played by Rupert Evans, whose performance in the first Hellboy is one of my favorite in a superhero movie, kept me guessing up to the final third of the movie. 

Unfortunately, there were a lot of cliches, and the movie relied heavily on these devices to keep a dull plot moving at a snails pace. The story was convoluted and the script did a terrible job revealing important details while obviously showing us that they were setting it up for future plot details. There were not nearly enough hints at the twist, and the explanation had plenty of holes that if I bothered to look closely could probably walk right through.

Cohan should have a future in acting once her career as a zombie hunter expires but hopefully her agent will help her make better choices. I wish I could say that there was something to take away from this film but the story was devoid of any cleverness and the acting was pretty weak. They glossed over some big issues like abuse and affluenza, which might have made the story more interesting. I would not recommend this to anyone but true horror fans may settle their curiosity when it hits streaming, which will likely be very soon since this will bomb at the box office. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

TV Series Review: American Horror Story-Hotel


The fifth Season of FX's horror series had some interesting shock factor scenes but overall it suffered a similar fate as the previous four. The plot became so convoluted and the horror so repetitive that the last few episodes didn't hold my interest as the first few did.

The new setup of a hotel had potential for a lot of frightening scenarios. Many of the characters introduced would later have great character arcs that I found more enjoyable than some of the previous series' characters. I especially like how they began to tie everything together with the other seasons, and it makes me want to go back and check them out. 


An intriguing plot line that I find did not follow through was the Ten Commandment Killer and the investigation by Detective John Lowe played by a brooding Wes Bentley. The mystery started off exciting but the payoff was lackluster. Chloe Sevigny played Lowe's wife with a passion that she has brought to all of her characters. 

Sarah Paulson had one of the most engaging characters with Hypodermic Sally. She has really shown her range throughout the series, and this character was exceptional. I look forward to seeing what she puts on next.

Denis O'Hare also came through with a great performance as Liz Taylor, the hotel's bartender. The character had one of the main stories and a great few scenes of sadness and redemption at the end.

Other cast members including Angela Bassett, Finn Wittrock, Kathy Bates, and Evan Peters all brought their A-game to the show. Peters had an amazing accent as the murdered James March. Bates and Bassett both held a grudge against the most prominent and popular role of the show Lady Gaga's Countess.

Stepping into the shoes of Jessica Lange is no easy task but Gaga did the best possible impression and ended up with an Golden Globe as a result. I hope she continues to lead this show as she provides a much needed celebrity center. 

Overall, I got what I expected from this season and will continue to tune in to these bloody, gory, and spooky episodes when it returns in October 2016!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

TV Premiere: Billions


Showtime's newest series Billions observes the super rich and the prosecutors that chase after them for their obscure crimes that never seemed to result in punishment. There are plenty of glimpses at the wealthy lifestyle and the struggle to keep that wealth while the line between legal and illegal is increasingly blurred.

Plenty of great actors staff this series including Damian Lewis who had a brilliant performance in Showtime's Homeland. Lewis plays a hedge fund manager or CEO or whatever of Axe Corporation, his corporation. There is a lot of financial talk that I can't always follow but they do a decent job keeping it entertaining. Paul Giamatti plays a U.S. attorney who faces off against the corrupt financial system and investigates Axe corporation. Already in the first episode Giamatti and Lewis face off and I can only see it getting better as they get deeper into the show.

Maggie Siff, Tara Knowles from Sons of Anarchy, plays Giamatti's character's wife and also a resident psychologist at Axe corporation. I'm glad to see Siff back in a show since seeing her on screen is always enjoyable. Malin Ackerman, Silk Spectre from Watchmen, plays Lewis's ruthless wife and it quickly become clear that she will do anything to protect her wealth. 

This show has a lot of potential and Showtime usually produces high quality entertainment so I look forward to seeing how the storyline progresses. I'm glad to see a new show with powerful actors facing off!

Podcast Review: The Message



I've been into podcasts for a while now, especially after the phenomenon of Serial. When I first heard that, I was immediately addicted and very happy to find all of the episodes available except one. After the first season ended, I searched around and found Invisibilia, Reply All, Fresh Air, This American Life, and several others. I had not become so hooked in a while. I was happy to hear that Serial had returned but waiting each week and then subsequently two weeks for each episode left me with a need for a narrative.

I actually heard of The Message from an advertisement on the Marc Maron podcast from around Xmas time and decided I would check it out. I found it to a be a short punch of a fun alien narrative that came me wondering and desiring to hear the next episode. I was glad that I caught it at the end so I didn't have to wait each week. Binge listening, or watching, just seems to be a great way to consume these narratives.

The Message sets itself up as a true story with a meta world of CypherCast run by the character Nicky Tomalin. Nicky is a big fan of deciphering codes and some how finagles the opportunity to work with a group of cryptologists to uncover the meaning of a secret alien broadcast that is nearly eighty years old. The message was hidden by the NSA, and SETI confirmed that it was from another planet. I managed to make it through the first two episodes still kind of believing that this might be true, but quickly the narrative becomes a little too perfect for an off-the-cuff podcast.

The voice actors did a decent job, some dialogue felt stilted and the emotion felt false as the consequences increased and the stakes were raised. A subtler approach might have helped continue the illusion but it was still fun. 

Some of the science I had never heard before and I always like hearing about the search for extraterrestrial life. They made have done disservice since any factual announcements may come of as another hoax or fictional account but War of the Worlds did that a long time ago. With the upcoming premiere of a new short season of X-Files, the desire to believe is infecting popular culture once again. I always enjoy a new surge in science fiction and The Message helps push that along. It doesn't take much time as the eight episodes are only 15 minutes long but it has a compelling story and great ending twist. 

This is a fun new medium for fictional, and nonfictional, entertainment and I hope the success of this and other podcasts encourages more storytelling in this form. Check it out on ITunes or wherever else podcasts are available, but be careful!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Democratic Presidential Debate #4

The final debate before the Iowa Primary pushes the candidates to throw punches at one another. The polls have tightened and Bernie Sanders's supporters have raised his poll numbers, which according to the email I get from Hillary Clinton's campaign have frightened her supporters. Martin O'Malley is hanging around for his VP spot.

The hosts brought up issues from gun control and police brutality to healthcare and foreign policy. This debate did not have a focus as the last ones had seeking to give voters a picture of all the issues and the candidates position before voters head out to caucus or whatever. 

O'Malley continues to interject and complain hoping that if he whines enough he can get more airtime when his polls simply do not show much support. He takes away from the two primary candidates and appears weak and overly hostile for his lack of attention.

Hillary sought to tie herself to her experience with President Obama and show Bernie as a man that would undo all of Barack's accomplishments. She seems to willfully  lie and smear Sanders's positions almost to the point of absurdity.

Bernie can do nothing but scoff and explain his position more clearly so that the voters  aren't fooled but I'm not sure if this reasonable approach will work with voters that use their guts more than their brains. He also tries to appeal to the anger in the country promising a revolution and announcing all sorts of actions that would help the American people. I think his greatest moment of weakness is when he had to admit that he would raise taxes on the middle class but countered that quickly with the promise of savings thanks to all sorts of government programs he would initiate. 

Clinton has a tough and surprising challenge on her hands with the Sanders campaign surging. She can't wait for the vote to come, and frankly neither can I. It will be so interesting to see some results from all this bickering and speeches and debates over the last year. Only two weeks left before Iowa goes to the polls to make their decision and gives one candidate momentum they could use to pull ahead!

NFL Divisional Playoff Round

As the season near its end, the games more and more competitive and exciting. At least I hope they do. The stake rise, the talents exudes the regular season matches. Some years a team dominates but many years each team has a flaw that others can exploit.

First off the Kansas City Chiefs progressed past the Wild Card to face off against the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. The Chiefs won handily against the Texans but facing a giant of the playoffs in Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck proved more difficult. The Chiefs fell by a touchdown but never really had a chance. Patriots moved on to seek another Super Bowl in the AFC Championship.
The second Saturday game proved more of a competition. The Arizona Cardinals have faced their doubters this season including myself and I thought the Packers would take the win. The game had so many insane plays from multiple Hail Marys from Aaron Rodgers to tipped balls in the end zone to amazing connection between Fitzgerald and Palmer. The Cardinals triumphed through all the excitement to head to the NFC Championship.
I settled down Sunday for some football watching to find an awesome matchup turns into a blowout in the first few minutes. The Carolina Panthers smashed the Seattle Seahawks in the face on offense breaking away with big runs and then got an interception returned for a touchdown on their defense. The Panthers looked unstoppable in the first half but somehow that effort exhausted them. The Seahawks are the one team not to count out and they steadily mounted a comeback. They didn't have enough to overcome the lead so the Panthers continue to face the Cardinals next Sunday right before the premiere of X-files on one of my favorite days of the year.
The final game of the night included two powerhouses of the NFL and I though this one the most likely upset of the bunch. The Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers battled in Denver exchanging field goals and touchdowns. Roethlisberger was injured from his Wild Card match against the Bengals but still performed better than Manning. The Broncos go on to face their nemesis the Patriots in a rematch for the ages in the AFC Championship.
I predict the Broncos over the Patriots and the Panthers over the Cardinals. Playoff football is my favorite sporting event and all the teams should be fun to watch as the final four face off for a chance in Super Bowl 50!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movie Review: Carol


I'm at a loss with this movie. I went to the late showing last night, which was a mistake because this drama about two lovers persecuted by ignorance and misogyny will exploit any fatigue you have and try desperately to put you to sleep. I struggle through nearly two hours of this movie and eventually gave up and left figuring that not much else would happen as nothing did happen throughout the entire first three quarters. I went and read some spoiler discussion on it on a clickbait website to find that I didn't miss much.

Don't get me wrong, these actresses are at the top of their game with strong performances by both lead Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. It's the script that seems dull to me. The drama and romance appear so distant and tension so boring that it was nearly impossible to get close to these characters and care. 

It's just a matter of feeling sorry for a wealthy woman who often comes off as spoiled when others went through this same terrible discrimination during this time period but also had to deal with the travails of poverty or abuse. I just want to know if this is the story that feels as necessary as so many others that too frequently get ignored. As the Oscars once again reveal that they only nominate actors and actresses of a certain skin tone, this should be a question filmmakers ask themselves when choosing their next scripts.

The set design was impeccable but as the plot dragged along it was nearly impossible to keep my eyes open as they trudged from scene to scene. This is the kind of movie that is so boring, I was tired the next day just from thinking about it. 

Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson had some decent supporting roles but even the dramatic sequences just fell flat because none of the characters had a depth of feeling that requires a viewer to care for them. 

I understand some of the nominations but this movie came as such a shock to me. Spotlight had a slow pace but the tension was there. This movie had no redeeming qualities in my opinion and I will have to rate it rather low. I expect this movie may do well in some other award categories, but it was a disappointment to me. Three out of ten stars.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Republican Presidential Debate #6

With the upcoming Primary in Iowa, the Republican Presidential Debate took on a more serious tone last night. Responding with fear and cynicism to Obama's State of the Union, each candidate took their shots at the current head of state. I didn't have time to watch the undercard debate but think it was interesting that Rand Paul skipped it. Fox Business hosted this debate with a right wing bias and allowed some outlandish statements to slide. 


Donald Trump still sits at the top of the polls and looks like the likely winner come February in Iowa. He continued to retain his lead with sober statements and attacks of his closest competitor Ted Cruz.

Cruz is starting to show cracks getting beaten down by Trump and thinking he can win the presidency by insulting an entire state. The nonissue of his birth took a lot of time that wasn't necessary but all of that detracts from his momentum. He took shots up at Trump but also battled against Marco Rubio who still poses a threat.

Rubio didn't not shine quite as much as he had in the past and recent revelations and attacks have knocked him back. I think he's waiting for later states to make his move so as long as he doesn't cause much damage, he should stay in the running.

Jeb Bush is struggling and didn't come off as strong as he did in debate five, a forgettable performance that won't help him as we moved closer to voting.

Chris Christie is struggling, and it looks more and more like he should have ran last term before he shut down the bridges in New Jersey. He took a hard stance but voters won't turn to him. 

Ben Carson has dropped down. He complains about his lack of questions but his answers often come off as incoherent. 

Jon Kasich runs for Vice President. Trump showed some approval, which would be an interesting matchup for the conservative party. 

America has an interesting decision this November but first there is the long primary season, which should make for some very interesting blog posts. We are down to only seven candidates for the main event. I will try to keep up with the developments as the statements get more outrageous and contentious. February will bring some very interesting primaries and start to see candidates falling off as they don't put up actual numbers. I'm sure there are still plenty of surprises in store!

Academy Awards 2016 Nominations

I don't think I have earned a following for this blog yet, but if I did have readers, many of them would be familiar with several of the nominees for the Academy Awards. Unlike the actual presentation, I plan on going through these awards from the biggest down and i don't even think I will cover some of the awards but I do hope to get a sense of what might happen on February 28th. 




First off, the award for Best Picture is extra exciting this year. Starting around 2008 or so, the Best Picture nominees were expanded from five to up to ten, but it can vary throughout the years. This year eight slots are filled up. I'm extremely pleased that I managed to catch all the nominees this year and several of them are on my favorite movies of the year list. Some of the top contenders are Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant (the Golden Globe drama winner), The Martian (the Golden Glove comedy winner), and Spotlight. The other nominees are great as well: Room, The Big Short, Brooklyn, and Bridge of Spies. This films don't have favorable odds but it's a testament to how great this year was for movies. I have been biased towards Mad Max but after the Golden Globes, I'm leaning towards The Revenant. Spotlight has lost steam, but The Martian may zoom in for a surprise.

For Best Actor, The Revenant's star Leonardo Dicaprio is my pick. I think Eddie Redmayne's performance was one of the best in The Danish Girl, but since he won last year, I don't think he'll take it home simultaneous years. Matt Damon is the surprise as The Martian's success has continued to garner support for a role that pretty much carried the movie. Michael Fassbender and Bryan Cranston both put up impressive efforts in biopics, but I don't think either will triumph despite the masterwork of both.

Best Actress is filled with stellar performance. I still have to catch two of them, Cate Blanchett in Carol and Charlotte Rampling in 45 years. Brie Larson is the favorite for her work in Room, but Saoirse Ronan was amazing but just didn't need gain enough attention. I disagree with Jennifer Lawrence's nomination, Joy was strong but I don't think it was award worthy.

In Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Tom Hardy was the best in Revenant but Sylvester Stallone has the momentum for his reprisal of Rocky in Creed. Jason Mitchell as Easy-E in Straight Outta Compton should've been in this category but Mark Rylance and Christian Bale somehow earned nominations. Bale was barely on screen in The Big Short and Rylance didn't do more than a few scenes in Bridge of Spies. Mark Ruffalo's performance in Spotlight was the shingin part of that film but Stallone will most likely take home the trophy.

I was surprised at Kate Winslet's recognition for Steve Jobs at the Golden Globes and that makes me think that she will win the award for Best Supporting Actress. Jennifer Jason Leigh stood out in The Hateful Eight and Alicia Vikander was moving and deserved to get a best actress nomination since she spent equal time on the screen. Rachel McAdams was great but I think it will be easily overlooked. I will try to catch Carol's Rooney Mara this weekend.

Best Director is a tight competition between Alejandro G. Inarritu and George Miller who both made captivating films. Inarritu would be going for two in a row. Possibly Tom McCarthy could win but Adam Mckay and Lenny Abrahamson won't get much attention.

I would like to see Anomalisa win though I haven't seen it yet. Inside Out is the easy favorite for Best Animated Feature, it's the only nominee I've seen. Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep, and When Marnie was There all look interesting.

Cinematography gets Sicario's first nomination, a movie that was not appreciated enough this awards season. Mad Max might take home another award for this but I could also see The Revenant competing. Hateful Eight had some great shots, and I've heard good things of Carol.

For Original Screenplay, I'd like to see Straight Outta Compton win but Spotlight seems the likely pick. Ex Machina or Inside Out could surprise. Bridge of Spies continues to coast off of The Cohen Brothers great writing and Spielberg movie magic. The Big Short or The Martian seem the top choices for Adapted Screenplay but Carol or The Big Short could take it. Brooklyn has been recognized but I don't know if it will win any awards, which is sad. Room was stirring but I don't see it taking this award. 

Star Wars got some nominations for Visual Effects and Original Score, which is cool. Mad Max should take all the effects awards for the awesome car chases. I could see "Writing on the Wall" by Sam Smith win Best Original Song for Spectre but "Earned It" by The Weeknd is an awesome song.

That's my assessment of the nominees and look forward to the presentation in over a month!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

President Barack Obama State of the Union 2016


Relentlessly optimistic, President Barack Obama delivers a stirring and succinct State of the Union address to the country preaching a challenging, yet bright, future and encouraging the American people to build off the success of the past few years to continue to adapt to these rapid changes of humanity. I'll have to watch it a bit more and sleep on it and may add more to this analysis. If I had the time, I would like to go back and watch all six previous addresses for a comparison while also catching a few from previous presidents' on the last year to compare, but alas I was foolishly not a political science major and do not get paid to write this blog.

I have always been inspired when the President talks but after the backlash Obama experienced from the right wing, I've developed a healthy skepticism of what he can actually get done as President of the United States. He does proclaim his successes with the economy though the right will do everything to claim he hasn't done enough, and the left will claim he doesn't brag enough. 

If I listen to more analysis, I'll have a better sense of the reaction but I only caught a few tweets from Donald Trump that focused on the entertainment value of the State of the Union. Let me pause for a moment to let the thought of a State of the Union by President Trump sink in. 2017 is going to be an interesting year in politics no matter what happens.

The thought of the government solving cancer is ambitious, but I highly doubt we will see the eradication of the complex and various forms of this fatal disease in my lifetime. Healthcare has a lot of huge hurtles to get through before a "moonshot". Climate change is also something that is a bit shocking about this country, that so many people still don't believe in it. Obama ridiculed those who denied the science but it is hard to communicate with zealous religions and oil companies. 

Looking back, I have felt that the forty-fourth President's two terms has been a success and his legacy will last for centuries to come as a man who broke down seemingly impossible boundaries while also effectively running a country that is still rabidly divided over race, class, and other tribal division that keep our sense of cooperation from triumphing over the difficult challenges our rapidly advancing civilization will face. 

I wish him all the luck in his final year in taking on the challenges of criminal justice, immigration, and education while the loud noise of obnoxious candidates in an election year drowns out every ambitious proposal. I still hold out hope that Obama will make some drastic changes as his time runs out and legalize marijuana, forgive minor infractions of the law that have received stiff penalties, and raise the minimum wage all while desperately developing a solution to curb this senseless, yet rampant, gun violence, that frightens me at least once a month with some new horrible, heartbreaking news story. 

Foreign policy has been rough with the rise of ISIS but Obama's approach was to ridicule the candidates who claim lone wolves and a ragtag group of confused youths could actually threaten our great American ideals of freedom and equality for all. The true threat is the fear-mongering that others will use to whip a base to get votes this national election season. As I said, I am always a bit inspired by our current President's speeches and only hope that I will see another historical moment as significant as this one in my lifetime.

I  doubt a single person will still be reading my ramblings at this point but I would like the thank CNN for the image, and say that after hearing this speech, I do have some hope that America will continue to thrive and be the proud and free country that allows me to write such nonsense without repercussions like death or imprisonment. I truly believe there is no other country I would live and find the inspirations, encouragement, and liberty to write and express myself. I can only hope as the inevitable change continues, even more citizens of this country will be able to share their stories and find their voices. I would also say that President Obama has been the greatest American president in my lifetime so far, and it will be hard to find a better one in the decades to come. 

Referencing those Trump tweets, the Republican response was too boring to watch. Obama is simply a better speaker than the majority of politicians, and I almost pity any speech that follows the current President. That's enough politics for now, but I'll be dropping another post after the upcoming Republican debate!

Monday, January 11, 2016

College Football National Championship

The College Football season comes to an end with a great battle between the undefeated Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Both teams showed their impressive talent but in the end, Alabama claimed victory by five points. 
The Tiger responded at nearly every moment but had no answer when Alabama caught an onside kick and outscored their opponent 24-16 in the final game. Clemson did not give up but eventually they ran out of time and when it was their chance to catch an onside kick, the bounce went out of bounds. It was a high scoring game but the South Carolina college could not overpower their southern competitor.

This win by Alabama contributes to the notion that the SEC is the best conference in the College Football league. Bama is certainly the strongest team in the College Football and has always put up a strong fight. Their loss last year to Ohio State was surprising and it would have been interesting to see a matchup but Michigan State represented the Big 10 conference this year.

Overall, I am at least glad there were some good games but I would like more variety in my winners since Alabama has been National Champions for several years now, I have a personal loathing for the southern team. 

Now that college football has come to an end I will turn my attention to college basketball. A lot of exciting stuff is happening with Kansas and Oklahoma in the top two slots and Maryland, Michigan State, and North Carolina rounding out the top five. I hope to write monthly posts until we get a bit closer to the March Madness tournament, where I will post every round. Another exciting year of college football concludes! I can't wait until next year!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Golden Globes 2016 Winners

The 2016 Golden Globes winners have been announced, and I'm going to do a quick analysis of some of the winners.

First, The Revenant won Best Picture Drama and Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in the film also took home Best Actor Drama. Alejandro Inarritu also won best director, which is hard to argue with his amazing vision.

The snub was Mad Max: Fury Road but now that I think about it, it is going to be hard for an action movie to win. The Revenant could go on to win the Academy Award but I hold out hope for Mad Max.

The other big winner of the night was for Best Picture Comedy. The Martian took home the award as well as Matt Damon for Best Actor Comedy.

For Best Actress Comedy, Jennifer Lawrence took home her performance for Joy, I thought it was enjoyable, the best part of a lackluster film. Best Actress Drama went to Brie Larson for her role as the kidnap victim in Room. Hers was a powerful performance, and I'm glad that it is receiving recognition. I thought Saoirse Ronan might pull out a surprise but her performance didn't get enough attention.

The Supporting Actor categories went to Sylvester Stallone's Rocky in Creed and Kate Winslet from the Steve Jobs biopic, both worthy performances. I would've liked to have seen Alicia Vikander and Idris Elba win but both winners did a great job and deserved their globes. Best Screenplay for Steve Jobs was a bit of a surprised but that was the source of most of the tension. The Hateful Eight score winning was also a great choice. It's a shame Minion couldn't get an animated feature nod and I've heard a lot of great stuff about Anomalisa but Inside Out was always a critical darling.

In television Mr. Robot took home the Best Drama Series globe and Mozart in the Jungle from the Amazon took Best Comedy Series. 


I am currently enjoying Mr. Robot and haven't seen Mozart yet but I guess Gael Garcia Bernal is good enough to win best actor in a comedy series. Jon Hamm continued to receive recognition for his final performance as Don Draper and Taraji P. Henson took home glove for her role in Empire. Oscar Isaac won for Show Me a Hero and Lady Gaga took home the spot for the replacement she made in Jessica Lange. Christian Slater and Maura Tierney taking home supporting actor and actress wins are two performance I enjoyed immensely. 

Overall I was decent at making picks but struck out in the major categories with my Mad Max pick but the Hollywood Foreign Press went with The Revenant. The Martian also through me off guard but I didn't think of it as a comedy even though it was pretty funny. These awards hint at who will take home the bigger awards at the Oscars!

Sports: NFL (NFC Wild Card)

The Wild Card round continues with the NFC edition. The first game between the Minnesota Vikings and the visiting Seattle Seahawks was a heartbreaker for the cold town up north. The Vikings had the weather on their side and a stellar running back returning from a season of suspension but none of this could help defeat the Seahawks with Russell Wilson and their great defense. The Viking led through most of the game but ultimately it came down to a field goal and the Vikings kicker Walsh missed in the last few second. Baldwin had some great catches, and Seattle proves again that they are a contender.
The Seahawks will go on to face the Carolina Panthers as a visiting team since they are the lowest seed. The Panthers had an amazing season but it is damn hard to count out the resilient Seahawks.

The second game appeared competitive at first. The poorly named Washing Redskins started off strong at first sacking the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers for a safety then almost scoring a touchdown but getting stopped at the goal line. The Packers kept it up and took off in the end of the third quarter and the fourth to go on to win handily by seventeen points. 

The Packers will face the Cardinals. Arizona looks good but I am leaning towards the Packers. I think another Seahawks vs. Green Bay NFC Championship but then I haven't seen the Cardinals in action so I am not committed to this pick.

I was almost perfect in my picks except I was leaning towards the Bengals as a fan. I hadn't counted out the Steelers and I still think they might make it past the Broncos. I am excited to watch the divisional round next week!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

NFL AFC Wild Card

The first round of Wild Card weekend is over and fitting the name it certainly was a wild one. First off was the blowout by the Wild Card Kansas City Chiefs over the AFC South Champs Houston Texans. 
With J. J. Watt exiting earlier, the Texans never really had a chance. Their offense was weak and the Chiefs are a much more playoff calibre team. Kansas City will go on to face the New England Patriots in Foxboro Stadium next Saturday.

The second game was a real battle filled with anger and frustration. The officials had to throw so many flags but nothing could calm the emotions of these divisional rivals. The Pittsburgh Steeler triumphed over the Cincinnati Bengals in the final with some awful penalties and a fumble. The Bengals had it won after coming back from a deficit all game. Burfect intercepted a pass but the fumble gave Pittsburgh the ball with enough time to drive down the field and kick a field goal.

It sucks to see the Bengals fail again. They have a hell of a playoff losing streak going. The Steelers will face the Denver Broncos  next Sunday in Denver. 

Movie Review: The Forest


I usually go into horror movies with a benefit of the doubt knowing that it will probably not reach the same quality as other movies but as long as it scares me, I'm usually satisfied. The Forest is the usual horror film, not much as far as story goes following a cliche and using an attractive woman in the lead when another person might fill the roll better.

Natalie Dormer has a lot of potential as an actress and I wonder why she chose this role as a way to get her face out there after doing big films like the Hunger Games and participating in the amazing show Game of Thrones as Margery Tyrell. I would like to see her in more films and movies as she continues to grow her already impressive career. 

There were a few twists and turn and certainly some horrifying images that were thrown in to achieve jump scare. Taylor Kinney, who is interestingly Lady Gaga' fiance, has a neat role as a writer who helps Natalie's Sara venture into the haunted woods. He does a good job showing confusion as Dormer's character loses her mind.

The actual forest is based on a real place, and it is a scary idea to have a horror movie there. I would like to have seen more Japanese characters as this movie was in Japan, and it is always nice to get a better picture of a culture through film. This movie doesn't pull off too much and has an ending that suffers from vagueness and inconsistencies. I give it a three out of ten!

Movie Review: The Revenant


The powerful story of Hugh Glass's survival in the wilderness based on Michale Punke's book of the same name was depicted beautifully by the genius director Alejandro Inarritu and the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki. Leonardo Dicaprio does a convincing job as the tracker who fell in love with a native woman and struggles to survive. Tom Hardy does exceptionally well as the villain of this picture topping off a great year of performances. Domhall Gleeson and other supporting actors also do a great job.

The shots are so beautiful with plenty of panoramic images of the dazzling white wilderness. This movie drives home the idea that the natural world is harsh and unforgiving. Any moment when a character achieves sympathy from the viewer, they are immediately faced with dangerous circumstances and often don't get it out alive. Dicaprio's character Glass goes through an especially harsh time with a brutal attack from a bear that continues on even after the uncomfortable level has passed. The director did a great job showing Glass's recovery while still escaping from a war party of Native Americans.

The action ebbs and flows but the plot continues to build throughout and has a great climax that is filled with blood and tension. Inarritu is a master filmmaker and I have enjoyed his work since I saw Amores Perros and 21 Grams. I really like the way he tells a story and was glad he won the Academy Award last year.

Some critics have criticized this film but I thought it showed depth and was a moving piece of cinema. It entertained and was gripping emotionally. I am looking forward to seeing what Inarritu plans to do next. I think Dicaprio's performance was brilliant but I'm not sure it stands out in a great year of performances. Tom Hardy's villainous Fitzgerald was ruthless but a great character performed by an expert actor. This movie gets an eight out of ten from me!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Beer Review: Best Damn Root Beer Review



Best Damn Root Beer from Best Damn Brewing Company is the worst damn root beer I've tasted in a while. I was excited to get something that tasted like root beer but was still alcoholic. I'm always looking for a great tasting beverage. I am almost afraid this beer has ruined my taste for root beer if root beer wasn't so damn delicious. 

This kind of beer is something you drink and you just keep drinking because you can't believe something would taste this bad. I was so disappointed when I came home for some delicious chicken fajitas and found these sweet tasting brew having a very odd aftertaste. Now, I'm not experienced with these soda brews but this will turn me off of them for a while. 

With a low 5.5% abv, this beer will take three or four to feel any effects, but it is hard to get that far with these bottles. I had to buy spicy Cheetos just to drive the desire to drink these brews. I was so excited to have something sweet tasting and that may contribute to my disappointment. I don't even want to know what the hangover is going to feel like.

I've been training at a great bartending school so I wanted to take this time to announce that soon I will be rolling out some awesome new liquor drink reviews. I hope to find more tasty drinks than this one. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Top Ten Movies of 2015

Here are my favorite movies of last year!

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

2. Sicario

3. The Big Short

4. Spotlight

5. Straight Outta Compton

6. Beasts of No Nation

7. The Hateful Eight

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron

10. Brooklyn




Honorable Mention: The Revenant, The Danish Girl, Room, The Martian, Creed, Ex Machina, Trumbo, The Visit, The Walk, Trainwreck, Minions, Ant-Man, Dope, Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, Furious 7, The Gift, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Steve Jobs, Kingsman: The Secret Service, It Follows, Krampus, Concussion

This has been a great year for movies and even the Honorable Mention has top ten movies in another year. It was difficult decision and I will probably change my mind as soon as I post this list!