12 January 2011

NFL Preview Review

AFC West

San Diego101/2Under9Win
Kay Cee61/2Over10Win

I correctly foresaw the decline of SD and the maturing of KC, but completely whiffed on Den, whom I thought would be a middle-of-the-pack team. Also, I failed to see that Tom Cable might actually be a decent coach for Oak. Al Davis also failed to see this, but in his case after the season was over.

AFC South


Biggest whiff here was TN, whom I figured would be a playoff contender. I called Hou being disappointing and Jac being decent, but way overestimated Ind. Can you blame me?

AFC North


I knew Cin would never be good two years in a row. Believe it or not, I said Bal would go 12-4, which they did.

AFC East


Wow, wrong about a lot here, but nowhere more so than NE, whom I thought was in the twilight of the Brady-Belichick glory years. By the end of September I looked right, and a lot of people agreed with me. Now? Well... maybe next year.

NFC West

Saint Lou41/2Under7Lose

I was right about Sea being mediocre, but I was way off about StL. Also, I picked SF to win the division. I wasn't alone, mind you.

NFC North

Green Bay10Over10Push

Totally nailed MN here. Quote: "8-8 at best, maybe worse... I don't even think they'll come in second." Of course I was wrong about Chi, whom I always pick to be bad. In my defense, many Bears fans still think that team isn't very good. Also, I called Det just right.

NFC South


My wrongest pick of the entire preseason was definitely TB: "I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this team is not only terrible this year, I think they'll be terrible the following year as well." That's even worse than my Car pick. I had the right idea about NO, I was just off by a game.

NFC East

Big D10Under6Win

Right about Dal being a mess, nailed Phi at 10-6, woefully wrong about the Shanahan-McNabb combo in the capital. I actually picked them as my surprise division winner for the year. I don't think I'll take the over for that team again until Dan Snyder sells it.

Total: 15-15-2

11 January 2011

A list of every movie I paid to see in a theatre this year and a few brief thoughts on each

In chronological order, based on the wad of ticket stubs I just pulled out of the right pocket of the sweat pants I bike to work in every day. The designation "(R)" after the title stands for "repertory", as in not a new release. Some films are a couple years old but not designated thusly as this is their first domestic distribution.

Das weiße bande (The White Ribbon)
Michael Haneke, 2009; German
Haneke's most mature film by a pretty wide margin, largely by dint of the fact that it's the first one in which he longer seems to be consciously trying to torture the audience. A dark, subtle and excellent film.

The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow, 2009; English
Terrific movie. Great lead performance, great cinematography. Actually made me think it's be kinda neat to do that job, which is probably the worst job possible.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret In Their Eyes)
Juan José Campanella, 2009; Spanish
An intriguing mystery, a well told story, and just the sort of "quality entertainment" that comes out a few times a year and gives critics an excuse to complain that there aren't more like it. It helps to understand a little about Argentinian politics in the 1970s (which I didn't), but still quite enjoyable even if you don't.

Un Prophète (A Prophete)
Jacques Audiard, 2009; French, Corsican, Arabic
Did you know that in French prisons the inmates get fresh bread every day? My favourite detail from the film. Good solid crime drama, classic story of the kid who starts at the bottom and winds up in charge.

Madeo (Mother)
Bong Joon-ho, 2009; Korean
Excellent, one of the best films I saw this year. Bong reminds me of the early Cohen brothers, when each of their films was like a weird genre exercise. This one's a noir movie; he's also got a crime procedural, a quirky indie comedy and a monster movie to his credit.

Kasi Az Gorbehaye Irani Khabar Nadareh (No One Knows About Persian Cats)
Bahman Ghobadi, 2009; Persian
A bit thin as far as the story goes, the film is essentially an excuse to show a bunch of actual bands from around Tehran. No complaints here. My favourites: the angular math-rock band, the rappers and the stoner metal band. Despite my lack of emotional investment in the plot, I still found the ending ruinously unsatisfying.

Cremaster 1 (R)
Matthew Barney, 1995
The one with the blimps and the Boise State football stadium. Not the first one filmed, but a good start as far as viewing them goes.

Cremaster 2 (R)
Matthew Barney, 1999; English
Shown together with the first one, and a big improvement. Here's where the series gets really interesting. Also the only one with any dialogue, at least that I can remember. Also the one with Dave Lombardo from Slayer on drums.

Cremaster 3 (R)
Matthew Barney, 2002
The longest and best of the series, this one is awesome. It's the one with the Chrysler Building and the Guggenheim Museum in it. The demolition derby in the lobby is one of the most audacious things I've ever seen filmed.

Micmacs à tire-larigot (Micmacs)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2009; French
Overlooked this year, probably because it's not quite as substantive as Amelie or City, but I loved it. I wish I could think of a better word than whimsical, but for Jeunet's films I'm not sure there is one. A delight.

Please Give
Nicole Holofcener, 2010; English
Great performances, great script, a terrifically scathing indictment of white liberal guilt. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I don't think I've ever seen Catherine Keener play a character this vulnerable. Nor Oliver Platt one this funny.

Cremaster 4 (R)
Matthew Barney, 1994
The one with the race cars. The whole enterprise starts getting a little old here, but still a lot of interesting imagery to keep one occupied.

Cremaster 5 (R)
Matthew Barney, 1997
I thought this one was pretty boring. But overall I'm glad I had a chance to see the whole series.

Breathless (R)
Jean-Luc Godard, 1960; French, English
I had never seen this one before. It's good, but I wasn't floored. I guess when soemthing's been so influential for so long it can't possibly seem so revolutionary anymore. I think my favourite moment was early on, when the main character suddenly break the fourth wall, saying something poetic and oh-so-French right to the camera before telling the audience, "You can go screw yourself."

Winter's Bone
Debra Granik, 2010; English
Again, good but not great. This is being hailed by many critics as the best film of the year. Maybe it is. I mean, it didn't blow me away, but I'm hard pressed to find any flaws with it. And the lead actress's performance really is as good as everyone's saying it is. Plus, hey, Laura Palmer.

Underground (R)
Emile de Antonio, Haskell Wexler, Mary Lampson, 1974; English
An obscure documentary about the Weather Underground, who were all fugitives being sought by the FBI when interviewed for the film. A bit meandering, but an important time capsule. It's hard to imagine this sort of extreme political activism happening today, schizophrenics in Arizona notwithstanding.

Jay and Mark Duplass, 2010; English
Hilarious. Jonah Hill's performance is staggeringly weird; I really hope he gets a Best Supporting nomination. A positive indicator of the possibilities when the mumblecore generation get real budgets and actors.

Mother and Child
Rodrigo García, 2009; English
A great movie trapped inside of an OK movie, struggling to get out. There's some good storylines, writing and acting here, but the whole thing is way too heavy-handed. Really, couldn't Garcia have just let Annette Bening's performance breathe a little?

Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009; Greek
The most freakishly weird movie of the year. In a way, it's the kind of Michael Haneke movie that Haneke himself may have finally outgrown.

The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko, 2010; English
Revolutionary because it's so middle of the road. It's about a gay couple, but their sexuality is never even addressed as any sort of political or social issue. With all that stripped away, we're left with a straightforward family comedy about a slightly non-traditional family.

Christopher Nolan, 2010; English
This is one of those movies that's really good until you start thinking about it later, at which point it all sort of falls apart. For one thing, they cross the streams one too many times, so to speak. First if you get shot in a dream you wake up, but in this dream you go into a coma. First you should never use actual locations as dream locations, but in this dream you have to. I'm willing to accept just about any premise in a sci-fi story as long as it's kept consistent. Also, the climactic action sequence was too long, the build-up not long enough. Seriously, I wanted more investigation, less action. The set-up felt a bit rushed, whereas the actual mission was just endless.

Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz, 2010; English
I watched Happiness for the first time just a few days before watching this sequel, so I was able to recognise all of the characters and references pretty easily. An enjoyable film, but without a character as singularly challenging to the audience as Dylan Baker's in Happiness. Still, the little kid was pretty intriguing.

Pauline à la Plage (Pauline At the Beach) (R)
Eric Rohmer, 1983; French
They showed a whole pile of Eric Rohmer movies at Lincoln Centre for like a month, but this was the only one I caught. I'd never seen any of his movies before, and was pleased with this one. It's pretty light as subject matter goes, but the way he draws relationships between characters is effortless and masterful.

Nadja (R)
Michael Almereyda, 1994; English
A New York 90s indie time capsule, from the cast to the music to the jokes about Brooklyn. Drags a bit in the third act, but worth seeing just for the use of Pixel Vision.

Mesrine: L'instinct De Mort (Mesrine: Killer Instinct)
Jean-François Richet, 2007; French, Spanish, English
A good solid crime drama with a fantastic performance at its centre. Vincent Cassel is at once terrifying and irresistable.

Mesrine: L'Énnemi Public No. 1 (Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1)
Jean-François Richet, 2008; French
At some point here the story starts to drag a little, as it devolves into little more than one lurid crime setpiece after another. Worth seeing if only for the presence of Ludivine Sagnier, my favourite holy-shit-she's-hott actress of the year.

Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010; English
I liked this movie, and for the most part I believe that it's true. The only part I think they might have fudged is when they sudfdenly discover all of her lies over the course of one night in Colorado. I'm guessing they knew some of that stuff already and decided to shoot a scene for the sake of the story. Other than that, I have no trouble believing it.
The problem I had with it was their decision, when editing the film, to focus on their own experience, rather than use the footage as an opportunity to paint a portrait of the film's true heart and soul, Angela. She strikes me as a genuine outsider artist in the most fascinating sense, as in like Henry Darger-level, and I don't mean her paintings. I think the community of characters she has created (and is probably still creating) online is an immersive installation piece in a medium we have yet to even name. The filmmakers were not her victims, as they seem to be trying to make themselves out to be; they were her audience.

Never Let Me Go
Mark Romanek, 2010; English
While the sci-fi elements of the story present an intriguing premise that could have been explored further, the film instead focused on a somewhat dreary love triangle. But the idea of making a sci-fi film with almost no visual effects is an interesting challenge. Beautifully shot, by the way, as anyone familiar with Romanek's music videos would expect.

Enter the Void
Gaspar Noé, 2009; English
One of the most self-indulgent films I've ever seen, and I mean that in the best possible way. After the seizure-inducing opening credits, the opening scene in which the protagonist smokes DMT and just trips out on spacey visuals for about ten minutes sets the pace of the film so well that I was actually a little disappointed when the story was finally introduced. Love it or hate it (and I don't think anyone was on the fence about this one), you can't tell me you've ever seen anything like it before.

demonlover (R)
Olivier Assayas, 2002; French, Japanese, English
I loved this movie, absurd premise and all. Complex plot, characters whose motives and allegiances keep shifting, everything you want in a smart thriller. I also liked the global aspects of the film, a common thread of Assayas's more recent work. Besides the location shoots in both Tokyo and Paris, the film contained enough spoken English and French that neither can really be called the film's primary language.

Punching the Clown
Gregori Viens, 2008; English
A no-budget comedy about a struggling novelty songwriter starring a struggling novelty songwriter playing himself. I don't care for the musical genre, and had a lukewarm response to the film for pretty much the same reason: like most novelty songs, it's good for a few chuckles but not funny enough.

Fin août, début septembre (Late August, Early September) (R)
Olivier Assayas, 1998; French
Earlier Assayas in a more conventional French mode. A circle of friends lives, loves and copes with one of the group's terminal illness. A well-written and well-acted drama that dragged just slightly.

Four Lions
Chris Morris, 2010; English
If you're not familiar with Morris's previous work, go to a bootleg website and find some torrents of his British TV shows, specifically Brass Eye and Nathan Barley. As a brilliant and fearless satirist, a quirky comedy about a group of bumbling, slapstick English Muslims looking for a way to become martyrs by blowing up some infidels seems like a natural fit for him. Works in a lot of ways you wouldn't have expected.

Fair Game
Doug Liman, 2010; English
What seems on the surface a good, solid Hollywood political drama is actually a rather angry film, with Joe Wilson painted as a crusading hero, Valerie Plame the unfortunate victim of his tireless efforts to expose the truth. Highlights the underlying tragedy of our ongoing war in Iraq, in case we'd forgotten.

Tiny Furniture
Lena Dunham, 2010; English
A charming debut in the quirky-indie-comedy genre. Dunham is certainly a talent to be watched, but what subject matter will she turn to when she's exhausted the possibilities of talking about herself?

Raging Bull (R)
Martin Scorsese, 1980; English
Bill Simmons, who's seen a lot of them, believes that rewatchability is one of the primary criteria for a great sports movie. For this reason he says that Raging Bull doesn't cut it: certainly it's an admirable cinematic achievement, but too painful an experience to watch over and over. I disagree. I went through a phase when I watched this movie several times a week. Granted, this was a particularly dark period of my life, when I was subsisting largely on White Castles and cheap Scotch, but Raging Bull was there for me, and that's what counts.

The Agony and the Ecstacy of Phil Spector
Vikram Jayanti, 2008; English
The fascinating subject matter overcomes the poor documentary construction and leaves a film that is riveting in spite of itself.

Love and Other Drugs
Edward Zwick, 2010; English
For some reason the reviews led me to believe this was a smart indie comedy, but it's really a pretty generic Hollywood rom-com. A few bonus points for some smart criticism of America's pharmaceutical-industrial complex, but neither that nor the repeated exposure of Anne Hathaway's breasts (not to mention Jake Gyllenhall's buttocks) is enough to save the film.

Waste Land
Lucy Walker, 2010; English, Portuguese
This documentary about an artist making portraits out of trash from the world's largest landfill is surprisingly heartwarming, but also a bit unchallenging. There's very little conflict here, which is certainly not the fault of the filmmakers. It's a documentary; some things in life go off without a hitch.

True Grit
Joel and Ethan Cohen, 2010; English
After the delightfully weird and sadistic A Serious Man, the Cohens have swung back to mainstream entertainment mode, and done a fine job of it. The real star of the film is the idiosyncratic language, rescued from the original novel after having been watered down by the earlier adaptation starrting John Wayne. The cast clearly relishes chewing on some of the more convoluted turns of phrase, and it imparts a unique tone to what might have otherwise been a fairtly straightforward Western.

Favourites (new releases only):
Top five of the year in no particular order
Mother, Please Give, Cyrus, Dogtooth, Enter the Void, Four Lions
(I know that's six, I couldn't choose one to leave out.)

Lead performances:
Kim Hye-ja in Mother, Catherine Keener in Please Give, Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Vincent Cassel in both Mesrine movies, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Supporting performances:
Niels Arestrup in A Prophet, Amanda Peet in Please Give, John Hawkes in Winter's Bone, Jonah Hill in Cyrus, Nigel Lindsay in Four Lions

Ensemble performances:
Everybody in The Kids Are Alright and Life During Wartime was really good.

Micmacs, Never Let Me Go, Enter the Void

Inception, Enter the Void
And by the way, regardless of whatever complaints I had about Inception overall, I had no trouble following the five simultaneous storylines, in which time itself is moving at a different pace in each, during the climactic sequence. If that doesn't win the Oscar for editing, then I have no idea what an editor does.

One more interesting note: six of the new releases listed above were directed by women. Other than one co-director on a documentary, none of the repertory films were. This could mean that the selection process for the canon is heavily phallocentric, but I doubt it; I think there are just far more female directors nowadays. A good trend.

13 December 2010

Movie review: The Agony and the Ecstacy of Phil Spector

Phil Spector is the most important record producer in the history of Western popular music. And he would be more than happy to elaborate on that importance for you. Spector agreed to be interviewed extensively for this documentary during his first trial for the murder of Lana Clarkson (the trial ended in a mistrial; Spector was tried two years later and convicted). During this time, he explains why Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson are overrated, why Martin Scorsece and Robert DeNiro owe him their careers, and compares himself to Miles Davis, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Johann Sebastian Bach. All while protesting the various injustices of his concurrent trial.

Director Vikram Jayanti has stitched together these and some archival interviews, footage from the trial and vintage perormances of Spector's best-known hits into an oddly directionless film that seems to be trying to be several different movies at once, but never tries very hard. He presents some of the details of the murder case and sort of explains most of them. He plays a bunch of Spector's songs while running quotes of critical praise on the screen.

So what is this movie? Is it the story of the trial? Yes and no. Jayanti shows lawyers and witnesses testifying about just enough contradictory evidence to sow doubt in the viewer's mind as to Spector's guilt or innocence, but never makes any attempt to build a story out of the footage. So, OK, no. There's an occasional subtle parallel between the trial footage and the song being discussed, like when John Lennon's "Woman Is the N----r Of the World" plays under testimony about Clarkson's flagging career and struggles with depression and substance abuse, but it hardly qualifies as a running theme. Likewise, the critical appraisal of Spector's music feels underdeveloped. The quotes shown on screen are all from the same critic, and no one other than Spector is interviewed.

Still, the film remains compelling and often riveting due to the presence of Spector himself, surely one of the 20th century's great weirdos. At one point the interviewer(s? I can't tell if there are one or two voices from offscreen) takes what seems like a pretty big risk by asking Spector if his notorious afro hairdo was intentionally funny. Spector, surprisingly, concurs, and explains that the coiffure was intended as a tribute to Ludwig van Beethover, Albert Einstein and Detroit Pistons power forward Ben Wallace. And that hardly stands out as the most ridiculous statement to leave his mouth.

Spector is currently in jail, serving a 19 year sentence for the murder of Lana Clarkson. We can't mourn the loss of his continued musical output, as the last album he produced was released in 1980; he has been little more than an eccentric recluse ever since. But as Hunter Thompson once defiantly assured himself before an impending arrest, "Many great books have been written in prison." Please, Phil, if you're reading this (and I know you're not), use this time to crank out your memoirs. I'd read 'em.

09 December 2010

Movie review: Tiny Furniture

If you met Lena Dunham for the first time without knowing who she is, you might be surprised to find that she's best known for her body. This is because a video Dunham posted of herself in a bikini, bathing and brushing her teeth in a fountain on the campus of Oberlin College, received well over a million hits on YouTube, and inspired a litany of somewhat mean-spirited comments questioning Dunham's qualifications for a career in lingerie modeling.

What's great about Dunham is that she doesn't seem to give a shit. In Tiny Furniture, which she wrote and directed, Dunham appears, at various points throughout the film, wearing only a shirt and underpants, wearing only a sheer body stocking, and even nude in the shower (from a tasteful distance). And yet it never seems as though she is rubbing her delightfully rotund1 and imperfect form in the viewer's face á la, say, Beth Ditto. Instead she seems not to even notice her own body. Whereas some women choose to proudly rebel against a society that teaches them to hate their bodies and to starve, wax, nip, tuck, bleach them to perfection, Dunham has chosen to simply ignore the whole thing and worry about something else.

Like what to do with life after college. Tiny Furniture may be one of the most openly autobiographical "fictional" films ever made, and Dunham lays out the excrutiating details of what I assume is her life with a verve that would make Ross McElwee blush. Dunham plays Aura, who, like Dunham herself, has recently graduated from Oberlin College and moved back in with her mother in Tribeca. Her mother, an artist of some renown best known for her photographs of miniature furniture, is played not by a professional actress but by Dunham's own mother, an artist of some renown best known for her photographs of miniature furniture. Aura's sister is similarly played by Dunham's sister.

Beyond the film's verisimilitude, it is essentially a straightforward coming-of-age indie comedy. Aura reunites with Charlotte, her New York party-girl best friend, becomes estranged from Frankie, her bookish college best friend, gets a shitty job, quits her shitty job, and romantically pursues shitty men.

And while no one goes out of their way to make things any easier, the men in Aura's life are particularly awful. Jed is a freeloading ingrate who stays at Aura's (mother's) apartment, eats her (mother's) food, drinks her (mother's) wine and complains of having no money, all while sharing Aura's own bed without a hint of sexual reimbursement. Keith, on the other hand, is a manipulative sleaze who tries to get Aura to get him Vicodin from Charlotte, talks constantly of his problems with his girlfriend, then finally screws Aura in an abandoned parking lot. And no, not in a car. The scene is very cruelly and deftly presented as rock bottom for the main character. All this while Aura pines for her college boyfirend, a shallow hippie who moved out west after graduation to find himself. One hopes that Dunham has had better luck in the time since making the film. Lord knows Aura deserves better.

In short, the film is enjoyable if not earth-shattering, and makes the most of its genre's conventions without ever transcending them. It's in many ways the very definition of a promising first film. Based on this, I'd probably go see her next one.

Tangents & Clarifications

  1. Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for big thighs, and think Dunham's kinda hott.[Return]

09 September 2010

AFC Preview

Okay, kickoff tonight, done procrastinating, let's do this. From left to right:

AFC West

No idea what to make of this division. You'd think it's easy because the Chargers are the only good team, but I think they may be in for a down year. For some reason, of the other three teams, Denver has the best odds to win the SB but the worst to win the division. Care to comment, Vegas?

Al Davis's Very Own Los Angeles Raiders Of Oakland

Win total: 61/2
Division: 5-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
For some reason these guys are being picked to be decent this year, and by decent I mean maybe 8-8 if they're lucky. Did Tom Cable suddenly become a legitimate head coach? No, they just finally jettisoned JaMarcus Russell. Amazing to think that this team could probably prop up a department store mannequin under centre and get better odds than if Russell was starting. And that's no knock on Campbell, I like him, just not enough to close my eyes and picture him leading the 2010 Raiders to eight wins. I'm thinking more like 6-10 for the under.

The Los Angeles Chargers Of San Diego

Win total: 101/2
Division: 5-13
Super Bowl Exelvy: 12-1
They should win this division by default, but I still can't help but see them falling off a little. I mean, at this point any rookie RB is an upgrade over the washed-up LDT, right? Their D was clearly a weak point last year and they've done little upgrade it. They lost their number one wide out (although Gates is admittedly a 1A). Their kicker's a headcase, that's gotta cost them a close game or two. How long before the team stops buying into Norv Turner's philosophy of consistently underachieving? How long before everybody just wishes Rivers would shut the hell up? I'm thinking 10- for a slight under. And another first round playoff loss. And a new coach in 2011.

The Denver Broncos

Win total: 7
Division: 7-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 75-1
These guys are being viewed as doormats, and it's hard not to see why after last year's collapse. Plus, like SD, their top wideout is also gone. Who gets more catches this year, Malcolm Floyd or Eddie Royal? I think I'm going with Royal for this one, because I think SD will run more than they did last year and because the Broncos don't have Gates. Anyway, I like Orton, I think he's underrated as a middle-of-the-pack game manager. I think this team's good enough to go 8-8. Over.

The Dallas Texans Of Kansas City

Win total: 61/2
Division: 6-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
Interesting dark horse pick in some circles. I've read some sources with little enough faith in SD to pick these guys to take the division. I'm not gonna go that far, but I see no reason they can't go 8-8. Over.

AFC South

Toughest division in football? This one or the NFC East? Some might say the AFC East, but neither of the other two have an equivalent to Buf; even Jac's a fairly competitive squad. Still, the kings remain the kings until someone proves otherwise. And yeah, I know TN took the division title two years ago, but Ind still won 12 games that year.

The Houston Texans

Win total: 81/2
Division: 7-2
Super Bowl Exelvy: 25-1
Every year these guys get picked by one prognosticator after another to finally get over the playoff hump and make it in as a 9-7 six seed. And every year they fall just short. Not me. At this point it's like trying to pick the year the Colts finally fall off. Just pick them to match last year's performance until they do otherwise. That's how I feel about the Texans. Until they actually make the playoffs, I'm picking them to miss 'em. Having said that... 9-7? It's what they put up last year, missing the playoff cut by tiebreakers. This is one of the toughest over-unders of the year. The reason I'm picking under is because I don't think Schaub and Johnson will match the monster numbers they put up last year, and I don't see the team having improved enough in any other area to make up for it. 8-8.

The Houston Oilers Of Nashville

Win total: 81/2
Division: 4-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 40-1
Don't sleep on these guys; when was the last time Jeff Fisher put together two losing seasons in a row? Granted, Johnson's coming back to Earth, but if anything the tendency of opposing defenses to key on him will be a big advantage for Vince Young early in the season. Oak, Pit (without Ben Roethcheeseburger), @NYG, Den looks like a recipe to open with a hot streak and build from there. Remember, they won 13 games just two years ago with Kerry Collins at QB, and he's older than me. 11-5, easy over.

The Baltimore Colts Of Indianapolis

Win total: 11
Division: 5-11
Super Bowl Exelvy: 7-1
Most SB losers miss the playoffs the following year, but I mean, come on. This is the Colts we're talking about. They had a down year and only won the conference. last time they won less than twelve games... shit, I can't even remember. 12-4, over.

The Jacksonville Jaguars

Win total: 61/2
Division: 18-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
Poor Jacksonville. This really isn't a bad team, they just can't compete in this division. Garrard's pretty solid; he'll never be great, but he's good enough to win a playoff game or two if they could make it that far. MJD held up to the feature back demands last season and didn't get overused, so he should be fine by October. This team could probably win the NFC West outright, but I can't see them better than third here. Still, 7-9? 8-8? Seems reasonable, and that's over.

AFC North

The Cincinnati Bengals

Win total: 81/2
Division: 3-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 20-1
When was the last time these clowns had two good seasons in a row? They're really gonna hold off Pit and Bal to take the division title two years running? Doubt it. I picked these guys to make have a hot year too many times since the first year they made the playoffs with Palmer (the year of the infamous Kyle Vanden Bosch game), and I got burned a lot. Now I'm s'posed to be on board again? Let me make a bold prediction here: Terrell Owens will not play in another playoff game. 7-9? 8-8? Under either way. Sorry M—, I know you're believin' and I support that, I just can't join you. They're just too inconsistent, and I still don't think Marvin Lewis is a particularly good coach.

The Cleveland Browns Of Cleveland, Again

Win total: 51/2
Division: 20-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
First off, I like Mangini. I think he had a tough situation in New York, I think he's an underrated coach who will at some point put together a couple good years in a row. Secondly, I think Holmgren definitely knows how to build a contender. Thirdly, I think this team will definitely compete in 2011. This year they'll come in last. They will, however, go 6-10 for the over.

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Win total: 9
Division: 14-5
Super Bowl Exelvy: 20-1
This is another really difficult line, because they look kind of like a 9-7 team to me. I see a lot of people picking them as a playoff team, they'll be fine with Dixon, 2-2 before Ben gets back, etc. He did almost beat Bal last year, after all. And yeah, Tomlin's a strong coach, and yeah, they're rarely bad two years in a row, and yeah... okay, fine: 10-6, over.

The Cleveland Browns Of Baltimore

Win total: 10
Division: 2-3
Super Bowl Exelvy: 8-1
Easy pick, these guys are gonna be great this year, I know they're a hot pick, but I'm all over that bandwagon. Flacco's only gonna get better, he's got better passing weapons now, Rice is in his prime. The secondary was the weak spot last year and they haven't done much to address it, but it seems like they just beefed up their pass rush instead. Whatever works. 12-4, easy over.

AFC East

Okay, saved my boys for last. I'd just like to say that as I'm typing this, kickoff for the MN@NO game is less than ten minutes away. So I was late. Sue me. I'd also like to say this: most prognosticators are picking the Jets to take this division. Some are picking the Pats. I'm gonna go out on a limb and take the Fins. Why play it safe?

The Miami Dolphins

Win total: 81/2
Division: 3-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 25-1
Okay, halftime of the MN@NO game, let's finish this thing off. Henne's got a year under his belt, got Marshall to throw it to. Parcells knows what he's doing as far as putting a team together. 10-6, over.

The Buffalo Bills Of Toronto

Win total: 51/2
Division: 25-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
Chan Gailey has to be the most uninspired coaching hire in the NFL since... Dick Jauron. What a mess. I caught a ride home from my fantasy draft with my buddy D—, a lifelong Bills fan, and we got to talking about the future of the team. So depressing. D— says he'll stay with them till the end, and that the end is coming soon. Ralph Wilson's kids have shown no interest in taking over the team, so at some point he'll die and the team will be sold and moved, maybe to Toronto, maybe somewhere else. Did you know Wilson's never even lived in Buffalo? Has no interest in the city. Anyway, once their gone D— says he'll just pick another team. The fact that he's already resigned to this is the saddest part. 2-14, way under.

Your New York Titans Of New Jersey

Win total: 91/2
Division: 7-5
Super Bowl Exelvy: 10-1
I told my dad this season holds the new record for the earliest I've ever given up on the Jets. I decided they weren't making the playoffs before the draft. Too much hype, too many aging former stars (Redskins, anyone?), too many HBO cameras. Sanchez is just not good enough yet. I think the Rex years are gonna be good in the long run, but something about this season just strikes me as too much, too soon. 8-8, under.

The Boston Patriots Of New England

Win total: 91/2
Division: 6-5
Super Bowl Exelvy: 14-1
I'm gonna go on record right now as saying that the magical Brady-Belichick combo doesn't win another title. 2007 was their last great year and they couldn't even finish that one out. Moss is getting older, the defense is weak, and they've produced very few effective players in the last three drafts. Chad Jackson? Laurence Maroney? They'll keep retooling for a couple years and making the playoffs most of the time, but it's all downhill from here. Great memories if you’re a fan, and still a tough out, but nothing more than that. Not their year this year, not their year next year. 9-7, under.

07 September 2010

2010 NFL preview – NFC

Well well well, another NFL season is upon us and the IT department at work still hasn't blocked Sportsbook.com. So that's our odds source. Just after midnight on a Tuesday morning, so that leaves us about two and a half days until kickoff. Since it's a MN-NO rematch, we'll do the NFC first. From left to right on the map:

NFC West

The most stable quarterback position in this division belongs to the 49ers, who are starting Alex Smith. Seriously, that's what we're looking at here. Basically, it comes down to this: you have three potential "step-up" guys at the position. Bradford, Whitehurst (after Hasselbeck gets hurt) and Max Hall (after Anderson gets benched). If you think any one of these three has a breakout year, you pick that team to take the division. If not, you pick the Niners to win it by default.
The other interesting note here is that this year the NFC West and AFC West play one another. That cuts down on really brutal travel dates and pads everybody's schedules with more mediocre teams. Basically, if any of these teams turns out to be halfway decent they could coast to ten or even eleven wins. Then lose at home in the first round to a feisty wild card team that gets hot down the stretch. Watch for it.

The Seattle Seahawks

Total wins: 7
Division: 9-2
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
You guys all remember the Pete Carroll reigns in Boston and Jersey, right? Three years, 24-24, fired. Done it before and he'll do it again. Already stocking up on ex-Trojans who couldn't quite cut it at the pro level elsewhere, like perennial attitude problem Mike Williams. Check your voicemail, Leinart. That strategy worked so well for Steve Spurrier, so why not?
Nothing about their schedule jumps out at me, other than the NFCS games being oddly backloaded; the first one is @NO on 21 Nov. Everything about this team looks 8-8, but I'm not even confident enough about that to really pick it. Over by default, but don't tell me later that I told you to bet that. Ixnay on the division, no way on the SB.

The Santa Clara Forty-Niners

Total wins: 9
Division: 5-9
Super Bowl Exelvy: 25-1
Heavy bandwagon team, favoured to win the division presumably by sole virtue of their aforementioned QB stability. I always liked Smith when he came out of Utah because his reputation held that he was he was really book-smart, but I guess that's not an especially useful trait in pro football.
Their toughest obstacle is their schedule. They play NO, @Atl and Phi within their first five games, then @GB, @SD and AZ twice in their final six. Too much potential to fall into a losing streak there. These guys also look 8-8 to me. Under. I wouldn't bet any team to win this division, let alone the SB. Still, I guess I'm picking these guys for the division by default.

The Chicago Cardinals of Phoenix

Total wins: 71/2
Division: 13-5
Super Bowl Exelvy: 75-1
Well, their starting QB retired and the QB-in-waiting got cut, so they’re going with a guy who couldn't hold on to the starting job in Cleveland. But hey, don't forget, they also lost their second wideout and their defense and running game were never strong points either. And yet somehow I, uh... no. If they had a nice easy stretch in the middle of the schedule I could see them getting hot, but they don't. 6-10. Under.

The Los Angeles Rams of Saint Louis

Total wins: 41/2
Division: 16-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 200-1
Poor Steven Jackson. What the hell is still doing on this team? He's a terrific back whose prime is being completely squandered. By the time this franchise is competitive again, even by the most optimistic estimates, he'll be just about ready to hit the wall. So why haven't the Rams traded him? There must be trading partners out there who would pay dearly for a premium back, and Lord knows the Rams could use as many excess draft picks as they can get. There's really no reasonable explanation for this not happening. Anyway: 4-12. Under.

NFC North

Tough interdivisional draw here: these teams will all play the AFC and NFC Easts, which boast at least three playoff contenders each. In fact every team on that slate but Buffalo is a tough out. So take your expectations for each team and knock off one or two wins.

The Minnesota Vikings

Total wins: 91/2
Division: 2-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 10-1
Sorry Pete, but I think these guys are screwed. I can't see Favre having another season like the last one, and I think it'll be too late by the time Rice gets back. Plus, and I think this bears mentioning, Favre was accused of being detached from his teammates in his final seasons with the Pack and one year with the Jets. Then last year he's one of the boys again. Well of course he was; the team was winning. Will he be everybody's favourite uncle when they lose three in a row? Supposedly Favre finally got dragged back up north from his farm by his three best friends on the team, one from each unit: Jared Allen (D), Steve Hutchinson (O) and Ryan Longwell (ST). What's the common thread there? Favre's best friends on the team are old white guys. The majority of NFL players are not. I just think that Favre's inability to connect with his teammates on any meaningful level off the field has the potential to become a glaring lack once the good times grind down, which they never did last year. Watch this one. 8-8 at best, maybe worse, definitely under. I don't even think they'll come in second.

The Green Bay Packers

Total wins: 10
Division: 4-7
Super Bowl Exelvy: 7-1
Everybody expects these guys to waltz to a division title and I'm no exception. Given my expectations for a collapse in MN, that leaves them with exactly no competition. The aforementioned division pairings make the schedule a little tougher, but let's face it, this is an elite team that should have no trouble handling mid-level wild card contenders like Mia and NYG (both at Lambeau). 11-5, maybe even 12-4, over. Take those division odds, too. They'll win it by a resting-starters-in-December margin. I even like those SB odds.

The Chicago Bears

Total wins: 71/2
Division: 6-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 40-1
Don't believe the hype. Yes, Mike Martz will install an up-tempo, pass-heavy attack, but that just means Cutler will have more chances to throw interceptions. Everything about this team says mediocrity, but I think a brutal stretch at the end of the schedule dooms them. I'm thinking 5-5 with playoff hopes alive after Thanksgiving, but Phi, @Det, NE, @MN, NYJ, @GB has serious 1-5 potential. Under.

The Detroit Lions

Total wins: 51/2
Division: 18-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 100-1
I'm optimistic about this team. QB should be better, good rookie RB, top-tier number one WR, mid-level upgrades throughout the defense. They'll fall behind early just because they get all three divisional road games in the first four weeks, but if their coach can hold them together they could scratch out six wins. Maybe. Over.

NFC South

Every time I read about this division I am reminded that no team has ever won it two years in a row. I say Atlanta continues that trend this year. Not mentioned as often: all four teams have made the SB within the last twelve years. Probably meaningless.

The New Orleans Saints

Total wins: 101/2
Division: 1-2
Super Bowl Exelvy: 7-1
When you get down to it, this team has a great QB, just-above- to just-below-average everything else, and no glaring weaknesses. Add to that a strong coaching staff and... well that's how far a great QB can take you. Everything else is just filling in the blanks. My point is that the Saints had a great season last year but they don't look dominant for the long haul. They didn't even look great at this time last year; they just had a great season. And I'm not trying to take an ounce of that away from them, I'm just saying this team is not a dynasty and will most likely regress to the mean this year. They might start hot, but I think their home game against Atl week 3 shows who's the stronger team this year. You can bet that game early, by the way. Falcs are getting 61/2. Take it. Anyway, Saints: 10-6, under.

The Atlanta Falcons

Total wins: 91/2
Division: 19-10
Super Bowl Exelvy: 20-1
Not a radically different team than the Saints, really. Everybody's decent, nobody's great. Saints have the edge at QB, obviously, and head coach. Falcs get the edge in O-line continuity, though, and that's a hidden factor that can make a huge difference. Bounce-back year for Ryan, off year for NO, division title at 11-5. Over.

The Tampa Buccaneers

Total wins: 51/2
Division: 15-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 200-1
I'm gonna go ahead and call this team the biggest mess in the league. Buf's sort of reliably crappy, Det's finally putting some pieces together, StL at least seems to have a plan in place, Cle's got Holmgren in the driver's seat... what the hell is TB doing? Did you know Raheem Morris still hasn't hired a defensive coordinator? Think for a minute: how many players on this team were drafted in your fantasy league? Maybe Caddy Williams, maybe Kellen Winslow, definitely no wideouts. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this team is not only terrible this year, I think they'll be terrible the following year as well. Write it down. 3-13, under.

The Charlotte Panthers

Total wins: 7
Division: 10-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 75-1
This team went 8-8 last year. Their only major roster loss is Julius Peppers, who was overrated anyway. They lost a bunch of mid-level free agents on defense and added several more to replace them. They still have two solid running backs, one great wideout, a top-notch o-line and good coach. The one thing you can say for sure is that, with the departure of Jake Delhomme, they are almost certain to commit fewer turnovers this year. They won't be great, but I just can't see them being much worse than 8-8. Over.

NFC East

A monstrous division at first glance, in which all four teams could not only win it but even win a playoff game or two. But close inspection reveals potential cracks in each. I have no idea who will win it, but I think it won't be Dallas. That's just too easy. I'm gonna go out on a limb and pick the 'Skins, for three reasons: (a) McNabb bias; I've always liked the guy; (b) best odds, so if they do win it's a decent payoff; and (c) why not? Are the other teams that much better? Every year there's a surprise team or two. You can't tell me there's no chance it'll be DC this year.

The Dallas Cowboys of America

Total wins: 10
Division: 1-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 8-1
Because Wade Phillips isn't as bad as his rep, but just isn't good enough. Williams and Bryant makes two nutjobs at wideout. Because Jerry Jones has been announcing his own plan for the RB rotation in interviews. Because there's uncertainly at he kicker position, which is just asking for at least one close lost on a missed field goal. But for one reason more than any other: because Tony Romo has a terrific golf handicap. And if he spends that much time on the links, he doesn't spend enough in the film room. 9-7, under. Merry Christmas, Wade. Here's your pink slip.

The Redskins of Columbia

Total wins: 71/2
Division: 6-1
Super Bowl Exelvy: 30-1
So much to like here. I just think all the new parts fit nicely. The two main backs (Fast Willie got cut) may be on the downside, but the coach is great at splitting carries, and that'll keep everybody healthy. The OLT's a rookie, but the QB still moves outside the pocket well. Plus he's well-suited to the coach's offense. Most of all I just think this is the one team in the division that doesn't look like they're about to take a step back. 10-6, over for my favourite bet of the preseason.

The Philadelphia Eagles

Total wins: 81/2
Division: 14-5
Super Bowl Exelvy: 30-1
It's hard to really bet against Andy Reid. Say what you will about his clock management (and many have), but his teams are always well-prepared and competitive. The guy seems to know what he's doing on a year to year basis. That's why I feel like giving him the benefit of the doubt on the QB switch. The Iggs finally have solid young skill guys on offense, which McNabb got by without for years. I have no trouble believing that Reid can go 10-6 with his new QB and the same old stalwart defense. Over.

The New Meadowlands Giants

Total wins: 81/2
Division: 14-5
Super Bowl Exelvy: 20-1
When the going got rough last year these guys really started to look like a team that was tuning out the coach, which is a worrying sign going forward. They were pretty banged-up last year, especially on D-line, which has been the team's biggest strength in the Coughlin era. But most of the guys who got hurt are still under 30, so that was probably a fluke, not a sign of a veteran team in physical decline. It's more the O-line they need to worry about, at least as far as age goes. Other than that... good QB with solid wideouts, more reloading on the D-line in the draft, proven coach... why does this look like an 8-8 team? I can't explain it, but my gut says under and I see no reason not to trust it.

20 October 2009

Brief Review Of Hideous Movie

KIDDING! I just liked the way the joke worked. I just saw Jahn Krasinsky (main guy on American The Office)'s adaptation of David Foster Wallace's short story collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. Get it? My joke, I mean.

The flick's not bad. It's not great. It's OK. Only a few days left at the IFC on 6th so I figured I'd better see it.

The "plot" concerns a grad student interviewing men about relationships (and a few other topics) for a nebulous research project about feminism. There's a few scenes about her own relationship ending and a few more about an overzealous student of hers and his shocking paper, but there's really not much of a story per se.

You can kind of tell that it's a first-time film written and directed by an actor. It's got a great cast of indie film (and rock! Duder from Death Cab!) vets; they each take turns addressing a juicy monologue to someone just to the left of the camera; and there's some clumsy "arty" editing with a few heavy-handedly ironic cuts.

So overall it's a little insubstantial as a movie, and I probably wouldn't recommend it too highly to a non-Wallace fan. But as a fan letter-slash-loving tribute to Wallace I think it's worth seeing. Krasinsky certainly doesn't desecrate the man's work, and is reportedly a big fan. He shows up at all the conventions, and has spent several years making it his own pet project to get Wallace's work to the screen (big or small). The closing credits start with a great Wallace quote. There's a copy of Infinite Jest on a table behind the desk in Tim Hutton's office (look for it). Details a fan would insert for other fans to recognise. As a fan, it made me happy. Definitely puts Krasinsky in the upper tier of the list of people I'd like to see develop the Jest as a 30-hour HBO miniseries.