Jon Cazares

Jon Cazares

%PM, %09 %937 %2018 %21:%Jan

The NFL Divisional Playoffs 2018

Late November I wrote my snotty predictions for the playoffs and, to be honest, I was pretty accurate. But so were most sports pundits. It wasn't too hard to predict by then.

 

Then: the four major players in the NFL were the Eagles, the Patriots, the Steelers and the Vikings with the Saints as the number one wild card team.

 

Now: The four major players have proven to be: the Patriots, the Saints, the Steelers and the Vikings.

 

Sorry, Philly fans, as soon as your QB1 went down in week 15 your fate as a one and done playoff team was sealed.

 

On the other hand I think every football fan was shocked to see the Tennessee Titans snatch a victory away from KC with their 18 unanswered points. KC fans were probably sick about that.

 

And speaking of the Chiefs - what idiot breaks news that you are open to trading your star quarterback hours before your playoff game? You know, your star QB that led the fucking NFL in passer rating, averaged almost 6 yards per rush and wins your division for you?

 

Yeah, let’s get rid of that guy. And let’s tell the world about it a few hours before he plays for us in the Wild Card playoff match.

 

Sheer. Genius.

 

But I digress. We have eight teams left in the playoffs:

 

NFC (National Football Conference)

 

Atlanta (11-6) vs. Philadelphia (13-3) and New Orleans (12-5) vs Minnesota (13-3)

 

AFC (American Football Conference)

 

 

Tennessee (10-7)  vs. New England (13-3) and Jacksonville (11-6) vs. Pittsburg (13-3)



Tennessee Titans vs. the New England Patriots

 

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. The Tennessee Titans are worst team in the line up. Through sheer determination, luck and the “Chief’s can’t win a fucking playoff game to save their lives” curse - the Titans barely squeaked into the Divisional round but that’s where their season ends.

 

Prediction: New England will crush the overwhelmed Titans.

 

Atlanta Falcons vs. The Philadelphia Eagles

 

The second easy one. With Carson Wentz injured the Eagles are no longer a Super Bowl contender with QB2 Nick Foles leading the team. Foles has had a long decent, though inconsistent career. He’s a fine QB. He is not the man that will beat the Falcons.

 

Prediction: Atlanta Falcons -- but the game will be a closer than  most suspect.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers

 

This is little more difficult to predict. “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is on fire and the Steelers put up the number three offense in the league behind only the Patriots and the Saints. But Jacksonville put together the most uncanny defense the league has seen in a while. Seriously. My roommate had Jacksonville for defense on his Fantasy Football team and he told me about it every week for the entire season:

 

“The Jaguars got me another fifty points on defense! Fifty points! That’s more than Tom Brady!”

 

By comparison the Steelers have the 5th ranked Defense and Jacksonville has the 6th ranked offense. Though, that #6 rank for Jacksonville has mainly been because of the Jag’s excellent running game. In fact, Jacksonville’s QB1 - Blake Bortles had a rather mediocre year being ranked 17th in passing offense - 3,687 yards, 7 yards per throw, 230 yards per game, 21 TD / 13 INT.

 

I just don’t see Bortles cutting up the Steelers defense and I expect Pittsburgh’s pass rush to keep Bortles on the ground. A lot.

 

BUT -  if Jacksonville’s crazy, madman defense shows up healthy, I can see Jags eeking out a win over the Steelers.

 

I think this game could go either way but I’m giving the edge to the Steelers.

 

Prediction: The Steelers in a moderate to low scoring game.

 

New Orleans Saints vs. The Minnesota Vikings

 

Finally. The game of the week. Maybe the most evenly matched game the playoffs will see this year.

 

Hey, remember up above when I talk about that crazy awesome defense the Jag’s put up?  Well, the Jag’s ended up with number two defense of the year. The best defense of the year belongs to the Minnesota Vikings.

 

The Vikings are first in per game points allowed (15.8), first in per game yards allowed (275.9), second in per game pass yards allowed (192.4) and second in per game rush yards allowed (83.6). The Vikings are crushing opponents on critical third down plays. Case Keenum is having the season of his career. Adam Thielen is a wide receiving super star. The front line is healthy and the running game is solid.

 

The Vikings are a solid football team.  

 

Of course, the Saints have Drew Brees. They also have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara - the duo backs who have crushed defenders this year and became the first ever combo to surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.

 

The Saints are also, a solid football team.

 

On the other hand, the MN Vikings have Harrison Smith. Now, even if you’re a casual fan of the NFL you’ve probably heard of him. And you’ve probably heard he’s good. Or maybe you even think he’s really good.

 

And so did I. But someone recently convinced me he might be the best current player in the NFL. And that’s not hyperbole either.

 

Well, I mean - I’ve always thought Smith was an elite player and believe he was a total snub for the Pro Bowl this year. But, I mean - best player in the NFL? Come on!

 

And then someone went and put together Smith’s numbers for the year and posted, “No matter how good you think Harrison Smith is, he’s better than you think he is.

 

From the article:

 

“Harrison Smith had a passer rating allowed of just 22.0 this season … Just to be clear, that’s not normal. Earl Thomas, arguably the best coverage safety in the NFL, had a passer rating allowed of 80.9 this season. Smith was four-times better than that. Throwing the ball into the dirt on every snap would grant a quarterback a passer rating of 39.6. And yet that would still be nearly twice as good as throwing the ball at Harrison Smith.”

 

And later,

 

“Smith didn’t give up a touchdown in coverage all season, and he had five interceptions and 17 pass deflections. Smith was targeted 42 times on the season, giving up just 23 receptions for 140 yards. For comparison, Earl Thomas gave up more yards (160) on less than half the amount of targets. Smith’s 0.25 yards allowed per coverage snap is among the lowest of any player at any position in the NFL, and his passer rating allowed is absolutely unprecedented.”

 

Bloody hell! That can’t be right! Right? Let me Google some more Harrison Smith information and see if that above information is accurate.

 

Google. Google. Google.

 

Dear God! It is! A QB could throw the ball into the dirt and have a better passing rating than throwing the ball to a receiver covered by Harrison Smith! Holy, insane!

 

Here is what the Pro Football Focus (PFF) has to say about Harrison Smith:

 

“There has been no better player across all positions than Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, who has been the field general for the league’s best defense over the course of the year. Smith’s overall PFF grade of 98.8 was the best mark in the league not only among safeties, but at any position, and is the highest mark we have ever given a safety in over 10 years of grading. His ability to play all over the defense for the Vikings – lining up at both free and strong safety on more than a third of his defensive snaps and even covering the slot against both tight ends and receivers – allows that defense to scheme up virtually anything they want, knowing that they have the moveable chess piece to make it happen and get the right players in the right spots.”

 

Fair enough. I’m sold. (Read the above ”No matter…” link for even more unreal Harrison Smith statistics).

 

Which brings us to:

 

Drew Brees. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Vikings are the more rounded, better team but the Saints have Drew Brees. You know what I’m talking about.

 

It’s like being a fan of a team that has to go against Joe Montana, or Dan Marino, or Tom Brady, or Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers. And sometimes you have to go against those QB’s twice per year!

 

That’s painful!

 

And that’s what brings us to the game of the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints met in week one with the Vikings taking that game 29-19 but that was seventeen weeks ago. Both teams are radically changed and more mature.  

 

If this were a pure numbers game I would say the Vikings have the edge. But there’s that ol’ “clutch” word that gets thrown around the NFL basically meaning, “when it really, really matters - you come through in the clutch.”

 

Drew Brees is serious clutch.

 

But then again, so is Harrison Smith.

 

Prediction: The Vikings in much too close game for my nerves to handle. But, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints win. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised because - Drew Brees.

 

Second prediction: Whoever wins the Viking / Saints matchup will win the Super Bowl.

--

 

If you like this you might like GCN's very own sports show, View From the Couch

 

%PM, %02 %886 %2018 %20:%Jan

New Year, same old Midwest freeze

Another year, another Midwest record breaking cold front. The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories, freeze warnings and an approaching “arctic cold front” to a large portion of the country ranging from mid Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England.

 

Of course, if you live in the Midwest, like I do, you’re already familiar with the cold as we’ve all been living with it for more than a week now. Just last week GCN’s guest medical columnist Dr. Daliah Wachs wrote “How to Prevent Hypothermia” anticipating the cold front.

 

Last week temperatures in MN plunged to -37C making my home state colder than Antarctica (-16C) and even colder than parts of Mars. Author Andy Weir knows what we are going through -- he writes in his novel, “The Martian:”

 

“And thanks to decades of reconnaissance by Curiosity, Opportunity, and the rest of NASA’s band of merry Rovers, we know most of what astronauts will need to survive on Mars once they get there: souped-up spacesuits to protect against massive dust storms and sub-freezing temperatures; tons of freeze-dried food; housing pods that can shield against radiation; and a big drill to unlock the frozen water beneath the Mars surface. It’s not easy living, but not too unlike, say, Minnesota.”

 

Thanks, Mr. Weir! We Minnesotans will keep that in mind. =)

 

Anyway. Stay warm. Keep your pets indoors or keep their outdoor activities to the bare minimum, and dream of warmer days.

 

They are not so far away.


----

 

If you like this you might like The Dr. Daliah Show

%PM, %22 %035 %2017 %23:%Dec

Five great games for your phone!

Need a last second holiday gift? Looking for a way to spend that Christmas Google Play or itunes gift card? I have just what you need -- awesome, cheap games for your phone!

 

Everyone has played Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and Limbo (but if you haven’t you should totally check them out) so I went a different route. Normally I play games on a console or PC, which tend to be more story based than traditional point and click phone games. But it occured to me that many of the story based games I love and play are probably available for your phone.

 

So I checked. And I found some!

 

Here are a few of my favorites presented alphabetically:

 

The Banner Saga 1 & 2: I really love this game. It’s a great mix of storytelling and turn based tactical combat. The art is gorgeous and the story choices are sophisticated enough to keep you guessing. From the website of game designer Stoic Games:

 

“Epic role-playing Viking saga where your strategic choices directly affect your personal journey. Make allies and enemies as you travel with your caravan across a stunningly beautiful, yet harsh, landscape. Carefully choose those who will help fight a new threat that jeopardizes an entire civilization. Every decision you make in travel, conversation and combat has a meaningful effect on the outcome as your story unfolds. Not everyone under your banner will survive, but they will be remembered.”

 

Playing time: Approx. 10ish hours to complete the main quest in Banner Saga 1 with perhaps 15ish hours to complete Saga 2. Additional hour can be spent in game play through Survival Mode - a series of increasingly difficult battles! (I just got killed in battle 32 of 40. Must start over. Arggh!)

Repeat playability: High. Adjust game play to a higher difficulty and try a second Saga or play Survival Mode after completing the main story.  

Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.  

Cost - depending on platform: $5 -$10

 

Beholder: A really fun game set in a grim dystopian future where an oppressive totalitarian State controls every aspect of private and public life. And it’s your job to root out anyone who speaks our or acts against the State! Of course you can rage against the State and hide the on going deeds of your tenants, if you wish -- just don’t get caught. Warning - this game is hard! From the Warm Lamp Games game designer site:

 

“You are the State-installed manager of an apartment building. Your daily routine involves making the building a sweet spot for tenants, who will come and go; however, that is simply a faced that hides your real mission … spying on your renters! Your primary task is to covertly watch your tenants and eavesdrop on their conversations. You must bug their apartments while they’re away, search their belongings, and profile them for your superiors. You must also report anyone capable of violating the laws or plotting subversive activities against the State to the authorities.”

 

Playing time: Several hours to finish the main story with an additional 20ish hours in order to unlock all possible endings.

Repeat playability: High.

Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.

Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5

 

Heart’s Medicine: Time to Heal: A super charming point and click time management game -- that happens to be a touching medical based drama. What sets it apart from many point and click games is the tender storyline woven between game goals.

 

Game designer Blue Giraffe says:

 

“Heart’s Medicine - Time to Heal is an intense medical drama tied into a casual game this is moving people to tears. The game has a gripping and unique storyline, original singer/songwriter music, highly detailed artwork and animation, cool addictive gameplay and an insane amount of heart … Become a doctor in a romantic medical drama and join the life of aspiring surgeon Allison Heart as she works her shifts at Little Creek Hospital. Experience love, intense action, realistic drama, crazy funny moments and the beauty of celebrating life!”

 

Playing time: Approx. 20 hours.

Repeat playability: Medium. Once the story is over you can repeat gameplay but without the darling story it becomes a standard diner dash game.

Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.

Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5

 

The Silent Age: A clever little point and click drama that bounces back and forth in time. This game is more story driven than game driven. Solving the puzzles won’t be much of a challenge for most savvy game players but the story writing is strong and the plot becomes more compelling as it moves forward. The game is downloaded as five separate chapter so make sure you get chapter one!

 

Game developer House on Fire says:

 

“Help Joe as he travels between the groovy present of 1972 and the apocalyptic future of 2012 to discover the truth behind humankind’s extinction - a quest entrusted to him by a dying man from the future. Use your portable time travel device to solve puzzles that bring you closer to answers and saving humanity.  Winner of the 2013 Causal Connection Indie Prize.”

 

Playing time: Approx. 6 hours.

Repeat playability: Low. Once you know the story -- you know the story.  

Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.

Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5

 

This War of Mine: This absolutely gorgeous black and white shaded game is a gut wrencher. A survivalist war game unlike anything I’ve played. After several times (about ten hours game time) I’ve yet to survive to see the end of the war. I’ll let the folks from 11 Bit Studio, the game designers, explain it for you:

 

“In This War of Mine you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city; struggling with lack of food, medicine and constant danger from snipers and hostile scavengers. The game provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle .... The pace of the game is imposed by the day and night cycle. During the day snipers outside stop  you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout: crafting and trading and taking care of your survivors.At night, take one of your civilians on a mission to scavenge through a set of unique locations for items that will help you stay alive … Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them for longer-term survival. During war, there are no good or bad decisions, there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.”

 

Playing time: The game is won when the war ends which is randomly decided each time you load a new game. I would say approx. ten-ish hours to finish the story once.  

Repeat playability: High. Each play through will bring completely different challenges.

Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.

Cost - depending on platform: $4-$14.

 

As a long time Star Wars lover I honestly believe there are only two terrible Star Wars films. The first: The Star Wars Christmas Special, which remains the holocaust of television. It’s technically not part of canon but it’s so bad I have to mention it.

 

I’m ignoring the Ewok films because they are not canon. Besides, I've only seen them once and I was a kid so I remember nothing about them.

 

The Clone War animated series is technically canon Star Wars but it's five seasons long. Perhaps one day I will get around to watching them. Today is not that day.

 

So it really just comes down to the other Star Wars movie that I think is terrible. A film so awful I will go out on a limb and proclaim it to be one of the worst ever made, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

 

Aside from that one film, most Star Wars movies are -- well, mediocre. Which means I am splitting hairs deciding that one mediocre film is better than another. You know what, I’ll assign letter grades to help with the process. I mean, we all understand that a C + is better than a C, which is better than a C -, despite the fact they are all average. This also means that my opinion of them is so close that I could easily shuffle a lot of those C movies around, but for today, here's where they stand.

 

But how can I claim to love Star Wars and then say the majority of the movies are -- "Meh, they're okay." It all about the execution, man! So, the SW universe continues to enchants me. When they're good, they're great. When they're mediocre, they're still - set in the SW universe (and they probably feature light sabers!) =)

 

To be fair there is plenty to like and dislike in most Star Wars films. And while going to the movie theater can be an experience it's sometimes hard to separate that experience, from the movie itself. I mean, seeing Star Wars in the theater when you are five years old is AN EVENT. And from there it's hard to create an objective analysis of what works and / or does not work in the movie itself.

 

But I’ll try. Though, Luke is probably right -- “This will not work out that way you think.”   

 

As a final note, I am fascinated with the Star Wars Ring Theory and, if it’s one hundred percent accurate, it means that the directing sophistication of all six of Lucas’ SW films are staggering to comprehend. If the Ring Theory is not one hundred percent accurate then, well -- George Lucas still remains an incredible producer and a very skilled director. Regardless, neither one of those things make Lucas a better writer. And that's always been the pratfall of the execution of Star Wars films. I honestly believe that George Lucas creates great stories. But when it comes to transforming his broad story into a day to day detail of what characters say and do -- well ...

 

Take Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope (which I will henceforth refer to as, “Star Wars”). A lot of George’s dialogue is clunky and hamfisted and it’s a testament to the skill of the actors that they pull it off with any sort of believability. Harrison Ford is famously known for making fun of George Lucas’ dialogue, he shared this story in a GQ interview while promoting The Force Awakens:

 

“George usually sits near a monitor, far removed, so I had to convey my impression…or my feelings…about the dialogue across a great space," the actor recalled. "So I did shout it. ‘George! You can type this shit, but you sure can't say it! Move your mouth when you're typing!’”

 

Later, Ford was asked if he thought he offended George by making fun of the dialogue and Harrison replied, "He sold the company for, you know, $4 billion. He doesn't give a shit what I think."

 

Maybe. But it is true that Star Wars has always had ham fisted dialogue. And when you cast well, your actors can absorb it and make it believable as Ford, Fisher, Liam Neeson, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guiness did.  If you do not cast well and / or end up with child actors, like Jake Lloyd and CW-esq. over emoter Hayden Christensen -- then dialogue issues become exacerbated.

 

And that’s it. Dialogue. Acting. Adventure. Entertainment. Tone. That’s Star Wars for me. That's what I watch for - though, not necessarily in that order. And finally, if you’re going to make a SW film -- it better have a lightsaber in it.  Just sayin.



My Star Wars Feature Film List Ranked Worst to First:

 

 

WORST: Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. Director: George Lucas. Writers: George Lucas & Jonathan Hales (w/ rumored uncredited script “doctoring” by Carrie Fisher and Tom Stoppard). It’s very easy to trash bad movies, but Episode 2 is so staggeringly bad it defies -- well -- it kind of defies words. Attack of the Clones is, frankly - completely incompetent. The poor actors in Clones are saddled with a specifically brutal level of hamfisted sentences and each and every one of those inglorious lines are mangled beyond acting comprehension by Hayden “fucking” Christensen. Natalie Portman suffers with the same dialogue that Christensen does, but she is clearly the more talented actor of the two and is at least tolerable to watch on screen. Christiansen is so bad in every scene I can’t actually blame the actor. It’s the director's exact responsibility to notice when an actor needs help finding acting choices that work. Lucas clearly just couldn’t do it. Lucas uses the same two directing phrases over and over, “Say the lines faster (or slower)” and “Yes, but better next time.”  If you’re Liam Neeson, you can work with that level of non-direction. Hayden Christensen is not Liam Neeson. Nothing about Clones works; from the ridiculous over the top droid factory scene, the soul crushing amount of actors trapped in CGI hell (as in, an actor “acting” to an empty green room which does nothing but create wooden performances) and / or Hayden Christensen just flat out ruining scene after scene with the mind numbing dialogue. Can you imagine all the other humiliated actors who read for teenage Anakin Skywalker and did not get the part?  I wonder if each and every one of them saw Attack of the Clones and thought, “Wait, Lucasfilm casting department thought THIS GUY was better than me? I should probably go kill myself now!” I honestly believe if Attack of the Clones was not a Star Wars film it would be widely regarded as a Battlefield Earth-esq disaster of a movie. Sadly, the SW moniker creates too many apologists. Episode 2: Attack of the Clones: F

 

Epispode. 3: Revenge of the Sith. Writer / director: George Lucas. And here begins the run of mediocrity. There is not much to hate in Sith. Instead it's is more like a film of giant missed opportunities. Nothing in Episode 3 is as good as it should be, no moment as satisfying as it could be. Much like the action sequences in Clones, they are equally over produced.  The drama plays exactly as you expect it to. Christiansen, a bit older, isn’t as awful as his blisteringly bad Ep. 2 performance. To be fair, Christiansen evilly hams it up to the degree Lucas probably directed him too. Ewan McGregor remains the minimal heart and soul of the film, in that - he’s fine. He’s no Luke Skywalker or Han Solo or Princess Leia but his Obi Wan is -- well, fine. He’s a little too bitchy and harsh in Ep. 2 and I never warmed up to him as a lead in Ep. 3 I think as written, Kenobi is flat and hollow and McGregor doesn’t do much to wake the character up.  I certainly take issue with a few questionable script choices; the Darth Vader -- “Nooooooo!” probably could have been handled better. Or that fact that, once again, the Jedi totally forget they have powers that they have actively demonstrated to possess - over and over again. I’m specifically thinking of the opening space battle over Coruscant where Ani and Kenobi should both just use the bloody Force to knock the buzz droids off each other’s ships instead of the ridiculous and dangerous flight stunts they perform. It’s just one of those moments where “the screenplay says it happens this way” despite the fact it ignores all of the rules SW has created in the previous five films. Revenge of the Sith, much like Ep. 2 completely abandons the oft used “less is usually more” rule, Lucas directs scenes of lifeless, mediocre action & emotionless, predictable drama. Finally, I know this actor was in the previous two movies but Sam Jackson is totally miscast and should not be in the SW prequels. Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith: C -

  

A Star Wars Story: Rogue One. Director: Gareth Edwards. Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. This film, I suspect, many of my SW loving friends and allies will put much higher on their list. Fair enough. I just don’t understand the love. Rogue One wants to be a war film first, a SW film second. You already lost my support. There are plenty of options for filmmakers to create dark and cynical movies with war themes that focus heavily on believable trauma and the horrific toll created by war. But SW has a well established tone and Rogue One wants it both ways. The film wants to be about war, and trauma, and sacrifice but it also wants dopey SW humor & push cuts which creates a massive tone clash. I mean, what’s next? A Superman film that turns Kal-el into a bitter, brooding, cynical jackass who murders people to solve his problems? Because no one would do that! (Suck it Man of Steel). I haven’t even  mentioned the fact the Rogue One has like, thirty lead characters. Who are all these poorly drawn characters and why should I care about any of them?  Well, I don’t. As a matter of fact most folks who love Rogue One can’t answer this basic question, “Name one of the characters in Rogue One?” I usually get sputtering, “Ummmm” response and of the one or two folk who can name the lead female protagonist, I have yet to meet someone who can name a second character from Rogue One. That is certainly suggestive of something. Even the drama of Rogue One is suspect - The protagonist party goes to a planet. The Empire, coincidentally, happens to be there. Huge fight -- this repeats for two hours. Not exactly the stuff of dramatic legend. For some reason Forest Whitaker and his bulbous mind reading alien have worthless cameos. Ben Mendelsohn who is so, so mesmerizing in Bloodline plays Adequate Evil Villain One and spends the entire movie desperately trying to suppress his southern drawl. Tarkin is CGI thrown in, because the producers want to show us what they can accomplish -- a five minute rewrite could (and should) have taken Tarken out of the film entirely. And Darth Vader should not be in the movie at all! I really like that the cast is super racially diverse but what a wasted opportunity to have thirty poorly realized lead diverse characters with -- um -- well, no chance of a sequel. Finally: no fucking light sabers! A Star Wars Story: Rogue One: C -

 

Episode 6: Return of the Jedi. Director: Richard Marquand. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas. I did love this movie as a kid because, well, what else did I have to compare it too? Return of the Jedi has not aged well and I lay blame on the shoulders of its strange choice of a director - Richard Marquand. He had mainly done TV until Jedi. Sadly, it shows. Action sequences are blocked awkwardly - as if Marquand didn’t understand a widescreen format. He does not have an eye for the camera and shoots scenes with seemingly very little concept of how dramatic motion moves forward. Marquand certainly has no idea what to do with puppets, framing each of them perfectly on for the camera, as one would do for TV, which just highlights their fakeness. Compare the cantina scene in Star Wars to Jabba’s palace in Jedi. Jedi has several years of additional technology but looks amateurish compared to the original cantina scene. Marquand is just the wrong guy to be directing. Plus - Ewoks. Okay, I get it. SW is a family friendly adventure movie and kids love Ewoks (despite the fact that Ewoks were totally going to burn Han and Luke alive and then probably eat them!). I was eleven when Jedi came out and therefor too old to like Ewoks but still a bit too young to hate them. At the time I remember thinking they were kind of cute. Later in life I was able to see the obvious primitive technology vs. advanced technology story trope and that Ewoks were clearly designed to sell toys. Jedi is the first SW movie that made story choice less important than marketing, a sad trend that continues through the prequels. Jedi is universally considered the weakest of the original trilogy for good reason but still there things to like, but mostly a lot to - “meh.” None of the character work plays out as well as it should. Ford hams it up too much. But the final Jedi duel between Luke, Vader, the Emperor is very emotionally satisfying and intercut with, probably the best of all the SW space battles but then cut back to - stupid Ewoks fighting on the moon of Endor. Return of the Jedi should have been much better than it was. And to prove there was a calculated, giant marketing strategy to sell Ewok toys to kids, think of this --  in Return of the Jedi, how many times is the word,“Ewok” used? You probably just guessed it -- not one single time! And every kid and their best friend knew what an Ewok was a month before the movie came out because of - stupid marketing. Episode 6: Return of the Jedi: C

 

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Writer / director: George Lucas. I know, I know. Midichlorians, trade agreements and something about space taxation, blockades and the fact that the drama plays out as a series of meetings (seriously, the Jedi have a meeting with one person, then the next, then the next, then the next…) and finally -- Jar Jar Binks. I hear you. I dislike large portions of Phantom Menace. I will offer only this in its defense -- Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn. I posit that Neeson’s Qui-Gon single handedly picks up The Phantom Menace and carries the entire film on his acting genius shoulders.  I am not suggesting Qui-Gon is Neeson’s greatest acting achievement. Neeson, much like actors from the previous trilogy, takes the gobbledygook SW dialogue and makes it believable. In fact, he makes it look easy. Neeson creates the only consistently great and likable character in the prequels. Qui-Gon is the Jedi we’ve always wanted to see in SW. He’s a great combination of Solo and Luke - honorable, wise, heroic and roguish. Qui-Gon breaks the rules when the rules aren’t just. He disobeys orders and, despite having an apprentice -- he’s a solo rogue. But he’s also a good guy. He’s pretty much everything we love in SW characters. Also, he’s played by Liam Neeson! If I haven’t convinced you that Qui-Gon is the best character in the prequels and arguably the best character in the SW film universe, then I haven’t. But The Phantom Menace is eminently watchable because of Qui-Gon. Not only that, but PM gives us the most physically imposing, unexpectedly charismatic and acrobatically dangerous SW villain in Darth Maul. Maul only gets a handful of lines but immediately after his introduction his presence is felt for the rest of the movie - just like all great villains. Yes, there is much to dislike in Phantom Menace, and as it was the first SW movie in almost two decades, it's an easy target and is far from being a perfect movie. Poor Jake Lloyd needed a lot of actorly help and Lucas was not able to deliver. Lloyd is universally hated in the role of young Anakin, his performance mocked as “Mannequin Skywalker.”  Fair enough. He’s a kid actor. Most of them suck. Lawrence Kasdan tried to get Lucas to cast older in order to avoid just this problem. Lucas ignored Kasdan. The rest is history. Other things about PM - Padme should have been a stronger character, Jar Jar is half awful - and I will only say he is half awful - because Jar Jar Binks is written to entertain children. And children LOVE Jar Jar Binks (adults -- not so much.) Another thing I dislike about Ep. 1 is that it’s the beginning of “Jedi forget they have Jedi powers” in order to create artificial drama. The main example -- at the beginning of PM the Jedi use the Force to run super fast to avoid battle droids. At the end of film when Qui-Gon is in danger, Obi Wan runs to the aid of his master and forgets to use his super fast Force running power -- because the screenplay didn’t want him to get there in time to save Jinn. Argh!  That being said, of all the prequels, PM remains the only one that  has exciting action sequences. The pod race is fantastic and has an exquisite sound design. The Duel of the Fates combat between Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul remains the most physically beautifully choreographed of all the SW lightsaber fights, though -- ultimately that final battle between the three doesn’t have much dramatic weight (but that’s another story). Which leads me to, what a shock -- the moment the prequel trilogy kills off its single great compelling character -- it’s all downhill from there. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: C +

 

Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Director: JJ Abrams. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt. The Force Awakens feels like two separate movies. Movie one: the entertaining story of Rey and Finn. Movie two: all that poorly conceived Han Solo garbage. Now, before you say anything -- I adore the character of Han Solo but his return was a mixed bag for me. Who doesn't want to see Solo back to his old shenanigans? But most of the Solo portion of the film doesn’t feel quite right. Characters make choices because the screenplay demands them to make that exact choice in order for the story to continue. Nothing feels organic. The entire scene with Solo, Chewie, Rey and Finn encountering each other on the Falcon was undercut by the dopey gang that tries to kill them all. Then, someone thought it would a grand idea to thrown in silly, rolling tentacled aliens. Because -- funny. The reunion between Solo and Leia wasn’t given enough time to develop. In fact, the Force Awakens does a huge disservice to the character of Leia. Princess Leia, the woman who led the defense of Hoth, and oversaw the destruction of Death Star I, the women who, by herself, strangles Jabba the Hutt to death. In Force Awakens she’s nothing more than background fluff who, when she finds out Solo is killed --  runs to comfort Rey! Rey?!?!? A kid that Leia has known for like five minutes -- instead of going to comfort Chewbacca! (Abrams has gone on record to say this was a huge mistake on his part). And that’s the problem with Force Awakens. For each new scene involving the two young, very compelling characters of Finn and Rey we are subjected to really strange (and sometimes stupid) character choices by the old guns. I adore Rey and Finn and want to see more about them. Solo’s scenes deserve better than what FA offers. Leia is under utilized. And for a film about “the search for Skywalker” the characters don’t seem to make a lot of active choices to, you know -- look for Skywalker.  And as for resident villains Snoke and Kylo Ren. Well, Snoke (a terrible name) has secrets to be revealed I’m sure, but as presented in Force Awakens he’s just an Emperor knock off. But Kylo Ren, well, I found him more compelling then I expected. A rich, white, privileged young man who has it all handed to him on a silver platter is then tempted with power and wants more and more and more. Seems legit (and kind of scary). Anyway. Of all the SW films this is the one I am most conflicted about. I adore and loathe portions of it in an equal 50/50 mix. Episode 7: The Force Awakens: C +

 

Episode 8. The Last Jedi. Writer / director: Rian Johnson. It’s certainly a far more complex movie than its predecessor, Force Awakens. Vast portions of Johnson’s SW deconstruction film are rich, beautiful and deeply satisfying - if not slightly heavy handed. Rian's use of color metaphor works well as he stages one grand action sequence (in the throne room) bathing it in front of blood red walls with the heroes fighting red armored warriors and a second decent sequence (the final fight) bathing it in red salt rock powder; mimicking extreme violence, loss of life and blood shed without resorting to showing a drop of gore. The heavy handed deconstruction continues with Skywalker’s off putting “get the fuck off my lawn” attitude. Rey and Ren come off the best as all their scenes are well written and play out far more sophisticated than the trailer suggests. Adam Driver is particularly good as Ren and the film wisely takes his helmet off as an actor's face is way more interesting than costuming or special effects. Carrie Fisher is, again, just like in Force Awakens, underused. And sadly, due to Fisher's untimely death she will continue to remain so in the trilogy end (which is too bad because there is a scene in the movie involving her that begs further exploration)  Alas.  Finally, all that being said, as much as there is to admire and as much as there is to love -- there are things that I can’t stand. I strongly rebelled against the shocking large amount of really, really awful, dopey “humor.” And I don’t mean, “Jar Jar Binks trying to make the kids laugh” humor. I mean the sheer unbelievable extended jokiness of characters in dramatic situations. The opening sequence with Poe facing off against the First Order is terrible. It is so bad it deserves to be in Ep. 2. As the first ten minutes of the movie played out I literally thought, “I am going to rage hate this entire movie.” I mention above that I can’t wait to see more about Rey and Finn. I will amend that. I can’t wait to see more about Rey. In Last Jedi we get multiple scenes of Finn bumbling around with his new partner Rose both continuously saved via coincidence in the film’s most grating story arc (designed to teach Finn his lesson - which is what this whole dam film is about - failure and then learning your lesson - you bloody child!). Yes, yes. We get it. But now I hope to see much less of Finn in the final film.  And don't get me wrong - SW needs comedic relief. I mean, I thought the best part of Rogue One was the prickly comic relief droid. Maybe LJ just doesn’t have my kind of comic relief. I suppose Johnson’s writing / directing track record could have told me what I was going to like / dislike in LJ. His best film, Brick, is filled with fantastic characters and drips with beautiful noir drama. His worst film, The Brothers Bloom, desperately tries for chaotic, quirky charm and falls flat on its face more often than not. The Brothers Bloom reminds me a lot of the Finn sequences in Last Jedi. But, as for The Last Jedi - when it’s good, it’s really good - the throne sequence might be my favorite thing in all of SW. When it’s not so good … Finn is probably involved. Episode 8: The Last Jedi: C+

 

Episode 4: Star Wars (I still refuse to call it A New Hope). Writer / director: George Lucas. To be honest I go back and forth with my preference between Star Wars and Empire. But for now Star Wars is where it is. Also, I have been working on a very long piece about Marcia Lucas, one of the film’s main editors and how she, basically, saves Star Wars from being as dull as THX 1138 (but that’s a different story). Much has been written about this film, I won’t elaborate too much. Perfectly cast, well paced, well acted - well for the most part. Both Hamill and Fisher are very young and inexperienced. Fisher comes over better than Hamill but honestly, we can forgive one performance moment where a certain beloved character whines about power converters, right? Anyway, SW is revolutionary and mind blowing (for its time). Multiple Academy Award nominations. Multiple wins. Adored by hundreds of millions. The movie that introduces lightsabers to the world. The names! Oh the names - Millennium Falcon. Darth Vader. Han Solo. Chewbacca. Luke Skywalker. Princess Leia. Those are names! Hero names. Villain names! I can’t accurately describe to you what it was like being a five year old and being in a theater watching Star Wars for the first time. Perhaps modern day kids feel the same way being five and seeing Harry Potter. As for my five year old self, I remember the day. I sat in that theater and the opening music hit, the text crawls by and then a ship appears and it goes on and on and it keeps coming and coming and coming. You know what I’m talking about. And all I could think of was, “I’m in love.” Now and forever I am in love. Episode 4: Star Wars: A

 

FIRST: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Director: Irvin Kershner. Writers: Leigh Bracket, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas. I know Empire is universally viewed as the best of all the Star Wars films and I can’t find a single reason to disagree. First off, listing Leigh Bracket as a writer isn’t entirely fair. She did turn in the first draft of the screenplay but Lucas universally hated everything about it. And then Miss Bracket died. So Lucas decided that, even though he and Kasdan rewrote the entire script, he would forever keep her name on the film. But who’s to say her influence doesn’t remain somewhere in Empire - I don’t know the exact answer to that. The addition of Kasdan as writer seems to, for the most part, clear up a lot of the clunky dialogue bits that plague Star Wars. Any minor quibble I might have is drowned out by the flood of greatness. The directing, the strong character work and the incredible action sequences all flow together. Hamill is a much better actor than he was in SW. Also, the character of Yoda was never better. I watched Empire many times as a kid but then went about fifteen years without seeing it. As an adult I watched it and was not prepared for how delightful those early Dagobah / Yoda scenes are. It made me a bit sad to know he turns into CGI boring old wise wizard Yoda (although Johnson’s LJ remembers what I am talking about). Yoda is a perfect character in Empire. Beyond Empire he becomes more of a storytelling device used mainly to dish out cryptic sounding wisdom. Empire has, arguably the two greatest action sequences in all of Star Wars canon - the Hoth invasion and the Cloud City lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. The stakes are never higher than that Luke / Vader battle leading up to the great story reveal. And finally, Empire introduces the first non white character in the SW universe -- I love Lando! Plus, ugnaughts are way better than ewoks and Lobot is super cool. And, finally -- what a hell of a cliff hanger! Even the silly space asteroid monster that almost eats the Falcon doesn't dethrone the SW big boy on the block. The Empire Strikes Back remains the greatest of the SW films and one of, if not the best space opera movies in cinema history. Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back: A

 

 

 

%PM, %07 %941 %2017 %21:%Dec

The wild ride of Bitcoin

So, what’s going on with Bitcoin?

 

First of all, for those that do not know -- Bitcoin is what is known as a “cryptocurrency”, a virtual "coin" that is "mined" by and stored on computers. Wikipedia lists 1324 types of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is, by far the most popular.

 

Lovers of cryptocurrencies are huge fans of the anonymity of using them. Bitcoin is not one hundred percent  untraceable as there is a log of all transactions and information does leak but coin owners are not identified by any immediately identifiable ID. Which makes it easy to use Bitcoins (and other cryptocurrencies) to buy -- well, you know -- illegal shit (and legal shit). Basically it’s virtual money used to purchase goods. Virtual money that is really hard to trace back to the buyer.

 

I first heard the term “Bitcoin” about four years ago at a job interview. The interviewer proudly told me that his website accepts Bitcoin and is the first MPLS based retail store of its kind to do so. Despite my zero understanding of what a Bitcoin was I nodded sagely and pretended to know what he was talking about, hoping that he would like me more and give me the job.I did, after all, need the job.

 

I did not get the job. But whatever. That was then and now my job is writing to tell you about the wild ride that is Bitcoin.

 

Where does Bitcoin come from?

 

Well, like a good spy novel the origins of Bitcoin are shrouded in a bit of mystery. In that, no one really knows who invented Bitcoin. I mean, we have a name -- Satoshi Nakamoto and either no one actually knows who he is or no one is talking about his identity.

 

In 2008 the domain name “bitcoin.org” was registered and late that year a link to a paper called, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” penned by Mr. Nakamoto himself was posted to a cryptography mailing list.

 

In 2009 the bitcoin software was released as open source code. Open source code, as you may or may not know,  is software (usually) published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to use or alter the code without paying fees. But the identity of Mr. Nakamoto (Miss Nakamoto?) remains unclear.

 

In 2010 Mr. Nakamoto handed control of the Bitcoin core code to Gavin Andersen, and then subsequently disappeared from all involvement in bitcoin. If Mr. Andersen knows who Mr. Nakamoto is, he certainly never told anyone.

 

Andersen took over and immediately decentralized control of the Bitcoin core code so that, in his own words, if he ever got, “...hit by a bus … the project would go on.”

 

The value of the first bitcoin transactions was negotiated between parties. And so folks decided themselves how much an individual bitcoin was worth including a famous early Bitcoin transaction for a Papa John’s pizza delivery.

 

Which brings me to this -- on Thursday December 7th the market decided that the value of Bitcoin was -- sixteen thousand dollars. Each.

 

Oh. Wow.

 

I remember hearing about this crazy little thing called Bitcoin and thinking that only a sucker would buy virtual money for three hundred and eighty five dollars per coin (at the time). That was a few years ago.

 

Today they’re worth sixteen thousand. I guess the joke is on me.

 

There are huge retail chains that accept Bitcoin. Some folks think Bitcoin is in a bubble and will pop -- to disastrous results. Some folks think regulation is a coming. Luke Kawa over at MSN Money writes:

 

“Given bitcoin’s checkered history as the means to purchase illicit materials, a vehicle for capital flight, and a victim of theft, it’s no surprise that regulators around the world have cast a watchful eye over the asset class. As such, the specter of a complete crackdown on cryptocurrencies remains an ever-present tail risk. The SEC has been keeping an eye on crypto and has given guidance saying some tokens may be securities, making them subject to their oversight.”

 

And later, Kawa writes, “Federal Reserve Chair nominee Jerome Powell said bitcoin isn’t big enough to matter right now, but alluded to the possibility that it could impede the central bank’s transmission mechanism "in the long, long run."

 

Maybe. Nothing is, after all, perfect. Maybe some regulation will be in order. After all, in 2010 someone spotted a vulnerability in the Bitcoin protocol and exploited it, creating 184 billion Bitcoins; but within hours the transaction was spotted and erased by the Bitcoin gods. The vulnerability was repaired and now Bitcoin remains pretty safe.  

 

But still hackers and theft remains a huge issue, obviously. Regulation might lead to more protection. Or not. I think it’s too early to tell. The Bitcoin ride has been wild. Perhaps the Bitcoin bubble will burst. It took years for many folks, including me, to take it seriously. But there are many that love, love, love Bitcoin and anonymity of cryptocurrencies so I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.

 

Anyway. Sixteen thousand dollars per Bitcoin. That’s a lot of Papa John’s pizza.

----

 

If you like this story you might like GCN's show, Free Talk Live

Bud Light (owned by Anheuser-Busch) follows up their bloody hilarious Game of Throne’s esq- “Dilly Dilly” commercial with the most delightful cease and desist I’ve ever heard about. If you have no idea what it is I write about please take one minute of your time to check out Bud Light’s original ad -- here.  

 

The “Dilly Dilly” commercials have been extremely popular for Bud Light. I even heard Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yell it out during Pittsburgh's Nov. 16th shellacking of the Tennessee Titans (40-17) -- proving Mr. Roethlisberger is indeed, “a friend of the crown.”  

 

The exact origin of the “dilly dilly” phrase is a bit unclear. A nursery rhyme titled “Lavender’s Blue”uses and “dilly dilly” phrase and dates back to the 17th century uses “dilly dilly” but it’s specifically clear exactly what “dilly dilly” means.

 

From Online Etymology:

 

“... perhaps coming from dillydally, 1741, probably itself a reduplication of dally (verb) meaning “to talk, converse,” possibly from Anglo-French dalier “to amuse oneself,” which is of uncertain origin.”

 

According to dictionary.com, the origins of “dilly” are in a shortening of the word “delightful” or “delicious,” probably from the 1930s. On its own, it has come to mean “something or someone regarded as remarkable or unusual.”

All that being said, due to the Bud Light commercial the phrase has come to light in modern day parlance. And so it is that Minneapolis based Modist Brewing Company, capitalized on the popular phrase and brewed a Mosaic Double IPA naming it, “Dilly Dilly.”

Which is cute but -- um -- problematic. Anheuser-Busch, it seems, believe they have own the phrase “Dilly Dilly” having copyright protected it for use with their Bud Light Ad. Normally, this would result in a corporate lawsuit which Anheuser-Busch, with their clear and strong claim to the phrase and, of course their endless bank account -- would win.

And that all starts with a legal piece of paper (or email) called the “Cease and Desist.” This the first way to tell someone, “Hey! We own that! Please don’t use it again!”

And then you have a choice. You can cease and desist from using said phrase. Or you can fight. And if you fight it can get nasty. And expensive.

So when Modist Brewing Company released “Dilly Dilly” it could have gone very poorly for them. But release it they did!

And that’s exactly when Bud Light sent their Cease and Desist (and a pair of Super Bowl tickets) -- in the form of  medieval tower cryer complete with a parchment scroll “cease and desist” that he read to the MPLS based brewery -- and it was all in good fun. The full text of the scroll:

“Dear friend of the Crown, Modist Brewing Company. Congratulations on the launch of your new beer, Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA! Let it be known that we believe any beer shared between friends is a fine beer indeed. And we are duly flattered by your loyal tribute. However, “Dilly Dilly” is the motto of our realm, so we humbly ask that you keep this to a limited-edition, one-time-only run. This is by order of the king. Disobedience shall be met with additional scrolls, then a formal warning, and finally, a private tour of the Pit of Misery. Please send a raven, letter or electronic mail to let us know that you agree to this request. Also, we will be in your fair citadel of Minneapolis for the Super Bowl, and would love to offer two thrones to said game for two of your finest employees to watch the festivities and enjoy a few Bud Lights. On us. Yours truthfully, Bud Light.”

Modist Brewing responded on their FB page with:

“That moment when Bud Light sends you a cease and desist for your #dillydilly release... via a scroll... written in olde english... read by an actual medieval person.. and then sends you to the Minnesota Super Bowl 2018.” and posted a video of the town crier performance.

Well played, Bud Light.

 

Dilly Dilly!

 

%PM, %24 %813 %2017 %18:%Nov

NFL playoff picture emerging

This year there were three Thanksgiving NFL games (up from the traditional two) and the playoff picture is starting to clearly emerge. This late in the season two of the games were a bit inconsequential but there was a good battle in the NFC Central - the MN Vikings vs. the Detroit Lions.  

 

It was no surprise to many that the MN Vikings outpowered the Lions, despite a really strong 4th quarter comeback by Detroit’s QB Matthew Stafford. The Vikings look unstoppable in the NFC except for perhaps, the other dominant team in the division (more on that in a minute).  The NFL is really starting to see that the Vikings have a super star receiver in Adam Thielen who already has 1000 yards receiving with another five games to play. Despite losing rookie sensation Dalvin Cook in game 4 the Vikings remain strong in the running game and have a top five defense. The 9-2 Vikings remain dominant on top of the Black and Blue division (NFC Central) and are legitimate contenders this year.

 

That being said, the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles remain the team to beat in the NFC. Skeptics say the Eagles (who were 7-9 last season) had an easy schedule this year but beating winless teams (like they did vs. the 49ers) and beating teams that you should beat is all part of the NFL. There is a reason “any given Sunday” is a known colloquialism. Winning is hard in the NFL and you just never know if this is the game that winless opponent you are going up against has an amazing game and puts up 45 points. So if you make mistakes and lose to teams you should not lose to -- you won’t make the playoffs. And the Eagles are just not making mistakes like that. Much of the credit needs to go to greatly improved Eagles QB Carson Wentz. He’s spreading the ball around, avoiding pressure and is blindsiding defenses with pinpoint accurate throws.

 

The wild card here is the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is on fire and just won't stop throwing TD's. But -- much like the Packers, the Saints only have Brees. If Brees has a single bad or mediocre game the Saints lose big time. They don't have a deep bench (as folks say in basketball) which is why I expect them to easily make the playoffs and then not make it past the divisional round. This is a bit pessimistic of me as many are picking the Saints to be a true contender. Fair enough. I just don't buy it. 

 

The 7-3 Rams are good but -- well, not good enough to beat the Vikings or the Eagles. The Vikings have already crushed the Rams once this season 28-7 and the Eagles will beat them in the upcoming match up in December. So, I fully expect the Rams to make the playoffs and lose in the divisional round. 

 

The Cowboys and the Packers were expected to be in the playoff running this year but Dallas has had a string of lackluster offensive games and I think will miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record and the Packers season ended the moment Aaron Rodgers was injured. Sorry Green Bay fans. Even as a MN Vikings fan I actually really like Aaron Rodgers and am happy to see him succeed but if he goes down, your team loses. A lot.

 

As for the Carolina Panthers, as long as Cam Newton remains healthy the Panthers (7-3) should make the playoffs but nothing about their team screams "true Super Bowl contenders." I know they went 15-1 two seasons ago, made it to the super bowl and lost but even that team was generally acknowledged to be the worst team to ever start at 11-0. I kind of feel the same way about the Panthers this season. Their decent record will take them to the playoffs but they’ll have an early exit.

 

Finally, rounding out the NFC contenders - the Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons both at 6-4 and the Detroit Lions at 6-5 but all of them have been playing too inconsistent to be a deep playoff threat. Similar to the Panthers, I can see any or maybe all three teams making it to the wild card match ups if things suddenly turn sour for the Rams and the Saints but don’t believe any of them will make it to the championship game.

 

NFC Championship game:  MN Vikings vs. The Philadelphia Eagles

 

Who wins: Even chances. I suspect this will come down to who has the healthiest team. The Eagles have a much better offense. The Vikings have a slightly better defense. As the saying go, “Defense wins Championships.”

 

That may be true. But offense wins Super Bowls.

 

As for the AFC, that’s even easier. The Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) and the Tennessee Titans (6-4) have all shown moments of extremely exciting, smart football. But similar to the Seahawks and the Falcons - consistency is the problem. Really good but inconsistent teams usually make it to the playoffs and rarely advance to the championship game.  

 

The Chargers, Ravens and Buffalo Bills are all begging for scraps at the table and I could see any one of those teams pulling out three or four more wins and making it to the postseason. But - again - consistency.

 

And it all comes down to the fact I don’t see any of the AFC teams beating the two big boys on the block - The New England Patriots (8-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2).

 

I feel like the Steelers are good this year, but not as good as their 8-2 record implies. And I feel the opposite about the Patriots. New England should probably be 9-1 or maybe even 10-0. A few lucky breaks for opposing teams and NE ended up with two loses. I just don’t see anyone in the AFC beating Tom Brady’s Patriots.

 

AFC Championship game: New England Patriots vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Who will win: The Patriots in a blowout win over the Steelers.

 

Which brings us to:

 

Unless something goes spectacularly wrong, which can always happen in the NFL, I expect Super Bowl 52 to be the NE Patriots vs. either the Vikings or the Eagles.

 

The Super Bowl is actually in Minneapolis, MN this year. As a Vikings fan I would love to see them play the Super Bowl in their home town.  But - alas - I suspect it will be the Patriots and the Eagles with Tom Brady and winning his sixth ring.

 

But I hope not.  

 

I hope it’s the Vikings! Unless, of course, they get waylaid by that silly Vikings curse that always waylays them!  

 

Skol!  

 

Greetings interstellar traveller / hyperbolic asteroid 1I/2017 U1, welcome to our solar system!

 

Technically you’ve been here for quite a while  just passing through, drifting about, minding your own asteroid business but we’ve only just found you! You have no way of knowing this but, you’ve been named -- ‘Oumuamua from the Hawaiian word meaning “scout” and generally translates as “scout from the past.” You have a very lovely name. Also, for clarification, that first character in your name is a Hawaiian ‘okina, not an apostrophe.

 

Our Earth scientists have long suspected that tens of thousands of space rocks, such as yourself, have visited our fine solar system but until recently we were unable to detect you all.

 

That all changed, of course, when very smart folks at Haleakala Observatory (in Hawaii) brought the first Pan-STARRS telescope (PS1) online. ‘Oumuamua -- just to be clear, this PS1 is totally different than what you probably believe a traditional PS1 to be (currently upgraded to a PS4).  The PS4 stands for “PlayStation” 4 and is a kick ass console blu ray / game player.  The PS4 according to wikipedia:

 

“...is a line of eighth generation home video game consoles developed by Sony Interactive Entertainment.”

 

The PS1, the one we used to find you, stands for “Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System” (Pan-STARRS). The PS1 according to wikipedia:

 

“… consists of astronomical cameras, telescopes and a computing facility that is surveying the sky for moving or variable objects on a continual basis, and also producing accurate astrometry and photometry of already detected objects.”

 

As you can see,  ‘Oumuamua, not quite the same thing.

 

Anyway. We don’t know exactly where you came from as that would be extremely difficult to figure out, but for now, our best guess is star Vega, about twenty five light years away. That being said, we are certain you are indeed from another solar system as, according to this astrophysical survey your orbit would be virtually impossible to achieve within our solar system. Our solar system that we have cleverly named, “Solar System” -- because that’s how we roll.  

 

You; however, roll quite a bit different. You are red (the color of organic carbon-based molecules), extremely elongated (thirteen hundred feet which is ten times long as you are wide -- you look like a giant space cigar) and you travel at approx.85,000 mph.

 

For comparison, ‘Oumuamua, I once lived in NYC and dated a woman in Washington DC. It order to visit her on weekends, it would take me about 3.7 hours to drive the distance between us. It would take you .0026 seconds to make the same trip!

 

That’s fast!

 

Well, it looks like you’re just kind of passing through, so I was just sayin hi.  It appears as if you’ll lap Jupiter sometime around May, then pass Saturn in January 2019 and eventually exit stage left en route to the Pegasus constellation sometime after that.

 

By all accounts it appears as if you’re just a really long mineral rock asteroid and you don’t carry any sort of super cool alien species. You know, cool little guys like that adorable Invader Zim or those E.T. phone home cuties. And I certainly hope you are not rudely carrying those evil little alien pricks from Alien and Aliens and all those not worth mentioning by name subpar sequels.

 

Actually, with that in mind, ‘Oumuamua, just in case you ever watch James Cameron’s Aliens, when characters refer to the alien species as a “xenomorph” they are not suggesting “xenomorph” is the name of the alien species on LV-426. They are using the word from the Greek construct - xeno, meaning “foreign” or “strange” and morph, meaning “a shape or form” which means in the context of the film the characters are suggesting the aliens in the movie are “strange foreign forms” -- an alien life form.

 

Again -- xenomorph is a generic term for an alien life form.

 

Xenomorph is not the name of this species.

 

Just wanted to clear that up for you, ‘Oumuamua. You know, in case it ever comes up in conversation with your asteroid buddies.

 

That’s all I got. Nice to meet you.

 

Be well!

 

----

 

If you like this story you might like The Paracast which broadcasts live here at GCN. 

%PM, %11 %810 %2017 %18:%Nov

4 movies about veterans for Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, annually recognized on November 11th -- in honor of the signing of the armistice which ended WWI hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918.

 

The United States previously celebrated “Armistice Day” and it was more a day of recognition to honor veterans that died during WWI. In 1945 a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks led a delegation to President Eisenhower and proposed the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans and not just those who died in WWI.

 

Eisenhower supported the idea of a national veterans day but it wasn’t until 1954 that he signed a bill into law and shortly there after, Congress amended the bill to replace, “Armistice” day with a national “Veterans” day celebrating all veterans. It has been celebrated as Veterans Day ever since. 

 

Hollywood has long been enamored with war movies and there are far too many movies that do little more than exploit the deaths of soldiers in the name of movie excitement “fun.” Thankfully, there are also movies that attempt to recreate a soldier’s authentic experience and the toll such service, and war in general, has on soldier families and humanity.

 

Two feature films and two documentaries about war, exploring themes of loneliness, trauma, loss and hope.

 

Presented alphabetically:

 

Born on the 4th of July (1989): U.S. Marine veteran Ron Kovic (played by Tom Cruise) returns from Vietnam paralyzed from the mid chest down and is wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. The movie is based on Kovic’s autobiography and directed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone. The first third of the film follows Kovic from childhood to enlistment to boot camp and into the vietnam war where, during a firefight with the enemy, he accidentally kills one of the men in his platoon. He is shortly there after wounded and paralyzed but comes home seemingly optimistic. The remainder of the film focuses on his PTSD and war trauma as Kovic becomes increasingly disillusioned with traditional patriotism until eventually becoming an anti-war activist 9much to the hatred of his fellow soldiers). Olive Stone read Kovic’s autobiography and was shocked to learn what Kovic had gone through and immediately purchased the rights to the book. Stone and Kovic met many times to discuss their experiences in Vietnam and eventually collaborated together to write the screenplay. The film was wildly successful and earned several Academy Award nominations.

 

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994): This Academy Award winning documentary profiles the career of US artist & Chinese immigrant Maya Lin, when, at the age of 21 she beat out more than a 1000 artists in a competition to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The documentary is short (a little over an hour) and chronicles her childhood and about ten years of her work before receiving the memorial contract. Lin was under extraordinary pressure to deliver and because she was a woman, and Asian, she was often overly critiqued and vilified. Lin herself comes off as soft spoken, a woman who chooses her words carefully but also, a bit distant -- like many an artist I know. As a production note -- the film is a product of its time and is therefore a bit slow paced even with its short run but is still well worth viewing. Despite the hardship Lin faced during the creation of the monument, today it is widely recognized as a magnificent and powerful piece of art.

 

The Men (1950):  Perhaps one of the first Hollywood films to focus on the life of a wounded soldier in a completely unsensational way. Very little screen time is given to war instead offering enormous time to focus on Ken (Marlon Brando) and his struggle as he is consumed with anger and self-pity. While this movie was not a commercial success, its themes will always remain relevant. As a production note -- This is Marlon Brando’s feature film debut.

 

Restrepo (2010): A documentary film that chronicles the lives of the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company in a valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Restrepo post -- named so after a fallen comrade (PFC Juan Sebastian Restrepo), was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. Military. The goal of the post was to clear the Korengal Valley of insurgency and gain the trust of the local populace. Nothing went according to plan. Two journalists, British photographer Tim Hetherington, and journalist Sebastian Junger spent one year with the platoon in the Korengal Valley. This film is truly one of the greatest depictions of the soldier bond and camaraderie between them while at times offering gut wrenching footage of tense combat. The late Roger Ebert wrote in his four star review of the film, “The location footage is intercut with debriefings of the survivors conducted soon after they've been flown out to Italy. They use understatement to express strong emotions. The deaths of men they fought with are almost impossible for them to speak of … The film is nonpolitical. It was filmed at great personal risk by the war photographer Tim Hetherington and the author Sebastian Junger. It raises for me an obvious question: How can this war possibly be won?” Tragically, a few years after completion of the documentary, photographer Tim Hetherington, while covering the 2011 Libyan civil war, is killed by mortar shrapnel.

 

----

 

Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American biographical war drama film directed by Oliver Stone based on the best-selling autobiography Born on the Fourth of July by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Nominated for numerous critical awards and several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Tom Cruise) and winner of two Oscars for Best Director (Oliver Stone) and Best Film Editing (David Brenner and Joe Hutshing).  

The Men is a 1950 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, written by Carl Foreman, and starring Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright and Everett Sloane. Despite the film's commercial failure, it marked Brando’s film debut.

*  Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a 1994 documentary film made by Freida Lee Mock about the life of American artist Maya Lin, whose best-known work is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The film won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

*  Restrepo is a 2010 American documentary film about the Afghanistan war, directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

 

On Wednesday the MN Vikings activated Teddy Bridgewater and placed Sam Bradford on injured reserve (IR).

 

Bridgewater has not played in almost two full seasons after suffering a noncontact injury in practice early into the 2016 season. The Vikings then acquired Sam Bradford via trade who took over as QB1 and brought the Vikings to a mediocre 8-8 season.

 

While it’s true that Sam Bradford has his best pro season in 2016 -- passing for 3877  yards and a NFL record 71.6% completion rate but a struggling offensive line led to too many hurries, knockdowns, sacks and a dismal running game.

 

But still Bradford was the go to guy at the beginning of the 2017 season and had a career high day in the Vikings opening game vs. the Saints. But it was just not to be. A knee injury, or perhaps The Curse of the MN Vikings, forced him out and backup Case Keenum took over and quietly led the Vikings to the top of the NFC North going 4-2 as a starter.

 

BUT THEN -- a miracle recovery from Teddy Bridgewater has brought him back to the Vikings roster and he is suiting up for the first time in more than a season. What’s a head coach to do? Force Teddy in and hope he can bring back his magic or stay with the dependable backup Keenum? The Vikings are currently 6-2 and lead the division.

 

After all, if it ain’t broke …

 

It really was a no brainer for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Teddy needs to slowly warm up back into football. Keenum starts. Bridgewater backs up.  

 

It’s a wise decision. As for Bradford. Well, I’m almost one hundred percent positive that Bradford is done as a Viking, maybe done in the NFL. His two year contract is up at the end of the season and he is currently on his third knee injury. If Bridgewater remains healthy I suspect the Vikings will offer Teddy a monster contract to remain with the Vikings and start again in 2018.

 

Which is great news for Vikings fans. By all accounts Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal -- young, handsome, talented, intelligent and an extremely warm and friendly person. When asked by reporters about being back on the field after such a long injury absence, Bridgewater had this to say,

 

“It’s always hard when the guys are going to work, and you have to go in the opposite direction. It’s like when all the kids are going to P.E. and you have to go to detention or something like that. I’m not saying what I was doing was detention, but it was hard, especially being a competitor and knowing how much these guys mean to me and knowing that I couldn’t be out there with those guys … (when asked about the possibility he might not return to the NFL) I never had any doubt, and that’s a credit to the people around me. They never once let me get down. They never counted me out. So getting back out there, this is not only about me. This is about the people who counted me in. There are a bunch of people who counted me out, outside this building and things like that, but at the end of the day it’s about going out there and competing for these guys in this locker room and all of the people that counted me in. So once I get out there, there’s no regrets, no holding back. Whatever’s meant to happen, happens. I trust God’s plan for me, and I’m going to go with that.”

 

I’m glad to hear The Curse (of the Vikings) didn’t strike Bridgewater low.

 

Then again, maybe -- just maybe -- there isn’t a curse, after all.  

----

 

If you like this story you might like GCN's very own sports radio program: View From the Couch

 

Page 7 of 12