Archive | August 2014

Husker Thoughts Week 1

Wow.

I know it’s Florida Atlantic. I know it’s the first week, but…

Wow.

Was anyone legitimately expecting this? I think everybody and their mother picked Nebraska to win this game, and that was never in doubt, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this could be the most dominant win Nebraska’s had since the ’90s. The running game lived up to every bit of the hype, the defense, admittedly, had some hiccups early but went on to dictate just about everything to the Owls’ offense, and Tommy Armstrong looked darn good. His passes didn’t dazzle anyone, and they’re never going to. But he made smart choices with where he put the ball, he made decisive choices when running it, and most significantly he avoided turnovers. This is a guy who threw three interceptions in a 44-7 win against Purdue last year, so that was by no means a given. I’m not suggesting he’ll be in line for national (or even all-conference) awards in a few months, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised by what I saw today.

That said, there were quite a few negatives from today. The one that I hope will be the least important is the one that will probably be talked about the most, that being the injury to Randy Gregory. He only played one series today and was seen on the sideline with a knee brace. Hopefully this was just a precaution and he’ll be back in the rotation soon. He is arguably the best defensive player the Huskers have, but that said the defensive line was still dominant today without him. If the worst happens and he misses extended time, my guess is the defense would be worse off, but would find others to step up to replace him. Hopefully we never find out.

The other negatives, which I’m afraid are serious but will probably not be talked about, are the failed 2-minute drill to end the first half and the inability of the Blackshirts to create a turnover (despite two golden opportunities). It may seem stupid to bring these up given the 48-point difference in the final score, but it really isn’t. For on thing, these are aspects of the game that have plagued good Husker teams in the past and kept them from achieving greatness. Not being able to punch in a score at a critical time. Letting a game-changing (or game-sealing) turnover slip away. But more importantly is the fact that these are things good teams do all the time, and they do them whether the game is on the line or not. And if these Huskers are unable to do them when the game is not on the line, how much confidence should we have that they will do it when the game is on the line?

But I don’t want to beat those points into the ground any more. After a game with this many positives, it would be dumb to focus too much on the negatives. And it was a great game all around by the entire team. They looked excellently prepared, made great adjustments in-game, and the whole team came to play from beginning to end.

In short, it looked like the time of game we’ve been waiting 7 years for Pelini to produce.

More importantly, it looked like an excellent way to start the 2014 season. McNeese State comes next and they’ve had an extra week to prepare. Just in case the point needs to be driven home a bit further (or you’ve forgotten the last time Nebraska played a small team called the Cowboys), overlooking anyone is a terrible and costly mistake. Hopefully the coaches and players continue building on these positives and spend more time in practice patching up these negatives.

Go Big Red.

vRnrJr4

 

Random Thoughts:

I had no idea Pelini was poised to become the third-winningest coach in Nebraska’s history. I mean, I knew that the Huskers were pretty much awful before Devaney showed up in the ’60s, and that there’s really only been two great coaches in our history. So I guess when I stop to think about it, it makes sense. But there still seems to be something weird in the fact that you can have fewer than 60 wins and still be in the top three all-time for the college football program with the fourth most wins.

Kenny Bell had a really good game today and I completely missed it. I was going to criticize him here and say he needed to make more plays, only to discover he had 116 receiving yards today, second on the team. Not sure how I missed that, but my apologies to Mr. Bell.

I was really disappointed how little we saw of Johnny Stanton today. Mostly because it makes me wonder what all the hype was about. This is a player who was declared a “coup” for Nebraska when he first committed two years ago, now it turns out that after a year of redshirting he’s ready to ride the bench behind Fyfe and Armstrong for the next three years. He certainly could turn that around and start earlier than that, but on the whole it’s just very disappointing.

The Race for Ferguson

In 1998 Warren Beatty had, to date, his final ride in the director’s chair in the movie Bulworth. Despite being nominated for roughly half of the awards a film could possibly be nominated for and being very heavily tied to one of the biggest hit songs of that year, it seems like everyone missed it. It grossed a mere $29 million at the box office (just barely beating out Quest for Camelot, which was released the same weekend) and I’ve never met another person who’s even heard of it. The only reason I even know of it was because my favorite pop music critic mentioned it in his review of his review of Pras’ song. It’s too bad no one saw it, because it’s really good. I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than it’s a good reminder that absolutely nothing in politics has changed for at least the last 16 years.

I bring it up because in the short time since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, It’s been back in my mind, and one scene in particular (apologies for the video quality, fortunately the sound is all right). There’s some pretty obscene language there, so if you’re sensitive to that feel free to avoid.

I bring that scene up because in it, Senator Jay Bulworth, who’s experiencing a mental breakdown and has started just telling people “da truth” in his interviews, begins talking about race relations between whites and blacks. His take?

“Rich people have always stayed on top, by dividing white people from colored people… We just gotta eliminate them… White people. Black people, too. Brown people, yellow people, get rid of ’em all. All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended, procreative program of racial deconstruction.”

“Everybody just gotta keep ******* everybody ’til they’re all the same color”…

And I hadn’t heard that idea before.

And I don’t know that it would work. But as I look at the scene in Ferguson, I wonder how the narrative would shift if this wasn’t a case of white-on-black violence. If the police didn’t feel the need to defend themselves from accusations of racism, if the black community of Ferguson didn’t feel oppressed (not without reason); if everyone wasn’t in such a rush to form an opinion on the case before we have all (or most of) the facts.

I just wonder how Jay Billington Bulworth’s idea could have changed this situation. Because, yeah, as a coworker pointed out to me, if race wasn’t a factor, people would find other ways to discriminate against each other. Anyone who takes an honest look at history knows that if there’s one thing most people are good at, it’s discrimination. But there’s nothing like race. Nothing else can help distinguish “me” from “everyone else” so readily and so easily. Nothing I know of comes close to causing such deep divides.

Maybe nothing would change if it had been an officer of nondescript race shooting a suspect of nondescript race. Maybe there’d be rioting because an officer from the east side shot a suspect from the west side. Or maybe my coworker was right and there’d be riots because an officer with curly hair shot a civilian with straight hair.

The only thing I know for sure is that Michael Brown stole a pack of Rellos (or maybe he paid for them) minutes before being threatened by an officer (unless he assaulted the officer) and then he was shot in the back as he ran away and surrendered (/was shot in the front as he threatened and bullrushed the man who shot him)…

All I really know for sure is that a young boy is dead. And that justified or unjustified, innocent or guilty, an officer’s life will never be the same. And that the same story will play out (and has) over again. And again. And again.

Unless we find a better way to respond than shouting “Thug!” and “Racist!” at each other until we all pass out. Rinse, repeat. Click, boom.

The Bi-Mon Sci-Fi Con

Sometimes I look at this blog, and I think ‘Man, what happened here? Post after post of topics that I thought might be interesting or concerned recent events. I need to get back to my roots: talking about movies that are so old people have stopped caring.’

So I saw Snowpiercer this week. It was definitely a film that grabbed my attention. One that almost demands a response, and I was definitely planning to give it one.

Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy the following night. And while that was a much more “by the numbers” approach to filmmaking, it also seemed like a much easier topic to write something about. And if there’s one thing the internet has taught me, it’s “Always go for the long-hanging fruit.”

But then I realized that this is (probably) the first time in my life that I’ve seen two sci-fi films starring someone named Chris in the same week. So rather than writing a boring post just talking about one of them, why don’t I write an exciting post comparing them and telling people which is better? That could be fun, right?

Well, I think it sounds fun. So here we go with our first point!

Plot

The interesting thing about these films’ plots is that Snowpiercer started really strong but faded to a very unsatisfying end, whereas Guardians started poorly but turned into a thoroughly enjoyable ride. By watching them back-to-back, I basically saw the weakest two acts of these films sandwiched in between four fantastic acts. But which three made the stronger overall film?

Snowpiercer definitely feels like the more ambitious of the two. Guardians, not surprisingly, is much more content to tell its silly story and exist primarily for fun. Not that it doesn’t have any important themes or things to say about (and I’m quoting the main character here) “[Giving] a shit,” but it never gets any more serious than, say, The Lego Movie.

On the other hand, Snowpiecer can get very serious at times, and it has a lot of serious things to say about class warfare. For example, it wants to make sure that you know that… it’s bad. Not only that, but global warming, another relevant topic addressed in the film, is… problematic.

I have important things to say here... probably.

I have important things to say here… probably.

I guess that’s one of my problems with Snowpiercer. I know that there’s a point the director wanted to make, and given the overwhelming praise from critics, some people clearly thought he made it well. To me, though, any themes or commentary the film had to offer seemed stunningly simple, and it looks like I’m not the only one. There’s every possibility this is caused by a cultural difference, Snowpiercer being a Korean film, but I didn’t find anything thought-provoking in this film that I couldn’t have found in The Hunger Games. Which is not to say it’s by any means bad, it’s just… been done.

This is a tough choice, but I’ll give a close nod to Guardians here, because it at least was aware of its lack of depth.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Better Chris

This, too, feels like a tough call, but only because I’ve been sort of a fan of both of these actors for a while. From an objective standpoint, Evans is head and shoulders better.

For starters, Pratt just is not believable as an action start. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen him get beaten up by this twerp. More likely it’s his role as the hilariously dim Andy on Parks and Recreation. He certainly has the look for it, but any time he was asked to do anything in a combat scene (which, to the filmmakers’ credit, was not often) I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to, but… I mean, look at that face!

Chris Pratt

Exhibit A

More importantly, though, Pratt just lacks the acting chops. He’s never had to get in front of the camera and carry a movie before, and don’t get me wrong, for the most part he does a fantastic job. Unfortunately, he stumbles at the worst possible time: when giving the customary hero monologue. This comes as his character, Peter Quill, is trying to rally his friends to stand up to the evil Ronan the Accuser. Pratt’s delivery here was so bad, I assumed they were trying to make a joke, satirizing the “inspirational heroic speech that convinces otherwise rational men to willingly agree to a suicide mission.” Turns out Pratt just can’t deliver serious dialogue for more than a minute, I guess.

This is in stark contrast to Evans, who, in addition to filling the part of an action star nicely, gives an absolutely brilliant performance as Curtis, especially in delivering his hero monologue at the end. It’s moving, it reveals his character, and it answers questions that were raised early in the film. There’s not a whole lot more to say except that his performance alone was worth the $7 I paid to stream that flick.

snowpiercer-poster

Best Supporting Cast

Comparing these films’ casts is not quite fair. Both have villains that are played by excellent actors (Ed Harris in Snowpiercer, Lee Pace in Guardians) who give strong, memorable performances despite a limited presence in the script. Apart from that, however, they’re vastly different. Besides Evan’s Curtis, Snowpiercer has only a handful of significant characters, many of whom die or are left behind by the plot partway through, and it consequently focuses mostly on Curtis for much of the run time.

Conversely, Guardians has four other main characters, with Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista appearing in the flesh and Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel lending their impressive voice talents. With the exception of Baustista, each gives an excellent performance, and even Bautista was a pleasant surprise. Having been a wrestling fan for a few years (shut up), I can tell you that watching Bautista try to act is painful (and that’s compared to other wrestlers). It’d be a stretch to call him “good” here, but he’s in the perfect role and isn’t asked to say much, and he does manage a few hilarious one-liners.

Drax will hold tiny knives all day long! Just don’t ask Drax to give a believable performance!

Unlike Snowpiercer, then, the five main characters of Guardians split the screen time fairly evenly, each getting their own moments of development, and the film is better for it. So comparing these two different approaches to forming a cast, let alone declaring a winner, is difficult. Ultimately, though, I have to go with with Guardians on this one because Vin Diesel is just so darn wonderful as a voice actor. In fact, if every single movie from now on involved Diesel voicing one animated character with almost no dialogue I would be extremely happy.

Guardians of the Galaxy

So, by a score of 2-1, your winner is… Okay, no, I’m not declaring a winner, at least not using that method. Doing that is the worst thing in the world, as if you can break down the quality of a film into a series of points, each of which have equal weight. We might as well start measuring poems. The great thing about film, or art in general, is how subjective it is, especially in determining what makes a particular work “good” or better than another.

Oh, hey man, what's up? Yeah, I just killed 100 guys with my voice controlled arrow. Yes it was exactly as disappointing as it sounds.

Oh, hey man, what’s up? Yeah, I just killed 100 guys with my voice controlled arrow. Yes it was exactly as disappointing as it sounds.

These were both very good films. In fact, lump these together with the Cruise/Liman film Edge of Tomorrow, and it’s been a surprisingly strong summer for science fiction. On the whole, Guardians of the Galaxy was probably the more satisfying film, although Snowpiercer is the one I want to rewatch more (and gets points for not having the dumbest weapon I’ve ever seen in a science fiction).

It’s not hard to see why they’re the third- and second-highest reviewed movies this summer, respectively, and there’s absolutely no reason to choose between them. Watch both for two great tastes that taste great together.

Guess I should have saved the Neutral President picture for the end…