Netflix Gets “Friends”

20130303210812!Friends_season_one_castNetflix announced a huge acquisition move that will stream every episode of the NBC’s nostalgia powerhouse “Friends.” Yet another TV hit is headed to Netflix. Just another sign that Netflix’s streaming quality is primed for major improvement.

The series will be released on January 1st, 2015 and you can bet all the millennials will be watching.

My Life Ends Today… Again

Tonight is the night every dorm room, frat house, and alumni club across the country has been waiting for for eight months.  College football begins tonight. And just when I thought my sports life couldn’t get any busier (my life already ended once at the start of Major League Baseball in April), I’m having to prep my TV, laptop, and phone to all be watching multiple games at once.

Opening day gives us some fairly high profile matchups in Division I football, with #9 South Carolina taking on #21 Texas A&M in an SEC powerhouse battle.  Also #18 Ole Miss takes on small conference contender Boise State.

This is an especially important year for college football, with the BCS coming to an overdue end we will see the first attempt at a four-team playoff. The entire infrastructure is being redesigned, which is why I’m looking to make some predictions.  Here are the four teams I am calling to make the inagural playoff.

1. #1 Florida State University

Heisman Winner Jameis Winston
Heisman Winner Jameis Winston

Usually my favor for the Seminoles would be skewed by the fact that I grew up in Tallahassee, but the reigning champs look poised to be just as dominant as last year.  Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston is getting his second crack at a title with a somewhat unproven receiving core, new runners in the backfield, but otherwise a squad of proven National Champs who are going to be even better with an extra year of experience.

2. #8 Michigan State University

1385483762000-AP-Michigan-St-Northwestern-FootballBegrudgingly, I’ll put Michigan State up here. Although they play in what I consider the weakest of the major conferences, and despite the fact that three of their out-of-conference games are Jacksonville State, East Michigan, and Wyoming, they do have one make-or-break game: Sept 6th vs #3 Oregon. If they can pull off a win over highly touted Oregon, it would immediately push them into the early playoff conversation. And then, besides a midseason matchup with Ohio State, they have a general cakewalk into the playoffs.

3. #13 Louisiana State University

Leonard Fournette
Leonard Fournette

There has to be someone from the SEC. Whether it’s hype or true pedigree, there is a 0% chance of the playoffs not including one team from “America’s best conference.” But why LSU? Well, Alabama has quarterback issues – with fifth-year senior Blake Sims reportedly just beating out FSU transfer Jacob Coker. The lack of decisiveness at the sport’s most important position could prove destructive. Auburn is without Heisman trophy candidate Tre Mason, and I’m not sure they’ll catch quite as many breaks as they did last year. South Carolina could be a difference maker and I was extremely close to picking UGA, but I’m taking LSU. I think last year’s #1 prospect RB Leonard Fournette will be one of the biggest stories in football – with some even picking him as the favorite to win the Heisman trophy. Also, I respect any SEC team who doesn’t book complete cupcakes in their out-of-conference match ups. And while LSU does have Louisiana Monroe and Sam Houston on the schedule, this week’s contest against #14 Wisconsin earns them some brownie points with me in comparison to the rest of the SEC (with some exceptions).

4. #15 University of Southern California

New USC Head Coach Steve Sarkisian
New USC Head Coach Steve Sarkisian

Okay. Yes. This is my alma mater. I’ll admit my bias up front. But a healthy Trojans squad looks about as formidable as anyone in the Pac-12. As long as new head couch Steve Sarkisian can manage the offense better than his predecessor Lane Kiffin, and if they can manage to stay healthy (that means no more jumping out of imaginary windows to save imaginary nephews Josh Shaw) SC could be the nation’s dark horse.

That’s my take. Hit me with the hate.

Danny Almonte and the Little Big Scandal

etick_a_almonte01_850The Little League World Series begins today, one of our nations most beloved annual sporting events (along with the National Spelling Bee which I’ve also written about). Almost nothing makes me feel more American than watching these kids reach their dreams, surrounded by a giant cast of generous volunteers. For a brief month in the summer, these 11 and 12 year olds become superstars, and perhaps no 12 year old became more of a superstar on Little League’s biggest stage than the ace of the Bronx Little League in 2001, Danny Almonte. The only problem was, Danny wasn’t 12. He was 14. And after a perfect game and a 3rd place finish, Danny became the biggest scandal in youth sports history. ESPN recently released a 30 for 30 short documentary that investigates the controversy, and exposes the quiet young kid at the center of it. Click here to take a look at this fascinating exposé.

 

The Reason Foundation is Hiring

logoThe Reason Foundation, at the forefront of liberty application in modern society, is now hiring in various fields of work. Open positions range from reporters and writers, to film and creative opportunities at Reason.tv, to policy analysts. The Foundation would provide an avenue for liberty-minded professionals and creatives to work in an environment that champions and cherishes the value of liberty. Those interested should click here for more information about the opportunities offered.

The Best Band You Might Not Be Listening To: dale

Dale
dale

It’s been less than two years since the 5-person rock band dale was formed, and they’ve already begun to make a splash in the Los Angeles area. Formed on the campus of the University of Southern California, dale combines some hard rock roots with superb hooks and a conservatory education; a formula that churns out good tune after good tune. Your chance to say “I knew them when” may be running out quickly, so take the time to listen through these young guys’ electric stuff. Fans of Neon Trees and Jack White can find where the two meet when they take a shot at dale.

If you think you have a band that should be featured on Best Bandcontact us and tell us why!

5 Biggest Snubs

emmystatuette__130419054303__130912171435__130914002423__130918203153The Primetime Emmy nominee list came out today and the annual turmoil over who was left unrecognized has begun. However, there is another set of fans who feel unrest over the mistreatment of their favorite celebrities.

I’m referring to the finalization of the MLB All-Star rosters. Today the Final Vote elected Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale as the final members of the NL and AL teams, respectively. Both are extremely deserving (especially Sale, who is at the very least a top-5 starter in baseball right now), but there are several others for whom the politics of these “award ceremonies” proved unjust as ever.

5. Cincinnati Reds CF – Billy Hamilton

Cincinnati Reds CF - Billy Hamilton
Cincinnati Reds CF – Billy Hamilton

Now, he has missed his last few games with a hamstring injury, and he is on a team in the Reds that is one of the best represented teams with 4 All-Stars, but leaving the speedy Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton off the NL outfield reserves was an oversight. Coming into his rookie season, the 23-year old was expected to impress with his speed (and he has, with a spectacular 37 steals, good enough for 2nd in the NL), but the major concern was whether or not Billy would be able to hit enough to make his speed a factor. And he has! Hamilton has shown above-average contact abilities with a .280 avg, and has even demonstrated a little unexpected power with 5 bombs and 6 triples. Again, there are already 4 Reds on the NL roster (three of whom are extremely deserving; I’ll let you decipher who is the fourth) but in an outfield bench that features Pittsburgh utility man Josh Harrison (What?), we certainly could have made room for Hamilton.

4. Atlanta Braves LF – Justin Upton

Atlanta Braves LF - Justin Upton
Atlanta Braves LF – Justin Upton

Okay. If you don’t buy that Hamilton should take Harrison’s spot, you should at least agree that Atlanta Braves slugger Justin Upton should be headed to Minnesota for the mid-season festivities. Upton’s 17 HRs are good for fifth in the NL and he’s no scrub in any of his other categories. A .280 avg., 50 RBIs and 8 steals demonstrate his versatile role in the heart of the second-place Atlanta offense. Arguably the most dangerous guy in this lineup (that includes you, Freddie Freeman), Upton has very quietly put up numbers that are certainly All-Star caliber.

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim SP – Garrett Richards

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim SP - Garrett Richards
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim SP – Garrett Richards

Like Upton, young Angels flamethrower Garrett Richards was a Final Vote candidate that lost out. The former reliever has had a breakout season in the starting rotation, playing a major role in the success in Anaheim.  His 10 wins, 2.71 ERA, 14 quality starts, and 119 strikeouts are all good for Top-10 in the AL. Not to mention the fact that his average fastball sits at a sizzling 96.3. It would have been fun to see him throw at Target Field, but the AL pitching staff is admittedly crowded.

2. Houston Astros RF – George Springer

Houston Astros RF - George Springer
Houston Astros RF – George Springer

Another rookie outfielder that was overlooked, elite prospect George Springer has pulled the bottom-feeding Houston Astros out of obscurity. The phenom has knocked 19 HRs and 50 RBIs, despite spending his first two weeks in the minor leagues. In addition, he has already shown prowess defensively with a combination of speed, glove, and arm strength. Yes, his .238 avg is bad, but he has proven to be unexpectedly disciplined.  Springer has gotten on base at an impressive .342 clip (only .006 behind mediocre All-Star honoree, Alex Gordon). He’s a future All-Star, without a doubt, but so far Springer has done enough to deserve a place on baseball’s biggest stage. I wouldn’t have minded watching him in the Home Run Derby either.

1. Detroit Tigers 2B – Ian Kinsler and Minnesota Twins 2B – Brian Dozier

Detroit Tigers 2B - Ian Kinsler
Detroit Tigers 2B – Ian Kinsler
Minnesota Twins 2B - Brian Dozier
Minnesota Twins 2B – Brian Dozier

Yes. It’s a tie for number 1. I simply could not choose, because both of these AL second basemen were denied a much-deserved roster spot. Veteran Ian Kinsler has been extremely productive all around in his first year in Detroit. Kinsler has hit .303 for the first-place Tigers, along with 11 bombs, 9 steals, and a whopping 62 runs that are good enough for second in the AL.  Second to… ? That’s right. Minnesota Twins keystone Brian Dozier. The Minnesota favorite is on pace for a 30-30 season, matching 15 swipes with 16 longballs. And, as mentioned, his 65 runs are best in the AL, again, proving his .338 OBP to be more important than his lackluster .235 avg. Most importantly, he’s the hometown hero! It’s a shame he’ll miss a chance to represent in front of his city.

I was shocked to hear that Angels SS Erick Aybar got the nod to replace injured Alex Gordon while both of these middle infielders remained at home. Nothing against Robinson Cano, who was voted by the fans as the AL starter, but the only second baseman who has been better than these two is the Astros’ diminutive speedster Jose Altuve. I’m just thankful AL Home Run Derby captain Jose Bautista acknowledged Dozier’s snub by selecting him to the AL Derby squad.

That’s my list. Who did I forget?

A Cappella is Getting Younger!

lgoo-no-border

A cappella, once regarded as the dorkiest of all music forms, reserved for old men and barbershop quartets, is seeing a renaissance. With the wild success of Pitch Perfect (which inspired the sequel, Pitch Perfect 2, now in production), NBC’s hit reality competition, “The Sing-Off,” and their season 3 godsend, Pentatonix, and the ever growing collegiate participation in the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella, making weird noises in harmony is one of the fastest growing trends in music!  And that’s why PTX member Avi Kaplan, along with Ben Bram (alumnus of 3-time ICCA winning SoCal VoCals) and Rob Dietz have founded The A Cappella Academy. The Academy is a week-long summer program to teach and train young singers in the art of a cappella.  From the looks of it, things are going well.

And they’re just in high school… These budding vocalists will be showcased this Saturday in Los Angeles. For tickets click here. And for anyone who has yet to discover Pentatonix, enjoy:

The Best Band You Might Not Be Listening To: Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot
Ra Ra Riot

Formed in Syracuse, New York, Ra Ra Riot features an upbeat dance-pop feel with several unexpected ingredients. Lead singer Wes Miles has elements reminiscent of Phoenix‘s Thomas Mars, while the band demonstrates surprising musicality for their fairly mainstream sound, and bouncy electronic tracks are matched with live strings in an interesting compliment. And while they’ve been at it awhile, fans of Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, and Broken Bells will find a fresh face in Ra Ra Riot’s mixture of youth and musical maturity.

 

If you think you have a band that should be featured on Best Band, contact us and tell us why!

100 Movie Challenge: #90 Swing Time

A-

Swing Time - 1936
Swing Time – 1936

The 90th film on AFI’s list brings us to our oldest film to date. One of the movies’ most delightful duos, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, join up for what is arguably their greatest film in the 1936 musical: Swing Time. Reminiscent of other non-integrated musicals of the classical and post-war era (like #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy), Swing Time finds ways to “naturally” work songs into the script by making both of the lead characters professional performers. In this case, Astaire plays a gambling-addicted dancer named Lucky, and Rogers portrays a local dance instructor, Penny. The film follows the pair from their meeting, to their magical first dance, and through a combination of romance and performances as they begin to gain success. All the while, Lucky attempts to keep his engagement with another woman a secret from his new companion.

As anyone who has seen an Astaire-Rogers’ picture could guess, the film is endlessly delightful. The witty dialogue, the unmatchable chemistry, and the seemingly-endless number of magnificent dance-steps keep audiences enthralled from top to bottom.

But perhaps what sets Swing Time apart as an all-time great is the music by Broadway pioneer: Jerome Kern. Kern was instrumental in founding what some have called the most American art form: the musical. In the early days of Broadway, Jerome made his name with hits like Show Boat and Ziegfeld Folliesand with future standards like “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “All the Things You Are.” In one of a few notable collaborations, he teamed up with Astaire in 1936 and the result is wonderful. Out of Swing Time came a few more of Kern’s most recognized tunes, including “Fine Romance” and the absolute classic: “The Way You Look Tonight.”

 

Couple these members of The Great American Songbook with some upbeat dance numbers and you get your full dosage of Astaire/Rogers whimsy.

t100_movies_swing-timeLike some of the older films on the list, Swing Time may not be life-changing. It does not tackle any major issues. It does not subvert any poignant symbols. But it does provide a foundation from which some of our most beloved musicals began to build. And while any film that stars this beloved couple brings joy, there is something uniquely well crafted about Swing Time, which is why it earns a strong A-. And while, with a fairly simple plot, it earns just a out of 10 on the Liberty Scale, that does not make it any less enjoyable.

We have nothing that can compare to Fred and Ginger today; no triple threat couple that brings constant smiles to the silver screen, but perhaps that’s the beauty of musicals on film. The stage offers so much, but when the show is over, it is over. With Swing Time, the magic is immortalized.

We’ve finished the 90s! Next on the list is the modern thriller, #89 The Sixth Sense.

What about you? Are you mesmerized by Fred and Ginger? Or do you require more substance in your pictures? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

 

The Best Band You Might Not Be Listening To: Dry the River

Dry the River
Dry the River

British-born Dry the River matched folk-roots with rock influences and masterful vocals in their debut album: Shallow Bed. The album garnered success when the single, “No Rest” surpassed 1 million hits on YouTube.  Now the group is releasing a new collection of their unique sound in August with their second album: Alarms in the Heart. For fans of groups like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and Mumford and Sons, Dry the River is quickly making its name as the newest folk-inspired cult classic ready to burst onto the scene in a big way.

 

100 Movie Challenge: #91 Sophie’s Choice

A

Sophie's Choice 1982
Sophie’s Choice 1982

Our  journey through film’s finest has brought us to one of the all-time tearjerkers.  Based on the novel by William Styron, the 1982 drama, Sophie’s Choicefeatures a dazzling performance by a young Meryl Streep and comes in at number 91 on our list. And while the story may not make a perfect transition from page to screen, the high-intensity drama and Streep’s masterful work are something to behold.

The plot follows Stingo, a small-town novelist who has just moved into an apartment complex in Brooklyn; played by Peter MacNicol. Once there, he is befriended by the charming but unstable Nathan (played by Kevin Kline) and his girlfriend, Holocaust survivor Sophie.

On paper, it’s by no means a perfect film. The action is slow at times, the plot is extremely vague, and the character development is certainly limited at best. Most of this can probably be blamed on the film’s novelistic background. Even if you’ve never read the book, you can get a pretty good sense of how it reads from watching the film. There’s an amazing attention to detail and characterization that is certainly unique on screen, but lacks some of the cinematic qualities we’ve come to expect.

However, that wealth of character background is perhaps what made these characters so lively on film. Every one has a seemingly endless breadth of past experiences to draw upon. And as those past experiences are revealed, the film picks up an intense amount of dramatic steam.

A young Meryl Streep as "Sophie" alongside MacNicol as "Stingo"
A young Meryl Streep as “Sophie” alongside MacNicol as “Stingo”

If you want to talk about a film that is at risk of spoilers, this is it. The film culminates in an emotional  scene that literally left me with my mouth open. If it hasn’t already been spoiled for you, I will say no more in order to preserve your innocence, other than it is quite possibly one of the most tense, emotional, dramatic, and well-acted scenes I’ve ever seen. The film is worth it for this scene alone.

But that’s not all that’s there! Which is why Sophie’s Choice earns an A, and for the constant debate over socialist themes and theories, earns a 6.5 on the Liberty Scale. It is truly a lesson in acting from one of film’s all-time greats, and surely would compete for the title of Streep’s greatest role. Fans of Streep, fans of acting, and fans of drama alike should all have Sophie’s Choice in their cinematic vocabulary.

We’re shifting gears next time with the lovably upbeat Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in #90 Swing Time.

Were you floored by Streeps performance? Or were you unable to get past the novelistic style of Sophie’s Choice? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

Scripps National Spelling Bee: Fantasy League

This past week, ESPN televised what is perhaps the most exciting annual event in sports. No, not the Super Bowl, not the Masters, not the World Series. Instead, families huddled around their TVs to watch their favorite middle schoolers spell words that no one has ever heard of…

It’s certainly a strange phenomenon, with growing popularity due to the prime time ESPN coverage and the release of the movie Akeelah and the Bee in 2006The Scripps National Spelling Bee has become a cherished event by many in our nation, and I am no exception. There’s something about it that is just jaw-droppingly fascinating.

Ansun (left) and Sriram (right)
Ansun (left) and Sriram (right)

This year was an especially legendary year, as the spellers were so good they actually ran out of words! That’s right, Sriram Hathwar of Corning, New York and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas were named co-champions after exhausting the list of designated final words. What made it even more interesting is that both spellers actually missed a word in the same round, forcing them to continue the duel.

So that got me thinking. As a massive sports fan, I have been drawn into the world of fantasy sports. Using the talents of big-leaguers to gain bragging rights against friends and co-workers has gained popularity every year.

But the Spelling Bee, despite being one of the most heralded sporting events in the country, has never had the opportunity for fantasy. Until now. I have drafted the rules to a Scripps National Spelling Bee Fantasy League. Follow the guidelines below and prepare to assemble your roster of encyclopedic adolescents.

 

League Rules:

Drafting

  1. General leagues will be made up of 10 teams.  There are 50 spellers in the Scripps National Finals.  Therefore, each team will have 5 spellers on their roster. Other leagues’ roster sizes will be determined by the number of teams in the league (10 max), but the number of active total roster members cannot exceed 50.
  2. The original draft order will be random and the draft style will be serpentine (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,1,etc.) before the final day of competition.
  3. Players will have time before the semi-final round to determine their drafting strategy.  Will you draft seasoned veterans who came oh-so-close last year?  Or are you likely to go after pedigree, drafting the younger siblings of previous champions?  As a former homeschooler, I will be seeking out the spellers who forgo the traditional schooling model to sit at home with Mom and study Latin etymologies.

Transactions

  1. Trades between teams may be done at any time after the draft.   There is no limit to the number of trades that can be made.
  2. At all times a “Free Agency” pool will be available to all teams that includes all spellers that are not currently on a team.  General Managers can add and drop spellers as they choose, so long as their roster does not exceed 5 spellers.  The Free Agency pool can be used to replace eliminated spellers up until the Championship Finals.
  3.  If a “Keeper League” is ever made available, players on a roster at the conclusion of the Spelling Bee will remain on the roster for the following year (which may make drafting the lone 5th grader more valuable).

Scoring

  1. All seedings and championships will be based on total score in comparison to all other teams.  There are no matchups or brackets.
  2. Each speller will amass 30 points for the first correctly-spelled word.  For every following word there will be an additional 5 points (30, 35, 40, 45, etc.).
  3. Additionally, spellers will earn points based on the rarity of the letters in their word.  Each letter has a point value (just as it does in the game Scrabble).
  4. The winner of the league will be determined by the score accumulated between the Semifinal and Final rounds (the 3rd day of the Scripps National Spelling Bee).

Optional Rules

A league may also choose to implement additional rules that add a new facet to the competitive atmosphere.

  1. A team is deducted 10 points if an eliminated speller goes to sit on his or her parent’s lap.
  2. A team is deducted 20 points if a speller cries.
  3. A team is awarded 10 points for every word with four or more syllables a speller uses in an interview.
  4. A team is awarded 30 points if a speller already knows the definition to his/her given word.

All I need now is a partner to help me code this thing for next year.

If a Spelling Bee fantasy league interests you, or if you have some adjustments to make to the rules, let us know!

World Cup Anxiety

Landon Donovan was left of the US 23-man roster
Landon Donovan was left of the US 23-man roster

The United States national team has announced its 23 man roster, a roster that is somewhat controversially lacking the decade-long face of US soccer, Landon Donovan. Squad coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, elected not to include Donovan on the national roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

It’s strange to imagine the national team without its captain, but we’ll get a look at the team tonight in a friendly against Azerbaijan. Perhaps after tonight we’ll better understand Klinsmann’s decision. Regardless, the US has a tough draw, with a group that includes all strong teams: Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. There will certainly be controversy if the team doesn’t perform, but as many have said, the coach must have seen an advantage in cutting Donovan.

Tonight’s match is on ESPN. Check in to get a look at this year’s squad.

UPDATE: The United States defeated Azerbaijan 2-0. Goals were scored by second half substitutes Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson.

100 Movie Challenge: #92 Goodfellas

B+

Goodfellas 1990
Goodfellas 1990

It’s our third straight crime-thriller and this one splits the difference. Martin Scorsese’s 1990 neo-noir gangster staple, Goodfellas, was one of those films on the list that inspired me to take the 100 Movie Challenge. As a fan of the ever-evolving gangster archetype, from the classical era to modern day, Goodfellas was a film I had always wanted to see, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Like last week’s film, The French ConnectionGoodfellas is based on a nonfiction, true crime book, Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The story follows the life of Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), an Irish-American born into a blue-collar family who managed to reach his dream of becoming an associate of the New York Italian mob family, the Luccheses. The film follows Hill as he works his way up the mob-hierarchy.

Liotta is complimented by a stellar supporting cast, including acting elite, Robert DeNiro, an Oscar nominated performance by Lorraine Bracco, and a show-stealing, Oscar-winning performance from Joe Pesci. Pesci’s performance was so good, it even outshined his other famously brilliant performance of 1990, as burglar Harry Lime in one of my favorite movies of all time, Home Alone. (How he missed a double nomination that year, I’ll never know).

The film simply has great scene, after great scene, after great scene. According to Pesci, the spectacular screenplay by Scorsese and Pileggi was enhanced by countless improvised lines. Whether it’s the brilliant dialogue of the “How am I funny?” scene or the brutally nonchalant manner in which heinous crimes are carried out, the script rarely displays a moment that is anything short of excellent.

Pesci's beloved "Am I funny?" scene
Pesci’s beloved “Am I funny?” scene

And it goes without saying, but the performances are masterful. From top to bottom, each actor delivers a compelling interpretation. The quality performances take an action-driven biopic and make it deceptively poignant.

My only gripe with Goodfellas is perhaps, partially, a byproduct of the film’s “based-on-a-true-story” foundation. The climax of the film falls flat for me. At risk of spoiling the ending, I’ll say only that it comes with an unconventional twist, which is drawn from the true life story of Henry Hill. My complaint isn’t with the twist, indeed it is what makes Hill’s story so interesting and offers a noteworthy question on liberty and loyalty, but after so many consecutive great scenes, one would expect the climax to blow you away. Instead it leaves something to be desired. The audience (or at least I) was left with the feeling that the greatest scenes of the film were found early on, while the rest were there simply to complete the story. It certainly didn’t destroy the movie for me, as I would still highly recommend it as one of the greatest gangster flicks of all time, but it is perhaps what kept Goodfellas in the 90s of our list rather than higher up.

Ending or no ending, Goodfellas earns a quality B+, and with a plot that addresses the underbelly of corruption and the breakdown of individualism, our #92 film ranks a 7 on the Liberty Scale. For the performances, the screenplay, the style, and the impact on the gangster paradigm, Goodfellas certainly merits its location amongst the greatest films of all time.

Our familiarization with acting’s elite continues next week with Meryl Streep in #91 Sophie’s Choice.

Are you a fan of Scorsese’s Goodfellas? Or does it shrivel in comparison to some of the other gangster-greats? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #93 The French Connection

C

The French Connection 1971
The French Connection 1971

Woof. Our walk through film history hit a significant bump with William Friedkin’s 1971 thriller, The French ConnectionI was so indifferent about our #93 film that the article is coming a day late. (Actually, I’ve been traveling; but the sentiment is still the same). To be brutally honest, I fell asleep during my first attempt at watching it and had to restart.

The crime-thriller stars Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a New York City detective assigned to interrupt a multi-million dollar heroin movement. The case unfolds through a series of investigations, shootouts, and some “riveting” undercover stakeouts. The film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name, that tells the story of real life narcotics officers Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan. The two NYC cops famously busted a record-setting 112 pounds of heroin in 1961. The subsequent book, and especially the 1971 film, have since been heralded as masterpieces of crime-thriller storytelling. The French Connection enjoyed acclaim from its contemporaries (winning 5 of 8 Oscar nominations) as well as today (being deemed “culturally or aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress and cracking our list at #93).

But to me, it just doesn’t stand up. The hell-bent, loose-cannon, case-obsessed cop story is one that no longer phases audiences. The same conventions have been used and re-used since Cagney and G-MenSo while Doyle’s obsessively driven character is well developed, it fails to jump off the screen as highly original (and I feel as though the case would have been the same in ’71). The plot is difficult to follow, the pacing is a little bi-polar, and the film is mostly lacking when it comes to the great bits of dialogue we’ve come to expect from films on this list (although, admittedly, some of the lines in the office are superb).

 

Gene Hackman in his Oscar-Winning role as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle
Gene Hackman in his Oscar-Winning role as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle

 

I felt like I was missing something. Even other films that have received a low score, like The Last Picture Showdemonstrated certain feats that brought credibility to its critical acclaim. For me, those elements were almost no where to be found. There are, however, two saving graces:

  1. The Car Chase – Anyone who talks about The French Connection will talk about the ground-breaking car chase that occupies about 15 minutes near the end of the film. Turner Classic Movies lists the chase as one of the primary reasons for the film’s ability to withstand the test of time, describing it as “breathtakingly innovative.” It’s true. The rest of the film aside, I was on the edge of my seat for the chase. I know it seems strange for an action sequence to be so good that it draws this kind of attention and acclaim, but you have to see it to understand.
  2. “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” by The Three Degrees – I watched an early scene in which Doyle goes to a nightclub over and over, not because I needed to retrace the dialogue or because I was enthralled by the drama, but because the scene includes a great tune by the Supreme-like Three Degrees. The upbeat motown song immediately made it onto one of my spotify playlists and I’ve been listening to it on repeat. A pleasant surprise hidden within this movie, though for some reason, “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” was not nominated for Best Song.

However, neither the epic car chase nor The Three Degrees’ nightclub jam could save The French Connection for me, which is why it earned a lowly C. However, any film that has a protagonist this focused on maintaining justice (despite how selfish his motivations may be) ranks high on the Liberty Scale, with The French Connection coming in at 7.5 out of 10. All in all, if you’re looking for a crime thriller about a major narcotics move, ditch on The French Connection and watch The Usual Suspects instead. You get all the action plus more compelling characters and some fantastic dialogue.

Back-to-back-to-back crime thrillers? Yes indeed. Next week its the notable gangster flick Goodfellas.

Who among you thinks I’m tragically misinformed when it comes to The French Connection? Or does everyone share my apathy? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

100 Movie Challenge: #94 Pulp Fiction

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Pulp Fiction 1994
Pulp Fiction 1994

It’s just a great movie. Anyone who’s been within earshot of a film school student knows it. Quentin Tarantino‘s 1994 crime drama, Pulp Fiction, has emerged as the quintessential example of what is now referred to as a “cult classic.” Although, by now Pulp Fiction has grown so popular that it is less of a cult and more of a major religion. It simply has everything: great performances, auteur directing style, an innovative temporal structure, and some of the greatest dialogue ever put on screen. Though Pulp Fiction is frequently viewed a somewhat progressive / experimental film, by classical critical standards it still holds up.

Prototypically postmodern, Pulp Fiction follows the stories of several Los Angeles mobsters and the people they encounter. The film’s nonlinear structure spends time focusing on several different characters, eventually revealing how all of their storylines intertwine in the end. The structure was uniquely inventive, especially for the time, and has since inspired hundreds of other filmmakers to tell their stories in an anti-linear fashion.

Don't Worry, John Travolta Dances
Don’t Worry, Travolta Dances

The performances are equally compelling. Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Travolta (20 years before Adele Dazeem) each received Oscar bids; not to mention a slew of equally engaging supporting performances from Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, and Christopher Walken, among others. The actors are aided by Tarantino’s phenomenally nonchalant dialogue and his mastery of character chemistry. Throw in a gimp and a Royale with Cheese and you’ve got a recipe for neo-noir glory.

Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield and John Travolta as Vincent Vega
Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield and John Travolta as Vincent Vega

If you search hard enough, you’ll find some uppity film snob who thinks Pulp Fiction is wildly overrated, or they’ll insist it is not even close to Tarantino’s best work. They’re out there. But from this critic, Pulp Fiction is a well earned A. Like some of the others we’ve watched up to now, it’s one of those that the modern film-goer simply has to know in order to engage in an intelligent conversation about film. So if you haven’t seen it, go watch it!

Take a bit to unwind, then get ready to watch #93 The French Connection.

What about you? What do you cherish most about Pulp Fiction? Or are you one of those who scoffs at its critical success? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

Puppycide: A New Documentary

 

Puppycide
Puppycide

Ozymandias Media has announced a new documentary that confronts a heartbreaking issue. Puppycide is a documentary currently under production that discusses a controversial piece of legislation that allows police officers to open fire on any canine they view as a potential threat. The law has led to countless cases of innocent and beloved pets being unjustifiably murdered.

The evidence is shocking, and the documentary is designed to inspire citizens to fight for legislative support. Some states have already developed legislation that requires officers to receive additional training in how to handle dogs deemed vicious or dangerous, but far too many still allow “puppycide” to run rampant.

A week ago, Inside Edition published a video investigating the issue. Reportedly, it is estimated that a dog is shot by law enforcement every 98 minutes. The statistic is appalling, and should cause each of us to question the validity of this law.

Below is the Puppycide trailer. We should warn you that it contains some graphic and shocking images. But it certainly makes us aware of just how cruel and common the act of puppycide really is.

Be sure to watch the entire documentary when it is released by Ozymandias Media.

The Flag Faux Pas

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican-American holiday designed to commemorate the causes of freedom and democracy. For most, it is simply another excuse to wear festive colors and drink tequila; but it has

Morgan Hill Protest
Morgan Hill Protest

become the cause of controversy and protest in Morgan Hill, CA. Today, some 30 protesters held American flags outside the doors of Live Oak High School in protest of a court decision made 4 years prior.

On Cinco de Mayo, 2010, four students were ordered to cover their shirts, which displayed American flags, in observance of the holiday. The demand led to a lawsuit, where an appellate court agreed with the school’s required observance. Today, several are still angered by the decision; feeling the ruling is in direct violation with their individual liberties (and, for that matter, the theme of “liberty” that is so fundamental to Cinco de Mayo itself).

It’s a sensitive issue, and we certainly hope that the raising of the American flag is in protest of the denial of personal freedoms, and not a protest to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo or Mexican culture. The incident is just another episode in the ongoing conflict between American liberties and political correctness/sensitivity.

Look to Your Left. Look to Your Right. Two of Those People are Copyright Criminals

It’s the digital revolution! Innovation is at an all time high because with every new piece of technology comes a new application to art, humor, literature, business, academia, and, yes, more technology. But Copyright-_all_rights_reservedin an age where so many old ideas are being revisited and improved, we face an interesting dilemma of personal property: the ever-controversial Copyright.

This week, George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a prominent institution in market research, chimed in on the debate. Chapman University Law professor Tom W. Bell narrates a video that shows just how common copyright infringement really is.

Is the system in need of reform? As of now, it seems as though the law is applied on a case by case basis, which calls many of us to question its effectiveness. Most Americans are unaware of how often they violate the current Copyright system, which is why Bell and the Mercatus Center are calling for the law to be revisited. For more information on Bell and the Mercatus Center click here.

And for those of you who are wondering, yes, I did have permission to publish this piece.

100 Movie Challenge: #95 The Last Picture Show

C+

The Last Picture Show 1971
The Last Picture Show 1971

Yeah.  That’s a low score for a film that experts and historians have agreed is one of the 100 greatest films of all time.  So maybe I’m missing something, but while I could recognize the provocative commentary on the redundancy of small-town life, Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 critic’s choice, The Last Picture Show, left me bored and uninspired.

Set in the ’50s, the film focuses primarily on the lives of three highschoolers, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), Duane (a young Jeff Bridges), and Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), as they navigate the monotony and legalism of their tiny Texas town. All three come-of-age through a variety of tragic events, sexual experiences, and unexpected responsibilities.  The film includes some standout performances, garnering 4 acting nominations, including wins for lonely adulteress Cloris Leachman and wise mentor Ben Johnson.  Those accolades are well deserved, but for this movie-goer, the acting alone cannot justify The Last Picture Show’s lofty status.

It is extremely slow. Many would argue that the pacing is necessary to indicate the tedium of small-town life, but it is so uneventful that I found it difficult to stay fully engaged. Perhaps this is just one post-modern baby’s opinion, but the lack of action, though thematically intriguing, fails to provide any sense of jeopardy or consequence, making it challenging to care about the characters and their journeys.

Cybill Shepherd in her Film Debut
Cybill Shepherd in her Film Debut

In a strange way, it reminded me a lot of Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker. Both films use a non-traditional structure and methodical pacing to push the theme of monotony to the forefront of the viewer’s mind.  In The Hurt Locker, it’s an episodic structure used to assert that war is not always a glorious journey with a begining, middle, and end; but rather that modern warfare is, in the vast majority of cases, a banausic series of never-ending tasks. A similar technique is used by Bogdanovich to emphasize the inconsequential nature of life in Anarene, TX. There are few moments of hightened intensity, but they can feel a bit contrived or irrelevant in the context. As a critic I can recognize and appreciate the

A Contrived Comparison
A Contrived Comparison

cooperation of theme and formal structure, but as a distracted entertainment junkie, it left something to be desired; which is why it garnered just a C+.

Still, you may not want to just take my word. After all, the film is heralded as both an homage to classical and post-war greats like Orson Welles, and an extremely progressive experiment in the artistic limitations of censorship and morality. You’d be hard pressed to find many film critics who doubt the mastery of The Last Picture Show.

Next week we move to the cult-classic: #94 Pulp Fiction.

How about you? Do you share my opinion about The Last Picture Show‘s monotony? Or are you appalled at my post-modern naiveté? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

Sterling is Out

We can all breathe a small sigh of relief knowing that the Los Angeles Clippers owner has met with a strong punishment.  Donald Sterling, revealed to have made several shockingly racist remarks in a recording broadcasted by TMZ, has encountered a

Donald Sterling
Donald Sterling

lifetime ban from the NBA, as well as a $2.5 million dollar fine.  NBA commissioner Adam Silver has sent a message that there is no room for this kind of racism in the league. It is a victory, yes, but the weight of these comments still stings. I’m just happy to call this a bright new day for the NBA, after what has been a truly tragic week.

To continue an optimistic day for basketball, my hometown Washington Wizards defeated the Chicago Bulls to advance to the second round.  Just an added plus to a basketball fan who has seen better days.

Comissioner Silver indicated that he will also encourage the board to force the Clippers to be sold out of Sterling’s hands. We can only hope that the motion goes through, and that the power of bigotry can be squashed by tolerance and justice.

100 Movie Challenge: #96 Do the Right Thing

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Our progression through AFI’s list has brought us to back-to-back films that were

Do the Right Thing 1989
Do the Right Thing 1989

underappreciated in their time.  Last week was #97 Blade Runner and this week we have Spike Lee’s 1989 dramedy Do the Right Thing.  Both were nominated for just two Academy Awards, and both left the ceremony empty-handed. And while the retrospective outrage over Blade Runner’s Oscar snubbage is deserved, it should be even more so when considering Lee’s 1989 masterpiece. The film follows a day in the life of Mookie (played by Lee), a slacker pizza-delivery man living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The seemingly lighthearted story turns dark when racial tensions between Mookie’s white co-workers (John Turturro and Danny Aiello in an Oscar nominated performance) and his African-American neighbors grow uncontrollably large. The film is jaw-droppingly poignant and eloquently interweaves formal film styling with a moving message on the dangers of prejudice and intolerance.

Do the Right Thing is the first film we’ve encountered so far whose directing style is intentionally experimental.  Unflattering close-ups, a purposefully disorienting sound-design, and the occasional breaking of the “fourth wall” all point to Lee’s innovative methods of communication.  And while some choices may be polarizing amongst viewers,

Do the Right Thing's famous "Love and Hate" sequence
Do the Right Thing’s famous “Love and Hate” sequence

they all seem deliberate and purposeful, rather than original just for the sake of being original.  Lee shows a propensity for everything, from the creation of dozens of brilliantly compelling characters (Samuel L. Jackson’s performance of Mister Señor Love Daddy is one of the most memorable), to the attention to the smallest details: like the Jackie Robinson jersey that Mookie wears throughout the film.

Spike Lee’s magnum opus is simply a great example of what film has the potential to do. A film can make us laugh, make us gasp, make us cry, but all of that is ultimately fleeting if a film doesn’t make us think; doesn’t have us re-examining our lives outside of the theater.  Do the Right Thing masterfully combines these elements of raw emotional reaction with thought-provoking content, and for that it receives a giant A.  The film also gets an 8.5 on the Liberty Scale for calling into question the “innocence” of small prejudices.  I had not seen Do the Right Thing before I started the 100 Movie Challenge, and it affirmed my faith that this is going to be one incredible ride through film.

We’re 5 films in!  Next is #95 The Last Picture Show.

What did you think of Do the Right Thing?  Were you struck by the social commentary?  Or were you less inclined to buy into Spike Lee’s directing style?  Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

The Best Show You Might Not Be Watching: The Goldbergs

For those of you in need of something to watch, let me do my best to enlighten you.  I’ll start by mentioning that “Complete Works,” which I wrote about last week, came out

The Goldbergs
The Goldbergs

today on Hulu.  But for those of you in need of more than one comedy to binge on, check out “The Goldbergs” on ABC.  The show follows Adam Goldberg and his affectionately dysfunctional family in America’s most hilarious decade: the ’80s.  The newly released sitcom (still in season 1) is reminiscent of several other fairly recent comedies that revolve around the American middle-class family.  The ones that immediately come to mind are the Emmy/Golden Globe nominated Malcolm in the Middle and the charmingly nostalgic, critically acclaimed show, The Wonder Years.  Add in some heart and a tasteful amount of ’80s nostalgia/parody and you end up with a superbly watchable sitcom.

I am always surprised at how few of my friends and colleagues are watching “The Goldbergs.”  The show is already receiving high praise (and not just from me), so start catching up!

Coachella: Fashion, Parties, and what was that last thing… oh yeah, Music!

It is reported that 90,000 people attended this year’s Coachella Music Festival. That’s a lot of people, all together, in the sun, crowded around, smoking things…  As a huge fan of music I can recognize the appeal; this year’s lineup included Outkast, Arcade Fire, Lorde, Queens of the Stone Age, Pharrell Williams, and one of my personal favorites,

Coachella Fashion
Coachella Fashion

Fat Boy Slim, amongst countless others.  But now it seems that the festival is about far more than the music. Girls search for their flower headbands and bikini tops to make sure they look sufficiently “free-spirited”, others search for undisclosed paraphernalia, and most seem more concerned with the stigma that now surrounds Coachella than the actual music.

If you’re looking for a great experience without all the fakiness, check out the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  To be sure, the “music festival” atmosphere is not totally eradicated, but the occasional sweaty, middle-aged guy in a tee-shirt that is there to catch one of his favorite jazz combos will be a sight for sore eyes.  They’re music festivals, after all.