Monthly Archives: July 2011

Paragraphed Movie Reviews: Great Villains

Last week I reviewed some recent animated films that I had seen and spent all week trying to come up with another grouping for this week’s Paragraph Reviews. I finally settled on movies that have a particularly memorable villain. We love movies where good triumphs over evil and the more evil the villain, the more satisfying the ultimate victory is.

Air Force One: A
I loved this one. Harrison Ford was excellent as the President of a hijacked Air Force One. It was a little more violent than I anticipated, but I don’t think it was overdone or unnecessary. Glenn Close was also wonderful as the determined Vice President. This is one that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from, particularly Gary Oldman’s chilling performance as a Russian terrorist. You can’t have a hero movie without a villain and the badder the bad guy, the more heroic your hero can be.

Psycho: B+
Knowing the ending really ruined it for me. While it was a very well done movie, it seemed to end rather abruptly. Instead of letting the viewer gradually figure things out for themselves before wrapping everything up, Hitchcock simply plot-dumps the whole movie in the last five minutes. A little disappointing given the recommendation this movie received.

Se7en: A
This movie is not for people that are put off by psychopathic serial killers. The entire film is dark, grisly and frankly disturbing. Despite this, it’s a fantastically fascinating film. The only thing keeping this film from an A+ grade is a somewhat disappointing ending. Not that it was bad, but so much went on during during the first hour and a half that the last half hour just seemed to “easy”. Nevertheless, Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are both fantastic as the old dog detective about to retire and the recently transferred young hot shot hunting a serial killer, John Doe, who is carrying out his crimes to preach a lesson about the Seven Deadly Sins.

The Dark Knight: A+
“Sometimes, a man just wants to watch the world burn.” The Joker is a different breed of criminal, one who commits atrocities with dangerous precision and planning for no reason other posing moral dilemmas for his intended targets. The special effects are incredible, but the movie is enjoyable because of the performances of the actors. Heath Ledger’s Joker is psychotic and insane while Batman, Gordon and Dent are all focal points of his evil transgressions. Possibly two of the world’s greatest actors, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine stand in as Batman’s pillars of confidence, both moral and ethical. Director Christopher Nolan has successfully taken Batman out of the comic books and transplanted the world onto the big screen in a way never done before.

The Silence of the Lambs: B+
Serial killers are never easily understood. So a movie about two serial killers is bound to be one messed up film—and Silence of the Lambs is just that. Hannibal Lecter’s entrance is carefully prepared and it is eventually under his guidance that the FBI locates and stops another serial killer. The Beauty and the Beast theme is played out very obviously, and Jodie Foster is terrific in her role as the young trainee assigned to work with Lecter and her steadiness and pluckiness are paramount to the movie. Despite her excellent work, she is upstaged by Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of what could possibly be film’s most iconic villain.

Die Hard: B
Overall a solid film that really defined a genre. Fast-paced and fascinating, Die Hard was highly enjoyable. Bruce Willis was pretty good as the man part of man-against-the world, but even more impressive was Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the sadistic corporate thief. His presence is so powerful that you almost find yourself more concerned about the outcome of Hans Gruber that the movie’s hero.

Up for next week? War movies.

Paragraphed Movie Reviews: Animated

I’ve seen a lot of movies—some great, some good and some completely unwatchable. People write reviews that take me longer to read than it took to actually watch the movie. So I’m going to go through some of the movies I’ve seen and write a short and simple review. Nothing too intense, just whether or not I liked it and why. I am going to try and organize these by genre and decided to start with some animated films.

How To Train Your Dragon: A-
I had not read the book and had put off seeing the movie because I assumed it would be some cheesy kids flick. I was wrong. This movie was very enjoyable for any age, it was clever and funny. It also took me over an hour to figure out that the head Viking was voiced by Gerard Butler. Very well written story and very impressive animation.

Tangled: B+
Another animated movie targeted to children that ended up as a quite enjoyable adult movie as well. It was a very clever re-telling of the classic tale Rapunzel and if you’re going to reinterpret a classic childhood fairy tale, you had better do a good job and they did.

Rio: B
Maybe it’s just my taste, but I continually find myself enjoying a good animated flick and you can count Rio among those. It’s easier to take liberties in an animated movie and maybe that’s what makes them special or maybe it’s hearing Anne Hathaway’s voice come out of a parrot that’s somehow attractive. One domesticated bird and one wild one team up to elude poachers and make it to their respective destinations.

Megamind: B+
Megamind wasn’t fantastic, but it put a smile on my face and made me laugh on more than one occasional, which is what any good movie does. Will Ferrell’s character goes from last survivor to evil genius to Metro City’s last hope.

Up: A
If Pixar has made a bad movie, I’ve yet to come across it. Up is just next in line of Pixar’s home runs. The plot is far-fetched but fascinating and the pairing of crotchety old gentleman, over-eager boy scout and talking dog just makes all the sense in the world. It’s an emotional and endearing story that immerses you in a world of wonder.

Gnomeo & Juliet: D-
There’s a reason that William Shakespeare didn’t pen his classic piece of literature about garden gnomes. There were close to a million characters and at 84 minutes, there just isn’t enough time to properly develop any of them, leading to a horribly confusing movie. It helps if you’re intricately familiar with the original source, but not much

Great American Ball Park

JULY 2, 2011 — The second of thirty Major League stadiums on our list was the home of the Cincinnati Reds, Great American Ball Park. About four hours from Murfreesboro, eight hours from Atlanta and nearly 1100 miles round trip, the GABP may be the last of our trips to be accessed entirely by car. The Florida stadiums are a possibility but in no way a certainty.

Great American Ball Park

Great American Ball Park gets a very high grade in my book. It was spacious with plenty of room to move around, yet it didn’t feel like behemoth of a structure. It was friendly and accessible all at the same time. Food was reasonably priced and parking is a breeze. Located right on the Ohio River, very affordable parking garages abound within walking distance in all directions. You could park in Kentucky and walk across one of several bridges without breaking a sweat.

There were very few superfluous annoyances around the park, which enables fans to focus on the game they came to see. There is no grating PA announcer and the mid-inning gimmicks are tasteful and enjoyable. The only real complaint I had was the brutal heat (mid 90s all game) but our seats were directly in the sun, and there were numerous “Cool Zones” with misting fans and water to keep fans cool.

Speaking of fans, the Reds fans impressed me immensely. The crowd was solid, well informed and well behaved. I don’t think I heard a single curse word the whole afternoon which may be a baseball game first for me. Certainly they were more involved than Atlanta fans, more hospitable than Cardinal fans and more numerous than Royal fans.

The baseball experience doesn’t begin and end with the product on the field, but it incorporates many more elements. TJ and I enjoyed a well-played and entertaining game in a venue that was both accommodating and comfortable.

We ended our long weekend trip with by swinging through the Louisville bat factory in Kentucky. A cheap and fascinating way to spend an hour or two, ten bucks gets you into the museum and through the factory where millions of bats are produced each year.

GABP from the Roebling Bridge

Field view from inside

The Great American Scoreboard

View from our seats - Section 141, Row A, Seats 18-19

My Second Round of MLB All-Star Voting

I typically vote for MLB’s all-stars twice each year—once on June 1 and then again on July 1. By the first of June, players have had a couple of months to impress voters, but by July 1, they’ve had one more month, and voters are able to get a better idea of the type of season a player is having.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Catcher: Alex Avila, Tigers
Avila has quietly put together a fantastic year for the Tigers. His .300/.373/.532 triple-slash line is impressive for just about any position, but for a catcher it’s exceptional. He strikes out quite a bit (27.6%) but that’s about the only black mark on an otherwise flawless offensive campaign. Russell Martin has missed some time due to a lingering back injury and Carlos Santana’s little hot streak is coming just a bit too late.
June 1 pick: Russell Martin, Yankees

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
Back on June 1, three AL first basemen were clumped together, but in the 30 days since then the imported Red Sox slugger has distanced himself from his competitors. Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera haven’t been bad at all, Gonzalez has just been that good. He’s hitting .417/.488/.792 in June and is on pace for over 150 RBI. Gonzalez’s antics have overshadowed performances from guys like Paul Konerko (.331/.400/.610) and Adam Lind (.328/.371/.603).
June 1 pick: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a somewhat disappointing May, Cano has rebounded to MVP-level performance, hitting .329/.397/.529 in June. He’s slowly rounding into form and is very easily the best second baseman in the league. Dustin Pedroia has also rebounded from a rocky April and May, but his power away from Fenway is still non-existent (9 XBH in 131 AB). Zobrist has struggled to maintain his early season performance and Howie Kendrick spent an extended time on the DL
June 1 pick: Ben Zobrist, Rays

3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Rodriguez remains the class of the American League’s third basemen. Despite slumping for three weeks in May, A-Rod holds a .296/.375/.510 line with above-average defense at the hot corner. Kevin Youkilis has rebounded from a slow offensive start, but not quite enough to earn him the starting nod over Rodriguez.
June 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Cabrera has carried his strong early-season performance into the beginning of summer, and therefore retains my vote as AL shortstop. Jhonny Peralta has been nearly as impressive with the bat, but his defense is steady rather than spectacular. JJ Hardy is also making a push with a strong June in Baltimore, but it’s too little too late.
June 1 pick: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians

OF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
I don’t really need to change much from the comments I made on Bautista a month ago. Even with the down month of June in which his power completely disappeared (.227/.378/.288) he stills leads all outfielders in average, on-base percentage and slugging. There should be no debate about who is the American League’s best outfielder.
June 1 pick: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

OF: Curtis Granderson, Yankees
If you’re looking for things to critique about Granderson’s season so far, you won’t find much that amounts to anything. He’s hit for average (.280) and power (.481) and has a 10% walk rate, which is eighth-best among AL outfielders, but third-best among Yankee outfielders. He’s hit lefties (.978 OPS) and righties (.934 OPS) and he’s hit at home (.968 OPS) and on the road (.926 OPS). All that offense and above average defense in centerfield? All-star all the way.
June 1 pick: Curtis Granderson, Yankees

OF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Ellsbury completes my outfield from the AL East. He surpasses guys on my list who have struggled (Matt Joyce) or been hurt (Josh Hamilton). Ellsbury has rebounded spectacularly from a 2010 season lost to various injuries by posting a .313/.373/.469 line and setting the table for baseball’s best offense. His defense is adventurous but exciting and he’s just the guy to leadoff for the American League in Arizona.
June 1 pick: Matt Joyce, Rays

DH: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Ortiz is still the leader in a weak field and by a large margin. His offense carried the Red Sox lineup through early season struggles and now only complements his teammates as they put up ten-spot after ten-spot.
June 1 pick: David Ortiz

SP: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Verlander already has a no-hitter to his name this season and if not for pesky Orlando Cabrera, he might have two. Absolutely un-hittable when he’s on, Verlander’s pure stuff can blow hitters away even when he doesn’t have everything working. He’s a little homer prone and has a slight tendency for flyballs, but other than that he’s been nearly a perfect pitcher. A workhorse and ace in every sense of the words.
June 1 pick: Jered Weaver, Angels

NATIONAL LEAGUE

C: Brian McCann, Braves
Brian McCann has to be one of the most underrated players in Major League Baseball. Year after year he posts some of the best numbers amongst major league catchers and does it all while catching 130+ games. Miguel Montero will make a fine back-up, but McCann is clearly the class of the National League catchers.
June 1 pick: Brian McCann, Braves

1B: Prince Fielder, Brewers
Gaby Sanchez was my nice little story, but since the beginning of June, he’s cooled off somewhat while Prince Fielder has gone on an absolute tear. Surprisingly, there are only two NL first basemen slugging over .502 (Prince and Washington’s Michael Morse). Albert Pujols’ injury removes him from the race, and Joey Votto is still looking for the home run power he had last year.
June 1 pick: Gaby Sanchez, Marlins

2B: Rickie Weeks, Brewers
Rickie Weeks is without a doubt the National League starter at second. He has been consistently good in all facets of the game since Day 1 and holds statistical advantages just about across the board. Washington’s Danny Espinosa has been putting up some good counting numbers, but a .230 average and .320 OBP put him in a tier well below Weeks.
June 1 leader: Rickie Weeks, Brewers

3B: Chase Headley, Padres
Headley has used three four-hit games in the past week to really push his case for the NL squad. He’s not hitting for much power (.108 IsoP) but nobody does in Petco Park. He holds a .297/.392/.406 which makes him the most valuable offensive third baseman in the league. He’s adjusted well to hitting in the middle of the lineup and is now a foundation for the Padres’ future.
June 1 pick: Placido Polanco, Phillies

SS: Jose Reyes, Mets
No change in shortstops over the last month, as Reyes continues to outpace his peers with a .338/.372/.550 month of June. Jimmy Rollins has heated up over the past few weeks and Starlin Castro has been consistently good, but both still fall well behind Reyes.
June 1 pick: Jose Reyes, Mets

OF: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
After last season’s dismal showing, I needed more than two months to buy into what Matt Kemp was selling. It’s now summer and Kemp is still punishing every pitcher who pitches to him. He’s hitting for power and average and he’s amongst the league leaders in stolen bases. He’s a complete offensive package, which is good enough for an all-star spot even if his defense is a little lackadaisical at times.
June 1 pick: Matt Holliday

OF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Braun is in the midst of another MVP-caliber season that should see him start his fourth consecutive all-star game for the senior circuit. His numbers do not quite stack up with Kemp’s but they outpace just about everyone else in the NL.
June 1 pick: Ryan Braun, Brewers

OF: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have surprised many this year and are in serious contention for their division, with Justin Upton being the biggest reason why. After a less-than-ideal 2010 season, Upton has rebounded to superstar levels of production in 2011 as he leads Arizona to the top of the NL West. Upton fits the mold of the new power-speed combo that teams are looking for now as he, Braun and Kemp will all enter the All-Star weekend with excellent chances at 30-30 seasons.
June 1 leader: Lance Berkman, Cardinals

DH: Lance Berkman, Cardinals
If the National League really wants the pitcher to bat so freaking badly, let them. But don’t force the AL to follow your stupid rules. If your game is better, then beat us at our game, using yours. Rant aside, Berkman has been fantastic for the Cardinals this season amidst slumps and injuries to other star players. He’s been pushed out of the starting outfield, but his consolation prize is here because of the game-destroying DH rule implemented for the ASG.

SP: Roy Halladay, Phillies
What else can you say about the man? He’s consistently phenomenal regardless of who he is facing, where he is pitching or whatever other extenuating circumstances there may be. He’s thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter in the last year and is once again the NL’s elite talent when it comes to starting pitchers. He has the league’s lowest BB rate and pairs that with nearly a strikeout per inning and an overwhelming amount of ground-balls. He’s the ultimate video game pitcher pitching in real-life.