The Voice: Battle Round 3

Adam 3 — Pip vs. Nathan Parrett (You Know I’m No Good, Amy Winehouse)

Adam’s Pick: Pip

Blake complimented Nathan’s big voice, but said that Pip is the guy who can do everything. Cee Lo liked Nathan’s effortless “cool” factor and Xtina was impressed with the way Nathan’s voice commands attention, even though he came across as less confident than Pip.

My Pick: Pip
Nathan’s nerves definitely returned during the actual performance, while Pip nailed just about every note. Nathan was tentative and pretty much just let Pip sing circles around him. I really didn’t think it was even close, let alone as close as the judges made it seem.

Cee Lo 4 – Erin Martin vs. The Shields Brothers (What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina Turner)

Cee Lo’s Pick: Erin

Adam felt that the pairing and the performance was “so weird”. He preferred the Shields Brothers when Erin overshadowed her unusual voice with quirky attempts at uniqueness. All Blake could come up with was the fact that he liked Erin’s corset-based outfit. Xtina had fun watching the battle, calling it entertainment. She didn’t think that the song really fit Erin’s talents and loved the harmonies and energy of the Shields Brothers.

My pick: The Shields Brothers, reluctantly.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with either one of them during the blind auditions, but Erin really turned me off in the battle round. The Shields Brothers took all the advice to heart and did everything they could to improve. Erin acted like a spoiled baby the whole time and then didn’t impress me vocally. I think just about everyone else sent home in previous battles were better options than either Erin or the brothers.

Xtina 5 — Ashley de la Rosa vs. Jonathas (No Air, Chris Brown & Jordin Sparks)

Xtina’s Pick: Ashley

Adam noted that Jonathas was very comfortable on the stage, but went with the bigness of Ashley’s voice. Blake enjoyed the character in Jonathas’ voice, but was disappointed that he didn’t build on his performance. Cee Lo enjoyed the visual chemistry between the two performers, but opined that Ashley stretched out more.

My Pick: Ashley
Jonathas was more polished, but the sound that Ashley produces is just phenomenal and unexpected. I think I’ve kind of seen all that Jonathas is capable of, but with Ashley there’s huge untapped potential that I would love to get a chance to see.

Blake 4 — Alyx vs. Jermaine Paul (Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car, Billy Ocean)

Blake’s Pick: Jermaine

The judges were unanimous in declaring Jermaine as the clear winner. Adam said that Jermaine kicked the song’s ass, while Cee Lo loved the confidence that Jermaine put on display. Xtina loved the energy and how he made the song his own.

My Pick: Jermaine
Two big voices going head-to-head, but I think that Jermaine ended up blowing Alyx out of the water. I think that the arrangement definitely lent itself to showing off Jermaine more so than Alyx and it showed.

Adam 4 — Angel Taylor vs. Katrina Parker (Keep Bleeding, Leona Lewis)

Adam’s Pick: Katrina

Blake: Loved Angel’s unique voice, but thinks Katrina flat out won the battle.
Cee Lo: Angel seemed a little uncomfortable while Katrina came in confidant .
Xtina: Unique rasp, but liked Katrina’s Adele-type voice.

My Pick: Katrina
Katrina started the song so strong and just continued getting better through the whole track. Angel was not bad, but she didn’t do anything too special to set herself apart. Katrina has this smoky, sultry aspect to her voice that just intrigues me.

Blake 5 — Gwen Sebastian vs. Erin Willett (We Belong, Pat Benatar)

Blake’s Pick: Erin

Adam was drawn in by the richness and warmth of Erin’s voice and Xtina gravitated to Erin’s style. Cee Lo preferred Gwen who completely sold him with her last phrase.

My Pick: Gwen
Erin is all power all the time, and I prefer the nuances of Gwen’s voice – with the wicked run at the end really selling it for me.

The Voice: Battle Round 2

Xtina 3 — Geoff McBride vs. Sera Hill (Chain of Fools, Aretha Franklin)

Xtina’s Pick: Sera

Adam felt that Sera put on more of a show, but Geoff was better vocally. Blake was more turned on by Sera and really felt her energy in the performance. Cee Lo enjoyed a high-energy performance, and picked Geoff who displayed more vocal control.

My Pick: Geoff
Everything Christina said Sera did well, I felt that Geoff did better. Xtina once again went with the vocalist that she preferred, and while that’s her prerogative, she’s proven that who she likes doesn’t always have the most talent. For the second week in a row, she sent one of her better singers packing early.

Blake 3 — Charlotte Sometimes vs. Lex Land (Pumped Up Kicks, Foster the People)

Blake’s Pick: Charlotte

Adam felt that Lex outperformed Charlotte, Cee Lo preferred Charlotte but also commented on how smooth and soothing Lex’s voice was. Xtina also picked Lex

My Pick: Lex
It sounds like Charlotte’s jaw is still collapsed or whatever because she can’t correctly pronounce anything when she is singing. Lex’s voice is definitely better and her style doesn’t rely on gimmicks.

Cee Lo 2 — Sarah Golden vs. Juliet Simms (Stay With Me, Rod Stewart)

Cee Lo’s Pick: Juliet

Adam loved Juliet from the beginning of the competition and continued to prefer her sound. Blake saw Sarah as the better option, considering how limited Juliet’s vocals are. Xtina didn’t think Sarah was a good fit for the song and thought Juliet was an easy choice to win.

My Pick: Sarah
Cee Lo really set up Juliet to succeed with the song choice, but I didn’t think either lady sounded all that great during the performance. I actually preferred Sarah’s sound, even though she was way out of her sweet spot.

Adam 2 Whitney Myer vs. Kim Yarbrough (No More Drama, Mary J. Blige)

Adam’s Pick: Kim

Blake thought that the performance was awesome and that both women used their strengths in their performances. He couldn’t pick between them and tried to choose host Carson Daly. Cee Lo felt that the song was better suited to Kim’s maturity than Whitney’s youth. Xtina thought Whitney had the higher end, but she loved the richness of Kim’s tone.

My Pick: Kim
I loved Whitney’s sound and performance, but Kim handled the song better and her voice is an actual powerhouse and not a wannabe imitation. Kim is everything that contestants like Cheesa think they are.

Xtina 4 — Lee Koch vs. Lindsay Pavao (Heart Shaped Box, Nirvana)

Xtina’s Pick: Lindsay

Adam was thoroughly entertained by a delightfully creepy performance. He thought it was odd, but in a great way. Loved Lee’s other-worldy sound. Blake was unfamiliar with the song, but would have picked Lindsay while Cee Lo was fascinated by the fact that the lighting made Lee look like Jesus. Apart from the physical appearance, he thought that Lee was unique and creative in his approach.

My Pick: Lee
Lee and Lindsay blended very well together, but Lee came across as more of the star and Lindsay was more the support. I felt that Xtina did a better job choosing her initial team this year during the blind auditions, but now that we’re into the battle rounds she’s getting rid of a lot of male talent just like she did in the first season. And that turned out to be a real poor strategy.

Cee Lo 3 — Jamar Rogers vs. Jamie Lono (I Want To Know What Love Is, Foreigner)

Cee Lo’s Pick: Jamar

Adam thought that Jamar came out and owned the performance while Jamie struggled with the high parts and fell off as the song went on. Blake however, liked Jamie’s vibe. Xtina was entertained throughout, but turned to Jamar when he nailed the final note of the song.

My Pick: Jamar
Jamie was definitely weak in the upper range, and neither guy gave a knock-out performance, but Jamar was better and deserved to win the battle.

The Voice: Battle Round 1

Adam 1 — Tony Lucca vs. Chris Cauley (Beautiful Day, U2)

Adam’s Pick: Tony

Blake: Expected Tony to dominate stage but thought Chris outdid him vocally.
Xtina: Name-dropped the entire Mickey Mouse club and picked Tony.
Cee-Lo: Tony articulated the song more clearly.

My Pick: Chris
Although you could tell that Tony was much more used to the crowd-engaging part of performing, Chris outshone him vocally. Chris has a unique sound to his voice that set him apart from the more mainstream pop sound that Tony has.

Blake 1 — RaeLynn vs. Adley Stump (Free Falling, Tom Petty)

Blake’s Pick: RaeLynn

Adam: Adley overpowered RaeLynn, but would go with RaeLynn’s unique sound.
Xtina: Thought both were on pitch, but picked Adley as the stronger of the two.
CeeLo: RaeLynn was adorable and youthful, but preferred Adley as being there now as opposed to being well on the way.

My Pick: Adley
RaeLynn seemed to know she was overmatched vocally in this battle and tried to do way too much to compensate. Adding too many dips and turns when she should have just sung. Blake kept true to his preference for the young female vocalist who have a unique quality to their voice. Xenia and Dia had it in season 1, and RaeLynn’s is the same way.

Xtina 1 — Chris Mann vs. Monique Benabou (Power of Love, Celine Dion)

Xtina’s Pick: Chris

Adam: Monique picked it up after a shaky start, but picked Chris.
Blake: Thought Monique brought it just enough to beat Chris.
Cee-Lo: Believes Chris is one of the best.

My Pick: Chris
Even though he was way out of his comfort zone, I thought that Chris nailed his performance much more so than Monique did, who was a little shaky throughout.

Cee Lo 1 — Cheesa vs. Angie Johnson (Total Eclipse of the Heart)

Cee Lo’s pick: Cheesa

Adam: Early nerves, but goes with Cheesa.
Blake: Clarity and diction goes with Angie
Xtina: Angie got better as it went along.

My Pick: Angie
Angie showed a much bigger range of vocal ability, nailing the loud and powerful high notes, to the soft and sweet melodies. Cheesa didn’t do a whole lot new to impress me, replicating the skills she showed off in the blind auditions.

Blake 2 — Brian Fuente vs. Jordis Unga (Ironic, Alanis Morissette)

Blake’s Pick: Jordis.

Adam: Tough to choose, but Jordis.
Cee-Lo: Got a kick out of Brian really getting into it.
Xtina: Some pitchy moments throughout for both, but picked Jordis.

My Pick: Jordis
I went into the performance thinking I was going to prefer Brian, but he didn’t do anything to blow me away and while Jordis wasn’t spectacular, she was better than Brian and I think she has more untapped potential than Brian.

Xtina 2 — Jesse Campbell vs. Anthony Evans (If I Ain’t Got You, Alicia Keys)

Xtina’s Pick: Jesse

Adam: Sheer level of talent is mind blowing, picked Jesse.
Blake: Loved Anthony’s high note, thought Jesse’s swagger owned the stage.
Cee Lo: Blown away by both performances.

My Pick: Jesse
In the best battle of the night, both men absolutely nailed a terrific performance. Very similar styles, both guys have great control of the upper register, but stylistically I felt that Jesse had a slight edge. But Anthony is definitely one of the best 6 vocalists on Xtina’s team and it’s a shame he had to go up against her best vocalist so early in the competition.

Goodbye Community?

Over the past three years, Community has quickly become one of my can’t miss TV comedies. Although I prefer Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory and The Office, Community is a completely unique type of television show. It’s off-the-wall and completely outside-the-box ideas make it a witty and entertaining half-hour. There’s an undefinable absurdity to the show that gives it and unpredictable and unmatched aspect.

Another underrated aspect Community is cuteness of Annie, played by the adorable Alison Brie. And if Community is truly on its farewell tour the rest of this season, then at least we’ll always have the GIFable memories of sweet, cute Annie.

Too Much Money-Ball

This video has been making its way around the internet since Brad Pitt’s Moneyball was released. It’s a fun few minutes, a trailer for the yet-to-be-produced Yankee version of Moneyball. Go ahead and give it a watch, it’s well done and a nice little video spoof.

"$100 bills don't hit home runs, players hit home runs!"

What’s Next? Historical Collapses for Boston and Atlanta

Boston Red Sox
September 1: (83-54) Led Wild Card by 9 games
September 29: (90-72) Lost Wild Card by 1 game

LOOKING BACK

After signing free agent prize Carl Crawford and trading three unspectacular prospects for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox spent the offseason being touted as the greatest team in Major League history.

Greatest Team Evahhhh!

Their rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka found themselves labeled as Five Aces, despite serious injury or performance concerns on all but one of them. Hundreds of articles were written about the lineup scoring over 1,000 runs in 2011, despite never accomplishing that feat in over 100 years of existence.

Every single “expert” at ESPN picked them to win the AL East and over half of them picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. But then something funny happened—the season started. Boston opened the season by losing its first six games and ten of its first twelve.

No worries, the media said, it was just an adjustment period for a team with so many new additions. And then for awhile it seemed as though they were right. The Red Sox put together winning streaks of five, seven, five, nine and six and headed into the All Star Break leading the division and with the best record in the American League.

They won eleven of their sixteen games following the All Star Break and entered August with the best record in the American League. They lost two of three to the Yankees at the end of August, but still entered September with the best record in the league and atop their division. A 6-0 win over Texas on August 25 left Boston with a 99.989% chance of making the playoffs. But then everything fell apart.

They lost two of three to Texas and two of three to Toronto. Then they lost six of seven against Tampa Bay and three of four to Baltimore, dropping their playoff chances to 80.0%. But the free fall didn’t stop there as they lost four of their last six games, including the last game of the season which let Tampa Bay roll right on by them.

The greatest team ever ended up with the ninth best overall record in baseball and missed the playoffs. In order to completely collapse, everything needed to go wrong for Boston and it did. The offense disappeared with the exception of a handful of games and the pitching and defense were worse.

Boston went 3-19 in September when the offense scored less than 10 runs and received just four quality starts out of twenty-seven September games. Their team ERA was 5.84 for the month and their starter’s ERA was 7.08. Of the six pitchers who started a game for the Red Sox in September, Tim Wakefield’s ERA of 5.25 was the lowest.

LOOKING FORWARD

Boston has a lot of question marks moving forward. With the game’s second highest payroll, someone is going to have to take the fall for the historic collapse. It could be the general manager Theo Epstein, who despite high media praise, has swung-and-missed on several key free agent signings.

John Lackey still has three years and over $45 million left on his contract and Carl Crawford has six years and $122 million. Previous free agent endeavors JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria and John Smoltz has flamed out in spectacular fashion.

In addition to big free agent blunders, Epstein has failed to build any semblance of starting pitching depth and the upper levels of Boston’s farm system are severely lacking any impact talent.

It could be the manager, Terry Francona who seemed unable to motivate his players down the stretch. Or it could be the pitching coach who saw his pitchers succumb to injury and poor performance throughout the year.

More time to enjoy the Shire this offseason

Personnel-wise, Boston has the opportunity to shake things up, but not in their rotation. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all under contract for 2012. There are no better internal options, and unless they can find someone desperate enough to take Lackey or Dice-K off their hands, the Boston rotation is full. Boston would have to eat a ton of cash to move either guy, and while I’m sure they’d be willing to, I doubt they could find a taker.

Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia will be back manning the right side of the infield, and will provide MVP-caliber offense and defense. The left side of the infield is less certain. Boston can bring Marco Scutaro back on a team option for $6 million and will probably do so. Kevin Youkilis is under contract for 2012, but the team may consider shifting him to the DH role to try and keep him healthy while replacing him at third with Jed Lowrie or from outside the organization.

If the team moves Youkilis to DH full-time, David Ortiz’s time with Boston is probably up. JD Drew’s definitely is. Drew was never as terrible as Boston fans may have thought, but his playing time was sporadic due to his injuries. Boston will probably cut ties with Drew and look to free agency to fill RF after youngsters Josh Reddick failed to impress. Carlos Beltran is the best available RF option, but Boston may choose to go with someone who has a better track record health-wise, like Oakland’s Josh Willingham. Ellsbury and Crawford will return to complete the outfield.

The biggest turnover could happen in the bullpen. Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon will be a free agent and could jump ship after some unpleasant ends to seasons recently. If he does leave, Daniel Bard is the likely heir to the ninth inning unless Boston chooses to pick from the plethora of closers that will be on the open market.

Next season doesn’t promise to be any easier regardless of how the Red Sox look to plug their holes. The Yankees will undoubtedly hit the offseason with money to spend and word is Toronto will be looking to raise their payroll as well. With the Yankees and Rays already among the games powerhouse franchises, Toronto’s return to respectability would make the game’s best division even better.

Boston will need to make some smart free agent decisions this offseason while hoping that some of their dead wood can bounce back from atrocious seasons. It’s tough to be successful when your highest paid players put up some of the worst numbers in the game.

Atlanta Braves
September 1: (81-56) Led Wild Card by 8.5 games
September 29: (89-73) Lost Wild Card by 1 game

LOOKING BACK

When play began on September 2, the Braves held a comfortable 9 game lead in the loss column for the NL Wild Card over the Cardinals and the Giants. The Braves were sitting pretty, with a playoff probability of well over 90%. Everything was going right for Atlanta—the starting pitching was strong, the back end of the bullpen was superb and the hitters were finally starting to show signs of life. Dan Uggla was fresh off a 33-game hitting streak and Chipper Jones was healthy and regaining his stroke.

But just around the time when Atlanta playoff tickets went on sale, disaster hit. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, two of the Braves top three starters went down with injuries. The offense up and disappeared, with four regulars hitting under .250 and no one with over 60 AB hit over .271 in the month of September. The enormous workload of relief duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters finally caught up to them and fastballs down and on the corners started leaking back over the middle of the plate.

The Braves lost 18 of their final 26 games, including their last five contests. They were swept by the Cardinals in mid-September and went 0-6 against Philadelphia. September produced the Braves highest ERA of any month of the season, and their lowest OPS. Seventeen of their last twenty-six games were against teams with losing records, but the Braves managed just an 8-9 record in those games.

LOOKING FORWARD

What does the near future look like for Atlanta? There shouldn’t be too much roster turnover, as many of the Braves core players are under team control for 2012. Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla will undoubtedly return to the right side of the infield and Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are under contract for 2012. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is the only infielder without a contract for next season, so the Braves may look to bring in a replacement with more offensive upside.

Dan Uggla hopes 2012 is a little kinder than 2011

Jason Heyward (pre-arbitration), Martin Prado and Michael Bourn (both arbitration eligible) should make up the outfield next season and the prospective OF class doesn’t have a clear-cut upgrade available apart from Carlos Beltran.

The rotation and bullpen should stay mostly the same with the returns of Hanson and Jurrjens. Both Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are in the final years of their contracts and the Braves could look to unload one or both. Hudson should be fairly easy to deal if they choose to do so, but Atlanta would have to kick in a lot of money for anyone to take Derek Lowe off their hands. The Braves have Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to fill out the rotation and to act as starting pitching depth.

The bullpen should see the normal amount of turnover with the top guys staying locked into their roles and guys like Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill should be replaced either by similar veteran arms or from within the system.

The Braves will return pretty much the same team that missed the wild card by one game this year, but their path to the playoffs might be significantly more difficult. Washington is finally seeing some returns from their high draft picks and finished the 2011 season just one game under .500. I wouldn’t count them as a lock to finish worse than Atlanta next season. The Marlins will move into a new stadium and a new name (Miami Marlins) and the new revenues that come with those. There have been rumors of the Marlins spending that money and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a shot (however remote) at Albert Pujols. Certainly they’ll be in on the top pitchers (CJ Wilson) and they always have plenty of young homegrown talent.

With the division’s toughest inter-league schedule and the improvements of the rest of the NL East, the Braves will have a more daunting task awaiting them in 2012, without a whole lot of room for outside improvement. Atlanta will once again have to rely on the continued development of its young players and hope to keep its key rotation pieces healthy for a full season.

Realistically, the only major change the Braves could make is to their coaching staff, which despite the collapse seems unlikely. Fredi Gonzalez is a poor manager, but will certainly won’t be let go after just one season.

The Justin Verlander Award Discussion

Justin Verlander failed to win his 25th game of the season the other day, but regardless of that he’s had a superb season. He has gone 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and a 250/57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 251 innings and has MLB award voters touting him as a runaway Cy Young winner and a possible MVP winner.

Justin Verlander 24-5, 2.40

But delving deeper into his season might show otherwise. Undoubtedly, traditional stats like wins, ERA and strikeouts confirm that Verlander is the clear Cy Young winner. He will win the pitching triple crown this season by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. While not as rare as the hitting triple crown (average, HRs and RBIs) the last dozen pitchers that have won the triple crown have also won the Cy Young award.

However, more extensive statistics show that Verlander might not be the clear-cut best pitcher in the American League. His WAR of 7.0 is tied with CC Sabathia for the best in the American League, but of qualified starters, Justin Verlander ranks just fourth in FIP and second in xFIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and eliminates things that pitchers have no control over, such as defense. His FIP is actually the highest it has been since 2008, while his ERA this year is a career-low.

CC Sabathia has a lower FIP and xFIP than Verlander, and the 0.60 edge Verlander has in ERA is due entirely to Sabathia’s unusually high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) of .318 this season. Verlander’s 2.40 ERA is due mostly to an abnormally low BABIP and an abnormally high LOB% (left on base percentage). Both of these statistics are based mainly on “luck” and if these numbers were more in line with Verlander’s career numbers his season may have a different look. His career BABIP is .285 which is a very normal number, but in 2011 it is .238—much lower than the league average.

Another aspect of Verlander’s season that must be taken into account is the competition he has faced. Pitching in the American League Central division, Verlander will have made 10 starts against teams with a winning record this season, and just three such starts since July. CC Sabathia on the other hand has made 19 starts against winning teams, 11 since June.

Traditional statistics point to Justin Verlander as a clear-cut Cy Young favorite, but advanced metrics show that CC Sabathia has been the American League’s best pitcher in 2011. Cases can be made for either man to win the award, and I wouldn’t be all that upset if either pitcher received the award.

But, I can see no case whatsoever where anyone can make a case that Justin Verlander is the Most Valuable Player.

First of all, anyone that says the Tigers would have missed the playoffs without Verlander is insane. Detroit will end up winning the division by at least 14 games, probably more. The Tigers also outscored every team in their division by anywhere from 40 to 160 runs. Hitters like Miguel Cabrera have a much better case for MVP than Verlander. Cabrera is somewhat overlooked because he is this good every season. Verlander is having a career year, but Cabrera has a career year every year. The Tigers would have made the playoffs if I replaced him in the starting rotation.

Secondly, pitchers have had much better seasons than Verlander is having this year. If Pedro Martinez didn’t win the MVP for his 1999 season, Verlander shouldn’t finish top 10. That season, Pedro struck out 63 more batters than Verlander did this year, despite facing 134 less batters. Never mind Pedro did it in the midst of the Steroid Age and Verlander’s doing his thing in an offensive decline.

Every day skill players like Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera are more valuable to their team than Justin Verlander. I believe that in baseball, the best player is the most valuable player. During a short playoff series, one starting pitcher can most definitely be the most valuable player, but over the course of a 162 game season, an everyday player provides a team the most value.

Justin Verlander is having an incredible season, but it is far from the historically good year that would force me admit that he is as a runaway Cy Young winner or a serious MVP candidate.

Paragraphed Movie Reviews: War

The Hurt Locker: A-
Definitely very well done. Suspenseful and intense the whole way through, for a non-military individual this was an enjoyable movie for me. Casting fairly unknown actors to play the three leads added to it’s authenticity as you actually felt you were watching American soldiers rather than actors playing soldiers.

Inglourious Basterds: B-
Drawn out and lengthy. I felt there was a lot of film fluff in the movie that did little to further the plot. It was both jumpy and extended at the same time. I’ve never really been a huge Tarantino fan and he certainly didn’t win me over with this one. As is most of his work, Basterds was a little over the top and unbelievable.

Defiance: A
I love a good war movie, and this one was absolutely fantastic. Daniel Craig is phenomenal as the oldest Beilski brother, leading refugee Jews out of the Nazi’s way. He sets up temporary settlements for his people in the forests, moving and starting from scratch every time they are discovered. The Beilski brothers clash over how to handle their responsibilities and are ultimately confronted by the German army.

Schindler’s List: B
Liam Neeson is terrific and Ralph Fiennes is terrifying in the true story of Oskar Schindler. The movie is a bit long, but is nonetheless a fantastic retelling of one of World War 2’s finest men. Schindler was personally responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Jews by employing them in his factories rather than shipping them off to concentration camps.

We Were Soldiers: A+
For me to hand out an A+ to a movie it has to be absolutely amazing, and We Were Soldiers is that caliber of movie. Mel Gibson is tremendous as Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore of the 7th Cavalry Regiment during the Battle of Ia Drang. The movie captures the true atmosphere of the Vietnam War and retells the story in a way that does the American soldiers true justice.

The Great Escape: A-
Although a bit lengthy at nearly 3 hours, The Great Escape is a very entertaining once it gets going. Steve McQueen is fantastic as the cocky American officer and his motorcycle stunts (performed by McQueen) at the end of the movie are breath-takingly enjoyable. If the movie had been made in 2011, the Nazis would have been more evil, the heroes less interesting and the movie would have been much, much louder. As it is, The Great Escape is highly enjoyable and definitely one of my favorite wartime movies.

Behind Enemy Lines: C+
I think I’ve type-casted Owen Wilson into the frat-pack actor that it took me a while to get into him as a military man. And if you can’t buy him in that role, this movie won’t change your mind. Wilson’s character here is probably the worst Navy pilot to be stuck in enemy territory and the only reason he isn’t killed is because the villains are somehow even more incompetent than he is.

The Pianist: A-
It always surprises me that a sick freak like Roman Polanski can turn out a great movie and believe me, The Pianist is a great movie. Dark and foreboding, but fantastic nevertheless. It’s a story of terror and loss, but amidst all the devastation and destruction, something beautiful continues to persevere.

Platoon: A-
Martin Sheen had Apocalypse Now and his son has Platoon. Having actually served in Vietnam, director Oliver Stone is able to depict an infantryman’s strife more accurately than any before him. He doesn’t glorify war as many movies do and Charlie Sheen stays mostly out of the way of great performances by Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe.

Black Hawk Down: B
Black Hawk Down accurately re-creates the disastrous US military raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. Using a true ensemble cast, the movie follows several different story lines and several groups of soldiers engaged with unfriendly forces.

The Dirty Dozen: B+
Another older film in which Lee Marvin is put in charge of 12 soldiers convicted of rape and murder and is instructed to train them to infiltrate a German chateau and eliminate as many officers as possible before they are killed. The movie is smart, funny and well-paced. There are amusing moments throughout and you almost forget that the guy you are rooting for are some of the most despicable criminals imaginable.

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