Final MLB Predictions

Surprise, surprise, the Blue Jays probably aren’t gonna be huge factors in the AL East this year. Bring back  Cito Gaston already!

Well, with the season starting today in a couple hours, I guess the ship has sailed on my division-by-division predictions of the upcoming Major League Baseball season. I guess the honourable thing to do would be to bang out four more 1000+ word previews, but that would also be the insane thing to do, so here’s a quick PKTM preview of the 2014 season. The Al East will be thew only division with a summary, because, well, this was the only division I had stuff written out for. I need to work on this whole “meeting deadlines” thing.

AL East 

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox (Wild Card)
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

Sure, the Rays may not score the most runs (Or draw the biggest crowds), but their pitching staff is deep enough to the point where it doesn’t matter if Matt Moore or Chris Archer regress, or if Jake Odorizzi doesn’t cut it in the major leagues, because they’re bound to have somebody just as good waiting in the wings. Also, you can’t go wrong with Evan Longoria. Fuck Josh Lueke though.

The Red Sox are a great team as well though, and could repeat as World Series champions, let alone division winners. However, while they may be the harder-hitting team, the Red Sox pitching staff is a lot thinner than Tampa’s, and, while he probably should have won AL Manager of the year in 2013, John Farrell is still an inferior manager to Joe Madden.

The Orioles are far from has-beens, but they’re a bit iffier, what with Nelson Cruz coming off of steroids and Ubaldo Jimenez being Ubaldo Jimenez. The rotation is solid and deep, though, and they still have stars like Adam Jones and Chris Davis, who should hold them off while Manny Machado recovers from his injury.

As for the Bronx Bombers, they will probably miss the playoffs. There are far too many question marks on this team for me to justify predicting even an 85-win season. Can they really count on not only Derek Jeter, but also Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Brian Roberts, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Michael Pineda to stay healthy? And on C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Alfonso Soriano to not regress with age? And who knows about Masahiro Tanaka.

And as for my Blue Jays, they may be filled to the brim with talent, but with that rotation? Come on. Maybe in a lesser division, but not in the same division as the Red Sox, Rays and O’s.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

AL West

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Oakland Athletics (Wild Card)
  3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. New York Mets

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card)
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants (Wild Card)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

 

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels

NL MVP: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

AL Rookie of the year: Taijuan Walker, Mariners

NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Reds

 

ALCS: Detroit Tigers over Tampa Bay Rays

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals

World Series: Los Angeles Dodgers over Detroit Tigers

 

Now, if ya’ll will excuse me, I’m gonna get back to binge-watching the 90’s X-Men cartoon series.

While also mentally willing Jubilee to shut her goddamn mouth.

 

American League West Predictions

(Looking for my NL West preview? Here it is!)

“Oh cool, a helicopter!” -Jose Altuve, probably

5. Houston Astros 

 2013 Record: 51-111 (5th in division)

Manager: Bo Porter (2nd season as mansger, 51-111 career record)

General manager: Jeff Luhnow

Home field: Minute Maid Park

So what’s good?: Bupkiss.

Just kidding. There isn’t any reason for Astros fans to commit mass suicide yet. While this team has absolutely no hope of a winning record, much less making the playoffs, this season, there still are reasons to head to Minute Maid Park in 2014. For one, the big league team, despite barely being better than most AAA teams, has some solid talent in young players such as Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler, Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and L.J. Hoes. None of these guys are superstars, obviously, but as a young core group of players, you could do worse.

And lest we forget that the Astros have the best farm system in the game, the beneficiaries of a bunch of good drafts. George Springer, Domingo Santana and Jonathan Singleton are all knocking on the door of the big league club, and Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Mike Foltynewicz should all be factors way down the line.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: What could I possibly say about the Astros’ chances this year that hasn’t already been said?

Team Grade: D

Insert “99 Problems”joke here.

4. Seattle Mariners

 2013 Record: 71-91 (4th in division)

 Manager: Lloyd McClendon (6th season as manager (1st with Mariners) 336-446 career record)

 General manager: Jack Zdurienczik

 Home field: Safeco Field

 So, what’s good?: If there’s one nice thing to say about the Seattle Mariners, it’s that their rotation is very impressive. Felix Hernandez, of course is a wonderful pitcher, and should contend for the Cy Young Award, but often overlooked is Japanese hurler Hisashi Iwakuma, who was arguably even better than Hernandez last year. When you factor in the arrivals of prospects Taijuan Walker and Canadian lefty James Paxton, you have what could potentially be a great rotation on your hands.

There are some bright spots in this lineup as well, such as the highly underrated third-baseman, Kyle Seager, highly-touted catching prospect Mike Zunino and, of course, the highest profile signing of the offseason, Yankee expat Robinson Cano, probably the best second baseman in the game and a probable MVP candidate.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Remember how I said how great the M’s rotation was? Well, that was before Walker and Iwakuma got hurt and became doubtful to not miss the start of the season and the rotation was depleted to Hernandez, Paxton and such superstars as Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan. Add what looks to be, even with the addition of Fernando Rodney, a very thin bullpen (Although Rodney’s in decline, anyways) and you have a recipe for a ton of runs allowed, at least until the starting pitching gets healthy.

And the starting lineup doesn’t inspire much confidence either. Aside from Seager and Cano, most of the hitters are either mediocre (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley) or unproven (Zunino, Brad Miller). And holy shit, why would you pay $6 million dollars to Corey Hart? I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I’m even more sure he hasn’t played in a major league baseball game since the end of the 2012 season. And while I may not be the best judge of managers, Lloyd McClendon’s poor record with the Pirates from 2001-05 isn’t that impressive.

Team Grade: C-

Admit it. You thought Bryce Harper was gonna be the next big thing too.

 3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

 2013 record: 78-84 (3rd in division)

 Manager: Mike Scioscia (15th season as manager, 1233-1035 career record)

 General manager:Jerry Dipoto

 Home field: Angel Stadium of Anaheim

 So what’s good?: Any discussion about the strong points of the Angels has to begin and end with Mike Trout, the best all-around player in MLB bar none. He probably should have won MVP awards the last two seasons (Although it’d be hard to make an argument against Miguel Cabrera) and has to be considered the favourite to win the big prize this year, even if his team doesn’t make the playoffs.

 Another point in the Angels favour is the improved starting rotation, which was just plain rancid last year. Jered Weaver should be excellent, as long as he stays healthy, C.J. Wilson is a very good pitcher, although he is criminally overpaid, and Garrett Richards and Hector Santiago are some nice young talent. And let’s not forget about Tyler Skaggs, whom they acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: I have a feeling that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are going to rebound a bit this year, but I’m also quite sure that a) neither are going to be elite players ever again and b) even that slight rebound will not be enough to justify the inhuman amount of money that they’re being awarded in 2014 or going to be awarded way down the line. These idiotic contracts may turn out to be the reason that the Angels may not be able to afford to lock up Mike Trout before he becomes a free agent in 2018.

Team Grade: B-

 

Just let them move to San Jose already! That’s fucking disgusting!

2. Oakland Athletics

2013 record: 96-66 (1st in division)

Manager: Bob Melvin (11th season as manager (4th with A’s) 730-694 career record (237-186 with A’s))

General manager: Billy Beane

Home field: O.co Coliseum

So what’s good?: The good news is, aside from the recent injuries to their starting rotation, the A’s don’t really have a discernible weakness. The bullpen looks great, as seems to be the norm in Oakland, even if I maintain that Jim Johnson is highly overrated, and there isn’t a single bad player on the starting lineup. Sure, one could complain that there’s no real superstar, but who could really complain about a 1-2-3-4-5 of Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss?

Sounds great, but what sucks?: The young A’s rotation has, unfortunately for my second-favourite team, fallen prey to injuries. Jarrod Parker is going to miss the season because of Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin is going to miss the first few weeks of the regular season with elbow tendinitis. I suppose you could ask for a worse rotation than Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez, but it could still cost them some serious ground.

Team grade: B+

Catcher J.P. Arencibia posing for his first Texas Rangers headshot. Or hiding from irate Blue Jays fans. Either would be applicable.

1. Texas Rangers

2013 record: 91-72 (2nd in division)

Manager: Ron Washington (8th season as manager, 611-524 career record)

General Manager: Jon Daniels

Home field: Globe Life Park in Arlington

So what’s good?: No intelligent pitching staff wouldn’t shudder in fear upon glancing at the Rangers’ lineup. It’s a nice mix of 20-20 candidates (Alex Rios, Shin-Soo Choo) elite hitters (Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder) speedsters (Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin) and even a couple of strikeout-prone sluggers (J.P. Arencibia, Mitch Moreland), you know, to lull opponents into a false sense of security until they get hot. Or something.

To compliment this beast of a lineup, the Rangers have a good bullpen, led by Joakim Soria, Alexi Ogando, Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor among others, a good rotation, once healthy, and the great management skills of Ron Washington backing them up.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: What with all the injuries to the A’s pitching staff, I would  have had Texas as the clear favourite to win the division… Until 60% of their rotation was struck down by the injury bug.

Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison are likely to miss a few starts at the beginning of the season, and Derek Holland will be out ’till mid-season.  Until they return, their rotation will likely consist of Martin Perez (A very good young starter), Tanner Scheppers (Who has a previous career high of seven starts in the minors), Robbie Ross (Hasn’t started a game since since 2011, in the minors), Joe Saunders (5.26 ERA in 2013) and Nick Martinez (Who the hell is Nick Martinez). Also, second baseman Jurickson Profar will miss a whole bunch of time in the beginning of the year. Other than that though, I don’t see why the Rangers shouldn’t compete this year.

Team Grade: A-

To be continued…

Thor: The Dark World (Movie Review)

I was going to review Wes Anderson’s new movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, for you guys, but apparently, the good people of Edmonton Alberta decided that today, of all days, was the perfect day, two weeks after the movies’ opening day, to wander over to Cineplex Odeon and fill up the goddamn theater to partake in the whimsical delight that is Wes Anderson (I assume. I’ve never actually seen a Wes Anderson movie before).

Which means I’m missing out on way more Bill Murray than is acceptable.

Anyways, since iTunes and credit cards are things that exist, I decided to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the next Captain America movie and Guardians of the Galaxy coming up. Time to bring the hammer down on Thor: The Dark World!

Get  it? ‘Cause he uses a hammer?

Ah, fuck it.

 Thor: The Dark World

  Directed by: Alan Taylor

  Produced by: Kevin Feige

  Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus,  Stephen      McFeely (Story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat)

  Based on: Thor by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber

Genres: Superhero, Fantasy

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo

Plot: Taking place two years after the events of Thor, and the title character (Hemsworth), accompanied by the Warriors Three (Stevenson, Levi and Asano) and Sif (Alexander) have just completed a campaign to pacify the nine realms of Asgard after they were destabilized following the destruction of Bifrost and the attempted alien invasion of New York, led by Thor’s step-brother, Loki (Hiddleston) in The Avengers. Loki has since been imprisoned by his adoptive father (And Thor’s biological father) Odin (Hopkins), the Allfather.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Dr. Jane Foster (Portman), Thor’s ex-flame, and her intern/best friend/effective comic relief, Darcy Lewis (Dennings) are in London, looking for their colleague, Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), who has been driven crazy by the experience of being possessed by Loki during The Avengers. While adventuring around London, they find an abandoned warehouse that houses several inter-dimensional portals. One such portal transports Jane to another world, where she is infected by the Aether, which is essentially a weapon of mass destruction in creepy liquid form. Her infection attracts the attention of Malekith the Accursed (Eccleston), a dark elf and ancient enemy of the Asgardians who aims to plunge the universe into darkness.

The plot sounds simple enough, but the reality is that it’s told in a way that had me kind of lost midway through. When the whole selling point of your movie is “Chris Hemsworth dresses up like a viking and beats the shit out of mythical creatures”, you don’t need to add a bunch of convoluted crap about the alignment of the realms, and then explain it in a way that bores and confuses me, to get me to watch your movie. But, as I just mentioned, this is not the case, and as a result, some parts (Cough cough, the climax) feel muddled and anti-climactic. It doesn’t help that a large part of the plot is built around a rather uninteresting villain in Malekith the Accursed.

Another plot problem is that the movie, at the beginning, tries to establish sort of a love triangle between Thor, Jane and Sif. The filmmakers went to the trouble of foreshadowing some sort of sexual tension, but we never hear about it again. What the hell was that all about?

While the cast does a great job, the one weak link among the whole bunch is Christopher Eccleston as Malekith. I’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who in my life, but he didn’t exactly make a compelling case for my dropping Sword Art Online anytime soon.

Aside from Fullmetal Alchemist and Pokemon, it’s the only anime I’ve ever seen that doesn’t give off a rape-y vibe. Mostly.

Of course, it doesn’t help that his makeup looked like total shit.

Thankfully, the rest of the special effects are beyond phenomenal, especially the visuals of the city of Asgard. How this movie was excluded from the Oscar ballot in lieu of the Lone fucking Ranger  blows my goddamn mind.

Acting: Aside from Eccleston, the cast does a great job. Tom Hiddleston steals the show as Loki, who may be the best-written super-villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Chris Hemsworth is charismatic and fits the role of Thor like a giant, blond, muscular glove, and Natalie Portman has come another step closer towards erasing the memory of her role in the Star Wars prequels.

As much as one can try to forget, anyways.

What really made the characters shine is the dialogue, though. While the writers may have ignored minor details, such as a halfway understandable plot, but they nail the interactions between all the characters (Though, again, it helps that the actors did great jobs). the movie never really had a problem with tone, and managed to be sad, funny or tense whenever it needed to be, even avoiding the typical amounts of superhero cheese that comes with the territory of a movie like this.

Conclusion: I’d need to watch the first one again to decide whether I liked this one better or not, but what it lacks in terms of a coherent plot, it makes up for with its’ cast, dialogue, action scenes and especially the visual effects, and it all adds up to a very entertaining superhero flick.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

National League West Predictions

Well, it’s that time of the year again.

Time again for the seemingly endless cycle of initial excitement, heartbreak, fleeting hope and bitterness that is yet another Major League Baseball season.

Anybody feel like deducing who my favourite team is?

Since the season is starting in several hours (In the middle of March. In Australia.), I’ve decided to kick off my predictions for the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Since the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers are the first teams to play, I’ve decided to start with the West division of the National League, as they are the only teams who are going to play meaningful games. Have a problem with that? I don’t give a shit.

Teenage obnoxiousness aside, I’ll get to the other division later. Let’s get this party started, shall we?

(For anybody looking for movie reviews: Don’t worry. This isn’t becoming a baseball blog. I would sooner kill myself then write about the Jays every week. Stay tuned for more movie reviews.)

Troy Tulowitzki is, by far, the best shortstop in baseball, displaying a .876 lifetime OPS, 30+ homer power and good defense to boot. Now, if only he could stay healthy for more than a few goddamn weeks at a time.

5. Colorado Rockies

2013 Record: 74-88 (5th in division)

Manager: Walt Weiss (2nd season as manager, 74-88 career record)

General manager: Dan O’Dowd

Home field: Coors Field

So, what’s good?: Well, the Rox might have some help on the way for their oft-battered rotation. Flame-throwing right-hander  Jonathan Gray should come up sometime in 2015, while Eddie Butler should make his debut later this year. The Rockies also have a pretty decent looking middle of the order with Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael “Hopefully not a fluke at age 34” Cuddyer, newly-acquired Justin Morneau and Wilin Rosario, the best catcher you’ve barely heard of. And, while he’s not exactly Larry Walker, Nolan Arenado is the best Mexican-sounding defensive third baseman this side of Manny Machado.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Well, while their top three starters (Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood) all had good years, who knows if you can ever bet on pitching consistency at Coors field, especially when the bottom two rotation spots are likely to go to some combination of Juan Nicasio (5.14 ERA in 2013), Franklin Morales (4.62 ERA in 2014) and Brett Anderson (6.04 ERA and a crap-load of injuries in 2013).

And it isn’t even a given that their superstars (Namely, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez) deliver either. Tulo hasn’t managed to play over 150 games since 2009 while Gonzalez hasn’t even really come close to equaling his career high of 145 games in 2010.

Team Grade: C-

What the fuck are these two doing?

4. San Diego Padres 

 2013 Record: 76-86 (3rd in division)

 Manager: Bud Black (8th season as manager, 540-595 career record)

 General manager: Josh Byrnes

 Home field: PETCO Park

 So, what’s good?: Well, like the Rockies, the Padres have some good young talent coming up through the pipeline. Unlike the Rockies, however, the Padres have much more, and they actually have enough in the majors now that you can see a core of people like Chase Headley, Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alonso and Andrew Cashner establishing themselves. When you consider this and the fact that players like Max Fried, Austin Hedges and Reymond Fuentes are knocking on the door, and you could see a pretty good team emerge in a couple years or so.

In addition, I think San Diego has one of the better bullpens on the game and, going solely by their team page on mlbdepthcharts.com, I fail to see someone who could be considered a weak link, with the exception of Patrick Schuster, who hasn’t pitched above Class A. Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer, Alex Torres and Tim Stauffer are all names that inspire confidence in me, though.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: There are way too much question marks surrounding this team, most of them injury-related. Headley is injury-prone, as are Carlos Quentin, Alonso, Cameron Maybin (Who is already on the DL), Yasmani Grandal (Ditto) and Josh Johnson. Also, my memory of Joaquin Benoit blowing leads in the 2013 ALCS is still pretty vivid, so maybe I spoke too soon about the bullpen.

Speaking of Josh Johnson, Lord knows I’m not his biggest fan after contributing a 6.20 ERA to my Toronto Blue Jays last year. However, let’s not forget that he has a very respectable 3.40 ERA for his career and had injury problems last year. This is pretty much the epitome of a low-risk, high reward signing. However, who knows if he’ll be enough to help a rotation that will already be missing Cory Luebke and Casey Kelly.

Team Grade: C+

“Look at me! I’m Kirk Gibson and I’m gritty! Grrrrr!!!”

 3. Arizona Diamondbacks

 2013 record: 81-81 (2nd in division)

 Manager: Kirk Gibson (5th season as manager, 290-279 career  record)

 General manager: Kevin Towers

 Home field: Chase Field

 So what’s good?: Aside from their defense and their bullpen, the D’backs don’t have too much to feel bad about. They would have liked to have Patrick Corbin stay off the DL, but even with their best pitcher missing the entire season, they still have a solid, if not particularly special rotation of Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Bronson Arroyo and Randall Delgado. This talented rotation should benefit from the eventual addition of Archie Bradley, the best pitching prospect in baseball, who is expected to debut some time this year.

I like their lineup too. Paul Goldschmidt is a wonderful young player, and as good a guy as any to build a team around. I’m a big Aaron Hill fan as long as he stays healthy, and Mark Trumbo, Martin Prado and Miguel Montero aren’t anything to sniff at either.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: I hate the D’backs management. I hate, hate, hate it.

I hate that they try to give off the image of false toughness, which always ends up looking like they’re trying too hard. I can’t believe those idiots haven’t figured out that hitting batters is not usually conducive to winning ball games.

Also, they can’t make a deal to save their lives. In recent years, they have given up Justin Upton, Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson and Trevor Bauer, and are apparently still pondering how in the world they’ve finished at .500 the last two years. Trading away your future tends to lead to mediocrity, guys.

But more on that later…

Also, the bullpen does not impress me much. Oliver Perez, J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler inspire some confidence, but beyond them, nut David Hernandez, Addison Reed and Joe Thatcher cancel that out.

Team Grade: B-

Sergio Romo, where did you get that shirt? I kinda want it.

2. San Francisco Giants

2013 record: 76-86 (3rd in division)

Manager: Bruce Bochy (20th season managing (8th with Giants), 1530-1530 career record (579-555 with Giants))

General Manager: Brian Sabean

Home field: AT&T Park

So what’s good?: I don’t really buy the Giants’ demise last year. It was pretty much the same team that won the World Series, but I guess the good luck went the other team’s way more often this year.

I can easily see the Giants being a playoff team this year. This is a damn solid team. I still have faith in Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong turning it around, and Madison Bumgarner is looking like a bona-fide ace, though I’m still iffy on Tim Hudson dominating again. Other than them (And maybe Michael Morse) there isn’t that much holes in this team. I’m a big Brandon Belt fan…

Gee, I wonder why…

… and he, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro are great table-setters for Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval. Even Morse and Brandon Crawford can do some pretty serious damage to any team caught unawares.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Like San Diego, there are a bit too much question marks surrounding this team then I’d be comfortable with if I were Bruce Bochy (Whom I believe is a hall of fame manager, by the way). For example, there are four, count ’em, FOUR starters in the rotation (Everybody besides Bumgarner) who are coming off bad or injury-filled seasons, and their lineup, while good, won’t be setting the world on fire anytime soon.

Team Grade: B+

Kneel before Puig!!!

 1. Los Angeles Dodgers

 2013 record: 92-70 (1st in division)

 Manager: Don Mattingly (4th season as manager, 260-225 career record)

 General manager: Ned Colletti

 Home field: Dodger Stadium

 So what’s good?: A better question might be “What isn’t good?”. With the exception of second base, every position is plugged up by an above -average to excellent player, and the rotation has , quite possibly the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball, with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. Bringing in Paul Maholm and Dan Haren to round out the bottom of the rotation isn’t quite as big a splash as I thought they would make (I thought they were a shoo-in for Masahiro Tanaka, personally) but it could pay very big dividends.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Nothing really. The only problems I foresee are at the second base position, where Cuban acquisition Alexander Guerrero (Who has previously only played shortstop) is struggling so badly defensively that he may be replaced in the early-going by a tandem of Dee Gordon and Justin Turner. Also, Josh Beckett may make the rotation and I think he’s washed up, but otherwise, I can’t really rag on the Dodgers.

Team grade: A

To be continued…

Oscar Movie Review: Nebraska

Q: What’s the only thing more boring than Nebraska?

A: Nebraska in black and white.

Nebraska

 Directed by: Alexander Payne

 Produced by: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa

 Written by: Bob Nelson

 Genre: Dramedy, Dark Comedy

 Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Squibb), Best Actor (Dern), Best Director (Payne), Best Picture

Plot: Elderly Billings, Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) lives his monotonous life with his wife, Kate (June Squibb) and his grown sons, stereo salesman David (Will Forte) and successful anchorman Ross (Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk). One day, Woody wins a $1 million sweepstakes he has won, which everyone around him tries, to no avail, to discourage him from going to Lincoln, Nebraska (THAT’S THE NAME OF THE MOVIE!!!) to collect on, because it’s obviously a scam.

This proves to be pointless, and after Woody is caught by his kids or the police trying to walk to Lincoln by himself, David decides to just humour him and drive him to frickin’ Nebraska. However, before going to the Star City, he stops in the little hick town where Woody and Kate grew up, the growing metropolis of Hawthorne, Nebraska.

If the last name of your town sounds like somebody’s last name, most of the time, we’re not looking at the new Vegas.

In Hawthorne, Woody and David meet up with their family, who have all more or less retained their small town lifestyles, which apparently consist mainly of being old and staring blankly.  They meet up with old friends and family, and, as is to be expected when you announce that you’re a new millionaire, some bloodsucking gold-diggers. With that, the wacky, senior citizen hijinks begin.

The story is about as original as (sort-of) road-trip comedies get, replacing the horny, beer-consuming teens with senile senior citizens, and actually being pretty deep, with many themes swirling around, such as forgiveness, death and parenthood. There’s a lot of emotions on display as well throughout the whole film, mainly sadness and feelings of loss, but with an underlying sweetness that really sold the movie for me (Along with June Squibb).

Did they have to make the movie so unabashedly boring though?

The title of the movie didn’t exactly suggest a gripping roller-coaster ride, but this movie has the tendency to be extremely slow. Sometimes, it worked with the humour and was tolerable. Other times, it was just mind-numbing. And as for the major stylistic choice to make the movie black and white, well, I kind of hated it. I understand that it was done to accentuate the mundane, somewhat depressing setting of Hawthorne, Nebraska, but I just found it pointless, and annoying to look at. Did they really have to try that hard to convince us that Nebraska is boring to look at?

Go Huskers!

Acting: Where Nebraska does excel, however, is the acting and the interactions between characters, especially the lead trifecta of Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb. I was not aware of any of their existences before this movie, and I’m kicking myself for it now. Dern is fantastic as the crotchety old  boozehound that is Woody Grant, portraying not only a stubborn old man, but also a somewhat sad figure. Will Forte is pretty good as well as David, but June Squibb steals the show as Kate Grant, Woody’s mouthy wife. if a lesser actress had been cast in this role, this movie would probably have tumbled down to a six or so in my rankings, but Squibb (Awesome last name, by the way) brings a ton of energy to this part, and can be downright hilarious at times. It’s a shame that she had to go up against Lupita Nyong’o this year. Most other years would’ve been pretty good bets for June Squibb taking home the big prize.

The other actors do pretty damn fine jobs as well. Bonus points for having a Breaking Bad cast member in the mix.

Pretty much any movie is helped with the addition of Saul Goodman.

What nominations did it deserve?:

  • Best Cinematography: For all my ragging on Nebraska, it’s actually a very pretty state. Too bad it’s in black and white in this particular movie. Ugh. No to this nomination.
  • Best Original Screenplay: I’d put it in the same boat as Gravity: It’s a good screenplay that moved the story along, but it probably shouldn’t have been nominated, although it was quite funny.
  • Best Supporting Actress (Squibb): Hell yeah. June Squibb was epic in this movie. Too bad her competition was so tough though. Yes to the nomination, no to the win.
  • Best Actor (Dern): It’s hard to argue with this one. Yes to the nomination, no to the win.
  • Best Director (Alexander Payne): Nope. With all due respect to Alexander Payne (The Descendants is a fantastic movie, by the way) Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) and especially Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) were more deserving.
  • Best Picture: It’s not a bad movie by any means, with good writing and great performances all around, but its’ slow pace and poor choice of colouring made this movie somewhat of an also-ran compared to the other movies on the ballot. A tentative yes to the nomination, and a hard definitely not on the win.

Overall Opinion: 7.5/10

Oscar Review: Captain Phillips

And now, it’s time for: FILM VILLAINS OF THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS OR SO!…

1900-30: Black people.

1930-50: Nazis!

1950-1990: Russians/Pretty much any foreigner.

1990-2013: Brown people with AK-47’s who don’t worship the same God.

2013: Skinny black people with AK’s.

That’s progress!

Captain Phillips

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Produced by: Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti, Scott Rudin

Written by: Billy Ray

Based on: A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips and Richard Talty

Genre: Thriller

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray), Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Best Picture

Plot: Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), a married boat captain from Massachusetts with two grown kids, is tasked with transporting the good ship MV Maersk Alabama, an unarmed container ship, from the Port of Salalah in Oman to Mombasa, Kenya. For those of you who aren’t caught up in your East African geography (It’s literally the only thing I’m good at), the route from Oman to Kenya passes through the Gulf of Aden and round the Horn of Africa, which is dangerously close to….SOMALIA!!!

Cue the theme from Terminator 2.

Meanwhile, in a coastal town in Somalia, a group of pirates led by young Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) embark on the Somali national pastime/primary means of employment. Hijacking merchant ships and holding them for ransom. Sustaining an economy is hard to do when your country’s dominated by warlords and you have no natural resources.

Muse’s crew comes upon the Maersk Alabama, and immediately smell ransom money and start pursuing it. They catch the Alabama in the middle of a drill and start pursuing it closely. The Alabama evades the attackers for a bit, but are eventually overtaken. Captain Phillips gets most of his crew to safety, but before he and a small percentage of his crew can hide as well, the Somalis board the ship and hold them hostage at gunpoint. The standoff evolves into a highly risky, unpredictable standoff between the intelligent and resourceful captain and the wily and ruthless Muse.

Captain Phillips is based on a true story and, while it may be debatable how much of it is accurate, the movie does a very good job at creating an extremely tense atmosphere, with an excellent soundtrack and a gripping story-line that keeps you guessing the whole time, even if you do know what happened in real life.

It’s not all perfect though. I wasn’t expecting an in-depth analysis into the plight of the Somali people…

We already have one of those.

… But I was hoping that it would go just a little bit more into why the pirates needed to do what they were doing, beyond just a vague scene that involves a warlord ordering them to do it because whatever. It seemed content to just portray the Somalis as villains, with our sympathy/pity for them pretty much a result of Stockholm syndrome.

However, it must be stressed that this movie was never a movie about the unfortunate situation in Somalia, it was about Captain Phillips’ heroic reaction to HIS situation. It still would’ve been nice to get a little more depth from the villains though.

Acting: The two stars of this movie (Hanks and Abdi, bee tee dubs) were both pretty much fantastic. Tom Hanks was unbelievable, as always. He wasn’t nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor, although in all honesty, it would’ve been hard to replace any nominees this year with him. In any other Oscar class though, I would’ve given him a nomination solely for a certain scene at the very end.

The newcomer was, in my opinion the real star of the show though. Barkhad Abdi was, before this movie, a Somali-American a limo driver and DJ. Now, after appearing in his first ever big Hollywood film and being nominated for an Academy Award, I hope he can afford to get his goddamn teeth looked at.

Jeez, poor guy.

In all seriousness, Abdi was fantastic. His performance was menacing and still somewhat sympathetic (Although yeah, Stockholm Syndrome) and was probably the second most menacing villain in 2013 (After Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave). I’m sure this is just the beginning of a promising career. I’m not so sure he won’t be cast as threatening Africans, though.

What Nominations/Wins did it deserve?:

Best Sound Mixing: It definitely deserved the nomination, but it’s hard to top Gravity in this department. 

 Best Sound Editing: Ditto

Best Film Editing: It was good, I guess? I can’t keep this charade up for much longer, you guys.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Yeah, it was pretty damn good, but there is no way in Hell it wins over 12 Years a Slave.

Best Supporting Actor (Abdi): Barkhad Abdi was fantastic (Though not worthy of the win over Jared Leto) but again, I really hope he doesn’t get typecast as “generic African villain”, because that would suck.

Best Picture: While it wasn’t as gripping as, say, Gravity, it was still easily one of my favourite movies of the year. However, its’ minor character flaws bump it down from being a contender on the Oscar ballot to kind of an also-ran compared to the other nominees. This isn’t meant as an insult though. It was pretty fantastic.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Oscar Movie Review: Gravity

It’s a vicious circle, folks.

I’ve been getting such good views (You know, for me) because of my Oscar and Razzie reviews that I’m afraid to do my planned articles about baseball, because my previous baseball posts didn’t garner that much interest. Eh, what are you  gonna do?

Anyways, the next movie I’m reviewing pretty much dominated the Academy Awards, taking home seven awards out of ten nominations.

 Directed By: Alfonso Cuaron

 Produced by: Alfonso Cuaron, David Heyman

  Written by: Alfonso Cuaron and his son, Jonas Cuaron

  Genres: Drama, Thriller, Science-Fiction

  Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Other Actors: Ed Harris, Phaldut Sharma, Orto Ignatiussen

Oscar Nominations (Wins in Bold): Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score (Steven Price) Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture

Plot: The location? Spaaaaaaaaaccceeeee!!!!….

BOOM! Seventies nostalgia!

Medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is, for some reason, on her first space shuttle mission, aboard the space shuttle Explorer, accompanied by seasoned, chatty astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is planning to retire after this trip to the heavens, and the crew of the Explorer. During a spacewalk to service the Hubble Telescope, Mission Control in Houston (Ed Harris) warns the space walkers about a cloud of debris heading their way. This debris was caused by the Russians blowing up one of their satellites. I guess Russia hasn’t been making the soundest decisions lately.

BOOM! Current events!

 Despite the early warning, Stone and Kowalski get caught in the debris storm, which kills the rest of the crew and flings the two survivors into space.

That’s all I’m gonna say about the plot, because, in all honesty, plot was DEFINITELY not the main focus of this film. All they needed was the most basic excuse to get these characters into space, and you know what? Even if I’m still wondering what the hell a goddamn medical engineer was doing operating the goddamn Hubble telescope, I’m perfectly fine to let that slide, because if it leads up to the special effects that followed the initial incident, then I don’t care if Sandra Bullock’s character was a fucking veterinarian.

There isn’t much that I could say about the special effects (And overall look) of this movie that hasn’t already been said,  but I just can’t resist gushing about this movie. It is, without a doubt the best-looking movie I have ever seen. Period. Never has a movie captured the atmosphere of space so realistically, and that more than makes up for the minor plot holes in the beginning.

Acting: I’ve never been that into Sandra Bullock before (Though she was great in The Blind Side, which I loved, by the way), but she was pretty awesome in this movie, perfectly capturing her character’s arc from being, well, the scared little bitch that most of us would be if we were floating freely through space  to the determined badass, fighting her way back to Planet Earth.

And, while some of his lines were kinda cheesy, I liked George Clooney in this movie as well, as the cocky veteran astronaut.  I’m not gonna say his performance was Oscar-worthy, but hey, it wasn’t out of place and I could tell he was having fun with his character, so I’d say he deserves an “Attaboy!”, at least.

The script, however, didn’t earn and probably didn’t deserve a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It’s not like it was terrible or bad, even. It did what it needed to do to move along the plot so we could see more spacey shit and listen to the amazing soundtrack. You can’t ask for much more than that, but I didn’t find it Oscar-nod worthy. It just didn’t seem that special to me.

What Oscar Nominations/Wins Did it Deserve?

  • Best Visual Effects: Uh, fucking YES. Any other movie winning this travesty would’ve been a travesty.
  • Best Sound Mixing: …Okay?
  • Best Sound Editing: Um….It sounded good, so sure. What the hell’s the difference between sound mixing and sound editing again?
  • Best Original Score: Hell yeah. The beautiful soundtrack by Steven Price really captured the intense feel of this film, especially during the climax.
  • Best Film Editing: I’m still unsure about what this is, but why the hell not?
  • Best Production Design: I haven’t seen The Great Gatsby yet, so I’m withholding judgement, but hey’re gonna have to do a lot to convince me that a movie with a 49% from Rotten Tomatoes could trump this fantastic movie.
  • Best Cinematography: Absolutely. I don’t see how any of these other nominees could even compare.
  • Best Actress: Again, I’m reserving judgement, because I haven’t seen all of the other nominees, bout out of the ones I’ve seen, she’s been my favourite.
  • Best Director: I can only imagine how much of a pain in the ass this must have been for Mexican director (And Guillermo del Toro associate) Alfonso Cuaron to shoot, and he still did an impeccable job of it.
  • Best Film: Nomination? Yes. Win? Nope.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

P.S. I correctly predicted most of the Oscar categories, much to my surprise, but there were still movies that I hadn’t seen that won major categories and, as a result, have been added to my review queue. They are:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • Frozen
  • The Great Beauty
  • Blue Jasmine 

There was also a movie added to my queue of Razzie reviews, Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. Oh well, at least Madea is nowhere to be found in this one.

We really do learn nothing from recent history, do we?