Thursday, June 7, 2012

EURO 2012 Preview

It is that time again.  Every four years, the best European international football teams get together to compete in the biggest tournament that is not called the World Cup.  The best of the best get their chance to shine in the international stage after a long qualification campaign.  Four years ago, Spain won the tournament and many felt it was a foreshadowing of what they would eventually go on to achieve during the World Cup.  In 2008, the hosts were Switzerland and Austria.  This time it is another tandem of countries.  Poland and Ukraine will have a chance to measure themselves against the best in Europe.  Can they become threats to the other teams or will they wither in the face of the opposition that will be traveling to their cities?  That is just one of the things that will be interesting to see during this tournament.

Who Will Win?

There are a couple of teams that have been lauded as the favorites to win this years tournament.  Obviously, the defending champions and World Cup winners Spain must be in the conversation for this years title.  Although in the end, I think Germany have a better team while Spain have the most talented individuals.  There are two main problems I see with Spain: where will they find the leadership in the back line with Carles Puyol out of the tournament and who will be the person to score their goals?  With Fernando Torres not playing his best and David Villa out with injury, it will fall on guys like Llorente and Negredo to pick up the scoring slack.  Germany will have some trouble with their central defense, but if Mats Hummels plays like he does with Borussia Dortmund, Germany should be able to win this.   

Who Will Come Close?

I can't really call France a dark horse, so I will put there in this category as a team that will probably come very close to winning the whole thing and might even do it.  After the debacle that was the World Cup 2010, manager Laurent Blanc has slowly but surely dismantled this team and then built it back into a force to be reckoned with.  The players seem to be playing with a renewed passion plus there are new players that will be looking to make their marks during this tournament.  Yann M'Vila and Jérémy Menez are guys who will be looking forward to making their mark as they stand alongside veterans like Franck Ribéry.

Who is the Dark Horse?

For me, a dark horse is a team that has a real outside shot of winning.  The probability is that they won't win, but they will be a threat.  I didn't want to claim France was a dark horse, because they are too big a team to be in this category, so I chose Russia.  One of the reasons I picked them over other teams is their draw in the Group Stage.  They will probably be able to get the first spot in their group.  Obiously, they will have to beat either Germany or the Netherlands, but I believe they could do that if they needed to.

Who Will Win the Golden Boot?

This is an interesting one.  There are many great scorers in this tournament.  Scoring in international football is not a very easy thing to do.  Group Stage is normally a pretty cagey affair with player not going all out in order to have a chance of moving on.  It would be easy for me to just pick someone like Robin van Persie, but his draw makes it hard for me to pick him to score the most goals throughout the tournament.  I also think picking Miroslav Klose wouldn't work as he is not really a hundred percent and he is older now.  I believe Karim Benzema will probably score the most goals.  In Group Stage they face three teams that are pretty suspect at the back.  His ability to power balls in and to control the ball on his feet will be paramount for France to reach the later stages of the tournament.

I think the hosts will probably be the biggest disappointments.  It seems to me like both Poland and Ukraine as nations have failed to grasp at this opportunity with all their might.  They might prove me wrong in the end, but it feels like the hosts are only there for the ride and not as the active participants that they should be.  With Poland and Ukraine both getting decent draws (Poland more so than Ukraine), if they both fail to qualify for the elimination rounds, I fear that it will be up to the traveling fans of these nations to pick up the slack.

Who will be a train wreck?

It pains me to say it, but I think England might just become a train wreck during this important tournament.  Expectations are always high for England as an international force mostly because they have the best football league in the world.  The truth is that this team is talented but it lacks a certain cohesive that teams at this level need to succeed.  Their manager has been there for only a couple of months and they have lost a couple of important pieces of their puzzle (mainly Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard).  Not only this, but it will take some wizardry from their offense if they want to avoid elimination in the Group Stage even without their best player on the pitch for two out of the three first games.  Rooney has been suspended for those two games and that will be a real blow as they try to create goal scoring opportunities.  It seems to me that a lot of pressure will fall on captain Steven Gerrard's shoulder.

Player to watch?

I'm actually looking forward to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  The young Arsenal man will be looking to become a threat with his pace and his ability with the ball at his feet.  Mesut Ozil will try to replicate his accomplishments from the World Cup and his club play during this tournament.  Fernando Torres will also be a big talking point.  Can he reclaim his spot as the main striker for Spain or will he flounder like he has when it comes to goal scoring?

Either way, this will be a great tournament and I look forward to watching each and every game. 

Grab a beer and enjoy!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Netflix Reviews #10

This is the tenth edition of my reviews of movies that I watch through Netflix or really on those movie channels on TV.  This was an interesting batch.  There wasn't really a bad movie in this bunch.  Maybe one of them doesn't really fit with the others but what the hell.

In the Land of Blood and Honey

Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, this movie is a strange one to launch your directing career with, but I'm glad that Jolie decided to do something like this.  During the Bosnian War, Danijel (played by the always awesomely evil looking Goran Kostic) finds that a woman he had been seeing before the start of the war is a captive in the same military camp he works in.  Ajla (played by Zana Marjanovic) has to suffer through most of what the Bosnians went through (according to the film) by the Serbs.  Danijel is shown to be somewhat uninterested in the conflict and only there because his father is Nebojsa (played by Rade Serbedzija) who is one of the leaders of the whole movement.  The biggest flaw with this film is something that I think a lot of people have noticed when analyzing this film.  It is severely one sided.  That makes part of the message Jolie might have been trying to send to be weakened.  The movie has some pacing problems but I attribute it more to the screenplay than to the directing.  I will say one thing.  I am glad that Jolie decided to touch on a subject that sometimes seems to be pushed under the rug and not spoken about and is still so controversial.  I just wish it could have been a little more even.  I also like that Jolie did not go for Hollywood on this one and filmed a bunch of well known actors and decided to keep it local for the most part.  This way the acting skills of those involved can shine.  Kostic and Marjanovic did pretty damn well.  For a directorial debut, it was quite brave.

5 out of 10 


A Dangerous Method

There is something incredibly interesting about David Cronenberg's work that draws me to it.  Whether it be his 80s horror movies Videodrome and Scanners or the incredibly and awesomely violent A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, I will give him a chance no matter what he comes up with.  So while I was skeptical of a movie about the history of psychoanalysis, I was excited to have another Cronenberg film.  The three figures that are central to the beginnings of psychoanalysis are Sigmund Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen, a Cronenberg favorite), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightly).  It is an interesting triangle of sex and ideas that the three characters go through.  The acting is really fantastic throughout and I like that even though Jung and Spielrein were sexually involved, it never seemed passionate in the way we are used to but almost clinical.  Whether the movie gets the facts of these three characters and their relationships right, that is not my field and I have to say I enjoyed the dialogue.  The building tension between Jung and Freud throughout the film is palpable as they express their views on the reasons for mental disorders.  It is definitely a movie that is different from the usual Cronenberg fare, but I'm glad to see Cronenberg expanding his horizons.

7 out of 10

The Sitter

What a disappointing movie.  I like director David Gordon Green.  He has some really hilarious comedies to his name (Pineapple Express and Your Highness) but he has also shown that he can definitely do drama with one of my favorite movies of 2007, Snow Angels.  Here, the biggest problem with the movie is not Jonah Hill.  I like his deadpan style of comedy.  It is the freaking kids.  They are annoying every single time they are on screen and I just got tired of seeing them.  Every time the El Salvadorian kid showed up they did this whole Mexican villain sound which was just ridiculous.  The whole thing with Sam Rockwell's Karl the Drug Lord was pretty stupid and almost cringe enducing.  This is definitely not worth even a watch.

2.5 out of 10

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

The Mission: Impossible series of movies has come a really long way from the TV show that inspired it.  I can't say that I have been a huge fan of this series of spy thrillers since their inception.  Most of the time, convoluted story lines ruined some decent action scenes.  I have always liked the series penchant for showing some really cool spy technology.  I was leery when tackling this movie even though I had heard it was good.  Why?  Well, to main reasons... Tom Cruise and the director Brad Bird.  Cruise has managed to make three of this movies previously and they were never as cool or as entertaining as something like the Bourne movies.  It has also been almost ten years since the last movie I liked with him in the starring role.  Why was I fearful of Brad Bird?  One look at his filmography will tell you.  While he is a fantastic film maker when it comes to CGI animation, he had never helmed a live action movie.  That was a bit worrisome, but my worries were unfounded as what I got was an entertaining action/spy movie with some cool set pieces, beautiful and interesting scenes and some really awesome technology (that camouflage screen is pretty awesome).  I was surprised I liked this movie as much as I did.  I also liked the addition of Jeremy Renner.  I think he is a great action actor and he fit perfectly with the rest of the cast and in the movie in general.  Also, any movie that gives Simon Pegg screen time is a plus.  Surprisingly good.

7.5 out of 10

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Millenium series of novels by Swedish journalist and novelist Stieg Larsson became a huge international hit after they were published posthumously.  The movie based on the first novel was released in Sweden in 2009.  For some reason, Hollywood decided to remake the movie only two years after the Swedish version was released.  It is hard not to compare the two as they are almost the same (barring some of the stylistic choices).  Both are great movies but I felt this one was hurt by my already having seen the Swedish version and liking it so much.  They couldn't have gotten a better director for this remake though.  David Fincher has shown the eye he has for making terrible violence and incredibly deep characters, both things that this movie needed.  Also, they were lucky that Rooney Mara was able to get deep into Lisbeth Salander's psyche and play her so convincingly.  I thought it would have been hard to top Noomi Rapace's version.  Daniel Craig (as Mikael Blomkvist) was very good, but I liked Michael Nyqvist's version a little bit better.  Truth be told, I liked both movies a lot.  I just felt that this one suffered a bit from it being so soon since the last one was released.  By itself though, this is a fantastic movie and another notch for Fincher's belt.  I also have to give props to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the awesome score.

8.5 out of 10


Steven Soderbergh is one of those few directors who have already gotten the success that they want and they are not afraid to experiment and to try new things.  Always driving himself to do and try new things, Soderbergh films (good or bad) are always an experience.  Soderbergh cast MMA star Gina Carano for his latest experiment.  This is not the first time he has cast a non actor to a starring role (he cast porn star Sasha Grey for The Girlfriend Experience) and probably won't be the last.  For this spy thriller, he decided to do the right thing and got an incredibly experienced cast to work alongside Carano.  Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender round up the cast of actors.  While Carano's acting throughout was suspect, the same cannot be said of the fight scenes.  Avoiding the new trend in Hollywood action films, the dreaded shaky cam, the fights highlight Carano at her best.  The fights feel natural and never do you think that anything that is happening on screen couldn't really happen in real life.  Carano is a natural for this type of action scenes.  The one with Fassbender in the hotel room is particularly awesome.  That said, the story is a little convoluted, but I didn't really watch this movie for the story.  I really do hope Carano keeps going in the movie business because she can fight and better yet, her abilities transfer well to the big screen.

7 out of 10 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White is the fairest (but shallowest) of them all.

Snow White and the Huntsman

This movie is a re imagining of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves".  The story has been bastardized through the years (especially by Disney) into a pretty tame story of envy and true love.  Sure, this was always a story of envy but the original story is much more interesting to read or probably to watch.  For this movie, they take some ideas from the original fairy tale and others from the Disney movie and make it into an amalgam of both but they also add some stuff of their own.  In this version, Snow White (played by Kristen Stewart) is held hostage by the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) until she escapes from the Queen's brother (Sam Spruell).  The Queen sends the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to kill her but he can't bring himself to do it so they escape and pass through different parts of the kingdom in search of safety.  That is the basic premise of the movie.  Obviously, it gets a little more convoluted with trolls and faeries and Ian McShane as a 4 foot dwarf.

First, I'd like to talk about the plot of the movie.  While there were some interesting moments in this film, everything felt a little disjointed.  It's not surprising that the screenplay was written by three different writers.  It feels like two different movies for two different crowds and they never really mesh.  While the idea of having the Huntsman play a bigger role is a nice touch but the character of William (Sam Claflin), who is supposed to be her friend from so long ago who risks his life to get her to safety and then nothing really happens, is completely wasted.  The Queen's brother is also there to just bother the good guys and get them moving from locale to locale.  I feel this was drawn up to have some sort of love triangle angle between Bella, Jacob and Edward... wait... I sometimes confuse movies.

  Officer: Mr. Mirror, I'm going to have to take your driver's license away.
Mirror: But why?
Officer: Does the term legally blind mean anything to you?

Now, while better things could have been done with William and especially the dwarves, the biggest problem with this movie is in its cast.  If you go at to the movie's IMDb page, it wouldn't surprise me if people were excited to see the movie.  Charlize Theron is a proven actress; Chris Hemsworth while sometimes lacking charisma can do a good job; and the dwarves are a who's who of British acting with Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, and Johnny Harris.  It was missing Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy and it would be a done deal.  These are all fantastic actors and they mostly do okay in this film, but the main and most important character is sadly played by someone who has no range.  Kristen Stewart makes this movie completely dull.  The moments where we are supposed to feel happy or hopeful or sad and distraught are ruined by her mechanical expressions.  How are we supposed to feel connected to this movie if the person we should rally for can't give us even one heartfelt smile?  They also tried to make Snow White into some sort of Joan of Arc character but Stewart doesn't inspire anyone to believe in her cause. 

And you know what is worse, it feels like she was picked for this part for the sole reason of bringing in the legions of Twihards out there.  And you know what makes me feel shittier?  I actually used to like Kristen Stewart.  I thought she would become a pretty good actress.  I am ashamed.  When Snow White tries to rally the troops, I couldn't help but groan.  Here is where I thought director Rupert Sanders should have come in and done something about all this.  All he could do was waste 120 million dollars on the cinematography, costume design and special effects.

Colleen Atwood did a magnificent job with the costume designs for the movie.  She is definitely one of the highlights of the whole film.  The feather coat looks fantastic on Charlize Theron and makes her look incredibly dark and more important beautiful and menacing at the same time.

The set designs are also very well done.  The forests, the castle on the shore, the faerie part of the forest, even the lakeside village looked great.  They definitely outdid themselves in the technical aspects.  Especially when it came to things like the troll on the bridge and the fact that they took full size actors and shrunk them down.  It was off putting at first, but then they definitely do grow on you.

The score was also a bit of a mixed bag.  A lot like this film.  While there are incredibly beautiful music in there to fit with the scenery, the main song for this movie feels so out of place.  "Breath of Life" by Florence + The Machine is just not the song for an epic like this one.  "Gone" by Ioanna Gika is breath taking, unlike the song mentioned before.

Now, am I the only one that is creeped the hell out by two different men who are neither family nor romantically involved with Snow White kiss her in the mouth while they think that she is dead?  Ugh.  Perverted is more like it.

Officer: Dude... step away from the dead lady!  Can't you at least wait till she gets to the morgue?  Jeez!

In the end, this movie is a lot of style and very little substance.  There are some amazingly stylish shots.  The shot of Theron giving her back to the camera and she is bending over and you can see the bones of the spinal cord is fantastic.  As is the shot of her coming out of the white substance she gets into (milk?  I hope its milk cause otherwise... *shudder*).  It shows that Sanders does have potential to be a pretty good film maker.  It is not the worst movie out there, but its not worth watching in the theaters.  The sets are great, the special effect are pretty damned good, the costumes are fantastic but the acting (from Stewart), the screenplay and the directing are amateurish.

3 out of 10