Monday, January 23, 2012

Chasing Another Super Bowl

I'm a life-long New York Giants fan.

That being said, this season has brought every emotion possible.  There have been rousing regular season wins (Patriots), horrible losses (Redskins...twice) and blueprints for later success (Packers).  The playoffs are a whole other emotion.  What a wild ride it has been leading up to another Super Bowl appearance for the New York Football Giants.

But my favorite story of this season is one that is largely forgotten...

Chase Blackburn's return to the NFL.

Math Teacher, Hard Hitting Linebacker
Blackburn was an undrafted pickup for the G Men in 2005, he was also part of their 2007 Super Bowl run (although he sported a different number, 57).  He was a hard hitting, hustling linebacker who for 4 straight seasons played in all 16 games.  But after the 2010 season he was an unrestricted free-agent and nobody picked him up.  He practiced with a couple teams, but eventually went on to teach middle school math (he graduated with a math degree from Akron).  His life after football had begun...until an injury and a phone call made him the final piece to the Deja-Blue puzzle the G Men needed to make it back to the Super Bowl.

Blackburn had spent the first 12 weeks of the season watching his former team struggle, through the ups and downs.  He wisely stayed in shape so when the Giants called, he answered physically and metaphorically.  A couple of hours after the phone call Blackburn was on a plane to NJ, practicing the next day and starting in the week 13 match up against the then undefeated Packers.  You couldn't script it better...a week prior Blackburn was picking equations to put on math tests for his middle schoolers, the next week he was picking off Aaron Rodgers to help the Giants give the Packers their first real test of the season and eventually knocking them off in the playoffs...a win that was largely sealed by a 40 yard fumble return by none other...Chase Blackburn.

Blackburn's 40 yard fumble recovery
I love watching the Giants.  I especially love the way on every play, defense or special teams, Chase Blackburn is somewhere to be found around the ball.  Whether it's making the tackle, being the first guy there to congratulate the Giant who did, or to pick them up, dust them off and give them the "we'll get 'em next time" helmet smack.  Just watch, he always has the dirtiest uniform on the field.

Welcome back Mr. Blackburn
As well all know this Super Bowl coming up is a rematch of Super Bowl XLII.  For Blackburn the only thing different for him is the number on his back.  His will, determination and toughness never changed.  He knows as well as anyone else, on any given Sunday your (new) number may be called to make a difference.
New number, same toughness

Eli is Elite.
5 for the road...aka an NFL Record

Monday, January 16, 2012

Justifying Justified

I don't have HBO anymore, I've never had Showtime, and I don't watch Breaking Bad.  Most people would agree the best show out there is on one of those two networks, or it is just...Breaking Bad.  But for me FX has done it again in creating my favorite show on TV, Justified.  Like with most of my favorite shows in the past (Dexter, Mad Men, Scrubs, Frasier) I came late to the game, and had to catch up on Seasons 1 and 2, which was no problem at all after the pilot.  This show is written sharper, shot grittier, acted better and laced with humor better than anything I've seen on TV since...well it's predecessor Nip/Tuck (possibly my favorite show of all time).
Timothy Olyphant (who has struck TV gold again after staring in the brilliant Deadwood) plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (a character created by novelist/screenwriter Elmore Leonard who appears in 2 of his novels and a short story).  This seems like the role Olyphant was born to play, and hopefully will have more than 3 Seasons to expand on this character.  He's just as likely to throw a joke your way, before a punch...but will then will follow with said punch.  But he's not just a gun totting cliche either.  Sure he wears a cowboy hat, boots, jeans and a bad tie...but he also is an oddly touching character who goes out of his way to make sure he protects everyone he cares for.  And this sometimes blurs his sense of right and wrong, and it's fascinating to see which way he decides to go.  His relationship with his father is also the most compelling and complicated father/son storyline I've EVER seen in a TV show.  He's a true lawman for the 21st Century and I live for characters like this...these are the kind of guys you root for.
TV's Biggest Badass: Marshal Raylan Givens
His Lennon to his McCartney is the absolutely brilliant Walter Goggins (who plays the morally grey Boyd Crowder).  I don't think I've hated a character more than I hated Boyd Crowder during his introduction in this pilot episode.  By the end of Season 1, he was one of my favorite characters on the what does that say?  Interested yet??  He chews up the dialogue and scenery like it's good ol' fashioned spittin' tobacco. Walter Goggins has a couple awards in his future and his rocky back and forth character ride he takes us on is the most compelling storyline of Season 1.
Walter Goggins' Boyd Crowder
This is a show that is constantly bringing in new complex storylines as well as new complex characters.  It's rich with scenery and lush with moral dilemmas that confront those characters.  Oh and it also has the best gunfights around...

So...check out my favorite new show on TV.  You have until 10 pm tonight to catch up...GO!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2011

As Mike Portnoy has said before, there are no such thing as "bests" just "favorites"...

That being said here is a look at the AMAZING year of movies that was 2011 (and one possibly late 2010...).  To me this was the year of movie magic, which I'm a sucker for and the thing I look for most in movies.  It doesn't have to be critically acclaimed, or on a big budget, it needs to grab my soul.  And every single one of these movies did exactly that...

10. Somewhere

This one technically came out in select theaters December 22, 2010.  But it wasn't released until 2011, and took me a while to see it on DVD.  This is one of those movies that nothing really happens during, which of course can be dangerous, but when you cast the write people, and write the right words...magic happens.  This is the first of three movies that Elle Fanning appears on, and it's no coincidence.  She has a BRIGHT future ahead of her in the world of acting.  The father-daughter relationship that Sophia Coppola creates seems genuine and real.  Probably because she lived a life like this under her famous father Francis as a child.

9. War Horse

Steven Spielberg is such an icon and a joy to have making movies as a lover of movies myself.  The best scenes in this movie come when there is no dialogue.  Jeremy Irvine was key to making me care about a boy traveling around the world during World War I looking for his horse, and in the process becoming a man.  To me in the end it was that transformation from boy to man that made the movie worth watching, and provided that great Spielberg movie magic.  The final moments of the film are beautiful.

8. J. Edgar

Leo strikes again.  He is the master of the biopic (acting perfectly in Scorsese's Aviator as well, a personal favorite).  Clint Eastwood was the perfect director for this film because he lived through the subject matter.  He was there when J. Edgar was the pride of the country, the American Dream in a suit.  He was also there to witness the unraveling and self destruction, which makes for a great movie, but is also tragic when you  know it actually happened.

7. Contagion

This is one of the few films that truly frightens me.  It shows how terrifyingly easy it is for a disease to spread and ravage the human race.  It shows how quickly we become selfish violent animals to try to save our own also shows the wonders mankind can accomplish during it's darkest hour.  This is a movie of subtly.  A handshake there, a cough there.  Truly scary, but also truly uplifting as well.  Matt Damon (who I've always said plays the "every-man" better than anyone else) and Laurence Fishburne steal the show for me.  Matt Damon's first of two on the list.

6. Super 8

This movie was the start of magic kind of year.  This is a movie where the parents don't save the day, because they don't believe.  The kids are the heroes, they are the ones who teach us the lessons and opened my eyes to a younger version of myself making movies in the backyard and pretending to be whoever I wanted to be.  Elle Fanning makes her second appearance on the list (her final being number 1 on the list...), and totally steals our heart in this movie.  She breaks my heart throughout the movie, when she confesses in the glow of the home movies that is was her father who inadvertently caused the events that killed the main character's mother...heartbreaking.  J.J Abrams doesn't simply mimic Spielberg though, he creates moments and images that will stand along with Spielberg (the necklace held frozen in the air along with that single note of music, the water tower through the hole in the wall...).  I look forward to more of Abrams in the future.

5. Moneyball

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill deserve the highest praise for this movie and Oscar nods at least!  Pitt is great at just being cool on screen.  Not hunky, "sexiest man of the year" cool,  I am 100% a giant baseball fan, and have been my entire life, but this movie like Field of Dreams uses baseball as a topic to draw people into something greater...accomplishing the impossible, carving your place in the world, and making something of a lost opportunity.  I already knew the outcome of the A's season that year, I watched it, but I still sat transfixed, because I didn't know what was unfolding inside the clubhouse.  Baseball is romantic, it's America's Pastime, and this is one hell of a movie.  It's a real lump in the throat for not only fans of sports, but fans of the impossible.  Which should be everyone...because like this movie proves, nothing is impossible.

4. Drive

Ryan Gosling.  That is all.

No but seriously, the greatest actor of my generation, easy.  This movie provided a movie going experience like none other.  I was fully aware of what I was about to get into, but the majority of the theater was expecting a Fast and the Furious action pic...their opinion of the film was felt early on, until certain events transpired and they were just as locked in as I was.  This is a brilliant film...brilliant.  Heck of a soundtrack too!

3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I'm a huge fan of masked acting, and in a perfect world Andy Serkis would get the Oscar for Best Actor.  Anyone who gives this movie crap over "CGI monkeys" doesn't know anything about this movie, or the performance they are witnessing.  This movie is the biggest shocker on the year, because every time I saw the trailer I thought it would be nothing but possibly a fun "popcorn flick".  Wrong.  This movie is fascinating and compelling on the highest level.  This movie contains a scene that left me with my jaw wide open and goosebumps across my whole body.  The theater was completely stunned in silence. It took my breath away.  This is a movie I truly loved.  I can't wait for the sequel...

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Ok.  Rooney Mara's performance is FLAWLESS.  Absolutely and completely compelling, tragic and perfect in every way.  What I loved about her performance so much was it was mostly done in her eyes, her silence, and her body language.  Her transformation was inspiring, and my Oscar for Best Actress goes to her, easy.  Oh and the movie is great as well!  There will be endless comparisons to the Swedish version and the book, which is expected.  But like the Swedish version it tries to pay homage to the reason for it's creation...the book.  It's cliche, but both are similar and different.  It was fun seeing Daniel Craig not be the hero of the movie, and see him in peril needing saving.  That Mara family is one talented bunch...dominating on the screen and on the football field (her Mom's side of the family owns the Steelers and her Dad's side of the family owns the New York Giants...GO G MEN.)

1. We Bought A Zoo

Cameron Crowe is my hero.  He makes movies void of cynicism and dread, because he knows sometimes we already have enough of that in our life.  He writes and directs like no one else.  I LOVE THIS MOVIE.  The scene where Matt Damon (second appearance on the list) goes through the slide show of his wife on his computer and relives their past with the song "Sinking Friendships" in the background is THE scene of the year.  Perfection.  I had a hard time realizing what my number 1 movie of the year would be until I realized that scene is everything I love about movies, everything.  The dialogue between the father and son are the best written scenes of the year.  Matt Damon's performance is second only behind Rooney Mara's as my favorite of the year.  The script was perfect, but it needed that performance to breath life into it, and Damon did exactly that.  Crowe also brings in his knowledge of music (unsurpassed by anyone) to the film and like every movie he's made perfectly places songs in scenes and lets them speak for themselves.  The soundtrack to this movie is not only my favorite of the year but one of my favorite ALBUMS of the year.  Jónsi (from the amazing band Sigur Rós) needs to be Crowe's John Williams.  I love this movie.  This is the kind of movie I live for.