Sunday, July 1, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) Review

Directed by
J.A. Bayona

It appears that, for the second week in a row, the fifth installment in the Jurassic franchise will be taking home the top crown at the box office.  The question is whether Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is making all of its money due to it being a quality film, or is it basking in the glory of history of the franchise.

Fallen Kingdom is the second film in the Jurassic World phase of the franchise, once again starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.  Several years after the Jurassic World incarnation of the live-dinosaur amusement park endured the same fatal fate of the original Jurassic Park, a crew is being put together to return to the tropical island to try and save some of the once-extinct animals from a volcano threatening to destroy the entire island.  As the former head of the park, Claire (Howard) is asked to put together this team which must include her ex Owen (Pratt) because of his relationship with the last living raptor.  In the process of saving the dinosaurs, the eco-centric team realizes they were lied to as to the future of the rescued animals.

First, the positives.  I love the Jurassic franchise simply for its unique approach of humans interacting with dinosaurs.  I even enjoyed Jurassic Park III for what it was.  At this level, Fallen Kingdom doesn't disappoint.  If you are looking for suspense in humans being chased by dinosaurs, dinosaurs being chased by dinosaurs, and any other combination that could happen, Fallen Kingdom doesn't disappoint.  The filmmaking and CGI is decent as well.  This film contains possibly my favorite shot I have seen in any movie so far this year.  As the boat pulls away from the island being engulfed by the fiery volcano, a lone dinosaur stands on the dock looking longingly at the departing boat.  It is an incredibly moving moment.  Also, every movie is made better when Chris Pratt is in it, and his chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard still works.  It was also nice to once again see Dr. Ian Malcolm show up, brought to us by the irreplaceable Jeff Goldblum.

With all that said, there was a lot that bothered me about this movie.  Jurassic World did what a lot of reboots have done over the last couple years.  It took the successful storyline from the original film and updated to a new setting.  Jurassic World was, in many ways, a remake of Jurassic Park just like The Force Awakens was, in many ways, a remake of A New Hope.  Those films work because they are based on strong original movies.  Fallen Kingdom is, in many ways, a remake of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the second installment in the franchise.  The Lost World is not near as strong as the first film.  This means when Fallen Kingdom bears that resemblance to it, it does not bring about the positive feelings like the last film.  If you don't believe me, here is the plot of The Lost World.  A research team goes to the island only to find out that poachers have also been sent by the company as well to undermine the original team and take the dinosaurs off the island to the mainland where they wreak havoc.  This is basically the same plot.  Sometimes that's okay.  This time, it isn't.

The other thing that really bothers me about this film is how the trailer completely ruins the film.  The original trailer was quality as it discusses the efforts of the team to save the dinosaurs from the volcano.  However, the subsequent trailers give away every major plot point and almost every twist in the story (at least every twist that is worth while).  Trailers are supposed to give a preview of the movie, not a synopsis.

I had more issues with the film than just the trailer and its similarity to The Lost World.  The action at times was almost cartoonish.  The two side characters in the team are such stereotypes that it is distracting.  The new genetically-modified dinosaur is made to look more like a demon than a dino.  Then there is the final plot twist that comes out of nowhere, makes no sense, and is almost ignored.  The one time it is brought up again is the justification for the film taking the easy way out with the ending instead of ending the way it should have.

To answer my question from the beginning, Fallen Kingdom is simply riding the coattails of past franchise success to big box office numbers.  Of the five Jurassic films, this is probably my least favorite (yes, I liked Jurassic Park III more).  There were just too many head-scratching moments.  It is still an enjoyable film for what it is.  Just don't expect it to exceed expectations.  I have no idea where the franchise goes from here, but I am starting to care less and less.

Rating:
2 stars

Watch the (good) trailer here:

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2018 MLB Pre-Season Profiles: #10-6


They may not win it all, but these teams will be able to claim that they made the playoffs in 2018.

#10
Los Angeles Angels

Most Important Hitter: Shohei Ohtani
Most Important Pticher: Shohei Ohtani
Prospect to Watch: Shohei Ohtani
2018 Prediction: 2nd in AL West, WILD CARD, lose Wild Card Game
Bold Prediction: Shohei Ohtani will have 15+ wins and 15+ home runs.

I may be overstating it a little bit, especially considering this team also has the best player in the world in Mike Trout, but Shohei Ohtani is the most fascinating player in baseball this season.  If he does what he is projected to do (and continues the success he has shown in the start of the season), the combination of Trout and Ohtani might lift the Angels back to the postseason.  The main concern is their bullpen, but their lineup is as complete as it has been since Trout broke into the league.  They won't go far, but the playoffs are within reach.


#9
Milwaukee Brewers

Most Important Hitter: Eric Thames
Most Important Pticher: Chase Anderson
Prospect to Watch: Brandon Woodruff
2018 Prediction: 2nd in NL Central, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
Bold Prediction: The Brewers will trade for an ace by the All Star Break.

I don't know what was more surprising: the Brewers' 2017 season or the Brewers 2018 offseason.  The Brewers came up just short of the playoffs in 2017, greatly surpassing most expectations.  Then, they go out in the offseason and improve their club more than almost anyone else, adding Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to an already good outfield.  Many were surprised they also didn't land a frontline starter, which was the main area of concern entering the offseason.  That is why it would make sense if the Brewers use their depth in the outfield to go get a starter during the season.


#8
Boston Red Sox

Most Important Hitter: J.D. Martinez
Most Important Pticher: David Price
Prospect to Watch: Michael Chavis
2018 Prediction: 2nd in AL East, WILD CARD, lose in ALDS
Bold Prediction: J.D. Martinez will be the only Red Sox hitter over 20 home runs.

The Red Sox got the power hitter they were missing last year when they picked up J.D. Martinez part way through Spring Training.  They will have a successful season, but won't get too far.  It will be interesting to watch what happens with Michael Chavis this year.  He is the top prospect for the Red Sox, but was just suspended for 80 games.  He is also blocked from coming up to the big leagues by young phenom Rafael Devers.  Even though the Red Sox do not have a strong farm system anymore, it looks like Chavis might be the perfect trading chip mid-season.


#7
Cleveland Indians

Most Important Hitter: Jose Ramirez
Most Important Pticher: Trevor Bauer
Prospect to Watch: Francisco Mejia
2018 Prediction: 1st in AL Central, lose in ALDS
Bold Prediction: Corey Kluber will be the AL starting pitcher in the All Star Game.

The Indians have a loaded roster and should cruise through the AL Central.  Jose Ramirez will look to follow up an MVP-caliber 2017 season with another great year.  Trevor Bauer will be counted on to add depth to the rotation behind Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.  By Memorial Day, Francisco Mejia will be the Indians' starting catcher.  They might not get back to the World Series in 2018, but they will have a great season.


#6
Los Angeles Dodgers

Most Important Hitter: Cody Bellinger
Most Important Pticher: Kenta Maeda
Prospect to Watch: Walker Buehler
2018 Prediction: 1st in NL West, lose in NLDS
Bold Prediction: Clayton Kershaw will return in 2019 to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers still have an amazing roster and will be a serious contender to return to the World Series.  They will need another year from Cody Bellinger like he had in his rookie 2017 season.  Kenta Maeda, being the only right-hander in the Dodgers' rotation, needs to have a productive season.  Walker Buehler could help that rotation at some point as well.  The big story is whether Clayton Kershaw will opt out of his contract after the season and hit free agency.  Whether he opts out or not, he will be a Dodger in 2019.  How could he be anything else?

2018 MLB Pre-Season Profiles: #15-11


These are the teams I am predicting will just miss the playoffs in 2018.  See who gets left out.

#15
Arizona Diamondbacks

Most Important Hitter: David Peralta
Most Important Pitcher: Robbie Ray
Prospect to Watch: Taylor Clarke
2018 Prediction: 4th in NL West
Bold Prediction: This will be Zack Greinke's last season in Arizona.

The Diamondbacks were a surprise playoff team in 2017, but they were propelled there by an other-worldly finish by J.D. Martinez.  Their biggest mistake was not adequately replacing him.  Steven Souza, Jr. is good, but not as good as J.D.  They will need increased production out of guys like David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Yasmany Tomas (who is currently in AAA) to pick up the slack.  Robbie Ray needs to repeat his All Star performance in 2018 to solidify a rotation headed by an aging Zack Greinke.  I could see the D-Backs moving on from him after this season to take the next step forward.


#14
Seattle Mariners

Most Important Hitter: Mike Zunino
Most Important Pitcher: James Paxton
Prospect to Watch: Max Povse
2018 Prediction: 3rd in AL West
Bold Prediction: Ichiro will be released by Memorial Day.

The Mariners have the longest playoff drought in professional sports, having last made the playoffs in 2001 when Ichiro was a rookie.  They have a shot at making it this year, but it all comes down to health.  James Paxton can be one of the best aces in the league if he can stay on the field.  King Felix can still be the King if he can stay healthy.  Mike Zunino finally showed off his bat in 2017, but needs to repeat the performance (instead, he is currently on the DL).  If healthy, they can compete with almost any team in the league.  Staying healthy will be a challenge though.  Ichiro was brought in because of their injuries (and a great story), but I don't see him lasting long at 44 years old.


#13
San Francisco Giants

Most Important Hitter: Andrew McCutchen
Most Important Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner
Prospect to Watch: Steven Duggar
2018 Prediction: 3rd in NL West
Bold Prediction: Half of the Giants' Opening Day roster will not be on the roster Opening Day 2019.

The Giants decided to take their aging roster and double down by adding more veterans (Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria) to try and make another run at the playoffs.  They are very interesting because of this.  If these two are able to rekindle some of their glory day magic, then the Giants will be a formidable foe this year.  If not, they will once again be disappointing.  Their farm system is terrible, and I could easily see them blowing up the roster at the end of the season if 2018 doesn't result in a postseason run.


#12
St. Louis Cardinals

Most Important Hitter: Tommy Pham
Most Important Pitcher: Michael Wacha
Prospect to Watch: Alex Reyes
2018 Prediction: 3rd in NL Central
Bold Prediction: The Cardinals will make at least one blockbuster trade at the Trade Deadline.

The Cardinals are not used to missing the playoffs, yet they have now missed the postseason two years in a row.  I am predicting this season will make it three.  They remade their outfield with Tommy Pham as the centerpiece, but he has fluke written all over him.  They have an ace in Carlos Martinez, but a guy like Michael Wacha needs to step up to give the rotation depth.  They lucked out by signing Greg Holland on Opening Day to anchor their bullpen, but it is still thin.  There are just too many questions.  One thing they do have is a lot of major league ready talent in the minors.  This is why they will be making a trade or two this year to try and turn around what could be a disappointing season for the Cardinals fans with such high standards.


#11
Minnesota Twins

Most Important Hitter: Byron Buxton
Most Important Pitcher: Fernando Rodney
Prospect to Watch: Nick Gordon
2018 Prediction: 2nd in AL Central
Bold Prediction: Byron Buxton will start in centerfield in the All Star Game.

The best team to miss the playoffs in 2018 will be the Twins.  They made a miraculous turnaround from worst team in the league to the Wild Card last season.  Now they will try and stay there.  A lot of offseason moves have really improved this roster.  Relying on Rodney to anchor your bullpen is stressful.  Buxton will be a superstar by the end of the season.  They will just come up a little short.

Stay tuned for the playoff teams!

2018 MLB Pre-Season Profiles: #20-16


Unfortunately, this year I was not able to complete my pre-season profiles of each team before the season started.  I will complete the list with an abbreviated preview to each team left starting with #20-16.

#20
San Diego Padres

Most Important Hitter: Wil Myers
Most Important Pitcher: Brad Hand
Prospect to Watch: Luis Urias
2018 Prediction: 5th in NL West
Bold Prediction: The Padres will trade for a top-end starting pitcher mid-season.

The Padres are moving in the right direction.  Their problem is they are in possibly the most competitive division in baseball full of teams ready to win now.  If they keep on their current course, they will be competing for this division in the next few years.  With Eric Hosmer coming over from Kansas City, Wil Myers is transitioning into a crowded outfield.  Their best last player last year needs to show he is can still be elite even if he isn't the face of the franchise.  Same with Brad Hand.  A great year in 2017 has the Padres looking to Hand to be their closer.  He needs to show 2017 wasn't a fluke.  Look for the Padres' front to once again be aggressive at the Trade Deadline.  If guys like Chris Archer or another ace with years of club control left becomes available, look for the Padres to bolster their rotation by dealing one of their many outfielders.


#19
Philadelphia Phillies

Most Important Hitter: Maikel Franco & Odubel Herrera
Most Important Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
Prospect to Watch: Scott Kingery & J.P. Crawford
2018 Prediction: 3rd in NL East
Bold Prediction: This will be Gabe Kapler's only season as Phillies' manager.

The Phillies are another team starting to set themselves up to be a contender in a few seasons.  For them to be able to do this, Franco and Herrera need to show that they can be consistent enough to be stars and the centerpieces of this offense.  Jake Arrieta was brought in late in the offseason to mentor a young pitching staff.  If he gets back to his glory days in Chicago, he might be the best signing of the offseason.  Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford will soon be mentioned as one of the best young double play combos in the league.  The only question is Gabe Kapler, managing for the first time and already getting a great deal of criticism.  He needs to improve quickly or else he may be in danger of being a one and done manager.


#18
Chicago White Sox

Most Important Hitter: Yoan Moncada
Most Important Pitcher: Lucas Giolito
Prospect to Watch: Michael Kopech
2018 Prediction: 3rd in AL Central
Bold Prediction: Michael Kopech will be in the top three for the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year.

No one remade their roster more efficiently and effectively than the White Sox did before the 2017 season.  Now all those prospects they got back are starting to hit the big leagues.  Guys like Moncada, Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez need to start showing why everyone was excited about their future.  Watch out for guys like Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez to crash the party in 2018.  Kopech is a future stud that will quickly be one of the top rookie in the big leagues as soon as he makes his debut.


#17
Atlanta Braves

Most Important Hitter: Dansby Swanson
Most Important Pitcher: Julio Teheran
Prospect to Watch: Ronald Acuna
2018 Prediction: 2nd in NL East
Bold Prediction: Ronald Acuna will be the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year.

The Braves are still a year or two away from really competing, but a weak division will make them look better than they are.  It is time for former #1 pick Dansby Swanson to become an All Star caliber shortstop.  Julio Teheran has been the Braves' ace for awhile, more by default than anything, but his production needs to take a step forward before he is passed by guys like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb.  Ronald Acuna might be the most exciting young player to yet make his major league debut.  When he does, watch out!


#16
Texas Rangers

Most Important Hitter: Rougned Odor
Most Important Pitcher: Matt Moore
Prospect to Watch: Willie Calhoun
2018 Prediction: 4th in AL West
Bold Prediction: Cole Hamels will be traded before the end of the season.

The Rangers seem to be stuck in this spot where they aren't quite competing, but they aren't quite losing either.  This year appears to be another one of those years, especially considering their division.  Rougned Odor has shown flashes of brilliance, but needs to get consistent.  Matt Moore they are hoping finally shows the greatness that made him a top prospect a few years ago.  This might be the year the Rangers finally decide to start to sell a little.  This could start with Cole Hamels, who is in the last year of his contract.


Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

2018 Pre-Season Profile: New York Mets

#21

The New York Mets fought through injuries in 2017 to have a poor season in a poor division.  Will a return of some key pieces and a change in manager bring about a better result in 2018?

2017 Predictions
2nd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS
Noah Syndergaard will win the NL Cy Young.

2017 Results
70-92, 4th in NL East

The Mets have built their roster on a dynamic young pitching staff with just enough offense to support it.  Well, when only one of their five aces makes more than 20 starts in the season (including only 7 stars from Noah Syndergaard, the best of the bunch), it sets the team up for failure.  When Thor went down early in the season, obviously my prediction went out the window with his season.

Additions / Subtractions

The Mets made some very interesting moves over the offseason.  First, after trading away Jay Bruce to the Indians mid-season last year, the Mets were able to bring him back.  Then they brought in veterans Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier to man the corner infield spots.  They brought in starter Jason Vargas to bring some stability to their oft-injured rotation.  The biggest move the Mets made was letting manager Terry Collins go and bringing in Mickey Callaway, former pitching coach of the Indians, as their new manager.

Most Important Hitter
Yoenis Cespedes

Like I said, their team is built around their pitching.  However, ever since the Mets traded for Cespedes in 2015, their offense has lived and died with his production.  When he is hot, the Mets are hot.  When he is cold, the Mets are cold.  If the Mets are going to have a successful season, Cespedes needs to be MVP caliber.

Most Important Pitcher
Noah Syndergaard

Before his injury last season, Noah Syndergaard had been emerging as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.  As such an imposing figure on the mound and with such electric stuff, it is easy to see why Thor is so good.  The Mets are expecting Syndergaard to be back to the freak he was before the injury, and the early returns from Spring Training say he is.  An injury-free season from Thor will make for a much better season for the Mets.

Prospect to Watch
Marcos Molina

One problem with the Mets is they currently have a poor farm system.  No players in their farm system are in baseball's Top 100 prospects, and none of their top 7 prospects are expected to make their debuts in the big leagues in the next year or two.  The best prospect that is closest to the Show is Marcos Molina, a 23 year old Dominican pitcher.  A recent elbow injury derailed some of his progress, and he has a lot of pitchers on the roster in front of him, but a lively arm like his might be able to help out the bullpen down the stretch.

2018 Prediction
4th in AL East

I do not have high hopes for the Mets this year.  A manager that is pitching-centric will help, but I don't know if we will ever see the Syndergaard/deGrom/Harvey/Matz/Wheeler rotation dominate the league like everyone thought they would when they first debuted.  Their offense is relying on comeback years from some aging veterans.  The arms are not going to stay healthy.  Add that to the fact that some of the other teams in the division have young cores that are ready to explode onto the scene, and the Mets will struggle to gain ground.  2018 could be entertaining for the Mets, but not successful.

Fearless Prediction
The Mets rotation will not see one trip through feature Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, and Wheeler again.

At this point, it looks like it would take an injury from Jason Vargas for this to happen in 2018 (and all of them to get and remain healthy).  It is easy to see a scenario where guys like Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler end up traded or on other rosters by the end of the season.  With other starters like Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in the fold, they are definitely starting pitcher wealthy and could part with some to build up the struggling farm system.  This dream rotation they built seems to be over before it ever really got started.  The encouraging part is the Mets might be better off without it.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Pre-Season Profile: Toronto Blue Jays

#22

The Toronto Blue Jays went from perennial playoff contender to irrelevance in 2017.  Does 2018 bring a return to form or more of the same?

2017 Predictions
5th in AL East
No Blue Jays starting pitcher will start more than 30 games.

2017 Results
76-86, 4th in AL East

I had a pretty good read on the Blue Jays last year.  Losing some key pieces, watching others age in front of them, and fighting through injuries led to them only one game out of the cellar in the AL East.  As for their pitching, Marcus Stroman and JA Happ were able to each start 33 games, however 2016 All Star Aaron Sanchez had the setback I predicted, only pitching 36 innings in an injury-plagued campaign.

Additions / Subtractions

The Blue Jays made some minor moves for some veterans that will help fill out their roster in 2018.  The most noteworthy additions were veteran Curtis Granderson to man leftfield and former top prospect Randal Grichuk to man rightfield.  Some other minor moves for depth were infielders Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz along with pitchers Jaime Garcia and Seung Hwan Oh.  None of these moves could be considered huge difference makers (maybe Grichuk), but it helps the lineup look respectable in 2018 as opposed to some of the "extreme tankers" (Marlins, I'm looking at you).

Most Important Hitter
Justin Smoak

In 2017, Justin Smoak went from a prime example of potential that never delivers to finally putting it all together to be an All Star.  Now entering 2018, the Blue Jays are going to be relying on Smoak to anchor the center of their order with Josh Donaldson.  More times than not, when a player has a spike year like Smoak did in 2017, it is more likely for it to be a fluke instead of a sign of good things to come.  The Blue Jays are really hoping Smoak can buck the trend.

Most Important Pitcher
Marcus Stroman

Over the last few seasons, Marcus Stroman has emerged as one of the better pitchers in baseball.  Only entering his age 27 season, Stroman will try and repeat a productive 2017 that started with him dominating in the WBC and finished with him being the best player on the Blue Jays in terms of WAR.  Stroman is the ultimate competitor.  Will he be able to stay interested and on top of his game if the Blue Jays aren't in contention?  Also, he has thrown over 200 innings the last two seasons.  He has not had a history of arm issues (although he is working through some shoulder inflammation right now).  Will he be able to avoid the inevitable lost season young pitchers have had to arm problems?

Prospect to Watch
Anthony Alford

The Blue Jays have a pretty stacked farm system, highlighted by a couple second generation big leaguers.  However, Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are still at least a year away from being ready for the big leagues.  The intriguing one to watch for 2018 is Anthony Alford.  This former football player for Southern Miss is a crazy athlete with blazing speed.  His other tools are still developing, but the Blue Jays would love to see him break through in leftfield at some point this year and maybe even be their leadoff hitter with a little pop.

2018 Prediction
3rd in AL East

Predicting them to finish in the middle of the AL East might be a little deceiving.  The Yankees and Red Sox are the only teams in this division that will finish over .500.  The Blue Jays are actually set up well moving forward.  They have some big-time prospects waiting in the wings and a decent pitching staff, led by Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, that will still be there when they are ready to compete again.  This season might not be a success in Toronto, but they are building to something great.

Fearless Prediction
2018 will be Josh Donaldson's last season as a Blue Jay.

Josh Donaldson only has one more year of control after 2018.  His relationship with the Blue Jays' front office has been rocky at best throughout his time in Toronto.  Chances are he will not be re-signing with the Blue Jays.  The Blue Jays probably don't want him back considering they have one of the top prospects in the world (Vlad Guerrero Jr.) that plays third base.  So all this leads to, ideally, an offseason trade to bring back more prospects that will support this new wave that will be ready to compete in a few years.