Sunday, May 26, 2013

2013 NFL Team Win Totals: Five Early Predictions

          This week, Sportsbook released their early 2013 NFL regular season over/under win totals (here’s an updated link via Bovada).  In case you don’t remember, for last year’s NFL Over/Under Wins column, I offered some excellent insight (“A .500 season [for Buffalo] is a lot to ask,” “The stars are perfectly aligned for [Detroit to finish under 9 wins])”) as well as a momentary gaffe or two (“The 2012 Broncos are a disaster waiting to implode” – at least that statement was correct about the last 40 seconds of regulation in their playoff loss to the Ravens).  All in all, three out of my five picks were correct, which isn’t bad, since I originally had a paragraph about the 12.5 win total for New England was too high and how the Ravens would probably knock us out of the playoffs as payback for Lee Evans/Billy Cundiff (I swear I wrote this before deciding it looked too negative). 

          Of course, writing this article in May has its drawbacks.  There are still some key free agents (John Abraham, Ahmad Bradsahw, Dallas Clark) that have yet to be signed with a team, and last week’s developments involving Michael Crabtree and Brian Urlacher are indications of how unpredictable the league is during the summer months, and the difficulty of  accurately predicting how a team will perform in the upcoming regular season.  But there are also upsides.  Seattle had an over/under of 7 wins according to my column last year – and I was writing in July.  Other ridiculous lines included Oakland (7.5 wins), Washington (6 wins), and most laughable of all, Indianapolis (5 wins) and Philadelphia (10.5 wins).  Imagine what these totals must have looked like before the Colts signed Donnie Avery and the Eagles traded Asante Samuel to the Falcons.

          In any event, here are five early predictions that, like 32-yard field goals, are automatic cash in your wallet.

Cincinnati Bengals (Over 8.5 wins -135)
$100 bet pays $74.07

The Bengals have made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.  Consider other teams which have failed to do this: The Giants, 49ers, Steelers, Texans, Vikings, Broncos, and Seahawks.  Of course, each of those teams (minus the Broncos) have more playoff wins in the last four years than Cincinnati, but this column is about regular season wins.  In 2012, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson spearheaded a fearsome defense that was second in the league in sacks, and ended the year with victories over the Steelers (in Pittsburgh) and the Ravens.  They had, by all accounts, a superb draft where they drafted this guy.  Where did they find him, Avenger tryouts? In 2013, they have a grand total of one road game versus a winning team (at Baltimore, week 10), three of its first four and final four games are at home, and we all know about the big offseason losses of the Ravens and Steelers.  This is the team of the future in the AFC North.

Denver Broncos (Under 11.5 wins -120)
$100 bet pays $120

I’m not going to go crazy and call them a disaster in the making, like I proclaimed them to be in last year’s column.  But age is a problem for this team.  Depending on how you choose to look at it, the Broncos offense is either too old (Peyton Manning is 37 and Willis McGahee will be 32) or too young and inexperienced (Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are coming off their first 1,000 yard, injury-free campaigns).  In 2012, Denver was blessed with a ridiculously easy schedule (10 of its 13 wins coming against teams sub-.500) and was fortunate enough to play in a division with the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders.  Now, the Chargers have Manti Te’o and Dwight Freeney, the Chiefs have Andy Reid and Aaron Rodgers, and the Raiders . . . well, I guess that’s two of Denver’s 12 needed wins right there, but where are the Broncos going to find those ten other wins?  Admittedly, their 2013 schedule isn’t dramatically difficult, but here’s a question: Can you name the last 13 win, non-New England team to win 12+ games its next season?  You would have to go all the way back to 2009, when Manning’s Colts won 14 games after a 12-win 2008.  There’s too much parity in the league to rely on good teams to remain consistently good (unless you’re talking about the Patriots).  12 wins is a high total for any team, let alone one which has never won three consecutive division titles.

Detroit Lions (Under 7.5 wins +110)
$100 bet pays $110

Were the Sportsbook prognosticators in Vegas not watching this team last year?  Hello?  Maybe they were distracted by the free T-shirts in the Part Pit at the Excalibur.  In the meantime, the 2012 Lions were one of the most dumbfounding, statistically quirky teams of all time.  Matthew Stafford threw for over 4,900 yards and Calvin Johnson set an NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards . . . and yet they could only muster 20 passing TDs and 5 receiving TDs between them.  Huh?  Only one receiver has ever passed 1,400 yards receiving and had fewer total TDs (interestingly, that receiver was Andre Johnson in 2012).  It’s not like the Lions had a great running game in the red zone either; they just didn’t know how to win games.  In eight of their 12 losses, they outgained their opponent in total yards.  Who does that?  Anyway, Detroit will continue doing its best imitation of the mid-1980s Chargers by throwing for a ton of yards, lacking a consistent running game, and forgetting entirely about defense.  Oh, and four of its first six games in 2013 are on the road, and ten of their opponents had winning records last season.

San Francisco 49ers (Under 11 wins -105)
$100 bet pays $105

Expect this total to fall to 10.5 or 10 depending on the gravity of the Crabtree situation.  But even with a healthy Crabtree, 11+ wins is a tall order for the 49ers.  This is not because they don’t have talent; they may be the league’s deepest team on both sides of the ball.  Put this squad in another year or another division and 11 wins would be a cakewalk.  Unfortunately, the 2013 49ers face serious questions: Can Colin Kaepernick make it through an entire season?  Can Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham account for the loss of Crabtree (and Delanie Walker)?  On defense, which Nnamdi Asomugha will show up – the Raiders version or the Eagles version?  But most significantly, the NFC West has gone from laughingstock of the league to suddenly the NFL’s toughest division, especially with the Seahawks (unbeatable at Qwest Field) and the Rams (excellent draft, unbeaten vs. San Francisco last season).  San Francisco’s 2013 schedule gives them no breaks: Seven playoff teams, on top of four games against the improved Rams and Cardinals.  Yikes.  In fact, an 0-5 start is not inconceivable (especially if you’re a biased Seahawks fan like certain other contributors to this website).  I love this team, and I hope they play the Patriots in Super Bowl 48.  But the road will be anything but easy.

Washington Redskins (Under 8.5 wins -135)
$100 bet pays $74.07

Let’s even assume, just for a second, that RG3 is telling us the truth and he starts Week 1 fully recovered from his reconstructive knee surgery.  Now let’s assume that somehow, miraculously, RG3 is able to make it through the season without injury long enough to reach the plateau of nine wins – a notoriously difficult feat in the NFC East.  Now let’s assume that Alfred Morris doesn’t have a sophomore slump, that the offense continues to only turn the ball over a league-leading 14 times all year, and that the defense overcomes its bottom-three passing numbers in 2012.  Let’s assume the Redskins can have consecutive winning seasons, something the Washington franchise has not accomplished since Bush watched their games from the White House (not W., but H.W.)  Let’s assume that they can beat Green Bay, Denver, and Atlanta on the road, and that the Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia is a disaster.  Now, even if all of those things end up happening, do you still honestly believe without a doubt the Redskins will reach nine wins?  My point exactly.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013) Review

Directed by
Baz Luhrmann
Let me start out by saying this was my first experience with Gatsby in any way, shape, or form.  I never read the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald book, never saw Robert Redford play the iconic character or any other movie version.  I didn't even have any idea what the plot was.  I came into this film knowing that there was a mysterious guy named Gatsby, and apparently he's a big deal.  That was about it.  This larger than life portrayal of the classic story was a great way to get immersed in the world of The Great Gatsby.
Baz Luhrmann creates a larger than life setting for this simple story of love, loss, and the pursuit of happiness.  Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) starts the movie recalling a summer that forever changed his life; his summer with Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).  We see everything through Carraway's eyes from the larger than life status of Gatsby to the terrible unhappiness of his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) at the hands of her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).  It soon is revealed that Gatsby's history with Daisy haunts him in a way that only she can satisfy his pursuit of happiness.
This is Luhrmann's fifth feature film, however only the second one I have seen after Moulin Rouge!.  I can see many similarities between these two films.  Both films have this great grand setting to tell what turns out to be a very simple human story.  In Gatsby, the world of 1920's New York becomes the larger than life city it truly was in the Roaring 20's.  The parties were outrageous, the rich got richer, and the world was in an environment of excess.  The private yet legendarily popular persona of Gatsby only becomes more vivid and real the bigger the world around him gets.  Gatsby can exist in that world.  However, as you discover more about Gatsby and Daisy, you realize that through this grandiose world the plot is very simple and human.  The scale of the film I think makes the story more interesting when it strips back all its layers so you can see the heart at the center of it all.  The one complaint I have in Luhrmann's execution is the use of the modern music in the 1920's setting.  It is just distracting to hear Jay-Z blaring through the speakers as everything around screams 100 years earlier.  Now the music is used so sparingly and the right times as to not kill the story, but it is still distracting when it does happen.
After finally being exposed to this iconic story and the iconic titular character, I could not see anyone better suited to play Gatsby than Leo.  He is Gatsby in every way; the mystery, the glamour, the wounded, the passionate.  I can't think of another actor that could have done this role so much justice.  The rest of the cast was in top form as well in characters perfect for them, especially Mulligan and Edgerton.  If there was one character that didn't quite work, it was Tobey Maguire's Carraway.  Tobey Maguire is such a weird actor that doesn't seem to fit perfectly in any role besides Peter Parker (and that is debatable).  This role was no exception for him, but it was about as good as Maguire can be.  It seemed to be very similar to his role in The Cider House Rules where he was in the center of a story that was never really about him.  He becomes a main character whose role is to be the passive observer.  Because I had recognized this connection that he had played this role before, his performance didn't bother me quite as much as it may have bothered others.
Above all else, this brilliant story shone through and proved why it has become such an iconic plot.  The story is fascinating as it tells of a man trying to recapture a moment in time.  This story could have been told in a much more Todd-friendly fashion by only involving four actors and taking place in a single room over the 90 minute movie.  However, the scope and scale adds so much to the story as it allows Gatsby to be such a public celebrity yet a private mystery.  This dichotomy allows Gatsby to be one of the most fascinating and iconic characters of all time, and thanks to Luhrmann and DiCaprio, the legend of Gatsby lives on for a new generation.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, May 11, 2013

If There Were a Remake… [THE DEER HUNTER]

This may be the most indulgent article series I am going to embark on (maybe only rivaled by my “Casting My Own Movie” series I started but never followed up on), but this should be interesting. I am going to take classic movies and break down who would/could/should be cast in a remake if one were made at this very moment. Obviously, these are films that should never be touched, but it is interesting to think about.

Now with a movie like The Deer Hunter, one that is so fully and completely post-Vietnam in impact and release date, it is difficult to really comprehend how it could be changed in terms of writing and directing. I will assume the movie requires the same traits from the actors, but the overall scope of the movie would probably be changed to fit into the present day. Not an exact science, I know, but it is the best I can do. So, check out what I came up with for the greatest movie of all time, Michael Cimino’s 1978 Oscar-winning masterpiece The Deer Hunter:

Original: Michael Cimino (story), Louis Garfinkle (unpublished script), Quinn K. Redeker (unpublished script), Deric Washburn (story/screenplay)
What is required: The Deer Hunter is not exactly a writing showcase, so it is not a highly sophisticated screenplay. The writer would need to be able to thoroughly develop several different primary characters, as well as making reality out of situations as extreme and provocative as Russian Roulette games. Since the original is over 3 hours, the screenplay does not necessarily have to be tight, but it needs to be thick and deep. It would take a special writer to bring it all together.
Who would be chosen: William Monahan. He would be a tremendous choice. He has worked with several different main characters in a remake format with The Departed. Although not great work, he has worked with war films before with Kingdom of Heaven. He has the prestige of being an Oscar winner, but he really hasn’t worked all that often. I wouldn’t complain.
My choice: David Simon. It is time this guy made a movie. After a couple sensational multi-character TV shows (The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street) and a really popular war miniseries (Generation Kill), it is clear that he has the resume to take on such this subject. What most attracts me to this choice is his edginess and unrelenting style. That is what is most important for a movie like this. He would probably set it in Baltimore instead of Pittsburgh, but hey… screw the Steelers!

Original: Michael Cimino
What is required: It is difficult to really quantify what Cimino actually brought to the table, since the rest of his career was one giant flop, but the movie really is remarkably directed. It needs to be someone who can bring all three major sections of the movie together into one inspired film. Even in the most extreme and heartbreaking sequences, the movie still needs to be very grounded and realistic.
Who would be chosen: Ridley Scott. For me, this would be a worst-case scenario. However, he has collaborated with Monahan once already (Kingdom of Heaven), and he has made an effort recently to make more domestic dramas between his action, war, and sci-fi pictures. He may be able to pull it off, but I just can’t even imagine having to sit through a three hour Scott movie. If he can calm down his gunfire obsession and make a couple war sequences as disturbing as some of Alien, while maintaining a personal and emotional touch on the quieter scenes, then it could work. Either way, I would not really want to come near this. I would be afraid of what it would do to my favorite movie.
My choice: David O. Russell. He would be a bit of an outside-the-box directing choice, but seeing what he was able to accomplish in Three Kings, as well as the painful humanity of The Fighter, I feel like he could really breathe life into the quieter small-town scenes as well as the gritty, emotional war sequences. It would not be a perfect choice, but he would make it feel more modern and even more relevant today.

Original: Chuck Aspegren
What is required: This is not a really important part, but it provides the slightest bit of levity in the otherwise completely serious movie. He was not an actor, just a steel worker that the crew met on location, but he fit perfectly in with the group of friends. So, the actor would essentially just need to appear as an ordinary guy, as well as deliver and repeat the classic line “Fuckin’ A!” and dip his Twinkies in jars of mustard.
Who would be chosen: Zach Galifianakis. It is not out of the question to think that he could pull this off, seeing how he was cast and was virtually unrecognizable in Into the Wild, but this would actually be a cool role for him. He would be able to provide the light humor of the part, plus he sort of looks like Aspergren. I just feel like he is a bit too old for the part, and his presence might be a distraction from the other characters.
My choice: Michael Gladis. I am always quick to mention actors from my favorite TV shows when relevant. Gladis has always had a slightly humorous part in Mad Men, and this seems like the sort of part that could be a nice introduction into film for him. He looks like he could be a steelworker at times. Since this role is not too vital to the movie, this type of actor is that would best serve Axel’s purpose.

Original: George Dzundza
What is required: This is another part that is not among the main characters, but it is about on the same level as Axel. He is another friend of the main characters. The actor would need to have that ordinary guy feel, and really just seem like he belongs in that group.
Who would be chosen: Patton Oswalt. This may just be another case of the fact that he looks and acts like the original, but he would be the perfect casting as John. He has the quirky attitude as well as the ability to be serious. Even if he just plays it like Big Fan, he will be fine.
My choice: Patton Oswalt. He is just the perfect choice for this.

Original: John Cazale
What is required: Stan is essentially the bullied one of the group. He is absent-minded and weak, but he does provide quite a bit of heart. He is also the oldest of the group. Cazale was one-of-a-kind, and it is almost a shame to talk about replacing his final role, but there is one great choice.
Who would be chosen: Mark Ruffalo. He is excellent at these types of supporting roles, and I could just imagine him in that scene in the cabin absolutely breaking our hearts. He would be perfect.
My choice: Mark Ruffalo. I cannot even picture any other actor in this role.

Original: Meryl Streep
What is required: The part is incredibly subtle and underplayed. The actress would need to be able to show restraint, even in the scenes where emotions are all around her.
Who would be chosen: Jennifer Lawrence. She is the next Meryl Streep, and even though she is too young for this particular part (same thing was said about her in Silver Linings Playbook), she would still be incredible and totally authentic in it.
My choice: Carey Mulligan. She is one of the best actresses out there at being completely believable in her role no matter what the circumstances of the film are. She is perfect at playing the sweet, likeable girlfriend role, which would make her relationship with the leads seem totally genuine.

Original: John Savage
What is required: This is probably the most Oscar-friendly part in the film (and the one that wasn’t recognized). Steven is an emotional character, and there is also something just off about him. He never seems to be fully together, so the actor would need to be believable as a weaker personality. He is essentially the little brother to the others.
Who would be chosen: Shia LaBeouf. I could see him sliding into the role quite nicely. He would not be the best choice, but there could be far worse. He has the nervous energy to nail some of the Vietnam scenes, but he would really need to hold it back in the third act.
My choice: Dane DeHaan. He is one of the top up-and-coming actors out there. He has the perfect persona for Steven. In every role I have seen from him, he just exudes that internally tormented weaker character that this role requires.

Original: Christopher Walken
What is required: Well, Walken gave the greatest performance in the history of movies. It requires something truly special by the performer. More than anything, the role is about facial expressions. The actor needs to be able to show pain and worry on his face, and at other times be absolutely emotionless and heartbreaking. Nick is the most important character in the movie.
Who would be chosen: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This would be an awesome pick. He can totally own those later scenes, and he has really developed a wide range emotionally. This is the type of role that he needs if he really wants to become an A-lister, which he certainly has the talent to be.
My choice: Paul Dano. This would not be a popular choice, but there are few actors working right now that have mastered facial expressions the way Dano has (evidence: Little Miss Sunshine). He has the total package to do the part justice. He has yet to have this vital of a role in a movie (perhaps There Will Be Blood is the closest thing), but if given the opportunity, he might just blow us away.

Original: Robert De Niro
What is required: Stepping into De Niro’s shoes is always going to be difficult, but this part is not his most iconic. At its core, the part is all about passion and raw emotion. He is the dominant character in the film, also the one most filled with anguish. As opposed to essentially everyone else, he lets it out. He is a volatile, protective, and furious character.
Who would be chosen: Jake Gyllenhaal. I have never been the biggest fan of his, but he can certainly act. I am not sure if he can really hold his own in this big of a part, but I believe he has the tools to pull it off, even if we haven’t seen him do it yet.
My choice: Ryan Gosling. If I had to choose one actor who could become the next De Niro, it is Gosling. He has not really had this fiery of a part in his career, but he would kill it. I cannot even imagine what he would make the audience feel in those later scenes and in the first Roulette sequence…especially being directed by David O. Russell. If there was ever a planned remake of this movie and he signed on as Michael, I would be there.

Anyone else have ideas for these parts? Thoughts? Comments? What movie would you like me to do next? Let me know!