Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's the End of the Season As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

What a final week: Five playoff teams decided, Four divisions decided, Ten games that had playoff ramifications. The league couldn't have been happier especially following 2007 where every single division had been wrapped up prior to the final week of play, making virtually all of the contests inflated exhibition contests.

This season has been one of the most unpredictable and for lack of better words "wacky" in NFL history (or at least my years following it). Among the anomalies of the year: An 8-8 division winner who never had a winning record at any point during the year and never lead it's division until the final week of the season; an 11-5 squad who represented the AFC in the Super Bowl last season not making the playoffs; two teams with 8-3 starts that failed to make the playoffs; a 1 win and 3 win team from the previous season both making the playoffs; two teams with rookie coaches and rookie quarterbacks making the playoffs; seven teams that didn't make the post-season last year in the playoffs this year (though this is becoming something of a commonality); 5 of the 6 NFC teams in the playoffs did not make the post-season last year; all four home teams are underdogs on Wild Card weekend; two of the road teams in the Wild Card have better records than the home team they are playing; and last and certainly least, the first 0-16 team ever.

Before we get to the final rankings of the year, and yes it's all academic at this point, here are my playoff predictions, taking into account the fact that the last three Super Bowl champions played on Wild-Card weekend and only once this decade have the two teams with homefield advantage both advanced to the Super Bowl:


Atlanta over Arizona; Minnesota over Philadelphia

Divisional Round:
New York over Atlanta; Carolina over Minnesota

New York over Carolina


Baltimore over Miami; Indianapolis over San Diego

Divisional Round:
Tennessee over Baltimore; Indianapolis over Pittsburgh

Indianapolis over Tennessee

Super Bowl
Indianapolis over New York (sorry, Pierre--but take solace in the fact I predicted the Jaguars to win it in the pre-season)--I just have a notion that the Cigarette-Smoking Man will make the Manning Bowl finally happen this year

The Rankings:

1. Tennessee Titans (13-3): Their decisive victory over a hot Pittsburgh team last week put them here in a coin toss. Disregard their last game, although you'd think they wouldn't want to end their great season with a shutout loss, even if it was ultimately worthless in terms of seeding. And Vince Young's performance against the Colts' scrubs has to give them pause for the future of the franchise.

2. New York Giants (12-4): Even with starters rested after halftime Minnesota needed a 50 yard field goal to beat them, this bodes well for their prospects of a Super Bowl return.

3. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Found their groove when they shifted their offensive focus to the running game leading to four wins in the final five weeks, but that one loss to the Giants may doom a team that went 8-0 at home.

4. Indianapolis Colts (12-4): Ending the year with a NFL best nine game winning streak and giving Jim Sorgi his annual paycheck earning appearance, the Colts are unquestionably the hottest team in the league. Their record would have nabbed them at least a tie for the lead in every division but their own.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Will keeping Ben Roethlisberger in for a meaningless drubbing of the Browns wreck their playoff potential? Does their 4-4 record against this year's playoff crop belie that perhaps they are not an elite team?

6. New England Patriots (11-5): Best team to not make the playoffs ever? Arguable. Obviously this is a homer pick, but I always felt that if the 1991 49ers who finished with a 10-6 record after suffering injuries to Joe Montana and Steve Young found a way into the post-season, they could have given the Mark Rypien lead Redskins a serious threat. As for the QB situation, Bill Belicheck isn't an idiot, he will keep Matt Cassel until Tom Brady plays an entire season healthy.

7. Baltimore Ravens (11-5): The Ravens who already won at Miami in October have extra motivation this week considering that they were the 2007 Dolphins only win and that Dolphins squad was coached by Ravens' coordinator Cam Cameron.

8. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): Remember after the draft when players were complaining that Matt Ryan was overpaid for someone who never took a snap?

9. Miami Dolphins (11-5): Giving hope to the Lions for next year. Can they keep up their error free play against a takeaway hungry Raven's D?

10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Tavaris Jackson is finally living up to potential, which is good because the Eagles will not allow the Vikings to be one dimensional and make their contest an Adrian Peterson run-fest.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1): Unlikely earned a playoff spot despite needing the Texans to beat the Bears, the Raiders to beat the Buccaneers, the Arena League to cancel the 2009 season, the Lakers to beat the Celtics on Christmas Day and Valkyrie to have a 10 million dollars plus opening weekend. Donovan McNabb is one preservative son of a bitch, but until the Eagles win the Super Bowl, Philly fans will continue to talk shit, it's their nature.

12. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Before they start celebrating too much, let's just note that the four game win streak that catapulted them to the AFC West title included victories over the Raiders, a Kansas City victory they needed a furious final two minutes to win, and two teams that finished the season with four game losing streaks: Tampa Bay & Denver. Not exactly primer for a Super Bowl run.

13. Arizona Cardinals (9-7): With the exception of a week two victory over Miami did not beat a single playoff team this season. In fact, they only won three non-NFC West games the whole year.

14. Chicago Bears (9-7): How strange is this for a Bears team, the defense will have more questions in the off-season than the offense (other than their need for a big play receiver).

15. Dallas Cowboys (9-7): New York Yankees take note, a high payroll and acquisitions of big name players doesn't always translate to a championship no matter the jersey being worn.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): Second consecutive collapse once clinching a winning record. There will have to be a youth movement in the South Bay eventually? Right?

17. New York Jets (9-7): When I wrote my coaching hotseat article, I did not take into account Eric Mangini, because usually coaches aren't fired after a five game win improvement from the prior season. Even if Brett Favre, an aging quarterback who hasn't been to the Super Bowl since the 1997 season (that's 11 seasons for those keeping track at home) had the owner thinking big.

18. New Orleans Saints (8-8): Drew Brees finishing sixteen yards shy of the all time single season passing record is an apt metaphor for the Saints, they are too talented a team to continually underachieve.

19. Houston Texans (8-8): Hard to get a read on this team, started 0-4 with the same personnel that ended the year 5-1. Is the impressive late run promising for next year, or like last year's 8-8 finish, a mediocre team that just happened upon a late hot-streak.

20. San Francisco 49ers (7-9): Promoting Mike Singletary immediately following the end of the game (after the team went 5-2 in its final seven games) showed a rare decisiveness for the York family and considering his popularity amongst players and fans, it was the right move. While Mike Martz had his ups (vast offensive production improvements from 2007) and downs (namely insisting upon JT O'Sullivan as starter and the fucking last play in the Arizona game) but I would've like to see the two Mikes work together one more year for continuity sake alone. A new era seems to be in San Francisco's sights, but before we get too excited, let's remember the last two 49ers teams to go 7-9 followed those seasons with a 2-14 and 5-11 performance the following year.

21. Denver Broncos (8-8): The other coach I never considered as a candidate for being fired is Mike Shanahan, the only coach to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory. I am guessing his dismissal was due to a power struggle, and his not wanting to give up control (although Mike Holmgren went a similar route and still lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl). Probably won't stay unemployed too long, might I suggest returning to your offensive coordinating roots with a certain bay area team you once had ties to (hint: not the Raiders).

22. Washington Redskins (8-8): Looked awfully bad the last few weeks, losing four out of five. Their offense needs to be more explosive.

23. Green Bay Packers (6-10): Well Brett Favre didn't make the playoffs either and you didn't become the team to give the Lions a win. Two positives after a late season five game losing streak. Offense is looking good for the future with Rodgers, Grant, Jennings and Driver being a potentially explosive nucleus

24. Buffalo Bills (7-9): How's this for consistency, Dick Juaron has led the Bills to a 7-9 record all three seasons he's been their coach.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): I guess laying down and letting the Ravens blow them out was their way of enacting revenge upon the New England Patriots who ended their season in the divisional round of last year's playoffs.

26. Oakland Raiders (5-11): Tom Cable made a statement for being instated as the full time coach, the statement being defeating a Tampa Bay team coached by former Raider wunderkind head coach Jon Gruden whose coordinator is the father of Lane Kiffin thus preventing them from advancing to the post-season. You know Al Davis had to love that.

27. Seattle Seahawks (4-12): For the first time in seven seasons Matt Hasselbeck (injured for most of the year) and Shaun Alexander (cut) were not the team's passing and rushing leaders. Will Hasselbeck be back next year?

28. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1): Team played well in the last month. That coupled with the fact Carson Palmer was out for the majority of the year and the owner of the team is a cheapskate who doesn't like paying coaches that are no longer with the team, signal Marvin Lewis is probably returning. The question is: does he want to?

29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Tyler Thigpen looks to have potential and they were very competitive, half of their loses were by a touchdown or less. The problem was they blew leads in many of those close games.

30. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Ended the year without an offensive touchdown in six consecutive games and two consecutive shutout losses. In fact, the only touchdown scored in that span was a meaningless fourth quarter interception by Eagles second string QB Kevin Kolb.

31. St. Louis Rams (2-14): After weeks of incompetence, they showed some improvement in the last weeks of the season, losing four of the last five games by four points or less. Team still has some talent, just a question as to what they need to motivate them.

32. Detroit Lions (0-16): Historically bad, but probably not the worst team of all time. Just of this season. But hey, if the Dolphins, Falcons and Ravens can all turn around....nah, never mind.

Enjoy the playoffs, thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chill Out!

I'm back in town and will update soon, in the interim, enjoy the winter weather.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Colonel Mortimer's Egg Nog and Menorah Holiday Celebratory Rankings

This will be my last rankings column while the season is still active. I will be out next week but will return the week after that for a wrap-up and playoff prediction.

Before we get to the rankings, let’s talk coaching. This has been an extremely active year as three coaches were fired mid-season. If things go completely batshit insane in the off season there could be as many as fifteen changes when you figure retirements into the picture.

One has to figure that the hiring blueprint will tilt towards low key assistants with minimal head coaching jobs after the quick turnaround in Baltimore (John Harbaugh), Atlanta (Mike Smith), Miami (Tony Sporano), and hell, even the last few weeks in San Francisco (Mike Singletary).

Here are the coaches that could be joining America’s ever increasing longer unemployment lines.

Gone For Sure:

Mike Holmgren (Seattle): His retirement was decided before the season started, after about a few weeks it appears he stayed one year too long. The question is will there be some question as to whether Jim Mora, the groomed heir apparent, is truly the man for the job.

Rod Marinelli (Detroit): Like the 2007 Miami Dolphins who ended with a 1-15 record, the Lions are playing hard and have a few good quality players (most notably Calvin Johnson) to build a nucleus around in the future, but like the Dolphins, the Lions are looking for a new General Manager and President and whoever that is won’t want to start his career with a coach who led his team to an 0-14 start, and a probable 0-16 or 1-15 record.

Romeo Crennel (Cleveland): Led team to improbable 10-6 record last season causing high expectations that were dashed early with a 0-3 record. Crennel probably stuck with ineffective starting quarterback Derek Anderson too long before giving fan favorite Brady Quinn a shot. GM Phil Savage is pretty much throwing him under the bus and Cleveland fans have dreams of Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Cowher or both dancing in their heads.

Tom Cable (interim/Oakland): If there is one thing Al Davis loves to do, it’s hiring then firing a coach. He’s had five in six years and the team got worse after Cable took over for ousted coach Lane Kiffin. The only thing that could save his job is if Davis is self aware to realize there are not a lot of coaches willing to subject themselves to his whims.

Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati): You can pinpoint the exact second that Lewis tenure with the Bengals was doomed: Carson Palmer goes down in the early stages of their first home playoff game in over a decade after tossing a touchdown pass. The Bengals lost that game, and they have been plagued with discord, suspended players and mediocre play ever since. Lewis seems like a good coach, if one in over his head, for his sake, it’s probably for the best he gets out of Cincy.

That Seat is Awfully Hot

Jim Zorn (Washington): At 6-2 he made Dan Snyder look like a genius for plucking this obscure quarterback coach as heir apparent to Joe Gibb’s second term. Five out of six games lost, ineffective offense and disputes with their best player later, his fate may be similar to Richie Petitbon, the heir apparent to Joe Gibb’s initial tenure.

Jim Haslett (interim/St. Louis Rams): After leading the Rams to a two game win streak following the dismissal of Scott Linehan, the Rams started negotiating the removal of the interim label from Haslett’s title. The move was prohibited due to not conforming to the Rooney rule. If you ever needed proof of the effectiveness of affirmative action, there you go!

Dick Juaron (Buffalo): Meanwhile Dick Juaron was actually given an extension early in the season after the Bills started 4-0, they’ve been in freefall and 2-7 ever since, with some questionable game day decision making.

Herm Edwards (Kansas City): There is no question the Chiefs are playing better than their record suggest, however, like this week, they have a strange tendency to find ways to snatch defeat from the hands of victory. With a new General Manager/President coming next season, will he want his own guy?

Wade Phillips (Dallas): In a lose-lose situation, with probably nothing short of a Super Bowl appearance or even victory saving his job after a tumultuous season and a popular and highly paid offensive coordinator who has been groomed by the owner as a future head coach waiting in the wings.

Probably Safe….But You Never Know

Mike Singletary (interim/San Francisco): You would think the interim label would be removed by now, the team is playing much better since he took over, and that’s with the same players that Nolan lead to mediocrity for years. But the Yorks have made some stupid decisions before, and I wouldn’t put it passed them to go another way for purely arbitrary reasons.

Jack Del Rio (Jacksonville): This was a team with Super Bowl aspirations that until last week’s game was playing with minimal passion. His past success should allow him an opportunity to prove this year was just a fluke.

Norv Turner (San Diego): AJ Smith gave Turner a vote of confidence earlier this season, saying that the coach will return. But the Chargers are a loss or Broncos win away from playoff elimination following an AFC Championship appearance last season and a 14-2 record the year prior to his hiring and retaining him will be hard to explain to the team’s fans.

May Retire

Tony Dungy (Indianapolis): The day after the Colt’s season ends will begin the annual will he or won’t he leave discussion. He’s the Brett Favre of coaching.

Possible Big Surprise Resigning/Firing

Andy Reid (Philadelphia): Once Holmgren retires, Reid will be the longest tenured coach in the NFC and the third longest in the league. Has had a bizarre season with the benching of McNabb which led to a surprising resurgence. If the team misses the playoffs, it will be for the third time in four seasons and the census is the current version of the team’s window of opportunity is shut.

Now to the rankings where we have a new number one team:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) (3): I guess this may be controversial since they have one less loss than the Titans and actually lost to the Giants; they aren’t exactly blowing teams out and were a questionable call away from possibly losing to the Ravens on Sunday. Still, the defense is as dominant a force that there is currently in the league and Ben Roethlisberger has an uncanny knack to pull out a win in the fourth quarters of all these nail biting contests.

2. New York Giants (11-3) (1): Lost for the second time in two games to a desperate division rival. I will give them the benefit of the doubt due to a lack of Brandon Jacobs and retain them in the top two, where they have resided the entire season, however a loss to the Panthers will see them going in the opposite direction then they were at this time last year.

3. Carolina Panthers (11-3) (4): A part of me just doesn’t trust this team, but I have to give them credit on back to back hard fought wins over good opponents. Jake Delhomme is not having a vintage year, but the defense, when it shows up, and running attack help keep them in games making him need only one or two big plays a game to pull out a victory.

4. Tennessee Titans (12-2) (1): Still have the best record in the league, but there’s a sense that like the Colts in 2005 or the Jaguars in 2000, they are a team that will not have post-season success. The loss of Albert Haynesworth is big.

5. Indianapolis Colts (10-4) (-): Win streak now at seven, seven is also the number of consecutive straight ten win seasons the Colts have had, all since Tony Dungy took over.

6. Minnesota Vikings (9-5) (9): If you ask me, stick with Tavarias Jackson at quarterback, the veteran Gus Frerotte is a better pick to be prepared to come in if Jackson gets injured or is ineffective.

7. Atlanta Falcons (9-5) (8): Proving they are multi-dimensional, still eek out a win despite Matt Ryan’s less than impressive performance.

8. Dallas Cowboys (9-5) (10): Terrell Owens is happy for now. The improved play of the defense is the reason for their reemergence.

9. Baltimore Ravens (9-5) (6): Cannot dwell on the validity of the Steelers touchdown, their playoff hopes require a victory this week at Dallas.

10. New England Patriots (9-5) (11): This was probably the happiest Randy Moss has ever been in Oakland.

11. Miami Dolphins (9-5) (12): Amazingly have only six turnovers this entire year.

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) (7): Their increasing array of injuries may keep them out of the post-season.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1) (18): That tie against the Bengals could end up being extremely costly.

14. New York Jets (9-5) (16): Only won due to benefit of the Bills bad play calling and JP Losman’s impressive knack of turning the ball over.

15. Chicago Bears (8-6) (17): Looking to avenge their worst loss of the season when they host the Packers this week.

16. Houston Texans (7-7) (20): Is the late emergence of the team indicative of great things to come next year or is this just like their late emergence of last season, smoke and mirrors?

17. Arizona Cardinals (8-6) (13): Just looked flat out awful at home against the Vikings, its not an excuse, but hey they just aren’t used to playing games as a division champion.

18. Denver Broncos (8-6) (16): It is conceivable that not just one team but two teams can win their division with an 8-8 record this year, the Cardinals and the AFC West champion, however, if the Broncos end up 8-8, it’s likely the Chargers and not them will be representing their division.

19. New Orleans Saints (7-7) (14): Their season may be over, but they don’t want to go down as the team the Lions beat, although they should be able to empathize, the 1980 Saints squad also started 0-14 before finishing 1-15.

20. Washington Redskins (7-7) (19): That “worst coach ever” speech probably didn’t do a lot for owner Dan Snyder’s confidence in Jim Zorn to turn things around next season.

21. San Diego Chargers (6-8) (-): Still mathematically alive, however the fact that they needed two touchdown in last two minutes to beat the Chiefs is proof this team just isn’t playing to the standards of it’s last few seasons.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) (25): For the first time in five weeks actually showed moxie and passion. With games against the Colts and the Ravens, could help shape the playoff race even if they are only going to be spectators.

23. Green Bay Packers (5-9) (22): After an impressive start, they have lost four straight games; their last victory was against this week’s opponent, the Chicago Bears.

24. San Francisco 49ers (5-9) (23): While it’s undeniable the Niners are playing much better, the one area they still need to improve exponentially is red zone scoring, they should have won this game and could have been a lot closer against the Cowboys if they scored touchdowns and not settled for field goals so much. This might be a basic flaw of Martz’s system which is built for the big yard plays but not for the crunching short yardage pickups that the red zone necessitates.

25. Buffalo Bills (6-8) (24): If I were a coach, I’d keep the ball out of my second string turnover prone quarterback in the last two minutes of an apparent victory and place my faith in the tough reliable running back. That’s just me though.

26. Cleveland Browns (4-10) (-): Something tells me they are not going to have five primetime games next season.

27. Seattle Seahawks (3-11) (29): It’s been an awful season for the Hawks who plummeted from division champs to a three win squad, but at least they swept the Rams, which is something, I guess.

28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11-1) (30): Going into the game, a surprise victory over the Redskins, the Bengals offense hadn’t score a touchdown in 11 quarters.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) (27): I can’t decide which was the sadder sight, the Chiefs giving up a sure victory in the final minutes or Arrowhead stadium not filled to capacity.

30. Oakland Raiders (3-11) (28): Al Davis insists that it’s a conspiracy that the Raiders always have to play a quarterback a few days after his father dies.

31. St. Louis Rams (2-12) (-): Hey Rams fans, Marc Bulger still has four years remaining on his contract, yay!!!!

32. Detroit Lions (0-14) (-): Props for giving strong efforts instead of packing it in, no props however for Calvin Johnson wildly celebrating a touchdown that placed a then 0-13 team 10 points down.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Trailer of the Week: Only 9 More Chopping Day 'Til Xmas Edition

Considering the quality of the film, it's kind of silly that Silent Night, Deadly Night caused such controversy in 1984 when a group of mothers had the film's advertisements featuring an axe wielding madman dressed as Santa Claus removed from television airings and the film effectively pulled out of theatres mid-release. The film is bad, but it's fun/bad, a movie for which alcoholic consumption and a group of like minded trash connoisseurs are paramount to the viewer's enjoyment. It's hard to fathom there was a time the film was ever taken seriously, it was even released by Tri-Star, a secondary arm of Columbia Pictures, let alone considered detrimental to society.

But a murderous Santa Claus cannot be held back, and Silent Night, Deadly Night survived theatrical banishment and became a successful straight to video franchise in the late 80's and early 90's, although only Part 2 (which is most famous for having half its running time consist of flashbacks of scenes from the first film and the "Garbage Day" moment which became a Youtube sensation) expanded on the original storyline.

Really, mothers should have not only not protested the film, but study the essential parental lessons contained within, such as: never leave an impressionable child with his crazed grandfather who may convince him that Santa is an evil entity; don't stop your car and be attacked, raped and murdered by an escaped convict donning a Santa Claus costume in front of said impressionable child's eye; and let me stress this as strongly as humanly possible, never place your stuffed deer's head in a location in which a naked Linnea Quigley could be easily impaled upon it's antlers once said impressionable child has grown up to become a crazed psychopathic killer in a Santa suit!

Here's the trailer from 1984 which caused such a stir:

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Back in May, after seeing the trailer for the new David Fincher film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it became my most anticipated film of the year. So when I had an opportunity to see it early with a Q & A following the screening with Fincher, a director I hold in high esteem, I jumped at the chance.

What initially drew me in the trailer was the combination of the dreamlike imagery and the tragic implications of a love story where one of the characters is aging in reverse. Fortunately, this element of the film works brilliantly. It contains emotional truths combined with a thoughtful meditation on the aging process. Unfortunately, it only constitutes about an hour of a nearly three hour movie. Further unfortunate is that the other two hours consists of a rather tedious, Forrest Gump like story of an innocent man-child (literally) and his journey through a world which sees him coming face to face with an assortment of colorful characters, historical landmarks, magical Negroes, and metaphorical hummingbirds. The tedium is tempered with beautiful cinematography and seamless innovative special effects; the playful technical advancements in the reverse aging process and impending doom plays to Fincher’s cinematic strengths (he’s a self-proclaimed cynical bastard), much more than the whimsical nature of the first two-thirds. Symbolically the film does not begin to reach it's potential (penetrates, if you will) until Benjamin and his love Daisy's relationship is consummated.

At its current running time, the film, which is well paced, feels either too short or too long. The F. Scott Fitzgerald short story it’s based upon is only 30 pages, and I assume (having never read it), that the crux is the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy, which is the most developed aspect. In the Q & A, Fincher said the original screenplay by Eric Roth (who not so coincidentally wrote the screenplay for Gump) was nearly 400 pages and the shooting script was somewhere along the lines of 240 pages (and I have to ask what an Academy Award winning, successful commercial Hollywood screenwriter is doing writing a 400 page screenplay?), and the truncation of a longer story is felt as well, most specifically in the impact of a very minor character whose death is the motivating factor for Benjamin to leave his surroundings and venture out into the world.

Despite some major reservations, I would recommend anyone who is interested to definitely see this in the theatre, if only for the widescreen scope and technical craftsmanship. Both Brad Pitt, who is an underrated actor and is on a hell of a streak with this, Burn After Reading and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Cate Blanchett give wonderful performances, each providing depth that reaches beyond the characters as written. While it’s hard to gauge the true response of the audience I watched it with considering the sycophantic questions lobbied Fincher’s way, they seemed to be completely with the film for the entire time (my wife though had pretty much the same reaction as I) and it’s classic epic filmmaking milieu should resonate with the majority of viewers. Even if the last hour, especially the devastating conclusion, is the only section that reaches the heights that Fincher was aiming, a flawed film that is one third of a masterpiece offering something unique is ultimately more fulfilling than the umpteenth treaty on the holocaust, disease suffering and biopics that normally litter the Academy Award season.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Colonel Mortimer's NFL Rankings: The Cop-Out Edition

I now have sympathy for BCS voters.

I really couldn’t decide if the Titans should automatically move to the top spot this week after their win and the Giants loss. Or should I cut the Giants some slack since they have had by far the more difficult schedule of the two, for example, their last six games were all victories against teams with winning records versus the Titans who have only played five teams with a winning record this whole season.

I also considered that the Titans latest victory came against the Browns who beat the Giants. But even that is misleading since the Browns team the Giants faced still had their opening week starting quarterback, were not eliminated from the playoffs and Romeo Crennel had yet to become a lame duck coach.

With the strength of schedule argument in play and considering both the distracting week that the Giants had off the field involving their star wide receiver and linebacker and the fact that inner-division games are usually competitive, I decided the hell with it…a tie for first place.

At least in the NFL the actual teams decide the championship.

The rankings:

1. (tie) Tennessee Titans (12-1) (2): Have clinched division and bye week, but homefield advantage probably won’t be decided until their week 16 contest versus the Steelers.

1. (tie) New York Giants (11-2) (1): A week after I praised Domenik Hixson’s special team play he drops a certain touchdown pass. In other news, aren’t the Miami Dolphins (the team the 49ers play this week) wonderful and completely error-free?

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) (-): Expect a brutal smashmouth match-up this week between the Steelers and Ravens, who openly hate one another, with the AFC North championship on the line.

4. Carolina Panthers (10-3) (8): Their running attack has really blossomed of late, if they win their last three games (which includes a match-up against the Giants), they will have homefield advantage in the playoffs.

5. Indianapolis Colts (9-4) (7): Their victory over the Bengals this week was the only game in their current six week win streak that they won by more than a touchdown. Should make it two this week when they host the Lions.

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-4) (9): You can’t tell by the way he’s playing that Ed Reed is bothered by a lingering neck injury.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4) (4): Time to ponder if the cumulative age of the Bucs will lead to another late season flame out.

8. Atlanta Falcons (8-5) (6): Their major Achilles heel is that they have not beat a division rival on the road this year.

9. Minnesota Vikings (8-5) (11): For the second time this year, they squeak by the Detroit Lions.

10. Dallas Cowboys (8-5) (5): Championship teams usually are able to hold onto a 10 point lead with less than six minutes left in a game. Hell, even the 49ers did it on Sunday.

11. New England Patriots (8-5) (12): If Mike Singletary doesn’t get anointed the full time coach of the 49ers, the Patriots are interested in him. Not as a coach, as their third linebacker!

12. Miami Dolphins (8-5) (13): Has a team ever went from 1-15 to division champs in a year? The Dolphins have a shot at it.

13. Arizona Cardinals (8-5) (15): Officially won their first division in over thirty years and will host first ever playoff game in Arizona. Still, they could use some momentum to convince doubters they are for real, a victory over the Vikings this week would help.

14. New Orleans Saints (7-6) (17): I guess if there was going to be a NFL player with the name of Pierre to find success in the league, New Orleans would be the place.

15. Denver Broncos (8-5) (16): A win or a San Diego loss away from clinching AFC West and a first round playoff loss to the Colts or Ravens.

16. New York Jets (8-5) (10): And they were feeling so good about themselves after beating the Titans.

17. Chicago Bears (7-6) (18): Looks like the loser of this week's Bears-Saints game will be pretty much eliminated from the playoffs.

18. Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1) (19): Hard to get a read on this team, tied one of the worst teams three weeks ago, have beat the only two NFC division clinching teams the last two weeks.

19. Washington Redskins (7-6) (14): Note to rookie coach Jim Zorn: Benching your strongest offensive player is probably not the best way to inspire better offensive performance.

20. Houston Texans (6-7) (21): Continuing their annual "look good the last few weeks of the season after we are eliminated from the playoffs so people think we will be good next year" thing.

21. San Diego Chargers (5-8) (23): It's good to have consistency in an unpredictable world, the Chargers have that in the form of a win over the Raiders.

22. Green Bay Packers (5-8) (20): Their defense has been....wait for it...offensive! Hey-o!

23. San Francisco 49ers (5-8) (24): Mike Singletary accomplished something that Mike Nolan, Steve Mariucci and even George Seifert never did, he coached a 49er team to a victory over a Brett Favre led team in the regular season.

24. Buffalo Bills (6-7) (22): J.P. Losman? More like J.P. Loseman. Hey, I'll be here all week!

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) (-): In accordance with the Jags performance, I will quit writing about them.

26. Cleveland Browns (4-9) (-): They've had three different starting quarterbacks in the last three games, but in solidarity none have led the team to an offensive touchdown in any of those games.

27. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) (-): Just like Tyler Thigpen in last week's final drive, the Chiefs have been just a few yards shy of victory this entire season.

28. Oakland Raiders (3-10) (-): Let's hear it for consistency! The Raiders have had at least 10 loses the last six seasons.

29. Seattle Seahawks (2-11) (-): A couple of weeks ago, I said that the Seahawks should give some playoff bound teams a scare, they did just that against the Pats.

30. Cincinnati Bengals (1-12-1) (-): Mike Nolan followed Marvin Lewis as the Ravens defensive coordinator, this year, Lewis will follow Nolan to the firing line at the end of the season.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-10) (-): Perhaps the Rams could use a strong veteran QB like that guy the Cardinals have.

32. Detroit Lions (0-12) (-): Came dangerously close to actually winning a game.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Remember Kiddies Only 20 Chopping Days 'Til Christmas

Title featuring a bad pun? You know I must be talking about Tales From the Crypt! In keeping with the merriment of the season of giving, I present you with the opening segment of the 1972 anthology film based on the classic EC comic series and directed by Freddie Francis in its entirety.

In this segment "All Through the House" a fed up housewife (Joan Collins) chooses Christmas Eve as the perfect time to murder her husband. This being TCFTC you know no bad deed shall go unpunished, and as she is prepping her husband's corpse, she is stalked by a madman dressed as Santa Claus who has just escaped from an insane asylum. Caught in a quandary because she cannot call the cops before disposing of incriminating evidence, what will she do? And more importantly what will her daughter, snug in her bed with visions of sugar plumbs dancing in her head, do when she sees Ol' Saint Nick?


Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Free Train to Meatville

The good news: The film adaptation of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train which distributor Lionsgate dumped into only a handful of second run theatres for a perfunctory release in August after months of prerelease hype and advertising (to which the title admittedly emanated snickers and guffaws from many audiences I was in during showings of the trailers) is available via Fear Net (a Horror themed network that my cable company doesn’t provide) on Demand for free over two months before it hits DVD on February 17th, 2009. It’s presented in widescreen and if you have one of them fancy high-def-o-nition teevees it’s in HD too.

The bad news: It’s really not very good.

Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura shoots the majority of the film in the blue tinted desaturated style that is all the rage amongst the current “extreme” horror crop. Other cinematic atrocities include the over reliant use of the lights on the subway train flickering on and off in quick succession in lieu of ADD editing to mask a lack of craftsmanship and what will sure to disappoint the gorehounds that were most passionately interested in the film: CGI gore, including computer generated blood (really?) and the removal of an eye belonging to a character played by Ted Raimi.

Clive Barker is not really known for the depth of his characters, and the main protagonist, a photographer who wants to impress a famous artist (played by Brooke Shields!) with his gritty “naturalistic” style, is not provided anything else beyond merely being the audience’s portal to the sinister goings on late at night in the New York subways by either screenwriter Jeff Buehler or actor Bradley Cooper (probably best known as Owen Wilson’s foil in Wedding Crashers). Buehler’s script calls for an abundance of contrived motivation, and seriously, is there only one police officer ever on duty in all of New York? Who, of course, happens to be in on the conspiracy! And I am still a little fuzzy as to why they allowed the photographer to survive certain death, was there something about his being destined to take over the meat train that I missed?

I will give credit to the creators for not unveiling too much of the ultimate reveal of what really is going on (spoiler: harvesting of flesh for CHUDs) leaving the specific intricacies mysterious, although one thinks that this is partially due to the overall silliness of the reveal. At this point though I would prefer a good old fashioned silly monster movie to yet another modern, indifferently composed, self serious, gory snoozefest.

If you are a horror fan and were interested in Midnight Meat Train, I recommend you watch the On Demand broadcast and decide yourself; hey the price is right, better than doling out money at your video store or wasting a spot on your Netflix queue. I am not sure why Lionsgate ultimately shied away from a wide release, it wouldn’t have been a blockbuster by any means, but it probably would have made back it’s relatively modest budget in a few weeks.

When all is said and done, it’s no worse than the first Hostel (I like part II better) or any of the Saw movies I’ve seen. Sadly, for horror aficionados, it’s no better either.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Plaxico Burress Inner Thigh & Career Memorial Rankings

So just how crazy, ker-azy even, has this season been? Consider this, going into Week 12 the Titans were 10-0 and the Chiefs were 1-9. The Titans then lost to the Jets who this week lost to the Broncos who last week lost to the Raiders who this week lost to the Chiefs. Furthermore all the losses came to the home team. And with the exception of the Chiefs-Raiders game, none were particularly close. Is that my Rube Goldbergian way of saying that the Chiefs would beat the Titans in a match-up? Not exactly. But it does display just how thin the line that separates the elite from the dregs truly is.

The Lions and Giants being the extreme-end exception to the rule. And even the Giants lost to the 4-8 Browns.

Le rankings:

1. New York Giants (11-1) (-): The suspension of Burress probably will affect fantasy football playoff performances more than it will affect the Giant's.

2. Tennessee Titans (11-1) (-): Good bounce back game, even if it was the Lions. No matter who they played keeping a team 0 for 11 on third down conversions is impressive.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) (-): Top ranked defense has allowed exactly 10 points to opponents in the last three consecutive games.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) (-): It will be very strange to see a Monte Kiffin-less Tampa defense if he does decide to join his son at the University of Tennessee.

5. Dallas Cowboys (8-4) (12): Back to back home wins against the Niners and Seahawks have gotten the Cowboys offense back in sync, this week the Steelers will prove the validity of those last two victories.

6. Atlanta Falcons (8-4) (9): I think secretly everybody is waiting for the bottom to drop off for the Falcons, but they are proving doubters wrong every week.

7. Indianapolis Colts (8-4) (-): A five game win streak coupled with three consecutive games against sub .500 team makes a wild-card spot pretty much a certainity. You know NBC is salivating over a possible Manning v Manning Super Bowl game.

8. Carolina Panthers (9-3) (13): I dropped them pretty severely after their limp showing in Atlanta, so they get a bump back up this week. They are maddeningly inconsistent week in and out, but they have won three quarters of their games, so somethings working.

9. Baltimore Ravens (8-4) (11): What a difference a year makes. At this time last season they were in the midst of a 9 game losing streak, this year they have won 6 out of their last 7.

10. New York Jets (8-4) (5): Not so fast on the Subway Super Bowl New Yorkers.

11. Minnesota Vikings (7-5) (15): The loss of the two Williamses could halt the momentum that has propelled them to the head of the division. This week they get a reunion with former number one draft pick Daunte Culpepper and the Lions.

12. New England Patriots (7-5) (6): Perhaps those "trade Brady" mutterings were a tad premature?

13. Miami Dolphins (7-5) (14): Beat the Rams in a game that featured the number one and number two draft picks of 2008. Save a trade, the Dolphins will not be drafting first this year.

14. Washington Redskins (7-5) (8): Probably pissed that their contest against Ravens got pushed to primetime, where they are 0-3 this year.

15. Arizona Cardinals (7-5) (10): Oh yeah, I guess they are still the Cardinals after all.

16. Denver Broncos (7-5) (19): Interesting AFC West Point Margin stat #1: The Broncos have won two more games then they have lost, but have been outscored 292-319 on the year.

17. New Orleans Saints (6-6) (16): With Deuce suspended, it seems all but certain that Drew Brees will surpass Dan Marino single season passing record.
18. Chicago Bears (6-6) (17): The much vaunted defense is sure giving up a lot of points this season.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5-1) (21): Just when you think Donovan is out...they pull him back in. Hopefully the rest of the season will be better for them than Godfather III.
20. Green Bay Packers (5-7) (18): For a team that made the NFC Championship game last year, not making the playoffs has got to be a disappointment, however, the future looks good, this is after all Rodgers' first full year as a starter and if the Jets make the playoffs, they get an additional second round draft pick.
21. Houston Texans (5-7) (23): Won their first ever Monday Night Football game. That's got to count for something...right?
22. Buffalo Bills (6-6) (20): Record since giving Dick Jauron a mid-season extension: 2-6.
23. San Diego Chargers (4-8) (22): Interesting AFC West point-margin stat #2: San Diego has lost four more games than they have won, yet have a point differential margin of plus 16 on the year.
24. San Francisco 49ers (4-8) (26): Nice assist by Bills kicker Rian Lidell. Still it's impressive that they won considering how outplayed they were stat-wise, usually only good teams eek out those kind of wins, see the Colts win over the Browns.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) (-): Hard to believe this is the same team, sans Marcus Stroud and some injured players, that went into Pittsburgh in the playoffs and beat the Steelers in January.
26. Cleveland Browns (4-8) (24): Hey if you get desperate for another QB Cleveland, I am sure Seattle will give you Charlie Frye back.
27. Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) (30): Hey a Larry Johnson siting!
28. Oakland Raiders (3-9) (-): Raiders-Chargers Thursday night game will be broadcast in 3-D in selected movie theatres, which makes sense seeing how the majority of movies shown in 3-D are horror films.
29. Seattle Seahawks (2-10) (27): Have only won one game at home this season, so much for the twelfth man.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (1-10-1) (29): Making cross-state rivals Browns look good in comparison.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-10) (-): Were only outscored by one point in the first half this week. Hey, it's a start.
32. Detroit Lions (0-12) (-): While I am a sucker for tradition and don't wish to join the choruses of people requesting the Lions lose their annual Thanksgiving game...I would agree that until the Lions are competitive, these holiday games shouldn't be televised.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Mysterious Fifth Ennio Morricone Tune

This will officially end my unofficial Ennio Morricone birthday month celebration, but it was bought to my attention that in my tribute post I referenced five tracks that displayed the myriad range of the man's talent, but only posted four videos. Now either I forgot one, failed horribly at rudimentary mathematics or just typed five where I meant four...sadly my mind can be like a sieve and I have no recollection of which option applies.

Therefore, I present a fifth track to settle the deal, his score to Elio Petri's black comedy An Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, about a Italian cop who is actually a murderer, hey it's a Dexter predecessor! I saw this about five years ago at a revival screening with some other of Petri's other film, he's a unique, political minded director who often mercilessly satirized the wealthy and powerful.

Morricone's score is as playful as Petri's film, a jaunty number with a syncopated beat that builds tension and serves as an oft-repeated anthem for the corrupt and murderous policeman.

Unfortunately most of Petri's oeuvre, including Investigation, is currently unavailable on DVD, a real shame especially considering that it won a Best Foreign Film Oscar and the Grand Prix at Cannes.

Colonel Mortimer's NFL Ranking Turkey Shoot

No chit-chat this week, just the rankings.

1. New York Giants (10-1) (2): As if a dominant defense and a punishing running attack complimented by a solid passing game wasn’t enough, Domenik Hixson reminds you they’re not too shabby special teams wise either. Clearly the most complete team in the league, and that’s even when they are lacking significant roster persona.

2. Tennessee Titans (10-1) (1): While I don’t imagine many people thought they would go undefeated, the Jets dismantling of them on both sides of the ball was surprising. Was it just a one game fluke? Should be able to pound out issues Thursday against Detroit.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) (-): If Steelers get a high seeding in the playoffs, they will have deserved it. Check out the games that bookend their victory over the Bengals; Before: New York Giants, @ Washington, Indianapolis, and San Diego; after: @ New England, Dallas, @ Baltimore, @ Tennessee.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) (5): I would not recommend Tampa spotting this week’s opponent (the Saints) a 17 point lead to start the game.

5. New York Jets (8-3) (6): Hey who knows, maybe Brett Favre will end his career with a Super Bowl victory after all.

6. New England Patriots (7-4) (7): Why was Matt Cassel stuck on the bench for so long?

7. Indianapolis Colts (7-4) (10): Next four games are all against sub .500 teams before a season ending rematch against the Titans who could possibly be resting their starters after clinching the top seed in the AFC. It’s possible that the Colts can take the momentum of a nine game winning streak into the playoffs.

8. Washington Redskins (7-4) (9): While it wasn’t as impressive of a win you’d expect them to have against a 2-8 club, their victory over the Seahawks in Seattle snapped a losing streak and avenged last season’s playoff loss.

9. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) (11): The off-season acquisitions of quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and coach Michael Smith have paid much more immediate results than anyone in Atlanta could have fathomed.

10. Arizona Cardinals (7-4) (8): Proved they are capable of playing well against the top tier teams in the league, now need to prove they can beat the top tier teams.

11. Baltimore Ravens (7-4) (12): Winners of five of their last six. Their defense is getting back their swagger. Quarterbacks of the NFL quiver.

12. Dallas Cowboys (7-4) (13): As I feared, the rumors of their decline were wildly exaggerated.

13. Carolina Panthers (8-3) (3): Steepest drop of the week, their loss against the Falcons proved something I long suspected, namely they are the quintessential paper champions.

14. Miami Dolphins (6-5) (-): Some advice for Miami, the next time you play the Patriots you might want to cover that Moss guy.

15. Minnesota Vikings (6-5) (18): I contemplated just having the top three NFC North teams tied here since they are all within one game of another and they fluxuate wins and losses each week. But the Vikings are the hottest of the three teams, currently riding a 5-2 record in their last seven games and have a dominate defense and running back, the cornerstone of any good NFC North team

16. New Orleans Saints (6-5) (20): Anyone else rooting for a Saints-Cardinals wild-card match up. The over/under will be 150 points.

17. Chicago Bears (6-5) (-): Rookie Matt Forte is providing the type of output at running back that the Bears thought 2005 first round draft pick Cedric Benson would.

18. Green Bay Packers (5-6) (16): I know there is a world of difference between the Bears and Saints offenses, but how do you go from allowing 3 points one week to 51 the next?

19. Denver Broncos (6-5) (15): Ladies and gentlemen, hot off a 31-10 loss to the Raiders, here is your AFC West leader! Say what you will about the NFC West, at least they have one good team.

20. Buffalo Bills (6-5) (23): Was lopsided victory over Chiefs proof of their reemergence or just making themselves feel better by beating up a not so great team? Probably the latter.

21. Philadelphia Eagles (5-5-1) (19): Between not knowing about ties and being benched after a half, this has not been a good week for Donovan McNabb. On a positive note: did not throw up on camera!

22. San Diego Chargers (4-7) (21): Hard luck losers, none of their seven defeats were by a margin greater than 10 points. Among those are losses of 2,1 (the Ed Hocculi game), 5,1 and this week: 3.

23. Houston Texans (4-7) (25): I’m guessing ESPN thought Monday night’s match up between the Texans and Jags would have playoff implications.

24. Cleveland Browns (4-7) (22): I am not as shocked by Brady Quinn being benched for ineffectiveness as I am as to why a young quarterback who’s probably the future of the franchise playing a meaningless game against the Texans when he has a broken finger?

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) (24): Last week’s start against the Vikings: two turnovers deep in their own territory that lead to two early Vikings touchdowns, pretty much encapsulated their season’s quick descent from Super Bowl contender to top ten drafters.

26. San Francisco 49ers (3-8) (-): Need to work on red-zone offense (even if there was a totally obvious holding penalty not called that would have led to a first and goal from the 1 situation) and play complete games, but are definitely better now than they were with Mike Nolan, although that in and of itself is not saying much.

27. Seattle Seahawks (2-9) (-): Have already clinched only the third losing record of Mike Holmgren’s 17 year coaching career. Still, I wouldn’t put it past them to upset one or two playoff hopefuls in the last five weeks.

28. Oakland Raiders (3-8) (31): Where did that effort come from?

29. Cincinnati Bengals (1-9-1) (28): Ryan Fitzspatrick is a combined 1-8-1 as a NFL starter; you don’t need to be a Harvard graduate to realize that record blows.

30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10) (29): In their last twenty games, their record is 1-19.

31. St. Louis Rams (1-10) (30): Is Marc Bulger the most overpaid player in football? Has lead the Rams to only one winning season in the seven since becoming their quarterback.

32. Detroit Lions (0-11) (-): Doing their part to make the Detroit auto industry look good comparatively.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Morricone/Basterds Follow-Up

According to Variety (article link) Ennio Morricone has accepted Quentin Tarantino's offer to score his still in production Inglorious Basterds, but given the film's tight time constraints in trying to be completely shot and edited in time for next year's Cannes Film Festival, Morricone may not be able to provide more than a couple of tracks. 

Either way we will be hearing some original Morricone music accompanying Basterds when it hits theatres (which I am guessing will be Fall '09), but Mr. Tarantino it would wonderful if it's a fully realized collaboration. So to paraphrase your character in Pulp Fiction, "Quentin, you need to make some calls. You need to call some people. Then do it and get Ennio some dailies ASAP or you'll be fucking up my shit big-time!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Colonel Mortimer's NFL Rankings blah blah blah

So this is what parity looks like. We’re eleven weeks into the season and every team has played ten games. Seventeen of the thirty-two teams have a record somewhere between 6-4 and 4-6, meaning seventeen teams are either a two game winning or losing streak away from having the same record. While an argument can be made that the highest quality football is not being played, it should be an entertaining final six weeks of the season and I wouldn’t be surprised if by the final week there are something like seven playoff spots left to be determined.

The rankings:

1. Tennessee Titans (10-0) (-): Over the last 20 seasons a 10-0 start has led to only a 50-50 chance of a Super Bowl victory (Denver 98, Washington 91 and New York Giants 90 all won, New England 08 lost in Super Bowl, Indianapolis 05 lost in first round, San Francisco 90 lost in NFC Championship)

2. New York Giants (9-1) (-): Finally got revenge for the franchise’s only Super Bowl loss.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) (4): If you had heard there was a game ending in a 11-10 score for the first time in NFL history, wouldn’t you have kind of assumed that the Steelers were somehow involved in that contest.

4. Carolina Panthers (8-2) (3): Have truly played to the level of their opponents the last two weeks, those opponents being the Lions and Raiders.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) (-): Their quarterback is a short older guy who has bounced around the league and wasn’t exactly wanted by his coach, two of his top receiving targets include guys who have been suspended for drunk driving incidents. Add a voodoo worshipping defensive lineman and you basically have the characters for a football remake of Major League.

6. New York Jets (7-3) (11): I’ve been reluctant to jump on the Jets bandwagon, hence this week’s large jump, but they now control their own destiny in a tough division.

7. New England Patriots (6-4) (-): Was it just me or did Matt Cassell look Bradyesque in the final drive of the fourth quarter?

8. Arizona Cardinals (7-3) (-): A certain reader of mine claimed they were too highly ranked last time, they can prove doubters wrong by succeeding against upcoming quality opponents such as the Patriots, Eagles, Vikings and this week’s guest, the New York Giants.

9. Washington Redskins (6-4) (5): Their offense seems to lose something in primetime, they’ve scored only 23 points in their three night games this season and have an 0-3 record.

10. Indianapolis Colts (6-4) (14): Not dominating teams like in the past, but have won three in a row and are eyeing a wild-card spot. Have a chance to avenge playoff loss to San Diego this week.

11. Atlanta Falcons (6-4) (10): For those keeping tabs, Michael Turner has out rushed LaDanian Tomlinson by 285 yards so far this year.

12. Baltimore Ravens (6-4) (9): Way to tell the Ravens lost by merely looking at stats of the Giants game: Joe Flacco gained more rushing yards than Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McLain combined.

13. Dallas Cowboys (6-4) (15): At least for this Sunday Terrence Newman’s return meant more to the team’s success than Tony Romo’s.

14. Miami Dolphins (6-4) (16): That Ted Ginn draft selection isn’t looking so bad now is it, Dolphins’ fans?

15. Denver Broncos (6-4) (19): Bad news: offense is not scoring as much points as earlier in the season. Good news: defense not allowing as many points per game as earlier in the season.

16. Green Bay Packers (5-5) (20): Sunday’s display against Bears is what this offense is capable of, they only need consistency.

17. Chicago Bears (5-5) (12): Uncertain Bears fan were heard chanting last week: “Put in Grossman! Put in Grossman! Put in Grossman? Uh, perhaps? Wait, let’s think about this.”

18. Minnesota Vikings (5-5) (17): Someone finally discovered how to slow down the Vikings defense: Jared Allen, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams all are facing three game suspensions for banned substance usage.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4-1) (13): Donovan McNabb was very excited to try out some penalty kicks.

20. New Orleans Saints (5-5) (22): Reason the Saints are only .500 at this point: this was only the second game in the last six weeks that the defense did not allow their opponents to score 30 or more points.

21. San Diego Chargers (4-6) (-): Time is starting to run out on their chance for a late season playoff rallying win streak.

22. Cleveland Browns (4-6) (24): Despite not having the greatest individual game, the Browns are playing better with Brady Quinn in the lineup.

23. Buffalo Bills (5-5) (18): After throwing three interceptions in the first quarter, the Bills were lucky to have almost won Monday night’s game.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) (23): Played the Titans tough for the first half before losing which is indicative of their year thus far, they haven’t really gave a complete game effort at all.

25. Houston Texans (3-7) (-): A streaky team: Lost first four games, won next three, lost last three games.

26. San Francisco 49ers (3-7) (27): We’re number two in the NFC West; if this was the Pac 10 we’d be eligible for the Emerald Bowl!

27. Seattle Seahawks (2-8) (26): Mike Holmgren repeatedly says he wants to take a year off before deciding to return to football in an executive position. Uh, doesn’t this year count?

28. Cincinnati Bengals (1-8-1) (30): Last three weeks results: Win-Bye Week-Tie, making this the best three week span for the team in years.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9) (-): Their strong efforts are not resulting in wins, but in Tyler Thigpen and Dwayne Bowe they may have the nucleus for an offensive revival in the years ahead.

30. St. Louis Rams (2-8) (28): The good news: have outscored opponents 16-7 in the second half last two weeks. The bad news: they were outscored 75-3 in the first half of those games.

31. Oakland Raiders (2-8) (-): Have not scored an offensive touchdown in over three weeks, my teenaged self can sympathize with the whole not scoring part.

32. Detroit Lions (0-10) (-): Folks we are one week away from a possible Thanksgiving match up between an 11-0 and a 0-11 team. Titans, Lions: make this happen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Belated Birthday Ennio!

Last Monday one of the all time great film composers, make that musicians, celebrated his 80th birthday. I refer to none other than Mr. Ennio Morricone, and I humbly would like to wish him compleanno felice.

The one aspect of Morricone's legacy that sets him apart from other such distinguished composers as Bernard Hermann, Nino Rota, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Maurice Jarre, insert your personal favorite here, is his expansive variety. Throughout his career he's worked on projects ranging from hundred million dollar epics to the smallest micro budgeted exploitation flick, the lightest comedy to the darkest thriller. And as he reaches octogenarian status he shows no signs of laying low, he has five upcoming projects listed on IMDB and rumors are swirling that he will score Quentin Tarantino's next film, the much anticipated WWII saga Inglorious Basterds.

Here are five examples that in my estimation best display the man's varied talents.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Of course any discussion of Morricone work has to start with his collaborations with director Sergio Leone. Perhaps the "Ecstasy of the Gold" sequence of G,B, & U is a bit obvious (a remix of the track is currently featured in a David Fincher directed NIKE commercial featuring LaDanian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu) but standards are standards for a reason. I could have just has easily placed the entire Once Upon a Time in the West score or the opening to A Fistful of Dollars here.

The Battle of Algiers

Stylistically you cannot get much further from Leone's over the top cinematic playfulness to the docudrama form utilized by Gillo Pontecorvo in Algiers, but Morricone proves just as adept at handling both, providing a pulsating militaristic march.

The Exorcist II: The Heretic

Sometimes Morricone's score is the major highlight of the film, as is the case with his psychedelic score for John Boorman's much maligned, but occasionally interesting-in-a-gonzo- sort-of-way sequel to The Exorcist.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

Morricone collaborated with Italian giallo filmmaker Dario Argento three times (the "animal" trilogy) in the 1970's, the first team-up, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage set the bar for the other two films, the score incorporates sounds as disparate as sharp angled free jazz and the melodic, yet haunting, suite featured in the above clip with the delicate sound of a woman humming and lala-ing.

Of course I just scratched the surface of Morricone's nearly fifty year career, and could have easily included such other inventive and lively music pieces as the ones that accompany the following films:

For A Few Dollars More, Navajo Joe, Danger: Diabolik, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Duck You Sucker!, Days of Heaven, Le Professional, Machine Gun McCain, John Carpenter's The Thing, Once Upon a Time in America, The Mission, The Untouchables....and on and on.

Notable albums for starters:

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Soundtrack
Ennio Morricone Anthology: A Fistful of Film Music--a great two disc, 45 track career retrospective compiled by Rhino Records that spans his career from his first Leone score to the 1991 Pedro Almodovar film, Tie Me up! Tie Me Down!

For more adventurous listeners I recommend:

Ennio Morricone/Dario Argento Trilogy--collects music from Bird, Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Cat O' Nine Tails

Crime and Dissonance--another two disc compilation, this one collected by Faith No More and Fantomas vocalist Mike Patton for his record company, Ipecac, features some of Morricone more obscure and experimental works. 

Further reading:

His wikipedia page.

An article written by Video Watchdog editor and Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark author Tim Lucas with special attention to the music accompaniment to the McBain massacre in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Movies Go to the Movies: Death Wish 2

In my review of Death Wish 2, I mentioned that one of the pleasures of watching the film today as a Los Angeles resident was to see Hollywood Boulevard of the 1980's in all it's dingy glory now that it's long been Disneyfied. In 1993 I was able to witnessed a little of the tail end of the disparity of the famous avenue when I worked on a film with my uncle that was shot on a theatrical stage that is now demolished. While homelessness still exists on the boulevard, 15 years ago the homeless population outnumbered the residence dwellers by a good three to one margin.  Today you are more likely to be accosted by drunk frat boys from the Valley and Orange County or a Scientologist concerned about your thetan levels than a guy looking for change to buy a bottle of whiskey. That is not change I can believe in! Seriously though, while I recognize the importance of a vital Hollywood Boulevard for both tourism and pride factors, I wish the boulevard renaissance would of had more to do with restoring the classic movie theatres that still lie unoccupied rather than constructing a giant mall.

That's why even a silly exploitation film like Death Wish 2 is of importance, shot on location in 1981, it provides a snapshot of a place that does not really exist anymore. Ironically, director Michael Winner would contend that fact as being a good thing.

This TMGTTM presents a first, unlike True Romance and Ed Wood, the three movie theatres in Death Wish 3 are all incidental location shots that play no role in the story of the film itself.

The first theatre is the only one still operating to this day, and arguably the most famous movie theatre in the world, the Grauman's Chinese Theatre (in the 80's it was retitled the Mann Chinese Theatre).

The movie on the marquee is John Boorman's Excalibur. Did Winner insert this shot as a symbolic nod, making a correlation between his film's hero Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson, natch) as the modern ancestor of the Knights of the Roundtable, keeping alive their endeavors and more importantly, spirit?

Or did Excalibur just happen to have been playing at the Chinese the day they shot this scene? Probably that.

The next one is a little hard to see,  it is the Ritz Theatre, it opened in 1939, became a Pussycat theatre (a chain that showed adult movies--kids, this was before the internet or video for that matter) and closed in 1991. It is currently used as a church. Porn theatre to place of worship, I'll let you decide if that's an evolution or devolution.

If you look very closely you can make out that the title of the film on the marquee is the classic 70's adult hit, The Devil in Miss Jones. And unfortunately my screenshots didn't come out as well as I hoped but crazy diaper-wearing dancing lady is blocking what is the poster for the infamous Linda Lovelace epic, Deep Throat. Apparently, these two films played continuously as a double bill for 8 years at the Ritz. 

The third and final theatre that can be seen in Death Wish 2 is the Fox theatre. Built in 1918 as the Iris Theatre, the theatre which originally was an art deco design was renovated in the 50's when it was modernized and retitled the Fox. It too turned out its lights in 1991, though it still stands today and plans are to make it an all purpose live venue, so I am sure you will be seeing this season's American Idol runner-ups performing there regularly by 2011.  

On the marquee is a double bill of the two Clint Eastwood/Orangutan buddy films, Any Which Way You Can and Any Which Way But Loose, studio mandated re-release double bills like that was another fun event that was terminated in the video era. 

In my mind I have invented an imaginary competition between Eastwood and Bronson, as you may or may not know, Sergio Leone initially wanted Bronson for A Fistful of Dollars but settled on Eastwood which in turn launched his career and made him a superstar. When it came time to cast Death Wish, the producers first offered the role of Paul Kersey to Eastwood, who turned it down thinking it mined too familiar territory to his Dirty Harry films. Bronson was eventually cast and played the role for over 20 years.  So in my dreamworld Bronson is having a conversation with the poster of Clint Eastwood: 

"So Clint, what have you been up to lately? Oh starring in hillbilly comedies with a monkey, well that's, uh, cute. (beat) Oh me, yeah, I am just keeping the savage streets of New York and Los Angeles safe for hardworking fellas. Anyway it's kind of busy work, so I should be going. But say hi to the monkey for me? (beat) Oh, orangutan, sorry"

For more info on the theatres, please click on the below links:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Son of the Return of Colonel Mortimer's NFL Rankings

What is the cornerstone of a successful football franchise?

My answer: the combination of stability and identity.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a Super Bowl appearance in each of the last four decades*, in their entire existence they’ve been owned by a member of the Rooney family (first Art, now son Dan), they've made only two coaching changes since 1969 and have branded their own style of play that emphasizes a strong defense capable of game changing turnovers, a tempo controlling grind-it-out running attack and error free management by the quarterback with the occasional “big chunk” producing pass play.

Let’s look at the other three teams that have recently won Super Bowls. Jim Irsay may forever live in infamy for his punk move when he relocated the team from Baltimore in the middle of the night, but he wisely hired Bill Polian as president after the 1998 season. Polian focused on player's character personnel and improving through the draft with limited free agency signings. He correctly chose Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf and Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams. The results? In ten years with Polian as president, the Colts have only missed the playoffs twice, one of those years being his (and Manning’s) first season, and won the Super Bowl in 2007.

After Robert Kraft became the owner of the New England Patriots, the team went from perennial losers to the current team of the decade, winning three Super Bowls and appearing in two others in his fourteen seasons. A look at the three coaches the team has had in that time span reveals their success: one Hall-of-Famer in Bill Parcell, one future Hall-of-Famer in Bill Bellicheck, and the one coach who didn’t really work out, Pete Carroll, became a premiere college coach.

Like the Steelers, the Giants have stayed owned by one family, the Maras, for decades. Also like the Steelers, they have made a strong defense and running attack their focus. The Giants are the only team to have won one Super Bowl in each of the last three decades.

Inversely, bad ownership and lack of identity and stability is the reason the Cincinnati Bengals could not parlay their impressive 2005 playoff campaign into long goal success and have not been over .500 since that season. It’s the reason the Detroit Lions haven’t won a play-off game since the first Iraq War. And it’s the reason the Arizona Cardinals are still considered suspicious despite their early season successes this year.

Of course I am working this around to the 49ers situation. John York has been an utter disaster as owner since inheriting the team following Eddie DeBartolo’s suspension (why Eddie, why?) in 2000. Firing Steve Mariucci after a division winning season in 2002 despite the coach's ability to turn the team around within two seasons after Steve Young was forced into retirement was the first sign that the York's would make negative changes to the culture of the franchise, Mariucci was obviously Eddie’s guy. The ensuing coaching search was aimless and the dart landed on Dennis Erickson, a college coach with a bad NFL track record. He led the team that went to the playoffs the year before to a 7-9 record with the same personnel, and then blew up the team with no plan, resulting in a 2-14 year and his firing. York then handed over full control to Mike Nolan, a man who had never been a head coach or general manager at any level, and kept him on after three more losing seasons. After being finally, mercifully fired last month (a move that a “good” owner would have made in the off-season) news came out that he had long ago last season lost the locker room and was considered a joke amongst his players. One of the most memorable sights of the Super Bowl winning 49ers team is Eddie DeBartolo giddily rejoicing and celebrating in the locker room with his players. York strikes me as someone not only unaware what is happening in his team’s locker room, but probably as someone who doesn’t even know where it is located.

Now his son Jed, aged 27 (meaning he was born during the 49ers first Super Bowl winning season) is being groomed to become the person responsible for operating the team as early as next season. I am, of course, suspicious of anyone with that last name, however, learning that he was the person that prompted the expedited firing of Nolan and the fact that things can’t get much worse (or can they?), perhaps a youth movement at the top could spur some results. Hell, it’s worth a try. I think he choose wisely in naming Mike Singletary the interim coach following Nolan’s dismal. Logic dictated passing the reigns to offensive coordinator Mike Martz who had head coaching experience, but Singletary has a more fiery personality and since this is his first time as a head coach, more to gain or lose. Thus far (I am not counting the first game versus the Seahawks because he had less than a week to prepare for it) I am seeing a team that is playing more disciplined, smarter and with greater passion than any Niner team since Jeff Garcia was lining up behind center. But after a lot of promise going nowhere, we have to see if this translates to results.

Jed will have a lot of decisions to make at the end of the year, obviously the coaching situation being top priority. A strong general manager or team president would be great, and the quarterback situation needs to be addressed. I like Shaun Hill, but ideally he’s a solid backup in the Frank Reich/Gary Kubiak vein, someone who can fill in for an injury or perhaps can start a season while grooming a rookie, but long term, he’s probably not the answer. JT O’Sullivan is also a worthy backup, but if the 49ers upgrade, would he be willing to be a number three now that he’s had some work as a starter? And as much I feel Alex Smith got a raw deal, at this point it’s for the best for him, the team and the fans if he moves on. So the decision needs to be made of upgrading the position via free agency or drafting someone like Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow with an early draft pick. I just hope we are not having this same conversation a year from now. I liken the 49ers under John York to a girlfriend who broke up with you but your still in love with. At some point if that love isn’t reciprocated it becomes time to move on….

*okay I flubbed the numbers a bit, they played in Super Bowl in January of 1980, but technically that was the 1979 season’s team.

And finally, what you came for, the rankings:

1. Tennessee Titans (9-0) (-): After 35 years without a team going undefeated in the regular season, could it happen in consecutive seasons?

2. New York Giants (8-1) (-): Currently 3-0 versus teams in the NFC East. Could accomplish one feat last year's Super Bowl winning squad didn't, win the division.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-2) (4): Anyone else get the feeling that Jake Delhomme made a bet with his drinking buddies that he could throw 4 interceptions, under 80 yards and complete only seven passes and still beat the Raiders.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) (3): 0-2 versus teams with a quarterback named Manning. Bad news, the Chargers just signed and named Coooper Manning their starter for next week's game.

5. Washington Redskins (6-3) (-): Snatching up a big name free agent like DeAngelo Hall is the kind of impulsive move that always seem to backfire on the Redskins.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) (7): I didn't mention him up top, but Malcolm Glazer who turned around one of the league's most forlorn franchise since taking over in 1995 and making them consistently competitive, belongs in any list of quality owners. I just wish he'd bring back the creamsicle uniforms.

7. New England Patriots (6-3) (10): A win over the New York Jets could help reinstate their AFC East alpha dog status.

8. Arizona Cardinals (6-3) (9): If the other teams in the NFC West continue their losing ways, they can clinch the division title by Thanksgiving by winning next two games.

9. Baltimore Ravens (6-3) (11): If they make the playoffs with a remaining schedule that includes contests against all the NFC East teams and the Steelers, they would've earned it.

10. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) (12): Matt Ryan just outplayed Drew Brees. The Falcons have doubled their win total from last season.

11. New York Jets (6-3) (13): Applying for placement in the NFC West, they've averaged 51 points in their wins over the Rams and Cardinals.

12. Chicago Bears (5-4): (8): Played undefeated Titans strong, especially considering Grossman started.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) (6): Are not beating teams with winning records very often, a pretty important necessity to making the post-season.

14. Indianapolis Colts (5-4) (16): Finally back to normal after lackluster start? Back to back impressive wins over the Patriots and Steelers.

15. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) (-): Romo will be back, but will there be any repercussions from the thumb injury?

16. Miami Dolphins (5-4) (18): The Falcons have won twice as many games as they did last year, the Dolphins have that beat, they have won five times as many games as they did last year.

17. Minnesota Vikings (5-4) (20): It's painful watching their defense bang up their competition, I can't fathom actually, you know, playing against them.

18. Buffalo Bills (5-4) (14): That 4-0 start seems light years away at this point.

19. Denver Broncos (5-4) (21): Am I the only one that thought Brandon Marshall might be whipping out something a little more, uh, controversial, than a glove from his pants?

20. Green Bay Packers (4-5) (17): After being pounded by the Vikings, quarterback Aaron Rodgers remarks "you know that sitting on the bench thing was a pretty good gig now I think of it"

21. San Diego Chargers (4-5) (22): Norv Turner wonders what it is about his team that makes all opponents go for game winning two point conversions attempts.

22. New Orleans Saints (4-5) (19): In too tough of a division to underachieve as much as they do.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) (25): Beat up on Lions to make them feel good about themselves, which is kind of like a guy beating up a little girl to feel better about himself. Make that a mentally handicapped little girl.

24. Cleveland Browns (3-6) (23): While they ultimately didn't win, the Brady Quinn era got of to a good start.

25. Houston Texans (3-6) (24): Um, the Texans. Well they, and uh, there's...I got nothing.

26. Seattle Seahawks (2-7) (26): Seneca Wallace has filled in admirably for Hasselbeck the last three games despite the 1-2 record in that span.

27. San Francisco 49ers (2-7) (28): A valiant effort, but no excuses anyone, that last play call sucked.

28. St. Louis Rams (2-7) (27): The team was negotiating with interim coach Jim Hasslett about taking over the position full-time when the league informed them any offer would be penalized for not taking into account the Rooney rule. See Rams, affirmative action has it's privileges.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8) (31): Their improved play over the last three weeks under Tyler Thigpen gets them a boost in the rankings, one week they might actually win one of these games.

30. Cincinnati Bengals (1-8) (-): Enjoyed their bye week or as Bengals players call it "the one week of the season we don't hurt either ourselves or our feelings"

31. Oakland Raiders (2-7) (29): Remember when I said that successful franchises maintain a level of stability, submitted as evidence, the Raiders: five coaches in five seasons.

32. Detroit Lions (0-9) (-): Culpepper yells at agent: "When you said you signed me to a contract with the Lions I thought you meant the British Columbia Lions of the CFL. You're fired!"
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