Monday, July 22, 2013
The play on letters does not imply I at any point fell asleep during this film. No, it just reflects the lack of creativity shown in a project that included three things: Brad Pitt, two-hundred million dollars and zombies. Lots of zombies.
Maybe it was because the zombie genre is entirely played out. How many takes can you have on it? The remake of Dawn of the Dead back in 2004 was stellar, as was 28 Days Later. Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland made viewers realize zombies and comedy could play nice. Z was supposed to be the latest and greatest, especially with Pitt's name attached to it. It was only the latest.
We are introduced to Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his wife (Mirielle Enos) and two daughters. The movie makes you root for Pitt to get back to them safely, and then worry about the rest of mankind.
The day begins like any other, and stay-at-home-dad Gerry is flipping pancakes and trading light barbs with his wife and daughters while feeling glad to be not "in the field" anymore. They travel through the busy streets of Philadelphia, when traffic is unusually heavy and a cop flies by, knocking Gerry's driver's side mirror off his Volvo. This causes Gerry to leave his car briefly and semi-investigate what exactly is going on.
"STAY IN YOUR CAR!" a motorcycle officer screams at Gerry before being wiped out by a semi-truck, a scene that is shown in every trailer preceding this movie.
I'd tell the viewer to buckle up, but what follows is a mundane zombie movie. It constantly revolves around Gerry and his family, and every now and then we remember there is a whole world that is plagued, too. Karin, Gerry's wife (played by Mireille Enos) is miscast. She and Pitt lack any sort of chemistry that makes you care about their relationship.
Oh wait- you're probably wondering how the virus started, right? Well it.....was never explained. If the film were a person, it would shrug at you and go, "It sort of just happened- you know, the whole world in a state of pandemonium. No big deal." I'm not sure if I classify that as a plot hole or wonder if Marc Forster intended the viewer to just make up a starting point. Gerry is sent back in the field (he was a former U.N. crisis manager), only for the sake of his family being able to stay safely aboard an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Atlantic. He's told to find out where the disease began, with nothing to run with in terms of a lead. Talk about a needle in a haystack.
This movie reportedly cost over 200 million to make. The mass hoards of zombies done by computer imaging are mighty impressive, and the selling point in the trailers. That one aspect is about the only original thing I can credit Z for. As much as all the bells and whistles of this film cost to make, the one thing it needed but totally lacked was an edge. Things happened, and then the film sort of ended. There was no "I can't believe that just happened" moment as you watched Gerry's wife or daughters get bit and waited inevitably for them to turn. The four of them operate in an all-too-safe bubble the entire film, and then it's over.
While other characters fill their roles as they should, there are no scene-stealing performances of any sort, which in a way places a very short leash on the entire cast. Forster and company might pat themselves on the back for getting a PG-13 rating of a zombie summer "blockbuster", but I hardly would go tooting my horn about such a minor accomplishment. The rating places a ceiling on the film, one incredibly low for a zombie flick.
Every man in the world wishes he could be Brad Pitt. He has a lot of fame and a ton of money. After Z, the one lesson is everyone should wish they are Brad Pitt during a zombie apocalypse. He can't get hurt, after all.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
|The man, the myth, the legend: Daniel Bryan|
Do they have "it"?
For two years, there's been only one word to answer it for the thirty-two year old Daniel Bryan (or as he is known in real life, Bryan Danielson).
That one word has managed to get people out of their seats and into wild, uncontrollable frenzies when "the bearded one" comes out on stage or to the ring. It is only three letters, but free very powerful ones that embody confidence, positive thinking and absolute faith in one's ability. Daniel Bryan knew all along, and now so does the WWE Universe and wrestling fans world-wide.
A cult favorite on the wrestling scene for a little over a decade, Bryan Danielson was thought of as the best wrestler in the world (before the moniker was fought over with CM Punk and Chris Jericho), even when the likes of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit were in their primes. Unlike any of the major sports, the bigger the name does not always equal "best wrestler in the world" status. Cena, Batista, Undertaker, HHH, The Rock and Stone Cold all had the charisma and ability to go in the ring- but not on the level that Danielson could and still does.
What is "it"?
There is no definite answer to that question. "It" can be summed up with a bevy of questions. How big are they? Can they wrestle? Do they talk well on the mic? Do they have "the look"? The list could go on. But there is no one definition of "it". There is also no absolute way to figure out if a wrestler really does have "it". Like athletes in pro sports, wrestlers can have the look and the know-how- but some bloom later than others, or they simply fail to bloom at all.
Daniel Bryan has finally bloomed into the all-around talent he is that the Internet Wrestling Community hoped he would. They are also known as the IWC for short, being mostly indy-lovers and wrestling geeks in general with internet access and the ability to construct thoughts through words. Bryan's very apparent presence in the ring and on the mic was never this certain and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon was never fully behind him until recently.
At WrestleMania 28 in Miami in April 2012, Bryan put his World Heavyweight championship on the line against the Brogue-kicking Irishman Sheamus. He lost in eighteen seconds to a Brogue kick that connected right after kissing his on-screen girlfriend AJ Lee. That one kick in the small picture seemed to have stunted his career's growth, but in the big picture it might have been the first seed planted for his eventual WWE success.
|There's no denying Bryan's current popularity and ability to draw|
What is so great about this whole "YES" thing and how did it start?
In an interview with IGN, Bryan credits the YES chants he began with his entrances to the UFC fighter Diego Sanchez.
"It’s originally from the MMA fighter Diego Sanchez. It was after I had won the World Heavyweight Championship and they just said 'When you go to the ring we want you to be very excited.' And so he would come to the ring going 'Yes, yes yes'- just pumping himself up. I did it in more of an obnoxious way, just acting like I was the happiest human alive. Pointing my fingers in the air like a jerk. And, to be honest, it’s just fun to do."
And a simple word took off. Crowds picked up on it, beginning with the smark Miami crowd. (A smark is a smart mark, or a wrestling fan who scours the internet for the latest news and rumors and likes to think they know more than your average wrestling fan.) The word most synonymous with being positive and confirming or reaffirming something found a home in Bryan.
The thing is-in my opinion- it couldn't have worked with any other wrestler, whether in WWE or outside the company. Bryan has a perfect blend of being able to relate to the crowd. He is undersized and has paid his WWE dues. He was originally let go for choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie during the original Nexus assault on RAW in 2010. He suffered the loss to Sheamus at WM28, and endured what seemed to be an absurd pairing with Kane as one half of Team Hell No. Except something else happened- the pairing began to showcase both Bryan and Kane, and eventually they won the tag titles and hung on to them for a while before losing them to the up-and-coming Shield.
The chemistry the two had was hard to ignore. Kane showed a side rarely seen or tapped into. Both were funny, yet complex (as complex as wrestling can get). The two would run their course, and finally Bryan would get to be a singles wrestler again. Immediately he would put on impressive displays of sheer will, skill and determination. He even made Randy Orton tap out on RAW, which almost never happens.
"Yes" was not just a word- it became a rallying cry; a lifestyle of sorts. It was the one thing Bryan would go back to as motivation and inspiration win his character would question himself or think others doubted him. "I can't do that? YES I CAN. WATCH ME." Bryan became the more intense, yet equally endearing version of MADTV's Stuart. "Look what I can do!"
YES, WHAT and how not to be a complete tool at a wrestling event:
People are beginning to run parallels between Bryan's "YES" and Steve Austin's "WHAT" from 2001. Both started from simple words that had almost no potential to take off. Both were given prominent t-shirts by WWE. Both elicited electric reactions from the crowd. Hell, twelve yeas later and you can still hear fans chant WHAT each and every week. The difference? YES will always have a positive connotation to it. WHAT is simply annoying and a nuisance to every intelligent wrestling fan who wants to not have others disrespect a wrestler trying to simply speak.
|The two words have been huge marketing tools for WWE|
But Sean, crowds can express themselves however they want. They paid to see the show.
And you are correct. While there are no written rules on how to be a wrestling fan, there is something called common decency. There are two kinds of wrestling fans: wrasslin' fans and smarks. Wrasslin' fans are the ones who go to wrestling purely as a form of escapism with no intent on analyzing it or breaking it down. More power to them. Maybe I and the other smarks are just jaded. But when you begin to needlessly rip into a guy who has busted his ass to create his own legacy (such as fans chanting Husky Harris at Bray Wyatt two weeks ago), you become that douchebag similar to a drunk heckler at a comedy club.
YES will continue to endure, and I can easily seeing it last just as long as WHAT has, if not longer. It's undying spirit and the crowd's giddiness to chant it over and over...and over and over and over completely embodies the relentless style in the ring of one Daniel Bryan.
If I had to compare Daniel Bryan to an athlete, I'd think of him as a minor league ball player who finally reaches the big stage and gets his chance to shine. He plied his craft in small, dingy gyms for maybe a couple hundred people and little to no money. He has been through many injuries (he is partially blind in one eye to this day) as well as wrestled all over the world against some of the best competition. Why? Simply put, Bryan absolutely loves wrestling and everything it encompasses. His zeal is evident not only in his segments but also in his matches. Every move has a purpose. Every move is hit in crisp fashion. He is one-hundred miles per hour at all times, and fans have come to enjoy it and respect it.
While in the WWE Universe....
|Summerslam's main event: Bryan vs. Cena (c)|
The pint-sized wrestler shot like a cannon ball to the ring and the "YES" chants were at an all-time high. It was the "Indy Darling" versus "The Champ". The main event for Summerslam was set.
Where does WWE go from here?
Simple. You put the belt on Bryan in a win over the present-day Hulk Hogan in Cena. But not just any type of win. Not a cheap, flukish roll-up pin, or a screwy finish. There is no need for any extra shenanigans. The best chain wrestler (one who is versed in the art of grapples, submissions and counters) in the WWE should lock in the YES Lock on Cena and have him submit cleanly in the middle of the ring after a long and epic battle. Cena is almost unbeatable on pay-per view. This would cement Bryan as a top-tier talent in the WWE.
What about the viper lurking in the shadows, Money in the Bank winner Randy Orton? What role does he play in this saga?
Orton cashes in his opportunity at the WWE Title after the long and intense match between Cena and Bryan. Whoever wins would most assuredly be dead tired, and in this case Bryan would be. But where almost all MITB winners have won their respective title following a cash-in (except Cena himself), Orton would become the second man in under a year to lose in his cash-in match. Orton would arrive and look to RKO Bryan immediately and become champion. But for Bryan to reach legendary achievement status, he would have to also submit the WWE's other staple for the last decade or so, Randall K. Orton.
|Jericho was the first ever Undisputed WWE Champ in 2001|
To continue the natural storyline, have Orton come out and be fuming over his lost opportunity at the WWE title the next night on RAW. Have him demand Bryan face him one-on-one. Bryan comes out and makes sure Orton knows he has tapped out twice to the YES lock. This confrontation leads to an eventual head punt of Bryan at the foot of Orton, thus cementing the Viper as a heel and making the crowd pull for Bryan even more.
Does Vince and the WWE have it in them to do the seemingly unbelievable?
Once referred to as "vanilla midgets" by Kevin Nash in WCW, a small trio of wrestlers (Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko) were thought of as unmarketable and bland. Time passed and two of the three became world champions while the third (Malenko) was looked at as an excellent teacher of younger wrestlers.
Vince's faith in Bryan cannot be fully determined. When the American Dragon was introduced on NXT back in 2010, it would not have surprised me to find out McMahon's lack of faith in the small-framed wrestler. But one thing trumps doubts and uncertainty in McMahon's world- money. Daniel Bryan at the moment is worth a lot of it, too. As WWE Champion? Boatloads of money.
Can WWE and Vince make an uncharacteristic decision in putting over "the little engine that could" at the cost of their golden boys? I cannot say for sure.
Should they do so?
I can answer that with a resounding YES.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron
Saturday, July 13, 2013
|Two teams flipped sides of the spectrum over the last few years|
In 2008, the Lakers were gift-wrapped Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies- a move that changed the Western conference over the course of the next few seasons. In 2010, the Lakers were coming off winning back-to-back championships against the Celtics and Magic. The sky was the limit it seemed for Kobe and company.
On the opposite side of town (in the same building), the Clippers were floundering. From the 2007-08 season up until the 2010-10 campaign, the team had only managed to win 30 or more games once. They posted win totals of 19, 23, 29, and 32 during those four years.
A three team trade between the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets was proposed. In it, Chris Paul would go to the Lakers and team up with Kobe to assuredly take over control of the Western Conference. Pau Gasol would have gone to Houston, and Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have gone to the Hornets. Commissioner David Stern infamously denied the trade, forcing the Lakers to find other ways to re-invent themselves.
Then on December 15th, 2011, Paul was traded to the cross-town rival Clippers. This was a huge blow to Lakers fans. They could watch CP3 in the Staples Center, but in red, white and blue. "He wasn't supposed to be on their side...he was supposed to be a Laker," fans of the purple and gold seethed.
|Lob city, Mitch. Lob lob city, Mitch.|
The Clippers' fast break was awe-inspiring. The fact that they began making moves that made sense and were not splurging for the sake of attention of stars past their prime was refreshing for fans of Lob City. The only move that never made sense was the hiring of coach Vinnie Del Negro who rarely looked engaged during games. Management surrounded their triumvirate with role players like Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler. The Lakers couldn't just stand by and watch their little brothers evolve without some sort of retaliation.
Hello, Summer of 2012. Lie to Lakers fans and tell them everything will be ok.
Last summer, Dwight Howard forced his way out of the Sunshine State and into the not-so-friendly confines of the Staples Center along with former Phoenix Sun point guard Steve Nash. The Lakers looked to be adding the next great big man to pair up with Bryant as Shaq/Kobe 2k12. Around them would be Nash, Gasol and Metta World Peace. So what if there was no bench? They wouldn't need it...right?
The Lakers showed their age quickly as three games in, Nash injured his leg and was out for two months. Howard himself was coming off back surgery and had nagging shoulder injuries all season. Pau Gasol battled the injury bug, too. Their starting five only played in nine games together. Along with mounting injuries came mounting tension. Kobe was at odds with Howard, and eventually tore his achilles. The team was underachieving and almost missed the playoffs- where they were trounced by the Spurs.
The Clippers, on the other hand, were in the top five all season long. They eventually fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in round 1, 4-2. While the result was disappointing overall, they still had a better season than the Lakers.
|LA's D12 injection went awry.|
The Clippers just traded for Doc Rivers which in turn helped retain Paul. Soon after, they added shooters JJ Redick and Jared Dudley. Throw in Matt Barnes along with Griffin, Jordan and Crawford and the Clippers look poised to be in the top four at the end of the season.
Just like that **snaps finger**, the Clippers and Lakers are on two very different ends of the NBA spectrum. The Lakers, who have come to rely on the location and name to entice many a player are wondering how they got to this point. The Clippers seemed cursed for years. Now they are just trying to keep what seemed like a fantasy years ago a firm reality.
Some might see this as freaky. I see it as a simple shift in luck and logic.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Before Dwight Howard attempts to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the destruction of his career in L.A., let's take a look at what happened from Sunday night to Friday evening, through the mind of a Rockets fan- mine.
Sunday, 12 AM ET
Dwight Howard meets with members of the Houston Rockets organization: owner Leslie Alexander, general manager Daryl Morey, head coach Kevin McHale, active players James Harden, Chandler Parsons, former greats Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Yao Ming (via Skype).
The meeting reportedly goes very well. Hakeem references his and Howard's time spent over the summers working on his post game saying very few words. James and Chandler chime in and preach the youth movement that Dwight could be a part of in Clutch City. Alexander and Morey both put it in Howard's head how bent they are in delivering a third Larry O'Brien trophy to Houston. McHale also reminds Howard of the work he can put in with him to become even better in the post.
Dwight leaves the meeting wined and dined, both physically and mentally. Houston's presentation centered around referencing their former winnings ways and big man greats while peering into the not-so-distant future and potential championships with the Rockets' young core.
Biggest question: Could Harden and Howard be the next great power duo?
Over the next two days, Howard continued his tour, setting up meetings with the Warriors, Mavericks, Hawks and last but not least- the Lakers. Each meeting was said to have gone well (like they would have admitted otherwise), and each day news outlets covered Howard's frame of mind and who was in the lead like it was the Presidential Election.
The Warriors were said to have a very slim chance due to the movement of multiple contracts to help free up the cap room to afford the polarizing center. Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson were mentioned as trade bait originally, then later reports surfaced that said Curry could potentially be involved in a sign and trade.
Biggest question: What would be the point of going to Golden State without one of the NBA's newest stars in Curry?
The Mavericks, like the Rockets, had been pursuing the big man from Atlanta for two seasons. They could not swing any trades last offseason for Howard, and had a slim chance in 2013 to bring D12 to Dallas.
Owner Mark Cuban's passion was there, but the logistics were not. They relied too much on setting up to win a season or two from now, not right away.
Biggest question: Why go play with another aging veteran superstar past his prime?
The Atlanta Hawks are Howard's hometown team. The prodigal son returning to save a franchise was to be the main storyline. That was about it, unless you count the CP3 to he ATL rumors at one point. Those were quickly snuffed out once former Celtics coach Doc Rivers was traded to the Clippers for a pack of chewable Gatorades- or something. Also, re-uniting with former childhood friend Josh Smith was on the table- sort of.
Biggest question: Could Dwight and CP3 challenge the Heat in the Southeastern Division?
Finally, after hearing all the other pitches, Howard met with the incumbent Lakers last- out of respect. He sat down for a couple hours as Nash and Kobe tried to sell him on finishing what they started (which was what, exactly?). Kobe told Dwight he could teach him the ways of a champion and how he could become and all-time great in LA. Wax on, wax off and all that jazz. This approach reportedly turned Howard off, as he most likely felt there was not much more Bryant could teach him. Head coach Mike D'Antoni sat in on the meeting- and didn't say a word to Howard. You think if you were trying to keep a player, you'd you know, TALK TO HIM....or something. Also in on the meeting was GM Mitch Kupchak and Times Warner execs to sell Dwight on a TV deal of some sort. Just what Howard needs to focus on winning- a TV show.
Nash told reporters afterwards it went well. (Shocker). Kobe played it just like a honey badger. He was not there to beg for Howard to come back. He implied that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink it. The decision was Dwight's, and Dwight's alone.
Biggest question: Could Dwight make up for last season and become a Laker great?
After all the meetings were had, the 28 year-old center took himself off the grid for a few days, with murmurs of decisions being made and the likely timetable of his informing everyone of his decision. Howard (like his decision) was up in the air- literally. Howard was up in the mountains of Aspen, Colorado. This brought only one image to my head:
It was reported on Thursday that Dwight had made a decision and would announce it sometime over the weekend.
Then, on Friday afternoon- news began breaking like an avalanche. First, the Hawks were informed they had not received a golden ticket. Then, the Dallas Mavericks had their dreams dashed. It was down to three teams: The Warriors, Rockets and Lakers.
The biggest question: Who would Dwight give his dandelion to on this episode of The Unrestricted Free Agent?
This is where things began to take an interesting turn, where the darkhorse came on strong rounding the last turn of the race. The Warriors began wheeling and dealing, making moves without any assurance D12 had chosen them. As Ric Bucher reported via Twitter, "The Warriors are operating without a net." They signed the former Nugget Andre Iguodala to a four year, forty-eight million dollar deal. This either put them out of the running for Howard, or gave Dwight a running buddy after any potential trade dust had cleared. News of any franchise being told they were not D12's choice had yet to reach the final three.
Some time later, the Warriors learned they were not the landing spot for the league's most enigmatic center. It was either the frontrunning, youth-oriented Rockets, or the showtime, perennial super-star filled Lakers.
The biggest question: Could Dwight be the first Laker star in his prime to shun Tinseltown and all its glory?
Around 5:30 p.m., I left work. At the same time, coincidentally I received a message from a friend of mine. It simply read, "Excited?"
My first thought was "Of course. I'm off work and it's Friday." My second thought was- "D12 really chose Houston?"
I scrambled to check ESPN, Bleacher Report and Twitter. The unofficial decision was in: Dwight was a Houston Rocket. Somewhere in Los Angeles, Lakers fans wanted a recount. Sportscenter began drowning in Dwight coverage. Pundits chimed in with their two cents. My friends began tweeting me, texting me and Facebook messaging me. It all seemed too good to be true. I mean after all, this is Dwight Howard.
The most curious thing of all is that it was only reports that had Howard headed to Houston. Dwight himself never once confirmed his decision. I was fairly confident, yet uncertain that Howard was a Rocket. After all, my life's story can be summed up in four words: "egg on my face". I decided to venture out and do that whole "having a life" thing.
At about 10:30, I received a tweet from a friend and also saw a Bleacher Report alert: "Howard 50/50 on decision to leave the Lakers." Soon after, another text followed. It simply read, "Not good." Howard was on a plane headed for LA to meet with Lakers brass.
Then as I saw these alerts at a stoplight, to compound my newest stress, my car began making funny noises. The engine's temperature was at it's max, and it was making what could only be described as "ungodly" noises. I felt just like that swat guy in The Dark Knight as he witnesses the Joker's men destroy the police chopper:
"Not good, OK that's NOT good!"
I sat and waited for almost two hours for the tow truck, constantly refreshing my Twitter to get the latest. Eventually it was reported that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak informed the media that Dwight told him he was going to Houston. Multiple others confirmed this, and it was even more official once D12 changed his Twitter avatar to one with a Rockets' jersey and location of "Houston,TX".
Turns out Howard had planned to make that flight from Aspen to LA the whole time to inform the Lakers of his decision. He told Stephen A Smith later that he "was disgusted on reports that he was waivering or flip flopping between his initial decision".
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?The Los Angeles Lakers look to be in full on rebuilding mode. With a core of Nash, Gasol, World Peace and an injured Kobe Bryant along with little to no young talent, the Lakers will struggle in 2013-2014. Bryant's return is still unknown while he recovers from a torn achilles at age 35. The organization will aim to procure a great young player in 2014's stacked draft class as well as try and sign a premiere free agent. Early targets mentioned have been LeBron and Carmelo Anthony. But then again, who wouldn't try for them if they had the cap space?
In regards to the Rockets, once confirmed, speculation of how Howard would mesh in Houston followed. Where did this put the Rockets in regards to the Western Conference's elite? Should they be considered elite? What is a realistic expectation for this team?
To which I answer in one fell swoop: Hold your damn horses.
Daryl Morey has yet to finish making moves this summer. Omer Asik is reportedly unhappy about the arrival of Howard and refuses to play with or behind the big man from LA. He will likely be moved unless Houston can convince him it will work with Dwight and him on the court together.
Point guard Jeremy Lin is also being shopped aggressively by Houston in an effort to procure a third star. (Some argue small forward Chandler Parsons is not a star just yet, which I beg to differ.) The Josh Smith to Houston rumors died off as he was signed to a four year, fifty-six million dollar deal by the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. My darkhorse candidate, former Rocket PF Carl Landry, signed with the Kings on Saturday as well. This continues the search for a solid PF in Clutch City.
Oklahoma City will be fully healthy heading into next season and should be the favored Western Conference team as #1. The Spurs cannot be counted out. After that, it'll be a scrum between the Clippers, Grizzlies and Rockets for number 3. I am no soothsayer but at this time, this seems like a logical way of thinking.
Just like the Miami Heat in 2010, the Rockets seem to be the offseason champs- which means exactly nothing when it is all said and done. Being in the discussion is great, but being in the Finals and winning them is better. Yes, you got your man in Dwight Howard. But like the Heat showed in 2010, it takes time to gel. As the Lakers showed last season, players may never gel together whether because of coaches, playing styles or injuries.
Give the Rockets time and they will be more rounded out come October. Then the games are played on the court and not on paper.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron