Thursday, July 28, 2005

A recent Rank & File debated which of five Ewan McGregor films was the best. BOP readers felt the order was:

1) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
2) Trainspotting
3) Moulin Rouge
4) Big Fish
5) Down With Love

BOP staff voted the results as:

1) Moulin Rouge
2) Big Fish
3) Trainspotting
4) Down With Love
5) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Picking the best Ewan McGregor movies from this list falls into two categories for me. The first is the films I didn’t enjoy which everyone else did. Trainspotting is like Pulp Fiction for me in that I understand why others like it, but I do not. Even so, it’s still going to be placed ahead of Episode III, one of the worst movies I have ever seen in a theater. It is most accurately described as a cinematic abomination. Nothing else Mr. McGregor ever does could possibly throw under it. So, fourth and fifth place are easy to determine.

The other three films are much trickier. All of them are exceptional outings that hold up through multiple viewings. My number one choice is relatively easy. It is deciding between second and third place which I find troublesome. Big Fish is a story on the nature of existence and the perils of loving someone with a larger than life personality. Billy Crudup’s performance as a young man trying to come to terms with the life of his father is wonderful. Ewan’s outing as a young man seeking and finding (too much) adventure is just as good. And Albert Finney’s measured work as a dying man reminds the viewer why he is one of the best actors ever.

Moulin Rouge! is thematically different but stylistically similar in its catchy visuals and imaginative storytelling. Both projects are daring and as maverick as any major Hollywood release in the past decade. In this regard, they have an equal in Down with Love, a celebration of 1960s he said/she said cinema. The pitch perfect tone of this production separates it from the rest of the pack and makes for one of the finest movies the industry has produced in recent years. It’s a film so entertaining that it makes me wonder what is wrong with consumers. They won’t go see something as stylized as Down with Love yet they will lap up shiny dreck like Episode III. But I digress. The point is that I like Down with Love the best of the bunch with Big Fish narrowly edging out Moulin Rouge! for second place.

On a sidenote, this is the first time that the viewer poll results are exactly opposite my own opinion on a set of results. I just don’t line up with our readers at all on this subject matter.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Okay, here are the post-All Star break power rankings. By the way, if you are a baseball lover, the recent editions of How Well Do You Know should be right up your alley.

1) St. Louis Cardinals

They are 8-2 since the last update. On the year, they have the largest run differential of any team at +113. I stress that they have played the weakest schedule according to most ranking systems, but they are absolutely punishing teams. Also, Chris Carpenter deserves some dap for justifying his All-Star start by out-dueling Roger Clemens yesterday.

2) Chicago White Sox

They have been steady but unspectacular since the last update. Their +77 run differential is closer to the teams just beneath them in the power rankings than to the Cardinals above them. The one compliment I would like to offer is that Garland and Buehrle are a dynamic combination at the top of the rotation. I don’t get to see Buehrle play much, but all the swinging strikes he was getting during the All-Star game tells me his stuff is filthy.

3) Atlanta Braves

Every year, they show vulnerability at some point during the season and every year, the other National League East teams fail to capitalize on it. It’s the Groundhog’s Day of baseball. Even by their lofty standards, though, what has been accomplished this year is extraordinary. Only the Dodgers and Rockies have played as many rookies yet while those teams have collapsed, the Braves have not just maintained but actually begun to gain ground. With Hudson, Chipper and Hampton back, the only concern the Braves have at the moment is which of their stellar rookies to send down for a while. As it is, Eddie Perez might never come off the disabled list since they don’t want Brian McCann to go back down. They got younger and cheaper during a time of tremendous adversity without giving away any short term performance. Simply astonishing.

4) New York Yankees

While we’re on the subject of overcoming adversity, let’s not forget that a team that cynics left for dead is now poised to become king of the hill in the American League East once again. The Yankees are 8-2 over their last ten and have made a couple of savvy acquisitions. Al Leiter might fall off the table after his one good start, but he’s proven he can play in Gotham and is well worth a gamble. I’m not crazy about an old team getting older in general, but in this case, it’s a masterful move. Also, congratulations go out to genuine nice guy and offseason whipping boy Jason Giambi. He has an OPS of .907 as I type this, not bad for a guy taking a urine test every few days. Steroids did not make him great. Force of will did. I’m glad to see him conquering his demons and reminding people what he’s made of.

5) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have struggled in the past days, winning only 40% of the time. The good news is that their schedule is ranked as a killer, and their run differential of +67 is fourth best in baseball behind the Cardinals, White Sox and Braves. The concern they have is that both Oakland and Texas appear to be getting it all figured out. The Angels need to bear down in the second half as their presumed cake walk in the West is no longer applicable.

Rather than kick around the usual suspects in the bottom five again, I thought I would offer up my 100 games predictions. We’re a week shy of that point in the season, so it is time to figure out who are the pretenders as opposed to the contenders.

I see the AL as being the Yankees in the East, the White Sox in the Central, the A's in the West and the Angels as the wild card. The Braves and Cardinals are going to win the East and Central in the NL, so I am left trying to decide which team in the West can challenge the Padres. I’m not a huge fan of San Diego but with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers fading and Bonds not showing up to play cavalry with the Giants, I just don’t see anyone surpassing them. The wild card is going to come from the Central though I vacillate between the surging Astros and the refortified Cubs. I’m inclined to go with the latter team, but neither one would surprise me. I am, however, pretty confident that Washington is going to fall off the table. They are the only NL East team who has been outscored on the season. They’re poised to fail.

With regards to mid-season awards, I see the AL Cy Young Award winner as Roy Halladay, but he won’t win it due to the unfortunate shattering of his leg bone by a line drive. In the NL, my surprise choice is neither Carpenter nor Clemens. It’s not even Dontrelle Willis. Instead, it’s Chad Cordero. More than any other player, he is the guy who has carried the Nationals to this point in the season. Without him, they would be lost. My AL MVP is the best player in baseball, Alex Rodriguez whereas my NL MVP is not the second best player in baseball, Albert Pujols. While I still think Pujols will (finally) win, to this point in the season, Derek Lee’s performance has been more outlandish. If you’re top two in your league in all Triple Crown categories, you’re the MVP. Pujols would be second followed by Carlos Lee and Andruw Jones. I’m not going to do Rookie of the Year awards because I think it’s ridiculous to judge unknowns on half a season.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Clarifying a misrepresentation by 1970s zombie lover Chris Hyde, I do not question the production of Babe Ruth relative to the 1920s. I simply recognize that he was facing the equivalent of modern softball league pitchers, so I feel confident that his stats from that era would plummet dramatically were he to play in today's game. It's not sacrilege to simply suggest that a product might get some dust on it over time as is the case with Dawn of the Dead and Ruth's exoskeleton.

Now then, let's offer up some more not-sacrilege (despite what Hyde says). We queried our readers on the best films of Robert Rodriguez. Anyone who has read my Sin City write-up knows that I consider the maverick director to be one of the most important auteurs of our era. He is not locked into the studio system as a means for theatrical creation, and that liberty sets him apart from almost every other director in North America. In addition, he's a wunderkind whose imaginitive works have tread new ground while being edited in the basement of his own. Like him or not, it's impossible not to respect the man's accomplishments. Everyone was asked to rank five of his productions.

You, the readers, saw the order as:

1) Sin City
2) Desperado
3) From Dusk Till Dawn
4) Spy Kids
5) The Faculty

My sitemates at BOP saw the order as:

1) Sin City
2) From Dusk Till Dawn
3) Desperado
4) Spy Kids
5) The Faculty

The one thing everyone got right is the selection of films four and five. The Faculty features an incredible cast of rising talents including Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster and Elijah Wood. The movie itself is tripe. A promising start leads to an absurd climax. Spy Kids isn't much better, at least not if you are over the age of 14. The other three films are great, though. Desperado finishes in third despite the fact that I consider it a solid 8.5 out of 10. This production is like El Mariachi on steroids and the end result is a marvelous western with several thrilling action sequences. Sin City takes that basis and tosses in sensatioinal visuals and a series of Frank Miller stories which exemplify why the man is a legend. Sin City is one of the best films of 2005 to date and highly recommended. There is a special place in my heart for From Dusk Till Dawn, though. Easily my favorite of Rodriguez's films, I consider it the production that demonstrated George Clooney would inevitably be a superstar. The highest praise I may offer this vampire action flick is that I consider its first five minutes to be the finest movie introduction in the history of celluloid. The fact that it has little to do with the rest of the film makes it all the better. From Dusk Till Dawn is one of the underrated classics of the 90s.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What's in your head? In your heeeeeead? Zombie. That's what a recent Rank & File pondered, and I must say that the results were butchered about as badly as has happened since the feature's inception.

BOP readers see the ordering as:

1) Dawn of the Dead (original)
2) Night of the Living Dead
3) Evil Dead
4) 28 Days Later
5) Dawn of the Dead (remake)

The members of our staff see the ordering as:

1) 28 Days Later
2) Evil Dead
3) Dawn of the Dead (original)
4) Night of the Living Dead
5) Dawn of the Dead (remake)

All I keep thinking as I boggle at the results is that we are far too reverential at times of anything deemed a classic. That's the only way to explain why Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, two nifty but sorely outdated films, finish ahead of the sublime Dawn of the Dead re-make. George Romero's 1978 production of the film is equal parts black comedy and social commentary. It deserves much of the praise heaped upon it over the past quarter century. What it has not done is hold up well over time.

Dawn of the Dead was originally two hours and six minutes long, and the director's cut tosses another quarter hour of fluff onto that. That laconic pacing combined with a loss of relevance makes the Romero classic the Tim Brown of movies. It deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame, but its day has passed. Night of the Living Dead falls into thesame category. I remember watching this zombie outing for the second time about six years ago in a film class and what struck me was how subversive the project's message was. I also remained in awe of the daring nature of the ending. What I had to acknowledge, though, was that Night of the Living Dead was holding up only marginally better than Reefer Madness (the original as opposed to the brilliant 2005
Showtime update).

The pace of Night of the Living Dead is politely described as plodding and the civil rights era social commentary feels about as topical these days as Birth of a Nation, even though Romero's production is on the side of the angels. It's easily the worst of the five films judging by today's standards with the original Dawn of the Dead finishing third. At the risk of causing immediate divorce from my blushing bride, I must admit that the film between them in fourth is Evil Dead. The sequel and Army of Darkness would perform much better on my list, but I have to confess that the orginal is a bit too gory and low-budget for me.

That leaves two recent releases battling it out for the top spot. Yes, I appreciate the fact that it's sacrilege in some quarters to suggest that a current film could be deemed superior to an acknowledged classic. It does happen, however, and that is part of the reason we wanted to do this particular Rank & File. The reality is that recent zombie films as silly as Shaun of the Dead and as commercial as Resident Evil have all capitalized on the structure of their predecessors. We are building a better zombie movie, and 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead are the proof.

I just cannot accept the fact that even the most diehard of classic cinema purists could sit down and watch Dawn of the Dead's re-make followed by the original then argue that the latter work is superior. The first ten minutes of Dawn of the Dead are a sublime exercise in apocalypse cinema, and the rest of the film builds upon that foundation. 28 Days Later is not quite the accomplishment that the Zach Snyder re-make is, but Danny Boyle's vision of horror is symbolized by the isolationism of a single shot on the empty streets of London. It redefines expectations for what would be most shocking about a viral outbreak. It's not just the monsters. It's the solitude. Both of these films finished in my top ten for their years of release and with good reason. Each demonstrates a level of learning curve about the zombie genre, and that evolution is what makes them special.

So, with all due respect to the classics and with apologies to pretentious cinephiles, Dawn of the Dead's re-make is the best zombie film with 28 Days Later a close second. The earlier works deserve all their accreditations, but they have some mold on them.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Baseball Power Rankings

I'm way behind on these. The next ones will go up in ten days due to the All-Star Break.

1) Chicago White Sox

They're tied for the best home record in baseball and they're tied for the best road record in baseball. I am still not convinced about this team's long term aspirations but they are king of the hill at the moment. Ozzie Guillen used his last days as a player for the Braves and a base coach for the championship Marlins team to learn from two great, old school managers. He is almost a mortal lock for AL Manager of the Year and rightfully so. The way he has handled potential media land mines caused by disgruntled former players and overpaid current ones is a thing of beauty. This is Ozzie Guillen's team and nobody questions it any more.

2) St. Louis Cardinals

They're up 107 runs on the competition. The only real knock against them is the fact that most metrics have their schedule ranked as bottom three in baseball. A tougher schedule wouldn't matter that much, though. This is a complete team. I also give them bonus points for having a 22-year-old catcher willing to go to war over another team tipping pitch location. You gotta love that level of fight from a rookie.

3) Anaheim Angels

Whereas the Cardinals have the easiest schedule, most metrics have the Angels with the toughest one. I'm not clear on the how and why of this since the AL West is so mediocre, but that's how it stands. Injuries to key contributors like Escobar and Cabrera are a growing concern, though.

4) Washington Nationals

This team is 18 games above .500, yet has been outscored on the season. It boggles the mind how this is possible. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the team's play to date is their success in one run games. They're 22-7 as I type this. The ability to win tight games is what separates the contenders from the pretenders. I'm not going to be surprised if they sink from here (after all, they won't win their division and the wild card will be a battle), but they deserve all the credit in the world for their first half play. This is a gritty bunch, and they are growing harder and harder to dismiss.

5) Boston Red Sox

I don't think Curt Schilling will wind up being the closer. If it happens, though, that is going to be fun to watch. He's got the perfect mentality for it. That's for sure. The Sox have a run differential of 52 on the season, a solid but unspectacular total. I am mainly giving them the nod for now since the Braves struggled so much in the time I was off honeymooning. I don't feel San Diego, Minnesota or Cleveland has done enough to merit the spot, either, so it's more of a default choice than anything else.

Bottom five:

5) San Francisco Giants

The single most disappointing team in baseball. Period. And the scary thought is that this bunch is collectively old enough to qualify for an AARP discount. When a manager has his son/star player on the trading block, that tells you everything you need to know about what the expectations are for the rest of the year.

4) Cincinnati Reds

Nine road wins is the second fewest in baseball, surpassing only the hapless Rockies. The Reds are going to be a huge factor in late July and August, but that's only because a couple of very big name players are going to be traded to contending teams. If you guys would be kind enough to ship Adam Dunn to Atlanta to hit after Kelly Johnson and before Andruw Jones, I would be most appreciative.

3) Kansas City Royals

Their record is as bad as the two teams below them, but I hate to ding a team on a two-game winning streak. There's always next week, boys!

2) Colorado Rockies

To my everlasting surprise, the Rockies have not used the most rookies this year. That honor belongs to the Atlanta Braves. They are, however, a close second and appear likely to sweep the honors in September. It's a young team with no direction and little hope. This organization needs to be nuked from orbit and started anew. There is no short term cause for optimism whatsoever.

1) Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Dear Lou Pinella: a starter is not a starter if they do not start. I know there's a lot of jargon, but some of these are pretty self-explanatory. This idea is as half-baked as the three inning pitchers thing some sabermetrics guy was throwing around a few years ago. More to the point, you guys are 144 runs down on the season. Maybe that's what you should be focusing on rather than when your starters should take the mound. That eight-game losing streak isn't going to fix itself.



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