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Saturday, September 24, 2022

End of Summer Film Festival

Thanks to the case of COVID that I'm still combatting, I've spent many evenings these past two weeks watching films I missed over the past few years -- with an emphasis on genre films that my spouse does not like all that much, including science fiction, overly violent action movies, and disaster films. She's again been away fulfilling a family obligation. 

These are the films I watched, ranked in order of my liking, with a few comments:

Dune (2021) (HBO Max)

This was far and away the best film I saw during the two weeks, but it is not without some significant flaws. I read the novel back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and saw the earlier filmed version not long after it was available on cable after a theatrical run. This version of the film told a compelling story with a clear narrative. I recall that the prior film sort of failed at that, but it's been many years since I saw it. Still, this movie's pacing is kind of slow and the plot turns on a betrayal that is not very well explained. I will watch the next one. 

Midnight Sky (2020) (Netflix)

Ultimately, this film is a disaster film more than a science fiction film. If it didn't star George Clooney it would probably be a lot less watchable. The film makes some strange narrative choices -- relying upon a good number of flashbacks to Clooney's youth and showing some "normal" day-to-day activity on a long-haul space mission. Not all of the threads weave together into a coherent narrative. I mean, ultimately, what was the purpose of this film? It was mostly entertaining, in its way, but the writing could have used a few tweaks. 

The Old Guard (2020) (Netflix)

The premise of this film is interesting -- imagine a small group of people who cannot be killed. Indeed, their wounds miraculously heal in a very short amount of time. This superpower gives them the ability to live for centuries and combat whatever foes they decide to identify. Charlize Theron is the main character (and leader of the fighting force), but she isn't given much to say that is all that interesting. Apparently this is based on a comic book and it has that feel. I kept thinking that someone who has read the comics would have a much better idea of these characters and their relationships. Without that knowledge, the film fails to connect on some level. 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) (Netflix)

If you ever wondered what happened to Jesse after the Breaking Bad series ended, then this film provides some answers. It was good to see some of the original stars make appearances in this film (often in flashback), but I didn't think it was as well-written (or well-paced) as an average episode of the original series. Better Call Saul is generally also better. It is worth your time and maybe should be a bit higher on this list. 

The Outfit (1973) (HBO Max)

This film obviously isn't a recent release, but I had not seen it even though I've read a lot of Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker novels. Those books are terrific, generally, and they work because the main character is basically a super-efficient criminal who nonetheless often runs into bad luck. The life of crime he selects is not easy. This film is not especially loyal to the original book and Robert Duvall did not make a very good Parker. And in this film he's named Earl Macklin. 

Greenland (2020) (HBO Max)

At several points during the film I thought about ending my viewing. The story is clunky, featuring an "extinction-level" event for the planet, but focusing on the survival efforts of one family. The three members of the family are racing for shelter in a secret government bunker, but they become separated across Georgia and Tennessee thanks to a series of unfortunate events. One of these characters is a small child and the ongoing disaster is playing havoc with communications. Their reunion is all-too-easily achieved, frankly, even as it causes the father character to steal a car, fight for his life, and .... make peace with his father-in-law because of a prior act of adultery? The script is kind of a mess. 



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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Debate reunion 2022

Last weekend I traveled back to Lawrence for a University of Kansas debate team reunion. I still have not flown since 2019, so this trip involved a roundtrip drive to St. Louis, an Amtrak across Missouri Friday and Sunday, and then short car trips to/from KU. 

The Friday night registration and banner hanging was on the top floor of a warm academic building. I wandered down to the trophy case on a (much cooler temperature) lower floor and snapped a shot of the national championship trophies on display. 


I found the trophy I helped win in 1983 as well as the others depicted on these bright banners. This is only a taste of all the banners as there are also markers for Final Four teams, top individual speakers, winners of other national tournaments, etc. 


On an sour note, I felt the registration area was overpacked with people. Since I had the sniffles by Sunday, mild fever and body aches by Monday, and a positive COVID test by Tuesday, then I guess my concerns were warranted. Hopefully I was not a superspreader. I masked in some circumstances, but most people were unmasked throughout the weekend. I've only heard of one other person testing positive, but who knows given the state of contact tracing in America? I think my case could have been transmitted from poor ventilation in a hotel. One of my neighbors Friday night was coughing loudly all night. 

The next event was a buffet-style dinner at a local catering venue with plenty of beer and food for everyone. There were some games, but the older alums that I hung out with on the balcony mostly sat around and talked. Lots of fun reminiscing.  


On Saturday morning the debate alumni toured Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks reigning national champion basketball team. They have nearly as many recent victory banners and trophies as debate does:



There was an event remembering some of the KU debaters who have died in recent years (including Frank Cross) and then a cocktail hour and meal at the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence. I was in a wedding there in May 1983 and may not have been back in all that time. Before dinner, I managed to help organize this photo that includes 5 debaters from the 1976, 1983, 2009, and 2018 champions, plus the two head coaches.

Left to right: Former Coach Donn Parson, Brett Bricker (2009), Robin Rowland (1976), Mark Gidley (1983), Quaram Robinson (2018), coach Scott Harris, and me (1983).



Back in 2013, this photo included 5 of the same victors, plus a member of the 1954 team, Bill Arnold on the extreme left. Others pictured: Robin Rowland (1976), me, Dr. Parson, Brett Bricker (2009), and Mark Gidley (1983).








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Sunday, September 04, 2022

Baseball Summer

My spouse and I managed to visit 4 ballparks this summer, taking in 2 minor league games and a Cincinnati Reds game, plus we visited a ballpark used by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League decades ago. 

These are ordered in reverse chronological order. The first 2 photos are from an August 20 game in Louisville between the Bats and the visiting Omaha Storm Chasers. Omaha is a KC Royals affiliate and a friend had nabbed some free tickets (they were excellent!)

As shown on the big screen, outfielder Drew Waters played in his last minor league game prior to his August 22 promotion to KC -- and it was Captain Marvel night at the ballpark. Omaha won 10-6, Waters was on base 4 times with 2 singles and 2 walks. 

Side note: I'm working with a graduate student writing about Captain America's films. 

I've been to Slugger Field many times. In fact, I went to 4 games in 2021, so this season has not been as active a year locally. As I went to 3 last September, I still have some time. 

These next 2 photos were taken Sunday June 26 at Four Winds Field in South Bend, IN. We took in the South Bend Cubs game versus the Peoria Chiefs, which the Cubs won 10-7. Pictured at right is leadoff hitter centerfielder Pete Crow Armstrong, one of the Cubs top prospects. He was actually the NY Mets top draft pick in 2020 and came over in the Javy Baez trade in July 2021. 


Earlier that week, on Monday June 20, we had a picnic lunch at Marsh Field in Muskegon, MI. As noted above, this was an original park for the professional women's team that played there after World War II. Earlier this summer I read Lois Browne's book Girls of Summer about the league and of course "A League of Their Own" is a fine baseball film. 


Finally, back on June 9, we went up to Cincy for an early Reds day game against the Diamondbacks. Thanks are due to my daughter Cate as she had given me a gift certificate voucher as a gift.

The Reds lost 5-4, wasting a fine pitching performance from Tyler Mahle (10 strikeouts in 6 IP with only 1 ER allowed) and an early 3-0 lead. Typically for this year's Reds unit, the bullpen gave up 4 runs in the 9th inning. Josh Rojas (pictured on the screen) hit the go-ahead 2 run single in the 9th and scored the decisive 5th run (rendering the Mark Reynolds HR in the bottom of the 9th moot).

It was fun being back at a major league ballpark and our seats were fantastic. 


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Thursday, July 28, 2022

July Streaming Film Festival

Unexpectedly, I've been home this past week instead of vacationing. I'm spending my evenings watching films I missed over the past few years -- with an emphasis on genre films that my spouse does not like all that much, including science fiction, animated features, superhero films, overly violent action movies, and horror. She's away fulfilling a family obligation. 

These are the films I watched, ranked in order of my liking, with a few comments:

The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021) (Netflix)

Yes, it feels a bit like The Incredibles, but it is very well done and funny despite the fact that the story takes place during a robot/AI apocalypse. It was nominated for the 2022 Oscar in the animated category, but did not win. Consider this great line of dialogue from the Mark Zuckerberg-type character: "It's almost like stealing people's data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing." I laughed a lot. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel (2009) (HBO Max)

This was pretty funny and fairly entertaining. I almost always like Chris O'Dowd films and Anna Faris is charismatic here. Most of the film takes place in a bar and involves three nerdy friends who drink beer and talk about time travel and potential films they might make. Keep in mind that these are their dreams and ambitions because on-screen they are portrayed as losers. O'Dowd's character, for example, loses his job in the first few minutes of the story. It is a solid addition to the time travel genre even as it pokes some fun at the idea. 

Oblivion (2013) (HBO Max)

This science fiction film didn't really register on my radar when it came out, but it was worth watching. It is set post-apocalypse and virtually all the planet's humans are dead. There are some interesting plot twists and the story does not feature too many mindless fight scenes with big explosions. Still, Tom Cruise action films often seem a bit off-kilter to me, particularly when they reveal him to be romantically involved with women nearly 20 years younger than he is. Also, he's a fairly small guy for an action hero (5'7" tall?).

Gerald's Game (2017) (Netflix)

This film was apparently based on a Stephen King story, though I haven't read it. If you know anything about the movie you probably know the premise. A couple trying to repair their marriage attempts to add a bit of spice to their relationship by venturing out into the middle of nowhere to have an adventurous tryst. Shortly upon arrival, the wife puts on her sexy new slip, the husband strips to his boxer briefs, handcuffs his spouse to the bedposts, starts pretending to be someone else (to her dismay), and then soon has a fatal heart attack. A lot of the story seems to happen in the woman's imagination as she struggles to survive and escape. Some of what she imagines may be real -- it is King, right? I found it watchable, but a big notch or two below the top movies above. 

Suicide Squad (2021) (HBO Max)

So, basically, this is the plot of the Dirty Dozen, but the villains are cartoonish figures with superpowers (or merely incredible killing ability) and there's a space alien component. Does this count as a spoiler? The giant bad guy at the end walks a lot like the Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. Margot Robbie and Idris Elba make this watchable, and the occasional comic dialogue also helps. It's not a terrible movie, but I wasn't the target audience, apparently. 

Wheelman (2017) (Netflix)

I read a book a few years ago with virtually the same title, but the plot was a bit different despite some broad similarities. The credits said this film was written by the director. Virtually all the action takes place inside one of two vehicles and most of the dialogue is between the driver and people we don't see on the other end of telephone calls. In that way, it is similar to the film Locke from nearly a decade ago. It mostly held my interest, but it is not a top-tier film. Some of the conversations seem redundant, there are lots of threats bandied about over the phone, and almost all of the action involves driving, which is only so interesting. At least to me. 

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019) (Netflix)

This film was also nominated for an Oscar for animated film (2021) and did not win. I was expecting it to have the humor of Wallace and Grommit, but Nick Park seemed minimally involved here and it shows. The story is about an infant space alien who lands in the countryside and is befriended by Shaun the Sheep. The humans are not especially smart, the dog is the butt of many jokes, and the sheep are the stars. It just wasn't very funny or even all that fun to watch. How did it earn a 79 on Metacritic? 



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Saturday, July 16, 2022

COVID Update: Omicron Edition

Readers of this blog are most likely vaccinated to some extent against COVID-19 -- a big majority of Americans are. Of course, the level of vaccination varies greatly. The CDC says that about 78% of the US population has had one dose of vaccine and 67% has had the "complete initial protocol." Only about 38% of Americans have received the booster even though almost everyone 5 or older can get one dose. FYI: The CDC officially recommends that everyone eligible should get boosted. Below I reference some research suggesting the booster might save your life. 

A second booster shot (also recommended by the CDC for those eligible) is available for people aged 50 and above, plus the immunocompromised -- basically, the people facing the greatest risks during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the virus keeps mutating and so neither the vaccines nor previous infection have been especially effective at preventing transmission of the latest version of the disease. They are doing a much better job at preventing hospitalization and death, as the rates for those outcomes have been lower in the US in 2022 than they were in 2020. 

The Washington Post reported in late April that the most recent variants have primarily been  killing peopled aged 75 and up: "nearly two-thirds of the people who died during the omicron surge were 75 and older." However, there are differences among the victims:
the bulk of vaccinated deaths are among people who did not get a booster shot, according to state data provided to The Post. In two of the states, California and Mississippi, three-quarters of the vaccinated senior citizens who died in January and February did not have booster doses.
A new study also finds that it is dangerous to become infected with the virus multiple times: 
The constellation of findings show that reinfection adds non-trivial risks of all-cause mortality, hospitalization, and adverse health outcomes in the acute and post-acute phase of the reinfection. Reducing overall burden of death and disease due to SARS-CoV-2 will require strategies for reinfection prevention.
This is likely already be baked into that data, but experts say about 1 to 5% of COVID patients develop what is commonly called "long COVID"
The percentage of people with severely debilitating symptoms is probably between 1 and 5 percent — amounting to millions of people in this country, according to Harlan Krumholz, a Yale University professor of medicine.
The April information referenced above is now a bit out of date as it is primarily discussing the Omicron variant that was then dominant -- version BA.2. The new BA.5 variant is seemingly much more contagious. Indeed, from Alpha to Delta and then through the several Omicron variants, virtually ever wave of the virus has been propelled by an ever more contagious version of the disease. 

There is some good news: While it was recently calculated and reported that the R-naught (or R0) of BA.5 is over 18, making it the most contagious viral infection known to man (worse than measles), that is apparently incorrect and fact-checkers have now corrected the reporting. It is, however, too soon to calculate the R0 precisely. By the time we can calculate it, the new BA.2.75 circulating in India might be dominant. 


Additionally, the current circulating versions of the disease remain deadlier than the seasonal flu -- at least for the unvaccinated

In all, the information fairly clearly reveals that the pandemic is not over -- no matter how many unhelpful strangers tell you that it is -- and people should continue to take precautions.

Get boosted. Wear an effective mask (N95 or KN95). Maybe even outdoors (in crowds)

Practice social distancing

The government should be pushing harder to reinstate masks on planes and other forms of public transportation.  Indeed, because of standing room only crowds and poor ventilation, buses might be the most dangerous. 



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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Michigan Beer


My wife and I enjoyed our regular "annual" summer Michigan trip June 18 to 26th. Annual is in quote marks in that first sentence because we didn't go in 2020 for obvious reasons. Last year, we got a good rate on a week-long Holland hotel rental and thus limited our range to nearby activities. Partly we did that because the Traverse City Film Festival was canceled last year as it was in 2020. The timing of the 2022 festival does not work for us, so we will not be attending again this summer. 

This year during the vacation, we dined with old KU friends in Grand Rapids on the first day, spent a couple of days checking out Grand Haven and Muskegon (their beaches and brew pubs), went up to Traverse City for two days (where we celebrated 31 years of marriage), stayed with a generous friend from Louisville in her family's recently acquired Leland cottage, drove down to Grand Rapids for my first trip to Founders Brewery (!), and then went to a high scoring minor league baseball game in South Bend on the way home that Sunday. Oh, we obviously stopped to dine at Shapiro's in Indianapolis, as we typically do. And bought some bagels and rye bread for home. 

We have a lot of Michigan traditions and I'm not going to use this post to mention them all. Some we could not do because of timing. For instance, the Filling Station brewpub and pizza place was closed on Tuesday-Wednesday, the days we were in Traverse City. 

Beyond the vacation update, this post is about Michigan beer. I drink Michigan beer exclusively when I'm there and I typically buy several multipacks of fresh canned beer to bring home to enjoy in the ensuing weeks. Sometimes I buy single cans or bottles, but those are harder to find these days. 

For the second year in a row, I picked up a copy of the Michigan Brewery Guide (see above) in a southwest brew pub -- and this year I got a second copy for my neighbor who also enjoys a good craft beer. 

Looking through the magazine this weekend got me thinking about my history of trips to Michigan breweries -- both this year and in the recent past. 

Thus, I'm going to use this post to summarize my recent and prior visits to Michigan brewpubs. This is one instance where Google Timeline information is actually helpful, though this information only goes back to mid-year 2013 when I must have authorized the tracking software. I'm not listing breweries where I didn't drink. We went into Ludington's Jamesport once, but could not get a table for dinner in a timely fashion, and we quickly left Grand Armory in Grand Haven on this trip because it didn't offer outdoor seating. 

Given that Michigan has nearly 400 breweries as of 2022, my personal list includes less than 5% of the total! I could move to Michigan and have a difficult time sampling all of them. 

2022 (4 new; 18 total)

Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven
Unruly Brewing, Muskegon
Rare Bird Brewing, Traverse City
Cherry Republic Brewing Company and Public House, Glen Arbor
Founders, Grand Rapids

We dined at all of those places, though at Odd Side we had to order takeout from a nearby restaurant. They don't have food. 

2021 (2 new; 14 total)

Big Lake Brewing, Holland
Guardian Brewing, Saugatuck
Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids

We also dined at all of these.

2019 (2 new; 12 total)

New Holland Brewing, Holland
Big Lake Brewing, Holland
Clam Lake Beer Company, Cadillac (2)
Filling Station, Traverse City
Workshop Brewing, Traverse City
MiddleCoast Brewing, Traverse City (was called Monkey Fist at the time)

We did not dine at Big Lake or MiddleCoast, but both have food (I think).

2018 (2 new; 10 total)

Workshop Brewing, Traverse City
Clam Lake Beer Company, Cadillac
Filling Station, Traverse City

We dined at these.

2017

I was on antibiotics that trip and did not visit any brewpubs and avoided alcohol. 

2016 (2 new; 8 total)

Saugatuck Brewing, Saugatuck
Filling Station, Traverse City

2015 (2 new ones, 6 total)

Short's Brewing, Bellaire
Rare Bird, Traverse City

We dined at these.

Older trips: (at least 4 visited)

New Holland Brewing, Holland
Mackinaw Brewing, Traverse City
North Peak, Traverse City
Jolly Pumpkin, Traverse City

We did not dine at Jolly Pumpkin, but they have food -- and various other locations across the state.

* It is possible my memory has failed me in recalling other brewpubs visited before 2015 as we have been going to Michigan as a family since the 1990s when my children were quite young. Then again, we didn't really take the kids to brewpubs when they were young -- maybe restaurants that happened to brew some of their own beer. 

I've also tried a good deal of Michigan beer in restaurants and taprooms, but I'm not going to list all of those here. I would put in a good word for the 7 Monks in Traverse. 

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Sunday, April 24, 2022

2022 Bolts from the Blue


I began playing in the Hardy House fantasy baseball league in 1989. It was named for the building on the Northwestern campus where we conducted our first few auctions. I didn't have to travel far as I was teaching in the Political Science department there at the time. 

There have been many ownership changes over the years, and I'm the only guy in the league who has played every season. A couple of other guys have been in all but one and just about everyone has been in the league for a decade or two. Even the "new guys" have now played for many years.  We have a healthy share of lawyers and academics, and most of the guys were debaters in college. 

We started out as a standard 4x4 roto league, but switched from using batting average to on- base percentage as a hitting category in 2011 and also added strikeouts and runs as categories in that same season. We changed from saves to saves plus .5*Holds in 2019, but had no regular season in 2020 so this is still a very new category. 

The 2021 version of my team won the Hardy House title, thanks to a solid offense and a core of inexpensive pitchers that I was able to retain from prior seasons. I'm surprised that I didn't blog about the victory last fall, but I was back on campus teaching in person with all the distractions that brought. 

2022 is going to be a bigger challenge because Sean Manaea ($5 keeper salary) got traded to the National League (San Diego Padres) right before the auction and was thus not eligible to be retained. Also, I decided not to retain the services of Lance McCullers (also at a $5 salary) because of the lingering effects of an injury he sustained in the American League playoffs last season. Those were two of my top starters last season and keeping them at an inexpensive price would have been very helpful in assembling an outstanding offense for 2022. Instead, I had to spend a lot more on a single ace. Oh well.

Here's my roster from the auction, which was unfortunately held again over Zoom. We had planned an in-person meeting in Chicago, but the major league labor lockout made the selected date untenable -- and we could not find a workable substitute.

Retained players are in blue

C Plawecki BOS $1
C Mejia TB $3
1B Walsh LAA $17
2B Semien TEX $22
3B Rendon LAA $3
SS Torres NYY $13
MI Biggio TOR $9
CI Moncada CHX $19
OF Tucker HOU $16
OF Buxton MIN $25
OF Alvarez HOU $33
OF Kelenic SEA $13
DH Kepler MIN $11

$185 hitting (or 71% of the $260 allotment)

P E Rodriguez DET $16
P Berrios TOR $25
P Paddack MIN $3
P Hill BOS $3
P Gil NYY $1
P Pearson TOR $4
P Loaisiga NYY $5
P Duffey MIN $4
P Karinchak CLE $5
P Pagan MIN $5

$71 for pitching (or 27% of the budget)

I had $4 unspent -- saved for a TOR catching prospect (Gabe Moreno), but another owner had saved even more to buy him at the auction. One team had $20 unspent (!) and the league as a whole didn't spend $45. Several other teams had more left than I did. 

Reserves (as champ I could select first in the snake draft):

OF Ward LAA $3
P Tyler Wells BAL $2
P Chargois TB $1

Obviously, my offense is a lot better than my pitching. I selected many young pitchers and some guys traded from the NL just before the season (Paddack and Pagan), but two of the youngsters began the season on the injured list (Karinchak and Pearson) and another started in the minors (Gil). Moncada, among my hitters, also started hurt.

The results have been unimpressive through the first two weeks as my team has been mired in last place through most of the last week -- with the minimum of 5 pitching points on many days. 

But it's very early. 

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Sunday, March 27, 2022

Oscars 2022

Miniature people with cameras on movie clapper and Oscars 2022 text

The Oscars are tonight and this is my annual post reflecting my personal ranking of the nominees in each category. Caveat: I have not yet seen many of the films or performances. Since I typically watch most of these films and performances eventually, I will make future edits with changes (additions) reflected in yellow highlighting. 

Note that I'm not making predictions here. You can look elsewhere for those. 

Best Picture

Belfast
The Power of the Dog
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
CODA
Dune
Drive My Car
King Richard
Don’t Look Up

Belfast is a great film, while the others are very, very good for the most part. Don't Look Up was actually kind of disappointing, but I feel like I should see it again. It may have been my expectations that caused me to react as I did. 

West Side Story

Best Director

Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”
Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”

I always find this difficult to separate from Best Picture.

Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”
Will Smith, “King Richard”
Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

These were all very solid performances and I could make a case (or ordering) for any of them. So I left them in alphabetical order. 

Javier Bardem, “Being the Ricardos”
Andrew Garfield, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”

Best Actress

Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”
Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”

Both of these films involved somewhat unsympathetic main characters. Colman is always very good, but Stewart might also be deserving. She was very good. 

Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”
Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”

Best Supporting Actor

Troy Kotsur, “CODA”
Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”
Ciaran Hinds, “Belfast”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”

I'm not sure these would actually be my nominees in this category.

J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos”

Best Supporting Actress

Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”
Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard”
Judi Dench, “Belfast”
Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog”

I'm a big fan of Jessie Buckley. Dench was great, in all honesty, and could win this category. 

Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”

Documentary Feature

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Flee

I need to see other nominees, but Summer of Soul was a terrific film. Maybe my favorite of 2021. 

Ascension
Attica
Writing With Fire

International Feature

The Worst Person in the World, Norway
The Hand of God, Italy
Flee, Denmark
Drive My Car, Japan

I have work to do here too. Both these films were fine, but Drive My Car was kind of slow and The Hand of God isn't particularly memorable. However, The Worst Person in the World is excellent and I highly recommend it. The young woman playing the main character has star appeal. 

Part of the problem here (and above) is that Hulu started showing commercials during films whereas our plan used to mean commercials were only placed at the beginning -- but during TV shows (when breaks are typically already in the editing). Thus, we hardly use the free Hulu we get with our mobile phone plan. That's why I haven't seen Flee yet, basically. 

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Bhutan


Animated Feature

The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Flee

I haven't seen any of these movies yet, but intend to see Flee and The Mitchells vs. The Machines. It just hasn't happened yet.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is not all that original, but it is funny. Flee was a very serious film about an important topic. 

Encanto
Luka
Raya and the Last Dragon




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Thursday, March 17, 2022

NCAA Hoops 2022

Kansas fans are still sad and a little bitter over the lost 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament. KU was 28-3 and ranked #1 in both the AP and USAT coaches poll and in Ken Pomeroy's more sophisticated stats-based system. Indeed, in Pomeroy's system, the gap between #1 and #2 was about as large as the gap between #2 and #8. The team was riding a 16 game winning streak, last losing to Baylor -- a team that ended the season ranked #4 and #5 in the two polls and then won the 2021 championship. The Baylor loss was avenged (on the road) as the 12th game in the winning streak.

The team also lost the very first game of the season by 2 points to Duke at Madison Square Garden, which ended the year ranked #8 and #11. Their third loss was on the road by 1 point to Villanova in December. 'Nova ended the year ranked #10 in both polls.

It was a really good Kansas team and KU likely would have been the favorite in the tournament. Still, despite eagerly wanting another championship, I've likely taken the 2022 team too far in this bracket:






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Friday, February 18, 2022

Best Films of 2021

Below, find the annual list produced by Metacritic that reflects an aggregation of over 300 "Top 10" film critic lists for the year. Every year, I note this list to keep track of what I've seen and to provide my own tiered rankings of the films. I might add some comments especially if I've updated my rankings from my prior post on new films that I managed to see in 2021. 

Generally, I post this list in February (just to be sure the rankings are final) and I'll have typically seen about half of them -- thanks partly to a concerted effort in the new year to see them. 
FILMS MENTIONED ON MOST CRITIC TOP 10 LISTS - 2021
Movie and Metascore# 1st Place# 2nd Place# OtherPoints
189 The Power of the Dog3123118.5257.5
291 Drive My Car232389.5204.5
390 Licorice Pizza202186188
474 Dune121267.5127.5
585 West Side Story10766110
685 The Green Knight71166.5109.5
796 Summer of Soul10561.5101.5
890 The Worst Person in the World81251.599.5
982 Pig7557.588.5
1094 Petite Maman864480
1191 Memoria1172976
1275 Titane634973
1374 The French Dispatch3447.564.5
1486 The Lost Daughter6239.561.5
1575 Red Rocket2343.555.5
1690 The Souvenir Part II2537.553.5
1775 CODA533152
1875 Belfast9220.551.5
1977 The Card Counter0638.550.5
76 Spencer3139.550.5
2182 C'mon C'mon233850
2281 The Mitchells vs. The Machines433149
2386 Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy5327.548.5
2491 Flee223343
2567 Annette322841
2688 Parallel Mothers123340
2785 Passing0039.539.5
2874 tick, tick...BOOM!052939
2974 Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn342037
3087 The Tragedy of Macbeth3024.533.5
Because we include some foreign publications, it is possible for a few titles to repeat from last year's list due to differences in USA and overseas release dates. 


have seen a few of these films to-date, but have plenty to go (22 of 30 listed). As I watch them, I'll highlight changes

Tier 1 These are top-notch Oscar-worthy films.

Belfast
The Worst Person in the World 
The Power of the Dog
Summer of Soul
Licorice Pizza
Passing

Obviously, I would have selected Belfast over CODA for Best Picture. Summer of Soul was really entertaining and Licorice Pizza was fun. See The Worst Person in the World. 

Tier 2 These are very good films, but with some flaws. Some of them have received Oscar nominations. 

C'mon C'mon 
Red Rocket 
The French Dispatch
The Lost Daughter
CODA
The Card Counter
Pig (Hulu)
Dune (HBO Max)
The Mitchells vs. The Machines (Netflix)
Flee (Hulu)
Spencer
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Drive My Car 

C'mon C'mon features a terrific kid actor and a solid performance by Joaquin Phoenix. And a Gaby Hoffman sighting. 

Red Rocket director Sean Baker makes really good films -- this one is about someone from the Boogie Nights porn scene returning to Texas in unexplained poverty. Bad decisions prevail, but character choices are limited by their context. 

The Card Counter turned out to be an Iraq film, which I didn't realize before viewing it. It's difficult to watch at times. Viewers likely expect to see a gambler succeeding (or failing) with life-altering consequences. Here, you get that, but also Abu Ghraib flashbacks. 

Frankly, the order of the first 6 of these Tier 2 films could be altered on any given day. 

Tier 3 These are likely good films, but with more flaws.

The Green Knight

None so far.

I typically don't need lower tiers for this list because it is comprised of the very best movies of the year -- at least according to film critics. 

Here's the alphabetical list of the 22 films that I have not yet seen (with some streaming info added):

Annette (Prime)
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
Memoria (Kanopy)
Parallel Mothers
Petite Maman
The Souvenir Part II
tick, tick..BOOM! (Netflix)
Titane
West Side Story (HBO Max)
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy


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