Month: August, 2013

My Wholly Non-Expert Preseason Outlook on the 2013-2014 Green Bay Packers

No more legal-hits-that-look-illegal this year, Nick

Basically no one reads this blog other than myself (to proofread, for which I often find mistakes and get frivolously upset). However, I have something in common with sports writers: nobody will hold me accountable for my flaccid sports ken. I can make valid predictions based on firm indicators and, as a result, be the guy three months from now saying, “See, I totally called that. Everyone should respect how smart I am.” But more likely than not, I’ll be the guy who loudly praises Jermichael Finley having a breakout (can he still have one?) year while he drops a wide-open pop-pass against New York to put the Packers in what South Park would call “a sticky situation.” To which an arbitrary friend from a generic network scripted comedy would simply sound, “HEEEEE HAWWWW!”

Disclaimer: If you do not know much about me, I teach kids, which means I have a lot of free time when the weather is nice. By extension, I have made it an obsession to read Packers’ news like Kevin Spacey in Seven. I do trust my own observations as well as the observations\opinions from my fellow Packer brethren (you likely know who you are). Unfortunately I haven’t been watching the preseason games as close as I’d like. The first, I watched at a bar. I absolutely loathe watching games at the bar. Girls, you don’t want to be interrupted with the possible–but probably wrong–identity guesses of “A” while watching a Pretty Little Liars right? Same idea. I like to watch games with the same attentive detail with which I watch Breaking Bad.

The second game I watched while consuming rather strong libations. My Walter White-like precision just wasn’t where I’d like it to be. (I’ve now reached the point in my life where I’m critiquing my TV watching skills). I’m done with the gibberish, though. I’m optimistic this season and here’s why.

Eddie Lacy is not fat

Despite that photo, Lacy is not the rotund, out-of-shape bowling ball that Vikings fans want him to be. Listen, I have to see myself shirtless everyday I actually shower. I know what fat looks like. I’ve been this way for quite awhile, and I’m somewhat of an adjunct professor at strategically concealing it. The photo has since been debunked when Lacy ran all over St. Louis. I know it’s preseason, but the difference between Lacy and the other backs I’ve seen run behind Rodgers is simply this: he has vision. He has light feet and can press the circle button on a dime, which is fortuitous for a man his size, but there are plenty of athletic freaks in the NFL. What separates him is the simple fact that he reads the line much better.

Expect a butterfly effect if Lacy (above) can play like he did at Alabama. As Mr. John Collins would say, “The (roll)tides are turning!”

Packers run a zone blocking scheme, which means they all drive block on the same angle, and, in turn, create a cut back lane. This is different than the inside-on-over-outside blocking scheme which often has a clear hole dictated for the back to run through. I believe Lacy will have a nice year. He may not have huge numbers because of Aaron Rodgers, but it’s converting those sticky 3-and-1s without throwing hopeless bombs to Jordy Nelson that count.

Newsflash: Aaron Rodgers is still the best player in the NFL

The quarterback is the most important position in football. You can argue with me about that but then you’d be an idiot. Rodgers is the best QB in football. I don’t care what talking heads on ESPN say. He’s mobile! He’s agile! He hostile! Too many superficial fans of football whom I deem “Madden” fans get caught up on useless rankings. Let’s go through a couple common QB comparison arguments. 1. “Brady doesn’t have the receivers Rodgers has.” Response: When Gronkowski was healthy and Aaron Hernandez wasn’t trying to be a storyline on The Bridge, Brady had three top-tier targets to throw to with Welker in the mix. Brady is really, really good. Don’t get me wrong, but this argument annoys me. Also, this year, don’t sleep on Wes Welker Redux, a.k.a. Danny Amendola. When healthy, Amendola was a very good wide receiver with Sam Bradford. This was the smartest move New England made in the offseason.

2. “Aaron Rodgers can’t win the big game.” Response: Ok, I’ll use this one (conveniently) to compare him to Manning. Manning is great.

Packer fans only use pictures with mustachioed Aaron

Probably the greatest all-time. But right now, in 2013, he’s not Aaron Rodgers. They both have the same number of Super Bowls. Manning’s late interception wasn’t necessarily 90s MJ. Oh, and last year, I’d like you to come up with a better word than “anemic” for the Packers defense (this year should be vastly improved, and I’ll get to that). Manning had leather-bound bookends last year with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Let’s make an analogy because they’re fun. If Rodgers was an incumbent politician running for reelection, he only wins if he garners 70 percent of the electorate. Whereas most QBs need 50-55 percent to win, and 60 is considered a landslide, Rodgers has been playing an uphill battle for most of his career.

Don’t laugh at me until I’m wrong: The defense will make drastic improvements this year

Ever since Green Bay lost Cullen Jenkins, the defense hasn’t been the same. They lacked tenacity (absent Clay Matthews). I’m not going to say that playing with more of an edge will curtail their fledgling play the last few years. That is simply an attitude. A smart student with an attitude is still a smart kid. A dumb kid with an attitude is still dumb. A porous defense with an attitude is still porous. However, they’ve slowly added some key pieces for which we haven’t quite seen in total concert yet. This preseason, Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams have been out but are due back. By the very nature of preseason, pass rushers aren’t going to metaphorically run out in a trench coat naked and flash brilliance. We know what Clay Matthews can do. He’s a top notch passer and a highly-underrated run stopper. Nick Perry has much to prove. But practice reports seem to indicate that he’s getting it. Remember, he was a defensive lineman in college. This is his second year in a new position. Remember how badly you sucked at your job the first few months? I remembered how much I sucked.

Here are some other tidbits. Micah Hyde has been the surprise of camp. He played quite well against Tavon Austin last week in St. Louis. Davon House, after his admittedly terrible outing against Arizona, played much better against St. Louis and would have beaten out Sam Shields last year in camp if he hadn’t been injured. So we have Tramon Williams (starter), Sam Shields (starter), Casey Hayward (very good),  Micah Hyde>Davon House>Jerrett Bush OR Davon House>Micah Hyde>Jerrett Bush. Either way, _________ > Jerrett Bush. The Packers have serious depth at cornerback. Speaking of depth, the defensive line is really starting to come around if a few variables play out like I think they will. Ryan Pickett is getting old, but is solid nonetheless. Raji is in a contract year. First round pick Datone Jones, by all reports, has been as good as advertised. And by that I mean he’s playing like his Twitter profile picture, which looks downright Heisenberg-ish. If Jones plays up to his potential, he can free up Nick Perry to make plays, which in turn frees up Clay Matthews, which in turn lessens the burden on a talented secondary. You see what I did with that turnstile, run-on sentence? We have a domino effect of what-ifs on defense. But I’m feeling quite optimistic about it. It’s going to take time, though. I don’t expect instant success, but by week 8, we should start seeing them gel into a cohesive force (or at least something that is similarly reminiscent of 2010).

Packers 2013 schedule and, coincidentally, my Wing Stop eating schedule

  1. at San Francisco 49ers Sept. 8 @3:25
  2. Washington Redskins Sept. 15 @Noon
  3. at Cincinnati Bengals Sept. 22 @Noon
  4. BYE
  5. Detroit Lions Oct. 6 @Noon*
  6. at Baltimore Ravens Oct. 13 @Noon
  7. Cleveland Browns Oct. 20 @3:25
  8. at Minnesota Vikings Oct. 27 @7:30
  9. Chicago Bears Nov. 4 @7:40
  10. Philadelphia Eagles Nov. 10 @Noon*
  11. at New York Giants Nov. 17 @7:30
  12. Minnesota Vikings Nov. 24 @Noon
  13. at Detroit Lions Nov. 28 @11:30am
  14. Atlanta Falcons Dec. 8 @7:30
  15. At Dallas Cowboys Dec. 15 @3:25
  16. Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 22 @3:25
  17. at Chicago Bears Dec. 29 @Noon

*Denotes games I will be at

BOLD=games the Packers may likely lose

The first four games the Packers play are very tough. All three are going to be playoff contenders, and two of them may be Super Bowl contenders. I don’t expect Green Bay to win the San Francisco game. I think they’ll be a little raw, and their defense won’t quite be ready. But they aren’t going to lose all those games in bold. They’ll lose some of them, probably half. But you also have to account for the fact that they will drop a turd somewhere, like Cleveland or at Detroit. We don’t know where the turd happens. It’s not unlike those old commercials where the guy has to get out of his car and run to the gas station bathroom because he may ruin his day. It just poops (sic) up at any time, and always the wrong time. So if the Packers lose all the bold games, that puts them at 11-5. I say they’ll lose three of the five but drop a game they should win, which puts them at 12-4. I think that’s a fair assessment. I think 11-5  to 13-3 is the range where Green Bay fits. They just need to make the preseason. Once that happens, anything is possible as we saw in 2010. Why? Well, Aaron Rodgers, the Kwan. Remember the Arizona game in the 2009 postseason. He was absolutely ridiculous. The only difference was that Green Bay’s defense was slightly more horrid than Arizona’s. Let’s hope for big things, and don’t listen to what you see on TV. They are paid to talk for hours. Brevity is the soul of wit intelligence. The more one speaks, the more likely incompetence will seep out. Let’s enjoy this season, and let’s not get too distraught when a few bumps in the road inevitably occur. I’ll try, but I’ll likely become a hypocrite to my own Packer fan constitution.

Photo on 8-21-13 at 11.53 AM

Go Pack Go!

Final edit: They could likely lose some divisional games against Chicago, Detroit, or Minnesota. The NFC North will be one of the two best divisions in football this year. Still, I hold my prediction of 11-5 to 13-3. This schedule is difficult. At least Green Bay will be battle tested going into the late season.

Hollywood’s Counterintuitive Business Model and TV’s Juxtaposition

“You will make a movie called the Rest In Peace Department, and you will get Jeff Bridges to agree to do it!”

When was the last time you were genuinely excited for a movie? Sure, there are movies that contain our favorite stars, which make us (or at least me) think, “It’s (fill-in-the-blank star), he’s not going to take a garbage role.” Unbeknownst to myself, the above dialogue I have is simply me–justifying to myself–why I should retain hope for another failure. But if you’ve been alive this summer, quite the contrary has happened.

The following was the best Hollywood could come up with this summer–a time for the big-budget, big box office projects to lay themselves among the audience:

  • Iron Man 3 (success)
  • After Earth starring Will Smith (failure)
  • Hangover Part III (meh)
  • The Internship (doesn’t qualify as a summer blockbuster, but still just check out my prior review)
  • Man of Steel (OK, but there’s a disclaimer I will get to)
  • World War Z (surprisingly good, naturally expensive)
  • White House Down (Channing Tatum would have been a better pick had this been a musical)
  • The Lone Ranger (*A whistle mimic-ing the sound of Fat Man falling out of the Enola Gay*)
  • Pacific Rim (Blockbuster budget, moderate success)
  • Grown Ups 2 (This is a franchise?)
  • Red 2 (See above parenthetical)
  • R.I.P.D. (Oh come on, now!)
  • Wolverine (Didn’t they make this already?)
  • 2 Guns (moderate success based on exceptional casting)
  • Elysium (Matt Damon probably thinks this is a smart movie)
  • Kick Ass 2  (TBD, but the first was actually pretty good)
  • jOBS (TBD, reviews haven’t been great) 

Time to put on my Captain Hindsight uniform and say there are some serious turds in that bowl. R.I.P.D. are you kidding? I understand that a movie script can, in fact, be well done before it goes through the Hollywood machine, but this is an unforgivable concept. The two sci-fi movies, After Earth and Elysium, both are heavy with the political themes and are no where near living up to expectations. So what does that say about the movie market? Perhaps we don’t want to sit through an editorial disguised as art. But seriously, another Wolverine-based movie? Another Iron Man? Franchises galore. Are we seeing a pattern yet?

There are few auteurs left in the film business. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Inception) is one. His brother wrote Man of Steel, which is why I can hold out hope for that it would be a much more original take on a tried-and-true tale. Peter Berg, the director of films such as The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights, had to make Battleship (god-awful) in order to make his baby, Lone Survivor. Battleship is a Transformers spinoff. Hollywood is addicted to CGI like crack. It cannot stop. It firmly believes that more action set pieces will drive audience interest.

I figured my internal gripes were hipster-like grievances until I started seeing prominent authorities in the industry speak up about it. Steven Spielberg, whose name in the byline of a film title adds a chunk of revenue itself, remarked the following to a group of USC film students:

That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown [in Hollywood]. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.

According to the Huffington Post, “Spielberg lamented that it’s becoming harder and harder for even brand-name filmmakers to get their projects into movie theaters. To wit: “Lincoln,” which was a critical and commercial success for the director, nearly ended up on HBO, he told the audience. Unestablished talent, meanwhile, has run into trouble getting their projects greenlit at all, because their ideas are “too fringe-y” for studios.”

The Economist has cooborated this sentiment by calling Hollywood exectives “paranoid and insecure. Adding, “between 2007 and 2011, pre-tax profits of the five studios controlled by large media conglomerates (Disney, Universal, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros) fell by around 40%, says Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley. He reckons the studios account for less than 10% of their parent companies’ profits today, and by 2020 their share will decline to only around 5%. That is because the “big six” studios (the other is Sony Pictures, owned by the eponymous electronics maker) are growing more slowly than TV. In 2012 Time Warner grossed $12 billion from film, up 20% from 2002. That compares with a more than 84% rise in the company’s TV-network revenues during the period, to $14.2 billion”

George Lucas, who was speaking at the event with Spiellberg, opined, “the pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller.”

So Lincoln struggled to get funding but apparently no one was sober enough to shut down R.I.P.D.? Deadline Hollywood recently reported that Spiellberg couldn’t “square his vision of [American Sniper] with [the given] budget.” One would think that if there are any safe bets for a movie to be profitable, having the director of Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, E.T., etc. would certainly help.  Oh, and Bradley Cooper is set to play the lead role. I would go see it, and I’ve reached that age where I frequently give up on movies.

Steven Soderbergh, the director Ocean’s 11/12/13 and HBO’s Behind the Candelabra (among others), ranted about the industry in a speech at the San Francisco film festival:

The meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, which is what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies, don’t watch movies for pleasure, deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.

In essence, studios find it necessary to put all their chips on one number to gain 36:1 profits with the reasoning that the movie, once greenlit and successful (two big hurdles) will become a continued (franchised) success. See: Batman, X-Men, Iron Man, Man of Steel, the Hangover, and so on. When these comic book adventure films were a novelty, they were a novelty. That luster has since worn off, and audiences don’t get excited about it. The tried and true method of all great films is having a great narrative, a great, wait for it, story!

“We are a species that is driven by narrative,” Soderbergh added.

Hollywood has abandoned the story ship, and boarded the Battleship. “Special effects are what audiences want,” says the executives whose sole focus is the bottom line. 2 Guns and soon-to-be Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg basically agrees. “They are spending so much money to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes with these effects-driven movies,” Wahlberg said.

If you experience anything enough, be it a Prime-cut steak, an exotic vacation, whatever, excess will deteriorate the desire to experience it again. Las Vegas is an adult playground, but if you live there and indulge in the  vices festivities “on the reg” you will inevitably miss the mundane lifestyle of suburban middle America. Jurassic Park was awesome when it first came out. The special effects were mind-blowing. 15 years later, those same effects have been overused. They are simply add-on features to a car. But consumers don’t buy a car for add-on features. They buy a car for transportation. Consumers primarily watch a movie for a strong narrative.

The market for narrative has always been there. Do you want proof? Look no further than cable TV. The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, The Americans, Mad Men. Even the shows with the loftiest budgets still don’t compare to the money pit that is John Carter. TV writers are the ultimate middle manager. They must do more with less. They must create a better story with fewer set pieces or big name actors. Who was John Hamm before Mad Men? Can you watch Elf now and see Peter Dinklage in his original role and not think Tyrion Lannister? Byran Cranston is now synonymous with perhaps the most iconic role in TV, Walter White. These are career defining roles in TV.

If I said this 10 years ago, people would think I’d be crazy (partly because I’d be 14 and my TV apptetite consisted of Carson Daly on TRL), but right now, in 2013, TV programming is much, much better than anything in film.

Vince Gilligan, the brains behind Breaking Bad, had this to say about the difference between TV and film:

I love movies, and I love TV. In TV, you have the time to get deeper into a character, but movies are a two-hour block of time in which we get transported to another place. We’ll always have Paris, and we’ll always have movies. But we’re going through a time, unfortunately, when the big movie studios are run by folks that are more obsessed than ever with the bottom line and who probably love movies less than any studio hierarchy that’s ever existed in my life. Back in the day, when the Irving Thalbergs and Louis B. Mayers ran the business, those guys could bite your head off. Those guys were tough sons of bitches, but they loved movies. They weren’t obsessed with counting beans. The problem with the movie business now is that it’s marketing-driven—driven by demographics, by spreadsheets and flowcharts and all this shit that has nothing to do with storytelling. But the movie itself, the structure of the movie, will always be with us. And occasionally a really great movie for grown-ups does sneak through.

In short, the bottom-line-obsessed executives need to leave art to the artists. AMC was never on my radar until Mad Men and Breaking Bad came out. Now they’ve built a brand which tells their audience they are willing to take a chance on originality. FX did the same when they started out with The Shield and Nip/Tuck. They brought HBO drama to basic cable. As a consequence, TV has proliferated into a medium that has become much more entertaining (and cheaper) than film. TV has undercut film, and it’s filled with irony.

An unexpected twist in this whole debacle is seeing film industry regulars converting to TV. Scorsese serves as an executive producer for Boardwalk Empire. David Fincher worked on House of Cards. Names like Kevin Bacon and Kevin Spacey, once indigenous to film, are migrating to the TV landscape. Creative freedom is something all artists strive for. One must survive, so a paycheck is ultimately more important. But for entertainment’s sake, these artists must not be subjugated to recycled story lines with new tricks.

TV is the best example, but not the only one. Video games have become technological wonders. Developing teams are auteurs in their own right, placing their stamp on masterpieces such as Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid. The publisher acts as the film industry executives. Call of Duty 4, developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision, was a mega success. It contained brand new gaming infrastructure, redesigned and streamlined with state-of-the-art gameplay. Yesterday, Infinity Ward (minus two if it’s lead developers) unveiled Call of Duty Ghosts’ multiplayer, which is its first for the upcoming next generation consoles, X Box One and Playstation 4. This is Call of Duty’s sixth iteration since Modern Warfare came out. The innovation is little. They’ve doubled down on what worked before, hoping to fool audiences by using the word “innovation.” Meanwhile, Naughty Dog put out perhaps the generation’s best game in The Last of Us on the Playstation 3, a less powerful machine. Activision, and they are perfectly entitled to this, decided to copy what works to retain their audience. But the reason the game was so successful in the first place was precisely because it was a hallmark for video game innovation.  Unfortunately, innovation looks bleak when the captains of industry are in no hurry to change what works.

 Tom Bissell of Grantland perfectly summarized my point:

[T]he amount of work required to make The Last of Us is basically unimaginable to anyone outside game development. Games with this amount of detail and polish are possible only when dozens of men and women voluntarily elect to damage themselves and their lives for the entertainment benefit of strangers.” He continued, “Sony undoubtedly recognized from the start the hard uphill battle The Last of Us had in front of it, which means the game was probably intended as a prestige project done both for the good of the medium and to burnish studio and platform pride. Obviously, that’s a somewhat cynical way of looking at things. Less cynical would be to say, ‘The Last of Us is a masterpiece.'”

The writing is on the wall. Now if only those who wield the green flame can read it. And we, as consumers, aren’t completely innocent. We must better speak our minds via the mighty dollar.