February 21, 2013

An obligatory overview of the Academy Awards.

If you're into movies, and a group of industry types telling you which ones are the "best," you must love the Academy Awards.

And how can you not? To paraphrase Scott Aukerman, the stars will be out! And they'll dress nice and be all rich, while you're at home, squatting in filth, covered in dirty rags and saving your much-needed pennies. But at least you'll (presumably) have wine, while they have to drink from carefully hidden flasks.

The Oscars are never as enjoyable as the Golden Globes (which already barely qualify as "fun") but they're more prestigious and give Hollywood bigwigs one more opportunity to rub all over each other and brag about how wonderful the previous year in filmmaking was. Which we all dutifully watch, like common lemmings.

The main purpose of this event, however, is to provide good fodder for pre-show blog posts and online banter. This whole week, I emailed back and forth with Andrew Johnson of tezini.com, movie buff and Internet-based film critic. He's a Midnight in Paris fan, but I still respect his opinion. Which, believe me, takes a lot of effort on my end.

So head over to Tezini and check out our witty palaver, which includes a bevy of (as he put it) "hopes, musings and predictions." Do I mention Rush Hour 2? Of course I do!

And if you're really, really, really curious as to what I think about this upcoming batch of Oscars (besides that they kinda stink), here are my official predictions (only the good categories, of course). You can take them to the bank!*

* Note: Do not take these to any sort of bank.

Best Foreign Language Film - Amour
Best Animated Film - Wreck-It Ralph
Best Adapted Screenplay - Argo
Best Original Screenplay - Zero Dark Thirty
Best Director - Steven Spielberg
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Best Supporting Actor - Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Picture - Argo

February 16, 2013

Mega men.

I intimately know a Philadelphia-based band that plays video game music. If such a sentence doesn't excite you, please leave my website.

The band is Close to Good, and the music is the soundtrack from Mega Man III.

I've written about them before, in the salad days of February 2012. Back in high school, when the drummer was in a different band, I used to beg to hear "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon at all of their shows. They'd also cover a lot of Vengaboys..."a lot" meaning "the two hits we all know." Those were good times.

But this band is a little older, a little wiser, a little more serious. No more '90s pop; now it's all about recreating the beeps and boops that once emerged from an 8-bit console. Once upon a time they'd play "Those Who Fight Further" from Final Fantasy VII, but just one video game track apparently wasn't enough. Only a full album would do.

You may know Mega Man from such television programs as this:


But he's more than just a super fighting robot from a children's cartoon show. He's a virtual android-type boy who came to life on the Nintendo Entertainment System (or Famicon, if you're a stickler for details), birthed from the minds of a handful of Japanese designers at Capcom, with his own 4,000-word Wikipedia page.

And his series comes equipped with some of the finest music ever recorded for a video game. If you're a man between the ages of 24 and 35 who owned an NES, you probably know Wood Man's theme:


And now Close to Good has put a whole bunch of them to digital vinyl. Not to start sounding like a Time-Life commercial, but these are 22 of the most lovingly recreated tracks you'll ever hear. I was initially going to praise them for putting the songs in chronological order from a gameplay perspective, but if you're going to take the time to record an album of video game music you better be ready to go all the way.

They're far from the first ones to play video game music with rock band instruments, but they're the only ones that I know in real life. Look at the pure joy on these faces as they play the theme from the Gemini Man stage. I'm all for the creative outlet of writing, recording and producing your own original music, but there should also be time for the little things in life. Like a Dr. Wily medley.

So give the album a download; it's free! As it should be; I imagine Capcom has many lawyers on retainer and very deep pockets. And if you want to really impress me, video game-oriented rock bands, give this one a shot next:

February 14, 2013

Spring forward, fall back.

It is February of 2013, and the Philadelphia Phillies are underdogs.

It's odd, and possibly annoying, to call a team with a $154-million payroll an "underdog." That term is usually reserved for squads like last year's Oakland Athletics or Baltimore Orioles, scrappers who come from out of nowhere to overthrow divisional behemoths.

But there's no denying that the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are -- on paper and, most likely, on the field -- miles ahead of the Phillies.

Washington added Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano to a team that won 98 games in 2012. Bryce Harper is on the cusp of super-duper-stardom; Mike Morse was wisely shipped out at the near-peak of his value; Ian Desmond (a potential MVP candidate before an oblique injury) and Danny Espinosa (17 homers, 20 steals, 25 years old) should only get better. Short of Gio Gonzalez being hauled away in handcuffs or Stephen Strasburg's arm exploding again, nothing's keeping these guys out of the playoffs.

Atlanta subtracted Martin Prado, Michael Bourn and Tommy Hanson but brought in the Super Upton Bros., certainly the most potential-laden adds of the offseason. Even a rough year from the two of them should result in 60 homers and 50 steals. That plus a full season of Kris Medlen, the continued emergence of Jason Heyward and even slightly better performances from Brian McCann and Dan Uggla (.698 OPS and .732 OPS, respectively, both the lowest of their careers) should lead to 90-plus wins.

And then there's Philadelphia. The big offseason additions were Michael Young (ugh), Delmon Young (barf) and Mike Adams (got no rib). All told, those three guys cost less than just one B.J. Upton. They also might be less valuable.

This is a team of ifs. If the three aces stay healthy. If Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can hold up for 145 productive games. If the two Youngs overcome being very old/very fat and provide not only stability but value. If Adams, Jonathan Papelbon and a gaggle of talented young arms stabilize a very shaky bullpen.

That's a lot of question marks. Leaps and bounds more than Washington and Atlanta, which is why everyone with a working brain has the Phillies third (at best) in the National League East.

But maybe we're all a bit too pessimistic. Last year was, for all intents and purposes, a disaster. Two starting outfielders with All-Star credentials, sold at midseason for spare parts. Two injured infielders, former superstars, neither of whom remotely approached 100% health. The beloved ace, Opening Day starter for the last three years, finally showed signs of mortality.

And they still won 81 games.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals reached the play-in game with 88 wins. Might that be enough again this year? If this team stays upright, might they come somewhere close to that "magic" number? Not likely, but not impossible.

Realistically, any team that signs Yuniesky Betancourt has no chance of competing for a World Series. And zero experts would rank the Phillies among baseball's top-10 teams for the coming season.

But there's still talent in Philadelphia. Old, creaky, injury-prone, overpaid talent. And 2013 is probably the last chance for this franchise to squeeze any juicy bits from them. Maybe it'll all come together one more time. Spring is, after all, the best time of the year for cautious optimism.