~ The year of the geek

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When breaking down the year so far in film, one name is inescapable.

Joss Whedon: Who assembled a team of superheroes in “The Avengers” and battled horror clichés with “The Cabin in the Woods.”

“This has been the year of Whedon,” said Blake Hammond.  “It’s even made me re-watch Buffy.”

Even though “The Avengers” amassed more than $500 million and set box office records in its opening weekend, Whedon’s “Cabin in the Woods” struck more of a chord with my readers.

“It’s a really wonderful homage/satire of horror films,” said Andrew626.  “Joss Whedon is fantastic at everything he makes.”

Having said that, Rochpikey listed both of Whedon’s films in his top five movies of the year.  The rest of his list included “Safe,” “American Reunion” and “The Grey”.

Here are a couple of notable films that my readers missed out on:

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Rampart — Woody Harrelson (“White Men Can’t Jump”) turns in the best performance of his career as a dirty Los Angeles cop who earns the nickname “Date Rape Dave” for allegedly murdering a suspected serial rapist. Brutally violent, misogynistic and racist, Dave defends himself by saying “I hate everyone equally.” Harrelson is magnificent, but director Oren Moverman deserves credit for finding ways to make a film about corrupt cops feel interesting and fresh.

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The Dictator — Only Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of “Borat” and “Bruno,” could dedicate his film in loving memory of Kim Jong-il and get away with it.  “The Dictator” continues Cohen’s outrageous streak of offensive characters, but in this film he ditches the mockumentary angle and makes a real movie by introducing this silly thing called a plot.  The plot doesn’t really work, but Admiral General Aladeen is one of Cohen’s most provocative characters yet.

~ Movie theater mania

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I’ve blogged about the importance of music in movies, but without a good theater to enjoy it in, the melody could fall on deaf ears.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, I found a theater that sang out to the movie lover in me — that theater was The Neon. Located downtown near the Oregon District, one of the only parts of the city that didn’t completely suck, The Neon has limited seating and only houses two screens.

Despite shortcomings involving a lack of comfort or high-tech wizardry, the allure of challenging and thought-provoking films made up for any faults.  When I moved to Cincinnati to start my collegiate career, one of my biggest fears wasn’t disgusting dormitory bathrooms, but not being able to find a theater that could replace The Neon.

Then I went to The Esquire and any fears I had were immediately alleviated.  In fact, my heart fluttered a little bit to discover an art house that screened obscure foreign films right alongside big budget blockbusters.

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But while I gravitated toward small crowded theaters, my readers flocked to something different.

“Small, crowded theaters make me uncomfortable,” said Bethany Cianciolo. “When I’m planted in a chair for two hours, I like to have some wiggle room.”

Pete Mentrik also expressed a desire for something bigger. “I love going to big, 20+ screen theaters,” he said. “The bigger, newer theaters tend to be more comfortable and air conditioned — which is clearly the best part about seeing a new movie.”

Both Bethany and Pete prefer the AMC Theater across the river in Kentucky. “There’s something so fun about hitting up Newport for a movie, a visit to Barnes & Noble and some mouth-watering Coldstone ice cream,” Bethany said.

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While the surrounding area of Newport is nice, Ludlow Avenue provides a quant backdrop for what in my mind is the only place to see movies in Cincinnati area — The Esquire.

~ Johnny Depp needs to find new director

Nobody does weird better than Johnny Depp. But at this point, it would be weirder to see him do normal.

Depp’s latest foray into the world of misfits and quirky characters, “Dark Shadows,” sees him team up with director Tim Burton for the eighth time.

The celebrated duo with a shared love for the eccentric have certainly made magic together in the past, but “Edward Scissorhands” was 22 years ago.

It’s time to move on — too bad no one will tell them that. Their films (which include “Alice in Wonderland”, “Sleepy Hollow” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) have grossed more than $2 billion.  Once upon a time, Burton had to fight tooth and nail with studio executives to get Depp cast in his films.

Now, when pitching “Dark Shadows” those same studio heads ask him, “What do you think about Johnny for this one?”

The late acting legend Marlon Brando (“The Godfather”) once warned Depp to be careful about the number of movies he committed to each year, because an actor only has so many faces in their pocket.

I don’t think we’ve seen all of Depp’s faces — he’s far too talented for that — but we won’t see anything new if he continues to work with Burton.

The duo’s latest film looks like everything we’ve come to expect from a Depp and Burton collaboration.

Depp will once again sport sickly pale makeup and fail to fit in with his surroundings, while Burton will cast Helena Bonham Carter in a main role and fill the film with a macabre sense of humor.

Nothing we haven’t seen before.

When talking about what it’s like to work with Burton, Depp indirectly explains exactly why the two should part ways: “Working with Tim is like coming home. It’s comfortable.”

A comfortable workplace environment isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it leads to complacency, it certainly is.

In that sense, it’s easy to see why the duo’s first two films together were their best.

Before they could finish each other’s sentences, Burton and Depp gave us two excellent, yet very different films:

“Edward Scissorhands” — the undisputed classic which could have ruined Depp’s career before it even got started due to the outlandish nature of his character.

“Ed Wood” — the underappreciated gem, based on a real-life filmmaker widely considered to be one of the worst directors of all time, that showed a more restrained — but still weird — side of Depp.

Since then, their films have significantly dropped in quality. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” ruined a classic and “Sweeney Todd” inexplicably made a singing, serial-killing barber boring.

My advice to Depp: Ditch Burton. You don’t need him anymore. He might have kick-started your career in Hollywood, saving you from the undisputed hell that was television in the 1970s, but he’s not doing you any favors now.

You’re Johnny f-ing Depp. You single-handedly built a franchise around a deranged and slightly gay pirate.

When Robert De Niro started doing crap like “Rocky and Bullwinkle”, Martin Scorsese didn’t hesitate to stop casting him in his films — even though the two had worked together eight previous times.

De Niro even reportedly saved Scorsese’s life by bringing him the script to “Raging Bull” while he recovered from a severe cocaine addiction in the hospital.

Despite all that, Scorsese moved on, started working with Leonardo DiCaprio and won his first directing Oscar for “The Departed.”

Depp should follow Scorsese’s footsteps and dump Burton. Because of an over reliance on their whacky collaborations, one of Hollywood’s biggest provocateurs has been neutered.

Depp used to be known throughout the acting world as someone unafraid to take risks, someone who spoke to disenfranchised youth everywhere with his peculiar fish-out-of-water character choices.

Now, he only speaks to women who swoon at his mere presence … and crazies.

After all, isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results?

~ Q&A with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl

I recently sat down with Sports Illustrated’s Senior soccer writer for a chat about how he got interested in journalism, why Qatar should never host a World Cup and who have been his favorite athletes to interview.

What got you interested in journalism?

Just from observing it and being around it. I grew up in Kansas City, reading the Star. I read sports Illustrated and read the New Yorker.

How did you get started with Sports Illustrated?

I applied in college, earlier in my senior year, to start out as a fact checker. An entry level position where you aren’t writing, but you have to do all the dirty work. It’s a thankless job; you only get noticed if you screw up.

How hard was it to move up the ranks?

I gave myself three years. If I wasn’t writing in three years I was going to go work at a daily newspaper where I could cover sports. Luckily I got the chance to write within in a year and did a good job with it.

Because soccer in America isn’t as popular as soccer abroad, I got more opportunities to write online because Sports Illustrated realized there was a demand for that kind of writing — even if it wasn’t in the magazine.

If you’re going to make it at an early age, you have to be good from the start. I wasn’t a perfect writer then or now, but I was ready to be published.

In college I was on the student paper, but more importantly I took three seminars from very successful journalism peers. One was David Remnick (from the New Yorker), one was a top editor at people and another one was with a war correspondent from The New York Times.

Learning from those people was an invaluable experience.

How much access do you get to US soccer and has that changed with the recent coaching change?

It’s really dependent on the coach; Bob Bradley [former US soccer coach] is more of a European style coach. He was stricter and didn’t reveal as much to the media. But US soccer understands that soccer isn’t that popular over here, so they realize they need us as much as we need them.

Have you followed Bob Bradley’s coaching journey to Egypt, how big of a story do you think that is?

Oh yeah, it’s huge. If he is able to take them to lead them to qualify for the World Cup, something they haven’t done since 1990, and to do it in a country like Egypt that is going through so much, it would be huge.

In the aftermath of their tragedy, where World Cup Qualifying games were cancelled, he not only stayed, but was supportive in a very public way.

You’ve covered March Madness, the Olympics and the World Cup, which is your favorite?

They’re all great, but I’d say the world cup. Just because it’s once every four years. So is the Olympics, but you also have Summer and Winter additions. The NCAA tournament is special, but you know it’s going to take place every year and it’s not showcasing the best athletes like the other events do.

What do you make about the recent heart attacks players (like Muamba in the English Premier League) have been suffering? Do you think there’s a possible story in that?

I think in general there are too many games being played and I think you’re asking a lot of players to ask them to play that many games. Soccer is a punishing sport and there is very little offseason. What’s interesting is that in Italy they do a lot of testing specifically for heart conditions, but it happened anyway when one of Livorno’s players died a few weeks ago.

It brings home how ludicrous it was to give the world cup to Qatar because it will be 120 degrees all the time.

It’s interesting that you brought that up because one of the things I wanted to ask you about was you’re your decision to run for president of FIFA. Was that your idea and how did your editors feel about it?

It was my idea and it came out of the shadiness around the world cup voting process. Not just because the US lost — if Australia or Korea would have won I could have respected that — but Qatar?

FIFA is an old boy’s network. These guys are all long standing political hacks, with absolutely no females to speak of involved. I wanted to call them out for that.

There was an element of satire, but there was also a very important story to go along with it. My editors loved it, they were very excited — we even ended up doing some campaign videos where I talked to people about my candidacy outside of FIFA’s headquarters.

With “The Beckham Experiment,” the book you wrote, what was it like having the media pull the most controversial quotes from the book and make a story out of that?

There’s a few ways of looking at it. There’s the book itself and the reporting of it over 2 and half years. I was really excited to have that much space. It was a story worth telling.

One of the things I was most proud of was the story I was able to tell about the rank and file league members who really made the league what it is — and then you have megastar David Beckham come over and make in one game more than what they make in a year.

When you start a book like that you never know what is going to happen. You have to be ready to change with the story. For all I knew, Beckham was going to be a great success and win the championship in his first season.

With the media’s coverage, it was clear there was tension between him and Donovan. So there were going to be some flash points when the book first came out.  I think it’s important when you have an excerpt; you need to know the context. Which is why Donovan kept telling people to wait until the book came out because there was a bigger context to it all.

What was it like writing a book, as opposed to columns and feature articles?

It was a challenge; I’ve never taken on a project of that size before. You always worry about if people will talk to you. But they did. It’s a lot of extra work because during the two and a half years I was reporting on it, I was still doing my usual duties at SI — nothing changed on that front.

When it came to writing the book, I took a break from SI and went to South Africa where my wife was and I wrote the whole book in 72 days. It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work. I got up every morning and wrote from 7-9. Sometimes I got 50 pages written and other days I had only a few paragraphs.

Do you still get assigned stories, or is it more what you want to do since you’ve been there so long?

The longer I’ve been there the more the ideas come from me. Now-a-days, 90% to 95% of the stories come from me. Which is better, I mean reporters will write better about what they want to write about.

When you do interviews for the magazine, I’m curious about how many of your questions are written out beforehand and how many are just you trying to have a conversation with somebody?

Some of both. You need to be really well prepared for your interviews whenever you do them. So you need to know what has been written about this person before and ask yourself how do I want this interview to go structurally.

Too many sports interviews ask the obvious questions. Shoot for the kind of questions can you ask that you don’t know the answer to. And then if they say things during the interview that you need to be able to follow up on them.

Who has been your favorite athlete to interview?

On the college basketball beat, JJ Reddick Adam Morrison — guys like that who were just smart guys that were interesting. I never had to push too hard to get them to tell me good stuff.

In soccer, US soccer players in general are pretty well spoken because most of them are college educated. Donovan is always a good interview and I conducted one with Xavi in Spanish that went really well. I’ve always enjoyed talking with Brad Friedel, in fact I’m writing a story on him for the magazine this week.

As far as coaches go, Bruce Arena is very candid and Jose Mourinho was a delight.

 

~ Best movies of 2012 (so far)

Summer is almost here which means half of the year is already gone.  That means it’s time to start thinking about the best films that have been released this year.

Some of my favorites so far are Contraband, Rampart, The Dictator, Kill List and The Avengers.

 

What are your favorite films of 2012?

~ Best albums of 2012 (so far)

OK music fanatics: It’s never to early to start thinking about the best albums of the year.

Some of my favorites so far have been Jack White’s Blunderbuss, Dr. John’s Locked Down and The Mars Volta’s Noctourniquet.

What’s been your favorite album(s) of 2012 so far??

~ Where do you go to watch movies?

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Do you prefer an artsy theater like The Esquire, a trip to Newport or how about UC’s main street theater?

Where do you go when there’s a movie playing that you have to see? And what draws you to that specific place — is it the service, the food or maybe the atmosphere?

Do you even go to the movies anymore, or have on demand services like Netflix left you sitting on the couch?

I want to hear about it! Let me know how you like to watch movies in the comment section and you could be featured  in a future post.

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