Posted by mike in Drinking,Food,Sports at 10:23 pm on November 3, 2010

With the Bears playing back-to-back prime-time games (Monday night in week 3 against the Packers, and Sunday night in week 4 against the Giants), we decided to make more of a dinner-and-drinks event of it both times. We ventured to Windy City Pizza for both games to enjoy them with fellow displaced Bears fans. While the results of the games were split, the experience at Windy City was largely the same.

Location *

Windy City is a place I know pretty well. It’s located in San Mateo, which happens to be where I work, so it’s a frequent lunch destination. It was first suggested to me as a pizza place in response to my frequent gripe about the lack of any really good pizza in the Bay Area. More on the food in a bit, though.

Fan club sign While San Mateo is a pretty central location for people coming from any direction, it’s not really ideal for any of them. There are two Caltrain stops in the city, but neither one is within walking distance of Windy City. It’s also far enough outside San Francisco that people who live in the city don’t usually want to venture down, and it’s a good 45-minute drive for people from San Jose. So central though it may be, it’s not exactly convenient for anybody. This is Windy City’s biggest strike against it.

Layout and Coverage **

The crowd at Windy City Inside, the feel is that of a family restaurant. There are lots of tables that all seem a bit too close together, and several booths in the back. The dining area is divided into two large sections: the primary area includes the bar and kitchen counter where you can order your food and drinks, and the secondary area has more seating for larger groups or families, as well as a few video games.

Windy City has recently upgraded their TVs from an outdated rear-projection screen to several wall-mounted LCDs, which is a welcome change. None of them are in ideal game-watching locations, but there are several TVs arranged throughout the dining area, making it easy to follow the game while you eat your meal. The bar at Windy City If you opt to sit at the bar—something only a dozen or so people can do at any given time—there’s a nice large screen behind it.

This being the “Bay Area home of the Chicago Bears,” the coverage focuses on the Bears game. I haven’t made the trek on a Sunday morning, so I can’t comment on their general gameday coverage, but in these two instances the nationally-televised Bears games were on every screen, as you’d expect.

Crowd ****

The best part about watching a Bears game at Windy City is that it feels like home. Not only is the place filled with Bears fans, many of whom are sporting jerseys and other color-bearing apparel, but the majority of them are also transplants. You’ll hear a lot of Chicago accents here, and see some mighty mustaches that remind someone like myself of home.

Dave cheers a Bears TD For Bears games, the crowd is rowdy and boisterous. They’ll cheer for the Bears and boo for the opposing team, as you’d expect, but they also add a nice touch: every time the Bears score, the whole crowd breaks out into a coordinated singing of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears,” with a ringleader holding up a sign with the lyrics on it to make sure everybody can participate. It’s a little bit of Soldier Field transplanted to San Mateo.

Food and Drinks ***.5

Our Hawaiian-style pizza The food at Windy City is very good. They feature a mixed menu that’s half Chicago-style favorites and half Texas-style BBQ. The Chicago fare includes pizzas, beef sandwiches, and hot dogs, all of which are really close to what I would consider authentic, but not quite the same as what you’d actually get back in Chicago. Before getting into the pizza, though, I should make a special mention of the Italian beef sandwiches, which I sometimes get when we go here for lunch—it’s the only place outside of Illinois that I’ve ever seen actual giardiniera peppers, and they are spot-on.

Our BBQ pork pizza Both times we got pizza, as we almost always do. For week 3, we went with a ham/pineapple/onion/bacon deep-dish. For week 4, we actually considered going with a BBQ plate instead, but backed out because we like their pizza so much. So we split the difference and went with a pizza with BBQ pork. Both pizzas were awesome, as usual. The crust is extremely buttery and thick, and there’s ample amounts of cheese everywhere. The sauce is a little sparse, and they put it in rings on top of the cheese rather than completely covering it, but it’s pretty good as well. You can feed 4 people easily with a single medium pizza—2 slices is enough to fill anyone up, making the $25ish price tag quite reasonable.

The cheesebread appetizer We also got some cheesy garlic bread as an appetizer, which is nice when you’re settling in for an entire game—and the pizza takes a good 45 minutes to cook anyway. The second time we added tomato slices to the bread, which made it even better.

The drink selection at Windy City is a little sparse, but decent enough. They typically have drink specials during Bears games, and for every trip to the bar you get a raffle ticket for various Bears merchandise. The downside to the beers—aside from somewhat of a lack of selection—is the price: we usually get pitchers for $14. That’s the regular price for Coors Light, or the “special” price for better beers during games (Kona Longboard or Stella Artois are our usuals). Still, though, you get frosted glasses to drink it out of, and the beer is always cold and the service friendly, and the prices are pretty typical of the area.

A slice of the Hawaiian pizza The aftermath of a meal

Intangibles **.5

One thing that perpetually annoys me is a place that can’t settle on an identity. You see this a lot with sports bars—they’ll claim to be the “official bar of” or the “home of” like 3 or 4 different (and unrelated) teams. Windy City falls into this category with their Chicago-slash-Texas motif. The BBQ proudly advertised They’re mostly a Chicago place, not just with the food but also with the decor (lots of pictures of Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, and other recognizable Chicago venues). But then they also have this Texas sub-personality, like they weren’t willing to go all the way with the Chicago thing (or they thought it wasn’t enough). The BBQ always looks and smells good, but I’ve never tried it because I go here for Chicago-style pizza. I suppose it might be nice to have alternatives if you’re in a group and not everybody wants pizza, but it still doesn’t quite make sense to me. It’s like they’re not willing to go all-in with the Chicago thing, and that annoys me a bit.

The other missing piece comes in the game area. They have a few out-of-date arcade games, but if they were really a Chicago place, they’d have a Golden Tee machine. This is another thing that makes me think they’re not willing to go all the way with their Chicago persona.

One nice touch is that Windy City is the home of the Bay Area Chicago Bears Fan Club. During games, the club is well-represented, and the president, a nice guy named Dave with one of those aforementioned mighty mustaches, is jovial and friendly. He does a good job organizing things, keeping the crowd involved in the game, and running an email list for Bears fans to commiserate on.

Our kind of town

Summary

The atmosphere at Windy City is welcoming, the food is good, and it’s a great place to watch a Bears game. There are a few things they could do to complete the facade, but overall it’s a pretty respectable effort at capturing the feel—and taste—of a Chicago-style eatery. It’s a bit of a pain to get to, but it’s worth the trouble, especially during Bears games.

As it’s more of a restaurant than a bar, it’s not exactly the kind of place that could really become a hang-out, and that helps minimize the effects of the poor location. (It’s not like it needs to be convenient for daily happy hour visits anyway.) We haven’t fully judged it as an all-out Sunday NFL-watching destination, but for a change of pace during Bears prime-time games, it’s hard to beat.

Location: *
Layout and Coverage: **
Crowd: ****
Food and Drinks: ***.5
Intangibles: **.5

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 3:00 pm on October 16, 2010

The Social Network

Status: In theaters (opened 10/1/10)
Directed By: David Fincher
Written By: Aaron Sorkin
Cinematographer: Jeff Cronenweth
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rashida Jones

Imagine being on the UHF program “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” and winning the opportunity to drink from the firehose, only instead of water coming out, the hose spews dialogue into your face. That’s a lot what the experience of watching The Social Network can feel like. This movie is full of words, coming at you at a mile a minute at almost all times. Jessie Eisenberg, as the onscreen personification of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, does the bulk of the firehosing. He sometimes sounds like he’s rushing to spit out his lines in record time, but by the end of the film’s opening scene, you’re already used to it and totally engrossed. It takes balls to write a movie like this, and a lot of talent, too. In less-capable hands it’d come out feeling like a wordy, jumbled mess, but Aaron Sorkin is more than capable. His screenplay, which I’ve read came in at 160 pages (a typical 2-hour movie, which this is, would be more around 120), is jam-packed with dialogue spouted by fast-talking characters, and it drives the story in almost unbelievable ways.

The sniff test for me for any technology-based movie is how it deals with the specifics of its technologies, and The Social Network passes with flying colors. While Sorkin lets himself get a little carried away, particularly during a scene where Zuckerberg “interviews” interns by putting them to a hacking test while constantly feeding them shots, for the most part his characters’ dialogue is legit. We see Zuckerberg live-blog the creation of Facemash, Facebook’s predecessor, and his voice-overs describing his use of PHP, perl scripts, and wget to acquire the classmate pictures he needs from shoddily-configured Apache servers hold up. Sorkin has done his research, and it’s no surprise; you throw this much information at an audience at such a rapid pace for two solid hours, they’re going to smell it if you’re just trying to sneak stuff past them.

Based on the legitimacy of the computer-related dialogue, I have to believe that the same amount of research went into the court records that form the basis of The Social Network‘s narrative. The story is told from the perspective of two separate depositions, involving the two major lawsuits that were brought against Zuckerberg after Facebook started to take off. Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin The first comes from his best (and only) friend, Facebook co-founder and original CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The second is from Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer’s face on both twins, with Josh Pence providing Tyler’s body). The “Winklevi,” as Zuckerberg refers to them, had devised a website called Harvard Connection (later ConnectU) and hired him to provide programming assistance. They claim that he stole their idea and cut them out of the loop when he launched his own website. Saverin, on the other hand, claims he was unfairly squeezed out of his ownership position in the company—it was his initial $1000 investment that got it off the ground.

From the retrospective view of these depositions, we get three versions of the story: Saverin’s, the Winklevoss’s, and Zuckerberg’s own account. The Rashomon style of storytelling Sorkin employs works well for two reasons. First, it gives a natural excuse to jump around in the story, to skip to the interesting parts of Facebook’s tumultuous early years. Second, it provides a clever way to avoid any claims of libel or of fabricating details; in getting three different points of view on the events, things are left just ambiguous enough to avoid being slanderous.

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg That’s a good thing, because The Social Network doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture, particularly of Zuckerberg. It does, however, give him a fair shake; he’s depicted as an insanely driven kid who happens to have a knack for knowing what people want out of the new online experience he’s trying to create. But like most stereotypical computer geeks, he lacks in social skills, to the point of ignoring the desires or feelings of anybody else he’s involved with. He’s smart, that’s clear, though I’m not sure why he’s always referred to as a “programming genius”—Facebook is the most standard, typical, and simple website you could make, technology-wise. But that’s not where Zuckerberg’s genius lies; it’s not how he does it that’s impressive, it’s the instinct he has for what to create that makes Facebook an instant success.

What the movie really boils down to is a story about ego and greed. When Zuckerberg meets Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), one of the founders of Napster, he adopts the angst-filled party-boy’s worldview, happy to give venture capitalists the finger (literally) because he knows that they need him more than the other way around, and he revels in flaunting his newfound status. He turns his back on his friend not out of spite, but out of ambition, and the way Sorkin’s screenplay handles the relationship between Zuckerberg and Saverin—showing both perspectives, eliminating any questions of malice—is more measured than the version in Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires—the film’s primary source—which is told a bit more subjectively from Eduardo Saverin’s point of view.

There are two things that I found really refreshing about The Social Network. For one, although it’s a big-budget movie (and surely an awards-season contender), it doesn’t feel like a typical “tentpole” release. David Fincher’s direction is elegant and classy; the performances are highly characterized, but none feel over-exaggerated; there are great special effects, but you’d never realize it from watching the movie; even the score, by Trent Reznor, appropriately sets the pace and tone without drawing unnecessary attention to itself.

The other thing, the thing I really liked, is how the film makes no attempts to depict Facebook as super-relevant to culture in general, or to over-state its importance. It’s telling a story about a kid who found success at a young age and let it get to his head, and it leaves things at that. Yes, the success he achieved is by coming up with something that seemingly everybody wants to use—and use a lot—but we never get any speeches about some supposed importance of the website itself. It’s just the vehicle by which these characters embark on their journey. (Timberlake’s Parker does get a little carried away with the overarching cultural significance of what they’re doing, but it’s in character for him, it’s not the film itself telling us we should recognize this supposed “greatness.”) What’s amazing, and impressive, and downright enjoyable, is that The Social Network resonates more because of this. It’s a timely story, yes, but it’s one about truths of human nature that apply universally.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 1:39 am on October 6, 2010

I’ve got one thing to hang my hat on with my 2010 baseball predictions: I said that it’d be a year defined by pitching, and I think that held true. Mark Buehrle started the season off with an amazing play on opening day, and things only got better from there. We saw 2 perfect games this year, one in each league: Dallas Braden in the American and Roy Halladay in the National League. These were 2 of the 5 no-hitters thrown this year, the most in a single season since 1991. Interestingly, only two of these pitchers don’t have tee times right now (Halladay of the Phillies, and Matt Garza of the Rays).

And then, of course, there’s the perfect game that never was, thrown by Detroit’s Armando Galarraga. I think that kid gained a lot of fans, though, including myself; I was shocked and impressed by how classy he was in shrugging off an incident that would’ve sent countless other professional athletes into a childish foot-stomping fit. So really, there were 6 no-hitters thrown this year, though only 5 of them will count in the record books.

This is the kind of stuff you start to pay closer attention to when your team is clearly out of playoff contention nearly from the start of the season. You also look to find other gems—seeing #1 prospect Jason Heyworth’s debut with the Braves, for instance. Or you take an unreasonable amount of pride in the fact that Marlon Byrd won the All-Star Game (single-handedly, as I recall it) for the National League. Or you gain an interest in your team’s farm system, hoping to have something to look forward to in the future. After their annual trip to San Francisco in early August, though, I had little to keep me interested in the Cubs, and gradually stopped paying attention altogether as their roster looked more and more like their triple-A affiliate, the Iowa Cubs, than it did a big league team.

So maybe you start to follow another team. Living where I do, I go to a dozen or so Giants games a year as it is, only cheering against them when the Cubs are in town. (One of my favorite things to do is to go when the Giants are playing other NL Central teams, which I’m quite used to rooting against anyway.) As it happened this year, right around the time I was giving up on following the Cubs, the Giants began to make their playoff push. And as luck would have it, they went ahead and traded for a likable Cubs player in Mike Fontenot to make me feel like I had more of a connection. (Megan already felt the same way, since her former favorite Cub, Mark DeRosa, had been traded to the Giants last year—even though he missed this entire season with a wrist injury, we can still enjoy seeing him in the dugout.) It’s still not the same, mind you—3 years ago at this time I had tickets to watch post-season baseball at Wrigley, and while I’m really excited to attend some playoff games at AT&T Park, I know it won’t equal that experience. I’ll do my best to hold down my spot on the Giants bandwagon, though.

Fan Stats
For the reasons mentioned above and a few others, I didn’t follow the Cubs nearly as closely as I did last year. The good news is that the Fox Saturday blackout rules seem to have been relaxed, so I could watch day games on WGN even though my local Fox channel was carrying a nationally-televised game. The bad news is I didn’t take advantage of this as much as I would have in other seasons. The whole breakdown goes like this:

  • I went to 2 games of the 4-game series the Cubs played in San Francisco
  • I watched 84 games on TV
    • Of these, 70 were thanks to the Extra Innings package
      • Of those, I was able to watch the Cubs feed for 54 games
      • That means I only had to watch the opposing team’s feed for 16 games
    • There were 14 games I would’ve seen anyway, even if I didn’t spring for Extra Innings:
      • 4 games I watched at a bar
      • 4 games were televised on ESPN
      • 6 games I got on my local channels
  • I listened to 25 games on the radio
    • Of these, 2 were on a local radio station
    • I listened to only 4 games on XM in the car
    • I followed 10 games at work via the MLB.com At-Bat program
    • For 9 games, I went half-and-half between XM and MLB.com At-Bat
  • Of the 51 games I missed entirely, they break down like this:
    • 4 were due to the Fox Saturday blackout
    • 1 was due to being at a Blackhawks game
    • 15 were due to traveling, being on vacation, or having friends in town
    • 3 were the fault of work getting in the way of a day game I would’ve otherwise followed
    • And of course, particularly towards the end of the season, I missed 28 games out of complete indifference

So my “fan rate” this year was only a measly 68.5% (I followed, one way or another, 111 out of the 162 games). But then again, it’s not like the Cubs did a lot to earn my support this season. Their best month of the year was September, when they went 17-9, and I only paid attention to 6 of those games. So it goes.

Regular Season Reflections
My predictions were actually pretty good in the National League, as far as playoff teams go, at least: I had the Giants and Phillies winning their respective divisions, and pegged the Braves as the Wild Card team. I had the top two teams in the Central reversed, thinking the Reds would make a big jump this year but underestimating just how big it’d be.

In the American League, I didn’t fair nearly as well. The only playoff team I got correct was the Yankees, but I had them winning the East instead of the Wild Card. Their division went to the Rays, who I greatly undervalued. I had the Central jumbled up, picking the Twins to finish 3rd. I did the same thing with the Rangers in the West, a division I had almost completely upside-down.

So 4 out of 8 overall, which I suppose isn’t too bad. I’m pleased to find that for once, the league I follow more closely (the NL) was the one for which my predictions seemed to be more accurate. Maybe I’m learning.

Playoff Predictions
Having a fairly strong case of Giants Fever means it’s tough for me to objectively predict this year’s playoffs, but I’m going to give it a shot.

  • ALDS: Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
    I think the Rangers fall into the “just happy to have made it” category, though with their lineup they’re always dangerous. The Rays were the best team in the AL this year, so I don’t think they’ll have much trouble winning it in 4.
  • ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
    The Yankees seemed happy to settle for the Wild Card and a matchup with Minnesota, a team they’ve handled well in recent years, but I think home field advantage will prove to be the deciding factor in this series, and the Twins will take it in 5 games.
  • NLDS: Cincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies
    Like the Rangers, I think the Reds are a team that blew its load just to win their division. Also like the Rangers, they have a powerful lineup but a pitching staff that I can’t see carrying them through a Division Series. The Phillies are just too strong, and I think they’ll sweep it in 3.
  • NLDS: Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants
    While I’m glad that Derrek Lee gets to play in the post-season, I think that’s as far as he’ll get. The Giants won their division on the final day of the regular season against the one team they’ve really struggled against this year, so I think they’ll handle the Braves in 4 games.
  • ALCS: Minnesota Twins vs. Tampa Bay Rays
    The Rays are strong, and they’ve been here before, but I think it’s the Twins‘ time to make it to a World Series. I’m giving them the edge in a tough 6-game series.
  • NLCS: San Francisco Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies
    If this series comes to be, it’ll be the highlight of this post-season. While I think the Phillies can never be counted out, I think it’ll be the Giants‘ pitching staff—particularly their bullpen—that can give them the pennant in a classic 7-game series. I said it’d be a year defined by pitching, and this series should end up being the pitching showcase of the year—though both teams have plenty of power at the plate, too.
  • World Series World Series 2010
    Minnesota Twins vs. San Francisco Giants

    I said at the start of the season that I’d much rather see a Giants-Tigers matchup than a repeat of last year’s Phillies-Yankees, and while I was wrong about the Tigers this year, a series between the Giants and the Twins would come pretty close (but of course Yankees-Phillies remains a possibility, too). I’m going to stop myself short of predicting the outcome; if this series happened, I’d likely be spending thousands of dollars to attend a couple of games, and thus would literally have too much invested in it. I’d actually give the Twins the edge on paper, but the emotional side of me says the Giants can put 4 games together out of 6 or 7.

Maybe some of this is wishful thinking, but it’s nice to at least have a vested interest this year. I don’t mind riding the bandwagon, especially if it means I get to see the World Series played in person.

The Cubs are totally positioned for next year, anyway.

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 9:48 pm on September 30, 2010

With my review of The Town posted, I’m more or less caught up on my reviews, with a small exception: I’ve made the executive decision to ignore two movies I saw earlier this summer, because it’s just been too long since they were out, and I doubt anybody cares to read about them anyway. But here are really, really brief thoughts on them, in the interest of being thorough:

  • The Other Guys was a pretty funny, if standard, Will Ferrell comedy. Like most of the Ferrell-Adam McKay collaborations, it goes a too bit far when it runs out of jokes (in this case, Ferrell’s “Gator” alter-ego), but it holds its own. It actually made me feel bad for Kevin Smith, who tried for a similar type of thing with Cop Out but failed pretty miserably. The most impressive thing about The Other Guys, in fact, was that in parodying an action movie, it actually ended up having some legitimately good action scenes. It’d make for a good rental.
  • The Switch, on the other hand, was really bad. It sucks to say that, because Jason Bateman is usually such an enjoyable actor to watch, but here he’s all wrong for the role. The premise of the movie is completely ludicrous; if there’s one thing I know, it’s drinking, and this isn’t how it works. Not only does Bateman’s character get black-out drunk and yet still muster the ability to spank one out with minimal “material” to aid him, but he also somehow magically recalls what happened that night 7 years later. Throw in a terrible (though cute) child actor and Jennifer Aniston in another generically Jennifer Aniston role, and there’s not much reason to check this one out.

In more recent news, I’ve had the opportunity to put up a few reviews over at GTBP, so check them out if you’re interested:

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Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 10:57 pm on September 29, 2010

The Town

Status: In theaters (opened 9/17/10)
Directed By: Ben Affleck
Written By: Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard
Cinematographer: Robert Elswit
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is from Charlestown, an area of Boston known for the amount of bank robbers per capita it sports. Doug’s a prime example: his father (Chris Cooper) was a stick-up man, and Doug is following in the family tradition. There’s a scene in The Town where Doug visits his old man in prison—it’s Cooper’s only scene in the film, but he’s amazing in it, as he always is—and it really drives the point home that not only is crime a way of life for these people, but there was never really any other option to begin with. The younger MacRay was good at hockey; he even got drafted. But the lifestyle he grew up around is like a magnetic force that he couldn’t pull away from.

Doug’s best friend is James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner). Jim did 9 years for murder, and now that he’s finally out, he’s itching for action. Renner is nearly the highlight of the film in this role; he’s a cocksure, tightly-wound spring, and you’re waiting for him to burst at any moment. His performance in The Hurt Locker was no fluke—he’s an actor whose portrayals have the kind of depth that sucks you in, making you root for him even though you know you shouldn’t be.

Doug has a history with Jim’s sister Krista (Blake Lively). She’s the kind of townie girl who I wish I could say I wasn’t all too familiar with: a single mother with multiple substance-abuse problems, her kid has an idiotic name (“Shine” in this case) and you know she’s unfit to parent. Yet she, too, draws your sympathy. Blake Lively really shocked me in this role; she doesn’t play Krista as just a fine piece of ass—though she is, by all means, that—but also as a conflicted person who’s trying to find her own version of what’s right, and just can’t seem to get her sights set correctly.

There’s a theme here, and it’s no coincidence: The Town is a strongly character-driven piece, despite what its facade of being a cops-and-robbers movie might lead you to believe. It’s good at that, too, mind you—particularly with Jon Hamm heading up the side of the good guys as an FBI agent hot on the trail of Doug and Jim’s crew. But what sucks you in, what makes you care, is that the performances are across-the-board spectacular, and the characters are all so well-written that you feel like you know them right from the start, and you’ll root for them throughout.

There are three big heist scenes in the film, and they offer a nice progression. They also serve to bookend the story and anchor it in the middle with reminders of what these guys are really all about. They’re shot and edited with the virtuosity you’d come to expect from a director known for doing this type of thing, but here it’s Ben Affleck at the helm, and he owns it. Affleck loves Boston, and we all know that; there’s the expected aerial establishing shots, lovingly framed to show his home town in its best possible light. We see the Bunker Hill Bridge, and that too anchors the film, reminding us not only of the town that these characters can seemingly never leave, but also serving as a strong and effective metaphor for their plight in general.

The complication to this story—the rub, as it were—comes when Doug falls in love with the manager of the bank his crew robs in the film’s opening sequence. Claire (Rebecca Hall) is what the locals call a “toonie”: an out-of-town yuppie who’s come to Charlestown and doesn’t fit in, not that she’s really trying to. Doug sees her as his chance at escape, an opportunity to find a different life and to have somebody to find it with. For the character to work, you have to sympathize with him, and it’s hard not to: Hall plays Claire not as a naive country girl, but as a savvy and likable woman who just happens to have had some bad luck, and is willing to give something different a shot as a result. She’s not terribly far removed from Vicky, but Rebecca Hall is a versatile enough actress to use the same sort of down-to-earth charm we saw Woody Allen draw out of her so well, and add some additional depth to it.

Affleck the director loves Hall, too—maybe not as much as he loves Boston, but pretty close. He’s infatuated with shooting her in close-up, accentuating her toothy smile and drawing the audience in to the appeal his character sees in her. It’s an effective directorial style, and even if he does overuse it a bit, seeing Hall’s pretty face fill the frame provides for a nice contrast to the more chaotic action sequences.

I thought that Gone Baby Gone was a well-crafted film featuring great performances from a terrific cast; it’s impressive that Ben Affleck has already been able to progress even beyond that achievement with The Town. It’s another well-crafted film, one that also showcases the work of an extremely talented collection of actors. In their sophomore effort, though, Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard (working from a screenplay by Peter Craig) have upped their game; the story is more ambitious and more cohesive, and Affleck’s direction has risen to the challenge. This time he casts himself as the star, too, as if we needed any further evidence that the guy can do it all.

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Posted by mike in Drinking,Food,Sports at 8:31 pm on September 25, 2010

For week 2, we visited McTeague’s Saloon in what is generally considered Nob Hill, but it could also be the Tenderloin, or Civic Center/Downtown—it’s sort of right in the middle of the 3 (or 4) neighborhoods.

I’ve often said that Pete’s, our destination last week, is the only place in San Francisco that I’d consider to be a genuine sports bar. McTeague’s didn’t disprove that theory, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy ourselves.

Location **.5

McTeague's entrance McTeague’s is sort of in a no-man’s-land of public transportation. We took the BART to the Civic Center stop, but that only gets you halfway there. Our options were then to take a 20-30 minute walk, ride a bus up Van Ness, or take a cab. Wanting to ensure that we arrived before kickoff at 10:00am, we opted for the latter option. (After football—and a full 5-6 hours of drinking—to get home, we didn’t mind walking back to the BART stop.)

While it was a little less than convenient to get to, especially for those of us coming from outside of the city, once we arrived in the neighborhood McTeague’s started to score points. On and around the same block of Polk Street are multiple other bars, small restaurants, and quaint little shops. The biggest disappointment from the surroundings came when we found that the crepes place across the street was closed.

Layout and Coverage *

McTeague's layout McTeague’s is not very well laid-out for NFL Sundays. As you walk in, on the left is the bar, with several modest-sized LCD TVs above it, and on the right are tables and chairs. In the rear is a separate back bar, with a couple more TVs—two fairly large ones in the corners and two small ones behind the bar—as well as a couple of tables in the middle. This is where we situated ourselves.

They do have Sunday Ticket, and make a token effort to have all of the games on. When we settled in the back area, the bartender took notice of our attire (most of us are Bears fans, but this week one of our party was a Cowboys fan) and put the Bears-Cowboys game on one of the larger screens for us. Being in the smaller back bar, we were only able to keep tabs on 3 other games besides the main one we were watching, but they did have other games on out in the main bar area.

There were a couple of problems with the game coverage. First, as the Bears game was the local Fox game of the week, it was blacked out on the Sunday Ticket channel. It took a few minutes to locate the bartender and get him to change the channel once the game had started. This seems like something the employees and the establishment should be more on top of. Then, during the first half, a guy came in who seemed like he owned the place and started changing the channels around. He eventually put our game on the other of the two large screens, but it was annoying nonetheless. I feel like if he had a strong preference on which games were on which screens, then he should be there prior to kickoff. Otherwise, don’t screw with the TVs while your customers are watching them.

Finally, at one point it seemed that the DirecTV feed went out, and all of their receivers reset themselves. This is something I’m all too familiar with, unfortunately; whether it was the bar’s fault or not I can’t say, but it resulted in 10 minutes of nothing to watch on any of the screens in the middle of the second half of the early games.

Crowd **

Part of the reason we chose to go to McTeague’s this week was because the Bears were playing the Cowboys, and this is sort of a Texas bar. We thought it’d be fun to go into enemy territory, as it were.

While there were a handful of Cowboys fans there, it was clear that this wasn’t a big place to watch Cowboys games, which we found disappointing. (McTeague’s is a University of Texas bar, it turns out—they have Longhorns signage all around, and apparently having Texas fans doesn’t necessarily translate into also having Cowboys fans.)

By the second quarter of the game, though, the crowd had filled in, and was a fairly rowdy bunch. Many people gathered in the back area where we were sitting, standing around to watch the games that were shown there. We had some fun back-and-forth with one particularly boisterous Cowboys fan, which was exactly what we were looking for. The poor layout of the bar in general made it difficult to get to the bathroom or to go outside during commercials, but the fun in this whole endeavor comes from sharing in the football-watching with strangers, and we did accomplish that.

Food and Drinks *.5

Lone Star beers The good thing about McTeague’s being a Texas bar is that they serve Lone Star beer. Not because the beer is any good, but because it’s $2 all day every day, which suited us quite well. Additionally, on NFL Sundays, they have Coors Light bottles for $2. Between the two, we were well-covered in terms of being able to drink beer all day without spending much money.

They also had some pretty cheap food specials. These, too, weren’t exactly what I’d call “good,” but for the money they were a good deal. $2 tacos is the special for football, so that’s what we went with. We also got a plate of nachos for the table. The best part of this meal was the nacho cheese sauce on the nachos: it was that kind of unholy glowing-yellow sauce that you normally find in a convenience store, except it was more creamy and thus even better. The tacos were serviceable; they were filled with a good amount of meat (most of us got pork, as they were out of steak), although there was no cheese on them, which I found disappointing.

The theme of the food and beverages seemed to be “low-class,” which fits with my mental stereotype of a Texas-style bar, but also fits well with my propensity to over-indulge. We definitely spent significantly less money than we did in week 1, and that’s a good thing.

Intangibles **.5

Gold Tooth The #1 reason McTeague’s was high on my list of places to visit is because it’s named after the seminal 1899 Frank Norris novel. Literary references always score big points in my book, regardless of where they show up. Fittingly, the bar had a gold tooth hanging out front, just as the title character’s Dental Parlors on Polk Street sports in the book. They also had a smaller gold tooth hanging inside, which I thought of as a fitting stand-in for a disco ball. Both teeth were sort of shitty-looking, as if the owner made and spray-painted them in his garage, but I still liked the touch.

Coffin lid decor The decoration gets a little weirder, though. Behind the bar, hanging from the ceiling, are hand-painted coffin lids of deceased musicians and other figures (such as Hunter S. Thompson). I took an admittedly blurry picture of the Rick James and Kurt Cobain coffin-tops, which you can see at left, but you can see a couple of better examples at Yelp (Cobain and Thompson, for instance). I didn’t get an explanation for these. They seem to be somebody’s art project, and the collection is pretty random, other than the fact that most of them are musicians (another one I recall was Janis Joplin).

While the bar itself was nice enough, and fairly clean, the bathrooms were dingy and not well-kept. They did have paper towels, at least. Like the rest of the bar, they weren’t very well laid-out, making for a couple of awkward moments. On the plus side, the restrooms were located in the back near the rear bar where we were seated, so we had easy access to them.

Shots on our table The best option when spending a whole day in a bar is to befriend the bartender, and while we were focused on the games and didn’t spend a lot of time chatting, we definitely got on the good side of ours. He commented multiple times on how we were his “best drinkers” that day, which I suppose is a complement. We’ve definitely found that our Midwestern enjoyment of excuses to drink during sunlight hours is not something you commonly find out here. While this means it’s harder to find people to join us in such endeavors, it does have the upside of making our antics seem a bit more impressive and unusual. So I guess we stand out. At any rate, during the later games, the bartender offered to buy us a shot, and poured them generously. I selected Jameson, and you could say that we enjoyed it.

Summary

We found McTeague’s to be a decent bar, although nothing special. For NFL-watching, it’s definitely not ideal, but we made do. When we arrived, they still had EPL games finishing up, and apparently it’s a good soccer bar in general. Our friends said that it’s a place they’ve enjoyed on many a Friday or Saturday night, but we found that for Sundays it’s not the best. Still, we had a good time, and I’m glad to have seen it.

Next week, as the Bears play on Monday Night Football, we’re going to do something a little different. We’ll take Sunday off, and I’ll actually try to get my money’s worth out of the Sunday Ticket package.

Location: **.5
Layout and Coverage: *
Crowd: **
Food and Drinks: *.5
Intangibles: **.5

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Posted by mike in Internet,News at 10:42 pm on September 16, 2010

For about a week and a half now, I’ve been moonlighting at another blog called Get the Big Picture. I’m contributing daily articles on movie news, and starting tomorrow you’ll be seeing the occasional review of mine showing up there as well.

While I’m excited to be writing for a much wider audience, my hope is that I don’t neglect my own blog because of it (at least, not any more than I already do). There’s a writing staff at Get the Big Picture of 5 or 6 people, and I’m really a tertiary reviewer at this point, so the primary source for my reviews will still be right here at 1000 Monkeys. I’ll still link any reviews I post there from my reviews database, so searches will result in write-ups of every movie I see no matter where it’s posted. I intend to post a link here any time one of my reviews goes up over there, too.

My real goal for this site is to get back to it being more of a personal blog, with a wider range of topics covered. I think having a separate, purely movie-related outlet that I post to should help with this.

The Big Picture uses a different ratings scale than I do, so I’ve developed a handy equivalence chart for easy reference:

Big Picture Rating 1000 Monkeys Rating(s) Brief Description
Five Damn Dirty Apes **** Phenomenal
Four Damn Dirty Apes ***.5 Great
Three Damn Dirty Apes ***
**.5
Good /
Pretty Good
Two Damn Dirty Apes **
*.5
Okay /
Not Very Good
One Damn Dirty Ape *
.5
Pretty Bad /
Bad
No Damn Dirty Apes 0 Really Bad

Note that the Damn Dirty Apes really belong to Colin, the sole writer for The Big Picture up until a couple of weeks ago (who has moved on), so we’ll be changing to something new soon. The zero-through-five scale will most likely remain the same, though.

You can see all of the articles and reviews I’ve posted at Get the Big Picture here. Feedback remains the best reward for any sort of writing, so check it out if you get a chance and let me know what you think.

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Posted by mike in Drinking,Food,Sports at 11:33 pm on September 13, 2010

This is our third NFL season spent in the Bay Area, so we’ve decided it’s time to get out of the house a bit and find the ultimate San Francisco football bar at which to watch games on Sundays. Megan and I, along with some friends, are planning to spend each Sunday this fall exploring a different bar, and I’m intending to report on and rate each one. Our primary goal is to find a Bears bar, but we’re open to anything that makes for a good place to watch football in general.

Being as this was opening week, we didn’t want to stray too far into the unfamiliar while establishing our new Sunday routine, so we stuck with something we know: Pete’s Tavern in Mission Bay, right across the street from AT&T Park. Pete’s is familiar to us not only as a favorite Giants pre- and post-game hangout, but also because 66% of our group (two of the three couples) lives in the Avalon apartments just a couple of blocks away.

I’ve devised a set of 5 criteria that I’ll use to judge the places we visit: Location, Layout and Coverage, Crowd, Food and Drink, and Intangibles. This being week 1, I’ll explain what I mean by each of these along the way. Because I’m lazy, I’m using the same star ratings here that I use for my movie reviews, but obviously my explanations don’t apply here; what’s important to know is that it’s a 4-star scale.

Location ***

There are two main factors that contribute to my judgment of how good a bar’s location is. First, since Megan and I live outside of the city, and because we’re going to be spending all day drinking there, it needs to be accessible by public transportation. Second, it needs to be in a good neighborhood; by this, I don’t mean an area without much crime (although that’s nice too), I mean somewhere with a lot of like-minded people, as well as other options for bar-hopping in case our primary choice doesn’t suit our needs. Having options for places to eat in the vicinity is a plus, too.

Pete’s is conveniently located 2 blocks away from the 4th and King St Caltrain stop. This makes it really easy to get to for those of us coming from outside of the city. The only downside is that the Caltrain only stops in South San Francisco (where we’re coming from) once an hour, so in order to arrive in time for kickoff, we have to catch the train at 9:08am. While this makes for an early morning, it puts us at the bar in time for them to open the doors at 9:45am.

The neighborhood is a little lacking in other options, but Pete’s is a known quantity, and when we go there the odds of having to come up with a backup plan are low. So it mostly gets a pass on this point, even though if we chose to leave Pete’s and go somewhere else, it’d likely involve a short cab ride.

Layout and Coverage **.5

Being as our primary purpose here is to watch football—and given that I’m wasting the $300 I spend annually on Sunday Ticket by going to a bar in the first place—any location we try has to have every game on. This means they must have many TVs, they better all be HD, and they need to have a barstaff that’s savvy enough to make sure every game is viewable. (I can’t tell you how many bars I’ve been to in the Bay Area where the employees have no idea how to find a game on TV when requested—never mind that a true sports bar should preempt the need for such a request in the first place.) On NFL Sundays, the more games I can see at once, the better—I’ve got a lot of fantasy players and various bets that need monitoring.

Pete’s has a fantastic setup for watching sports in general. They have two huge projection screens, and several large LCDs well-distributed throughout the bar. Everything is in HD. The horseshoe shape lends itself well to providing good viewing angles for several screens at once. They have Sunday Ticket, and their bartenders are knowledgeable sports fans who know enough to make sure that every game is on at least one screen.

They get docked points for only having a single TV with the Bears game on it, despite our group’s protestations to the contrary. They chose the Patriots-Bengals game to get the primary projection screen and the PA system, which I found to be a surprising selection, but not necessarily a bad one. Most other games were on two screens at opposite sides of the room, meaning everybody present had a pretty good chance of being able to see the game they most wanted to watch.

They also have a sizable upstairs area with additional screens, but this was blocked off for a 49ers party (which, presumably, started around 1:00pm). By the time the afternoon games rolled around, I didn’t notice whether anybody was up there or not, but for the first 3 hours we were there it definitely seemed like a waste of space.

Crowd ***

A good football bar crowd is hard to find: there’s a fine balance that must be achieved. It’s fun to have representatives from many teams present, and in a city like San Francisco where there are so many transplants, this part is almost a given. While it’s enjoyable to have people rooting for every team (or close to it), you don’t want any one group of fans to overpower the others, unless you’re at a place that explicitly identifies itself as a bar for that team’s fans. As far as capacity goes, while half the fun of going to a bar to watch games is experiencing NFL Sunday with strangers, I don’t like the place to be too packed. A good layout has a lot to do with this, too, but a place that packs people in is going to get docked significantly—as is a place that tends to attract overly-boisterous assholes.

Being right across the street from AT&T Park, Pete’s is in an area that tends to live and die by the baseball season, and more specifically the Giants’ schedule. Since the Giants were in San Diego this weekend, there wasn’t a lot going on around the ballpark when we arrived. A small crowd (maybe 15 people) was gathered out front waiting for the doors to open, so we were able to have our pick of seats at the bar without having to feel like we were the only ones ordering beer in public at 10 o’clock in the morning.

We were pleasantly surprised by the number of Bears fans who filed in, taking up a large table on our side of the bar. This gave them a great view of the single TV dedicated to our game, but it also made the decision by the barstaff to not put the game on another screen more questionable. There were even a few Detroit fans there, and yet for some reason our game got the same status as the Miami-Buffalo game (which I’m pretty sure nobody was actually watching, aside from the occasional check on fantasy and gambling implications it might’ve had).

There were fans from several other teams, as is to be expected, and they were all courteous and friendly from what I saw. The overall ambiance was that of a general-purpose football party. I’m sure being the first week of the season has something to do with this, since nobody (other than Saints fans, maybe) has much justification to be overly cocky or boisterous. Still, though, the crowd was consistent with what I’ve seen every time I’ve been to Pete’s: passionate sports fans who are nonetheless fun to be around, even if they’re rooting for a different team than you.

Food and Drinks ***.5

As it’s a bar we’re going to, it should come as no surprise that we’re there to drink. Well, watch football, and drink. It’s really a 1a-1b situation, and I’m not sure which is which. So having a good selection of drinks—beer in particular—is important. Being a Midwesterner, I’m partial to Miller Lite. I think the old “Great Taste/Less Filling” slogan rings true: it tastes good, and I can drink it all day. But on the West Coast it’s sometimes hard to find my beer of choice, so that’s a big criteria for me. Cost is also a consideration, but this being San Francisco, it’s pretty safe to assume that everything will be expensive. Additionally, since we’re going to be there for several hours, food is an important factor. We’re most likely going to be looking for bar food, but quality bar food, and the service needs to be acceptable. Price is a consideration here as well, naturally.

Pete’s scores high marks on all counts. They have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 beers on tap, and many more available in bottles. Most beers are about $4, including Miller Lite (which they only have in bottles). This is surprisingly reasonable for the area (across the street during baseball games, you’ll pay $8.25 for a pint). They were also serving mimosas, the breakfast drink of choice for many, and while our party didn’t order any of these, many people around us did, and all seemed to really enjoy the option.

The food is fantastic. On Sunday mornings, Pete’s offers breakfast, and everybody I saw opting to go this route did not regret it. I had the huevos rancheros, and it was probably the best such plate I’ve ever eaten. They deep-fry the tortillas, making it a sort of breakfast-Mexican pizza. It was awesome. Megan waited a little longer and got the Western burger, which she reported was also terrific—and its grilled-beef smell was enjoyed by everybody in her immediate area, too. For additional dining options, there’s also the adjoining cantina (owned by the same people), Pedro’s. (The two establishments are connected, which has the added benefit of providing twice the restroom capacity.) Prices on food are quite reasonable; the average meal was about $10-11.

Intangibles ****

This category is for anything that’s not covered by the other four already mentioned above. It can include anything from quality of bartenders to cleanliness of the bathrooms.

In terms of intangibles, Pete’s can’t be beat. Partially due to the fact that the others in our group are regulars, but also simply as a general manner of course, we got impeccable service. The six of us sat at the bar and were never wanting for drinks. Our bill was surprisingly low when we finally left around 4 in the afternoon, and we had fun bantering with the ladies behind the bar the whole time we were there. They’re welcoming and friendly, and they know their sports.

Due to the NL West playoff race going on, there was a nice segue from the early football games into the Giants-Padres game, which got equal screen estate with the 49ers-Seahawks game. The crowd and atmosphere adapted into a decidedly San Francisco setting in the afternoon, and it’s fun to enjoy the games with the hometown fan base.

The final point in Pete’s favor is their bathrooms: while they’re downstairs, making for potentially dangerous stumbling on your way there and back, they’re extremely clean and have plenty of capacity. Whenever I’m at Pete’s, I find myself surprised and impressed by the clean, glistening chrome-handled sinks, and the preponderance of high-quality paper towels on and around them. It’s things like this that really make for a comfortable and enjoyable bar experience for me.

Summary

I already knew Pete’s as a great place to watch games, and NFL games are now included in that reputation. They have lots of screens and they know how to use them, the crowd was just about right, and the food, drinks, and service were all great. They’re not going to be our Bears bar of choice, but as a general-purpose football-watching bar, Pete’s is a definite winner.

Location: ***
Layout and Coverage: **.5
Crowd: ***
Food and Drinks: ***.5
Intangibles: ****

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Posted by mike in Film,Writing at 11:32 pm on September 9, 2010

I’ve got a couple of catch-up reviews to get to, but before doing so I wanted to revisit a couple of the thoughts I’d previously posted on Christopher Nolan’s Inception, in light of some insights I’ve gained from reading the shooting script.

  • I’d mentioned, in my confusion of how the dreams work, that Arthur tells Saito it’s his second-level dream they’re in. Arthur is shot, and yet the dream continues. This seems to have been a case of me incorrectly recalling the specifics of what was going on; in the script, it’s actually Nash who tells Saito they’re in his dream. This makes more sense, of course, as it is Nash who screwed up the detail of the carpet, and subsequently gets punished for it.
  • I was also unclear as to how the roles of dreamer and architect work and interact with each other. In fact, during the planning stages of the mission, Nolan mentions on two separate occasions that Ariadne is showing the details of her design to the dreamers in the background, while Cobb is explaining the mission in the foreground. The first instance is in New York (Yusuf’s dream):
    EXT. NEW YORK STREETS—DAY
    
    The team are in the middle of a DESERTED intersection.
    Ariadne is showing Yusuf aspects of the geography.
    
    			    EAMES
    	We could split the idea into emotional triggers,
    	and use one on each level.

    And the second is in the hotel (Arthur’s dream):

    INT. DESERTED HOTEL LOBBY—DAY
    
    The team sit on the steps of the large marble lobby,
    debating. Ariadne is showing Arthur the lobby.

    This was either lost in editing, or it was so subtle in the finished film that I completely missed it, but it does explain a bit, and fills in a gap that was annoying me. (Now the only thing that annoys me about the above is how Nolan, a Brit, uses collective nouns: “The team are…”)

  • I agreed with an opinion piece I’d referenced that the bizarre narrow alleyway in Mombasa may have been the clearest sign that the entire movie occurs within Cobb’s dream. While Nolan doesn’t spell it out explicitly in his screenplay, he does describe the way the crowds look at Cobb as he runs through the streets of Mombasa in the same manner he describes the “projections” looking at Ariadne during her dream-tutorial. On the folded streets of Paris:
    As they walk, Ariadne notices more and more of the
    projections STARING at her.

    Then on the bridge:

    People crossing the bridge STARE at Ariadne.  Several of
    them BUMP her shoulder as they pass.

    And finally:

    Cobb says nothing.  He stands there, staring at Ariadne.
    PEOPLE around her stop and look at her, hostile.
    
    			  COBB
    	Look, this isn't about me—
    
    Cobb reaches for Ariadne's arm, turns her to him–
    
    			 ARIADNE
    	Is that why you need me to build your dreams?
    
    A passerby GRABS Ariadne's shoulder–
    
    			  COBB
    	Leave her alone—
    
    More of the crowd join in, PULLING at Ariadne, holding her
    arms open– Cobb PULLS people off– the crowd PUSHES him
    away– 

    By comparison, when Cobb escapes from the cafe in Mombasa:

    Cobb stands up, PUSHES into the crowd– faces PEER at him–
    he moves, trying to blend– a SECOND BUSINESSMAN is there.

    And finally, when Cobb finds the alleyway:

    Cobb LOOKS left, right... CUTS LEFT into a narrow, CROWDED
    alley– the alley NARROWS TO A DEAD END.  Faces in the
    CROWD start to watch Cobb– PEOPLE start to SURROUND him–
    Cobb looks back the way he came– the two Businessmen are
    there, GUNS DRAWN–

    Maybe I’m looking too hard at this, but to me both sequences have the same tone of writing. Particularly in Mombasa, it seems Nolan is going to great lengths to draw attention in his script to the behavior of the crowds, which is the same as the behavior of projections that “feel the foreign nature of the dreamer” and attack “like white blood cells fighting an infection.”

  • The line I couldn’t catch that Arthur mumbles after losing a guard on the Penrose stairs is, “Paradox.”
  • Perhaps the most telling thing I learned from reading the Inception shooting script comes from the introduction, which consists of an interview of Christopher Nolan by his brother (and sometimes collaborator) Jonathan. Nolan says:

    I was definitely looking for a reason to impose rules in the story during the writing process. When I saw the first Matrix film, I thought it was really terrific, but I wasn’t sure I quite understood the limits on the powers of the characters who had become self-aware.

    I find it odd that Nolan contrasts his film with The Matrix and thinks that he has provided a more clear explanation of how his world works than the Wachowski brothers did. The only conclusion I can come to from this is that Nolan must actually have all of the specifics of how the world of Inception works straight in his mind, but he just wasn’t able to adequately convey that clarity on the page or in the completed film. It’s interesting to me that he chooses the same influence myself and others have compared his movie to, but arrives at the completely opposite conclusion. Obviously he’s biased, and like I said, it probably all makes sense to him, but what’s weird is that he thinks The Matrix—which I consider to contain one of the best expository introductions to a fantasy world ever put to film—actually doesn’t do a good job of explaining itself.

So I don’t know that this will be the last I have to say about Inception, but I’m glad to have been able to clear up some of my own confusion, and also to solidify some of the conclusions I’d drawn from my own analysis of the film. I’ve always been a big fan of using screenplays to help gain additional understanding of a movie, especially when the movie in question was written by the director. Check out Inception: The Shooting Script if you have the same interest.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 10:25 pm on September 8, 2010

Another NFL season is upon us, so it’s time to get my predictions out. This has become sort of my “psyching-up routine” (along with my annual “big league” fantasy draft). My picks from last year weren’t too far off for the regular season, although once again I was better on picking the AFC than I was with the NFC, which is weird because I watch far more NFC games. (This could, of course, be taken as yet another example of the theory that the more one thinks one knows about sports, the less one actually knows.)

For playoff teams, in the AFC I got 3 out of 4 of the division winners correct (New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego), and 1 out of the 2 Wild Card teams (Baltimore). 4-for-6 isn’t too shabby.

In the NFC, however, I only picked one division winner correctly (New Orleans), although I had the two NFC East playoff teams (Dallas and Philadelphia) picked, I just had their finishing order reversed. So only 3-for-6 in the NFC.

And of course, both of my Super Bowl teams—Philadelphia and San Diego—lost their first playoff game last year.

Time to see if I can do better. Here are my predictions for final standings and records, with playoff teams and winners in bold as usual.

AFC
North South
Cincinnati 11-5 Tennessee 11-5
Baltimore 10-6 Indianapolis 10-6
Pittsburgh 9-7 Houston 9-7
Cleveland 5-11 Jacksonville 4-12
 
West East
San Diego 10-6 Miami 11-5
Denver 9-7 New England 9-7
Kansas City 7-9 New York 8-8
Oakland 4-12 Buffalo 2-14
 
AFC Championship
Cincinnati
over
Tennessee
 
NFC
North South
Green Bay 12-4 New Orleans 13-3
Minnesota 9-7 Atlanta 10-6
Chicago 6-10 Tampa Bay 9-7
Detroit 4-12 Carolina 4-12
 
West East
San Francisco 10-6 Dallas 14-2
Seattle 7-9 New York 9-7
Arizona 4-12 Philadelphia 7-9
Saint Louis 3-13 Washington 6-10
 
NFC Championship
Dallas
over
New Orleans
 
 
Super Bowl XLV
Super Bowl XLV
Dallas
over
Cincinnati

Also as usual, I have a few thoughts to add to the above:

  • I think Indianapolis will have a hard time overcoming the Super Bowl losers’ hangover, but they’re one team that should be able to do it.
  • While Seattle really has none of the requisite pieces to win more than about 2 games in a season, don’t underestimate the New Coach Factor. They’ll surprise, but only a little.
  • The NFC West is really San Francisco’s to lose. This team reminds me a lot of the 2006 Bears: great defense, solid running game, good enough offensive line and receivers to overcome a nobody quarterback. And no other team in the division has any business sporting a winning record by season’s end.
  • I think it’s time for Brett Favre to go out with a whimper, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’ll give him enough credit to believe that he can will the Vikings into the playoffs, but no further.
  • It won’t surprise me if Dallas becomes the first Super Bowl host team to win the Lombardi trophy at home. But it won’t surprise me if they find a way to squander all of their talent, either. Again.
  • Coaches potentially on their farewell tours this year: Lovie Smith (Bears), Tom Cable (Raiders), Jack Del Rio (Jaguars), John Fox (Panthers), and maybe Josh McDaniels (Broncos).
  • I know it’s blasphemous to pick the Patriots to miss the playoffs, but they are just old at this point, so I figure something’ll happen to ruin their perennial hopes.
  • While I think the Saints and Cowboys will dominate the NFC, the AFC seems much more wide-open this year than it has been in recent seasons. Of course, I’m probably wrong on both accounts… as usual.

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