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Movie Review: Taken

Image result for taken movie poster free useTaken is a stud of a film, plain and simple. A kidnapping carousel with a dominant presence is what the doctor ordered back in 2008. French creationist Luc Besson is one of the best international names in the industry. Most of his filmography has not been visited by American audiences but those that have debuted in the U.S. have been quite a hit.

Besson gets the majority of the credit for Taken, not director Pierre Morel, a cinematographer whose directing gigs have been less than thrilling. Go watch The Gunman and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

No, what stands out about Taken is not the cinematography, though there are nice framing shots.

It’s not that action, although it does give the movie an adrenaline shot on more than one occasion.

The script, coupled with Neeson’s character delivery, is what you remember.

Taken lives on in the minds of moviegoers for this.

That is by far the best sequence in Taken. It does not go downhill from there but it never reaches that point again. That phone call with his daughter is Bryan Mills at his most vulnerable and yet also at his most composed and most threatening. Halfway through, it feels like Neeson is ready to throw his phone to the side and grab the camera with outstretched hands, looking into the very soul of a man he has met many times before. His familiarity with the type of creature he’s conversing with is prevalent. That monster on the other end of the call doesn’t know it but he just released Bryan Mills’ monster and his is far smarter, chronically diligent and lethal without hesitation.

In most scenes where a father was talking to the man who just kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter halfway across the world in one of the largest metropolises on planet Earth, you would greatly sympathize with the father. By the end of that phone call, you don’t feel sympathetic for Bryan Mills. You feel sympathy for the guy on the other end who just opened the gates to Hell.

We don’t know who Mills is at this point in the movie. We know he served his country and has military experience, that his occupation cost him his marriage and time with the love of his world, his daughter, and we know that doubt and forlorn sadness has crept up to him following his retirement. The opening sequences of the thriller do a solid job casting Mills as a figure for which we can carry empathy.

The Olympus of the film makes us feel for anyone dumb enough to get in his way. A mere two minutes of screen time flips our perception of our star. He has trials like we do. He has suffered. Throw him in a den of wolves though and suddenly it’s a crib of Mills.

He sees the world through a different lens. His ex-wife mistakes his knowledge for paranoia. Her comeuppance comes shortly after.

And none of all this happens unless Luc Besson writes down a few paragraphs. Besson is primarily known as a visionary (he’s made a career out of displaying artwork on film rolls) but lets his pen strokes do the painting here. That scene is gripping and a thesis for the film. Remove it and Taken loses a substantial amount of emotional investment and character acceleration.

With that scene, Mills becomes an element of darkness, an agent of terror, wholly justified and unquestioned by his audience. He is karma itself.

I really can’t say enough about that scene. It is one of the best monologues action films have had to offer in the last decade.

From there, it’s Mills doing what he does best.

Besson drags out the tension in his script, glazing the piece with emotional rigor. There aren’t a lot of plateaus in this film. It’s a two-hour heartbeat of fjords and highlands. You will find no clean pastures here.

I couldn’t find the whole segment but the introduction of this set is terse and tense. You can almost see the realization creep into his face.

The crafting of this character and this tone is masterfully done. Besson is careful not to stoke the fires of xenophobia, though I’m sure some will take that message away from this anyway. Instead, he showcases the corruption that the world is all too familiar with. It’s almost expected at this point. Mills isn’t just fighting the people who took his daughter. He’s fighting the system that prefers to keep everything quiet and unexciting. The schemers, as one great character once said.

At the end of the day, you know Mills is going to save his daughter, so there is some predictability there. The film actually lacks a strong villain. Villainy as a whole fills in as a stand-in but doesn’t serve as the most accurate counterweight to the super agent Neeson delivers, though the one man against the system style does benefit the film’s vision. Fight choreography is solid throughout and Morel deserves credit for not cutting it to death as some novice directors are known to do. Too many cuts can really take wind out of the sails. This final archive is well done.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the Woods)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Wind RiverTommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great Wall)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Taken: 90.

Hopefully sooner rather than later I will have my next installment of Winners And Losers (WAL) up. I look forward to resurrecting that series. Until then, this gets a link to WAL Round 2 as a solid win. Taken is a rendezvous through human trafficking, espionage and some superb character writing from Besson. A must-watch if you haven’t seen this in the last decade.

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Movie Review: High-Rise

Image result for high-rise movie poster free useI hated High-Rise the first time I watched it and I hate it even more now.

The only benefit to finishing it is being able to never have to watch it again for this archive. It is a callous work based on a British dystopian novel. I may go back to read that piece of literature so I can do a segment for my Book Vs. Film series, but I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that J.G. Ballard would be hard-pressed to create parchment as agonizing as Ben Wheatley’s excuse for a project.

High-Rise is a society entirely encompassed in a skyscraper. There’s a supermarket, doctor, dentist, pool, gym, parties on seemingly every floor. Aside from leaving for work, there’s no reason to leave. This blueprint was crafted as a utopia, an image of a paradise revolving around a close-knit community. It is also a foreshadowing of the story of Icarus and the Tower of Babel.

Tom Hiddleston’s Robert applied for a residency to get a fresh start. He’s self-sufficient, reserved and socially inexperienced but you get the feeling something is going on in that head of his. He’s a planner, his eyes set on the next step in the ladder, whatever that ladder may be.

This outlook makes him a perfect match for Jeremy Irons’ Anthony Royal, the architect of this establishment. Royal’s vision is complex but passionate. It is an example of looking up before seeing where your feet are.

From there, most interest that the film gathers is left moot as it dives into obscurity and then total madness. The lack of firm footing sends the tower into a struggle for resources. The power grid isn’t sustainable. There’s not enough food. Despite creating a vertical mansion, social superiority is established.

That’s about it. It’s a grating drag on one’s sensibilities and was one of the longer hours I’ve had to experience this movie year. Netflix says the second half was only one hour but it felt like three.

A film centered on social constructs and the animalistic side of humanity becomes so apathetic I wondered a couple of times if Wheatley knew he left the camera rolling. When it comes to film making, you should be able to look at every shot and determine a visual, auditory or narrative basis for it. When you notice takes that don’t, that’s lazy storytelling. That’s becoming fixating on a distraction. That’s what the editor’s table is for.

Despite a few strong thematic opportunities, Wheatley leaves his audience intellectually starved and emotionally despondent. A few tadpoles of dialogue are present in a diluted pool of potential relevant conversations.

Dystopian literature is often a forum on economics, political liability and human psychology. The human brain is a complex vessel, a set of neurons and thought patterns and emotion. High-Rise is frustrating because Wheatley makes humanity seem so basic when it is in fact the opposite.

It is visually discombobulating at times, to the point it feels like an acid trip, and not in an artistic fashion. Spending time talking about a piece of art that lacks so much of that very thing is difficult.

Void of character arc and absent of literary devices, the film compares to the story in that both are empty of elements.

High-Rise is derelict, never establishing its own reality. It is a blank canvas with stuff thrown at it. The canvas looked better unused. It’s an insult to film.

Time to watch the World Cup and get this garbage out of my mind.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the Woods)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Wind RiverTommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great Wall)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for High-Rise: 31.

An orgy of incompetence warrants no more of my time or mind. High-Rise is only high in its level of blatant mismanagement. A complete waste of a talented cast.

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Time to Take The Bell Down

Image result for leveon bell poster free useI’m done.

We all should be.

There’s only so much nonsense you can take before the phrase “I’ve had it up to here” should be utilized.

Le’Veon Bell has reached that point.

On the off-chance you’re still living under a rock in 2018, Le’Veon Bell is a professional football player, specifically, a running back, in the National Football League who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s very accomplished, carries superior talent and has become possibly the best in the world at what he does and so has asked to be paid as such. So far so good.

I, as well as most, completely sympathize with someone’s efforts being rewarded. We want to see our work and time appreciated and for us to be compensated as such. That is perfectly reasonable.

If you haven’t followed Bell’s saga because you’ve been under that rock, here’s a synopsis:

  • Bell is drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, the second back taken off the board.
  • Bell suffers a mid-foot sprain in his second preseason game, missing the first three weeks of the season. Despite that, Bell breaks legend Franco Harris’ rookie franchise record for yards from scrimmage (1,259).
  • Bell has a stellar 2014, finishing second in rushing yards and scrimmage yards behind DeMarco Murray, leads all backs in receiving and earns his first Pro-Bowl nod. Bell hyperextends his knee in the final contest of the regular season, missing the playoffs.
  • Bell is arrested with then-teammate LeGarrette Blount on DUI and marijuana possession charges. He’s suspended two games.
  • Bell’s 2015 season ends after suffering a torn MCL.
  • Bell sleeps through an alarm and misses a third drug test, which ends in another suspension, this time for three games.
  • Bell suffers a groin injury late in divisional round, leaving him mostly inactive for the Steelers’ championship loss against New England.
  • In 2017, Bell is named to his third Pro Bowl and amasses nearly 2,000 scrimmage yards.
  • Days before the team’s playoff match with Jacksonville, Bell says he would consider retiring if the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him for a second consecutive campaign. The previous offseason, Bell turned down a five-year contract that would have paid him an annual average value, or AAV, of 12. It included 30 million for his first two seasons and 42 for his first three, an unprecedented evaluation for a running back. Even Adrian Peterson’s extension back in 2011, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, had an AAV of 9.6. Bell turned down 12.

There are a couple of things you should take note of in the above section:

  1. Le’Veon Bell is good at running back.
  2. Le’Veon Bell has disciplinary issues.
  3. Le’Veon Bell has an injury history.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at some headlines:

“LE’VEON BELL REPORTEDLY WANTS $17 MILLION A YEAR”

“LE’VEON BELL WANTS TO BE PAID AS TOP RB AND NO 2 WR”

“LE’VEON BELL WANTS $17 MILLION A YEAR FROM STEELERS LIKE ANTONIO BROWN”

 

I wish I could say I laughed when I saw these. I really do.

I didn’t.

You see, reader from under the rock, Le’Veon Bell has an ego.

That’s fine. He’s Le’Veon Bell. He’s really good at running back.

However, I’m talking about Le’Veon Bell’s ego. Le’Veon Bell’s ego is huge. Le’Veon Bell has been surrounded by people who tell him he’s God’s gift to the world.

This is also fine. Parents tell this to their children every day before they send them off to school, usually to try to give them a much-needed boost of confidence but ostensibly because they have no idea how to parent. They figure if they make them confident, everything will fall into place.

Bell is a product of what happens when this parenting technique goes horribly wrong. Le’Veon believes himself to be so talented that he rationalizes he should be paid as two different people, both a top running back and a two-spot receiver, but also believes he’s worth as much as the league’s best pass catcher, Antonio Brown. Now, reader under a rock, feel free to google Antonio Brown on YouTube to get to know the guy a little bit. I actually talked about him in my One Team, One Jersey series, where I talk about each football team and decided what jersey I would want from that team. (Insert shameless plug here).

Despite the fact that one more slip-up in the drug department could warrant a long-term suspension and Bell’s struggle to play a full 16-game spread, both of which are rather large red flags, Bell thinks he’s worth $17 million a year.

 

Rather than mock Bell for another couple paragraphs, I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s what any sportswriter or fan should do. Let’s take a look at the evidence and give the guy a fair trial, shall we?

Let’s take a look at salary cap figures, just to get an idea of how good Le’Veon thinks he is.

Prior to this offseason, the largest cap hit for any running back in the league was LeSean McCoy at 8.95. Even after all of the signings this spring, Jerick McKinnon’s 2018 cap hit is 10.5 after signing a four-year, $30 million deal to become the starting tailback of San Francisco. His AAV? 7.5. A reminder that Bell is asking for 17.

The highest AAV for a running back is 8.25. That number belongs to Devonta Freeman, who in August signed a five-year extension for $41.25.

A reminder: Bell wants an AAV of 17.

In 2018, only two backs will have an AAV of 8 or more: Freeman and standout LeSean McCoy. Add McKinnon and you get the only three who are making more than 7 per. Le’Veon Bell will play on the franchise tag and will make $14.5, meaning he’s making more than double the pay of almost every running back in professional football. If he had signed that extension, that five-year, $60 million offer, Bell would be making more than double what every running back in the league is making with the exception of the three above plus Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Lamar Miller. (Fournette and Elliott are still on their rookie deals.)

For context, learner under the rock, the running back market has not increased over the last few seasons. It is cemented in stone at this point that only the very best running backs see close to no depreciation once they hit 30. Backs touch the ball more than any player other than a quarterback and take a lot of punishment because of it. Due to that, most backs are out of the league once they near or surpass 30 years of age. Only the gridiron gods can keep their game together and even then, sometimes those generational talents begin to fade away.

This is why Bell wants paid so much. He knows what we all do: his career will end before most other athletes from his draft class because of the position he plays.

With that said, Bell wants double the next guy. His latest evaluation of $17 million AAV means he believes he’s worth double any back in the NFL. It takes an extraordinary amount of arrogance to make that claim, but it’s only arrogance if it’s not true. So let’s find out if it is.

 

In five seasons, Bell has amassed 5,336 yards rushing and 2,660 yards receiving for a net total of 7,996. He’s accomplished this in 62 games for a per game average of 128.96 yards, a statistic that Bell has paraded around a number of times to prove his worth. That 128.96 is one of the best numbers in NFL history, currently at the top of the list, though many, including me, doubt that number’s sustainability. Hall of Fame players have seen similar numbers in their early years before seeing their numbers teeter off on the back-end. The great Jim Brown is right behind Bell at 125.5 and not only did he play in a less organized era when football was still very rudimentary, Brown retired at 29. We never got to see his play diminish. Even Barry Sanders, who retired at 30, posted 118.9 in his career, an incredible achievement that hasn’t come close to being duplicated. The closest are Terrell Davis and Adrian Peterson, who posted 113.9 and 112 respectively.

It is hard for any analyst to look at the players on this list, all of the greats, and believe the argument that Bell is greater than all of them.

Let’s pretend for a moment he is. Let’s compare him to some of the other younger talents in the NFL.

Taking a look at a player’s first few years, the same as Bell’s career length at this juncture, should give us an idea of how comparable or incomparable he is.

 

Le’Veon Bell 62 games, 62 started 5,336/2,660/7,996/128.96/128.96 (rushing/receiving/total/yards per game/yards per game started)

Devonta Freeman 61 games, 43 started 3,248/1,582/4,830/79.18/112.33

LeSean McCoy 74 games, 60 started 5,473/2,127/7,600/102.73/126.66

Frank Gore 73 games, 60 started 5,561/1,841/7,402/101.40/123.37

 

Adrian Peterson 73 games, 66 started 6,752/1,170/7,922/108.52/120.03

LaDainian Tomlinson 79 games, 79 started 7,361/2,292/9,653/122.19/122.19

Edgerrin James 65 games, 65 started 6,172/2,019/8,191/126.02/126.02

 

If we look at three comparable players from his current era, we see Bell’s numbers are comparable to even someone like Frank Gore, who during his early years played in the garbage fire that was San Francisco. While Bell’s receiving numbers are higher than any player’s on this list, there have been players who have done more on the ground in recent years and some by a wide margin. An additional five to ten yards simply doesn’t make you worth double the next guy. It’s just basic economics.

I also compiled a list of three Hall of Famers (James should get in sooner rather than later) and you’ll see his numbers are comparable.

“Wait, how can even Devonta Freeman, who hasn’t done anything crazy special in his career, still be putting up numbers in the same ballpark as LT? And how did Frank Gore average a little under five yards less in his first five years than Le’Veon Bell?”

Honestly, it’s because the difference between a very good and great running back often aren’t chasms apart. While the game has evolved away from the run game, the best backs in the league can still get it done. Look no further than LeSean McCoy, who has made a great career into a possible Canton trip. Look no further than Edgerrin James, who put up Bell-level production while Peyton Manning was performing surgery on NFL defenses. Look no further than Frank Gore, who played with a new offensive coordinator literally every season and still put up Pro-Bowl level numbers.

Le’Veon Bell has been gifted a top-five offensive line, Hall of Fame quarterback and the best receiver in football.

Frank Gore played with Antonio Bryant and pre-resurrection Alex Smith.

Hell, if we take out Gore’s rookie year, when he started only one game and show just his second through fifth seasons, when he started every game he played in, his stat line looks like this:

Frank Gore 59 games, 59 started 4,953/1,700/6,653/112.76/112.76

112 yards per game behind the San Francisco 49ers line of the mid 2000’s is incredible value. A player of Bell’s talent is almost expected to mimic those numbers behind a great offensive line.

For transparency’s sake, what if we needle some of these stats down to make a more accurate sample size.

LeSean McCoy 58 games, 56 started 4856/1819/6,675/115.09/119.20

At 115 yards per game, McCoy was at a per game average slightly behind Barry Sanders, yet was only paid $8 million in AAV. Why is that? Let’s take a closer look.

 

McCoy, in 2017, put up 1,586 yards from scrimmage. That means McCoy was paid $4,886.51 per yard by cap hit. Not a bad pay-day.

Todd Gurley won Offensive Player of the Year last season, accruing 2,093 yards. Still on his rookie deal, that means Gurley was paid…$808.24 per yard?

This, lad under the rock, is called the salary cap.

You see, to make the playing field fair, the suits instituted a salary cap, meaning there was a limit put in place to what a team could spend on its players. This led to a more competitive board and to new philosophies regarding team building. One of those philosophies is not spending a bazillion dollars on one player.

When it became apparent how difficult it was to find an excellent passer, teams assigned higher value to that position, the same way that teams starting pouring money into the left tackle spot after Lawrence Taylor killed Joe Theismann. (You probably don’t get that reference. Sorry. Here’s a link.)

So when teams started to find their running backs slowing down and coupled that with the evolution of pass-happy offenses, executives, and therefore the market, determined the running back position was less valuable.

In the 2016 season, Aaron Rodgers piled a total of 4,797 yards during a year in which he was paid $12.6 million, which means $2,626.64 per yard. By cap hit? $4065.04. For those who struggle with math, $4,065 is less than $4,886. Don’t worry. Bell’s number figures to be a lot higher than that.

 

A base salary of $17 million in 2018 would put him sixth in the NFL in AAV behind Kirk Cousins’ new deal, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, DeMarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah. (It’s worth noting that Lawrence and Ansah are also playing on the franchise tag this upcoming season.)

Not only that, if Bell made $17 million in cash in 2018, that would put him one spot outside the top 25 highest-paid players in the NFL, a majority of which came from this most recent offseason. (If you don’t know, human under the rock, the offseason is when teams pay exorbitant prices to get players to join their team). McKinnon’s new signing will earn him $12 in 2018, good for 62nd in the league in total net earnings. To get to the next back, you have to scroll for half of your lifespan all the way down to 246, where LeSean McCoy’s $6.325 sits.

Which means, using our math skills, that Bell is looking to make nearly triple what LeSean McCoy is making despite averaging about ten more yards a game on a far better offensive unit.

I guess you have to ask yourself: Is ten more yards worth an additional $11 million?

No. No, it’s not.

Is it worth the additional $9 million in AAV Bell is looking for?

No. No, it’s not.

At 1,946 scrimmage yards last year at the figure Bell wants, he would have been paid $8,735.87 a yard by cap hit. Why would anyone pay nearly $9,000 a yard when they can get the same production for less than $5?

Yes, third-down yards carry more value. Yes, fourth-quarter yards carry more value. Sadly, I don’t have the resources to look at those numbers. Given the numbers at our disposal, is it possible Bell is worth that much more than the next guy?

No. No, it is not.

This isn’t rocket science, my new friend. It’s basic math.

It’s now come to my attention that you probably don’t understand that expression. My apologies. Will have to get to that later.

To make matters worse, Bell has picked up a shovel and started digging his own grave with social media, accusing fans and the media of painting him as a villain. It was one of the most tone-deaf uses of social media yet displayed in 2018. No one was bashing Bell’s performance. They were tortured by his unabated greed. As one media member commented, “Look down, Le’Veon. You’re the one holding the paintbrush.”

Le’Veon has not only made his tenure with the Steelers continuing beyond this season as improbable as a lottery winner, he’s also tarnished his reputation and image by decrying those who believe his numbers to be inaccurate, even if they are, factually, inaccurate. General annoyance with his antics has turned into the type of frustration a parent has when they’re forced to watch their child ignore their advice and run their head into a wall. I’m completely done with Le’Veon and so is much of this city. Annoyance has transformed to rage and now dissolved into complete apathy. I don’t care about Bell and I can’t wait when he’s off this roster.

I hope you’ve enjoyed escaping from under the rock, my new friend. The only one that’s still under there now is Le’Veon.

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Movie Review: Wind River

Image result for wind river movie poster free useAfter writing Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan was reportedly the latest prodigy in the streets of theater. My film compadres were saying it, the critics were parading it and I decided to pull this one out and see if the tales were true. I plan to see the two previously mentioned works as well so I can make an educated opinion.

Boy, has the Sheridan experiment not gotten off to a good start. Wind River is a stalling truck caught in a snow drift. It surveys its landscape and the harsh life all who remain suffer but also can’t help being a funeral that’s surprisingly hard to empathize with. You almost feel bad being so disconnected from it but the project is so barren that you feel like you’re mourning the life of emptiness itself.

A murder on an Indian Reservation in the void of Wyoming should carry a tempo that mimics a trudge through the storm but the pacing is so stagnant that one can’t help but continue to flick their head around to see if they’ve moved at all in the last 20 minutes. The phrase is “the tortoise wins the race” but this reptile is dead on arrival. I was very patient with this film, and as someone who’s already very patient, that meant giving this picture a lot of leeway. My brethren gave this film high praise and so I waited for it to move. I poked it a few times before flipping a table and pronouncing, “This thing’s dead, goddammit!”

Wind River doesn’t make a sound. It is eerily quiet, but after days of inaction, leads to a walk through a morgue rather than an intense murder mystery suffocating in a tundra. Jeremy Renner can work on his cowboy look all night long but it’s still not gonna make Wind River a natural disaster even remotely interesting. Imagine wandering through a hurricane and giving zero cares in the world, thoroughly disinterested by the day’s proceedings like a preoccupied millenial, except in this case you’re grazing through the least exciting storm known to man that still somehow earns the title “hurricane.” That’s Wind River.

That was overdramatic even for me. Wind River is not the least exciting storm ever. That would garner it an accolade.

Renner and Elizabeth Olsen struggle to do much with a story that is starved of dialogue and greatly lacking in the “stuff to do” department. The account of a pillage is dragged across a cheese grater for nearly two hours. It’s a story that has been stretched too far. I’m not sure if Sheridan had a cramp in his pen hand or struggles with thoughts that exist outside a movie’s borders. I’ve watched more entertaining episodes of Law and Order: SVU.

It’s not complex enough to warrant a feature-length work and it shows in the final cut. The flatness of this movie cannot be overstated. It is exceptionally dull.

A knife without edge offers little tenacity and Wind River doesn’t dazzle your eye either. As much as I enjoy watching Jeremy Renner’s stunt double bounce on a snowmobile, the organic wilderness around you is begging for a pedestal. The visual department fails to capture the aged relic of the past, one of the pieces that has gone mostly untouched by the modern world. A blistering behemoth with a personality disorder, regularly fluctuating between storm and calm, is underappreciated here. There are a few select shots which grant us a brief showcase, but we should be engulfed in the black hole, disturbed by the unknown and carry a caged paranoia.

Wind River is frustrating because it has an avenue for success. Similar to The Road, it has ample opportunity to display color palette and lighting as well as sound design. It forgoes audible creation, deciding on unnerving silence that doesn’t harness fear as much as it thinks it does and displays inexperience in its visual carving, leaving the film neither smooth nor fine-tuned with sharp edges. It looks like a log that was hacked by a teenager with a chainsaw. It wasn’t done out of rage. It was performed by an unguided hand.

Renner’s lead lacks the composite of originality and fronts a frontiersman with little bite and less bark. With an inability to stir intrigue and Olsen being almost entirely useless as a rookie on the scene, Wind River‘s character output is anemic. It will lose its grip on viewers early. The public is far more impatient than I am.

With little chill, Wind River is fully reliant on Renner, who in my experience doesn’t possess that level of talent. The only development of note is the hunter being the victim of a hunt himself. There’s not enough character molding going on here.

You can tell Sheridan was pulling for a winter western but Wind River has neither the cold nor the grit. It’s rather mellow for a western, solemn to the point of feeling sorry for itself. Sheridan manages to drizzle a few lines of concrete here and there to keep myself interested but I’m being left on a thread waiting for the beauty I was told appeared.

Drowned in a grief with surprisingly little punch, Wind River doesn’t emote much feeling in me. I’m left distant from a work where the goal should be to bring me closer, not only to adjust to the environment but to understand the gravity of the situation and bear the weight of loss this tale is buried in. The film never bothered to knock on my door and see if I was home.

If you enjoy plot pushers, Wind River might meet that criteria. It’s not a film that carries off-screen presence. It leaves me starved for content.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the Woods)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Tommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great WallRobin Hood)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Wind River: 57.

If the phrase, “well, it’s either half empty or half empty” was a thing, I’d use it here. I’ve now watched Wind River two times more than I would have liked and I promise there will not be a third. There wasn’t much reason to watch it the first time and there certainly wasn’t to go looking for a second viewing. Skip this one.

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Tom Wilson: The Mask the NHL Refuses to Take Off

In 2018, nearly all of professional sports is dealing with a crisis. The NFL has a domestic violence culture that continues to persist, a general ambivalence to head trauma and then there’s the whole restricting the players’ rights thing (see anthem protests circa 2017). FIFA has been drowning in corruption for years and only now appears to be gasping for air. Major League Baseball has got past the steroid era but now is dealing with fans not being present in the stands and commissioner Rob Manfred is desperate to speed up the game. The NBA has done a great job marketing itself and has no PR problems of note. Bravo, NBA.

The NHL’s problem has been an ongoing one. They, too, have a concerning lack of interest regarding head trauma, but there’s might be even more lethal than the NFL’s.

The year is now 2018. None can say they don’t know the full implications of repeated head trauma. The safety of the athletes is far more important than it once was. The game is quicker. The audience has become more attuned to the sport. They know good hockey when they see it and they know garbage hockey when they see it as well (looking at you, Buffalo and Edmonton).

As the audience has grown in intellect and stature, the league has sought to meet the demands of its audience, installing 3-on-3 overtime to make for a more exciting spectacle.

Audiences have agreed the days of thug hockey are over. The days when people saw value in a dude elbowing another dude in the chops is over. It’s not safe. It’s dangerous.

The league, like every other organization run by rich white men, has dragged their feet on changing. They would just prefer the world continue as it were and the steady stream of green continue its way into their vaults. That’s not how life works. It evolves and that evolution is one of the most sacred things about life. You can adapt with it or be left behind.

The enforcers, those once idolized brawlers, have slowly been pushed out of the sport but some linger.

Tom Wilson, likely the dirtiest player in professional hockey, is a prime example. His penchant for headshots is well-known. Yet, Mr. Wilson remains.

In Game 2 of the Pens-Capitals playoff series, Wilson delivered one of those trademarks to the skull of Brian Dumoulin, who crumbled to the ice. Wilson was not penalized and did not even receive a phone call from the NHL’s department of player safety.

Despite his history, the NHL decided to let Wilson go on bail. Wilson was eager to repay them.

In Game 3, Wilson left his feet and drove his shoulder into the face of Penguins’ forward Zach Ashton-Reese, who suffered a broken jaw and a concussion. The referees got together and decided it was a clean check. Wilson returned to the bench with a smile.

In what world is that type of result legal? Why, the NHL, of course.

The NHL has a problem, a large problem, if its umpires and executives in Toronto watch a guy get decapitated on national television and don’t think it should be penalized. There is a grave danger in allowing that type of behavior to persist and the result of letting that behavior live was on full display Tuesday night. Blood was on the ice and Ashton-Reese had a caved-in skull.

The NHL’s current disciplinary rule dictates that the league cannot take a player’s history into effect when viewing whether or not a hit was illegal or not. In the case of Tom Wilson, he simply has a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that place specifically being with a part of his body driven into another man’s brain center. To not take his past into account would be like giving a chronic abuser bail after allegedly committing another act of domestic assault. It is your job to decide, not if he’s guilty, but to decide if the public is at risk if you let him leave your supervision. The NHL decided Tom Wilson, a man with his own film roll of headshots, wasn’t a danger to society. We all got to see the result of their mistake.

In addition to making a common sense change to the way they view disciplinary action, it might be a good idea if the department of player safety wasn’t run by someone who didn’t give a fluff about player safety during his career. Making George Parros the head of the department of player safety is like making a renowned Soviet spy the head of the FBI. It is exactly that type of person that you don’t want in that room.

Lastly, might want to look at how four referees on the ice witness a hit like that and think that’s a legal play.

At the same time, I don’t know if I can fully blame the refs. They don’t know what mask the NHL is wearing anymore.

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Movie Review: The Road

Image result for the road movie poster free useSomething I’ve been paying closer attention to in recent days are color palettes, lighting and sound design. It is easy to overlook these things. I recently watched Zack Snyder’s 300, which still holds up rather well, and Man of Steel, which I’ve been a fan of since its release. Both films highlight Snyder’s knack for the visual flair of filmmaking, though his reputation has taken a major hit of late with train wrecks Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. His use of color palettes in 300 is especially noticeable.

These elements should be recognized and appreciated because they usually play a strong role in establishing tone and texture. Such traits tell a lot about the atmospherics of a story as well as where that story is likely to go.

This brings us to 2009’s The Road, a film adaptation of the Pulitizer-prize winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. If you haven’t read the novel, you really should. It’s classic literature. Sidenote: I plan to do The Road for my next installment of Book vs. Film, so look for that in a month or two when I finish rereading the work that predicated this.

Some of the film was shot in my hometown of Pittsburgh on the turnpike outside of the city and along Presque Isle beach, an old stomping ground of my childhood. Viggo Mortensen, a near perfect cast for our man, stars our central character. If you haven’t read any interviews with charming Viggo, you really should. He’s standoffish and avoids the spotlight at all costs, the polar opposite of what you would expect of someone who’s made a life in front of a camera. His seclusion is rather noticeable but his dedication to his craft is still highly regarded. Any true diehard Lord of the Rings fanatic is well-known to how immersed Viggo got in his role of Aragorn. Someone who takes method acting with the utmost seriousness will always have my respect in some form and Viggo certainly has earned mine. He feels right for this role, just on paper.

Anyway, The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale about a father and son going through a starved planet while fighting for survival themselves, all while the man tries to both teach the boy the deepest meanings of life itself and the tactics and tools he needs to survive once his old man is gone. It is a very barren concept and it takes the hands of a true craftsmen to make a tale so sordid and uninviting feel so contagious to a reader and listener.

To put things on the table, the boy in this tale, to those who are not picking up the least subtle of subtle hints, is a metaphor for childhood innocence. In the novel, McCarthy does not give his characters names, instead referring to them simply as “the man” and “the boy”. The boy’s youthfulness and ignorance to not only his current predicament but to the nature of human beings is especially precarious for the man, who is fighting inner demons, the harsh physical burden and dragging along literally the only reason he can chalk up to worth living for. In this scenario, we are literally watching a man carry a boy, his own dark thoughts, his doubt, his environment, his hunger, his heartache…dude’s carrying the world on his shoulders right now and for what? If it wasn’t such great writing, the book would be called Masochism: A Story of Hating Yourself (Think I’m gonna use that title for my autobiography).

This type of emotional desolation brings a reprieve of intellectual fulfillment, wringing lines of true dialogue gold in McCarthy’s penmanship. Sadly, those nuggets got lost in the gold rush of this film’s production. While a modicum of valuable utterances may appear during its near two-hour run time, the picture lacks the same cognitive prowess of its original maker. John Hillcoat may have directed Lawless, a western/gangster ode I really need to revisit sooner rather than later, but that came after this direction. He’s out of his league here and it’s all too easy to see before you look at the finer details of the film. It’s clear he put a high priority on the three things I mentioned at the beginning of this review: color palettes, lighting and sound design (the film actually got critical praise for its cinematography). It’s a film with a continuous overcast that’s begging to be cast in black and white, though Hillcoat never goes all the way there, instead using a paintboard of different shades of grey to compound the seeming meaninglessness of our characters’ actions and inactions.

It is more a dire canvas than a traverse through the bare bones of human companionship. It’s a work that characterizes its setting with disturbing normalcy and a lack of apathy, the mindset one would expect when such horror is so repeatedly seen. It is certainly visually competent.

The Road is not about the road itself though, the road to freedom or some secret clearing where the world hasn’t keeled over. The Road is about the people who transgressed the path, about the humanity or lack thereof illustrated in its pages and in its steps. It’s about the tragedy that humankind has seen fall upon it, the diminution of their resolve and the endless slaughter of the concept of hope. This is a dissection of the human brain and heart as much as it is an autopsy of the psyche of an animal pushed to the brink of extinction. These are bricks of substance we’re talking about here. These are the types of discussion, the styles of theme you would expect in an adaptation of McCarthy’s work, but you will find yourself thoroughly starved by the end of it.

The backbone of this film, the meaty morsels shall we call them, simply are not there. Again, the presentation is well-done and I give the crew credit, but the foreground, the thing we came to see, is nearly transparent. It is not because the background is that enticing. It is embracing but not to the point that this deserved an Academy Award nomination or the most strident rally. No, the writing desk simply shortchanged us. The same depths that I hoped to see on-screen are simply not approached with the most ardent of efforts.

Imagine being a photographer and having a career-defining image laid in front of you. You take the picture and capture a large part of the glory in the back half, showcasing the texture I mentioned at the beginning, but in the pursuit of that panorama, that snow globe effect, of being seized by this little pocket of nature, you forgot about the central subject in your photo. What you captured is out of focus.

That feels like the most appropriate metaphor for this viewing experience. It’s a product that delivers on one of its founding principles, visual storytelling, but dramatically fails in shipping the essential contents of the story alongside it.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the Woods)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Tommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great WallRobin Hood)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for The Road: 62.

When it comes to the genre of post-apocalyptic dramas, you could do worse than The Road but you could also do much, much better. Viggo keeps this boat afloat, dedicating a capable effort to the cause whilst brief appearances from Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall feel like yet another headwind Viggo has to plow his way through. By the end of it, Viggo looks like a man beaten to a pulp physically but with plenty of emotional and cerebral punch left in him if only he was given the material to work with. I can’t help feeling like Viggo was waiting for the art to come and I couldn’t help feeling the same way.

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One Team, One Jersey: Kansas City Chiefs

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

While not eligible for this series, Jamaal Charles was one of the best running backs in the NFL during the early 2010’s. Behind a stout defense, Jamaal Charles was essentially a one-man offense while Kansas City went through a carousel of quarterbacks ranging from Matt Cassel to Kyle Orton to Brady Quinn. The team also struggled at the receiving position during that time frame. Charles was it, which sadly meant a heavier workload that no doubt led to his injuries.

I’ve always been a fan of long-tenured players and Charles was a mainstay in Kansas City for nine seasons. The ninth running back taken in a strong running back class in 2008 (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith), Charles became a four-time Pro Bowler in Kansas City and currently owns the league record for yards per carry at 5.4. I can respect a Charles jersey.

Linebacker Derrick Johnson, the man in the middle of those trench wars on defense, was a key contributor to the unit that kept the Chiefs from falling into complete obscurity and irrelevance. Another franchise staple, Johnson spent 12 seasons with Kansas City, earning four trips to Hawaii himself and amassing nearly 1,100 tackles.

Recently departed Marcus Peters won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 and since entering the league, has led the NFL in interceptions. He’s one of the game’s most prominent young corners and will look to add to that legacy in Los Angeles alongside perennial Pro Bowler Aqib Talib.

I’m sure some will ask why Tyreek Hill wasn’t near the top of this list. He certainly meets the definition of playmaker and Kansas City showed he could be a regular contributor on offense in 2017 as they moved him to the top receiver spot.

Hill is still a raw talent when it comes to his route tree and release but his speed is unmatched. He’s an energizing player to watch in that sense because he can dominate opponents in a way football fans are not used to seeing. Usually, players are outmatched because of a player’s perfection of their craft (see Brady). There are also times though where an athlete is leaps and bounds ahead of their peers and is manipulating them physically (see my comments on Antonio Gates in my last chapter). It’s hard to be on the same playing field when your opponent has reached an athletic bar you simply can’t ascend to. Hill’s speed is one of those bars that few players attain.

If Hill is molded by his coaches and graduates to another level when it comes to the fine details of his position, such as his route tree, release, situational awareness and play recognition, he could become an elite receiver. Until then, he’s on the edge of brilliance but carries with him a lethal combination of big-play ability and momentum shift prowess.

As for a jersey consideration, the reason he fell to the fifth round was because he punched his pregnant girlfriend in the belly and proceeded to put her in a chokehold.

That’s just not someone I’m gonna support. This country, in 2018, still has a significant domestic violence problem and while I always hope those who fall into that hole become better people, it’s not a name I’m gonna wear on my back and parade around.

Speaking of better people, Eric Berry is an inspiration not just to the gridiron faithful but to those who’ve battled and continue to battle cancer. Just like James Conner battled at the University of Pittsburgh and became the best-selling jersey in the NFL during his rookie year with the Steelers, Eric Berry is someone you can fight alongside.

Berry has had three seasons cut short due to injury (torn ACL, cancer diagnosis, Achilles tear) but made the Pro Bowl in all five of his complete seasons.

Travis Kelce was taken in the third round in a strong tight end class (Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Jordan Reed). In the same way that the Chiefs never had an offense outside of Charles during his early years, KC never had a legitimate receiving threat until Kelce arrived. In 2014, his first full season, he was surrounded by Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Albert Wilson and Jason Avant. Jeremy Maclin and draft pick Chris Conley came the following season but defenses knew who the number one target was.

This gave Kelce more targets and no doubt turned him into the elite tight end we know today. He’s made three Pro Bowls and has had over 80 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving in his last two expeditions. He’s right up there with Gronk and Greg Olsen.

Alex Smith, the leader of this tribe, had a strong 2017 to finish his career in Kansas City, compiling career highs in passing yards (4,042), touchdowns (26) and passer rating (104.7). For many years, it looked like Alex Smith, a first overall pick in 2005, was going to be a draft bust. In the toxic and ever-changing environment of San Francisco, Smith saw a new coordinator on a yearly basis and struggled to stay afloat as other quarterbacks, such as Aaron Rodgers in that same draft, put up historic production. After five seasons of bottom-of-the-league efficiency, Smith fell in sync with coach Jim Harbaugh and put together two playoff runs, helping his team to a Super Bowl appearance.

After the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, Smith was traded to Kansas City where he has spent the last five seasons. While not eligible for this series, I could understand why a sports fan could get behind a redemption story like Smith: someone who was viewed as a franchise savior, was slaughtered by mismanagement and opposing defenses ruthlessly for years but stuck with it, showed promise, and finally became the quarterback he was expected to be.

For me, Smith has always been a game manager, and I mean in that in the most complimentary way possible. He’s played safe with the ball, made logical decisions and won games by playing games like chess. That is not the most entertaining way to play quarterback. He’s not an exemplary athlete who can do things like Rodgers nor is he a master strategist like Brady or a stat-piling monster like Brees. He’s never been an elite quarterback and has never been a player who can put his team over the top by himself. He’ll have the chance to prove me wrong in Washington, who doesn’t have a great supporting cast and hasn’t found a consistent starter at running back since they let Alfred Morris walk, but for me, a quarterback that will live on in the history of professional football is one that could carry teams and Alex Smith is not in that category.

Kareem Hunt and one of the most impressive running back classes in recent memory (Fournette, McCaffrey, Cook, Mixon, Kamara) lit up NFL highlight reels.

Justin Houston had a 22-sack scorched earth campaign in 2014. Since coming out of Georgia in 2011, Houston has become one of the league’s most-feared pass rushers. In his first four seasons, including that 22 monstrosity, Houston registered 48.5 sacks. Since signing his contract, Houston has struggled with injuries but we know what the man can do when healthy.

There are a lot of big names on this team but Eric Berry, at his current pace, is a Hall of Fame safety. That potential, coupled with his cancer battle and the adversity he’s faced in battling injury, leaves me thrilled at the idea of a Berry jersey. #BerryStrong

My pick: Eric Berry. My jersey: Home Red.

Image result for eric berry home jersey free use

 

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One Team, One Jersey: Los Angeles Chargers

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The 2004 quarterback class was one for the ages as franchise stalwarts Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger all went in the first round. (Poor J.P. Losman was also taken in the first round by the Bills.)

All three have aged well and Rivers has been no different. Over his 14-year NFL career, Rivers, along with Eli and Ben, has thrown for over 50,000 yards and 300 touchdowns, putting all three in the top ten of each category. All three have the chance to be Hall of Famers but there’s a notable difference between them: Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have each won two Super Bowls. Philip Rivers hasn’t been to one.

That monkey has been on Rivers’ back for a long time and will be for the rest of his life. That’s what happens when you’re drafted alongside talented stars that also play your position. You will always be compared to them, no matter how unfair it is that you are judged by someone else’s merits rather than your own.

Roethlisberger is a probable HOFer for moments like the final drive in Super Bowl 43 or the back-to-back games he threw six touchdown passes or the multiple playoff wins he has. Eli is a possible HOFer for moments like the Tyree helmet catch that dethroned the undefeated Patriots. Rivers is unlikely to get into Canton because he doesn’t have that moment.

That’s not to say the guy isn’t a good player. He’s breached 4,000 yards nine times in his career and owns nearly every Charger passing record.

But it’s also difficult to overlook the 2006 season, when the then San Diego Chargers went 14-2 with Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield and couldn’t win even one playoff game with home-field advantage. Also, Tomlinson won MVP and Offensive Player of the Year during that run, just as a friendly reminder.

It’s hard to overlook the Chargers falling short in the AFC Championship the following year to New England, although I do give Rivers a ton of credit (Rivers played the game with a torn ACL).

In the 2008 season, Rivers led the Bolts to their third consecutive AFC West title before dropping yet another contest in the divisional round, this time to the Steelers.

In 2009, after a 13-3 campaign, Rivers and San Diego left defeated in their first playoff game again, this time to the Mark Sanchez-led Jets.

Rivers has spent six of the last seven years on the couch come playoff time and don’t worry, the one game he did get to, he lost.

Look, I have nothing against Rivers. He’s a talented quarterback and still one of the better ones in the NFL. The Chargers haven’t made it to the playoffs solely because of Rivers. There are plenty of other factors at play.

The fact remains: 4-5 in the playoffs. Zero AFC Championship wins.

That just doesn’t scream Hall of Fame.

Is there a chance he gets in? Sure. He’s still been one of the most prolific passers of his generation, but he’s not Ben, Brady, Brees, Peyton, Rodgers or even Eli. He’s just not a good bet.

He’s still fun to watch. He’s still a gunslinger. He’s still elite. He’s just not tier one, top-of-the-game elite.

Neither is his number one receiver, Keenan Allen. After a strong rookie season (Fun fact: At the time, only five receivers in NFL history had more receiving yards their rookie year than Allen’s 1,046), Allen suffered a broken collarbone, lacerated kidney and torn ACL in back-to-back-to-back years. He performed great this past campaign, winning Comeback Player of the Year. He’s a constant target for Rivers who will pad his stat sheet with receptions (one of five players with over 100 catches last year), run a full route tree (His 13.7 ypc was in the upper third for receivers) and has the vision to make plays in the open field (His 458 yards after catch ranked him fifth among wideouts).

Remove this past year and the game to game consistency that you look for number one receivers to produce isn’t there. He’s a capable route runner but ran a 4.7 at the combine. He was recovering from a knee sprain that year and admitted he wasn’t 100% for Indy, but ran a 4.56 dash his senior year of high school, which isn’t out of this world speed for a receiver. While he’s 6’2″ and can make vertical plays, he doesn’t play an aggressive style like Demaryius or, more appropriately, like DeAndre Hopkins does. He prefers to out-finesse defenders than out-muscle them. He’s got the cut ability to do that.

He is athletic enough to torture defenses who don’t have either agile corners or experienced defenders (12 recs vs BUF, 11 vs DAL, 10 vs CLE). When he has to play top-end corners, such as Aqib Talib in division-foe Denver, he struggles to take over games the way we are used to seeing top end flights do. In two games against Denver this season, Allen compiled 5 catches for 35 yards and 3 for 41.

There are a lot of other factors at play. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or funding needed to go over additional game tape and count his matchups against man versus zone and do even more stat-crunching than I’ve already done. You also have to consider the team’s game plan that week and the in-game situation at that moment.

Overall, Allen is a great receiver in fantasy football. He’s a reliable option for an experienced and still physically-gifted quarterback and is in a scheme that allows him a high volume of targets. For that reason alone, he can be counted on for five receptions a game and a solid yards after catch bonus on a week-to-week basis. As a receiver, Allen is an above average talent that has never seen his potential fully nurtured due to injury and it’s prevented him from joining the ranks of AB, Julio, Green and Odell.

Melvin Gordon, the stud from Wisconsin, still has the breakout speed that commands respect. Even now, defenses are still trying to force him to the inside and still he is able to make it work. You saw it in college, you saw it in 2016 and you saw it this past schedule. He hasn’t peaked yet though and I want to see what the next stage of his progression looks like before I buy in, which leaves me to discuss the player I just can’t pass up.

Antonio Gates is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and when you consider he never played a down of college football, well, that just speaks to the amount of athleticism this guy has. Imagine being so physically gifted that you could pick up something at the last possible second and be better than people who had been doing that thing for their whole lives. Everyone around you has spent countless hours perfecting their craft and you’ve made them look like boys among a behemoth who just learned the rules of the game. That’s frightening.

When you say the phrase “red zone threat,” I think Antonio Gates. Dude is too big and too strong. You could make the argument he was the one that started bringing basketball stars to the game of football.

He’s one of only ten players in NFL history to amass 100 touchdown catches and he’s currently 30th in receiving yards.

Melvin Ingram is a solid edge rusher. Joey Bosa is a technically-refined player that has some more hurdles to go through. Jason Verrett is a capable corner.

Antonio Gates? He’s a freak and worth my jersey spot for the Chargers.

My pick: Antonio Gates. My jersey: Home Blue.

 

Image result for antonio gates home jersey free use

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One Team, One Jersey: Denver Broncos

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl 50 is the obvious choice for this list. Texas A&M’s Von Miller is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. As we saw in that historic game, Miller has tremendous speed off the edge. In that spectacle, he was on another gear, it seemed. He could not be stopped. It was one of the most impressive postseason performances I’d ever seen. The game was in his hands and everyone else was just a piece in what seemed destined to happen.

Not to be cliché, but Miller was a man amongst boys. Carolina boasted what analysts were calling a supreme offense and the Denver defense, despite being excellent for much of the season, was not given much respect going into the game. That quickly changed. Cam Newton wasn’t just flustered. He was a man in a box for most of the game and Von Miller made the box, glued the box and supervised the box to make sure it stayed shut.

I started watching Super Bowls when I was 7. The event that was watching Tom Brady and the Patriots upset the 14-point favorite St. Louis Rams was the first one I got to witness. Since then, I’ve seen offensive studs take over games and I’ve witnessed defensive units save games but up until Super Bowl 50, I never saw a defensive player manipulate a contest to such an absurd extent. Von Miller seemed to have the game under lock and key. That’s not to say the game was out of reach for Carolina from the start, but as the game progressed, a simple fact became more and more apparent: Von Miller was too fast. Von Miller was more super than anyone else on that field and he was coming for his ring.

Following a surreal experience like that, Miller signed a long-term deal that handed him $70 million guaranteed, a deal he more than earned. In 2018, Miller would have had a cap hit of $22.4, the second-highest cap hit among defensive players (Suh had the third overall highest cap hit in the league at $26.1 before getting cut by the Dolphins) and the ninth-highest in the league (The Broncos and Miller agreed to restructure his contract and backload his deal, dropping his cap hit to a more manageable 9.7). He has the talent level to make even this mammoth deal look team friendly but he hasn’t shown it the last two years. The Broncos haven’t been the same since that Lombardi ceremony and Miller has been unable to make many highlight reel plays to take over games the way I’ve seen he can. That stutter in production leaves me a tad concerned with how much of an overall impact he can consistently make.

Still, Miller is a six-time Pro Bowler and has 83.5 sacks only seven years into his career. In the history of the NFL, only 32 players have 100 career sacks and Miller should join the exclusive list sooner rather than later.

Denver sports perhaps the best corner duo in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Talib isn’t eligible for One Team, One Jersey, as he has played most of his career with Tampa Bay. He’s made a career of being a corner for hire and while certainly talented, off the field issues leave me distancing myself from him anyway. I have a hard time putting on a jersey of a man who found a way to accidentally shoot himself, among other things.

Chris Harris Jr. is the other half of the equation and is good enough to be a number one corner himself. For a span of over two seasons, Harris didn’t allow a touchdown. Talk about a shutdown corner. In my eyes, he’s one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. I don’t think people realize how good he is. A lot of that is the defensive bubble he’s in. As long as Denver sports a significant pass rush and employs Talib, people will overlook Chris Harris Jr. I’d gladly start him as a number one corner without any hesitation and maybe in the future we’ll get to see his resume expand to being “the guy” for an NFL franchise. Until then, Chris Harris Jr. is the best number two corner in professional football. (Talib was traded to the Rams in free agency, meaning Harris Jr. will get his shot.)

Since we’re talking about the Broncos, we need to talk about Tim Tebow. Tebowmania took the world by storm in 2011, creating the Tebowing gesture and an incredibly loyal fan base. Was Tebow a great quarterback? No. Tebow’s throwing motion had been severely maligned by his baseball career. His ability to read defenses was average at best. Compared to the other guys on the field, Tebow sometimes looked out of place, like a regular joe trying to hold it together next to professionals.

There was some otherworldly element that seemed to surround him though, something that couldn’t be quantified by science or rationalized by statistics. He could be dreadful for most of the game but when the game came down to the wire, something magical would happen. You never felt out of it with Tebow. He was an underdog despite two college championships and a Heisman at Florida. He was doubted despite his passion, criticized without attention paid to his will to win. He had an aura about him that simply made him mesmerizing, almost magnetic to the sport’s followers. Even those who weren’t devoted to the sport of football began to follow the quest of Tebow.

It was so easy to buy in, to root for the underdog. Tebow had six fourth quarter comebacks that year. Despite all the evidence that told you it shouldn’t, you knew it was gonna happen again. You could feel the momentum swing and man, was it strong.

Tebow wasn’t a prima donna, nor was he an exceptional athlete, but he was insanely entertaining to watch without ever doing anything uncharacteristic to become so. It was the way he kept fighting on. Tebow showed the world, more than anything, how far will and heart can get you. Evidently, pretty far.

Every general manager in America would love someone who played an entire game like Tebow played in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t the clutch gene. I still don’t know what it was. It was a mystical force, some element we haven’t discovered perhaps. All the cards just seemed to fall his way.

Truthfully, despite all of the talent still on Denver’s roster, I’d rather have a Tebow jersey than any other, even Von Miller. In addition to his performance on the field, Tebow is a helluva role model, which pretty much seals the deal for me. It would be a rare jersey that would carry nostalgia into my collection.

However, Tebow doesn’t meet the rules so we’re gonna have to pick someone else.

Going off the feel-good story angle, Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas’ mother and grandmother were sent to prison for crack distribution when he was a kid. He was dealt a bad hand. He overcame it. I admire that.

Demaryius Thomas was one of the key contributors to the highest-scoring offense in NFL history and has demonstrated his skillset in the years following that record year. After beginning his career at Georgia Tech, who ran the triple option and never fully realized the talent they had on the outside, Thomas’ first two seasons were beset by injuries. Then Peyton came to town and Demaryius reached his final form. While Demaryius isn’t in the conversation for top five receivers in the NFL, he is an all-around receiver who can play physical at the line or play off the corner and go speed for speed. In that way, Georgia Tech helped mold Thomas’ playing style.

As explosive a player as Von Miller is, he was suspended for violating the substance abuse policy in 2013 for reportedly trying to cheat a drug test. Especially since that was at the beginning of his career, that’s always stuck with me and put a stain on his performance, at least for me. That’s why I’m going Demaryius.

My pick: Demaryius Thomas. My jersey: Bronco Orange.

Image result for demaryius thomas orange jersey free use

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One Team, One Jersey: Pittsburgh Steelers

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known for their stellar defense and in the middle of those defenses were exceptional linebackers: Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Greg Lloyd, James Farrior, Joey Porter. In recent years, the Steelers have spent a couple first round draft choices trying to find their next star in the middle. Ryan Shazier looked to be one of them before suffering a scary injury. If Shazier is ever brave enough to step on a football field, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be the same. He was one of the fastest linebackers I’d seen in quite a while and showed enough promise that he deserved a nod on this list.

Bud Dupree has yet to do anything spectacular for me, although he did kill a guy in a playoff game. Rest in peace, Matt Moore.

T.J. Watt, brother of infamous J.J. Watt, had a promising rookie season, though I’d like to see more before taking his jersey under serious consideration.

As good as T.J. was this year, he was not the rookie that impressed me the most. USC product JuJu Smith-Schuster has big play ability and is an absolute blast of entertainment. He’s had quite a few enjoyable touchdown celebrations and has become a town favorite, interacting with fans in the heart of the city and creating his own YouTube platform. His Twitter is hilarious (if you don’t follow him, strongly recommend) and as the youngest player in the NFL, he reminds us how fun football is supposed to be. He’s still a kid but carries himself well, something I hold a lot of respect for. I’ve never purchased a rookie jersey. I often wait to see how an athlete’s career progresses before I fully get behind them but JuJu has a lot of character. It’s easy to want to root for someone like that.

There is one other linebacker we haven’t discussed yet. While his tenure with the Steelers is likely over, James Harrison was on the Steelers roster in 2017. Harrison has become one of the greatest undrafted athletes to ever play professional football. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, the first undrafted player to ever win DPOY. That season he registered 101 tackles and a franchise-record 16 sacks, though his most memorable play of the year didn’t come until the postseason. He built a reputation for an incredible motor, his workout regimen and disciplinary issues. During his career, Harrison accrued hundreds of thousands in fines for helmet to helmet shots and late hits. Despite it, Harrison was a Pittsburgh favorite because like the Grim Reaper or the Terminator, Harrison was a bad man on the turf, one that could be truly terrorizing. People loved him for it. In addition to five Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl rings, Harrison also owns the franchise sack record. He’s been on the decline these last few years but his legacy is one worth remembering. Sometimes you buy a jersey for what that player is then. Sometimes you buy a jersey for what that player was and James Harrison was one of the best edge rushers in the NFL for a time.

Of all the players on the Pittsburgh defense the last few seasons, one player has more value than any other. Cam Heyward, since entering the league out of Ohio State, has been a regular figurehead for the black and gold. In four full seasons as a starter, Heyward has recorded 31.5 sacks, including 12 this past season, earning him his first Pro Bowl nod.

The Steelers also have the killer B’s to consider: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

Bell is a literal bell cow for Pittsburgh. He’s a playmaker in the backfield and his patient style of running paired with superior field vision leads to quite the highlight reel. At times, he looks like the best back in the NFL. He might be.

He has a unique style that analysts can’t help but gush over and his versatility is one of his greatest assets.

He also has off the field issues, such as drug suspensions and talking about getting a new max contract or retiring hours before a playoff game, to pair with a history of season-ending knee injuries. He values himself at 15 million a year, more than twice what the current highest-paid running back makes (LeSean McCoy had the highest cap hit among tailbacks in 2018 at 8.9. DeMarco Murray had the highest base salary at 6.25) and yet he reportedly turned down a two-year, $30 million contract extension last year. He also turned down a three-year, $43 million offer. Given his injuries and disciplinary history, 13-15 million a year is a boatfull for Bell, but Bell thinks he’s worth quarterback money, an offer no team in the NFL will pay him. That isn’t what the market is for running backs. Devonta Freeman’s new contract came with a base salary of 8.25. Between Bell’s irrational contract demands and a propensity for poor decision making off the field, I have a hard time picking that jersey. As talented as he is, I will be thrilled when he’s out of Pittsburgh.

Antonio Brown, a sixth-round selection out of Central Michigan, is a straight-up superstar. He’s one of the fastest receivers I’ve ever seen and has the field vision of a returner. Asking any corner to execute man coverage against him is simply unfair. The best in the game struggle with Antonio. Sometimes double coverage even looks insufficient. He’s the best route runner in the league, makes crisp cuts and has the elusiveness of a Barry Sanders. He’s had more than 100 receptions in each of the last five years and a minimum 1,284 yards in all five as well. In 2015, Brown caught 136 passes, the second most receptions in a single season behind Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002. He’s currently the highest-paid receiver in the NFL and he should be. He’s on pace to surpass Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Hines Ward as the best receiver in Steelers history and routinely accomplishes athletic feats that leave you questioning if you should be in awe or shock. For much of 2017, Brown was in the running for MVP.

Finally, Big Ben Roethlisberger has made a career in the black and gold and will likely get a chance to pair that with a trip to Canton. Over the years, gridiron fans have gotten to see a player evolve. Early in his career, Ben took a lot of punishment but also had the ability to shuck some of those sacks and extend plays. Following that turn came the age of a vertical offense with Bruce Arians, exploiting the advantage that is Ben’s deep ball. Over these last few years, we’ve gotten to see Ben settle into a pocket passer role. Watching him evolve and progress through each stage of his career has been something.

He’s likely better than Terry Bradshaw, making him the greatest center man in the franchise’s history.

He’s had some moments that will live on in football lore, like this and this.

However, Roethlisberger was accused multiple times of sexual assault early in his career, something I can’t ignore.

James Harrison would be a great pick. He personifies the grit and toughness of Steelers football. I really am a big fan of JuJu these days. What a kid.

That said, the choice is easy.

Antonio Brown is one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever witnessed and has always been a privilege to behold. Teammates constantly describe him as the hardest worker on the team. He’s a true competitor first. When he does stuff like this, it’s hard not to get hyped. At his current pace, it’s likely we’re watching a Hall of Fame player. He’s got charisma, flair and a great sense of humor. He loves the camera and can’t help but be theatrical in front of it. He plays the game like a kid. He’s having fun and it’s impossible for me not to want to sign up for that.

My pick: Antonio Brown. My jersey: Home Black.

Image result for pittsburgh steelers brown jersey free use

 

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