Friday, August 30, 2013

Turning on Zombie Mode: 5 Changes That Would Make Fantasy Football Even Better

   I cannot wait, friends—simply cannot wait. In just a few short days, football season will be upon us. The opening kick will soar through the air, and all of the heartbreak, triumph, and the I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw brand of craziness will be in full force. Of course, if you fancy yourself a fantasy owner, your football experience will always be two-fold—a touchdown that might damn your team into the gloomy dregs of the division might also be the saving grace for your digital team of all-stars. There are people who love it, people who hate it, and there are always the people who just do not understand it. But you know what? Who cares? You have a shot at a full year of bragging rights amongst your peers, and that is totally worth alienating roughly fifty-percent of your friends and family! Right? Right!
   Fantasy football is a heck of a lot of fun, but the thing is, it has the potential to be so much more. The stakes can always be raised. The gambles can always be bigger. The rewards, the sweet sweet rewards, can always be more bountiful. The Dazz staff has come up with some tweaks in the system—tweaks that really put the fantasy, and the fun, into fantasy football.

1.  Lottery Mode

   While most fantasy leagues utilize the traditional “Snake-style” function (where you make your picks in a randomized, pre-determined order), the truth is that auction-drafts are infinitely better. In auction drafts, each owner is allotted $200, and over the course of the draft they bid portions of this money on any player they want. The better the player, the more you usually have to pay for him. Pretty basic.

But what if . . .
   . . . there was a way to spend a fraction of that cost, take a huge risk, and possibly  guarantee yourself a championship if it pays off? Introducing lottery mode! What if, at any point in an auction draft, an owner could spend $5 out of their remaining funds to take a shot at “winning the lottery.” There would be a one-percent chance of winning, but if luck serves you well and you hit the jackpot, you have automatic rights to any three players left on the board, totally free of charge.
   Consider that in auction drafts, the first ten players or so are usually bought for an average of $55-$60. With fifteen more players to buy to fill a standard roster, that is pretty crippling to spend. But, if you spend five bucks right off the bat and have a stroke of luck, you could suddenly find yourself sitting on Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, and Marshawn Lynch for easy chump change. You just saved yourself $175 and you have arguably the three best fantasy players on your team! Sure, it is a long shot, but you would at least consider rolling the dice once or twice, right? It adds a whole new layer of strategy to the draft—everyone would try goading each other into potentially wasting their money, and especially cruel leagues would see nine guys all ganging up on one to try and have him blow $100 on lottery tickets. Hilarious—but even more so if that poor slob ends up winning.

2.  Buying Insurance

   You know what sucks? When your first-round pick in the fantasy draft blows out his knee in the first game of the season and sinks your whole team (cut to everyone who drafted Tom Brady in 2008 quietly weeping). That really sucks. A fantasy team without that pick is horribly crippled, and almost a surefire lock to miss the playoffs.

But what if . . .
   . . . you never had to worry about that, because you bought insurance? Here is how it would work: say you drafted Robert Griffin III this year, and you were worried his leg would break in half again—for a little extra money in the auction drafts, or for the sacrifice of a later pick in snake drafts, you could insure RGIII against all injuries. So, if RGIII missed any playing time, you would not miss the points.
   It could work like this: say you drafted RGIII in a free snake-draft league. You could have the option to keep him as-is, or, you could bundle him with an insurance policy at the price of your 14th-round pick. If RGIII is hurt during the first eight games of the season under your insurance, his point average from last season is automatically plugged into your weekly scores (if you choose to start him). In his case, you would have the security of 19 points a game—pretty good. If he is hurt during the latter eight games of the season, you take his average from the current season and add that into your total.
   You would be able to insure as many players as you wanted, but it would always come at the cost of late-round picks, bidding money, or minor add-ins to the pot in prize leagues. Of course, these always come at the risk of a player not suffering an injury, and then you would have wasted your money, pick, etc. Again, it adds another layer to the high-risk/high-reward factor that fantasy is all about. You could look brilliant when it is over, or you could look paranoid and, well, stupid.

3.  Money in the Bank
   Right now, the third-place game at the end of the fantasy season is pretty worthless. There are no bragging rights that come with achieving third-place, and since it already is the by-product of two first-round playoff losers, there is little to feel good about to begin with.

But what if . . .
   . . . we went all WWE up in our fantasy leagues?! For the uneducated, Money in the Bank is an annual match put on by the world of wrestling. The match features a ton of WWE stars, and the winner of the all-out brawl earns a silver briefcase with a contract inside. This contract gives them the sole rights to challenge the current reigning champion anywhere and anytime. If they win, they take the belt. It is one of the best things the WWE has produced in years—makes for great drama—and it is a perfect fit for fantasy football.
   Take that third-place game and turn it into a Money in the Bank showdown. Now, the winner of this once-meaningless affair earns the rights to challenge a fantasy champion anywhere and anytime during the following season for the rights to the title.
   The most likely scenario is, of course, using the contract right after someone wins the title (you just could not do it in the same season you won Money in the Bank—that is dumb, and defeats the purpose). Say you won Money in the Bank a year earlier, but you ran into some bad luck this season and finished ninth out of ten teams. Never fear, because you pull your contract after Week 17 and challenge the new champ to a winner-take-all playoff! Both owners would draft three new players (a QB, a back, and a wideout) set to play in the first round of the playoffs. After the games, the fantasy points earned by those six players are tallied, and the champ either keeps the crown or is forced to hand it off to you, Mr. Started-from-the-bottom-now-we’re-here! Wow! This wrinkle would add a ton of drama, and it would be a hell of a lot of fun to watch a feisty underdog claw his way back to a title.

4. NBA Jam Rules

   There is a lot of WTF-ey stuff in fantasy, and most of it comes from stuff like, “How the hell can Julio Jones have two touchdowns one week, and then none the next with only thirty effing yards?!” The unpredictable hills and valleys suck, and they give owners absolute fits. If a player is hot, how come they can never stay hot?

But what if . . .
   . . . they could? Remember the good old days of video arcades, when a young Suns fan could rain jumpers with Charles Barkley, watch him catch on fire, and then just throw him the alley-oop with Jason Kidd every time you came down the court? I sure do. Man, the days of playing NBA Jam were insanely fun, and adopting some of its ways could give fantasy a huge boost of entertainment.
   Obviously, you would start with having a player “catch on fire.” In the arcade version of NBA jam, if one player made three shots in a row, they would literally burst into flame and become faster, more accurate, and completely dominant. Let’s light some football players on fire too! Now, having three insane weeks of football in a row is really tough, so what if we made it a little easier by establishing three-week benchmarks for each position? Quarterbacks would have to earn a total of 70 fantasy points, running backs would have to earn 35 points, receivers need 35 as well, etc. Once a player catches fire, their point total for the ensuing week sees a 50% boost, no matter what. Players would be able to stay on fire if they keep doing well (using single-game benchmarks—say, 20 points for QBs, 14 for RBs, and 11 for WRs), and the point bonus would carry over.
   Oh, and in case you were wondering, if Adrian Peterson had used NBA Jam Rules last season, he would have been on fire for four straight weeks, from weeks 8 to 12 (11 was his bye). Wow.

5.  Zombie Mode

   More often than not in fantasy, things just do not pan out. It has happened to all of us: sleepers never wake up, early picks have down years, stars suffer season-ending injuries—it comes with being an owner. When you have a bad year in fantasy football, it might not always be because you had poor draft strategy or you did not prepare well enough. It might just be pure dumb luck kicking you in the butt again.

But what if . . .
   . . . you could make your own luck? Zombie Mode is here, friends.
   Here is how it would work: after any of their draft picks, an owner could immediately choose to zombify one, and just one, of their players. When a player is zombified, they literally become the player they were at any earlier point in their careers—which point is up to the owner.
   An example will explain this best: say you draft Tom Brady in the third round this year. His receivers are gone, he is growing older, and you are worried he might not be the same quarterback he was in the past, so you decide to zombify him. Being a savvy NFL historian, you know that Tom Brady had one of the best statistical seasons ever in 2007, when he threw for over 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns. You decide to create Zombie-2007-Brady. All of his stats carry over week to week, so when you start Zombie-2007-Brady on Week 1 for this year’s league, he would earn your team 23 points, because in Week 1 of the 2007 season, Brady threw for 297 yards and three scores against the Jets. Pretty sweet deal, right?
   It comes with some strings attached, naturally. First off, you can only zombify one player each year—more and it is just a little too ridiculous. Second of all, when you zombify a player in a draft, you forfeit your pick for the next round (maybe you can just take a kicker, or in auction leagues you forfeit $10 or something). You also must start the zombie every single week, even on their bye week. It is harsh, but it is only fair when you have an all-time great on your roster.
   Another wrinkle: if your opponent for the week has a player in the same position who ends up earning a higher total than the zombie, the zombie is unplayable for one week following (debated calling this being “shot in the head”). Suddenly, Zombie-2007-Brady has a problem. Smart owners would see that in Week 15 of his 2007 season, Tom Brady threw for only 140 yards, no touchdowns, and even had an interception. That is only three little points—incredibly easy to beat. Suddenly, Zombie-2007-Brady is inactive for Week 16’s game. He stays a starter, but his points are negated, so the roster spot is wasted on his team. Being the first week of the championship game, it might not be worth it to zombify Brady after all.
   A few things I personally love about this rule: it rewards research and preparation, and emphasizes strong finishes over strong starts—crucial in fantasy. It also has fantastic high-risk/high-reward flexibility. Do you play it safe and zombify Adrian Peterson this year, and ensure that he repeats last year’s heroics? You could, but if he is somehow even better this season, you wasted your zombify ability and that second-round pick you forfeited. On the other hand, if a player is hurt, it becomes irrelevant if they are a zombie. If you zombify them to a season when they played all 16 games, then they are guaranteed to play all 16 of those games for you.
   Finally, the sneak-factor of Zombie Mode is off the charts. Consider that LaDainian Tomlinson is in this year’s draft. Of course, he is all but irrelevant right now, but if you nab with your last pick and zombify him to Zombie-2006-Tomlinson, you do not have to relinquish any draft picks, and you just stole a player who is going to score 31 touchdowns and gain 2,300 yards from scrimmage for the season—in your third running back spot to boot, which would make the chances of him being shot in the head and unplayable for a week rather slim. Careful researchers would be able to find these players every year, and it totally redefines how you think of sleepers. Zombie Mode adds a whole other layer to fantasy football—it keeps the draft interesting in the later rounds, it produces some insane matchup potential (imagine Zombie-2007-Brady and Zombie-2004-Peyton Manning going ape on each other to try and survive the next week!), and it adds brand new depth to the degrees of strategy involved. It relies less on luck and more on perception. It brings fantasy back to its roots, and more importantly, it makes things way more interesting, way more entertaining, and most of all, way more fun.

   Good luck everyone.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blood and Ice Cream and Fine Comedy: The World's End Review

   In a summer laced with unnecessary nudity, cheap shock-humor, and mega-flop blockbusters, The World’s End stands alone. It delivers a tight, thrilling, and absolutely hilarious movie-going experience. It is a knock-out ending to the terrific Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, and it is absolutely the best movie of the summer.
   Like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before it, The World’s End combines rough action with brilliant comedy—this time, telling the story of a group of buddies who attempt to finish a legendary pub crawl in the midst of an alien invasion. Simon Pegg plays the inflated and conceited Gary King, the self-proclaimed leader of the gang, while Three Flavours-compatriot Nick Frost plays his (initially) straight-laced childhood friend. Martin Freeman, Pierce Brosnan, and the ever-present Bill Nighy round out a terrific cast, and while it would seem that The World’s End is primed to fall for the usual film clichés that we see in the old-guys-relive-the-glory-days stories, it does anything but that. Too old for this sh**? Not here. The movie does not even take a sniff in that direction—incredibly refreshing.
   This is perhaps most indicative in the fact that The World’s End approaches its action irreverently and intelligently—these sequences are truly fun to watch, and some of the finishing moves that the gang pulls on their adversaries are badass, insane, and just damn cool. Ever see an alien split in half over a urinal or become the victim of a Nick Frost pile-driver? I sure have, and I loved every freaking second of it.
   Of course, the reason any of us will venture out to see this flick is for the laughs, and wow, does the film deliver. Instead of relying on trite sight-gags or forgettable crass humor, the writing here takes a smart, genuine approach. The comedy here is pure, consistent, and versatile; a laugh can come from dialogue just as easily as it can come from the goofy mannerisms and actions of the characters (and never fear, trilogy fans, the old fence gag is back!). Snappy lines and witty exchanges run aplenty, and in a year full of less-than-stellar efforts, it is brilliant to see such excellent writing coming from people who are just so intrinsically funny. Forget funniest comedy of the summer—it might be the funniest movie of the year.
   The plethora of laughs is primarily supplied by our two leads, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost assert themselves in this flick as one of the best comedy duos of our time. Their chemistry is terrific—a result of them being real-life friends—and when the movie takes its emotional turns, they play the buddy-buddy scenes so well that it is perfectly impossible not to cheer for them. They are the absolute stars of their own show, and director Wright more than gives them their due. These guys have given us three terrific movies (and Paul, but come on, for the sake of the moment, I think we can all just brush that one aside), and seeing them go out on such a high note is going to really satisfy fans.
   If there is anything negative to say about this flick, it is that the final act might be a tad up-and-down in balancing its emotion and comedy, but not to worry, because the “low points” only feel as such because the highs are just so darn good. Indeed, the climax of The World’s End might deliver the single best comedy scene since the infamous tuna exchange from The Other Guys. I still laugh when I think about this one—inspired comedy at its finest.
   The World’s End simply does not mess around. It is here to bring fun action and big laughs, and it delivers both in droves. The emotional scenes are tight and to-the-point, without a bunch of oversaturated dialogue or cornball direction. More than anything, though, this film is a triumph for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who not only give the audience another satisfying and grounded buddy-flick, but cement themselves as one of the greatest comedy duos of the modern age.

   It is useless arguing—The World’s End kicks a lot of ass, takes a lot of names, and is terrifically charming and funny. The conclusion of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy might just be the best of the three. It earns a 9 out of 10, and stands as the greatest movie of the summer. Go and see it—it deserves your attention. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Modern Classics: The Beats That Never Die

   Perhaps Dre said it best when he blamed it on Ice Cube: “Because he says it gets funky/When you got a subject and a predicate./Add it on a dope beat/and that’ll make you think.”
   As any self-respecting DJ will tell you, Dre knows that the key to any great hip-hop or rap song is that killer groove behind the rhymes—you know, the steady line that makes you put your hands up or bob your head or just downright get funky with it. My father (who, by the way, loathes this kind of music, and therefore knows nothing about this article) lovingly calls this phenomenon “the kathunka kathunka.”
   Over the years, hip-hop and rap has solidified itself as a music mainstay, and many modern artists, such as Eminem, Nas, and Tupac Shakur, have already earned their way into several “Greatest Artists of All Time” lists, largely for their lyrical prowess. But today, we want to show some respect for guys like Dre, and we want to highlight some beats that just refuse to grow old. These are the beats that survive on their own, without the words. These are the beats that demand to be mixed and mashed and emulated and honored. These are the beats that made people stars. These are the Beats That Never Die.

It Was a Good Day, Ice Cube

   You hear that? That is music, friends! Something really terrific about old-school rap is the pure emphasis on laying the spoken word over actual music, and not just a pulsing bass line. A great example is “Good Day”. So relaxed, so mellow, and completely worthy of a windows-down drive through areas of town where you will not be shot. The feel is almost jazzy, and if you play an instrument, you might just hear some improvisation opportunities sprinkled throughout this one. This one is beyond just a solid beat, it functions as a totally liable song, sans-Cube. And the best part? He still does not have to use his AK.

Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Jay-Z

   I know we just lauded the use of “real” instruments, but electronic beats certainly have their place too, not the least of which is evidenced by Timbaland’s absolutely dirty throw-down with Shawn Carter here. Remember when we talked about beats that just make you move? Coming right up. Put on some headphones and crank this one—to say that Timbaland brings the bass is absolute sacrilege. He crushes that bass line. It charges your ears in one of the nastiest aural assaults of modern rap. It just plain kills.

In da Club, 50 Cent

   Let’s keep it current for a second. More and more nowadays, songs are relying on simple series of notes to create something catchy—think along the lines of Tyga’s three-tone “Rack City” or MGMT’s nine-note keyboard line on “Kids”—people remember simple stuff; easy to hum, easy to whistle—this stuff is why things are stuck in your head. 50’s “In da Club” totally nails this phenomenon. With three little bum-Bum accents, we have one of the most versatile party beats of the last decade. It does not matter if you have never been up in da club, rolling 20 deep, or mistaken for a player or pimp, when this song comes on, it stays on. And when people like P. Diddy, Lil Wayne, and (wait for it!) freaking Beyonce are borrowing the tune to lay over their own lyrics, you know you have a good thing here.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn, Beastie Boys

   Did anyone combine rock and rap more effectively than these guys? The debate is there, and this song’s timeless riff embodies the duality of the entire group. A rap song with a guitar solo? Madness—but it is mad genius too. What makes this instrumental absolutely legendary is its universal appeal: rock fans can do guitar covers, drum covers, etc., and rap fans can lay down their own rhymes. The modern fan might point to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” as a terrific use of electric guitar within a rap song, but this song did it more than fifteen year earlier, and the style is so much more in-your-face, outrageous, and badass that this simply demands the nod. When you hear this riff, you know it is Beastie Boys, and you know it is good.

California Love, 2pac

   Is a defense even necessary? This is still a dance floor staple, it features a perfect blend of live instruments with electronic sounds, you recognize it as soon as you hear it, and it is the pure epitome of a head-bobbing, hands-up jam. Oh, and the video was shot in the Thunderdome from Mad Max. California does indeed know how to party. Thank you and please drive through.

Fireman, Lil Wayne

   Sorry, what was that? I had some trouble hearing you over the combined sound of this absolutely nasty beat and the freaking President of the United States saying he has some of this on his iPod. With an intro this monstrously epic, you know the Commander in Chief is queuing up some “Fireman” when he rolls into the Situation Room. You know what? This beat kicks so much ass, it demands a certain partnership. You are thinking it. I am thinking it. Let’s just watch some guys do a slow-motion walk away from an explosionwhile we play this tune.

The Next Episode, Dr. Dre

   This tune featured a lot of big names, from the Doctor himself to Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was then called—and don’t even tell me you hate Snoop Lion! It’s still Snoop, he’s always going to be the D. O. Double-G, so quit your moaning—you’d still totally chill with him—let the dude evolve!) to Nate Dogg to some guy named Kurupt (who, after a quick Google search, I found has been nominated for a Grammy, in 1996, for a song he did with someone named Daz—whaddup). What makes this beat really classic is, aside from its catchy simplicity and dance-ability, it somehow manages to fit the style of all of the artists involved with the song. It sounds like a Dre beat, it sounds like something either Dogg would jam with, and I am sure that all 19 of the die-hard Kurupt fans out there would agree that it works for him too. We have thrown around the word “versatility” a lot in this piece, but this beat is just another example. Dre—whataguy.

Ni**as in Paris, Jay-Z and Kanye West

   Oh, shut up. Even the most modern of rap music can churn out killer beats like this, and do not tell me that you never busted one out on the dance floor trying to ball so hard and all that other fun I-have-trouble-relating-to-this-song-in-real-life-because-really-why-is-Kanye-talking-about-fish-filets stuff. This beat is dope, and it is the reason that we have been the audience to about fifty-million remixes and mash-ups in the past year and a half. You know the song as soon as you hear those first two notes, and even when Kanye reminds us yet again that, seriously guys, we better not let him into his zone, the bass is cranked and you still think it is damn cool. This was the beat of 2011, and we are going to keep hearing it for a long time to come. Instant classic.

C.R.E.A.M., Wu Tang Clan

   A moment of humbling honesty here: this song was a last-minute addition—it overtook Lloyd Banks’ “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley” (I know, I know) and Lil Wayne’s “Six Foot Seven Foot”—and I will tell you why. Both of those songs have great beats, but they are straight-up repetitive. “Ni**as in Paris” up there is successful largely because of its continued breakdowns and switch-ups—it is easy to listen all the way through without stopping. Not so with Banks or Wayne’s tunes. It is the same line over and over, and while “C.R.E.A.M.” has moments of repetition, the groove itself brings enough components to keep things fresh, even while the notes stay the same. They add vocals, accents, oohs and ahhs. It creates a massively-effective song that can be a mellow, sit-back-and-bob-your-head tune for one listen, and then a dance tune for another listen. Wu Tang Clan brought us something completely original and inventive—a timeless tune, that works at any time.

Paper Planes, M.I.A.

   You have to end with a crowd-pleaser. Done over and over again, “Paper Planes” is one of those songs that somehow everyone just seems to know. It runs amuck through popular culture even today, and you see it everywhere from movies to parties to radio to ice cream shop background-music. It simply has not gone away, and thanks to some of the best use of sound effects in rap history (those gun-shots with the cash register—genius—to make them such an integral part of the song was bold as hell, and now you have one of the most recognizable sequences in the last decade of music), it just might stick around a while longer. Sure, the main riff might have borrowed from The Clash, but is that really a bad thing? The spin it received was great enough in its own right. We will remember this tune as a staple in the world of hip-hop and rap.

Honorable Mentions: “6 Foot 7 Foot”—Lil Wayne, “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley”—Lloyd Banks, “Around the World”—Daft Punk, “The Message”—Grandmaster Flash, “Who Shot Ya”—Notorious B.I.G., “Nuthin But a G Thang”—Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg

Have a song you feel should have been on the list? We want to hear about it—let us know via Twitter or Facebook! Special thanks goes out to reader and friend Jordan Costello for his much-needed insight and opinion into the world of hip-hop and rap; you were a great help, friend!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Time to Cook: Getting Pumped for the End of Breaking Bad

   Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at our destination.
   For the past five years, Vince Gilligan and Co. have blessed us with what is undoubtedly the greatest running program on television, and in just eight weeks—eight short, fleeting, hell-ridden weeks—the final fade-out will conclude the epic descent of Walter White. There are a thousand questions surrounding the details of what is to come, but the one question for you, right now, is this:
   Are you effing ready for this?!
   You better be (bitch!).
   Few shows are about The End. More often than not, a television series will hit the prime of its writing somewhere around the third season. This is when Mad Men hit another level, when The Office churned out the most laughs, when Lost became more WTF-ey than it ever was, and when The Wire went from just something different to the biggest trend-bucker of modern media. After the peak though, comes an almost inevitable decline. The Office, and most other sitcoms, grew considerably less funny. Lost hiccupped and became oversaturated with questions. Even The Wire is considered to miss a step in its final season. When this happens, The End is almost never as satisfying as fans want it to be. Lost and The Sopranos in particular are notorious for their less-than-stellar endings (although, I have to defend Lost for a second here and just ask any fan this, “If you hated the ending, then how would you have ended it?” Seriously, there was no other way. I loved the ending. Screw you. God.), and it turned a lot of “great show” talks into “yeah, but” talks.
   Breaking Bad, however, is in a brilliant position, because this show has always been about the ending. We knew that we were going out with Walter from day one, and wow has it been an insane ride to the finish (almost like a  . . . dead freight! Hey-oh! Sorry. I challenged myself to see how many little references I could plug in here). Whether you were with Heisenberg from the beginning on AMC, or caught up on Netflix, it does not matter, because everything in Breaking Bad has been guiding us to this glorious conclusion. We watched this entire series just for this. There has never been anything like it.
   This show is unique, too, in that the atmosphere surrounding these final eight hours is not only full of hype, but it is seriously confident. No one expects them to flop, and this another by-product of the writer’s entire countdown to Walter’s death. If this has been what they have been working toward all along, and all the filler stuff in the middle was of such amazing quality, can you imagine how freaking awesome the home-stretch is going to be?! It is unheard of!
   Sure, stuff has changed along the way (fun fact: Jesse was supposed to die in the first season, but after he emerged as a fan-favorite, the writers kept him in), but adapting the end goal is considerably better than drumming it up from scratch. This is why fans of Lost were sweating and fans of The Office had their fingers crossed and their eyes shut tight. Only here, in the world of us meth-heads (AMC calls us “Breaking Baddicts”, but that is a horribly lame pun and much too long, so suck it AMC, we are meth-heads, like we were supposed to be all along), is everyone just flat-out pumped. We cannot wait. We are fully prepared for The End of this show to blow us away.
   No matter what happens, you can guarantee that not everyone is going to see it coming. The further beauty of this set-up is emphasized by the insane number of theories being tossed around by fans. Will Walt just die of cancer, in a hospital with his family around him? Will he be shot and killed by Jesse? By Hank? Hell, even suicide is not totally out of the question—he tried that in the first goddamn episode! Literally anything can happen, because if this series has taught us anything, it is that these writers will shy from nothing, and that these characters are capable of some dark, dark things (I have to throw out my opinion here and present my theory—Walt, whether by accident or on purpose, will contribute to the death of Jesse, and this will be his final what-have-I-done moment. As he atones for everything, the cancer takes him . . . yeesh, I have chills, can we just go to Sunday now?).
   We left Walter White while he was simultaneously at his most sinister and his most vulnerable. The showdown we have expected all along is here. The revelations, long hidden, are going to come out and rear their ugly, twisted heads. Friends will become enemies. Empires will fall. People will die.
   Soak it all in. This is it. Breaking Bad is coming down to its glorious, disturbing, I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw ending, and you can bet that the rest of the meth-heads and I are going to be right there with our heroes, antiheroes, and hated psycho-wives until the very last second. Buckle the hell up, everyone, because the one who knocks is banging on the door.

   His message is clear, friends: it’s time to cook.

Mech Suits, Space Stations, and Screwing Over Jodie Foster: Elysium Review

   This summer, we have yet to see the movie. That is, the killer app that alluringly drags us to theaters, slams us into chairs, and blows us away whether we were ready for it or not. Elysium was poised to be that flick—the director and writer of the best sci-fi movie of the past five years brought aboard our main man Matt Damon for another original on-screen story. Sign me the hell up for that.
   Did it pan out, though? Not quite—you have a solid sci-fi here, but not something that captures the same magic that District 9 did in 2009.
   The premise here certainly brings the intrigue, even if it paints on some similar class-warfare tones that D9 presented. Matt Damon plays Max, a convicted felon out on parole in a dense, over-populated Los Angeles in the 2100s. Above the planet-wide slum that is this new Earth hovers the alluring Elysium, a massive space station where the planet’s elite have taken refuge from the squalor. Elysium has a cure for cancer, lush greenery, and many a garden party. Naturally, people on Earth regularly try to break onto the utopian station—too bad they are all shot on arrival. Yeah, things kind of suck in Matt Damon’s neighborhood, but after a deadly dose of radiation and the addition of a sweet-ass exo-suit, he looks to make his way up the orbiting paradise, and (surprise surprise!) maybe save Earth in the process.
   Easily the standout of Elysium is the action. Director Neil Blomkamp’s track record of sweet weapons and videogame-esque set pieces is only extended here, and some of the best scenes revolve around the featured exo-suits for both Matt Damon and one of his future nemeses (no spoilers here, sucka). All the futuristic tech is flat-out sick to see in action, whether it’s the tracer rounds that attract mobile explosives, bullets that explode within a five-meter radius of the target, or the criminally-underused ChemRail. It is enough to make you wish Elysium was a videogame, which may or may not be a good thing.
   See, the movie’s biggest issue is that, while it sets the stage for the examination of some pretty mature themes, it never quite achieves the depth that we know Blomkamp can achieve. Characters feel under-written, the relationship-developments are a tad cliché, and while Jodie Foster initially presents an intriguing villain as the ruthless, cutthroat Secretary of Defense on Elysium, but (trying hard not to spoil anything here) the script eventually throws her the finger in favor of more traditional science-fiction fare. It was a jarring, disappointing turn for a flick that, despite some holes here and there, at least had the integrity of trying something original. It makes even less sense in retrospect than it did while we were watching.
   The cast in itself does a decent job with what they are given, but the truth is they just are not given much to work with. I would hesitate to call it a waste of talent (harsh much?), but with Damon, Foster, and the surprisingly-versatile Sharlto Copley (he was the lead in D9), it is hard not to wonder why this movie was not able to attain more emotional depth.
   That, ultimately, is Elysium’s undoing—while everything on the surface looks great, from the terrific cast to the spectacular sci-fi imagery to the acutely-detailed world, beyond the surface there just is not much. Even the parable-like themes are not explored as much as they should be, and are indeed lost in the shuffle along the way. Many times we come this close to having a great scene or a great moment, but the movie never quite seals the envelope. We never have the moment. It is too bad.

   Comparisons to District 9 might seem unfair at first, but when the writer, director, actor, and underlying theme are all the same, it invites the question why Elysium cannot quite do what its predecessor positively triumphed at—bringing the emotion. The segregated world of Elysium is well-realized and really interesting, but thanks to some hard-to-ignore plot holes, a lack of emotional punch, and the underwritten characters, the movie never truly satisfies. The seamless visuals and balls-out action will make you glad you saw it, but once you leave the theater there just is not much to remember. There is more to talk about what could have or should have been here than what actually is. It is an acceptable sci-fi, but it is not the movie this summer.