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League of Denial

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By now, everyone knows about the NFL's shoddy record with concussions and the do-not-look-behind-the-curtain act the NFL has been pulling for quite some time in the face of mounting evidence.  Even my mother, a football skeptic from way back, knows about it.

However, the release of this new documentary on the head injury history of the NFL is still a watershed moment.  This is the first place I've seen to definitively find a smoking gun.  This establishes the pattern of the NFL of actively covering up and suppressing evidence, rather than merely pretending it doesn't exist.  It was the first organization to make strides in this area, and then when the news started getting bad, it was the first to actively try to suppress it.  It's pretty damning.

The documentary is not without its faults.  It's got some excellent reporting, and the movie could stand just fine on the strength of that alone, but it cheapens it a bit by appealing a little bit too desperately to emotion.  But it has a strong case to make, and it makes it well.  Worth a watch if you want to know just what all this head injury stuff is all about.  And hey, it's free online as of the time I'm writing this.

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30 for 30: Book of Manning

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Ever wanted to see a whole lot of footage of Peyton Manning playing football in his backyard when he was three?  Well, then have I got the movie for you.

I find Peyton (and to a lesser degree, his brother Eli) to be a fascinating figure.  His image is pretty well understood as a workaholic with dubious skills outside of football, something he's cultivated with his commercial image that runs the gamut from self-aware to incredibly boring.  He's managed to play the publicity game amazingly well.  It helps, of course, to be arguably the best quarterback in history.

Of course, Peyton is well-known as a workaholic, an above-and-beyond exception in an industry that's filled with workaholics.  As near as anybody can tell, Peyton's first, second, and third thoughts at all times all seem to be football.

The film doesn't do anything to change that impression, but it does reinforce it convincingly.  It throws in a lot of stuff about the other Mannings as well, to show why these guys just happen to be great quarterbacks -- the answer (at least for the younger generation) seems to be that they really were, from the beginning, exposed to football and approached it as their first love.  Archie may have been the father figure they all wanted to emulate, but he's no overbearing father figure like those from The Marinovich Project.

Including my soft spot for the subject matter, this is pretty good.  Not complicated, but it really doesn't need to be.

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Gravity

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This movie has gotten a lot of press.  It deserves it.  It's a visual masterpiece that is intensely engrossing.  There's not much plot or dialogue -- the movie lives on its intensely beautiful special effects and visuals.  It feels like you're actually in space, in a way that hasn't been done since Apollo 13.  This film is a great example of near-future science fiction that works.  It's believable, it looks great, and it's immersive.  Go see it, preferably in 3D while it's still in theaters.  It's an intelligent film that just also happens to be one of the most visually captivating films of the decade.

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Breaking Bad Season 4

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Season 4 is the last season of Breaking Bad I got to watch before going on hiatus to wait for the final part of season 5 to make it to Netflix.  It continues to trace its route as a Shakespearean tragedy.  Walter's just gonna keep being Walter.

This season continues Breaking Bad's run as one of the best shows on TV.  So much has been written about this, I don't have much to add, but it's excellent TV.  Watch it.

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John Adams

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Of course I had to watch this.  It's history, innit?  Adams is a fascinating historical character.  I know very little about him aside from what I learned from this movie, but the film seems to be quite historically accurate, with good costuming and special care taken for the script.  It shows that this is based on a David McCullough book.  Adams is shown in all his hardheaded puritanism, including his strained relationship with his family, his political rigidity and his absolute conviction.  

Paul Giamatti turns in a pretty good performance, with a downright excellent performance by Laura Linney.  Not something to rush out and see, but quite good, particularly if you are interested in the era.

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In a World

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You know what I love about the Lagoon Theater?  I can up and decide to see a movie, look what's playing, and pick one.  Usually, like in this case, I'm pleased with the result.  There's self-parody all over this situation. Your local neighborhood hipster (that's me) goes to see an indie movie at an arthouse theater and discover a gem that nobody knows about. That's one way to read the situation.  And I'm sure some of the charm was in the low expectations I had for the movie, so that anything better than average was a pleasant surprise.  But...

This is a pretty good movie.  Lake Bell, a comedian and actress who has been in a bunch of movies I haven't seen, wrote, directed, and stars in this movie.  Her character, Carol Solomon, has gone into the family industry, which in true indie movie quirkiness, is voice acting.  Her father is the biggest name in the voice acting industry, and casts a shadow that Carol has never really managed to break out of.  Then, big news hits the hollywood echo chamber: somebody is bringing back the phrase "In a world..."  The phrase was popularized in movie trailers by Don LaFontaine, who used it so effectively and so much that it is almost a parody of itself, and nobody has brought it back since his death.  (This part is actually true in the real world as well.)  And, through some quirks, there ends up being a competition between father and daughter for the role.

The movie runs on a talented cast, really tight writing, and an oh-so-refreshingly female perspective.  This isn't a feminism movie in that it's parroting The Second Sex at the audience, but rather that it has a fairly even balance of male and female characters, and the female characters are given just as much screentime and lines and action as the male characters.  It's a perfect example that showcases women as real people doing real things.  It's a step on evening the movie world out, so that hopefully all movies will be like this, and this won't have to be identified as a feminist film in 20 years.  Hey, we can hope, right?

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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The first thing that stands out about this movement is about how beautifully shot it is.  There's tons of absolutely delicious looking food, with extreme slow-mo closeups of the preparation of said food.  It's a feast for the eyes, and made me want sushi really badly, even though I'm pretty ambivalent about it normally.

The second thing that stands out about this is just how ridiculously devoted our title character is to his craft.  He lives his job.  He doesn't seem to do anything else, and his entire day constitutes preparing one meal for the very wealthy.  It's admirable, and he has the results to show for it -- many people in the film call it the best sushi in the world, without an ounce of hyperbole.

But mostly, it struck me as a colossal waste of resources.  Sure, I suppose for Jiro himself there's a triumph -- he truly has mastered the art of making sushi in a way that nobody has ever done.  But in the end... so what?  That's a pretty good piece of sushi.  Then one of his patrons eats it, and it's gone.  On to the next piece of sushi.  And really, it's all in the service of some extremely bougie status symbol.  I like good food, and I like treating myself now and then, but there's an exclusivity and a lack of perspective about this restaurant that truly gives me the willies.

I yearn for a bit more editorial voice from this film.  It feels a little bit too admiring.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 4

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Season 4 proceeds much the same way as the previous two do, with solid pacing and decent writing.  The show hasn't quite developed the whimsy that I remember (I'm pretty sure that will come around in season five and six), but it's getting closer.  It's good for its time, which is still pretty bad when you compare it with the fantastic shows that are the best of TV today.

Let's take a moment to talk about Geordi.  Has there ever been a character who is so downplayed?  Geordi's almost a prop most of the time.  It's not because of Levar Burton, he performs the role adequately, if not outstandingly.  No, the writing for Geordi is intensely boring, and he has yet to break out of his flat season one character.  This is the same aw-shucks, world-acts-upon-him persona that he had then, even though he's gotten a promotion.  Is it because of the racial politics of the 90s?  Was it determined that in order to get a black character on the show, he had to be completely passive, to take MLK's nonviolence to an infeasible endpoint?  Is it because he just wasn't written?  Did they not know what to do with an engineer not named Scotty?  It's puzzling.

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30 for 30: The Fab Five

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Chalk this movie up to opening my eyes to something as a much more fascinating topic than I realized.  The hook: "Five freshmen came to Michigan to play basketball in 1991, and they comprised one of the best recruiting classes in basketball."  Ho hum, sounds like the kind of story that's been told thousands of time before any time an announcer wants to tell me that THIS sporting event is truly simple.

But these guys weren't just an amazing recruiting class.  These guys were a cultural symbol that transformed hoops from the culturally boring and lily-white hoops of Hoosiers to the black and much more entertaining sport that it is today.  These guys were enormously influential, and they were a big step in race politics of college.  

It's misleading to say that the shift was because of them.  Instead, they were part of a larger cultural shift, but because they were so good and willing to be just ever-so--slightly transgressive, they happened to be the focal point.  So many issues are still the subject of hand wringing NCAA apologists wishing for the way it [never] was.  They were paid against NCAA rules.  The university profited enormously from sales of licensed merchandise without them getting a dime.  They left school early. They wore baggy shorts.  Why, clearly they represent the downfall of society, can't you see that Doris?

The movie's pretty good too.  They're an amazingly media savvy bunch, with Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose providing great interviews.  The director subtly points the story where he wants it to go, and it's quite convincing.  One of the best of the 30 for 30 films.

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Going Big

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It's been so long since I've seen some of these things that I've forgotten what some of them even are.  I had to look up this movie to even remember what it was about, and the recollection, when it came, was foggy.

Sam Bowie was drafted one pick before Michael Jordan.  He went on to have a quite respectable career.  However, because people are irrational assholes, he was branded a failure because he wasn't as good as Jordan.  This is... stupid.  The movie is plenty watchable, but it obviously doesn't make much of an impression.  Pass.

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