2009 MLB Season Preview

Opening Day is in the books and what better time to deliver my 2009 MLB Season Preview post. This day definitely ranks among the the top 4-5 sports days of the year on par with the SuperBowl, March Madness Thursday, NHL/NBA Playoff openers and to a lesser extent Daytona 500 and Masters Sunday. It represents a sense of hope for 30 MLB teams all but 8 who will still be playing come October. My years of watching the game gives me some insight on what to expect this year. Without further adieu, my bold predictions for the upcoming season:

Breakout Players

  • SniderTravis Snider (TOR) – .300 hitter last year and hit close to .400 in the Spring. The power will come with patience for this 21 year-old
  • LindAdam Lind (TOR) – OK, I am slightly biased towards the Blue Jays but I really have a good feeling about these two young players. Seems to have snapped out of the sophomore funk with a respectable 2008 campaign. Lind should get plenty of playing time and RBI opportunities batting 5th in the Jays lineup
  • JonesAdam Jones (BAL) – Expecting a big breakout year as Jones should benefit from batting 5th similar to Lind. 15-20 HR, 70-80 RBI should be well within reach
  • SandovalPablo Sandoval (SF) – Probably won’t match the .345 pace from last year but will surely increase the power numbers batting 4th in the Giants order. 20 HR and 85 RBI would be a nice celing
  • GallardoYovani Gallardo (MIL) – Many thought last year would be the breakout year however a torn ACL did him in. Gallardo has the stuff to be the ace of the Brewers staff averaging 8 Ks/9 IP with a 3.35 career ERA, 1.27 WHIP. Expecting a solid 15 win season from this youngster

Sleeper Teams

  • Oakland A’s – Depends on the state of the starting rotation. Ace Justin Duchscherer had 2 starts all of last year yielding > 3 ER but will need to come back strong from the start of season DL stint. Eveland and Braden are the unknowns coming off a rough Spring but I like the Cabrera-Giambi-Holliday-Chavez middle part of the order and feel this team can compete in the weak AL West
  • Atlanta Braves – Tough to call a recent 14-time division winner a sleeper team however they are the odd one out among the Mets and Phillies in the NL East. I like the off-season acquisition of stalwart Derek Lowe. Youngsters Jair Jurrjens and Jordan Schafer have high ceilings and provide solid complimentary pieces to all-stars Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Staying healthy could open up a back-door wild-card entry in the NL
  • San Francisco Giants – The Giants need 1-2 more bats in the lineup to get into a more contender status however the pitching staff is fundamentally awesome from young stars to wily veterans – Lincecum, Cain, Zito, and the recently acquired Randy Johnson. I may be a dreamer but I see Zito starting to earn his paycheck and getting back to 13 W and ERA closer to 4.15. Pablo Sandoval is a star in the making and the Giants should be able pitch their way into contention in the weak NL West

Toronto Blue Jays outlook
I’ll be honest – I’m not expecting much this year. 4th in the AL East is almost expected at this point with too much money being thrown around above in the division. The Yankees and Red Sox have too much offensive firepower which should keep them in most games this year even when the starting pitching falters. I do expect the Rays to fall off a bit from last year being a young team, getting closer to 87 wins and missing out on the playoffs. The Orioles are a solid hitting team with a nice core comprising of Roberts-Jones-Markakis-Mora-Huff and should challenge the Jays for 4th. Many feel the Jays weakness is in the offense however I don’t believe that will be the case this year. A core group involving Rios-Wells-Lind-Rolen-Overbay-Snider should keep the Jays competitive all year. Injuries are always going to be a concern with Wells-Rolen but the new combination of Lind-Snider should relieve some of the run production load. Pitching is where the wheels fall off for the Jays this year with the whos who of Litsch-Purcey-Richmond-Romero rounding out the rotation after Roy Halladay. Its a far cry from the 2008 MLB ERA leading staff featuring Burnett, McGowan and Marcum all of whom are not on the active roster for 2009 Opening Day. The bullpen also has question marks with B.J. Ryan not being able to clock past 85 mph in the Spring. Scott Downs stands to takeover the closer role if Ryan continues to feel the after effects of Tommy John surgery. Its safe to say that it will be a trying season for the Jays however Rios-Lind-Snider provide a solid foundation for future development.

Season
YankeesAL East – New York Yankees (money should be able to buy happiness with new acquisition Mark Teixeira bound to have a massive year with the wind blowing right-center in the new Yankee Stadium)
White SoxAL Central – Chicago White Sox (I like the existing power of Thome-Dye-Konerko and throw in potential breakout campaigns for Alexei Ramirez , Josh Fields and Chris Getz and you have yourself a division winner)
A'sAL West – Oakland A’s (someone has to win the division and I like Holliday playing for another contract)
Red SoxAL Wild-card – Boston Red Sox (have an outstanding 1-9 lineup but need Beckett to stay healthy and Dice-K to translate WBC magic into MLB success)

MetsNL East – New York Mets (bullpen issues appear to be resolved with the addition of Putz, KRod. Starters still a question after Johan however I’m expecting a huge power year from the core lineup including a MVP campaign from David Wright)
CardinalsNL Central – St. Louis Cardinals (rolling the dice on good things happening for Carpenter, Ludwick and Chris Perez)
DodgersNL West – Los Angeles Dodgers (yes the Giants have a shot but I’m sticking with the Dodgers and Ramirez-Martin-Kemp supplying enough run support and Kuroda to have a nice breakout campaign)
CubsNL Wild-card – Chicago Cubs (where are the world champion Phillies?? Too many holes in the pitching rotation if you ask me. Inflammation in the pitching elbow does not bode well for WS MVP Cole Hamels meanwhile, Brett Myers is not a #2 pitcher and Jamie Moyer is bound to fall off the wagon this year)

Playoffs
White SoxAL – (ALDS) NYY >> Oak, CHW >> Bos … (ALCS) CHW >> NYY
MetsNL – (NLDS) NYM >> Chc, Stl >> LA … (NLCS) NYM >> Stl

WORLD SERIES – White Sox beat the Mets in 7

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MJ’s Weekly TV Picks (Mar. 9 – Mar. 15)

What to watch for week starting Monday March 9. College Basketball Championship and WBC Round 1-2 games may get updated throughout the week due to uncertainty of teams involved. These are shows I intend on watching or at minimum set up for DVR recording. All television shows listed below are new episodes for the upcoming week. Enjoy!

Time (ET) Network Show Description
Mon. Mar. 9
8:00 CBS The Big Bang Theory The Terminator Decoupling
8:30 CBS How I Met Your Mother Sorry Bro
Tue. Mar. 10
N/A
Wed. Mar. 11
N/A
Thu. Mar. 12
8:00 TNT NBA Basketball Lakers v. Spurs
9:00 NBC The Office Golden Ticket
9:30 NBC 30 Rock The Funcooker
12:35 NBC Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Guest: Tracy Morgan
Fri. Mar. 13
11:35 CBS Late Show with David Letterman Guest: Will Ferrell
Sat. Mar. 14
11:30 NBC Saturday Night Live Tracy Morgan/Kelly Clarkson
Sun. Mar. 15
9:00 FOX Family Guy The Juice is Loose
10:00 HBO Flight of the Conchords Wingmen
NBC The Apprentice Celebrity Episode 8.03
Comedy Central Comedy Central Roast Larry the Cable Guy
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MJ’s Weekly TV Picks (Mar. 2 – Mar. 8)

This is the first installment of my weekly TV picks primarily for the primetime schedule. These are shows I intend on watching or at minimum set up for DVR recording. All television shows listed below are new episodes for the upcoming week. Enjoy!

Time (ET) Network Show Description
Mon. Mar. 2
8:00 CBS The Big Bang Theory The Cushion Saturation
8:30 CBS How I Met Your Mother The Stinsons
12:35 NBC Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Series Premiere: De Niro, Timberlake, Van Morrison
Tue. Mar. 3
12:35 NBC Late Night with Jimmy Fallon SNL Weekend Update alum reunite: Tina Fey
Wed. Mar. 4
7:00 ESPN2 NCAA Basketball (10) Marquette v. (1) Pittsburgh*
Thu. Mar. 5
9:00 NBC The Office Blood Drive
9:30 NBC 30 Rock Goodbye, My Friend
11:30 CBS Late Show with David Letterman Guest: Jon Stewart
Fri. Mar. 6
7:00 ESPN NBA Basketball Cleveland v. Boston
YES NBA Basketball New Jersey v. Orlando
Sat. Mar. 7
12:00 CBS NCAA Basketball (2) Connecticut v. (1) Pittsburgh*
2:00 ESPN World Baseball Classic Canada v. USA
11:30 NBC Saturday Night Live The Rock/Ray LaMontagne
Sun. Mar. 8
4:00 CBS NCAA Basketball (7) Duke v. (5) North Carolina*
9:00 NBC The Apprentice Celebrity version Episode 8.02
FOX Family Guy Family Gay
10:00 HBO Flight of the Conchords New Zealand Town

* NCAA rankings as of Sunday March 1

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Celebrity Apprentice Returns

Today, the 8th installment of ‘The Apprentice’ makes its season premiere. It’s hard to remember when this show was last relevant. The answer is a long 5 years ago in 2004. At the time, the series came in to fill the ‘Must-See TV’ void on NBC taking advantage of the sweet 9PM timeslot highly targeted by advertisers. The concept was fresh, clever and starred a well-famed billionaire to add star power. The success of the first season led to video games, books preaching Trump propaganda, an SNL hosting appearance by the Donald himself and of course a catch-phrase we know all too well. The problem with the show is that it became over saturated with the increased popularity. A second season was rushed out later in the Fall season and it severely lacked the character and business focus of the first season. It become more about product placement and boardroom drama. What completely pushed the show over the edge in my opinion, was the introduction of the Martha Stewart spin-off in 2005 which did nothing but bring both shows down. The chart below shows the awful decline in ratings as the show lost 63% viewership by the 6th season dropping from a Top 10 show to 75th in primetime ratings:

The timing of the show also hurt its ratings as it came in during the tail-end of the reality-TV phase. While the genre is still popular today, it is nowhere near the 5 year craze 2000-2004 which introduced us to shows like ‘Survivor’, ‘Big Brother’, ‘Joe Millionaire’, and ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’. I am actually somewhat surprised ‘Survivor’ has stayed on the air this long since 2000. The truth is, it took 9 years and 17 seasons for the show to drop 55% in viewership and even then has remained a Top 15 show for each of the previous runs. While I stopped watching after the 2nd season, it seems like the show found creative ways to keep the game play fresh and interesting. I’ve also never been a fan of running two seasons of the same show in the same TV year and I think this hurt ‘The Apprentice’ more so than ‘Survivor’. ‘American Idol’ has benefited from a one per year run since inception and has flourished phenomenally in ratings still averaging 25+ million in ratings entering its 8th season now.

This year’s Apprentice is the second of the celebrity variety and I use the term “celebrity” fairly loosely. I would place this year’s group at “D-List” at best. Some of the “names” this year include: Dennis Rodman, Clint Black, Joan Rivers, Brian McKnight and Tom Green. I would even go as far as saying that this is a slight downgrade from the previous celebrity version which included the likes of: Lennox Lewis, Gene Simmons, Jennie Finch, Stephen Baldwin and eventual winner, Piers Morgan. The previous season did enough however to improve on its ratings from with the increased star power and allowed NBC to extend the series to another season. The problem, having watched the previous celebrity version, is that it became less about the show and more about the characters. Instead of using clever business tactics to perform specific tasks, the celebs would use their acquaintances to assist in generating money. It basically came down to who had the bigger contact list. Simmons and Omarosa were obviously brought in to create fireworks and generate boardroom politics. That is unfortunately the direction I feel this new season is headed with Rodman and Khloe Kardashian in the mix.

While I have been watching the show since 2004, I feel like I have to let go at some point. The show needs to go back to its roots and focus on business tasks. Previous wingmen, Carolyn and George were very conscientious and offered acute criticism of the ongoing tasks, a concept lacking by the new henchmen, Ivana and Donald Jr. I also don’t think there will ever be another contestant that matches the entrepreneurial mindset and work ethic of Season 1 winner Bill Rancic. Personally, I think the new season is doomed for failure airing Sundays at 9PM. While it’s doubtful the show will ever regain its true form, NBC better hope to keep Brande Roderick on the show as long as possible to keep fans interested this year.

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Upcoming ‘Office’ Episodes

I couldn’t find this anywhere else on the web so I decided to create (and maintain) an all-purpose tv schedule guide for upcoming episodes of ‘The Office’. It will include listings of all episodes airing on NBC and in syndication on TBS as well as any other noteworthy guest appearances of cast members on talk shows etc. The link will also be permanently available off the Pages view in the right navigation. Enjoy!

‘The Office’ TV Schedule

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2009 Oscar Predictions

Since I have only seen 3 Oscar nominated films from 2008 (Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight), I didn’t feel like I had enough credibility to predict winners for this year’s Oscar Awards. Instead, I decided to look back and see how the Golden Globes did in predicting winners. To note, one major difference between the award shows is that the Golden Globes split up Drama and Musical/Comedy categories which basically gives it two chances at picking the Oscar winner. Let’s look back at the past 10 years for the 3 major awards (Oscar winner in bold):

BEST PICTURE

Season Golden Globe Oscar
Drama Musical/Comedy
1998 Saving Private Ryan Shakespeare in Love Shakespeare in Love
1999 American Beauty Toy Story 2 American Beauty
2000 Gladiator Almost Famous Gladiator
2001 A Beautiful Mind Moulin Rouge A Beautiful Mind
2002 Babel Chicago Chicago
2003 Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Lost in Translation Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 The Aviator Sideways Crash
2005 Brokeback Mountain Walk the Line Million Dollar Baby
2006 Babel Dreamgirls The Departed
2007 Atonement Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street No Country For Old Men
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Vicky Cristina Barcelona ???
Last-10 4 2
6/10

BEST LEAD ACTOR

Season Golden Globe Oscar
Drama Musical/Comedy
1998 Jim Carrey – The Truman Show Michael Caine – Little Voice Roberto Benigni – Life is Beautiful
1999 Denzel Washington – The Hurricane Jim Carrey – Man on the Moon Kevin Spacey – American Beauty
2000 Tom Hanks – Cast Away George Clooney – O Brother Where Art Thou? Russell Crowe – Gladiator
2001 Russell Crowe – A Beautiful Mind Gene Hackman – The Royal Tenenbaums Denzel Washington – Training Day
2002 Jack Nicholson – About Schmidt Richard Gere – Chicago Adrian Brody – The Pianist
2003 Sean Penn – Mystic River Bill Murray – Lost in Translation Sean Penn – Mystic River
2004 Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator Jamie Foxx – Ray Jamie Foxx – Ray
2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote Joaquin Phoenix – Walk the Line Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote
2006 Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland
2007 Daniel Day Lewis – There Will Be Blood Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd Daniel Day Lewis – There Will Be Blood
2008 Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler Colin Farrell – In Bruges ???
Last-10 4 1
5/10

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

Season Golden Globe Oscar
Drama Musical/Comedy
1998 Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth Gwenyth Paltrow – Shakespeare in Love Gwenyth Paltrow – Shakespeare in Love
1999 Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry Janet McTeer – Tumbleweeds Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry
2000 Julia Roberts – Erin Brockovich Renee Zellweger – Nurse Betty Julia Roberts – Erin Brockovich
2001 Sissy Spacek – In The Bedroom Nicole Kidman – Moulin Rouge Halle Berry – Monster’s Ball
2002 Nicole Kidman – The Hours Renee Zellweger – Chicago Nicole Kidman – The Hours
2003 Charlize Theron – Monster Diane Keaton – Something’s Gotta Give Charlize Theron – Monster
2004 Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby Annette Bening – Being Julia Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby
2005 Felicity Huffman – Transamerica Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line
2006 Helen Mirren – The Queen Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada Helen Mirren – The Queen
2007 Julie Christie – Away from Her Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose
2008 Kate Winslet – Revolutionary Road Sally Hawkins – Happy-Go-Lucky ???
Last-10 6 3
9/10

What this all means is that the Golden Globes is in a slump predicting the Best Picture after reeling off 8 straight correctly from 1996-2003. On the other hand, the Golden Globes are on a 5 year hot streak of predicting Best Lead Actor after a 5 year futility streak 1998-2002. Finally, based on recent historical results, I would start popping the champagne if I were Kate Winslet, up for Best Lead Actress.

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‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Movie Review

Slumdog Millionaire

I had wanted to watch this movie when I first heard about it in December. However, I never got around to a viewing until late January after which the film had already won Golden Globes, SAG Awards and been nominated for 10 Oscars. It almost seemed unfair to have had the bar set so high as it couldn’t possibly fulfill the hype. And unfortunately, after watching it, the movie seemed very ordinary for me. I should offer a *spoiler* alert for those who haven’t seen the film as integral pieces of the plot may be discussed.

It may be worth mentioning that I missed the very start of the movie but was caught up quickly by the time I arrived. The movie focuses on three orphaned children from the slums of Mumbai and details a rags to riches love story. As the movie went along, I really enjoyed the premise of re-telling the background story of each answer and the back-and-forth cuts were carefully done. I would have preferred to see a running sidebar on the Millionaire show to see how many questions our hero was away from the ‘million’ and also if the same life lines from the U.S. show were available for use. While it was unfortunate for India to have gained recognition in this film through the portrayal of slum villages, it also wouldn’t be fair to ignore the fact that these areas exist, as they do in many other countries around the world. Despite the Western praise, the movie has been a cause for protest in areas of Mumbai.

I actually think there was dialogue in the movie that did not translate well in the subtitles. Luckily my early years at Hindi class paid off and I think those who could understand the language may have connected a bit more with certain scenes. I also wish the film did a better job highlighting Amitabh Bachan, the actor who came down in the helicopter in the autograph scene. To put it in perspective, there probably isn’t a single actor in Hollywood who is on the same scale as the iconic Bachan is relative to the Bollywood scene. It’s also cool to note that Bachan is the actual host of India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Meanwhile, the actor playing the host in the movie was another recognizable face for me, Anil Kapoor, who I was a big fan of back in the early 90s (Ram Lakhan anyone?). It’s always interesting to see Bollywood actors cross over to the Hollywood scene (Amrish Puri in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom rings a bell). I’m hoping this movie is a launch pad for the two main stars, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, both of whom did a good job in the movie.

What bothered me about the film however was the stretching of reality as it went along. For example, young Jamal (Dev) going back to Mumbai to find Latika (Freida) seemed too easy. To keep things in perspective, try finding a ‘Mary’ in NYC without the assistance of any technology. Furthermore, it seemed odd how much the kids were able to get by speaking English without finishing any formal education. Millionaire is also a show that is never shown live as the last scene depicted, and the phone-a-friend list is predetermined at the time of filming. It seemed like we really had to suspend reality to allow for the Hollywood ending. Also, it may have been the 5hrs sleep I was on and most definitely my lack of literary knowledge, but I was convinced at the time of viewing that Jamal answered the last question incorrectly and the proceeding events were a fantasy sequence. Why else would a million dollar winner be stranded alone at a train station after a monumental win? Where was the media? Again, maybe I expected too much and perhaps I am being too critical but concluding the fairy tale love story with a convenient happy ending accompanied with a dance scene is what prompted me to stop watching Bollywood movies in the mid-90s in the first place. That being said, I think it will probably win the Best Picture Oscar in a relatively weak field but give me Boyz in the Hood any day over this above average film.

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Kelly Clarkson vs Carrie Underwood

Kelly Clarkson Carrie Underwood

A recent random argument with a colleague prompted me to write this post and settle our differences. Now, I don’t claim to listen to pop or country too much, however I do think Kelly Clarkson is by far the better singing talent over Carrie Underwood. So, while judging singing talent alone is highly subjective, I had to dig into areas that have more quantitative measurements:

Album Sales
For starters, I found it a fairly difficult to find official album sale numbers on the Internet. There really should be a site that houses this data and allows users to select an album and retrieve appropriate sales stats and splits by month, year etc. (ok, too much time looking at ESPN player cards). In any case, digging around the official U.S. recording company site (RIAA) and official press releases, it eventually led me back to Wikipedia which did a nice job summing it up (as of 02/15/09):

Artist Albums Sales*
Clarkson 3 9,545,000
Underwood 2 9,330,000

Carrie supporters would probably be quick to point out that Kelly had a 2-year lead in sales and that is probably a fair point. To give credit where credit is due, Underwood also has the top selling U.S. album of any Idol contestant. However, outside the realm of U.S. sales, Kelly’s Breakaway album sold over 12 million copies worldwide (AI record) and Clarkson has a much more emphatic advantage over Underwood in world sales (unconfirmed 17+ to 11+). Carrie’s photogenic image and heavy involvement in the pop media (Tony Romo anyone?) greatly assists her U.S. sales numbers. Further investigation has Clarkson at an astounding 8 to 2 advantage over Underwood in Top 10 Singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 which speaks to the quality and quantity of content produced. This includes Kelly’s latest single (“My Life Would Suck Without You”) which reached #1 last week. Although both ladies have probably already peaked in individual album sales, Kelly’s recent #1 hit leads me to believe her March 2009 album All I Ever Wanted will do reasonably well. Meanwhile Carrie’s sharp sales drop from her first to second album may be a sign of further diminishing returns.

Grammys
While there are probably a dozen or so award shows each year recognizing music talent, the Grammys are generally recognized as the standard of honoring musical achievement across all genres. For this purpose, I will only focus on the Grammys to compare hardware earned by our two competitors. The results are as follows (as of 02/15/09):

Artist Nominations Wins
Clarkson 4 2 (Female Pop Vocal Performance, Pop Vocal Album)
Underwood 4 4 (New Artist, Female Country Vocal Performance [3])

 

By sheer numbers Underwoord clearly has the advantage but a closer look tells a different tale. Carrie has done exceptionally well in the Country genre as 3 of the awards lie in the Best Female Country Vocal category. However after that, it is slim pickings. While Underwood has defeated the likes of Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes, Clarkson faced heavier competition in her award wins over Mariah Carey and Paul McCartney among others. Is it also not somewhat strange to note that Carrie has never been nominated for a Best Album Grammy (Country or otherwise)? The Pop genre is a much more competitive field and Kelly has held her own in both at the Grammys and in competing against album sales. With the up and coming talent of Taylor Swift, Carrie’s hold on the Country market may be coming to an end.

In terms of intangibles, while Kelly is no angel herself and some might say even a tad arrogant, I find her to be somewhat more wholesome than Carrie who seems to be preoccupied these days digging her key into 4-wheel drives and forgetting dudes’ names. While there will probably never be a clear-cut winner with these two, I think the above areas of investigation shed enough light into the competition to put Kelly Clarkson on top. Rebuttal anyone?


* [Update: 03/23/09] Kelly’s new album release, All I Ever Wanted debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 reaching 255,000 in sales. Although the sales figures pale in comparison to a couple of her previous album releases Thankful (297,000) and My December (291,000), the strong debut displaced U2 at #1 at a time when year-to-date sales were down 12%. Her first CD single “My Life Would Suck Without You” remains on on the Billboard Hot 100 for the 9th consecutive week holding ground in the #5 slot.


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‘Notorious’ Movie Review

B.I.G.

Growing up, my favorite rapper was Notorious B.I.G. and I had a chance to relive his life story in this film. I’m glad the movie did not come out too much later than it did so as to keep memories of the rap giant relatively in perspective. Outside of some minor details, there wasn’t too much I didn’t already about his life and I was hoping some of the matters would have been probed in more detail. Otherwise, the film did a good job hitting many of the key points in B.I.G.’s life and the music was well placed throughout the movie.

Jamal Woolard did an exceptional job portraying B.I.G. including much of the rapper’s swagger and mannerisms. I had a tough time figuring out if Jamal’s rhymes were authentic or if he was just lip-syncing them – regardless, it looked fairly legit. I was also neat to note that B.I.G.’s actual son played young Biggy early on in the movie. The actress playing Faith Evans also did a great job and her close resemblance to the real deal definitely assisted in relating to the character. This is one element that hurt the portrayals of Puffy and Tupac as I had a tough time ‘believing’ each actor’s representation due to the dissimilarities in looks (I’ve always thought Kobe Bryant had a pretty close resemblance to Tupac).

As the movie went along, it was fairly obvious the story was biased towards B.I.G./East Coast and all matters related to his life (executive production efforts from Puff Daddy, B.I.G.’s mother and Faith Evans may have had something to do with that). Any foul play B.I.G. committed was spinned into a positive light and B.I.G. always seemed to come out in a compassionate manner. The feud with Tupac was even downplayed somewhat to make B.I.G. appear as the innocent victim. Although the facts have never been confirmed, it seemed a bit too simplistic for Bad Boy not to be involved in some way or another of Tupac’s robbery/shooting in NY. Its unfortunate we couldn’t gain any more details/insight on the true happenings of this event among others (murders, Pac/Faith).

I actually think the movie would have been more memorable with cuts to actual footage (outside of the funeral- which probably hit the spot for those who remember the scene). For example, the incident at the 1995 Source Awards would have been much more powerful if the viewer witnessed the real scene illustrating the build up of East/West coast tensions. Another knock I have of the film is the omission of some of the side characters in B.I.G.’s life. A colleague noted that Charlie Baltimore, who was romantically liked to B.I.G., was notably missing from the storyline (did I mention Faith was involved in Production?). I also thought some of the other Bad Boy members (112, Mase, Lox) along with Jay-Z should have been mentioned in some light, at least from the perspective of how B.I.G. positively influenced their music careers.

I would definitely recommend this to those who wish to gain a better understanding of the rapper’s life and for those who already have memories of the late rapper, it will be enjoyable to relive the moments that define the life of ‘Big Poppa’.

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The Office – ‘Stress Relief’ Episode Review

Michael Scott

So this was the much hyped Office episode airing after the Super Bowl, usually a sweet spot for shows to grow in audience following the most watched telecast of the television season. This year NBC gave the honor to The Office, super-sized it to 1hr and threw in some big names to build it up. In execution the episode was hilarious from start-to-end, at times not the sharp poignant humor Office fans are accustom to, but definitely offering broader comedy angles to appeal to the larger mass audience.

The tone was set early with a ridiculously hilarious slapstick cold open. It did a good job attempting to keep the Super Bowl audience afloat. The scenes with CFO David Wallace were vintage Office equipped with witty conversation and classic Michael, facial expressions et al. I thought the writers did a good job incorporating the “big names” without escaping from the day-to-day reality of Scranton, PA (although if you blinked you probably missed Jessica Alba’s appearance). Also, any episode with the ‘Nard dawg dropping vocals should be considered an instant hit (the Stayin’ Alive scene alone was killer comedy). For syndication purposes, it seemed like the hour long episode was basically broken down into two story segments with the latter portion showcasing a roast of Michael Scott (“friends only, Toby”). Although the best zingers came from Michael himself with the “boom-roasted” 1-liners directed at each employee. BTW, “what’s a text?”

Overall I think the episode did a good job “re-introducing” each character by highlighting each one’s eccentricities to an audience that may be watching for the first time. I’m glad the writers did not go over the top with a wedding or surprise pregnancy. While the episode drew 22 million viewers, which more than doubled its average season audience, it fell pretty hard from the 98 million who watched the Super Bowl. Although the late start (10:40 PM EST) may have averted some viewers, personally, I don’t think The Office is a show that will ever really catch on with the general public. Its dry comedy really only appeals to a niche audience (with shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock suffering from the same fate). Jim+Pam’s Ross+Rachel angle allows the show to reach out to a larger fan base and attract higher viewer ship but we will never see Office rating numbers resemble NBC’s past comedy hits.

Overall, a hilarious episode with high levels of comedy sustained throughout the hour: 8.3/10

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