Ross Douthat recently posed “Questions for Indiana’s Critics” and I’ve decided to answer them, even though they were probably meant for (and might be better answered by) more knowledgeable folks than me. Although, I do think that the reason that nobody wiser has responded is because the questions mostly seem off point.

For the critics of Indiana, the issue is that the latest RFRA seems aimed at extending the ability of private companies and individuals to discriminate against one another. Conservatives are quick to push back against this and, in a basic sense, they are right. The problem isn’t as much the RFRA as it is the lack of protection for LGBT in Indiana. If the bill had included the amendments to extend LGBT protections and not allow discrimination against homosexuals, which Governor Pence claims he was never for, then I don’t think there would have been as much to do. I mean, there still would have been a bit of a dust up since so many liberals are still smarting from the Hobby Lobby decision but I think Conservatives would have a better leg to stand on than they did (past tense because Gov. Pence and Co. have announced that they’d be revisiting the bill.)

Because to me, the most pressing question and the most difficult to answer is:
Does America require a separation of Faith/Morals and Business?
That is the question here. Should a person have to push aside their religious beliefs if they want run a business? If a photographer doesn’t believe in gay marriage, should s/he still be forced to work at one? In cases like Hobby Lobby, I understand how there’s an angle of “They are pushing their beliefs on their employees” but, in this case, it seems more like it is the religious people who are having beliefs pushed upon them. If a performer was hired for a gig and then found out it was a fundraiser for the political party they don’t support, wouldn’t they have a right to back out without facing legal repercussions? Or, since vowing to never go to Indiana is all the rage now (side note: All the Rage is a term that really needs to make a comeback in the Outrage Era), where is the line between discrimination and boycott?
I’m sure many people will find the above questions easy to answer and some might think they are so simple so wonder if asking them is an April Fool’s joke but, at the very least, I think this is the conversation we should be having.
Honestly, in most cases, like the restaurant owner who couldn’t wait to kick gays out for being gay or the baker who didn’t want to bake a cake for a gay wedding, I think the answer is a little easier because it’s not like their job is really any different for a gay person than a straight person. And their “religious beliefs” are fairly inconsistent as I don’t believe these places do much of a litmus test for other sins besides homosexuality. Do they refuse to make cakes for people who get remarried sans annulment? Or interfaith marriages? Or adulterers?
That being said, I do think there’s an argument to be made about people not being able to actually work at events that they find morally wrong. But since most people seem more interested in having a debate than a conversation, I doubt we’ll see much of that discussed.

As for the Mr. Douthat’s questions:

1) Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?

No, just as Gordon College, which Douthat linked to in his article, didn’t lose its accreditation. There have been exemptions made for religious colleges and I don’t necessarily think those should end. Although, it should also be noted that Douthat’s examples of covenants and honor codes, Wheaton & BYU, admit gay and lesbian applicants. Since 2007, BYU’s honor code has read: “One’s stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue.” Wheaton has Refuge, a group for gay and lesbian students. To me, the key difference between those schools and the Bob Jones examples is that LGBT applicants can gain admission to these schools and agree to live up to the honor code or covenants whereas Bob Jones University simply wouldn’t admit people who were part of an interracial relationship.

2) What about the status of religious colleges and schools or non-profits that don’t have such official rules about student or teacher conduct, but nonetheless somehow instantiate or at least nod to a traditional view of marriage at some level — in the content of their curricula, the design of their benefit package, the rules for their wedding venues, their denominational affiliation? Should their tax-exempt status be reconsidered? Absent a change in their respective faith’s stance on homosexuality, for instance, should Catholic high schools or Classical Christian academies or Orthodox Jewish schools be eligible for 501(c)3 status at all?

This question seems like a step-back for those who answered question 1 in the affirmative. The one issue I might bring up, since “the design of their benefit package” was mentioned, is that I feel that everything should be made available to employees however, if a non-profit has an issue with an element of the package, they can opt not to cover that part of the insurance. For instance, I don’t think Hobby Lobby has to offer coverage for birth control but they have to offer it as an add-on. An employee can opt to pay for it themselves and shouldn’t be punished for that decision.

I’m breaking a couple of the following questions down into parts since there were multiple questions asked in one query.

“3a) Have the various colleges and universities that have done so been correct to withdraw recognition from religious student groups that require their leaders to be chaste until (heterosexual) marriage?”

Yes, if non-discrimination is part of their honor code. I do think that extending the edict to the leadership of a group gets into a gray area although the group can always just not vote for the person they don’t believe follows their beliefs (or strip them of their leadership should the person somehow get elected and break the code.)

“3b) Should all of secular higher education take the same approach to religious conservatives?”

No.

3c) And then further, irrespective of leadership policies, do religious bodies that publicly endorse a traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexual ethics deserve a place on secular campuses at all? Should the Harvard chaplaincy, for instance, admit ministers to its ranks whose churches or faiths do not allow them to perform same-sex marriages? Should the chaplaincy of a public university?”

Yes. Just as many Conservatives say that liberals are overstating the discrimination angle here (and, yes, when Jim Crow, Sharia law, and the Holocaust are mentioned, then people are overstating it), this seems like a case of the opposite reaction. Bowdoin College stating that all student groups must allow all students the ability to join and also let them run for a leadership position doesn’t change the core beliefs of the group. It doesn’t change the focus of the group. Odds are, it will do very little to change the membership or leadership of the group.
For very few people is faith an easy path to walk. Should these groups kick out anyone who questions the rules set forth for them or needs to discuss the root of their beliefs? Or just the ones whose faith is challenged by their sexuality?
If a public university wants to employ a chaplain who says all gays are going to hell, fine. But if a gay couple wants to use that public university’s place of worship for a gay wedding, the chaplain can’t tell them no. He doesn’t have to officiate it but access to the space shouldn’t discriminate against a gay couple.

4a.) In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions?

The view? Sure. Discriminating based on that view? No.

4b. Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case?

If Mozilla fired him because he gave money supporting Prop 8, then I’d say no.
If Mozilla fired him because people were boycotting the company because of his support and feared a fiscal backlash because of it, well, that’s up to Mozilla.

4c. Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts?

Yes. California forbids judges from being a part of groups that discriminate (like Men Only country clubs). The Boy Scouts discriminate. They make no bones about it. If the Boy Scouts want to remake themselves as a religious group, like the two ministers in Idaho who owned a wedding chapel business and faced a mandate to marry gays, then I think judges could be part of it, just as judges can go to masses at Churches that don’t allow gay marriage. The problem here, again, is that many businesses and non-profits seem to treat their religion as a buffet line and want to choose which of God’s laws they actually want to listen to and use as a basis for discrimination.

4d. What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?

No. Especially given that George’s beef could be argued to be more with “liberal secularism” than gay marriage. And, again, it would only seem to be a major issue is George refused to teach gay students. Princeton might be embarrassed by this views but I can’t imagine they just came up after he received tenure.

5) Should the state continue to recognize marriages performed by ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. who do not marry same-sex couples? Or should couples who marry before such a minister also be required to repeat the ceremony in front of a civil official who does not discriminate?

Personally, I don’t think religious figures should come into play in regards to the state recognizing “marriage”. In fact, I think separating the two will help religious groups boost their own flocks’ view of marriage and commitment. I’d think more religious leaders would be pushing back on the entire connection to “legal marriage” since, gay or straight, state laws on marriage do not truly follow in the religious definition of what a marriage is or hold people to the same standards.
However, as it is, I would still recognize the marriages performed by those of the clergy who do not marry same-sex couples.

6) Should churches that decline to bless same-sex unions have their tax-exempt status withdrawn? Note that I’m not asking if it would be politically or constitutionally possible: If it were possible, should it be done?

No. Again, I’m assuming this is more designed for the people who said yes, earlier. This probably should have been question #1 since, by this point, I think we’ve crossed this bridge miles back.

7) In the light of contemporary debates about religious parenting and gay or transgender teenagers, should Wisconsin v. Yoder be revisited? What about Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary?

If the last question was the most obvious no, this one is just a “Huh?” Honestly, I’m not sure how this is really relevant besides as a veiled “They’re coming for your kids next!” That’s probably too snarky but I really don’t see the rationale behind this question.

NOTE: This probably won’t matter but my comments were inundated by spam so I turned them off. Any replies can be directed to me via e-mail or Twitter (@soulhonky)

 

Oklahoma’s making the news with a proposed ban on hoodies. Mind you, Oklahoma is an open carry state. So waltzing around with a gun is OK but wearing a hoodie is part of the problem. It would also outlaw people wearing masks in public (save for Halloween or masquerade parties) because lord knows that when robbers break into a store and put a mask on to thwart cameras, they just walk around all day in the masks. I mean, if someone is ignoring the whole ban on armed robbery, is a ban on a mask really going to act as some sort of deterrent?

I really wish Right Wing Gun Supporters would use their gun logic when attacking other American freedoms. Can people not really wear something to protect their head in the rain or cold because criminals use them while committing crimes (oh, and wearing a hoodie or mask while committing a crime is already against the law in OK.)

On an unrelated note, if you were ever wondering why people hated gentrification, it’s when people move into a condo next to a playground and then complain that the playground should be torn down because it’s too noisy. Kids playing for four hours a day is too much for these people. They think these children should walk down the block to a different playground. I want to be more positive in 2015 but, honestly, I think the best resolution would be to lower one’s faith in humanity and you won’t be as disappointed or frustrated all the time.

 

If you’re a fan of the BBC’s Sherlock and need a fix, I’d recommend Miss Fischer’s Murder Mysteries, currently available on Netflix. Essie Davis gives a great performance as a 1920’s socialite who decides to become a private investigator and thorn in the side of the police. I’ve only watched the first two episodes but it’s a fun little trifle that has strong performances yet doesn’t take itself too seriously.

 

During my years in reality TV, I’ve become all too aware of the “Wouldn’t It Be Great” note. It usually comes down from a network executive who, after watching a cut of the show, conjured up something that never happened and wonders if we could put it in the show. “Wouldn’t it be great if these two got into a fist fight?” “Wouldn’t it be great if something more exciting happened?” Well, yes, it would be great but, when working in reality TV, there’s only so much we can do with the footage we have to work with. If something doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. In scripted, however, you can make these things happen and it seems like the people involved with “The Imitation Game” opted for flashy over factual. In the end, “The Imitation Game” is a somewhat ironic name for a movie that seems completely unconcerned with actually presenting much in the way of truth when it comes to Alan Turing.

Once you get past the fact that this probably should have been called a film inspired by Alan Turing than a movie actually about what happened, “The Imitation Game” is a solid enough movie carried by top notch acting from everyone involved. The script also does a nice job switching between multiple timelines.

Ultimately though, this one seems like a rental to me.

 

I recently saw “Selma”, the new biopic about Martin Luther King Jr. focusing on his presence in and the marches in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and I can’t recommend it enough. Not only is the film exquisitely made by director Ava DuVernay alongside Director of Photography Bradford Young (a talent whose time/recognition has finally arrived) with a powerful performance by David Oyelowo but it highlights the problems of the modern civil rights movement and the Occupy Era in general.

What makes “Selma” such a great movie is that it doesn’t deify Martin Luther King Jr. like many movies have (and likely will). It shows King as a flawed man who made mistakes. He was a man who grew tired of fighting one battle after another: The Equal Rights Amendment, Bussing, voting right, etc. It also showed how “victories” were often small steps of progress. In fact, there was one particular use of the n-word at the end of the film that was an absolute gut punch and elicited a gasp from some in the audience. By the end of the film, a comparison to The Walking Dead popped in my head – no matter what battle King and his supporters won, they were still surrounded by racism and victory just meant that it was time to move to another front to fight and they knew that they probably wouldn’t live to see the end of the evil.
But perhaps most interestingly, the film did not shy away from the fact that, to a certain extent, MLK was a “race-baiter”. That term has become a rallying cry for conservatives and Fox News but this film makes no bones about what the marches and protests were aimed to do. Early in the film, there’s an important discussion about how the protests in Albany failed because the sheriff there was smart and knew that if he didn’t crack heads, there’d be no story for the media to tell and nothing would happen. King and the Southern Christian Leadership eventually had to move on. And move on to Selma they did because they knew that there sheriff there was a Good Ol’ Boy who would make the mistakes and cause the ruckus that was needed to capture the cameras and get the attention of the world.

Watching the film, it was impossible not to think of current events but it was also impossible to ignore how much better prepared and focused the protests of fifty years ago were. After Ferguson and Eric Garner, there were protests across the country but what was the goal? I feel like many people look at the protests of the 60’s and just think they were all about a blanket “Fight for Equality” however, as this film shows, each protest had a specific focus. In Selma, the issue was voting rights and if they could show how awful things got in one city, they could help push a nationwide bill. In short, Martin Luther King Jr. protested for something while today we just seem to gather against. How many people at the protests or who wear the “I can’t breathe” shirts would be able to answer the question, “What’s next?” Today when people exclaim, “Something must be done”, what’s to be done is no more conceived than the abstract “something”.
With Occupy, it’s even worse because not only do many people not seem to have an idea of what they want to do but they are arguing against countless different issues and have no singular voice. While the Congress passes laws that push us right back to the brink (the latest move being allowing Freddie Mac to give loans with little money down), Occupy has little power or voice to even shed light on the moves, nevermind try to make a change.

I’m starting to ramble now and I’d hate to push people away from “Selma” because of all of this political talk – it’s a great movie even beyond everything I’ve written here – but it’s all a little frustrating when you see so much made of people speaking out about things like Ferguson or Eric Garner but not really saying anything productive or making any actual moves to make a change. (Nevermind the fact that, all too often, riots have replaced non-violence.) At this point, I think pro athletes need to put away their t-shirts and pick up their checkbooks and start supporting local candidates or legislation that could make a difference. But, then again, after saying all this, I look myself in the mirror and say, “Well, what are you going to do about it, Mr. Smarty Pants” and the extent of my action is a blog post so maybe I should heed my own advice before faulting others.

 

Officer Darren Wilson won’t stand trial for the murder of Michael Brown. While this has received the lion’s share of the press coverage, it’s just one example of what is becoming an American Epidemic. There was a minor uproar when John Crawford III, a black man carrying a BB gun he was going to buy at Walmart, was gunned down by police and even less when no indictment was passed. 12 year old Tamir Rice was recently gunned down by police in Cleveland for holding a BB gun despite the fact that a) Ohio is an open carry state and b) the person calling 911 said that the gun might be fake. The bottom line is that We have more of these grand juries on the horizon and, unfortunately, little chance that we’ve seen the last black person gunned down by police, so it’s time to look for possible changes to the system.

1. Reassessing how we try police officers

Here’s a write-up on the prosecutor Bob Mcculloch from CNN in August.

McCulloch’s father was a police officer and was killed on the job in 1964 by an African-American man, when McCulloch was 12, McCulloch’s spokesperson Ed Magee confirmed to CNN. In addition to his father, McCulloch’s brother, an uncle and a cousin all served with the St. Louis Police Department, and his mother worked as a clerk at the department, Magee said. McCulloch, who as a teenager lost a leg to cancer, made it his career ambition to become a prosecutor. He was quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as telling a reporter, while first campaigning for the office: “I couldn’t become a policeman, so being county prosecutor is the next best thing.”

I mean, this is a guy who’d get dismissed in a millisecond if he was in a jury pool and instead he’s the prosecutor? Listening to his tone deaf speech before reading the grand jury’s decision, it was hard to believe that he wasn’t working for the defense. To me, it seems unreasonable to make the same people who work with cops every day to make cases against criminals be the same people who try police officers in court. The conflict of interest seems overwhelming. I believe it is time to accept the fact that the prosecutors and police have failed to self-regulate themselves and there needs to be some sort of move to add some accountability to the cops who are giving their departments a bad name.
There seems to be three options here. 1. Moving Internal Affairs departments from out of the Prosecutor’s Office and giving them their own legal team that will handle all officer related cases. 2. Creating some civilian oversight committees with some teeth to help regulate what is going on in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. They won’t be able to do much in the courts but they could have some say in discipline for these officers. At the very least, Darren Wilson panicked and did a lousy job protecting himself and the community. It was the classic example of adding a gun to the situation just making matters far worse. 3. Have the Federal courts handle all potential felony indictments/cases of police officers. Currently, federal prosecutors only take on these cases from a civil rights angle but it seems like they might want to handle the main cases as well, because of the aforementioned conflict of interest with prosecutors and police.

2. Body Cameras on All Police
I noticed a lot of politicians tweeting about body cameras but the question is, how many will do anything besides tweet about it? A recent study in Rialto, CA showed “more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.”
But, again, can we count on the state governments to make these moves? Politicians often rely heavily on support of police unions. How many would cross them by enacting a law that requires all cops and/or cruisers to have cameras? Should this be something that has to be mandated from the Federal level?

3. Investment/Training in Alternate Weapons/Tactics
Darren Wilson’s testimony stated that he did not have a taser because the police department only had a few of them and Wilson didn’t like them because they were uncomfortable. This is horrible reasoning for not carrying something that could help avoid killing people.
It’s the 21st century and we live in the epicenter of the gun loving world. If we don’t have viable alternatives to help police officers simply pulling out a gun when they feel threatened, we need to get on it. And we need to work on training cops to rely on the less lethal forces when possible.

4. Boost in police/IAD budgets
Instead of the federal government spending money to militarize the police, how about we spend some coin training our officers and making sure they have non-lethal ways to protect themselves? Many of the recent police shooting have involved rookie or newer officers. I’m not sure if anything can be done about the nerves that rookies feel when first put into the field but I think we have to take a look at the training that these officers are receiving. And things like body cameras or tasers for all cop cars, etc. cost money. We need to invest money in our police departments not to just help them keep us safe from criminals but, sadly, to help keep us safe from the bad officers out there.

Now that the fires are out and all of the symbolic protests are over, it’s time to focus on making some actual changes that might help prevent future tragedies like this.

 

I haven’t checked in lately and I’ve seen a bunch of films so I should throw out some quick thoughts. To the surprise of not many, I wasn’t wowed by any of them.

American Sniper
This is a well made action movie. Unfortunately, I went in to this movie with high expectations and walked out a disappointed. I was expecting more depth when it came to Chris Kyle’s struggle to re-acclimate to life stateside and would go more into his work with veterans and helping them get themselves back on their feet. But those scenes were just peppered him between and rushed through after the battle scenes. On top of that, the key adversary in the film was a fictional character, something which I don’t think the film needed, especially given how it affected Kyle’s motivation.
Now, that being said, the battle scenes are indeed well-crafted and tense and worth the price of admission. Just don’t go in expecting too much from the script side of things. Then again, the film I’d compare it to is Foxcatcher, another film that seemed to only graze the struggles and emotions of the characters, but many people have been singing the praises of that film so what do I know?
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: I’d recommend going in expecting a well crafted action film. If you take more from it, it’ll be a pleasant surprise. If not, you’ll have gotten what you went for.

A Most Violent Year
Early on in “A Most Violent Year”, Oscar Isaac’s Abel, our hero for the film, states that he stares his customers in the eye and tell them the truth. And that is what director J.C. Chandor does, for better or for worse. While his debut film “Margin Call” is still one of my favorite movies of the decade and I was a bit let down that that film’s crackling dialogue didn’t appear in this film, the truth is that it shouldn’t have. Wall St. doesn’t sound the same as the heating oil business of 80’s NYC. And while those suits in “Margin Call” were moving and shaking and shifting to avoid their downfall, Abel was standing his ground, trying to show that he could make it due to hard work and commitment; he didn’t need to commit fraud or break the law to succeed. While “Margin Call” featured forces of nature, “A Most Violent Year” is about a rock that refuses to be moved.
The problem, of course, is that forces of nature are more interesting to watch than rocks. Especially when the driving force behind our hero is simply that he’s driven. He’s not a man who loves his job; he simply sees it as a great business opportunity. Again, it’s a well made film but it just lacked someone to really connect and hold on to. Near the end of the film, a climatic scene elicited laughs from the audience, even though I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be more of a gut punch that tickle.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION “A Most Violent Year” is a good film that will likely be forgotten sooner than later. If you have a taste for 70’s cinema, it could be a pleasant night as a retnal but it’s not a film that I personally would recommend to everyone.

Inherent Vice
The biggest problem for Inherent Vice is that it is a bizarre stoner detective comedy, which means it is going to draw comparisons to “The Big Lebowski”. It doesn’t stand up to those comparisons. The film certainly has its laughs but the motivation behind the film and the stakes are lacking. Whereas Lebowski was a stoner getting himself in deeper (and weirder), “Inherent Vice” often feels more like a stoner wandering around and discovering new things that are weird and seem only tangentially related to the main purpose, which doesn’t seem to even need much detective work to start with. In fact, the main purpose becomes the secondary purpose somewhere along the way.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: While it won’t be nearly as divisive as Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films “The Master” or “Magnolia”, this is one that will likely be embraced by his fans, hated by his critics, while most people walk out of the theater thinking, “So, that happened.” Head in with lowered expectations and you might walk out with a pleasant enough buzz.

The Gambler
The Gambler features some great writing and knockout performances by the supporting cast of John Goodman, Michael K. Williams, and others but the main character was simply too bratty for me to get into it. Honestly, for much of the film I felt like Mark Wahlberg’s character was having more of an early mid-life crisis than he was suffering from gambling addiction. He seems less like a man struggling with the impulse to keep gambling and more like someone who was trying to commit suicide by loanshark. Brie Larson (Short Term 12, 21 Jump Street) does a solid job with absolutely nothing to work with. Her character is sorely underwritten. On the bright side, the direction by Rupert Wyatt is top notch and its the first time in a while that I’ve seen a gambling movie that has you really feeling the wins and losses. He did a great job building the tension of those scenes but the rest of the film was just too aimless.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Wait until Netflix and, even then, there’s no need to rush to see it. It’s not bad but it’s not good either.

The Judge
I went in expecting a kind of schmaltzy “Big city kid comes home to his small town and refinds himself and his way” and the film wasn’t even able to knock that out of the park. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall make the film watchable but there are simply to many b-stories that don’t go anywhere or go places that make you think, “Wait, THAT is where you’re ending it?!” I’d really like to read the original script to see what inspired people to make the film and what they did to it to come up with this final piece of work.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: This is a hungover and nothing else is on and you stumble across it on HBO type movie.

 

The lives of driven, broken men are at the heart of “Whiplash” ad “Nightcrawler”, two of the best films of the year. They follow two men who strive for greatness – one is a broken man hoping to find his place while the other is about a young man who might have been broken by his pursuit of greatness. While I would highly recommend both films, I do have to say that I would not recommend watching the trailer for either of these films as they give up too much (WAY too much in Nightcrawler’s case.

“Whiplash” is about a music student who sheds literal blood, sweat, and tears in his pursuit of being one of the great drummers in history. His drive to be remembered is cultivated by his teacher played by the amazing J.K. Simmons. Simmons’s character is as obsessed as Teller’s but his drive manifests itself in a maniacal, emotionally abusive approach to teaching. The film is an terrific conversation starter about the price of greatness, the drive it takes to get there, and, of course, if it’s all worth it in the end. Does being remembered by the world really matter if, while you’re around, you have little involvement with the world around you? How far is too far? When is enough enough?

As for “Nightcrawler”, it is basically the embodiment of George Bernaard Shaw’s quote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Jake Gyllenhaal plays an unhinged man who stumbles upon the profession of being a nightcrawler – freelance videographers who chase ambulances, fire trucks, and cop cars in hopes of nabbing footage of crime scenes. Jake’s character is a sociopath who has learned on the internet how to be in the business but has never learned how to actually be human – a trait that, as luck would have it, helps when it comes to dredging up news footage that fulfills the famous Evening News mantra of “If it bleeds, it leads.” Every step forward that Gyllenhaal’s character takes pushes on someone else’s morality. Again, the question is raised – how much is too much? How far is too faR? When is enough enough?
The tone of “Nightcrawler” is pitch perfect. It’s darkly comedic but the comedy never infringes on the sense that the film takes place in the real world. That’s a crucial element for films; far too often, dark comedies go too far and become farce. Gyllenhaal toes that line perfectly and will likely see some nominations at year’s end because of it. It’s one of the wickedest films I’ve seen in some time’s and the final act is absolutely superb.

Both of these films have been lost in the hype surrounding Birdman and the upcoming Interstellar but neither should be missed. If you don’t see them in the theater, you should definitely flag them for movies to catch as soon as they are available on DVD/streaming. Which reminds me, 22 Jump Street is now available on streaming (to buy, not on Netflix yet) and I’d recommend checking that out. Ice Cube and Channing Tatum have a couple of scenes that had me laughing out loud in the theater and are locks for any list of funniest scenes of the year. Also, “Chef”, my #2 movie of the year, is available to watch at home. Here’s the trailer for it; thankfully, it’s the type of trailer that let’s you get the gist of the movie but doesn’t give away the store while trying to sell the film.

 

First off, I have to say that if you’re a fan of ultra-violent b-movies, than you should disregard this review. “John Wick” is a film that apparently feeds the needs of the fans of the genre and is wildly popular but it is most certainly not a film like “The Raid” or “Taken” that will have much crossover appeal.
The gist of “John Wick” is, well, John Wick wants revenge and kills a bunch of people while trying to get it. And he kills most of them by shooting them in the head by close range and his plan of attack is usually little more than a. Walk In b. Start Shooting. The lack of creativity or, well, much of anything besides martial arts and head shots is what disappointed me the most. There were a couple of moments that made me sit up but those two were more for the brutality than anything else.
The film did serve up its fair share of b-movie dialogue which was funny but it wasn’t enough to make the movie all that entertaining. Again, if you’re a fan of the genre, apparently this movie is for you. But if 100 minutes of arm twisting and people getting shot in the head doesn’t suit you, then you should pass. Or just watch the trailer because “John Wick” makes for a great trailer but a forgettable movie.

 

BIG WIN! Finally had some picks come through for me last week so I made a decent chunk of change. Going off of my Yahoo! Pick ‘Em league, I’m 42 – 33 against the spread and 52 – 24 in picking winners straight up. Sadly, the games I choose to bet usually seem to be the ones that I get wrong.

Still, last week I won $275, which I believe leaves me at around $200 in the black for the two weeks that I’ve actually gotten around to betting this weekend. Let’s see if I can keep the momentum.

Colts -3 over TEXANS: Well, I didn’t have faith in the Texans last week and they covered the spread (but lost the game) however I like the Colts better than Dallas and the short week could slow Arian Foster down. I’m going with Colts -3 for $25.

Patriots -3 over BILLS: While I am a Texans doubter, I’m still a Bills believer and am not sure if the Patriots will be able to maintain the momentum (or the concentration) that they had last week against Cincy. Also, I think the Bills’ defense line could cause a lot of problems for Tom Brady and Co. I’ll take the Pats to win but I’m not betting on it.

Carolina +7 over CINCINNATI: I might change this, depending on what’s up with AJ Green. My original thought was that Cincy would be focused to make up for their awful performance on Sunday Night (and the game is at 10am and nobody will be watching them so they won’t choke) but if Green is hurt, they might not have enough weapons to cover the spread. For now, I’ll go with Carolina to cover but no bet.

Pittsburgh +2 over CLEVELAND: Old habits die hard but I just think the Steelers are the better team. They haven’t been blowing me away, however, so I’ll stay away from betting on this one.

Jacksonville +6 at TENNESSEE: Obviously I’m not putting money on Jacksonville but I think they could give the Titans problems, especially since they are on their third string QB right now. And moving on from the Toby Gerhart experiment will probably help the offense. Not sure that they can take the road W but I’m feeling pretty good about them keeping it close.

Packers -3.5 over DOLPHINA: The Packers offense is finally clicking and their defense is making enough plays to be a semi-respectable unit. Ryan Tannehill is feeling good after a throttling of the Raiders in Londom but I think the Fish come back down to Earth when they face a real NFL team. $25 on Packers -3.5.

Detroit 1.5 over MINNESOTA: I’m a fool for always picking Detroit on the road but I can’t seem to help it. At least I’ve learned not to put money on the Paper Lions.

Denver -8.5 over NY JETS: NY always seems to rally whenever their coach is in peril. The Giants are better at it but the Jets have done enough to keep Rex Ryan employed. However, I think that run is about to end. The Jets simply aren’t a good team and I’m not sure how fired up many of them are to keep Rex around. $20 dollars on Broncos -8.5.

Baltimore -3 over TAMPA BAY: Tampa Bay stunned the Steelers but I’m sure the Ravens are aware of that and won’t let themselves get surprised by the Bucs. Also, Vincent Jackson is a little banged up so the passing attack, already down Mike Evans, might not be able to carry the day.

San Diego -7 over OAKLAND: The Raiders are terrible and the Chargers have enough injuries each week to keep them from resting on their laurels. MAYBE Oakland shows some pride and saves face by keeping it close but I’d be surprised if the Chargers didn’t put the hammer down on them early and often. $15 on Chargers -7.

Chicago +3 over Atlanta: Like Pittsburgh, Chicago is a team that I have a hard time believing aren’t as good as I seem to think they are. But also, I think the Falcons are a mess and Matt Forte should be able to have a monster game against them. No bet.

Washington +3 over Arizona: I’m wavering on this one because Arizona is banged up and Washington isn’t THAT bad and they kept it close with Seattle on Monday Night. Ultimately though, I think Arizona is pissed off and, well, I have to eventually pick a home team, don’t I?
EDIT: Or maybe I don’t. With Carson Palmer out and Drew Stanton recovering from a concussion, I’m going to put my hopes in Washington to surprise the Cardinals on the road.

Dallas +8 over Seattle: I might end up changing this one but for some reason, my gut is telling me that the Cowboys are able to keep this one close. The one reason I might change it, besides the fact that I’m picking yet another road team, is that the Seahawks played a VERY sloppy game on Monday so they might be more focused than usual. Obviously, no bet on this one since I can’t even decide who to pick when no money is on the line.

PHILLY -2.5 over NY Giants: Eli is back! stories are starting to pop up which means it’s probably time for a return of the Eli face. This could be the game of the week but ultimately, I’m going to go with the home team.

San Francisco -3.5 over ST. LOUIS: The Niners have blown some games so they need to take care of opponents that they know they can beat. And they know they can beat the Rams. And so do I so $25 dollars on San Fran -3.5.

As for Teasers/Parlays:

$100 6 point teaser on Denver -3, Chargers -1.5, San Fran +2.5

$20 parlay on Denver -9, Green Bay -3.5, Colts -3, Chargers -7.5, Niners -3.5

$20 6 point teaser on Bears +9, Broncos -3, Packers +2.5, Colts +3, Steelers +8.5, San Diego -1.5, Niners +2.5

Progressive Parlay: Ravens, Bears, Broncos, Packers, Colts, Steelers, Chargers, Niners (the line for each game; just got too lazy to type them all out again.)

 
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