I must admit, my hoops watching plummeted this year so I can’t even pretend to pass this off as expert opinion. But going off what I’ve seen and read, here’s my 2015 Mock Draft.

#1: Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
There’s no mistake that the core of the Wolves squad is young. And at some point, you have to add veterans around those youth, so is now the time?
To me, the answer is no. For one, I’d like to see another year of Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine to gauge what they are going to bring in the NBA to then be able to figure out what pieces to add around them accordingly.
Secondly, the Wolves are still in Minnesota and, for now, adding someone who’ll they’ll be able to keep under contract for almost a decade is worth more than gambling that a veteran on a shorter contract will stay around. For instance, a hypothetical deal along the lines of #1 and Ricky Rubio for Derrick Rose and #22 could make the Wolves a playoff contender but the rumors of Rose leaving in two years when his contract is up will likely start before his plane’s even landed in Minnesota.
In the end, I think the player that makes most sense for the Wolves on the court and as a trade asset is Towns. He has the upside to be an Al Horford-type who can help teams win games while not making headlines. I think the team still needs an Alpha Dog but Wiggins and Towns are a great duo for Minnesota to build around.

#2: LA Lakers: DeAngelo Russell
Needless to say for a team with the #2 pick but the Lakers have a lot of issues. They should probably start planning for Life After Kobe but their 2016 pick is owed to Phoenix (Top 3 protected) so bottoming out doesn’t help them in the short term, and the Young Busses rarely seem to look past the short term. They would probably like to deal this pick but I’m not sure they have the assets to add to the #2 pick to net a difference maker and the Lakers don’t want to add a good-but-not great player who eats into their salary cap space.
In the end, I don’t see a deal coming LA’s way and they opt for the future backcourt of Russell and Jordan Clarkson while they pin their hopes on signing LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, or Kevin Love (if he opts out; although if Love couldn’t get along with David Blatt and LeBron James, good luck with Byron Scott and Kobe.)
Also, while Okafor might be ranked higher on most draft boards, his defensive deficiencies are worrisome and I wouldn’t be completely stunned if Russell actually had a bit more trade value as he’s someone who’d be easier to fit into most lineups.

#3: Philadelphia 76ers: Kristaps Porzingis
I mean, it’s Sam Hinkie. He’s ideologically committed to taking Porzingis and telling him to take a walkabout next year, right? More realistically, while Nerlens Noel can make up for Jahlil Okafor’s defensive deficiencies, neither guy is worth much outside of the paint and I can’t see Hinkie investing yet another pick in a low post player. Porzingis is more of a perimeter threat and actually could complement all three Sixers big men – Saric, Noel, and Embiid.
If Russell is still here, he’s the no brainer pick but if he’s gone, I think Hinkie rolls the dice with the Euro. It’s a definite gamble but the one thing that Porzingis has on most of his past Euro flops is that he’s one of the few foreign players who withdrew from the draft because he was rumored to be a lotto pick in a year, who then actually did move up to top of the draft status. This rarely seems to happen. Either a guy comes out of nowhere to move up in the draft or they stay home another year and then see their stock plummet. The fact that scouts are still on board makes me feel a bit more confident despite my complete ignorance about this kid.

#4. New York Knicks: Jahlil Okafor
The Knicks are in a similar situation as the Lakers. They have a highly paid superstar on the decline in ‘Melo, not much else on the roster, have a solid amount of camp space, and their 2016 draft pick owed to someone else.
Willie Cauley-Stein actually makes the most sense for a team that is desperate for defense but I just don’t think there’s any way the Knicks pass on Okafor if he somehow falls to them at #4.

#5. Orlando Magic: Willie Cauley-Stein
I’m a huge fan of Cauley-Stein and think he’ll be a great complement to the offensive minded Magic big men. He has the athleticism to hang with forwards so he should have no problem saddling up alongside Nik Vucevic. He doesn’t solve Orlando’s perimeter problems but I think they can figure that out via free agency or trades.

#6. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Sacramento Kings): Emmanuel Mudiay
George Karl didn’t come back to the NBA to go through growing pains with a rookie point guard, nor did he come back to deal with a reported malcontent like one-time object of the Kings’ affection Deron Williams. Enter Pretty Ricky Rubio. The Kings’ owner wants his team to play like jazz music and there’s no jazzier maestro than Rubio, who might also bring back memories of Jason Williams for Kings fans.
Minny might have to throw in something else to sweeten the pot but they’ll do it to add in Mudiay, who could be the alpha dog that the team needs. The team will need to find a shot doctor to help the so-so shots of Mudiay, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins but those three with Karl Towns could be quite a handful in a few years.
Or, perhaps the Nuggets offer up Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson for the #7 and Darren Collison. Either way, I think that the Kings are likely to deal this pick for a veteran and Mudiay is the target for whoever ends up with the pick.

#7. Denver Nuggets – Justice Winslow
The Nuggets are a team in transition. They’ve brought in Mike Malone to coach them and their big name players Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried would like to be shipped out of town. And I think the feeling is mutual, as Jusuf Nurkic is the centerpiece of the Nuggets rebuild which takes another step forward when they add a player in Winslow that Malone will love to have as a glue guy with tremendous upside.

#8. Detroit Pistons – Mario Hezonja
The Pistons are (probably) going to lose Greg Monroe and who knows if they are really going to try to make a Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings backcourt work (it won’t) but Hezonja makes the most sense. They have a lot of guys who like to shoot but Mario reportedly manages to get most of his perimeter shots in the basket, which would be a welcome change in Detroit.

#9. Boston Celtics (from Charlotte) – Myles Turner
Charlotte reportedly loves RJ Hunter but #9 is too early for him. They have a lot of potential trade options but I’m going to go with the simplest one – the Celtics deal the #16 and #28 picks to move up to take a shot with Myles Turner, a big man who adds much needed shot blocking but also helps out on the perimeter on offense, which Brad Stevens will appreciate. There are definite injury concerns about Turner but I think the upside and fit makes it a worthwhile gamble. After all, every draft pick is, to a certain extent, a gamble.

#10. Miami Heat: Stanley Johnson
I really want to work a deal here that lands Carmelo Anthony in Miami but I doubt the Knicks pulls the trigger on that. Instead, I think that Miami goes after a perfect glue guy in Stanley Johnson. Assuming that everyone opts in on their contracts, Miami has enough offense in Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to let Stanley Johnson focus on defense and I think they also have the perfect mentor for Stanley in Luol Deng (who could also use limited minutes given the wear and tear on his body.)
EDIT: Of course, after I post this, I come up with a new trade idea. Kevin Love and #28 for Dwyane Wade and #10. Would Wade leaving make it easier to re-sign Goran Dragic? A Deng/Love/Bosh frontcourt would be a tough one to handle. Meanwhile, the Cavs do it because Wade makes their backcourt depth a strength and they could use the #10 pick along with Brandon Haywood’s non-guaranteed deal to add another legit starter or sixth man.

#11. Indiana Pacers: Devin Booker
Last season’s frontcourt of Roy Hibbert and David West both have player options on their contracts (West is likely in, Hibbert out) but I think that shooting guard is the toughest position to fill in the NBA right now and Booker is a potential very-good-not-great player. Given the remaining bigs, I think he’s a no brainer to slide next to Paul George for the future of the Pacers.

#12. Utah Jazz: Trey Lyles
Lyles is one of those guys who I was surprised to see listed so high in mock drafts because I really didn’t see a ton from him when I watched Kentucky. But scouts love him and the #12 slot is where the draft falls down a tier so he makes sense for a Jazz team that seems to have young talent everywhere. Utah should probably look into dealing the pick and Trey Burke for a veteran point guard but I’m not sure what veteran they could get.

#13: Phoenix Suns: Kelly Oubre
I honestly have no idea what Phoenix is doing. I like Eric Bledsoe but I’m not wild about the rest of their roster and Brandon Knight seems like a terrible fit next to Bledsoe. Someone like Bobby Portis is an option but I think the Suns best bet is to swing for the fences with Kelly Oubre, who could be the answer at shooting guard or who could be just another one of the Suns’ so-so small forwards.

#14: OK City: Jerian Grant
Cameron Payne is the hot point guard right now but I’m still going to roll with Grant here. He’s reminiscent of the man he’s replacing, Reggie Jackson, but he could have a better attitude than Reggie did.

#15: Atlanta Hawks: Sam Dekker
DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap are free agents. I just like the fit of Dekker better than Frank Kaminsky or Bobby Portis.

#16: Charlotte Hornets (via Boston): RJ Hunter
Charlotte gets their man at #16. Hopefully RJH fares better than PJH (last year’s pick PJ Hairston). Some mocks have Hunter falling farther in the draft but given that the teams picking between here and the Hornets’ next pick, it’s best to nab him now, even if it is early.

#17: Milwaukee Bucks: Frank Kaminsky
Honestly, I’m not wild about Frank’s pro prospects but having him stay in Wisconsin seemed to perfect to pass up.

#18: Houston Rockets: Cameron Payne
When Jason Terry is playing important minutes (and a lot of them) in the 2015 playoffs for you, you should probably look to improve that position.

#19: Washington Wizards: Bobby Portis
Portis is a perfect energy big for the Wizards. They might prefer a stretch four like Kevon Looney but I think Portis’s hustle and attitude is a better get. Nene won’t be around forever and I’m not really sold on Looney.

#20: Toronto Raptors: Kevon Looney
I’m less sold on Montrezl Harrell than I am Looney. The Raptors could go with a SF but I still have faith in Terrence Ross becoming a player for them so Looney is the option here.

#21: Dallas Mavericks: Tyus Jones
My first inclination was to say that the Mavericks trade this pick for Ty Lawson but I’m not sure they’d want to eat his contract and lose a chance at a big name free agent. Still, point guard is by far their biggest need and Jones is a nice option this late in the draft.

#22: Chicago Bulls: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
The Bulls are struggling to keep Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, and Pau Gasol happy with just one basketball so Hollis-Jefferson could be the perfect fit. He can feed off of those three on offense while focusing on defense. Also, of the players left, Rondae might have the most breakout potential.

#23: Portland Trailblazers: Dakari Johnson
For the Blazers, it comes down to adding another shooting guard in case Wes Matthews leaves via free agency or adding a big man in case Robin Lopez flies the coop. Ultimately, I think Dakari is the safest bet and, with CJ McCollum emerging in the playoffs, the bigger need. (Although Justin Anderson could be a great fit as well.)

#24: Cleveland Cavaliers: Justin Anderson
You don’t want to rely on JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, for all of my hopes, just can’t seem to put it all together. At this point in the draft, Anderson seems like the best bet.

#25: Memphis Grizzlies: Montrezl Harrell
The Grizz need a backup 4 and are thrilled to have Harrell fall to them. He’s undersized but is a hard worker and could prove some people (like me) wrong for passing on him.

#26: OK City Thunder (from Spurs): Guillermo Hernangomez
The Thunder decide to cut ties with Dion Waiters and send him over to the Spurs who hope that the veteran leadership and strong arm of Coach Popovich can straighten him out. The Thunder meanwhile take a stash project big man in Hernangomez.

#27: LA Lakers: Cliff Alexander
Highly rated out of high school, Alexander had a mess of a year at Kansas. This could be an absolute steal for the Lakers or he could be yet another knucklehead for Kobe and Byron Scott to scream at.

#28: Charlotta Hornets (via Boston): Terry Rozier
I’m not wild about Kemba Walker, franchise point guard, but that’s what the Hornets have dealt themselves. They could use a backup now that Mo Williams is a free agent and Rozier seems like a great fit as someone who could add some energy off of the bench. A great pickup for the Hornets.

#29: Brooklyn Nets: Chris McCullough
At this point, the Nets have to find the player with the highest upside and hope that he beats the odds and fulfills his promise. That would be McCullough, a kid who worked himself into lottery discussions with his play at the start of the season, fell off, and then got hurt. But maybe that early season performance was a sign of things to come.

#30: Golden State Warriors: Rashad Vaughn
Vaughn showed flashes in his freshman season and working with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson should definitely help his inconsistent shot. In real life, Vaughn will likely go much earlier than this so this would be a steal for the champs.

 

Who cares about The Iron Throne?

For all of the complaints about season 5 of Game of Thrones, I believe that the question above is at the heart of it all. When the show started, we saw a king usurped, a man on a mission to prove that crime, and power landing in the hands of a sadistic brat.

Now? Well, now it’s pretty much just a bunch of people fighting for the throne so they can… do what exactly? Why is it worth all of the trouble, death, rape, and mayhem to take over the lead in King’s Landing?

Through five seasons, we’ve seen countless leaders and kingdoms who seem to have little interest in following or being subject to the Iron Throne. Much of Dorne seems to be openly defiant and the ones who aren’t seem more weary of war than afraid of The Iron Throne. The Veil is called impenetrable and seems to just do their own thing. The Tyrells are constantly plotting against the Throne. Littlefinger hasn’t met a superior he couldn’t and wouldn’t undermine. The Wall is a wasteland. The Iron Bank is actually a bigger threat to the Iron Throne than vice versa. Meeran is across the Narrow Sea and has little contact with what’s going on in Westeros. On top of that, almost all of these families and lands seem to be in better spirits than King’s Landing, where the Red Sparrow has essentially sent the young King Tomin to his room.

The only place that has definitely seen better days is Winterfell but that has to do more with the Boltons being King of the North than anything else. Yes, you can blame that one on the Lannister’s power play but it’s not like they are keeping Bruce and Ramsey in power. The Boltons’ position is so precarious that they are relying on forcing Ned Stark’s daughter into marriage to appease the people (“The people” who instead responded by immediately offering Sansa help escaping the Bolton’s clutches.)

Game of Thrones has become a world without a McGuffin and ultimately, vengeance and pride/entitlement seem to be the main driving force behind everything and those are hard motives to really rally around. I mean, even Daenerys, for all of her Power to the People talk, is mostly interested in going over there because her ancestors were kicked out. Couldn’t she be just as happy on her side of the globe with her dragons?

Seriously, at this point, isn’t Tomin, the current King, kind of the best of the bad options out there? If Marjory wins the battle against Cersei for control of Tomin, what would be so bad? Who else would you rather have? Stannis? Bolton? Littlefinger? It’s not like Daenerys has done a bang up job with her first attempts at maintaining order in a realm.

One of the strengths of Joffrey as a villain was that he openly didn’t care about the people. He despised everyone, from the high born to the commoners. His mother was no better, undercutting Queen Marjory’s order to give the wedding leftovers and directing the food to be sent to the kennels instead of the people.
But now the only time we see the people is when they are worked up into a lather by the Red Sparrow or hissing Khaleesi when she punishes one of their own. In the end, Game of Thrones has become a show about upper crust people I don’t like selfishly fighting to rule a bunch of lower class people I don’t particularly care for either.

Oh, and don’t forget, the White Walkers are on their way with their unstoppable army so this all might be for naught. And maybe for the better. Honestly, midway through the season 5 finale I thought to myself, “What’s so bad about being a White Walker? I mean, how much worse is life for those zombies than it is in the current soul crushing state of Westeros.

So who cares about the Iron Throne? And will getting to sit on the throne really mean a happy ending for anyone? After everything they’ve been through, is it worth it?

 

Jurassic World is a fun ride. Go in expecting that and you’ll be happy. Expect anything more and, well, no. The movie has three side stories, all of which are botched in one way or another. One storyline in particular was both simple yet so poorly handled that many of the people after the movie didn’t understand what was going on with it. The film also falls into my Brute Force Cinema problem with a lot of people somehow outrunning dinosaurs and, besides one scene early on, never doing much of anything to even try to outsmart them. But, you know what, DINOSAURS! The film is a fun actioner with just the right amount of comedic relief. Oh, and apparently Bryce Dallas Howard’s character wears the best heels ever made.

I’ll write more later but for now, I’d recommend, with low expectations, Jurassic World.

 

The trailer for the remake of Point Break is out and if I may make an overreaction after watching a couple of minutes of footage, the trailer exposes some key issues that Hollywood keeps making when trying to remake things bigger and bigger.

Here’s the new trailer:

Here, in all of its ridiculousness, is the original.

Issue #1: Action Trumps Character

The new trailer has some beautiful visuals but the characters are just dead. While the actors are going to get most of the blame, what did they have to work with? Many of the great character building moments from the original have been lost.

– Johnny Utah went from someone who didn’t have the respect of his boss to someone who his boss comes to in a time of need.

– The idea that the robbers might be surfers came from the unhinged Angelo Pappas, who nobody respected. Now? Utah stands in what I assume is called Exposition Hall to give an uptight speech about it.

– Pappas and Utah’s surfing angle was just one facet of the overall hunt for the robbers (and an unpopular one at that) so it made more sense to have an unhinged Pappas riding shotgun. Now? We have an overserious Ray Winstone, who doesn’t seem to buy that these guys are killers. (I doubt that taking him from the one guy who believed in Johnny to a buzzkill is the right move.)

– The idea that the robbers could be surfers was seen as crazy but now it should make some sense given that the robbers are using extreme sport skills to pull off the heists. I mean, besides soldiers, people with a history in extreme athletics would kind of be the first people you’d look into, no?

– New Johnny already has the skillset he needs unlike old Johnny who in over his head in every way, shape, and form.

Seriously, if you went through the list of all of the character traits and hurdles that old Utah had to face, they’re almost all missing in this trailer. And what have they been replaced by? Some generic tattoos.

The fact of the matter is that when people talk about Point Break, people talk about Johnny Utah, Bodhi, Pappas, etc. Not many people say the reason that they love the film is because of the awesome action scenes and crazy stunts. In fact, the most famous stunt is probably Johnny Utah’s laughable fall while chasing Bodhi, followed by him shooting his gun in the air and screaming.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an exception that did a great job of having the action carry the film but let’s be real, if that was an original movie, Mad Max wouldn’t be the iconic character that he became after The Road Warrior. And, I’m sorry, but I have little to no faith that the action scenes in Point Break are going to hold a candle to the chaos of Fury Road.
On the other hand, to look at a film that did a good job of remaking Point Break, look at The Fast and the Furious franchise. They built the original film around family. The films that got the franchise back on track reestablished a core of people who would die for one another and who found something to believe in in one another. Similarly, the camaraderie is what helped make Point Break great but you get almost none of that here. Everyone is so serious, which leads to problem #2.

Issue #2: Have Some Fun!

It’s somewhat ironic that a movie that is famous for the line “Why so serious?” is the reason that we have so many serious blockbusters nowadays. The problem is that what worked for the Dark Knight (and what many people, myself not included, think works for James Bond) doesn’t work for Johnny Utah.
Johnny Utah went from a wise-ass to a boy scout (in this trailer, at least.) He went from a guy who didn’t seem to quite fit in with the buttoned up FBI to a guy who pretty much seems to fit like a glove besides, you know, the tattoos.

The bad guys went from surfers wanting to chase waves all year to a bunch of murderous, anarchist bandits (I think?). I mean, one of the keys to Point Break was that you could kind of buy into Bodhi’s neverending summer plan – nobody was getting hurt, it’s just money. In the new trailer, they hammer home the point that Bodhi and his clan are cold blooded killers.
When Delroy Lindo asks, “Oh, you think you’re brothers”, the line comes completely out of nowhere because we’ve seen only snippets of people actually having a good time but what we do know is that these guys don’t care who they kill, which one would hope would trump any bro bonding that’s been going on. Falling for Patrick Swayze who is promising the ultimate rush and nobody gets hurt is believable. Teaming up with a dude who doesn’t care who he kills because “the only law is gravity”? That’s gonna be a tough sell for the audience. Honestly, I’d be nervous for civilization if it wasn’t a nearly impossible sell.
This ties back into issue #1: if you raise the stakes and make them killers, you’ve now destroyed those characters as people the audience is going to feel for. And the fact is that you can build stakes whenever you want; building great characters is much harder.
Trying to make a serious Point Break is like if Clooney & Co. tried to make a serious Ocean’s 11. You can obviously improvements on the original but you need to have fun or you’re not remaking what made that movie a movie worth remaking in the first place.

Issue #3: The Fan Service Balancing Act
You don’t want to make a movie that is all fan service but you gotta give us something! Give us a small nod to the original and the trailer might have gotten some leeway but instead, they didn’t even acknowledge that Ray Winstone was Pappas, nevermind giving us a “Utah, get me two!”

Now maybe this was just a bad trailer but what I saw was a preview with no heart, no fun, but had the same character names and title as a movie I liked when I was growing up (and, well, still do.)

I don’t want to make a proclamation on whether or not the film will be any good but I would probably put some money on it being moved from it’s current Christmas Day release date. Can’t imagine it’s a good idea to put this up against Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence’s “Joy”, Will Smith’s NFL drama “Concussion”, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Snowden”, Leo & Tom Hardy in limited release in “The Revenant” and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Unless, of course, they want to let the film die a quiet box office death and be able to say, “Well, it was a crowded weekend!” (Although, why are you releasing Point Break in the winter?!)

 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a very good action films that wasn’t done many favors by the hype. Reviews about the movie have been amazing but the more raves than came out, the more I started to sense that the hyperbole was writing checks the film couldn’t cash.
Now don’t get me wrong, Mad Max: Fury Road is an amazing spectacle and has some visually stunning action set pieces but, ultimately, that’s all it had for me. While many critics have complimented the minimal storyline or read into it to pull out great lessons, the people who I saw the movie with were non-plussed by it. I wasn’t bothered by it as much because I had heard that Max only had a few lines in the film so I went in expect brain dead action and got something more than that. A little more but more.
In short, if you don’t like action movies, you won’t like Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s the kind of film that excels at its genre but doesn’t transcend it. And to me, despite how amazing the chase scenes are (you could hear much of the audience exhale at the end of the first major set piece it was so intense), I think Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a better overall movie. (Oh, and for those who haven’t seen Mad Max movies, you don’t have to have seen the previous films to enjoy this one. There are only small allusions to the previous films; you won’t miss much of anything if this is your first Mad Max experience.)

I also have to say that Fury Road fell into the same trap of “Brute Force Cinema” that I’m not wild about but, again, I can’t say that wasn’t expected here. It’s just hard to call the movie’s action set pieces “Chase Scenes” because the bad guys catch up with the good guys almost immediately, there’s almost no Cat & Mouse to the chases, and the threats were more about the visual than the actual “threat” since the protagonists’ War Rig was basically impenetrable (while, obviously, the villains cars were far easier to take out.) This is pretty much standard in action movies as much as villains who can’t shoot straight and good guys who can deliver headshots without looking but there were a couple of very cool attacks by the bad guys that left me wondering, “Really? How did that not make much of a dent?” That being said, while there’s the obvious need to suspend disbelief, the film never careens into pure silliness ala Furious 7 (which is still my favorite movie of the year.)

And are we really giving up on Tom Hardy as anything but the strong, silent type? Can we give him a role with some charisma and some signs of life? Maybe I’m overrated the line that one the hearts of Inception fans, “Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” but I feel like Hardy hasn’t been able to really stretch his wings with most of the material (and in some cases, like “The Drop”, makes some acting choices that moved his character closer to slow than just quiet. “The Drop”, however, is still a solid movie that I’d recommend.)

The sad part about Hollywood is that this film never would have been made if not for the Mad Max name but, in reality, the movie probably would have been better without Mad Max in it. But take away the franchise name and pitch a movie about a woman warriors trying to save a handful of kept women and well, yeah, that movie’s not getting made. But, to me, it’s pretty obvious that building up Furiosa’s character, the world she lives in, and her mission earlier in the movie would have made for a much stronger narrative.

This is a fairly negative sounding write-up so I do want to say again that, if you like action movies, you should definitely go see Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

I was half-jokingly thinking about writing a self-help book called “Miserable Ways to a Happier Life” but I don’t know if I’m really going to get around to writing it so I’ll just plop some half-baked rough drafts of the rules on the ol’ blog and see where that takes me. It might just be a type of therapy for me but, honestly, I think these grumpy tips can help people be happier.

    Way 1: Expect the Worst

Seriously though, what have high expectations ever gotten anyone?

Now don’t get me wrong, I do think there’s a lot to be said for setting high standards but to expect everyone and everything to measure up? It’s a No Win situation. If someone matches your expectations, well, that was expected. But most people and events? Odds are that they’ll let you down. But that’ll be expected and easier to swallow if you already Expect the Worst!

This is still a new approach for me. Over the years, I’ve been told (and am often still told, I’m a work-in-progress here) that I hate everything and have been dubbed “Critical Kevin’ by some friends for the way I break down movies and pay attention to pesky elements like story, logic, and the laws of physics. I was often left scratching my head at how people could be entertained by movies that didn’t hit the expected competence that I demanded.

Similarly, I often had a lot of pent up aggravation when dealing with people. One example: I always expected people to show up on times and, no matter how many times my friends proved that this was out of their depth, I got annoyed when, while I was sitting alone at the place where we were supposed to meet 20 minutes ago, I’d find out that they were just getting out of the shower and were not even on their way to where they should have already been. The fact is, while I maintain the standard of politeness myself, keeping those expectations with my friends was little more than a source of frustration.

Another example: I’m always struck by how many people complain about bad drivers. Mind you, if they were asked, “Do you believe everyone knows how to drive well?”, they’d quickly answer with a resounding “No.” Yet every time they get on the road, they seem absolutely stunned that they are encountering poor drivers.
Again, quality driving is a standard that people should hold for themselves but to expect global competence behind the wheel is just asking to be annoyed. And, honestly, it’s unsafe; you should probably always expect that, at any moment, someone is going to do something stupid on the road.

This is a relatively new way of thinking for me and with some embarrassment I must confess that it came to me because of… well, Fast 5.

When I first saw the fifth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, I had problems with it. The best example being that the end of the film featured a lengthy training sequence in which the good guys tried to figure out how to drive a certain course in a specific time so they could go undetected by security cameras and covertly pull off a heist. They all tried it, bonded while failing at it, and then, finally, they got it!
The next scene had them arrive at the heist locale to work their newfound skill and… the security system had changed. Everything they had just trained for was moot. A waste of their time and, I felt at the time, mine. With their plan foiled, they gave up on the covert angle and decided to use their cars to drag a huge safe out of the building and drive it down the busy city streets in broad daylight. Needless to say, it’s absolutely ridiculous. And that kind of annoyed me because why did you take what could have been a cool, tense sequence (and one I had spent time watching people prep for) and turn it into a wildly unrealistic car chase?

Months later, I saw the movie at a friend’s house and this time, I loved it. I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed it because I was so bothered by it when I first saw it. And the useless training sequence? Now it made me laugh.
What I realized was that the problem with the film wasn’t the film itself but that I was holding it to a standard that the filmmakers had absolutely not one iota of interest in meeting. So ultimately, I realized that my reaction to the film was on me. If I hadn’t gone in with such high/stiff expectations, I would have been more than happy with the film.

Fast forward to Furious 7 and I was sitting in the theater like a giddy school kid. Now don’t get me wrong, the 7th movie in the Fast and Furious franchise is one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. If it got any sillier, it would have been a parody. But guess what? I loved it. Because I knew what it was going to deliver. I set my expectations low, then said, “You know what, it can’t be as good as the previous films” to lower it some more, and then stepped into the theater.

I followed this approach with Avengers: Age of Ultron as well. I went in expecting little and absolutely loved it. In fact, I was stunned to see that the film was getting ripped apart by so many people. Online, I encountered a 4000+ word essay from someone who said they had obsessed over the movie for a week and they now determined that Age of Ultron was destroying Stupid Popcorn Films, an argument which immediately made me think “If you obsess over a film for a week and write a 4000 word response to it, you’re clearly not judging it as a stupid popcorn film.”
I made a response to the author on Twitter and was about to make my way to the comments section of the article (And, yes, Internet Comment Sections will be fodder for a future Miserable Rule) but then I realized something: Just as I can’t hold films up to my specific expectations, I can’t hold people’s responses to films to my expectations either. If this person wants to bemoan the lack of a character arc for Captain America and say the film was the worst ever because it didn’t teach them what life meant or affirm their humanity (those were actual complaints), that’s their prerogative. I can’t tell them what to expect from a film. And, honestly, they aren’t wrong. I completely agree with many of the complaints of Age of Ultron, I just wasn’t surprised or bothered when I was confronted by those shortcomings because, well, I was kind of expecting said shortcomings.
If people want to do what I used to do and really set the bar high for the films, fine. They can be Critical like I was while I’ll be walking out of the theater with a smile on my face. And, you know what, you can still be critical and expect the worst. After Furious 7, my friends and I laughed all the way home while discussing all of the flaws in the film. We didn’t let them bother us while we watched but we still had a great time picking the film apart afterwards.

When it comes to dealing with people (and I’m still working on this one), I try to change my expectations and play the hand that I know that I’m dealing myself. I don’t put myself in a position where I’m holding the tickets for people who I know will come late. Will Call was made for people with tardy friends. If I’m holding a table for people at a bar and they don’t come on time, I’ll tell random people, “Hey, I have friends coming but you can sit here until they show up.” Now I get to meet some new people instead of being the asshole sitting alone at a five top table. If and when my friends arrive, they can kick the people out of the seats. It’s on them. When someone says, “Oh man, I think I can make it. Put me down as in”, I put them down as a maybe. RSVPs? I assume at least half of the people won’t actually show. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of people out there who are flakes and, to paraphrase the old adage, “Flake on me once, shame on you. Flake on me twice, shame on me.” Now this doesn’t mean that I accept people flaking as OK. It’s not. But when you look at the world as full of flakes, someone showing up on time is a pleasant surprise and makes life much happier.

This is the world we live in. Instead of being stunned, every day, at how awful the world can be; be astonished at the good that shines through. The world is a crazy place and what makes it crazier is that everyone knows it’s crazy but they still expect people to act in a sane, polite manner. They expect a standard of behavior that, quite honestly, they themselves probably don’t even live up to more often than not.

Oh, and one final note: just because you Expect the Worst doesn’t mean you should accept the worst. If something or someone keeps living down to your expectations, cut ’em loose. For instance, I would really like to see what critics and hipsters see in most indie horror films like “It Follows” but I just don’t. I tried the low expectations approach and I was still non-plussed. So I’m out. Unless I get word of mouth from friends I trust, the indie horror genre will be something I avoid. I love looking for new music but me and Pitchfork don’t mesh. We do not have the same taste in music so I don’t go to that site for recommendations anymore. And with people, you can have low expectations for their actions but still have a healthy standard of how you believe you should be treated. If someone continues to meet the low expectations, it’s your fault that they’ve gotten so many opportunities to do so. If they don’t show signs of change, you’ll have to. And if you don’t, well, maybe you should demand more from yourself, instead of them.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve done a mix and, as you can tell by these songs, it’s been a while since I really loved some new music but, whatever, here’s my SoulMix for May 2015, a mellower affair but still some great songs for the end of Spring and start of Summer.

1. Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend
This gets the lead spot because it is the song that inspired the new mix. I was talking with a friend about the song (and how I’m pro-Oxford Comma) and she never heard of it so, here we are.

2. Moneygrabber by Fitz & The Tantrums
Another conversation-inspired entry, I was talking about groups that changed their sound to my chagrin and when I mentioned Fitz & the Tantrums, nobody in the room had heard of them.

3. New Shoes by Paolo Nutini
What can I say, I’m trying to upgrade my wardrobe and kick the summer off with a positive attitude and that’s what this song’s about.

4. Waves by Sleeper Agent
I really thought that this song would help Sleeper Agent break out last year (even though I preferred their debut album to their sophomore effort) but this one never caught on.

5. Heaven is a Place on Earth by Belinda Carlisle
The car dealership next to where I work has the greatest satellite radio station playing (or the greatest Itunes mix) because every time I walk past, there’s another blast from the past that I hadn’t thought of in years. This was one of them.

6. Kids in America by Kim Wilde
Honestly, this one just popped into my head after listening to Belinda Carlisle so it made the cut.

7. Dog Days are Over by Florence + The Machine
Either Florence is coming out with a new album or is playing near me soon. Can’t remember but I got some e-mail about the band and remembered how much I love this song.

8. Love Me Again by John Newman
I was watching an episode of Suits and this song played and I thought it was amazing. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t more popular. And then I went to YouTube and saw that it had over 200 million hits. Whoops. #LatePass

9. Wanna-Be Angel by Foxy Shazam
This sort of became a Bands People I Work With Haven’t Heard mix and this is one of my favorite songs from the never-made-it Foxy Shazam. “I Like It” might be a better introduction but I opted for this one instead since it’s not a bro anthem like that one should have been.

10. Cradle by The Joy Formidable
Another band that hasn’t really broken out, The Joy Formidable has gotten a bit of a push but their second album was kind of a step back IMO.

11. Sweet Ones by Sarah Slean
This is one of those songs that I have no idea how it got onto my iTunes but I’m loving that it did because it’s a great song. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Sarah Slean besides this song. I should probably look into that.

12. I Could Be by Kyla La Grange
Kyla La Grange’s demos are better than her album as I feel like a lot of her music is overproduced. And she continues the theme of artist who kind of disappointed me with their second albums. Still, this song (and a good amount of her first record) are great.

13. Under My Skin by Rachael Yamagata
I had a hard time picking one song from Rachael’s debut album (you guessed it, her best although she has a lot of good songs from the follow-ups) and I decided to opt for this one. I really love it even though it was a song that was kind of crushed for me when Rachael explained in concert that it was really about an offer of a threesome from a guy she had the hots for. She didn’t pull the trigger on the menage, instead going to her room and writing this song.

14. Laws of Gravity by Rubik
Don’t know why this one made the cut; just kind of felt like it fit in. It narrowly beat out Seratonin by The Mystery Jets.

15. Champions of Red Wine by The New Pornographers
This is one of those songs that I didn’t really discover until months after buying an album. The New Pornographers switched up their sound a little bit on their latest album “Brill Bruisers” and I didn’t love it at first listen. But with some time away from my expectations, I gave the album another listen and really enjoy it, with this song likely cracking my list of faves from the band.

16. Solace of You by Living Colour
One of my favorite songs of all-time, this one is criminally overlooked. It always kills me when people label Living Colour as a one hit wonder because of “Cult of Personality” when that might not even be one of their top 5 songs.

17. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive by Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers
Apparently this was on Gotham but I know it from L.A. Confidential. And it’s kind of the perfect song to leave off on as we head off into a positive and productive summer!

 

I’ve come up with an idea for a political cartoon but since I don’t have any illustrating skills, I’ll just tell it as a story.

An Elephant and a Donkey stand on the beach as the tide rises. A teenage boy stands in between them.

The Elephant points at the boy and says. “He’s to blame!” The Donkey says, “No, he’s the victim!”

The tides rises and soaks the boy’s ankles but the two beasts step away to avoid the water.

The Elephant cries, “He needs the Church.” The Donkey exclaims, “He needs more freedom.”

The tides continues to rise, reach the boy’s waist.

When the Donkey cries, “Better funded schools”, the Elephant demands “School Choice.”

The teenager is now neck deep in water but the Donkey and Elephant are too busy arguing over who is actually the intolerant one.

The boy tries to call out for help but all the Elephant can hear are the accusations of bigotry. The Donkey’s attention is mired in the calls that he’s being divisive.

The boy disappears under the water. Finally, the Elephant and Donkey notice the deep sea that covers where once there was a young man. The two beasts take in the scene for a moment.

The Elephant points at the water and says. “He was to blame!” The Donkey says, “No, he was the victim!”

Welcome to Baltimore.

For politicians and pundits, Baltimore is the best worst case scenario because, quite simply put, everything was wrong in the city and you can pick most every pet project from either side of the aisle and have an argument. Why did the anger and frustration of the young men of Baltimore turn into violence? Take your pick. Was the problem the schools? Yes. So the Left can demand more funding while the Right can pimp out School Choice. Was the relationship between the people and the Police to blame? Obviously. But where the accountability lies for that problem depends on which side of the aisle you stand on.
In the end, everyone agrees that there needs to be change but nobody is willing to move an inch from the stances they’ve been holding for the last decade.

The President recently came close to hitting the nail on the head when he said,

And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets. And everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.

But the problem isn’t that people feign concern. I do believe that people are honestly concerned about the issues that face our inner cities. It is their solutions that are “business as usual”. Nobody is coming up with new or fresh ideas; they simply bang their current drums louder. Instead of saying, “School Choice!”, the Right now says, “School Choice!” and points to Baltimore’s failing schools. Instead of saying “We need to clean up the Police!”, the Left now shows a video of Freddie Gray and say the same thing they’ve always said. Both sides wonder when enough is going to be enough but they only say it while pointing a finger at their opponent, never when they look in the mirror.
How many people have to die, how many cities have to burn before people will realize that we have to work together? Eventually, people need to look at themselves and realize that while they think they are standing their ground, they’re really just standing around while their nation crumbles.

Bigger picture, the status quo of change for the Left is leaning on the government which the Right will lampoon since the government has failed the citizens of Baltimore time and time again. For the Right, business as usual is Business, as usual. They think the private sector will save the day although liberals will remind them that the private sector abandoning of our big cities that helped lead to the decline.
Everyone can agree that schools are a problem. But the Left wants to spend more money on a broken system while the Right wants to abandon the system altogether. But if you thought inner city schools were bad now, imagine if we take the best students and teachers out of them and just leave the kids who couldn’t get into private schools to be stuck where nobody wants to be. And while some conservatives might question the need for public schools at all and think all schools should be private, I’m sure they’ll be calling for quick government regulations once the schools getting that voucher money are Fruit of Islam Elementary or L. Ron Hubbard High School.

Personally, I believe both sides are right. The government can’t do what is needed most and that’s building back the sense of community we once had. That being said, we can’t build these communities and give them the support they need without the government’s help. (Even School Choice revolves around government money.) Sadly, politicians and pundits are so busy debating the issues that they forget to actually discuss the problems. What people hide or try to dismiss as the weakest part of their argument should be held up and embraced as an obvious area of compromise.
Unfortunately, the only thing that is shocking about the riots in Baltimore is that they didn’t happen sooner and that they don’t happen more often. Although, given the state of the Union, I’m pretty sure that, like school shootings and other atrocities, we’ll just learn to live with these as well while we watch our politicians, pundits, and The People argue with one another about the best way to work together.

 

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.

 
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