Timely Movie Review: Whiplash

(Obvious spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Whiplash, don’t read any further)

I saw Birdman last week.  Interesting movie.  Michael Keaton was terrific.

I never need to see it again.

The first thing I did after watching Whiplash Monday night was to buy the blu-ray.

Whiplash01What makes Whiplash so superb is that it doesn’t take the stock, convenient approach to its characters—the approach that a lesser film might have taken.  A Whiplash in which J.K. Simmons’ Terence Fletcher is purely an evil, sadistic taskmaster and Miles Teller’s Andrew Nieman is simply the sympathetic underdog could have been a decent movie.  Forgettable, but decent.

The reason Whiplash is a great movie is that Nieman isn’t a one-dimensional, by-the-numbers protagonist.  He’s a warts-and-all, fledgling genius.  The audience roots for him early on because there’s an awkwardness about him as he tries to navigate life at the Shaffer Conservatory.  He also gains sympathy because of the abuse he takes from Dr. Fletcher.

Those sympathetic feelings are complicated when it becomes plain that Nieman can dish out abuse of his own. Continue reading

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Where Does It End?

This is an unsettling development . . .


This is a sobering moment in the storied history of cheese-related conflict. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen escalation this frightening since the Razor Wars of a decade ago.

May heaven watch over us during this trying time.

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The Bargain

On this day, 37 years ago, I was born in Richmond, Virginia.  I grew up there and essentially lived there all my life.

In fact, up until last weekend, I was living in a house that sits less than a mile from the hospital in which the aforesaid blessed event occurred back in ’78.

SpringsteenGloryDaysAbout two months ago, I began commuting to Washington for a new job.  Something very odd happened that first week, during one of the three days I spent in DC.

I don’t know whether it was general stress, or just the permanence of the situation setting in, but I came back home with a ton of emotional baggage.

The immediate trigger was the harrowing realization that all of the prospective apartments I visited early on had rent twice as high as my current mortgage, yet—bonus—they also featured less than half the square footage boasted by my house.  These apartments looked like the places my friends rented immediately after college graduation, except they cost 200%-300% more.  Fantastic.

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Best of 2014

TheAxisOfEgoFacebookA new job and shifting responsibilities caused my blog-related productivity to slip a bit.  Overall, I published “only” 41 pieces in 2014, including this one.

But, that’s life.  This blog was always intended to be both an outlet for things about which I couldn’t write elsewhere and a means to an end: Improving my writing, and hopefully (occasionally) creating work that would catch someone’s attention.

I’m happy to say that that has happened over the last four years.  My writing duties for various outlets have expanded, which necessarily means that I’m not as prolific here as I once was.  That said, I do think that I produced some content in 2014 that’s worth revisiting as I close out the year.  And here it is . . .

The Tonight Show’s Forgotten Host (2/3): This was an interesting look at the fact that Jimmy Fallon’s introductory promos glossed over Ernie Kovacs, who hosted Tonight two nights per week for a time in the 1950s.  I found his omission from the canon curious, and explored it here.

Anti-Bullying / Anti-Free-Speech Redux (2/10):  My growing concerns over totalitarianism in the name of tolerance (or “totolertarianism” if you prefer) seemed more justified after this story out of South Carolina.

Five Tips for Paying Off Your Student Loans (3/14):  Student loan debt is one of the bigger financial problems handcuffing recently-graduated Millennials.  Thankfully, I’m here to provide insights on how I was able to pay off my undergraduate and graduate student loans in under a decade.  You’re welcome.

Go Cancel Yourself (3/28):  One of the better things I wrote all year, if no the best, and yet another plea for free speech in the face of language police.  This post was a direct response to the (thankfully futile, as it turned out) “#CancelColbert” movement by the Twitter pitchfork-and-torch crowd.  Probably my favorite post of 2014.  Or at least one of the longest. Continue reading

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On the Integrity of Cereal Naming Conventions

We do some pretty wacky things to try to shovel as much sugar into our collective diet as possible.

Take, for example, this new cereal.  Here’s a picture of the box, sent to me by a good friend who knew I would have some thoughts:


Obviously, this is a seasonal offshoot of the most delicious breakfast cereal of all time, Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  You may also be familiar with the other members of the “Toast Crunch” family: Peanut-butter Toast Crunch and French Toast Crunch.

There is one key criteria that separates those cereals from the abomination you see pictured above.

There is such a thing as cinnamon toast.  There is certainly such a thing as French toast.  There is indubitably such a thing as peanut-butter toast.

There is no such thing as “sugar cookie toast.”

Sugar cookies exist.  Toast obviously exists.

Sugar cookie toast is a non-thing.

Now, you may be saying, “Don’t take this naming convention so literally, Tom!”  But where does it end?  Birthday Cake Toast Crunch?  Apple Pie Toast Crunch?  Refined Sugar and Corn Syrup Toast Crunch?  Juvenile Diabetes Toast Crunch?

And, yes, I would try any and all of those.  And I’m sure they would be delicious.  That’s not the point.

The point is that those of us in decent society – good, patriotic Americans everywhere – have to draw a line at some point.

And I draw that line at making up kinds of toast for the convenience of popular cereal brands.

It’s called a moral code, people.  There’s nothing more delicious than that.

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Thanks Again, Lawyers

I had occasion to rise at the crack of nine a few Sundays back, thanks to the unusual start time of the London-based NFL game between the Falcons and Lions.  The early wake-up was significant because it meant I would sit through the normal allotment of advertising during the game.  I rarely see many ads watching NFL football on Sunday thanks to the commercial-free Red Zone channel.

The 9:00 kickoff meant that Falcons / Lions was the only game on.  So, I happily endured the commercials, seeing them as a small price to pay for expanding my football Sunday by yet another three hours.

Much to my bemusement, one such commercial was a spot for Sony’s Playstation entitled “Friendly Competition.”  The premise is that two friends playing against one another in various video-game-related scenarios morph from one character to another as they compete across genres and titles.

It’s a pretty, well-made, and otherwise-harmless commercial that has one damning flaw.


You’ll note the fine print at the bottom saying “Dramatization.  Do not attempt.

You’ll also note the space-warrior riding futuristic, weaponized equipment.

To be clear, the thing they’re telling viewers not to attempt is to fly some kind of speeder bike that shoots lasers in an effort to combat an army of robots on an alien planet.  Definitely don’t do that, everybody!

Oh, and here’s what’s happening a couple of seconds later:



That’s right—the alien robot things are firing an unknown type of advanced weaponry at the aforementioned speeder bikes (that, again, you should not be riding into battle, dear consumers).  The bikes then explode (probably why you shouldn’t be riding them!), and the two friends simply decide to destroy the robots on foot.

My problem with this commercial is, of course, the annoyance of having to be told not to attempt something that is not only dangerous, not only impractical, but also literally impossible.

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but . . . there is no way that I—or anyone—could genuinely attempt to battle robots on a laser chopper because neither the robots nor the bikes exist.

Yet, companies feel the need to put these sorts of disclaimers on their advertisements because even impossible scenarios can spawn lawsuits from morons.  And, naturally, in our risk-averse, safety-first society, we must kowtow to the moron demographic.

To be fair, Sony appears to have revised the commercial so that the disclaimer appears during the segment where the duo rides conventional ATVs (which do exist here on Earth!).  Still, if we’re seeing these disclaimers for video game commercials, I’m wondering what the next frontier might be for such onscreen warnings.  Action movies?  Video games themselves?  WWE?  Oh, right, those already happen.

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Untimely Movie Review: An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain

The next two movies in the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection are a pair of Gene Kelly musicals I’ll review in tandem: An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain.  These films present something of a dilemma for me as a “reviewer,” a term I use in the loosest sense allowable.

AnAmericanInParisPosterSpecifically, I don’t care for musicals.

Let’s see how this goes.

The 1951 winner for Best Picture, An American in Paris is the story of Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) persistently stalking and, it being 1951, therefore successfully wooing Lise (Leslie Caron).  The plot is really just a simple contrivance to get from one musical number to another, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Back to that dilemma I mentioned a moment ago.  There’s the question of my personal taste versus the objective merit of the movies.  An American in Paris just didn’t appeal to me subjectively.  Objectively, on the other hand, there’s no question that this is an incredibly well-crafted production worthy of the acclaim it received back in the early 50s.

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Booking Brock

Last month, Brock Lesnar committed acts of violence rarely witnessed on contemporary WWE programming.

BrockWWEChampion2014Not only that, but he perpetrated those acts against then-WWE Champion and “face of the company” John Cena.

This was exactly what should have happened.

As has been the case for some time now, WWE gets more right than it does wrong, and it got this exactly right.  Cena endured 16 belly-to-back suplexes over the course of an excruciating 20 minutes.  Merely calling them “belly-to-back suplexes” doesn’t do justice to the brutality with which they were delivered.  Being German suplexed is one thing.  Being German suplexed by Brock Lesnar is another.

This Sunday, the two square off again in Cena’s contractual rematch for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions.  Rather than give a long-winded analysis of each match, as I did for Summerslam, I want to focus exclusively on the main event (and try to keep this piece under 2,000 words for once).

My booking for the match would be pretty simple.

Lesnar annihilated Cena and beat him in 20 minutes last time.

This time, Lesnar beats him in 10.

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A Day in the Life of an Adrian Peterson Fantasy Owner

Here was my CBSSports.com Fantasy newsfeed yesterday:


Oof. Not a great day for me.

An even worse day for AD and his family, though.


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Some (Possibly Unpopular) Thoughts on Rice and Goodell

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 22, 2009A few thoughts on the Ray Rice situation, some of which may be redundant for anyone who’s been following the story, others of which may be uncomfortable for some:

1. Ray Rice should have been suspended for more than two games initially.  However, not receiving a jail sentence or serious charges in this type of situation isn’t unusual.

I think laymen have been a little perplexed by this reality, but it does make some sense.  The general idea is that the law is reluctant to hammer someone who is a first-time offender, a previously “model” citizen, and whose victim says this was an unprecedented incident.

Now, you may disagree with this philosophy.  I’m guessing the Twitter Mob probably wants one-time offenders to go to jail for ten years or more.  But I’m merely telling you that prosecutors and judges—unless there’s some personal axe to grind—are generally not looking to annihilate guys who fit Rice’s fact pattern.

2. The video tape coming to light should have had no bearing on the punishment.

The basic facts of the incident were not really in dispute.  Rice’s now-wife came at him a couple of times, he wildly and inexcusably overreacted by punching her and knocking her out on an elevator.  The NFL knew this (more on that in a moment).  The Ravens knew this.  Rice was suspended two games.

There’s a very good argument—one with which I agree—that he should have received a much stiffer penalty from the NFL.  But, whatever penalty he should have received, the punishment should not have been affected by the tape.  We seem to be glossing over this point.

We already knew what happened.  Rice knocked out his girlfriend and dragged her out of an elevator.  Why did we need to see it on tape for him to get punished more severely?  That brings me to the next point . . .

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