Author Archive

origen_inception_2010_2

Christopher Nolan: Savior of the Summer Blockbuster

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Film

It’s July and, frankly, the summer blockbuster season has been a bit of a disappointment. Sure, Toy Story 3 was a tear-jerker. A-Team was loads of fun. And Iron Man 2 let us watch Robert Downey Jr. be Robert Downey Jr. for a few hours (always worth the price of admission).

All that being said, are any of these films remotely memorable? In 20 years will we look back and say, “It was a glorious time for cinema — Rampage Jackson resurrected the A-Team, Jackie Chan brought back karate kid, and that pale whiny bitch picked Cedric Diggory over that Native American kid who looked awesome with his shirt off”? For those of you who don’t understand the concept of a rhetorical question, the answer is “No.”

Then along comes Inception. The early reviews surrounding superstar director Christopher Nolan’s latest film were overwhelmingly positive, which of course was followed by the inevitable backlash to the frontlash (which will soon be followed by the backlash to the backlash of the frontlash). The buzz around the film has been incredible (every other tweet or Facebook status seems to be Inception related). I went into the film with incredibly high expectations — in fact, my expectations were so high I couldn’t imagine the film being as good as everyone was saying. To be honest, it wasn’t. It was better. Exponentially better.

SPORTS: Podcast: MLB All-Star Game, Miami Thrice and More

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

The PB&J Report crew (again minus the titular “J”) raps about Major League Baseball’s midsummer classic, the future of the Miami Heat’s newly formed power trio and much more in their newest podcast, available below. Enjoy!

You can stream the podcast by simply clicking on the link below, or you can download it to your computer by right-clicking the link and selecting “Save Link As” from the menu.

Listen to: Rhombus Podcast 020 — The PB&J Report (2010.07.27)

Miami Heat

SPORTS: The Miami Heat: A Train Wreck Waiting to Happen

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

Last Saturday I woke up and had to ask myself, “Did the last 48 hours really happen?” The previous two days had been unlike any others in the history of American sport. We’d witnessed a free agent feeding frenzy, the fall from public grace of a superstar, and the formation of the greatest video game team of all time.

Let’s start off with LeBron James’ ridiculous hour-long ESPN special, “The Decision,” in which he announced his intention to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat. I have been for the last few months a fierce LeBron James apologist and defendant, even publishing a several thousand word article defending him after his playoff collapse against the Boston Celtics — but this was indefensible.

Having a one-hour TV special just to announce where you are going to play basketball only served to damage an already hurting public image. My biggest question is, who exactly is advising the self-titled King James? Ever since the end of the playoffs LeBron has done one thing after another (culminating in last night’s special) to hurt his public image.

The situation reminds me in a bizarre way of the Tiger Woods scandal. After the news about the accident and the infidelities broke, we watched as Tiger Woods completely mishandled the situation, forever damaging his image and brand. One had to ask who was advising him. The situation with LeBron seems to be eerily similar. LeBron may have forever damaged his image with the way he handled not only the hour-long TV special, but the manner in which he treated the Cleveland Cavaliers organization.

Then there’s the question of whether this was the best basketball decision LeBron could have made for himself. James could have potentially stayed in Cleveland, tried to convince other free agents to join him, hoped and fought to win a championship, and become the most famous and beloved person ever from the state of Ohio. Or he could have gone to the Knicks and taken on the challenge of saving professional basketball in New York City. Or he could have gone to the Chicago Bulls, a roster with already great players like Derrick Rose, Joaquim Noah, Carlos Boozer and recent addition Kyle Korver. James would have been the alpha dog and undisputed leader of a team full of young talent that could have been a potential dynasty. Not to mention he would have been literally trying to fill the shoes of the greatest player of all time, and prove himself worthy to be called the king.

But no, he took the seemingly easy way out, signing in Miami where we won’t have to be the alpha dog, employing the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and essentially throwing in the towel when it comes to trying to be the greatest player of all time.

However, in Miami all kinds of questions arise. Is Chris Bosh really all that? Who’s team will it be — Dwyane Wade’s or LeBron James’? With so little cap space, who are the other eight players on the roster going to be? What happens if one of the big three get injured? Can the country handle the amount of Dan Lebatard we will have to endure over the next year? When you think about it, Miami seems to make the least sense. In the short term perhaps it makes sense, but in the long term, from a viewpoint of LeBron’s legacy, it makes very little sense. Which is why I think, he doesn’t actually want to play in Miami.

Let me explain. For months, rumors and speculation have been flying around that, during the Bejing Olympics, LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and possibly Chris Paul made some sort of agreement/blood pact/satanic oath that they would play together once they all became free agents. I present the thesis that this actually did occur. However, LeBron figured that economic reality would render this impossible and that it would never actually happen. Yet, when free agency rolled around, suddenly the Miami Heat had the cap space to pull it off and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were suddenly reminding him of his deal with the devil.

I think LeBron James is and has always been very aware of the concept of legacy. I think he would have loved the opportunity to play in Chicago and try to fill the vacant shoes of Michael Jordan. However, if LeBron is one thing, he is loyal to his friends. Here’s a man who has essentially kept the same core group of friends his entire life, proving to be extremely dependent and loyal to them. When he saw his friends in Miami, he realized he had to go through on the promise he had made — so he signed there.

Go back and watch the announcement from this past Thursday. There is little emotion — LeBron looks nervous, scared, and about as excited to go to Miami as Ali was to go on that date with the guy who sounded like a muppet on The Bachelorette. He doesn’t want to be there, yet he feels obligated to do so. As paradoxical as it seems (considering he betrayed his hometown on national television), I think his decision was actually based on loyalty.

Whether or not this is the case, on Friday we saw him put on a Miami Heat uniform for the first time and be introduced alongside Wade and Bosh at a rally. Interestingly enough, Wade was always in the middle of his two new teammates. Whether this was intentional or not, it still begs the question: Who is this team’s leader? Down two with five seconds left, who is taking the last shot?

Also, the question must be asked, is Chris Bosh really a superstar player. The stats would seem to indicate yes, but his record and time in the league would indicate no. Bosh has yet to play a big game in his career, and how he will handle the pressure is something that must be considered. Furthermore, Bosh is (at best) an average defensive player, and at some point he will have to guard the likes of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Will he be up to the challenge?

Then there’s the question of who is really running the team. Coach Eric Spoelstra has received public support from both Wade and James — but everyone knows master manipulator Pat Riley is actually the man behind the curtain and he could replace Spoelstra with himself at any time. Riley may be the only person with the force of personality capable of keeping these three egos in check and it’s generally assumed that he will take over at some point.

While the Heat may have three great players, the big three have now taken up so much cap space that they will be forced to play with essentially unproven, minimum salary players filling up the bench and the rest of the roster. Does this make them better than, say, the Los Angeles Lakers? Are they even the favorites?

In a seven-game series, we can say that Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant almost cancel each other out. Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh will put on a spectacle by guarding each other equally poorly. And while we can give the Heat the edge in a Ron Artest-LeBron James match-up, the question remains: Are the rest of the Heat players going to be as good as Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, or (dare I even say) “Big Game” Sasha Vujacic? I would think not. Does that then make the Heat even the favorites to win the NBA title?

When it comes down to it, we have a team in Miami who is faced with plenty of issues coming into the season, including:

a)    A star player who doesn’t necessarily want to be there;

b)   A coach who is overshadowed by his GM and who could, at any moment, be replaced by him;

c)    No defensive stopping ability, especially in the paint;

d)   No role players;

e)    No 3-point shooting;

f)     A big man who is unproven in big games;

g)    Real questions as to who is and will be the leader of the team, and who will take the final shot;

h)   Potential match-up problems with the teams at the top of the league.

Does anyone see this turning out well? Sure, I suppose I could be wrong about LeBron’s desire to be in Miami and maybe Eric Spoelstra will turn out to be the next Phil Jackson. Perhaps Mario Chalmers is the next Rajon Rondo. Everything could fall into place — sometimes the perfect storm does happen.

I just don’t forecast one for South Beach this coming season.

45043-kid-a

Review: The Advanced Genius Theory

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Culture, Music

Jason Hartley (co-creator and author of The Advanced Genius Theory) and I have a lot in common: he’s from the South, he was an English major, and I’ve eaten many times at the Pizza Hut in Columbia, S.C., where Hartley’s “advancement theory” came into being. Perhaps these coincidental biographical similarities explain why I find his theory so fascinating.

The Advanced Genius Theory sets out to be the manifesto of Advancement theory, a theory formed in the ’90s that spread to possess a sort of underground status among rock critics before being popularized by Rhombus favorite Chuck Klosterman in a 2004 article for Esquire magazine entitled “Real Genius.”

Advancement theory rests on the principle that there are artists (musicians, directors, actors, writers, even athletes) who were hailed as Geniuses and who put out such good “art” for such an extended period of time that it is impossible that they would somehow lose it.

2010-hit-products-japan-iPhone4

Why I Won’t Be Getting Another iPhone

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

In a word? AT&T, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

I’m not dropping the phone because it’s not a great phone or because of AT&T’s coverage, nor am I dropping it because of their piss-poor service. I’m ditching because of their new data plan pricing, just announced this morning.

One of the biggest reasons I find that people don’t switch to the iPhone is that it’s too expensive — not the phone itself, but the minimum iPhone plan runs about $100 a month. After you pay for the required 3G data plan, the minutes and the texting, you are left paying quite a hefty price. My counter argument is normally that it’s worth it, that having that unlimited data connection and non-stop access to the Internet is a life-changer, that it will change your daily routine and the way you communicate with the world.

LOST 2

TV: The Communal Redemption of LOST

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in TV

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Sunday’s LOST season finale yet, beware.

My personal journey with LOST began 5 years ago. I was not sufficiently intrigued by the show’s previews to bother watching the series premier. A few episodes into the first season the buzz was undeniable, and many of my friends began telling me how great the show was. I was too late to get on board with the first season (remember these were the pre-Hulu days, or pre-YouTube for that matter), so I patiently waited for the first season to end and the DVD to come out.

When it finally did, I spent about three days in front of the television absorbing the show. What I discovered was something that I had never found before in a television show — depth. The show was layered with philosophy, literary references, drama, action, mystery and, most importantly, questions. Not only questions about the mysterious monster, or would Kate choose Sawyer or Jack, but questions about life, love, free will, destiny, and the very nature of human existence.

I was eventually able to get my family hooked on the show as well, mostly as they passed through the living room and became intrigued with what I was watching. Watching LOST became a family event. Every week we would watch the show on our DVR, pausing often to offer our theories and discuss what was going on. Watching LOST became my favorite part of the week. I began listening to LOST podcasts and following LOST blogs (my geekery knows no bounds) — and the community, the discussion, became as fun and as essential as the show itself.

For five years, that was how I experienced LOST — not on an individual basis, but on a communal one. Sure there were weeks when I watched the show alone, but more often than not I was watching it with people. When I watched it alone, discussion with fellow fans of the show would surely follow. To truly enjoy LOST, to truly experience it, the discussion was needed, the community was needed, interaction was needed, the people were needed.

At the end of the night, did LOST answer all of our burning questions, like why was Walt special, who built the four-toed statue, and what was up with Libby? No. The answers to these questions will surely be discussed for years to come amongst fans of the show. As a narrative, however, the show finished what it had started and offered resolution to the characters. However, at the end of the day, the show’s greatest accomplishment is in the communal experience it created.

From its premier, LOST had delved into many themes — death, love, good and evil, and redemption. But since the very beginning, the show’s unofficial mantra has been “Live together or die alone.” Throughout the show, we have been shown that individually the collective cast of characters were a group of failures, murderers, and generally maladjusted people. Yet when working together, when in unison, the characters were able to overcome their pasts and become better people.

In the ultimate moments of the finale, we find that the alternate reality depicted in the final season was, in fact, a place created so that the characters could find each other after death. We are told that the most important moments of the characters’ lives were spent together, and that they needed each other in order to move on to the next life. Throughout the episode, we see the characters find each other — and find true happiness.

On Sunday, I gathered with some of my good friends to watch the last two-and-a-half hours of LOST. The last few hours of the show passed much as the previous 120 hours had — there was laughter, some tears, and a lot of discussion. As much as we tried to be silent and take in the finale, we couldn’t help but pause the DVR every so often to throw out predictions, theories, and questions. As the episode finished we all sat around discussing the finale, our reactions, theories, and impressions.

I sat listening to the conversation and realized that, while there were questions left unanswered, LOST, by both its narrative and its very nature, had indeed answered the most important question of all — What was the show really about? The answer was there all along — in our weekly LOST nights, long discussions, message boards, and podcasts. The answer was that people need people. We were just too busy talking to each other about the smoke monster to see it.

iPad

Review: iPad

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

Yep, I am writing this from my brand new iPad. Well, brand new in that I’ve had it a couple days. Enough time to get familiar with it, hold it, use it, learn it, cuddle it. I’ve done everything I can to put the iPad through its paces the last few days, and I’m here to bring you my full review. Note, I have been accused many times of being an Apple “fanboy” and, while I don’t deny that, I have tried my best to come at this review as objectively as possible.

The first thing you notice about the iPad is how responsive it is. It’s incredibly fast, and it’s the most responsive touch screen I’ve ever used. Rarely do I register bad touches or find that it didn’t pick up my finger. Everything you do on the device feels fast, from switching between applications to launching websites to even the simple act of switching between pages on the home screen.

LeBron James

SPORTS: LeBron James: Not a Choke Artist

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

Today we awoke to a new season — the summer of LeBron.

For 3 years the NBA has been holding its breath, knowing that some of its top players — including Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and, of course, LeBron James — become free agents this summer. LeBron is expected to be courted by a plethora of teams, all hoping to attract him to play in their respective cities. Up until yesterday, Lebron’s current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were the front runners to re-sign him and keep him in Cleveland. However, last night the Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics and ended their season early, starting the speculation about where LeBron will be playing next year.

But this also marks a new era in LeBron’s career. LeBron’s no-show performance in game 5 of the Boston series has given the anti-LeBron crowd ammunition to use against him. You see, there exists a large group of people who don’t like LeBron James. They don’t like the hype, his playful demeanor, his arrogance in proclaiming himself King James, or they just can’t stomach that he’s better then whoever is on their team. The point is, this group (which consists of Skip Bayless, Lakers fans, and irrational people from the state of Michigan) have called LeBron over-rated, a loser and, most importantly a choke artist.

This is simply irrational and not true. Calling LeBron James a choke artist is like calling James Cameron a box-office disappointment. The numbers just simply don’t back it up. Did the Cavaliers lose this past series? Yes. Did they “choke” away a 2 games to 1 series lead? Yes. Does LeBron bear a part of the blame and responsibility for this? Absolutely.

However, it needs to be stated that a) Mike Brown is a terrible coach, and his game management, game-planning, and in-game adjustments are as responsible for the Cavaliers loss as anything; b) LeBron does not have a great supporting cast. Mo Williams would be a serviceable bench player on a good team, coming off the bench in order to provide his team with a spark (similar to the role Jason Terry has taken on in Dallas), Shaq is a joke, Delonte West is a gremlin, and Antwan Jamison never really settled in with Cleveland; c) LeBron’s injured elbow definitely had an effect on his play. His Game 5 performance was so abysmal that rumors have swirled that the medication for the pain in his elbow had a negative effect on his state of mind. Whether or not this is true, it is undeniable that something was wrong with him — you could see it in his jump shot and tentative drives; d) While LeBron was the best player on the court, the Celtics had the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th best players; and e) even with all that, the series went to 6 games and the Cavaliers were competitive.

All that being said, LeBron had a bad series, yes, but the blame doesn’t all fall on him for losing to the Celtics. The bigger issue is that the anti-LeBron crowd has put this loss as evidence of a pattern, a history of “choking.” I think a large part of this stems from the fact that a large portion of the anti-LeBron crowd are Lakers fans, or more specifically fans of Kobe Bryant. Over the last few years, the same argument has been waged over and over again about who is better, Kobe or LeBron. While I find this argument nonsensical, it seems to come up in almost every single NBA-centered discussion I have had over the last few years. Laker fans obviously say its Kobe Bryant. They cite his reputation as a closer — Mr. Clutch — as the reason for him being the better player, and they add in how LeBron always chokes as reason for him being the lesser player.

This brings us to another question: where did Kobe’s reputation as Mr. Clutch come from, and where is the empirical evidence showing that LeBron has a history of choking in crunch time? I began to do some research and found some pretty interesting statistics. The website 82games.com keeps track of what they like to call “clutch” statistics. These statistics look at a players’ numbers in situations in which there is less then 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter or overtime, and neither team is leading by more then five. The statistics are based on per 48 minutes of “clutch” time. According to their numbers, for this past season LeBron James was the most “clutch” player in the NBA, scoring 66 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time.” He shot 49 percent from the field during the “clutch” time, as well as averaging 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 blocks and 3 steals per 48 minutes. These numbers indicate that when the game is close in the 4th quarter, LeBron is a force to be reckoned with.

Number 2 on the same list is Kobe Bryant. Kobe averages 51 points per 48 minutes of “clutch” time. While shooting 44% from the field with averages of 7 rebounds 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 0 blocks, and 2 steals. These numbers would suggest that in “clutch” situations, LeBron is leading Kobe in every single statistical category except turnovers, in which Kobe has him beat by one. These are only the stats for the last season, but numbers are also available for the preceding two seasons. The numbers are almost identical, with LeBron beating Kobe in every major statistical category for all three years (except in 08-09, in which Kobe averaged 2 points more per 48 minutes, while all the other relevant statistical categories had roughly the same margins.)

Perhaps even more interesting is a statistical analysis of the 2007-2008 season, in which 82Games did a similar analysis showing only what they refer to as “super clutch” time, which they define as situations in which there is less then tnree minutes to go in either regulation or overtime where neither team leads by more then three. Per 48 minutes of “super clutch” time, Lebron scored 75 points, with Kobe scoring 64. LeBron averaged 48 percent, while Kobe averaged 47. LeBron averaged 8 rebounds, Kobe 12; LeBron averaged 7 assists to Kobe’s 5. But the most interesting of all these stats, is that per 48 minutes of “super clutch” time, LeBron averaged 4 turnovers while Kobe averaged 9. LeBron also averaged 4 blocks and 2 steals while Kobe averaged 0 blocks and 1 steal.

Perhaps even more telling is another analysis done by 82games on game-winning shots. They define this as when there are 24 seconds or less left in regulation or overtime, and the team with the ball is either tied, or down by 1 or 2 points. (This excluded 3 point margins because of the desire to exclude situations in which down three with the ball the opposing team would foul and turn the game into a free throw contest.) Unfortunately, this data runs from only the 2003-2004 season through February 4th of the 2008-2009 season. Therefore, last year’s playoffs and this whole season are not shown.

During that period, LeBron James led all players in made game-winning shots (17), shooting a respectable 34 percent. (League average in these situations was 30 percent.) He also had 6 assists to teammates for the game-winning shot and 4 turnovers. Kobe, on the other hand, is 4th on the list with 14 made game winners over the same stretch, shooting 25 percent. He had 1 assist to a teammate for the game winner and turned the ball over 5 times. While admittedly this data lacks the last year and a half of games, they would show that LeBron is not inept in crunch time situations.

If the statistics don’t prove it, history should. The 2006 NBA playoffs were LeBron’s first. In the first round, the Cavs played the Washington Wizards. LeBron hit game-winning shots in both game 3 and game 5(an overtime game), and helping his team to win a 1-point OT victory in the series clinching game 6. In the second round, the Cavs played the defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons and pushed the series to seven games. Mind you, the race for second-best player on the Cavs was between Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

In the 2007 playoffs, the Cavaliers made it to the Eastern Conference finals again, playing Detroit. In Game 5 in Detroit, with the series tied at 2-2, LeBron scored 48 points, including a game-winning drive and dunk with 2 seconds to go. The Cavs went on to the NBA Finals. where they were significantly overmatched and beat by the Spurs. The Cavs second option on that team was Daniel Gibson.

In 200,8 the Cavs took the eventual champion Celtics to seven games. In Game 6, LeBron had a triple-double to lead the Cavs to victory and, in the Game 7 loss, had 45 points. In 2009, the Cavs lost to the Magic in 6 games in the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron averaged 39 points and hit an epic game winner in Game 2 to keep the Cavs hopes alive. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers guards couldn’t guard anyone and, despite LeBron’s best efforts, they lost.

The point of all this isn’t to say that LeBron is better then Kobe, or even to say that in the last 10 seconds you want LeBron shooting instead of Kobe. That’s not the point. When it comes down to it, the most important thing is obviously rings — Kobe has them, LeBron does not. However, the point is that LeBron is simply not a “choke artist.” Did he have a bad series? Yes, but let’s not form a revisionist history.

Everyone is saying he never hits the big shot. He does, he has. Everyone is saying he’s a habitual choker. Statistically and historically, that is just not the case. Unfortunately, with the (almost certainly) coming media backlash, LeBron will be continually labeled as a choke artist and a quitter until he wins a championship.

SPORTS: Podcast: NBA Playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger, Harvey Unga and More

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

The guys get together to catch up on the latest NBA playoff action, Ben Roethlisberger’s newly minted six-game suspension, and BYU running back Harvey Unga’s shocking and mysterious withdrawal from school, among other topics. Enjoy!

You can stream the podcast by simply clicking on the link below, or you can download it to your computer by right-clicking the link and selecting “Save Link As” from the menu.

Listen to: Rhombus Podcast 015 — The PB&J Report (2010.04.22)

iPhone

Best of the App Store

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

It’s spring time again, that wonderful time when I waste money on fun, quirky little iPhone games in order to procrastinate from studying for finals. With the recent arrival of the iPad, not a whole lot of attention is being paid to just regular iPhone apps. Lucky for you, I’m still here to let you know what good apps I’ve found lately in the iTunes App Store.