Archive for October 2006

Movie Review- Marie Antoinette

October 31, 2006

MARIE ANTOINETTE (123 minutes, directed by Sofia Coppola, starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn)  *** out of 4 stars

In her latest film, “Marie Antoinette”, promising director Sofia Coppola takes a personal look at the life of the controversial female figure of 18th century France. While slightly lacking the development and depth of her landmark picture, “Lost In Translation”, this film is nevertheless a massive undertaking, impressively cast, constructed and written.

Dunst stars in the title role and gives an above-average performance as a woman forced from her home in Austria at a young age to marry a French prince, Louis XVI, who is destined to become King of France. Louis XVI is played with great regard for comedic effect by the incomparable Jason Schwartzman, a brilliant casting decision in my opinion. The normally silly Schwartzman takes on a challenging role as the oddball prince, who has initially little to no interest in his new bride sexually or emotionally. The early part of the film addresses the struggles Marie Antoinette faced by her inability to become pregnant and produce an heir through no fault of her own, as her husband simply refused to consummate the marriage. 

The film is presented more as an examination of Marie Antoniette as an emotionally isolated woman than it is a historical recap of the 18th century French royal family. Elements of history are there, but viewers unfamiliar with this history are likely to find themselves confused by the movie’s final half hour. Why does the majority of the French population dispise Marie Antoinette after she becomes queen? Why is there a revolution? And why are the king and queen forced to leave their Versailles palace? Clues are there and students of history will have no problem with the progression, but I can imagine that other will be lost.

Her legacy, of course, rests in her excessive partying, the misquoted “Let them eat cake” comment, and hereventual execution by guillotine. While the former two are addressed, Coppola interestingly chooses to end the movie well before the executions of the king and queen, focusing instead on a life made no more or less tragic by her death.

Several things jumped out at me as I watched this movie. For starters, the costumes were among the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Additionally, Coppola’s integration of modern music into the soundtrack and modern accents into the dialogue both worked well and aided the movie’s progression. Coppola paints Marie Antoinette as a woman with flaws indeed, but moreover conveys the image of a strong, principled woman who was unjustly scrutinized by a country full of people who she loved dispite never determining the fate of her own role in their lives. The portrait of the isolated female has been a popular theme for Coppola’s films, and here she develops such a character with complexity.

The film only falters by what seems to me to be a hurried climax with little explanation, but perhaps this leaves more open for consideration to the viewer. In my opinion, a lot of development was sacrificed by rushing through some of Marie Antoinette’s most painful personal losses and challenges. Nevertheless, the general consensus at the movie’s conclusion is to feel sympathy for this woman, which is in itself an accomplishment.

College Football- Week 9 Recap and Week 10 Preview

October 31, 2006

Another week has passed and another undefeated has fallen. In a weekend lacking much punch, USC’s shocking loss at Oregon State stuck out like a sore thumb. I knew it was only a matter of time before USC’s lackluster play caught up with them, but I honestly didn’t see the Beavers knocking them off. After this loss and narrow wins over Arizona State, Washington State and Washington, it appears that either the middle of the Pac-10 has improved in quality or that USC has taken a big step backwards. It’s probably a combination of the two. After watching the Trojans come back from so many deficits in similar situations over the past three seasons, I believed they had another miracle in them, and they came a missed two point conversion from putting the game into overtime after trailing 31-10 in the third quarter. All I can say is it’s about time somebody held on to the lead. Rough waters loom ahead for USC, who still has games against Notre Dame, California, Oregon and UCLA, all of whom are more talented than Oregon State. But hats off to the Beavers nonetheless for this giant victory.

So where does this leave the national title picture? If you ask me, West Virginia now controls its own destiny. Win out, and it would be tough to deny the Mountaineers a shot at the title that they would most certainly lose to Ohio State or Michigan. Additionally, in my mind, even if West Virginia loses to Louisville it would be hard to justify a Big-10 rematch for the title, as much as I would love to see it. A one-loss SEC champ is probably in the driver’s seat in this scenario, although that could get complicated if Ohio State is somehow the loser in a couple weeks. I can’t imagine an undefeated Louisville would be able to jump a one loss SEC champ. We will wait and see…

Briefly, some other notes:

  • Hoooooooooosiers! I don’t think I’ve witnessed a thrashing at the hands of the mighty Indiana football team like the one I saw my boys give Michigan State since sometime in the early 1990s. This was easily the highlight of my day. But seriously, Indiana has established itself as a middle-of-the pack Big 10 football team with an offense that can’t be ignored. Consider the fact that star receiver James Hardy, who set a school record Saturday with FOUR TD receptions, did not play in the disappointing home losses to Southern Illinois and Connecticut. Transform those into wins, and IU would be an unfathomable 7-2 entering their final three games. One can dream…Nevertheless, the Hoosiers stand a good chance to go bowling, as they sit at 5-4 with winnable games at Minnesota and at Purdue ahead.
  • The ACC picture got cloudier as Virginia Tech routed Clemson Thursday night and made an abolsute fool out of me. It looks like a Georgia Tech-Boston College final is likely. Florida State lost again and is reeling, and Miami couldn’t save its season at Georgia Tech either.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY, games through 10/30

  1. Ohio State (9-0)
  2. Michigan (9-0)
  3. West Virginia (7-0)
  4. Texas (7-1)
  5. Notre Dame (7-1)
  6. Louisville (9-0)
  7. USC (6-1)
  8. Arkansas (7-1)
  9. Auburn (8-1)
  10. Florida (7-1)
  11. Tennessee (7-1)
  12. California (7-1)
  13. LSU (6-2)
  14. Boise State (8-0)
  15. Boston College (7-1)
  16. Oklahoma (6-2)
  17. Rutgers (8-0)
  18. Wisconsin (8-1)
  19. Clemson (7-2)
  20. Georgia Tech (6-2)
  21. Wake Forest (7-1)
  22. Texas A & M (8-1)
  23. Virginia Tech (6-2)
  24. Nebraska (6-3)
  25. Oregon (6-2)

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia
  3. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  4. Ray Rice, Rutgers
  5. Mike Hart, Michigan

GAMES TO WATCH

#3 West Virginia at #6 Louisville, Thursday, 6:45 CST, ESPN

Make no mistake, this is the biggest game in the history of Thursday night football, and the Big East is loving every minute of it. The atmosphere will be electric, and the home field advantage will certainly benefit Louisville. With Louisville at full strength, this would have been an even better matchup, but the loss of Michael Bush early on certainly detracts from the Cardinal offense. Louisville has still been able to put up points, but I see West Virginia’s defense getting the better of them here even on the road. Louisville will have a tough time stopping the dynamic offensive attack of Pat White and Steve Slaton. Huge implications are on the line here, and it should be a high scoring battle, but I look for the Mountaineers to prevail. A title pass won’t be automatic either way, as both teams still face formidable foes in Pittsburgh and especially Rutgers. West Virginia 41, Louisville 31.

 #13 LSU at #11 Tennessee, 2:30 CST, CBS

What is the story with LSU’s schedule? Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee ALL on the road? The Tigers were my pick to win the SEC but I obviously overlooked the difficulty of winning on the road in this tough conference. This time though, LSU is in an absolute MUST win situation, and has the superior athletes to get the job done, even at Rocky Top. Tennessee’s passing game has been the bread and butter of its offense, and may struggle against LSU’s tough secondary. LSU needs to get the ball moving on offense and has the personnel to accomplish it. I’ve got to stick to my guns on this one. LSU 23, Tennessee 14.

#15 Boston College at #21 Wake Forest, 6:00 CST, ESPN 2

This sounds more like a top-tier basketball matchup, but this pigskin contest has BCS implications as the winner figures to land atop the ACC Atlantic. I’ll again go with the visiting team in a close one here, as BC has proven itself against tougher competition. This is a huge statement game for the Demon Deacons and they have an opportunity to win it on their home field, but honestly, if Wake Forest ends up in the conference championship, what does that say about the ACC? Boston College 20, Wake Forest 17

#8 Arkansas at South Carolina, 6:45 CST, ESPN

South Carolina is bound to knock somebody off soon, especially at home, but I don’t see this being the team. The Razorbacks are playing as well as anyone in the SEC behind the running of Darren McFadden and I look for them to get a huge win on the road here before bigger foes Tennessee and LSU travel to Fayetteville.  Arkansas 30, South Carolina 17.

#16 Oklahoma at #22 Texas A & M, 7:00 CST, ABC

I have a soft spot for the Sooners this season after all they’ve gone through, and they proved me correct last week as they defeated Missouri on the road. The Aggies pose a tougher test in a more difficult environment, but I feel like the OU defense is finally coming together and playing like everyone expected them to–possibly because the offensive difficulties have necessitated as much. I’ll stay on the bandwagon, no pun intended. Oklahoma 21, Texas A & M 17

Album Reviews- Decemberists and The Hold Steady

October 29, 2006

2006 continues to press along in its latter half with the releases of some exceptional albums. I’ve spent the past month enjoying these two. Here are my thoughts.

The Decemberists/ The Crane Wife, 9.2/ 10

Colin Meloy has already established himself as one of America’s best pure up-and-coming songwriters in the company of Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Badly Drawn Boy. On this, their fourth album, The Decemberists step up to the big leagues, popping out of the indie rock doldrums and signing with prestigious Capitol Records. How would the music adjust fans wonder? Thankfully, Meloy and company used this promotion as an excuse to upgrade not only their salaries but their musical and lyrical determination as well. This is easily their best album to date, and I say that having loved last year’s Picaresque (8.7) like it was family.

There is an element of tightness to this album in regards to the way in which it is wound. The Decemberists don’t forgo their psychedelic folk-rock backbone on this effort, but rather use it as layering for musical experimentation and expansion. The 12-minute second track “The Island” is actually three songs blended with perfect regard for tone. Beginning with the foreboding “Come and See”, the epic evolves into the more upbeat yet terrifying “The Landlord’s Daughter”, an intense rape tale with electronic keyboards and Meloy wailing. The climax of this song is absolutely possessive. Wow. After going through that, the track cools off into sad acoustic guitar ballad “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning”, as Meloy pleads, “Go to sleep now, little ugly/ Go to sleep now, little fool.” I’m pretty convinced that as 12-minute folk-rock tracks go, this one couldn’t be any more perfect.

Innovation doesn’t stop after the epic, as standout “The Perfect Crime #2” exhbits upbeat bluesey notes that work incredibly well as the band enters completely new territory musically and Meloy sings of thievery and murder. Tales of war aren’t exactly new territory for The Decemberists, but this time around they dive deeper and more specifically into their story-telling and musical choices. The slowly progressing, softly pounding “When The War Came” would play perfectly over a field of wounded and dead bodies from the front line, as Meloy professes “When the war came, the war came hard.” With almost Led Zepplin-esque characteristics and unprecedented darkness, this track rolls on into completely new musically territory as Meloy moans “With all the grain of Babylon!” into the finish. Scary stuff. Cool.

War tales aren’t isolated to this track, however. In possibly the greatest song they have ever written, the Decemberists really rock on “Yankee Bayonet”, as Meloy and guest singer Laura Veirs rotate verses as a pregnant wife and a probably dead civil war soldier/ husband. The track is absolutely incredible musically, lyrically and emotionally, and is probably the best single song of 2006. Even the familiar sounding tracks, such as opener “The Crane Wife 3” and the amazing “Summersong” soar on this effort. “O Valenica” has a tough act to follow after “Yankee Bayonet”, but provides familiar lyrics in regard to tragic love.

The slowly building “The Crane Wife 1 and 2” works as another epic, layered with more electronic keyboards before moving into its softer, beautiful and apologetic second part. The anthemic, optimistic “Sons and Daughters” is perfectly placed as the closer, sounding off with Meloy singing the inexplicably warm lyrics, “We’ll build our homes of aluminum/ We’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon/ Here all the bombs fade away.”

I still have no idea what a Crane Wife actually is, but I have a feeling we all need to have one.

The Hold Steady/ Boys and Girls in America, 8.3/10

For one, I grew tired of The Hold Steady’s debut album Seperation Sunday (7.9. 2005) upon repeated listens. Sure, it was great party music with fun guitar riffs and leadman Craig Finn drunk-talking well-crafted party lyrics. That album, as fun as it was, lacked lyrical depth and feeling and grew redundant as it progressed. A drunk guy talking over great guitar riffs is fun enough, but after three or four songs I required a bit more. On their sophomore effort Boys and Girls in America, references to drinking, getting high, and getting laid are still present with often hilarious frequency, but are strengthened with a bittersweet reminiscence that adds depth to the lyrics.

Opener “Stuck Between Stations” opens with a classic American rock-n-roll sound complete with pounding drums, electric guitar riffs, piano, and, of course, that talking voice. This track is one of the album’s strongest and immediately captures attention, as intensity builds into the chorus. The next three tracks progress with a similar rocky feel, highlighted by the rocky “Hot Soft Light”, a subtler but no less hard-core American rock song.

In “Chips Ahoy”, Finn sings of a week of partying following a winning day at the racetracks. “Party Pit” tells the story of a drunken romp at a familiar gathering, where Finn recalls, “Well I’m pretty sure we kissed…Can I walk around and drink some more?” And the triumphant standout “Massive Nights” recalls previous evenings of good ole debauchery.

I know what you’re thinking. Anybody can come up with a great guitar riff and mumble unintelligable lyrics about how much they love to party. I would agree with you, except that this album eventually amounts to much more. Finn begins to attempt vocals this time around on prettier, painful tracks such as “Citrus, ” where Finn sings, “Lost in fog and love and faithless fear/ I’ve had kisses that made Judus seem sincere.” Bittersweet love ballad “First Night” enters new musical territory for the band, as Finn reminisces on a first meeting with a long lost love. Probably the best song on the album, “First Night” evokes goosebumps. Wait a second, isn’t this The Hold Steady? Finn demonstates some vocal range on this one while remembering the girl that “Slept like she’d never been scared.” And album closer “Southtown Girls” finishes in the same manner that Boys and Girls in America opens, with classic American-roots rock and catchy guitar riffs.

Overall, this is not an album that I would argue will change the world of music with its innovation, but I doubt that The Hold Steady would have it any other way. As somewhat of a sentimental person, I connected with this album, recalling all of the great times I had back in those summers where there was nothing to worry about and nothing to do other than the things Finn sings about on these tracks. The songs are fun, yes, but there is an underlying sadness that the times of these tales have long passed and are now gone forever, only existing in a memory. A great escape for worthy recollections to be sure, and a decidedly impressive step up musically, lyrically and conceptually from their still very listenable debut.

College Football- Week 8 Recap and Week 9 Preview

October 26, 2006

What appeared to be a relatively uneventful Saturday last weekend turned out to be one of the season’s most exciting, as many one-loss teams still in the hunt for BCS berths and with longshot title hopes survived big scares, many in spectacular fashion. Briefly, to recap:

  • Touchdown Jesus was the star of the many exciting finishes as Notre Dame overcame a 17-13 deficit late in the game with defense, smart clock management, and of course, the Brady Quinn-Jeff Samardzija connection. After losing the ball on downs with under three minutes to play, the Irish looked to be finished. But then the Irish stopped UCLA on three straight downs and used all their timeouts to earn one last chance to score with a little over a minute left. Quinn hit Samardzija with a 45 yard TD pass with 27 seconds left to play. Samardzija actually caught the ball at about the 20-yard line with three defenders surrounding him but simply refused to be tackled. An Amazing finish to be sure, although the Irish can’t be feeling too good about their chances at USC if they had this much trouble with a seemingly inferior UCLA team at home. We’ll see…
  • Nebraska gave Texas all they could handle and could have easily won what surely was the biggest game for the program in five years. Texas got the ball back after Nebraska carelessly fumbled while holding a 20-19 lead late in the game. Then Texas nailed a 22-yard field goal after bringing on a walk-on kicker! Fabulous stuff. Even with the loss, Nebraska proved that they are back. I actually felt the need to move them up a slot in my rankings.
  • Other close games involving one-loss teams included Tennessee’s narrow win over Alabama after trailing the entire game and California’s overtime win over a relentless Washington team. Erik Ainge led a touchdown drive in the final minutes to give the Vols the win, and Marshawn Lynch scored for the Golden Bears on the opening possession in overtime, which was all Cal needed. However, Washington’s hail mary pass to put the game into overtime was possibly the best since Kordell Stewart’s pass to Michael Westbrook in that win over Michigan!
  • In a less relevant but no less amazing contest, Michigan State somehow overcame a 38-3 third quarter deficit to shock Northwestern. I honestly can’t decide what is more puzzling, that this Spartan team was somehow trailing Northwestern by 5 touchdowns or that they were able to score that many in a quarter and a half. The loss was obviously crushing for Northwestern but would have been program-destroying for Michigan State, who appears to finally have gotten a break after a steady free-fall since the Notre Dame loss.
  • Clemson affirmed itself as a strong BCS contender by dominating Georgia Tech 31-7 on national TV and holding Heisman contender Calvin Johnson without a reception. The Tiger rushing attack looked unstoppable, as the tandem of sophomore James Davis and freshman C.J. Spiller racked up over 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. Clemson is improving with each game and is starting to look scary on both sides of the ball.
  • Miami and Florida State didn’t improve their situations much Saturday, although Miami did avoid involving themselves in another brawl. In the meantime, they nearly lost to lowly Duke with a somewhat depleted squad. The Seminoles are now in last place in the ACC Atlantic after a narrow home loss to the underrated Boston College Eagles. Last place! Yikes.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (8-0)
  2. Michigan (8-0)
  3. USC (6-0)
  4. West Virginia (7-0)
  5. Texas (6-1)
  6. Notre Dame (6-1)
  7. Louisville (7-0)
  8. Arkansas (6-1)
  9. Auburn (6-1)
  10. Florida (6-1)
  11. Tennessee (6-1)
  12. California (7-1)
  13. Clemson (7-1)
  14. LSU (6-2)
  15. Boise State (8-0)
  16. Boston College (6-1)
  17. Nebraska (6-2)
  18. Oklahoma (5-2)
  19. Rutgers (7-0)
  20. Georgia Tech (5-2)
  21. Wisconsin (7-1)
  22. Wake Forest (6-1)
  23. Texas A & M (7-1)
  24. Missouri (7-1)
  25. Georgia (6-2)

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia
  3. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  4. Ray Rice, Rutgers
  5. James Davis, Clemson
  6. Mike Hart, Michigan

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND

#13 Clemson at Virginia Tech, Thursday at 6:45 CST, ESPN

I haven’t been crazy about Virginia Tech’s team right from the start, and it hasn’t helped that they weren’t even competitive in their only difficult ACC games against Boston College and Georgia Tech. Meanwhile, Clemson’s rushing attack looks to be unstoppable. This game is at VT and is the Thursday night game which tends to be dominated by the home team in the ACC. However, VT lost 38-27 to Georgia Tech, and Clemson just beat the Yellow Jackets 31-7. That’s 35 points if you carry it over, which is not always the best way to bet on college football games, but you make the call. I’m calling this my lock of the week for Clemson to cover the measily 4 point spread.  Clemson 31, Virginia Tech 14.

#18 Oklahoma at #24 Missouri, 11:00 CST, ABC

This game doesn’t excite me a great deal as it seems pretty clear that Nebraska and Texas will meet again in the Big 12 championship while the rest of the conference struggles to hang on to a Top 25 ranking. This appears to be the battle for third, although Texas A&M is beginning to loom larger than expected. Anyway, losing Peterson hurts, but you’ve got to root for the Sooners, who still have superior athletes on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma 24, Missouri 17.

#25 Georgia vs. #10 Florida, 2:30 CST, CBS

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, held on a neutral field in Jacksonville, is always a great college football tradition. Georgia has had its struggles this season but always gets up for this rivalry. Their once powerful running game has been slightly depleted by the injury to Thomas Brown, but they still have power behind Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware. The defense has been relatively strong, but not as strong as Florida’s, nor is the offense as versatile due to its dependence on the run. Florida’s weapons will be too much here, although I don’t expect a killing as the Bulldogs will play with a lot of heart.  Florida 28, Georgia 17

#11 Tennessee at South Carolina, 6:45 CST, ESPN

Tennessee has overachieved all season but has looked incredibly impressive throughout, with their only loss coming in a close one at home against Florida. South Carolina has been improving steadily, most noticably in its near upset of Auburn a few weeks back, but really hasn’t reached the tougher part of its SEC schedule quite yet. It should be a great coaching matchup and a close game. Tennessee has superior athletes but South Carolina has home field advantage on national TV and a lot to gain. I expect a dogfight!  Tennessee 24, South Carolina 23

College Football- Week 7 Recap and Week 8 Preview

October 18, 2006

Well, I didn’t think anyone in the SEC would be able to finish the season unblemished, but I do have to say I’m suprised to be sitting here in the middle of October with no undefeated SEC teams still standing. As much as I love SEC football, all of the complaining from the coaches about how it is “impossible” and “miraculous” to finish the season undefeated in such a tough conference is frankly getting a little tired.

Ironically, the SEC was the first conference to experiment with expanding to the twelve team format and for reasons that were mostly monetary. If indeed that decision has made going undefeated in the SEC “impossible”, than the blame rests with the conference for creating its own demise. But in all seriousness and truth, if Ohio State was playing in the SEC, they would win all of their games. The SEC has a lot of great teams and is therefore in my opinion the most exciting conference to consistently watch week after week, but what it lacks is that one super-power team. It isn’t that the teams are unable to win out due to the difficulty of their schedules, it is simply that no team is dominant enough to finish the season undefeated. There’s my two cents. In other news this past weekend:

  • Two programs, Miami and Oklahoma, have now officially hit rock bottom  for two completely different reasons, one of which I sympathize with and one of which I do not even come close to feeling sorry for. We’ll start with the program that deserves sympathy, and that is clearly Oklahoma. After what has seemed like three months of doom complete with star QB Rhett Bomar’s dismissal before the season began to the incredibly tough break caused by abysmal replay officiating in the Oregon to being embarrassed by rival Texas, Sooner fans had surely believed that things couldn’t get any worse. That was, of course, until OU lost all-world tailback Adrian Peterson for the season in the final minutes of the game after he fractured his collar-bone diving into the end zone. That’s a pretty freak accident if you ask me, and the Sooners have my sympathy as they struggle through the remainder of possibly the most cursed season ever. Miami, on the other hand, has always been thuggish, but brutally brawling with a Florida International team that poses no threat to anyone pushed its already questionable character reputation over the edge. Everything about this incident, from the violent acts demonstrated on the field to the local television commentary in its midst and the subsequent slap on the wrist to everyone involved is shameful and disgraceful. Shame on “The U” in the “OB”.
  • As mentioned earlier, Auburn topped Florida 27-17, leaving no more SEC undefeateds.  Auburn’s placement at 4th in the first BCS standings ahead of undefeated West Virginia is puzzling enough, and certainly raises some questions as to whether a one loss SEC champ, Big 10 runner up or one-loss USC would get the nod into the national championship over an undefeated West Virginia or Louisville. I haven’t formulated my opinion yet, but time will tell the story of what has all the makings of yet another BCS debacle.
  • In Big Ten action, the story of the day was clearly my Hoosiers pulling off their biggest win since 1987 and shocking Iowa 31-28 in Memorial Stadium. For those of you counting, that’s two straight Big Ten wins for the Hoosiers, who as timing would have it now will have their momentum stopped as they enter Columbus. Ohio State has really seperated itself from the rest of the nation in my book, and their 38-7 thrashing of Michigan State demonstrated this in every aspect. Michigan survived a close game in Happy Valley as I predicted without star wide out Mario Manningham. Penn State has to be the best three loss team in the country right now though, and they played the Wolverines and the Buckeyes as tough as anyone will all season.
  • USC escaped its third straight Pac-1o game in which they socred under 30 points and won by a single possession. Arizona State gave them fits. Oregon and Cal both beat the Sun Devils by over 25 points. Getting worried? At this point, I would be shocked to see USC finish the season undefeated, as Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal and UCLA all remain on the schedule. In fact, unless their play improves I can’t really see them winning three of these.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (7-0)
  2. Michigan (7-0)
  3. USC (6-0)
  4. West Virginia (6-0)
  5. Texas (5-1)
  6. Notre Dame (5-1)
  7. Louisville (6-0)
  8. Arkansas (5-1)
  9. Auburn (6-1)
  10. Florida (6-1)
  11. Tennessee (5-1)
  12. California (6-1)
  13. Clemson (6-1)
  14. Georgia Tech (5-1)
  15. LSU (5-2)
  16. Oregon (6-1)
  17. Nebraska (6-1)
  18. Boise State (7-0)
  19. Oklahoma (4-2)
  20. Boston College (4-2)
  21. Rutgers (6-0)
  22. Wisconsin (6-1)
  23. Wake Forest (6-1)
  24. Iowa (5-2)
  25. Georgia (5-2)

HEISMAN WATCH

  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia
  3. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
  4. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
  5. Chad Henne, Michigan

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND

I will be in Carlsbad, California spending the weekend at the Four Seasons with my wife as we celebrate the completion of our first year of marriage! But if I’m lucky, I’ll get to sneak away and watch some football Saturday. I love waking up at 7 am and watching Gameday on the Pacific! In Pacific time…

#5 Texas at #17 Nebraska, 9 AM PST, ABC

These are the best two Big 12 teams remaining, and Nebraska gets a shot to put is program officially back on the map at home against the defending champs. Nebraska has played well though has been relatively untested. They showed some defensive prowess early in their only challenging game, a loss to USC. Texas will enter hostile territory but I have a tough time seeing Nebraska scoring too many points in this one against the Longhorns’ stellar defense. Offensively, I give Texas the edge as well, with Colt McCoy beginning to find his comfort zone.  Texas 35, Nebraska 17.

#24 Iowa at #2 Michigan, 12:30 PM PST, ABC

Iowa essentially destroyed its season last week as the Hawkeyes were humbled against a pesky but inferior Indiana team. It’s possible they had their sights on this one a bit too early, and after they leave the Big House Saturday they are going to wish they spent less time worrying about this game and more time concentrating on the winnable Indiana game. Iowa looks to me to be outclassed on both sides of the ball here, and having to go on the road doesn’t help things.  Michigan 38, Iowa 14

#20 Boston College at Florida State, 12:30 PM PST, ABC

This game doesn’t excite me terribly, except for the chance that the winner could make a late run and sneak into the ACC championship and the fact that it is a must-win for both teams. BC may have to play without their QB, and the Seminoles have to be hungry after disappointing losses to NC State and Clemson. Florida State is the more talented team, and I like their chances to get back on track here against a Boston College team that has overachieved to this point.  Florida State 28, Boston College 20

#14 Georgia Tech at #13 Clemson, 4:45 PM PST, ESPN

This is probably my favorite matchup of the day as the ACC’s best face off in a night game with hopes of getting a leg up on a BCS berth. I’ve liked Clemson from the start of the season to win the conference as they stand an extra point away from a 7-0 record. However, Georgia Tech has looked very strong and Calvin Johnson is making a quiet run at the Heisman. I expect to see some defense in this game, but the winner will be the one who can make the most big plays offensively. I think Clemson is a little more well-rounded on both sides of the ball, but Georgia Tech should give them a battle.  Clemson 23, Georgia Tech 20

    College Football- Week 6 Recap and Week 7 Preview

    October 12, 2006

    An eventful week 6 of college football sorted out some mysteries, especially in the SEC. Week 7 doesn’t have quite the matchups we saw over the weekend, but it’s still college football, and as we saw, anything can happen! Here are some thoughts on the action over the weekend:

    • My sleeper team for the year, the Arkansas Razorbacks, did the unthinkable and manhandled the highly touted Auburn Tigers on their home field. I knew that Arkansas was going to be good, but can’t claim I thought they could pull this off. I’ve had them in my top 20 all season, but who would have imagined this? Darren McFadden made the Auburn rush defense look much softer than what we have seen so far this year. Imagine that LSU couldn’t even score a touchdown at Auburn and Arkansas put up 27 points! It’s official, the Razorbacks are for real. This was a huge win for the program. As for Auburn, they’re down but certainly not out. Florida comes to town in this weekend’s marquee matchup as the Tigers try to get back on track.
    • Florida and Tennessee seperated themselves from the rest of the SEC with convincing wins over LSU and Georgia respectively. Had I known that this was going to be the case, I would have gotten even more enjoyment out of that great Florida-Tennessee game a few weeks back. The Gators looked incredibly solid on both sides of the ball, and the dual quarterback system is working in a big way. Did everyone see that jump throw TD by freshman Tim Tebow? Crazy stuff! The Gators still have a vicious schedule ahead with Auburn, Georgia, Florida State and the SEC championship game lurking ahead. I moved them up 4 spots to #2 after their impressive victory and would have a tough time seeing them left out of the national championship if they can win out.
    • You can kind of start to see Oklahoma’s season beginning to spiral downward. Okay, so they got a really, REALLY bad break in that Oregon game. Everybody knows that, everybody agrees on that. And I think everyone knew that Texas was probably a slightly better team going into Saturday. But the Sooners just looked gutless. After tying the game at 7 and actually taking a 10-7 lead at the half, Texas socred 21 unanswered points to close the game. The defense rolled over and the offense was anemic. With their only two difficult games behind them as defeats, I don’t see this team getting too inspired and wouldn’t be surprised to see them lose one to somebody they shouldn’t. Oh Sooner fans, what could have been…
    • It appears that California actually is the team I thought they were at the beginning of the year. The Cal offense rolled up 45 points on Oregon as I nearly predicted the final score exactly! USC struggled mightily for the second straight week, and had a really good shot to lose at home against Washington if the Huskies had managed the clock a bit better. Right now, I really like Cal’s chances to go into the Colosseum and win in November.
    • Florida State lost a big one Thursday night at NC State. It would appear that Clemson is the team to beat in the ACC now, along with Georgia Tech and Boston College. When was the last time that neither Miami or Florida State was in the Top 25? I can’t imagine it’s happened in my lifetime.
    • The mighty Indiana Hoosiers took advantage of their only remaining winnable game and knocked off Illinois 34-32 in the Big Ten pillowfight of the year. The Hoosiers trailed 25-7 at the end of the first quarter and somehow came back to win. I know the game is irrelevant, but you have to give my boys their props for this one. Genius clock management and a huge leap of faith in the defense at the end of the game by Terry Hoeppner made the winning field goal a possibility.

    TOP 25 OF THE MATTY, games through 10/09

    1. Ohio State (6-0)
    2. Florida (6-0)
    3. Michigan (6-0)
    4. USC (5-0)
    5. West Virginia (5-0)
    6. Texas (5-1)
    7. Notre Dame (5-1)
    8. Louisville (5-0)
    9. Tennessee (5-1)
    10. California (5-1)
    11. Clemson (5-1)
    12. Arkansas (4-1)
    13. Auburn (5-1)
    14. Iowa (4-1)
    15. LSU (4-2)
    16. Georgia (5-1)
    17. Georgia Tech (5-1)
    18. Oregon (5-1)
    19. Nebraska (5-1)
    20. Oklahoma (3-2)
    21. Boise State (6-0)
    22. Missouri (6-0)
    23. Boston College (4-1)
    24. Virginia Tech (5-1)
    25. Rutgers (5-0)

    HEISMAN HUNT

    1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
    2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
    3. Steve Slaton, West Virginia
    4. Chris Leak, Florida
    5. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
    6. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
    7. Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois
    8. Mario Manningham, Michigan
    9. Ted Ginn, Ohio State
    10. Robert Meachem, Tennessee

    GAMES TO WATCH IN WEEK 7:

    Unfortunately for me, most of this week’s best games are at night, and I’ll be at a wedding and unable to watch any of them. That doesn’t mean that I can’t impart my wisdom though.

    #2 FLORIDA AT #13 AUBURN, 6:45 CST, ESPN

    Amazingly, this is the only game of the week that matches two top 25 teams against one another, but it should be worth the wait until the evening. Florida looked great last week coming off a pretty shaky effort against Alabama the week before. Auburn, meanwhile, couldn’t have looked worse defensively. I’m expecting this one to go down to the wire, but look for the Auburn defense to make some adjustments and create some turnovers at home. Florida’s versatile offense has been very impressive, but has struggled on the road, and this will be a big test. Florida’s defense has also looked great but will have its hands full with Kenny Irons. This will be a battle! Auburn 24, Florida 23

    #3 MICHIGAN at PENN STATE, 7:00 CST, ABC

    The absence of Mario Manningham doesn’t make this already difficult road test any easier for the Wolverines. On the ABC night game, I can’t think of too many more fearsome places to go than Happy Valley. Also, don’t think Penn State has forgotten about their last second loss to Michigan last year that cost them an undefeated regular season. The intensity will be high, but in the end I think Michigan just has too much offensive firepower, even without Manningham. Not only that, but Penn State hasn’t been able to produce much offensively this season, and the Michigan defense is really starting to click. Penn State should have enough energy to keep things close in the first half, but Michigan will make the plays in the second half to get the job done.

    Michigan 23, Penn State 14

    #1 OHIO STATE AT MICHIGAN STATE, 2:30 CST, ABC

    This isn’t really much of a “big game” other than the fact that it’s the only one all I’ll be able to watch, and that it is essentially a must win for the Spartans after consecutive losses to Notre Dame, Illinois and Michigan. Unfortunately, I don’t see the Spartans jumping out to an early lead at home this time like they did against the Irish, and everyone knows how potent Ohio State is offensively no matter where they are playing. No contest here.

    Ohio State 40, Michigan State 17

    Movie Review: The Departed

    October 9, 2006

    THE DEPARTED (149 Minutes, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga)      ****/ 4 stars

    Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” is everything that I hoped it would be, a smart, intensely thrilling tale of gansters, deception and murder played to perfection by the star-studded cast. In all, this film, Scorsese’s first since 2004’s incredible “The Aviator”, adds up to about the best cop movie since “L.A. Confidential” combined with the easily the best gangster story since “Goodfellas.”

    Of course, any movie that casts Jack Nicholson as an Irish mob-boss would grab my attention immediately. Nicholson stars as Frank Costello,  an aging but still fiercely intimidating crime boss who runs illegal operations in the Boston area including everything from drugs to gambling to stolen micro-chip processors. As Costello, Nicholson shows moviegoers why he may be the greatest actor who ever has been, as he turns this challenging role into one of his most memorable performances. Not without his own patented comedic moments of facial expression (check out the scene where Nicholson is imitating “a rat”, priceless…), Costello is portrayed as hard-nosed, no-nonsense psychopath with little to no empathy for his enemies.

    The story’s immediate intrigue rests in its design within the police department. Matt Damon stars as Colin Sullivan, an Irishman who has been bred since his youth working under Costello. Now, working his way high up in the Massachussets police department, he is able to tip Costello off whenever he is in danger of police interference. Therefore, Costello is able to continue his illegal activities with little fear of prison. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems to have become Scorsese’s DeNiro of this generation, stars as Billy Costigan, a reckless, mildly disturbed young man with a nothing to lose attitude. Costigan is assigned a dangerous and top-secret duty: to work with Costello inside his crew while providing information back to the police department so that the long sought after crime boss can finally be put away.

    This plotline provides immediate intensity and the story flies along like a race with amazing situational parallels. Costigan is infuriated to learn that there is a rat (Sullivan) within the police department working for Costello who is putting his life in danger by prolonging the investigation. Every time Costigan’s hard work leads to information that could lead to an arrest, Sullivan tips Costello off. And Sullivan learns through Costello that there is suspicion of a rat (Costigan)within his crew as well, and Costello charges him with the task of uncovering the informant’s identity. Both men franticly search to try to prove the other’s identity while concealing his own, as the failure to do so has fatal consequences in both situations. If Costigan is found to be a rat, Costello will surely kill him. And if Sullivan is unable to find the rat, Costello will kill him instead. And what secrets is Costello keeping from both of them? The film is brilliant in its circular plotline in which no one can be trusted.

    I will not spoil the many tense moments that are sure to keep you at the edge of your seat before this situation is resolved, but suffice to say that the plot becomes much more complex than a simple survival race to discover the identity of an enemy. In classic Scorsese form,  killings a plenty result, and here they seem to become almost overly gory to the extent that it borders on comical. But what it really does it put into perspective the depth of insanity of these homicidal characters. One of these brutal and out-of-nowhere murders, involving a central character, is one of the most shocking moments in recent cinematic history.

    Vera Farmiga gives a powerful performance as Madeline, a psycholigist who is dating Sullivan but treating Costigan, and who is attracted to both of them. The two men never make the connection that the man they are searching for is also involved in a relationship with the woman they love, and this creates a hysterically creative irony. Her connection between them eventually plays a pivotal role in the plot’s turn,  but I will not divulge that here either. Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg gives perhaps the film’s best performance as Sgt. Dignam, a tough-talking, impossible-to-please officer who gives Costigan the deadly assignment, and eventually becomes the only man left who knows Costigan’s true identity. Wahlberg literally steals every scene that he enters.

    Overall, the cast turns in gripping performances across the board. DiCaprio is as effective here as ever, especially as he begins to fear for his own life as Costello begins to uncover the truth. Damon is always interesting when cast in a “bad guy” role, but it works here because we don’t believe that he is really an evil character until the film unfolds in all its glory. And of course, Nicholson plays the role of Costello perfectly in a way that only Nicholson can, and to describe the character as “scary” doesn’t quite do him justice. There is one scene in which Costello enters the bar inexplicably covered in blood up to his arms and all over his shirt, the source of which is never explained nor discussed.

    This film is certainly an early front-runner for Best Picture in my book and is also likely to score several nods for its superb cast. It has been awhile since such a complex crime story was brought to life with such grandeur. The film certainly keeps you guessing with its brillantly devised plotline, and the final shocking scene provides the audience with much satisfaction. I can’t wait to see it again.