Archive for February 2007

BUBBLE WATCH

February 25, 2007

Through Sunday’s action, here’s who’s in and who’s out:

LOCKS (13 at-large bids):

NORTH CAROLINA
DUKE
PITTSBURGH
MARQUETTE
GEORGETOWN
OHIO STATE
WISCONSIN
KANSAS
TEXAS A & M
TEXAS
UCLA
WASHINGTON STATE
OREGON
FLORIDA
KENTUCKY
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
MEMPHIS
NEVADA
AIR FORCE
BUTLER
UNLV
NOTRE DAME
VIRGINIA TECH
TENNESSEE

SAFELY IN FOR NOW (12 at-large bids):

VIRGINIA 18-8, 10-4 38
BOSTON COLLEGE 19-9, 10-5 26
MARYLAND 21-7, 7-6 17

VILLANOVA 18-9, 7-7 22
LOUISVILLE 20-8, 11-4 39

INDIANA 18-9, 8-6 23
MICHIGAN STATE 21-8, 8-6 21

ARIZONA 17-9, 8-7 13
USC 21-8, 11-5 49

VANDERBILT 18-9, 9-5 29

CREIGHTON 19-10, 13-5 30
BYU 19-7, 10-3 24

ON THE BUBBLE (9 spots remaining)

GEORGIA TECH 18-10, 6-8 51
FLORIDA STATE 18-11, 6-9 46
CLEMSON 19-9, 5-9 41

PROVIDENCE 17-10, 7-7 71
SYRACUSE 20-8, 9-5 54
WEST VIRGINIA 19-7, 8-6 57
CONNECTICUT 17-11, 6-7 90

IOWA 16-12, 8-6 79
MICHIGAN 19-10, 7-7 53
PURDUE 18-10, 7-7 48
ILLINOIS 21-9, 9-6 31

TEXAS TECH 18-11, 7-7 43
KANSAS STATE 20-8, 9-5 55
OKLAHOMA STATE 19-9, 5-8 50

STANFORD 17-10, 9-7 40

ARKANSAS 16-12, 5-9 61
ALABAMA 19-9, 6-8 42
GEORGIA 16-10, 7-7 52
OLE MISS 18-10, 7-7 64

MISSOURI STATE 20-9, 12-6 35
XAVIER 21-7, 11-3 33
WINTHROP 21-4, 14-0 63
OLD DOMINION 23-7, 15-3 35
GONZAGA 20-10, 10-3 70
APPALACHIAN ST 20-6, 14-3 56
VCU 24-6, 16-2 59
DREXEL 21-7, 13-5 45
BRADLEY 19-11, 10-8 44
DAVIDSON 24-4, 17-1 62
SAN DIEGO STATE 18-8, 9-5 47
UMASS 21-7, 10-3 58
HOFSTRA 20-8, 13-4 69
NEW MEXICO ST 20-6, 10-3 63

(assuming Xavier, Winthrop, Gonzaga and VCU all get automatic bids)….

LAST NINE IN (in order of first to last team in)

  1. Stanford
  2. Illinois
  3. Texas Tech
  4. Syracuse
  5. West Virginia
  6. Missouri State
  7. Alabama
  8. Old Dominion
  9. Kansas State

LAST TEAMS OUT (in order of closest to missing the cut)

  1. Oklahoma State
  2. Georgia Tech
  3. Purdue
  4. Georgia
  5. Clemson
  6. Appalachian State
  7. San Diego State
  8. Michigan
  9. Drexel
  10. Bradley

Oscar Preview

February 24, 2007

Sunday night, the Academy Awards will be presented. I have to admit, they really snuck up on me this year– was anyone else under the impression that the Oscars were always in March? In any event, I was scrambling a bit to see as many movies as I could that were up for nominations so that I could fully and accurately predict and enjoy the awards. To me, it seems that a lot of the likely winners are being treated as foregone conclusions. There doesn’t seem to be much question as to who will win the major awards, which of course will make the unlikely event of an upset in any of the major categories every bit more dramatic. However, this is my breakdown of not only who will win each category, but, more importantly, who should win if the world was just.

BEST PICTURE

I’ve seen all of the films nominated except for “Letters To Iwo Jima”, although I feel fairly certain that there is no way on planet Earth that this movie will win Best Picture. In fact, this film’s nomination is probably the most surprising of the five nominees, as it is completely subtitled and arguably better suited for the foreign language film category. Much to the dismay of the connections of “Dreamgirls”, “Iwo Jima” somehow made the cut. It must be good, but I can’t see it having a chance to win after all of the surprise from its simply being nominated.

The rest of the contenders make for an interesting race in my opinion. “Babel” took the Golden Globe for Best Drama, which would seem to indicate a strong shot at the very least. Personally, I didn’t find “Babel” to be as deep or meaningful as it seemed to find itself, and am geniunely shocked by its victory at the Globes. Ebert seems to be talking it up, but I’ll play against it. Even more surprising was “Little Miss Sunshine” winning Best Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. This is admittedly a heartwarming film, but if there weren’t any better, more meaningful pictures made this year, I can’t imagine what that says about the year. Both of these films have big shots to win, but I’ll be sorely disappointed if either does.

That leaves “The Queen” and “The Departed.” I thoroughly enjoyed “The Queen”, but it seems evident to me and virtually every other movie-goer I know that “The Departed” was purely awesome and basically in another league than any other film made this year. The star-studded cast, intriguing storyline and flawless directing by Martin Scorsese combined to create the full package. It seems kind of silly to me to even compare any of the nominees to “The Departed” on any level, which makes it even more surprising that it has been upset not once but twice between the Globes and the Screen Actors Guilds. I think that the Academy will get it right here though, just as they did last year.

Who Should Win: The Departed

Who Will Win: The Departed

Sleeper: Little Miss Sunshine 

BEST ACTOR

I truly believed that Leonardo DeCaprio would finally get his Oscar for his brilliant performance in “The Departed.” Imagine my surprise, then, when the nominations were announced and DeCaprio received a nod for his other highly acclaimed film, “Blood Diamond”, which I have not yet seen. Whatever the case, this can’t bode well for his chances, as the choice is as confusing as it is disappointing. I would have loved to have seen a real battle between the two truly great performances of DeCaprio and Forest Whitaker. Instead, the latter seems to have a stranglehold on the award, although I hope Whitaker is a bit more prepared to speak than he was at the Golden Globes.

Forest Whitaker absolutely nailed his performance in “The Last King of Scotland” as the eccentric, murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and deserves the statue for this one. Whitaker remains in firm command of the character throughout, oscillating between raving, raucous laughter and soft, serious speech like an on/off switch. He brilliantly demonstrates the contrast between the complex elements of good and evil going on inside of Amin’s head. As the character grows, becomes more eccentric and begins to border on insanity, Whitaker’s screen presence carries an air of fear that had to be felt throughout the entire nation of Uganda in the late 1970s.

Another film that I didn’t see was “Venus”, but the general consensus is that Peter O’Toole is the main sleeper in this category for his performance here. I hate it when an actor gets an Oscar simply because he has made a lot of movies and hasn’t ever won before, so hopefully if he does pull what would be a huge upset here it will be well deserved. Will Smith is always insanely likeable on screen in any role, so it is not a surprise that is portayal of a struggling working father in “Pursuit of Happyness” earned him a chance here. Smith did a great job in this movie, but will likely fall short just as he did for “Ali.” Ryan Gosling took a challenging role in “Half Nelson”, but I’m not sure the script was there for him to win this award. He certainly carried the movie as a lost man trying desperately to overcome his drug addiction and frustrations with the world, but after awhile viewers have to feel that an entire movie of acting subdued can’t hold a candle to a performance such as Whitaker’s.

Who Should Win: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Who Will Win: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Sleeper: Peter O’Toole, Venus 

BEST ACTRESS:

There does not appear to be much discussion over who will win this award. If Helen Mirren does not get the award for her portayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in “The Queen”, it surely will be considered one of the greatest upsets is Oscar history. Mirren played this role to perfection in every element, and is a special talent who deserves recognition. But just for fun, I’ll investigate the other candidates, knowing full well that this one is in the bag.

I didn’t get to see “Little Children” or “Volver”. I was surprised to learn that Kate Winslet has more Oscar nominations (now 5- “Titanic”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Iris”, “Sense and Sensability perviously) than anyone else at her young age of 31. It is unfortunate for her that it doesn’t appear she’ll get a statue here, but certainly she will have many more opportunities. As for Penelope Cruz, it is nice to see her nominated after many of her bigger films failed to achieve great success. It is difficult to see her having any chance here in a foreign language film on her first nomination, and I am sure she is just happy to be nominated at all.

The other two nominees are no strangers to the red carpet, and both gave performances that in a Mirren-less year would be deserving of the win. Meryl Streep has made more trips to the Kodak Theater than any actress in history, and her performance as a tough-as-nails fashion editor in “The Devil Wears Prada” deems her worthy of yet another. However, her odds have been better in past years, as pulling a rather shallow chick-flick back into watchability isn’t likely to match up well against the depth of the character portrayed by Mirren. Judi Dench is here every year for something, and this year she took on a role that showcased her diversity, starring as a lonely, aging and obsessive lesbian school teacher intrusted with a secret that she attempts to use to her full advantage. The way that Dench can carry a scene simply by casting a glare is beyond measure, and her turn as a terrifying manipulator in the deliciously watchable “Notes on a Scandal” deserves recognition. But this Oscar is still all Helen Mirren’s.

Who Should Win: Helen Mirren, The Queen

Who Will Win: Hellen Mirren, The Queen

Sleeper: Nobody 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Eddie Murphy certainly seems to be the favorite here for his portrayal of young motown star turned drug-addicted-has-been Jimmy Early in “Dreamgirls.” Is there some kind of a rule in Hollywood that any time an actor makes a gigantic leap in movie genre and is successful that the actor is automatically nominated for an Oscar? For me, Murphy played the part well, but certainly didn’t steal the show. Am the only one that can’t imagine seeing Murphy with a staute? We all love the guy, sure, but can you really give an Oscar to someone who has a film such as “Norbit” currently in theaters as the awards are being given?

Murphy was a great addition to this film, but there were better performances given this year. However, having won this category at the Globes and the SAGs, he appears to be the front-runner. To the contrary, Dreamgirls missing the nom for Best Picture was a surprise, so perhaps the Academy found less favor with the film than the others. If that is the case, the race should be wide open, which it deserves to be. If Murphy gets this Oscar, I for one will have to consider it a lifetime achievement award, much like when Denzel Washington was given the Oscar for “Training Day” after being snubbed for much better performances. By contrast, Murphy has never been snubbed since he doesn’t tend to involve himself with movies that get nominated for Academy Awards, further advancing the peculiarity of his presence here.

I didn’t get to see “Blood Diamond” or “Little Children.” I am sure Djimon Hounsou was brilliant because he always is, and I am intrigued by Jackie Earle Haley’s comeback to play a hatable pedophile. Neither appears to be getting very much support though, and if either wins it will make me even more excited to see these films that I am already very disappointed to have missed. Alan Arkin gave a dynamite, profanity-laced performance and added hysterical moments to “Little Miss Sunshine”, and certainly has a shot here.

Having said all of that, if there is fairness in the universe, Mark Wahlberg will win for “The Departed.” I have already voiced my praise for this film, and if the Academy greets it with open arms, he has a chance. After I left this movie, as great as I thought it was and as many great performances as were given, I couldn’t help thinking about how Wahlberg stole every scene he was in. Integral to the story he was not, but his performance as a mean-faced, no nonsense hot-shot cop added more tension to a movie that was already tense up to its ears. This performance didn’t have the complexity of his lead role in “Boogie Nights”, but this award is different. And one need only watch the final scene to realize how much “support” Wahlberg provided.

Who Should Win: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

Who Will Win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Sleeper: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

This category is shaping up to be the most interesting and wide-open of them all. For starters, I have to throw out Abigail Breslin. Honestly, I am still a little surprised that “Little Miss Sunshine” is getting so much run, but even so, children have not generally fared well at the Oscars. And if they had, Breslin’s performance didn’t exactly strike me as earth-shattering they way, say, Haley Joel Osment’s did in “The Sixth Sense.” (And he didn’t win, either).

Then there is Jennifer Hudson, and what a story she is. If ever there was proof that American Idol is relevant, this is certainly it. Hudson was cut earlier than she should have been on the popular television show only to resurface in “Dreamgirls” and basically steal the show. She is considered the favorite here in her first film performance ever, and if she wins I could live with that. I just compare her performance to the other nominees and wonder how much she benefitted from her incredible singing ability relative to how much actual acting she really had to do. She certainly portayed a strong woman and delivered her fair share of punch-lines, but I suppose you could argue that there were other performances with greater emotional depth. In short, I wonder how she will ever fair in a movie that doesn’t involve singing. Cate Blanchett is becoming one of the most versatile actresses working today, and her portrayal of a married teacher involved in an affair with her fifteen year old student was riveting in “Notes on a Scandal.” Blanchett really takes control of the role towards the end of the movie as the scandal unfolds and the life of her character is destroyed by a friend with a hidden agenda.

If ever there was a film where the sum of its parts somehow failed to add up, “Babel” was it. Nevertheless, standing alone, those parts are worthy of recognition. I fear that the two actresses nominated here will split each other’s votes, but both have solid claims to the award. It won’t happen, but my choice is Rinko Kikuchi, who in her first American film managed to act soley through facial expressions and sign language in her portrayal of a deaf-mute adolescent girl struggling with the suicide of her mother and her growing curiousity in her own sexuality. “Babel” is essentially about barriers to communication between the human race, and nowhere in the film was this theme more prominent than in Kikuchi’s performance. Adriana Barrazza was equally brilliant in her role as a nanny living in the United States illegally and watching over two children. Her character demonstrates caring motherly instincts even when her own judgement puts them all in grave danger. It’s kind of a toss up, but I give Kikuchi the edge. And I still think Vera Farmiga should have been up for “The Departed” instead of Abigail Breslin, who if somehow was to win would basically condemn the Academy through eternity in my eyes. This one is going to be interesting.

Who Should Win: Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Who Will Win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Sleeper: Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal 

WINE OF THE MONTH- FEBRUARY 2007

February 19, 2007

I recently organized a tasting of the highly acclaimed vintage of 2003 Bordeaux. At this event, fifteen of us sipped, swirled and ultimately compared 9 different wines from this vintage, all of which were under $50 and all of which were rated 91 or higher by the Wine Spectator.

Since all of these wines were spectacular, I found it interesting how decisive the consensus was on which wine was actually the best. Despite the fact that all of the wines were 2003 Bordeaux, each was vastly different from their counterparts, so for my tasters to come to such a dramatic consensus really has to say something about this wine. In fact, of the nine wines I tasted, the wine I have selected as the wine of the month for February was my favorite as well:

CHATEAU MEYNEY ST. ESTEPHE 2003, 93 POINTS, $25

Immediately engaging aromas of deep blackberry, toffee and minerally spice. Elegant, full-bodied, silky flavors of blackberry and black licorice provide delicious bursts of black fruit. Long length of fruit and toffee is assisted by firm but subtle tannins. Amazingly ready-to-drink for such a young Bordeaux, and widely available at a price that is downright silly. Dominated by fruit, layered with flavor.

BUBBLE WATCH

February 19, 2007

Another week of college basketball concluded, and while many teams on the bubble last week advanced their cases considerably, others who seemed to be safely in the field took large steps backward. As of now, as I see it, here’s who is in, and who is out:

(There are 34 At-Large Bids)

LOCKS (9 at-large spots taken):

NORTH CAROLINA
DUKE
PITTSBURGH
MARQUETTE
GEORGETOWN
OHIO STATE
WISCONSIN
KANSAS
TEXAS A & M
UCLA
WASHINGTON STATE
OREGON
FLORIDA
KENTUCKY
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
MEMPHIS
NEVADA
AIR FORCE
BUTLER
UNLV

SAFELY IN FOR NOW (20 at-large spots taken):

Team    Record    RPI
VIRGINIA    17-7, 9-3    35
BOSTON COLLEGE    18-8, 9-4    26
VIRGINIA TECH    17-8, 8-4    24
NOTRE DAME    20-6, 8-5    48
WEST VIRGINIA    19-6, 8-5    50
VILLANOVA    17-8, 6-6    18
INDIANA    17-8, 7-5    22
TEXAS    19-7, 9-3    45
OKLAHOMA STATE    19-7, 5-6    36
ARIZONA    17-9, 8-7    10
USC    19-7, 9-4    46
TENNESSEE    18-9, 6-6    15
ALABAMA    19-7, 6-6    23
CREIGHTON    18-9, 12-4    27
MISSOURI STATE    18-9, 10-6    41
BYU    19-6, 10-2    20
MARYLAND    20-7, 6-6    19
STANFORD    17-8, 9-5    38
VANDERBILT    17-8, 8-4    34
LOUISVILLE    18-8, 9-4    52

 SQUARELY ON THE BUBBLE (5 SPOTS LEFT)

Team    Record    RPI
GEORGIA TECH    17-9, 5-7    47
FLORIDA STATE    17-10, 5-8    39
CLEMSON     19-7, 5-7    30
PROVIDENCE    16-9, 6-6    66
SYRACUSE    19-8, 8-5    63
MICHIGAN    18-9, 6-6    59
MICHIGAN STATE    19-8, 6-6    31
PURDUE    17-9, 6-6    37
ILLINOIS    19-9, 7-6    42
TEXAS TECH    17-10, 6-6    40
OKLAHOMA    14-10, 6-6    83
KANSAS STATE    19-8, 8-4    51
WASHINGTON    16-10, 6-8    81
ARKANSAS    16-10, 5-7    43
VANDERBILT    17-8, 8-4    34
GEORGIA    15-9, 7-5    53
OLE MISS    17-9, 6-6    64
APPALACHIAN ST    18-6, 12-3    56
OLD DOMINION    21-7, 13-3    44
DREXEL    19-7, 11-5    54
BRADLEY    18-10, 9-7    29
UMASS    19-7, 9-3    62
HOFSTRA    19-8, 12-4    65
NEW MEXICO ST    18-6, 9-3    70

Assumed to be automatic bids but are on the bubble otherwise:

XAVIER    19-7, 9-3    49
GONZAGA    18-10, 8-3    71
VCU    22-6, 14-2    58
WINTHROP    19-4, 12-0    72
DAVIDSON    20-4, 13-1    60

 LAST FIVE IN:

  1.  CLEMSON
  2. TEXAS TECH
  3. MICHIGAN STATE
  4. KANSAS STATE
  5. GEORGIA TECH

LAST FIVE OUT:

  1. ILLINOIS
  2. PURDUE
  3. BRADLEY
  4. GEORGIA
  5. SYRACUSE

Brief Album Reviews, February

February 14, 2007

The year seemingly was set to get off to a musical bang as three of my absolute favorite bands on the planet all released new albums within three weeks of each other. Perhaps I expected too much from the sophomore efforts of Bloc Party and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and from The Shins third go-round, because unfortunately none of the above lived up to the best of their previous work. However, this is not to say that these albums are not worth a listen or are not without their own spectacular moments. As briefly as possible, here are my thoughts:

Bloc Party/ A Weekend In The City (8.3/10)

The follow up to 2005’s superb Silent Alarm (9.4), my favorite album of that year, lacks a bit of the urgency and intensity that made that album one of the best of this decade. Nevertheless, the boys from Bloc Party prove that they are still capable of rocking, and innovating, even if that innovation may arguably be a step backward rather than forward. On A Weekend In The City, we find Bloc Party still in touch with their somewhat unique sense of rockiness, while at their best demonstrating a moving emotionality and at their worst seeming somewhat sappy.

The good news is that the album starts with a big bang. After opening with an acappela vocal that initially (but not ultimately) seems like a stretch for leadman Kele Okerere’s range, “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)”contains catchy riffs and turns out to be one of the album’s greatest successes. Never again on the album is the slow-song start into hard-core rock jam metamorphasis accomplished as effortlessly or effectively, although they certainly try this technique throughout on less successful tracks such as “Uniform”and “Waiting For the 7:18”. “Where Is Home” succeeds moderately in this new style later in the album, although it still takes a bit to really get going. Second track “Hunting For Witches” continues the energy early in the album by combining elements reminiscent but never quite equaling that of classic previous tracks “Banquet” and “Price of Gas.”

What I loved most about Silent Alarm, some will recall, was its intensity, especially in terms of the percussion. This time around, Bloc Party steers more toward crescendo rock, which at times seems pretentious and forced, but at others results in songs of impressively beautful arrangements. This is a different album to be sure, but not without its own credits on the slower tracks. “On” builds nicely in front of syncopated beats and innovative drumming, as Okerere delivers a simple love song. In the second half of the album, “Kreuzberg” and “Sunday” add more of the prettiness, for lack of a better word. The music is good, no doubt, but those who loved Silent Alarm as much as I did while being able to admit this will still notice moments of monotony.

What really ends up saving the second half of this album is the wonderfully poppy rock song “I Still Remember,” which would have served perfectly as the closer instead of the laboring “SRXT”, which leaves something to be desired. All in all, it’s a shame that Silent Alarm had to come first because this would have been a debut worthy of praise. As it stands, Bloc Party remains a band worthy of praise, and A Weekend In The City showcases their ability to re-create their art and not fall back into familiar habits. I just happen to prefer the old habits slightly.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah/ Some Loud Thunder (7.8/10)

After 2005’s self-titled debut knocked me to the floor and after seeing Clap Your Hands Yeah perform new material live last fall, I was out of my mind with excitement for this release. As the album begins with the title track, that excitement is revisited in full force, as poppy synth feedback and that unmistakably unique Alec Ounsworth voice carries through well-arranged beats that can’t help but force a boogie. But then something incredibly disappointing happens. Clap Your Hands completely abandons everything that made their debut such a head-turner.

What makes this so frustrating is that the album doesn’t contain a single song that is downright bad; it instead contains several songs of mind-boggeling mediocrity. Gone are the rolling psych-folk guitar lines and consistently tight vocal deliveries. Instead, the band slows things down to a crawl, and on many occasions Ounsworth’s incredibly identifiable vocal style grows redundant and heavy on the ears. The melodies on the weaker tracks still carry their own credits, but altogether I can’t help but get the feeling that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah half-assed this one on the whole. Most disappointing to me is that my favorite “new track” I heard back in October at the Vic didn’t even make the album. I figure that is because that track was incredibly upbeat while still showing innovation and would have stuck out like a sore thumb here.

Okay, so it isn’t all so bland, and maybe I’m being too hard on them again due to how surprisingly good their first album was. The band really succeeds in its new style on “Mama, Won’t You Keep Those Castles In The Air and Burning”, adding a gloriously bittersweet feel to a catchy, almost atmospheric refrain. This is probably the best song on the album, because the band proves they can change their style and still write a great song. Admittedly, that is the true sign of any elite band, it’s just a shame that the several other attempts on Some Loud Thunder fall so short of achieving the same. And getting back to sticking out like a sore thumb, the other song I heard (and liked) live back in October was a song called “Satan Said Dance”, which could be described as either silly or horrifying depending on what kind of mood you are in. That song did make the cut. It lands in the middle of the album, and shows off the dancier side of the band by combining somewhat unoriginal but still catchy electronica with guitars that I imagine are supposed to sound possessed by the devil. I actually really like the song for what it is, and if hell is really just Satan making you dance throughout eternity, that still sounds horrible enough to convince me to strive to live a good life.

Unfortunately for the cloven hoof, if that is his gig, he won’t have much success if he pops in the rest of this work for his fallen.

The Shins/ Wincing The Night Away (8.2/10)

James Mercer and company step outside the box on their third album Wincing The Night Away and deliver a collection of tunes not completely baroque or poppy while as transcendant at times as it is inconsistent overall. Everyone knows the masterpiece first single “Phantom Limb” is marvelous, but one track does not an album make.

Luckily, the Shins don’t disappoint early on. Opener “Sleeping Lessons” slowly builds behind light electronic beats and feedback into a pounding crescendo that gets the album off to a great start. The next track “Australia” sounds like vintage Shins–bright, upbeat, unrelenting, slightly tropical and reminiscent of the best moments of the epic Chutes Too Narrow (9.4). Towards the end of the album, “Girl Sailor” is a surefire highlight lyrically, a Mercer sings “But you’ve won one too many fights/ wearing all of your clothes at the same time/ but your good times end tonight.” This track reminds me of the subtle heartbreak of the brilliant “Gone For Good”, even adding a touch of the same twangy western elements.

The Shins add some innovation as well with dancier tracks such as “Sea Legs” that don’t work as well but don’t fall completely flat either. “Turn on Me” rolls along nicely and cheeringly enough but borders on being almost too bubble-gum cutesy. “Black Waves” and “Split Needles” both bring the album to a pause while showcasing a darker, drearier side of The Shins that doesn’t exactly fit but isn’t altogether unmoving. Overall, Wincing The Night Away certainly provides its fair share of highlights, even if those highlights don’t amount in quanity to either of their previous two efforts. They’ve definitely tried some new arrangements on this album and rocked out on some immediately memorable tracks. The forgettable tracks notwithstanding, these guys have proven that they are going to keep making great music for many years.

March Madness Draws Near

February 12, 2007

Believe it or not, the NCAA Tournament is going to be here before you can blink. It is time to start talking about the bubble. I’ll be posting my selection analysis on an ongoing basis beginning today. There are 34 at-large spots in the field this year. This analysis assumes that the automatic bids from the power conferences will go to teams who are already in the field. It also assumes that at large locks from conferences likely to get only a bid or two also get automatic berths. If any of these assumptions turn out not to be the case, as they always do, that is when bubbles burst!

LOCKS (11 at-large spots):

NORTH CAROLINA
DUKE
PITTSBURGH
MARQUETTE
GEORGETOWN
OHIO STATE
WISCONSIN
INDIANA
KANSAS
TEXAS A & M
OKLAHOMA STATE
UCLA
WASHINGTON STATE
OREGON
FLORIDA
KENTUCKY
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
MEMPHIS
NEVADA
AIR FORCE
BUTLER
UNLV

SAFELY IN FOR THE TIME BEING (18 at-large spots):

FLORIDA STATE 17-8, 5-6 29 RPI
VIRGINIA 15-7, 8-3 34 RPI
BOSTON COLLEGE 18-6, 9-2 19 RPI
VIRGINIA TECH 16-7, 7-3 33 RPI
CLEMSON 19-5, 5-5 21 RPI
NOTRE DAME 18-6, 6-5 50 RPI
WEST VIRGINIA 18-5, 7-4 37 RPI
VILLANOVA 17-7, 6-5 13 RPI
TEXAS 17-7, 7-3 53 RPI
KANSAS STATE 18-7, 8-3 46 RPI
ARIZONA 17-7, 8-5 6 RPI
STANFORD 15-7, 7-4 36 RPI
USC 18-7, 8-4 47 RPI
TENNESSEE 17-8, 5-5 15 RPI
ALABAMA 18-6, 5-5 31 RPI
CREIGHTON 17-8, 11-4 25 RPI
MISSOURI STATE 17-7, 9-5 32 RPI
BYU 17-6, 8-2 23 RPI

That leaves 5 remaining spots. Welcome to the Bubble!

RECORD RPI POSITIVE WINS BAD LOSSES

MARYLAND 18-7, 4-6 35 Clemson, at Illinois, Duke / Miami
GEORGIA TECH 16-8, 4-6 56 at Memphis, Purdue, Georgia, at Vanderbilt, Duke, FSU, Clemson / at Miami, at Wake Forest
PROVIDENCE 15-8, 5-5 55 Marquette / Brown, at Seton Hall
SYRACUSE 17-8, 6-5 65 at Marquette, Villanova / Witchita State, Drexel, at St. John’s, at UConn
LOUISVILLE 16-8, 7-4 72 / Dayton, UMass
IOWA 14-11, 6-5 83 Indiana / Arizona State, Northern Iowa, Drake MICHIGAN 16-8, 4-5 58 Purdue / Iowa
MICHIGAN STATE 17-8, 4-6 42 Texas / none
PURDUE 16-9, 5-6 39 Virginia, at Oklahoma / Indiana State, at Minnesota
ILLINOIS 18-9, 6-6 41 none / none TEXAS TECH 15-10, 4-6 45 at Arkansas, at Kansas State / at Baylor, at Missouri, Nebraska
OKLAHOMA 14-8, 6-4 62 none / none
WASHINGTON 15-8, 5-7 82 none / at California
ARKANSAS 15-9, 4-6 38 West Virginia, Alabama / Missouri, at South Carolina
VANDERBILT 15-8, 6-4 49 Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky / Wake Forest, Furman, Appalachian State
GEORGIA 13-9, 6-5 43 Gonzaga, Kentucky / Western Kentucky
OLE MISS 16-8, 5-5 57 Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama / at St. Louis, at Miss State
XAVIER 18-7, 8-3 36 Villanova, Illinois / Cincinnati, Bucknell, St. Louis, St. Joseph’s, Duquense, Creighton
GONZAGA 17-8, 7-2 54 at North Carolina, at Texas, Washington / at St. Mary’s, at LMU
APPALACHIAN ST 16-6, 11-3 59 Virginia, Vanderbilt, VCU / at Wake Forest, Furman
VCU 21-5, 13-2 45 Drexel, Old Dominion / Toledo, App State, at Hofstra
DREXEL 18-6, 11-4 52 at Villanova, at Syracuse / at Penn, at Rider, Hofstra, Old Dominion twice
WINTHROP 16-4, 10-0 75 at Old Dominion / none
OLD DOMINION 19-7, 12-3 56 at Georgetown, VCU, Drexel twice / at Marist, Winthrop, at Hofstra, at James Madison
BRADLEY 15-10, 7-7 48 at Southern Illinois / at Tennessee Tech, at Northern Iowa, at Witchita State
DAVIDSON 19-4, 12-1 68 none / at Missouri, at Michigan, Appalachian State
UMASS 17-7, 7-3 67 at Louisville / Miami, at Rhode Island, at Temple
HOFSTRA 18-7, 11-3 71 Drexel, Old Dominion / at Charlotte, at Manhattan, Hawaii, Northeastern, Delaware
NEW MEXICO ST 17-6, 8-3 82 Nevada / at LMU, at New Mexico, at Louisiana Tech, at Utah St, at Fresno St
Last Five In:

ILLINOIS

LOUISVILLE

VANDERBILT

MARYLAND

MICHIGAN STATE

Last Five Out:

ARKANSAS

GEORGIA TECH

PROVIDENCE

GEORGIA

APPALACHIAN STATE

Three Bottles That Have Absolutely No Business Being Under $10

February 9, 2007

Many times I enjoy posting my notes on this blog when I am given the opportunity to taste elusive wines of rare quality. Sadly, most of these wines are either impossible to find or too expensive for the average consumer to ever consider purchasing by the bottle, and in many cases both of the above apply. However, great, everyday drinking wines don’t necessarily have to fall into these categories. Finding exceptional wines that are widely available and inexpensive enough to drink on a daily basis requires a bit of research, but in my infinite wisdom I am offering to save you that trouble.

Here are three wines that I frequently guzzle without experiencing any pain in my checking account. In my opinion, it is bordering on absurd how good these wines are for how much they cost and how widely distributed they are. If you want to get into good wine but can’t afford to spend $125 on my #1 wine of 2006, the Chateau Beaucaillou St. Julien, start here, and you will be quite pleased. These three are amazing values- truly too good to be true and worthy of buying in bulk.

FALESCO VITIANO UMBRIA 2004, $8, 90 Points Wine Spectator, 87 Points The Matty
Medium bodied with aromas of dark berries, slightly inky. Flavors of blackberry, raspberry and plum dominate the body with chocolate notes creeping into the finish. Well-rounded tannins add complexity through the medium length. Elegant and polished. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese in the Super-Tuscan style.

COLUMBIA CREST TWO VINES CABERNET-MERLOT COLUMBIA VALLEY 2002, $8, 89 Points Wine Spectator, 87 Points The Matty
Characteristic “Washington” aromas of green pepper backed by dark plum and black cherry. Initially earthy, vegetal flavors gain fruit balance from dark cherry, raspberry and plum. The finish is a surprise, lingering long with nice elements of spice, vanilla and chocolate evolving through, a shocking value for a fairly complex wine in the Meritage style.

THE LITTLE PENGUIN CABERNET SAUVIGNON SOUTH EASTERN AUSTRALIA, $7, 88 Points Wine Spectator, 87 Points The Matty

Aromas of black cherry, blueberry and cedery spice combine with hints of cinnamon. Full and flavorful mouthfeel of blueberry, black cherry and cassis which develop into light notes of mocha and toast through the softly tannic and spicy finish. Fruit carries nicely and vanilla lingers. You can actually even find this one in a 1.5 liter for additional savings, and it still tastes great!

 So what are you waiting for? Go out right now and buy yourself a case of each for a mind-numbingly low $100 each! That’s 12 bottles of wine for less than one bottle of my #1 wine of 2006.  Enjoy!