Choose Your Own Adventure: Should I Watch The Expendables 3? [Movies, Reviews]

Imagine this:

Barney (Sylvester Stallone) is looking to recruit some young blood to his Expendables team at a nightclub with a friend. He finds Luna (Ronda Rousey, super duper MMA UFC Fighter), an attractive hostess who also turns out to be the nightclub’s bouncer.

Ronda Rousey in The Expendables 3

After watching her take care of some douchebags (with heels on), Barney decides, this woman is perfect to bring with me into armed conflict in a third world nation as a soldier in my guerilla crew.

As an audience member, do you think:

1) Wow, this is terrible. I can’t watch this, this is way way way beyond believability. Over over-the-top silliness.

2) Ronda Rousey kicking butt!? AWESOME. That is all I need to know.

Your response above is all you need to know.

My thoughts: 6/10. The worst of the Expendables films, but still very watchable. Over over over over-the-top action, silly plot. More old action heroes, with a mix of youth (like Rousey) to create some predictable team friction and then cohesiveness (spoiler?). If there’s anything bad from having too many names you recognize on the roster, it’s that no one does anything particularly impressive, there just isn’t enough screen time for anyone not named Stallone. (Side note: the way this movie is cut, it feels like it was filmed 2-3 seconds at a time, where an actor would say one quick line, then “CUT!”, and so on for 2 hours of movie. I wonder if actors really enjoy filming this way.)

Revisiting Blue Chips 20 Years Later [Movie Review and Commentary]

I watched Blue Chips again recently for the first time in at least a decade. Essentially, Blue Chips is about corruption (paying players to join amateur teams) in college basketball, and I cannot understand why it isn’t more well regarded – its main arguments are true, focusing on the pressures of winning and generating revenues in major sport college athletics. There is the hypocrisy of asking young athletes to sacrifice their bodies for the equivalent of full time jobs, and then throwing those athletes aside when convenient, yet the “adults” reap huge financial benefits.

With books like The System, about the business of college football, and the most recent lawsuits regarding college “amateur” athletics (see Ed O’Bannon, Northwestern Unionization), if Blue Chips had been released today, perhaps it would have been more acclaimed as a scathing review of the amateur system, instead of “A deafness-inducing but otherwise ho-hum would-be expose of shady recruiting practices by college basketball programs.” (from Variety)

I rated the movie 7/10 on IMDB, with the following thoughts (tons of spoilers) on its oddities and how it could have been a lot better:

1) My guess at why Blue Chips isn’t considered more seriously is its simplified demonification of college boosters. Happy (the primary booster) clearly tells the audience why there is a need for boosters. Coach Pete and programs make a lot of money from winning (Coach Pete has a big contract and a six-figure TV show), while the players get nothing. It’s said (in the movie) that to successfully recruit a top player, one must buy him. Pete gets upset at this because paying “amateur” players is against college rules. He refuses to see his hypocriticalness until the end of the movie, when he quits coaching. Happy is portrayed as a villain, a rich and pompous douche. Yes, he obviously wants to win, and he sees giving players and their families what other schools are already offering an easy way (for him) to do so. The movie doesn’t get into how much these benefits mean to the players, however. In real life, it’s a big deal. If you (as Penny Hardway’s character Butch McRae could) could get your mom a new job and a new house by committing to a specific school at the age of 18, why is this a bad decision on your end?

I’m trying to get my parents a new house NOW, and I’m 33 years old! I would definitely take a way to get them more money.

If Happy had been portrayed as more of a normal non-douchey rich guy just trying to help the team win while helping kids, I think the audience could have empathized more with the players’ side. At the end of the movie, Ricky, who was seen as a greedy amateur athlete by Coach Pete, is shown to have injured his knee and returned home to run his dad’s farm. This is a perfect example of why Ricky (technically, his dad asked for a new tractor to do farm work) was in the right to accept (and even ask) for compensation – he got injured, and now has nothing. He’s in French Lick, fighting poverty for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the business of college athletics goes on.

2) Another reason the movie might not be so well-loved is that Blue Chips is not a great basketball action movie. The basketball scenes are not well shot. You would expect a movie with Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and other pros like Calbert Cheaney and Bobby Hurley would to be much more exciting. I do not think a non-basketball fan would enjoy the action. Compare it to Above the Rim, which I feel is a basketball movie with great action.

3) I do not understand how they got so many real players and coaches to be in this movie, when the movie clearly states that programs paying players was the norm in both college basketball and college football. It implies that everyone (in real life) in the movie was dirty, yet you still see Bobby Knight, George Raveling, and Rick Pitino in the movies with their real names. Jerry Tarkanian, a noted “cheater”, is in the movie as well! As a side note, what I remember most about Bobby Knight (I like Coach Knight) was that he said Calbert Cheaney rode a bicycle his four years in Bloomington.

4) Clearly, Coach Pete is supposed to be Bobby Knight – he kicks chairs, curses at everyone, was focused on a clean program, yet still cares for his students, making sure they graduate from school.

5) Champion made the jerseys for Western University but not for Indiana University (the Hoosiers have no branded jerseys). I thought this was a bit odd as they’re essentially identifying themselves with college cheating. Gatorade is featured in the movie as well. This makes me question how the movie was originally marketed. I get the feeling (watch the original trailer above) that Blue Chips was supposed to be a typical sports movie talking about “dirty” sports, but with more of a pop-entertainment tilt by showing off Shaquille O’Neal (this is how I thought of the movie as a kid). At the end of movie, I feel like the audience can just say, “oh well” and forget about things as if these problems are not that big of a deal, as if perhaps these issues are exaggerated for the movie. That is why I think the movie missed a big opportunity in its commentary on college athletics.

Lenny Cooke [Documentary Review]

Lenny Cooke Poster 01

If you are reading this, you probably already know about the subject of the film, Lenny Cooke, a one-time high school basketball superstar ranked with the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, he became a cautionary tale for future young athletes, and now the eponymous documentary answers many of the questions you might have about who Cooke was and what happened.

Lenny (or Leonard as his mom calls him) is generally shown to be a good guy. We may all point to him as a failure, but the decisions he made would probably mirror most of ours if we were put in the same situation (showered with money, fame, and adoration as a teen). The mental maturity wasn’t there for him, and I can’t claim that it would have been there for me. Years later, his mom says she never blamed him for anything that happened, and I agree. He was a kid, and he did what kids do. The environment led him astray.

He was never a criminal or a thug (as far as I know), just a kid. Cooke became a victim – instead of becoming the next NBA superstar, he hung out with Foxy Brown’s (remember her?) brother, and listened to fast money.

What surprises me about the film is how much footage there was of him as a teen – in fact, this confused me about the structure of the narrative. It seems like the directors’ originally tried making a documentary about him to later show off his path to fame. When that did not happen, the film also stopped, and then 6-10 years later, we skip ahead and see a fat, out of shape Lenny Cooke look back on his past. The current-day Cooke gets into a fight with friends, complaining they’ve abandoned him as he’s now a nobody, and this made me wonder about the directors as well. Why now come back and shoot new footage to show the sad story? For whose benefit?

Perhaps Cooke answers this himself at the very end of the documentary – it’s the first time he really discusses what happened and why he failed. I think the reason the documentary exists then is that this is Lenny Cooke’s attempt to help future players avoid his path, and it’s intimate enough to not just be “another” cautionary tale. Cooke is young enough in that he’s not just a legend of some bygone “old man” day. He played with Melo, Joakim Noah, LeBron; the lessons are still relevant.

I think a big question left unanswered is why didn’t Lenny Cooke make the NBA or continue to play basketball after a few years of struggles? Why was he fat by age 26? He feels he may have been blackballed by the NBA (he admits to being a bit of a jerk in his youth), but is that really enough to get blackballed? Kobe is a jerk too. Would anyone blackball him? Cooke was a great talent, and he wasn’t a criminal, yet no team would give him a try? Perhaps he continued being a jerk after not getting selected in the 2002 NBA Draft. After that letdown, Cooke played internationally and in the US, including the Philippines, USBL, and China. Cooke admits he didn’t have a true passion for the game, that he did it to keep getting paid, but if that’s really true, he still could be playing today to make money.

I would have liked to see people from the NBA or his professional teams talk about what he was like, or about his basketball skills during this time period. Otherwise, while there is some discussion of what’s happened between Cooke’s high school days and today, it’s limited. In this sense, I feel the documentary strives more to show who Lenny Cookie was as a phenom and what he is today to show the possibility of lost opportunity to a modern audience rather than discussing the story of Lenny Cooke and his overall struggle to reach the NBA over the years.

Rating: 7/10

A Look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 in 2014 [Review]

A few months ago, I got a great present from Midland – a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1” Wifi (Wireless, no cellular 3G) tablet. Even though Midland himself said it was a bit slow, I wanted to check it out anyway as I’ve never owned a true tablet. After installing CyanogenMod to make the tablet run as fast as possible, here are my impressions as well as some app recommendations.

Web Browsing: this is the worst aspect of using the device. I use Firefox, which is well regarded on Google Play, and also what I use on my laptop. Whether you are browsing multiple tabs or just a single one, loading web pages feels much slower than on the same connection with a PC. Firefox tends to forget which websites I’ve opened and sometimes will erase my session completely even when I have not closed the browser, leading to much frustration. In general, while a normal user who tends to open 1 page at a time and read casually will not have a problem with the Tablet, it’s an inadequate experience for me.

I use Firefox along with the AdBlock and LastPass extensions. I suggest paying for the LastPass Premium service so you can access its mobile app – LastPass lets you save your passwords in the cloud and can help you manage your passwords across desktop / laptop PC’s, mobile phones, and tablets. Because of this, I only remember critical passwords from a few sites, otherwise letting LastPass store the rest and making it convenient for me to login to websites wherever I am. AdBlock removes ads from websites. Although I do like ads from time to time, since the Note is so slow at web browsing, every little bit of speed helps.

Apps: If your favorite sites and services have good Android apps, this will take away much of the pain from the spotty web browsing experience. Using Facebook, Twitter, etc., works great on the large 10” screen. The app experience is not necessarily incredibly fast, but I have never felt it to be slow, at least not in comparison to the web experience. As I have been traveling a lot recently, TripAdvisor is a prime example of a website that is terrible to use on the tablet but is quite good on the app side. However, instead of having one general TripAdvisor app that you can use for any location, TripAdvisor only has apps for specific cities. This is great if you are going to a city (Frankfurt, Bangkok, etc.) that does have a specialized app for it, but obviously terrible if it does not (Saigon).

For news, I use Feedly. It does not match the PC version because I cannot enable the Android app to mark an article as “read” if I swipe past the headline. Thus, if I go into Feedly every couple of hours, I will continue to revisit articles that I did not want to read. This has really discouraged me from using the app.

Typing is not a great experience because of the screen dimensions, regardless if you use an alternative keyboard (the tablet can lag at times when using Swiftkey, making me slow down and create more mistakes) or the standard one. This tablet won’t be a go-to device if you are hoping to write long WordPress blogs on it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1Comic Books: I always imagined that this would be the main reason for owning a tablet, at least for me, and I’ve been proved right. My reading of digital comics has really been extensive this year- likely more in the last 3 months than in any 1 year period for the last 10 years. ComicRack makes reading comics anywhere anytime super convenient just as the Amazon Kindle made reading books did.

Media Player: (Movies, Music, Photos) I’m a bit disappointed you cannot use Amazon Prime streaming on non-Kindle Android devices. Otherwise, YouTube has an excellent Android app. I use MX Player to load movies from memory cards. Smugmug has a great app which will download your photo library to your Android device automatically, making it easy to see or search your photos wherever you go, regardless of your data connection. When I am back in the US, I may try some music radio apps like Spotify or Pandora. For now, all I have loaded is Hype Machine, which I have used on the PC, but not yet tried on the tablet.

Books: I think the Amazon Kindle app is solid on the Android. I still prefer reading on a Kindle device as it’s easier to switch pages and read with one hand, but if you only have this tablet, you will enjoy reading on it as well. Adobe Reader is a surprisingly solid app for reading PDF’s.

Games: I haven’t tried much in games. From what I’ve seen of Ha playing, world favorite Candy Crush works great on it. In general, I don’t like playing games on a touch screen or mobile device.

As for the physical device, it feels pretty standard. The resolution is relatively low for today’s devices, but this doesn’t bother me much. All the buttons work fine, and the tablet is not too heavy. I added another 32GB SDHC card to supplement the internal 16GB and a Tech Armor screen protector which makes fingerprints less obvious but also dulls the screen slightly. A complaint I have is regarding the unit’s battery charging. I am not sure how to charge the tablet via USB (meaning I cannot plug it into my computer to charge it), and even when I charge it via a power outlet, it just takes too long – I think it would take at least 5 hours to charge the tablet, which is essentially an overnight charge. iPhones and my laptop (Lenovo x230) get charging done, it feels, within 2-3 hours.

The Tablet 2 is nearly two years old today, and since then Samsung has issued some amazing new replacements, at least in terms of their hardware specifications. If you are able to get a Tablet 2 in good condition for around $100, I definitely recommend one, particularly if you do not need it much for online web browsing.