Saturday, May 16, 2015

NHL Western Conference Final Preview

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Late last night, myself and my partner in crime Matt Mortensen previewed the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. And seeing how well that went (my Rangers pick looks excellent right now, doesn't it?), we thought we'd continue on and do the Western Conference Final preview as well. Good plan? Good plan. Let's not waste time; I got sleep to catch. ON WITH THE SHOW

NHL Western Conference Final Preview

Anaheim Ducks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Major Storyline: Are we sure the Anaheim Ducks are that good? This may be my anti-Ducks biased talking here, but I think this is a serious question. Yes, the Ducks swept the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, but they had to come from behind in all four games and should've lost Games 2 and 3. Yes, they were superior than the Calgary Flames last round, but they were also outplayed in the final two games and once again had to come back and win. There's no denying that the Ducks have elite talent from the wings to the blue line; anyone who does doubt that is a fool. But that said, doesn't their penchant for falling behind have to catch up with them at some point? Do we really expect them to get away with that against a championship team in the Chicago Blackhawks? The Ducks are good; are they Blackhawks good is what I'd like to know.

Secondary Storyline: Who would the NHL prefer to win this series? If this feels like the same question I asked last night for the East, that's because it is. On one hand, the Blackhawks are an elite NHL team in a great hockey market, with a championship pedigree. On the other hand, Gary Bettman does love those nontraditional hockey markets, and like I said last night, the news that the Arizona Coyotes seem to be out the door must be killing his boner more than Kathy Bates in About Schmidt. Like last night, I could really see the NHL preferring either option. If  it's Chicago vs. New York, hardcore hockey fans are thrilled and ratings go through the roof. If it's Anaheim-Tampa, Bettman walks around like a porn star for several weeks and gets to gloat about how well hockey is growing in Florida and California (you know, despite the fact that the Florida Panthers have less fans than Andrew Dice Clay right now). Either way, it's not keeping the Coyotes in Arizona Gary. Put on "Let It Go", and face reality already.

Creepiest photo ever

Ducks Player to Watch: Frederick Anderson. Of all the goaltenders left in the postseason, Anderson has been the least consistent, which is saying something considering the Blackhawks have at times played musical chairs with their goaltenders. I get that that probably sounds harsh, and Anderson definitely isn't a goalie devoid of talent. That said, he wasn't always good against Winnipeg or Calgary (Karri Ramo in particular outplayed him big time the last three games of the Calgary series), and he'll now be facing his toughest challenge yet in Chicago. The Ducks have enough fire power to hang with the Blackhawks; thus, their season rises or falls on whether or not Anderson can come of age.

Blackhawks Player to Watch: Corey Crawford. Yes, it's goalies night, and the feeling is right. My terrible jokes aside, the Blackhawks haven't exactly been as trustworthy in net either, having gone from Crawford to Scott Darling and vice versa throughout the first round. Crawford appeared to finally get a stranglehold on the job against Minnesota, but I wouldn't doubt that one bad performance against the Ducks could start the controversy all over again. Much like the Hawks have the firepower to rattle Anderson, the Ducks have the firepower to rattle Crawford. This really comes down to which goalie handles the pressure the best.

Gamblin' Matt and the Odds: Well not only did I go 0-2 in the predictions on the Rangers game but I also had an absolute heartbreaking loss in the Giro D'Italia last night. Took a little bit of a sting out of my enthusiasm for this game but you need to get back on the horse. Speaking of horses, American Pharoah. A thing of beauty that is. Triple Crown, Goose. Triple Crown. Anyway, on to what I'm paid to do. Wait a minute.....

The general consensus in betting here dictates that the over/under line is five. You may see it go up to 5.5 or down to 4.5 but for the most part it stays at five. That's what we have here. $1.81 for over five goals and $2 for under. I feel this is going to go quite close to the five goal mark and I'm going to be on the under. These two teams haven't squared off against each other in four months and the last time they did it was a 4-1 win for the Blackhawks.

This is a step up in quality for both teams and I can't see the Ducks scoring as many goals as they did against the Flames nor can I see the Blackhawks scoring highly like they did against the Predators. For the most part of this series I see the total goals scored each game being between three to five goals. We may have the occasional high scoring game but I think there is too much talent on either side for it to be ridiculously high scoring. With that being said the odds for total goals scored in game one is $5.50 for three goals, $8 for four goals and the favourite is $3.30 for five goals. Those odds will stay basically exactly the same for the whole series and I'll be on four goals for game one.

As to the exact winning margins you have the Blackhawks the same as the Lightning yesterday at $8 and $9 for a two and three goal winning margin. $3.40 if it ends up being close and they win by one. The Ducks are $3.25 to win by one and $6.25 and $7 to win by two and three goals respectively. I think the Ducks have had quite the soft run compared to the Blackhawks leading up to this and I think that is going to come back to bite them in game one. Ever since Patrick Kane has come back from injury he has gotten better and better as the playoffs have gone on and he's getting back to his MVP form. I think he'll be the difference maker in game one. Blackhawks by two for me.

We finish up with the series odds. I think most feel this is going to be a hard fought slog and that this is going six or seven. The Ducks are $5 to win 4-3 and $5.50 to win 4-2 where as the Blackhawks are $5 to win 4-3 and $5.50 to win 4-2. Well look at that, it's the same. What a shocker. If the Ducks have any chance of winning this series I think Corey Perry is going to need to score in the vicinity of 5 goals for the series. He's going to have to play great with Ryan Getzlaf as the Blackhawks just have so much firepower and Crawford is playing some great hockey in goal. With that all said, I wouldn't be called a lunatic for no reason so just for my good friend Goose I'm taking the sweep. Blackhawks in 4. $13. #BelieveInTheHawks

Winner: Ducks in six. What in the what now? That's right, despite my loathing of them and the fact that I probably just killed Matt, I'm going with the Ducks here. They have a team of destiny vibe, they have the offense to compete with Chicago, and though I don't yet trust Anderson, I don't exactly trust the Hawks goalie situation either. Plus, I picked the Rangers to win, and poetically it works much better with them trying to win the Cup against a California team, the same scenario they were in last year. Thus, the Ducks shock everyone and get to the Cup. Someone call Matt an ambulance.

There you go guys. Guess we'll just to see how it plays out from this point forward. Gamblin' Matt and I will be back around Tuesday or so with an NBA Conference Finals preview. Till then, let the Man From Another Place dance us off.

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Mad Max: Fury Road Review

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The reign of the comic book movie is over. If you don't believe me, wait till you see Mad Max: Fury Road. Thirty years after the release of Beyond Thunderdome, the Mad Max franchise has returned to wipe away every conception you thought about blockbuster filmmaking. Pulverizing, breathtaking and faster than an NBA fast break, Fury Road is unlike anything you've ever seen. It's also perhaps the greatest action film to ever see the light of day, a roller coaster ride that puts every other blockbuster on notice from here on in. The Age of Ultron? Give way to the age of the Mad.

Though it's the fourth film in George Miller's cult franchise, Fury Road seems to be neither a sequel, a prequel or a remake, though there are hints it takes place somewhere between The Road Warrior and Thunderdome. As per usual, the story takes place in a post apocalyptic wasteland, a combination of endless desert and the world's most dangerous punk rock concert. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), former cop turned drifter, has been captured by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the gruesome, tyrannical ruler of a city known as The Citadel, one of the last places left on earth to contain water. Almost immediately, Max finds himself drawn into Joe's newest conflict; Joe is chasing his lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has smuggled Joe's five wives (Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton) out of The Citadel in search for a mysterious Haven known as the "Green Place". Initially attached as a blood bag of sorts to a war boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult), Max soon finds himself reluctantly helping Furiosa and her party as they attempt to outrun Joe's army of war boys. If that doesn't seem like much of a plot, that's because it isn't. In the end however, that's all that's needed.

Nicholas Hoult as Nux
It's normal protocol for the star of any film to be an actor/actress. However, the star of Fury Road is without a doubt it's director, George Miller. The now 70 year old Australian doctor turned director had never intended to stretch Mad Max past its original trilogy, but an idea formed between 1998 and 2000 convinced him there was one more story to tell (there may in fact be more than one, as Miller has stated he has hopes for sequels should Fury Road strike box office gold). What followed was a decade of development hell, as 9/11, the decline of the American dollar, location issues and original Mad Max star Mel Gibson going bat shit insane conspired to keep Fury Road from getting off the ground. That Miller was even able to start production for the film in 2012 is a minor miracle. As it turns out, it was also possibly the best thing for him. 

To say that Fury Road is a sight to behold is the understatement of eternity. No film since Avatar has looked good as this one does, and no film has brought such unrelenting action since Aliens. Many critics have said that Fury Road's action never stops, and while that's not entirely accurate, Miller and his crew do their best to keep everything moving. The film opens with a chase, spends all but fifteen minutes in the mid section with a chase and ends with, well a chase. Most impressive is that the film contains little to no special effects, save for a breathtaking scene that takes place in the middle of a sandstorm and certain shots that are more colorized than others (the night scenes in particular feature this). Everything you see is real life car wrecks and stunt work, and the authenticity Miller and his cinematographer John Seale (the Oscar winner who came out of retirement for this film) achieve helps elevate the experience in a way other recent blockbusters haven't. On technical ability alone, Fury Road would be a masterpiece.

Charlize Theron and Miller on the Fury Road set
What elevates it further however is Miller's storytelling. Despite a very simple plot and a minimal amount of dialog, Fury Road's execution is some of the most compelling work of any film you've seen recently. Each character is fully developed, from hero to villain, lead to least important character. Miller understands that dialog doesn't necessarily make a compelling performance, and relies on his performer's ticks and mannerisms to take the film to the promise land. It works. A lot been made about how feminist Fury Road is, especially in the wake of those hilariously stupid Men's Right Activists taking a moment to pause The Expendables 3 to boycott the film. While it's true that Fury Road sports some of the strongest female characters we've seen in recent memory, it's hardly surprising. Miller's original Mad Max treated its female characters quite well (Joanne Samuel, in my opinion, was the best part of the original as Max's feisty, fun wife), not to mention that this is the same man that once directed The Witches of Eastwick, a film with three female leads. That people are this shocked to see a film with such strongly written and portrayed females should be a wakeup call for how women are being treated with roles these days.

Tom Hardy as Mad Max

With former star Mel Gibson now too old and too loathed to portray the character that made him a star, Miller was forced to find a new actor to essay everyone's favorite damaged Road Warrior. Tom Hardy was a great choice by Miller, despite the fact that the role doesn't require Hardy to go full out. Max has always been a better idea than a character, someone who could easily lead the way while the film focused on its action and themes. This is no different here, as Hardy is more or less just asked to grunt, gaze and fight, letting the action stand out. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and like Gibson before him, Hardy handles the role just fine. The same goes for Hugh Reays-Byrne as the villainous Immortan Joe, who isn't anywhere close to a complex villain, yet works just fine as a character to absolutely despise. The most interesting thing about Byrne is that this is his second go around in the Mad Max universe, having played the villain Toecutter in the original film. It appears that Joe and Toecutter are indeed two separate characters, but memories of Toecutter's fate in the original film, combined with Joe's mangled state in Fury Road, do at least make you wonder.

The standout performances  belong to the two other main characters and one minor one. Charlize Theron deserves an Oscar for her performance as Furiosa, the most impressive female action hero since Linda Hamilton's Sarah Conner in Terminator 2. Like Hardy, Theron doesn't say much, but she doesn't have to; her eyes (filled with regret, anger and a lifetime of sadness) tell us a story that I'm still trying to put together. Not since John Wayne in The Searchers has a performer done as good a job creating a back story that can't be spelled out like Theron does here. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoult is a scene stealer as Nux, providing the film with many of its best lines and its most radical character transformation. Hoult starts off Fury Road as a psychopath, willing to take his own life in the name of Immortan Joe's maddening quest. By the end of it, he has transformed into a three dimensional character with a heart bigger than anyone thought. His interactions with Riley Keough's Capable (Keough is the granddaughter of Elvis by the way) are surprisingly tender, and the closest thing Fury Road gets to romance. Finally, the biggest shock and maybe the second performance of the film belongs to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Yes, the model turned actress whose only screen credit prior to this film was Transformers: Dark of the Moon (one of the worst films I've ever seen) gives what can only be described as a breakout performance. Tough, charismatic and astonishingly beautiful, Huntington-Whiteley couldn't be more captivating as the pregnant leader of Joe's wives. At no point when she was on screen could I take my eyes off her, and I expect her performance here will lead to her becoming a star.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely as The Splendid

Bottom Line: Mad Max: Fury Road will more than likely not make nearly as much as Avengers: Age of Ultron will. What a crying shame, for it dwarfs anything Marvel has made recently, including their best work. Make no mistake, Fury Road is George Miller's masterpiece; it's the best of the Mad Max franchise, the best action film of the past twenty years (and perhaps the best ever) and the best film released thus far this year. If there's any justice, the Academy Awards will let go of their biases towards the action genre and nominate Fury Road for Best Picture come this winter. Regardless of whether they do or not, do not, I repeat, do not miss this film. Spend your money, take a seat, and get ready for the ride of your life.

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Lagwagon: A Cult Tribute

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Ah yes; the sound of punk rock is in the air here. Why? Because it's Saturday, May 16th. The worldly significance of that? Absolutely nothing; in the grand scheme of things, it's probably less important than the round of Jet Set Radio I'm going to play later tonight. To punk rockers however, today is what we like to call Lagwagon day, named in honor of the excellent punk rock jam you hear playing right now. So with that said (and because I am in a massive, massive rush), let's not waste time and get into the thick of it. This right here, on Lagwagon day, is a Cult Tribute to California skate punk legends and one of my favorite bands, the one, the only, Lagwagon.

Lagwagon: A Cult Tribute

What You Already Know

Lagwagon is a punk rock band. That's pretty much it. What do you want from me, an explanation as to why more people don't listen to the beautiful genre of music known as punk? I wish I could give you one. Instead, all I can give you is a gif of people moshing to show you what you're missing.

What You Didn't Know

Lagwagon has been around for over twenty five years now, formed by Joey Cape, Chris Flippin (great punk rocker name), Shawn Dewey, Jesse Buligone and Derrick Plourde in Goleta, California. In true punk fashion, the name of the band comes from what Cape (the band's singer) called his mom's station wagon growing up, as well as the name for the group's tour bus. Yup, they named themselves after the tour bus. Awesome. Said tour bus can actually be seen on the back of Lagwagon's second album Trashed, released in 1994 and considered to be one of their best works to date.

Speaking of said works, Lagwagon has released a ton of material. Since signing with Fat Mike of NOFX's Fat Wreck Chords label almost immediately after forming, the band has had over ten releases, including ten albums, 4 EP's (one, a split with band Jughead's Revenge, was released on the Hard Records label, Lagwagon's only non Fat Wreck release), one box set, a live album and a compilation album. Mother of puss bucket, that is a ton of releases. The best part; all of them are good and most of them are great, particularly Duh (1st album), Trashed, Hoss (3rd album) and Let's Talk About Feelings (5th album). None of the releases garnered Lagwagon the same sort of mainstream success other California bands like The Offspring, Green Day, Rancid and Bad Religion received in the punk boom of the mid 90's, but so what? Punk rock isn't about success, it's about naming your awesome band after the van your mom used to drive. Plus, it appears Lagwagon didn't entirely want the fame, having turned down major record labels on a couple of occasions. How much do you think Bad Religion wishes they can go back and do that? Sorry Bad Religion, I love you. Don't hate me.

Unfortunately, Lagwagon's workload has lessened over the years, with only three releases from them since 2005. The likely reasons; Cape's commitment as bassist to the hilarious mega punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (check them out after you're done checking out Lagwagon stuff), lineup changes (Cape and Flippin remain the only original members, though there's been less roster turn over than most punk groups go through) and the death of former drummer Plourde, who sadly committed suicide back in 2005 (he had left the group in 1996, but remained close with the group). After releasing the underrated Resolve (a tribute to Plourde), the band went on hiatus, briefly returning in 2008 with the EP I Think My Older Brother Used to Listen to Lagwagon, before disappearing again. Thankfully, it appears the hiatus has come to an end, as Lagwagon released their first full length album since 2005 last year, Hang.  And yes punk fans, it's just as good as you hoped it would be. Were you expecting anything less than greatness?

Best Song

Seeing as it's May 16th and "May 16" is my favorite song by Lagwagon, it seems fitting that it would be the choice here. And yet, I already used it to open the column, and we don't like to do predictability here. So my choice for this slot is going to be "Days of New", the closing track on Lagwagon's second to last released album Resolve. As I stated earlier, Resolve was a tribute to former member Plourde, and "Days of New" is dripping with his memory. It's got that great Lagwagon rhythm you love so much, the fast pace, the great rifts and a whole lot of raw, heartfelt emotion. Obviously I think you should check out every Lagwagon tune (why else would I be writing this), but this is a must. Other than May 16, it's legit my favorite song by these guys.


Dare I say that Lagwagon are punk rock legends? I think so. Just look at the body of work. They've gone twenty five years strong, remaining with one label the entire time and minimal lineup turnover. Every record they have released has ranged from good to great quality wise. Any other musical group, and we'd be bowing down to these dudes the same way corporate America bows down to every pop star with a hit these days. Thus, I am indeed going with legendary status with Lagwagon. Perhaps not on the level as the great Bad Religion, but it's not as far as you think. So if you're browsing your local comic/music shop in search for some awesome music to skate, mosh or even just jam to, Lagwagon is your group. The perfect band to listen to on just another Saturday.

That's it guys. Hope you enjoyed. I'm out till later. Till then, I got nothing. Just take it home DUCHOVNY!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

NHL Eastern Conference Finals Preview with Matt Mortensen

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"He's back already!" is what you're trying to say. Yup, after feeling like I was done for the night following the Yvonne column, I found my second wind and am back for more. Alright, I have a ton of stuff to get done tomorrow, and I didn't feel like including this with it. Not so noble intentions after all. In any event, let's not waste time; starting tomorrow, the NHL Conference Finals start, in which two teams will find themselves playing for the greatest trophy in sports. Tonight, myself and my esteemed co-host Matt Mortensen will give you a preview of the Eastern Conference. Get it? Got it? Good. Let's not waste time. ON WITH THE SHOW!

NHL Eastern Conference Finals Preview

New York Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Major Storyline: Can Ben Bishop match Henrik Lundqvist? I'll admit right now, I was wrong about Bishop. I thought he'd fold in either the first or second round like the villain from Casino Royal, but he pulled through against the Red Wings round one and outplayed the king Carey Price in round two. He's the real deal, the Doug Gilmour to Tampa's Pink Floyd. That said, he now has to face his greatest challenge yet going against Lundqvist. The Swedish has been either the best or second best goaltender this past postseason, and he just spent the last series going toe to toe with his closest competitor Braden Holtby (what a shame Holtby can't be here. Is it too late to trade him to the Ducks for the unreliable Frederick Anderson?). This is prime time, out of this world Lundqvist that Bishop is going to have to outplay for seven games. Is he up for it? He's impressed so far, and this is his best chance to impress again.

Secondary Storyline: Who would the NHL prefer to win? On one hand, the Rangers are historically great franchise, have excellent fans and play in the world's most famous arena. On the other hand, Tampa Bay plays in Florida, and we all know the thought of hockey in warm weather makes Gary Bettman swoon more than Sandra Bullock in the opening minutes of While You Were Sleeping. On top of that, Bettman's beloved Arizona Coyotes are apparently in danger of being moved again, so you know the embattled commissioner has to be rooting for one nontraditional hockey market to do well here. The question is whether it's the Lightning, or is it the Ducks? We here at Please Change Disks to Continue...never like to suggest officiating is biased (not true, we totally would if more sports articles were written), but it'll nevertheless be interesting to see how the refs call this one. And how Bettman copes with hockey in the desert not working like, oh I don't know, EVERYONE PREDICTED!

Rangers Player to Watch: Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers offense, though not entirely great, seems to always do enough to get the team the W. Thus, the onus falls on that wonderful Swedish rock star to deliver the Rangers to the promise land yet again. Lundqvist has been brilliant this postseason from day one. Can he be so one last time?

Lightning Player to Watch: Steven Stamkos. After looking like a shell of himself against Detroit, Tampa's best offensive player came to life against Montreal, tallying a point in all but one game. No one else on the ice is going to come close to matching the Lightning Kid's skill, and if he continues to perform as well as he did in round 2, watch out. If nothing else, him vs. Lundqvist is going to be a spectacle that boxing wished Mayweather-Pacquiao had been.

The Mayweather boxing strategy
Gambling Matt and the Odds: The Rangers series against the Caps every game went under the over/under market of five total goals per game except one. I think if you're looking to have a bet on the first game over five goals at $2 is probably the safest and sure thing to back. Exact winning margin for Lightning by two and three goals is $8 and $9 respectively. I'll be putting $100 on Lightning to win by two. Hopefully no empty netters in the last two minutes if they are up two. To the series, I can't see this finishing in five unless the Lightning carve up the Rangers. That'a $8 for you risky fellas or gals. I like the sweeps and my good friend Goose knows how much I love them but I'm not game enough to back it here. I see this being won by Lightning in six or Rangers in seven. $5.50 for the Lightning and $5 for the Rangers. I'll be on the Lightning in six. What about you guys?

Winner: Rangers in seven, and I say that with as much confidence as LeBron has in David Blatt. The Lightning are no joke guys; Ben Bishop can play, Steven Stamkos is a monster, and there's a lot of underrated talent all over their roster. But in the end, the Rangers have experience, they have motivation to avenge last year's Stanley Cup defeat, and most importantly, they have Lundqvist. That man alone was enough to take the Rangers over the top against a more Capitals team last round, and I think it's enough against the Lightning here. This will be by far the most entertaining of the two rounds.

That's it guys. Gambling Matt and I will be back tomorrow to preview the Ducks-Blackhawks series. Till then, get some sleep, party if you aren't living in America (because outside of here it's not that late and you don't have to sleep), go watch Fury Road, and did you know DUCHOVNY is a musician now? The music is out there!

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