Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics: Women's Soccer Semifinals

There was a dream match on the horizon: Brazil vs USA at the legendary Maracan√£ Stadium in the 2016 Olympic semifinals. The two countries played in numerous memorable meetings in the Women's World Cup and Olympics, but not since perhaps the most iconic: the 2011 Women's World Cup Quarterfinals when the shorthanded US tied Brazil late on an Abby Wambach header then beat them in penalty kicks.

It was not to be though, as Sweden upset the 2015 Women's World Cup champion United States in the Quarterfinals, eliminating them in a penalty shootout. Its the earliest ever exit for the USWNT since women's Olympic soccer was added at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.Though it was an upset, its not as shocking as many are making it out to be. First, Sweden have beaten the US 3 times recently, in addition to numerous ties. They know how to play the US, with frustrating defense and a scary counter attack. This of course caused Hope Solo to label them "cowards", though this tactic has been used for decades. Yes she was frustrated, but its out of line to call an opponent "cowards" in the Olympics. 

The United States dominated with 27 shots, but they had trouble finishing. They looked off all tournament, and it never felt like they were headed for gold. Former USA coach Pia Sundhage is now coach of Sweden, and she clearly knows how to game plan against her former team. 

China employed a similar defensive tactic against Germany, though they weren't as successful, with Germany handing them a 1-0 defeat. France continued to be the biggest underachievers in women's soccer, losing to Canada 1-0. Canada also beat France for the Bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics. France have a ton of talent but have yet to make a final in a major women's tournament (Olympics, World Cup, EURO). Canada have been the most impressive team by far, winning all 4 matches and taking down powerful Australia, France and Germany. Brazil and Australia played one of the most exciting 0-0 draws ever, with Brazil taking down Australia after a long penalty shootout. Surprisingly, superstar Marta had a penalty saved, though it didn't matter as Brazil were able to rally in front of a packed crowd.

So the Semifinals are set: Brazil vs Sweden and Canada vs Germany. These are both rematches from the group stage. Brazil dominated Sweden 5-1, and Canada edged Germany 2-1. Sweden may play Brazil similar to how they played the United States, though I still expect Brazil to pull it out in front of a sold out Maracan√£. Canada-Germany is a tough one. Canada look much better, but beating Germany twice in one tournament is a tall task. Christine Sinclair didn't play in the last meeting, which could be enough to give Canada another victory. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics: Lilly King owns Yulia Efimova

Yulia Efimova, self proclaimed "champ"
There's some old school Cold War drama brewing in Rio. Looks like NBC can bring back the term "Must See TV."

Yulia Efimova, a controversial swimmer from Russia who was suspended for doping in 2013 then tested positive for Meldonium in March 2016, held up her finger with a #1 sign after finishing first in her qualifying heat. She was initially banned from the Rio 2016 Olympics, but then the IOC (International Olympic Committee) lifted the ban to allow her to participate. A number of other Russian swimmers were also banned only to have the IOC lift it.

Cameras cut to US swimmer Lilly King wagging her finger at Efimova while watching on a screen. In an interview, King stated, "You’re raising your hand #1 and you’ve been caught for drug cheating. I’m just not a fan." Smackdown! King and Efimova go toe-to-toe in the Women's 100m Breaststroke final Monday night around 9:54pm ET on NBC.


Ireland swimmer Fiona Doyle was left out of the semi-finals, and upset that someone who previously doped was upset that Efimova may have taken the place of someone who was clean. She rightfully had plenty to say, “Cheaters are cheaters. She has tested positive five times and she’s gotten away with it again. It’s like FINA keep going back on their word, and the IOC keep going back on their word."  Doyle continued, “And FINA caved in to (Russian President) Putin, and that’s just not fair on the rest of the athletes who are clean. Who are you supposed to trust now? They have signs all over the village saying we are a clean sport, and it’s not. And I just don’t think that’s fair.

In the Men's 4x100m freestyle, Team USA took gold, giving Michael Phelps his 19th gold medal. France took silver and Australia won bronze. Russia, who were booed by the crowd in Rio, finished 4th after the Aussie's thankfully edged them out. I'm sure they know the word Karma? It would be sweet justice for Efimova to finish 4th or lower tomorrow night as well.

Though we do need to be clear that Russians aren't the only ones who have doped or will continue to do so. However, the widespread state-sponsored cover up by Russia is what bothers people, and the fact that athletes who have been caught are still participating in the Olympics, taking places of athletes who are clean. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2016 Summer Olympics Prediction: Women's Soccer

Hot on the heels of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil bring us another women's soccer tournament. We won't have a fourth straight USA-Japan major final either, as Japan finished a surprising 3rd behind Australia & China. Only 12 teams can qualify for the Olympics because of the IOC limit on the number of athletes attending. The third place team from the 2015 Women's World Cup will not be there either. England finished 3rd and would've been Europe's #1 qualifier, but they compete as Great Britain at the Olympics, and the four nations don't send their soccer teams together as one.

The Olympic Men's tournament will be taking place as well, though they aren't allowed to use full national teams. Only three players on men's squads can be over the age of 23. I think Brazil will win their first Olympic gold in soccer this year, with the Men doing so. On to the predictions for the Women's tournament.

Group E:
1. Brazil   2. Sweden   3. China   4. South Africa.
This is a group filled with teams that rely on defense. What should give Brazil and Sweden the edge are the fact that they can attack as well. China have improved their attack, even beating the top ranked US 1-0 in a friendly, but might still struggle to score often. They will most likely pose a tough challenge for each team. Sweden had one of their worst World Cup performances ever, and will look to bounce back. I'll give Brazil the edge over them to win the group with that home field advantage. South Africa might be able to hand around, though finishing above 4th will be a struggle.

Group F:
1. Germany   2. Australia   3. Canada   4. Zimbabwe
Poor Zimbabwe. In their first major tournament, they should clearly finish last in the group and struggle. They are an unknown though, so they might be able to give some fits. Australia have been red hot as of late, but Germany should still take the group. Germany aren't unbeatable though, and it wouldn't be a total shock to see Australia or Canada above them. Canada are without their #1 goalkeeper, which is something to watch.

Group G:
1. USA   2. France   3. New Zealand   4. Colombia
Colombia have been getting stronger, and had a strong showing at the World Cup. However, they'll be missing their best player in Yoreli Rincon to injury, which should give New Zealand a slight edge for 3rd place. New Zealand have proven to be a tough opponent, specifically on defense. It might be difficult for either of them to grab one of the two 3rd place spots in the knockout round though. The battle for the top will be between the #1 ranked United States and #3 ranked France. The US doesn't have many weaknesses. France are also a strong side, yet they haven't been able to make it to the final of a major tournament yet. Will they finally take the next step, before hosting the 2019 Women's World Cup?

I'd pick Canada & China to take the two third place spots in the knockout round over New Zealand/Colombia.

Quarterfinals: Canada over Brazil, USA over China. France over Germany. Australia over Sweden.

Semifinals: USA over Canada. France over Australia.

Final: France over USA. Bronze: Australia over Canada. It's probably crazy to pick against the USWNT right now, but all streaks must come to an end at some point. They've won Gold at the Olympics in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. If France finish second in the group, they'd have to prove themselves against Germany first. If they don't take that next step, then when? They have the Euro 2017 next year and the 2019 Women's World Cup with a home soil boost. The US will probably win, but they may get a stiff challenge from France, Germany or Australia in the final. Brazil & Sweden have an outside shot, with Canada being tough but probably not quite as good as in 2012 when they won bronze.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Surprise 'Blair Witch' Sequel!

Lionsgate managed to pull off filming a Blair Witch Project sequel in secrecy, releasing a trailer and screening the film, titled Blair Witch, at Comic-Con. The movie was filmed last summer under a false title called The Woods. I'm always fascinated how something like this can stay secret in the age of social media. Screening the entire movie for people who thought they were seeing a different horror film is the type of genius move that will grant them plenty of publicity.

The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999 and became a major phenomenon, also thanks in part to clever marketing, which utilized the Internet as a form of viral marketing in a major way for the first time. The website used fake news clippings & police reports which caused people to debate whether the movie was a real documentary or fake. The rookie actors were also listed as "missing" on IMDB to keep up appearances, and the movie was filmed using the "shaky cam" technique. It gave birth to the found footage horror genre, which has died down in recent years after endless mediocre Paranormal Activity sequels.

Blair Witch is actually the third film in the franchise, as a disappointing sequel titled Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows was released to poor reaction in 2000. The third film has gotten a positive reaction at Comic-Con, and the trailer, which you can watch below, already makes it look much improved over Book of Shadows.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Melissa Etheridge Releases Orlando Charity Song 'Pulse'

Musician Melissa Etheridge has released a new song called 'Pulse' that is dedicated to victims of the Orlando terrorist attack, which occured at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12. 'Pulse' is a fantastic song that was truly written with sheer pride and thoughtfulness.

Etheridge talked about the birth of the new song, "I woke up like everybody else and just got whopped upside the head with pain and not understanding and wanting to feel better about it," she stated. "I play Orlando. I know all those people. I knew someone who [lives] just down the block from there, so you feel a connection. I had a guitar there and I just started writing."


The song is available for download now, and all proceeds will go to Equality Florida. They'll be helping families of the victims as well as survivors of the shooting. Follow the links below to download:

iTunes
Amazon
Google Play


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Most Underrated Prince Songs and Albums

Anytime a musician passes away, their catalog gets some extra attention. The same is happening for Prince, who shockingly passed away at the age of 57. Typical hits like "1999" and "When Doves Cry" have surely gotten most of the attention, but he has so many fantastic albums and songs to choose from.

Songs:

"The Cross" - Sign o' The Times, 1987. Sign o' The Times is one of Prince's most well known albums, though as a double album some songs can get less attention than others. "The Cross" stands out to me in showcasing his strong and sincere vocals. The progression of the instruments works well also, building up slowly from a quieter ballad into some heavy guitar and drums, with a sitar thrown into the mix.

"So Far, So Pleased" - Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999. Gwen Stefani joins Prince on this track from his 1999 album, which of course was a big year for the man who made the hit song "1999" years earlier. The album itself is hit-or-miss, but definitely contains some gems, with this track being the best. Gwen & Prince go well together vocally, and it doesn't feel forced.

"Bambi" - Prince, 1979. The early Prince albums released during the days of disco give more of a dance feel to them. Yet on "Bambi," Prince also showed that he could play a heavier guitar sound as well as anyone else, kicking things off with a crunching guitar intro.

"Thunder" - Diamonds and Pearls, 1991. "Thunder" is simply an infectious song that brings together many of Prince's hallmarks into one song. Its R&B, Rock, Pop, Funk & Soul all rolled up into one, which Prince could always do so expertly. It kicks off the Diamonds and Pearls album with a bang,

"Cinnamon Girl" - Musicology, 2004. If "Cinnamon Girl" were released in as a single in the 80's or early 90's during the height of his popularity, it probably would have been a big hit. Yet in 2004 it flew under the radar in the US, though did gain traction on the UK chart. The chorus will quickly have you singing along, and Prince crafts quite the guitar solo.

Albums:

Chaos & Disorder, 1996 - Prince released this as his final album with Warner Bros. to fulfill contracutal obligations after years of hoping to get out of his contract. Yet the album is powerful, not some throwaway that was half-assed. Prince released a kick ass, hard rock album without any filler on it. His guitar skills are on full display, letting it known he could play as hard as any Grunge or Alternative band popular at the time.  He didn't do any promotion for the album or release any US singles, he simply moved on to his next project, which is partly why it didn't gain much traction.

PlectrumElectrum, 2014 - Prince had put together an all-female band named 3rdEyeGirl who he played and toured with. One of the great things about Prince is how he was able to find other talented musicians and give them  a platform, not afraid to share the spotlight. They churned out this hard rocking album and the amount of fun they're having comes across on each track. Check out Prince with 3rdEyeGirl performing "She's Always in my Hair."


Around the World in a Day, 1985 - This album hit #1 and sold 2 million copies, as well as spawning two hit singles in "Raspberry Beret" and "Pop Life." Yet, it tended to be forgotten in the years since aside from the two singles which is why I consider it underrated. A lot of that has to do with it following the smash Purple Rain and with Sign o' The Times coming two years later. Its also not as radio friendly and one of his more experimental albums. That all makes for a rewarding experience though, instead of Prince just coasting on Purple Rain, he decided to challenge himself and listeners with a psychedelic soundscape.

The Gold Experience, 1995 - Prince's dispute with his record label was in full force at this point, which of course overshadows the release of The Gold Experience. The album is filled with fast rock, funk you can move to, and some of his best songs dealing with sex. The ballads here are also well done, never getting into an overly sappy territory. Its the type of album you can listen to straight through and wonder where the time went. Even the interludes are enjoyable.

Monday, April 11, 2016

'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' Trailer is Here!


The first major trailer for J.K. Rowling's 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is here! In it we get our first look at the New York Wizarding World, as well as some familiar looks at places we've seen in the 'Harry Potter' films. The inside of Gringott's is shown early on, and there are references to both Hogwarts and Dumbledore. Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, who is revealed to have been kicked out of Hogwarts at some point, yet is well liked by Dumbledore.

Hearing "Hedwig's Theme" in a movie trailer again is enough to bring a tear to any Harry Potter fans eye. 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is in theaters November 18, 2016.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lady Gaga Pays Tribute to David Bowie at the Grammys


Lady Gaga was tasked with putting on the 2016 GRAMMYs tribute to the late icon David Bowie. She had Nile Rodgers with her, who produced two Bowie Albums: Let's Dance & Black Tie White Noise, to play guitar and help create the show. Gaga delivered a high energy performance that utilized the latest technology, which is something Bowie was always fond of doing.

And of course, it featured her in numerous costumes. She was able to seamlessly cram some of Bowie's biggest songs into the almost 7 minute performance, which can be difficult considering how much Bowie changed through the years. However, everyone involved were able to make it work. Her opening performance of "Space Oddity" utilized a new Intel projection technology, which projected the lightning bolt from Bowie's Aladdin Sane album cover onto her face. Luckily it worked well and matched up perfectly on her face. I personally loved her moving futuristic robot-looking piano.

Let us not forget though: The Grammys have only awarded David Bowie with one Grammy Award... Let that sink in. And he wasn't even first nominated until 1984 despite his acclaimed 1970s work. The fact that he wasn't very mainstream in the 70s is probably part of it, as the Grammy voters tend to go for mainstream even today, but especially back then. He should win a few more for his acclaimed new album Blackstar next year, though he sadly won't be able to receive them of course.

Songs featured:
Space Oddity
Changes
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rebel Rebel
Fashion
Fame
Let's Dance
Heroes

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Most Memorable Super Bowl Halftime Shows

We've got another Super Bowl and Super Bowl Halftime Show in the books. This year featured Coldplay, Beyonce & Bruno Mars in what was an okay performance. It wasn't outstanding, it wasn't terrible. The best part was when the three joined together for a "Fix You"/"Up&Up" performance that showed clips of previous Halftime shows (which for some reason left off Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake...hmm). Overall though, it just felt like something you'd watch at the VMA's or Grammy's.

So what are the most memorable Super Bowl halftime shows ever?

U2 (2002) - U2 were tasked with performing just a few months following the 9/11 attacks. And really, no band is better to handle that sort of moment. They were the first band to resume concerts in New York City with some shows at Madison Square Garden just a few weeks after the attacks. They delivered in a big way at the Super Bowl. It started out with an upbeat performance of "Beautiful Day." That led into the more somber "MLK," which is when the giant screen of the names of every victim scrolled upwards to the top of the Superdome. That led into "Where The Streets Have No Name," which picked up the pace again and left viewers feeling hopeful for the future. It culminated in Bono revealing an American flag on the inside of his jacket, a visual that still resonates. U2 were able to take viewers along for a ride through so many different emotions, which might never be possible again.


Prince (2007) - If any word could be used to describe Prince's Halftime show, it would be: electric. It was a rainy night in Miami, but that didn't stop him from putting on an energetic show, utilizing the weather to his advantage, even featuring simulated lightning on top of the stadium. He featured numerous cover songs that surprised and delighted people: "We Will Rock You," "Proud Mary," "All Along The Watchtower," and the more recent Foo Fighters hit "Best of You." He ended the night by playing "Purple Rain" in the rain, which became the signature moment that people remember. Since then the NFL has basically forced Miami to put a canopy over the seats for them to host future Super Bowls in the Dolphins' stadium, in case it were to rain. I guess the rich folks insanely spending hundreds-thousands of dollars on tickets can't handle a little water. Prince, however, went out there and showed that a little rain never hurt anyone.

Diana Ross Leaves in a Helicopter
Diana Ross (1996) - Diana Ross ran through a string of her Motown hits, but the memorable part was at the end when she declared that her ride was there. A helicopter came down onto the field and whisked her out of the stadium, in what is clearly the most memorable exit from the Super Bowl halftime of all time. The show left such an impression that the NFL went for a Motown/1960s theme in the a few of the shows after this one.

Michael Jackson (1993) - This was the first halftime show that truly went for being a major event in itself, something that would become talked about alongside the game in the following days. Jackson memorably walked out and basically just stood there to a roaring crowd for a while. He then performed some of his biggest hits ("Billie Jean," "Black or White") in a large scale spectacle that hadn't been done at any of the previous halftime shows. The set ended a bit cheesy with "Heal the World", but overall it kicked off the Halftime show as we know it today.

Janet Jackson featuring Justin Timberlake (2004) - This one doesn't even need an explanation. Its memorable for Nipplegate, and we've all heard the story. Of course, the whole reaction was overblown and showcased how ridiculous the FCC is.

Paul McCartney (2005) - Let's be real: if the NFL went by without ever having one of the Beatles play the Halftime show, something would be missing from its lore. Paul delivered a stellar set as he always does, and the show featured a healthy amount of crowd participation, ending with "Hey Jude" that featured the whole crowd singing along.

Bruno Mars featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers (2014) - Bruno Mars was one of the younger performers, as they usually get someone with a large back catalog of hits. Bruno rose to the occasion though, including a memorable drum solo, which probably gave him a number of new fans. The show made for a good mix of slower moments with high energy, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved to make a solid pairing with Bruno and his band.

The Rolling Stones (2006) - The Stones did what they did best, rocked the house with a rollicking performance that could probably put people half their age to shame. What was memorable about this is how the NFL & ABC aired it on a five second delay and turned off Mick Jagger's microphone for two songs with lyrics that were too "sexually explicit." The band agreed to that beforehand so it wasn't a surprise, but it just goes to show how worried networks had become about live TV after Nipplegate in 2004.

Aerosmith, Britney Spears, 'N Sync, Mary J. Blige, Nelly (2001) - This one isn't really memorable for the performances aside from when they were all on stage to join together and play "Walk This Way." It perfectly encapsulated the pop culture landscape of 1999-2001, while having something for everyone. It was an odd mashup, but one that actually worked.

And a shout out to Katy Perry, Missy Elliott, and Lenny Kravitz. While the jury is out, it did feature a few possible memorable moments: Left Shark, Missy Elliott returning to the public eye unexpectedly, and Katy Perry on a platform that "flew" around on a wire, which made for quite a stunt.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie Dead At 69

Music icon David Bowie passed away just days after releasing his new album Blackstar and celebrating his 69th birthday. It was unexpected to the public, but it was confirmed after that he had been battling cancer for the past 18 months. His wife Iman had posted various messages and pictures in the days leading up to his death.

He began making the album after his cancer diagnosis. The idea of having jazz musicians on the record came when he was in a jazz club and saw some musicians that he liked in mid-2014. The album was confirmed by producer Tony Visconti to be designed as a parting gift to the fans, with Bowie knowing it would be his last. Blackstar was recorded earlier in 2015, yet held off until Bowie knew he was near the end of his life. The hit album is peppered with Jazz music throughout, though it remains a rock album at its core. Bowie also drew inspiration from Kendrick Lamar. 

The music video for his haunting new single "Lazarus" was carefully planned to be released to the public when he was sure he only had a few days left. The lyrics to the song begin as, "Look up here, I'm in heaven!" The whole album is filled with lyrics about mortality, and when it was released a few days ago it was met with acclaim. Yet, none of us took any of the lyrics of the video for "Lazarus" to actually symbolize his fate. 


After a 10 year hiatus from music, he released The Next Day in January 2013 without much advance notice, and followed that up with an EP in the fall. That album was also received well and showed Bowie had reached yet another creative high point. He stayed away from touring though, with his last live performance coming in 2006 at a charity concert with Alicia Keys. 

Bowie was a true innovator right up until the end.

There's a starman waiting in the sky. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Ricky Gervais Takes On Mel Gibson

Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes again this year, and of course the censors were ready through the night. He joked about a number of things from <i>The Martian</i> being considered a comedy (because a person being stranded in space, trying not to starve, with impending death on the horizon is a comedy) to the whole Sean Penn/El Chapo thing.

The highlight of the night came when Gervais met Mel Gibson. Gibson was one of the award presenters, so of course Gervais, who joked about him at previous Golden Globes, introduced him. He pulled no punches, having one long sentence bleeped out. The bleeped out line that he asked Gibson directly: "What the fuck does sugar tits mean anyway?" Sugar tits is of course a reference to Gibson's 2006 arrest when he drunkenly called a female cop sugar tits. Watch the awkward yet mesmerizing exchange below.