Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Review

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes
Budget: Estimated to be $200 million

After 10 years, one of the biggest movie franchises is back. Star Wars Episode VII features some of your favorite returning characters, but just a wee bit more ‘seasoned’—except for Chewbacca. He only used some Just for Wookies – Touch of Gray, but otherwise just as spry as ever.

Overall, I found it to be an outstanding film. I seem to always harp on pacing, but this film did a fine job in keeping its 2 hour, 15 minute runtime from becoming slow and plodding. While the scope of the film tended to focus very personally on a few characters, they never forgot to remind the audience of the scale of the rest of the galaxy.

The movie felt like a sequel yet avoided the pitfalls of the Star Wars prequels and the Hobbit trilogy. There were little to no unnecessary shoehorned references. The dialogue was definitely a cut above either of the aforementioned trilogies.

However, no film is perfect and this one certainly had its flaws. There were some moments that were straight up ridiculous. Since I won’t go into spoilers, I will just say those moments were forced, badly done, and corny. Surely, that is not what they meant by “use the Force.” There were definitely better ways to get the same point across, which might’ve made the movie 30 seconds longer, but that much better.

CommBro Breaker

J.J. Abrams sinks his teeth into another science fiction classic—perhaps seeking only to further confuse those that already had trouble discerning the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. “Oh, Abrams made other Star Whatzits movie?” Abrams has gone full meta with Lost.

Something like that.

Something like that.

It’s also funny how he stole some minor characters from Lost and a few main characters, wholesale, from movies like Ex Machina and The Raid: Redemption.

Concussion: A Review


Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes
Budget: Estimated to be $240-250 million

There has been some controversy over the NFL possibly “tampering” with the movie. I don’t know if that took place or not, but either way the film is very condemning. I’ll leave it at that and get onto the review.

Concussion was a well-made, but depressing movie. As you can imagine, the subject matter of the movie was not exactly uplifting.  Despite the serious nature and heavy topic, they managed to squeeze in humorous moments to lighten the mood. It was interspersed enough to prevent a jokes at a funeral sort of feel.

Some scenes about the romance subplot seemed unnecessarily long. The relationship between Dr. Omalu and Prema plays a vital role, but not enough for the background to hog that much screentime. They could have spared some of that time for a more detailed closing.

In the end, the film does a good job of summarizing and delivering information about concussion statistics to the masses. For better or worse, entertainment is a good vehicle for making these topics more palatable. It pushes it into the mainstream and drives conversation and discourse.

If you haven’t noticed, most of what I write about is football. There should be no surprise that I am heavily invested in the game—yet, this film has given me pause about the future and direction of football. Is the game worth keeping in its current iteration? It opens up so many philosophical questions and moral quandries. Safety vs. paternalism is a chief issue among these.

CommBro Breaker

Perhaps all the debate is really a false dichotomy between keeping the game and getting rid of it. Football rules have been drastically altered before. Back before the formation of the NCAA, there had been a similar sentiment. Proponents of the game felt that any change would destroy the purity of the sport. Opponents argued that the commonplace injuries and deaths should be replaced with the death of the sport. Strict reforms did change the game significantly, but it survived over a century to get to this point. Maybe it will take a presidential intervention to spur change again. Hopefully, this time it will be free of ulterior motives and secret agendas.

The Martian: A Review

The Martian

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes
Budget: Estimated to be $108 million

We’re all probably aware that the last time Matt Damon went to space, it went badly for him. In an alternate universe, Damon goes to space and—surprise!—it went badly for him. Based on the novel, U.S. astronaut, Mark Watney, goes ends up stranded on Mars.

Mark Watney? More like Mark Wahlberg.

Mark Watney? More like Mark Wahlberg.

The story is compelling, juxtaposing the petty political ploys on Earth with the visceral survival struggle on Mars. There are shortcomings, though, mainly with the Watney character lacking much of a background. However, I don’t think it really hurts the bigger picture of the film too much.The emphasis is on problem-solving aspect of the journey rather than any individual and their motivations (or at least that’s what I got out of it). Personally, I enjoyed Watney’s snarky nature, but that might be “unrealistic” for some folks. Despite the flaws, the film remains solid and deserves a watch.

CommBro Breaker

Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon are both dudes out of Massachusetts that are roughly the same age, but they don’t look that similar. For some reason people still mix them up. However, once the beards come out, the game changes.

You can hardly tell the difference.

You can hardly tell the difference.

Spectre: A Review


Runtime: 2 hours 28 minutes
Budget: Estimated to be $240-250 million

It took me a while to watch this and even longer to get this review out. The reason for me watching it late was circumstance, but writing the review late was by choice. I’m just going to say: the movie was alright.

They had some typical bond elements. There were witty quips and action. The film’s score was great. Hell, the cast looked to be amazing. They had Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista working with Daniel Craig! But there’s the fallacy of composition at work.

The film was aptly named Spectre—because it will just be a spectre in my mind. The movie was pretty damn unmemorable, the pacing was subpar, and the plot was below average. They attempted to connect all of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies and it just ended up seeming like contrived and too loosely connected. Might be worth a watch, but don’t pay too much for it. I would rank the recent Bond films like this:

  1. Casino Royale
  2. Skyfall
  3. Spectre
  4. Quantum of Solace

CommBro Breaker

If they follow the current trend of good Bond movie, bad Bond movie, we should have a good one somewhere between 2017 and 2019!!

2015 Pac-12 Championship Game

Stanford vs. USC
December 5, 2015 at 4:45pm
Levi’s Stadium: 58,476 (of 68,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

On 4th-and-17, the Trojans’ last shot at the Pac-12 Championship hit the ground in front of an open Steven Mitchell. Even if Cody Kessler had landed that ball perfectly into Mitchell’s hands, it would’ve been an uphill battle to close the 12-point deficit in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

The offense failed not only to convert a 4th down on that drive, but also failed to score on the following one to make the score a little more respectable. Aided by penalties, the USC offense made it to the Stanford 19-yard line looking for a desperate heave into the end zone. Kessler would not get that opportunity after taking a sack with no timeouts remaining. The result looked all too familiar for weary SC fans.

The pregame featured All-Century Pac-12 picks basked in applause (and some in boos). The Trojans dominated these picks, composing nearly half the All-Century team and Reggie Bush being the only player to be selected at two positions. That dominance did not translate to the current players and staff on the field. Instead, another #5 put on a show at running back.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford’s #5 and Heisman finalist managed to compile 461 all-purpose yards. It’s probably no coincidence that he looks up to another player that put up big numbers in the all-purpose yards and was a Heisman finalist. That player happens to be Reggie Bush.

McCaffrey put up so many yards that he broke Barry Sander’s NCAA single-season all-purpose yard record. The he went and sat down next to Barry Sanders Jr. Poor USC. Poor Bush. And poor Sanders family. It was not a good loook for Helton’s debut as the official head coach of USC.

The look of someone that only gets 1 yard on 1 carry while he goes to the same school as the guy that broke his dad’s record.

The mistakes started early, but the Trojans still had plenty of chances to take the game. In the end, they could not recover.

The USC defense started out with some costly penalties and being able to hold McCaffrey to marginal gains. The Stanford offense quickly made it to the red zone before the USC defense stiffened up and held the Cardinal to a field goal. The trend continued throughout the first half as a USC’s offense was unable to get anything going. Stanford made it to the red zone for all four of their meaningful first half drives, but came away with only 13 points. I would consider it a victory for USC’s defense, considering USC’s offense left them out to dry with under 9 minutes of possession in the first half.

Basically, Stanford did to USC what USC did to UCLA. They won the turnover battle, ran the ball well, and drained the clock. USC’s most promising drive in the first half came away with only a field goal. Like I’ve said, slow starts aren’t going to win you very many games against top 10 teams.

Whatever Helton puts in their Gatorade Powerade during halftime really works—at least temporarily.

Don't tell them it's just water.

Don’t tell them it’s just water.

For the first ten minutes of the half, they played like they deserved to be in a championship game, scoring 13 points to take the lead. That made 16 unanswered points spanning from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second. Sadly, that could not be sustained. Even when things were going right, things went wrong, like having their PAT blocked.

Just when you thought the Trojans might have a chance at winning it, Stanford rolls through on a 78-yard drive for the touchdown. On 3rd-and-6 with a chance to stop Stanford deep in their own territory, USC’s defense has a linebacker guarding McCaffrey out of the backfield and only one deep safety. McCaffrey outsped the defense to take it 67 yards before being stopped at the USC 7. Hogan scored on a rushing touchdown one play later.

No matter. USC can just turn that around with offensive production similar to what they did the past two drives, right? Wrong. Before they even get possession back, the mistakes stack up. Justin Davis and Adoree’ Jackson run into each other at the USC 5 trying to get the kick-off, then Soma Vainuku’s penalty takes them to the 3. At least they didn’t fumble it—but there’s still time for that.

USC’s offense now had the unenviable job of moving the ball out from under the shadow of their own goal post. They nearly got to mid-field before the mistakes hit a breaking point. The strip-sack followed by the scoop-and-score gave Stanford a two-score lead and the final piece of a huge momentum swing.

The Trojans’ possibility of winning continued to slim down as they were playing from behind with time against them. However, credit to them, they fought on. A big run by Adoree’ and handful of other plays had them in the the red zone. Then a curious thing happened. USC ran a zone read play to perfection. Kessler took the ball in from 12 yards out, untouched. If you saw it, you quite possibly witnessed the first zone read play ever run by USC. Stanford was so woefully unprepared for it, the defensive end crashed down on the running back immediately. Simply beautiful. It was followed by an ugly 2-point conversion play that broke down and failed. Such is life as a USC fan these days.

This brings me back to the beginning of the post. The Trojans could not score again and could not stop the Carindal from scoring. USC could bring Stanford to a 3rd down, but then fail to guard McCaffrey out of the backfield or allow some guy wide open in a seam between two zones.

All in all, Stanford scored on all but two (out of nine) of their meaningful drives, whereas USC failed to score on six (out of 10) of them. The game went down a lot like the one against Oregon. It was a forced fumble that was the beginning of the end and ending in a 3-score loss. It was also saddening to see continued failure in the 2-minute drill even after the head coaching change.

With that the Pac-12 North is 5-0 in Pac-12 title games. No one other than Stanford or Oregon have won the conference since USC’s 2008 title.

CommBro Breaker

While the loss was bad and the 41-22 final looked even worse, the College Football Playoff Committee seemed to think that performance was enough to keep the Trojans in the rankings at #25. It’s something. A win against a solid 9-3 Wisconsin would cement a spot in the final rankings.

Also, Reggie Bush, out of some perfect combination of technicalities, managed to find his way into the stadium and cheer on his college team. As part of the NCAA sanctions on USC, the school must disassociate with Reggie Bush—forever. So in some ways, the sanctions never really end. The reason he was able to attend was because he was invited by the Pac-12 as a member of the All-Century team. It also happens to be his home stadium since he is a 49er running back. Being witness to this and the zone read play might have made the trip up to Santa Clara worth it, despite the nasty loss. It was for me at least.

The coaching changes made on Sunday were a step in the right direction. I hate seeing people lose their jobs, but it was probably necessary moving forward. This leaves both the former assistants and USC more time to find what they need. During Helton’s presser, he managed to answer two of the questions I had from The Helton Hire post:

  • Does he have the contacts and evaluation ability to assemble a good coaching staff?
  • Does he have the personality to fire any or all of his assistants if they underperform even if they are his friends and have been there for years?
  • Can he consistently replace assistants that move on from the program?
  • What kind of offense and defense would he install now that he has control?
  • Will he be effective at creating his own playbooks for offense and defense?
  • Can he effectively develop players over a span of four years?
  • Will he retain playcalling duties on gameday?

Outside of losing the Pac-12 title game, he has said the right things and made the right moves. Let’s hope he can figure it all out before the 2016 season opener.

Misleading Stat of the Week: Jahleel Pinner averaged only one yard per reception against Stanford.

Context: Pinner only had 1 reception which went for 1 yard and a touchdown. With all those ones, he should just trade numbers with Darreus Rogers!

Real Stats:

Rush  Rush 40+ 50+ 60+ 70+
Name Team Yr Pos G Attempts Yards TD Yards Yards Yards Yards
Ronald Jones II USC FR RB 13 145 940 8 4 2 2 1
Christian McCaffrey Stanford SO RB 13 319 1847 8 4 2 1 1
Derrick Henry Alabama JR RB 13 339 1986 23 5 4 2 1

Ronald Jones is actually on par with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry in longer runs. What’s crazy is that did it in less than half the carries! If he continues to develop and gets more carries, he could become a Heisman finalist someday.

The Helton Hire

THH. The Helton Hire. Or maybe I meant Taper Hall of Humanities. Hopefully you weren’t sitting there when the hiring was announced. At 7:30am on a Monday morning, most of us probably weren’t expecting this. I wasn’t even awake yet. Meanwhile, the trigger was pulled about 0.1mi away from THH at Heritage Hall.

Haden hired Helton as the permanent head coach of USC Football. Okay. I don’t necessarily disagree with Clay Helton as head coach, but what’s with the timing?

For Pat Haden and everyone else’s sake, I really hope a thorough and exhaustive search was actually conducted. After the last hire, a bitter taste was left in everybody’s mouth. The announcement of Sark received an underwhelming response and it turned out much worse than everyone had imagined. We saw an end that nobody wanted. Perhaps Haden felt like he was forced into this Helton hire by circumstance. After four different head coaches in the past four years and the first two midseason football head coach firings in USC history, the team could not experience stability. Whoever they would’ve hired is probably a bigger risk for failing than Helton. They may also have a bigger upside, but if you’re evaluating purely for risk, then you’d probably choose Helton. And if you choose Helton, better sooner rather than later because recruiting periods start now.

If they weren’t settled on Helton yet and went ahead with it to save the recruiting class, then that’s just ridiculous. You’re tying yourself to a man for five years over one class. Hopefully this didn’t play into the decision-making. Regardless, the timing may hurt more than it helps…

As Helton himself said, he’s got the “Trees” to prepare for in about 5 days. The Pac-12 title game is a huge deal because of the implications. If they win, it’s taking down a top 10 opponent and a Rose Bowl berth. Lose and you’ve now got 5 losses and some low tier bowl game. His team could even finish 8-6…

We all want him to win, but do the extra distractions really help? The contract negotiations, meetings, press conferences, and questions have taken away valuable time for game planning. Then there’s the players. They were all motivated to play well to help Helton get the job. Will the emotional high of succeeding detract from their goal? Will they play with the same chip to get the job done in the rematch against Stanford? All things we’ll just have find out now that the deed is done.

All the fans, alumni, former players and rival fans can argue and and call each other losers, whiners, spoiled or whatever the heck they are tossing around at the moment, but the fact of the matter is that Helton is the guy for the next 3 years at the bare minimum—barring some huge scandal. And I doubt very many scandals will happen under his watch. That’s one of the things I like about him. However, that’s part of why I don’t know how to feel about this hire.

It’s so hard to evaluate what he can do based off his previous work. He’s never been a head coach prior to being interim and his offensive coordinator position the past few years have been obscured by Kiffin and Sarkisian. There’s really only his Memphis OC days to fall back on. However, he’s likely grown and changed from that point after serving under three different head coaches. Things to consider are:

  • Does he have the contacts and evaluation ability to assemble a good coaching staff?
  • Does he have the personality to fire any or all of his assistants if they underperform even if they are his friends and have been there for years?
  • Can he consistently replace assistants that move on from the program?
  • What kind of offense and defense would he install now that he has control?
  • Will he be effective at creating his own playbooks for offense and defense?
  • Can he effectively develop players over a span of four years?
  • Will he retain playcalling duties on gameday?

I don’t take particular issue with Helton being hired as head coach as long as due diligence was done during the hiring process. The problem is, I don’t really believe that they went through the whole process. If someone can concretely prove me wrong, I’d welcome it. But because we’re stuck with it, I’ll focus on the positives:

The first and probably most obvious is that he can start recruiting in full force and confidence. He won’t have to face the awkward question of, “Thanks for the offer, but who’s going to be the coach?”

As mentioned previously, he offers stability. However, this is not just in terms of avoiding turnover, but also emotionally. Even critical errors by players have not resulted in him exploding in an out of control fashion. He seems to be a high character guy who will actually mentor these student-athletes.

With that being said, it’s doubtful that players will declare for the NFL draft in anger or frustration like they did back at the end of the 2013 season. This will mean more continuity for the team in 2016.

If USC makes a decent bowl (like the Rose Bowl), there will be plenty of practices for Helton to start grooming the expected starters for next year (like Max Browne). He can mold these players more into the style he wants. A coaching change would mean that this could’ve been a wasted effort.

He’s also shown that he can adjust the gameplan at halftime. This will be crucial going into the bowl game. Opponents will have weeks to prepare and a season’s worth of a film to study. A coach that cannot utilize that will be at a severe disadvantage. Helton will be able to start making major tweaks to the playbook that he couldn’t have done during the season. This can give him a jumpstart on retooling the playbook for next season, which he will definitely need. Things won’t start slow in 2016; USC opens with Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

I hope Helton does well—I really do, but I don’t know if I agree with the choice. I may not figure that out before he answers the above questions with results. I just know for sure I don’t agree with the timing.

CommBro Breaker

Stupid “Clay Clay” puns are going to be the norm…chow. GOSH DAMN, I DID IT MYSELF.

Misleading Stat: Helton could have been some sort of champion for about half the games he’s been head coach. (Las Vegas Bowl, Pac-12 South, Pac-12 Title, Rose Bowl)