Archive for the 'On Brighton Rock' Category

11
Jul
13

OBR – The Roose is Loose: Reviewing Game of Thones, Season 3

Season Three of Game of Thrones was far stronger than the second on the whole even if its most compelling episode could not quite outdo the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Having still not read the novels but privy to background information due to the always excellent Cast of Thrones podcast, the third season never mishandled the translation from page to screen to the same extent the second when it inexplicably blew Catelyn’s motivation for releasing Jamie Lannister. Instead the only problems were that the budget unfortunately did not include more funds for battle scenes, particularly concerning north of the Wall and the sacking of Yunkai. As in last season, a distinctive tone for Daenerys storyline was absent (my earlier suggestion was to have Tarsem Singh direct these scenes), despite decidedly more surreal quality to it. Even without Singh, one of the more confusing scenes in the entire season was infiltration of Yunkai by Grey Worm, Ser Jorah and Daario Naharis. They seem to be overwhelmed by guards but the next scene shows them victorious, claiming that “they”—the lords of Yunkai presumably—“did not believe until it was too late and their slave soldiers threw down their spears and surrendered”, which seems to raise more questions than it answers given the previous action sequence. Alternatively, there could have been a creative shot of the three warriors picking off guards while sneaking through the alleyways of the city before reaching the gates. Having seized what was effectively the key to the city, they could have convinced the slave soldiers guarding it to throw down their spears when Daenerys’ armies approach the gates and it was too late for the lords of Yunkai to do anything about it. Moreover, an additional scene wherein Daario convinces the Second Sons to vote to join Daenerys would have gone a long way to explaining the situation with them—and the potential problems they may present going forward. Specifically, after his vow to Dany, Daario could have explained his actions to the Second Sons who might object that betraying Yunkai would blacklist them for taking any contract to fight in the future, effectively cutting off their source of income. Daario could have agreed, stating that to join Dany they would lose any future contracts but gain a kingdom. However this sets them up as potential rivals to or sappers of Dany’s unconditional authority.

By the same token, the opening scene of the season shows only the aftermath of the climactic battle of season 2 between the Night Watch and the contingent of Wights lead by at least two White Walkers. Even as COTs intimated, given the fact that they were in the middle of a snow storm, the scope of the battle could have been keep fairly small with rapid cuts between individual fights. This omission and Yunkai were the biggest disappointments in terms of possibly budget prohibitive battle scenes.

While action sequences are well done with the resources available, they do leave the audience wistful for the sweeping cinematic battles of Braveheart, Gladiator or even one of the templates for Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings. However character interactions remained, rightly, the program’s strongest asset, with generally riveting performances across the board including the always inspired Peter Dinklage but the surprising Nicolaj Coster-Waldau who is managing to make an attempted child-murderer a sympathetic and even noble character. The most compelling elements of Game of Thrones are the characters and strategic interactions of various parties are where the program is consistently engaging. In light of this strength, the ten Best Characters as of the third season:

  1. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Linklage): Tyrion almost lost out to his on-screen brother, but Dinklage’s portrayal of a self-loathing drunk at his own wedding was the touchstone acting performance of the season.
  2. Jamie Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau): It was the speech of how he saved King’s Landing by breaking his vow that vaulted Jamie to new heights but his continued interactions with Brianne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) continued to be compelling as juxtaposed against his extreme despondency at the loss of his sword hand.
  3. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance): Dance continues to absolutely destroy this role, putting aside his Grampa Tywin moment and engaging in what he does best: strategy. He carefully bid for time and advantage in the war effort wherein he was able to defeat Robb Stark largely by taking advantage of the young Stark’s own mistakes and his allies’ willingness to betray him. Whether it was snapping at Tyrion, negotiating with the Queen of Thornes, or, probably his best scene,  communicating to his grandson where the real power in the realm lies, Dance deftly conveyed a cool demeanor with an ability to instill fear.
  4. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke): Perhaps it’s merely the juxtaposition to last year’s lackluster role for Dany, but this season Clarke perfected the measured composure of a queen who can use both the force of her personality and her captivating beauty to her advantage in pushing enemies off-kilter or persuading potential allies. She also began flexing a strategic and even darkly cunning mind in second most memorable moment of the season by gaining the core of an army while giving up nothing.
  5. Ygritte (Rose Leslie): with her relationship with Jon Snow blooming, Ygritte’s character deepened and expanded, not only in her relentless teasing of the constantly self-serious and morose Snow but also explicating that though she suspects Jon remains a Night Watchman she wants them to be loyal to each other above all else. As Cast of Thrones indicated, the wildling women typically have greater agency whereby if a man tries to steal them from another (or take them initially), they can either reject their initial relationship or actively fight against that advance. Thus, when Jon captured Ygritte but refused to kill her, she took that as a sign of interest and responded, becoming annoyed at his rebuffs. The wildlings seem to have clan loyalties but their individuality, for both men and women, appears much stronger in contrast to the family-centric Westeroes exemplified by tyrannical paterfamilias Tywin Lannister. Ygritte symbolizes the individuality of the wildlings who may choose each other over the whims of lords.
  6. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer): Although she faded from view in the later episodes, Dormer was excellent in portraying Margaery’s charm in manipulating Sansa and in particular the difficult case of an increasingly unhinged Joffrey.
  7. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams): the decidedly older-looking Maisie Williams depicted a range of emotions throughout the season, but was focused primarily heartbreak coupled with a grim determination to carry on and exact revenge, whether it was in regard Gendry being sold-off or the tragedy of the Red Wedding.
  8. Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon): although he was in the most difficult scenes to watch, Rheon reprised his “Misfits” role of a creepy loner but took it up a notch to outright sociopathy playing Ramsay as an unabashed torturer with some consideration for strategy to compliment his father’s own calculated ruthlessness and lack of qualms.
  9. Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham): Davos had a larger role this season filling out his role as the uncompromising voice of conscience for Stannis. Cunningham also added depth and sympathy to Davos through his interactions with Stannis’ scarred daughter Shireen.
  10. Hodor (Kristian Nairn): Really looking forward to the 1,000 year reign of Hodor.

Three Most Annoying Characters:

  1. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane): Dillane continues to seem miscast as Stannis would seem more of a hulking warrior than Dillane’s more slender and older frame (Russell Crowe, or the once rumored Gerard Butler a la Beowulf & Grendel, would seem to be a template for this role). Stannis being an understandably extreme sad-sack after his crushing defeat at King’s Landing didn’t help matters.
  2. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson): This selection doesn’t have anything to do with Gleeson’s performance, which continues to be spot on for the role, but more that the character has begun, in contrast to nearly every other significant individual, to become highly one-dimensional: a combination of cruelty, incompetence and petulance reiterated endlessly. Not to say that this isn’t necessarily Joffrey’s character, but the fact that he doesn’t seem to have either a redeeming quality or some competency is making him simply a hateful individual and not one who is compelling in any particular sense. Perhaps this will change in the future, as in season one where Joffrey could at least exhibit charm on occasion.
  3. Shae (Sibel Kekilli): Shae and Tyrion’s relationship became almost an afterthought this season and a constant source of awkwardness given Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa. It’s unclear where Shae is headed as she seems unhappy with any potential continuing relationship with Tyrion despite the fact that her expectations could not be a result of naiviete. Her conversation with Varys towards the end of the season was fascinating in large part due its miscommunication. Varys attempts to get her to leave Westeros and restart her life elsewhere so Tyrion can be freed from her distraction. Shae takes Varys as Tyrion’s messenger and remarks to him that if Tyrion wants her to leave he can tell her himself and the conversation ends. Varys could have retorted that this was the salient issue for Tyrion who would destroy himself before ending his relationship with Shae; it had to be her decision. Instead this complication persists and given the gruesome end of Ros, Shae seems to be little beyond an unfortunate pawn to use against Tyrion.

Reviewing post-season 2 predictions and new predictions for the fourth season:

(1)   Hotpie’s thousand year reign as lord of the seven kingdoms begins next season. This is wrong since it is clearly Hodor’s throne to lose.

(2)   I have no idea what Dany is up to next season. – It would have been hard to predict or even determine Dany’s course of events in Season 3 from her situation in Season 2. The audience could guess she was leaving Qarth, but had little clue where she could go beyond that.

(3)   Rob is fucked. To take a line from every horror movie ever, why was marrying Talisa a bad idea? Because it’s really obviously a bad idea. This turned out to be dead on but for reasons differing from my thought that Talisa was some sort of spy.

(4)   What the hell is going on in Winterfell and what are the Boltons up to? I would imagine that the Boltons might have turned on the Starks to play an advantage while their main force was in the South. Why? Roose wants to know what Rob looks like without skin BECAUSE HE IS FUCKED IN THE HEAD. This was likewise accurate to the outcome but not the motivation as Roose turned out to be a high-functioning sociopath as opposed to Joffrey’s brand of annoying and incompetent psychosis. It was always confusing that they played up the mystery of who took Winterfell as it seemed pretty clear after Roose had distinctly offered to send his bastard to retake it in Season 2.

(5)   George RR Martin describes Arya and Gendry’s relationship in graphic detail and inappropriately too early. HBO avoids this like it’s a nuclear device or something. I actually get the impression that despite Martin’s willingness to use creepy sex in his books, Arya and Gendry’s friendship doesn’t take the turn this direction any time soon—more of a brother-sister thing (like her relationship with Jon Snow). Well, they certainly care for one another but won’t be around each other anytime soon.

(6)   Sansa Stark’s position becomes increasingly precarious given her main protectors—Tyrion, Shae and the Hound—have lost most of their power or disappeared. However, she’s smart enough to stave off Lord Baelish’s also inappropriate advances unless she somehow is able to bring someone along to guarantee her safety. I have a strange idea that Ser Loras pursues her, despite her traitor blood and in part because he likes her and feels somewhat abashed at pushing her out as queen in favor of his sister. Ser Loras strikes me as similar to his sister in his pragmatism—though his feelings for Renly were considerably more genuine than Margaery’s, there was an element that the relationship was undertaken to promote the interests of the Tyrell family. He seems like he could be a switch-hitter and showed some affection, possibly only feigned, for Sansa in the season one jousting scene where he handed her a flower before his match (she also displayed, rather unthinkingly, affection for him in worriedly pleading with his father not to allow the Mountain to hurt him). This one is a stretch, but it has an interesting ring to it. Ser Loras seems uninterested in the throne without Renly in the mix and his family’s position is secure with his sister’s ascension. Naturally a courting of Sansa would likely be frowned upon, though it wouldn’t have to be formal or overt, potentially more in the vein of the Hound’s own protection of Sansa. Also possible that at some point he joins with Brienne to hunt down Stannis. It’s unclear whether this is more correct or incorrect. Ser Loras and Sansa are paired at one point, but the notion that Loras is bisexual or cares for Sansa in any way was completely off the mark as the man is full blown gay and treats Sansa largely as an afterthought. Also marriage to Sansa is hardly taboo as one would have assumed as it turns out that Tyrion and her are wed strictly for political reasons.

(7)   Speaking of Stannis, he and the fire witch set about making more shadow babies and Ser Davos, like Lord Varys, becomes increasingly concerned about the reliance on the Lord of Light. Melisandre is decidedly uninterested in any more shadow babies but does continue her magic on Stannis’ behalf. Ser Davos is highly distrustful of the red woman despite it imperiling him repeatedly.

(8)   Jon Snow and Ygritte bump uglies, or at least engage in some heavy non-direwolf petting. Jon’s position becomes more isolated when the double dubs nearly wipe out the Night’s Watch force, a small contingent of which repel annihilation with the obsidian knives. The Night’s Watch, who have made deals with more unsavory characters in the past and have some intelligence from Jon Snow to fall back on, ally with Mance Rayder’s considerably larger wildling force and retreat to the Wall having realized the extent of the double dub threat. The first part was very close to the mark right up until the dragonglass knives, unless one counts Sam’s double dub kill. The Night’s Watch has given no indication that they have appreciated Mance Rayder’s force or what they wish to do about it.

(9)   A reinvigorated Tywin Lannister consolidates his position and finally scores a victory against an increasingly distracted Rob Stark, forcing him to retreat North. The Lannister-Tyrell alliance shows little interest in pursuing Rob Stark, content to harass his southernmost bannermen with the Mountain’s raiders and letting the Greyjoys and possibly the Boltons sap his strength with their own raids while they rebuild their strength in the south and deal with the lingering threat of Stannis. The Lannister alliance also becomes aware that Rob has lost Jaime and eventually discovers Brienne and Jaime. Jaime negotiates Brienne’s safety from Lannister swords having seen her prowess as a warrior, as well as her potentially useful hatred of Stannis or lack of strong allegiance to the Starks. Ser Loras and Tyrion are sent north with Sansa to negotiate a truce with Rob, although this may be trap. Tywin remains irate when he finds out that Arya is unaccounted for. Most of that was untrue aside from the Lannisters indeed scoring a victory over Robb Stark but instead of merely throwing him into retreat, they flat destroyed him and his army. There was definitely no truce but Tywin used Tyrion and Sansa to acquire a key of controlling the north. The Boltons did conspire to wreck the Starks but Roose’s bastard may be taking things a bit too far in his assault on the Greyjoys. And no one seems to be concerned about Arya or her whereabouts, most likely presuming that she’s dead.

(10)                       Arya stumbles in the camp where these negotiations are being held (possibly at the Twins) but does not play her Bravosian coin this season. That was weirdly accurate, though for all the wrong reasons. Possibly the most harrowing part of the Red Wedding is Arya (a large character in the book and show) coming so close to reunion with her family. It is interesting that Robb was a much larger and more defined character in the show (and well-liked by audiences), thus making the betrayal even more gut-wrenching for show watchers.

(11)                       Rob surprisingly concludes the negotiations ceding most territory to the Lannister alliance in exchange for his sister and free reign in Winterfell and surrounding lands, in part because he has received word from Jon Snow about the situation beyond the Wall (as well as the relative safety of Osha, Bran, Rickon and Hodor who have arrived there) and that he needs his southern flank secure to put down the Greyjoy and Bolton rebellions. The Lannister alliance allows Rob to remain in a position of power in part because they trust the Greyjoys and Boltons far less than the more honorable Starks and likewise need a secure northern flank to focus on crushing Stannis. They, except for Tyrion, place no stock in the grave warnings from the Wall and make no offer to help in that regard. The Lannister gambit to destroy Stannis goes about as well as Stannis’ invasion of King’s Landing. Effectively none of this happens although the Lannisters do entrust the Boltons to crush the Greyjoy uprising. It seemed peculiar all season that the Crown seemed weirdly unconcerned with eliminating Stannis, perhaps because such an invasion would indeed be too costly.

Season Four Predictions:

(1)   At the end of this season, it’s unclear what Daenerys’ next move will be after her string of victories but her rapidly growing army (and assumedly her nation of her freed slaves) may cause an attendant multiplication in problems. Dany appears a bit too confident in the sway of her own authority and the oaths of others to her, but if the events of Westeros have taught us anything, assuming that the intangibles will keep one’s subjects and bannermen in line is a fool’s game. Beyond this issue, Dany should be counseled that her actions have no doubt made her a target of other elements of the slave trade (even inasmuch as it might encourage slave revolts) particularly the two most powerful, Mereen and Volantis. Although she now has a respectable, though not overwhelming, army of roughly 10,000, she has no ships to sail Westeros; the long voyage from her current location would also leave her vulnerable to pirates, perhaps hired by her enemies. Striking north to travel overland away from the slavers would take them into the Dothraki Sea where the Dothraki would likely view her as an enemy. Although she has some horsemen as well as her dragons, the talented Dothraki riders would likely be content to ambush and harry her, avoiding direct conflict but severely weakening her force for any invasion of Westeros. Curiously, the show set up two possibilities for Daenerys to expedite her advance towards Westeros, the first more likely than the second. Tyrion remarked that the Crown owed a massive sum of money to the Iron Bank of Braavos, which they have little recourse to repay possibly even with the war subsidizing and the largesse of the Tyrells. One could imagine them defaulting on this debt somehow—possibly a plan would be devised to shift the debt from Braavos to more trusted hands, such as a consortium of Lannisters, Tyrells and Dorne (as the Lannisters and Dornish are now joined by Myrcella’s marriage). However upon an attempt to repay, the gold ships, supposedly secret, were ambushed by pirates, perhaps organized by Ser Davos after a tip from an unknown source. This would launch the South into near chaos and Dany may be contacted by Braavos to serve as a conduit to recoup their losses. Of course if this happened, Stannis and Ser Davos may also be targeted but would likewise be rejuvenated by their new wealth; also Braavos may not care who stole the gold, since it was not in their possession when it was taken. The second and even less likely scenario was hinted at but given the show’s deviation from the novels, seems unlikely. Talisa noted to Rob that she was writing to her mother in Volantis about her marriage and her pregnancy. Shortly after receiving this missive, it’s possible Talisa’s parents, slave-owning nobles according to Talisa herself, would likely have been informed of the Red Wedding and possibly the gruesome demise of their pregnant daughter and her husband. These hitherto unnamed nobles could contact Dany, who would naturally be suspicious, but then offer to help fund her invasion to seek revenge on the Frays, Boltons and Lannisters. Interestingly this would not only present Dany with the challenge to determine whether or not to trust Talisa’s parents but also whether to stifle her desire to free slaves in order to gain a powerful ally. This second choice would likely cause discord within her army no matter how it was decided, with the Second Sons miffed on any delay on riches if it was rejected and her corpus of freedmen disillusioned by her compromising her status as a liberator if she accepted. Regardless, this storyline seems highly unlikely given that in the novels, Rob’s wife is still alive and does not seem to play much of a role.

(2)   It’s unclear what role Gendry will play in the future as Stannis’ attention appears to have moved from him and towards the looming threat in the north. It will be interesting to watch if Stannis rallies to the north, how exactly they will seek to accomplish that expedition and what the Lannisters make of it. Of course, the Lannisters could discover Gendry but that would mean a quick death. Given the development of Gendry, it would seem unlikely to end it simply the way they could have in Season 2. It seems more likely that Gendry fades largely to the background and may pop up again through the interventions of the Red God clergy more than anything else. Whether that occurs this season or later, I would bet on later.

(3)   Tyrion and Sansa’s relationship is growing increasingly complicated although he seems to genuinely feel protective of her and she seems to at least tolerate him, though that was prior to his family nearly wiping out hers. Tyrion’s position seems increasingly perilous not only due to the rather ridiculous risk of keeping Shae around but also the growing risk of the Crown’s finances imploding and the blame somehow missing Baelish and landing squarely on him namely if he schemes to shift debt from Braavos to Westeros and Baelish submarines it. Note for next season: BAELISH IS GOING TO CONTINUE TO RUIN EVERYTHING.

(4)   Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane appear to be the primary fighters left from Mance’s original sapper force that climbed the Wall, though it’s unclear just how many wildings there are left behind the Wall. It would still seem to make sense that the two forces would ally given the existential threat of the White Walkers, though Mance’s remark about setting an enormous fire remains cryptic. The Night Watch stands little chance of repelling Mance should any gate be breached by wilding sappers or even if they have to attack the main gate. They stand even less chance of repelling walkers without reinforcements. Mance’s force aims to destroy the Night’s Watch which is able to hold out until Stannis arrives. United under Stannis’ leadership, who has thus become a king of sorts, they face off against the double dubs.

(5)   Rickon and Osha are able to reach the Umbers at the Last Hearth presumably to ride out the winter. It’s unclear what losses the Umbers may have suffered at the Red Wedding but in any event will have a difficult time hiding him given Ramsay Snow’s knowledge that Theon did not in fact kill Rickon or his brother. While Bran heads north of the Wall, the most important question, possibly among all storylines, is: since Bran can warg into a human, unlike anyone else, does that mean he also has the power to warg into a White Walker? What does it mean if Bran can control a force of double dubs and their wight minions? Moreover, what if Bran is able to assemble an army of wargs? Stannis will face a different threat all together when Bran assembles a force and winter is indeed coming. South of the wall, this has all the makings of Roose Bolton rounding up Stark children. Then again, if Ramsay should get to them first, that has the makings of some uncomfortable scenes or a scene in which Arya summons Jaa’quen Haqqar to nail Ramsay to the fucking wall.

(6)   Arya’s trajectory with the Hound from the end of Season 3 is almost as nebulous as Daenerys’. The Hound does not seem to be able to double back south with her and try to turn her over to the Tullys, even if he discovers that the Blackfish still lives, as that seems a dangerous course of action into enemy territory and relies on a severely weakened house whose lands have at least nominally been taken over by Walder Gray. Alternatively, he could continue north as was his original plan, and attempt to ransom her to the Reeds at Grey Water Watch (if he can find the damn place) or Moat Caillin, though it’s likewise unclear what losses the Reeds may have suffered also given that two of their children have run off with Bran Stark. That would seem the most likely, since venturing any further north may encounter more Bolton minions. The tenuous détente between the Hound and Arya would indicate that this storyline could veer in any number of directions though it would seem that Sandor Clegane has no intention of keeping her around any longer than is absolutely required. Curiously, although the Boltons or Grays may wish to pay for her as a potential source of an heir to Winterfell in case something happens to Sansa, the Hound seems unlikely to take this course given either his suspicion that they would renege on any deal or what they might do to Arya once they captured her.

(7)   Tyrion welcomes his brother home whose maiming curiously gives them more in common with one another. It’s unclear if Cersei will be able to execute on her Season 3 statement that she will not be marrying Ser Loras, but this seems unlikely barring one of their deaths regardless of Jaime’s reappearance. Regardless of Cersei’s machinations, Tyrion will reinvigorate Jaime’s life by constructing an apparatus to fit over his stump (in the same manner that he created a harness to allow Bran to ride a horse) that allows him to wield a blade with that arm. In training with Brienne to harness this new weapon, Jaime becomes just as deadly with only one hand as he was before. It will be interesting to see just how disappointed Tywin is in Jaime (who would appear to be head of Kingsguard, having originally been named after Ser Barristan was dismissed) but the answer is “very” given that his capture severely complicated the war effort. I am very unclear on why Jaime was able to effectively abandon the Kingsguard to go rampaging in the Riverlands prior to his capture and what, if any, consequences that would have on his service to the Crown. Book readers heavily intimated that something was going to go down at Joffrey’s wedding to Maegery Tyrell but given the Season 3 wrap-up, there is little clue what that is. My only suspicion is that Cersei gets ripped and reveals in public that Jaime is Joffrey’s father but that seems an uncharacteristically stupid move even for a despondent and inebriated Cersei.

(8)   Littlefinger will continue to concentrate power in the shadows through his financial constructs as well as his outright control of the Eyre. Despite Tyrion uncovering his schemes and possibly his tip to pirates to steal gold bound for Braavosi debts, he will be able to back Tyrion into a corner to take the fall not only because the financial stress will appear to be Tyrion’s failing but Littlefinger’s knowledge of Shae will enable him to force Tyrion to take the blame and flee. Littlefinger will have miscalculated however in that Tyrion survives or at least is not held under close watch in King’s Landing crushed by the loss of Shae; rather he is able to regroup and conspire with Varys to bring Littlefinger down. Tyrion naturally finds it more difficult to be unable to use his family’s name or wealth but is able to maneuver with the help of Shae, Bron, Varys, the ever loyal Podrick and curiously Sansa who insists coming with him as she has nothing but trouble for her in King’s Landing should he flee. Though a long shot would be to cross the Narrow Sea and hideout in Pentos or Braavos and possibly even throw in with Daenerys’ crew having been betrayed by his own family, Tyrion will seek out an alliance through his marriage to Sansa with the remains of the Stark bannermen under the control of the Blackfish, who’s desire to avenge his sister and nephew outweigh his distrust of Tyrion. Although Tyrion will have been able to collect a significant sum of money before fleeing (making him look all the more guilty), Bron’s loyalty will be a constant question given the obvious incentive to turn Tyrion’s band in and the declining prospects of wealth from Tyrion amongst the severely damaged Northmen. Moreover, it is likely that the Hound and Arya as well as Rickon and Osha join this group at the safest location for a Northern conspiracy. Tyrion’s goals for this alliance beyond his desire to destroy Littlefinger are difficult to ascertain, but he could eventually challenge his nephew or turn attentions northward to the danger at the wall, eventually forming an alliance with the remains of Stannis’ army and more importantly a warg force controlled by Bran Stark.

(9)   The Greyjoys’ arc is probably the most confusing as they are in a precarious position as one of the last king’s standing but harried by Ramsay Snow. Yara’s gambit up the Weeping Waters to go full ninja on the Dreadfort (the best name in Game of Thrones thus far) seems a fool’s errand. While the Boltons are somewhat distracted with minding the North, no doubt a web of conflicting loyalties and grumblings given the events of the Red Wedding that may well have pissed off even the aggrieved Karstarks, Yara’s assault may not be a complete suicide mission but the chances of success are slim (is anyone even sure that Theon, aka Reek, is even at the Dreadfort or will remain there?). She will not make it to the headwaters of the river as she is intercepted by Stannis’ force advancing north to the Wall. Davos convinces Stannis to spare Yara in order to have the Greyjoys turn their attentions to the danger beyond the Wall with proof of threat from Melisandre and evidence that her brother has become an unrecognizable monster under Ramsay’s unrelenting torture.

Some final points in no particular order:

  • In a generally solid third season, the last scene was remarkably ham-handed and incredibly pointless. The goal seemed to be to establish Daenerys as a beloved liberator but this was accomplished in the laziest manner possible with Dany looking like she just scored the winning touchdown in a football game; this isn’t even to mention the bizarre racial subtext.
  • The COT crew generally objected to Ros’ death at the hands of Joffrey via Littlefinger as unnecessarily sexualized and an example of a female character being sacrificed to advance the arc of the male characters, though admittedly this death did little besides assert Littlefinger over Varys, which appeared to be already happening with Baelish’s ascent to control the Eyrie, and depict Joffrey’s depravity, which was already well known. One might argue that it was still meant to add to male characters but was even more unnecessary since it did little to tell the audience anything it didn’t already know. However Ros’ downfall was in keeping with the theme of the season with enemies being vanquished by being betrayed or sacrificed by those they considered allies or at least believed they could trust to a sufficient extent. And in most cases the victorious betrayers had some cause to affect their back-stabbing: Ros had begun to play for power by informing on Littlefinger to Varys; the Starks had broken their promise to Walder Fray, who in turn lost power, and ignored the advice of the Boltons who were forced to put their family’s interest at risk in an increasingly unwinnable war; the slaver who sold Daenerys the Unsullied was arrogant, insulting and consumed by avarice and OWNED SLAVES; Theon turned on the Starks and ignored the commands of his father and the admonitions of his sister to abandon Winterfell. Ros was victim of her strategic gambles as much as anyone—could it not be claimed that Theon’s torture, despite being a more central character in the show, was undertaken to advance the character of Ramsay Snow? Although Ros’ seems the least justified and most gratuitous but it did hark back to a specific threat by Littlefinger.
  • Although family allegiances are varying, there is a distinct rivalry and substantial distrust between the north and south in Westeros
  • Tywin chiding his children seems to clash with his treatment of Arya last season but that’s belied by two points. First, Arya fears him for obvious reasons but not in the sense of the fear and belittlement Tywin (purposefully or not) instills in his own children since she loved and respected her own father. Secondly, Tywin does not have anything at stake in “spoiling” Arya since she does not factor into his family’s legacy, which he serves above all else, and she, unlike his children, is quick witted enough to riposte him without resorting to a resigned petulance and sarcasm as Tyrion, Jamie and Cersei often do when bolted into a corner by Tywin due to their years of chaffing under his parentage.
  • The war of the Five Kings: (1) Joffrey Baratheon (2) Balon Greyjoy (3) Robb Stark (4) Stannis Baratheon (5) Renly Baratheon?
  • Everyone angry at the destruction of house stark but few consider how the Starks and Baratheons laid waste to the Targaryens, killing all of their children save for those who were able to escape.

For further reference, all of the Game of Thrones episode commentaries by Charlie Jane Anders on io9:

 

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17
Jan
13

OBR – The Walking Dead at the Break

Thoughts on The Walking Dead at the midpoint break of Season 3. Note that I’m going strictly on what I’ve seen so far of the television show – I’ve not read the original graphic novel and am privy to very little background information on the show:

  • Much stronger so far in terms of pacing and content. Season 1 was uneven with some fantastic episodes (the opener and the closer were both strong) while Season 2 was redundant and an exercise in tedium until the final two episodes. Nearly every episode of the third season has been engaging with the characters much more sure footed and considerably more exposition through visuals and action rather than dialogue and forced conversations. The opening scene where Rick’s party scavenges in an abandoned house is illustrative of this approach. The desperation and fatigue of the group are clearly evident along with the characters inhabiting more assured roles – all without any dialogue.
  • Andrea’s character, and too a lesser extent Michonne, has been one of the most enervating of the  season so far. Unfortunately the relationship between the two and how they operated for their eight months on the run is largely assumed as Andrea is either sick or in thrall of the Governor during most of their screen time together. Thus the two are almost always seen at odds rather than the implied mutual affection that supposedly characterizes their relationship. It doesn’t help that Michonne seems to wear a constant snarl and thus has little depth at the moment–though this could obviously change with some hints of it in her observation of Rick’s group’s closeness and her initial reaction to Penny’s confinement. Andrea’s behavior seems peculiarly out of character, particularly her fall for Woodbury and the Governor in light of the evidence that something unsettling is happening behind the scenes. This is in part because the audience knows far more about the underbelly of the town than she would which unfairly raises the viewer’s incredulity at Andrea’s gullibility. The showrunners could have made the Governor’s machinations more circumspect until the final episodes of the first half. For instance, they could not have shown the Governor taking down the National Guardsmen but only shown them returning in the military vehicles and Michonne’s subsequent suspicion about what actually happened to the soldiers. They could also have revealed the Governor’s secret room of heads and Penny until the final episode almost as written (perhaps with the Governor staring at the heads and then turning to the gate as Penny begins making a commotion).
  • One of the more awkward scenes was the “fight night” and Andrea’s reaction to it. Pitting two Woodbury fighters against one another in a bizarre MMA match surrounded by toothless zombies made little sense even in the Governor’s explanation that it allows the residents to blow off steam. Why is this appealing? Fights, whether boxing or MMA, were always something of a niche sport unlike basketball, baseball, football or even soccer and hockey.  Moreover since the fight appeared to be real, why would Woodbury risk some of its muscle in a pointless brawl? Although another sport would certainly risk injury, this one was designed to cause it. It’s also unclear why Andrea felt she needed to be repulsed by it and why she was uncomfortable with how she liked it. With the obvious exception of the zombie element, it’s not like this hadn’t been extant in the world prior to the outbreak. Perhaps she thought it barbaric then but far more barbaric events had transpired since the world moved on which she evidently accepted and even embraced evidenced by her desire to be armed and dangerous. A possible replacement scene would have been Merle and others in some sort of contest to see who could kill the most zombies in under ten seconds, or even an exhibition of killing zombies in comical and ridiculous fashion (the scene in A.I. where humans are destroying robots in some kind of rodeo is a fair example, although Walking Dead would have needed to go less campy). Naturally such grotesque violence, particularly if participants paraded around with severed limbs or heads, would certainly justify any revulsion and make her reluctant to admit her liking of it. The Governor’s explanation of stress relief and Andrea’s concern that it made people too cavalier about the zombie threat would have carried more weight. Moreover the Governor could have explained that it was also meant to dehumanize creatures that people humanized far too much–that each person will not “come back” but rather die and be desecrated by some disease that takes over their lifeless body. This game was a ritual purification of sorts. Secondarily this also would have juxtaposed nicely with Michonne’s zombie slaughter as well as Milton’s failure to discover an echo of a former self in a walker.
  • The Governor himself doesn’t strike me as a let down. Some were expecting a character more in the vain of Danny Trejo, as the comic would seem to depict him. According to Screen Rants, there was even speculation that John Hawkes might land the role, possibly reprising a version of his character from the excellent Winter’s Bone (for those not familiar). Morrissey himself is fairly neutral. He doesn’t take away anything from the character but doesn’t seem to be adding a lot either. He’s able to play psychopathic well without being particularly memorable. It is interesting that the producers went a completely different direction from the graphic novel in both Woodbury (which apparently wasn’t in the book) and the Governor, who, judging from the picture, was more of a hardcase than the refined Morrissey. Although the element of a suave and respectable veneer over ruthlessness is a compelling one in a post-apocalyptic setting, it wasn’t played terribly well by the showrunners, not only in regard to Andrea’s relationship to the Governor but also in the early reveal of his vicious and dictatorial behavior. If Andrea had gotten involved with a separate character in the village, such as Milton (perhaps a bit more self-assured–Hawkes might have been good in this role) whom she does take a liking to in the show for his compassion, the audience would observe the debonair Governor from more distance, and perhaps more through Milton’s admiration of him as Andrea probes him for more information in the course of their relationship. Naturally actors such as Javier Bardem or Daniel Day-Lewis would be strong in the role of the Governor, though obviously far too expensive or disinterested (or both). Danny Huston, given his strong performance in the similar role of depraved but erudite outlaw Arthur Burns in The Proposition, would have been a good choice. Guy Pearce, though likely more difficult to get, would have also been solid as a revamped Milton, possibly similar to his performance in L.A. Confidential.

Side note:

I also had a vision of the Governor sitting in a chair surrounded by still animate zombie heads nailed to the walls and ceiling of a small enclave, as opposed to the still very creepy heads in tanks. Also using Portishead’s Machine Gun in a zombie movie montage.

24
Aug
12

Crossing Swords: Game of Thrones Poorly Reviewed

Translating a written story into one that can be told on screen is one of the most common but also one of the most disappointing types of film or television. For every success in this regard there have a score of failures. In truth though, another problem can be simply weak source material or a story that doesn’t lend itself well to a visual medium[1]. Curiously, science fiction, fantasy and comic books appear to be the genres in which misses are the most common. Some of this undoubtedly is the weakness in the original work (Twilight, I’m hip-thrusting in your direction) but often in the case of comic books, the original story is redone so many times over the years, the screenwriters have wide leeway outside of the basic story to create a new narrative, as opposed to a linear fantasy such as Lord of the Rings. However, more often than not the films get bogged down in trying to appeal to too broad an audience and become a mish-mash of nonsensical plots (Daredevil, Green Lantern, Elektra, Ang Lee’s The Hulk, Spiderman 3, Superman Returns, Spawn, any of the Punisher movies, even Batman fell prey to this). Graphic novels often provide some focus given that there is typically only one iteration of the story, although even those can become overwrought shlock-fests: 300 and to an extent Sin City; whereas A History of Violence was executed brilliantly.

Fantasy can provide even more of a problem given diehard fans fanatical devotion to the books and the broader audience’s lack of patience and even outright confusion at a complex or too much inside information in a storyline. Peter Jackson handled this deftly with Lord of the Rings which largely satisfied both segments whereas the ham-handed television adaptation of Flash Forward broke down far too quickly. One of the most successful translations is Game of Thrones, though there may be some argument over its faithfulness to the original. I admittedly have not read any of the books and can only base my knowledge of the George R.R. Martin works off the excellent Cast of Thrones podcast[2] (COT), which has done an estimable job filling in some of the blanks around the characters and adding some depth to the plot, particularly to the mish-mash of season two.

The first season was a rousing success for the opposite of the reason season 2 was at times sloppy and enervating—the first season had two main stories while the second had a shotgun blast of plots and subplots. The first season was primarily about the (a) Stark family in Westeros and (b) Daenerys Targaryen in primarily the Dothraki Sea.  The Stark family story breaks off into various family members and Lannister characters, particularly Tyrion, having standalone arcs, but half of season one is essentially the story of the dissolution of Stark household, which only becomes more frayed in season two. Daenerys provides the other half, carrying the story almost single handedly and providing the coda for season one. This focus would provide problems for season two.

The showrunners did an admirable job with what they had to work with in an increasingly crowded and disparate story. From what I can tell, they handled Theon Greyjoy’s betrayal of Rob Stark much better than it was in the book—where it was essentially unexplained[3]—helped in no small part by Alfie Allen’s tremendous performance that actually managed to make Theon’s predicament sympathetic despite what a spectacular douchebag he is. Other things they nailed:

  • The Battle of Blackwater Bay: it rubbed some booktrolls the wrong way due to the absence of a giant Tyrion designed chain to trap the attacking ships into river leading into the bay. Given the limited resources, the producers did a fantastic job in this battle scene while also providing the most focused and best episode of the season, possibly of the series thus far, and one that was written by Martin himself.
  • Locations: again this season, the show was beautifully shot, particularly in the Icelandic settings for those scenes north of the Wall. The effects for Harrenhal were haunting. The sets and scenes for the Iron Islands and Renly Baratheon’s camp at Storm’s End were also sharp versus the more closed set feel of much of King’s Landing and Rob’s camp.
  • Dialogue, Most Casting, Performances: these remained sharp as ever and the writers remained focused on the intrigue girding the story that made this, with any faults it had, some of the best television viewing available.

Onto the things that the show could have done differently, which mainly concern the plot, although only this first bullet is something the show definitely stumbled whereas the others are more of a preference:

  • By the far the biggest, problem was the situation surrounding both Bran and Rickon’s supposed demise and Catelyn Stark releasing Jaime Lannister to retrieve her daughters, both of which she believes are being held in King’s Landing. COT drilled this point as a departure from the book and one of the most baffling since the changes the show made did not seem to be done for any reason. In the novel, Bran and Rickon escaped with Osha and Hodor (and their direwolves) and almost immediately doubled back to Winterfell once they had doused their trail in a river. Theon did likewise as show, finding two other children to tar and burn to make it seem like he had killed the two Stark boys. The show was close but not exact to this point in not being able to sell it—few believed that the two had actually been killed. However, if they had committed to it more and hadn’t inexplicably had Theon prevent word of their death from leaving Winterfell by slaughtering ravens[4], when the news reached Robb’s camp, it would have provided a much more compelling reason for a distraught Catelyn to attempt to strike a deal with the Lannisters for her daughters. COT pointed out the emotional import of the season one scene where Robb and Catelyn are in a tearful rage after they discover Ned has been executed. If they were worried about treading the same ground, they could have played this one as more absolute shock and despair, particularly on the part of Catelyn, as the Starks are winning battles but are somehow losing their entire family. What is inexplicable is that taking this course likely wouldn’t have consumed more time or effort on the part of the show, but would have made the story flow better and not made Catelyn’s actions so completely irrational.
  • All of Daenerys’s scenes, which speaks to a larger problem in the season of the multiplication of characters and storylines. Admittedly the showrunners were trapped when they capped season one with Daenerys’ dragons and thus had to factor her in rather consistently into season two. The problem is that George R.R. Martin don’t give a fuck and doesn’t have Daenerys do a whole hell of a lot in the second book, as exemplified in the series. I think the initial episodes’ usage of the comet to transition from place to place was effective, although it would portend a certain short attention span for each storyline in any given episode that hampered the season. Again, as opposed to the first, this season had three distinct storylines:
    • The Night’s Watch incursion beyond the wall with the focus on Jon Snow
    • Daenerys’ struggle to keep her small and weak khalasar together
    • The struggle for territory and power in Westeros, which has several subplots:
      • Robb Stark’s army and Catelyn’s ambassadorship
      • Renly and Stannis Baratheon’s rival claims to the throne and attempts to command an army to lay siege to King’s Landing – the Tyrell’s are mixed up in this
      • The Lannister’s hold on the crown in peril, divided into Tywin’s field command and Tyrion’s stewardship of King’s Landing – Sansa Stark is mixed up in this
      • Arya Stark and Gendry’s journey through Westeros which intersects with the Lannisters
  • Admittedly this is a lot of threads to work together and the show did manage to keep all the plates spinning, for instance working Arya in with Tywin, which led to some memorable scenes and also conserved time by letting the audience know what was happening with both of them simultaneously. However, the show did sacrifice emphasizing the dire conditions are Harrenhaal during Arya’s time there, namely after Tywin arrived, although it did suggest a return to initial conditions under the Mountain when Tywin leaves for King’s Landing. Naturally, the show had to focus on the struggle for territory and power in Westeros since the bulk of the action is had there.
  • The producers could have split each story part into its own episode and established contemporaneous time with a marker such as the advent of the comet. This would have been difficult to manage without seriously confusing people however. Alternatively, they could have blocked off Jon Snow’s and Daenerys’ stories since neither really affects the Westeros power struggle (although both portend to in the future). Giving the two stories each one half of maybe two to three episodes—perhaps one are the beginning and one at the end of the season and marked by something like the comet—would have allowed the showrunners to focus more fully on the Westeros plot without jumping around quite as schizophrenically. This may have led people to question what the hell Dany was up to but in either this case or how the program was actually film the answer is only two things: jack and shit.
  • As for Daenerys actual scenes, it is interesting that they gave her more to do in terms of having her dragons stolen but they failed to elaborate more fully on what exactly Xaro (XXD) was aiming for in a marriage proposal. COT noted that it was supposedly Qarth tradition to grant one’s spouse any request on the wedding day—for Dany it would have been half of XXD’s allegedly fantastic wealth while Dany would have found out he meant to ask for one of her dragons. Dany could have been warned by Quaithe who was discovered by Ser Jorah, instead of bumbling around with only a vague desire for ships. XXD simply had the dragons stolen for Priya Pree in return for control of Qarth, perhaps by maneuvering himself to control each of the Thirteen’s business propositions in the event of their death. In the book, Qarth was controlled by several groups, the main one not even the Thirteen but eliminating this filler was probably wise.
  • Curiously the show also changed the House of the Undying from a long rectangular tent-like structure to a stone tower. It supposedly also substantially changed Dany’s experience there. Previous to entering she had received instruction from Quaithe on how to navigate the labyrinth, which she did not in the show. Secondarily, her experiences were considerably more surrealistic and haunting than the series of tests she went through in the show—the first of which didn’t even seem to be a test as a snow drenched iron throne, in a possible vision of the future under the White Walkers (aka Double Dubs), wasn’t terribly appealing.  In the book Dany also allegedly heard several prophecies, one of which will guide her future actions, though COT admitted it would be difficult to do this in a visual medium without spoiling the story. A longer segment of Dany within the House of the Undying would have been better given this experience was the crux of her story in the second book; however, the show as constructed in the second season made it nearly impossible since they couldn’t do the scene until the finale and had to cram it in next to other plot wrap-ups.
  • A considerably bolder strategy for the producers would have been to produce the battle for Westeros as they had done in the past, but to hand over the other two plot lines to wholly different directors reflecting the very different conditions and, to an extent, concerns of the characters. Budget constraints would have been tight on this unless they could have convinced the directors to muster some alternate capital. For the wintry, mysterious and unsettling scenes in the North, some directors that come to mind with experience in this area are:
    • Tomas Alfredson – directed Let the Right One In, a slow burn in wintry Sweden that is extremely unsettling and deals with moral ambiguity much as Jon Snow encounters in the wilds past the Wall
    • Terry Gilliam – an older director with some decidedly landmark films to his credit (though considerably average of late)  and experience with a largely British production as the sole American member of Monty Python
    • Luc Besson – director of Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element with experience working with an international cast
    • Louis Leterrier – much of his filmography is mediocre at best but Unleashed, which was a collaboration with Besson, was inspired
    • Matt Reeves – Let Me In, which I consider decidedly inferior to the original but Reeves did produce a well shot film
    • Martin McDonagh – definitely makes more modern movies but In Bruges was considerably more dark than the trailer suggests and made use of the cold environment
    • Scott Frank – an accomplished screenwriter who wrote and directed the underappreciated The Lookout
    • Alfonso Cuarón – wrote and directed both Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men, both unconventional films with the latter definitely high concept with wide landscapes and a decided sense of unease running through the entire film
  • Decidedly more expensive directors unless they took to the project :
    • David Fincher – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was haunting in its cold, bleak landscape
    • Michael Mann – has some skill in managing historically distant, natural settings with the powerful Last of the Mohicans. He has extensive experience in television, albeit two decades ago, with Miami Vice and his visual style is always provocative,
    • Chris Nolan – a pipe dream given his time spent with feature films and the Batman trilogy but Insomnia involved both rural environments and mystery.
  • For Dany’s segment, Tarsem Singh, who wrote, directed and largely financed the unique and visually arresting The Fall, would have been a solid choice. His visual style, as well as aversion to CGI, would be excellent for both the unusual land of the Red Waste and Qarth and especially if Dany’s journey in to the House of the Undying were to become suitably surreal. Another possibility for this segment is Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth but likely far more expensive.
  • Cersei’s capture of Tyrion’s personal escort and attempted extortion. In the television version, Cersei mistakenly arrests and flogs Ros, believing her to be Tyrion’s favorite on account of a Lannister Lion necklace she wears[5]. In the book, Tyrion goes through an elaborate ruse to visit Shae at a house separate from the castle, pretending to see another prostitute, who is in league with him, while actually seeing Shae. In the film version, Shae stays in the castle itself with Tyrion (which seems rather reckless given Tywin’s prohibition on it) and becomes one of Sansa’s handmaidens when she becomes bored (also dangerous). The book version may have eaten more time particularly if they had to finagle a way to have Shae wind up in Sansa’s service, which did not occur in the book. However, although Tyrion and Ros have obviously met in the show, their relationship doesn’t seem particularly meaningful whereas in the book when Cersei captures the prostitute who is helping cover from Shae and him, his reaction is a bit more genuine though he is still relieved it isn’t Shae herself. Ros could have easily filled this role in the show and made her abuse at the hands of Cersei more impactful, though it would have been difficult to find how to work Shae into Sansa’s service:
    • Varys discovers her and offers her the position after Tyrion’s deceit with respect to marrying off Myrcella. This would also eliminate him as an informer when Cersei pounces (or perhaps a stronger ally in throwing Cersei off the scent).
  • In the book version of the battle of Blackwater Bay, Tyrion’s masterstroke is not only the wildfire on boats—as opposed to trying to catapult it at the ships—but an enormous chain stretched across the bay to block the attacking ships’ potential retreat from the fire[6]. I personally don’t have a problem with them leaving it out as it stretched credulity and would have been horrendously expensive to depict in any realistic fashion. However, the incident served to strongly reinforce the notion of Tyrion’s engineering genius that the show has only hinted at—Bran’s horse riding brace and the mention of Tyrion’s sewer improvements in one city in his charge. There could have been other attempts to demonstrate this prowess such as the construction of wildfire sea mines sowed by a backup fleet to block the escape or the creation of siphoning mechanisms aboard ships as actually existed for Greek fire and were an integral part of the weapon system, but each would also suffer from the expense of filming it. All in all, a somewhat disappointing omission but an eminently understandable one given budget and time constraints.
  • Jon Snow acting like an idiot. Now, some of this is understandable and even expected given his youth and naiviete, but by the end of the season you realize that Jon has been repeatedly knocked out and had his awesome sword stolen roughly twenty times. The departure from the book occurs when Jon is on the mission with Qhorin Halfhand and, after failing to kill Ygritte, goes chasing after her. In the novel, he merely lets her go and rejoins Qhorin to continue. The group eventually is tracked by the wildlings and is slowly picked off before being captured. In the show, Jon’s dalliance with Ygritte draws Qhorin’s team into a trap when they try to find him, essentially making Snow responsible for the team’s demise. This could have also been the case in the book with Ygritte escaping and leading the wildlings to the group, however Jon appears considerably more bumbling in the show rather than simply being unable to kill an unarmed woman. Granted the show version includes some more interaction between Ygritte and Jon, including the infamous butt wiggle, although this might been accomplished by having them interact after capture in a similar manner. In any event, the show did not quite ram home the point as well that after Jon and Qhorin are seized, Qhorin’s plan is to sacrifice himself to ingratiate Jon to the wildlings to make him an effective spy. I have the sense in the book it was played more deliberately with the two becoming desperate as their squad is picked off by pursuing wildlings until Qhorin concedes capture but telling Jon that he is to make Lord of Bones et al think he is betraying the Night’s Watch by doing anything they ask him to—including eventually killing Qhorin in a fight. In the show, Qhorin has much of the same plan but it is more haphazard and not as convincing as Jon’s battle with Qhorin doesn’t appear to be a test conducted by the wildlings to prove his loyalty as much as a defense from Qhorin’s sudden attack.
  • Some smaller things:
    • The white walker special effects. Oh man, the wights and the zombie horse have been pretty eerie but unfortunately the showrunners went full CGI for the White Walkers. A solid rule for those trying to create a terrifying creature: don’t use CGI. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King alluded to early film special effects that if the audience saw the monster costume’s zipper, they immediately lost interest; this was an analogy for horror in general in that if the suspension of disbelief broke even slightly the audience’s engagement and terror dropped exponentially. CGI, while excellent in this show for the dragons, which aren’t meant to be particularly unsettling, are typically not effective for creepy entities. Even more confusing was that the white walkers basically resemble humans, albeit with exposed jaws and whatnot, but all things that would appear to be fully able to do with more traditional make-up and effects. CGI is almost always a great big zipper for unsettling images—the eye doesn’t buy it as real and loses a sense of revulsion. This doesn’t matter as much for the clearly fantastical or comically amazing (as with the dragons in Game of Thrones, so with the effects in The Avengers or Avatar). One major motion picture to screw this up in a similar way was I Am Legend, an all-around decent film with a solid performance from Will Smith wrecked by horrendous and inexplicable use of CGI for the main enemy (N.B. that is the final scene in the film). Compare this with the marauding creatures in the significantly lower budget The Descent which largely avoided CGI in favor of humans in costume and advantageous camera angles.
    • Even in the realm of CGI, there is a gap between the white walkers:

    • Budget is an ongoing concern with the show and CGI may be cheaper than putting someone into make-up sufficient to create a Double Dub—and hopefully this was the case where they chose not to do it for a brief shot at the end of the season but will revert to more traditional make-up (or at least higher quality CGI) when the walkers appear again. However, continuing with the current CGI, while possibly less expensive, mars one of the most important aspects of the series, which appears, in my mind, to be an ultimate battle between the dragons against an invading horde of white walkers whose primary weakness seems to be flames—a song of ice and fire. And yet budget doesn’t even seem plausible as they seemed to use make-up (or least better CGI) on the goddamn horse:

    • Cersei’s anger at Tyrion marrying Myrcella off to Dorn. Although it made some sense given the fact that Tyrion did not consult her and the act served as an ugly reminder that Cersei herself had been married off for political reasons, one would have thought that she would have been at least relieved that Myrcella was being placed out of range of Stannis’ potential wrath. However, what is not explained by the show, as mentioned by COT, is that apparently during the Lannister-Bartheon-Stark overthrow of the Targaryens, one of the Dorn ruling family members was brutally killed by Lannister men. Despite the fact that such grudges seem to be often buried for political reasons (Tyrion demonstrates this to Baelish as he announces his possible intention to wed Myrcella to a family that tried to have him killed only months ago), it would explain why Cersei wasn’t at least comforted concerning Myrcella’s safety.
    • It is difficult to determine was is going on in most of Westeros during the war and why the situation in King’s Landing is so bleak, aside even from the threat of Stannis. We get some sense that the Mountain is wreaking havoc amongst the countryside and even the Stark bannermen are ruthless (as Brienne’s eventual slaying of three Stark-allied marauders would attest) but we have less of a sense of the loss of law and order that has led to unchecked attacks by roving bandits or deserted soldiers. This could have been demonstrated more fully in the Arya scenes as COT explained in the book the Night’s Watch party repeatedly passes through deserted and destroyed towns on their way north before running into the Lannister soldiers. Likewise the tightening food supply in King’s Landing that resulted from similar conditions in the south could have been more fully discussed in Small Council sessions or elsewhere, which seem to focus more on the threat of Stannis/Renly and Joffrey’s depredations, both important topics but no less than the civil unrest in the city—which exploded in a riot against the royal party and the deaths of several of them.

Character power rankings for season two (actor’s actual age next to their name):

  1. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage, 42): though not remotely as out of nowhere as Michael K. Williams portrayal of Omar Devon Little in The Wire (Dinklage had already starred in the excellent, if indie, The Station Agent), Dinklage’s performance thus far for GOTR is shaping up to be one of the defining ones of post-2000 television. All of his interactions were strong, particularly his growing and budding relationships with Bronn and Lord Varys. Just fucking crushing it.
  2. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen, 26): I noted Allen’s work earlier and almost put him prior to Dinklage
  3. Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie): her portrayal of rather difficult to cast and pull-off Brienne seemed to please the COTs folks. She wonderfully demonstrated the strength, awkwardness and insecurity of the complicated character.Her nascent interaction with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s (42) always entertaining Jaime Lannister portended good things for the upcoming seasons. I decided to put the rather limited Jaime here, since many of his strongest scenes came with Brienne, aside from his discussions with Catelyn and when he murders his cousin.
  4. Bronn (Jerome Flynn, 49): he continued to compliment Tyrion brilliantly as his hired sword and at times the voice of pessimistic, pragmatic rebuke.
  5. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner, 16): Turner, who seems to get taller every episode, added more nuance to her walking-on-eggshells role as Sansa and rose to the more challenging version of the role that this season demanded.
  6. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams, 15): she had excellently chemistry with Gendry (Joe Dempsie, 25) and, in a surprising departure from the book, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance, 66). The young actors and actresses in this show continue to be a real strength, whereas all too often in other programs and films they wind up being a liability. Dempsie played a supporting role but was strong in it. COTs criticized Dance’s Tywin as softening up the ruthless tyrant through his verbal sparring with Arya. I included both of these characters in with Arya since they primarily played off her—and of course, the character who always brings a knight to a battle, Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey).
  7. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleason, 20) – COT explained it cogently that if you seriously disliked Joffrey, it was a great acting performance because you are supposed to hate him. It is sort of funny that Turner is still a teenager but looks as old or older than the twenty year old Gleason.
  8. Ygritte (Rose Leslie, 25) – largely saved Jon Snow’s character from being too annoying and set up some interesting moral conundrums for both herself and Snow in the coming season
  9. Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha, 39) – excellent casting and execution for this character. His game of death with Arya was one of the strongest ongoing plots of the season. And he kicked a chicken.
  10. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey, 39): Headey artfully displayed Cersei’s growing despondency in being unable to reign in her increasingly horrible boy-king as well as her great love for her own children, while not softening her own despicable qualities
  11. Sandor Clegane “The Hound” (Rory McCann, 43) – the Hound expanded quite a bit and McCann did a fine job in expressing the character’s bizarre protectiveness he feels toward Sansa that he quite doesn’t know how to deal with.
  12. Petyr Baelish “Little Finger” (Aidan Gillen, 44): Baelish became a bit more one-dimensional in his assholishness, partly due to the writers’ constant reminders to the audience (threatening Ros, traveling all over looking to make alliances behind everyone’s back). Still Gillen had a remarkable ability to make Baelish seem like a decent person to more trusting acquaintances, which he eminently is not.
  13. Lord Varys “The Spider” (Conleth Hill, 48) – liked Varys a lot more this season as he seemed to be a more nuanced character who may actually have the safety of the realm as his primary goal. Also his growing report, and even budding friendship, with Tyrion was excellent.
  14. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington, 26) – I mentioned the idiocy issue with Snow and Harrington seemed to be emo’ing pretty hard most of the season, but his interactions with Ygritte made up for many of the shortfalls.
  15. Shae (Sibel Kekilli, 32) – Shae’s dialogue still seems a little wooden though her relationship with Tyrion became more intriguing.
  16. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) – I blame the writer’s for running this character into the ground despite Fairley’s efforts
  17. Robb Stark (Richard Madden, 26) – not a ton of depth and becoming ensorcelled by Talisa was a difficult sell. Robb’s wife in the book (who is not Talisa) was also a nurse but one that happened to care for him when he was injured in battle, making the relationship more intimate and less like an obvious spying attempt
  18. Bran Stark (Issac Hempstead Wright) and Art Packinson (Rickon Stark) – these kids did a fine job in both their bewilderment with Theon’s betrayal and their despondency when Theon kills Rodrick
  19. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) – providing some expository dialogue as well as one of the few Night’s Watchmen to actually show interest in women, Samwell was again played well in his limited though interesting role. Not sure why he wasn’t immediately killed by the Double Dubs at the end of season though.
  20. Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham, 51) – Cunningham is one of the more established actors in the cast and played Ser Davos well. He was blown clean off his ship in the wildfire strike but I would imagine we see him again.
  21. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter, 69) – was great in his care of his wards at Winterfell and even his impassioned plea for Theon to give up his mad power trip and join the Night’s Watch
  22. Craster (Robert Pugh, 62) – Mr. Pugh you play a fine creepshow. Craster was played exactly right, someone trying to overcompensate with swagger for all the horrible shit he’s doing.
  23. Osha (Natalie Tena, 28) – the actress did a fine job though Osha seems something like a place-filler rather than a main driver of the plot. The bizarre scene where Maester Luwin notices her creeping around in broad daylight didn’t help matters.
  24. Hodor (Kristain Nairn): Hodor.
  25. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, 25) – unfortunately the talented actress only really showed some range in the final episode as she spent most of the season whining or rehashing the same problems. However, her brief scene with Jason Momoa’s Drogo was heart-wrenching.
  26. Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen, 51) – same deal with Daenerys, just not much to work with here.
  27. Ros (Esmé Bianco, 30) – Bianco showed more emotion this season but in peculiar places although the final season portended a possibly larger role for her as an ally of Lord Varys.
  28. Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) – very well played for a brief role in shaming Alfie Allen’s Theon and goading him into eminently stupid maneuvers.
  29. Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo, 64) – we didn’t see much of him this season beyond his annoyance at Jon Snow’s bumbling as well as his discomfort at dealing with Craster.
  30. Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) – a continuation of last season’s fine performance of a fine politician but lacking in warrior credentials. His utter disgust at Margaery Tyrell’s advances and his interactions with his brother Stannis were fascinating scenes.
  31. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer, 30) – a very calculating character and Dormer’s performance was spot on, particularly in her purely functional sex scene with Renly.
  32. Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) – Yara was an interesting character but we didn’t quite see enough of her. Still her ability to switch from sarcastically brutal warship captain to seemingly caring sister was impressive.
  33. Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon, 20) – Tyrion’s manipulation of Lancel was hilarious and Simon captured both Lancel’s petulance and his position several steps behind everyone else’s scheming.
  34. Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin, 26) – a confusing character that appears to be the concatenation of two different characters from the book (Rob’s wife is a nurse but isn’t the character Talisa, and being a nurse she helped his recovery after being injured in battle and they fell in love in that way). Although the hook for Talisa was her challenging of Rob’s sense of justice in his war, the relationship pretext was somewhat flimsy given the risks involved—angering the Frays, the possibility of Talisa being a spy or just the complete lack of knowledge of her background or allegiances.
  35. Melisandre (Carice van Houten, 36) – I thought Melisandre was overacted to an extent and every scene with her seemed to be a bit melodramatic. Still, shadow baby.
  36. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane, 56): partly due to the fact that Stannis is simply a boring, black and white character, this performance wasn’t lacking but then again didn’t have much to bring. Curiously, Dillane seemed to be rather unimposing for a brooding, uncompromising and brutally effective general that was suggested in season one. The ridiculous though tantalizing off-season rumors of Gerard Butler in the role did nothing to help this perception.
  37. “Dolorous” Eddison Tollet (Ben Crompton, 38) – a small role as a bit of dark comic relief in the Night’s Watch and Crompton did a solid job. The character and delivery reminded me somewhat of Marvin’s role in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  38. Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) – Pyat Pree was delightfully vicious and spooky with a death scene that defined the way the go out on this program.
  39. Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones, 24) – limited but his anger at Renly’s murder was powerful.
  40. Dagmer Cleftjaw (Ralph Ineson, 43) – always great when some salty asshole repeatedly goads Theon into being reckless seemingly for his own amusement.
  41. Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover, 77) – creepy as ever
  42. Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) – Hey Roose, you’re scaring us.
  43. Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) – well done in a limited role.
  44. Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie, 33) – an interesting character who’s motivations weren’t sufficiently explored—Anozie did a fine job of playing his cards fairly close to vest while communicating some hard truths to Dany. And why was he seemingly completely unguarded by any compatriots after slaughtering the thirteen and becoming king of the city?
  45. Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) – see you on the Wall, asshole.
  46. Ser Illyn Payne (Wilko Johnson) – Hey Ser Illyn, Podrick is way cooler than you. He stabbed a guy through the fucking face.
  47. Quaithe (Laura Pradelska) – what the fuck was with her? I feel this character had potential but was never properly utilized or explained.

Placeholders:

  • Grenn (Mark Stanley)
  • Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman – according to IMDB, he has “a powerful baritone singing voice”)
  • Tommen Baratheon (Callum Wharry)
  • Myrcella Baratheon (Aimee Richardson)

Way to die, assholes:

  • The Tickler (Anthony Morris)
  • The Spice King (Nicholas Blane)
  • Loomy Greenhands (Eros Vlahos, 17)
  • Doreah (Roxanne McKee, 32)
  • Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie, 56)
  • Irri (Amrita Acharia)
  • Rakharo (Elyes Gabel, 29)

Predictions of a sort:

  • Hotpie’s thousand year reign as lord of the seven kingdoms begins next season.
  • I have no idea what Dany is up to next season. Although, the way the show played it, couldn’t she have revealed the plot of XXD and Pyat Pree (good band name) and her successful quashing of it, become ruler (at least in part, possibly taking over the some of the business ventures of the thirteen, or at least having Ser Jorah do so) and bidding her time building resources for an army and protecting the dragons behind the high walls of Qarth until they became fire-spewing death machines?
  • Rob is fucked. To take a line from every horror movie ever, why was marrying Talisa a bad idea? Because it’s really obviously a bad idea.
  • What the hell is going on in Winterfell and what are the Boltons up to? I would imagine that the Boltons might have turned on the Starks to play an advantage while their main force was in the South. Why? Roose wants to know what Rob looks like without skin BECAUSE HE IS FUCKED IN THE HEAD.
  • George RR Martin describes Arya and Gendry’s relationship in graphic detail and inappropriately too early. HBO avoids this like it’s a nuclear device or something. I actually get the impression that despite Martin’s willingness to use creepy sex in his books, Arya and Gendry’s friendship doesn’t take the turn this direction any time soon—more of a brother-sister thing (like her relationship with Jon Snow).
  • Sansa Stark’s position becomes increasingly precarious given her main protectors—Tyrion, Shae and the Hound—have lost most of their power or disappeared. However, she’s smart enough to stave off Lord Baelish’s also inappropriate advances unless she somehow is able to bring someone along to guarantee her safety. I have a strange idea that Ser Loras pursues her, despite her traitor blood and in part because he likes her and feels somewhat abashed at pushing her out as queen in favor of his sister. Ser Loras strikes me as similar to his sister in his pragmatism—though his feelings for Renly were considerably more genuine than Margaery’s, there was an element that the relationship was undertaken to promote the interests of the Tyrell family. He seems like he could be a switch-hitter and showed some affection, possibly only feigned, for Sansa in the season one jousting scene where he handed her a flower before his match (she also displayed, rather unthinkingly, affection for him in worriedly pleading with his father not to allow the Mountain to hurt him). This one is a stretch, but it has an interesting ring to it. Ser Loras seems uninterested in the throne without Renly in the mix and his family’s position is secure with his sister’s ascension. Naturally a courting of Sansa would likely be frowned upon, though it wouldn’t have to be formal or overt, potentially more in the vein of the Hound’s own protection of Sansa. Also possible that at some point he joins with Brienne to hunt down Stannis.
  • Speaking of Stannis, he and the fire witch set about making more shadow babies and Ser Davos, like Lord Varys, becomes increasingly concerned about the reliance on the Lord of Light.
  • Jon Snow and Ygritte bump uglies, or at least engage in some heavy non-direwolf petting. Jon’s position becomes more isolated when the double dubs nearly wipe out the Night’s Watch force, a small contingent of which repel annihilation with the obsidian knives. The Night’s Watch, who have made deals with more unsavory characters in the past and have some intelligence from Jon Snow to fall back on, ally with Mance Rayder’s considerably larger wildling force and retreat to the Wall having realized the extent of the double dub threat.
  • A reinvigorated Tywin Lannister consolidates his position and finally scores a victory against an increasingly distracted Rob Stark, forcing him to retreat North. The Lannister-Tyrell alliance shows little interest in pursuing Rob Stark, content to harass his southernmost bannermen with the Mountain’s raiders and letting the Greyjoys and possibly the Boltons sap his strength with their own raids while they rebuild their strength in the south and deal with the lingering threat of Stannis. The Lannister alliance also becomes aware that Rob has lost Jaime and eventually discovers Brienne and Jaime. Jaime negotiates Brienne’s safety from Lannister swords having seen her prowess as a warrior, as well as her potentially useful hatred of Stannis or lack of strong allegiance to the Starks. Ser Loras and Tyrion are sent north with Sansa to negotiate a truce with Rob, although this may be trap. Tywin remains irate when he finds out that Arya is unaccounted for.
  • Arya stumbles in the camp where these negotiations are being held (possibly at the Twins) but does not play her Bravosian coin this season.
  • Rob surprisingly concludes the negotiations ceding most territory to the Lannister alliance in exchange for his sister and free reign in Winterfell and surrounding lands, in part because he has received word from Jon Snow about the situation beyond the Wall (as well as the relative safety of Osha, Bran, Rickon and Hodor who have arrived there) and that he needs his southern flank secure to put down the Greyjoy and Bolton rebellions. The Lannister alliance allows Rob to remain in a position of power in part because they trust the Greyjoys and Boltons far less than the more honorable Starks and likewise need a secure northern flank to focus on crushing Stannis. They, except for Tyrion, place no stock in the grave warnings from the Wall and make no offer to help in that regard. The Lannister gambit to destroy Stannis goes about as well as Stannis’ invasion of King’s Landing.
  • Unfortunately these predictions don’t incorporate any other families or new characters and thus are seriously lacking. Except for the Hotpie prognostication. Hotpie is invincible. And everyone loves pie.

[1] Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for instance, was a valiant attempt but largely missed the book’s dry satirical vision

[2] Albeit the podcasters generally react to roughly 90% of the female nudity as scandalous and anti-female. For instance, the creepy sex watching of Little Finger in his brothel was deemed unnecessary. Although designed to titillate to certain extent, there wasn’t anything terribly pornographic or lingering. Moreover, the purpose of the scene was more to demonstrate Little Finger’s watchfulness and willingness to use anything he came across to his advantage, including betraying his clients if it came to that. They also heavily objected to the “play with her ass” scene as completely unnecessarily pornographic. The scene did have some important exposition inasmuch as Baelish reveals his desire for Katelyn Stark and some back story to the point where he challenged her first intended husband (Ned Stark’s brother) to a duel that he certainly would have lost given his lack of martial ability and stature. But then he points out, as the two prostitutes are performing on one another, that although he can’t fight his enemies he can fuck them. He also instructs the ladies in seduction in pretending to let one’s guard down and convincing someone else you have let them into your confidence. Indeed, this scene depicts that Little Finger, as he is no warrior nor high-born has to manipulate his way to power much as the women in Westeros do—by using sex or, less directly, people’s emotions and trust. Also, there seems to be the perception that the equivalent of a woman bearing her breasts was a man whipping out his dick. People, societal reproach (particularly in the U.S.) at the sight of tits aside, the corollary of a woman’s bare breast is a man without his shirt on—male nipples are essentially vestigial female organs  (Live Science puts it more bluntly). This is also a show that had three half-naked young men standing around getting their hair cut, just bro’ing out and Gendry flexing with a sword for no reason  other than providing Chris Hansen with some fodder for doing it in front of a 12 year old girl. The female nudity outweighs the male but this door definitely swings both ways. Then again, Howard Hughes may have had a point.

[3] Apparently chapters in the book are all written from a particular character’s point of view and since Theon does have a viewpoint, his motivations are not depicted.

[4] If no one could know, why even pretend to kill them in the first place? That is, if one is trying to demonstrate strength, has does something barely anyone knows about accomplish that

[5] This piece of jewelry was in fact remarked upon by Theon in season one and not retconned as initially claimed by COT

[6] By the way, although there is a certain ethereal quality to it given its green color, wildfire is probably a reference to the real world Greek Fire, which, according to an excellent article on io9, was likely an early version of napalm (COT seemed unclear on the point, but  napalm does in fact explode in similar fashion as Tyrion’s wildfire ship in the episode). Wildfire and Greek fire were both closely guarded secrets and Greek fire on at least two historical occasions was instrumental in defeating superior naval forces. Curiously via the same io9 article, Song of Ice and Fire’s Valerian steel may also have a real world corollary itself in Damascus steel.

17
Jul
12

OBR – MLB at the Break

Taking a look at the putatively best hitters in the National and the American leagues is a likely a tradition amongst those with a touch too many minutes on the clock lying about–meaning this blog is going to the rodeo. I have previously constructed a hitter ranking based on the top 40 (by batting average) individual players’ stats aggregated to produce an average and standard deviation and then producing a z-score for each player. A more  refined approach takes each team’s total statistics to produce a more comprehensive, and less skewed towards high performers, average and standard deviation than that garnered by merely the top 40 players.

In choosing which stats to compare, I tried to eliminate those with significant correlations with other stats. For instance, OPS and ISOP was eliminated due to their high correlation with the more widely quoted slugging percentage. Eventually the following set of hitting stats was used, derived from ESPN data:

  • Batting Average
  • On-Base Percentage [(H + BB + HBP)/(AB + BB + HBP + SF)]
  • Slugging Percentage
  • Runs Created (calculated with the more complex formula described by wikipedia rather than ESPN’s, though the two sets of numbers are fairly close. Situational hitting nor the team adjustment as described by wiki were not used due to lack of volition and data. Note that runs created have a high correlation to BA, OBP and SLG–plus 0.80–but included it as a proxy, and hopefully a more descriptive one, for the more common RBIs. For the average and standard deviation based on team statistics ZJX simply used a team’s total runs divided by an assumed 11 players)
  • Secondary Average (A way to look at a player’s extra bases gained, independent of Batting Average = (TB – H + BB + SB – CS) / AB)
  • HR/AB (HR/AB were employed rather than the more oft-quoted AB/HR due to the fact that if a player had no home runs the stat would revert to zero instead of an error term due to dividing by zero)
  • BB/K
  • K/AB
  • ISOP/(K/AB) (this combination examines power statistics versus strikeouts–the tradeoff weakness for some power hitters)

I am trying, poorly at that, in reinventing the wheel already created by an even more comprehensive statistic: Wins Above Replacement. Regardless, I’ve always been intrigued by the z-score process, namely the number of standard deviations a player’s statistic is above an average player’s. This of course makes the assumption that hitting stats conform to a normal distribution.

For the National League, the highly paid Joey Votto appeared to be earning by the all-star break:

For the American League, designated hitter David Ortiz took the top spot by a wide margin over Edward Encarnacion:

Combining the statistics of both leagues (by using all MLB teams) is somewhat misleading not only because of the designated hitter rule but also given the each league faces different pitching. However, on that basis, Ortiz beats out Votto by less than three points:

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

For all the World Series wins, Joe Dimaggio is best remembered for his improbable 56 game hitting streak, if not his tumultuous marriage to icon Marilyn Monroe, which brought a very private man into a highly public relationship.  However, a lesser known DiMaggio stat is equally, if not more, impressive. DiMaggio, a member of the 300 home run club, drove 361 balls out of the park over his 13 year career (in which he missed the prime years of 28-30 due to the Second World War) but struck out just 369 times for a HR/K ratio of 0.978. That is, DiMaggio, a formidable power hitter, had almost as many home runs as strikeouts, typically the bane of power hitters. The top five home run hitters–Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez, who all have solid career OBPs–don’t go any higher than 0.546 (Aaron).  For those over 300 home runs, the top ten in HR/K:

  1. Joe DiMaggio (NYY): 0.978 (361 HR)
  2. Yogi Berra (NYY): 0.865 (358)
  3. Ted Williams (BOS): 0.735 (521)
  4. Johnny Mize (STL/NYG/NYY): 0.685 (359)
  5. Stan Musial (STL): 0.682 (475)
  6. Lou Gehrig (NYY): 0.624 (493)
  7. Albert Pujols (STL/LAA): 0.618 (459)
  8. Chuck Klein (PHI/CHC): 0.576 (300)
  9. Mel Ott (NYG): 0.570 (511)
  10. Hank Aaron (ATL): 0.546 (755)

For baseball, the home run and the strikeout represent the extremes of volatility in hitting achievement–scoring a run single-handedly and causing an out without even putting the ball in play (or even really connecting with the ball, at least on the final strike). This excludes hitting into a double (or even triple) play, but that is subject to situational factors not to mention the opposing team’s defensive prowess.

In that spirit of capturing those that were able to balance the extremes favorably, I replaced the traditional triple crown of AVG/HR/RBI to a bit more in-depth statistics of OPS/(HR/K)/Runs Created. For this year, in the NL, only Andrew McKutcheon (2nd OPS, 2nd RC, 5th HR/K) and Ryan Braun (5th OPS, 4th RC, 3rd HR/K) appear in serious contention at the break. In the AL, perhaps unsurprisingly, David Ortiz is in the clear pole position at 2nd (by a thin margin) in OPS, 1st in RC, and 1st in HR/K. Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano and Edwin Encarnacion are honorable mentions finishing in the top five in two categories and the top eight in the third.

19
Jan
12

BCS Don’t Care

Another year of the BCS system has passed again, stumbling to an unsatisfying end. The horrendous game played by LSU and Alabama (the second abortion not the first) can hardly be blamed on the lack of a playoff system but one is left wondering what manner of games we might have seen if the teams were pitted against other schools. Using an 8-team playoff format with the final pre-bowl BCS rankings, we would have seen these games:

This would have produced at least one contest that already had taken place: Stanford-Oregon, in which Oregon won handily 53-30. Assuming LSU would make quick work of Kansas State (who fell to Arkansas 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl, a team LSU had beaten earlier in the season), the Tigers and Ducks would meet in a repeat of the season opener LSU took 40-27 and was played in a less-than-even “neutral” location due to the relative proximities of Baton Rouge and Salem to Dallas. So, for all the hand-wringing over a rematch game, that might have occurred multiple times in an eight team playoff.

This isn’t to say that such a playoff isn’t warranted as much as a BCS produced replay in and of itself isn’t a sufficient argument for one. Five games with championship implications after the regular season can be said to be better than one meaningful game that takes place after a month-plus hiatus for both teams and when non-affiliated fans forgot that this college football business was still trudging along. Why the bowl system, for all its harangues about tradition, has seen fit to fuck the historical schedule of an orgy of New Year’s Day bowls for a splattering of pomp and circumstance contests punctuated by an anticlimax during early grey days of another dismal January when resolutions’ luster has already jumped the shark, is a question only the hypocrites don’t fully appreciate. Speaking of tradition, having not myself, nor having anyone in my immediate family, attend a university known for football is probably why the tradition aspect is lost on me. The universities in closest distance to my childhood home have fielded mostly mediocre teams, albeit with a memorable instance of a number 1 ranking lasting less than a fortnight. While I enjoy it when this team succeeds, I hardly call myself a fan of any particular school, or even conference. I find the trumped up traditions of any conference annoying, though it’s always fascinating to see institutions of higher learning administer themselves a rimjob by naming divisions “Legends” and “Der Furhers”. My focus is then mainly on watching compelling football games—which does not include, ex ante at least, virtually any bowl game outside the national championship—and is why I find a playoff scenario so enticing: teams that wouldn’t normally face-off playing each other for a shot at the national title rather than the Chick-Fil-A trophy.

(Please don’t ban me Chick-Fil-A. I need you so much. IN ME.)

There is always the old bromide that college football has the most compelling regular season because “every game counts”. A playoff system can account for this to some extent; for instance it could mandate that the first round of games be played at the higher seed’s home field (an option suggested by Sports Illustrated years ago). The Wall Street Journal’s Darren Everson referring to college football’s regular season as “unique” doesn’t tell us much other than the system is singular in its idiocy. Indeed college football’s regular season, now with the BCS rankings in place, is in fact a convoluted playoff system in which major conferences are favored by the humans and algorithms that eventually spit out two top teams from the hash. Its uniqueness lies in its obvious arbitrary nature and, while even an eight team playoff would be subject to questions surrounding which teams were and were not included, distinguishes itself by conspicuously avoiding highly ranked teams from different conferences face off from one another in games bearing on the national championship.

Everson addresses the eight-team playoff in a fictitious universe that intends to poke fun at this supposed alternate system of do-overs by demonstrating how devoid of meaning Iowa State’s upset of Oklahoma State, Oregon’s loss by USC, Boise State’s loss to TCU would be in a world of playoffs. This excludes from the argument that in the BCS system, ALABAMA GOT A FUCKING DO-OVER, which was becoming apparent at the time the article was written. More than that, LSU was disadvantaged in victory by having to play another game (the SEC championship) in which it could have lost again, possibly excluding it from BCS contention or, even in a win, could have suffered major injury to key players. Everson doesn’t seem to have a problem with this bonus ball as it was, to rearrange his phrase, without question the best possible match-up based on a qualitative judgment, which, as far as I can gather, is like saying “it is without question that this is in my mind the best possible match-up”. Peter King would be proud. I think. Then again aren’t we all just making subjective statements of preference here? (see two paragraphs about on my lack of conference allegiance)

FUCK IT ALL.

My point is here if you’re going to make a snide commentary about the ludicrous nature of the do-over playoff clusterfuck, don’t promptly praise a do-over championship two weeks later. And pointing to the fact that Alabama took advantage of its second chance is a fantastic way to miss the fucking point.

Going for broke, Everson also assumes that all playoff games will be at bowl game locations (which isn’t a terrible assumption given the primacy of the bowl system but contradicts some playoff suggestions) and that many fan bases wouldn’t sell out early games out of fear they wouldn’t have money to travel to later games. This is after the sell-out in Dallas (a good seven hours away from Baton Rouge) in LSU’s season opener. If they can sell that out, why couldn’t—oh fuck it.

Then again this is the person who earlier in the fall wrote another satirical column in which begins:

The initial Bowl Championship Series standings came out Sunday, and the evil lords of college football are at it again. Their polls, their computers and their fear of Kellen Moore are once again disenfranchising undefeated teams across the country. Where does one even begin outlining the myriad outrages?

SARCASM. I HAS IT. Keep in mind this is before many teams were into the heart of their schedules. Witness:

Kansas State Wildcats (6-0, No. 11 BCS): The Big 12 has a true round-robin schedule—that is, all 10 conference teams play each other—so, in theory, Kansas State has its chance to upset conference mates Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and move up. But still: 11th? How are the undefeated Wildcats supposed to feel good about themselves with such an insulting ranking? If the Sooners or Cowboys drub K-State like they have in recent years, that’s what I’m blaming it on. (Not the 114th-ranked passing game.)

How can you get an insulting ranking before playing the strongest teams on your own schedule? Who would ever make this argument? I suppose this is meant to be a corollary to small conference teams (e.g. Houston this year) never being able to play a top tier team, going undefeated (not so much Houston) and then complaining about a lack of respect but in K-State’s case they are going to play top tier teams. This lack of respect is moot by the time the BCS rankings decide the national championship contestants. Everson more or less admits this in the same paragraph. You can’t poke fun at a situation or team if your trenchant observation makes no sense. Everson basically says, “well if K-State runs the table, they deserve to have a national championship shot but now they might feel some disrespect even though they likely don’t care and…I have no comment”. As far as I can tell, he wrote this column to take the opportunity to disparage any team not in the SEC and used the BCS as cover. This paragraph in particular makes sense only if used as toilet paper. For your mind because the paragraph itself is in your mind–

Wait, hang on, the hell is–

Hmm. Hopefully that paint’s non-allergenic. She could get a nasty rash.

Where was I, oh–

Having finished trolling Darren Everson, who is probably a good and decent man that gives substantial amounts to charity while I shop for a new pair of boots so the poor and downtrodden don’t get my feet dirty when I trod on their backs, other daring scenarios for a true playoff system, separated cleanly from the regular season as opposed to the +1 circle jerk we knock one out in presently, could include either of the following:

Although the eight team playoff with the first round played at the higher seed’s home field is likely the best, or at least the most feasible, format, a sixteen team playoff (or something very close) is used by other college divisions and lends us an extra week of football—much like how traditional bowl systems and Barney’s film had heart, playoff systems have more football and “Football in the Groin” had a football in the groin. Any more than this and the playoffs become almost another season which would only serve to fuel traditionalist criticisms of regular season games losing gravitas and might perhaps create too much of a workload for supposedly amateur athletes.

Along the same lines a 12-team format (so it would include all the top ten teams) would mirror the NFL’s practice of giving the top four teams byes, thus making their reward considerably higher:

Finally, a more ambitious scenario would move further in the direction of the current trend of mega-conferences that have little to do geographic location or even traditional rivalries, but more with money in the form of TV contracts and potential bowl appearances. Starting from the old conferences prior to the shifts of Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big Ten (but keeping Utah in now the Pac-11), the six primary BCS conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, Big East, ACC and SEC) would absorb the remaining 54 FBS teams to form the major conferences. Below is a possible resulting realignment. Although the conferences aren’t symmetrical in terms of number of teams, conferences could be split into two divisions (most already are) and games could be played so that every team plays 10 games entirely within their own conference mainly against teams from their own division. Exceptions would include those conferences with 8 teams in each division (would have to play 2 teams from the other division). For those with an uneven number of teams between divisions, the 8/9 conferences would have the 8 division play one team from the 9 while replaying one team from the 8 (or possibly going out of conference) with the similar rules for the 9/10:

The winners of each division would then play a conference championship game (possibly all in one weekend given all teams play the same number of games). Conference winners would then be placed into a Champions League consisting of six teams that would all play one another one time. The team with the best record would win. In the event of a tie record, the head to head match-up would determine the winner. For any one team, the maximum number of games is sixteen, two or three more than many teams played this year, with most ranked teams between 12-13 regular season games and a bowl game.

Bold, novel and disastrous. Even if the six conferences could be created (highly unlikely given the money at stake in television contracts), it would be even less likely that teams would agree to a round robin that would likely create a number of throwaway games, not to mention what the remaining college teams would do in the meantime (bowls are always a possibility—not like they’d be of lower worth than they already are). Moreover, with six teams and five games apiece, this would leave an uneven number of home-away games, which could be solved with neutral site games, although there isn’t an obvious way in which this would be decided. This is the hardest to conceive of not only because of the unorthodox schedule but also the gargantuan realignment that would have to take place. However, the primary, and possibly sole, compelling aspect of this design is that rankings would not play a role at all in determining either playoff entrants or a national champion. It would all be decided in conference and champions league play. This wouldn’t necessarily completely relieve complaining as many might argue that one conference (or even division—as was often the case in the Big 12 or SEC) was stacked with several teams that cannibalized each other while weaker divisions were able to send teams to the Champions League. However, the counterargument would follow that this assertion would be confirmed by dominance in the Champions League by the team from the power conference.

The BCS has driven me to madness, my babies.

As a postscript, don’t weep for your loss, Boise State, the world will always have Blount-Hout 2009:

26
Aug
11

Letting the Right Remake Get Made

A remake, reboot or reinterpretation of a foreign film for the American market likely has pecuniary interests at heart—more exactly, the most riskless money possible. Idyllically that would not necessarily be the primary impetus with either a translation or a simple remake of an older film, or at least not at the expense of a main goal of expanding upon or reinterpreting the existing film, or perhaps simply executing a novel idea better than the original. The Ring was a solid example of the latter while The Departed (the script based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs) was one of the former, with both succeeding commercially.  However, frequently, no chances in variation on the theme were taken in a remake—rather a slicker and more action oriented veneer was applied to get some American asses in the seats and dollars out of wallets. With ready-made buzz, this is theoretically a straightforward prospect, though as an old adage intimates, practice and hypothesis don’t always follow former behind latter.

Of all the movies were this pitfall has been exemplified, the translation of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) to Matt Reeves’ Let Me In is one of the more sympathetic.  While the original film itself was adapted from a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it is, on its own merits, a brilliant horror film, that received recognition on the festival circuit though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences snubbed it even for a nomination. Although Reeves’ opus is a game effort, quite faithful to the original, it ultimately failed in its endeavor and, not inconsequentially, at the box office. It also lacked anything more to say about the story of a vampiric young girl and her relationship to an adolescent boy.

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Let the Right One In’s strength lies in as much what it only suggests as in what it demonstrates to the audience. The main focus is the peculiar relationship between the young boy, Oskar, and vampire girl, Eli. Oskar is played competently by Kåre Hedebrant while the vampire role of Eli (pronounced EE-lee) is owned by the haunting and almost impossibly thin Lina Leandersson. Trying to reconcile a being that is decades (perhaps hundreds) of years old residing in a young and innocent frame masks her manipulation of Oskar, though her machinations are considerably clearer with her “father”, a man who kills on her behalf in order to satisfy her need for human blood. The film only suggests that this father figure has some sort of romantic relationship with Eli, as it is never established exactly what kind it is or when it started. Let Me In treats the issue more ham-handedly by clearly showing an old photo booth picture of the young vampire (in this version “Abby”) and a young boy (“Owen”), which is obviously her supposed “father”. In both films, the father begs Eli/Abby not to hang out with the boy (Oskar/Owen) again, suggesting a jilted lover, and in each case Eli/Abby responds by gently caressing his cheek but doing so anyway. The inexact nature of the relationship made this interaction much more unsettling in the original than in the remake. Likewise, Eli’s eventual designs to use Oskar as a replacement are only hinted at where Abby’s plans seem explicit in the remake.

By a similar token, in both films Eli/Abby’s “father” is captured while attempting to kill a teenager for his blood. In the original he has tied up a boy in a gym locker room, but is trapped when the boy’s friends begin pounding on the locked door to the room, rousing the drugged boy who then calls out to them. Meanwhile, the father realizes there are no other exits and that he is trapped. In the American version, Abby’s father hides in the back seat of a car and, after subduing the driver to bleed him, attempts to escape a group of people who believe his is stealing the car, sending it careening off the road in a panic and becoming trapped in the wreckage. Although the scene is filmed in fascinating fashion (from a back seat view as the car flies out of control, rolls and crashes), a much more introspective, character driven scene occurs in the original as Eli’s father realizes he is cornered. The audience sees him slowly coming to grips with his fate as his would be victim’s friends begin breaking down the door. His resignation and hopelessness with this reality and innumerable past crimes weigh on him, as he slowly decides to dump acid on his face to obscure his identity. In the remake, the same action to hide his identity happens much quicker and there is less of a sense of desperation rather than sheer panic on the part of Abby’s father. Although the American remake comes off as slicker and more exciting, the emotional and revelatory content of the original is considerably higher—the remake in effect sacrificed the root of the horror in the film, the reluctant embrace of evil, for a well-executed action sequence, missing the point of the film all along.

In addition to an action oriented presentation, the American edition also includes more brutality and gore. Although the original certainly doesn’t shy from splatter, it is more judicious in its use, limiting it to sudden outbursts in somewhat shadowy circumstances. The remake revels in it almost pointlessly on several occasions, such as during the pointless flash forward that opens the film. Likewise, Owen’s bullies are almost comically cruel and engender no sympathy themselves, although the suggestion exists in both films that the lead bully is influenced by his older brother’s oppression of him. In the Swedish film, the bullies mainly stick to taunting and when they physically injure him, they show some remorse and run away. In the remake, the lead bully rather creepily instructs Owen to not tell his mother what happened; curiously, the bullies in the foreign version run away fretting that is exactly what will happen. Oskar is unable to tell his mother, likely out of shame as much as fear of retribution. This highlights Oskar’s impotence and his lack of a protector and companion, which inevitably draws him to Eli.

Though both movies feature divorced parents, Owen’s mother is a bizarre drunk, far more removed than Oskar’s mother who seems overworked and a bit inattentive rather than outright negligent. Likewise, Oskar’s relationship with his father is detailed at length, demonstrating some happy times interlaced with other instances where his father appears to relegate Oskar in favor of his friends.  In the remake we never see Owen’s father, merely overhearing him on the telephone misunderstanding Owen’s worries as generated by the religious fervor of his mother rather than a tangible and real problem: his association with a dangerous person.  The dearth of parental care serves to make Owen’s plight too sympathetic as a terribly alone, abused child that is understandably driven to Abby’s friendship and protection (“what choice did he have?”). In Oskar’s case, his choice to remain friends with Eli is less forgivable, as his parents, though far from perfect, have been there for him at times, despite not quite comprehending his predicament at school or otherwise. For Owen, it was a choice between a barren wasteland punctuated by sadistic bullying versus security in evil; for Oskar, the options were less distinct, with normality characterized by alternating bouts of kindness and impotence offset by a violent, evil, and empowering creature. The differing nature of Oskar/Owen’s dilemma is highlighted by the title of each film: Oskar, facing varying social pressures, must decide which is the right one to let in, while Owen is virtually ejected by his unenviable surroundings into the demanding arms of Abby—his is less a choice than an inevitable erosion.

One plot device that Reeves was wise to omit was the questionable cat scene, wherein a hoard of cats detect the infection of a woman was recently bitten by a vampire and swarm her in a CGI flurry. As is often the case in many horror novels such as (potentially—I’ve not read it) the one that provided the source material for the film, effectively describing a superficially silly situation like this can be far easier in print and can lose a large bit in translation to the screen. In the Swedish film it appeared campy and ridiculous, as opposed to disturbing or revolting. Reeves’ film ignored this scene entirely by having the woman bitten be immediately rushed to a hospital rather than being forced into medical care after a feline ambush. However, the sound decision to forego this unfortunate sequence highlights another place where Reeves faltered. In the original, another tenant in the apartment complex Oskar lives in becomes suspicious of the young girl whereas in Let Me In a police officer investigating the case eventually links the murders and crimes he is investigating to Abby. In both cases, Oskar/Owen is in Eli/Abby’s apartment when this suspicious party breaks in and warns her of the intruder, saving her life but costing the life of an innocent person as she pounces. The audience has little emotional connection to the police officer in Let Me In, while the tenant in Norwegian version is someone that has played a role throughout the movie: he invited Eli’s father for a drink; his close drinking buddy was Eli’s first victim in the apartment complex; and finally his girlfriend is the woman who is bitten. Although the last element also happens in Let Me In, the man and his girlfriend are always seen from a distance, appearing to be yuppies aloof from the rest of the tenants. Thus, when Eli kills the tenant who is partly avenging the deaths of his friend and lover, Oskar’s moral conflict resonates much more strongly with the audience as opposed to a police officer’s whose actions are admirable but emotionally distant.

The American production should, in any event, be applauded to some extent for allowing a mostly free hand for Reeves to remain faithful to Alfredson’s film while engaging in graphic violence and some creative cinematography. However, the point of all this, given that though visually interesting many of the changes detracted from the strengths of the original, is lost. Certainly as a vehicle for a quick buck, the film didn’t leave out the blood and shock, but the tits and glee of a mindless slasher flick were lost in a story that was more provoking than “the kids go to summer camp at Slaughter Lake”. The movie was a slow burn, unsuited for an escapist audience while failing to add anything for fans of the original. Thus, while the earnest attention to the original and the liberal use of gore might seem a worthy goal, they alone both aren’t a significant departure from the original nor sufficient to maintain the interest of any particular audience.

A remake of Let the Right One In might have taken another avenue, as opposed to a nearly carbon plot copy of the original. The American film could have kept much of the plot elements similar (e.g., apartment complex, a lonely youth in a divorced household, the mysterious arrival of a sympathetic and protective visitor) but could have explored a new direction by making the vampire a boy and the main character a girl. Although this would have reversed the interesting twist on the vampire mythology in the original of a female seducing a male, it would have, for an American audience given the age groups involved, a direct counterpoint to the romance novel version of Nosferatu encapsulated in the horrendously popular Twilight. By presenting the moral dilemma of defending and accepting protection from a vampire with whom the romantic aspect of the relationship is much more clouded than the superficial teenage angst and gallant fantasy of Twilight, an American audience might have been challenged on a deeper level. This tact would have necessitated a much more intensive—and risky—rewrite of the original screenplay. The filmmakers could have even expanded further by keeping the vampire female and introducing a subtext of sexual confusion of an adolescent/ young adult, twisting the Twilight story even further.

The American version could have also addressed a glaring incongruity of the original. As the story takes place in the 1970s, the obvious question is why Eli didn’t instruct her “father” to steal donated blood from a hospital or blood bank (it seems given her supernatural prowess and that such thefts would naturally occur at night, she could have even done it herself) or better yet even work there as a nurse or doctor and skim blood off the top. As Eli appears to not relish killing people for blood, this alternative would seem natural rather than the tremendously more perilous and morally questionable murder and collection of raw blood. The American viewing public has, at least in some segments, been exposed to this variant in the television series True Blood whose vampires manipulate or outright hypnotize humans and slowly feed on their blood over periods of time. By the same token, an American remake might even feature a “family” of an older woman and/or man, as well as siblings which the vampire would extract blood from time to time to satisfy his thirst.  This would negate doing anything overtly illegal that would risk exposure. Perhaps as in the first film where a failure by Eli’s father to find blood caused Eli to kill, an arrest in an attempt to steal blood might prevent the vampire from feeding normally, either causing him to kill another apartment complex tenant or even on the members of the “family”. Such an unforeseen accident might precipitate other members to flee or commit suicide, with one remaining who was recently feed on and couldn’t give anymore blood, and thus possibly being forced to do something illegal to gain blood.

This new direction is hardly bulletproof as the question would arise if the vampire, besides charming the now female Oskar character, would seek to feed on her blood or kept the non-violent relationship as in the original wherein Eli resisted her urge as that might have led her to kill Oskar. However the potential is there for creating a new story around the original’s foundation to explore similar as well as some novel aspects of vampire-human relationship and Oskar’s moral crucible.

The expansion upon an original film is the bolder form of a remake rather than a simple recasting and redo with perhaps slicker editing and cinematography. There are exceptions, as in the translation of Ringu to The Ring, with the original suffering not so much from plot but a film that dragged heavily and mainly needed a change of pace. Indeed if the original failed to realize its own potential rather because of budget or shoddy execution, a more direct remake might be in order. But if the original is a rather successful and complete film on its own, the screenwriter and director of a remake can look a wholly new direction, such as in The Departed. One can hope that David Fincher’s upcoming remake of another popular Norwegian film and novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is successful on one of these levels.

UPCOMING: Films that Deserve a Proper Remake

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The content on this site is provided as general information and entertainment only and should not be taken as investment advice. All site content shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial product, or to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy. The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of firms affiliated with the author. The author may or may not have a position in any security referenced herein and may or may not seek to do business with companies mentioned via this website. Any action that you take as a result of information or analysis on this site is ultimately your responsibility. Consult your investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

18
Dec
10

OBR – The Ballad of Rio T and Fat Elvis

Truth time in the trust tree: I just realized these trades happened this past week.  Why?  Because I am heavily disinterested in the baseball off-season until the Cardinals decide whether or not they’re signing Albert Pujols.  In any event, the team acquired two players of note, who likewise have histories with the team, albeit playing for rivals in the National League Central.

During the Astros-Cardinals rivalry of a few years ago, I personally never disliked Lance Berkman as much as say, Jeff Kent, Mike Lamb, Morgan HGH Endsberg and of course the diabolical Carlos Beltran.  Additionally in his favor, the nickname is “Fat Elvis”.  Writers seem to be going with “Big Puma” instead;  that’s bullshit.  You don’t kick a sobriquet like that to the curb anymore that you get rid of the best Halloween costume ever (NSFW language and implication in the clip below).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

But as for the other trade.  It’s solid to get something of value for the Blake Hawksworth experience, as Viva El Birdos pointed out (see below for articles), but I mean, come on…it’s Cubs douchehelmet Ryan Theriot!  Guhhhhh…

Enervating but not world-ending.  I’m less than happy that it displaces Brendan Ryan, who, while an atrocious hitter, provided some quality entertainment in the field.  It’s entirely possible he’s bipolar, making for dramatic television at times.  Better than Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabowsky’s passive-aggression theater.

Whether it helps the team remains to be seen, but I find the El Birdos analysis sound on the deal, inasmuch as it probably doesn’t hurt the team.  I’m also finding it difficult to get behind this from an emotional standpoint, as I am a fragile teacup of anti-Cubs bitterness.  Because when the Cards were playing the Cubs, Theriot’s just the type who causes your eyes to narrow while muttering “fucking Theriot”.

Noted: it’s a very long way from Zambrano.

Viva El Birdos on the trades:

Also, should the Cubs by some act of Satan sign Albert Pujols, there’s a 99% chance I never watch baseball again.  That will be the day we know that our God has failed us.

I’m hedging here because I once stated I would burn my Rams’ jersey if they drafted Sam Bradford instead Ndamakong Suh.  That appears to be turning out well (although Bradford’s glass shoulder terrifies me) and I clearly did not make good on that threat (see teacup description earlier).  So pussywillow escape clauses it is!

As a coda to the Cardinals previous season, I have some stats.  DO NOT DISPUTE MY INFALLIBLE NUMBERS!  CAPITAL LETTERS!

Cardinals record against the four National League playoff teams:

  • Atlanta Braves: 6-2 (0.750)
  • Cincinatti Reds: 12-6 (0.667)
  • Philadelphia Phillies: 4-4 (0.500)
  • San Francisco Giants: 3-3 (0.500)
  • Combined: 25-15 (0.625)

Record against the five worst National League teams (yes, adding in the Astros skews this lower, as Houston was not among the worst four teams):

  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 9-6 (0.600)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 5-4 (0.556)
  • Washington Nationals: 3-3 (0.500)
  • Chicago Cubs: 6-9 (0.400)
  • Houston Astros: 5-10 (0.333)
  • Combined: 28-32 (0.467)

Even removing the Astros only raises the winning percentage to a game over 0.500–against the worst teams in the NL.  Yeesh.

I’ve played around with running even more statistics on the Roman orgy of statistics that is Major League baseball.  For hitters and pitchers, I did a relative comparison based on all qualifying players to make ESPN’s stat charts.  For any given stat, the comparison was the cumulative normal probability–basically all data points are plotted for a particular stat (e.g., batting average) as if the data sample conforms to a normal curve, with the probability of point A representing the chance a random point X would be below it.  This allows not only a ranking, but a magnitude comparison; that is, if a player’s stat is much better than his peers, it will show up as a higher number.  Since this is a probability, numbers will range between 0 and 1 for every stat.  Then the probabilities from every stat would be averaged to come up with a final score, which I multiplied by 100 to make easier to read.  Given higher probabilities mean that the player is above more players (and by a wider margin) in any given stat, a higher number is better.

I compared NL players only to NL players (likewise with the AL), since the comparison would be based on batters facing roughly the same pitching and fielding.  The result stat would also suffer from the assumption that  the data conforms to a normal distribution.  Moreover, it is a relative comparison, meaning a player would look better in any given year if his peers happened to perform poorly–that is, it’s not an absolute measure.  Finally, I also tried to take into account only those stats that the player had control over; for example, I didn’t use Wins for pitchers but rather adjusted them with sabermetric quality starts and tough losses.  In any event, the results are curious because of the number of Cardinals (highlighted in red) involved in some of the higher rankings.

Statistics Used to Compile Batting Score:

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Statistics Used to Compile Pitching Score:

Adjusted Win/Loss Percentage: (Wins – Cheap Wins)/[(Wins – Cheap Wins) + (Losses – Tough Losses)]

TLOSS %: Tough Losses/Total Losses

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The content on this site is provided as general information and entertainment only and should not be taken as investment advice. All site content shall not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial product, or to participate in any particular trading or investment strategy. The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of firms affiliated with the author. The author may or may not have a position in any security referenced herein and may or may not seek to do business with companies mentioned via this website. Any action that you take as a result of information or analysis on this site is ultimately your responsibility. Consult your investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

2B 3B AB/HR BA BB/K G/F H HR ISOP OBP OPS P/PA R RBI RC RC27 SECA SLG SO



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