Pentagram: Schooled in Cleveland

The U.S. Soccer Team found out what facing a World Cup Quality opponent will be like with this current roster.  The result, a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland, pointed out the obvious flaws – mostly in the back and up front.  Team America, without three of its best players in Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, and Landon Donovan, couldn’t generate much in the offensive third.  Meanwhile, that backline still hasn’t developed any kind of consistency, with Coach Jurgen Klinsmann trotting out the sixth different defensive combination in the past six games.

Geoff Cameron learning on the job

It doesn’t get any easier for the U.S. on Sunday, as they play Ze Germans at RFK in D.C. – a celebration of the centennial of U.S. Soccer that could get ugly.  Then next Friday, it’s a step down in weight class but a step up on pressure as they take on the Jamaicans in a World Cup Qualifier in Kingston.  We understand why you want to play a team like Belgium at this time – you learn more from a good opponent than watching another draw with Canada or beating down some lesser team.  But that didn’t make watching last night’s schooling any more enjoyable.

Five points in your Cleveland Pentagram…

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Movies: Star Trek Into Darkness

…written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof; directed by J.J .Abrams; starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

How to take beloved pop-culture and sci-fi phenomenon from cold storage to the spotlight, by J.J. Abrams.  With so many reboots, reloads, relaunches, it’s easy to get cynical about these kinds of movies.  Just like it would be fairly easy to mash something up and deliver a financial success to the studio.  Fortunately for Trekkers and cineplex-goers, Abrams and company have continued along the brighter path with Star Trek Into Darkness.

 

Starting with a prologue that could have been a classic episode scenario, STID quickly re-acquaints us with the crew of the Enterprise.  Once again, we marvel at the effective casting.  Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock continue their yin-and-yang dueling over the Prime Directive and the overall mission of Starfleet. The burgeoning not-quite-friendship of the two leads juxtaposed over a cliff-hanger action sequence with some excellent humor for good measure…  This is what STID thrives on, what makes the movie so much fun.

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Point Made, Jurgen

Jurgen can’t dance

USA Soccer enters a busy summer with a late May – early June stretch that includes three World Cup Qualifiers and a couple of high profile (money grab) friendlies.  Those vital qualifiers feature matches at Jamaica (June 7), then a pair of home games against Panama (June 11) and Honduras (June 18).  Team America should be angling toward a couple of wins and a tie in June, which would essentially qualify the team for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.  If they stumble badly, though, qualification could be in doubt.

Seems like a pretty important stretch.  Seems like you’d want your full-strength squad.  So why has head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the roster?

Here’s the squad:

GOALKEEPERS (6) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8) : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (10) : Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5) : Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)

No room for the greatest American men’s soccer player?  You mean to tell us, Jurgen, you believe these 15 forwards and midfielders in camp are better than Landon Donovan?   Continue reading

Books: House of Suns

In Brief:  Alastair Reynolds’ epoch-spanning, pan-galactic novel features very intelligent, very human characters questing after universal mysteries while confronting the seeds of violence and intrigue sowed from within their own neo-utopian society.

Pros:   Reynolds, who worked for years as an astrophysicist with the EU Space Agency, has an unwavering command of the scale and breadth of his galaxies.  His ideas can be eye-popping and wondrous, and yet they come across as grounded in scientific reality.  The plot is fairly tight, the lead characters approachable (for post-human clones).

Cons:  Reynolds sometimes writes with the detached sterility of an astrophysicist.  The front-loading required to get the plot moving in the first 50-75 pages may require some patience.

Review:  Alastair Reynolds has received good pub on his science fiction novels for more than a decade.  He’s an author I’ve been meaning to read for quite awhile, having started but put down one of his earlier books.  I picked up House of Suns after seeing several good reviews elsewhere; I’m glad I did.

As with any new sci-fi novel or series, the first points the author needs to establish, in addition to the characters, are how the technology works and its relative level of advancement.  We get an early glimpse in HoS with lead characters Pursulane and Campion building and deploying a star-dam for a grateful civilization.  The star-dam is a series of interlocking fields designed to keep the star in place, regulating its energy dispersal as it goes nova, thus giving any nearby inhabitants millions more years to live in the region.  Cool concept, expertly described here.

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The Falcon will fly again

Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Scottie in the new StarTreks) said of J.J. Abrams’ approach to the Star Wars reboot:

“He’ll bring the fun back. Lucas seemed to misread what made the first ones great, and concentrate on things that people didn’t really care about, or willfully ignore the things that people cared about. Whereas J.J. will embrace them all.”

We’re going to see the Millennium Falcon again. We’re going to see those characters again. All the things that we loved about the first three, we will see again.”

The part about the Falcon really hit me for some reason.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been watching all the movies in Beemsville, slowly rolling them out for the kids in episodic order.  Watching them get all excited about Star Wars, listening to my son wax philosophical about the finer points of Star Destroyer technology, or my daughter’s drawings fusing fairies with Jedi…  They are excited.  That’s what I remember when I saw the Falcon on the big screen or heard the hiss-hum of a lightsaber igniting.

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Some Summer Movies

With Iron Man 3 opening this weekend, we enter the Summer Movie zone.  Ah, the smell of popcorn and industrial-strength air conditioning…  Big budgets, big stars, big plot-holes…  Summer movies have crept forward from the traditional Memorial Day weekend starting point, because why, again?  Because if they open something big the first week of May, it will sell.

Even if we don’t make it to the cinema as much as we used to, we’re still big movie people in Beemsville.  And summer movies, with their explosions, effects, and fantastic settings always provide grist for the escapist mill, not to mention fuel for the snark fire.  So here are five movies we’re pretty excited about and will most likely see…

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