Oh please, Disney. Don’t…

After the success of “Maleficent”, last year’s “Cinderella” and this year’s “The Jungle Book”, Disney has revamped their efforts at turning their animated classics into live-action films. So, if you’ve always been dying for a live-action version of “The Fox and the Hound”, hey, that is now a distinct possibility.

While the quality of these movies is not terrible, they are still unoriginal cash-grabs meant purely for reliving the glory days of yesteryear, not creating original and exciting films.

Which of the future planned live-action reboots is the worst idea? In this edition of “Oh please, Disney. Don’t”, let’s count them down.

14. Mulan

Admit it. You want to see a live-action Mongol horde attack an ancient Chinese city where the villain is blown up by fireworks. And the chance to see a strong heroine with a small, CGI dragon companion at her side. Unlike a lot of the entries on this list, “Mulan” is rife with possibilities of exploring Chinese culture and giving us something different than the whimsical fairy tale, sing-a-long so often exploited by Disney. Will they actually create something unique out of the source material? Who knows, but the possibilities are stronger than with any other property.

13. The Jungle Book 2

“The Jungle Book” was a fine, if unoriginal, film. It was one of the biggest hits of the year. A sequel’s been planned because, you know, more money. Of course, there wasn’t really a sequel to the original “Jungle Book” film. So maybe that means there’ll be new things, new adventures, new characters, you know, something, anything new. There’s hope in that.

12. Prince Charming

Sure, why not make a movie about Prince Charming? Nobody even knows his real name. Maybe Charming is his name. If it is, that’s unfortunate. If the film is tongue-in-cheek, it could be a hoot. If it’s taken seriously, it’ll be a bore.

11. The Sword in the Stone

King Arthur has been done so many times. There doesn’t really need to be another movie. But Disney’s animated “The Sword in the Stone” isn’t really a classic so you can give some leeway to the creative team to make the material it’s own. Plus there are lots of opportunities for strong visuals and a solid story of a boy king and Merlin.

10. Snow White

Sure, why not. Remake Snow White. The dwarves will be cool. I’ll bet that evil queen will be badass. At least rinse the taste of the “Huntsman” movies out of our mouths.

9. Aladdin

Ugh. Remake “Aladdin”? How are you going to keep this from being racist? And who could possibly do Genie with Robin Williams gone? This is one of those, “If they’re going to do it, make it different.” Make the Genie evil and do some forty thieves stuff.

8. Beauty and the Beast

This one has the potential to be just plain creepy. Hermione falling in love with a hulking CGI bison? Sure, it looks pretty, but what could this possibly add that’s different?

7. The Little Mermaid

How are they going to make this work? Like how? I don’t understand.

6. Tinker Bell

Oh, dear God. Just… the horror.

5. Pinocchio

Anybody remember that Jonathan Taylor Thomas movie? Yep.

4. Winnie the Pooh

There’s talk that it will be an adult Christopher Robin. Having him chatting with a CGI Pooh bear and friends won’t give anyone nightmares…

At this point, how can any sane person think any of these are a good idea? This isn’t even fun to joke about anymore.

3. Cruella

Maleficent got her own movie to show her good side, so of course the next logical choice goes to… Cruella deVille! I’m sure it will be easy to empathize with a psycho who wants to murder animals and then wear them. With Emma Stone set to star, what could possibly go wrong?

Seriously, what could happen in this movie? Does she have a secret heart of gold or something? Is she the villain? Wouldn’t that just make this a straight up remake like the Glenn Close one? I don’t get it. How could this possibly work?

2. Dumbo

Reasons this will be terrible other than the obvious: This movie has Tim Burton attached to direct it (mic drop).

1.The Lion King

Has Disney really sunk this low? One of their most beloved animated classics, a film that has practically no flaws… sure, let’s go ahead and remake it with a bunch of fake-looking CGI animals. This one has already caused an uproar (ha ha) because no good can come of it. It’s almost unfathomable what a poor decision to remake “Lion King” is; the only question anyone can fathom is, why?

 

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Horror Movie Classics: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu

German Expressionism’s influence can still be felt today. Take any episode of American Horror Story or any Tim Burton film or any gothic music video, and you will see that heightened sense of reality, the use of grossly distorted architecture and the deep, long shadows that the movement was known for. And it is that style that was utilized in two of the earliest horror films: Nosferatu (1922) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Robert Weine, is not really a horror film in a literal sense, but it contains the psychological underpinnings that would reign in the genre. Told by a man named Francis, the story focuses on Dr. Caligari as he visits a small town with his somnambulist named Cesare and presents him at the fair. After Cesare correctly predicts a man’s upcoming murder, Francis grows suspicious and investigates, but the somnambulist kidnaps his fiancee, Jane. Chased by the the townspeople, Cesare drops Jane and tries to escape, but collapses and dies. Caligari attempts to escape himself, followed by Francis to an insane asylum. The film leads you to believe that Francis discovers that Caligari is in fact obsessed with somnambulism and sorcery, but in a twist, the final minute reveals that Francis is in fact a patient of the asylum, along with Cesare and Jane, and the man of his obsession, Dr. Caligari, is the asylum director, the entire narrative imagined in his head. It may be the first real twist ending of cinema.

The use of the camera dynamics, the lighting of Cesare and the gothic and grotesque settings really create an eeriness that translates to a horror aesthetic. With a monster, an evil doctor and an insane asylum, the film is filled with elements of macabre that have served the film well nearly 100 years after it was made.

Directed by F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu is an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula (all prints were court ordered to be destroyed following a suit brought on by Stoker’s family, but some copies were saved) and follows Bram Stoker’s narrative very closely.

Thomas Hutter is sent to Transylvania to carry out a real estate transaction while his wife, Ellen, stays behind. Upon finding the recipient of his business deal, Count Orlok, Hutter realizes that something is very wrong. He is disfigured, more a wraith than a human being, and tries to suck his blood when he pricks his finger. After buying the home across from Hutter’s, the Count compliments Hutter on a picture of his lovely wife. After discovering Orlok sleeping in a coffin during the day, Hutter attempts to escape but is knocked unconscious as he falls out his window. Orlok travels to Germany, killing all of the members of the ship he travels on, and moving his coffin to the house he had purchased. Many citizens of the town die and rumors of the plague circulate. Hutter tries to tend to his wife and keep her safe, but Orlok breaks in during the night and drinks her blood, but he is careless, the light of day catching up to him too quick. He vanishes into nothingness at daybreak.

While the narrative is a classic of literature, what really distinguishes Nosferatu from other vampire films is its lighting, camerawork and moodiness. Just the shadow of Count Orlok played masterfully by Max Schreck moving across the stairs is enough to send shivers down your spine. For all the blood and gore and menace of modern vampire films, the simple use of shadows, harsh lighting, makeup, calculated motion and cross cutting make the 1922 film still one of the scariest movies of all-time.

German Expressionism’s influence still lives on today, but it is these early films that established a new mode of cinema. They are strong testaments to a motion picture industry that valued the image beyond all else and modern horror owes a tremendous debt to the work of Weine, Murnau and their brethren.

Horror Movie Classics: Halloween

Most horror films today are terrible and contrite, boiling down to just basic jump scares or excessive gore to excite their audience. It’s a shame really because good scary movies can really shine a light on the human condition, revealing our greatest fears and desires, showing us the darker side of nature that many of us keep hidden. By acknowledging this dark side and examining it, horror films can do so much more than just scare; they can make us feel.

So in looking at the best of the best of horror, it’s natural to look at the films that have defined the genre. And no film may have changed the genre more than John Carpenter’s Halloween.

The plot of Halloween is simple: A crazed killer escapes from a mental institution to terrorize a suburban town on Halloween night, the same night he murdered his sister years ago. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it has been done to death since Carpenter’s film was released, a testament to the influence of his work.

The killer, Michael Myers, is not some raving lunatic. He never says a word. The only thing you ever hear from him are his low, shallow breaths. He is often referred to as the boogeyman by the children in the film. He practically ceases to be a man and instead becomes a malevolent force, something that can not be killed, but lurks everywhere, behind bushes, in your garage, in the bedroom where you think you are most safe. In many ways, he is a metaphor for death, always lurking, waiting, omnipresent. The camera tracks him through both his point of view and through the other characters, often with the use of steadicam, bringing us right into the action.

Jamie Lee Curtis as the young Laurie plays the role with poise and innocence. The effect of a masked figure hunting such a girl is the ultimate nightmare, the outside world crashing in on youth and innocence. Laurie’s journey of going from naive girl to heroine is illustrative of the growth of adolescence and understanding the apparent senselessness of death, something that can take you at any time. You can also make the case that Michael represents the male hierarchy intruding into feminine virtue or that the act of trying to murder Laurie is akin to an act of rape or that it is simply a struggle of good and evil; one is good, pure and innocent, and one is evil, malicious and tarnished. There are many interpretations of what each represents since the forces Carpenter is dealing with are so elemental.

And then there’s the score. If you were to watch the film without that trademark score, it’s a pretty dismal affair, but there’s something about the simple repetition and the eerie piano music that crawls under your skin and won’t let go. The score becomes a representation of Michael in the film, his own voice since he himself doesn’t speak. It is almost an entry into his psychosis, his insatiable desire for murder driving him continuously.

No greater compliment can be given to any film than the act of duplication and Halloween may be the most imitated film of all time. The lone female survivor followed by a senseless killer, the act of sex an harbinger of death, a psychopath who simply commits foul acts for the fun of it, suburbia being the center of evil: all were started at least in some part by Halloween and its success. The formula has gotten stale recently simply because it has been done so frequently, but that should in no way detract from the glory of the original slasher film.

At the end of Halloween, the killer is seemingly dead and all is right with the world. Except nothing is right. Our world of innocence and high school frivolity has been crushed, our friends are dead and our sense of safety and place in the world has been turned upside down. Michael Myers was more a force that could not be reasoned with than a man, and we are left to pick up the pieces of our lives. Except we learn that Michael Myers is not dead. His body is gone, the bullets meant to kill him obviously ineffective against such an evil being. We are left with random images of the places we have been throughout the film, knowing he could be anywhere now, always hearing the huff of Myers’ breath, omnipresent, the score building to a crescendo towards the inevitability of death.

What modern filmmakers forget as they copy Halloween‘s tropes is that the film is not just a slasher film (only five people die throughout the course of the film plus a dog), it is also an examination of death and innocence. Modern horror movies are so caught up in the thrill and the gore that they forget what is really at the heart of a good horror story, the thing that sticks with viewers; our fear of death and how it is always there.

Horror Movie Classics: The Exorcist

There can only be one movie to claim the title of scariest film ever made. And it was made over forty years ago. Despite great enhancements in the fields of digital effects, millions more spent on production budgets and an audience more hungry for scares than ever before, no movie has ever topped the near universal claim that “The Exorcist” is the ultimate horror film of all-time. And it is unlikely that any film ever will.

Regan (Linda Blair) is a normal 12-year-old girl living in Washington, D.C. with her actress mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). She starts to act strangely, just in little ways at first (being rude, peeing on the carpet in front of guests), but then things escalate. Soon, she is performing supernatural acts of crab walking down stairs, tilting her head 360 degrees and moving furniture and other objects with her mind. No one is able to help Chris in the scientific community, and she is forced to turn to two priests, Father Karras (Jason Miller), who has lost his faith after the death of his mother, and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), who has dealt with demons before. Together, they learn that an evil spirit has possessed Regan’s body.

In many ways, director William Friedkin set out not to make a horror film with Paul Blatty’s book. He rejects so many of the horror film tropes, and the film is shot is a dramatic, glossy style. The story is told with compassion, not looking to emphasize scares, but to convincingly and realistically tell the story of a poor girl possessed by the devil. Its attention to solid characters, believability and storytelling technique set it apart from its brethren.

There is a lingering sense of dread as the characters discover the nature of the malevolent spirit inhabiting Regan’s body and the futility of their efforts. As Regan grows worse and worse, that sense of growing dread creates more of a lasting terror than any jump scare.

In addition, Regan, Chris and Fathers Karras and Merrin are not simply there to be killed off, but are actual characters we can relate to. They have emotions and conflicts and seem like real people and through that, we have an empathy with them. We care about them, and that brings the terror of the situation closer because we become part of the film.

And the movie, though dealing with supernatural forces, does not for one moment refrain from treating its subject seriously. There is never a wink or a nudge to the audience about the corniness of demonic possession. The effects are done in ways that still send shivers down the spine because they seem so real. It keeps the film far more grounded than perhaps any horror movie before or since and adds to the terror of the experience.

What truly makes “The Exorcist” so memorable though is the central conflict of the film, the battle over an innocent girl’s life. The struggle between good and evil does not need to take place over a large battlefield or in the stars, but can happen in a location as small as a young girl’s bedroom. Karras and Merrin are clearly in over their heads against the demon, but they try to save her anyway, out of necessity, out of love and out of faith. The courage of the two men against the ultimate evil that has terrified the audience up to the conclusion elevates the film into the realm of the mythic. It sticks with us in a way few films ever do, showing us the possibilities of our courage and the carnage of our ultimate fears. In short, it deserves the title of scariest film ever made.

Horror Movie Classics: The Bride of Frankenstein

The original Frankenstein (1931) is a monster classic in its own right. It is iconic, generating some of the tropes that make monster movies what they are today. Yet for all of its old horror charm, it lacks the heart and the intricacies from great works of art to make it anything more than a monster film. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) continued its predecessor’s gothica, but added humor, emotion and heartache. Combined with the story behind its director, James Whale, the story takes on a whole new type of artistic brilliance, a representation of homosexuality and estrangement.

Frankenstein’s monster (Boris Karloff in both Frankenstein and its sequel) is the most sympathetic of all of Universal’s monsters. He is not inherently evil like Dracula or insane like the Invisible Man. He can not change to a normal guy after the full moon like the Wolf Man or desires to exact vengeance on the world like the Mummy. He is a poor creature, childlike, hated because of his appearance and for what he is: an experiment gone wrong.

James Whale grew up a gay man in a world that did not accept him. Much like the monster, he never felt as if he truly belonged and was persecuted simply for being himself. Viewing Bride, the viewer can feel that personal connection that Whale has with the monster, that pained sense of ostracization. And rather than accentuate the innate hurt the monster feels, he focuses on the comedic elements that contradict the previous film.

james-whale

Horror and comedy may feel like two separate sides of a coin, but they are closely linked. We laugh at terrifying things sometimes and recoil at certain humor. They each produce a strong emotional reaction out of us, a jump of fear and a knee slap of laughter not that different really.

Whale uses that dichotomy of emotion to illustrate the strangeness of his monster and of his own life. During the film, the monster confronts a woman after crawling out of a burning mill. The woman turns to the camera, screams and runs away. In a way, he is saying, life is both terrible and hilarious, an elaborate joke that makes us cry.

The very idea of a man (Dr. Frankenstein, played by Colin Clive) creating another man is laced with latent homosexual underpinnings. Frankenstein is attempting to create his own form of masculine perfection, something he can claim as his own, a direct affront to God and to society. The monster, then, yearns for companionship and love, but is met with a world of scorn. Both men, searching for completeness, have nowhere to go.

7-photo-boris-the-bride-of-frankenstein

Frankenstein’s tutor, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), is a flamboyant, maniacal man, similarly humorous amidst a world of death and decay. He seems to be in love not only with replicating Frankenstein’s work, but also in love with his student, an unrequited desire. This connection to another man ties him to Frankenstein’s dream to create a new being, something that can actually generate love in a world of torment.

And yet, the person they create, the mate of the monster, hates him just like all the others. The monster can find no peace. Pretorious can find no peace. Only Frankenstein, repentant of his ways, normal, with a woman, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), by his side, gets to live. The world is made for those like him, the film suggests. The outsiders are monsters meant to suffer.

The only man who truly shows any sympathy to the monster is the blind man (O. P. Heggie) who teaches him kindness and words like “friend.” It is a haunting scene, the lure of emotional connection snatched away because of how the world looks at you. It is probably something that James Whale dealt with quite often.

James Whale killed himself in May of 1957 at the age of 67. His story is excellently presented in Bill Condon’s film Gods and Monsters (1998) starring Ian McKellen.

While current filmmakers resort to violence and gore and jump scares to produce modern horror films, perhaps the simplest scares are the most lasting; that balance between comedy and horror, the real world creeping into the characters we watch, and the knowledge that we are all outsiders and can not find lasting peace.

2016-17 NHL Standings Predictions

The 2016-17 NHL season is just a few short days away. All eyes will be on a few select teams considered contenders: the defending Cup champion Penguins, the Blackhawks, the Sharks, the Lightning, the Capitals, but the winner, for right now, could be any of the 30 teams (and next season it could be any of the 31). So who comes out on top?

Metropolitan Division

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Washington Capitals
  1. Washington Capitals*

The Capitals were the best team in the league last regular season and they return pretty much the same. Led by Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Brayden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the team is still a contender. Their true test will come in the postseason where they must advance this year.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins*

The defending Cup champs also return pretty much the same team, but Cup hangovers are real and all the other teams in the league will be gunning for them. Repeating is near impossible to do.

3. New York Islanders*

The Islanders are led by star forward John Tavares and with new wing man Andrew Ladd and a collection of young, talented players, they will be looking to make some noise this season. If goaltender Jaroslav Halak can deliver the type of poise he showed in the World Cup, they could be a force.

4. New York Rangers

The Rangers return with practically the same team, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Henrik Lundqvist is still an all-world goaltender, but the Rangers appear to be a team treading between playoff also-ran and rebuild mode.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers surprised many by making the playoffs with a great second half and will look to build on that promise, but that will be easier said than done. They need a bounce back year from Jakub Vorachek and continued strong goaltending from Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth to succeed.

6. New Jersey Devils

GM Ray Shero may have struck the best deal of his life when he traded for winger Taylor Hall. The forward is a game changer for the team. They have a little ways to go before they make the playoffs, but with Hall and goaltender Cory Schneider, they might be able to sneak in.

7. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes blueline is going to be very good, very soon. If that happens this season, they could make some noise, but their forward corps lacks the depth to give their backend enough goals to flourish. Until that is addressed, the Hurricanes will stay on the outside.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

As anyone who watched team USA plummet at the World Cup can attest, coach John Tortorella is not seasoned for this type of NHL. Stuck in an old-world mentality, the Blue Jackets lack depth at every position with the exception of all-world goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Seth Jones on the blueline will help, but the Blue Jackets might be best to tear it all down and that starts at the top.

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning v Dallas Stars
DALLAS, TX – MARCH 1: Tyler Johnson #9 and the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate an early first period goal against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on March 1, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
  1. Tampa Bay Lightning*

The Lightning are stacked throughout the lineup, with forwards Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov backed up by star defenseman Victor Hedman and Vezina-nominated goalie Ben Bishop. This might be the last year this group has to go for it before budget constraints splinter it apart, so look for them to be a force.

2. Florida Panthers*

I correctly picked the Panthers to make the playoffs last year. I had no idea they’d win the division. Expect a small step backwards for this group, but they are young (Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo excluded), talented and only going to get better.

3. Boston Bruins*

Patrice Bergeron is one of the world’s best two-way pivots. Brad Marchand is a supremely skillful pest/sniper. Tuuka Rask is still in his prime. There is no reason for this team not to make the playoffs. They need a puck-moving blueliner and that is the only thing holding them back.

4. Montreal Canadiens*

Short term gain, long term pain. That’s what the Canadiens have going for them with the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber trade. Shea Weber will be great for them for the next couple of seasons, the kind of workhorse, booming shot defenseman he has been for years. But he will wilt far sooner than Subban will. The Canadiens have to hope that Carey Price is not injured again or their season will be a disaster.

5. Detroit Red Wings*

Pavel Datsyuk is gone. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are both getting older and had to pull out of the World Cup because of injuries. The Wings’ season will depend on how their up and comers lead the way. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek need to establish themselves for the Wings to have success. Newcomer Frans Nielsen will be a big help and bounce back seasons from Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist would lighten the load, but the youngsters will decide whether the team makes it 26 straight years in the playoffs.

6. Buffalo Sabres

The pieces should be moving in the right direction. Another year of rebuilding, another high draft pick, another big ticket free agent (Kyle Okposo) brought in. At some point, the returns have to start showing themselves, right? It might be this season if they can get the goaltending.

7. Ottawa Senators

The Senators have Norris Trophy-winning Erik Karlsson and a group of talented young forwards, but they lack the depth up front and on the back end to be a contender. They need Andrew Hammond and Craig Anderson to stonewall the opposition to have a chance.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Does anyone really need a reason for why the Maple Leafs are in the basement? This is just year 2 of the massive rebuild. Year 1 went splendidly. They were terrible. That got them the first overall draft pick and a potential number one franchise center in Austin Matthews. Now it’s time to draft that stud blueliner.

Central Division

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars
Dec 31, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) celebrates the goal by center Tyler Seguin (not pictured) during the second period against the Los Angeles Kings at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Dallas Stars*

The Stars have the best forward corps in the league with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza lighting up the lamps for them. If they can all stay healthy and the blueline continues to grow, the Stars are a Cup contender. And then you look at the goalie crease and you wonder if they can win the tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. GM Jim Nill may have to pull on the trigger on a goalie trade at some point, but that’s the only thing holding this team back from glory.

2. Nashville Predators*

With Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis on defense, the Predators may have the best defensive core in the league. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal can put the puck in the net and coach Peter Laviolette has his players playing to their strengths. This could be the best Predators team in their history.

3. Chicago Blackhawks*

These Blackhawks have been through wars over the past several years in deep playoff runs, World Cups and Olympics. Will it catch up to them? The purging of their roster every season (losing Andrew Shaw and Andrew Ladd this past season) may also hurt them, but any team that has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford is still a threat. It all depends on their depth if they can make a run.

4. St. Louis Blues*

The Blues made it to the Western conference final last year, but lost captain David Backes, Troy Brouwer and goalie Bryan Elliot, three huge parts of their team from last year. With Vladimir Tarasenko scoring, Alex Pietrangelo manning the blueline and a top notch coaching staff manned by Ken Hitchcock in his final year, this group is still dangerous and could make a run, but their moves suggest they are looking towards the future, which may not be just yet.

5. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets got a potential star in the draft in Patrick Laine. With Dustin Byfuglien back in the fold and Mark Scheifele as a number one center, the Jets would be an automatic playoff team in any other division, but the Central is so tough. They might still make it in, but it’ll be close.

6. Colorado Avalanche

Losing coach Patrick Roy will probably help in the long run. The Avs still boast a talented core of forwards in Matt Duchesne, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon and stud goalie Semyon Varlamov, but their defense needs work and with a new coach, this appears to be a transition year.

7. Minnesota Wild

Bringing in new coach Bruce Boudreau will help, but this team is too old and too top heavy. Zach Parise is injury prone, Ryan Suter isn’t getting any younger and they are in the toughest division in the league.

Pacific Division

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  1. Los Angeles Kings*

The Kings have gone two straight years without making a deep run in the playoffs after winning two cups in three years. Perhaps the rest will allow them to regroup and put together a strong season. With Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, the core of the team is still strong.

2. San Jose Sharks*

After making it to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in their history, the Sharks return with pretty much the same team, but a year older. The window is closing for aging stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and after this season, with their contracts up, who knows what will happen, but with Joe Pavelski and Martin Jones still young and leading the team, the Sharks are dangerous for the time being.

3. Anaheim Ducks*

The Ducks have been regular season monsters and playoff disappointments for years now. With Randy Carlyle returning behind the bench, they are trying to change their fortunes, but Carlyle seems a coach best suited for ten years ago. Perhaps he’ll surprise when the playoffs begin, but I’m not sold.

4. Calgary Flames*

The Flames added goaltender Bryan Elliot and bruiser Troy Brouwer for some veteran presence to a roster that includes star forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau as well as a deep blueline led by Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. The team looks like it’s on the rise.

5. Edmonton Oilers

Is this the year the Oilers finally break through? A healthy Connor McDavid would go a long way. Blueliner Adam Larsson will add some confidence for the defensive core, but the Oilers really need Cam Talbot to be a money goalie to have success.

6. Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes are young and still a few years away from contention, but they have all the pieces in place. Another year of development is in their future.

7. Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks are a mess, caught between needing to blow it up and rebuilding on the fly. An injury to either Sedin twin would spell disaster for their season.

(*= playoff team)

After bracketing out the playoffs, I see a Cup final between the Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals, with the Capitals finally winning their first championship. Will it happen? It’s never too early to start wondering.

‘The Lobster’ a wonderful black comedy

In today’s socially-conscious world, it’s hard to make a good black comedy, something that’s funny in a morbid way that doesn’t offend anyone. One way to get around that is social commentary, and that is exactly what writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos accomplishes with “The Lobster”; it peers directly into the idea of coupling as not a good or a bad thing, but a social construct that hamstrings some, confuses many and finds just a select few.

In the world of the film, you have to be a couple in order to be a part of society. If you find yourself single at any point, you are sent to The Hotel where you are given a select amount of time to find a mate; if you don’t, you are turned into an animal of your choosing and released into the wild. Such is the case of David (Colin Farrell), who is dumped by his girlfriend and finds himself needing to find love soon or else he will be turned into a lobster.

The concept is so rich and ridiculous that the story finds humor with the escalating pressure to find a mate. John C. Reilly’s character (simply listed as Lisping Man) has his hand put in a toaster for masturbating. The nurses have to give a semi-lap dance to the men in order to keep them aroused and remind them of the allure of love. Loners are hunted down and shot with tranquilizers in the wild. When you go out in public, you must have proof of companionship in a formal document.

The sheer lunacy of it all is hysterical, but the commentary on our own world is enlightening. Why do we deem that people must find love? Why is that important for us? What is true companionship? How is love tested? What is love itself?

As David discovers over the course of the story, those loners they hunt out in the wild are not much for happiness either. Only when he meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) does he get a taste of happiness, a glimpse into love. But even that is tested, and the ending of the film is ambiguous: Does he love her or was it passing infatuation? What is he willing to do for that love? Was it worth it? As the characters contemplate these questions, a random flamingo will wander past them, some poor wretch who never found that special someone; it is both terrifying and hilarious.

“The Lobster” makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you feel. It’s one of the best films of the year, an enveloping social commentary disguised as a comedy where the joke is on all of us who think we understand love.

Understanding films from all angles