Month: March 2015

Sun Belt Promotions

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Tim Bowens, South Alabama

  • Previously: Wide Receivers
  • Currently: Running Backs

Carter English, Texas State

  • Previously: Graduate Assistant
  • Currently: Recruiting Coordinator

Todd Littlejohn, New Mexico State

  • Previously: Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers
  • Currently: Cornerbacks

Kerry Locklin, New Mexico State

  • Previously: Defensive Line
  • Currently: Defensive Tackles

Travis Niekamp, Louisiana-Monroe

  • Previously: Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator
  • Currently: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers

Mario Price, Louisiana-Monroe

  • Previously: Inside Wide Receivers
  • Currently: Running Backs/Recruiting Coordinator

Sean Reagan, Troy

  • Previously: Quarterbacks
  • Currently: Quarterbacks/Running Backs

Zane Vance, New Mexico State

  • Previously: Linebackers/Recruiting Coordinator
  • Currently: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers

Adam Waugh, Louisiana-Monroe

  • Previously: Safeties
  • Currently: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

Cody Wells, Louisiana-Monroe

  • Previously: Graduate Assistant
  • Currently: Inside Wide Receivers

Sun Belt Shakeup

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There was only one head coaching change in the Sun Belt Conference this offseason, with 34-year-old rising star Neal Brown taking over for the retiring Larry Blakeney at Troy.

Two veteran coaches, Jerry McManus (tight ends, Louisiana-Monroe) and Larry Coyer (defensive coordinator, New Mexico State) called it quits after several decades in the business.

Two Sun Belt assistants went to other Sun Belt schools — Ashley Ambrose (Idaho to Texas State) and Bam Hardmon (Idaho to Troy). After the UAB program closed its doors, several of the Blazers’ assistants caught on with Sun Belt programs, including Bryant Vincent (South Alabama), Richard Owens (South Alabama), and Cornelius Williams (Troy).

Also, two former BCS-level defensive coordinators, Mike Breske of Washington State and Vic Koenning of North Carolina, caught on with conference schools Idaho and Troy, respectively.

Arkansas State and Georgia Southern had the enviable task of not having to scramble to replace anyone on staff.

By the numbers, here are the number of staff changes:

Appalachian State: 1 hired, 1 promoted

Georgia State: 2 hired

Idaho: 3 hired

UL-Lafayette: 4 hired

UL-Monroe: 2 hired, 2 promoted

New Mexico State: 3 hired, 3 promoted

South Alabama: 4 hired, 1 promoted

Texas State: 1 hired, 1 promoted

Troy: 6 hired, 1 promoted

Let’s take a look:

Ashley Ambrose

  • Previously: Defensive Backs, Idaho
  • Currently: Cornerbacks, Texas State

Mike Breske

  • Previously: Defensive Coordinator, Washington State
  • Currently: Defensive Coordinator, Idaho

Nate Brown

  • Previously: Defensive Backs, Grambling State
  • Currently: Cornerbacks, Louisiana-Monroe

Neal Brown

  • Previously: Offensive Coordinator, Kentucky
  • Currently: Head Coach, Troy

Tracy Buckhannon

  • Previously: Defensive Coordinator, Colquitt County (Georgia) High School
  • Currently: Inside Linebackers, South Alabama

Matt Clark

  • Previously: Offensive Line, Nicholls State
  • Currently: Tight Ends, Louisiana-Monroe

Levorn Harbin

  • Previously: Assistant Coach, Auburn
  • Currently: Defensive Line, Louisiana-Lafayette

Charlie Harbison

  • Previously: Safeties, Auburn
  • Currently: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Outside Linebackers, Louisiana-Lafayette

Bam Hardmon

  • Previously: Defensive Line, Idaho
  • Currently: Defensive Line, Troy

Kenny Holmes

  • Previously: Defensive Line, San Diego
  • Currently: Defensive Line, Idaho

Vic Koenning

  • Previously: Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers/Safeties, North Carolina
  • Currently: Defensive Coordinator/Safeties, Troy

Eric Lewis

  • Previously: Defensive Backs, Buffalo
  • Currently: Defensive Backs, Georgia State

Mike Lucas

  • Previously: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers, Northwestern State
  • Currently: Inside Linebackers, Louisiana-Lafayette

Cory Martin

  • Previously: Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator, San Diego
  • Currently: Wide Receivers, New Mexico State

Matt Moore

  • Previously: Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line, Louisiana Tech
  • Currently: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, Troy

Richard Owens

  • Previously: Wide Receivers, UAB
  • Currently: Tight Ends, South Alabama

Andy Richman

  • Previously: Offensive Line, Valdosta State
  • Currently: Offensive Line, New Mexico State

Tony Samuel

  • Previously: Head Coach, Southeast Missouri State
  • Currently: Outside Linebackers, Georgia State

Tyler Siskey

  • Previously: Director of Player Personnel, Alabama
  • Currently: Wide Receivers, South Alabama

Melvin Smith

  • Previously: Cornerbacks, Auburn
  • Currently: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs, Louisiana-Lafayette

Oliver Soukup

  • Previously: Defensive Coordinator, Eastern New Mexico
  • Currently: Defensive Ends, New Mexico State

Jon Sumrall

  • Previously: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers, Tulane
  • Currently: Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers, Troy

Bryant Vincent

  • Previously: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, UAB
  • Previously: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, South Alabama

Justin Watts

  • Previously: Wide Receivers, Middle Tennessee
  • Currently: Wide Receivers, Appalachian State

Aric Williams

  • Previously: Cornerbacks, Montana
  • Currently: Defensive Backs, Idaho

Cornelius Williams

  • Previously: Wide Receivers, UAB
  • Currently: Outside Wide Receivers, Troy

Drive (2011)

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Our hero in this film is unnamed, known only as “the Driver.” He lives in an apartment in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, working a day job repairing cars and driving stunt vehicles for Hollywood films, while moonlighting as a getaway driver for criminals. He normally keeps to himself, but develops an interest in his beautiful neighbor Irene. Conversely, Irene and her young son Benicio develop a connection with the Driver.

The Driver’s boss, Shannon, uses his business ties with the Jewish mafia to purchase a stock car for an upcoming race, while Irene’s convict husband gets into hot water with an Albanian gangster, who demands $40,000. The Driver, offering to protect Irene and her son, steals a Mustang and acts as the getaway driver.

Things go horribly awry, and while the Driver gets away with the money, he is double-crossed by the mafia and seriously injured. Soon enough, the Driver becomes hell-bent on teaching the people who have crossed him a brutal lesson.

This film is outstanding. Stylish, violent, and visually compelling, Drive is essentially the American debut of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Based on a book by James Sallis, the screenplay was written by Academy Award nominee Hossein Amini.

Originally set to be directed by Neil Marshall and starring Hugh Jackman as the Driver, the film was initially conceived in 2008. But once Marshall and Jackman dropped out in 2010, producer Marc Platt contacted Ryan Gosling. Gosling, who was looking for an action-oriented film to star in, loved the plot and the romance in the script, and said yes less than 48 hours after Platt contacted him. Gosling was already a fan of Winding Refn, and insisted that he be involved in the project; Winding Refn accepted almost immediately.

 

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Shot on a modest budget of $15 million, Drive premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. It received warm reviews and a standing ovation at the festival, and Winding Refn received the Best Director Award. The film currently holds a 93% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was considered one of the best indie films of the year, with critics reserving particular praise for the cinematography, direction, and Gosling’s performance. The film ended up grossing $76 million worldwide — more than five times its budget.

As a big fan of Ryan Gosling’s work, I enthusiastically recommend Drive due to its artistic style, its simplistic-but-beautiful storyline, and its terrific acting.

 

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Screenplay by Hossein Amini

Based on the book by James Sallis

Produced by Marc Platt, Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Adam Siegel, and Gigi Pritzker

Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, James Biberi, Kaden Leos

Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.

If…. (1968)

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. ~Proverbs 4:7

This film opens with the aforementioned quote. Set in a public boarding school in the United Kingdom, If…. follows a group of young miscreants intent on fighting the status quo against both the corrupt upperclassmen and the school administration.

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Early scenes establish the mood of the film and the school’s many traditions. Mick (Malcolm McDowell), Wallace (Richard Warwick), and Johnny (David Wood), are the three principal characters, as they return for another term of school, this time in the lower sixth form (equivalent to their junior year of high school). The upper sixth formers (equivalent to seniors) are known as the “Whips,” and greatly enjoy their emphatic dominance over the younger boys. They’re also shown to suck up to their housemaster, Mr. Kemp (Arthur Lowe), in order to assert themselves more and gain favor with the school authorities, as well as enforcing discipline on the younger boys.

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Mick and Johnny play fast and loose with the rules, growing out their hair, drinking hard liquor and smoking secretly, and plastering the walls of their room with pin-up models and politically-motivated cutouts. One day, Mick and Johnny run off campus, steal a motorcycle, and encounter a beautiful girl (Christine Noonan) at a local coffee shop, where Mick has a surreal fantasy about sleeping with her. Meanwhile, Wallace develops a crush on a younger boy named Bobby. The three boys’ daring behavior causes more and more clashes with the Whips, culminating in Johnny and Mick’s brutal caning in the school gymnasium. The Whips seem to have it in for Mick even more than Johnny, and the tension is palpable. However, in line with school tradition, Mick thanks the Whips for the discipline and shakes their hands after the caning. The three boys have had enough. They embark on a daring mission to take down the system and revolt against their would-be masters. Mick stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his friends and his girl, willing to do whatever it takes to assert himself as more than a pawn in the school’s game.

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This film is very strange and often surreal, mixing fantasy and reality as well as black-and-white versus color. It was filmed at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire, where my father, Saami, attended. Therefore, for me, this is a special film, partially because I can picture my dad in that type of an environment.

Originally titled Crusaders, If…. was the brainchild of writer David Sherwin, who wrote the film in 1960 based on his experiences at Tonbridge School in Kent. He and co-writer John Howlett took the script to Seth Holt, a young director who would later become famous in the UK for Taste of Fear (1961) and The Nanny (1965). Holt, inexperienced at the time, declined to direct the project. Nicholas Ray, Sherwin’s boyhood hero who had directed Rebel Without a Cause (1955), was also interested, but health issues ultimately prevented him from taking part in the film that became If…. .

When Sherwin met with Lindsay Anderson (who was recommended by Holt), he felt very confident in the direction of the script. Anderson, an alumnus of Cheltenham, approached the school — and then-headmaster David Ashcroft — to shoot the film. The crew also shot additional scenes at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire. Filming on a small budget, Anderson used actual students as extras and paid out-of-pocket for rental and facility fees.

If…. also marks the film debut of Malcolm McDowell, who was 25 years old when the film was released. McDowell, who later became notorious for a similar role in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, instantly made an impression on director Lindsay Anderson, and they later worked together on numerous projects. Both Anderson and McDowell remained close friends until Anderson’s death in August 1994.

If…. is a crazy, surreal, and significantly controversial film that is a damning social commentary. Considering the simmering tension and outright violence that was happening in the western world in the late 60s, this film was beyond relevant. If…. faced serious censorship due to its subversive, rebellious themes. Released around the time of the student riots in Paris and the Martin Luther King assassination, this was a difficult time to push buttons and incite uproar, especially on film. In addition to the undercurrent and subtext of anarchy and violence, there is some brief nudity towards the end of the film. Anderson, long considered a counter-cultural filmmaker, never blinked, and the film racked up major acclaim despite the controversy surrounding it. It ended up winning the Palme d’Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, and currently holds a 97% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. In 2004, If…. was voted the 16th-greatest British film of all time by Total Film magazine.

Directed by Lindsay Anderson

Produced by Lindsay Anderson and Michael Medwin

Screenplay by David Sherwin and John Howlett

Starring Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick, Rupert Webster, Christine Noonan, Robert Swann, Hugh Thomas, Peter Sproule, Michael Cadman, Arthur Lowe, Mary MacLeod, Anthony Nicholls, Robin Askwith, and Peter Jeffrey

Rated R

An unsung hero

What names come to mind when you think of the Apollo moon landings?

Neil Armstrong? Undoubtably.

Buzz Aldrin? Sure. He and Armstrong were an incredible team.

Wernher von Braun, the brilliant German scientist who developed the Saturn V rocket that took us to the moon?

Or what about Gene Krantz, the daring mission control commander who helped steer the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft back to earth?

All these men were invaluable assets to America’s space program. But the man I’m talking about today is a little-known engineer named John Houbolt.

Born April 10, 1919 in Altoona, Iowa, Houbolt was a brainy kid who graduated from the engineering program at the University of Illinois in 1942 and later received a Ph.D from a university in Switzerland in 1957.

Houbolt became a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1942; this organization became known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958.

In 1961, people at NASA were feeling the heat. Yuri Gagarin, a Russian, had just become the first man in space, and the Americans were lagging behind. President John F. Kennedy had recently mandated that America should land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, startling everyone at NASA. No one really knew how to land a man on the moon. There were ideas being thrown around, sure, but no one really had any definitive agreement, and the topic was hotly debated by NASA administrators. Dr. Wernher von Braun himself was an advocate for designing gigantic rockets to transport astronauts from the earth to the moon, or by assembling a giant spacecraft in low earth orbit via periodic launches. But both were enormously expensive and impractical.

At this time, Houbolt was working at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He did some research on an obscure idea called lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR), first developed by Russian scientist Yuri Kondratyuk back in 1923.

This was a complex idea, calling for a large rocket to be launched from earth, carrying not one spacecraft, but two. The main spacecraft would be the command ship, while a separate lunar lander would un-dock from the other part of the spacecraft once both vessels had reached lunar orbit. The benefits would be simple: it could save weight and be cost-effective, but the feat could only be attempted by the best astronaut-pilots in the program.

Houbolt was passionately convinced that this was how America needed to get to the moon, but his idea never caught on at Langley. With everything to lose — maybe even his own job — Houbolt made a bold choice: he wrote a detailed letter to new NASA associate administrator Robert Seamans, an MIT-educated man who was not expected to respond to the whims of a lowly company engineer.

But the mood at NASA was tense; no one wanted to continue to lose to the Soviets at taxpayer expense. Kennedy continued to trumpet bigger and better things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard” — and the people at NASA didn’t have the time or the resources to waste.

However, Houbolt’s case was convincing enough that Seamans became intrigued with the idea. About a year later, NASA officially selected LOR as the way that they would go to the moon. And a year after that, in 1963, NASA awarded Houbolt the Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement.

On July 20, 1969, von Braun made sure that Houbolt was in mission control when Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, offering words of congratulations and thanks. And yes, America may never have met the end-of-the-decade deadline if it wasn’t for Houbolt, who had a daring nature and the willingness to dream big.

Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Houbolt passed away on April 15, 2014 at a nursing home in Scarborough, Maine, less than a week after his 95th birthday. He was truly an unsung hero of the golden age of NASA, and he deserves as much credit as possible for helping America fulfill Kennedy’s goal. Sure, history may still have been made, and yes, Armstrong still may have been the first man, but we may not have gotten there in the right time frame if it wasn’t for John Cornelius Houbolt.

Thanks, Dr. Houbolt. You gave us the moon.

A logical X-planation

He’s been a seminal figure in the music industry for over two decades. As part of a band that has achieved unprecedented success in the Far East, as well as worldwide, he is on par with any other rock star in the western world — but he’s also classically trained on piano and has composed music since he was 10 years old.

He’s got his own clothing line, his own personalized credit card, his own Hello Kitty doll, and he’s developed his own personalized fine wine. He is nothing short of a legend in his home country.

Without further ado, I introduce you to Yoshiki Hayashi.

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How can one be such an established presence in Asia, but possibly not even be recognized on the streets in America? It’s always been a conundrum for Yoshiki, age 49, who is one of the busiest men in the entertainment industry today. He has been working non-stop since reuniting with his X Japan bandmates in 2007. He recently finished a worldwide tour promoting his latest album Yoshiki Classical, and he’s working on composition for the long-awaited X Japan album, due to be released either this year or the next.

He’s also a philanthropist, working with his own foundation as well as the Red Cross and Make a Wish. When Japan experienced a devastating earthquake in spring 2011, Yoshiki was almost immediately willing to help charitable causes. When he was asked to compose the theme for the 2013 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, he offered to donate all the iTunes proceeds to various charities. Such musical talent and charitable endeavors have even led some to call him “the Bono of Japan,” a label that Yoshiki himself finds quite flattering.

He was named music director of the World Expo Japan in 2005 and was also invited to compose a theme for the anniversary of Emperor Akihito’s rule back in 1999.

He has worked with numerous musical collaborators, ranging from Beatles producer Sir George Martin and Queen drummer Roger Taylor to the London Philharmonic. He owns his own studio in Los Angeles as well as Tokyo; he divides his time between both cities.

Born on November 20, 1965, in Chiba Prefecture, just an hour outside of Tokyo, Yoshiki began taking music theory lessons on piano at age four. He immersed himself in the works of Schubert, Beethoven, and many others, while concurrently learning how to compose music himself by age 10.

And then his world fell apart. Yoshiki’s father, a small business owner, committed suicide. Yoshiki was crushed and retreated to his music as a form of therapy. “Because of the music I survived. If there was no music next to me I don’t know what would have happened,” he explains now.

While in a local music shop one day, he discovered a crazy-looking band that wore lots of makeup and played with a hard-rock edge. This band was none other than American glam-rock icons KISS. Soon afterwards, Yoshiki began to learn how to play the drums and started composing music with his friend Toshimitsu “Toshi” Deyama.

I’ve already covered the wonderful music of X Japan in a previous blog, so I won’t bore my audience with how amazing I think this band is. The real question here is the relative anonymity of Yoshiki here in the States, despite his phenomenal talent and his impressive work ethic.

Yoshiki is almost the antithesis of what the western world is used to. First, symphonic rock has never had mass demographic appeal here in the States, or even in the UK. Most symphonic rock/metal has originated in Scandinavia; in fact, several so-called “viking metal” bands incorporate symphonic influences in their music.

Second, when we think of the word “rockstar,” we’re used to the crazy rockstar antics of guys who would scare your parents — like Steven Tyler, Angus Young, Kurt Cobain or Keith Richards.

Meanwhile, Yoshiki can rock with the best of them, but he’s always had the more contemplative side. He can be shy and self-deprecating in interviews, and he has a great sense of humor as well. He’s definitely not what you’d expect from a legendary rockstar whose music has sold millions of records worldwide. He’s not out there getting arrested for blow or meth, but he’s also been considered the rebel in his home country of Japan, where tradition and societal values still rule.

Despite this, Yoshiki’s fanbase in Japan knows no bounds. X Japan’s shows are always sold out in the Far East, and the X fan base transcends boundaries of age, gender, and musical taste. By blending rock with classical music, Yoshiki has bridged the gap somewhat, and it seems like everybody appreciates him and loves his music. If you wandered onto a crowded Tokyo street and shouted “We are X,” you would most definitely get an enthusiastic response. And that’s a testimony to Yoshiki’s enduring appeal to people from all different walks of life in Japan.