Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Review: Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant 1960s thriller Psycho defined a genre for many years to come. When Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) makes off with a $40,000 of her boss's money to be with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin), she finds herself lost on the road with growing paranoia. A chilling soundtrack ratchets up the tension as Marion sells her car and works to cover her tracks despite being followed by a police officer. Caught in a thunderstorm, she is forced to pull off and find lodging at the Bates Motel. She meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) the purveyor of the motel. Norman offers to make Marion dinner 

She soon discovers that Norman has an angry mother who reprimands him loudly from the house above the motel for checking in a pretty girl. Marion apologizes for intruding as Norman watches her eat. He continues to watch her even without her knowledge through a peephole. Marion regroups in the motel and takes a shower. The iconic shower scene occurs when Norman's mother comes in and stabs Marion to death. Norman is horrified by his mother's actions but cleans up the dead body and drives the car into a swamp. 

Marion's sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) goes to Sam, looking for her sister. Also on the search is Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam). He sets off following Marion's trail until he comes to Bates Motel. He asks Norman some questions about Marion. Norman at first denies Marion stayed at the motel but as Det. Arbogast catches him in lie after lie, he becomes uncomfortable and stutters. Arbogast returns to the motel after letting Lila know that he was on Marion's trail. He goes into the creepy the house and gets murdered by Norman's mother.

Lila and Sam decide to figure what happened to Arbogast and their sister. The report to the local sheriff who tells them that Norman's mother is actually dead. Disturbed, they check-in to the Bates Motel and snoop around. Sam distracts Norman while Lila investigates the house looking for his mother. Norman realizes that Sam is up to something and attacks him. Lila finds Mrs. Bates body decomposing down in the fruit cellar. Just as Norman tries to stab Lila, Sam stops him. They analyze Norman and discover his split personality. 

This movie is a classic still inspiring stories today. The film still has a frightening aspect that utilizes the black and white of the filmmaking at the time. The exploration of split personalities is still a common theme in cinema and this is a defining production of just such a scenario. A Hitchcock masterpiece and horror classic, it was fun to revisit this film in anticipation of the finale of Bates Motel, the current iteration of the story. Fans of horror who have not seen this film should definitely seek it out. 


Movie Review: Free Fire

When a gun deal goes wrong, it leads to a comical shootout between tow sides that is both gruesome and funny to watch. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) want to buy guns for the IRA so he meets up with Justine (Brie Larson) who connects with Ord (Armie Hammer). Ord knows a strange South African dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) who brings the wrong type of guns, AR-17 instead of M-16s. Frank has brought along two junkies Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley) who had been in a fight the previous night and are high on smack. 

Vernon brought along an ex-Black Panther Martin (Babou Ceesay) who tries to calm him when things get heated. He also uses two men Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) to carry the heavy guns. The clash arises when Harry recognizes Stevo from the night earlier. It is never clear what truly happened but Harry claims that Stevo cut his cousin's face when she refused to have oral sex with him. The argument escalates until Harry shoots Stevo and everyone draws a gun on everyone else. 

The gunshots hit everyone as bullets fly but most of the wounds are not lethal at first. The criminals get hit in the leg or the shoulder. The shootout takes place in a large abandoned factory, possibly used to be for making umbrellas, so there is debris all over. Vernon is goofily worried about infection but as the wounds grow progressively worse, it is clear that many of them won't get out. It is also apparent that there was a double-cross as snipers show up to add to the mayhem and bullets flying.  

For as much action as goes on in this movie, I found parts of it to be rather boring. I'm not sure if it was that there were not clear cut good guys or bad guys or that some of the action was confusing, but I never really cared and bullets flying for gunfighting's sake just doesn't cut. Still, the humor was enough to keep the movie more entertaining than the action. There are various goals that get the men and woman crawling around the factory trying to get where they are going as alliances shift and shots go wild. 

No one makes it out as appears obvious from the premise but there are some exceptional deaths. Vernon is set on fire shoots his attacker but then gets a bullet to the face. Stevo fighting with Harry gets his head run over. Martin lives a little while longer with a hole in his head. Ord and Chris nearly make it out when they are finally double-crossed by Justine. She had a plan of her own and the shootout messed that up pretty badly. The ending isn't too ambiguous as Justine tries to limp away from the carnage only to hear sirens and see flashing lights coming from outside. It's a decent film but nothing too special.

TV Show Review: The Get Down (Part 2)

The second part of this Netflix original picks up where the Get Down brothers left off. The Get Down crew had a major success winning a rap battle and now they perform nightly at their own club. Ezekiel 'Books' Figuero (Justice Smith) is straddling two worlds as he works on his college essay before going out to perform a show. Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola) has had success with her first hit but now must manage a crude record producer and the demands of her father Pastor Ramon Cruz (Giancarlo Esposito). Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) tries to pull Books back into the music business while also trying to maintain his drug dealing business by selling at their shows.

The villainous Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) still insists that this musical movement is fiction yet begrudges the Get Down brothers success. Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks) falls for a girl in the Zulu brotherhood, though the members don't support what that the Get Down's rap show is a front for the drug dealing. Dizzee (Jaden Smith) writes to his lover Thor in prison as he draws the story of the Get Down. History catches up with Papa Fuerte (Jimmy Smits) as he hopes to develop a part of the Bronx but the law is also threatening to catch up.

There was a feeling of dread that comes over the initial parts of this season as the success is sprinkled with danger. Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown Jr.) wants to impress a girl so he joins the drug game of selling weed spiked with angel dust but when Cadillac initiates a nefarious plan to spike the dust to poison, the Get Down brother's club is littered with sick bodies, including Dizzee. Boo-Boo can't stay ahead of the law forever. Ezekiel also struggles to keep a pristine look when Shaolin crashes his college interview and draws a gun on several of the white college jerks.

Mylene's rise to fame hits a barrier when her father tries to control her image but the record producer demands a sexier image. Mylene goes with showbiz as opposed to her father's wishes, which leads to Pastor Cruz's descent, his wife's revelation of Mylene's true father, and his eventual suicide at the altar of his new church. The Get Down brothers have to gather the various leaders of this new music movement and hold one large concert to stop Cadillac and his evil Aunt from stealing their music and making them stick to a bad contract. All of this feels a bit jumbled together and wraps up a little too quickly.

I didn't enjoy the second part as much of the first as it seemed to be teetering on the edge of drama but skirted any real consequences. There was still that frenetic joy but the switching of storylines didn't quite work and most of this felt a bit repetitive of the first part. The historical nature didn't seem to have as much an affect though the music was a joy to listen to. If you are interested in the birth of hip-hop or would enjoy a musical exploration of New York in the eighties, this might just be the show for you. It wasn't too long so didn't kill too much television time with a quick watch, and had interesting enough characters to carry it through the episodes.  

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

The epic Hugo-nominated sci-fi thriller from acclaimed writer Neal Stephenson explores the process of human survival after the explosion of the moon. The cause of this explosion is never revealed throughout the over 800 pages of meticulous prose but that was never the point of this book. The explosion caused by whatever is referred to as the Agent leaves the world with only about 2 years to prepare for the oncoming rush of asteroid and meteor from the shredded moon. This space debris grows exponentially until what is referred to as the Hard Rain will come down after the White Sky. The only hope for humanity's survival appears to be a voyage into space. The crew of the International space station will lead the charge as new members will be shot up and join the swarm.

It is hard to review a large book in such a short amount of space as there are so many different aspects of it and I will only be able to mention so much. The perspective jumps around but the main characters consist of a popular scientist Doc Dubois, the leader of the international space station Ivy, a robot mining mechanic Dinah, and other various members of the operation. Doc Dubois realizes that the breaking up of the moon will cause the destruction of Earth in the first part of the novel as the crew of the station begin planning for the arrival of survivors. There are a lot of technical details and the book is not always a pleasure to read though quite informative about space travel.  

Deciding who will live and survive is left up to each society as they must choose two people to go to a training and from there, individuals will be chosen who have proven they have the necessary skills. Conflict breaks out between some countries who believe their people are not being treated fairly. Survival on the Ark in space does not appear realistic to most people as the strive to solve the multiple problems that arise before the end of Earth. The timeline is accelerated when a meteor crashes into the cloud of moon rocks sending deadly space projectiles crashing into Earth. Some go below ground while others take to the seas in submarines, but none are believed to survive except those in space.

The astronauts must take on harrowing missions to find a water supply, protect from bolides, and cover from radiation. Luckily, a billionaire sacrificed his life to attached a nuclear missile to a comet full of ice and another managed to pull that in behind the space station. The whole time the space station was using an asteroid for cover against flying debris but eventually, they would have to fly up into higher orbit. The president of the U.S. known as Julia, or JBF, escaped the debris and leads a rebellion against the leaders of the space station. A lot of people die from all the dangers of space steadily decreasing the number of survivors. It ends up that there are only seven women left and they use genetics and technology to start a new society within an asteroid.

The final third of the novel jumps ahead three thousand or so years to a new civilization. The seven eves are treated as the founders of civilization as there are seven races descended from these seven women. Each one exhibits the characteristics chosen by the women and the populations were dependent on a number of children each woman could have. There have been wars and huge leaps in technology as the humans have returned to Earth and split up across the planet. Major portions are just exposition filling in the development of the new culture. This plot revolves around the discovery of other races that survived on Earth. This book was long and felt like quite an adventure but I would only recommend to those with a lot of time, who like the minutiae details, and fans of Stephenson. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review: Ugly As Sin by James Newman

James Newman's brutal novel tells the story of a down on his luck wrestler searching for his kidnapped granddaughter. The book starts off with a grotesque horror scene when big time wrestler Nick Bullman aka The Widowmaker is abducted by deranged fans and tortured. The most gruesome part is that Nick loses his face in the torture and is left with a hideous complexion. A cop even slips on the flesh making this scene especially disturbing before jumping ahead several months. Newman fills us in on the rough surgeries Nick had to experience to even operate again but it leaves him disfigured and ashamed of the face he has to show the world. 

This book isn't all just violence and gore, there is a definite human element as Nick Bullman is knocked and sent plummeting from his celebrity pedestal after he beats up a wrestling president. At his lowest, Nick receives a call from his daughter Melissa. She's in dire need as her daughter has been kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. Feeling guilty for his absence for nearly all of Melissa's life, Nick vows to find his granddaughter Sophie no matter the cost. His first lead is Melissa's dead boyfriend Eddie who was murdered during Sophie's kidnapping. The deceased drug dealer associated with all sorts of ugly characters that Nick discovers as he investigates.

Nick never blames Melissa for Sophie's abduction and instead, takes responsibility for the missing girl as repayment for his past absence. Nick meets Melissa's neighbor, Leon, searching her house for any stashed drugs. He's a mess but a huge fan of the Widowmaker so he approaches meeting Nick with a fervor and assists in the mystery. Leon was one of my favorite characters in the novel, a mixture of humor and a sad depiction of the life to be lived in Midnight, North Carolina.

The plot grows more intricate interspersed with intimate scenes between Nick and his estranged daughter that add an emotional element to this brutal work of fiction. The villain doesn't show up until later and the book lags just a little the middle as Nick waits around for a further clue. when that shows up in his motel room, he follows the crumbs and news reports to an awful realization. The old billionaire, known as Daddy, has a collection that he hopes to grow and that includes famous memorabilia tying this back to Nick's career as a famous wrestler. 

I would recommend this book to those who can handle gore but are looking for a decent noir mystery. There is certainly a strong sense of setting and interesting characters to push the plot along for what makes a not too long read. I definitely enjoyed the parts where Nick found breaks in the mystery and was able to demonstrate his great strength plus a certain knowledge about pain and taking hits to later achieve wins. There are plenty of twists and turns to make the final realizations ultimately satisfying. Looking forward to checking out more by James Newman. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TV Show Review: Girls (Season 6)

The final season of this HBO original series sees a major change for Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham). After receiving a writing assignment and setting out to a surf camp, she encounters Paul Louis (Riz Ahmed) a lazy surfer and has a one night stand. She returns to New York where she covers for Marnie (Alison Williams) who wants to get away and try to mend her troubled relationship with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Desi turns out to have been concealing an oxycontin addiction. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Adam (Adam Driver) are having trouble in their wild relationship and decide to make a film of Adam and Hannah's strange relationship.

In one of the most interesting episodes of the season and the series, Hannah has a strange interview with Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys), a popular other accused of taking advantage of young female fans with his fame. The interview grows especially intense when he makes a move on Hannah and his daughter arrives. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is troubled about his stagnant life when the owner of the coffee shop where he works Hermie (Colin Quinn) passes away leaving him the place. Hannah goes to the hospital for a UTI infection where she encounters Joshua (Patrick Wilson) the rich doctor she'd once had a short tryst with and he tells her that she's pregnant.

Hannah decides to keep the baby causing strange behavior from each of her friends. Elijah (Andrew Rannells) goes on an addition for the play version of "White Men Can't Jump" and is upset with Hannah's change in lifestyle. He wants to continue to party and be immature while Hannah will be forced to grow up. Hannah's mother Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) struggles with a new phase of her life after her husband came out as gay and divorced her. She is upset to find out that she is a grandmother and life has passed her by with a man who didn't love her.

Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) has her own troubles with old friends who became successful clothing moguls and rushes into a marriage with a man she meets only two weeks before. She introduces Ray to an old coworker who hit it off quite a lot. Adam tries to win Hannah back and help her raise the baby and after a day of discussing the reality of the situation, they find that they do not have a future together and silently and emotionally break up. 

The girls of the show finally have one cathartic meeting in a bathroom where they all agree that they are moving in different directions, though Marnie is determined to stay friends with Hannah. The final episode flashes forward three months to Hannah and Marnie living with Hannah's young child who refuses to breastfeed. The trouble of motherhood brings Hannah's own mother to their country house. Hannah finally shows maturity and seems to be really changing of six seasons of odd and seemingly immature decisions. Girls has been a fun little 30-minute comedy after HBO dramas that was always interesting to watch as Lena Dunham explored the life of a woman in New York.. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

The new twist on the extended series of the Fast and the Furious is to put their leader into the role of a villain. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when he meets Cipher (Charlize Theron) who provides a video that makes Dom work for her. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is invested in his young daughter's soccer team when the agency requests he takes on a difficult mission of stealing an EMP in Berlin. Hobbs calls up Dom who agrees and the team assembles to pull off the mission but when Dom betrays them, Hobbs end up in a prison cell right next to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). 

The rest of the team, Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Letty, and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are confused as to why Dom betrayed them. Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) recruits them to hunt down Dom and Cipher with his trainee Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Hobbs and Deckard break out of prison with the help of Mr. Nobody and they all work to hunt down Dom but he shows up at their undisclosed location to steal the God's Eye from the previous film. Cipher operates in a plane that flies through radar systems undetected and hopes to steal nuclear launch codes for power.

The spoiler is that Dom's old relationship with Elena (Elsa Pataky) resulted in a baby boy. Dom has to work for Cipher to protect his child from murder and anytime he tries to fight back, she takes a life, first Elena, and then threatens his son, Brian. Dom has a plan of his own though when he works with Magdalene Shaw (Helen Mirren) in a humorous cameo to recruit her two boys Deckard and Owen (Luke Evans). Cipher is able to take control of all the cars in New York City and cause a typhoon of motor vehicles, allowing Dom to steal the launch codes from the Russian defense secretary. This action scene was the customary over the top style of these films though filled with noticeable special effects.

Letty is especially distraught by the betrayal of her brother and is nearly shot by Cipher's henchman Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju). The team is defeated by Dom's slick driving and he escapes with the launch codes. The final mission Cipher asks of Dom is to take over a nuclear submarine at a Russian base that had been captured by separatists. The team chooses their vehicles and head to the base to catch Dom. Meanwhile, the Shaw brothers, at the behest of their mother, track down Cipher's plan thanks to a tracking device in Dom's cross necklace. In an especially humorous scene, Deckard saves Dom's son from henchmen and earns forgiveness for killing Han in Tokyo Drift.

The final battle on the tundra with a submarine is insane and impractical but pretty fun to watch. Dom has become an unstoppable superhero and his team can pull off absurd stunts like Roman using the door of a Lamborghini to beat up henchmen on snowmobiles. With Dom's child free, he betrays Cipher and kills Rhodes. He tricks a heat-seeking missile into blowing up the submarine. Cipher manages to escape leaving the series open for yet another sequel. They all end up celebrating on the rooftop for another episode as they are feeling somewhat formulaic despite the new twist.