Thursday, September 22, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Not letting up on the 2016 theme of sequels and remake, The Magnificent Seven hits theaters this weekend, reprising on old western with a new twist. As I watched the film, I wondered what was the reason this film got made. Sure, it's a fun movie, a big gunfight battle at the end and big name actors strutting in cowboy boots, but there is no real purpose or direction. The movie is popcorn fun to help fill the months between peak Fall Oscar season and the end of summer blockbusters. The Magnificent Seven straddles the line between blockbuster and serious film.

The movie is packed full of big actors as most of the seven are recognizable names and even some of the minor roles are faces that are familiar. Rising star Haley Bennett plays Emma Cullen, a widow who recruits a bounty hunter to help her take down a robber baron. Bennett is on the rise with an impressive year starting with Hardcore Henry and also looking forward to Girl on a Train. Denzel Washington plays the bounty hunter Sam Chisolm who agrees to help the town and beings recruitment. His first recruit is a card shark Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt). Pratt smirks and chuckles playing the character viewers have seen in all the blockbusters he's been in. 

Among the other recruits are an ex-Confederate soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Lee plays one of the more enjoyable characters to watch during the action scenes. Hawke is fine as the troubled soldier with a few scenes of quality acting throughout. Rounding out the seven are Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Vasquez and Harvest don't get much character development and fulfill the quota. It hurts the film that the rest of the characters are bland. Matt Bomer shows up as Bennett's husband but he's cut down quickly. Peter Sarsgaard is mediocre as the villain Bartholomew Bogue, a bad guy we've seen him play before in other films.

The plotting suffers from a slow pace. The first recruitment act concludes with a decent enough gunfight but that stops the action until the final battle sequence. The ending was fun to watch but knowing that is all for the film kind of brings it down a little and makes this a movie to see once and not again for a while. It lacks any sort of message of the themes of technology of the original thought Antoine Fuqua's directing is always fun to watch. His movies have been hit or miss for me, and this film falls a bit in the middle.

I'm not familiar with the first one, I think I saw it a while ago, but that might have been another Western. If I can get it soon, I'll write a quick review in comparison of the remake. I can't help but think all of the cast members and production cost would have been better spent on an original piece to tell a new story, even if it shared the setting. The Magnificent Seven serves as a transitional film from summer to fall. 

Magazine Review: Apex Magazine Issue 88

Behind this gorgeous covers lies a brilliant collection of short stories and poetry that were full of sorrow, mortality, yet bright spots of hope for forsaken futures. The 88th issue of Apex Magazine has some of the best short fiction I've read all year with entries from Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Abhinav Bhat, Alexandria Baisen, and a reprint by Mike Barretta. The nonfiction touched on interesting topics like the story behind the eye-catching cover and an interview with the writer of a Gene Roddenberrry biography. Apex Magazine continues to publish great work that leaves me thinking about the human condition and the future of our world.

The post-apocalyptic poem "The Amenities of Heaven" by Marchell Dyon shows how much world-building can be packed into a few words, mournful and hopeful. Winged siblings experience ostracism in Zachary Riddle's fantastical poem "Wingless". Far off lands and buried treasure lay in "The Mouth of the Cave" by Brandon Marlon. Fly high above with "The Storm Creatures" by Christina Sng. All of these short poems have big imaginations.

"The Old Man and the Phoenix" by Alexandria Baisden touches on grief and hints at a greater fantasy world as it explores mortality and the difficulty of moving on. A phoenix is reborn but what happens to the bonds it makes with mortals as they succumb while it rebirths. 

"The Prince Who Gave Up Her Empire" by Benjanun Sringduangkaew explores gender and prophecy with an entire kingdom at stake. Combining sensual cannibalism and shape-shifting giants, this story uses a great spark of imagination to explore real issues of significance while making me think of questions like are we what are destinies say we will be or can we change our identity? I always look forward to reader Benjanun's work and this story did not disappoint. 

"The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer" by Abhinav Bhat turn repetitive poetry into a story of piety and the fear of mortality. As a young man faces his demise due to a wound, he is challenged by an old man that may be a messenger of from the god as more disturbing things lurk in the harsh landscape.

The reprint "War Dog" by Mike Barretta from the anthology War Stories, a book I've been meaning to pick up, has gene-spliced humans and infectious fungi overruled and persecuted by a Christian government that uses technology to prevent the spread of blasphemy. The world hear is bizarre and terrifying and a story of love rests in the middle.

Another great issue of Apex Magazine, and I'm finally up to date. Now I need to read some of the great books I picked up at WorldCon like Stay Crazy and The Kraken Sea.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

TV Show Review: Mr. Robot (Season 2)

The hit hacker show on USA concluded its second season tonight. Elliot (Rami Malek) continues to live in a delusional world as create Sam Esmail plays with viewers with an unreliable narrator. The biggest twist of this season was spoiled a little earlier by very accurate fan theories, which is why I try not to read too much about shows before the finale. I would highly recommend not continuing to read this review if you don't want the second season spoiled because I plan to write openly about the events of the second season all the way up to the finale.

My favorite addition to the second season was the character Dominique DiPerro and the brilliant acting of Grace Gummer. The show really benefited from her performance and most of her scenes contained plenty of awesome action sequences that took me totally by surprise right at the end of several episodes. Most of these scenes involved intense shootouts that were shot beautifully and ratcheted up the suspense to another level. Another great addition to the show was Joey Bada$$ as Leon, Elliot's fellow inmate who can slice some throats.

The show slowed down dramatically in the second season drawing out the plot and taking strange twists and turns as Elliot moved on from his realization that his father Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) was only a figment of his imagination. His sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) strikes ou on her own to try and advance the agenda of fsociety but finds herself in over her head. Also, Elliot's childhood friend Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) agrees to work for the corporation that killed her father, Evil Corp and tries to uncover their awful secrets.

Meanwhile, there is a great performance by BD Wong as Whiterose, the Chinese Diplomat and secret leader of the dark army. Craig Robinson shows up as Ray, a leader of illegal internet deals but also a prison warden. The guest spots really elevate the show through the slower pacing and shocking conclusions had me tuning in again each week. 

Mr. Robot took home the Emmy for best acting and Rami Malek deserved the award. His unreliable nature is something new that put a real twist on the show but taking the next step with even more altered reality showed that Mr. Robot has staying power for seasons to come. 

Sports: NFL (Week 2)

The second week of professional football started to separate playoff contenders from teams that will begin the season 0-2 and have to work hard to end up with a winning record. I'm running a bit late on my recap of the months as the third week begins tomorrow so I'm skating just under the line with my post. It is interesting to see who are the early contenders and I wonder if others will change their ways for a surprise. Some divisions are tied up but I will pick my likely contenders with the new information focuses on some who may only have the spotlight momentarily before falling to the back of the pack.

NFC West
The NFC West is all tied up so I'm looking at the San Francisco 49ers a little closer this week. Controversy swirls around them but they could possibly pull ahead in a troubled West. After coming out strong in the first game and decimating the Los Angeles Rams, they lost badly to the Panthers this week. The Rams pulled out a win in a low-scoring victory against their divisional opponent the Seattle Seahawks while the Cardinals crushed the Buccaneers after losing their first game.

NFC South
This might be my only chance to see the Atlanta Falcons on top as their win against the Oakland Raiders put them in a three-way tie with the Bucs, who lost to Arizona, and the Panther, who beat the 49ers. The Saints have fallen quickly to the bottom.

NFC North
Though they suffered the loss of their stellar and troubled running back Adrian Peterson, the Viking see themselves at the top of the NFC North beating their rivals the Packers on Sunday Night. The Detroit Lions survived a close game last week but that was not the case against the Titans this weekend, but they remain in the middle of the pack of an ailing Chicago Bears.

NFC East
The Philadelphia Eagles have had it easy so far with only the Browns and the Bears as opponents but their Monday night win ties them with the Giant, who I still think will take this division. The Cowboys after beating the Redskins who are at two losses.  

AFC West
The reigning champs, the Denver Broncos, continue their domination with a win over the Colts. The Chiefs lost to the Texans, Chargers beat the Jaguars, and Raiders lost to Atlanta to make them all 1-1.

AFC South
The Texans have taken the lead beating the Chiefs with a dominant defense. The Colts and Jaguars are both at two losses while the Titans are at 1-1 with their win aginst Detroit.

AFC North

I managed to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Cincinnati Bengals to share the top spot with the Baltimore Ravens who beat the Browns, a 0-2 team. 

AFC East
The New England Patriots beat the two-loss Dolphins and are still surviving despite losing their starting quarterback though they heave lost Garoppolo as well. I'm not sure the seriousness of his injury but they just need to make it two more games. The Bills have not performed well yet losing to the Jets this weekend who are now at 1-1.

That's  quick and easy take on football this past weekend. I'm looking forward to a couple games this upcoming week. The Thursday game pits two top teams, the Texans and Patriots, against each other to kick off the week. The Bengals have to prove themselves against the Broncos Vikings vs. Panthers, and Steelers vs. Eagles, are a couple of games I'll watch out for. The Falcons take on the Saints Monday night but I might be watching Trump take on Clinton in the first presidential debate.

Monday, September 19, 2016

TV Show Review: Vice Principals (Season 1)

This new riotous comedy from Jody Hill and Danny McBride reignites the mad hilarity that made Eastbound and Down such an amusing and entertaining show. McBride plays Neal Gamby, a Vice Principal who only dream in life is to one day rise up to be a Principal. When Principal Welles (Bill Murray) retires to spend more time with his sick wife, it sparks a competition between Gamby and the other Vice Principal Lee Russell (Walton Goggins).

Both Vice Principals believe they are destined for the top role and plan on firing each other when they inherit the role. However, a new principal is hired, Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). Dr. Brown comes in with ideas of change so both Gamby and Russell decide to join forces to get the principal fired. Gamby is dealing with his own personal problems at home as his ex-wife Gale (Busy Philipps) has married a motocross rider Ray Liptrapp (Shea Whigham), and taken his daughter away from horseback riding. 

Gamby also hopes to charm a teacher in the high school Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King), but his headstrong buffoonish behavior doesn't help matters. Gamby and Russell go to hilarious lengths to torment Dr. Brown and McBride and Goggins are brilliant as the two disturbed men. Gregory is great as the troubled principal especially as her life starts to deteriorate at the hands of the Vice Principals. Whigham is also hilarious as the bumbling stepfather.

With a great cast and an unpredictable script, Vice Principals puts up competition for a great comedy of the year and is definitely one of my favorite as I turn towards the year end of shows. The extreme measures taken by the vice principals never fail to shock every Sunday night ending in an absurd climax that will leave viewers stunned during the final credits. I highly recommend this show to fans of McBride who brings his familiar yet welcome bravado cussing in front of children and pulling all sorts of physical and verbal stunt that made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions.

HBO has a growing catalogue of great comedy and Vice Principals adds to that long list. I do hope they bring it back for a second season because the finale is insane and makes me want to see what happens next. With only nine episodes at 30-minutes per episode, it's a quick watch that leaves viewers wanting more. I hope Vice Principals has a long future.   

TV Show Review: Ray Donovan (Season 4)

I caught up on all four seasons of this show this year, part of my renewed dedication to being a television blogger. I've taken in Lieve Schrieber's masterful performance over four years and forty-eight hours of television and found it both exciting and meditative. Showtime offers up some prestige television and Ray Donovan is at the top of this network. The show follows Ray as he fixes problems for Los Angeles rich and famous. 

The show picks up after an action-packed season finale of the third season with a shootout where Ray and his father Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) took down the Armenian mob with the help of Ray's right-hand man Avi (Steven Bauer). Abby Donovan (Paula Malcomson) discovers that she has breast cancer and debates whether to seek treatment as she is upset with her husband and his promiscuous ways. 

Ray has to seek treatment himself for his alcohol addiction where he is introduced to the boxer Hector Campos (Ismael Cruz Cordova). Hector is seeking a title so begins to train at Ray's gym under the training of Ray's brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) who has Parkinson disease. Hector also has an incestuous relationship with his sister Marisol (Lisa Bonet). Ray's other brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) has married the wrestler Teresa (Alyssa Diaz) but after her pregnancy, she suffers from postpartum depression. There are so many other great characters but another exceptional one is Lena (Katherine Moennig) who had a falling out with Ray but is back in the fold this season. Also, Ray's half-brother Daryll (Pooch Hall) is really funny as the comedic relief and I'm glad I've been seeing him in commercials recently. 

The major struggles come from the Russain mob stepping in to make Ray pay for the executions of the Armenian mob, Mickey tries to rob a casino, and Hector tries to win a championship despite getting into all sorts of trouble. Ray is the calming balm to all these plotlines as he smoothly moves from one issue to the next while trying to pull his family back together. His son Conor (Devon Bagby) wants to grow up and be a gangster like his father but Ray has other ideas and shows him that it is not easy. His daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) ran away after having a relationship with an older man that Ray did not approve of so Ray works to bring her back to the family.

This season gives Ray another extraordinary and exciting challenge but the show felt like it peaked in season 2 and 3. It is hard to match the villainous charisma of Ian McShane though Raymond J. Barry certainly tries. The conclusion ties up all the various storylines much like every season, but this year takes a bit more brute force and has some satisfying vengeance. Ray ends this season on top of everything making wonder where the writers will take the show next. 

TV: 68th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 68th Emmys occurred on ABC last night and while I tuned in for a good bit, watching television is taking a lot of time lately as is apparent from the impressive showing of all the television shows that were nominated and awarded last night. I could have predicted a large amount of the winners but there were some surprises and informed me of shows that I haven't watched but need to make more time to watch at some point soon. In my short analysis, I'll start with the big awards and work my way down and address as many as I can.

Outstanding Drama Series: Game of Thrones (HBO)
My favorite show also took home the biggest award of the night and as Game of Thrones pushed passed George R.R. Martin's novels, the show became full of surprises that left me on the edge of my seat and jumping up in the air. This HBO epic brings much needed attention to the fantasy drama and has risen from a long shot to a sure thing. The directing awards also went to Game of Thrones for that amazing episode of Battle of the Bastards, possibly my favorite episode that I've ever watched on television. Mr. Robot is probably the show that came the closest to stealing the Throne as it performed well at the Golden Globes. I like the show but as the second season has arrived with a slower set of episodes, it may have suffered while Thrones is at the top of its game. Better Call Saul and House of Cards are both fun shows to watch but nothing that really stuns though Cards tries hard at it, this wasn't its best season. The Americans and Homeland are both awesome spy dramas, The Americans could have its day with the last season on the horizon and Homeland is great but it's a packed field. I never watched Downton Abbey.

Outstanding Comedy Series: Veep (HBO)
Veep is a show that I have heard a lot of good things about and have watched a few of episodes of the first season, but I'll have to work on adding this show to the top of my viewing list. Master of None is another show that I would have rooted for heavily, Aziz Ansari was great. Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are also shows I've loved this year but it looks like it will take a lot to get awarded. Modern Family has triumphed plenty of times before and Blackish is a new one, but I just don't have the free time to watch network television.

Outstanding Limited Series: The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story 
This category grew bigger this year with some amazing prestige shows. OJ Simpson was probably one of my favorite shows of the year and has a reserved space in my top ten no matter what happens. Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance also won acting awards for their roles as Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran respectively. These actors elevated this show to another level, but all around, great television.

 Fargo is also a spectacular show and added with the Americans and all the other awesomeness coming from FX, this channel is doing great things. Other great shows I saw this year were The Night Manager and Roots. I have yet to watch American Crime.

Outstanding Variety Talk Show: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
I have really enjoyed John Oliver's weekly late night comedy. I've felt like it has a much more informed approach to comedy though it has the advantage of only coming on once a week. I haven't watched it as much as I used to but still enjoy every episode I catch. The only other comedy show is Real Time with Bill Maher, but I've heard good things about Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series: Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Key & Peele ended their television run as they have moved to movies with the great Keanu. Inside Amy Schumer was another great Variety Sketch series that could possibly be over this year due to some controversy. I did not watch the other shows yet.

I only saw All the Way in the movie category, and I don't watch reality television.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama: Rami Malek, Mr. Robot (USA)
Rami Malek was brilliant in the first season of Mr. Robot and continues to shine in the second. He was well-deserving of the award and brings recognition to a show that is working towards being one of the best shows on television in a new era of television. All of the actors in this category were amazing, Liev Schrieber as Ray Donovan is brooding and great to watch. I will be writing a review of the fourth season right after this post. Kevin Spacey is great in House of Cards. Bob Odenkirk and hilarious as Jimmy McGill and brought new depth to the Saul Goodman character. Matthew Rhys deserves recognition for his role in The Americans and I hope he wins it next year. Kyle Chandler was enjoyable but definitely at the bottom of the list of these actors. 

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)
I've caught the first two season of Orphan Black and witnessed Tatiana Maslany's brilliance. I don't know what the last few season have added to it, but this show and character are brilliant because of this great actress. Claire Danes is great in Homeland and has been nominated multiple times before and won twice so she'll be in as long as she stays in this role. Keri Russell has also delivered in The Americans.

I didn't see either of the comedy award winners and need to put some time into both Transparent and Veep, a takeaway from this year Emmys. The big winner is the Limited Series Category, especially American Crime Story, which I'm excited to see what it offers next. Game of Thrones has established itself as extraordinary and I hope it will remain so until the end. Mr. Robot is the rising star and The Americans deserves recognition in its last year and Fargo should get some love at some point.