Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sports: NFL (Week 2)

The professional football season moves on to the second week. The first game of this week pushed a team I root for, the Cincinnati Bengals, into an emergency situation because they have not scored a single touchdown in the first eight quarters of their season. The Houston Texans take the Thursday Night Football game with an impressive performance by Deshaun Watson, from the championship Clemson Tigers, who ran for a touchdown at the end of the second half.
It's still hard to tell which teams are going to breakout but it is pretty clear that some teams don't have what it takes this year. The champion New England Patriots got their first win of the season over the New Orleans Saints.
The Steelers and Ravens both got a win to go up 2-0 in the AFC North. The Broncos and Chiefs did the same thing in the AFC West. The Panthers got their second win possibly making another run to the Super Bowl after a rough 2016 but making it here and losing in 2015. Their biggest competition will be the Atlanta Falcons who won the Sunday night game against the Green Bay Packers.
The Detroit Lions took the Monday Night Football game over the New York Giants putting Detroit into the lead of the NFC North.
The season is still early so it will be easier to spot who is a playoff contender in the upcoming weeks. I might break down the league by division next week if I can spot a leader in each one but as of now, there are a few teams still at the top and other with an even record. Exciting games coming up are from the teams highlight above the Falcons vs the Lions, both undefeated, and the Patriots vs Texans, an AFC playoff rematch. 

TV Show Review: The Strain (Season 4)

A show that had once seemed really interesting turned into a bit of a chore to watch even as it moved toward a finale. There were enjoyable points throughout the four seasons like the nuclear blast in New York City. The show picks up with the repercussions of this wild finale and sets the stage for the human characters last stand against the strigoi. I really don't like that name when this show was first advertised as a viral vampire horror. In my season three review, I expressed my dismay with the choice and mentioned the clumsiness of the dialogue with this terminology. I got over it somewhat this time around but the show still has pretty cheesy dialogue, though the special effects could be impressive at points, like the creepy tentacle tongues that coming out of the enlarged mouths of the creatures.

Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), the epidemiologist is hiding out in the wasteland of New York after his son Zach (Max Charles) the most annoying character on television set off a nuclear bomb. The strigoi run the city putting up a front that humans only need to donate blood to avoid trouble. Dutch Velders (Ruta Gedmintas) knows the truth as she works at a human baby farm where pregnant women are forced to give birth to strigoi slaves. Zach now lives under the direction of Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) who has becomes possessed by the master. Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) carries out the master's will by setting up concentration camps.

Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) has left New York City and lives out in the flyover states hunting strigoi with Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones). The show goes into the backstory of Quinlan and the Strain is often at its worst when it tries to show backstory. Still, Quinlan is a highlight of the show with his abilities making for some of the best action as he works with Vasiliy to obtain a nuclear bomb. They eventually commandeer a plan and return to New York with the weapon. Ephraim has discovered the evil plan of the master and his strigoi to farm humans and he sets out to learn the awful truth. Eldritch Palmer tries to foil Vasiliy's plan but they manage to escape before he can stop them.

Dutch saves Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) who was sick in a hospital under a different identity. She meets up with Ephraim and Vasilly joins them. Gus (Miguel Gomez) was working with a group of mercenaries to steal food from the strigoi slaves but they run into some trouble especially when Alonso (Jamie Hector) betrays him and tries to side with the master. The show works toward a confrontation revolving mainly around Zach and Ephraim. Zach has a love interest who turns him down and the master turns the girl into a strigoi, but that was one of the weaker stories of the season. Eventually, the master sends Zach out to trick Ephraim though Dr. Goodweather does not fall for it. The finale sees the heroes trying to set off one last bomb to kill the master.

Quinlan fights the master but loses only weakening his current physical form before Quinlan dies. The master orders Zach to kill Ephraim but Zach has an attack of conscience and refuses. The master vomits the infectious worms into Ephraim's mouth rendering all the zombie-like strigoi motionless and allowing Vasiliy and Dutch to escape. As the master takes over Ephraim's body, Zach seeks forgiveness for his evil ways and ruining the show by becoming the ultimate savior and setting off the nuclear bomb. The show wraps up quickly with the strigoi being wiped out and the atmosphere healing itself. Vasiliy returns to his extermination job and has a neat little voiceover to end it all.

The Strain really plummeted in quality or maybe was never that good in the first place. The apocalypse was slow moving and bizarre and at times the horror was decent enough to make up for the mediocre acting and odd plotting. The Strain has long been overshadowed by better genre shows but still made it to four seasons. It started as an exciting horror show with the mind of Guillermo Del Toro behind it but deflated until it was just a silly mess. There was always potential and characters like Ephraim, Quinlan, Setrakian, Dutch, Gus, and Eichorst but never lived up to the promise. 

Movie Review: American Assassin

The novels by Vince Flynn create a compelling character that hopes to transfer to cinema as some of his other spy predecessors have before. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) has an interesting origin story that is controversial in this day and age and glossed over quite a lot in the film. In a brutal opening scene, Rapp experiences awful tragedy while vacationing on a beach in Spain with his fiancé to whom he just purposed. Terrorists invade the beach and kill his fiancé and shoot him. The story jumps forward 18 months where Rapp is in a dark place, training at MMA and shooting at the gun range. I have only read the first part of the first book but could already spot significant differences that change the tone of the story and make Rapp out to be a little more of a loose cannon than a future secret agent.

Somehow, his odd behavior and fraternizing with terrorists leads him to a cell that the CIA could not find. He is about to attack when a task force swoops him to save him. Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) has been watching Rapp and decided that he would be perfect for a secret program known as Orion. After interrogating him for a few days, she takes him out to a secret training facility in Virginia led by the older spy Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The major plot starts to develop as nuclear material goes missing and a renegade American spy Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) is seen making mysterious deals. Ghost was trained by Hurley and hold a grudge against his former tutor.

The training sequence is rushed as Rapp confronts another trainee Victor (Scott Adkins) as they tussle in the forest and train in a warehouse using special goggles. The threat of the nuclear bomb grows to the point that Hurley has to deploy his team in the field including Rapp, though he is understandably reluctant after Ghost turned out to be such a rotten apple. The group goes after the seller of a nuclear trigger and the physicist who set it up with the help of another agent, Annika (Shiva Negar) who has been in the field for years. The mission goes haywire when Ghost kills Victor but Rapp disobeys orders and hunts down the seller, learning more about the nefarious plan and capturing the physicist. Hurley is reluctant to share his knowledge even after Ghost ambushes them.

There was a neat little twist with Annika's true identity but it doesn't affect the plot that much. Ghost manages to get the drop on Hurley and there is a great sequence of acting between Kitsch and Keaton as Ghost tortures Hurley. The film follows a pretty generic track with not a ton of surprises. The action is decent enough and equivalent to some of the lesser spy thrillers. O'Brien does a good job with the hand-to-hand combat and the budget doesn't skimp too much on the explosive effects. I would have liked to have seen a car chase but there is a neat fight scene on a boat between Ghost and Rapp.

American Assassin probably won't spark a new franchise with a middling box office on its premiere weekend and I won't be surprised if it drops off rapidly with another more tried and true spy franchise sequel coming onto the scene this upcoming weekend. The story seems a little off and the politics of the Iran nuclear deal seem shortsighted. The logic is a bit of a stretch as well. Still, O'Brien was charismatic enough though he does look a little too similar to Kitsch causing some confusion in dark scenes that switch between the characters. Keaton is back in action and I always enjoy seeing him on the screen. I'd also like to see Sanaa Lathan in more movies though she didn't get to do as much in this story. Shiva Negar was also impressive as a newcomer. American Assassin is enjoyable and I'm glad it introduced me to the writing of Vince Flynn.

TV: 69th Primetime Emmy Awards

CBS broadcast the 69th Emmy Awards and the late-night host Stephen Colbert led the comedic event. I was switching over to the football game so I missed most of the sketches and the opening monologue but I'll mainly be focused on the award winners and probably won't publish this until the day after due to time constraints. I always like to discover new shows from the Emmys and see which shows that I've enjoyed receive recognition. There is so much television out there that I think the task of finding a single show to triumph seems near impossible but these awards will certainly put a spotlight on excellence. 

Outstanding Drama Series: The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
I enjoyed this show a lot, it's haunting and depressing and well-deserving of the victory. The Handmaid's Tale pushes Hulu into the mainstream as a serious streaming service snatching the big award before Netflix who has been trying for it a bit long. Netflix had three shows and I thought The Crown but more so Stranger Things might snatch it. The only other competitor was This Is Us, the tearjerker NBC drama. Better Call Saul was definitely one of my favorite show but something about it makes me forget at year's end. House of Cards needs to fall off this list as it is no longer entertainingg and it was foolish of HBO to put forward Westworld instead of the awesome show, The Leftovers. 

Outstanding Comedy Series: Veep (HBO)
Veep wins again. I had finally caught up on all these episodes before this latest season and while I found the show funny, I didn't think it was quite the caliber of earlier seasons. Atlanta was my favorite here and it had the momentum but for some reason, it did not take home the statue. Veep is on the way out and Atlanta won't be around for another year so maybe one more time around for the HBO political comedy before something new takes the throne. I haven't seen either of the network shows, black-ish and Modern Family. I enjoyed both of the Netflix series, Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and hope one day both these shows can rise. Silicon Valley is also hilarious and I'm curious what it will be like going forward.

Outstanding Limited Series: Big Little Lies
Not surprised by this wonderfully dark drama about domestic abuse and the small town gossip of mothers in a wealthy beachside neighborhood winning the top prize. Limited series has a bunch of great shows like Fargo, a weaker third season, and Feud: Bette and Joan, a winner in another year. The Night Of was also really moving. I didn't see Genius. 

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Elizabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
Elizabeth Moss played a great role in the most depressing show of the year and her voiceover was one of the best parts. I need to see Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder. Claire Foy in The Crown will be a growing role though I think she's only in it for one more season. Evan Rachel Wood was the best part of Westworld and Keri Russell also performs in The Americans. Robin Wright probably is the best part of House of Cards and her rise to power should lead to a great series finale.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (NBC)
Sterling K. Brown as the businessman seeking out his father delivered something that so easily brought tears to my eyes that it will be hard to forget for some time. It's too bad his speech got cut off. His costar Milo Ventimiglia was the only other star I could have seen winning. Kevin Spacey has won before, I think, but should be wrapping up his role next year or so. Liev Schreiber keeps getting nominated but I don't see him ever winning, though I do like the show. Bob Odenkirk should win when he comes to the end of his brilliant performance as Saul aka Jimmy. Matthew Rhys might take it next year of The Americans series finale really stuns.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus takes the award again for what may be her last or next-to-last as she approaches the series finale. Pamela Adlon could take over this spot but I've yet to start the second season and Elle Kemper may always be nominated but never win. I haven't seen any of the other nominees.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)
I thought Donald Glover's win would lead to a win for the show but just recognition for the actor came this year. Glover also took home a director award. Jeffrey Tambor has been the favorite but was usurped this year. Aziz Ansari might have taken it if the other two weren't around. William H. Macy's Frank will be a steady nominee and his role is so funny. So is Zach Galifianakis as the bumbling clown. Anthony Anderson reminds me that I need to bing black-ish one day soon. 
Outstanding Lead Actress in a  Limited Series: Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies (HBO)

It was a tossup between Nicole Kidman or her costar Reese Witherspoon but Kidman's harrowing storyline won out. The subjects of the Feud led to two great performance between Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange that would have won in another year. Felicity Huggman in American Crime is on my watchlist.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series: Riz Ahmed, The Night Of (HBO)
Riz Ahmed was brilliant in this dark series and he was helped by his costar John Turturro who also won. The only other performance I saw was Ewan McGregor as twins in Fargo.
Other Awards: The supporting Drama roles went to streaming shows, Ann Dowd for Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale and John Lithgow for Netflix's The Crown. In limited series supporting roles, Laura Dern won for her supporting role as the angry mother Renata on Big Little Lies (HBO) as well as Alexander Skarsgård as the abusive husband in the same show. Supporting comedy roles were dominated by SNL with Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon taking home statues. Another great win was San Junipero from BlackMirror for best TV movie, Charlie Brooker had one of the best acceptance speeches. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

TV Show Review: One Mississippi (Season 2)

When I heard that Tig Notaro's series was coming back for a second season, I put it at the top of the list for me to catch up and watch. I burned through the first season laughing out loud at every episode and the quirky behavior f Tig's family. In the first season, Tig returns to Mississippi from Los Angeles to attend her mother's funeral. The second season sees Tig returning permanently to live with her stepfather Bill (John Rothman) whose strange habits grate on her nerves but also amuse her. Her brother Remy (Noah Harpster) still lives upstairs and struggles with his dating life. Tig also has a new romantic interest, her coworker Kate (Stephanie Allynne). Kate is not sure of her sexuality and reluctant to date Tig.

Even Bill, who lives such a strict lifestyle, has met someone he can bond with when he has a medical emergency on the elevator and Felicia (Sheryl Lee Ralph), a woman who works in the same building, escorts him to the hospital. Remy finds his best opportunity to meet someone is at church and first, he attends a Vietnamese church where a nurse he met at his Civil War reenactment attends. However, when another performer says something racist, Remy doesn't stand up for her, and this is a major infraction in the time of Trump. Remy attends another church where he meets Desiree (Carly Jibson) a loud single mother with some interesting opinions. Remey and Desiree hit it off and she moves in almost immediately.

Tig finds it frustrating that she can't sway Kate so she finds other opportunities to date, not always easy in Mississippi. The sponsors on the radio show also start to go away as Tig touches on complicated topics like molestation. Kate and Tig have to seek out a new station to work at but there are plenty of jerks that work there too. Each characters' relationship moves forward, Kate jealous of Tig's other dates, Desiree sharing space with Remy, and Bill learning the horrors of institutional racism and slavery. Bill is very particular about his living area and not always great at confrontation so Desiree's boisterous nature clashes with his lifestyle.

The episodes are short and so it the season, which is tough, but also shows how effective Tig is at creating great characters. I enjoyed every part of these shows and the intrigue of relationships elevates this season above the original. Kate has a terrible experience at their radio station when their boss masturbates with her in the office. There is no action taken by the owners and this infuriates Tig and Kate. Tig doesn't share Kate's story but does get brutally honest on her radio show causing Bill and Remy to come to terms with what they allowed to happen by looking the other way. Tig does manage to convince Kate to come have dinner and spend the night and the show ends with a new relationship forming.  

One Mississippi was a really pleasant surprise and I'll have to seek out more of Tig Notaro's standup because this show was hilarious. Rothman's Bill is a highlight of the show as the compulsive stepfather and Harpster's Remy gets good jokes in there too. The show does not shy away from tough issuesbut approaches them head on with wit and resilience. The show is not for ht faint at heart but is well worth the short amount of time it takes to binge on Amazon Prime. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sports: College Football (Week 3)

Most of my college football watching this weekend will focus on two games that will give me a snapshot of two conferences: the SEC, mostly the SEC East, and the ACC. I'll keep an eye out for any upsets but this week continues the mismatched games that occur frequently in the early part of the season. The first game that I'll watch will be the Florida Gators taking on the Tennessee Volunteers. The winner of this game will fight with the Georgia Bulldogs for the top of the SEC East. The other game I'll watch is the primetime battle between the Clemson Tigers and the Louisville Cardinals.

All the way to the third quarter of the SEC battle saw only three field goals, two from Florida and one from Tennessee. The Gators got the first touchdown, only their third of the season, with a pick six. So far, the Gators had only defense touchdowns. The Gators could have taken the game even further away but a goal-line fumble turned a touchdown into a touchback. The Volunteers scored a touchdown but a penalty gave Florida good position to respond. Tennessee scored again pushing this to a three-point game in the final minutes. Tennessee nearly scored but their trouble at the goal line continued but their three missed field goals did not last as they tied the game at 20 points. Looking like the game would go into overtime, Florida threw a long pass for a final second touchdown and the win.

The ACC match featured two high-powered offenses that exchanged touchdowns in the first quarter. A costly penalty for Clemson weakened the secondary and helped Louisville score. However, the evenly matched first quarter led to Clemson taking the reigns and running away with the game. I only stuck around for about the first half and early third quarter before it looked like there was no turning back for Louisville. The Clemson Tigers have thoroughly established their dominance in the ACC.
Looking around the league, most of the ranked teams won but there were some upsets. Mississippi State beat 12LSU putting into question who would be second behind Alabama in the SEC West. Vanderbilt upset 18Kansas State as the Commodores could fight for the top of the SEC East while the Big 12 looks to be under the control of Oklahoma. The PAC-12 also had some late night turmoil as 19Stanford lost to San Diego State and 25UCLA lost to Memphis.

Next week, I'll keep an eye on Florida vs Kentucky, TCU vs Oklahoma State, Mississippi State vs Georgia, and UCLA vs Stanford. Not the most exciting week but conference play will really get underway so we'll start to see who dominates in their local regions. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Movie Review: mother!

Darren Aronofsky makes intense thrillers and his latest is no different. I had no idea what to expect from this film only seeing the cryptic trailer and seeing the film before the reviews. Since its release, mother! has been the source of opinions ranging from hatred to adoration. My opinion rests somewhere in the middle as I was entertained through the whole film and shocked at various moments while also disturbed and little letdown by the outrageous finale. Thinking about the film later, my opinion grows more favorable and it is the kind of film that one would continue to think about days or even weeks after seeing it. The film borders on horror even having a few jump scares that I usually enjoy in a film while also just being creepy and horrific through various scenes.

The film begins with a woman burning and then a man (Javier Bardem) placing a crystal on a stand. A house magically repairs from fire damage all through the room until it focuses on a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) in bed. She wakes up and searches the house. The camera constantly whirls around staying primarily focused on Lawrence and hardly ever going outside of the house. Bardem's character is a poet that can't seem to produce any work or have any affection towards his doting wife. She works to repair the house as he locks himself in his room struggling to prevent art. A mysterious orthopedic surgeon (Ed Harris) arrives at the house, claiming to think this house was a bed and breakfast, and the poet invites him to stay the night, much to the woman's chagrin.

The two men hit it off joking and drinking but the new guest is sick. The next day the guest's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and boldly questions the owners' relationship, rudely throwing around their wet laundry and making herself at home. The surgeon invades the poet's writing room and breaks his precious crystal causing the woman to demand the guest couple to leave. They don't as the poet remains welcoming even when the guests' younger son (Brian Gleeson) shows up claiming that his older brother (Domhnall Gleeson) is angry about the will. The older brother shows up angry and chases the younger brother until he kills him right in front of Lawrence's character. The family and the poet leave the woman alone in the house to clean up the mess as they go to the hospital. She is terrorized by the older brother until the poet returns.

The movie goes off the rails as the poet invites more and more people for a wake for the young son. The guests destroy the house and invade their room and bed. Lawrence's character tries to get them to leave, though the Bardem's poet remains welcoming. They argue after everyone leaves and eventually make love impregnating the woman. The mother cleans the house as the poet discovers his ability to write again producing an acclaimed work. As the mother's belly grows, the poet's fame increases until the night they are celebrating with a quiet meal turns into a fan event and a book signing. The poet's manager (Kristen Wiig) arranges the event and continues to invite in adoring fans despite the mother's protest. The film gets even wilder as the crowds turn into riots and then all out war.

The mother births the baby but does not trust the poet to hold it. She tries to watch over it but falls asleep and the poet steals the child to bring out to her adoring crowds who take it and pass it around until they tear it apart and eat it in the most disturbing scene of the film. The mother is enraged and fights her way to the baby but the crowd beats her until the poet saves her. She breaks free and runs into the basement where oil leaks from a tank and she sets fire to the house. The process begins again after the poet harnesses the devotion from the mother's chest. The film is a mad metaphor heavy on the symbolism that isn't so desne or subtle about its message. I enjoyed most of it but foudn some parts a bit too strange.