Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sports: College Basketball (First & Second Round)

The path to the sweet sixteen is fraught with upsets, buzzer beaters, and predictable blowouts. All my brackets are already trashed as I expected especially this year where the top teams are so prone to sudden losses making upsets even more likely. Teams I thought were going to make it far have already been eliminated and teams I had never heard of are heading into the next round. The first four days of nearly non-stop basketball have been fun to watch as they lead to one team cutting down the nets.

The top right corner of the bracket was a little easier to predict while some things did catch me by surprise. Villanova took out the First Four winner Radford and followed that up with 9-see Alabama who got past Virginia Tech before elimination. The battle between two West Virginia teams was lopsided as West Virginia took out Murray St and Marshall upset against Wichita State. West Virginia didn't have much of a challenge from their in-state opponent Marshall.  Florida ended the run of another First Four team, St. Bonaventure but after Texas Tech beat Steph F. Austin, they took down the Gators too. Florida couldn't make the last two three-point attempts to save their season. I had Butler upsetting Arkansas and Purdue beating CSU Fullerton. Purdue should go far in this bracket after winning against Butler but Texas Tech won't go easily. 1-seed Villanova remains the top seed but they'll have to beat West Virginia and either Texas Tech or Purdue to make it to the final four.
The craziest side of the bracket made history this year when 1-seed Virginia lost to UMBC for a historic upset. I had a hard time believing that this had never happened before when I first heard this decades ago but of course, it's the year I picked Virginia, a top seed, to go all the way. Still, I'm rooting for the Kentucky Wildcats and the path has cleared for them after a win over Davidson. Kentucky's first challenge was supposed to be a 4-seed Arizona but a shocking upset from Buffalo put another double-digit seeded opponent in the Wildcats way to fall. Kansas State upset Creighton to take on UMBC, the furthest traveling 16-seed and win. The bottom part of the bracket had Loyola-Chicago magic as they took out Miami and then Tennessee who survived the first round against Wright State only to exit early. Cincinnati looked like they were traveling a normal 2-seed path but after they beat Georgia State they had a game nearly locked against Nevada. The Wolf Pack beat Texas and were nearly out against Cincinnati but a great comeback puts them into the Sweet Sixteen versus Loyola. 

Another crazy bracket saw Xavier take out their 16-seed opponent Texas Southern, a First Four survivor, and Florida State upsetting Missouri. This could have continued to make sense until the Seminoles upset the top seed in a great game. Below that Gonzaga moved through a 13-seed UNCG and 5-seed OSU to come out as a favored team. The bottom of the bracket saw Texas A&M power through Providence and the reigning champion UNC Tar Heels while Michigan topped Montana and Houston. The Big Ten Tournament Champions are the highest seed left in this region.
Finally, the exception to the rule in a chaotic tournament, this region came through a hundred percent for me in the first round but surprises like Syracuse over Michigan State and Clemson blowing out Auburn let me know the excitement is not done. Kansas and Duke could still be the top two seed surviving the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight but I'm still wary of upsets. 

I look forward to all of these games plus I'm celebrating because this is my thousandth post on this blog that I have done purely for amusement. I have a long way to go to improve my writing especially about sports as I do a very surface level analysis from very limited knowledge but I like to think this is working towards something just like these teams are working through these tough brackets. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Movie Review: Tomb Raider

With the previous films in the franchise stalling after the first sequel, the video games adaptation returns to copy a reboot that the games went through as well. Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is young and inexperienced trying to train to be a better fighter and skilled at tasks like biking at dangerous speeds. She is haunted by the memory of her father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) who mysteriously went missing. Lara ends up in jail and Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) bails her out. Ana needs Lara to sign a will that admits her father is dead and passes on his wealth. Lara is reluctant to admit her father is dead without proof and forgets to sign the papers when the lawyer pulls out a puzzle that links to clues as to her father's secret quest to find Himiko, a deadly Japanese queen. 

Lara figures out that her father employed a man named Lu Ren so she heads to Hong Kong. She is harassed by three young boys who try to steal her bag but she chases them down so they attack her. She makes it to the boat where Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) scares off the kids with a gun. Lu Ren tells Lara that is was his father that took her father. Lara convinces him to go along with her to the coordinates her father left. They ship out as Lara continues to scan her father's research. The ship hits rocks and Lara and Lu Ren have to abandon ship and split up. Lara starts to exhibit some of her impressive survival skills by jumping onto the rocks. She is captured by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who explains that he is searching for something and her father's journal contained the last crew.

Lara and Lu Ren are enslaved by Vogel's men and forced to work to dig up the entrance to Himiko's tomb. Lu Ren prepares a shovel and hits one of Vogel's henchmen giving Lara a chance to run. She sprints away from the gunfire as Lu Ren takes a bullet. Lara jumps into a river and is thrown about by the rapids until she manages to catch onto an old plane wing before she slips down a waterfall. She manages to survive by pulling out an old parachute but she gets a tree limb stabbed through her side. She fights off an attacker and sees a strange figure helping her. Chasing him down, Lara finds her father Richard though he believes she's a hallucination. After a night to heal, Lara leaves her father, a move that I was a bit confused by since she was solely here to find him. However, her friends are more important so she shows off her bow skills and frees Vogel's slaves. 

Richard wants to stop Vogel from unleashing the deadly Himiko disease so he refuses to open the tomb door but Lara agrees to open it. They head down into the tomb and Lara helps them avoid the spike traps though some of the crew get killed. The floor falls away but Lara solves the mystery moving them on to the actual gravesite. Himiko carries a deadly disease that starts to kill crewmembers so Vogel stashes some and makes off instructing his men to kill Richard and Lara. They battle over the dead body and Richard is infected. Lara wants him to come with her but he tells her to run as he blows up the tomb. Lara fights Vogel and slams the diseased figure down his throat before she jumps to safety.

Tomb Raider tries to bring the video game series back to the screen and has some mild success. Box office numbers don't look good for a sequel which is why it is tough that a big reveal at the end hints at a larger conspiracy by the Trinity organization that may never happen. These franchise films often put off the good stuff for further installments which don't happen because of poor box office performances. I liked the game reboot and Alicia Vikander looks like she has a ton of fun with the character. I didn't mind Dominic West as the father but when he showed up alive, I thought that was a little too cheesy and uncalled for. Writers of these films don't often let Lara Croft fight the battles on her own. I was tired when I saw it so the lagging plot almost put me to sleep a few times. I'll probably revisit it if they ever have a sequel. 

Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life

While the successful video game franchise had a ton of sequels, the film series only managed to have one. Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) returned for another tomb raiding adventure that follows the Greek myth of the Cradle of Life. A series of earthquakes triggers the curiosity of treasure hunts including Croft who seek out a lost tomb that has a strange glowing orb. Just as Croft has come to possess the orb, a group of attackers shoots her companions with harpoons and attacks her making her drop the orb and escape. She barely survives when Bryce (Noah Taylor) and Hillary (Chris Barrie) rescue her with a submarine. Lara Croft returns home frustrated and taking her anger out in training when MI6 approaches her about a new mission. A villainous biological weapons dealer Jonathan Reiss (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) seeks to possess the deadly Cradle of Life and the secret agency wants to stop him.

Lara Croft seeks out the help of the prisoner Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) who has secret knowledge. Together, the couple uses a jet glider and a parachute into China. They pick up weapons from an old Chinese lady and then bike down the Great Wall and up into the mountains where Terry knows of a gang of antiquities dealers. The gang leader Chen Lo (Simon Yam) attacks Lara while Terry gets beat up by his fat henchman. Lara beats the information out of Chen Lo and escapes the cavernous compound with Terry by sliding down ropes and shooting the gang members. In Shanghai, it is revealed that Lara and Terry had a romantic relationship that ended badly when Terry abandoned his post. 

Lara Croft sabotages the deal between Jonathan Reiss and the gang that has the orb. They fight across the rooftops as Reiss's henchman Sean (Til Schweiger) shoots at Lara. Despite her best efforts, Reiss makes off with the orb. Lara and Terry track Reiss to a tower where they are researching the orb's properties. A shootout ensues and Lara makes it to the orb transferring information to Bryce and Hillary. Sean captures Lara, and Reiss reveals his plan to sell the deadly disease to his buyers but then develop an antidote so he can pick who lives in the new world. Terry shoots at them freeing Lara and the two of them take an elevator to the top of the building. They don winged suits and jump from the rooftop gliding to a boat and away from Hong Kong.

Aboard the boat, Terry and Lara flirt and make out but Lara handcuffs Terry to the bunk to interrogate him. Lara ditches Terry and finds a place to transfer the remaining images to Bryce. The resulting tones cause the ord to display images of an African country and a hidden cave. Sean and Reiss are holding Bryce hostage so they follow Lara's conclusion to Africa as well. Lara meets up with Kosa (Djimon Honsou) and they speak with a tribe about the dangerous cave. Reiss shows up and puts a gun to Lara's head. They venture into the cave and find a strange forest. Monsters attack Reiss's soldiers as they jump in and out of the stone. Lara realizes they react to movement and manages to drop the orb down a hole to stop the monsters. They proceed into a cave that does not obey the laws of gravity. Terry has employed Bryce and Hillary to help him pursue Lara and Reiss. The box floats on a pool of acid but Lara escapes Reiss and fights him as Terry pulls the box out of the acid pool. Reiss falls into the pit of acid but then Terry wants the box. Lara makes the difficult decision to shoot Terry and return the box to the acid.

The Cradle of Life is a decent sequel if standards are lowered significantly compared to the first film and other movies based on video games. This film ended the series as led by Angelina Jolie who seems more comfortable in the role. It is weird that they decided to give her another male partner and can't just have her operating on her own through most of the action scenes. There is a bit of humor of the film which is nice and the action was somewhat surprising though once again the effects look somewhat ridiculous. They don't rely on them quite as much for this one and while the film isn't great, it is enjoyable to revisit these many years later.  

Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

The first attempt to bring Tomb Raider to the screen was a corny, action-packed adventure with special effects that have not held up well over time, though the sets still look cool. The film begins with Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) training against a robot that is programmed by her tech-savvy assistant Bryce (Noah Taylor). She shows off her skills with her iconic dual pistols and flips through the crumbling wreckage of a faux ruin inside her mansion. Her butler Hillary (Chris Barrie) helps Bryce clean up the mess. Late at night, she hears the ticking of a clock and finds a hidden compartment left behind by her late father Lord Richard Croft (Jon Voight). 

Lara heads to an auction to speak with an old professor about the mysterious clock but runs into Alex West (Daniel Craig) who has a history with her. The old professor recommends that she seek out Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), a member of the Illuminati, though the professor regrets it later. Lara takes the clock to the lawyer Powell but he claims not to have any idea where the clock is from. That night, Lara trains on a bungee cord in her main hall when a squad of armed men attacks her mansion. She fights them off in a decent little action scene with a clever twist but they manage to make off with the clock.

Lara follows the trail to Cambodia where she finds Alex West is working with Manfred Powell. They attempt to take advantage of a planetary alignment but Lara stops them before they make a mistake. She swings on a pillar and bursts open a tank of liquid that awakes stone monkeys and monsters. They attack Powell's men and Lara who shoot their way out of it. Lara is attacked by a giant god stone creature with many arms and manages to destroy it with the pillar. Lara steals the half of the piece of a special triangle and jumps off a waterfall when Alex West threatens to shoot her. After recovery in a monastery, Lara confronts Powell at the seat of the Illuminati where Powell tells Lara of her father's membership. Distressed by this news and in denial, Lara agrees to join Powell on their excursion to Siberia where the second piece of the triangle is location. 

They find the hidden location with spinning globes. Lara and Alex race to climb the contraption and find the missing piece. Lara disappears inside only to return a few moments later with the missing piece. An Illuminati leader takes the piece and stages a ceremony but Powell commands his men to shoot him and takes the piece for himself though when he puts them together, nothing happens. Powell knows Lara has the answer so he throws a knife into Alex West's chest killing him. Lara agrees to help Powell to save Alex's life so she pulls out a special stone and fits it into the piece. She has to race Powell to the top of a pyramid and then she is freed from time. She confronts her father about the Illuminati and slows down time to stop the knife from killing Alex. Powell reveals that he killed her father so she fights him in hand-to-hand combat and wins. Lara Croft escapes using sled dogs as the tomb collapses.

Mimicking the video games corny atmosphere was not the best decision while the plot is predictable and does not follow any standard video game. Angelina Jolie is fine as the titular hero but the acting is nothing special. Iain Glen always puts his passion into these cheesy villains while Daniel Craig's work has led to him becoming a successful franchise leader himself. The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel but the way the film was perceived doomed any future success. I wasn't totally impressed with the film but have enjoyed the video games and didn't mind revisiting the film for the reboot. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Movie Review: The Strangers: Prey at Night

The murderous threesome returns nearly a decade later to terrorize an unsuspecting family. Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and her husband Mike (Martin Henderson) are struggling with their daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) who has been misbehaving and getting into trouble. They plan to send her to a boarding school so they pack up the car and force her brother Luke (Lewis Pullman) to come along. They plan to drive through most of the day and stop at a trailer park owned by Cindy's uncle but the prologue scene shows the old couple being advanced on by the masked killers. After some arguments and a stop at a diner, they arrive at the trailer park office late at night and pick up the key to their trailer. There is a note supposedly from the uncle telling them that they'll see them in the morning though the note has a creepy smiley face drawn on it as does the mailbox outside the trailer.

The family settles into the trailer as Mike suggests that they put away their phones so that they can spend some time together. A knock on the door comes from a woman shrouded in shadow. The woman asks for Tamra but then walks off when they tell her she has the wrong house. Cindy is freaked out about the disturbing visit and Mike notices the bulb was twisted off. They start to play a game when Cindy argues with Kinsey who runs off away from the trailer since she doesn't want to be lectured by her parents. Fend up with her attitude the parents tell Luke to follow her and try to communicate with her. The woman returns to knock on the trailer and runs off again so the parents head out to find their kids. Luke and Kinsey explore the trailer park and find an open trailer. They find some liquor but hear a sound in the bedroom. A dog was locked in the room with two figures covered by a sheet. Luke pulls the sheet off to reveal two dead bodies.

The kids run back and collide with the parents. Mike makes the terrible decision to split up. Cindy and Kinsey head back to the trailer while Mike and Luke investigate the dead body further. Cindy and Kinsey are attacked by a woman with a doll mask and they hide in the bathroom. Mike and Luke find the dead body but someone starts throwing something at the windows. They peek outside and see the sack-head figure standing there. The doll-faced woman breaks into the bathroom as Kinsey climbs out the roof. Cindy is stabbed to death. Kinsey takes off running in terror. Mike finds a gun in the trailer and fires off warning shots but their tormentor is nowhere in sight. 

Mike and Luke return to the trailer to find Cindy's dead body. Swallowing their grief, they take the minivan and search for Kinsey but something hits their car and Mike swerves into a trailer. A piece of wood pierces the windshield and goes through Mike. The father encourages his son to leave and find his daughter so Luke reluctantly agrees. The masked killer sits next to Mike and plays music until he stabs him in the throat. Kinsey runs from the killers but is attacked by one of the women killers until Luke shows up and makes her back off at gunpoint though I thought they should have shot her right then. Kinsey is injured from the attack and they retreat to another trailer to tend to her wounds.

The masked man drives his truck through the trailer and the two kids flee. Luke tells Kinsey to hide since she can't walk and he goes to the main office to try to call for help. He manages to call the police but the phone is cut off and the killers attack him. He kills one of the women when the masked man attacks him. They fight in the pool until the man stabs Luke. Kinsey helps him out of the pool and hides him. She takes off running for the main road when a car drives towards her. A policeman gets out and asks her what is wrong when he gets his throat cut. Kinsey manages to get the shotgun from the cop car and shoots the killer woman. The masked man crashes the truck into the cop car but Kinsey escapes and lights the leaking gas to cause an explosion. Kinsey manages to escape and live. Though her brother is injured, Luke lives too. The Strangers: Prey at Night is not as bad a sequel as I thought. It has some decent horror though it does suffer from characters making poor decisions. I liked that the victims fought back in this film.   

Movie Review: The Strangers

Utter dread and terror permeate this simple film about a home invasion that is chilling and sickening. Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) have a fraught relationship after they leave a wedding to spend the night at James's father's cabin. James calls his friend Mike (Glenn Howerton) to pick him up in the morning because the couple is arguing. They are starting to make up when a loud knock on the door disturbs them. James answeres the door to find a girl shrouded in shadow. She asks if Tamra is there but the couple tell her that she has the wrong house. She takes the news quietly and walks away. James notices that the light outside had been unscrewed so he twists it back on. They lock the door thoroughly spooked by this woman's strange behavior as they thought that they were alone in this area. 

James starts a fire but then goes off to buy a pack of cigarettes leaving Kristen alone. The chimney is not open and smoke causes the fire alarm to go off. As Kristen tries to turn it off, she hears another knock at the door leaving the alarm unattended on the ground. The same girl is on the other side of the door and Kristen yells at her to go away. She calls James from the house phone as her cell still needs to charge. She is scared by the fact that her phone and the smoke alarm have been moved and she grabs a knife. She does not notice a strange man with a sack over his head standing nearby in one of the more terrifying scenes. 

She does see figures standing outside and is terrorized by banging all around the house. The front door opens and she sees a woman with a doll mask staring at her outside. She hides in the bedroom until James returns. He does not believe her at first but starts to see strange things including someone running around in the woods. He threatens a woman who slashes his tires but receives no response. The cell phones have had their batteries stolen so they cannot contact anyone for help. They try to leave in the car but a different woman slams into their car with a truck totaling it. The couple runs back into the house where James finds his father's shotgun.

The attackers put on a country music record and turn up the music making it hard to hear people moving around. As James and Kristen hide in the bedroom, Mike arrives and realizes something is wrong. He walks into the house and tries to talk to James but is shot in the head by accident. The murder of his friend crushes James but he knows there is a way to communicate to the outside world. A radio in the barn is their best option so James heads out with the shotgun and tries to shoot one of the women when he is attacked by the sack man. Kristen tries to radio for help but one of the women smashes the radio and then knocks her unconscious. They wake up in the morning with the killers watching them. The killers take their time killing them and leave the carnage behind for two young boys to find a little while later. Kristen is still alive and the film ends with her screaming.

The Strangers does a good job creating a dreadful environment and using simple camera positioning and scenarios to create horror. The sack-headed villain is a terrifying villain along with his two female companions that harass this unsuspecting couple. I have a vague memory of this coming out but it is still surprising to see Liv Tyler and I was really shocked to see Glenn Howerton considering his career has primarily been in comedy. I found the film to be pretty simple yet a solid horror movie that didn't really need to spawn a sequel but these many years later, one has arrived at the door like an unknown person knocking on the door. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

TV Show Review: Crashing (Season 2)

The quest to make it as a successful comedian continues in the hilarious second season of this HBO show. Pete (Pete Holmes) is still forced to crash on various comedians couches after his wife Jess (Lauren Lapkus) cheated on him with Leif (George Basil) and asked for a divorce. Unfortunately, Pete is such a forgiving and nice guy that he is staying with Leif for the time being. Pete is still trying to make it as a comedian serving his time barking on the corner. Hanging around one comedy club, Pete runs into Penn Jillette who makes him question his faith. Pete manages to get a job opening for Dr. Oz. Leif stops by to take him out for a day of relaxation and appreciation of life. While Pete is often a pushover, Leif finds a unique way to connect with others and often gets his way as he gives advice to strangers.

Still, Pete cannot get over his wife as he refuses to take off his wedding ring or abandon it even as Leif's bag containing accidentally gets mistaken for a bomb. Bill Burr pities him and when Artie Lange bails on their dinner, Bill takes him home to his wife and kid. Pete still acts strange as Bill tries to make him a little more masculine. Bill takes Pete golfing where they riff on comedy but then Pete records it and posts it on Instagram, which leads to a new controversy that bothers Pete more than Bill who kicks him out. Success remains elusive as Pete takes a job at Coldstone Creamery.

A fellow comedian Porter (Henry Zebrowski) finds success on HBO and when Pete is brutally honest with him, it drives him to kill it on stage. Peter is offered representation from a potential manager (Zach Cherry). Pete also becomes aware of the alternative scene and runs into a comedian he has seen at some of the clubs. Ali Reissen (Jamie Lee) is standoffish but as they tour the clubs together she encourages him to develop his act but he ruins one of her recordings by talking too loudly. He also embarrasses himself when he asks a more successful comedian John Mulaney to delay his set so that Ali can go up. Artie Lange copes with his addiction to heroin while Pete tries to help him and throw a benefit for another comedian with Artie as the headliner. Unfortunately, Artie blows off the show so Pete has to find other comedians to fill in.

Pete gets a taste of his potential when he comes up with a corny joke at NACA, a college event planning convention. Ali is dating him now but also trying to find success as well, though she doesn't Pete books several colleges with the help of his manager but hides his success from Ali so as not to make her feel bad. Pete reluctantly participates in a roast battle. Even though a bunch of embarrassing information gets aired out about Pete, he manages to find insulting things to say back and advances through the bracket. He encounters Ali and she says some harsh things about him as he responds back with witty insults. Pete ends up winning but he feels offended by what she said and confronts her about it. They end up breaking up at the end of the finale. 

Crashing has a lot to keep me around and for some reason no matter how many of these shows about comedians are produced, I still tune in. I like the jokes even though I don't always find Pete Holmes that funny, the other comedians make up for it. The idea keeps a steady roster rotating through but the addition of Jamie Lee as a somewhat regular this season helped to make a more continuous plot that engaged me this season. Zach Cherry is really funny as the manager too. Pete's awkward behavior always gets him into trouble and I look forward to where he goes in the next season.