Sunday, April 15, 2018

Movie Review: A Quiet Place

Early spring horror with surprising success at the box office could become a recurring thing and I'm all for it. This latest horror from John Krasinski starring his wife Emily Blunt has a unique concept that elevates the terror but I found the fast and easy resolution and lack of many hints at a bigger world a little underwhelming even though I was pretty entertained throughout the movie. The film goes for a more straightforward kind of story and the exemplary box office success is amplified by the low production budget. There are no other major characters beyond the family of five that is shrunken in the first horrific scene of the film. The apocalypse has arrived, shown through an abandoned town where the Abbott family searches a store for medicine for their son Marcus Abbott (Noah Jupe).

Their youngest son has an idea of a taking a rocket away from this horror and the thought makes him desire a rocket ship toy that the parents Evelyn (Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) take the batteries out of, but their daughter, the eldest child, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) gives him back the toy. A monster kills their son away and the film flashes forward hundreds of days. The Abbott family has settled into a farmhouse with habits that keep their movements quiet. Through a conspiracy wall, the information shows that the monsters are armored and they have not figured out what their weaknesses are. One reason that the family has been so effectively silent is that Regan is deaf and the family knows how to communicate with sign language. 

Lee builds hearing aids for Regan but they never seem to work. Evelyn is pregnant and worries about the upcoming birth that will definitely not be silent. Lee and Marcus had out on an expedition where they can fish and speak amongst a waterfall without attracting the monsters. However, they run into an old man who just lost his wife and screams attracting a monster. Evelyn steps on a nail and falls down the stairs bringing several monsters. Her water broke so she must sneak up into a bathtub which serves as one of the major promo images. The monsters come after her but Marcus sets off a fireworks display that distracts them so that Lee can make it to her after she has the child. The parents hide in the basement while Regan and Marcus run to the grain silo. Regan's hearing aid affects the monsters somehow, making them run away but she doesn't realize it. 

Lee goes out after the other two children as Evelyn stays behind in the basement that has begun to flood. The kids fall into the grain and nearly drown. The noise brings a monster but Regan's hearing aid scares it off. Evelyn quiets her baby with an oxygen mask and a loud noise distracts it. Lee sends the kids away to hide and screams to attract the monster to him as Regan and Marcus watch. The kids use a truck to roll away and hide with their mother but the monsters encroach. Regan finally realizes that her hearing aid hurts the monsters and she amplifies it through a microphone and speaker. Evelyn uses a shotgun to kill one and is prepared to fight more as the movie ends.

A Quiet Place appears to be a huge success and I hope this means plenty more horror as that seems to be the growing genre these days. For a low price, films can be made that dominate the box office when superheroes aren't flying high. Krasinski excels at directing with this unique concept that demands the focus of a theater and the excellent use of sound. Emily Blunt is the veteran actress but stellar performances from the young cast of Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds really make the film enjoyable. I hope there are plenty more films just like this one. 

Movie Review: Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg adapts the nostalgia-filled novel of Ernest Cline about the future of virtual reality. I read the book a few years ago when I first heard about the movie and liked the plot of it enough to be curious as to how they would adapt. There are a lot of changes made during the transition to the screen but the film is still a fast-paced ride, though it backs off the action until the finale. The references were numerous in the book too and I wasn't always able to understand who they were. Some of these references are updated in the movie and some are still brought over. The obsession with the 80s time period is not as prominent and the film seems to incorporate more modern video game characters. I'll have to watch it again see all of the crazy things they packed into this movie.

The story follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) whose parents died when he was young leaving him with the superhero alter ego name. He lives with his aunt in the stacks of a trailer park but escapes into a hideout amid trashed cars. There he can strap on a headset and suit to enter into a virtual world known as the Oasis. The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) left behind a secret game when he died and players have to seek out three keys to find an Easter egg. Wade works with Aech (Lena Waithe) to solve the first challenge, a wild car chase that includes King Kong and a T-rex. A big corporation IOI also tries to find the Easter egg so that they can control the Oasis led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Wade meets Art3meis (Olivia Cooke) who is willing to risk everything to find the key and he becomes attracted to her.

Wade solves the first mystery by going backward and finds the first key. He spreads the word to his friends but eventually the corporation figures it out too. Sorrento tries to convince Wade to help him but Wade refuses so Sorrento sends F'Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) after him in reality and I-R0k (T.J. Miller) after him in the Oasis. Wade escapes but then he is brought to a hideout where Samantha, Art3meis real identity, is leading the resistance against IOI. Together they find out about the second challenge in The Shining hotel after they search the archives with the help of a butler. Wade delves into the history of Halliday and his co-creator Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) and Halliday's failed attempt at a relationship.

After they find the second key by surviving the horrors of the Shining hotel, their base is raided and Samantha is capture. Wade escapes and uses some special technology created by Aech to trick Sorrento to make him think he is in reality when he is still in Aech's warehouse in the Oasis. Wade frees Samantha who is in the slave labor area of the IOI headquarters. The final key is in a castle on the gamer shooter planet and the task is to beat an old game. Wade knows what he needs to do but Samantha has to destroy the shield the IOI but around the castle first. A giant battle with all the characters ensues but Sorrento blows everyone up. Wade survives with an extra life and finds the secret before gaining control and living happily ever after.

In between this movie and Spielberg's other release, I tried to watch all of the master director's other films but I came up short. So does this movie in several ways but as I managed to watch quite a few, this movie does not fail to be really entertaining and fun. The concept of new technology was really intriguing and the world is so vivid thanks to all the character cameos. The acting and dialogue weren't great but the spectacle made up for it. I was glad that so many properties were willing to share their ideas and look forward to seeing this technology become available in the future. 

Sports: NBA Playoffs (First Round)

The NBA returns for what has been a predictable tournament for the last few years. There are plenty of exciting games, excellent players, and only the best teams make it far but the dominance of the last few years by certain teams has made this somewhat routine. The last three years have had the same teams in the Finals and that doesn't look to change this year. I've been running into several people who believe the NBA is either boring, rigged, or completely fake. I find this observation unbelievable and usually espoused by casual viewers or people who pay little to no attention to the NBA. There have been a lot of changes in this league and I think this year is the start of tons of new stories that will play out over the next decade. 

Eastern Conference
Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards
I wasn't able to really follow the Toronto Raptors much this year but they have pushed themselves to the top of the NBA East. Drake's favorite team won't have it easy in the first round as the Washington Wizards have their best player John Wall returning from the disabled list. Still, the Raptors have a winning formula and they should be able to get out of this round but they might run out of luck soon after. The Raptors took the first game 114-106.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Indiana Pacers
The Cleveland Cavaliers look to head their third NBA Finals in a row and Lebron James looks to go to the eighth NBA Finals in a row. The reigning runner-up tried to rebuild their team, losing some unhappy players and adding some supposed new talent but disagreements and upsetting losses caused a midseason rebuild. This year may be different for Cleveland and their first opponent can be sneakily tough. The Indiana Pacers have had a mediocre season but they have rebuilt after losing their star so they have young players looking to prove something. 

Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
The process of the Philadelphia 76ers has finally started to pay off. Their top draft picks from years of tanking has made them a solid 4-seed but moving any further will take true talent. The Miami Heat have had a long recovery after losing two all-stars. One returned but age has caught up with him. I'm leaning towards the Sixers but there could be an upset. The Sixers took the first game with a resounding win 130-103.

Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks

At the start of the season, I thought the Boston Celtics would be the team to upset the status quo and with their giant legacy, it looked like that could happen but an opening day game injury and a late-season injury have taken out two of their best players. The Milwaukee Bucks have been rebuilding to get here but their young players still might not have enough to get past Boston. 

Western Conference
Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves
The best team in the NBA has a lot to prove in these playoffs. The Houston Rockets may have the best record in the league but without a title, it means very little. Plenty of teams let the regular season slide when they can dominate in the playoffs but we've yet to see if the Rockets, who made some big additions, will be able to make regular season magic into playoff magic. James Harden seems like a solid MVP candidate and dispatching the scrappy Minnesota Timberwolves with their final game entry into the playoffs shouldn't be too hard. 

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had two years to recover from losing their best player but they worked to build a new superteam this year. That did not pay off as much as they would have liked and they are taking on a new refreshed team in the Utah Jazz. I don't get to watch these West Coast teams but I think the Thunder are a safe bet.

Portland Trailblazers vs New Orleans Pelicans
A surprising pair of teams that have built their teams into solid performers which have put them in this position. I am leaning towards the Portland Trailblazers but the New Orleans Pelicans could definitely pull off the upset with plenty of star players that have just not gotten it together. The Pelicans took the first game 97-95.
Golden State Warriors vs San Antonio Spurs
The Golden State Warriors have appeared seemingly unstoppable for the last three years and the addition of Kevin Durant to Steph Curry's shooting sealed the deal last year. This year, the Warriors still seem awesome but not as strong as last year and injuries have sidelined Curry for the first round. The once great San Antonio Spurs have fallen and almost didn't make it into the playoffs as the competitive West fought for positions. This series looks to be lopsided as the Warriors crushed San Antonio 113-92

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sports: NHL (Stanley Cup Playoffs - First Round)

Last year was the first year that I followed hockey somewhat closely but I had always kept my eye on the Stanley Cup playoffs. This year I watched hockey off and on throughout the season following three teams as they all made it into the playoffs. I'm excited to see how the series plays out as it has already gotten underway. The reigning champs are back in it but the runner-up from last year's finals is a top seed this year. I'll make a few predictions but I really have no idea how these games will play out. 

Eastern Conference
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils

The Lightning come into this series as a top seed in the East. They were around the top all season long but only made it to the top spot by one point. They will face the wild card New Jersey Devils who I don't imagine will put up much of a fight, having also just made it into the playoffs by one point. I've got Tampa taking this series and moving only to the next round before elimination. They already took the first game 5-2.
Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs
The Bruins nearly had the top seed but came up short by one point. I think that they will be able to capitalize on their impressive performance and make it to the conference championship but they didn't have a great record in April. The Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn't give them too much trouble in this series and may only take one game or two. The Bruins already took the first game 5-1.

Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets
The only upset I'm predicting is because I'm a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets and have followed their decent season since the start of it. The Washington Capitals were one of my picks for last year so I'm used to seeing their inability to move forward in the playoffs. Surprisingly, the Blue Jackets took the first game with an exciting overtime goal to win 4-3.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers
The Pittsburgh Penguins are returning for their third shot at the title in three years. The reigning champions had a pretty decent and have grown better near the end of the year to have one of the best records going into the series. They face their interstate rivals the Philadelphia Flyers who have struggled somewhat this season. The Penguins had a resounding win in the first with a shutout score of 7-0. The Flyers bounced back in the second game to win 5-1.

Western Conference
Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche
The Nashville Predators are one of my favorite teams and my pick to win it all. Starting out as a much lower seed last year, the Predators made a run to the finals. This year they have snagged the top seed so their path to the finals should be easier. It won't be but their chances are returning are high. The Colorado Avalanche won't just roll over for the Predators and have something to prove as the underdog. The Predators took down the Avalanche 5-2 in the first game and 5-4 in the second. 

Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild
The Winnipeg Jets used to be the Atlanta Thrashers long ago so that's my biggest motivation for picking them, plus they're favored. The Minnesota Wild have been pretty good but missed some games so I don't think they'll be pushing on to the next round. The Jets beat the Wild 3-2 and then 4-1 in game two.

Las Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings
The newest team to the NHL, the Las Vegas Golden Knights have had a charmed season. They've risen to the top of their division and have the players to take them far into the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings find themselves the rivals of this new team and the underdog in their first series. The Golden Knights should be challenging the Predators for the Western Conference championship. The Golden Knights shutout the Kings and won 1-0 and then took an overtime win 2-1
Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks
I don't get a lot of chances to watch these teams during the season because of the time difference but I've picked up some solid play in the West. I think the Anaheim Ducks should win but I probably won't get to watch many of their matches. The San Jose Sharks used to be my go-to pick but I'm not sure they'll make it out of this series. The Sharks shutout the Ducks 3-0 in the first game.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Sports: College Basketball (Final Four & National Championship)

My post for this is coming late as my hat for the winner has already arrived making my collection that much more outrageous. The Final Four had two games, one between two relatively surprising seeds and one between two top seeds. Villanova has been at the top all year so there was never really anyone stopping them though I didn't see that on any of my brackets. My bracket is such a mess this year and I should have known that with the wild way this season was playing out. I'll look at the Saturday Final Four games and then the unimpressive blowout Nation Championship. My television reviewing got a little out of hand so I'm further behind that I thought I would be. By this point, Villanova's blowout is somewhat forgotten in my mind already turning to other sports. 

Michigan Wolverines vs Loyola Ramblers
Michigan halted the Cinderella run of Sister Jean and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. The games started out as a close battle with Loyola's solid three-point shooting managing to hold up but Michigan persistent defense finally wore them down. Loyola had made it this far against some really difficult teams but exhaustion finally got them as the Wolverines stuck with their formula putting them in the championship.
Kansas Jayhawks vs Villanova Wildcats
I was shocked when Kansas just got crushed by the Villanova Wildcats. For a Villanova fan, which I now am sort of, this must have been awesome because Kansas comes from the Big 12, a much more competitive conference, but they could not withstand the amazing three-point shooting and incredibly play of the Wildcats. Villanova had the momentum and looked ready to go from the beginning as they did almost all season long.
National Championship
Michigan Wolverines vs Villanova Wildcats
Villanova continued to dominate into the National Championship for a game that was so boring I forgot to blog about it until much later. I thought the game would be somewhat competitive at first but with lethal three-pointers and amazing play from the bench player Donte DiVincenzo, the Villanova Wildcats won their second title in two years. Next year, I'll be favoring them again as I don't think a lot of their players are leaving. 

Here is my main trash bracket though I filled out a few more of these that were also pretty bad.

TV Show Review: The Mick (Season 2)

This hilarious dysfunctional wealthy family comedy continues for a brilliant second season that lives up to the first and grows the great characters. Mackenzie "Mick" Murphy (Kaitlin Olson) is still trying to live the high life after the Pemberton mansion burned down but the hotels have realized they are out of money. The rest of the Pembertons are not ready to give up their cozy lives either. Mick works with her niece Sabrina (Sofia Black-D'Elia) to blackmail the financial advisor who has restricted their spending while Jimmy (Scott MacArthur) teaches Chip (Thomas Barbusca) how to stay under the radar though Chip tries to go it alone and gets caught. Alba (Carla Jimenez) has an exorcism performed on him by the youngest Pemberton Ben (Jack Stanton). A solid first episode for what turned into a pretty outrageously hilarious second season.

The family has to move back to the burned-out mansion for a few episodes as the kids cope with their parentage and Mickey tries to make friends. Jimmy has a brief foray into financial advising before it all goes wrong. Ben is one of the funniest parts of the show as he befriends inmates and goes off his ADHD medicine. Sabrina tries to regain her popularity by throwing a Halloween party but it goes awry. They finally get out of the burnt-out mansion when a distant relative passes away leaving the house for Mick and the kids. Jimmy and Mick's relationship is strained by revelations from the past but they can hardly get away from the kids to go out on a date. 

Mickey also pushes Sabrina hard to go to college because she wants the moody teenage girl out of her new mansion. Alba has to cover up that she never cleans around the house when one of her relatives arrives still believing she was a maid. The show jumps from various topics like religion, gambling, and bullying with irreverent fashion. The physical humor is amazing especially from Mickey and Jimmy as they get in fights or get locked in a car. Chip has various schemes that always work out to embarrass him and Sabrina tries to remain cool even as she has doubts about her future. 

Mickey tries to keep the family out of trouble but Ben steals things, Chip throws parties, and Sabrina declines her acceptance to Yale. Mickey, with the help of Alba who is always having fun in these scenarios, tries to direct Sabrina to college, help Ben make friends, win the science fair, and stay out of trouble while Jimmy tries to mentor Chip and his wealthy friends through the wild lessons he learned in his own rough childhood. The finale has Mickey trying to finally convince Sabrina and deal with her own regrets only for a lightning strike to throw her plans into chaos for what should be a great third season.  

The Mick continues to be wildly amusing in its second season with scenarios working out into hysterical conclusions and the actors pulling off some great comedic moments. The FOX network has impressed me with a lot of their comedies recently and The Mick fits right into those shows. It is nice to see Kaitlin Olson branch out from the show that made her famous though I hope she stays on that one as well. I don't know if I'll have the time to continue reviewing these thirty-minute comedies but they are some of my favorite shows to watch so I'll definitely be tuning in when The Mick returns.  

TV Show Review: Santa Clarita Diet (Season 2)

Netflix zombie comedy continues to be hilarious in a gory second season. This streaming service does a decent job with the previous season recap but I still couldn't remember everything that happened,  I just remember it being really funny. The second season has Hammond family having barely escaped exposure for who they truly are, murderers, but Joel (Timothy Olyphant) is stuck in an asylum trying to prove his sanity. Sheila (Drew Barrymore) is chained to a post while their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) and her friend Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo) try to discover a cure by gathering vomit from a Serbian. Joel is finally released and works with Sheila to solve problems without murdering and eating the people that cause them.

Sheila has a desire to hunt animals and a group of rival realtors try to steal their business so Joel uses Sheila's newfound instinct to win the deal. When Joel and Sheila learn that the body of Sheila's first victim Gary (Nathan Fillon) is buried on property that is about to be developed they dig up Gary only to find his head is still alive and talking a lot. They decide that they will end Gary's undead existence and Gary agrees only if they do a few chores for him like signing over a deed to his niece. Gary's niece leads Sheila to a group of Nazis, which she uses as a ready supply of meat. Eric develops a crush on the drug store girl Ramona (Ramona Young) and is happy about their growing relationship until he discovers that she is a zombie too. 

The couple continues to investigate how Sheila turned into a zombie even as they advise Ramona to cover up her murders. Joel traces Sheila's and Ramona's infection to a restaurant known as Japapo's but because he is an avid Yelp reviewer, the owner notices him and refuses to give him the receipts of the same night unless he edits his review. It sounds as silly as it is but Joel takes his review seriously but makes the sacrifice finding another person who might be infected. Sheila works her way through the Nazis and even blacks out when she gets hungry and recklessly kills another. She worried that she killed her rude and sexist boss Carl (Andy Richter) but he turned up fine. 

After Joel survives an old man zombie attack, he learns from Eric that the clams were supplied by Ruby (Sarah Baker) but Ruby believes that Joel is part of a clam rival. The couples learn to work together but their trouble doesn't give them time to pay attention to Abby who is going through a crisis. Abby gets a bit too into environmentalism and plans a terrorist attack against a fracking company. Everything comes to a head when Eric's mom Lisa (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) has started a relationship with Anne Garcia (Natalie Morales) whose investigation leads her to Sheila and Joel but they reveal Gary to her and her religious zeal plus Abby's explosion make her a convert.

Santa Clarita Diet is another excellent show from Netflix that utilizes great one-liners and topical humor alongside cheesy zombie gore. Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore play off one another well while Liv Hewson and Skyler Gisondo provide youthful subplots and young romantic attention. The short thirty-minute episodes make it easy to binge the whole show in a weekend and the growing troubles and recurring cliffhangers make it hard to stop watching. I am looking forward to seeing where the show goes in the third season.