Thursday, December 8, 2016

TV Show Review: South Park (Season 20)

South Park returns to cap off a second decade of comedy.The twentieth season continued to use the reason trend of serializing the episodes so that the season exists as a whole building towards a silly climax. This season tackled the onslaught of trolls across the internet especially on social media websites with Gerald Broflovski being a secret troll SkankHunt. 

The season tried to capture the election but as they were stunned by the Trump win as most of the media were, they whiffed on the day after episode and had to catch up in the next few with Mr. Garrison standing in for the president. They did have the coiffed hair of our current President-elect and showed how the troll army worked in his favor.

They had turned away from their attack of PC culture in the previous season but still registered some of the cultural shifts like white men believing they have a reason to be upset at women and bashing them for their lack of opportunity in comedy. All of this didn't amount to much as this felt like a weaker season of South Park, not sure of what they wanted to say and balancing several complicated issues.

The biggest flaw that Trey Parker and Matt Stone inserted into this season was the sidelining of Cartman. He would have been a great mirror to Trump and all his trolls as his views align alongside the alt-right, but this season he was with his girlfriend Heidi and a lot of missed jokes about men not thinking women were funny. 

As the title of the final episode says, it appears the serialization is at an end and will allow the South Park writers to take on crazy issues that will pop up frequently in the next year. It's said that we have to wait over a year for the next round of this hilarious cartoon as this season left something lacking. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 13)

Week 13 leaves a few loose ends while solidifying a few other teams' playoff spots. The games on television weren't the most competitive or exciting but important wins were had and losses nailed in the coffin other teams' hopes. I'll just do a classic look at the division, their leaders, and what we have in store.

AFC
AFC East
The Patriots looked destined to be the top team in the AFC and hold a solid lead in the AFC East over the Dolphins. They put away the Rams easily this weekend. Miami had a pitiful loss to the Ravens and lost their playoff spot.

AFC North
The Ravens win over the Dolphins keeps them in the lead though their record is tied with Pittsburgh. Baltimore won't have it easy with New England this week and the Steelers as their next to last game. The Steelers have an easier schedule but will really need to win that game against Baltimore or win all the other three with Baltimore losing. Neither team looks to take a wild card spot if they don't win the division.

AFC South
All tied up in this division between the Texans, Colts, and Titans. Titans have it rough with games against the Chiefs, Broncos and Texans left. The Colts must face the Texans, Vikings, and Raiders. And finally, the Texans can knock out both of their divisional rivals and only have to face the Jaguars and Bengals.

AFC West
The Raider rest atop the best division in the conference. They have a chance to knock out both the Chiefs and Broncos but both teams could snag the Wild Card spots. 

NFC
NFC East
The Dallas Cowboy have clinched a spot in the playoffs and look to be the best team in the league. The division is pretty great too with the Giants also achieving a solid spot in the Wild Card. 

NFC North
The Lions have taken advantage of the Vikings collapsed and pushed themselves into the top spot. If they can survive against the Cowboy they should have a smooth path to the playoffs.

NFC South
Atlanta is doing everything to give away their divisional lead with a two-point conversion being intercepted for the loss. The Bucs are hot on their trial earning a Wild Card spot with impressive wins. 

NFC West
The Seahawks have proven again that it is not always the start of the season that matters but how you finish and they will ride their strong momentum of impressive wins into the playoffs.

It's getting exciting and I'm really going to enjoy these last few weeks of football!

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

The intense war drama directed by Mel Gibson tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an army medic who saved the lives of over seventy men at Hacksaw Ridge. The movie is carried by strong supporting performances by veteran actors like Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, and Sam Worthington but relies heavily on the young Garfield. He is backed up by Teresa Palmer as his future wife and Luke Bracey whose career is growing as a fellow soldier.

The story has a slow start with Desmond as a young boy as he comes to his face after an altercation between him and his brother. Weaving is brutal as a veteran of World War I and drinks through the rest of his life overcome with grief after the loss of his friend. The movie explores Doss's courtship of Dorothy (Palmer) and eventually his enlistment. 

Once enlisted, Doss encounters a wall of doubt and ridicule from his commanding officers including Sgt. Howell (Vaughn) who is especially rough on him. Vaughn is impressive as the drill sergeant and heads into war alongside his men. Doss does not shed the doubt of his fellow soldiers until the brutal war scene at Hacksaw Ridge. Gibson does not relent on the action pushing the excruciating violence to a horrifying extent that shows the awfulness of war.

When Doss refuses to retreat and heads back out into the carnage to save the surviving men, the tension rises. The Japanese soldiers charge out and as the threat grows, Doss still refuses to pick up a weapon, choosing to run and hide only to return and save the injured men. The story is truly inspiring and heartbreaking and the movie captures the emotional journey of this harrowing tale.

As the temperature, the quality of movies rises and Hacksaw Ridge is a clear example of the best of what 2016 will have to offer. The acting is superb, the direction moving, and the story inspiring. I don't know what else will come this year, but Hacksaw Ridge is at the top of my films for the year. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

TV Show Review: Insecure

I thought we had another episode but the show ended on heartbreak. The trials and tribulations of Issa (Issa Rae) made for some hilarious and great dramatic television on par if not better than typical half-hour HBO comedies. The show explored the life of twenty-somethings struggling for careers and stable relationship and all the awkwardness that comes with the transfer to professional life and dating with the potential of marriage.

Issa lives with her boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) who is can't find a job that fits his education and status and depends on Issa for the bills. Issa works at a non-profit for underserved kids. One of the funniest scenes is at the beginning of the show when the kids pelt Issa with questions about his personal life and she defends herself the best way possible. Their relationship is strained and becomes even more so when Issa encounters an old flame Daniel (Y'lan Noel). 

Issa's best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) also has her own issues with dating from being too particular with men while other times falling for men that are complete jerks and just want sex on the first date. Molly tries out an exclusive dating site that allows only particular members and believes she found out the right guy only to realize that he is just like plenty of the other men. 

The show has plenty of hilarious scenes but also interesting relationships with people that are still trying to figure it out but would want to hang out with if you knew them. I'm excited to see where this show goes in further seasons as Issa moves her life finding a career and a man that she can be herself with. Insecure is yet another HBO show that adds to their top notch television. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

TV Show Review: Westworld

HBO's Sci-fi/Western concluded after tons of twists and turns throughout the season as robots developed consciousness and rebelled against their programming. The story had multiple plot threads to follow that didn't always make sense and didn't always have the most exciting episodes but as the show went along and the world added flesh, it was quite interesting to follow along. 

The stories central figure is the android Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) who begins her process of waking up as the original host of the park. The first sign of her awakening was a slap of a fly to show that she could harm a living creature. She begins to have flashbacks to other time periods that she is not supposed to remember. This awakening begins to affect other hosts as well.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) had one of the most exciting storylines as a host that was once the head of a brothel and becomes aware that she continuously gets reprogrammed. She convinces two technicians to increase her awareness but a memory of her daughter's death shocks and troubles her. She conspires to overthrow the park and have the robots rebel against their owners.

Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is the head designer of the hosts and with his partner Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) try to upgrade the hosts to a more realistic standard. A major twist that was telegraphed pretty early on was Bernard's origin as a host himself. The greater twist was that Bernard is, in fact, a copy of Arnold, Ford's old partner. Bernard has a relationship Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) but can still be forced to murder her when Dr. Ford commands.

The final storyline that took a prominent part of the narrative was of William (Jimmi Simpson) who was an earlier version of the Man in Black (Ed Harris) showing his origin from a timid individual into the ruthless robot killer that he becomes. His love for Dolores leads him to buy majority shares of the park as he pursues the center of a mysterious maze. 

There were a ton of impressive supporting cast members like Tessa Thompson, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth, Rodrigo Santoro, and more. The show had amazing production value with great special effects as television leaps into the modern age with more complicated narratives and all-star casts. Westworld has taken new steps in the sci-fi genre and though at times it was convoluted but it seemed to explain everything and wrap up a lot of loose threads in the finale. The story explored a lot of things especially about how we view television and what we want from our entertainment as technology advances.

Sports: College Football (Week 14- Championship Week)

The final games of the season were the championship matchups in each division that had almost no bearing on who made it into the playoffs and were not the greatest matchups this season. I'll look at the championship games for each of the bigger divisions.

SEC Championship
Alabama started the season at number one and will end the season in the same position with an undefeated run through the SEC and an appearance in the SEC West. They trounced the Florida Gators showing just how bad the SEC East has become that a weak Florida team was the best opponent that could be offered up against Alabama. Crimson Tide will take the top spot in the playoffs scheduled for Washington on the last day of the year.

ACC Championship
Clemson faced a little tougher competition and are not the same dominant team but they have a top spot after beating Virginia Tech by a touchdown. Clemson had one loss to Pittsburgh that nearly lost their playoff spot but they are set to face Ohio State in round one.

Big Ten Championship
The Big Ten Championship was an odd game because the consequences were not as high. The real consequential matchup happened last week when Ohio State eliminated Michigan, but since Penn State beat Ohio State, they represented the East. They took out Wisconsin by a touchdown and will face USC in the Rose Bowl.

PAC-12 Championship
Washington had an early game on Friday against Colorado and their place in the playoffs was not as secure as the other teams. They had an interesting matchup against Colorado Buffaloes but managed to pull out and win resoundingly. Washington is now the fourth place position in the playoffs and has a touch game against Alabama.

The Big 12 did have a face off against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State but none of that would matter in the end as the Big 12 remained unrepresented in the CFB playoffs. I'm looking forward to the games and when I write about the first round, I'll look at some of the more exciting bowl games. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Movie Review: Allied

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in this World War II spy thriller directed by Robert Zemeckis. The movie develops a lot of slow build tension that was highly entertaining to watch and made for a fun night. Brad Pitt is introduced as spy Max Vatan that is dropped in French Morocco with a mission to kill a German ambassador. He has slick clothes and operates smoothly as he rendezvous with another operative Marianne (Cotillard) who is undercover as his wife waiting for him.

Their relationship grows with much of the plot dedicated to how they meet and become lovers. They procure tickets to a party where  the ambassador is attending and have a short little action sequence. All of this is just a set up to get them back to London where they marry and have a child under the threat of German bombs. The tension really rises as Max is informed that his wife is, in fact, a German spy.

Max is reluctant to believe this new information, and Brad Pitt does a great job showing the inner turmoil of a stoic figure. The movie harkens back to older films set in the troubling times of Nazi occupation. Cotillard is mysterious and possibly deadly as each word is scrutinized to some hint at her betrayal. This drama grows as Max takes more desperate measures to figure out the truth and a way to prove it all while they plan a party and worry about air raids.

There is some supporting help from Lizzy Caplan as Max's sister and Jared Harris as a commanding officer but this story revolves around this couple and the lies they both conceal. The movie has some twist and turns but takes a predictable route. It won't be much of Oscar bait but it was a fun film to watch and promises a solid ending to a rough year of films in 2016.