Thursday, June 22, 2017

TV Show Review: Orange is the New Black (Season 5)

Leitchfield correctional facility experiences a riot and total takeover in the fifth season of this funny and moving Netflix show. When Daya (Dascha Polanco) picks up the gun and shoots a guard, it leads to the whole prison thinking there is a mass shooting going on. The guards try to find out what is going on but end up hostages held by the prisoners. The death of Poussey led Taystee (Danielle Brooks) to rally the others to step up for justice. Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) also steps up to lead the prisoners, after rough treatment and profiling from the guards. This highly entertaining season takes place of the three days following these actions as the women take over and make demands to improve their lives imprisoned within Leitchfield.

The format of flashing back on each character continues as they take the time to focus on various prisoners and possibly revealing how they ended up in prison. Red (Kate Mulgrew) conspires to lure in the ruthless guard Piscatella (Brad William Henke) in the present while they show her life in Russia before immigrating to America in the past. We also get a look at Piscatella previous past of torture in a male prison. Tayste, Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), and Janae (Vicky Jeudy) work to negotiate changing the prison and satisfying their demands with Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow). The addicts Leanne (Emma Myles) and Angie (Julie Lake) head straight to the pharmacy but Lorna (Yael Stone) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) manage to get control of it. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) hides out in the hospital with her injured friend but as her mental state goes untreated, she grows worse setting up outlandish fantasies.

 Gloria (Selenis Leyva) organizes the remaining but dwindling supplies in the kitchen but orchestrates a plan to let the hostages out when she finds out her son is sick in the hospital. Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Laura Prepon) try to avoid the chaos but encounter the purchasing director of the prison Linda (Beth Dover) who pretends to be a convict and forms a relationship with Big Boo (Lea DeLaria). Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) upsets the addicts when she helps a guard escape by shooting off another prisoner's finger. The life inside the prison takes odd turns with a captured guard talent show and a mock trial with Boo as an attorney for Pennsatucky. As the food runs out, the desperation steadily increases to a breaking point. 

Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) leverages her experience in the prison to land a spot on a talk show but has to contend with the celebrity chef who ends up getting her daughter outed as the shooter of the guard. As Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), former warden, tries to negotiate with Taystee, the governor grows impatient, preparing to send in the riot control. Piscatella sneaks into the prison and in a sort of horror episode, starts to pick off the inmates one by one until he has a large group and starts torturing Red. Frieda (Dale Soules) sets up a bunker from experience we learn comes from her survivalist upbringing and master poison that is used to take down Piscatella.

This season comes to a climactic end as the troops storm the prison tasing and beating all the prisoners. Piscatella gets a lethal pepper bullet to the head putting an end to a great villain of this series. This season was a lot of fun and one that I enjoyed more than others making this a season, I'll want to add to my top ten list at the end of the year. Brooks delivered one of my favorite performances of the year. Where the show goes from here looks to be an interesting possibility as all the women were shipped away on buses. It looks like there are already two more season planned and I'm looking forward to its return next year. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TV Show Review: Fargo (Season 3)

One of the most interesting shows on television tells a new story for the third season that reflects the themes of the other seasons and the brilliant movie that shares its name. Ray and Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor in both roles) are brothers living out a childhood rivalry through adulthood primarily over a rare stamp. Ray wants money from his more successful brother Emmit so that he can marry his new girlfriend and a parolee Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ray is a parole officer complicating his relationship with Nikki but they need money to compete in a bridge tournament across the state border. Emmit and his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) are ready to pay off an under-the-table loan but the corrupt leader of the lending company V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) won't let them. Varga insists that Emmit must work with him to launder money. 

Ray ask another parolee Maurice Lefay (Scoot McNairy) to kill his brother but the stoner isn't able to figure out the right address and kills an old man with the same name. The old man happened to be the stepfather of Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) who starts to investigate the murder. Ray and Nikki kill Maurice by dropping an air conditioning unit on his head. Gloria's investigation leads her to Los Angeles where she learns about a young Thaddeus Mobley (Thomas Mann) and his reason for leaving the West coast. Emmit and Sy try to back out of the deal with Varga but find themselves becoming more entrenched as their efforts to investigate their new business partners leads to the death of others. Varga's two henchmen Yuri Gurka (Goran Bodgan) and Meemo (Andy Yu) are especially vicious. 

A traffic incident between Sy and Ray leads Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) to investigate the Stussy corporation, eventually combining forces with Gloria. As Ray causes more problems for Emmit including impersonating him to take out a hefty withdrawal, Varga retaliates by beating up Nikki. Gloria must contend with a bumbling new chief Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham) set to take over her job who pushes for her to drop the investigation. Ray and Nikki go on the run from the criminals and the police but Ray forgets the getaway money and must return to his home. Emmit confronts Ray at the house but their fight over the stamp leads to Ray's death. 

Varga helps Emmit clean it up as Sy hopes to sell the Stussy corporation to a widowed businesswoman Ruby Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell). Emmit nearly confesses not used to lying about misdeeds but manages to get away as the blame is shifted to Nikki. At the jail, Gloria tries to get the story out of Nikki but she refuses to say anything even after someone attempts to kill her. On a prison bus, she meets a familiar face from the first season the mute Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard). The bus flips and Varga's henchmen hunt Nikki and Wrench through the woods. They kill Yuri who dies in a strange scene in a bowling alley and come up with a plan to take down Varga. The British man with poor dental hygiene has taken over the Stussy company including poisoning Sy.

Nikki Swango seeks revenge against Varga and Emmit but it leads to her demise. Ruby Goldfarb turns out to be working with Varga to take over Emmit's business which is easy since Emmit signs it over in a state of distress. Varga manages to escape from an attack on his men but Meemo is killed by Mr. Wrench. The show flashes forward five years to Emmit leaving a new life with his family though Mr. Wrench will have his revenge and Gloria confronts Varga in an interrogation cell. This show still has a lot of fun in its episodes though this season felt a bit like a repeat of the last with a slower middle. I'll be curious if Noah Hawley will try for another season in the future or end on this high note to focus on his other shows. 

Movie Review: Fargo

The first time viewers were introduced to the strange crime and comedy of Fargo, North Dakota comes from the Coen brothers' brilliant drama. The "true" story begins in 1987 with Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hiring two criminals, Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife. Jerry is trying to get his father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell) who has a lot of money to pay for a car lot. When Wade agrees to help Jerry out, Jerry tries to stop the wheels from turning on this crime. The two criminals are shown to be very odd, debating over pancakes and having women in the bed right next to each other. This quirkiness is not only a funny aspect of many Coen brothers films but continues in the television show.

The criminals break in and kidnap Jerry's wife just as Jerry learns that Wade and his business partners will only give him a finder's fee for his new lot. Carl and Gaear are pulled over by an honest cop who refuses to take a bribe and hears the woman's crying so Gaear shoots him in the head. While Carl disposes of the cop's body, Gaear hunts down pedestrians who see the crime and try to escape. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) gets the call to investigate the murders. Since she's pregnant, she almost barfed at the crime scene. As Marge investigates the scene, Jerry works to cover up his crime and keep the police out of it.

With a lot of accented "yeahs", Marge interrogates those who encountered Carl and Gaear. Carl is having trouble staying in the cabin without any television while Gaear continues to chain smoke. Marge's investigation leads her to Jerry's place of work since Jerry gave the criminal a car.  Marge's investigation also brings her to Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis) who seeks out Carl and beats him with a belt. Marge goes on an awkward date with a former friend. Carl is anxious to get his money so he calls Jerry to set up a meeting but Wade takes charge and confronts Carl in the parking deck. Carl shoots and kills Wade but not before he gets shot in the face. 

Carl takes the ransom money and buries it out in a snow drift. Marge returns to interrogate Jerry but Jerry flees the scene. Carl and Gaear argue over the car and Gaear attacks Carl with an ax. Marge follows the leads leading her to the criminal's hideout where Gaear is shredding Carl's body in a woodchipper. Marge doesn't shoot Gaear right away because, I guess, he's a white man and only injures him when she does taking him alive, lamenting all the deaths over money. Jerry is arrested in a motel room. Marge returns home to her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch).

This movie is great, one I enjoy every time I watch it. It has a great mix of oddball comedy and crime fiction. The film has interesting themes of greed and selfishness that resonant even now years later, hence a popular show, also one of my favorites, based off of the themes and sharing the same name. Joel and Ethan Coen makes a lot of great films, yet Fargo is one of their best.   

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TV Show Review: House of Cards (Season 5)

With the insanity of the actual White House, it is hard to match the chaos. House of Cards tries to reflect current events and create a compelling story but ultimately, watching CNN is just too crazy these days for this show to really resonant. We've also been watching the Underwoods scheming and the brilliant acting for five seasons so the plot twists in this season don't come off as fresh or original. Like the show, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) fights to stay afloat as the president with the general election coming in the middle of this season. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) conspires with her husband as the Vice President. 

The Republican opponent Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) leverages his military career and photogenic family to challenge Frank's political dominance. The biggest plotline pulled from the headlines is a hack from the NSA to sway the votes. Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell) work with hacker Aidan Macallan (Damian Young) to initiate the election rigging. When Frank sees the election not going his way, he causes Ohio and Tennessee to have a stalled vote, giving the Underwoods a chance to alter votes. Meanwhile, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) at the Washington Herald investigates the long conspiracy that has unfolded over several seasons all the way back to Zoe Barnes's death.

Frank Underwood has to negotiate with a secret society of billionaires including Conway's campaign manager Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) who finally helps assist the leaks that damage Underwood's opponent. Claire continues her affair with Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) though she struggles to explain his continued presence in the White House. Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), the press secretary, must deal with the constant leaks of the White House as another reporter Sean Jeffries (Korey Jackson) works to figure out the truth despite being fired from the Herald. Jane Dais (Patricia Clarkson) tries to turn the Vice President against her husband and facilitate the impeachment of the President.

The show plods along as Francis evades controversy and throws everyone under the bus or pushes them down the stairs if they won't cooperate. Thomas Yates threatens to publish an inside story about the Underwoods but Claire won't let that happen. Frank pushes Doug to take the fall for Zoe's death and testifies in front of Congress offering to resign in the penultimate episode. The relationship between Claire and Frank has always been contentious and central to the story and with Claire's chance at the presidency in sight as she already had a taste of it earlier in the season brings the finale to an interesting conclusion. 

This show feels like it is working towards an ending though a show mainly about Claire Underwood would be something new. She did break the fourth wall to finally speak to audiences in a highlight of the season. I was unable to follow the complicated plots of this season mostly because they didn't interest me to pay full attention as I let some of the episodes play out. I wouldn't be surprise if the final season is announced with Netflix cancelling some of my favorite shows and moving towards newer programming. I started with House of Cards in the early days of the Netflix binge model and would like to see it go out before it outstays it's welcome.

Monday, June 19, 2017

TV Show Review: Better Call Saul (Season 3)

The highly entertaining Breaking Bad spinoff pushes closer to the original story with a familiar villain showing up and more backstory coming forward. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) works to start his own law practice with his partner Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) while his brother Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) has collected evidence against him. Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) hunts down whoever left him a note on his car preventing him from killing Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis). Ehrmantraut follows a trail that leads him to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), the chicken restaurant owner and drug smuggler. 

Chuck takes his evidence to Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and they conspire to disbar Jimmy with a lawsuit. Jimmy finds his business booming with popular advertisements that display his flamboyant nature. Chuck pushes Jimmy to a breaking point with his recording and Jimmy ends up in jail. Mike and Gus end up creating a new partnership when Mike starts to cut off Hector's supply line by getting his ice cream trucks stopped at the border. 

Mike and Jimmy come together once again in this story as Jimmy calls in a favor to help sabotage his brother while Mike needs Jimmy to check out the chicken restaurant. They pretty much stay separate this season but we see how all of this leads towards Breaking Bad. Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) sees Don Hector's growing frustration and notices the gangster's health problems forming a plot to sabotage the old man's pills. Chuck and Jimmy face off in court and Jimmy uses his tricky ways and a familiar face to beat his brother, though he loses his ability to practice law for a period of time. 

Forced to make money Jimmy creates Saul Goodman to sell his advertising spots and serve out his community service. Mike meets another familiar face in Lydia (Laura Fraser) as Gus hires Mike on to help him work in the business. Jimmy goes back to an old client with one final slippery scheme to make an old lady settle but finds there are greater consequences to his actions. Chuck struggles with his illness, the strange aversion to electricity that always highlights how much our life depends on power. Kim tries to grow her own practice with an additional client but works herself so hard that an overnighter leaves her so tired she wrecks her car. Nacho's plan comes to fruition and we learned how Hector got in that chair. Jimmy makes good as a personal sacrifice and shuts up shop and Chuck's fate is left as a mystery. Better Call Saul is a great show and while not as sensational as its predecessor, still maintains to deliver an entertaining night each week for a solid season, some of the best on the screen in an incredibly busy year.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

TV Show Review: American Gods

A mesmerizing adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel comes to Starz with an eight-episode first season to start the journey. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison early only to hear the bad news that his wife Laura (Emily Browning) is dead. Even worse, Laura was having an affair with Shadow's best friend Robbie (Dane Cook). Without a home to return to, Shadow meets Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) on a plane home. Strange things start happening as Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job. In a bar, Shadow agrees to work with Mr. Wednesday and has to prove himself in a fight with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), a hard-drinking, leprechaun with coin tricks up his sleeve. 

Hired on to work, Shadow first attends his wife's funeral where Robbie's wife, Laura's friend, offers to have sex with him. He refuses but leaves a coin from Mad Sweeney on Laura's grave, which brings her back to life. Shadow gets accosted by Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and nearly strangled. He realizes working for Mr. Wednesday will be more dangerous than he thought as the god recruits other deities. They venture to Chicago where Shadow nearly loses his life in a game of checkers with Czernobog (Peter Stormare). 

Like in the novel, other gods gets their stories told like Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), a love goddess who swallows men worshipping her with her vagina to stay alive, Anubis (Chris Obi) a god of death directing the deceased to the afterlife, and Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) brought over on a slave ship. Mr. Wednesady continues to recruit gods to his side though it doesn't always go as planned. The more popular new gods like Media (Gillian Anderson) and Mr. World (Crispin Glover) try to recruit Shadow to their side and get angry when they don't agree. 

Shadow and Mr. Wednesday continue to con their way around the country looking for recruits but Laura is right behind them with Mad Sweeney for company. Laura and Sweeney tag along in a taxi with Salim (Omid Abtahi) who is looking for a Jinn (Mousa Kraish). Mr. Wednesday sees the tide turning when a newly empowered volcano god Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) from guns turns against him so Mr. Wednesday has to kill him. The finale sees Mr. Wednesday recruiting the goddess Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) at her party with various forms of Jesus and facing off against the rival gods.


There is plenty of absurdity and spectacle in the first season of this show. The movie follows pretty closely to the novel, which I just started reading again remembering that I enjoyed it several years ago though the show expands on characters backgrounds and takes liberties to make things a little more interesting. Starz puts out some of my favorite content when they debut a new prestige show, it usually rises to the top of my list. The cast is so impressive and the budget does not enough to make for some gorgeous scenes on the screen. I'd recommend this show to fans of the bizarre. 

Movie Review: All Eyez on Me

Continuing the trend of hip-hop biopics, this film takes on the most mysterious and controversial figure, and possibly the most popular, of rap music. Tupac Shakur's legacy lives on with amazing music and heartfelt lyrics that still ring true decades later. Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) grew up with an activist mother Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira) and a wanted stepfather Mutulu (Jamie Hector). The FBI harasses his family in New York City and Afeni decides to take her children to Baltimore. In Maryland, Tupac shows an affinity for dramatic performances and meets Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham). As his mother's addiction grows worse, Tupac leaves for the west coast where he sees someone die immediately.

Ambitious, Tupac, through the connection of Leila Steinberg (Lauren Cohan), seeks out Shock G (Chris Clarke) who brings him along on a tour. When Tupac returns, his mother who followed them out there has grown even more addicted to crack despite her insistence that she has everything under control. Tupac insists to Shock G that he needs to start making his own moves and comes up with hits like Brenda's Got a Baby. This hit record combined with his debut acting role in Juice gives him the opportunity to sign with Interscope records, though they don't understand his music. 

This film intersperses life events with a prison interview conducted by a reporter (Hill Harper). Tupac reflects back on his growing career and the altercations he continues to experience with police. As he grows more popular, he meets Biggie (Jamal Woolard) and they form a bond of mutual respect. Tupac finds that his popularity draws more controversy as he is forced into a leadership role being called out by influential people including the vice president. Tupac's disagreements with his record company grow worse as he believes they are withholding money from him. 

Tupac responds to each controversy trying to stay ahead. Accused of misogyny, Tupac has to deal with a sexual assault charge that puts him in prison. Before his sentence, he angers some New York gangsters who shoot him five times in the lobby of a studio where Bad Boy Records, and Biggie, are recording. Tupac's anger grows while locked up and Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) is there to help him out on bail. He produces tons of hits with Death Row Records. He also furthers his beef with Biggie by claiming to have had sex with Faith. The beef grows even more as Tupac turns on other rappers like Snoop Dogg for claiming they are friend with Biggie. Tupac tries to move away from Death Row Records as he furthers a relationship with Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh). 

The final Las Vegas moments of Tupac's life are shown with real footage of the events leading up to his death. This film moves fast just like the man who accomplished so much before 25. Shipp is a great look-a-like with matching charisma. Gurira's performance as the troubled mother is one of the finer performances of the film. While there is plenty more story to be told, I enjoyed this film for the informative nature, though I'm not sure of the accuracy, and entertaining way it captured one of the most iconic men in the hip-hop industry. All Eyez on Me tells a portion of a story that is both moving and exciting.