Monday, February 29, 2016

Movie Review: Triple 9

Director John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) takes his Wild West vision to the mean streets of Atlanta, GA, my old home town. The cast was stacked with big names like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, and Kate Winslet. This long list isn't used to their total potential but still this movie is full of tense scenes and an entertaining heist movie. 

This cops and robbers drama works with the shades of gray when the cops turn out to be working with the bad guys. The tension heats up when Anthony Mackie's Marcus and Clifton Collins Jr.'s Franco as the two corrupt cops decide that the best way to distract from a robbery is to kill a fellow office, in this case Casey Affleck's Chris who also happens to be a major crimes detective's nephew. The uncle is played by a pot smoking dope snorting Woody Harrelson.

If this explanation seems complicate, it's because the only thing that bogs this movie down is a complex plot that relies on small tidbits of dialogue to hold the story together. Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus play brothers in the robber crew but with a spoiler alert, Reedus doesn't stick around for long, I guess he had to get back to The Walking Dead. 

Seeing Atlanta feature in a film is always a joy for me though the city depicted in the movie is overrun with Mexican gangsters and Russian Israeli gangsters, this was Donald Trump's America. Kate Winslet is a bit campy as a mob boss and Gal Gadot is a throwaway character, especially for a future Wonder Woman and star of the Fast and Furious franchise. 

The movie has a ton of intense scenes of cop shootouts, bank robberies, and betrayals. I thought the movie was highly entertaining and even my girlfriend was pleased. I would recommend this movie to any heist movie fans, or thrillers, or crime drama buffs. I give it seven out of ten!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Academy Awards 2016 Winners

The Academy Awards, or Oscars, an awards ceremony that needs to names and Hollywood's biggest night has declared the best movies and performances of the year.

Spotlight took home the biggest award of the night with a win of Best Picture. I enjoyed Spotlight and found the movie incredibly moving. 

Leonardo Dicaprio won Best Actor for his role in The Revenant, and Alejandro Inarritu won Best Director for the film.

Brie Larson took home the trophy for Best Actress for her performance in Room. This award was the easiest to predict since her performance outshown all the rest.

Mark Rylance won for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies.

Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress for her emotionally gripping performance in The Danish Girl.

Mad Max Fury Road took home six technical awards including Best Costume, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and others. I wish this movie had won more bigger awards but still it was highly recognized.

The show addressed the controversy and turned it into humor with host Chris Rock. Some of the jokes were funny and others were awkward. The 88th Oscars has been decided and I look forward to another year of great movies! 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Beer Review: Kentucky Kolsch

The Kentucky Kolsch comes from the Kentucky Ale brand and puts an interesting twist on a malt beverage. The beer first struck me as having a chocolatey taste with only a hint of lemon. I drank this without a garnish and found it very filling. The beer does not always go well with any types of food but does taste well on it's own.

At 4.72% ABV the beer won't really get you going with three but it is a surprisingly pleasant beverage to have during the evening while relaxing.

The look of the beer has a cool label and fits in well with the Kentucky Ale brand. The smell is not too strong and reflects the taste of the beer. The beer is thicker in feeling but doesn't feel as strong as a dark stout since it is a pale yellow. 

This beer is another great addition to the Kentucky Ale brand. I also hope to write review of their Bourbon Barrel and their original Kentucky Ale as well!

Politics: Democratic South Carolina Primary

The South Carolina democrats have spoken loudly and put their strong support behind Hillary Clinton who won nearly three-fourths of the voters in the primary for a strong victory over Bernie Sanders.

Clinton has gained momentum with Nevada and this victory right before Super Tuesday. Her speech shows that her eyes have turned to the general election as she has spotted Donald Trump as her main Republican candidate. Clinton did not win this state in 2008 when she went up against President Obama so this signals a strong change for her campaign this election. 

The results aren't shocking as Bernie Sanders wasn't even in the state to give a concession speech. Bernie Sanders turns his attention to northern states. Sanders campaigned a lot on momentum but unable to come through in Nevada then performing so weakly will certainly hurt his campaign going forward. Sander made changes to the rhetoric and did not make it easy for Secretary Clinton but the Senator from Vermont will only hold out because he has so much money to spend. 

Super Tuesday may contain some surprises but certainly looks to be a Clinton vs. Trump general election. Both candidates have established their dominance in both parties with strong support through the early states. Their momentum should continue into the perspective conventions in the summer. It will be a very interesting race going forward!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Politics: Republican Presidential Debate #10

The tenth GOP debate gives the remaining five candidates a last chance to attack each other before Super Tuesday next week. CNN hosted the debate and situated the candidates from the middle out according to the results in Nevada on this Tuesday.

Donald Trump took the center of the stage since he won the Nevada Caucus and is coming off three victories with New Hampshire and South Carolina as well. He has won handily and has momentum going into the first multi-state vote. Many of the pundits and polls predicts that Trump could take a huge lead soon. He faced a lot of attacks from his two adjacent candidates but responded with the same brash and over the top comments that have pushed him to the forefront of the Republican party. He faltered a bit but it's hard to think this will have any shift with his supporters. He also shot back with statements aimed at discrediting and ridiculing the candidates beside especially Marco Rubio.

The candidate that seemed most effective against the frontrunner was Senator Marco Rubio, who has gained much of the support of the Republican establishment. Rubio knew this debate was his last chance to make a national pitch against the candidate who received more press. He landed a few successful jabs at Trump, smiled, and continued to push against his opponent. Rubio also got into arguments with the other candidates but probably performed the best. It will be hard for him to win as the states coming up don't favor him in many of the polls. He went all out but it will be surprising if it is enough.

Senator Ted Cruz attacked both Trump and Rubio battling mostly with Trump but also tussling over immigration with Rubio. Cruz talked up his religious conservatism and adherence to the Constitution hoping to at least win his home state of Texas. He often fell back on rhetoric but managed to make a few dents in Trump's armor. It will be interesting how he performs in his home state and the rest of the south next Tuesday but he may struggle in states in the future to gain enough delegates to receive the nomination.

The two candidates on the side were largely ignored at the beginning and got to pitch in only rarely. Governor John Kasich has had a second place victory in New Hampshire but has performed poorly in Nevada and South Carolina. He managed to seem a bit calmer and saner than the three fighters in the middle trying to bring a more reasonable approach to each issue. His lack of fireworks and relaxed demeanor did not gain him much time to explain his positions. Kasich will be hard pressed to continue especially if he does not take Ohio, the state of which he is the Governor.

Dr. Ben Carson has performed the worse but will most likely hold out on dropping out for a while longer because of some delusional belief that he has support. He has not gotten third in any competition and has no state to rely on. He has complained about his chances to speak but is often caught saying absurd things that have only hurt him. He got hot for a moment a long time ago but could not maintain the momentum when the spotlight was shined on him. He grew increasingly desperate the more he was ignored but this did not gain him any more attention than a bit of ridicule and laughs.

The Republican party is divided but they have more voters coming out than ever before. The record-breaking support comes from the high publicity and wild nature of this campaign. The establishment has not yet decided to rally behind any particular candidate but it looks more and more like Rubio is the only candidate that has a chance against Trump. Cruz believes he is the one to take the title but he also has upset many other Republicans. Trump has not been hurt by anything he has said or what has been said by him. He is the likely candidate to win but this was his poorest performance yet.

The issues ranged from immigration to foreign policy to taxes and healthcare. The views varied on the extreme right from more extreme to only slightly. Deportations was a center issue after Trump's big promises and Telemundo assisting in hosting duties. Rubio and Cruz bragged on their Hispanic heritage with Rubio even claiming the Republican party was more inclusive than the Democratic party. Trump was short on specifics and was booed often for repeating himself, which Rubio also pounced on. 

All candidates took a hawkish approach to invading and fighting foreign countries or Islamic terrorism. It's disturbing to see all of them calling for another war without any real plan of avoiding the debacle of the Iraq war. Trump continued to insist that George Bush made mistakes though the other candidates did not give up on the former president.

Next Tuesday, Super Tuesday, will be the biggest vote yet. I will check back in this Sunday when the Democrats have a primary in South Carolina then post about all the states results either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning once it is all finalized. It will be interesting to see if the trends continue and the two candidates from each party emerge victorious. 

Beer Review: Shock Top Belgian White

I'm a sucker for clever and prevalent advertising and Shock Top tipped the scales with their goofy talking orange. The beer has a smooth wheat taste right off the bat with a pleasant orange tangy taste to follow. The aftertaste is almost nonexistent. I garnished a few of these with an orange to enhance the flavors and it worked out wonderfully.

At 5.20% ABV, this Anheuser-Busch beer will take more than a few to feel it. The wheat taste makes it easy to consume and drinking more than one is not a task. The taste is complimentary to plenty of types of food so it isn't strong. I think many drinkers will find this brew bland and cheap but my tastes aren't quite so refined.

I did find the ads a bit obnoxious but they worked to bring me into the store and test it out. I don't see myself picking this beer up again after this initial six-pack to review. The beer is popular and can be found in most stores and gas stations. I think Anheuser is attempting to push this brew as something new to go along with their main stock. 

I can't imagine the hangover being terrible but I didn't try enough to feel terrible. I think casual drinkers could find enjoyment in this and it shouldn't hurt the wallet too much. The beer does have a refreshing essence as well. I couldn't taste the lemon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Movie Review: Race

It's confusing with the current controversy of the Oscars and the issues of race that Hollywood just can't seem to get right, that this movie would be put off for a February release where it would get buried in the box office and pretty much forgotten. Race is a solid film and with a different marketing campaign, this movie easily could have been up there with the other nominees.

Stephen James shines as Jesse Owens. It's also a travesty that I haven't learned as much as I should have about this historic figure. James does a great job capturing the dilemma of mixed feelings with wanting to compete but not supporting the awful Nazi regime. Stephen James is a talent to watch in the future.

Jason Sudekis also delivers a memorable performance as Owens's coach Larry Snyder. Sudekis takes a much different route than his usual comedy fare and shows the potential of his career beyond the goofy movies he's known for. The rest of the supporting cast including Shanice Banton as Owens's wife, David Cross as a German competitor, and Eli Goree as a fellow racer.

The remade stadium was cool to see and the film broached several interesting themes. The other storyline of the torn American Olympic Committee that had John Hurt and Jeremy Irons in it was interesting to see and piece of history I didn't know.  

I think with some more production and little more effort in the direction this movie could have easily been a best picture nominee. The source material certainly gave the filmmakers a lot to work with and even had a chance to make an ode to filmmaking with Leni Riefenstahl played by Carice Van Houten. This movie is good and I would recommend any fans of history or films to see it!

Magazine Review: Clarkesworld Issue 113

As a reader searching for great short fiction in the genre of science fiction and fantasy, I was happy to find that Clarkesworld Magazine publishes exactly what I was looking for. The February issue, and the first in my new subscription, had several outstanding stories from authors I've encountered before and some welcome new voices. I was also pleased to find the original fiction in podcasts too.

"The Fixer" by Paul McAuley tells a great space story about a traveler who has separated from his home planet Earth and created his own species to survive on the harsh environment of a new planet. I enjoyed how this story made me think of the universe and the start of humanity as we know it plus there was great tension when the titular fixer shows up for the protagonist's reckoning.

"That Which Stands Tends Towards Free Fall" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is another great story by an author I am becoming more familiar with. Her writing style is brilliant and this story contains action, sex, and a cool spy drama all on top of an exploration on how technology is used. I am becoming a big fan of Benjanun's writing and hope this story leads to something bigger since I was quickly engaged by the characters and the world building. The unique perspective also challenges how I view the world, which is always a welcome feeling when I pick up short fiction.

"In the Midst of Life" by Nick Wolven really got me thinking. The novella has a great character voice and sets up the tension then takes a huge turn to into a deep philosophical realm. The experience reading this story was akin to how some people have described religious experiences to me. I enjoyed reading this story and listening to it on the podcast. 

"Between Dragons and Their Wrath" by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky takes a whole different approach to dragons. Instead of the likable or even just dangerous creatures depicted in popular fiction, the remnants of these dragons is similar to a nuclear explosion. There is one really haunting image of children on fire, and the melancholic yet optimistic narrative voice gave me chills. This is a great story and I recommend fans of the lizard-like creatures check it out since it is nothing like anything I have read before.

The two reprints were very cool. "Blood Dauber" by Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore had a great build up of tension and a relatable protagonist. I felt so bad as things went wrong and the authors actually made me become attached to a bizarre species of insect. I have been wanting to read something by Kim Stanley Robinson for a while and "Mercurial" did not disappoint. The mystery story was highly entertaining.

All of the nonfiction was very informative and got me thinking of some short story ideas of my own. I look forward to reading and listening to more issues of Clarkesworld Magazine!

Politics: Republican Nevada Caucus

The Republicans of Nevada have decided and voted nearly fifty percent for Donald Trump. That it was actually 46% give hope to the remaining establishment candidates mainly Marco Rubio but I guess John Kasich could be thrown in there. I couldn't stay up late to watch the results come in or the speeches afterwards but from the morning news I saw that Rubio had shifted his attacks from Ted Cruz, who cam in third, to Trump in the lead.

Ben Carson is a footnote in this campaign now. He won't gain much more attention and will likely drop out after next Tuesday's big vote. John Kasich also performed low but hopes to rally back with his home state of Ohio, though Trump is polling well there as well.

This victory gives Trump the momentum as Super Tuesday is only a week away. Ted Cruz can still claim that he is the only one to have beaten Trump after his win in Iowa and he also has his home state of Texas coming up on Tuesday. Cruz has not had the support of the establishment but I can't see him dropping out even if he doesn't perform. I think he could take Texas and that will encourage him to push forward.

Rubio is the candidate that the establishment will rally around and his home state of Florida will be in the following week after Super Tuesday. Rubio will be the most likely candidate to continue to the end but I don't see him putting up a strong enough fight against Trump.

The narrative of a three candidate race has taken over prior to Nevada but now the pundits are showing how Trump will take the nomination. The race starts to clear up but only opens up a new set of interesting scenarios as the front runners in both parties start turning towards the main campaign. There is a debate tomorrow night so I'll check into the political game one more time before a big Super Tuesday post new week. The campaign has been one of the most interesting and exciting in my lifetime!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Beer Review: Goose Island IPA

Goose Island IPA has a sweeter hoppy taste than most IPA beers I've had before. At 5.90% ABV, it will take possibly four to start feeling the drink but it is a nice beer to sit out in the warming weather and enjoy. The IPA goes well with most foods that compliment the taste of hops. 

A lot of drinkers have felt disappointed with this beer and some outright dislike it so, I might not pick this one up. Except I just did. I was at the gas station craving a hoppy IPA and couldn't find the local brewery's selection. I enjoyed the bitter taste though the aftertaste lingered long after. Upon my first sips this second time around, I don't get that aftertaste, oh wait, there it is, just had to wait. I guess that is what I meant by it lingering. I couldn't pick up any of the other flavors that are mixed in. The bitterness and hops overpower anything else. I have to agree with this taste but this time, I'm a bit more pleased with the flavor since I was craving an IPA taste.

I have heard this beer described a just about average or above and I think it is right around there too. Goose Island has some other delicious beer. I once visited the brewery in Chicago and picked up a growler of a beer on tap though I can't remember what beer that was. I look forward to trying other types of beers that Goose Island produces but this one seems to be the most popular. I do not see anything else they have to offer very often since I'm stuck in a small city that doesn't ship in some beers. I'll post more about this beer once I drink some more of it later. 

Book Review: Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey

Wool is a great book, I enjoyed every chapter of it and kept coming back with joy seeing what mystery lay ahead. The omnibus is actually a collection of five shorter stories but they definitely leave off with cliffhangers that keep me turning, or rather clicking over, pages. 

I read somewhere that this book was a product of National Novel Writing Month but there are also a lot of other cool rumors about this book like how the author self-published and it became a huge hit off of word of mouth. There is a reason this book has become so popular and that is because it is extraordinarily entertaining.

I'll try not to write too many spoilers for this but if you haven't read the book I would highly recommend going and picking up a copy then coming back and reading this review. The book is set in an apocalyptic wasteland, which happens to be one of my favorite settings for stories but the twist here is that everyone still alive is underground in a Silo. 

The characters are immediately gripping from Holston to Jaynes to Marnes, and especially Juliette and Lukas. Howey does such a great job introducing these characters in stages while also giving readers just enough information to keep going. The dynamic in the Silo feels so real and all of these characters have a vivid history that seems so real and contributes to the overall mystery.

If you like mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, or just a really good story, I would recommend you pick up this book. There are two more in the series that I am so excited to pick up to see how the story continues on. I am also thrilled to check out more from Hugh Howey since he is an extraordinary writer!

Monday, February 22, 2016

TV Premiere: Girls Season 5

Lena Dunham's HBO show about young women and their romantic lives returned for the fifth and final season. The pack of girls have jumped in time and now at the wedding of Marnie played by Alison Williams. Lena Dunham as Hannah is an unenthusiastic bridesmaid and is suspicious that Marnie's groom Desi the musician, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, is not the right man for Marnie

Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) has returned from Japan with a fitting haircut and remains adorably clueless. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is in a better place in her life but a blossoming relationship with Adam (Adam Driver, Kylo Ren of Star Wars 7), Hannah's ex-boyfriend, appears to be a major plot line of this season.

The show looks like it has retained its quirky humor and will be enjoyable to see it come to a fitting conclusion. The show had a good run and it appears to have not been cancelled but just determined that it has run its course by the creators. These girls have been through a lot and it has been an amusing show to watch. I look forward to seeing how it all wraps up!

TV Show Review: Love (Season 1)

Netflix released a new romantic comedy created by the prolific Judd Apatow about two thirty-somethings in Los Angeles. The show followed two characters as they ended their relationships and started one with each other. 

The show stars Gillian Jacobs, from Community and a role in Girls, as Mickey, a radio worker and Paul Rust as a tutor to a child star on a fictional with show. Rust is another creator on the show. Rust and Jacobs meet up though there are some awkward moments throughout. A lot of the comedy is laugh out loud and Jacobs is identifiable as a struggling single woman.

The show explores the travails of finding a relationship in the modern age as young people grow into their careers and lives. The show also highlights some interesting parts of show business taking place a lot on a studio set of the witch show. Rust's character aspires to be a writer on the show and eventually gets a chance but his awkward nature prevails.

The supporting cast is decent with Apatow's own daughter playing the child actor. Claudia O'Doherty is funny as Mickey's roommate. The show boasts a lot of new actors in the mix. 

I would recommend this show for those looking for a quick show to binge in the romantic comedy drama. It has a lot of funny moments and is only thirty minutes an episode for a ten episode season. 

TV Show Review: X-Files (Season 10)

X-Files returned with much fanfare. It brought back a an older Mulder and Scully to investigate a brand new set of mysteries promising some sort of closure for a series that extend back several decades. The return was a bit of a hit or miss with some episodes capturing the old magic while others made no sense as stories.

The first episode brought Mulder back into his conspiracy furor with Joel McHale as a talk show host who stumbles on an alien secret. This new conspiracy also drags Scully back into the mystery though she retains her skepticism. Of course her doubts have been shaken through years of unexplained experience. The dynamic between the two characters was still there if only the plots could have done them justice.

The plots returned to their formulaic and episodic way with each episode confronting some new unexplained mystery. Mulder was quick to believe and Scully doubted. The writers didn't seem to want to change much from that. There was a comedic episode in the middle that I found amusing but some of the others were just absurd.

The last episode promised to wrap things up with a new header at the end of the opening credits. An apocalyptic scenario started to play out but in the end, after all the anti-vaccine and oddly Islamophobic plots, the end dropped with a disappointing cliffhanger. I don't know if this means there will be another season but if this is the end it went out with a whimper. They must have wasted most of their budget on the special effects in the first episode because it got progressively worse. 

The X-Files has a great legacy and this return won't ruin anything but it would be nice if they had a great set of episodes in the future. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Politics: Republican South Carolina Primary

South Carolina has chosen their Republican nominee for president in 2016. The primary winner was Donald Trump who braggadocio and crude behavior keeps him well ahead of the pack. Marco Rubio is second but down at ten percent lower than Trump's turnout but Ted Cruz is right behind him with only a few thousand votes making the difference. Jeb Bush dropped out after his fourth place finish and the two lowest performers John Kasich and Ben Carson continue to plod on with determination.

Trump hit on all of his main points during his victory speech reasserting his claim to build a wall on the Mexican border and take on China. Trump promises to continue on to Nevada but the Southern states look to be a welcome place for his campaign. His lead is strong and it is hard to see anyone defeating him as the campaign goes on.

Cruz and Rubio have an interesting battle going on and they have only really attacked each other over their Spanish speaking skills but that battle will be interesting. Cruz has taken on Trump but Rubio so far has stayed away from a direct attack. There is a debate next week and that should reveal the strategy of these two second place candidates. Still Rubio is without a win, and Cruz can tout his Iowa victory as he pushes further.

Bush's dropping out was expected perhaps not this early but his campaign had stumbled and fallen. His attack on Trump may deter other candidates from taking him on since it only hurt Bush and didn't take anything away from Trump. Bush did not endorse anyone yet but I predict he will pick his fellow Florida politician Marco Rubio. Rubio has clearly shown his desire to get that endorsement with his victory speech proclaiming his admiration for his opponent. 

The bottom tow candidates are holding on for Vice Presidential picks. I don't see Kasich rallying much more support and Carson supporters cannot be happy with another finish at the bottom of the line. 

The race now involve three top tier candidates with Trump at the head of the pack. It is hard to bet against Trump but Rubio and Cruz both hold out hope of their campaigns pulling ahead. I look forward to a tough competition as we get further into the political process!

Politics: Democratic Nevada Caucus

The close battle in Nevada has been decided by nearly five percent in the caucus between Bernie Sander and Hillary Clinton. Clinton won the state with a constant presence last week in the casinos. The betting odds are with Hillary but Sanders supporters could take heart from a dramatic increase in this state. 

Sander's momentum could not carry him to a win in the state and Clinton will continue to push this triumph as a new surge in her support as the Democrats turn their attention to South Caroline where the Republicans are currently holding a vote. 

Clinton uses the doubt and close lose to show that she will fight no matter the odds against. She is really working the underdog push even though she is the predicted winner of most of these competitions. The one loss in Nevada had her on her heels but I think with this victory she will move boldly forward and take South Carolina. 

Hillary works to humanize herself and gain the Latino voters support by holding a girl afraid of her parents' impending deportation. Clinton did not fail to waste this photogenic moment. She also repeated her message that she found successful in the debate off her multi-issue approach to politics as opposed to Bernie's one-note push against Wall Street and inside money. She reached out specifically to women, victims of racial discriminations, and the youth vote that she has not yet been able to conjure.

Sanders's concession speech won't garner as much press as Clinton's victory speech with the Republicans dominating the nightly news hours. He will not give up on his relentless positivity and hopes to turn the close loss into a moral victory as he did in Iowa. He did not fail to repeat his token issue of campaign finance and the grassroots nature of his support. 

Up next is South Carolina in a week then the giant vote of Super Tuesday. I predict Hillary Clinton will get another win in SC and continue to dominate in Super Tuesday but I recall her momentum eight years ago and that didn't work out. I look forward to the political competition heating up in the next few weeks!

Beer Review: Rhinegeist Truth IPA

This rich hoppy happy pine-tasting IPA goes great with steak sandwiches and takes about three to get you going though two might suit a more casual drinker. The ABS is just above seven percent and tastes delicious if you like a lot of hops. The medley of citrus and peach work well with the pine for a smooth taste.

The aftertaste lingers for a short time making it extra tasty with meals. From the Cincinnati brewery Rhinegeist with about ten different beers, this Truth seems to be the most popular and pervasive on the beer aisle.  

The color is a nice amber brown with a small amount of head. I drank this beer straight from the can, which is the way this beer predominantly appears. This beer goes down nicely and after the first few sips, I found it easy to drink. I would definitely pick this one up again when in need of a solid IPA.

The ratings is high with this one and if a drinker is looking for a variety in their IPA, they can't go wrong with this midwest brew. The logo on the front is very cool and I plan on testing out plenty more of their types. All of these cans look great!

Book Review: King of the Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven Shrewsbury

King of the Bastards is a bloody romp through a horrific fantasy realm. Co-writers Brian Keene, who brings his mastery of horror, and Steven Shrewsbury, who has experience creating fantasy worlds, cut the protagonist Rogan from the belly of his mother and place him in a world that shows no mercy. 

The plot picks up with Rogan as an aged warrior briefly describing his previous adventures and his ascent to the throne of Albion. I definitely think there is a novel waiting to be written of Rogan's adventures in the past but this tale is focused on one contained  event on a foreign land. 

Rogan is a tough character to like, sexist, brash, and cocky, but the authors do a good job making me root for him nonetheless. I really wanted to see him get his revenge on those who threatened his kingdom but like the children hearing this tale from their yarn telling father, I will have to wait until later. 

The plot is a bit fast-paced and once it initially explains the far off lands and establishes Rogan's purpose does not slow down. The old version of English in the dialogue felt odd to read but all of that falls to the wayside once the swords start swinging and zombies start coming at the warrior. There is a lot of violence, and the descriptions do not leave much to the imagination. 

Javan, Rogan's cousin and son of Rogan's old partner Thissen, was my favorite character in the story. He shows compassion to others while also learning to be a badass from his uncle. Javan is delegated to translate for the natives they encounter and his personality comes through with each word. This translation seemed too slow for the fast paced so is dispensed with by magic in the middle of the book. The magic was never fully explained working from numerous theologies of fantasy and myth.

The villains seemed tied to a much larger world that is not explored in this book but the final confrontation has the hard-hitting action I was looking for though my craving for Rogan's revenge wasn't wholly satisfied. Meeble and the minions he recruits to his bidding provided enough of a challenge to Rogan so the protagonist could show of his extraordinary fighting abilities. 

I can easily recommend this book to fans of pulp horror and fantasy mashups but would caution readers who are not fans of the genre against it. The book is short and to the point not taking much time out of my reading schedule. I can only hope the two authors team up again to continue to tell the yarn of Rogan and his vicious exploits. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Witch

This New England folktale shows the difficulty of settling a new land, the delusion of blind devotion, and the troubles of an isolated youth. The movie moves slow with brief disturbing scenes to bring the viewer into the plot but overall amounts to a more confusion than actual horror. There are certainly things throughout that will leave viewers cringing in their seats, or on the couch since this film seems to have trouble showing in all theaters and may be more of a rental. The horror is certainly there and the Writer/Director Robert Eggers does plenty to ratchet up the tension but falls short of a complete story.

With only a family in the midst of the horror, the characters are a majority of kids with the two parents being Game of Thrones alumni. Kate Dickie plays the mother Katherine who slowly devolves into insanity as her family is slowly picked off by malevolent forces. Ralph Ineson plays the father whose faith is out of control. His deep croaking voice delivers dialogue in such a profound way and worked perfectly in this haunting setting.

The kids really stole the show though. Anya Taylor-Joy is a talent to watch as Thomasin. She took the plot on her shoulders and was brilliant throughout. Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb captured the horror of not only being lost in the woods but being forsaken by his merciless God and banished to Hell. The two twins were extra creepy playing around with the goat Black Phillip, super weird.

The colonial atmosphere was certainly a new take on horror. I found the utter helplessness of the characters and their inability to contact others an added horror to the film. The shots were great and the images of trees stretching made it claustrophobia and even creepier. The Olde English the characters spoke was hard to understand at points but none of the dialogue felt forced and all the actors did a brilliant job with it.

This film follows through on some horror but wastes a lot of what it earned with a convoluted ending. I was entranced by the trailer and great reviews so I went into this movie with high expectations but at the same time I knew its independent nature would tend toward a more slow moving haunt as opposed to fast paced thrills. I was left contemplating this film and may drop another paragraph later when I have time to think about it.   

After sleeping on it, I think the movie is certainly chilling but doesn't deliver by the end leaving viewers wanting more, which may have been the intention of the first time writer/director.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

TV Premiere: Vinyl

Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter, and Mick Jagger create a show starring Bobby Cannavale, I'm in. The first episode took a little to get going but I think this show will turn out to be another fun ride for HBO. 

The premise is that a down on his luck record producer Richie Finestra played by Cannavale is about to lose his company if he doesn't find the next big thing. He scours the underground of the New York rock scene to find what he's looking for. Cannavale brings his brilliant acting to the role and charms right off the bat. 

The voiceover tries to explain but the plot remains a bit confusing and the characters are still being introduced so it's hard to gauge who will stick around or just be in this episode. In this binge watching era, it's hard to judge a show from the pilot.

Plenty of familiar faces show up. One of the most exciting to see in a drama is Ray Romano as Finestra's partner Zak Yankovich. His role is small in the pilot but I think he'll be an enjoyable character to watch. Olivia Wilde plays Finestra's wife who is at home with the kids while the record producer goes to orgies, flies on planes, and survives stage collapses.

The show hops around but the drama has been setup nicely in this first episode. There will be a lot to look forward to this show, and HBO hardly ever disappoints. This was a great start to HBO's year!

TV Premiere: Better Call Saul (Season 2)

Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) returns for another season of mischief and clever scams. I really enjoy how they started both seasons with a black and white flash forward to Saul, or Jimmy, working in a Cinnabon in the middle of nowhere. This season stresses that his life has become a miserable substitute for the flashy lawyer that protects criminals in the Breaking Bad series.

The story resumes with Jimmy making a change in his decision to do good things. He gave up the chance to get away with a lot of money. Now Jimmy is using fake names to scam hotels and bankers. The scene with the expensive tequila brings the show right back into the realm and shows Jimmy's cleverness.

The other character that I can't get enough of and I'm glad is back in the show is Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). He is hired out to protect idiots doing crimes and has encountered a client that doesn't think he needs Mike's services anymore. The world of the show is unforgiving, and anyone that gets too overconfident often gets knocked down.

This shows that Jimmy's overconfidence could come back to haunt him pretty soon. This show has never been short on tension and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the second season. I also not only look forward to the future of the Breaking Bad story but also how Jimmy turns into Saul Goodman.

AMC has another hit show on their hands and it's obvious they know it since they have already started a Talking Saul show to follow it like the Walking Dead. I didn't get a chance to catch it but I'm sure there were some funny insights in there. I am happy this show has come back for another season.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Music: Grammys 2016 Winners

The winners have been announced! This has been a great year for music even the awards were a bit strange. I was puzzled by all the winners though I saw a good bit of it coming. I just wanted The Weeknd to win a big award this year but it was not to be.

Best Album of the Year
Taylor Swift won with her album 1989. I thought it was a decent album and Swift is the first woman to win this award twice. There is no doubt in my mind that Swift is a powerhouse in modern music. 

Record of the Year
As I predicted, the hopping tune by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk" took home the award. Not much more I can say about this song. Everyone should listen to it.

Song of the Year
Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" took home this award. A great song to dance and sing along too. I figured this song had a chance since it was nominated for both Record and Song. The Grammys were saving Taylor's award for album so skipped on "Blank Space"

Best New Artist

Meghan Trainor won the award, which was odd because she was nominated last year. Trainor has been around making her the obvious pick because she has had time to release several songs, but her album must have just come out this year. 

The Grammys are done for this year. There was a lot of great music this year and I am a sucker for these award shows. It is always nice to listen to all of the great songs produced by talented musicians. I am looking forward to another great year of music!

Sports: NBA (All-Star Game 2016)

The NBA season is halfway through and the All-Star game was this weekend. The Western Conference beat the Easter Conference by 23 points. Defense is usually nonexistent in All-Star games and this one was no exception with record-breaking offense on both sides of the court, but especially the West. 
This was Kobe Bryant's last All-Star game before his retirement. He passed on the legacy to the future greats like Stephen Curry with 26 points and Russell Westbrook with 31 points. The game had lots of great moments and was fun to watch.

It's also a great time to take stock of the standings and look forward to the second half of the season. The Golden State Warrior remain at the top with an amazing 48-4 record. They would seem to be uncatchable but the San Antonio Spurs are only 3.5 games right behind them with a 45-8 record. Further back but still with a great record is the Oklahoma City Thunder. I think one of these three teams is a high pick to be in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers are still playing pretty well without their star who should be returning once his hand heals. The Grizzlies, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, and Jazz round out the bottom four of the top eight of the West. All of these teams should be pretty competitive in the playoffs.

The Eastern Conference is still led by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The All-Star hosts Toronto Raptors are a close second only three games back. The Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks are behind the two leaders but my Hawks have been ailing of late. The Heat, Pacers, and Bulls are all keeping close. The Charlotte Hornets have moved into the top eight over the Pistons since I last posted. 

I will check in again at the end of the month to see if any teams have moved. I am looking forward to impressive match ups as we move closer to the playoffs!

Music: Grammy Nominations: Best New Artist

One more post on the Grammy nominations before the show actually gets going. I took a listen to the best new artist nominations and wanted to a quick analysis. The five nominees have created some great music this year.

Meghan Trainor is the most popular of these artist when she came on the scene last year with some huge hits like "All About That Bass" and "Lips Are Movin'". She is the most likely pick to win this award as she continues to produce great music and her songs are so catchy it's undeniable.
James Bay is my personal pick to win this award. His single "Let It Go" is a moving piece of music and the talent of his voice is undeniable. His songs have just started to gain popular attention but I think this nomination will certainly help his chances. 
Courtney Barnett is perhaps the most unique artist in this category. Her voice definitely stick out and her style is memorable. I enjoyed several of her songs. This Australian singer has a bright future ahead of her. 
Tori Kelly is the most pop music artist in the category. Big Sean is featured on her hit single and she has an amazing voice. I would not be surprise if she pulls out an upset in this category.
Sam Hunt is the country music star on this category. I think he has the least likely chance of winning but his unique style of singing and talking has certainly gained him attention.

Well, that's my last take on the final category of the Grammys and the show is underway with Taylor Swift kicking it off so I'll watch and have analysis of the winners soon!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

TV Premiere: The Walking Dead (Midseason 6)

The Walking Dead is back with one of the most gruesome episodes ever. After introducing the unstoppable horde in the first half of this season, the citizens of Alexandria finally had to take them on led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln).

This post will contain some spoilers so I would recommend watching this awesome episode before getting into this review. 

The show began with Negan's crew stopping Daryl (Norman Reedus), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). This encounter had a chance of being deadly for our good guys but with a clever use of a rocket launcher by Daryl, this opening scene had a hell of a surprise. 

The thing that I was most anticipating since reading the comics last year was the death of Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) and her sons. I knew this awful event would occur during this daring walk through the walkers while Rick, Carl (Chandler Riggs), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and the doomed family were covered in guts to cover their scent from the zombies' nostrils. The zombies were on the Sam (Major Dodson) when he pulled away from his mother and the group. Jessie just couldn't handle the loss of her son, then she perished herself.

Ron (Austin Abrams), Sam's older brother, could not handle the loss of his brother and his mother and blamed Carl and Rick. He aimed a dropped gun at them but Michonne stepped in to end his life with a sword through the back and out the front. Ron still got a shot off, and Carl turned around to reveal that his eye was missing.

Rick obviously freaked out about this incident and had a mental breakdown. He managed to get him to safety before going out again to fight. The battle had some cool shots and others that didn't make it clear what was going on but overall I was satisfied with the action ending.

The other characters' plots were furthered and wrapped up all the cliffhangers from last week. The whole crew will have a lot to rebuild after the chaos of this episode and the foreshadowing of the nefarious Negan leads me to believe where this show is heading. I am really looking forward to the rest of this season!