Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sports: MLB (June 2016)

The Major League Baseball 2016 season approaches the halfway point and after that, the games will become a lot more competitive as teams fight to stay on top. To mark the middle, the all-star game will be played in mid-July. I managed to vote several times for players that are on my favorite teams: the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. I also chose players with top stats in batting average, homeruns, and RBIs. I'll start with the National League first for my analysis.

National League
The Washington National continue to dominate the NL East much to my chagrin. The Miami Marlins actually pulled ahead of the last years NL Champ, the New York Mets, and would make it to the Wild Card at the moment. The Philadelphia Phillies are bad, but not as terrible as the stinking Braves.

The Chicago Cubs are having a historic season for their franchise and the league as they are eleven games up on the closest team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The rest of the teams, the Brewers, the Pirates, and especially the Reds would need a miracle to come back. 

My prediction for the World Series winner is the San Francisco Giants at this point in the season. It is an even year of this decade so I'm not going against the tradition set by this west coast team. At the top of the Wild Card and five games back are the Los Angeles Dodgers, another impressive force to be reckoned with in the NL. The Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Padres aren't putting up much of a fight.

American League

The Texas Rangers are impressing me in what has always been a far off and odd division for me. The Rangers are 8.5 games up on their fellow Texas team, the Houston Astros. The Mariners, Athletics, and Angels aren't looking too good currently.

Possibly running off of their basketball counterpart, the Cleveland Indians took the lead over the reigning champs, the Kansas City Royals. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are still in the Wild Card race while the Minnesota Twins are competing for the worst team in the league.

The Baltimore Orioles have a comfortable 5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox but I'll be surprised if that lasts. The Toronto Blue Jays  are bearing down at 8 games back but the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Ryas would need a streak to get back into playoff contentions. 

Each team leads their division by at least five games so it may be a pretty accurate depiction of what the playoffs are going to look like. I'm excited to see who is picked for the All-Star game and see the best players in each division face off. 

TV Show Review: Roots

I had not seen the original series that aired nearly forty years ago so I was curious to check out the new series on the History Channel. It took me a while to get around to catching up on my DVR partly because the series is just so hard to watch. The acts performed in the American south during the time of slavery were inhumanely brutal and so repulsive that this story maintains relevance today. The series does a magnificent job capturing the struggles of generations of African men and women captured and sold into slavery.

The story begins amongst the tribes of Africa following Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) as he trains to be a Mandinka Warrior along with his friend Silla Ba Dibba (Derek Luke). Due to a grudge of other tribesmen that dates back to his father Omoro Kinte (Babs Olusanmokun), Kunta is captured by the rival men and sold to white slaveowners. The period on the boat is one of the most disturbing parts of a sickening story as the men are chained down in the hull of the boat and the women are forced to entertain the men. Kunta does his best to spark and uprising aboard the ship but with weakness and confusion, he is forced to concede defeat.

On the plantation, the white slaveowners attempt to erase Kunta's African heritage but he remains strong enduring vicious punishments to maintain his name and defy the masters who insist on calling him Toby. Kunta Kinte repeatedly tries to escape but is caught and has his foot sliced in half by a sick hunter. In recovery, Kunta meets Jinna (Simona Brown) and marries her under the supervision of the Fiddler (Forest Whitaker). Times moves more rapidly as we see Kunta's daughter Kizzy (Anika Noni Rose) grows up and is sold to another awful owner Tom (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who immediately rapes her.

The story continues to the next generation where George (Regé-Jean Page), Kizzy's son is employed by his gross, racist father to fight rooster. By this point, viewers have been so inured to the terrible treatment of human beings that the cockfights barely register as violence. George fights chickens to earn his freedom under the tutelage of Mingo (Chad L. Coleman). The uprising of Nat Turner drives the white owners to further nastiness attacking any slave they deem a threat. George continues to fight to buy his freedom but also falls in love with Mathilda (Erica Tazel) and has several sons and daughters refusing to name them after his father, until his final son so that he can avoid punishment.

George is sold to an English owner after winning his freedom but then losing it in a double or nothing fight. In England, he endears himself to his British owners, wins his freedom, and returns to an American South in turmoil as the machinations of the Civil War begin to take place. George returns to his family but is forced to fight in the war for his freedom. The horrors of the life of slaves plays out but much of this part seemed rush to make room for minor storylines like the one of Nancy Holt (Anna Paquin) as a Northern spy. George fights in the Union army with Cyrus (Clifford "T.I." Harris) Finally, Tom (Sedale Threatt Jr.) finds his injured father and brings him home back to his family. 

It all ends with Alex Haley (Laurence Fishburne) recounting his ancestry and writing it all down. The great story of tradition and the horrors committed by whitge men and women is a story that needs to be continuously told as humans have an extraordinary ability to forget and whitewash history. Roots is one of the many stories that should be revisited. This edition is fitting for the great story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Magazine Review: Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 117

The 117th issue of Clarkesworld Magazine has a great collection of science fiction and fantasy stories that changed the way I read science fiction and view the world. This issue provided both great fiction and nonfiction with informed and creative writers in nearly every article or story. 

"And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices" by Margaret Ronald is an amazing first contact story. I still haven't read enough alien stories but this story is so good and captures the complexity of information traveling across space. I found it haunting and moving and a just an all around great start to an issue.

"Things With Beards" by Sam J. Miller works as a sort of fan fiction sequel to the thing but pushes it to a new metaphorically level with MacReady returning to the city and forms a relationship with Childs. The story explores the history of the AIDS epidemic, civil disobedience, and police brutality to deliver a moving story. 

".identity" by E. Catherine Tobler, who also just released a new novel called The Kraken Sea that I'm looking forward to picking up soon, delivers a colorful story of artificial intelligence and space travel that confused me with a complicated world at first but has a great payoff in the end.

I really enjoy the exposure to these stories that have been translated in the recent issues and "The Snow of Jinyang" by Zhang Ran translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan. This story is funny and dramatic and trippy. I love the take on recreational time travel and an internet of the past.

The reprint of "The Promise of God" by Michael Flynn explored free will and what would happen were a man deprived the ability to choose. This story was spooky and disturbing with a jolt of an ending.

My favorite story of this issue that had me staying up late and thinking about the world, our government, and medical research was "Pathways" by Nancy Kress. Such an amazing story, I wish I was better at describing it. It is set in my home state of the moment, in Blaine, Kentucky but set in an alternate world where Libertarians control the government so funding for programs has dried or will eventually. If I had friends, I would recommend this story to them.

The nonfiction in this issue was really good too. I loved the essay "The Science Fiction Future of the Microbiome" by Matthew Simmons; a thoughtful and informed piece. There is also a great author interview and encouragement to jump into the publishing world from Alethea Kontis. Another great issue of short fiction from Neil Clarke and Clarkesworld Magazine. I have slowly been catching up on the podcasts so it is great to revisit stories from previous issues in an audio format. I would encourage any fans of genre fiction to check out this magazine that is for free on the Clarkesworld Magazine website.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Movie Review: Central Intelligence

The combination of wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and comedian Kevin Hart proves a winning formula in this laugh out loud summer release. Hart plays accountant Calvin Joyner who was once popular back in high school lending his varsity jacket to a bullied CGI overweight Johnson as Robby Weirdicht aka Bob Stone. This event has repercussions twenty years later as Hart's Joyner has become disaffected in his professional life and having trouble in his marriage. Bob Stone shows up right before the twenty-year high school reunion and he has packed on the muscles from working out six hours everyday for twenty years.

Stone also has become a CIA agent and involves who he believes is his best friend, the accountant Joyner. Hart is great as the reluctant accomplice caught up in a case of international espionage that doesn't have much of a background focusing more on jokes. There are a few spots where the action pauses to let Hart deliver long comedic monologues that don't always hit as great as his standup does and slows down the plot but the comedy is greatly enhanced by The Rock's giddy performance. As a once peculiar kid, Johnson embodies the bullied kid Weirdicht who has now become a tough international spy.

The action was decent with some silly stunts and several gunfights. In this day, it is often hard to see guns in a professional office like one action scene but audiences have to suspend their worries to enjoy these scenes though with more recent events and the tragic history of this country, it is becoming increasingly hard. 

The CIA plot was much but Amy Ryan was great as the lead investigator Agent Pamela Harris. Someone should give her her own movie. There are plenty of other great cameos including Aaron Paul, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy and Thomas Krestschmann. The movie had a pretty decent set of twists involving the friendship between Hart's and Johnson's characters.

 For a mindless comedy, it's pretty decent. The movie utilizes its stars, and from the box office results, it looks to be a somewhat successful film. Hart and Johnson are bonafide superstars at this point proving they can carry a movie to success. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

TV Show Review: Silicon Valley (Season 3)

One of the funniest shows on television concluded its third season tonight. Holding the timeslot right behind Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley provides the humor to balance the bloodshed and betrayal. The show explores the comedy of the computer development industry as Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) attempts to start a business with his new and highly effective compression algorithm. Along with his two programmers Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), his incubator owner Erlich Bachman (T. J. Miller), and his assistant or consultant Jared (Zach Woods). 

The effective technology does not have it easy with a rollout filled with a ton of hilarious complexities. Monica (Amanda Crew) tries to guide the guys as they face lazy salespeople, unimaginative CEOs, and the threat of a selfish competitor Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), head of the Hooli corporation. 

There are all sorts of hilarious hijinks but there are some exceptional hilarious moments like Erlich's giant luau party on Alcatraz or his pesca-pescatarian dietary restriction. Richard has to explain his compression to everyday consumers and deal with the press despite crippling social anxiety. Dinesh stumbled onto a successful video chat app and tussled with Gillfoyle about having friends and an ugly company jacket.

Silicon Valley is a great follow-up to the sword and sorcery show with comedy that skewers the rich programmers who have taken their beliefs to a point of insanity and lost a sense of irony when their ego grows to large. I hope this show continues because it always has something funny and prescient to say. 

TV Show Review: Game of Thrones (Season 6)

Game of Thrones is the greatest show on television flying high above some very healthy competition because it never fails to raise the stakes and creates a world that viewers can dive into. The twists were numerous and totally unexpected despite the spoiler atmosphere of the internet. This HBO Show based on the novel by George R. R. Martin has shown the potential of fantasy and set a high watermark for what television hopes to achieve.

This season began with many of the characters either in dire situations or recovering from a trauma. From Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) running from the evil bastard Ramsey (Iwan Rheon) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) surrounded by Dothraki horsemen to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) dead, the situation did not look very good for anyone. This season really brought things around towards what looks like the conclusive battle of this epic series in the following series.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) are still scheming but now in Mereen as they tried to make deals with the disgruntled slavers. Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Walde) still seeks to be with his sister Cersei (Lena Headey) who is recovering from her internment at the hands of religious zealots. The plot in King's Landing was one of my favorite and ended with a bang. No one is spared in this show though some characters like Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) survive through their craftiness while others like Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and the Hound (Rory McCann) through sheer toughness. 

The Battle of the Bastards was the best episode of this season and possibly the whole series with the epic confrontation for who will rule in the North at Winterfell, but there were plenty of surprises and great scenes throughout as Arya (Maisie Williams) completed her training  and other queens got their revenge with bigger dragons and explosions. The show did not let up with every episode filled to the brim with emotion and tension.

Game of Thrones has made me an even greater fan of fantasy. I really enjoyed how the season ended with the final pieces coming together. There was a few slow parts throughout the middle as everything was set up but the payoff made it all worth it. I was a fan of the book and had been waiting for the show to catch up and now it has surpassed the story. I do like the books for details and extra storylines like Dorne, that got glossed over in the show and the warrior Krakens of Iron Island but I understand budgets and constraints of the visual media. I look forward to the conclusions in the upcoming seasons.

Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

I had significantly lowered my expectations for this science fiction, alien invasion sequel after the bad reviews and poor opening weekend box office but had not lowered them enough. Independence Day: Resurgence is terrible. A quick and easy money grab by Hollywood trying to ride the wave of 90s nostalgia. Scenes that were terrifying and spell-binding in the original came off as shallow and uninspired. Even with the advancement of special effects and some cool aliens, the story and characters were rushed and failed to connect.

Several of the cast members returned including Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, and Judd Hirsch, the most prominent actor Will Smith notably did not decide to participate in this fiasco. A new set of actors also showed up as the children of characters from the first like Jessi T. Usher, Maika Monroe, and new characters played by Liam Hemsworth, Angela Yeung Wing, Nicolas Wright, and Travis Tope. 

All of the acting is pretty terrible both old and new with the small exception Deobia Oparei as an African warlord. All of the older actors are shoved aside unceremoniously to make room for the new characters. The president played by Sela Ward was interesting to watch but didn't get much scream time. 

The story is so rushed there was no time to develop the story but they did take the time to show off the special effects. There were plenty of breathtaking visuals of the aliens invading and blowing up cities but any emotional impact is lost with a silly quip or a quick glaze over the consequences. Even reflecting back on what happened previously moved too quickly with the focus more on shoddy storytelling than paying homage to the movie that spawned it. There is also the tone-deaf attempt to set up a sequel very quickly at the end as if anyone will show up for another installment of this franchise besides fools like me.  

There isn't much more to say about this film other than the impressive special effects. I would like to think that they can use to make a satisfying alien invasion in the future. I really like alien invasion movies or at least the idea of them though there have not been many successful ones. I would like to see one successful. This movie took nothing serious but in the end, the movie was a joke. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review: Gray Widow's Walk by Dan Jolley

Video game and comic book writer Dan Jolley takes on the difficult task of creating a new superhero and succeeds with the Gray Widow. A young woman with the ability to teleport through darkness leaving behind a blaze of heat stalks the criminals of Atlanta in her dark gray body armor. I jumped at the chance to read this start of a trilogy for an honest review because the description intrigued me along with the long career of the author. I was also pleased to see a superhero story set in the city I used to live in.

The origin of Gray Widow is mysterious but her supernatural powers give Janey Sinclair the ability to fight the worst of the worst. Sinclair is a great character who has overcome a traumatic history to develop a strong sense of justice. In her alter ego life, she's a painter using her abilities to imbue the canvas with something more than just paint. She's mostly reclusive until she meets the young son of her apartment complex's owner and begins to allow someone into her life, but as in all superhero tales, forming bonds is never as easy as it is for the rest of us.

The villains of the story consist of a mysterious group that doesn't get fleshed out in this portion of the trilogy but they go around collecting up "augmented" individuals to do their bidding. The mysterious Stamford runs the operation as a worker in an organization known as Redfell along with another man named Vessler who has a freezing ability. They recruit Brenda Jorden who has the ability to seduce people with a superhuman mind control. From there, there are other superpowered villains like Simon and Sam. There was a missed opportunity to not give these villains unique names to remember. 

Simon is the most vicious of the villains with a stretching altered state that is incredibly deadly. The one complaint I have with this novel is the constant jumping from one character perspective to the next not allowing the reader to get to know some of the more interesting players and spending too much time on characters that don't appear as significant to the plot as the main players. Still, Jolley brings it all together in an exciting climax that will leave superhero fans on the edge of their seats as they read.

Gray Widow's Walk kicks of the Gray Widow trilogy with a flicker and bang introducing us to a new world of superpowered, or augmented, individuals and a greater agenda playing out. I would recommend this novel to fans looking for a new hero and ready to jump into a violent and dangerous world. The Gray Widow is a fun new character to check out, and I'll be waiting in anticipation for the next installment, Gray Widow's Web.

About the author: Dan Jolley started writing professionally at age nineteen. Beginning in comic books, he has since branched out into original novels, licensed-property novels, children’s books, and video games. His twenty-five- year career includes the YA sci-fi/espionage trilogy Alex Unlimited; the award-winning comic book mini-series Obergeist; the Eisner Award-nominated comic book mini-series JSA: The Liberty Files; and the Transformers video games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Dan was co-writer of the world-wide-bestselling zombie/parkour game Dying Light, and lead writer of the Oculus Rift game Chronos. Dan lives somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert cats. Gray Widow’s Walk is his first adult novel.

Learn more about Dan by visiting his website,, and follow him on Twitter: @_DanJolley

Book Synopsis for Gray Widow’s Walk:  “The only thing in this world you can truly control is yourself.”
Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.
But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.
Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…
Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…
And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell—if she’ll let him.
But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities—hers and all the others like her—begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…
Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.

Tour Schedule and Activities
6/20/2016 MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape Interview
6/20/2016 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
6/21/2016 SpecMusicMuse Interview
6/22/2016 The Word Nerds Guest Post
6/22/2016 I Smell Sheep Interview
6/22/2016 Cover2Cover Top Ten’s List
6/23/2016 Sheila's Guests and Reviews Guest Post
6/24/2016 Deal Sharing Aunt Interview
6/24/2016 Infamous Scribbler Interview
6/25/2016 Jordan Hirsch Review
6/26/2016 Jorie Loves a Story Review/Interview

Movie Review: Independence Day

The highest grossing movie of 1996 was the alien invasion blockbuster directed by Roland Emmerich. Independence Day featured the destruction of national monuments including the White House and the Empire State Building. Will Smith stars as Captain Steven Hiller, a fast-talking and even faster-flying fighter pilot alongside Jeff Goldblum, who was coming off of the 1993 highest grossing movie Jurassic Park, as the cable guy David Levinson.

From the first shot of an alien spaceship hovering over the moon toward Earth, this movie set a precedent for iconic invasion imagery. Bill Pullman plays President Whitmore, a retired fighter pilot. Pullman does a decent job as a president out of his depth with this new threat. He also delivers the most memorable speech prior to the final spaceship versus jets battle scene.

The most memorable part of this movie was the alien assault on the major cities creating a devastating explosion that tears through the city flipping over cars and annihilating unprepared pedestrians. The destruction doesn't knock out all of humanity however and after a few failed attempts Goldblum's science genius character stumbles onto a virus that can disable the enemy shields.

There are some strong human moments in this film that brought down the big explosions and destruction to a human level with Vivica A. Fox playing Will Smith's character's stripper girlfriend running from the explosion, Randy Quaid as a previously abducted crop duster with a family escaping the chaos in a trailer, Judd Hirsch as Goldblum's character's dad, and Margaret Colin as the same character's ex-wife who is also an aide to the president.

There are a lot of fighter plane action scenes throughout that provide the most excitement as the humans fight back against the aliens. The alien looked cool even back then. Revisiting this movie twenty years later, the special effects don't look so terrible though the raging, destructive fires weren't as impressive as my childhood mind remembered. I'm curious to see how the sequel follows up on this successful box office hit.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

TV Show Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

The third season of Showtime's horror series began with the main characters spread out across the world. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) remained in London where she suffers a psychological breakdown after the events of season two. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) ventures to Africa to lay to rest the remains of his friend and servant. Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) is captured and taken by to the American West to confront his father Jared Talbot (Brian Cox). John Clare (Rory Kinnear) sails to the North Pole as Frankenstein's monster.

There are new characters from legendary fiction like Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif) who assist Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) capture his even deadlier creation, the venomous Lily (Billie Piper). Lily has teamed up with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to wreak havoc on the city of London's wealthier residents. Pattie Lupone reappears as a different character, Dr. Seward, to help Ms. Ives with her issues.

Dracula serves as the villain for this round stalking Ms. Ives. She can only be helped by the return of her friends orchestrated by the Native American Kaetenay (Wes Studi). Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Carmago) is the mysterious taxidermist at the British Museum. As the stories progress, the characters spread out to deal with their individual traumas only  to snap back together for a climactic finale. 

The season moved along a bit slowly focusing on developing characters while juggling multiple settings. One exceptional episode in the middle of the season consisted of three characters in a cell as Ms. Ives reflects back on her history and source of her torment. Penny Dreadful has been one of my favorite shows to appear on television despite tough competition in the horror genre.

I've always enjoyed Eva Green in her role as Ms. Ives and hope she receives recognition for her talent and amazing performance. This season revealed Ethan Chandler's werewolf form a lot more, and it didn't look terrible. I wish they could have stuck around to explore Mr. Hyde and further Frankenstein experiments, but it looks like this is the final conclusion. It had some of the best acting on the screen, and I'm not sure how Showtime will replace it.

TV Show Review: Inside Amy Schumer Season 4

The increasingly famous comedian Amy Schumer continues her raunchy and hilarious sketch show on Comedy Central with a very funny fourth season. The comedy this season didn't exceed others but it still delivered plenty of laughs with great skits that were a spot-on commentary of our strange society.

With huge guests like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Liam Neeson, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi and Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall, Schumer uses her star power to bring out the comedic talent of all of these famous actors. Schumer explores the unique circumstance of gaining fame for boundary-pushing comedy and the challenges of dealing with overzealous fans and extremely harsh criticism from the media. Her sister Kim Caramele also delivers some funny roles especially in the finale of recap clips. 

Amy Schumer is not afraid to ridicule her detractors and expose herself to skeptical viewers and it usually turns out to be for great satire and skits that explore difficult situations. Some of the skits just flat out missed or were to over the top to capture the subtle laughs but the majority of the scenarios cooked up by the amazing writing team and the comic are  able to make viewers laugh out loud. 

Exploring situations like the first woman president to awkward dating circumstances, Schumer is at her best when skewering the piggishness of men and the shallowness of wealthy women living in isolation of the harsh reality many experience. Issues like gun control, male aggression, and drug abuse are addressed in a way that avoids the dour seriousness of these controversies yet still makes valid points. I look forward to what happens next in Schumer's career and the show return next year. 

TV Show Review: Orange is the New Black (Season 4)

The Netflix original series about a women's prison returns for its fourth season and continues the story right where the third left off with as much momentum and powerful storytelling. The fourth season may not be the best but it is certainly one of the most disturbing and emotional seasons.

The show does such an excellent job moving from character to character showing flashbacks alongside the current life in prison. Just as a character generates sympathy, they are shown another side as their actions turn more desperate from the complicated situation of being in prison. Despite telling a tale of criminals, the show always portrays the different aspects of life with no clear black and white, good and evil.

Some of the standout performance of this season were Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz who takes up a leadership position in a new venture challenge Piper Chapman's panty business. Taylor Schilling returns as Piper who has developed a tougher attitude since her betrayal but finds herself outnumbered by the new group. Danielle Brooks continues to be amazing with a powerful performance as Taystee. Uzo Aduba explores her character Suzanne Warren AKA Crazy Eyes further. There are so many other characters and brilliant performances it is so hard to them all justice. Also Samira Wiley does great as Poussey with a growing relationship with Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn).

The guards certainly take a villainous route as a new set of characters arrive since the walk-off at the end of season three. The hulking Brad William Henke comes in as Desi Piscatella, the leader of a new regime. Matt Peters plays Joel Luschek who is still guilty over crossing Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) and is exceptional self-centered. There are growing tensions between the guards and prisoners that come to a head in an emotional ending. Warden Caputo (Nick Sandow) has more of a story as he takes charge of the prison. 

The fourth season moves many of the stories forward and does a remarkable job balancing the present day prison story with individual stories while also telling multiple stories. I felt like every character got a brief moment in the spotlight but there are so many characters that some had to fall to the back to make room for new stories. This season is another great addition to what is becoming one of the greatest stories on streaming television. 

Book Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This Pulitzer prize-winning novel absolutely blew me away, amazing writing mixed with a compelling story that educated my worldview and the way I think of Vietnam. The country is more than the American war brought to it, but the narrative I have received from popular media has never been focused on the people. The Sympathizer explores a unique character that provides an alternate viewpoint and points out valid criticisms of the popular art around the Vietnamese culture. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a tremendous writer well-deserving of his accolade.

The story is a spy novel at its core, which makes the book not only enlightening but also tremendously entertaining to read. The main character remains nameless but has a voice that is identifiable and familiar enough that an American reader, like myself, can understand his view clearly and sympathize with him even as he sympathizes with all the other characters. Beginning at the fall of Saigon at the end of the American-Vietnam war, the story shows the horrors of war and the destruction of a civilization. The book does a great job of not making one side the "right" side and villainizing another.

The story moves to California after a terrifying stop in Guatemala to show the immigrant experience and continue the spy thriller aspect. The protagonist is a captain in the South Vietnamese army but is secretly a mole planted by the North Vietnamese Communist army. I'm woefully ignorant of what their actual descriptors are. The main character juggles his allegiances and takes drastic steps to cover up his true leanings. He does not simply move through his acts with a cold-heartedness but experiences deep bouts of guilt while working to conceal them and move forward with his life.

Writing as confessional, the narrator hints at what is to come but from his first days in a American, he begins to understand the culture and is faced with an opportunity to change it. Recruited by an auteur movie director, the protagonist has the opportunity to display his country's suffering in a major motion picture but is beset by obstacles that are intrinsic in the way Hollywood and American cinematic storytelling work. 

I enjoyed this book immensely, one of my favorite that I have read so far this year. I will think back on this back at the end of the year and in years to come as it has changed many views that I have taken for granted. It is also still so incredibly relevant with yet another war Americans are fighting in another far off country with people that are only viewed as other. I don't think we have learned our lessons and if anything it has only gotten worse. I would recommend this book to readers who like to be challenged and to feel uncomfortable because this great work of fiction will certainly push readers to think more critically about what they have learned. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

TV Show Review: Peaky Blinders (Season 3)

Netflix released the full six-episode third season of this BBC series about the gangster Shelby family in 1920s Birmingham, London. Thomas Shelby is the chain-smoking leader of the family with his two brothers, sister and Aunt Polly. Cillian Murphy plays the main character who survived very close calls in season two to find himself on top with everything he wanted, a home, a wife, a child, and a flourishing business, but as many shows about a criminal empire go, his desire for more leads to a great downfall.

The first episode consists of the wedding of Thomas Shelby with the woman he pursued for the last two seasons, Grace Burgess. Grace is played by the increasingly popular Annabelle Wallis from the horror film Annabelle and the upcoming Mummy movie that is supposed to set up a conjoined monster universe. The wedding introduces new villains and reintroduces the family.

Arthur, the more volatile brother, who I think is the oldest, is now married and off the cocaine and drink. That doesn't last long but he does have plans to move away from this troubled life and out to the American West. Paul Anderson brings strong emotion to this character who is one of the most enjoyable to watch because at any second he can pop off with wild behavior.

Helen McCrory continues to do brilliant work as Aunt Polly, the reluctant matriarch of the Shelby family. After McCrory's turn as the villain in season two of Penny Dreadful, I was looking forward to seeing her again on screen. She falls for a painter played by Alexander Siddig who was Doran Martell in Game of Thrones. This storyline was interesting to follow as Polly is usual cold but slowly comes infatuated with the artists.

Dropping Sam Neil's inspector for the third season took away the villain but now Thomas and the Shelby gang have to face all sorts of obstacles from a Russian duchess to a corrupt priest. Tom Hardy reprises his role as the Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons to serve in a crucial role during the end. The Shelby's are resilient but this season proves their toughest yet. It was a bit slow and some of the stories were convoluted but the end had a payoff and lots of twists throughout the short season had me continue watching.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Magazine Review: Apex Magazine Issue 85

An exceptionally terrifying issue of Apex Magazine came out this June. The stories and interviews inside do a great job fulfilling the promise of the spooky cover art with monsters and war and, perhaps the scariest of all, family all tied into these great works of short speculative fiction. 

"Folk Hero" by Mary Pletsch takes readers to a far off space colony that has rebelled against civilization using songs to tell their story and coordinate sniper attacks. The tale spreads across generations and shows how hate can be transparent from parents to children. The snippets of the poem are frightening and the story does well when reading it or listening to it on the podcast.

"Cuckoo Girls" by Douglas F. Warrick might be one of my favorite horror stories come years end. Great characters stuck in a haunting scenario. The description of the menacing figures pursuing these young women is the stuff of nightmares. I found myself squirming as I read it and desperately hoping for escape. The ending is great  and all around this is just a great story showing what horror can accomplish plus it's pretty action-packed.

The reprint of "Memorials" by Aliette de Bodard is a story I'm glad to have encountered. I read a few other stories by the author and this one is exceptional. Known for weaving complex stories, this work of fiction explores family and aftercare and virtual reality all while making a vivid world of new species. 

"The Kraken Sea" by E. Catherine Tobler is a novel that I will certainly put on my growing to-read list. Apex Publications has put out some great work this year and this tale of the circus looks to be right up there with it. It's great to sample a novel before it hits the stores.

I'm a fan of both The Black Tapes and Tanis so the extra insight provided in the interview was very cool to read. I would highly recommend looking up episode one of both of these explorations of darkness and after the first episode, most horror fans will be hooked.

The poetry kept it going in the horror genre with "Later, they found her journal" by Tina Parker exploring the Bloody Mary myth. "Ghost Plague" by Tina L. Jens is a great horror poem of the struggles of living with hauntings. "By Payette Lake" by Cullen Groves spans time and speaks to the fear of mortality. I cannot enough of these type of poems.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (1984)

Before I was born, Ghostbusters became the great franchise that is now being rebooted over thirty years later. I saw this film multiple times in my childhood and recently caught it again at a special event showing at my local theater. The original film has a great mixture of comedy and goofy spooks to make it the classic that is still enjoyable to watch today.

After a brief ghost sighting, the film introduces Bill Murray's cocky and flirtatious Dr. Peter Venkman. Running wild in the psychology department, Venkman doesn't take his job serious but his fellow professors Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Together they investigate the paranormal sightings only to find themselves cast out of their college and in need of starting their own private business.

The Ghostbusters take off once they put down the grotesque green Slimer that is the inspiration for the green juice ecto cooler that we had at the theater. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) asks for help from the Ghostbusters as something strange happens in her apartment. One of the most hilarious roles is Dana's neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). The awkward accountant tries to woo his neighbor with very funny consequences like continuously locking himself out of his apartment. Venkman also becomes infatuated with Dana but doesn't pick up on the strange happening in the building. 

Meanwhile, the business picks up and they hire Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) as the fourth member of their ghost hunting team. With added attention, the team faces investigation by EPA agent Walter Peck (William Atherton) who sneers at the protagonists' work and shuts down their highly sensitive storage facility. He's a great villain and obnoxious enough to help audience root even more for their strappy Ghostbusters.

Being from the 1980s, the style of dress of the characters is amusing to see these days. The special effects are also impressive at moments and at other times pretty ridiculous. It will be nice to see a reboot of the effects in the upcoming film. The movie doesn't go for straight-up humor but plenty of the one-liners, mostly from Bill Murray, are still funny. The Stay-Puft Marshmellow man at the end was a great climax and everything wraps up without too much drama. I'm excited and looking forward to the newest version.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Movie Review: Warcraft

Fantasy has not had a great history of cinema with the exception of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Video game adaptations have an even more dubious history. Warcraft melds the two genres into a terrible movie that has very few redeeming qualities. One thing about the movie that I did enjoy were the special effects. The film does a great job making the Orcs look real and humanizing them despite being CGI characters.

The genre has not attracted the finest actors but Travis Fimmel is passable as the protagonist just as long as he doesn't have to show any real emotions. There are a few parts where he is supposed to be sad that just come off as ridiculous but he takes his humor and Vikings experience to elevated his game just a little bit. The rest of the cast is awful from Paula Patton as the half-orc/half-human mumbling over her fake teeth or Ben Foster doing a poor impression of Gandalf. It does not bode well for the so far somewhat disappointing Preacher comic tv show adaptation that the two lead actors Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga show up in this movie and phone in performances.

It's telling that Toby Kebbell does the best performance as the main orc Durotan. He's an actor that has made some terrible choices in his career so far from Dr. Doom in the flop Fantastic Four last summer to the villainous ape Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and his upcoming as the villain in the Ben-Hur remake. It's a testament to how much bad sci-fi and fantasy are out there that he keeps popping up in these bad roles. These stories not only bomb at the box office and lose the producers money but also hurt the genre and make it harder for quality films of this type to get made without an established franchise.

I've not played the video game so all the politics and settings were lost on me. I would have to find someone that actually played the game to see if it stayed true and made sense but honestly I don't care because the movie did little to flesh out characters or string together a coherent plot. I can only reiterate that the special effects were cool but it was not enough to save the film.

The worst part of Warcraft was that it was just boring. Even during the epic battle there was too much confusion and a part where dialogue takes ridiculously long in the middle of a battle just to push the story forward. Then the ending tries to set up a sequel leaving no resolution for audiences who will most likely never see such a thing. Just another blockbuster summer movie failing, which is no surprise but perhaps the box office in China can save it but the creators should be cautious if they continue this franchise. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

The marketing scheme of announcing that this book received two million dollars from the publishing company worked on a foolish reader like me and it is only a testament to my determination to finish a book I put time into reading, and my ability to read more than one book at a time, that I finished this book at all. I expected something that would engage me and allow me to escape the sad world with vivid characters and entrancing setting but much of City on Fire the debut novel of Garth Risk Hallberg is dull and overly wordy to the point that I could manage a chapter a night, short chapters thankfully, and stop reading it for weeks forgetting characters and plot point before I picked it back up hoping the plot would pick back up.

Hallberg's novel isn't all bad and I had thought I would enjoy it despite all the shaking head reviews but as I come to the end and the resolution, I find myself disappointed as well. It will take a lot of convincing to ever pick up a book by this author as I was suckered into picking up a hardcover in the thoughts of participating in some literary event. 

The novel revolves around rich privileged siblings of a fiction family because what literary novel would work without the wealthy to purchase it, so the main characters are as richer than the now wealthy author with wealth beyond imagination. Extending from there are the lovers of these siblings, William the Third is in a homosexual relationship with an African-American schoolteacher. Mercer is one of the more interesting characters though nothing much ever comes from his storyline. Regan, the sister sibling, is married to a white banker of sorts, I was never really sure of his job but somehow he gets involved in scams and loses lots of money and then has an affair. This affair leads to the murder mystery that has one of the most disappointing resolutions after eight hundred pages.

New York is well-described in thousands of passages and was one part of the novel I really did enjoy. I only visited the city that never sleeps on a few occasions so it was nice to revisit it in a novel. I would be curious to see what residents think, especially those who lived in the tie period, specifically the blackout of 1977. The actual blackout takes forever to get going and when it does is spread out with various characters' viewpoints and gets convoluted and boring. It is really hard to care for anyone and the conspiracy of villains falls apart with no satisfying resolution. This is the kind of book that several people enjoyed and got together to force the rest of us to endure it. 

Maybe as I look back on the book, I will think more fondly of it but as of now, I'm pretty disappointed and feel like I wasted a huge chunk of my reading time on a novel that amount to not much and hardly had me thinking about anything more profound than what to do with trash in a big city. There were moments where light almost broke through and I guess a lot of them to keep me reading but overall this book took me two and a half months and I should have put it down at multiple times. I can't recommend this book to anyone except those who have way too much time on their hands, like in prison time, and want to know the formula to make a million dollars off of writing. I wish I could say more positive thinks or comment more on the story and writing but dismay seems to be the emotion that fills me here at the end.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

I was greatly impressed with this horror sequel, nothing entertained and frightened me this much in a long time. As far as sequels go, especially horror sequels, this movie is beyond comparison. There are some very minor flaws of special effects but these take nothing away from the terror and the great story of the Warrens' next adventure. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as Ed and Lorraine Warren and are more comfortable in their roles as the paranormal investigators. James Wan returns with his great skill to the director's chair

The story begins with a short recounting of their most famous case, the Amityville house. This sets up the spooky demonic nun that has graced the trailers for the last few weeks. This nun is freaky and will haunt my nightmares for the next few nights. And later I would learn that it is getting a spinoff. The Warrens have garnered some respect for their work but also have to face more skeptics. Lorraine also has to deal with premonitions of her husband's death and haunting from the Nun who even comes to their house through a painting that Ed makes of it.

James Wan does a terrific job with the camera work showing just enough to have viewers squirming in their seats before the boom and jump scares. He ratchets up the tension and tells a story that does justice to the original and true story this event was based on. The dark hallways and the flooded basement are a perfect setting for the hauntings. I hope that Wan returns to the horror genre after Aquaman because he has the formula down and has developed a great talent for this type of filmmaking. Madison Wolfe is the breakout performance of the film as the young girl Janet Hodgson who is the focus of the old man that stays around in the house after his death. Her fear translates well on screen and she carries many of the scariest scenes in the movie. Frances O'Connor is great as Peggy, the troubled mother who doesn't know whether to believe her daughter at first and then is distraught as her life falls apart. 

The news media picks up the story and garners attention for the haunting. Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) is a paranormal investigator who believes the stories of Janet and attests to the happenings. Anita Gregory (Franka Potente) is skeptical claiming the children are pranksters with wild imaginations. The news media does get footage of Janet speaking with a creepy voice. 

For fans of horror, The Conjuring 2 is a real treat, scary and entertaining, and a whole lot of fun. For the faint of heart, I would caution against going into this film without preparing yourself to be cowering in your seat. The Conjuring 2 may just be one of my favorite films of the year and possibly one of my favorite horror films ever. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Movie Review: The Conjuring

This 2013 horror film has had a great influence on me as a fan of horror. I didn't catch this film in the theaters but in anticipation of the sequel, I watched it again right before. This movie is scary. It has one thing that always scares me and that is freaky looking ladies with messed up faces saying all sorts of creepy stuff. The film is set in the past so there are no cell phones or internet communication to investigate the haunting and it is loosely based on the true story.The movie is directed by the new horror master James Wan, director of the first two terrifying Insidious films, Saw, Death Sentence, Furious 7, and is signed on to Aquaman. I'm a big fan of his work.

The story revolves around the real paranormal investigators Ed and Lorrain Warren. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) is studying demonologist who attempts his first exorcism. Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) is a medium who can sense dark presences. They introduced with their investigation of the Anabelle doll that a group of young women invited into their house. They start to see all sorts of strange things happening and notes from the doll that grow threatening. Ed and Lorraine take the doll back to their house and put it in a room where they keep other possessed objects.

The main haunting occurs at the house of the Perrons, a family struggling to get by who thinks they found a deal but actually find something much worse. Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) keeps waking up with new bruises and notices that the clocks have all stopped at the same time. Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) constantly travels leaving his wife and kids to drive a truck. He notices strange things too and then the dog winds up dead. They also find a hidden basement that was boarded up and filled with old objects. The ghost story is probably not real but it definitely makes it pretty spooky that they claim to base it on a real story. The movie also has several spooky scenes with a music box that threatens to be really terrifying but play on that tension and the audience expectations more so than jump-scares. 

There are plenty of jump-scares as well as the haunting grows worse for the family. Certain scenes scared the hell out of me like the clapping blindfold hide-and-seek game and when that angry witch appears on top of the dresser. Eventually, Carolyn reaches out to the Warrens for help and they come to the house to discover the evil history. They set up cameras to gather proof so that they can bring it to a church for an exorcism. They see strange things and then Carolyn becomes possessed.The haunting becomes even stronger with a creepy nurse and all sorts of horror like people flying around and strange images. 

The Parrons leave the house after the eventful night. The demonic presence steals Lorraine's necklace and pursues her daughter, using the Annabelle doll as a conduit. The Warrens must return home to help their daughter but Carolyn captures her daughter and brings her back to the house. In an intense exorcism scene, Ed performs the ritual while Lorraine reaches out to Carolyn to help expel the demon. The Conjuring inspires the spinoff of Annabelle, which is also getting a sequel. This horror series can be considered a huge success even if the direct sequel doesn't make a ton of money. The idea of a paranormal investigator or two going on several different mission inspired me to write a series of novels about a similar situation though a bit more fantastical. I look forward to seeing where this universe goes. 

TV Show Review: The Americans (Season 4)

The long fourth season of The Americans came to a close tonight. There were plenty of twists and turns throughout the season and several departures from major characters. Many critics have dubbed this show one of the best on television but I've always found it a little slow for my taste. I've stuck with it this season just to see what happens, waiting for the payoff that shows like Dexter got completely wrong and Breaking Bad did so well.

The breakout performance of this show is Alison Wright as Martha Hanson, the secretary to the FBI Director and love of the mysterious Clark. Clark is Philip Jennings of course, the brilliant Matthew Rhys has done a great job showing how torn Philip is with the decision to inform Martha of who Clark really is and execute the orders from the center. 

The other storyline that will stay with me for the rest of the year is the fate of Yung Hee played by Ruthie Ann Miles. Keri Russell's Elizabeth became fast friends with the cover of a pyramid scheme-like makeup sales opportunity. Elizabeth works her way into the family only to get to her scientist husband Don, played by Rob Yang.  The seduction and betrayal actual take a toll on Elizabeth who has been so coldhearted throughout the show.

Paige played by Holly Taylor continues to get herself into sticky situations. The Jennings handled Pastor Tim and his pregnant wife by calming them, instead of their usual method of murder and disappearance. Paige has also struck a relationship up with Stan Beeman's son. Stan played by Noah Emmerich is an FBI agent investigating Russian spies so it is getting complicated though nothing pops off by the end of this season.

There is so much more to this show like Frank Langella's Gabriel, the Jennings new handler. He has a lot on his hands as the couple has increasing problems and deals with dangerous bioweapons. The Russian embassy has a plot line that always makes me watch to read the subtitles but nothing about Arkady played by Lev Gorn and Oleg played by Costa Ronin has brought me in since Nina Krilova, played by Annet Mahendru, made her unceremonious exit.

I need to go back and catch all the episodes of the first season. I think this will help me engage with the characters a bit more. I was hoping for something but the biggest reveal of this finale was Philip's long lost son finally getting out of prison. I'll just have to wait until next year to find out what happens. I believe there are only two seasons left before The Americans closes out with a series finale! 

Magazine Review: Uncanny Magazine Issue 10

I was looking around for new places to find great science fiction and fantasy short stories and stumbled upon Uncanny Magazine. From former editors of Apex Magazine, this Hugo-nominated publication offers a great collection of short stories, poems, nonfiction, and interview in the tenth issue.

"Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands" by Seanan McGuire is a terrifying story about a galactic misinterpretation that does not bode well for the fate of humanity. This story has humor and horror and had me thinking twice about the language we use and what first contact could be like. McGuire is a writer I've encountered a few times now and I've become a big fan of her writing. I found the interview on the Uncanny podcast really interesting.

"The Sound of Salt and Sea" by Kat Howard is also a haunting tale of Near Island and the dead that visit once a year. The image of bones horses stuck with me and I found myself sitting forward as the protagonist Rowan tried to wrangle one. The magic in this story felt fully fleshed out and I love entering a new world in short fiction. Not only that but there is great character dynamic between Rowan and headstrong Connor, which really brought this story home for me.

"The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One" by JY Yang was some disturbing alien body horror that I enjoyed immensely. There is a galaxy in this story and a deep past that travels through devouring and digestion. Following the exploration of the researchers as they take apart the narrator made for a strange and cool perspective.

"You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay" by Alyssa Wong is bursting with magic. I can see why Wong is garnering so much attention with a recent Nebula win for her story "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers". She's a terrific writer. This story has deep emotions, and the dead are not as gone as they may seem. It also has a vivid world out in the desert and sinister villains.

"The Drowning Line" by Haralambi Markov won't let the past and the ghosts that remain alone. The image of Hartrich the Drowned is the stuff of nightmares, and I was nearly sweating in anticipation as it got closer to the object of its desire. A story of family and legacy, this tale is both haunting and beautiful. I enjoyed his interview on the podcast as well and look forward to his story in Inverted Tropes coming out later this year.

"The Plague Givers" by Kameron Hurley is my kind of fantasy. The idea of magic as plagues and strange diseases was amazing. The magic isn't easy in the story and often dangerous and deadly. I enjoyed Bet the recluse character and even learned a new pronoun. The story challenged me but was also a lot of fun to read.

I am a big fan of speculative poetry and Uncanny had some great stuff from magical pies in "Deeper than Pie" by Beth Cato to dragons in "Brown woman at Safety Beach, Victoria, in June" by M Sereno and history in "Alamat" by Isabel Yap. Great for a few reads before they even sink into my preoccupied brain and I like hearing them in the podcast.

I found the writing in the nonfiction pieces very informative whether about gaming, movies, or diversity. I'm going to have to watch Labryinth again. I'm a convert to this budding magazine and happy to join the Space Unicorns as a supporter of Uncanny Magazine!

Politics: The Final Primaries

The final count is nearly done and though there is still Washington D. C., the race is over. Hillary Clinton made history last night becoming the first woman to be the nominee of a major political party. I am still under the impression she will triumph in November but it will be a long general election campaign. I'll take a quick look back at these final primaries and one caucus to look at how Bernie Sanders went down and how Donald Trump ends his domination of the Republican Party.

California was the main reason that I didn't post last night because the results wouldn't come into until late, and it is also the reason that Bernie Sanders held out. He hoped to pull off a surprise victory in this large state to take his momentum to the Democratic National Convention but alas, that was not the case. Clinton won by about four hundred thousand votes or twelve percent. Not that it matters but Trump won by a million votes adding to his impressive vote count.

Though the AP announced it the night before, Clinton counted New Jersey as the state that would officially put her over the required number. This small northeastern state served as the straw that cracked the Sanders's campaign's back. Despite the geography, Sanders got crushed losing by nearly thirty percent. Trump also carried this state, obviously.

 North Dakota is one of the two states that Bernie Sanders actually won last night. It has the characteristics of a state that went for Sanders as a Midwestern state that doesn't have much diversity. It is an interesting case study because it is a caucus and not a primary. North Dakota didn't have a Republican Caucus for some reason.

During my failed trip across the country, I actually saw Mount Rushmore, which is about all this state has to offer other than oil drills and reservations. I didn't give it a chance and I hope to go back one day. Anyways, Clinton won this primary and adds to her lead. Needless to say, Trump also won.

Montana was the other state that went to Bernie Sanders, also in the Midwest. It was not enough to gain him the victory. Trump took all the delegates too.

New Mexico was the final state of the night that went for both of the frontrunners. I wonder if these states will be in play when the general election comes about due to incendiary comments from the Republican nominee.

So despite D.C., the primary season is pretty much over. It looks like Bernie Sanders will drop out once the nation's capital has a chance to vote. It will be interesting how and when he drops out since he will be seeking party unity and Clinton will want to have his voters come over to the party. She made her first appeal to his supporters with her historic speech last night. 

Donald Trump faced a rough week with statements about the judge investing his Trump University and many in the Republican establishment turning against him. The speech he made last night was awkward, and it was obvious he was peeking over at the teleprompter he promised never to use. 

I may make one more post when D. C. votes and then post during the party conventions. The general election will be interesting and I will be watching closely for one huge national post in November!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

TV Premiere: Feed the Beast

AMC tackles the travails of the restaurant industry with Jim Sturgess and David Schwimmer as the lead cast members. Schwimmer plays Tommy Moran, a single father of a silent son and a wine salesman. Sturgess plays his best friend Dion Patras, a coke addict cook who is fresh out of prison and on the run from the mob. The young Elijah Jacob gets a chance to shine as the mute son of Schwimmer's Tommy. 

Facing serious debt but with an ability to cook, Patras insists on getting back in the business using the spot where Moran now lives. Flashbacks reveal that they once ran a restaurant together but hard times on both the friends left the old business burned down but no insurance coming since it was the fault of Patras.

Michael Gladis of Mad Men plays the Tooth Fairy with a sinister sneer and several henchman to search through the garbage in chase of Patras. Eventually, he catches up, and Patras can only save his neck by proposing a new place to run the business. The show looks like it could be fun with the two friends struggling to keep a restaurant afloat while they deal with their collective problems. John Doman showed up briefly in the pilot as Tommy's father, and it is suggested that he could be the one to fund the project.

The show could struggle by falling into a more mob-like tv show, which is already way too common on television, it will also have to avoid becoming a fictional cooking show leaving viewers salivating at the end and not carrying about characters. AMC has had a good run but hasn't always succeeded with duds like Fear the Walking Dead, Turn, and others. With the judgment still out on Preacher, it will be interesting to see if this can be a breakout hit for its two stars and the channel.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Movie Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

The Lonely Island crew return to the big screen. It has been some years since Andy Sandberg's starring role Hotrod. His star power has ebbed and flowed over the year and from the abysmal box office performance of this first film's opening weekend, it looks like he can't carry a summer movie to a large profit. Despite the low performance, Popstar is a decently funny film.

Sandberg extends a Saturday Night Live skit into Connor4Real, a clueless pop icon on the verge of releasing his second solo album and recording a documentary. The story hints a lot oat Sandberg's other two Lonely Island bandmates Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. Early in Connor's career, the group formed the StyleBoyz and became popular from a ridiculous dance known as the DonkeyRoll. 

There are so many celebrity cameos in this film from Nas to Simon Cowell to DJ Khaled to Usher a funny little CMZ, a mock of TMZ, skit featuring Will Arnett and other funny actors. Justin Timberlake shows up as the band chef in a pretty hilarious cameo. Sarah Silverman plays the Connor's publicist and has some pretty funny lines ridiculing the self-centered nature of the popular music industry. Tim Meadows is also really funny as the band's manager and former saxophone player.

The plot slows down as the storyline follows the typical fall of a popstar and eventually attempt to get the band back together. Chris Redd shines during this part as Hunter the Hungry, an over-the-top rapper spitting ridiculous, nihilistic lyrics. The film does capture the vapid nature of today's celebrities quite well but refrains from making too harsh a statement about the rich and famous.

Popstar is full of laughs if you are skilled at turning your brain off for about two hours. The story capitalizes on Sandberg's ability to betray a shallow and ignorant celebrity and the Lonely Island's talent at making ridiculous and worthy of a few chuckles pseudo pop songs. I wouldn't run out to the theater for this film, though I did, but fans of comedy might find some enjoyment in the feature. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Movie Review: Me Before You

One of the few romance films I'll make it to this year, Me Before You is based on a novel of the same title by Jojo Moyes. The story tells of a young woman who struggles to find consistent employment to help her family and is employed by a wealthy son of an English family that was paralyzed after being struck by a motorbike in the street. Emilia Clarke continues to attempt to branch out from her starring role in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones and the failure of Terminator Genisys and plays Lou Clark. Sam Claflin play Will Traynor the moody male lead after several roles in movies like the Hunger Games and the fourth Pirates of the Carribean.

Clarke is better as the goofy smiling caretaker than as the Queen of Dragons. She sports her natural brown hair in place of the Targaryen blonde in which she achieved her fame. Claflin is moody and sarcastic as he is upset with his circumstances. The supporting cast included Charles Dance who unfortunately will never encounter Emilia Clarke in the world of Westeros but runs on and off the screen for a few parts here as Will's father. Janet McTeer plays Will's mother who hires Lou to take care of her son. Matthew Lewis appears as Clark's boyfriend, a fitness buff, as he looks for work beyond his days as Harry Potter's Neville Longbottom.

The chemistry between Claflin and Clarke could have been better but I guess the story stresses that Will Traynor remains aloof in the face of his growing affection for  Lou. Traynor also has large sums of wealth as a few dialogue lines suggest that he owns a castle in a small village in England and is able to travel wherever he wants no matter the expense.

I understand the controversy with the awful message the movie portrays as a man that finds himself disabled feeling like he no longer wants to live and takes actions to kill himself. The major conflict of the story extends from his decision to take his life using a Swedish company. The emotional core of the story is built on a false premise but plenty of girls were crying in the theater and the film has had decent performance at the box office being one of the few films for women this year, so it is doubtful any of the creators will learn to be better informed from this movie. There is an interesting discussion about a person's ability to choose whether to live or die proposed but the movie does not concern itself much with this philosophical discussion.

It is also unfortunate that this will be one of the few films with a disabled character coming out this year and the actor was not cast appropriately. The film does not hold back once the scenes push to turn from a comedy to a tragedy. The theater was surprisingly filled for a Sunday showing and may continue to earn money as there are not many other options for viewers seeking romance. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

TV Premiere: Outcast

Cinemax presents a new horror series called Outcast from the creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman. Set in the small town Rome, West Virginia, a demon is afoot possessing small children, or anybody really. At the center of this horror is Kyle Barnes played by Patrick Fugit. He's had a past with this demon that has resulted in him being alone and locked away inside a house hiding from everyone. Only his sister Megan Holter, played by Wren Schmidt, will come to visit and drop off food.

There is plenty of gore in this show as it is on the much less censored pay-for-cable channel and from the mind of the prolific zombie series writer. The boy who is possessed performs all sorts of gruesome acts on himself and those who try to cast the demon out of him. A particular part where he bites his finger is a shocker right at the start. Reverend Anderson, played by Philip Glenister, is called in to help release the boy from his plight but can do little in the face of such evil. The supporting cast looks good too with character actors like Reg E. Cathey of House of Cards playing the police chief.

Eventually, the protagonist Kyle decides that it is time to get out of the house and face his demons. There are flashbacks to his childhood and the abuse he received from his possessed mother. He also had started a new family but that also worked out pretty horribly, it is shown. This is mind kind of show, horror and mystery and what looks to be a much growing effect on the whole town. 

I'm enthusiastic about where this show is going to go. There is certainly some disturbing images like the hard punches thrown at a little boy from a grown man, but the horror of it fits right into the genre. I could even see this being one of my favorite new shows of the year. All of the acting ad directing look to be high quality and I think Kirkman has proven he can craft engaging fiction. The show won't be restricted by cable television. I would highly recommend horror fans check out this new show!