Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sports: MLB (July 2016)

The baseball season continues on after the American League defeated the National League in the All-Star game guaranteeing whichever team represents the AL in the World Series home-field advantage. Not too much has changed since I last checked in but I haven't been paying close attention so I'll do a recap for myself and my small sports readership.

American League
While the Baltimore Orioles do lead the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays are only a half game behind. The Boston Red Sox are also making a run for the top trailing by only a game and a half to the O's. Looks like the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are out of the race.

The Cleveland Indians have a solid lead with Detroit Tigers the next best team at 4.5 games behind. The rest of the division is putting up much of a fight.

The Texas Rangers also hold a steady lead with a six-game lead over the Houston Astros. The Astros are also two games out for the Wild Care behind the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Tigers.

National Leguae
The Washington National are up four games but the Miami Marlins have risen up as the only challenger in the NL East that could give them a run for their money as the season comes to a close.

The Chicago Cubs continue their historic run to the playoffs. The St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a better chance at the Wild Card than beating the team with the most players on the All-Star team.

It's an even year of this decade so the San Francisco Giants could continue their every other year streak, but the Los Angeles Dodgers could pose a challenge only two games behind. The rest of the division isn't much of a challenge. 

The patterns are starting become clear and teams are pulling ahead of the pack so I'll start looking a little closer at the top teams as we approach October. I'm excited to get to know these potential champions and the players that makes these teams great. 

TV Show Review: Preacher (Season 1)

As a fan of the comics, I had high expectations for the Preacher television adaptation. What came on TV was something totally different. There are basic plot points and characters that are similar but the story takes place in Annville, with brief deviations to other Texas towns like Ratwater in the past, Hell, and various flashbacks. The show compacts storylines from the comics into one town taking the road trip aspect out of the story. I understand the limitations of a television budget so I rolled with it, having no idea where this show is going. 

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is the chain-smoking, hard-drinking  main character and he does receive his special powers by Genesis possessing him. Tulip (Ruth Negga) is the love interest, and she's a wild assassin/bank robber. Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) is a drug addicted vampire with the hots for Jesse's girl, one of the most entertaining parts of the show. But, the circumstances of their encounter is entirely different. The town of Annville takes only a few panels of the graphic novel, but the entire first season of the show. 

Inside this small Texas town are all sorts of interesting characters from the comics and new. The most notable returning characters are Sheriff Hugo Root (W. Earl Brown), his son Arseface (Ian Colletti), and the angels Fiore (Tom Brooke) and Deblanc (Anatol Yusef). The Cowboy (Graham McTavish) also has his own origin tale that takes inspiration from the original story. Though not a character in Annville, Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) serves as one of the chief villains of the season. 

I was a bit skeptical of all of these changes, but once I let go of my expectations that this show would be image for image of the panels and more of a loose adaptation similar to The Walking Dead, though taking even more liberties with the story. New characters like Emily (Lucy Griffiths) and Donnie Schenk (Derek Wilson) flesh out the town as the helpful parishioner and henchman to Quincannon respectively. The story is still off the wheels crazy, just in a whole different sense. 

One thing to take into account was the different atmosphere of the time period in which these two pieces of art were created and also the limitation of being a cable television show that tries to adapt such an insane comic with the necessity to answer to advertisers and censorship. The fact that the Blu-Ray release is advertised in the commercials with a quick turnaround release suggest more that can't be shown on TV. This adaptation always should have existed on a channel with more freedom, budget, and creators more committed to the original story. Being ridiculously blasphemous most likely wouldn't have the same shock value, and the world faces different issues at the moment. I stuck with it through the ten first episodes and look forward to seeing how the following seasons play out, but first fans of the comic will have to get over their nagging disappointment. It's funny and gruesome and a wild ride, but it had a lot to live up to. If viewers have not read the comic, I would recommend reading because it's awesome, but the show won't live up tot he expectations. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Book Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

Adding to his successful Dresden files series, Jim Butcher ventures into the steampunk genre with talking cats, floating ships, and spire habitats floating through the sky. The ground is covered in mist and foul creatures float beneath humanity who now live and travel through the sky. The Aeronaut's Windlass establishes the world that will serve as the backdrop for the Ciner Spires series.

The story follows three main characters with various other perspectives sprinkled throughout the chapters. Mainly, the focus is on Captain Grimm of the airship Predator, Bridge Tagwynn, a new recruit, and Gwendolyn Lancaster, a wealthy citizen who also joins the training to become a guard. The story starts off slow with a lot of background information and one air battle that is exciting but also a bit confusing to follow as the magic is still being explained and the maneuvering comes fast alongside many weapons being fired.

The magic is a sort of etheric energy that powers crystals that serve various purposes from flying to weapons to communication. A magician named Ferus and his pupil Folly work closely with the crystal and have lost their minds. I find the magic interesting enough and would be curious to read more about it. The most interesting part of the novel is the talking cats. Hard to not like talking cats unless a reader doesn't like cats, but I'm fond of the furry creatures and found Butcher's portrayal of the felines amusing and entertaining. Rowl, the main cat to follow, is a likable character that follows many cat idiosyncracies.

The plot moves forward involving a war between two spires, Spire Albion and Aurora, but I was never sure why these spires were at war or what was at stake if one army one of another, much like the cats were. Both sides of the army had employed magic and Grim and companions set out on a mission at the behest of the leader of one spire to follow the magician. There is plenty of action throughout but I didn't connect much with the characters nor did I get a sense of tension from the story. I did enjoy the scenes with the spider-like silkweavers and their destructive tendencies.

I'm not totally familiar with Butcher's work having only read one of the Dresden files novels before this book but I do plan to read more of those and would likely pick up another copy of this but I wouldn't be anxiously waiting for its release at the bookstore. The book is fun and it is clear that the author enjoyed various parts of it filling it with humor and action, but the characters don't connect and the stakes are not clearly explained. The finale was stalled by expository dialogue laying out the action and it is a contained tale leaving the larger world unexplored for future sequels. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Politics: Democratic National Convention

The first woman ever elected to lead a major national party accepted the nomination during the convention for the Democrats. Serving as a response and one-up to the Republicans' gathering last week, the Democratic party boasted celebrities, big name politicians, military officials, and citizens from unique perspectives of life in this country. The convention did not start smoothly with the leader of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, dropping out after an exposure of internal emails, possibly caused by hackers working for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. 

The first night sought to unite the party that had a huge rift do to avid supporters of Hillary Clinton's primary opponent Bernie Sanders. The avowed socialist senator from Vermont got a chance to address the crowd after other left-wing leaders like Senator Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. Sanders seemed like a sore loser grumpily sitting through the remaining days and grimacing whenver put on camera. Still, there was division and protesters chanted throughout, but then came Michelle Obama. One of the most inspiring speeches of the entire conventions came from the First Lady of the United States.

The second night stressed the need for gun control highlighting victims of violent acts that have been committed in recent years including mothers of victims of police brutality, Gabbie Giffords, and relatives of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Bill Clinton topped off the night in which his wife officially earned the nomination.

The third night really packed a punch with all the heavyweights of the Democratic party taking the stage. Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine introduced himself to the American people touting his reliigous beliefs and commitments to service. Both of the nominees for VP are pretty boring speakers, and the debate between them will not likely contain many fireworks. The current Vice President Joe Biden came out and chastised Donald Trump, promoted the accomplishments of the Obama administration, and endorsed Hillary Clinton. President Barack Obama finished the night strongly with what he has always done best, an inspiring, moving speech with flourishing and aspirational words that preach the best in America.

The final night should help drive a convention surge for the Democratic nominee as several great speakers led the way for Chelsea Clinton to introduce her mother. The former first lady took the stage and delivered a detailed speech that rebutted her opponent's criticism, reached out to the leftwing of the party, and provided a plan for her administration. Hillary Clinton hit all her strides in her impressive speech ending two weeks of political conventions. Now, there will be a lot of media cycles of back and forth campaigning before the debate, probably the next time I'll write about politics. 

Movie Review: Jason Bourne

The latest installment in the Bourne series boasts an impressive cast, interesting locales, and simple straightforward story. Fans looking for an action-packed spy thriller should find some satisfaction in this spectacle but the formula comes off as too familiar and the plot feels overly predictable. Matt Damon reprises his role as the eponymous Jason Bourne after taking off the last episode. Bourne has grown up with the actor who betrays him, he's upset about the revelation in Ultimatum and punishing himself by participating in fistfights. 

The only character to return from the previous films is Nicky (Julia Stiles) but she serves as the trope of woman sacrifice to bring back Bourne from his apathetic brawling phase. Some of the acting during their scenes feels phoned in. The only other woman in the film is the spymaster Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who relentlessly chases Bourne but also realizes there is something wrong with the evil government men in suits for whom she works. Her accent felt strange to me, I wasn't sure if she was going for an American accent or keeping her own. 

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the men in suits substituting for the other old man before him. Following the formula, they have Ato Essandoh playing Craig Jeffers, a second in command willing to help with the nefarious government cover up. The story has evolved alongside the character and focuses on an up and coming tech developer Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) and our current fears of privacy. The Asset also shows up, they have to have  a cold-blooded killer as a semi-recognizable actor. Vincent Cassel takes on this role, an actor I've alway enjoyed watching but have felt has never got the roles he deserves.

The young cast and stellar directing of Paul Greengrass can't save the sloppy script. There are a lot of dialogue points that simply push the plot towards the final action scene, the one they flashed on the trailer pre-release and most likely through the next week. The Vegas car chase after several other action set pieces was pretty satisfying and makes the two hours spent in the theater worth it. However, even the chase feels like a similar ploy from Supremacy and Ultimatum.

The movie takes the cookie cutter formula and squirts out another edition trying to add a little twist to make the movie more personal. The routine had already felt played out two movies ago and the filmmakers don't try hard to make anything new with this opportunity. Actions fans will be satisfied and I'll be curious if the box office allows for a sequel, the ending certainly left it open for one. I don't mind the Bourne series but I think this is a fine point to end and wouldn't be super excited to see another. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy works more as a spinoff to the successful Bourne trilogy using events from Supremacy and Ultimatum to inform the developments in this film. The story focuses on Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a super soldier in a secret CIA training camp up in Alaska. While the CIA tries to clean up its mess through Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), they begin feeding their soldiers in the field poisonous pills. For a brief time, Cross encounters another soldier (Oscar Isaac) and is pursued by drones.

The addition of the U.S.'s preferred means of engagement in flying drones enhances the action to a modern level but somehow, this spinoff still falls short. Scott Glenn reprises his role as the CIA official Ezra Kramer scrambling to cover up the damage caused by Jason Bourne. The pacing is a bit off with short scenes of action and convoluted story that tries to recap the first three films and set up the new plot. A new senior official lurking in the shadows Adm Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) heads the coverup operation. 

The scientists behind the program get involved including Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who witnesses an awful mass murder playing off other horrific current events. The movie also pauses to inform us of the backstory through flashbacks, which stalls the fast-paced nature viewers expect from a Bourne film. Corey Stoll also shows up as agent Zev Vendel, a minor role prior to his rise to fame to the point of a Marvel villain. 

There is a decent amount of tension and spy searching throughout it. The mystery isn't there in the agent's quest for more chems, but the story rolls along towards the second half to be more engaging. Renner is always fun to watch, and Weisz looks like she could be doing a better movie but they elevate the acting alongside a frustrated Norton. The Bourne series has been great at spotting old and new talent and putting them into promising roles. The Bourne Legacy is certainly the worst of the first four Bourne movie, but this is more a testament to the strength of the series than how bad this one was.  

The Bourne series has added something new to a hand-to-hand combat and supplied a steady stream of action movies through the years, but one can't help but feel that the series had run out of steam by this point and the producers were just looking for any easy franchise installment to cash in on. I'm surprised this addition led to another down the line. I'll be curious to see if the fifth turns into a success at the box office. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Movie Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

The third installment serves as an attempted conclusion to an ongoing series yet suffers by falling into a similar routine of the previous two film. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has vanished from the spotlight after his disappearance six years ago in the epic Russian car chase. A new set of spies seeks to cover up the evil government assassin program when a witness to Bourne's inception leaks information to a reporter, an interestingly prescient scenario. Bourne is still plagued by memories of how he was tortured to mold him into a superhuman, so he contacts the reporter only to discover, the agents are tracking their moves.

Ultimatum establishes the signature Bourne chase scene that was so successful the last two films. Matt Damon runs and ducks and occasionally throws explosive stuff behind him to distract and hinder the authorities in their relentless pursuit. Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) pops back up and she has fully converted to Bourne's side despite still working for the spy agency. She almost momentarily takes the place of the romantic interest but her role is cut short. Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) also returns to assist in the hunt for Bourne.

Other than the two female spies, the new male characters are remarkably similar, just portrayed by different actors. There is the head of the spy group Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), his subordinate Willis (Corey Johnson) the cold killer Paz (Edgar Ramirez), and a higher official Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn). There is a bit more information about Bourne's pace and the doctor who lead the program that created him Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney).

The hand-to-hand combat and foot-to-vehicle chases are intense and fun to watch, but it is difficult to avoid the feeling that it has become formulaic. The chase scene in Tangier is certainly cool with Bourne hopping from rooftop to rooftop and crashing through glass windows with a visually stunning faceoff with another assassin (Joey Ansah). The car chase feels a little too familiar and can't match the Supremacy chase. Paul Greengrass is a master action movie director and, once again, pulls off the shaky came without being too dizzying, distracting, or confusing. 

Bourne stays one step ahead of the bumbling government officials as he uncovers the mystery. The movie does feel self-contained not relying primarily on the early stories to fill in the blanks on this one, but it would like any emotional resonance without its predecessors. The ending also feels lackluster and doesn't tie much up with a vague conclusion that left things open for a sequel, an option they eventually used. At least by the end, the theme song has become really catchy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Movie Review: The Bourne Supremacy

Picking up two years after the original, The Bourne Supremacy is an action-packed sequel. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and Marie (Franka Potente) are living a simple life working a flower shop/scooter rental and running on the beach. Bourne still can't get over bad memories of a murder he once committed. Meanwhile, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) investigates the leads of this Berlin murder, but others are set on covering it up. 

The past is not over and the evidence of Treadstone is not as covered up as the Defense Department bigwigs like Ward Abbott (Brian Cox). He can feel his plans unraveling and Bourne is the loose end he wants to tie up. Employing an oil man Gretkov (Karel Roden), who then hires the stone-cold killer Kirill (Karl Urban). 

A tragic killing makes Bourne jump back in the game and seek out his personal vendetta. He runs across another assassin Jarda (Martin Csokas) and a cool knife fight ensues. The operative Nicky (Julia Stiles) also returns to dish on Bourne and the Treadstone operation. She pops up in one scene that will be a signature part of the series where he blends in with protests and dodges surveillance.

The action scenes in this film are a lot more stunning than in the previous one with Pual Greengrass at the helm. Greengrass is one of my favorite directors with his unique handheld camera shots and filming the explosive car chase from within the car. The car chase through the streets of Moscow near the end is one of the coolest car chases in a film and has some spectacular stunts. Greengrass will return for two more installments including the one set to come out next weekend. 

It's clear that Bourne could never fully escape the life he once lived and no matter how hard he tries, he'll always be on the run. This installment takes the series to a whole new level but also distinguishes this spy thriller from others. The exotic locations, handheld combat, and car chases are established as signature Bourne components and this film raises the game. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

TV Show Review: Hell on Wheels (Season 5)

The epic Western series about the transcontinental railroad came to a close tonight after five seasons, the last split in half. The story of Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) had plenty of twists and turns as he worked and led the crew of the Union Pacific and then the crew of the Central Pacific to cross the straight through the harsh land of the, not yet, United States of America. The show did not shy way from the troubled times that these were and did not lionize any of the iconic characters.

Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) was the corrupt financier of the Union Pacific and with Meaney's acting, this shady individual felt fully fleshed out. At times, I rooted for him and at others despised him. The characters were easy to love including Eva Toole (Robin McLeavy) a young woman captured by Native-Americans and tattooed on her chin, Mickey McGinnes (Phil Burke) Irish bar owner and pimp, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin) an intrepid reporter who won't even let possibly fatal illness or chance of death stop her from covering the story of the railroad. Plenty of other great characters came and went through the series like Common as Elam Ferguson and Christopher Heyerdahl as the villainous Swede.

The second half of the fifth season actually began with the Swede being dealt justice by Bohannon after the misnamed Norwegian tried to kill Bohannon's second family. He'd dodged retribution for four seasons so that was satisfying. The fitting conclusion of this show was, of course, the railroad finally coming together and the final nail being struck. It showed the price paid with the story of one man who is nearly defeated after everything that happened. 

The show became episodic at points with the crew dealing with one issue or another but later seasons grew more extreme as characters became disposable with only a limited amount of episodes left. I'm a fan of the Western genre and a long form television format works great for the many stories that still need to be told about American expansion after the Civil War. I liked how the fifth season depicted Chinese-Americans and their contribution to this impressive form of transportation. 

Hell on Wheels gave a great and intense story and a world to get lost in and I would highly recommend fans of Westerns and sprawling dramas to check this one out. Many of the seasons are available on Netflix and it is one of the more intriguing television shows to come on AMC. The show had run its course and may have had one season too many but hit really hit its stride in the third and fourth after two great initial seasons. A bittersweet ending wraps it up and it is hard not to be inspired by this tremendous human accomplishment. 

Movie Review: The Bourne Identity

A spy waking up without any memory is a classic tale, and The Bourne Identity, based on a novel by Robert Ludlum take that premise and runs with it. Matt Damon plays the amnesiac Jason Bourne discovered in the ocean by a fishing vessel. He seeks to discover his identity as he discovers that he has amazing abilities, including a tremendous skill at hand-to-hand combat and an extraordinary ability to drive a car. He learns rapidly that he's pursued by the authorities and uses his skills to elude detection. 

Desperate to follow the clues he finds in a bank lockbox, he offers Marie (Franka Potente) twenty thousand dollars to take him to Paris. Meanwhile, agents track Bourne's movements including Conklin (Chris Cooper) who answers to Ward Abbott (Brian Cox). It was interesting to see Walton Goggins pop up in these scenes in a minor role prior to his breakout fame. They contact their agent in the field Nicolette (Julia Stiles) and she hires top assassins like the Professor (Clive Owen).

Bourne discovers that he was on a mission to kill a Nigerian politician named Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). As he nears the truth, the authorities come closer to him. There is a quick car chase in the middle and a cool knife fight alongside several scenes of Matt Damon beating up police officers from various European countries. I thought the action was a little lacking throughout, and the plot is brisk but the skimps on the action. Doug Liman the director would go on to do some cool movies and has more in store. 

The Bourne Identity kicks off the series of films that has played out through the years, introducing Operation Treadstone, a secret and expensive Department of Defense project. There is plenty of commentary on the meddlesome nature of American foreign policy, but all of that is an excuse for action scenes that fall short in this introductory film. The story does get the saga of Jason Bourne started.

The film does a fine job standing alone and wraps up with a decent climax. Jason Bourne is superhuman enough to escape impossible scenarios and take innumerable villainous agents. The chemistry between Franka Potente, an interesting actress with roles in FX series like The Bridge and a recent turn as a skeptic in The Conjuring 2, and Damon The supporting cast is an impressive list that goes on to all make names for themselves if they haven't already. The Bourne Identity kick things off and showed potential for the spy thriller. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Movie Review: Lights Out

Summer horror is scarce, and James Wan dominates it, producing this jump-scare flick directed by David F. Sandberg. The story strays away from the issue of mental health though it skirts around it, and pushes more towards the gimmick scare of the dark. The issue with a film that relies on darkness is that viewers still have to see it, so the screen can never go pitch black leading to some confusing. 

Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is a young boy stuck with his mother Sophie (Maria Bello) as she copes with her manic moods. Bateman delivers the best performance as a young actor, he's the smartest character and shares his terror with the audience. The older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is dragged into the family's traumas and she starts to investigate her mother's strange behavior with the help of her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia).

The investigation uncovers Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), the dark specter that appears whenever the lights go out and someone tries to helps Sophie with her struggles. The sudden appearance of the haunting Diana will have plenty of viewers screaming out, and I never grew tired as she popped unexpectedly throughout, but the rules didn't totally make sense and would hardly stick up under scrutiny. She did cast a haunting image and her creaking limbs and wood scratching added an audible sense of dread. 

The film does rely on the horror cliches of characters walking into danger despite knowing there is a supernatural entity, doors shutting and locking inexplicably, and loud sounds going unnoticed. Horror fans could be pleased with the quick and easy story but the level gore is hindered by a PG-13 rating. 

Playing in the dark was plenty fun, and I enjoyed major portions of it, jumping in my chair several times. I went on a packed night when plenty of young kids screamed and giggled throughout. I'd be curious to see how this film plays out at the box office as counterprogramming to the geeky sci-fi Star Trek, and the dearth of horror that pops up in theaters. The standards are low for the genre so this film gets a pass and decent reviews. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Politics: Republican National Convention

The Republican National Convention took place in Cleveland, Ohio this week from Monday to Thursday. Every night there have been speeches from celebrities, pastors, businessmen, businesswomen, politicians, and the Trump family. The convention has been plagued with rumors of financial trouble and disorganization as prominent guests and donors dropped out only to be filled with unrecognizable names that were once famous or position themselves to praise the Republican Presidential nominee. Cruising on his vague statement of a claim that he will "Make America Great Again", each night took a theme from Donald Trump's catchy slogan.

The first night took the theme of "Make America Safe Again", proposedly to discuss national security. The roll call vote, an effort to stop the nomination of Trump, was quickly shut down by the convention committee. The night brought out D-List celebrities like Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr. alongside politicians that failed in their presidential bid rather early like Rick Perry. Senator Tom Cotton also got up there to promote the nominee and attack the opponent. Rudy Giuliana screamed about attackers, Hillary Clinton and supported Trump loudly. The headline of the night came from Melania Trump and her speech plagiarized a speech made by Michelle Obama eight years ago.

The second night was "Make America Work Again", economic policy being the topic. The nomination was finally confirmed as each state pledged their delegates, the result of the long months of primaries and caucuses, ending finally with New York City, as Donald Trump Jr. put forth the delegates to put Trump over the required amount. There was some debate later from Alaska as to how many delegates they had put towards Trump. The speakers were a lot harsher towards the Democratic opponent with orators like Paul Ryan, Chris "Guilty" Christie, and the Trump children Tiffany and Donald Jr., trying to make their father relatable but still flaunt their business and wealth. Ben Carson spoke later but I missed that speech where he compared Hilary Clinton to Satan.

The third night "Make America First Again" had some implications for business, not much discussion of education. Scott Walker made a pitch for his next chance at the presidency with "America Deserves Better" as a slogan. Marco Rubio endorsed Trump through a video message. Ted Cruz showed up not to endorse Trump but to win the party over for his next attempt at running. He was booed off the stage and the end of his speech was interrupted by the appearance of Trump. Vice Presidential Nominee Mike Pence came on to speak but the excitement was over and Pence is a such a boring orator that I turned off the television.

The fourth night "Make America One Again", an appeal to unity, was the night to showcase the candidate himself. A video narrated by Jon Voight sought to show the audience and viewers how Donald Trump's business acumen would assist the United States of America like he has done for his buildings and the city of New York. Ivanka Trump introduced her father working hard to appeal to women and depict her father as a thoughtful, considerate, and intelligent. 

Donald Trump came on to speak, packing his long list campaign promises all into one long diatribe mixed with chanting and cheers from the crowd. He promised some extraordinary things but was short on his plans. He did not mince words when it came to his opponent Hilary Clinton. One of the surprises was getting the crowd to cheer for the LGBTQ community as he pledges to stop terrorism after tragedies like the Orlando nightclub shooting. Depicting a troubled America, the nominee talked up the recent tragedies to make the world appear exceptionally frightening. One noticeable thing is the diversion from typical Republican beliefs.

He pledged support for the police after the recent attacks in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and other cities. He laid out economic policies that he promised would create jobs and opportunities for the future of the country including repealing the recent health care act and limiting immigration with a border wall. The speech was remarkably long, dragged out by pauses for applause. He made plenty of promises repeatedly from fixing the Veterans Affairs health care, economy, and foreign policy. Details were scarce. He thanked his supporters and family while bashing his detractors. He ended on attacks to his opponent and a pledge to support the people.

The Republicans have now had their chance to dominate a week of the press and the narrative of this presidential election. There has been some snafus and gaffes, but with the overwhelming of the message, it is easy to see how many voters will be taken in by this side of the political battle about to play out for over three more months. 

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

The third installment of the rebooted series brings in the new director Justin Lin and sees the crew of the Starship Enterprise exhausted from over half of their five-year mission. The routine weighs on Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) as he reflects on another year past with his best friend Dr. Hank "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban). The duration has frayed relationships between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana). A stop at the magnificent spectacle space station Yorktown brings a new mission that has the crew of the Enterprise traveling beyond an unnavigable nebula. 

When the action starts rolling it never lets up. Lin is an expert at showing ships swooping and soaring at breakneck speeds. The close-quarters gunfights and hand-to-hand combat suffer a bit from the rapid, shaking camera movement but other times, he hits the sweet spot of sci-fi action. The crew is scattered across a planet and each separate pair takes on a mission from Uhura and Sulu (John Cho) held captive by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) who has mysterious motivations. Simon Pegg pulls double duty as a co-writer and starring as Montgomery Scotty, adding welcome humor to the script.

Kirk teams up with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) to find the crew. I will greatly miss Yelchin's performances appearing on screen, especially as the heavily accented Russian pilot. All of the acting is superb as the young cast has settled into their roles a lot more comfortably in this third go-round.  Scotty stumbles upon a mysterious warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who assist him with some awesome fighting and camouflage skills and a home that is more than it appears. 

The movie packs a punch, breathtaking action scenes and a plot that contains plenty of twists to keep viewers engaged if speeding spaceships aren't enough. The special effects are also awesome with great makeup jobs for the alien characters and the otherworldly settings taking imagination to a new level. A sense of fun permeates every action sequence combining it well with a tension and danger for these beloved characters.

The movie does a great job paying tribute to the legacy that it has and uses this deep history to expound on this new character while still feeling like a wholly new experience. A great tribute to Leonard Nimoy enhance the emotional impact and I can only think they will pay tribute to Anton Yelchin in the next installment. It does feel like another episode in the galactic journey of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, but it is a great addition. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The rebooted alternate timeline of Gene Roddenberry's creation continues with the sequel Into Darkness. After the initial film established the main crew of the Starship Enterprise, the second one picks up with Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) in a dire situation with Bones (Karl Urban)  as they run from an alien species with a sacred scroll. The tension of the opening scene only rises as we find Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in the middle of a volcano.

The whole crew returns with Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Even Pike (Bruce Greenwood) returns as an Admiral now, still scolding Kirk for his brash attitude towards intergalactic relationships. A new terrorist rises as John Harrington that is quickly revealed to be the iconic Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). I was not aware of this character before but found out upon a little research that this casting was another white actor cast into a role previously portrayed by an Indian actor, so that is disappointing. But Khan is portrayed as powerful and evil, and it is hard to deny Cumberbatch's acting talent.

The special effects looked great as J. J. Abrams returns to director bringing plenty of lens flare in outer space. The action takes the crew out into Klingon space, which is the first appearance of this dangerous aliens in the new universe. The story mimics the fast pace of its predecessor and raises the stakes with several plot twists. Some new character pop up including Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) and her father Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) who have secret motivations.

The ending is quite exciting and I remember being blown away by this film when I first saw it. The crashing spaceship on the cover does make for a remarkable science fiction action scene. I think this movie was a great follow up to the previous reboot making this one of the most impressive series of sci-fi films.

I'm excited to see the third installment in this action-packed franchise as a new director takes the reins but many of the new cast members return to crew the enterprise. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky

Bringing together a Western and talking animal fantasy, the Builders recounts the tale of an old band of thieves and killers rejoining one another for one last fateful mission. Daniel Polansky crafts an entertaining novella filled with tropes of Westerns while incorporating cute furry and scaly creatures who have unique character traits. This cross-genre story is probably my favorite of the nominees for the best novella category for the Hugo awards though not a likely winner. I enjoyed the fast-paced story-telling with chapters sometimes only consisting of a chapter and the ending has a great pay off.

The Captain is a vengeful mouse who seeks out his old partners who have all gone into hiding. The stoat, the owl, the possum, the salamander, the mole, and a few others I can't quite remember, all reluctantly agree and meet up at a bar to drink and plan. The novella combines the actions of small creatures with the actions of men from the Old West, drinking, smoking, and killing. Several of the characters have unique personalities like Bonsoir the french-accented stoat, who is probably the most memorable of the bunch.

Together the go up against their old traitor and enemies as they seek revenge for the mission five years ago that went totally wrong. Mephetic the skunk is the target of their ire as he is now the diplomatic head of the Gardens that are run by hedonistic toad brothers who split the kingdom in half. The story does give off the sense that there is a much greater setting beyond its borders. 

Polansky takes a serial approach to each scene following each character through the various outbreaks of shootouts and violence. The book takes a large portion to introduce the character but cuts away at scenes that could have proven most interesting like a train robbery and the final gasps of enemies. Still, Polansky does a great job describing the action and keeping with the tone of the narration.

I think this story stood a much better chance without the stench of puppies on it, but then I may have never heard of it for quite some time if that was the case. It is hard to determine if this story got the nomination on its merit of because of organized trolling of the awards but either way, I enjoyed and would recommend to fans of dark fantasy and anthropomorphized animal Westerns.   

Saturday, July 16, 2016

TV Show Review: Stranger Things

Netflix delivers another amazing original series with Stranger Things. The show mixes science fiction, horror, adventure, mystery, and teenage romance while throwing in lighthearted comedy and a deeper emotional core. It hearkens back to the Spielberg films with an optimistic undertone and a small town 1980s setting. I enjoyed every episode and the momentum rises all the way to the last shot of the first season. I sincerely hope this show returns for another round.

The mystery is introduced immediately with a Department of Energy facility outside of the small town of Hawkins, Indiana having strange occurrences before shifting to the focus to the four boys. These characters are introduced playing Dungeon and Dragons. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have wild imaginations and ride the now symbolic bikes of an 80s childhood. When Will goes missing, it affects the town but mostly Will's mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). Joyce reaches out to Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) who has also suffered past tragedy. 

Meanwhile, Mike's sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) deals with typical teenage drama as she flirts with her new boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) and studies for chemistry tests. The characters rapidly become embroiled in the conspiracy, and the three remaining boys discover a young girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) with special powers. Her amazing story unfolds in tragic flashbacks as she suffers at the hands of a government experiment run by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). Something much worse is unleashed and it is shocking when finally revealed.

This Netflix series is just great, fun, entertaining, stunning special-effects, and a plot that will blow viewers away. The acting is wonderful and brings to life characters that are easy to root for. Plenty of laughs to be had throughout and each episode ends with a cliffhanger that makes this show incredibly bingeable.

The show has plenty of intense scenes of horror and utilizes every moment of the eight episodes to push the story along. The Duffer Brothers have delivered a gem capitalizing on nostalgia and delivering a fun, yet complex plot. Anyone with a Netflix subscription should check this show out and I'll be shocked if you don't enjoy it.

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

The reboot of the beloved franchise turned to the remake master J.J. Abrams for the updated Star Trek. Abrams already had shown quality directing but he proved his science fiction skill with this fun and awe-inspiring new vision. I'm not as familiar with the original Star Trek films and tv show so I came into this movie with relatively little knowledge. While I didn't convert to full-on Trekkie, I did appreciate what these films had to offer. 

The new actors were a great recasting of classic characters, and I liked everyone who appears in this film. The film introduced Chris Hemsworth to the general public before his appearance as the Marvel hero Thor. His short prologue scene was memorable enough to recall him when the Thor casting was announced plus did a great job dragging an unknowing viewer like me into the excitement of the story. The plot also takes a unique approach with a clever time travel plot that ties in the old and the new.

The movie served primarily as an origin for Captian James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). It focuses on their relationship and reintroduces the beloved characters to a new audience and avid fans. Kirk was not planning on joining Star Fleet and spends his time driving fast cars and getting into barroom brawls. After one brawl over trying to get the name of a Star Fleet cadet who later turns out to be Uhura (Zoe Saldana), he is confronted by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood).

The viewer is brought in through the eyes of Kirk and introduced to the rest of the crew like Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Kirk does not follow the rules but Abrams uses such great roundabout ways for the story to flow together with nearly every scene full of action. As events spiral out of control at the hand of a vicious Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana), Kirk and Spock continue to clash. Spock is under great duress as his home planet is threatened by a world-destroying chemical. Spock kicks Kirk off the ship, and then the plot gets really interesting. 

The original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) returns and ties the alternate storylines together in a way that I really enjoyed. Scotty (Simon Pegg) shows up to reinvent transportation and the movie flies from there. This reboot is a great film that I can't recommend enough to fans of the original Star Trek and new science fiction fans. 

TV Premiere: Mr. Robot

The fight between fsociety and Evil Corp continues as the second season of Mr. Robot kicks off. Elliot (Rami Malek) has locked himself into a controlled routine. He keeps off his computer and only talks to his mother, his therapist, and his friend Leon (Joey Bada$$). Despite his efforts, he struggles to keep away from Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) . The hacker within begs to break out as the new continues to look dire after the actions of the first season.

Darlene (Carly Chalkin) leads fsociety. The group has grown cocky after their initial success, but Darlene knows more than the others and knows they will have to keep working to take down Evil Corp, the bank that is as resilient and disgusting as cockroaches. Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) now works for ECorp as a press manager trying to manage the situation for the company she once hated. She's given up on her lawsuit and buying into her new position despite scorn from her coworkers.

Taking the fall for the giant hack of the first season, Tyrell Wellick  (Martin Wallström) has gone into hiding leaving her wife to be dominated by random men she doesn't much respect. Gideon Goddard (Michel Gill) can't live with what he knows and tries to reach out to the FBI.

There are some new characters introduces in the premiere of the second season with some exciting actors that will add a new dimension to the show. Craig Robinson shows up as Ray talking to Elliot even though the protagonist is standoffish. Grace Gummer appears as a FBI agent on the fsociety case.

Hailed as the best show on television and a multiple award winner, Mr. Robot has some incredible storytelling from creator Sam Esmail. I was curious how they would proceed with the knowledge the viewers now have but I think it has developed a new dynamic that will make the second season just as exciting if not more. I am looking forward to seeing how this show plays out over many seasons to come. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

The rebooted paranormal comedy is a great reimagining of the classic film. The film rides its raucous energy right through to the credits with top-notch comics and stunning special effects. It's ridiculous this film received so much backlash but I think once general audiences see it, it will garner the appropriate praise it deserves. The story is merely backdrop for the hilarious cast to do what they do best enhanced by special effects that actually utilize the 3-D technology. 

The story is only partly similar to the originals but takes its own course with Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) working for tenure at Columbia University when she is confronted by a scared museum house owner because she once published a book on ghosts. This book brings her to her co-author and old friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Abby has proceeded with her ghost-hunting finding a new assistant in Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon). They lose their funding and set up a business to hunt for ghosts. A nefarious plot is afoot and when subway attendant Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) stumbles upon it, she brings it to the attention of the three physicists.

The cast was great with chemistry and well-delivered jokes. Wiig is funny as she tries to be taken serious, McCarthy takes the lead and excels in her physical comedy. McKinnon is easily the breakout star from her role as the goofy Holtzman inventing weapons to trap ghosts. Jones brings a brash hilarity that makes her paranormal pursuit to a new comedic level. Chris Hemsworth appears as the brainless hunk Kevin and shows a surprising adroitness in a comedic role. 

The plot takes on the internet trolls who are no doubt flooding aggregate review sites before the general release with a host of bad reviews that appear to be from viewers offended by women taking on a role. I thought the movie exceeded my expectations and was the most fun I've had since the start of summer. I highly recommend going to see this movie for fans of comedy and the original films.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this film was the great use of the 3-D. The ghosts jump out in your face and slime sprays out from the screen in ways I haven't yet seen. Paul Feig did a great job turning to the special effects to add to a film that was already funny and enjoyable to watch. Also, keep an out for all the great cameos that pay homage to the predecessor and highlight a great cast of comedy actors. Ghostbusters is a great reboot!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sports: MLB (All-Star Game 2016)

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game wrapped up tonight with the American League topping the National League 4 to 2. The players on the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals shined with Eric Hosmer with a two-run homer, and Salvador Perez with a home run as well. The Cubs and the Red Sox had the most players on the National and American League teams respectively and those two teams could be a possible World Series matchup. 

There was also the home run derby the day before. Giancarlo Stanton won with a record 61 homer runs to win. It was an exciting way to watch it with a tournament style of elimination but Stanton is the clear winner. 

The All-Star break is a good time to check in as the second half of the season raises the stakes of each game. I want to take a quick look at the leaders of each division. In the NL the leaders are the National, Cubs, and Giants. In the AL, the leaders are the Orioles, Indians, and Rangers. There are a lot of teams that have not seen the playoffs in a while but this could be an exciting second half of an MLB season and playoffs. With the AL win, the team that represents the American League in the World Series will get home field advantage. 

TV Show Review: Bloodline (Season 2)

The story of secrets, betrayal, and family continues with a second season on Netflix. I was surprised this original series got a second season because I did not think the first season received many viewers but the story certainly wasn't done as the first season ended with a large cliffhanger. It's taken me a while to watch this show as at times it is pretty slow and there is just so much television to watch these days. 

The plot focuses on the wealthy Rayburn family who own a hotel in the heavenly Florida Keys. Everything is not alright despite appearances. The first season revolved around the return of the eldest brother, Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn). I was worried that the show would decline dramatically without Mendelsohn who I am very excited to see in the new Star Wars film, but Danny shows up in flashbacks and as conscience to his younger brother John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler). Chandler is pretty good as the troubled golden boy now running a campaign for sheriff, but he has to deal with what he did in the first season. 

The two young siblings also have their troubles. Meg Rayburn (Linda Cardellini) tries to adjust to a new job in New York, but troubles back in Florida drag her down to eventually become campaign manager to John's sheriff campaign. Kevin Rayburn (Norbert Leo Butz) struggles with his substance abuse addiction while he tries to sell his boatyard and discovers his wife is pregnant. 

Some new cast members show up to back up the small roles of Sissy Spacek as the matron of the Rayburns and Chloe Sevigny as Danny's girlfriend Chelsea. John Leguizamo shows up as Ozzy Delvecchio, an old friend of Danny's who discovers the truth and decides he can turn a profit off the secret. Andrea Riseborough pops up as the mother of Danny's child and also sees profit in the Rayburn family. The young talent Owen Teague appears as the first season climax as Nolan Rayburn.

The show is slow and plodding at times but builds up tension steadily as only Netflix shows are able to do with their particular freedom of ads and limits. The second season is shorter showing signs of a restricted budget and the finale was not as complicated nor excited as the last that had built up through the whole show. It certainly is open for a third season so we'll see what happens. 

Graphic Novel Review: Saga Volume 6

Just finished reading the sixth collection of six chapters of the one of the greatest graphic novel stories I've ever read. Saga does not hold back with odd characters that reflect our world in ways that are not always apparent at first. The panels never cease to surprise me as Fiona Staples brings to life Brian K. Vaughan brilliant plot. 

In the latest collection, the family has split and time has jumped a good bit from where Volume 5 left off. Alana and Marko the star-crossed lovers from warring civilizations have joined up after having major disagreements to find their daughter. I enjoyed seeing the couple in action robbing banks and searching for information. These two are the kind you want to root for and the prejudice they face is reflective of an awful human nature that Saga explores so well.

Hazel is now a kindergartner.  I had wanted the story to stick in the same time period and was a bit thrown off by the time jump but from this collection, I see where the issue is headed so I'm excited to follow them along for the ride in the future. Hazel's school is not normal as she is on the winged-species's planet Landfall as a prisoner. She has kept her wings under wraps though because if any of the Landfall army found out she had both wing and horns, she would be in big trouble.

The Will, a bounty hunter, is still coping with his addiction to The Stalk who has long since deceased but if he takes a drug can still hear her voice in his ear. He comes into contact with the two reporters investigating Hazel's existence in a very interesting way. I love how the characters intertwine and meet one another only to be separated and blow apart. The Robot Prince IV isn't done just yet either now trying to raise his son on a lonely planet with the cute little Ghus as a companion. 

I absolutely recommend this graphic novel to any avid fan of science fiction or for those who like a beautifully illustrated and powerful story. I'm hoping the next collection comes out soon but every new addition is worth the wait. I look forward to reading many more issues of this comic.  

Movie Review: Swiss Army Man

The comedic indie film about farts and a powerful dead body comes from the Daniels, the pair of writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinart. The movie follows Hank Johnson (Paul Dano) trapped on an island prepared to end his life by hanging when he spots a dead body rolling up out of the waves. Hank decides to live and investigate the body with plenty of funny physical comedy.

The body turns out to be Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) whose powerful farts propel him through the ocean so that Hank can ride him like a jet ski. The special effects were pretty good and added a lot to the bumbling dead body of Radcliffe's Manny. What really brings the movie alive is when Manny starts to talk and ask questions of Hank who struggles to explain the complexities of life.

Using Manny's remarkable abilities, Hank attempts to return home but as we learn more about Hank, there are reasons he may not want to return home to his dull, sad life. Manny is curious and excited about life becoming very curious about women, especially the woman Sara (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) pictured on Hank's dying phone. Indulging Manny's curiosity that turns into romantic obsession, Hank creates an entire scenario that Manny can live in with the help of motor ability by Hank. The movie is at its best when the two men are bonding over their shared affection.

The movie does have some great jokes mixed in with physical comedy topped off with fart jokes, and the two actors have chemistry, but the movie moves along towards not much happening with only a mild sense of danger out in the woods and a story moving towards a predictable conclusion. I'd only recommend this movie to people with an easygoing sense of humor and fans of cute, feel-good indie films.

The creators hit on some interesting topics but they don't explore them much deeper than glossing over them before back to fart jokes and strange dead body action. This writer/director pair will be something to watch. Since it didn't get a wide release, it won't make a splash at the box office but I'm glad movies like this can still make it to the theaters near me.   

Sunday, July 10, 2016

TV Premiere: The Night Of

The new show to get hooked on this summer from HBO is The Night Of. Telling the story of Naz (Riz Ahmed) as he tries to go out to a party stealing his father's cab for the night, the pilot begins his troubles when the off-duty light won't get out. People hail him and some even get in the cab. When a young woman Andrea (Sofia Black-D'Elia) gets in the back of his cab, he decides to take her where she wants to go, the beach.

The events quickly get out of hand and Naz wakes up in a compromising situation. It is hard not to sympathize with the main character's confusion but the evidence is so damning, it is easy to see how Naz won't receive fair judgment. Riz Ahmed does a wonderful job as the young guy in over his head with tragic circumstances.

The rest of the cast is full of a lot of great character actors. The lead detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is sympathetic but only so that he can get to the bottom of the case, looking at the evidence this points at Naz. Then there is John Turturro as the lawyer Jack Stone. His interrogation finds out how Naz will be prosecuted and how the narrative will shape that prosecution.

The show is fast past and intense. I was immediately hooked and look forward to seeing how this powerful show will move forward. I was also glad to see J. D. Williams from The Wire and Oz as a witness to the crime. The show has a unique style of directing and creates an environment that is haunting, especially in the police station as Naz is being searched. The show has such potential it could be one of the best of the year despite tough competition with television all over. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

TV Show Review: Outlander (Season 2)

The second season of Outlander ended with an epic finale that explored the time travel nature and concluded Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) first jaunt back in time. This season explored new annals of history traveling to Paris then back to Scotland and jumping back and forth through time. There was a bit of a slow down when Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Claire first returned to Scotland. 

In Paris, Jamie and Claire sought to prevent the slaughter at Culloden Moor by ending the Jacobite rebellion at the source, the bonny Prince Charlie (Andrew Gower). This season delved into the gritty maneuverings of the monarchy through the brothels of Paris. There Jamie encounters the young boy pickpocket Fergus (Romann Berrux) while Claire's pronunciation of smallpox on a shipment of wine makes an enemy of  Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber).

Their negotiations and bribes are not enough to stop the tide of history  and Jamie mortal enemy Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), the ancestor of Claire's present day husband Frank, shows up in Paris to see to his cousin and generally cause trouble for Jamie who immediately challenges him to a duel though Claire knows that if he dies, then Frank will never exist.

The bodies started piling up when they returned to Scotland but I'll spare all the major names as things steadily grow out of hand. Bloodlines are revealed to be more complicated than the straight forward path, and I was engaged by all the plot twists in this season pushing it above the amazing first. 

The time travel drama of the finale really brought it home for me, reminding viewers why they love this show and the complicated mystery. I picked up the first four books in the series and believe the series has already been renewed for two more. I think there are already eight books in the continuing series. Next year when the third season starts, I plan to be a lot more informed. I would recommend this show to fans of historical fiction, faithful book adaptations, and epic romances. I am hooked and will try to keep up with it from now on, anticipating the premier of season three!

Movie Review: Ghostbusters II

Five years after the original Ghostbuster, the four paranormal exterminators return for a second and final adventure. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson all return as Dr. Peter Vankman, Dr. Raymond Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddemore respectively. They have been banned from investigating paranormal activity since their first adventure, but a new case draws them back. 

Sigourney Weaver also reprises her role as the haunted Dana Barrett who has a son who has become the object of obsession of an evil wizard Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg) trapped inside a painting. The Ghostbusters discover a running river of slime beneath the city. The slime is reactive to emotions and thrives off of negative energy, but also dances to music.

The sequel is a bit sillier focusing more on the comedic aspect of chasing ghosts than horror. As a kid, the image of Vigo menacing in the painting always used to scare me as a kid but I can see why some critics would be unimpressed after my most recent viewing. There is a scene in the subway that is still sort of freaky, and the courtroom attack of two convicts sentenced do death by electrocution was a nice mix of comedy and spookiness.

The laughs are pretty funny in a humor that was great for the 80s including Rick Moranis returning as the bumbling tax attorney and accountant Louis Tully just to dress up as a Ghostbuster and take on Slimer. Also, Annie Potts returns as the high-pitched voiced secretary to help the Ghostbusters restart their business. 

The movie was goofy and fun but doesn't set such a high standard as to not be matched by the upcoming reboot of the beloved franchise. I certainly understand the nostalgia factor, but I'm looking forward to the new reimagining and hope for its continued success as I would like these movies to continue to be made no matter the gender. The sequel is personally amusing and fun to me and I enjoy revisiting it these many years later. 

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi Novik is so enchanting and wonderfully written, it may be my favorite fantasy book that I read this year. The Locus Award Winner, Nebula Award Winner, and Hugo Nominated Novel is well-deserved of its numerous accolades. The magic is created with such a vivid feel  that I can't think of another fantasy story that does such a great job convincing me of the feel and practice of fantastical abilities.

The story focused around Agnieszka, a young girl who lives in the small village of Dvernik in the Kingdom of Polnya. I had some trouble getting used to the Polish names for cities, characters, and spells but that is my own shortcoming, not the books. She narrates the book and has always been a messy girl growing up knowing that one of her friends, or herself, will be taken by the mysterious wizard the Dragon when they are of age. Agnieszka, or Nieshka, believes her friend Kasia will be the one taken by the Dragon but the powerful wizard has different plans.

The Dragon is one of the biggest flaws with the book, but some readers may come around to him. He is cruel and abusive towards Nieshka when he takes her out of her village and back to his castle, and I could see how this could be viewed by readers as forgiving of abusive behavior. The Dragon also never turns into a Dragon so for all of the use of the word, there are surprisingly little dragons in the story.

The action and conflict spark from a vicious Wood that sends wolves and "walkers", strange stick-like figure, to capture people of the village and stick them into heart-trees. There is horror in the passages concerning the wood that I found engaging and captivating to read. The action is full of tension, and the solutions never come too easily. Against the Wood is not only the wizards but a monarchy quick to go to war with another kingdom. I found the politics in the capital interesting, and the plot moved quickly there.

Uprooted is a great fantasy book that fans of young adult fiction and strong female protagonists will like. The book kept me engaged throughout and had a solid, satisfying conclusion. Novik does a great job creating a whole world in just one book that some experienced authors take several large books to build up. I had fun reading this novel, and it will definitely be in consideration when I vote for best novel for the Hugo Awards. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets

The Secret Life of Pets uses the cute, comedic premise that pets have their own lives when humans leave for the day. The story follows Max (Louis C.K.) when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home a much bigger hound, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max was previously living a happy life with Katie and his friend: Gidget (Jenny Slate), Chloe (Lake Bell), Buddy (Hannibal Buress), and Mel (Bobby Moynihan). His life is rudely interrupted by his new roommate so he conspires to get rid of him. The two dogs fight and find themselves accosted by cats then captured by Animal Control.

The funniest part of the film is Snowball (Kevin Hart) the white rabbit thrown away by a magician who goes on to lead the legion of flushed pets including gators, cats, lizards, and a tattooed pig. The flushed animals seek revenge against the human race for being discarded and this is the closest the film gets to delivering any sort of message. 

The movie centers around the two dogs and their side adventure though Gidget's quest to save Max introduces plenty of funny side characters like Tiberius (Albert Brooks) the Hawk and Pops (Dana Carvey) the old dog who throws animal parties at his house only to call them off with the sound of the vacuum. There a plenty of humorous moments throughout but the main story is lacking in the emotional depth found in most Pixar movies. Illumination does their best to branch out from the Minions but it has more humor than heart. 

Lookout for the white and fluffy creatures as Gidget and Snowball really still the show from the buddy comedy that is Max and Duke. Kevin Hart does his usual and that is spectacular whereas Louis C.K. does crack some funny jokes as the small dog but doesn't quite reel viewers into the plot. I do wish they had more cute cats as the movie was clearly written by dog lovers.

The movie is funny and cute so it achieves its goal and should be a smash animated hit at the box office this weekend. This year has really shown the breadth of animated features and this will be mentioned as one of the top ones if not the highest grossing. It will face stiff competition against the Pixar sequel on its fourth weekend but I believe bets will bring home quite a high gross with its family friendly fun. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Movie Review: Nerve

Capitalizing on millennial smartphone obsession, Nerve creates a cellphone video game that challenges players to take actions for money. Venus, or Vee, (Emma Roberts) decides that she is no longer going to be the nerdy photographer girl and become a daring popular, even famous, girl, taking the spotlight from her friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Vee quickly gets caught up in the thrill of the game leaving her dorky friend Tommy (Miles Heizer), for another player, the suave, motorcycle riding Ian (Dave Franco).

The dares grow progressively dangerous as each player competes to the top spot. Some of the dares are interesting to watch as the tension ratchets up including a motorcycle ride and challenges that involve heights. The continuous need to show the perspective from the phone camera makes for awkward angles but also helps create the environment of reality. 

Some Orange is the New Black alum show up including Samira Wiley and Kimiko Glenn. Juliette Lewis also shows up as Vee's overprotective mother. There was an opportunity to dive deep into the protagonist but the film skirts over her brother's death and doesn't much explore any of the other characters either. 

There is some interesting commentary about online trolls that hide behind internet pseudonyms and make choices they don't believe will affect them in real life but the movie doesn't go too far down that path nor strive to show any real consequences for anyone's actions. I managed to catch a sneak preview of this movie so I'm posting way before the release date. 

I'd recommend to young viewers looking for a unique techno-thriller about characters their age but not viewers with a discerning thought process desiring a coherent plot. The plot was well-paced to make the film not seem too long, but the shallow characters and typical teenage plot may seem a bit repetitive to older audiences. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Movie Review: Free State of Jones

When a film claims to be "Based on a True Story", I always approach with a heavy dose of skepticism, and while Free State of Jones may not have strictly stuck to the facts, the story was one that I'm glad I learned about through the film. Matthew McConaughey plays the main character Newton Knight, an actual Confederate deserter who history has told various tales about so the truth may never be known. Knight is the focus of the film, tight close-up focus at points, as he leaves the army after seeing his nephew die and return to find his farm plundered by the Confederate army and tax collector.

McConaughey has proven on numerous occasions that he can carry a film and that is no different here as he is a great actor to watch at his craft. However, the box office blunder of this film may take away from some of his star power as the pull of audiences was not high in a highly competitive summer. Still, he does a great job a grieving man caught up in a war that has nothing to do with him or his beliefs. 

The film follows him as he falls on the wrong side of the Confederate law and hides out in the swamplands with a group of runaway slave including Moses (Mahershala Ali). I've found Moses's story one of the most moving of the film and a horrifying example of what happened to free men after the civil war when plantation owners returned to stake their claim on what they believed was their property utilizing corrupt laws to their bidding and suppress the votes of men.

The movie does a go a bit over long trying to both capture the uprising of Jones County, Mississippi and continue on into the Reconstruction Era. All parts of the story were important but I did think the flash forward to a different century to show the continuous fight against the awful laws of the Southern state to lack relevance to the story at hand and try to hard to convince viewers of the importance of this story in modern days when any educated audience member could easily see that without the help of the storytellers. Newton Knight had two wives, Rachel Knight (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Serena Knight (Keri Russell), but the controversy was a strange way to highlight this historical figure.

Free State of Jones tells a compelling story, one that might have been lost to history, but is a welcome refresher even if audience members didn't embrace it. There were some problems with pacing and from further reading, I think there could have been some even more interesting parts to add into the tale, but overall a solid historical fiction film with a tried and true movie star.