Monday, October 31, 2016

Write: National Novel Writing Month 2016

I'll be writing again this November. I'd like to think that I won't blog as much but I'm committed to at least 20 posts, maybe a little less. I won't be doing daily posts like last year, maybe updates if I find the time. For now, I'll focus on my writing. I'm already having trouble letting go of correcting the mistakes and allowing myself to write poor sentences. It wasn't my best idea to edit my novel from last year all the way up until two hours before midnight.

I took a nap on Halloween to prepare for the clock striking twelve so that I could spend an hour or two working on the prologue and updating my initial word count. Distractions will be the most difficult thing to avoid with a commitment to television and film consumption, but this is the one month to put those aside and focus solely on my own creativity. For shows that have finale this month, my reviews will most likely be a few days off as I'll probably have to play catch up. I practiced blocking out the distractions and writing but it makes for rushed and confused sentences.

This year is my third participating in this crazy month of writing with abandon so I'll be adding a third novel to my haunted house horror series. This time I'm taking my protagonist back in time to 1976 so I will be stalled out at random times to do some time travel research. I had hoped to plan ahead but things got ahead of me so I'll be doing research during the writing and then have to go back and fact-check during the editing phase whenever that will be.

I'm excited for the group in Lexington. It looks like there will be a lot of participation, so much I can hardly keep up with all the constant notifications from the various social media all of us use to communicate. I will have to log off sometimes to focus on my writing but I'll be sure to check in daily to address any issues of complaints that may arise throughout the next thirty days. I plan on eliminating some other social media distractions to maintain my focus on NaNoWriMo.

I've breached my first one thousand words and my novel has begun. I'm interested in how this novel will turn out with the added challenge of time travel, but I hope to draw some conclusions about what I've been setting up the previous two years to round out the first three novels in the series and see if I can't shift gears for future installments. 

TV Show Review: The Strain (Season 3)

I gave up on The Strain around the start of the second season. I found the acting cheesy, the story uncompelling, and the plot dragging. I decided to catch up on Hulu and watch the latest season on FX to see if it had improved. While there are more action scenes and decent new characters, the dialogue still feels a bit flat, the pacing is wonky, and rules of the game are a bit confusing. One of the worst parts is that they refuse to call their infected monsters vampires and insist on calling them Strigoi which makes for some bad lines throughout each episode as actors mumble the word.

Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) reels from the loss of Nora and works to find a cure for the Strigoi while not seeking any help for his alcoholism. Stoll is able to explore the role better without the terrible acting and snottiness of his son recast with Max Charles. His wife Kelly (Natalie Brown) has become one of the chief villains. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) has obtained a golden book that could either be an awful weapon for the villains or a killing stroke to The Master. The leader of the Strigoi switches bodies throughout the season that serves as the climax of several episodes and a catalyst for the finale.

Vasily Fet (Kevin Durand) is the most enjoyable character to watch as he helps out with an extermination strike force and leads the war against the packs of vampires huddled beneath the city. His relationship with Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) frayed throughout the season as she found herself growing affectionate for Eph. The show does a decent job balancing all the stories. My other favorite character that makes the show enjoyable is Gus (Miguel Gomez) the ex-con who finds his talent killing vampires. He teams up with a former wrestler to take out as many as they can though this ends rather tragically. 

The villains have it together through most of the season and seem unstoppable despite some big victories for the good guys. Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hye) is fleshed out more through flashbacks that stalled the pacing a while. The show feels stretched for ten episodes but at least they shortened it from thirteen. Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) is a vicious villain as an ex-Nazi and right-hand man to the Master.  The new addition of Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) whose allegiances are not totally clear but seems like a good guy was fun to watch if not fully executed well.

I wouldn't implore any busy viewer of television to check this out but I know it has its fans from the graphic novel and must keep some sort of viewership to keep having seasons. They don't hold back on the destruction and the fighting is fun to watch on occasion but it won't blow anyone away as the special effects suffer from a lower budget. I won't spend much time thinking about it but I'm glad I caught up with The Strain and will stick with it through what appears will be a strange fourth season.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sports: College Football (Week 9)

Losses for undefeated teams leave a clear picture of potential college football playoff contenders. Here is was the four contenders look like:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide
The biggest obstacle facing the Tide from rolling to a consecutive championship is a faceoff with their rival the Auburn Tigers at the end of the season. The Florida Gators might also prove a challenge in the SEC Championship but I think that's my bias talking.

2. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan still has to face the Ohio State Buckeyes at the end of the season and could face Nebraska who lost to Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship.

3. Clemson Tigers
The Clemson Tigers survived a nailbiter against the Florida State Seminoles and should have a clear path tot the playoffs since they beat Louisville. Clemson has defeated some tough opponents and should survive from here on out.

4. Washington Huskies
Beating the Utah Utes solidifies Washington's chance of taking the PAC-12 title though they will still have to beat their rivals at Washington State and take home the PAC-12 Championship against what looks like will be Colorado.

The teams that are waiting in the wings ready to pounce on the first upset are the Louisville Cardinals in the ACC, Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big 10 East, Texas A&M Aggies in the SEC West, Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten West, and the Florida Gators in the SEC East. 

Games that I'm looking forward to in Week 10 are the LSU Tigers vs. Alabama and Nebraska vs Ohio State. Other games could provide excitement if they is an upset but I'll be tuning in around 8pm for these two games for sure. 

Movie Review: Angels & Demons

Tom Hanks and Ron Howard return to another adaption of Dan Brown's thriller Angels & Demons. The book is the first of Robert Langdon's adventures but came out as a sequel to the box office success of The Da Vinci Code though the chronology isn't exactly clear from my viewing of which comes first. I had the time to just read this novel as I started the series when I heard of the recent adaptation so I can compare more directly with the text. The movie skips of interactions in CERN and the murder investigation and jumps directly to the terroristic plot that can only be stopped by Langdon's solving of the clues.

Hanks's Langdon teams up with Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to find the anti-matter that Vetra help create with her uncle? before it blow up the Vatican as part of an Illuminati plot. Working with the Vatican police headed by Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård) and assisted by Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino), Langdon and Vetra achieve access to the Vatican archives but only after being granted permission by the Camerlengo Patrick Mckenna (Ewan McGregor). 

There is a lot more historical context as Langdon leads the hunt around Rome explaining the dense architecture and hidden code purportedly left by members of the ancient Illuminati. The assassin is revealed as played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas but there are still plenty of plot twists to keep viewers entertained as that is what Dan Brown specializes in and David Koepp does a decent job adapting to make comprehensible with all of the information. 

The brutal killings are certainly more gruesome in this adventure as that was what Brown's novel called for with brandings and vicious messages being sent by the murders. The finale is stunning though it deviates from the novel in major ways. The movie moves more briskly and compacts the mystery with punctuations of action that make for fun viewing. McGregor is decent as the conflicted camerlengo forced into the leadership role. Hanks does a moderate performance helped by Zurer. A few of the casting choices felt a bit off as they made two characters into one.

I'm excited to watch the third installment in the series though it looks to be the worst of the three. Angels & Demons stands out as the best though it doesn't stir up the controversy quite as much as its predecessor. The sets looked nice since I doubt they were allowed to actually film in the Vatican but the setting of Rome really helps the mystery and the historical nature of the thriller. Overall these are decent films that may not be totally accurate but are fun to watch once or twice. I prefer the books but that is usually the case with adaptations and not always possible for those short on time. 

Graphic Novel Review: Outcast Vol. 1-3

After seeing the first episode of the Cinemax series, I went ahead and picked up Robert Kirkman's graphic novel illustrated by Paul Azaceta and colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser. The artwork and beautiful and the story intriguing as the graphic novel hints more at a potential plan for the demonic presences that possess people in the small West Virginia town. From a city in Kentucky, Kirman does  a great job capturing that small town atmosphere and populating it with likable and realistic characters. 

There are subtle differences between the comic and the show as it adheres more closely to its source material than Kirkman's other work that has been adapted, The Walking Dead. Outcast moves faster in the comics briskly pushing the plot through the panels though that just may be my reading speed, but the show always takes a little more time to fill the hour-long episodes with character development. The artwork serves the story well introducing us to Kyle Barnes and Reverand Anderson as they go through their difficult mission. 
Kyle Barnes has been traumatized by his childhood in which his mother became possessed and antagonized him because of his special purpose. Outcast means that Barnes has antagonistic abilities towards the demonic forces that spread throughout the small town. There are still no clear answers from the illustrated pages as to how and exactly why the demons possess who they do but it revolves around Kyle and possibly his daughter Amber who also has the Outcast power.

I like the idea of a master plan and am excited to see where the graphic novel heads in later volumes. I will have to wait as I like to buy the collected volumes but at least I won't have to hold off until the omnibus editions like I do with The Walking Dead. Outcast does put an interesting twist on demons and Kirkman has strongly established himself as a writer that can put a twist on a common horror trope and add new life to it. I'm excited to keep reading the comic and watching the show.

Friday, October 28, 2016

TV Show Review: Quarry

Cinemax has an amazing series on their hands with a period piece about a reluctant hitman caught up in a violent lifestyle after returning from the Vietnam war. Quarry is an extraordinary television show that has beauty and sorrow mixed in with action and intense scenes of violence. The show doesn't offer up innocent characters but a conflicted protagonist and corrupt and criminal supporting figures with nearly everyone having a mistake or skeleton in their closet that drives them to extreme measures.

Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is happy to be home from the war but conflict follows him as a mysterious incident causes protesters to attack him upon exiting the airport. He returns to his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) but something isn't right in their domestic dream. Mac is approached by a besuited man known only as The Broker (Peter Mullan) who asks Mac to use his talents at killing and later bestows the moniker of Quarry on him. Mac refuses but his fellow soldier Arthur (Jamie Hector) takes The Broker up on the offer.

Things do not work out well in many aspects of Quarry's life and the show ratchets up the tension and stakes. Quarry is forced to work for The Broker and partners with Buddy (Damon Herriman). Among great acting, Herriman's performance is spectacular as the eccentric assassin. Marshall-Green rocks the mustache and carries the show on his back as well, making watching this show a pleasure. Balfour is also extraordinary as the conflicted wife of a soldier who was left for two tours. There are also great supporting performances from the likes Peter Mullan as the Broker and Ann Dowd as Buddy's mom. 

Based on a series of novels by Max Allan Collins, the show has a lot of material to work with for what I hope will be many seasons to come. The show wades into the racial tension of 1972 in Memphis, adding even more tension to a show that feels like it will explode off the screen. The scenes do not hold back on intense and graphic violence that shocked me as I watched each episode especially when it came out of nowhere. The finale has one tragic and gripping war scene that does not cut away from the harshness of combat.

Quarry tells a story about a hitman but the issues it explores in the subplots and minor characters is where the show really shines as it shows a tumultuous time that feels, unfortunately, too familiar to our current predicament. From the poor treatment of veterans with PTSD to poverty and racial strife to war crimes, Quarry does not shy away from complex issues and provides no simple compact answers that can be resolved in one season or possibly ever.

Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code is brought to life under the direction of Ron Howard. Tom Hanks stars as the renowned symbologist Robert Langdon who is called to the Louvre to solve a murder mystery. Paul Bettany plays the devout albino assassin, Silas. The murdered curator leaves behind a set of clues that Langdon must solve in order to discover an ancient secret left behind by the artist Leonardo Da Vinci. 

Langdon is assisted by the curator's adopted granddaughter Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou). Pursued by Captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) who is convinced of Langdon's guilt, Neveu and Langdon follow the clues that have been left behind. Silas also uncovers mysteries as he chases Langdon and violently chastises himself. The symbologist and cryptologist together elude capture and travel throughout Paris as the clues lead them towards a greater mystery.

Eventually, they encounter a scholar, Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) who reveals the secrets that Da Vinci hid. These revelations may not be historically accurate but the conspiracy is intriguing enough to have achieved the popularity of the novel and film. As I remember, the mystery and intrigue were served better by Brown's writing but the controversy is entertaining enough. There is also a small role as Bishop Manuel Aringarosa played by Alfred Molina who instructs Silas that adds to the conspiracy.

The action is fast-paced and that helps viewers look past some of the silly dialogue and mediocre acting. Even Tom Hanks's performance is a bit disappointing though McKellen would shine if he just had a phone book to read. Reno is fun to watch as well and elevated his roles throughout this period of films, I alway liked him as an actor growing up.  The car chases through the streets of Paris and rural France add action to the scenes filled with explanations as they try to pack a lot of information into two hours. The movie feels rushed like many novel adaptations. 

There are some twists and surprises that keep viewers guessing though come off a bit obvious. Dan Brown knew how to pack in constant surprises within an intriguing plot. I'm a big fan of thrillers and have started working my way through the series of novels as I catch up on the films before the latest release, Inferno, but this adaptation comes up short to the fun of the novel, which I also recognize as not the best written book. The Da Vinci code was a success at the box office and spawned two sequels, one being released this weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sports: NBA (Opening Night)

The National Basketball League has their first games tonight with six teams facing off in three different matches. The first game of the night is between the reigning champions of the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lebron James and the Cavs took on the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony. Cleveland crushed New York with a 117-88 victory to start the season. 
The opening night of the season is a fresh start and any team has a chance at the moment with endless possibilities as to who will make it to the playoffs. Two teams that have a strong chance to make it to the playoffs and the finals are the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors who face off in a later game tonight.
The Warriors have something to prove after losing the championship series last year. One last game that starts off the NBA season is between the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers. Portland made it to the playoffs last year and could have a strong chance to do it again this year. Excited to have some basketball back even if it is in the middle of a ton of other exciting sports events. 

The spurs went on to win against the Warriors 129-100. Portland beat Utah 113-104. On the second night of basketball but first game for other teams we have: MIAvsORL, DALvsIND, BKNvsBOS, DETvsTOR. I'm excited to be tuning into the Hawks later as they take on the Wizards. I'll also be following the Grizzlies who play the Timberwolves first. Along with these two teams, I'll be studying better teams that made the playoffs last year. I'll be watching Oklahoma City taking on Philadelphia and later Houston playing Los Angeles. 

Sports: MLB (World Series)

The final series of the postseason with only two teams left, the World Series is between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Both teams have done well this year though the Cubs are highly favored in this matchup. Since the American League won the All-Star game, Cleveland starts at home.
Game 1: For the Indians, Corey Kluber will begin on the mound and his counterpart for the Cubs will be Jon Lester. The Indians loaded the bases in the bottom of the 1st and scored on Jose Ramirez blooper infield single. They added another run when Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch to lead the 2-0. In the bottom of the 4th, Roberto Perez homered to put the Tribe up by 3. Roberto Perez homered for a second time in the bottom of the 8th to put the Indians up by 6 runs. Cleveland went on to take game one with a shutout
Game 2: Jake Arrieta started game two for the Cubs while Trevor Bauer pitched for the Indians. Not to be shut out again, Anthony Rizzo doubled in the top of the 1st to put the Cubs up 1-0. Kyle Schwarber singled in the top of the 3rd driving in another run. Still working with a no-hitter, the Cubs rallied in the top of the 5th. Ben Zobrist tripled, Schwarber singled again, and Addison Russell walked to put Chicago up 5-0. The Indians got one run back in the bottom of the 6th with a wild pitch and Jason Kipnis scoring from third. That would be the only score and the Chicago Cubs tied the series with a 5-1 win. 
Game 3: Kyle Hendricks started on the mound for the Cubs against Josh Tomlin for the Indians. The game remained scoreless for six innings. In the top of the 7th Coc Crisp singled and Michael Martinez scored. That was the only run scored. The Cleveland Indians take the lead in the series 2-1.
Game 4: Looking to tie, the Cubs started John Lackey while the Indians brought back out Corey Kluber for his second game of the series. Chicago struck first with a single from Anthony Rizzo. Cleveland responded when Carlos Santan homers and Kluber singled to put the Indians up 2-1. The Indians added to their lead in the top of the 3rd with a single from Francisco Lindor. Another run in the top of the 6th from Lonnie Chisenhall's sacrifice fly. Jason Kipnis broke the game wide open in the top of the 7th with a three-run home run. The Cubs scored another run off of Dexter Fowler's solo home run but it wasn't enough. The Cleveland Indians won their third game 7-2,  lead the series 3-1 and are one game away from being the champions.
Game 5: Fighting for survival, the Cubs start Jon Lester against the Indians and Trevor Bauer. Jose Ramirez homered in the top of the 2nd to put the Indians up by a run. Kris Bryant responded with a home run in the bottom of the 4th to tie the game. The Cubs continued to rally in the inning with Addison Russell hitting a single and David Ross hitting a sacrifice fly to lead 3-1. The Indians got one run back off a single from Francisco Lindor. The score remained 3-2 and the Cubs made the series 3-2.
Game 6: For what could be the final game, Josh Tomlin started for the Indians while Jake Arrieta started for the Cubs. Chicago started early with a home run from Kris Bryant in the top of the 1st. Addison Russell doubled in the 1st to put the Cbus up 3-0. Russell hit a grand slam in the third and the Cubs led 7-0. The Indians got one back in the 4th when Mike Napoli singled and another in the 5th when Jason Kipnis homered. Anthony Rizzo added to the blowout with a home run in the 9th. Roberto Perez singled in one more run but it was not enough. The Cubs tied the series with a 9-3 win and force a final game seven.
Game 7: Corey Kluber started for the Indians facing off against Kyle Hendrick for the Cubs. Kluber let up a home run to Dexter Fowler as the lead off of the game so the Cubs led 1-0 early. Carlos Santana tied the game with a single in the bottom of the 3rd for Cleveland. The Cubs took the lead with a  rally in the 4th, Addison Russell singled and Wilson Contreras doubled. A home run from Javier Baez in the top of the 5th put the Cubs up 4-1. Anthony Rizzo singled in the fifth run in the 5th for the Cubs. The Indians began a comeback with a wild pitch that scored two runs to make it 5-3. The Cubs padded their lead with David Ross's home run in his final game as a pro baseball player. In the bottom of the 8th Brandon Guyer double in a run to make it 6-4 and Rajai Davis homered to tie the game. At 6-6, the game went into extra innings and a rain delay made Game 7 even longer. In the top of the 10th with tensions high, Ben Zobrist doubled in and run and Miguel Montero singled in another to put the Cubs 8-6. The Indians tried to rally back when Rajai Davis singled in yet another run but the Indians lost 8-7. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in over a century.

Sports: NFL (Week 7)

Now that there are no undefeated teams remaining in the NFL, I'm going to take a look at the last place teams in each division and try to see if any of them have a chance to make it to the playoffs this year. There were so matchups of top teams this weekend that were fun to watch and an upset of the last undefeated team shows that every NFL team is fallible.

AFC East
The New York Jets triumphed for only the second time this year over the Baltimore Ravens. They remain under the Dolphins who also won against the Bills. Despite the loss, Buffalo is still second. The Patriots remain number one with a win over the Steelers. The Jets won't be played after the season is over.

AFC North
It's an extraordinary night in Cleveland as the Cavaliers start their season after being champions and the Indians start game one of the World Series, but the Browns have lost seven straight and remain without a win after a loss to the Bengals. The Browns face the Jets next week for their best chance at one win this season. As mentioned, Cinicnatti, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh lost.

AFC South
The Jacksonville Jaguars fell to the Raiders this weekend and had a two-game spurt against the Colts and Bears before that to be at 2-4. The Jaguars have the best chance of all the last place teams in the AFC as their division of the Texans, who lost to the Broncos on Monday night, and Colts who beat the other member the Titans, are not a great division.

AFC West
The Chargers beat the Falcons with a last minute field goal in overtime. San Diego could make it but they'll have to get past Kansas City who beat the Saints, Denver, and Oakland.

NFC East
This whole division looks good but the Giants are tied at the bottom with the Redskins who lost to the Lions right behind the Eagles who defeated the Vikings. The dominant Dallas Cowboys remained at the top with a bye-week.

NFC North
 Chicago may be in the World Series but da Bears remain at the bottom with only one win after a loss to the Packers who trailing behind the Vikings who got their first loss. Detroit beat Washington but still trail Green Bay and Minnesota.

NFC South
 This one is surprising as the Panthers were in the Super Bowl last year but have only one win this year after a loss to the Saints. The Falcons are doing everything they can to lose it in the last minutes. The Buccaneers have improved with a win over the 49ers.

NFC West
Their starting quarterback has been off and on and had controversy but the Niners remain at the bottom of a tough division. Los Angeles is at 3-4 after losing to the Giants. Arizona tied Seattle so the Seahawks remain at the top with a record 4-1-1.

Lots of sports to discuss tonight so I'm just going to take a quick look at next week. In week 8 we have some interesting divisional matchups to watch from Patriots vs. Bills to Chargers vs. Broncos, and Eagles vs. Cowboys could be interesting. I also might check out the Falcons vs. Packers. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Ouija: Origin of Evil

Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to a spooky, yet lackluster original title Ouija that scared me but received abysmal reviews. I don't recall all of what happened in the original but I remembered some of the story and the twist in that one that leads to the story laid out in this movie. The setting is 1967 in the same house where murders would come back to haunt teenagers in the present day. During this time period a family that runs scams about contacting the dead lives there, a mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), and her two daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson).

To spice up the act, Alice brings home a ouija board, Doris plays with it by herself and starts to communicate with an otherworldly being. The special effects are subtle and not too overused but as Doris becomes more possessed her eyes turn white and her mouth stretches overly large to create a disturbing visual. The movie establishes a decent emotional core as the three women mourn the loss of the father and husband. The need to reach out to the dead is understandable as they tread into dark magic.

Doris begins to act stranger as Lina has horrifying images of her mouth closing shut. A priest, Father Tom (Henry Thomas) becomes involved as he discovers the strange behavior leads to a more sinister plot by demonic spirits and the ghosts of tortured humans. The backstory is dumped on us in a bit of a rush as the movie speeds up towards a creepy climax. I wonder if they will continue pushing the story into the past if it is a success at the box office this weekend. 

The set pieces put viewers in the time period and all the costumes looked great as well taking us away from the world of internet and smartphones. The acting was great as well with an impressive performance from Wilson as the young possess Doris who has to carry most of the horror and her smug grin spooked me thoroughly. Basso and Reaser also deliver brilliant performances that make the acting in this film better than the usual horror fare. 

As far as horror films go, this one is impressive enough, though nothing that will keep you up at night and thinking about it too long afterward. It's tough to realize that Halloween won't be having any other horror movie except for this one but it's satisfying enough to have me squirming in my seat and enjoying the suspense and tension. Ouija was a movie that really didn't need a sequel but this one is fun nonetheless. 

Sports: College Football (Week 8)

In the eighth week of college football, a huge upset will change the ranking while other teams improved their chances to make it to the playoffs.. The marquee game of the weekend, Alabama vs. Texas A&M served only to solidify the Crimson Tide's dominance as the top-ranked team in the league. 

The biggest upset of the weekend came when Penn State upset 2Ohio State with a 17-point fourth quarter. Penn State already has two losses but they'll move into the top 25 with that impressive win. OSU will stay in the top ten. 

As the Buckeyes plummet, Michigan moves to second place with a win over Illinois. Clemson had a bye week and remain in third. Washington takes on the last playoff spot as the leader in the West. Louisville benefits from a win over NC State and Nebraska is still undefeated. West Virgina and Baylor head towards a matchup at the end of the year as they have both avoided losses so far this season as well. The Aggies won't drop too far since they lost to the best team and round out the top ten. 

Other teams I'm keeping an eye on are the Florida Gators who had a bye-week but remain atop the SEC East, the Boise State Broncos still haven't lost, and Utah has only one loss with a game against 4Washington next weekend. Beside the Utes and Huskies game, I'll also be following Clemson vs. Florida State, and Nebraska vs. Wisconsin. It looks like the top four have established their position but they'll have to work hard to defend their playoff chances. 

TV Show Review: Black Mirror (Season 3)

Netflix produced the third season of this previously BBC sci-fi thriller of stand-alone episodes that range from horror to mystery to romance yet all provide cautionary tales on how we use technology today. The third season has some harsh depictions of social media hate, societal ranking by online activity, and even technological effects on warfare. None of this episodes are cheerful and all of them end on a haunting note that will leave viewers second-guessing their online interactions and the nature of our reality. This season fell right in line with what I've enjoyed so far about the short series and I found no episode lacking in mind-bending social commentary and sci-fi entertainment.

The first episode "Nosedive" follows Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) as she tries to increase her ranking in a society that judges each social interaction with a five-star rating. As Lacie takes a road trip to her old friend/bully's wedding she encounters different rankings and finds that the world isn't open to those who haven't had positive interactions their whole lives. The scenario is a definite possibility as individuals achieve fame and money from Instagram likes and a person's career can be destroyed from a single Twitter rant.

"Playtest" depicts the growing trend of augmented reality only accelerated to tap into the main character Cooper's (Wyatt Russell) greatest fears from his childhood bully to grotesque spiders. The brain works against him as personally trauma become a reality and time is relative to the person interacting with the technology. I found this blend of sci-fi and horror one of the most enjoyable to watch though the ending was strange and simplified.

"Shut Up and Dance" was the most disturbing and sickening of the episodes. A young man Kenny (Alex Lawther) has his computer hacked and with the fear of compromised information being released begins to obey anonymous text messages. He encounters Hector (Jerome Flynn) and is ordered to do awful deeds. The threat of being spied on by hackers and the revelation of our inner secrets will spark fear for many viewers and none of the characters are sympathetic.

"San Junipero" starts out a bit confusing as a young woman Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) travels to a strange city of eighties or nineties nostalgia and falls for Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Each one of these stories puts viewers in a new world so it takes a while to become acclimated but when the twist is revealed for this strange city it is both saddening and fascinating for the possibilities it implies.

"Men Against Fire" shows how technology could brainwash an entire army into thinking a group of humans is other. Humanity has not had a problem with this concept but in the future, this technology could be the awful nudge needed. Stripe (Malachi Kirby) suffers a trauma after his first kill in the field in a war against a type of humans that are considered roaches for their inferior bloodline. They are depicted as zombies or vampires that don't talk but only howl. The layer beneath this reality is terrifying.

The final episode "Hated in the Nation" follows a detective Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald) as she uncovers an awful terrorist plot from a string of murders. The ruminations on environmental impact and the consequences of social media interaction definitely had me thinking about the issues of a hashtag and online hate.

Overall, this season lived up to the first two by leaving me both terrified of technology and excited for the possibilities of the future. Some of the twists were easier to figure out this year, but still mad fun to watch. Black Mirror is one of my favorite shows the why it pushes emotional issues and mixed horror and sci-fi and leaves viewers hanging with no resolutions and no definite message. Each episode takes several minutes to fully be encompassed in the world but by the end, I saw each setting as something that could easily exist in a few years and may already be in development now. Creator Charlie Brooker has tapped into some of societies greatest fears through their most ambitious dreams. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

TV Show Review: High Maintenance

The new HBO comedic drama focuses on different characters throughout each episode connected by a character known only as the guy who bikes around New York City and sells pot to various people. Each character has their own issues and reasons for encountering the guy played by Ben Sinclair. The show started out as a web series and has graduated to thirty-minute episodes that can encapsulate up to two different storylines that interweave in strange connections not always noticed in everyday life.

Stories range from a young Muslim student to couples hosting an orgy to an entire episode from the point of view of a dog. The shows use the slice of life to explore issues of the human condition that are both humorous and emotional. The writers don't hold back on the awkwardness of being a weed dealer that interacts with all sorts of strange individuals that are either shut-in and antisocial or a bit too comfortable and overly social. The guy takes all this in stride with a relentlessly positive attitude.

The six-episode run felt entirely too short for the potential showed but the writers never planned to reveal much more about the guy or tell anything further than the anthology like tales that rip viewers away before they can become too attached to any single characters. It has a great feel of what it is like to work in New York encountering strange individuals lost in their own world or at least how I would assume it would feel especially with a job like delivery that isn't exactly person but with the illegal nature of the business causes purchasers to open up to a larger extent.   

Each show never failed to deliver a new surprise from daytime raves to meth usage to pushing back against stereotypes. With the freedom to follow any character that doesn't have to carry an entire season or even an entire episode, the creators Sinclair and his wife Katja Blichfield were able to explore the wholly different to  the oddness fo the mundane. There are cameos from plenty of recognizable actors but names that will not stick out and draw away from the mini plots. The guy is endearing enough as the everyman dealer that seems to recognize the bizarreness of each situation and yet accept the circumstances that he finds himself in due to his business.

With a strict code of referrals, the guy tries to avoid the pratfalls of dealing an illegal substance from robbery to arrest to exposure by the press. Still, the guy fails at moments with quick assumptions and desperation to make a quick buck. The viewer never fully realizes how the guy manages the business or if it is even profitable and how he receives his product but we see enough to sympathize with him and understand his function in society. I hope High Maintenance is renewed for many seasons to come to allow them to explore more of this interesting stories. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Continuing the year of inferior sequels, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back comes along to lower the bar on an already middling film series. I haven't read any of Lee Child's books but wonder why they decided on this particular storyline to pick up from the novels and adapt as another Tom Cruise film. The story offers very little in action with a few forced fights that don't fit well into the plot and felt overly stage under Edward Zwick's direction.

One of the better parts of the film was to see Colbie Smulders spreading out her career beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe to play Major Turner. Turner and Reacher strike up a conversation after Jack helps nail a sheriff who was capturing and selling undocumented immigrants. The movie never pushes any political issues with a brief subplot of heroin smuggling and only a shrugging mention of the war in Afghanistan. When Smulders's Turner ends up in jail, Reacher begins his investigation punching thugs in the face and being falsely confused. 

The plot hints that it could speed up but then follows the trail of Reacher's alleged daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh). Reacher, Turner, and Samantha go on the run from D.C. to New Orleans chased by a ruthless ex-military killer (Patrick Heusinger). The villains were exceptionally disappointing in this film and are usually the only place these films can go beyond a typical Tom Cruise fare. 

The conspiracy is not all that complicated and delivers no twists, even simple ones like the original movie. The climax has a chase but at no point will viewers believe any of the good characters will suffer any harm and the PG-13 rating only hurts it from achieving any further excitement than a standard action film. I think the low budget allowed this movie to get made without any further star power but I'll be curious to see how Jack Reacher performs at the box office this weekend.

2016 seems to be a year to dump remakes and sequels that are poor performers and unnecessary as original ideas have fled to television that grows more impressive with every episode. Unfortunately, it appears that this trend will continue for years to come as joined universes, sequels, reboots, and remakes will continue for some time. It does look like Tom Cruise has some cool movies coming in the future though like Luna Park and American Made, but also a reboot of The Mummy for a bigger Universal monster shared universe and another Mission Impossible. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Politics: Presidential Debate #3

The third and final debate took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, somewhat of a battleground state at the moment. Chris Wallace hosted and decided the topics of the questions. The animosity has grown intense at this point in the election as the families will not shake hands nor the candidates. The polls favor Hillary Clinton heavily after the release of a controversial tape of Donald Trump. The Republican candidate hopes to regain ground in this debate while the Democratic nominee hopes to stave off any rise.    

The topics ranged from the Supreme Court, immigration, economics, fitness to be president and foreign policy. Clinton promised to protect Planned Parenthood while Trump claimed the former Secretary of State wanted to rid the Constitution of the Second Amendment, which she denied. Immigration brought Trump's claim to build a wall while Clinton ridiculed his visit to Mexico. Both candidates made statements for their economic policies against claims of economists that claim their plans will raise the national debt. 

The strangest part of this debate was Donald Trump refusal to accept the result of the campaign and saying he would wait until he looked at the outcome before making a decision. The host tried to explain the foundation of our democracy and the peaceful transition of power, but Trump refused to concede. He also received more tough questions about his statements and the recent accusations of women against him. 

The debate will be cast in the middle line as it tries to remain unbiased and keep the race close for viewers. Many of the reporters I follow are prepared for this election to be over and I'm tired of watching and writing about it the few times that I've ventured to do so. Donald Trump has taken the campaign for president of the United States to a different level that is unprecedented in my lifetime. 

Issues like foreign policy received a small amount of time focusing mainly on Syria, the rush of migrants, and the interference of Russia by helping the leader Assad. Trump claimed that Assad was much smarter than Obama and Clinton and Hillary responded with her experience and measured solutions. I'm glad the debates are over but will miss the constant excitement of reading the political news. Just under three weeks until the election occurs whether Donald Trump accepts it or not. It looks like Hillary Clinton heads out of this debate and toward election day with a big lead but we'll have to see how it all turns out.

Movie Review: Jack Reacher

When a mysterious man (Jai Courtney) brutally shoots five people in broad daylight outside PNC Park, the accused man Barr (Joseph Sikora) request that detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) contact Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher shows up to investigate the murders and find out if Barr is guilty as he once helped him escape justice for a similar murder spree when he served in the military. Jack was a respected military cop who dropped off the grid only to resurface for this investigation. The movie is based on the novel "One Shot" by Lee Child. 

Sadly, the gruesome murder feels all too familiar in the troubled times we live in and adds impact to  the nature of the investigation. Barr's lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) employs Reacher to help her discover the truth behind the victims and the killer. Pike and Cruise work well together as Cruise embodies the cavalier charm of Reacher and Pike plays the incredulous and standoffish lawyer who needs Reacher's expertise. The conspiracy grows deeper as the plot thickens and viewers witness both the mystery solving and the villain's plot.

Reacher beats up thugs all across Pittsburgh as he follows a thread he picked up from a bar fight. Fortunately, plenty of the thugs are morons and Reacher's ruthless fighting methods help him take out the would-be assassins. It's hard not to have fun watching Cruise punch his way through bad guys. The villains take any measure to stop Reacher from finding the truth even framing him for murder. There is a cool car chase where Reacher chases the bad guys and eludes the cops.

The supporting cast was decent and helped the movie along. Courtney is better as a villain than a hero and should find more roles like the one he plays here. Oyelowo is underutilized but serves as a great counterpunch as the officer that is skeptical of Reacher's tactics and hidden motivations of his own. Pike is always enjoyable to watch as her career grows. Other veteran actors elevate the film like Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall.

Jack Reacher fits in with other PG-13 action thrillers that are decent to watch but nothing that one would remember a week or so later. I'm surprised that is spawned a sequel but guess it is because of the sheer number novels Child put out around his cocky and crafty lead character. The culmination of this movie wraps up with some cool action shootouts, rain-drenched fistfights, and a twisty resolution that concludes this mystery as each story stands alone connected only by drifting Reacher. I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel tomorrow night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 6)

Six weeks of football leaves us with one undefeated team and three teams with only one loss. The playoff picture is just starting to take shape while teams that have performed badly so far still have a chance to turn the season around and come out either on top of the division or at least make a playoff appearance. I caught some competitive games on television and felt both excitement and disappointment with the results. I'm going to focus on teams in the middle of their division in this week recap and catch up struggling losers next week.

AFC West
Both the Raiders and Broncos suffered losses this week. The Kansas City Chiefs beat Oakland while the San Diego Chargers beat Denver on Thursday night. The Chiefs are only down a half a game in a very competitive division.

AFC South
The Titans trail closely behind the Texans with a 3-3 record after a win against the ailing Browns. Houston had a tough game against their divisional rivals the Colts but came out on top and are still 4-2. The Jaguars beat the Bears but, like Indianapolis, only have two wins.

AFC North
This whole division lost this weekend so I'll take the chance to mourn the Bengals rough season after a loss to the Patriots. The Steelers are on top but lost to the Dolphins. The Ravens are behind them but lost to the Giants. Cleveland loses to everyone, but their baseball team looks good in the playoffs and they already have an NBA championship this year.

AFC East
The Buffalo Bills looked impressive against the 49ers this weekend and are right behind the Patriots. New England rolled past Cincinnati and only has one loss. Miami beat Pittsburgh but looks to have a long road ahead. The Jets lost to the Cardinals badly on Monday and only have one win against Buffalo.

NFC East
The Redskins faced the Eagles in a divisional matched that I caught quarters of and saw Washington come out on top against Philly. Dallas looked great against the Packers and have a strong path to the playoffs. While the Giants are even at 3-3 after beating Baltimore, New York has the bad luck of being in a tough division.

NFC West
Arizona shined on Monday night against the New York Jets but after the Seahawks beat the Falcons, they still remain behind. The Rams lost against Detroit but they are also at 3-3. San Francisco lost again and is down 1-5.

NFC North
Detroit defeated Los Angeles and sits at 3-3 but are still behind the Packers who lost to Dallas and the Vikings who are undefeated. Chicago will be the focus of next week's post as they lost for the fifth time against Jacksonville.

NFC South
The New Orleans Saints defeated the former NFC Champs, the Carolina Panthers and are tied against the Bucs who had a bye week. I'm still grieving the Falcons loss to the Seahawks.

A great weekend of sports puts us right near the middle of the season. Next weekend, I look forward to the Eagles vs. Vikings, Patriots vs. Steelers, Seahawks vs. Cardinals, and Texans vs. Broncos on Monday. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sports: College Football (Week 7)

Approaching the halfway point of the college football season, I've decided to take a look at each division that stands a chance of sending up a contestant into the college football playoffs. I'll take a look at the standings and make a few predictions on who will be in the championship games. The weekend had a lot of competitive games that will have repercussion for the rest of the season.

The Clemson Tigers faced a challenge this weekend facing off against NC State who had not yet lost a conference game. Clemson came close to losing but achieved the victory with luck and remains at the top of the Conference division and ranked fourth. The other team to watch out for are the Louisville Cardinals who previously fell to Clemson and beat Duke this weekend. They face NC State next week. 
The North Carolina Tar Heels have lost the UGA and Virginia Tech but they still have a chance to play spoiler if they can stay on top of their division though they face competition from Pittsburgh and VT.

Big 12
The Baylor Bears have not faced much of a challenge yet as they beat Kansas this weekend and remain undefeated. They still face the challenge of Oklahoma who beat Kansas State and West Virginia who beat Texas Tech.

Big Ten
Two of the top three teams are in this conference division and will face each other later this season. The Wolverines crushed Rutgers this weekend. The Buckeyes faced a tough game against the Wisconsin Badgers but came out on top in overtime. 
The Cornhuskers are still undefeated beating Indiana this weekend. They'll still have to beat Ohio State later this season and have Iowa only one loss behind them after beating Purdue.

The Washington Huskies remain undefeated, ranked fifth and atop the PAC-12 North after beating Oregon. The Washington State Cougars have not lost a conference game yet beating UCLA. These two teams will face in the last game of the season.
The Utah Utes beat Oregon State this weekend and face Washington in two weeks. Colorado is the challenger after beating Arizona State and will face Utah at the end of the season.

After two tough losses for the Tennesse Volunteers, the Florida Gators rise to the top with only one loss to the Volunteers. The Gators beat Missouri and have had games canceled due to the hurricane. They still have to face UGA, Arkansas, LSU, and FSU if they want to stay at the top. The Volunteers were defeated by top-ranked Alabama.
The Crimson Tide are the best team in the entire college football league according to the rankings and their dominance of Tennessee reinforces that ranking. Next week they fast their divisional rival and fellow undefeated team, the Texas A&M Aggies in what looks to be the most exciting game next weekend.

At the moment it looks like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington will be the teams to face off in the playoffs but Michigan, Nebraska, and Baylor will have a chance to challenge these leaders.