Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten Songs of 2016

Here are my favorite songs of 2016

1. 2 Heads by Coleman Hell

2. Tennessee Whiskey by Chris Stapleton

3. Working Out by Roberto Horns

4. Waste a Moment by Kings of Leon

5. Mona Lisa by The Lonely Island

6. Kids Say Fuck by Roberto Horns

7. Heathens by twenty one pilots

8. False Alarm by The Weeknd

9.  She's out of Her Mind by Blink 182

10. Way Down We Go by Kaleo

Top Ten TV Shows of 2016

Here are my favorite TV Shows of 2016

1. Black Mirror (Season 3) Netflix

2. Game of Thrones (Season 6) HBO

3. The Night Of (Mini-Series) HBO

4. American Crime Story (The People v. OJ Simpson) FX

5. BrainDead (Season 1) CBS

6. Quarry (Season 1) Cinemax

7. You’re the Worst (Season 3) FXX

8. Westworld (Season 1) HBO

9. Stranger Things (Season 1) Netflix

10. Outlander (Season 2) Starz

Honorable Mention: Narcos, Luke Cage, The Get Down, High Maintenance, Outkast, 11.22.63, Better Call Saul, Daredevil, Orange is the New Black, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Man Seeking Woman, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Night Manager, Slasher, Archer, The Americans, The Last Man On Earth
Bates Motel, Atlanta, Baskets, Shameless, The OA

Top Ten Movies of 2016

Here are my favorite movies of 2016

1. Arrival

2. Hacksaw Ridge

3. Green Room

4. Hell or High Water

5. Don’t Breathe

6. Sully

7. Allied

8. The Edge of Seventeen

9. Deadpool

10. The Conjuring 2

Honorable Mentions: Jungle Book, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Captain America: Civil War, The Nice Guys, Hardcore Henry, Midnight Special, Hail, Caesar!, Deepwater Horizon

Friday, December 30, 2016

TV Show Review: The OA

I was not sure what to expect with this new Netflix show but was blown away as the mystery unfolded. This show was an easy one to binge watch as each episode unfolded with mind-bending twists and interesting characters. The premise that drew me in was that of a young woman who goes missing blind and returns with her sight several years later. The show was created by the star Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.

Marling stars as Prairie Johnson, the girl who went missing. She recruits several people from the local high school to relate her story to and teach a succession of moves that have some sort of special power that is only hinted at throughout the first season. The story operates in a present tense where high schoolers live out their lives forming an investigative group and the tale of Prairie and her captivity.

Leading the high school kids is the troubled drug dealer Steve (Patrick Gibson). Also in the group is the Lacrosse player French (Brandon Perea), choir singer Buck Vu (Ian Alexander), and the teacher Betty (Phyllis Smith). Each one has his own personal issues but is intrigued by Prairie's story that helps them cope with their own problem. In the flashbacks, Prairie survives a near-death experience, which gives her a special musical ability and is adopted by her parents from the present, Abel (Scott Wilson) and Nancy Johnson (Alice Krige). She receives a premonition and leaves to find her real father.

In New York, as she waits to find her father, she meets Dr. Hunter Hap (Jason Isaacs) who specializes in studying near death experiences and the resultants talents. He invites this blind woman back to his home on a plane and leads her down to a basement where she ends up being captured with other survivors of near-death experiences. Homer (Emory Cohen) is another captive of Dr. Hap who also survived a coma along with two others. During the studies, they learn special movements that help them explore the afterlife.

Riz Ahmed shows up in later episodes as victim specialist Elias Rahim. The story takes some strange twists towards the end but I found it highly entertaining and would recommend it to any who likes a good mystery but has patience for the payoff as the finale doesn't wrap a ton of the questions that originate from the first season. This show continues to illustrate Netflix's capability to produce great new television. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Movie Review: La La Land

The love story set in Los Angeles was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The movie stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as lovers who meet and fall and love and then gain success all within a year. The story begins with Stone's Mia as she auditions for parts in television shows hoping to make it as an actor. After a rough day, she wanders into a restaurant and meets a gruff pianist, Goslin's Sebastian.

Sebastian hopes to reopen his jazz club but in the meantime is forced to play Christmas songs and sit outside his old place drinking coffee and brooding. Mia hears Sebastian playing and tries to talk to him but he brushes by her. it isn't until later that they encounter one another once again. They begin a flirtatious tap dance though they still deny that there is any spark between them.

This story is a musical but the songs are spread out throughout the film interspersed with long sections of just jazz or dance. Their courtship is fun to watch as they slowly fall for each other and Mia chooses Sebastian over another man. They become a full-fledged couple as they both work towards their dreams, Mia as a playwright and Sebastian as a club owner. 

Sebastian encounter Keith (John Legend) who offers him a gig as a pianist but in a pop music band. Sebastian accepts because the money is good though he does not feel the same about the music he has to play. Mia works on her solo performance in a play she wrote herself hoping this will be her big break. Their respective careers take them in separate directions and their relationship frays. 

The final scenes have a very beautiful and enjoyable ending that is both sweet and emotional. It is easy to see why many people would pick this as their favorite movie of the year, especially those in favor of a solid romance, musical, movie-making, and the city of Los Angeles. I expect big things to come for La La Land as awards season comes around in the upcoming months. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 15 & 16)

Missed my post from last week so I'm making up with a bit longer post catching up on the various games from the last two weeks. The playoff picture is almost fully set with a few more crucial games awaiting in the final weekend of this amazing sport. I have been impressed with some recent performances as teams ride into the playoffs with momentum. Other teams will just squeak by after rough performances only to make because their opponents are even weaker.

AFC West
The AFC West is the only division that has not settled where the teams will be situated. The Raiders are ahead but have one last game against the former champs, the Denver Broncos before they can clinch the bye week.
The Chiefs have clinched the Wild Card spot but will have to beat the Chargers and have the Raiders lose if they want to snag the bye week.

AFC East
The AFC East is the other division that will send two teams to the playoffs. The New England Patriots have clinched the bye week but could still technically lose home field advantage if they lose to the Dolphins.
Miami has clinched a Wild Card playoff birth and could possibly be the fifth place team if they beat the Patriots and the Chiefs lose.

AFC North
The Steelers won six straight including wins against their divisional rivals the Bengals and the Ravens. Baltimore almost had a chance but their loss to the Steelers knocked them out of the playoffs.

AFC South
The Texans are the worst team to squeak into the playoffs but because Tennesee and Indianapolis had such rough seasons, they get to represent the AFC South in the playoffs. Whoever gets them, either Kansas City or Miami should be able to push past to the next round.

NFC North
The NFC North is not decided but one final exciting game will take place next week between Green Bay and Detroit. The Packers won five straight to get where they are. This division has had an upheaval with the Vikings starting out so strong and then plummeting. 
The Lions had a tough loss last night against the Cowboys and lost to the Giants the week before, the two top teams in the conference. The face off against these teams will be exciting to watch.

NFC East
The Cowboys are the best team in the conference and a likely pick to face off against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. They have taken on every challenge and come out with a win except for against one team.

The Giants are the only team to be able to beat the Cowboys and have had rebounded from an earlier spate of losses this season. Recently they lost to the Eagles and have also to another contender in the Steelers, but they did beat the Lions so they could go far in the playoffs this year.

NFC West
The Seattle Seahawks haven't had the most impressive season and are on top of a weak division. They ending the season with an easy game against the 49ers but a loss to the Cardinals may have cost them the bye week.

NFC South
I'm so glad that the Falcons have improved and now are in line to get the bye week if they can survive a Sunday against the Saints. The Falcons could be a top contender and would face tough matches against New York and Dallas. Their wins are not that impressive but they did manage to defeat the Packers. The Seahawks beat them once as well. So the Falcons will have to prove they are a different team.

Games I'm looking forward to in the last week. First, I'm curious how the Texans will fare against the Titans even though the Titans have been eliminated they could have the same record. The Patriots facing the Dolphins will also be an exciting finale to the season. I'll be keeping an eye on Falcons vs. Saints. Raiders vs. Broncos and Chiefs vs. Chargers will also have repercussions. Finally, Lions and Packers will round out the night with the most excitement. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Movie Review: Assassin's Creed

I was a fan of the video games series so I decided to check out the movie adaptation though I had low expectations from the reviews. Assassin's Creed the movie is directed by Justin Kurzel and stars Michael Fassbender as the central role playing a character from the present and one from the past. Marion Cotillard also stars as the woman who orchestrates the animus experiments and sends Fassbender's character reeling into the past through his genetic information. I have always known the story in the series was a little strange and a stretch of the imagination but I didn't pay too much attention enjoying the parkour gameplay so I thought I could do the same for the movie.

The film does not allow viewers to get lost in the action during the Spanish Inquisition scenes always flashing back to Fassbender in the animus imitating his ancestor's actions. The action of the assassins is pretty cool to watch and made the movie somewhat enjoyable though it appears to be just another mediocre video game adaptation. 

The movie centers around Cal Lynch, a death row inmate who is presumably executed until he wakes up in the Abstergo laboratories. He also witnessed his mother's murder as a young boy but that only partially plays into a very rushed plot. There is never any time to get to know any of the characters. At the top of Abstergo is Dr. Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), whose daughter, Cotillard's Sofia, runs the animus project. 

As Lynch goes back to join the Creed as his great-great-great grandfather Aguilar, he is in search of a sacred item known as an apple that has something to do with free will but none of this is fully explained as the plot rushes forward. There are modern day assassin's also stuck in Abstergo building including Mousa (Michael Kenneth Williams) and others.

The movie tries to go for an emotional impact by throwing in Lynch's father (Brendan Gleeson) but the twists and turns are predictable and don't have much of an impact. The movie shies away from showing the conclusion of the great action set pieces as it snaps back and this is my biggest criticism. Even if the plot had been as meandering and pointless, if the action scenes had been cool then it would have had a redeeming quality. Overall, it may be an interesting rental and I'm not sure they'll follow through with a sequel as the movie hinted at and seemed to be holding off in anticipation of. 

TV Show Review: Scream Queens (Season 2)

From the creators of American Horror Story Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, Scream Queens delivers gruesome murders and hilarious antics. The Chanels return for a second season after surviving the attacks the Red Devil in college and wrongful conviction for all of the murders. Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd), and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin) finds themselves in need of money as their accustomed lifestyles are too expensive to fund.

Meanwhile, Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) discovers that she is dying of a rare disease decides to fund a hospital that can cure any disease. She hires another ex-sorority sister Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) and agrees to take on the Chanels as nurses. The two top doctors that work at the Cure Institute are Dr. Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner) and Dr. Brock Holt (John Stamos), expert surgeons that take on remarkable cases.

Each episode introduces some new horrible disease and each time they are cured, they are murdered by a new serial killer, the Green Meanie. Also working at the hospital and a potential suspect is Nurse Hoffel (Kristie Alley). Returning after training from the CIA is the top detective Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash). Hoping to win back Chanel's affection over Brock Holt is the very funny Chad Radwell (Glen Powell). 

Some major characters get offed in this season as Scream Queens has graduated to medical school with even more gruesome murders. Roberts is still funny as ever in the lead role supported by her hilarious cast in Lourd and Breslin. There are such witty jokes throughout each episode that skewer pop culture and the current climate in America. This show is not for the easily offended and lets no one off the hook with its shallow leads ridiculing everyone.

I have greatly enjoyed the two seasons of Scream Queens both for its humor and the murder mystery. I would like to see where the show can take these characters for a third season after college and a hospital. The last episodes had some finality to them but I would hope that Murphy and crew decide to bring the Chanels back to take on another colorful killer. Scream Queens shows what horror and comedy can do even on a network channel. 

TV Show Review: The Exorcist

This television reboot of the classic horror series brought something new and interesting to the demonic possession story. The show sets up a simple premise with a young girl Casey Rance (Hannah Kasulka) begins to act strangely and a young priest Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) who intervenes. Also very similar to the original film is an older more experienced priest and my favorite character of the series in Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) plus a concerned mother Angela Rance (Geena Davis).

All this set up takes a little longer as this show fills up ten episodes. The demonic possession takes a little while to reach full green vomiting and gruesome body jerking but eventually the payoff comes a few episodes in, to a frightening effect. The show never gets too scary though it is in the horror genre. It is more of a tv show sort of scary that is easier to watch and doesn't use many jump scares. The violence is there though the most of it occurs off-screen with hints at the true nature of the murders and possessions. 

Another conspiracy plays to add to the episodes as the impending visit of the Pope himself to Chicago brings on a demonic plan to assassinate him. The head of papal security Father Bennett (Kurt Egylawan) has encounters Father Keane before in previous exorcisms gone wrong and knows his snooping around Chicago means trouble. They uncover an organ-stealing demon club that trades off being possessed. One of these demons is the one after the Rance family and the reason for that is soon revealed.

The story is tied right to the original movie seeming to skip over the lackluster sequels. The show was intriguing enough and added some interesting new twists to keep me watching each episode. It allowed for a possible sequel and additional seasons though I'm sure if it will get renewed. The acting helped this movie along. Being possessed can't be easy but Kasulka pulls off the eerieness of twisted heads and green vomit encrusted face. Both Herrera and Daniels do well with one another debating the best approach to the exorcism, one using his passion, the other his experience. It was nice to see Davis on the screen though not equivalent of her previous performances.

I'd like to see how the demonic conspiracy plays out if they did continue on with the season. They expounded upon the mythology depicting what it was like to be possessed and included some creepy imagery. I liked this show and found it spooky and entertaining. It adds to the progressing genre of horror television shows that seem to be getting better and better. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed this critically acclaimed movie about immense grief and loss. The story is about Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a man who left behind the town of Manchester to work as a janitor near Boston. He is called back when his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies from a heart condition. Lee discovers in Joe's Will that he is the guardian of Joe's son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). 

The movie slowly doles out information about Lee's history as the story progresses and about a third of the way through the fateful reason for his departure from Manchester is revealed. The grief builds to a haunting crescendo so unexpectedly after lulling viewers into a calm that is they ruthlessly ripped from them just like the characters. The scenes are horrifying and disturbing as it quickly jumps back to the main story. Affleck and Hedges are great together bouncing of dialogue and not addressing the sadness that lies underneath the surface.

Affleck's Lee desperately wants to leave the town where his memories haunt him and the locals dislike him but Patrick wants to stay because his life is in Manchester and as any teenage boy would, he wants to stay near the multiple girls he's dating. Patrick does not back off when confronted with Lee's grief and though they never discuss the tragedy of the past, it is always there hanging over Lee's desperate attempt to get away.

The other reminder for Lee that he wants to avoid is his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Williams only has a few roles with Affleck before the accident with the kids and what serves as a sort of climax in the present storyline without the kids. It's a tough scene to watch as it is heartbreaking though subtle enough to creep up on viewers. The film is filled with beautiful shots of the town that seem incongruent with the troubled lives of the characters.

A part of me really appreciated this film but some of the most crucial scenes kind of missed me. I think I will have to see it again some day, most definitely if it wins best picture. I think Affleck is a good choice for best actor after seeing his powerful performance but I still haven't seen all the contestants. I would like to catch most of the films before the Golden Globes in a few weeks. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

TV Show Review: Shameless (Season 7)

Showtime's grim yet hilarious depiction of poverty returned for a seventh season and showed no signs of slowing down with its raunchy and absurd developments of the Gallagher family on the south side of Chicago. Frank (William H. Macy) finds himself cut off from his family after ruining Fiona's (Emmy Rossum) wedding. He wakes up from a coma and proceeds to start a new family finding replacements in a homeless shelter about to be shut down. From there he begins his own homeless shelter milking the media and desperate donors for cash.  

Fiona has her own plans as she nurtures her entrepreneurial spirit and buys a laundry mat from an old cat lady Etta (June Squibb). Lip (Jeremy Allen White) struggles with sobriety after dropping out of college and intending rehab. He works as an intern for a company that is investigated by the FBI for fraud as it seemed to be a fantasy sports company. After he manages to rip off the company he returns to work at the diner Fiona manages and sparks a romantic relationship with a waitress but takes another shot at getting back into college and can't handle the results.

Ian (Cameron Monaghan) sparks a new romance as well with a transexual man but then is derailed from a healthy relationship and a solid job as an EMT when Mickey (Noel Fisher) breaks out of jail and wants to escape to Mexico with Ian. Debbie (Emma Kenney) has difficulties with her new baby and earning money to pay Fiona's rent so goes to desperate measures only to find her baby stolen by the father's family. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) decided to ship himself off to military school.

Meanwhile, Vee (Shanola Hampton) and Kevin (Steve Howey) are in a "thruple" with Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter) when they realize that Svetlana has been keeping secrets, planning schemes, and bringing strangers into the house to help raise the kids. This storyline didn't get wrapped up but the show is renewed for an eighth season so we may see where this goes.

The emotional impact of this season came from the reappearance of Monica (Chloe Webb), the absent mother of all the Gallagher kids. She convinces Frank to attempt to rob all sorts of places in hopes to leave an inheritance since she knows she'll be dying soon. The hard days of drinking and partying catch up with her and she perishes in the final episodes making this season end with an absurd funeral as opposed to last season botched wedding. Shameless is still firing on all cylinders after seven season as funny as ever and I look forward to it continuing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One - A Star Wars Story

The first of what is presumably many to come of Star Wars spinoff films explains the structural defects of the Death Star that made destruction so simple in the original film and the plot to steal the plans that allowed the climax to happen.The story follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who helped construct the Death Star and a rebel that is almost even too rebellious for the Rebellion. Jyn is freed from prison to help enact a plan to discover a message that has been delivered by an Empire defector, the pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

In order to find the pilot, Jyn teams up with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and the droid K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk) to seek out her old mentor Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). The story bounces around from planet to planet creating an even larger galaxy that fans always assumed was out there but now can see and apply names. The shots of the various planets are beautiful and Gareth Edwards does a great job directing these expansive shots like he did with the Godzilla remake. 

One spectacular awe-inspiring planet was Jedha and the holy city dedicated to the Jedi and the force, one last bastion of the fight against the rebellion. In Jedha, Saw's rebellion fights the Empire's cargo ships who are mining the crystals that were used to create lightsabers and are now being utilized in the awful Death Star beam that can destroy planets. At the head of the construction is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), a villainous director who is shot down by Grand Moff Tarkin (digitally revived Peter Cushing but acted by Guy Henry) and a force-wielding Darth Vader. The Sith Lord's return is one of the most exciting parts in an action packed ending.

Back in Jedha, Jyn encounters Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind believer in the force who uses a staff to take out stormtroopers and dodges blaster bolts. Assisting Chirrut is my favorite character Baze Maibus (Wen Jiang) who has a machine gun-like blaster and takes out loads of stormtroopers. They barely escape the planet as the destructive power of the Death Star is tested. 

The movie takes a while to set up all the different plot points and tie them into the original film, but the finale is amazing and fun to watch. This story is worth the canon and contains some of the most gorgeous shots of the galaxy. I enjoyed seeing an expansion on the story I grew up loving and had always wanted to know more about. It may be the dazzle of a new film as The Force Awakens sheen wore off after several viewing but I think Rogue One will hold up as an impressive film to come out of this week 2016 year for films.