Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sports: MLB (August 2016)

Just over a month left in the MLB season and I have to admit, I have not been playing close attention to baseball this year. The reason for this is that my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, has performed very poorly this year remaining at the bottom of their division and the National League, and tied for the worse team in the Major League with the Minnesota Twins. The other team that I was transitioning to for several years now but have yet to witness a breakout season were the Cincinnati Reds, but they are the second worst team in the National League. This post will be the last I bring up these pitiful teams as I write about baseball. Now I'll look forward to the excitement of the last month and potential playoff matchups.

American League
East
 
The Toronto Blue Jays have had a lead throughout the season but that lead has turned precarious in what looks like one of the most exciting division battles for September. The Boston Red Sox are only a game and a half back while the Baltimore Orioles are behind by only three. Both of these team remain at the top of the Wild Card race so I predict that two teams from the AL East will make it into the playoffs.

Central
 
The AL Central also looks to be an interesting matchup as well. The Cleveland Indians hold a four-game lead over the Detroit Tigers who are hoping to fight their way either to the top of the division or into a Wild Card spot. Though they have had a tough season, the Kansas City Royals are experiencing a bit of a streak that could see them into the postseason once again. It will be interesting to see if the Royals can pull it out or fall by the end of the season.

West
The Texas Rangers hold a solid lead up by eight and a half games to the nearest opponent, their fellow Texas team, the Houston Astros. The Rangers are just working towards a home field advantage playoffs with a three and a half game lead at the top of the American League over the Indians. The Rangers look to be the toughest AL competitors.

National League
East
The Washington National should take away this division with a nine-game lead. The New York Mets are only two and a half games out from the Wild Card spot so I can't count them out just yet. 

Central
The Chicago Cubs are not only the clear favorite to win the NL Central but they could also take the World Series if they continue their dominant performance. The Cubs are predicted highly to win it all and I could see that as an easy prediction. I will be rooting against them but also would be just fine if they went all the way. The St. Louis Cardinals look like a strong competitor for the Wild Card and were my poor prediction to take the division back on Opening Day. The Pittsburgh Pirates area also looking like they have a chance to slip into the Wild Card place if they have a great September.

West
            
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants have one of the most competitive rivalries in recent baseball history and the Giants are only one game behind in the fight for the AL West. It's an even year and I've said all season that it is hard to bet against the Giants in this decade but the Dodgers will still give him a fight. The Dodgers look to be the team predicted to take the division but September can be full of surprises.

I think I'll start tuning in a little more in the last month of this season to see these narratives play out. I like looking at 538's predictions to see which teams are highly favored but I'm not placing any money bets with what little information I've gleaned from a few games here and there. I think I've discussed all of the teams that have a chance at this point and their possible futures. I do look forward to watching what promises to be an exciting postseason in October. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Movie Review: Don't Breathe

Horror movies continue to impress as Don't Breathe arrives to finish off late summer at the movies. This thriller follows three criminals who break into houses until they break into the wrong one. Rocky (Jane Levy) just wants to escape crumbling Detroit to a life in California, but she needs one more score to have enough cash to leave. Her boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto) hears about a blind veteran who received a large sum of money from a settlement after his daughter died in a car accident. Alex (Dylan Minnette) uses his dad's security guard keys to gain access to houses though this particular location proves more difficult with a vicious dog and an inordinate amount of locks.

Stephen Lang is ferocious as the blind man with dark secrets of his own. Lang stalks through the house creating a horrifying villain without any supernatural help.The acting was great from the three main actors. Dylan Minnette has graduated from the young Goosebumps film to a more adult horror and I hope he continues work in the genre. Jane Levy has shown promise with her appearance in Evil Dead and looks to have a bright future as a young actress. Fede Alvarez directs the film brilliantly with amazing cinematography to enhance the terror.

The movie does not let up one it gets running with one tense scene after another. The trailer spoiled a twist in the middle though the additional information made some of the later scenes even more cringeworthy. The violence isn't too awful though there are several disturbing parts. The film is a healthy competitor to the great horror movie early this year, Green Room. The run time is short since there is only so much one could do running around the house. 

Don't Breathe plays off of the villain's blindness and uses sound to its advantage making this a film best seen in the theater. The promising first weekend in the box office shows potential for dark thrillers like this movie and I hope this turns a profit for the studio encouraging producers to make similar films in the future. The movie has intelligence, not often relying on the stupid choices of characters to further the plot but containing smart twists and well-earned jump scares. 

I'd highly recommend Don't Breathe to horror fans who can stand brutal scenes of intense horror throughout the film. The positive critical reception also bodes well for a film in this genre that has struggled to impress moviegoers and critics alike. It's nice to see a film this entertaining to finish off a lackluster summer as we move into the slower movie month of September. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

TV Show Review: The Night Of

HBO's true crime tale of Nasir 'Naz' Khan (Riz Ahmed) and the murder of Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D'Elia) explored the criminal justice system and thoroughly depressed me every Sunday night through eight weeks this summer. The story took viewers from the night of the crime through the experience of the suspect, lawyers, and investigating officers. The show is one of the most shocking and difficult to watch this summer and will stick with me most likely until the end of the year when I'm picking my top ten. 

As Naz was thrown into the meat grinder of prison, Jack Stone (John Turturro) worked the case with the help of another attorney Chandra (Amara Karan) picking up on all the leads that Detective Box (Bill Camp) did not investigate during his time as an officer, though he does come through upon his retirement. The show was stacked with other great character actors including Michael K. Williams as Freddy an inmate that takes Naz under his wing. Naz suffers under this mentorship developing a drug addiction, assisting with drug deals, and distracting guards while murders take place. The prosecuting attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) also delivers an impressive performance. 

Everyone suffers in this bleak depiction of New York City including Naz's parents Salim Khan (Peyman Moaadi) and Safar Khan (Pooran Jagannathan). The show explores discrimination against Muslims in New York post-9/11. There is also a gruesome look at healthcare through Jack Stone's efforts to cure his eczema on his feet. The show lagged a bit in the middle as it settled on a slow pace but came through with plenty of interesting developments in the last few episodes. With eight total episodes, it won't take long for busy viewers to take it all in. The show has also received criticism for being yet another television show that revolves around another dead woman that is pushed to the background. 

Riz Ahmed is a rising talent who recently graced a summer blockbuster in Jason Bourne and will appear in possibly the biggest movie of the year Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Turtorro took over from the recently passed James Gandolfini who had produced the show and Turtorro shines as the afflicted lawyer who follows the clues about his lifestyle. The unwinding of Andrea's life comes with plenty of twists and turns keeping viewers on the edge of their seats and dropping cliffhangers at the end of each episode. 

I think The Night Of comes as a great replacement to True Detective which failed in the second season. I like a show that begins and ends in one season giving a complete picture and I would be very interested if they put this show into an anthology type series. The Night Of is something unique with great writing and explorations of complex issues. I want more of shows like this one. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Hugo Award-winning novel delivers a tale that stuns and enchants readers with a unique voice and characters and abilities not commonly seen in the genre. The book is filled with twists and turns and while I will try my best not to write spoilers, I can't trust myself as I recall the complexity of the plot. I would highly recommend fantasy fans and readers who enjoy exhaustive world-building with characters that are easy to fall in love with but also break your heart. N. K. Jemisin does a brilliant job with The Fifth Season to start The Broken Earth Trilogy, and I am eagerly looking forward to picking up The Obelisk Gate. 

The setting is one of the crucial parts of the story. Ironically called the Stillness, the lands are corrupted by human mining, shifting tectonic plates, and powerful abilities of the people who inhabit it. Every few hundred years or so, the world experiences a devastating season that tears the ground apart and spills ash and acid rain into the air. People struggle to survive catastrophic occurrences, sometimes with not warning and very little means to protect themselves. The greatest hope for protection is a race of humans who can control the rock known as orogenes, or also referred to with the derogative term "roggas".

Three characters split up the chapters as the viewpoint switches from Essun at the end of the world, Syenite, a four-ringer orogene, and Damaya, a young girl recruited to attended a school that feels like a prison for children with special abilities. The story of Essun is narrated in the second person using this narrative form in the best way I can remember reading. She is racked with grief as she introduced over the body of her child and sets out on an unforgettable journey to find her older offspring kidnapped by her vicious husband. Syenite has earned her rings at the school and is now forced to become a breeder to a higher ranking orogene as she completes missions for the mysterious Fulcrum. Guardians are able to control the orogenes and prevent them from causing unwanted destruction. Damaya gives us the viewpoint of a child rising up from a young "grit" to her first ring test. Each one of these stories is captivating and moving along with captivating developments that will keep fantasy readers from turning pages.

Not only have the types of characters been seen before, and Jemisin is so excellent at giving these characters a vivid world to live in and identifiable feeling despite the extraordinary nature of the surroundings, but the earth-shaking power of the orogenes is something I've never encountered in fiction before. There are other mysterious inhabitants of the Stillness that are introduced including the Stone Eaters that can shift through stone and though may appear human are actually much more. I cannot wait to jump back into this world for the sequel. The history is seemingly fully fleshed out and I got easily lost in the background information, exemplified by the appendices at the back, as well as the current situation of each character.

This book is more than deserving of all the recognition it has received and I hope Jemisin continues to produce great fiction well into the future. I plan on picking up plenty more of her stories for my personally reading. The book delves into complicated social issues like prejudice and preservation while telling a compelling tale with memorable characters. The story includes action, romance, fantasy, and heartbreak, balancing them out with a compelling plot and wonderful prose. I look forward to more fantasy books like this one. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

TV Show Review: The Get Down (Part 1)

The frenetic new Netflix streaming choice this summer is Baz Luhrman's The Get Down, a tale of the rise of hip-hop in the late seventies amongst disco, soul, and punk amidst the streets of the Bronx. The story uses Luhrmann's penchant for a wild romance and musicals to bring alive the struggle and survival of adolescents while also capturing development, blackouts, and criminal behavior. The narrative is excellent, bouncing around from character to character from crumbling buildings to disco floors, hardly pausing to take a breath. I was hooked from the first episode as the introduced character and a compelling plot mixed in with the music and fast cuts, and this show may very well be one of my favorite shows of the year and will easily place in my top ten.

The main character is Ezekiel 'Books' Figuero (Justice Smith) who is hopelessly in love with his neighbor Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola). Ezekiel is introduced as an older man rapping on a stage in a packed auditorium using the voice of Nas to rap reminiscently on his past. Mylene is gifted with a beautiful singing voice and has a great desire to escape the Bronx to a better life with her ability. Around them, the world is vivid as they sing and run through their hectic life. These young actors show such amazing potential and I feel so positive for their futures.

An actor that I've greatly enjoyed in the film Dope, Shameik Moore shines as Shaolin Fantastic, an up-and-coming DJ and trainee to Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie). Shaolin hopes to charm the gathering at the Get Down, an underground dance party, and has found his wordsmith in Ezekiel who can add the words to his sound. The story encounters historical moments like the campaign of Ed Koch to be Mayor of New York and the blackout of '77 in the city. The music is original but harkens back to the era as a new sound was born.

There are plenty of other great cast members in the mix. Skylan Brooks, Tremaine Brown Jr., and Jaden Smith play Ezekiel's friends who live to see the latest graffiti and listen to these changing sounds.  Mylene also has a group of friends including Stefanée Martin and Shyrley Rodriguez. The show is bursting with young talent. 

The story follows the adolescents but has great support from the adults including Jimmy Smits as Francisco 'Papa Fuerte' Cruz, Mylene's uncle and an ambitious developer who hopes to lift his family and the community, and Giancarlo Esposito as Mylene's controlling religious father Pastor Ramon Cruz. Kevin Corrigan shows up as the drug addict, music producer Jackie Moreno who sees something special in Mylene's voice. The show is also not without a great villain in Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who encapsulates the crime and disco mix. 

The plot is addictive and with only six episodes in the first part, it is an easy binge. I don't think there has been a fun that is as much fun and captivating as this Netflix spectacular and though some parts slow down, it quickly picks back up and can't help but be charming and full of relentless tension. This is the kind of show that at the end of the first part, one has to catch their breath from the excitement and whirlwind love story. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

World Con 74, MidAmeriCon II, and the Hugo Awards


I attended my first ever WorldCon and MidAmeriCon and Kansas City this weekend, an experience I will remember for a very long time. I am relatively new to the convention circuit and science fiction fandom, but I've made an effort in the last year to read as much as possible and make myself as informed as I could be considering only about a year of effort. Still, I was overwhelmed with all of the activities, authors, panels, and art that was spread out through the Kansas City Convention Center. I tried my best to attend as much as one person could and I feel satisfied but also like I missed out on quite a bit as well.

I arrived on Wednesday in time to register and scan around the center, but we were exhausted from the ride so only took a quick walk around the Power & Light District before retiring to our hotel room. We stayed in the Hotel Phillips, which was under construction, but still provided a nice room and pleasant experience. The hotel bar and dining area was closed so I won't have any interesting author or fan drinking stories. 

I woke up with ambition on Thursday and tried to catch as much as I could plus make several walk-throughs around the expansive dealers' room. I try to hold off on buying anything until around the final day so that I can be sure to pick books or items that really call to me instead of just an impulsive buy, but sometimes I'll miss out on rare products or popular items. I wasn't sure how a lot of things worked so I probably walked right by interesting exhibits, publishers, and other things because I was moving pretty rapidly through the crowds. I caught several interesting panels including, a panel on reviews to help me improve my blog, a talk on Dystopias and Utopias featuring John Joseph Adams, editor of Lightspeed Magazine, and a panel on Binge Watching with Arthur Chu, the Jeopardy champion. I had to keep bouncing from one room to another to catch everything I wanted to see, not the best strategy in hindsight. I would've went to more readings if I'd been more prepared, missed out on a lot of authors.

I had to balance between experiencing a lot and fitting in time to relax so I took Thursday night off from the convention only to go back on Friday for even more education and entertainment. I actually slept in then hit the dealers' room early to gaze at all the magnificent collections and wish I had a lot more time and money to spend on all the great fiction out there. I did catch a Rising Stars in SF panel and learned about new writers and what it takes to make it in the industry. One interesting note was a mention that it takes ten years to be an overnight success. I sat through several other panels and even caught the infamous State of Short Fiction. I'd not come for the conversation that played out but this was the first sign of any disturbance. I could barely hear the complaints do to the moderator not using the microphone properly, and the whole ordeal was more annoying than some profound statement on the state of short fiction, I moved on pretty fast from that nonsense.

Saturday was probably my most productive day. I played a lot of Lord of the Rings Stratego in the game room, heard a panel on Writing for TV, got "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" signed by George R.R. Martin, listened to the Clarkesworld staff discuss short fiction and their process, attended a group reading of Apex Magazine, then took a break before the Hugo Awards. I was very pleased with all of the nominations and wish I had read more before I made my votes. I will be reviewing The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin soon but I'm almost done and fully support that win along with all the others. I mostly read around the nonsense so I read most of the winners. 

I had to jet out and head back home on my birthday but overall it was an enjoyable experience. I have spent several hours reading more involved recaps and followed nearly everyone I could find on Twitter at the convention. I am sorry to hear that some experiences were not as pleasant and wish that weren't the case. There seems to be a pervasive problem at sci-fi and fantasy conventions from the signs and from those who speak out, especially at this convention in particular. I'd like for that to change in the future. I hope to become more involved in SFF fandom and attend plenty more conventions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

TV Show Review: Scream (Season 2)

The teenagers of Lakewood mostly survived another season of the slasher series with some heavy revelations coming in the final episode. The second season picked up a few months after the first season's finale with Emma Duval (Willa Fitzgerald) coming home from recovery to a party with her friend. Audrey Jensen (Bex Taylor-Klaus) has been caught in her previous involvment with last seasons killer and works definitely to cover her mistakes as the bodies begin to pile again.

Several other characters are going through their own method of recovery including Noah Foster (John Karna) who hosts a podcast and Brooke Maddox (Carlson Young) dates Jake Fitzgerald (Tom Maden). When Jake goes missing plenty of suspects and excuses arise but the gruesome murder sends the whole town into a frenzy as the new sheriff Miguel Acosta (Anthony Ruivivar) tries to hold it together while taking care of his teenage son Gustavo (Santiago Segura) who has a penchant for drawing creepy pictures.

Emma's boyfriend Kieran Wilcox (Amadeus Serafini) tries to help his girlfriend readjust but has his own difficulties when his cousin Eli (Sean Grandill) arrives in town. The mystery takes off as the killer challenges each character and secrets are slowly revealed throughout each episode. Many of these leads turnout to be false and misdirections for a final reveal that was quite shocking. The show has to fill several hours of television so it lacks the fast pace of the movies but it only paused momentarily.

Mixing the already dramatic nature of high school and the advancing of technology, Scream the TV series utilizes update smartphones and social media to stalk the teenagers and terrify viewers. The acting is hit-or-miss at points but it doesn't hold back on the gore despite being on television and the mystery is intriguing enough to power through two seasons so far and set up a possible third. 

The show pays homage to the movies with Noah spouting of metaphysical implications of each episode though it hasn't taken on the challenge of addressing clichés in horror tv show primarily, I believe, because horror in television is still rather unprecedented and only a recent growing phenomenon, a trend I can wholeheartedly get behind as an avid horror fan. Scream left just enought open that I am interested in what happens next and will tune in a year from now for season three. 

Movie Review: Scream 4

The horror franchise expands into the long-running tradition of moving a scary movie series past the status of trilogy. This movie delves into reboots, remakes, and the plethora of sequels that in the current cinema atmosphere. The new decade has not strayed away from reviving old properties and Scream 4 takes that head on with the meta Stab series pushing for a seventh installment with previous versions having increasingly outrageous plots like time-travel and sillier cliches and more gruesome deaths.

Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns as a successful author revisiting her hometown of Woodsboro on her book tour. Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is the sheriff of the small town now and his wife Gale Weather (Courtney Cox) is struggling to find anything interested to write about in this simple life. Wes Craven knows his formula so he starts with young women getting murdered by the ghost-faced killer that sparks a new mystery.

There are a new set of young characters that supply the suspects and victims. In relation to Sydney is her cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) who has a creepy boyfriend Trever (Nico Tortorella). Her friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) are stuck in the middle with her. Two film geeks Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin) lay out the rules and host the movie marathon party at which the killer takes the chance to attack. There are also vulnerable police officers including Anthony Anderson. 

The movie doesn't go much further with the murders or gore, supplying many rehashes in the killing paying homage to the original film. The twist, while not predictable, feels forced to the point of creating a shock and not add anything new. Family is usually an easy way to follow motives and they don't stray away from reciting the plans to Sydney once the masks finally come off.

This film looks to end the Scream films as it has transcended this platform and switched formats to television. I'll be getting into the finale of the second season of the show on MTV tonight. It's a subtle testament to how fans have changed their viewing habits in the recent decade. The films were a good bit of fun for the slasher genre and still stand way above many imitators that popped up in the wake of the original's success. Modern horror has come a long way but still there are plenty of tropes that scream pulled out and ridiculed all while using them effectively. This is my fond farewell to Wes Craven and the series. 

Movie Review: Sausage Party

The raunchy comedy about grocery store products comes from the minds of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen who also voices the main sausage, Frank. The story explores the belief in benevolent gods that are human shoppers. The food products believe that these gods take them to a great beyond where they can live out their greatest pleasures and be taken care of by these gods. The movie uses the metaphor of a sausage in buns as sex to the greatest extent possible. 

The animation boasts an impressive voice cast of all of Rogen's crew including co-creator Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, Kristen Wiig,  Nick Kroll, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, and plenty more. The story follows the adventure of Rogen's Frank and Wiig's Brenda Bunson, hotdog buns, encounter an enlightened by a raving Honey Mustard (McBride) who was returned after seeing the true story of what really happens when the products are purchased and taken home.

The exploration of the grocery store relies heavily on racial stereotypes that are both amusing and insulting simultaneously. The gimmick of talking food is funny at first but runs dry as the movie progresses with an odd story about bath salts. There are plenty of laugh out loud jokes and silly humor, but the story about false beliefs and warring groups of religious zealots is the most interesting part of the comedy. 

Kroll's douche serves as the primary antagonist juicing up on juice and slamming tequila like a body-building, drunken misogynist who seeks revenge for being tossed from the cart. The plot is never that important in these types of comedy films. The animation isn't terrible but doesn't boast anything compared to a Pixar or Illumination film. The most amusing part is the cussing and horny foodstuffs but even that goes too far with a food orgy finale. 

Bath salts play a major role in an absurd over the top ending that doesn't explore any of the issues brought up in the early parts but does provide plenty of humor.  It feels as if there was a missed opportunity to explore over-consumption and American wastefulness but there isn't much room amid all the sex and drugs jokes. The movie is funny but not that memorable by the end. Any sort of boundary-pushing is lost amid the silliness. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Movie Review: Scream 3

The crew returns to make this horror franchise a trilogy. This time, the killer is stalking Hollywood and the stars of a meta movie Stab 3 based on events of Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and company. Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) also return as wealthy consultants for the films and amateur detectives. The killer starts with Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) and works their way through the actors in the new film in the order that they die in the script.

The movie expounds on trilogies and skewers the shallowness of film stars. Randy (Jamie Kennedy) is revived in a video to explain the rules for the third part and this means that things from the past will come back to haunt the main characters. The plot does come around and connect with the other films though the final explanation comes off as a little flimsy. Wes Craven embraces the campiness of this slasher flick a bit more than the first two.

There are a new set of victims and suspects including the Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey), producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen), security guard Steven Stone (Patrick Warburton), young actress Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer), and director Roman Bridger (Scott Foley). The stacked cast provides even more blood for the blade of the killer and a few more creative deaths but mostly a large reliance on the classic stabbing. The movie doesn't waste its Hollywood setting packing it full of cameo including Jay and Silent Bob, and Carrie Fischer as a failed actress that looks like her. 

The plot includes adequate scares for spoiled horror fans while still not disposing of the poor choices of victims and the tripping and stumbling of the ghost-masked killer. The majority of the action takes place in a large mansion with hidden passages and plenty of movie props to surprise the unsuspecting characters as they run, scream and eventually get stabbed.

The third movie shows that the franchise was running out of steam as the nineties come to an end and the new millennium takes hold. Horror fans were exposed to much worse as audiences had experienced more sequels and darker horror. The movie appears to wrap up the series but as we now know, this movie will not be the last of these horrified characters and their masked tormentors. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Movie Review: Scream 2

The slasher sequel takes on the horror tropes of sequels and revisits the plight of Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) who is now in college. Many of the survivors return including Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and reporter turned best-selling author Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and a new killer is on the loose targeting students connected to Sydney. New characters are added to the victim or suspect list including Hallie (Elise Neal), Cici (Sara Michelle Gellar), Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), and Sydney's boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell). 

A movie was made within the movie making this sequel even extra meta. There is even more horror movie talk as the bodies start to pile up starting with a couple in a movie theater, Phil (Omar Epps) and Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith). The sequel does not hold back on the gore with plenty of killing as director Wes Craven both chides and embraces an audience that continuously shows up to view these brutal murders.

The mystery is even more complex as potential suspects appear including Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf)  cameraman Joel (Duane Martin), and the exonerated former suspect of Sydney's mom's murder Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). The movie pays homage to the original while at the same time referencing plenty of other horror movies sequels as inspiration while also taking on the challenge of making a sequel that is better than the original.

The film does not lose any of its campiness from the original with silly acting and stumbling chase scenes full of poor teenage choices. The characters are now operating with a certain level of fame, even Gale Weathers attracts cameras while bringing her own right behind her. Dewey suffers from an injury in the last film and Randy knows he's not an important enough character to make it through the sequel.

Scream 2 does not have the same originality as the first one and the motives seem a bit thin, especially when villains take the time to explain their master plan just to make sure there is no confusion on why all of this is happening again to the same people. Gale and Dewey's relationship grow and actually spilled over into real life tabloid gossip and a Hollywood marriage. The movie continues the series in the hopes of turning into a franchise. 

Movie Review: Scream

Sparking the late 90s campy slasher film boom, Scream terrified audiences in 1996 as Wes Craven puts his hand to serial killers. The meta-movie explores the horror tropes with a certain self-awareness that adds to the horror and inserts comedy, defying the cliches and stating the rules. The story embraces the genre and doesn't shy away from the overly campy nature of a murderer stalking teenage girls in a small town.

The story begins with the iconic phone call as young teen Casey (Drew Barrymore) is home alone. The conversation delivers the iconic line "What's your favorite scary movie?" before diving into dumb victim choices and gore. This murder brings back the media to the town of Woodsboro that experienced a previous flood of reporters a year early with a mysterious murder. Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is still struggling with her mother's death as a new killer stalks her. 

The film contributed further to the horror genre with the ghostly masked killer who was not an unstoppable force, but stumbling human that could be knocked down and outrun. Surrounding Sydney are potential suspects including her best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), her lustful boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), Tatum's boyfriend Stuart (Matthew Lillard), and film buff Randy (Jamie Kennedy). The killer slices through victims including the Principal (Henry Winkler). There are some gruesome deaths including a garaged door, a television, and, of course, a knife.

The clueless police are helpless to stop the murders, especially Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), Tatum's older brother, appropriately spoofed in the comedy Scary Movie. The intrepid reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is on the case shining camera lights and shoving microphones in Sydney's face. 

This 90s classic doesn't hold up so well watching it twenty years later with cheesy dialogue and a predictable plot, but I totally understand how the movie became so iconic and sparked not only numerous sequels but several spoofs and other horror movies hoping to recapture the magic. At a younger age, I was spooked by the haunting black clade, knife-wielding, ghost-masked killer. The movie explored the horror genre while simultaneously making an entertaining slasher flick.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Book Review: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

The Hugo-nominated novella by Alastair Reynolds explores complex issues of identity, religion, and memory in a science fiction setting, but keeps its characters at a distance reducing the tension and drama of this shorter piece of fiction. The story felt like it should have been much longer and took more time to establish each character as the brisk pace left me disoriented at moments and not rooting for any of the characters. Scur is a soldier in an intergalactic war who is captured and tortured using an exceptionally cruel method of being injected with a slow bullet, a device that bores through the body causing excruciating pain.

The story jumps into the future where most of the action takes place on an isolated ship that has survived for thousands of years with the crew in hibernation deep freeze sleep. The transition happens quickly and left me confused for several sections before catching up on the situation. The major point of tension is Scur's desire to avenge herself against her torturer the ruthless Orvin who she discovers is also aboard the ship when she stages a coup of the crew and takes over the vessel.

The action slows down considerably, and Reynolds explored memory and religion using the microcosm of a ship's crew. The crew is seen from the top down as Scur establishes leaders and they work for survival. There is never a feeling of cramped ship life and many of the riots and disturbances are glossed over rapidly in expositional paragraphs that don't focus on characters or any action moments and simply serve as informative portions of the story. The memoir nature from Scur's first person perspective reels the story into one viewpoint though I never found her especially likable or interesting.

There is a large world around the story and much of the world building is glossed over to keep the story tight and tied to the issues involved the isolated crew, but thousands of years of history are relayed within brief snippets. World-building is definitely one of Reynolds's skills and I found the nature of the war, the history, the competing religions, and the extra-terrestrials threats all interesting. I would be curious to see the author's work in a larger format, like a sprawling series of novels. 

This book should satisfied fans of classic science fiction who are looking for something similar and does posit curious philosophies. The characters were never fully formed and final change at the climax came off as a bit forced with a story continuing on further that seems to be a more interesting tale, though the novella wraps up before the reader can learn more. I wouldn't think this novella has a high chance of winning at the awards next weekend. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

TV Show Review: Outcast (Season 1)

The new horror show on Cinemax comes from Robert Kirkman, the  Kentucky native, and creator of The Walking Dead. Outcast expands on classic horror tropes as it follows a depressed man, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) with a mysterious power and a troubled past, and a preacher, Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) who performs exorcisms. The two men stumble upon evil entities spreading through the small Southern town of Rome, West Virginia. At points, the show fell into a "demon of the week" episodic nature but provided enough intrigue to push through a solid introductory season.

This horror original based on graphic novel doesn't go for the easy jump scare but draws out the tension with slow, menacing dread that builds through each episode. The most gripping story of the series is the plight of Megan Holter (Wrenn Schmidt), Kyle's sister, whose terrible experiences catch up with her and her husband Officer Mark Holter (Mark Holter). This subplot flips upside down as it collides with the main storyline to make for an awesome and chill-inducing finale. 

The main performances are great, Glenister and Fugit bring home the troubled demon hunters but the supporting cast is terrific. From Reg E. Carthy as Chief Giles to Brent Spiner as the mysterious lead villain Sydney. The show also boasts an impressive cast of young actors including Madeleine McGraw, Callie Brooke, and Gabriel Bateman. The small town feels fully populated and viewers can easily lose themselves in the everyday troubles alongside the paranormal mystery.

The brief moments of special effects are well produced and mesh well with great cinematography that creates a spooky environment. I've not yet read the graphic novel though I have purchased the first three volumes so I'll see how they compare with the television adaptation. I'm especially excited to see where the show takes the story after this great initial season that sets up the conflict nicely.

Horror shows are growing in popularity one several channels and Outcast has positioned itself somewhere near the top. I would've have liked the show to try a few more jump scares to really keep me on the edge of my seat, but the looming dread worked just fine and fits more with the style of this show. Add this to all of the great television coming out in 2016. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

The famous Harry Potter returns dragging audiences back into the wizarding world with a story developed by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne and written into a play by Jack Thorne. The story takes place right after the final scene in the Harry Potter series as Harry and Ginny Potter drop their kids off to board the Hogwarts express and encounter Draco Malfoy. The primary focus of this adventure is Harry's youngest son Albus Severus Potter and Draco's son Scorpius Malfoy. Both young students operate under the weight of their fathers with rumors abound that Scorpius is not Malfoy's offspring but indeed a progeny of the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

The play pulls pieces from every previous book and is set on revisiting the classic tales that charmed so many readers nearly a decade ago, and still woo new readers in the modern day. Harry has grown up and deals with Ministry duties neglecting his son who has trouble in school when in his first year he joins House Slytherin and falls in line with his new best friend Malfoy. Times moves rapidly through the play and is the primary focus of the conflict that ensues throughout the four acts. 

For fans of the books, this story is a great revisiting of the old tales as Rowling seems reluctant to leave her old work behind and chart new territory. Instead, this story roots itself and past events and seems to challenge fans who have spent years debating characters and alternate plotline by dictating that even the slightest change would have dire consequences. The play lacks the mystery and plot twists every present in the books though there is some double-dealing and a shocker near the finale. The script rests primarily in the nostalgia of the old books and the stories that readers have all agreed to love.

The older characters that readers know and the new ones were all intriguing. Scorpius and Albus steal the show with the most stage time but there are also interesting new additions like Delphi Diggory, while classic characters are revived to continue the tale and explore what might have happened had everything been different. There is not much more exploration of the wizarding world with some limiting magical accoutrements due to the format of this being a stage play and not a Hollywood production or the true freedom of a fiction novel.

It has been many years since the last Harry Potter book arrived on my door, unfortunately, by mail and not owl, but I was excited to pick up the latest installment in a serious that I long ago thought ended. This story has a lot to live up to just as the characters within so it is hard not to change it based on the previous work. It's also odd that they went for a time travel story as those have a considerable amount of logic that tangles up plotlines and holes could most likely be pointed out to the more astute observer. However, the magic is still there and will continue on with a movie later this year, so as for now, Harry and his friends live on. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

TV Show Review: Bojack Horseman (Season 3)

Hard-drinking, formerly famous Bojack Horseman returns for a third season to skew the Oscar nominating process and touch on sensitive issues. Will Arnett voices the washed-up anthropomorphic horse who recently starred as Secretariat, or at least was computer-generated to be in the film. His agent Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) works to keep him employed despite his abject laziness and commitment to partying instead of working as an actor. His freeloading roommate Todd (Aaron Paul) pursues various business propositions with a total cluelessness that skews faux pas and leads to little profit. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins) and Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) struggle with their relationship as they deal with an unwanted pregnancy, injuries, and poor career choices. New to this season is Bojack's publicist committed to his Oscar campaign, Ana Spanikopita (Angela Bassett). A romantic relationship blossom between the promiscuous horse and his domineering publicist, but they are fraught with the shallowness of the industry.

There are some pretty funny episodes like a silent one undersea where Bojack attempts to return a seahorse to its father, an entire episode on the phone with a newspaper saleswoman, and a bender flashing-forward through blackouts. From the vapidness of celebrities using abortions for fame to the violation of safe spaces to drug addiction, Bojack Horseman does not stray away from controversial issues while continuing to deliver silly animal puns about Hollywood, spoofed here as Hollywoo.   

More of the Bojack story is revealed as there are repeated flashbacks to 2007, which is quite a while ago now that we think about it. The relationship between Bojack and Princess Carolyn is expounded upon a bit more. Bojack reunites with his old costar, the recurring role of Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) who turned from a cute child actor to a drug-abusing popstar with no real purpose in life. 

For the subversive cartoon genre, Bojack has done quite a bit to distinguish itself, especially carrying this genre for Netflix, which allows for all the episodes to be delivered at once. The messages get lost in the relentless jokes, but anyone looking for morales in cartoon may find something to enjoy in the wild narrative. The emotional core explores depression and success in between a sick beat to start off the credits and a goofy, catchy, close credits track. I'd recommend Bojack to those looking for a quick cartoon binge, not easily offended, and fans of talking horses. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

DC Films adds to the extended comic universe with supervillains, in this shallow action film stuffed full of characters but short on plot. The movie isn't as terrible as the pro critics made it out to be, it's just nothing special that the hype at first made it out to be. It rests somewhere in the middle of superhero films, not joining Deadpool in the subversive revelry, but not as serious a Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to make it dull and long. It moves along quickly but this doesn't allow viewers to know any of the characters and hardly lets these meta-humans show off their powers. 

Will Smith carries the film bringing the brightest star power as Deadshot. Margot Robbie is right behind him laughing and spouting off with a strange New Yorker accent that came off kind of weird. Harley Quinn will be one to watch but her relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto) didn't show much chemistry. The rest of the team is regulated for the background, but Viola Davis takes on the lead role as no-nonsense Amanda Waller, though she doesn't make that much of an impression as she could have. The film jumps from scene to scene pushing a villain that looks like an outtake from Gods of Egypt and Cara  Delevingne as the archaeologist June Moon possessed by the Enchantress, who starts off looking cool as a horror movie monster but gets washed over with shoddy special effects.

The rest of the team leave something to look forward to if they make a sequel like Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Slipknot (Adam Beach) is hardly worth mentioning as a disposable character. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) does have some shining moment, but it's short lived. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is the loyal soldier, but his romantic involvement with Moon falls flat as the attempt of emotion in this story. 

All of these murderous criminals face-off against zombie-like blob humans that don't offer up much of a fight. There is a discrepancy between powers like a Batman villain facing a super human fire monster. The movie doesn't focus on this much, and the climax comes off as confused and easily wrapped up. They did make sure to evacuate Midway City and let us know so they wouldn't get the same criticism as Man of Steel. 

I waiver between praise and discouragement because at every moment the film seems to take off it crashes like the many subdued helicopter crashes, something early DC movies did as well. The crown jewel of the movie, a new Joker was a underwhelming and nothing to remember. I would like to see him face off against Batman because the tease is so quick, but it isn't as spectacular as it once was with other actors embodying these characters. There are hints towards Justice League and this movie feels like a two-hour advertisement for another better movie later. I could see this movie being adored and reviled, but it's just mediocre. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

TV Show Review: Feed the Beast (Season 1)

The first season of AMC's restaurant in the Bronx television show came to a close with an explosive and highly inconclusive ending. These first ten episodes served as set up for a much longer plot but dropped some juicy twists along the way. Much of the show was rather predictable and slow, but this new drama crafted likable characters with two recognizable actors in David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess as the best friends who hope to open the restaurant, that I stuck with it and would tune in again next season.

The restaurant Therio, Greek, or maybe Italian, for beast, is not conveniently located with an address in a crime-ridden area of New York. Sturgess's Dion Patras becomes entrenched with a Polish gangster, the Tooth Fairy (Micahel Gladis) and a crooked cop (Michael Rispoli). Patras is an up and coming chef with incredible talent and his cooking helps him escape more than a few hard scrapes despite promiscuity and a coke habit that leaves him hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

Meanwhile, Schwimmer's Tommy Moran drinks and grieves for his lost wife who passed away in a hit-and-run car accident and attempts to care for his mute son TJ (Elijah Jacob). Schwimmer has mastered the hapless loser but still needs to work on his drunk acting. A viewer can't help but feel sorry for the bumbling, yet likable loser as he discovers awful secrets about his wife and best friend and the history of the previous restaurant they once worked in. 

All of this drama plays out as they try to stay afloat during a rough opening of the restaurant. The first-time manager Pilar Herrera (Lorenza Izzo) adds more to the cast as she works to cover her multiple lies and juggles affections for both of the leading men. Izzo is a decent young actress but has a long way to go in what could be a fruitful career. All of the cast has decent moments, but often times take inexplicable actions and sometimes fall flat in their performances.

Feed the Beast is not a boundary-pushing show and will hardly hit many top ten lists for the year. With so much television to watch, it's hard to recommend this show unless one is very interested in the restaurant business but not looking to learn much detail into how a successful place is opened. The show has interesting drama points but also suffers from being released during a time when so many shows are using such similar plot trick and turns. This show finds itself at the bottom of what AMC has to offer somewhere between Halt and Catch Fire and Turn: Washington Spies as a summer holdover while they wait for the zombies to rise up again and desperately search for a new ad-man or meth-dealing chemistry teacher from which they original gained dominance in the original series realm.