Friday, September 30, 2016

Sports: MLB (September 2016)

The season is nearly over with a weekend left to determine the Wild Card and home field advantage. I didn't watch enough baseball this season to do a full year recap but I'll look at the state of the standings as of the end of September taking into account the game I'm peeking up from the computer and watching amid football and other tv shows that could have repercussions well into the playoffs. Instead of looking at divisions this time, I'll get to know the teams that will be playing before a little Wild Card discussion.

Chicago Cubs
Already clinched the best record in the National League and in the Major League by 8 games, the Chicago Cubs are the team favored to win it all. Kris Bryant (3B) leads the team in home runs with 39, that is third overall in the league, and batting average at .293. Anthony Rizzo (1B) leads the team in RBIs at 108, also third overall in the NL. Other notable players are Addison Russell (SS), Ben Zobrist (2B) rounding out a stacked infield and Dexter Fowler (CF), and Jason Heyward (RF) to make for an impressive outfield. Pitching is also great on this top team. Kyle Hendricks has a 1.99 ERA with 16 wins. Jon Lester has a 2.28 ERA with 19 wins. Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and John Lackey round out a seemingly unstoppable rotation with a great bullpen in Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman.

Texas Rangers

Leading the American League as likely World Series opponent are the Texas Rangers. Adrian Beltre (3B) leads the team in home runs with 32 and RBIs at 104. Elvis Andrus (SS) takes the batting title with a .304. Ian Desmond (CF) is another offensive player to watch. Cole Hamels is their stellar starting pitcher with a 3.32 ERA, 200 strikeouts, and 15 wins. 

Washington Nationals
The NL East champions, the Washington Nationals trail the Cubs by nine games but will be their greatest challenger. Daniel Murphy (2B) with 25 home runs, 104 RBIs, and a .347 batting average. Hard to count out William Ramos (C), Anthony Rendon (3B), Jayson Werth (LF), and Bryce Harper (RF). Max Scherzer is their best starting pitcher with 19 wins, a 2.82 ERA, and 277 strikeouts. They've also got Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez in the rotation.

Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox just beat the Blue Jays 5-3 making it harder for the Canadian team to get the Wild Card but increasing Boston's chances of home field advantage. The Red Sox are a well-rounded team with all sorts of awesome players. Dustin Pedroia (2B) takes the batting title with a .322 batting average. David Ortiz (DH) in his last season has 38 home runs and 127 RBIs. Mookie Betts (RF), Xander Bogaerts (SS), Hanley Ramirez (1B), and Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF) add to a remarkable offense. Rick Porcello pitches well with 22 wins and a 3.15 ERA. The other great starting pitcher, David Price has 224 strikeouts. Craig Kimbrel is a great closer with 31 saves.

Cleveland Indians

Close behind, the Indians have a strong team could prove a hindrance to Texas and Boston and pull off an upset. Jose Ramirez (3B) has Cleveland's best batting average at .312. Carlos Santana (DH) has the most home runs at 34. Mike Napoli (1B) leads RBIs with 101. Corey Kluber pitched great this year with 18 wins, 227 strikeouts, and 3.14 ERA. Cody Allen brings relief with 30 saves.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Not to be forgotten the NL West leaders, the Los Angeles Dodger could take down out the Nats and face the cubs in the division championship. Corey Seager (SS) is the batting champ for LA with a .311 batting average. Justin Turner (3B) has 27 home runs and 90 RBIs. Pitching is led by Kenta Maeda with a 3.28 ERA, 16 wins, and 176 strikeouts. The Dodgers close it out with Kenly Jansen with 47 saves.

I'll get more into the playoffs once the Wild Card games are over and we have a better picture of who will face who. Still at this moment it looks like will have national league match up between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants, but the St. Louis Cardinals cannot be counted out yet.
         
The American League also has a three-way battle made a lot interesting by that Toronto loss this evening. The Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays, and the Detroit Tigers are all fighting to win. Even the Seattle Mariners could slip in if everything goes right.        
 

I'll be watching closely this weekend as everything plays out and I'm excited to be writing up a Wild Card recap after Tuesday and Wednesday adding to an already crowded television load. Hopefully, I can get some exercise while I watch the games. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Movie Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Tim Burton adds to his prolific career with another eerie and, well, peculiar film to his oeuvre. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, the story travels through time and tells of strange kids with special abilities. With a cast of solid adult actors and a large group of young talent and no shortage of special effects, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is certainly an interesting and entertaining movie, but I couldn't help but think there was something more that didn't quite fit within the bounds of the film.

First, as a novel adaptation, many of the plot points are explained rapidly and felt rather rushed leaving viewers unfamiliar with the intricacies of the book a bit lost as the character jump through time loops and witness unexplained superpowers harnessed by the individuals in the film. There is a nice mix of spookiness and comedy as this YA adventure plays out but I would have liked to see more of the horror aspect played up. The final scenes are a bit silly letting out all the tension that could have been built up and dulled some of the excitement and sense of danger.

The story follows Jake (Asa Butterfield) as he grows up to believe strange things from the stories his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) who mysteriously perishes under odd circumstances. Jake learns of Abe's relationship with Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and convinces his distant parents including his struggling writer father Franklin (Chris O'Dowd). Jake stumbles upon the destroyed house on an island in Wales and encounters all the kids who bring him through a time loop. There are plenty of powers to go around but one never gets familiar with any though Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell) takes most of the spotlight as a young girl who can fly and quickly catches the eye of Jake.

The house is not safe and with a warning from another time-warping bird woman Miss Avocet (Judi Dench), Jake and friend soon realize that they are being hunted by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and creepy Hollows, eyeless, spindly monsters with multiple tongues and an appetite for peculiar children's eyeballs. The acting is top notch from Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson but both of them are underutilized to make room for the young cast. Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell have some chemistry but they are both still growing into their talent to take this film past a silly YA film into something that resembles top notch Tim Burton. 

I did enjoy the film and would recommend it to someone looking for a distraction for the weekend but I can't say how readers will feel about the adaptation. It is hard to get excited for something like this when superheroes have become mundane fare at the cinema and the X-Men, presented by the same studio 20th Century Fox, didn't exactly spark at the box office this year as young adult story. The Hollows were the most interesting part but the special effects weren't anything so extraordinary to necessitate a 3D viewing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beer Review: Freaktoberfest Big Ol' Pumpkin Ale (Coney Island Brewing)

Needing a beer to help me through debate night and Monday Night Football with the Falcons, I picked up  a season limited release from Coney Island Brewing. The Freaktoberfest has a distinct pumpkin flavor that is sweet and easy to drink. The Big Ol' Pumpkin Ale does not disappoint for a pumpkin beer to introduce me to the pumpkin beer season with a solid cinnamon and pumpkin mixture. The beer is not too strong and leaves only a minor aftertaste that fades quickly.

It goes nicely with spicy food and fall meals like an apple orchard salad with feta cheese. I had three in one go on Monday and it didn't leave me so dizzy and debilitated with only a 6.2% ABV that is manageable and will leave a drinker still able to function after one or two easily. The third will put a drinker into a more inebriated state and with the delicious taste, it is easy to consume these rapidly without noticing that one is consuming beer as the taste is so sweet.

There is a very subtle coffee malt taste in the background and espresso beans that add an energizing feel to this brew with the sweet pumpkin taste. The bottle has a great design with the creepy clown freak and small scowling pumpkin. I enjoyed this beer and would pick another six-pack if became more available in a less limited release, but I'm glad I got the chance to enjoy it. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

TV Show Review: Easy

Netflix has a new anthology series that explores sex and relationships through various couples in Chicago. From newly formed couples to married with kids to one night stands, the relationships range in time and type but share a common thread of humanity. The characters are interconnected loosely with a few sticking out as unconnected or at least, I missed the connection. The episodes vary enough that I could see them appealing to different people and not always hitting for others.

The first episode explores a couple trying to reignite their sex life with kids and a role reversal of the woman being the primary breadwinner. The second follows the couple's babysitter and her new relationship with an activist who has her exploring veganism and biking. The third episode introduces brothers who work to start an illegal brewery while trying to start families. The fourth show a Hispanic couple moving into a new apartment and encountering an old friend. The fifth has a graphic novelist working to revive his career and suffering from the repercussions of putting his social life on the page. The sixth has a couple exploring online dating together. The seventh deals with aging and living a single life after a long term relationship, and the final episode returns to the brewery to follow a reporter working to interview the brothers.

The Joe Swanberg creation boasts a stellar cast from Orlando Bloom, Malin Ackerman, Marc Maron, Jane Adams, Dave Franco and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. There is also a long list of new actors that show plenty of talent and have bright futures including Kiersey Clemons, Zazie Beetz, Aislinn Derbez, and Aya Cash. This show allows each actor and actress a moment in the spotlight that a normal show quite wouldn't.

Easy has an artsy way of showing romance in the new millennium with the complications of social media and the constant connectivity. The show mimics real life so sometimes the story can be anticlimactic just ending without any drama that makes this show not as bingeable as normal Netflix fare. The show does offer a fresh start with only hints of other show in the new episode so it is hard to get too involved. I'd recommend this show to fans of indie romance films and caution viewers expecting tension and drama away from this show that allows life to play out at its own pace. 

I enjoy anthology shows with my favorite being Black Mirror that has a crazy mix of sci-fi and social commentary that Netflix will be premiering next month. Easy certainly takes a new look and the setting of Chicago helps show the interconnectivity of lives and love in a big city. I would like to see these characters get another spotlight and possibly other stories added. Easy came to the streaming a bit low-key without much advertising so it might not get much attention, but it deserves some recognition. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 3)

The third week of the National Football League came to a close this week with an exciting, high-scoring game between my favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons and their divisional rivals the New Orleans Saints on Monday night football that most likely got overshadowed by the big political event tonight. But still, the Falcons are on top in the NFC South so I'll start there.

NFC
NFC South
The Falcons are the only team in what looks like the worst division in the NFL with two wins. They beat the Saints who are now without a win after three games. Surprisingly, the former NFC Champion Carolina Panthers did not succeed against the Vikings and now have a losing record, hard to count them out though. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell in a close match against the LA Rams.

NFC North  
Undefeated, Minnesota triumphed over Carolina and took a lead of the division. I watched the Green Bay Packer beat the Detroit Lions in a tough game but it is hard to take down Aaron Rodgers. Detroit fell to 1-2 while the Bears lost the night game to Dallas to remain without a win.

NFC East
Undefeated as well, the Eagles got a big win against a tough Pittsburgh Steelers team but also blew them out to begin talk of a run to Super Bowl LI. The Redskins got their first win against New York Giants while Dallas also beat the pitiful bears. This division feels like a much stronger one this year.

NFC West
The Los Angeles Rams tied the Seattle Seahawks at the top of the West with that win over Tampa. Seattle beat their divisional rival, the 49ers while Arizona lost another to the Bills.

AFC
AFC North
John Harbaugh coached the Ravens to their third straight victory against the Jaguars in a division that at one time looked tough but did not play well this week. I rooted for the Bengals against the Broncos to no avail and the Steelers were blown out by Philly as mentioned earlier. The Browns are a team already working to fall out of playoff contention.

AFC East
The Patriots continue to impress proving to be more than their star players as they beat the tough Houston Texans. There is not much hope of competition as the other three teams: Miami, Buffalo, and the New York Jets are all at 1-2.

AFC West 
The Broncos dominated the Bengals as they make another run for the Lombardi trophy with Chief, beating the Jets, and the Raiders, beating the Titans, coming right behind them. Lagging behind is San Diego who lost to the Colts.

AFC South 

The Houston Texans may  have lost Thursday night but they are in the lead in a bad division with the Titans and Colts at 1-2 and the Jaguars without a win. I think Houston can make it to the playoffs but they don't look like a playoff team.

I'm starting to learn a lot more from the sports magazines I've subscribed to including Sports Illustrated and ESPN the magazine, but I'm nowhere those great sports writers. I just enjoy watching and having the recaps to know where the teams stand each week. I wish I had more time to delve deeps into the specifics of each game but I'll just do my quick recap for now.

Politics: Presidential Debate #1

The first presidential debate of the general election took place at Hofstra University in New York between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Lester Holt was the moderator and it aired to possibly a hundred million people across several news networks. I tried to switch through channels especially during the pre and post analysis. 


               
The debate felt lopsided towards Hillary Clinton as she held her tongue as Trump embarrassed himself with bluster and hyperbole. Clinton explained her policy and laid out future plans. Trump started out with plenty of his repetitive talking points and actually hit on some specifics when the topic was jobs, but Clinton hit back hard with personal anecdotes and jabs about his inheritance that obviously infuriated him and forced him to interrupt with corrections that made him look rude and unprofessional. 

The topic transferred from jobs to the complications of race relations in a time of police killings and riots. Clinton approached the issue with nuance and understanding while Trump repeated Law and Order to the point of claiming he would bring back stop and frisk of suspicious individuals. This topic also included Trump's birtherism and his repeated lies. Trump failed to tie Hillary to the initial attacks against our current president for his birth location and look sloppy. Clinton also managed to push the issue of his tax returns earlier and both of these issues hurt Trump badly.

Foreign policy has often been Clinton's stronger issue and the case was the same this time around as Trump bumbled and tried to explain the brash statements he'd made on Twitter and at his rallies and accuse Clinton of failures that were from a Republican administration.The reaction online felt rather split among the boisterous social media users on both sides though the political left seemed to be celebrating a lot more as the right and alt-right were on the defensive attacking Clinton and the moderator alike.

This debate looked good for Clinton but the polls may not change dramatically as many have already made their decisions. The clear winner felt like Hillary Clinton but the spin begins and has already taken hold of the media as Trump walked the media floor for a few more attacks including snarky comments about Bill Clinton's infidelity. The reaction will be telling tomorrow morning but the talking points seemed to be topics not discussed and unfair advantage for the Democratic candidate. I will be curious to see polls that come out later this week that show reactions from voters to this debate. It's still several weeks off from the main event of the election and we still have a Vice Presidential Debate and two more debate between Trump and Clinton so a lot can change. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

TV Show Review: Ballers (Season 2)

Living the high life with wealthy football players doesn't always come easy for Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), financial advisors and former pro player. Strasmore and his high energy fellow advisor Joe (Rob Corddry) work with the wealthy the players to manage their wealth but this turns out to be very stressful and sometimes even downright physically painful. The show juggles wealth, sports, and the background dealings of the NFL right in time for the new season.

This season still follows the other players and former players like my favorite Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), Charles Greene (Omar Benson Miller), and Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter. Ricky has to deal with negotiating with various teams and his father's boisterous twitter account to find a team that will pay him what he's worth. Charles failed to return to the league as a player but gets a chance to work as an offensive line manager. Vernon suffers an injury during paintball and worries about his future prospects.

Juggling all these players needs and young jerk quarterback, Spencer also has to deal with a sore hip that grows progressively worse as he falls into abusing painkillers and other methods of putting off his much-needed surgery. Adding to his headache is Spencer's old financial manager and now rival Andre Allen (Andy Garcia) who steals Spencer's clients and gets his license to be a financial manager revoked.

Between football jargon and displays of massive amounts of riches, Baller is funny and entertaining as hell to watch. Dwayne Johnson does a great job showing the stress of his job and Corddry wisecracks right beside him as the hilarious comic relief. The show has many things that could be held against it like other shameless HBO shows that have show carefree wealthy people frolicking among those who no just don't have to worry about expenses for anything. There are fast cars and Miami mansions as the show takes viewers to the upper echelons of football while also giving us a peek inside the dealings of wealth management. 

There are plenty of professional football cameos to help add to the legitimacy of the fictional sports dealings. The show never lets up and gives Strasmore a break, he simply doesn't get to enjoy heavy drinking, drug usage, and naked women without the hard work that goes into it. It's always interesting to see people achieve such unimaginable wealth only to find out later that they are completely broke. This HBO comedy explores that issue and gives us an inside look into football from a different perspective. 

TV Show Review: Power (Season 3)

The dealing and scheming of James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) and Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora) continue in the third season of the Starz crime drama Power. Ghost had narrowly escaped arrest and overthrow from rival gang members in season two. Still, Ghost tries to maintain his relationship with FBI agent Angela Valdes (Lela Loren), his high school sweetheart, despite an ongoing investigation and Ghost's wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton).

Power is another show that I caught up with this year as my growing dedication to being a television blogger has me catching up on shows that peak my interest. I was hooked from the first episode of the first season as I saw how Ghost juggled his legitimate business of Truth nightclub with his underground, illegal coke dealing and trying to control the outrageous temper of Tommy. Both Tommy and James are characters I enjoyed watching but I've yet to see them take on a villain that is equal to them except for each other.

The closest to a rival that any character gets to Ghost is Kanan (50 Cent) who also rap on that catchy single during the opening credits. Kana was down and out for most of this season after being beat up by Ghost and nearly burned to death, but his recovery and subsequent plot for revenge was one of the more intriguing parts of this third season. The passing of Felipe Lobos (Enrique Murciano) left a villain vacuum that was filled by Dean/Milan (Callan Mulvey) who was one of the cheesier bad guys to face St. Patrick.

As the crime world is in upheaval another threat emerges in Greg (Andy Bean), Angela's jealous ex-boyfriend and fellow FBI agent who was disgraced last season and comes at Ghost with a vengeance. He does everything in his power to tie Ghost to the Lobos murder but St. Patrick always keeps it cool and looks good in those suits doing it. Ghost is an anti-hero that is up there just under the likes Tony Soprano and Walter White while adding a new edge of suaveness to his role. Hardwick is a great actor and I hope to see him in more films and shows. Sikora brings a wildness to Tommy's character that contrasts so well with Hardwick cool-headed approach that the two of them have great chemistry as partners and best friends.

This season may not have been as strong as the first two but it certainly offered some surprises, though one particular twist felt a little silly to me. The world of Power, or at least New York City, operates on its own rules but I find the show very fun and almost always entertaining throughout a sustained season. The finale introduced new trouble for Ghost that will roll over into the fourth season. It's nice to see this show getting more attention as it is the highest view show on Starz despite their other hit Outlander. Starz is a channel on the rise with plenty of entertaining shows to watch. I still have to catch up on Black Sails and am really looking forward to Ash vs the Evil Dead season two. 

TV Show Review: Difficult People (Season 2)

Hulu streaming has created a great new offensive comedy starring the hilarious duo of Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner. The two stars play similar characters named Julie Kessler and Billy Epstein as two best friends trying to make it in the shallow showbiz industry in New York City. While the premise seems very familiar to other sitcoms, Hulu gives the two comedians an open format to be as crude and outrageous as they want to be. This formula creates a great comedic mixture that had me laughing through the bingeing stream.

Julie goes through plenty of tribulations trying to move beyond her job as a reality tv show recapper and into becoming a professional writer for an actual show. As the audience, we know these comedians have succeeded with a popular new streaming network but what appears to be autobiographical trials and tribulations are the source of plenty of comedy. Each episode sets up scenarios that cumulate into disastrous consequences before restarting each episode. 

Billy works at a restaurant that supplies great supporting characters like the owner Denise (Gabourey Sidibe), her husband Nate (Derrick Baskin), fellow waiter Matthew (Cole Escola) and Lola (Shakina Nayfack). All of this cast shines in their chances to deliver laughs as well as Julie's boyfriend Arthur Tack (James Urbaniak) and her mother Marilyn Kessler (Andrea Martin). So many quick witty jokes are shot out at a fast pace that it is hard to keep track of all the pop culture references, but the ones that land are hilarious.

This show explored all sorts of topics from creative processes and modeling to 9/11 and cannibalism. Each scenario ties together nicely and each guest spot adds plenty of humor with some heavy-weight comedian like Tina Fey and Fred Armisen, even Lin-Manuel Miranda show up for a great cameo. Julie and Billy travel from playhouses to gyms to the restaurant and apartments offending people and trying to charm their way to success using questionable, but very funny, tactics. 

I'm a bit late to the party but I really enjoyed catching up with this raucous comedy. The situations are perverse and they spare no one. This kind of humor works for me though I would caution those who are easily offended to stay away from this Hulu series as they push the envelope plenty of times. I look forward to seeing Julie and Billy return for a third season 

Sports: College Football (Week 4)

An interesting week in college football as certain teams pull away and others lose their chance at the playoffs. Certain divisions had face-offs that could determine the rest of the year, while other top teams had it easy and cruised through with another blowout win to add to undefeated records. Moving quickly through the top ten, 1 Alabama had it easy and won. 2 Ohio face ranked 14 Oklahoma and won. 3 Louisville had it easy as did 4 Michigan. 5 Clemson won the early game against Georgia Tech. That wraps up the top five.

A big upset this weekend came when 8 Michigan State fell to 11 Wisconsin. The rest of the top ten had some excitement. 6 Houston won easily, they'll face 3 Louisville later this year. 7 Stanford defeated UCLA. Finishing the top ten was 9 Washington with a win and 10 Texas A&M beating their SEC West opponent 17 Arkansas.

The game I paid the most attention to was the competition for SEC East dominance between the 14 Tennessee Volunteers and 19 Florida Gators. The game appeared to be a sure thing for Florida but they played abysmally in the second half and blew the game so that Tennessee retains an undefeated record and with a 12 Georgia loss to 23 Ole Miss, they remain the only undefeated team.

Looking onward to Week 5, I see a matchup between 8 Wisconsin and 4 Michigan being competitive. 11 Tennessee could totally take the SEC East away with a win against 25 Georgia. The ACC could be decided in the 3 Louisville and 5 Clemson battle. Short post this week as I've got some other things to write about, but I'm excited to see the season shaping up to be exciting. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Not letting up on the 2016 theme of sequels and remake, The Magnificent Seven hits theaters this weekend, reprising on old western with a new twist. As I watched the film, I wondered what was the reason this film got made. Sure, it's a fun movie, a big gunfight battle at the end and big name actors strutting in cowboy boots, but there is no real purpose or direction. The movie is popcorn fun to help fill the months between peak Fall Oscar season and the end of summer blockbusters. The Magnificent Seven straddles the line between blockbuster and serious film.

The movie is packed full of big actors as most of the seven are recognizable names and even some of the minor roles are faces that are familiar. Rising star Haley Bennett plays Emma Cullen, a widow who recruits a bounty hunter to help her take down a robber baron. Bennett is on the rise with an impressive year starting with Hardcore Henry and also looking forward to Girl on a Train. Denzel Washington plays the bounty hunter Sam Chisolm who agrees to help the town and beings recruitment. His first recruit is a card shark Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt). Pratt smirks and chuckles playing the character viewers have seen in all the blockbusters he's been in. 

Among the other recruits are an ex-Confederate soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Lee plays one of the more enjoyable characters to watch during the action scenes. Hawke is fine as the troubled soldier with a few scenes of quality acting throughout. Rounding out the seven are Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Vasquez and Harvest don't get much character development and fulfill the quota. It hurts the film that the rest of the characters are bland. Matt Bomer shows up as Bennett's husband but he's cut down quickly. Peter Sarsgaard is mediocre as the villain Bartholomew Bogue, a bad guy we've seen him play before in other films.

The plotting suffers from a slow pace. The first recruitment act concludes with a decent enough gunfight but that stops the action until the final battle sequence. The ending was fun to watch but knowing that is all for the film kind of brings it down a little and makes this a movie to see once and not again for a while. It lacks any sort of message of the themes of technology of the original thought Antoine Fuqua's directing is always fun to watch. His movies have been hit or miss for me, and this film falls a bit in the middle.

I'm not familiar with the first one, I think I saw it a while ago, but that might have been another Western. If I can get it soon, I'll write a quick review in comparison of the remake. I can't help but think all of the cast members and production cost would have been better spent on an original piece to tell a new story, even if it shared the setting. The Magnificent Seven serves as a transitional film from summer to fall. 

Magazine Review: Apex Magazine Issue 88

Behind this gorgeous covers lies a brilliant collection of short stories and poetry that were full of sorrow, mortality, yet bright spots of hope for forsaken futures. The 88th issue of Apex Magazine has some of the best short fiction I've read all year with entries from Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Abhinav Bhat, Alexandria Baisen, and a reprint by Mike Barretta. The nonfiction touched on interesting topics like the story behind the eye-catching cover and an interview with the writer of a Gene Roddenberrry biography. Apex Magazine continues to publish great work that leaves me thinking about the human condition and the future of our world.

The post-apocalyptic poem "The Amenities of Heaven" by Marchell Dyon shows how much world-building can be packed into a few words, mournful and hopeful. Winged siblings experience ostracism in Zachary Riddle's fantastical poem "Wingless". Far off lands and buried treasure lay in "The Mouth of the Cave" by Brandon Marlon. Fly high above with "The Storm Creatures" by Christina Sng. All of these short poems have big imaginations.

"The Old Man and the Phoenix" by Alexandria Baisden touches on grief and hints at a greater fantasy world as it explores mortality and the difficulty of moving on. A phoenix is reborn but what happens to the bonds it makes with mortals as they succumb while it rebirths. 

"The Prince Who Gave Up Her Empire" by Benjanun Sringduangkaew explores gender and prophecy with an entire kingdom at stake. Combining sensual cannibalism and shape-shifting giants, this story uses a great spark of imagination to explore real issues of significance while making me think of questions like are we what are destinies say we will be or can we change our identity? I always look forward to reader Benjanun's work and this story did not disappoint. 

"The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer" by Abhinav Bhat turn repetitive poetry into a story of piety and the fear of mortality. As a young man faces his demise due to a wound, he is challenged by an old man that may be a messenger of from the god as more disturbing things lurk in the harsh landscape.

The reprint "War Dog" by Mike Barretta from the anthology War Stories, a book I've been meaning to pick up, has gene-spliced humans and infectious fungi overruled and persecuted by a Christian government that uses technology to prevent the spread of blasphemy. The world hear is bizarre and terrifying and a story of love rests in the middle.

Another great issue of Apex Magazine, and I'm finally up to date. Now I need to read some of the great books I picked up at WorldCon like Stay Crazy and The Kraken Sea.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

TV Show Review: Mr. Robot (Season 2)

The hit hacker show on USA concluded its second season tonight. Elliot (Rami Malek) continues to live in a delusional world as create Sam Esmail plays with viewers with an unreliable narrator. The biggest twist of this season was spoiled a little earlier by very accurate fan theories, which is why I try not to read too much about shows before the finale. I would highly recommend not continuing to read this review if you don't want the second season spoiled because I plan to write openly about the events of the second season all the way up to the finale.

My favorite addition to the second season was the character Dominique DiPerro and the brilliant acting of Grace Gummer. The show really benefited from her performance and most of her scenes contained plenty of awesome action sequences that took me totally by surprise right at the end of several episodes. Most of these scenes involved intense shootouts that were shot beautifully and ratcheted up the suspense to another level. Another great addition to the show was Joey Bada$$ as Leon, Elliot's fellow inmate who can slice some throats.

The show slowed down dramatically in the second season drawing out the plot and taking strange twists and turns as Elliot moved on from his realization that his father Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) was only a figment of his imagination. His sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) strikes ou on her own to try and advance the agenda of fsociety but finds herself in over her head. Also, Elliot's childhood friend Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) agrees to work for the corporation that killed her father, Evil Corp and tries to uncover their awful secrets.

Meanwhile, there is a great performance by BD Wong as Whiterose, the Chinese Diplomat and secret leader of the dark army. Craig Robinson shows up as Ray, a leader of illegal internet deals but also a prison warden. The guest spots really elevate the show through the slower pacing and shocking conclusions had me tuning in again each week. 

Mr. Robot took home the Emmy for best acting and Rami Malek deserved the award. His unreliable nature is something new that put a real twist on the show but taking the next step with even more altered reality showed that Mr. Robot has staying power for seasons to come. 

Sports: NFL (Week 2)

The second week of professional football started to separate playoff contenders from teams that will begin the season 0-2 and have to work hard to end up with a winning record. I'm running a bit late on my recap of the months as the third week begins tomorrow so I'm skating just under the line with my post. It is interesting to see who are the early contenders and I wonder if others will change their ways for a surprise. Some divisions are tied up but I will pick my likely contenders with the new information focuses on some who may only have the spotlight momentarily before falling to the back of the pack.

NFC
NFC West
The NFC West is all tied up so I'm looking at the San Francisco 49ers a little closer this week. Controversy swirls around them but they could possibly pull ahead in a troubled West. After coming out strong in the first game and decimating the Los Angeles Rams, they lost badly to the Panthers this week. The Rams pulled out a win in a low-scoring victory against their divisional opponent the Seattle Seahawks while the Cardinals crushed the Buccaneers after losing their first game.

NFC South
This might be my only chance to see the Atlanta Falcons on top as their win against the Oakland Raiders put them in a three-way tie with the Bucs, who lost to Arizona, and the Panther, who beat the 49ers. The Saints have fallen quickly to the bottom.

NFC North
Though they suffered the loss of their stellar and troubled running back Adrian Peterson, the Viking see themselves at the top of the NFC North beating their rivals the Packers on Sunday Night. The Detroit Lions survived a close game last week but that was not the case against the Titans this weekend, but they remain in the middle of the pack of an ailing Chicago Bears.

NFC East
The Philadelphia Eagles have had it easy so far with only the Browns and the Bears as opponents but their Monday night win ties them with the Giant, who I still think will take this division. The Cowboys after beating the Redskins who are at two losses.  

AFC
AFC West
The reigning champs, the Denver Broncos, continue their domination with a win over the Colts. The Chiefs lost to the Texans, Chargers beat the Jaguars, and Raiders lost to Atlanta to make them all 1-1.

AFC South
The Texans have taken the lead beating the Chiefs with a dominant defense. The Colts and Jaguars are both at two losses while the Titans are at 1-1 with their win aginst Detroit.

AFC North

I managed to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Cincinnati Bengals to share the top spot with the Baltimore Ravens who beat the Browns, a 0-2 team. 

AFC East
The New England Patriots beat the two-loss Dolphins and are still surviving despite losing their starting quarterback though they heave lost Garoppolo as well. I'm not sure the seriousness of his injury but they just need to make it two more games. The Bills have not performed well yet losing to the Jets this weekend who are now at 1-1.

That's  quick and easy take on football this past weekend. I'm looking forward to a couple games this upcoming week. The Thursday game pits two top teams, the Texans and Patriots, against each other to kick off the week. The Bengals have to prove themselves against the Broncos Vikings vs. Panthers, and Steelers vs. Eagles, are a couple of games I'll watch out for. The Falcons take on the Saints Monday night but I might be watching Trump take on Clinton in the first presidential debate.

Monday, September 19, 2016

TV Show Review: Vice Principals (Season 1)

This new riotous comedy from Jody Hill and Danny McBride reignites the mad hilarity that made Eastbound and Down such an amusing and entertaining show. McBride plays Neal Gamby, a Vice Principal who only dream in life is to one day rise up to be a Principal. When Principal Welles (Bill Murray) retires to spend more time with his sick wife, it sparks a competition between Gamby and the other Vice Principal Lee Russell (Walton Goggins).

Both Vice Principals believe they are destined for the top role and plan on firing each other when they inherit the role. However, a new principal is hired, Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). Dr. Brown comes in with ideas of change so both Gamby and Russell decide to join forces to get the principal fired. Gamby is dealing with his own personal problems at home as his ex-wife Gale (Busy Philipps) has married a motocross rider Ray Liptrapp (Shea Whigham), and taken his daughter away from horseback riding. 

Gamby also hopes to charm a teacher in the high school Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King), but his headstrong buffoonish behavior doesn't help matters. Gamby and Russell go to hilarious lengths to torment Dr. Brown and McBride and Goggins are brilliant as the two disturbed men. Gregory is great as the troubled principal especially as her life starts to deteriorate at the hands of the Vice Principals. Whigham is also hilarious as the bumbling stepfather.

With a great cast and an unpredictable script, Vice Principals puts up competition for a great comedy of the year and is definitely one of my favorite as I turn towards the year end of shows. The extreme measures taken by the vice principals never fail to shock every Sunday night ending in an absurd climax that will leave viewers stunned during the final credits. I highly recommend this show to fans of McBride who brings his familiar yet welcome bravado cussing in front of children and pulling all sorts of physical and verbal stunt that made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions.

HBO has a growing catalogue of great comedy and Vice Principals adds to that long list. I do hope they bring it back for a second season because the finale is insane and makes me want to see what happens next. With only nine episodes at 30-minutes per episode, it's a quick watch that leaves viewers wanting more. I hope Vice Principals has a long future.   

TV Show Review: Ray Donovan (Season 4)

I caught up on all four seasons of this show this year, part of my renewed dedication to being a television blogger. I've taken in Liev Schreiber's masterful performance over four years and forty-eight hours of television and found it both exciting and meditative. Showtime offers up some prestige television and Ray Donovan is at the top of this network. The show follows Ray as he fixes problems for Los Angeles rich and famous. 

The show picks up after an action-packed season finale of the third season with a shootout where Ray and his father Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) took down the Armenian mob with the help of Ray's right-hand man Avi (Steven Bauer). Abby Donovan (Paula Malcomson) discovers that she has breast cancer and debates whether to seek treatment as she is upset with her husband and his promiscuous ways. 

Ray has to seek treatment himself for his alcohol addiction where he is introduced to the boxer Hector Campos (Ismael Cruz Cordova). Hector is seeking a title so begins to train at Ray's gym under the training of Ray's brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) who has Parkinson disease. Hector also has an incestuous relationship with his sister Marisol (Lisa Bonet). Ray's other brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) has married the wrestler Teresa (Alyssa Diaz) but after her pregnancy, she suffers from postpartum depression. There are so many other great characters but another exceptional one is Lena (Katherine Moennig) who had a falling out with Ray but is back in the fold this season. Also, Ray's half-brother Daryll (Pooch Hall) is really funny as the comedic relief and I'm glad I've been seeing him in commercials recently. 

The major struggles come from the Russain mob stepping in to make Ray pay for the executions of the Armenian mob, Mickey tries to rob a casino, and Hector tries to win a championship despite getting into all sorts of trouble. Ray is the calming balm to all these plotlines as he smoothly moves from one issue to the next while trying to pull his family back together. His son Conor (Devon Bagby) wants to grow up and be a gangster like his father but Ray has other ideas and shows him that it is not easy. His daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) ran away after having a relationship with an older man that Ray did not approve of so Ray works to bring her back to the family.

This season gives Ray another extraordinary and exciting challenge but the show felt like it peaked in season 2 and 3. It is hard to match the villainous charisma of Ian McShane though Raymond J. Barry certainly tries. The conclusion ties up all the various storylines much like every season, but this year takes a bit more brute force and has some satisfying vengeance. Ray ends this season on top of everything making wonder where the writers will take the show next. 

TV: 68th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 68th Emmys occurred on ABC last night and while I tuned in for a good bit, watching television is taking a lot of time lately as is apparent from the impressive showing of all the television shows that were nominated and awarded last night. I could have predicted a large amount of the winners but there were some surprises and informed me of shows that I haven't watched but need to make more time to watch at some point soon. In my short analysis, I'll start with the big awards and work my way down and address as many as I can.

Outstanding Drama Series: Game of Thrones (HBO)
My favorite show also took home the biggest award of the night and as Game of Thrones pushed passed George R.R. Martin's novels, the show became full of surprises that left me on the edge of my seat and jumping up in the air. This HBO epic brings much needed attention to the fantasy drama and has risen from a long shot to a sure thing. The directing awards also went to Game of Thrones for that amazing episode of Battle of the Bastards, possibly my favorite episode that I've ever watched on television. Mr. Robot is probably the show that came the closest to stealing the Throne as it performed well at the Golden Globes. I like the show but as the second season has arrived with a slower set of episodes, it may have suffered while Thrones is at the top of its game. Better Call Saul and House of Cards are both fun shows to watch but nothing that really stuns though Cards tries hard at it, this wasn't its best season. The Americans and Homeland are both awesome spy dramas, The Americans could have its day with the last season on the horizon and Homeland is great but it's a packed field. I never watched Downton Abbey.

Outstanding Comedy Series: Veep (HBO)
Veep is a show that I have heard a lot of good things about and have watched a few of episodes of the first season, but I'll have to work on adding this show to the top of my viewing list. Master of None is another show that I would have rooted for heavily, Aziz Ansari was great. Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are also shows I've loved this year but it looks like it will take a lot to get awarded. Modern Family has triumphed plenty of times before and Blackish is a new one, but I just don't have the free time to watch network television.

Outstanding Limited Series: The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story 
This category grew bigger this year with some amazing prestige shows. OJ Simpson was probably one of my favorite shows of the year and has a reserved space in my top ten no matter what happens. Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance also won acting awards for their roles as Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran respectively. These actors elevated this show to another level, but all around, great television.

 Fargo is also a spectacular show and added with the Americans and all the other awesomeness coming from FX, this channel is doing great things. Other great shows I saw this year were The Night Manager and Roots. I have yet to watch American Crime.

Outstanding Variety Talk Show: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
I have really enjoyed John Oliver's weekly late night comedy. I've felt like it has a much more informed approach to comedy though it has the advantage of only coming on once a week. I haven't watched it as much as I used to but still enjoy every episode I catch. The only other comedy show is Real Time with Bill Maher, but I've heard good things about Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series: Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Key & Peele ended their television run as they have moved to movies with the great Keanu. Inside Amy Schumer was another great Variety Sketch series that could possibly be over this year due to some controversy. I did not watch the other shows yet.

I only saw All the Way in the movie category, and I don't watch reality television.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama: Rami Malek, Mr. Robot (USA)
Rami Malek was brilliant in the first season of Mr. Robot and continues to shine in the second. He was well-deserving of the award and brings recognition to a show that is working towards being one of the best shows on television in a new era of television. All of the actors in this category were amazing, Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan is brooding and great to watch. I will be writing a review of the fourth season right after this post. Kevin Spacey is great in House of Cards. Bob Odenkirk and hilarious as Jimmy McGill and brought new depth to the Saul Goodman character. Matthew Rhys deserves recognition for his role in The Americans and I hope he wins it next year. Kyle Chandler was enjoyable but definitely at the bottom of the list of these actors. 

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)
I've caught the first two season of Orphan Black and witnessed Tatiana Maslany's brilliance. I don't know what the last few season have added to it, but this show and character are brilliant because of this great actress. Claire Danes is great in Homeland and has been nominated multiple times before and won twice so she'll be in as long as she stays in this role. Keri Russell has also delivered in The Americans.

I didn't see either of the comedy award winners and need to put some time into both Transparent and Veep, a takeaway from this year Emmys. The big winner is the Limited Series Category, especially American Crime Story, which I'm excited to see what it offers next. Game of Thrones has established itself as extraordinary and I hope it will remain so until the end. Mr. Robot is the rising star and The Americans deserves recognition in its last year and Fargo should get some love at some point.