Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Movie Review: Allied

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in this World War II spy thriller directed by Robert Zemeckis. The movie develops a lot of slow build tension that was highly entertaining to watch and made for a fun night. Brad Pitt is introduced as spy Max Vatan that is dropped in French Morocco with a mission to kill a German ambassador. He has slick clothes and operates smoothly as he rendezvous with another operative Marianne (Cotillard) who is undercover as his wife waiting for him.

Their relationship grows with much of the plot dedicated to how they meet and become lovers. They procure tickets to a party where  the ambassador is attending and have a short little action sequence. All of this is just a set up to get them back to London where they marry and have a child under the threat of German bombs. The tension really rises as Max is informed that his wife is, in fact, a German spy.

Max is reluctant to believe this new information, and Brad Pitt does a great job showing the inner turmoil of a stoic figure. The movie harkens back to older films set in the troubling times of Nazi occupation. Cotillard is mysterious and possibly deadly as each word is scrutinized to some hint at her betrayal. This drama grows as Max takes more desperate measures to figure out the truth and a way to prove it all while they plan a party and worry about air raids.

There is some supporting help from Lizzy Caplan as Max's sister and Jared Harris as a commanding officer but this story revolves around this couple and the lies they both conceal. The movie has some twist and turns but takes a predictable route. It won't be much of Oscar bait but it was a fun film to watch and promises a solid ending to a rough year of films in 2016. 

Sports: NFL (Week 12)

Five more weeks of the regular season remain. The playoffs teams have pulled away but the Wild Card teams are still up in the air as there will be a lot of competition in the final games. I'm going to take a look at the Wild Card battles and see what exciting games await the rest of this season.

NFC
Right now, the Wild Card positions belong to the NFC East, both of them. The Giants started out the season beating Dallas and New Orleans before they lost three in a row to Washington, Minnesota, and Green Bay. With a win over the Ravens, the Giants went on a six-game winning streak to put them in a solid Wild Card position. The only reason they don't lead the division is that the Cowboys have had an incredible season. Looking ahead for New York, they face Pittsburgh next week, then a divisional matchup against the rival Cowboys for a chance to knock them down a peg and sweep them for the season, which helps if they make it to the playoffs. They will have another tough battle with the NFC North champs the Detroit Lions, before two more divisional games with the Eagles and Redskins.

The Washington Redskins are the other Wild Card team out of the NFC East. They started with two losses against Pittsburgh and Dallas. Won four straight including a game against New York. Lost to the Lions and tied the Bengals. Two more impressive wins against the Vikings and Packers preceded a loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Their schedule ahead isn't too hard with the struggling Cardinals next week, the Eagles, Panthers, Bears and finally Giants remain. 

Two teams that are waiting in the wings with hope to win are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings. Tampa has to play the Cowboys in two weeks but doesn't have to tough a schedule remaining. The Vikings suffer from injuries and also have to play the Cowboys.

AFC
The Chiefs have lost three games to the Texans, Steelers, and Buccaneers, but with an impressive win on Monday night in Denver against their division challenger, the Broncos, they take the top spot in the Wild Card race and push Denver out. They play the Falcons this week, then the Raiders, Titans, Broncos again, and Chargers. 
The Dolphins were streaking last week and have earned themselves a Wild Card spot with six in a row. They've still got the Ravens, Cardinals, Jets, Bills, and Patriots before they can play in the playoffs.

The Broncos, Steelers, and Bills all have a chance to make it in if they fight not to mention the Titans. Still plenty of exciting football awaits. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sports: College Football (Week 13- Rivalry Week)

Rivalry week had amazing matchups throughout the day and I was happy to watch several games as I caught up on some of my novel writing. As this blog is turning into more of sports blog currently during this exciting time, I'm glad that I actually watched a few of the games I'll be discussing in this post. 
First up, was the Big Ten showdown between 2Ohio State Buckeyes and 3Michigan Wolverines was the game of the day. The game did not disappoint going all the way to double overtime where the Buckeyes came out on top with a running touchdown. This defeat leaves the Big Ten in upheaval with Penn State surprisingly coming out at the top of the Big Ten East yet ranked 8th. The Nittany Lions will face the Wisconsin Badgers for the Big Ten title.
In a surprising upset, and even more so for me as I live in the state, the Kentucky Wildcats beat the Louisville Cardinals who saw their playoffs chances evaporate last week and possibly Lamar Jackson's Heisman trophy. UK won't make a splash in the SEC East, but it was still fun. The team that is coming out of the SEC rolling is the West leader and Iron Bowl Champ, the Alabama Crimson Tide who beat Auburn pretty handily. 
One game, I'm going to jump back to that I didn't get a chance to watch, was the Washington face off between the 5Washington Huskies and the 22Washington State Cougars. The Huskies won making a good argument for a spot in the playoffs. They will face Colorado who beat Utah. 
The Florida vs. Florida State game is one I like to watch every year and this year the ACC team has improved though they lost their chance at a playoff spot, could find themselves in a good bowl game. The representative for the ACC will be the Clemson Tigers who made short work of their state rival the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Looking forward to Championship Week, I'm excited to see the PAC-12 Championship: Colorado vs. Washington
A Big 12 faceoff between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State
SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Florida
ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin vs Penn State

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 11)

This week I wanted to take a different approach and look at some of the streaking teams this week and see if they are a solid lock for the playoffs or if they can squeeze in if they continue to win.

Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have the longest streak of wins at the moment with nine straight wins and resting at the top of the NFC East and the NFC as a whole. Dallas faced one of its toughest challenges but succeeded against the Ravens this week.

New York Giants
Right behind the Cowboy with a five-game streak are solidifying a wild card spot if they continue but will have to have some Dallas including when the Cowboys visit if they want to pull out in front. The Giants had an easy challenge against the Chicago Bears.

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are behind another first place team, the New England Patriots, and don't have a Wild Card spot yet because the Broncos and Chiefs still hold the two spots. Miami won't have too many more tough games but could face a competitive Bills, Ravens fighting to stay at the top of their division, and Patriots holding onto to home field advantage.

Oakland Raiders
The Raiders won a tough fought battle against the Houston Texans on Monday Night in Mexico City. This win puts Oakland at the top of the AFC tied with the Patriots. Now the Raiders have a four-game streak to build off of to try to hold on to the momentum to achieve the top spot in the playoffs and a chance at Super Bowl LI.

Seattle Seahawks
The final streaking team I wanted to write about was the Seattle Seahawks. They beat the Bills, Patriots, and Eagles putting them safely at the top of the NFC West. They've got two weak NFC South teams, Bucs and Panther, the struggling Packer, then all of their divisional rivals to finish of the season. I think the Seahawks will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. 

Book Review: The Loudest Actions by Cindy Koepp

I received this book for free for a fair and honest review. Cindy Koepp has written an interesting and unique sci-fi thriller that explores the difficulties of communication between alien species and the effects of post-traumatic stress. The Loudest Actions follows the crew of am ambassador ship known as the Gyrfalcon as it escorts Ambassador Burke to a new planet full of giant bug species.

Kirsten is one of the crew members who has a prosthetic arm after experiencing loss in combat and is fully introduced in an intense tournament where she shows off her talent but is handicapped by her opponent, a rival that she will have to cooperate with later. Also aboard the crew are Pashtan and Sora, a father and trainee daughter of the Aolonian species that can communicate through their thoughts.

The Montans are the alien ant-like species and it is discovered that they can communicate through smell. They are only able to fully communicate through pictures and have a hard time conveying their message to humans. They have also encountered other humans before who had attacked them and left them wary of any aliens coming to their planet. These distinct forms of communication provide complications especially as another group of these Montans is being conversed wtih by an enemy group know as the League.

The great galaxy is left mostly out of this story with only hints at a great conflict between the League and the Coalition that I never fully understood. The narrative jumps around from one character to another making it hard to remember many of their names as there are plenty of them each with their own unique motivations. I found Peter interesting as he is suffering from an attack on a ship that he barely survived long ago.

This book has some solid sci-fi action that was enjoyable to read and explores communication, growing up, and dealing with troubling memories. I would recommend to those who enjoy space sci-fi that has action and a different take on contact with alien species. There are some interesting ideas about how an alien species would communicate and hints at a greater galaxy of stories waiting to be written. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sports: College Football (Week 12)

The week before rivalry weekend and the next to last full weekend of college football offered a few surprises especially during a Thursday game between Louisville and Houston.

The Cougars topped the Cardinals with dominant defense and knocked Louisville out of the running for a playoff spot. 

The loss leaves two Big Ten teams in the running who will face off next weekend. Ohio State had some trouble with Michigan State but managed a win. Michigan took out Indiana with a solid performance. 
Alabama remains at the top after beating Chattanooga and could face a challenge from Auburn next week. They will have an interesting opponent in the SEC Championship.

The Florida Gators faced the Louisiana State University Tigers to see if they could survive and remain atop the SEC East. In an exciting game, the Gators came out on top and will have a chance to take down Alabama, though that is not likely. 

 With Louisville out of the way, the Clemson Tigers remain at the top of the ACC with only one tough loss. They beat Wake Forest this weekend and remain at the four spot. Their chance to make it to the playoffs can only be hindered by South Carolina and their opponent in the ACC Championship game, which looks to be North Carolina or Virginia Tech.

Wisconsin moved up to take the fifth spot and will have a chance to earn their playoff spot if they can win the Big Ten Championship. Washington also has a chance if they make it through the PAC-12 Championship but they will need some luck to make it there. 

Finally, a game that I watched was between the Oklahoma Sooners and the West Virginia Mountaineers would determine who remains atop the Big 12. This division does not have a championship so the top contender will be determined by the best record. This lack of a championship kept the Big 12 out of the first playoffs but Oklahoma managed to earn a spot last year. They could do it again this year but a lot would have to happen.

Next weekend is an exciting weekend as the season comes to a close. Games I'm looking forward to are: LSU vs. Texas A&M, Washington vs. Washington State, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Florida vs. Florida State, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Utah vs. Colorado,  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

J.K. Rowling is unable to leave the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and continues to put out ever expanding stories with a sequel play reviewed here and now the prequel movie series. The overlong titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes from a textbook that Harry Potter read in his years at Hogwarts. The author serves as the main character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) collects rare magical creatures and stores them in a magically large suitcase to prevent their extermination.

Scamander has come to America to release one of the creatures back in its natural environment. In a rushed past, he chases after a cute Niffler, a creature in search of gold and jewels, and bumps into Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) a WWI veteran who hopes to open a bakery. Also on his trail is Porpentina "Tina" Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), an auror who has had some professional trouble and hopes to bring Scamander as a form of redemption.

The plot felt so rushed as Kowalski and Scamander's suitcases are switched and the animals inside manage to escape. Instead of releasing creatures and chasing them down, a simple plot that could have made for a fun movie, an elaborate subplot that had an overt message of tolerance but lost the charm of the magic. Newt encounters Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), a preacher against witches that she knows are hidden out of sight. She holds dominion over children who spread the word and a young man Credence (Ezra Miller) who may be more than as he first appears.

This plot ties back into the magical world as Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the head auror, has a secret agenda to use the distraction of the creatures for something more nefarious. None of this feels like a spoiler because all of the twists are rather easy to figure out and lack all the stunning shock of the original novels. The plot feels a lot like a prequel that his holding off from anything too stunning because it is waiting for another movie to really get into the connecting plot. 

There is humor, and the chasing of the creatures is fun to watch. Other characters like Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) expand the magical universe in a fun way. Seeing all the creatures are fun like the tiny plants and giant birds that are cute and interesting to see on the big screen with a message of conservation that could be wiped away in the upcoming years. Fantastic Beasts is fun but could have been so much more. 

TV Show Review: You're the Worst (Season 3)

FX's anti-romcom about the relationship between a British author Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) and Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) is a hilarious look at the difficulty of dating in the modern age. The third season expanded on the hilarious minor characters Lindsay Jillian (Kether Donohue) and Edgar Quintero (Desmin Borges). Lindsay is married to Paul (Allan McLeod) and reluctantly pregnant trying to shift into a normal life. Edgar is recovering from PTSD and dates his improv coach Dorothy Durwood (Collette Wolfe).

The other couple that had a small amount of spotlight was Lindsay's sister and Jimmy's ex-girlfriend Becca (Janet Varney) and Vernon Barbara (Todd Robert Anderson) who also planned to have a baby. The relationship ups and downs are displayed with plenty of humor mixed in that can appeal to those with a certain sense of humor. I find the show to be incredibly funny. 

Jimmy is working on his second novel and struggling to find inspiration for his novel. Gretchen has had to come to terms with her mental illness and starts to receive help from a therapist Justina (Samira Wiley). The show addresses mental illness in an unflinching manner and still finds ways to deliver a punchline despite the heavy topics.

The show also ruminates on success in the late twenties and early thirties and how to transfer on to the next stage of life after college and early employment. These struggles with lack of success or achieving a dream affect the relationship while others have a lack of direction and refuse to move on to a normal lifestyle. 

You're the Worst was a show that I caught up on this year because I had heard so many great things about it and I was not disappointed. This show is one of my favorite comedies of the year and a show that I could not get enough of. I especially like the show because it's about a narcissistic author working on his second project and achieving some small semblance of success in publishing. I would recommend this show to people with a flexible sense of humor.  

TV Show Review: American Horror Story: Roanoke (Season 6)

The meta sixth season of American Horror Story took a new twist on reality television but used this twist to confuse audiences for the first half of the season and then totally change the course of the show for the second half. The first played out as a horrific reenactment of a couple's stay in a haunted house in Roanoke, North Carolina. The story was recapped by the actual residents of the haunted house who had survived the ordeal while actors played out the horrors, though this was not clear at first.

Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe) relates her traumatizing story when her and her husband Matt Miller (André Holland). To play out this horrifying drama is Audrey Tindall (Sarah Paulson) and Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding Jr.). It gets a bit confusing as the show spins around and some characters are actually actors while others are actually people. After several cliche horror disturbances that are exacerbated by inexplicable and somewhat moronic decisions that put them in harm's way, Matt invites his sister Lee (Adina Porter) who is portrayed by Monet Tumusiime (Angela Bassett) who suffers from alcoholism and substance abuse while trying to maintain custody of her child.

The story has some decent horror series that are overshadowed by the convoluted plot twists that felt more like a gimmick than any enhancement in storytelling. Familiar faces pop up as Kathy Bates place the representation of the villainous Butcher who is revealed to be a crazed, obsessed actress who dives too deep into the character. Wes Bentley, Evan Peters, and Denis O'Hare show up in minor roles that add to the story as all of this appears to be actors used to depict real events. 

There was no shortage of gruesome murders especially in the second part, a surprising amount of graphic brutally cruel murders as victims are lined up to be knock down by the spirits that arise during the blood moon. The gimmick was entertaining but felt dragged out over several episodes and a detour to insult and ridicule cliche country people doesn't really add to the story much.

American Horror Story has been hit-or-miss for the last few seasons. I thought Hotel was a change for the better but as with most of these seasons, it felt like it lost its way in the final episodes. This television show is a solid argument for horror to remain in the theaters as a short gut punch that terrifies and lets you leave before it loses its effect. I think that Roanoke lies somewhere at the bottom of the seasons in my opinion. I still like Asylum, Murder House, Hotel Coven, Freakshow, and Roanoke in that order. I wish they would do one about aliens. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 10)

A fun week of football in both leagues, the NFL is experiencing a shift as certain teams turn up for the second half as the competition for the playoffs intensifies. I watched some fun games throughout the week as the telecast can predict which games are going to have consequences. Some teams are out like the Browns who still haven't one but other teams have fighting chances in competitive divisions. I'm short on time and should be working on my novel so I'll just take a quick look at the sport this week.

NFC
The Cowboys proved themselves this week as their quarterback Dak Prescott also earned the top spot over a recovering Tony Romo. They faced a potential playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers. The impressive win keeps Dallas on top of the NFC. 
The Seattle Seahawks also had an impressive win against an AFC powerhouse, the New England Patriots, a team that seemed unbeatable. Seattle is proving they are at the top of the NFC and have always been strong in the second half of the season.

The Lions and the Falcons are the other two division leaders that don't look as impressive. I root for the Falcons but it is tough to watch them lose to the Eagles. Dallas is at the top of one tough division with the Giants, the Eagles, and the Redskins, all three of them are in line to take the two wild card spots.

AFC
The Patriots remain at the top but they lost this week. The two teams I'm looking at are Kansas City and Baltimore.
The Chiefs have risen to the top of a competitive AFC West after winning five straight. They are going to have to fend off the Broncos and Raiders who can win the top spot in Kansas City. 
The Ravens have risen to the top of a bad division and will still have to face Dallas and their divisional foes, like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. 

The Texans have stayed afloat against not much competition. The AFC West fills out the rest of the Wild Card with Denver and Oakland. 

I'm looking forward to Baltimore vs. Dallas, Philadelphia vs. Seattle, and the Houston vs. Oakland on Monday night. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Movie Review: Arrival

A beautiful and ambitious film, Arrival hit theaters this weekend with a remarkable story and stunning visual effects. Based on the short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, this film directed by Denis Villeneuve shows the potential of thoughtful and complex science fiction. Viewers are introduced to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she raises her daughter through a rapid montage that ends in tragedy. The haunting photography from cinematographer Bradford Young adds to the emotional impact.

As the story moves ahead, aliens arrive in strange and large pods that can only be entered during certain time intervals. Louise is recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to decipher the alien language and figure out their purpose. With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), they enter the pod and begin to communicate with the spider or squid-like species. 

The effects are amazing and awe-inspiring but the story is more personal and touches on themes of language and the development of one's brain during the process of learning. It also explores time and knowledge of the future reflecting on the choices we make and how we perceive the events of our life. This film is an example of great writing meeting great directing with stellar acting on top to make for one of my favorite films of the year that is both moving and entertaining. 

Villeneuve has impressed me with multiple films like Sicario and Prisoners while Enemy just went right over my head. This movie is definitely the most ambitious yet from this intelligent director and proves that he can tackle a multitude of genres and still have success. Science fiction has come a long way though films have not always been as quick to pick up on the change. I think that Arrival's success will open a floodgate of great sci-fi reaching the screen.

Amy Adams also delivered an impressive performance as the centerpiece to the emotional core of the film that delivers a heart-wrenching ending that won't fail to move many viewers. As of now, Arrival has had a decent showing at the box office which could lead to more films like this being produced hopefully in the future. 

Sports: College Football (Week 11)

I foolishly thought that this weekend would be a quiet one for college football, but that is how this sport never fails to shock. Three teams in the top four that looked like they were planning a playoff visit have now been upset and could this could cause a seismic shake in the rankings. As I post this, the rankings have not yet come out so I don't know how large of a shake will come of these three defeats. Other teams in the top ten also got upset so the line of succession after losses isn't totally clear. 
Firstly, seeming unstoppable, the Alabama Crimson Tide remain unbeaten and at the top of the rankings. All the sports pundits seem to predict a championship in Bama's future. I'd like to see something more surprising so who knows. 
The Clemson Tigers were cruising along at second place but have been upset by the Pittsburgh Panthers 43-42 by a last minute field goal. This game was the first sign that this would not be a normal weekend. Now that Louisville has beaten Wake Forest, the Cardinals have a chance to take the ACC and play in the playoffs.
The Michigan Wolverines were looking forward to Ohio State but they didn't account for the sudden upset of a 14-13 loss against the Iowa Hawkeyes. This makes Michigan's game against Ohio State even more interesting and gives hope to Penn State who is tied at the top of that division. The Buckeyes won so they have a real chance of taking back their Big 10 title.
The Washington Huskies had been underestimated throughout the season being left out of the first playoff selection under Texas A&M, who also lost this weekend. The Huskies had a lot to prove but came up short against the USC Trojans in a 26-13 loss. Without Washington, the PAC-12 may not have a CFB playoff entrant.

Teams to watch as the ranking come out are Ohio State, Louisville, and Wisconsin. Both Texas A&M and Auburn lost their matchups this weekend so a challenger to the SEC West leader, Alabama, will not be likely though the Iron Bowl is still too weeks away. Looking forward to next week, a Thursday game between Louisville and Houston, and Saturday games: Clemson vs. Wake Forest, LSU vs Florida, Indiana vs. Michigan, Oklahoma vs West Virginia, Washington State vs. Colorado, Ohio State vs. Michigan State, Penn State vs. Rutgers, and Washington vs. Arizona State. All of these games could have consequences for bowl games at the end of this year. 

Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

Stephen King's collection of bizarre horror stories never fails to stun with gut-wrenching twists and shocking outcomes. The images created in these stories are haunting and sad as King reflects on his past and the ending of life. Many of these stories explore old age and the process of passing away. The stories ranged, not always being technically horror but certainly stirring up disturbing images that will have readers contemplating the darker sides of life. King is great at establishing characters and making readers care for them just to have them experience traumatizing events.

The setting does not much change for a Stephen King thriller as most of the stories take place in the New England area. Some of the stories were new while others had previously been published but I had not encountered any of them before. The reason I purchased this collection was to read the Hugo-nominated short story "Obits" about an obituary columnist for a sleazy celebrity magazine that causes death by writing about it. The power of the pen is certainly a theme that is addressed in many of these stories.

The question of right and wrong also permeates these stories like a couple challenged with money problems who takes on the offer of a wealthy old man who wants to see one last act of cruelty before he passes or characters who appear like decent individuals, Blockade Billy for example, but have dark secrets hidden away in their past.

Tension is something that King has been an expert at building even if his execution doesn't alway end smoothly. Plenty of stories build up to a climax that could have readers sitting on the edge of their seats. As someone wanting to learn what is effective in short fiction, I enjoyed this collection and would recommend it to aspiring horror writers as it is an accomplished author at a new phase of his career. The short passages before each story give readers a peek into what King's writing process was and how he came to these stories through his life experiences. 

I've read enough Stephen King to converse with other readers of the horror genre but I had not read much of his short fiction. Every once in a while, I would pick up a story from a recommendation but not an entire collection. I put the book down at intervals and pick it back up when I had the time so reading this book took me nearly four months as it is a lot of fiction packed in here. The prolific nature of King's work is another testament to the greatness of this ubiquitous author. 

Book Review: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

After watching all five of the movies spawned from the series, I decided to check out the book that began the series back in 1980. Robert Ludlum's spy thriller starts in a very similar way to the movie with a man discovered in the ocean floating with bullets holes and a bank account number in his skin. The recovery process takes a lot longer in the novel as Ludlum has time to space out the injuries and is obligated to move directly towards the action. The mystery is interesting enough as the doctor who cares for the mysterious stranger discovers all sorts oddities like facial changes  and a lack of history.

The stranger eventually does recover and heads towards Zurich where the account numbers lead him. He discovers that he is hunted but also has a fortune that he can utilize to disappear. As he ventures through these European cities, he also realizes that his senses and instincts are beyond anything expected and allow him to avoid capture as professionals seek to murder him. The tension is steady as Bourne stays on the run and eventually he runs into Marie.

The encounter with the love interest was much simpler in the movie, Bourne simply paid Marie to borrow her car. In the novel, this meeting was a major source of action and Marie is actually a more intelligent woman as she is an economist attending a convention. There is trauma from the rapid inclusion into a violent lifestyle and Ludlum has time to develop the relationship a lot more though it still feels strange.

The biggest plot point that I'm surprised was left out of the movies was the battle against a deadly hitman named Carlos who leads a large network of individuals to hunt and kill large targets. Bourne was created as Delta, Cain, Charlie, or other names to work on a project to intimidate and destroy this deadly assassin. As Bourne recovers from his amnesia, not only does he have to escape and contend with the government agencies trying to cover up and a deadly assassin hellbent on murdering Bourne for revenge. I can only guess the script writers took out this plot point to avoid convolution. 

The book expanded and enlightened me on how this Bourne series began and why it achieved popularity. It was published in 1980 and the spy thriller was tied strongly to the Vietnam war and the cold war espionage thrillers. The movie took an updated technological approach that dealt with our fear of 9/11 and spying on the citizenry. The theme that translate from words to screen is the concept of guilt asking a question of identity and if one can't remember then are they truly guilty of their past. I enjoy seeing how these books are adapted and the choices that creative writers take in making a book. I enjoyed Ludlum's writing in this novel as well, especially the quick actions scenes that are written with short, clipped sentences but still clearly described. I will have to pick up some of the sequels. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

TV Show Review; Better Things

Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. have created a great new comedy to add to the large list of impressive shows that are on FX. Better Things follows Sam Fox (Adlon) a mother of three and actress that does both voice comedy and sitcoms. It has been hinted that this show travels close to Adlon's actual life as a single mother. The interactions between mother and her children is a source for a much of the comedy throughout each episode.

Max (Mikey Madison) is Sam's oldest daughter who is applying to college and making out with boys. She is embarrassed by her mother but also asks her to purchase pot for her and pick her up when she stays out late. Frankie (Hannah Alligood) is the middle daughter, more free-spirited and questioning of authority. Duke (Olivia Edward) is Sam's cute youngest daughter who is still learning about the world despite her young worldview.

The show has plenty of funny moments but is not just a straight comedy. Sam's mother Phyllis (Celia Imrie) also lives next door and supplies some material for drama. There is never any shortage of drama as the show swings back in forth in emotions. The show is never predictable with each episode setting up different events that play out in unexpected ways. 

Adlon has had a long career in comedy and was enjoyable to watch in Louis. I enjoyed this show and hope to see more episodes and other shows like it. Alongside, Atlanta these half-hour comedies defy the formulaic nature of most comedy shows and have struck a new path for the genre. 

Politics: Presidential Election


The Presidential election in the United State had such a strange outcome and disturbing result that it has taken me several days to process it. I stayed up late to see the final acceptance speech as Donald Trump was not the clear victor until late in the night. Hillary Clinton did not give her concession speech until early the next morning.

The first contested swing state that showed signs of the upset was the notorious vote swinging Florida that has shifted back and forth and was the source of much controversy in 2000. Like that election, the final results have finally come in and Clinton won the popular vote while losing the electoral college with other states like Ohio, Pennsylvania going to Trump. The term the Blue Wall came up as it collapsed with Michigan and Wisconsin dropping for the Democrats due to lack of campaigning and a surge of disgruntled white voters.

It will be interesting to see where the country goes from here as protests and riots have broken out and there has been a lot of mystery surrounding the policy. I will probably take a break from writing about politics for a while. I may check in at the inauguration, but we'll see what happens in the interim. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sports: NFL (Week 9)

The playoff picture becomes clearer as we enter the second half of the NFL season. Teams have established their reign at the top and show potential matchups for the Super Bowl, but there is still a lot of football left and anything could happen. This week I'll take a look at some of the potential playoffs matchups.

AFC
There are two teams at the top of the AFC:
New England Patriots
Oakland Raiders

If their dominant records continue these two teams will get their first week off as a bye week. They both put away their divisional rivals in their last games, Patriots got a bye this week but beat the Bills, and the Raider faced off against the Broncos and triumphed on Sunday night. 

The other teams on top of their divisions:
Houston Texans
Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens don't have a great record but they beat the Steeler to take the top spot in the AFC North. The Texans take a bye week but hold a tenuous lead in the NFC South. As of now, two teams from the AFC West: the Broncos and the Chiefs are in the wild card spots.

NFC
The two teams atop the NFC have 7 and 6 wins respectively:
Dallas Cowboys

Atlanta Falcons
The Cowboys look like a top team without much of a challenge from the last place Browns. The Falcons dispatched their divisional rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I'm partial to the Falcons but seeing the Cowboys win is fun too.
The other divisional leaders:
Seattle Seahawks

Minnesota Vikings
Seattle is a team that has surged later in seasons before and after a Monday night win against the Bills, I would not count them out. The Vikings have lost three straight games and could continue to sink from their undefeated start after another loss to the Lions and crucial injuries. The two Wild Card teams come from the NFC East: the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.

The competition will heat up as teams fight to stay alive. Some games I'm looking forward to in Week 10 that could be playoff games are Vikings vs Redskins, Cowboys vs Steelers, and Seahawks vs Patriots, a rematch of the Super Bowl two years ago.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sports: College Football (Week 10)

The first week of games after the initial college football playoff ranking sought to upset the established order though the top teams remain primarily the same. The CFP rankings biggest mistake was inserting Texas A&M in the top four as they lost to unranked Mississippi State.
 The top four remain the same teams that I listed off last week as Alabama fended off a challenge from LSU, Michigan obliterated Maryland, Clemson demolished Syracuse, and Washington destroyed California. The other big matchup of the week between Ohio State and Nebraska came out with the higher ranked Buckeyes on top.

Ohio State and Louisville are waiting for a screw-up from their top divisional but the Buckeyes have a chance when they face Michigan at the end of the season on Thanksgiving weekend. Auburn is also the last team to have an opportunity to take out top-ranked Alabama. The other story line I'm watching is the battle for the SEC East as the Florida Gators remain on top despite losing to Arkansas. 

Barring any unforeseen upsets, next week doesn't look to be offering much competition for the top-ranked teams. I may check out that Baylor vs. Oklahoma matchup as someone has to come out of the Big 12 on top though that division most likely won't have an entrant in the playoffs. I'd also be interested to see if Mississippi State can create magic twice and upset Alabama, not likely but crazier things have happened. Still go three full weeks of the season left and anything could happen. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Magazine Review: Uncanny Magazine (Issue 12)

Uncanny Magazine continues to impress and supply the Space Unicorn Corps with great new short fiction and poetry to read. The stories in this issue had me thinking and kept me on my toes as I never quite knew what was going to happen as entered new worlds conjure up by some of the top authors in the industry. I didn't fully understand the stories but there certainly made me feel things that I could think about later.

"My Body, Herself" by Carmen Maria Machado tells of a dead girl who sees her double and begins a strange relationship. This is the kind of story where the actual plot goes over my head but delivers strong feeling about life, death, and birth. The story is well written which adds to its impact.

"Not a Miracle, But a Marvel" by Tim Pratt is a silly story that was fun to read. Two couples find a portal to an alternate dimension and confront a supernatural being. I had a good time venturing into the fairy world and would like to think places like the one describe actually exist somewhere out in the remote wilderness. 

"Under One Roof" by Sarah Pinsker was a frightening tale but not in a typical way one might imagine. I realized how much I take for granted being able to leave a place and the core relationship adds to the story's strange occurrences. A couple moves into an old house with a locked room and the husband decides to investigate to find that certain things just should be left alone.

One of my favorite stories of the issue was the fantasy story "The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight" by E. Lily Yu. The story twists around the typical fairytale plot but has all the dragon slaying and princess rescuing that are tropes of the story. A witch aids a young knight on his quest to slay dragons but the gender roles are challenged and relationships are not always what we think. 

Another story that I'll really take away to think about from this issue was "Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex" by Ferrett Steinmetz. A woman works as a phone sex operator and falls for one of her clients how only wants to speak about architecture. One of the craziest relationships I've read about all year blossoms when the caller turns out to have a unique condition.

"Ogres of East Africa" by Sofia Samatar used an interesting style of listing of various ogres to include a story within the descriptions. I'd like to revisit this story when I have more time to focus as part of the plot got lost to me in the interesting description of all the ogres that inhabit this region of the world. 

As always, Uncanny has great poetry that is fun to read and think about and be transporting by, and the nonfiction in this issues explored why we have such a deep connection to science and fantasy fiction. The editors work hard and churn out enough fiction that I have a hard time keeping up as I'm still an issue behind. I'll try to read their latest by the end of the year!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

The next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe adds a spiritual realm of magic and mysticism. Doctor Strange tells a tale almost wholly separate from the Avengers storyline that had ended in turmoil after Civil War. Steven Strange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch who does a great job as an arrogant neurosurgeon that necessitates a comparison to Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark. Strange can do no wrong as he performs complicated surgeries with the help of Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and speeds down the highway until a gruesome car accident. Director Scott Derrickson does a good job showing the cringy surgeries but avoiding any unnecessary violence.

The visuals will be the most memorable part of this film as Strange ventures to Nepal for a cure, he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and learns about the trippy astral projection. Those scenes are fun and awe-inspiring. I couldn't look away at the stunning effects and will be the reason I watch this film multiple times in the future. Seeing this movie in the theater really transcends the experience and I would highly recommend this movie to Marvel fans. In the end, it is a Marvel movie and takes a lot of the story cues from that even if the shifting New York City is something we haven't seen on screen before.

Swinton's performance is the greatest example of how this film is more silly fun than anything serious. Chiwetel Ejiofor is an extraordinary actor but his performance here is a bit over the top though still a lot of fun to watch as he hops around building and fights through time warps. There isn't much chemistry between Cumberbatch and McAdams but plenty of the laughs come from their interactions, especially during an astral projection fight scene. Wong (Benedict Wong) is also good for a few laughs and does a large majority of the explanations to keep the story moving.

The villain Kaecillius benefits from Mads Mikkelsen performance and strange purple eye makeup plus his powers to alter reality cause for an extraordinary chase scene. The whole plot and magic rules are brushed over rather quickly and the training felt rushed leaving me having a hard time believing that Strange could learn everything so fast but once the action rolls it's easy to roll with it as it has that crazed Marvel fun feeling about it.

I enjoyed Doctor Strange a lot and would rate it somewhere near the top of the Marvel saga as another fun movie to add to the growing universe that I enjoy watching repeatedly. The action scenes are like nothing I've seen on the screen before with a great expansion on visuals that other films attempted but not at such a fun pace. I enjoy the connection of each film so was pleased when it was revealed how this film plays into the greater story and looking forward to the next edition in the Marvel Universe.