Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Ten Songs of 2017

Here are my favorite songs of 2017

1. 8TEEN by Khalid 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HM-nqhPI7ho

2. Never Be Like You by Flume (feat. Kai)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ly7uj0JwgKg

3. I Get Overwhelmed by Dark Rooms
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lsS70pMRrI

4. Homemade Dynamite & Perfect Places by Lorde
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0DjcsK_-HY

5. Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOubjLM9Cbc

6.  Shape of You by Ed Sheeran
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGwWNGJdvx8

7. Hostage by Roberto Horns (feat. Broadway B)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut1dZ4FcXuQ

8. Second One to Know by Chris Stapleton
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISDXB9RGL_E

9. Drinks by Roberto Horns
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weMFgn40VrI

10. Woman by Kesha (feat The Dap-Kings Horns)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXyA4MXKIKo

Top Ten TV Shows of 2017

Here are my favorite television shows of 2017

1. The Leftovers (Season 3)

2. Halt and Catch Fire (Season 4)


3. Better Call Saul (Season 3)

4. Game of Thrones (Season 7)

5. Big Little Lies

6. Mindhunter


7. The Handmaid's Tale

8. Ozark


9. Twin Peaks: The Return

10. Mr. Robot (Season 3)

Honorable Mentions: Legion, The Young Pope, Alias Grace, Narcos (S3), Chance (S2), Bojack Horseman (S4), Glow, This Is Us, Stranger Things (S2), The Detour (S2), American Gods, One Mississippi (S2), Difficult People (S3), Power (S4), Black Sails (S4) 

Top Ten Movies of 2017

Here are my favorite movies of 2017

1. The Florida Project

2. The Big Sick


3. Logan 

4. John Wick: Chapter 2

5. Get Out

6. Baby Driver

7. Dunkirk

8. The Disaster Artist

9. It

10. Blade Runner 2049

Honorable Mentions: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Lady Bird, A Ghost Story, Good Time, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, mother!, Wind River, The Beguiled, T2 Trainspotting, Wonder Woman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lost City of Z, Atomic Blonde, Annabelle: Creation, War for the Planet of the Apes, It Comes at Night, Logan Lucky

Movies from 2016 that I saw in 2017 and enjoyed but wasn't able to put on my top ten list last year: Hidden Figures, Fences, Silence, Moonlight, 20th Century Women, Lion, The Founder 

Sports: NFL (Week 15-17)

The NFL season is over with the final game offering some surprises and giving a few teams a chance in the playoffs while other teams end on a high note for next year. I managed to win the Super Bowl of my fantasy team after starting the season with four straight losses. I slipped into the playoffs and won the two-week matches to take the championship for my league. I'll take a look at the playoffs teams that won each division and the two wild-card teams from each conference. I'll either predict the matchups here or write them out on my wild card weekend post. 

AFC
1. New England Patriots (AFC East)
It looks like nothing will stop the Patriots from repeating their drive to the Super Bowl as they now have home-field advantage to help them along. Their star quarterback and tight-end make a nearly unstoppable duo and their win earlier this season against the Steelers proves they can defeat their toughest opponent. They'll take the bye week. They'll face their divisional rival the Bills if Buffalo makes it through the first round or the Titans or Chiefs, but whoever it is, I suspect they'll make short work of them.


2. Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North)
The Steelers have the best chance of upsetting the Patriots but I'm not sure of the condition of their star wide receiver who was injured in the next to last game. They rested their players against the Browns in the last game so the close game is not a sign of their playoff performance. They will face the tougher team that comes out of the wild card weekend. 
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South)
The Jaguars haven't been in the playoffs for a while and they are the leader of a bad division. They do have a chance to move the AFC Championship but it would take an upset of the Steelers to do that and I just don't see that happening. If their quarterback can improve and they keep a consistent run game with their defense strong, then they could be a force to be reckoned with in future seasons. They lost their last two games so they don't have good momentum.
4. Kansas City Chief (AFC West)
The Chiefs started out strong this year and have the potential to be a great team. I thought they were the only ones who could upset the Patriots but they started to fall off rapidly and ended the season on a weak not almost losing their division title to the Chargers. I'd like to see the Chiefs succeed but they'll have to remember who they were when the season began. 
5.  Tennessee Titans (Wild Card)
The Titans earned their spot with a win in the last game but three losses before that do not bode well for how they will perform in the playoffs. If they can take out the Chiefs, then they may face the Patriots unless the Bills go on, and in that case they'll probably lose to the Steelers. I don't see a path forward this year but Tennessee has improved a lot and could have a brighter future. 
6. Buffalo Bills (Wild Card)
The Buffalo Bills had to have a lot go their way to get into the playoffs and that exact scenario happened so that they are in. If their luck continues, they can move past the Jaguars but I don't see them beating their divisional rivals, the unstoppable Patriots. Still, Buffalo did snap a streak of not showing up in the playoffs so this is a positive step forward. 
NFC
1. Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East)
The Eagles are suffering from a rough end of the season as they lost their rookie quarterback who is responsible for their winning season. They beat two weak opponents, Raiders and Giants, but didn't score in their final game of the season against the Cowboys. Whoever the Eagles face could easily eliminate them unless their backup quarterback comes through for them. I don't see the Eagles int he NFC Championship and definitely not the Super Bowl.

2. Minnesota Vikings (NFC North)
The Vikings look like the strongest team in the NFC but even they have their weakness. The backup quarterback who took over helped my fantasy team out so I'm a fan and they will be the last team to face the Falcons so I'm rooting for them to go far. The Vikings had a clear path thanks to a Packers injury so I'm not sure if they are the real thing here. 
3. Los Angeles Rams (NFC West)
The Los Angeles Rams should try to win the Super Bowl this year for their new city because next year they are going to have to deal with a lethal 49ers team with an undefeated quarterback who beat them in the last game of this year. I hope the Rams lose to the Falcons but if they move past, I'd like for them to go far. 

4. New Orleans Saints (NFC South)
The Saints have turned their season around from the last two seasons of rough play. They have a strong run game and their veteran quarterback is up for one more run to the Super Bowl. They'll face their divisional rival in the wild card weekend and if they get past that, they may be able to push past the other NFC opponents. Their loss to the Buccaneers prevented them from taking third place in the standings. 
5. Carolina Panther (Wild Card)
The Panthers lost their last game of the season but they have given a decent performance this year. The Panthers will be a force to reckon with, especially if they can get past the Saints in their first round. If they can get some momentum, the Panthers could get to the Super Bowl like they did two years ago. 
 
6. Atlanta Falcons (Wild Card)
The team I'm most happy about being in the playoffs, the Falcons could possibly go pretty far, maybe even a redemption Super Bowl visit. This may just be me being optimistic but if they can get past the Rams, who have some problems, they'll play the Eagles who lost their starting quarterback. The NFC South is the strongest division so I see two teams from this division in the NFC Championship.  

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The magic game board evolves into a video game in this updated sequel of the comedy classic. When a jogger finds the board game on the beach, he brings it back to his son, Alex, who is not interested in playing a board game and plays video games instead. That night, the game transforms into a game cartridge and sucks the boy into the game. Years later, Spencer (Alex Wolff) hands over a paper to Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) in front of the missing boy's house that is now considered haunted. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is a self-obsessed popular girl who loves to post pictures on social media. She talks on the phone during a quiz in class and winds up with detention. Martha (Morgan Turner) is an introvert who doesn't want to participate in gym, which also lands her in detention. Spencer and Fridge are caught cheating and round out the group of detention. They have to clean out the school basement where the Jumanji came has been hidden away. They play the game each choosing characters and find themselves being sucked inside.

Spencer turns into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a muscle-bound adventurer. The football player Fridge is shrunk down when he becomes Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart) because he mistook the nickname for Moose. Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a scantily clad killer of man. Much to Bethany's horror, she is changed into the chubby middle-aged man Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). Spencer catches on quickly that it is a video game, especially when Bethany is eaten by a hippo and returns with one less tattoo on her wrist. The tattoos serve as life makers. They are picked up by Nigel (Rhys Darby) who explains the goal of the game through a cutscene. They have to return a jewel to the eye of a mountain shaped like a jaguar.

The villain Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) obtained the gem and is able to control animals with his mind. His henchmen pursue the group on motorcycles constantly shooting rockets and bullets at them. Martha is able to use Ruby's fighting skills to deter the pursuers but is shot in the process. Bravestone uses a boomerang to fight them as well. The group begins to air their grievances as Martha calls out Bethany for being shallow and Bethany considers Martha to be judgemental. Fridge blames Spencer for getting caught cheating and pushes him off the cliff. Nigel had instructed them to find the missing piece in a bazaar. They discover a snake in a basket and Fridge uses Finbar's zoological skills to defang the reptile. Van Pelt and his men attacks and Spencer uses Bravestone's fighting skills to beat them up until Alex arrives as the avatar Jefferson "Seaplane" McDonough (Nick Jonas). 

Alex has learned the game quite well but hasn't been able to get past the transportation shed. Bethany teaches Martha how to use Ruby's body to flirt with the guards and distract, though the nature of the game doesn't let them have more than one reaction so she beats them up using her dance fighting skill. Alex pilots the helicopter but it breaks in their escape so Spencer has to fix it. Fridge drops the jewel so they swing back but then Spencer sacrifices him to distract a herd of charging rhinos and retrieve it. McDonough has a weakness of mosquitos so Alex loses his last life when he is bitten by one until Bethany gives him CPR and it transfers one life.  The group makes it to Jaguar Mountain and Spencer tries to lead the way but a squirrel frighten him and the feline namesake of the mountain attack him and take his next to last life. They work together with Fridge planning it out like football using Bethany and himself as distractions. Martha sacrifices Ruby's second life and flings the jewel to Spencer so that he can end the game. They return to find that Alex has grown up and started a family. The group destroys the game at the end.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a funny and action-packed sequel that retains the humor of the original even as it uses a ton of special effects to match a much simpler film. With big stars and the great comic duo of Hart and Johnson at the center of it, the film has loads of great jokes and a ton of action sequences that make the film a fun little popcorn flick. It is having some box office success and was even sold out the first time I tried to see it. It has tough competition but may come out on top in its second weekend. The movie was very enjoyable and I'd be curious to see if they come up with a sequel soon or in many years from now. 

Movie Review: Jumanji

The game board comes alive in this classic kids movie with humor and decent special effects that have managed to hold up somewhat over twenty years. The story begins with two young boys in the 1860s burying the board game in fear, promising to never speak of it. A young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) discovers the game board at a construction site. He is constantly bullied and flees to his father's shoe factory. Alan's father Sam Parrish (Jonathan Hyde) is intimidating and plans to send Alan away to military school. A worker in the shoe factory Carl Bentley (David Alan Grier) has come up with a new sneaker idea but Alan accidentally leaves the prototype shoe on the conveyor which damages the machine. Alan has a crush on  Sarah Whittle (Laura Bell Bundy) who stops by his house late that night to apologize about her boyfriend beating him up. Alan's parents have gone to a special dinner so Alan invites Sarah inside to try out the mysterious board game. 

The two kids play the game and Alan is sucked into the board while Sarah is chased out of the house by bats. Years later two orphans, Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst) arrive at the house that has remained abandoned since Alan went missing. Rumors have swirled about the Parrishes killing their son but their aunt Nora Shepherd (Bebe Neuwirth) still wants the house for the low price. Peter has become mute since his parents died and only speaks with Judy. The two kids hear the drumbeat of the game calling and pull the game out of the attic. They roll the dice and bring out monkeys and a lion. Peter rolls a five, which brings back a grown-up Alan Parrish (Robin Williams). Alan has been hiding in the jungle for years and has experience with the dangers of Jumanji.

The only way to put the creatures back into the game and reverse the effects is to finish the game but the kids and Alan can't keep playing without a grown-up Sarah (Bonnie Hunt). She is a recluse fortune teller who most people believe is crazy after her stories about Alan's disappearance. At first, she refuses to play the game but Alan and the kids convince her to roll. The animals continue to grow out of control from the mosquitos from Judy's first roll to growing vines that take over the house. Alan has to flee from a mad hunter who takes the same form as his father. They nearly lose the board but Peter saves it and tries to cheat his way to the end, which sends him back and starts to turn him into a monkey. Carl had to become a police officer and follows the chaos with amazement and terror. He teams up with Nora to hunt down the kids.

The group return to the house to finish the game but a monsoon starts to flood the first floor and blows Carl and Nora off the porch. Escaping a hungry hippo, they retreat to an attic where Alan is sucked into the floor by quicksand. Judy is struck by a poison a dart from a plant. The house starts to fall apart in an earthquake. A spider attacks monkey Peter. Alan finally rolled the last number needed to progress his piece to the end. Everything is sucked back into the game and time is reversed. Alan and Sarah have a chance to rekindle their relationship and start a family of their own. They meet Peter and Judy's parents but caution them away from taking the trip in which they died in the alternate timeline. As kids, they took the board game and dumped it in the river where it was discovered by a runner on the beach.

Jumanji is a fun movie that has held up for the two decades since it first came out. As a kid, I watched this film with fascination and just enough horror to make it interesting. The special effects looked a little goofy but there were enough props to make it still look great. Robin Williams was a true talent and did a great job with the humor and animal action. Kirsten Dunst was a good child actor who did a lot of memorable performances before becoming a good actor as an adult. I have great memories of Jumanji and it was nice to watch again as the franchise has been reborn these many years later. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman delivers one of the best performances of his career and is nearly unrecognizable as Winston Churchill. The movie revolves around the events leading up to the Dunkirk evacuation tying conveniently to another film this year about that event. The story starts with Parliament objecting to the leadership of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as the opposition liberal party can no longer have him as the leader as he allowed Hitler to rise to power. The conservative party agrees one man should be the next Prime Minister, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), but he refuses the promotion not wanting to take over during wartime. The privilege of leading the country falls to the career politician, Churchill, who is introduced through the eyes of Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), a nervous typist on her first day who has to grow accustomed to Churchill's eccentricities, almost quitting after a tough lecture. 

Oldman brings out the peculiar nature of Churchill's behavior like an English breakfast in bed to his blubbering speech. Churchill receives the call to the palace from King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). The king is nervous around Churchill and their relationship is cold as his royal highness preferred Halifax as the next prime minister. Churchill shrugs off the standoffishness and criticism to prepare for war. Halifax and Chamberlain don't want to go to war against Hitler and his nazis so they start to push for peace talks. They develop a plan to cause a vote of no confidence against Churchill if they get it in writing that he does not accept any path towards negotiation with Germany. Churchill is crafty about being boxed into a corner and prepared to be usurped. He quickly puts these antagonistic conspirators on his war room council. 

Churchill depends on his family even as they take second place in his priorities. His wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) sticks with him and is not afraid to give him advice even if it's harsh. The threat looms on the horizon as the Germans take Belgium and their tanks push into France. Churchill makes a tough decision to sacrifice four thousand troops to bring three hundred thousand out at Dunkirk. With the smaller group of soldiers being sacrificed, it will serve as a distraction to allow the evacuation to continue. Halifax and Chamberlain object to the loss and Churchill's continued unwillingness to negotiate. Some of the interactions are so subtle but there illuminated so well under the direction of Joe Wright mixed with Oldman's performance. 

Facing an invasion, Churchill finally concedes that he will hear Hitler's terms as he begs for help from Roosevelt. The king comes to Churchill's house to put his full support behind the prime minister. He gives the advice to go to the people which leads to a great subway scene, my favorite of the film. The citizens of London do not want to negotiate with fascists and Churchill takes the message back to Parliament. The film winds down with two last great speeches from Churchill to showcase the performance of Oldman and show Churchill's power through language. 

Darkest Hour centers around the brilliant performance of an amazing actress and while it doesn't offer much else, it does give some insight into a historical moment. I need to learn more about the history of the world but movies like this make it fun and compelling to consume information while being entertaining. Gary Oldman is definitely working to earn a best actor award and has so far achieved an important nomination, but he has some tough competition and faces the backlash of being the favored recipient. He has a strong supporting cast with Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ben Mendelsohn. Even though the movie is nearly all just talking, it is never once boring and a great homage to a brave leader. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

This circus musical has some catchy songs and surprising moments of entertainment even as it fails to examine its subject matter and puts an optimistic sheen to the story of success it tells. The film begins with a quick dance number and a little singing as P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) reflects on his impoverished childhood. As the son of a poor tailor, he catches the eye of a wealthy patron's daughter. His father dies and leaves him to survive on the streets and make enough money to finally propose to Charity (Michelle Williams) despite the misgivings of her father. Barnum promises Charity that they will be wealthy even as she insists that she has all they need with their two daughters. When Barnum is laid off, he decides to take out a loan to buy a museum and make a success out of it but at first, the patrons are not showing up. His daughter recommends that he bring life into the dusty museum and this sparks an idea.

In a montage, Barnum recruits unique individuals advertising them as curiosities, which starts to attract more crowds. One of the more interesting characters and better performances was of Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) as the bearded lady, but the movie does not have enough room to share the screen with anyone for long with Barnum at the center of the story. Of the few other characters that can steal the spotlight, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), a disgraced playwright, is recruited by Barnum to help him appeal to the wealthier customers in one of the better dance numbers. Carlyle is entranced by the acrobat Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) but their interracial relationship is frowned upon by the backward high-class Americans, including his parents. Barnum's star steadily rises and he gains the fame he so desperately seeks even receiving an invitation from the Queen of England. 

At Buckingham Palace, Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an extraordinary opera singer. He decides to turn his back on the individuals who helped propel him to fame and promote Lind, especially after she impresses a crowd in New York. He abandons the members of his circus and to take Jenny Lind on a tour. Even this glossed over version can't avoid scandal as rumors swirl around Barnum and Lind hinting at indiscretion. When Barnum tries to leave the tour to return to her family, Lind kisses him in front of a crowd. Angry citizens in New York decides to charge into the circus and set it afire. Barnum returns too late and loses all his investment as Lind cancels her tour. Charity learns the news and decides to return to her family home as her father predicted long ago. 

Barnum sulks at the bar but he is not the only one to have his life ruined when the circus burned down. The members of the crew rally around Barnum and he tries to dig up what he can from the circus. Carlyle proposes that he fund Barnum's next venture as he was smart enough to put away the money he was paid. Barnum has the idea of putting the circus in the iconic tent and achieves success with a final show before deciding to return to his family passing the baton to Carlyle. The film has a cheesy ending and I can't help wanting to see a more realistic version of Barnum's life, maybe on television, even as I liked all the music and some of the bombastic dancing performances.

The Greatest Showman has some things to say about success and how humans, especially driven white men, can never have enough and that certain circles will never be impressed no matter the success if an individual came from the wrong place. Jackman brings his best to a movie that can't really live up to his performance and I prefer his earlier acting this year as the iconic superhero. Efron has immense talent while Zendaya has a bright future attached to another superhero project and should have a ton of roles coming her way. Ferguson and Williams were also great in supporting female roles but Keala Settle really stuck for me as the most entertaining supporting character. However, Barnum's story doesn't share much room for minor characters. The film is enjoyable as a silly musical but nothing that will stick around beyond a little melody. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson adds his own twist to this epic saga as the eighth installment expands the universe and tells a compelling tale of stunning science fiction and fantasy. As the opening crawl informs us, the Resistance is on the run from the First Order. The cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) launches a brave attack on the giant Dreadnaught ship while also taunting General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). After Poe destroys the Dreadnaught's weapons, the Resistance launches a bombing run that results in heavy casualties but destroys the giant ship. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) but he is reluctant to train another Jedi after his failure with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The evil Ben Solo tracks down Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) aboard the fleeing Resistance ship but does not to commit to killing her. However, she is blown out the window when other fighters launch missiles and have to use the force to save herself. 

With Leia injured, the Resistance takes on a new leader Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), much to Poe's chagrin. Finn (John Boyega) wakes up and is desperate to find Rey. He tries to evacuate from the Resistance ship but Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) shocks him before he can escape. Together they come up with a plan to stop the First Order from tracking the Resistance ship. With the help of Poe, they head off to a casino planet to find a master codebreaker. Rey pushes Luke to resume her training and somehow opens up a force telepathic connection with Kylo. They communicate and Rey slowly believes that Kylo could be turned back to the light side as he explains how Luke attacked him. Skywalker claims to have sensed Kylo's evil and taken matters into his own hands, though it all comes down to a huge misunderstanding and the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke. 

On the casino planet, BB-8, Finn, and Rose search for the master codebreaker (a cameo for Justin Theroux) and find him but they are hauled off by the authorities for crashing their ship on the beach. In the prison, they meet DJ (Benicio Del Toro) who has a way to get out. They make a daring escape on the backs of cute creatures and escape with the help of DJ and BB-8. Rey learns about the force but is unable to find out the truth about her parents. She grows frustrated with Luke and heads to Supreme Leader's giant ship to turn Kylo. The Resistance is running out of fuel and the ships are being destroyed. Holdo has a plan but Poe disagrees and tries to mutiny but Leia wakes up and puts an end to Poe's misbehavior. Rey is captured immediately and brought to Snoke's throne room. Finn's plan also fails as he is caught by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). 

Kylo Ren makes a crucial decision when he betrays Snoke slicing in him half by turning Rey's blue lightsaber into his waist with the force. Rey and Kylo fight off Snoke's troopers in my favorite scene while Finn and Rose are about to be executed by Phasma as they were betrayed by DJ. The Resistance evacuates their ship secretly and Holdo turns the ship around blasting it into lightspeed. Snoke's ship crumbles apart as Rey and Kylo confront each other. Finn destroys Captain Phasma and BB-8 causes a ton of chaos. The Resistance flees down to Crait, a salt planet where they try to hold out in an old Rebel stronghold. Kylo takes control with Hux and they land their giant walkers down in front of the stronghold. Poe, Finn, and Rose charge at the Deathstar laser, and Finn nearly dies until Rose saves him. Rey flies in with Chewbacca on the Millenium Falcon to fight them off. Luke arrives, speaks with Leia, and confront the First Order army. Kylo launches a huge attack but it does not affect Skywalker. Kylo goes down and confront Luke but is unable to kill him because Luke is only projecting his image to Crait while still back on the island planet meditating. The Resistance uses the distraction to escape as Luke dies from the effort. Rey finds her own strength with the force and the remaining Resistance members flee on the Millenium Falcon.

I'd like to see the film again but on my first viewing, it was an entertaining wild ride that further the legacy of Star Wars. The Last Jedi pushed the film into new territory while thoroughly handing over the franchise to the younger characters. While the casino storyline with Boyega and Tran felt superfluous, it allowed for the setup of young orphans harnessing the force and introduced a creative new world. One thing I found really enjoyable were all the cute new creatures like crystal foxes and porgs. I do want to see more lightsaber action and bigger battle but maybe the final installment of this third trilogy will deliver the ultimate battle. Once again, I do feel like I'm waiting for the film to follow through but there were plenty of shocking scenes to make this film a stunning piece of entertainment and great time at the theater. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

TV Show Review: The Exorcist (Season 2)

The second season of this horror television show based on the classic film sees the two main priests setting out into the world to fight the demons they encounter. Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) and Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) seek out demonic presences that have possessed individuals. Their unconventional methods and the events of the first season have left them excommunicated from the church that may have a corruption of its own to deal with. They start the season in Montana where the locals do not believe the priests' grand claims. They do find success before heading out to Seattle where another little girl is told she is possessed. The priests discover that the girl, Harper (Beatrice Kitsos) has been dosed by her mother with hallucinogens. They pull Harper out of this troubled living situation and bring her to a foster family that has troubles of its own.  

Andrew Kim (John Cho) has adopted four children and keeps the house open for others as well. Grace (Amélie Eve) has strange habits like a fear of going outside, socializing, and must always wear a creepy mask. Andrew works to make her feel comfortable and he can't always give attention to the other kids like Verity (Brianna Hildebrand), Truck (Cyrus Arnold), the religious Shelby (Alex Barima), and the blind Caleb (Hunter Dillon). When there is an incident with Caleb, the social worker Rose (Li Jun Li) comes around to investigate. The family reels from the death of Andrew's wife Nicole (Alicia Witt) who mysteriously died one day while swimming in the nearby lake. 

At the Vatican, Father Bennett (Kurt Egylawan) hopes to uncover a plot of demons but he is betrayed and nearly killed until Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson) helps him defeat the demons and recruits him to join the exorcists. Tomas and Marcus visit Harper at the foster home and discover a malevolent presence. Andrew learns that Grace is a figment of his imagination and the demon uses his love of Nicole to trick its way into possessing him. It also uses a doll to take over Truck's body and makes him attack Verity. Truck is locked up and Rose decides to hang around.Both the priests decide they want to learn more even as Marcus cautions Tomas not to trust the images the demon shows him. Andrew tries to cover up that he is possessed but when Harper's mother breaks in to take her child back, Andrew disembowels her and reveals his demonic powers.

The priests tie Andrew down and start to perform an exorcist as all the other kids try to explain to the neighbors that he is just sick. Mouse and Father Bennett journey to Seattle to find Tomas and Marcus but Bennett is injured so Mouse has to take him to the hospital. Andrew breaks free and kidnaps all the kids threatening to kill them all at once but Verity escapes having learned this talent from her troubled early life. Tomas uses his powers to enter the demon and fight it as Marcus helps the kids escape from Andrew. Mouse arrives in time to help Tomas and together they try to save Andrew but they are unsuccessful. The series ends with promises of a further story but with all the strange things going on at FOX, it may never happen.

I liked this unique reboot of the Exorcist series as there is even a final scene with Father Bennett that harkens back to one of the scariest scenes in the third film. I usually enjoy films or television about demonic possession and find the stories especially creepy. This season had a lot of horrifying images, though the jump scares are at a minimum since this is basic cable television. John Cho does great being possessed as Herrera and Daniels make an impressive duo hunting down demons. I would enjoy another season as they travel across the country finding monsters. I hope the show continues but if it doesn't, I'm glad we got to see these two very entertaining and decently scary seasons. 

TV Show Review: Mr. Robot (Season 3)

This techno-thriller continues to stun and impress with a third season that renews the suspense and ups the stakes for the troubled and untrustworthy protagonist. Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) must still contend with his split personality Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) who takes the form of his dead father, but this begins with them not communicating at all. Elliot has managed to block him out but has to deal with the times that he loses control and can't remember. At the end of the second season, Elliot had been shot in the stomach by Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström). The mysterious Irving (Bobby Cannavale) is a fixer for the Dark Army and he helps Elliot recover from his injury. Stage 2 is the next big step in Mr. Robot's plan and the Dark Army led by Whiterose (BD Wong) hopes to enact it but Elliot is set on stopping it.

Darlene (Carly Chalkin) knows that she and her brother Elliot are in over their heads so she agrees to cooperate with FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer). Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) works with Wellick and Mr. Robot to ensure that Stage 2 goes through for the Dark Army convinced in a delusional dream that this attack will somehow bring her mother back. Elliot tries to stop himself from causing more trouble Tyrell hides out in a cabin under the supervision of Irving. As more chaos ensues, Agent Santiago (Omar Metwally) turns out to be a mole helping Wellick avoid arrest. In one amazing episode with great long tracking shots, Elliot eludes the authorities and tries to stop the explosion but Angela pulls it off and tons of Evil Corp buildings go up in flames. 

The plot isn't always the easiest to follow along especially as I watched it week to week and often forgot what happened before. Irving was a great new character because often after very violent scenes he would return to his small apartment and continue his work on his novel. Trenton (Sunita Mani) and Mobley (Azhar Khan) are taken hostage by Leon (Joey Bada$$) who eventually uses them to take the blame for the Evil Corp attacks and push suspicion away from the Dark Army. Elliot tries to clear his friends' names but is unable to save them though he does meet Trenton's little brother. 

Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) conspires with Whiterose so that China can take the Congo and Evil Corp can establish its own currency. I wasn't so sure what happened in the next few episodes but Darlene ends up in custody after she seduces DiPierro and Sanchez plans to take her to the Dark Army but DiPierro intervenes only to be captured by Sanchez as well. Elliot finally makes up with his split personality and together they conspire to put an end to the Dark Army's plan. Irving ends up catching Elliot and Mr. Robot as they search Sanchez's apartment and brings them to where Darlene and DiPierro are held captive. Price reveals to Angela that he is her father after he and her mother had a fraught relationship. Elliot manages to make a deal with Whiterose to spare his life after Irving brutally murders Sanchez in front of DiPierro to turn her into a mole. The finale puts a lot of pressure on Elliot to follow through as he reverses the effects of the five-nine attack.

Mr. Robot is a better show to binge watch than to catch week to week but I found a lot of the episodes really entertaining on their own even if I didn't pay attention enough to follow all the major plot points. I enjoy Rami Malek as the schizophrenic protagonist and Slater is creepy as his dead father and alternate hacker personality. Doubleday and Chalkin are great as supporting characters while DiPierro is one of my favorite FBI agents on screen. Bobby Cannavale really raised this third season as he has done for other shows as he can be hilarious but also menacing in a single scene. Sam Esmail has done a great job with this show and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next season. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

James Franco's incredible performance as Tommy Wiseau is hilarious and shows his range as an actor. Greg (Dave Franco) is a young aspiring actor when he witnesses the wild, inspirational bravado of Wiseau in acting class. He asks the strange man to read a scene with him and Tommy invites him to a restaurant to read a scene in front of the other patrons. Greg feels powerful after the performance and they form a fast friendship. Inspired by Hollywood legends like James Dean, Greg and Tommy set out for Los Angeles much to Greg's mother's dismay. Tommy does not explain how he just has another apartment in Los Angeles on top of the apartment in San Francisco or where he got the money for his Mercedes. He lets Greg take the bedroom while he hangs up curtains for his room.

Greg works to get an agent and land parts in television shows or films and finds some moderate success. He does meet Amber (Alison Brie), a bartender, and Tommy's jealous nature begins to surface. Wiseau makes up elaborate stories to pretend he is having success but his lies are easily disproved and his attempts to impress producers are met with scorn. Feeling downtrodden and defeated, Tommy is ready to give up when Greg gives him the idea to create his own film. The funding for this film remains a mystery but Tommy is convinced he can do it so he sets out to write a screenplay. He comes up with the idea of The Room, writes the screenplay, and shows it to Greg making him read it through while in a restaurant. Greg, in his optimistic nature, agrees to work with Tommy to create it and take on the second lead role. Together they set out to make the infamous film, The Room.

Tommy does not hold back on the expense preferring to buy the equipment instead of rent it and hire on a professional film and television crew including script supervisor Sandy (Seth Rogen) and Raphael (Paul Scheer). They cast the various roles demanding strange performances to earn the lead female role which eventually goes to Juliette (Ari Graynor). Production begins and Tommy's strange behavior becomes immediately relevant to the rest of the crew. He uses two types of cameras, digital and film, and insists on having his own bathroom that no one else can use. He gives strange speeches about human behavior and encourages his actors to believe in themselves but when it's his turn to perform, he freaks out and is unable to remember the lines. Greg has to calm him down and eventually gives him a water bottle which results in an infamously poorly performed scene. 

The production continues but goes awry when Greg tells Tommy that he is moving out. Cast members start to notice that the story doesn't make any sense with plot points being introduced but never being dealt with later. A sex scene proves too much for some workers and another day on set with no air conditioning adds to the troubled work environment on top of Tommy recording the cast members complaining when they think he isn't listening. Greg gets offered a part by Bryan Cranston but he needs to keep his beard as Tommy demands he shave it for a scene. The production runs behind schedule and over budget but Tommy's financial seem limitless as he hires a new crew. Greg confronts Tommy about his mysterious money and origin. The two fight while the new crew films. Greg distances himself from Tommy and finds some success on stage. Tommy returns to him after he does not RSVP to the movie's premiere. The two friends go to the premiere in a limo and watch as everyone laughs at their work. Tommy is embarrassed but Greg encourages him to embrace the humor and be proud of his film.

The performance by James Franco carries the film that would otherwise have a decent story but is not all that entertaining. The humor comes from Tommy's strange behavior and the way Franco betrays him as his younger brother Dave's Greg serve as the person who is somewhat normal but sees the determination in Tommy as something to be followed. The film drags a bit in the middle and I had not yet seen the room so I didn't understand all the jokes during the filming. Now that I have watched the result of Tommy Wiseau's work some of the laugh lines make a lot more sense. James Franco's performance deserves recognition and the film has a lot of good laughs with an inspiring message.