Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Review: Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant 1960s thriller Psycho defined a genre for many years to come. When Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) makes off with a $40,000 of her boss's money to be with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin), she finds herself lost on the road with growing paranoia. A chilling soundtrack ratchets up the tension as Marion sells her car and works to cover her tracks despite being followed by a police officer. Caught in a thunderstorm, she is forced to pull off and find lodging at the Bates Motel. She meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) the purveyor of the motel. Norman offers to make Marion dinner 

She soon discovers that Norman has an angry mother who reprimands him loudly from the house above the motel for checking in a pretty girl. Marion apologizes for intruding as Norman watches her eat. He continues to watch her even without her knowledge through a peephole. Marion regroups in the motel and takes a shower. The iconic shower scene occurs when Norman's mother comes in and stabs Marion to death. Norman is horrified by his mother's actions but cleans up the dead body and drives the car into a swamp. 

Marion's sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) goes to Sam, looking for her sister. Also on the search is Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam). He sets off following Marion's trail until he comes to Bates Motel. He asks Norman some questions about Marion. Norman at first denies Marion stayed at the motel but as Det. Arbogast catches him in lie after lie, he becomes uncomfortable and stutters. Arbogast returns to the motel after letting Lila know that he was on Marion's trail. He goes into the creepy the house and gets murdered by Norman's mother.

Lila and Sam decide to figure what happened to Arbogast and their sister. The report to the local sheriff who tells them that Norman's mother is actually dead. Disturbed, they check-in to the Bates Motel and snoop around. Sam distracts Norman while Lila investigates the house looking for his mother. Norman realizes that Sam is up to something and attacks him. Lila finds Mrs. Bates body decomposing down in the fruit cellar. Just as Norman tries to stab Lila, Sam stops him. They analyze Norman and discover his split personality. 

This movie is a classic still inspiring stories today. The film still has a frightening aspect that utilizes the black and white of the filmmaking at the time. The exploration of split personalities is still a common theme in cinema and this is a defining production of just such a scenario. A Hitchcock masterpiece and horror classic, it was fun to revisit this film in anticipation of the finale of Bates Motel, the current iteration of the story. Fans of horror who have not seen this film should definitely seek it out. 

Movie Review: Free Fire

When a gun deal goes wrong, it leads to a comical shootout between tow sides that is both gruesome and funny to watch. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) want to buy guns for the IRA so he meets up with Justine (Brie Larson) who connects with Ord (Armie Hammer). Ord knows a strange South African dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) who brings the wrong type of guns, AR-17 instead of M-16s. Frank has brought along two junkies Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley) who had been in a fight the previous night and are high on smack. 

Vernon brought along an ex-Black Panther Martin (Babou Ceesay) who tries to calm him when things get heated. He also uses two men Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) to carry the heavy guns. The clash arises when Harry recognizes Stevo from the night earlier. It is never clear what truly happened but Harry claims that Stevo cut his cousin's face when she refused to have oral sex with him. The argument escalates until Harry shoots Stevo and everyone draws a gun on everyone else. 

The gunshots hit everyone as bullets fly but most of the wounds are not lethal at first. The criminals get hit in the leg or the shoulder. The shootout takes place in a large abandoned factory, possibly used to be for making umbrellas, so there is debris all over. Vernon is goofily worried about infection but as the wounds grow progressively worse, it is clear that many of them won't get out. It is also apparent that there was a double-cross as snipers show up to add to the mayhem and bullets flying.  

For as much action as goes on in this movie, I found parts of it to be rather boring. I'm not sure if it was that there were not clear cut good guys or bad guys or that some of the action was confusing, but I never really cared and bullets flying for gunfighting's sake just doesn't cut. Still, the humor was enough to keep the movie more entertaining than the action. There are various goals that get the men and woman crawling around the factory trying to get where they are going as alliances shift and shots go wild. 

No one makes it out as appears obvious from the premise but there are some exceptional deaths. Vernon is set on fire shoots his attacker but then gets a bullet to the face. Stevo fighting with Harry gets his head run over. Martin lives a little while longer with a hole in his head. Ord and Chris nearly make it out when they are finally double-crossed by Justine. She had a plan of her own and the shootout messed that up pretty badly. The ending isn't too ambiguous as Justine tries to limp away from the carnage only to hear sirens and see flashing lights coming from outside. It's a decent film but nothing too special.

TV Show Review: The Get Down (Part 2)

The second part of this Netflix original picks up where the Get Down brothers left off. The Get Down crew had a major success winning a rap battle and now they perform nightly at their own club. Ezekiel 'Books' Figuero (Justice Smith) is straddling two worlds as he works on his college essay before going out to perform a show. Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola) has had success with her first hit but now must manage a crude record producer and the demands of her father Pastor Ramon Cruz (Giancarlo Esposito). Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) tries to pull Books back into the music business while also trying to maintain his drug dealing business by selling at their shows.

The villainous Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) still insists that this musical movement is fiction yet begrudges the Get Down brothers success. Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks) falls for a girl in the Zulu brotherhood, though the members don't support what that the Get Down's rap show is a front for the drug dealing. Dizzee (Jaden Smith) writes to his lover Thor in prison as he draws the story of the Get Down. History catches up with Papa Fuerte (Jimmy Smits) as he hopes to develop a part of the Bronx but the law is also threatening to catch up.

There was a feeling of dread that comes over the initial parts of this season as the success is sprinkled with danger. Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown Jr.) wants to impress a girl so he joins the drug game of selling weed spiked with angel dust but when Cadillac initiates a nefarious plan to spike the dust to poison, the Get Down brother's club is littered with sick bodies, including Dizzee. Boo-Boo can't stay ahead of the law forever. Ezekiel also struggles to keep a pristine look when Shaolin crashes his college interview and draws a gun on several of the white college jerks.

Mylene's rise to fame hits a barrier when her father tries to control her image but the record producer demands a sexier image. Mylene goes with showbiz as opposed to her father's wishes, which leads to Pastor Cruz's descent, his wife's revelation of Mylene's true father, and his eventual suicide at the altar of his new church. The Get Down brothers have to gather the various leaders of this new music movement and hold one large concert to stop Cadillac and his evil Aunt from stealing their music and making them stick to a bad contract. All of this feels a bit jumbled together and wraps up a little too quickly.

I didn't enjoy the second part as much of the first as it seemed to be teetering on the edge of drama but skirted any real consequences. There was still that frenetic joy but the switching of storylines didn't quite work and most of this felt a bit repetitive of the first part. The historical nature didn't seem to have as much an affect though the music was a joy to listen to. If you are interested in the birth of hip-hop or would enjoy a musical exploration of New York in the eighties, this might just be the show for you. It wasn't too long so didn't kill too much television time with a quick watch, and had interesting enough characters to carry it through the episodes.  

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

The epic Hugo-nominated sci-fi thriller from acclaimed writer Neal Stephenson explores the process of human survival after the explosion of the moon. The cause of this explosion is never revealed throughout the over 800 pages of meticulous prose but that was never the point of this book. The explosion caused by whatever is referred to as the Agent leaves the world with only about 2 years to prepare for the oncoming rush of asteroid and meteor from the shredded moon. This space debris grows exponentially until what is referred to as the Hard Rain will come down after the White Sky. The only hope for humanity's survival appears to be a voyage into space. The crew of the International space station will lead the charge as new members will be shot up and join the swarm.

It is hard to review a large book in such a short amount of space as there are so many different aspects of it and I will only be able to mention so much. The perspective jumps around but the main characters consist of a popular scientist Doc Dubois, the leader of the international space station Ivy, a robot mining mechanic Dinah, and other various members of the operation. Doc Dubois realizes that the breaking up of the moon will cause the destruction of Earth in the first part of the novel as the crew of the station begin planning for the arrival of survivors. There are a lot of technical details and the book is not always a pleasure to read though quite informative about space travel.  

Deciding who will live and survive is left up to each society as they must choose two people to go to a training and from there, individuals will be chosen who have proven they have the necessary skills. Conflict breaks out between some countries who believe their people are not being treated fairly. Survival on the Ark in space does not appear realistic to most people as the strive to solve the multiple problems that arise before the end of Earth. The timeline is accelerated when a meteor crashes into the cloud of moon rocks sending deadly space projectiles crashing into Earth. Some go below ground while others take to the seas in submarines, but none are believed to survive except those in space.

The astronauts must take on harrowing missions to find a water supply, protect from bolides, and cover from radiation. Luckily, a billionaire sacrificed his life to attached a nuclear missile to a comet full of ice and another managed to pull that in behind the space station. The whole time the space station was using an asteroid for cover against flying debris but eventually, they would have to fly up into higher orbit. The president of the U.S. known as Julia, or JBF, escaped the debris and leads a rebellion against the leaders of the space station. A lot of people die from all the dangers of space steadily decreasing the number of survivors. It ends up that there are only seven women left and they use genetics and technology to start a new society within an asteroid.

The final third of the novel jumps ahead three thousand or so years to a new civilization. The seven eves are treated as the founders of civilization as there are seven races descended from these seven women. Each one exhibits the characteristics chosen by the women and the populations were dependent on a number of children each woman could have. There have been wars and huge leaps in technology as the humans have returned to Earth and split up across the planet. Major portions are just exposition filling in the development of the new culture. This plot revolves around the discovery of other races that survived on Earth. This book was long and felt like quite an adventure but I would only recommend to those with a lot of time, who like the minutiae details, and fans of Stephenson. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review: Ugly As Sin by James Newman

James Newman's brutal novel tells the story of a down on his luck wrestler searching for his kidnapped granddaughter. The book starts off with a grotesque horror scene when big time wrestler Nick Bullman aka The Widowmaker is abducted by deranged fans and tortured. The most gruesome part is that Nick loses his face in the torture and is left with a hideous complexion. A cop even slips on the flesh making this scene especially disturbing before jumping ahead several months. Newman fills us in on the rough surgeries Nick had to experience to even operate again but it leaves him disfigured and ashamed of the face he has to show the world. 

This book isn't all just violence and gore, there is a definite human element as Nick Bullman is knocked and sent plummeting from his celebrity pedestal after he beats up a wrestling president. At his lowest, Nick receives a call from his daughter Melissa. She's in dire need as her daughter has been kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. Feeling guilty for his absence for nearly all of Melissa's life, Nick vows to find his granddaughter Sophie no matter the cost. His first lead is Melissa's dead boyfriend Eddie who was murdered during Sophie's kidnapping. The deceased drug dealer associated with all sorts of ugly characters that Nick discovers as he investigates.

Nick never blames Melissa for Sophie's abduction and instead, takes responsibility for the missing girl as repayment for his past absence. Nick meets Melissa's neighbor, Leon, searching her house for any stashed drugs. He's a mess but a huge fan of the Widowmaker so he approaches meeting Nick with a fervor and assists in the mystery. Leon was one of my favorite characters in the novel, a mixture of humor and a sad depiction of the life to be lived in Midnight, North Carolina.

The plot grows more intricate interspersed with intimate scenes between Nick and his estranged daughter that add an emotional element to this brutal work of fiction. The villain doesn't show up until later and the book lags just a little the middle as Nick waits around for a further clue. when that shows up in his motel room, he follows the crumbs and news reports to an awful realization. The old billionaire, known as Daddy, has a collection that he hopes to grow and that includes famous memorabilia tying this back to Nick's career as a famous wrestler. 

I would recommend this book to those who can handle gore but are looking for a decent noir mystery. There is certainly a strong sense of setting and interesting characters to push the plot along for what makes a not too long read. I definitely enjoyed the parts where Nick found breaks in the mystery and was able to demonstrate his great strength plus a certain knowledge about pain and taking hits to later achieve wins. There are plenty of twists and turns to make the final realizations ultimately satisfying. Looking forward to checking out more by James Newman. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TV Show Review: Girls (Season 6)

The final season of this HBO original series sees a major change for Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham). After receiving a writing assignment and setting out to a surf camp, she encounters Paul Louis (Riz Ahmed) a lazy surfer and has a one night stand. She returns to New York where she covers for Marnie (Alison Williams) who wants to get away and try to mend her troubled relationship with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Desi turns out to have been concealing an oxycontin addiction. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Adam (Adam Driver) are having trouble in their wild relationship and decide to make a film of Adam and Hannah's strange relationship.

In one of the most interesting episodes of the season and the series, Hannah has a strange interview with Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys), a popular other accused of taking advantage of young female fans with his fame. The interview grows especially intense when he makes a move on Hannah and his daughter arrives. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is troubled about his stagnant life when the owner of the coffee shop where he works Hermie (Colin Quinn) passes away leaving him the place. Hannah goes to the hospital for a UTI infection where she encounters Joshua (Patrick Wilson) the rich doctor she'd once had a short tryst with and he tells her that she's pregnant.

Hannah decides to keep the baby causing strange behavior from each of her friends. Elijah (Andrew Rannells) goes on an addition for the play version of "White Men Can't Jump" and is upset with Hannah's change in lifestyle. He wants to continue to party and be immature while Hannah will be forced to grow up. Hannah's mother Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) struggles with a new phase of her life after her husband came out as gay and divorced her. She is upset to find out that she is a grandmother and life has passed her by with a man who didn't love her.

Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) has her own troubles with old friends who became successful clothing moguls and rushes into a marriage with a man she meets only two weeks before. She introduces Ray to an old coworker who hit it off quite a lot. Adam tries to win Hannah back and help her raise the baby and after a day of discussing the reality of the situation, they find that they do not have a future together and silently and emotionally break up. 

The girls of the show finally have one cathartic meeting in a bathroom where they all agree that they are moving in different directions, though Marnie is determined to stay friends with Hannah. The final episode flashes forward three months to Hannah and Marnie living with Hannah's young child who refuses to breastfeed. The trouble of motherhood brings Hannah's own mother to their country house. Hannah finally shows maturity and seems to be really changing of six seasons of odd and seemingly immature decisions. Girls has been a fun little 30-minute comedy after HBO dramas that was always interesting to watch as Lena Dunham explored the life of a woman in New York.. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

The new twist on the extended series of the Fast and the Furious is to put their leader into the role of a villain. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when he meets Cipher (Charlize Theron) who provides a video that makes Dom work for her. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is invested in his young daughter's soccer team when the agency requests he takes on a difficult mission of stealing an EMP in Berlin. Hobbs calls up Dom who agrees and the team assembles to pull off the mission but when Dom betrays them, Hobbs end up in a prison cell right next to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). 

The rest of the team, Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Letty, and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are confused as to why Dom betrayed them. Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) recruits them to hunt down Dom and Cipher with his trainee Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Hobbs and Deckard break out of prison with the help of Mr. Nobody and they all work to hunt down Dom but he shows up at their undisclosed location to steal the God's Eye from the previous film. Cipher operates in a plane that flies through radar systems undetected and hopes to steal nuclear launch codes for power.

The spoiler is that Dom's old relationship with Elena (Elsa Pataky) resulted in a baby boy. Dom has to work for Cipher to protect his child from murder and anytime he tries to fight back, she takes a life, first Elena, and then threatens his son, Brian. Dom has a plan of his own though when he works with Magdalene Shaw (Helen Mirren) in a humorous cameo to recruit her two boys Deckard and Owen (Luke Evans). Cipher is able to take control of all the cars in New York City and cause a typhoon of motor vehicles, allowing Dom to steal the launch codes from the Russian defense secretary. This action scene was the customary over the top style of these films though filled with noticeable special effects.

Letty is especially distraught by the betrayal of her brother and is nearly shot by Cipher's henchman Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju). The team is defeated by Dom's slick driving and he escapes with the launch codes. The final mission Cipher asks of Dom is to take over a nuclear submarine at a Russian base that had been captured by separatists. The team chooses their vehicles and head to the base to catch Dom. Meanwhile, the Shaw brothers, at the behest of their mother, track down Cipher's plan thanks to a tracking device in Dom's cross necklace. In an especially humorous scene, Deckard saves Dom's son from henchmen and earns forgiveness for killing Han in Tokyo Drift.

The final battle on the tundra with a submarine is insane and impractical but pretty fun to watch. Dom has become an unstoppable superhero and his team can pull off absurd stunts like Roman using the door of a Lamborghini to beat up henchmen on snowmobiles. With Dom's child free, he betrays Cipher and kills Rhodes. He tricks a heat-seeking missile into blowing up the submarine. Cipher manages to escape leaving the series open for yet another sequel. They all end up celebrating on the rooftop for another episode as they are feeling somewhat formulaic despite the new twist. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Movie Review: Furious 7

A direct sequel to the sixth installment and an extension of the ever-growing Fast & Furious series, Furious 7 picks up with the lenient physics and insane car stunts that were set as a precedent in the previous films. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), introduced in the end credits of six, takes out a hospital to visit his comatose brother. He promises revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still coping with her amnesia and has some post traumatic stress. Shaw's rampage leads him to the office of Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) where they duke it out over the information about Toretto. 

Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) is having troubled becoming accustomed to the parent life with Mia (Jordana Brewster). When a mysterious package explodes on Dom's front porch and Dom receives the call from Deckard, he ventures to Tokyo after stopping by to see an injured Hobbs. After a brief cameo from Sean (Lucas Black), the team gets together to mourn Han. Dom chases after Deckard only to crash right into him. Dom gets recruited by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who saves his life from Deckard. The mission is set as the team is brought in to work with this shadow organization. 

The first task is to rescue Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from the mercenary Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Mr. Nobody has already gathered Brian, Letty, Tej (Ludacris), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson). Roman has been reliable comedic relief season the second film and really great from Five on, but he shines in this one as an especially hilarious member of the team, trying to take charge. Roman's plan with the help of Tej is to parachute with cars onto an isolated road to free Ramsey from a militarized convoy. Shaw shows up to battle Toretto on the Azerbaijan roads and forest hills. Brian just makes it off a bus before it crashes off a cliff with the help of Letty. Dom has to drive off a cliff just to get away.

The goal of this rescue mission is the God's Eye, a device that can be used for super surveillance. The team has to go to Abu Dhabi where Ramsey's friend has sold a car containing the God's Eye to a wealthy prince. Letty breaks into the prince's room and encounters Kara (Ronda Rousey) setting up a big fight between the ladies. Roman uses his comedic skill to distract while Tej and Ramsey hack into the security system. Brian and Dom try to extract the device from the car but with the increased security have to drive it out of the building into another, in an impressive stunt even for these films. Shaw shows up somehow and is shooting grenades at them as they fly through two skyscrapers finally jumping to safety as the car plummets.

Using the God's Eye, they hunt down Shaw but Jakande swoops in to rescue Shaw and shoot Mr. Nobody. Dom and Brian barely escape but they have to protect Ramsey from Jakande and Shaw. They return to Los Angeles to protect her by speeding around the streets. Jakande flies above the city in a helicopter using a drone to track Ramsey. Shaw confronts Dom at the top of a parking garage, and even Hobbs joins the fight with a chaingun. The battle rages as Brian has to reconnect a satellite, Ramsey is switched from car to car finally ending up with Letty, and Dom fights Shaw. Finally, Dom does some crazy driving to blow up Jakande and the helicopter. The emotional ending is a tribute to Paul Walker who died during the filming. This series has grown to a tremendous size and now an eighth film is in theaters.

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

The sixth installment in this street racer saga begins with Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) racing to become a father with Mia (Jordana Brewster). Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has shacked up with Elena (Elsa Pataky). Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on the hunt for a new criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) who has built a crew which includes Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), back from the dead. Hobbs recruits Dom to create a team to hunt down Shaw. With a deal for full pardons and the return of Letty, Dom and Brian agree to work with Hobbs reassembling the team from the previous film including Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), and Gisele (Gal Gadot). Hobbs's partner Riley (Gina Carano) also joins the group as they investigate Shaw.

Their first encounter comes from an informer but turns out to be a distraction for a heist of Interpol. Shaw drives a low-riding, hydraulic vehicle with a sloped front that can flip police cars as he escapes. Shaw's team, somewhat a mirror of Dom's team, includes Vegh (Clara Paget), Klaus (Kim Kold), and Jah (Joe Taslim). Owen Shaw's scheme is to build a technology bomb that could knock out the power of an entire city. They learn about Dom's team as Dom's team investigate Shaw's. Their encounter leads to violent chases through the streets and subway tunnels of London.

Letty is confused by the sight of Dom but still shoots him in the shoulder. Dom has been shot in several of these films but he usually shakes it off with a few stitches and a Corona. Shaw questions Letty's loyalty, but she can't remember where she came from or how she knows Dom. Turns out that Shaw knew Braga (John Ortiz) from the fourth film. The series has enough back story and characters to make things confusing for those who haven't sat through each film, but that action brings in new viewers and the plot is never the central part of these Fast and Furious films.

 Brian has to go undercover to a Los Angeles prison to interrogate Braga and get information about Shaw's plan. Dom heads to a street race with a supped up muscle car to find Letty and race her through London. He tells her about her past though she remains skeptical. No matter what the team does to track Shaw, it always seems like they are one step ahead. Hobbs follows the clues to finally catch up with Shaw as he's hitting an airbase, but the plan changes quickly to a convoy chase involving a tank on the bridges and highways in Spain. This explosive scene takes the action of the series to a whole new level of physics defying vehicular insanity.

It looks like the team has won and been reunited when Shaw reveals he has a plant in Hobb's partner Riley and has captured Mia. The finale takes place on a runway in a fight with a giant cargo plane and the team work to take it down. The shocking death of Gisele adds an emotional note to the bittersweet defeat of Shaw. Dom and the crew gain their freedom when he returns the microchip worth billions. Han returns to Tokyo, grieving for Gisele, and in a post credit scene taken from Tokyo drift is seen dying at the hands of Bernard Shaw (Jason Statham), Owen Shaw's brother. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Movie Review: Fast Five

Fast Five picks up right where the previous film ends, with Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) helping to free Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) from the prison bus. Brian and Mia go on the run but need to fund their escape so they meet up with Vince (Matt Schulze) to perform a train heist of cars where they meet up with Dom. This explosive action scene ends with Brian and Dom riding off a cliff and being captured by a new villain Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) who wants to find the car Mia escaped in. Brian and Dom escape but they are even more wanted after the deaths of three DEA agents during the heist.

On the trail of the criminals is Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who recruits the only Bazilian office he can trust Elena (Elsa Pataky). Brian and Vince do not get along causing tension between the crew. Vince is caught stealing a secret chip that belongs to Reyes. Brian, Mia, and Dom discover that this chip has important information of Reyes just as his henchmen and Hobbs crew assault their hideout leading to a chase through the favela. Dom encounters Elena and saves her life from thugs. 

After the chase, Mia tells Brian that she's pregnant and they all agree to stick together. They need a way out and they can use the information on Reyes. They assemble a team including Gisele (Gal Gadot), Tej, (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), Leo (Tego Calderon), and Santos (Don Omar), all from previous films. They kick off their plan by robbing one of Reyes's cash spots and burning all the money. This move makes Reyes consolidate all of his cash in a police station. 

Through a few clever maneuvers, the team figures out that the money is stored in a large safe, secured by a palm print. They gather a few more pieces and set up a course to prepare their clever car moves but Hobbs and his elite task force are still on his trail. Hobbs confront Toretto but Dom has too many men with guns to get arrested. The group just need cop cars, which results in a little street race where Dom lets Brian finally win as a sort of baby gift. Meanwhile, Vince saves Mia in a market for Reyes's men and joins the crew. They eat and celebrate before the big heist. 

Just as they are about to leave, Hobbs shows up for an epic fight between The Rock and Vin Deisel. Dom wins but doesn't strike the final blow letting Brian, Mia, Vince, and himself get arrested. The task force is ambushed by Reyes's men. Dom saves Hobbs life but Vince gets shot and dies. Dom is still set on doing the mission though the rest of the team thinks it's crazy. Hobbs decides to join the crew, however, and the heist is on. The final chase is one of the best in the series with a crazy scene of a giant safe being dragged behind cars and more motor mayhem insanity. Eventually, Reyes is killed and Hobbs confronts Dom but he lets him. The safes were switched during a small window so the crew makes off with the cash. Fast Five is my favorite of the series and the first to really future true over the top action for which the franchise has become known.  

Movie Review: Fast & Furious

The fourth installment of the series brings back the original cast as they take on a Mexican heroin dealer. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is reintroduced down in the Dominican Republic stealing oil with Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez) and Han (Sung Kang) in a spectacular explosive scene. Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) has rejoined the FBI, solving street-racing crimes and heroin smuggling. When Letty winds up murdered, Dom returns to Los Angeles and seeks revenge. Dom beats up mechanics and O'Conner tracks his mayhem. When Ramon Campos (John Ortiz) hosts a race to interview new drivers to work for the mysterious drug dealer Arturo Braga, both Brian and Dom enter. Dom beats Brian to earn the job working for Braga. This chase looks great as the special effects are updated. Gisele (Gal Gadot) also works for Braga and finds Dom attractive. Brian also sparks anew his relationship with Mia (Jordana Brewster) though she is still bitter about him lying to her in the original film.

Brian has another one of Campos's racers arrested so that he can join the other drivers transporting cargo. They are shipped across the border, given coordinates, and told to follow Fenix (Laz Alonso). They speed down into a tunnel beneath the Mexico- American border. Dom plays his hand, reveals he is on this mission for revenge and blows up all the racecars. Dom and Brian escape with Campos's supply of heroin, but then Dom becomes pissed when he finds out Letty was working undercover for Brian, who is only able to stop Dom from beating him up when he reveals that she was doing it to gain Dom's freedom. 

Brian pitches a plan to use the stolen heroin to lure out Braga through Campos and trap him in a sting. Using an identification tool, Agent Trinh (Liza Lapira) learns that Campos is, in fact, Braga. The FBI is angered by the mixup and remove Brian from the case, but still set on revenge, Dom and Brian make it down to Mexico and find Braga's lair with the help of Gisele. Bragas hides out in a church preparing for Dom's attack. Brian and Dom capture Braga and race back to the border to put him in prison. This arrest sparks the final chase scene of the film. 

The final car chase through the mountains and desert leads back to the underground tunnel across the border. Dom is set on catching Fenix for the murder of Letty, while Brian takes Braga. The motor mayhem grows pretty intense as Brian ends up with his car flipped and about to be murdered by Fenix. Dom fends off Braga's other henchmen even jumping out of his own car into another. This chase really amped up the possibilities of a Fast & Furious chase scene. Just as Fenix is about to take out Brian, Dom flies out and runs him over. 

Dom stays with Brian and ends up being arrested. Despite Brian's promise of pardons, Dom is given the maximum sentence of 25 to life. However, as he is on the bus to prison, fast cars pull up. Brian is back on the other side of the law breaking Dom out. Justin Lin directed this one after Tokyo Drift and leads to a great action film director career that is still going strong. This addition to the series brought back the original cast and sparked the new wave of Fast and Furious films that would go on to become a global box office behemoth. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

The third installment in what was once the Fast and the Furious trilogy was a near total reboot with new characters and a new location. Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a troubled teen whose mother ship's him out to live with his military father in Tokyo. He encounters Twinkie (Bow Wow) who introduces him to the underground street racing culture of Tokyo. He flirts with Neela (Nathalie Kelley) and is challenged to a race by D.K. (Brian Tee). Loaned a car by Han (Sung Kang), Sean is introduced to drifting and the complication of trying to make the tight turns of this Japanese racing style. He destroys the car, loses the girl, and finds himself in debt to Han.

Forced to carry out chores for Han, Sean makes a deal where he can learn how to drift as he familiarized himself with the underworld of Tokyo. Han takes him under his wing but there is trouble brewing with D.K.'s illegal business. With the help of Twinkie, Sean practices the art of drifting and attends his Japanese high school. The bully Morimoto (Leonardo Nam) is part of D.K.'s crew and beats up Twinkie before Sean steps in to stop him. 

Sean learns to drift and steadily improves but finds himself in trouble when flirting with Neela gets him beat up. Han has been secretly steeling from D.K. so when D.K.'s father, a Yakuza gangster, informs him of the theft, it set off a deadly race through the city streets. Han is hit by a seeminlgy random car that will come back around in later sequel and dies. Without Han, Sean is forced to payoff the money that Han owed and challenges D.K. to a race on a dangerous mountain road with plenty of twists and turns to drift around.

Sean supes up his father's American car and uses that to take on D.K. in  a climactic final race. D.K. Flips his car and Sean goes on to win the race. As the new drift king, Sean attracts a unique challenger that turns out to be Dominic Toretto, hinting at yet another sequel in the series. This episode added the unique thrill of drifting around tight corner that brings a whole new dimension to the street racing. 

This third film copies a familiar story of a white man going to a different culture and dominating at a new skill after training to the point of becoming even better than those who have grown up practicing, but this series has never been known for its uniqueness. The movie has some pretty terrible acting but decent enough drama to move the plot forward and justify the crazy drift racing. In my opinion, it's the worst of the seris but still an entertaining enough film. 

Movie Review: 2 Fast Furious

Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) returns for another adventure of fast cars and undercover policing. Brian has gone on the run from the police in Miami beating other street racers in competitions hosted by Tej (Ludacris) when he is apprehended and forced to work with Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) if he wants to stay out of trouble. Unimpressed with the partner Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry) assigns to him, he suggests his old partner in crime Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) accompany him on the sting. The two racers are put into a fierce competition to impress the crime lord Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) and win his trust.

For what this sequel lacks in quality, it makes up for with color and new insane driving stunts as Brian swerves around in his lime green car going backward on the highway to beat the other criminals competing for the job. When the cops show up, Roman fires at them and Brian discovers that their cars have tracking devices on them. They make it back to Verone to win themselves a job, despite Roman's tendency to rub people the wrong way. 

They are invited to a late night club rendezvous with Verone, but first, they have to win new cars in a street race against muscle car drivers. Verone shows his cruelty to a cop Detective Whitworth (Mark Boone Junior) with a unique torture method and also displays his power over authority. Using this power, Verone buys a fifteen-minute window for Brian and Rome to drive his cargo to an airfield. Brian falls for Monica and their relationship puts them both in danger as Verone is clearly jealous and suspicious. 

Brian and Rome set off on the high-speed highway chase pursued by dozens of police cars and even a police helicopters. The cops hope to get the drop on Verone at the airfield but when Brian and Rome escape with the help of Tej and Suki (Devon Aoki), their passengers, Verone's henchmen, inform them that they are actually going to a secret dock where Verone can make off with the money by sea, not air. Rome manages to dispose of his passenger with an ejector seat but Brian knows that Monica will be in danger if he doesn't comply. The two have to use their driving skills and wits to stop Verone's escape and save Monica, earning a pardon as a reward.

2 Fast 2 Furious shows the potential of the series with outlandish car chases and colorful cars. I recall being especially enthralled at the time with the wild driving and silly plot. Still, the series was not hinting at any sort of quality or longevity and appeared to be more of a minor cash crab than the continuation of a blockbuster series. Without even including its biggest star, the series seemed to be declining towards video-on-demand and the memory of past glory instead of charging into the future. The greatest addition this sequel added was the introduction of Rome and Tej who would become recurring members and the comedic relief in films to come. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious

The movie that started it all follows a pretty generic plot and doesn't have the best action or acting, but is a passable film to build a franchise off of. Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) is an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a gang of street racers led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Brian flirts with Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom's sister, and clashes with the gang of street racers, especially Vince (Matt Schulze). The rest of Dom's gang including Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Jesse (Chad Lindberg), and Leon (Johnny Strong) are more accepting of Brian's presence in the group. Brian loses a race to Dom but helps him elude the police to gain his trust. 

Owing him a car, the two work to build a new car as Brian investigate a string of truck robberies. He suspects that the criminals are led by a rival racer Johnny Tran (Rick Yune). Sgt. Tanner (Ted Levine) and Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry) push Brian to look at Toretto as his bond with the team grows. They build a fast car that they plan to use in the upcoming street racing competition know as Race Wars. 

Torn between his growing fondness for Mia and Dom, Brian continues the investigation even after Tran is proven innocent. Race Wars do not go well for Dom and his team. Jesse loses to Johnny Tran but drives off before he can exchange his car. Angry, Tran accuses Dom of snitching on him, which results in a brawl. That night, Dom leaves as Briand looks on watching Mia cry. Brian finally admits his true identity and track down Dom knowing that the truckers have weapons to defend against highjacking. 

Probably the best action scene in the first film is the early morning truck jacking. Vince gets stuck on the front of the truck as the driver shoots off shotgun blasts. Letty tries to swoop in help but flips her car so Leon has to turn off and help her. Dom tries to swerve over and help Vince but can't get close. Brian, with Mia riding shotgun and taking the wheel, flips off the hood of the car they build and saves Vince's life right before a shotgun blast nearly takes off their heads. Brian has to reveal his identity to Dom in order to call an ambulance for Vince.

Back at their home, Jesse is attacked by Johnny Tran in a drive-by shooting. Brian and Dom put aside their differences to chase after the motorcycle murderers. Brian shoots and kills Johnny Tran while Dom runs his partner off the road in his dad's muscle car that he was always too scared to drive. Brian and Dom face off in a final quarter mile street race before an oncoming train blocks the tracks. They both make it but then Dom flips when hit by a truck. His muscle car is totaled and sirens grow louder in the distance. Brian gives up his car to let Dom escape, making him a criminal too. It's an alright beginning, a fun silly action film with a little bit of heart that doesn't know how large it will grow in the future. 

Sports: NBA Playoffs (First Round)

Professional basketball playoffs are back in action and I'm excited to see what happens in the upcoming months. I have high hopes for the Atlanta Hawks, but that's how the playoffs work if your team made it in. Like I did with my earlier hockey post, I'll make some bold predictions that are more about who I'm rooting for in this first round post and then tone it down in subsequent posts as the true contenders make themselves known. I'm still holding out for some crazy upsets and exciting games as the competition begins this weekend. 

1 Boston Celtics vs 8 Chicago Bulls
The Celtics managed to take the top spot in the East but they don't look as strong as typical number one teams. The Bulls could really give them some trouble but I think Boston tops Chicago with their stellar play, especially from Isaiah Thomas.

Game 1: The Bulls upset the Celtics 106-102.
Game 2: The upset continues as the Bulls gain another win 111-97 over the Celtics.
Game 3: Boston rallied back in Chicago for their first win 104-87.
Game 4: The Celtics rally back to tie the series at 2 with a 104-95 win.

4 Washington Wizard vs 5 Atlanta Hawks
This is where my bias as a sports fan starts to show. I like the Atlanta Hawks who haven't had the most consistent season but could take this one against a competitive Washington team. Still, I'm sticking the team I root for and taking the Hawks in seven games.
Game 1: The Wizards beat the Hawks 114-107.
Game 2: Washington wins again at home 109-101.
Game 3: At home, the Hawks demolish the Wizards 116-98.

3 Toronto Raptors vs 6 Milwaukee Bucks
I'm actually kind of stunned that the Bucks are made it into the playoffs and I doubt they will stick around for long. I think the Raptors have been a top team for several years doing decently but never fully competing. I think I'll take the Toronto Raptors in this series.

Game 1: Milwaukee takes the first game over Toronto 97-83.
Game 2: Toronto ties the series with a 106-100 win against the Bucks.
Game 3: The Bucks crushed the Raptors 104-77.
Game 4: The Raptors beat the Bucks 87-76 to bring the series back to tied.

2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs 7 Indiana Pacers
It's surprising that the Cavaliers didn't get the top spot, but some late struggles lost them a good enough record to remain at the top of the standings. They'll have decent competition in the Pacers but nothing Lebron James can't handle. The Cleveland Cavaliers will take this one.
Game 1: The Cavs take the first win of the playoffs in a close match with the Pacers only winning by one point. 
Game 2: The Cavs take a bigger lead with a 117-111 win.
Game 3: In an amazing comeback led by Lebron James, the Cavaliers beat the Pacers 119-114.
Game 4: The Cavaliers sweep the Pacers with a 106-102 win.

1 Golden State Warriors vs 8 Portland Trailblazers
The super team has assembled this year with Kevin Durant joining Stephen Curry to make what seems to be an unstoppable Warriors team. Golden State should make short work of Portland.

Game 1: The Warriors beat the Trailblazers 121-109.
Game 2: Golden State's dominance continues with an 110-81 victory.
Game 3: The Warriors move closer to a sweep with a 119-113 win.

4 Los Angeles Clippers vs 5 Utah Jazz
The Clippers have done so well this season but good enough to earn fourth place. The Utah Jazz have a lot of young talent but they will have to keep them and turn them into veterans if they want to win in the playoffs.
Game 1: The Jazz beat the Clippers by two point 97-95.
Game 2: The Clippers tied the series with 99-91 win. 
Game 3: Despite losing Blake Griffin, the Clippers came back and won 111-106 over the Jazz.

3 Houston Rockets vs 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Rockets may be the higher ranked team in this match but the Oklahoma City Thunder have been stealing all the headlines with Russell Westbrook's historic season. I think that Westbrook and the Thunder are on a mission and will take this series.

Game 1: The Rockets crush the Thunder 118-87.
Game 2: The MVP clash continued with James Harden carrying the Rockets to victory 115-111 over the Thunder.
Game 3: At home in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder beat the Rockets 115-113.
Game 4: The Rockets take the series lead with a 113-109 win.

2 San Antonio Spurs vs 7 Memphis Grizzlies
The Spurs are the one team that could take it all the way that isn't totally favored. They have a solid team that will be tough competition and go far in the playoffs. I root for the Grizzlies throughout the season but I don't think they'll make it past this round. The San Antonio Spurs will move on to the next round.

Game 1: The Grizzlies went up early but the Spurs ended up trouncing Memphis for an 111-82 win. 
Game 2: The Spurs continued to dominate with a 96-82 win.
Game 3: Memphis benefits from the home crowd with a solid 105-94 win. 
Game 4: In a battle to the end, the Grizzlies take down the Spurs 110-108.
So my crazy first round picks go like this, The Hawks beat the Washington Wizard, the Celtics face them after beating the Bulls. The Hawkes will go on to play the Cavaliers who defeated the Pacers and the Rapte0rs who beat the Bucks. I want the Hawks to head to the Championship. In the West, the Warriors beat the Trailblazers and the Clippers beat the Jazz. The Spurs beat the Grizzlies and the Thunder beat the Rockets. San Antonio beat Oklahoma City and Golden State beats Los Angeles. The Spurs face the Hawks in the finals and Atlanta goes home with a Championship. I know this is very unlikely but I like to write my dream scenarios in the first round. 

Graphic Novel Review: Marvel Civil War

The epic Marvel event that inspired the blockbuster film pits some of the most iconic superheroes against each other after a terrible tragedy. In the comic, a small group of heroes filming a reality show encounters a deadly villain named Nitro. Their fight strays to a nearby elementary school and when Nitro explodes hundreds of children are murdered. This tragedy sparks outrage and Tony Stark joins with the government to create a hero registry that would make all superheroes government employees. The leader of the resistance to this registry is Captain America who sparks a battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and escapes.

The heroes split down the middle with some joining Iron Man and others going underground with Captain America. The biggest issue with the new registry is that all heroes will have to reveal their secret identity. Spider-man goes through the identity revealing and loses his job at the Daily Bugle when J. Jonah Jameson discovers that his photographer Peter Parker is actually his nemesis Spider-man. Even with superheroes on his side, Tony Stark grows desperate and Iron Man recruits former villain to help him round up the superheroes who are on the other side of the law.

The battles grow as Captain and his team work to find ways to stop the superhumans that Iron Man and his team are crafting in a lab, including a brainwashed Thor and other dangerous monsters. Captain America allows the Punisher to join their group but his wild nature and ruthless tactics leave him on the wrong side of Cap's temper. Spider-man realizes the errs in his ways and joins up with the outlaws while the Fantastic Four are split in two when the Human Torch is hospitalized.

Both sides grow strong and the battles cause even more damage. A lot happens and it is not always easy to make sense, especially when you are not an avid Marvel comics reader and know all the side characters and subplots. This main story tells some interesting tells and has some beautiful artwork to go with it. The ending was a bit of a let down for me as Captain America sees citizens fighting against and realizes the damage he has done before just giving up. I had experienced the movie first and thought that storyline made more sense to me but it is easier to keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I like for comic stories to be isolated in a compendium or a limited set of issues that a reader can experience the full story. I was curious what happened in this blockbuster comic book collection and was glad to see all the beautiful artwork inside. The story starts out very strong and interesting with a lot of superhero characters but kind of buckles under its own pressure of being something huge while not being able to really change too much. I have the second Civil War so I look forward to seeing what happens there. 

TV Show Review: Crashing

Pete (Pete Holmes) dreams of being a comedian but doesn't truly take his passion seriously until his wife Jess (Lauren Lapkus) cheats on him with a man named Leif (George Basil). Pete is forced out of his home and onto the couches of various comedians that he meets at the comedy clubs he frequents trying to find a place to perform. In the first episode, he has a rough time, getting mugged, bombing on stage, but comedian Artie Lange takes pity on him and invites him back to stay on his couch.

He helps Artie stay sober at a comedy club and runs into T.J. Miller who uses him for a ride and lets him stay at his place. Miller sticks around for an episode cracking jokes and accompanying Pete as he tries to salvage his stuff in a garage sale of his possessions. Pete finds work at a comedy club that is unpaid but allows him to get stage time if he barks on the street promoting the comedy show. He develops his routine and slowly improves throughout the season.

Things are looking up when he gets help from Sarah Silverman, finds a couch to sleep on, and even gets a job opening for Rachel Ray. The success gets to his head and he severs ties with the comedy club owner Jason (Dov Davidoff). Still, he holds out hope to regain the love of his wife Jess even begging her to come with him to a dinner with his parents to maintain the illusion that they are still married. Pete's parents are unimpressed with his career choice and think he could do better with his Christian upbringing.

Pete tries to maintain clean comedy though the jokes throughout the show are rather dirty. His foray into inappropriate humor loses him his job when he insults Rachel Ray's mother with a crude oral sex joke. Broke and desperate, he makes one last attempt to win her back but finds himself down and out once again. The show illuminates the hard work it takes to be a comedian while also delivering plenty of jokes about the lifestyle.

The underground comedian world has been in the spotlight on several shows and this one doesn't take off as wholly unique. Pete Holmes is pretty funny and you can see his humor grow throughout each episode as he practices and hones his skill. The show has a neat formula of introducing a new comedian each episode or so with plenty of humor to follow. I would like to see Pete achieve more success in upcoming seasons if it sparks enough of an audience to achieve renewal. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TV Show Review: 13 Reasons Why

The traumatic high school experience of a teenage girl unfolds through a series of tapes left behind after her suicide. Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) leaves behind the 13 reasons why she decided to kill herself for the people who she blames for her isolation and sadness. Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) discovers the tapes on his doorstep and has to search for a way to listen to them. Finding a tape player, he delves into the last year of Hannah's life and all the terrible drama that led to her finally taking her own life. Tony (Christian Navarro) works to enforce the listeners to make it through the tapes and pass it along.

It starts when Hannah forms a relationship with Justin (Brandon Flynn) who takes a picture up Hannah's skirt that is then spread around the high school by the senior bully quarterback Bryce (Justin Prentice). Hannah has friendships with Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) and Alex (Miles Heizer) deteriorate as they two friends form a bond leaving Hannah alone. Clay follows the trail of Hannah's tapes to a coffee shop and liquor store as she details her harassment and betrayal. He remembers the missed opportunities he had with Hannah working alongside her at the movie theater and even asking her to dance at the school dance.

Other jocks pile onto Hannah's misery like Zach (Ross Butler) and Marcus (Steven Silver) who both ask Hannah out and then treat her rudely. Hannah also discovers that she has a stalker creepily taking photographs outside her window. Tyler (Devin Druid) the school photographer snaps photos of Hannah without permission and when she has a private moment with Courtney (Michele Selene Ang), it becomes publicly and spreads around the school again. The issues grow as Hannah details events that Clay saw totally differently.

A party takes up a large portion of the tapes as Hannah recount cruel behavior on the part of Bryce when he assaults Jessica while Hannah hides in the closet. Hannah and Clay started making out but the recent bad interactions with other boys had left her jaded and standoffish. Clay becomes standoffish to her in return not knowing what is happening. Hannah also recollects the accident with a stop sign in a car driven by Sheri (Ajiona Alexus) that ends up in the death of Clay's good friend and athlete he tutors Jeff (Brandon Larracuente).

As Clay learns more, he begins to have a mental breakdown, unable to keep all the secrets that are piling up. A court case begins as Hannah's parents (Kate Walsh and Brian d'Arcy James) sue the school. The school counselor Mr. Porter (Derek Luke) had a chance to help but neglected his duty and undermined Hannah's pleas for help. Clay finally reaches the end and gains a confession from the real villain. The show had plenty of mysteries to keep it rolling for thirteen episodes though at times the soap opera teenage drama did seem over the top. The ending left some loose ends and I've not read the book to know where that wraps up so we'll have to see if Netflix renews the show for a second season. 

Sports: NHL (Stanley Cup Playoffs - First Round)

Now I'm not a big hockey fan but this year I decided to pay a little closer attention to the sport and started rooting for the Columbus Blue Jackets. I'm a bit biased as to the geographical region where I live so my choice for champions may not be the most accurate. I'll adjust them in the next round if what I pick is wrong but I'm going to make some bold picks for what will happen and predict the whole series in this post. 

Washington Capitals (1) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (WC2)
The Capitals are predicted to take the whole tournament by the experts and who am I to doubt them. The Maple leafs made it into the playoffs with only 40 wins but more points by one over the Islanders and Lightning. I'm still not sure how the scoring works but it looks like points are more important than wins, making this sport even more difficult to follow. I'll take the highly favored Capitals in this matchup. 
Game 1: The Capitals went down early but rallied back for a win in overtime.
Game 2: In double overtime, Toronto broke the tie to win 4-3.
Game 3: Toronto pushed back with a 4-3 overtime upset over Washington. 
Game 4: In what was a good night for Washington for multiple sports, the Capitals won 5-4 over Toronto to tie the series at 2 games each.
Game 5: Another overtime win for the Capitals by 2-1 gives them a 3-2 series lead over the Maple Leafs.
Game 6: One last overtime for the series, the Capitals take it 2-1 to win the series. 

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (3)
My favorite team doesn't have an easy first round with the reigning champions in the Penguins taking them on. I'm not sure how it fares for teams that previously won but I'm pulling hard for the Blue Jackets as I watch them take on Pittsburgh in the first game of this round right now. I'm not hopeful but I'll root for Columbus until I can't anymore.

Game 1: The Penguins took the first game after a weak first period but coming in strong in the second with 3 goals while the Blue Jackets only got one. 
Game 2: The Blue Jackets went down the second game away 4 to 1 as they return home very behind in this deeply series.
Game 3: Despite home field advantage and an early lead, the Blue Jackets blow another one and lose 5-4 in overtime to the Penguins.
Game 4: The Blue Jackets got their first playoff win over the Penguins 5-3.
Game 5: The Penguins busted my bracket and destroyed my dreams of a Blue Jackets championship with 5-2 elimination win.

Montreal Canadiens (1) vs New York Rangers (WC1)
The Canadiens could be a real contender in the playoffs but as I look at the score for this first game the Rangers are already up one. Still, I'm going with the team that had a good enough season to earn a top spot. I'm picking the Montreal Canadiens to win this series.

Game 1: The Rangers took game one with a 2-0 win.
Game 2: Montreal takes the second game in overtime 4-3 to tie the series.
Game 3: The Canadiens take the lead in the series with a 3-1 win.
Game 4: The Rangers tie the series back up with a 2-1 win.
Game 5: The Rangers won in overtime 3-2 to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
Game 6: The Rangers took the series with a 3-1 win. 

Ottawa Senators (2) vs Boston Bruins (3)
For some reason, I'm expecting a strong performance from the Senators in this playoff. I haven't heard much from the Boston Bruins. I think experts picked the Bruins more often but I'm having to stick with my gut on this series. I pick the Ottawa Senators to win over the Boston Bruins.

Game 1: The Bruins beat the Senators 2-1 for the first win of the series.
Game 2: In overtime, the Senators score to beat the Bruin 4-3.
Game 3: Again in overtime, the Senators win 4-3.
Game 4: Ottawa increased their lead with a 1-0 win over Boston.
Game 5: The Bruins stayed alive with an overtime win of 3-2 against the Senators. 
Game 6: The Senators beat the Bruins 3-2 in overtime to win the series.

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs Nashville Predators (WC2)
The Blackhawks won two years ago but my regional program has me watching the Predators when they are playing so I'm falling for Nashville in this competitive match. Predictions I've seen have the Blackhawks but are usually including a seven-game prediction as I think this will be a highly competitive match. I'm probably wrong but I'm going with the Nashville Predators.
Game 1: The Predators win game one with strong defense against the Blackhawks and only needing one goal. 
Game 2: Nashville took the second game 5-0 over Chicago, to make this series look like it could be a crazy upset that I predicted right.
Game 3: The Predators continue their upset miracle with another win 3-2 in overtime over the Blackhawks.
Game 4: The Predators sweep the Blackhawks with 4-1 win. They will face the winner of the Blues vs. Wild. The Blues will be their next opponent.
Minnesota Wild (2) vs St. Louis Blues (3)
I managed to catch a game of the Wild and haven't seen the Blues play yet. I know that Minnesota had some struggles near the end of the season working to keep their second place spot. The Blues are a mystery to me so I'll to pick what I know. I think the Minnesota Wild will win this series.
Game 1: The Blues took the first game 2-1 over the Wild in overtime.
Game 2: St. Louis takes another game over Minnesota 2-1 to take a bigger lead in the series. 
Game 3: Moving closer to a series sweep, the Blues beat the Wild 3-1.
Game 4: The Wild avoided elimination with a 2-0 win against the Blues. 
Game 5: Eliminated the Minnesota Wild, the St. Louis Blues won 4-3 in overtime. The Blues will face the Nashville Predators.

Anaheim Ducks (1) vs Calgary Flames (WC1)
The Mighty Ducks are riding high a great season, at least for a Pacific team. This division was not as strong as the others but Anaheim comes in facing the Calgary Flames. I'm not sure what will happen but I'm picking the Anaheim Ducks to win.

Game 1: The Ducks won the first game 3-2 over the Flames. 
Game 2: The Ducks take the second game 3-2 again over the Flames.
Game 3: Looking at a sweep, the Ducks win 5-4 in overtime. 
Game 4: Anaheim proved me right in a quick fashion with a sweep of the Calgary Flames. The Anaheim Ducks will face the winner of the Edmonton vs San Jose match.

Edmonton Oilers (2) vs San Jose Sharks (3)
The Oilers are the favored team but the Sharks appeal to me. This might be mainly from my previous experience of playing video games and winning a lot with them or their cool mascot. I'm going to pick the San Jose Sharks to win.
Game 1: The Sharks came back and won in overtime to defeat the Oilers in Edmonton.
Game 2: Edmonton ties the series against San Jose with a 2-0 win.
Game 3: Edmonton takes control with a 1-0 win. 
Game 4: The Sharks crush the Oiler 7-0 to tie the series at 2 games each.
Game 5: Edmonton won in overtime 4-3 to lead the series. 
Game 6: Edmonton took the series with a 3-1 victory.

My bold predictions continue with the Predators beating the Wild and the Ducks over the Sharks. I'm hoping the Predators will bring a big upset over the Ducks to be in the championship. On the other side of the bracket, I'm wishing for a Blue Jacket win over the Capitals and the Senators over the Canadiens. I hope the Blue Jackets beat Ottawa and face off against Nashville in the final. I don't think this will happen but a Columbus championship would be awesome. I know these picks are outrageous and I'll make some more levelheaded picks in my second round post.

Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

Twenty years later, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh, Scotland and the life he left behind. Feeling nostalgic after starting a life in Amsterdam, Mark explores the old haunts looking for people he once knew. Spud (Ewen Bremner) has had difficulty becoming accustomed to a normal life where things Daylight Savings has made him an hour late to all sorts of engagement from work to child visits. Still a junkie, Spud tries to kill himself just as Mark is knocking on his door and finds him in time to save his life. Simon aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) lives the life of a criminal blackmailing school teacher and running a bar he inherited. In prison, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) plots escape and targets his rage towards revenge.

All of Mark's friends hate him for what he did at the end of the first film. Simon only pretends to forgive him in order to use him to help open a brothel to keep his prostitute girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Inspired by Mark, Spud starts to write everything down and helps with the remodel of the bar with his construction experience. Begbie breaks out of the hospital where he was being treated and returns to his wife and kid. He reenters a life of crime, burglarizing homes with the house of his son and selling them to their old drug dealer.

Mark and Simon pick up old crooked habits including robbing a bar full of Protestants after singing an impromptu song to escape being caught. Simon tells Begbie to lay low hiding the fact that Mark has returned so as to continue using him. The two former junkies apply for an EU small business to receive funding for their brothel but other gangsters in Edinburgh don't look kindly on the competition. The misadventures continue as Mark must go to Diane (Kelly Macdonald), now a lawyer, to help Simon avoid jail time for his blackmailing schemes. Mark also strikes up a relationship with Veronika behind Simon's back.

Begbie turns into a villain as he runs into Mark at a bar and chases after him trying to kill him. Begbie goes on the hunt discovering Spud's writing that is brutally honest even including the compensation he received from the stolen drug deal money back in the original. Tricking them all to the pub, there is a final confrontation from the old friends that comes to an emotional climax. The film does a could job feeding off the nostalgia of the old one but telling a great story as a continuation.

I have always been a bit disturbed by the first story of Trainspotting, from the tragic deaths due to drug addiction to the sordid life lived out by these individuals. I have found the humor in the awfulness of the situation and found this film equally funny and entertaining without so much of the disgustingness of the first one. The world has changed and these characters have gone on living lives to be expected of former junkies. They picked back up on the feeling of the first one and executed an effective revisit of a classic story.