Sunday, May 28, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

The third Pirates of the Caribbean film concludes the Gore Verbinski trilogy in outrageous fashion. The Royal Navy has taken to extreme measure to fight the scourge of piracy. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) have joined forces with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) to recruit the pirate lords to fight Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has been stranded in Davy Jones's locker where he talks to duplicates. The crew sails to the end of the world to bring back Jack, as he is the last leader needed to unite the pirates.

The crew leaves the underworld aboard the Black Pearl where Elizabeth discovers her father Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce) has died. Sparrow has lost his mind but still, figures out the trick to escape the underworld by flipping the ship. The crew makes it to an island but they are captured by Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). Jack is delivered to Lord Beckett who now possesses Davy Jones's heart after Norrington (Jack Davenport) delivered it to him at the end of the previous film. Barbossa convinces Feng to turn on Beckett by trading Ms. Swannm, and Jack Sparrow escapes with the Pearl the compass, heading to Shipwreck Cove.

Feng is killed when Davy Jones's ship attacks but he makes Elizabeth the captain and gives her his piece signifying a pirate lord. Norrington is distressed to learn that Governor Swann is dead but has sided with Beckett. Imprisoned on the Flying Dutchman, Elizabeth encounters Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) but he has already become part of the ship. Jack pushes Will overboard when he discovers that he is giving Beckett a trail to follow. Norrington helps Elizabeth escape the Flying Dutchman but sacrifices himself.

The pirate brethren meet at Shipwreck Cove and each presents their pieces of eight. Barbossa proposes releasing Calypso, revealing that it is Tia Dalma, the love of Davey Jones. Referring to the pirate code, there is a vote and Elizabeth Swann becomes King of the Pirates. At a parlay with Beckett, Elizabeth exchanges Jack for Will as Barbossa grabs the last piece of eight, Jack's, to release Calypso. Freem Calypso creates a giant whirlpool as the pirates clash with the Davey Jones in a battle between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman. In the middle of the fight, Elizabeth and Will are married, and Jack steals Davey Jones's heart.  

The wild battle results in Jack holding the heart of Davey Jones so Davey stabs Will Turner. Sparrow arranges it so that Will Turner exchanges his heart with Davey Jones and become the new captain of the Flying Dutchman. The Black Pearl joins forces with the Flying Dutchman to destroy Beckett's ship and scare off the rest of the Navy. Will Turner is forced to sail the seas only able to return every decade to Elizabeth. Sparrow returns to pirating but his Black Pearl is stolen by Barbossa and he heads towards the fountain of youth with a bottle of rum on a dinghy. While the third film is a bit overboard with mythology and effects, it's a fun enough film that closes out this pirate adventure in fitting form. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

The pirates return for the epic sequel in which a great villain arises for a two-part follow-up also directed by Gore Verbinski. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in search of a treasure by finding the picture of a key when he is warned by Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) that Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is after him. On the other hand, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) has been arrested with his fiance Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) at the behest of Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), leader of the East India Trading Company, though Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) objects. Turner searches for Sparrow finding him on an island, hiding on dry land with a tribe of cannibals

After an outrageous and entertaining escape, Jack agrees to help Will if Turner helps find Jack's key. Sparrow seeks out Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) to learn more about Davy Jones's locker. She tells of Davy John's love and his inability to step on land but every ten years. She bestows a jar of dirt on them and sees a future destiny in Will Turner. With these warning, Jack finds Davy Jones with his squid-face and the other crew members who have fish-like qualities. These effects look pretty cool even now as they are filled with tiny details. Jack leaves Will with Davy in order to fulfill his debt of souls equal to Jack's.

A crew of another ship believes that they are haunted by the ghost of a woman and follow the signs she supposedly leaves not realizing it is Elizabeth Swann disguised as a male sailor. They meet up in Tortuga where recrutiment of the souls occurs including a disgraced Norrington (Jack Davenport). Will Turner discovers his father Bootstrap Bill aboard Davy Jones's ship the Flying Dutchman and also the fate of the fishy crew. They are all in search of the Dead Man's Chest that contains Davy Jones's heart. 

Will Turner challenges Davey Jones to a match of dice to gamble away an eternity of service for the key. Bootstrap intervenes and is sentenced to an eternity aboard. Will only used the gambling to find out where the key was and steal it. Turner escapes but is pursued by the Kraken. They all reunite again on an island where they are lead by Elizabeth Swann's desire to find Will Turner. They discover the chest but Turner, Sparrow, and Norrington fight over it while Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) make off with it. The fight leads them to an old church where they fight over the key. 

Davey Jones's crew attack the pirates on the island but Jack escapes and steals the heart out of the chest, putting into the jar of dirt. Norrington takes the chase to distract some of the fishy crew back onto the island. Jack escapes with Will and Elizabeth but is unable to stop an attack from Davey Jones. Jack escapes but then returns to fight the Kraken. As they abandon ship, Elizabeth tricks Jack with a kiss to leave him stranded on the ship. The crew escapes but Jack is eaten. They return to Tia to find Barbossa ready to fight for a third film. Dead Man's Chest extends the Pirates of the Caribbean world and adds the villain of Davey Jones. The special effects are upgraded and the plot is a lot of fun. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

The first pirate movie to be based off the Disney ride tells the tale of cursed pirates, a crafty sea captain, and a young couple. As a young girl, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) finds a young William Turner (Orlando Bloom) in the ocean with a gold coin around his neck. In the present, since Elizabeth is the daughter of the Governor of Port Royal Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce)  she is promised to marry Norrington (Jack Davenport) but Will Turner hopes to woo her. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) arrives in Port Royal tries to steal a ship from the British Navy but is caught by two guards. He has to save Ms. Swann when she faints off a cliff into the ocean from the effects of a corset.

Sparrow attempts to escape but in a fight with Will Turner he is caught and imprisoned. As Jack wallows in prison, the Black Pearl arrives with its deadly pirate crew captained by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The pirates are in search of the gold coin Elizabeth possesses but when she claims "parlay", the pirates bring her aboard and kidnap her. Will Turner, determined to save Elizabeth, frees Jack Sparrow, and the two men steal a ship and head to Tortuga. Jack assembles a crew including Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and Anamaria (Zoe Saldana). 

It is revealed to Elizabeth that Barbossa and his crew are undead from a curse when they stole the gold from a treasure chest. They hope to take this final piece back to the island where they were cursed to return the gold and end the curse. The pirates believe that Elizabeth is the descendant of another of their crew named Bootstrap Bill but it turns out the true descendant is Will Turner. They need Will's blood to end the curse so they work to capture him as Jack and his crew fight back. Jack ends up stranded on an island with Elizabeth who calls the British Navy to help her save Will.

The Navy takes on the undead pirates as Jack Sparrow comes up with a plan to stay alive and save Will. There is an epic pirate battle with sword fights and special effects. I remember being impressed with this undead pirate back in 2003 but they have improved the quality since then to make it noticeable here. Still, the action is a lot of fun and caps of a solid pirate action film. The story resolves with the men returned to mortals and captured by the Navy as well as Jack Sparrow. Will Turner turns pirate helping Jack escape and finally winning the affection of Elizabeth.

Pirate of the Caribbean kicked off an epic series of outrageous pirate mayhem with a strong fantasy element directed by Gore Verbinski. The curses, ship battles, and swordfights provide the action but Depp's Sparrow provides the humor and brilliant acting to make an iconic character. Bloom's Turner and Knightley's Swann bring the romance that centers the entire original trilogy. With a solid supporting cast, this film has everything going for it to make it a fun two hours. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

TV Show Review: Archer (Season 8: Dreamland)

The comedic cartoon series about the hard-drinking and wild shooting secret agent jumps back into a different era for its eighth season of FXX. Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is in a coma and experiences a strong dream that transports him back to 1949. He's a hard-drinking private detective who is still coping with PTSD after the World War II. The investigation of his partner Woodhouse's murder brings him to the nightclub dreamland owned by Mother (Jessica Walter). He falls for the singer Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) and is unaware of the secret experiments going on beneath conducted by Doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates). 

Archer become ensnared in a strange circumstance where a wealthy heiress Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer) wants to fake her kidnapping and it is investigated by two detectives Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) and Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell). With the gang all in different roles, they maneuver around Los Angeles scheming and stealing from one another. Krieger's experiment on Dutch (Dave Willis) get out of control and the cyborg becomes a wild killing machine after being injured by Archer. Lana's band including Ray Gillette (Adam Reed), Cliff (Wyatt Cenac), Floyd (Keegan Michael-Key) and Verl (Wendell Pierce) are constantly getting into to trouble and wind up in prison.

Archer also finds himself on the wrong side of Len Trexler (Jeffrey Tambor) and winds up being hunted and jailed with the band. The fake kidnapping forces Archer to convince Cecil Tunt (Eugene Mirman) to pay for his relative Cheryl though the rich man seems more careless of his relative than worried. The ransom money gets involved and the two detectives, Figgis and Poovey, try to obtain it for their own but Lana reveals that she is an agent of the Secret Service. 

The finale leads the whole crew back to Dreamland where Mother's monstrous henchman faces of against Krieger's experiment Dutch and Archer tries to figure out who killed his partner. Cheryl just wants to eat toast while everyone else is trying not to get shot. There is a strange ending and nothing really wraps up from Archer's main storyline. Lana ends up getting shot by Poovey because she can't handle the hair trigger on Archer's gun so Archer is left lonely and wandering through LA, trying to figure out what all this means.

Archer is always worth a few good laughs but this season wasn't so impressive. I love this show and will watch the characters in any sort of situations but Archer has hit some high points that are hard to match and this season, though new and interesting, just doesn't compare. I think Greer's Tunt is one of my favorites along with Nash's Poovey. H. Jon Benjamin's voice is great as Archer and the immature humor is perfect for me. I look forward to plenty more season to come of this great cartoon. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

TV Show Review: Into the Badlands (Season 2)

AMC's wild dystopia, action-packed tv show returned for a second season that expanded the world and continued the break-neck pace. Sunny (Daniel Wu) has been trapped working as a prisoner in a mind when he befriends Bajie (Nick Frost) and demonstrated his fighting ability to survive. Meanwhile, the Widow (Emily Beecham) conspires to regain the throne as a respected Baron. Quinn (Marton Csokas) has retreated below ground and works to rebuild an army but has captured Sunny's wife Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and their baby.

Sunny escapes his confines and sets out on the road with Bajie to find Sunny's wife. Bajie has a mysterious past too that ties to M.K. (Aramis Knight) and his current predicament, training with monks in a strange mountain area. Sunny takes on all challengers as this season continue to impress with awesome fight scenes and swordplay as guns have been outlawed in the Badlands. Through is training M.K. Learns that he killed his family with the powers that he was unable to control. M.K. becomes convinced that he must escape from his training and find a city. 

The Widow teams up with Wald (Stephen Lang) to go to a meeting of the Barons. She confronts Baron Chau (Eleanor Matsuura) and it turns out that she had teamed up with Quinn who murders his son Ryder (Oliver Stark) to take back his title. The Widow and Quinn turn out to be a lethal combination but it hardly lasts between the two strong personalities. Sunny confronts the monks as he encounters M.K. again. It turns out the Bajie had the same power which explains his amazing fighting ability. 

Helping the Widow with her power grab is Tilda (Ally Ioannides), though she has become impatient with being held back. Sunny and Bajie run into M.K. and together they travel back to the Baron stronghold. Sunny is rendered unconscious and nearly dead. He travels to a dream world where his son is grown and he lives on a farm with Veil. However, Sunny cannot escape his deadly past as a clipper as the murdered individuals come back and haunt him. Bajie and M.K. sneak back into the monk's lair and uses magic to revive Sunny.

Sunny returns to save Veil but Quinn has other plans, marrying Veil but also employing the help of his first wife Lydia (Orla Brady). Lydia and Veil conspire against Quinn as Sunny teams up with the Widow. However, when Sunny discovers that Veil has married Quinn, he turns on the Widow. Tilda and M.K. have formed a friendship and when Tilda discovers the Widow has betrayed them, she fights the Widow but loses. In turns out that Bajie had trained the Widow long ago. In the final episode, Sunny and Bajie confront Quinn and his army in a gory battle. Sunny fights Quinn and wins but Veil has to sacrifice herself to kill Quinn. I don't always pay attention to all of the politics and don't think the acting isn't spectacular, but the action fight scenes are amazing and the show is enjoyable. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Movie Review: Alien: Covenant

The latest installment in the Alien franchise ties Prometheus to the creation of the xenomorph. The crew of the Covenant spaceship has been sent into space to colonize a planet but when a solar flare burns their captain, the new captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to follow a rogue transmission to a closer habitable planet. Daniels (Katherine Waterson) has reservations about this unvetted planet but goes along with the crew when they head down to the surface as well as the android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Remaining above with the main ship is Tennessee (Danny McBride) and a couple. The crew explores the new planet finding the familiar alien ship but an airborne virus floats into two crewmembers who then shake and burst out xenomorphs. 

After a gory scene and the ship blowing up, the crew is under attack by the monsters when David (also Michael Fassbender) leads them away to a corpse-filled mausoleum. As the crew waits out a storm, they are slowly picked off by the creature. Lope (Demian Bichir) manages to establish contact, and Daniels instruct Tennessee to bring down a cargo loader that they can use to escape the hostile planet. David reveals to Oram that he has been experimenting with the genetics of the virus and shows off the eggs. A face-hugger bursts out and snags Oram impregnating him with a xenomorph.

Walter and David have a strained relationship as Walter is a more docile version. Walter does not go along with David's plan to experiment on the colonists and fights him. Lope and Daniels escape to the cargo ship with Walter behind them, claiming to have killed David. There is a decent action scene with the xenomorph crawling along the ship as Daniels fights it that was shown a lot in the advertisement. This scene ends with Daniels killing it in a shower of acid blood. The survivors return to the ship and orbit but it is clear that more will happen.

Another xenomorph is loose on the ship and kills Lope and the couple. Daniels and Tennessee fight the xenomorph with the help of Walter. They manage to knock the xenomorph off of the ship in a decent scene, but nothing too spectacular. The two survivors are settling back into cryosleep but just before Walter puts Daniels to sleep, she realizes that he's not Walter but David who has plans to continue creating the species. The first scene of the film showed David waking up and at the end we see David walking through rows of the thousand sleeping colonists after coughing up the embryo of two aliens.

This film felt like another step toward a grander Alien film in the future. It waivered from the initial horror to more of a sci-fi action film. David's conquest wiped out the Engineers but he seems set on building the xenomorph to perfection that will one day become the creature from the original films. There are still pieces to the puzzle that deep-thinking wouldn't explain and from the end of this one, it appears that we will have several more of these to come. I don't know if Ridley Scott has any plans as of now but it looks like this film has been enough of a success at the box office to justify another installment. 

Movie Review: Prometheus

The first prequel to the alien franchise brings us back to the origins of the xenomorph and explains the figure and ship spotted in the first and second film. We are introduced to the "Engineers" as one of them drinks a black liquid and disintegrates into a waterfall. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers ancient artifacts with her fellow researcher Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the researchers sent out on the Prometheus to explore the planet where the artifacts led. Manning the ship why the crew sleeps is David (Michael Fassbender), an android with his own feelings and opinions.

The Prometheus is captained by Janek (Idris Elba) but the mission is run by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) who clash at what to do but also have sexual tension. The group finds a structure on the planet and immediately explores it where they find one of the dead Engineers and strange egg-like vases. They bag the head of the Engineer and head back to the ship before a storm hits but two researchers Fifield (Sean Harris) and Millburn (Rafe Spall) are left behind and lost. Dr. Shaw needs to be rescued by David in the storm to save the head, which they then experiment on to make explode. Testing the DNA, they find it matches human DNA. David confers with a sleeping Weyland and puts the black substance in a drink for Charlie.

Fifield and Millburn are attacked by a strange snake alien that bleeds acid. Charlie wakes up sick with worms in his eyes. The group goes out to find their missing crew members but Holloway collapses. David goes off on his own and finds a living Engineer stowed away and room very similar to the one in the first Alien. They bring Holloway back but due to quarantine, Vickers torches him as he requests. Shaw is brought to the medical ward and informed by David that she is pregnant. The thing inside her is growing at a rapid rate. In one of the more gruesome scene, Shaw uses the medical hub to cut out the creature.

The crew finds Fifield sitting impossibly in front of the exit hatch. The zombie kills the crewmembers with superhuman strength until it is torched by Janek, run over, and shot repeatedly. Shaw doses herself with anesthetics and finds Weyland waking up to meet his maker. Janek has figured out the Engineers' plan and explains it to Shaw but she is still set on talking to them with Weyland. They talk to the Engineer but he just gets angry and kills any who come near, ripping David apart. Shaw escapes and tells Janek to fly the ship into the alien ship, which is heading to Earth to end humanity.

The ship crashes and smashes Vickers leaving Shaw alone, but David is still functional. Shaw is pursued by the angry Engineer into the lifeboat where the creature from her stomach has grown. She opens the door as the Engineer attacks her, and the creature, a giant face-hugger, grabs the Engineer. Shaw packs up David's head and body and finds another alien ship to explore the galaxy. The final shot gives us the birth of the xenomorph. The film feels a bit disjointed but has some great special effects and enough movie stars to dazzle onscreen. Ridley Scott returns to the franchise to add to the backstory of the first film finally explaining the mystery behind the species with the burst chest. I look forward to viewing this film again in the light of the new sequel out now.

Movie Review: Alien: Resurrection

The fourth installment in the Alien franchise resuscitates the series with a clever conceit from the writing of Joss Whedon. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned by remnants of her DNA in order for the military to harvest the xenomorphs. Weyland has long been defunct, bought out by Wal-Mart, but the military of the United Systems is still making the same mistakes by training to gather and harvest the alien creatures. A crew of smugglers led by Elgyn (Michael Wincott) brings a human cargo to the military spaceship in exchange for money and a brief stay. The aliens are tested by the researchers Gediman (Brad Dourif) and Dr. Wren (J.E. Freeman). General Perez (Dan Hedaya) leads the military operation.

The aliens learn quickly and kill one of their own to melt through their enclosures and escape. They proceed to kill the military but the smugglers remain alive. Call (Winona Ryder) was secretly working with the smugglers in order to kill Ripley and stop the aliens. Elgyn is killed by the aliens during the initial attack, and the remaining smugglers including Johner (Ron Perlman), Christie (Gary Dourdan), and the handicapped Vriess (Dominique Pinon) attempt to escape. Along with fellow smuggler, Elgyn's lover Hillard (Kim Flowers) and another surviving soldier Distephano (Raymond Cruz), the crew tries to make it past the 12 remaining xenomorphs.

Ripley discovers that she has seven other clones and that she is the eighth and first successful one. She still has characteristics of the xenomorphs like acid blood and super strength but the others are hideous so she torches them. The stumble upon an infected man Purvis (Leland Orser) and agree to take him along until the alien burst from his chest. In one of the cooler scenes of the Alien franchise, the crew has to swim through a flooded area and are attacked by swimming xenomorphs. They come out the other side but lose several members of the crew. It is revealed that Call is an android when Dr. Wren shoots her. 

Call is able to plug into the ship's control and clear the way for the crew to make it to their ship. All they have to do is run 100 yards but Ripley stops, sensing the queen. Aliens drag her down to the nest where the queen is birthing a human-xenomorph hybrid as Gediman watches in amazement. The hybrid bursts from the womb, kills the queen, and eats Gediman. Ripley runs but the hybrid pursues. The crew takes off but Purvis has to kill Dr. Wren with his chest-burster and the hybrid kills Distephano. Ripley uses her acid blood to melt a hole in the ship and the hybrid is sucked out to die. The crew crash lands on Earth, which has been destroyed.

Alien Resurrection is a strange addition with weird characters and updated special effects, but the whole things is a ton of fun to watch. The action looks great and never seems like anyone is taking this film too seriously. There is plenty of alien gore and death to satisfy horror fans and a wild sci-fi plot to follow along with. Sigourney Weaver plays a new type of Ripley who is more extreme as she is blended with the xenomorphs that she ruthlessly kills. Alien Resurrection doesn't get a lot of love but it sticks with the franchise. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Movie Review: Alien 3

The third film in the alien franchise finds Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) battling a single xenomorph on a prison planet as she discovers an awful secret. A prisoner Clemens (Charles Dance) is walking along the beach when he discovers Ripley's unconscious body. He brings her back as the other prisoners find the crashed ship and all other survivors, Hicks and Newt, deceased. Ripley's presence causes a disturbance on Fury 151 as she is the only woman. Ripley is focused on making sure none of the aliens survived. A face hugger sneaks off and impregnates a cow. 

Prisoners start to go missing as Clemens tries to convince the warden Andrews (Brian Glover) that something isn't right. Ripley tries to figure out what happened on the ship and reprograms Bishop (Lance Henriksen) but the prisoners attack her. Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) helps Ripley fight off the prisoners and leads them to a spiritual awakening. When a crazed prisoner Morse (Danny Webb) shows up covered in blood, the men suspect that there is something worse in this prison though some including Andrews and Aaron (Ralph Brown) are still skeptical of Ripley's story of the alien.

Ripley show symptoms of an illness and is consulted by Clemens but the alien shows up and kills him. The xenomorph won't attack Ripley and lets her escape. She warns the other prisoners but Andrews shoots her down right before he too is taken and eat by the xenomorph. There are no weapons in the prison so the prisoners have to devise a plan to lure the alien into the smelting facility and kill it. They manage to trap it but the Weyland corporation refuses to let them terminate it. Morse is crazed and lets out the xenomorph.

Ripley feels worse and goes to the neuro-scanner. She discovers a queen alien growing inside of her. She asks Dillon to kill her if the thing starts to come out. The prisoners debate trying to kill or waiting for the company. Ripley knows the company won't kill it so she enacts a plan that has the criminal running down corridors with the alien chasing them. This film is the most violent under the direction of David Fincher with many of the prisons meeting a brutal end. They manage to corner the alien and Dillon sacrifices himself to keep it put while they pour lead onto it. Ripley hits the sprinklers when it jumps out of the pit and it explodes

A new Bishop shows up to take in Ripley but she refuses and sacrifices herself. The final shots are accompanied by Ripley's final message at the end of the first film, the final transmission from the Nostromo. This third part caps of a trilogy of Ripley's survival and fights with the aliens. It looked to be the end of the series and though it has had mixed reviews, I enjoyed it tremendously. I have always felt that this film, while not matching the previous too, is a solid sci-fi horror addition to the franchise. 

Movie Review: Aliens

The slimy terrors in outer space return in this larger more action-packed sequel that rivals the original as a great sci-fi film. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is picked up 57 years later floating in space in her cryo-sleep. She is informed that a colony has been set up on the planet and it has recently gone silent. At the request of Weyland Corp. employee Burke (Paul Reiser), Ripley agrees to tag along on a mission with the colonial marines who hope to find out what happened to the colony. The marines are skeptical of what Ripley describes as a menacing force capable of taking out a whole crew, especially Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) and Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein). Ripley is also wary of the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) after her encounter from the previous film.

The squad heads down to the planet and finds the colony abandoned. There are signs of the aliens and only one survivor Newt (Carrie Henn). Led by Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), the marines trace the colonialists' trackers to the energy facility of the terraforming structure. They have to give up their weapons so as not to blow the place up, a handicapping that I always thought reduced the action for this part of the film. Lt. Gorman (William Hope) gives the order and Apone collects all the ammo and grenades. Vasquez and Private Drake (Mark Rolston) keep a clip on them. Of course, the team gets caught off guard and slaughtered leaving only a few left alive including Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn).

The acid blood comes into play showering the marines who try to shoot the xenomorphs. Ripley has to take charge and drive into there to save the marines. The remaining survivors try to leave but the aliens take down their transport, killing the two pilots. They retreat into the facility and set up defenses of sentry guns hoping to last while they wait for help. Ripley is especially pissed a Burke for setting this whole thing up. The aliens invade but the guns hold them off but they find out that the terraform facility will explode in about four hours. After learning how to operate the rifle with Wilks, Ripley goes to rest with Newt but wakes up to find her gun missing and two face huggers released in their room. Unable to open the door, Ripley has to trigger the fire alarm and sprinklers to call the marines.

Narrowly escaping being impregnated by the face huggers, Ripley and marines prepare to punish Burke when the aliens attack again. This time they crawl through the ventilation shaft and come down on top of the marines. Hudson gets taken, Burke gets eaten, Vasquez and Gorman blow themselves up. Ripley and Newt escape but then Newt slips down into the water where she is taken by the aliens. Wilks pulls Ripley away but in the elevator, Wilks gets sprayed by acid blow shooting a xenomorph back. Bishop manages to call a transport but Ripley won't leave without Newt. She uses the tracker to find her tied up in the nest and encounters the queen, who lays eggs to make more xenomorphs.

Ripley saves Newt and they make it off the exploding terraform facility when Bishop flies back around. They make it back to the ship but the queen followed them and tagged along. Ripley has to use the loader to fight her in a great battle. This movie brings the action to the sci-fi series with a grander scale and the direction of James Cameron. Ripley takes charge and Sigourney Weaver is great. Young actress Carrie Henn does a great job carrying a major part of the film as young Newt. I like this film the most and even to this day the action and special effects don't look too dated. This film expanded the alien story and jumped genres. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Movie Review: Alien

One of the most iconic sci-fi horror movies of all time, Alien is still an incredibly impressive film nearly forty years later. The crew of the Nostromo is returning home after a mining mission when they receive a distress call and the artificial intelligence onboard known as Mother decides that they should stop and investigate. The crew wakes up from cryo-sleep and investigates the strange planet from which the call came. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) realizes the call is a warning but already three crew members had left the ship to investigate the alien ship on the planet. On the alien ship is a fossilized life form with a hole in its chest. 

Kane (John Hurt) peeks over a giant egg and a spider-like creature pops out and hugs his face. Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) bring him back and try to take him back on their ship but Ripley stops them. The science officer Ash (Ian Holm) overrides Ripley and lets them back on the ship. They take Kane and his face-hugging alien to the medical bay but are unable to cut it off because it has acid for blood that melts through the ship. As Ash investigate the new creature, Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) work to repair the ship.

They take off from the planet and return to the Nostromo. Kane wakes up feeling better but hungry. He wants to eat before they go back into cryo-sleep but as they share a meal, the alien bursts from his chest. The tiny creature scurries off, and the crew search for it, catching the cat instead. Brett goes after the cat but is taken by the alien. Dallas tries to burn it out of the ventilation shaft but he is taken as well. Ripley discovers that Mother has deemed the crew expendable and Ash tries to kill her. Parker hits Ash over the head and Ash malfunctions because he is actually an android. 

The remaining crew members try to blow up the ship but the alien kills Parker and Lambert. Ripley initiates the self-destruct on the ship but finds the path to the shuttle blocked by the alien. She tries to turn the self-destruct off but is too late. She grabs the cat Jones and makes it to the shuttle as the Nostromo explodes. She is settling down to cryo-sleep when she discovers the alien onboard and has to flush it out the airlock while wearing a spacesuit. Ripley is the last remaining survivor of the Nostromo with Jones and goes to sleep floating through space.

Alien is one of my favorite movies of all time and sparked a massive franchise that tells a harrowing tale of humanity, corporate greed, and the dangers of space exploration. Ripley is an amazing character and Sigourney Weaver carries the role for four movies. This movie directed by Ridley Scott started it all and will be remembered for decades to come for the horror sci-fi classic that it is. The alien creatures are terrifying, especially the egg-hatching face-huggers and the large alien creature is awesome in so many ways. I look forward to seeing these films continue for years to come but this one started it off the best way possible. 

TV Show Review: Guerrilla

I was unfamiliar with the story depicted in Guerilla though it is only loosely based on a true story from what I gather. I had heard about controversy hitting the show before it aired with its depiction of black women. I stuck with it knowing it would only take six episodes and the finale was a few days ago by the time I post this so as one might be able to tell, it wasn't a priority. The show is not as explosive as some other Showtime series and doesn't have a sense of urgency trying to tell a grand story in only six episodes. I found some of the acting interesting though I do think the casting could have been better. Idris Elba as Kent is great as he always is in any role he takes on but he has only a few scenes in the early episodes.

The story revolves around the romance of Jas Mitra (Freida Pinto) and Marcus (Babou Ceesay). Jas admires his drive to make a difference and helps him break out another radical Dhari (Nathaniel Martello-White). Jas had a relationship with Kent but doesn't like how he takes a more passive approach to resisting the racial profiling and acts of the British Parliament. Kent doesn't like the racial profiling but takes a different approach to resistance. He cooperates with the officer investigating the couple and leads them to a hideout.

The lead officer of the investigation is Pence (Rory Kinnear) who struggles with his racism as he had a son with an informant. He is pushed off of the investigation as his secret are revealed. The other officer Cullen (Daniel Mays) who pressures Fallon (Denise Gough), an Irishwoman who has a brother locked up for other unrelated activities. Fallon's former relationship with a friend of Jas and Marcus allows her to receive inside information, which she relays to Cullen.

The criminal acts of Jas, Marcus, and Dhari with the help of Leroy (Brandon Scott) grow as they require money to survive on the run. Kent is revealed to be an informant and the liberation groups turn on him. Eliette (Bella Dayne) is another radical who participates in a public shootout as the group hopes public action will stimulate change. She is murdered in the act by the police investigating the crime after a tip from Kent. 

Guerrilla was a show that looked like it could have been top quality but doesn't quite get there plus I didn't know it was a limited series when I started. It did have two big stars but Idris Elba takes a backseat for most of the drama only using his face for advertising while Freida Pinto gives it her all. I especially liked the performances of Babou Ceesay, Nathaniel Martello-White, and Denise Gough. The ending does have a pretty decent twist that depicts a complicated situation that the show doesn't show in too much of a glorifying way. Complicated stuff comes out in this show but I don't think it was successful in gaining much of an audience for its nuanced message.  

TV Show Review: Brockmire

The irreverent and bawdy show on IFC tells the tale of a sports announcer fallen from grace after an on-air meltdown mounting his comeback in a small town in Pennsylvania. Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria) is the famed sports announcer who used to be the voice of baseball in Kansas City until his wife Lucy (Katie Finneran) reveals to him that she has been having all sorts of sexual escapades while he was away. Jim breaks down and loses his career spending years shamefully hiding in foreign countries. He returns to American sports when Jules James (Amanda Peet) hires him to announce for a minor league team and generate some controversy for increased attendance.

While drinking heavily since Jules also owns a bar, Brockmire finds comfort being behind the microphone once again for the Morristown Frackers. As the Frackers win after Jules and Brockmire have a one-night stand, the two continue to have superstitious sex so that the team can keep up the streak. Helping promote Brockmire and Fracker online is Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) who helps Brockmire's rants go viral. 

With renewed fame, things are looking up for Brockmire in the Frackers despite the local energy company wanting to shut down the team so that they can drill on the stadium location. They do everything they can including handing out free money during home games and setting the field on fire. Jules fights back with new advertising schemes that bring in more spectators. Brockmire's wife shows back up trying to woo him again but Brockmire stays with Jules who finds out that she's pregnant. 

The first season is short at only episode but shows Brockmire climbing back towards success. He pals around with famous real life sports announcers including Joe Buck who has a hilarious cameo speaking with language one never hears from him in a national broadcast. As the Frackers achieve greater success and Jules prevent the team from being moved away from Morristown, Brockmire is given a chance at the pros. He decides to audition for the Atlanta Braves with a minor league job in New Orleans taking Charles with him and leaving Jules in Pennsylvania.

Brockmire is hilarious, a great show about sports and recovering from being infamous. Azaria's performance is top notch as always as he's embodied tons of character before but hardly ever as a lead. The chemistry between him and Peet has great comedic value and Tyrel Jackson Williams is great in the supporting role. I hope this show has a long life on IFC as I'd like to see the continued travails of Brockmire and the Frackers. 

TV Show Review: Master of None (Season 2)

Aziz Ansari returns to Netflix with his hilarious and insightful series. Food is central to this season, more so than the last. I've been hooked on Aziz's comedy and his performance in Parks and Rec for a while now and this was a nice surprise to see popping up on Netflix again. The story picks up a short time after the first with Aziz's character Dev in Italy exploring the culinary art of making pasta. In Modena, Dev trains with a family including Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). There are small signs of attraction but Dev is still single and Francesca has a boyfriend. Dev meets a cute British woman on his lonely birthday dinner but loses his phone to a thief and is unable to contact her.

Dev's friend shows up in Italy in the second episode Arnold (Eric Wareheim) who wants to go to the wedding of an old ex-girlfriend and brings Dev along. They eat their way through the country and get stuck in an alley with their rental. Arnold crashes the wedding but everything works out. Dev returns to New York reintroducing his hilarious father Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari, Aziz's actual father) who hopes that Dev will pretend to be a pious Muslim for Dev's Uncle and Dev's mother Nisha (Fatima Ansari). Food clashes with his religion as well as Dev introduces his cousin to pork and they skip prayer to go to a BBQ festival.

Dev has an encounter with several dates after interacting with them on a dating app. This episode was hilarious and is put together in a very interesting fashion. One date with Priya (Tiya Sircar) gets to the second but Dev can't find a true connection. Another episode turns away from Dev's story and shows other tales of New York including Eddie (Frank Harts), Maya (Treshelle Edmond), and others. Dev looks to his career as he meets with Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale), a loudmouthed cook. Jeff encourages Dev's career moves as he works on a cupcake cooking show as a host.

The Thanksgiving episode with Denise (Lena Waithe) and her family shows her growth as Dev is invited since a child. This episode is considered one of the best of the season and I enjoyed it a lot. The last two episodes explore Dev and Francesca's relationship as he woos her in New York but watches as she continues to stay with her fiance. Dev tries to convince her to stay but she struggles with the decision. Meanwhile, Dev's career is derailed by accusations of sexual harassment against Chef Jeff.

Master of None had a solid first season and though I think the second doesn't quite match the freshman run, it's still a funny show with decent romantic comedy. The episodes are never fun and Aziz's humor propels the stories forward. The chemistry between Dev and Francesca helped the central romantic story and the constant food made me really hungry throughout. I look forward to Aziz making more of these and I hope he starts to pop up in films and possibly some more stand-up specials. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sports: NBA Playoffs (Conference Finals)

Down to the final four of the NBA as two teams are running high off of undefeated postseasons while the other to had to get through a six and seven game series to push toward the Conference final. We'll find out which teams are the best in their conference and if we'll have a repeat of last year. We've seen some exciting matchups so far but so far nothing incredibly unpredictable has happened. Maybe we'll get some surprises or upsets, either way, it's going to be exciting.

East
The Boston Celtics finally made it to the next series as the Cleveland Cavaliers had been waiting for them after a sweep. While the Celtics get home field advantage, the Cavs come in as the favored team. Hard to bet against Lebron James and I won't. I'm picking the Cleveland Cavaliers to return to the Championship for a chance to protect their title.

Game 1: The Cavaliers blow out the Celtics 117-104.
Game 2: The Cavs continue their extreme dominance with a 130-86 win.
Game 3: The Celtics pull off a big comeback and upset in Cleveland to win 111-108.
Game 4: The Cavaliers came closer to a repeat Finals appearance with a 112-99 win.

West
The San Antonio Spurs survived a challenge to take on the highly favored and undefeated Golden State Warriors. The hardest part for the Spurs is keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy as he has already suffered an injury allowing the Warriors to come back and take the first game. The Warriors have built a super team and I'm picking Golden State to go all the way.
Game 1: The Warriors came back from a 25-point deficit to win 113-111.
Game 2: The Warriors go up 2-0 in the series and remain undefeated for 10 straight playoff games with a 136-100 win.
Game 3: The Warriors win another 120-108.
Game 4: The Warriors complete the sweep with a 129-115 win.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Movie Review King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

An origin tale that was hoping to spark many further sequel and spinoffs turns out to be an utterly boring disappointment that hardly makes sense. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is caught up in a memory of his father Uther (Eric Bana) dying as he dreams about it every night. The movie constantly flashes back to this moment about ten times too many showing the same thing over and over, possibly with a little detail added to show that Arthur is coming to terms with his father's death. Arthur had to escape as a young boy because his father was the king but was betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law). I'm not sure how closely this is following the actual legend of King Arthur but there were some tall elephants that smashed stuff. This opening battle sequence is the only battle sequence in the whole film and possibly the best part.

Arthur quickly grows up in a brothel in a rapid montage scene. I wish more of the movie went this fast because any time they stop and talk, the film becomes so boring that I would take off my 3D glasses and try to catch a quick nap. Arthur has a group of friends that viewers are supposed to like but I didn't really care especially as later the death of one is supposed to be the emotional climax that leads Arthur to pick up the sword. It is never clear why Arthur doesn't want the immense power of the sword in the stone but he spends a major portion of this second act fainting every time he touches it. 

Once it is revealed that Arthur is the king, Vortigern wants to kill him publicly but a mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) uses her animal mind control power to free him and bring him back to Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou). It's sad that Hollywood has never given Hounsou a chance to lead his own film but always cast him as the wise black man to assist on a white man's journey, the case in this film as well. The movie seems to be a great excuse to find further roles for Game of Thrones cast members who have either been killed off or haven't had as much screen time in the past season including Aidan Gillen and Michael McElhatton.

Hunnam as Arthur goes through the typical hero's journey but tries to bring sarcasm and humor to the role, most of the jokes fall flat. He stages a rebellion against Vortigern through several sequences of explaining a plan as viewers witnesses that plan playing out, this happens repeatedly. I've read that they went back for reshoots and the entire film is so heavily edited, it looks like they just pieced together whatever footage they had with flashbacks leading to more flashbacks. They do this for every scene as it might be clever for one scene or two but becomes repetitive and boring.

I've enjoyed some of Guy Ritchie's films before, mostly the gangster ones and I think that was because I was young when they came out. He won't suffer from this critical and commercial flop as he has a possible third Sherlock Holmes film and an Aladdin film in the works, but this was a poor example of his filmmaking. I think Arthur will not live to see another film and no one should try to revitalize the property for some time. It would be best if they stuck with the legend and didn't bother with an origin story or actual story either. I am confused about the legend and why people keep going back to it so maybe I'll go educated myself and forget this movie forever. 

Movie Review: King Arthur

Claiming to tell the true story that inspired the legend, Antoine Fuqua put forth a gritty version of King Arthur. Narrated by Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), the story tells of young men recruited by the Roman Empire to fight along the wall splitting Britain. Arthur (Clive Owen) leads a group of men, played by recognizable actors, as they fight barbarians alongside the Roman soldiers. These attackers are led by Merlin (Stephen Dillane). The knights Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Bors (Ray Winstone) and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) all prove to be brave and brutal warriors as they fight an advancement encouraged by the impending exit of the Roman Empire from Britain.

The knights do sit at a roundtable and look forward to returning home for some peace, but one last mission brings them North to fight the Saxon hordes and rescue a family. Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård) leads the Saxons with his son Cynric (Til Schweiger). Arthur and his knights find a settlement of Christians punishing pagans. The knights free some of the tortured people and find Guinevere (Keira Knightley) trapped behind a wall being put to death. They free her and leave the priests to the Saxons. 

Guinevere brings Merlin to Arthur and organizes a tense peace between them. Arthur struggles between his duty to Rome and history with Britain as he has vowed vengeance but his loyalties continue to shift. As a child, he had pulled a sword from his father's burial mound to avenge his mother's death at the hands of, he believes, Merlin. Guinevere and Merlin recruit Arthur to lead the men of Britain against the Romans and the Saxons.  

Arthur and his men take on a horde of Saxons on a frozen lake, defeating them when Dagonet sacrifices himself to crack the ice. Cynric returns to his father ashamed as Guinevere continues to build the legend of Arthur in Arthur's own mind to convince to fight. The Romans retreated but Arthur remains to fight the Saxons alone. Arthur confronts Cerdic at the wall before he retreats behind it. The knights with the help of Merlin and Guinevere confront the larger Saxon army by using smoke, catapults and fire arrows. The final battle ensues with a bloody result with many deaths.

The film is pretty dull and boring throughout with a few moments of medieval battle that offer some minor entertainment. The acting is wooden and the directing is nothing special. The set pieces look expensive but nothing is actually stunning. The battle sequences are ruined by an overwrought soundtrack that forces the emotions that aren't there. The fighting is poorly choreographed and heavily edited. This is another failed attempt to revive the old legend and I think I'm going to see another one in the theater. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sports: NHL (Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals)



The final four teams in the NHL remain and this has been a very interesting Stanley Cup Playoffs. Surprises have continued onward and strong teams have fallen to rivals. The reigning champions have stuck around and an underdog continues to look strong. I'm excited to see these conference finals take off as we're two series away from the finals.

Eastern Conference
While the Penguins continue to upset my picks, I still have two more chances to underestimate Pittsburgh and not seem them return to the finals. I've been rooting for the Ottawa Senators since I like their logo. I've watched a few of their games and they dispatched the Rangers quick enough to look like a strong team.

Game 1: The Senators take an overtime victory 2-1.
Game 2: The Penguins win in a defensive match 1-0.
Game 3: The Senators blow out the Penguins 5-1 to regain the lead in the series.
Game 4: The Penguins fought off a comeback from the Senators to win 3-2 and tie the series at 2 games.
Game 5: The Penguins smashed the Senators 7-0 to regain the lead. 
Game 6: The Senators survived with a 2-1 win.

Western Conference
The Predators are almost a local team for me so I'm rooting for them to go all the way. The Ducks look good and I'm hoping for a competitive series but I'm rooting for Nashville. No other team looks as dominant in this tournament though they've never had home field advantage overall, they still manage to claim victory.
Game 1: The Predators take the first game 3-2 in overtime. 
Game 2: The Ducks come from behind to win 5-3 and tie the series.
Game 3: The Predators regain the lead with the benefit of a late penalty winning 2-1.
Game 4: The Ducks take this game in overtime 3-2 to tie the series again.
Game 5: The Predators pull ahead with a 3-1 win.
Game 6: The Predators win the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals with a 6-3 win over the Ducks.

Sports: MLB (May 2017)

It's still too early to really know who's going to the World Series but I'd like to take a look at each division and where they stand after a month of play. My predictions already look to be not great as some teams have surprised while others have disappointed. I'm excited to see some new teams climbing to the top though many of the teams I root for are hanging at the bottom. The rankings change rapidly at this early point so even as I write this sometimes will lose their top spot. 

National League
East
The Washington National have a solid lead atop the East with their greatest challenger, the New York Mets, about 5.5 games behind. The Nationals are at the top of the power rankings and could be one of the best teams in baseball. I'm curious if they can turn this early season success into a high playoff spot and even a World Series appearance. 


Central 
This division switches up every few days as the Pirates, the last place team, are only about five games back. The Cardinals lead the division but have a three-game series with the struggling Cubs this weekend. The Red, the team I root for in this division, are doing surprisingly well and I hope when I post about baseball next week, that they'll be at the top.

West
When I started this post the Diamondbacks were at the top but the Colorado Rockies have jumped up and Arizona has fallen to third behind the Dodgers. This division has a ton of surprises but I don't stay up late enough or get enough NL West games to see what's going on. I am also surprised that the San Francisco Giants are playing so badly.

American League
East
I had the Orioles leading this division but the Yankees have improved tremendously from previous years and moved into first. Baltimore is right behind them while Boston is in a distant third at about 4 games back. Anything could change in a single series though.

Central
Cleveland has reestablished dominance but this division is anyone's guess with only the Royals knocking around at the bottom. I'd like to see the Chicago White Sox, down at fourth but only two games behind, come back up. The Twins and Tigers are still putting up competition and it's early.

West
The Astros have been threatening to be a good team for some time and this might be the year that they follow through. The leader last year, the Texas Rangers, are at the bottom. I'm rooting for the Mariners to make a run at it. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

TV Show Review: The Last Man on Earth (Season 3)

The post-apocalyptic comedy continues with Tandy (Will Forte) and the gang have to leave their Malibu house when armed men come along. Melissa (January Jones) shoots one of the attackers (played by John Hamm, her husband in Mad Men) and begins to have psychological difficulties coping with the apocalypse. Carol (Kristen Schaal) and Erica (Cleopatra Coleman) are pregnant and worry about their impending births but know that they have to restart society with their children. Gail (Mary Steenburgen) has taken to drinking after a failed medical operation and other misfortune. After a few more encounters with Pat (Mark Boone Junior) who refuses to die, the gang packs up and looks for a new place. 

After a few episodes of exploration, the group finds a place running off of a power generator and stuffed with toys. The gang settles in nicely and Lewis (Kenneth Choi) practices on a flight simulator hoping to one day fly to Japan. Carol decides that she wants Gail to adopt her so that they can become a family and works hard to get her and Tandy in a matching family photograph. Carol's desire to have Gail as a mother drives Gail to find solace somewhere alone where she can drink. Her adventures leave her trapped in an elevator when Lewis and Tandy shut the power off.

Melissa also disappears and the group spends more time searching for her while Gail remains trapped in the elevator for nearly half a season. Tandy continues his silly antics to charm Carol. Tandy and Todd (Mel Rodriguez) head out to Melissa's old home to find out more about her past and look for a cure to her depression. Eventually, Gail makes it out of the elevator and has to recover. Lewis tries to take off on his flight but crashes the plane and dies. In a photo for the funeral, the gang discovers that there may be another survivor lurking around. 

The show always balances between humor and the dire situation of everyone in the world dying. An episode away from the gang in the midseason shows us the origins of the outbreak from the perspective Pamela Brinton (Kristen Wiig) that actually shows dead bodies for a while. She makes it to a fallout shelter and uses a drone to explore around for years until revealing that she saw the gang at the end of last season. She remains out of the picture until near the end of the season. Erica has her baby and Carol is nervous about her birth when Tandy discovers a nuclear reactor on fire. The gang sets out once again to end the season.

The Last Man on Earth is a funny show even if Tandy's outrageous stupidity surpass humor into annoying on occasion. I enjoy the storyline and the quick episodes almost always end with a cliffhanger. Terrible things happen but the group still manages to bring out humor with their behavior. The show never delves too deeply into seriousness as Tandy can never go along without making a joke. I enjoy the show immensely and would recommend it to those who can enjoy apocalypse humor. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

TV Show Review: Billions (Season 2)

After an interesting first season, Billions really raised the stakes with a great second season. The show always starts a little slower with a few episodes to reset the rivalry and establish what the characters are up to this time around. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is still wheeling and dealing with the stock market but now he's taking extra vengeance against the district attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Rhoades is mounting a campaign for governor and advancing his political future through big cases. Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) looks for career opportunities elsewhere and flirts with other billionaires. Lara Axelrod (Malin Ackerman) takes a smaller role this season trying to start an IV business and growing angry with Bobby's shadiness.

The supporting cast was really solid this season as well with new faces and familiar alike. Mike "Wags" Wagner (David Costabile) was one of my favorite characters with his swaggering braggadocio mixed with a deep doubt and insecurity. The newest most interesting character is definitely Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) whose genius brain for stocks and gambling appeals to Axe's killer instinct. Wags and Taylor interacting makes for some great scenes. Even Taylor can't avoid the investigation as Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) tries to investigate and turn Taylor with no luck.

The conflict between Rhoades and Axelrod constantly flipped as the two men jockeyed for advantage over one another not relenting from petty hurtful actions against one another. Chuck tries to salvage his marriage with Wendy as Bobby hits a rough patch with Lara as well. Axe Capital has a weak quarter leading Bobby to make some desperate bids to have a big win. Chuck also struggles with an investigation into Wendy and his tactics by the District Attorney.

The best episode is the next to last with a huge twist, one of the best on television this year. Chuck and Axe will go all out to hurt each other. Nothing is off the table and anyone caught in the middle will suffer. There is a final scene of confrontation between the two that rivals the first season's end. The rivalry has heated up to a boiling point that will have an exciting payoff in seasons to come.

Billions really impressed me this year and I'm glad I stuck with this show. At times I had my doubts but a lot of episodes this season really paid off. This second season ends in an interesting place that will spell disaster and excitement for the future. The sacrifices were huge as this shown does not deal in small amounts, hence the title. Showtime has a lot of great shows and I'm glad that Billions fits right in there. 

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Guardians returns for another out-of-this-world, laugh-out-loud, adventure. We're thrown back into the galactic tale when the crew of Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax, (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) take on a giant monster. The open credits see Groot dancing while the rest fight. Drax establishes himself as the funniest but the whole film is full of great humor and levity to balance out the space action and emotion. They were taking on the beast for a job from the Sovereign, a golden humanoid species led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) in order to collect Nebula (Karen Gillan). when Rocket steals their special batteries, this species turns into an enemy.

The Guardians escape with the help of Ego (Kurt Russell), but their ship is damaged. When Ego reveals that he is Quill's long lost father, he invites them to his planet. Drax, Gamora, and Quill go with ego leaving Rocket, Groot, and Nebula behind. Ayesha hires Yondu (Michael Rooker) to find the Guardians and bring them to their death. Ego takes the three Guardians to his home world and show them how he is the planet and only made this human form to travel the galaxy. He explains how he met Quill's mother and why he left. Meanwhile, Yondu tracks down and captures Rocket but is betrayed by his crew of Ravagers and shot in the head by Nebula.

Ego has a helper named Mantis (Pom Klementieff) whose empathic ability helps put Ego to sleep. She has a secret that she wants to reveal as she connects with Drax but her reticence of Gamora prevents her from speaking up. Rocket and Yondu have to orchestrate an escape with the help of Baby Groot. Nebula uses a ship she receives from the Ravagers and heads to Ego where she tries to kill Gamora out of revenge. As they fight, they discover a bone graveyard on Ego's planet. Mantis reveals that Ego has been killing all his children as he realizes they don't have the power. Ego also tells Quill that he gave Quill's mother a tumor.

As a final act dying from the explosion caused by Yondu, a Ravager named Taserface gives the Guardians' location to the Sovereign. The final battle consist of the Guardians trying to stop Ego from destroying the world and also fighting off the Sovereign as Yondu, Nebula, and Mantis join them. Quill discovers his own power to control matter and fights Ego as Rocket tries to explain to Groot how to operate the bomb. The film packs an emotional punch when Yondu sacrifices himself to save Quill as he has taken on the role of father for Peter.

I might not have more fun this summer at the theaters than I did in this film as it so seamlessly bounces from humor to sci-fi action-adventure and back. The screen is filled with color and special effects that make for a true visual feast. I loved the first film and the second one lives up to it. The only flaws were a slow middle and an episodic feel though this film gives a closer look at how the Guardians operate as a team while adding some new members. I look forward to the Guardians teaming up with the Avengers and then completing the trilogy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

One of the best Marvel films, Guardians of the Galaxy is a hilarious space opera with a heart and great soundtrack. After being updated over two decades ago, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a Ravager searching for an orb proclaimed to have great power. He escapes from Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and his minions but is unable to sell it when it is revealed that Ronan (Lee Pace) also wants it. The bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his partner Groot (Vin Diesel) try to capture Quill but Gamora (Zoe Saldana) sent by Ronan fights them to also capture Quill. All of them are captured by the Nova Corps and imprisoned. 

Tying to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thanos (Josh Brolin) allows Ronan to use his daughters, Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), to hunt for the orb. Yondu (Michael Rooker) the alien that first abducted Peter Quill is also after the orb. The group encounters Drax (Dave Bautista) a muscle bound criminal who wants to murder Ronan for killing his family. The group escapes the prison, and Gamora takes them to the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) to sell the orb. It is revealed that inside the orb is an Infinity Stone, likely the Power Stone, capable of destroying the galaxy.

The plan goes awry when the Collector's slave grabs the power stone and it explodes while Drax calls Ronan to their location. Yondu also shows up to capture Quill. Sacrificing the stone, Quill saves Gamora from suffocation in space but is captured by Yondu while Nebula takes the orb. Quill and Gamora convince Yondu and his Ravagers to work with them and the whole group comes up with 12% of a plan to stop Ronan from saving Nova. Quill also enlists the help of the Nova Corps by sending a message to Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) who convinces Nova Prime (Glenn Close). 

Ronan launches his attack with his giant ship the Dark Astor on Nova as the Guardian, Ravagers, and Nova Corps work to stop them. Peter, Gamora, Drax, and Groot all make it aboard Ronan's ship as the Nova Corps forms a blockade to stop it. Yondu's ship is damaged but he uses his whistling dart to take out Ronan's soldiers on the ground. Rocket shoots Ronan's ships that were crashing into the city. Gamora fights her sister Nebula, and Drax takes out Korath. They all work to stop Ronan and crash the Dark Astor into the ground. Groot sacrifices himself to save the other Guardians.

Quill distract Ronan with a dance-off and Rocket rebuilds his weapon so that Drax can blast the stone free. Quill grabs the stone then Gamora. Drax and Rocket also hold on to contain the power of the stone and destroy Ronan. There are hints about Quill's father and Groot grows back again from a twig, setting up the sequel. This movie is more fun than most films at the cinema and Marvel at the top of their game. Director James Gunn balances action and humor with a colorful cast and gorgeous sets. I really love this film and look forward to the sequel. 

Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

The epic true story of an ambitious explorer came from a New Yorker magazine article that became a book written by David Grann. James Gray wrote the screenplay and directed the film that tells the story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). Percy is introduced languishing with a bad legacy of his father and an unrecognized military rank of Major though he shows exception at hunting shooting a large deer in Cork, Ireland. He is transferred to the Royal Geographical Society and given an opportunity to redeem his father's troubled legacy by traveling to the Amazon.

His wife Nina (Sienna Miller) is not happy about his extended absence but agrees to raise their two sons without him. On his first trip out, he is accompanied by Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and commissioned to map the river to help prevent conflict between Brazil and Bogota. He witnesses the slave trade of the natives and the disrespect societies have for these isolated civilizations. The trip up the river is deadly for many of his crew but Fawcett and Costin make it to the source with the help of a native who escapes. Percy finds pottery and becomes convinced there is a lost city, which he names Zed. 

Percy returns to England with his discovery and impresses an explorer of the Arctic James Murray (Angus Macfadyen). He decides to return with Costin, another explorer from his first trip Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley), and Murray. Percy engages with the natives and their culture, impressed by their agriculture. Murray is upset and becomes ill, stealing their food, and forcing them to turn back. Murray is sent off on his own and Percy believes he is dead but when they return to England, Murray accuses them of desertion. Upset, Percy abandons the Royal Geographical Society and is drafted to fight in World War I. He teams up with Costin and Manley but is hit with chlorine gas and blinded.

His grown son Jack (Tom Holland) becomes enthralled with Amazon as well and encourages his father to take one more trip. Nina has reservations but lets her son and husband venture out with support from newspapers and the forgiveness of the Royal Geographical Society. Percy and Jack set out with high hopes but encounter warring tribes and find themselves captured. The true story does not know what happens to Percy Fawcett so they hint that he was drugged by the tribe and possibly still lived with them.

The film is pretty slow and the adventures stress more the difficulty of keeping rations and communicating with the natives. The story is certainly interesting and worth a watch to learn about this ambitious explorer. Hunnam doesn't deliver the most impressive performance but seems to be improving since his motorcycle drama days. The film had potential to be really entertaining as the life of Fawcett contains a lot of action but the movie comes up short on any action. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Book Review: Shift by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey's second novel in the Silo series explores the origin of the silos and the initial plan. The first part of this novel switched between Donald, a congressman with a history studying architecture, and Troy, a man awaken from a frozen slumber into a bleak future beneath the ground. Donald is recruited by Thurman, an elder politician who survives off of nanotechnology to prevent aging. Thurman and his daughter Anna, Donald's ex-girlfriend, use Donald to design the silo as Anna seduces him away from his wife Helen. Troy also discovers mysteries that lurk beneath the ground as his silo supervises other silos that are having trouble keeping their residents in order. Troy watches as a silo collapses and decides to take no action.

The chapters are short and the story moves at a fast pace as Donald learns more about the plans of Thurman and builds the silo. Troy begins to suspect that the pills he is taking are eliminating memories so he stops taking them by tucking them in his cheeks and spitting them into napkins even as it causes sores in his mouth and returns harsh recollections. Soon it becomes clear, if it was obvious already, that Troy and Donald are the same person only separated by a large span of time. We read how the silos came about when the final bombs drop to destroy the land and Donald is forced under just as Troy figures out the truth and tries to escape.

The second shift sees Donald reawakened, this time at the behest of Anna who wants his help as another silo is on the verge of collapse. The second story interspersed between this one is about a young man name Mission who works as a porter carrying items up and down the silo stairs. Mission joins in the uprising as he holds resentment for the fact his mother was executed as a repercussion for having him as a second child. The population in the silos is strictly controlled in order to stave off overcrowding. There are more similarities with the first novel in this section as we see the cryptic IT offering Mission a job but before he can take another porter delivers the package, which turns out to be a bomb. 

The uprising grows at the urging of the Crow, an old teacher who hints at a different world only she remembers. As this silo collapses, Donald pushes to save it but distress of discovering his wife went on to live a life without him distracts him as Thurman goes ahead with the silo's collapse. Mission is caught in the middle as everyone dies around him. Donald tries to fight back but once again he is put to sleep for another century in the frozen storage.

The final part shows how Jimmy became Solo in the collapsed silo, surviving in the locked control room, as Donald is woken up again and this time finds himself in charge. Time passes a lot faster as Donald gets his revenge on Thurman and Anna and wakes his sister to fly a drone around the surrounding area of the silo. The biggest mystery of what is going outside of the silos is still something I'm very curious about and what will motivate me to finish the trilogy. Hugh Howey has hit on something very interesting with this series hence his huge success from self-publishing and I look forward to reading more by the author.