Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Academy Awards 2017 Winners

The story of the night was the epic mistake for the final big award but there were other flubs that stole the spotlight from the films awarded. Also, it came out today that the broadcast experienced the lowest ratings in some time. The night appeared to be rather uneventful for the most part as it appeared to be heading towards a La La Land victory though there were some upsets in the technical awards by Hacksaw Ridge. The big award was announced but then the surprise came and changed the night.

Best Picture
Moonlight was the ultimate winner of the night, taking home the prize after the confusion. Barry Jenkins's moving film was a powerful piece of cinema and I had thought there might be an upset but also thought that La La Land had the greatest chance. Still, I think the better choice was made if not belatedly and I look forward to seeing Moonlight again now that it has come out to buy. Mahershala Ali also took home the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Juan. Barry Jenkins also shared the award for Best Adapted Screenplay with Tarell Alvin McCraney

Best Actress
Emma Stone took the award for her performance in La La Land. Her character got a lot more interesting during the part scene where she tortures Ryan Gosling's character by requesting a frustrating song. I appreciate her singing and dancing and the performance of Audition was a moving part. I also liked the final moment when she conveyed so much in just a look. Damien Chazelle also took home the award for Best Director. La La Land also won awards for Cinematography and the music awards, Best Original Song and Best Score.    

Best Actor
Casey Affleck won for his display of grief in the powerful film, Manchester by the Sea. With Kenneth Lonergan's award-winning screenwriting for Best Original Screenplay, Affleck was able to channel so much in just a look or a sigh. His rage boiled up at moments and Affleck was great at showing that violence bubble to the surface. The movie drops heavy news on the viewer right in the middle of the film and continues on with a tale that will leave many in tears. 

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis is one of the greatest actresses of our time. Her performance in Fences was amazing and so beautiful. She loves a man in the great Denzel Washington's character that does not always return the favor. She puts up with his flaws and soldiers on until the grief just became too powerful. Her monologues were extraordinary and her acceptance speech was the best of the night. Looking forward to a lot more movie with her in starring roles. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Academy Awards 2017 Nominations

For the first time since the best picture category was expanded to over five films, I have seen all the films nominated for best picture. For my nominations post, I'll choose the movie that I think will win and the movie that I would like to win. I'll write a little bit about each movie and also include links to my reviews of those films. 

Best Picture
La La Land should take home a lot of awards this year but the top prize could elude it if some of the tough competition comes in for a surprise. The movie with the best chance of an upset is Moonlight. My favorite film of the year is definitely Arrival but I'm not sure it has a chance to win even if votes are split. I was a huge fan of all the nominees including LionHacksaw Ridge, Manchester by the Sea, Fences, and Hell or High Water

Best Actor
Casey Affleck could take away this award for his powerful performance as a grieving father in Manchester by the Sea though he will face tough competition from Denzel Washington in Fences. Affleck has had some bad press and Washington is an acting legend but I'm not sure I can count out Affleck just yet. Andrew Garfield, Viggo Mortensen, and Ryan Gosling all gave great performances but I don't think any of them will win. 

Best Actress
Probably the most interesting award category and the one that I am most ignorant about. I have not seen three of the five performances that are nominated: Natalie Portman in Jackie, Isabelle Huppert in Elle, and Ruth Negga in Loving. Huppert in Elle looks like the one with the greatest chance after her win of the Golden Globe.
Emma Stone in La La Land is Huppert's greatest challenger for the award. It felt like Meryl Streep's nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins was more about the prestige of the actress than the actual performance. 

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali looks like a strong frontrunner for his role as Juan in Moonlight. Lucas Hedges was powerful in Manchester as the grieving son of Kyle Chandler's character. Michael Shannon's costar won the Golden Globe but I haven't seen Nocturnal Animals yet to make a judgment. Dev Patel was mostly a main character but shared the screen with a young version of his character to put him in this section, deserving of the recognition. My favorite performance was probably Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water as the crotchety sheriff hunting the bank robbers. 

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis has this award pretty much locked down for her role in Fences. Michelle Williams has this one immensely powerful scene in Manchester by the Sea that got her nominated. Hidden Figures has been left out of the awards but it was an amazing film and Octavia Spencer deserves the nomination along with all of her costars. Naomie Harris also had a small but powerful role as a mother coping with addiction. Nicole Kidman made this list as an adoptive mother of two Indian boys, an interesting performance but not likely to win. 

Best Director
I think this award goes to the trend of the awards show, which will be Damien Chazelle for La La Land. Barry Jenkins will also compete for his powerful work on Moonlight. 
The surprise nomination with no chance of winning is Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge. I enjoyed the war drama and thought the battle scenes were very intense but Gibson is still atoning for prejudice rants he's made in the past. Kenneth Lonergan received a nod for his work on making Manchester by the Sea so heartbreaking and the beauty of Arrival gave Denis Villeneuve a nomination.  

Best Original Screenplay
La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle as well who will take this one. Taylor Sheridan has been writing some incredible scripts including Hell or High Water. Mike Mills did not receive much recognition for his film 20th Century Women but it did get the screenplay nod.
Kenneth Lonergan could upset in this category for his dark story of a grieving father that so subtly played into the emotions. The Lobster was absurd and Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou deserve the credit for writing that outrageous story. 

Best Adapted Screenplay
I hope Arrival wins in this category. I loved this movie so much and the screenplay by Eric Heisserer really helped what was so powerful about the twisty story. August Wilson brought his play from the stage to the screen to allow Denzel Washington to direct. Barry Jenkins adapted the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney for the powerful story of Moonlight. Luke Davies wrote the powerful true story of Lion into a compelling piece of cinema. Theodore Melfi and Alison Schroeder deserve a lot of credit for making Hidden Figure such a powerful film. 

I look forward to watching the awards show to see the winners and their speeches. I hold out hope for a few surprises and know that my picks are usually off base enough that I'll get a few wrong. I look forward to another year of amazing films in 2017. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

TV Show Review: Sneaky Pete

The life of a con artist is not easy and Marius Josipovic (Giovanni Ribisi) has it harder than most. Sentenced to three years in prison after being caught in a con by Vince (Bryan Cranston), he finally gets out to assume the identity of his cellmate Pete. He falls in with Pete's family including the two grandparents Audrey (Margo Martindale) and Otto (Peter Gerety) Bernhardt. Pete hadn't seen them in over twenty years so they can't tell the difference between Marius and the actual Pete. The other relatives do suspect something especially Carly (Libe Barer), the youngest of the Bernhardts.

The family runs a bail bond company with the help of Pete's cousin Julia (Marin Ireland) mother of two, one with her estrange lawyer husband Lance (Jacob Pitts). Pete's other cousin Taylor (Shane McRae) is a local police officer who used to bully Pete and continues to pull pranks on Marius. Vince is under pressure to save his brother Eddie (Michael Drayer) who has been captured by Vince and threatened to lose his fingers and toes if Marius does not return Vince's one hundred thousand dollars. 

Marius comes up with a plot to steal collateral from the Bernhardts' bail company and use that to pay off Vince. The plot becomes much more complicated as Vince has to get into a safe to find money that isn't even there. Everyone is keeping secrets or running a con but no one is as good as Marius. Still, he has to rely on tons of lucky breaks to not have his real identity discovered or get caught by the crooked detective who is after him for revenge. Another issue is that Marius's old girlfriend and con artist partner Karolina (Karolina Wydra) has been forced into a relationship with Vince. 

Ribisi is great in the lead role, telling lies and endearing himself to marks as he dodges one close call after another. Cranston brings a new angle to his great acting performances as a cop who turned into a mastermind criminal who always seems to be on top of Marius's next move. The supporting cast does a good job of making me like them almost immediately especially the incredibly talent Margo Martindale. The show is full of talent.

I have been playing catch up with Amazon shows but was pleased to find this one so full of cliffhangers that I could easily watch episode after episode. The show sets up for a second season so I look forward to getting it renewed. Amazon has a whole group of shows that I'm behind on that I hope to prioritize in the upcoming months as I've caught up on other prestige streaming sites. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Movie Review: A Cure for Wellness

Strange circumstances surround a hydrotherapy medical center in Switzerland and when Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious young salesman, travels up there to bring back a company CEO, he discovers these dark secrets. The film is beautifully shot under the direction of Gore Verbinski and has a great horror atmosphere, though does not deliver on the spookiness. The researcher Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) discourages Lockhart from leaving after he breaks his leg in a car accident coming down the mountain. Lockhart continues to discover the odd history of the castle where the center is located and other issues about the patients.

He encounters the odd residents including Hannah (Mia Goth) a girl that was committed at a very young age and waits for her father to return once she is well, Victoria Watkins (Cella Imrie) an older woman who hopes to solve the mystery of the castle's past, and Pembroke (Harry Groener) the man that Lockhart is supposed to bring back. There are levels to the treatment and Lockhart slowly graduates to more extreme forms of hydrotherapy. Eels keep showing up in the water though the workers assure him that these are only hallucinations.

What is real and simply a trick of the mind isn't clear as Lockhart feels as if he is losing his sanity. The first half or so of this film is very interesting as not much of the mystery is revealed and I had a fun time trying to guess what exactly was going on. The strange images are certainly haunting and there are some gross out factors that made me cringe in my seat. The payoff, however, really lacks and the big reveal feels silly and predictable.

Dehaan's performance was enjoyable as he shows some range to the creepy characters he's played before and it somewhat likable despite playing an unlikable character. Isaacs is always fun to watch and brings a certain element of creepiness that benefits the horror of the facility. I really liked the imagery and the cinematography but all of this is undermined by the silliness of the story and the disappointment of the solution to the mystery.

February is always a rough month for movies but I have been pretty pleased with what has premiered this month. Cure For Wellness is simply a moderate horror but there are enjoyable elements and it isn't totally an uncomfortable watch. The runtime felt a little long and it would have benefited from a shorter script that left more clues and solved the mystery sooner. I am a fan of horror so I feel somewhat pleased with the first part of this film making up for a lackluster ending. 

Movie Review: The Great Wall

Cultures collide as a big budget film from China caters to American audiences as well. Matt Damon stars as the soldier, adventurer, and mercenary trader William who seeks the mysterious black powder of the Chinese. He partners with Tovar (Pedro Pascal) to elude the dangerous warriors but both are captured by the powerful army that mans the Great Wall. The army, led by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang), prepares for battle against monstrous beings reportedly from another planet. 

The beings looked pretty cool and the battle sequences were awe-inspiring but the plot is a little clumsy and rushed and the acting and dialogue leave something to be desired. The magnificence of the Great Wall was captured in a few shots but most of the action scenes are confined to small areas and it never felt like the beasts attacked from more than one place, a single valley. Still seeing Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) jump from the wall with her fellow blue female soldiers to spear the creatures was a sight to behold on the big screen. Rounding out the plot is a captured trader from the West, Ballard (Willem Dafoe) also interested in the gunpowder and ways to steal it, though he had given up on ever leaving this battle. 

I also appreciated that they gave a slight explanation for the language use and didn't just have characters inexplicable speaking English instead of Chinese. I enjoy subtitles when it helps create the world and deliver me to a foreign country and time. The time setting of the film is never clear though there were hints from Damon's William soldier claims to have fought in wars for the pope and other armies. 

The director Yimou Zhang is known for his extraordinary work with special effects and cool slow motion action from other movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The jumping and slicing of the heroes is similar super-powered though these are just elite warriors not magical. There are plenty of gorgeous shots of the battle that aspire to other fantasy films but the budget doesn't quite allow for equality.

The Great Wall was enjoyable film going in with low expectations. I got the enjoyable action and adventure scenes though the first one was probably the most exciting and the final battle didn't live up to what was set up at the beginning. A trend in alien battles is to kill a queen and all the soldiers simply die. This plot device seems an overly easy solution for what looks like insurmountable odds. I do hope they continue to have cross country films as I enjoy being exposed to foreign lands at the cinema. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sports: College Basketball (February)

A month before March Madness and college basketball is getting more exciting. For this month's post ahead of the tournament, I'm going to look at the conference leaders and explore the standings to see what teams are at the top. I'll look at each conference through the top 25 as well and determine which conference is the most powerful this month.

West Coast
The only remaining undefeated team is Gonzaga and they are at the top of the West Coast. The next team in this conference is St. Mary's ranked twentieth. The remaining teams in this conference are not ranked so it could be the easy schedule that allows Gonzaga to skate by without a loss. They have beaten some tough teams from other conference like the Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona.

Big East
Second-ranked Villanova is another team in a weaker division that has managed to make it this far in the season with only two losses. The toughest conference opponent is the Creighton Bluejays. Villanova is the defending champs so they are not to underestimated as we approach the tournament. 

Big 12
The Kansas Jayhawks are one of the toughest team in college basketball. Their only two losses have come from the opponents in their conference, ninth-ranked West Virginia and unranked Iowa State. Close behind Kansas are the fourth place Baylor Bears who faced Kansas this Saturday. The Jayhawks came out on top. West Virginia is another top team in this conference able to put up a fight. 

This West Coast conference is often overlooked because their games come later at night. Arizona is ranked fifth and will be the first team in the second place of a tournament bracket section. Oregon is close behind in 7th place. 

The North Carolina Tar Heels are at the top of their conference in the standings but are ranked behind Louisville. They'll face off on the 22nd of this month. This conference always has been tough since I can remember and remains so now. The Duke Blue Devils are on the rise with some impressive wins. Virginia and Florida State also look like tough opponents. 

With Kentucky on the decline, the Florida Gators have risen to the top spot in the SEC. The Wildcats remain higher ranked for now but they'll meet again in Kentucky on the 25th after a blowout for Florida earlier this season. The other two teams that might make waves are South Carolina and Alabama.  

The next time I check in on this sport, it'll be the conference tournaments. I'm excited for basketball to really heat up and make some wild predictions for the tournament. 

Sports: NBA (All-Star Game 2017)

The midpoint of the season is when the best players gather to compete for the All-Star game. Hosted in New Orleans, the All-Star game is not a defensive battle. There were plenty of dunks and balls flying off the rim from attempted dunks as players broke records for points in any All-Star game. This competition is not a match of the best players at their peak performance but a battle for style and a toss up for an incredibly high scoring game. The Western Conference came out on top.
With the football season at its end, I've had more time to catch up on basketball and assess which teams are going to be playoff contenders. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers are still at the top spot with Lebron James leading the charge. They did lose Kevin Love for a major portion of the season and have shown some signed of weakness that could be exploited by other top teams in the conference.

The Boston Celtics are the Cavs greatest competition with Isaiah Thomas as their top player. Only three games back from first place, they could easily swoop in a take home field advantage for the whole playoffs. Other teams that looked to be competitive in the playoffs but probably won't prove much of a challenge are the Washington Wizard, Toronto Raptors, and my favorite Atlanta Hawks. Rounding out the eight teams in the playoffs are the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Detroit Pistons.

The trade for Kevin Durant has taken over all of the headlines as the Golden State Warriors seem unstoppable. Their matchups against the Oklahoma City Thunder have been highlighted because of the Durant drama with Russell Westbrook but Steph Curry and the Warriors have put them away easily as the Thunder are in seventh place.They've also met their playoff nemesis, Cleveland twice this year and split the games.
The Spurs led by Kawhi Leonard, an All-Star starter, are putting up an impressive performance this season. Their four games back from the Warriors and will not be an easy opponent to put aside. The top four are filled out by the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. The remaining four teams that are in the playoffs at this halfway point are the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Denver Nuggets. Looking forward to an exciting second half of the NBA season. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Movie Review: Fifty Shades Darker

The sequel to the successful sex romance tells a little more of the mind-numbingly boring story of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). The first film left off with them breaking up but Grey continues to his relentless pursuit of Anastasia that is not borderline creepy but way past it. He buys up enlarge pictures of her that are being sold at a friend's photography gallery display and continues to send her gifts. Anastasia has started working at a small publishing company under her jealous boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). 

Anastasia agrees to have dinner with Christian and they reignite their passionate romance though she still has reservations despite his insistence to give her money. Christian is still in touch with his old lover and the one who taught him about BDSM, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger). Anastasia is also being stalked by one of Grey's old submissives Kate Kavanaugh (Eloise Mumford). These strange occurrences never amount to much and the drama is alway overshadowed by the need to show another sex scene.

The plot continues the trend of the first one with a plodding boredom that never sparks any excitement or interest. They even throw in a random helicopter crash to add to the romance but it competes for the dullest helicopter crash in movie history. The consequences are negated quickly and there is no pressure. They constantly try to push stories that would have been better in a horror or action thriller. The movie fails on the romance as the actors continue to lack any chemistry.

Eventually, the romance leads to a sloppy marriage proposal that only works because Grey is a billionaire who can afford rooms in a skyscraper and a workout room. The details of Grey's wealth always remain vague with random words like "multinational" thrown around to make it seem legit. 

Nevermind the awful performance of the actors, the silly writing, and dull plot, Fifty Shades Darker still managed to perform decently at the box office. It only made just over half what the first film made and I think it will continue its downward trend for the final film of the trilogy. This series is pretty ridiculous and ends up being a spoof of itself. Somehow it has garnered popularity and made enough money to make the creators millionaires. 

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Based on the popular novel by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey tells the tale of a wealthy billionaire and his lover as they pursue BDSM. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is tasked with interviewing the wealthy mogul Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) to help her roommate. There is an evident attraction that only grows as Christian shows up in her life continuously and sends her expensive gifts. Anastasia finds his intrusions bizarre but can't help but be attracted to his wealthy lifestyle and multiple talents. 

The movie is really boring with a plot that plods along spotted with the occasional sex scenes in a bland attempt to engage viewers and I guess appeals to women. The first book was exceptionally awful but I don't think I will ever read the second or continue the series. Grey's behavior is that of a possessive stalker and seems to be able to get away with this behavior because of his wealth and status. Anastasia resists and sees that there is still something good in this man she has come to know. She worries about his past and the older woman who corrupted him in his youth.

Christian proposes that Anastasia must sign contracts to continue to see him, first a non-disclosure so that she doesn't gossip about their relationship and then a contract specifying their relationship as a dominant and submissive. The chemistry between the two actors is a dim flame and the paltry acting mixed with ludicrous dialogue make anything spoken in the film hard to take seriously. The sex feels like softcore pornography that is afraid to push any boundaries hardly exploring the many aspects of BDSM. 

The source of drama is Anastasia's decision of whether to stay with Grey or not. Despite his six-pack abs, billions of dollars in fortune, and limitless talents, Ana still has reservations about whether she wants to continue to participate in the depravity of the Red Room with him. She sees his addiction to inflicting pain and is frightened by his zealousness. 

The movie ends abruptly and awkwardly after an overlong run. The movie was very successful at the box office after the novel was a bestseller. E.L. James tapped into some formula that allowed her novel to have mass appeal and the movie actually felt like an improvement in my opinion though there was only so much that could be done with this material. The series of books are a trilogy so there will be two more of these films to go through. 

TV Show Review: The Young Pope

HBO's strange new drama mixes comedy and absurdity into a strange show about a pope ascending too soon to the leadership of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) used to be a simple priest named Lenny Belardo before political dealings make him the Holy See. At the forefront of these religious machinations is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who quickly realizes, he has more on his hands than he bargained for. The young pope assigns the nun who raised him Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) to a high position, much to the chagrin of Cardinal Voiello. Lenny's mentor Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) is jealous of his young student and reacts bitterly to the appointment.

Pius the 13th immediately enacts strong decrees and refuses to let television cameras record his image preferring to remain mysterious and distant from believers. He demands respect for the church and commands that the faithful must seek out God, not the other way around, even as attendance and membership decline. The other cardinals conspire various ways to dispose of the pope but he seems immune to all of their attempts to slander and discredit him. He negotiates a deal with the Italian prime minister and charms other foreign dignitaries, using his youth and charm.

His childhood friend and pretty much brother Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) feels guilty when a young gay man commits suicide over a new regulation that restricts homosexuals from entering the church.  He also becomes involved with a Mexican gangster's mistress, which leads to more trouble for the pope. One thing that does help the Pope's stature is his somewhat supernatural power like helping a barren woman conceive, eliminated evil nuns, and cause plane turbulence. 

The final episodes revolve around the investigation of a priest in New York accused of molestation. Pope Pius sent Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Camara) to investigate and he works to discover the awful truth. The show does not shy away from the complicated subjects and highlights the absurd nature of the church's decrees. The creator Paolo Sorrentino takes a mixed look at religion showing both positive and negative effects of hard-lined faith. 

The Young Pope takes a strange look at religion with an odd mix of humor and drama. I understand how some viewers could find the episodes slow and boring as things take a while to take hold. I found the characters enjoyable and interesting with the political intrigue of the Vatican. Despite the pope's ridiculous behavior, there are worse villains and the pope becomes endearing for the way he handles these difficult situations. I enjoyed this limited series but couldn't see it continuing on for more than one season. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Music: Grammys 2017 Winners

The Grammys are a time to look back on the year and music and to look ahead at what is to come as artists are awarded for their work the year before and introducing their new hits that will be earworms in the year ahead. There were some political statements and stunning performances, upsets and deserved recognition. The Grammys are declining in credibility and importance as music is changing. They are adapting slowly but perhaps not fast enough. 

Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year
Adele, 25, Hello
In a year of strange winners, Adele sweeps the awards despite the strong performance from Beyonce on her album Lemonade and her song Formation. The Recording Academy decided to not spread the wealth and gave every award to Adele. This decision makes the Grammys seem out of touch with current listeners and underappreciative of the true talent that Beyonce clearly is. They have decided to become predictable and somewhat boring with their decision and decrease their relevance in the process. Adele did have a passionate tribute to George Michael during the show in which she messed up and had to start over making her seem relatable. Even she in accepting the award said that she thought Beyonce truly deserved the award. It was a bad decision by voters who are afraid to take risks. There is no doubt that Hello is a smash hit song, catchy and moving, but 25 is not that impressive of an album in its entirety. 

Best New Artist
Chance the Rapper
Chance has been everywhere this year and this award was probably the easiest to predict. He also picked up the Best Hip-Hop Album for his streaming only album. He's a bit over religious for my taste but it is impossible not to acknowledge his musical talents and clever wordplay. Chance was the shining star of the show and thanked God multiple times after receiving his multiple awards. He also helped write some of the songs on Kanye's album The Life of Pablo and released a free album the year before. Chance the Rapper is an interesting new future path that rap is taking that I look forward to listening to in the future. 

When all said and done, I have some new music that I'm listening to like Best Rock Album Tell Me I'm Pretty by Cage the Elephant.
Also excited to listen to Best Dance/Electronica Album Skin by Flume.
Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth won Best County Album and I enjoyed that a lot too. I'm looking forward to another year of music and hopefully, the Grammys will become more conscience of the current trends.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

The pistol-wielding rampage continues as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns with a new mission and a new reason to take vengeance. The film begins with Wick on a quest to recover his car that was stolen from him in the previous film, he uses the vehicle, pistols, and his handheld combat skills to take out a whole crowd of gangsters in a chop shop then sues for peace with the leader. Wick desires only to return home and properly grieve for his lost wife. He has adopted a new dog and reburied his weapons and suit. Just as he thinks he's about to get out, circumstances drag back into the violent life of an assassin. 

Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) knocks on Wick's door and demands repayment for a debt that Wick acquired when he needed help making his exit from the assassin life. The debt is symbolized by a marker, a round disc that has Wick's bloody thumbprint, a rule that means he must help D'Antonio or risk death by the Continental assassin guild. Enforcing these laws is Winston (Ian McShane) who also restricts violence in his hotel across the world. Wick refuses D'Antonio's demand and has his house burned down as punishment. Forced to concede, Wick goes along with D'Antonio's mission to kill his sister, Gianna D'Antonio (Claudia Gerini).

Wick meets his match when he takes on the mission, travels to Rome, and has to face Gianna's bodyguard Cassian (Common). The two got at it in fun one-on-one hand-to-hand combat as Wick can't simply overpower the opposing assassin and they contend with each other. Wick completes his mission only to be double-crossed by D'Antonio and nearly assassinated by D'Antonion mute henchwoman Ares (Ruby Rose). The killers shoot it out through an EDM dance party, catacombs and a museum in the violent headshot brain splatter that has become a signature part of John Wick action sequences. 

This movie takes a little more time to develop the plot and explore the world of the assassins. The political dealing have major repercussions and a bounty is put on Wick's head that nearly every assassin in New York takes up. Wick is forced to seek help with the Bowery King  (Laurence Fishburne) of a homeless army of assassins. With his help, Wick is able to take on D'Antonion in an awesome fight scene through a crazy mirrored exhibit. Wick finally has to finish his revenge scheme by breaking the rules of the Continental setting up what would be an even bigger third part to the series.

R-rated action movies are my favorite genre of film and John Wick: Chapter 2 hits the sweet spot of a cool plot and eye-catching action sequences. Director Chad Stahelski does a great job showing what is happening amid all the chaos and is set to direct a Highlander film, exciting news. The world of the assassins grows and the Wick's challenges only grow larger as his focus and force lead him through armies of men. The nonstop fighting and interesting environment make this movie a constant entertainment and at the top of my favorite films for 2017 so far. Looking forward to seeing a sequel in the future. 

Movie Review: John Wick

The bloody action movie added a new style to action and reignited the long career of Keanu Reeves as an action star. John Wick (Reeves0 is a retired assassin who has moved on to a simple life with his wife when she dies of cancer. Overcome with grief, Wick is only able to have a semblance of hope from the gift his wife left him, a small puppy. Wick encounters Russian gangster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) and seemingly insults him by not selling Wick's awesome car, Iosef retaliates by coming to Wick's house, beating him up and killing his dog. This action sparks a series of bloody gun battles as Wick pursues Iosef through gangsters on a violent path for revenge. 

Iosef's father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) is the head of the Russian mob and seeks to protect his son from the Boogeyman that is John Wick. He hires a former colleague of Wick's Marcus (Willem Dafoe) to take him out. Wick's path leads him to an exclusive assassin hotel where there are rules to not do business inside the walls and hints at a greater world of assassins. 

Viggo and his assistant Avi (Dean Winters) send men after Wick as John invades their dance club's and destroys their hidden cash stores all in pursuit of vengeance. One assassin Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) gets the drop on Wick but has to break the rules of the hotel. The hotel manager Charon (Lance Reddick) works with a leader of the assassins Winston (Ian McShane) to enforce the rules of the hotel. 

The action scenes are intense as Reeves flips and dives away from bullets and shoots thugs straight in the head, saving a few for a final kill shot.  The world-building is quick and effective and with only a few short conversations, we know that Wick is a part of a bigger world and has a long history as an assassin. He uses his driving skills, pistol-handling, and other destructive weapons to assault safehouses, churches, and nightclubs with a ferociousness that the guards and gangsters are unable to defend against. 

John Wick was one of the best action movies of the decade and I was happy to sit that it got a chance at a sequel that has received positive, if not rave reviews. Wick always hinted at a larger world of assassins and I'm excited to see that explore in the new film. The action scenes were something that I had not seen before and was awed by the way they did not hold back on the gruesomeness of gun violence. Wick is still a mortal unlike other action movies and it shows him having to take time to recover from injuries and also just the practical steps he must take in order to take down whole armies of henchman. John Wick is an action movie that I can watch many times over and still be entertained.   

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

LEGO takes another step into animated movies with one of Warner Bros. most popular properties. Batman (Will Arnett) is the crime-fighting, cape crusader, but in a cocky, narcissistic billionaire form. He's just defeated the evil plan of his nemesis Joker (Zach Galifianakis) but goes home to a lonely house where the only company is his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). When he attends a party for the naming of the new commissioner Barabara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), he accidently agrees to adopt the orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). 

The Joker has come upon an even more diabolical plan by freeing every supervillain from the phantom zone. The Warner Bros. bench of franchises can really be explored in this film as it draws characters from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Godzilla, and Wizard of Oz. Batman's self-centered nature causes the primary amount of trouble as he continues to try and solve problems because he lacks any other sort of fulfillment in life. 

With the help of Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), Joker frees the awful villain and takes over Gotham city centering his headquarters at Wayne Manor on Wayne Island. The action is interesting to watch but some viewers can't help but wonder how much better a live-action film could be. The strength of this film and the LEGO series is the humor, which is great both lambasting Batman, studio blockbusters, and rich billionaires. The film has the freedom to play with other properties and explore the DC comics universe.

The movie primarily works for Batman focusing on his villains ranging from popular ones like Scarecrow and Bane to fan favorites like Clayface and Killer Croc and even including some ridiculous ones like the Condiment King and an Orca. The jokes come non-stop and the humor is witty and fun to watch. The relentless humor never gets tiring but the story about Batman's loneliness often slows down the pace and feels too much like an overt lesson. The message doesn't take away too much, it is just the lowest point of an incredibly entertaining film that requires a message as a children's cartoon.

Warner Bros. has established an animated series with this group of films as evidenced by the new Ninjago film advertised. The LEGO Batman movie combines the most popular superhero with this cartoon film to build upon the success of the LEGo movie. The humor and ability to not take itself so seriously give it a flexibility and allow it to make any joke without crossing into an area that draws eye-rolling. I am a fan of the LEGO film and look forward to what they have to offer in the future. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

Everything is awesome as the popular block toys come alive in this hilarious animated comedy. Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) just wants to fit in with all of his neighbors and coworkers. He believes the best way to do that is by following the strict instructions given to him by the President of the Lego society, Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Little does Emmet know that Lord Business is actually planning to destroy the whole world using a powerful tool called CraGle, Crazy Glue. A prophecy made by an old man Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) predicts that a master builder will find a powerful piece that can stop the destruction.

With the help of his henchman Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) who has personality disorders and sometimes is good, Lord Business captures Emmet who wakes up to find that the powerful piece is stuck to his back. Emmet manages to escape when he is saved by Wild Style (Elizabeth Banks) and brought to Vitruvius to discover his destiny. They go on a crazy adventure meeting all sorts of popular characters including Wild Style's super serious boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Astronaut Benny (Charlie Day), and Metal Beard (Nick Offerman).

The group teams up to build the correct tools to defeat Lord Business and stop his dastardly plan to spray all the residents with crazy glue. The story jumps out of Lego land to reveal that this plot was all coming from the mind of a young boy who is allowed to play with his father's set before his father plans to put everything in one place with glue. The story is humorous and fun with plenty of laughs and Lego action.

The character that steals the show is Arnett's Batman who got his own sequel from the performance. Plenty of other characters were pulled from pop culture touching on stories like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and DC Comics. Lego has products with all of these properties so could even venture beyond what is directly a Warner Bros. property, but they stuck primarily to what the studio wanted to promote hence the future foray into DC territory.

The Lego Movie sparked a new type of animation, it looks like stop motion but is capable of more. The story is funny and engaging with humor enough to allow viewers to step back from the blocky movement though the directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller never forget to utilize the blocky figures. There are plenty of jokes about the toys but also a theme about not just fitting but allow your imagination and freedom to take hold and not shun your individuality. The Lego Movie is good fun and I'm interested to see what happens with this film series. 

Music: Grammy Awards 2017 Nominations

I'm looking forward to the music awards. I have a hard time keeping up with all the great music that comes out each year so when the awards are announced, I like to listen to all of the nominations and pick some award winners, though I'm usually wrong. This year I think will be dominated by a few artist. I'm just going to look at some of the major awards and not focus on any particular genre of music. 

Album of the Year

Lemonade - Beyonce
The frontrunner for best album is Beyonce's mournful Lemonade. The album has amazing songs from Sandcastles to Freedom featuring Kendrick Lamar. The song that is getting the most attention is Formation. It is nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year as well.

25 - Adele
Adele is the toughest competition and also highly favored to at least win one award. The album 25 came out back in November and the smash hit Hello is also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. I did not like the rest of this album as much as I had liked Adele's previous album 21. There are a few songs like Send My Love (To Your New Lover), Remedy, and Sweetest Devotion that are appealing but nothing like the album full of hits previously delivered by the talented Adele.
Purpose - Justin Bieber
I would never have listened to Justin Bieber unless he had been nominated for the Grammy, but I found that Purpose wasn't terrible. It certainly does not deserve to win in this category but his bitter Love Yourself got nominated for Song of the Year and I have to admit it is catchy. Purpose isn't the worst music ever, but I don't see the appeal of Bieber. 
Views - Drake 
This album is one of my least favorite Drake albums and I have been a big fan of Drake's career. I usually like his music but I even found his hits like Hotline Bling and One Dance to not be as special as Drake's earlier raps. He is nominated for Work with Rhianna and has several hip-hop nominations but this was not his most impressive year of music.

A Sailor's Guide to Earth - Sturgill Simpson
So in the last two round of nominations, since I've been paying closer attention to the Grammys, there has been a country surprise. This primarily happens because I don't listen to the country music genre. I found Sturgill Simpson's album really enjoyable, especially the first song Welcome to Earth (Pollywog). It would be interesting if this album won but recent trends do not give it much of a chance.

Record of the Year
Every year I have to look up what distinguishes this category from Song of the Year, but this year I sort of remember that Record of the Year recognizes the artist's performance and overall contribution versus just the songwriter for Song of the Year. For Record of the Year, the top contenders are Hello by Adele and Formation by Beyonce. I suspect that the wealth of awards will be spread around between Beyonce or Adele so whoever wins Song or Album might not win this one. Drake is also sharing his nomination with Rhianna for Work
Lukas Graham also got a surprising nomination for his catchy and heartfelt song 7 Years about growing up. I'm not very familiar with Lukas Graham's other work but as soon as I heard the song, it stuck with me. 
I was happy to see that twenty one pilots were nominated for their song Stressed Out. The Blurryface album has a ton of great songs, plenty of them better than the one nominated but this song definitely struck a chord with society capturing the millienial disenfranchisement with society and debt. I don't think the song will win but it is nice to see these artists getting some recognition.

Song of the Year
Three of the songs nominated in this category also appear in Record of the Year: 7 Years, Formation, and Hello. As I mentioned earlier, I think Beyonce or Adele will win this award, I just don't know which one or how to properly judge it. Bieber got a nomination for his song Love Yourself and Mike Posner made it in with his catchy song I Took a Pill in Ibiza about that fleeting moment of fame that he got off his equally catchy song Cooler Than Me

Best New Artist
Chance the Rapper
The Chicago rapper has moved up from Acid Rap to be a Grammy-nominated artist with his popular album The Coloring Book. Parts of the album were enjoyable to me and I like Chance's singing voice but at other times it got a bit preachy and experimental making it hard to follow along and enjoy listening. Chance is my favored pick to win this award because he has a lot of momentum. He also has several nominations in the hip-hop category for writing on Kanye's songs and his own songs.

Kelsea Ballerini
Kelsea Ballerini may get overshadowed by the other country music star in the category and I can't always say I could tell the difference. Dibs is probably one of the more fun songs and she has a cool acoustic EP of some of the songs off of her album The First Time.

The Chainsmokers
The Chainsmokers have mastered a formula of making catchy music with songs like Closer featuring Halsey and their most recent top hit Paris. They released two EPs Boquet and Collage that are packed wtih decent EDM songs. If they do win, they'd be the first artist in this genre to win the award. 

Maren Morris
Maren Morris was an artist that I discovered from a magazine article and then I downloaded her album and really enjoyed it. Morris knows how to get some catchy country songs out and her album Hero is filled with them. 

Anderson .Paak
The most enjoyable discovery from my whole Grammy research was definitely Anderson .Paak's Malibu. The songs are amazing and the album has such passion to it. This will be a package of songs that I will listen to long after the Grammy awards. I'd love to see him win but I don't know if he has the recognition. 

I don't have time to go through all of the other categories that consist of the Grammys. I wish I had the time but I think I've got a pretty good idea of the songs that were nominated. I don't get to write about music much and have always wanted to review albums, though the concept of an album is slowly fading with the way we consume music changing so rapidly. Music was certainly interesting last year but probably the songs that stuck with me most were last year's winner from the Hamilton soundtrack. I look forward to the show and seeing who wins and another year of music ahead.