Friday, March 31, 2017

TV Show Review: Iron Fist

Another revived property that has been embroiled in controversy is the newest addition to The Defenders. Danny Rand (Finn Jones) has returned from training at a monastery where he learned the special power of having a super strong glowing fist. The monastery is never explained and there are only a few short scenes that show his training. The origin story here revolves around Danny's return to the billion-dollar corporation that his father started and his attempts to reclaim his life and prove his identity. Preventing his return is the other family that took over the Rand Corporation, the Meachums, father Harold (David Wenham) who is presumed dead but still alive thanks to a deal with the ninja cult of the hand, Ward (Tom Pelphrey) the son who can never live up to his father's expectations, and Joy (Jessica Stroup) the daughter who struggles to keep the accompany afloat.

I always want these shows to have more of a connection to the greater Marvel universe with bigger superheroes flying or jumping through the sky amidst scenes and more obvious Easter eggs that tie all of this together. I also understand why each creator wants to tell their own stories. They had a chance to update the storyline for a modern age but it still feels pretty archaic and out of touch with the times. Danny seeks help from dojo leader Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) who has secrets of her own. Tying the story to the Defenders is primarily Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who has helped every superhero in the Netflix Marvel Universe so far.

Danny quickly becomes a bit of a spoiled brat and makes a lot of stupid decisions that don't help the situation. He never seems very smart and Finn Jones acting is pretty awful during most of it, especially during the fight scenes that have so many cuts it can hard to see what is going on. The leader of the Hand, Madam Gao (Wai Ching Ho) had previously appeared in Daredevil and returns to torment the Iron Fist. Danny's powers always look a bit silly when he busts them out and the rules on how it works are never fully explained. 

Harold Meachum serves as the primary villain to be fought as his return to life from his deal with the Hand drives him to insanity. None of the fighting is very impressive and when Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) as a more athletic leader of the Hand to fight Danny, it never pays off into much of a compelling scene. Henwick's Colleen Wing is probably the most entertaining part though Ward and Harold had an interesting dynamic as father and son in charge of a large corporation.

This show is probably the worst thing to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. I understand the frustration that some fans had with not updating the cast and the story to make this a more of a relevant story as this show seems like an add-on that is only there to fill out the group of The Defenders since that formula work for films. I do like that the MCU has transferred over to Netflix but I would like to see better shows than this one. 

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

The live-action version of the popular anime was beset by controversy nearly a year before the film came out with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi aka Major. I went into the film with pretty low expectations after reading several articles and lots of posts about the controversy and the issue of whitewashing in films and found the film to be interesting visually but mediocre overall. Some of the action was entertaining but nothing that stands out that couldn't be seen in a more intelligent film and no great plot or philosophy to help propel the story along.

Major is a rebuilt human from just a brain and sent to work for a government anti-terrorism unit called Section 9. There is some back story delivered by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) about how her family was murdered by terrorists on a refugee boat that drives her to hunt down criminals. Her most recent assignment is to attack the hacker Kuze (Michael Pitt) who uses some cool looking Geisha robots to attack a leader of the Hanka corporation, the same corporation that built Major and sold her to the government. 

Assisting Major with the hunt is Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and we see how he gets those iconic eyes. He is the only character I remember from a viewing from over a decade ago of the cartoon. Scenes are copied and pasted from the original cartoon with some awe-inspiring set design but significant changes from the story. What I picked up from half-paying attention to the anime was that the Puppet Master, a name never used in this movie, became conscious from technology and was minds for a different reason. There were questions of what it means to be human, this adaptation takes a much simpler approach.

The leader of Major's unit is Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) who only speaks in Japanese. The setting in Japanese and plenty of the extra characters that add to the incongruency of the white main cast members marching around the city, shooting guns and speaking English. Not that I mind it much but the only real reason for the casting mishap seems to be to take any excuse to get Scarlett in skin tight outfits. All the special effects were dazzling but with a PG-13 rating they never can quite show the grotesque nature of the new body modification technology and the violence of the unit leaving the Luddite message not as effective.

Ghost in the Shell feels like a huge wasted opportunity on so many levels and only accomplished pissing off a large group of people for what looks like it'll be a flop. The theater I saw it in was nearly empty on a Friday night but who knows if it will find success elsewhere. I was aware of the cult status before the live-action adaptation was announced and I'm always into new science fiction but these days creators need to be more aware of the changes in culture. I doubt there will be a sequel but I've heard the anime sequel is pretty cool. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

The future is strange with robots and brain-hacking in the animated Ghost in the Shell. The film that sparked a life action update over twenty years later begins with Motoko Kusanagi jumping from a building to assassinate a diplomat. She put on a mission to hunt down a hacker known as the Puppet Master. She finds that this hacker is using garbage and other criminals through trickery and mind-hacking to do his bidding. Motoko also copes with her identity as a robot while still trying to do human things like scuba dive. The action of the chases seems pretty cool and I can only imagine what a live action adaption will look like.

The artwork in the animation is stunning capturing the look of a manga comic. The English dubbed version I purchased did have some weak voice-acting and an odd look common in these adaptations, which is why I usually try to see these things with subtitles. Questions of humanity and existence are brought up as the Puppet Master claims to be a sentient being with rights despite not having a sole body. Even Major Motoko isn't sure if she is a human with a body bought from a tech company and brain cells input into it. 

One thing I won't understand until I see it is how the live-action adaptation will be rated PG-13 and be like the cartoon because this version is pretty violent. Men's heads explode when shot and bodies split open and spray blood when attacked by the Puppet Master. The pursuit eventually brings the Major head on with a tank and several helicopters which didn't look great here but could be pretty cool to see in live action. Assisting the Major on the hunt is Batou, another manufactured human with metallic eyes who worries about Motoko's questions. 

Ghost in the Shell has pretty much been overcome with controversy and there hasn't been much discussion on the action or the plot. I do think the casting was wrong and the producers of future films should work to get this right as it seems unfaithful to the manga comics and the animated film. There appear to be plenty of other changes that seem to come across from the adaptation and I think the new film will have to be longer with more story and more detailed action scenes.

In the end, I wasn't sure what the plot came to and I think there will be this confusion in the new film as well. It becomes complicated as the Puppet Master is seeking representation as a sentient being and this theme seems lost on the new creators. I enjoyed seeing this story in its first intended version and will check out the new live-action version. I'm also curious about the sequel cartoon and if this movie will attempt to follow that as well. 

TV Show Review: Legion

Probably the only tv show I plan on rewatching all the way through again this year, the mind-bending adaptation of the X-men comic by Noah Hawley takes viewers on a wild ride through the psyche of super powerful mutant David Haller (Dan Stevens). While his origins are not revealed in the show, I had found out that he was Professor X's son from some additional reading but this show stands apart from the X-men cinematic universe. We first encounter David amongst the insane as he is trapped in an asylum. His reality is never clear as the show jumps in time and into different perspectives. David sees things that aren't there but we can't ever know for sure as they seem to have control of his physical surroundings.

One thing David does know is that he is in love with a new patient Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) though she refuses to touch him. We learn that her reticence to have physical contact comes from her superpower of switching bodies when she touches someone. David's best friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) is also in the asylum and used to be a fellow drug addict with David back in their days of freedom. Lenny has a lot more to do with the plot that would give a lot away so I'd recommend going and seeing this on Hulu or FX if you don't want me to give it away first.

Eventually, David is kidnapped by a mysterious group that is interested in his powers. With the help of Syd and a group of mutants, David is busted out in a pretty fascinating action scene for television. There are not many parts that show off the exceptional powers of the cast but when they do, it is in really cool ways with interesting camera tricks. Helping Syd is Cary (Bill Irwin) and Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder), two people who share the same body, though this is never fully explained clearly and works in a strange manner. The leader of the group is Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) who has a troubled husband Oliver (Jemaine Clement) locked away in a mental ice cave. 

Another member of the group, Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris) can go through David's memories to discover the secret but David is concerned because his sister Amy Haller (Katie Aselton) has been captured by the group pursuing them. The group discovers that a strange demonic mutant has lodged itself inside of David's brain convincing him he was schizophrenic and using his powers as a way to cover up his tracks and feed off of him.

The show is crazy and if my description of it doesn't make much sense, it is only because I am still not totally sure what the show was about. I especially enjoyed Aubrey Plaza as Lenny and the creature inside David's head as her performance deserves some Emmy recognition, something nearly unheard of for superhero shows. I always like to see more connection to the cinematic universe but understand that desire of the creators to create their art as something separate and only loosely tied to other properties. This show makes me really excited for what the X-men universe could do on television and more Noah Hawley as he has a third season of Fargo soon. Highly recommend Legion to fans of the bizarre. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Movie Review: Life

Sci-fi horror is an awesome genre and Life is a decent addition with solid alien terror in a claustrophobic space station. The movie begins quickly with the crew of the International Space Station catching a flying vessel that contained samples from Mars. All of the information is relayed through voice-over by Commander Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) to drop us into the plot and get the alien terror rolling. The movie takes a bit to let us know the crew as David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) deals with being in space for a record amount of time, Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) celebrates the birth of his child, and scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) experiments and becomes enamored with the alien creature named Calvin. He becomes so obsessed with it that he accidently breaks quarantine and the alien goes into hibernation. 

As the Hugh tries to wake it up it strikes back and breaks his hand, wise-cracking spacewalker Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) moves in to get him out of there but is viciously attacked by the growing creature. Worried about it escaping the laboratory, Sho and Commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) try to shut down the vents but are unsuccessful at sealing the room. The alien only becomes stronger as it picks off the crew members who work to capture and contain it.

The movie had a lot more horror than I thought as the mysterious Martian grips its victims tightly and crunches their bones after popping up out of nowhere. The movie delivers on that premise yet fails to deliver anything iconic as the alien is mostly an unidentifiable blob through the first half of the film before it develops somewhat of a creepy face. There are some grotesque occurrences as the creature crawls inside of bodies to grow larger and siphon away oxygen. Its seemingly indestructible nature make it a force to be reckoned with adding to the dread that is only compounded by the actual threat of space.

The camera work was one of the most appealing parts as it flips around with the gravity never letting us fully know which way is up creating the confusion of space and zero G. Ferguson and Gyllenhaal were probably my two favorite performances mostly because they share the most camera time but solid support from Sanada and Bakare makes the cast an all-around likable crew that makes it all the more awful when they start to succumb to their curiosity. The film has a classic horror ending that left me curious about if this could ever have a sequel.

The film did not do well as it was not part of a big property and none of the movie stars were enough of a pull to bring people to the theaters. I would like to see success for horror science fiction as I like to see films like this that bring crazy imagination to what is out possibly threatening us. The film certainly stresses the danger of space and how hard it will be for people to survive out there. I hope more films like this will come to the theaters despite the lack of success for this one. The biggest flaw of the film is that there was nothing special beyond the original idea of an alien klling a space crew and needed an extra twist. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Movie Review: Power Rangers

Updated and rebooted, the Power Rangers return to the big screen with some solid actors and a new set of teens to play the colorful superheroes. Following the general premise of the original show yet slightly askew, Jason (Dacre Montgomery) was a star football player who is injured in a car accident after pulling a prank and running from the police. Sent to detention, he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), an intelligent savant who pursues the mining hobby of his deceased father and Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a trouble popular girl. Convincing Jason to help him, Billy heads to a nearby mine to blow up an area he believes hides something special. Jason tries to ditch him but runs into Kimberly and they run back after hearing Billy's explosion. 

Also watching from a distance is Zack (Ludi Lin) who takes care of his young mother in a nearby trailer park and Trini (Becky G.), a loner who practices yoga amidst the rocks. The five teenagers discover colorful rocks and flee the mine security only to all crash in Billy's minivan with a train. They wake up not knowing what happened with incredible strength. Meanwhile, a fishing vessel picks up a corpse that comes alive to reveal the nefarious Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). She is on a quest to gather as much gold to build her super soldier Goldar. 

The teenagers return to the mine and discover an underwater lair where Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) has been waiting for millions of years with his master Zordon (Bryan Cranston), an ex-Ranger who was defeated by Repulsa long ago. The group is put through training as they work to morph into their armor and learn martial arts to prepare for Rita's putty army. The film moves at a brisk enough pace not to fall too deeply into the repeat of an origin story and the chemistry of the cast members and their own stories fills up the slower parts a little better before the third act of special effects.

The acting is nothing special from the main group though RJ Cyler sticks out as the comic relief. Cranston and Banks bring some class to the mentor and villain roles, making this film dodge what could have been a total disaster. The one-liners are a bit silly once the action starts but this is classic Power Rangers action so it fits in with the goofy names and colorful heroes. The story briefly touches on issues that concern teenagers but never treats these with much importance just using them to move the plot along towards the climactic battle. The special effects were an upgrade from the old days but dim in comparison to other blockbuster films.

Power Rangers looks like it has kicked off another successful franchise that might stick around for a sequel or two if it can continue to capitalize on the nostalgia and positive buzz. The reviews aren't overwhelmingly positive but a nice over $40 million weekend should start talks of a follow-up film and already sparked a debate about casting the Green Ranger. I'm fine seeing an old childhood favorite rebooted and spotted members of the old cast in the crowd near the end so it covered that area for me while providing something new for a new generation. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

With cheesy costumes, cheap special effects, corny dialogue, amateur acting, and a simple plot, the Power Rangers took to the big screen with a mix of new cast members and some from the show. I don't recall much of the Power Ranger lore but I do remember highly enjoying this edition of the morphing teenagers and their strange villains. This story begins with the colorful gang jumping out of a plane leaving behind their bullies. The new leader Tommy (Jason David Frank) the White Ranger has a complicated history. From what I remember he was the Green Ranger for a bit and a bad guy, then he was good, and then he became the White Ranger. I recall this story arc capturing my imagination as a kid.

Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) was the Pink Ranger and had some romantic relations with whoever the leader was, at this point it is the White Ranger but I think there was something going on with the Red Ranger at some point but that might have been different than Rocky (Steve Cardenas). Billy (David Yost) is a returning member as the dorky Blue Ranger. Rounding out the team are the Aisha (Karan Ashley) the Yellow Ranger and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch). They each have an animal power: the Red Tyrannosaurus Rex, Yellow Sabertooth Tiger, Black Mastodon, Pink Pterodactyl, Blue Triceratops, and the White Tiger. These are especially confusing as they get new animals when they travel to a far off land like Black Frogs, Yellow Bear, White Falcon, Pink Crane, the Blue Wolf, and Red Ape. 

The villain in this film is a new one dug up from a construction site, Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman). The other lead villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd are regulated to the snow globe but the sidekicks of Goldar and Mordant are utilized by the Ooze man. Ivan can also make Ooze warriors that fight the Ranger distracting them while he goes back to destroy the headquarters of Zordon (Nicholas Bell) and Alpha-5 (Peta-Marie Rixon). With Zordon injured, the Rangers have to venture to a foreign planet to meet with a scantily clad Dulcea (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) who gives them their new animal powers.

After a few more fantastical fights, the Rangers return to find that the Ivan Ooze has used his purple ooze to hypnotize all the parents of Angel Grove and uncover his giant bug weapon. The Ranger call on their giant animal Zords to battle Ivan Ooze's giant weapon. Together, the Power Ranger can morph together into a MegaZord that is one giant Zord made up of each of their Zords as they all share a control room. They defeat the villain and celebrate with more corny lines about believing in yourself.

It was a bit of a nostalgia trip to go back to the old days of when I thought this stuff was anything close to decent. It is nice to see an updated version coming out that hasn't received totally terrible reviews and will probably benefit from the special effects. It was a trip back into two decades ago as everything takes on the 90s style and remind me of my foolish youth. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all shapes up in the newest version. 

TV Show Review: Baskets (Season 2)

Zach Galifianakis returns to the down on his luck clown, Chip Baskets from the genius comedic minds of Galifianakis and Louis CK. The second season picks up with Chip on the road as he quit his job at Arby's. He falls in with a rough crowd of heroin users who shack up in empty houses and perform during the day on the street referring to him as Noodles. Baskets uses his clowning skills to win over the group of vagabonds much to the chagrin of a fellow clown Trinity (Mary Wiseman). Chip finds that hopping on trains with addicts isn't so easy when the leader Morpheus (Tobias Jelinek) gets gruesomely hit by a train.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Baskets (Louie Anderson) befriends Martha (Martha Kelly) as she continues to shop at Costco. Chip's twin brother Dale is still dealing with his wife finding out he slept with Martha and tries to start a relationship with Martha in Dale's self-centered style. Chips winds up in prison and has to have his mother come bail him out and meets Ken (Alex Morris). They spark a relationship that goes further when Mrs. Baskets goes out to Denver to see him after Chip and Dale destroy her house fighting each other.

As Ken and Mrs. Baskets's relationship grows, Chip is still dealing with the trauma of seeing someone die. He works to get his clown career of the ground by hiring Martha as a booking agent though she has a tough time juggling helping Chip and managing Costco insurance complaints. Dale works to win back his wife and kids by appealing to his teenage daughter by helping her deal with her pushy boyfriend. Eventually, Chip ditches Martha and finds a new manager that helps him land some legitimate clown gigs.

Galifianakis's physical comedy works well from being run over by bulls to being shot out of a cannon, the comedian does his best and gives his all for a laugh, also doing double duty as twins. Louie Anderson also delivers a wonderful performance as Mrs. Baskets with a scratchy voice and lumbering gait, she deals with her weight issues and her troublesome family as her romance blossoms. When her mother dies and leaves her with money, she has to fend off her greedy brother and decide what to purchase that will be best for the family.

I think this show is so funny and nearly every episode has some silly premise that takes comedy and puts a clownish spin on it. The show takes an artistic approach to this goofball's story that delivers such strange situations all one can do is laugh. Baskets adds another great comedy to the FX schedule and a show that is always a pleasant surprise on Thursdays. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Video Game Review: Gears of War Ultimate Edition

There are a few games I would like to play through again and the sequel to Gears of War would definitely be one of them, but the upgraded original was fun enough. Revisiting the story of Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago fighting against the Locust menace was a lot of fun and action-packed. The story begins with Marcus locked up in prison until Dom breaks him out. The escape from prison starts the gameplay as Locust warriors burst in and attack. The Lancer is the weapon of choice, a machine gun with a chainsaw attached to the front of it as prominently displayed on the cover. 

Once out of prison, Marcus is given the task by a reluctant General Hoffman to find a resonator, a mapping tool that can be used to bomb the Locust stronghold and eliminate the monsters once and for all. The campaign is split up into five Acts that takes the Gear warriors through various areas of the destroyed Sera planet. The action is nonstop as Locust are constantly attacking as Marcus picks up help including Cole, an ex-thrashball player, and Baird, a mechanical whiz. With a shotgun or sniper as the secondary weapon, players will shoot their way through Locust soldiers, the crawling creature called Wretches, and the big fat grenade launcher toting monsters called Boomers.

The villains of the horde get even bigger as the levels progress fighting a many-legged Corpser and a giant Brumak with heavy guns strapped on its back and even flying creature that the Locust soldiers ride called Reavers. The remaining humans that eek out a living in this harsh world are called Scavengers and Dom makes a deal with one of their leaders to acquire transportation to a mining facility that they can enter the underground lair of the Locust through. When night falls in Sera, winged-beasts called Kryll swooped down and shred unsuspecting victims and can only be fought off with ultraviolet light.

The Gears making beneath the ground if you're a good enough player. I remember my first time playing this game on a friend's console and I was so blown away by the graphics, I could hardly survive. The update version looks even better though is still plagued by odd controls and character movement. My favorite villain is the Theron guards who tote torque bows that launch explosive projectiles. The final boss is taken on aboard a speeding train that is barreling towards the Locust headquarters with a bomb attached is Raam who is surrounded by Kryll and totes a massive machine gun. He is hard to beat without explosive in your arsenal. I had to get good with the torque bow to beat him. 

It was also interesting to revisit the multiplayer since when I first had this game Xbox Live did not compare to what it is today and I was not a very good player with the bad connectivity. The games are a little kinder giving people chances to come back after a mistake and I managed to rakc up a ton of points for a ranking of 26 as I post this. I think I may revisit it a few more times but I'm ready to move onto the most recent game, the fourth in the series and fifth game, becauese what I really love is Horde mode that doesn't exist on the Ultimate Edition, my biggest complaint. This game is fun and one that I'm glad has been reissued in its new form. 

Movie Review: The Belko Experiment

Sick and disturbing, The Belko Experiment is a gruesome horror with an interesting premise but not much of a payoff. From the crazy mind of writer James Gunn The story begins with a normal day at work at the Belko  Industry in Bogota, Colombia. The first strange part is that there is increased security at the building that confuses the workers but with the threat of narcoterrorism in Colombia, the workers understand there may be times of heightened security. They also understand that they would need to receive an injected tracer so that if they are kidnapped, they'll easily be discovered before the company is forced to pay a ransom. 

Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) has started a new relationship with his coworker Leandra (Adria Arjona) and has had an easy time for over a year working for Belko. Leandra has to fend off the creepy behavior of Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley). The COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) is confused along with the rest of the employees when an announcement comes over the intercom that the employees must kill 30 people or 60 of them will die as the walls are sealed by impenetrable metal. Many like Marty (Sean Gunn) discount this order as a prank or a scare until the tracers in four employees' heads explode.

The employees split between those who think they should kill led by Barry Norris and those who should look for help and not kill each other led by Mike. As the two-hour time limit to kill ticks down, the executive employments go for the weapons stashed in the security safe and make a plan to execute employees of their choosing in a sickening scene. Dany Wilkins (Melonie Diaz), a new employee, witnesses several murders and shut down the power. She was one of the intriguing characters that didn't get their due in the film like maintenance workers Bud (Michael Rooker) and Lonny (David Dastmalchian) and human resource manager Vince Agostino (Brent Sexton). 

The heads exploding is one of the more gruesome parts of the film and eliminates tons of employees in a sickening scene. The remaining men and women have to kill the most people to survive. The film could have used more action but appeals more to the horror and gore fan than a viewer looking for an office action movie. There is some mention of a social experiment but the film seems to be more about gruesome murders with office supplies and exploding heads than any social commentary. There are some interesting twists but nothing too clever to take it past the premise.

The Belko Experiment will leave plenty of viewers that are easily impressed by films with a sense of dread and a disturbed feeling and it might be a testament to my viewing violent films at a young age that I wasn't too bother by explosive heads and office workers running in fear from violent coworkers. The film does set up a bigger world but it doesn't look to be a big enough box office success to inspire the bigger sequel it would need to attract audiences by into the theater for more gore. Perhaps after some time, it will achieve a sort of cult status. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Disney's latest live-action adaptation is the musical romance, Beauty in the Beast. Using stunning and gorgeous special effects, the story of Belle (Emma Watson) and her imprisonment by and growing affection for the Beat (Dan Stevens) plays out in the same way as the cartoon. A selfish prince is cursed by an enchantress and everyone in his castle is turned into fancy objects. Belle finds herself in a small town gossiped about by the villagers and wooed by the crude hunter Gaston (Luke Evans). Belle's father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is an inventor hoping to sell his wares at the market when he becomes lost in the woods and stumbles upon the enchanted castle. He is imprisoned by the Beast but his horse returns to Belle who seeks out her father. 

Belle trades places with her father but is let out of her cell by the mouthy candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor). The cautious clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) does not support the idea but Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack), the dresser Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) are friendly to Belle and encourage the Beast to talk with her. They romance starts slow but in time their affection grows. Meanwhile, supported by his friend LeFou (Josh Gad), Gaston continues his plan to wed Belle by trying to win over her father who spouts outrageous stories of the Beast capturing Belle. Gaston does not believe him and they are unable to discover the castle.

The Beast and Belle grow fonder of each other bonding over reading and their mutual ostracism from the outside world. The objects work to make Belle feel comfortable and push her and the Beast together as Maurice is persecuted for his statements. As the Beast falls for Belle, he decides to let her go and she returns to the village to help free her father after seeing his distress in the enchanted mirror. She works to free her father and uses the same mirror to show the villagers the Beast, which whips them into a furious mob that marches to the castle. A hilarious battle plays out and there is a final duel between Gaston and the Beast, which ends tragically until the enchantress comes through and fixes everything.

The film is a fun time with the same catchy songs as the original cartoon and only a small amount of additional exposition about Belle's mother that only fleshes out the character more. The set pieces are extraordinarily beautiful and it is hard to believe Belle when she complains that the town is provincial when it looks so gorgeous. The special effects looked great though the candle and clock looked a bit different than the cartoon. The Beast looks great and Dan Stevens's expressions come through to humanize and endear the furry creature. Emma Watson is great and can sing quite while though she wouldn't commit to a few songs that really needed that extra lung power. The supporting cast is wonderful as well, Luke Evans as Gaston was my favorite followed closely by Ewan McGregor's Lumiere and Josh Gad's Lefou.

Disney has done a great job adapting their animated properties into live action spectacles from this film to the Jungle Book and Maleficent, I've yet to see Cinderella. This film will be a smash at the box office and an all-around huge success despite mediocre reviews. I found the songs very catchy and wonderful and would love to see this film again when it comes to rental. I would highly recommend this to those who grew up with the film and enjoy musical fairytales. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Disney's Academy Award nominated film, Beauty in the Beast tells the tale of a selfish prince and bookworm who form a relationship after the beastly prince (Robby Benson) captures Belle (Paige O'Hara). After a quick prologue on the background on how the prince was cursed to look like a beast, we are introduced to Belle who proclaims her love of books and her boredom with the provincial town she lives in. Bell is courted by a rude hunter Gaston (Richard White) who depends on his companion Lefou (Jesse Corti) for periodic confidence boosts. Belle's father Maurice (Rex Everhart) is an inventor who is excited to premiere his new woodchopping device at the festival but on his way, he becomes lost and stumbles into a dark wood where wolves attack him. Fleeing the wolves, he pushes into an enchanted caster where at first, he is a welcome guest by the enchanted objects until the Beast shows up angry and imprisons him.

Meanwhile, Belle fends off a marriage proposal from Gaston and worries for her father when his horse Phillipe returns without him. Concerned, Belle sets out on Phillipe's back to find her father leading her back to the castle. She comes inside and is spotted by Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) and Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a candlestick and a clock. The two items follow her as she discovers her father locked up and is accosted by the Beast. Seeing that her father is sick, she trades places with him and is imprisoned herself. Maurice flees the enchanted castle and rushes back to the pub where he tries to explain the situation to an incredulous Gaston and skeptical townspeople who throw him out. 

Lumiere and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), a teapot, with her son Chip, a teacup, escort Belle out of her cell into a room where a dresser comes alive and welcomes her to her new enclosure. The Beast is awkward but yet he attempts to charm her despite his hot temper. The candlestick and his lover the duster encourage the Beast to be romantic but he has become inexperienced at social interaction. Slowly, their affection for each other grows especially after the Beast shows her his library. As they grow fonder, the Beast proposes throwing a ball and the two dance to music and find each other falling in love. Belle still wishes to be free and once she sees her father trapped in an asylum through a magic mirror, the Beast frees her to go.

Belle returns to the village, frees her father and brings him home, but Gaston demands Maurice be imprisoned for his absurd behavior. Belle uses the magic mirror to show the villagers the Beast which drives them into an angry mob. Led by Gaston, they lock up Belle and her father and charge towards the Beast's castle carrying torches with the intent to kill. The Beast has grown depressed since Belle left and believes that she has abandoned him when the mob arrives. He has given up but the household items have not. They defend themselves in a hilarious battle but Gaston makes it through and attacks the beast on the tower. Belle escapes with the help of Chip and Maurice's inventions and rushes back to the castle.

Gaston and the beast fight, probably my favorite part and the Beast finally beats Gaston though he spares him when he sees Belle. As he rushes to his love, Gaston stabs him in the back then slips backward to fall to his death. Belle reunites with the Beast but it is too late as the Beast is injured and dies. As Belle cries over his body and proclaims her love, the spell is reversed and the Beast and all the items return to human form. The cartoon is a beautiful combination of artwork and music and a classic film that is wonderful to revisit.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

TV Show Review: This Is Us

NBC's family drama concluded with a few more twists though nothing could match the initial reveal from the first episode. Four people are all having thirty-fourth birthday and are all connected due to a unique set of circumstance. Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) is not only celebrating his birthday but preparing for his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to have triplets. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has found his long lost biological father William (Ron Cephas Jones) who is afflicted with stomach cancer. Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a sitcom star wanting to branch out into more serious art. Kate (Chrissy Metz) is struggling with her weight and wants to make a change.

A spoiler, but it is revealed that they are all part of the same family. Randall was adopted when their third baby died in childbirth. The show operates with a present day storyline and series of flashbacks all fitting a particular theme and filling in the characters' past. The show is also effective at endearing characters to viewers, which accounts for its popularity. One character that especially stuck out as hilarious and fun was Kate's boyfriend Toby Damon (Chris Sullivan). He falls for Kate at a support group and pursues her around Los Angeles.

The show preys on emotions setting up tragic endings that pay off near the end of the season. Each episode reveals something new about this family that is stunning and only pulls viewers into the show more. Randall struggles growing up as the only black kid in his family and wants to know who is father is though Rebecca refuses to give him any information about William. Randall's wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) also bonds with William as the old man becomes sick. Meanwhile, Kevin quits his successful sitcom "The Manny" and moves across the country to perform in a play. He fears his failure but can rely on Randall for support.

There is plenty of drama in both the present storyline and the past as we learn how the kids grew into their talents and problems. Kate's struggles with weight began in her youth and she is unable to ever to discuss the way her father died. Jack is missing from the future and Rebecca has married his best friend Miguel (Jon Huertas). This mystery among many others come out as the show goes along. Still, even without the mysteries, the story has a way to endear us to the characters and their problems are all the more powerful for their reflection of what many are dealing with.

From Jack and Rebecca's financial struggle to Randall's confusion to Kate's dating issues, This Is Us plays the roller coaster of emotions to the fullest teasing dire circumstances and not always following through. I normally don't watch shows on the basic cable channels but this show generated a lot of buzz and enough good reviews for me to check it out. The best episodes are near the end though the early episodes deliver enough surprises to keep the momentum going. I recommend this show to the sentimental type who enjoy a good cry.

Sports: College Basketball (NCAA Tournament)

With the first game of the First Four looming, it's time for me to write out my NCAA bracket. In this post, I'll predict the winner of each region so that I have my final four. I'll also predict a winner but I plan on doing another post highlighting the actual final four teams and pick a winner from that selection before I recap the final three games of the tournament. This year I filled out more brackets than usual but I have one bracket that I'll use for this blog.

After the first two rounds, my bracket is already busted but that's the enjoyment and excitement of March Madness. Three of my final four are gone meaning I only have one pick left, fortunately that is my champion pick in Kentucky, but they have a tough road ahead. 

First Round
Villanova is the top seed in this region and my pick to win it. They should beat the winner of the first game tonight. In this bracket, I'm choosing Mt. St. Mary's to top New Orleans but I have no idea. Villanova will face Wisconsin after the Badgers beat Virginia Tech. Below them, Virginia will top UNC Wilmington and Florida should put away East Tennessee State. I've got SMU over USC who will beat Providence in a game tomorrow. I'm picking Baylor over New Mexico State, South Carolina over Marquette and Duke over Troy. 
Second Round
In the second round, I think Villanova will beat Wisconsin, Florida tops Virginia, Baylor eliminated SMU and Duke gets past South Carolina. 
Sweet Sixteen
My sweet sixteen matchups in East are Villanova vs Florida and Baylor vs Duke. I think Villanova will beat the Gators mostly because I'm making up for completely being taken off guard by the Wildcats last year. Duke impressed me in the ACC tournament so I think they'll beat the Bears.  
Elite Eight
Duke will face Villanova in the Elite Eight but I think the Blue Devils will lose here ending their tournament run.
Final Four
The Villanova Wildcats are my pick to represent the East.
First Round
I didn't get off to such a bad start with this round in the East. I only missed one with USC coming from the First Four and upsetting SMU. 
Second Round
This round totally blew my bracket out of the water with Villanova being upset by 8 seed Wisconsin and Duke to 7 seed South Carolina. I did have Baylor and Florida. 
Sweet Sixteen
With two of my Sweet Sixteen picks active, I did not do well predicting but as I had now seen the teams, I was going for a SEC sweep. I didn't think South Carolina had the chance but their dominant defense shut down Baylor. Florida played an overtime thriller with a final millisecond three saving the game to guarantee an SEC team in the Final Four. 

First Round
In the West, Gonzaga is the leader but I've made some strange picks in this region. I did pick the Bulldogs to beat S. Dakota St. and have them facing Northwester who will beat Vanderbilt. Below, I have Notre Dame beating Princeton and facing West Virgina who eliminated Bucknell. Maryland beats Xavier avoiding an upset and Florida State beats its fellow Florida school the Florida Gulf Coast. Finally, St. Mary's will beat VCU and Arizona will top North Dakota.
Second Round
In the second round, I have Gonzaga beating first timer Northwestern and Notre Dame beating West Virginia. I have Maryland losing to Florida Stat and Arizona beating St. Mary's. 
Sweet Sixteen
My two matchup in the West are Gonzaga beating Notre Dame the Seminoles beating the Wildcats.
Elite Eight
Finally, I'm predicting an upset when FSU beats Gonzaga to represent the West Region and the ACC in the Final Four
Final Four
The Florida State Seminoles are my Final Four pick for the West Region.
First Round
Another region that I did well with, at first, only one miss from Xavier beating Maryland. 
Second Round
This round brought the end of FSU's run to Xavier, the killer in my bracket and Notre Dame also went down to West Virginia. Now that my top pick is gone, I'm looking toward Gonzaga.
Sweet Sixteen
Gonzaga took down West Virginia and Xavier played the late game to win over Arizona. I had Gonzaga getting this far and my second pick of Xavier worked out alright. 

First Round
The Midwest is a little more conventional for my picks. Kansas the number one seed should top UC Davis, my First Four pick. I also have Miami avoiding a close upset against Michigan State. I'm picking Iowa State to beat Nevada and face Purdue who will beat Vermont. I'm taking Creighton over Rhode Island and Oregon over Iona. In the last part of the Midwest bracket, I'm picking Michigan against Oklahoma State and Louisville over Jacksonville State.
Second Round
I'm taking one seed Kansas to beat Miami. I think Iowa St. will lose to Purdue. I am expecting Oregon to take down Creighton and face Louisville who will knock off Michigan.
Sweet Sixteen
Kansas should be able to handle Big Ten regular season leader Purdue and Louisville will take down Oregon. 
Elite Eight
Louisville versus Oregon would be a great matchup if it happens. I think that the Cardinals will be the second team from the ACC to make it past the Elite Eight.
Final Four
The Louisville Cardinals are my pick to represent the Midwest in the Final Four.

First Round
The worst of my first round picks with Miami losing to Michigan State and Creighton being upset by Rhode Island. 
Second Round
I only missed one pick from this round in the Midwest but it's that big red bird from Louisville so my whole bracket has red on it in the top right.
Sweet Sixteen
I had Kansas making it this far, actually topping Purdue too, which was a blowout. Oregon was not my pick at all but Michigan's run could not take them through a leader in the PAC-12. 

First Round 
The South is the region where my home team the Kentucky Wildcats are playing so, of course, I'm picking them to go all the way because of my bias. They'll beat Northern Kentucky and a face Wichita State who will upset Dayton. I have UCLA facing Cincinnati after the Bruins beat Kent State and Bearcats beat Kansas State, who I think will win in the First Four. A Middle Tennessee upset destroyed my bracket so I'm not letting that happen again with a win over Minnesota. I've also got Winthrop upsetting Butler. UNC should beat Texas Southern and Arkansas could be Seton Hall.
Second Round
I have North Carolina topping Arkansas and the strange matchup between Middle Tennessee and Winthrop going to Mid. Tennessee. I'm taking UCLA over Cincinnati for a rematch against Kentucky after the Wildcats beat Wichita State.
Sweet Sixteen
The Tar Heels should take out the Blue Raiders and Kentucky will redeem themselves against UCLA.
Elite Eight
A match between the 1 and 2 seed would be fun, especially if Kentucky upset North Carolina.
Final Four
The Kentucky Wildcats will represent the South and the Southeastern Conference in the Final Four.
First Round
I didn't do so bad with only Butler beating Winthrop, shouldn't have gone for that upset.
Second Round
My only miss here came from Butler continuing their run when I had them out a round early. UNC, UCLA, and UK all remain for the next round.
Sweet Sixteen
These picks are actually good for me. While I didn't have Butler, I did have UNC going all the way to the Elite Eight and they proved it with a blowout. This section of the bracket is flawless for me so far and I'm riding Kentucky all the way to the Final Four if at all possible after their showed up and did well against UCLA. 

I let this bracket get away from me but it was one of many that I'll be monitoring as the games play out. I killed the hour before the first game writing out this bracket so now I'll get to watch the First Four.
My picks for the final four will result in a Villanova versus Florida State game and a rivalry match between Kentucky and Lousville. I have Kentucky beating Lousiville to face Villanova for a Wildcat finale. I'm definitely pick the University of Kentucky to win it all in this bracket.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island brings the biggest ape yet to the screen in order, supposedly, to fight Godzilla at some point in a sequel. The story takes place in the early '70s as a pair of scientists from the Monarch group Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) seek out Skull Island spotted from a satellite. They hire the tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston)  to lead the ground expedition and recruit a military unit lead by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). War photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also hitches a ride and geologist San (Tian Jing) is thrown in as another character.

The most interesting group are the squadron of helicopter pilots including Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell, who also helped with the motion capture), Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Silvko (Thomas Mann), and Reles (Eugene Cordero). There were other researchers and soldiers thrown is as victims of Kong and the other dangerous beasts of Skull Island. The expedition to drop seismic explosions to map the island is almost immediately derailed as Kong starts smashing helicopters and killing a portion of the crew. From this point on Jackson's Colonel Packard swears vengeance and is determined to take down the giant ape.

The creatures are strange on this island from a giant spider that splits a soldier apart by taking a step and the "skull walkers", two-legged lizards. With two groups split up, one encounters a man trapped on Skull Island for over 20 years Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) while the group of soldiers seeks out explosives to take down the beast. Marlow warns of the monster when they all regroup but Packard is determined to fight and risks all of the men for this mission. Characters like Jing's San and Hawkins's Brooks are pushed to the side for most of the parts as the film suffers from too many characters chewing up the screen. 

The final fight comes along with some awesome visuals but nothing that viewers have not seen before. The larger size of Kong was an interesting addition but the characters are not so fleshed out as to make me really care as to their survival and some of their dumb decisions hardly make it seem like they deserve it. The movie felts in a lot of ways as if it was a setup for the greater fight to come and not the actual main event, the issue with a lot of these films that are trying to build a larger film universe.

Kong is the second film of a pretty packed March but falls short in certain areas while still maintaining to entertain. The movie has the classic monster film deaths but even the dialogue of characters points out the utter lack of emotion as some character just seem to die for no reason other than to add a shock, not furthering the plot or adding any sense of fear. Viewers should be able to know who survives and though some deaths are surprising there is no sense of suspense. Kong is decent but, not spectacular. 

Movie Review: King Kong (2005)

An update version of the original, Peter Jackson enhances the special effects and extends the plot with additional details. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is a vaudeville performer when her theater is shut down due to the low attendance of the great depression. Jack Denham (Jack Black) is a struggling director whose producers are ready to cut the funding. He searches out an actress stumbling upon Ann and offering her the opportunity of a lifetime. They board the vessel captained by Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) known for his ability to capture large animals. With Denham's assistant Preston (Colin Hanks) and the actor Bruce Baxter, the film crew escapes the producers headed towards a mysterious island that Denham claims to have found on a map. In this version, the hero Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is the screenplay writer.

The ship's crew is suspicious of Denham's plan and when Jimmy (Jamie Bell) overhears Jack and Carl discussing Carl island, he warns his fellow crewmate Haye (Evan Parke). Also part of the crew is Lumpy (Andy Serkis) who has heard tales of a mysterious island. Serkis also does the motion capture for King Kong, making the beast look especially real despite cartoonish special effects. The same story beats happen with more details as the crew crash on the island and encounter the natives. Jackson puts more of a horror spin on the proceedings as Ann Darrow is captured and sacrificed to the beast. The crew chase after he encountering a relentless onslaught of prehistoric beasts from a stampeded of dinosaurs to an infestation of giant man-eating bugs. 

I managed to pick up the extended edition on blu-ray recently and there are several additional actions scenes of monster mayhem. The crew eventually makes it to a similar ravine crossing of a downed tree where they encounter Kong. More of the crew survives but then bugs finish off a few of them. Meanwhile, Ann tries to escape but she runs into bugs and dinosaurs herself leading to one of the coolest special effects scenes I have ever seen. Kong takes on three T-Rexes while also saving Ann from being chomped and tumbling down a cliff. The scene is amazing and a major reason that King Kong was my favorite movie of 2005. 

Surviving the attack of Kong and the bugs with the help of Bruce Baxter, Jack decides to head on to save Ann while Carl decides to turn back and prepare for Kong's arrival. The movie makes a lot of homages to the original and also gives a strong sense of knowing what's going to happen as a tip of the hat to audiences. Ann bonds with her savior but still escapes with Jack bring Kong close behind. The crew uses chloroform from the ship to stop the beast's attack and Jack is ready to turn the spectacle into profit.

Back in New York, Kong's name is up in lights, Driscoll returns to the theater and Carl is raking in the profit and glamor. Ann has gone back to dancing on a chorus line and when Kong sees the woman imitating her, it enrages him to the point that he breaks out of the chrome steel chains. Bursting out of the theater and onto the streets of New York, Kong looks for his lost love by chasing down all the blonde women in sight. Ann finally encounters Kong and they share a moment of happiness before the military starts dropping bombs and shooting at the giant ape. Kong scales the Empire State Building to have his final fight against several airplanes before finally falling to his death. This film was the best version of this story I have seen so far. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Movie Review: King Kong (1976)

A new iteration of the giant ape tormenting humans hit the screen in 1976 with a different, yet similar, storyline. In this edition, an exploratory crew searches for a large oil find. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) runs the expedition betting a lot of money that there would be land amidst a cloud of fog somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean. Sneaking aboard the vessel is Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges), a paleontologist, interested in the rumor surrounding the island. Picking up lost in the ocean is a young actress Dwan (Jessica Lange) who is at first in shock after surviving yacht explosion but determined to join the search crew as they land on the island. 

The group encounters the native people performing a ceremony and chanting "Kong". Like in the original film, the islanders see the golden-haired woman and offer to trade six of their women but the explorers refuse and return to the boat. Dwan is captured and used as the new center of the ceremony. When the beast shows up, it's apparent that they used a monkey suit that is filmed to look large. Kong grabs Dwan and takes her off into the jungle as the explorers mount a rescue led by Jack.

Dwan and Kong begin to form a relationship though Dwan tries to escape several times. The effects don't look terrible when Lange is sitting in the ape's hand but the facial expression of Kong often look ridiculous and whenever they share a screen, it's obviously a screen that she's staring up at. Meanwhile, Fred is convinced he has found oil but when the liquid turns out to not be fuel, he becomes determined to capture the monster using any means necessary. Once again the rescue team tries to traverse a canyon by a fallen tree when Kong shows up to roll them off to their deaths, everyone except Jack who hides on a cliff. 

Kong becomes obsessed with Dwan but when he is attacked by a giant snake, Jack grabs Dwan and they escape. The men on the shore have set up a trap with chloroform that they use as Kong pursues Dwan and Jack smashing down the giant ancient wall used to cage him inside. Frank and the crew capture Kong and stow him aboard the oil tanker with plans to ship him back to New York and profit off of shows. Dwan is now a star but she feels guilty for imprisoning the giant beast, while Jack is outright against taking the animal from its home. The film has an anti-energy company vibe relevant to the 70s calling up the gas crisis and corruption of big oil corporations out for greed. Frank gets his comeuppance when the ape escapes from the "escape-proof" cage and rampages through New York.

The finale has a scene on a rail car that I remember fondly from my childhood trips to Universal Studios with the fire and crashing effects. Jack and Dwan run through the city but stop to get a romantic drink as the military prepares to take down the beast. In this update version, the iconic structures are the twin towers of the World Trade Center and instead of planes, it's helicopter that attack Kong at the top. Kong tragically meets his end by being shot and tumbling off the skyscraper, another animal victim of human cruelty and greed.  

Movie Review: King Kong (1933)

The movie that started it all for the giant monkey tramping through New York after being captured from his native island, the 1933 film is a classic with obvious problems way beyond the dated special effects. Still, I could see how at the time viewers were entranced by the exotic location and the tale of a giant monkey with special effect never seen before. The film begins with director Jack Denham (Robert Armstrong) discussing how to get a woman for his film to make it a romance and sell more with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). He discovers Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) stealing a meal and proposes a deal to bring her along.

Ann catches the eye of Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) who falls for her quickly. They travel across the ocean to a hidden island where the native people also become obsessed with Ann. They sneak aboard the ship and capture her preparing to sacrifice her to the mysterious monster called Kong. The ceremony brings the stop-motion monkey who snatches Ann and runs often into the jungle pursued by the crew of the ship. The crew of white men encounters dinosaurs and dangers throughout the foliage. They quickly realize they are in over their heads.

Meanwhile, Kong marches further into the jungle, stashing Ann in a tree before turning back to attack his hunters. The eight wonder of the world tosses the men into a canyon but is unable to capture Jack Driscoll who uses a knife to ward of the paws of Kong. Jack is best by lizards of all sizes but manages to survive. Ann is also attacked by a T-Rex until Kong comes to her defense. This battle between the monkey and lizard was on of the more entertaining parts of the film and it is easy to look past the special effects. 

After the fight, Kong's affection towards Ann is apparent as he snatches her and stalks off while she screams. Jack follows Kong while Carl goes back for more bombs. Ann is continuously attacked by large snakes and giant bats but Kong fends them all off as Jack secrets away with Ms. Darrow. Carl pushes the story of beauty and the beast as Kong chases Ann out of the jungle back to the village smashing through the giant wall and killing the villagers. The director Denham throws gas bombs, rendering Kong unconscious and transports the ape back to New York in chains to show on broadway. Angered by the photographs, Kong breaks free of his chrome steel change and stomps out into the streets of New York, chewing on citizens. Kong ascends a skyscraper and snatches Ann out of a window along the way. He causes chaos and destruction as he makes his way to the iconic Empire State Building where his finally felled by planes. By the end, I felt sorry for King Kong. 

I was unfamiliar with the original story and don't often watch black and white films being more of a fan of modern special effects yet it was interesting to see what captured the imagination of moviegoers nearly a century ago. That King Kong has stuck around and still has a thriving franchise today says something for the idea of a giant monkey from a hidden island. Plenty of my favorite modern filmmakers received their inspirations from this movie and the many that followed. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

TV Show Review; Man Seeking Woman (Season 3)

Josh (Jay Baruchel) has had struggles with dating for quite some time but now his tribulations are close to the end when he meets Lucy (Katie Findlay). At first, Josh and Lucy's relationship does not go smoothly with Lucy's roommate bringing out the border patrol and arguing on national news about boyfriend's sleeping over. Lucy decides to move in with Josh but not before a major remodel to impress her friends. Despite the bumpy beginning, Josh and Lucy get serious and Lucy has to go through a serious of training in order to meet Josh's mom Patti (Robin Duke) and stepdad Tom (Mark McKinney) with the help of Josh's sister Liz (Britt Lower). 

Mike (Eric Andre) does not approve of Josh's new girl at first as he no longer has time to hang out anymore. Mike starts a cult that is for guys only, but when Lucy sneaks Josh has to intervene. He arranges for all of them to hang out in a boring mine bar that traps Mike and Lucy together with miners. Eventually, Mike approves of Lucy, and it's Josh's turn to meet Lucy's parents. Lucy didn't always have the greatest relationship so is upset when Josh hits it off with Lucy's Mom (Julie White) and Dad (Mark Moses). 

Lucy has a big break in her artistic design career making Josh feel like a ghost that no one can see because of his own lack of success. Josh can hardly afford the expensive meals that her bosses take her out to and makes a fool of himself on more than one occasion. Lucy even begins to doubt their future as they settle into bingeing television shows and ordering in food while an adventurous archaeologist proposes a more exciting life. As they make it through these issues, Josh decides to get serious with Lucy coming up with various ways to propose.

The couple moves closer to their marriage as the parents become more obsessed with the wedding. Josh's parents follow the planning and conspire with Lucy's to change certain details to appease God and meet their approval. The show culminates with Josh and Lucy finding happiness together and seemingly ending the struggle of Josh's rough dating life. I'll be curious to see if they bring it back for a fourth season and have Josh and Lucy together as this looks like a fitting ending.

Based on the book by Simon Rich, which I haven't had a chance to read but want to, Man Seeking Woman has a great mix of comedy and over the top storytelling as the travails of dating are blown over with sci-fi, fantasy, and action tropes. The show has great comedy and the single storyline this year was fun, though perhaps not as great as the previous years when Josh really struggled being in over his head with various women. I like this comedy a lot and it has been another great addition to FX's other channel FXX. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

TV Show Review: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season 12)

While being one of the funniest shows on television, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not afraid to address complicated social issues in enlightening ways. From addressing racial discrimination to poverty, the gang always find some strange way to explore difficult situations in a hilarious way. Season 12 saw the gang actually try to tend bar at the behest of Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) finally come out of the closet just to receive the winnings of a lottery ticket after a long litigation that cost the price of the ticket. Charlie (Charlie Day) got jealous of a tapeworm and finally impregnated the waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). Frank (Danny DeVito) had trouble with his fluid business and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) became obsessed with destroying the life of a male stripper.

The gang never fail to go over the top with their outlandish and idiotic schemes that from filming Mac and Charlie's parents and turning it into a sitcom to trying their hand at public relations. Cricket (David Hornsby) got an episode where his father tries to pull out of poverty, though his descent due to Dee is too far to ever come back from. Dee enacted the same sort of vengeance on a stripper even though her attempt to prove that she wasn't his lowest point lead to a disturbing encounter. Dee is continuously bullied by the gang and ignored.

Frank is my favorite character with outrageous one-liners and a wild personality that seems so oblivious to his surroundings while also still being highly successful by taking advantage of people. Mac and Dennis have an interesting dynamic that is complicated by Mac's attraction to Dennis and his attempts to sleep with him. They do bond over a rocket launcher and the fact that their apartment burned down in a previous season so they all have to share Dee's bed. 

My favorite episode of this season was probably the first one where the gang wakes up to find that they have turned into black people and must experience prejudice for the first time. The episode explored the issue of race while still generating plenty of laughs though it might be considered highly insensitive, something It's Always Sunny excels at. They had a few strange episodes that only had a few jokes, mainly from Frank, but an overall confused plot. The show never follows a single storyline with each episode having its own adventure, though some recurring jokes do come up.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is still going strong for twelve seasons, one of the longest running shows on television and it looks to keep on going for two more. I enjoy the characters tremendously and always look forward to watching a new season. I can't count how many episodes I've highly enjoyed and the countless jokes they have through each episode. I hope to see plenty more of the gang and look forward to each actors' career as they branch off into their own projects. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Movie Review: Before I Fall

The narrative convention of a protagonist repeating a day over and over has been done before but Ry Russo-Young's Before I Fall based on a novel of the same name by Lauren Oliver puts a new teenage twist on this plot. Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is trapped in the day of February 12th after dying in a car accident. This Friday, known as Cupid Day, starts off pretty normal with Samantha joining her best friend Lindsay (Halston Sage) for a commute to school after picking up the other two friends in their popular girl group Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi).

They exchange roses throughout the day and Samantha receives one from her secret crush Kent (Logan Miller) but also from her thoughtless boyfriend Rob (Kian Lawley). They hear about a party Kent is throwing and decide to go but not before sending insults towards Juliet (Elena Kampouris), a loner who likes to paint strange pictures. Each repetition of the life sees these encounters happening as Samantha works to discover the reason she is stuck in this time loop.

Desperate to escape the loop and suspecting that the reason for her daily repetition is the car accident, she convinces her group of friends to stay home for the night and avoid the party. She survives past the time that she normally died in the accident and woke up to the same morning but finds out that the unpopular Juliet has committed suicide. It is suspected that the death is due to her constant harassment by Lindsay and the gang. 

The movie jumps a little too quickly into a montage of the same day as Samantha's grow increasingly frustrated but viewers are unable to see all the different paths and choices she makes during this repetitive time. Eventually, she decides to lash out at everyone instead of being kind which leaves her ground by her parents and ostracized by her popular friends. It is only then that she discovers that Kent is the boy she should be chasing and that Juliet was only bullied by Lindsay because she was once friends with her.

The finale heads towards a predictable ending and offers some redemption from the protagonist but never explores the themes present in the plot too deeply. The film also takes a melancholic and gloomy approach to the repetition with the dreary rain-slicked Pacific Northwest setting instead of allowing Samantha to have a few days where she has a lot of fun. She does take the chance to bond with her family as she realizes being nice and appreciative might help her get out of this trouble. I thought it was a decent film, nothing spectacular but maybe worth a watch once. 

Video Game Review: Doom

I picked up this game after I heard it won a game of the year award and almost immediately saw the appeal. I did not play the old one in the series so this was my first exposure to the doom universe. The key to this game is constant movement and as my aching thumbs will attest, movement is the only way to survive. The game starts off with horror as the Doom soldier wakes up, puts on his powerful praetor suit, and kills demons. A power station on Mars has been overrun with demonic entities that hope to overthrow this planet then possibly head to Earth. The status of civilization is never clear but the protagonist is isolated on the red planet with only bloodthirsty demons and his weapons for company, and also a robot.

The robot gives instructions as he is hoping to chase down an evil Dr. Olivia Pierce who has unleashed the demons and hopes to harness their power. The mining operation was using power from hell to generate energy, which led to the problems. This hellish power is never fully explored as a metaphor for environmentalism but I got the feeling after seeing all the dead bodies of the workers that it warns against the pursuit of energy and profit, hell after all is usually used to teach a moral. The heavy metal music helps set the atmosphere of demon destruction. 

My favorite weapon was the combat shotgun at first with its ability to blast demons away but then I grew fond of the assault rifle. Near the end of the campaign, I had to rely on the Gauss Cannon, chaingun, rocket launcher and BFG-9000. The demons grew steadily stronger but at a good pace that never left me too out of my depth. I progressed with my praetor suit and weapons quite well though I didn't achieve full capacity by the end. 

Another very cool and unique thing about Doom were the Glory Kills. I wasn't great at these on multiplayer but in the game when demons flashed orange or blue, it was awesome to run up to them and smash their skulls. This execution added to the extreme nature of the combat. There was nearly nonstop brutal violence as demons exploded upon contact with shotgun pellets or were sawed in half with the melee chainsaw weapon. I enjoyed discovering that the chainsaw could rip in half some of the large more annoying demons. 

The settings were captivating and I easily got myself lost in the various world, either Mars or the creepy Hell locales. The mixture of horror and action blended well. The various multiplayer locations settings were also very cool with a few in outer space that defied gravity as players jumped around shooting each other. The different multiplayer types like freeze tag and zone defense were a lot of fun and nothing too complicated that left me out and I actually did decent in the competition. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sports: College Basketball (Conference Tournaments)

March Madness starts this week with the conference champions. Each conference has a chance to guarantee one team makes it to the tournament. I'm going to analyze the big five conferences as I'll make some bold, probably mostly incorrect, predictions. I don't think I'll get too risky as I have no idea how most of these teams will perform but maybe I'll learn something and more importantly just enjoy the spectacle of an early March Madness treat before the big dance. 


This conference could be the most powerful this year. Even the early teams are pretty decent. Wake Forest should top Boston College while Clemson should beat NC State and Georgia Tech should win over Pittsburgh. The next day Syracuse should take out Miami, Duke over Clemson, Wake Forest upsets Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech loses to Virginia. First place North Carolin will beat Syracuse and face Duke who will upset Louisville. Florida State will face Notre Dame after the Seminoles beat Wake Forest and the Fighting Irish beat the Cavaliers. I'm taking Florida State over Notre Dame and UNC over Duke. The Tar Heels are my pick for the ACC. 
The ACC Tournament tipped off with Clemson beating NC State, then Wake Forest knocked off Boston College, and my only wrong prediction was Georgia Tech losing to Pittsburgh. The second round of games had Miami upsetting Syracuse, Duke eliminating Clemson early while Virginia Tech proved me wrong against Wake Forest and Virginia put away Pittsburgh. The third day of the tournament had the top-ranked UNC Tar Heels beating the Hurricanes and Duke upsetting Louisville with a huge comeback. Florida State eliminated the Virginia Tech and Notre Dame knocked out Virginia to move to the semifinals. Duke upset UNC in the great rivalry game and Notre Dame topped FSU making my championship prediction of UNC vs FSU totally wrong. Instead Duke and Notre Dame will faceoff for the ACC tournament title. Notre Dame put up a fight but could not defeat the Duke Blue Devils who went on to take the ACC tournament title.

Big Ten
 The Big Ten is not as impressive this year as they have been in other years. Tomorrow we'll see Penn State vs Nebraska, I'm picking the Nittany Lions and Ohio State vs Rutgers with a Buckeye win. For the second day of games, Michigan will beat Illinois, Penn State will lose to Michigan State, Indiana will upset Iowa but Ohio State will fall to Northwestern. Michigan won't be able to take out Purdue and Michigan State will stop at Minnesota. Indiana will lose to Wisconsin and Northwestern to Maryland. The final four will be Purdue vs Minnesota leaving that to the Boilermakers and Wisconsin vs Maryland with Terrapins taking that game. I'm picking the Purdue Boilermakers to win it all in the Big Ten. 
The Big Ten started off with two upsets when Penn State beat Nebraska and Rutgers took down Ohio State, I only managed to predict one. Day two saw Michigan beat Illinois after a plane accident and Penn State's elimination by the Michigan State Spartans in the early afternoon games. Indiana beat Iowa State and Rutgers lost to Northwestern. Day three had Michigan upsetting the top team Purdue, destroying my bracket, and Minnesota taking out Michigan State to make the Golden Gophers my new top pick.Wisconsin beat Indiana as I predicted but Northwestern upset Maryland to go to the semifinals. Minnesota also got upset by Michigan and Wisconsin beat Northwestern. Michigan topped Wisconsin to take the Big-10 tournament title

Big 12
The Big 12 has some awesome teams this year and it will be an exciting tournament to watch to see who comes out on top. The first games against TCU and Oklahoma will go to TCU and Texas Tech against Texas will go to the technical school Red Raiders. The game of Oklahoma State against Iowa State could be an upset for the Cowboys. Kansas will dispatch TCU like West Virginia will do to Texas Tech. Baylor should get past Kansas State. The final four will be Oklahoma State losing to Kansas and Baylor beating West Virginia. Baylor will lose so that the Kansas Jayhawks will take the Big 12 Championship.
Day one had TCU beating Oklahoma and Texas upsetting Texas Tech. Day two had Iowa State putting away Oklahoma State and TCU coming through with a huge upset over Kansas throwing off my whole bracket for this tournament. West Virgina beat Texas and Baylor was upset by Kansas State. The semifinals had Iowa State beating off TCU and West Virginia eliminating Kansas State. The championship game went to Iowa State Cyclones over West Virginia sealing their spot in the tournament and something that I did not see coming.

The PAC-12 is always hard to watch with their games occurring later in the night with the time difference. I'm taking some wild guesses. For the games tomorrow, I'll pick Stanford to upset Arizona State, California to beat Oregon State, Colorado over Washington State, and USC topping Washington. That makes for Stanford to fall to Oregon, California to lose to Utah, Arizona to best Colorado, and UCLA over USC. The final four of the PAC-12 are predicted by me to be Oregon vs. California and Arizona vs UCLA. I think the championship will be between the one and two teams and Oregon will beat Arizona to make the Oregon Ducks the PAC-12 champions. 
On Wednesday, Arizona State beat Stanford, California beat Oregon State, Colorado beat Washington State and USC beat Washington. Thursday began with Oregon eliminating Arizona State. California took out Utah, Arizona beat Colorado and USC fell to UCLA making this bracket my best picks yet with only one mistake. My PAC-12 picks appear to be even more accurate with Oregon beating California and Arizona beating UCLA. In the PAC-12 championship, Oregon defeated Arizona making this my best bracket.

The SEC is the conference that I watch the closest though the teams are not the strongest. I'm saying LSU upsets Mississippi State and Auburn over Missouri in the early games. The next day I'm picking Georgia over Tennessee, Alabama over LSU, Vanderbilt over Texas A&M, and Auburn upsetting Ole Miss. Kentucky will cruise past Georgia and face Alabama who will upset South Carolina. Florida will beat Vanderbilt in revenge and Arkansas will stop Auburn's run. Florida and Kentucky will face off in teh championship and I'm picking the Kentucky Wildcats for the SEC champions.
The SEC tournament began with Missippi State knocking off LSU and Auburn losing to Missouri, both of my predictions were wrong. Georgia upset Tennessee in the second round and Alabama beat Missippi State putting me back on track. Vanderbilt beat Texas A&M and Ole Miss eliminated Missouri. The quarterfinals started with Kentucky beating Georgia and Alabama upsetting South Carolina. Vanderbilt had beaten Florida twice in the regular season and did the same in the tournament. Arkansas stayed on top of Ole Miss to advance to the semifinals. In the semifinal, Kentucky beat Alabama and Arkansas beat Vanderbilt. The final between Arkansas and Kentucky went to the Wildcats.

Last year, I had time to make an individual post for each tournament but I've found this is a better way to compress it. What I will do is post the updated results after my pick for the winner and call myself out for my awful predictions. Looking forward to watching tournament basketball in anticipation for the true March Madness.