Thursday, April 27, 2017

TV Show Review: The Detour (Season 2)

The bizarre TBS comedy from Samantha Bee and Jason Jones returns for a second season of wild family antics. The Parker family moves to New York City after Nate (Jason Jones) gets a job. Robin (Natalie Zea) is under investigation for her past fraud and her previous husband Carlos (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) returns to claim his wife and paternity of Jareb (Liam Carroll). Delilah (Ashley Gerasimovich) struggles to make friends in the new city as she joins karate and puts on a talent show. Life in the city doesn't get off to a great start as they offend the neighbors and struggle to adjust to road signs.

The story flashes forward to Nate being interrogated by a Federal Agent (Mary Grill) of the Postal Service. Information is doled out about Robin's past that is unfamiliar to Nate but as we see, a lot happened to lead them here. Nate's new boss J.R. (James Cromwell) is undemanding and wants to meet Nate's kids. He is hiding a secret that is crucial to the family as Robin's past comes more into play. Nate stands up for his marriage and for Jareb even after he learns of the true paternity. He beats up Carlos who drops all the charges and claims.

The show turns to an ass that has been smuggled through the country by Robin and her sister Vanessa (Daniella Pineda). Carlos also pursued the odd shaped overly large piece of something that is clearly an ass though it is not clear what it is. As the Postal Service closes in, the Parkers work to transition to their new life, but when it is revealed that J.R. is Robin's father who not only wants to be a part of her family and possession of the ass. J.R. can't find a way into his daughter's heart so he takes the children down to Cuba.

Robin and Nate are best on the road as the first season proved and the second only reinforces as the couple sets out for Cuba to save their children. The antics ensue as Robin uses the bathroom without pulling aside and Nate tries to hop over an electric fence. They discover Delilah and Jareb living it up. The rest of the family has forgiven J.R. except Robin. It turns out that the ass belongs to a statue of Saddam Hussein and will earn the Parkers $10 million from the sale to Dick Cheney. However, Robin blows up the statue and they have to migrate back to America. The second season ends with Vanessa under arrest.

The Detour might be the funniest show on cable television. I find nearly every episode packed with jokes. Jason Jones brings his hilarious Daily Show humor and exhibits great chemistry with Natalie Zea. The kids are some of the funniest kids on television and show tremendous talent for their age. I can't get enough of this show and had such a great time bingeing the first season and looked forward to each new episode of the second. I hope this show has a long future as well as more opportunities for the stars and creators. 

TV Show Review: Feud (Bette and Joan)

Ryan Murphy's latest creation takes on a classic Hollywood rivalry between to stars of the silver screen. Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) are cast alongside each other in the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane directed by Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). As stars struggling to stay relevant in a male-dominated world, they make their demands and create a tense environment on set. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) strives to find out all the juicy details of their conflict as she stokes the controversy and spreads the rumors. The ruthless and crude producer Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) loathes the stars and treats them with utter contempt and total disrespect.

The scheming continues throughout the production as both stars vie for the spotlight at the expense of the other, spreading increasingly vicious lies about each other. Witnessing this fight is Joan's servant Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman) who is cleverer than her position shows. She puts up with Joan's histrionics throughout must of the show but even she has her limits. As the film wraps, the women find it hard to field other offers as prestigious even though the film becomes a massive success at the box office. Davis is nominated for her role but Crawford schemes to have her revenge.

Aldrich's assistant Pauline Jameson (Alison Wright) writes a script of her own and hopes to direct. She offers a major part to Crawford but Joan doesn't think working for a female director is worth the risk and declines the offer. Narrating parts from a firsthand perspective are two other stars Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates). The show is set up as a documentary of sorts, interviewing former stars and others who knew Bette and Joan to get to the bottom of the feud.

Time goes by and Bette and Joan are recruited by Aldrich, recently divorced, to make another film. Bette is brought on as a producer as her relationship with Aldrich turns physical and romantic. Davis uses her power to torment Crawford to the point that she must pretend to be sick to avoid production. Sued by the studio, Joan remains steadfast, unwilling to participate in the film. Eventually, the studio replaces Crawford with Havilland and Joan's decline grows worse from there. The ending is melancholic as neither woman will forgive the other and both are tossed aside by fickle Hollywood.

Feud is an interesting look at the toll of women in the harsh spotlight of the patriarchy. Bette and Joan were forced to compete for a limited amount of roles while a crude producer makes ruthless jabs at their appearance calling it "hagsploitation". Feud taught me a lot as I'm almost wholly ignorant of older films and especially the stars that populated them, a side fact of my movie watching experience. I, unfortunately, missed a screening of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but I hope to check both of these stars filmography and look forward to the next part of this anthology series. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sports: NHL (Stanley Cup Playoffs - Second Round)

The second round is set and as I predicted, my predictions were wrong. I now have a new chance to predict with fewer choices. I'm carrying some biases after a tough loss by the team I preferred and now have a new team to root for this round. There were some exciting upsets this round that I did not see coming and I look forward to seeing what happens next. 

Metropolitan
1 Washington Capitals vs 2 Pittsburgh Penguins
I was rooting for the Blue Jackets so I'm not to see the Penguins in this series. I think that Pittsburgh will put up quite a fight but I'm going with the team I picked to advance, the Washington Capitals. 


Game 1: The Pittsburgh Penguins take the first game 3-2.
Game 2: The Penguins take full control with a 6-2 win.
Game 3: The Capitals strike back with a 3-2 overtime win.
Game 4: The Penguins establish dominance with a 3-2 win.
Game 5: The Capitals stay alive with a 4-2 win.
Game 6: The Capitals tie the series winning 5-2.
Game 7: The Penguins win the game 2-0 and the series 4-3.


Atlantic
New York Rangers (WC1) vs Ottawa Senators (2)
The Rangers upset really put me off in this division but I've been behind the Senators, not sure why maybe because I like the logo, but I pick the Ottawa Senators to proceed.


Game 1: The Senators win 2-1.
Game 2: The Senators push further ahead with a 6-5 win.
Game3: The Rangers stop the Senators and take a resounding home game win 4-1.
Game 4: The Rangers tie the series with another 4-1 win.
Game 5: The Senators pull ahead with a 5-4 win. 
Game 6: The Senators win the game and the series 4-2.


Central
Nashville Predators (WC2) vs St. Louis Blues (3)
I'm all in for the Nashville Predators for as long as they stick around. I had them to upset the Blackhawks but it still came as quite a shock for me. I didn't see the Blues coming at all thinking that the Wild would take the series but St. Louis could be tough competition for Nashville.
Game 1: The Predators got off to a hot start with a high-scoring 5-4 victory despite losing a player.
Game 2: The Blues tie the series 3-2.
Game 3: The Predators jump back ahead with a 3-1 win.
Game 4: The Predators pull further ahead with a 2-1 win.
Game 5: The Blues stay alive with a 2-1 win.
Game 6: The Predators take the series with a 3-1 win.
Pacific
Anaheim Ducks (1) vs Edmonton Oilers (2)
I did not see the Edmonton Oilers coming at all so I will stick with the team that I picked to advance to this series. The Mighty Ducks looked strong as the number one team and could move on to the next round. 
Game 1: The Oilers take the first game late at night with a 5-3 win.
Game 2: The Oilers increase their lead in the series with a 2-1 win.
Game 3: The Ducks put up a fight with a 6-3 win.
Game 4: The Ducks tie the series with an overtime 4-3 win.
Game 5: In double overtime, the Ducks take the lead with another 4-3 win.
Game 6: The Oilers stay alive and tie the series one last time with a huge 7-1 victory.


My predictions for this round will go with the Senators beating the Capitals and the Predators beating the Ducks in the conference finals for an Ottawa vs Nashville final series. I am going all the way with the Predators this year now. 

TV Show Review: Bates Motel (Season 5)

The fifth and final season of this Psycho prequel and retelling shows the final psychotic break of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) as he begins to fully communicate with his dead mother Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) after killing at the end of the fourth season. This season intersects with the original Psycho storyline and then throws that totally out the window as it develops a new storyline. Norman begins to have a crush on a woman at the local hardware store Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally) but grows jealous of her cheating husband Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols). Marion Crane (Rihanna) makes off with her boss's cash and checks into the Bates Motel. Norman spies on her through his hidden peephole, but when Marion showers, she is not murdered.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) plots revenge on Norman for killing Norma. He sends murderers to kill Norman though the motel owner outsmarts these hitmen. Frustrated with his plan's failure, Romero escapes from prison and travels towards Bates Motel. Norman's brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) worries about Norma, not knowing that she's dead. He has started a new life with Emma (Olivia Cooke) and their new child. When he learns of Norma's death he grows worried and admits to Emma that he believes Norman killed her mother. 

Norman continues to tumble towards insanity as he goes out drinking and has whole nights as Norma. He wakes up disturbed and eventually manifests his fantasy by digging her body up and keeping it down in the basement assumedly using his skills as a taxidermist to keep it in a somewhat manageable condition. The sight of Norma's dead body is especially chilling and harkens back to the original films awful revelation. Norma's brother Caleb (Kenny Johnson) shows up and starts asking questions about his dead sister. The strange Chick Hogan (Ryan Hurst) becomes fascinated by Norman and accidentally kill Caleb when he escapes after witnessing the horror of Norman's insanity.

As Norman becomes more unhinged, he realizes that his split personality is fighting for control. His mother's identity murders Sam Loomis instead in the shower scene and disposes of the body. However, in a brief moment of clarity, Norman calls the police, confesses and is arrested. The Norma half is furious with his actions but before he can be prosecuted Romero breaks in and captures him. Romero forces Norman to show him where he reburied Norma and as the sheriff cries over her body, Norman hits him over the head and kills him. Norman returns to the motel for one final check-in before his brother shows up. Dylan shoots Norman when attacked and Norman dies, ending the show.

Bates Motel has been an interesting reimagining of the Psycho story, focusing on Norman as a young man whose illnesses shown through prior to the final breakdown. I am a bit torn by the divergence with the real story as I would have liked to see the updated classic scene but thought the story was good even without it. The seasons have always been interesting with plenty of cliffhangers and plot twists as the story was expanded. It is hard to end a show but I found this one satisfying. Bates Motel was a good new twist on an old classic story. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: Psycho (1998)

A nearly complete copy of the original just slightly updated for the 90s, Pscyho is remade by Gus Van Sant. Marion Crane (Anne Heche) is introduced again lying in bed with Sam Loomis (Viggo Mortensen) as she laments having to go back to work and he worries about not having enough money. When Marion is entrusted with ten times greater cash than the original $400,000, she takes off towards Los Angeles and Sam. Her paranoia increases steadily as she is trailed by a cop who catches her sleeping by the side of the road. She trades in her car for a new one and continues on the drive imagining the conversations of her boss and coworker.

Tired and barely able to see in a rainstorm, Marion pulls off to the Bates Motel. She rents a room from Norman Bates (Vince Vaughn) who offers to make her dinner. They talk for a while then Marion returns to her room. The scene where Norman spies on her is a bit more graphic with him masturbating before returning upstairs. The recreation of the iconic shower scene also goes for violence but inexplicably cuts away to clouds. The similarities are remarkable as they copy the same shots from many of the scenes and the dialogue is pretty much identical. Norman discovers what his mother has done, cleans up the mess, and disposes of her body and car in a swamp. 

Lila Crane (Julianne Moore) searches for Marion by seeking out Sam Loomis. When she confronts him, Milton Arbogast (William H. Macy) steps in to investigate. Arbogast's leads him down the road to Bates Motel. He speaks with Norman who tries to deny seeing Marion until Arbogast catches him several lies and contradictions. Suspecting something and wanting to speak with the mother, Arbogast relays the information to Lila and returns to the motel and house on the hill at night. Arbogast enters the house and is struck down on the stairs by Norman's mother.

Lila and Sam worry about Arbogast and head over to Bates Motel. Unable to find Norman, they head to the house of Sheriff Chambers (Philip Baker Hall). The sheriff informs them that Norman's mother has been dead for some time after a murder-suicide. Lila and Sam check-in to the Bates Motel the next day and search around. Sam distracts Norman while Lila searches the house. Norman realizes that Lila is gone and hits Sam with a golf club. Hiding from Norman, Lila ventures into the basement. She discovers Norman's dead mother's body just as Norman comes down dressed as his mother. Sam comes down and stops Norman from attacking Lila. Dr. Simon (Robert Forster) explains Norman's illness 

Though this remake is nearly exactly similar the acting really brings it down a notch. Vaughn cannot match Perkins childish creepiness in the original. The movie truly lacks the horror of the original as it retained the scariness of a 1960s film and didn't update it for the current drama. It tried to capitalized on the growing popularity of slasher films in the late nineties that have all evolved into young adult television shows for this next generation. I am interested to see how Bates Motel will update the story as it decided to make something different, not an inferiour copy. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Review: Psycho (1960)

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Free Fire

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

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

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

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

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

TV Show Review: The Get Down (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review: Ugly As Sin by James Newman

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TV Show Review: Girls (Season 6)

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Movie Review: Furious 7

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Movie Review: Fast Five

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Fast & Furious

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: 2 Fast 2 Furious

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious

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

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

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

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

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

Sports: NBA Playoffs (First Round)

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

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

Game 1: The Bulls upset the Celtics 106-102.
Game 2: The upset continues as the Bulls gain another win 111-97 over the Celtics.
Game 3: Boston rallied back in Chicago for their first win 104-87.
Game 4: The Celtics rally back to tie the series at 2 with a 104-95 win.
Game 5: The Celtics control the series after a 108-97 win.
Game 6: After a rough start, the Celtics knock off the Bulls with a 105-83 win.
 

4 Washington Wizard vs 5 Atlanta Hawks
This is where my bias as a sports fan starts to show. I like the Atlanta Hawks who haven't had the most consistent season but could take this one against a competitive Washington team. Still, I'm sticking the team I root for and taking the Hawks in seven games.
Game 1: The Wizards beat the Hawks 114-107.
Game 2: Washington wins again at home 109-101.
Game 3: At home, the Hawks demolish the Wizards 116-98.
Game 4: The Hawks tie the series with an 111-101 win.
Game 5: The Wizards take the lead with a 103-99 win.
Game 6: The Wizards eliminated the Hawks 115-99.

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

Game 1: Milwaukee takes the first game over Toronto 97-83.
Game 2: Toronto ties the series with a 106-100 win against the Bucks.
Game 3: The Bucks crushed the Raptors 104-77.
Game 4: The Raptors beat the Bucks 87-76 to bring the series back to tied.
Game 5: Capitalizing on home field advantage, the Raptors take a 3-2 series lead with an 118-93 blowout win. 
Game 6: The Raptors make it through to the next round with a 92-89 win.


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


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

Game 1: The Warriors beat the Trailblazers 121-109.
Game 2: Golden State's dominance continues with an 110-81 victory.
Game 3: The Warriors move closer to a sweep with a 119-113 win.
Game 4: With Kevin Durant's return the Warriors sweep the Trailblazers with a fourth win 128-103.


4 Los Angeles Clippers vs 5 Utah Jazz
The Clippers have done so well this season but good enough to earn fourth place. The Utah Jazz have a lot of young talent but they will have to keep them and turn them into veterans if they want to win in the playoffs.
Game 1: The Jazz beat the Clippers by two point 97-95.
Game 2: The Clippers tied the series with a 99-91 win. 
Game 3: Despite losing Blake Griffin, the Clippers came back and won 111-106 over the Jazz.
Game 4: The Jazz held down their home and win 105-98 to tie the series at two games each.
Game 5: Utah takes a lead in this series with a 96-92 win over Los Angeles.
Game 6: The Clippers tie the series 98-93.
Game 7: The Utah Jazz upset the Los Angeles Clippers 104-91.

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


Game 1: The Rockets crush the Thunder 118-87.
Game 2: The MVP clash continued with James Harden carrying the Rockets to victory 115-111 over the Thunder.
Game 3: At home in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder beat the Rockets 115-113.
Game 4: The Rockets further their series lead with an 113-109 win.
Game 5: The Rockets eliminate the Thunder with a 105-99 win.


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

Game 1: The Grizzlies went up early but the Spurs ended up trouncing Memphis for an 111-82 win. 
Game 2: The Spurs continued to dominate with a 96-82 win.
Game 3: Memphis benefits from the home crowd with a solid 105-94 win. 
Game 4: In a battle to the end, the Grizzlies take down the Spurs 110-108.
Game 5: The Spurs regain dominance with an 116-103 home win.
Game 6: The Spurs avoid game seven and take the series in Memphis 103-96.

So my crazy first round picks go like this, The Hawks beat the Washington Wizard, the Celtics face them after beating the Bulls. The Hawkes will go on to play the Cavaliers who defeated the Pacers and the Rapte0rs who beat the Bucks. I want the Hawks to head to the Championship. In the West, the Warriors beat the Trailblazers and the Clippers beat the Jazz. The Spurs beat the Grizzlies and the Thunder beat the Rockets. San Antonio beat Oklahoma City and Golden State beats Los Angeles. The Spurs face the Hawks in the finals and Atlanta goes home with a Championship. I know this is very unlikely but I like to write my dream scenarios in the first round. 

Graphic Novel Review: Marvel Civil War

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

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

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

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

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