Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver

Car chases and music fill the streets of Edgar Wright's fun and action-packed film. In what feels like it could be one of the best movies of the summer, Baby (Ansel Elgort) speeds around Atlanta while listening to music and even when he walks on the streets, he is completely in step with the rhythm. Nothing throws him off as he pulls off a series of heists for the gangster leader Doc (Kevin Spacey). He works with various crews that include hard boiled robbers like Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and Bats (Jamie Foxx). After the initial chase, Baby has nearly paid back Doc with only one more job required and during the time between he stays at home with his foster dad Joseph (CJ Jones).

Baby is starstruck when he sees Debora (Lily James) a waitress at a 24-hour diner. They form a quick bond in scenes that ooze romantic chemistry as both young actors deliver charming performances under the brilliant direction. The music doesn't stop and after Baby helps Doc dispose of a body and finally pays him back, he just can't get away. Doc wrangles him into another job with coercive threats and sends him out to scout their next job, a post office. In a hilarious scene, Doc sends his 8-year-old nephew into to help scope out the bank, adding brilliant humor in a tense scene.

The laughs work well with the action as the car chase scenes are stunning and on the edge-of-the-seat enjoyable. Bats turns out to be a foil to Baby as his wild behavior finds the new crew for the post office job in a deadly shootout. When Bats demands they eat at the diner and threatens to rob the place, Baby has to shed his quiet demeanor and stand up to the intimidating criminal. Baby plans to get out before the job but finds Buddy waiting for him and Bats discovers his tape recorder that Baby uses to make weird music mixes, an excuse none of the robbers believe. With Joseph threatened, Baby has to pull off the job but the threats grow after the tense night.

Baby doesn't like the violence of the job but the thrill of driving to music is intoxicating. With Bats pointing a gun at him, Baby reacts violently setting off a wild chase that is a ton of fun to watch. The non-stop finale was so much fun recalling classic heist films with tension and undeniable skill of direction. Baby tries to find a way out of an impossible situation as Buddy hunts him through Atlanta knowing he'll be seeking out Debora at the diner. While there is drama and humor, Wright doesn't skimp on an action movie finale with gun battles and explosions to go along with the brilliant car chases. 

Baby Driver was so much fun and like all great car chase movies, I had to consciously slow myself down so as to not speed out the movie theater parking lot. The music makes the movie as so many scenes are brilliantly set to various songs that Baby chooses from his iPod in a plot point that doesn't feel ridiculous or forced. I have enjoyed every movie that Edgar Wright has made and loved seeing the sights of Atlanta in the background. Elgort performance was great standing out among skilled veterans like Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm who are highly entertaining as always. I don't know if I'll enjoy a movie this much for the rest of year. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

TV Show Review: Veep (Season 6)

The ruthless nature of politics turns to brutal jokes in the sixth season of this highly awarded HBO Comedy. Former President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) seeks to cement her legacy with a presidential library and a tell-all book. At her side, Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) continues to assist Selina along with his trusted bag and whisper in her ear all the names she is supposed to remember. Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) hopes to get her new boyfriend elected but her rough tactics that were welcome in D.C. prove a little harsh in this local race. Dan Egan (Reid Scott) works as a new broadcaster after leaving the lobbyist industry. Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) finds success as a politician making one incompetent decision after another. 

Selina continues to be involved in international politics traveling to Georgia, the country, to oversee the first election. Her book depends on the diary of Mike McLintok (Matt Walsh) who she brings along with her. Also accompanying everywhere is Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) who is always ready with a hilarious comment. Selina forms a relationship with Mohammed Al Jaffar (Usman Ally) who helps her out of troublesome situations when she hopes to have a positive photo op. Selina's cold-hearted nature is illustrated most clearly in her relationship with her daughter Catherine Meyer (Sarah Sutherland) who has formed a relationship with Marjorie (Clea DuVall). 

Jonah finds himself courted by the daughter of a wealthy donor who grooms him for marriage. He manages to form a powerful block of Congress and shuts down the government. Assisting Jonah are Selena's former aides Kent Davison (Gary Cole) and Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn). Selina fields rumor of being nominated for the Supreme Court and moves closer to solidifying the location of the Presidential Library. Dan finds that his cohost is spreading rumors about them dating off air and Dan ambitiously embraces the gossip to facilitate his rise as a host. As her health declines with a heart attack, she finds that Gary mirrors her problems and makes her promise to come down to his hometown. Selina charms the stereotypical Southerners with a story she steals from her assistant.

Mike loses Selina's diary so her book publication is overshadowed by the controversial of her past mistakes. However, a past accomplishment that she never got credit for comes to light as well making her a hero for a brief period of time. As the plans for Selina's library are made to look like a vagina, it is revealed that it is buried on the former slaves quarters but of course, Selina doesn't care and wants to cover it up. The finale reflects back on Selina's rough trail through politics and her history of narcissism. At the end of the season, Selina decides to run for President again forcing her to break up with Jaffar but so does Jonah and Dan finds out he got Amy pregnant.

I finally caught up on all of Veep in the last few months and have found the show enjoyable and hilarious. It took me a while to understand the dynamic that Selina is not a likable character and her staff, or former staff, are the characters to actually root for in the hard, cruel world of politics. While the current White House has reached a new level of outrageous, Veep still seems relevant and not so far off base as to ruin the humor or story. It will be interesting to see how the show adjusts to being back on the campaign trail. 

TV Show Review: Silicon Valley (Season 4)

The hilarious HBO comedy continues to skewer the tech business with the group of lovable loser coders. Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) has transferred his brilliant compression code into a video chat application, PiperChat, and tries to build a new internet. Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) struggles with Big Head (Josh Brener) and Big Head's father for funding of their company. Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) is dating a hacker who he is afraid will start spying on him through the computer. Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) harasses Dinesh for his poor girlfriend choice and becomes jealous as Dinesh rises in the company. Jared (Zach Woods) finds that he has more success when he pretends to be someone else. 

Over at Hooli, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) rubs the CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) the wrong way and finds himself in the basement. Dinesh finds himself at the top of the company but when he discovers that most of the users are underage, making this highly illegal. The only solution is to sell Piperchat to Hooli who will then have to deal with the repercussions of the young users. Gavin's decision causes him to lose his position at Hooli as Jack takes over. Big Head finds himself hired by Stanford because of his history as a big tech industry guru even though he has never had any success. Erlich tries to find his own success by investing in a new idea with Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) and his app idea SeeFood. 

Richard searches for funding for his new internet and finds an unlikely ally in Gavin Belson who has become disgraced after his firing from Hooli. Gavin is also keeping his youth by having a young man's blood injected into him. Monica (Amanda Crew) sees promise in SeeFood and demands a demo but Erlich struggles to put something together when he realizes that Jian Yang's app only recognizes hot dogs. This idea works out well though as the app helps block penises from showing up on a more popular chat application. With this success, Monica and Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) start their own company that Erlich hopes to join. Erlich tries to hang out with some other company men but finds that he doesn't have the athletic ability and goes to desperate measures.

Erlich does find success with another wealthy creator Keena Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment) who has an amazing new VR application. Feldspar wants to buy everything and attempts to buy out Richard for a large sum of money that Richard is able to bargain for an even higher price. Gilfoyle works to hack Jin Yang's new smart fridge, which comes back around to save the whole crew when their final plan starts to fall apart. Erlich falls off near the end of the season as T.J. Miller was written off the show, one of the most disappointing pieces of news from this great comedy. Erlich was a memorable character and one of the best so it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here.

Jared nearly parts ways but it looks like this season ends with the crew back on top. This show is always good for a few laughs and a lot of inappropriate humor that lambasts the ridiculousness of the behavior coming out of this West Coast haven for advancement. From absurdly petty billionaires to stressed out hackers, Silicon Valley delivers all of these with great characters at the center trying to succeed with something genuinely new. Mike Judge created this comedy with others after making plenty of other hilarious observations of other cultures in American life.   

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Movie Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

The incomprehensible robot mayhem continues in the latest installment in the children toys action-adventure franchise. No one seems to be taking this seriously, not even the director Michael Bay as he sets the tone early with a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci) receiving a staff from a hidden Transformer to help King Arthur and his knights fight barbarians. In the present day, Izabella (Isabela Moner) sneaks around the wastelands of previous Transformers battles repairing hidden robots and hiding from a military squad that hunts them, the TRF. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) steps in with Bumblebee and the other Autobots saving Izabella and finding a talisman that leads to some ancient legend. At a junkyard, Cade lives with the hidden Autobots and Dinobots and works with his assistant Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael). Lennox (Josh Duhamel) infiltrates the TRF as they recruit Megatron to hunt the Autobots.

The Decepticons, freshly freed from prison, attack Cade's junkyard and battle into a destroyed city somewhere. Cogman, a robot butler, takes Cade away to a castle in England where Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins). Burton has also brought Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) as she is a great descendant of Merlin. Burton explains the significance of the end of the world and the certain steps that can be taken to stop which involves a staff and Cade's talisman. Optimus Prime was floating through space when he was picked up by Quintessa, a creator of Transformers who changes Optimus into Nemesis Prime.

A chase through London, or some other English city never sure where they are in these movies, follows clues and eventually leads to the Navy Museum. Cade and Vivian take a submarine with Cogman and dive deep underwater to another alien ship that no one had discovered before. Lennox and the TRF follow to discover a hidden place of knights. Vivian activates the staff but Optimus finally shows up after being gone pretty much the whole first half of the movie and fights Bumblebee. The yellow robot takes and Optimus quickly changes back to the good side. All the characters come together to launch an attack on the giant Cybertron planet that has floated from space to destroy Earth.

A NASA Engineer (Tony Hale) comes up with a plan and the military attacks alongside the Autobots, but it is up to Vivian to grab the staff. There are tons of explosions and it is nearly impossible to tell what is going on at any one time but eventually, the team makes it to a central area and fight Quintessa and her knights. Megatron also tries to fight them but gets thrown out. There is a hint of a future sequel in horns that rise up out of the ground that don't serve a purpose in the finale of the movie.

The Transformers seems to be out of ideas as they have recycled a very similar plot and formula with a historical event actually being different because of the hidden presence of Transformers. Cade is a silly character and Wahlberg hardly tries while it is sad to see a great actor like Hopkins cashing a paycheck and no longer bothering with a decent role. Any interesting new character is pushed to the side during the entire middle part which is so slow and boring I had a hard time staying awake through it and paying attention to the silly plot points seemed fruitless. I've heard rumors of an expanding universe and there have already been announcements of a Bumblebee movie but trouble at the box office could spell a winding down of this absurd set of films. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

The fourth movie in the Transformers series delves even further into Earth's history and introduces a new main character. Michael Bay continues his unique style of action spectacle directing though the target audience appears to be more international. Before humanity, the Transformers visited and wiped out dinosaurs. A discovery in Artic by the explorer Darcy (Sophia Myles) shows signs of their early presence. In Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) discovers a strange truck while salvaging junk from a movie theater with his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller). Cade's daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) can't get a scholarship to college and the family is in financial trouble. In Chicago, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) coordinates an operation that sends a task force to hunt down Transformers led by James Savoy (Titus Welliver). The transformer they cooperate with, Lockdown, does not discriminate between Autobots and Decepticons.

Cade discovers the truck is actually Optimus Prime who had been trapped by humans and forced into hiding. Attinger sends Savoy and the Transformer hunters to Texas to investigate the truck sighting. They use brutal tactics on the Yeagers until Optimus bursts out of the barn and Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), Tessa's boyfriend, drives in to help them escape. In the ensuing chase, Shane shows off his driving skills and Lucas gets vaporized. Cade does not approve of Shane dating Tessa and investigates the BlackOps organization that attacked him. Optimus updates his look and assembles the remaining autobots, including Bumblebee. 

At a corporation called KSI, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) hopes to use the alien metal Transformium to build a new transformer, Galvetron to look like Optimus Prime, but it keeps looking like Megatron. Joyce works with Attinger to collect the technology. Cade and Shane sneak into KSI with Bumblebee but when they get captured Optimus attacks the company headquarters. Attinger commands Joyce to activate Galvetron and Stinger, a Bumblebee copy. When Optimus fights Galvetron, Lockdown steps in and takes him down. The bounty hunter captures Optimus and Tessa and brings them aboard a large alien ship.

Tessa escapes into the depths of the ship. Lockdown adds Optimus to his collection at the behest of the creators of the Transformers and gives something known as a seed to Savoy. Cade, Shane, and the Autobots sneak aboard the ship. There are alien creatures in cages all throughout the ship. Cade finds Tessa and alien weapons to fight Lockdown's soldiers. The Autobots free Optimus from captivity as Cade, Shane, and Tessa escape leading to a spaceship battle amidst the skyscrapers of Chicago. Spooked by the Autobot attack, Joyce moves his operation to the China facility led by Su Yueming (Bingbing Li). Optimus explains how Galvetron was created by Megatron's mind and that it hopes to launch the seed in a large city.

Attinger sells the seed to Joyce hoping to receive a golden parachute but Joyce has second thoughts after listening to Cade about the dangers of the seed. Galvetron awakens and assumes control of a Transformer army of KSI prototypes. Joyce escapes with the seed and brings it to Cade who flew with Optimus in a spaceship. Galvetron's new army attack and the ship crashes away from Hong Kong. Cade fights Savoy through an apartment complex and kills him by hitting him in the head with a football and pushing him out a window. As the Autobots battle the new Decepticons, Optimus draws a sword that calls to the Dinobots but has to fight one first before he can ride them back to the city. With the Dinobots help, the Autobots fight of Galvetron's army but Lockdown returns and activates a huge magnet on his ship over Hong Kong dropping large objects back onto the city and the Transformers.

Optimus and Cade face off against Lockdown and Attinger in a final battle and with the help of Shane and Tessa, they destroy the CIA agent and transformer bounty hunter. Optimus is last scenes blasting off into space While the special effects in this film are often pretty amazing, the dialogue and overcrowded story make this film pretty hard to enjoy. Wahlberg and others are a poor substitute to what was already a lacking main cast and the obvious marketing even during action scenes reduces the visuals furthers. I didn't despise this film as much on the second watch but it is still a pretty awful piece of cinema. I think of it as the worst in the series but maybe the second one or the new installment give it competition. 

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The third installment of the transforming robot series continues to alter history, this time focusing on the moon landing. Michael Bay continues to bring spectacle with space battles and wild robot fights. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) seeks out employment while living off of a new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitley) in Washington DC. His mom Judy (Julie White) and dad Ron (Kevin Dunn) are traveling across the country in a trailer. Bumblebee and other Autobots work with Lennox (Josh Duhamel) to stop human conflicts. In Chernobyl, Optimus Prime and his team encounter a giant snake transformer, Shockwave and find an engine part from an old Autobot ship.

Sam goes to job interviews until he is hired by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich) though it is disappointing for Sam to be working in the mailroom after saving the world twice. Supervising the Autobots is Director of National Intelligence Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand). Carly works for a curator Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) who flirts with her making Sam jealous. Optimus seeks out Sentinel Prime buried on the moon. Megatron hides out in Africa ordering the assassination of anyone involved in the Decepticons new plot. A coworker Jerry (Ken Jeong) watches Sam and warns him but it's too late as Jerry is thrown out the window by Soundwave's bird spy.

Sam demands to see Bumblebee and confronts Lennox and Mearing as Optimus revives Sentinel who seeks out pillars that open a space portal. Sam seeks out Simmons (John Turturro) and his assistant Dutch (Alan Tudyk) to find out the truth about the Decepticons and the pillars. The Decepticons attack and Sentinel reveals that he made a deal with Megatron, killing Ironhide. On the National Mall, Sentinel Prime activates the pillar which transport Decepticons from the moon to Earth to rebuild Cybertron. Carly's boss Dylan is working with the Decepticons too and captures Carly. Sam has to put on a watch that can be used to spy on the Autobots. The U.N. votes to exile the Autobots on a giant spaceship. Epps (Tyrese Gibson) works on the crew managing the shuttle. 

Emboldened from the spaceship exploding, the Decepticons takeover Chicago and prepare to teleport Cybertron. Sam and Epps sneak into the city with former NEST soldiers searching for Carly. The Autobots reemerge led by Optimus to attack Trump Tower. Sam and Bumblee save Carly and they notify the military about the location of the main pillar. Hunted by Shockwave, the group tries to get into position to shoot the pillar as Lennox parachutes in with another squad. Optimus Prime takes down Shockwave as Sentinel activates the pillars. Sam fights Starscream with a grappling claw and blows his head up with the help of Lennox and Bumblebee. Optimus Prime and the Autobots beat back the Decepticons stopping Cybertron from teleporting. Optimus fights Sentinel and Sam fights Dylan to destroy the main pillar. Carly convinces Megatron to betray Sentinel. Optimus kills Megatron and Sentinel to end the battle.

Dark of the Moon was an improve from the low standard set by its immediate predecessor and the final action scene is a long drawn out doozy of a set with intense robot action for almost an hour. The spectacle of Shockwave ripping through buildings and streets in Chicago was something new to the series that helped stave off some of the lackluster repetition of the previous film. The film does continue to have a confusing plot and the action is not always easy to understand but this is probably the last time I enjoyed a Transformers film in the theater. 

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The Transformers return for a lackluster, poorly written sequel that still has some stunning visuals. The Michael Bay-directed film operates off the premise that the Transformers had come to Earth long ago. In the present, an elite military squad called NEST led by Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sargeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) works with the Autobots to hunt Decepticons. In a destructive battle in Shanghai, Optimus Prime takes down a Decepticon but receives a warning of the Fallen. As Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) readies for college, he discovers a sliver of the Allspark cube that brings household appliance to life and destroys his parents', Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (Julie White), house. Sam has to leave his transformer car Bumblebee behind and say goodbye to Mikaela (Megan Fox) as they start a long distance relationship. He gives her the cube sliver as he departs. 

The government wants to shut down the Autobots just as the Decepticons plan to revive Megatron. At college, Sam tries to cover up his strange past as he meets his crazy roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez). Judy gets high on pot brownies in a moment of humor. Sam starts seeing symbols, an effect from handling the sliver and finds a girl Alice (Isabel Lucas) has taken an interest in him. Bumblebee shows up to take him to Optimus who warns him of a coming war. Sam continues to have strange visions and discovers Alice is a Decepticon just as Mikaela shows up to see him making out with her. Resurrected, Megatron confers with the Fallen and catches Sam to have a microscope transformer probe his brain in search of a source of Energon.

Optimus fights off the Decepticons but Megatron shoves a blade through his mechanical chest and blasts him open. The Autobots take Sam into hiding as the Decepticons announce their presence to the world and kidnap Sam's parents. Sam seeks out Robowarrior aka Simmons (John Turturro) who has discovered the truth of past Transformers' visits. They find an old transformer hidden in a museum who transports them to Egypt. Amidst the pyramids and confounding exposition, Sam finds the key to reviving Optimus Prime. Lennox and Epps bring Optimus to the Middle East, dropping him out of a plane into a village. The Decepticons attack and try to prevent Sam from reaching Optimus.

Sam and Mikaela run toward the village as Simmons and Leo take on a giant transformer with Mudflap and his twin brother transformer. The Decepticons setup a trap with Sam's parents but Bumblebee steps in to fight them off. The military starts dropping lots of bombs and fights with the Autobots to defend Sam against the Decepticons. Simmons calls in a giant Navy gun to stop the giant transformer from revealing the Energon weapon that will destroy the sun. Sam brings Optimus back from the dead after going into the Transformers heaven. Optimus uses the parts of the old transformer to become super powered and destroys the Fallen before it can destroy the sun. Wounded, Megatron retreats with Starscream promising to return for a sequel.

This movie was the silliest of the original trilogy and I think it suffered from a writer's strike, which led to the confused plotting. The action scenes are somewhat fun but it is always hard to understand what is going on and certainly none of it matters. I thought it was the worst of the series but the newer films are even more confused and ridiculous. Revenge of the Fallen expands the Transformers universe and adds history to Earth's interactions with these robotic beings. This sequel could not match the fun of the original and the spectacle of giant fighting robots started to grow old quickly. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie Review: Transformers

The wild robot action-adventure directed by Michael Bay first hit the big screen in 2007 and was impressive enough for such a strange premise. When a military base is attacked by a strange weapon, an elite group of soldiers led by Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) set out into the desert, hunted by the strange robotic being. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) wants to buy a car and win the heart of Mikaela (Megan Fox). The car his father Ron (Kevin Dunn) helps him buy has some strange malfunctions but a super-powered engine. At the Pentagon, an elite group of hackers led by Maggie (Rachael Taylor) tracks the odd signal that searches for something in the Air Force One database. 

The data the robots acquire leads them to LadiesMan217, or Sam. The yellow car takes off on its own and Sam pursues it into a junkyard where he sees it stand up and shine a signal into the night sky. Arrested, Sam tries to explain the strange sight to disbelieving officers. Maggie tries to explain to Defense Secretary Keller (Jon Voight) the super fast signal but her explanation of a DNA-based computer is too outrageous. The military squad fights the scorpion transformer and manages to subdue it by calling in an airstrike. Maggie steals the classified code and brings it to the hacker Glen (Anthony Anderson) who deciphers a code right before the FBI bursts in to arrest him.

Sam's Camaro returns and chases after him. A police car transforms in front of him and interrogates him about a pair of glasses he put on eBay. Mikaela follows him and they're saved by the Camaro which turns out to be Bumblebee to fight off the villain. The transformers descend from space. Optimus Prime explains what they are and why they need Sam's ancestor's glasses. Sam searches for the glasses but his mom Judy (Julie White) and dad want to know what is going on. A mysterious group called Sector 7 led by Agent Simmons (John Turturro) apprehend Sam and Mikaela but the transformers intervene. Bumblebee is captured and brought to the Hoover Dam where Megatron has been stored frozen for decades.

Athe secret facility, the characters converge at the AllSpark, which can turn any technology into a robot. The Autobots head towards Hoover Dam as do the Decepticons. Starscream destroys the power and Megatron thaws out. The Autobots escort Sam and the cube to the city where they hope to destroy it by putting it into Optimus Prime's chest. A highway chase and battle ensue between the transformers. The military work with the Autobots to fight the Decepticons as Sam tries to escape with the AllSpark. Optimus and Megatron fight but Megatron wins and catches Sam. Optimus intervenes at the last minute and as Megatron is about to kill Prime, Sam steps in and holds the cube up to Megatron's chest, shutting him down.

The Transformers movies do not follow any sort of logical coherence or set of comprehensible rules. They are simply huge spectacles of giant robots fighting each other with mediocre actors playing the characters caught in the middle. Bay's directing mixes with the special effects for some fun scenes in this film. The pacing is rushed enough that audiences don't have to pay too close attention to the muddled plot holes and ridiculousness of children's toys come to life. I enjoyed this film when it first came out a decade ago because these sort of blockbusters were not as commonplace as they have become now. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

TV Show Review: Orange is the New Black (Season 5)

Leitchfield correctional facility experiences a riot and total takeover in the fifth season of this funny and moving Netflix show. When Daya (Dascha Polanco) picks up the gun and shoots a guard, it leads to the whole prison thinking there is a mass shooting going on. The guards try to find out what is going on but end up hostages held by the prisoners. The death of Poussey led Taystee (Danielle Brooks) to rally the others to step up for justice. Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) also steps up to lead the prisoners, after rough treatment and profiling from the guards. This highly entertaining season takes place of the three days following these actions as the women take over and make demands to improve their lives imprisoned within Leitchfield.

The format of flashing back on each character continues as they take the time to focus on various prisoners and possibly revealing how they ended up in prison. Red (Kate Mulgrew) conspires to lure in the ruthless guard Piscatella (Brad William Henke) in the present while they show her life in Russia before immigrating to America in the past. We also get a look at Piscatella previous past of torture in a male prison. Tayste, Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), and Janae (Vicky Jeudy) work to negotiate changing the prison and satisfying their demands with Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow). The addicts Leanne (Emma Myles) and Angie (Julie Lake) head straight to the pharmacy but Lorna (Yael Stone) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) manage to get control of it. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) hides out in the hospital with her injured friend but as her mental state goes untreated, she grows worse setting up outlandish fantasies.

 Gloria (Selenis Leyva) organizes the remaining but dwindling supplies in the kitchen but orchestrates a plan to let the hostages out when she finds out her son is sick in the hospital. Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Laura Prepon) try to avoid the chaos but encounter the purchasing director of the prison Linda (Beth Dover) who pretends to be a convict and forms a relationship with Big Boo (Lea DeLaria). Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) upsets the addicts when she helps a guard escape by shooting off another prisoner's finger. The life inside the prison takes odd turns with a captured guard talent show and a mock trial with Boo as an attorney for Pennsatucky. As the food runs out, the desperation steadily increases to a breaking point. 

Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) leverages her experience in the prison to land a spot on a talk show but has to contend with the celebrity chef who ends up getting her daughter outed as the shooter of the guard. As Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), former warden, tries to negotiate with Taystee, the governor grows impatient, preparing to send in the riot control. Piscatella sneaks into the prison and in a sort of horror episode, starts to pick off the inmates one by one until he has a large group and starts torturing Red. Frieda (Dale Soules) sets up a bunker from experience we learn comes from her survivalist upbringing and master poison that is used to take down Piscatella.

This season comes to a climactic end as the troops storm the prison tasing and beating all the prisoners. Piscatella gets a lethal pepper bullet to the head putting an end to a great villain of this series. This season was a lot of fun and one that I enjoyed more than others making this a season, I'll want to add to my top ten list at the end of the year. Brooks delivered one of my favorite performances of the year. Where the show goes from here looks to be an interesting possibility as all the women were shipped away on buses. It looks like there are already two more season planned and I'm looking forward to its return next year. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TV Show Review: Fargo (Season 3)

One of the most interesting shows on television tells a new story for the third season that reflects the themes of the other seasons and the brilliant movie that shares its name. Ray and Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor in both roles) are brothers living out a childhood rivalry through adulthood primarily over a rare stamp. Ray wants money from his more successful brother Emmit so that he can marry his new girlfriend and a parolee Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ray is a parole officer complicating his relationship with Nikki but they need money to compete in a bridge tournament across the state border. Emmit and his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) are ready to pay off an under-the-table loan but the corrupt leader of the lending company V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) won't let them. Varga insists that Emmit must work with him to launder money. 

Ray ask another parolee Maurice Lefay (Scoot McNairy) to kill his brother but the stoner isn't able to figure out the right address and kills an old man with the same name. The old man happened to be the stepfather of Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) who starts to investigate the murder. Ray and Nikki kill Maurice by dropping an air conditioning unit on his head. Gloria's investigation leads her to Los Angeles where she learns about a young Thaddeus Mobley (Thomas Mann) and his reason for leaving the West coast. Emmit and Sy try to back out of the deal with Varga but find themselves becoming more entrenched as their efforts to investigate their new business partners leads to the death of others. Varga's two henchmen Yuri Gurka (Goran Bodgan) and Meemo (Andy Yu) are especially vicious. 

A traffic incident between Sy and Ray leads Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) to investigate the Stussy corporation, eventually combining forces with Gloria. As Ray causes more problems for Emmit including impersonating him to take out a hefty withdrawal, Varga retaliates by beating up Nikki. Gloria must contend with a bumbling new chief Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham) set to take over her job who pushes for her to drop the investigation. Ray and Nikki go on the run from the criminals and the police but Ray forgets the getaway money and must return to his home. Emmit confronts Ray at the house but their fight over the stamp leads to Ray's death. 

Varga helps Emmit clean it up as Sy hopes to sell the Stussy corporation to a widowed businesswoman Ruby Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell). Emmit nearly confesses not used to lying about misdeeds but manages to get away as the blame is shifted to Nikki. At the jail, Gloria tries to get the story out of Nikki but she refuses to say anything even after someone attempts to kill her. On a prison bus, she meets a familiar face from the first season the mute Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard). The bus flips and Varga's henchmen hunt Nikki and Wrench through the woods. They kill Yuri who dies in a strange scene in a bowling alley and come up with a plan to take down Varga. The British man with poor dental hygiene has taken over the Stussy company including poisoning Sy.

Nikki Swango seeks revenge against Varga and Emmit but it leads to her demise. Ruby Goldfarb turns out to be working with Varga to take over Emmit's business which is easy since Emmit signs it over in a state of distress. Varga manages to escape from an attack on his men but Meemo is killed by Mr. Wrench. The show flashes forward five years to Emmit leaving a new life with his family though Mr. Wrench will have his revenge and Gloria confronts Varga in an interrogation cell. This show still has a lot of fun in its episodes though this season felt a bit like a repeat of the last with a slower middle. I'll be curious if Noah Hawley will try for another season in the future or end on this high note to focus on his other shows. 

Movie Review: Fargo

The first time viewers were introduced to the strange crime and comedy of Fargo, North Dakota comes from the Coen brothers' brilliant drama. The "true" story begins in 1987 with Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hiring two criminals, Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife. Jerry is trying to get his father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell) who has a lot of money to pay for a car lot. When Wade agrees to help Jerry out, Jerry tries to stop the wheels from turning on this crime. The two criminals are shown to be very odd, debating over pancakes and having women in the bed right next to each other. This quirkiness is not only a funny aspect of many Coen brothers films but continues in the television show.

The criminals break in and kidnap Jerry's wife just as Jerry learns that Wade and his business partners will only give him a finder's fee for his new lot. Carl and Gaear are pulled over by an honest cop who refuses to take a bribe and hears the woman's crying so Gaear shoots him in the head. While Carl disposes of the cop's body, Gaear hunts down pedestrians who see the crime and try to escape. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) gets the call to investigate the murders. Since she's pregnant, she almost barfed at the crime scene. As Marge investigates the scene, Jerry works to cover up his crime and keep the police out of it.

With a lot of accented "yeahs", Marge interrogates those who encountered Carl and Gaear. Carl is having trouble staying in the cabin without any television while Gaear continues to chain smoke. Marge's investigation leads her to Jerry's place of work since Jerry gave the criminal a car.  Marge's investigation also brings her to Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis) who seeks out Carl and beats him with a belt. Marge goes on an awkward date with a former friend. Carl is anxious to get his money so he calls Jerry to set up a meeting but Wade takes charge and confronts Carl in the parking deck. Carl shoots and kills Wade but not before he gets shot in the face. 

Carl takes the ransom money and buries it out in a snow drift. Marge returns to interrogate Jerry but Jerry flees the scene. Carl and Gaear argue over the car and Gaear attacks Carl with an ax. Marge follows the leads leading her to the criminal's hideout where Gaear is shredding Carl's body in a woodchipper. Marge doesn't shoot Gaear right away because, I guess, he's a white man and only injures him when she does taking him alive, lamenting all the deaths over money. Jerry is arrested in a motel room. Marge returns home to her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch).

This movie is great, one I enjoy every time I watch it. It has a great mix of oddball comedy and crime fiction. The film has interesting themes of greed and selfishness that resonant even now years later, hence a popular show, also one of my favorites, based off of the themes and sharing the same name. Joel and Ethan Coen makes a lot of great films, yet Fargo is one of their best.   

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TV Show Review: House of Cards (Season 5)

With the insanity of the actual White House, it is hard to match the chaos. House of Cards tries to reflect current events and create a compelling story but ultimately, watching CNN is just too crazy these days for this show to really resonant. We've also been watching the Underwoods scheming and the brilliant acting for five seasons so the plot twists in this season don't come off as fresh or original. Like the show, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) fights to stay afloat as the president with the general election coming in the middle of this season. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) conspires with her husband as the Vice President. 

The Republican opponent Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) leverages his military career and photogenic family to challenge Frank's political dominance. The biggest plotline pulled from the headlines is a hack from the NSA to sway the votes. Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell) work with hacker Aidan Macallan (Damian Young) to initiate the election rigging. When Frank sees the election not going his way, he causes Ohio and Tennessee to have a stalled vote, giving the Underwoods a chance to alter votes. Meanwhile, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) at the Washington Herald investigates the long conspiracy that has unfolded over several seasons all the way back to Zoe Barnes's death.

Frank Underwood has to negotiate with a secret society of billionaires including Conway's campaign manager Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) who finally helps assist the leaks that damage Underwood's opponent. Claire continues her affair with Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) though she struggles to explain his continued presence in the White House. Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), the press secretary, must deal with the constant leaks of the White House as another reporter Sean Jeffries (Korey Jackson) works to figure out the truth despite being fired from the Herald. Jane Dais (Patricia Clarkson) tries to turn the Vice President against her husband and facilitate the impeachment of the President.

The show plods along as Francis evades controversy and throws everyone under the bus or pushes them down the stairs if they won't cooperate. Thomas Yates threatens to publish an inside story about the Underwoods but Claire won't let that happen. Frank pushes Doug to take the fall for Zoe's death and testifies in front of Congress offering to resign in the penultimate episode. The relationship between Claire and Frank has always been contentious and central to the story and with Claire's chance at the presidency in sight as she already had a taste of it earlier in the season brings the finale to an interesting conclusion. 

This show feels like it is working towards an ending though a show mainly about Claire Underwood would be something new. She did break the fourth wall to finally speak to audiences in a highlight of the season. I was unable to follow the complicated plots of this season mostly because they didn't interest me to pay full attention as I let some of the episodes play out. I wouldn't be surprise if the final season is announced with Netflix cancelling some of my favorite shows and moving towards newer programming. I started with House of Cards in the early days of the Netflix binge model and would like to see it go out before it outstays it's welcome.

Monday, June 19, 2017

TV Show Review: Better Call Saul (Season 3)

The highly entertaining Breaking Bad spinoff pushes closer to the original story with a familiar villain showing up and more backstory coming forward. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) works to start his own law practice with his partner Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) while his brother Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) has collected evidence against him. Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) hunts down whoever left him a note on his car preventing him from killing Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis). Ehrmantraut follows a trail that leads him to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), the chicken restaurant owner and drug smuggler. 

Chuck takes his evidence to Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and they conspire to disbar Jimmy with a lawsuit. Jimmy finds his business booming with popular advertisements that display his flamboyant nature. Chuck pushes Jimmy to a breaking point with his recording and Jimmy ends up in jail. Mike and Gus end up creating a new partnership when Mike starts to cut off Hector's supply line by getting his ice cream trucks stopped at the border. 

Mike and Jimmy come together once again in this story as Jimmy calls in a favor to help sabotage his brother while Mike needs Jimmy to check out the chicken restaurant. They pretty much stay separate this season but we see how all of this leads towards Breaking Bad. Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) sees Don Hector's growing frustration and notices the gangster's health problems forming a plot to sabotage the old man's pills. Chuck and Jimmy face off in court and Jimmy uses his tricky ways and a familiar face to beat his brother, though he loses his ability to practice law for a period of time. 

Forced to make money Jimmy creates Saul Goodman to sell his advertising spots and serve out his community service. Mike meets another familiar face in Lydia (Laura Fraser) as Gus hires Mike on to help him work in the business. Jimmy goes back to an old client with one final slippery scheme to make an old lady settle but finds there are greater consequences to his actions. Chuck struggles with his illness, the strange aversion to electricity that always highlights how much our life depends on power. Kim tries to grow her own practice with an additional client but works herself so hard that an overnighter leaves her so tired she wrecks her car. Nacho's plan comes to fruition and we learned how Hector got in that chair. Jimmy makes good as a personal sacrifice and shuts up shop and Chuck's fate is left as a mystery. Better Call Saul is a great show and while not as sensational as its predecessor, still maintains to deliver an entertaining night each week for a solid season, some of the best on the screen in an incredibly busy year.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

TV Show Review: American Gods

A mesmerizing adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel comes to Starz with an eight-episode first season to start the journey. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison early only to hear the bad news that his wife Laura (Emily Browning) is dead. Even worse, Laura was having an affair with Shadow's best friend Robbie (Dane Cook). Without a home to return to, Shadow meets Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) on a plane home. Strange things start happening as Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job. In a bar, Shadow agrees to work with Mr. Wednesday and has to prove himself in a fight with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), a hard-drinking, leprechaun with coin tricks up his sleeve. 

Hired on to work, Shadow first attends his wife's funeral where Robbie's wife, Laura's friend, offers to have sex with him. He refuses but leaves a coin from Mad Sweeney on Laura's grave, which brings her back to life. Shadow gets accosted by Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and nearly strangled. He realizes working for Mr. Wednesday will be more dangerous than he thought as the god recruits other deities. They venture to Chicago where Shadow nearly loses his life in a game of checkers with Czernobog (Peter Stormare). 

Like in the novel, other gods gets their stories told like Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), a love goddess who swallows men worshipping her with her vagina to stay alive, Anubis (Chris Obi) a god of death directing the deceased to the afterlife, and Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) brought over on a slave ship. Mr. Wednesady continues to recruit gods to his side though it doesn't always go as planned. The more popular new gods like Media (Gillian Anderson) and Mr. World (Crispin Glover) try to recruit Shadow to their side and get angry when they don't agree. 

Shadow and Mr. Wednesday continue to con their way around the country looking for recruits but Laura is right behind them with Mad Sweeney for company. Laura and Sweeney tag along in a taxi with Salim (Omid Abtahi) who is looking for a Jinn (Mousa Kraish). Mr. Wednesday sees the tide turning when a newly empowered volcano god Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) from guns turns against him so Mr. Wednesday has to kill him. The finale sees Mr. Wednesday recruiting the goddess Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) at her party with various forms of Jesus and facing off against the rival gods.

There is plenty of absurdity and spectacle in the first season of this show. The movie follows pretty closely to the novel, which I just started reading again remembering that I enjoyed it several years ago though the show expands on characters backgrounds and takes liberties to make things a little more interesting. Starz puts out some of my favorite content when they debut a new prestige show, it usually rises to the top of my list. The cast is so impressive and the budget does not enough to make for some gorgeous scenes on the screen. I'd recommend this show to fans of the bizarre. 

Movie Review: All Eyez on Me

Continuing the trend of hip-hop biopics, this film takes on the most mysterious and controversial figure, and possibly the most popular, of rap music. Tupac Shakur's legacy lives on with amazing music and heartfelt lyrics that still ring true decades later. Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) grew up with an activist mother Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira) and a wanted stepfather Mutulu (Jamie Hector). The FBI harasses his family in New York City and Afeni decides to take her children to Baltimore. In Maryland, Tupac shows an affinity for dramatic performances and meets Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham). As his mother's addiction grows worse, Tupac leaves for the west coast where he sees someone die immediately.

Ambitious, Tupac, through the connection of Leila Steinberg (Lauren Cohan), seeks out Shock G (Chris Clarke) who brings him along on a tour. When Tupac returns, his mother who followed them out there has grown even more addicted to crack despite her insistence that she has everything under control. Tupac insists to Shock G that he needs to start making his own moves and comes up with hits like Brenda's Got a Baby. This hit record combined with his debut acting role in Juice gives him the opportunity to sign with Interscope records, though they don't understand his music. 

This film intersperses life events with a prison interview conducted by a reporter (Hill Harper). Tupac reflects back on his growing career and the altercations he continues to experience with police. As he grows more popular, he meets Biggie (Jamal Woolard) and they form a bond of mutual respect. Tupac finds that his popularity draws more controversy as he is forced into a leadership role being called out by influential people including the vice president. Tupac's disagreements with his record company grow worse as he believes they are withholding money from him. 

Tupac responds to each controversy trying to stay ahead. Accused of misogyny, Tupac has to deal with a sexual assault charge that puts him in prison. Before his sentence, he angers some New York gangsters who shoot him five times in the lobby of a studio where Bad Boy Records, and Biggie, are recording. Tupac's anger grows while locked up and Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) is there to help him out on bail. He produces tons of hits with Death Row Records. He also furthers his beef with Biggie by claiming to have had sex with Faith. The beef grows even more as Tupac turns on other rappers like Snoop Dogg for claiming they are friend with Biggie. Tupac tries to move away from Death Row Records as he furthers a relationship with Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh). 

The final Las Vegas moments of Tupac's life are shown with real footage of the events leading up to his death. This film moves fast just like the man who accomplished so much before 25. Shipp is a great look-a-like with matching charisma. Gurira's performance as the troubled mother is one of the finer performances of the film. While there is plenty more story to be told, I enjoyed this film for the informative nature, though I'm not sure of the accuracy, and entertaining way it captured one of the most iconic men in the hip-hop industry. All Eyez on Me tells a portion of a story that is both moving and exciting. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

The complex and storied history of NWA is depicted in this film from director F. Gary Gray. Easy-E (Jason Mitchell) is a drug dealer staying one step ahead of the law. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is a beat making DJ trying to find a job to stay at his mom's house. Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) writes the rhymes and experience police and gang violence throughout his daily life. With the help of DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), the rap group heads out to the club to perform despite the club owner's objections to this type of music. Easy-E and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) see their performance and potential. Dre gets arrested protecting his brother in a fight outside the club.

Easy-E bails him out and Dre proposes that Easy-E invests in the record business to help Dre produce under the label Ruthless. When a rap group walks out, Dre convinces Easy-E to step into the booth to drop a verse. It takes a few tries but they have a hit record that blows up on the radio. Manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) realizes he has an exceptional phenomenon on his hands. NWA puts on a show at a skating bringing in a loud, enthusiastic crowd. Jerry faces skepticism about the music but pursues a path for these young men. The group also run into Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). 

With funding from the label, the group puts in the time to create an album. Dre still has trouble with his baby momma demanding money from him. The group gets harassed by the police outside the studio. They head back into the studio and finish the album with a healthy dose of disrespect for the disgusting treatment they've received from authority. They head out on tour drawing massive crowds but derision from the news media. Their pension for large guns does lead to some altercations and their provocative lyrics cause confrontations with the cops. They turn this controversy into publicity.

Contract disputes arise, especially for Ice Cube who feels he was not compensated for his lyric writing. Dre is devastated when he finds out his brother has died. The debate over money splits them apart when they return to Los Angeles. Suge Knight hovers around representing talent having talks with Dre and Easy-E worries about keeping Dr. Dre on the label. Ice Cube goes on a tear on his own album and destroys his label manager's office when he doesn't get paid. When DOC gets in an accident, Suge offers to take a look at Dre's paperwork as a precaution. The beef blows up between NWA and Ice Cube.

The group splits more when Dre leaves NWA to start a company with Suge Knight. Dre brings in new artists like Snoop Dogg (Lakeith Stanfield) to build up the new label. Easy-E starts to have money trouble and is threatened and beaten up by Suge Knight to release Dre from his contracts. The violence of the Rodney King riots plays out in the background of the rap beefs. Death Row Records achieves heights of success but disagreements between Dre and Suge grow. The animosity settles down after a time but Easy-E becomes sick with AIDS and they are unable to reunite for a tour. Dr. Dre leaves Death Row to start his own label, Aftermath. The movie glosses over some of the greater controversies to display the rappers in a more positive light, but as a film, it's an entertaining spectacle. This movie shows the potential of the hip-hop biopic as a great story filled with quality performance and direction. 

Movie Review: Notorious

Notorious tells the story of Biggie Small aka Notorious B.I.G. whose real name is Christopher Wallace. The movie begins with a drive-by shooting that murder the rapper and flashes back to his childhood. He listened to music on the radio and admired the rap groups in the magazines. Though he grew up without a father, his mother Voletta (Angela Bassett) makes sure he succeeds in school. Christopher (Jamal Woolard) grows up amongst the crack dealing streets, learning how the streets run. He is shown briefly in childhood practicing his rhymes and then as a teenager counting his money and changing his clothes after his mother thinks he leaves for school. 

He taunts his teacher and flirts with his girlfriend, finding out she's pregnant. On the corner, they sell crack and spit rhymes, beating a rival in a rap battle. When his mom kicks him out, he gets deeper into the crime, running other dealers and even selling to a pregnant woman. He finds himself in jail, asking his mom for trouble. Bored in prison, he writes out his story in rhymes until his release. Out of prison and needing to earn for his daughter, Biggie Small records his raps and brings them to Sean 'Puffy' Combs (Derek Luke). Puffy sees potential but gets fired before he can give Biggie a chance.

Biggie flirts with Kim Jones (Naturi Naughton) as she passes and they strike up a relationship. When he gets arrested for possession of a firearm, Damion (Dennis L.A. White) takes the charge so that Biggie can pursue his dream. At Howard University, he performs, impressing the crowd, while also running into Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). His relationship grows with Lil' Kim seeing potential in her. He becomes upset when he finds out his mom is sick. With a check from Puffy, he helps his mom recover. His plan for a hit single is powered by a new beat that at first is ridiculed onto Biggie spits an iconic verse.

With newfound fame, Biggie enjoys the high life and meets Faith (Antonique Smith), marrying shortly after. This relationship sparks controversy with Lil' Kim who is upset to be only treated as an artist and his first child's mother. The rise continued and things were going well until Tupac was ambushed in the elevator lobby of the studio. The East Coast-West Coast rivalry sparks off a new round of controversy. The rap beef with Tupac causes strife between Faith and Biggie. Adding fuel to the fire, Biggie comes out with a song that sounds like it claims responsibility for setting up Tupac.

Shakur's death lessens the heat on the beef but Biggie is then in a car accident. He starts to take stock of his life and his accomplishments, especially after his friend DRock's release from prison. Biggie decides to go back to Los Angeles despite receiving threats. He is shot and killed riding in a car by a drive-by shooter. I missed this movie when it first came out but found it to be entertaining and interesting. I am not aware of the accuracy of the film but remember it receiving a tepid response from audiences at the time. Woolard's performance is charming as the rapper and the story doesn't feel rushed or overly sensationalized. 

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead's moving, Pulitzer Prize winning, novel is filled with magic and darkness, real, true American evil that can be ignored. The story of Cora and her escape travels through the harsh American South before the Civil War through a fictional railroad actually built underground and operated by abolitionists. Her treatment in captivity in Georgia under the control of the ruthless Randall brothers turns worse as the more evil Randall takes over when his brother dies. When a young man Caesar approaches Cora with a plan to escape, she brushes him off, especially because she suspects he only wants her to tag along because he believes she'll be a good luck charm because of her mother. Ever since a child, she had to fight for even a small plot of land but she learns this sense of ownership was only an illusion.

During a celebration, Cora intervenes in the punishment of a young boy and this influences her decision to leave. She packs up and flees with Caesar only to find Lovey, Cora's friend has followed them. They allow Lovey to tag along but a group of slave catchers assaults them. They kidnap Lovey and Cora has to kill a young white man to escape. Caesar and Cora find the station and leave to South Carolina. Whitehead intersperses each journey of the trip with tales of others caught up in the cruel act of slavery that illuminate the world in which Cora must live. 

In South Carolina, Cora finds an easier life working as a maid named Bessie and then as a prop for a slave exhibit in a museum. Caesar and Cora think about staying until Cora learns about an experiment to sterilize black women and infect them with syphilis. The doctor's life and his evil experiments are given a chapter. Cora learns that the slave hunter Ridgeway is after them and she hides in the station. Caesar does not arrive and the house above the station is burnt down. Cora catches the last train out and makes it to North Carolina.

An abolitionist's son and reluctant wife take Cora in and she is forced to live in a cramped attic space with only a hole to look out of onto a park. Scenes of unimaginable cruelty play out through the hole as a weekly lynching ceremony is performed and dogs are treated better than black humans. Ridgeway arrives and exposes Cora's hiding spot. She is taken away as her hosts are hanged. The slave catcher and his group travel through the burnt out towns of Tennessee until a group of rebel slaves accost Ridgeway and takes Cora away. She spends her time in Indiana on a farm with groups of freed slaves who plan to start new lives until the nearby whites attack.

Cora is captured once again by Ridgeway but manages to kill him down in the tunnel of the railroad. She travels in the darkness until she comes out in the North and finds freedom. It is revealed near the end that Mabel tried to come back for her but was bitten by a snake. The story is truly tragic and shows the depravity of white Americans over a century ago. Colson Whitehead is a powerful author who has written a story well-deserving of all the accolades.

TV Show Review: Dear White People

Expanding on Justin Simien's controversial and hilarious film, Netflix gives this difficult debate more episodes to expand on characters and shows various sides of several issues with race. Samantha White (Logan Browning) begins a radio show that airs her grievances at predominantly white Winchester college. When a humor magazine attempts to throw a blackface party, Samantha pushes out the invitations to show the hidden racism bubbling underneath. Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton) works as a writer for an independent student newspaper and when he witnesses the attire of these white students, calls on his fellow black students to shut it down. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) is the golden boy and son of the Dean who brings the police to the party before anything gets out of hand.

Samantha wants to lead the movement but feels conflicted about her position as she has a white boyfriend Gabe Mitchell (John Patrick Amedori). She also has the affection of another man in the movement Reggie Green (Marque Richardson) who she also begins to fall for. Lionel tries to bring publicity to the controversy as the white students try to sweep it under the rug as not a big deal. Troy campaigns for president and sets up an ideal relationship with Colandrea "CoCo" Conners (Antoinette Robertson) while having an affair with a lesbian professor.

The show does a good job giving an episode or two to each character, sometimes even showing the same scene from different perspectives. The controversy comes to a head when Reggie fights with another student about derogatory language and its use in music when the police show up and point a gun at Reggie. Samantha comforts him and it goes too far, splitting her relationship with Gave, who called the cops. Troy proposes a town hall to address the issues but Sam believes a more drastic protest will get her and her friends' voices heard. 

Through Coco, it is revealed the wealthy donor will pull donations if there appears to be any social justice or affirmative action. Troy tries to live up to his father's expectations but feels the burden weighing on him, smoking weed and using friend's pee to pass a drug test. Sam decides that she loves Gabe but Gabe can't deal with the difficulty. The protest is drowned out by other protests over silly issues like binge-drinking. Lionel exposes the poor behavior of the donors and expresses his romantic interest towards his editor. The show looks to continue to explore this issue through the setting of a college campus.

Dear White People was a clever idea and doesn't hurt too much from the expansion from movie to television as there are plenty of interesting characters and college drama to fuel the 30-minute episodes.  The issues of race and discrimination need more shows and films beyond this setting and action beyond just entertainment, but this sadly remains a unique thing with a predominantly black cast, introducing new faces and voices in the industry. The reviews around this show seem primarily immature and ignorant not taking account the nuances, though there are some valid flaws with the execution and acting. I enjoyed the show, finding the characters enjoyable and the plot interesting. 

Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler's dystopian novel tells a tale that feels far too familiar and also horrifying. The world has turned into a violent hell as environmental disasters and poverty ravage the population. Lauren Olamina has a unique ability, or curse, to feel ultra-empathetic towards individuals even to the point she bleeds if they are hurt or feels their pleasure as long as their alive. This ability works with line of sight and diminishes slightly as she grows older. Her father is a preacher but Lauren begins to develop her own religious beliefs, which she calls Earthseed. The central belief as I understand is that God is change, not an entity.

Lauren lives with her family within a walled community slowly becoming affected by the surrounded poverty. Robbers climb over the fence and steal from community members at night leaving some of them dead. To make matters worse, a new drug called Pyro makes addicts burn things down just to watch the flames. As the threat grows, the parents teach the children how to shoot in the mountains though they keep finding bodies lying dead along the path and dangerous stray dogs. Lauren makes a plan to leave just in case anything should happen; she prepares a pack and begins to look at a map. Her brother Keith ventures out after her father beats him as punishment and falls in with a dangerous gang.

Lauren is never sure what her brother is really up to but from what she tells him, she knows he's dealing drugs and robbing people to bring back money to the family. When Keith is finally murdered, it destroys the family and Lauren hears horror stories about his fate. The residents of the city continue to die in fires and robberies, suffering awful fates and even Lauren's father disappears without a word. Still living grief-stricken with her stepmother and two brothers, Lauren continues to build her beliefs until her entire neighborhood is attacked by addicts and her house is burned down. She escapes with a few neighbors and they agree to set out North towards the Canadian border and news of better places.

There were stories of space travel before the loss of her home and an astronaut dying on Mars. Also, Lauren had heard of companies that were taking in workers that were slaves. The horrible stories continue as she encounters dangers on the road North with other refugees. She keeps a gun and food and her group steadily grows. After a long struggle of travel, Lauren falls for an older man on the road, a doctor who has a hidden plot of land. She meets other empaths and they try to survive the constant warring of others. They find destruction on the land but Lauren has already converted many of the other travelers to her Earthseed beliefs.

Octavia Butler writes a bleak story but has an extraordinary ability to find hope in the most terrible of situations. Lauren is an amazing character who remains steadfast despite so much adversity. This novel deserves an adaptation to bring to more people immediately. The second in the series is incredibly prescient to our current moment in society and I look forward to reading it. I've read a few short stories from Butler and this novel simply confirms her great ability as a science fiction writer. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

TV Show Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The first season this dystopic tale from Margaret Atwood expands the story from the novel and fleshes out a greater world for the tortured residents of Gilead. Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is held in captivity as a handmaid, forced to have intercourse with a religious leader known as the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). With more time, the show is able to show the conversion therapy and the life of a handmaid. Like the novel, Offred reflects back on the past and flashbacks show the steady reduction of rights. Offred tried to escape with her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and daughter but they were caught at the border. Offred recalls the torturous teaching under Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). 

Offred is allowed to go out shopping with another handmaid Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) and the visit the wall where dissidents are hung. Ofglen reveals that she is part of a resistance but they must be careful of the Eyes, a group of secret spies who grab citizens of the street. Working for the Commander as a handyman and driver, Nick (Max Minghella) begins a sexual relationship with Offred at the behest of Serena Joy as it is implied that the Commander is sterile. Even a doctor offers to have sex with her though Offred refuses. Offred's friend from college Moira (Samira Wiley) was in the indoctrination with her but manages to escape.

The Commander takes a liking to Offred and invites her to his office where they play scrabble. He gives her beauty magazines as a reward and eventually takes her to a secret hotel where sinful behavior is allowed. Moira is there working as a Jezebel though she is still trying to escape. Helping with the housekeeping are the Marthas, cooks and maids like Rita (Amanda Brugel). Another handmaid Ofwarren (Madeline Brewer) fights against the indoctrination but loses an eye in the process. She becomes pregnant but once she gives birth the baby is taken away. She threatens to kill it by jumping off a bridge but Offred convinces her to give it back, so she jumps off alone.

Ofglen also experiences a brutal fate as she is punished for her actions as her lover is hanged and her genitalia mutilated. She returns to life as a handmaid given to another man but she revolts stealing a car and is killed. One of the more interesting episodes is Luke's escape across the border into Canada as he joins various groups that are hunted down. There are also further flashbacks that further the story of the Commander's rise and his assistance with Serena Joy to change society. We see the gradual of loss of rights for Offred as she loses her job and is not allowed to have money in the bank. They also show Gilead's interaction with Mexico in a trade meeting as sterility makes children something to show off.

Serena Joy grows angry when she discovers the Commander has been sneaking around with Offred, but she is spared because it is revealed that she is pregnant. When the handmaids are asked to stone Ofdaniel, formerly Ofwarren, for her endangering a child, they refuse. Moira reunites with Luke in Canada still traumatized from her experience. The show ends in a similar way to the novel with the Eyes coming for Offred and Nick reassuring her that this is part of his plan. The show has its flaws, can be slow at times and does not address race, but there a certain parts that resonant and the horror of the world is definitely present. I will be interested in seeing where the story goes from here beyond the narrative of Offred and Margaret Atwood's novel. 

Movie Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's nightmarish Gilead was first brought to the screen in 1990. Kate (Natasha Richardson) is introduced on the run trying to escape across the border of Gilead but she is caught. Her husband is shot and her child is lost in the wilderness. She is shipped off to a camp where they are sorting through the people by race. Trucks of people are shipped away as women proven to be without illness and viable for pregnancy are sent to conditioning. Many women suffer breakdowns during the harsh treatment as the vicious tutors like Aunt Lydia (Victoria Tennant) degrade them in order to convert them to their new lifestyle. 

Once Kate shows good behavior, she is presented to the family as a potential surrogate. She will assist Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway) and the Commander (Robert Duvall) by allowing her body be used to have a baby. This forced surrogacy occurs in an odd ceremony where the wife hold the handmaid down while the husband has sex with her. The Commander takes a liking to Kate, now Offred, and plays games with her in his private office, also rewarding her with old beauty magazines. Dressed in a red uniform and a veil, Offred is allowed to go shopping amidst security guards who scan her security bracelet and a fellow handmaid Ofglen (Blanche Baker).

Some women revolt like Moira (Elizabeth McGovern) who ties up Aunt Lydia and escapes with Kate's help. Kate also begins to have sexual feelings for the assistant Nick (Aidan Quinn) and Serena Joy facilitates a late night rendezvous between Offred and Nick in order to get her pregnant. Offred learns that they don't test the men for sterility when a doctor propositions her on the operating table. Running the household are maids known as Marthas like Cora (Lucia Hartpeng) who also have a vested interest in Offred's ability to procreate with the commander.

Serena Joy informs Kate that her daughter is still alive, which upsets Kate since she is not allowed to see her. The awful of a handmaid when they do have a child is shown through Ofwarren (Traci Lind) though they leave out the gruesome removal of an eye from the book. The baby is taken from the mother and given to the women who are part of the upper class, the wives. At the birthing celebration, Ofglen whispers about a resistance as Serena Joy insists she becomes pregnant soon. In a public event, handmaids who sin are hung. To control the handmaids, they allow them to dole out punishment like when a rapist is placed in the middle of the crowd and ripped apart as Offred watches in horror. Resistance fighters blow up cars, and Ofglen gives Offred a task to kill the Commander.

The Commander allows Serena to dress up and take her out to a place where irreligious behavior is allowed, the hypocrisy evident. Nick has to drive them and his jealousy is also plain to see. Moira now lives there working as a Jezebel. When Offred returns to her room, she finds a knife and a note to kill the Commander at night. In his office, Offred cuts his throat and is caught by the men. Nick reveals that he is part of the resistance and wants to protect Offred and her baby. She lives out her life in the mountains waiting to have her child. The film is an interesting look at a horrific future that unfortunately could still be a possibility considering our strange political environment. The acting and shots have a toned down late 80s feel and a clever cast that helps to deliver the terrifying message effectively.

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The bleak depiction of a religious future comes from master storyteller Margaret Atwood. Offred is a sex slave held captive by a religious cult leader and her wife who are part of a higher, religious class of society that controls the government. Offred used to live a normal life and never suspected that this would happen. She had a husband and a kid that were taken from her when she tried to cross the border into Canada. The Republic of Gilead rose up in America over time and used relentless tactics to wear down Offred and other women's resistance to their new situation. 

Readers see Gilead through Offred's eyes as she goes on walks to the market with Ofglen. Their names come from their masters that own them. They are used only for their fertility as global warming and other diseases prevent women from having children. The man who has intercourse with Offred is known as the Commander. He is old but allows Offred to visit him some nights to play scramble and received gifts, like an outlawed beauty magazine, which Offred treasures as a reminder of the past. The Commander's wife Serena Joy was a religious leader who is upset by the need to have a handmaiden. It is most likely the Commander's fault that they cannot have children but society only blames women for infertility.

There is a sparse amount of food at the supermarket and as they leave they travel by a wall where dissidents are hanged as examples. Other men are put in front of the women and accused of rape as the handmaids are allowed to tear him apart. Various forms of punishment are doled out harshly to any who disobey. Still, Ofglen whispers to Offred about a secret uprising. Spies known as Eyes listen for any sign of resistance and are often seen on the street taking down individuals suspected of having irreligious tendencies. 

At the behest of Serena Joy, Offred strikes up a sexual relationship with Nick, a handyman around the Commander's house. They were first allowed to have sex to get Offred pregnant but she returns for comfort and pleasure without Serena's knowledge. Offred feels guilty about continuing to enjoy Nick's company when she thinks of her husband and the religious fervor of the society, knowing they could be caught at any moment. 

I have greatly enjoyed Margaret Atwood's fiction from the Blind Assassin to the MadAddam trilogy, one of my favorite series of books ever starting with the brilliant Oryx and Crake. The Handmaid's Tale lacks a little in plot but this doesn't seem to be the case for the new show on Hulu. The show expands on the story that starts in the book using that as a template for the initial episodes but looks to build off of the world telling other stories. I appreciate what was accomplished in the fiction and it is chilling how close some of this stuff seems to what could happen. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

TV Show Review: Bloodline (Season 3)

Reckoning comes to the Rayburn family in the third and final season of this Netflix original thriller series. John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) wants to flee the troubles of his family but trouble brings him right back. Kevin Rayburn (Norbert Leo Butz) has killed John's partner Detective Marco Diaz, the former fiance of Meg Rayburn (Linda Cardellini) and does a poor job covering it up. Kevin tries to reach out to John but has to turn to Roy Gilbert (Beau Bridges), which ends up getting him shot. The plan brews to blame everything on Eric O'Bannon (Jamie Mcshane) and John has to help Kevin pull it off.

The plan only works because John is willing to work at it but there is still a trial to convict Eric. Ozzy Delvecchio (John Leguizamo) continues to poke around the Rayburn family hoping to find justice for Danny, or really money, even after Gilbert's thugs give him a beating. He approaches the Rayburn matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek), but this family doesn't let anything slip. Kevin finds himself getting in deep with Gilbert who owns half his boatyard, helping Cubans smuggling drugs by boat. This lead to more trouble as Kevin's stress and guilt build so much that he starts losing teeth, helped by his history of frequent cocaine use.

Putting the Rayburn family on trial threatens to bring up old wounds as the O'Bannon's lawyer searches for a way to prove they are untrustworthy. Eric's sister Chelsea (Chloë Sevigny) has a story to tell that would possibly throw guilt towards Meg but Sally's powerful testimony shreds any hope of Eric's plea. Meg disappears during the trail moving far away even though John is able to track her down to say goodbye. Kevin floats further into illegal circles and this ends up with him under investigation.

Ozzy finally gets so fed up with trying to solve the Rayburn mystery that he kills himself. John's guilt grows as he has still not recovered from murdering his brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) who he still sees in hallucinations. He goes out diving and nearly drowns having a strange dream for the entire penultimate episode and some of the finale. By the last episode, the Rayburn family has been torn apart. Meg is in hiding, Kevin tries to escape to Cuba but is caught, Sally hates her remaining children and plans to sell the inn, while John struggles to confess his crimes but must live with the guilt or tell Danny's son.

Bloodline is the kind of show that wants to be like the great shows of other networks and steals plenty of plot points and twists from them, though always comes up short. Most episodes drag, making it not great for Netflix as the entire series dump takes longer to watch. I can hardly keep up with Netflix original series as it is and was ready to give up on this show but since it was the last season, I figured I would find out what would happen. It has its moments, a cool setting and some great acting.