Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book Review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin follows up her brilliant Hugo award-winning fantasy novel with another amazing Hugo award winning fantasy novel to add to the Broken Earth Trilogy. Essun steadily progresses with her magical powers as she recuperates in the underground comm Castrima. The ability to seismically alter the ground around her proves useful though she is not always in control of it. Her mentor Alabaster slowly deteriorates into stone and is eaten by a stone eater. The other viewpoint that Jemisin switches to is Essun's daughter Nassun, a girl who has just watched her father, Jija, kill her little brother when he realized the power inside of his child. He accuses Nassun of being a freak and she struggles to keep her ability under control as her abusive father continues to threaten her. They set out on the road as Jija looks for a cure. 

The Broken Earth series began as a road book with travel across the land known as the Stillness being central to the plot alongside the switching perspectives. The original book gave use the development of Essun from a child taken from her family to train to a young student under the tutelage of Alabaster to Essun's travels as a mourning and angry mother. I have always enjoyed Jemisin's description of how she came up with the idea from a dream she had of a woman walking with a mountain floating behind her. The companions that Essun picked up on the road have joined her in the underground comm. Hoa is wary of the other stone eaters but is protective of Essun so does not leave her side. Tonkee discovers the controls of the crystal geode much to the dismay of Castrima's leaders.

Jija and Nassun encounter dangers but they are not on the road for too long finally making it up to an area less affected by the destructive season. Jija is injured when they try to enter a comm where he believes Nassun will lose her orogene ability. In an interlude, Schaffa, who I didn't immediately recall from the first book, revives after being nearly destroyed in the first book He was a guardian of orogenes including Damaya, young Essun. He helps Jija and Nassun fight off marauders and takes them in. He is especially focused on Nassun and dismissive of Jija. Back in Castrima they have discovered a strange bug full of hot liquid that enjoys sucking on humans, especially scavengers. The threat of starvation is imminent though the leaders are not willing to share the information.

There is always a threat in this series, Jemisin never lets up on the danger and this makes the book an intense read. Schaffa takes Nassun under his wing and shows her what she can do with her power but it turns out to be deadly. Still, Nassun finds strength in her ability and Schaffa plans to exploit her. Jija tries to take her back, concerned that she is accelerating, not decelerating her ability, but Schaffa shuts her down and his anger is no longer something Nassun will put up with. Essun worries about the comm, especially when enemy comms crop up and then a massive displaced group pushes their army toward Castrima. Essun is forced to take charge as she learns more about the obelisks and their power. The ending is amazing and I had to sit up while reading it.

I am so excited to get The Stone Sky, which came out recently and finishes the series. There are so many surprises and the writing is so extraordinary, I find myself contemplating a sentence and having to go back and reread a page while I was thinking. Jemisin world is so complete and thoroughly built while the plot is still entertaining and shocking at times. I have no idea how this series will end but I'm not anticipating anything will be easy or totally happy. I do wish some peace for Essun as she is a wonderful character. I plan to check out more of Jemisin's writing since I've enjoyed several of her short stories and would like to read more of her novels. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Movie Review: Good Time

I had heard good things about this indie thriller and found the film suspenseful and enjoyable showing a life that doesn't always receive the spotlight. Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) tries to take care of his troubled brother Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie) who has a learning disability. He takes him out of a learning program and on a heist at a bank. He wears the mask of a black man and demands the cash through handwritten notes. The thieves get away and are picked up by a friend but when they are driving away the bag explodes with red paint. Connie and Nick try to hide by washing off as much of the paint as they can and pulling up their hoods. The cops still question them and Nick takes off running. Connie follows and pulls ahead leaving his brother behind as Nick crashes through a window and is caught by the cops.

Nick is shipped to Rikers Island and his behavior problems lead him to be hospitalized. Connie works to free his brother by negotiating with the bail bondsman but the money is stained with red paint. He asks his girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to use her mother's credit card to pay the bond but Corey's mother doesn't like her boyfriend so she cancels the card before Corey can spend the ten thousand dollars. During the process to bail out his brother, Connie learns that his brother is in the hospital. Connie heads to the hospital to find his brother. He uses his craftiness to find his brother's room and break him out. He sneaks out covering his brother with his jacket and sneaking him onto a medical transport bus.

Connie has to think fast when the bus driver orders him to get off the bus so he pretends to be locked out of his house and begs to enter the house of one of the other passengers. He meets a young girl Crystal (Taliah Webster) who is underage but he makes out with her to keep her from seeing his face on the evening news. He discovers that the person he broke out of the hospital is not his brother but another ex-convict. The man, Ray (Buddy Duress), had a wild acid trip and ended up in the hospital. He knows where a bag of money and a bottle of acid is stashed in an amusement park. They take Crystal and her car to the park because the hospital is surrounded by cops.

At the amusement park, they search for the money but Ray finds the acid. A security guard (Barkhad Abdi) interferes with their search capturing Ray. Connie beats him up and takes his clothes while Ray covers his face in acid so that the poor security guard is tripping when the police arrive. Connie claims the guard is the intruder, and Crystal is also taken off by the police. Connie and Ray steal the guard's keys and car and head to his house. The guard has a wild pit bull dog that barks erratically until it smells the guard's coat on Connie. They shack up in the house until morning as Ray steadily drinks. He calls his friend as Connie demands that they sell the bottle of acid to get bail money for his brother. The friend plans to go get guns but Connie heads out on the run while making the dog attack Ray. The cops are waiting for him and Connie gets arrest as Ray falls from the high rise. 

The movie is intense never letting up and never giving Connie a chance to relax though he constantly pushes forward to free his brother. The movie has a ton of clever scenes where Connie takes bold steps to get into a place or steal something. Robert Pattinson is great in the role of Connie showing his talent after moving on from blockbuster films to meatier indie roles. The Safdie brothers direct it in a way that captures the thrill and terror of being on the run and dodging arrest on multiple occasions. I wasn't sure what to expect from Good Time but was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sports: MLB (August 2017)

Baseball should be getting more exciting in the next two months as the season moves to the playoffs. Football will be starting soon so I thought I'd take a moment to take stock of the standings before we get into the final month of play. When I look at the standing during the All-Star break there were two teams, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, that were leading the American and National League and it is still the case that they are at the top. I would like to predict that they will make it to the World Series this year and face each other but there are other teams that have more experience in the playoffs that could beat them despite not having as great a record and home field advantage.

National League
NL East
The Washington Nationals have dominated this division since early on in the season and have kept that lead to what looks like a playoff birth. The Miami Marlins have a chance to push to the Wild Card with Giancarlo Stanton's homer runs. I'm disappointed that the Atlanta Braves didn't perform very well despite getting a new stadium and new management. The Nationals have made it to several playoffs in recent years performing well in the season but not making it past other teams in the playoffs. Their challenges will come from other divisions like the reigning champions or the team with the best record. 

NL Central
The Chicago Cubs are returning to the playoffs after their stellar performance in last year's World Series. This amazing win has given them new life though they have struggled at times during this season losing series. Still, they lead this division but will face competition in the final month from the Milwaukee Brewers. Whoever takes this battle will make it into the playoffs while the losing team will have to stay home. The two teams will meet for two more series for a total of seven games and the Brewers are only two and a half games back.

NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers have had a historic season with the best record in the division, the National League, and all of Major League Baseball, putting up the most wins for any team in quite some time. It's too bad for the other two hot teams in the West. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies lead the Wild Card race by five and three games respectively. I don't see either team dropping out of the standings but anything could happen when the games start to count a little more. 

American League
AL East
The Boston Red Sox have outplayed their rivals the New York Yankees for now but their lead is three and a half games. I would be interested in seeing these two teams take their battle down to the wire. They'll play each other in the first weekend of September and even if one team doesn't win, they might make it to the Wild Card and face each other in the playoffs.

AL Central
The Cleveland Indians look to take another shot at the title as they lead this division by seven games. The Indians take their experience into the playoffs and solid pitching that got them there last time. The team closest to them and holding the lowest Wild Card spot are the Minnesota Twins who I'd like to see have some success.

AL West

The Houston Astros are having the best season in the American League and they are playing in the Rays' stadium while their city is flooded. I could see this being a truly extraordinary run as a city struck by tragedy cheers on their home team that hasn't had the best seasons in recent years. The Astros have a great record but will need to prove something in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Angels are on the cusp of pushing their way into the Wild Card spot.

A month left of baseball as we head into a great time for sports during October with the baseball playoffs and the first games of the football season. The teams that look great this year are not the normal teams so I'm excited to see some new faces and learn more as I watch the games that hold a bit more weight. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

TV Show Review: Game of Thrones (Season 7)

The penultimate season of my favorite show on television offered plenty of tense action scenes with breathtaking action spectacle while also setting up the final season. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) recovers from his encounter with the Bolton bastard and gathers his force in Winterfell with the help of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) garners her forces in King's Landing with her lover and brother Jaimie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) lands in Dragonstone with her Hand Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and others advisors. She prepares for war with Tyrion counsel but is undercut by the villainous Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) and his Iron Fleet. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) gets revenge on the murderers of her family and heads home to Winterfell. The seven episodes had characters traveling fast and things moving a little quicker but better special effects that were outstanding, especially the dragons and undead white walker.

The ultimate threat is the white walker led by the ruthless Night King. Jon knows that he will have to rally the forces and convince the two queens to make a truce to fight the greater threat. Tyrion cautions Daenerys against attacked King's Landing in an all-out assault because later she would have to rule but in the process, he loses two territories that allied with the dragon queen, Highgarden and Dorne. Euron confronts his nephew Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and captures his niece Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) while also killing the Sandsnakes. Jon Snow heads South to request help from Daenerys. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) has gone to train at Oldtown but this means cleaning bed pans and treating Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) for his greyscale illness. 

Sansa has to deal with the conspiring Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) who tries to turn Arya against her. Daenerys wants to help Jon but she also demands that he must bend his knee to her and accept her as his queen. He is reluctant to accept a new ruler and does not comply. Still, he learns from Samwell's research that there is dragon glass buried on Dragonstone and mining it will give them weapons to fight the undead. Tyrion thinks he can outsmart his siblings by taking Casterley Rock but the Unsullied army takes the place easily only to find their ships burned down. Jamie takes Highgarden and kills Lady Olenna. The fourth episode finally shows what the dragon can do when Daenerys takes her main dragon and the Dothraki riders to fight the Lannister army. 

Jamie stays with the army and the sworn sword Ser Broon of the Blackwater (Jerome Flynn) who tries to take down the dragon with a giant spear. The dragon burns the Lannister army and nearly kills Jamie but Bronn saves him at the last minute. Daenerys demands loyalty but finds that some are still resistant to her demands. Jon decides that he must find a way to prove that the dead are rising. He heads beyond the wall with the Hound (Rory McCann), Jorah, and other warriors. They fight the undead and manage to capture one but then find themselves surrounded. Things look dire until Daenerys swoops down on her dragon and burns the undead. However, the Night King takes down one of the dragons making it into a zombie ice dragon. Jon manages to survive and return back to the wall with the others. He pledges his loyalty to Daenerys and they start to fall in love. 

They bring the zombie down to King's Landing to show Cersei and Jamie what they are dealing with. She refuses when Jon continues to profess his loyalty to Daenerys but Tyrion somehow convinces her that she should help though she only goes along as a ploy. Euron flees in terror and Theon pursues him to save his sister. Sansa and Ary team up to execute Littlefinger. Jon and Daenerys make love not knowing that they are related though incest is normal for this royal family. Cersei still has plans to double-cross everyone and Jamie leaves her just as winter falls. The Night King rides his undead dragon to the wall and knocks down a piece of it to let the dead walk through. Game of Thrones has always been a really fun show though I lament all the storylines that were not yet played out in the novels that were simply glossed over in the show. The show has stalled out a little wihout the guidance of George R.R. Martin but it still looks great and has plenty of intense scenes that leave me wanting more. 

Movie Review: Wind River

Taylor Sheridan is one of my favorite film writers and now in the director's chair, he has made a film of equal caliber. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a Fish & Wildlife hunter who has experienced tragedy in his past. He works on the Wind River Reservation where he discovers the body of a young woman. The jurisdiction of the reservation territory means that Sheriff Ben (Graham Greene) must call in the FBI. The agent that arrives, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson), is inexperienced to the cold and investigating the death of a missing person. She has to borrow clothes from Lambert's in-laws to go out into the cold. These same clothes belonged to Cory's daughter who went missing and was later found dead under mysterious circumstances. The victim Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) had run six miles in the blistering cold before her lungs finally gave out. 

Jane and Cory cooperate to figure out who did heading first to a trailer where the victim's brother and other drug addicts are shacked up. Sheriff Ben and Jane knock on the door but end up getting maced in the eyes by one addict. Jane has to kill him when he draws a weapon. Cory interviews Natalie's brother to find out what happened and who she was dating. He reveals that she was dating an oil worker named Matt (Jon Bernthal) who is also discovered dead. Cory confesses to Jane what happened to his daughter that ruined his marriage and motivates him to help the investigation. Following the clues leads them to the drilling station nearby. Jane and Sheriff Ben call in additional state police officers to help them search the trailers. 

Cory heads up into the mountains to investigate the trail that led from drilling station to where the body was found. The tension is high as the state officers accuse the security on the drilling rig of trying to flank him to get the drop on him. All the men pull their guns and threaten each other until Jane can calm them down. Finally, they lead the officers to the trailer of Mike. The film cleverly flashes back to Matt and Natalie in the throes of their budding relationship. The viewer knows their fate so it is tragic to see them flirting and discussing which city they would like to live in. The drilling workers show up to spoil their privacy and begin to harass Natalie. Matt stands up for his girlfriend but worker Pete (James Jordan) goes too far.

They beat Matt to death after raping Natalie, who escapes and flees where she dies. The story jumps to the future where Jane is knocking on the trailer only to receive a shotgun blast to the chest. Luckily, she survives thanks to her bulletproof vest. The drill workers kill the police and are prepared to kill Jane when Cory snipes them down. He kills several of them as they try to determine his location. Pete manages to kick out the window of the trailer and flee. Cory makes sure that Jane is able to call in a medical helicopter before he sets out to hunt down Pete. He captures the rapist and brings him out to the highest mountain in Wyoming. He allows him to go free with no boots to see how far he can run and he only makes it several yards. Cory returns to comfort Jane in the hospital and Natalie's grieving parents. 

Wind River draws attention to the fact that there is no recording of missing native people which must result in plenty of crimes in an area with low resources to investigate. It also shows the drug addiction and poverty that affect the society and lead to a feeling of hopelessness. The movie moves at a quick enough pace and has plenty of shocking moments. Renner and Olson are great in the main roles but I would like to see a film with a native person in the main role and stories written by native people to understand that perspective. This movie is good but it feels like it is only speaking to a white audience and should try harder to find a wider variety of creators. I still think this story should be told as well and would highly recommend the film to those who like thrillers. 

TV Show Review: The Mist

Stephen King has been experiencing a resurgence of adaptation of his work this year from films like The Dark Tower and the upcoming IT while on television there is the adaptation of Mr. Mercedes and Spike's new show The Mist. This story had an adaptation once before as a film but I'm not familiar with it and the quality of the show did not drive me to seek it out. Maybe, if I have time, I'll pick it up and write a quick review but it got removed from Amazon Prime so not likely right now. It looks like this show garnered some viewers but I haven't seen any signs it will continue to air. IF it does, then I would stick with it, but mostly out of habit now. The advertising was effective enough for me to set my DVR to Thursdays nights and catch up after a few days, hence my review on a Sunday, days after the finale aired, if I publish it today at all. I'm hopeful.

The actors are not top notch, something that I guess I've come to expect in television, at least one actor or actress I recognize. Sometimes, on a show that has outstanding quality like the critically acclaimed Rectify, I'll get to know new actors. I don't think I'll be seeking any other performances from the cast of this show as most of it was disappointing. I honestly didn't pay attention at all times as this show was on the television, sometimes just using it as horrific background noise. The special effects certainly appeared to be a major portion of the budget as victims of the mist exploding with bug-like invaders though it still looked pretty cheap. 

The story revolves around the Copeland family. Kevin Copeland (Morgan Spector) and Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland) are the parents of a young girl Alex (Gus Birney) who is the victim of a rape though she isn't sure of who committed the crime. Her friend Adrian (Russell Posner) claims that Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove) raped Alex. Jay is the son of Sheriff Connor Heisel (Darren Pettie) who denies the accusation. A soldier (Okezie Morro) wakes up in the woods without any knowledge of his name. He encounters the mist but flees as he learns of the deadly repercussion of being engulfed in it. He teams up with the criminal Mia (Danica Curcic) to survive the horror. The old woman Nathalie (Frances Conroy) sees signs of nature striking back and knows the history of previous events.

The mist descends on the town and as people begin to die and others realize the threat, they split into two groups. One group survives in the mall trying to make rules and survive while another group gathers in the church under the prophetic teaching of Nathalie who seems to have lost her mind after her husband is murdered by another individual who lost their mind in the mist. Kevin is split up from Alex and Eve who are trapped in the mall. The sheriff believes that Kevin and Adrian hurt his son by accusing him of rape so Kevin has to escape out into danger with Adrian. Alex confronts Jay who denies raping her and they form a relationship after her saves her from danger. Kevin stops at a hospital where one doctor is performing depraved experiments but Kevin fights him off.

The major twist comes from Adrian's motives and the truth of what happened to Alex. Nathalie recalls reading history about the same thing happened when an awful crime occurred to a young woman. Nathalie has nefarious goals through worshipping the mist monsters and Sheriff Heisel goes along with her as they traverse a tunnel from the church to the mall. It is also revealed that Alex's paternity comes into question as Eve has a more mysterious past than at first revealed. The military is also doing something that is only partly revealed and may be a bigger plot point in future seasons. It looks like they are delivering criminal to the mist at the end.

The Mist is not on my to-watch list but I stuck with it for a while. I liked the special effects and I'm curious about Stephen King's success so I will continue to watch this if it is renewed. I think that there are enough Stephen King fans to keep the show going but I would like them to explore more of the mystery of the mist and not so much on the characters since that is the weaker part of the show. Spike isn't known for the most quality television but it looks like they are expanding their sci-fi, horror, and fantasy collection so I might check it out as they produce more shows. Television is overflowing right now so it's hard to keep with everything. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

TV Show Review: Ozark

I wasn't sure what to think about this new Netflix show and so many of them come out every week that it is sometimes hard to know which ones to watch. I stuck with this crime drama for a few episodes and then got hooked pretty easily. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is an accountant who seems like a square until it is revealed that he has been working for a Mexican drug cartel. When the cartel led by Del (Esai Morales) kills Marty's partners in front of him, the accountant has to think fast in order to survive. He explains his plan to get out from on the federal investigation into their money laundering by moving to Missouri and into the Ozarks. Del allows Marty to live so Marty heads home to inform his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) that they have to move. She is having an affair and has told the man about the cartel so Del disposes of him. Marty's kids Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) are not thrilled about the relocation.

In the Ozarks, the Byrdes move into a lake community that is full of all sorts of unique characters with regional eccentricities. Staying at a motel, Marty is paranoid of being robbed and he is by Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) who is part of a local family that has had a lot of trouble with the local law enforcement. Marty has to deal with her and family members like her uncle Russ (Marc Menchaca) by explaining to them that they can't spend any of the money or the IRS will catch them. Charlotte has sparked a relationship with another member of the Langmore family, Wyatt (Charlie Tahan), despite his deception when they first met. Marty has to find businesses he can invest in so he asks around and lands on a dockside bar and cabin rental and a strip club.

On the trail of Marty is the FBI agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) who goes undercover to turn Russ against him. The family moved into a house owned by Buddy Dieker (Harris Yulin) who has a terminal illness and will only be around for another year. The owner of the strip club Bobby Dean (Adam Boyer) does not go along with Marty's plan to invest so he comes up with a way to get the strip club from him with the help of Ruth. Bobby worked for a heroin dealer Jacob Snell (Peter Mullan) who uses ruthless tactics to get what he wants. Marty finds himself in the middle of the Mexican cartel and the Snell's business when he takes their money laundering scheme from the strip club and disrupts their distribution by convincing a preacher Mason Young (Michael Mosley) to move his service from the lake where they sell the drugs to a church on the land, which would upset the local police.

Marty works to meet his goal of a certain amount of money for the cartel while Wendy becomes involved in a real estate business and then a funeral business. The tension rises as the cartel put a man on Marty's house to follow him around and the FBI gets closer to busting him. Russ Langmore tries to kill Marty but Ruth stops her using a method to electrocute him that she initially planned to use on Marty to steal his money, just as Russ was about to help Roy bust Ruth to turn on Marty. The Snells also become angry with the preacher who has learned of the drug dealing going on in his congregation so they cut out his wife's baby from her stomach. All of these complicated plot twists lead to Wendy taking the kids away and Marty taking Del to meet Jacob Snell. He manages to evade catastrophe by partnering the Snells with the cartel but then Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) becomes offended and shoots Del. Marty is stopped by the FBI but they have to let him go. His family returns setting up what could be a pretty wild second season.

Ozark really turned out to be a pleasant surprise taking its cues from successful shows like Breaking Bad and while though not being quite as good, it comes pretty close. The villains are numerous and it seemed like every episode introduced a new villain or complication that Marty or Wendy had to handle and they pulled it off cleverly. Bateman is entertaining in a more dramatic role while Linney brings her immense talent to add greatly to the show. Julia Garner was probably the most impressive performance and it's nice Peter Mullan getting more juicy roles as a villain after Quarry was canceled. I am glad Netflix is making stuff like this and has the freedom to just drop these episodes and it makes me more likely to check out other original series. I would highly recommend this show to those who like a solid antihero tale. 

TV Show Review: The Defenders

The Marvel and Netflix partnership was an exciting prospect at first but lost steam leading up to its first big phase finale. Daredevil was pretty cool and Jessica Jones proved it was more than just one series. I enjoyed Luke Cage but felt it faltered near the end, still, I was pretty happy with the superhero series until Iron Fist was a huge disappointment. The biggest problem with The Defenders is that for their first team-up, the villain is from Iron Fist though jointly shared with the least interesting part of Daredevil. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has given up the life of a masked vigilante and works as a pro bono lawyer helping settle big lawsuits. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) denies her newfound celebrity despite encouragement from her best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor). Danny Rand (Finn Jones) Searches for the Hand with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick). Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is in jail until his new lawyer Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) gets him out.

Back in Harlem, Luke meets up with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) where they pick up where they left off in their relationship. Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) investigates the mysterious criminal organization and warns Luke Cage. A new villain has arisen to lead the hand, Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver) who has obtained the Black Skye weapon in the reborn body of Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung). It takes a while to get going as the first episode introduces them and the heroes don't really encounter each other until the second episode. Luke Cage and Danny Rand encounter each other and the Iron Fist shows that Luke Cage can be hurt if hit hard enough. 

Matt Murdock is hired by Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) to be Jessica Jones lawyer in case she finds herself in any trouble. Jessica uses her investigative ability to figure out the Matt is a bit more than he lets on. Danny confronts the Hand and is attacked needing the help of Luke, Jessica, and Matt. The three tussle with men in business suits until Elektra steps in. Matt fights her trying to reach out to her and it works somewhat since she doesn't kill her. The relationship between Elektra and Daredevil is central to the series. The group recovers at a Chinese restaurant as a lot of exposition helps explain what the heroes are up against while they also introduce themselves to each other.

Stick (Scott Glenn) shows up trying to recruit Daredevil into the Chaste, the group that fights the Hand. Alexandra has him capture but he slices off a hand to escape. He explains a bit more about the upcoming battle and Alexandra shows up. She has gathered her own group including Marvel series regular villain Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) who shows off some impressive abilities. There is a lot more punching and fights scenes that are sometimes entertaining to watch and will be the only reason I revisit this series, but it all leads back to a massive hole beneath New York that Daredevil had discovered in the second season. The final fight leads to a big explosion which takes down Elektra and Daredevil, though they show Matt having survived.

The Defenders seemed like it would be my favorite television show with superheroes let off the leash no longer constrained by ratings and allowed to tell a long story, but this freedom work against the team. The plot plods along, Sigourney Weaver's villain isn't as menacing as I thought she would be and she is taken out by Elektra never fully explaining how she got into power. I am a loyal Marvel fan so I'll stick with it, especially considering Punisher is next but I would like to see something a little more exciting in the future. Now that the origins are out of the way, I'm excited to see where each heroes story goes, though I hope for big changes to Iron Fist. Daredevil is my favorite but Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are also pretty awesome and I'll be checking out the source material in the future. I'd like to see them take on other villains from the other heroes as well.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Movie Review: Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh returns to the heist film with a regional twist. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) just wants to take care of his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) and work but when he's fired from a construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway for insurance liability, he devises a plan to rob the racetrack. His sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough) is a hairdresser who loves to drive fast and cover for her brother. Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) lost his arm in Iraq and works as a bartender. Jimmy is a tough former football player who had a promising career until he blew out his knee. He is defensive of his brother when a wealthy energy drink mogul Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane) insults Clyde. He also has a troubled relationship with his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). Clyde is reluctant to go along with Jimmy's plan at first but agrees to hear him out. 

Their initial plan was to rob the speedway during a smaller race and the only one who can help them is Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). The Logan brothers visit Joe with a plan to break him out to help and then get him back in but Bang insists that he has family help as well. The Logan brothers recruit Fish Bang (Jack Quaid) and Sam Bang (Brian Gleeson) who claim to have to have a moral reason for robbing the venue. They set out to make the plan but Jimmy discovers the construction will finish early so they have to move it up to the Coca-Cola 600, a much bigger NASCAR event.  The plan to break out Joe Bang involves Clyde going into the prison so he crashes his car into a gas station. Bang organizes a prison riot to occur and pretends to be sick so he can be in the medical ward.

On the day of the race, Jimmy is full of nerves, having to wake up Fish and Sam to make sure they shut off the power. They need all the vendors to be using cash to increase their haul when they break into the vault. Max Chilblain is sponsoring a racer Dayton White (Sebastian Stan) who has a serious diet that cannot be thrown off but Chilblain insists he guzzles some of the energy drink. Joe and Clyde sneak out using a tunnel from the bathroom as the prison guards start the riot forcing a lockdown. During the riot, there is a hilarious Game of Thrones joke. Mellie picks up Clyde and Joe and brings them to the speedway where they enter as customers. Joe Bang has to pick up gummy bears and indulges in a beer. The candy turns out to be essential for Joe Bang's explosive concoction. 

The explosion allows the thieves to vacuum out the money into trash bags but the smoke alerts security. They interrogate each member of the heist but each has a hilarious excuse to why they can't smell smoke. They pull off the robbery with only one real kink, Clyde punches Max Chilblain who recognizes him from a bar fight early in the film. The FBI investigates the theft led by Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) but they only find a truckload of the abandoned cash, no culprits. Joe Bang and the audience are led to believe that Jimmy gave up all the money but in the end, it is revealed there was a bigger plan.

As far as the heist goes, I still had a few questions and some things appeared just a little too easy and inconsequential. The film is fun though, an enjoyable watch with likable characters. Daniel Craig definitely stole the show as Joe Bang but Tatum and Driver were amusing as well. I like films like this but this film probably won't stick around in my memory for much longer than this month. I could see watch it again later but the lack of box office success doesn't show much promise for future films like this for some time. Big name directors usually get there way but this film didn't match his previous success of the Ocean's trilogy. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Movie Review: Wolf Warrior II

The blockbuster sequel shows the global superpower flexing their military might and expanding the story of the Wolf Warrior. Leng Feng (Jing Wu) has left China after having trouble with the law when he beats up a greedy developer to death. He is on a mission to avenge his love Long Xiayun (Nan Yu) who was murdered in Africa. All he has to go off of is a bullet with a unique design. The opening sequence has Leng fighting off pirates in a decent underwater fight scene. Leng drowns his sorrows with beer even though he used to not drink at all. He has fallen into the Chinese wine trade with his helper Tundu (Nwachukwu Chukwuebuka), a young African boy. Their business dealings are stopped when rebels burst into the city and start killing civilians. Leng fights off the rebels and flees with Tundu to the Chinese embassy. It's not clear which African country the story is set in but there is a marked display of Chinese naval might. 

The UN prevents China from acting in the African conflict so Leng Feng is forced to act on his own. He sets out first to save Dr. Chen, a scientist who has been studying a deadly disease known as Lamanlan. The physicians are held hostage by a ruthless gang of mercenaries led by Big Daddy (Frank Grillo). The evil Russian mercenary Bear (Oleg Prudius) interrogates the doctors and Dr. Rachael Smith (Celina Jade) tries to cover for Dr. Chen, but the Bear executes some of the prisoners. Athena (Heidi Moneymaker) is another mercenary who assist Bear when Leng Feng crashes in to save the doctors. Dr. Chen dies but he asks Leng Feng to protect his daughter Pasha (Diana Sylla).

Leng Feng escapes with Rachel and Pasha but he encounters infected dead bodies. He sets out on the road to a factory where Tundu's mother is hiding along with other Chinese workers. They are protected by a military group led by Zhuo Yifan (Hans Zhang). The workers are surrounded by rebels but Leng Feng calls in a UN helicopter to rescue survivors. At first, the leaders try to split the Chinese from the Africans but Leng Feng puts an end to that nonsense. As the group celebrates the impending evacuation, Big Daddy sends in drones and rebels to kill the factory works. Leng Feng fights them off killing some of the mercenaries but the disease courses through him weakening him. Big Daddy is about to go in for the kill but is called back by an African warlord. Big Daddy betrays the warlord who doesn't want Chinese killed so that he can impress the UN. They are sure to note that China is a permanent member of the United Nations. 

Leng Feng is sent away despite helping them survive when he reveals that he is sick. He has to recover in a cave and Rachel injects Pasha's blood, which a potential cure. Leng Feng recovers and heads back to the factory where the rebels have taken over. He uses a poison dart to take down a group of the mercenaries and frees the workers. Leng Feng, Zhuo Yifan, and other soldiers fight the mercenaries but Big Daddy calls in the rebels. Zhuo manages to shoot Bear in the head after a brutal fight. There are some crazy action scenes with a tank and decent enough action. Leng Feng faces off against Big Daddy in a final fight. Big Daddy espouses some racist thoughts before he is finally defeated. Leng Feng does a large patriotic gesture at the end driving through war-torn African village holding up the Chinese flag as a way to establish dominance and scare the rebels.

This second film in the nationalist Wolf Warrior series sees China spreading out their global influence and tangling with international restraints. Jing Wu is plenty charismatic as the main character and also sat in the director's chair once again. The film isn't so subtle when it plays out the greatness of China but it is easy to look past that and enjoy the over the top action sequence. I'm interested in seeing more of this series and I hope this opens up more foreign films to come to America. I like this of living in a global society though we are still so separated and the message here is always the most helpful. There are more subtle references to the mistakes of colonialism and the troubles in Africa that we so easily ignore. Wolf Warrior 2 is a step up from the original and the great box office success hopefully promises more in this action series. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Movie Review: Wolf Warrior

Part military action film, part government propaganda, Wolf Warrior shows what blockbuster films from China have become as they expand their film viewing audience. The story is about Leng Feng (Jing Wu), a skilled sharpshooter who uses his sniper skills to take down drug lords. He disobeys orders to kill the brother of a ruthless drug lord Min Deng (Dahong Ni). Despite his disregard for authority, he is invited to join the elite Wolf company. Min Deng swears vengeance on Leng Feng and escapes arrest with the help of his group of mercenaries lead by Tomcat (Scott Adkins). The wolves go on training with a large military activity that includes cyber warfare and advanced weapons showing off the might of the Chinese military as well as their intelligence with computer hacking.

Coordinated by Long Xiayun (Nan Yu), the wolves are able to outshine their competitors and win the first practice fight. The drill becomes dangerous when an actual pack of wolves attacks the soldiers at night and they have to fight them off with live bullets and bayonets. On the next day, the drug lord's mercenaries strike and kill one of the wolves leaders who had a daughter. The mercenaries escape but not before showing off their advanced weapons that can take down a helicopter.  The wolves get very patriotic as they load up from a weapons drop and head out to fight the mercenaries. They are ambushed and suffer more losses.

The wolves rally to flank the mercenaries and Leng Feng takes a dangerous route as he dodges weapons fire from the assassins. Feng reflects back on a time when he nearly died and saves his commander instead of killing him out of mercy. The soldiers take down the mercenaries with Leng Feng sneaking up on one sniper and shooting him in the head. Tomcat leaves behind a trail of explosives as his men are steadily eliminated. All the while Long Xiayun helps them evade attacks. She also discovers that Min Deng has developed a genetic weapon that would kill the Chinese people only and increase birth defects.

Leng Feng has to escape the explosion of a mine that he steps on but this allows Tomcat to get further ahead. Leng Feng constantly hit on Long Xiayun even after he has nearly died. Tomcat tries to make it to the border but Leng Feng chases him down. A gun battle between the mercenary and the soldier leads to a knife fight after they run out of bullets. Min Deng has disguised himself as a soldier to sneak across the border, I guess into North Korea. Leng Feng defeats Tomcat by cutting his own throat but stabbing the blade into Tomcat's throat. He stops Min Deng from escaping by charging at him with a bayonet. They avoid an international incident and Leng Feng stop the drug lord. He manages to hit on Long Xiayun one last time.

The film reminds me of some of out silly propaganda that we put out, most notably the films of Michael Bay or any other where we show off our military might. There is a subtle message of peace but also there is an inherent threat of not being attacked. The wolves attach patches that say "I fight for China", but inexplicably these are in English. The bloopers add a sense of humor that isn't present through most of the film. The industry in China looks like it has a way to go before it catches up with our biggest blockbusters but the success of the sequel should lead to more like it. It is interesting to see another perspective of these films and will help me judge some of the ridiculous films the United States puts out a little better. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Movie Review: The Hitman's Bodyguard

The last films of the summer include the action comedy that pairs two stars with a clever premise to setup plenty of action scenes. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is an AAA-rated bodyguard protecting some of the worst individuals in the world. When a client is killed he descend into a lower rating protecting coked-up lawyers and generally unhappy with his life and his smelly car. Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) is assigned to protect a prolific hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) as he is set to testify against a brutal Russian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Kincaid only agrees to go along with Interpol because they have his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek).

When the convoy transporting Darius is attacked, he must flee with Agent Roussel to a safe house. Roussel used to date Bryce and she turns to him when she realizes there is a mole within Interpol. Bryce blames Roussel for the failure of his protection agency and the lowering of his rating plus he has had constant battles with Kincaid on previous jobs to make this assignment particularly unpleasant. Still, he agrees to take the job and the two escape the safe house hunted by Interpol and Dukhovich's men. Bryce sticks with a plan while Kincaid takes each moment as it comes constant drinking and mistakenly taking a goon's cell phone so they are easily tracked. The banter between Reynolds and Jackson helps move along the comedic parts between the action scenes. The shootouts and car chases steadily grow as Dukhovich's henchman Ivan (Yuri Kolokolnikov) moves closer to his target.

The bodyguard and hitman traverse across Europe trying to make it to the Hague on time for Kincaid to testify at the trial. With the help of Kincaid, Bryce works through his relationship problems with Roussell. Sonia is a bully in her prison cell and is pissed at her husband for being the cause of locking her up. The story of them meeting in a bar in Honduras is hilarious and a great scene with two veteran actors. Kincaid continues to set out on his out without the protection of his bodyguard and insists that he'd be better off alone. When Bryce learns that Kincaid is responsible for the kill that ruined his career, he gives up protecting the hitman and heads out into Amsterdam to drink. A shootout and boat/car chase ensue and Bryce gives in finally helping him by riding in on a motorcycle. He ends up captured and in need of help himself. One thing that was a little disturbing was the scenes of a European city terrorized by speeding cars through the streets that felt somewhat tone deaf during the current situation of constant attacks, but this is the first time I have had thoughts like this despite many similar scenes in other movies.

Their friendship has grown and Kincaid decides to help Bryce in return saving him from awful torture. The two men make it to the court case just in time so that Kincaid can testify but Dukhovich has other plans enacting an escape with men on the inside. Amelia confronts the mole and Bryce takes a bullet for Kincaid. Still alive thanks to Bryce, Kincaid pursues Dukhovich and kills him on the roof. Bryce and Amelia forgive each other and get back together. Kincaid agrees to go back to jail though he escapes on his anniversary with Sonia and returns to the bar where they met.

The Hitman's Bodyguard is a decent action comedy that utilizes the best aspects of the top billed actors and actresses. It's nice to see Elodie Yung getting more roles though they could have used her fighting talents more. Reynolds capitalizes on his persona from his superhero success adding to the humor action roles while Jackson brings his action experience and seems to be having enough fun to make for plenty of good laughs. Hayek had some of the funniest scenes and I'd be down to see a sequel if this film makes enough money but it might as well stay just an original idea.  There are not many of these R-rated action movies coming out and it will try to find some space after the blockbuster films of summer but success for this action comedy will be on a different scale than what we've seen over the past few months.

Monday, August 14, 2017

TV Show Review: I'm Dying Up Here

This Showtime dramedy takes a familiar premise of looking at the lives of comics, pushes it into the past to the 70s so it's a period piece and develops some interesting characters. I'm not sure if the show will get another season as I don't see it being very popular but I found it strangely appealing when I watched it and the humor mixed well with the tough lives of these individuals who pursue their hilarious dreams. Two big actors, Alfred Molina and Sebastian Stan, only stick around for the pilot episode as other characters take up the greater part of the ensemble cast led by the brilliant Melissa Leo. Leo plays Goldie, the owner of the comedy club, who decides the fate of the up-and-coming comedians. She deals with the sexism prevalent during the time period and the industry with a class that the veteran actress pulls off with style. She persistent when she has an idea and protective of her comics though she'll never let them know that and deals effectively with the big egos. 

Bill Hobbs (Andrew Santino) hopes to make it to the big time but his ego is the biggest of the comedians and when he talks poorly to a patron of the club during his set, he loses his big shot at Johnny Carson. Adam Proteau (RJ Cyler) is a young black comedian who hopes that Goldie will help him open doors after his agent sends him her way and he helps him do chores around the house. Cassie Feder (Ari Graynor) is the female comic who tries to be one of the boys, though they always single her out. Cassie and Bill dated for a while but their professional aspirations get in the way. Eddie Zeidel (Michael Angarano) and Ron Shack (Clark Duke) head out to Los Angeles from Boston but when the comedian who promises them a place to live ends up dead, they have to struggle to survive, living in a closet and only eating rice they won at a game show. 

There are so many characters all with hilarious jokes. Edgar Martinez (Al Madrigal) deals drugs and changes his name to Manny to garner attention and survive in the business. Ralph King (Erik Griffin) has returned from Vietnam to work the stage. Sully Patterson (Stephen Guarino) struggles to decide whether he should pursue a professional life or continue to work towards his dream. His dedication causes friction with his wife who takes care of their newborn while he stays out late cracking jokes. Barton Royce (Obba BabatundĂ©) poaches talent from Goldie and has an eye for Proteau as he manages a top black comic, Richard Pryor. Proteau works for Barton at his brothel doing laundry and helping the prostitutes get rid of angry Johns. 

Each one of the comedians hopes to move up from the open mic to the big stage but risk the possibility of bombing and their order is at the whim of the doorman Arnie Brown (Jon Daly). It's easy to get lost in the lives of these characters and interspersed with their stories are the stand-up acts that are always good for a laugh. Goldie pursues a chance at television promoting women comics but clashes with the studio executives. Nick Beverly (Jake Lacy) comes out a few episodes in with a great act that he takes to television but his addiction to heroin causes problems when he tries to land an agent. Bill Hobbs has his father Warren (Glenn Morshower) come out to stay with him after he loses his job but becomes a burden on his comedian son who he feels like is a disappointment. The dynamic between father and son come to a head when Warren kills himself in a car that he then gifts Bill. 

Jim Carrey produced the show reflecting back from his own experiences at the clubs before his rise to fame. I have enjoyed most of the shows I've seen about striving comedians mostly because I'm not brave enough to take that risk and I enjoy watching stand up comedy so these shows have a nice mix of story and funny. It was cool to be introduced to a bunch of new actors amidst the veterans like Melissa Leo, who is extraordinary, and to see a few comedic actors get bigger roles that are little more serious while still showing off their talent. While I don't think the show was a critical success or achieved enough viewers to stay on, I would be curious to see where the show goes for a second season.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

TV Show Review: TURN: Washington's Spies (Season 4)

The television show based on the saga of Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) and the spy ring he built to help the American colonies defy the British Empire in the Revolutionary War came to an end. The final season moved the timeline towards the end of the war and saw the death of major characters and the final relaying of information that proved crucial to the British defeat. I had given up on this show back in the second season finding the acting a little corny and the dialogue strange, but when I decided to catch up on it, I found myself enjoying the dramas of the characters alongside the pressures of war. Anna Strong (Heather Lind) finds herself in the refugee camp after refusing marriage to Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman). She conspires with Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich) and Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) to root out the spies in the camp who seek to betray General George Washington (Ian Kahn).

Woodhull has been so close to being exposed on numerous occasions especially as he was hunted by John Simcoe (Samuel Roukin). The plot at the beginning of the season sees Woodhull parting from his wife Mary (Meegan Warner) who has taken resistance into her own hands before including shooting Simcoe, and pretending to be captured with his father Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally) by the rebels in order to free Caleb. This plot goes terribly wrong when the Judge is shot during the prisoner exchange and Abraham is nearly shot too if he wasn't saved by Akinbode (Aldis Hodge). The murder of his father gives Woodhull the chance to disguise his motivations for joining the British army. 

In the army, Woodhull works to discover information about the traitor Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman). Arnold's wife Peggy (Ksenia Solo) has turned against him and eventually conspires with her maid Abigail (Idara Victor) to betray her husband. Anna Strong becomes aware of a rebellion growing in the ranks of the soldiers and pleads with Alexander Hamilton, who makes a brief cameo, as she also grows fond of Talmadge. Woodhull works to traffic in information but is hindered by the appearance of Simcoe's battalion though he goes unrecognized for some time. Major Hewitt reemerges as head of intelligence for the British and threatens to expose Woodhull but his hatred for Simcoe overpowers that and leads him to conspire with Woodhull to kill the man. Their plan struggles to take off as Simcoe take precautions against assassination.

Woodhull is able to transmit information back to the rebel army through his contact in New York, Robert Townsend (Nick Westrate). Woodhull is distressed to discover that he will be marching to fight instead of staying in the barracks. He finds himself in the middle of battle and during one of the most exciting episodes confront Simcoe just as Caleb Brewster on his march to find Abraham, spots them in battle. Caleb shoots Simcoe just as he is about to strike Woodhull allowing Abraham to knock him down and gravely wound him. Major Hewitt has a chance to kill Simcoe but exhibits mercy and allows him to head up to Canada to begin anew. The war winds down in the final episodes as Woodhull is captured by rebels only to strive to prove he was working for America all along. He then seeks to get paid for his work as the final fighting ensues. Everyone moves on to an unsure future as the war has taken its toll on the characters.

TURN takes an interesting look at history with exciting stories and different perspective to the common story of American independence. The key players are interesting to look up in reference material to see how they did influence the Revolutionary War, something that is not fully taught in history and almost forgotten. Jamie Bell does a decent job leading the series and Samuel Roukin is an impressive villain that so great at being unlikable. I found the last two season a little more exciting than the slower second as the drama ratcheted up near the end of the war. My review can hardly capture all the various stories that weave together for such an exciting tale about the spies and deception that assisted the American army in outsmarting the much larger British one. It's a show that I'm glad I took the time to revisit and give a second chance with a solid ending. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book Review: The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler

From a larger world comes E. Catherine Tobler's story about Jackson, a mysterious orphan who harbors a dark and slithery secret. Jackson never knew his parents but is excited to find a new life taking a train across the country after spending much of his childhood in an orphanage under nuns. In a brief stop in Chicago, he visits a fair and sees strange sights that cause the tentacles writhing beneath his skin to come out. He has to be calmed by Sister Jerome Grace, the only motherly figure he knows. She is able to get him back on the train and they continue the journey to San Francisco. The other children are adopted by families but Jackson is taking by a woman named Cressida who runs an establishment called MacQuarie's. 

Cressida's assistant, Foster, watches over Jackson as he takes them to the city. Jackson sees the circus and feels welcome in this place, a place where freaks are not unusual at all. Jackson also becomes intrigued by a girl named Mae who dances at a competing show. Witnessing this spectacle enchants Jackson and he risks crossing Cressida to go back again. Jackson uses his ability to survive the mean streets as he works with Foster to carry out the strange orders from Cressida. He also meets the baker girl Gussie and charms her for his purposes, though his affection always remains for Mae.

The novel goes in an interesting direction as the rivalry between Mae and Cressida puts Jackson in the middle. Cressida has some strange dark objects that she keeps locked away in a chest and she battles to keep her territory from rival gangs. It helps that she has a squad of superhumans to fight off aggressors. Mae knows that Cressida is up to no good but Jackson feels he owes this woman because she has given him a home, even if it also feels like a prison. Cressida feels her grip on Jackson slipping and leverages her power by threatening Sister Jerome Grace. Jackson does not take kindly to threats.

I was a little confused by the finale but realized that it was something extraordinary as I read it. The titular kraken rests below Macquarie's and Jackson has to use Gussie to access it with Mae. The final fight pits Jackson versus the Kraken and his certain kind of tentacles win out. Cressida is defeated and killed in the process and there is a passage to the underworld that is sealed off. Jackson inherits the circus with no one else to own it and this leads to the series that E. Catherine Tobler writes in a series of short stories. 

I am looking forward to reading some of these and think I've encountered one before without actually realizing it. I'm not sure if The Kraken Sea is the best starting point but it certainly stands on its own as a clever novella that brings a strange new world to life. Apex Book Company has some great work and I'm almost always impressed when I pick up one of their books. 

Book Review: Gray Widow's Web by Dan Jolley

Dan Jolley rockets back into the world of the Gray Widow with a wild and awesome adventure that ups the stakes and delivers a pulse-pounding action adventure. The Gray Widow's greatest challenge yet comes from the vicious new enemy Aphrodite Lupo. Jamie Sinclair is still dealing with the repercussions from the first novel and the fight with Simon Grove. Janey's boyfriend Tim Kapoor recovers from the injuries he received from the fight with Simon though he still tries to play tough. The Gray Widow is occupied by the increased presence of enhanced individuals including one girl who has similar powers to Janey in teleportation but uses them for wicked purposes like responding to a high school bully. 

Nathan Pittman tried to imitate the Gray Widow and nearly lost his life. He becomes obsessed with the Atlanta superhero and acquires as much knowledge as he can treading close to the true identity. He also meets an otherworldly attractive woman who takes a curious interest in him. Janey also finds comfort in her fried Sha'Dae Wilkinson, her neighbor who shares a strange connection with her. The first part of the book does a lot to set up how life has moved on and expands the world as Janey and Tim investigate the appearance of augments. All of those who experienced enhanced abilities saw a strange light in the sky before they were able to do extraordinary things. The children of these people have even more enhanced abilities and this explains how Janey got her amazing powers because her father saw a light once before.  

Aphrodite uses Nathan to learn more about Janey as she suspects that she is the true identity of the Gray Widow. She uses her ability to change appearance to pretend to be Janey and interrogate Sha'dae. The set up pays off when Aphrodite reveals herself and the fight between her and Gray Widow begins. The friends are caught in the middle as Nathan realizes he helped a villain and Tim still wants to help her. Aphrodite gathers a team including a racist man with super strength and another teleporter. Jolley does not hold back on the action once it gets started with Janey using everything in her power to stop Aphrodite though she seems to be unstoppable. The villains attack her friends putting them in danger and leading to tragedy.

All seems lost when Nathan, Janey, Sha'dae, and Tim retreat but find that something is different about them too. Tim has healed from the altercation and his old injuries while Sha'dae can sense everyone's thoughts and see through their eyes, and Nathan has super strength, much to his excitement. There is some humor as the friends learn their abilities but Janey wants to get to the bottom of the mystery. An unidentified flying object has crashed and is being stored in a secret military facility. On the run, the friends hide at a motel as Janey heads to the military based to get to the bottom of this augmentation. She sneaks in and discoversan alien lifeform known as the Plowman in the base. Aphrodite shows up to cause more problems but they manage to escape and get to the bottom of this alien intervention. One more climactic battle wraps up this exciting adventure but adds plenty more setup for the final part of this very cool trilogy. 

Dan Jolley is a fun writer to read from this series of novels and graphic novels to his video game writing. The Gray Widow is an exciting new hero and the sequel grows the world in an epic way. There are some very cool scenes to read as Janey tests her powers to the extreme, transporting high into the sky and creating explosions in the heat that she leaves behind. Aphrodite Lupo was a vicious villain that I thought would never be stopped and it looks like this won't be the end of whatever caused this fight. I am anxiously looking forward to the finale of this series and whatever Dan Jolly puts out in the future.  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation

Delving further back into the history of the cursed doll, the latest addition to the Conjuring Universe provides plenty of creepy scares and quality filmmaking that has become a feature of these films. David F. Sandberg directs the haunting tale of a family whose bargain with evil turns into a harrowing experience for the young orphans they invite to stay. Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto) and her doll maker husband Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) raise their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) out in an isolated house on a country road. When Bee steps out into the road in front of a speeding car and dies, they are overcome with grief. Twelve years later, they host a group of orphan girls who disturb the precautions they've taken to keep the forces of evil at bay.

Janice (Talitha Bateman) is crippled from polio and has trouble using the stairs but a convenient chair helps her climb. They do all sorts of setup for various horrors to come as Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the other girls explore the house included a dumbwaiter that continuously slams open and a creepy farmhouse full of doll parts. Janice's best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) suspects something up as Janice becomes more enthralled with the locked room that used to belong to Bee. Janice opens a door to reveal a closet coated with Bible pages and containing the Annabelle doll locked away. Things start to go bump in the night and mysterious occurrences haunt the girls including a sheet mysteriously moving and the doll shifting around.

Esther hides away in a room wearing a doll-like mask and lying in bed, using a bell to call for help. In an especially scary scene, the older girls Nancy (Philippa Coulthard) and Carol (Grace Fulton) tell spooky stories about their host until a specter bursts out at them. Annabelle is only the conduit as in the previous film to a much more terrible looking entity, a black demon that crawls and terrorizes the girls. The creature always takes the shape of Bee that it used to trick the parents into allowing it to inhabit their house. After several scares, a strange figure pushes Janice into the barn and the demon in the form of Bee crawls on top of her and does the possession move that is common for the Conjuring franchise, vomiting black goo into the mouth of the victim. Janice becomes possessed so Linda tries to dispose of the Annabelle doll that she believes is the source of the haunting in a well only to find it popping back up. 

The demon grows stronger eliminating Mr. Mullins by rotting his body gruesomely. Sister Charlotte finds out the truth from Esther who reveals how they were fooled into letting the demon inhabit the doll and her scarred face from an attack twelve years ago. Charlotte tries to evacuate the house but the demon picks her up and tosses her aside. The other girls call for help and check on Esther who has been ripped in half. They try to escape but the monster attacks them, using a scarecrow as a conduit as well. Janice goes after Linda who escapes into the dumbwaiter but the demonic presence chases after her. Finally, Charlotte intervenes to stop Janice and the girls make it outside as the house goes crazy. Janice goes missing and the rest of the girls move on with their lives. Janice reappears as Annabelle and is adopted by Mia's neighbors from the first film tying it together. 

I like the ideas of these prequels and how they tie to a greater universe. Unfortunately, I did not stick around for the post credit scene that hints at the origins of the creepy Nun that made a brief cameo in the film. I look forward to more of these films and hope we get a third Conjuring film to round out the trilogy and plenty more horrific monsters to haunt the cinema. While a step down from the original film and its sequel, Annabelle: Creation out does its previous film and shows promise for the series to come. I'll also look forward to these young girls future roles especially Lulu Wilson who has done a great job in other horror films. Sandberg is also a clever director and his craft enhances the film. Annabelle as a series has life but I would be interested to see how they continue it from here. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle

The creepy doll gets its own horror movie and somewhat of an origin story. Mia (Annabelle Wallis) is an expectant mother and doll collector who is given the porcelain figure as a present from her husband John (Ward Horton). He doesn't believe her when she says she hears a scream from the neighbors but investigates to find the neighbors bleeding. Mia is attacked by followers of a satanic cult and the woman cultist, Annabelle Higgins, kills herself when the cops arrive, bleeding into the doll's eye. Mia recovers from a stab wound to her stomach, though her child is still alive inside her. Strange noises start to sound in the night and weird occurrences like the sewing machine coming on as the doll shifts.

John throws the doll in the garbage when Mia is disgusted by it being held by the murderous woman. When all the stoves mysteriously turn on starting a fire and something grabs her leg, Mia is taken to the hospital and has the baby. They move to a new apartment and attend a church service with a congregation led by Father Perez (Tony Amendola). Somehow, the Annabelle doll shows up again much to John's concern but Mia wants to keep it. She meets her neighbor Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) but is also haunted by a strange woman walking around her house while she sleeps. She sees strange things and tries to convince her husband who turns to the church.

The demonic presence continues to haunt her, chasing her in the basement of the apartment and up the stairs. When Detective Clarkin (Eric Ladin) informs her of the cult's purpose, she researches the demon the cult had hoped to summon. Evelyn helps her discover the truth and Mia demands help from her husband who brings in Father Perez. The priest takes the doll with him but when he tries to take it inside the church, he is thrown back and injured. Evelyn helps Mia care for the baby and reveals how her daughter died. Father Perez awakes to warn John of the demon's intentions to take her soul. John hurries back to the apartment as strange things happen at their home. 

The demon destroys Mia's doll collection and pushes Evelyn out of the apartment. Mia desperately searches for her crying baby as doors slam shut and the doll stares on wickedly. She hallucinates the doll and tries to destroy but then thinks it is her child. The demon tempts her to take her own life. She is ready to give her soul but John stops her from jumping out the window with Annabelle. Knowing the demon requires a soul, Evelyn sacrifices herself by jumping with the doll and ridding the curse of the demon. The doll goes missing in the ensuing investigation. 

Annabelle is a pretty decent horror film with plenty of quality scares. The film fills in the background of what happened before the nurses were gifted the doll and introduces another demonic creature. The black crawling demon is pretty scary and though the doll looks pretty weird, it doesn't generate quite the same scares. I liked the film a little better on the second watch and was still pretty shocked by some of the sudden jolts of the film. I look forward to seeing the sequel tomorrow night that will expand on the story and some how give us another origin tale.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Movie Review: Detroit

It has been clear long before I was born that something is wrong with the country and the souls of those in authority are corrupt. Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit exposes another terrible chapter in dramatic fashion that feels a bit off in its depiction of horrific violence. The story gives a brief background of the tension through a cartoon that feels far too simplistic for a nuanced view of a centuries old struggle and growing corruption in law and order. There is a short scene that plays no real significance in the rest of the film except to introduce the supposed cause of the riots but then it jumps to the major characters of this sickening story. 

The character that is most interesting and takes the role of protagonist in this harrowing tale is Larry (Algee Smith), a singer whose attempt at fame and a chance at the stage for his Motown group is cut short due to the riots. He and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) flee the angry police and raging fires to hide out the night in the Algiers hotel. Dismukes (John Boyega) works private security for a grocery store trying to help black men escape the brutality of the patrolling officers and national guard. Krauss (Will Poulter) is a racist police officer whose trigger happy nature with a shotgun earns him a homicide investigation before the events at the Algiers hotel. Larry and Fred flirt with two white women Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) who bring them to meet some friends. 

Carl (Jason Mitchell) is fed up with the way white people treat them and plays a prank on Larry and Fred to scare them off with a fake starter pistol. He later uses this pistol to pretend to shoot at the cops while Dismukes serves them coffee. This leads an assault crew including Krauss and his fellow officers Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O'Toole). The vicious nature was already apparent but tension rises almost immediately as the police believe the threat is real and pull the men and women from their rooms. They line them up against the wall including Greene (Anthony Mackie) who is caught in a room with the women. Krauss leads an awful death game pretending to kill each man to coerce a confession only after killing Carl and planting a knife on him.

The hotel scene plays out in sickening fashion and is unpleasant, unenjoyable, and nowhere near entertainment. Big stars like Mackie and Boyega, superstars in a just world, are sidelined with no great dialogue or emotional resonance as the filmmakers somehow decide that the guilt of this inhuman officers is a more compelling focus for the camera. Even Algee Smith is put in a role where he merely whimpers and uses his great singing voice briefly while Poulter's Krauss sneers and tortures the men and women. Forced to cover up the foolishness of Demens, they coerce the men to deny what happened, before letting the survivors free but kill Fred in the process. If the horror wasn't enough, the investigating officers lump Dismukes in as complicit with the white officers.

Detroit goes on to the show the court case but the verdict is clear before the trial starts and five decades later the same awful story plays out on the news. The movie is cynical, rightfully so, but tries to end on a hopeful note as Larry's career is destroyed by the time at the hotel and he finds solace singing for the church choir. The film dramatizes a true story taking liberties with some of the details as it states at the end to make for one of the more disturbing films of the year. The story is compelling but it looks like the creators might not have been the right choice to relay the tale. Bigelow's style is evident but there is a distance to the material that deadens the emotional impact.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Review: A Ghost Story

A brilliant trailer with a clever concept, beautiful shots, and moving song made this film one of my most anticipated of the year once I heard of it. David Lowery has made some interesting choices before this film ranging from dramas to kids movies even working with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara previously. The two actors play a couple unnamed but living together in a house where strange noises spook them at night. They argue over whether to move out or not while Affleck's C works on music and Mara's M throws out their belongings. The story is told with long simple shots that hang there observing the character go about their mundane lives. The romance ends abruptly when C is in a car accident outside their house.

M says goodbye to him and walks out of the hospital and the ghost sits up in his hospital sheets. He has a chance to walk through a door to the other side but decides to walk home to watch his wife grieve. There is an infamous scene where Rooney Mara eats nearly a whole pie in one shot. The ghost watches her move on with her life and becomes angry when she meets another man. He can make the lights flicker and when really frustrated flip over objects. M finally moves out leaving the ghost behind to stare out the window after her. In one of the creepier parts of the film, the ghost sees another ghost in the neighboring house waiting for someone but they can't remember who. 

A new family moves into the house speaking only Spanish. The ghost watches them through the days as time speeds up leaving the ghost to observe them studying, eating, and celebrating Christmas. The ghost becomes frustrated and spooks the kids finally pushing them to move out when he throws a tantrum during a meal, smashing plates and levitating objects. The family leaves and a group of revelers move in with one philosophical partygoer giving a grand speech about the meaninglessness of art when face with eternity and the inevitable end of humanity. Kesha shows up for a brief cameo and one of her songs plays in the background of the party.

The song that really got to me and I played repeatedly once I heard it in the preview is "I Get Overwhelmed" by Dark Rooms, which features prominently in the film as the song C is working on. The melody is so moving with crazy lyrics and moving vocals that moved me deeply. The frustration of time passing is illustrated by the ghost's desperate attempt to pull out a note from the wall the M put there before she left. Just as he manages to pull it out a little, the house is destroyed by a tractor. The neighbor ghost realizes that the person they are waiting for is not coming back and they vanish. The ghost remains watching as a new building rises up around him and he strolls through board meetings and trudges past office workers. In a distant future of glowing lights and skyscrapers, the ghost stands on the top of the building and falls off warping back in time.

The ghost finds itself in the pioneer days watching a family try to settle including a little girl who hides notes under a rock. The family is attacked and killed and the ghost watches them decompose finally observing time pass up until C and M are moving into the house again. Time repeats itself finally revealing those initial bumps in the night as the frustrated ghost. The ghost sees another version of itself repeat the same afterlife observations but this time the ghost pulls out M's note and vanishes after he reads it. The movie comes to an emotional close and has such powerful themes in its simple execution. I'll be thinking about this movie for a while and it deep meditative nature that it is not something to fully grasp on one viewing. I knew there would be some drag to the film during the slow parts but in the end, it was enjoyable and entertaining while also being thought-provoking and moving.