Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Movie Review: The Florida Project

A charming and moving depiction of poverty near one of the supposed happy places in the world. Disney World is nearby but Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives in a different realm. She hangs around an extended stay motel with her friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera). The Magic Castle is run by the friendly manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) who looks out for Moonee and her troubled mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Moonee seeks out trouble spitting on a car of a resident in a neighboring motel where she meets Jancey (Valeria Cotto) who becomes a third member of their crew. Moonee shows Jancey all the fun places to go including the ice cream shop where they beg other parents and patrons for enough change to buy an ice cream. Halley, Moonee, and Scooty eat free food from Scooty's mom Ashley (Mela Murder). 

Moonee is allowed to run free and cause mischief while Halley struggles to find a job. Bobby continues to cover for Halley and steer pedophiles away from the group of kids playing around the motel. Halley comes up with scams to make money to continue to pay her weekly rent. Moonee, Scooty, and Jancey sneak into an abandoned apartment complex and Scooty uses a lighter to set fire to a pillow in the fireplace. The fire gets out of control and sets the whole complex on fire. Scooty acts suspiciously when he gets home so Ashley suspects he had something to do with the fire and decides that Scooty should not be running around under the influence of Moonee.

The rift between Ashley and Halley causes repercussions but Moonee continues to run around with her cheerful nature and her newer friend Jancey. They explore the area and hang around entertaining themselves with childish fascination at the simplest things and even extraordinary things like a rainbow. Bobby tries to keep the motel together asking his brother Jack (Caleb Landry Jones) to help him fix things up like a mattress infested with bugs or a broken ice machine. A familial controversy suggests some past history but the background of Bobby is never fleshed out. He does help Halley stay under the radar though he always demands the rent and prevents her from establishing residency by staying in one room for too long. 

Moonee remains ignorant as Halley continues to run scams buying cheap perfume and selling it at ritzier hotels and keeping Moonee in the bathtub while she has men over at night. Halley tries to mend the relationship with Ashley but she is insistent that Moonee stays away from Scooty. Halley grows angry when a tourist John (Macon Blair) returns after a night over to demand she return something she stole. Bobby helps her out once again. Ashley confronts Halley about her business when Halley tries to ask for help with the rent and Halley beats Ashley up. Her former friend calls Child Protective Services on her and they decide to take Moonee away. Distressed by the circumstances, Moonee runs to Jancey and the two of them escape into Disney World.

While the film is not strong on plot, it is full of awe-inspiring images of poverty juxtaposed with innocence and fun. Brooklynn Prince delivers an amazing performance at such a young age and deserves to be nominated in the best actress category. Dafoe and Vinaite are great in supporting roles adding an adult perspective to the childlike wonder that infiltrates a majority of the film. Sean Baker does an amazing job directing young kids and also managing to shoot the Orlando landscape with such a great style. The Florida Project will not be an easy movie to forget and says something profound about our country. 

Sports: NFL (Week 9-12)

The NFL has been through a lot of controversies but that has mostly been political. The actual games have been a bit slow which I think has accounted for some of the drop off in viewers. Due to my habit of writing a novel every November, I took a pause at the beginning of the month from writing about sports but I'll catch up with the top team in each division. I have been paying attention and got some of the better games and even watched some of the boring ones. Football will always be entertaining to me even if sometimes I do think it is rough on the players and things should change in the future. The political controversy makes the sport more appealing to me and I hope players continue to protest.

NFC
NFC East
The best record in the NFL is a team that I am totally shocked has risen to the top. After their only loss in the second week, they have won nine straight. Their most recent wins have been against weaker teams but two NFC West should prove a challenge or give them credibility as a Super Bowl competitor. They do not have much competition in their division.

NFC North
The Minnesota Vikings have taken advantage of an injured Green Bay Packers to lead the North. They have won seven straight including the NFC West top team the Rams and their divisional rival the Lions. Two games against the NFC South teams the Falcons and the Panthers should be tough but could give them the chance to prove their staying power for the playoffs.

NFC South
While the Saints hold the advantage with a win over Carolina previously in the season, the Panthers beat the Jets last week while New Orleans lost to Los Angeles. Carolina has won four straight while the Saints won eight games before their recent loss. I am hoping the Atlanta Falcons come back with a ton of wins at the end of the season to win this division.

NFC West
The Los Angeles Rams have started to capitalize on the move to the new city. They lost to the Vikings before they beat the Saints but won four in a row before the last two games. They lost to the Seattle Seahawks once but could lose the top spot if they lose to them again.

AFC

AFC East
The New England Patriots are gearing up for another run at the Super Bowl and I don't really see anyone stopping them. They've won seven straight since their second loss to the Panthers. Their schedule looks pretty easy with a lot of divisional games and one challenge from the Steelers, a preview of the likely AFC Championship.

AFC North
The Pittsburgh Steelers have risen above a rough start. After disappointing losses, the Steelers have won six straight including an exciting Monday night game against the Packers. The rest of the division is weak so they should cruise to the playoffs with only the Patriots game in three weeks as a challenge. 

AFC South
This division is weak with two top teams in the Jaguars and Titans who have both had disappointing losses. Recently the Titans loss to the Steelers before a win over the Colts. A four-game win streak before that keeps them at the top but it wasn't against top teams. Jacksonville also has a four-game win streak that keeps them tied to the Titans. They most recently lost to the Cardinals. 

AFC West
The Kansas City Chiefs started as one of the hottest team in the league but have fallen so far that they may not win the division. Three straight losses against pitiful teams make this season an embarrassment for the Chiefs while the Chargers sneak up with two recent wins.

The NFL is always full of excitement and the last month will offer five games for each team that will have crucial impact on the playoffs. Most teams have settled into their positions but their may be some upsets in the weaker divisions and the wild card teams still have to be decided. 

Sports: College Football (Week 10-13)

College football has taken all sorts of twists and turns over the last four weeks and while I have watched most of the exciting games, I was unable to keep up with my blog posts about it. The games have been amazing and full of upsets that were as unpredictable as they were exciting. My plan is to recount the last four weeks through the top four teams as we head into the conference championships. I'll finish off with a few predictions and possible scenarios if the games this Saturday go a certain. I am excited to head into the most interesting time in college football as the last few weeks have been highly entertaining.

1 Clemson Tigers
The reigning National Champions find themselves back in the top spot with a target on their back. Clemson has been promoted by default. Their only big loss was earlier in the season and they've defeated the last six teams. Their biggest challenge comes from a strong Miami team that somehow got upset last week by Pittsburgh. The ACC Championship will be a competitive battle. I think that Miami will upset Clemson as I haven't been impressed by the Tigers play and the Hurricanes have something to prove. Depending on who else goes, Miami will be third or fourth but should get into the playoffs.

2 Auburn Tigers
The SEC has been a roller coaster but I did not expect it would be so crazy that the Auburn Tigers would be on top. Their incredible defeats of the Georgia Bulldogs and then the Alabama Crimson Tide two weeks later has put them in the driver seat. They will have a rematch with Georgia in the SEC Championship. The Tigers might prevail against the Bulldogs but I wouldn't be surprised if Georgia responds and earns a spot in the playoffs. Alabama's chances depend more on the other championships.

3 Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners feel like the surest bet to make it into the playoffs. Wins over Oklahoma State and TCU earned them the spot after an early season upset by Iowa State. Oklahoma faces TCU again and I don't think the Horned Frogs will win but even if they do, they won't make it into the playoffs. With the top Heisman candidate, Oklahoma will be one of the biggest threats and could move up to first or second with a win. An Oklahoma loss should mean that Alabama makes it in. 

4 Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin hasn't had a very difficult schedule but strong wins over Iowa and Michigan have them moving into the Big Ten Championship. Their greatest challenge of the season awaits in Ohio State and I think there is a strong possibility that they could be upset. The only thing I'm unsure of is if the Buckeyes can earn a position in the playoffs or if they buy Alabama that spot.

Anything could still happen and this season has been wildly unpredictable. The four teams that are at the top control their destiny but upsets could cause all sorts of chaos in the ranks right before the decision to pick the playoff teams. I'll try to write after the conference championships when the actual four teams are decided. 

TV Show Review: Alias Grace

A murder mystery and historical drama from the great author Margaret Atwood makes for a great Netflix limited series. The show begins with Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) already locked up for a murder, though the circumstances of that crime are not yet revealed. Psychologist Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) interviews Grace to figure out if she is guilty or if her story is true. In flashbacks, Grace is kicked out of her father's home. She searches for work and finds a job as a maid working for Mrs. Parkinson (Martha Burns). She forms a relationship with another maid Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddlard) but Mary comes down with an illness which turns out to be a pregnancy as she was flirting with George Parkinson (Will Bowes). Forced to keep it a secret, she gets the dangerous operation of an abortion but does not survive the bleeding.

Grace believes she hears the voice of Mary and fears she didn't open a window fast enough to let her soul. Distressed, Grace faints but she wakes up under the impression that she is Mary and Grace is missing. Dr. Jordan is skeptical of Grace's claim but continues to listen to her as he daydreams about a romantic relationship with her. Grace meets Jeremiah Pontelli (Zachary Levi), a traveling salesman who finds Grace attractive. Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin) recruits Grace to work as a maid at the home of Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross). Strange rumors surround Kinnear and Nancy, though a maid herself, has a more personal relationship with her employer. 

Grace settles in as she finds some things appealing about her life but she also feels stuck in this position as a maid and desires more from her life. She continues to relate her past to Dr. Jordan who seeks to solve the case but also find a cure for what ails Grace. Not all is peaceful at the Kinnear residence as the rumors continue to swirl and a helper James McDermott (Kerr Logan) is unhappy with his payment. Dr. Jordan continues to pull out the story from Grace Marks as she relates the events leading up to the murders but when she gets to the actual events, she starts to have gaps in her memory and claims that she does not remember what happened around that time.

Jeremiah shows up at the prison as he has studied hypnotist. In the past, Jeremiah came to the Kinnear house and tried to convince Grace to run away with him but she refuses when he says he won't marry her. Nancy grows worried that Grace is replacing her as Kinnear is nice to Grace so she decides that she will fire McDermott and Grace while Kinnear is away. McDermott grows angry but Grace's story also mixed up and changes in relating it to Dr. Jordan. McDermott kills Nancy by pushing her down into the cellar. He claims that Grace helps him choke her to death but Grace doesn't recall doing that though her handkerchief is found around Nancy's throat. McDermott waits for Kinnear to come home and shoots him in the barn. Grace claims she faints but when she comes to they are on the run. Eventually, she is caught and ends up in prison. Jeremiah hypnotizes Grace and Mary comes out of her claiming to have helped with the murders. Dr. Jordan is shipped off to fight the American Civil War while Grace is helped out by a man who had a crush on her as a young boy and feels guilty for helping to convict her.

Alias Grace is loosely based on a short story but Atwood fictionalized the events. The story is intriguing and Atwood at her best with harsh criticism of gender roles and a mysterious female protagonist. The series was short but entertaining. I wasn't sure what it involved and would like to pick up the book one day as I have enjoyed every novel I've read by Atwood. Her stories do well in adaptation and Gadon is great in the lead role while both Liddlard and Holcroft are great in support. I hope this show spells more adaptations of Atwood's work. 

TV Show Review: Lore

Amazon's horror documentary exclusive adapts the popular podcast into six terrifying stories that explore the monsters of our history. From vampires to ghosts to werewolves, Aaron Mahnke lays out the legends of our past in an entertaining manner that puts all the pieces together. The episodes switch between a single narrative of a past event and explanations of how the legend was formed and similar cases in more recent history that were explained away. The stories are pretty spooky and the scenes give a decent amount of suspense made that much more horrifying because of their somewhat factual nature. At only six episodes, Lore feels a little short for a first season but if any passionate viewers want more, there are a ton of podcast episodes to which they can listen.

The first episode tackles the fear of being buried alive and mysterious illness that render their victims nearly dead. The story revolves around George Brown (Campbell Scott) and his conviction that people should be dug up to prove they are dead. The story leads to the creation of vampires from the author Bram Stoker. The second episode explores the medical procedure of lobotomy. The story explores the life of Dr. Walter Freeman (Colm Feore) who specialized in the procedure but had a strange life of his own.

Black Stockings, the third episode, introduces a strange mental condition where a person suspects someone close to them is actually someone else. Mahnke traces it back to the Irish folktale of fairies who snatched innocent people and tells the story of Bridget Cleary (Holland Roden) and her crazy husband who murdered her as he suspected she was a fairy. One of the scarier episodes, Passing Notes, introduces the concept of seances. Reverend Elakim Phelps (Robert Patrick) believes his house to be haunted and traces it back to a witch. Mahnke researches the spiritualist movement and its interesting ties to Harry Houdini. 

Werewolves are explored in  The Beast Within, the fifth episode, that addresses the beastly nature of man. Peter Stubbe (Adam Goldberg) is famed for being accused of being a werewolf and the story shows his brutal torture relating that back to public executions, which were happening surprisingly recently. Rober the doll is still in a museum in Key West where visitors must ask to take a picture with him. Unboxed, the sixth episode, explores the fear of dolls and how people become to these human looking creatures. 

Lore is an interesting show and I'm looking forward to another season as they explore even more topics. I haven't had much time to listen to the podcast but knew it was creative and informative. The show confirmed that suspicion, and I was shocked by some of the things I learned. I have taken so many of these legends for granted and have put such little into thought how these things were invented. Aaron Mahnke does have an interesting voice that is distracting at times but his stories are so clever and fascinating that he has put a great new spin on entertaining nonfiction. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Movie Review: Lady Bird

In one of the funniest films of the year, Greta Gerwig writes and directs about the travails of a teenage girl in Sacramento, California. Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) hopes to make her own path in life despite warnings from her mother Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf). With her father Larry McPherson (Tracy Letts) struggling to keep a job, the expenses of college weigh on Lady Bird. She would like to go to a college on the East coast far from Sacramento but her mother would prefer she stay close. The two of them do not always get along and their arguments escalate so far that Lady Bird throws herself out of the car in the first stunning scene of the film. With her arm in a cast, she attends the senior year of high school at a Catholic school because her adopted brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) saw someone get stabbed in public school.

Miguel went to Berkeley but has moved back into their parents' home with his wife Shelly (Marielle Scott) to bag groceries. Lady Bird doesn't always fit in at the school but she and her best friend  Julie (Beanie Feldstein) find happiness on the outskirts eating the holy wafers and gossiping about boys and masturbation. Lady Bird meets Danny (Lucas Hedges) while auditioning for a musical and they soon fall in love. She attends his family's Thanksgiving dinner upsetting her mother but seeing what life is like on the wealthier side of the train tracks. However, another boy Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) catches her eye and when Lady Bird stumbles onto Danny making out with another guy in the boys' bathroom, it ends their relationship quickly. Danny struggles to come out to his family and begs Lady Bird not to tell anyone. 

Lady Bird discovers that Kyle is friends Jonah (Daniel Zovatto) who dates Jenna (Odeya Rush), a popular girl. Lady Bird starts to ditch Julie to hang out with Jenna, making her old friend jealous. Meanwhile, she secretly applies to East coast colleges and asks her dad to help her apply for financial aid. Jenna and Lady Bird hit it off after Lady Bird devises a prank on the nuns but Lady Bird lies about her address so pretend like she is richer than her family is. They hang out together and she is able to hook up with Kyle at a party. They wait to have sex but they confess to each other that they haven't had sex before. Lady Bird is suspended when she confronts a guest lecturer about the morality of abortion and Jenna discovers that she lied about her address. She decides to lose her virginity with Kyle but is disgusted to find out that he lied about having sex previously after they do it. Her mother comforts her when she picks her up but she doesn't know what happened. 

Lady Bird still decides to go to prom with Kyle but finds that the group of cool kids wants to skip it. She asks to be dropped off at Julie's apartment and the two of them go to prom together having a great time. Julie has decided to go away to see her father but will return to community college. Lady Bird is on the waitlist for an East coast college so she plans to attend but Danny actually spills the secret to her mother. Marion is pissed at Lady Bird for going behind her back and refuses to talk to her. Lady Bird gets into the college and leaves still having not talked to her mother even though Marion runs after her a little too late after she gets on the plane. Lady Bird decides to use her name Christine when she gets to college and has an experience with over drinking that leaves her in the hospital. She goes to a church and calls her mother leaving her a heartfelt message.

Set over the end of 2002 and early 2003, the Iraq War and other cultural moments like Justin Timberlake of the time serve as a backdrop to Lady Bird's teenage struggle. Only a few years before my own high school graduation, I can relate to the confusion of the time and the pressure to succeed at a young age. The film is immersed in humor and has a such a joyous sense about it that it is hard not to smile throughout various scenes of the film while also seeing the underlying depression of a lot of the characters. Sacramento also serves as an interesting setting as Gerwig seems to know the place well. Ronan, as always, is amazing in her performance especially as she has played in more adult roles recently. Lady Bird should easily be one of the top films of the year. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League

The heroes of DC Comics unite in an action-packed adventure that has a mix of tones but some eye-popping action. The expanded universe of superheroes has struggled with recent films doing poorly with critics while having some financial success. The most recent film was a huge hit that seemed to put the connected universe back on track. Justice League does its job moving the characters around and getting them together but a lot of it feels like something that was only half thought out and a copy of something more interesting from another comic book movie company. The action in the film was enjoyable enough for me and seeing new superheroes benefited the overall feel of the film to make it an enjoyable experience for me. Familiar faces return and a new villain adds action though often has poor special effects and corny dialogue.

Batman (Ben Affleck) uses the fear of a criminal to draw out a parademon, the footsoldiers of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Bruce Wayne learns that the monsters are seeking out Motherboxes from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). She knows the legends and when she is done fighting off religious zealots, she joins Bruce in recruiting new heroes to help in the fight. Bruce heads to an isolated sea village to recruit Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) who turns out to have amazing water powers as Aquaman. Arthur refuses Bruce's offer so Wayne heads to another young protege Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) who has superspeed powers after a lightning strike turned him into the Flash. Diana Prince tries to recruit Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a football star Victor Stone, who was altered by a Motherbox when his father Silas (Joe Morton) performed experiments on it. 

Collecting the Motherboxes requires Steppenwolf to visit both Themyscira and Atlantis. He defeats the Amazonians and beats the Atlantans when Aquaman shows up to fight him too late. This theft convinces Aquaman that he needs to join the Justice League. Cyborg returns home to find that Silas is captured so he too, joins up. Together they head to a sewage system beneath Gotham city where Steppenwolf interrogates scientists and janitors who were working around the Motherbox. Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) warns Batman of commotion in the gotham sewers. In the first big action sequence of the film, Batman, Flash, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman take on Steppenwolf to stop him from stealing the Motherbox from Silas. The scientist gives the Justice League the Motherbox and Bruce wants to use it to resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) despite Diana's misgivings.

Flash and Cyborg dig up Clark Kent's body, and the Justice League drops Superman in the spaceship solution while at the same time Flash adds an electrical charge to the Motherbox right as it hits the liquid. Superman is brought back but he is confused so he fights the Justice League. He is about to kill Batman when Lois Lane (Amy Adams) arrives to calm him down. As Clark recovers from being dead, the rest of the Justice League prepare to confront Steppenwolf and the parademons. There is a bit of humor when Aquaman sits on Wonder Woman's lasso. They head out to the random Russian village where civilians have been hiding out in fear of the heightened parademon presence. Batman goes in first with the Batmobile ready to sacrifice himself but Aquaman, Flash, and Wonder Woman help him fight the monsters. Cyborg works to keep the Motherboxes apart so that Steppenwolf can't harness the power, and there is something to do with Darkseid. Superman comes into the save the day and they all work together to destroy Steppenwolf, sending him back into the cosmos.

Justice League is a lot more cartoonish than the previous films of the DC universe. I thought it was a nice change of tone and a fun film as opposed to the long slog of the film leading up to this one. The special effects didn't always look great but I felt like there was a lot more action from DC superheroes that we hadn't seen before. I also liked that I got to see Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman in action on the big screen for the first time. Introducing these characters may have been a bit rushed but I felt like it was a promise to revisit their origins later while moving them toward the epic battle at the end. Plenty of the jokes helped lighten the mood and the bright colors shown through the darkness of Zack Snyder's usual vision. Joss Whedon taking over added some of the lightheartednesses but the film does feel out of order and has odd effects because of reshoots. I have had mixed feeling about DC films but I look forward to its future now. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

TV Show Review: Better Things (Season 2)

Pamela Adlon's artsy family comedy returns for a second season of goofy antics and mother-daughter relationships. Sam Fox (Adlon) works to keep her daughters in line. Max (Mikey Madison) is dating a much older man but confesses to Sam that she doesn't want to date the man anymore. While she cares for her daughters including Frankie (Hannah Alligood) and Duke (Olivia Edward), she also tries to have a romantic life. She meets several guys but none of them really pan out for various reasons. One guy becomes too needy while friends try to set her up but she avoids going on dates. She does meet a nice guy who is a bit controlling but she gives him a chance. The relationship is never given an ending but it comes back around in later episodes.

Sam must also deal with her eccentric mother Phyllis (Celia Imrie) who lives down the street. She has a way of speaking her mind and finding out what is wrong with Sam. Phyllis is declining in health and Sam isn't sure what she should do about it. She isn't sure she can handle her declining mother on top of all the other things she has in her life. She reaches out to her brother Marion (Kevin Pollak) but he isn't much help. Sam does move forward in her relationship with Robin (Henry Thomas) by allowing him to meet with the kids but even though the dinner goes well, it doesn't work out. In Frankie's only major episode, she argues a lot with Sam and the two of them perform increasingly more outrageous pranks on one another. 

Each episode has a strange theme and often deals with her relationship with her kids. Sam puts on a fake funeral so she can hear how her kids think about her but Duke is also part of the funeral and cries when no one mentions her in their eulogizing. In another episode, she goes to the store with her friend's ex-husband Jeff (Greg Cromer) but she awkwardly runs into Robin. Jeff tries to come on to Sam but she soundly rejects him and even then he still proposes that they have sex. Sam's husband's father Arnold Hall (Rade Serbedzija) wants to see his grandchildren but Sam can't make the time work since they already had plans. Arnold also asks same to keep taking care of her ex-husband financially since he has proven to not handle money well.

Sam learns more about her extended family on a trip up to Canada as her family kept secret an aunt who was put way in a mental institute while Duke sees ghost around the cabin. In the finale, Max is graduating from high school. She throws a huge party that Sam has to stay out of. Max plans to see their father Xander (Matthew Glave) but he blows them off at the last minute. Sam has plenty of friends who step in to help take Max to her graduation. The finale ends with Sam, Duke, Frankie, and Phyllis all performing a dance for Max as her final graduation present.

Better Things is a cute show with some strange episodes and no real connecting storyline. The characters are great, Olive Edward as Duke is a highlight. Pamela Adlon delivers plenty of humor through the odd episodes making each one worthwhile. FX has a solid quirky comedy on hand and hopefully it will avoid the controversy of its co-creator Louis CK who was recently outed as a sexual harasser. It has been renewed for a third season so I look forward to seeing where it goes under the direction of Adlon. 

TV Show Review: You're the Worst (Season 4)

After a stunning end to the third season, Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) and Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) return for a hilarious fourth season. Jimmy left Gretchen right after proposing to her and it picks up this season with Jimmy hiding out in a trailer community for old people. Gretchen hasn't left the apartment of her best friend Lindsay Jillian (Kether Donohue). In Jimmy's absence, Edgar Quintero (Desmin Borges) has taken over his house and redecorated, something Jimmy would never let happen. Lindsay has found success at a fashion boutique while Edgar is writing for a comedy television show. The two of them meet to commiserate about their friends and end up in bed together but strictly as friends. Jimmy decides to return after he sees the life of a lonely old man but Gretchen does not take his return well. 

What also brought Jimmy back was the success of his romance novel, The Width of a Peach, which he wrote while dating Gretchen. Unfortunately for Jimmy, the book is being advertised by the publishers as erotica. Gretchen gets out trying to forget about Jimmy and ends up meeting Boone (Colin Ferguson). She also has to explain to Sam (Brandon Mychal Smith) and his crew about why she lied about being in another country during her three-month sabbatical in Lindsay's apartment. Gretchen also realizes that she doesn't need to let Jimmy off and decides that she still has a right to live in his house. She moves back in and works to sabotage his career. Lindsay worries that she doesn't have any real friends at work and when Gretchen throws her a divorce party none of them show up. 

Who does show up to Lindsay's party are her sister Becca (Janet Varney), Becca's husband Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson), and even Lindsay's ex-husband Paul (Allan McLeod) who has become part of a men's rights activist group. Jimmy searches for love in other places but hooking up with a fellow erotica author and an old friend only make him miss Gretchen more. Gretchen discovers that Boone has a daughter and works to be a part of their life. Edgar is unsuccessful in bonding with Jimmy so he turns to his new work friend, Max (Johnny Pemberton). Edgar tells Max about his past in the military and his struggles with drug addiction which only puts off Max and derails his career in various ways. Lindsay has revelations about her past with her sister Becca about their mother. 

Gretchen returns home, reconnects with an old friend Heidi (Zosia Mamet), and learns about herself. Jimmy embarrasses himself on NPR while Vernon struggles between taking care of the baby Becca has no interest in and his job as a surgeon. Gretchen tries to bond with Boone's daughter but finds things are off. Lindsay thinks about her past as she helps people and cautions Gretchen from getting involved in Boone's child's life. Jimmy and Gretchen try to figure out what their future will be when Vernon makes an awful mistake at surgery. Edgar thinks he got a promotion but he actually got a bad assignment. Lindsay helps Becca, Vernon, and Paul by coming up with a strange plan. Jimmy fights Boone for Gretchen and thinks he lost but then Gretchen runs out and decides to marry him.

You're the Worst is one of the most hilariously bizarre television shows with great characters and tons of one-liners. The show explores the difficult nature of relationships and surviving as a young professional in a competitive city like Los Angeles. The show veers off into weird stories sometimes but often is so funny that it doesn't really matter. The episodes are unpredictable but always falls back on Jimmy and Gretchen's rough relationship. The acting is great for these funny characters. FX has a great romantic comedy going strong through four seasons. 

TV Show Review: Vice Principals (Season 2)

This irreverent HBO comedy returned for its second and final season. Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) works to solve the crime of his shooting at the end of the first season. In his absence, Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) has taken over South Jackson High changing the mascot to a tiger and running the school the way he sees fit. Gamby played up his injury to make it seem much worse than it was but believes it is now time to return to his role as the vice principal. Lee Russell has a new assistant Nash (Dale Dickey) who tries to show deference to Gamby who is having none of it. Gamby continues to try to win over the affection of Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King) but she is dating a successful author who claims that he will help her get published.

With the help of Dayshawn (Sheaun McKinney), Gamby tries to find a new suspect, a former student Robin Schandrell (Conner McVicker) and Snodgrass's new boyfriend Brian Biehn (Fisher Stevens). Gamby suspects anyone of killing him. He even confronts former principal Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). Lee Russell suffers a revolt among the teachers and he learns about this from recording their conversations in the teachers' lounge. The teachers draw insulting caricature and post it on the school board for everyone to see. Lee Russell retaliates against the teachers by bringing in physical trainers to team build but Russell has to go to a funeral leaving Gamby to take over as principal. Gamby stands up to the trainers earning the respect of the teachers while Russell's wife Christine (Susan Park) realizes her husband is a liar.

Christine grows even more suspicious when an old boyfriend shows up talking about his wife and kids after Lee had claimed the man was gay. Russell throws a huge birthday party and Christine ruins it by getting drunk. Gamby goes home with Ms. Abbott (Edi Patterson) and they start a relationship again. Gamby becomes popular among the teachers and relishes in the attention, undercutting Russell and making fun of him in private, but when Lee Russell invites himself on Gamby's spring break with his daughter, Neal allows him to come along. Trouble ensues especially as Abbott shows up at the house. Gamby finds the masks and gun of the murderer in Russell's car and suspects him of the murder.

Back at school, Gamby confronts Russell with his silly wrist ejector gun but can't shoot Russell. Gamby tries to come back into the school but Russell fires him. Gamby doesn't want to leave without a fight so the two of them battle through the high school in a hilarious scene. Gamby is let go from the high school but he works with Snodgrass and Christine to uncover secrets about Russell. Gamby forces Russell to step down and takes over as principal. Russell tries to figure out who really shot Gamby and discovers it was Abbott just as she confronts Gamby at his cabin. She shoots Russell in the head and leaves Gamby in a ditch while she heads to the high school to kill Snodgrass. Russell survives the head wound and helps Gamby out of the hole and they race to the high school where Snodgrass has fought off Abbott. Russell had rented a tiger which Abbott lets free. Russell tries to calm the tiger but it bites his hand so Gamby has to come in and save him. Everything works out as Lee Russell becomes a manager of a clothing store and Gamby a principal of a middle school. Gamby also gets to be with Snodgrass who publishes her young adult fantasy novel.

Vice Principals had its charms at a show but at times it felt like it had lost its wild momentum. Danny McBride has been hilarious in nearly all the roles he takes while Walton Goggins shows his talent as an actor by venturing into comedy. The show was always surprising with sudden twists and shocking images popping up in nearly every episode while McBride's Gamby is so dumb and rude that it is always crazy to hear him talking to high school students and teachers. Vice Principals felt like it could have gone on for a few more years but it looks like it was funny for its short term and didn't outstay its welcome. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh brings to life Agatha Christie's mystery novel and performs as the clever detective Hercule Poirot. The film begins with Hercule solving a mystery in Jerusalem with his amazing skills before he takes a ship to Istanbul on which he meets Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) and Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) who have a secret between them. He needs to return to London for a very important case and there is only one option, the Orient Express. Bouc (Tom Bateman) runs the train so he is able to arrange for Poirot to have a room. The detective is looking forward to a trip without any mysteries to solve so when Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches him asking for help against a possible plot to kill him, Poirot refuses. 

However, when Poirot awakes, they find Ratchett has been stabbed multiple times in his bed. The Orient Express has been stalled by an avalanche so Bouc is desperate to solve the case before the police arrive. Poirot agrees to take the case and begins to interrogate each of the passengers aboard the train and search Ratchett's compartment for clues. The biggest clue is a partially burned note that reveals a connection to the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong. The film lost me a bit with this leap as Poirot is very familiar with the kidnapping and Ratchett is, in fact, the kidnapper John Cassetti. There was more than one victim as Daisy's mother died from a premature birth and her husband killed himself. The maid was accused and killed herself in police custody as the prosecutor's career was ruined by the false arrest.

Poirot interviews each of the occupants. Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Ruffo) is a man who had great success in the selling of cars. Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz) is a religious woman who has a dark past. Hector Macqueen (Josh Gad) worked for Ratchett and tries to cover up his money laundering of Ratchett's earnings by burning his accounting papers. Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi) also worked as a valet for Ratchett but was diagnosed with stomach cancer so had become disrespectful of his employer. Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) searches for a husband and claims to have heard someone that night rummaging around in her room. Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her helper Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman) take care of their little dogs and claim to have slept through the murder. Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) is anxious to get to a convention until Poirot reveals that he is, in fact, a Pinkerton agent sent to protect Ratchett.

All of the passengers are connected to the Armstrong murder in various ways and Poirot steadily uncovers their relations. Dr. Arbuthnot takes a shot at Poirot but misses so Hercule uses his fighting skill to disarm the former sharpshooter. The Armstrong family had a profound effect, from funding Marquez's first business to being a close relationship with Dragomiroff. Hardman was in love with the nursemaid while Pilar had been taking care of Daisy Armstrong the night she was captured. Macqueen was the sun of the disgraced prosecutor while Dr. Arbuthnot was able to become a doctor due to Armstrong's recommendation. Mary Debenham was the governess to the Armstrongs. Caroline Hubbard is really Linda Arden, the famous actress, and grandmother to Daisy Armstrong who gathered them all together. Each one of them took part in the murder and tries to take the blame but Poirot refuses to blame any of them so he claims the killer escaped. 

Murder on the Orient Express was enjoyable for me because I had no clue what the mystery was but I very quickly realized the solution. Agatha Christie's novel sets up a great murder mystery to be copied. Branagh's Poirot grew on me throughout the film as I felt he looked a bit ridiculous at first but found him funny and clever throughout the solution of the mystery. The all-star cast elevates this film but they feel like they were underused for the most part. The film looks great and the cinematography was entertaining but the film does not push into greatness. I liked the film more than a thought so it was a pleasant surprise for a trip to the theater. 

TV Show Review: American Horror Story: Cult (Season 7)

One of the first shows to take on the disturbing state of our country, Ryan Murphy delivers another horrifying season of this anthology series. On the day of the election of Donald Trump, there are two very different reactions. Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) is terrified by the prospect of a complete buffoon taking over the presidency while Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) is wild with excitement over the prospect of a new age in politics. Ally has a ton of phobias that creep back up with a vengeance as she confesses to her therapist Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson). Her reaction to the election also causes a rift between her and her wife Ivy (Alison Pill). They co-own a restaurant together and raise their son Oz (Cooper Dodson), but things have become more difficult with Ally's frequent freakouts so they hire a nanny Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd). She is Kai's sister and has a strange way of taking care of Oz.

A lot of strange happenings occur around their Michigan neighbor and when their neighbors are murdered, a new couple moves in. Harrison (Billy Eichner) and Meadow Wilton (Leslie Grossman) raise bees in their backyard and act strangely when they meet their neighbors. Kai grows his influence as he runs for city council, inspired by Trump. Anyone who gets in his way ends up mysteriously dead. Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) reports news stories that raise the fear in the town and with support from Kai, rises up in the ranks at the station. Detective Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes) investigates the threats to Ally and the nearby murders but he is secretly part of Kai's cult and forms a relationship with Harrison. A young report Serena Belinda (Emma Roberts) challenges Beverly until she is brutally murder on camera.

Ally is accused of causing a mass shooting when she actually tries to stop it. Kai is shot and uses his martyr status to recruit even more followers. Meadow was actually the shooter as she was trying to get out of the cult. She warns Ally and points her to Ivy who had taken away Oz after Ally's behavior grew worse. The show uses flashbacks to show how Kai grew his cult and the history of Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham) through her former lover Bebe Babbitt (Frances Conroy). Other cult leaders are revisited as Kai uses them for inspiration. It turns out that Dr. Vincent had been working with Kai since he was his older brother but had covered up their relationship after their parents killed themselves. With the help of followers like Gary Longstreet (Chaz Bono) and others, he makes awful plans. Ally returns and joins the cult since she feels she has no other choice but she secretly plots against Kai.

Winter tries to turn against her brother but Kai test the loyalty of all the women in the group as many of the tenants of his cult are from men's rights activists. Ally and Ivy fear that Kai may actually be Oz's father since he claims to have donated to the sperm back often. Kai's paranoia grows as he becomes more powerful and feels a backlash from the community. Ally kills Ivy by poisoning her and relies on Kai to help get rid of the body. Ally finally does find a snitch in the ranks of Kai's followers and uses him to get Kai arrested. Months later, Ally recovers and tries to use her fame to run a campaign but Kai plans to break out of prison and attack her. In a public spectacle, Kai confronts Ally but Beverly shoots him in the head. Ally wins the election in a landslide.

American Horror Story: Cult took on the awful political climate that affects this country but like other seasons, it goes off the rails in later episodes. Evan Peters is dynamic as the wild cult leader Kai and Sarah Paulson brings her usual talent to Ally and her constant mental breakdowns. The season defies reality in many ways and tries to predict the future in a highly unpredictable reality. I enjoyed catching up on the episodes weekly to see how the cult grew and Ally's plots against Kai and I learned a little bit of history about other cults and the assassination attempt on Andy Warhol. This season ranks around the middle of other American Horror Story seasons. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Movie Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos returns for a dark and disturbing film about revenge and consequences. Cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) has an odd relationship with a young boy Martin (Barry Keoghan), helping out the boy but lying to his family. It is later revealed that he was responsible for Martin's father's death during a surgery that Steven may have been drinking prior to performing. Martin starts to insinuate more into Dr. Murphy's life as he receives presents, shows up at his work uninvited, and eventually receives an invitation from his family. Steven's wife Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman) is welcoming to the strange boy but Martin has a bad influence on Steven's two kids Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). Martin tries to return the favor by inviting Steven over to his house but when his mother (Alicia Silverstone) starts to flirt with him.

The film takes a sinister turn when Bob cannot use his legs and no medical tests reveal what is wrong with him. Martin drags Steven out of the hospital room and informs him that each one of his family members will exhibit the symptoms: loss of use of their legs, loss of appetite, bleeding from the eyes, and death. Martin explains that since he lost a member of his family, Steven must lose one of his family members. The symptoms will progress and worsen unless Steven chooses one member of his family to die. Steven is dismayed but skeptical of Martin's claim and tries to make Bob eat but his son refuses. They continue to run tests but the doctors are convinced it is psychological. Steven tries to push Bob to walk but has no luck. Meanwhile, Martin has struck up a romantic relationship with Kim. 

Kim starts to exhibit symptoms after she collapsing during choir practice. She is able to walk a little bit trying to catch a glimpse of Martin from her hospital room. She stops eating too and Steven confesses to Anna about what Martin said. Anna investigates the operation herself speaking with the anesthesiologist Matthew (Bill Camp) and offering him a sexual favor for files about the operation. Anna confronts Steven about his past drinking but Steven refuses to admit that he is at fault. As the kids come home, Steven takes matters into his own hands by kidnapping Martin and keeping him tied up down in their basement. Steven tortures Martin to make him stop his family's suffering but Martin refuses even making a display of his dedication by biting a huge chunk of skin out his arm. 

The situation worsens when Bob starts to bleed from his eyes. As Martin threatened Steven's whole family, there is a lot of suspense about Anna finally exhibiting symptoms but she continues to stand and walk around fine. Bob and Kim struggle to prove that they deserve to live while Kim offers to sacrifice herself. Anna allows Martin to go free so Steven must make an awful choice. The climax has Steven blindfolding himself after tying up his family around the living room. He spins around and shoots hoping to randomly take out one of his family members. He finally stops when he shoots Bob and kills him. The film ends with the family sitting in the diner while Martin watches them.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a terrifying and confusing film. All of the characters have a strange way of talking which creates a wild atmosphere that allows the odd scenario play out in a believable manner in this world. The shots are impressive and the mounting terror keeps the film constantly entertaining. I was not sure what to expect when I decided to see this film but I found it quite shocking and somewhat disturbing in an enjoyable way. There is a solid cast with Farrell returning for another Lanthimos film and Kidman adding her skill this indie gem. Based on a Greek play that I am almost totally unfamiliar with, the film posits an interesting scenario of an impossible situation.  

TV Show Review: Ray Donovan (Season 5)

Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) returns for a mournful fifth season as the death of his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) has caused him an immense amount of grief. It is not immediately revealed how Abby died the season is split between present-day drama and flashbacks of Abby's last days. Ray is in a drunken daze for most of the season as he copes with his grief. He is forced to attend anger management class after an incident involved his brothers and father and his daughter calling the cops. As the story plays through multiple times, Ray has problems in the present even if he isn't totally there to deal with them. HIs family is still up to no good and finding themselves in over their head with a ton of intense trouble. Abby was a sobering force for the Donovan family so leaving them behind with a bar leads naturally to chaos.

Ray's daughter Bridget Donovan (Kerris Dorsey) seeks out a young man Smitty (Graham Rogers) who was denied treatment because Ray arranged it that Abby would receive the treatment. Something went wrong with Abby receiving the treatment but Smitty was pushed out so he is steadily dying. Terry Donovan (Eddie Marsan) has had his Parkinson assisted by a device that stops his shaking as he struggles with his own guilt over Abby's death. Bunchy Donovan (Dash Mihok) tries to make an investment with his settlement cash but ends up being robbed at a subway shop. Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) is being harassed by FBI agent Frank Barnes (Michael McGrady) to kill Avi (Steven Bauer) who is smuggling drugs. He also helps Daryll (Pooch Hall) when one of his clients Jay White (Brian White) accidentally kills his sensai.

Ray strikes up a relationship with the famous movie star Natalie James (Lili Simmons) who he may have started an affair with even before Abby died. Natalie has become pregnant after a separate affair with a producer Doug Landry (Michel Gill) who works with the ruthless mogul Samantha Winslow (Susan Sarandon). Samantha employs Ray to handle things but there is a competing fixer Vicky (Adina Porter) who tries to steal important information from him. Bunchy takes matters into his own hands since he can't find anyone to help him get his cash back so he goes to jail and meets one of the robbers, earning his trust. Mickey tries to take advantage of holding the clean up of a dead body over Jay White by getting his screenplay produced but White is hesitant to cooperate trying to change the movie into something Mickey doesn't like.

As the flashback slowly catches up, viewers learn that Abby decided she was going to kill herself just as Ray had arranged it for her to get the experimental treatment. Bridget threatens the doctor who performs the treatment to allow Smitty to receive treatment but ends up in jail. Ray has to step in and fix all the problems, faking Avi's death, helping Bridget out of jail, and helping Bunchy kill his robber and get his money. He eventually has to turn Mickey in to stop the FBI from pursuing his career but the spotlight is shined on Ray when Natalie James ends up dead. Ray helps Samantha undercut Doug Landry and kills the producer. The show ends with Ray finally returning to life still coping with the loss of Abby but able to handle his job.

Ray Donovan isn't a top show of the year but I always find myself enjoying the various stories of the Donovan family. It has confronted some tough issues and it is amazing to see how Ray gets out of seemingly impossible situations. The show looks like it is moving toward an end and I can't imagine that the show will go on for many more seasons after this one. Liev Schreiber is entertaining as the main character and his subtle performance as the fixer carries the show forward while a strong supporting cast keeps the story interesting. Without Paula Malcomson, the show will be missing a huge presence but this season was a solid send off for a great character. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a brightly colored ride of hilarity and gorgeous special effects from brilliant director Taika Waititi. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) begins the film trapped in a cage after following a bad dream about Ragnarok, the end of Asgard. Thor has been captured by the demon Surtur (Clancy Brown) but he breaks free and uses his hammer to fight off Surtur's demon's soldiers and knock off the demon's crown. He tries to get called back to Asgard but it takes a minute since Skurge (Karl Urban) is now in charge of the Bifrost. Thor does returns along with a severed dragon head and finds that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in charge maintaining his disguise as Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor and Loki head to Earth where Loki stashed him but the nursing home is torn down. With the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Thor finds Odin in his last moments. He warns of Ragnarok and their sister Hela (Cate Blanchett).

The goddess of death returns from her imprisonment and chases Loki and Thor through the Bifrost portal and knocks them out into space. Hela returns to Asgard and takes over murdering many of Thor's friends. The killing is a bit incongruent with the lighter tone most of the film takes. Thor wakes up on a waste planet Sakaar and is captured by the drunk Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former Asgard warrior. Valkyrie takes Thor to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who decides to pit Thor against his best warrior, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor discovers Loki has already set up there for weeks and earned the Grandmaster's trust. As Thor waits to fight Hulk, he meets Korg (Taika Waititi), a hilarious rock creature who likes to plan revolutions. Thor fights Hulk in a spectacular battle and the god of thunder nearly wins but the Grandmaster uses the shocking device in Thor's neck to throw the match.

Thor wakes up with women tending to his wounds and Hulk soaking in a hot tub nearby. Hulk is a lot more talkative than before but is reluctant to help Thor. Finally, the green monster is convinced to call Valkyrie who doesn't really want to go along with Thor's plan. Thor escapes and returns to the quinjet preparing to return to Asgard just as Hulk bursts in. Hearing Black Widow's voice causes Hulk to turn back into Bruce Banner who is very shocked to be on an alien planet and to have missed the last two years. Together they reunite with Valkyrie who has capture Loki. The god of mischief proposes breaking into the Grandmaster spaceship hangar with a code he knows but then Loki betrays Thor but not before Thor puts one of those shocking devices on his back and leaves him. The group flies out of Sakaar with the Grandmaster's fleet attacking them but Valkyrie makes short work of them with a little help from Thor.

Back on Asgard, Hela has raised a dead army including her giant wolf Fenris and recruits Skurge to her side. Heimdall (Idris Elba) leads a resistance gathering as many Asgardians as he can. He sneaks them to the Bifrost as Hela finds their hideout but Thor has returned to challenge her. Thor fights his sister while Hulk fights Fenris. The people try to escape through the Bifrost but are beset by the undead army. Loki shows up with Korg and a ship that can fit all the remaining Asgardians. Thor loses an eye in the fight with Hela but learns there is only one way to defeat her, cause Ragnarok. Hulk defeats Fenris as Heimdall and the others fight of the remaining dead army and Skurge has a change of heart before succumbing to Hela's wrath. Loki causes Ragnarok by throwing Surtur's crown in the eternal fire and the giant monster destroys Asgard. Hulk tries to fight it but Thor tells him to stop. They all escape on the ship while Hela fights the giant beast and perishes. Thor takes the crown looking a lot like Odin and decides to head to Earth. 

Thor: Ragnarok is probably one of the funniest movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe putting up competition with other sci-fi romps in the series. Hemsworth is great as a comedic Thor and it's nice to see a familiar face change and grow more comfortable with the role. Waititi imbues the whole film with humor except for Hela who is done brilliantly by Blanchett as the evil goddess. Ruffalo is funny too as a recovering Banner and I'm glad the green hero gets more screen time in a film beyond the Avengers. Tessa Thompson has a great role in Valkyrie playing the character with a stunning swagger. Waititi has made a brilliant film and elevated the weakest two heroes in the Avengers into top notch stars of a hilarious and fun film. 

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns in phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a solo adventure that helps tie up some of the aftermath of The Avengers. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) Narrates an old tale of the dark elves and their powerful magical object known as the Aether. The leader of the dark elves Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) only manages to save a few dark elves including Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) before the rest are destroyed by the Asgardians. In the present day, Thor works to return peace to the nine realms after his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) brought chaos from his actions in The Avengers. Loki is punished and only spared death because of the mercy of his and Thor's mother Frigga (Rene Russo). Thor and his friends win a battle after Thor takes down a giant rock monster with one swing. He celebrates but his mind is tugged back to Earth even as Sif (Jaimie Alexander) makes advances towards him.

In London, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) goes on an awkward date with Richard (Chris O'Dowd) when Darcy (Kat Dennings) shows up to show her a strange signal on her device. Jane, Darcy, and the new intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) head to the location of the signal. Meanwhile, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) has gone crazy around the Stonehenge landing him in a mental ward. Jane explores the area and is transported to the dark world and infected by the Aether. Heimdall (Idris Elba) notices that Jane has gone missing and sends Thor to find her. Jane returns thinking she's only been gone for a short time but has really been gone for five hours so Darcy had called the police. Jane is a bit upset to see Thor since he didn't visit her when he came to New York. First, Darcy then the police interrupt their talk. The police try to arrest Jane but it causes a huge explosion. Sensing something wrong, Thor brings Jane back to Asgard where they can discover more. Odin is not happy about Jane's presence her but he explains that the Aether is a fluid infinity stone. 

Malekith turns Agrim into one of the deadly Kursed and sends him to infiltrate the Asgard prison where Loki is kept. He breaks free causing a distraction and breaks down the energy defense field to allow the dark elves to invade and try to capture Jane. Malekith is fooled and only manages to kill Frigga before Thor shocks him in the face with a bolt of lightning. The dark elves flee and Asgard tries to recover. Mourning Frigga, Odin wants to heighten defenses while Thor desires to track down Malekith. With the help of Heimdall and his other friend, Thor plans treason and breaks out Loki from prison. He escapes off the planet with Jane using Loki's knowledge of a hidden wormhole and a dark elf ship. Darcy and Ian pick up Dr. Selvig at the mental ward as he warns of the convergence and provides the only solution in a new technology. On the dark world, Loki pretends to betray Thor tricking Malekith into pulling the Aether out of Jane. Thor meets his match in a battle with Kursed so Loki has to help by attaching a bomb to the monster's hip but the trickster is stabbed in the process. 

Jane discovers a wormhole that ties back to the one she discovered on Earth. A soldier returns from the dark world to inform Odin that Loki is dead. Back in the laboratory, Jane and Selvig discuss the convergence. They prepare to prevent it but the dark elves invade Greenwich. Thor fights Malekith as they transport between realms. Ian saves Darcy from a dark elf attack and Jane and Selvig flee the dark army. Malekith uses the Aether to unite the realms but Thor drives one of Selvig's tools into his heart destroying him though not the Aether. Thor returns to Asgard but decides he would rather be on Earth with Jane. The Aether is taken to the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) where it will be kept hidden from a greater threat. Loki takes control of the throne disguising himself as Odin. 

Thor: The Dark World is not a highlight for Marvel and plays like just another episode while contributing to the greater story by adding the Reality Stone. While the first film had to deal with Thor's origin and took away his powers, this second film does deliver more Thor action with hammer flying and epic superhero battles. Director Alan Taylor is familiar with fantasy fare so his experience brings out solid performances from Eccleston and Hopkins while Portman's foster appears to be the weakest part. Hemsworth is amusing as Thor but has not lived up to his full potential for action or humor. Phase 2 was definitely an improvement on the first part including this film but it still feels episodic and just another chapter in the Thor saga.  

Movie Review: Thor

Adding a third superhero to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and expanding it into a fantasy realm, this mediocre Marvel film was one of the first I felt really disappointed with after leaving the theater though I have learned to appreciate parts of it. Astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) waits for an event with her assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Denning) and fellow scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) when chaos rains down from the sky and Jane hits a man, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The film jumps back with a monologue from Odin (Anthony Hopkins) lectures his two son, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), about the dangers of the frost giants and the wonders of Asgard. Thor is quick to violence while Loki is more crafty but Odin can only promote one to king. He chooses Thor but during his ceremony to receive the crown, the frost giants invade and try to steal a powerful weapon. Odin's security proves too powerful but Thor is angry the Jotunheim even attempted something so brash.

Thor stews but his friends Vostagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas), and Siff (Jaimie Alexander) discouraged him from doing anything. Loki, however, encourages Thor to disobey Odin with trickier and go to Jotunheim. Thor decides to fight back but must use the Bifrost guarded by Heimdall (Idris Elba) who is upset the frost giants were able to sneak by him. The group is transported to Jotunheim where Thor challenges King Laufey (Colm Feore). A battle is almost avoided but Laufey insulted Thor. The friends fight the frost giants including a giant dog beast that Thor flies through the mouth of and out the back of its head. Odin shows up to rescues the group as Frandral is injured but war has been declared. Enraged with Thor's actions, Odin banishes him to Earth and separates him from his hammer. This catches the film back up to the beginning where Jan hits Thor with the car and Darcy tases him. 

Jane and company drop Thor off at the hospital then return to their research. They look at the pictures during the incident and see Thor among the pictures so they want to question him when he wakes up. Thor wakes up distressed not to have his powers so he beats up the hospital staff and escapes only to get hit by Jane's car again. Meanwhile, a crowd has gathered around Mjolnir, Thor's Hammer, as various men try and fail to lift it. SHIELD's Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) takes notice of the strange object. Back in Asgard, Thor's friends mourn his absence while Lokie reveals that he alerted Odin. Loki also learns that he is descended from frost giants which is why he can't be king of Asgard. Thor's behavior does not go over well back on Earth. Selvig is skeptical of Thor's claims and convinces Jane to let him search for Mjolnir on his own. SHIELD confiscates all of Jane's equipment as she returns to the lab. 

Loki has taken control of Asgard as Odin has fallen into a deep sleep. Jane agrees to help Thor seek out Mjolnir after all. Jane and Thor discover that SHIELD has put up a perimeter around the hammer so Thor goes in beating up all the guards. Watching him from above and waiting for his shot to be called is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who only plays a small part in the film. Thor makes his way to the hammer only to find that he can't lift it. Distraught, he allows himself to be captured. Coulson interrogates him finding nothing of use but Loki stops by to tell him that Odin is dead. Thor is even more upset when Selvig comes to break him out. Selvig and Thor drink boilermakers until Selvig is wasted. Thor and Jane bond over science and magic by a campfire. Loki returns to Jotunheim to bargain with Laufey. Thor's friends want to go to Earth and with Heimdall's help, they reunite with Thor, letting some credibility to his story. Loki freeze Heimdall for his treason and sends down a giant metal creature that Odin use for security. Thor sacrifices himself, which earns him Mjolnir back and his powers. He defeats the metal monster and Heimdall frees himself to bring him and his friends back, but first, he makes a deal with Coulson to get Jane's stuff back and kisses Jane promising to return.

Thor returns just as Laufey invades Asgard but Loki stops him from killing Odin and using the frost giant attack as an excuse to destroy Jotunheim. He blasts Thor out of the tower and flees across the rainbow bridge. As Loki uses the Bifrost to destroy the frost giant planet, Thor confronts him and has to destroy the rainbow bridge to stop the destruction. They nearly fall into the void but Odin awakes to catch them though Loki still lets himself drift off into space. Thor is forced to remain in Asgard and Jane on Earth. Thor has some spectacular effects and director Kenneth Branagh brings out the Norse mythology fantasy quite well. Hemsworth is decent as the swaggering Thor while Hiddleston steals the show as the villainous Loki. Thor was just a bizarre stopping point to add the character to Marvel large stable as it moved closer to The Avengers. 

Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk

The big green superhero joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a reboot that skips over the origin story and jumps into the chase of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton). After a brief recap shows the Hulk's destruction, the controlling General Ross (William Hurt) trying to stop Bruce, and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) being hurt by the Hulk rampage. Bruce disappears but General Ross pursues him using Stark technology and in cooperation with SHIELD. In the favelas of Brazil, Banner works to keep his inner monster under control with a series of meditations. He works at a bottling factory, studies the language, and tries to lay low but when a drop of his blood accidentally spills in a bottle, it triggers General Ross and his hunting party. A new member of his squad, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) takes a more ruthless approach to the pursuit but is stunned when he confronts the Hulk in a bottling factory. Banner is harassed by bullies until he turns into the Hulk before the team can advance. He beats up the teams throws a giant forklift at Blonsky before disappearing again.

General Ross scours Banner's old room looking for clues while Bruce manages to make it to another country to determined to cross the border back into America not just to converse with a mysterious Mr. Blue about a cure, but also to see his love, Betty. He watches her from a distance and seeks out shelter at a friendly pizza owner's place. Betty catches sight of him and flees but she manages to track him down in her car. He explains everything and why returned to collect his old data. Sharing it with Mr. Blue may be his only chance to find a cure. Blonsky becomes obsessed with Banner's mutation and General Ross agrees to give him a low dose of the serum. On campus, Bruce tries to escape with his data but the military surrounds him. He retreats to the library where he swallows the data stick before he morphs into the Hulk. As the Hulk, Banner fights off the military assault but Blonsky looks to be able to keep up with the Hulk. General Ross throws everything he has at Hulk including a soundwave cannon that Blonsky tricks him into chasing him into the range of. Hulk manages to break free of the soundwave and smash the vehicles. He kicks Blonsky hard smashing all of his bones against a tree. General Ross sends in a gunship helicopter but Betty steps in the way so Hulk wraps his body around her to protect her before escaping. 

Betty and Bruce go on the run once he returns to normal form and vomits up his data. They hope to find Mr. Blue and with the data discover a cure. General Ross is on their trail as Blonsky recovers from having his bones turned to gravel. Bruce is haunted by awful dreams and unable to make love to Betty without raising his heart rate. They eliminate any possible sources of tracking but Bruce does reach out to Mr. Blue which gives SHIELD a trail to follow. Dodging roadblocks and dealing with crazy taxi cab drivers, Betty and Bruce make it to the office of Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) aka Mr. Blue. He is amazed by Bruce's appears and agrees to help induce a Hulk episode to test out a new antidote. The trial works somewhat after Betty calms the Hulk down but as they discuss the possibilities the military invades. Blonsky tries to get information out of Bruce but he was hit with a tranquilizer dart.

Blonsky demands that Sterns give him some of the serum so that he can have super strength. He turns into the Abomination and begins to torment people in Harlem. General Ross has a dazed Bruce Banner so he didn't understand the reports of a Hulk in the streets at first. Banner convinces him to turn around and let him fight the Abomination. Bruce drops from the helicopter smashing into the road as he turns into Hulk. Abomination and Hulk clash in the streets but the Abomination proves he's stronger. Hulk smashes a car in half to use as metal fists but even after he smashes Abomination into the ground, the boney beast kicks the green monster through a building. General Ross uses a helicopter to shoot at Abomination so the mutated Blonsky jumps at the helicopter. Hulk grabs Abomination's foot and they all come crashing down on a rooftop. As a fire spreads beneath the helicopter, Hulk fights Abomination turns to save Betty and General Ross with an airwave caused by slamming his hands together. Finally, he smashes down on the ground and takes down Abomination, being calmed by Betty before he can kill Blonsky. In the end, Betty looks longing out at the ocean while Bruce hides out in the woods in Canada. 

The Incredible Hulk was an improved reboot that served as sort of a sequel while also clearing the way for the superhero to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As an early film in the MCU, the film does not have the quality of later entries but does boast some stunning special effects, especially in the battle between Hulk and Abomination. Hulk still suffers from the boring parts of Bruce Banner trying to find a cure, since doing scientific research is never very entertaining and doesn't move as fast as a Hollywood film. Edward Norton wasn't great as Banner and was recast before the Avengers film. This movie is strange because it feels separate with many different characters and actors that never came back into play, though recently General Ross has appeared in Civil War. I enjoy watching this film every once in a while but certainly not my favorite. 

Movie Review Hulk

Ang Lee's tribute to comics and the big green uncontrollable superhero distinguishes itself with a visual style but drags with a long story that is confusing and slow. David Banner experiments on himself with a new drug that enhance the immune system when he finds out his wife is pregnant. Their son exhibits strange behavior like a lack of response to pain and green-tinged skin when he's angry. General Ross confronts Banner about his experiments and threatens to shut down his work. David Banner's son is shown with his foster parents preparing to go off to college and become a scientist. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) bikes to his lab at the institute where he works with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) who recently dumped him. There experiment with gamma radiation is up for review but they are planning a big experiment but it goes wrong.

Looking to purchase the lab,  Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) has a unique relationship with Betty's father General Ross (Sam Elliott). A mysterious janitor (Nick Nolte) with three dogs begins to work at their lab sneaking around at night and watching Bruce. The next day the experiment goes wrong and Bruce is hit with a blast of gamma radiation. In the hospital, David Banner, the janitor, visits his son and tells him the truth of his identity. He uses his blood for his own nefarious experiments. Back in his lab, Bruce becomes uncontrollably enraged about confusing memories and transforms into the giant green monster Hulk trashing his workspace. He sees his father watching him and remembers the trauma of his childhood before leaping away into the city leaving his laboratory in shambles.

Betty discovers Bruce the next morning in tattered clothes. General Ross knows Bruce's true identity and suspects him immediately. While Bruce is kept under surveillance, his father sends his mutated dogs after Betty at her cabin in the woods. Talbot attacks Bruce but is shocked when he turns into the Hulk and throws him out the window. Hulk makes it to the cabin and fights off the dogs protecting Betty before he turns back into Bruce. Betty calls her father and they capture Bruce the next morning. He is shipped to an underground facility and kept sedated. David Banner experiments on his own body and is able to combine his cells with other objects. Talbot usurps Ross's command and torture Bruce trying to carve off some of the green skin to study. Bruce is confined to a water tank and induced to have bad dreams but he transforms, and Hulk breaks out. 

The soldiers try to stop the big green monster but Hulk manages to escape as Talbot dies in the process. Hulk flees across the desert as Ross calls in the military. Hulk fights off attacks from tanks and helicopters. The military believes they've won but Banner survives the attack and heads to San Francisco where Betty has taken David Banner into custody. Hulk fights jets, one flies high into the sky and drops him. He continues to wreak havoc on the city until Betty finally calms him down. In military custody, David and Bruce are brought together under the threat of a giant electro-magnetic pulse machine. David bites into the wire and receives a massive shock turning him into a large monster that carries the Hulk through a fight in the clouds. The battling behemoths end up at the bottom of a lake where the Hulk forces his power onto David, destroying him. A year later, Betty lives life under surveillance while Bruce hides out in Central America.

Hulk has some issues like being a bit too long and over-serious for a superhero movie, especially one with a giant green main character, but it does have several decent action sequences that are worth revisiting. Ang Lee takes a unique approach showing the film as comic strips and there is a decent enough origin story to move the film along. None of the main creators would return for the reboot but this film has a special place as one of the early superhero films with an original take on the comic book adaptation.