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 on 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. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sports: NFL (Week 7&8)

Two weeks of football has had some new teams rise to the top. As I looked back at the standings from last year, many different teams were leading each division, at least in the NFC. The AFC has some familiar teams at the top and it looks like it could be a repeat for the reigning champions. The season still has a long way to go so teams that look terrible right now could turn it around though there are some teams that the season is just over for. As we head into the final two months of the regular season with a ton of excitement on the way for nine more weeks, I'll be looking forward to which teams distinguish themselves as it gets closer to the playoffs.

NFC
NFC East
The Philadelphia Eagles look like the best team in the league. In the last two weeks, the Eagles have beat the 49ers and the Redskins before that, for the second time, so not the most impressive wins. Philadelphia's future looks a  little tougher with the Broncos this next weekend and division rival the Cowboys after that. The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of catching up to do but two wins recently also against the Redskins and 49ers have kept them in the chase. They are missing their star running back for the next few weeks so that may cause them some problems going forward against the Chiefs and Falcons. The two division losses for the Washington Redskins have put them in third and their schedule does not look easy with division leaders in the Seahawks and Vikings next. The New York Giants have given up this season with only a win against the Broncos before another loss to the Seahawks.

NFC North
The Minnesota Vikings have capitalized on an opponent's injury and won the last two games against the Ravens and the Browns in London. Their next two games against the Redskins and Rams won't be easy but will prove they deserve the top spot. A bye week and another loss for the Green Bay Packers does not bode well for their season moving forward without their starting quarterback. They'll face their division rival the Detroit Lions on Monday night then go at the Chicago Bears. The Lions have lost two straight going into Monday night's game but will have the Browns after the Packers on Mondy. The Bears have had a rough season but a win over the Panthers showed some light followed by a loss from the Saints. They have a bye week, then face the Packers too.

NFC South
The New Orleans Saints have risen to the top of this division after winning five games in a row including recent wins over the Packers and Bears. The Saints lost their first two games but rallied back. They have a divisional game against the Buccaneers this weekend and the Bills after. The Carolina Panthers have been inconsistent with a disappointing loss to the Bears before beating the Buccaneers. They'll go up against the Falcons this weekend then take on the Dolphins. The Atlanta Falcons have me worried as my favorite team. I've grown used to disappointment but they had a similar record last year. A blowout loss to the Patriots was disheartening for Atlanta but they may be back on track after a win over the Jets. The game against Carolina will make or break the season. After the Panthers, Atlanta has another challenge in the Cowboys. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost four in a row including Bills and Panthers leaving them at the bottom of the division. Their future games of the Saints and Jets won't be easy. 

NFC West
The Seattle Seahawks rose to the top after wins over the Giants and the Texans. They can probably beat the Redskins and Cardinals to stay in that position. The Los Angeles Rams are right behind them after two wins over the Jaguars and Cardinals. They can stay on Seattle's heels with wins over the Giants and the Texans. The Arizona Cardinals loss to the Rams after beating the Buccaneers. If they beat the 49ers, which should be easy, and upset the Seahawks, they'll be back in the fight. The San Francisco 49ers are truly the worst team in football losing 8 straight and no wins. 

AFC
AFC East
The reigning Super Bowl champions find themselves back in control after winning four in a row. The New England Patriots have the Broncos and Raiders next. The Buffalo Bills are right behind them winning the last two agains the Buccaneers and Raiders. They take on the Jets then Saints. The Dolphins beat the Jets but lost to the Ravens leaving them in third but they could get back into the chase if they beat the Raiders and the Panthers. The Jets have lost three in a row so will have to bounce back against Buffalo and Tamp Bay.

AFC North
The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely return to challenge the Patriots for an AFC title after beating the Bengals and Lions. They can probably make it past the Colts and Titans too. The Ravens are mediocre after beating the Dolphins but losing to the Vikings before. They'll take on the Titans and Packers next. The Cincinnati Bengals are the team I only root for because they are always on television here but their record is rough and their play is not great. They did beat the Colts and will continue through the AFC South against the Jaguars and Titans. The Cleveland Browns have not won any games.

AFC South
The Tennessee Titans are actually tied at the top of the weakest division in the league. Two easy wins against the Browns and the Colts put them there but they'll have to survive the Ravens and Bengals to stay on top. Right behind them, the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking better than previous seasons. They beat the Colts but lost to the Rams. They'll need to beat the Bengals and Chargers to stay on top. The Houston Texans are still in it with their strong new quarterback Deshaun Watson, formerly of Clemson, They ended up losing to Seattle despite the impressive performance. Houston's road ahead includes the Colts and the Rams. The Indianapolis Colts are one of the worst team this year, they lost their last three including the Jaguars and Bengals. They will probably lose to the Texans and Steelers in the next two weeks. 

AFC West
The Kansas City Chiefs have had a solid run except for a late night loss at the last minute to the Oakland Raiders made for a crazy game and gave them a second loss in a row. They had an impressive win over the Denver Broncos after that. Going forward they have back-to-back NFC East opponent; the Cowboys and the Giants. The Denver Broncos have a decent defense but that hasn't been enough with three straight losses including to two divisional rivals, the Chargers and the Chiefs in their last two games. The Broncos future looks bleak too with games against Philadelphia and New England in the pipe. The Los Angeles Chargers did win three in a row after a four loss start including over the Broncos but then dropped another game to the Patriots. The Chargers next matches are the Jaguars and the Bills. The Oakland Raiders did beat the Chiefs but then fell to the Bills the next week. The Raiders could back to a five hundred record with wins over the Dolphins and Patriots, but not likely. 

I may not have as much time to write about football in the future so I might stick to writing every two weeks and my focus is going to be only on the top teams from here on out.