Monday, January 30, 2017

TV Show Review: The Affair (Season 3)

The third season of The Affair jumps into the future but tells part of the story in flashbacks. Noah (Dominic West) has been imprisoned after confessing to the murder of Scott Lockhart. Helen (Maura Tierney) has forgiven Noah as he took the fall for the accident in which in fact she was driving the car. Alison (Ruth Wilson) returns back home to Montauk after an emotional breakdown, hoping to regain custody of her daughter. Cole (Joshua Jackson) has a new life as a restaurant and construction company owner, raising Joanie. 

The season continues the mixed perspectives of each characters choosing two characters for each episode to tell the story two different ways. Noah struggles with his memories of prison under the torturous guard John Gunther (Brendan Fraser). He strikes up a relationship with a college professor on sabbatical Juliette (Irène Jacob). Once he is stabbed, an investigation begins into who his attacker is though Noah highly suspects that John Gunther is stalking him. 

Helen tries to cope with the guilt of causing the death of Scott Lockhart and maintain her relationship with the surgeon Vic (Omar Metwally). Her daughter Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) has fallen for a rich artist asshole who employs as an assistant and insults her family constantly. The finale revolves around Noah's relationship with Whitney after the disturbing events in the second season though these seem to be a Paris detour from the main story.

Alison works to win over Cole despite the misgivings of his new wife Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moren) who disapproves of Alison abandoning her daughter during the psychotic break. Overcome with worry for her daughter, Alison tries to remain calm and prove that she is psychologically capable of raising another child though the death of her first son still haunts her. This story achieves no real resolution and seems to be waiting for a further plot twist in the fourth season. 

There are certainly som twists and turns, though the interesting parts of the story had passed in the first two season and the plot works to find new ground to tread. There are more affairs as couples who were once married now reignite their romance and new characters are introduced into the complicated love triangles. I still enjoy hearing the opening credit song from Fiona Apple. The Affair has lost its way in this mediocre third season but has potential to get back on track in the fourth season. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Movie Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

The video game adaptation franchise finally concludes but not on a high not, just another mediocre film that has not succeeded at the domestic box office. Alice (Milla Jovovich) survived the war in Washington D.C. and roams the streets. She hasn't seemed to learn from her five other movies, still walking into traps and finding herself in trouble. Alice ducks, flips, and shoots her way out of dire circumstances on more than one occasion. The action would be a lot more fun to watch if there weren't some many cuts that make for confusing action and hurts the narrative, a signature of Paul W.S. Anderson's directing style.

The story revolves around the mission the Red Queen gives Alice to cure the T-Virus infection with an airborne antivirus that remains in the bottom of the hive from the original film. The movie, like the others, insists on filing the information from the beginning and adding to the story. In this past, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) conspired to orchestrate the outbreak in a biblical delusion hoping to bring about a figurative flood from the story of Noah's Ark. Alice is kidnapped by Dr. Isaacs, who claims that she only killed a clone back in the third film. The doctor is also heading back to Raccoon City in an armored truck trailed by an army of undead.

Once Alice makes it to Raccoon City, she teams up with another group of dispensable survivors bringing back Claire (Ali Larter) from the third and fourth film. Also in the group are Abigail (Ruby Rose), Razor (Fraser James), and Doc (Eoin Macken). most of these members have the same fate as in the previous film as they walk through the traps of the hive, including a large fan, a monster, and trap doors. Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is at the bottom protecting the airborne antivirus and working with the Red Queen to stop the attack.

The movie can't even fully round out the series but viewers should get a sense this is the end, mainly from the title of the film. Alice has to face off against an improved Dr. Isaacs though this hardly seems like more of a challenge than the version she faced in the third film. The movie pays homage to the original but certain things, like Alice's telepathic powers, are forgotten and brushed under the rug. Still, the Resident Evil series has been a fun, intense zombie action adventure with minor horror elements, making it popular enough to survive six films.

The movie looks to be doing fine overseas but not well in its opening weekend. The franchise was burnt out several films ago but they kept pushing it along with a crazy story and simple formula that grew. It appears that The Final Chapter didn't have the chance to add the biggest climax but there were some fun battle scenes, even if they were plagued with quite, jolting cuts. I had fun catching up and finishing this series though it will be quite some time before I think of revisiting it again. 

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Retribution

Alice (Milla Jovovich) and the Umbrella corporation are back at it in the fifth installment to the Resident Evil franchise. After the helicopter assault the Arcadia ship led by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Umbrella captures Alice and puts her through torture and experimentation. Alice discovers that she is in a test facility with multiple big city locations including Tokyo, New York, and Moscow. A war has sparked between Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) and the rogue artificial intelligence known as the Red Queen. Wesker sends an extraction team to the Umbrella facility to help Alice escape but the Red Queen uses Jill Valentine, more clones, and zombie mutants to try and stop them.

During the experimentation, Umbrella convinces Alice that she has a daughter, Becky (Aryana Engineer). The extraction team has a familiar face with Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and also includes Barry Burton (Kevin Durand) and Leon (Johann Urb). The clones are of familiar faces from previous films including Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), One (Colin Salmon), and Carlos (Oded Fehr). The movie also brings back monsters from previous films including the ax-toting giant and the crawling creatures from the first film. Alice also teams up with another super soldier Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) to take on the Red Queen's zombie and clone army.

Retribution is a culmination of all the previous films with unlimited destruction because the test facilities reboot after every disaster as they were used to show what the T-Virus could do to governments. The special effects have improved tremendously from when the creatures were first revealed and even the zombies move faster with more violence. It's easy to see how this film series could have reached a point of outrageousness, but Paul W.S. Anderson still attempts to write and direct a comprehensive story despite the raising of stakes and increased chaos. 

The battle rages through each mock city as Alice and the crew ascend to the surface of the underwater complex somewhere beneath a frozen tundra shipyard. For the final boss of this fifth movie, Alice has to take on an enhance Jill Valentine as the Red Queen's surrogate while the remaining members of the crew take on a super-parasite infected Rain. 

The film winds up in Washington D.C. where Wesker has set up a final fortress at the White House to set up the final chapter with an all out zombie mutant war. Retribution is definitely one of the more fun films of the batch with its over the top use of mutants. There is not as much zombie gore but plenty of action to satisfy fans of the franchise that have stuck with it for this long. I look forward to seeing how the final battle all plays out in theaters. 

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife

The fourth installment of the Resident Evil franchise takes Alice (Milla Jovovich) across the Pacific to Japan and what is believed to be the last Umbrella corp. underground lair. We soon learn that Alice is not alone but taking on the underground lair with help of all of her clones toting samurai swords and ninja stars. She takes out this group but loses several of herself in the process. She is also injected with a weird serum that reduces all of her superpowers making her a normal human again.

After stopping in Tokyo, Alice flies back to Alaska in search of her friends. She doesn't find a haven but is reunited with Claire (Ali Larter) who has no memory of what happened. They fly back down the West coast where they meet a group of survivors holed up in a prison. This group includes Bennett (Kim Coates), Luther (Boris Kodjoe), and the imprisoned Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller). This group ekes out survival but when a new mutated form of zombie with a split open tongue burrow through the walls, the team has to escape. A giant monster with a hammer also starts knocking on the gate hurrying the evacuation.

Paul W.S. Anderson wrote the previous two installments but is back directing this fourth film so there is an increase in slow-motion. This movie also appealed directly to the 3D boom making up for the sloppier 3D release of the previous one. The evolved zombies make for a little more action and a necessity for special effects that work a lot better than before. Zombies having their face split open and tentacles shooting out seem to be the natural evolution of these creatrues for several properties and Resident Evil is no different. 

The recurring villain who takes center stage as the final boss is Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) who led the Umbrella corp. and then is infected with the T-Virus that makes him extra strong. It turns out that the boat they south for safety, Arcadia, was in fact just another test facility for Umbrella. The villain throws all of the familiar monsters at Alice including mutant dogs with faces splitting open, but, even without special powers, she comes out on top. 

One additional surprise is Chris Redfield is actually married to Claire and they must be a couple from the video games that fans would recognize. Once the action is wrapped up it is revealed the Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) has a red spider attached to her chest that is a symbol of the brainwashed victims of Umbrella and she leads a helicopter assault of the boat. Another Resident Evil franchise achieves a modicum of success with only a requirement of zombie gore and action scenes, which it pulls off. This sequel beats out the original and the third but still behind the second.  

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Extinction

The T-Virus has spread throughout the world as the third film in the series takes place in the barren post-apocalyptic desert. Alice (Milla Jovovich) has been cloned hundreds of time but the real Alice still wanders the wasteland fighting off scavengers, zombies, and mutated dogs. Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) still leads the experiments for the Umbrella Corp., which now operates underground away from the zombie plague. She teams up with a crew that includes some of the survivors from the previously film like L.J. (Omar Epps) and Carlos (Oded Fehr). Additional members include Claire, (Ali Larter), Betty (Ashanti), and Mikey (Christopher Egan).

Alice's powers have progressed more that she now has telepathic abilities, able to stop fire or other attacks with her mind. The zombies are nastier in this film as they now outnumber the humans by a greater ratio. Mutated beasts are still present from a return to the dogs to crows that have feasted on infected flesh and work together to attack the group. As Dr. Isaacs test Alice's fail, he becomes obsessed with capturing the real Alice and using her blood for further experimentation. 

The film has some decent action scenes and I liked it better watching again. The set certainly have a Mad Max vibe and the climax in a rotted Las Vegas looked pretty cool. The action is focused around zombies as Dr. Isaacs uses an army of trained undead to hunt to the crew and Alice. He turns into the finale monster as he injects some of Alice's blood and grows hideous with long fingers that he can use to pluck out the eyes of his victims.

There are rumors of safety up North as this serves as a way to indirectly set up the sequel and a source of hope for the crew that is steadily declining in number. Making it to this safe place is one objective but Alice has her own goal of revenge. The special effects still look pretty cheap but have improved dramatically from the first film. The acting is still mediocre but passable as the main purpose of this film is to deliver zombie gore and action beats.

A promise of this film is to have multiple Alice's hunting the rest of the Umbrella corp. in Japan. The Resident Evil movies have always ended with the promise of another chapter and a bigger story to come. The Umbrella corp. continues to push on with their experiments despite the destruction of the world and Alice continues to grow stronger. Extinction is a step down from Apocalypse but still better than the original. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Filling in some details from the events right after the original, the sequel begins on a grander scale. All of Raccoon City falls victim to the infection of the T-Virus. Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up from experimentation and starts fighting zombies. The film introduces a new set of characters who struggle to survive the Apocalypse. Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) is a tough cop who isn't afraid to shoot a zombie in the head as the virus begins to spread. Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) is part of a tactical team that ventures into the city to help extract civilians. L.J. (Mike Epps) is a petty crook with custom pistols who is just trying to survive.

As the virus spreads, the military begins to quarantine all the citizens and only evacuate the important members of the Umbrella corporation. Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann) leads the operation and is tasked with evacuating the scientist Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris) who tasks the remaining survivors with finding his daughter Angie (Sophie Vavasseur). 

The movie takes everything that worked in the first one and with a presumably bigger budget expands on the original film. The monster that served as the final villain is multiplied in early scenes as they have bigger monsters and more zombies for Alice to fight. Her abilities increase as well flipping and jumping through the city taking out zombies and fighting the new villain, Nemesis. Another experiment from the Umbrella corp. under the control of Major Cain, Nemesis has a bazooka and a machine gun and is able to dispatch of a whole troop in a matter of seconds. In the end, it is revealed that Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) is behind Alice's new strength.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a high point in the franchise as it focuses on the action and adds new species to the world. The expanded setting of the city allows for more complex sets and action that lets the characters move around. It still keeps a minor horror element especially as the crew enters a school in search of Angie though retains some of the more idiotic tropes from the genre. Apocalypse is worth a watch for fans of zombies and the video game. 

Movie Review: Resident Evil

The video game adaptation sparks a franchise that has soldiered for five sequels. The first film begins with the hive of the Umbrella Corp under a lockdown as a virus spreads through the facility. Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up with a blurry memory inside a mansion. She encounters Matt (Eric Mabius) who claims to be part of the police force when they are captured by a military team. The leader of the team is One (Colin Salmon) who is taking them from the mansion deep underground to stop the evil rogue AI, the Red Queen, beneath Raccoon City.  

Alice also has memories of being married to Spence (James Purefoy). She teams up with Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) after most of the team is eliminated by a laser beam hallway. The movie turns into a typical zombie movie from that point on with cheap special effects and over the top action common for a movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Audiences have been spoiled with zombie gore since this film was released and this is nowhere near one of the top in this subgenre of horror. The special effects are pretty flimsy and dated too. 

There are some plot twists and some background on what was happening in the Umbrella Corporation that led to the release of the T-Virus. The Red Queen as a little girl yet a villainous computer was a decent bit of horror. The creature that stalks after the group and ultimately confronts them in the finale looked terrible but was one of the better parts of the film. My favorite part was the mutated dogs that pursue Alice and she dropkicks or shoots.

Resident Evil wasn't a great start to the series but it got the ball rolling. It establishes that Alice has special abilities and that she is able to kick some zombie ass. The bites in this world don't immediately take effect but do infect enough that eventually, the victims will die. There is talk of a cure but no real proof that it actually works None of the acting is remarkable and the directing takes away from the action by focusing on strange shots that does always help exposition. 

At the end of this movie, we see that Alice has been taken away to another Umbrella facility. She wakes up in a hospital bed with tubes attached to her body, like many other zombies films have begun. She walks outside and sees that the whole world has been overrun with zombies. This ending works well setting up for the sequel, which will pick up where this one left off. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Movie Review: Silence

Martin Scorsese has made a powerful film about the power of faith and the struggle between conflicting cultures. This epic story tells of the journey of two priests who come to Japan to find their lost teacher. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) are the two young priests that venture to hostel Japan. They have received news that their teacher Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has apostatized against the Christian faith. They do not believe the rumors and determine that they will travel to Japan to retrieve their father and discover the truth while spreading the gospel.

The brutal torture of Japanese Christians is revealed early and continues throughout the film making this a movie that could be difficult to watch for some. The Inquisitor (Issei Ogata) persecutes the faithful with elaborate tactics that conspire to bring out the worst in humans. They provide religious tests like stepping on an image of Christ or spitting on a cross to weed out the Christians. They put the citizens to death making the priests doubt their mission and put out a bounty for the priests' capture. 

The question of religion is a complicated one but the exploration by Scorsese in Silence is intriguing. It shows how the gospel thrived by preaching suffering and paradise after death allowing for the believers to sacrifice themselves despite brutal torture and executions. The movie also explores the power of symbols from tiny bamboo crosses to a simple bead of a rosary, all religious symbolism has been banned from the island so any small trinket is important to the undercover Christians.

Garfield is great adding to an already stellar year playing devout characters. His torture and the decline of his wellbeing throughout is shown through his stellar performance. As supporting actors both Driver and Neeson are enjoyable to watch but it is supporting performances from Yosuke Kubozuka as the tormented Kichijiro who abandons his faith and repents repeatedly. The direction is gorgeous and the landscape of Japan add to the wonder and act as a counter to the horror of human nature.

I have enjoyed tons of Scorsese's movies and Silence is yet another one that I can add to a long list of great movies. The film has been ignored by the Academy but deserves recognition for the epic tale of the trials of faith in 1600s Japan. The film doesn't feel like a Christian movie though it espouses the power of devotion and I enjoyed it despite having no faith in Christianity. In an era where the U.S. is beginning a ban on Muslim immigrant, the movie feels relevant.  I would recommend this movie to those who enjoy their views challenge and have a stomach for harsh treatment of humans by other humans. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sports: NFL Playoffs (Conference Championships)

In two blowouts, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are going to the Super Bowl! Neither of the games was especially exciting to watch but both of them showed what could be done when these teams face off against each other. Football is nearly at an end this season and I hope the final game is more exciting than the conference championships.


NFC
The Falcons are the team that I am rooting for in the Super Bowl, one of the most exciting teams to watch this year. Their stellar quarterback Matt Ryan is almost a sure pick for MVP and has thrown over 4,000 yards. The high-powered offense including wide receiver Julio Jones created plenty of explosive plays that lead to a 44-21 victory. The Falcons defense shutout the Green Bay Packers offense in the first half, which bodes well for their chances against a more lethal Patriots offense. 

AFC
This game was lopsided from the beginning as the New England Patriots took a strong lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and never looked back. The Patriots won 36-17 against a Steelers team who got to this game without scoring a touchdown in the playoffs. I was tired of blowout football about halfway through this game and I figured a sick Steelers team with injuries was not going to mount a comeback.

Super Bowl LI will be one that I'm especially excited to watch. I am picking the Falcons to win over the Patriots and also rooting for Atlanta over New England. 

Movie Review: Split

M. Night Shyamalan takes on mental illness in his latest thriller. James McAvoy plays the character Kevin and his multiple inhabitants in an impressive performance. Unfortunately, McAvoy performance is the only part of the film worth watching. I will be spoiling the end of this film but since it hardly affects the actual story, I wouldn't worry too much about spoiling the experience. I was under the impression that Shyamalan was striking out on a new path of successful thrillers but the ending of this one relies too heavily on past success. 

Under on of the influence of his personality known as Dennis, McAvoy's Kevin kidnaps three young women, Marcia (Jessica Sula), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and loner Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The three women don't do much to fight back against their captor and Casey refuses to cooperate with the other two for fear of the extra strong Dennis. Meanwhile, a friendlier personality known as Barry visits a therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). 

Dr. Fletcher believes that Kevin is inhabited by other personalities and that he is, in fact, an extraordinary individual capable of super powers. The movie switches between scenes of captivity and these therapy sessions with flashbacks to Casey's childhood. The flashbacks matter to the climax but don't amount to much as that is not a definitive issue or a surprise twist. I thought these flashbacks would come to something more but really just used abuse for a strange entertainment factor, though I haven't heard many complaints about that.

McAvoy's performance is worth a kudos and the best part of the film, making it worth the price of admission. However, the ending leaves something to be desired and then after the title card, there is additional information. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is spotted sitting at the end of a diner table watching the news as a newscaster gives the escaped madman a catchy name, The Horde. Dunn announces that this is very similar to when they arrested Mr. Glass, making this film an indirect sequel of Unbreakable, pretty disappointing. 

I thought Shyamalan was riding a wave of comeback from his decline but I worry this is the beginning of a quick return to his decline and production of inferior movies. He may come out with additional stories in want is being called the Unbreakable Universe, but I'm not sure that was really in that high demand besides a few diehard fans. The movie relies on the twist and this one relies on a whole other movie so I consider this a disappointing payoff of a mediocre film altogether. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Visit

M. Night Shyamalan returned to the thriller genre with a limited budget but a clever idea. The Visit tells the tale of two kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and their visit to their grandparents. Their mom (Kathryn Hahn) has not seen their grandparents in years and still refuses to go with them. They go out to a visit an isolated house where Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). 

Everything seems fine at first. Becca is making a documentary film, which gives the excuse of carrying around the camera. Tyler hopes to be a freestyle rapper, which is a source of comedy throughout the film. From the first night, the kids notice that the grandparents act strangely. Pop pop warns them that they should not come out of their rooms after 9:30 at night. 

Their grandmother chases after them in a terrifying crawl during the day when they are playing hide-and-seek under the house. She is filmed vomiting and scratching the wall at night. The grandfather has delusions of paranoia and hides his diapers in a cabin. They receive visits from the mental institute at which the grandparents counsel. The visitors talk of strange occurrences. The movie is filled with humor and horror in a great balance. Due to the divorce and abandonment of their father, each kid has issues. Tyler is a germaphobe and Becca will not look at herself in the mirror. 

The twist is simple and scary with a sudden, subtle jolt that adds to the terrifying climax. The movie sets it up and makes this a triumphant return for the master of plot twists. Once it is revealed, the tension mounts. The strange behavior has a sinister tone that made this one of the better horror movies of 2015. The handheld camera didn't detract from the narration too much and the documentarian Becca explains the after-the-fact editing. 

The Visit marked a solid return for M. Night Shyamalan as he proved that he could master horror without a large budget. This movie gives me high hopes for Split that I hope to catch tomorrow. Shyamalan had a rough decline and strayed away from the thriller genre for awhile but his return is pleasing news to horror fans. He was once known for making smart horror with a good ending twist, though not the simple jump scares of typical horror fare, he returned to that with this movie. 

Movie Review: The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan takes on the fear of terrorism, environmentalism, and the apocalypse in his worst film. The Happening begins with people randomly killing themselves for seemingly no reason in also sorts of elaborate ways from stabbing themselves in the throat and throwing themselves off buildings to shooting themselves in the head and hanging themselves. The suicides grow progressively more outrageous reducing the horror of the mysterious affliction. It is revealed early on that the attack is airborne and centered in the Northeast. 

Science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) decides to evacuate Philadelphia by train with his wife Alma (Zoey Deschanel) after being invited by math teacher Julian (John Leguizamo). They hear more disturbing new and witness more disturbing deaths as they lose contact with major population centers. The evacuation transpires without much fear being generated. In a reversal from the most nonviolent previous film, The Happening goes out of its way to display grotesque deaths.

There is some marital strife between Elliot and Alma as in many of Shyamalan's films but Wahlberg and Deschanel don't have much chemistry. The dialogue is lacking and the sense of dread nearly nonexistent. The movie tries to generate fear in other ways but there is only so much fear that can come from the wind blowing and trees wafting back and forth.

There is nothing much else about this film worth noting as it has a cheap ending devoid of any climax. The emotional core is lacking and the characters aren't very likable. This film was the last of Shyamalan streak of thrillers when he moved to adaptations and a sci-fi studio film. I remember being excited when I first heard of this film and then catching wind of the twist and feeling disappointment as the critic reviews came out.

I'm going to skip review on After Earth and The Last Airbender. I saw After Earth once and have no desire to watch it again. I only have one more thriller of Shyamalan's to watch and that one sparked what I hope is his triumphant return to the genre. it was only because I enjoyed his films so much that I was willing to give movies like The Happening, Lady in the Water, and The Village another chance but they were not enjoyable. 

Movie Review: Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalan went for a meta approach to his fantasy film. The movie strives to deliver twists from the previous film but it fails on several accounts and ends up being rather dull. Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the handyman around an apartment complex fixing broken sinks and killing pests. He has a tragic past that he doesn't like to tell the residents about. When a woman named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) appears in the pool, she tells Cleveland extraordinary things that lead to a fantastical adventure.

Hunting the lady in the water is the Scrunt, a grass-covered wolf. There are lots of rules and mythology brought into the movie but none of it comes to very much and the characters are almost as confused as I was watching it. The movie takes its time to introduce each resident living in the apartment complex including crossword puzzle solver Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright), movie critic Harry Farber (Bob Balaban), and the young college student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) whose mother knows of a fairy tale and serves as an expositional tool.

One of the most eye-rolling parts of the film is that Shyamalan cast himself as a writer whose work would one day change the world. His wife Anna (Sarita Choudhury) helps Cleveland take car of Story after one bad attack from the Scrunt. The movie also takes shots at film critics by having Harry Farber be especially cruel and receive a violent ending. The plot moves forward with Cleveland trying to figure out who are the right people to recruit to fulfill the fairytale prophecy. 

The special effects improved somewhat and don't look terrible. Even the directing is pretty decent if only the story weren't so convoluted and self-serving. The film is pretty slow and boring though it tries to add horror elements. It is essentially a children's story and turns away from the violence and frightening images that populated Shyamalan previous work. The movie also turned out to be a box office bomb and considered by many as one of the worst films of the year.

The Village kicked off the decline and I would like to think that Lady in the Water was the low point of Shyamalan's movie-making, but it did not improve from here. His large cameo could have been from not being able to cast himself in The Village. This movie felt like a passion project that went horribly wrong and the payoff was exceptionally disappointing. I remember not being very excited for this film and hearing bad things so I didn't see it until it came out on video. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Movie Review: The Founder

The background story of how McDonald's came to be on every street, delivering fast service is the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) and his persistence. Keaton is great as the struggling businessman trying to sell milkshake machines to restauranteurs. When he hears of a large order, he visits the restaurant run by the two McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). Kroc immediately sees that this formula could be highly and works to convince the brothers to create a franchise.

I found the story behind the brother trials and tribulations incredibly interesting and was fascinated with their outline of the restaurant and their constant working of the routine to arrange the restaurant so they could deliver services fast. Ray returns home to his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) and encounters skepticism. The doubt not only extends to his wife but bankers and country club members also dismiss his notion that this restaurant chain will be revolutionary.

Mac believes that the contract will hold Ray Kroc in check, despite Dick's worries that Ray will take advantage of them and steal their name. Ray works hard to build up the franchise continuing open stores all across the country. He is unable to make any money until he encounters Harry J. Sonneborn (B.J. Novak) who encourages him to invest in property. Meanwhile, Kroc falls for the wife of a franchisee, Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) and she proposes using Instamix instead of actually milkshake ingredients.

The disagreements grow as Ray demands more power and money, trying to renegotiate his deal with the brothers who insist that he must stick to the contract. Ray gives up on the contract and this bleeds into his personal life as he asks his wife for a divorce. Owning the property gives Ray more power and he is able to take the brothers' idea and turn it into his property, stripping the men even of their name.

Keaton is a great and so are Lynch and Offerman as the duped brothers who see the theft happening but are helpless to stop it. The movie explores the double-crossing and ruthlessness required for monumental success. Ray Kroc had a dream and he did not let anything get in the way of that. I highly enjoyed this movie and would recommend to those who are curious about success in the service industry and the history of this ubiquitous fast food restaurant. The movie won't get much recognition during awards season but I thought it was great entertainment and informative, even if not totally factual. 

Movie Review: The Village

M. Night Shyamalan returned with a period piece about a village in the late 19th Century plagued by strange creatures in the woods and isolated from other towns. Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) desires to venture into the town for new cures though the elders forbid it. The community thrives on their innocents and simple nature of living, though every few nights, the creatures arrive to threaten their existence and keep them happy to be safe within their walls. 

The Village elders consist of Edward Walker (William Hurt) the leader, Lucius's mother Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver), a mourning widower August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson). The issue of not having proper medicine affects all the members of the community and is a major argument for sending someone to the towns for assistance. One victim of the primitive medicine is Edward's daughter Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) who was afflicted with blindness at a young age.

Ivy strikes up a relationship with Lucius after he refuses the affections of her sister Kitty (Judy Greer). They also befriend a man with learning disabilities Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) and seems unafraid of crossing the town perimeter or of the visiting monsters. The monsters encroach on the village more and more leaving behind skinned carcasses of animals and red marks on doors as threats. 

When Noah stabs Lucius out of jealousy and misunderstanding, the need for a cure for the infected wound becomes dire. The elders know that if they send someone to the town, they could save Lucius's life but they would also risk exposure to the outside world. The movie relies on to heavy plot twists that reduce the payoff and the horror of the movie. They are revealed in astonishing ways and feel forced for a surprise rather than as a natural development of the plot.

I remember being very excited for The Village when I first saw the preview and expecting a shocking, thrilling, and excellent horror film, but instead got a strange meditation on crime and isolation. The movie would've have paid off more for me if there had been more of a horror to the film. There are certainly some suspenseful scenes and Shyamalan could still pull that off but I believe this was the beginning of his decline away from quality thrillers. 

Movie Review: 20th Century Women

Mike Mills's look at a moment in time and the glimpse of a generation of people is beautiful, charming, and funny. Dorothea (Annette Bening) raises her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in their house amidst the punk revolution and a remodeling. Dorothea brings on a border Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and has a handyman William (Billy Crudup) work around the house as influences for young Jamie. The neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning) also visits frequently and sleeps next to Jamie though she prefers to be just friends despite his blooming sexuality.

When Jamie faints during a dangerous breathing game and does not wake up for half an hour, Dorothea worries about his upbringing. She asks the two other women in his life to help raise him so that he will be a man that can find happiness. The movie doesn't follow any distinct plot allowing the film to capture the events of each characters life but also hindering it from building up towards any emotional climax.

Abbie suffered from cervical cancer as young woman due to a fertility pill her mother took during pregnancy. She aspires to be a photographer and starts up a sexual relationship with William. She give Jamie books on feminism that lead him into trouble and exposes him to the punk rock scene where he finds the music appealing. She is coping with the fact that due to her illness, she will never be able to have kids. Each character is given a solid background and a description of what happens in their future after this moment in their life.

Julie is the daughter of a therapist and is forced to attend a therapy circle for young women. She enjoys starting relationships with other guys though she never takes them very far. She always returns to Jamie but her unwillingness to have sex with him causes friction between them. Jamie struggles with his attraction to Julie and also the information he received from the feminist literature.

William and Dorothea strike up a relationship as William helps renovate the old house they live in Santa Barbara. They are mystified by the latest trends in popular music especially the growing interest in punk rock that has capture Jamie's imagination. Jamie is concerned about his mother, her loneliness and constant smoking that will eventually lead to her death. The movie wasn't for me and I understand that. I found it a bit slow at parts. I think Annette Bening will get a nomination but the film won't receive much other recognition. 

Movie Review: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) makes his triumphant return in the third xXx installment. The movie begins with Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) recruited Neymar to the triple-X program when a satellite crashes down and kills them. Agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) gathers together top representatives of each spy agency to discuss the Pandora's box, a device that can bring down any satellite at any time. Crashing this meeting is Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his team including Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone).

These team steals the Pandora's box and escaped to a far off hideout on a lawless party island in the Philippines. Xander is reintroduced dropping from a satellite tower and skiing down a mountain before retrieving a skateboard and taking that down winding roads. Pulling from the originals, Xander is recruited again, this time by Agent Marke. The movie sprawls out over several countries jumping from London, the Philippines, and Detroit. It adds to the film that it is constantly traveling and has a global feel.

The stunts remain and the xXx tradition of taking vehicles out of their natural use and putting them somewhere else. In this case, Xander chases Xiang out into the ocean riding the waves on motorcycles. The team fills out with some other characters including sniper Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), DJ Nicks (Kris Wu), crash expert Tennyson (Rory McCann) and tech expert Becky (Nina Dobrev). The other team after the Pandora's box is also a remnant of the xXx program once recruited by Agent Gibbons including Xiang, Serena, Talon (Tony Jaa), and Hawk (Michael Bisping). 

The movie takes the usual twists in turns with several villains interchanging and Xander never knowing who he can trust. The twists are telegraphed and a lot of moves seemed to be taken with future sequels in mind. It felt as if this film was a reboot of the series trying to capitalize on the original though it did not forget the second film bringing in a cameo from Ice Cube as his character Darius Stone. 

The movie embraces the absurdity of its premise and doesn't take itself too seriously, using every opportunity to throw out a joke. It's good fun at the movies, nothing too taxes on the brain the plot is straightforward. The movie delivers on the action with a cool zero-G fight on a plan at the end though some shoddy special effects detract from a few parts. Xander seems unstoppable and maybe the franchise will keep on rolling with Diesel's help. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Movie Review: xXx: State of the Union

The action spy sequel returned without its leading man as Xander Cage was reportedly killed. The NSA is under attack and Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is a prime target as men from his old team are being murdered. He recruits a new member to the xXx program, Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a marine lieutenant from Gibbons old team that was imprisoned. After arranging an escape, Gibbons informs Stone of the new scheme. Stone uses his training and ability at extreme transportation to steal information and elude the authorities. 

Agent Kyle Steel (Scott Speedman) is on his tale as Stone finds himself quickly on the wrong side of the law and questioning of authority. A plot is revealed that the Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Willem Dafoe) is eliminated the team members and changing the direction of the country. These movies are never about the plot but State of the Union spends a significant amount of time on the political intrigue and Ice Cube's espionage. 

The movie doesn't shirk the true purpose of the film including several outrageous action scenes and vehicles doing stuff they are not supposed to do including a boat driving down the road. Stone works with his old flame Lola Jackson (Nona Gaye), a car dealer and designer, to procure supped-up vehicles to speed around Washington DC. There are twists and turns and betrayals as Stone teams up with Charlie Mayweather (Sunny Mabrey) to uncover the truth about the recent assassinations. 

The theme of the plot was relevant in 2005 as the Defense Secretary is mad about the President's anti-military actions and becomes prescient again now, though it wouldn't be the President making these decisions in reality. The movie strikes a balance between pro-military badass and anti-Washington Insider, which unfortunately doesn't use the strengths of the triple-X franchise. Gibbons is presumed dead and Stone finds himself alone against the military-industrial complex with a wild conspiracy theory. It also dabbles into gun control but can't send much of a message while glorifying usage.

The original was moderately successful at the box office but the sequel pretty much bombed. The franchise was considered dead after this one unless it could bring back the star, which is the current situation in 2017. The movie is just as fun as the original and Ice Cube is just as good a leading man even if he doesn't have the popularity to save a film.

Movie Review: xXx

Riding off the success of Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious, Vin Diesel kept up the stealing cars and criminal hero act with xXx. Diesel plays stuntman Xander Cage who is recruited by NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to help nab Russian criminals in the Czech Republic. The leader of this group of criminal is a stock villain named Yorgi (Marton Csokas). The acting is over the top and the stunts are outrageous making for a mediocre action flick.

Xander Cage takes on a role as an anti-James Bond and solves the international crises that men in nice suits can't. The scar-faced Agent Gibbons puts xXx through a series of tests, knocking him out and throwing him into situations a normal person wouldn't survive. Xander uses his extreme sports skills from biking to skating to outrageous driving to get out of trouble. 

Facing a lifelong prison sentence, Xander agrees to work with the NSA and heads to the Czech republic. He quickly falls in with the group of criminal using his lack of respect for rules as a gateway into gaining the trust of Yorgi. Xander encounters and falls for the mysterious Yelena (Asia Argento) who he discovers is a secret agent herself. When Xander reveals her secret to her, she doesn't believe him until his cover is blown and he is taken off the mission. 

xXx has all the necessary requirements for a secret agent film from new technology used for espionage to daring escapes to a Russian villain with a destructive plan that he likes to discuss in detail. The gang of criminals have acquired a new biological weapon called Silent Night that causes people to die, not to violently since the movie had to keep its marketable PG-13 rating. 

The movie is good for some mindless fun, like vehicles exploding in exaggerated fashion and over the top physics. The acting was not a top priority for this film and Vin Diesel had not yet taken on a role where he had to drop more than a few witty one-liners. However, it is Diesel's rising star power that brought this movie forward and delivered another sequel but the legend Jackson brings the class to the movie and appears in both sequels. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Movie Review: Signs

M. Night Shyamalan takes on aliens in his third big picture. Reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) wakes up to find his crops bent into a strange pattern and his dogs acting overly aggressive. His two children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin) are forced to kill one of the dogs that tries to attack them. Graham also lives with his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) who used to be a baseball star but had issues striking out too much and gave up the career.

The mysterious signs increased steadily in another slow burn. The Hess family keeps seeing and hearing disturbing figures moving around their crops but can never seem to catch them. Meanwhile, other residents report strange sightings and Officer Paski (Cherry Jones) notices odd behavior from visitors. Eventually, the news coverage shows that aliens have arrived in spaceships that hover over Mexico City, then other major cities across the world. 

The grief of the family is central to the plot as Hess's wife passed away in an awful accident. The director utilizes his signature cameo for a larger role in this film as the man who fell asleep at the wheel. Hess used to be a reverend but gives up on his faith after the tragedy and becomes skeptical. He also doubts the signs that aliens are invading until he witnessed the foreign creatures firsthand. 

The movie builds the suspense as the aliens approach and invade their home. The twist is less of a shocker than the first two films that garnered attention but the theme throughout does add to the payoff. Gibson is able to use his stellar acting ability fo further his religious belief. The film relies on this religion element for the final conclusion.

As far as alien invasion movies go, Signs sits somewhere near the top as it is entertaining and suspenseful though rewatching feels a little slow. Shyamalan was not able to recapture his spark with Sixth Sense and the ending feels like something conjured from rushed writing though it is hard to criticize the moving story. The cinematography is still nice though the alien special effects were kind of silly. Overall, a third good film for Shyamalan. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Movie Review: Unbreakable

M. Night Shyamalan continued to deliver the thrills in this new spin on the superhero tale. When David Dunn (Bruce Willis) wakes up after an awful train accident as the sole survivor without a scratch on him. Sparked by a note on his car, he investigates his past recalling that he had never taken a sick day and only a few significant injuries. The note leads him to a comic book art gallery and its mysterious owner Elijah "Mr. Glass" Price (Samuel L. Jackson). 

Price pushes Dunn to test his abilities which include a sense of wrongdoing by strangers he bumps into. With the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), David discovers his super strength by lifting a barbell with all of the weights they own and two full cans of paint strapped to each side. David also hopes to rekindle his relationship with his estranged wife Audrey (Robin Wright). 

The powers increases as Elijah investigates David's abilities. More of Mr. Glass's history is revealed from the disturbing first scene where he was born with multiple bones broken to his growing obsession with comic books. The search for his purpose in life despite a debilitating disease leads him to David, at least that is what he decides. He figures out David's weakness and encourages the budding hero out into the world to help protect others.

Unbreakable is a slow burn type of film with solid acting from both veteran leads and a beautiful cinematography. I can see how many would think this film was boring but the first time the film played out in front of me was so fascinating and I had no idea it would turn into a superhero film. The twist is not quite as shocking as the previous film from this master of suspense but still quite a payoff the end the film in a stunning way. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Movie Review: The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan's masterpiece mystery delivers haunts and a brilliant twist that launched him into the mainstream. The story of young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and his child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) take a spooky turn as Cole's secret is revealed. The movie begins with Dr. Crowe celebrating with his wife over an award for his work with children. A former patient with continuing difficulties breaks in and shoots Crowe before killing himself.

The failure of this patient sparks Crowe's interest in young Cole as they suffer from similar ailments. Cole is believed to be schizophrenic as he is often seen talking to himself and surround by other weird patterns of behavior. He also has trouble in school and appears to obtain knowledge that should otherwise be a secret. These problems result in him being isolated and having to pay a fellow student Tommy (Trevor Morgan) to be his friend.

Cole's mother Lynn Sear (Toni Collette) is increasingly worried about her son's behavior but is at a loss as to how to help him. She continuously finds troubling signs including strange lights in the picture and angry writing about violence. She tries to keep it together as strange activity happens all around their house that seems to be caused by Cole even though he appears to be such a soft-spoken child.

Shyamalan knows how to dole out information at a steady pace and keep the mystery from growing stale and the film to feel slow. Interspersed with developments in the plot are haunting scenes and as Cole famously reveals that he sees dead people and explain the rules of his sixth sense to Dr. Crowe, the haunting increase to a terrifying point. Finally, Willis's character learns how to help Cole and then the shocking twist is revealed.

If you haven't seen this movie then it is likely that the twist has already been spoiled for you in one sense or another. I remember seeing this film in theaters when I was only 12 years old and it was one of the most intense cinema experiences in my life. Over the years I have enjoyed revisiting it to observe the masterful storytelling and the delivery of such a plot twist. From then on I was an M. Night Shyamalan fan and have followed his career closely. I was disappoint in several of his films but still look forward to his latest. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Movie Review: Lion

The beautiful true story of Saroo's search for his missing mother and brother inspires the powerful movie Lion directed by Garth Davis. Young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) works with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to earn money for his family to eat. When he decides to go with his brother to a night job, he ends up trapped on a train that takes him across India, too far away to find his family again but stuck into a system of orphan children. Eventually, he finds his way to adoption and grows up in Australia. 

The remarkable journey of the young boy takes up the first half of the movie and it so amazing to watch as the boy survives harsh conditions. The beginning contrasts with the privileged upbringing that consists of the second half. After Saroo survives nearly being sold into sex slavery and a harsh orphanage he is finally adopted by an Australian family. John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman) adopt Saroo and raised him along with his brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa). 

All grown up Saroo (Dev Patel) begins to remember his past and with the invention of Google Earth begins to explore the area where his long childhood train ride might have originated. He strikes up a relationship with Lucy (Rooney Mara) but his affection strays as his memories grow more extreme. Patel is brilliant as the grieving son and brother wondering what happened to his family after his disappearance. 

Lion is a remarkable story based on the true story and the book Saroo wrote. The movie is a powerful piece of cinema and the inevitable reunion is a wonderful thing to see. The real tragedy behind the film are the tens of thousands of children who go missing each year in India and the poverty that inflicts the nation. As great as the movie is, I would like to see more films that show India in a positive light.

The search on Google Earth also shows the life-changing impact of technology. Without the maps and the fast communication of the internet Saroo's search may as well have been in vain but with the powerful search capacity of the search engine, Saroo was reunited with his family and discovers the truth of his disappearance. I would highly recommend Lion to those who like a powerful story and an epic adventure. 

Movie Review: Live By Night

Ben Affleck's passion project sponsored by Warner Bros. thanks to his performance as Batman was to adapt Dennis Lehane's novel of the same title. Though abridged, the story is rather faithful to the book, which I read about two years ago. It begins with World War I veteran turned outlaw Joe Couglin (Affleck) beat up in a bed. The beginning recounts Joe's attempts to stay out of the war between the Irish mob and the Italian mob and his affection for Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), who happens to also be the girlfriend of the Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). 

Double-crossed and imprisoned, Joe has to make a deal with the Italian mob to strike back at White in his new spot down in Tampa Bay once his shortened sentence, thanks to his father Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), ends. Joe teams up with Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) and takes over Ybor. He meets the lovely Graciela (Zoe Saldana) and goes into business with her and her brother Esteban (Miguel). They run into trouble with the local police chief Figgis (Chris Cooper).

Taking over Tampa isn't easy as Joe faces opposition from the Chief's brother-in-law, a KKK member, RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher) and the Chief's daughter, a converted religious zealot, Loretta (Elle Fanning). Somehow Joe manages to survive though his casino plans do not. He gains some success but has enough failures to anger the Italians and things go crazy from there.

The movie has some decent action scenes of period piece shootouts and old car chases. Affleck switches around on his accent and his performance isn't as great as some of his others. The movie isn't so terrible but I would recommend going in with low expectations. The novel had a lot of stuff packed into it and went for an epic story despite making it a quick read. Lehane has better stories to read as well.

The set pieces looked good and all the costumes were fun to watch. Some talents like Fanning, Cooper, and Gleason help along the story from some of the other performances. It moves at a brisk enough pace never to feel too boring or slow. All around, I felt this was a decent movie to see but more of a rental than something to see at the theater, which seems to be the audience's opinion with a weak box office wide release opening. 

Sports: NFL Playoffs (Divisional Round)

The conference championships have been decided after some spectacular games against opponents that were tough on both sides of the football. No game this week was a blowout and some came down tot he last second. 

NFC

The Atlanta Falcons are the team I'm rooting for and I'm so glad they made it to the next round. Atlanta has had a hard time performing in the playoffs but MVP candidate Matt Ryan was not about to let his Falcons out of the Super Bowl running against the Seattle Seahawks without a fight. With an explosive offense, the Falcons just had to stay ahead of the Seahawks as they exchanged touchdowns but some crazy turnovers allowed the Falcons defense to turn the game around to finally win 36-20.
In what appears to be the best game of the playoffs so far, the Green Bay Packers squeaked out a win with a final second field goal to beat the Dallas Cowboys. Aaron Rodgers the veteran quarterback faced the rookie Dak Prescott and experience beat out youth for a Packers win 34-31. The game was so close that the Cowboys will surely return to the playoffs if they keep their starting. Green Bay travels to Atlanta where I think the Falcons will triumph over the Packers, though I'm biased.

AFC 

Surprisingly, the Patriots did not dominate immediately but had to contend with the Texans' tough defense. Tom Brady had to contend with a dominant pass rush from Jadeveon Clowney, but eventually, the offense sparked and New England pushed past Houston to win 34-16 .


The Steelers never scored a touchdown but with six field goals, they managed to beat the Chiefs 18-16. A last-minute two-point conversion went awry when a penalty was called pushing back Kansas City. Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh team triumphed in the divisional round but will have to score touchdowns if they want to beat the Patriots, which I don't think will happen.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie Review: Patriots Day

Peter Berg has been chronicling modern American history in his last few films and this movie captures the events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. As the movie captures recent events there was a fine line to walk in the making of this movie between feeling insensitive and exploitive while aiming for a more respectful take on people's tragedy that exists for people still living with vivid memories. I wouldn't know what it was like to experience that sort of chaos and pain so I can't comment on how the movie felt for those who experienced it. I felt it was respectful and took a more historical approach though wouldn't agree to adding to the story of the cowardly brothers and their selfish, cruel act. 

The story follows several characters but primarily Detective Tommy Saunder (Mark Wahlberg) who was reprimanded for rough treatment of a suspect. He is forced to guard the finish line by Commission Ed Davis (John Goodman) as his one last hoop to jump through. Little does he know that he will be at the spot of history where tragedy suddenly erupts. He invites his wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan) to see him right where the bomb will be laid.

The story also follows Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and her husband Patrick Downes (Christopher O'Shea) who go out for the day to watch the Red Sox and catch the runners crossing the finish line. The explosions are hard to watch and the gruesomeness of the scene is gritty and unrelenting. The aftermath sparks an investigation and manhunt that shuts down the whole city of Boston. 

Leading the investigation is Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) who treads the line between tapping phones and violating privacy and respecting the American people and their rights. Set up in a warehouse, the FBI recreates the crime scene and scrutinizes security footage for any sign of the bombers. The story also follows the Tsarnaev brothers, Dzohkar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) as they leave their home, callously murder Officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking), and take hostage Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) as they hijack his car. One of the most intense moments of the film was the shootout in Watertown, Massachusetts between the terrorist brothers and the police led by Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons).

I understand the controversy following the film and from the lack of box office success, it looks like audiences were not interested in reliving another tragic moment in American history. Unfortunately, these events happen far too often and I could barely remember the specific details though I followed the news stories four years ago. There is a powerful story however about the city rallying together and a great depiction of Boston Strong.  

Graphic Novel Review: The Boys

With an overabundance of superheroes in pop culture these days, The Boys is the antidote. This brash and irreverent graphic novel comes from the creator of Preacher, Garth Ennis. The series of comics depicts superheroes in the harshest of lights and focus more on the repercussions of their existence than their heroic deeds. Created by a corporation and the mysterious substance V, superheroes do what they please unless they are kept in line by the most powerful or The Boys, a CIA operation that seeks to hinder the free reign of superhumans.

Wee Hughie, who looks just like Simon Pegg, had found happiness until the carelessness of a top hero result in tragedy. Hughie is recruited by Butcher, leader of the Boys, to join the team. The remaining members a Frenchie, the Femme, and Mother's Milk. These covert operatives spy on the biggest supergroups and find the troublesome ones that needed to be taken out, not always in the most discreet manner. 

The superheroes that populate the world of these comics are corrupt in some of the worst ways and Ennis digs up the most obscene forms of debauchery to show the depravity of these colorful characters. The plot thickens as the Boys take on the strongest supergroup known only as the Seven. Their leader, the Homelander is a vicious hero that takes pleasure in doing heinous though his public person is nothing but altruistic.

Hughie falls in love with a member the Seven, unbeknownst to him. Things come to a head as Butcher has his own plans for revenge. The art is beautiful in this book even when it is showing some horrible things. The comic panel are filled with vivid and absurd details that render the world very real.

The events also take on the tragedy on 9/11 and the alternate universe of superheroes. The military-industrial complex is the main villain as corporations and government converge together with men in suits worried about the bottom line. The books aren't easy to get ahold of but I found them all and I'm glad I stuck with the series for a fitting ending. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Movie Review: Moonlight

In a brilliant telling of a young man's rough upbringing and struggles with life and love, Barry Jenkins's award winning film is moving and poetic. The movie is separated into three parts starting with a young boy nicknamed Little (Alex R. Hibbert). Little falls under the tutelage of Juan (Mahershala Ali) when he is found in an abandoned crackhouse. Juan brings Little home to his house where he meets Teresa (Janelle Monae). With almost no dialogue, Little conveys the early life of a world-weary young boy who has seen too much too soon. When he does start talking, he asks tough questions of his new mentor.

The movie jumps to high school where Little, now going by his given name Chiron (Ashton Sanders), is tormented by bullies and witnesses the decline of his drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris). He struggles with his sexuality but finds affection in his childhood friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Eventually, he stands up to the bullies and winds up arrested for his bravery. 

As an adult, he goes by a new nickname of Black (Trevante Rhodes) and has found success in a life of crime like his old role model. He revisits his past first returning to see his mother who is in recovery then to his old friend now a cook (Andre Holland). The film ends on a heartbreaking yet optimistic note for a man that seemed to never have a chance.

The performances are brilliant throughout, especially the young actors. Mahershala Ali already received a nomination for his supporting role and could be a favorite for the Academy Awards. Harris delivers a stellar performance as the mother steadily in decline and demanding the impossible from her son. Monae is having a great year with an appearance in this film plus her strong role in Hidden Figures.

The movie moves swiftly through the story showing a romance that has never been given attention in mainstream entertainment. Moonlight has beautiful imagery and a script that demands the actors show their emotions instead of speaking them. It will face tough competition on its quest to win the best picture award but could pull it ou as the story has such a powerful message. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Movie Review: Underworld: Blood Wars

The culmination of the Underworld series so far feels like just another episode and though there is really nothing new despite the insistence that there is by the characters, it is still an enjoyable ride for loyal fans. I happen to have a strong affection for R-rated genre action films so I'm willing to except some major flaws and still have a decent time at the theaters. One aspect of the Underworld films that has increased through the series is the length as each film feels shorter though I don't know the actual run time for each movie. This film felt extra short.

Selene (Kate Beckinsale) returns as a renegade chased by both vampires and lycans. With the help of David (Theo James), Selene escapes from the wolves that hunt her. The lycans rallied from the events of the previous films with a new leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies). Menzies has been fun to watch lately especially in his role in Outlander as Black Jack Randall. He's got the vicious villain look down and brings that to this short film.

David's father Thomas (Charles Dance) bargains with a new coven to forgive Selene for killing an elder in the original. Dance is a great actor to watch as well and he makes the politics backstabbing and dealings of the vampires that much more enjoyable, though that is still the dullest part of these films. The coven's leader Semira (Lara Pulver) has her own plan for Selene and her ambition leads her to drastic measures. 

The movie strives to have an epic feel despite a budget halved from the previous film and a brief runtime that makes for a rushed narrative. The director Anna Foerster, who has worked on Outlander as well, makes the most she can out of the wars in the title with several battles that pit the powerful vampires and lycans but still makes room for the primary characters.

Blood Wars does not look to be the end of this series about immortals and could even continue on without Kate Beckinsale if they can't convince her to return. This movie setup several stories that could follow into spinoffs of other characters. The films followed the formula and stray too far from the establish norm of these films. Plenty of threads were left untied and could easily fill out more story in the future. 

Movie Review: Underworld: Awakening

Awakening refers to the awareness of human beings to the existence of vampire and lycans, who had previously existed and fought their war in the shadows. The fourth Underworld movie, and third in the trilogy of modern films, begins with a purge of vampires and werewolves and shows Selene (Kate Beckinsale) fighting in a new war against humans. She loses her lover and is frozen by the scientists who study the newly discovered species. Selene is able to show off her superhuman strength in a fight against these weaker foes.

Selene awakens many years later and is plagued by strange flashes of vision that are not her own. Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea) leads the vampire research while Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy) leads the investigation into Selene's escape of the research facility. Also on the trail of Selen is a mysterious vampire named David (Theo James). Together they discover Eve (India Eisley) who turns out to be Michael and Selene's daughter. 

Eve is super powerful but the special effects used to show this are mediocre. All of the Lycans are infects with a disease so they too look rather strange. David brings Selen and Eve back to his coven led by Thomas (Charles Dance). There the vampires face an attack from the lycans but these are an updated version from previous Underworld films. A major source of the increased budget, I assume, came from the larger lycan soldier and the final action scene where Selene takes down a whole building of lycans.

At this point, I know what to expect from these movies and I'm easily satisfied with the result on screen. All I ask is for some vampire fighting werewolves and in this instance, the movie delivers. There is less to do with the vampire hierarchy and the political nature of a coven as this one cuts straight to the action, which was to its benefit at the box office as this is the highest growing installment. 

The endings of these movies have always been a bit abrupt as if the writers did not think long past the final action scene or the directors had spent all the budget and just needed that for narrative continuity. Michael had escaped and Selene was reunited with his daughter with the help of David. The war would continue on between the lycans and vampires and it would turn into Blood Wars, which I'm about to see. 

Movie Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The prequel in the franchise fills in the background of how the war between the vampires and lycans grew to what it was in the original. The characters that are pulled over are primarily from the original film not focusing much on the background that was filled in with Evolution. The film takes place after the events of the before credit scene in the Evolution but long before any modern day vampire and werewolf batting in the modern city.

The actual time is not clear if it was told somewhere in the film but the costumes and behavior hint at medieval. The lycans are slaves to the vampires though some of them cannot change back into human form and are monstrous beasts that prowl the woods killing nobles and other weak humans that come to the vampires for protection. 

Viktor (Bill Nighy) is the leader of the vampires as the other two elders sleep. He discovers Lucian (Michael Sheen) who is the only werewolf that can change back to human form. They use his blood to convert other slaves into werewolves that they chain up and use for protection of the castle walls. Viktor does not know that his daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) has fallen for Lucian. Sonja is a skilled warrior who fights the wolves in the woods. 

With the help of Raze (Kevin Grevioux) from the original, Lucian leads a rebellion freeing the enslave lycans and building an army to fight Viktor. The action is pretty entertaining despite a shift from the gunplay of the two original films to a more medieval form of battle with swords, arrows, and spears. The special effects for the werewolves had increased further along to make them more enjoyable to watch. 

Both Sheen and Nighy are quality actors who bring their expertise to the film, but the simple sets and blue tinge make this just another addition to the franchise with only a few new things to add to the story. The move often revolves around the politics of the vampires' rule which is still one of the dullest parts of these films. The story, like the others, focuses on another forbidden union between species, this time Sonja and Lucian. Ultimately, the motion picture leads to the events foreshadowed in the previous films and the subsequent war.