Monday, February 20, 2017

Sports: College Basketball (February)

A month before March Madness and college basketball is getting more exciting. For this month's post ahead of the tournament, I'm going to look at the conference leaders and explore the standings to see what teams are at the top. I'll look at each conference through the top 25 as well and determine which conference is the most powerful this month.

West Coast
The only remaining undefeated team is Gonzaga and they are at the top of the West Coast. The next team in this conference is St. Mary's ranked twentieth. The remaining teams in this conference are not ranked so it could be the easy schedule that allows Gonzaga to skate by without a loss. They have beaten some tough teams from other conference like the Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona.

Big East
Second-ranked Villanova is another team in a weaker division that has managed to make it this far in the season with only two losses. The toughest conference opponent is the Creighton Bluejays. Villanova is the defending champs so they are not to underestimated as we approach the tournament. 

Big 12
The Kansas Jayhawks are one of the toughest team in college basketball. Their only two losses have come from the opponents in their conference, ninth-ranked West Virginia and unranked Iowa State. Close behind Kansas are the fourth place Baylor Bears who faced Kansas this Saturday. The Jayhawks came out on top. West Virginia is another top team in this conference able to put up a fight. 

This West Coast conference is often overlooked because their games come later at night. Arizona is ranked fifth and will be the first team in the second place of a tournament bracket section. Oregon is close behind in 7th place. 

The North Carolina Tar Heels are at the top of their conference in the standings but are ranked behind Louisville. They'll face off on the 22nd of this month. This conference always has been tough since I can remember and remains so now. The Duke Blue Devils are on the rise with some impressive wins. Virginia and Florida State also look like tough opponents. 

With Kentucky on the decline, the Florida Gators have risen to the top spot in the SEC. The Wildcats remain higher ranked for now but they'll meet again in Kentucky on the 25th after a blowout for Florida earlier this season. The other two teams that might make waves are South Carolina and Alabama.  

The next time I check in on this sport, it'll be the conference tournaments. I'm excited for basketball to really heat up and make some wild predictions for the tournament. 

Sports: NBA (All-Star Game)

The midpoint of the season is when the best players gather to compete for the All-Star game. Hosted in New Orleans, the All-Star game is not a defensive battle. There were plenty of dunks and balls flying off the rim from attempted dunks as players broke records for points in any All-Star game. This competition is not a match of the best players at their peak performance but a battle for style and a toss up for an incredibly high scoring game. The Western Conference came out on top.
With the football season at its end, I've had more time to catch up on basketball and assess which teams are going to be playoff contenders. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers are still at the top spot with Lebron James leading the charge. They did lose Kevin Love for a major portion of the season and have shown some signed of weakness that could be exploited by other top teams in the conference.

The Boston Celtics are the Cavs greatest competition with Isaiah Thomas as their top player. Only three games back from first place, they could easily swoop in a take home field advantage for the whole playoffs. Other teams that looked to be competitive in the playoffs but probably won't prove much of a challenge are the Washington Wizard, Toronto Raptors, and my favorite Atlanta Hawks. Rounding out the eight teams in the playoffs are the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Detroit Pistons.

The trade for Kevin Durant has taken over all of the headlines as the Golden State Warriors seem unstoppable. Their matchups against the Oklahoma City Thunder have been highlighted because of the Durant drama with Russell Westbrook but Steph Curry and the Warriors have put them away easily as the Thunder are in seventh place.They've also met their playoff nemesis, Cleveland twice this year and split the games.
The Spurs led by Kawhi Leonard, an All-Star starter, are putting up an impressive performance this season. Their four games back from the Warriors and will not be an easy opponent to put aside. The top four are filled out by the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. The remaining four teams that are in the playoffs at this halfway point are the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Denver Nuggets. Looking forward to an exciting second half of the NBA season. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Movie Review: Fifty Shades Darker

The sequel to the successful sex romance tells a little more of the mind-numbingly boring story of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). The first film left off with them breaking up but Grey continues to his relentless pursuit of Anastasia that is not borderline creepy but way past it. He buys up enlarge pictures of her that are being sold at a friend's photography gallery display and continues to send her gifts. Anastasia has started working at a small publishing company under her jealous boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). 

Anastasia agrees to have dinner with Christian and they reignite their passionate romance though she still has reservations despite his insistence to give her money. Christian is still in touch with his old lover and the one who taught him about BDSM, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger). Anastasia is also being stalked by one of Grey's old submissives Kate Kavanaugh (Eloise Mumford). These strange occurrences never amount to much and the drama is alway overshadowed by the need to show another sex scene.

The plot continues the trend of the first one with a plodding boredom that never sparks any excitement or interest. They even throw in a random helicopter crash to add to the romance but it competes for the dullest helicopter crash in movie history. The consequences are negated quickly and there is no pressure. They constantly try to push stories that would have been better in a horror or action thriller. The movie fails on the romance as the actors continue to lack any chemistry.

Eventually, the romance leads to a sloppy marriage proposal that only works because Grey is a billionaire who can afford rooms in a skyscraper and a workout room. The details of Grey's wealth always remain vague with random words like "multinational" thrown around to make it seem legit. 

Nevermind the awful performance of the actors, the silly writing, and dull plot, Fifty Shades Darker still managed to perform decently at the box office. It only made just over half what the first film made and I think it will continue its downward trend for the final film of the trilogy. This series is pretty ridiculous and ends up being a spoof of itself. Somehow it has garnered popularity and made enough money to make the creators millionaires. 

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Based on the popular novel by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey tells the tale of a wealthy billionaire and his lover as they pursue BDSM. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is tasked with interviewing the wealthy mogul Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) to help her roommate. There is an evident attraction that only grows as Christian shows up in her life continuously and sends her expensive gifts. Anastasia finds his intrusions bizarre but can't help but be attracted to his wealthy lifestyle and multiple talents. 

The movie is really boring with a plot that plods along spotted with the occasional sex scenes in a bland attempt to engage viewers and I guess appeals to women. The first book was exceptionally awful but I don't think I will ever read the second or continue the series. Grey's behavior is that of a possessive stalker and seems to be able to get away with this behavior because of his wealth and status. Anastasia resists and sees that there is still something good in this man she has come to know. She worries about his past and the older woman who corrupted him in his youth.

Christian proposes that Anastasia must sign contracts to continue to see him, first a non-disclosure so that she doesn't gossip about their relationship and then a contract specifying their relationship as a dominant and submissive. The chemistry between the two actors is a dim flame and the paltry acting mixed with ludicrous dialogue make anything spoken in the film hard to take seriously. The sex feels like softcore pornography that is afraid to push any boundaries hardly exploring the many aspects of BDSM. 

The source of drama is Anastasia's decision of whether to stay with Grey or not. Despite his six-pack abs, billions of dollars in fortune, and limitless talents, Ana still has reservations about whether she wants to continue to participate in the depravity of the Red Room with him. She sees his addiction to inflicting pain and is frightened by his zealousness. 

The movie ends abruptly and awkwardly after an overlong run. The movie was very successful at the box office after the novel was a bestseller. E.L. James tapped into some formula that allowed her novel to have mass appeal and the movie actually felt like an improvement in my opinion though there was only so much that could be done with this material. The series of books are a trilogy so there will be two more of these films to go through. 

TV Show Review: The Young Pope

HBO's strange new drama mixes comedy and absurdity into a strange show about a pope ascending too soon to the leadership of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) used to be a simple priest named Lenny Belardo before political dealings make him the Holy See. At the forefront of these religious machinations is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who quickly realizes, he has more on his hands than he bargained for. The young pope assigns the nun who raised him Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) to a high position, much to the chagrin of Cardinal Voiello. Lenny's mentor Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) is jealous of his young student and reacts bitterly to the appointment.

Pius the 13th immediately enacts strong decrees and refuses to let television cameras record his image preferring to remain mysterious and distant from believers. He demands respect for the church and commands that the faithful must seek out God, not the other way around, even as attendance and membership decline. The other cardinals conspire various ways to dispose of the pope but he seems immune to all of their attempts to slander and discredit him. He negotiates a deal with the Italian prime minister and charms other foreign dignitaries, using his youth and charm.

His childhood friend and pretty much brother Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) feels guilty when a young gay man commits suicide over a new regulation that restricts homosexuals from entering the church.  He also becomes involved with a Mexican gangster's mistress, which leads to more trouble for the pope. One thing that does help the Pope's stature is his somewhat supernatural power like helping a barren woman conceive, eliminated evil nuns, and cause plane turbulence. 

The final episodes revolve around the investigation of a priest in New York accused of molestation. Pope Pius sent Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Camara) to investigate and he works to discover the awful truth. The show does not shy away from the complicated subjects and highlights the absurd nature of the church's decrees. The creator Paolo Sorrentino takes a mixed look at religion showing both positive and negative effects of hard-lined faith. 

The Young Pope takes a strange look at religion with an odd mix of humor and drama. I understand how some viewers could find the episodes slow and boring as things take a while to take hold. I found the characters enjoyable and interesting with the political intrigue of the Vatican. Despite the pope's ridiculous behavior, there are worse villains and the pope becomes endearing for the way he handles these difficult situations. I enjoyed this limited series but couldn't see it continuing on for more than one season. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Grammys 2017 Winners

The Grammys are a time to look back on the year and music and to look ahead at what is to come as artists are awarded for their work the year before and introducing their new hits that will be earworms in the year ahead. There were some political statements and stunning performances, upsets and deserved recognition. The Grammys are declining in credibility and importance as music is changing. They are adapting slowly but perhaps not fast enough. 

Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year
Adele, 25, Hello
In a year of strange winners, Adele sweeps the awards despite the strong performance from Beyonce on her album Lemonade and her song Formation. The Recording Academy decided to not spread the wealth and gave every award to Adele. This decision makes the Grammys seem out of touch with current listeners and underappreciative of the true talent that Beyonce clearly is. They have decided to become predictable and somewhat boring with their decision and decrease their relevance in the process. Adele did have a passionate tribute to George Michael during the show in which she messed up and had to start over making her seem relatable. Even she in accepting the award said that she thought Beyonce truly deserved the award. It was a bad decision by voters who are afraid to take risks. There is no doubt that Hello is a smash hit song, catchy and moving, but 25 is not that impressive of an album in its entirety. 

Best New Artist
Chance the Rapper
Chance has been everywhere this year and this award was probably the easiest to predict. He also picked up the Best Hip-Hop Album for his streaming only album. He's a bit over religious for my taste but it is impossible not to acknowledge his musical talents and clever wordplay. Chance was the shining star of the show and thanked God multiple times after receiving his multiple awards. He also helped write some of the songs on Kanye's album The Life of Pablo and released a free album the year before. Chance the Rapper is an interesting new future path that rap is taking that I look forward to listening to in the future. 

When all said and done, I have some new music that I'm listening to like Best Rock Album Tell Me I'm Pretty by Cage the Elephant.
Also excited to listen to Best Dance/Electronica Album Skin by Flume.
Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth won Best County Album and I enjoyed that a lot too. I'm looking forward to another year of music and hopefully, the Grammys will become more conscience of the current trends.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

The pistol-wielding rampage continues as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns with a new mission and a new reason to take vengeance. The film begins with Wick on a quest to recover his car that was stolen from him in the previous film, he uses the vehicle, pistols, and his handheld combat skills to take out a whole crowd of gangsters in a chop shop then sues for peace with the leader. Wick desires only to return home and properly grieve for his lost wife. He has adopted a new dog and reburied his weapons and suit. Just as he thinks he's about to get out, circumstances drag back into the violent life of an assassin. 

Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) knocks on Wick's door and demands repayment for a debt that Wick acquired when he needed help making his exit from the assassin life. The debt is symbolized by a marker, a round disc that has Wick's bloody thumbprint, a rule that means he must help D'Antonio or risk death by the Continental assassin guild. Enforcing these laws is Winston (Ian McShane) who also restricts violence in his hotel across the world. Wick refuses D'Antonio's demand and has his house burned down as punishment. Forced to concede, Wick goes along with D'Antonio's mission to kill his sister, Gianna D'Antonio (Claudia Gerini).

Wick meets his match when he takes on the mission, travels to Rome, and has to face Gianna's bodyguard Cassian (Common). The two got at it in fun one-on-one hand-to-hand combat as Wick can't simply overpower the opposing assassin and they contend with each other. Wick completes his mission only to be double-crossed by D'Antonio and nearly assassinated by D'Antonion mute henchwoman Ares (Ruby Rose). The killers shoot it out through an EDM dance party, catacombs and a museum in the violent headshot brain splatter that has become a signature part of John Wick action sequences. 

This movie takes a little more time to develop the plot and explore the world of the assassins. The political dealing have major repercussions and a bounty is put on Wick's head that nearly every assassin in New York takes up. Wick is forced to seek help with the Bowery King  (Laurence Fishburne) of a homeless army of assassins. With his help, Wick is able to take on D'Antonion in an awesome fight scene through a crazy mirrored exhibit. Wick finally has to finish his revenge scheme by breaking the rules of the Continental setting up what would be an even bigger third part to the series.

R-rated action movies are my favorite genre of film and John Wick: Chapter 2 hits the sweet spot of a cool plot and eye-catching action sequences. Director Chad Stahelski does a great job showing what is happening amid all the chaos and is set to direct a Highlander film, exciting news. The world of the assassins grows and the Wick's challenges only grow larger as his focus and force lead him through armies of men. The nonstop fighting and interesting environment make this movie a constant entertainment and at the top of my favorite films for 2017 so far. Looking forward to seeing a sequel in the future. 

Movie Review: John Wick

The bloody action movie added a new style to action and reignited the long career of Keanu Reeves as an action star. John Wick (Reeves0 is a retired assassin who has moved on to a simple life with his wife when she dies of cancer. Overcome with grief, Wick is only able to have a semblance of hope from the gift his wife left him, a small puppy. Wick encounters Russian gangster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) and seemingly insults him by not selling Wick's awesome car, Iosef retaliates by coming to Wick's house, beating him up and killing his dog. This action sparks a series of bloody gun battles as Wick pursues Iosef through gangsters on a violent path for revenge. 

Iosef's father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) is the head of the Russian mob and seeks to protect his son from the Boogeyman that is John Wick. He hires a former colleague of Wick's Marcus (Willem Dafoe) to take him out. Wick's path leads him to an exclusive assassin hotel where there are rules to not do business inside the walls and hints at a greater world of assassins. 

Viggo and his assistant Avi (Dean Winters) send men after Wick as John invades their dance club's and destroys their hidden cash stores all in pursuit of vengeance. One assassin Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) gets the drop on Wick but has to break the rules of the hotel. The hotel manager Charon (Lance Reddick) works with a leader of the assassins Winston (Ian McShane) to enforce the rules of the hotel. 

The action scenes are intense as Reeves flips and dives away from bullets and shoots thugs straight in the head, saving a few for a final kill shot.  The world-building is quick and effective and with only a few short conversations, we know that Wick is a part of a bigger world and has a long history as an assassin. He uses his driving skills, pistol-handling, and other destructive weapons to assault safehouses, churches, and nightclubs with a ferociousness that the guards and gangsters are unable to defend against. 

John Wick was one of the best action movies of the decade and I was happy to sit that it got a chance at a sequel that has received positive, if not rave reviews. Wick always hinted at a larger world of assassins and I'm excited to see that explore in the new film. The action scenes were something that I had not seen before and was awed by the way they did not hold back on the gruesomeness of gun violence. Wick is still a mortal unlike other action movies and it shows him having to take time to recover from injuries and also just the practical steps he must take in order to take down whole armies of henchman. John Wick is an action movie that I can watch many times over and still be entertained.   

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

LEGO takes another step into animated movies with one of Warner Bros. most popular properties. Batman (Will Arnett) is the crime-fighting, cape crusader, but in a cocky, narcissistic billionaire form. He's just defeated the evil plan of his nemesis Joker (Zach Galifianakis) but goes home to a lonely house where the only company is his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). When he attends a party for the naming of the new commissioner Barabara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), he accidently agrees to adopt the orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). 

The Joker has come upon an even more diabolical plan by freeing every supervillain from the phantom zone. The Warner Bros. bench of franchises can really be explored in this film as it draws characters from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Godzilla, and Wizard of Oz. Batman's self-centered nature causes the primary amount of trouble as he continues to try and solve problems because he lacks any other sort of fulfillment in life. 

With the help of Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), Joker frees the awful villain and takes over Gotham city centering his headquarters at Wayne Manor on Wayne Island. The action is interesting to watch but some viewers can't help but wonder how much better a live-action film could be. The strength of this film and the LEGO series is the humor, which is great both lambasting Batman, studio blockbusters, and rich billionaires. The film has the freedom to play with other properties and explore the DC comics universe.

The movie primarily works for Batman focusing on his villains ranging from popular ones like Scarecrow and Bane to fan favorites like Clayface and Killer Croc and even including some ridiculous ones like the Condiment King and an Orca. The jokes come non-stop and the humor is witty and fun to watch. The relentless humor never gets tiring but the story about Batman's loneliness often slows down the pace and feels too much like an overt lesson. The message doesn't take away too much, it is just the lowest point of an incredibly entertaining film that requires a message as a children's cartoon.

Warner Bros. has established an animated series with this group of films as evidenced by the new Ninjago film advertised. The LEGO Batman movie combines the most popular superhero with this cartoon film to build upon the success of the LEGo movie. The humor and ability to not take itself so seriously give it a flexibility and allow it to make any joke without crossing into an area that draws eye-rolling. I am a fan of the LEGO film and look forward to what they have to offer in the future. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

Everything is awesome as the popular block toys come alive in this hilarious animated comedy. Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) just wants to fit in with all of his neighbors and coworkers. He believes the best way to do that is by following the strict instructions given to him by the President of the Lego society, Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Little does Emmet know that Lord Business is actually planning to destroy the whole world using a powerful tool called CraGle, Crazy Glue. A prophecy made by an old man Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) predicts that a master builder will find a powerful piece that can stop the destruction.

With the help of his henchman Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) who has personality disorders and sometimes is good, Lord Business captures Emmet who wakes up to find that the powerful piece is stuck to his back. Emmet manages to escape when he is saved by Wild Style (Elizabeth Banks) and brought to Vitruvius to discover his destiny. They go on a crazy adventure meeting all sorts of popular characters including Wild Style's super serious boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Astronaut Benny (Charlie Day), and Metal Beard (Nick Offerman).

The group teams up to build the correct tools to defeat Lord Business and stop his dastardly plan to spray all the residents with crazy glue. The story jumps out of Lego land to reveal that this plot was all coming from the mind of a young boy who is allowed to play with his father's set before his father plans to put everything in one place with glue. The story is humorous and fun with plenty of laughs and Lego action.

The character that steals the show is Arnett's Batman who got his own sequel from the performance. Plenty of other characters were pulled from pop culture touching on stories like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and DC Comics. Lego has products with all of these properties so could even venture beyond what is directly a Warner Bros. property, but they stuck primarily to what the studio wanted to promote hence the future foray into DC territory.

The Lego Movie sparked a new type of animation, it looks like stop motion but is capable of more. The story is funny and engaging with humor enough to allow viewers to step back from the blocky movement though the directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller never forget to utilize the blocky figures. There are plenty of jokes about the toys but also a theme about not just fitting but allow your imagination and freedom to take hold and not shun your individuality. The Lego Movie is good fun and I'm interested to see what happens with this film series. 

Grammy Awards 2017 Nominations

I'm looking forward to the music awards. I have a hard time keeping up with all the great music that comes out each year so when the awards are announced, I like to listen to all of the nominations and pick some award winners, though I'm usually wrong. This year I think will be dominated by a few artist. I'm just going to look at some of the major awards and not focus on any particular genre of music. 

Album of the Year

Lemonade - Beyonce
The frontrunner for best album is Beyonce's mournful Lemonade. The album has amazing songs from Sandcastles to Freedom featuring Kendrick Lamar. The song that is getting the most attention is Formation. It is nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year as well.

25 - Adele
Adele is the toughest competition and also highly favored to at least win one award. The album 25 came out back in November and the smash hit Hello is also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. I did not like the rest of this album as much as I had liked Adele's previous album 21. There are a few songs like Send My Love (To Your New Lover), Remedy, and Sweetest Devotion that are appealing but nothing like the album full of hits previously delivered by the talented Adele.
Purpose - Justin Bieber
I would never have listened to Justin Bieber unless he had been nominated for the Grammy, but I found that Purpose wasn't terrible. It certainly does not deserve to win in this category but his bitter Love Yourself got nominated for Song of the Year and I have to admit it is catchy. Purpose isn't the worst music ever, but I don't see the appeal of Bieber. 
Views - Drake 
This album is one of my least favorite Drake albums and I have been a big fan of Drake's career. I usually like his music but I even found his hits like Hotline Bling and One Dance to not be as special as Drake's earlier raps. He is nominated for Work with Rhianna and has several hip-hop nominations but this was not his most impressive year of music.

A Sailor's Guide to Earth - Sturgill Simpson
So in the last two round of nominations, since I've been paying closer attention to the Grammys, there has been a country surprise. This primarily happens because I don't listen to the country music genre. I found Sturgill Simpson's album really enjoyable, especially the first song Welcome to Earth (Pollywog). It would be interesting if this album won but recent trends do not give it much of a chance.

Record of the Year
Every year I have to look up what distinguishes this category from Song of the Year, but this year I sort of remember that Record of the Year recognizes the artist's performance and overall contribution versus just the songwriter for Song of the Year. For Record of the Year, the top contenders are Hello by Adele and Formation by Beyonce. I suspect that the wealth of awards will be spread around between Beyonce or Adele so whoever wins Song or Album might not win this one. Drake is also sharing his nomination with Rhianna for Work
Lukas Graham also got a surprising nomination for his catchy and heartfelt song 7 Years about growing up. I'm not very familiar with Lukas Graham's other work but as soon as I heard the song, it stuck with me. 
I was happy to see that twenty one pilots were nominated for their song Stressed Out. The Blurryface album has a ton of great songs, plenty of them better than the one nominated but this song definitely struck a chord with society capturing the millienial disenfranchisement with society and debt. I don't think the song will win but it is nice to see these artists getting some recognition.

Song of the Year
Three of the songs nominated in this category also appear in Record of the Year: 7 Years, Formation, and Hello. As I mentioned earlier, I think Beyonce or Adele will win this award, I just don't know which one or how to properly judge it. Bieber got a nomination for his song Love Yourself and Mike Posner made it in with his catchy song I Took a Pill in Ibiza about that fleeting moment of fame that he got off his equally catchy song Cooler Than Me

Best New Artist
Chance the Rapper
The Chicago rapper has moved up from Acid Rap to be a Grammy-nominated artist with his popular album The Coloring Book. Parts of the album were enjoyable to me and I like Chance's singing voice but at other times it got a bit preachy and experimental making it hard to follow along and enjoy listening. Chance is my favored pick to win this award because he has a lot of momentum. He also has several nominations in the hip-hop category for writing on Kanye's songs and his own songs.

Kelsea Ballerini
Kelsea Ballerini may get overshadowed by the other country music star in the category and I can't always say I could tell the difference. Dibs is probably one of the more fun songs and she has a cool acoustic EP of some of the songs off of her album The First Time.

The Chainsmokers
The Chainsmokers have mastered a formula of making catchy music with songs like Closer featuring Halsey and their most recent top hit Paris. They released two EPs Boquet and Collage that are packed wtih decent EDM songs. If they do win, they'd be the first artist in this genre to win the award. 

Maren Morris
Maren Morris was an artist that I discovered from a magazine article and then I downloaded her album and really enjoyed it. Morris knows how to get some catchy country songs out and her album Hero is filled with them. 

Anderson .Paak
The most enjoyable discovery from my whole Grammy research was definitely Anderson .Paak's Malibu. The songs are amazing and the album has such passion to it. This will be a package of songs that I will listen to long after the Grammy awards. I'd love to see him win but I don't know if he has the recognition. 

I don't have time to go through all of the other categories that consist of the Grammys. I wish I had the time but I think I've got a pretty good idea of the songs that were nominated. I don't get to write about music much and have always wanted to review albums, though the concept of an album is slowly fading with the way we consume music changing so rapidly. Music was certainly interesting last year but probably the songs that stuck with me most were last year's winner from the Hamilton soundtrack. I look forward to the show and seeing who wins and another year of music ahead. 

Sports: NFL (Super Bowl LI)

I haven't been able to write about this game for nearly a week because of the incredibly disheartening result. Just like the election, I was left emotionally exhausted and upset as what looked to be a sure victory turned into an awful finale. The New England Patriots came back in a stunning turn of the score in the first Super Bowl to ever go into overtime.
The game started a bit lopsided and confusing as this was supposed to be two offensive powerhouses but defense prevailed in the early drives. Capitalizing off a fumble, the Falcons scored a touchdown first. They stopped the Patriots again and went up 14-0. On the next drive, a pick six by Robert Alford put the Falcons up 21-0. Everything seemed to be cruising for Atlanta at this point as New England was only able to kick a field goal before halftime and the Falcons would receive the ball.

The second half continued the dirty birds' momentum after two drives ending in punts, the Falcons scored another touchdown to lead the game 28-3. Even when the Patriots got a touchdown, they missed the extra point only giving them six. A 28-9 lead seemed to be good enough. The Patriots didn't score again until a field goal in at the start of the fourth. Then the come back began. The Patriots shut down the Falcons and scored two touchdowns with two-point conversions to tie the game. There was an extraordinary catch from Julian Edelman and a terrific performance from Tom Brady.

The game went into overtime and with the ludicrous rules of the NFL, the Patriots won the toss and easily drove down the field. They ran the bowl across the goal and beat the Falcon to win the Super Bowl. The game would have been truly amazing if it wasn't so goddamn depressing. I'm glad football is over for now because I'm in no mood to watch for some time to come. It just appears that 2017 will be the year of awfulness happening in American sports and politics, but hopefully, the Falcons can bounce back next year and have the best season ever in their new stadium to return to the big game. 

TV Show Review: Santa Clarita Diet

Netflix takes a new spin on zombies with the story of real estate agent Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore) who suddenly develops a strong craving for raw meat and then human flesh. Her husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) takes a unique approach to this new development by helping Sheila satiate her craving by committing all sorts of dastardly deeds. Their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) not only has to deal with the troubles of a teenage girl but must cope with her parents' new secret. She turns to the neighbor Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo) to help her figure out what is happening to her mother.

Each episode digs them further into trouble as they must cover up their previous murders and find new flesh to feed Sheila. The most difficult part of their elaborate cover up are the two police next door. Dan (Ricardo Chavira) and Lisa Palmer (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) live on one side of the family. Dan, Eric's stepfather, investigates a finger he finds in the Hammond's yard. He demands that Joel and Sheila commit murders of people he claims are criminals.

The Hammonds are incredibly inept at making excuses but since Sheila can devour the dead bodies, they often avoid getting caught with the evidence. The sight of Barrymore crunching on body parts is equal parts humorous and disgusting. The effects of becoming a zombie alter Sheila's personality and she becomes wild and crazy taking risk that she would have never taken before. She buys a new car and encourages her daughter to drop out of school.

The show knows exactly how to end each episode to make this story incredibly bingeable. Olyphant's goofy stoner dad contrasts well with at first anal Sheila and then a bit too wild zombie Sheila who is quick to jump forward and take a bit out of an asshole's neck. There are solid comedic supporting characters like Rick (Richard T. Jones), the other neighbor cop who partakes in Joel's toking, Principal Novak (Thomas Lennon) and his crazy Serbian grandmother (Grace Zabriskie).

Santa Clarita was a quick and goofy watch. The show mixes horror and comedy well and has enough of a mystery to sustain the plot for the repetitiveness of constant murder and coverups. I'd recommend Santa Clarita Diet to those who can stand a bit of violence and appreciate a bit of zombie humor. Both Barrymore and Olyphant are funny to watch and have solid young talent with Gisondo and Hewson. Another great addition to Netflix's long list of original shows. 

Movie Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's tragic tale was first adapted for the big screen back in 2004. Jude Law plays the narrating author who relates the tale of the unfortunate children. Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) are orphaned after a mysterious fire and sent by the lawyer Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) to live with their closest relative, the sinister Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). The failed actor puts the children to work and conspires to steal their fortune.

Count Olaf forces the children to cook dinner for his theater troop including the Bald Man (Luis Guzman), the White Face Women (Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Adams), and the Hook-Handed Man (Jamie Harris). The children manage to use their incredible wits to escape Count Olaf's devious plan to kill them with a train and go to live with their Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) who keeps dangerous reptiles. In a ridiculous disguise with a ludicrous accent as an assistant named Stephano, Count Olaf invades the Uncle's reptile room and murders him forcing the children to move to the beach house by Lake Lachrymose with Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep).

The paranoid and grammar-obsessed aunt falls for Count Olaf in disguise as Captian Sham and is forced to fake her death and write that the captain will take the children in her will. The children continue to have to use their intelligence to escape the evil thief and murderer. Fooling everyone from Justice Strauss (Catherine O'Hara) and the Constable (Cedric the Entertainer), Count Olaf works to capture their fortune going to extraordinary lengths.

It is no doubt that the film boasts an incredible cast and Jim Carrey embraces the absurdity of the Count Olaf character. The atmosphere gives off the dark and dreary environment that is reflected in the story of such tragic events. The children do a decent job and even the special effects have held up after over a decade of time has paced. There is a nice sense of humor despite the sadness of the tale.

The first film does not fully conclude the story managing only to cover a few books before rushing to a sort of conclusion that movie adaptations of books often have to do. It was budgeted too high and not enough of a success at the box office to earn a sequel that could have concluded the story and ended with a little more hope for the Baudelaire children. The movie is a fun watch and I will have to read the books to see how closely it follows the original story. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

TV Show Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events

The terrible story of the troubled Baudelaire children takes another shot at adapting the popular children's book, now as a streaming television show. The story is narrated by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), the purported author of the tragic tale. The three Baudelaire children Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Lois Hynes), and Sunny (played by Presley Smith and voiced by Tara Strong) discover that their parents died in a fire. The lawyer Mr. Poe (K. Todd Freeman) informs the children and sends them to live with their closest, by location, relative the villainous Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris).

The 8 episodes of season 1 follow the four books from the Bad Beginning to the Miserable Mill. Count Olaf conspires to steal the Baudelaire inheritance as he takes the children into his awful house and forces them to do chores. For some sense of power over their new awful situation, the children turn to their neighbor Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack), who is yet another clueless adult. The series of unfortunate events lead them to other guardians like Uncle Monty (Aasif Mandvi) and Aunt Josephine (Alfre Woodard) traveling from the reptile room to the wide-windowed beach house to the miserable mill.

The show constantly reminds us that this story is unhappy and miserable, warning us in the opening credit scene to look away. Count Olaf is assisted by his theatrical clue including the hook-handed man (Usman Ally), the twin (Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins) and another henchperson (Matty Cardarople). The crew is incompetent and is easily outsmarted by the hyper-intelligent children who are able to invent and read and bite their way out of trouble. The parents (Will Arnett and Colbie Smulders) hope to make it back to their children, but there is an interesting twists in the finale. 

The Netflix version is able to space out the story and tell more of the tale. Neil Patrick Harris carries most of the episodes though it lags at point watching his gimmick of customs and strange accents. The humor is hit or miss at times, but there are plenty of funny jokes to keep it going despite the misery of the story. The outrageousness is fully embraced with dark sets and interesting costumes. 

I have not had the chance to read the books, something that I would like to remedy in the near future. I'm glad this silly story has had aanother chance to hit the screens and Netflix is a great place for it with the budget and unlimited time to make episodes as long as the story needs. I would recommend giving this version a chance if viewers enjoyed the movie, but can't say for book readers. I looked forward to another season to add more to the story and answer the questions of the mystery. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick's reimagining of history is a horrifying tale of what it would be like if the Nazis and Japan had won World War II but suffers from a large spread of characters in a rather short book with very little plot to sustain the story. The world and setting are imagined with terrifying detail as Jews must remain in hiding and the United States is split down the middle with racism predominant through the states. The story never settles on a main character and bounces around through several loosely related viewpoints more building a world than telling a story. The plot does not capture much tension and often fails to entertain. 

I have only seen the first two episodes of the television show adaptation wanting to finish the book first but I can already tell that they take very divergent paths to the story of alternate history. There are a lot of things that I would have like to see further explored in the book like the disgusting thought of Nazis traveling into space and a potential uprising. There is also the growing tension between the Japanese and Germans that plays out with a spy revealing the secrets of the new German leadership that take over after the death of a leader. 

The main couple is Frank Frink, who changed his name from Fink to hide his Jewish ancestry, and his distant wife Juliana, who has fled San Francisco to leave out in Colorado. Frank has devised a way to create modern Amerian art as he exposes an antique salesman Robert Childan as a fraud and then has his partner propose a sale. Antiques from the American Civil War are popular but modern American art is shunned because the Japanese and German do not believe in American Exceptionalism.

Juliana has fallen for an Italian man Joe Cinnadella who is reading a  banned book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy about an alternative universe where Germany and Japanese lost the world. Joe has a secret and wants to meet the author of this book using Juliana as a distraction. The author Hawthorne Abendsen is rumored to being in a fortress for his own protection. When Juliana discovers the truth about Joe's mission, she violently takes matters into her own hands and arranges to meet Abendsen to discover the truth about his fiction.

The book is rather anticlimactic with one interesting action scene between Japanese leadership and the German police as they try to abduct a spy who has pertinent information about a conspiracy. Other characters achieve small victories but still live under the ruthless Japanese and German rule so not a very triumphant ending, to be expected with PKD. This Hugo award winning book was not as mindblowing as I thought it would be but maybe that's the new reality that I've come to accept with recent current events. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

TV Show Review: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 2)

This hilarious comedy musical continues for a great second season of songs and strange romance. Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) continues to woo her ex-boyfriend Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). She left her life behind in New York and traveled to West Covina where she now works as a lawyer with her best friend Paula Proctor (Donna Lynne Champlin) for the law firm run by Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner). The biggest obstacle for Rebecca achieving her dream is Josh's current girlfriend Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz).

The music is great with a series of catchy songs and the humor is wonderful with tons of subtle jokes and pop culture references. The songs range from all sorts of odd topics including period sex and boobs and viewers never know when they will break out into an outrageous song with plenty of fitting puns. Rebecca's affection for Josh is strong but her romantic inclinations bounce around from Greg (Santino Fontana) back to Josh to her new asshole boss Nathaniel Plimpton (Scott Michael Foster). 

Rebecca's trials with romance lead her through a wild ride of emotions and she depends on her friends like Paula, Heather (Vella Lovell), and even Valencia when Josh breaks up with her and gets a new girlfriend that they both spy on through social media. Rebecca is not the only indecisive as her constant obsession with Josh finally pays off when he realizes that Rebecca is the girl for him and they begin to date. Happy to achieve her dream, she rushes to marry him, which drives her nearly mad.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the funniest shows on television and the music helps bring out the great humor. There is no denying the genius of the creators Bloom herself and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show tackles the difficulty of dating in the technological age and the fear of being single. Rebecca has her own secrets that come out in the finale that put an extra stress on the craziness.

I would recommend Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to fans of romance and musicals that have a solid sense of humor. The show had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions. Bloom has a growing career and I look forward to seeing what they do in season 3. The CW has several hit shows that are taking off and receiving critical acclaim but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a shining star in that crowd.

Movie Review: Rings

Returning for the third time to round out the trilogy, Samara comes crawling back into theaters after over a decade of being gone. When she appears again chasing a man on a plane, the videotape is discovered by a curious professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki). He begins to experiment with the film having college students watch it including Skye (Aimee Teegarden) and Holt (Alex Roe). They will continue to pass on the digital copies of the film before the seven days are up and they are dead.

Julia (Matilda Lutz) has visions and worries about her boyfriend Holt who has disappeared. When she gets a strange Skype calls from Skye, she heads to the college to investigate. Holt explains Gabriel's experiment but Holt is running out of time as more people are wary after Skye's deformed face appears online. Julia takes on the video but things are different now. There is a new video embedded in the digital code that gives this plot a whole new mystery to pursue.

Following her hallucinations, Julia and Holt head to a small town where a woman once disappeared long ago. The woman turns out to be Evelyn, Samara's mother, and the mysterious circumstances caused Samara to continue her warnings through the video copies. She encounters Burke (Vincent D'Onofrio), a blind man who watches over a dilapidated church and the old graveyard where Samara's body is supposed to be buried. The goal is to burn Samara's corpse and end the curse so that Julia can live past the seven days.

The logic continues to breakdown as the scares come every so often. They did not utilize the horror of the crawling little girl with her black hair hanging over her face, especially with the abundance of screens in our daily lives.  Samara can use anything from a flat screen to computers and even phones can serve as a conduit. The horror could have done a lot more to scare but was focused on the mystery and stole from other better horror films. 

The Ring series should be done after this film as the ending took it to extremes. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the video spread far and wide but I don't the awful box office will inspire a filmmaker and production company to revive this franchise for many years to come. I didn't think it was a total waste of a movie as there were some spooky scenes and good jumps, Samara is an iconic horror villain, but this is nothing special. It helps to catch up on the mythology before going to see this one though there are some discrepancies from the plots of each one. 

Movie Review: The Ring Two

Deadly video tapes and the creepy long-haired girl crawling out of wells and televisions return for the sequel to the 2002 hit horror film. The sequel continues to follow Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her son Aiden (David Dorfman). They've left behind the horrors of the original film and started a new life in a small town. Rachel is a journalist at a small newspaper when she hears of a gruesome death of a teenager and a flooded house. Investigating the death, she sees the same deformed face she found on her niece and her son's father.

Feeling guilty, Aidan has visions of Samara continuing to stalk him. Rachel tries to dispose of the evidence and move on with her life but she can't help but notice the strange behavior of her son. Animals continue to act weird like the horses in the first one but this time deer outright attack them, one of the more exhilarating scenes of the film. The horror in this film comes from Samara popping up repeatedly as she attempts to take over Aidan's body and received motherly love from Rachel.

As the strange occurrences grow more extreme, Rachel confides in her boss Max Rourke (Simon Baker), who is skeptical of her statements and believes she has mental issues. Rachel leaves her son and explores the history of Samara and her origins. She discovers that the source of Samara's power is the mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother Evelyn (Sissy Spacek). It's hinted that there have been other people who have sought out the mental patient for answers and a bigger universe for The Ring series. 

Samara's powers grow stronger when she has Aidan's body and can murder people who haven't even seen the video. The logic of The Ring was already a bit confusing but with further exploration in a sequel, it becomes harder to maintain the rules in any sort of logical sense. The second film does not match the atmospheric terror and mystery of the first though Hideo Nakata, the director of the original Japanese version, tries his best to add some scares.

This sequel pretty much ended the series for over a decade. The film wraps up the story of Rachel and Aidan but Samara would stick around in people's memories for some time to eventually inspire a sequel in this age of rehashes. The Ring introduced a new kind of horror and sparked the adaptation of Japanese horror but couldn't maintain the thrills of the first one to keep the story going for much longer. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Movie Review: The Ring

The creepy and disturbing horror film adapted from a Japanese film was a movie that haunted me when I was much younger. The movie is about a videotape that once watched will kill the viewer seven days later. When Rachel (Naomi Watts) discover that her niece died from watching the film, she investigates the cause of death and discovers the videotape for herself. With only seven days left to live after watching it, she pursues the lead from the images in the creepy film that lead her to dark secrets 

Her task becomes more urgent when her son Aidan (David Dorfman) also watches the tape that she left unattended. Aidan's father Noah (Martin Henderson) is skeptical of Rachel's claims and watches the film too. Eventually, he discovers that strange things are happening to him, like premonitions and the inability to have his face photographed. 

The chase leads out to an island off the coast of Seattle where mysterious occurrences happened including the sudden deaths of horses and the disappearance of a young girl Samara (Daveigh Chase). The clues tell the story of Samara's disappearance and Rachel uses her journalistic skills to talk with Samara's father Richard Morgan (Brian Cox). The awful secrets are uncovered but there are twists still to be revealed.

The Ring uses technology to haunt from the monstrous form of Samara crawling out of the well and then out of the television to the telephone ringing right after a victim watches the tape for the first time and even the blurry images of faces of the tape watchers. These technological horrors add to the other horrors like the draped over hair and the gnarled skin of the girl. The darkness and overcast of the location add to the haunting atmosphere under Gore Verbinski's direction.

The Ring was one of my favorite horror movies growing up when I first saw it in theaters not knowing what to expect. I never went out and saw the original Japanese film but that is something that I should do in the future. This film inspired two sequels, one coming out this weekend that sparked my series of reviews. It also inspired plenty of other horror movies and kicked of a spat of Japanese adaptations into American stories. The Ring will scare horror fans and has memorable images that could haunt you for seven days later.

Movie Review: Gold

Inspired by true events but very loosely so, Gold tells the story of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a mining prospector who finds the biggest gold strike in history. The true story is about David Walsh and is actually about a Canadian businessman. In the movie, Wells has a dream after days of struggling with his ailing business left to him by his father. He dreams that he will find a strike in Indonesia so he sets out to find his dream.

The movie goes for a great American story feel as McConaughey drinks and smokes through the film and as I watched I was under the impression that it was a closer to truth than later research revealed. Wells is married to Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) who wants a simple life but is supportive of her husband's unfettered ambition. Howard is entertaining as the simple woman who sees through the niceties of the Wall Street bankers like Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll). As the businessman fight over the potential profit no one pays close attention to Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), the geologist who has his own agenda.

The movie has a bit of a twist that I will spoil in this review so if you're curious, I'd go see it first. The gold find turns out to be false data planted but this is after gold dealers tried to steal Kenny's mine but he made a deal with the son of the leader of Indonesia to retain the rights. The movie has a lot of fun twists and turns and is enjoyable throughout though critics did not agree. McConaughey's performance is a bit over the top and at first not likable, but as he is more down on his luck, I enjoyed the persistence of the character.

The movie doesn't add much special to the story and feels like an obvious ploy at getting prestigious recognition while not going beyond the ordinary for the film. The movie is just a good watch and not as bad as the negative reviews may suggest. Wells becomes more obsessed with wealth as the common story comes to fruition when those that love him see his obsession but he refuses to accept that he might be betrayed by the bankers. When it all comes collapsing down and the scam is revealed the FBI swoops in led by Agent Paul Jennings (Toby Kebbell).

With the impressive cast and the shocking story, it is hard to feel like this movie didn't live up to its potential, but then again it wasn't bad. Overall, I feel like this movie was fun enough but had a pitiful performance at the box office. The movie is down there as one of McConaughey's worst performers financially and might not inspire much money in rentals either. I would recommend Gold to those who like a fun story and can stand to see the truth stretched quite a bit.