Monday, January 15, 2018

Sports: NFL Playoffs (Divisional Round)

The NFL decided its final four over the weekend with the top two teams in each conference set to meet each other next week. The games had their fair share of surprises and upsets with an odd bunch winning in this round to make for an interesting championship weekend. 

NFC Divisional
Atlanta Falcons vs Philadelphia Eagles
My most disappointing game of the week ended with the Atlanta Falcons exiting the playoffs on an embarrassing final few plays as the Philadelphia Eagles and their backup quarterback Nick Foles are hosting the NFC Championship next Sunday. The Atlanta offense needs a huge overhaul in the upcoming season because there is no reason a form MVP and one of the best wide receivers in the league plus a strong running game should get shut out in the second half. The Eagles look like they will have to rely on their defense against a much tougher team next round. 
New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings managed to survive with some last minute magic as a final pass pushes them into the next round. The New Orleans Saints put up quite a fight but it just wasn't enough to survive a strong defense and a rookie quarterback. No team has ever hosted the Super Bowl but I am starting to think that the Vikings might break that streak. 
AFC Divisional
Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots
In a solid blowout, the Patriots dispatched another opponent on their way to their possible sixth Super Bowl win. The Tennesse Titans scored first but they just never had enough to handle the reigning champions. The Patriots cruised by with a comfortable 35-14 win. 

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers
In the most stunning victory of the weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars showed that they are not just a strong defense but that their young quarterback Black Bortles can handle the playoff pressure. The Jaguar topped the Pittsburgh Steelers in a high scoring battle that resulted in a 45-42 win. The Jaguars will have their greatest challenge yet against in the next round.  

Movie Review: The Post

Steven Spielberg adds another great film to his great career of producing high-quality cinema. This award contender tells a story I was almost wholly unfamiliar with and learning something new about history added to the entertainment of seeing some of the greatest actors and actresses of the generation performing under the direction of Spielberg. The story strikes relevant themes as political figures actively attack the news media as it struggles to stay relevant in a changing world. The film opens in Vietnam where Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is conducting an academic research of the war. When Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) refuses to be honest with the American people, Daniel takes it upon himself to release the papers but smuggling them out of Rand corporation headquarters to the New York Times.

In Washington D.C., Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) deals with pushback from an antsy White House as she tries to reason with her hard-charging editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). The Washington Post editor suspects that a big reporter from the New York Times is up to something and he doesn't like reading about scoops in the morning paper of a competing news company. When they learn about the Pentagon Papers, Ben puts his best reporters including Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) on the job to obtain the report. He even asked Katherine, or Kay, to ask Robert McNamara, a close friend of hers, to give them the report. The White House sues the New York Times to file an injunction from publishing any more scoops from the study. 

The movie has a great fast pace to it that makes even simple conversations or boardroom meeting highly engrossing. Katherine employs the help of Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts) to negotiate with the bankers as she hopes to bring her media company up for a public offering. Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) does not hold back when he expresses his doubts about Katherine running the company. Her father gave the running of the company to her husband but he killed himself leaving Kay in charge. Bagdikian manages to track down Ellsberg and obtains copies of the report.  He brings them to Bradlee's house where a group of reporting including Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon), Howard Simons (David Cross), and others work to make sense of the shuffled pages. 

Ben is unsure of his legal standing in publishing so he brings in the attorney Roger Clark (Jesse Plemons) to understand the possible repercussions of publishing. Bradlee relies on his wife Tony (Sarah Paulson) to not only feed the reporters but advise him when he has doubts. Fritz is doubtful and frets for the company but the decision comes down to Kay who decides to publish in an intense phone conversation. Ben gives his reporters permission and they begin to print the paper that would display scoops from the Pentagon Papers The case went all the way to the Supreme Court but now there were papers all across the country publishing this information. The ruling is in the newspapers' favor and they go on to publish more scoops changing the national feelings towards an awful war. 

The Post shines under Spielberg's direction with big movies stars bringing these passionate characters to the screen. The movie is enjoyable in the way it lays out a national conspiracy and the newspaper process to uncover these government secrets. The ending sets up the next major crisis for the Nixon administration that would end in impeachment. In these troubling times with the current president constantly attacking the news institutions, this kind of movie strikes the right tone for how to handle these awful proclamations from the highest parts of the government with courage intsead of fear. I am looking forward to revisiting Steven Spielberg's films over the next few months as I wait for his next release this year. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Movie Review: The Commuter

Every so often, Liam Neeson signs up for another silly action movie. I usually don't take the time to see these films but managed to catch the most recent installment. The film is a by-the-books action movie that takes the short route on the action with only a few scenes of combat or train mayhem. I have only been to New York City a few times but from what I've heard, the logistics of the train are not the actual case for the city's line. All of these issues aside, this January release has some decent moments and a story that can keep a viewer mildly entertained for two hours. Michael MacCauley (Neeson) makes his daily commute on this mysterious train as he challenges his son each day to read works of classic fiction and argues or laughs with his wife. He sells life insurance for a big company but they lay him off just as he is trying to budget for his son's college tuition. 

Before he catches the train, Michael stops by the bar to chat with his old cop partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) to vent about his unemployment and Murphy has some issues with his fellow officers, especially Captain Hawthorne (Sam Neill). MacCauley is in desperate need of a new source of income so when a mysterious stranger Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offers him a total of one hundred thousand dollars, twenty-five up front and the rest once he completes a simple task. Joanna somehow knows that MacCauley is a cop and a regular train rider so she uses his current situation to force him into her employment. He needs to figure out who is on the train and doesn't regularly ride it. MacCauley finds the first bit of cash but he wants to just get off the train until a young woman gives him a warning in the form of his wife's wedding ring. 

MacCauley tries to borrow another regular passenger's phone and tries to call his wife and the police. Joanna punishes MacCauley by killing fellow passenger Walt (Jonathan Banks). MacCauley begins to cooperate with Joanna's demands and searches through the train cars for passengers getting off at a particular stop. He narrows it down to a few but when he confronts one of them, he is attacked and has to fight the man off. He continues his hunt but he finds out that the man he fought with was an FBI agent. The train is stopped and the police search the line but MacCauley crouches in a compartment. As the train starts up again, he has to crawl beneath it, roll between the wheels and jump back on the train. He decides to cut off all the air conditioning so he can get the remaining passengers into one car. 

He confronts each of them and figures out who the right person. Murphy had informed him that the person that he is looking for witnessed a crime that was mentioned briefly on a background news segment. Joanna orders Michael to kill the witness but he refuses so somehow the train is set at an increased speed and the driver is killed. Working with Conductor Sam (Colin McFarlane), Michael separates the cars. Conductor Sam sacrifices himself but this is never really mentioned again. McCauley stages a hostage situation and Murphy enters to talk him down until he reveals that he is the crooked cop. Michael manages to switch a sniper marker while fighting with Alex and the snipers kill Murphy. The witness clears McCauley's name a little too easily. 

The Commuter is nothing special, just very generic action movie that may turn a profit because Liam Neeson has been able to draw a crowd. I will probably skip the next iteration of these action movies but I'm a sucker for silly January genre fare so I can't make any promises. I was revisiting the Taken films and have found them a bit silly and wonder how they spawned multiple sequels and a following. January is an interesting month because mixed in with these throwaway releases are award-winning films that are just getting a wide release. It makes for a medium run at the movies for the next few weeks with really good stuff alongside mindless fun. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sports: College Football National Championship

The National Championship turned out to be an exciting late night finale to the college football season. I am still recovering from staying up past midnight and having to do a few other things this week so my post is coming a bit late. This is more of a personal record for me to remember this extraordinary game. The Georgia Bulldogs took the lead in the second quarter and were up 13-0 to zero after shutting out the Crimson Tide in the first half. Nick Saban made a bold decision to substitute his starting quarterback and put in Tua Tagovailoa who drove down the field for a touchdown. 

The Bulldogs scored another touchdown but it still wasn't enough to pull away. The Crimson Tide managed to make up for a rookie interception by getting an interception of their own. They followed up with two field goals to put them in the position for a great comeback. They scored the tying touchdown and stopped Georgia from making a winning drive. Alabama almost won it but their kicker missed the game-winning field goal. Georgia managed to get a field goal on the first drive of overtime but a pass from Tagovailoa won the game for Alabama 26-23. This was a Championship for the history books.

I don't much care for these teams but I would have preferred a Bulldogs win over the Tide. Still, I ordered an Alabama hat to commemorate the stunning victory. My attention turns to college basketball where a ton of crazy stuff is going on and I hope to be posting about later this month! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Golden Globes 2018

The first awards show that I'll write about this year comes a little early for me as I've not been able to catch a lot of the nominees, especially in some of the big film awards. I usually write about the nominees before the show but I'm just going to do one spot talking about the show and the winners since I don't have opinions about things I'm only looking forward to seeing in the next week. Surprisingly, I did see a lot of the winners as the Hollywood Foreign Press made some interesting choices that I'm not sure will transfer to the Academy Awards. 

Best Motion Picture - Drama
I actually read an article about the controversial characters in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri right before the awards show but remember the story being full of twist and turns and a ton of shocking revelations to make it entertaining. It is hard to argue with Frances McDormand being awarded Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama along with Martin McDonagh winning Best Screenplay. The most controversial character is portrayed by Sam Rockwell who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. I had predicted this film to be totally shutout so was thrown off guard by the sweep as I forgot that awards shows don't react to controversy as fast as social media. I enjoyed many parts of the film and understand how it won over the voters but could see the backlash hurting it in the next competition.
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Greta Gerwig's heartfelt story Lady Bird is full of hilarious scenes and a beautiful coming of age story. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in the lead role which is why she deserved her win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. Gerwig deserved to be recognized in the director category but was left off. Lady Bird could ride this momentum to an Academy Award Best Picture.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

Gary Oldman's performance had a lot of tough competition as a younger newcomer and a retiring veteran challenged him but with stellar makeup and a brilliant performance, the skilled actor was barely recognizable. The film centers around Oldman's Winston Churchill and would hardly be worthwhile watch without his deep dive into the role. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture  - Musical or Comedy
The performance to best challenge the Drama category when they are combined is James Franco playing Tommy Wiseau. In one of the more awkward moments of the night, Wiseau tried to make a speech when Franco one but the actor pushed him back to deliver thanks to his family and friends. 
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
I was unable to catch I, Tonya yet but I looked forward to seeing Allison Janney in her award-winning role as she is a wonderful performer and I can only imagine this is the role of a lifetime that should get her many awards. 

Best Director - Motion Picture
I have yet to see this beautiful looking film but I am even more excited after Guillermo Del Toro won this award. The direction looks especially amazing and I'll have a lot more to say in two weeks when the film finally comes to Kentucky. 

Best Television Series - Drama
The most powerful television show of the year that tells a story of our haunted past placed in the future by the brilliant author Margaret Atwood. Elizabeth Moss also took the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama.

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy
One show that I was able to catch at the very end of last year and finally reviewed this month was The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I enjoyed it immensely. Rachel Brosnahan is brilliant, delivering jokes on stage earning the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Big time movie actresses made this limited series a must-see event that delivered a powerful story about abuse and the secrets a wealthy society keeps. Nicole Kidman shows her amazing skill as the abused wife winning Best Actress, Limited Series and Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd won Best Supporting Actor Limited Series as her husband. I also had the chance to read this amazing book and would enjoy seeing more of what the creators come up with. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy

I have enjoyed acting and comedy from Aziz Ansari for quite some time so it is really nice to see him awarded for his great Netflix show. Not only is he deserving of this award but he is breaking down barriers while he does it. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
This Is Us is a show that I always kind of forget about how great it is and then another episode comes on and the rush of emotions flow. Sterling K. Brown is a great actor and I can't wait to see him in more movies or television shows as he has delivered tons of stellar performances including his role in this basic cable show. 

The Golden Globes had a lot of stunning awards but also a lot of performances and films that deserved it so while some great movies were shutout this year, they still have a chance at the Oscars but it is also a testament to how many great movies came out this year. 

Sports: NFL Playoffs (Wild Card)

Professional playoff football is one of the greatest sporting events every year and always a January highlight. This year has plenty of great matchups though the results may not matter when it comes to the Super Bowl. The winners of each game will go on to play the top two teams in each conference who are currently enjoying a bye week. An interesting result of this weekend is that all four winners come from the South division of their respective conferences. 

AFC Wild Card
Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs
In the first upset of the NFL Playoffs, the Tennesse Titans survive a battle in Kansas City beating the Chiefs 22-21. The Chiefs started the game in dominant fashion and took a halftime lead of 21-3. The Titans had an extraordinary second half including a touchdown pass that he threw to himself, an extraordinary play that may be the best of these playoffs. Tennesse heads to New England where they will probably lose to the Patriots.

Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars
In a game between two pretty weak offenses and decently strong defense, the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Buffalo Bills 10-3.  The bills were never able to score a touchdown and they lost their quarterback at the end of the game. Both of these teams did not look great but the Jaguars have performed well against the Steelers this year so they have a chance to make it the AFC Championship.

NFC Wild Card
Atlanta Falcons vs Los Angeles Rams
In an exciting game that I was most excited about, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13. The Falcons were up at the half as the young Rams showed life near the end of the second quarter. The Atlanta defense shut them down with only a field goal in the second half. Both teams have explosive offenses but the Falcons defense is looking great which should set them up for a solid chance at beating an injured Eagles team. 

Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints
In the most competitive game of the wild-card round, the game went down to the final seconds. The New Orleans Saints triumphed against their NFC South divisional rival the Carolina Panthers 31-26. The Saints went up with huge plays including long passes from Drew Brees. The Panthers fought back in the second half with Cam Newton scoring two touchdowns in the fourth but it wasn't enough. The Saints have a strong chance of defeating the Vikings in Minnesota.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

TV Show Review: Peaky Blinders (Season 4)

The Shelbys are back at it with an especially vicious enemy in this fourth season of this exciting gangster drama. For reasons I don't remember, Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) had his family incarcerated and sentenced to death. The fourth season picks up with each family member about to be killed when their sentences are commuted. Arthur (Paul Anderson) and Polly (Helen McCrory) are not happy about Tommy's betrayal but they have to put their differences aside because a new threat arrives. Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) arrives with an army of Italian-American mobsters. They want to kill Tommy and the rest of the Peaky Blinders. They launch an assassination attempts killing Tommy's brother John and injures Polly's son Michael (Finn Cole). 

Tommy turns to the Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen) and his tough boxing son to help defend the family. The war escalates as the mobster attack Arthur and Tommy on various occasions but they both luckily manage to survive. They launch attacks on Luca but he too avoids the bullets and comes right back. Tommy schemes with Polly to pretend to betray him. Luca thinks he has the upperhand but it turns out that Tommy is ready and waiting. There are also rumblings of a communist revolution. 

Tommy has plenty of relations with women but his interactions with Lizzie Stark (Natasha O'Keeffe) turn into a pregnancy. With the Shelby numbers dwindling, they struggle to continue their business but Tommy cleverly comes up a plan to make his own gin. Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy) leads the communist as many of the workers go on strike but Tommy turns this to his advantage. To Lizzie's dismay, Tommy flirts with May Carleton (Charlotte Riley) and shows her his gin business. Tommy calls in Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) and they set up a fight between Alfie's large cousin and Aberama's son. 

Luca reaches out to Alfie offering to buy all his product and withstanding many insults to gain entrance into the fight where they can assassinate Arthur and Thomas. Alfie agrees and the fight is on though it is rigged by Tommy. Arthur spots one of the assassin and is attacked. It looks like he is dead as Tommy catches the killers and announces his brother's death to the audience. Luca thinks he has the upper hand but Tommy is always ready to play one last trick and he makes a deal with Al Capone while Arthur reveals he's still alive to shoot Luca dead. Tommy confronts Alfie on the beach and they shoot each other though Alfie dies, which he was ready for since he had cancer. 

Peaky Blinders is a stunning show with great talent acting in powerful roles. The show does not hold back on the action and Cillian Murphy is great as the leader of this wild gang. Actors come and go in this show but Adrien Brody made his mark as the villain of this season. Tom Hardy is also brilliant while Paul Anderson uses his big role to shine. I like this Netflix series because it is short but really entertaining.  

TV Show Review: The Crown (Season 2)

The British royalty continues to deal with scandals as this historical show moves into the 1960s and the second decade of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy). A major theme of this season's story is the Queen's marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) Duke of Edinburgh. The season begins with them having a serious conversation about their marriage and him being a part of the royal family then flashes back to how they got to this position. Feeling restless, Philip sets out on an exposition to explore the world just as Elizabeth learns of possible adulterous behavior on his behalf. History also influences their lives as controversy arrives over the Suez Canal weighing on the mind of Prime Minister Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) who struggles to live up to his predecessor's legacy.

As Philip continues his travels far away, Elizabeth reaches out to him through a public Christmas message. The prime minister has health issues and mismanages the international crisis. The scandal grows around Philip as the Queen's assistance work to cover it up. The conversation of the first scene comes back around and Elizabeth and Philip make up hoping to celebrate their ten years anniversary. Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) has trouble with a prospective husband growing confident and entering a duel. The new Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (Anton Lesser) has personal problems of his own as his wife is in love with another man and it is sort of an open secret. 

Margaret does start to form a romantic relationship with Tony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode) but she is unable to announce her engagement since Elizabeth II is expecting another child. The queen delivers a tone-deaf speech written by one of her assistance and Lord Altrincham (John Hefferman) calls her out on it. She makes much-needed changes under his suggestion to become a more personable queen and help the monarchy thrive. Another scandal bubbles up from the past when the former king, David (Alex Jennings) Duke of Windsor. He had secretly conspired with Hitler to retake the throne after being forced to abdicate. The queen refuses to allow him back into a representational role with the government when she discovers the truth. 

A visit by the American president John F. Kennedy (Michael C. Hall) but more importantly his wife Jackie (Jodi Balfour) causes some turmoil for the queen. She decides to take action on a significant issue in Ghana which plays into the hands of the Americans in their Cold War with communist Russia. Prince Charles (Julian Baring) takes center stage in the penultimate episode as his father forces him to attend his alma mater in Switzerland where the boys are forced to live a harsh life, but we learn why this place is so significant for Philip as his past is also dramatized. The finale brings back the scandal of Philip's possible adultery as a scandalous rumor about a mysterious figure in a photograph swirls around the palace. History shows that their marriage does survive as the queen has her fourth child.

The Crown is a brilliant show with gorgeous sets and extraordinary acting. The show makes much more interested in history and I often find myself reading up on the royal family after each episode. It is amazing what happened during Elizabeth's rule and it is still going on so this show could have tons of seasons. Claire Foy is brilliant and Matt Smith really shined this season. The first did a great job introducing the Crown but the second season has really improved the show. I look forward to seeing where they take the show in subsequent years of Elizabeth's life. 

TV Show Review: Black Mirror (Season 4)

Charlie Brooker's techno-horror anthology series continues with six more disturbing stories of advancements in science going terribly wrong. There are great twists in nearly every episode and great performances from familiar names and new faces. The message is not always clear and sometimes the moral comes across a little overblown as to render the effect a little less powerful. Still, the worlds created in these stories are so similar to our own that they often show the horrifying circumstances of becoming so dependent on technology. One common idea that shows up in several episodes is the idea of transferring a person's conscious mind into a device so that they can prolong their life or test out experiences that they couldn't in real life. 
The first episode shows introvert Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons), a computer programmer, who creates his own digital world based on his favorite sci-fi show. The dark part comes when it is revealed that the other participants are consciousnesses stolen from the DNA of his coworkers at a gaming company. The reality becomes clear when a new programmer Nannette Cole (Cristin Milioti) at the company wakes up aboard the spaceship. The rest of the crew explain to Nanette the awful truth, Robert has power over all of them. He uses these computer-generated realities to live out his fantasy life as the captain of the starship U.S.S. Callister. If anyone disobeys, they are turned into a nasty alien bug or forced to be the villain and suffer endless torture. Robert's partner in the company Walton (Jimmi Simpson) has been tortured especially cruelly having to watch his son be pushed out an airlock multiple times. Along with her consciousness, Nannette also has her real mind's hacking skills and manages to contact the outside world. She blackmails herself in the reality and convinces her to sabotage Robert's equipment so they can escape out a wormhole. 
Arkangel tells the story of a mother Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) who grows so worried about the well being of her daughter Sara (Brenna Harding) that she injects a microchip into Sara's brain. She is able to block out violence and other troubling images but this leads to violent behavior so Marie allows her to venture out without the filter. As Sara grows older, she struggles with her strange upbringing but also experiments like most teenagers. She falls for a childhood friend Trick (Owen Teague) who takes her virginity and introduces her to drugs. Marie lies about turning off the monitoring system and she spies on her daughter. It becomes so bad that Marie threatens trick with the evidence she has. Sara lashes out at her mother when she discovers she has been given a contraceptive without her knowledge. The story ends on a dreary note as do most of these episodes. 
The weakest episode of the new season takes on an even darker tone when two travelers, Mia Nolan (Andrea Riseborough) and Rob (Andrew Gower) hit a biker with their car. They dispose of the body and try to forget about this moment in their lives. Mia moves on and has a family along with a successful job. Rob shows up wanting to tell the wife of the biker that he will not be returning and even though he wants to do it anonymously, Mia grows worried and kills Rob. She covers up the murder but an accident on the street below sends Shazi Akhand (Kiran Sonia Sawar) on a collision course with Mia. Shazi investigates an insurance claim using a device that pulls images from witness's brains. She eventually finds her way to Mia and uncovers the murder. Mia kills Shazi and heads to her family but eventually she is caught by the police after many tragic events. 
The best episode this season begins with a couple, Amy (Georgina Campbell) and Frank (Joe Cole), on a blind date. A device determines how long they will stay together. Amy and Frank spend the night lying together but they never move any further. They regret the decision of not taking advantage of the night together and the both of them want to see the other again. Another blind date is set up with another individual and they are forced to stay with these people for longer even though they are not compatible. They run into each other at various events and pine after what could have been. They are given a second chance as the matchmaking app dictates and this time they agree to not check how long they have together. A pretty interesting twist brings this episode to a climactic conclusion.
It's never totally clear what is happening in Metalhead but the episode still effectively generates a feeling of dread. Bella (Maxine Peake) arrives at a warehouse with Anthony (Clint Dyer) and Clarke (Jake Davies). It appears to be an apocalyptic landscape and Bella is in search of a certain object hidden in a box. They move stealthily through the aisles until they find the numbered box. A robot appears and kills Anthony. Clarke and Bella flee from the crawling robot as it pursues with remarkable and relentless speed. Clarke is killed and Bella barely survives as the car she is driving tumbles off a cliff. She manages to make it to a tree where the robot waits it out. She drains its power by constantly hitting it making it think she is fleeing. She enters a house where the owners are dead upstairs. The robot recovers and chases her through the house. She manages to kill it but it shoots tracking devices into her skin before it is destroyed. Other robots are seen heading in her direction at the end as it cuts back to the Teddy bears she was trying to get. 
In a fitting finale to another excellent season, Black Museum hints at other episodes and tells three stories that slowly tie together. Nish (Letitia Wright) stops at the abandoned gas station nearby the Black Museum to charge up her solar car. She pokes around until the proprietor Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) appears. He takes her on a tour of all the horrific objects he amassed during his strange career in technological healthcare experimentation. The stories involved the transfer of consciousness into another including a doctor (Daniel Lapaine) who feels his patients pain but becomes obsessed, a husband (Aldis Hodge) who hosts his wife's mind in his own until he can't handle it, and a prisoner (Babs Olusanmokun) who is forced to suffer long after his death. The season ends with a great twist and a strong feeling of wariness against the increasing presence of technology in our lives. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Movie Review: Insidious: The Last Key

In a continuation that is long past its prime, Insidious follows the previously film in delivering another subpar story. The film begins with a young Elise Rainer (Ava Kolker) living near a prison with her brother Christian (Pierce Pope), her caring mother Audrey (Tessa Ferrer), and her abusive father Gerald (Josh Stewart). Elise's talent is already showing as she knows everything about each person who goes to the electric chair. Her father tries to beat the ability to see ghosts out of her but his punishment of locking her in the basement backfires when she opens the door to a demon realm. A key demon uses wire to hang Audrey and older Elise (Lin Shaye) is still traumatized. She wakes up a short while after the third chapter and receives a call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo) who now lives in her childhood home. 

Elise agrees to take the case and reluctantly bring along Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whanell). The ghost hunters drive to New Mexico and begin to investigate Elise's childhood home. Garza insists that Elise stay up in her old room where he claims the hauntings are taking place but Elise senses spirits everywhere. She explores the house while Specs and Tucker her watch her from the vehicle on a video screen. Elise encounters a woman who implores her to save another woman. Elise doesn't understand the message but she is determined to figure out. At the local diner, Elise meets her nieces Imogen (Caitlin Gerard) and Melissa (Spencer Locke). She tries to reconcile with her brother Christian (Bruce Davison) but he refuses to forgive her for leaving.

Elise remembers seeing a ghost and her father threatening her when she was sixteen before she left the house for good. The crew return to the house and Elise begins to search for the ghost again, this time with the help of Tucker and a powerful microphone. They follow the sound of a whistle into the basement where they find a girl held captive in a bomb shelter. Garza threatens them with a gun until Specs comes in and kills him. The police help clean up the mess but Christian returns to the house the next day with his daughters to find the whistle his mother gave him. As he searches, Melissa is tricked into the basement where the key monster attacks her and puts her in a coma while transporting her soul to the Further. 

Elise sees Melissa in the interrogation room in a scary little scene and she returns to the house. She knows that she must confront the ghost to find Melissa. She uncovers all the horrors her father committed under the influence of the demon and she is dragged into the further as well. Imogen reveals that she can go into the Further so Specs and Tucker hypnotize her to help save Elise. Imogen ventures into the prison cells where Elise and Melissa are held captvie by the key monster. Elise takes out her hatred on her father until she realizes the monster feeds off of the anger. Imogen and Elise fight back and right when it looks like they are losing, Elise's mother arrives to help them escape. 

Insidious: The Last Key is another sequel to a franchise that had already outlived its quality in the last installment. Like the ghosts of the film, the Inisidious series continues to go on though it doesn't have much of a purpose and only vaguely connected to the original films beyond Elise's story. Lin Shaye delivers a decent performance while Whannell and Sampson have more screen time to test out their humor. Whannell has given up directing but continues to write these stories wihtout the cleverness he has brought to some of his other original horror films. 

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 3

A significant step down in the franchise, this third film is a prequel that only carries over a few of the characters from the original. A young girl Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) seeks out Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to contact her mother but when Elise uses her power to contact the other side, she summons something worse. Quinn hopes to get from under her stressed out father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and her annoying little brother Alex (Tate Berney). She fails at her audition to theater school and goes out to forget with her friend. She is hit by a car and during the recovery process, she falls into the Further. Confined to her bed, Quinn starts to experience all sorts of supernatural occurrences. The center of these occurrences is a creepy looking old man who wears an oxygen mask.

Elise senses something is wrong and she, too, encounters the evil man. Quinn is unable to flee from the haunting things she sees and the old man gets closer to her every night. Sean tries to help his daughter but there is not much that he can do. Eventually, Elise visits Quinn even though she is afraid that if she continues to venture into the Further, she will be killed by an evil woman, the same woman that terrified in the two previous films. Elise knows that the woman is angry after she banished it from Josh long ago. She tries to go into the Further to help Quinn but she is attacked by the woman and she flees in fear.

The old man tortures Quinn, even more, bringing her up to the room above and nearly pulling her out of the window. Sean doesn't know how to protect his daughter but his son suggests bringing in two paranormal investigators who he has seen on the internet. Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) arrive and are unsure of what they are investigating. They rig up a camera to Quinn and wait while she sleeps. The camera starts to move but they can't find Quinn when they enter her bedroom. She appears behind them and has seemingly recovered from her injuries. She attacks the men but they manage to tie her down when Elise returns. She agrees to help them and stages another seance.

Elize enters the Further to search for Quinn but first she is confronted by various demonic presences including the woman dressed in black. She uses her life powers to push her back then enters the apartment version of the Further. Another victim of the old man is still there and helps Elise find where the old man is holding Quinn in an awful state with no arms and a missing face. Elise frees Quinn and they flee back through the Further but even Elise can fully pull her away. Elise calls to Quinn's mother who shows up to free Quinn from the clutches of the old man and return to her body. 

Insidious: Chapter 3 is probably the worst film in the series with only very small relation back to the original story. The franchise tries to shift to focusing on Elise but without an interesting main victim, the scares are the only thing that makes it worthwhile. While Lin Shaye is enjoyable and Whanell and Sampson add some levity, the creepy old man is definitely the scariest part and the reason this film is even a slightly enjoyable horror film. It's strange that Whannell wrote to good movies and then writes this bad film. He takes over directing and this film just doesn't live up to the others making this another horror franchise that went on too long. 

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

This sequel not only extends the story of the first film but enhances it. The film begins with a prologue set years earlier. Young Elise Rainier (Lindsay Seim) visits a young Lorraine Lambert (Jocelin Donahue) and her son Josh (Garrett Ryan) at the behest of Carl (Hank Harris). Elise learns of Josh's power to astral project and after being attacked by a vicious force, she agrees to suppress Lorraine's son's ability until the results of the first film bringing them back in a horrifying way. The original story resumes with Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) recalling the night that her son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) woke up and the body of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) was found. Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) claims to not know why Elise died but Renai has seen a picture of the ghost possessing his body. 

After the tragedy, the family goes to stay with Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) but strange things continue to happen. Renai is haunted by a terrifying woman and Josh is acting very odd. Lorraine sees shadows but Josh tells her not to speak of these sightings. Even Dalton is haunted by ghosts as he struggles to get his innate ability to astral project under control. Elise's assistants Spec (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) wish that they consult Elise so they stage a seance. Lorraine calls in Carl (Steve Coulter). With Tucker and Spec, Lorraine and Carl try to figure out what Elise is trying to communicate. With the help of Carl's dice rolling, Lorraine recalls the haunting encounter of an old man in a hospital who took a special interest in Josh. She saw Parker Crane walk out of the hospital after he had already died. He was in the hospital for trying to castrate himself. 

The group returns to the house of this serial killer and experience all sorts of supernatural frights. They learn the truth of Parker's awful upbringing and his murder sprees just as Renai realizes that Josh is not the same person she married. Lorraine catches Renai as she is returning home and tells her to avoid the house while Carl goes in wearing a wire monitored by Specs and Tucker. Josh is growing increasingly ill as Parker's soul is rejecting Josh's body. It turns out that Josh's soul is stuck in the Further. Carl tries to reason with Parker but is attacked and fails to inject the drug. Specs and Tucker try to fight Josh but they are both knocked out. Carl wakes up in the further reasoning that he is dead. 

Josh goes on an adventure back into the past revealing how some of the spooky things that happened in the first film are the result of Josh journeying through the Further. With Carl by his side, he explores deeper into the darkness fighting a monster until Elise arrives. She instructs him to revisit his past where he finds the key to drawing Parker out of his vessel. Elise and Carl help him as Renai and Lorraine arrive home to find Josh slowly decaying. Josh attacks them and is about to kill Renai when Dalton and his brother arrive home to fight him off. They hide in the basement and lock the door as Josh tries to break his way in. Dalton convinces his mother to let him go into the further to help his father. Josh explores the memories of Parker Crane and the vicious way his mother treats him until he can defeat him with the help of Elise. Dalton helps Carl and Josh escape the dead souls of the Further and return to their bodies. Carl performs the ceremony to reset Josh and Dalton's memory.

Insidious: Chapter 2 adds to the scares of the first film while also explaining why some of the mysterious things happened. James Wan and Leigh Whannell return as a great director and writer pair for some brilliant scenes of horror like when Dalton is attacked by ghosts. This film series seemed like a silly horror franchise but with talents like Byrne, Wilson, Simpkins, and Lin Shaye, it rises to another level. These first two films tell a complete story but the ending sets up how the franchise can go beyond the Lambert family. 

Movie Review: Insidious

"It's not the house that's haunted." A great line from the film that shows how this horror story differentiates from the typical fare that hits theaters. The setup is familiar. A family moves into a new house where things go bump in the night and strange sounds come from the dark rooms. Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) struggles to take care of her three children while these occurrences terrify her. Her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) has a shadowed past with no pictures of him as a child though he seems disinterested and skeptical of Renai's claims of hauntings. When their oldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls and bumps his head, he falls into a coma that has no medical explanation. His inert state increases the sightings of ghosts and they do not go away even after Renai convinces Josh to move houses. 

 Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) relates a terrible dream of a demon who is after Dalton and she calls in a specialist. Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) arrive first to investigate the haunting and their tools pick up on some serious paranormal activity. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) comes in to explain the concept of the Further. After a botched seance, Elise and Lorraine explain Josh's past and how that ties into Dalton's ability to astral project into the Further. An old woman had been stalking Josh as a child and appeared in spooky photographs behind him growing steadily closer. Elise had to stage an intervention to stop him from walking into the Further but now they need him to go back to that place to help save Dalton.

Under Elise's hypnosis, Josh separates his consciousness from his body and proceeds into the mist-filled Further. He enters a replica of their house where creepy specters roam. Gruesome murders play out as statuesque ghosts stalk Josh. He comes to a red door but is attacked by one of the more sinister entities. He uses the power of his life to push the monster away and move into the demon's lair. The demon prepares his tools and puppets while listening to a disturbing tune. Josh frees Dalton and they flee into the darkness. Back in the house with the group of awake members, Specs sees a hand shoot out of the drawer. The ghosts pursue Tucker and the others as they try to take Josh and Dalton's bodies for their own evil purposes. 

The demon pursues Dalton while Josh stays behind to confront the horrifying old lady that had pursued him since childhood. Josh and Dalton wake up to find their family around them. Dalton recovers from his long slumber in the coma as Elise suspects something strange about Josh. She snaps a photo of him to reveal the old woman. Renai rushes in to find Elise's dead body and a photo of the woman just as Josh puts his hand on her shoulder setting it up for a scary sequel.

Insidious is one of my favorite horror movies from James Wan and Leigh Whannell who have been involved with other great scary films. The frightening ghosts are used for chilling scares and the music of Joseph Bishara sets the mood. Insidious sets up a sequel quite while even as it ends with a classic surprise horror twist of something terrible happening to let the viewers know the horror is far from defeated. Insidious does a great job shocking me and Rose Byrne as the central terrified figure works well with her talent. Patrick Wilson is almost always fun on screen and Ty Simpkins is a promising young talent going on to bigger blockbuster films. I"m looking forward to seeing this series continue. 

Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2018

Here are my ten most anticipated movies of 2018

1. Avengers: Infinity War

2. Untitled Deadpool Sequel

3. Black Panther

4. The New Mutants

5. The Predator 

6. Solo: A Star Wars Story

7. Ready Player One

8. A Wrinkle in Time

9. Annihilation

10. X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sports: College Football Playoffs

The last games of college football are underway as the bowl games have finished and the only thing left to be decided is the National Champion. There are plenty of returning teams along with a new team in the hunt for the final win. The bowl games have been surprising enough so I'm sure the playoffs will have plenty of excitement. The winners go on to face each other in Atlanta next week. I'll also take a quick few sentences to talk about 

Rose Bowl: 3Georgia vs 2Oklahoma
The SEC Champions take on the Big 12 Champions in a shootout for the second place spot. Oklahoma struck first with Baker Mayfield and company driving down the field. The teams exchanged touchdowns until Oklahoma pulled ahead. Huge runs kept Georgia in the game but a trick play put Oklahoma up 31-17 at halftime. 
Georgia mounted a comeback in the third quarter scoring two touchdowns on big runs. An interception put the Bulldogs in perfect position to take the lead. Oklahoma managed to respond to tie the game at 38 points. Georgia fumbled on the following drive and the recovery was returned for a go-ahead touchdown. Georgia managed to tie the game up in the last minute of the fourth quarter at 45 points to push the game into overtime. 
Georgia had the ball first and only managed a field goal but their defense held strong and kept Oklahoma to a field goal as well. Oklahoma had possession next and missed their field goal opportunity. Georgia ran the ball in for a touchdown and the victory, a chance to win it all in the National Championship.
Sugar Bowl: 4Alabama vs 1Clemson
A rematch of last year's National Championship pits the reigning champ and leader of the ACC versus the SEC team that was allowed in after losing an important game earlier to miss their conference championship. 
Alabama struck first with a field goal and touchdown in the first quarter to take a ten point lead. The Tigers were only able to respond with a field goal in the second quarter. 
Clemson got another field goal to start the third but the Crimson Tide scored two more touchdowns and rode that lead to a victory 24-6.
Peach Bowl: 12UCF Knights vs 7Auburn Tigers
The undefeated Knights faceoff against the SEC team that managed to beat both the National Championship contenders. It looked like the Tigers were highly favored but they had weaknesses and fell behind 13-6 by the end of the first half. Auburn tied it up and the two teams kept it close until UCF went up by a touchdown. A final interception paved the way for an undefeated season for the Knights and controversy as to whether they should have earned a spot in the playoffs despite a weak schedule.

Orange Bowl: 6Wisconsin Badgers vs 10Miami Hurricanes
The Miami Hurricanes looked to redeem themselves after an embarrassing appearance in the ACC Championship. Miami went up early but the Badgers rallied back to take a ten point lead at the half. Miami got another touchdown and a field goal but could never recover the deficit. Wisconsin may not have taken the Big Ten but they won the Orange Bowl.

Cotton Bowl: 8USC Trojans vs 5Ohio State Buckeyes
Probably the best matchup outside of the playoffs, the PAC-12 champs take on the Big Ten champs. The Buckeyes may have felt snubbed and showed that they deserved better despite rough losses during the season. Ohio State scored 24 points before USC got their first touchdown. The scoreless second half kept the lead in the Buckeyes' corner. 

Fiesta Bowl: 11Washington Huskies vs 9Penn State Nittany Lions
Rounding out the top ten in another PAC-12 vs Big Ten match, the two teams traded off scores even as Penn State remained solidly in the lead. The Huskies were never able to come back and the Nittany Lions took home their bowl game.
This will be the next to last time I write about college football until next season. I'm excited about the National Championship but I'll miss the weekly entertainment. There were a lot of good teams this year and I would like to see an eight-team playoff with one last game during the season. This would allow more teams a chance at the title and a ton of great games at the end of the season. They should also compensate the players more for their effort.