Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Music: Grammy Awards 2018

I enjoy researching music a little further around this time of the year and finding out about songs and albums that I missed the year before. The 60th Annual Grammy Awards will help me find music of various genres and see which songs and albums will triumph as the winners. In previous years, I've had time to analyze all the nominees but this year for all the awards shows, I'm just writing about the winners and the show while mentioning a few nominees that I also liked. There is a pre-show where they announce a few winners and I guessed a few of the categories that were announced before and most of the awards that were announced during the broadcast. Whatever wins, I enjoy a night to think about music and celebrate the great performances and productions of the year before. The ceremony was a little disappointing but I've come to realize the Grammys are a few years behind popular opinion.

Bruno Mars is the big winner for Grammy night as I started to suspect as we approached the ceremony and I listened to the music more frequently. Not only did 24K Magic win Album of the Year but That's What I Like won Song of the Year and the song 24K Magic won Record of the Year. I was rooting for a little more diverse choices but I should've known better from the previous Grammys that I had paid attention to this year. 

New Artist
Alessia Cara won this award in a stacked category but as I saw a few moments after the award was announced, a lot of great artists have lost the award before. Cara has some great songs and I enjoy listening to her music and this whole category has a whole bunch of songs attributed to the artists recognized are just amazing, especially Khalid who had my favorite song of last year. 
Other Awards  
Ed Sheeran took home several pop awards despite not even showing up for the award but Divide was a great album that I enjoyed several songs off of. Kendrick Lamar dominated the hip-hop category with his new album DAMN which I liked quite a bit though I'm not as big a fan of Kendrick as I thought I would be. Christ Stapleton took many country awards and I'm glad that the top of country music at the moment is an artist who I really enjoy and even thought about buying tickets to his show until I saw how expensive they were. Childish Gambino and SZA didn't win any awards or if they did, I didn't see what they were, which is disappointing because they both put out awesome creative albums. Music will go on whether the Grammys get it or not but it would be nice to see great artists awarded for their work. 

Sports: NHL (All-Star Game)

Hockey headed to the beach this weekend for a cool All-Star matchup that pits each division against each other in a final four tournament that consisted of three games. While I'm not very familiar with all of the players who made up the Pacific, Central, Atlantic, and Metropolitan, I enjoyed watching the games of three-on-three and the two periods were full of exciting hockey action. After I do a quick recap of the tournament, I will take a look at each division of the NHL and look forward to the playoffs later this year. I don't usually have enough time to write about hockey and I'm pretty far behind on several other blog posts but as other sports wind down, I'll turn my attention to the brutal battle on ice. 

Western Conference: Central vs Pacific
The Pacific triumphed in this battle of the Western Conference but the Central started it off with a goal from Nathan McKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche. The Central were up at the end of the first period but the Pacific rallied back with goals from Drew Doughty of the LA Kings and James Neal of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights. P.K. Subban of one of my favorite teams the Nashville Predators tied the game at two with a goal for Central. It was all Pacific for the rest of the match with goals from Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, and James Neal again. The Pacific beat Central 5-2.

 Eastern Conference: Metro vs Atlantic

Final: Pacific vs Atlantic
The Pacific triumphed in the final but I was unable to find a logo that they used in the game or a big enough one on the websites. Richard Rakell of the Anaheim Duck scored first for the Pacific followed by a goal from Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks. Mike Green of the Detroit Red Wings got the first goal for the Atlantic. Drew Doughty of the LA King put the Pacific up 3-1 at the end of the first half. 
Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames started the Pacific scoring in the second half. Mike Green got another point for the Atlantic, the only offense from them. Richard Rakell added one more point to the Pacific lead to take the game for the Pacific 5-2.

The newest team in the NHL has taken the top of the Pacific with some draft rules that I believe helped them create one of the best teams in the league. The San Jose Sharks are the closest team but they are far behind the only professional team in Las Vegas. I look forward to seeing how they perform in the playoffs and purchasing a hat with the controversial logo if they win.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have the best record in the NHL and a healthy lead atop their division. Plenty of all-stars are on the team which helped propel this division to the top spot. The Boston Bruins are the closest team behind them and should have a high spot in the playoff bracket. A Tampa versus Vegas final would be exciting.

The Winnipeg Jets play the Golden Knights tomorrow to start off February and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning before the all-star break. Their rise the top must have pretty recent because I recall the St. Louis Blues at the top while the Nashville Predators, the loser in the Stanley Cup finals last year, are in second now after a rough start. I am rooting for nearby Nashville to win the Stanley Cup trophy this year. 

The Washington Capitals are at the top for now but the two-time reigning champs the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the rise. I've been following the Penguins this year since they won last year and I purchased a hat and I've seen them slump at the beginning only to turn around in the last few weeks. The two teams face off on Friday night in Pittsburgh so we'll get to see who is better right now as the second half of the season picks up steam. My favorite team the Columbus Blue Jackets have suffered lately and dropped down into the Wild Card spot. 

I'm not a huge hockey fan but after an argument over whether it was more entertaining than basketball I have watched a few games and followed several teams. I'm lucky that the two teams nearby, Columbus and Nashville, and therefore the most televised in this region are both pretty solid teams to watch and root for. Hockey is pretty exciting but I think basketball is still more entertaining. 

Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The conclusion of the Maze Runner series has plenty of action and stunning visual effects while the story falls into a generic format. Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) rallies the members of his group that are still free to assault prison transport trains at the start of the film. They are searching for Minho (Ki Hong Lee) who was captured but the prisoners they free are other members of the group. Minho is still transported to the last city much to the dismay of Thomas and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Thomas helps the prisoners return to a dock where they are hiding out. Vince (Barry Pepper) is leading the group and plans to leave soon on a repaired cruise ship. Brenda (Rosa Salazar) has fully recovered from her bite thanks to Thomas's blood but Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) still worries about her.

Thomas decides to take it upon himself to leave to save Minho but Newt doesn't let him go while Frypan (Dexter Dardan) also insists on going along. The three of them head out in a reinforced jeep but they encounter monstrous cranks and flip their car. They would not have survived but Jorge and Brenda show up to bail them out. Together they head to the last city but find that it is surrounded by large walls. There are people stuck on the outside who are infected with the flare virus but haven't turned into cranks yet. Thomas had a tracker injected into his neck and Janson (Aidan Gillen) tries to kill him. They manage to survive with the help of a masked individual who reveals himself to be Gally (Will Poulter). Thomas is shocked to see him and angry at him for killing Chuck but Gally tells them he can help them through the wall.

Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is working on a cure with Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) but their attempts fail after showing signs of possible success. Teresa has no problem torturing Minho is it means helping others. Gally brings Thomas and the group to Lawrence (Walton Goggins) who agrees to help them. They sneak into the city but find no way of making it into the WCKD headquarters. Newt suggests using Teresa but Thomas balks angering Newt who reveals to Thomas that he is infected. Thomas agrees and lures Teresa away so that Gally can kidnap her. They tell Teresa their plan and she agrees to help them reluctantly. She notices Brenda is healed and suspects Thomas's blood may be more powerful.

The group breaks into WCKD headquarters and searches for Minho freeing other immune kids on the way. Janson confronts them but Teresa helps Thomas escape. They find Minho and stage a dramatic escape including a bus driven by Brenda being lifted into the air by a crane driven by Frypan. Thomas, Newt, and Minho leap out a window to escape and Gally helps them. Lawrence stages a huge attack on the city and the group are about to get out but Newt's illness progresses to the point he can't go any further. He starts to turn into a crank and attacks Thomas dying from a knife accidentally stabbing him in the heart. Teresa calls to Thomas needing more of his blood and he complies entering WCKD headquarters to talk with Ava who is suddenly shot by Janson. Teresa harnesses the cure but has a change of heart just before Janson can cure himself and they fight for the vial. Janson is killed by cranks. Teresa and Thomas escape to the rooftop where Jorge flies a plan. The building collapses and Teresa dies. Thomas lives and makes it to the island where the group remembers all they lost and wraps up the series.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure has sparks of interesting fiction but also suffers from plenty of cliche YA plot points. The last city looks cool and the special effects were impressive at points. The acting hasn't improved much especially as the story focuses more on the young cast and doesn't give as much room to supporting characters. I did like parts of the series and it felt like a satisfying conclusion to a series that had some decent parts but never took off to achieve excellence of similar films. I am glad I took the time to watch the series but understand how it would not be taken seriously. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

The sequel in this young adult post-apocalyptic series expands on the world beyond the maze into the resulting zombie-infested hellscape know as the Scorch.The film picks up where the last one left off with Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and the Gladers flying from the shutdown maze facility to a new safe place. They meet the mysterious Janson (Aidan Gillen) who first appears to be trustworthy but is obviously concealing secrets. While Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) are happy to have beds, Thomas is concerned where the scientists separate Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) from the group. Thomas causes mischief trying to figure out what is going on and catches the eye of another kid Aris (Jacob Lofland) who is also suspicious of what is going on. 

By crawling through the ventilation, Thomas and Aris discover that Janson and his men are performing experiments on the other young men and women. Aris recognizes a woman who was with him in the maze and they overhear Janson consulting with Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson). Thomas becomes determined to find Teresa and escape. He rallies his fellow Gladers and they make their way out pursued by soldiers and Janson. Thomas and Aris lead the group out into the Scorch. They escape into the desert and find refuge in abandoned buildings. Newt is distressed to learn that Thomas doesn't have a plan but those arguments fall by the wayside when zombies appear and chase them. They flee but lose a member to infection. 

Lightning begins to strike and the Gladers flee towards a light. Minho gets struck but survives and they encounter a bunch of chained zombies. Brenda (Rosa Salazar) appears and directs them through the protections to Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito). He plans to profit from the valuable kids and hangs them up but all of his plans are changed when Janson, troops, and helicopters arrive. The Gladers escape out a zip line but Thomas and Brenda are separated as Jorge sets off explosions. Thomas and Brenda escape but find themselves lost among the dilapidated buildings. Infected cranks chase after them up into a collapsed skyscraper and barely survive. Brenda is bitten and starts to exhibit signs of the infection.

Thomas and Brenda find a dance club Martin (Alan Tudyk) though he disguises his identity and forces them to drink a hallucinogenic substance to enter. They comply and Thomas has revelations of his past. He wakes up to find Jorge torturing Martin for the location of a secret army. They take Martin's car and head out to the mountains. They are attacked but realize that they are friends including women who were in the maze with Aris like Harriet (Nathalie Emmanuel). They bring them to the camp where Mary (Lili Taylor) informs them that she can use Thomas's blood to cure Brenda. Vince (Barry Pepper) runs the camp and welcomes the Gladers but Teresa has betrayed them and Janson arrives with Ava. Thomas manages to escape with Jorge, Vince, Brenda, Newt, and others but Minho, Aris, and more captured. The film ends with Thomas promising to fight back and save his friends.

The Scorch Trials goes beyond the maze and shows what happened to the world due to solar flares. The action is entertaining and I enjoyed that they added zombies. Dylan O'Brien's acting still has a long way to go but veterans like Esposito, Gillen, Clarkson, Tudyk, Taylor, Pepper, and others help elevate the young cast. The special effects looked decent enough and the story has enough mystery to propel the plot along even as it falls into standard fair with a typical chosen one storyline. The Maze Runner series has some definite flaws but I find plenty to enjoy. 

Movie Review: The Maze Runner

Capitalizing off of the young adult literary adaption craze, this adaption of James Dashner's novel tells the story of young men caught in a strange apocalyptic experiment. A young man (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up in a large elevator that flies upward into a glade where other young men look for him. He has no memory of who he is or why he is in this place. As the other teach or taunt him, he slowly learns his name is Thomas. He is greeted by the leader of the group known as Gladers Alby (Ami Ameen). He instructs Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) to show Thomas around the camp and introduce him to the various groups of boys. Thomas is interested in joining the group known as runners led by Minho (Ki Hong Lee) who venture into the mysterious maze. Chuck (Blake Cooper) warns Thomas against going into the maze but Thomas can't help but be interested in the giant walls that open and close and take the lives of some of the young men.

When a member of the group is infected by a strange bite, they force him into the maze to survive the night and prevent him from attacking them. He disappears the next morning so Minho and Alby venture in to find him. They return but Alby is injured and they won't make it out before the walls close. Thomas jumps through the closing doors and will have to survive the night in the maze with Minho and Alby. They string Alby up so that he can be safe but Thomas is attacked by a giant monster known as a Griever. He survives the fight and escapes the Griever. As the first to do that, he returns to the glade with some respect though Gally (Will Poulter) is a bully who believes Thomas has broken rules and is causing trouble. 

A young woman Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) arrives in the elevator with a note that she will be the last one ever. Gally is disturbed by the new events and wants to punish Thomas but Newt stands up for him as the new leader. The next day, Thomas and Minho go into the maze and discover a new part with the help of the dissected Griever body. When they return, Alby has recovered from his bite and remembers what happened including who Thomas was before. As night falls, the doors to the maze don't close allowing Grievers to enter the glade. The Grievers kill Alby and Gally takes over the glade. Thomas injects himself with the Griever venom so that he can recover some of his memory recalling that he led some of the experiments. Gally threatens to banish Thomas but Thomas fights back and gathers a group to enter the maze to escape. They survive an attack from several Grievers and find a doorway out of the maze. 

They find a control center in chaos with broken computers and dead bodies. They find a message from Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) who explains what the World Catastrophe Killzone Department or W.C.K.D is and how the world was destroyed by a solar flare. The group learns that they are the last hope for a cure. They are about to leave the facility when Gally, who has been stung, threatens them with a gun. Gally shoots Chuck as Minho kills him with a spear. A squad of military clad men enter the area and pull out the kids. They are taken out into a desert and put on a helicopter. Ava addresses a board of researchers and explains how Thomas and the others could be the key to everything. The helicopter flies toward a destroyed city. 

The Maze Runner is a decent film that moves at a brisk enough pace under the direction of Wes Ball that I have found it entertaining the few times I've watched it. I enjoyed the mystery and not knowing what would happen next and I have become a fan of Dylan O'Brien as his career grows. The first film only gives a taste of a larger world and is dependent on sequels to explain what is going on behind the maze and the W.C.K.D. group. The film boasts a large group of talented young actors who do a decent job keeping the drama alive despite often corny dialogue. The special effects look cool and the Grievers are a cool monster to watch on screen. I was surprised by the Maze Runner series as at first I ignored it but found it to be entertaining. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro tells another imaginative fairy tale with entrancing monsters and beautiful direction. The story is set in the 1950s about Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who is a mute that works at a secret government facility cleaning up after scientists. She starts every morning with a similar routine where she boils eggs and masturbates in the bathtub. She socializes with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is an artist. He draws pictures and watches television while he has a crush on a nearby pie salesman. Elisa works with Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) who understands Elisa sign language and uses her silence to complain about her husband. One day they are brought into a special room where Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has brought an amphibian man (Doug Jones). 

Elisa cannot contain her curiosity and continues to visit the creature learning that it also enjoys the eggs she brings for lunch. A scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) studies the creature but does not believe that anything important can be discerned from dissecting the creature. He argues with Strickland about what to do but hides the fact that he is a Russian spy. Strickland confronts the two janitorial women in the bathroom showing how he urinates without using his hands. Strickland seems to become obsessed with Elisa and her inability to speak. General Frank Hoyt (Nick Searcy) orders Strickland to vivisect the creature to study it and achieve more knowledge than the Russians in the space race.

Dr. Hoffstetler goes to his handlers to tell them about the plan and they order him to kill the creature before the Americans can study it despite his misgivings. He receives a deceive to kill the power in the whole facility to use when he kills the creature. Elisa witnesses the cruel treatment Strickland deliver to the amphibian man and learns of the plan to vivisect the creature. She plans to take him begging Giles to help him. Giles reluctantly agrees after his artwork for an advertisement is rejected. Elisa manages to get the fish creature into a laundry cart as Zelda figures out that something is up with her coworker. She tries to talk Elisa out of it just as Giles is being confronted by a security guard. Dr. Hoffstetler discovers Elisa in the middle of the act and helps her escape by drugging the security guard and knocking out the power. 

Giles escapes with Elisa and the amphibian man in the back of the van, smashing into Strickland's car and being shot at on the way out. Strickland does not know who took the amphibian man but he suspects Dr. Hoffstetler and sets Fleming (David Hewlett) to watch him. Elisa brings the amphibian man back to her apartment and puts him in the bathtub with salt and some material that Hoffstetler gave her. She comes up with a plan to release him into the canal once the waters are high enough and floods her bathroom to make love with the amphibian man. Giles has to open the door after the manager of the movie theater below them complains about dripping from the ceiling. Strickland traces Hoffstetler and confronts him learning that it was Elisa and Zelda. He goes to Zelda's apartment and demands to know where Elisa leaves eventually learning it from her scared husband. After an inexplicable musical sequence, Elisa takes the amphibian man to the canal with Giles. They are all shot multiple times but it was revealed earlier that the amphibian can heal people and it shows that Elisa's cuts on the side of her throat were actually gills.

The Shape of Water looks to be the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Picture and it would be a deserving winner even if there were other movies I enjoyed more from last year. The acting is stellar with Michael Shannon stealing the show followed closely by Sally Hawkins. Octavia Spencer should get better roles than the hired help but still delivers. Guillermo Del Toro's directing is top notch with beautiful shots and camera movement. The special effects look amazing as well. I was a little hesitant about this movie as I did not like Del Toro's previous film but this turned out very entertaining to me.  

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Movie Review: Phantom Thread

In the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson and possibly the last of actor Daniel Day-Lewis's career, a love story is told while exploring the struggle of being ambitiously creative. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) sticks to a strict routine that allows him to create beautiful dresses that are revered in 1950s London. He goes through a series of women having his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) get rid of them once he is bored. He believes that he cannot marry and stay loyal to his work as a dressmaker. After leaving his latest lover, he decides to take a long vacation on the coast where he meets the waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps). He becomes enamored with her almost immediately and invites her out to dinner after ordering a large breakfast. She accepts and they go out on a date that night. 

He uses her as a muse and starts to make a dress when his sister arrives somewhat dulling the mood. Still, their romance blossoms though Alma warns Reynolds that he should be careful about breaking her heart. As they grow closer together Reynolds brings her to London and gives her a room and at first, he is attentive towards her but as the focus returns to his work, she notices that he is slowly losing interest in her. Breakfast is an important part of Reynolds routine and he desires that it be absolutely calm and quiet during this time so when Alma spreads butter or clinks a glass a little loudly it disturbs and annoys him. 

Cyril is at first mistrustful of Alma's presence as she has been through this before but Alma slowly grows on her. Alma assists in making dresses and earns Reynolds's respect when an especially troublesome client disrespects Woodcock's work and Alma forces the wealthy client to return the dress. Their relationship gets better but as before, Reynolds starts to drift away. A princess commissions Woodcock to make a wedding dress and Alma feels threatened by the young woman's presence in the house. She establishes her territory and plans a surprise for Woodcock. When he returns for his walk, she has a dinner made but everything seems to go wrong and Alma realizes that he will soon be rid of her. 

Alma enacts a plan having learned of poison mushrooms, she slips a few in Woodcock's morning tea. Reynolds's health slowly declines until he faints amid the inspection of the dress and knocks it over, damaging it. Cyril gathers the workers to fix the dress overnight while Alma attends to Woodcock. Cyril calls Dr. Robert Hardy (Brian Gleeson) but Alma refuses to let him see Woodcock. When Reynolds finally recovers, he proposes to marry Alma wanting her to be in his life permanently. They go on a honeymoon and they begin to disagree. Alma flirts with Dr. Hardy who is also in the Alps where they are vacationing. Reynolds returns to work and begs Cyril to help him get rid of Alma. In the end, Alma makes an omelet with the poison mushrooms and Reynolds happily eats it.

Phantom Thread is a gorgeous movie with wonderful performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville. Paul Thomas Anderson tells an amusing story about love, creativity, and passion. The film has tons of humorous moments even as it tells a somewhat frightening story of obsession. The images are spellbinding to look at and even though I have no interest in fashion, I found the movie very entertaining. It has been very enjoyable to revisit Paul Thomas Anderson and I hope he makes many more movies to come even if this end acting for Daniel Day-Lewis. 

Movie Review: Inherent Vice

For the first time, a work of fiction by Thomas Pynchon is adapted for the screen by the great director Paul Thomas Anderson. The story is narrated by the hippie Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) who relates the tale of Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Doc is a stoner and private investigator who was hanging out in his apartment smoking a joint when his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) shows up using the same path she used when they dated. Shasta is in trouble like many girls that start stories of private investigators uncovering grand conspiracies. She was in a relationship with a married man Michael "Mickey" Z. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) whose wife Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas) and her lover want to have Mickey committed. They have asked Shasta to be a part of the betrayal and if she refuses, she may end up dead. 

Doc has a special place in his heart along with foggy memories of great times with Shasta so he feels obligated to follow up on her request. He calls up his aunt who has the details on California realty and warns him against looking too closely at Wolfmann and his back of neo-nazi bikers. Doc's curiosity is peaked further when Tariq Khalil (Michael Kenneth Williams) arrives at his office inquiring about a cellmate who went missing and may be part of Wolfmann's gang of bikers. Doc heads out to a development where he finds a strange restaurant or brothel. He speaks with the host Jade (Hong Chau) but then sneaks off to investigate only to get clubbed over the head. He wakes up next to a dead biker and surrounded by police led by the vicious Lt. Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). 

Bigfoot arrests Doc but the private investigator manages to be set free with the help of his lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro). Freed from Bigfoot and having learned that Wolfmann has disappeared, Doc gets another case from Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) an ex-addict who is looking for her husband Coy (Owen Wilson). Before Doc can even begin searching, Coy finds him and tells him he is hiding out at a house where his old band plays though no one recognizes him because of high turnover in membership. Coy later informs him that he is an informant but is hiding out in fear of his life. Doc has a fling with a Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) and see Coy on television. Jade warns Doc of the Golden Fang. Sauncho is an expert in marine law and has heard of a drug smuggling ship of the same name. A postcard leads Doc to a building that looks like a golden fang and hosts a group of dentists who help former addicts repair their teeth. 

Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) is one of those dentists with a cocaine habit and a relationship with a young woman Japonica Fenway (Sasha Pieterse) who was a subject of one of Doc's older cases. Doc, Japonica, Dr. Blatnoyd, and Denis (Jordan Christian Hearn) ride together and get pulled over but they are let go. Dr. Blatnoyed ends up mysteriously murdered. Bigfoot tells Doc about a spa where Doc sneaks in and finds Mickey who has been thoroughly brainwashed. Doc finds Shasta back at their house where they have sex though Shasta insists they are not back together. Doc solves one last part of the mystery when he confronts Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie) and barely escapes alive with a ton of heroin that he has to return to the Golden Fang. 

Inherent Vice has made a little more sense every time I watched it but it is still plenty confusing even after I read the book before I saw the film in theaters. Still, the movie has the great style of directing from Paul Thomas Anderson and great performances from its all-star cast. Phoenix is goofy as the stoner Doc while Brolin as Bigfoot may be his funniest performance. Pynchon's writing is so dense and full of jokes and extra information that it would appear to be impossible to adapt but somehow Paul Thomas Anderson has done that and made an entertaining film. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Movie Review: The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson takes on cults and creates a film that conducts some of the best performances of several prestigious performers' careers. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a listless Navy veteran who is obsessed with alcohol and sex. His obsession is so strong that he continuously finds ways to create alcoholic mixtures using whatever supplies he has available. When he is discharged out of the Navy after World War II, he takes up a job photographing families at a department store. He uses the chemicals to develop pictures to create a cocktail that he imbibes and shares with a saleswoman. He drunkenly starts a fight with a customer and is forced to set out across the country. He finds work as a field hand, cutting vegetables and manages to brew up some hooch for the other workers. When an old man drinks too much of his alcohol, he keels over and dies so Freddie has to sprint away before the other workers can catch him. 

Continuing to wander and flee, he hops aboard a boat that appears to be hosting a party and tries to hide away. He wakes up in a bed and a woman motions for him to follow. He is disoriented but he is brought in front of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), also known as the Master. Dodd interrogates Freddie about why he was hiding on the boat but he also wants to know if Freddie can make the same alcoholic beverage. Freddie claims he can make something even better intriguing Lancaster and earning a spot in his inner circle. Dodd celebrates the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) with Clark (Rami Malek). Freddie spends the time drinking and hanging around Lancaster's wife Peggy (Amy Adams and his son Val (Jesse Plemons). 

The yacht sets sail and the members of Lancaster's cult do various strange activities though Freddie is more focused on trying to have sex with the female members and continuing to drink. Dodd puts Freddie through intense questioning revealing secrets of his past. The boat arrives in New York and Lancaster Dodd hosted a party where he helps old women, or maybe tricks them, explore their past lives. A skeptic challenges Dodd's belief system and Lancaster grows frustrated while Freddie drunkenly acts out. Freddie seeks out that man at his apartment later and beats him up though he receives a scolding from Dodd when he returns. The group moves on to Philadelphia where their host Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern) invites guests to participate in Lancaster's meditations. 

The police are investigating Lancaster and show up to arrest him when Freddie lashes out and is also arrested. Freddie is angry because Val has hinted that his father is just making up stuff as he goes. Freddie and Lancaster yell at each other in the prison cell until their release. Lancaster confers with Peggy, Elizabeth, and Clark and they devise a plan to correct Freddie's with repeated tests. Lancaster also manages to finish another book that changes some of the details of his religion though he denies that these changes don't make sense. Once it's agreed that Freddie is cured, they play a game of driving a motorcycle off into the distance but during Freddie's turn, he just drives off. He returns to his town where he had fallen in love with a girl before the war but she has moved away and married. Lancaster finds out where he lives and calls him to London where they continue to spread their cult teachings.

The Master drags a little bit but delivers with wonderful performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix. Paul Thomas Anderson denied that the film mocks Scientology but the similarities are undeniable. The film has some beautiful images and shots that are typical of this director's work. While The Master may be my least favorite film of PTA's work, it is still a great film to watch that I will enjoy revisiting several times again in the future. 

Movie Review: There Will Be Blood

In one of his most powerful and epic films, Paul Thomas Anderson utilizes the great talent of Daniel Day-Lewis to tell the story of an oilman who will risk anything for success. The film introduces Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) alone working in a small mine to discover oil. He digs and uses dynamite to blow out the rock. He even falls hurting himself in the hole only to drag himself out and purchase the property rights to the land. His well grows and produces as he hires men to work alongside him. One of the men has a small child who he leaves an orphan when he is hit on the head with drilling equipment. Anderson's films also have those sudden spurts of violence and this shocking scene signals changes for Plainview. Years later, he is presenting himself to a town as a family business with his son HW (Dillon Freasier). The monologues by Daniel Day-Lewis are some of my favorite acting performances ever.

Plainview uses his willingness to walk away from a deal to gain power and land as he spreads his talent of drilling for oil to other areas. He works with trusted assistants like Fletcher (Ciarán Hinds) to help him maintain control of his drilling sites. When a strange young man Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) stops by his place and demands money for information, Plainview is hesitant at first and talks the man down in price. He eventually learns of the place from Paul and heads out to the land pretending to be peasant hunter with his son. They explore the land and discover oil beneath the ground. Eli (also Dano) questions them about their reason for being here and warns his father against selling the land. Still, Plainview is able to purchase the land and begin drilling. Eli begins to develop a religious following using theatrical tactics to frighten his congregants.

Eli demands that Plainview allow him to bless the well but Daniel snubs him and lets Eli's sister say a prayer. The drilling starts but there are many setbacks that Eli claims are the result of Plainview's snub. The worst event comes when the well explodes forth and catches fire knocking HW back and leaving him deaf. Plainview is more enthralled with the ocean of oil beneath him than his son's troubles. As the well begins to produce oil and wealth rolls in, Plainview struggles to deal with his son who increasingly lashes out in anger. Eli demands money he believes he is owed from Plainview who humiliates him and covers him in mud while demanding that he heal HW. 

A man, Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor) arrives claiming to be Plainview's half-brother and he has proof. Plainview agrees to hire him on and the two of them bond over alcohol. HW suspects something and tries to set him on fire. Plainview decides to send HW to a school in San Francisco where he can get help with his deafness. HW begs not to be left but Plainview returns to his work. Plainview refuses an offer from Standard Oil and elects to build a pipeline with Union Oil but he is prevented from completing the pipe when one congregant of Eli's church holds out. Plainview also becomes suspicious of Henry when he mentions things from his past that Henry does not identify with. He holds a gun to Henry and demands that he tell him the truth, and Henry confesses that he knew Plainview's brother. Daniel murders Henry and buries the body before he is confronted the next morning by the last holdout property owner. 

The holdout Bundy forces Plainview to attend Eli's church and confess his sins. Eli uses the opportunity to embarrass Plainview who submits to get his land. HW returns and is angry about being abandoned but falls for Eli's sister and receives help from a translator. More years past and Plainview is a stubborn old man sitting around his mansion shooting at objects and being rude. HW stops by to inform him that he is taking his wife and going to Mexico to start a business but Plainview informs him that HW is not his actual son and leaves him spurned. Eli arrives to try and convince Plainview to invest in a new track of land but Plainview becomes angry explaining the foolishness of the venture and eventually killing the preacher. 

There Will Be Blood is my second favorite movie from Paul Thomas Anderson. The film is grand in scale but pieces together the story with intimate shots often filled with silence or a brilliant score. The film illuminates the struggle of success and the faults of prioritizing work and profits over family and human bonding. While the cast is totally new for Anderson, the director brings out the best in Daniel Day-Lewis making for a wonderful performance that is one to remember forever. I am glad I revisited this film after enjoying it immensely at a younger age.  

Movie Review: Punch-Drunk Love

One of Adam Sandler's best movies brings out a new simpler style for Paul Thomas Anderson. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a toilet plunger salesman who has some quirky habits. One morning, Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) stops by to get her car fixed and asked Barry to watch it for her. Barry picks up a harmonium from the side of the road after this interaction and keeps it in his office slowly repairing it. Barry also discovers a loophole in a deal for Healthy Choice products that if he buys a certain product, namely pudding because it is the cheapest, he will get frequent flyer miles for a discount price. 

As he works to sell plungers with the help of Lance (Luis Guzmán), his many sisters call. He has a total of seven and they are planning a party that they want Barry to attend. One sister, Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub) stops by his office to tell him to come to the party and mentions that he wants to set him up with a date. Barry makes a lame excuse but still attends the party.His sisters relentlessly make fun of him and he developed an anger problem at a young age. He smashes all the windows in his sister's house after they make fun of him. He confesses to one of his sister's husband that he has mental problems and continues to cry. Unfortunately the husband is a dentist, not a therapist. 

Lonely, Barry decides to call a sex hotline despite his worries that his information won't be private. He talks to a woman that night but she calls him up the next morning and asks him for money eventually threatening him when he refuses. The calls follow him to work as Lena shows up with his sister Elizabeth. It turns out that Lena was Elizabeth's friend who she wanted to set up with Barry. Their conversation is awkward and a disaster happens in the workshop. Lena still returns after thinking about it and asks Barry out on a date while Lance and others watch. On their date, Lena mentions an embarrassing story about Barry and so Barry goes into the bathroom and trashes it. The restaurant manager kicks them out. 

In Utah, Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman) learns of this man who refuses to pay one of his phone sex workers. He hires a group of brothers to drive to Los Angeles and threaten Barry. Despite the bathroom incident, the date with Lena goes well for Barry but she is planning on leaving for Hawaii. Barry is assaulted by the three brothers who demand money from him. He pays them off but then decides to go to Hawaii. He racks up a bunch of frequent flyer miles from the pudding but is distressed when he finds out that he can't use them. He goes to Hawaii anyways threatening his sister over the phone when he gets there to figure out where Lena is staying. He meets up with her and they have a romantic evening and morning together. 

However, when they return home, the brothers smash into Barry's car injuring Lena. Barry leaves her at the hospital and flies to Utah to confront Dean. He manages to make him give up the pursuit of money and returns. Lena is unhappy that Barry left him but he explains everything and they kiss and make up. Punch-Drunk Love was different than anything Paul Thomas Anderson had done before and Adam Sandler for that matter. The romance is charming with great support from Emily Watson. The film isn't as astonishing as some of his other films but Paul Thomas Anderson is still an entertaining writer and director to watch. 

Movie Review: Magnolia

Paul Thomas Anderson's greatest film and one my favorite films ever, this sprawling tale of multiple lives over a single day is exciting and charming. The story begins with three tales of coincidences as the narrator insists that these things can't just randomly happen. The film then begins to tell the story of various people's live and how they interact with each other. Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is a police officer who is looking to connect with someone. He runs into a woman who has a dead body in her closet. A young boy tells him that he can explain what is happening through a rap but Officer Kurring cuts him off due to harsh language. Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) is a relationship advice guru who promises men that they can turn their female friends into sexual partners. He is interview by Gwenovier (April Grace) who probes into his hidden past.

 Phil Pharma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a hospice caretaker tending to Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) while his wife Linda (Julianne Moore) handles their affairs. Earl is delirious but he wants to reengage with his estranged son Jack who may possibly be Frank T.J. Mackey. Phil begins the process of trying to contact Frank. Linda is distressed because of her guilt of having an affair and confronts her therapist, lawyer, and Earl's and her doctors. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a boy genius working on a record-breaking run on a game show hosted by Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall). Stanley's father Rick (Michael Bowen) is demanding of his son as he tries out for auditions. Jimmy has his own problems as his daughter Claudia (Melora Walters) will no longer speak to him and has developed a coke addiction.

A noise complaint call brings Office Kurring to Claudia's apartment and he almost immediately falls for her. They awkwardly chat over stale coffee while Claudia hides her cocaine. Stanley continues his success of answering questions but falters when he needs to go to the bathroom. His father is frustrated and does not allow him to use the bathroom. A former quiz show winner Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) has money troubles these decades later and wants to get oral surgery to impress a bartender. All of these developments play out to a great soundtrack led by Aimee Mann. Officer Kurring finally builds up the courage to ask Claudia on a date but afterwards he loses his gun and becomes an embarassment. Stanley wets his pants and refuses to stand up for a final contest. He runs off to hide at the library. Frank ends the interview with Gwenovier and receives a phone call. Phil finally got through to Frank but he refuses to speak with his father at first. 

After being rejected by the bartender and ridiculed by another patron, Donnie plans a heist of his boss's safe. Linda is embarrassed at the pharmacy for requiring so many drugs and has a breakdown. She returns to deliver the drugs to Earl but then heads off to try to be written out of the will. When she fails, she takes many of the drugs and overdoses. The young boy who warned Officer Kurring finds her and calls the police. Around this time in the events everyone pauses to sing a song in an odd, yet moving, musical sequence. Frank agrees to see Earl and confronts his father who is too far gone. Donnie enters his boss's place and steals their money but guilt makes him turn around. Kurring and Claudia go on a date, they admit their shortcomings but still want to see each other. Jimmy Gator's wife Rose (Melinda Dillon) confronts the game show host about his abuse of Claudia leaving him as he is dying of cancer and planning to cut short his suffering with a gun. Kurring sees Donnie climbing into the building to return to the money. As all the stories converge, frogs rain down on the city.

Magnolia is a wonderful film full of twists and turns and encounters of characters that make of this beautiful movie. The film is not easily explained and takes several watches to see how the stories are all related and subtley connected. I had never seen a movie like this so it was stunning upon the first watch and enjoyable every other time I've sat down to watch it. Paul Thomas Anderson has even mentioned that he may never make a better film. This is also Tom Cruise's best performance of a long acting career though he fell short of winning the award. This would be the last time so far that Anderson would film with the large ensemble cast. This is the peak of PTA's career but there was still plenty of great films to come. 

Movie Review: Boogie Nights

The rise and fall of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) is the film that put Paul Thomas Anderson on the map as a more mainstream director. The movie follows various characters but mainly follows the story of the young dishboy Eddie who becomes the award-winning pornstar Dirk Diggler. The porn film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) notices Eddie when he is working in the back of a dance club run by Maurice TT Rodriguez (Luis Guzmán). He notices his talent and takes him to meet his two female stars Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham). After watching him in action a few times, he decides to hire him. Eddie's life at home is not great as his frustrated mother demands he go back to school and eventually kicks him out for staying out so late every night. Eddie flees to Jack's house where he meets more of the members of his crew like Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) at a pool party. It is at this party under the suggestion of the financier the Colonel James (Robert Ridgely) that Eddie comes up with the pornstar name Dirk Diggler.

Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) is a radio salesman and porn actor who struggles to find a signature look jumping from cowboy to samurai. Little Bill (William H. Macy) is a production manager whose wife constantly cheats on him in a very public manner. Jack films Dirk with Amber Waves and Dirk shows his great talent at the job. He finds a lot of successes receiving awards for his performances. He buys a new house and a car with his earnings but Amber introduces him to cocaine. Dirk and Reed pitch Jack a new series of films about Brock Landers, an action star who has sexual relations with many women. Dirk continues his success but his drug use also continues. 

The 1980s spell a new time for the film crew as Little Bill kills his cheating wife and himself at the new year's party. Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a boom operator, expresses his love for Dirk and tries to kiss him but his feelings are unrequited. The Colonel is put into jail for child pornography so Jack has to turn to a different financier Floyd Gondolli (Philip Baker Hall) to finance his films. Jack discovers a new young talent named John Doe making Dirk jealous as he struggles to keep an erection. Dirk argues with Jack about filming and is fired. He tries to start a music career with Reed but Dirk is a terrible singer and they run out of money to pay the studio. In an especially intense scene, three storylines play out simultaneously as Dirk tries to make money masturbating for a man but finds himself attacked by homophobes, Jack tries to film Rollergirl having sex with random men but the guy knows her from high school and assaults her, and Buck survives an armed robbery and takes the needed cash to start his radio store after being refused a loan because of his past work. 

Amber Waves also encounters trouble when she applies for custody of her son and her past troubles come to the surface. She is distraught when she is refused and shamed. A fellow cokehead Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) comes up with a plan to rob another wealthy cokehead Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina), bringing Reed and Dirk along with him. The robbery goes terribly wrong and Todd is killed. Reed and Dirk escape. Dirk decides to return to Jack, apologizes, and asks for help. The story ends on a relatively happy note as each of the characters proceed to achieve a version of their dreams and we get a glimpse of Dirk's natural talent.

Boogie Night is a ton of fun with great storytelling. The film is long but almost always entertaining as it is filled up with tons of characters and their hilarious and sad struggles with fame, money, and art. The film supposedly revived the career of Burt Reynolds and helped to launch Mark Wahlberg into the superstardom he now has. Julianne Moore is probably a standout as there are a ton of other actors and actresses that will continue to work with Paul Thomas Anderson. The film manages to span several years and tell a grand story while also being well shot and moving at a brisk pace.  

Movie Review: Hard Eight

My review of this film will begin my exploration of the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, one of my favorite directors. His first movie shows the budding talent of the young director as he uses actors that will reappear in some of his later films and exhibits his directorial skills. The film begins with Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) walking up to a diner and confronting a desperate young man John (John C. Reilly). He takes him in for coffee and offers to teach him how to make money at the casinos. John is skeptical at first but the offer seems too good to resist so he takes the ride and learns how to trick the casino into giving him a free room. Thankful, John continues to follow Sydney's example and two years later they are both living decent lives in the casinos.

Sydney sticks to his routine playing games like craps and keno while living in hotels. John has fallen in with the loudmouth security guard Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who strikes Sydney as trouble. John also has caught the eye of the cocktail waitress Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow). Sydney has taken a certain interest in Clementine, wanting to help her out. The waitress often visits customers in their hotels and Sydney runs into her. He takes her out to coffee much like he did with John and learns about her life. He offers to help her out. She goes home with him but asks him if he wants to have sex with her though Sydney refuses, giving her clothes and let her spend the night in John's room. 

In the morning, John and Clementine are socializing so Sydney suggests John take Clementine out shopping while he goes out and gambles. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a brief role as a wild craps player who challenges Sydney to take a big bet on the hard eight but then fails to roll it. John calls Sydney later and asks him to come to a motel room. When Sydney gets there, John demands that Sydney promise to help them before he enters and Sydney wants to know why his friend is acting weird. John lets him in to find a man handcuffed to the bed and Clementine crying in the corner. Sydney questions what happened and at first John and Clementine don't want to explain. What eventually comes out is that John and Clementine got married in the afternoon but then Clementine picked up a client that night. The man refused to pay so Clementine called John to force him, which did not go well. 

Sydney cleans up their mess and sends them off to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. He is confronted by Jimmy who knows a secret about Sydney's past in Atlantic City. Sydney killed John's father long ago and all his actions appear to be from a sense of guilt. Jimmy threatens to tell John about Sydney's past if he does not pay him money. Sydney holds out but Jimmy is willing to wait for the payoff and finally Sydney hands over about six thousand dollars. Jimmy heads out to gamble but Sydney sneaks into Jimmy's house. He waits for the thief to return and shoots him dead. 

Hard Eight is the most surprising film of my revisit of Paul Thomas Anderson's work because I have only seen it once before and hardly remember the plot or the great look of the film. There are awesome shots of the casino as the camera follows the characters through their lives and mistakes. Samuel L. Jackson is already showing his immense talent on screen and his larger than life personality. Philip Baker Hall is great as the serious Sydney while John C. Reilly is establishing his bumbling persona. The role of Clementine is different than any other role I've seen Gwyneth Paltrow play but she still does a great job. This film is a great start for an amazing director.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sports: NFL Playoffs (Conference Championships)

The determination of the two contenders in the Super Bowl promised excitement as the best two teams from each conference compete. Unfortunately, the NFL has come up short on exciting games this year so only a half of the competitions were entertaining. The other was decided by a large number of points but that does not mean that that team is favored when it comes to the final round of professional football this year. 

AFC Championship
For the second year in a row and adding to the many numbers of times, the New England Patriots entered the AFC Championship and ended with triumph. The Jacksonville Jaguars put up a fight with a strong first half but they could not stop Tom Brady even after they eliminated his best receiver due to the concussion protocol. The Jaguars weren't able to generate a large enough lead and the greatest quarterback of all time did what he does best, driving down the field to take the lead with only a short amount of time left on the clock. The Patriots will enter the Super Bowl again as the favored team and a legacy to uphold. 
NFC Championship
The blowout game surprised me as the backup quarterback Nick Foles threw for a stunning game and the Philadelphia defense shut down the Vikings and their rookie quarterback. The Eagles went up early and never look back getting 24 points in the first half and adding two more touchdowns in the second as they shut out the Vikings just like they did the Falcons the week before. Despite the impressive performance, the Eagles still have a lot to prove with a backup quarterback and a strong defense to take on the legendary reigning champions. 

It will be tough to say goodbye to football this season though it ends in a dull fashion. I don't care much for either of these teams but I'll still be watching come Super Bowl Sunday. My attention will slowly drift to the NBA as I catch up on who leads there and start to follow teams to get a sense of the league. I'll probably write a few sports post about basketball and maybe even hockey next month. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

TV Show Review: The End of the F***ing World

One of the weirdest and most delightful new series on Netlfix, this wild love story has charm and plenty of great comedy. James (Alex Lawther) believes he's a psychopath and needs to kill someone. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) needs someone in her life and looks like a perfect victim for James. Their courtship is awkward and funny as James tries to enact his plan to murder and Alyssa wants to rebel against her posh mother Gwen (Christine Bottomley) and father-in-law. Instead of murdering her, Alyssa convinces James to steal the car from his dad Phil (Steve Oram) and take off on a wild road trip. 

The episodes are short but a lot happens. The second episode begins as the couple stand outside the wrecked car and then recounts how they got there. Without any actual money, the two of them are quickly broke because they waste Alyssa's last few pounds on laser tag. They leave restaurants without paying growing quickly accustomed to being thieves. A strange man Martin (Geoff Bell) picks them up and takes them to another diner. Martin molests James who allows it to happen until Alyssa catches them and blackmails Martin by threatening to tell his family. This gives them enough money for a night at a hotel. 

After they leave the hotel, they find an empty house belonging to a professor. They dance and drink until Alyssa grows bored with James's strange behavior. She goes out and finds a young man who she brings back to have sex with until she decides that she isn't into him. James discovers horrifying pictures of murdered women belonging to the owner of the house. The professor comes home and nearly kills Alyssa until James stabs him in the neck. They burn their clothes and set off again but a police investigation commences with DC Teri Darego (Wunmi Mosaku) and DC Eunice Noon (Gemma Whelan) on the case. 

James and Alyssa leave behind incriminating photos but the professor's mother burns them before calling the police. James finds murder displeasing and not what he expected while Layssa suspects something weird is up with him for conveniently having a knife on him. The couple split up going their separate ways. Alyssa is caught shoplifting while James goes to the police to tell them about how his mother committed suicide in front of him when he was younger. The investigation proceeds as the detectives learn about Alyssa and James from various interviews and begin pursuing their suspects. The couple moves on highjacking a car and robbing a gas station. Their destination is Alyssa's father Leslie (Barry Ward) but he is a drug dealer who will easily turn them over for the reward. 

The End of the F***ing World ends with a heartfelt realization on James's part as he learns about love just as he is pursued by the police across the beach and possibly shot. The sudden ending came as a shock as I wasn't totally sure this was a limited series but the complete story is charming and hilarious. Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther are great young talents who should have bright careers ahead of them. The story is so silly and an enjoyable romp against authority that I found myself engaged from the second episode. I would recommend this to those who can take a few psychopath jokes and can understand thick British accents. 

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 Skarsgård 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.