Monday, February 26, 2018

Movie Review: Annihilation

The science fiction thriller from Alex Garland and adapted from the novel by Jeff VanderMeer is a gorgeous cinematic experience with an exciting plot. Lena (Natalie Portman) is an army veteran and biologist whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year after he left on a mysterious military mission. When he reappears at their house, he is different. His body starts to break down but on their way to the hospital, the ambulance is stopped by government vehicles and Lena is drugged. She wakes up in a prison cell with the psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) watching her. Ventress explains the situation to her and why her husband is acting strangely. She also shows her the odd phenomenon that they are calling the Shimmer. 

With Kane on a ventilator to survive, Ventress allows Lena to stay at Area X, the compound just outside the Shimmer. She meets the crew that is going in next comprised of a geologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), a paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), and a physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson). Lena begs Ventress to let her come along and the psychologist agrees. The group enters into the Shimmer with the knowledge that no one has come back before. They wake up three days later with no knowledge of what happened after they entered. Once they orient themselves with the sun and their watches, they head towards the lighthouse, the center of the alien impact and the spread of the Shimmer. The flowers grow oddly crossing species. Upon exploring an abandoned house, an alligator attacks Josie and the group until Lena shoots it. They discover that the gator has the same teeth as a shark though Lena is skeptical that this could happen.

They continue on row boats through the swamp as Cass reveals that each of them has a troubling reason for entering the Shimmer on this suicide mission. They discover a military base and decide to camp there for the night. Inside they find the former base of the previous crew including Kane and a videotape. They watch the disturbing footage of Kane cutting open another soldier whose insides are moving. That same soldier is seen growing at the bottom of a nearby pool. Josie wants to leave but Ventress insists they stay. That night, a monstrous bear attacks Shepherd and drags her off as she screams. Josie and Anya want to turn back but Ventress insists that they must move forward to the lighthouse. They continue on to a small neighborhood that was evacuated. Anya is disturbed by her skin moving and decides to tie up everyone especially when she finds out that Lena was married to Kane. They bear attacks and moans with the same voice as Shepherd attacking and killing Anya before Josie shoots it. 

Josie decides that she does not want to die angry or afraid so as she starts to mutant into a plant, she wanders off disappearing from the others. Ventress continues on ahead to the lighthouse and Lena follows finding strange structure at the beach. She enters the lighthouse where she finds footage of Kane immolates himself as he talks to a clone. Disturbs by the revelation, Lena crawls into a hole where she finds Ventress mutating into a strange light and then a creature that pursues her even as she shoots it. The creature nearly kills her as it mimics her until she lets off a phosphorous grenade in the things hand. She runs out as the lighthouse burns and the trees around also burst into flames. The interrogation of Lena that played out during the movie does not reveal much and she confronts the doppelganger of Kane who admits he's not her husband but they hug anyways as lights in their eyes glow.

Annihilation was a great book and an entertaining movie with an awesome mixture of sci-fi, adventure, and horror. The book was very intellectual and the film mimics that approach to the best of its cinematic ability. Alex Garland does a brilliant job setting up beautiful images that capture the strange alien mutation caused by refraction or something. Natalie Portman does a great job as the lead while a strong supporting cast from Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Jennifer Jason Leigh make all the acting an added bonus to the stunning special effects. I did not think this book would be an easy adaptation but this movie does it justice and wraps up a story that would be awesome to see continued though unlikely after a rough first weekend at the box office. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

TV Show Review: Altered Carbon

I managed to watch all ten episodes of the Netflix sci-fi original series but I am still not sure of everything that happened in it. I will do my best to remember the plot though I mostly watched it because I like the idea of sci-fi series and would like Netflix to produce a lot more. The story revolves around Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), an envoy soldier who is revived in a new "sleeve", or body, to help solve the murder of a wealthy billionaire "meth", Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). He is greeted at the prison exit by Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), a detective who may have an interest in Kovacs but also the new body he now inhabits. Once Kovacs receives the assignment, he struggles to figure out what is happening in this new world and how to deal with all of the advanced technology.

He also discovers that certain individuals are after him, or the person that used to occupy the body he now holds. Thanks to Ortega, he manages to survive these scrapes but he also owes a debt to the artificial intelligence hotel that looks like Edgar Allen Poe (Chris Conner). Poe is part of a group of AIs who look down upon actual humans as they play poker. Kovacs starts to research the case coming upon a man who made a death threat to Bancroft. Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh) has a reason to believe Bancroft is responsible for the torture of his daughter Lizzie (Hayley Law) leaving her trapped in a virtual trauma. Kovacs overpowers him and determines that he is not the one who is responsible for Bancroft's death but later he employs Vernon to help him with espionage. 

As bodies are not permanent, bloody battles are used as entertainment for the rich. Kovacs has to show off his fighting skills but I'm not sure Kinnaman is up to the task. Takeshi (Will Yun Lee) learned his fighting and resistance to torture in a previous life as he trained under the rebel leader Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry). He manages to survive the brutal treatment of a few men angry at Riker, the man whose body Kovacs occupies. It turns out that Ortega was in love with Riker and so she makes love to Kovacs and transfers her feelings to him. All of this is possible because of stack technology which downloads the brains of an individual allowing them to transfer their mind into another body. Bancroft was able to back his mind up and it was made to look like he killed himself. 

More of Kovacs's past is revealed when his sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman) shows up to save him from a cage fight. She had trained with him in the past after they were separated as kids. They reunited and joined the envoy but Rei never wanted to lose her brother to Quell's spell. They are attacked by a ruthless army who uses a special virus to make people crazy. Only Takeshi survived but now Rei has been reborn with several clones and has somehow become involved in this case. Following some more clues that I didn't fully understand, Kovacs and his crew end up on a sky brothel where they fight Rei and her ruthless killer henchman Mr. Leung (Trieu Tran). Kovacs kills his sister and crashes eventually earning a reprieve and helping reveal the truth about Bancroft's suicide.

Altered Carbon has some positive aspects that make it an appealing show visually but the plot is so convoluted, I wasn't always sure what was happening. The show is fun enough to propel me through the episodes though I mostly used them to exercise. Kinnaman has never been an extraordinary actor but he is fine to watch even though the earlier Kovacs played by Will Yun Lee has more charisma and would have been a better choice for the lead. There are spurts of action each episode that kept it entertaining but it still felt like low budget sci-fi which can look silly. Netflix is in the process of producing a lot of shows that are not very special but they are overloading their platform with content that appears to be profitable. 

TV Show Review: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 3)

The wild antics of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) as she continues to struggle with relationships in her mad search for love. After being left at the altar by Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), Rebecca retreats away from her friends and hides out in a hotel nursing her grief and plotting revenge. She reemerges and employs her best friend and co-worker Paula Proctor (Donna Lynn Champlin) to help her in various plots including some outrageous ideas like sending Josh her poop disguised as cupcakes.  As her various attempts to get back at Josh fail, she turns to the person she believes is capable of great cruelty, Nathaniel Plimpton III (Scott Michael Foster). Rebecca seduces him and they plot really terrible things to do to Josh's family.

There are a ton of great songs in the early episodes especially "Generalize about Men" in which the women get together to complain about the men in their lives. Josh struggles with his education to become a priest as he learns it will take a bit more study than what he thought. Paula comes up with an idea to sue Josh and they prepare a lawsuit.  Rebecca grows so frustrated that she confronts Josh in the church and admits everything she has done leading to a bout of extreme anxiety as she admitted to all sorts of criminal behavior. Rebecca finds herself isolated and retreats to a place where she can be away from her coworkers and friends. Josh gives up on his plan to become a priest.

Rebecca returns to the care of her mother Naomi (Tovah Feldshuh) who takes control of her life and drugs her to make her feel better. She finally breaks free of her mother's control but overdoses on her drugs while taking the plane back to West Covina in a cry for help. The season transitions to Rebecca's recovery but she isn't always compliant with the recommendations of her counselor. Paula returns to her first crush which sparks another hilarious song. Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) struggles with his relationship with White Josh (David Hull) and his desire to have a baby as Paula takes on this new project. Rebecca finds herself attracted to Nathaniel. Heather Davis (Vella Lovell) has been hiding out in college refusing to graduate out of fear until she starts to look for new opportunities to start a career.

Rebecca continues her affair with Nathaniel even though he is dating someone else. Just as Rebecca struggles with so many things, her stalker Trent Maddock (Paul Welsh) arrives to take advantage of her sensitive situation. He blackmails her and gets in the way of her relationship with Nathaniel until Rebecca frees herself by coming clean. The show looks like it was approaching an ending and I'm not sure if it will be renewed but the finale has Rebecca admitting her guilt for all the things she has done and possibly facing a prison sentence.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a fun and silly show that has some brilliant musical parts and delves into serious issues on occasion. The jokes are usually pretty funny while all the performances led by Bloom add to the hilarity. I entered into this series late and haven't gone back to watch the first season. I hope that it does get renewed but there haven't been any signs as of yet and I've heard the ratings are low for this last season. It did make some strange choices and I wasn't able to address all of those subplots here but the main story that sparked the series has since fallen behind as new relationships have become the focus and that may account for some of the loss of interest and chemistry on screen. I would like to see more musical shows in the future. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sports: NBA (All-Star Game 2018)

This post will be my first time writing about the NBA this year which is unfortunate because it has been a pretty interesting season. I have just been busy with a ton of other sports but as my attention shifts to basketball, it is nice to check back in at the halfway point. The All-Star game itself is usually a bit dull as the players don't take it very seriously and hardly play defense. This year is supposed to be different as the two players receiving the highest votes, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Lebron James, would pick their teammates and up the competition as whoever won would win more donations to a charity of their choosing. There are also all the other events surrounding the weekend but I wasn't able to watch the dunk contest or the three-point contest. 

The actual game began with a bad rendition of the national anthem from Fergie that went viral for the wrong reasons. The two teams showed some decent effort at the start of the game and by the end of the first half, there was quite a high score of 78-76. Team Stephen was in the lead but the second half saw Team Lebron take back the momentum behind the MVP performance of Lebron James. The game got really good towards the end as the two teams increased their competitive play as they both vied for a victory. Team Lebron came out on top in the final seconds with a 148-145 win. This new form of All-Star game would not be my preferred choice but it offers a more competitive battle that is more entertaining.

I doubt the Toronto Raptors will represent the East in the NBA Finals but that would be kind of cool. Toronto has managed to stay at the top by the halfway point and could continue to dominate as their two biggest challengers, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics, go through some growing pains. Boston looked dominant at the start of the season but has had a few losses that show their weaknesses come playoff time. Cleveland remodeled during the trade deadline that could prepare them for the playoffs. 

The Houston Rockets look sharp this season and made trades to prepare for their matchup against the greatest team in the league. The Golden State Warriors are right behind them by only a half a game and I think the second half of the season will play out in Golden State's favor. The next two teams, the Spurs and Timberwolves, are ten games back and can look to the future for a chance at NBA dominance but this is the Warriors's title to lose and the Rockets are the only one to give them a challenge.

I wish I could write more about basketball and I wish I could watch more basketball but it comes on so late here and I can barely keep my eyes open at work. The NBA playoffs are still months away but my attention will be on college for the next month before I tune back in to see who will make a final run. I look forward to the games being back on but it already looks like a foregone conclusion on who will win and I hope some excitement sparks my interest. 

Movie Review: Black Panther

This great new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe manages to distinguish itself from other superhero films with a fresh batch of characters and a memorable villain. In a brief prologue, the history of Wakanda is explained and Prince N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) is murdered by his brother, the king of Wakanda. In the present day, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home with Okoye (Danai Guira) after the death of the king of Wakanda in a previous film. First, they stop to pick up Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), T'Challa's ex, and a spy for the hidden society and beat up some sex traffickers. T'Challa is greeted by his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his younger sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), who makes fun of him for freezing and updates his technology. Meanwhile, in London, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) steals a hidden Wakanda artifact with the help of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) showing their brutality and willingness to murder in cold blood.

To ascend to the throne, T'Challa must drink a special potion and fight anyone who challenges his rule. Member of several tribes including Nakia and W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) decline to fight T'Challa but M'Baku (Winston Duke) of the mountainous Jabari tribe does challenge him. They fight and T'Challa forces him to yield. He then eats a heart-shaped fruit which restores his powers and allows him to travel to the afterlife where he talks with his father about the burden he is inheriting. He spends some leisure time with Nakia trying to convince her to stay in Wakanda and looking at the giant rhinos raised by W'Kabi when Okoye calls him back to the council. Klaue has resurfaced in South Korea to sell the Wakanda artifact and Black Panther must stop him. Shuri, with great comedic wit, suits him up with a new necklace suit and even more advanced technology.

In Busan, Nakia gains them entrance to a secret casino where Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent, plans to buy the artifact. A fight breaks out when Okoye is spotted by Klaue's entourage and the mercenary flees. In a spectacular car chase, T'Challa flips around in his advanced Black Panther suit eventually catching Klaue. They bring him to a secret CIA hideout where Ross interrogates him learning that Wakanda has more reserves of the powerful metal Vibranium. Killmonger and his crew break Klaue out of the cell, shoot Black Panther with a grenade to escape, and injure Ross with a bullet. T'Challa has to take Ross back to Wakanda so that Shuri can save his life. Killmonger kills Klaue and enacts his plan to return to Wakanda.

T'Challa confronts Zuri (Forest Whitaker) who was there when his uncle was murdered by his father. Zuri reveals the truth of Killmonger's origins just as Erik arrives in Wakanda with a gift, Klaue's dead body. W'Kabi sides with Killmonger who challenges T'Challa for the throne. They fight in traditional combat and Killmonger kicks T"Challa into the river below. Nakia, Shuri, and Ramonda escape to the Jabari where they ask M'Baku to take the throne but he reveals that T'Challa was discovered by a fisherman in the river. They feed him the last heart-shaped fruit and he confronts his father in the afterlife before deciding that Wakanda will no longer stay in the shadows. Killmonger plans to spread the Vibranium technology across the globe and empower the Wakandan empire. An epic battle ensues between the tribes of the Wakandans including armored rhinos and all sorts of amazing technological weapons. Black Panther fights Killmonger in the mines eventually stabbing him. T'Challa returns to power ready to bring Wakanda out of hiding.

Black Panther may be the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer which has been increasingly improving in this third phase. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as the leader of Wakanda and the super cool Black Panther with easily the coolest costume. He has great chemistry with Lupita Nyong'o while she avoids being a damsel in distress. Danai Guira finally moves beyond her great role on television proving she can steal scenes on the big screen. Letitia Wright was already a rising star but now she will skyrocket as the comedic relief and the genius of Wakanda. Michael B. Jordan plays the best villain in the universe possibly eclipsing the biggest bad guy in a few months. Veterans like Serkis, Bassett, and Whitaker flesh out the world as Ryan Coogler goes above and beyond in his first superhero feature. Black Panther can take the lead of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with booming box offices and a character that lives up to the hype. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

TV Show Review: Mosaic

This new HBO limited series murder mystery boasts some incredible performances and interesting plot twists. The story jumps around in time a little bit as it introduces the victim and stays with her through the first two episodes but the viewer knows that something happens just not how or why. I had heard that the show existed also as a mobile app and downloaded it but never watched anything on it or engaged in that experience. I do like to think that there will be new ways to consume content but I'm still conventional in watching shows on television as of now. Children's author Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone) lives in an isolated Utah but there are wealthy neighbors that are trying to obtain parts of her land. Several conspiracies swirl around her of which she is not always aware but the land she lives contain important minerals.

Michael O'Connor (James Ransone) felt as if Olivia Lake was his mother as she took part in raising him up to be a billionaire art collector. Olivia takes interest in a bartender and aspiring author Joel Hurley (Garrett Hedlund) who she allows to stay in a room in her barn as he does odd jobs around her house. She falls for Eric Neill (Frederick Weller) But she is not aware of his ulterior motives of conning her out of her land. Olivia has a written a children's story that can be experienced two ways by walking down a trail on her property. One way on the trail makes a hunter seem innocent while another is more sympathetic to the bears that are hunted. Eric also falls for Olivia but when he confesses that the only reason he met her was to con her, she throws him out in a rage. She also demands that Joel leave and pay him the rent he owes her, so Joel storms back to the barn where he is living and drinks heavily.

Olivia winds up missing and presumed and Eric is the prime suspect. Joel does not remember the night before but wants to hide a possible affair from his wife Laura (Maya Kazan) so he comes up with a fake alibi with his friend Frank Scott (Jeremy Bobb) that they went to the movies that night. Nate Henry (Devin Ratray) takes over the investigation and it focuses on Eric, finding out where he went after leaving Olivia's house from his sister Petra (Jennifer Ferrin). As the authorities haul in Eric and he denies hurting Olivia, Nate begins to doubt all the evidence pointing to the con man. He tries to investigate other possible suspects but his boss Alan Pape (Beau Bridges) rushes to close the case. 

Years later, Petra begins to have doubts of her own about her brother's guilt and she starts to dig up old clues. She convinces Nate to start looking over the case again and goes down to ask Joel about his involvement even convincing him to return to Salt Lake City since he left shortly after the murder to lead gator tours in Louisiana. They start to discover old clues and Olivia's body is finally discovered highly decomposed. Certain objects link Joel to the murder but Eric is still taking the blame. Joel tries to figure out if he did it or not but he can't be sure since he was so drunk and his real alibi doesn't cover the time when Olivia was murdered. Petra puts it all together and learns that Michael O'Connor was responsible for Olivia's death so that they could possess the land and make a fortune but Nate is convinced it was Joel so Joel confesses and goes to jail for the crime.

Mosaic had a decent mystery but ultimately the twist turned out to be too inconsequential and not shift the narrative enough to be surprising. I did like Jennifer Ferrin's performance as the civilian investigator trying to free her brother and Frederick Weller was great as the wrongly accused. Garrett Hedlund is the most recognizable actor after Sharon Stone and it's clear why one of them is a huge star and the other's career is on the rise. I did wish there was more Olivia Lake as Sharon Stone is always fun to watch. Devin Ratray is someone I will keep an eye out for as his performance carried many scenes as the detective while James Ransome brought a certain amount of creepiness. The idea was there but the solution wasn't clever enough to warrant all the hype. Still, I'm posting this review a bit late as I watched the show a week or so ago and the episodes came out all in one week so viewers can finish it on their own time. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

TV Show Review: Happy!

This irreverent and violent comedy television show pits an ex-cop hitman with an imaginary unicorn to make for one of the best buddy cop shows of the year. Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) is a hard-drinking, pill-popping assassin given the task of taking out the three sons of a mob boss. Hailey Hansen (Bryce Lorenzo) is happy to attend the concert of superstar Sonny Shine (Christopher Fitzgerald) with her imaginary friend Happy (Patton Oswalt) and her mom Amanda (Medina Senghore) when an evil Santa (Joseph D. Reitman) kidnaps her. Happy seeks out Hailey's father, Nick Sax who asks him to help though Sax is not sure the talking flying unicorn is real. Sax not only kills the three mob boss sons but Mikey Scaramucci (Gus Halper) who has a secret password that can shift the balance in the fight between gangs.

Nick Sax is believed to have this password and when he wakes up from a heart attack in the hospital. He is attacked by the torturer Smoothie (Patrick Fischler) who executes the commands of the mobster Francisco Scaramucci (Ritchie Coster). Nick escapes the hospital after violently killing several of Smoothie's henchmen and he returns to his house where gangsters are waiting to kill him. Once again Nick shows how he can take out whole crews and this convinces Happy that he can help Haley. Meanwhile, Sax's ex-partner Det. Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick) begins investigating Hailey's disappearance when confronted by Amanda but she is also under the thumb of Scaramucci so cannot be fully trusted.

Sax searches around the city for the deranged Santa Claus going to a strip club where he learns clues but is also attacked. In flashbacks, it shows that Sax was cheating on Amanda with his partner and after he witnesses a violent murder, he freaks out at Amanda for telling him she's pregnant. In the present, Santa eats Happy but throws him up with a fortune from a fortune cookie which leads Sax to Chinatown where he is attacked by Yakuza gangsters. Scaramucci's sister Isabella (Debi Mazar) mourns her son but also continues her reality television show. Hailey is transferred to a new prison with other kids where they are kept in captivity by Smoothie who has a strange way of acting. Sax goes to meet Amanda after being talked out of leaving the city by Happy. 

The reunion with Amanda goes wrong for Sax where masked men attack them so he decides to kill himself on the train tracks much to the distress of Happy who disappears. Sax encounters the demonically possessed body of Mikey Scaramucci and uses it to bargain with Francisco. Happy retreats to a support group for imaginary friends but is tricked by one of them to go back to a boy's house and be tortured. The boy turns out to be Scaramucci's son. Mikey escapes and Sax is captured. He is about to be killed when he accepts belief in Happy who causes a distraction to help Sax escape. Amanda confronts Sonny Shine learning that he is the costumed bug that masterminded this awful plot as McCarthy also learns about Scaramucci's deceit. They seek out Sonny Shine's warehouse and free the kids but Sax has to fight Smoothie and then evil Santa Claus as Amanda confronts Sonny Shine. Sax has a heart attack and is believed to be dead. Happy returns to Hailey but says goodbye and fades away. In prison, Francisco meets with Mikey and the demon transfers to his body.

It looks like Happy and Nick Sax will be teaming up again from the final scene of the credits and I can't wait to see what happens next. The show is outrageously funny and violent though at times it fails to keep the high octane momentum and gets lost in a convoluted plot that doesn't much affect the enjoyment of the show. I enjoyed most of it though it dragged at times and I think the premise is great. I will definitely have to check out the graphic novel the show is based on. 

TV Show Review: The Good Place (Season 2)

The hilarious afterlife comedy picks up the second season shortly after where the second season left off. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) learned that she was actually in the bad place as revealed by the demon Michael (Ted Danson) but her memory was erased. She has a new soulmate and is separated from Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) but a note she stashed away drives her towards seeking him out. Their friend Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamila) and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) are also starting to notice strange things. Eleanor keeps figuring it out and Michael keeps having to reset the good place to prove his experiment of tricking victims is worse than torturing people who did not make enough points to make it to the actual good place.

Vicky (Tiya Sircar) threatens to tell Michael's superior Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) but Michael convinces her to hold off and delivers fake reports to Shawn about the success of his experiment. Janet (D'Arcy Carden) is the willing assistant who fell for Jason in the previous season. She had a new mate in Derek (Jason Mantzoukas) but banishes him to another realm. With Shawn threatening to send the group to the actual good place, they come up with a plan to escape by throwing a distracting party and pretending to go to the middle place. They plan to get to the good place but Michael doesn't know how to actually get there. He does know about the Judge (Maya Rudolph) and a way to get to her through the bad place.

The group has to sneak through a museum of torture and pretend to be vicious demons, which is easier for some than others. Janet especially struggles at being bad Janet. In one hilarious interaction, Chidi is mistaken for an especially vicious demon and has to pretend to be a bro with other demons but he manages to trick them by telling them his latest torture is forcing victims to read books, something he would love. Michael is found out by Shawn and bad Janet but the group flees through the portal. Michael is captured by Shawn and is about to be locked up when bad Janet turns out to actually be good Janet. The group faces trials given by the judge like Jason has to play against his favorite team the Jacksonville Jaguars with the rival Titans and Tahani has to walk down a hall without opening doors to hear what people are saying about her. 

Eleanor manages to past but they all agree that they will share the fate and none of the others make it. Michael comes through the portal and debates the point system but the judge isn't buying it since they now know of the award of the good place. Michael comes up with a plan and sends Eleanor back to the moment before she died and saves her life. She tries to improve after the near-death experience but soon becomes disillusioned by it. Michael sees her straying from the path of good and intervenes again sending her to seek out Chidi in the final moments of the second season.

The Good Place is full of great witty jokes that make me laugh every episode along with likable characters played by clever actors who portray the frustration of these roles well. I wasn't sure where the show would go after the shocking twist at the end of the first season but season two has kept up the excitement and continued to surprise exploring more of this interested world they have developed. I like the show is a silly comedy but also take a look at existential questions like what is good and morality. I look forward to seeing how they will get the group back together now that they are back in their lives. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sports: NFL (Super Bowl LII)

The Super Bowl is the greatest American sporting event and this year turned out to be especially entertaining. I'm trying to catch up on my blog posts so I'm not getting to this until several days after the exciting game with a stunning victory. I wanted to write about the Pro Bowl but just didn't get a chance to recap the AFC's defeat of the NFC. This will be the last time I write about football for months when the next season starts and I will miss it. I enjoyed this season somewhat, I think more so because of the victory at the end. There is no sport as entertaining but I am into the transition to NBA, college basketball, and the NHL.

Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots
The underdogs with the backup quarterback stunned the world on Super Bowl Sunday with an offensive show that was exciting and fun to watch. The Philadelphia Eagles exchanged field goals with the New England Patriots early in the first quarter until the Eagles pulled ahead with a touchdown but missed the extra point. Philadelphia increased their lead with a touchdown to start the second quarter scoring. A field goal and a touchdown start the Patriots' comeback, but Nick Foles and the Eagles got a touchdown before the mediocre halftime show with Justin Timberlake.
The Patriots responded with a touchdown the Eagles came right back with one themselves. New England got one more pass into the end zone before the end of the third quarter. An Eagles field goal extended their lead but they fell behind when Tom Brady drove down the field with passed to Rob Gronkowski. A touchdown but failed two-point conversion put Philadelphia up by five with the ball in the hands of the greatest quarterback of all time. The Eagles' defense managed to hold strong forcing Tom Brady a fumble and allowing them to get another field goal. The Patriots had one more chance for the touchdown but the hail mary pass to Gronkowski from Brady failed. The Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII 41-33. Nick Foles was the MVP.

I'll have to wait until September to make my predictions for next year but I'm looking forward to seeing the changes the Falcons make while also watching out for the 49ers or a Patriots return. I'll have a chance to write about the NBA during their All-Star break in a week or so and I'll catch up on the NCAA Men's Basketball during the conference tournaments.  

Movie Review: 12 Strong

The early months of the year are perfect landing ground for a patriotic military movie and this latest film continues this new trend. The movie starts with the terrible news of 9/11 as soldiers watch on the television. Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) returns to his base where Lt. Colonel Bowers (Rob Riggle) is dealing with the resulting chaos. He commands Captain to stay in his office but his squadron has other ideas. Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon) requests that Mitch rejoin the squad and Bowers agrees. They are shipped out to Afghanistan shortly thereafter where they have to apply to be the squad that will set out on the mission to take a city from the Taliban. Captain Nelson wins the approval of Colonel Mulholland (William Fichtner) and ships out with his team. 

They have to take a flight on a helicopter through the high mountains of Afghanistan with no oxygen and in the freezing cold. They arrive at their destination unhappy and suspicious. They confront men with machine guns only to learn that they are their escort from the CIA Agent Brian (Taylor Sheridan). The agent has to leave and can't stick around to meet with General Dostum (Navid Negahban), their contact in the Northern Alliance of Afghan militias. Dostum confronts Nelson not believing he has the ability to kill but Nelson is determined to prove him wrong. The general gives them six horses splitting up their group but Nelson brings along six men including Sam Diller (Michael Peña). 

With the American bomber jets behind him, General Dostum is encouraged to attack the Taliban but Nelson tries to explain that he needs to be closer to get the right coordinates. They drop bombs but they miss most of the Taliban until Nelson takes the risk and charges in to get the correct coordinates. They send the Taliban into retreat and take the city where Dostum's family was killed by the villainous Mullah Razzan (Numan Acar). They stress how awful the Taliban are killing educated young girls and stoning women who have children out of wedlock. Nelson sends Diller and other troops to cut off the supply route just as Hal Spencer and the remaining group of six including Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes). The troops have been assigned protectors and Milo has young boy Najeeb (Arshia Mandavi) following him to protect him, though the boy only has a musket.

The government officials are putting pressure on Nelson to complete his mission in the absurd deadline of three weeks and Nelson knows the only way to survive is to win. They push forward and attack Razzan in a town before the city they need to take. Razzan has a giant missile launcher but the Americans have soldiers. General Dostum has backed off worried that if he helps the army win this battle then a rival of his will take the city before he can. However, as the soldiers are struggling under the attack, Dostum shows up to assist. Nelson charges forward in a pretty decent military action scene with the camera following the horses from above and wins the fight. I thought this battle was pretty impressive.

12 Strong follows the trend though it is not nearly my favorite of the other military movies that have come out in January. I don't mind the jingoistic and blind military support of these films and usually, the action is pretty intense. The fact that this film is based on a true story is astonishing and something that I would have never known about if it wasn't in theaters. The story of these men is truly impressive even if the film acknowledges that America is still fighting this war decades later and has wasted tons of resources without much success. The secret true story of the horse soldiers is entertaining enough to enjoy at the theater. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Movie Review: I, Tonya

The wild true story of the controversial Olympic skater is an entertaining biopic. The film frames the story of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) through a series of interviews It begins with extreme childhood training at the behest of Tonya's chain-smoking mother Lavona Golden (Allison Janney) who convinces her trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) to take her on at the age of three. Lavone downplays the abuse as Tonya remembers endless days on the rink not even being allowed to leave when she needs to pee so she wets herself and is commanded to continue skating. Tonya grows up and becomes a better skater but her mother's confrontational personality rubs off on her as she challenges other skaters for space on the rink. 

She meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and begins to fall for him much to her mother's chagrin. Lavona accompanies them on their first date and pries into their relationship. Tonya and Jeff grow closer moving towards marriage despite Lavona's disapproval. Jeff starts to abuse Tonya but she is used to this sort of treatment after leaving with her abusive mother. Tonya's skating improves and she becomes the first female skater to land two triple axels. She prepares to enter the Olympics but disagrees with her trainer Diane and fires her. Her mother continues to motivate her by paying fans to insult her. Tonya does not find success failing to stick her landings and leaving the Olympics without a medal. 

Tonya returns home and has a rough time with Jeff. She takes up a job as a waitress just like her mother. Jeff becomes even more possessive as she tries to leave him and the violence erupts. Their altercations grow ever more violent with Jeff even threatening her with a gun. Tonya returns to him time after time but she also reengages with her skating after Diane convinces her to try for the next Olympics. She is thrown off during a performance when she receives a death threat which gives Jeff a unique idea. He approaches his best friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) and comes up with an idiotic plan to threaten Tonya's rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). 

Shawn hires to imbeciles to send letters to Nancy but they take it a step too far and break her leg. The two men are arrested and it sparks an FBI investigation which leads back to Shawn. He pretends to be an expert in spycraft but easily cracks under pressure and blames Jeff for the whole plan even trying to trap with a wire in the Golden Buddha that I used to eat at in my college years, though it's set in Oregon. Tonya fails again at the Olympics begging the judges to let her tie her skate She comes in eighth while Nancy earns the silver medal, though she's not happy about it. Jeff learns that Tonya ratted him out and he returns the favor. Even Lavone returns to pretend to make up with her daughter only to be recording the conversation. As the men around her go to jail, she is banned from skating so she takes up boxing not shying away from being controversy.

I, Tonya is one of the more entertaining biopics but not only is the story incredibly crazy but the performances are wonderful. Margot Robbie is brilliant as Harding while Allison Janney should definitely win the award for Best Supporting Actress. Sebastian Stan stunned me as well while Hauser's Shawn is a great comedic relief. The film is tragic and funny like the story and a piece of history that I was too young to remember. The film moves at a brisk pace but retains it's humor and a ton of interesting story details that may or may not be true. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Movie Review: Hostiles

No one retains their innocence in the wild West as this new movie shows the harsh lifestyle of the war against native Americans. The violent story begins with Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) teaching her two daughters English while her youngest child sleeps and her husband chops wood outside. Apaches descend on the house and kill her family. Rosalie escapes with her dead baby in her hands and hides from the hunters. The story shifts to Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) who is tasked with escorting Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his homeland before he dies of cancer. Blocker refuses the assignment at first but Colonel Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) threatens his pension so that he goes along with it. Blocker assembles a team to assist him in transporting Yellow Hawk through the rough terrain. 

Master Sgt. Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane) suffers from post-traumatic stress who wants to quit the army after all the violence and feels guilty for helping subjugate a race of people. Corp. Herny Woodsen (Jonathan Majors) is Blocker's right-hand man who helps relay the orders to the rest of the squad. Lt. Rudy Kidder (Jesse Plemons) is a West Point graduate who hasn't seen any real action. Pvt. Philippe DeJardin (Timothée Chalamet) is also new to combat and questions Blocker's decision to bring him along though Blocker claims it was up to Biggs. rounding out the crew are Yellow Hawk's family including his son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), Elk Woman (Q'orianka Kilcher), Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty), and the youngest member Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief).

They set out with little trust between Blocker and Yellow Hawk. The captain puts Yellow Hawk in chains as soon as they are out of sight of the press person Jeremiah Wilks (Bill Camp). They move through the wilderness coming to Rosalie's house where she sits with her dead family having nearly lost her mind. They take her with them after holding a funeral for her family. Rosalie tries to bury her husband and children but runs out of energy. She is a changed woman as they set out again. They are set upon by the Apaches who kill DeJardin and injure Woodsen. Kidder is shaken after he takes a life. Yellow Hawk helps Blocker fight off the attackers who escape. That night, Metz falls asleep and Yellow Hawk and his family, having earned a little leniency, sneak out and kill the Apache.

They stop at a settlement and stay the night with Lt. Col. Ross McCowan (Peter Mullan)  whose wife complains of the treatment of the natives in front of a still traumatized Rosalie. Ross asks Blocker to take a criminal Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster) with him to another fortress to hang. Wills used to serve with Blocker and questions the man for transporting their old enemy. They set out again and Rosalie and Living Woman are captured by fur traders. Wills escapes killing Kidder and fleeing on a horse. Metz pursues him, kills him, and takes his own life. As Yellow Hawk grows sicker, they make it to his homeland and bury his body but Cyrus Lounde (Scott Wilson) and his sons object, demanding they leave his property even after seeing the presidential order. A shootout results in Yellow Hawk's family being killed with only Little Bear surviving. Rosalie takes charge of Little Bear and Blocker decides to go with them at the last minute. 

Hostiles reminds me of older Westerns and it is a bit surprising to see a film like this in theaters. The film moves at a leisurely pace but has plenty of action and adventure to remain an entertaining film. Great performance from Pike and Bale carry the film as it does its best to examine the guilt of soldiers and the bloody history of terrible treatment of the American government and its people towards the native people of the land. A lot of strong supporting performance push the film a bit further but it does tend to drag at times and won't be a contender for awards season. Still, I like seeing movies like this and hope there are more to come from this new production company. 

Movie Review: Call Me by Your Name

The intimate love story coming-of-age tale explores a young man's blossoming sexual desire over a summer in Italy with his family. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends his days transcribing music, reading, flirting with girls, and biking as his father Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) researches artifacts pulled from the sea. A new student arrives to help Elio's father. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is a confident man with plenty of American mannerisms that put off Elio at first. There is tension as Elio gives up his room to stay in the room next door and the two men share a bathroom. Oliver works with Perlman but Elio volunteers to take him into town and show him around. Oliver is introduced to Elio's friends but he takes a particular interest in Elio showing it by massaging his shoulder but Elio pulls away.

Oliver flirts with another woman on the dance floor and Elio watches as jealously flashes across his eyes. Elio has a fling with a girl as well. Marzia (Esther Garrel) meets Elio at night as they flirt and make love. Marzia is worried that Elio will hurt her and asks him to go slowly but it quickly moves towards sex. Elio and Oliver start to hang out together and though they never speak about it, their attraction grows. The film highlights the gorgeous setting especially when Elio asks to come along with Oliver and his father to the seaside where they are pulling up artifacts. Oliver and Elio declare a truce as Oliver sense there has been some disagreement between them.

Elio tells Oliver about his sexual exploits with Marzia but Oliver does not react in a way that Elio expects. His attraction for his father's student grows as he sneaks into Oliver's room and smells his bathing suit. He thinks about Oliver when masturbating and confesses his love to Oliver who tells him that they can't have a relationship as this is the 80s and thinking about this kind of thing has not progressed the little bit that it has in the last few decades. Elio and Oliver go swimming and while drying out in the sun, Elio kisses Oliver who pushes him away and tells him they can't do this even as Elio touches him sexually. This rejection pushes Elio away and they do not speak for several days until Elio writes Oliver a note. Oliver responds asking him to meet him at midnight. 

That night, the two men make love with each other and work to keep their relationship a secret from the prying maid and Elio's parents. They continue to meet in secret and Elio uses a peach to masturbate about Oliver who laughs about it embarrassing Elio. Marzia tries to see Elio who has been avoiding him but Elio is no longer interested breaking her heart. Elio's parents are aware of the relationship and send the two men away on a trip together where they flirt and have sex though they are both overcome with the grief that their relationship is ending. Oliver leaves back to America as Elio is grief-stricken. His father tells him about his own secret relationship and encourages him to not dull the pain but embrace it because it is a part of love. Months later, Oliver calls Elio and tells him about his engagement to a woman. Elio stars into the fire and cries as the credits roll.

Call Me by Your Name was really boring. While the Italian countryside is gorgeous and I understand how many people found the love story moving, I wasn't very fond of the characters and found the plot to move too slow. The film has lots of subtle scenes of flirtation but it piles up and drags for so long that I couldn't ever get into the story or much care about the growing relationship. While it received lots of acclaim, I think it was mostly about the lack of this sort of representation and not so much how entertaining this film actually is for an audience. I appreciate Chalamet's and Hammer's performances but Stuhlbarg's speech at the end that really stole the show.  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

TV Show Review: Shameless (Season 8)

The irreverent comedy returns for an impressive eighth season. The Gallagher family is still up to their crazy antics and wild behavior. Frank (William H. Macy) has decided to make a clean start after going on a meth binge and losing his ex-wife. He sobers up and heads out into the job market. He finds success as an employee in the gardening section of a department store after the manager identifies with him. He trains Liam (Christian Isaiah) to take advantage of their poverty. After enrolling his youngest son in a private school due to diversity, Frank starts to flirt with the wealthy mothers who find his can-do attitude attractive. Eventually, the Man interferes and Frank is laid off due to budget cuts to the company. Frank sets out to apply for a job but finds the job market is not looking for a man with his experience.

Fiona (Emmy Rossum) has taken on the job of being a landlord hoping to make a success of her life that has been chaotic since the start. She renovates rooms after evicting clients who leave shit smeared on the walls. Her various tenants are a mess though she finds friendship with a lesbian couple. She realizes that she can find peace away from her family drama by staying at the apartment but things don't always go easily. Lip (Jeremy Allen White) works to keep his sobriety while helping other drunks who kept him out of trouble. he finds distraction in a motorcycle repair shop and also physical relationships. He still has a crush on the waitress in Fiona's diner but keeps it a secret when he finds out her husband has been cheating on her. 

Veronica (Shanola Hampton), aka V, and her husband Kevin (Steve Howey) are fighting with their former lover Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter) who has taken over their bar. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) plans to return to military school if only he can afford the tuition since he was rejected for a scholarship. He ends up starting a rehab program where he captures clients but this leads to him falling in love and marrying a subject. Debbie (Emma Kenney) works to take care of her baby and earn a welding degree but the smallest amount of success has her flirting with guys and risking getting pregnant again. She takes on illegal jobs with her welding experience but when an on-the-job injury crushes her toes and she doesn't have insurance, an especially gruesome scene leads to her losing those digits.

Ian (Cameron Monaghan) works to win back his old boyfriend and becomes involved with various youth groups. He fights with Fiona over the ownership of a property as Fiona works to prevent the potential shelter because it will drive down the surrounding property value. Eventually, they come to a compromise and Ian shifts his wrath to those who perpetuate gay conversion therapy. His mental disorders cause him to drive his cause to the extreme ending up with him being wanted by the police. Fiona is sued by a roof worker but comes up with a plan to evict them when they squat in her apartment. Lots of other insane things happen through the twelve episodes that are plenty cringe-worthy and hilarious.

Shameless is the sort of show that isn't afraid to push the boundaries or present controversial situations as it explores issues of poverty and family. These characters have grown a lot over eight seasons as they continue to make mistakes and push their way out of the ghetto. The show never fails to come up with absurd scenarios that are funny and astonishing. The show has adapted to the current event and often makes political statements without ever being too preachy or sentimental. This Showtime series continues chugging along making quality television that is as good as it was when it started.