Saturday, March 31, 2018

Movie Review: Unsane

Insanity is a profitable business in this thriller from Steven Soderbergh. Using an iPhone to film scenes, the shots are some that are physically impossible for a large camera used in other films. I've not seen Claire Foy in anything but The Crown which I enjoy a lot so I was excited to see her in something new and sporting an American accent. Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, a troubled woman who hopes to rise up in her new job at a bank. She's moved to a new city and her mother Angela (Amy Irving) is concerned that she has made this major change for seemingly no reason. Sawyer does have a reason for moving that becomes apparent when a date goes awry when she tries to hook up with a random guy but then she freaks out and locks herself in the bathroom. Her problems reach a point where she decides to seek out help at a mental health facility. 

She has a session with a psychologist who grows concerned when Sawyer mentions that she thinks about taking her life and gives specific details about how she would do it. She fills out forms and waits for assistance. The receptionist tells her to wait and behaves strangely towards her. A nurse Dennis (Zach Cherry) directs her back to a room and takes the items out of her purse. Sawyer tries to figure out what is happening when another nurse Boles (Polly McKie) asks her to take off her clothes. Sawyer realizes there must be some sort of mistake but they insist that she signed the papers and that she should cooperate for her own good. She is directed to a room with beds and other patients. Sawyer freaks out and believes that she is seeing her stalker David Strine (Joshua Leonard) but it's just Dennis who she slaps in the face.

Sawyer is treated as a violent patient. She is tied down and drugged. Another patient Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah) takes pity on her but the patient in the bed next to her Violet (Juno Temple) is threatening and insults Sawyer. The unwilling patient tries to avoid trouble but she is truly disturbed when David shows up under a different name and denies knowing her. Sawyer tries to maintain her sanity as Nate explains the situation to her. The mental health facility needs patients to bill their insurance and can have them be voluntarily committed by tricking them into signing their freedom away. Sawyer learns that Nate has a phone and manages to call her mother who comes down and tries to figure out a way to get her out but even the lawyers don't have an answer. 

Sawyer continues to have trouble adapting, fighting with Violet and assaulting guards. She cusses out David Strine every chance she gets. She tells her story to Nate and the two of them form a relationship. David watches Sawyer and decides to remove Nate by bringing him down to the facility basement and drugging him so he dies of an overdose. It is revealed later that Nate was a journalist investigating the corrupt facility. After a bad drug incident, Sawyer is locked up in solitary confinement where David is able to have his way with her. Sawyer tricks David into bringing down Violet where she can steal her shank and stabs David in the throat. She escapes but David is there to knock her out. She is taken to his cabin in the woods but escapes and runs away until she finally kills him. The cops learn of the malfeasance at the facility and lock up the administrator. 

Unsane has its moments of terror and anxiety-inducing drama but the film never delivers on the horror and the story just sort of plays out as expected. The gimmick of filming on the iPhone is cool at first but the fisheye lens feels overused and I feel like they could have done even more by strapping a smartphone to a fan or whatever. Still, I really like seeing Claire Foy expand her career as her ability to convey emotion with a simple facial expression is brilliant. I wish the film had delved more into horror but was still pretty entertained.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sports: MLB (Opening Day)

Baseball is back and while other sports are getting to their exciting times, we prepare for the long season ahead. This year will be my first playing fantasy baseball so I hope that will keep me more informed about individual players, at least the players on my fantasy team, but that didn't work too well for basketball or hockey. Every year I pick teams from each division to win and usually I'm pretty wrong but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop. 

National League
NL East
Unfortunately, the Washington Nationals still look like the favorites in this division as the Atlanta Braves continue to rebuild and suffer from roster moves that were against the rules. I don't think the Phillies, Marlins, and Mets will have a strong enough season to compete but I'd like this season to return to the dominance it once had. 

NL Central
After decades of droughts and rough years, the Cubs return as one of the best teams in the league. They nearly made it back to the World Series last year and I think that will continue this year as well. I'm not being very creative with my picks but I do think these teams will return to where they were at the top of their divisions. I'd like to see the Cincinnati Reds do something this year but I'm not sure that will happen yet. I always think of the Cardinals as a good team so maybe they'll get back into the chase while I don't think the Pirates and Brewers will be playing in October. 
NL West
The NL West could be full of surprises but I think the Dodgers have a chance to win it all this year. I'd like to buy a Los Angeles hat this year but they'll have trouble from the Giants who could come back strong. The Diamondbacks and Rockies had Wild Card spots last year so maybe they'll up their game and take this division by surprise. 
American League
AL East
The New York Yankees are going to be the best team in the American League this year and will face the NL team in the World Series. I don't like the Yankees so I'm rooting for the Orioles to take this division and maybe the Red Sox will show up and take the division like they did last year. The Blue Jays and Rays probably won't make many waves in the AL East.
AL Central
The Indians will continue to approach the World Series but fall short as they dominate the AL Central. They will probably change their logo before they actually win it all. The Chicago White Sox looked good and I used to root for them so I'd like them to take the division while the Royals don't look like they are returning to their dominance of a few years ago. The Tigers and Twins will continue to struggle, I think. 
AL West
The reigning champions and the team I will follow the closest should return to the playoffs though I don't think they'll beat New York. The Mariners have a long drought to face down and I'll have to be reminded the Athletics even exist. The Rangers and Angels have good players but not winning teams. 

The only thing consistent about my Opening Day picks is that they are usually wrong so we'll see how I turn out in October. I actually did OK predicting the winners last year but I totally whiffed on the Astros who took it home. I'll be wary of them this year but I think someone new will take it. I won't have a chance to write about this sport every month like I have in the past but I'll check in periodically to see how the season is going. I do like finding a game on nearly everyday. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sports: College Basketball (Elite Eight)

The fight to survive to the Final Four made for four games that ranged in intensity from overtime finales to surprise blowouts. The prominent Cinderella team stayed alive upsetting another team that had survived off an upset as well. The battle of the two biggest Blue Bloods remaining was the most exciting match of the tournament so far; I figured it would be. The top-ranked team of the year is still going strong but they'll face another number one team before they make it to the championship while a battle of the Big Ten champions against the underdog could spell a major surprise.

The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers took out the Kansas State Wildcats with dominant play including three-pointers and rebounds to just outplay their opponent. Loyola burned a trail of upsets through the South region and now have a chance to pull off an even greater upset. They've already taken out one third-ranked team so I feel like Michigan is a bit of an underdog against this team. I should have known Loyola was going to do something special back when they beat Florida right after they took Duke to the final seconds. I'm not rooting for the Ramblers but I think they'll win. 

The Big Ten champions Michigan Wolverines have gotten lucky at points but also had some impressive wins. Florida State took them to the last seconds and there was some controversy around their last-minute foul strategy that could have changed the outcome. The highest ranked team Michigan has beat to make it this far was Houston back in the second round but Texas A&M and the Seminoles were not easy opponents. I think Michigan is the weakest team in the Final Four but I'm rooting for them to win it all.
The Villanova Wildcats are the strongest team in the Final Four but it won't be easy to make it to the championship. They do have one of the best players of the year in Jalen Brunson and they made beating Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Alabama look easy. Villanova has a good chance again after winning the championship two years ago but I'm not rooting for them to take it. 

Kansas barely survived after a missed shot from Duke and overtime that cut into a pornstar dishing on the president. The Kansas Jayhawks have strengths of their own but they also have weaknesses that Villanova could exploit. Clemson and Seton Hall didn't give Kansas much a challenge but it was not a foregone conclusion that they would make it past Duke. They have survived to play another game but the Final Four may be there last. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Movie Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

The sequel to the monsters fighting robots film goes for a formulaic plot that feels oversimplified and somewhat dull despite some stunning action sequences. The film begins with more voiceover narration catching viewers up on the last ten years of recovery after the events of the first film. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) has declined to follow in his father's footsteps and instead works ransacking old jaeger junkyards for parts. During one such mission, he escapes thugs and meets Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Amara has built her own jaeger call Scrapper. It's much smaller than others and able to be piloted by one person. The authorities tracked jacked so the two salvagers go on the run in a decent little escape action scene that shows off Amara's pilot ability and Scrapper's rolling skills. The two fugitives are caught and imprisoned until Jake's older adopted sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) sends them to a military base.

Jake and Amara are greeted by Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) who has a history with Jake and leads the crew Amara will train with. Jaeger piloted by humans may be obsolete as Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) and her large corporation are developing drone piloted Jaegers with the help of Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day). As Amara struggles to fit in with her group, Jake is asked to pilot a Jaeger with Nate to oversee a test by the Shao corporation. Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) tries to ask for help on a new theory that the Kaiju blood could be used as fuel. The assessment in Sydney goes awry when a rogue Jaeger attacks and Jake is unable to save Mako, but Mako does leave a message that leads them to Siberia where they confront the rogue Jaeger only to find out that it is piloted by a Kaiju brain.

Geizler has continued to drift with a Kaiju brain and becomes the chief villain of the film as he has arranged for all the drones to help bring back the Kaiju. Three Kaiju make it through the rift before Shao is able to halt Geizler's plan. The Jaeger base was attacked but in a neat little montage, the characters build up four new ones for a final battle in Tokyo. The Kaiju are trying to make it to Mount Fuji where they will trigger the destruction of the world but the Jaegers head out to fight them off. I wasn't even sure this was going to be the final battle as there were only three Kaiju so I realized about halfway through the action that this would be it for this sequel that felt short. I'm almost haven't written enough words about this film yet so I'll come up with two more paragraphs.

The final fight does have some appealing moments as Geizler uses smaller Kaiju to build a giant Kaiju out of the dead bodies of the others. Most of the Jaegers are destroyed keeping with the usual battle in these two-movie series. Lambert is injured so Amara has to step in and help Jake out. They use Gottlieb's rocket fuel to launch into the air and fly back down just as Scrapper pulls them from the plummeting Jaeger and it smashes into the giant Kaiju saving the world from destruction. Geizler is still possessed by the Kaiju brain but Pentecost threatens Kaiju claiming that they be on the offensive in a possible sequel that I hope will be more interesting.

Pacific Rim: Uprising has some decent moments led by rising start John Boyega who is pretty funny and a great lead actor. Additional cast members are sort of hollow though Cailee Spaeny could improve if she continues to star in big roles while Scott Eastwood does not have the same talent as his father. The special effects would be stunning if this wasn't the case for every wannabe blockbuster that comes out around this time of year. I think Pacific Rim has done enough to push it to a trilogy but I wasn't totally sold on the first one and now this feels like a franchise that has outlasted its appeal. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

Monsters fighting robots make for a spectacular sci-fi action film from Academy Award winner Guillermo Del Toro. The story doesn't worry too much about a plot as some voiceover narration from Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) explains the arrival of the gigantic Kaiju from a rift beneath the ocean. Humans responded after killing the first Kaiju by building Jaegers, giant robots, but they require two people to pilot them by a neural bridge. This plot point is a little distracting from a simple plot but allows for some character development. The first part of the story shows Becket and his brother piloting a Jaeger to fight off a Kaiju under the command of General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). The battle goes awry and Becket watches his brother die as he is connected to his thoughts.

Years later, the Jaeger program has been scrapped and a wall is built to hold off the Kaiju though it is not as effective. The remaining Jaegers are stored at the Shatterdome in Hong Kong. Pentecost recruits Becket to help him save the world with one last plan to blow up the rift.  He introduces him to Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and the other Jaeger pilots including the father-son team Herc (Max Martini) and Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky). Becket also meets the two top scientific Kaiju researchers Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Geizler is obsessed with the kaiju even tattooing them on his arm. He has plans to drift with a kaiju while Gottlieb uses mathematics to predict a double event soon. 

Raleigh trains with other potential pilots to find one who is drift compatible. He decides that Mako is the ideal candidate but Pentecost refuses to let her, though he eventually concedes. They test their neural handshake but Raleigh has trouble getting comfortable which makes Mako fall into a memory of when she came face-to-face with a kaiju and Pentecost saved her. Geizler drifts with the kaiju and learns of their plans but the drift is a two-way street. Pentecost sends him to consult with Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) to obtain a larger kaiju brain. Hannibal abandons just as two kaijus attack. Pentecost does not let Mako and Becket go out to fight the kaiju but sends the other jaegers to take them out. These kaiju have evolved and work together to destory two of the jaegers and incapacitate the Hansens's jaeger with an EMP blast. Mako and Raleigh take their jaeger Gypsy Danger in the coolest fight of the film. 

Geizler survives even as the kaiju directly attacked him and he finds a kaiju baby that eats Hannibal Chau. He drifts with Gottlieb and they discover that the kaiju are sending three more to defend the rift from Pentecost's final attack. Herman breaks his arm in the kaiju attack so Pentecost, who is dying slowly as he constantly bleed from the nose due to radiation sickness, pilots the jaeger with Chuck that will carry the bomb. Pentecost and Chuck have to sacrifice themselves so that they can clear the way for Gypsy Danger to detonate it's nuclear core. The film ends happily with noble sacrifices and a final explosion that destroys the rift.

Pacific Rim was very enjoyable to revisit after the first few times I saw it. I remember being really tired when I saw it in the theater and nearly passing out so I'm kind of bummed that I didn't appreciate that experience. Charlie Hunnam's acting is a distraction but humor from Ron Perlman and Charlie Day and strong acting from Idris Elba help elevate the acting. The action is stunning and I want to watch this film again for the impressive battle scenes. I was worried that they were going to end the franchise before any sequels but now we know that's not the case. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

TV Show Review: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

In an interesting storytelling structure, the life of a crazed killer who sought to be someone special unfolds. Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) lives in a fancy house near Miami beach and lives a ritzy life when one day after shopping for magazines, he turns around at his gate and encounters Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). There is a debate as to whether Andre and Versace ever met before with the family adamantly denying it but the FBI claiming they did interact in San Francisco years before. The show creates a fictional night together and flashes back to it where they meet and flirt on an empty stage that could be taken as Andrew's fantasy or a real meeting. Versace's live-in boyfriend Antonio D'Amico (Ricky Martin) rushes out to find Versace bleeding out on their front steps as Andrew runs off to evade the police.

The film works backward as Andrew arrives at Miami Beach and begins to stalk Versace and take advantage of older gay men. Versace's sister Donatella (Penélope Cruz) warned Versace of the dangers of the world and has to deal with the fallout of the company after his death. Andrew meets another Ronnie (Max Greenfield) and together they search for ways to make money and drugs to take. Versace deals with the revelation that he is infected with HIV and his sister blames Antonio. The show puls away from the two main characters and uses other characters to explore Cunanan's insane murder spree. Marilyn Miglin (Judith Light) sells perfume on television and flies back home to her husband, the architect Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell) only to find him dead. The cops try to track Lee's car that Andrew stole but it gets leaked to the media and the killer abandons it.

Cunanan's murder spree began with Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock)who he was jealous of for his relationship with David Madson (Cody Fern). Andrew hit him over the head with a hammer and forced David to run with him. David confronts Andrew about all his lies and is murdered for it. As Versace comes out on national television, Jeff Trail is forced to leave the Navy because of his homosexuality. Jeff meets Andrew at a bar and starts to become comfortable with his feelings but Andrew sends an embarrassing letter to Jeff's parents when Andrew sees Jeff flirting with David. Before Andrew murdered these two young men, he took advantage of older men like Norman Blachford (Michael Nouri) who cuts Andrew off when he asks for more money. Before Norman, Andrew was in a relationship with another old man Lincoln Aston (Todd Waring), but Lincoln catches him spending money on David before he is murdered for being gay. Andrew witnesses this murder dispassionately. 

The show goes even further into the past of victim and murderer showing Versace's early passion for dressmaking and Andrew's upbringing. Andrew's father Modesto Cunanan (Jon Jon Briones) believes in the American dream and scams his way through stock fraud while being abusive to his wife Mary Ann (Joanna Adler). He dotes on Andrew convinces him that he is special. The finale returns to the days after the murder when Andrew hides out in a houseboat starving and watching the news coverage of Versace's funeral and the pursuit of him. As the SWAT team invades his house, he takes his own life.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace is a side story but a step down from the stellar first season of this wild series. The show focuses on the victims which was interesting but Darren Criss's excellent performance as Andrew Cunanan is just so disturbing to revisit week after week for nine episodes. I wanted to learn more about Versace and enjoyed Edgar Ramirez in the role but they only showed bits and pieces of his life leading up to his death. I had heard that they first attempted to do a series in New Orleans after Katrina but that got sidetracked. Still, this story was really interesting even if it can't live up to the previous season.

Movie Review: A Fantastic Woman

The winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film is a moving piece of cinema that tells a story not often seen on the big screen if ever. The movie deals with grief and bigotry and doesn't shy away from the more subtle forms of hate. Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) has a fun night out with her lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) and they are planning to go on a fun trip, though Orlando has misplaced the tickets. After making love and going to bed, Orlando wakes up with a bad headache. Marina takes him to the hospital but Orlando stumbles down the stairs as they are leaving. She makes it to the hospital but it is too late for Orlando who dies. Because Marina is not his family and the doctors are suspicious of her, they ask her to call one of Orlando's relatives and she leaves at a hurried pace. The police bring her back for questioning making a terrible situation even more traumatizing.

The shock of grief is sudden and it is clear that Marina is not sure how to deal with it. She has to go back to work as a waitress and Orlando's family starts to close in on his possession while keeping up a nasty air of suspicion. Orlando's ex-wife calls Marina demanding that she bring the car back. A sexual victims detective comes to her work and asks her questions about the bruises and cuts on Orlando wanting to know if Marina fought back against aggression. Marina's promises to call the detective later but she does not follow up while Orlando's son wakes her up and demands that she leave the apartment soon throwing in subtle accusations about Orlando's death.

The detective demands that she come into the police station and they subject her to embarrassing exposure to make sure she does not have any bruises on her arms. Orlando's family refuses to let Marina attend the wake or the funeral. She has an opera tutor that suffers from gout that she goes to in this time of trouble to hone her amazing singing voice. Orlando left his dog to Marina but his son takes it away and leaves the house a mess. Marina calls her sister who helps her move out but she is set on getting her dog back. She jumps out of the car and heads to the wake where he arrival is met with disgust and disdain. She is forced to leave but then Orlando's son and other relatives drive up and pull her into their car. They tape up her face and threaten her if she continues to show up to Orlando's memorial events.

They let her out and she wanders around the streets and finds a club. She hooks up with a man and then dances which turns into a dance number and an uplifting moment amid the negative events. She still insists on showing up at the funeral and even stomps on the family's car demanding the dog back. She sees the ghost of Orlando and follows him to where they are cremating his body. She is able to say goodbye before they burn his body. Life seems to fall into place somewhat for Marina after this incident. She gets the dog back and takes the stage with her beautiful singing voice.

A Fantastic Woman was a beautiful film with a moving story that expands the boundaries of filmgoers. I had not seen the film before the Academy Awards or I would have definitely chosen it as the winner. Daniela Vega is extraordinary in the main role and I hope this means many more roles for her in the future. I don't often get to see foreign films in the theater so I'm glad I took the time to watch this one while it was still available. I can't recall any other movie I've seen from Chile so seeing a movie set in Santiago is also interesting. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sports: College Basketball (Sweet Sixteen)

A second chance to guess the bracket right has proven futile for me as nearly every pick from the first night was wrong ensuring the left side of my bracket is covered in red Xs. Stunning upsets continue to happen in this especially strange year and a few teams are establishing themselves as the new dominant contenders. The results of this Sweet Sixteen are an Elite Eight that no one predicted but at least the right side of my bracket does have some semblance of predictability with two one-seed teams still going strong and their future games against a two-seed and a three-seed. It's always a weird feeling to go from days full of exciting basketball to just a few games left.

The South bracket has given me the most trouble and I don't think anyone saw Kansas State and Loyola-Chicago being the two Elite Eight teams coming out of this region. The Wildcats upset over Kentucky was heartbreaking as I stayed up late to watch the final threes not sink and a ton of missed free throws. Loyola continues its 11-seed Cinderella run with a strong win over Nevada and a chance at the Final Four. I'm sticking with Kansas State in this bracket.

Michigan showed that their SEC challenger Texas A&M was not up to the task of taking out the Big Ten champions. They won the game easily and move onto the Elite Eight against a 9-seed. Florida State has shocked me but reinforced the narrative of a strong ACC with a solid win over last year's runner-up Gonzaga late Thursday night. The Wolverines should be able to survive the Seminoles.

Villanova is reliving their run two years ago with a game that proved they are not a guest in these final games. Their win over West Virginia puts them into the Elite Eight against a Big 12 3-seed. I didn't manage to watch as much of the Texas Tech vs. Purdue game as I would have liked and was a little shocked at the upset even messing up the markings on my bracket because it was late at night. Texas Tech was always a strong presence in the Big 12 and I have overestimated Purdue several times but should have seen Red Raiders coming. Still, I think Villanova has what it take to make it to the Final Four. 

Setting up what could be one of the best games in the tournament. Kansas took out Clemson without too much trouble and Duke played a competitive match against Syracuse. The game between the Jayhawks and the Blue Devils could be a highlight of the tournament if they both bring their A-game. I am going with Kansas but wouldn't be surprised if Duke takes the whole tournament this year. 

TV Show Review: This Is Us (Season 2)

The moving NBC drama continues to deliver emotional moments and surprises in its second season. The Big Three celebrate their joint birthdays as each of them looks to start a new stage of their life. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) wants to adopt a baby to honor his late father's legacy but his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) suggest possibly an older child would be easier. Kate (Chrissy Metz) tries to audition as a singer but needs to practice more. She moves forward with her relationship with Toby (Chris Sullivan) as she opens up more about her father's death. In the past, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) struggles with alcoholism and there are hints about his death. Rebecca (Mandy Moore) copes with her husband's addiction and eventually with his death.

Kevin (Justin Hartley) struggles with an addiction of his own. He strives for fame and lowers himself to returning the "The Manny", the sitcom that he left under strenuous circumstances. Kevin lands a movie with Sylvester Stallone but he tries to cover up an injury. This injury leads him to a strong addiction to painkillers. His relationship with his childhood crush Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) is strained to the breaking point. More is revealed about the Pearson family as the flashbacks jump from their childhood trick-or-treating to their twenties. The Pearson family grows in several ways as Kate becomes pregnant but is afraid to share the news and Randall and Beth struggle to find a child to adopt. They find Déjà (Lyric Ross) who has a history of getting into trouble but they are willing to work with her.

In the past, Jack and Rebecca work to complete the adoption of Randall even as Rebecca deals with the judgement of her racist mother. Each one of the Pearson Big Three has an individual episode where they cope with their problems, Kevin's addiction, Kate's miscarriage and weight issues, and Randall's adoption. The mystery of how Rebecca and her second husband Miguel (Jon Huertas) reconnected starts to get revealed but the full romance after Jack will be saved for later seasons. The mystery of Jack's death is the real focal point of this second season and a seemingly unrelated story reveals the crockpot that short-circuited and started the fire. A Super Bowl special that I was too tired to stay up and watch that night provided the final explanation as Jack went back into the house to save the family dog and later died of smoke inhalation.

The season moves on as the three Pearson siblings address their grief a little more head on and start to cope with their sadness. Kevin goes to rehab, Kate and Toby plan a wedding and get a dog, while Randall takes on a new project as a landlord and works to help Déjà. The family still has drama but there are some happier beats in Vegas and with a wedding finale. The show does a great job with tearjerker moments but also has plenty of humor. There is an especially sweet episode with a crooked-ear cat that used to belong to Randall's real father that lead him to the rental property. The show has a lot still to learn and great characters to take it through the various stages of life.

This Is Us has captured something magical to bring me back to network television not just for comedies. While the story is a simple life drama, it manages to have great twists and turns The characters don't always make the greatest decisions but it is easy to see how they have grown and developed over the years with great characters playing each generation very well, especially Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown. The storytelling is something pretty remarkable as I would not have thought I would generally like a show like this one but I have found it to be one of the more entertaining shows to watch. I am a bit late getting my review out because there is just so much television to write about these days. I look forward to where this show will take the Pearsons in future seasons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sports: College Basketball (First & Second Round)

The path to the sweet sixteen is fraught with upsets, buzzer beaters, and predictable blowouts. All my brackets are already trashed as I expected especially this year where the top teams are so prone to sudden losses making upsets even more likely. Teams I thought were going to make it far have already been eliminated and teams I had never heard of are heading into the next round. The first four days of nearly non-stop basketball have been fun to watch as they lead to one team cutting down the nets.

The top right corner of the bracket was a little easier to predict while some things did catch me by surprise. Villanova took out the First Four winner Radford and followed that up with 9-see Alabama who got past Virginia Tech before elimination. The battle between two West Virginia teams was lopsided as West Virginia took out Murray St and Marshall upset against Wichita State. West Virginia didn't have much of a challenge from their in-state opponent Marshall.  Florida ended the run of another First Four team, St. Bonaventure but after Texas Tech beat Steph F. Austin, they took down the Gators too. Florida couldn't make the last two three-point attempts to save their season. I had Butler upsetting Arkansas and Purdue beating CSU Fullerton. Purdue should go far in this bracket after winning against Butler but Texas Tech won't go easily. 1-seed Villanova remains the top seed but they'll have to beat West Virginia and either Texas Tech or Purdue to make it to the final four.
The craziest side of the bracket made history this year when 1-seed Virginia lost to UMBC for a historic upset. I had a hard time believing that this had never happened before when I first heard this decades ago but of course, it's the year I picked Virginia, a top seed, to go all the way. Still, I'm rooting for the Kentucky Wildcats and the path has cleared for them after a win over Davidson. Kentucky's first challenge was supposed to be a 4-seed Arizona but a shocking upset from Buffalo put another double-digit seeded opponent in the Wildcats way to fall. Kansas State upset Creighton to take on UMBC, the furthest traveling 16-seed and win. The bottom part of the bracket had Loyola-Chicago magic as they took out Miami and then Tennessee who survived the first round against Wright State only to exit early. Cincinnati looked like they were traveling a normal 2-seed path but after they beat Georgia State they had a game nearly locked against Nevada. The Wolf Pack beat Texas and were nearly out against Cincinnati but a great comeback puts them into the Sweet Sixteen versus Loyola. 

Another crazy bracket saw Xavier take out their 16-seed opponent Texas Southern, a First Four survivor, and Florida State upsetting Missouri. This could have continued to make sense until the Seminoles upset the top seed in a great game. Below that Gonzaga moved through a 13-seed UNCG and 5-seed OSU to come out as a favored team. The bottom of the bracket saw Texas A&M power through Providence and the reigning champion UNC Tar Heels while Michigan topped Montana and Houston. The Big Ten Tournament Champions are the highest seed left in this region.
Finally, the exception to the rule in a chaotic tournament, this region came through a hundred percent for me in the first round but surprises like Syracuse over Michigan State and Clemson blowing out Auburn let me know the excitement is not done. Kansas and Duke could still be the top two seed surviving the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight but I'm still wary of upsets. 

I look forward to all of these games plus I'm celebrating because this is my thousandth post on this blog that I have done purely for amusement. I have a long way to go to improve my writing especially about sports as I do a very surface level analysis from very limited knowledge but I like to think this is working towards something just like these teams are working through these tough brackets. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Movie Review: Tomb Raider

With the previous films in the franchise stalling after the first sequel, the video games adaptation returns to copy a reboot that the games went through as well. Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is young and inexperienced trying to train to be a better fighter and skilled at tasks like biking at dangerous speeds. She is haunted by the memory of her father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) who mysteriously went missing. Lara ends up in jail and Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) bails her out. Ana needs Lara to sign a will that admits her father is dead and passes on his wealth. Lara is reluctant to admit her father is dead without proof and forgets to sign the papers when the lawyer pulls out a puzzle that links to clues as to her father's secret quest to find Himiko, a deadly Japanese queen. 

Lara figures out that her father employed a man named Lu Ren so she heads to Hong Kong. She is harassed by three young boys who try to steal her bag but she chases them down so they attack her. She makes it to the boat where Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) scares off the kids with a gun. Lu Ren tells Lara that is was his father that took her father. Lara convinces him to go along with her to the coordinates her father left. They ship out as Lara continues to scan her father's research. The ship hits rocks and Lara and Lu Ren have to abandon ship and split up. Lara starts to exhibit some of her impressive survival skills by jumping onto the rocks. She is captured by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who explains that he is searching for something and her father's journal contained the last crew.

Lara and Lu Ren are enslaved by Vogel's men and forced to work to dig up the entrance to Himiko's tomb. Lu Ren prepares a shovel and hits one of Vogel's henchmen giving Lara a chance to run. She sprints away from the gunfire as Lu Ren takes a bullet. Lara jumps into a river and is thrown about by the rapids until she manages to catch onto an old plane wing before she slips down a waterfall. She manages to survive by pulling out an old parachute but she gets a tree limb stabbed through her side. She fights off an attacker and sees a strange figure helping her. Chasing him down, Lara finds her father Richard though he believes she's a hallucination. After a night to heal, Lara leaves her father, a move that I was a bit confused by since she was solely here to find him. However, her friends are more important so she shows off her bow skills and frees Vogel's slaves. 

Richard wants to stop Vogel from unleashing the deadly Himiko disease so he refuses to open the tomb door but Lara agrees to open it. They head down into the tomb and Lara helps them avoid the spike traps though some of the crew get killed. The floor falls away but Lara solves the mystery moving them on to the actual gravesite. Himiko carries a deadly disease that starts to kill crewmembers so Vogel stashes some and makes off instructing his men to kill Richard and Lara. They battle over the dead body and Richard is infected. Lara wants him to come with her but he tells her to run as he blows up the tomb. Lara fights Vogel and slams the diseased figure down his throat before she jumps to safety.

Tomb Raider tries to bring the video game series back to the screen and has some mild success. Box office numbers don't look good for a sequel which is why it is tough that a big reveal at the end hints at a larger conspiracy by the Trinity organization that may never happen. These franchise films often put off the good stuff for further installments which don't happen because of poor box office performances. I liked the game reboot and Alicia Vikander looks like she has a ton of fun with the character. I didn't mind Dominic West as the father but when he showed up alive, I thought that was a little too cheesy and uncalled for. Writers of these films don't often let Lara Croft fight the battles on her own. I was tired when I saw it so the lagging plot almost put me to sleep a few times. I'll probably revisit it if they ever have a sequel. 

Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life

While the successful video game franchise had a ton of sequels, the film series only managed to have one. Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) returned for another tomb raiding adventure that follows the Greek myth of the Cradle of Life. A series of earthquakes triggers the curiosity of treasure hunts including Croft who seek out a lost tomb that has a strange glowing orb. Just as Croft has come to possess the orb, a group of attackers shoots her companions with harpoons and attacks her making her drop the orb and escape. She barely survives when Bryce (Noah Taylor) and Hillary (Chris Barrie) rescue her with a submarine. Lara Croft returns home frustrated and taking her anger out in training when MI6 approaches her about a new mission. A villainous biological weapons dealer Jonathan Reiss (Ciarán Hinds) seeks to possess the deadly Cradle of Life and the secret agency wants to stop him.

Lara Croft seeks out the help of the prisoner Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) who has secret knowledge. Together, the couple uses a jet glider and a parachute into China. They pick up weapons from an old Chinese lady and then bike down the Great Wall and up into the mountains where Terry knows of a gang of antiquities dealers. The gang leader Chen Lo (Simon Yam) attacks Lara while Terry gets beat up by his fat henchman. Lara beats the information out of Chen Lo and escapes the cavernous compound with Terry by sliding down ropes and shooting the gang members. In Shanghai, it is revealed that Lara and Terry had a romantic relationship that ended badly when Terry abandoned his post. 

Lara Croft sabotages the deal between Jonathan Reiss and the gang that has the orb. They fight across the rooftops as Reiss's henchman Sean (Til Schweiger) shoots at Lara. Despite her best efforts, Reiss makes off with the orb. Lara and Terry track Reiss to a tower where they are researching the orb's properties. A shootout ensues and Lara makes it to the orb transferring information to Bryce and Hillary. Sean captures Lara, and Reiss reveals his plan to sell the deadly disease to his buyers but then develop an antidote so he can pick who lives in the new world. Terry shoots at them freeing Lara and the two of them take an elevator to the top of the building. They don winged suits and jump from the rooftop gliding to a boat and away from Hong Kong.

Aboard the boat, Terry and Lara flirt and make out but Lara handcuffs Terry to the bunk to interrogate him. Lara ditches Terry and finds a place to transfer the remaining images to Bryce. The resulting tones cause the ord to display images of an African country and a hidden cave. Sean and Reiss are holding Bryce hostage so they follow Lara's conclusion to Africa as well. Lara meets up with Kosa (Djimon Honsou) and they speak with a tribe about the dangerous cave. Reiss shows up and puts a gun to Lara's head. They venture into the cave and find a strange forest. Monsters attack Reiss's soldiers as they jump in and out of the stone. Lara realizes they react to movement and manages to drop the orb down a hole to stop the monsters. They proceed into a cave that does not obey the laws of gravity. Terry has employed Bryce and Hillary to help him pursue Lara and Reiss. The box floats on a pool of acid but Lara escapes Reiss and fights him as Terry pulls the box out of the acid pool. Reiss falls into the pit of acid but then Terry wants the box. Lara makes the difficult decision to shoot Terry and return the box to the acid.

The Cradle of Life is a decent sequel if standards are lowered significantly compared to the first film and other movies based on video games. This film ended the series as led by Angelina Jolie who seems more comfortable in the role. It is weird that they decided to give her another male partner and can't just have her operating on her own through most of the action scenes. There is a bit of humor of the film which is nice and the action was somewhat surprising though once again the effects look somewhat ridiculous. They don't rely on them quite as much for this one and while the film isn't great, it is enjoyable to revisit these many years later.  

Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

The first attempt to bring Tomb Raider to the screen was a corny, action-packed adventure with special effects that have not held up well over time, though the sets still look cool. The film begins with Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) training against a robot that is programmed by her tech-savvy assistant Bryce (Noah Taylor). She shows off her skills with her iconic dual pistols and flips through the crumbling wreckage of a faux ruin inside her mansion. Her butler Hillary (Chris Barrie) helps Bryce clean up the mess. Late at night, she hears the ticking of a clock and finds a hidden compartment left behind by her late father Lord Richard Croft (Jon Voight). 

Lara heads to an auction to speak with an old professor about the mysterious clock but runs into Alex West (Daniel Craig) who has a history with her. The old professor recommends that she seek out Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), a member of the Illuminati, though the professor regrets it later. Lara takes the clock to the lawyer Powell but he claims not to have any idea where the clock is from. That night, Lara trains on a bungee cord in her main hall when a squad of armed men attacks her mansion. She fights them off in a decent little action scene with a clever twist but they manage to make off with the clock.

Lara follows the trail to Cambodia where she finds Alex West is working with Manfred Powell. They attempt to take advantage of a planetary alignment but Lara stops them before they make a mistake. She swings on a pillar and bursts open a tank of liquid that awakes stone monkeys and monsters. They attack Powell's men and Lara who shoot their way out of it. Lara is attacked by a giant god stone creature with many arms and manages to destroy it with the pillar. Lara steals the half of the piece of a special triangle and jumps off a waterfall when Alex West threatens to shoot her. After recovery in a monastery, Lara confronts Powell at the seat of the Illuminati where Powell tells Lara of her father's membership. Distressed by this news and in denial, Lara agrees to join Powell on their excursion to Siberia where the second piece of the triangle is location. 

They find the hidden location with spinning globes. Lara and Alex race to climb the contraption and find the missing piece. Lara disappears inside only to return a few moments later with the missing piece. An Illuminati leader takes the piece and stages a ceremony but Powell commands his men to shoot him and takes the piece for himself though when he puts them together, nothing happens. Powell knows Lara has the answer so he throws a knife into Alex West's chest killing him. Lara agrees to help Powell to save Alex's life so she pulls out a special stone and fits it into the piece. She has to race Powell to the top of a pyramid and then she is freed from time. She confronts her father about the Illuminati and slows down time to stop the knife from killing Alex. Powell reveals that he killed her father so she fights him in hand-to-hand combat and wins. Lara Croft escapes using sled dogs as the tomb collapses.

Mimicking the video games corny atmosphere was not the best decision while the plot is predictable and does not follow any standard video game. Angelina Jolie is fine as the titular hero but the acting is nothing special. Iain Glen always puts his passion into these cheesy villains while Daniel Craig's work has led to him becoming a successful franchise leader himself. The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel but the way the film was perceived doomed any future success. I wasn't totally impressed with the film but have enjoyed the video games and didn't mind revisiting the film for the reboot. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Movie Review: The Strangers: Prey at Night

The murderous threesome returns nearly a decade later to terrorize an unsuspecting family. Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and her husband Mike (Martin Henderson) are struggling with their daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) who has been misbehaving and getting into trouble. They plan to send her to a boarding school so they pack up the car and force her brother Luke (Lewis Pullman) to come along. They plan to drive through most of the day and stop at a trailer park owned by Cindy's uncle but the prologue scene shows the old couple being advanced on by the masked killers. After some arguments and a stop at a diner, they arrive at the trailer park office late at night and pick up the key to their trailer. There is a note supposedly from the uncle telling them that they'll see them in the morning though the note has a creepy smiley face drawn on it as does the mailbox outside the trailer.

The family settles into the trailer as Mike suggests that they put away their phones so that they can spend some time together. A knock on the door comes from a woman shrouded in shadow. The woman asks for Tamra but then walks off when they tell her she has the wrong house. Cindy is freaked out about the disturbing visit and Mike notices the bulb was twisted off. They start to play a game when Cindy argues with Kinsey who runs off away from the trailer since she doesn't want to be lectured by her parents. Fend up with her attitude the parents tell Luke to follow her and try to communicate with her. The woman returns to knock on the trailer and runs off again so the parents head out to find their kids. Luke and Kinsey explore the trailer park and find an open trailer. They find some liquor but hear a sound in the bedroom. A dog was locked in the room with two figures covered by a sheet. Luke pulls the sheet off to reveal two dead bodies.

The kids run back and collide with the parents. Mike makes the terrible decision to split up. Cindy and Kinsey head back to the trailer while Mike and Luke investigate the dead body further. Cindy and Kinsey are attacked by a woman with a doll mask and they hide in the bathroom. Mike and Luke find the dead body but someone starts throwing something at the windows. They peek outside and see the sack-head figure standing there. The doll-faced woman breaks into the bathroom as Kinsey climbs out the roof. Cindy is stabbed to death. Kinsey takes off running in terror. Mike finds a gun in the trailer and fires off warning shots but their tormentor is nowhere in sight. 

Mike and Luke return to the trailer to find Cindy's dead body. Swallowing their grief, they take the minivan and search for Kinsey but something hits their car and Mike swerves into a trailer. A piece of wood pierces the windshield and goes through Mike. The father encourages his son to leave and find his daughter so Luke reluctantly agrees. The masked killer sits next to Mike and plays music until he stabs him in the throat. Kinsey runs from the killers but is attacked by one of the women killers until Luke shows up and makes her back off at gunpoint though I thought they should have shot her right then. Kinsey is injured from the attack and they retreat to another trailer to tend to her wounds.

The masked man drives his truck through the trailer and the two kids flee. Luke tells Kinsey to hide since she can't walk and he goes to the main office to try to call for help. He manages to call the police but the phone is cut off and the killers attack him. He kills one of the women when the masked man attacks him. They fight in the pool until the man stabs Luke. Kinsey helps him out of the pool and hides him. She takes off running for the main road when a car drives towards her. A policeman gets out and asks her what is wrong when he gets his throat cut. Kinsey manages to get the shotgun from the cop car and shoots the killer woman. The masked man crashes the truck into the cop car but Kinsey escapes and lights the leaking gas to cause an explosion. Kinsey manages to escape and live. Though her brother is injured, Luke lives too. The Strangers: Prey at Night is not as bad a sequel as I thought. It has some decent horror though it does suffer from characters making poor decisions. I liked that the victims fought back in this film.   

Movie Review: The Strangers

Utter dread and terror permeate this simple film about a home invasion that is chilling and sickening. Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) have a fraught relationship after they leave a wedding to spend the night at James's father's cabin. James calls his friend Mike (Glenn Howerton) to pick him up in the morning because the couple is arguing. They are starting to make up when a loud knock on the door disturbs them. James answeres the door to find a girl shrouded in shadow. She asks if Tamra is there but the couple tell her that she has the wrong house. She takes the news quietly and walks away. James notices that the light outside had been unscrewed so he twists it back on. They lock the door thoroughly spooked by this woman's strange behavior as they thought that they were alone in this area. 

James starts a fire but then goes off to buy a pack of cigarettes leaving Kristen alone. The chimney is not open and smoke causes the fire alarm to go off. As Kristen tries to turn it off, she hears another knock at the door leaving the alarm unattended on the ground. The same girl is on the other side of the door and Kristen yells at her to go away. She calls James from the house phone as her cell still needs to charge. She is scared by the fact that her phone and the smoke alarm have been moved and she grabs a knife. She does not notice a strange man with a sack over his head standing nearby in one of the more terrifying scenes. 

She does see figures standing outside and is terrorized by banging all around the house. The front door opens and she sees a woman with a doll mask staring at her outside. She hides in the bedroom until James returns. He does not believe her at first but starts to see strange things including someone running around in the woods. He threatens a woman who slashes his tires but receives no response. The cell phones have had their batteries stolen so they cannot contact anyone for help. They try to leave in the car but a different woman slams into their car with a truck totaling it. The couple runs back into the house where James finds his father's shotgun.

The attackers put on a country music record and turn up the music making it hard to hear people moving around. As James and Kristen hide in the bedroom, Mike arrives and realizes something is wrong. He walks into the house and tries to talk to James but is shot in the head by accident. The murder of his friend crushes James but he knows there is a way to communicate to the outside world. A radio in the barn is their best option so James heads out with the shotgun and tries to shoot one of the women when he is attacked by the sack man. Kristen tries to radio for help but one of the women smashes the radio and then knocks her unconscious. They wake up in the morning with the killers watching them. The killers take their time killing them and leave the carnage behind for two young boys to find a little while later. Kristen is still alive and the film ends with her screaming.

The Strangers does a good job creating a dreadful environment and using simple camera positioning and scenarios to create horror. The sack-headed villain is a terrifying villain along with his two female companions that harass this unsuspecting couple. I have a vague memory of this coming out but it is still surprising to see Liv Tyler and I was really shocked to see Glenn Howerton considering his career has primarily been in comedy. I found the film to be pretty simple yet a solid horror movie that didn't really need to spawn a sequel but these many years later, one has arrived at the door like an unknown person knocking on the door. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

TV Show Review: Crashing (Season 2)

The quest to make it as a successful comedian continues in the hilarious second season of this HBO show. Pete (Pete Holmes) is still forced to crash on various comedians couches after his wife Jess (Lauren Lapkus) cheated on him with Leif (George Basil) and asked for a divorce. Unfortunately, Pete is such a forgiving and nice guy that he is staying with Leif for the time being. Pete is still trying to make it as a comedian serving his time barking on the corner. Hanging around one comedy club, Pete runs into Penn Jillette who makes him question his faith. Pete manages to get a job opening for Dr. Oz. Leif stops by to take him out for a day of relaxation and appreciation of life. While Pete is often a pushover, Leif finds a unique way to connect with others and often gets his way as he gives advice to strangers.

Still, Pete cannot get over his wife as he refuses to take off his wedding ring or abandon it even as Leif's bag containing accidentally gets mistaken for a bomb. Bill Burr pities him and when Artie Lange bails on their dinner, Bill takes him home to his wife and kid. Pete still acts strange as Bill tries to make him a little more masculine. Bill takes Pete golfing where they riff on comedy but then Pete records it and posts it on Instagram, which leads to a new controversy that bothers Pete more than Bill who kicks him out. Success remains elusive as Pete takes a job at Coldstone Creamery.

A fellow comedian Porter (Henry Zebrowski) finds success on HBO and when Pete is brutally honest with him, it drives him to kill it on stage. Peter is offered representation from a potential manager (Zach Cherry). Pete also becomes aware of the alternative scene and runs into a comedian he has seen at some of the clubs. Ali Reissen (Jamie Lee) is standoffish but as they tour the clubs together she encourages him to develop his act but he ruins one of her recordings by talking too loudly. He also embarrasses himself when he asks a more successful comedian John Mulaney to delay his set so that Ali can go up. Artie Lange copes with his addiction to heroin while Pete tries to help him and throw a benefit for another comedian with Artie as the headliner. Unfortunately, Artie blows off the show so Pete has to find other comedians to fill in.

Pete gets a taste of his potential when he comes up with a corny joke at NACA, a college event planning convention. Ali is dating him now but also trying to find success as well, though she doesn't Pete books several colleges with the help of his manager but hides his success from Ali so as not to make her feel bad. Pete reluctantly participates in a roast battle. Even though a bunch of embarrassing information gets aired out about Pete, he manages to find insulting things to say back and advances through the bracket. He encounters Ali and she says some harsh things about him as he responds back with witty insults. Pete ends up winning but he feels offended by what she said and confronts her about it. They end up breaking up at the end of the finale. 

Crashing has a lot to keep me around and for some reason no matter how many of these shows about comedians are produced, I still tune in. I like the jokes even though I don't always find Pete Holmes that funny, the other comedians make up for it. The idea keeps a steady roster rotating through but the addition of Jamie Lee as a somewhat regular this season helped to make a more continuous plot that engaged me this season. Zach Cherry is really funny as the manager too. Pete's awkward behavior always gets him into trouble and I look forward to where he goes in the next season. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Movie Review: Thoroughbreds

This strange psychological thriller has a slow build as the two main characters build a friendship in peculiar circumstances. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) does not feel any emotions so she finds it odd that wealthy Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) invites her over to help tutor her. Lily claims she isn't being paid but Amanda has her mother's email password so is aware of the negotiations. Still, Lily invites her back over after their awkward first session and this time she does refuse pay. It becomes apparent that they do have history but grew apart due to troubling events in Amanda's past. Hints start to reveal what Amanda was doing with a horse in the mysterious initial scene. They start to hang out more watching movies until late into the night when Amanda's stepdad Mark (Paul Sparks) notices her and asks how late she is staying.

Amanda immediately picks up that Lily hates her stepfather and proposes that she kill him. Lily is upset by this suggestion and avoids Amanda who does some digging to learn that many of the things Lily told her were lies. Lily decides to reunite with Amanda when she finds herself being shipped off to a boarding school after being expelled from her last school for plagiarism. Her stepfather is somewhat abusive towards her mother so she takes out her anger by loosening one of his bike wheels which results in an accident but only leaves him with some scratches. Mark also has the nasty and annoying habit of juicing and constantly using a machine similar to a rowing machine that creates a grating sound throughout the house at all hours of the day.

Amanda and Lily talk about the plot and decide that they need to have airtight alibis. Amanda also reveals that she emotionlessly killed her horse when she knew it was dying. Lily had encountered a strung out high school dropout drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) and decides to seek him out. Amanda pushes him to get to the truth about his situation and finally reveals that he does own a gun. They take him back to Lily's house where he pulls the gun out in a threatening manner until Amanda hits him over the head with a vase. Tim quickly reveals that he lives with his dad and the two girls blackmail him into agreeing to kill Mark. They take his gun and tell him it will be in a grill near the house on the night that they both have trips planned. 

Mark notices a sensor light going off but Lily is shocked when he shows up at the spa to surprise her and her mother. Lily continues to get lectured by Mark and decides to take the plan into her own hands but Amanda talks her out of it. They stay away from each other for a while but then one night Lily calls Amanda over to watch an old movie. They are sipping screwdrivers when Lily tells Amanda that she drugged her drink. Amanda seems concerned at first when Lily reveals her plan that she would kill her father and make Amanda take the fall but then Amanda chugs the drink. She passes out and Lily goes through with the plan killing her stepfather. Amanda takes the blame but feels pretty happy with her life in a psych ward while Lily continues on with her life awkwardly running into Tim at the end.

This movie has some great scenes by two actresses that will be huge stars in the future if they continue their meteoric careers. The film has an extra air of despair as the loss of the brilliant talent of Anton Yelchin is devastating and it is evident how tremendous an actor he was from this performance alone. The film slowly draws viewers in but the payoff is pule pounding enough that it makes it worthwhile. The back and forth between Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke makes the scenes very entertaining and the climax even more shocking. I enjoyed this indie film quite a bit and would like to see more like it. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Movie Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Disney's latest fantasy adaption tries to cover up the lack of plot with a ton of special effects but is still a dull film. Meg (Storm Reid) was raised to be a scientific genius under the tutelage of her two incredibly smart parents Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine). Unfortunately, a lot of this is shown by throwing out random science words and doesn't do much to explain or excite the viewer about actual science. The scientist parents have some unique theories and Dr. Alex Murry goes missing after supposedly coming up with a big discovery just as they adopted a new child Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). His two names are repeated over and over throughout the film. I have not yet revisited the books but the complicated dialogue does not translate well to the screen especially for the young actors.

Meg, we are told, is unpopular and bullied so she lashes out but her friend Calvin (Levi Miller) sees her in a different light. Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) just shows up without any sort of lead up, though Charles Wallace seems to be expecting her. She is asked to leave by Kate but promises to come back. Charles Wallace takes Meg to Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) who can only quote others and where strange glasses. Finally, they meet Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the most powerful warrior. The world has this curtains that only take thought or something and Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace transport to a flower world. They run around and Mrs. Whatsit turns into a leaf and flies around with the kids until a dark thing threatens them.

The flowers tell them that Meg's father went to a dangerous world so they transport again to a crystal place where Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) helps Meg see her true strength. They move on from their to the dangerous world but the three warrior women cannot stay. The terrible world has a neighborhood with strange kids and moms and beaches with Red (Michael Peña) who takes away Charles Wallace. Meg and Calvin have to run from a tornado and Meg uses science to get away. 

Charles Wallace becomes possessed by the evil thing known as It and Meg has to reason with him to find her father. They can't leave without Meg's little brother so she ventures into the dark place and yells at him about love until he cracks and she came pull him out free. They are almost in trouble but the women warriors return and save them from trouble. They are transported back home and Dr. Murry reunites with his family.

A Wrinkle in Time is overly corny and almost has no sense to its plot. The acting is terrible even from veteran actresses and it is too much to ask for Storm Reid to carry the blockbuster on her own. Ava Duverney does not adapt well to the big budget and while the special effects looked decent there really wasn't so much vision to the film that it took cinema to another level. Disney has tried to start several new franchises but this looks like another false start. 

TV Show Review: The Tick

The spoof superhero returns to the small screen after an animated series and another short-lived live action series. The new series comes at a different time both for superheroes and television as the streaming service Amazon Prime is able to release six short episodes at once and allow viewers to take in the content at their leisure. The show begins with an investigation led by Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman). He is on the trail of the vicious supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) who killed his father when he was young. Everyone believes The Terror was killed by the iconic hero Superian (Brendan Hines) but they only found his teeth. His sister Dot (Valorie Curry) wants her brother to stay out of trouble but Arthur is convinced he has found something. His trail leads him to a weapons depot run by the criminal Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez). 

The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) enters the depot and takes out the criminals with his super strength his skin that is impervious to bullets. He retrieves a mysterious package from the depot and brings it to Arthur who he met before he went in. Inside the package is a new super suit that fits itself to Arthur when he tries it on. Ramses IV (Michael Cerveris) sends his henchmen with Ms. Lint to retrieve the suit and the Tick fights them off. Arthur escapes but is attacked again when Overkill (Scott Speiser) brutally murders all the criminals and tries to take the suit from Arthur. Overkill leaves when the cops arrive and arrest Arthur. He manages to get out due to claiming he has a secret identity and Dot comes to pick him up. She warns him against hanging around superheroes but Ms. Lint invades his apartment and takes the suit. Overkill attacks Arthur at his work and has to settle for his research on the Terror since the suit is missing.

The Tick fights Overkill but loses. Arthur is pulled from the chaos into his stepfather's birthday party but his brief peace doesn't last long as Tick crashes the party and then Ms. Lint after she realizes Arthur is the only one who can fit in the suit. Arthur fights Ms. Lint and his suit takes him flying. Dot and the Tick have to work together to catch Arthur. Overkill also shows up as does Ramses IV with his crew, the Pyramid gang. An impressive firefight breaks out and Overkill and the Tick take down the bad guys. In the midseason finale, Arthur and the Tick become celebrities as they save a bus full of people in a fight with the Pyramid gang and Arthur ends up captured by the Terror.

With the help of the Tick and Overkill, Dot searches for her brother. Arthur is freed from the cell where the Terror is keeping him by Ms. Lint and he runs into Dr. Karamazov (John Pirkis) who has shrunk down but has Arthur's suit. Just as they are escaping, Overkill, the Tick, and Dot invade the underground lair only to find explosives. The Terror launches his new plan which involves a giant man who has crystals that hurt Superian while he takes back control of a cola company. Arthur and the Tick follow the clues by Midnight and other superhero secrets. A plan comes together and with the help of Dr. Karamazov, Arthur takes down the Very Large Man, VLM. The Tick helps destroy the Terrors ship but Superian comes in to save the day. 

The Tick is an enjoyable enough show with very short episodes making it easy for a few nights of bingeing. Splitting it into smaller segments threw me off as it suddenly ended for a few months and I had mostly forgotten the first half by the time the second came around. There are some good jokes and Jackie Earle Haley is great as the raspy-voiced villain. The Tick is a silly character and the show embraces their absurd premise while also taking on the tropes of superheroes. Amazon has yet to really hit it with original series with their best comedies getting canceled while their dramas have been mostly boring. The Tick is one of their best properties so I'm curious where it will go if it gets a few more seasons. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sports: College Basketball (Conference Tournaments)

College basketball is about to get really interesting and unfortunately, this is my first time checking in on what has been a pretty exciting season. From the state of my conference brackets, I am not going to do well this year, as always, but this year is especially unpredictable with clear frontrunners falling in surprising upsets throughout the year. I have a few teams that I would like to see go far but I will have to roll the dice on a lot of picks. The conference tournaments give me a chance to watch teams I may have not seen before and get a better idea of who might be this year's champion. 

Big Ten Tournament
The Big Ten tournament started a week early so they could use the same stadium as another conference. Featuring the second place team in the nation Michigan State, the competition was high though I'm curious if any of these teams will make it into the Final Four. I picked Purdue to make it all the way and they did well making it passed a surging Rutgers and then defeating Penn State to make it to the Big Ten championship. Michigan survived overtime against Iowa and moved on to take out Nebraska. They were on a collision course with Michigan State took out Wisconsin in their first game. In a surprising upset, Michigan beat Michigan State to head to the finals. Michigan took the championship for another year beating Purdue 75-66.

ACC Tournament
The ACC is stacked with great teams so the tournament was full of competitive matchups. Probably the biggest surprise in this bracket was Boston College taking out Georgia Tech, then NC State before being stopped by Clemson. I had Notre Dame ending their run at Duke after beating Pitt and Virginia Tech. Syracuse passed Wake Forest but then fell to last years National Champions North Carolina. The Tar Heels made a run through Miami and Duke all the way to the ACC Championship. Virginia beat Louisville after the Cardinals took out Florida State. They then beat Clemson and defeated North Carolina in the championship 71-63.
SEC Tournament
I had no idea what would happen in this tournament but wanted either Florida or Kentucky to make it all the way. I did pick Georgia to make a run until they got stopped at Kentucky while Alabama surprised me with an upset over Auburn. In the bottom of the bracket, my predicted South Carolina run was stopped short by Arkansas who went on to defeat the Florida Gators. Mississipi State didn't make it beyond their game against Tennessee who took out Arkansas. Kentucky beat Alabama and came through with a big win against Tennessee 77-72 in the SEC Championship.

Big 12 Tournament
I was operating under the impression that Kansas might hold something back for the big tournament where they have usually started as a high seed but not come through in a few years. However, this year they beat Oklahoma State who benefited from the great fall of Oklahoma. Kansas then took out the in-state rival Kansas State who beat TCU. Texas beat Iowa State but then lost to Texas Tech. West Virginia beat Baylor, then Texas Tech to face Kansas in the Big 12 Championship. Kansas asserted their dominance with an 81-70 over West Virginia.

Big East Tournament
I don't normally pay attention to the Big East conference but with two teams in the top three, I decided I'd check it out. I predicted a top matchup between Villanova and Xavier but Providence had other plans. Xavier did make it past St. Johns before losing to Providence who beat Creighton before. Villanova beat Marquette and then Butler who upset Seton Hall. The Big East championship was a great competitive game that went into overtime with Villanova eventually triumphing 76-66.

PAC-12 Tournament
The PAC-12 only has one team that is guaranteed a spot in the tournament but I still thought some upsets might happen. The first mess up in my bracket cam from Oregon State upsetting Washington. Other than that top-ranked teams moved ahead leading to Arizona facing UCLA and USC taking on Oregon. I was wrong about anyone stopping Arizona despite the controversy of their coach being caught on tape by the FBI. Arizona beat UCLA and USC to take the PAC-12 title.