Saturday, March 17, 2018

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.

Movie Review: Death Wish

A violent remake from Eli Roth may come off as insensitive though it tries to not appear too pro-gun. Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a calm surgeon who is celebrating his happy family life with his daughter Jordan (Camila Monroe) who is graduating from high school and his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue). A valet snaps a picture of their address on their GPS as they schedule another celebratory dinner with Dr. Kersey's brother Frank (Vincent D'Onofrio). When Paul gets an unexpected call from the hospital, the dinner is canceled and he leaves his wife and daughter alone. They plan to make a cake for him when three robbers invade their home. Jordan and Lucy fight back and are shot. Dr. Kersey learns of his family's tragedy when their bodies arrived at the hospital. His wife dies and his daughter is left in a coma.

Detectives Kevin Raines (Dean Norris) and Leonore Jackson (Kimberly Elise) were aware of a string of robberies but currently don't have any leads. They tell Paul to have faith that the investigation will break at some point but the doctor is impatient with their slow progress. He continues to get an up-close look at the violence in Chicago as it is his job to help shooting victims. He decides to learn about purchasing a gun but doesn't buy one from the eager store clerk Bethany (Kirby Bliss Blanton) when he learns that the bullets can be traced back to his purchase. A gunshot victim comes into the ER and Dr. Kersey takes his gun that dropped unnoticed in the operating room. He stalks the streets looking for trouble and ends up stopping a car accident though he split open his hand when the slide shoots back. A viral video earns him the name Grim Reaper.

Another gunshot victims come in and Paul learns it is the same valet. He takes Miguel's phone from the evidence bag. Using the dead man's thumb, he unlocks the phone and finds his address being sent out. He tracks the messages to a pawnshop with a bar in the back. The pawnshop owner warns his friend The Fish (Jack Kesy) and tries to attack Paul, but Dr. Kersey turns the table with a dart and his weapon. The owner is shot by the Fish in the head and Paul shoots The Fish in the leg. He learns of Joe (Ronnie Gene Blevins) who owns an auto shop. The Fish almost kills Paul but a bowling ball falls and saves Dr. Kersey's life. Paul heads to the auto shop and uses his surgeon skills to torture information out of Joe to learn about Knox (Beau Knapp), a mysterious murderer.

The detectives are actively investigating the Grim Reaper murder and are starting to think it is Frank who is responsible for the murders. Jordan wakes up from her coma to the distressing news of her mother's death. A mysterious phone call warns Dr. Kersey and tells him to meet at a nightclub. Paul goes to the club and starts a shootout wounding Knox who goes to the hospital. Frank confronts Paul about the collection of guns but can't convince him to give up his crazed path. Knox is discharged at the same time as Jordan and threatens the Kerseys on their way out. Paul prepares for invasion when Knox and two thugs show up at the house. Dr. Kersey uses his collection including a new gun to take out the robbers. Detective Raines decides to not look too closely into the strange story that Dr. Kersey tells.

Death Wish has a lot of problems and is a mediocre film at best. The film has some decent action and tries to avoid controversy by showing the complicated nature of guns. Bruce Willis has always been one of my favorite actors but his quality of films has not always been great. Eli Roth has not made many good movies and I only caught this one in theaters due to seeing most of the other films. I went in with very low expectations so that the film being only partially good was a pleasant enough surprise for me. Supporting actors like D'Onofrio and Norris make the surrounding scenes a little better but the films has more flaws than it can make up for. 

Academy Awards 2018

I enjoy award shows mostly because they lead me to new films that I can watch later. I saw most of the films in the major categories so I had a pretty decent idea of what films got nominated and had followed enough trends to see where the momentum was leading. I didn't do great on my predictions going just under fifty percent but it was mostly due to bad guesses in categories like Sound Mixing and the documentary categories. I was fine with the winners while I thought the live show was dull and boring.

Best Picture & Best Director
Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy film The Shape of Water took home the biggest prize and also won the first Academy Award for the director. I enjoyed the film a lot and was happy to see it win though I thought there might be a switch to Get Out in the final days of the coverage. Still, I'm happy that the winner beat the previous favorite Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that took home two actor awards. The Shape of Water is a unique film that has a very different feel from previous winners but still felt like a safe pick. The other nominees besides didn't have much of a chance but it did seem like Dunkirk could have snuck in to win it. 

Best Actor
Gary Oldman was the early frontrunner for his performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Even after some signs of controversy, the best actor award remained within his grasp as it did last year for the previous winner. Other names were floated but possibly his toughest competition didn't even receive a nomination due to a controversy that came after the Golden Globes. I never really saw any other actor taking home the award but in the category, Timothée Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name could have possibly upset. 

Best Actress & Best Supporting Actor
I didn't even think of Frances McDormand as a frontrunner for her heartbreaking role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri even though it was deserving as I was mostly favoring Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird for the best actress category. The momentum was with McDormand ever since she won the Golden Globe and she used her platform to push for inclusion riders in contracts and to celebrate women nominees. The best actress category was stacked with amazing performances from actresses that will return many times in the future. 

Sam Rockwell took the best supporting actor award for his role as the racist cop who seeks redemption later in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Ever since I saw The Florida Project, I was hoping Willem Dafoe would take frontrunner and recognize a film that appeared to be nearly completely overlooked this award season despite excellence on the screen. Rockwell has done some other awesome performances so I think this award is somewhat deserving. 

Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney took this award despite tough competition. As soon as I saw Janney's performance as Tonya Harding's mother LaVona in I,Tonya, I was pretty sure she would win. Laurie Metcalf could have taken the win for her role as the mother in Lady Bird, but Janney's performance was hard to top.

Other Awards
Blade Runner 2049 took home to big awards. One well-deserved for Roger Deakins as Best Cinematography and another for Best Visual Effects. This sci-fi mystery thriller didn't do great at the box office but takes home two prestigious awards to solidify its standing in the genre.

Dunkirk had several nominations in the bigger categories but took home three for Sound MixingSound Editing, and Film Editing as the roar of planes, boom of explosions, and expansive shot were enough to earn those honors.

TV Show Review: Waco

The standoff between a religious cult and the federal government has become the main event that a city in Texas is known for. The Paramount Network has used this dramatic event to spark their first original television show network as they have rebranded. The show features tons of known stars delivering decent performances as the tragedy plays out over six episodes. I was only vaguely familiar with the history and the show is adapted from accounts written by agents and the members of the group so it's always advisable to take what happens with some skepticism. The first few episodes give some background on the Branch Davidian, the cult led by David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch). The show sets up and explores another standoff at Ruby Ridge that resulted in the death of individuals at the hands of the federal government in the early episodes.

FBI hostage negotiator Gary Noesnor (Michael Shannon) is upset about the violent nature of these standoffs and the increasing use of weaponry by the ATF. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Fire has heard about the gathering of arms at the Branch Davidian headquarters and sends Jacob Vazquez (John Leguizamo) on an undercover mission to investigate. David Koresh works to recruit more members even as he has sex and impregnates their wives. One of his top recruiters is Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks) whose wife Judy (Andrea Riseborough) has a child from Koresh. David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin) joins the cult as a skeptic at first after drumming in Koresh's band but he falls for Michele Jones (Julia Garner) and decides to stay despite the odd position on sex. Koresh is so dedicated he even stops having sex with his first wife Rachel (Melissa Benoist). 

Koresh realizes he's being watched but he still invites Vazquez over to help understand his community. Koresh knows that child services will be angry about Michele being underage so he asks Thibodeau to marry her to cover for him. Vazquez supplies the ATF with enough evidence to initiate a raid even as Koresh convinces him that he should hold back. Vazquez is ignored, as the ATF advances towards the compound. According to the show, a dog spooks an agent leading to the gunfire that takes out several members of the Branch Davidians and puts a bullet into Koresh. The hostage negotiating begins as Gary Noesnor establishes contact with Koresh and tries to adhere to his demands to end this peacefully. However, Koresh believes his words will spread but as presented by the FBI, they make him look like a fool and a crazy person. He decides that they won't leave until he receives a sign from God.

As Agent Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) and Noesnor's boss Tony Prince (Glenn Fleshler) grow impatient, Gary turns his focus to Steve Schneider as Koresh is often too injured to communicate. The back and forth leads to some good things like milk moved into the compound but the FBI bugged the cartons to get ears inside. The siege lasts for fifty days and finally, the FBI and ATF grow impatient. Gary is sent back home with grief as the agents advanced with tear gas. Decker realizes his mistakes as the gas bursts into flames. Koresh and Schneider take their own lives as children and other members are suffocated in enclosed spaces. The show does not end on a hopeful note and seems to caution against the irresponsible nature in which the standoff was handle.

Waco turned out to be a pretty entertaining show that will bring me back to the Paramount Network for other original series in the future. I enjoyed learning about this terrible part of history that I'd only heard about vaguely and had not learned about the individuals who had suffered or survived the tragedy. Top notch character actors including one of my favorites in Michael Shannon elevated each episode to more than just a network programming and helped keep the show engaging during episodes stuck in the slow parts of the standoff. The limited series is only six episodes so can easily be watched in a short period of time and does not get dragged down with filler episodes that some longers series have to use to make it to ten or twelve. I look forward to seeing what else the Paramount Network has to offer. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Movie Review: Red Sparrow

This spy thriller has a decent plot but the acting was off making the film a mediocre addition to the genre. Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a promising dancer when an intentional accident breaks her leg ending her career. Her uncle Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) takes advantage of her injury and informs her that her partner did not do it by accident. Dominika takes her revenge and agrees to do what her uncle needs. He tells her to go to a bar and meet a man. The state agency wants information for this man so Dominika's goal is to switch out his phone with a clone but when he tries to rape her, an assassin (Sebastian Hülk) appears in the room and chokes him to death spraying blood all over Dominika. The assassin sneaks her out of the hotel and shoots a man in the head in the process. They take her to a room and prepare to kill her but Vanya gives her a choice to be killed or join a secret organization.

At the hands of Matron (Charlotte Rampling), Dominika goes through training to psychologically manipulate subjects. Meanwhile, the CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) has comprised his cover in Russia to prevent the identity of his mole from being exposed. He is brought back to America but the CIA is unable to reestablish contact with his mole. Nate decides to head to Budapest and put out the word so that his mole will resurface. Dominika learns to use her body and embarrasses a fellow student so General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) puts her in the field. Dominika learns Nate's schedule and arranges to run into her at the pool. She has to answer to Maxim Volontov (Douglas Hodge) who harasses her but she manages to get the upper hand on him. 

Nate brings information about Dominika back to his superiors Trish Forsyth (Sakina Jaffrey) and Marty Gable (Bill Camp) but they are skeptical that he can turn her into a double agent. Nate works to advance his relationship with Dominika just as she works to gain his trust. Her roommate Marta (Thekla Reuten) is working a chief of staff to a senator, Stephanie Boucher (Mary-Louise Parker). Dominika promises the lead to her uncle and tells Marta about how she witnessed a murder. The same assassin tortures and kills Marta as a warning to Dominika not to share secrets. This violent act convinces Dominika that she should turn to the Americans for help and she takes steps to receive money for her services. She takes over Marta's meeting with Boucher but Maxim Volontov shows up to watch over her. 

The transfer of defense information goes as planned and Dominika manages to trade the disks for the CIA decoys but as they leave an agent moves to soon on Boucher who is hit by a truck. Her sudden death triggers the Russians to suspect something and Dominika and Volontov are brought back to Russia as Nate can only watch helplessly. Back in Russia, Dominika is tortured to confess but she holds strong even as they show her Volontov's death and pretend to shoot her too. Dominika begs her uncle to let her go back and turn Nate Nash and Vanya convinces Korchnoi and Zakharov (Ciarán Hinds), the Russian state agency leader to let her. She returns to Nash but the assassin attacks him. At first, Dominika pretends to go along with the assassin until she sees an opening and kills the assassin in a bloody battle. In the hospital, Korchnoi reveals that he is the mole and convinces Dominika to turn him so she can earn the trust of the agency. The final twist is that Dominika was setting up her uncle Vanya to take the fall the whole time and he gets shot in the head for his troubles. 

Red Sparrow has its moments of entertainment and is a decent spy thriller but Jennifer Lawrence doesn't always do the best with the Russian accent and the plot drags at moments. The film feels too long but it does tell a pretty in-depth story and the twist was decent enough to make it somewhat satisfying. Other parts of the plot like Dominika's training felt rushed and there were great side characters that were underutilized for such a long film. The box office was good enough and Lawrence is a big enough star to continue to lead films. This movie was certainly different than what led her to fame and her risky choices in films have been entertaining enough to keep going. The film also felt a bit detached from the entertaining current events that are playing out in the news so even the most outrageous stories are nothing compared to reality. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Movie Review: Game Night

A hilarious premise and top comedic performers create a great mixture of action and humor. The story revolves around a competitive couple Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) who met at a trivia night and haven't stopped playing games since. They have grown older, married, and bought a house with a creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), a police officer who they go out of their way not to invite to their frequent game nights with other friends. They are working to have a child but Max's high-stress levels over competition and not being as successful as his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) has lowered Max's sperm count. Brooks is planning a visit to their city so they have put out a game night with all of their friends including the couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), and Ryan (Billy Magnussen) with his revolving door of girlfriends. Brooks embarrasses Max and Annie takes it personally since it is preventing them from starting a family even though Max is hesitant to become a couple with a kid.

The next week Brooks throws a very intense game night from a special company. The whole group shows up and Ryan brings Sarah (Sharon Horgan), a coworker who says she has no romantic interest in him. Brooks offers the prize of a classic car, one of Max's favorite since he was a kid.  However, when the man comes to start the game to kidnappers burst in and capture Brooks. The three couples split up into groups trying to solve the game and win the car. Max and Annie track Brooks's phone to a bar where they confront the kidnappers still thinking it's a game. Annie plays around with a gun that she thinks is fake and accidentally shoots  Max in the arm as they help Brooks escape. Brooks admits that he ripped a dangerous criminal and bails out of the car. Annie and Max speed away to bandage Max's bullet hole in his arm.

Michelle and Kevin argue over Michelle infidelity with a celebrity during a brief break in their relationship as they also discover Brooks's kidnapping was not part of the game. Ryan and Sarah go to the company's business address where they find Glenda (Chelsea Perretti) having fallen asleep with a fake bullet hole in her head. She tells them the final clue but it doesn't make any sense and she also finds out that someone messed up their game. The couples regroup at the house and figure they have to find Brooks from a name he gave them, Donald Anderton (Danny Huston). They pretend to befriend Gary to use his criminal database but Max also soaks Gary's white dog and a room full of memorabilia of his ex-wife in blood. They head to Anderton's house where the rich man is hosting a fight club just like Ryan had read about on Buzzfeed.

They find the egg that Brooks sold to the higher bidder and run around the house in a cool tracking shot scene finally making it out but the egg breaks as they speed away. They realize the egg is fake but a list inside has the identities of individuals under witness protection. Max arranges a meet up with the criminals on a bridge to exchange the list for Brooks but it goes wrong when Brooks eats the list. They are about to be killed when Gary swoops in and saves the day but he is shot too. Just as Max professes his friendship for Gary, the police officer reveals in a nonsensical yet hilariously shocking twist that he had planned a more elaborate game night. Except then he is shot as the real criminal mad at Brooks, the Bulgarian (Michael C. Hall) arrives to capture Brooks. Max and Annie use the classic car to chase down Brooks and stop the plane from flying away. Annie kills the Bulgarian's henchmen and the couple takes down the criminal. The couple is able to move on and have children announcing in a game of charades.

Game Night has a ton of silly jokes and a fast-paced plot that keeps the film moving along and allowing it to avoid pointless ending to the plot like similar comedies. Bateman plays his usual role while McAdams shines in this genre. The supporting couples are funny through all their parts. Jesse Plemons really steals the show as the creepy neighbor police officer holding his white dog and wondering why he's not invited. The show also has some cool scenes like the egg chase and several shots that make the city look like a game board and cars like pieces. I don't normally go to comedies but I'm glad I caught this one in theaters.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

TV Show Review: Seven Seconds

Veena Sud has returned to Netflix with a great new series that brings drama and suspense without relying on a mystery. The crime at the center of this story is committed in the first scenes of the first episode. Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp) hits a young boy while driving to visit his pregnant wife in the hospital. Jablonski had recently transferred to an elite crime unit in New York City and he calls his squadmates. The leader of the squad Mike DiAngelo (David Lyons) decides to cover it up when he notices that the kid is riding a bike connected to known gang members. Mike instructs his team to dispose of the evidence giving Manny Wilcox (Patrick Murney) the fender. Felix Osorio (Raúl Castillo) has his doubts but goes along with his squad as Mike tells Peter to drive away to his wife's side at the hospital. Brenton Butler would have lived if the cops had sought emergency surfaces but they leave the boy to die in the cold.

Brenton's parents Latrice (Regina King) and Isaiah (Russell Hornsby) go about their day attending church choir practice as they prepare for the arrival of Isaiah's brother Seth (Zackary Momoh) who is returning from military service. They receive the awful news and are forced to wait not knowing if Brenton will survive. Latrice runs into Peter who sneaks into Brenton's hospital room as he is overcome with guilt. An alcoholic prosecutor KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) is given this case which seems like a slam dunk when DiAngelo gives the detective Joe 'Fish' Rinaldi (Michael Mosley) a tip that leads to a drunk. KJ puts up with Fish's smooth talking and constant advice but she has suspicions about the accused drunkard and confirms them refusing to bring forward charges much to DiAngelo's and Jablonski's dismay.

The show mostly follows the investigation of KJ and Fish but also deals with Jablonski's increasing guilt and unhinged behavior. Latrice also takes it upon herself to investigate her son's murder while her husband struggles to maintain their lives. Seth also wants to help the family out but he does so by finding employment as a drug dealer. Fish tracks down a witness Nadine (Nadia Alexander) a high school girl from a wealthy family but also a heroin addict. He tries to keep her off drugs long enough to testify while also keeping her hidden from the cops who want to kill her. KJ struggles to inform the Butlers about their son's investigation as she tries to figure who it was that Latrice saw. Seth contemplates taking action into his own hands and killing Peter Jablonski as long as he has permission from a gang leader. 

Fish and KJ narrow in on the police just as a media report is released sending Jersey city into an uproar as protests break out. The police are arrested but their defense attorney (Gretchen Mol) comes up with a way to get them off and plead Jablonski's charges down from a hate crime. The squad turn on each other and the missing fender pops up. KJ does her best to keep her composure in court as an embarrassing video of her drunkenly insulting a police officer and the whole force surfaces. Nadine goes missing having been killed by the police but they still manage to present a convincing case with heartbreaking turns on the stand from Latrice and Isaiah and a revelation from Brenton's past. There is not a happy ending but it certainly leaves an opening for more seasons.

Seven Seconds is a thrilling and engaging crime drama that introduces some interesting characters that could easily carry several more season of this streaming show. The duo of Clare-Hope Ashitey and Michael Mosley could continue to solve cases and pursue DiAngelo who totally got off and Jablonski who only got a year. Regina King and Russell Hornsby could continue to deal with their grief and their reluctant roles as leaders in a protest. The show strikes on modern themes of authority and race that are currently roiling our country and only seem to be growing worse. I hope that Netflix continues to allow Veena Sud to make great television.