Silicon Valley: Season 1 (2014)

silicon-valley-season-1-poster-11x17_1000TV Series – In Silicon Valley, Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller) runs an incubator. This is a place where programmers can go and develop software, code, programs, and ideas into the next big thing in tech. Erlich pays all the overhead costs and provides them a place to stay and work. All Erlich wants is ten percent. At least that’s what he says.

The show centers around Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) who is developing a music application called Pied Piper. Nothing special just something people could use to help identify music. What is impressive is a compression algorithm within the coding of the app. This leads to a bidding war between two feuding tech billionaires, Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) and Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Gregory wins the bidding war and becomes a mentor type to Richard. Richard hires everyone in the incubator to help with Pied Piper, except his friend Big Head (Josh Brener). Big Head stays working with a parody company of Google known as Hooli. Odd thing is Google exists in this make believe Silicon Valley world. Big head “works” his way up the Hooli ladder because of his relationship with Richard and nothing more. Big Head does nothing and keeps getting promoted. As the show continues the group must compete at TechCrunch Disrupt a competition for programmers. The group lead by Richard and Erlich do not feel they will be ready in time. In addition, Hooli unveils a competitive service to rival Pied Piper. The show descends into talks of major defeat, sex acts, and anarchy, making the last couple episodes very hilarious.

The show has a great supporting case including Amanda Crew who plays Monica, and Zach Woods who plays Richards assistant Jared. It is very laid back, not as tech jargon ridden as other shows. Miller’s, character keeps the show from taking itself too serious and assists greatly in satirizing the tech sector. I would recommend it to viewers who like satire, the tech industry, comedies, and raunchiness. The show just wrapped its third season and has been picked up for a fourth.

The Forest (2016)

9149Movie–Identical twin sisters Sara and Jess have always been very close, brought together by their parents’ death when they were children. Sara is nothing but supportive when Jess, who has struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, decides to go teach English in Japan to get a fresh start. Sara is stunned, though, when she receives  a call from Japanese authorities that her sister is missing and was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. Aokigahara Forest, as the characters in the movie love telling Sara in as spooky a manner as possible, is a popular destination for those contemplating suicide and is full of yuurei, vengeful Japanese spirits that try to get you to stray from the forest path and give you hallucinations to prompt dark thoughts. Naturally, Sara decides to plunge right into the forest to find Jess, whom Sara is sure has not yet succumbed to yuurei. Accompanied by a guide and a new acquaintance, Sara is making headway towards finding Jess when she makes the predictably terrible, horror-movie-protagonist decision to stay in the forest overnight.

This movie excels in its first two thirds at building suspense. It has a lot of well-composed shots that will stick in my memory and makes the audience care about Jess’ fate through Sara’s eyes. However, as is often the case with horror movies, the last third is a bit of a muddle. The protagonist makes a series of seriously poor decisions and the money shots of vengeful yuurei are a bit too direct and silly-looking to inspire real terror. The unique setting and great first two-thirds, however, are enough to make the movie worth a watch.

 

The Lumineers by The Lumineers

41ZsWDiEvfLMusic–It took me a few listens to really get into the music of The Lumineers.  Their self-titled album, The Lumineers is a blood-pumping anthem of songs that requires a higher volume for listeners to truly appreciate.   To me, the singer’s voice tends to fluctuate between soft and loud, creating a kind of high-low echoing effect.  I believe that the band is best enjoyed at high volumes, preferably played loudly whilst one sings along on the open road.  It’s also worth noting for this artist that the more you listen to the songs, the clearer their meanings become.

The Lumineers top hit single, “Ho Hey,” is one of the bands most well-known hits, but there are so many other songs deserving of love.  My favorite tracks on this album are “Submarine,” “Stubborn Love,” and “Charlie Boy.”

“Submarine” and “Charlie Boy” both make references to war in their lyrics.  The former is about a boy who spots a Japanese Submarine.  He rushes home to tell the townspeople, who laugh and say he’s seeing things.  This storyline may be addressing the attack on Pearl Harbor during WWII.  In “Charlie Boy,” references to the Vietnam war appear in the lyrical  heartbreak of watching a loved one go off to war.  These are just a few interpretations of these lyrics.  Though sharing somber themes, “Submarine” has a powerful force that makes you want to jump up and dance, while the sweet, slow melody of “Charlie Boy” is great for winding down after a long day

“Stubborn Love” follows a man who can’t stop loving the woman who keeps letting him down and breaking his heart.  It’s a love song, but the story creates a relatable experience of the ups and downs of love.  Ironically, this is one of my favorite feel-good love songs.

 

 

 

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

A-Walk-Among-the-Tombstones-2014-movie-posterMovie –  Based on the mystery novel by Lawrence Block, Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an ex-cop turned unlicensed private investigator. He finds himself reluctantly finds his way working for a heroin dealer who’s wife was brutally murdered by way of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Along the way he meets a young street kid named TJ, who takes a liking to Scudder’s profession. TJ inserts himself into Scudder’s job by proving he is needed for his computer and technology skills, something Scudder is just to old to understand and use. Scudder realizes that the people he is after have committed this horrible crime before, and will continue until they are stopped. Working together Scudder and TJ follow a plan to finally put an end to this once and for all.

This movie is a winner with Liam Neeson fans. Although its a little slow to start it has his typical butt kicking, big man confidence you know and love about him. There are a few plot twists that I never considered being an option for the movie, yet somehow they work well.  I found the ending to be very thought provoking and left me wondering if there will be a sequel in the future.

If you are looking for an action mystery with a mild tug on your heartstrings kind of movie, this is the one!

Bullets or Ballots (1936)

MV5BNjQ3ODAzMzM1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjc2OTcyMjE@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_Movie – Johnny Blake is a tough cop – so tough he got kicked off the force. Which only delights the local gangsters, since Blake had been a thorn in their side for years. And then a local crime boss gets a bright idea and hires Blake on to help him develop novel ways of expanding his criminal enterprise, much to the distaste of his lieutenant Bugs Fenner, who isn’t convinced that Blake has left the side of the law at all.

This is a terrific example of Warner Brothers’ premiere blockbuster genre of the 1930s, the gangster flick. The plot, based on the career of real-life detective John Broderick, is fine, but the cast is outstanding: Edward G. Robinson as a good guy for once, a terribly young Humphrey Bogart in one of his nastier roles, Joan Blondell as your femme fatale and a full range of character actors – although for me, the highlight of the movie is Louise Beavers in a rare glamorous turn as the numbers queen of Harlem.

Like a lot of the Warner Brothers’ classic films on DVD, the disc includes the “Night at the Movies” special feature, designed to give you the full experience from the year the movie was made: a newsreel, a trailer, a cartoon, and a musical short. (If you want a double feature, though, you’ll have to load the second film yourself. I recommend Angels With Dirty Faces if you believe a night of gangster movies just isn’t complete without James Cagney, or Larceny, Inc. if you’d like a little comedy.) And don’t miss the blooper reel; you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Humphrey Bogart swearing at the furniture.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

BmTk6UbnC1k.movieposter_maxresMovie – The zombie apocalypse has come! Or is it an alien invasion? A terrorist attack that wiped out the US government? Either way something bad has happened to the country and civilization is descending into anarchy! Or is it?

In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard (John Goodman) has prepared for the worst. He has a bunker and everything he needs to survive an event of catastrophic proportions. While out Howard finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the side of a road. She has been in a car accident. He takes her to his bunker to save her life. Michelle wakes up to find she is chained to a wall in a bare room and has injured her leg in the accident. Howard explains what happened and that an apocalyptic event has made the world up top uninhabitable. Michelle is unsure and does not want to believe him. Howard unchains Michelle and allows her into the common area. There she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett reassures Michelle that everything Howard has told her happened. Emmett is also hurt like Michelle. As the movie progresses Michelle discovers something which points her to think Howard lying and begins to doubt his story once again.

The film has a slow pace at the beginning and viewers with little patience might give up. But if you stick with it, it picks up quickly and the ending is something worth seeing. When the film first came out many speculated whether it was a sequel to Cloverfield (2008). All I will reveal is that I don’t know if it is or not. Viewers who like movies with a short character list, a good soundtrack, and suspense will enjoy this one. Patience is a must, though.

Harrow County: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

indexGraphic Novel – Although she’s about to turn eighteen, Emmy hasn’t seen much of the world. She lives alone with her father on their farm somewhere in the South and dreams of seeing more – until the night of her birthday, when everyone in town turns on her, even her own father, and she’s forced to flee for her life before she even knows why, or what it is about her that the spirits in the forest gather to protect her…

This is a terrific little Southern Gothic ghost story, just eerie enough to be disturbing if read too late at night, but without the excess of gore that you see in so many horror comics. The art is beautiful, done in a soft watercolor that adds to both the comfortable mundanity of Emmy’s home and the otherworldly feel of the haints and spirits. Emmy is a great character, struggling not only with her newfound power but with what it means about her and her place in the world. Fans of Welcome to Night Vale and Penny Dreadful will enjoy this series.

The West Wing (1999)

LR0sW7OlKBTV Series – If you haven’t watched The West Wing yet – WHY NOT?  This is easily one of the highest rated shows in TV history. If you haven’t watched it in years, then it is time to re-watch it.  Once again it is very timely with the upcoming election and I bet that you will be wishing that a person like Jed Bartlet would be running for President. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it gives you a sneak peek into the everyday workings of the staff of the West Wing of the White House.  Unlike some other political series, the main characters are realistic with human shortcomings and watchers can’t help but sympathize and root for them and get an insight into their personal lives and their devotion to public service.  It’s fun to compare this drama which originally aired in 1999 and aired for 7 seasons to current series such as House of Cards, Madam Secretary, Scandal, and Veep.

And here’s another bonus – Joshua Malina, who was on the show as Will Bailey for 4 seasons now has a podcast called “The West Wing Weekly” that he co-hosts with Hrishikesh Hirway. Every week, the Podcast features one episode of the show airing chronologically starting with the “Pilot” which aired on March 23rd. So you can binge watch and catch up or watch an episode and then listen to the corresponding podcast episode.

Each podcast features recaps of the episode, commentary from the hosts, and special guests including former West Wing cast members, writers, and directors.

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden

25817092Book – Every once in a while, a book picked up on a whim can be surprising in wonderful ways.  That was my reaction to Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World.  I was expecting a conventional history of precious stones and jewelry.  I got both less and more than that, and wasn’t at all disappointed in the exchange.

Stoned is to traditional, chronological histories as a volume of short stories is to a novel.  Chapters jump around in time, but each is a fascinating and complete slice of history in its own right.  Chapter subjects are chosen not only to entertain and inform, but used to explore the larger question why human beings value what we value, becoming far less  mineralogical or artistic than social and psychological history.  For example, the first chapter explores the popular myth that the Dutch purchase of New Amsterdam (later New York) was somehow a swindle because Venetian beads were used as currency, pointing out that glass beads were, at the time, a rare and precious commodity with a globally recognized worth.  We wouldn’t balk today at someone purchasing land rights with a sackful of diamonds–why do we respect one variety of shiny bauble but look down on past peoples for prizing another?  And what’s going on in our brains that makes us value gems in the first place?

Author Raden does a great job choosing subjects that are both interesting and significant, from the pearl that changed Tudor history to the role of Faberge eggs in the Russian Revolution to the conquistadors’ emeralds to how cultured pearls helped Japan become a world power.  Her voice is entertaining and pacing is brisk, making Stoned a quick and fascinating read.  It’s perfect for anyone who loves popular and casual histories like Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

9415951Book – As a connoisseur of all things memory-books, I love sinking my teeth into any novel focused on an amnesiac.  My “Bookshelf of Memory” mainly contains adult fiction, but I’ve recently come across some prospective novels in the Young Adult and Youth departments.  That’s how I happened upon Forgotten by Cat Patrick.

Every morning, London reads the notes she left herself the night before–general facts about her life, as well as specific details about homework, school, and important reminders for her daily life.  Navigating high school is hard enough without waking up each morning with no memory of the day before.  However, London’s curse is also a gift, for while she can’t recall the past, she sees “memories” of the future.  She knows that her best friend will be unlucky in love, throwing herself at every guy she meets.  She sees snippets of what the future holds for herself and others.   Everything changes when she meets the new kid at school, Luke Henry, who in spite of her condition, London just can’t seem to forget.

The story had such an intriguing premise, but fell short of my expectations, mainly due to the high school romance scene.  As a high schooler, I probably would have appreciated this book a lot more, but now I could have gone without the lovesick puppy romance.  I wanted it to be more about London’s memories, and her crazy unique ability to see into the future.