Archive for January, 2018

At times graphic ‘Bone Tomahawk’ pits four men against a hostile environment and relentless foes

January 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 31, 2018

Author’s note: This post describes a horror movie that’s suitable for adult audiences only; consequently, sensitive or younger readers are advised to avoid this blog entry. MEM

Bone Tomahawk is an intense 2015 Western about a quartet of men who set out to rescue a man and woman who have been kidnapped by cannibals.

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After a slow start, the vampire mockumentary ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ strikes a rich vein of laughter

January 29, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 29, 2018

Although I didn’t have much enthusiasm for Gentlemen Broncos, I have a soft spot for Jemaine Clement, one of that quirky 2009 independent movie’s supporting players. He first came to my attention as one of the creators of Flight of the Conchords, a hilarious sitcom that ran from 2007 through 2009 on HBO. Clement co-starred in the show as a member of the titular duo, who described themselves as “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a-cappella-rap-funk-comedy duo.”

Like Flight of the Conchords, which originated in 1998 as a live comedy act, the 2014 movie What We Do in the Shadows grew out of an earlier project. This time Clement’s partners are Taika Waititi and Jonny Brugh, his fellow stars in 2005’s 27-minute-long comedy-horror short What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires, which showed a trio of vampire roommates being interviewed by television journalists.

As best I can tell, the feature-length mockumentary recreates its predecessor on a larger scale. Clement and Waititi return as co-directors and co-writers. As before, Waititi plays Viago and Brugh is Deacon; Clement’s vampire has been renamed from Vulvus the Abhorrent to Vladislav the Poker. The movie adds a fourth vampire roommate, the ancient Petyr (Ben Fransham), but Cori Gonzalez-Macuer (Nick) and Stu Rutherford (Stu) reprise their roles from the 2005 work.

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‘Aeon Flux,’ a live-action movie based on an MTV cartoon, winds up seeming a little flat

January 26, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 26, 2018

Aeon Flux was an animated series that ran for four years on MTV in the early 1990s. I can’t recall ever having watched a full episode, although I’m sure I caught snippets. I do have a distinct — albeit incomplete — memory of being in a club in Chapel Hill in the mid–oughts and staring at a TV that was silently playing installments of the show.

I never figured out much about the program beyond the basics. The title character, I knew, was a lithe, lethal spy in an oppressive futuristic society. Her foil was the unctuous dictator Trevor Goodchild, who seemed to shift abruptly from being Flux’s assassination target to being her lover and/or person who reveals important truths about Flux herself and the society in which they live.

The 2005 movie Aeon Flux brought the property into movie theaters with a live-action adaptation. I’ve no idea how faithful it is to the original series; for what it’s worth, animation writer/director Peter Chung (the main character designer for the long-running Rugrats TV series that debuted in 1993) is credited here for “characters.”

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Tom Cruise and company stick to a tried-and-true formula in the quick-moving ‘Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’

January 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 24, 2018

Author’s note: I interrupt my string of Scrabble tournament recaps for at least one movie review. Don’t worry, I’ll recap this year’s “late-bird” event shortly. As always, thanks for reading! MEM

2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the fifth in the action-adventure series based on the old American TV series, has got all its moves down pat. The Tom Cruise vehicle efficiently delivers plenty of fights, thrills, gadgets and clever plot twists, along with a side of comic banter involving Simon Pegg and other supporting actors.

There’s nothing particularly eye-opening or surprising about Rogue Nation, but it’s fun, undemanding entertainment. The plot briskly transports superspy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and cohorts from London to Vienna to Casablanca and back to London again. There are also brief stops in Havana and Paris and some repeat trips to Washington, D.C., for bureaucratic wrangling between vindictive CIA director Alan Hunlee (Alec Baldwin) and Impossible Mission Force chief William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, reprising his role from the 2011 outing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol).

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Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 4, Jan. 14, 2018

January 22, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 22, 2018

I started the second and final afternoon session of the Duke PBMT benefit Scrabble tournament with a chance to hand a loss to C—, the division’s top seed and leader.

C— and I swapped leads through the first five turns of the 13th game, with the biggest play being my second move, HuRT/EDH 41. I hadn’t wanted to use the blank for a relatively modest play, but I was desperate to prevent C— from hooking an -S onto ED and exploiting the available triple-word-score bonus spot near there. I was on top, 139-115, entering turn 6.

That’s when C— sprang what would turn out to be the biggest play of the game: LUNARIA*/FA, a 64-point bingo. I considered challenging, and in fact C— later confessed that he was unsure if the word was valid; unfortunately for me, I didn’t, and it isn’t. That left my opponent with a 179-139 lead.

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Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 3, Jan. 14, 2018

January 21, 2018

By Maajthew E. Milliken
Jan. 21, 2018

I finished Saturday, the first day of the Duke PBMT benefit Scrabble tournament main event, with a six-game winning streak. I even got a good night’s sleep that evening! So I felt fairly optimistic as I sat down to open the event’s second and final day of play with a rematch against TS.

The tournament’s ninth game got interesting in turn 5 when, playing second, I played ZAG/GLUTE, a 39-pointer that put me ahead, 92-91. TS parried with ToNNeRS/SI, a 64-point bingo that pushed him out to a 155-92 lead. This play wasn’t quite as bad for me as it might have seemed: It came relatively early in the game, it didn’t score a ton and it required my opponent to use both blanks and an S.

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Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 2, Jan. 13, 2018

January 20, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 20, 2018

I ran a bunch of errands over the lunch break before returning for the second session of the annual Duke PBMT benefit Scrabble tournament.

I felt like I’d had a respectable morning overall. Yes, my two losses had been annoying, but to be fair to myself, I’d drawn badly at times: namely, OOQ in my opening contest against J— and OOQX in the second game against TS. (It wouldn’t be until the following week that I’d realize my ZOEAE/ZOEAS miscue in the latter encounter.)

At any rate, the fifth game saw me playing B—, a sharp elementary school student. I felt some pressure to beat B—, and moreover to beat him by a sound margin. That was because I knew B— had lost his first-round game to the top seed in the division by 300 points, and a player who kicks off a competition with such a big spread has a huge advantage over the rest of the field.

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Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 1, Jan. 13, 2018

January 19, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 17, 2018

I arranged the evening of Friday, Jan. 12, so as to get home and go to bed at a decent hour — and the plan worked out. Unfortunately, my brain and body didn’t cooperate, and it wasn’t until sometime around 5 a.m. that I finally fell asleep. This, alas, was prior to an event for which I needed to get out of bed around 8 a.m.

Despite this, I felt surprisingly normal as I showered, dressed and prepared to head out to the Duke medical facility that serves as the venue for the annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament.

I was playing in the lower of two divisions. Our group featured eight players, each of whom would play eight games on Saturday and eight more games on Sunday. Because of the size of the field, we were scheduled to play all seven of our opponents twice — a double round robin format — before games 15 and 16 determined the final standings — a king-of-the-hill format.

The opening contest of the tournament matched me with a very familiar foe: J—, a local resident whom I encounter several times a year in Sunday-afternoon club play. Over the course of 14 official meetings between us, he had an outstanding record of nine victories against five losses, including a six-game winning streak. His rating at the start of the weekend was 1051, markedly higher than my 932.

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Near-miss on the interstate: My close encounter with a wrong-way driver

January 19, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 19, 2018

I narrowly avoided serious injury and possibly death in a high-speed car crash while driving west on Interstate 40 around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18.

As is typical for me on Thursday nights, I was driving back to Durham from Raleigh when the near-miss occurred. Because of Wednesday’s heavy snow, and the inconsistency with which roads are treated following snowfall in North Carolina’s Piedmont, when I first got on the highway, I drove below the posted limit. But the road seemed to be clear of snow and ice, so I gradually pushed up to 65 miles per hour.

The highway has four lanes in each direction for much of Wake County (where the city of Raleigh is located) and Durham County (home, of course, to the city of Durham). At some point as I was approaching or passing Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is roughly midway between the two cities, I steered into the second lane from the left.

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The title character in the unusual ‘Molly’s Game’ plays her cards close to her vest

January 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 11, 2018

Molly’s Game, is a character study of a thwarted competitive skier who stumbles into the world of running high-stakes poker games.

The feature, which Sorkin directed and adapted for the screen from a memoir by Molly Bloom, opens as its title character is about to start her final qualifying run for the 1998 Winter Olympics. After her hopes of reaching Nagano are derailed by a freak accident, the recent University of Colorado graduate decides to postpone law school for a year and spend some time in Los Angeles. This decision, as narrated by Bloom, is the first spontaneous choice she’s made in her life.

While working as a nightclub waitress, Bloom (Jessica Chastain, the CIA analyst from Zero Dark Thirty and the young mother in Tree of Life) meets Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), a shady businessman with an affinity for comely young assistants. Keith is a jerk, but he’s a jerk who happens to host a weekly poker game attended by some of Southern California’s richest and most powerful men — and he needs Bloom’s help running it.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 9-5 Stanford

January 6, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 6, 2018

When time came to view the Alamo Bowl, I returned to the joint near my childhood home where I watched Stanford squeak past Oregon State in a perilous Thursday-night road game in October and where I saw the Cardinal claim a 30-22 home upset over Washington in November.

• The Bad 

Stanford’s defense never sacked Kenny Hill and had trouble pressuring him at all. The Horned Frogs passer racked up 401 combined yards passing, running and receiving and had a hand in all four of TCU’s offensive touchdowns. But the real issue here was what happened in the second half of the Alamo Bowl — that is, crunch time.

Stanford led 21-10 at halftime and trailed slightly in offensive yardage, 155-167. The Cardinal offense scored 16 more points and upped its yardage to 199 in the second half.

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