REVIEW: LEGION – SEASON 3

Legion (2017)

Starring

Dan Stevens (The Guest)
Rachel Keller (The Society)
Aubrey Plaza (Child’s Play)
Bill Irwin (Sleepy Hollow)
Navid Negahban (Homeland)
Jeremie Harris (Fargo)
Amber Midthunder (Roswell, New Mexico)
Lauren Tsai (Summer Dream)
Hamish Linklater (The Crazy Ones)

Lauren Tsai in Legion (2017)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones)
Stephanie Corneliussen (Mr. Robot)
Keir O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers)
Jemaine Clement (Men In Black 3)
Jean Smart (Watchmen TV)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Good Place)
Vanessa Dubasso (Sex School)

Dan Stevens and Rachel Keller in Legion (2017)Legion’s closing credits resurrect the musical cue that began the montage depicting the life of David Haller way back in the very first episode: “Happy Jack” by The Who, a song almost fairy-tale-like in its simplicity, about a man who responds to the cruelty and alienation of the larger world with a smile, who refuses to let it get to him and maintains his positivity regardless of what he may encounter. Back then, it seemed like an ironic choice, as we watched a boy become a man in a series of slow-motion tableaus depicting what a troubled, damaged mess his world had become. Now, much like the finale to which it serves as a coda, it almost feels too earnest and pat, a not wholly earned note of sincerity at which any possible challenge is barely hinted. Yes, Legion went out with a profound optimism and sense of hope for the future, ending even its most underserved storyline with a bit of deus ex patriarch that rescues our protagonists from darker fates and opens them up to a potential future in which anything is possible. We few, we happy few.The sense of uplift and moral simplicity argued for by the ending is so genuine, it feels churlish to point out the ways in which it might be compromised. And yet the world created by Legion has been so murky and full of messy ambiguities, so touched by the very notion that nothing as simple as “a clear answer” could ever sufficiently account for any philosophical or existential question about what it means to live a good life, that to suddenly end on a note that tries to sweep the board clean and say “Let’s do it all over, but better” with hardly an implication of the too-broad generalities implied (and some conclusions not even related to David’s reset that similarly make everything okay) comes across as rushed, at best. After an entire season of David trying to undo his entire life—and restart everyone’s existence in the process—he succeeds. Rather than killing Farouk, he comes to terms with his nemesis, and with a smile and handshake, they initiate a do-over of the past few decades, while Switch looks on approvingly. It’s not quite the Wayne’s World “mega-happy ending,” but it’s not far off. No one dies. Everyone grows, or begins again, seemingly of their own choice. And yet.This uneasy conclusion might be best embodied by the climactic performance of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” when it looks as though Then-Farouk has captured David on the astral plane and bound him in a straitjacket, the ancient mutant finally responding to David’s insistence that, “I’m a good person, I deserve love,” with a firm, “No. You don’t.” David screams, and suddenly we’re treated to the song, David singing to his long-distant Gabrielle, asking her all the worried questions about his life that had never been answered before. But the song allows her to reply, and suddenly (so we’re meant to understand) David is filled with love, with the feeling of safety and warmth that had been missing. She assures him that she’ll always be there—we even see Gabrielle singing this to baby David, as Syd stands freeze-frame beside her, fighting the Time Eaters—and it’s all the succor adult David needs to break free from his straitjacket and turn the tables on Then-Farouk, just before Xavier and Now-Farouk stop him and explain that, hey man, war isn’t the answer, it’s the problem.Now, this might be a case where “Mother” fits effectively enough into what Noah Hawley and company wanted to convey. After all, it’s a song where a scared young man asks his mother for reassurance, and she’s there to say everything is going to be ok. That’s a tall order, and it works wonderfully in the show, as David’s (or Legion’s, really) other selves cut loose in an exuberant mosh pit of release, a sense of being freed. Because Farouk’s scornful reply to David’s cry for love is only an affirmation of what the troubled psychic secretly suspected this whole time—that he wasn’t worthy of love. Now, with his mother assuring him that his most fundamental need is met, he can break loose of internal and external bonds. But you’d have to be pretty naive to look past the meaning of the lyrics: This is a song about seeking reassurance in a world of uncertainty and danger, but the source of that reassurance and authority is also putting their own fears into him, and building a protective wall so high that it might prevent him from ever growing and connecting with others. It’s a dark double-edged sword, in other words, and leaving aside the Cold War metaphors, it could be read as saying that even with a mother’s love, the next iteration of David is going to end up troubled in a wholly different way. That would be a bleak reading.Nothing in the rest of this episode really supports that read, however. It’s a happy ending if ever there was one, where even our most malevolent and violent characters realize the error of their ways and band together for a peaceful resolution. I couldn’t have imagined Legion capable of crafting an ending like this, especially during the turbulent times of the past two seasons, so there’s a cathartic sense of uplift here that even my criticisms of this hasty conclusion can’t drag down, which is nice. It’s like watching World War II end with soldiers from both Axis and Allied sides joining hands and singing “All You Need Is Love.” You know it can’t last, but it’s a hopeful thought embodying the best of humanity.Legion (2017)Yet it’s still too pat in places. This is especially apparent in Switch’s storyline. Lauren Tsai did her best with a seriously underwritten role, but the character was never really more than a small collection of tics standing in for a whole person. The premiere hinted we might get a fuller portrait of Jia-Yi—the monotony of her routine, her longing for adventure, the fear of her father’s roomful of robots that infected her sense of self—but aside from a nightmare sequence and a few lines here and there, Switch never developed into anything more than a plot device. It’s why she could be pushed and pulled by David and Division throughout the season, and nothing she did ever seemed out of character—because there wasn’t enough character there for her actions to go against. So when her father literally appears out of nowhere, and reveals that she’s a “four-dimensional being” who simply needed to shed her human skin (and her baby teeth) in order to ascend to a higher plane of existence, it’s an airless reveal, with no gravity to the outcome. I’m glad Switch didn’t just end up ripped apart by Time Eaters—that would have felt unnecessarily cruel, but it also would have felt of a piece with the show we were watching up until now—yet it doesn’t pack much emotional weight.Wally Rudolph and Aubrey Plaza in Legion (2017)At least the conclusion of Kerry and Cary’s arc gives them a simple ending that feels both earned and justified narratively. Cary’s last-second suspicion that the two of them joining together again (to create “twice the temporal identity”) would confuse the Time Eaters enough to fight them off was one of those abrupt “oh, okay” explanations you just have to roll with, but it was undeniably stirring. Similarly, watching Kerry age as she fought doesn’t necessarily make sense on a logical level, but it felt emotionally true—all her years of protecting the “old man” finally catch up to her during what she assumes will be her last stand. And when they embrace at the end, him no longer “old man” but “brother,” it’s poignant and profound.Hamish Linklater, Navid Negahban, and Amber Midthunder in Legion (2017)Still, all of this means everything and nothing, right? Because here comes the do-over. Meaning, all of this gets erased (well, Switch presumably remains a higher entity), so the progress may or may not be in vain when the new iterations of all these characters develop. Not everyone, perhaps—the assumption here is that Then-Farouk won’t return to being a monster, the glasses of enlightenment passed to him by Now-Farouk remaining in his consciousness, just as Gabrielle and Xavier will presumably remember this strange sequence of events that led to them recommitting to a life together, caring for their child. (Also, hi: When did Now-Farouk become this mellow, enlightened chap? Wasn’t he psychically raping Lenny, over and over, as recently as last season? It speaks to the idea that season two of Legion didn’t think its next season would be the last.) Regardless, it still creates a tonally odd ending, in which ends somewhat negate means. To wit: If David had killed then-Farouk, would it have changed anything about the reset, other than one less powerful psychic in the world? He had already received the reassurance of affection and security from his mother, after all, implying she had now committed to loving her son. Even with a season that has been at least in part about the importance of doing right in the absence of any greater meaning (to cite my analysis from a previous episode, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do), it’s hard to feel the same emotional stakes we would’ve, had this whole story not been building to a “once more, with feeling” reboot.But Syd and David’s final scenes do convey some of the melancholy ambiguity of this otherwise very happy ending. “I bet you’re gonna turn out extraordinary without me around,” he tells her. “Yeah, I am,” she says, and in the space between that exchange lies everything that hurts about this goodbye. Because it entails Sydney losing her second childhood, the one that means so much; it means she loses all the pain that David caused her, but also a defining experience which, as she told her younger self, is the linchpin of life: “You fall in love. And that’s worth it”; it’s the disintegration of self that, just a few episodes back, she was worried would hurt. But as she makes clear, there’s a more innocent soul who deserves a better chance than any of them: Baby David. Syd agrees to give up everything that has happened to create her, the strong and powerful woman she has become, because that’s a life lived. And someone else now needs the same opportunity to get the kind of better childhood that she received from Melanie and Oliver.Dan Stevens in Legion (2017)Legion is ultimately a show about the need to make simple, fundamental choices in the face of overwhelming confusion. (That opening crawl about how “what it means is not for us to know” is a bit disingenuous—they’re writing this damn thing, after all—but certainly in keeping with the show’s themes.) We rarely know the best thing to do in any given situation, but we usually have an idea of what the right thing to do would be. Or one of the right things, anyway: There’s a universe of options out there, and despite our general helplessness when confronted with the forces of history, we have enough agency to choose safety and love. We can choose protecting others, rather than leaving them exposed to the vicissitudes of fate. And we can sure as shit not choose war. But we do all this against a backdrop of our lives that is never as orderly and coherent as time would make it seem. This is the firmament of Noah Hawley’s worldview. It’s one he arguably makes most clear in his novel, Before The Fall: “Because what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?” The opportunity to tell a story like Legion must’ve seemed like a gift to someone who understands life in this way, a chance to really discuss our existence in the manner it’s experienced: disjointed, fragmented, curling back in on itself and returning to key moments over and over, in different ways, until we have enough to call it our story. Such a messy, expressive stab at meaning surely deserves a happy ending. Or at least the attempt at one. So David, and all other Davids out there (because you—we—are legion in number): Be a good boy.k

REVIEW: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS

CAST
Jim Carrey (Yes Men)
Taylor Momsen (Spy Kids 2)
Jeffrey Tambor (Paul)
Christine Baranski (The Big Bang Theory)
Bill Irwin (Interstellar)
Molly Shannon (Scary Movie 5)
Clint Howard (Apollo 13)
T.J. Thyne (Bones)
Lacey Kohl (Secretary)
Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World)
Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of The Lambs)
Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers)
Verne Troyer (Doctor Parnassus)
Frank Welker (The Simpsons)
Deep Roy (Charlie and The Chocolate Factory)
Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2)
Richard Steven Horvitz (Mighty Morpinh Power Rangers)
Bonnie Morgan (Rings)
All the Whos down in Whoville enjoy celebrating Christmas with much happiness and joy, with the exception of the Grinch (Jim Carrey), who resents Christmas and the Whos with great wrath and occasionally pulls dangerous and harmful practical jokes on them. As a result, no one likes or cares for him. Meanwhile, six-year-old Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen) believes everyone is missing the point about Christmas by being more concerned about the gifts and festivities. After having a face-to-face encounter with the Grinch at the Post office in which he saves her life, Cindy Lou becomes interested in his history; she asks everyone what they know about him, and soon discovers that he has a tragic past.
The Grinch actually arrived in Whoville by mistake when he was a baby, and was adopted by two elderly sisters. Although he showed some sadistic tendencies as a child, he was rather timid and not the cruel, selfish person he would become; he was ridiculed by his classmates (particularly by Augustus May Who, the current Mayor of Whoville) because of his appearance, with the exception of Martha May Whovier, who was courted by both the Grinch and May Who. One Christmas season, he made a gift for Martha, but attempted to shave his face after being made fun of for having a “beard”, cutting himself and when the school saw his face covered with shaving tape the next morning, they laughed at him. He lost his temper, went on a rampage and ran away to live on Mt. Crumpit.
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Cindy Lou, touched by this story, decides to make the Grinch the main participant of the Whobilation, to the great displeasure of Mayor May Who, who reluctantly agrees after pressure from the townspeople, who have been warmed by Cindy Lou’s generous spirit. When Cindy Lou goes to Mt. Crumpit and offers an invitation to the Grinch, he turns her down. He gradually changes his mind, however, due to the promise of an award, the presence of Martha at the celebration and the chance to upset the Mayor. Just as the Grinch is enjoying himself and is almost won over, May Who gives him an electric shaver as a present, reminding him of his awful humiliation at school. May Who then asks Martha to marry him, promising her a new car in return. This causes the Grinch to openly berate the Whos for thinking that Christmas is about gifts that they will just dispose of later, in the hopes of making them too ashamed to celebrate the holiday. He then goes on to ruin the party by burning the Christmas tree with a flamethrower. When he discovers that his attack has not removed the spirit of Christmas from the Whos, the Grinch instead concocts a plan to steal all of their presents while they are sleeping. Creating a Santa suit and sleigh with his own dog, Max, as a “deer”, the Grinch flies around Whoville, stealing all of the Whos’ Christmas gifts. He is almost discovered by Cindy Lou, but concocts a lie that allows him to get away. The next day, the Whos discover the Grinch’s scheme, and May Who denounces Cindy Lou as the root of this catastrophic disaster. However, her father, Lou Lou Who, finally stands up to him and reminds everyone that they still have the Christmas Spirit and that the principal meaning of Christmas is to spend it with family and friends. The people accept his speech and begin to sing. Hoping that the change of mood would inspire the Grinch, Cindy Lou goes to Mt. Crumpit to find him.
The Grinch reveals that he intends to push the stolen gifts off the top of the mountain after he hears the Whos crying. However, instead of crying, he hears the joyful singing of the Whos. Infuriated about the failure of his plan, the Grinch has an epiphany about what Christmas is really about: not material gifts, but spending time with loved ones, an insight that profoundly touches him and causes his heart to grow to three times its original size. When the sleigh full of stolen gifts begins to go over the edge of the cliff, the Grinch desperately tries to save them to no avail. However, when he realizes Cindy Lou has come to wish him a merry Christmas and is in danger of falling off the cliff with the sleigh, the Grinch finds enough strength to lift the sleigh, the gifts and Cindy Lou to safety. After a long descent down Mt. Crumpit, the Grinch returns to Whoville with Cindy and the gifts. He confesses to the burglary and apologizes for his actions towards the Whos and gives himself up to the arriving police, but the Whos reconcile with the Grinch. Martha turns down May Who’s proposal and decides that she would rather stay with the Grinch instead. The redeemed Grinch starts a new life with the Whos, commemorating the Christmas feast with them in his cave.
What can be said for The Grinch, if you have not seen it then I wholeheartedly recommend it. It is a fantastically funny film that I always go back to every Christmas

REVIEW: INTERSTELLAR

CAST
Matthew McConaughey (Two For The Money)
Ellen Burstyn  (Mom)
Jessica Chastain (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)
Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring)
John Lithgow (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Timothée Chalamet (Homeland)
David Oyelowo (Rise of The Planet of Rhe Apes)
Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises)
Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games)
William Devane (Stargate: Continuum)
Michael Caine (Inception)
Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)
Topher Grace (That 70s Show)
Josh Stewart (The Punisher)
Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity
Bill Irwin (Legion)
Elyes Gabel (Game of Thrones)
A catastrophic crop blight has made farming increasingly difficult and threatens humanity’s survival. Joe Cooper, a widowed former NASA pilot, runs a farm with his father-in-law, son, and daughter Murphy, who believes her bedroom is haunted by a poltergeist. When the “ghost” creates a pattern in the dust, Cooper realizes someone is using gravity to communicate, and interprets the pattern as geographic coordinates, which Cooper and Murphy follow to a secret NASA facility.
There, they meet Dr. Brand, Cooper’s former professor. Brand reveals that a wormhole, apparently created by an alien intelligence, appeared near Saturn 48 years before and leads to a distant galaxy, with numerous potentially habitable planets. Twelve volunteers have gone through it, knowing only a few can be retrieved, each to assess a planet’s suitability as humanity’s new home. Miller, Edmunds and Mann have sent encouraging data from planets near Gargantua, a supermassive black hole. Brand recruits Cooper to pilot the spaceship Endurance to evaluate as many of the planets as possible, while he works on “Plan A”, a theory to harness gravity for propulsion, which would allow humanity to leave Earth. The Endurance also carries 5,000 frozen embryos as “Plan B”, to provide for humanity’s survival. Cooper agrees to go, alienating Murphy.
Cooper’s crew consists of scientists Romilly, Doyle, and Brand’s daughter Amelia and robots TARS and CASE. Traversing the wormhole, they head to Miller’s planet, an ocean world where time is severely dilated due to its proximity to Gargantua; for each hour there, seven years pass on Earth. While Romilly and TARS remain aboard, the rest descend to the surface, where they find only wreckage. Amelia retrieves Miller’s data, before a gigantic tidal wave kills Doyle. Cooper, Amelia, and CASE manage to return to Endurance, but 23 years have elapsed on Earth.
Murphy, now an adult, has been assisting Dr. Brand with his research. On his deathbed, he admits to her that he solved the gravity equation long before and deemed Plan A impossible, and that he lied to everyone, pinning his hopes on Plan B. Murphy notifies Amelia of her father’s death, then accuses her and Cooper of abandoning Earth. She continues working, believing Plan A might work if she could somehow get more data about singularities.
With limited fuel, Cooper decides to go to Mann’s planet, rather than Edmunds’, over Amelia’s opposition; both have sent promising data, but Mann is closer and Amelia admits to being in love with Edmunds. After being revived from cryosleep, Mann assures the crew that while the frozen planet has an ammonia-laden atmosphere, the surface is livable. However, when they are alone, Mann attempts to kill Cooper, revealing that he falsified the data so he would be rescued. Mann then heads for Endurance. Meanwhile, Romilly is killed by a booby trap. After Amelia rescues Cooper, they race to Endurance, where Mann is attempting to dock despite being locked out of the autodocking system. Mann ignores Cooper’s plea not to open the airlock, which fails catastrophically. Mann is killed and the severely damaged Endurance begins falling out of orbit. Cooper uses the landing craft to stabilize the ship.
Using Gargantua’s gravity as a slingshot, they head to Edmunds’ planet, but their nearness to the black hole means 51 years will elapse on Earth. To shed weight, Cooper jettisons himself and TARS towards the black hole, so that Amelia and CASE can complete the journey. Cooper and TARS pass the event horizon, but emerge in a tesseract, which appears as a stream of bookshelves that look into Murphy’s bedroom at different times. Cooper surmises that the tesseract and wormhole were created by five-dimensional beings to enable him to communicate with Murphy and that he is her “ghost”. He relays in Morse code quantum data that TARS collected from the black hole by manipulating the second hand of a watch he gave to Murphy before he left. Murphy is able to solve the remaining gravitational equation.
Cooper is ejected into normal space and awakens in a space habitat orbiting Saturn. He reunites with an aged Murphy, now near death. At Murphy’s urging, Cooper leaves to rejoin Amelia on Edmunds’ habitable planet, the future home of humanity.
Interstellar is a terrific film, and may come to be regarded as one of the best ever from this genre.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: LADY IN THE WATER

 CAST

Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic world)
Bob Balaban (Ghost World)
Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games 2, 3 & 4)
Sarita Choudhury (Gloria)
Freddy Rodriguez (Planet Terror)
Bill Irwin (Interstellar)
Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes 2)
Noah Gray-Cabey (Heroes)
Doug Jones (Hellboy)
David Ogden Stiers (Two Guys and a Girl)
John Boyd (Bones)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight)

hqdefaultThe woman of the title isn’t a lady so much as a sea nymph, otherwise known as a “narf” in the fairytale parlance dreamed up by Shyamalan. And the waterlogged universe she inhabits is a swimming pool at a dingy Philadelphia apartment complex called The Cove. But the poor narf, named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), is in dire straits. She needs the help of humans to return to her magical universe, and so Story gleans hope one night when she is discovered in the pool by The Cove’s sad-sack handyman, Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti).

Cleveland, who keeps to himself in a tiny cottage adjacent to the apartment building, suffers the scars of a tragic past that he keeps under wraps. Story’s plight suddenly gives purpose to this lonesome man; in no time at all, he is helping protect the narf from a vicious creature known as a “scrunt,” which lurks in the woods surrounding The Cove. Moreover, Cleveland sets out to deduce which of the apartments’ tenants have preordained roles in Story’s rescue.MV5BOTcwMjQ2MTA1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzA4NzkyMw@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Randomness does not exist is the hermetically sealed world of M. Night Shyamalan. As Cleveland learns that Story is part of a fairytale brought to life, Lady in the Water takes on the risible everything-has-a-purpose theme that turned the filmmaker’s Signs into dross. Still, the neatly constructed order induces fewer eye rolls this time around, since Shyamalan can simply hide behind the kitchen-sink dynamic of fairytales. All the silliness Shyamalan tosses in about guardians, healers, a guild and the like reminds me of the Rob Lowe character in Thank You for Smoking, who notes that movies can remedy any inconsistency with “one line of dialogue: ‘Thank God we invented the … whatever device.'”MV5BMzMzNzM4ODY5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDU3NzkyMw@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_A lot of whatever devices turn up in Lady in the Water, a film that shamelessly displays the seams of its bedtime-story origins. Cleveland learns about Story’s magical world, and what must be done to return the narf to her kingdom, from an elderly Asian woman (June Kyoto Lu) with an unnerving command of the mighty obscure fable. Neither the woman nor her Americanized granddaughter (Cindy Cheung) gives it a second thought that Mr. Heep, who quickly accepts Story’s story, keeps popping up with hypothetical questions about the world of narfs and scrunts. Another resident reads magical messages on cereal boxes.

The cast tries to jumpstart things, albeit with mixed results. Howard, who was perhaps the best thing about The Village, is well-cast as the pale, ethereal sea nymph, but she is given precious little to do. Giamatti is also a gifted actor, but he isn’t asked to do much more than stutter and project melancholy. Some very good character actors — including Jeffrey Wright, Freddy Rodriguez, Mary Beth Hurt and Bill Irwin — are wasted in one-dimensional roles as The Cove’s apartment dwellers.

And then there is the director himself. Shyamalan has appeared in his films before, but Lady in the Water marks his first significant acting part. Here he portrays a struggling writer whose manuscript, “The Cookbook,” might just be pretty darned important. As a filmmaker, Shyamalan is a bona fide original. As an actor, he is merely insipid. Then again, maybe Shyamalan’s casting of himself as the unappreciated, world-changing artist just fills some deeply rooted narcissistic need of his.