REVIEW: WESTWORLD – SEASON 3

Westworld (2016)

Starring

Evan Rachel Wood (Frozen II)
Thandie Newton (Crash)
Jeffrey Wright (The Batman)
Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Ed Harris (The Abyss)
Luke Hemsworth (The Anomaly)
Simon Quarterman (The Scorpion King 2)
Vincent Cassel (Underwater)
Angela Sarafyan (1915)
Tao Okamoto (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld (2016)

Recurring / Notable Guest cast

John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane)
Tommy Flanagan (Sons of Anarchy)
Scott Mescudi (Meadowland)
Pom Klementieff (Avengbers: Endgame)
Russell Wong (Undoing)
Payman Maadi (6 Underground)
Lena Waithe (Ready Player One)
Rafi Gavron (A Star Is Born)
Phoebe Tonkin (The Originals)
Thomas Kretschmann (Jungle)
Gina Torres (Firefly)
Wayne Péré (Cloak & Dagger)
Michael Filipowich (Earth: Final Conflict)
Charmin Lee (Little Red Wagon)
Rodrigo Santoro (300)
Leonardo Nam (He’s Just Not That Into You)
Ptolemy Slocum (Hitch)
Michael Ealy (2 Fast 2 Furious)
Nadine Lewington (Bigger)
Katja Herbers (Suskind)
Hiroyuki Sanada (47 Ronin)
Jefferson Mays (Alfie)
Iddo Goldberg (A Little Trip to Heaven)
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars)
Jimmi Simpson (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
Peter Mullan (Braveheart)
Jonathan Tucker (Charlie’s Angels)
Siena Goines (Jada)
Louis Ferreira (Stargate Universe)
Elizabeth Anweis (Batwoman)
Nelson Lee (Blade: The Series)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Star Trek)

Aaron Paul in Westworld (2016)One of the best sci-fi shows of all time and offers deeper thought than a philosophy or religious course. This show is utterly beautiful while also gritty, and even eerie at times. This show is a microcosm that represents what humans are capable of. Unpredictable, the script is intelligently written and pieced together. The filming is memorizing in cinematographic appeal.Among the many themes throughout Westworld, the nature of reality and the nature of humanity are at it’s core. This show’s plot, the logistical details of the AI, and the universe they exist in are well thought out and blend together nicely. Every character has a backstory and motives in such a way that builds interesting character depth. It is fun to see how characters adapt to the world as they learn. While multiple plot lines are intertwined, raw action and twists constantly occur in this crazy universe that is constantly on the verge of catastrophe.Thandie Newton and Simon Quarterman in Westworld (2016)This show addresses questions such as: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to exist? What is my purpose? This is explored and searched for by the main characters. While these are introspective questions that can be explored internally; parallel to this musing, their search is embedded in the reality they find themselves in externally. Moreover, it is represented by the mysterious prodding and puzzles intrinsic to the immediate world in which they exist.Tessa Thompson in Westworld (2016)The sci-fi elements of the show touch on advanced AI, multiple realities, self awareness, machine learning, big data, and big tech privacy. This show is spot on by metaphorically addressing these concepts. These issues are becoming more relevant by the day in our lives by shaping the future of human society.Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld (2016)Without a doubt, sci-fi has never been done better, making movies such as the Matrix fall to the feet of Westworld and it’s unprecedented splendor.

REVIEW: WESTWORLD – SEASON 2

Westworld (2016)

Starring

Evan Rachel Wood (The Ides of March)
Thandie Newton (Crash)
Jeffrey Wright (The Batman)
James Marsden (X-Men)
Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok)
Fares Fares (Chernobyl)
Luke Hemsworth (The Anomaly)
Louis Herthum (What/If)
Simon Quarterman (THe Scorpion King 2)
Talulah Riley (Bloodshot)
Rodrigo Santoro (300)
Gustaf Skarsgård (Kidz in da Hood)
Ed Harris (The Truman show)
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Hercules)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Angela Sarafyan (The Immigrant)
Katja Herbers (Sonny Boy)
Shannon Woodward (Adult World)
Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal)
Zahn McClarnon (Doctor Sleep)

Thandie Newton in Westworld (2016)

Recurrin / Notable Guest Cast

Betty Gabriel (Unfriended: Dark Web)
Jimmi Simpson (White House Down)
Ben Barnes (The Punisher)
Peter Mullan (Hostiles)
Jonathan Tucker (Pulse)
Leonardo Nam (He’s Just Not That into You (film))
Ptolemy Slocum (Hitch)
Martin Sensmeier (Yellowstone)
Tao Okamoto (Batman v Superman)
Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad)
Neil Jackson (BLade: The Series)
Fredric Lehne (lost)
Currie Graham (Agent Carter)
Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim)
Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine)
Kiki Sukezane (Heroes Reborn)
Masayoshi Haneda (Edge of Tomorrow)
Lili Simmons (The Purge TV)
Erica Luttrell (Stargate: Atlantis)
Sidse Babett Knudsen (Inferno)
Gina Torres (Firefly)
Julia Jones (Jonah Hex)
Booboo Stewart (Descendants)
Sela Ward (Gone Girl)
Jack Conley (The Cell)

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld (2016)The first season of Westworld, and maybe the second, can be encapsulated by an exasperation-inducing exchange in Sunday night’s premiere, in which William (Ed Harris, but Jimmi Simpson plays him, too) encounters an android boy (Oliver Bell) modeled after Ford (Anthony Hopkins, whose character died last season). The boy, in quaint pedal pushers, speaks in digital tongues to William, teasing and prodding him to participate in the park’s games now that the stakes are real. When William grouses about his riddles, the boy reproaches the man in the black hat: “Everything is code here, William.” Soon after, bullets fly.Thandie Newton and Simon Quarterman in Westworld (2016)Maybe I’m being too harsh. Yes, it’s obvious—but for the viewer, his words have deeper implications than they do for ol’ Black-Hat Bill. It’s true that everything in Westworld is code—artificial, semiotic, programmed, significant. In the first season, the audience was introduced to an adult playground, populated with fleshy androids designed for human gratification. As the hosts gained sentience and found a path to liberation, they became stand-ins for human fears: the silent omnipresence of technology, the exploitation of the oppressed, the struggle for self-actualization, and/or the horrifying immortality of creation. They are also, in Season 2, scattered across time and space, broken into contingents of unlikely pairings and shaky alliances, trying to survive within the parameters of the sandbox created last season.If a prestige drama is a complex machine, what’s unique about Westworld is how willing the show is to depict that machine without explaining the processes that comprise it. It’s committed to the endpoint of its fantasies, and surprisingly vague on process, which is one of the reasons Season 1 could be so frustrating. It often feels as if Westworld works backwards—first presenting a scenario, then spending endless future scenes explaining how that scenario came to exist. (I await an explanation for why Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores is clearly wearing cream foundation and blush in her initial close-ups this season; perhaps we’ll learn that the robot women, freed from their masters, have started experimenting with lipstick feminism.)

Westworld this season is a story about games. The park is supposed to be a hermetically sealed playground that allows participants to safely pursue anything without consequence, but the series itself emphasizes that this notion is actually impossible. Season 2 introduces two new parks; one, as hinted at in the trailers and in details of Season 1, is a facsimile of shogunate Japan, starring Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi. The other, which I won’t spoil, is such a pointed fantasy of white male entitlement that it leads the viewer to see all of Westworld’s illusions as fantasies designed for that exact viewer. Both underscore one of Westworld’s most disturbing details: practically every female host has been designed to be some kind of whore.Ed Harris in Westworld (2016)The series is not subtle with these thematics, even as it revels in the fantasies it presents. When we get to Shogun World, it’s hard to tell if the show means to comment on orientalism, or if it’s just showcasing samurai and geishas because they look cool. All of its portentous conversations between hosts and humans about android consciousness exist somewhere in the space between an aha moment and an eye roll—without fully committing to either. The spoken discourse is a red herring that distracts from what’s really at play in the show. The hosts aren’t human, and the human characters aren’t interesting. What instead pulsates with life is the sandbox itself: the potential energy of this playground, with its unexplored easter eggs yet to be discovered.James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood, and Talulah Riley in Westworld (2016)Which is why it is so satisfying—if still rather confusing—that in Season 2, the show has committed to spinning out, sending its sprawling cast on side quests as though they were Dungeons and Dragons campaigners. And as it unfolds, this iteration of Westworld becomes less a story about games than it is a series of games about story. Stakes, climax, and continuity are just tools to be tweaked and adjusted; characters’ personalities and motivations are little more than quirks, drawn from a deck or determined by a die. As the show posited in its first season finale, the hosts’ backstories—the things they keep forgetting and remembering—are both pre-programmed methods of control and pathways to deeper meaning. Westworld follows both avenues, simultaneously. As a result, it’s a scrambled, tabletop R.P.G. of a season, in ways that are both supremely satisfying and incredibly frustrating. Many adventures in Season 2 have the quality of a dungeon master inventing a plotline on the fly, after a few rolls in a row have landed the campaign somewhere unexpected.Evan Rachel Wood and Jeffrey Wright in Westworld (2016)It’s a feeling that other shows might try to avoid. But Westworld is instead embracing it, leaning into chaos, actively doing all of the things that it’s sowing distrust in: producing a mythology, playing a game, telling a story. Its deep ambivalence toward the stuff it’s made of is ultimately what matters about the show, more than the thing itself. Just as Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) installed reveries into the hosts to provide them with a pathway to self-consciousness, Westworld itself is a collection of reveries, seeking to locate its own center. This might be why Bernard (also Wright)—the host version of Arnold—becomes the viewer’s surrogate in the second season. Wright is a criminally overlooked performer in general, but in Season 2 he is the emotional register that the rest of the show is calibrated around. A human consciousness turned digital, he is a part of both worlds—both the watchmaker and the watch. Through him and characters like him, the narrative takes on the structure of the maze metaphor from Season 1—a convoluted, repetitive path towards the middle.Ed Harris in Westworld (2016)Westworld encourages the viewer to see its animated puzzles from every angle. It seems less and less that the show knows what it wants to be about, which will always be a knock against it. But with much more centripetal force than last season, it also draws the audience towards its own center, in its own vivid journey toward self-consciousness. It’s easy to get sucked in to Westworld’s reveries. It’s harder to convince yourself that its dark fantasies are just a game.

REVIEW: THE MULE

Starring

Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Bradley Cooper (The Hangover)
Laurence Fishburne (Ant-man and The Wasp)
Michael Peña (American Hustle)
Dianne Wiest (Sisters)
Ignacio Serricchio (Lost in Space)
Andy García (Ghostbusters)
Taissa Farmiga (The Nun)
Alison Eastwood (They Are Among Us)
Richard Herd (Get Out)
Manny Montana (Conviction)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld)
Robert LaSardo (Nip/Tuck)
Noel Gugliemi (The Fast and The Furious)

Clint Eastwood in The Mule (2018)Earl Stone, in his 80s, is an award-winning horticulturist and Korean War veteran in Peoria, Illinois. He is facing financial ruin and is estranged from his ex-wife Mary and daughter Iris for always putting work before family. He is still on friendly terms with his granddaughter Ginny and attends her wedding rehearsal. Desperate for money, he takes up an offer from the friend of one of Ginny’s bridesmaids and becomes a “mule” transporting cocaine through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel. Facing little suspicion due to his age, race, spotless criminal history, and strict adherence to driving laws, Earl is soon trusted with huge amounts of drugs and is paid large amounts of cash. With the money he buys a new truck, settles his financial problems, and pays for renovations of the local VFW Post, as well as his granddaughter’s wedding and education. He becomes friendly with the cartel members, who call him “Tata” (grandfather).Bradley Cooper in The Mule (2018)Meanwhile, with details from an informant, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task force is narrowing in on the cartel’s deliveries to Chicago. Tensions within the cartel erupt when Gustavo, a power-hungry cartel lieutenant, assassinates cartel boss Laton, and subsequently demands Earl be kept under tighter control.In the middle of a $12 million cocaine shipment, Earl learns that Mary is gravely ill. After Ginny talks some sense into him, he postpones the drug delivery to make peace with Mary and stays by her side until she dies peacefully days later. After the funeral and after finally reconciling with his family, Earl resumes the delivery as both the DEA and the cartel close in on him.Clint Eastwood and Ignacio Serricchio in The Mule (2018)The cartel’s enforcers catch him and, upon discovering he was away to attend his wife’s death and funeral (which they respect), call the cartel leader to request leniency. The cartel underboss allows him to continue, with the caveat that if anything went wrong it would be on the enforcer’s head. Next we see Earl driving with a head injury and blood on his face. As he makes his way towards the drop point, almost resignedly as a helicopter is circling overhead, he slows to a halt to allow the DEA agents to arrest him. In court, disregarding his age as an excuse and guilt-ridden over his crimes and for failing his family, Earl pleads guilty to all charges and is sent to federal prison with his family showing him their support. In prison, he returns to horticulture.Clint Eastwood in The Mule (2018)Dont expect action packed. This is raw and real crime drama. There are some beautiful moments and always a strong moral. Definitely a must see!

REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Starring

Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad)
Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog)
Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys)
Timothy Olyphant (Santa CLarita Diet)
Julia Butters (American Housewife)
Austin Butler (Arrow)
Dakota Fanning (Ocean’s 8)
Bruce Dern (Freaks)
Mike Moh (Inhumans)
Luke Perry (Riverdale)
Damian Lewis (Homeland)
Al Pacino (The Devil’s Advocate)
Brenda Vaccaro (Supergirl)
Nicholas Hammond (Stealth)
Samantha Robinson (Cam)
Lena Dunham (This is 40)
Harley Quinn Smith (Yoga Hosers)
Danielle Harris (Halloween 4)
Scoot McNairy (Argo)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld)
Dreama Walker (Compliance)
Rebecca Rittenhouse (The Mindy Project)
Rumer Willis (Return To Sender)
Clu Gulager (Feast)
Martin Kove (The Karate Kid)
Rebecca Gayheart (Dead Like Me)
Kurt Russell (The Christmas Chronicles)
Zoë Bell (The Hateful Eight)
Michael Madsen (Species)
James Remar (Black Lightning)
Corey Burton (Critters)
Quentin Tarantino (Planet Terror)
Maurice Compte (Power)
James Marsden (X-Men)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Perla Haney-Jardine (Steve Jobs)

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)In February 1969, Hollywood actor Rick Dalton, star of 1950s Western television series Bounty Law, fears his career is over. Casting agent Marvin Schwarz advises him to make Spaghetti Westerns, which Dalton feels are beneath him. Dalton’s friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth —– a war veteran who lives in a trailer with his pit bull, Brandy —– drives Dalton around because Dalton’s alcoholism has resulted in multiple DUIs. Booth struggles to find work due to rumors that he murdered his wife. Actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, have moved next door to Dalton, who dreams of befriending them to restore his status. That night, Tate and Polanski attend a celebrity-filled party at the Playboy Mansion.Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)The next day, Booth repairs Dalton’s TV antenna. He reminisces about a sparring contest he had with Bruce Lee on the set of The Green Hornet, resulting in Booth being fired. Charles Manson stops by the Polanski residence looking for Terry Melcher, who used to live there, but is turned away by Jay Sebring. Tate goes for errands and stops at a movie theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew. While driving Dalton’s car, Booth picks up a hitchhiker, named Pussycat. He drops her off at Spahn Ranch, where Booth once filmed Bounty Law. He notices the hippies living there (the Manson Family). Suspecting they are taking advantage of the owner, George Spahn, Booth insists on checking on him despite Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s objections. Spahn dismisses Booth’s fears. Booth discovers that Steve “Clem” Grogan slashed a tire on Dalton’s car; Booth beats him and forces him to change it. Tex Watson is asked to deal with the situation but arrives as Booth drives away.Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)Dalton plays a villain on the pilot of Lancer, and strikes up a conversation with his eight-year-old co-star, Trudi Fraser, a committed Method actor. Dalton struggles with his dialogue. After having a breakdown in his trailer, Dalton delivers a performance that impresses Fraser and the director, Sam Wanamaker, bolstering Dalton’s confidence. After watching Dalton’s guest performance on an episode of The F.B.I., Schwarz books him as the lead of Sergio Corbucci’s next Western, Nebraska Jim. Dalton takes Booth with him for a six month stint in Italy, during which he appears in two additional Westerns and a Eurospy comedy, and marries Italian starlet Francesca Capucci. Dalton informs Booth he can no longer afford his services.Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)On the evening of their first day back Dalton and Booth go out for drinks, then return to Dalton’s house. Booth smokes an acid-laced cigarette and takes Brandy for a walk. Tex, Susan Atkins, Linda “Flower Child” Kasabian, and Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel park outside in preparation to murder everyone in Tate’s house. Dalton hears the car and orders them to leave. Changing their plans, they decide to kill Dalton after Sadie reasons Hollywood “taught them to murder”. Flower Child drives off, deserting the other three. They break into Dalton’s house and confront Capucci and Booth, who recognizes them from Spahn Ranch. Booth orders Brandy to attack, and together they kill Katie and Tex and severely injure Sadie. Booth is injured in the altercation. Sadie stumbles outside, alarming Dalton, who was listening to music on headphones, oblivious to the mayhem. He retrieves a flamethrower – a souvenir from one of his movies – and incinerates her. Booth is hospitalized, Sebring engages Dalton in conversation, and Tate invites Dalton over for drinks.The ending leaves you wondering “What if…” over and over again, questioning what reality would look like if these fictional characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth actually existed. And I think that’s when I realized how perfect the title was: it’s a humorous, fairy-tale (although not completely violent-free) ending to the tragic fate of Hollywood in the 60s…

REVIEW: PARKER

CAST

Jason Statham (Fast & Furious 7)
Jennifer Lopez (The Cell)
Michael Chiklis (Gotham)
Wendell Pierce (Ray)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Mindhunters)
Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man)
Patti LuPone (Summer of Sam)
Carlos Carrasco (Speed)
Micah Hauptman (Everest)
Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)
Daniel Bernhardt (Precious Cargo)
Nick Nolte (Hulk)
Billy Slaughter (The Campaign)
Kirk Baltz (Face/Off)

Parker (Jason Statham) is a professional thief, specializing in big robberies, who follows a unique code—he doesn’t steal from the poor or hurt innocent people. His mentor Hurley (Nick Nolte) asks him take charge of a job with a crew he doesn’t know, consisting of Melander (Michael Chiklis), Carlson (Wendell Pierce), Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Hardwicke (Micah Hauptman). The job, taking the gate money from the Ohio State Fair, is successful, but Hardwicke ignored instructions, resulting in him needlessly killing a man in a fire that was set as a distraction.Parker, disgusted with the crew’s unprofessional standards, refuses to participate in another robbery that could net them millions. Needing his share of the Ohio loot to finance the bigger job, Melander’s crew decides to shoot Parker and leave him to die alongside a road. Having barely survived, Parker is found by a family of tomato farmers who take him to the hospital, where he subdues a male nurse, steals his uniform, and escapes. He then robs a check-cashing store, shooting the proprietor in the leg, ties up both the proprietor and his employee, gagging them with duct tape, then steals a woman’s car.Parker tells Hurley he wants to go after the double-crossing Melander, who has gone to Palm Beach, Florida for another heist. Upon learning that Parker is alive, the crew uses mob connections to hire a hitman named Kroll (Daniel Bernhardt). Kroll tries to kidnap Parker’s girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth), who is Hurley’s daughter. She narrowly escapes and goes into hiding. Hurley is worried and suggests Parker run away with her, but Parker is completely intent on revenge. In Palm Beach, Parker poses as a wealthy Texan named Daniel Parmitt, looking for a place to live. Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez) is a depressed, unsuccessful real-estate agent living with her mother (Patti LuPone), struggling financially after a divorce. She is thrilled when Parker (as Parmitt) appears to become interested in her properties because she is desperate for a commission.Leslie becomes suspicious when Parker only shows interest in a house that a man named Rodrigo recently purchased and is remodelling. In reality, Rodrigo is Melander, who is staying in the house with the crew in anticipation of a $50 million jewelry auction they plan to rob. Parker returns to the house to plant his guns, find their weapons and disable the firing pins. Leslie finds out that Parker is using a fake identity. She offers her local knowledge in exchange for a commission of the robbery. He considers it only after making Leslie strip to show she isn’t wearing a wire. Together, they plan to steal the jewels from Melander after he robs them from the auction. Leslie makes a pass at Parker, but he remains distant, though obviously attracted to her. Melander’s crew disguise themselves as delivery men. Meanwhile, Kroll learns that Parker is in Palm Beach, and he attempts to kill him. After a brutal and bloody fight, Kroll stabs Parker through the hand, but ends up falling to his death from Parker’s hotel balcony.The next morning, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Deputy Jake Fernandez (Bobby Cannavale) arrives with questions for Leslie after learning that she was in business with Daniel Parmitt. She is shocked when she discovers a bloody Parker hiding in her house with her mother’s permission. At her workplace, Leslie is horrified when she watches a video of Kroll’s death online, which was filmed by local onlookers. At Parker’s request, she contacts Claire, who comes to stitch up his wounds. Their subsequent encounter makes it clear to Leslie that Claire is the woman in his life. The crew successfully steals the jewels. They swim back to the house, where a weak and injured Parker is waiting to ambush them. Worried that Parker might need help, Leslie begins snooping around the garden. She is found and taken inside, where the crew abuse and question her, assuming she and Parker are working together. Ross goes outside where he is stabbed in the neck to death by Parker. Melander’s other men begin to panic.Melander finds Parker and a fight ensues. Carlson starts to molest Leslie, but she shoots him with a gun she noticed under the table that Parker had planted. Parker, in spite of his wounds, is able to kill Melander. All members of the crew end up dead. Parker and Leslie arrange for the jewels to be hidden and for her to be sent her cut. They part ways, Parker showing some regret as she leaves. Six months later, Parker goes to Chicago and kills the syndicate boss who hired Kroll to kill him. One year later, Leslie receives two hefty boxes in the mail containing several million dollars. The tomato farmers who saved Parker’s life are shown talking to somebody about how they somehow got a great deal of money that has changed their lives. They credit the stranger, thinking he must have been an angel sent to test them.The storyline moves fast enough to maintain interest and there is no violence just for the sake of it. An average action film that passes the time.

REVIEW: VERONICA MARS – SEASON 4

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)

 

Starring

Kristen Bell (The GOod Place)
Jason Dohring (Izombie)
Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint)

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Percy Daggs III (American son)
Francis Capra (Heroes)
Ryan Hansen (2 Broke Girls)
Max Greenfield (New Girl)
Ken Marino (Agent Carter)
Daran Norris (Izombie)
David Starzyk (Bring it On 5)
Adam Rose (Santa Clarita Diet)
Ryan Devlin (Big Shots)
Julie Gonzalo (Freaky Friday)
James Jordan (Wind River)
Dawnn Lewis (Izombie)
Sarah Hyland (Modern Family)

Cody Renee Cameron (The Neon Demon)
Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place)
Patton Oswalt (Two and a Half men)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld)
Izabela Vidovic (Supergirl)
J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Tyler Alvarez (American Vandal)
Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)
Mido Hamada (Unknown)
Kyle Secor (The Flash)
François Chau (The Tick)
Logan Miller (Escape Room)
Josh Duhamel (Transformers)
Patrick Cox (2 Broke Girls)
Rodney Rowland (Legacies)
Barry Livingston (Argo)
Clark Duke (Kick-Ass)
Jacqueline Antaramian (Side Effects)
Paul Karmiryan (In The Vault)
Lukas Gage (American Vandal)
Christopher B. Duncan (Legacies)
Patrick Wolff (Starship Troopers)

Chino and the ManIn Hulu’s revival of Veronica Mars, the title character (Kristen Bell) visits one of the many men she put behind bars as a teenager. Realizing that she’s still working as a private investigator, he snipes, “That was your job in high school, right?” Television shows are a product of a particular time in the lives of their characters, creators, and audiences. One of the biggest problems with the recent trend of belated-sequel seasons is that they try to act like nothing has changed for any of those groups when, say, a 32-year-old Rory Gilmore shouldn’t still be acting like a 20-year-old. This issue should be especially acute for Veronica Mars, which in its original run drew much of its power and verve from presenting a hard-boiled gumshoe who looked like she had just quit the school dance team. (She had, actually, in the wake of her best friend’s murder.)Chino and the ManBut the new eight-episode Hulu season is keenly aware that its heroine is stuck in neutral. It’s less surprising for her as an adult to be doing stakeouts and fending off gangsters at gunpoint. But it’s also sad and self-destructive — in a very film-noir kind of way — that she’s retreated to the role she had before she was old enough to vote. When her high school frenemy Weevil (Francis Capra) asks what’s wrong with her, she cracks, “You know, there are a range of opinions.” She spends as much of her narration beating herself up for mistakes and character flaws as she does helping us follow the complicated case that’s brought her back to television. And Bell is just as charismatic, vulnerable, and slick with the banter as she was when she could pass for an 11th-grader.newgirl-ep708_sc9-ray_1203_originalVeronica creator Rob Thomas presciently set the original series in a California beach town with no middle class — only the ultrarich and the people who work for them. The setting works even better amid our present-day class warfare, and the plot involves a series of bombings that may be connected to a movement to drive out the city’s few remaining mom-and-pop businesses. Chief among the early suspects: “Big Dick” Casablancas (David Starzyk), a real-estate mogul (and holdover from the original series; he’s the father of Ryan Hansen’s Dick) publicly insisting that “we need to get back to a better time.” There’s a healthy mix of new faces, including Patton Oswalt enjoying his celebrity as witness to the first bombing; J.K. Simmons at his most charming as an ex-con now working as Big Dick’s enforcer; Kirby Howell-Baptiste as a bar owner Veronica befriends; and Izabela Vidovic as a teen reminiscent of Veronica back in the UPN days. And Veronica of course works the case with her beloved father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni, appealingly relaxed as ever, even as Keith battles health issues), while still trying to make things work with high school flame Logan (Jason Dohring, who apparently lives at the gym now).9a8851bc-3c87-458d-9481-8e4ea386bca3-vmars_101_md_2021r_fThis is the second time Bell and Co. have returned to this world: A 2014 movie introduced us to Veronica as an adult. Perhaps because the film was funded by Kickstarter, Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright (who also co-wrote the new season) leaned hard into fan service, with a mystery that was largely an excuse to bring back as many old favorites as possible. It was fun in spots, but a violation of the bleak noir ethos of the original series, which was at its best when it denied the audience what it wanted and gave them what the story demanded. The Hulu version also features a host of familiar faces, like Max Greenfield as Veronica’s ex Leo (now an FBI agent looking into the bombings), but they turn up only when the plot calls for them. And the ending to this new mystery feels satisfying both to the narratives and to the themes of Veronica’s life as a woman who can’t stop looking for the truth, no matter how much it hurts.Keep Calm and Party OnThe conclusion is darker than some fans may want, but feels like a necessary corrective for this new phase of our heroine’s life. It’s a terrific return to form for one of television’s all-time great underseen gems

REVIEW: FORTRESS (1992)

CAST

Christopher Lambert (Highlander)
Loryn Locklin (Denial)
Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show)
Lincoln Kilpatrick (The Omega Man)
Jeffrey Combs (Gotham)
Tom Towles (The Prophecy II)
Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2)
Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld)

In a dystopian 2017, ex-army officer John Henry Brennick and his wife Karen are attempting to cross the Canada–United States border to Vancouver to have a second child. Strict one-child policies forbid a second pregnancy, even after their firstborn has died, so Karen wears a magnetic vest to trick the security scanners. A guard notices and raises the alarm. Brennick is caught, believing Karen to have escaped, and sentenced to 31 years at the Fortress, a private maximum security prison run by the Men-Tel Corporation. To maintain discipline all inmates are implanted with “Intestinators” which induce severe pain or death as a form of physical control and mental conditioning. The prison is co-run by Director Poe, who oversees Zed-10, a computer that monitors day-to-day activities. The prison is located underground, in the middle of the desert, inside a deep pit that can only be crossed by a retractable bridge, while the prisoners are kept in overcrowded cells secured by laser walls.

John is imprisoned with inmates Abraham, a model prisoner who works as Poe’s manservant and is awaiting parole; D-Day, a machine and demolitions expert; Nino Gomez and Stiggs, who tries to extort John. John learns his wife has been captured and is held in another level with his unborn child who, being illegal, is now officially owned by Men-Tel and will be confiscated at birth. Stiggs has a friend, Maddox, who intimidates John and the two are involved in a brawl which culminates with Maddox being shot by a security turret. John manages to grab Maddox’s Intestinator and gives it to D-Day before he is taken away to be subjected to a mind-wipe procedure as punishment.

Poe, infatuated with Karen, tells her that if she lives with him he will treat John well and release him from the mind-wipe chamber. She accepts to help John. Poe is revealed to be a cyborg, powerfully enhanced by Men-Tel cybernetics. Four months later, a heavily pregnant Karen manages to use her access to the prison computer in Poe’s quarters to help John by restoring him from his mind-wiped state. Karen steals a holographic map and gives it to Abraham to give to John. D-Day dismantles Maddox’s Intestinator and uses a magnetic component to pull out the others’ Intestinators. During their next work shift John’s group puts their Intestinators in an air-duct and stage a brawl, causing Zed to trigger the devices and blow the duct open to prepare their escape. Poe promptly flushes the duct with steam and sends in “Strike Clones”, networked cyborgs armed with flamethrowers and machine guns. Stiggs surrenders and gets shot dead, but the rest of the group kill a Strike Clone, steal its weapon and use it to kill the remaining clones.

Zed alerts Poe of Karen’s actions. He reveals to her that her child, like all MenTel-owned babies, will be extracted in a fatal Caesarean to be made a cyborg. Abraham and Karen resist, but are powerless against the cyborg Poe and Abraham dies of strangulation. Hijacking one of the gun turrets and using it as an elevator, John’s group travels to Zed’s control room. John takes Poe hostage and orders him to release Karen. Poe gives the order, but Zed refuses the command while stating that MenTel does not engage in any negotiations during hostage situations and a gun turret blasts Poe, blowing him to pieces and leaving John’s group with no leverage. Once brought over to the core computer, D-Day hacks into Zed and accesses a powerful virus confiscated at the start of his sentence. D-Day manages to activate the virus after being shot and incapacited, causing a complete systems crash and all automated security to fail. John and Gomez rescue Karen, hijack a truck, and escape to Mexico where Karen enters labor in an abandoned barn and gives birth to her and John’s child.

It’s a good popcorn action movie, and one of my favorite Stuart Gordon Films. In my opinion, this is probably Gordons Second best film, after re-animator.