REVIEW: A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES

Starring

Liam Neeson (Taken)
Dan Stevens (Legion)
Boyd Holbrook (Logan)
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Contraband)
Brian “Astro” Bradley (Earth To Echo)
Mark Consuelos (Nine Lives)
David Harbour (Stranger Things)
Sebastian Roché (The Originals)
Danielle Rose Russell (Legacies)

Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Eric Nelsen, and Boyd Holbrook in A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)In 1991, Detective Matthew “Matt” Scudder (Liam Neeson) is in a car with his partner, who urges him to get help and expresses his concern that Scudder is not a reliable backup. Scudder then enters a bar and buys drinks with a coffee. Two armed men come in and kill the bartender, and Matt fatally shoots one assailant. He pursues and kills the second assailant, as well as their getaway driver.Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)Eight years later, a drug addict named Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook) approaches Matt, now retired, and asks him to help his brother Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens). Kenny is a drug trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and murdered. Kenny tells Matt that after he delivered the ransom, the kidnappers directed him to a car containing his wife’s dismembered body. Matt ultimately agrees to find the kidnappers. At the library, Matt researches similar killings, and finds victims named Marie Gotteskind and Leila Anderssen. He meets a homeless youth named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley), a sickle cell anemic kid who helps with his search. Based on an article, Matt goes to a cemetery and speaks with the groundskeeper, Jonas Loogan (Olafur Darri Olafsson), who is upset that Matt forces him to remember finding bags containing parts of the dismembered Leila in the cemetery pond.Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens in A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)Matt talks to Leila’s fiancé Reuben (Mark Consuelos), who claims to have witnessed two men drag her into a van driven by a third person. Out the window, Matt sees Jonas exiting an apartment building. In a tool shed belonging to Jonas on the building’s roof, Matt finds photos of Reuben and Leila having sex. Jonas admits that he helped kidnap Leila. He had conspired to take Leila away from Reuben, who is a drug dealer, and help her stop using drugs. Instead, however, the other two men tortured and killed Leila. Jonas gives Matt one name, Ray, and jumps off the roof to his death. The two kidnappers, Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), scout the home of Yuri Landau (Sebastian Roché), another drug trafficker. After realizing Landau’s wife is bedridden, they prepare to leave for a new target. However, they see his 14-year-old daughter Lucia (Danielle Rose Russell), and Ray decides to kidnap her.Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)Matt eventually learns that Marie was a DEA agent and realizes that the people who murdered her also got her files, which they have been using to choose their victims. Meanwhile, Matt grows closer to TJ, and encourages the boy to study to avoid a life of crime. During a conversation with TJ, Matt explains why he retired. During the shootout from the opening scene, one of his stray bullets “took a bad hop” and killed a 7-year-old girl. He has been sober ever since. Kenny brings Matt to Landau’s home, where the kidnappers call and arrange a drop. Matt, Kenny, Landau, Peter, and TJ (who earlier brought Matt his old gun) go to the cemetery. After a stand off, Lucia, with a finger hurt down to the bone, is returned to her father. When Albert realizes the ransom money is counterfeit, a shootout ensues. Peter is killed, and Matt wounds Ray. Albert and Ray escape in their van, but with TJ sneaked in the back.Liam Neeson and Astro in A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)After Albert and Ray arrive at their place, TJ sneaks out of their van, calls Matt, and tells him the address. Albert garrottes the wounded Ray in the basement, and goes back upstairs to find Matt, Kenny, and TJ. Matt overpowers and cuffs Albert. He leaves Albert for Kenny to decide what to do with the former, and calls a cab for TJ. While Kenny goes down in the basement, Albert frees himself. Matt goes back inside the house and finds Kenny’s corpse. Albert attacks Matt, and after a brief fight, Matt kills him. Matt returns home to find TJ sleeping on the couch and spots a drawing that TJ made of himself as a superhero (a sickle is visible on the hero’s chest, a callback to TJ’s sickle cell anemia). He sits down and falls asleep.A Walk among the Tombstones is a gloomy crime film developed in slow pace, but with a complex story. The plot is realistic and the viewer follows Scudder investigation. The screenplay does not have a plot point with surprising revelations or action scenes; indeed it is indeed old- fashioned.

HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: THE GUEST

CAST

Dan Stevens (Legion)
Maika Monroe (The 5th Wave)
Brendan Meyer (Girl vs Monster)
Sheila Kelley (Matchstick Men)
Lance Reddick (Fringe)
Leland Orser (Seven)
Tabatha Shaun (Persecuted)
Chase Williamson (John Dies At The End)
Joel David Moore (Bones)
Ethan Embry (Disturbing Behaviour)
Candice Patton (The Flash)

Spencer and Laura Peterson with their children Luke and Anna are coping with the loss of their eldest son, Caleb, to the war in Afghanistan. They are visited by David Collins, a former soldier and Caleb’s best friend. He announces to the family his reason of visit; to help Caleb take care of the family. David is polite, warm and friendly toward the family, and Laura offers to let him stay as long as he needs to.David hears of Spencer’s troubles at work and sees Luke return home with a mark on his face, caused by a gang of jock bullies in school. The next day, with Luke’s help, David follows the bullying jock gang that attacked Luke to a bar, and humiliates them in a confrontation which erupts into a fight that injures all the bullies. He then uses his knowledge of the law, as well as a bribe, to convince the bartender not to tell anyone. David then goes to a party with a reluctant Anna, where he makes a good impression with her friends. He later saves her friend Kristen from her ex-boyfriend and then has sex with her, and also inquires about where to buy guns from Anna’s friend Craig. On their way home, Anna offers to make David a mix CD.David gives Luke some advice on dealing with bullies and gives him his butterfly knife. He meets Craig and his friend to buy the gun, but then kills them both and takes all the weapons, including two grenades. An increasingly suspicious Anna calls the military base to ask about David. The call alerts a private corporation headed by Major Carver, who assembles a special forces team and heads to the Peterson’s house. Anna is told that David had presumably died a week earlier. She then learns that Craig was killed and her boyfriend Zeke has been blamed for it. It is revealed that Spencer’s boss died under mysterious circumstances, giving him the promotion he always wanted. Anna asks Luke to research the numbers David has called on his phone.At school, one of the bullies assaults Luke again, and he retaliates, injuring the bully. After they are both sent to the principal’s office, David arrives and blackmails the principal to give Luke a month of after-school detention with threats of litigation if the principal expels him. Luke tells David of Anna’s suspicions, but promises not to investigate any further or tell anyone else. While David helps Laura with the laundry, Major Carver’s team attack the house. David deftly kills all except Carver. Deciding his cover has been blown, David kills Laura. While driving away, he sees Spencer and kills him as well.Carver picks up Anna and informs her of her parents’ death. He also reveals that David was a soldier who became one of the test subjects for a medical experiment in the military and, being a former test subject of the said military program, he was “programmed” to kill anyone who might compromise his identity. David kills Kristen, destroys the restaurant she works at, then heads for the school to kill Luke. Carver and Anna head for the school, and enter a haunted house set up for the Halloween dance. David announces his presence by turning off the lights and playing Anna’s mix CD, then kills Luke’s teacher and Carver. Anna shoots David with Carver’s gun, but David stabs her in the leg and attempts to choke her. Luke stabs David with his own butterfly knife. As he seemingly dies, David tells Luke that he’s proud of him and that Luke did the right thing. Sitting in an ambulance, Anna and Luke overhear the firefighters talking about discovering two charred corpses with no teeth. Anna sees a firefighter limp out from within, who turns to face her. Much to her horror, it is revealed that the firefighter is David himself.Dan Stevens as “the guest” is fantastic and this role really shows off his range as an actor. He infiltrates this family in every single way and the filmmakers did a really good job of keeping tension and having you wonder for a long time who this guy really is. Much of this is thanks to the performance of Stevens. In a way he’s a very likable lead, even when things start to get weird you keep rooting for him. He plays “the guest” with so much conviction it’s hard to tell what is going on in his mind but one thing is certain, you don’t want him in your house for too long. In conclusion The Guest is a great thriller and well worth checking out.

 

REVIEW: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

Starring

Emma Watson (Harry Potter)
Dan Stevens (Legion)
Luke Evans (Dracula untold)
Kevin Kline (Last Vegas)
Josh Gad (Frozen)
Ewan McGregor (Christopher Robin)
Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games)
Audra McDonald (Rampart)
Ian McKellen (X-men)
Emma Thompson (Burnt)
Hattie Morahan (Alice Through The Looking Glass)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle)

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in Beauty and the Beast (2017)A beautiful enchantress disguised as an old beggar woman arrives at a castle during a ball and offers the host, a cruel and selfish prince, a rose in return for shelter from a storm. When he refuses, she reveals her identity. To punish the prince for his lack of compassion, the enchantress transforms him into a beast and his servants into household objects, then erases the castle, the prince and his servants from the memories of their loved ones. She casts a spell on the rose and warns the prince that the curse will only be broken if he learns to love another, and earn their love in return, before the last petal falls, or he will remain a beast forever.Emma Watson and Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast (2017)Some years later, in the small town of Villeneuve, Belle, the book-loving daughter of a music box maker and artist Maurice, dreams of adventure and brushes off advances from Gaston, an arrogant former soldier. On his way to a convention and lost in the forest, Maurice seeks refuge in the Beast’s castle, but the Beast imprisons him for stealing a rose from his garden as a gift to Belle. When Maurice’s horse returns without him, Belle ventures out in search for him, and finds him locked in the castle dungeon. The Beast agrees to let her take Maurice’s place.Belle befriends the castle’s servants, who invite her to a spectacular dinner. When she wanders into the forbidden west wing and finds the rose, the Beast scares her into the woods. She is ambushed by a pack of wolves, but the Beast rescues her, and is injured in the process. As Belle nurses his wounds, a friendship develops between them. The Beast shows Belle a gift from the enchantress, a book that transports readers wherever they want. Belle uses the book to visit her childhood home in Paris, where she discovers a plague doctor mask and realizes that she and her father were forced to leave when her mother succumbed to the plague.Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast (2017)In Villeneuve, Maurice fails to convince the other villagers of the Beast and Belle’s imprisonment. Gaston, seeing rescuing Belle as an opportunity to win her hand in marriage, agrees to help Maurice. When Maurice learns of his ulterior motive and rejects him, Gaston abandons him to be eaten by the wolves. Maurice is rescued by the hermit Agathe, but when he tells the townsfolk of Gaston’s crime and is unable to provide solid evidence, Gaston convinces them to send Maurice to an insane asylum.Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in Beauty and the Beast (2017)After sharing a romantic dance with the Beast, Belle discovers her father’s predicament using a magic mirror. The Beast releases her to save Maurice, giving her the mirror to remember him with. At Villeneuve, Belle reveals the Beast in the mirror to the townsfolk, proving her father’s sanity. Realizing that Belle loves the Beast, a jealous Gaston claims she has been charmed by dark magic, and has her thrown into the asylum carriage with her father. He rallies the villagers to follow him to the castle to slay the Beast before he curses the whole village. Maurice and Belle escape, and Belle rushes back to the castle.Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast (2017)During the battle, Gaston abandons his companion LeFou, who then sides with the servants to fend off the villagers. Gaston attacks the Beast in his tower, who is too depressed to fight back, but regains his spirit upon seeing Belle return. He defeats Gaston, but spares his life before reuniting with Belle. Ungrateful and unrepentant, Gaston fatally shoots the Beast from a bridge, but it collapses when the castle crumbles, and he falls to his death. The Beast dies as the last petal falls, and the servants become inanimate. As Belle tearfully professes her love to the Beast, Agathe reveals herself as the enchantress and undoes the curse, repairing the crumbling castle, and restoring the Beast’s and servants’ human forms and the villagers’ memories. The Prince and Belle host a ball for the kingdom, where they dance happily.I was a little unsure of how I would like it. I was a child when the animated movie came out, and you know. Wondering if they would do it justice. But, I was pleasantly surprised. It mixed a bit of nostalgia, with a bit of new. It also gave a bit more depth to Belle, and her father, and I rather liked that. Worth watching. Worth owning.

 

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