REVIEW: THE GOOD PLACE – SEASON 4

Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Marc Evan Jackson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, and D'Arcy Carden in The Good Place (2016)

Starring

Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars)
William Jackson Harper (All Good Things)
Jameela Jamil (Ducktales)
D’Arcy Carden (Barry)
Manny Jacinto (Top Gun: Maverick)
Ted Danson (The Orville)

Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, and D'Arcy Carden in The Good Place (2016)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Marc Evan Jackson (Jumanji: Welcme To The Jungle)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Dictator)
Mike O’Malley (My Name Is Earl)
Brandon Scott Jones (Hexed)
Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Veronica Mars)
Benjamin Koldyke (How I met Your Mother)
Maribeth Monroe (The Back-up Plan)
Tiya Sircar (Supergirl)
Patrick Cox (2 Broke Girls)
Maya Rudolph (Happytime Murders)
Timothy Olyphant (Santa Clarita Diet)
Rebecca Hazlewood (Equals)
Ajay Mehta (Spide-Man)
Anna Khaja (Yes Man)
Lisa Kudrow (Friends)
Leslie Grossman (Popular)
Nick Offerman (We’re the Millers)
Mary Steenburgen (Last Vegas)

Kristen Bell in A Girl from Arizona Part 2 (2019)After four seasons and four years on air, it’s fitting that Michael Schur’s The Good Place should conclude with a disquisition on the merits of eternity. Is paradise unending really all that it’s cracked up to be? If bliss is granted with the snap of our fingers, if our hearts’ desires are so easily achieved, and if we have all the time in the afterlife to indulge them without worrying about dying before we get around to each and every one of them, then maybe Heaven is actually Hell. At the very least, it’s kind of a bummer. When everything is possible, nothing matters, and when nothing matters, minds go to seed. Even Hypatia of Alexandria can’t endure such conditions without turning into a total “smooth brain.”Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, and Manny Jacinto in Chillaxing (2019)The Good Place’s Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) have an elegant solution: An after-afterlife, kept behind a green door. Step right through, and be at peace forever. Heaven’s great, but good times have to end eventually. I suppose the same is true of television. We’re past the point where “golden age” is an adequate descriptor for the days of peak TV. Frankly, even “peak TV” has outlived its usefulness for characterizing the 2010s, and now the 2020s, where there’s just too damn much TV to watch and series tend to go on, and on, and on, whether they deserve to or not.Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, and D'Arcy Carden in Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy (2019)Consider that there’s still a camera crew documenting the lives of the extended Dunphy family, that new crises unfold and steamy romances still heat up in the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, and that Bart, Lisa, and Maggie haven’t aged a day since 1989; think about the stranglehold that Game of Thrones has maintained over pop culture for the last decade, and that with a successor series on the way for 2022, its grips will slacken only briefly before choking out entertainment sites afresh.Ted Danson, Manny Jacinto, and D'Arcy Carden in Employee of the Bearimy (2019)Too much of a good thing is a problem. Mercifully, and not a little ironically, The Good Place understands that problem despite being set in the sweet hereafter — and the sour hereafter, and the second-rate hereafter. There isn’t a corner of the great beyond Schur, his writers, and the series’ cast haven’t explored over the course of its lifespan: the Good Place, which is actually the Bad Place, plus the Medium place, plus the real Good Place, including its filing offices, where good souls are sifted from bad souls, which means that, in accordance with the Good Place’s absurd requirements for entry, nobody ends up in the Good Place at all and gets tortured by chainsaw bears forever instead.Ted Danson and D'Arcy Carden in A Chip Driver Mystery (2019)Bless The Good Place for ending. As fun as it is watching the gang puzzle over new existential predicaments every week, drawing out their path toward enlightenment after shuffling off their mortal coils defeats the purpose of the show as the contemporary roadmap for goodness we all need, whether we realize it or not, at a moment where goodness is in short supply and badness trickles down from the very top of American society. We are in an era of casual cruelty: Anyone, at any given moment, has the power to taunt, bully, and abuse strangers from hundreds of miles away for such sins as liking The Last Jedi. We’re talking about badness in its pettiest form (though even petty badnesses can have meaningful consequences in the real world); it’s workaday badness, the kind of badness otherwise good people are guilty of and would end up in the Bad Place for. (Badness in its worst forms, a’la hate crimes and high crimes, comprise a separate category. Most of us won’t punch our tickets to the Inferno by shooting up Synagogues or extorting a foreign country.)Ted Danson and Kristen Bell in Help Is Other People (2019)Being good takes a lot of work. In The Good Place, as in life, goodness comes naturally to nobody: Not Eleanor, selfish and caustic, not Jason, impulsive and dim, not Tahani, haughty and proud, not Chidi, indecisive and trying. Goodness is relative, too. Tahani’s philanthropic endeavors afford her the veneer of goodness, but beneath the veneer lies arrogance and jealousy. Chidi’s brilliance, meanwhile, makes him a thorn in the side of his friends and family. He’s a man incapable of taking action, whether trivial or urgent, to the detriment of every sucker caught in his orbit.Television is rarely revolutionary, but Schur’s big idea for The Good Place — to massage the contradictions of goodness into a sitcom mold — qualifies. Being good is overrated. The architects of the Good Place, simpering goodie goodies dressed like L.L. Bean rejects, hoodwink Michael (Ted Danson), erstwhile Bad Place architect and reformed career demon, into assuming ownership of the Good Place after rebuilding it; it’s a slightly better Good Place, except that perpetual joy and happiness turn inhabitants into mindless zombies. They don’t know how to fix the problem, so they dump it on Michael, and, reformed or no, leaving Heaven in the hands of a demon is decidedly not good. If the Good Place architects are paragons of what it is to be good, there would appear to be little hope left for the rest of us — except, of course, for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, and even Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden).Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper in The Answer (2019)Goodness ultimately isn’t about how good you are, but how good you strive to be. That’s the legacy of The Good Place, where angels are squirrelly traitors and demons believe in rehabilitation. The show is a testament to goodness as an ongoing spiritual enterprise, the work that people do to be better today than they were yesterday. Anybody can be good if they are willing to put in the effort. The Good Place demonstrates what “effort” looks like, and what goodness takes: Learning, vulnerability, struggle, failure, and most of all, perhaps, the help of a few good friends. Goodness is a journey. Having educated its audience on goodness’ labors from 2016 to now, The Good Place has gently arrived at the end of its own, stepping beyond the big green door to its final rest.

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: THE NIGHT BEFORE

Starring

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50)
Seth Rogen (Knocked Up)
Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Infinity War)
Lizzy Caplan (Allied)
Mindy Kaling (Ocean’s 8)
Jillian Bell (Rough Night)
Michael Shannon (Man of Steel)
Lorraine Toussaint (Girls Trip)
Jason Mantzoukas (The House)
Ilana Glazer (Broad City)
Tracy Morgan (Cop Out)
Randall Park (Office Christmas Party)
James Franco (The Interview)
Miley Cyrus (Two and a Half Men)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie in The Night Before (2015)In December 2001, Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loses both of his parents in a car accident. His best friends, Isaac Greenberg (Seth Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie) resolve to spend every Christmas Eve with Ethan. One year, the friends learn of the Nutcracker Ball, a tremendous, invite-only Christmas Eve party. Unable to find the party, the friends continue with their tradition. In 2015, the friends decide to end the tradition. Chris has become a famous football player, and Isaac is married with a baby on the way. Privately, Chris and Isaac worry that Ethan, a struggling musician working at a hotel, is not ready for the tradition to end.Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie in The Night Before (2015)At the hotel, Ethan finds and steals invitations to the Nutcracker Ball. Later, the friends meet at Isaac’s house before going out on their last Christmas Eve together. Prior to leaving, Isaac’s wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives him drugs to use during the evening, since he has been so supportive. The friends leave to follow their usual tradition, with the intention to go to the party afterward. Their first stop is the Rockefeller Tree. While at the Tree, Ethan reveals the tickets to the ball. Along the way, Chris, in an attempt to impress his teammates, purchases marijuana from their former high school dealer, Mr. Green (Michael Shannon). While making the purchase, Mr. Green shares the weed with Chris, calling it the present. While at a karaoke bar, the friends run into Diana (Lizzy Caplan), who recently broke up with Ethan for refusing to commit, and Diana’s friend Sarah (Mindy Kaling). The friends learn that Diana and Sarah will be at the Nutcracker Ball, as well. While at the bar, Isaac begins to be negatively affected by the drugs he took, resulting in making a video phone message admitting that he is terrified of having a child. Chris also has his marijuana stolen by a supposed fan (Ilana Glazer) who is a Christmas-hating thief.Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie in The Night Before (2015)Needing more marijuana, the guys contact Mr. Green again, who meets them at Chris’ mother’s (Lorraine Toussaint) house. This time, Isaac meets Mr. Green for some marijuana. It shows him the future where his daughter is a stripper, and his wife blames him for it. The friends end up having dinner, cooked by Chris’ mother, who encourages Ethan to make up with Diana. During dinner, Isaac realizes that he accidentally switched phones with Sarah. While trying to find Isaac’s phone, the same thief steals Chris’ marijuana again. The three friends split up, as Chris wants his marijuana back, Isaac wants his phone, and Ethan wants to go to the party. Chris fails to regain his marijuana, after learning about valuing his true friends from the thief. Isaac, hallucinating from the mixture of drugs he has consumed, meets his wife and her family during Midnight Mass and vomits in church. Ethan ends up beaten by two drunk pub-crawling Santas, after trying to defend the spirit of Christmas.Seth Rogen and Michael Shannon in The Night Before (2015)Upon meeting back at a subway station, the tension between the friends explodes. Ethan reveals that he and Isaac know that Chris’ sudden success and popularity is due to steroids, and Chris reveals that he and Isaac think that Ethan is lost and making excuses for himself. Despite their revelations, the three friends still go to the Nutcracker Ball. Upon arriving, Chris learns that his teammates did not need the marijuana he struggled to obtain, and they also make fun of him for a video shot of him earlier, with his friends. Isaac retrieves his phone, and learns that Sarah never revealed the video message he recorded. Ethan finds Diana and, in an improvised moment, proposes to her in front of the entire party with Miley Cyrus. While she accepts publicly, in private she declines, saying she only said yes because he put her on the spot, and thinks that the only reason why he proposed is because of his fear of losing his friends.In shame, Ethan goes to the roof, where he sees Mr. Green. Mr. Green reveals that he created and has hosted the Nutcracker Ball since its inception. Mr. Green shares marijuana with Ethan, calling it the past. Ethan experiences a memory of his friends initiating their yearly ritual. Ethan rejoins his friends, who have been thrown out of the party after an altercation with Chris’ teammates. As morning dawns, the friends reconcile, just as Isaac receives a message from Betsy saying she is in labor. Rushing to the hospital, in Mr. Green’s conveniently available car, the friends discover that it was a false alarm. Mr. Green is also revealed to be an angel, who has been helping the friends to earn his wings. Isaac shows his wife the video, who admits afterward that she is also scared about raising their daughter. The trio spend Christmas at Isaac’s house, after which Chris has dinner with his mother and admits to his steroid use. Ethan goes to Diana’s house, where he apologizes for how he acted and for not being ready to commit. Diana admits she missed Ethan and accepts his request to finally meet her parents. One year later, the friends and their loved ones spend Christmas together, and are revealed to be happy, and still friends. Isaac’s baby cannot sleep, so the trio serenades her. It is shown that the story was all told from a book read by Santa, who is revealed to be the father of Mr. Green. Overall while The Night Before is no Christmas classic, but for its target audience this film is a winner all the way. Its mindless yes, but its damn hilarious, and I completely enjoyed the film.

 

 

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: HOW TO BE SINGLE

Starring

Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Gray)
Leslie Mann (This Is 40)
Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect)
Alison Brie (Get Hard)
Jake Lacy (Rampage)
Anders Holm (Show Dogs)
Nicholas Braun (Poltergeist)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Dictator)
Damon Wayans, Jr. (New Girl)
Sarah Ramos (Slash)
Brent Morin (Merry Happy Whatever)

Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson in How to Be Single (2016)Alice (Dakota Johnson) temporarily dumps her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) and moves to New York City to be a paralegal. She moves in with her sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), an OB/GYN who refuses to have a baby or relationship. Alice befriends wild Australian co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson), who enjoys partying and one-night stands, and local bartender Tom (Anders Holm), who embraces the bachelor lifestyle and hooks up with various women, including Alice. Tom meets Lucy (Alison Brie) at his bar when she uses his Internet for free; she explains she is looking for “The One” using various dating sites. Alice meets with Josh to tell him that she is ready to get back together with him. Josh explains he is seeing someone else, which distresses Alice. Meg has a change of heart while watching over a baby and decides to have a child of her own via a sperm donor.Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson in How to Be Single (2016)Shortly after she becomes pregnant, Meg unexpectedly hooks up with a younger man, Ken (Jake Lacy), after meeting him at Alice’s office Christmas party. Ken, the law office receptionist, is smitten with her. She tries to break it off, but he continues to pursue her cutely. Thinking Ken is too young for her to have a future with, she hides the pregnancy from him. Back at Tom’s bar, Lucy has a string of horrible dates, at which point Tom realizes that he has feelings for her. In an attempt to put herself out there, Alice attends a networking event, where she hits it off with a man named David (Damon Wayans, Jr.).Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single (2016)Lucy has been in a relationship for three weeks with a man named Paul, who reveals that he has been seeing other people, thinking she was doing the same, and breaks up with her. Lucy breaks down at her volunteer job. George (Jason Mantzoukas), who works at the bookstore, soothes her, and the two begin a relationship. Alice and Robin attend Josh’s holiday party; Alice finds she cannot watch Josh with his new girlfriend. She runs into David, who shows her a private view of the Rockefeller Christmas tree, dazzling her, and they begin a relationship. Three months later, as she is singing with David’s daughter Phoebe, David becomes upset with her, reminding her that she’s not Phoebe’s mother. His wife died two years ago and he believes it’s too soon for Phoebe to have a stepmother. David and Alice break up as a result.Tom becomes upset with Lucy’s relationship with George, and invites Alice to get drunk. The two talk about their frustrations with their feelings for Josh and Lucy and sleep together to distract themselves. Ken discovers Meg is pregnant but is eager to help raise her child. Meg, concerned that he is not truly committed, ends the relationship. At Alice’s birthday party, Robin invites Tom, David, and Josh without Alice’s knowledge, as she thought it would be funny. Shaken by the presence of all three men, Alice argues with Robin. Tom confesses to Lucy, but she announces that she is engaged to George. Josh approaches Alice, and they make out but stop when Josh reveals to a horrified Alice that he is now engaged and was merely looking for closure with her. Invigorated by a desire to find herself, Alice leaves to go home. Her cab hits Robin, who was trying to get a cab for Meg, who is in labor. They rush to the hospital, where Meg delivers a baby girl, naming her Madeline. Ken convinces Meg to try their relationship again, while Alice repairs her relationship with Robin.Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson in How to Be Single (2016)The film closes with Alice reflecting on her time living alone and being single. Meg and Ken are with Madeline, and Robin is continuing her partying. Tom deals with the hungover women around him, Lucy marries George, and David tells his daughter the truth about her mother’s death. Finally, Alice is seen hiking the Grand Canyon by herself so that she can witness the sunrise on New Year’s Day: a dream she always had.Leslie Mann and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single (2016)Fundamentally How to Be Single is a worthwhile movie despite its rather various faults. It remains reliably funny throughout with various riffs and wisecracks provided by Wilson, Holm and the always charming Mann.

 

REVIEW: DICKINSON – SEASON 1

Hailee Steinfeld in Dickinson (2019)

Starring

Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee)
Toby Huss (Halloween 2018)
Jane Krakowski (Pixels)
Adrian Enscoe (Seeds)
Anna Baryshnikov (Manchester By The Sea)
Ella Hunt (Anna and The Apocalypse)

Recurring / Notable Guest Stars

Darlene Hunt (The Big C)
Matt Lauria (Shaft)
Wiz Khalifa (Gangs of Roses 2)
John Mulaney (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Sophie Zucker (Late Night)
Samuel Farnsworth (Signing Time!)
Amanda Warren (The Purge TV)
Gus Halper (Cold Pursuit)
Robert Picardo (The Orville)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Good Place)

Hailee Steinfeld in Dickinson (2019)This is such bullshit. That’s how 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) feels – as Apple TV+ series Dickinson would have it – about being asked to fetch water at four in the morning. Never mind that the expletive wasn’t invented until nearly a century later. And never mind that “pretty psyched”, “nailed it” and “yo” weren’t exactly kicking around then, either. Dickinson is a peculiar, messy, anachronistic delight.Hailee Steinfeld in Dickinson (2019)Some reviews have taken issue with Alena Smith’s comedy series, one of the first batch of original shows from the newly launched Apple TV+, for its strangely contemporary language. But it makes a kind of sense, given that its hero was out of step with the order of the day. The real-life Massachusetts poet had her ambitions scuppered by a father (played here by Toby Huss) who did “not approve of a woman seeking to build herself a literary reputation”. In that respect, Steinfeld is perfectly cast. She has a face – and a set of elastic expressions – that feels both well-suited to a period piece (as first displayed in her Oscar-nominated role in True Grit in 2010), and resolutely out of place in it. Just as Emily Dickinson was. Steinfeld crackles with charm and impropriety.dickinson-hailee-steinfeld-orchard-600x311When we meet Emily, her mother (30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski, sweetly cruel as ever) is unsuccessfully attempting to marry her off to any man available. Emily is is as uninterested as her mother is desperate, partly because she wants to become a great writer, and “a husband would put a stop to that”, and partly because she’s in love with her best friend Sue (Ella Hunt), who is engaged to her brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe) but who steals clandestine kisses with Emily in the rain.s-l300That part actually is historically accurate. Or at least, based in truth – the real-life Dickinson would write long, unmistakably romantic love letters to Susan: “Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday, and be my own again, and kiss me as you used to?” The solemn, elegant 2016 film A Quiet Passion, in which Cynthia Nixon played a far more timid version of Dickinson than Steinfeld portrays, omitted this relationship. Another recent adaptation (Dickinson’s having a comeback, it seems), 2018’s Wild Nights With Emily, made it its focus. It’s to Dickinson’s credit that it neither shies away from, nor ogles at, the affair between the two.1_o4tiFPgmX8XOsD7Wk_pliwBut there is another great love in Emily’s life – death. This is where things gets really weird. Making very literal the immortalised line, “Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for me”, Emily is visited at night, to the strains of Billie Eilish’s “Bury A Friend” no less, by a carriage containing the human embodiment of death. And who better to play the part than a gold-toothed, top-hatted Wiz Khalifa? Surprisingly, the rapper and Steinfeld shares a wry, roiling chemistry. “You’ll be the only Dickinson they’ll talk about in 200 years,” he tells her. I don’t think they’ll be talking about this Dickinson in 200 years. But it’s very fun nonetheless.

 

REVIEW: JOHN WICK – CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM

Starring

Keanu Reeves (47 Ronin)
Ian McShane (Hercules)
Mark Dacascos (Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight)
Laurence Fishburne (Ant-Man and The Wasp)
Asia Kate Dillon (Billions)
Halle Berry (Darktide)
Lance Reddick (The Guest)
Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family)
Said Taghmaoui (Wonder Woman)
Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones)
Riccardo Scamarcio (First Light)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Good Place)
Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham)
Susan Blommaert (The Double)
Roger Yuan (Skyfall)

 

Keanu Reeves and Anjelica Huston in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)Ten minutes after the conclusion of the previous film, former hitman John Wick is now a marked man and on the run in Manhattan. After the unsanctioned killing of crime lord and new member of the High Table Santino D’Antonio in the New York City Continental, John is declared “excommunicado” by his handlers at the High Table and placed under a $14 million bounty that rises each hour. On the run from assassins, John reaches the New York Public Library and recovers a crucifix necklace and a “marker” medallion from a secret cache in a book. He fights his way through numerous assassins until he reaches the Director, a woman from his past who used to raise him. She calls him by his real name – Jardani Jovanovich. She accepts the crucifix as a “ticket” for safe passage to Casablanca, Morocco, and has Wick branded to signify that he has used up his ticket.Halle Berry in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)Meanwhile, an Adjudicator with the High Table meets with Winston, the manager of the New York City Continental, and the Bowery King, the leader of a network of vagrant assassins. The Adjudicator admonishes both for helping John kill Santino, a new member of the high table, and both are given seven days to give up their offices or face serious consequences. The Adjudicator hires Zero, a Japanese assassin, afterwards to enforce the will of the High Table. They find the Director while she is watching her ballet students perform. The Director’s penance for helping Wick by putting the ticket above the rules of the High Table is by blood, therefore Zero uses his sword to make a cut through the center of both her hands.Keanu Reeves, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)In Casablanca, John meets Sofia, a former friend and the manager of the Casablanca Continental. He presents his marker and asks Sofia to honor it by directing him to the Elder, the only person known to be above the High Table, so that he can ask to have his bounty waived. John has Sofia’s marker because he helped get her daughter out in the past. Sofia takes him to an assassin and her old boss named Berrada, who tells John that he may find the Elder by wandering through the desert until he cannot walk any longer. In exchange for this information, Berrada asks for one of Sofia’s dogs; when Sofia refuses, he shoots the dog (who was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, so is ultimately unharmed). In retaliation, Sofia shoots Berrada, and the duo fight their way out of the kasbah and flee into the desert. Having fulfilled her marker, Sofia leaves John in the desert. Meanwhile, the Adjudicator uses Zero to accost the Bowery King because he did not agree to leave his position after 7 days. As penance the Bowery King is maimed.Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)John collapses from exhaustion in the desert but is found and brought to the Elder. John says he is desperate to live on to “earn” the memory of the love he once had with his wife. The Elder agrees to forgive John but only if he assassinates Winston and continues to work for the High Table until his death. To show his commitment, John severs his ring finger and gives his wedding ring to the Elder. John arrives back in New York City and is pursued by Zero’s men. Zero nearly kills John before his pursuit is halted as they arrive at the New York City Continental, under threat of being declared excommunicado. John meets with Winston, who encourages John not to die as a killer but as a man who loved, and was loved by, his wife.Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)The Adjudicator arrives, but Winston refuses to give up his office, and John refuses to kill Winston. As a consequence, the Adjudicator “deconsecrates” the New York City Continental, revoking its protected neutral ground status. The Adjudicator notifies Zero and sends two busloads of body-armored High Table enforcers as support. With the help of the hotel’s concierge, Charon, John defends the Continental from the enforcers. John is ambushed by Zero and his students. John kills all but the remaining two students, and then fatally wounds Zero.Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)The Adjudicator negotiates a parley with Winston, who explains the rebellion as a “show of strength” and offers penance to the High Table. John arrives, and when the Adjudicator identifies him as a threat to the negotiation, Winston shoots John repeatedly, causing John to fall off of the Continental’s roof. The New York City Continental returns to operation and is “reconsecrated”, but the Adjudicator informs Winston that John’s body has disappeared and that he remains a threat for both of them. Meanwhile, a wounded John Wick is delivered to the heavily-scarred Bowery King, who tells John he is angry with the High Table and will be fighting against them. He asks John if he also feels pissed off, and John responds with, “Yeah”.Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)All in all, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum isn’t much different from the previous two movies. It isn’t the world’s most intricate or intelligent thriller. However, with brilliant energy, dazzling visuals, stunning action and an invaluable sense of fun, absolutely none of that matters, and it instead proves a solidly entertaining, manic and dizzyingly joyful thriller throughout.

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: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

CAST

Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Zach Galifanakis (The Hangover)
Michael Cera (Juno)
Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter)
Jenny Slate (The Lorax)
Hector Elizondo (The Princess Diaries)
Billy Dee Williams (BAtman)
Mariah Carey (Glitter)
Eddie Izzard (Hannibal)
Seth Green (Family Guy)
Jemaine Clement (Men In Black 3)
Ellie Kemper (21 Jump Street)
Jason Mantzoukas (Bad Neigbours)
Doug Benson (Super High Me)
Zoe Kravitz (Divergent)
Kate Micucci (The Big Bang Theory)
Riki Lindhome (Much Ado About Nothing)
Channing Tatum (Dear John)
Jonah Hill (Cyrus)
Laura Kightlinger (Lucky Louie)
Ralph Garman (Ted)
Chris Hardwick (Terminator 3)

Three years after saving the Lego Universe with Emmet and Wyldstyle, Batman continues fighting crime in Gotham City. During a mission to prevent The Joker from destroying the city, Batman hurts his arch-rival’s feelings by telling him he is not as important in his life as he thinks he is, leading to the Joker to desire seeking the ultimate revenge on him.
The following day, Batman attends the city’s winter gala as his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, to celebrate the retirement of Commissioner Gordon and the ascension of his daughter Barbara as Gotham’s new police commissioner, but is infuriated when she announces her plans to restructure the city’s police to function without the need of Batman. The Joker crashes the party with the rest of Gotham City’s villains, but has all of them surrender to the police. Despite realizing that this makes him no longer relevant to the city’s safety, Batman suspects his arch-rival is up to something and decides to stop him by banishing him into the Phantom Zone, a prison for some of the most dangerous villains in the Lego Universe.
Before he can make plans to acquire the Phantom Zone Projector that Superman uses, Alfred intervenes and advises him to take charge of Dick Grayson, whom Bruce had unwittingly adopted as his ward during the gala to which he eventually agrees and fosters Dick as Robin. The pair manage to recover the Projector from the Fortress of Solitude, before breaking into Arkham Asylum and using it on the Joker. Annoyed at his reckless actions and suspecting that the Joker wanted this to happen, Barbara locks up Batman and Robin. While the Projector is being seized as evidence, Harley Quinn steals it back and uses it to free the Joker, who unleashes the villains trapped within the Phantom Zone to cause havoc upon Gotham, including Lord Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, the Wicked Witch of the West, Medusa, Agent Smith and his clones, the Daleks, and the Kraken.
Realizing that the city does still need him, Barbara releases Batman and Robin and reluctantly teams up with them as “Batgirl” to stop the Joker, with the team joined by Alfred. Batman soon finds himself able to trust and rely on the others, allowing them to defeat Sauron, but upon reaching Wayne Island, he ditches the team out of fear of losing them like his parents, before confronting Joker alone. Upon seeing that the Batman will never change, Joker zaps him to the Phantom Zone, before stealing the Batcave’s stash of confiscated bombs and heading for the city’s Energy Facility. Arriving in the Phantom Zone, Batman witnesses the harm he has caused to everyone because of his selfishness and slowly accepts his greatest fear when Robin, Barbara and Alfred decide to come to his aid. Making a deal with the Phantom Zone’s gatekeeper, Phyllis, to bring back all the villains in exchange for returning to Gotham City, Batman arrives to save the trio and admits to them his mistakes, requesting their help to save the day.
Seeking to stop Joker from setting off the bombs beneath the Energy Facility, thus causing the plates beneath Gotham to come apart and send the city into the infinite abyss, Batman and his allies team up with the city’s regular list of villains, after they had felt neglected by Joker, with the group successfully sending back the escaped villains to the Phantom Zone. However, Batman fails to reach the bombs in time, the detonation causing the city to split apart. Realizing how to stop the city from being destroyed, Batman reluctantly convinces Joker that he is the reason for being the hero he is, and working together alongside Batman’s friends, the villains, and the city’s inhabitants, chain link themselves together, reconnecting the city’s plates and saving Gotham City.
With the city saved, Batman prepares to be taken back into the Phantom Zone to fulfill his bargain with Phyllis, only to be rejected by the gatekeeper who chooses to let him remain after she saw how much he had changed in order to save everyone. Batman allows the Joker and the rest of his rogues gallery to escape with the confidence that whenever they return, then they’ll be no match for the combined team of himself, Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred.Overall, this is a very enjoyable movie with a gripping story, fantastic animation that tops its predecessor and clever humor. I definitely recommend giving this a watch if you’re a fan of The Lego Movie.