REVIEW: INTO THE DARK – NEW YEAR, NEW YOU

Into the Dark (2018)

Starring

Suki Waterhouse (Detective Pikachu)
Carly Chaikin (The Last Song)
Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place)
Melissa Bergland (Winners & Losers)

Into the Dark (2018)Alexis, a babysitter, and the child she cares for both watch a video featuring Danielle Williams, a popular social media star and “content creator” who is receiving her own television show. Later, Alexis returns to her house to prepare for a New Year’s Eve party while admiring how “perfect” Danielle’s life appears to be. Her high-school friends Kaela and Chloe arrive, and they all catch up, discussing their friendship with Danielle before she became famous and the possibility that she may not show up. Later on, she does, though tension mounts between her and Alexis.Carly Chaikin and Suki Waterhouse in Into the Dark (2018)While going about their night, Danielle unknowingly annoys the others by filming them for her Instagram and not knowing about their lives. As the girls are enjoyed the party, however, during a game of “Never Have I Ever”, Alexis loses her temper at Danielle during the latter’s turn before saying she never bullied a girl named Kelsey until she killed herself. Danielle attempts to move on, but Alexis waterboards her with champagne, counts down to midnight, then turns to the other girls to tell them to tie her up like they all agreed to.MV5BMTQ1NjI5ODQ3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODAyOTk4OQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,665,1000_AL_With Danielle tied up with balloon strings, Alexis berates her for bullying each one of them before revealing that she intends to record her confessing her role in Kelsey’s suicide and ruin her career. Danielle agrees, but only says she should’ve done more to stop Kelsey’s bullying without admitting to doing it herself. In response, Alexis smears the products from Danielle’s make-up line that the latter had given to them as gifts in Danielle’s face and cuts off a section of her hair with broken glass to make her more “camera-ready.” This becomes too much for Kaela, who leaves the room to FaceTime her girlfriend, Frankie. When Alexis follows Kaela out, Danielle attempts to convince Chloe to set her free by offering Chloe her spot on the YouTube channel she will be leaving. Chloe starts to untie her just before the others get back. After Alexis and Kaela return, Danielle attacks Alexis, knocking her out.Into The Dark: New Year, New YouDanielle and Chloe lock Alexis and Kaela inside a sauna, intending to wait until they die before calling the cops so they will see the deaths as an accident. Danielle refuses to let them live, lest her dark past be revealed, and her career ruined. Chloe seems unsure but Danielle ultimately convinces her otherwise. Alexis and Kaela eventually discover a champagne bottle and, using it to smash the window of the sauna, nearly escape only to run into Danielle and Chloe. They hide in Alexis’s closet before Alexis leaves to find her phone, leaving Kaela alone. Chloe finds Kaela, who tries to convince her to walk away and keep everything secret. Chloe claims Kaela doesn’t want her to succeed and accidentally kills her. Meanwhile, Danielle corners Alexis and cuts her calf, but she’s able to get away. A shaken Chloe comes down to meet Danielle while Alexis tends to her wound. Frankie arrives looking for Kaela because she didn’t answer her phone. Danielle and Chloe decide to frame her for the murders, and after letting her in, Chloe kills her. Alexis runs upstairs and prepares to defend herself. When her ex-friends give chase, Alexis knocks Chloe down the stairs, killing her. Danielle then engages Alexis in another fight, only for Alexis to throw Danielle out of a window to her death in the pool.Into The Dark: New Year, New YouLater on, an influencer who worked with Danielle discusses how Frankie killed Danielle after the latter encouraged Kaela to end the relationship. Alexis stands next to her, and, after taking a moment to “grieve”, she immediately becomes bubbly and films her own video, happy that she now has Danielle’s life.NYNY_104_RF_20180802_0040R_fAnything can be picked apart. No creation is without flaws. Relax and let the movie happen. It’s a fun ride and a grand setup for the ending! Is it totally realistic? Nope! Enjoy it! I found it very well cast and never took itself too seriously.

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.

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)
Lukas Gage (Sickhouse)
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: THE GOOD PLACE – SEASON 3

Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, 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)

Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper in The Good Place (2016)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids)
Adam Scott (Krampus)
Mike O’Malley (My Name Is Earl)
Marc Evan Jackson (Kong: Skull Island)
Eugene Cordero (The Mule)
Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Barry)
Ben Lawson (No Strings Attached)
Ben Geurens (Reign)
Leslie Grossman (Popular)
Anna Khaja (Quantico)
Ajay Mehta (Anger Managment)
Tiya Sircar (The Internship)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Jama Williamson (School of Rock)
Stephen Merchant (Logan)
Jason Mantzoukas (The Dictator)
Maribeth Monroe (Downsizing)

Adam Scott and Kristen Bell in The Good Place (2016)After their down right incredible second season I was more than a little curious about how this season would turn out. The real joy of The Good Place is how every season is drastically different in content while still staying true to the shows sense of humor, core characters and themes of moral philosophy.Ted Danson and D'Arcy Carden in The Good Place (2016)Season 3 opts to explore the usual ideas of morality while on Earth, giving more great moments of the core group of humans interacting and learning together without so much of the original gimmick.Kristen Bell and Jameela Jamil in The Good Place (2016)The biggest positive of this show is how well written the interactions between the main cast are managing to be very funny while offering actual incite into the underlying philosophy of the show. By taking the characters out of the crazy afterlife setting for a large part of the season forces the writers to focus on this element and allows the actors to show of their comedic sensibilities. However I would be lying if I said that the later half of the season, where more of the absurd elements the show rose to prominence for came back into play more, wasn’t the more interesting part. I have to give props to the writers for trying something different though and I can’t wait to see where they take this concept next.Ted Danson and Kristen Bell in The Good Place (2016)This season is where the cast got to show off more. The character of Jason became far more realised, fleshed out and funny when he had more mundane concepts to deal with. Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper got to flex their dramatic mussels for larger sections and D’arcy Carden absolutely crushes it in every episode, especially in episode 9 “Janet(s)”.Ted Danson and Kristen Bell in The Good Place (2016)With it’s emphasis on name-drooping actual philosophers and general upbeat and absurd tone, The Good Place continues to separate itself for most of it’s competition.