REVIEW: ALADDIN (2019)

Starring

Will Smith (Men In Black)
Mena Massoud (Strange But True)
Naomi Scott (Power Rangers)
Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur)
Navid Negahban (Legion)
Nasim Pedrad (Scream Queens)
Billy Magnussen (Into The Woods)
Numan Acar (Kokowash)
Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Frank Welker (Transformers)

Marwan Kenzari and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)Aladdin, a kind-hearted street urchin living in the Arabian city of Agrabah along with his pet monkey Abu, rescues and befriends Princess Jasmine, who has snuck out of the palace to explore, tired of her sheltered life. Meanwhile, the grand vizier, Jafar schemes to overthrow Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. He, along with his pet parrot sidekick Iago, seeks a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders that will grant him three wishes. Only one person is worthy to enter: “the diamond in the rough”, whom he decides is Aladdin. Aladdin is captured and Jafar persuades him to retrieve the lamp. Inside the cave, Aladdin finds a magic carpet and obtains the lamp. He gives it to Jafar, who double crosses him and throws him back into the cave, though Abu steals the lamp back.Navid Negahban, Numan Acar, Nasim Pedrad, and Naomi Scott in Aladdin (2019)Trapped in the cave, Aladdin rubs the lamp, unwittingly summoning an omnipotent Genie, who lives inside it. Genie explains that he has the power to grant Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin tricks Genie into freeing them from the cave without using a wish. After they get out of the cave, Aladdin uses his first official wish to become a prince to impress Jasmine, and promises to use his third wish to free Genie from servitude.Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)Aladdin enters Agrabah as Prince Ali of Ababwa, arriving in an extravagant spectacle—including Abu, whom Genie has transformed into an elephant. However, Jasmine is unimpressed by his first presentation, including an assortment of gifts and jams. The two later bond when he takes her on a ride on the magic carpet to show her the world she wants to see while Genie goes out with Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia. When Jasmine tricks Aladdin into revealing his true identity, he convinces her that he is actually a prince and only dressed like a peasant to meet the citizens of Agrabah beforehand. Jafar discovers Aladdin’s identity and to test his theory, throws Aladdin into the sea. Aladdin loses consciousness and awakens having been saved by Genie, at the cost of his second wish. They then expose Jafar, who is arrested and imprisoned in the dungeon. The Sultan offers Aladdin the position as heir to the throne. Fearing he will lose Jasmine if the truth is revealed, Aladdin needs Genie with him now and refuses to free him, much to Genie’s disappointment.Naomi Scott in Aladdin (2019)Iago snatches one of the guards’ keys and he frees Jafar. Jafar stealthily steals the lamp from Aladdin and becomes Genie’s new master. He uses his first two wishes to become Sultan and then to become the world’s most powerful sorcerer, imprisoning the guards and Jasmine’s pet tiger Rajah. He then exposes Aladdin’s identity to Jasmine and exiles him and Abu to a frozen wasteland. He threatens to kill the Sultan and Dalia unless she agrees to marry him. At the wedding ceremony, Aladdin and Abu return, having been rescued by the magic carpet and Jasmine steals back the lamp. Furious, Jafar transforms Iago into a roc to give chase and overpowers them.Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)Aladdin stalls by taunting Jafar for being second only to Genie in terms of raw power, thereby tricking him into using his last wish to become the most powerful being in the universe. Due to the grey area in that wish, Genie is free to interpret it as he wishes and turns Jafar into a genie himself. Being chained to the lamp without a master, Jafar gets trapped inside, dragging Iago inside with him. Genie throws Jafar’s lamp to the Cave of Wonders and Aladdin keeps his promise, using his last wish to free Genie and turn him human. The Sultan declares that Jasmine will be the next ruler and tells her that Aladdin is a good person, outlines how worthy he is and tells her as Sultan, she can overturn the law that requires her to marry a prince. Jasmine follows Aladdin to the outside of the palace where she “orders him” to come and face the Sultan, she and Aladdin then share a passionate kiss. Genie marries Dalia and leaves to explore the world and start a family with her. Aladdin and Jasmine get married and start a new life.Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)I know everyone wants to compare this to the Animated version, but don’t. Take it as it comes and you will thoroughly enjoy it. It does stay pretty faithful to the animated version I think. Will Smith as the genie could never be the Robin Williams genie, but I don’t think he tries to. He does fantastically well in his own right.  think kids will love this and I would definitely recommend it.

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: LOST – SEASON 1

Starring

Naveen Andrews (The Brave One)
Emilie de Ravin (Operation: Endgame)
Matthew Fox (Alex Cross)
Jorge Garcia (How I Met Your Mother)
Maggie Grace (Taken)
Josh Holloway (Colony)
Yunjin Kim (Shiri)
Daniel Dae Kim (Insurgent)
Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Man and The Wasp)
Dominic Monaghan (Flashforward)
Harold Perrineau (Constantine)
Malcolm David Kelley (Deriot)
Ian Somerhalder (The Vampire Diaries)
Terry O’Quinn (The Rocketeer)

Naveen Andrews, Daniel Dae Kim, Emilie de Ravin, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Yunjin Kim, Dominic Monaghan, Terry O'Quinn, Harold Perrineau, Ian Somerhalder, Maggie Grace, Malcolm David Kelley, and Evangeline Lilly in Lost (2004)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Fredric Lehne (Men In Black)
L. Scott Caldwell (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
Kimberley Joseph (Hercules: TLJ)
Michelle Arthur (Mission: Impossible III)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
John Terry (Full Metal Jacket)
Veronica Hamel (Cannonball)
Neil Hopkins (D-Sides)
Michael DeLuise (Wayne’s World)
Kristin Richardson (Rock Star)
William Mapother (THe Mentalist)
Mira Furlan (Babylon 5)
Andrea Gabriel (2 Broke Girls)
Navid Negahban (Legion)
Nick Jameson (Frozen)
Keir O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers)
Charles Mesure (V)
Tamara Taylor (Bones)
David Starzyk (Veronica Mars)
Jim Piddock (Mascots)
Robert Patrick (Termiantor 2)
Brittany Perrineau (Felon)
Swoosie Kurtz (Mike & Molly)
Kevin Tighe (My Bloody Valentine)
Zack Ward (Transformers)
Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
Mackenzie Astin (The Orville)
Beth Broderick (Sabrina: TTW)
Daniel Roebuck (Final Destination)
Skye McCole Bartusiak (Don’t Say A Word)
Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and The Furious)
M.C. Gainey (Breakdown)

 

Dominic Monaghan and Evangeline Lilly in Lost (2004)Lost Season 1 succeeds first and foremost in character development. Lost is about relationships and before we can understand the dynamic behind the various relationships that develop over the course of a season, we need to understand what motivates these characters. This shows approach of having an individual episode focus on a single character through flashback, while formulaic, is a brilliant decision.Jorge Garcia and Harold Perrineau in Lost (2004)

Episodes like “The Moth” (Charlie), “Confidence Man” (Sawyer) and “Walkabout” give us a wealth of information about the people we are being introduced to. These episodes and others are entertaining, exciting and contain pivotal character moments that are still important to the story even in season four and undoubtedly beyond. As I’ve said, this is the foundation for the whole universe that we are being presented and the team behind Lost nailed it right from the “Pilot”.With character being such an important focus of the first season, the major story and mysteries surrounding the island are deliberately underdeveloped. After the survivors’ first night and their encounter with the monster we know this island is anything but normal, but we are only given glimpses from that point on. Over the course of the season we discover that there are other people on the island but beyond that we really don’t learn anything.Josh Holloway in Lost (2004)The truth is that if the writers had tried to develop the story at the same pace as the characters it would have all been too much, too soon and the whole world they are trying to build would have come tumbling down like a deck of cards. Saying that the story is underdeveloped may sound like a complaint but I feel that it was the best decision. We are given a thin vertical slice of what is to come in later seasons and that is all we really need.Of course, there are a plethora of individual character stories that thrive over the course of the season.Naveen Andrews in Lost (2004)Jin and Sun’s tumultuous relationship and betrayal, Charlie’s battle with drug addiction, Claire copping with being a parent and the love triangle between Kate, Jack and Sawyer are just a small few of the intriguing storylines that take place. All of these work to strengthen our understanding of the survivors.Definitely of note is the story of John Locke and his relationship with the island. It’s a fascinating story to watch unfold over the course of the season and Locke’s journey is very different from the rest of the survivors. He starts perceiving the island as a living entity and develops an understanding of it that everyone else fails to understand and they fear him for it.Yunjin Kim and Evangeline Lilly in Lost (2004)Terry O’Quinn does an exceptional job of portraying Locke’s development over the course of the season. He brilliantly presents a troubled and destroyed man who has experienced a profound miracle and is now trying to make sense of what has happened to him.As long time fans have come to expect, Michael Giacchino’s score adds an extra amount of depth to the season. He stands out as one of the premiere composers on television and Lost would simply not be the same without him. Most of Lost’s twists and turns may not have the same impact the second time around but that doesn’t mean that their importance isn’t appreciated. This show’s opening season set the foundation for things to come over the course of the series.

REVIEW: 12 STRONG

Starring

Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
Michael Shannon (Man of Steel)
Michael Peña (Ant-Man)
Navid Negahban (Homeland)
Trevante Rhodes (The Predator)
William Fichtner (The Dark Knight)
Geoff Stults (The Finder)
Thad Luckinbill (La La Land)
Ben O’Toole (Hacksaw Ridge)
Kenny Sheard (John Wick 2)
Elsa Pataky (Fast & Furious 8)
Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street)
Taylor Sheridan (Veronica Mars)

Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong (2018)Mitch Nelson, a US Army Captain with Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595, is moving into a new home with his wife and daughter on September 11, 2001, after receiving an assignment to staff duty under LTCol. Bowers. As news of the devastating terrorist attacks that day break, Nelson volunteers to lead 595 into Afghanistan. Bowers initially refuses, but veteran soldier CW5 Hal Spencer, previously scheduled to retire, persuades Bowers to give Nelson command of 595 again, as well as volunteering himself for the deployment. After leaving their families, 595 travels to Uzbekistan on October 7, 2001. After being briefed and evaluated by COL Mulholland, Commander of 5th Special Forces Group, Nelson and 595 are picked to fight alongside Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum.ODA 595 is inserted covertly in Afghanistan aboard an MH-47 Chinook flown by 160th SOAR. They land 40 miles south of Mazar-i Sharif, the country’s fourth-largest city and a longtime stronghold of the Taliban, where they meet Dostum. Six of the 12 members, led by Nelson, leave with Dostum to the mountains, while the other six remain in a fortified camp nicknamed “The Alamo” under Spencer’s command. Dostum is attempting to capture the northern Afghanistan city, while battling Taliban leader Mullah Razzan, who rules local communities brutally under strict Sharia law, and has murdered several people, including Dostum’s family.Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong (2018)Although the warlord is initially skeptical of Nelson’s abilities, Nelson gradually earns Dostum’s respect. In one battle, however, Dostum makes a tactical error, costing several casualties. Nelson accuses Dostum of acting carelessly with the lives of his men and of withholding valuable information, while Dostum retorts that he still feels that Nelson, and the U.S., is not willing to pay the potential price of the conflict, and tells Nelson that he needs to use his heart and mind to “be a warrior” instead of a soldier. The two eventually reconcile, and, after splitting off a three-man element under SFC Sam Diller to strike a Taliban supply route, and being joined by Spencer’s half of ODA 595, continue to work together. They win several victories with Dostum’s leadership and manpower and American airpower, making significant progress towards Mazar-i Sharif. Suddenly, however, Spencer informs Nelson that another ODA, 555, has been dispatched to support Atta Muhammad, another Northern Alliance leader, who is Dostum’s political rival. When Nelson is forced to tell Dostum, the furious warlord and his men promptly abandon 595.Following Dostum’s departure, Nelson plans to continue operating against the Taliban with his Americans and the few Afghan fighters remaining with them. Encountering a large force of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and armored vehicles, ODA 595, rejoined by Diller and his element, uses air support to eliminate many of the fighters and most of the armor, but are discovered and attacked. Spencer is critically injured by a suicide bomber, and the team is about to be overrun under heavy Taliban and Al-Qaeda pressure when Dostum returns with his forces. Carrying out the US Army’s first cavalry charge of the 21st century, the American and Northern Alliance forces disperse the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and Dostum tracks down and kills Razzan. After Spencer is medevaced, Nelson and Dostum continue to Mazar-i-Sharif but find Atta Muhammad has beaten them there. Against expectations, Dostum and Muhammad meet peacefully and put aside their differences. Impressed by Nelson and the Americans’ efforts, Dostum gives Nelson his prized riding crop and tells him that he will always consider Nelson a brother and fellow fighter but remember that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Spencer ultimately survives, and all 12 soldiers of ODA 595 return home after 23 days of almost continuous fighting in Afghanistan.The film’s penultimate moment shows a photo of the Horse Soldier Statue in New York City, based on the soldiers of ODA 595 and their victory in the early stages of the response to the September 11th attacks, dedicated to all United States Special Forces. The film then ends with a photo of the actual members of ODA 595, in combat fatigues, upon whom 12 Strong was based.Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong (2018)Perhaps not the best war movie ever made and a bit predictable, but a truly well done and well acted insight into the first response to 9/11. Yes we win. Guess what? We won in real life too. It’s about the journey not the well known destination. It’s a ride, on horseback. Enjoy it for what it is. The

REVIEW: GOD FRIENDED ME – SEASON 1

God Friended Me (2018)

Starring

Brandon Micheal Hall (Monster Party)
Violett Beane (The Flash)
Suraj Sharma (Homeland)
Javicia Leslie (Killer Coach)
Joe Morton (Terminator 2)

Brandon Micheal Hall in God Friended Me (2018)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Parminder Nagra (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Christopher Redman (Reverie)
Rachel Bay Jones (Ben Is Back)
Shazi Raja (Salvation)
Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Luke Cage)
Ajay Naidu (Bad Santa)
Flor De Liz Perez (Madam Secretary)
Brent Sexton (Bosch)
Will Rogers (The Bay)
Kyle Harris (Stitchers)
Ben Cole (Sense8)
Erica Gimpel (Fame)
Francesca Ling (The Good Neighbor)
Navid Negahban (Legion)
Malik Yoba (Designated Survivor)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Chelsea Spack (Gotham)
Jeremie Harris (The Get Down)
Camille Chen (Game Night)
Anabelle Acosta (Quantico)
James Martinez (Run All Night)
Gaius Charles (Takers)
Annaleigh Ashford (Unicorn Store)
Zach Roerig (The Vampire DIaries)
Adam Goldberg (Taken TV)
Al Sapienza (The Sopranos)
Stella Maeve (The Magicians)
René Ifrah (Nurse Jackie)
Nneka Okafor (Behind The Scenes)
Michel Gill (House of Cards)
Derek Luke (13 Reasons Why)
Jessica Lu (Reverie)

Violett Beane and Brandon Micheal Hall in God Friended Me (2018)At first blush, “God Friended Me” is an easy target for mockery. Its title promises something wacky and miraculous, with a bonus social- media tie-in for relevance. In actuality, the new CBS drama is almost too earnest to ridicule, wrapping its absurd premise with the kind of moralistic sincerity that has fueled broadcast network dramas for decades. It’s “Touched by an Angel” re-imagined for the millennial generation.Suraj Sharma, Violett Beane, and Brandon Micheal Hall in God Friended Me (2018)When a mysterious “God” Facebook account friends skeptical atheist Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall) out of nowhere, he’s shaken to find that it seems to anticipate the future by encouraging him to help people who need it, whether they know it or not. Complicating matters is the fact that Miles is also trying to sell a podcast about atheism in which he’d challenge people of faith on their views. This was complex enough before, especially since Miles’ father (Joe Morton) is a reverend who can’t understand his son’s insistence on preaching a lack of gospel. But now, with this seemingly all-knowing Facebook account watching and trying to dictate his every move, Miles finds himself more confused than ever. Violett Beane in God Friended Me (2018)In the attempt to flesh out Miles and his twenty-something world, creators Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt throw in as many millennial buzzwords as they can. Miles’s co-worker and best friend Rakesh (Suraj Sharma) complains about dating apps, insisting that “no one uses Tinder anymore” with a knowing eye roll on a show that nevertheless insists twenty-somethings are still avid users of Facebook. Miles is trying to sell his podcast to SiriusXM under the moniker “The Millennial Prophet.” And by the time the God account points him in the direction of Cara (Violett Beane), a writer who hasn’t turned in one of her signature viral think pieces for six weeks but somehow maintains a corner office, the show has itself a whole grab bag of millennial clichés that never add up to anything especially believable.Violett Beane and Brandon Micheal Hall in God Friended Me (2018)It’s telling that even on a series featuring a possibly omniscient being nudging people to do good through the insidious act of suggesting friends on Facebook, the most confusing aspect of “God Friended Me” is the question of who, exactly, it’s for. God Friended Me is able to  convince viewers to get past its premise and develop the wholehearted drama fueling it, which helps the series find its way. with a second season ordered it will interesting where the show will go.

REVIEW: ARROW – SEASON 1 & 2

CAST

Stephen Amell (The Vampire Diaries)
Katie Cassidy (Black Xmas)
Colin Donnell (Chicago Med)
David Ramsey (Pay It Forward)
Willa Holland (Legion)
Susanna Thompson (Dragonfly)
Paul Blackthorne (The Dresden Files)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Manu Bennett (Spartacus)
Colton Haynes (Teen Wolf)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Colin Salmon (Limitless TV)
Jamey Sheridan (The Ice Storm)
Annie Ilonzeh (Beauty and The Beast)
Brian Markinson (Izombie)
Derek Hamilton (Disturbing Behavior)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Kelly Hu (The Vampire Diaries)
Ty Olsson (X-Men 2)
Byron Mann (Dark Angel)
Roger Cross (First Wave)
Euegen Lipinski (Goosebumps)
Michael Rowe (Tomorrowland)
John Barrowman (Reign)
Currie Graham (Agent Carter)
Kyle Schmid (The Covenant)
Sarah-Jane Redmond (V)
Jessica De Gouw (Dracula)
Jeffrey Nordling (Tron: Legacy)
Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica)
Sebastian Dunn (The Other Half)
Andrew Dunbar (Leprechaun: Origins)
Danny Nucci (Eraser)
Ben Browder (Stargate SG.1)
Christie Laing (Scary Movie 4)
Patrick Sabongui (The Flash)
David Anders (Izombie)
Ona Grauer (V)
Adrian Holmes (Smallville)
Agam Darshi (Sanctuary)
James Callis (Battlestar Galactica)
Rekha Sharma (Dark Angel)
Chin Han (The Dark Knight)
Janina Gavankar (True Blood)
Alex Kingston (Flashforward)
Anna Van Hooft (Flash Gordon)
Celina Jade (The Man with The Iron Fists)
Seth Gabel (Salem)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Summer Glau (Firefly)
Dylan Bruce (Heroes Reborn)
Caity Lotz (The Machine)
Michael Jai White (The Dark
Valerie Tian (Izombie)Knight)
Kevin Alejandro (Ugly Betty)
Bex Taylor-Klaus (Scream: The Series)
Teryl Rothery (Stargate SG.1)
Aubrey Marie Anderson (The Unit)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes)
Cle Bennett (Flashpoint)
Dylan Neal (Sabrina: TTW)
Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Spartacus)
David Nykl (Stargate: Atlantis)
Sean Maher (Firefly)
James Kidnie (Robocop: The Series)
Katrina Law (Chuck)
Michael Eklund (Bates Motel)
Nicholas Lea (V)
Robert Knepper (Cult)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Animated Series)
Lochlyn Munro (Little Man)
Jorge Vargas (Power Rangers Ninja Storm)
Carlos Valdes (The Flash)
Navid Negahban (Legion)
Danielle Panabaker (Sky High)

Image result for arrow pilotAfter turning the story about Clark Kent’s evolution from humble teenager to world’s greatest hero into one of the most successful science fiction TV series of all time, what exactly do you do for an encore? The obvious answer would be a series about a young Bruce Wayne. Or maybe a crime procedural starring the men and women of the Gotham City Police Department. Instead, The CW gave us Arrow, a series that simultaneously explores Oliver Queen’s first months as a vigilante hero and the painful hero’s journey he undertook while stranded on a remote island. Even considering Green Arrow’s popularity in Smallville and Justice League Unlimited, it wasn’t the most obvious choice. Nor was it the choice many DC fans wanted. But ultimately, it was a choice that paid off.

To their credit, they succeeded. Even right off the bat, there were many notable elements that he writers introduced into the Green Arrow mythos. Generally a loner in the comics, here Ollie was given a full family and circle of allies. Some were inspired by characters from the comics, while others were entirely new creations. Probably the most successful new addition was John Diggle as Ollie’s personal bodyguard-turned-ally in his war on crime. Watching the dynamic between Ollie and Diggle morph from cold and hostile to warm camaraderie was a treat. And the two sequences featuring Diggle in the costume rather than Ollie suggested that this show could have a life beyond that of its lead character.Image result for arrow pilotAmell’s performance grew stronger over time, and the subtle ways in which he distinguished his performances during the present-day and flashback scenes stood out.With other characters, it was more a question of the scripts shedding light on motivation and relationships before they really came into their own. This was certainly the case with Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), who was a bit of a hard sell as a sympathetic mother figure until viewers came to understand her role in “The Undertaking.” Similarly, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) came across as a fairly flat and unimportant character at first. But by the end of the season, Tommy had emerged as the emotional heart of the series and Donnell’s one of the strongest performances.Jessica De Gouw in Arrow (2012)Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) was endearing, her instant charm made fans fall in love with her making her a regular was the best choice when they headed into season 2. As Laurel, Katie Cassidy was excellent as future Black Canary, dealing with her emotions of seeing her former boyfriend back from the dead and the lost of her sister.  Structurally, the season started out strong and finished even stronger. The writers managed to weave together an overarching narrative as Ollie slowly uncovered the truth of The Undertaking and his own parents’ involvement while contending with various smaller villains and conflicts. Anchoring the series throughout were the frequent flashbacks to Ollie’s five years on the island. The pilot episode offered a tantalizing glimpse of what had transpired over the course of those five years with the Deathstroke mask discarded on the beach. Various plot twists revealed just how complicated that story is, teaming Ollie with Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Shado (Celina Jade) in an ongoing guerrilla war against mercenary leader Edward Fyers (Sebastian Dunn). Particularly once Slade entered the picture and his bond with Ollie became a major focal point, the flashbacks emerged as one of the strongest elements of the show.

Everything in Season 1 culminated in two climactic episodes as Ollie fought for the survival of Starling City in the present and to stop Fyers from sparking an international incident in the past. These episodes offered a satisfying blend of big action scenes and emotional character showdowns. In particular, the final scene between Ollie and Tommy that closed out the season was perhaps the best the show has delivered so far.

Right off the bat, “City of Heroes” set the tone and direction for Season 2. We saw a despondent Ollie still crushed by the death of his best friend, Tommy, and having retreated to the island in a self-imposed exile. Though Colin Donnell only briefly reprised his role as Tommy this season, his character was very much a lingering presence driving the actions of Ollie and Laurel throughout the year. And his death formed the crux of Ollie’s renewed mission. It was right there in the revised opening sequence – “To honor my friend’s memory, I can’t be the killer I once was.” And that, more than Ollie’s battles with Slade Wilson or Sebastian Blood or Isabel Rochev, was the core conflict of the season. It’s easy enough to fight criminals by shooting them dead. But could Ollie muster the strength and the courage not to kill, even if it meant putting himself, his family, and his city in greater danger? It was a struggle, but the most satisfying element of the finale was the way Ollie definitively answered that question and established himself as a better class of vigilante.Manu Bennett in Arrow (2012)Overall, Season 2 was a good showcase for Stephen Amell’s acting talents.  Ollie was haunted by demons and shouldering heavy burdens throughout the year. He suffered more often than he succeeded, and Amell conveyed that pain well. Most impressive was the way Amell was so capable at portraying Ollie at different periods in his life. We saw plenty more of Ollie’s life on the island in the various flashback scenes. Having already spent a year fighting for his life against men like Edward Fyers and Billy Wintergreen, flashback Ollie was closer to the man he is in the present, but not all the way there. And we even caught glimpses of a pre-island Ollie, most significantly in “Seeing Red.” More than the changes in hairstyle or fashion, it was Amell’s purposeful shifts in vocal intonation and body language that differentiated the different versions of Ollie.Having established himself as one of the better supporting players in Season 1, it was very gratifying to see Manu Bennett step fully into the spotlight and become the big antagonist of Season 2. That’s despite him not even being revealed as the secret mastermind of Brother Blood’s uprising until the mid-season finale, “Three Ghosts.” But it was crucial that the show spend so much time, both this season and last, in building up the brotherly bond between Ollie and Slade and the island. We needed to feel the pain of seeing them broken apart and Slade become a vengeful villain hellbent on tearing his former friend’s life down. And it wasn’t until much later still that we saw how that rift occurred and Slade turn his wrath against Ollie. It’s a testament to both the writing and Bennett’s acting that the character never quite lost his aura of sympathy even as he murdered Ollie’s mother and tried to do the same to Felicity. This was a man driven half-mad by the loss of the woman he loved and an injection of a super-steroid. But conversely, I appreciated how the finale took pains to establish that it wasn’t just the Mirakuru fueling Slade’s anger. Even now, super-strength gone and exiled back to the island, Slade is a clear and present danger to Ollie’s world.Three GhostsThe show introduced Sebastian Blood and Isabel Rochev as Slade’s subordinates, with Blood serving as the most visible villain for much of the season. I really enjoyed Kevin Alejandro’s portrayal of Blood. Alejandro’s Blood was so disarmingly charming that it was often difficult to reconcile him with the masked man kidnapping drug addicts and turning street thugs into super-soldiers. Ultimately, Blood became the sort of villain who does the wrong things for the right reasons. He had an honest desire to make Starling City a better place. And when it became clear to him that Slade Wilson wouldn’t leave a city left for him to rule, Blood did the right thing and aided Team Arrow.Most of the increasingly large supporting cast were given their moments to shine in Season 2. I was often disappointed that Diggle wasn’t given more to do, but at least he was able to take a starring role in “Suicide Squad.” Diggle’s backseat status was mainly the result of Sara Lance stepping into the limelight early on and eventually becoming the fourth member of Ollie’s vigilante crew. The Arrow had his Canary finally. Sara’s own struggles with the desire for lethal force and reuniting with her family often made for good drama. But among Team Arrow, it was often Felicity Smoak who often had the best material.  Emily Bett Rickards had much better material to work with this year, whether it was her unrequited love for Ollie, her burgeoning relationship with Barry Allen, or her desire to pull her weight alongside her more physically capable allies. The final three episodes all featured some standout moments for Felicity as she established herself as a force to be reckoned with.
Elsewhere, Roy Harper was often a focus as he transitioned from troubled street punk to superhero sidekick. Roy’s temporary super-strength powers were a welcome story swerve and a fitting physical manifestation of his inner rage. His character arc received a satisfying conclusion in the finale when he proved himself worthy and received his own red domino mask, but lost Thea as a result.As for the various women in Ollie’s life, Felicity and Sara aside, Season 2 was a little more uneven. Moira definitely had an interesting ride. She started out Season 2 fighting for her life while on trial for her role in the Undertaking. Then, in an unlikely turn of events, she was spurred to run for mayor. And finally, her life did end when she became a pawn in Slade’s cruel game. It was a terrific finish for Moira, proving once and for all that, whatever wrongs she committed, she was only ever trying to ensure her children’s survival. Thea was more up and down throughout the season. She was often underutilized, but received a boost late in the season when she learned the truth about her parentage. Laurel’s character  had her own crucible this season, spiraling into into drug and alcohol addiction and losing her job before hitting bottom, rebounding, and playing her part in saving Starling City.The Mirakuru drug served as a plausible, pseudo-scientific way of introducing super-strength and allowing Slade to transform into Deathstroke. And even when it came time to introduce the Flash midway through the season, Barry Allen never felt too out of place alongside the more grounded characters. Season 2 really opened the floodgates as far as drawing in characters and elements from other DC properties. Barry Allen’s debut was the most high-profile, but we also saw plenty more of Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S. “Professor Ivo became a recurring villain, along with a very different take on Amazo. And in a welcome twist, it turned out that even the Batman franchise is fair game with this show. Early on we learned of Sara Lance and Malcolm Merlyn’s connection to the League of Assassins. Nyssa al Ghul appeared in a couple of episodes, and we know her father is out there in the world, leading his shadowy organization in the hidden city of Nanda Parbat. Even Harley Quinn had a brief cameo.And beyond the introduction of all these new elements, the scope of Arrow really opened up in Season 2. The action was bigger and better choreographed. The scale of the conflicts was bigger. The producers simply seemed to have more money to throw around. And whether that was actually the case or just the result of experience and planning, the end result was the same. Arrow became a bigger, more cinematic TV series this season.