REVIEW: WESTWORLD – SEASON 2

Westworld (2016)

Starring

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

Thandie Newton in Westworld (2016)

Recurrin / Notable Guest Cast

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

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

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

REVIEW: THE SIMPSONS – SEASON 29

the-simpsons

CAST

Dan Castellaneta (Super 8)
Julie Kavner (Dr. Dolittle)
Yeardley Smith (Dead Like Me)
Nancy Cartwright (Kim Possible)
Hank Azaria (The Smurfs)
Harry Shearer (This Is Spinal Tap)
Pamela Hayden (Recess)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Russi Taylor (Babe)

The Simpsons (1989)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Billy Boyd (Seed of Chucky)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones)
Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
Martin Short (Galaxy Quest)
Valerie Harper (A Friend To Die For)
Joe Mantegna (Redbelt)
Ben Daniels (Doom)
Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls)
Jon Lovitz (The Wedding Singer)
Kelsey Grammer (Frasier)
Shaquille O’Neal (Steel)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Bill Hader (Power Rangers)
Cecily Strong (The Boss)
Kevin Pollak (Mom)
Andy Daly (Reno 911!)
J.K Simmons (Spider-Man)
Dawnn Lewis (Izombie)
Jackie Mason (Caddyshack II)
Danielle Radcliffe (Imperium)
Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley)
Ray Liotta (Hannibal)
Debi Mazar (Goodfellas)
Jonathan Schmock (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Glenn Close (Damages)
Marcia Wallace (Full House)
Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld)

The Simpsons (1989)What more can I possibly say about a TV show that has already been praised to death? I was 8 when the Simpsons first aired and I’m 37 now. I’ve seen every single episode, and I’d have to say it’s a rare combination of factors that come together to make The Simpsons the best show ever.The Simpsons (1989)It’s a very clever and intelligent show – they never dumb anything down – and as creator Matt Groening has remarked, “The Simpsons is a show that rewards paying attention.” There are always enough obscure pop-culture references or subtle background gags to ensure that the second, third, or tenth viewing of an episode will find you noticing something you hadn’t before.
The Simpsons (1989)In the early days of The Simpsons, they derived a large part of their popularity from the everyday, down-to-earth, unglamorous, average-blue-collar-slob aspect of the Simpson family. Homer is lazy and doesn’t like his job, Bart doesn’t excel at school, the plastic ketchup bottle they use at the dinner table makes that farting sound, and so on. This aspect of the program contrasts it with popular 80’s family sitcoms such as The Cosby Show which always featured impossibly well-functioning families who got along a little too perfectly and usually learned a neat little lesson at the end of each episode. An early tag-line for The Simpsons said that they “put the Fun back in Dysfunctional.”The Simpsons (1989)Perhaps this blue-collar-slobness by itself is nothing shockingly original – think of previous TV shows such as Roseanne, Married with Children, All in the Family, The Honeymooners – but the Simpsons doesn’t stop there. This show is extremely densely packed with jokes – everything from cerebral witticisms and sly satire to Homer falling down and going “D’oh!” Because it’s a cartoon, the writers can get away with surreal gags such as the time Homer tells a joke which falls flat, after which a long silence happens which is punctuated by a single tumbleweed rolling through the Simpson’s living room.
Julie Kavner in The Simpsons (1989)There are just too many things to mention about The Simpsons. It can be touching occasionally; more often the viewers are treated to an unequalled cavalcade of obscure references, surreal sight gags, wacky adventures, self-mocking irony… The list goes on and on. Just watch it, else you’re missing out on one of the most important elements of  popular culture. Season 29 continues the trend of excellent humor and some very fun moments for our favorite family and shows The Simpsons has strong legs to continue on with 30th season airing in the winter of  2018.

 

REVIEW: INFERNO

CAST

Tom Hanks (Sully)
Felicity Jones (Rogue One)
Omar Sy (Jurassic World)
Ben Foster (The Punisher)
Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld)
Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi)
Ana Ularu (Emerald City)

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno (2016)Harvard University professor Robert Langdon awakens in a hospital room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what has transpired over the last few days, but being plagued with visions of a scorched Earth. Dr. Sienna Brooks, one of the doctors tending to him, reveals that he is suffering from amnesia as a result of a bullet wound to the head. Another doctor says the police are there to question Langdon but the officer turns out to be Vayentha, an assassin, who shoots the doctor while heading down the hall. Sienna helps Langdon to escape, and they flee to her apartment.Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno (2016)Among Langdon’s personal belongings, Langdon and Sienna find a Faraday pointer, a miniature image projector with a modified version of Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell, which itself is based on Dante’s Inferno. They soon realize this is the first clue in a trail left by Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire geneticist who believed that rigorous measures were necessary to reduce the Earth’s growing population, and who committed suicide after being chased by armed government agents.Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno (2016)Langdon and Sienna figure out that Zobrist, who is obsessed with Dante, has created a virus he has dubbed “Inferno”, with the potential of decimating the world’s population. In the meantime, they have been traced by both Vayentha and agents from the World Health Organization (WHO), who try to raid the apartment, forcing them to flee again. The WHO agents are headed by Elizabeth Sinskey, an old lover of Langdon’s, and are trying to prevent the release of the virus. Vayentha reports to her employer Harry Sims, the CEO of a private security company called “The Consortium”, who is acting on behalf of Zobrist, who gives her instructions to kill Langdon as he had become a liability.Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno (2016)Langdon’s knowledge of Dante’s work and history, and of hidden passages in Florence, allows the two to follow clues such as letters and phrases which lead to various locations in Florence and Venice, while killing Vayentha and evading the WHO. Along the way, Langdon discovers that he stole and hid the Dante Death Mask, a crucial clue, an event he also does not remember. Zobrist had provided Sims with a video message about the virus, to be broadcast after it has been released. Shocked by its content, Sims allies with Sinskey to prevent the outbreak. However, Langdon and Sienna are contacted by Christoph Bouchard, a man purporting to be working for WHO, warning them that Sinskey has a double agenda and is after the Inferno virus for her own profit. The three cooperate for a while, until Langdon realizes that Bouchard is lying and seeking to profit from Inferno himself, forcing the duo to flee on their own again.Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, and Omar Sy in Inferno (2016)Langdon figures out that the virus is in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. With that knowledge, Sienna abandons Langdon, revealing that she was Zobrist’s lover and that she will ensure the release of the virus. Zobrist and Sienna used to play treasure hunt games; this trail was the backup plan in case something happened to Zobrist. Langdon is recaptured by Bouchard, but Sims kills Bouchard and rescues Langdon, who then re-teams with Sinskey, who asked him for help in interpreting the imagery from the Faraday pointer. Sims reveals he was hired by Sienna to kidnap Langdon when Zobrist had been killed, and drugged with benzodiazepine to induce a memory loss; the events in the hospital were all staged.Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno (2016)They realize the virus is in a plastic bag hidden under water in the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. The WHO team – joined by Langdon, Sims, and Sinskey – race to locate and secure the bag, while Sienna and her allies attempt to detonate an explosive that will rupture the bag and aerosolize the virus. Sims is killed by Sienna, and when Langdon confronts her, she commits suicide in an attempt to release the virus. The detonation is able to rupture the bag but because it was already contained in a special containment unit, the virus was secured in time and Sienna’s allies are killed. The virus is then taken by WHO, and Langdon goes back to Florence in order to return the Dante Death Mask.Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno (2016)The movie seems to have taken lot of liberties with Dan Brown’s book although I cannot compare much since I’m yet to read it fully. I could not go beyond 100 odd pages, it felt very crazy to me. If I were to judge just the movie, I’d say it entertained. I think that’s director Ron Howard’s skill, he can make any story watchable. There’s enough tension to hold our attention till the very end. Although I’ve heard the book ends differently, I’m glad the movie ends the way it did…felt more sane & positive to me! I find Dan Brown’s earlier works like DaVinci Code or Angels & Demons to be more readable.