Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.07 – ‘The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)’

In The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother) Kevin literally grapples with himself. It amazes me how little Kevin dealt with the tasks he was given when he went to the other side. Shortly after looking into the mirror shard and becoming The President, he asks the kids where their shoes went and delivers John’s message to Evie. The rest of the episode is about Kevin dealing with the destructive parts within himself that drive him away from his family and loved ones. The parts of himself that are never at rest and never feel satisfied. These parts of himself are physically manifested in the form of a key embedded below his heart. Kevin literally pulls that part out of himself and uses it to destroy the place where he has sought refuge from his self-destructive life.

In last week’s episode Kevin tells Laurie that he knows he was dead when he visited the hotel, but he had never felt more alive. That’s because when he is on the other side, he always finds a clear purpose and there is always someone there to tell him what he should be doing. Kill Patty, sing to get home, take the girl to the well. That purpose is what he doesn’t feel in real life and it is what drives him to these suicidal visions. What this episode did is move Kevin beyond that. He knows he screwed up with Nora, but he also knows that if somehow he gets back to Nora he can finally find comfort and serenity with her. Together.

 

Quick Thoughts:

  • Man, I was searching every scene for Laurie. Maybe she isn’t dead after all?
  • I loved the final scene with Kevin and his father, it felt like someone leaving a cult for the first time. After you put all that restrictive dogma behind you all you can really think is “what now?”
  • Where is ya boy Holy Wayne at? Let him reprise his role as Presidential Body Guard.

The post Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.07 – ‘The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Christopher Moore
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/29/review-the-leftovers-3-07-the-most-powerful-man-in-the-world-and-his-identical-twin-brother/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.06 – ‘Certified’

Certified acts as a spotlight on the character of Laurie while at the same time moving our overall story forward. A lot of what has been shrouded in mystery, i.e. what is this new cult’s plan for Kevin, has been cleared up. Kevin Sr., allowing his son to take on the Jesus role, is planning on using Kevin’s ability to go to the afterlife to get the final rain from Christopher Sunday. Once Kevin Sr. is able to complete is final ritual, the world is saved from a second flood of biblical proportions.

But when you hear tell of someone speaking to the dead, everyone wants in the action. Grace wants answers from her kids and John wants to know why Evie left. Yet again finality and closure is being used as a driving force in the Leftovers. You could even say that what happens (or did it?) to Laurie in this episode is her finding closure within herself. As the storm that was foretold moves in, Laurie finds contentment in her life. So much so, she might have chose to end it right there. Laurie has had one of the most fascinating arcs on the show. From a character who was seemingly devoid of emotion and empathy to one of the emotional cores of this season. She’s taken up the mantle of the respectful skeptic, sort of a more reasonable version of John from last season. But in a world that has seemed to move beyond reason, it can be extremely hard to remain a skeptic.

 

Quick Thoughts:

  • I think it’s a given that Kevin will make it to the afterlife, but I’m not sure it’ll be as easy as last time.
  • I also don’t think we’ll see everyone Kevin was asked to speak with while he’s there. We might not even see Laurie.

The post Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.06 – ‘Certified’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Christopher Moore
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/22/review-leftovers-3-06-certified/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’

However many entries within the expansive saga of the Alien universe the 79-year-old Ridley Scott winds up making, Alien: Covenant will no doubt signal a most essential turning point in the series’ canon. Having been an enormous fan of the flawed but engrossing Prometheus, I was elated by the news of Scott’s plans to continue down his existential rabbit hole complete with the nefarious “engineers”, Weyland Industries, the all-consuming questions of life and creationism, and to chart the paths of our hero Elizabeth Shaw and her synthetic android sidekick David along their renewed journey to finding those answers. So I was a bit angry to learn early in the film’s development that Shaw (and her portrayer, Noomi Rapace) would not be returning to the follow-up, and that the new film would be all but detaching itself from the core events of Prometheus with a new set of characters and locations and mysterious connective ties to its predecessor. She was this franchise’s Ellen Ripley, and this series of films were to be her story; how could it possibly continue on without her? Or so I so wrongly bemoaned.

As the opening scene of Covenant makes abundantly clear, a series this grand in scope that asks questions as profound as to what it means to create life could never be about one feeble mortal being. But a rogue synthetic android obsessed with the very nature of his own existence and that of his makers, one who simultaneously detests the lifeforms responsible for creating him while also unwaveringly devoted to the idea of creating life of his own, and one who’s cold, calculated and lacking in any semblance of humanity enough to see these exponential ideas to their next phase? That’s a character worth centering a franchise such as this around, and that’s what Covenant does to itself and future entries in the series, but also retroactively Prometheus. It turns out we were only secondarily following the story of Elizabeth Shaw and her team’s mission to discovering the origins of Earth; what really mattered were the underpinnings of one immortal being’s quest to understanding the worthlessness of humankind along his path to creating life worthy of his own unrelenting standards. It’s in that sense that Covenant picks up right where Prometheus left off.

And on the execution of those aforementioned ideas, some really ambitious narrative swings and particularly the character of David as played amazingly by Michael Fassbender, Covenant is a tour de force. It’s the rest of the film around those things that occasionally lacks. Similarly to its predecessor, outside of maybe three or four characters (everyone not played by Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride, essentially), the entire cast mainly exists to function as useful idiots there only to purge exposition and drive the plot forward through strings of awful decision-making. Oh and also to become gruesomely murdered by the various iterations of the iconic xenomorph creature. As has been justifiably championed by the critical community, Covenant returns the saga back to its original 1979 Alien horror roots, and to mostly terrifying effect the film is not shy about playing up the suspense and subsequent savagery of the abundance of xenomorph-related deaths. There are so, so many.

The action-horror elements are acceptable but more-or-less unremarkable and unimaginative. The occasionally flimsy CGI attributed to the xenomorphs doesn’t help those scenes feel any less plain. I’d argue from a visionary and technical level Covenant takes a noticeable step back from Prometheus, for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me yet. That being said, from a narrative perspective coupled with the sheer complexity of its own ideas, Covenant takes a definitive step forward above any film in the Alien saga to date. Watching as it fades to black on a cliffhanger more terrifying than anything else in the entire film preceding it with the series’ most irreversible act to date, my anticipation for Ridley Scott’s next chapter only surmounts. This time I’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

Rating: **** out of five

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Damien Bichir

Runtime: 122 minutes

 

The post Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Michael Lang
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/21/review-alien-covenant/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.05 – ‘It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World’

In what will most certainly be our last Matt-centric episode of The Leftovers, It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World lets us in on Matt’s world view one last time. This entire episode is a trial of faith for Matt. He’s is literally trapped in a lion’s den for almost the entire episode. Forced to face his inner demons, we learn that Matt views his life as a devotion to God. Even sacrificing his relationship with his wife to follow what he believes is God’s plan. Matt and his group of disciples endure the Lion’s den, but not without working out their differences with each other on the best way to deal with Kevin once they get to Australia.

Meanwhile, in true Leftovers fashion, we get a cold open and hints from the periphery of this episode about the tensions that are growing all over the world as people brace for the 7-year anniversary of The Great Departure. A nuke went off, but luckily no one was hurt. But a nuke going off anywhere in the world is enough to start a war between nations. Global war and great fireballs descending from the sky are prerequisites to the end times. But how much of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you are crazy and think the end of the world is coming, you might launch of nuke to kick things off. Then other delusional people may see that launch as a sign that their own end-times beliefs are coming true.

I think that all that macro-level stuff with most likely stay on the periphery for the rest of the season. What this season, and maybe even the entire series was about is whether or not Kevin is the second coming of Christ. Beyond that, whether he is or not might be secondary to his struggle to accept it either way and take on a role that is needed.

 

Quick Thoughts:

  • Anyone know if that Frasier the Lion story is true?
  • I loved the scene between “God” and Matt. He doesn’t think that was God, but he was talking to God either way.

The post Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.05 – ‘It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Christopher Moore
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/15/review-the-leftovers-3-05-its-a-matt-matt-matt-matt-world/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: ‘The Leftovers Season’ 3.4 ‘G’Day Melbourne’

The first two seasons of The Leftovers are dramatically different, taking place in a completely different setting and focusing on many completely different characters. In my mind, it was safe to assume that the formula would hold true for this third and final season, but that hasn’t been the case. As we move deeper into season 3, we are finally getting the change in scenery but we are getting a diminished focus on new characters. Last season it seemed all roads led to Jarden, now it is seeming like all roads lead to Australia. Maybe it has always been about Australia in some way. Even going back to season 1.

In G’Day Melbourne we see Nora work her way deeper into, and get cut off by, this new research team. They certainly are more serious than your average con-job, which leads me to believe that they are legitimately trying to do research but have severely crossed the line in the ethics division. Speaking of ethics, it seems they even have their own sense of moral superiority after turning down Nora’s money when they hear the wrong answer to their question. It’s odd, they have most likely condemned over 100 people to death in the pursuit of knowledge but Nora’s answer went too far for them.

On the other side of this episode we see Kevin going down the hallucination rabbit hole again. It was interesting to hear Nora refer to his hallucinations (sarcastically) as visions. Everyone always thinks the prophet is crazy until he’s proven right. We’ve seen Kevin have a lot of visions on this show but if he is Jesus Chris Superstar, he might not have been crazy all along. I just wonder what the event will be that proves (even to himself) that Kevin is chosen.

 

Quick Thoughts:

  • I loved the airport scenes and specifically when Kevin made Nora. He is a cop after all.
  • I wonder if Justin Theroux was told whether these visions were real or not. You would think it would have an impact on the way he portrays Kevin’s grief and anguish.

The post Review: ‘The Leftovers Season’ 3.4 ‘G’Day Melbourne’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Christopher Moore
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/08/review-the-leftovers-season-3-4-gday-melbourne/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

All I can ask from a Marvel movie, especially a sequel, at this point in the studio’s dominant reign is that it aspires to deliver a film beyond expected plot convention with some degree of thoughtfulness and creativity (unlike, say, The Avengers: Age of Ultron), and as was the case with Civil War last summer, I’d say Guardians Vol. 2 definitely does that. This is a film that takes some pretty hefty swings – the film’s reintroduction of the Guardians to the tune of “Mr. Blue Sky” from the POV of Baby Groot immediately springs to mind – most of which all coalesce around a final product worthy of the time spent investing in this mostly unremarkable but emotionally impactful story.

What I appreciated most about this film is that underneath the generic adversarial banter and obligatory Vol. 1 callbacks and last-ditch third-act world saving is the story of one man’s journey to connect with the father figure he thought long abandoned him. That’s really all this film is about and it’s through that core simplicity and universal relatability that Vol. 2 earns its place among the better superhero sequels in recent memory. Kurt Russel, initially given the convincing Robert Downy, Jr. de-ageify treatment in the film’s opening flashback sequence, is great here in that father role playing opposite Chris Pratt.

I understand that they are “Guardians of the Galaxy” and that Galaxy guarding is what most people are likely paying their money to see, but I really could’ve done without the Third-Act Rush to Save the World Team-up that dominates the film’s back half. We’ve seen it dozens of times before, and while it isn’t as irredeemable as the identical scene type in Vol. 1, the sequence felt more tacked on than it needed to be. It doesn’t completely torpedo the film as it’s able to rebound shortly afterward, but I still would’ve liked seeing it go, similarly to the film’s first two-thirds, a more unconventional, introspective route.

But even with a sloppy final act there’s no taking away what Guardians Vol. 2 is able to accomplish before and quickly following its few missteps. Even if I could do without the space raccoon in mostly every scene he appears, the movie is still very funny. And the chemistry and comradery among the Guardians is as weird and delightful and gushy as ever. These people are a lot of fun to be around. That plus genuine, earned emotion and aspirations of interesting, original moviemaking typically go a long way for me, and there’s no shortage of any of that in this one.

Rating: ***1/2

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell

Runtime: 137 mins

The post Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Michael Lang
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/06/review-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Weekly Round-up: April 30-May 4

Another amazing week, and with a new Netflix show ready to drop for what feels like the next 10 straight weeks, it doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. I hope to check in with Sense8 and the new Starz series American Gods for next week’s write-up.

Sunday

The Leftovers – “Crazy Whitefella Thinking”

Kevin Garvey, Sr. has been this show’s secret hidden weapon since its inception – always uniquely memorable in his brief appearances and always pushing the story forward, either on his own or in how he rubs off on his son, Kevin, Jr. But this was the all-Kevin, Sr. power-hour we’ve desperately needed since he popped up last season to casually announce he was heading down to Australia to start the world back up again, and it did not disappoint. His journey throughout the episode is so wildly, endearingly The Leftovers, with one preposterous moment or interaction after another that only remotely makes sense in the context of this broken world and broken man. His mission leading through his rendezvous with Christopher Sunday (what a great name) and what quickly followed was so perfect, the takeaway from both parts obviously being the two separate conversations he shares with Sunday (moments before he accidently kills him, of course) and Grace, the not-Kevin murdering old woman we met last week. Those two scenes blew me away, but for different reasons: the former being the long, near-incoherent (hilarious, perfectly delivered) ramblings of a man in search of a communion with God from within, the latter a tragic, paralyzing confession of a remorseful woman in search of a connection with her deceased children through a God-like figure. With Kevin, Jr. now enroute to Australia, I think the two might just find what they’re looking for, just not in how they were expecting.

Episode grade: A

Veep – “Georgia”

The Meyer-Doyle power-struggle has always been one of my favorite tiny details of the entire run of Veep so I was especially pleased to see it front and center in this episode. He was her after-thought Veep, now she’s the after-thought representative of his State Department overseeing the first ever democratic election in Georgia. Their back and forth over who exactly puts whom on hold was delightful. This episode worked a bit better for me than the previous two just by virtue of so much of the cast finally appearing in the same geographical setting. Something about seeing Ben and Kent huddled around Selina advising her on which deeply unethical financial and political quid pro quo she should consider felt right to me. And any time Minna H√§kkinen is also around badgering the shit out of Selina (whether intentional or not) is always gonna elevate any given episode as well.

Episode grade: B+

American Crime – “Episode Eight”

I’ve always admired this show for its bold, form-breaking content matter and artistic sensibilities, even when the actual show itself falls short of its ambitions through various kinks in its writing or portrayal of characters. That said, I found those issues to be less glaring this season, as the show settled into a fairly gripping account of the crippling financial anxieties beholden to all areas of our culture and class system, and the tragedy of the systemic, trickling affects that has on the most powerless and vulnerable among us. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to sell this season as its best for me if not for the all-consuming performances of its two heavy-hitters, Regina King and Felicity Huffman. It’s not a coincidence that their finest performances on this show to date arrived when they were each given the chance to play the season’s most root-worthy and sympathetic characters. The eight-episode order (as opposed to the usual ten) worked to the show’s advantage in enabling it to focus more acutely on its themes and core characters, but there were a few underserved characters and story beats that likely fell victim to it as well. I’m thinking of the Shea character or the character played by Benito Martinez. I didn’t love the final episode as I found much of it to be resolved a tad too hastily, but I admired the hell out of this season probably enough to call it my favorite of the three we’ve seen. I really hope we get a fourth.

Episode grade: B

Season grade: A-

Monday

Better Call Saul – “Sabrosito”

The first half of this episode played like a Breaking Bad prequel in the truest sense of the word, as we finally delve deeper into the politics of the same drug cartel Walter White will one day inadvertently challenge to upend. It was so exciting to be back in the good graces of the likes of Don Eladio and Juan Bolsa during the early rise of Gus’s meth empire, and to witness even more of the corrosive blood-feud between Gus and Hector Salamanca that we know many years from now will end in a blaze of bell-ringing glory. And the Jimmy/Kim/Chuck stuff so was great, too! There’s so much going for this show right now it’s almost embarrassing. I’m so pumped to see how this showdown between brothers will play out in court and not if, but how Jimmy and Kim will take down Chuck once and for all. It can’t go any other way.

Episode grade: A

Tuesday

The Americans – “IHOP”

Another week, another really solid episode of The Americans. Even when there isn’t a whole lot going on (as has been the case for several straight episodes, it feels like), there’s still plenty of good stuff to appreciate at the very least. Two characters I wouldn’t have held my breath over ever seeing again – Martha and Gabriel – reunited at last, although I’m not sure what Gabriel was hoping to get out of it. The scene paints a bleak picture of what Martha’s post-American life has become: lonely, completely isolated from society, struggling to learn a challenging new language that would enable her to live a somewhat fruitful existence. And nothing from this chat with Gabriel brings her closer to any of this; just more pain and anger towards the man she thought she loved and could trust. That man isn’t doing too great either, but has he ever been, really? He and his wife have a lot on their plate; too much to realize just how thoughtful and successful their biological son has become almost in spite of them, or just how lonely and homesick their “adopted” son has been as a result of their absence. With Gabriel no longer by their side to sooth them through tough times like these, I can’t help but think trouble likely looms in the near future of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.

Episode grade: B

Wednesday

Fargo – “The Yanagita Effect”

This season’s been criticized (too heavily, I’d argue) for how closely it’s resembled its past seasons – I say too heavily because if the characters and story continue to be fun and engaging in the face of familiarity (ahem, The Force Awakens), isn’t that what ultimately matters? But damn if this episode wasn’t as radical a departure from anything this show has ever done before. And it was a lot of fun seeing the world of this show travel to LA in the spirit of murder-mystery noir from the point-of-you of a character as fish-out-of-water as Gloria Burgle. Fun, yes, but purposeful? I’m still not sure. The story was advanced if not zero percent, hardly at all, and the mystery she was investigating, while compelling in its own right, ties very little back to the core crux of the actual murder itself. I liked the episode a lot, but whether or not I grow to love it will depend on just how much relevance it has to the rest of the story; it may be some time before we find out.

Episode grade: B

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Birth Day”

The blank, apathetic, almost smirking stare on the face of Offred as she’s casually, routinely raped by her Commander is among the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen on a TV show. There were a lot of moments like that in this episode, as we see the handmaids chant and coo at a fellow handmaid into delivering a baby she will never get to call her own, a baby whose life she will only exist in to serve as a designated milk provider. Seeing that entire process play out coupled with the flashbacks to Offred’s past pre-dystopian birthing experience helped to illuminate the role mass infertility likely played in bringing the world to its current state. As the history and order of this horrifying new world slowly begins to rear itself, I become more and more invested in its main character’s plight and hopeful resurgence. Though I can’t help but feel it’s gonna get a lot worse for her before it gets better, unfortunately.

Episode grade: A

Thursday

Grey’s Anatomy – “Leave It Inside” 

Every episode of this show is magic from start to finish.

Episode grade: A++++

The post Weekly Round-up: April 30-May 4 appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Michael Lang
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/05/weekly-round-up-april-30-may-4/ on ScreeningClub.com.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.3 ‘Crazy Whitefella Thinking’

If there is a one specialty that The Leftovers has carved out for itself it is taking a supporting character and letting them grow organically in their own episode. In the past we’ve gotten a few Nora episodes and a few Matt episodes but now we get to delve deeper into Kevin Garvey Senior. Kevin Sr. has been on of the most crucial supporting characters and clearly influential on Kevin Jr’s life both attitude wise as well as genetically. His character’s thought process and what is truly going on within him has been shrouded in mystery for the past two seasons.

In Crazy Whitefella Thinking we see behind the curtain a bit and learn why Kevin Sr. left for Australia while at the same time tying in Matt’s Book of Kevin. We even learn that there is a little contention as to which Kevin the title references. To me this episode feels like connective tissue between the first third of the season and the coming middle third. We’re setting the scenery for Australia and seeing that the world is just as messed up down under as it is state-side.

What The Leftovers does well is analyze grief, struggle and how people try to move beyond trauma. This episode is a character study on finding purpose to move beyond suffering. The world went crazy after the sudden departure and when something so shockingly out of the realm of possibilities happens people lose a sense of direction in life. How are you supposed to work towards goals in your life when at any moment reality could come crashing in on you and render all your work for nothing. Finding purpose in making sure that doesn’t happen again can bring comfort.

The post Review: ‘The Leftovers’ 3.3 ‘Crazy Whitefella Thinking’ appeared first on ScreeningClub | Insight Into the Media You Love.


by Christopher Moore
This post first appeared on http://screeningclub.com/2017/05/01/review-the-leftovers-3-3-crazy-whitefella-thinking/ on ScreeningClub.com.