Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 3 Review


Spoilers ahead…

This week’s episode opens with a scene that could easily have been in Breaking Bad. Watching people doing things is never more engaging than when this team of writers and filmmakers pulls it off. Tyrus and Victor sure as hell know how to set up a crime scene. That second shot to Nacho’s stomach was brutal as ever. And I imagine Gus is aware there is a possibility of Nacho dying as a result of such a wound. It’s a flip of the coin here if he’ll be able to use Nacho any further, but Gus is at his coldest when it comes to vengeance, and it’s a risk he’s happy to take. Not to mention, all is riding on that desert shootout looking as real as possible.

Nacho is out of the frying pan and in the fire now. It’s hard not to feel for him. Much like Jesse Pinkman, we’re watching a young man live out the brutal consequences in a business he never should have got himself involved in. Nacho is also the only character whose fate is completely up in the air. I’m eager as ever to see if, among a cast of characters sealed to a dark fate, Nacho can make it out of this show unscathed.

The effects crew pulled a remarkable job of making Nacho look as though he’s on the brink of death. And the camera work as the Salamanca cousins and Caldera (the veterinarian) try to fix Nacho up felt like a scene straight out of Requiem for a Dream. Nacho is helpless and probably wouldn’t mind the warm embrace of death at this point. Then we get the hilarious irony of Caldera telling Nacho, “this cartel shit is too hot for me.” Michael Mando’s ‘if you only knew’ reaction is priceless.

Gus, ever the master planner, knows Don Bolsa will fall right into his hand by instructing the use of a local supplier. It’s always a pleasure to watch Gus manipulate events. “But that’s forbidden.” Gus is playing the cartel like a fiddle. And this show is clever in reminding us that this particular chess move will lead directly to Walter White. As we found out in season four of Breaking Bad, Gale Boetticher convinces Gus to bring Walt into their business, inevitably signing both their death warrants. So, as Gus makes his way to meet with Gale, the camera shoots Giancarlo Esposito in a subtly similar way to his fateful walk to meet with Hector in Breaking Bad, just before Gus’ explosive death. I love how this show communicates a shift of fate like this purely through its memory striking visuals.

And if you thought I was going to just glide over Gale’s suitably geeky entrance into this show, don’t fret. David Costabile never ceases to amaze us with his impeccable memory skills, this time lent to singing ‘the elements’ with insane accuracy. When Gus enters the room, he smiles at Gale’s quirky number before making his presence known. Gus seems to genuinely like Gale. And he doesn’t have to persuade Gale into cooking meth for him. I couldn’t help but notice Gale’s similarities with Walter White here. Albeit, a much more eccentric version. Gale’s got an ego, putting down the poor quality of the inferior meth samples, he’s got a taste for the criminal underworld and wants to edge his way in to make his mark. He’s Walt, minus the Heisenberg.

This episode sees Jimmy meeting up with Mike for the first time this season. I’ve heard plenty complaints regarding Jimmy and Mike not interacting enough in this series, but the distance between the two characters makes sense in the grander scheme. You never get a sense in Breaking Bad that these two players have a particularly strong history with one another. Mike’s loyalties lie fully with Gus in in that show. He’s even willing to torture Saul for information on Jesse Pinkman in that not too distant future. It certainly wouldn’t make sense for the two to be overly buddy, buddy in Saul’s show. They’re on two separate paths. Anyway, it’s always nice seeing Mike in his favorite diner, getting served by his favorite waitress, Fran. Jimmy tries to convince Mike to hop on board the hummel heist, but Mike sees no rhyme or reason. And this older, wiser man can see that Jimmy must be covering his pain and loss through some unnecessary scam antics.

Jimmy ends up taking the alternate route to Ira, the future boss-man of Vamonos Pest. Saul mentions having done some past heist work with Ira in Breaking Bad, so this was a fitting and fun connection. It’s great that, despite the dark turn this show is taking, it still keeps one foot in the silly waters it was birthed from. It’s a delight to watch Jimmy bail Ira out of a botched heist plan. I just hope Mr. Neff’s wife can find a way to forgive his vacuum gift.


The title of this episode, “Something Beautiful,” really applies to Jimmy and Kim this week. These two characters have been through the emotional ringer together and their relationship is taking a damaging toll. Jimmy is burying his anguish by focusing all his energy into ‘Slipping Jimmy,’ while Kim can no longer ignore hers. As she learns about the boundless road of work ahead of her with Mesa Verde’s expansion, she has a moment of internal panic. Is she really supposed to bury herself in work until she’s completely numb to her emotions? She can no longer ignore the pain and guilt harbored from Chuck’s demise.

The final scene between Jimmy and Kim is a prime example of what this show so expertly conveys – human nature in its most raw and truthful form. Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk are engaging as ever in this crushing moment. The stage is set when Jimmy learns of the five-grand kick to the nuts his brother left him with. You can see and hear his pained reaction. So, when Jimmy dives into the letter, he’s ready to interpret it as an even further sarcastic dig at his character, no matter what it actually says.

But to Kim and the audience’s surprise, the letter is actually a heartfelt confession from Chuck, laying out his most encouraging feelings towards his little brother. Jimmy gives the letter a meaningless, mundane read while Kim breaks down in tears. She can no longer hide her emotions, and it breaks her heart that Jimmy has turned so cold. An intensely emotional scene between two people who just can’t find a connection in their grief. That last shot of Jimmy with half his face divided in white representing the vacant, detached individual Chuck’s death is turning him to. Once Kim is out of his life, there will be no more Jimmy left, just a bare void of his former self. Kim senses this deterioration in Jimmy, clear as day, and it kills her.

Hawkeye: The Short End of the Arrow


If you caught Deadpool 2 this summer, you may have noticed, among the many jokes and jabs, some not so subtle shade thrown at Clint Barton, A.K.A. Hawkeye. At one point, Wade Wilson says, “With this collar on, my superpower is just unbridled cancer. Give me a bow and arrow and I’m basically Hawkeye.” This was one of many hilarious digs at superhero culture throughout the movie. But it got me thinking, Hawkeye is the butt of almost every Avengers joke. And It’s not exactly hard to see why. He’s a dude with no powers, he’s just really good with his bow and arrow. It’s absolutely absurd.

But at the same time, what Marvel character doesn’t come off as goofy in their most basic description? Captain America, a guy dressed as the American flag, taking on armed mercenaries with his…metal shield? Iron Man, a guy dressed in what looks like a garbage can in his first appearance and then later upgrades it to a flying McDonald’s add? Even Black Widow brings nothing more than her looks and some skilled fighting to a battle. Yet this kind of nonsensical fun is part of the great allure and fantasy of superheroes. Take it too seriously and you’re going to have a bad time. But still, the first thing most people will point out when talking about the Avengers is, “The dude with the bow and arrow has got to go, it just makes no sense.”

Of course, most people taking these jabs know Hawkeye and the rest of the Avengers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone. Hawkeye from Marvel comics is an all together different animal. So, let’s deconstruct just why Clint Barton has worked as a character in the comics since the 1960’s, yet falls short in the modern age of Superhero cinema.

And of course, spoilers from Hawkeye’s comic book and film history.


Let’s start by clarifying that there are two main versions of Clint Barton/Hawkeye in Marvel comics to draw reference; The 616 Universe and The Ultimate Universe.

The 616 universe, which is considered the primary Marvel universe, is where the character made his debut back in 1964. And his story continues in that same world to this very day. His first appearance was as an antagonist against Iron Man. But he wasn’t your run of the mill criminal. Clint Barton had grown up in the circus where he developed expert archer skills. When he sees Iron Man save a group of people in danger on Coney Island, Clint becomes jealous of the audience’s awe and attention for Iron Man’s heroics instead of his marksman show. From there, out of resentment, Clint gets to work on creating his own superhero persona, Hawkeye, equipped with a flashy purple suit and customized arrow tips. After a misunderstanding with the authorities, Clint is labeled a criminal, and even embraces that definition for a short time. That is, until he chooses to join The Avengers in hopes of clearing his name and earning a rank amongst Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.


Birthed during a rejuvenation period for Marvel, the Ultimate Universe was created in the year 2000 to explore a fresh, modern take of its classic characters. 2002 saw the introduction of The Ultimates, this universe’s version of The Avengers. The Ultimates were brought together by Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., as an American superhero strike-force team assembled to combat the ever growing threat of super-villains. Here, Clint Barton is a former Olympic archer turned black ops agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is often partnered up with ex-KGB agent, Natasha Romanov, AKA Black Widow. This should all sound familiar to any Avengers film fans, as most of these elements were utilized in the first 2012 movie. What may not sound as familiar though is that in this universe, Clint has a wife and three children who are all murdered in front of him after a betrayal by his friend and teammate, Black Widow. Soon after, Hawkeye gets his revenge on Widow by shooting an arrow between her eyes. Yep, things got dark.


One of, if not, the best ingredients in Marvel’s cinematic universe are the stellar casting choices. From Robert Downey Jr. to Chris Evans, Marvel Studios owes much of its success to actors that seem born to play their rolls. Unfortunately, Hawkeye is an exception to this trend. And that is no knock at Jeremy Renner, he is a great actor in his own right, but Clint Barton is simply not a roll that fits him.

Renner first appears as Hawkeye with a quick cameo in Thor, but his true first outing as the character was in The Avengers. And it is here that I would argue Renner was not a poor casting choice in this specific movie. With an ensemble cast consisting of six comic book heroes, at least one would have to play second fiddle to the narrative. It was inevitable, and since Hawkeye was the one character that had no significant influence in the prior lead up movies, it was bound to be him. And this was fair. From a story perspective, writer/director Joss Whedon made the logical choice to draw from Marvel’s Ultimate Comics interpretation of the character. And Jeremy Renner was a solid choice for this version of Clint Barton. His acting responsibilities in The Avengers were straight forward; a skilled soldier of fortune manipulated into serving Loki. He was also used to build on and expand Black Widow’s arc, revealing two nuanced SHIELD agents with a complex backstory. Every scene Hawkeye was called for in The Avengers was hit well enough with Renner. It’s the character’s follow up appearance that doesn’t quite measure up.hawkeye-avengers

For Joss Whedon’s sequel, AvengersAge of Ultron, there was expectation for the filmmaker to expand upon Clint Barton. He was the necessary sacrifice of the first movie, but a sequel had every responsibility to double down on the golden archer. Whedon clearly felt this obligation and made a valiant effort to extend the character some justice. So he chose to dig even deeper into Barton’s ultimate universe interpretation and gave him a family. And with this, we were finally granted a clear notion of the character’s place on the team. He is, among a squad of broken and lonely individuals, the stable one of the group. He has every reason to retire and enjoy a quite life on a secluded farm with his family. Yet, Clint feels a parental-like obligation to look after his teammates. His pregnant wife insists that he retire, so Clint agrees to one last mission, a final battle against the antagonist of the film, Ultron. After barely making if out alive, and witnessing a fellow Avenger, Quicksilver, die on the battle field, Barton gives into his wife’s insistence and choses retirement from avenging at the end of the movie.


But here’s the problem, the most engaging aspect of Clint’s family in the ultimate universe is that they get taken away from him. We are not directed to care about Hawkeye’s family so much as we are meant to care about the effect their death has on him. Just like any great Marvel character, his life is endowed with terrible tragedy. His best friend and teammate betrayed him and took away what he cherished most in life. This would drive any normal person insane, but Barton uses it as motivation for his place in the Ultimates. His drive to prove himself amongst Gods and warriors is engaging and human. There is never a sense that Hawkeye needs to prove himself among his more powerful peers in Ultron. He has their approval, but his wife’s apprehension over his career choice is where his conflict comes in. Compared to the compelling internal conflicts the other Avengers have to deal with, Clint’s comes off as the least engaging. Whedon attempted to make Hawkeye a unique character in the MCU by shaping a hero without a tragic or misunderstood backstory, but this unfortunately resulted in a flatter outcome than intended.

Cue Captain America: Civil War, where the age of the Russo Brothers had officially assumed the MCU. Whereas Joss Whedon looked to the Ultimate Universe for Hawkeye inspiration, directors Joe and Anthony Russo chose to go classic and draw from the 616 Barton for Civil War. For the first time on screen, we see the more whimsical, witty natured attributes Clint was originally known for. His involvement comes about halfway through the movie when Captain America calls Hawkeye out of retirement to join his side in the fight against Iron Man’s team. His first mission; save The Scarlet Witch from Vision’s entrapment. Script wise, this was a great way to get Barton involved again. His choice plays on what had been previously established in the Avengers movies. He is addicted to the thrill of being a soldier, even at the risk of leaving his family behind, so of course he would jump at the chance to abandon his retirement. Age of Ultron also established a sibling-like bond between Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch AKA Wanda Maximoff, so it makes sense that he would answer the call to save her. But his choice to help Cap’s team gets him locked up by the end of the movie. Civil War was undoubtably the best use of Hawkeye on screen yet, but is also a display of the miscasting of the character.


As I already pointed out, Hawkeye is in full form in Civil War. He’s sarcastic and quippy just as the character was originally known for. But that version of Barton always came off as much younger to me. A daredevil, ready to stare death in the face, sporting nothing but a bow and arrow and a smug grin on his face, not an ounce of fear to show. These qualities naturally lend themselves to a young actor. The Renner version of Hawkeye seems to be at odds with its portrayal. On one hand he’s a weathered father and wise mentor to Wanda. On the other, he’s a soldier of fortune with a careless arrogance towards his fragile mortality. These are two apposing attributes. And it seems as though the former qualities were applied to the character by Whedon in Ultron to fit Jeremy Renner’s age, while the latter qualities were honed by the Russos to fit 616 Barton. Comics Barton is portrayed in his early to mid thirties at most, while Renner is in his mid to late forties. So, instead of downplaying Renner’s age, the MCU filmmakers embraced it. This was certainly the best option with what they had, but it forced an unnecessary dimension on Barton.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of essential character attributes from 616 Hawkeye just waiting to be utilized for MCU Hawkeye. He’s a man with everything to prove. He was formerly a “villain” and has no power beyond raw skill. This results in an insecurity amongst his Avenging teammates. More specifically, the team leader, Captain America. If only because he wishes he had the power and authority Cap possesses. And in a backwards way, he wishes he could be Cap. Clint’s desire to be the best results in a real dramatic conflict amongst his teammates. He’s got some grit in the comics, some relatable human flaws, while his MCU counterpart comes off as vanilla in comparison. With the exception of Wanda, film Hawkeye feels removed from the rest of the team due to his familial duties. We are robbed of any dramatic conflict with his colleagues because he’s not a basket of internal problems like the rest of the Avengers are.


Perhaps one of the best uses of 616 Hawkeye was in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s 22 issue comic book run that starred the marksman himself. Here we got a TV series-like saga of Clint’s day to day life outside his job as an Avenger, with amazing artwork that lent an Edgar Wright-esque fun, frantic energy to the story. But among the many great uses of Hawkeye and his supporting characters in this saga was the expert depiction of Clint’s arrows in action. The fun of Hawkeye’s arrow “powers” are the different tricks he keeps hidden at the very tip of each one. This makes for some extremely amusing and unexpected action sequences that you wouldn’t think a guy sporting only a bow and arrow could provide. From explosive arrows to bola arrows, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had with Clint’s improvisation in a battle.


However, the cinematic universe has yet to pull off any legitimately memorable arrow moments for Barton. And that’s not to say some fun Hawkeye movie moments don’t exist, they just aren’t as memorable as most of the other hero’s spotlight moments. Who can forget Doctor Strange’s Groundhog Day time-loop, Peter Parker’s rubble escape, Thor discovering his Raiden-like lightning powers, Fury’s Hydra car chase, Hulk’s Loki smash? The list goes on, but a truly awe inspired Hawkeye scene just doesn’t come to mind. Ant-Man’s arrow ride in Civil War was a cool comic book team-up sequence, but that beat belongs to Ant-Man more than Clint. And It’s a shame that Barton is largely remembered for providing other hero’s their moments. Clint’s pep talk for Wanda in Age of Ultron is a lead up to her grand, slow motion display of power. But hey, If Captain America: Winter Soldier proves anything, it’s that any character can be retooled into an absolute badass. Many people forget that Cap had very little memorability in his first couple film outings, until Winter Soldier brought us some of the most memorable action scenes ever from a Marvel character. Unfortunately, four movies in and we’re still waiting for the golden archer to have a truly scene stealing moment.


But, there is some hope for Hawkeye in the currently untitled Avengers 4 release next summer. The Russo brothers have confirmed that Hawkeye’s absence from this year’s Avengers: Infinity War will be made up for in a big bad way. Clint officially hung up his arrow after the events of Civil War by copping a deal with the government to stay with his family under house arrest, as apposed to being confined to a cell. So long as he keeps his superhero career in the past. Well, my theory is that the Russo brothers will finally pull the Ultimate Hawkeye storyline we all want. In fact, they seem to have already pulled it. The end of Infinity War concludes with half of the universe dying as a result to Thanos’ ‘snap.’ I’m betting that Hawkeye got the short end of the arrow here and lost his entire family. If Clint no longer has a family, he no longer has a reason to keep away from the old bow and arrow. With this, we could get a true film interpretation of the broken soldier that lost his family, just as he did in the Ultimate universe. This situation would be ripe with scene steeling potential. And Jeremy Renner would now have the chance to deliver a much grittier, guilt riddled version of Clint Barton. Not to mention, the character would be out for a certain mad Titan’s blood. Just imagine if Barton ends up as the Avenger who delivers the killing blow to Thanos with an arrow through the eye. This would certainly bring a long overdue mainstream respect for Hawkey that comic book fans have been waiting years for.

To be fair, at the end of the day, these movies only have a couple hours or so to give an ensemble of characters a satisfying arc. An improper interpretation of Hawkeye in a television series or standalone movie would be a much more noticeable issue. Marvel Studios has done a spectacular job with the bulk of its characters, so Hawkeye’s treatment thus far is but a minor quibble in the grand scheme. And due to the limitations of the medium, the Marvel films have at least delivered a good-enough interpretation of Hawkeye. But when it comes to a rich character like Clint Barton, there is always room for greatness.



Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 2 Review


Spoilers ahead…

Damn. Two episodes in and this season of Better Call Saul is already charging head first into the bleaker world of Breaking Bad. This was inevitable. We all know where this story ultimately leads. But if the final moments of this episode were not a resounding proclamation that the lighter tone of Saul has been left in the Albuquerque dust, I’m not sure what is.

For the most part, season three displayed Gus’ empathetic side. The hardworking, fair businessman bullied by the savage Hector and his crew. And for a bit, we forgot about the barbarous man that lies underneath. The one Gus lets lose only when absolutely necessary. Like when Walt needed a little persuading from a box cutter to Victor’s neck in Breaking Bad. This season, so far, has been adamant in reminding us of Gus’ dark, vengeful side that will inevitably lead to his own demise. “I decide what he deserves. No one else.” Hector himself created this vindictive attitude when he violently murdered Gus’ business partner so many years ago. Gus is now making Hector his own play-thing to torment for as long as possible. Intentionally keeping him alive, only to make his life a living hell. As the objective audience, our gift of foresight is its own kind of torment.

And when Gus teaches Nacho a lesson by slowly killing Arturo, it’s absolutely chilling. For a moment, we thought Nacho had won the scene. He put up a strong front and it paid off. Until that shot from the sky shows us a shadow creeping up. And like a shark in the water, Gus is about to strike. And boy, does he put Nacho in his place.

Nacho has transitioned into a considerable protagonist since the first season. He has essentially become the Jesse Pinkman of this show. A young man trapped in a chaotic business he no longer wants a part in. Michael Mando provides the perfect duality between sympathetic and intimidating. And one of his best displays of that binary is in this episode, between he and his father. A heartbreaking scene. Nacho’s father lays out his dirty money on the counter the exact same way Hector did for him last season. A strong visual statement. But Nacho must keep a professional front to show his father he is still in control. Mando’s subtle emotional slipping is on perfect display here.

This performance carries us to the hospital scene, which starts out as a playfully amusing bit where Hector’s silent and frightening nephews force Nacho and Arturo to talk to their comatose uncle. But we soon see the fear in Nacho’s eyes when he says to Tio, “You’re gonna get past this and be stronger than ever.” Nacho is forcing a put-on at a time when he knows Hector can soon wake up and be stronger than ever. Which would turn into an even worse scenario for Nacho and his father.


Speaking of putting-on. Jimmy keeps himself on the job hunt fast track, but only to keep his mind occupied from confronting his guilt over Chuck’s death. Kim was ready to settle down with Jimmy after her car crash. But Jimmy’s own personal catastrophe leads to the opposite reaction for him. He is doubling down on keeping his mind from rest.

Jimmy is in full form in the interview scene. The most entertaining aspect of Saul Goodman is that he is a performer. And we love to watch him talk his way through any situation. We get to see Jimmy use this skill and we can be on board with it, because he is trying to keep himself on a straight path here. He’s a great salesman and we can root for him to talk his way into the job. But Jimmy kills his chances by turning down the opportunity. How can these people hire such a terrible person like himself? Jimmy’s guilt over Chuck’s death is buried deep, but still driving his choice here, manifesting in self-sabotage. Now the ugly side of Saul Goodman rears its head, the “fuck the system, out for himself” side, when he chooses to steal the hummel figurine. It will be interesting to see Mike’s reaction to this heist. I can’t imagine he’ll be on board.

Rhea Seehorn brought her A-game this week in that scene between Kim and Howard. Kim has harbored some hefty guilt over her and Jimmy’s character assassination of Chuck before his death. And now Chuck’s untimely passing has affected her relationship with Jimmy. Rhea Seehorn excellently conveys intense anger and conflicted emotion in this scene. We feel almost as shocked as Howard by the bite in her words. But I can’t help but agree with her accusations against Howard. The question is, did Howard simply not consider how selfish his actions were, or was he, on some level, trying to hurt Jimmy with his revelation from last episode? It’s this kind of complex character mystique that has solidified both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul as some of the best stories ever told on television.



Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 1 Review


Spoilers ahead…

It’s about time! Better Call Saul returned this week after a longer-than-usual season gap and all is right in the world again. While not the most eventful, the premier episode of season four was a rightfully meditative look into Jimmy’s emotional state after Chuck’s sudden bucket kick. Jimmy is slowly being stripped of everything that makes him Jimmy, and soon only Saul will remain.

As is custom for every Saul season premiere, we get a glimpse at Gene, Jimmy’s post Breaking Bad identity. What is particularly fascinating about this show’s approach to these Gene moments is the restraint the writers take. It would be easy for Peter Gould and his team to over rely on these flash-forwards. Instead, they take the less is more approach. Giving us nuggets, not of some grand adventure Saul has taken after the events of Breaking Bad, but of the broken, hollow shell this once animated character has become. We don’t watch Gene as he tries to find himself out of some ticking clock predicament. We witness his simple existence in a barren exile.

There is always a distinct taste of Americana in the black and white Cinnabon sequences. Gene can be any aging, lonely American man with his best days behind him. Living in isolation, reflecting on his past and the failures that got him there. ‘We Three’ by Ink Spots is a pleasantly fitting song to ring us back in. And the lyrics couldn’t be more apt for Gene. “We three, we’re all alone. Living in a memory. My echo, my shadow and me.” Jimmy has three distinct identities. Jimmy McGill, Saul Goodman and Gene Takovic. Jimmy is the echo from a time past when a straighter path could have been walked. Saul is the dark shadow that will follow until the end of his days. And Gene is the present result, living in the memory of his former self.

After an intensely anxious check-in on Gene, we return to where we left Jimmy last season. And in a way, had Chuck not passed, Jimmy was on his way to his own kind of happily ever after. Kim’s brutal car crash brought perspective to the life of both characters. Kim realizing her unhealthy addiction to work and Jimmy dropping a toxic relationship with his brother and replacing it with a healthier caretaking roll for Kim. That beautiful shot of the embers floating us into this timeframe couldn’t be more fitting. A light, singeing blaze can be heard here as well, signifying Jimmy’s slow burn out of his Jimmy McGill skin and into the inevitable Saul Goodman suit.

This episode grants Bob Odenkirk the rare chance to explore an introspective side of Jimmy never before utilized for the character in this show or Breaking Bad. An intriguing approach, since Jimmy’s “super power” has always been the gift of talking. And for the most part, we don’t know exactly where Jimmy’s head is at yet. We know there must be an unimaginable amount of guilt on his shoulders. But Odenkirk conveys a numb, enigmatic processing behind his troubled expression up until the final moments of the episode. Where most shows would rush straight to an explosive reaction after the devastating loss of a main character, Better Call Saul instead displays a quiet authenticity.

Howard Hamlin, in keeping ever true to character, of course makes Chuck’s suicide about himself. But that’s not to say he isn’t anguished by Chuck’s death. He simply can’t see the larger picture. We witness the crushing confirmation in Jimmy’s eyes when he finds out his insurance “chess move” from last season lead to Chuck’s downfall. But instead of owning it, Jimmy chooses to burry it. He places all the guilt on Howard’s shoulders, embracing a denial of reality itself. And this, more than anything, seems to be what creates a soon-to-be fully formed Saul Goodman. Just as the promotional poster for this season shows us, Saul is a mask that Jimmy wears to cover his pain and loss. But Kim can see beyond Jimmy’s front. She has always had the gift of detecting the slipping side of Jimmy, and her final reaction shot says it all. The dark shadow over her face implying the last person in Jimmy’s life that will have to go for Saul to be fully realized.

Meanwhile, Mike leaves his tollbooth job for official employment under Gus. One of the pleasures of watching this show is the clever visual foreshadowing to the events of Breaking Bad. Mike gives one last silent and peaceful look at his tollbooth surrounding before officially departing. Just before his death in Breaking Bad, after being shot by Walter White, Mike chooses to go out with a peaceful taking in of the beautiful view around him. The show is playing on our foreknowledge of future events. Mike’s choice to take a job with Gus will directly lead to his involvement with Walter White, which will then lead to Mike’s tragic death. Taking the time to visually acknowledge the impending result of Mike’s choice in this moment is just one example of this show’s subtle and sharp attention to detail.

But it’s not in Mike’s nature to kick his feet up and let Gus and Lydia run the show as is. Mike has a lot to lose in his new position, so he sets out to seal up any and every potential crack in Madrigal’s system. And the Madrigal we see here is a far cry from the glamorous super-giant the company becomes in the Breaking Bad timeline. And while she isn’t in this episode, it’s also worth noting that Lydia is not the same neurotic, paranoid person in Saul that she is in Breaking Bad. It seems then that Lydia will inherit some of her obsessive detail oriented tendencies from Mike. Which is pretty hilariously ironic, seeing as how Lydia will one day order a hit on Mike in the name of being careful and sealing all potential cracks.

Unlike Saul and Mike, we don’t know where Nacho’s path will lead. But much like Saul and Mike, Nacho has made a choice that will undoubtedly lead him down a dark road. Gus is not one to allow a tight operation to be meddled with. And as much as he wants Hector to suffer, Gus knows taking him off the board can only cause problems at this time. For now, we will have to wait and see what consequences Gus will inflict on Nacho. But, seeing how Gus reacted to Jesse’s initial interference to his operation in Breaking Bad, we may be witnessing the first time Gus had to eliminate the threat of a young man’s intrusion on his business. Get ready for an intense season.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review


Spoilers for those living under a rock:

About half way through Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Benicio Del Toro as the weasely DJ says, “It’s all a machine, partner. Live free, don’t join.” And for the first time in the Star Wars history, it felt like the franchise was maturing. Allowing a character to acknowledge the light and the dark side as two warring sides of the same coin. Moving past the old-school simplicity that the modern Star Wars films had tethered themselves so tightly to. We got a realistic glimpse at the complexities of war, revealing the muddled morality in between. Star Wars was finally evolving, growing up. And then, shortly after the film’s release, the hardcore Star Wars fans rejected and backlashed against the movie’s attempt at change. Cue my most exaggerated face palming.

Back in December of 2015, Disney released their first Star Wars film under the house of mouse, The Force Awakens. I went into that movie with leveled expectations. I’ve never been a huge Star Wars fan, but I enjoyed the original trilogy and respected its place in film history. But now Disney had the rights, and The Force Awakens would be the first bold new step into uncharted territory. Surly the franchise would evolve in new hands. It had to. I would go so far as to say Disney had a genuine responsibility to deliver something as distanced as possible from the original trilogy. To inspire a brand-new generation with something never experienced before.

But to put it simply, The Force Awakens didn’t. The filmmakers instead chose the easiest route by making the movie a simple trip down nostalgia lane. A glorified homage to the very first Star Wars film. Instead of the filmmakers asking themselves, “Now that the rebels defeated the galactic empire after three movies, what now? What new stories can be explored so many years after the rebels won?” They chose instead to press the reset button and retread back to the rebels-as-underdogs plotline for easy accessibility. They didn’t even bother to explain why the rebels are back to square one, or how the First Order usurped their position. As long as the majority of the Star Wars fan base is wrapped tightly in their warm, fuzzy blanket of nostalgia, they won’t question it, right?

Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed, but even more disgruntled by the fact that The Force Awakens was largely accepted as a good movie. Sure, objectively, outside of context, it’s a solid flick. But, the fact that it crossed the finish line doesn’t mean cheating its way there shouldn’t have been ignored. I can go on about the dangers of nostalgia on the evolution of storytelling, but South Park already expertly executed that sentiment with the hilarious Member Berries of season twenty. Let’s just say I went into The Last Jedi with small-scale expectations. Like, quantum realm sized expectations.

But, The Last Jedi won me over. Rian Johnson brought a much-needed audacious attitude to the series. Instead of giving the audience all the nostalgia fuzzies they wanted, Johnson delivered a movie that questions the importance of the past, that encourages learning from the long-ago to pave way for a better new. To look forward, not backward. A message the franchise seriously needed to learn from.

The film’s greatest strengths can be found in just about every scene with Rey and Luke. Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill deliver. Big time. Script-wise, the scenes on Luke’s secluded island contain the most story meat as well. A lot of fans have complained about Luke’s old-man indifference, but to me it felt like we got the most raw and real version of Luke Skywalker yet. A perfect portrait of an old pessimist who lost all he used to believe in. Mark Hamill was allowed to delve deep for this, and it resulted in one of the best performances in his career. Rey is a great counterbalance. She’s the young optimist, but instead of having her just be female Luke again, this time we get to see her flirt with her dark side. Literally. Resulting in a compelling fear in the weathered Luke. In the early parts of the film you can’t help but wonder if Luke is right to remove himself from the conflict, maybe he’s justified in fearing Rey’s dark side. A compelling conundrum not often seen in Star Wars.

The movie gains even more traction when Rey and Ren finally come face to face. Much backlash comes from the twists that Rey’s parents are nobodies and Snoke is killed off faster than expected. But I’d argue these story turns are what make for an interesting movie. It baffles me that so many people want their Star Wars stories so cut and dry and predictable. A great story sets you up to think it’s going one way and then takes a quick diverging turn onto a new path. I would understand the negative fan response if Rey finding out her disappointing legacy was a gimmick that didn’t propel the story. But this is not the case. This reveal forces Rey to question her allegiances. She is truly challenged by Ren’s offer to stand together. The fact that this reveal has emotional character wait and is a bold and unexpected plot twist should be celebrated rather than rejected.

Despite loving the scene where Ren offers Rey a choice to join him, I must admit I felt the film should have gone all the way at this point. You can see the wheels turning in Rey’s head in that scene. Maybe the best change can come from her and Kylo joining forces, and she can use their relationship to turn him and the first order for the better. Maybe that would be the best way to save as many lives as possible. But just as fast as it introduces this intriguing encounter, the movie, almost insecurely, reverts back to the classic light vs dark angle. Where Rey chooses not to cross that line. But why can’t we have a character make a daring choice that can challenge viewers to debate morality. The drama that would result from Rey and Kylo ruling the galaxy, trying to navigate the grey waters of law and order, would be endlessly intriguing. The story potential would be limitless, and even more importantly, fresh. The Last Jedi made a point of breaking the traditional. But I say if it’s broke, break it all the way.

Some other aspects that didn’t work so well to me: Rose Tico’s involvement. The character serves a narrative purpose, but her portrayal just doesn’t feel real. She’s essentially a cardboard cutout there to communicate an ideal to Finn. No character flaws to be found. She’s obnoxiously altruistic and her side quest to save the racing species felt unnecessary and overly preachy. Also, the Porgs are cute, but when CG critters like these can be completely removed from a film with no effect on the narrative, their use for nothing more than “ah, how cute” moments becomes more blaringly apparent and shameful. And finally, people throw around the term, deus ex machina a lot these days, often without a proper understanding of the meaning. But, I can’t think of a better example of a deus ex machina moment than Leia gliding through space to avoid death. Apparently, she uses the force, but since when has the force ever worked like this? It would be one thing if the story returned to this as a significant point. But it happens, and is never mentioned again. A very bizarre choice.

Nostalgia has its place, but it’s important that it never be utilized as an effortless fall back in storytelling. Playing it safe to appease a particular fan base is never a worthy excuse, especially for a franchise with such momentous influence on the world. The Last Jedi may not land every beat, and it may be a bit apprehensive in its bold message, but the film’s hunger to evolve and move in a postmodern direction is certainly worth honoring.



Raw (2017) Review/Analysis


Gross-out, body horror, torture porn. These are the often frowned upon descriptions of a horror sub-genre that brings human disfigurement and bloodshed to its forefront. For the most part, this particular category has provoked the most controversy out of an already controversial genre. And there certainly is a place for questioning the existence of such gruesome imagery in film. If graphically violent entertainment doesn’t service art, as a way to explore metaphor through brutal and barbaric realism, it can easily come off as cheap, as an easy way to evoke a response of disgust from an audience.

The 2017 French-Belgian horror film, Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, pushes the boundaries of graphic horror by exploring the inherent animalistic instincts within human beings. Soon after its initial screening, reports of people passing out from the disturbing imagery of Raw began gaining buzz. And if that sounds like an exaggeration for marketing, experiencing the film for yourself may change your disbelief. I’ve watched countless horror films filled to the brim with disturbing and gruesome imagery, but I found various scenes in Raw downright hard to watch. And that’s part of what makes this film so brilliantly effective.

But it isn’t the bloody carnage alone that makes Raw so memorable. This is not another case of Human Centipede, where raunch and disgust are exploited for the audience’s reaction. There is a genuine story of a young woman’s passage from childhood to adulthood at play here. And the grisly displays of violence are used to effectively draw attention to a less glamorous side of that transition. We take an ugly journey of self-discovery with the main character, Justine, and are in turn invited to explore the ugly side of humanity.

Spoilers from here on…

In the opening shot we are shown a long road. One side lined with lush, green tress and the other lined with lifeless, bare branches, devoid of color. A great establishment of the duality of nature soon to be explored. We then meet Justine, whose parents have kept on a strict vegetarian diet her whole life. When she arrives for her first semester of veterinary school, she is introduced to a brand-new freedom she never had under her parent’s rule. Anyone who’s left home for school can relate with this feeling of newfound independence. It leads one to establishing an identity. Raw has rabid fun with this concept as Justine gets her first taste for meat and unlocks a zombie-like flesh eating gene past down from her mother to both her and her sister, Alexia. The metaphor is cut and dry; everyone has primal desires, existing deep within our very DNA that we struggle to hide in order to blend into society. But hunger can only go unfed for so long.

When Justine attends her first party with the other freshman newcomers, they are introduced to what is portrayed as an almost hedonic ritual of carnal desires. They dance and indulge in sexuality as they celebrate their new liberty. But Justine hasn’t conformed yet. At one point she discusses with her peers a monkey’s conscious awareness, arguing that a raped monkey can experience the same psychological trauma as a raped woman. Monkeys can see themselves in a mirror, so they must be as self aware as humans. Yet, Justine’s schoolmates don’t seem to agree with her. They are all on the path to become veterinarians, but everyone other than Justine seems to have no compassion towards the animals they are learning to help. This idea is expanded further as every image of an animal in the movie is shown in cruel and uncomfortable positions, even though it is all apparently for the animal’s own betterment. A horse getting drugged and put to sleep, and then turned upside down in a bizarre mechanism during Justine’s first class is an initial example of this. The movie seems to be communicating that people will help other living beings to conform to social norm, but that compassion will only go so far. After all, humans will help animals in need, but just as easily kill them for food, as any other species does.

The film’s first turn for the truly unpleasant is when Justine develops a gnarly rash as a result of eating a raw rabbit kidney. The sound of the scratching alone can provoke queasiness. Not to mention when the doctor is shown pealing skin off Justine’s rotting flesh. But this is only the start. A deep ugliness is just beginning to manifest. We then transition to Justine’s feverish nightmare under her sheets. She dreams of a horse running in the vacant darkness. The seething animal that lies beneath, trapped by a manmade apparatus. A fierce beast, ready to be set free from a dark hell, held back by human construction. A symbol for Justine’s deep-seated self, yearning for freedom from lifelong constraints.

A strong contender for most disturbing moment in the movie would have to go to the infamous waxing scene. When Justine’s sister, Alexia, loses a finger as a result, we get a drawn out look of what can only be compared to Adam and Eve taking their first bite of forbidden fruit. The scene plays on the audience’s disgust as Justine slowly begins licking and then eating her sister’s severed finger. Possibly the most haunting aspect is the illuminating aesthetic of the scene. We are disgusted at the sight, but the lighting and music portray this indulgence as a release for Justine. She feels a deep pleasure she’s never sensed before. A twisted portrayal of the base instincts all humans take no pride in, but find undeniably gratifying when surrendered to.

The midway point of the movie is when all is revealed. Up until now, we were unsure of where Justine’s repugnant taste for raw meat came from. But here we find out that Alexia has the same inborn relish as Justine. And Alexia has learned to suppress her craving by manipulating drivers on a desolate road into fatally crashing. She then has free rein to snack away on their expired corpses. Justine sees the animal in her sister and, from here on, attempts to surpass her natural instincts as to avoid turning into the same monster as her sister. But this isn’t easy for Justine, as her suppressed cravings turn into an almost lustful need. She develops a craving for her gay roommate, Adrien. Justine’s itching appetite for Adrien is portrayed in a wonderful, and frankly hilarious scene as she watches a shirtless Adrien play soccer with a manic look of hunger on her face. Another interesting aspect to this scene is the soccer game itself. Adrien is engaging in an organized match with his classmates, but the energy quickly shifts from playful and socialized to brutishly combative. Both teams bump chests and square off like two packs of territorial animals. The movie communicates that organized sports can be a showcase of the accomplished structure and socialization people are capable of, and at the same time, a display of their primitive nature. Tying into the theme of humanity’s dualism with both intelligence and animal-based impulses.

Justine finds it continually challenging to ignore her inner zombie. In one undeniably memorable scene, Justine transitions into a nearly hypnotic state as she creepily stares into a mirror and dances erotically to a loud, raunchy song. She kisses and licks the mirror, smearing lipstick. As any human or monkey can, Justine sees her own reflection in the mirror, but her feral mindset in this moment may as well make her indistinguishable from any wild animal. A moment later, Justine adjusts back to a human state before confronting her sister, who has taken a similar craving to Adrien. Justine warns Alexia to stay away and insists that she is nothing like her sister, that she can contain her itching appetite.

When Justine’s yearning can no longer be subdued, she has sex with Adrien in the hope that engaging in another primal desire will relieve her. Adrien has to hold Justine back from biting him as they get it on, but Justine still holds restraint when she takes a bite out of herself instead of Adrien as she climaxes. Justine is teetering the line between basic instinct and humanity, but humanity is still in the lead. She refuses to let her toxic desire hurt or kill another human being. But Alexia plots to exploit Justine’s withheld self, to show Justine that it is impossible to avoid who they are. So, Alexia reveals to their classmates Justine’s zombie side when Justine is blackout drunk and unable to control herself. This leads to a brutal fight between the two, full of bite and blood. The two sisters go full on rabid as the rest of the school watches in horror. Functioning society is now witnessing this family’s shared, hideous behavior for the first time, and they are appalled by it.

The climatic moment comes the following morning when Justine finds a feral Alexia, exhausted from having just eaten Adrien. At this point, it is expected that Justine will give into rage and kill her sister. But instead, Justine chooses humanity, and cares for her sister by cleaning her up before her inevitable imprisonment. When Alexia is visited by Justine and their parents in prison, we are treated to a shot of the two sisters’ faces reflecting onto each other in the dividing window. They are blended into one person. This shot seems to communicate that while both monkeys and humans can identify themselves in a mirror, exemplifying self-awareness in both species, only humans have the ability to see themselves in other people. It is then empathy for fellow human beings that separates humans from other animals. Justine could have given in to vengeance against her older sister, but Justine’s sympathetic understanding that the same barbaric desires exist within the both of them is what leads Justine to ultimately extend mercy to Alexia.

Raw is not a film for everyone. The grotesque visuals are bound to leave many viewers nauseated. However, if you let it, the movie will take you on a narrative journey about the loss of innocence and confrontation of one’s ever-present, primitive self. And the graphic imagery, though difficult to watch, can challenge you to consider your own boorish qualities, bubbling just below the surface, constantly subdued as to adhere to the societal norm.


Legion Season 2: Are We All Delusional?


Spoilers ahead:

The second season of Noah Hawley’s Legion took us on yet another psychedelic trip unlike anything experienced before on network television, continuing and expanding on the momentum set by season one. While the first season explored mental health and the victims of such conditions who get shafted from modern society, season two asks the more challenging question: are we, the ‘normal’ people in society, any less delusional than those we deem clinically insane? The true genius of this season is that a valid case can be made that each character’s actions are a result of their own delusional thoughts. As viewers, we are left to question our own beliefs and the apparent truths we tell ourselves every day.

Jon Hamm lends his soothing, persuasive voice as the narrator, interjecting throughout the season with brief lessons on psychology and the human condition, connecting these ideas to themes within the overarching narrative. In the first episode of the season, the narrator explains, “a delusion starts like any other idea, as an egg.” From there we learn of varying ideas in which we determine our reality. But what if some of these ideas are delusions, spreading from person to person as shared concepts of an agreed truth on reality?

Take Farouk for example. We normally associate a super hero story in terms of heroes and villains. So in the first season, when we are told that Farouk is the ‘bad guy’ and David is the son of Professor Xavier, who we know as the righteous leader from X-men lore, we don’t question it. We know professor X stands for ‘good,’ so we don’t consider any antagonist of his being anything more than a villain. But from Farouk’s perspective, Xavier is the villain of his story. He explains, “For decades I rule over my country. I’m a good king. Strong but just. My people, they prosper. And then…a white man…he decides that what, that my people should have better? That he knows better? Who is he to make such choices?”

Is it possible that professor X is the delusional one? Perhaps Farouk really is a good king, and his people would ultimately be worse off without him. In our current culture, we are consistently questioning the history of white men in power subjugating and dominating those they so self-righteously deemed beneath them. Mention the actions of Christopher Columbus in our present political climate and a discussion of his atrocious actions against Native Americans can’t be avoided. However, not long ago, Columbus was discussed as nothing more than the founder of America. When we consider Farouk’s position, maybe he is like the Native Americans and Professor Xavier is akin to Columbus. In this case, Xavier would have no right to meddle in foreign affairs and dictate leadership in a culture unlike his own. It then would seem that we the audience have been deluded to perceive Xavier as the morally prestigious hero at all cost, eliminating any counter ideas that would dispute that fact.

The show intentionally keeps the details of why Professor X chose to end Farouk’s rule vague. Therefore, we can’t determine an objective truth. All we have is Farouk’s viewpoint. Xavier is no longer around in this timeline to make his case. So then, the delusion can easily be reversed. Perhaps Farouk was committing genocide, getting drunk off power, and Xavier’s ‘killing’ of Farouk actually saved lives. Farouk would then be manipulating David and the audience into seeing himself as the tragic figure of the story. As a modern audience, we would certainly be susceptible to such a narrative. Feeling empathy for a foreigner’s victimhood due to colonialism can undoubtedly inspire a moral panic.

In the seventh episode, the narrator describes moral panic, telling us, “rational concern becomes irrational fear.” A sort of witch hunt towards a perceived threat can occur when a delusion takes hold. In that same episode, we watch as Syd, Ptomony and Melanie react to an implanted delusion from Farouk. They become convinced that Admiral Fukyama of Division 3 is a literal monster in disguise. David eventually stops the mob and destroys the delusion. However, while Fukyama is no monster, what gives him and Division 3 the authority they posses?

The surrounding world of Legion is designed to be vague, but we do know Fukyama was granted the technology to see anything or anyone under Division 3 at all times, a constant ‘eye in the sky.’ At the start of season two, we find out that Melanie and the Summerland gang joined forces with Division 3 after both parties came to an agreement that most mutants are not a threat. They decided to work together to take down their common enemy, Farouk. But if Melanie and the Summerland gang fought for the freedom of all mutants, it does seem contradictory to join their former oppressors to take down Farouk. The Summerland team even runs into some disagreements with their new allies. Most notably, when David is found in the first episode of the season, Admiral Fukyama is eager to kill him for the simple reason that David’s mind may be under Farouk’s influence. Cary keeps Fukyama from executing this order, but the jurisdiction Fukyama posses to make such a decision reveals Division 3 as a governing force with no discernible limit. Can the true delusion then be the Summerland gang’s choice to join forces with Division 3? Have they convinced themselves that Division 3’s all encompassing authority is a necessity? That granting themselves judge, jury and executioner of a threat is okay, even though they too were once that perceived threat in the all seeing eye of Division 3?

By the final episode, David is captured and imprisoned by his Division 3 allies. And it is here that all the narrator’s quandaries of delusions throughout the season come full circle. But the question of which characters are falling victim to delusion is left up to the viewer. Syd and Division 3 have every reason to feel a moral panic over David. At this point, they know that David is destined to become a monster unless drastic measures are taken to change the course of their timeline. Not to mention that David has already crossed serious moral lines by ‘love drugging’ Syd. Division 3 has every reason to believe that David has begun his transition into ‘world breaker,’ and that their only hope to prevent his apocalyptic rain is to detain him by force. From their perspective then, David is slowly deluding himself into believing that he has the right to abuse his powers in any situation he sees fit. And they may be right, as we find that David has voices in his head constantly trying to convince him of his superior position in the world. If these voices are David’s delusions, then they have grown into full on schizophrenia by the final moments of the season.

However, it can be argued that Division 3’s action of imprisoning David is the catalyst for David’s turn to the dark side. David abused his powers on Syd, but from his viewpoint it was a desperate act to “remind” Syd of the love they share. As awful as David’s action is, he comes off as genuinely ignorant to the ethical line he crossed. Since the start of the series, the show emphasizes that every course of action David takes is for love. A love he discovered when he first met Syd. A love that then branched into a friendship with his Summerland allies. Without the idea of love springing him into action, David would not be the hero we know him as. So, if love is the one thing holding David back from going full on Legion, then Syd and Division 3’s rejecting David can be seen as an unintentional push towards that dark path. One cannot help but consider the better outcome if Division 3 had first attempted to educate David on the moral parameters of his godlike power instead of instantly jailing him. If they had only approached him as a friend rather than as a lethal enemy, maybe David’s resulting path would be different. Perhaps a delusion had spread within the minds of Division 3, leading them to overreact to the alarming thought of David’s possibly corrupt character. A thought that quickly turned from rational concern to irrational fear.

The fact that both David and Division 3 may be victims to ideas turned delusions can provoke us, the audience, to question our own subjective realities. In his final offside of the season, the narrator explains, “And now we come to the most alarming delusion of all. The idea that other people don’t matter. Their feelings, their needs.” As the narrator  continues, his lecture becomes a clear allegory for social media, exposing just how easily humans can lose empathy for one another when interacting on the internet, behind a screen. Much like David mind drugging Syd or Division 3 imprisoning David, when panic takes hold, humans will naturally avoid the consideration of other people’s opposing realities. A delusion maybe, but one made for survival.

However, if what the narrator says is true, then humanity will eventually become conditioned to seeing the world through the prism of the internet. Genuine, face-to-face compassion would be lost. An argument can be made that this has already begun. Now, more than ever, social media has provided a platform for people to voice their opinions. This has naturally provoked internet users to seek out like minded communities, big or small, to share their similar world views. But this kind of natural segregation gives a person the power to edit reality to their own standard, choosing to be informed only by the opinions they wish to hear from. Eventually, any contradicting viewpoints are seen as a disturbance to their reality. It has become the standard today that if someone makes an unconventional or largely disagreed upon statement, that person will be strongly pressured into apologizing by an offended community. Is it then possible that some of these viral communities fall victim to moral panic, fearing that their perception of reality has been challenged? These concerns get amplified by the cultural force of the internet, spreading alarm. All the while forgetting that the accused person is only expressing their own moral standard. Their own reality. In our modern social media age, how many people, or groups of people, have been influenced by the delusion that their thoughts and feelings are real and others don’t matter?

If a mass of people can be so easily persuaded by delusion, then surly we can take consolation in the rationality of the individual. Yet, Legion challenges that assumption as well. In episode nine of season two, the ghost (or lingering consciousness) of Amy appears before Lenny, asking her, “are you a good person?” We know little about Lenny before her death at the start of the series, but if any trait was emphasized, it’s that she was a free spirited drug fiend with only the next fix on her mind. When Lenny is granted new life with Amy’s body, she is left with the lingering echo of Amy’s mind. As Lenny attempts to re-embrace her former self in a drug fueled party bender, she is caught off guard when Amy eerily repeats, “are you a good person,” over and over again. Lenny is experiencing her conscience for the first time, something her former self never had. The old Lenny was in constant motion, never questioning the right or wrong of her actions. She had an unburdened mind, so much so that it got her committed to a mental hospital. Yet, this new Lenny, with her guiding inner voice, a voice that would deem her ‘normal’ in our society, seems to be holding her back from her true self. She lacks the same manic zest for life that her former personality had. She is now taxed by the guilt of her innate being.

Lenny’s struggle connects to the encompassing theme of Legion, challenging the idea of sane and insane. We, the “normal” people of society, are guided by our conscience everyday. We constantly ask ourselves if we are good people, and we all agree that this is what makes us sane. But is it possible that our conscience can be the burden holding us back from our true selves, like Amy’s voice of ‘reason’ does for Lenny? Society will cast out and lock up the person without a conscious, deeming them insane. But maybe we, the people ladened by the voice in our head that dictates our actions and choices, are the true insane individuals. We would then be victim to the delusion that the life of the insane individual, who lacks a conscious voice, does not matter, as they do not conform to our agreed upon notion of sanity. As the final episode of the season so perfectly puts it, “If all the apples are bruised, then it is the unbruised apple that is bad, the sane man who’s crazy.”

Season two of Legion proposes the concept of delusions, but it is up to us to determine who the true victims of the disorder are. Maybe all the characters in the show are infected by personal delusions. Maybe none of them are, or maybe some of them are. Perhaps we, the viewers, are the delusional ones. Or, maybe Noah Hawley is simply expressing his own false interpretation of reality through Legion, and the thematic storyline he has built is a result of his own idea turned delusion, spreading through his team of writers and filmmakers, and then broadcast to the masses. A subconscious virus that began as an egg. Whatever the case, some solace can be taken from the words of the shadow king himself, “You decide what is real and what is not. Your will.”

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review


Spoilers ahead:

It’s a pretty widely accepted fact that the original Jurassic Park is a Sci-Fi blockbuster classic. When it came out, no one had ever seen anything like it; dinosaurs come to life before our very eyes. But it wasn’t the spectacle alone that makes that movie so memorable. It’s also the script that explored man’s perceived dominance over nature, only to be reminded in the most horrifying way that control is all but an illusion.

The very concept of Jurassic Park lends itself to further development through sequels. Of course humankind wouldn’t learn their lesson after their power over nature is lost. Humanity would never take that obvious lesson as an answer. They would continue to feed the idea that they can be in control. So of course the sequels that have released since the original 1993 movie have expanded upon the first movie’s concept and explored the dynamic between man and technological progress in new and exciting ways, right? Unfortunately, not so much.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the fourth sequel since the original, and on its own merits, it can be taken as a passably fun time at the theater. Much like its predecessor, it tells a basic B-movie monster story with top-notch visual effects. Both of the Jurassic World movies don’t want to be anything more than that, so at the end of the day, they are what they are. The frustration comes from the fact that they exist in continuity with the original film.

One specific aspect the original Jurassic Park nailed was character. A Sci-fi film calls for characters that lend a unique perspective to the theme of the story. Throughout the original, as the park descends into chaos, we get scenes that help us understand, from an emotional point of view, why each character thinks it’s either a responsibly or an irresponsibility to bring dinosaurs back to life in the modern age.

Take John Hammond from the original movie for example. Sure, he can be seen as a “villain” in the narrative. His unstoppable drive to create a dinosaur theme park is what sets off the resulting chaos. But amid the thrilling anarchy, we get a quiet moment where Hammond explains to Ellie why he needed to create the park. With tears glimmering in his eyes, he clarifies that he wanted to show the visiting children, “Something that wasn’t an illusion, something that was real. Something that they can see and touch.” After this brief emotional outpour, Hammond begins rambling about how he can get it right the next time. Through this one scene, a complex character is revealed. One who’s attitude we do not agree with, but can understand. His drive to entertain the world has tragically blinded him to the consequences.

The antagonists of Fallen Kingdom, however, may as well be holding the heroes of the story hostage on railroad tracks. Their villainy is way over the top. Eli Mills is simply a terrible person who wants to reap the benefits of selling and experimenting on dinosaurs. A complete sociopath, lacking any complexity or nuance. He is accompanied by the also one-dimensional, Ken Wheatley, as the ground mercenary commander. Together they will become extremely rich off the dumb dinosaurs! Benjamin Lockwood is thrown into the story as a former partner of Hammond’s. His involvement is meant to elaborate on Hammond’s backstory, but the attempt to sell this idea that Lockwood has had some off screen influence since the original movie adds up to nothing more than a shallow convolution.

Since this movie sees only in binaries, we also have our cast of good guys. The worst offenders on this side are the veterinarian girl and the tech guy. Both are meant for nothing more than some light dosing of comedy throughout, but their self righteous, single-minded attitude comes off only as annoying. Now to be fair, Claire Dearing is a character that has at least shown some developed since her experience from the last movie. As the operations manager of Jurassic World, she learned that her involvement in controlling the dinosaurs was unfair and now they should be allowed to live free, away from human meddling. This perspective is countered by Owen Grady, who agrees that dinosaurs should be allowed their freedom. However, he sees their impending doom by an erupting volcano as an act of nature that must be left alone, while Claire feels driven to save them as penance for her previous transgressions against the dinosaurs. In concept, the first act of Fallen Kingdom sets up this interesting conundrum between these two players, but is unfortunately derailed by a certain little clone girl in the third act.

One of the biggest offenses that have plagued every Jurassic sequel is the forced inclusion of a kid’s subplot. The first movie involved two children who were primarily there to play on Grant’s insistence that he does not like kids and does not want to have any with his girlfriend, Ellie, who loves kids. The comedy in the first act came from Grant’s annoyance of the bickering children. From there, Grant develops into a forced caretaker of the youngsters as the terror in the park ensues. The kids influence Grant’s development, and the audience begins to care for the children’s well being in the same way Grant does.

Each film since has run completely out of control with a new child or children’s involvement in the plot, deciding to represent kids as strong willed, butt-kicking characters in the corniest ways possible. The original movie never over played this, portraying the children as vulnerable and helpless, as they truly would be in such a situation. In the first sequel, The Lost World, the franchise jumped the gun when the young girl of that movie uses her gymnastic skills to flip around and kick a Velociraptor. The third movie takes it further when a young boy is able to survive on a dino-infested island with his trusty T-Rex pee. Jurassic World gave us the infamous subplot of the two genius kids who manage to repair an over twenty-year old car to drive themselves to safety. However, Fallen Kingdom seems as though it is competing for the position of most goofy child-centric subplot the franchise has ever seen.

Throughout the movie we check in with Lockwood’s (apparent) granddaughter, Maisie. She is our little hero detective who will uncover Eli’s nefarious plot to capture and auction off dinosaurs without her grandfather’s approval. This silly subplot quickly evolves into the most face-palming edition of Home Alone with dinosaurs. And if that’s not bad enough, we soon find that Maisie is actually a clone of Lockwood’s deceased daughter. Because not only do we need a character that can relate to dinosaurs and their troubles of being clones, we need a strong-willed child to do it. Yes, this is exactly what we need in a Jurassic Park sequel.

Again, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a good time if you’re looking for a ridiculous, yet fun, fast-paced action thriller. This type of B level monster movie usually doesn’t have the budget to show off such striking visual effects, so there is some merit here. Unfortunately, as long as they keep slapping the Jurassic logo onto these movies, the depths to which this once great franchise has sunk cannot be ignored.

Green Room Review


For the past five years, the indie film company A24 has released some deeply memorable gems, particularly in the horror and thriller category. The majority of these more genre centric releases, like Ex Machina, The Witch and most recently, Hereditary have leaned heavily into elements of supernatural and science fiction. Green Room, A24’s 2016 horror thriller from director Jeremy Saulnier, stands out as a haunting vision of events that feel unfathomably real. No ghosts, no futuristic robots, Green Room introduces us to horrific consequences stemming from an all too real situation.

At the start of the movie, Green Room emphasizes music and the sublime feeling it can bring a crowd of people when it is shared and experienced live. The movie makes a point of communicating that there is a primal force in music that can turn a crowd of completely different people in every way into a singular entity. Music is a great uniter, it has no bias of race or background, it simply coalesces people with its sound and erases all differences in its brief, but intimate duration. There is a certain equalizing ‘truth’ that can be reached with music. And as the movie continues, we come to realize that human beings can reach a similar primal ‘truth’ when faced with the threat of impending death.

The movie opens and we are introduced to our main cast of characters, a band called the Ain’t Rights. Almost completely broke, they live life on the outskirts of the music world, chasing the brief ‘high’ they feel from playing niche venues with small, intimate crowds. They dare not sell themselves out to a record label. That would distract from the exalted pleasure of playing solely for the music, for the divine moment. This is comically portrayed in an early scene where the band plays their hardcore punk music to a quiet, confused crowd in a diner. The lead singer bellows the lyrics, “I was broke. I ask myself what have I become!” Living day-to-day, practically homeless is fine for this band, as long as they can vent their frustrations through their art and feel truly alive and genuine while performing.

The band eventually makes it to a gig at a neo-Nazi bar in the woods outside of Portland Oregon. The camera continually emphasizes the lush, green forest, as if to communicate the characters’ deeper dive into a jungle of primordial survival, outside the protection of socialization. Here they will be left to their instincts. But first they will play one last set for their near-future captors. We get a beautifully filmed moment. The band captivates the crowd of skinheads, granting them Godhood as they all lose themselves to a mosh of movement. The camera shoots this action from ground level with an almost heavenly high-pitched ringing sound, displaying the sanctity felt by the individuals of this jumbled horde.

When the band mistakenly walks in on a murder after the show, the neo-Nazis hold them against their will. Witnesses cannot be tolerated. From this point on, the fierce tension never lets up. A rollercoaster ride of survival ensues as the movie forces you into the shoes of this band, constantly questioning how you would react in such an overwhelming situation.

Of course, the devastating reality the movie taints us with is due largely to its brilliant cast. Anton Yelchin plays the lead character, Pat, with an infectious vulnerability. Imogen Poots plays Amber, an outsider thrust into the ugly scenario, stealing scenes with an unexpectedly dry acceptance of her fate.

The true showstopper however is Patrick Steward’s Darcy as the leader of the skinheads. Steward is often known for his roles in Star Trek and X-men as the wise harbinger of hope and reason. Here he taps into a deep, unrecognizable darkness. This affective performance is accompanied by Saulnier’s restraint as a director, at times keeping the actor masked in shadow or completely out of frame. A clever choice that emphasizes the mystery of a man who conveys no emotion while coordinating the slaughter of innocent kids, while also exhibiting a kind of paternal pride for his most loyal and trusted men working under him.

At one point, the main character, Pat, describes the transcendent nature of music, saying, “You gotta be there… It’s shared live, and then it’s over.” While these words have great thematic significance, there is also a meta interpretation. Much like experiencing music live or being thrust into a life or death situation, watching an effective horror or thriller, like Green Room, can inflict a sublime reaction. There is no formation of words that can describe the sensation of being swept away by an expertly showcased moment of horror. This is even truer when experiencing a thrilling movie with a theater audience. You enter this gathering with strangers, but for that brief time you are all the same as the innate sensation of human fear penetrates everyone in the room.

Green Room does a superb job of subjugating its audience to its brutal reality. Similar to experiencing live music, this movie will force you into the present, digging deep at primal sensations that exist within us all. And when the credits roll and you make it out the other side, you just may feel a little more alive for having experienced it.


Legion: Season Two Finale Review


Spoilers ahead:

In the final moments of Legion chapter 19, after the final scene, as the credits come to an end, the vocals in the song playing us out eerily proclaim, “this is not real.” A fitting statement to top off the more relevant than ever theme of the show, and this particular episode; sanity, right and wrong, good and evil are all a matter of  perspective. As this episode so eloquently puts it, maybe we’re all the “fools on an endless sea, pretending to be normal.”

Gone are the simple days of season one where a more black and white narrative gave us a straight forward ride; guy falls for girl, evil thing inside guy keeps guy from being with girl, guy overcomes evil thing, guy and girl live happily ever after. Now, one season later, the morality of our main players is muddled in complete grey.

The best example of these blurred lines are in the former lovers, now turned enemies, David and Syd. “David, you drugged me and had sex with me.” These are some hard hitting words that really display the sadistic move David pulled. It’s more than reasonable that Syd and the rest of Division 3 would immediately react by attempting to jail David. Not to mention that they all now know David’s destiny to become ‘Legion: The World Breaker.’ Combine that with Syd getting lectured by Farouk disguised as Melanie about David’s lies last episode and it’s easy to see David as the monster he may actually be.

From David’s perspective, however, he’s a victim of circumstance. The episode starts with the woman he loves pulling a gun on him and attempting to murder him. David’s reaction to “love drugging” her, as wrong as it may be, was a desperate response to try and maintain quite possibly the last thing holding his sanity together; his relationship with Syd. Shooting David was the ultimate betrayal in his mind, just as his mental manipulation was the ultimate betrayal in Syd’s. The final nail in the coffin for David comes when Syd and friends suggest a return to “David the zombie,” to tranquilize and suppress him, just as he was in the mental hospital. It’s more than understandable that this would be the last straw for David, and his final words for his new captors couldn’t be more equally fitting and cryptic, “Alright, I’m done. You had your chance.”

It’s also worth noting Division 3’s all encompassing supervision that seems to have no limit in site. The surrounding world of Legion has always been shrouded in alluring mystery. What year is it? What’s going on socially and politically in this world? Admiral Fukyama as the eye in the sky seems to have all kinds of power with no check. He is able to snoop in on Syd as she’s being taken advantage of, while Cary is able to ‘science’ his way into literally recreating events on a screen. And this is enough evidence to cage David within one day, no trial to speak of. The lack of authority that allows Division 3 to become judge, jury and executioner adds even more to the moral haze of this weird reality.

The start of the episode sees yet another fantastic and strange portrayal of a battle between Farouk and David. Later, we are given an unexpectedly tender moment between the two rivals. In a way, Farouk, in his most defeated and vulnerable state, manages to gain an upper hand on David by relating with him like a father would. He tells David he’s known him since he was a baby and tried to make David love him, but never could. But this isn’t more mental manipulation on Farouk’s part, he sheds an actual tear in the final shot of the scene.

The ending leaves us with a great setup for a third season. The narrative has now been completely flipped on its head, David is the ‘monster’ that needs to be stopped, while Farouk and Division 3 will work together to bring him down. Are we in for a Breaking Bad-esque overarching narrative for this series, where we watch the ‘hero’ descends into a full fledged ‘villain’ by the end of the show? Vince Gilligan was famously vocal about his plans for Walter White in his show, but Noah Hawley has kept decidedly mum on his long term narrative plans. Whatever the case, a rouge David, along with his twisted new mind friends and Lenny by his side should have us all salivating to see where this bizarre show takes us next.