The Good Place (2016-Present)

TV Series – What happens after death?  Do you turn to dust, enter the spirit world, or join the realms of Heaven or Hell?  The Good Place puts a unique spin on the ol’ “What happens to us when we die,” question.

So you’re dead.  What now?  Enter the almighty architect and faithful guide to your afterlife, Michael. He’s here to help your transition from life on earth to death in the Good Place.  You’ve made it into Heaven!  Good for you!  For Eleanor Shellstrop, this reality is hard to believe.  She was pretty much the worst kind of person on Earth–self-centered, greedy, and has never done a nice thing for anyone in her life.  She’s pretty sure there’s been some mistake and any second she’ll be dragged down to the Bad Place.  She’s terrified Michael will realize his error.  In the Good Place, you are paired with your soulmate, and that’s how Eleanor meets Chidi, philosophy and moral professor.  They couldn’t be more different, but Chidi agrees to help Eleanor learn to be “good.”  With fellow couple, Tahani and silent monk Jianyu, the four delve into what it means to be good.

One of my favorite aspects of the show is that residents of the Good Place are rendered incapable of using curse words.  Eleanor has quite the risque vocabulary, which is censored and ends up saying “fork” often.  Janet is by far my favorite character.  Like a humanized robot version of Siri or Alexa, Janet is a personal assistant to each resident of the Good Place.  Simply say “Janet,” and she appears!  I love the show’s premise and incredible cast.  It’s hilarious, full of drama, and leaves us feeling good.  Check out Season 1 and 2 of The Good Place today!

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman (2015)

Book & Movie- Ove is an elderly man who just wants to be reunited with his deceased wife. In the past, his rigidity and ill-temperament has kept most social interactions to a minimum, until now, when a friendly family moves in next door and tests his inflexible ways, starting with a slight U-Haul truck mishap. Between Ove’s cynical outlook on life and the humorous exchanges between him and his neighbors, A Man Called Ove can crack a smile of even the callous of people.

I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that this novel was adapted into a movie. Although dark, suicidal ideology is persistent throughout the film, it is more of a dreary storm cloud that never precipitates. Much of the film is spent recollecting Ove’s past, from growing up in his father’s shoes to life with his former wife Sonja, each memory allowing the audience to commiserate with Ove’s irritable self. I have always been one who has appreciated the book more than the movie adaptation in just about all titles, and this is no different, however I praise the director for keeping to the storyline rather than taking it in a different direction. One last note worth mentioning is that the movie is in Swedish but has English subtitles! I for one keep the subtitles on regardless of the language but personally found it taxing attempting to keep up with the dialogue when I would much rather enjoy the movie as a whole.

The Children Act (2017)

DVD- This movie is based on the book by Ian McEwan, which has an amazing cast lead by Emma Thompson. She plays a British High Court judge who makes difficult and serious judgements, that affect the life and death of people on a daily basis. Stanley Tucci plays her sexually frustrated, left behind, husband. The film revolves around the child Adam Henry, played by Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk). Emma Thompson’s character has to decide a whether the hospital has legal standing to authorize Adam to undergo a blood transfusion which will save his life or, grant him the autonomy to trust in a faith that prevents him from accepting blood products.

I found this movie serious and intense. A few of the heavy hitting topics this movie works through include:  religion, law, middle age marriage, affairs, and an infatuated youth of a mature woman.  How courts are governed in Britain, with their customs and rules is an interesting feature, as well. Lastly, the locations depicted in the film, are beautiful.

If you are looking for an excellent, cerebral movie, this is it! If, however, you are looking for a lighthearted movie with the normally-silly Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson, keep looking!

The Exorcist: Season 1 (2016)

TV Series – Father Thomas Ortega is an up-and-coming young priest in Chicago, rebuilding his long-neglected parish and working with the bishop and a local fundraising committee to organize the Pope’s visit to the Windy City. His neat professional trajectory is interrupted when Angela Rance, one of his parishioners, comes to him with a request: her daughter is possessed by a demon, and she wants him to do an exorcism. Rebuffed by the bishop, Ortega turns to Father Marcus Keane, a renowned exorcist who Ortega has never heard of — until the fellow priest appeared in his dreams. Meanwhile, Angela struggles to keep her family together as the demon’s power over her daughter grows more malevolent by the day.

I’m not usually a huge fan of religious horror, and I didn’t much care for the original Exorcist – I just don’t find it all that scary. But while the TV series has just as many jump scares and gross-outs as the movie, with a whole season it has time to do some more interesting things, too. The Rance family dynamics are fascinating, even before the demon shows up, and Father Thomas and Father Marcus are polar opposites in the classic tradition of buddy-cop dramas. There’s conspiracy and ominous foreshadowing; there’s tension over what it means to be a priest; there’s discussion of Gnostic heresies and the dangerous influences of Ouija boards. Most interesting, though, is the portrayal of demonic possession from the point of view of the girl being possessed, letting you see both the power it offers her and the subtle ways it makes her suffer. I really didn’t think you could make a feminist version of The Exorcist, but I think this show has pulled it off.

The Brand New Testament (2017)

Movie – To give mankind the awareness of their own death may be an inapprehensible phenomenon, but Ea has done just that. The Brand New Testament is a dark yet humorous film about God, who, by the way lives in Belgium with his wife and daughter. God creates inconveniences and atrocities to all of mankind out of his own boredom. His daughter Ea is not very fond of it and has had enough. After discovering her father’s malicious intentions are being controlled through a dated computer, she rebelliously sends out the death dates to everyone on Earth. What would you do if you knew when your last breath would be? Would you leave the job you dread? Would you spend your life’s savings? Or would you not change a thing? Six very different lives answer just that in Ea’s search for additional apostles to add to the New Testament.
This French film was incredibly thought provoking and had an amusing spin on all things biblical. Although it was in French (English subtitles provided), the dialogue was light enough to truly enjoy the essence of the sheer artistry. The cinematography and plot were engaging. It’s no wonder that the film was up for numerous awards and was generally favorable among critics. If you’re looking for something different but nonetheless refreshing, this is one to see.

Death Wish (2018)

DVD – Death Wish is a remake of the 1974 version, which I admit I have not seen. I saw this movie on the shelf and thought, “Hey, I love Bruce Willis and the Die Hard movie collection, so why not try this one?” This is a great action thriller movie about an emergency room doctor (Bruce Willis) who is unwittingly tasked with fixing up the bad guys of Chicago. A grave situation befalls his family, at which time he has a moment of awakening and plots his revenge. The police- overwhelmed with cases and coming up empty- starting with lowly purse snatchers, and moving up to carjackers, and eventually murderers – he doles out justice as he sees fit.

This was a great action movie for Bruce Willis. Not too much CGI and a plausible storyline. It felt honest and true to the types of mistakes one might make while learning to be an everyday superhero incognito. I am somewhat confused about the role his brother plays in the film, but not enough to discourage me from watching it a second time. I think this one hits home for the action lover of the family as well as the romance/story lover of the family.  An all-around A+ in my book!

Legion (2017)

TV Series – David Haller knows what his problem is. He has schizophrenia. He’s doing much better in the institution, but it’s a pretty boring life, until Sydney shows up. She doesn’t like to be touched, doesn’t like people getting to close to her at all. Soon she and David fall in love. But on the day Sydney leaves the institution, something explosive and incomprehensible happens — something that makes it clear that David’s problem isn’t schizophrenia, it’s that he’s a mutant with superpowers, and he’s going to have to learn to control them before someone else does it for him.

Legion is a terrifically artistic TV show based on a character from the X-Men comics. While it’s produced by Marvel Studios and connected to the current X-Men movie franchise, you don’t have to have seen anything else to understand it — the characters are probably more confused than you are. The first couple of episodes use a very non-linear structure to put you in David’s head: it takes a long time to figure out when now is and exactly what that means. But it’s a terrific ride getting there, and unlike some shows that pay more attention to their aesthetics than their story, it’s never frustrating or too hard to follow. Legion packs a lot of story into an eight-episode season, and it’s tremendously binge-worthy.

Season Two of Legion just finished airing on FX this summer, and the show has already been renewed for a third season.

The Commuter (2018)

DVD- Ex-Cop Michael takes the commuter train into the city Monday – Friday, to his ho-hum job selling life insurance. On what should be a regular day on the train, he is approached by another passenger Joanna, who makes him an offer.  In need of cash to continue his lifestyle and support his family, Michael must solve the ‘puzzle’ correctly and quickly in order to claim the reward.  He has to locate the commuter carrying a specific package and obtain it before arriving to stop “x.”  He has only a few stops to figure things out. Of course, Joanna tracks his movements at all times and in various ways throughout the trip. Will he solve the mystery, survive, and get the money?

Liam Neeson plays the lead, and is typecast for this role. The Commuter is quite similar to his other action movies. The preview looked amazing and set up the film to be exciting. Who doesn’t love Liam Neeson in action? This one, however, was more over the top than usual. There were plot holes aplenty and far too many action sequences. If you are looking for an action packed, just-for-the-heck-of-it movie, The Commuter fits the bill. Just don’t expect that “Wow, that was amazing!” feeling afterward.  I walked away saying to myself, “Okay…huh…I saw it. Now what?”

Black Panther (2018)

DVD- After his father’s recent passing T’Challa returns to his birth place in Wakanda, Africa to take his place as king.  Being king, comes with it – the power of the Black Panther, an ancestral super power passed down through the generations. As far as the world knows, Wakanda is a poor, barely-surviving country. Looking under the invisible cloaking net that has protected the country for centuries, however, one finds a wealthy, technologically advanced society sitting on a mountain of Vibranium. This precious metal, thought to no longer exist, was used to make Captain America’s shield.  Once others learn of Vibranium’s presence, they will stop at nothing to acquire the rare alloy.

This movie was well done. The Black Panther is a person of pride, strength, and honor. Wakanda’s setting is stunning, and although the people have an excess of what is needed to survive, they are scrupulous in how the country’s resources are used. The colors, music, special effects, and the director’s ability to immerse audience members in the film – all made me feel that “WOW!” factor, after it was over. Even if you do not follow the Marvel superhero franchise, you will still be amazed by this movie. I highly recommend Black Panther to everyone!

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

Book – Every once in a while a movie comes along that’s so bad, so unbelievable, so outrageous, that it goes straight past unwatchable and becomes compelling. In 2003, that movie was The Room, written, directed, produced by, and starring Tommy Wiseau. The Room is so uniquely, outrageously bad – and not just bad but also deeply, deeply weird – that you can’t help but wonder about the guy who made it. Fortunately, Wiseau’s co-star, co-producer, and best friend Greg Sestero has written a memoir about his friendship with Tommy and the filming of The Room, and while it doesn’t exactly shed any light on who Tommy Wiseau is or why he felt compelled to make this weirdly compelling, illogical relationship drama of a movie, it’s a delightful trainwreck of a story.

You can now experience The Disaster Artist in a variety of formats – there’s the original book, the audiobook as read by Greg Sestero, and the film starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. While Franco’s Tommy Wiseau impression is impressive, if you really want to experience the full range of weirdness, I recommend the audiobook. Even if you’ve never seen The Room – and I can’t in good conscience recommend that you do – this is a wild ride through one of the most implausible Hollywood productions of our time.