THE GOOD PLACE Invents Buddhism

This contains spoilers for the latest episodes of The Good Place.

Everybody on The Good Place is dead. This is not the spoiler promised above – rather it’s the very premise of the show. Four people wake up in a waiting room where they are informed they’re dead and they’ve made it to The Good Place. But very quickly it becomes clear that none of them actually belong there, and over the course of the first season they try to avoid being found out and sent to The Bad Place. Then came the first season twist: they were already in The Bad Place. This had all been a part of their eternal punishment, a new spin on damnation.

The next season was an endless series of reboots, with The Bad Place trying to make them forget they were in The Bad Place, and after that they tried to escape. In the process they discovered that the afterlife works on a point system, but that the system is impossibly flawed. The complexity of moral life in the modern world – when you buy a turnip you’re possibly enriching a truly evil corporation that is ruining the lives of millions – has rendered the system moot. Nobody goes to the real Good Place anymore. Nobody at all. 

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The Grotesque Miracle Of CATS

That Sharknado is a hit and Cats is a flop is a true indicator of how misaligned our cultural priorities are. The fake bad movie is big business, while the real bad movie – the earnestly bad movie – has become a punchline. Cats deserves more.

(Before we go any farther, yes, I am aware success is measured quite differently for a SyFy Original versus big budget Oscar bait. I really just need you guys to roll with my rhetoric a little bit this year.)

The legend of Cats preceded it, and all of my friends saw the movie and returned almost hyperventilating with laughter. Ironic Cats stuff started with the release of the first trailer but exploded after the first screening. More people seem to be tweeting and memeing about Cats than are seeing it, though, and so Cats has become something that people want to talk about and laugh about but not necessarily see. 

I have seen it and I will tell you this: I am glad I did. And while it is a terrible, awful, miserable movie it is, in many ways, preferable to some of the perfectly fine big budget movies I saw this year. I will take the sheer insanity of Cats over the inanity of a Hobbs and Shaw, for instance. Hell, I’m more likely to see Cats in theaters again before I see Rise of Skywalker in theaters again. 

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The Missed Rey Opportunity In RISE OF SKYWALKER

This contains full spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

As the ending of the “Skywalker Saga” part of Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker had a lot of lifting to do at the end. Sadly, for me, it didn’t quite get where I wanted it to go and I walked out of the movie feeling like JJ Abrams had just missed a dozen opportunities. The possibilities open to him were incredible, but he kept himself boxed in with a strange adherence to just a small part of George Lucas’ vision. 

There’s a lot of talk about how The Last Jedi subverts Star Wars, but I think that talk comes from folks who simply are not familiar with the Prequels. Half the Star Wars movies George Lucas made subverted Star Wars; the reality is that many of us simply didn’t understand it at the time. It wasn’t clear to us that Lucas knew what he was doing when he made the Jedi chumps, when he made the Jedi Council full of shit and when he revealed that the shortsighted pride of characters like Yoda was what led to the rise of the Empire. 

This is important because I think many of the missed opportunities in Rise of Skywalker come from Abrams simply not vibing with the Prequels; for him Star Wars is the OT. His films are rehashes of/homages to those initial three films and they largely ignore business and themes from the Prequels. The idea that Star Wars is a story about family is sort of true – that’s what the OT is – but when we bring the PT into it we see that Star Wars is a story with family but that is actually about power and how that power is wielded and by whom. That’s the holistic theme of the six films. 

The biggest missed opportunity is about Rey, but before I address that, I want to talk about a couple of other missed opportunities that could have improved TROS, or at least firmly established it as part of a nine film story. 

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The STAR WARS We Lost

I’ve been living in Star Wars the past few weeks. The Mandalorian on Disney+. Jedi: Fallen Order on the Xbox. A full franchise rewatch gearing up for the release of The Rise of Skywalker, including dipping into relevant episodes of Clone Wars and Rebels. My brain has been living in a galaxy far, far away, and perhaps the most amazing thing about returning there is realizing how much of the inane trivia is still in that old grey matter of mine. Side characters from the Prequels who were only named on toys or in books – I know their names. Aliens that pass through the frame for a second – I can tell you their species. I can point out how the events of Rebels sets up this moment or how Clone Wars established this piece of lore. I know less than some, but much more than others. I am full of Star Wars mythology. 

We were watching Rogue One the other night and I had a realization. Jyn and Cassian were making their way through Jedha City when they bumped into two aggressive jerks. “That’s Ponda Baba!” I said to my girlfriend. “Obi-Wan Kenobi is going to cut off his arm in Star Wars!”

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Witnessing The Unclaimed Dead

We stood, a hundred or so of us, jammed under a complex of blue tents in a thunderous downpour. This was real rain, not just LA rain, a driving rain that had turned the grass of the cemetery grounds into a sucking puddle of mud. 

At the center of the crowd, flanked by an underpowered speaker, was a small gathering of religious figures, clustered around a freshly dug grave. Inside the grave were the cremains of 1,457 people who had died in LA County in 2016 and remained unclaimed. The county held on to their mortal remains for three and, when no one was found or came forward to accept the ashes, they were buried in this small green space. We were all gathered there to put these people – our neighbors – to rest. 

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Does Grant Morrison’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN Give Us The Ending Of HBO’s WATCHMEN?

This will contain spoilers for All-Star Superman and Watchmen on HBO. Spoilers for Watchmen will only be for what has aired, as I don’t have access to screeners. 

We’re at the end of this season of Watchmen, HBO’s audacious sequel to the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons masterpiece. I have a lot of feelings about the show (I’ve written a thousand words I’ll probably never publish about whether or not it was correct to answer a question Moore purposefully and thematically left unanswered in the comic. The show is very good, but as a huge fan of the comic (I have a Dr. Manhattan tattoo!) I get twitchy about some things), but in general it’s been absolutely amazing. 

What’s been most amazing about the show – so far – is how thematically and emotionally in line with Watchmen the comic it is, while at the same time seeming to push back on some of the comics’ initial thesis. Moore and Gibbons were doing a deconstruction in Watchmen, taking apart superheroes and displaying their fascism and perversion. He was taking the white adolescent male power fantasy and peeling away the veneer and showing the ugliness beneath it. But Damon Lindelof’s (and company) take on the sequel feels more like a reconstruction.

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The Ending Of THE IRISHMAN

As the headline indicates, this will mention the ending of The Irishman, but it won’t be too specific. It will, however, touch on the general events and tone of the end of the film as context . 

Yesterday I was talking to a guy who isn’t a movie guy. He’s a working class guy, likes to spend time at the gym, keeps himself busy. He doesn’t make a lot of time for movies or TV, but the holiday weekend being what it is – his family lives out of town – he found himself watching The Irishman on Netflix.

He didn’t watch it in one go. Even when he had nothing else happening he couldn’t sit still for the whole three and a half hours, so he watched it in chunks over a few days. And in the middle of the chunks he got news that his father was dying. His father was living alone and he had fallen, and he had laid in a puddle of his own vomit for two days. Now he was in hospice and dying. 

This guy didn’t tell me his whole relationship with his father, but he didn’t have to. It was on his face. It wasn’t an easy relationship. 

So this guy watches the end of The Irishman, puts on the last hour and figures he’ll get his mind off things. Except… well, if you’ve seen The Irishman you know it didn’t get his mind off things. Exact opposite, in fact. 

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Now That Tony Stark Is Dead, Maybe the MCU Can Get Progressive

Maybe Tony Stark died at the exact right moment. Maybe the spring of 2019 was the last time it was safe out there for a billionaire, and if he had survived into the current Democratic primary, which has made billionaires as much a target as President Trump, he would have come to understand Harvey Dent’s famous quote in The Dark Knight.

It’s almost hard to remember a time when Iron Man was a C-list superhero, but he was. He was essentially a runner-up, a superhero whose best known storyline was the one where he was too much of a drunk to keep being a superhero. But the vagaries of Hollywood are what they are, and Marvel Studios ended up with only the rights to their B and C-list heroes, and so they made an Iron Man movie. The rest, as they say, is history.

But it’s a weird history, one warped by the fact that Tony Stark is the founding member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That doesn’t reflect his status in the comics (or at least it didn’t, until recently) and it has led to a strange and unforeseen – and, I think, largely unacknowledged – imbalance in the MCU. One that, now that Tony is dead, can finally be corrected.

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THE MANDALORIAN Review

Never forget that George Lucas was ripping off a lot of stuff when he made Star Wars. This is vital, and it’s a part of Star Wars’ DNA. It is also, I believe, why the first episode of The Mandalorian works so damn well. 

See, modern Star Wars seems to be interested in aping old Star Wars as opposed to taking a page from the Lucas playbook and ripping off other movies. Star Wars, to borrow a phrase, is a place, and that means you can take other films and genres and easily drop them into a Star Wars milieu, which is exactly what The Mandalorian does. In this case it’s a Spaghetti/revisionist era Western plopped right into a world of blasters and Gonk droids, and it’s the chemical reaction between Star Wars and the genre that creates the beautiful fizz that makes the episode so damned enjoyable. 

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Berlanti Triumphant

Today Greg Berlanti’s DC journey has come full circle. The big announcement about HBOMax, Warner Bros’ entry into the overcrowded world of streaming services, included news about another Berlanti DC Comics show – he will be creating a Green Lantern series. That particular property is significant because it’s the one where Berlanti entered the DC Extended Universe… and it was a major failure.

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