Tag Archives: GOD

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Michael Schur

Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard

Producers: David Hyman, Joe Mande, Megan Amram

Starring: Kristen Bell, Wiliam Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson

US Network: NBC / UK Platform: Netflix

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Hell is other people.” Jean Paul Sartre

So I started watching The Good Place with expectations of it being another slickly written and performed, shiny, sparkly and goofy American sitcom. I figured I would check it out, give it a season, enjoy and then allow it to slide into viewing obscurity. However, little did I realise it was going to be one of the funniest, intelligent, imaginative, philosophical, slick, shiny, goofy and densely plotted television shows I had seen in years.

Created by uber-comedy-producer Michael Schur, The Good Place, has an immediately fascinating high-concept premise. Set in the ‘after-life’, it deals with the lives and deaths of four disparate characters, namely: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They have all died and gone to a version of heaven, but there’s been a mistake. Eleanor is the snag. Due to a cosmic confusion she should not be there. Her behaviour ratings on Earth are so low she should have gone to ‘The Bad Place’ instead.

Frantically attempting to cover up this hellish mistake, the immoral, selfish and petualnt Eleanor enlists the indecisive but very moral Chidi to teach her how to be good. Thus, begins one of the major themes of the show: what does it mean to be a good person? As a moral philosophy professor when alive, Chidi, reluctantly agrees to train Eleanor. However, she is so inherently selfish it proves a tough task, and much humour comes from Chidi and Eleanor’s life perspectives clashing. Overseeing the “guests'” everyday lives are the architect/angel (arch-angel geddit!), Michael, played with the usual comic brilliance by Ted Danson; and super enthusiastic, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a personified, sentient, artificially-intelligent computer.

The Good Place starts strong with a brilliant premise and then cascades into a series of incredible events, flashbacks and character reveals, culminating in some hilarious and ingenious narrative twists. Michael Schur is a past master of ensemble comedy, having worked on the The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation; and here his army of writers, actors, designers and effects team serve his fantastic vision superbly. Moreover, the cast zing out the screwball-comedy paced dialogue and gags with laser-sharp comedy timing, with Kristen Bell the pick of the lot. The flashback scenes which show Eleanor back on Earth illustrating why she should go to hell are particularly hilarious. Of course, she’s not precisely evil but very human; she’s just not very good at being human.

Thus, if you want a television show which is shiny on the outside but actually quite dark on the inside then this is for you. The Good Place makes you both laugh and think. It deals with death, religion, heaven, hell, human behaviour and also gives insight into basic philosophy. I mean, it’s educational too; you learn about Camus, Sartre, Kant, Mill and many more! Overall, all three seasons zip along full of zinging one-liners that had me breathless from start to finish and it has heart too. You get to love these characters, despite their faults, and the show certainly leaves you in a very good place.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

HOW’S YOUR CATHOLIC GUILT? THE YOUNG POPE REVIEW (2016)

HOW’S YOUR CATHOLIC GUILT? REVIEWING THE YOUNG POPE (2016)

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having recently reviewed Martin Scorcese’s Silence (2016) I thought it apt to follow it up by looking at a more contemporary vision of religion and faith with a review of Paulo Sorrentino’s HBO produced The Young Pope. Created, co-written and directed by uber-Italian-auteur Sorrentino it stars the impressive Jude Law as the eponymous lead protagonist. Law’s Lenny Belardo, rather than the crusty-almost-dead-looking-Popes we’re used to seeing behind bulletproof glass or delivering sermons from the Vatican, is in fact a younger, muscular and even sexy Pope.

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Now, while I respect an individual’s right to believe what they want to, be it the teachings of Christ or Mohammed or Obi Wan Kenobi for that matter, I’m not a great fan of ‘Organized Religion.’ Indeed, ‘Organized Religion’ must be up there, along with global governments, Hitler, Spanish flu, and bubonic plague, as the main cause of wars, death and the suffering of millions.  More specifically, Catholicism and its representatives have been at the forefront of negative events down the years including the Medieval Witch Hunts; Spanish Inquisitions; the tragedy of the ‘Fallen Women’ in 1920s-1950s Ireland; general acquiring of huge wealth while followers live in poverty; anti-gay and Pro-life ideologies; and as most recently seen in the film Spotlight (2015), a worldwide cover-up of paedophilia by Catholic priests. So how does Sorrentino approach such issues?

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Well, his creative team’s approach to the material is not one of demonization but rather playful satire, wistful respect and a formidable testing of the Vatican as an institution. His desire it not to bring down the Catholic Church but rather purge the old and modernize its way of thinking and how it represents itself. It’s a testament to the strength of the writing that it held my interest throughout and this was essentially down to the incredible characterisation and performances from Jude Law, Diane Keaton, James Cromwell and incomparable Sivio Orlando as the devious but ultimately soft-hearted-Napoli-fan Cardinal Voiello.

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Over ten episodes of high quality dramatic analysis Sorrentino presents many of the issues facing the Catholic church now including: the paedophilia cases charged; the sexual behaviour, addictions and sins of Priests; the financial and political machinations of the Vatican; the importance of public relations and marketing the Vatican; and of course the very nature of faith and what it means to be a Catholic.  These are indeed heavy subjects yet while serious like Scorcese’s Silence, The Young Pope contains some wry and delicate humour too. I mean ten episodes of a Vatican-based comedy it isn’t, but Paulo Sorrentino’s skewed look shows the priests and nuns, not as higher beings but rather flawed humans like the rest of us.

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None are presented as more human than the lead character Lenny Belardo.  Jude Law’s character is a surly, sarcastic and snappy dude from the start. He smokes and shows little respect for the elder priests, led by Cardinal Voiello and his prior mentor, Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell) who are as surprised as him that he somehow won the Papacy due to an advantageous split in the votes. Belardo vows to break the “old boys” network and spends much of the season locking heads with Voiello and Spencer in a bitter series of power plays. This young Pope does not suffer fools and refuses to be seen in public and reneges on his public relations duties. He even at times “jokes” about not believing in God; while his first speech delivered in silhouette is an unmitigated PR disaster.

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Yet, at Belardo’s heart is a dark sadness due to his abandonment by his hippy parents, who while a young boy, dumped him at an orphanage run by Sister Mary (Keaton).  Keaton portrays the surrogate Mother to Lenny and his best pal, Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) as she supports him admirably during his papal duties. We see Belardo battle his elders, his faith, his anger, loneliness and sexual temptations which are put before him; all as he finds his voice as the Pope. It is a fascinating journey which really pulls you into the Pope’s internal and external strife.

Overall, this was a heavy yet rewarding series to watch. The scenery and imagery on show dazzle as Sorrentino and his cinematographer conjure some startling holy visions and beautiful architectural compositions. The writing is also of the highest quality with some magnificently lofty, pious and poetic speeches throughout. Being very clever Sorrentino both pokes a teasing stick at the Vatican but also praises the Lord in his own inimitable way, creating several fascinating characters in the process. Jude Law has never ever been better in a show which while initially testing rewards those who keep the faith.

SILENCE (2016): REVIEWED BY A RELIGIOUS OUTSIDER

SILENCE (2016): REVIEWED BY PAUL LAIGHT

Rather than review every single thing I have seen in one monthly instalment I have decided to theme my reviews concentrating on quality rather than quantity in 2017. So, here I go with a light essay on the nature of the existence of God, the relevance of religion in today’s world and at the same time give my humble opinions on Martin Scorcese’s passion project Silence (2016).

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In my mind I do not believe in God. I do not believe in a higher-power that created Earth and oversees our everyday lives. I believe Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed existed in some form or another in the past and their philosophies and teachings laid the groundwork for Christianity, Islam and Buddhism; plus many of the other religions that are followed today. Personally, I believe in all that I see and hear and experience in life and while I respect other people’s faith, commitment to an all-powerful being is not for me. Each to their own I reckon.

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A belief in Heaven and God certainly explains many things such as why are we here? And what happens when we die? Because let’s face it the threat of a never-ending abyss of no consciousness is a terrifying thought after all. I mean, I lived and studied in Stoke-on-Trent for three years so have seen the void and it is frightening. So, I get that people need some comfort and answers to difficult questions. It’s just a shame that religion, organized or otherwise, has been used historically for not only good but also something that has caused: torture, war, murder, inquisitions, control, heartache and division etc. But, hey, that’s more of a critique of humanity rather than faith.

Thus, while I respect individual’s choice of faith or politics or ideology, religion and prayers are not for me. Having said that, I’m not a fundamental atheist looking to attack those believers and when reputed filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese embark on personal journeys into their own faith it certainly makes one have a look and reconsider your own perspectives. Indeed, Silence features a lead character which clearly acts as Scorcese’s personal conduit as Rodrigues journeys into the heart of darkness and faces a horrific test of faith.

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Like The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997), Martin Scorcese is no stranger to broaching heavy and powerful subjects relating to religion. Of course, it’s easy to say I prefer his stylised, violent and darkly humorous gangster films as they are eminently watchable with kinetic camerawork, great soundtracks and brutal men taking each other out in all manner of bloody ways. Having said that these films still ring true to Scorcese as he grew up in a tough Italian neighbourhood where more often than not the choice was to become a gangster or a priest. What a choice!

Silence is set as far away from New York as you could get: in 17th century feudal Japan. It concerns two priests Rodrigues and Garupe (brilliant portrayed by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who venture into the heart of darkness to attempt to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). It is a long film which requires much stamina in both heart and mind and at times certainly tested my faith in the director. However, after it had ended it left me with so much to think about I knew it was worth the journey. It’s a story that you absorb through your psyche and physicality. It does not strike any easy notes as it discordantly pulls at your cerebral sinews.

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The first act quickly establishes the drama but I felt that the second thirty minutes was arguably too slow as I was very keen for the quest to find Ferreira gain some pace. Yet, when the film focusses on Andrew Garfield’s character and the testing of his faith Scorcese really got to the heart of the narrative. Moreover, there was much in the film which reflected today. The priests are captured, humiliated and tortured in a Japanese equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. But the Japanese were not stereotypical or evil for evil’s sake. Their motivations of protecting their culture and own religion were well argued. In fact, it’s an important theme in the film where, in testing Rodrigues’ faith, are they not perhaps right to protect their way of life? Especially given they may have some knowledge of the violence committed by Westerners and Christians in the name of God.

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Overall, Silence is a reflective and personal film about faith and culture clashes. Over the running time Scorcese, through the characters, questions his beliefs and how he should best go about praising the Lord. Scorcese’s soul is in many characters notably Rodrigues but also Neeson’s Ferreira. Most importantly he is also present in a fascinating sin-confess-repent-Judas character called Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka). While moving at a meditative pace Silence possesses some wonderful cinematography, sterling performances and a brooding score. Ultimately, faith is a personal choice and whether you believe in God or not an individual must choose their own path of faith even if it is silence.