TV Review: Iron Fist (2017- )

Original Run: March 17th, 2017 – current
Created by: Scott Buck
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Trevor Morris
Cast: Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup, Ramón Rodríguez, Sacha Dhawan, Rosario Dawson, David Wenham, Carrie-Anne Moss

ABC Studios, Marvel, Devilina Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 50-61 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Iron Fist is, unfortunately, the first of the Marvel Netflix shows to be a bit of a disappointment. It is even more disappointing in that this was the show I was most anticipating, as I’ve loved reading Iron Fist comics for years. He is a unique but very cool character, especially in his legendary team ups with Luke Cage.

All is not lost, however, as the show still has some promise and could go to some great places. The first season is just bogged down by origin story crap and a lot of corporate drama that kind of distracts from the story more than it helps it or drives it. A lot of it is just uninteresting but I hope all that stuff is now out of the way to make room for the future.

Also, Danny Ran a.k.a. Iron Fist being like a fish out of water really got old pretty quickly. He had to adjust to life in the modern world after being stuck in Mystical Ninja Land since he was a boy. Captain America, a guy thawed out 80 years into the future seemed to adjust to modern life a lot quicker than Iron Fist, who returned to a world with just an iPod only four models old.

The show also features the evil ninja clan The Hand quite a lot. Frankly, I was kind of over them by the end of the second season of Daredevil. I get that Danny Rand has ties to them but they didn’t need to be such a huge focal point and something fresher and unique would have been much better. I really don’t care about The Hand’s inner politics and how they aren’t all bad.

The villain character played by David Wenham was initially fantastic. I have always liked Wenham as an actor and it was cool seeing him get a little psychotic. Also, it was a neat contrast to him playing Faramir in the Lord of the Rings movies, as Faramir was a man trying to earn the love of a psychotic father and now he is a psychotic father with a son that hungers for his approval. Sadly, the character’s story goes off the rails the longer it stretches on. I obviously don’t blame Denham, as he played it magnificently.

Iron Fist is not necessarily a bad show but it doesn’t live up to what was established with DaredevilJessica Jones and Luke Cage. Nevertheless, I am still excited to see him team up with the rest of these heroes in The Defenders and I still look forward to another season of Iron Fist, where hopefully the origin crap is over and the corporate drama takes a backseat to better stories.

Film Review: Look Who’s Back (2015)

Also known as: Er ist wieder da, lit. He’s Back Again (Germany)
Release Date: October 8th, 2015 (Germany)
Directed by: David Wnendt
Written by: Johannes Boss, Minna Fischgartl, Timur Vermes, David Wnendt
Based on: Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
Music by: Enis Rotthoff
Cast: Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Katja Riemann, Christoph Maria Herbst, Franziska Wulf, Michael Kessler

Constantin Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“[about current TV shows] I’m glad that Goebbels doesn’t see this anymore.” – Adolf Hitler

I didn’t know about this film’s existence until I just sort of stumbled onto it looking for something else. I’m damn glad I found it though, as it was pleasantly surprising and really taps into society’s problem with cult of personality and how a vocal and scarily honest charismatic speaker can give a voice to those overcome with fear and insecurity. It actually parallels a lot of what is happening in current events and the political climate of today. It shows that the modern era isn’t that dissimilar from Hitler’s era, in certain regards.

Oliver Masucci was absolutely fascinating as Adolf Hitler. Fabian Busch was also very good as Sawatzki, a guy just looking for a breaking documentary story to help make his career.

The plot of the film is interesting and doesn’t really need explanation, as the how this happened is unimportant and would take away from the real weight of the picture, which is what would happen if Hitler existed in the world today. The setup is quite simple, Hitler wakes up in the spot where he supposedly met his demise. Except he appears in the modern world, 70 years later. Hitler is, at first, baffled and doesn’t understand what is happening. The public around him thinks that he is a comedian that is committed to the character, as a sort of social experiment. Regardless, he becomes huge on social media, ends up on every television show and then becomes the face of Germany, once again.

Now the picture is lighthearted for the most part but it does have some very serious tones, at the right moments, and the ending is unsettling but comes off as completely plausible and realistic.

Look Who’s Back is really an exploration of the media’s power and influence and how people are guided and effected by propaganda.

The film does a great job of making its point but it keeps things balanced in its comedic approach to the material. And all things considered, in a lot of ways, this is one of the most important films to come out in the last few years.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and the actors nailed the material. It is a film that probably needs a bit more recognition than it has in the States. It is also currently streaming on Netflix.

TV Review: Luke Cage (2016- )

Original Run: September 30th, 2016 – current
Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Cast: Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Alfre Woodard, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis

ABC Studios, Marvel, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 44-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

Luke Cage was the third of the four Marvel series being produced for Netflix. He is to be a member of the Defenders, who will get a minseries as a team, once all four heroes are introduced in their own series. We’ve already seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones (where Cage actually debuted) and we have Iron Fist coming up after this.

While Luke Cage is a superhero and actually a member of the Avengers in the comics. He is not an Avenger in the show, at least not at the moment. Also, the vibe of his show is much different from the ones before it. This is more of a modern blaxploitation series in its style and story.

Cage gains the power of being indestructible. It is a slow reveal as to how this happened and what it all means but he uses this ability to protect his neighborhood from the criminals that seek to exploit and destroy it. There are actually a few big villains in the show and each gets a good amount of time to be fleshed out and come to life. None of them, however, are as interesting as Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.

In fact, the chemistry between Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Ali is pretty uncanny. They played off of each other very well and their was a real weight to the tension between the two. Unfortunately, Ali is only in about the first half of the season and then the gears shift to the villain Diamondback.

The shifting gears is one of the issues I have with the show. In a way, the first season feels like two condensed seasons of a show compressed down into one. The tension and drama between Cage and Cottonmouth is essentially wiped away, just as it is reaching a really satisfying high. Then the stuff with Diamondback just isn’t as interesting, even if he and Cage have some cool fights.

I also have to mention the awesome work of Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi, who are both established as villains but they are big baddies to be explored more in the future. They have ties to everything that happens in the first season but are really just there to be a part of a much larger arc that has really just begun.

One thing that is amazing about the show is the score. It is produced by Adrian Younge alongside Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Also, the hip-hop tracks that are worked into the show are all pretty much fantastic choices that give the show a gritty New York vibe in the right sort of way. Also, every episode is named after a Gang Starr song. One of the musical highlights is definitely the live performance by Jidenna as he does his song “Long Live the Chief”. Also, look for a stupendous cameo from Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan towards the end of the first season.

Another cool thing about Luke Cage is it spends significant time trying to flesh out Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, who is the link to all these Defenders related Marvel shows. Dawson and Colter have a good bond and camaraderie that I hope to see explored more in the future.

Luke Cage is pretty good. I don’t enjoy it as much as Jessica Jones and Daredevil, thus far. However, it has promise and looks to be heading in the right direction with what it established in its first season.

Documentary Review: Atari: Game Over (2014)

Release Date: November 20th, 2014
Directed by: Zak Penn
Music by: Stephen Endelman

Fuel Entertainment USA, GRAiNEY Pictures, Lightbox, 66 Minutes

Review:

Atari: Game Over is an engaging enough documentary for those who loved playing the various Atari systems before Nintendo came along in the mid-80s.

This documentary follows two narrative paths that weave together.

Initially, it talks about the history of Atari and how it rose to power and then pretty much disappeared. Secondly, it discusses the E.T. game, which many consider to be the worst game ever made. It isn’t the worst game ever made but it seemed to become the scapegoat for Atari’s misfortune. Also, a massive stock of E.T. game cartridges were dumped in a desert landfill and have since become some sort of legendary pop culture treasure, waiting to be unearthed.

Zak Penn takes us on a journey through the history of Atari, while being present for the massive excavation of the landfill, in an effort to see if the game cartridges are actually there. I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Unfortunately, this is a rather short documentary and to be honest, I’d be more interested in a film that tells the Atari story in much more detail than being constantly sidetracked back over to the landfill. While the discovery of the buried E.T. cartridges is sort of the point of this film, it just isn’t as interesting as the Atari story, overall.

Also, the film paints a picture that the video game industry completely crashed and that Atari disappeared and it leaves it like there was some big massive void in the universe. The reality is that Nintendo came along, as did Sega and many other companies. Market share shifted and Atari was no longer a monopoly. Their systems couldn’t compete with Nintendo and Sega and they dwindled away. Consumers ate up Nintendo and were much happier with it. That’s the reality. Also, Atari didn’t just go away, they still made games and had to alter their business model. Atari still exists today.

Atari: Game Over was sloppy and left you grasping for straws. It was enjoyable for its good bits but I felt that it was sort of dishonest and more focused on legends than truth.

Film Review: The Big Sick (2017)

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Written by: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Music by: Michael Andrews
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher

FilmNation Entertainment, Apatow Productions, Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, 124 Minutes

Review:

I really wanted to see this film a lot sooner but I had to travel for work over the last month and then I had to catch all the movies that were coming out, as it was summer. I finally got to a week where I had a nice break in the schedule, so that I could check this out instead of dreck like The Dark Tower and Valerian.

I first discovered Kumail Nanjiani when he popped up as a waiter in an episode of Portlandia. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of the guy. Whether seeing him in HBO’s Silicon Valley or Comedy Central’s The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail or hell… an Old Navy commercial, I am always entertained.

The Big Sick, while still a comedy, is the most serious thing I have seen Kumail Nanjiani do. That being said, he was pretty damn amazing in it. Granted, he was really playing himself and the story was about his real life situation with the woman who would eventually become his wife. There was more drama here though than a standard romantic comedy and everyone held their own.

The movie’s plot is about Kumail and Emily falling in love and the challenges that arise with Kumail being from a family of Pakistani immigrants who have very strict rules that they must adhere to. Things get disastrous for the couple but ultimately, Emily gets really sick, is put into a medically induced coma and Kumail, along with her parents, never leaves her side. All the while, Kumail is trying to make it in stand-up comedy and develops a great bond with Emily’s parents. When Emily finally awakes, she is still in the same mental place she was in when her and Kumail were on the outs.

The film is written by Kumail and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. However, Emily does not play herself. Instead, she is played by the super talented and charming Zoe Kazan. Her parents were played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Both of them were beyond stellar and Romano was especially great. He got to expand beyond his typical comedic forte as he played a guy who tries to be funny but isn’t. Romano also has some of the best dramatic scenes in the film, which was cool to see. Weirdly, I was never a big fan of Everybody Loves Raymond but I always liked the man behind it.

Well acted, with a cast that has amazing chemistry, The Big Sick is an entertaining and moving picture. It is also quite sweet and heartwarming. I went into this knowing it had a happy ending but that didn’t detract from the emotional weight of the story. Everything about it felt genuine and real. This was something that truly came from the writers’ hearts and experiences and it was cool seeing at least one of them get to also star in it.

As much as I already liked Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick takes him to a whole new level. While he has already broken into Hollywood, this was a giant leap forward and I hope it opens even more doors for him.

Film Review: Coda (2013)

Release Date: July 13th, 2013 (Galway Film Fleadh)
Directed by: Alan Holly
Written by: Rory Byrne, Alan Holly
Music by: Shane Holly
Cast: Joseph Dermody, Orla Fitzgerald, Brian Gleeson, Donie Ryan

Film Group of Unions, Frameworks, Irish Film Board, 9 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching a lot of short films lately but this is one that really stuck out. I remember seeing the press for it when it was making the rounds and I wanted to see it but like many things in life, it was brushed away by time and I forgot about it until coming across it while screening a bunch of shorts. I’m glad that I finally got to see this.

Coda is a short animated film that features Death. However, it is sweet and comforting even in its sadness.

The films starts with a drunk walking out of a bar and getting hit by a car. His spirit rises up and wanders the streets, not realizing that Death is in pursuit. He follows a fox into a park where he rests on a bench when Death appears and sits next to him. Begging for more time, Death takes the man on a journey through his memories.

The animation style is very minimalist but it is majestic and alluring. The music and even the voices of the characters enhance the feeling of peacefulness throughout the short film.

This is a pretty hard piece of cinematic art to review, in all honesty, but it is incredibly effective and builds towards a true sense of ease and acceptance, as it moves on from scene to scene.

It is definitely worth a watch and being that it is only nine minutes, even if you don’t enjoy it, isn’t a huge waste of time. But I would find it hard to not walk away from the experience without being effected.

Film Review: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Release Date: March 11th, 2016 (SXSW)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Cast: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Austin Amelio

Annapurna Pictures, Detour Filmproduction, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Have you noticed whenever we’re around baseball all we talk about is pussy. Now, we’re actually around a few potentially interesting young women, all you talk about is baseball. It’s a little fucked up!” – Finnegan

I really anticipated Everybody Wants Some!! when it was coming out. It was Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to his coming of age classic Dazed and Confused. Also, Linklater seems to really nail it on the head when it comes to coming of age films.

While I enjoyed the experience of Everybody Wants Some!!, it wasn’t on the level of Dazed and Confused. That’s okay though because even if they share narrative and style similarities, they are very different movies.

This film picks up in the summer of 1980 as it follows a college freshman as he moves in with the baseball team to prepare for the upcoming year. The story then captures their lives and their camaraderie while becoming a team and chasing girls. The film ends the moment the first class starts, so it really just focuses on the main character’s introduction to his four year college journey.

The cast is pretty fantastic and Linklater has a way of steering ensembles into great territory. This film is no different in that regard. All the main actors hold their own and feel like authentic teens and twenty-somethings.

I do have to say that Austin Amelio really steals the scenes he’s in but maybe that is because it is hard to envision Dwight from The Walking Dead as some collegiate baseball star. But his comedic timing and presence are great and it was really cool seeing him do something that is such a departure from his more famous character.

I really liked Zoey Deutch in this but she didn’t have a lot of screen time compared to the guys. Speaking of which, Jenner, Powell and Hoechlin had a great chemistry. The other scene stealer though was Wyatt Russell, who just commands attention without really trying but when you are the son of the legendary Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, that shit’s in your blood.

Everybody Wants Some!! is pretty enjoyable but it doesn’t have the lasting impact of Linklater’s Dazed and ConfusedSubUrbia or Slacker. It is a nice companion piece to those films however and sort of adds a fourth chapter to those pictures that I always thought of as a loose trilogy.