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.

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.

Film Review: Kitty (2016)

Release Date: May 20th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: Chloe Sevigny
Written by: Chloe Sevigny
Based on: a short story by Paul Bowles
Music by: Brian DeGraw
Cast: Edie Yvonne, Ione Skye, Lee Meriwether

First Generation Films, 15 Minutes

Review:

Kitty is the directorial debut of the great actress Chloe Sevigny. It also truly feels like an extension of her soul and hits all the right notes. Frankly, this is a really exceptional short film that was endearing, enchanting and pretty damn emotional.

The film stars Edie Yvonne, who has more acting chops at her young age than the majority of adult actors that rake in the big bucks for mediocre blockbusters, year after year. I can’t recall a time where I was as impressed with a young actor, as I was with Yvonne in this short.

The next paragraph may spoil the story but not the magic. Skip over it though, if you don’t want to know anything going into this fifteen minute short.

Edie Yvonne plays a young girl who feels neglected by her mother (Skye). As the story progresses, she sprouts whiskers but her mother just brushes it aside. Then she sprouts pointy ears, claws and eventually turns into an actual kitty. Arriving home, she can’t get into her house but she sees her parents crying as they are talking to the police. The kitty is then cared for by the neighbor (Meriwether), who invites her in and gives her a saucer of milk. Later on, the kitty returns home again to see her father alone and it is assumed that the mother has left. She later finds her mother on a swing set and gets her attention. The sad and broken mother picks her up and takes her home.

Sevigny’s visual style is magnificent and impressive. She took this fantastical story, put it in a normal setting but made it look fantastical in her visual approach. It is a beautiful piece of work to look at and her two decades of starring in some of the great independent films of her day have taught her a lot, as far as how to work behind the camera.

Kitty is sweet and sad but it still carries hope with it along the way. There is a lot happening in the film, emotionally, but everything just works and it excites me for what Chloe Sevigny can do, as a director.

Film Review: Shin Godzilla (2016)

Also known as: Shin Gojira (Japan), Godzilla: Resurgence (alternate)
Release Date: July 25th, 2016 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Music by: Shirō Sagisu
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara

Toho, Cine Bazar, Funimation, 120 Minutes

Review:

“What is that glow?” – Rando Yaguchi

I saw Shin Godzilla in the theater last October but I didn’t review it then because I was taking a long (and much needed) break from writing. I figured that I would tackle it, once the Blu-ray version came out and I could relive the experience. Plus, I was curious as to how the dubbing would come out.

This was one of the most anticipated Blu-ray releases of all-time for me. In fact, I don’t actually buy hard copies of movies anymore unless it is something exceptional or I want to add the latest chapter of a series I have been collecting to my film library. I own a DVD or Blu-ray of just about every Godzilla movie, so I had to buy Shin Godzilla.

The film is slightly less effective and impactful on a smaller screen and for a second viewing. However, it is, without a shadow of the doubt, one of the greatest kaiju pictures ever produced.

Shin Godzilla is truly the first film to recapture the magic of the original 1954 Gojira. Other series reboots and American remakes have tried but none of them really hit the mark like this film. Shin Godzilla really brings back the horror element to the series. As much as I liked the 2014 American Godzilla, it didn’t bring with it a true sense of dread and terror and the title monster was a good guy. Here, we have Godzilla like he was originally intended, a gigantic force of nature that will destroy absolutely everything in his path without question.

To be completely honest, I have always been more of a fan of Godzilla as a hero and protector. I have also been a fan of kaiju movies having kaiju on kaiju action. However, the roots of the franchise are steeped in Godzilla being a destroyer and being so menacing that there was no need for a monster for him to battle. He was originally a living, breathing, rampaging force of nature that wouldn’t stop unless he was defeated by man.

Shin Godzilla is a departure from the hokier tone of the vast majority of Godzilla pictures. It focuses on human politicians and scientists as they are caught off guard by the appearance of this giant monster. They have to act fast and try to figure out the best way to stop the beast in a race against time, as the Americans are threatening to level the monster (and Tokyo) with a nuke. Japan obviously doesn’t want to experience another bomb being dropped on their soil, so they must come together and find a way to stop Godzilla.

This is the best acted Godzilla film that there has ever been. It is also the greatest, as far as scope and cinematography. While Ishirō Honda’s Gojira was a visual marvel for its time, Shin Godzilla is a pristine and super realistic approach to what Honda’s original established from a stylistic standpoint. While the original still looks beautiful, this newest incarnation of the series isn’t limited in scope and it gives a much more wide open and vast presentation. You truly understand the scale of Godzilla, compared to his surroundings. Plus, Tokyo is much larger than it was in 1954 and this film needed to showcase that while making the kaiju significantly larger, as well.

While purists weren’t initially happy with Godzilla being a creation of computer graphics over a rubber suit and more practical effects, I don’t think that anyone can argue against the change after seeing the picture. That is, unless some of these fans wanted something more akin to the sequels. Frankly, we’ve had sequels and rubber suits for over sixty years and it was time for the Godzilla franchise to catch up to the technology available. This certainly wouldn’t have had the same dramatic and realistic effect had we gotten another actor in a rubber suit. Besides, kaiju filmmaking of this style still exists. Just watch any modern Ultraman show if you need to see rubber suit kaiju. Godzilla and Toho are the godfathers of the genre and they really needed to take the monster into the future for the franchise to have new legs and live on for another sixty years.

I think it is hard to knock the special effects in this film, anyway. Toho did a magnificent job in making something that looks this good in a day and age where ILM and Weta have completely changed the game. Sure, Shin Godzilla‘s effects aren’t as good as the latest Star Wars films but for a smaller studio working out of Japan, this is a top notch movie, through and through. It actually turned out much better than I thought it would, as my biggest concern about making the monster digitally was the limitations Toho would face compared to bigger budget American blockbusters. Toho absolutely nailed it though. Besides, the same fanboys bitching about a digital Godzilla where the same ones praising the digital kaiju in Pacific Rim just a few years ago.

The only negative I can come up with, and it’s not even really that big of a negative, is that this film doesn’t play as good on a small screen. But then, what kaiju movies do? You want to see large monsters as big as possible. Also, on the second viewing, it isn’t as interesting simply because so much focus is on the humans in the story trying to solve the problem. I already know the answers and it makes some of these scenes just feel really drawn out the second time around. Granted, I try to look at a film from the perspective of how it effected me as a first time viewer and I can’t really say a bad thing about it in that regard. The first time I saw this, I was captivated and pinned to my seat at full attention, as the politicians and scientists tried to stop a seemingly unstoppable menace.

Shin Godzilla was a much needed reinvention and it will be interesting to see where Toho goes from here, as the bizarre twist ending opens up all sorts of questions and avenues that can be explored. I do hope that we do get to see Toho’s modern reinvention of some of the other classic monsters as well but as good as this film was with just Godzilla, it really isn’t necessary. But maybe King Ghidorah will show up and Godzilla might eventually return to being the protector Earth needs.

No matter what happens going forward, we will always have this movie, which is better than anything I could have anticipated.

TV Review: Legends of Tomorrow (2016- )

Original Run: January 21st, 2016 – present
Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, Phil Klemmer
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Blake Neely
Cast: Victor Garber, Brandon Routh, Arthur Darvill, Caity Lotz, Franz Drameh, Ciara Renée, Falk Hentschel, Amy Pemberton, Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Matt Letscher, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Nick Zano

Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 33 Episodes (so far), 42-45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2016.

With the success of Arrow and The Flash, the CW had to put out another superhero show in that universe. Plus, those worlds were getting too big and they needed a place to ship off some of those characters. So why not make them into a team.

Add in time travel and we’ve essentially got a superhero version of Doctor Who. It also doesn’t hurt that they added a fan favorite actor from Doctor Who lore to lead this team through time and space.

The premise of the show is interesting but ultimately, we are left with the weakest of CW’s DC Comics television series. The show is enjoyable and it has some good moments but it all just feels like filler and the threat, as great as it is, just doesn’t seem that threatening overall.

Vandal Savage, who was introduced in a crossover event on The Flash and Arrow, is the main villain of the series. The problem with the show is that they either kill him or nearly kill him almost every episode but for some reason he keeps coming back or isn’t killed because the writers have to stretch him out over the whole twenty episode campaign. He just feels like a total pushover instead of the immortal evil bad ass he should be. And the characters’ motivation when they don’t finally just pull the trigger is laughable and some of the worst writing ever.

None of these people seem stable or even rational enough to pull off this very important mission. I also find it hard to believe that in all of space and time, this motley crew is the best that Rip Hunter could assemble for a mission that is sold as the most important mission in the entirety of this universe.

I enjoy Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter and I have always been a fan of Brandon Routh’s Atom and Caity Lotz’s version of the Canary. Even the Prison Break reunion of Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell as Captain Cold and Heatwave is pretty enjoyable. Firestorm is okay and Hawkgirl is somewhat interesting but all in all, this crew just doesn’t hold it together as an ensemble.

It feels like a forced union, which it is in reality and in fiction, but there should still be more chemistry. It’s chemistry that has worked so well for The Flash and Arrow. That magic just isn’t recreated here. And maybe the writers, between three shows, are stretched too thin.

This isn’t a show that I plan to give up on. Depending upon what they do for the second season, this show could turn it around. I’d like to see more characters rotated in and out of this group as the show goes on. I think that would work at keeping it fresh. It may also solve the chemistry problem.

Some of these characters are great but after seeing them full-time, they may play better on a part-time basis.

Film Review: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Release Date: March 12th, 2016 (SXSW)
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Music by: Roque Banos
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Ghost House Pictures, Good Universe, Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“There is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no god.” – The Blind Man

Stephen Lang is the only thing I loved about Avatar. In fact, I wanted him to scorch that stupid planet and that whole James Cameron CGI shitfest. I hated Avatar but Lang was damn good in it. So when a horror movie came along with him as the “monster”, I had to give it a shot.

Additionally, Fede Alvarez did a fine job with his Evil Dead remake, if you ask me. I know it is a film that divided the fans of the original Sam Raimi trilogy but I was more than satisfied with Alvarez’s serious take on the material. Evil Dead was actually terrifying in a time when horror movies are horrible and stupid.

Also, Don’t Breathe re-teams Alvarez with Jane Levy, who I also liked in Evil Dead. It was cool seeing her get down and dirty in a different way in Don’t Breathe.

The film sees three twenty-somethings break into a blind Gulf War veteran’s home in a mostly abandoned neighborhood in Detroit. The veteran apparently got a huge settlement after his young daughter was killed by a car driven by a rich teen girl. The home invaders want the money, mostly so they can leave the slums of Detroit and go to California for a better life. Regardless, they are still despicable characters even though the film tries to justify their behavior and also turn them into the protagonists when dark secrets about the blind veteran are revealed. Everyone in this movie is a seedy character.

Regardless of seeing bad people come together in a violent confrontation that takes up the bulk of the film, you still care enough about the characters for the suspense to work. While the evil of the veteran, the initial victim, ends up trumping the evil deeds of the intruders, you don’t see it coming and when the big reveal of his dark secret happens, the film completely switches gears.

However, the evil secrets of the veteran get darker and more screwed up and at a point, the film jumps the shark for me. What was a great suspenseful thriller about home invaders biting off more than they could chew and deservedly getting offed turns into a story that is more insane and disturbing than it needed to be and frankly, it loses its effectiveness.

Don’t Breathe is solidly acted, directed and the visual style works well, especially the scene in the basement where the characters battle it out in complete darkness.

While I wasn’t a fan of how disturbing the film got and felt it derailed things a bit, it was a really good horror picture in a terrible era for scary movies. It is certainly worth checking out but don’t expect anything game changing.

TV Review: The Ranch (2016- )

Original Run: April 1st, 2016 – ????
Created by: Don Reo, Jim Patterson
Directed by: David Trainer
Written by: various
Music by: Ryeland Allison
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Debra Winger, Sam Elliott, Elisha Cuthbert, Barry Corbin, Bret Harrison, Megyn Price, Kelli Goss, Kathy Baker, Ethan Suplee, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jon Cryer, Wilmer Valderrama, Martin Mull, John Amos, Thomas F. Wilson, Debra Jo Rupp, Jim Beaver

Ranch Hand Productions, Netflix, 30 Episodes (thus far), 28-34 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2016.

Netflix has gotten crazy with their original content. It seems like nearly every week there is some new show to watch now. I feel like one of their newest efforts, The Ranch, may have slipped through the cracks for most people.

It stars That ’70s Show alum Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson, which is pretty awesome as their comedic chemistry in that previous show was pretty uncanny. It also adds in the always awesome Sam Elliott, as their father, and the fantastic Debra Winger, as their mom. The cast is pretty solid but it just isn’t enough for this lackluster sitcom.

The show was created by the creators of Two and a Half Men but that was never a great series and it ran its course at least half a decade before the show actually ended. But this does re-team Kutcher with the people he worked with on that show, so it is like a happy marriage of a bunch of people Kutcher worked with on his two most famous projects. That doesn’t necessarily create a good recipe, however.

The show is mostly humorous, in a “lowest common denominator” sort of way. Granted, it does have charm and appeal. The charm isn’t immediately apparent but it grows as the show progresses. The appeal is due to the cast and the nostalgic feeling of seeing Kutcher and Masterson together. Plus, Sam Elliott, again, is always awesome and he looks to be having a lot of fun on this project.

As of now, Netflix has only released ten episodes – the first half of season one. It is enough to sink your teeth into but not enough to know if this is going to be a slow build to something better. By the end, I was mostly happy with the show but not completely sold that it wouldn’t end up being cookie cutter CBS-style sitcom bullshit. Ultimately, the characters and their relationship is what works and the comedy is just sort of there for flourish.

Update:

Having now seen 30 episodes, I feel like the show has found its footing. It isn’t fantastic but I do find myself anticipating it when I see that new episodes are about to drop.

Over the course of the three parts (as they aren’t full seasons), the show has featured more of Kutcher’s former cast mates from other shows and it also brings in a lot of other talent, whether from other classic sitcoms or from other shows and movies.

The Ranch is pretty enjoyable. It isn’t the funniest thing on television or even close to the best show. For some reason, however, it just works and it comes off as incredibly genuine and looks to be a fun show to be a part of for those involved. Their enthusiasm comes through and it makes you care about these characters.