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: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Release Date: January 21st, 1992 (Sundance)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino

Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, why am I Mr. Pink?” – Mr. Pink

Every great director has to start somewhere and this is where Quentin Tarantino’s career truly began. This is his origin story and for a first real attempt at creating a full-fledged motion picture, the young director absolutely nailed it and gave the world something exceptional.

The film also has a great ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things, as well as Harvey Keitel, who was already established as a master of his craft, especially in crime pictures.

The bulk of the movie, from a performance standpoint, mostly falls on the shoulders of Keitel and Tim Roth. While Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney were all perfect, it is the bond between Keitel and Roth that drives the picture and gives it the needed emotional weight and purpose.

The majority of this film takes place in one room. It actually only leaves this room when the actors walk out into its parking lot or during a flashback sequence. It is a very confined film but that works to its advantage and for its building of tension.

Reservoir Dogs also showcases Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue. While I feel that his dialogue tends to get really carried away in his later films and almost ruins them, in this picture he has the perfect balance of great dialogue, pivotal plot developments and overall motion. The conversations may go on for a bit but they are the driving force of the film. But never does it go on too long or go off on drawn out unnecessary tangents that don’t work as well on a second viewing. Every scene says what it needs to say and serves a purpose. The film just moves, flows and keeps you on edge in the right way. It is witty and it is fast in a way that Tarantino’s later pictures aren’t.

Now the film is also surrounded in some minor controversy, as people have gone on to notice that this film seems to borrow quite heavily from the 80s Hong Kong film City On Fire. Ringo Lam’s well-known picture in the Hong Kong crime genre predates Reservoir Dog by five years. It features an undercover cop infiltrating a group of jewel thieves, tension around the fact that no one knows who the cop is, a Mexican standoff finale and a whole laundry list of other similar plot points. Tarantino has casually denied that Reservoir Dogs is a sort of remake of City On Fire but it is hard to deny the myriad of similarities when you have seen both films.

The thing is, even if Tarantino ripped it off to launch his career, the fact remains that he made a much better picture than Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Also, Reservoir Dogs, despite its inspiration, is very much a Tarantino picture. Also, hasn’t Quentin Tarantino’s entire career just been made up of artistic homages to all the things he thinks are cool? But I guess the thing that bothers people is that he won’t admit he lifted the plot when he very honestly states that Kill Bill was his version of Lady Snowblood or when he just borrows titles from other movies for his films like using Django in the title of Django Unchained or taking Inglorious Bastards and stylizing it Inglourious Basterds.

At the end of the day, I don’t care how Tarantino came to create Reservoir Dogs. It is still very much his and a work of modern cinematic art. It was, by far, one of the greatest debuts of any director in history and it will always be considered one of the greatest indie films of the 1990s.

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Film Review: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Release Date: August 13th, 1967
Directed by: Arthur Penn
Written by: David Newman, Robert Benton
Music by: Charles Strouse
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder

Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 111 Minutes

Review:

“This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.” – Clyde Barrow

For the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, Fathom Events put it back on the big screen. I was glad that I got to see it in its original format, fifty years to the exact day it came out.

For those who haven’t seen the film or who don’t know about it, it follows the true story of Bonnie Parker (Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Beatty), two young lovers that became famous bank robbers in the Mid-South. It also showcases their gang: their driver C.W. Moss (Pollard), Clyde’s brother (Hackman) and his wife (Parsons), who is actually strung along and wants nothing to do with the crime and violence.

Bonnie and Clyde was an important motion picture in the history of filmmaking. It was actually a trendsetter that changed everything going forward, which makes its 50th anniversary quite significant for all of film history. It was the first picture to truly show violence and to push the bar higher in regards to its sexual content. It also experimented with its style visually and musically.

It is the oldest film I can think of that edits action packed music-filled scenes with cuts back to people talking. In some spots, it plays more like an early MTV music video. This, of course, existed a decade and a half before MTV and the musical choices reflect the 1930s, when this takes place, as opposed to the poppy 1980s new wave sounds. But it is easy to see how Bonnie and Clyde not only influenced movie filmmakers but also music video filmmakers and many other people in pop culture.

While the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards. It won for cinematography, which was quite deserved. Also, Estelle Parsons won for Best Supporting Actress, as Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche. It was cool seeing Parsons in this, as I really only knew her as Roseanne’s mother on Roseanne, when I was a kid. I always loved her on that show, she was actually one of my favorite characters and seeing her here, much younger but in some respects, the same, was a really cool experience.

This wasn’t the first time I saw Bonnie and Clyde, I first watched it in my early twenties but I hadn’t seen it since then. I was glad I got to revisit it, as it is still a solid film, through and through. It has had a tremendous impact on film, television and music. It would inspire countless films and was a template for the Quentin Tarantino written Natural Born Killers and the Ice Cube and Yo-Yo song “The Bonnie and Clyde Theme”.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were magnificent in this. And really, what’s hotter than Faye Dunaway firing a tommy gun?

Also, Michael J. Pollard was dynamite as the bumbling but kindhearted C.W. while Gene Hackman was boisterous and entertaining as Clyde’s crazy ex-con brother. The film is also the debut of Gene Wilder, who comes off like a solid veteran.

Bonnie and Clyde is a classic American film that deserves its recognition. It is also great that such a trendsetting and groundbreaking picture was actually quite good.

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.

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.