My idea for an “Iron Man” horror story:

Tony Stark programs his suit to act fully autonomously in the event he’s ever knocked unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. In addition to fighting villains and saving people, it’s programmed to seek out a power source so it can replenish itself.

Except he dies inside the suit, which continues carrying out all its advanced programs without him. And it cannot be shut down, especially because it will defend itself against anyone who tries to tamper with it. Even Tony’s friends and allies can’t take it offline.

So essentially you’ve got Tony’s metal-encased corpse rocketing around committing various heroic deeds, indefinitely. People are grateful to be helped but really freaked out at the same time. And poor Pepper.

 

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By Julito82 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4844819

A review of Season 1 of “Jessica Jones” (2015)

Netflix’ “Jessica Jones” (2015) is easily one of the best things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.  It’s smart, it’s funny and it’s extremely dark — I don’t want to spoil too much by revealing the modus operandi of Season 1’s villain, but his manner of destroying his victims is utterly disturbing.  (I’ve mentioned before how his powers seem like a plot device from a Stephen King novel.)  Although this series excellently retains a “comic book” feel (due in part to its episodic format), its story elements frequently feel like something out of a John Carpenter film.  And, although I know I’m repeating myself yet again, this Hell’s Kitchen niche of the MCU feels like its chosen stage for horror-thrillers.

The cast is excellent.  Krysten Ritter is perfect as the titular, hard-drinking, antihero private detective.  Mike Colter is nearly as good in the role of Luke Cage, another low-level hero in the Marvel universe.  Colter’s talent is evident by the fact that Cage could so easily come across as a one-dimensional character.  (And, Jesus, doesn’t the guy look the part?)

The story’s villain, Kilgrave, is played by fan-favorite David Tennant.  (Yes, the name “Kilgrave” is stupid and is lifted from the comic book source material.  Its silliness is lampshaded in the series several times by other characters making fun of it.)  Tennant is an actor I’ve abhorred in the past.  There was no logical reason for it — there used to be just something about his voice and his face that made me cringe.  It was a running joke for a while among me and my female sci-fi friends.  (Good Lord, how the ladies adore that man.)  My admittedly irrational dislike of the man even detracted from my enjoyment of the otherwise quite enjoyable 2011 “Fright Night” remake.

He’s phenomenal here.  He’s perfect for the part, as Ritter and Colter are for theirs, and he was alternately menacing and quite funny.  (He has perfect timing and line delivery, as Ritter often does.)  I really liked watching him.

“Jessica Jones” might succeed more than any other MCU property in terms of dialogue and character development — although the “Iron Man” and “Daredevil” series also do great work there.  (It’s a tough call.)  The show also seems to flesh out the MCU into a kind of “lived in” universe in a way that other Marvel properties usually haven’t — by creating detailed, three-dimensional protagonists out of characters that have no superpowers whatsoever.  They’re not “sidekicks” (a trope that the script that slyly winks at); they’re realistic characters that affect the plot.  When one or two actually appear to develop superpowers toward the end of the season, the consequences are unexpected and dire.  (There is a truly kickass Easter egg here that will please longtime readers of Marvel Comics.)  Furthermore, Jones, Cage and most of the other characters have power sets that pale in comparison to M.C.U. heavy hitters like Thor, the Hulk or the Vision. The result is that the MCU feels more … integrated and nuanced, with a blurrier line between superheroes and everyday people.  I liked that a hell of a lot.

The show is not entirely without its failings.  Despite what I said above about the show’s attention to ordinary characters, I still think it went a bit overboard here.  The character of Malcom (nicely portrayed by Eka Darville) began as a hugely interesting supporting character.  So, too, did other residents of the heroine’s apartment building.  It was a nice touch that expanded the show’s scope and depth … until the law of diminishing returns kicked in.  By the end of Season 1’s 13-episode arc, I felt that they’d received far too much screen time.  The support group that one character attends started out as an intelligent subplot, but then eventually grew tiresome.  (Again, I’m being necessarily vague here to avoid spoilers.)  Towards the finale, I actually felt that these minor characters were padding the plot and dragging down the narrative.

Which brings me to another criticism — the narrative’s length.  This is yet another show that I felt could be edited down a bit.  As much as I loved Tennant here and found Kilgrave to be an interesting villain, I’m not sure that Jones’s conflict with him warranted 12 52-minute episodes.  This could have been abridged to eight or ten, I think.

Another criticism I had of “Jessica Jones” was its fight choreography.  For a show that succeeds on so many levels, the action sequences were sometimes surprisingly poor.  Why do brawls between superpowered individuals include so much polite (and bloodless) grabbing and throwing?  Especially when a single punch or kick could easily kill or incapacitate an opponent?  The answer, of course, is that those kinds of melees are easy to film, with minimal training for the actors.  It’s especially noticeable here because this show’s sibling, “Daredevil,” has fight choreography that is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  (If you’re curious, then search for “Daredevil stairwell fight” on Youtube sometime.)

The rudimentary effects were usually even poor when depicting the title character’s “jumping” scenes.  (She has super strength, so she can virtually “fly” short distances by literally jumping.)  These shots looked like something out of a primetime 80’s action show.

All in all, though, this was indeed a great show.  Don’t shy away from it, as I initially did, because you’re unfamiliar with the title character.  It’s among the best that Marvel has to offer.

 

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My review of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is nearly everything I hoped it would be; it’s easily on par, if not better, than the first two “Avengers” movies.  (And I can’t help but think of this as the third “Avengers.”  Yes, Cap’s name is in the title, but this is necessarily an ensemble story about the divided superteam.)  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

I honestly just need to be very vague in this review … this is such an eagerly awaited film, and I want to be extra cautious about spoilers.  No, there are no twists in the movie, but there are surprising character and plot elements.

The movie surprised me in a couple of ways.  One, this film appears to follow the original 2006 comic book crossover only very loosely.  (I have not read it, but I know the story.)  There is no “Superhero Registration Act” that would directly affect countless people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s much narrower than that — a demand by the United Nations for direct oversight of The Avengers.

Two, this is definitely the darkest and most adult outing with The Avengers so far.  Don’t get me wrong — the levity and gee-whiz comic book fun that is the MCU’s trademark is still there, and it’s no Christopher Nolan movie.  But the movie’s central story device is set in motion by the question of who should be held accountable for civilian deaths.  And so many individual major characters are motivated by grief or rage.

This is notable throughout the film, for example, in the characterization of Tony Stark, and his portrayal by Robert Downey, Jr.  He’s no longer a wisecracking billionaire playboy who all the guys want to be.  Instead, he’s a troubled, pensive leader who often seems out of his depth.  We watch as his team and the events surrounding him spin out of control, and we no longer want to trade places with him.  He’s more sympathetic.  But he simultaneously fails to engender the viewer loyalty that he so quickly and easily won in every other Marvel movie he’s appeared in.

And yet … he isn’t, as I had suspected, a cardboard adversary for Captain America’s underdog to stand up to.  There are some sad things going on in his life, both during the events of this movie and in “Iron Man 3” (2013), and his failings and poor decisions are perfectly understandable.  (I won’t say more, besides that viewers will definitely get a different spin on “Iron Man 3” after this movie.)  And Downey displays a great range in playing this far sadder Tony.

One character in the movie even makes a quip about “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and it feels like a meta reference, as that film is regarded as the darkest in the “Star Wars” original trilogy.  (And their are story structure similarities as well.)

But don’t get me wrong — “Captain America: Civil War” still brings loads of fun.  It’s an effects-laden, geeky, hero-against-hero, superteam gangfight that is straight out of every Marvel fan’s dreams.  (And, needless to say, it’s far better than its analog this year from DC.)  Tom Holland might be the best Spider-Man yet.  The action is damn pleasing, and the one-liners made me laugh out loud.  (“Made ya look.”)

The bromances (including the broken ones) seemed real to me.  I found myself liking and caring about … Winter Soldier, of all people, and I kept hoping things worked out with his friendship with Cap.  (Sebastian Stan impressed me in the role for the first time.)

What didn’t I like?  Well, I had some small criticisms.  I submit that Black Panther was a complete misfire.  The character concept is boring (he’s an African Bruce Wayne), he seems like an ethnic caricature, and he absolutely is shoehorned into the plot.  When his tough female subordinate physically threatens Black Widow, he smugly opines that a fight between them “would be amusing.”  It felt creepy and sexualized, and maybe like something out of a 1970’s blaxploitation film.  He’s also pretty blandly played by Chadwick Boseman.

Spiderman, too, seems shoehorned in as fan service.  I loved seeing him in the movie, but i wish he’d been written in differently.  (Would Stark really recruit a highschooler to combat seasoned soldiers, one of whom is a superpowered psychotic assassin?)

Next is a criticism that is just a matter of personal taste.  I myself would have preferred a movie that was even darker.  Just think for a minute about the basic story.  We have civilian casualties driving the world’s governments to seek control over its superheroes — then the heroes themselves fighting each other with what must at least be considered possibly deadly force.

That’s a story pretty much brimming over with pathos, if you ask me.  But the movie underplays those plot elements considerably.  We hardly see the civilian casualties that are supposed to drive the plot — and when we do, they’re glimpsed briefly in news footage.  And all but three of the heroes (Tony, Black Panther and Winter Soldier) display any of the anger or sense of betrayal that you would expect from a violent “civil war” among former friends.  And it is violent … members of either faction fire missiles at, or try to crush, their opponents.  Does the MCU’s characteristic banter belong anywhere here?

Finally, this could have been an idea-driven movie like the latter two “Dark Knight” films.  But only Cap and Iron Man seem to genuinely fight about ideology.  Others fight according to personal or professional loyalty, personal revenge, or just because they are a “fan” of either Cap or Tony.  And neither does the script articulate their positions especially well.  Wouldn’t it be perfectly in character for Cap to quote Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin?  “Those who would exchange their liberty for a little temporary safety” and all that?

Oh, well.  I’m probably asking too much from a superhero movie.

This was a hell of a lot of fun.  Go see it.

 

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“The … Stalking Dead?” (A review of “Daredevil” S2E1)

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ONE SPOILER.]  So the fantastic John Bernthal is now the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Punisher,” debuting (however briefly) in the first episode of Netflix’ “Daredevil” Season 2.  I just know that there is a great “Walking Dead” joke hiding around here somewhere; but I can’t seem to put my finger on it …  (Something about … Blind Grimes?  Disabled Rick?  Daredevil can’t see “stuff?”  Or “thangs?”)  You people work that out for me.

Bernthal’s arrival is dream casting, every bit as perfect as bagging the inimitable Robert Downey, Jr. as the MCU’s Iron Man.  Even though the actor speaks only a single word, it’s goddam beautiful.

That’s one of the better things about Season 2’s first outing, which, for me, fell into the category of “good, but not great.”  (I’d still give it an 8 out of 10, and I feel certain the season will get better.)  What we see in S2E1 is mostly setup.  The episode clearly tried to introduce tension by grooming the Punisher as a frightening antagonist, with limited success.  Even casual Marvel fans know that Frank Castle is a good guy, and nothing close to a Big Bad.  Yes, he’s an anti-hero who fatally shoots villains, and will be a foil for Matt Murdock’s Boy Scout restraint (as he was in the comics, back in the day).

But I doubt that the Punisher can be made scary or truly tension-inducing.  (Are we afraid of Wolverine?)  We know that his shoot-em-up tactics won’t leave Daredevil dead.  (This isn’t “Game of Thrones” or TWD.)  And I’d guess that most viewers, like me, aren’t too emotionally invested in this show’s minor characters.  (The only exception would be the quite interesting and three-dimensional Karen Page, still wonderfully portrayed by Deborah Ann Woll.)  Hell, I think the show would be better if the painfully annoying Foggy Nelson were made an early casualty.  Finally, if the show stays true to the original comics, then the Punisher has that most sympathetic of “origin stories” — a murdered nuclear family.

Both the Punisher and Bernthal have such devoted fanbases that a lot of viewers will probably root for him against Matt.  (Our very own Blog Correspondent Len Ornstein, for example, was known for firmly being on “Team Shane” for TWD.)  Looking back at my fervent comic-collecting days in the 1990’s, I seem to recall the Punisher having a far bigger fan following.  He was a mercenary and Vietnam veteran who simply shot up whatever corner of the Marvel Comics universe to which his quarry had tried in vain to escape.  Fans compared him to DC Comics’ iconic cash cow, Batman.  Matt Murdock, on the other hand, had niche appeal.  He was a liberal superhero if there ever was one — a Columbia-educated defense attorney who employed nonfatal force, and who fought for the “everyday man on the street.”  He was like a grownup, thoughtful, socially conscious Spider-Man.  If ever there was a comic book hero who would join the American Civil Liberties Union, it was Daredevil.

Moving forward, I think that Netflix will need an altogether different adversary than Castle to raise the stakes emotionally, and bring suspense to its second season.  Maybe the show will accomplish that with Elektra, who we know will also appear.  (And fans of the comics know that this integral character has far greater implications for our hero.)

The new season’s inaugural episode might have been slightly better if it had been tweaked elsewhere, as well.  Much ominous language is devoted to characterizing the Punisher as a killer with military proficiency.  We kinda don’t see that.  The largest action set piece shows no precision or professionalism, just a room full of gangsters being hosed down by gunfire from an offscreen shooter.  And while the sequence itself was dramatic, it seemed like something that could have been perpetrated by a (very well armed) street gang in a drive-by shooting.

We also see some of the dialogue problems that were so evident in the first season — as superb as the screenwriters are, they don’t do casual conversation among friends very well.  There’s the same forced banter and an embarrassing lack of chemistry among the three lead protagonists, this time on display during an awkwardly staged after-work barroom pool game.  (It’s particularly puzzling because Woll and Charlie Cox are both very good actors.)  This show scripts its villains, petty crooks and adversaries with such flair — why does it seem to fail so often with friendly conversation?  And why bother with these strange attempts at Scooby-Gang camaraderie in the first place?  I think it’s a weird creative choice.  These are serious characters leading serious lives.  It seems implausible to me that they should be so frequently upbeat anyway.

Hey — if I’m nitpicking a lot here, it’s only because I love the show, and consequently hold it to a very high standard.  It really is the best superhero adaptation on television.  My review of last season was absolutely glowing, and I honestly think that Season 2 will be just as good.  If you haven’t checked out “Daredevil” yet, you ought to.

 

 

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Ye olde Nolan

I’m becoming concerned …  I keep seeing more troubling signs that I am getting older.

I can’t eat pizza and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream all day without feeling yucky.  And I have gone shopping and DELIBERATELY looked for vegetables.

I bitch inwardly about the quality of America’s public education system all the time.  (Don’t even get me started.)  I actually begin some of my (admittedly peculiar) inner monologues with the words, “There was a time in this country when …”  I have also lamented that “things were different 20 years ago.”

It recently dawned on me that my longstanding idolization of Kevin Smith may be waning …  last year’s “Tusk” just didn’t do it for me, and his recent appearance on “The Talking Dead” just seemed to feature too much childish sex humor.  I cringed.  (Lengthy analogies about oral sex aren’t THAT hilarious, people.  I suggest they have a 10-second half life.)  I still think that Smith is brilliant; I just think maybe his particular style of humor might better appeal to a guy in his 20’s.

In the Marvel movies’ upcoming “Civil War” storyline entries, I’m firmly on the side of Captain America, and not Iron Man.  Yeah, Tony Stark has the wit and the charm and the girls and the cash.  But Cap has character and good American values, with an emphasis on civil liberties.  Cap would never subject black people to an unreasonable search and seizure.  He wouldn’t enter a private home without a warrant.  And he would uphold a legal wall of separation between church and state.  Dunno about Tony.

Tori Amos is still cool, but she sounds NUTS in her interviews.

I played with a friend’s little girl on the swings the other day … and I actually got DIZZY after donning a swing myself, and trying to swing as high as her.  THAT was disconcerting.

My doctor told me to knock off all the sugar, and I am totally taking her seriously.

My buddy shared a picture today of the original Star Wars cast in 1977.  When I was a tot, I looked up to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.  When I was in fifth grade, “Return of the Jedi” Leia was my heart’s desire.  (I need not even mention in which outfit.)  Today, 1977 Carrie Fisher looks like a sweet girl who could be my college sophomore daughter.  (Seriously, she looks YOUNG, people.)  Harrison Ford looks like that older kid in our hometown with the camaro, who I need to keep away from her.  Mark Hamill looks like that sweet kid down the block who wants a date with her, but won’t get one.

My friends from Longwood High School are now teachers at Longwood High School.  The cognitive dissonance connected with that is significant.

And tonight it has dawned on me that (I can’t believe I am saying this) Depeche Mode is getting maybe a little played out for me.  Oh God, I can’t believe I just typed that.  I still love MODE, I swear it!  I just think that after “Violator” has been in my playlist for two decades, it’s maybe time to retire the lesser songs like “World In My Eyes” and find some more new music.

But not “Policy of Truth.”  THAT SONG WILL LIVE FOREVER.  (And never again is what you swore the time before.)

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