Tag Archives: Len Ornstein

“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.







An explanation of movie and television ratings here at the blog.

“You give a lot of ‘8’s.”  That’s what blog correspondent Len Ornstein told me recently about my movie and television reviews here, and my shorthand scale-of-one-to-ten rating system.  I realized that I actually do rate a hell of a lot of movies an “8 out of 10,” and I thought maybe I should clarify why there’s a preponderance of favorable reviews on my blog.

First, let me reiterate my longstanding disclaimer.  I cheerfully admit that I am only an amateur reviewer.  I have never taken a single film class and profess no genuine expertise in the medium’s appreciation.  I do, however, tend to share the same tastes and standards as others in my peer group.  These are netizens who aren’t connoisseurs, but who can still tell a good movie from a bad one, and who’d rather not spend time and money on the bad ones.

Second, my informal rating system is purely subjective.  It depends often on my mood, and is usually a gut reaction.

Now, about those favorable reviews — the explanation is simple.  If a movie is less than good, I usually stop watching.  For example, I sadly abandoned the pilot for the “Minority Report” series yesterday after 25 minutes or so.  (I might get back to it this weekend.)  The past year’s television adaptation of “12 Monkeys” likewise failed to hold my interest.  I also tend to drop streaming movies or television shows that are well made, but aren’t quite my taste — tv’s “Gotham” and “Orphan Black” are two examples.

So I’m really mostly writing only about things I’ve liked.  The negative reviews here tend to be for things that have held my interest only out of nostalgia or morbid curiosity.  The pilot for the 1970’s “Planet of the Apes,” I think, is the most recent example.

Is an “8 out of 10” a sort of default rating for me?  Probably.  That’s the “numerical value” I usually give to a “good” movie or tv show — something that I enjoyed watching and would recommend to others.

A “7 out of 10” rating also suggests that a movie or show was “good,” but bordering on average, and not one that I’d go out of my way to recommend.  (Try to remember what it felt like getting a 70 on a test at school; it wasn’t terrible, but it was nothing to brag about either.)  Examples here could include “Cockneys vs. Zombies,” “Alien: Resurrection,” or the later “Hellraiser” sequels.

A “9 out of 10” denotes something that was extremely good — maybe not perfect, but a fantastic watch.  Examples, I think, would include seasons of “The Walking Dead,” “Hannibal,” or “Lost,” as well as the better superhero and horror movies.  The first examples that pop into my head are the “Avengers” movies, the lesser Indiana Jones films, “28 Weeks Later,” George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” “American History X,” “Zulu,” or “These Final Hours.”  These are movies or shows I’ll watch more than once, even if I don’t feel the need to endlessly revisit them.  Or they’re especially intelligent or thought provoking science fiction films that I’m really impressed with, even if one watch is enough — the recent “Ex Machina” would be a good example.

A rare “10” rating denotes a movie that I think is perfect, is nearly perfect, or is just so damn fun that I keep watching it again and again anyway.  These are the movies for which I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them.  Examples would include “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Blade Runner,” “Aliens,” “Alien 3,” “12 Monkeys,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Donnie Darko,” Ridley Scott’s “Hannibal,” “We Were Soldiers,” “The Accidental Tourist,” the first two “Blade” movies, “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “28 Days Later.”  They’d include all four season’s of Ron Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica,” all three of Britain’s “Sherlock,” most seasons of “24,” and one or two seasons of “The X Files.”  They’d also include comedies like “Old School,” “Anchorman,” or “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”  A “10” is a movie that will typically inhabit the “Top Ten” lists that I swap with other flick-nerds on the Internet.

So there ya have it.  It’s nothing scientific; it’s just one nerd’s opinion.  My motto for all of this is “Caveat Reador.”

But if you occasionally find something you enjoy after I recommended it, that’d be just great. Thanks for reading and sharing!   🙂


A short review of “These Final Hours” (2013)

“These Final Hours” (2013) is an unflinching Australian end-of-the-world movie that views humanity’s last 12 hours through the eyes a flawed, desperate everyman.  It’s outstanding; I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

This movie pulls off a pretty neat trick — it effectively portrays a global catastrophe with zero special effects until its closing set-piece.  (And these visual effects work quite nicely for a low-budget film.)  A meteor has struck the northern Atlantic, and a resultant wave of destruction is enveloping the earth.  Its progress is documented in real time by a sad ham radio operator, wonderfully performed by David Field.

What we see is gut-wrenching.  Some people turn suicidal, a few turn homicidal.  People drink, use drugs and have sex, either privately or not.  Some are depressed, some are too drug-affected to care, and others are in shock.  The rare, vain efforts to survive include the laughable (a tin foil-covered house) to the sadly insufficient (a stocked bunker that nevertheless isn’t deep enough).  One reaction is befuddling; we see a street barricaded with metal shopping carts with a sign cursing at passersby.  This is a fatalistic story premise in which every character on screen is doomed to die within hours.

We follow the surprisingly touching character arc for our troubled everyman.  He’s played by perfectly by Nathan Phillips.  The young Angourie Rice is just as good as an incongruously self-controlled little girl who winds up his charge after being separated from her father.  The cast is uniformly excellent.  Hearing Kathryn Beck wail that she doesn’t want to die is heartbreaking.

For me, there were only a few flaws here.  The pacing seemed … off somehow.  This movie slowed toward the end, the nearer disaster approached.  Phillips’ protagonist seemed thinly scripted for much of the first hour.  He seems like a generic guy, who plans to get drunk before the end of the world, which makes him much like nearly everyone else we see in this movie.  Yes, he intervenes heroically when he first encounters the little girl, but we expect every movie protagonist to do that.

With that said, however, every character did seem “real” to me, thanks to terrific naturalistic dialogue, written by Zak Hilditch.  (He’s also the director.)  It made the drama hit home.

Thanks to blog correspondent Len Ornstein for recommending this movie!  I recommend it too.


Visit the Bill of Rights Institute.

Blog correspondent Len Ornstein can always be relied upon for an understanding of constitutional principles, as well as a little historical context for a lot of the debates we see in the headlines and in our Facebook feeds.

He’s advised me more than once to peruse the website of the Bill of Rights Institute.  I’m glad he did. It’s an outstanding resource for all things constitutional — divided into online and downloadable resources for students and teachers.  To me, it seems like a great educational resource for anybody, though — not just those in a school setting.  If nothing else, it will inform your position the next time you are arguing with that darn liberal or that darn conservative.

Visit the Bill of Rights Institute right here:


Literally a sweet deal!

I bought TWO GIANT boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch at Walmart yesterday for just $5!!  Nailed it!!  I swing deals like Donald Trump!!

And hey!! I would probably make a better fucking president!!!

So … y’k’now.  I hereby announce my candidacy for the Office of the President of the United States.

[Thanks to Campaign Manager Pete Harrison for the slogan and poster below.  Share these with your friends and neighbors!]

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Throwback Thursday: PRESIDENT LEN!!!

Anyone who’s listened even briefly to blog correspondent Len Ornstein knows he’s a man with deep-seated opinions about politics and statesmanship.  What few may know is that he was once quite a distinguished statesman himself.

This September 1991 article in the Mary Washington College Bullet covers Len’s rise to becoming Student Council President.  He was quite the dark horse candidate — the article indeed notes that he went from “pariah to president.”  Len was a bit of a provocateur in the old days, rattling the political order by criticizing the existing council for being too little engaged with the student body.  He handily won the election, though, after a spirited grassroots campaign in which he simply met and introduced himself to voters on Campus Walk.  (I still remember him doing this, and it was something the other candidates were not doing.)

Note also that the newly elected Vice President was a one Pete Bucellato — another good friend of mine and another eccentric Long Islander.  It’s a wonder the kids at the Virginia state school didn’t dub them “Grant and Sherman.”

We fared well under your stewardship, Len!!


“Bumblebee,” by Eric Robert Nolan

There has simply been way too much pathos of late among the blogosphere’s poets.  In the past few days, our own little online circle has labored to describe houses full of empty picture frames (Dennis Villelmi), nightmare airports (me), sick children (Anna Martin), and even Old Yeller (SAZL).

It’s summer.  Let’s lighten the mood.  “Bumblebee” was first published by Every Day Poets in September 2013.

It’s a poem about a bee.  No, the bee is not a metaphor for childhood guilt or lost loves, and, no, it does not attack the narrator like one of Cthulhu’s minions.  (I’m not always such a surly duck.)

Anyone who catches the Kevin Smith reference in this blog post will be made an honorary correspondent.  And that’s a coveted distinction.  Just ask Len Ornstein about his newfound fame and renown.



“Bumblebee,” by Eric Robert Nolan


Bumbling along a bit close to me

Is busy Mister Bumblebee

He inventories dandelions

With prodding, plush black legs.


I inventory carcinogens

With unfiltered cigarettes,

My legs, in bluejeans, lazily

Crossed in the grass.


He buzzes, I puff.

A mute truce transpires

I won’t stomp if he won’t sting.

Just two fellas


Mindin’ their own business.


© Eric Robert Nolan 2013


Photo credit: “Bee In a Dandelion,” Busangane, own work, via Wikimedia Commons. 

My buddy Len met Max Brooks at Phoenix Comicon!!!

At this point, I more or less consider my college alum Len Ornstein as an official correspondent for this blog, even though I hesitate to guess if he’d even care for such a distinction.  Just about anything you see here that is newsworthy or current owes to Len’s helpful vigilance and his e-mails.  (Recall, please, that I recently provided a helpful review of Season 1 of “The X Files.”  Also, I haven’t been able to watch “Gotham” or “Daredevil” because I am lately getting too into “The Lone Gunmen” from 2001.  Seriously.)

Anyway, Len attended the Phoenix Comicon this past weekend, and helpfully shared the experience with those less cool.  And he was fortunate enough to meet the one and only MAX BROOKS.  You guys know that Brooks is the author of the seminal, maybe even genre-redefining zombie apocalypse novel, “World War Z.”  (And if you don’t know that, then get off my blog and go read about Louisa May Alcott or something.)  Brooks is pictured at left below, Len is at right.

I am such a fan of the book that I’ve read it at least three times.  It was like George A. Romero meets Tom Clancy, and it is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read.  Its predecessor (and de facto prologue, I’d suggest) was “The Zombie Survival Guide.”

Len says that Brooks talked about the widespread criticism of the putative film “adaptation” of “World War Z,” namely how it had nothing in common with his book (although Brooks also did say it was entertaining and lucrative).  The author said he couldn’t really claim that Hollywood butchered his novel, because so little of the novel had been used.  After he sold the rights, he had no creative input for it.

I humbly opine that the movie gets just a little too much bad press.  Visit any Internet message boards about it, and you might get the impression that its more commonly accepted title is “The Brad Pitt Zombie Movie That Sucked.”  I myself am a die-hard fan of the original book, but I still loved the movie.

It wasn’t a Romero film, and it wasn’t “The Walking Dead.”   (And it certainly wasn’t the book.)  But … that’s just fine, in my opinion.  It was different.  It was a bangin’, epic, global monster war movie with some amazing action set pieces.  I think the siege of the walled Jerusalem (a subplot that actually WAS from the book), was alone well worth the price of a ticket.  Not every zombie movie has to have the same tone and narrative as Romero’s work or Robert Kirkman’s work.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent “Maggie” film showed us, for example, that very different zombie movies can still be incredibly good.

My only real criticism of the “World War Z” movie was that its plot resolution seemed … pretty damned risky.  Isn’t there a pretty obvious danger connected with the defense employed by Pitt’s character?  Maybe I missed something.

Thanks for checking in with us, Len!!


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Ornstein, Ornstein, everywhere. (An Unexpected Upload Crisis Update.)

I am a cutting edge journalist.  Okay, I WAS a cutting edge journalist.

Sigh … okay.  I was that weird New Yorker guy who somehow landed a job at a daily newspaper at a small Virginia town. Because God has a sense of humor, and also apparently wants the Civil War to start again.

Police beat?!  Seriously?  Who thought it was a good idea to put ME in a room full of cops and ask me to advocate for the truth?

My nickname around the newsroom was “Butch,” and I was thrilled at how tough that sounded, because my 22-year-old mind had not wrapped itself around the concept of “irony” just yet.

Anyway, the point I am working up to is this — as my old colleagues at the Culpeper Star-Exponent will hopefully attest, from time to time I actually did get it right.  And today, because I have my figurative skinny white nerd finger ON THE PULSE OF THE ENTIRE INTERNET, I broke a big story.

I am talking about The Unexpected Upload Crisis —  strangers uploading yearbook pictures to the Internet, so that a simple Google Image Search show YOU, in all your gangly glory, as you were 20 years ago.  Don’t tell me this isn’t hot story, because that blog post got a record number of hits.  And I’m also tired of you people tearing down my various elaborately constructed delusional frameworks.  (I’m looking at everyone on Facebook who tells me that I will never date Elizabeth Mitchell.)

So here’s the update (and the “human interest” angle we are pursuing with this story is Mary Washington College graduate Len Ornstein, now a schoolteacher in Arizona).  Len’s students have somewhat hilariously found his idealistic young face online, because the 1994 MWC yearbook has made it into cyberspace, and they’ve made a bona fide avocation out of teasing him. Pictured below are copies of his yearbook photo, lovingly copied and pasted everywhere around his classroom as a surprise one morning.  They even managed to hang it from the ceiling — I thought that was a nice touch.

If you are an alumnus of the Class of 1994, you know that there are far funnier aspects of Len’s college experience than is evidenced by his smiling countenance.  I am referring to a certain Junior Ring Week prank that was perpetrated upon him … I have no doubt that his students would find the tale entertaining.

But you know what?  I’ll stop there.  If Len’s kids are in the habit of Googling him, then they just might turn up this blog post, and I figured I would spare him the ignominy.

Besides, nobody’s made me an offer yet.