Tag: Netflix (page 1 of 24)

When To Stand Tall

Courtesy Marvel Studios & Netflix

Having finally seen Luke Cage, it’s safe to say that it’s some of the best work Marvel has done on-screen, be the screen big or small. It just edges out Jessica Jones as my favorite of the Netflix seasons so far. Both Daredevil seasons average out to being, ironically, above average, and Jessica Jones is one of the most powerful and necessary works of fiction put on television in a long time. But it’s a hard watch, a grueling emotional experience, and I don’t know when I’ll be ready to watch it again.

I’d start watching Luke Cage again at any opportunity. It’s just… it’s so good.

Part of what makes it good is its message. Luke may be super-powered, with bulletproof skin and super-strength, but he strives to be ordinary. He wants a quiet life, to be left to his own devices. He could easily market his skills or pursue a life with the Avengers, but we see him working two jobs to afford a small apartment in Harlem. Like any of us would. And when trouble arises and touches those he cares about, he stands tall. Like any of us should.

I took particular note of the differences between Luke and his adversaries. He neither wanted nor encouraged anyone to speak up on his behalf, to engineer end-runs around his foes, to spread rumors or anything underhanded. He went after them himself. He faced them on his own terms. He hit them where their treasure lies, he hit those treasure vaults hard, and when they called him out, he looked them in the eye and spoke his mind, right before, in his words (and those of the Wu-Tang Clan), bringing the motherfucking ruckus.

Luke Cage’s world is our world, a world of selfish schemes, corruption, and violence. I’ll get into some of the greater societal messages when I talk about that world and its reflection upon us, but for today, there’s something about Luke Cage that spoke directly to me, loud and clear.

The through-line of Luke’s narrative is the nature of standing tall.

“You have to fight for what’s right every single day, bulletproof skin or not,” Luke says in the finale. “You can’t just not snitch, or turn away or take money under the table because life has turned you sour. When did people stop caring?”

There are people in this world, too many people, who seek opportunities to get themselves ahead. They may see it as serving some greater good; they may be proceeding from a false pretense or a basis of false facts; they may simply want to make themselves more powerful or more attractive. We live in a world where the art of deception has become the art of distraction, of presenting rumors as facts, of manufacturing drama to pull attention and critical thinking away from the truth of a matter and giving power to conjecture. All too often, people involved in these situations, even good people with good hearts, are swept up in the tide and the circus-like atmosphere of the bandwagon, and opt for towing the line of group-think, even re-writing their own history and thoughts to fit a more pervasive narrative.

It’s not just a driving plot device in a fictional work like Luke Cage. It’s something that happens every day in reality. I’ve seen it. I’ve even been a part of it.

In my life I’ve run across way too many Cottonmouths, way too many Diamondbacks, and way way too many Mariah Dillards. We need more Misty Knights, and Claire Temples, and men like Bobby Fish and Pop. Men like Luke Cage.

It isn’t easy to stand tall. You may feel like you aren’t ready to do it. You may be scared to look for the facts and speak up on their behalf. When the pitchforks get distributed, and the propaganda machine spins up to power, and the gaslights begin to glow with their infernal illumination, it’s easier and safer to duck and cover. It’s a lot harder to stand tall.

But as much as I’ve seen people reveal their ugliest or most terrified or disappointingly two-faced natures, I’ve seen others do just that. Do the hard thing. Stand tall.

It didn’t matter if they had to reach out across a scorched bridge, or resist the restrictions of a problematic spoon-depleting health condition, or just look at the rolling juggernaut-like bandwagon and refuse to hop aboard. They went after facts. They held their own viewpoints without being colored by hearsay or shocked into silence or backpedaling. It wasn’t easy for them, and I deeply appreciate it. They humble me, inspire me, and propel me to continue being the best version of myself possible, every single day.

I am done turning myself down or making myself smaller in misguided attempts to make room for others. I’m going to keep standing tall.

After all, if you were to ask Luke when the time is to stand tall, he’d say one word.

“Always.”

Tuesday are for telling my story.

A Return To Television

Courtesy Fox
“A ten percent levy on BAKED GOODS??”

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, particularly Hulu and Netflix, I’ve been able to start getting some television back in my life. I was already using Hulu for Supernatural and Law & Order: SVU, but I’ve started using it to watch newer shows, as well.

Agents of SHIELD

The first new show I broke into was the one I was looking forward to the most. Clark Gregg the actor and Phil Coulson the character are both draws to the show, as well as its promised tie-ins with the cinematic arm of the Marvel Universe. Joss Whedon got his start with television, and knowing his penchant for balanced group dynamics and tightly-plotted stories. All of these things had me set to tune in week to week from the outset.

Unfortunately, it’s also the one that’s taken the most time to get up and running. I like the characters and the premise, but the pacing and quality of stories has been somewhat inconsistent during the first season. It’s taken a couple episodes for the actors to get comfortable with their characters. It’s got plenty of potential and it’s improving with every episode, so I’m still on board.

Sleepy Hollow

This is not the Disney version of the classic tale of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane. Nor is it anything like Tim Burton’s sumptuous adaptation. This time around, Ichabod Crane is a soldier fighting in America’s war against the British. He meets a particularly nasty Hessian mercenary on the battlefield, and the two come to blows. The Hessian deals a mortal wound to Ichabod, who responds by cutting off the hired gun’s head. Both of them fall, and that would be the end of it… except 250 years later, the Hessian rises from the dead, as does Ichabod. He’s picked up by the local police, and meets Lieutenant Abbie Mills, who’s lost her mentor to a redcoat on horseback minus his head. The question is, can she trust this seemingly insane Englishman who claims to have been a soldier under George Washington?

I’ve heard the premise of this show called ‘a bit silly’. And it is. The whole thing is a bit silly. But it’s no sillier than your standard set-up for an episode of Supernatural, and I watch the hell out of that show. What Sleepy Hollow has going for it is smart writing, deliciously old-school production values with practical effects and some wicked monster designs, and an excellent cast. I also like that Tom Mison, who plays the intelligent and determined but somewhat hapless Ichabod, is the only white male in the hero cast. Nicole Beharie and Orlando Jones are both phenomenal, portraying strong, smart, and interesting characters that don’t get relegated to spouting colloquialisms or falling into stereotypes. The pilot hits the ground running and it’s kept up a good pace since then. It’s definitely a new favorite.

Almost Human

The year is 2048. Technology has kind of exploded, and lead to all sorts of open and black market nastiness. To keep up, police have started using military-grade androids to supplement their human detectives. During a raid, Detective John Kennex is seriously injured, and spends a couple years in a coma, waking up to find his leg has been replaced with an advanced prosthesis. He doesn’t acclimate to work too well after that, and he keeps going through synthetic partners. Rudy, the lab technician and local android guru, pairs Kennex up with a DRN model, instead of the usual MX one. While MX models are designed to be purely logical and coldly calculating, ‘Dorian’ was created to be as close to human as possible, with all of the emotional unpredictability that entails. Everybody’s just crossing their fingers that Kennex doesn’t push this one into traffic.

From the start, the show gave me a very pleasant Blade Runner/Deus Ex vibe. I’m a fan of Karl Urban in most of his roles, and casting him as a law enforcement officer keeps reminding me of how good he is as Judge Dredd. Pairing him with Michael Ealy’s Dorian works extremely well. Dorian reminds me a bit of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but where Data was perplexed by the concept of emotions, Dorian struggles to deal with his while making observations on Kennex’s condition and behavior. The two have fantastic chemistry and, like Sleepy Hollow, the show has hit the ground running. The concepts and visuals of the near future have almost an ‘uncanny valley’ feel to them, as it feels like our world and yet is totally different. It’s well-realized, well-shot, and I’m eager to see more of it.

What TV have you been tuning into lately? Will you check out these shows?

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Original Text:
[spoiler]

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

Joseph Campbell is famous for basically saying that all storytellers are essentially telling the same story. Be it a myth based on the perceptions of the ancient Norse of their weather patterns or the all-caps melodrama and bright, splashy colors of a comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, our stories are a way of exploring ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes, the old stories are reimagined and transitioned into new forms that appeal to the altered sensibilities of modern audiences. Sometimes this works; other times, it doesn’t. Not every middle schooler is going to have a nascent interest in the mythology of ancient Greece, so author Rick Riordan took it upon himself to set those stories in the foundations of those tumultuous schoolyards, giving us Percy Jackson & the Olympians. The first volume of this chronicle, The Lightning Thief, got the major motion picture from Hollywood treatment.

And by ‘treatment’, I mean the potential for storytelling that’s worth a damn got tied to a chair and worked over with a baseball bat.

Our titular character is a struggling middle-school student with apparent dyslexia and ADHD. His mother is married to a complete and utter douchebag while his birth father scampered off while Percy was still a newborn. His best friend, Grover, walks with crutches and has a penchant for cracking wise that works really hard to put Chris Tucker to shame. A visit to the local museum and a lecture by his wheelchair-bound Latin teacher begins to reveal some truths to Percy: his dyslexia is due to his brain being hard-wired to read ancient Greek, mythological creatures want him dead, his best friend is a satyr and his teacher’s a centaur. Oh, and he’s the son of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. He must undertake a quest to return the lightning bolt of Zeus lest the king of the gods starts a massive war over its theft. Why Zeus would leave his trademark weapon which also happens to be the Olympian equivelant of a tactical nuclear strike laying around unattended is one of the many, many unanswered questions brought up in the course of this plot. Odin had a damn treasure vault for stuff like this, and Zeus couldn’t even slap a “No Touchie” magical whammy on the thing? But let’s move on. I don’t want to spend my entire rage quotient in the second major paragraph.

Having never read this series of books, I can’t comment on how well the narrative of the novel transitioned into the screenplay. What I can comment on is a visible shift in style and pacing by director Chris Columbus. This is a man best known for his light-hearted, kid-oriented films such as Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The Lightning Thief feels a bit like an act of teenage rebellion against those more childish forays into filmmaking. While once we might have spent more time with Percy at home or school learning about what makes him tick and how he deals with the challenges of his young life, we’re thrust into the action almost immediately and given very little time for exposition.

This is both a good thing and a bad one. Exposition, after all, is difficult to get right and more often than not becomes an anchor welded around the ankle of the story, dragging the audience into the cloying darkness of boredom. However, without even passing attempts at exposition the story is left adrift, batted without foundation between one event and the next with nary a thing to connect them. Percy’s got a quest for a series of magical MacGuffins and an incidental need to rescue his mother to keep things going, but these elements have their own problems, seperate from those plauging the rest of the film.

It would be one thing if the MacGuffins were tied one to the other by clues that needed to be investigated on the scene where each is found. Instead our heroes have a magical map that just tells them where to go. Cuts down on stuff like intellectual curiosity and character building, sure, but who needs that stuff when you have mythological creatures to battle with swords? As for Percy’s mom, her character is also given something of the short end of the stick, and while most people would be genuinely concerned with a parent’s sudden death or disappearance, Percy reacts to the incident with a bit of dull surprise, quickly lost when he spots the girl. Because, you know, hormones are a much better motivator for moving a story along than concern for a loved one.

Without decent motivation or characterization for our hero, all we have left is action and spectacle. Again, the film falls short of delivering these elements without making things either bleedingly obvious or unnecessesarily dense. Instead of discovering the ways and means of his water-based demi-god powers, Percy has to be ham-handedly told how they work. Our heroes get out of their first two major scrapes thanks to everybody in the world having seen Clash of the Titans at some point, without explaining this point in-universe. The intrepid band spends five days in a pleasure palace before Percy’s dad calls him up on the Olympin telepathiphone to inform him of the fact that they’re farting around in a pleasure palace. And this says nothing about the aforementioned girl, supposedly the daughter of the goddess of wisdom and battle strategy, not employing the most practical and straightforward means of ending confrontations possible. Sure, it’s in keeping with traditions to train with swords and bows and whatnot, but just think how many of these encounters Annabeth could have resolved more quickly, directly and painlessly with the implementation and distribution of fucking guns.

Let’s see, what else is wrong with this flick? Grover’s irritating from start to finish, the only character who has interesting motivations and character beats in the slightest gets maybe five minutes of screen time, there’s no real tension and any attempt the story makes at trying to be more than a pandering and predictable distraction for middle schoolers just trying to make out in the back of the theater is slapped down in favor of more of that blunt telling over showing bullshit I’ve harped about for the last three minutes. Given my personal interest in stories like this reworked into other settings and genres to prove their viability and longevity, I wanted to like The Lightning Thief, but the more I watched the angrier I got. No amount of Sean Bean or Kevin McKidd can save this flick. Harry Potter does a much better job of giving us relatable adolescent characters in a fantasy setting, and cribbing notes from Clash of the Titans made me yearn for the early 80s schlock of that original film and wonder about how bad the new version is. I guess I’ll find out next week. For now, skip Percy Jackson. Give the books a try if you’re part of the target demographic, but if you’ve already read Harry Potter and aren’t frothing at the mouth for more of the same, I doubt you’re missing much. Find Madeline l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or T.H. White’s The Once and Future King instead. They’re classics, they’re poignant, and you don’t have the token black character weighing the whole thing down with his attempts at being both the ethnic wisecracking sidekick and the Magical Negro. But at least you can make a fun drinking game out of every moment the so-called heroes of The Lightning Thief just get a solution handed to them and don’t have to think for themselves, much like the audience.

Wait. Scratch that. I don’t want to be responsible for any of you dying from alcohol poisoning.[/spoiler]

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Ringu

Original Text:
[spoiler]

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

This is Darth Vader. Right-hand man of the evil Emperor Palpatine, Lord of the Sith, and lately the poster child for the outcry of “They changed it, now it sucks.” While in that case we’re talking about a man somewhat bloated by his own ego ham-handedly forcing things into what were perfectly servicable scenes, the argument in general comes from the fans of an exercise in entertainment adapted into another medium or by another creative mind. The trepidation with which an established fanbase can approach a new adaptation is the reason why the various iterations of the movie called The Ring have meet with disparate degrees of success. Since the original novel Ring was Japanese, it was the Japanese version of the movie I watched.

Four teenage school kids, returning from a resort cabin they shared, all have stories of a weird videotape they watched, and the phone call that followed telling them all they would die in one week. It was a great story and good for a laugh… until all four of them dropped dead. One of them is the neice of a reporter, and when she finds and watches the tape herself, she too gets a phone call. Unwilling to leave her small son alone in the world, she enlists her ex-husband for help, trying to find the way to break the videotape’s curse and discover its origins with the days she has left.

There are a few things of note in Ring once it begins. While the budget for the film sounds laughable by the standards of many modern Hollywood productions – only 1.2 million US dollars in 1998 – there’s nothing that feels cheap or chincy about it. I know there will be nay-sayers who say it lacks action or high energy moments or blood spatter or something like that. But this movie is proof positive that you don’t need those things for an effective horror story. What we have here is storytelling that is two things: very taut, and very intimate.

The tension in the story comes from amorphous things in production and direction. It’s cut in such a way and paced deliberately to highten the sliding scale of oddness in given situations during this week of hellacious mental torment, from slightly unnerving to full-on batshit. The musical score is subtle, for the most part, and sounds are geared to creep into your perceptions rather than overwhelm them. It’s like being serenaded during dinner with the soft sounds of a string quartet as opposed said quartet being interrupted by a roving mariachi band.

As for intimacy, here’s where some fans of the novel might have gotten their dead little girls in a bind. The gender of our protagonist was swapped and she was not only given a small child to protect but a tenuous relationship with her ex-husband. However, this not only serves as a source for drama but also subtle feelings of protectiveness, understanding and even attraction that comes across as extremely mutual and heartfelt. Excellent writing and acting convey this relationship with only a few words being spoken outside of the crisis at hand. It’s clear where the spark was between these two romantically, just as much as it is clear why the relationship didn’t work out. Coupled with the VHS Sword of Damocles, it’s very difficult not to feel empathy not just for our heroine, but for just about everybody involved.

That is what a lot of horror-based entertainment seems to miss more often than not: empathy. If we care about the characters, we care about what happens to them and we don’t want to see them killed. It’s why Silence of the Lambs is still a breathtaking piece of work, and Ring is just as good. When we don’t care about the characters, and they’re more or less lined up for a monster or monsters to turn them into five-foot piles of chunky salsa, things get very boring very fast. Despite it’s “lack of action” or “absense of gore”, Ring is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat. It shows us not just a great story with tension, intimacy and truly shiver-inducing horror, but the way to tell that story with the barest of tools in the author’s arsenal.

They didn’t even need CGI for the iconic TV shot. All you need is a tattered nightgown, some makeup and a very talented contortionist. … Actually, that sounds like a recipie for a rather entertaining evening, horror movie or not.[/spoiler]

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Robin Hood

A little something different this week… thanks to Jonny at Non-Social Media.

Original Text:
[spoiler]

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

You wouldn’t think, at first glance, that the actors Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Cary Elwes and Russell Crowe have all that much in common other than their profession. We are, after all, talking about actors from different genres and even eras of film. However, they have now all portrayed versions of perhaps the most famous rogue of British folklore: Robin Hood. Flynn’s Robin was a man of high adventure, Costner’s was barely British and Elwes was in a spoof. As for Russell Crowe, his Robin was the central character in Ridley Scott’s 2010 more ‘historical’ adaptation of the story, and by ‘historical’ I mean that very special kind of history that conflates years of people and events into something that fits a theatrical running time and the attention spans of your typical movie-going audience.

While in the past Robin has always been at least peripherally attached to noble title and lands in Nottinghamshire, this time around our hero is plain Robin Longstride, an archer in Richard the Lionheart’s army of the Third Crusade. Robin himself isn’t much of a holy warrior, though, and when he makes his distaste for the slaughter of innocents over the name given to inscrutable omnipotent beings known to his sovereign, he’s put in the stocks. Richard gets himself killed and Robin takes it upon himself to escape, but not before stumbling across a few plot-relevant items that give him a way back to England. Events unfold around him that will set him on the path of becoming an outlaw whose fame will live on hundreds if not thousands of years after he’s dead.

Historical fiction is a road both Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have walked down before. Crowe has been a lifelong fan of the legendary archer, but was never quite satisfied with the way Hollywood portrayed him. Scott, on the other hand, found a spec script in 2007 that tried to take the legend in a new direction. However, he eventually became dissatisfied with the evolution of the story, and what had begun as a revisionist film of the legend called Nottingham became a film simply entitled Robin Hood, styling itself as a Crusades-era Batman Begins.

For the most part, this actually works. We have a brilliantly talented cast, with nuanced and interesting characters delivering well-paced and balanced dialog in period settings that feel, for the most part, authentic. I get the feeling that this sort of thing has become something of a comfort zone for Ridley Scott, and all of the main selling points of Kingdom of Heaven are present here. From gorgeous shots of the English countryside to the inclusion of historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine, this film has a lot going for it.

Of course, true history buffs are likely to be somewhat put off by Scott’s interpretation of historical events. Things take place years before they actually happened, perpetuated by different people. Some figures meet ends differently than they did in life and liberties are taken with important documents and items. And like Kingdom of Heaven, at least in the theatrical release, some elements of the plot feel cobbled together with rubber cement and a staple gun. There’s at least a couple bits missing that would have smoothed out rough patches in the story, and some elements feel like holdovers from the original Nottingham notion. That’s not likely to be the case, however, as the writers of that original treatment were shouldered out of the production entirely. Now you’ll need to poke around online to see what they originally had in mind.

As much as it seems harsh that the original creative spark for the movie was removed from the hands of those writers, the end result could certainly have turned out worse. Prequels, by and large, have earned a stigma for being unnecessary works of fiction that fill in too many of the blanks audiences would probably prefer to populate themselves. While I can’t help but agree with the spirit of this sentiment, if a work is aiming to present the origins of a character in an intelligent, relatable and at least somewhat unique (but not superfluous) manner, I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. Like the aforementioned Batman Begins or X-Men: First Class, Robin Hood gives us a look at a character we think we knew in a way that we can understand, relate to and cheer for. Prequels may not always be necessary stories, but if the job is done well enough, the story will still feel worth telling.

While the mileage of this film with the individual film-goer is likely to vary, I do feel that Robin Hood does its job with more than adequate aplomb. Some of the moments in the third act feel a bit over-the-top, most notably King John’s declaration at the end, and I am curious as to how a Director’s Cut of this movie would compare to its original release. However, in its theatrical version, the story is relatively free of overt contrivance, the characters are solid and the acting is poignant without being melodramatic. Some may feel there are too many echoes of Braveheart or Gladiator or other movies here, but Robin Hood manages to find its own place and I feel it’s worth seeing since its merits do outweigh its flaws.

There are some universal things present here, outside of the legend of Robin Hood: Don’t get into a swordfight with Russell Crowe, don’t make Kevin Durand (here playing Little John) angry, and most of all, do not mess with Cate Blanchett anywhere near a forest. You piss off Galadriel or perpetuate wickeness in her wood, you are entering a world of pain.[/spoiler]

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