“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

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Baby Driver (2017): The Unforgettable Soundtrack of a Life

  Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors at this point. He has created some of my favorite films…from the “Cornetta Trilogy” to “Scott Pilgrim.” Now “Baby Driver” joins those films as one that takes a unique take on a genre (in this case crime thrillers) and adds a whole new presentation of action while giving a powerful message and some of the best written gangsters in cinema. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough and as of this point in time, it is my favorite film of the year.

“Baby Driver” was written and directed by Edgar Wright while being produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park.

The story involves Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is a driver who can only function listening music, who works for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) crime syndicate. He does one last job to get out of debt and ends up falling in love with Deborah (Lily James) a waitress at a local diner. Things soon go south when after the job all as not as it appears to be and Baby is in over his head.

The Pros: The Art of Soundtrack Intertwined Action – This is a film that is a masterful work of art and so much of that is in the sound editing and use of songs with action. The film kicks off with a heist where there is silence before the pin drop and build up of a song as the getaway occurs. This is just the first example of how the two are interwoven to show rather than tell action. You have scenes with characters with no dialogue is needed and the song and how it is edited with the action tells you all you need to know. Both “Guardians of the Galaxy” did this to some degree (Baby is even a bit like Star-lord with his family issues) but what differs is that here it is down to the details and we are given continuous shots to use a song to it’s fullest degree or whatever sound best serves to show us the action.

Flawed and Compelling, the Art of Character – The characters in this film are compelling and interesting. They are all bad to varying degrees (the exceptions being Deborah and Baby’s foster father) but even the baddies are complex. Each of the characters carry their scars and wounds and we see why some like Bats are so batty and distrust all, because of what they’d had to do, or are driven by a hedonistic love of life and one another (Darling and Buddy) or characters who are driven by a level of trust but also some longing for family connection (Doc) and in all cases this leads them to do bad and good things. These are characters who I wanted to learn more about and who revealed the different aspects of themselves over the course of a film. Even my favorite crime movies like first two “Godfathers,” “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York” and “Wolf of Wall Street” all didn’t quite pull off the ensemble exploration. This film does and it is part of what makes it the prefect film of it’s kind.

Letting Go and Redemption – A major theme of the film is letting go and and in turn finding redemption. We see obsession consume certain characters in the final act leading to their destruction, while others have to die to themselves and their dreams in order to care for another and in doing so find peace. I’m being purposely vague because I don’t want to spoil this movie. You really should see it.

Subverting Genre Tropes – Deborah is not a damsel in distress. She is as much an active participant in this crime thriller as Darling, Doc, Bats and Buddy. It is her choices and activeness that keep her from becoming the damsel that love interests so often become in these types of films. The ending also subverts the common tragedy trope that often happens in these types of films. I won’t say how it ends but I’ve never seen a crime thriller end this way.

You should go see this film. If you like great films and want a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat because the action has purpose, the soundtrack is amazing, the characters are compelling and the message is meaningful, than this is the film for you. This is the perfect film in it’s genre and I hope Edgar Wright wins awards for this masterpiece.  To any aspiring directors, take note of Wright’s work, he owns this craft as both a writer and director.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The first perfect film this year.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016): Honoring the Old “Teen Titans” Show and Creating a Great Original Story

Justice League vs Teen Titans poster

    “Justice League vs. Teen Titans” is a lot of fun. As someone who grew up on Bruce Timm’s justice league and the old original animesque “Teen Titans,” this is the first time with these films I’ve felt the spirit of both really captured, while still remaining true to “The New 52” tone they’ve had going on in all these films. The Teen Titans are really who carry the film and this is there story and it is their development and actions that end up making this a favorite film for me.

     The film was directed by Sam Liu, written by Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett and produced by James Tucker.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves Trigon’s (Jon Burnthal) attempt to return to Earth to destroy it and to use his daughter Raven (Taissa Farmiga) as the way to do so. When the Justice League investigates he takes control of a few members leaving the Teen Titans to team to together to stop him and save the Justice League.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack at moments reminded me of Bear McCreary which added a lot to the haunting nature of Trigon and the pasts of Raven and Damian. Frederik Wiedmann once again did a fantastic job.

The Animation – WB and DC continue to put out great animated films and this one is no different. The world is dark but beautiful and feels epic in feel.

The World – The world is rich as we get an appearance of Trigon, the Legion of Doom, the Justice League and Teen Titans. This world is huge and still gives room to explore many of the characters within it.

The Characters – The characters are what carry this film and the reason to see it. Whether it is certain Justice League members or the Teen Titans as a whole, these are the folks who make this film fun.

Batman / Bruce Wayne – Batman is the only Justice League member not to get possessed and it is thanks to him that Cyborg is saved and later the rest of the Justice League. He risks himself in the process though and is out of it until the end.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Flash appears briefly but his comedic antics and comedic villains are both on display, even at the end. I like the Flash a lot now as he adds much needed levity to the super seriousness of “The New 52.”

Oliver Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg gets to be both Justice League and Teen Titans and brings pizza at the end as a callback to the show! He is great and we see that he is the leader when Batman is out of commission. He is pretty much a Teen Titans member and co-leader with Starfire over the course of saving Raven and getting to the final fight.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Grayson should have been in the final fight. I don’t know why he wasn’t as he’s pretty much Damian’s babysitter until Damian is dropped off at the Justice League. Maher is once again wonderful and brings charm to the awkward flirting that Starfire and He do with one another. We needed more of this character.

Trigon – Jon Bernthal is fantastic as the monster and power that is Trigon. I wanted to see more of this character and his influence on the world beyond just trying to enter it and sending his sons out. He still felt like a threat though, even though the final battle with him was kind of stupid.

Teen Titans – The Teen Titans are the best part of this film and really the main reason to watch this. I didn’t see “Teen Titans Go” and don’t plan on it, so this is the best version of them since that past 2003 show.

Koriand’r / Starfire – Starfire is the leader and she feels like an alien in this but also the idealist we saw from when she was in the show. Her dynamic with everyone is great as she is the glue and the one who helps Damian open up.

Jaime Reyes / Blue Beetle – Blue Beetle is cool and doesn’t put up with Damian’s crap. He is very much the Cyborg of the group (and not just because he is pretty much a cyborg from the alien tech melded to his body) as his personality is big, leading him to fight with Damian. I like how he doesn’t know the suit’s power…he reminds me of some of Venom’s hosts that way.

Damian Wayne / Robin – Finally Robin isn’t perfect (sort of)! We see his anger come out and how he was raised by sociopaths and it does make an impact on how he interacts with others when he invades the Teen Titans security, eggs Blue Beetle on and nearly dies because of it and confronts a demon taking the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, giving him the chance to face his past trauma and see how alike he and Raven are. Both having fathers out to destroy the world. His friendship with Raven is one of the best parts of the film. Loved that he neutralized Superman with kryptonite and later puts it back in his pouch as Superman frowns.

Garfield Logan / Beast Boy – Brandon Soo Hoo’s performance reminded me of classic Beast Boy from the 2003 “Teen Titans” show. He’s funny and his wit and humor make him gold in every scene. I love how he fights too and moves between small and large creatures to have the largest impact in a fight, and he does it a comedic way.

Okay: Wonder Woman – She like Superman feels a little too alien and even though she’s played by Rosario Dawson, I never got her character fully. I’m also biased against her design and miss the classic design, but that would be made up if she had a bit more development and motivations…she isn’t as bad as Superman at least.

Okay / Con – Justice League Development – We see them fight Lex Luthor and some folks at the beginning in the Legion of Doom but it never goes anywhere and the villains never feel like a threat. It’s cool to see Lex Luthor at least.

The Teams Working Together in the Final Fight – The fight in Trigon’s realm is cool, Superman’s fight against the Justice League and Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman against Trigon is just weak…so it ends up being an okay/con.

The Cons: Superman – This guy is alien, distant a jerk and has zero chemistry with any of the characters, and he’s supposed to be in love and dating Wonder Woman. I never got that and his presentation in this new 52 Universe feels off. I miss the Bruce Timm Superman, he felt like a real character at least.

Superman Stops Evil Justice League Alone – Cyborg and the Teen Titans are trying to get the crystal for Raven to trap Trigon in it again but they feel useless as Superman stops both the Flash and Wonder Woman who are also possessed before they even reach the portal. Seriously, the Teen Titans and Cyborg weren’t even needed, it’s implied through how easy he saved the other two Justice League members that Superman could have done it all himself.

     The only real downside to this was lack of development for the Justice League, which made sense given this was about the Teen Titans, and Superman being so overpowered everyone being there felt unnecessary. I hate this version of Superman, he’s distant and treats everyone around him like crap besides Diana and even their relationship doesn’t really work because we never see it develop so I didn’t feel chemistry in that relationship. Seriously, I look forward to when one of these films eventually kills Superman off. Besides that, the Teen Titans are awesome and the best I’ve seen the characters since the show that aired in 2003. This managed to capture that same spirit and be it’s own thing, which is the best that could have been hoped for.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite and worth checking out.

“Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 2 – Moments of Strength Brought Down by Archetypes

Daredevil Season 2 Poster

    “Marvel’s Daredevil,” continues to have the great quality that made last season so powerful, but also hits a few snags that bring down my overall impression of the season. This season fully embraces it’s dark Frank Miller roots and pulls us into the mythos of the Secret Ninja Group called the Hand and what they are on about…when overwhelmingly the myth arc was the weakest part of last season…now this season puts it dead center when it isn’t focused on the much more interesting crime story told through the Punisher. Suffice to say, I’d still recommend it though.

      Doug Petrie and Marco Rameriz have taken over as showrunners this time, as the show creator Drew Goddard is now a consultant on the show.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story picks up a year from last season as Matt Murdock is working on juggling his life as a vigilante and lawyer as he finds both crumbling around him as a new vigilante that kills calls the Punisher arrives on the scenes as well as ex-lover Electra along with an ancient foe.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the gritty darkness that is Hell’s Kitchen. From it we get the torn nature of our characters too as they wrestle with demons within themselves.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also continues to be stunning and gives an intensity to the events going down, which add more to both the character and action scenes. John Paesano does a fantastic job.

The Action – The action continues to be one of the things show does solidly amazing. In this we get more tight corridor fight scenes including taking out a gang of bikers, we get a fight on the roof and countless assassination take-downs by the Punisher. The action is as best as it’s ever been.

The Characters – The characters are still the strongest part of the show, even though the structure often times gets in the way of their development. I still overwhelmingly recommend Marvel films and shows because they know characters, especially when Netflix is heading it.

Sgt. Brett Mahoney – This guy is the commissioner Gordon of the series except better as he holds Daredevil accountable to the bigger picture, he also admires that Daredevil can see it to and lets him go as Daredevil says the police should be the ones who catch the Punisher (though with his escape we are back to Square 1).

Mitchell Ellison – This season is really his redemption as we see him working with Karen to help reveal the conspiracy behind the death of Frank Castle’s family and the events that went down that day. He proves to be a great mentor figure for her and later gives her the job that Ben Urich had when she leaves Nelson and Murdock.

Claire Temple – This season involved a lot of characters moving on and it is here we see Claire get fed up with the corruption and focus on money at the hospital that she just leaves after all her work trying to help all those hurting on the street is getting her punished. She has some great interactions with Matt and Foggy too as she gets Foggy’s stress and is done with Matt’s martyr complex at this point.

Foggy Nelson – This season has Foggy rising to the plate and showing why he is the Nelson in Nelson and Murdock as we see him take on the City when he defends Frank Caste / The Punisher and gets hired later because his opening statement made such an impression. His idealism and excusing for Matt is done too as we see him call Matt out on more than one occasion on the double life he leads.

Karen Page – Karen has a pretty amazing arc in this as she shows to be a greater super hero than Matt most of the time, which she ends up illustrating on her call for everyone to be that hero at the end. She has a great arc that involves her relationship with Matt turning romantic and falling apart and her going into journalism to find out the truth behind what happened to Frank Castle and how he became the Punisher…she is the only one who really learns the truth besides Castle and there is power in that. She is the truth seeker this season and the most put together character. At the end it pays off too as Matt finally tells her the truth and comes to her as a partner not someone to save.

Matt Murdock / Daredevil – Matt is a mess this season as he tries to juggle his civilian and vigilante life. It all comes to a head when Electra, his old love returns and Stick his abusive mentor…so he gets all the toxic! He also learns Kingpin owns his prison now and Frank Castle is on the loose after he helped bring him down.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher is the strongest character in this story as we get a grunt from war who loses everything and only lives for revenge. He is a character who is given a chance to reflect and to remember and in that we get to see the tragedy that he has gone through and the depth that drives him. Jon Bernthal owns this role and made me want to watch the original Punisher films as well as read the comics. He is never presented as a good guy (he goes on trial at one point) but you get his motivation and drive and through his eyes we see that the corruption that runs through Hell’s Kitchen is on all levels. This city is Gotham level messed up, which is what lead to the creation the Punisher and the death of Frank Castle, an everyday man who snapped.

The Cameos: Jeri Hogarth – Jeri hires Foggy and it is awesome! How she explains that he gets the vigilante perspective and made me needed is really well handled and sets up “Civil War” and “The Defenders” really well. Always good to see her character too.

Madam Gao – She makes a brief appearance to help Daredevil take out the Hand and I liked seeing that she’s avoided the influence of the Hand and the Kingpin. She’s the best gangster outside the Kingpin and I’d like her to survive this entire series.

Wilson Fisk / The Kingpin – Fisk is back and we get to see him take control of his prison, set the Punisher loose once again on the world and beat Matt Murdock’s face in with a promise that the Punisher’s reign will be nothing when he gets out again. Seriously, I love how this guy turns losing into winning. I hope he gets a good victory on New York once he gets out.

Okay: Electra – Electra is an intersting character in how she is a character trying to fight against the different influences in her life, whether it’s Stick or the Hand…you get why she is the way she. She has had no solid influences and is a tragic figure because of it. In the end she saves Matt though and since she was the only person she loved, it actually means something. Her character could have been better developed though.

The Cons: Stick – Stick is an abusive dick and I don’t get why Matt puts up with him. He’s super talented but we see he has no foresight as he pushes Electra further into madness on multiple occasions and fails to see how Matt’s why serves a purpose. If killing to stop bad is his point, the Punisher does it better and to a much more concrete purpose.

The Hand and Fetishizing Japan – These guys are apocalyptic and underdeveloped. They are Ninjas and I really only cared about them in how they advanced the Matt and Electra plot. For being everywhere and replacing a bunch of kids’ blood with toxins…they didn’t take it anywhere or do anything with it. They showed up and left when their Black Sky Electra died. It was never explained what that meant though. Nobu from last season is control of them and apparently can’t die unless he is beheaded, but he is just as underdeveloped as the Hand…It’s fetishization of Asian Culture via the Ninja and extremely outdated. Hell Ninja Turtles satires this idea with it’s very existance because of how silly it is.

The Colonel – He’s a corrupt guy who served with Frank Castle and turned his men into drug runners for him. Apparently Frank said no so he said up the killing of Frank and his family. I think he was the Blacksmith, but it never completely stakes it. Was glad when the Punisher killed him. Even Clancey couldn’t give this character the depth he needed.

A lot of the antagonists who aren’t out and out gangsters from last season really did bring this season down. I didn’t care about the Hand. The Colonel’s motivations were never explored, Stick is just an abusive ass and making him be nice to Matt now doesn’t redeem that and the Hand is so underdeveloped that I didn’t care about them at any point, even if Nobu from last a season controlled them. The main characters are still the strongest part and the music and action elevates the weak villains. I seriously wish we had gotten more Fisk as the Kingpin continues to be one of the best characters to arise out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Can’t wait to see what they do with him next season.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10