The Lego Batman Movie (2017): A Wonderful Satire and Celebration of Batman

    “The Lego Batman” movie is hilarious, a great satire and celebration of Batman and a great addition to the Batmanverse if you are any sort of fan of the character. This is a film that finally makes Batman fun again and brings in just how important the Bat Family is, which is something many of the live action films have forgotten. Before I get into story spoilers, I highly recommend this film. Much like the “Lego Movie,” it never stops being fun.

    The film was directed by Chris McKay, written by Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jared Stern and John Wittington while being produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

   The story involves Batman who after defeating Joker and his Rogues Gallery once again is alone but finds his life changed when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes his place and wants to work with Batman (Will Arnett). Dick Grayson (Mchael Cera) is also accidentally adopted by Batman who must now deal with caring for others again as Joker sets a plan in motion to reach the enemies in the Phantom Zone, as he’s hurt that Batman doesn’t see him as his nemesis.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of Batman is fascinating and Lego’s take on it adds a lot of much needed humor as well as a recognition of the campy roots that have always been a part of Batman to some degree. We see a diverse array of Rogues, the Justice League of course the people of Gotham.

The Action – The action is fantastic, with my favorite parts being the opening fight where Batman faces off against his Rogues and the Phantom Zone enemies invading and pretty much destroying Gotham. The action is fluid and quick and remains focused even with so much going on.

The Joker – Zach Galifianakis was brilliant casting as the Joker. He brings so much snide and emotion to the role and I loved how he had a co-dependent relationship with Batman where all he wanted was to be the most hated and Batman’s nemesis aka have a special relationship. His Joker isn’t all bad either as at the end he helps save Gotham and in the Phantom Zone is freaked out by the mentality some of the villains have.

The Bat Family – The Bat Family is wonderful as see Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father just as he becomes Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera doing some great comedy) surrogate Dad. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic) is the one who sees the big picture of them working together and that it is needed and Batman is the inventor whose inventions help save the day. It is Alfred calling Bruce to action that helps him grow (Fiennes does a wonderful job as the character), Robin’s usefulness, innocence and admiration and Batgirl’s accountability that help him complete his arc and finally grow out of the fear that was with him on the day his parent’s died.

Satire of Batman – Batman is trapped as a perpetual child who plays rock and roll is an ungrateful narcissist and this on display, from tantrums (a good satire of Bale and Affleck’s Batman at his most extreme), his strange villains from his early run (Condiment King, etc.) his strange rivalry with Superman (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Returns) and how a lot of it comes from Batman’s childish need to one up and be extreme, and his isolation and just lonely that really is. The great thing is, a character arc comes out of it!

Batman’s Character Arc – In the end this satire is a celebration of the character because his anger and rage is mocked but it is also explored and it goes somewhere. Batman grows up and realizes he isn’t alone. Besides “Dark Knight Rises” I can’t think of a film that has really done this well (“Batman Returns” did it but not well).

 Okay: Batman’s Rogues – Batman’s rogues don’t much besides being minions of the Joker and function as one entity (which was a shame) some of the references are funny though, from Condiment King (actual rogue) to Bane having Tom Hardy’s Bane’s voice. As jokes and references they are fine but they don’t exist as characters, which would have raised this film higher.

The Phantom Zone Villains – Gremlins, The Eye of Sauron, King Kong and Lord Voldemort are some of the baddies in the Phantom Zone. They also largely exist as references too and as villains so powerful Batman’s Rogues and the Bat Family have to team up to defeat them.

The Cons: The Legoverse – Gotham is built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone has a talking Lego that sounds like a kid. I didn’t like either of these things. I get it is the Legoverse but these things took me out of the great Batman story that was taking place and was the worst part of the film and only real con.

   This was a film that was amazing as a Batman film, but brought down by the ties to the Legoverse. It was that aspect that took me out of the great Batman story that was being told. There is fantastic character arc that takes place with Batman finally growing up, from Gotham being built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone talking lego…I still highly recommend this film and consider it a favorite. I’m curious to see what the Lego Team comes up with next and hope that DC can take note of the fact that Batman can’t remain static. The great movies have him grow and change, it is when that is forgotten we are given the dramatic child who Will Arnett satires beautifully.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

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“Iron Fist” Season 1 – The Side Characters are the Best Part and “The Hand” Finally Works Though the Show has Other Issues

     Marvel’s “Iron Fist” is a flawed show. It isn’t great but I also enjoyed the journey that the story put me through, though the problems are one that are big within Marvel and just compounded with the story and presentation of Danny Rand. This is a character who is so many played out tropes, billionare orphan goes to Asia and becomes a Ninja/Seer, etc. Playing into exoticizing Japan, China, South Korea, etc. I’ll get into examples deeper into the review but this lazy writing really kept the show from being great, even though I did still find it base good.

 The show was created by Scott Buck.

    The story involves Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning from the monastery K’un Lun in order to get back his fortune and take on the enemy the monastery has trained him for, The Hand. All is not as it appears to be in regards to who his real enemies and friends are and his role as the Iron Fist.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the Defenders gets even richer in this show as we learn more aspects of the world, especially in regards to “The Hand” who are insidious for the first time (never bought them as a threat in Season 2).

The Action – There are some great martial arts battles this season, so that is one thing that this season has going for it. I enjoyed all the action and it showed what can be accomplished with a limited budget but strong martial arts can carry scenes.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the strongest part and for the most part, I can’t wait to see what further exploration they receive. Madam Gao is back! (my second favorite MCU villain) as are some of the other great minor characters from the other “Defenders” Shows. These were the characters that brought me back to the show.

The Meachums – The Meachums are the family friends of the Rands and Harold was Danny’s Father’s partner of Rand Enterprises. He’s around as the primary villain outside the Hand and his children complicate things for our heroes.

Joy – Joy is the character who may have had a relationship with Danny before but has moved on from it. She is a powerhouse in Rand Enterprises and is the sibling with her act most together. This leads to her father, who was brought back to life using her after his son tries to kill him for all his abuse. She never gets to see just how insane her father has become but she ends up blaming Danny for how all she knows goes up in flames, making her a possible villain going into the Defenders.

Harold – Harold is the Meachum who killed Danny’s father and tries to frame and kill Danny at the end of the Season. He is an immortal thanks to the Hand (as long as he has his body with his head attached, he can come back). He is a sociopath but has moments of caring. He is clearly bad but he is vulnerable even when he’s taken over…though he is once again another evil MCU Corporate Boss with Hammer, Monger, Yellow Jacket, etc. He’s a played out trope but David Wenham gives what depth he can to the role and makes him a lot of fun.

Ward – Ward looks like “American Psycho” meets Donald Trump Jr. as in a sleezy tool looking character who is only out for himself. We learn that he was abused by his father and in turn abused Danny. His turn around is after his drug addiction breaks him and he kills his father, only for his father to get revenge on him. After it is chess match between him and his father with Danny as the Knight. Ward wins and is left to look back on all the evil things he’s done. He’s won and gained his soul that he had never had before. He also kills his dad and burns the body finally ending Harold’s reign.

Bakuto – Bakuto is Colleen Wing’s Sensei and a leader in the Hand. He is very much a Ra’s al Ghul type figure who wants to destroy all power structures leaving only the Hand and what he believes to be true justice with all a part of the Hand or serving it in some way in a Utopia. He is a fun character and was a great villain until he is defeated by Colleen after he betrays her trust and ends up being killed by one of the K’un Lun Monks Davos.

Davos – Davos is Danny’s childhood friend who wanted to be the Iron Fist. He is a fanatic for the cause and in the end it corrupts him. He is along the lines of Mordo in “Doctor Strange” as in the end his inability to change leads to him believing that peace can only be achieved by ending the Iron Fist since the Iron Fist won’t kill the Hand. He isn’t wrong since Danny doesn’t kill, so it gives an interesting dilemma going forward.

Hogarth – Hogarth is back! She is a great ally through the series to Danny and helps him in his war against the Meachums. It was great seeing her again, though I wish she’d gotten more exploration. She is there as support but not much else.

Claire Temple – Claire is back and plays a big role in this as we see her take on vigilante qualities too as she learns to fight from Colleen Wing in her dojo and working with Danny and Colleen whether they are fighting the Meachums or the Hand. She is as much a Defender as any of the others and is much more interesting than Danny Rand. Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic and plays my favorite Defender hero.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is my second favorite villain the MCU (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/top-5-villains-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/). In this we get to see just how old she is, as she references facing other Iron Fists and is able to predict things because of how long she’s been around and how well she knows people. She is a major leader in the Hand and in the end her faction wins out over Bakuto’s faction as she manipulates Joy and Davos to take out Danny Rand. She is playing a long game and is the only character always winning. I really enjoy this character and can’t wait to where her story goes.

Colleen Wing – Jessica Henwick is fantastic! I wanted this show to be about her (she deserved it, her story isn’t as played out as Danny’s for one thing). This is a character who has to prove herself time and time again both in the arena and against what she considered family (She is a Hand agent until they betray her when she won’t betray Danny). I felt for her character the entire time and can’t wait to see where her story goes. She is a lot more interesting than Danny.

Okay: Danny Rand – Finn Jones annoyed me for the first half of this season. He looks perpetually bored and isn’t very good at emoting. He grew me on me over time but he is not this show’s pro. This is a character that because he is a played out trope (rich white billionaire orphan becomes ninja/monk, etc. – Doctor Strange, Batman and related Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, etc.). His story is orphan becomes master of his craft and reclaims his fortune…I enjoyed it for simplicity but I was annoyed too. This was a story that could have done with change, starting with Danny Rand.

The Cons: Asian-American Representation in the Marvelverse – Name a Marvel hero in the MCU who isn’t on Agents of SHIELD who is Asian? Outside of Wong (another great support character) in Doctor Strange there isn’t one. Colleen Wing is almost made Danny’s partner at times in this in who they face and the choices they make but she is still just a supporting character. Given this lack of representation and the pulling from the different Martial Arts from Asia to tell Danny Rand’s story, why not give Danny some level of history? He could have been from Hong Kong and been new money and from there more layers with the Meachum and the history of discrimination towards Asians in the United States through laws. You wouldn’t have to change too much but any change like this or similar could have added more layers. The Defenders have always been a show tackling important issues from racism (Luke Cage) to rape and sexual assault (Jessica Jones). Danny Rand is much weaker than Daredevil which at least tackles philosophy at times. Representation could have let them do that, taking a risk with Danny Rand.

Playing it “Safe” and the Lack of Risks – Danny Rand on Netflix is a complete lack of risk. He is played out tropes from the orphan billionaire trope in comics, to becoming a ninja in Asia and reclaiming his fortune. If any of these things had been changed it would have been a risk that would have made the show potentially great.

   Whether you should watch this show or not really depends on how much you like the Defenders project and journey as a whole. I liked it but I don’t think it’s necessary, you’ll get the core elements and characters in “The Defenders” first season and even though some of the problems of The Hand are fixed, new ones are brought up in this version of Danny Rand. This actor is okay but he needed to great and had to be written a lot better for this to work and be great. This was a show that if it had taken more risks, could have made it great. If in the end you don’t take risks you will never achieve greatness in your story, especially if all you do is pulled on tropes that have been done before.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10. Enjoyable but Danny is the weakest Defender by far. This is a show worth watching for the supporting cast.

“Luke Cage” Season 1 – Of Oppression, Race, Power and Hope

luke-cage

  Marvel’s “Netflix” shows are the best thing to come out of the MCU. The shows are relevant, topical and have fully fleshed out characters and stories. “Luke Cage” is no different and the more powerful with the election of Trump and resurgent KKK and Alt-Right. This is a show about African-American characters and their power, be they heroes or villains. The story takes place in Harlem and is honest about racism and poverty in the story that unfolds. I’ll get into that more with the assessment, but for how relevant this show is now, and shows like it can not be unsaid….stories matter.

      “Luke Cage” was created by Cheo Hodari Coker.

    The story is about Luke Cage, who after the events of “Jessica Jones” returns to Harlem and has gotten out of the hero business. This until the actions taken by the gangster Cottonmouth pull him back in as Cottonmouth’s corruption leads to the loss of his mentor and the harming of Harlem.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Luke Cage” is close to our own (like what most of Marvel strives to be like in the “Defenders” world, but from the lens of Harlem manages to tackle topical issues as well as still giving us fantastical elements like a HAMMER suit and the fact that Luke Cage is a Super Hero. The world is like ours enough to be relate-able but fantastic enough to allow escapism.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and is great at showing the beautiful areas of Harlem. Whether it is Cottonmouth’s club or the Church or even the city streets. Every scene is alive.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing and is a great mixture of R and B and Blues. Cottonmouth’s Club has some great performances and they are in the background and give themes to some scenes. Younge and Muhammad really did a great job putting this score together.

The Writing – This is Marvel, Marvel is great at choosing good writers and this is on display here. There is all show rather than tell and the themes of race, oppression and power are intermixed in subtly and beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the film, though “Luke Cage” does have the MCU villain problem where the primary antagonist just isn’t that compelling in the end. Outside of that though I loved these characters.

Misty Knight – Misty Knight is the detective who sleeps with Luke in episode 1 and is working to capture him or save him as she learns her partner was working for Cottonmouth and that Luke Cage is innocent of what others keep trying to frame him for. She even manages to convince her boss of Cage’s innocence though when Luke is revealed as Carl and that he escaped from Seagate, there is nothing she can do.

Shades – Shades served time with Carl Lucas/Luke Cage in Seagate and was one of his tormentors. Once he gets out he is working for Diamondback and trying to get Cottonmouth to better follow Diamondback’s lead. Eventually Diamondback turns on him (after Shades helps Mariah cover up the murder of Cottonmouth) leading to an alliance between her and Mariah to overthrow Diamondback and become the new leaders of the Harlem Underworld. They win. Can’t wait to see more of this guy.

Mariah Dillard – Mariah was raised by one of the past leaders of the Harlem gang (Mother Mabel) scene and was meant to be the brains while her cousin Cottonmouth was meant to be the muscle. She succeeds but goes through great trauma first as she was raped by her Uncle as a kid and Mabel did nothing. She kills Cottonmouth when he blames her for her Uncle and rightfully she kills him. This leads to her working with Shades to overthrow Diamondback and taking over the political scene and crime scene fully. By the end of the season she’s one as Luke Cage is taken in once more by Seagate.

Cottonmouth – Cornell Stokes, or “Cottonmouth” is the main antagonist in the first half of the series and I wish he’d stayed the main antagonist. The reason why is he is very much Luke’s foil in every way. Where Luke is stoic, Cottonmouth talks a lot and takes pleasure in everything. He is also a man who losing it all doesn’t stop him from owning his power. This dynamic would have forced Luke to kill him in the end but it never happens since his cousin Mariah does after he victim blames her. This is a character who was a musician but gave it all up to take over the crime scene and all his scenes on the piano are full of regret. Mahershala Ali (Remi from “House of Cards”) is once again amazing!

Claire Temple – Claire is back! Rosario Dawson is easily the best hero of the Defenders as she is flawed, complex but good at the end of the day and she doesn’t carry the martyr complex most of the heroes carry at it. She’s the one whose grown the most and it is great seeing her use her connections to help Luke Cage fight Diamondback throughout the series.

Luke Cage – Luke Cage, known as Carl Lucas before was framed for murder by his half-brother Diamondback and spends most of the film running from that until he finally gets to confront his step-brother and the truth comes out leading to him going back to Seagate. Luke Cage is a story of resistance, it doesn’t matter that he was framed, at the end of the day he is seen as a threat and him tackling the racist underpinnings of that (from vigilante white cops wanting to kill him and the prison warden) Luke Cage’s story is that of reclaiming power that was lost and from that he represents the fight for equality from within the United States.

Racism and Power – This is a running theme through the story, from the fact that money isn’t really coming into Harlem (leading to Cottonmouth, Mariah and Diamondback’s rise) and a huge part of that is because it is the African-American quarter of New York and as history has shown those areas existed because of the groups in power not wanting to be with the groups who didn’t have power (Red lining, denying housing to groups that weren’t white, etc.). This is implicit in the story and lends power to the narrative as Luke works to change things from within the city.

Okay: Diamondback – Diamondback is Luke Cage’s crazy half-brother who has tons of daddy issues and believes himself to be in a religious quest to purge Harlem of the corrupt and rule it. At the end of the day he is crazy and is never given any more dimension than that, which is fine but he isn’t great and is one of the weakest parts of this series. I wish Cottonmouth had stayed the big bad.

Pops – Pops is the mentor character but never felt fully fleshed out. He wasn’t bad and was a good guy but he works more as the ideal of Harlem and how all are in it together as family. In that way he works as well as being the call to action.

The Cons: The Final Fight – Diamondback and Luke Cage are fighting in the streets of Harlem and a crowd gathers to cheer on Cage. This felt so corny that it ruined the tension.

   The main cons that really bring the story down are the death of Cottonmouth (which made sense and I still really like Shades and Mariah and I’m glad they are still around) and Diamondback not being all that compelling. He’s crazy but he can’t carry it, especially since the first half of the series is setting up Cottonmouth as Luke Cage’s foil. His death was a major loss to the MCU and I think was overall the wrong choice due to how it shattered the great narrative pacing that had happened up to that point. I’d still recommend this series, it is a favorite and even though it is no “Daredevil” Season 1 I’d put it above “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” season 2 in the “Defenders” stories we have seen so far. We will need more stories like this in the future and I look forward to Season 2.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

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.

“Jessica Jones” Season 1 – A Decent Character Show With a Villain Who Never Reaches Great

Jessica Jones

    “Jessica Jones” is a solidly good show, hell I’d even call it one of my favorites…but it is no way in the Top 5 and it has quite a few issues that become glaringly obvious when the final roles around. Now these issues didn’t make me disown or hate the show, but it felt worse than some of the Marvel Cinematic Films that have suffered from similar problems because there was so much more set up in the beginning and so much more potential in the premise, and it had a great cast to boot to make that possible, sadly it didn’t succeed.

     The show was created by Melissa Rosenberg and created from the Marvel Comics and hosted on Netflix who produced the show.

This review does contain SPOILERS, so be warned.

      The story is about Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) who is a private eye who is trying to find Kilgrave (David Tennant) the inhuman who mind controlled her to murder and do other horrendous things and made her client kill her parents.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The opening is very noir with a light piano piece leading into rising tension before end. Sean Callery did it and did a fantastic job at that. This music is present through the series and sets the tone for the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and great use of color contrasts are used, especially the use of purple as Kilgrave is called “The Purple Man” in the comics and anytime you see purple tension rises. Manuel Billeter did a great job.

The Tone – The tone is one of isolation, fear and paranoia, which fits as Kilgrave is a character that can make people do anything he wants them to. This tension is used really well…up until the finale…

The Characters – The characters, like with “Marvel’s Daredevil,” are easily the strongest part of the series. Part of this is due to writing but a lot of it is just the performance by the actors, as they really get a chance to shine.

Claire – Rosario Dawson is back and even though she’s nothing more than a glorified cameo tying the world together for “The Defenders” she stands as her own unique character who has to make difficult choices to help characters and people bigger than the world she knows. In this instance it’s her trying to save Luke Cage.

Malcolm – Malcolm is the best minor character in the show and I cared about what happened to him. He’s in the Karen role as he shows himself to be a true friend to Jessica on multiple occasions and in the end is helping her with her agency. Eka Darville does a great job in the role.

Hogarth – Carrie-Anne Moss is fantastic as the shark lawyer who is in a divorce with her wife to be with her secretary. At one point she makes a deal with Kilgrave for helps and it ruins her life. It takes Jessica refocusing her for her to begin putting her life back together and doing her job. She’s a great ruthless character, she’s also a lesbian and the show is great at letting her be sexual without it being exploitative, it respects her for the relationships she has, which cinema needs to do more of.

Luke Cage – Luke Cage is a good character and I am looking forward to his show. He’s the man with unbreakable skin who has an odd relationship with Jessica as Jessica killed his wife under Kilgrave’s influence and his wife may have played a part in his creation into an inhuman. As the lab she worked with was the lab that turned Jessica and gave her super strength. Will Traval is awesome in the role and it is sad when Kilgrave uses him as his Dragon in his penultimate fight with Jessica leading to Cage’s near death by Jessica’s hands.

Trish – Rachael Taylor is great in the “Foggy” role as she is the supportive friend who is there through the thick and thin. Like Jessica she is a survivor of abuse, though from Trish it is from her mother who abused her emotionally and physically and made her a brand starlet to be sold. She sets boundaries with her and those never change. She is willing to do anything for Jessica including being used by Kilgrave to lure Kilgrave into a false sense of security. She really is a good minor character and I look forward to her story unfolding down the line.

Kilgrave – David Tennant make a great villain, sadly he doesn’t get great writing at the end. He’s a character obsessed with having Jessica as she is the only one to break free of his control and she’s an inhuman like him. It’s an obsession and he’s creepy in his stalking of her and his taking control of Luke Cage when he learns of her relationship to him. He has so much going to be being one of Marvel’s best villains…and it fails in the end. He only takes control of a small group, he does nothing with Hell’s Kitchen and he gets his neck snapped…in the end he’s underwhelming like every other marvel villain in the MCU. Acted great, but writing brought down only to good.

Jessica Jones – Krysten Ritter is a good actress and she was perfect for this role. She’s bitter, lonely and paranoid and dealing with healing from abuse. This is her arc and it is handled decently…sadly it isn’t through Kilgrave’s murder or through her relationship with Luke Cage or even Trish. Malcolm is how we know she’s gotten to the point that she can do more than lash out and use people and it’s a great scene as he answers her phone. This was the one great moment in the finale. Overall, I like her character but thought her writing was uneven, though it isn’t from Ritter’s lack of talent. Ritter like Tennant does a great job with what she’s given, it’s just the script and pacing fail to give her great.

Healing From Abuse – Not all our characters get that, but Jessica and Trish are both given the chance to heal and face their abusers and find victory and strength. It’s empowering and I’m glad the show did this. The Kilgrave Survivors Support Group was another great use of this too.

The Cons: Simpson – Captain America Knockoff (seriously he looks like Chris Evans and is a super soldier) who serves little purpose as I never believed his relationship with Trish fully and he was way to unstable to like…and his arc never went anywhere. He’s just there to set up Season 2 of “Jessica Jones” or “The Defenders” as he’s kidnapped by the agency and we never hear from him again.

Kilgrave’s Power – Kilgrave is given a power boost at the end and he does nothing with it. He doesn’t hold the city hostage, he doesn’t make everyone try to kill one another or try to kill Jessica…he just takes a small group…when he’d taken hold of a hospital before. Seriously he had this huge power buildup and we don’t see him do anything interesting with it. What was the point of getting a power boost if it doesn’t go anywhere? This turned him into every other MCU Villain who falls flat in the Finale.

Uneven Pacing – The pacing was uneven at the beginning and the end, it was almost like they got sidetracked with side plots while losing focus on the main story of Jessica Jones and Kilgrave…and it hurt the show.

Anti-climatic – Kilgrave takes a small group hostage, does nothing to put safegaurds against Jessica, even though she’s been immune to his ability every single time post him making her kill…and she just snaps his neck. What a waste of a finale. He didn’t feel like a threat at the end and they didn’t make him do anything worthy of having such awesome powers. He should have been a child making everyone kill themselves and one another to force Jessica to make a deal and have to sacrifice…since in the end all he wanted was her, at the end I had trouble believing that.

     Once again, this is a show that doesn’t compare to “Marvel’s Daredevil,” but it is a good show within it’s own right, mostly from the strength of the actors and actresses and the fact that many of the characters are fascinating enough to hold a scene, even if they have so much unrealized potential. If you like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is worth checking out even though I will warn you now, it is pretty anti-climatic and I hate that Kilgrave didn’t use his power to it’s full potential.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

“Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 1 – Complex Characters, Stakes and Better Than Most Marvel Movies

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     “Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 1 is a masterpiece. This is a show that manages to have both complex heroes and villains, bring up important questions and dilemmas that drive said characters and have a coherent overarching plot while still leaving things open for a future or ending if it they have to. Suffice to say, I am glad this show is getting a Season 2, it deserves it. Besides “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier” this is the best thing to come out of Marvel (still haven’t seen “Age of Ultron” but that review will be coming later.

     The series was created by Drew Goddard and based on the comics created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. It is produced by Marvel Television and is part of the lead up to “The Defenders” television series.

     The story is that of Matt Murdock who is “The Man in Black” and his story as he becomes Daredevil as he fights the gangs of Hell’s Kitchen and their leader “The Kingpin.” From here the story unfolds as conflict arises in his relationships and they face their own dilemmas too. Whether they are heroes or villains.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and captures the dark noir feel that would lead to the creation of a person like Matt Murdock, who is very much the Batman of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a brutal world but their is a beauty in it too as no character is one dimensional.

The Soundtrack – John Paesano and Braden Kimball were fantastic at this soundtrack. It gives the dark gritty intensity that really gets into the heads of all the characters. This is a rough world that made them and the soundtrack expresses that beautifully.

The Writing – The writing is extremely sold. Every character has an arc that leads them making difficult choices and they change because of those choices. This show doesn’t allow characters to be static or repeat character plots over again. Characters change and move on.

The Characters – The characters are itneresting and complex. My favorites were probably Daredevil and Madam Gao, though I really liked the Kingpin too. Each of them had parts both dark and light inside of them (in all the characters for that matter) and they either chose to reject one half, or in some cases find balance.

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The Gang Leaders – The gang leaders are complicated and in most cases we get their backstory, especially if they are killed, which happens a lot in this series in regards to all the characters. This leads to an interesting dynamic and strange alliances and choices the characters make in their own agendas in Hell’s Kitchen.

The Russian Brothers – These two were tortured but managed to escape Russia to America and wanted to own the world. Eventually one chooses to submit to Fisk and dies, but when Daredevil is framed the other brother seeks to kill him before he is finally ended in Fisk’s plot to wipe out the Russian Mafia. Their story is sad but the brother is avenged as the surviving brother tells Daredevil the name of Leland who is the accountant for all of them.

Nobu – Nobu is the connection to the supernatural and one of the leaders of the clan in Hell’s Kitchen. He gets the closest to killing Daredevil but dies in the process. He is a dangerous and quite character and is working with and for the supernatural elements in the MCU. What those are is still a mystery though. Peter Shinkoda does a good job in the role.

Leland – Leland is the guy who is all about the money and is arguing about Fisk all the time. He isn’t stupid though and when his attempt to kill Fisk’s girlfriend fails he keeps the detective who has been working for them protected so that he has leverage over Fisk. Sadly this doesn’t stop Fisk and he is killed, though his plan does work at bringing down Fisk after Daredevil manages to save the detective from the corrupt cops working for Fisk.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is amazing. She is old and smart and is the only person of the gangs who Fisk respects. After her and Leland’s assassination plot fails she leaves the country. She sees herself as doing good in her selling of the heroin as she believes it gives people sight into another world and plane of existence. She also knows when to get out and is the only one to escape Hell’s Kitchen unscathed. I really liked her character and hope she is around for a lot longer. Wai Ching Ho is fantastic!

Wesley – Wesley is the Kingpin’s Hand and enforcer and makes the all the deals. He is the face of the Kingpin when the series first starts and is how the mob deals with Fisk. He is crafty and is able to offset most situations. He also sees danger clearly and when he captures Karen he ends up dead as he underestimates her willingness to fight for her life and to end Fisk. His death is powerful as he was a sociopath but clearly cared for Fisk and considered him a friend. Toby Moore does a good job in this role.

Vanessa – Vanessa is the owner of an art studio who gets Fisk out of his shell. They have an equal relationship and she lives her own life until Fisk’s life ends and it shows that she make pick up his mantel. She is a sensitive character with a brutality to her as she doesn’t mourn the death of the Russian Mafia or those caught in the crossfire.

The Kingpin – Wilson Fisk is brutal and complicated. He believes that murder is the only way to change the city because murder was the only thing that stopped his father from abusing him and his mother. He also loves deeply and when the heroes trap closes in around them he proposes to Vanessa. His heart has always been her’s as he is honest in who and what he is and it’s what makes their relationship so wonderful. They are idealists and also monsters. Vincent D’Onofrio is great at this role.

The Heroes – The heroes like our villains have complex motivations and the choices they make change their relationship to one another and what it means to be who they are.

Stick – Stick is Matt’s brutal mentor who is serving a mysterious mentor. He cares about Matt but is also someone who is abusive and has a lot of issues of his own to deal with. I was glad when Matt kicked him out for killing the weaponized kid that Nobu was going to use as a weapon. This is a character who isn’t good but is the Punisher to Daredevil. Scott Glenn does the dark mentor role really well.

Ben Urich – Ben is a reporter who is a thorn in Fisk’s side. He breaks the story about the corruption in the company Karen was working for and together they work to bring down Fisk. Sadly the price is his life as he is killed personally by Fisk when he and Karen discover Fisk’s mother and learn about Fisk’s mother of his father.

Karen Page – Karen worked for a company that was taking bribes and doing illegal acts for Fisk. In the end they ask to her sign a silence order and pay her a lot of money…this is only after she weathers an assassination attempt from Fisk’s men and this makes her someone fighting always against them. She is the only one who has killed for the cause and she carries that with her, just like the deaths of Ben and the others lost in the fight.

Claire Temple – Claire is the only person outside of Foggy and Stick that knows that Matt Murdock is Daredevil. She has saved his life on multiple occasions and at one point was interested too. It ends with them only being friends as she needed someone their when Daredevil was pushing everyone away. She stands up for herself though and lays down those boundaries with Matt. Rosario Dawson (Mimi from “Rent”) does an amazing job as her!

Foggy Nelson – Foggy is the ambitious of the two as Murdock is the idealist. Murdock’s idealism as well as Karen’s changes him and we see just how deeply he cares for the people and not the bottom line of money. We also see how much he trusted Murdock and how the secret of Murdock’s power hurts him. It takes a few episodes for them to be good again and for him to realize just how much Matt was hurting holding it all in. Elden Henson does great work in this role.

Matt Murdock/Daredevil – First, Charlie Cox is a beautiful guy, second he is also an amazing actor! I really enjoyed how well he played Matt Murdock, from showing his sensitivity to his Dark Knight persona where he would beat and torture, even if he’d never killed. It was a line he was always dealing with and you see that play out in how he connects to others. Everytime he almost dies he grows close to someone but his obsession drives them away as well as his fear of losing them. This is what defines his character as well as his empathy for the innocent and his willingness to even protect the monsters from death. I really like this guy and the only character in the MCU with similar levels of empathy is Captain America, who is also my favorite after “Winter Soldier.” This series is worth it, just for his performance in this role.

The Action – The action deserves it’s own space here. There is a ton of hand to hand combat and it’s really beautiful and well done. Daredevil never uses a weapon until the end when he starts using sticks and the Kingpin is the same way. Both of them are almost animalistic in their fighting styles and it makes for beautiful fight sequences. The moments with guns are great too, from the Kingpin’s escape and the ambush of the Russians. This series doesn’t shy away from the cost and you see just how horrible the acts are.

The Ending – The Kingpin tries to escape, Daredevil attacks in his costume (made by the same man who made the Kingpin’s bullet proof suits) and we get a great fight sequence before the final with the Kingpin staring at the wall in the cell that is the same wall he faced as a child (showing he’s just as dangerous here even if he is alone) and Daredevil triumphant as he is now known by that name after giving the name to one of the few good cops on the force. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad Madam Gao escaped Daredevil and Kingpin too.

    This is a show that gets storytelling right. The characters are complex and change, the story has stakes, the music and writing and amazing and what the par for comic book storytelling on television should be (looking at you “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and it actually tackles complex issues and dilemmas. Whether the show can sustain this remains to be seen but for now, I am extremely impressed and have to give it the best score. This is the best writing to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and hope it can continue.

Final Score: 10 / 10.

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Sin City (2005): The Struggle for Justice in a City with None

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Frank Miller’s Sin City Comic Series is one I have always been meaning to check out. His style is very distinct and he is good at capturing the feel of a dark noir. This was true in The Dark Knight Returns, and definitely true in this film which follows the style of the comics. A big reason that inspired my reviewing of this film, beyond wanting to watch it, is the fact that “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is coming out and I want to see and review it as well.

The style the film was done in was also like a comic book, beyond the visuals. There is “The Customer is Always Right” Parts 1 and 2, “The Yellow Bastard” Parts 1 and 2, “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill.” All are loosely connected as you see characters from “The Yellow Bastard” in “The Big Fat Kill” and “The Hard Goodbye” but that is the only connection, each story arc stands on it’s own and reveals a new part of the corruption that is Sin City. A city of corrupt cops, priests, politicians, serial killers and mobsters…with only the heroes of each of the stories to stand against them.

“Sin City” was written, directed and produced by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, as well as also produced by Elizabeth Avellan. For the reviews I’ll do each story individually and afterwords a final score at the end, so that all of the anthology is covered.

Also, before I get into the review, I want to say this is some of the best stylized cinematography and directing I’ve seen in a film. Robert Rodriguez did a really good job creating the comic book feel in a movie and using it fully capture the tone and feel of the world.

Here is the assessment of the film:

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“The Customer is Always Right” Parts 1 and 2

“The Customer is Always Right” is how we kick off the anthology as a woman is looking at escaping and the Salesman is there to help. He kisses her and shoots her and talks about how he’ll never know what she was running from.

Part 2 picks up with an injured Becky (who we meet in “The Big Fat Kill”) is talking with her mom but stops when the salesman says her name and offers her a cigarette.

The Pros: I like the mystery behind it and also the stark cruelty of how it sets off the world of Sin City. We never know if the Salesman was paid to kill her or if she meant something different by escape.

Cons: I wanted to know more about the Customer and what her motivations were as well as her connection to the Salesman, since she recognized him when he says her name.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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“The Yellow Bastard” Parts 1 and 2

Part 1 of “The Yellow Bastard” has aging police officer John Hartington (Bruce Willis) doing one last thing before he goes. The corrupt senators son who is a serial killer named Roark Junior (Nick Stahl) from killing a young girl named Nancy Callahan (Mackenzie Vega) when he shoots Roark Junior his partner turns on him (Michael Madsen). Haritagan knocks out his partner Bob and chases after Roark Junior. He manages to reach him and shoots off his ear, hand and genitals before Bob returns and shoots him in the back as sirens arrive.

Part 2 picks up with Hartigan in the hospital being framed by Hartigan for his son’s murders and being beaten until he confesses. He refuses to confess until Roark Junior tricks him by taking one of the letters that Nancy was sending him while in prison, leading him to believe that Nancy is in trouble. He confesses and is released and finds Nancy (Jessica Alba) is now working as a dancer in the bar. The mysterious yellow bastard than arrives on the scene and over the course of the chase and eventual capture of Nancy by him we discover he is Roark Junior who was mutated in the growing back of his ears, hand and genitals. It is here Nancy keeps from screaming which prevents him from killing her and Hartigan arrives and kills him. He than has Nancy leave and kills himself so the corrupt senator Roark will stop hunting Nancy.

Pros: The Acting – Alba, Stahl and Willis do a great job in this. Each of them is so open in their roles (Alba as Nancy who fell in love with the one who saved her, Willis as the bitter cop and Stahl as the serial killer). Each of them is interesting to watch as they drive the plot forward in different ways.

The Story – I liked the story in this one, it was clear and followed the dark theme of Sin City. Hartigan only is able to win by confessing to dark crimes he didn’t commit and in the end has to die anyway to protect the woman he loves. It is also realistic in how Roark Junior becomes more crazy and Nancy becomes a fighter, who is both trained to fight and helps Hartigan take out Roark Junior.

Con: Feels almost too short.

Final Score is 9 / 10

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“The Hard Goodbye”

“The Hard Goodbye” follows the story of Marv (Mickey Rourke) and how Goldy the woman he had a one stand with, was killed the same night. He than goes on a killing spree to find the man who did it. This leads him to get help from his parole officer Lucille (Carla Gugino), whose drugs help stop him from seeing things. Eventually, after questioning he comes to the farm where Kevin (Elijah Wood) the cannibal has captured Lucille and has the heads of his past victims mounted on the wall. He and Lucille escape but Lucille is gunned down on orders from Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer). Marv escapes into Old Town and learns the mysterious woman is Wendy. The Prostitutes who run Old Town support Marv once they learn about Kevin and Cardinal Roark. It is than Wendy and Marv go to take out Kevin and finally Roark who says he and Kevin did it to eat away their sins. After he returns, Wendy says that Marv can call her Goldy and is there before the state executes him for the killing of the Cardinal.

Pros: The Tone – This one is the creepiest of them, as Lucille’s hand was eaten in front of her by Kevin and Kevin has long nails that cut. Rutger Hauer is a great baddy too and is completely mad. Marv not being able to escape at the end and Lucille being gunned down by the police when she was an officer herself.

The Story – I like the story, the twist of Wendy being the sister worked well and the depths of the darkness in Sin City where revealed slowly over time so that when Kevin and Cardinal Roark are revealed it has the needed effect.

Okay: The Acting – Not the best acting, Mickey Rourke is good but Wendy isn’t all that memorable and Lucille should have been given more to do. It was hard to gauge her talent in what little time we had with her. Elijah Wood and Rutger Hauer were fantastic as the baddies though, best ones in the film for sure.

Final Score is 9 / 10

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“The Big Fat Kill”

“The Big Fat Kill” begins with Shelley (Brittany Murphey) being harrased by her ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) until her new boyfriend Dwight (Clive Owen) water boards him in the toilet. He than sees that they are looking for trouble so follows them to Old Town. It is there they are harassing Becky (Alexis Bledel) until Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her girls arrive on the scene and execute Jackie Boy and his friends before they can hurt Becky. It is here we learn that Dwight and Gail are former lovers. It is here they learn Jackie Boy was a Detective and that this could create war between Old Town and the Police so Dwight goes to leave the body in the Tar Pits but all are attacked by Wallenquist who Becky had gone too for protection. He plans to conquer Old Town so sent his enforcer Manute (Michael Clark Duncan). A standoff happens but ends when Dwight trades Jackie Boy’s head for Gail and armed the head to explode which leads to the mob enforcers getting killed. From here we see Dwight and Gail re-establishing their love affair and love of battle.

Pros: The Acting – This one had the best acting, minus Brittany Murphey. Clive Owen was fantastic in this role, as was Alexis Bledel, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro and Michael Clark Duncan. We get to know all their characters and can understand their motivations as their is peace in Old Town but it only hangs by a thread. We see the threat of the Mob in the background now too and the Mob knows not to mess with Old Town.

The Tone – At one point Dwight has a conversation with dead Jackie Boy, which establishes the fear factor and the race against time that Dwight is up against. It is creepy and cool, as are the scenes between Manute and Gail.

The Politics – Establishes the power brokers of the Mob, Old Town and the Police and the relationship between the three groups. With the coups and Old Town Prostitutes respecting each others areas and the Mob trying to start a war between them and capture more territory.

The Story – This one had the best of the stories in my opinion, I just wish it had ended differently. It ended with a celebration of slaughter when so much of the story had been introspective. I wish the introspectiveness had not been lost.

Okay: The Ending – The final scene on the battlefield re-establishes Gail and Dwight as a couple but goes on a bit too long. I would have liked them to have some lines to end it. I guess that is why Becky meeting the Salesman happened after, it kept that tone going.

Score is 9.5 / 10

So how does “Sin City” hold up? It is a little long at times, but for exploring the world that is Sin City, it does a fantastic job. We meet the major characters, we get the rules of this world, and most of the characters have complete character arcs (though many of the female character arcs remain incomplete). The Cinematography is also some of the best I have ever seen. After seeing it I am excited for “A Dame to Kill For” as it will help us to understand this world more and re-establish old threats while introducing new. I would say this isn’t for everyone, but if you like stylized dark noirs or mystery anthologies, this is worth checking out. Definitely one of my favorite films after today.

Final Score for the film is 9 / 10. It is solidly really good.