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Movies Review

Movie Review – Death Note (Netflix)

Oof, where to begin?  I come to Netflix’s adaptation of the Death Note manga not from any sort of fandom.  It’s one I was dimly aware of, but haven’t read or watched any of the anime.  I was interested mostly because of the “Willem Dafoe voicing a death god” angle.  Having watched it now, I don’t feel it was a complete waste of time but it wasn’t exactly a paragon of entertainment.

The elephant in the room

This movie is based on the Japanese manga of the same name, and when you take media from another culture and adapt it, you’ve got to be extra careful.  I’m not against adaptations like that, some great material has come about from doing just that.  However, there has to be a reason you made that move.  There’s a great example in the Hollywood Reporter story about Death Note by Rebecca Sun.  The Departed may be a remake of Infernal Affairs, but the cultural differences are a tool used in the story.  It’s different because of who it’s about.  Here, they made Light white but it doesn’t matter to the story.  Beyond seeing the Space Needle, there’s no way to tell this is even an American city, let alone Seattle.  If you’re going to change the culture the movie is steeped in, make it matter.

The rest of the story

For the movie itself, there were a few good performances mixed with some not-so-good.  I liked Lakeith Stanfield as L, and Shea Whigham fills the cop-dad role well.  And yeah, Willem Dafoe, awesome.  Unfortunately, Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley as Light and Mia fail to carry the movie.  Uneven performances combined with odd directing choices (see below) means you end up laughing at a scene that was not supposed to be funny a few too many times.

Yikes.  Light is supposed to be a genius, but beyond a little cleverness with the ending, it’s mostly lip service.  Mia is annoying as heck, and I definitely don’t see why this guy would want her to stick around.

Is it the worst thing on Netflix?  No, they keep letting Adam Sandler make movies.  But I’d have to get pretty far down the my list to think about re-watching, which is not a good sign (I re-watch stuff all the time despite the list).  Maybe just read the manga or watch the anime instead (which you can currently see on Netflix also).

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Review TV

TV Review – The Defenders

With only 8 episodes, I was able to make it through The Defenders over the weekend, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It’s not perfect, and does run into some of the same problems as the previous Netflix shows.  Despite that, there are plenty of really enjoyable bits.

The basics behind The Defenders

The Defenders brings together all the principal players from the Netflix Marvel shows to take on the Hand once and for all.  But it takes some time to do so, starting out by giving us a glimpse of where each character is at the start.  Matt (Daredevil) is trying to live a non-super life, doing pro bono work.  Jessica Jones is avoiding work altogether despite Marcus and Trish trying to get her back in the game.  They are unsuccessful until she gets a strange call after turning down what she thinks is a typical cheating husband job.  Luke Cage is sprung from prison legally, thanks in part to Foggy Nelson.  Danny Rand is hunting the Hand across the globe, but is told they are up to shenanigans in New York.  This sets all our heroes on the path to their first meetings.

What works

We’ve been waiting forever to see some of these characters meet, and for the most part, it’s great fun.  Finally, there are people who roll their eyes at all of Danny’s “I’ve got to focus my chi, brah” antics.  Jessica’s double-takes every time Matt is in costume are worth it, too.  The action is a lot better than in Iron Fist.  Sigourney Weaver is a boss.  Claire is so good it hurts.  The combat, for the most part, works and showcases the different fighting styles.

What doesn’t

There’s a bit of shoehorning as far as “let’s have these characters meet to set up the future”.  There’s a severe lack of ninjas thanks to the updated origin of the Hand.  (vague spoiler) They sort of repeat the surprise villain death that happened in Luke Cage (end vague spoiler).  While I love the interplay between all the characters, they sit and talk just a hair too much.  While the fight scenes are better in general, they are poorly lit.

What’s next

I won’t spoil things, but there’s a pretty huge Daredevil-related cliffhanger, and the show leaves the rest of the Defenders in a much different place.  I feel like we got a worthy finish to what was started way back in Daredevil’s first season, and hopefully the forthcoming seasons can build on it in an interesting way.  If you’d like to know more about what may be coming, try these books:

 

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TV

How to Fix Iron Fist in Season Two

Note: potential spoilers if you’re not caught up on the Marvel Netflix shows.

I talked about Iron Fist‘s first season already, but I’d like to look ahead to the future of the character beyond his next appearance in the Defenders.  Barring something crazy in the upcoming Defenders season, we currently have Danny as the Iron Fist, but only barely.  He can’t summon his chi to both fists at once, can’t keep it there long, and had to be taught how to heal someone and restore his chi reserves by a dude from the Hand.  And (super spoiler alert) he tries to head back to K’un Lun, and it ain’t there, so no way for the Thunderer to maybe give him the pointers he needs.  There’s a fix for this, and it’s straight from the comics:  The Book of the Iron Fist.

Iron Fist: It's Chi

A perfect solution, right?  This would be easily adaptable to TV, though they’d have to shift things to avoid doubling down on the white savior trope.  See, in the comics, the guy that gives Danny the book?  Orson Randall, the previous Iron Fist, also a white dude.  Marvel could easily tweak this, but they could’ve done it with Danny and didn’t, so my hopes aren’t high.  Still, I loved the story, and it heavily involves characters we already know such as Davos and Crane Mother.  It also gets Danny to his full strength, meaning you can amp up the threats he and the Defenders/Heroes for Hire/what have you face in the future.  It’s a no-brainer to me.

Categories
Review TV

TV Review – Iron Fist

I finished Marvel’s latest Netflix series, Iron Fist over the weekend, and I have a lot of mixed feelings.  I became a fan of Danny Rand fairly late, having read the Brubaker/Fraction/Swierczynski/Foreman Immortal Iron Fist series after loving Fraction/Aja’s Hawkeye and Brubaker’s Cap run.  That series pushed a lot of my buttons, since I loved the old Kung Fu TV show (and even the sequel series), martial arts TV and movies in general, and the greater Marvel universe as a whole.

Having said that, as an adult I now know that the set up for Kung Fu and similar media is problematic.  There was talk that Iron Fist might subvert the source material’s issues by casting an Asian man as Danny, but Marvel played it safe.  Having seen the guy they were considering (Lewis Tan), I wish they’d taken the chance but here we are.  I’m not going to hammer them on this point (as many other reviewers and pundits have done so eloquently) but for a company that has led the way in so many other ways with the explosion of comic book media, it’s perplexing that they are going to lag behind on something like this.

Let’s move on to the show itself.  The story revolves around Danny Rand, long thought dead after his parents’ plane went down en route to China.  Secretly raised by warrior monks, Danny is trained to be a living weapon, able to channel his Chi into his fists (or fist, singular, so far) to become…well, I’ll let Roy Thomas tell you:

Iron Fist badassery

Comics!  Anyway, Danny returns to New York City and attempts to restart his life there – trying to get Rand Enterprise back, reintroducing himself to Ward and Joy Meachum (childhood friends/frenemies and the children of his father’s business partner, Harold), pestering dojo leader Colleen Wing, and generally making a nuisance of himself.  The earliest episodes felt the weakest to me.  I don’t think Finn Jones as Danny Rand was all that strong at the emotional aspects, though perhaps those directors were not pulling in a strong performance from him.  The action is weakest in these episodes as well, though Jessica Henwick as Colleen shows a bit of skill.  Still, I found myself most interested in Harold Meachum (yeah, he’s not dead) and his manipulation of events.

And make no mistake, Danny is very easily manipulated.  Despite numerous times this causes him trouble, he repeatedly trusts someone right after they do something somewhat nice for him, or just because it’s a person he knew in the past.  This despite the fact that one of the reasons he left his post – he’s supposed to be guarding the entrance to his mystical adopted home of K’un-Lun while it’s open – was he didn’t want to be a tool used by others.  I think they wanted to show how naive Danny is, with half of his youth spent apart from our society, but he seems to integrate himself back in fairly easily otherwise so it doesn’t quite work.

I know a lot of this sounds negative, but the show does pick up in the back half.  The action improves quite a bit.  I wasn’t surprised at all to see that the episode with one of my favorite fights (drunken boxing!) was directed by Kevin Tancharoen.  We get our requisite Claire Temple appearance, big reveals about the Hand, Madame Gao, Colleen Wing and Davos.  It DOES end on a pretty enormous cliffhanger, but Iron Fist perhaps suffers more than the previous Netflix/Marvel shows because it’s also pulling duty as the lead-in to the Defenders.

In the end, Iron Fist is probably a 3 out of 5.  Luke Cage (which I should probably re-watch and talk about here) is a notch above, and Jessica Jones and both seasons of Daredevil above that.  My next post will be a look ahead, at what the future should hold for Danny if there’s another Iron Fist season.

Categories
Review TV

TV Review – Voltron: Legendary Defender Season Two

If there was one thing that drove people nuts (in a good way) with season one of Voltron: Legendary Defender, it was the HUGE cliffhanger ending.  Surprise allies!  The lions scattered!  Everything is happening!  Thankfully, a second season just recently dropped that wastes no time in cleaning up the dangling threads.

Season two, without spoiling too much, is fantastic.  We really get a feel that Voltron truly is a defender of the whole universe with new locations and alien friends.  Character development is mostly limited to Shiro, Keith and Allura which is annoying if you are invested in Pidge’s story or want to know more about Hunk, but the increased focus makes the stories more impactful.  Also, I’m fairly certain that Pidge’s family will play into season three if and when it comes.

I was literally on the edge of my seat during the finale battles, and though they couldn’t help themselves with a few more cliffhanger moments, there was a much more satisfying conclusion with season two.  I haven’t heard anything about a renewal, but if critical response is anything to judge by, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lock it up quick.

Categories
Review TV

TV Review – Voltron: Legendary Defender Season One

I know for a fact that I watched the original Lion Force Voltron when I was a kid.  I’m fairly certain I had the toys, too.  But I wasn’t a Voltron obsessive, and I’m hard-pressed to remember much more than the barest bits of the show now.  You know, five lion bots, “and I’ll form the head”, a few of the names, that’s about it.  So for a long time I wasn’t falling all over myself to watch this new Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender.  The initial trailer, though…

…that was enough for me to notice, and start doing a bit more digging.  Two things cemented my interest:  the animation studio, and the names of the folks work on this.  Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Hedrick were all deeply involved in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, and wrote or directed some of the best episodes (Hedrick with The Puppetmaster, for instance).  Studio Mir is animating Voltron, and their work on ATLA and especially Korra is amazing.  Their use of color and lighting are first-rate, and fits well here.

As for the story, I don’t want to spoil it, but it does involve a group of misfits discovering the Voltron lions, and having to learn to work together to fight back against the evil empire that is conquering the universe.  It sounds basic, but what elevates it is the relationships between the characters.  The season one story focuses mostly on Shiro (Sven in the 80s Americanized Voltron), who had been captured by Zarkon and the Galra (the bad guys) and escaped, Pidge, whose father and brother were with Shiro when he was captured, and who will do anything to find out what happened to them, and Princess Allura, who along with her right-hand man Coran are the last surviving Alteans.  Her father built Voltron but then hid it away, which is one mystery explored this season.  The other is how Shiro escaped captivity – he doesn’t remember despite being gone for a year.  Some of the others (Keith, Lance, Hunk, even Coran himself) can shade into comic relief territory – but much like Sokka developed from a dope to an effective fighter and teammate, you get the feeling there’s depth to everyone that’s going to be revealed in time.  The main villains (Zarkon, the witch Haggar, and Commander Sendak) are suitably scary, and Zarkon in particular has secrets of his own sure to be explored in future seasons.

The voice cast is very solid, I’m especially attached to Kimberly Brooks as Allura.  Steven Yeun, Tyler Labine, Josh Keaton, Jeremy Shada and Bex Taylor-Klaus voice the Voltron Paladins, while Rhys Darby performs as Coran.  Neil Kaplan, Cree Summer and Jake Eberle are your villains.

All in all I enjoyed the heck out of the first season (all on Netflix as of June 10) a ton, and am dying to know what’s coming next.  Worth watching even if you don’t have kids who are interested.

Categories
Gadgets Sci/Tech

Friday Finds – Coronal Mass Ejection!

First, here are my posts from this week:

And a few new things you might find interesting:

Wired’s GeekDad column tells parents what they need to know about Cars 2.  Sounds better than what I’m expecting to be honest, and I’m from a place that worships at the altar of NASCAR.

Also at Wired, the Sun has sent a Coronal Mass Ejection towards Earth.  The phrase ‘Coronal Mass Ejection’ just sounds awesome to me.

Netflix is now on a few select Android devices, with more to come.

Lifehacker has a whole series of Night School posts – they take a subject and give a layman the basics to improve themselves at it.  The current series is about photography, including how best to use the automated and manual settings on a camera, helping to understand ISO and aperture settings, and the like.  They’ve also covered video editing.

New trend in movie posters – Diagonal!

Finally, looking back on old posts here I found this:  the Ultra-fast, Ultra-intense Laser.  The applications they are looking at for this tech are awesome, whether it’s bonding replacement joints to bone, killing cancer cells, or, you know, creating Wolverine.