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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 – Amazon’s The Tick Season One

I mentioned this when I talked about the pilot episode, that it amazes me that The Tick keeps getting chances.  The latest show, on Amazon, is the third time the hero has appeared on our screens.  Not bad for a hero that was created a mascot for a comic book shop.  The comics that came from that, and the original 3 seasons of cartoons on Fox helped launch creator Ben Edlund’s career.  He’s written, produced and directed some of nerd-dom’s favorite projects, including Supernatural, Angel, Firefly, the Venture Brothers and more.

Branding is power.  – The Terror

This version of The Tick is a bit darker and dare I say grittier than the previous televised versions, while at the same time skewering dark and gritty comic shows.  The Tick himself doesn’t know who exactly he is, other than being The Tick.  Arthur, too, has some mental issues stemming from a traumatic childhood.  He saw The Terror kill both his father and his favorite heroes.  So yeah, pretty dark, but don’t worry – there’s plenty of the trademark humor to be had.  They even manage to make product placement funny, with the The Terror intoning “Alexa, play ominous music!” at one point.  They parody Superman and the Punisher (who’s been a frequent target of Edlund’s in the previous Tick incarnations), and there’s even a giant naked guy just wandering around.  Ms. Lint, one of the primary villains, still lives with her ex and the relationship definitely recalls the American Maid/Die Fledermaus interplay.

If there’s a negative, it’s that the humor may not be for everyone.  The show definitely leans into the absurdist nature of universes populated by talking super-dogs and hundred year old villains.  It’s also a bit jarring to see the level of violence in a show about The Tick.  The suit looks terrible in the pilot episode, but that was fixed for the rest of the series (and doesn’t pass uncommented).

I had some trepidation about this but by the end I was fully on board.  Peter Serafinowicz is a great Tick, Griffin Newman and Valorie Curry work well as Arthur and Dot, and the rest of the ensemble do their part.

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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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Movies Review

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

*some spoilers, but seriously I’m like the last person to see this*

I really loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, though I can see why there were a few people who didn’t.  It’s not what you expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not exactly.  Sure, it’s a superhero story, there’s Iron Man flying around, supervillains with crazy weapons, the usual.  But it is counter-balanced by teen drama (and comedy) which is a bit of a shift compared to the rest of the MCU.  I thought it was a solid balance, and very entertaining, even if it won’t supplant my top MCU movies (which are, in no particular order, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Winter Soldier, and Civil War).

The other thing which bothers a certain subset of fans is changes from the source.  Whether it’s Ned basically being Ganke, or hot Aunt May, or “MJ”, they’ll find something to complain about.  I’ve said it before, an adaptation HAS TO change things to be interesting.  Sure, there’s a balancing act where if you go too far, you don’t recognize how one connects to the other but we’re nowhere near that line here.  Peter still got bit by a radioactive spider, he lost Uncle Ben, he’s got the ol’ Parker luck.  The words may not have been said directly in this or Civil War but Peter is absolutely living by “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”.  Tony Stark was quite different from RDJr, but it worked out for everyone.  Peter Quill didn’t stand out at all until they ported in James Gunn’s version to the comics.

Okay, to the rest of the movie.  I loved Michael Keaton as Toomes/The Vulture.  I found myself both feeling sorry for him (seriously, Tony Stark fucks up EVERYTHING), and recoiling from a legitimately scary villain.  The scene when Peter goes to pick Liz up for the prom, and the car ride was tense.  I can hear Zendaya’s MJ calling Parker ‘Tiger’, easily.  I love Marisa Tomei, and you can’t help but laugh at the mom jeans and ugly glasses they try to use to make her seem old and unattractive.  Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, and the other “kids” did a solid job as well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is great if you like your MCU mixed up with a coming-of-age tale.  There’s superheroics, teen angst, marriage proposals, and goofy public service announcements.  And Peter, maybe learn to lock your door.

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Comics Movies Review

Movie Review – Wonder Woman

We saw an early screening, and I’m happy to report director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is everything DC should be doing in all of their movies.  It’s epic in scope, as befitting one of DC’s trinity of heroes.  It’s does something interesting with Diana’s origin, managing to homage both her classic origin and the more recent takes.  It has a great deal of heart, something DC’s other EU movies have so far lacked.  It’s genuinely funny, and not in the “this is a joke, please laugh” way that Bruce delivers that “I’m rich” line in the Justice League trailer.  Gal Gadot embodies Diana admirably, whether it’s handling her business on the battlefield or delighting in her first experience with snow.

The cast of characters surrounding Diana are great, with Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen leading the way on Themyscira.  Chris Pine’s is sneaky good as Steve Trevor, a man capable of being rescued and upstaged by a powerful woman.  The baby-men still railing against all-women showings of the movie could learn something from him.  Their romance never feels forced.  I wish we had more of Etta Candy as Lucy Davis’s reaction faces are great.  I was also surprised with how well Wonder Woman handled the particular horrors of World War 1 – since it wasn’t the focus of the movie it would’ve been easy to gloss over what trench warfare was doing to people, but they didn’t.

Any downsides are fairly minor.  The villain is a bit undercooked, taking a page from Marvel’s book, once you get past the surprise reveal regarding him.  The last third of the movie is a bit of a tone-shift from the first two thirds, but you just know they had to have a big battle scene to end things on.  The slow-motion, 300-esque bits with Diana fighting was overused but I’ll allow it.

Wonder Woman was the first DC movie since The Dark Knight where I found myself leaning in, hanging on the action and the character building bits.  Take your kids (not just your daughters) and enjoy the ride.

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Books Review

Book Review – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister is the start of the latest series by Mark Lawrence, who I was previously aware of but hadn’t yet read.  When I saw this was book one of a series and available on Netgalley, I went for it.  What I found was a bloody story of revenge, bathed in the mysticism of a dying world.

Nona, our heroine, is set to be hanged for murder when a Sister from the Convent of Sweet Mercy takes her away to join their order.  There, she learns that she and many of the other nuns have aspects from one or more of the “old bloods”, powers that come from the four races of the world.  Her hunska blood, for example, basically puts her mind in hyperdrive so she moves and reacts faster.  Think bullet-time, but only for short bursts.  A person with all four bloods is highly sought after – there’s a prophecy, though the Sisters have a cynical view of them, as most prophecies are political distractions.

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

Nona

Despite the desperation of the world, your typical school trappings are there.  There are strange teachers, including the poison master who delights in poisoning new students.  There are bonds of friendship, rivalries, and fights.  Through all of this is a family seeking revenge against Nona (that’s why she was headed for the noose), and the political machinations of a dying empire.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit by the end, and if there was one complaint, it’s that there are so many murder-nuns in it that it can be difficult to keep track of them all, save for Nona herself, who is basically X-23 in a weird failing future fantasy world.  Definitely worth a read if any of this sounds like it’s up your alley.  Red Sister is out now via the usual suspects, including Amazon.

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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.

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Comics Review TV

Batman: The Animated Series – Robin’s Reckoning

Batman: The Animated Series was an amazing show, and there are a bunch of episodes that frequently adorn “Top x B:TAS Episodes” lists.  Robin’s Reckoning (in two parts) often rates highly on those lists, and on the 24th anniversary of the primetime premier of part 1, I’d like to take a deeper look.

Viewing the series now, as an adult, one of my favorite things is how they dealt with Robin.  Rather than show him as a kid, he’s a young man, college age, who is beginning to grow out of the ‘sidekick’ role.  Dick has his own opinions and life on B:TAS, and it provides a complexity and depth to the Bruce/Dick relationship you hadn’t seen in the non-comic book Batman adaptations to that point.

This was never more apparent than with the two-part episode Robin’s Reckoning, which premiered in prime time on February 7th and 14th, 1993.  Batman and Robin are busting up an extortion ring, but things get weird when Batman gets the boss’s name and quickly sidelines Robin.  Alfred and Dick search the name (Billy Marin) and discover that it’s an alias for Tony Zucco, the man who killed Dick’s parents.  From here on, the remainder of the episodes intersperse scenes from the past showing Robin’s origin (adapted from Detective Comics 38) and both Bruce and an enraged Dick hunting Zucco separately.

Much like how Heart of Ice redefined Mr. Freeze for the modern era, Robin’s Reckoning brings a then-40 year old origin up to date.  Bruce takes in this damaged kid, but doesn’t just start training him to fight.  It only happens when Bruce, who had been distant from his young ward while hunting Zucco as Batman, realizes that Dick Grayson has the same drive to do SOMETHING about the injustices life has dealt him.  It’s less “hey, kid sidekicks sell, amirite?” and more “here’s a young man who needs to channel these feelings in a better direction”.  You could actually imagine a kid sidekick working like this (though I hope Robin got a few years of training in before hitting the streets).

The episode finishes with one of Robin’s best moments in the whole series.  Batman is hurting, but just before Zucco can finish him off, Dick bursts onto the scene on his motorcycle, grabs Zucco and drags him to the harbor, ready to drop him to his death.  Bruce tries to talk him down:

Batman:  Robin! That’s enough, Robin!  You can’t allow your personal feelings to guide your actions.
Robin:  Stuff you, Batman!  You and your stone-cold heart!  You don’t know how I feel!  How could you…?

In one of the best moments in the series, Bruce doesn’t answer.  Dick realizes what he’s said and let’s the police take Zucco.  It’s a surprisingly emotional moment for a “kid’s cartoon”, one of many that elevated Batman: The Animated Series above its contemporaries.  Which says a LOT considering there were quite a few good cartoons in the early 90s.  Strong direction from Dick Sebast, great writing from Randy Rogel (who also contributed heavily to the Animaniacs, including many of the memorable songs), and of course outstanding voicework from Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester and the rest of the cast.  If you haven’t seen B:TAS in a while, today’s a great day to revisit it by watching it on Amazon Prime.  If you need a 30-day trial for Prime, click here.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Mockingbird, Volume 1: I Can Explain

We’ve been over the controversy regarding the series and how much of a jerk some of comics fandom can be, but I really want to talk about the Mockingbird comic, too.  IT’S GREAT.  Snarky, action-filled, mysterious, fun.  Bobbi herself gets to shine – it’s not often she does, having been used quite often in the “Hawkeye’s wife/ex-wife” role – and the humor is on point.

The story covers Bobbi (Genius Scientist Spy Martial Artist) developing some weird powers…or is she?  In the course of her investigation she ends up rescuing both Lance Hunter and Clint Barton, runs into Howard the Duck and Miles Morales, and has to deal with zombies, corgis, and the Queen of England.  She might smash a patriarchy or three along the way.

Chelsea Cain writes Bobbi with a singular voice, and the art from Kate Niemczyk (with Rachelle Rosenberg colors) is fun.  Mockingbird is tall and buff and gorgeous.  There are tons of little details to pick out of the background, things that make sense or inform the story or just provoke a laugh.  The middle issues can be read in any order, and I suggest reading multiple times to get everything.

If any of this sounds like you, check out Mockingbird Volume 1.

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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.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Reviews – Goldie Vance Volume 1, The Backstagers Volume 1

BOOM! Studios recently joined NetGalley, giving reviewers access to a selection of their comics and graphic novels, and I immediately requested the first volumes of Goldie Vance and The Backstagers.  Goldie Vance because of the art – Brittney Williams, who you may know from her work on Patsy Walker, a. k. a. Hellcat!, is the artist, and Sarah Stern is the colorist (currently working on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Pink).  Hope Larson is the writer, and you may know her work from DC’s Batgirl.

Goldie Vance lives at the Crossed Palms hotel, with her Dad, the manager.  She’s a valet, but really enjoys investigating the cases that the hotel detective, Charles, comes across (whether or not he wants the help).  Take Nancy Drew, make it more diverse, and add in some car racing, and you’re on the right trail.  Cute and fun!

The Backstagers (written by James Tynion IV, Detective Comics) is a YA story about a kid named Jory, who transfers to an all-boys school and has trouble fitting in.  He’s prodded into checking out the Drama club, and is shocked to learn there’s a whole supernatural world behind the curtains that only the stage crew is aware of.  Rian Sygh handles the art, with colors from Walter Baiamont.  Again, cute and fun, if not exactly shaking the foundations of sequential art.

 

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Books Review

Book Review – Fallout (Lois Lane) by Gwenda Bond

Now that Amazon has a selection of books available to read for free for Prime members, I’ve been going through the categories that interest me to find new material.  Obviously, a book about Lois Lane would do that.  In this case, Fallout is about a teenage Lois in high school, though her nosy reporter skills are in full effect.  She’s attended several schools, thanks both to her military father moving around, and her own knack for finding trouble and being disruptive, but now she’s just trying to keep her head down.  But when a group of kids obsessed with a strange VR war game start bullying and harassing other students both in and out of the game, Lois just can’t resist investigating the just why the principal seems to let it all slide.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this.  The characters are just what you’d expect from a younger Lois and her family.  General Lane sounds exactly like the military dads I know, and the bullying feels real.  It’s fun to see Lois get her start at the Daily Planet and Perry White. It IS a bit eye-rolling that she’s also internet friends with a certain “SmallvilleGuy”.

Fallout is a great gateway for comics-reading teens to a full-length prose novel, but would still be enjoyable even if the kid in question is only dimly aware of who the heck lives in Smallville.