Here is the archive of all my streaming related reviews. I cover shows and movies alike starting from my most recent, to the very first at the bottom of the page.
Writer Garth Ennis is Mark Millar with artistic integrity. Not only has he written the best Punisher books to date, he has the uncanny ability to take intense, childishly edgy material, and play it totally straight. His books hinge on serious, but are so absurd and ridiculous they border on humorous. Ennis obviously writes to have fun and does not let that get in the way of telling a great story… except Crossed.
I was pretty young when I heard about The Boys and never picked it up because I thought it was going to be more try-hard crap like Crossed. As I got older and absorbed more of Ennis’s work I grew to appreciate what he does, but Boys did not enter my mind again until I saw it was coming to Amazon Prime. I also heard the producers of Preacher were in charge, a great show if you want to fall asleep. Needless to say I was more than a little skeptical going in.
From the start Boys captures the tone of Ennis’s writing with a heroic sequence of the show’s Justice League analogue called the Seven punctuated by a scene the protagonist’s girlfriend getting accidently obliterated by the team’s Flash equivalent. After that we switch perspectives to an up-incoming heroin called Starlight who is asked to perform oral sex on the Seven’s Aquaman analogue in order to join.
It does not get much better after that.
Boys imagines what the world would be like if superheroes were real. Not unlike how film studios handle comic book characters today, superheroes or supes as they are called in the show are corporatized assets in a multi-million dollar industry of not only (staged) crime fighting, but also movie deals, PR stunts, and sponsorships. The show also explores the psyche of the supes and gives them very human flaws. The Wonder Woman analogue is a jaded aging alcoholic. The invisible supe is a voyeuristic pervert that hangs out in bathrooms fully naked. The Superman analogue has a messiah complex and a laundry list of other issues that are bound to get worse from season to season.
The supes are only half the show with the titular Boys the main focus. We follow Hughie, a normal guy that worked at an electronics store before Butcher, an independent contractor that used to punish or kill supes for the government, recruits him following the evisceration of his girlfriend. As the pair gets deeper into a conspiracy involving the Seven and their corporate overlords, former members rejoin the Boys to help unravel the mystery. As teams go they have a good dynamic where everyone is screwed up in some way and hates each other, but they get along when it comes to taking down supes.
Unlike typical Ennis stories, the violence of the show is toned down significantly. I looked up some choice panels from Boys and there was no way even half of that was going to make it to screen. What we get is enough that it maintains the tone without too much gratuity. Sure people are lazed in half, guns melted onto criminals’ hands, and supes are blown up into bloody chunks, but it happens in short bursts about once per episode.
Where the show falters is in character progression. Boys does a good job of setting up their personalities, but they develop faster than they should for the sake of pacing. A good handful of the characters have layers of complexity that needed time to simmer and grow from episode to episode. One in particular shows his true colors rather quickly and ruins an otherwise satisfying pay off for future seasons. The whole of the season was front loaded with all this baggage unwittingly dumped on the audience for seemingly no reason. Had the show left more in the dark or set up a better cliffhanger that does not ruin the more important mystery, it would have been satisfying.
With streaming services everywhere these days, there is so much content in the open that it is impossible to judge what is worth watching. About 90% of what is available is the same crap you find on cable. The Boys is the exception as it deconstructs the superhero genre in a time when entertainment media is utterly saturated in them. May not be the most intellectual, but the show is a good start in the right direction. If you have Amazon Prime, it is worth looking into if you have eight hours to spare.
Marvel’s The Punisher: Season 2
Here we go again.
With Frank’s revenge well and truly gotten, the season that followed was in a great place for introspection. Instead of regurgitating the same “being a killer is wrong” and “why can’t you stop killing” dreck that permeates the Walking Dead from episode to episode, season two of Punisher got into the actual motivation behind Frank’s vigilantism. I would rather not spoil how the show approaches the subject, but if you have read my other Punisher related posts, it would not be hard to imagine.
Season two is a remarkable improvement in quality. The narrative is not convoluted with five different plots happening at the same time and settles for the standard three. First you have Frank’s story, then Jigsaw’s, and a new character named Amy, a teenage con artist on the run from a mysterious hitman. Each episode devotes an equal amount of time to each plot without feeling too bloated, but not as often as anyone would like.
I understand the demand to fill time in 13 one-hour episodes. In school, I was taught you need to not only write complete stories, but also space them out between commercial breaks. All entertainment is based around a blueprint that has worked since Man learned to draw on cave walls. Everyone follows this blueprint, but like all the Marvel Netflix shows, there is a consistent issue of each show having too much space to fill.
While the story is not convoluted, the show spends so much time on its three plotlines that it becomes a slog. Rather than compartmentalize the plots with Frank’s character exploration as a framing device in a comfortable nine episode run, we get thirteen where different elements of each plot tag-teams converge. What you get is a season that flows about as well as bowels packed with concrete. The show is still better than before, but it is a chore to watch.
Jon Bernthal remains the best incarnation of the character since Ray Stevenson. His signature intensity has made his take on Frank wholly his own and I could not be happier. However, Ben Barnes’ version of Jigsaw took me completely by surprise. Instead of a villain that is a little more deranged than your average goodfella, Jigsaw is extremely traumatized from what happened to him last season. He has no recollection why Frank slashed his face and cannot remember events up until the maiming. Jigsaw lashes out at his therapist, has constant mood swings, and endures spats of pain. He is in pieces, but as he puts it all together, he develops into a great foil for Frank’s own journey.
The action scenes received a well-deserved upgrade with more brutal, close-quarters combat. Almost every episode Frank is stabbing or smashing someone and bathing in their blood. He also never walks away unscathed, either sliced or plugged with a hole or two. It is really a credit to the character as a hero that does not care about personal injury or that he is vulnerable. Frank wants to get loud and nasty.
The downside is relegated to the gunfights. As you probably know, I am a gun owner and an Effects Nazi, and I can tell when real blanks and squibs are being used. It is hard to fake unless you have a great VFX team. On the subject of bad gun effects, the Walking Dead does not hide the fact they use fake guns because, somehow, the production could not get real guns and blanks in RURAL FUCKING GEORGIA! There are airsoft weapons that simulate blowback and/or recoil and they could not have bothered buying just a few for less than grand of budget.
Taking into account Punisher was shot in a New York, it is understandable that the best practical weapon effects could not be utilized and the show made due in both seasons. The issue with the gunfights is they are poorly choreographed. Early on no one acts like they know what they are doing. They just stand around holding rifles poorly before getting shot. Then there are scenes where muzzle flashes and accompanying sound effects are out of synch or poorly timed. Actors fall over before they are supposed to be shot or they are shot and do not fall down at the right time. Chalk it up to poor editing, but if maybe the guns functioned in a way the actors could see and hear them go off, you would not have much of a problem to begin with.
I also have a personal problem with how Frank is portrayed in the gunfights. 80% of the time he uses the same pistol over and over in a C.A.R. stance, where he is holding the gun to his face. This method works in the John Wick movies, but it looks stupid and everyone in the show does it. How about hold the gun like you are not trying to give yourself permanent hearing damage? When Frank is given a rifle it is a breath of fresh-air and adds a little diversity. In the comics he uses a variety of weapons depending on the situation, but all he has on the show is a pistol.
Lastly, and this is something I intentionally neglected to mention in my review of the first season, the Punisher costume sucks. In fact, it has sucked since its introduction in Daredevil. Nobody makes body armor like that. Not because it does not look practical, but because it looks stupid. There are exposed adjustable straps at the front, some shell loops that are not big enough for any caliber of ammunition, and there is no webbing for attachments like modern body armor.
This is kind of unfair, but if you look at this shot from the Edmondson/Gerads run of Punisher, Frank is wearing gear that works for his job.
He has a plate carrier with ammo pouches painted with his signature skull and a hitcoat to protect his arms. The man is dressed practically and it looks cool because Frank makes it look cool. He is a military man that does not need fancy high-tech crap that looks like it was made by a cross-eyed cosplayer. He needs something that will keep working in hazardous situations and there is nothing more practical and foolproof than genuine military gear. I apologize to the costume designers, but if my own Punisher vest looks better than the one you made for a big budget show, it is time to go back to the drawing board.
I thought about going in depth into the pre-release controversy, where people promoting season 2 were saying one of the characters is Alt-Right, but I decided otherwise. I will say, however, the character in question played by Josh Stewart is a reformed Neo-Nazi and born again Christian. That is not Alt-Right. The Alt-Right does not give a shit about Christianity, most of them are Pagans or Atheists, and they care even less for Neo-Nazis, a catchall for gang-bangers that hate each other more than non-whites. This controversy was just manufactured outrage to drum up viewers from a demographic that do not watch these shows in the first place.
Despite the pacing issues and bloated runtime, Punisher season two is a great watch. The lapse in better action takes away from the appeal, but seeing Frank and Jigsaw’s dueling progression into who they really are was better than the best gunfights last season. If you can make it through the slog, the show is worth your time. Oh and be sure to skip over the parts with Madani because they still suck.
In a world of Mary Sues entertainment media is going through a draught of flawed protagonists. What I mean is characters that are damaged, not ones that can take damage like John Wick or Marvel heroes. There is nothing more relatable than a character that is a little broken, not a perfect Adonis with everything going right in life that knows all the right answers. Real people feel fear and anxiety and there are not a whole lot of protagonists that contemporary writer’s are brave enough to bend and break. David Budd from Netflix’s Bodyguard is who we have been looking for.
About the same time I am writing this, actor Richard Madden just received a Golden Globe for his performance as Budd. To say it is totally deserved would be an understatement. Those six episodes had some of the finest examples of acting in recent memory. Madden went from a very run-of-the-mill part on Game of Thrones to a deeply complex and harrowing role. The range on display throughout Bodyguard is a credit not only to him, but the writer that put Budd on paper.
What you get is a character with a long history of trauma from his service in the military that destroyed his marriage. Instead of his experience making him an expert like we see all too often, it actively hinders his ability to function. That is not to say he fails constantly, but his anxiety affects how he responds to various situations. Each episode he struggles to maintain the appearance of composure, even as he is panicking and the odds are stacked against him.
Wrapped around the complexity of Budd is one of the best political/action thrillers out there. For any otaku reading this, imagine Jin-Roh if it were set in modern day Britain, and involved Muslim terrorists. It is not just a show about a guy protecting a VIP from would-be conspirators, but a layered narrative of intrigue. One way or another, everyone involved has something to do with something, and maybe not in the ways you think. The whole affair is surprisingly easy to follow as the show goes on.
There is also a consistent feeling of satisfaction from episode to episode. It is hard to explain, but you feel so fulfilled by what happens because you learn so much about the mystery, and Budd’s character. There is never a dull moment with scenes of tension replacing potential action sequences. Bodyguard could have been a procedural action show, but miraculous makes scenes of dialog and intrigue easily consumable and intense. For me personally, it was also satisfying to see a Scotsman surpasses Englishmen in competence despite his issues. It is like Braveheart, but with a smaller body count.
If you watched the Golden Globes and wondered who and why Richard Madden won Best Actor in a Drama Series, you owe it to yourself to check out Bodyguard. There are many movies and shows that do the same thing, but thanks to one fantastic performance and a very well written narrative, this show is stands above the rest. If you have a subscription to Netflix, you have no excuse to not look it up.
The Haunting of Hill House
I have said on more than one occasion that good horror is in short supply. These days it is all jump-scares and cheap thrills devoid of creativity. Back then making a great horror movie took craft and effort that resulted in some of the greatest classics of all time. Only recently we seem to be on the verge of a genre renaissance as more studios realize the potential of quality horror. The good stuff is few and far between, but when something like The Haunting of Hill House comes along, it is worth your attention.
Haunted house movies saw a massive resurgence after James Won’s The Conjuring. Not only was the film economic, but also well put together, and actually scary without too jump-scares. Since then everyone has been trying to emulate its success, only to come up short. However, given the recent revival of good horror, more and more writers and directors are learning lessons from the past.
Hill House has a very heavy emphasis on gothic imagery without gore or elements that are overtly horrific in general. The house is a fantastic set littered with old statues, intricate wall moldings, and random antiques to supplement the atmosphere. The ghosts seen throughout the series carry a macabre aesthetic. One is a very tall man with a bowler hat and cane, another a flapper in a silk dress, and others are classically rotten with green and black skin.
The icing on the cake is the drama of the characters. Hill House is centered upon the Crains, the original inhabitants of the titular house. Each episode jumps between what happened in the family’s past to how they are now after their experiences in the house. The epicenter of the drama is the night the Crains had to leave and how their father dealt with the fallout. Furthermore, being a haunted location, each Crain child had personal dealings with the supernatural, informing how they turned out as adults.
This is where the series works best. The writing and acting when the young and old characters are interacting with the house are the best parts. There is such realism in their collective plight and how it defines them as people. The dad in particular, played by Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton, has a compelling arc as a patriarch trying to protect his children from the past, even as they hate him.
The children characters are comparably compelling, but I would rather not give it away. In fact, that is all I am going to say about The Haunting of Hill House. It is one of those series that is so good I do not want to ruin it by explaining why it is good. I recommend it for everyone, even if you are not a fan of the genre. The series is more about the drama of the family with the gothic imagery and horror informing the characters. That is not to say it is not scary. Keep that in mind if you decide to stream it on Netflix.
One of the drawbacks of Netflix is the sheer amount of content that becomes available on a monthly basis. I know the site excises shows and movies on the regular, but the volume of present media is so enormous, a lot of the new stuff gets lost in the shuffle. Of course, there is advertising to consider, but for some reason, I had no idea that one of the dozen films I have anticipated this year came out two weeks ago.
Apostle is directed by Gareth Evans, the man behind the amazing Raid movies. To my knowledge this is his first English language film and a dramatic departure from his previous work. Instead of another visceral action thriller, we get a macabre horror movie. Taking place in the early 20th Century we follow Thomas, played by Dan Stevens, who travels to an island to rescue his sister from a cult. As he investigates her whereabouts, Thomas unravels the dark mystery behind the cult’s beliefs.
From the outset Apostle is obvious about its macabre nature. Livestock is sacrificed, people are butchered, and others bleed themselves into jars. The film has no illusions about what it is; it knows you have seen Wicker Man or read Shadow Over Innsmouth, two of its biggest influences. Even the three main leaders of the cult are open about the faults in their beliefs like they are critiquing the script. What makes the movie stand apart from its artistic peers is how it handles these ideas.
The real truth behind what is going on is kept in the dark until roughly three-quarters in. The build up is focused on establishing a sense of relative unease. You understand the cult’s island community is oppressed and on the verge of collapse. The people are doing weird things to themselves and each other and it is difficult to figure if what is going on is supernatural. Given how the leaders are charlatans in way over their heads, you cannot tell if they are scamming people or it is real.
The horror elements are both kept to a minimum and saved for later. At first Apostle is very bloody with people cutting themselves or getting cut. What it means I cannot give away, but it does a great job of setting up what is to come. Even when the gore grows more intense it is not overtly emphasized like torture porn. Actual physical violence, however, is blatant and does not shy away from brutality. With Evans’ action background, these scenes are shown with visceral flair, compounded by the fact all the characters use knives.
Of the performances Stevens is the best. From The Guest to Legion, the man is a practiced character actor that steals the show. In every scene he sells Thomas’s pain and anguish from past trauma written on his face and in his actions without over doing it. Michael Sheen and Mark Lewis Jones provide great support as two of the cult leaders. The former tries to keep everything together while the latter is a loose cannon tired of playing second banana. Jones was also the admiral in the opening of Last Jedi and the voice of Letho in the Witcher games. Thought I should mention that if he seems familiar to you.
Apostle was a pleasant surprise. Being such a departure from his previous work, Evans could have mishandled this and trashed his career with only two other features to his name. In a world saturated in content and a lack of quality horror films, Apostle is just what we need. If you have Netflix, give it a watch. It is also makes for a great Halloween movie and I am going to watch it a second time.
For a little while now I have reviewed Netflix exclusives when something got my attention. Recently, Amazon has caught my eye with their selection of latest additions, and I wanted to cover what I found. Instead of starting a new review series, I chose to reboot Netflix Reviews into Binge Reviews. Be on the lookout for more in the near future.
Game of Thrones was both a gift and a curse when it premiered. It took a simple fantasy setting and injected medieval realism into the mix while inspiring audience mania by killing favorite characters. Thrones also perpetuated the spread of intrigue and cloak-and-dagger tropes ad infinitum. Soon a host of new programs saturated the market with stories of scheming, secrecy, and twists you could guess with little effort. Vikings and Walking Dead are the worst offenders and even though I love it to death, The Expanse is sometimes just Thrones in space. Normally I avoid these kinds of shows, but when I heard about Britannia, I was interested to say the least.
Obviously I have a massive bias for Ancient Rome, but the way Brit approaches its subject with repetitive tropes is different. The intrigue is just one part of the complete narrative and it plays into the real meat of the story. We follow what I assume is a young Queen Boudicca, a Druid outcast, Roman invaders, and a Celt clan locked in conflict with another. That sounds like Thrones 101, but it is all tied up in a unique bow.
Brit deconstructs the ideas of fate and prophecy. The Druid characters are powerful religious figures. They oversee marriage, decide who succeeds royalty, and forbids reading and writing. The leader Veran, played by veteran character Mackenzie Crook, is seemingly prescient and manipulates others to go along with what he sees. Given the historical realism of Brit this raises an important question: do the Druids really know the future or are they asserting control over the masses through deception?
As the series goes on, you realize there is more to the Druids than you once thought. They force a clan leader into sacrificing himself, appoint an heir they control out of the line of succession, and keep a hoard of wealth in secret while living in squalor. We also see Veran use his position to make deals with the Romans to shift the balance of power. Basic intrigue/cloak-and-dagger stuff, but what makes it different from Thrones is the ambiguity.
On the one hand the Druids appear to be fantastical beings that know more than everyone because of magic. Veran is said to be the First Man and he looks like living zombie. His prophecies are on point and how he plays others against their interests is masterful. However, because the Druids have a monopoly on literacy, they use that power to trick the masses into thinking they speak the truth of the Gods. They also consume hallucinogens that inspire visions perceived as prophecy, remaining in a constant trancelike state. The enigmatic facade the Druids put on further compounds this point in regards to how the Celts believe what they say. They appear weird and dangerous, inspiring curiosity. And when they start ranting about the Gods and predicting the future, they seem credible to the ignorant. Brit uses these ideas to break down religion and the idea of believe to ask its questions on fate and prophecy.
What really got me into the show was how it approached the Romans. Brit takes place during the second invasion of Britain after Caesar failed a century prior. For the first time since HBO’s Rome, we see how the Romans fought pitched battles, and approached the nuances of ancient warfare.
In combat they were all about crowd control after learning a harsh lesson at Cannae. The first episode has a scene where legionaries march into a village in columns. They are charged by Celts, but no one scatters or moves out of formation like they did in real life. When a smaller force is attacked, they move into formation against the attackers. The last episode has a siege scene where the Romans use all of their artillery before moving in, exactly like they did to bring Europe into compliance.
However, combat was only one part of the Roman war machine. Rather than slaughter their enemies outright, they would make allies with a faction in a disputed region, and use them as leverage for a greater conflict. During their cold war with Parthia, Rome gained control of Armenia through political negotiation to establish a buffer zone. In Egypt, Caesar allied with Cleopatra and used her supporters to take the throne from Ptolemy, securing the region as a vassal. The same occurred in Gaul before the rise of Vercingetorix and later in Israel before the First Jewish-Roman War. In Brit, the Romans stoked the conflict between the warring clans to gain a better foothold and keep the natives compliant, playing the intrigue game.
Aside from all the themes and history, Brit is a pretty fun show. It is very gory and violent with people losing their heads, skin, and thoroughly dissected post-sacrifice. In the large battle at the end, multiple warriors are skewered by ballista, something I have not see depicted on film until now. Then you have the character dynamic between young Boudicca and the outcast. They both hate each other, but can’t help staying together, making for nice moments of levity. The best character and performance comes from David Morrissey’s Aulus, a Roman general. He is cunning and knows it, relishing in his ability to lead his men and make others bend to his will.
I would not go so far as to call Britannia a Game of Thrones killer, but it takes the same tropes and does them better. It also deconstructs and explores the meaning of fate and prophecy where other shows have not. For history buffs, get ready for something as good as Rome, but you may complain about the leather lorica segmentata and lack of centurions. If you have Amazon Prime, it is worth a look if you are missing Thrones.
As a writer, cyberpunk is one of those genres I was hesitant to explore because there is a lot to unpack. You cannot just have cyborgs, super-corporations, and hacking and call it cyberpunk. There is more to consider in terms of how those things affect the setting and characters, as well as a mystery aspect with other prerequisites. I am actually writing my own cyberpunk story and going through a similar learning process. With the release of Blade Runner 2049 we are on the cusp of a resurgence of the genre. Last year we got a cyberpunk horror game called Observer, Duncan Jones’ Mute will be out soon, and Alita: Battle Angel is months away. For now we have Altered Carbon, a serialized adaptation of author Richard K. Morgan‘s cyberpunk classic.
After waking up in a new body 250 years after his death Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, is hired by the powerful Bancroft, played by James Purefoy, to solve the mystery of his apparent suicide. The investigation takes Kovacs to the darkest corners of Bay City, an overgrown metropolis that used to be San Francisco.
Carbon feels like it belongs on television. The look, structure of each episode, and even the actors and sets scream Sci-Fi Channel Original Series. However, given Netflix’s loose restrictions and freedom afforded to creators, Carbon is like an HBO show with the budget of Battlestar Galactica or Stargate SG-1. If that sounds like a deal-breaker, keep reading; it is not as bad as you think.
The story is a noir style mystery with all the tropes you expect. The femme fatale, hard-boiled protagonist, some corrupt cops, and a ton of red herrings. There are many details that do not appear connected until all the clues come together at the finale. With that said, it is difficult to keep track of everything going on. There are ten episodes, each an hour long, and the amount of information throughout is overwhelming. It is hard to focus on one thing when there are 15 other clues from three episodes ago.
This is not a knock against Carbon because the real star is the world. The dilapidated, neon bleached, dystopian environments are full of physical details that make the world feel real. You get this sense of how centuries of progress and growth have contributed to a mass degradation of humanity and believe it. People take drugs in the open, sell their bodies, and have an apathetic outlook on life. Corporations and the super-rich are a major influence, but we see life at the ground level in all the nooks and crannies.
The premise of the show informs not only the world, but also the mystery. Sometime in the distant past, humanity figured out how to download the contents and consciousness of the human brain onto a stack, a data storage unit the size of a vertebra. It is even possible to transfer yourself onto other stacks and control the respective body or “sleeve.” Everyone has a stack and they have been a part of humanity for about a thousand years. This allows people to be immortal because they do not technically die. Sleeves can be replaced if there are available bodies and live for how ever long the body will last. You can go on for centuries without a body and wake up in a new sleeve like it was a dream, but if your stack is destroyed, you are dead forever.
Because you can get a new sleeve if you are ever killed or hurt, violence and murder is treated with a nonchalant attitude. Blood sports are a common occurrence, but regulated. Murder is still prohibited, but it is referred to as “sleeve death,” and bodily harm is called “organic damage” that gets you a slap on the wrist. The Neo Catholics of Carbon regard the stacks as an affront to spirituality. They believe when your body dies, you are dead for good, and avoid “re-sleeving.” With Kovacs, he used to be an Envoy, a soldier that can transfer into other sleeves to wreak havoc or conduct military operations. As for the mystery, Bancroft has a backup system that copies his stack every 48 hours and he killed himself ten minutes before the process took place. He cannot account for the two days before his death, leaving Kovacs to pick up the pieces.
Carbon is not all mystery and world building. Breaking up the slow noir are nice doses of action throughout. Sparse and delivered in quick bursts, the action scenes stay within the realm of reality. Most are gunfights with hand-to-hand combat in between. One scene takes place in an artificial gravity well and another in a cloning facility where copy after copy is woken up and sent to die. The action is well shot, choreographed, and fairly brutal in some cases. The fifth episode has an elevator fight that will make you cringe.
The possibility of a resurgence in cyberpunk gives me hope for the future. It is a unique genre and it deserves as much exposure as possible. Both Blade Runner movies are a great introduction, but Altered Carbon is so complex and fully realized that it doubles as a cyberpunk bible. If you are interested in exploring the genre and understanding its nuances, there is no better show to get started.
(Muh book: http://a.co/gR6nlr7)
When I said David Ayer is a good director that was given terrible material in my Suicide Squad review, I meant it. He may have an early 2000’s style that persists throughout his filmography, but you can tell the man cares about his craft. He does the best he can because he loves making movies. It was unfortunate he was shackled to something as terrible as Suicide Squad and screwed over in the final cut. His previous work Fury and Sabotage reveal his competency and skill as a director. Without Warner Brothers hovering over him, Ayer has room to breath with Bright. Is it a return to form or should he retire?
In a world where fantasy and reality are one Officer Ward, played by Will Smith, is assigned to his orkish partner Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton. On a routine patrol they stumble upon a conspiracy involving elves and destructive magic.
Obviously I am a little late to the party. I was not planning on writing a review of Bright until I decided to make reviewing Netflix Originals a thing. I do not usually watch stuff online, but I figured with what I did watch I would take it a step further. I may do this with some of Amazon’s content if I ever decide to get Prime. Being an online platform that is not connected to the Old Guard, Netflix is free to take risks in their various endeavors. As a critic it is a whole new land to conquer.
When it comes to satire, it is essential that you suspend your disbelief or miss the point. The nature of the genre is symbolism and metaphor in service to a message. While satire is not serious, you are meant to examine and analyze the subtext in regards to how it reflects upon the real world. RoboCop used cartoonish corporate executives and a hilariously dystopic setting to explore themes of corporatization and fascism. The same can be said for Starship Troopers where it was designed to be a Nazi propaganda film. 1984 created whole systems of government control that are virtually impossible to implement in a realistic sense to examine very real totalitarianism.
Bright uses fantasy tropes to shed light on social problems. Orks are a minority group that everyone hates and elves the upper class that controls everyone else, including humans. Orks are considered despicable for events that happened in the past and are targets of police harassment. Ward has is own issues with Jakoby and tries to get reassigned to another human on a regular basis.
Bright is obviously satirizing America’s alleged problem of police violence. The orks are African Americans being discriminated by humans, us Whites. It is very blatant and does not pull any punches. Even a blind person could see what Bright is doing. It is also a serious movie that does not joke about the premise or is self-aware. The whole time you expect Will Smith to make jokes and he plays it straight all the way to the end. In some parts the characters will essentially turn to camera and give a speech on equality to make sure you are keeping up.
This ultimately keeps the film from being complete satire. If there was some levity and a sense of disbelief, the message would have more impact. You would be compelled to consider how it reflects reality because it inspires questions. Bright is too close to reality and does not stand out enough to feel otherworldly. All it does is take real world concepts and switches them out with fantasy. It is blatantly simple, which means it is not difficult to comprehend. You are not forced to consider how orks are related to minorities because that is exactly what the movie makes them out to be. 1984 was unbelievable, but it made you think about parallels to the real world.
Taking out the satire, Bright is basically an action movie with fantasy elements. Rather than take its concepts to the extreme like Shadow Run, the action is standard and not really unique. There is one part where Jakoby gets hit by a car and walks it off because orks are naturally strong, but it is mostly gunfights with some acrobatics and magic. The scenes where Noomi Rapace flips around stabbing thugs were pretty great. Do not misunderstand, Bright has good action, but it is not special or really worth greater consideration.
In terms of performances, this was one of Smith’s more serious roles. The overall tone hamstrung his charisma. He did not have much in the way of laughs or cathartic appeal because he was deadly serious the whole time. It was the strangest thing to watch: the most charismatic actor in Hollywood playing it totally straight. Edgerton always does a good job as a character actor, but this time he was under layers of make-up. All of the ork characters have dentures and full cowls with contact lenses that were probably irritating to wear. That is a lot to deal with as an actor and Edgerton makes do.
Again I am very late to give my opinion on Bright and I do not expect it matter at the time. It rides the line between watchable and mediocre. It tries to say something and fails, but it is still entertaining. This was a step in the right direction for Ayer, sticking to what he knows, and doing it well. It is undeniable Bright was still a fun despite its flaws. If you need to kill time and want something entertaining, it is free if you have Netflix.
(Muh book: http://a.co/gR6nlr7)
Like any good thing, not all anime is worth a watch. For me, there are just a handful of titles that have left a lasting impression. FLCL, Samurai Champloo, and Cowboy Bebop are a few I remember and revisit. This has made me very picky when it comes to picking up new shows. To give you an example, I watched the first season of Attack on Titan in 2013, discovered Drifters in 2016 thanks to a friend, and suffered through the new Berserk (yeah, I’m not linking you to that shit). I also watched Kill la Kill four years late. You can boil this down to personal taste, but when picking up a new show, I need to actually have an interest in sitting down and watching it first. With Devilman Crybaby, I saw a short review on YouTube and thought I would check it out. Did it grab me like a lollicon nightmare or does it belong in the garbage with Naruto?
After being reunited with an old friend, Akira goes through a radical change that opens his eyes to a hidden world of evil. Endowed with the powers of a demon, he takes it upon himself to protect humanity.
Devilman attempts to examine the nature of man by pondering the notion of a devil with the heart of a human. Akira starts off as a rather Beta teenager before he is possessed by the demon Amon. Akira takes control of Amon and adopts his extraordinary powers. He gains superhuman speed, strength, and the ability to transform into a winged demon form at will. The only drawback is his hunger for sex and violence. Devilman explores this idea by pitting Akira against other demons and his personal life. He treasures his friends and family and struggles to control his urges on a daily basis. At any moment he could literally fuck his friend Miki to death and eat her corpse. However, by embracing the demonic side as a part of his being, he keeps himself in check.
This stays in line with the show’s theme of human nature. Devilman is up front about Man being ignorant and depraved. It does not shy away from showing intense, graphic acts of sex and violence in each episode to let you know what it is trying to say. It is the villains that remain totally demonic and the humans totally human, whereas Akira is both. How can you function if you do not understand the evil you are capable of? By knowing his capacity for violence, Akira can choose to be good. Everyone else is either one or the other and remains black or white on the moral spectrum. All of this comes to head in the second half of the show where there is a radical tonal shift in how far Devilman goes to make its point.
Without spoiling it the final three pivotal episodes, imagine the eclipse from Berserk if it were 90 minutes long.
It was beyond refreshing to see a hand-drawn anime again. After the new Berserk and that trash Blame! movie it blew my mind to see animations that people put real effort into making. The movements are fluid, clean, and extensive in some places, while also exaggerated when appropriate. In one part, a character is rapping for what seems like three minutes straight. His whole body moves and none of the animations repeat. Granted, the rap was okay, but it was a treat for my eyes after years CG.
The style of Devilman is almost meant to be hand-drawn. Characters and props are sparse when it comes to complex elements like shading and basic details. It is very similar to the show’s manga origins from 1972, where the art style had a lot in common with Astro Boy. Rather than lean into the blown-out, exaggerated designs, Devilman takes on qualities of the classic and contemporary. Everything looks like it belongs in a modern anime, but there is a distinct anachronistic feel with high color contrast and lack of detail. I have never seen a style like this before and if it helps usher in a new era of hand-drawn anime, I do not have a problem with that.
This is a matter of personal taste, but the soundtrack was pretty great. It is a mix of techno, monastic chanting, and standard melodramatic J-pop during the more emotional moments. It is not for everyone, but I was so captivated that I had to mention it. After a certain sequence in the last episode, the track Night Hawk became a part of my personal playlist.
It is not everyday you find an anime that will stick with you for years to come. In the flood of moè torture porn and endless shonen that has taken over the medium, there comes along a title that transcends the norm. It is the kind of anime that harkens back to a time when the medium was about artistic achievement instead of profit. I probably did not emphasize this enough, but Devilman Crybaby will test your tolerance for intensity. It grabs you by the balls and does not let go until the end. I recommend it to not just anime fans, but viewers that would otherwise ignore the medium. It is a perfect example of what happens when anime is pushed to its full potential as this generation’s Cowboy Bebop.
(Muh book: http://a.co/gR6nlr7)
Marvel’s The Punisher
Oh, boy. Here we go.
Six months after finishing off the gangsters responsible for the death of his family Frank, played by Jon Bernthal, retires from vigilantism and goes into hiding. While haunted by nightmares of his dead wife, a former NSA analyst named Micro, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, contacts him incognito. They team up when Frank learns there is more to his family’s murder than he once thought.
I am going to say something out character as a fan of Punisher. I know the guy like the back of my hand and when you get down to the nitty-gritty, why his family was killed does not matter. The what is more important because it was the trigger that turned Frank into the Punisher. The only why that has any meaning is the question of why he keeps killing after getting revenge.
All this stuff in the show about the CIA’s wet-work operation and tying up loose ends was boring and played out. We get it; Frank did some stuff back in the day that the Company wants to keep secret. They try to kill him, it does not work, and he kills them back. His very simple and complete revenge story was finished in Daredevil season two and the first five minutes of Punisher. We did not need all this convoluted Jason Bourne crap with Homeland Security and a private security firm caught in the middle of a CIA agent’s quest to redeem his masculinity.
The overarching story is the only major issue I have with the show. It was run-of-the-mill, had way too many moving parts, and I totally understand why. Frank is not a difficult character to get, but trying to make a watchable season of 13 one-hour episodes about a Nietzschean Void is impossible. Imagine a show about Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men; that is what a proper Punisher series would look like and it would be horrifying.
An action-based deconstruction of the anti-hero archetype would be an ideal show. Thing is, no one would watch it. It would be depressing with Frank mass-murdering criminals without feeling or remorse with accompanying narration. It is all he wants to do because he is driven by pure animalistic instinct. Delve deep enough into his character and you find there is so much that cannot be put to screen for mainstream audiences. The show Mindhunter is all about the psychology of murderers, but that is not Marvel-friendly material.
Taking out the depth of the character, a straight action show would be indistinguishable from the rest. There has to be something else to break up the monotony. Punisher’s convoluted story had to be that way with a lot more meat on its bones. So, we got the family connection, the CIA operation, and Homeland Security to pad out the show. It would have been fine with just Frank, Micro, and a bad guy in nine episodes.
The actual execution of the story was fine. Each plotline per episode got an equal amount of coverage without overshadowing one another. It worked as a cohesive whole; it is just too bad half of it was not very interesting.
Frank and Micro’s arc was the best part. They have great chemistry as partners in vigilantism with similar experiences. Where Frank lost his family, Micro had to leave his family after a little whistleblowing almost got him killed. Things get interesting when Frank plays surrogate father/husband for Micro’s family. Their personal conflict comes out of their dueling personalities. Where Micro is sympathetic and easy to understand, Frank is a killer with a moral compass. In that way they worked really well together and I cannot wait to see them again for season two.
Another good element of the show is the action. From what I could see, real blanks and squibs were used for the gunfights. You can tell a lot of work was put into making each fight different with a heavy dose of visceral violence. People are stabbed, punched, and pumped full of lead like an old fashion action movie. While not very creative these scenes are flawlessly executed. There is also no shaky cam and you can tell what is happening at all times. I would love to talk about my favorite scene, but I think you should see for yourself.
Those two elements make the show. The rest you can skip.
First is the Homeland Security plot. We follow Agent Madani, played by Amber Rose Revah, and she is terrible. I get characters need motivation for narrative, but Madani was so unlikeable and one-note I could careless. Her whole deal was meant to parallel Frank’s quest for vengeance. She wants justice for an Afghani police officer that was killed under mysterious circumstances and that is all. There is nothing to her. Madani is a boring strong female archetype that no one put any thought into when they had to meet a quota.
She is not even big or tall enough to come off as an agent of anything. She is five-foot nothing with the body of model. In the scenes where she is holding a gun, the weapons are bigger than her. My short friend in the Army was looking to replace her old personal side arm because it was the size of her head. She had to buy a tiny Sig Sauer to have any hope of hitting something. Madani looks like a Barbie doll got mixed in with the GI-Joe toys by accident.
And do not get me started on her partner. The guy is David Arquette annoying.
Then there is the CIA story taken from Punisher MAX. Here we follow the character Rawlins, played by Paul Shulze, who wants to kill Frank before he exposes the Company’s operations. There is a character in MAX of the same name and a million times more interesting. Show-Rawlins is a standard Company man who uses national security to justify his actions. MAX-Rawlins is an asshole that relishes being an asshole before Frank pries out his eyeball with a knife. Being a tough guy piece of shit was a façade because his persona and business depended on it.
Show-Rawlins has that masculine insecurity evident in his need to torture Frank for taking his eye, but the rest of him is boring. He is this box-standard dude that believes in protecting his country, even by illegal means. Something with depth, like the implication he enjoys torture and murder, is nonexistent. Maybe it was the actor’s lack of charisma, but there could have been a scene or two where he is smiling and laughing at the possibility of getting his hands dirty. MAX-Rawlins had a lot more to him beyond the traits of a cartoony Gareth Ennis villain character.
There is plenty of good to be had, but the whole of Punisher would have fallen apart if not for Bernthal’s best performance to date. The guy has the makings of a young Kurt Russel or Clint Eastwood, full of charisma with intensity to boot. Not only does he sell the character’s pain and anger, but he is also scary to watch. I expect nothing less from the guy that accidently clocked Jonah Hill in the mouth on Wolf of Wall Street because he was so into the scene. I have no idea how Bernthal could top this in the future.
When it comes to expectations everyone has a vision they want to see come to fruition. For me and other fans, we wanted an incarnation of Punisher to rival Ray Stevenson in War Zone. The second season of Daredevil gave us a taste of what was to come in the following year. Marvel’s the Punisher is the most we can ask for. There will never be a perfect incarnation, but Jon Bernthal is damn close. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of the character and of action, especially the graphic kind. But get ready to skip over a lot of boring shit to get to the good stuff.