Cobra Kai (2018): Nostalgia Done Right (A Review)

YouTube Red’s new series, Cobra Kai has no business being this good. At all. Especially from a long dormant franchise like The Karate Kid, I mean we all know how the fourth one turned out (sorry Hillary Swank). Those films while classics of their genre, aren’t regarded as high class cinema. With the recent glaut of revival shows, and films in their own right, Cobra Kai does something crucial that many of these other properties seem to forget.

It treats it’s mythology with respect.

It’s been over 30 years since Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) suffered his humiliating defeat by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). He’s down on his luck, constantly reminded of his defeat by seeing billboards everywhere for LaRusso Motars. One fateful night, he says a young kid named Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) get picked on by bullies, and Johnny rescues him, inspiring him to revive the long gone Cobra Kai dojo.

What unfolds over the course of ten episodes is nothing short of a miracle; turning the Karate Kid films into something of a Greek tragedy. I’ll tell you, I was expecting something of a parody, like the 21 Jump Street movies, but I was so wrong. This series is not only unashamed of its source material, but embraces it lovingly. The “flashback” scenes are clips from the first film, and are so skillfully woven into the narrative that it hits the emotions perfectly if you’ve seen them. That is how this is supposed to be done.

The acting here, is just nothing short of top notch. Macchio and Zabka add actual fucking depth and layers to their characters. While the movies may have a basic view of good and bad, here it’s not that simple. Johnny has a lot of anger that stems from his childhood, while Daniel has let arrogance muddy up his balance. Both men are on a journey to better themselves, even if its actually making them into bitter men.

The nostalgia factors in heavily into Cobra Kai, and no shit it would. You even see Daniel performing his moves from The Karate Kid Part III. I mean, who the fuck would remember that? It gives it’s audience exactly what it wants, but not in the ways that they’d expect it. Yes, the season climaxes with a tournament, but holy fuck is it done differently, with conflicting emotions. Yeah, it was difficult to find a villain here, it’s that good. This is all because of the memories of the films; they compliment each other, they find that perfect balance.

It’s amazing how much love and respect when into this series. Truly. This is not a jokey self aware parody of itself, but merely the tragically logical continuation of its story. If you’re even remotely a fan, you owe it to yourself to see this series, and show it to others. Not since a show like Mr. Robot have I been so invested in the emotional (low) stakes that drives Daniel and Johnny.

I never thought I’d ever write this, but Cobra Kai is one of the best shows on television.

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The Punisher (2017) Season 1 Review

     The Punisher character has always been a tricky one to adapt. First, the 1989 version with Dolph Lundgren was just in name only, while the 2004 Thomas Jane version fared better but was lacking the brutality, and the 2008 Ray Stevenson was ridiculously violent, but it lacked the nuances of the character. 

     Building off of Jon Bernthal’s take from Season 2 of Daredevil, Netflix’s take on Frank Castle is world’s above the other versions by striking that delicate balance between a man dealing with loss and pure homicidal rage. Its difficult to pull off but the series managed to do it. 

     After being declared dead at the end of season 2 of Daredevil, Frank Castle is laying low and keeping to himself. But soon he comes into contact with a man named Microchip (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who wants to help Frank take down a conspiracy involving one of Frank’s old commanders, Agent Orange (Paul Schulze). Soon Frank realizes that this conspiracy is gonna hit him closer to home. 

     As I mentioned previously, Frank Castle is a tough character to crack; having been born out of the 1970s vigilante craze (think Death Wish) the comics never shied away from having Frank be a villain. Since that paid off in his last appearance, we have him in full force now. Bernthal’s performance is spot on; he managed to give Castle layers of depth that were sorely lacking in the former takes. The man is tortured, in pain and full of rage, but you see glimpses of the man he was, and it’s pretty fucking tragic. This is the first time I’ve actually cared about what happens to him. 

     I have to say that Ben Barnes’s Billy Russo is one of my favorite characters to have been reinvented in any of the Marvel properties. I don’t want to get too much into it, but fans of the comics will recognize the name. Russo is Frank’s foil in every sense, and I was captivated by Barnes being able to convey his intentions without saying a word. The way that the relationship was able to breathe, be given context. The payoff to this relationship is just gold. 

     If there’s anything that kept the series bogged down a little is the subplot involving Special Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). I know that this plotline needs to be there for later episodes, but at times it hindered the pacing and momentum of the episodes; may have to do with the fact that I knew where it had to go, but it wasn’t that interesting and at times a tad bit annoying. 

     Through and through, this was just such a satisfying watch. Even the first episode had such a thrilling payoff that it just made me keep watching. Make no mistake, while there are some surprising moments of character nuances, this shit is fucking brutal! I was even looking away cringing at the level of savagery that is The Punisher. Of course those assholes had it coming, so it felt good seeing Castle dish out his brand of punishment. I’ve never been happier to write there words:

     Welcome back, Frank. 

Mr. Mercedes: A Different Type of Stephen King Horror 

     Stephen King has been enjoying this bit of a resurgence lately, with It recently breaking box office records. Even though thw man has been known for his tale of the supernatural macabre, he does manage to find new ways to horrify you; and Mr. Mercedes is just that new flavor to get a taste of. 

     During a job fair, a man driving a Mercedes plows his way through the crowd injuring and killing many including a young mother and her infant child. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) was assigned to the case but was never able to locate the killer. Two years later, now retired, Bill begins to receive messages from the killer (Harry Treadaway) taunting him, goading him to kill himself. He just didn’t count on one thing: Bill starts to fight back. 

     I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Stephen King story that has both the elements of noir along with that of a cat and mouse game. As of this writing there have been 6 episodes (out of ten) and there is nothing supernatural about. Just the ugly depravity of human nature.

     The best thing about Mr. Mercedes is that it is a series so the characters are allowed to flourish under the episodic nature of television. Gleeson’s Hodges is a man broken, haunted by his failure to not only capture the Mercedes killer, but to keep his family together. The most shocking thing, as it were, about the series is that from the first episode we the audience know who the killer is. Treadaway’s Brady has that creepy vibe, but you can tell that he doesn’t want to be that way. Because of his introverted ways, he gets stepped on by his boss and mother, causing him to pursue a twisted sense of righteousness.  

     The series dives into some truly disturbing elements and images that will turn some people off, like the aforementioned job fair scene, but the quiet nature of the game that these to men are playing is just to juicy to pass up. These men have given themselves a perverted sense of purpose towards each other, and it’s only going to get worse for the both of them from here. 

     This time Stephen King has shown us that the monsters we should be frightened of don’t live in the sewers, but the ones that could live next door to us. 

Don’t Be Upset That Twin Peaks Ended, Be Joyous That It Happened. 

     On September 3rd, Twin Peaks: The Return ended its run with a two part finale. I’m still reeling from so I will do my best to keep some sort of sanity in my thoughts. I sense that a lot of people royally pissed off over how it all transpired; the events, the use of the characters, the explicitly unanswered questions, just take your pick, its all valid. 

     If you find yourself upset, ask yourself this: 

     Do you even know David Lynch?

     The last two episodes (especially the second one) come off as some sort of fever dream that quickly spiraled into a nightmare. This is Lynch at his purest, most surrealist that he’s been in years. From the likes of Lost Highway to Inland Empire this is what the fimmmaker has always done; the dropped plot points, the strayed characterizations, I mean this is pretty common. 

     The final episode, to get back on track here, is a surrealist masterpiece. Based on that one viewing, I legitimately have no idea where to start to make sense. No matter though, when it comes to David Lynch I have come to learn that if you don’t know how to feel, just go with the music and the images. The use of negative space, think of the car scene at its climax, along with the lingering shots, create such a sense of unease, almost as of we’re descending into Hell. I feel a sense of loss, but I can’t even begin to tell you why. The ending just feels sad and open ended and that has always been Lynch’s style. 

     I do have a theory about what it could mean, but that requires some spoilers. 
     Based on the last few episodes, I believe that the events of this series of Twin Peaks all transpire in Audrey’s coma. I am fairly confident that in one of the early episodes it was mentioned that she was in a coma, but in a throwaway line. And then with her dance at the Roadhouse it became pretty apparent. But again that’s my immediate reaction. 

     What does it all mean, this new Twin Peaks? I believe it’s about the fact that you can never go home again. It just isn’t the same. And when you do go back, be prepared to face the demons you left behind. If not then all you’ll experience is the bleakest void imaginable. 

     This ending is going to stay with me for awhile. I knew that since the beginning. 

The Defenders (2017) Miniseries Review

     The Defenders has that Avengers vibe going for it, and that’s a great thing. Here we have four distinct characters, all with their own style, so forgive the skepticism when I came into this, um, miniseries? Yeah, I’m going to call it that. 

     When the series picks up, Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is on his own, Jessica Jones (Kristin Ritter) takes up a case that gets her arrested, Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) is just getting out of prison, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is coming back to New York to face The Hand which is run apparently by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). After meeting in a brawl, they begrudgingly team up to take down The Hand once and for all. 

     The greatest things about this series is that the interactions between the four leads is just so much fun. The way in that they team up feels natural and no one acts out of character. Think about it, all four of them are lone wolves so having to trust strangers is just not going to be easy. 

     But easily the happiest part for me was the chemistry and banter between Luke Cage and Iron Fist. As a comic book nerd growing up, even I know the chance of seeing those two on a screen was going to be damn near impossible. These are the Heroes for Hire, man!!! What an age we live in. See the two of them laugh, starting to look out for one another just bleeds the comics. I already want their spin off series. 

     Marvel/Netflix keeps up their tally of having villains that are so much better than their big screen compatriots. Weaver just reminds you that no one can be so evil, yet calm, like she can. She actually has an arc, a motive, even an understanding of why The Hand needs to destroy New York. She holds your attention every damn step of the way. 

     At a brisk eight episode, the show doesn’t have time for filler, but it does drag on occation. But I have to say that while Finn Jones has gotten better in the role of Iron Fist, but Jesus Christ, does he have a way to go. He’s great opposite Luke Cage, hell with any of the other Defenders, but when he has to act tough or serious, he sucks. I actually yelled at my screen at him to lighten the fuck up, it just doesn’t come off natural, and you’re full of shit if that’s because of how the character is supposed to be. No. He sucks. Luke Cage needs to be in every scene with him so he can stop sucking so damn much. 

     Stupid Iron Fist moments aside, the show is just a lot of fun if you enjoyed any of the previous Marvel/Netflix series. I was truly apprehensive about The Hand being the antagonists, they were among the shittier things in Daredevil Season 2, and Iron Fist, but this actually made them compelling. The motives are now so clear and defined to put it lightly. It was great to see these characters again (except Iron Fist) and I already can’t wait for what comes next. 
     

Twin Peaks (2017) Review: Episodes 1-2

     “I’ll see you in 25 years”– Laura Palmer. 

     That line. Jesus. I’m still reeling from this premiere. The short of it is that this is pure David Lynch: its not what I expected, while at the same time being exactly what I expected. 

     If that doesn’t describe what David Lynch is (or co creater Mark Frost), I don’t know what does.

     To attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum, I’ll just rundown some bare bones elements. Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still in the Black Lodge as predicted by Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) 25 years ago. Now it appears that there is an opportunity to escape. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery that seems to have popped up with a high school principal played by Matthew Lillard embroiled in a murder plot involving his possible mistress. I don’t know, I don’t trust anything laid out in front of me. 

     So getting that out of the way, David Lynch wasn’t fucking around when he said that he wanted each episode to be a movie in its own right. It pretty much is though. 

     What really gets me to be honest, is that all of the events in the Black Lodge feel like continuations of the original series, while the new storylines, as it were, have a wholly different feel from before. Lynch was wise enough to see that the soap opera satire that helped to define the original, was no longer relevant in today’s era. 

     With network restrictions a thing of the past, this series goes into the surrealistic imagery with an abundance of reckless abandon. Nothing seems to be held back, well, for the moment at least. As soon as I heard the eerie talk from the Other Place, I knew we were back home. 

     I have always attempted to make the point that it isn’t coherency that makes David Lynch projects special, but the emotions evoked from the incoherent images. There is an epicness in scope; with Twin Peaks itself getting a little short changed at the mement in these two episodes. 

     In all purity, the emotions that this series got me to explore was fascination and fear. Lynch was never one to shy away from horror, and he makes me feel uneasy. I was truly sad though that Sheriff Truman wasn’t there, and that the Log Lady was so frail (The actress would pass away after filming her scenes). But more than anything I was sad about Coop. He never deserved to end up there. 

     As melancholic as I may make this sound, I am already in love with this Twin Peaks. The murder mystery set up feels right out of Lost Highway. Hell, the cinematography feels like a cross between Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. The sound design is pure Lynch, it felt like being right at home. And as always the choice of music is just sublime, with an 80s aesthetic, commonly used, even though it was a Lynchian trope dating back to Blue Velvet. 

     I can only truly recommend these episodes to fans of David Lynch, not just Twin Peaks. The show is much different now, a more unhinged beast of not giving a fuck. I have no god damn clue what the fuck is going on, or even where it’s going, and that is exactly what I wanted out of this revival. Mr. Lynch, Mr Frost, wecome back. 

     

Power Rangers (2017) Review

     Ah, another property being relaunched as a potential film franchise. The nostalgia kick is too strong to ignore. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of Power Rangers television show. I knew who everyone was, it was too cheesy for me even in elementary school. 

     Well, we’ve come now to the inevitable film reboot, and I got to say… 

     That it ain’t bad…

     The plot is pretty much what you’d expect from a Power Rangers movie: Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) wakes up from her deep slumber, and starts causing some shit, meanwhile a group of misfit teens acquire some gems and superhuman powers. Lead by Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Rangers have to work together to defeat Rita, and find themselves in the process. 

     I genuinely feel that this will quite possibly be the best movie that will ever be made with this material. I mean that as high praise. The acting, writing, and even the directing is a lot better than this movie deserves. Let’s not kid ourselves here; its a giant monster/robot movie. Who the fuck is going to see this to get a thoughtful high school drama in the vein of John Hughes? I sure as shit didn’t. 

     Where the movie broke through was the respect that was given to actually develop and respect the characters. Yes, I’m even including the genetic clone of Zac Efron as the Red Ranger (shut up, he is). My God, even Rita Repulsa was given an intriguing backstory as a fallen ranger (a shiny nickel for those that guess what color she was). Even Alpha-5 (Bill Hader) was actually funny, and didn’t make me want to throw a beverage at the screen. I want a Zordon/Alpha-5 spin off where they just bitch to each other for 90 minutes. Just take my money. 

     Like any good pasta dish, Power Rangers does have it’s fair amount of cheese, especially when they fight the monster, because of course it does. Its a god damn Power Rangers movie!! I don’t give a shit how many Oscars the movie might have won in the future, if there wasn’t those cheesy mecha battles, the film would’ve been a complete failure. I even had a joyous grin on my face when the theme song played. 
     Bear in mind, I never thought the series in all of it’s incarnations was really any good. Just wasn’t a fan. It was too cheap and low budget even for my unrefined tastes as a child. But if the show had been anything like this movie, I would’ve been that guy that wouldn’t shut up about the show. 

     Never have a been happier to be proven wrong about the quality of a film. I never thought I would say that I liked a Power Rangers movie. Never. 

The Ridiculous Joys of Mystery Science Theater 3000

On April 14, 2017 something happened. After 18 years, Mystery Science Theater 3000 returned to effectively grace our screens, simultaneously enhancing and ruining the moviegoing experience for all. 

     The series has always followed some poor dude up in space being forced to watch shitty movies, usually of the horror and sci-fi genre, by some crazy scientist in the name of… well science. Said dude is joined by robots Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Croooow. (Its just Crow). The opening song literally sings to you the whole premise of the show, so I don’t know why I just did that. 

     Anyhoo, this show is the definition of cult series, because not everyone will like. Most don’t, but once you experience it and embrace it, so much fun can be had. 

     I had written before about the sheer joy and lunacy of the Midnight Movie, and it’s now available on Netflix. This show, along with Monstervision, were the Midnight Movie shows for me (they never aired at midnight). 

     Watching the first episode of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I was hit with the realization that my love of unbelievably shitty films steams from this series. With the ungodly amount of bad films I’ve seen over the years, the show gave me a tool that has endured me to survive: the gift of laughter. 

     I had never seen a show where characters talked back to the screen, making witty asides that would make Oscar Wilde green with envy. Nothing can top a well delivered joke in line with the films being watched. There was never a show like this before, and I’ll be damned if there was ever a show like it since. It’s truly a unique creature, built from television and cinema. 

     Even with the show’s move to Netflix, its the same thing as before! Believe me this is such a great thing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 changed the way an entire generation watched and experienced films, the unsightly horrors from the voids of space. I’m just giddy. 

     I’m hoping a new generation will now pick up the series and have its imagination fucked with, much like mine was. And while I’ve been lamenting this whole “Reboot” fever, I’m not gonna say a bad word about this trend. Reboot All in the Family, I don’t give a fuck, I got Mystery Science Theater 3000. 

     The world isn’t such a bad place after all. 

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 1 Review 

     The Evil Dead trilogy was something I grew up on since I was in my early teens. You’d think it was Army of Darkness that got me into the mad adventures of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), but it actually Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (the video store by my house didn’t have part one because reasons). I eventually saw part one and loved it, but I kept hoping for part 4 to come out. But after 21 years in my case, and the remake having come out, I gave up on seeing my favorite idiotic hero fight the Deadites once more. 

     Until now…

     Ash vs Evil Dead is that batshit crazy sequel that fans had all hoped for. Now, Ash is joined by coworkers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) after Ash’s stupid ass read from the Necronomicon and unleashes the Deadites. Again. 

     I didn’t have much trepidation going into this as I do with many other revivals; it has Bruce Campbell (yay), Sam and Ivan Rami involved (yay, yay). After the first couple of episodes I did start to worry, as they didn’t strictly adhere to the formula that the films established, which is the one location thing. 
     The show was fun, but it wasn’t quite the Evil Dead that I know and love, but (spoilers) once they the cabin, holy fuck did the series get fun. Jesus, that energy did not let up. And there were some revelations about the Necronomicon (Ermahgerd)!

     Speaking as a fan boy, and as I lover of Army of Darkness, is that Bruce Campbell still has the comedic chops and charms to play someone so egotistically stupid. I may be alone in this, but the reason I didn’t enjoy the 2013 Evil Dead, was because it was so fucking serious. Yeah, I’m all for unrelenting bloodshed, but Jesus lighten the fuck up a bit. Break the tension, have some fun. My main criticism of the movie was, “Needs more Ash”.

     Now, we got him folks. Season 2 just started, and what better way to start the Halloween season but with your old pal Ash. And always remember folks: Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. 

Stranger Things Season One Review 

     There is no greater joy for a film and television lover when you discover something that is exactly what you’ve been looking for; like finally being able to scratch that itch that’s been fucking with you for months. Netflix’s new series, Stranger Things is that scratcher that renewed my faith in just compelling storytelling. 

     Will Byers (Noah Schnapps) has gone missing. The last people to see him were his friends Mike (Finn Woodhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) while his mother Joyce (Winona Rider) frantically starts to look for him with the help of the local sheriff  (David Harbour). But with the sudden appearance of a mysterious girl (Millie Bobby Brown), there seem to be stranger things happening. 

     The whole show is like a clusterfuck of nostalgia for someone who grew up watching 80s movies and tv shows. As soon as the first episode started I immediately thought E.T., but when the opening credits started I could have fucking swore that this show was created in the 80s. The care and thought that was put into recreating that retro feel is nothing short of astonishing. 

     But all that means jackshit if the show fucking sucked, but it doesn’t. The mystery of the show is too good of a set up, and the entire cast just fucking excel at bringing a real feeling of depth to their characters. All of the characters, especially the sheriff, have a lot of shit that they’re trying to come to terms with. And like any good story should be able to do, pays off in devastating ways. 

     We live in an age where Hollywood studios are trying their best to monetize our need for nostalgic fare with big budget reboots of old films and tv shows, here is a series that manages to get the feel of an 80s story with, hold on for this shit, with an original fucking story. Shit, Stranger Things is better than any movie playing in theaters now. Didn’t even have to leave the damn house.