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. 

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Stranger Things 2 (2017) Review

     Now that I’ve let this second installment of Stranger Things sink in, I’ve come to realize that the show made an 80s reference that might have escaped some; that the sequel is better than the original. The stakes are higher, the character development more pronounced, the overall story more satisfying. Oh and the budget is larger. That’s totally an 80s thing. 

     It’s been a year since the events of Stranger Things and everybody has more or less moved on with their lives. Will (Noah Schnapp) is still recovering from the Upside Down, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new guy in her life, Bob (Sean Astin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is still holding out hope that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still alive somewhere. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Calab McLaughlin) are vying for the affection of the new girl in town, and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still with Steve (Joe Keery). Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is still pinning for Nancy. Hopper (David Harbour) is hiding a secret for everyone else’s good. 

     This is just the bare minimum set up for Stranger Things 2 everything else unfolds at a breakneck speed that can cause you to binge the shit out of it. I took my time and let it breathe so I could absorb the themes and references that the show is making. 

     The casting of Sean Astin as Bob is a stroke of genius because of the fact that he played Mikey in the 80s classic The Goonies. And I have to say that that man is the real MVP. He managed to take a character that could’ve been so annoying, but instead made him funny, warm, and even sympathetic. You usually don’t have characters like this in sequels typically. 

     What the Duffer Brothers have manage to realize in the horror genre is that symbolism and metaphor are aplenty. The love triangle between Dustin, Lucas, and Max (Sadie Sink) is something so embedded into the tribulations of growing up. Every person in school, no matter what age, has been through that. The show always excels when dealing with real issues amongst pure supernatural terror. 

     This season is at its core, about growing up and the confusion that brings; who we are, and how the world works (a theme heavily played up in the much mangled 7th chapter). There really isn’t any lulls in the episodes, but I don’t imagine anyone just jumping in at this point. The first season is mandatory. 

     There’s a lot to dissect and pick a part here, but that will arrive in do time. Everything is on point for this season and its still a fun ride to experience. 

     

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. 

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. 

     

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. 

13 Reasons Why (2017) Series Review

When I first heard about Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why I thought I was in for a cry fest. A serious drama, dealing with a serious, complex issue; Man, was I so wrong. 

     The series actually plays out like a “suicide” mystery, instead of a murder mystery. What we get are 13 episodes, or “tapes” where we dives deeper into Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) motivation into why she decided to end her life. 

     As the tapes make their way through a select few students, causing riffs to be sure, it reaches Clay (Dylan Minnette), a boy who had a crush on Hannah, decides to investigate what actually happened to her. But the deeper he gets in, the more he’ll discover answers to questions he shouldn’t even ask. 

     As much as a initially thought this was going to be a dramatic series, I was quite pleasantly surprised that the show plays out like a noir tale. At the heart of this story is a mystery with a needlessly complicated conspiracy at its core. Dirty secrets are aired out, betrayals are a plenty, its everything you could want out of it. 

     I was hooked by the end of the first episode, being reminded of Rian Johnson’s Brick, another high school set noir mystery. I was transfixed on what was at the heart of this girl’s suicide, and what role did our protagonist Clay play in it? When you find out the reasons why, your heart will shatter. 

     The show is melodramatic through and through, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. It’s so highly addicting, but the show does go into somereally fucked up areas that teen shows used to allude to, but can now be seen in all its macabre ugliness. It made me uncomfortable, as it should, but be warned of what you could be entering. 

     The important thing you’re all probably wondering is, does it have a satisfying conclusion? I think it does. I have no clue if there’s going to be a second season, but the way it was left made me happy. There are a shit ton of plot threads left answered, but the most important one, Why did Hannah Baker kill herself? was answered superb enough. 

     Its a show that really does make you think. For all its plot contrivances, overly melodramatic scenes, there is a heart to it, a pain to be had. It gets very ugly by its end, just like any great noir tale. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016) Review

     The Rocky Horror Picture Show exists as a bit of an oddity; it started off as a stage show, made its way to the movies, and bombed horribly at the box office. It was thanks to the growing trend of Midnight Movies that breathed new life into the film, and much like the title character, it started to take on a life of its own. 

     This new version produced for television, just further cements the fact that some shit is just a product of its time; it was just a series of shit situations that ultimately lead to it being this insane cult phenomenon. You cannot replicate that kind of success, no matter how many virgin sacrifices you make. 

     On a dark and stormy night, Janet (Victoria Justice) and Brad (Ryan McCartan) seek shelter in a strange mansion run by the mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox) where along with help from Riff Raft (Reeve Carney), and Magenta (Christina Milian) to create the ultimate specimen, Rocky Horror (Staz Nair). 

     I’ve made it no secret that no matter how many times I’ve watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show I still think it sucks. The music is catchy, and the original film performers really put their all into it, and that’s when it creates an odd charm that has endured for over four decades. 

     But Jesus Christ, this time felt like someone cashed in a fucking favor. 

     What it cames down to was the fact that all the actors, except Tim Curry in a cameo, played the script for laughs. I shit you not, I was waiting for just one actor to look at the camera and wink. I’m pretty forgiving towards actors, I’ll admit, but God damn it there’s no fucking excuse for blatant over acting and passing it off as comedy. I get this story is outlandish as fuck, but the joy is seeing the actors have fun, not like they’re being blackmailed by a producer. 

     In an interview I saw with the original director in a midnight movie documentary, he stated that he and the crew thought they were making a good movie with broad audience appeal, and that right there is why this new version is a waste of fucking time. Everyone seems to be in on the joke this time, and that comes off as condescending. A bad movie doesn’t know it’s a bad movie,but when it acts like one, you just want to punch it in the face. 

     Seriously, the original is a product of its time, and while I find it boring, it at least has its joy and originality to make it interesting. 

     Fuck this new version. 

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. 

      

How The Final Episode of “Angel” Saved My Life

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     I know the title of this post is a bit overdramatic, but hear me out though. We all have that one movie, show, game or book that gave us the hope for a better future in our lives. For me it was Angel, a show about vampire with a soul trying to atone for all the horrific shit he did in the past. As today is the 12th anniversary of the finale, entitled appropriately Not Fade Away, I want to express how the ending of the show became the beginning of my life.
     I have always been a shy, lonely, insecure person. That’s putting it very mildly. When it came to my love life, I didn’t have one. I tried, but it just always ended in embarrassment and shame. I had this unyielding need to be validated through the love of a woman.
     In 2003-2004, I thought I finally found her.
     This girl was perfect for me in every conceivable way. I know this because my best friend at the time told me so.
     So to get on with the whole point, this girl said she liked my best friend, but that at one point liked me as well. Maybe it was out of pity, maybe it was sincere, maybe she owes me for my therapy bills, I’ll never know. So, my best friend told me he liked her and, of course, I gave my blessing because they both deserved to be happy; even if that meant that I would get tossed like a parking ticket.
     How can doing something noble, the right thing as it were, and have it feel like I lost the only shot at happiness?
     This is where Not Fade Away comes in.
     The show was already cancelled at this point, so I waited with anticipated dread that this was the last I would see of my favorite show. Never did I think that it would stay with me for this long.
     So how could a show teach me the true value of “The Good Fight”?  From the beginning that’s what the show has always been about. But right out of the gate, the writers did something that shook me to my core: The prophecy that would have given Angel his redemption, was voided by Angel himself. He had to, in order to gain the trust of Hell’s representation on Earth. He will never become human; he will never be able to atone for his sins. He gave it up.
     The Circle of the Black Thorn, Hell’s representation to be clear, have their hands in everything from politics to… well that’s bad enough. They are so powerful, that you could maybe fuck up their day, but you cannot beat them. But to quote Angel himself:
     They’re not there to be beaten. They’re there to be fought.
     The remaining members of his crew, Wesley, Spike, Lorne, Gunn, and Illyria know that this could be the end of their lives. They know they’re not going to win. But they have to try.
     Imagine emotional pain, and turmoil in the guise of a single episode of your stories, and you’re nowhere near the devastation that Not Fade Away inflicts upon you. When you see one of the biggest pain in the ass characters to ever exist in any medium, archenemy Lindsay, get gunned down by the comic relief of the show… it changes you. Especially when Lindsay gasps that Angel is supposed to kill him…
     Wesley. Fuck. I’ll try to get through this. Wesley got shit on a lot, and that’s an understatement. He recently lost the love of his life because some asshole had to bring back an old god. Winifred, or Fred, was hollowed out from the inside and her soul was destroyed. She doesn’t exist anymore. The god, Illyria, is trying to become human, but Wesley begrudgingly helps her, even if she resembles Fred. Illyria was trying to be nice in taking Fred’s form so Wesley can have one last perfect day, but he said that would be a lie.
     So as the entire gang is all tasked with taking out the head members of The Black Thorn, Wesley is knifed, and lays dying when Illyria appears, because she was worried about him. She then says the saddest fucking line in the history of lines:

    Would you like for me to lie to you now?

     What follows is just the most tear jerking scene you can ever fucking endure. I can’t describe it because I’m in a public place and I don’t want people to see me cry.
     I’m back. And composed. 
     To get further along to the point, and move pass some overwhelming details, the last scene takes place in an alley with no way out. As the remaining characters meet up, this being Spike and Angel, Gunn appears exhausted. Then he realizes that he’s bleeding out. Illyria appears mourning Wesley; wishing to do more violence. As these four characters look on they see the armies of Hell coming towards them (complete with dragon). Its at this moment that the line that sums up the show is uttered after Illyria says to Gunn that he’s fading and will last only ten minutes at best:
   
     Then let’s make them memorable.

     The screen cuts to black as they begin to fight.
     Comic Book continuations be damned, we never did find out what happened to them. On some days I like to think that they made it out no problem. On others, I think they perished in the battle. And I like that ending in my mind. They never gave up. They all knew that what they were fighting was going to get them killed, and they didn’t care. They fucked up Hell’s day. Or hour. Doesn’t matter, what does matter is that they did the right thing, and goddam it they went out in a blaze of glory.
     So how did this save my life? Remember I mentioned that Angel gave up his redemption to gain the trust of the Black Thorn? That’s what did it. Angel realized, like I did, that you don’t do the right thing to get a reward; you do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do. My best friend at that time deserved to be happy, and so did the object of my affections. When I stood as Best Man at their wedding, I knew that I did the right thing, even though I had nothing to show for it.
     If Joss Whedon, Jeffrey Bell or anyone from the show were to read this, fucking thank you so much. The show made me strive to be a better man, a more hopeful man especially in times of despair. I owe them a Coke.

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                Angel 1999-2004