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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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Review

This has been 10 years in the making; the promise of a shared universe between films finally reaches it’s apex with Avengers: Infinity War. This is everything that I always dreamed of when I was a child; just an unrelenting battle against a seemingly unstoppable foe.

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is the Mad Titan and he has been searching the Galaxy far and wide for the Infinity Stones, six gems that represent all of existence: Time, Power, Reality, Mind, Space, and Soul. If the six stones are brought together than the wielder controls the universe. This forces all of the universe’s heroes to band together including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and so on.

This flick is a dream come true for comic book fans. Almost every single character from the previous entries make an appearance here. This is the cinematic equivalent of a company wide crossover. And speaking as a fan, I loved it. Great care was taken to ensure that all the heroes spoke with all their distinct voices and that is where the fun truly lies. I mean come on, didn’t you wonder how Iron Man would react to meeting Star Lord (Chris Pratt) with all that sass? You just chuckled at the thought.

Alright, no more tip toeing around this: the film has no real plot as a single entry to the franchise. If you, or someone you know is thinking of making this their first Marvel movie then that is a huge mistake. There is no set up to the conflict, the movie just jumps right in and doesn’t fuck around. This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. This is the accumulation of 10 years of movies that have been slowly setting up this movie. You don’t have to have seen every movie, if you have a favorite character then the movie works, but it does help to feel some sort of emotion.

And this movie is emotional, and powerful. No spoilers here, obviously, but I can’t imagine a single fan not being shocked by what happens in Infinity War. I was shaken up by the time the credits rolled, and it left me excited for the next one. Yes, even Ant-Man and The Wasp. This is how superhero films should be made; with humor, love, excitement, and devastation.

Black Panther (2018) Review

There has never been a more relevant time for the Black Panther film to come out. With the issue of representation in film being such a hot button issue, nothing made me happier to see a film starring a black superhero, especially one with this much joy and rich character development.

After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has taken the mantle of King of the technologically advanced African country of Wakanda. As T’Challa comes to grips with being king, a foreigner by the name of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) lays seige to Wakanda, forcing the King to relay on his former flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and his tech savy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) to protect his kingdom and all of its secrets.

Since a lot of people are making a big deal over a black superhero, which is all well and good, it doesn’t mean shit to me if the movie sucks. Thankfully it doesn’t. Marvel has it’s characters down to a science, and that’s where Black Panther truly shines. T’Challa is a fully realised character with empathy and a sense of duty. He goes on a spiritual journey that many of us have been on, and it gives him a true sense of history.

The MCU has been know to have some underwhelming villains for most of its run, but Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best antagonists in the series. Much like Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, you get a clear understanding of Killmonger’s motives, hell I even found myself sympathizing with him. He was just captivating to watch every second he was on screen.

Black Panther continues Marvel’s Phase 3 overarching theme of fathers and sons. Here is a man who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while trying to be his own man, his own king. It even goes deeper into it’s theme; can a son forgive the sins of his father? Should he have to pay that price?

Of course the action is first rate, and you will find yourself in awe of the spectacle, but there is more than that. The issues of race, heritage, and legacy are all there to be absorbed and discussed. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it still gets to me that a character, up until a few years ago, was considered to be a B-lister at best, has been given a treatment that is usually reserved for more prominent characters. King T’Challa is a character I can’t wait to see again.

Coco (2017) Review

Pixar has always managed to be a beacon on just emotional, original pieces of work that dive into other areas of human culture. Coco is wonderfully one of those movies that show that love, and family are universal cultural bounds that everyone can relate to.

Little Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) lives in a household where music is forbidden. But the boy has the music in him, and he sets out to follow in his great-great grandfather’s footsteps. Lo and behold, Miguel finds out that Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), famed deceased singer, is his ancestor. While attempting to take his guitar, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead. With the help of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a spirit who is soon to be forgotten, they both set out to make it to the world of the living, before it’s too late.

Coco is the prime example of the beauty that can be achieved by the art of animation. The beautiful use of color and vibrancy in its shades is so refreshing to see. Most studios think that the world of spirits is some kind of Tim Burton-esque realm, but not in Coco thankfully. I felt like I was seeing something a little new; something that has been grossly underrepresented in cinema today.

Breathtaking visuals don’t mean jack shit if the characters and story aren’t up to par, and it sure is. Dare I say, that this could be one of the darkest Pixar movies to have been released. It’s not violent in a conventional sense, but it is emotionally. The mere concept of souls being wiped out of existence for being forgotten by the ones you left in the living world is equal parts morbid and macabre. I think it’s something every single one of us can connect to, either intellectually, or emotionally.

Don’t get me wrong; this is Pixar’s most beautiful, emotionally satisfying movie since Inside Out. The existential portion of the movie is something adults will understand, while the visuals and humor are perfect for children. The themes of love, remembrance and family hit me a lot harder than I anticipated. I have come to expect nothing less from Pixar, and is not only one of the best films of the year, but will be remembered for generations to come.

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) Review

     Man has this franchise come a damn long way; I remember when Pitch Perfect was a coming of age take that used the power of song to over come adversity. Now, Pitch Perfect 3 still has some of those key elements, but it’s pretty damn clear that if this series doesn’t end with this installment, then we’re going to have the Fast and the Furious of a cappella singing. 

     Beca (Anna Kendrick) has just quit her job for a record label, and she reunites with the other Bellas, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Aubrey (Anna Camp), Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), and even Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) who go on a USO competition for DJ Khaled. Things hot a bit of a snag when Fat Amy’s father (John Lithgow) shows up at an inopportune time. 

     I have actually enjoyed the first two Pitch Perfect films with their sweet simple stories of self-esteem and pretty fun song covers. Sure they all seem to use the same plot as a crutch, but they work due to the chemistry amongst the actors. 

     Man, did this one try way too hard to be different. 

     While there’s still a competition to be had, it feels shoehorned into the plot, and instead we get some international intrigue involving Fat Amy’s dad, which left me wondering if this was truly necessary. It does appear that the writers ran out of ideas so soon, and that maybe a ten year gap between films would have been beneficial. 

     Don’t get me wrong; I did laugh during the movie, catching myself while realizing that the story was fucking ridiculous. As a tip, think about how the first one started off, then look at what’s on the screen. You won’t be able to help yourself from laughing. Even then, the music was enjoyable, although a bit lacking, the Bellas still have that charm that we should come to expect by now. 

     There have been worst trilogy cappers, believe me, but the story needs to end here. If it goes on any further, then everything charming and lovely about the series will be lost. 

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. 

Justice League (2017) Review

     Well it was nice while it lasted. After loving the fuck out of Wonder Woman I was hopeful that Justice League was going to be another upward tick for the DCEU, but instead all we have now is just a disgraceful mess of a movie that wouldn’t even pass muster in a film class. 

     With the world still in mourning after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to put together a team that consists of Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to take down the evil Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) before he gets some boxes that would destroy humanity. 

     Fuck where do I start with this? To reiterate, the movie is a mess; the story, the characterizations, the acting, just everything. It’s so frustrating to watch because there’s a really good movie in here. Its just not a good Justice League movie. The movie starts with Superman dead and buried, how do people move on from having their savior fucking dead? Imagine that for a second. That movie is so much more interesting than whatever the fuck you want to call this movie. 

     The characters, even Batman and Wonder Woman, are painfully underdeveloped. They have no arc. All of them. They all even work together effortlessly with no conflict. I couldn’t tell you anymore about Cyborg’s character than before I saw the movie. Aquaman to me was unrecognizable from the comic, and that’s fine, but you have to tell us as filmmakers who the hell he is, what drives him as a hero. Nope none of that. And I really wish I had some seasonings, because Steppenwolf is the blandest villain I’ve seen in a film since Thor: The Dark World. Just no personality at all. I will give credit that Ezra Miller had some good moments as The Flash, but even he seemed to trying way to hard to carry the film. There was just no chemistry between any of the actors. 

     Now to discuss the stuff I liked, no matter how fleeting, there will be some light spoilers concerning the Man of Steel. 
     So Superman gets resurrected, and that’s to be expected, but the good movie in here is how his family reacts, especially his mother. I got choked up when she saw that her little boy was alive, and the overwhelming emotions that it brings. But it’s like 2 minutes of the movie. Hell, we don’t even see how the world reacts and I think it would be a pretty big deal. I can only imagine seeing an awesome movie with the world mourning the death of a god and then have them return. But I guess we’ll see a team beat up a shit villain instead. 

     I’ve waiting decades to see a Justice League live action film, and this is a poor excuse of a movie. I can’t imagine anyone feeling like they got to see their favorite characters be bad asses when we don’t even get a feel for who they are. The high benchmark of superhero movies is The Dark Knight and this movie should be ashamed of itself for believing it belongs in the same sentence as that masterpiece. Remember folks and fans alike, you deserve so much better than this. You truly do. 

     

Thor: Ragnarock (2017) Review

     The last Thor film, The Dark World, is still the worst Marvel film from their output. The first one being a silly lighthearted affair, but man that follow up… such a piece of shit. Well, I’ve never been happier to see an entry just improve so exponentially. I actually walked out with a smile on my face, instead of punching anyone in the face. 

     Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is trying to find his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) with the help of his douchebag brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). They both come across the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett) who wishes to rule over Asgard. Thor, now defenseless, finds himself on a strange planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and has a run in with a long missing friend… Its the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

     Clearly Thor: Ragnarock is the best of the Thor films, and so much fun. The best moments involving Thor in his other appearances are the humorous ones. Hemsworth has such great comedic timing that in retrospect, made the Dark World such a bore was the lack of humor. Everyone in the movie has phenomenal comedic moments, and I want to see Thor and Hulk cause some more shit. They are so good together. Blanchett’s Hela is a character so rich and evil, that makes you wonder why the hell she wasn’t in this series sooner? I was scared of her, because Thor was, and you can clearly see why when presented with the film. 

     More than anything I was awestruck by the musical score from Mark Mothersbaugh. Director Taika Waititi was clearly going for an 80s retro feel, and that score really brought that feeling home, with sparing use of synth, but once in use the aesthetic truly came alive. 

     I’m impressed by the fact that Marvel Studios is three for three in one year of releasing movies. All have succeeded in just being pure pieces of entertainment while actually having both thematic and character arcs. I officially can’t wait for the next adventure these guys get into, and with this being the 18th movie in a franchise, you know that’s some high fucking praise. 

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. 

     

Happy Death Day (2017) Review

     It’s difficult to find a fun horror movie nowadays. Yes, a horror movie is supposed to scare you, but you’re also supposed to enjoy it. Kind of like a rollercoaster. Happy Death Day has the right mix of jump scares, but it also has an enjoyment factor that is lacking from modern day horror flicks. 

     College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a dorm room belonging to Carter (Israel Broussard) and high tails it out of there. Later that night, which is also her birthday, on her way back to her dorm she gets murdered by a masked killer. 

     And then wakes up back in Carter’s dorm, repeating the day. Getting murdered. Again. Repeat. She realizes that to stop the loop she has to find out who keeps killing her, or be trapped dying forever. 

     Alright, let’s not kid ourselves, this is Groundhog Day but with a slasher. And that’s completely fine. It’s a fresher take on an old troupe, and you unexpectedly get sucked into the story. The story thrives on the misdirection that having the events repeat themselves entails. 

     You would think that having a gimmicky premise would mean that the characters don’t mean shit, and some don’t, but Rothe’s performance as Tree is the backbone of the entire movie. If you don’t give a shit about her situation then the movie becomes a waste. But I did end up caring about her. She starts off conceited and self absorbed, and then realizes the value in her actions. Like Bill Murray in Groundhogs Day. 

     By the climax of the flick, I genuinely found myself caring about her situation, and I wanted her to succeed. It just felt great to see a horror movie that I rooted for the protagonist, while still laughing and being enthralled in the narrative. Its a simple film that achieves so much more that it needs to.