Kingsman, Justice League and The Last Jedi

Now that I have seen It, these films are my most anticipated blockbusters for the rest of the year.  I thought I would take this post to discuss some of my hopes (and worries) for each film. The films are listed in the order of their release dates, not by anticipation. The Last Jedi is my most anticipated, with Kingsman second and Justice League third.

  1. Kingsman: The Secret Service

I thought the first Kingsman looked somewhat generic when I saw the first trailer, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a witty, well-paced, action-packed deconstruction and parody of the Bond films and spy films as a whole. Taron Egerton gave us an amazing performance as “Eggsy” and Colin Firth had a believable turn as an action hero with plenty of gravitas. Whenever I watch Liam Neeson’s jilted choreography in Taken 2 my mind comes back to this film as an example of how to execute an action scene with an older actor.

Between the action, the performances, the attacks on spy cliches etc., Kingsman was a film that felt like a rare treasure. That is why I was not excited to hear about a sequel. I was worried that the sequel would not be able to capture the magic of the first. The trailers have given me some hope but I can’t completely ignore the voice in my head that tells me this film might feel like a cheap cash grab.

It will be good to see Colin Firth on screen again but I can’t help but feel like his character’s reappearance cheapens his death in the first film. I am excited to see Pedro Pascal, who is probably best known as Prince Oberyn on Game of Thrones. While I don’t usually like Channing Tatum, I find that he does well in comedic or semi-comedic roles like the one he will likely have here as Agent Tequila. To his credit, Tatum also had a surprisingly good serious turn in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight.

The action we’ve seen so far looks like it is doing its best to top the first, but I hope that the action isn’t the only thing that is better.

2. Justice League

Now, to say that the DCEU has had mixed reviews would be an understatement. Man of Steel got so much hate that even the editor of Rotten Tomatoes wondered why its rating was so low.  BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad both followed that up with even worse reviews, and then Wonder Woman mercifully gave the DCEU its first fresh film. I don’t judge a film purely by what others think but it is a fact that bad word of mouth can negatively affect a film’s earnings.  A slate of films deemed weak by the general public would definitely hamper Justice League.

One thing that has bothered me since I saw the Comic-Con teaser for this film was the seemingly drastic shift in tone. One-liners abound from every character, including a Barry Allen whose personality seems transplanted from Wally West (his nephew-in-law who also becomes The Flash). I don’t agree that Man of Steel or BvS were “dark and gritty” like a lot of people say. Like I’ve previously discussed the films are dark in comparison to the stable of light fair Marvel has pumped out since 2008 (with the exception of their Netflix shows). A comic book film that doesn’t have one-liners every five minutes becomes “depressing”, it lacks “fun”. This is regardless of whether fun fits the character or storyline. People might say this Marvel v DC is a conspiracy but answer me why the darker Marvel Netflix shows don’t get swarmed by the same comments complaining about their lack of “fun”. The Defenders is the lightest one so far and even that is still miles darker than anything the MCU has put on the silver screen.

All of this to say that I was worried the Justice League was being made with a conscious effort to throw in as many one-liners as possible and make it fun. Let’s not forget, Suicide Squad is more “fun” than BatmanvSuperman and it has a slightly lower RT score at the moment (25% to Bvs’s 27%).  Throwing in more music in post-production and writing plenty of jokes didn’t help it overcome its other issues. “Fun” isn’t enough to make a film good and a “dark” tone isn’t enough to make it bad.

Moving on.

I have no problem with special effects themselves but there are a lot of weak looking shots in the marketing so far. There are scenes where it is far too obvious that everything but the actors are computer generated. The floor, the backgrounds, the sky all look fake. Cyborg in particular looks terrible when he is directly beside any of the other members of the league. I don’t mean that they are just stylized a la 300, I mean they are just poorly rendered. I am hoping that the film looks better by the time it’s in theatres.

My hopes were high hearing about the Justice League finally making it to the big screen. I have rewatched the animated series numerous times and have unashamedly daydreamed of finally seeing this film. I can’t help but think that it would have been better to see some more solo films prior to this team-up, but I have to admit that this approach could have some benefits. Characters that were either not well known or respected before, such as Aquaman can shine in a team setting first, which will help to boost sales of their solo film. However, Marvel has to get credit for being able to build a great brand on the backs of characters that were relatively unpopular. Some people probably never though Iron Man or Captain America would be on Spider-Man’s level in terms of box office receipts but Marvel pulled that off.

Additionally, while I have a man crush on Jason Momoa I am worried that his acting will be a painful weak link in this film. If some of his other performances are any indication, we could be in for a painful two hours, especially if his character gets a lot of lines.

3. The Last Jedi

Last, but not least.

The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, but it did bring some new things to the table. Namely a continuation of our beloved characters from the original trilogy, along with Rey and Finn.

One of the things that bothered me most about TFA was the almost cruel bait and switch for Finn’s progression. He was marketed as another Jedi, and then ends up being comic relief that is incapacitated by the end of the film. John Boyega has said that Finn’s character will shine more in the sequel and I hope that’s true.

In true nerd fashion, Daisy Ridley quickly became my biggest celebrity crush. Fanboying aside, her performance was great and I was also able to ignore most of the Mary Sue complaints since her character progression almost mirrored Luke’s. However, her progression did draw more attention to the paltry one Finn received.

Rogue One actually helped to increase my anticipation for this film, giving us an exciting and different Star Wars story that could have become a cheap cash-in or a rehash.

With a different director on board for this film, and the successful box office run of TFA, I hope The Last Jedi will give us something new as well.

Luke Skywalker is back and although I found Mark Hamill’s acting somewhat weak in the original trilogy, he has developed greatly as a voice actor and film actor since his last outing in the Star Wars universe. Coincidentally, his most recent performance I can recall is in Kingsman.

It will be bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher on screen for the last time, presumably with Princess Leia being killed off out of respect for the actor. I remember that one of my aunts passed away around the same time, and that I couldn’t help but think that it was a powerful testament to how death links us all. Let’s allow entertainment to link us as well.

Jennifer Lawrence, Trump and Freedom of Speech

I first saw a trailer for Mother in front of It, and although the odd trailer grabbed my attention I had no interest in seeing it due to Jennifer Lawrence. I watched the first Hunger Games film and Silver Linings Playbook, which made me a fan. Then I saw her performance in the newer X-Men films and the spell wore off. The films became the Mystique show simply due to Lawrence’s status and she was the weakest link when compared to the performances from actors like Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy.

All of this to say, that I am not a Jennifer Lawrence fan. When ads for Mother popped up on my twitter feed my curiosity got the better of me and I scrolled through the comments on the ad, eager to see what other people thought of the upcoming film. Lo and behold, the comments were swarmed with people “boycotting” Lawrence for comments she apparently made about Hurricane Irma and Trump..

Although there are plenty of people saying Lawrence thinks Trump caused Hurricane Irma, that just demonstrates how bias and/or a lack of reading comprehension can lead to misinformation. During an interview Lawrence said that Irma is one example of “Mother Nature’s rage, or wrath”. She advised that there is scientific evidence to support the argument that humans contribute to climate change and she said voting is one way to influence action on climate change.

So for those with poor reading comprehension: She means that a candidate like Trump, who believes climate change is a hoax, will enact policies that will further contribute to climate change. Did she say he caused Hurricane Irma? No. Anyway, there lies the latest source of online rage directed toward “liberal Hollywood”. The thesis of most of these statements was that actors should stay out of politics. I wasn’t able to retrieve the thread I initially came across but the one below has more examples of the backlash I am discussing.

This isn’t a new phenomenon: It is one I most recently discussed after David Harbour received a wave of criticism for his Stranger Things SAG acceptance speech, where he indirectly criticized Trump. Similar to the Lawrence backlash, most of the negative comments I have seen express disgust at actors daring to have a political opinion.

Actors and actresses are not dolls assembled to perform, and then tucked away until their next performance. Although the adoration they receive might make us forget, they are real people too. They care about their values and ideologies as much as the regular person does. Does that mean they should make all their films revolve around their personal beliefs? No, but it does mean they should be allowed to discuss these issues on public forums, just like every other American citizen is allowed to. Yes, they have more clout than the average person and people like to argue that is why it is dangerous for them to express their ideas. With that said, let me get to the crux of my argument.

If an actor or actress expresses political views I don’t agree with, I don’t fault them for having an opinion. I fault them for the views themselves. I don’t say “Oh they should stay out of politics”, I say “It’s a shame they support that candidate’s views…”.  I like to think it is a less hypocritical approach, since I would not despise an actor if they expressed political views I agree with. Would these Trump supporters be upset if Lawrence had made comments about what a great president he is? The same freedom of speech that people use to defend marching Neo-Nazis is the same freedom of speech being stripped from an actress who says climate change is real.

Some of the Twitter comments openly criticize Lawrence for attacking Trump, and I can actually respect those comments. I don’t agree, but I am happy to see less hypocrisy. Maybe some of the comments criticizing Lawrence are from people who genuinely don’t like actors discussing politics, whether they support the same ideologies or not. However, I have a strong feeling most of these people telling Lawrence to “stick to acting” just don’t like seeing freedom of speech used against them. They prefer when it is used against immigrants, Muslims and other minorities.

Who’s Triggered Here? The Jellies and Tyler, The Creator

A few days ago a friend tagged me in the below video.

The Jellies! SDCC Panel

She asked. Tyler the Creator answered. The Jellies! coming soon to Adult Swim.

Posted by Adult Swim on Tuesday, July 25, 2017

 

This video is from a Comic-Con panel for “The Jellies”, an upcoming adult swim show that Tyler, The Creator is producing and starring in as Cornell, a human adopted by jellyfish. “The Jellies” was previously featured on Tyler’s “Golf Media” app, but will now see its debut on television later this year. The original app version of the show featured a white Cornell, and a fan asks (on behalf of her boyfriend) why Cornell is black in the adult swim show.

 

I do have some of Tyler’s songs on my phone, but can’t say that I am a huge fan by any means. These words aren’t the words of a fanboy. These are the words of someone surprised by how calm and articulate Tyler The Creator was in his response. He first challenges the fan to provide him with the names of five main black cartoon characters from shows that are currently airing. No sidekicks, no comic relief. Just black main characters on mainstream television. The fan can’t do it, and I am pretty sure her boyfriend wouldn’t be able to either. From what I understand, Cornell being white was not an important part of his identity in the show. As long as he is human, Cornell’s story, personality and struggles will be the same. The character is not ruined by changing his race. In Cornell, Tyler saw a chance to create a black main character who was not an athlete, a sidekick or comic relief.

Tyler’s response is perfect and also helps to illustrate the double standard concerning race-change that I have talked about repeatedly in my Youtube videos and on this blog. If a character is white-washed, regardless of how important their ethnicity was in the source material, then people argue that we should focus on talent or story, and not race. Anyone who disagrees is labelled a “libtard,” “race-baiter” or the more popular term, “social justice warrior”. If a character is “blackwashed”, then people are no longer “colour-blind”.  The real issue is that people just have a problem seeing more colour on screen. In America, white is considered universal. It often becomes the default.

When you read a novel, what race do you assume the character is? Obviously the author’s race might give you a preconception, especially if the author is known for writing characters of a certain race, or if the publishing house focuses on characters of a certain demographic etc.

Let’s pretend the author is unknown. You don’t know their name or race, and have no indication of what these things could be. The book uses generic descriptions for the character. It does not tell you the character’s name, doesn’t describe their hairstyle, skin tone, nationality, etc. You know the protagonist lives in a multicultural city, that is mostly white, but that is the closest indicator you get to race. You know the protagonist is tall and thin, that is it. What race do you assume?

For many people in America (or Canada in my case), the default is white. In China, the default would likely be to assume the character is Chinese. Even though I am black, I have found myself assuming the character is white unless there is some hint provided they are likely not, such as a description of dark skin or the reveal that they are of Chinese descent. My most recent example was “American Gods”, where I assumed the main character, Shadow, was white until a prison guard asked him if he “had nigger blood in him”. Shadow’s skin is also described as “brown” later in the book.  This made it clear the character might not be black, but likely wasn’t white either.

Like me, many other people do this as well. My point? When white becomes a default, it is easier to view anything else as subversive, “forced” or “politically correct”.

If the Facebook comments are any indication, people will be quick to rattle off a list of black characters and actors in an attempt to shut down Tyler’s argument. Many of these examples will list characters that are not main characters, or list shows that are cancelled or currently not on the air. This makes it clear that people’s comprehension skills are poor or that they likely rushed to the comments before finishing the video.

Even if people manage to list five characters they don’t realize the larger point Tyler is making. They don’t realize what a small percentage all these figures account for. Blacks are over 10% of the population in America, and their representation (especially positive representation) in American film and tv comes nowhere close to reflecting this. As I’ve discussed before, this is also not due to a shortage of talented or aspiring black actors.  More obscure actors aren’t coming out of nowhere for productions like Luke Cage, Black Panther, Straight Outta Compton and The Get Down. They have been waiting for their chance to get a good role. They have been waiting for their chance for the representation that triggers the people who preach about being colour-blind.

It (2017) Review

Next to “The Shining”, “IT” is one of my favourite Stephen King books and I was probably one of the few people that was actually excited with the initial announcement of a remake. The book follows a group of eleven year olds, “The Losers Club”, battling the shape-shifting entity “IT’ in Derry, Maine. IT has the ability to transform into their greatest fears but it’s most popular form is that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. In the book, the Losers Club battle It in 1958, and then again 27 years later as adults. This film places the kids in 1989, and part II will follow them 27 years later.

The 1990 miniseries with Tim Curry as the titular IT is a childhood memento for many people, who refused (and still refuse) to see anyone else in the role. I watched the miniseries when I was about twenty, and although some scenes were definitely creepy I found the overall film somewhat campy.

Devoid of childhood attachment, I was able to accept that a new actor would be portraying Pennywise. Since I didn’t hold the miniseries near and dear to my heart I was also curious to see what another director could do with the source material. “True Detective” director Cary Fukunaga was originally slated to direct, and although his departure was unfortunate I had faith that Andres Muschietti (Mama) could also deliver. Mama had its flaws but was a great horror film for the most part.

Due to all the comparisons to Tim Curry and the persisting attachment to the mini-series, I can’t do a proper review without comparing the two interpretations. Firstly, 2017’s “IT” actually looks more like the version described in the book, in terms of his clothing. King never described Pennywise’s facial details in detail, but he described the silver suit, the orange pom-poms, the white hair and reddish-orangish hair. Due to people’s poor reasoning skills or inability to read the “From Stephen King” banners that accompany every trailer, many people forget that this film is not just a remake of the miniseries. It is a different adaptation of older source material.

There were plenty of people who immediately rejected the new Pennywise, saying it was trying to hard to look creepy, too different etc. This brings up one point I have to make. To this day, you can find people who think Jack Nicholson was a better joker than Heath Ledger, simply because they saw him first and got attached. If you are attached to Tim Curry, there is pretty much nothing that can make you accept a new take. The same people who complained about the new Pennywise looking too serious and not as jovial as Curry’s, are probably the same people saying the 2017 Pennywise was too goofy after they saw the movie (if they bothered seeing the movie at all). There is no point trying to convince these people that the new adaptation also does the character justice.

Skarsgard had big shoes to fill, and he shines while doing it. The mannerisms, the voice all make you forget about the actor underneath. Skarsgard truly inhabits the character and the writing gives us something inhuman and creepy. Pennywise has his own sense of humour, and for the most part, I think the humour doesn’t bring the character into the campy realm. There are some jokes added in that weren’t in the book, some work better than others but overall Pennywise strikes a great balance between utter terror and black humour.

What ultimately diminishes Pennywise, and the movie the most, is the use of weak CGI. Practical effects are used for some shots, but there is also considerable CGI for Pennywise’s face and the various forms he takes. When Muscietti was attached to the project, I expressed worries that the biggest weakness in Mama, the poor rendering of the title monster, would carry over to this film and  bring IT down. It looks like I was right. Even some of the practical effects look poorly done, with make-up that seems cheap and dulled the tension of key scenes since I couldn’t help but critique some of the effects when I was supposed to be scared of them.

Every horror film attracts hordes of people who brag about how funny the movie was and how little they were scared. I definitely don’t claim to be one of those people but I have to say that some of the scares would have been more effective with better visual effects. The infamous (if you’ve read the book) opening scene springs to mind as one that was tense and frightening, but also hampered due to the CGI. Then again, the budget was $35 million so I guess Muschietti once again made due with what he had.

Some of the trailers left me worried the film would rely too heavily on jump scares. Jump scares are my least favourite since their impact dies once you have seen the film once. There may have been one or two many, but there is also one jump scare that stands out as one of the film’s best scenes. Fortunately, It doesn’t rely on jump scares and my mind keeps going back to scenes where my heart rate quickened because of the atmosphere and imagery that the director subjected me to.

Thankfully the performances are solid for the most part. Finn Wolfhard, of “Stranger Things”, is a stand out as Richie Tozier but It boasts a stable of talented young actors. Jaden Lieberher is also amazing as Bill Denborough, along with Sophia Lills as Beverly Marsh and Jack Grazer as Eddie Kasprak. I mention these actorss first because they were amazing, but also because their characters get the most development. Balancing seven character intros and backstories was a tall feat for a book, which is why the book was over 1000 pages. Trying to condense all that history into a two hour film is a tough task, and it resulted in casualties. Mike Hanlon probably suffers the most in relation to his book counterpart, and then Ben Hanscom. I felt like Stanley Uris was the least developed in the book but Mike has that status here, while Stan has the weakest actor in my opinion.

Some characters get less backstory, which also means some of their fears get glossed over in the film. In the book, we understand what the characters fear before they are exposed to it. Ben, who is a central member of The Losers Club is confronted by Pennywise before we see what he is afraid of. This also serves to dull the impact of the scene since one of the most interesting things about Pennywise is how he feeds of their childhood fears. An extra fifteen minutes could have helped to spread the love in terms of backstory and development for Mike and Ben.

There are some scenes that I am very glad the director cut, such as the scene where a young Beverly Marsh has sex with all of the members of the Losers Club, one by one. Yes, really. I was reading that scene on the bus while the girl beside me peered over. That was a very awkward bus ride.

One thing I did love about the film was that it did not shy away from the themes and violence in the book. IT is ultimately about friendship and the loss of innocence, while Beverly’s story offers the clearest indication of this message, we don’t need a child orgy to get that message. The main character, Bill loses his little brother to IT and that loss becomes the domino that unites the club. The characters face their fears and face challenges that adults are unable to help them with. They become independent in a sense and learn to find their own place in a world that is often hostile to them. Although the Losers Club has some members that weren’t developed as well, I loved the chemistry between the actors and the bond that they were able to portray on screen. This bond is the glue of the film and the book, and I think it is what allows me to say I liked the film, despite my seemingly numerous critiques.

As I have also said in my previous post, this film does not borrow anything from Stranger Things, except one actor. All of the accusations that It is inspired byStranger Things” reek of idiocy. The time period has been changed to the 1980s, but that is only to modernize the next film, which will take place in the present day. King wrote It in 1986, so he set the kids earlier in 1957/58 and set the adults in the 1980s. Either way, one of these films will take place in the 1980s.

Also, It started filming prior to “Stranger Things” being released on Netflix. Why would filmmakers decide to copy a Netflix show that hasn’t been released yet. What else reminds you of “Stranger Things”? Kids fighting a monster? That goes back to the 1986 book. A group of kids who are considered losers fighting a monster? That goes back to the 1986 book.

I digress, IT is a new adaptation of King’s work that breathes life into the terror from the book, while also offering a story of friendship that makes the film greater than the sum of its parts.

Ozark Review

Anyone who’s on Netflix regularly knows that the site has pretty aggressive advertising for its newest series. Maybe you’ll just get the banner on the top of the site when you log in, or maybe you get a trailer up there too. Point being, that is how I was introduced to Ozark. I didn’t see any of the trailers prior to logging in to finally finish House of Cards but Jason Bateman’s more serious turn and a plot involving money laundering was enough to make me interested.

Firstly, the show draws a lot of comparisons to Breaking Bad. In reality, there aren’t that any similarities but people don’t need perfect comparisons to throw their own out. In Breaking Bad, a high school chemistry teacher (Walter White) is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and starts manufacturing crystal meth in order to make enough money to leave behind for his family.

Ozark follows Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial advisor and money launderer, who runs afoul of a Mexican cartel after his partner steals from them. Marty is able to convince the cartel boss, Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales) that he can launder the money to repay his debt. Without further ado, Marty moves his family to the cash-rich, tourist-rich area of Ozark, Missouri.

While Walter White started out as a moral man who initially engaged in crime out of economic desperation, Marty Byrde is a man whose greed and arrogance led him to believe he could engage in money laundering without any blowback.  As Bateman says, “Marty is not as smart as he thinks he is.” Marty doesn’t become more assertive as the season progresses, he is quickly established as an intelligent, if somewhat quiet person, who becomes a fast-talker when he needs to work himself out of a situation. His involvement in crime doesn’t change who he is.

Of course, there are some similarities but I believe that anyone who gives the show a chance will see there is plenty to differentiate it as well.

One great similarity is that the performances are outstanding. Bateman truly excels in the first non-comedic role I have seen him in. Of course, I was familiar with his relatively serious roles in comedies but here we see a stylistically unrecognizable Bateman who commands every scene. Bateman is also assisted well by Laura Linney (Wendy Byrde) and Skylar Gaertner (Jonah Byrde). Esai Morales is also a truly terrifying villain who owes a lot to the writing. His threat is established quickly and the actor is still able to exude charm and charisma that belies the acts of savagery he is capable of carrying out. Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery also have a memorable turn as the Snells, an Ozark crime family that Marty meet soon after the move. The list goes on and without spoiling too much of the plot, I will say that the story doesn’t have a slow start and genuinely didn’t have any moments that felt like they dragged. Even parts that I initially thought were unnecessary subplots all wound together well at the end. With maybe one exception.

Before I even finished watching the series, I had to vent about Charlotte Byrde, the worst character on the show. The character isn’t bad because she isn’t a good person. Very few of the main characters are truly good people. I was worried that as usual, the youngest character, would be the most annoying. Instead 13- year-old Jonah is played masterfully by Gaertner, best known as young Matt Murdock from Daredevil. His character development is also treated with a sensitivity that Charlotte does not get.

15-year-old Charlotte is small screen cancer. She is a stock character, the bratty teen who rebels and treats her family like garbage a lot of the time just because that is what older teenagers are supposed to do. Obviously a character may be upset that they have to leave their home, their friends etc. but Charlotte takes this to a whole other level. Minor spoiler, at one point she nearly boards a bus back to Chicago, without her parent’s knowledge. What stops her? Her mom finding out. It becomes hard to care for a character who repeatedly puts herself in dangerous situations and doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes.  I can’t blame the actress too much since she does alright with what she’s given, but she is still the weakest out of the lot. Her character single-handedly brings the whole show down.

The only other complaint I truly have is that the death of a certain character came across as anti-climactic and an unfitting end. Aside from that, I can genuinely say that Ozark was engaging and well-written throughout.

IT and Stranger Things

For anyone who follows me on Instagram, you will know that IT is one of my most anticipated films of 2017. The book is one of my favourite Stephen King novels, I am currently debating between “IT” and “The Shining”, and I was excited to see another adaptation that would hopefully be closer to the book. Any long-time readers (the few) will also know that I do not hesitate to write about the level of stupidity that can be found online, whether it is the rising scourge of the “I’m not racist but” brand of bigotry or simple issues of reading comprehension.

IT brings up another realm of stupidity. When the first trailer was released, people began comparing the film to Stranger Things. I didn’t mind this comparison originally since I thought most people were still capable of reading the “From Stephen King’s Terrifying Novel” banner that accompanied the trailers, but apparently I was wrong. There are YouTube reactions and plenty of online comments that make it clear people don’t understand the film is based on an older book (1986) or that IT is another adaptation of the book, like the 1990 miniseries.

I have already discussed the people who are comparing this version of Pennywise (or what we have seen so far) to the 1990 version, and criticize the 2017 version because it is too different. These people make it clear they never read the book, and so do the hordes who keep comparing 2017’s IT to Stranger Things. Let me rephrase. What bothers me most are the people who insist that IT takes visual cues and inspiration, in terms of filmmaking, from Stranger Things. 

It (1986) inspired works that came after it. That is how time works. I saw influences from IT” and “Firestarter” in Stranger Things. People may say the filmmaking techniques or the visuals for 2017’s IT could be drawn from Stranger Things. Fair enough. Let’s take a look at the most common similarities people point out:

A group of kids fighting a monster. That can be traced to “IT”.

The older time period, especially the 1980s.  That can be traced to “IT”, which cuts between 1957/1958 (when the main characters are kids) and 1985 (when they are adults) . The film is updated to cut between 1989 and the present day. I can easily argue that the decision to put the kids in the 1980s is a decision meant to modernize the second film, where the kids will be adults. Either way, the characters were going to live in the 1980s for some part of their lives.  How can the 2017 adaptation of IT, then be inspired or influenced by Stranger Things?

Yes, the productions share an actor, Finn Wolfhard. Does that invalidate all the other influences that I just pointed out? One common actor invalidates the flow of time? If you think so, comprehension is your issue, not mine.

Unless you have actually seen the film already via an advanced screening or a country where it was released earlier, you can only go off the trailers that I have seen too. I have avoided watching any clips or tv spots, so if there are some other similarities I am missing feel free to point them out.

Ozark and Charlotte Byrde

After finishing The Defenders I planned to set my sights on wrapping up Game of Thrones and finally finishing season 5 of Bates Motel. However, I was confronted by the same issues that led to me preferring to view shows readily available on Netflix. Friends I have spoken to have assured me that I am not alone in having trouble with Kodi. Either streams don’t load at all or they buffer like it’s going out of style. Sometimes I feel like I might as well be watching a slide show instead of a tv show.

Netflix however, loads just fine. A friend recommended Ozark and I am glad I took her suggestion. The series follows Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) as a financial planner who is forced to move his family to the Ozarks in Missouri after his partner attempts to launder money from a Mexican drug lord. Bryde must now launder or “clean” $8 million for the drug lord by the end of summer or face death.  I am only halfway through the series at the moment and it looks like I made a good decision. I saw the ads for the show pop up whenever I opened Netflix, and was intrigued to see Bateman in a serious role. I know he’s done serious roles before but until now, I’ve only seen him play the serious character or “straight man” in comedies.  Bateman’s performance is the best thing about the series so far. I could almost say that the writing and acting as a whole is great, but then we have Charlotte.

I will discuss my distaste for this character more in the review next week, but I have to vent about this brat. I can’t blame the actress since she is pretty good at portraying what the script asks of her. My issue is with the character itself. Charlotte is just the typical attitude-laden teen we see far too often in family comedies or dramas. She constantly insults her brother, her parents and even started calling them by their first names at one point because she was upset with them. In a show that offers inventive storytelling in so many other areas, it stands out more when we pretty much get a stock character taking up a decent chunk of screen time.

I’ll reserve more judgment until I finish the series, but I hope I’m not alone with how I feel here.

Joker Origin Movie

Art by Bosslogic

Yesterday it was announced that Martin Scorsese will produce a Joker origin film.  Todd Phillips (The Hangover) will direct and co-write with Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter).  The role of the Joker will be recast, with a different and likely younger actor portraying The Clown Prince of Crime.

Firstly, I have to say that Jared Leto’s portrayal of The Joker in Suicide Squad has not held up with repeat viewings. In terms of his mannerism and speech, his Joker comes across as a more muted version of Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura. The laugh was pretty good and the look grew on me, but aside from that I no longer look on his portrayal as favourably as I once did. This assessment isn’t in relation to Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson or any other portrayal. It is just my subjective assessment of one actor’s performance.

Due to my critique of Leto’s performance I am more than happy to see someone else portray the character. Scorsese’s name is being used to hype this project, but I don’t want to get too excited about that since he is only a producer. Let’s not forget that Steven Spielberg produced Transformers. However, I am hoping that the film does take more cues from Scorsese since the filmmakers are apparently aiming to capture the gritty, hard-boiled feel of 80’s Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver. Let’s hope Scorsese actually has a more hands on role as producer if the film is actually inspired by his work.

I can already hear people complaining about the tone the film is aiming for, especially since a Deadline reporter has labelled it as “dark and gritty”. The “make it fun” mentality affect all characters, even ones where darkness is appropriate.  The Joker isn’t meant to be Tony Stark funny. Let’s ignore those people. I remember people saying Ben Affleck’s Batman looked too depressed when the first picture was released.

Now let’s move on Phillips, who seems like an odd choice. Aside from The Hangover trilogy, his most recent work is War Dogs (2016). I have not seen the film yet but I understand that it does delve into a more serious arena,  unlike some of his other work, such as Starsky and Hutch (2004) and Old School (2003). Now, I don’t want to judge a director just by his previous work but if War Dogs is Phillips’ most serious film to date, it makes me wonder why he was selected. Hopefully he is a fan of the material or is excited about who he gets to work with, which could give him the motivation to make something special. Some of Peter Jackson’s work prior to Lord of the Rings would probably have lead most people to think the (original) trilogy would be awful but Jackson created modern classics. I am hoping we can get some of the same magic here. Silver’s writing should also help the transition if The Fighter is any indication.

I have already seen some terrible fan castings for this film, including Taylor Lautner as the Joker. Everyone assumes that since Heath Ledger surprised us with his performance, ANY actor will do the same. Ledger was the exception to the rule. Don’t throw out awful choices and keep appealing to the same logic. One fan casting that I actually agree with is Jake Gyllenhaal. If you have not seen Nightcrawler, do yourself a favour and watch it right now. Gyllenhaal’s character isn’t as psychotic as The Joker is but the ingredients are definitely there. Aside from that, the film also demonstrates Gyllenhaal’s range as an actor. If the film is using The Killing Joke as its source material, or inspiration, then Gyllenhaal’s range can also bring Jack Napier to life. Alan Moore’s graphic novel gave us the most popular Joker origin story, showing us how Jack Napier, a failing comedian with a pregnant wife, had one bad day changed his life. The Killing Joke, aside from being popular source material, can work well with the hard-boiled crime film the filmmakers are aiming for.

What are your thoughts on this project?

Who would you love to see as The Joker?

The Defenders

Spoilers for the preceding Marvel Netflix Series: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones

Entertainment Value: 9/10

Critical Value: 7/10

Iron Fist wasn’t the complete atrocity that many people made it out to be, but it was a disappointing experience after the two seasons of Daredevil, and the season of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage that preceded it. Daredevil season 1 is still my favourite Marvel Netflix series, that was consistently well plotted and engaging. DD season 2 was nearly my favourite due to the Punisher, but the season was brought down by the love story between Matt and Karen and a villain that proved to be less engaging than the antihero offered by Frank Castle. Jessica Jones had the slowest start of all of the series’ but the pay off was well worth it. Unlike Iron Fist, the cast’s performances were strong all around and the show gave us Kilgrave, the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Luke Cage made its character a fighter for the common man, exploring themes of racism and police brutality that are relevant to America (despite what many people argue). The show faltered once Cottonmouth was killed off, and Mike Colter definitely isn’t as strong a lead as Charlie Cox or Krysten Ritter.

Then Iron Fist just had the issue of poor, or inconsistent performances all around. There was also some poor characterization and weak fight scenes, which stood out more since Danny Rand is supposed to be one of the best fighters in the MCU. Finn Jones only got fifteen minutes to review the choreography for each fight scene, and it showed.

With all that said, I had some mixed thoughts going into Defenders. Firstly, I was worried that some of the issues from the solo series e.g. dragging plots, could be exacerbated with a team up. However, it was revealed that Defenders was shorter. So one concern went away, and then I was worried that the plot would come across as rushed. However, I was still excited about the show and all the things the show could get right.

Let’s start with how the heroes come together. This forms the crux of any team up movie and I believe that this is the part of the series that is handled best. Firstly, all of the heroes live in the same city, so there proximity creates a higher chance of them crossing paths to combat villains. Danny is returning to New York to continue his hunt for The Hand. Luke Cage is out of prison and comes across a low-level kid from Harlem who gets caught up with The Hand. Jessica Jones is investigating a man’s disappearance on behalf of her client. Foggy now works for Jeri Hogarth, and Hogarth wants to ensure that Jones’s investigation into a highly sought after man doesn’t result in any negative press through her connection to Jessica. Since Matt is now pro-bono, Foggy offers Matt the job. Let’s not forget the link that Claire Temple offers.

This chain of events makes it easier to accept when the heroes finally come together in the same location. Of course, there is still some suspension of disbelief required but as Rand says, “This can’t be coincidence”.

Yes, you may be lost watching this show without watching all of the solo series’. Iron Fist’s mythos in particular plays a central role in the season.

Danny Rand is a more engaging character in this show, although the character is still plagued by the weak link of Finn Jones. Rand’s mystical knowledge and background is contrasted with humourous effect, to that of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, who both have a hard time adjusting to another level of eccentricity in their lives. Rand, and the team as a whole, work great as an ensemble. The scenes where they are getting to know one another better still stand out as some of my favourites.

While the MCU films have struggled with giving us memorable villains, the netflix shows have done a better job. So far we have had Kingpin, Cottonmouth and the unmatched Kilgrave. The issue with Kilgrave’s presence is that any villain will have a hard time topping him in season 2 of Jessica Jones (but it looks like he’s returning).

We also have the issue of topping Kilgrave in Defenders. We got our first taste of The Hand in Daredevil, since Nobu was later revealed to be a member. DD season 2 went deeper into the mystical element of the universe and Iron Fist focused entirely on it.

Although watching Iron Fist is important for understanding the plot leading into Defenders, this series does offer more background on the organization. This helps to flesh out Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) and her allies more. Aided by the other four fingers of the Hand, Alexandra seeks to use the Black Sky to unlock an ancient vault that will give them immortality. The Black Sky is none other than a resurrected Elektra (not a spoiler, the trailers revealed this). Elektra gets a bigger role as the series progresses and is ultimately a dull villain, and her storyline was also one of my least favourite parts of season 2.

Weaver is great in her performance but ultimately wasn’t that memorable a villain, and I can say the same for most of them. The one that actually stands out most is Yutaka Takeuchi’s “Marikami”, one of the five fingers of the Hand. At the end of the series, I only wished that he had more screen time.  Great heroes need great villains and I don’t believe Defenders delivered.

The action is an improvement from Iron Fist, which isn’t saying much, but the choreography is still weaker than Daredevil season 1. Obviously Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are not martial artists, but there are still ways to make an entertaining fight scene with such characters. Even characters like Daredevil and Iron Fist are still hampered by some subpar editing and choreography.

The end of the series hints at numerous famous developments and storylines from the comics, and makes me especially excited for Daredevil season 3.

The series is entertaining throughout, but I can’t truly say that it’s great or fully lived up to the hype.

Current ranking for the Marvel Netflix Shows

  1. Daredevil Season 1
  2. Jessica Jones
  3. Daredevil Season 2
  4. Defenders
  5. Luke Cage
  6. Iron Fist

Alive: Part II Progress

For any newer readers, you may not know that I have written three books, which I am still trying to get published. This blog was created as part of my effort to build an online platform and further hone writing skills through my blog posts. My most recent book is Alive, a werewolf story. I have always loved fantasy tales and it was exciting to craft my own. With Alive complete I began working on the second and final part of the series.

I completed a few thousand words of Part II but regret to say that I haven’t touched it in almost a month now. Work, where I have done most of my writing over the past year, has become much busier and my life outside of work has become much busier as well as I take on more responsibilities, such as looking for a new place. Along with some part-time work, the gym, guitar etc. it has been tough to find time or energy to write. However, I don’t want to keep embracing excuses. I’ll get back to writing by this end of the week, with my goal of 5oo words a day. Originally I wanted the book to be completed by September but now I will have to settle for completing it by end of the year.

Then the work of editing and continuing to seek publication for my other work will continue. I contacted ten agents about part I but have received no responses so it looks like I am back to square one in my journey to getting published. It can be disheartening, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse to quit either. I have now accepted it won’t come quickly. I used to think I’d be published by the time I was twenty-five but now I can accept it might not happen until I’m fourty. It’s a long climb, but I’m looking forward to it.