Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review - Iron Fist (Netflix), Season 1

Iron Fist (2017), TV-MA, 13 Episodes - Iron Fist is the fourth and final solo series from Marvel/Netflix before this fall's team up series The Defenders (following Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage).  The series got off to a bit of a rocky start in the press over the past week, receiving many poor advance reviews, a foreign experience for a Marvel Studios or TV project (although it should be noted that only the first six episodes had been released to early reviewers).  After blowing through all thirteen episodes myself last weekend, I'm happy to report that those negative reviews were overly harsh, but that's not to say that it doesn't have its shortcomings.

Iron Fist is the story of Danny Rand (Finn Jones), and his return to New York city and the company that bears his name - Rand Enterprises - after a fifteen year absence.  He and his parents were believed to be dead after their plane crashed in the Himalayas
en route to China for one of his father Wendell's (David Furr) business trips.  In their stead, Wendell's business partner Harold Meachum (David Wenham) had taken the reigns of Rand Enterprises and in turn passed them on to his children Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) shortly thereafter when he passed away due to cancer.  Of course, when Danny the long-thought-dead rightful heir and majority shareholder shows up on their door step in the present, the Meachum's assume some sort of corporate espionage is afoot as it coincides with the company's soon to be announced expansion into China.  Danny doesn't do himself any favors in setting the Meachum's at ease constantly referring to being raised by warrior monks in a mystical city known as K'un Lun.  And oh by the way, a mystical city that exists in another dimension and which only connects with Earth every fifteen years or so.  Danny's return proves to be a constant uphill battle, first in proving that he is who he says he is, and then attempting to fit back into the day to day operations of Rand Enterprises while trying to combat a rampant heroin trafficking ring that seems to have connections to Rand's business dealings.

At its core, Iron Fist is successful in introducing a number of classic comic book characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Danny Rand, Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), and Davos (Sacha Dhawan) are all characters that have long-standing histories within the Marvel Universe and will likely carry over to future series within the Netflix corner of the MCU.  Iron Fist is a very enjoyable series (a week later and I have yet to talk to anyone that I know that hasn't liked what they have seen), but is admittedly not as strong as the previous Marvel/Netflix collaborations.  Comparing it to Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or even Luke Cage is when its shortcomings really stand out.  That may be a little unfair, but with all of these series tying together leading into the team-up series The Defenders later this year, it is inevitable.  The pacing on Iron Fist is erratic.  It starts off very slowly, but does finds its legs mid-way through the series (this likely contributed significantly to the poor advance reviews as only the first six episodes were released for previewing).  After a week of reflection, and considering the very far-fetched origin that was being adapted, I'm not sure that it could have been done believe-ably much differently.  The fight choreography also isn't nearly as impressive as Daredevil, which is a bit of a let down considering that Iron Fist is such a martial arts heavy character.

I have always enjoyed the Danny Rand character in the comics and am really excited to see where they go with him in future series.  His background in the mystical city of K'un Lun is mentioned a number of times throughout this series, but we really don't see the city at all.  It is such a major part of the character, I really hope that it is explored further (which the end of this series definitely teases).  I loved the numerous ties and references to the other Marvel/Netflix series, some blatant - the inclusion of Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) - and some vague.

My final verdict?  Once it gets the dominoes of the various plot points set up, Iron Fist is enjoyable kung-fu action series that, while referencing mystical, more far-reaching elements of the character's history, doesn't rely too heavily on them while introducing the character and adding pieces to the puzzle for things to come in The Defenders and beyond.  It may not be as strong from beginning to end as its predecessors, but that is less of a knock on Iron Fist than it is reinforcement as to just how good those series are.


- In the comics, Danny Rand/Iron Fist first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15 in May of 1974, created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane.

- In the comics, Colleen Wing first appeared in Marvel Premiere #19 in November of 1974, created by Doug Moench and Larry Hama.

- Colleen's cage fighting name 'Daughter of the Dragon' is a reference to her team-up with Misty Knight in the comics where they were known as the Daughters of the Dragon. Misty Knight appeared in the Luke Cage series last fall.  There has not yet been a connection between the two in the MCU.

- Davos first appeared in the comics in Iron Fist #1 in November of 1975, and is generally referred to as the Steel Serpent.  The logo of the Steel Serpent (the wingless dragon, very similar to the Iron Fist logo) is seen on Madame Gao's heroin.  Will we see Davos and Madame Gao join forces/collaborate in the future?

- We first meet Claire Temple in this series when she is taking one of Colleen's martial arts classes.  Towards the end of the Luke Cage series, we see Claire take a number from one of Colleen's flyers (that we see her posting around the city when she first meets Danny).

- Claire continues to be the connective tissue between the four Marvel/Netflix series.  It has worked out very well, and plays out organically each time.  It doesn't feel forced at all.

- While we don't see much of anything resembling Danny's comics book look, we do see Colleen in a white training/sweatsuit which she has worn in more modern appearances in the comics.

- This series made a number of references to my favorite Iron Fist run ever: The Immortal Iron Fist (2007) by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja:
  • Iron Fist being referred to as a 'living weapon'.
  • The tournament challenge from The Hand that Danny accepts is loosely based on the Tournament of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven from this run.
  • The Bride of Nine Spiders - the female that Danny fights during the tournament in episode 6.
  • Orson Randall - the Iron Fist shown in the film footage from 1948.
  • The concept of Rand Enterprises being infiltrated and manipulated by an outside foe.

- The crisis intervention consultant says that the video of Danny apologizing to the woman had 'almost as many views as the giant green guy', a vague reference to The Hulk.

- The customary MCU Stan Lee cameo occurs in the final episode.  His picture appears on a NYPD recruitment poster in the background when Claire chases down Jeri Hogarth on the street.

- Danny calls Jeri 'J-Money', apparently a nickname of hers from her younger days interning for Danny's father at Rand Enterprises.  It really is hilarious considering how straight laced and professional she always is.

- In the comics, Ward Meachum was Harold's brother and Joy's uncle as opposed to being Harold's son/Joy's brother as he is in this series.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review - Luke Cage (Netflix), Season 1

Luke Cage (2016), TV-MA, 13 Episodes - Luke Cage hit Netflix last September, and while I made my way through the series at the time (albeit slower than the previous Marvel/Netflix series), my juggling of two jobs kept  me from getting a review together.  With Iron Fist coming out this Friday (the latest Marvel/Netflix collaboration and the last solo series before team up series The Defenders), I figured there was no better time to finally get my thoughts on Luke Cage down 'on paper'.  Since this series has been out for a while, this will likely be shorter and less in depth than my previous Marvel/Netflix reviews.  This is also due to my limited familiarity with the character from the comics.

This series shows what happens with Luke (Mike Colter) after the events of the Jessica Jones series, where much like in modern comics, he had personal ties to Jessica.  Those events are only vaguely mentioned in this series as Luke has moved to Harlem and is trying to live life under the radar, having picked up handy man duties at Pop's barber shop.  Pop  (Frankie Faison) is a local legend of sorts, known for being a positive influence in the community.  His shop is also a respected neutral territory in an area overrun with organized crime and gang violence.  Despite his desire to lay low, Luke find himself coming into conflict with local club owner Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes (Mahershala Ali - now an Academy Award winner for his performance in the film Moonlight), who has some pretty unsavory dealings going on behind his legitimate business front.  Stokes' corruption runs even deeper than it originally appears and as the conflict unfolds we are introduced to a number of other supporting characters with comic book roots such as Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), 'Shades' Alvarez (Theo Rossi), Stoke's cousin and local political powerhouse Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Detective Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley), and Willis 'Diamondback' Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey).  Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple also plays a significant role, providing some connective tissue with the Daredevil and Jessica Jones series, as does Rob Morgan's Turk Barrett.

Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker does a wonderful job of weaving socio-political themes throughout this series, as well as using the soundtrack to help flesh out yet another corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Luke Cage may take place on the same 'street' level that Daredevil and Jessica Jones do, but Harlem is clearly a different environment from Hell's Kitchen.  In keeping with his themes, Coker even used names of Gang Starr songs for each episodes title.

Luke Cage is not as action packed as Daredevil, and may be a bit slower paced than Jessica Jones, but it is another wonderful entry to the Netflix family of Marvel projects, building towards The Defenders later this year.  If you haven't had the chance to check out Luke Cage yet, do yourself a favor and do so.  It continues the Marvel/Netflix pedigree of really well made shows while expanding on the diversity of not only the characters, but the locations within the MCU well.


- We're given Luke's origin story - he got his powers from an experiment gone bad while he was in prison for a crime he didn't commit - and we get a hint at his classic comic book look (tiara and gauntlets) when he climbs out of the experiment wreckage.  Later in the episode, he grabs some clothes drying on a clothesline and temporarily dons the yellow shirt and blue pants that the '70s Luke Cage is known for.

- At one point, Pops calls Luke 'Power Man', a nod to his superhero name from the comics.

- Episode 12 gives us the obligatory Stan Lee Marvel cameo.  This time his face appears on a poster on the corner of a building in the background.

- Claire is actually referred to as the 'Night Nurse'.

- I don't remember which episode (it's been a few months since I've watched the series), there is a 'Trish Talk' voice over, which is a nice little tie back to the Jessica Jones series.

- Towards the end of the series, Claire sees a flyer for martial arts/self defense classes taught by Colleen Wing.  In the comics, Colleen Wing is a known associate of Luke, Danny Rand, and Misty Knight.  This is a nice little teaser for the upcoming Iron Fist series.

- In the comics, Luke teamed with Danny Rand (to be introduced in the upcoming Iron Fist) to form the Heroes for Hire.  It will be interesting to see how the two eventually interact on screen.

- Again, toward's the end of the series, Misty suffers a gunshot wound to her arm that appears really bad.  I thought that it may lead to an amputation/replacement (like in comics - she has a robotic arm), but shortly thereafter, she appears to be fine, seemingly recovered.  Maybe it wasn't as bad as it seemed?

- Method Man has a small as himself.  He nerds out over crossing paths with Luke and swaps hoodies with him.  He later retells the story of the encounter on a radio show.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Collected Comic Review - Daredevil by Mark Waid Omnibus Vol. 1

Daredevil by Mark Waid Omnibus Vol. 1 (2017) - Collecting Daredevil (2011) #1-27 and #10.1, Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #677, Avenging Spider-Man (2012) #6, and The Punisher (2011) #10

The beginning of 2017 has been wonderful for fans of collected editions of Daredevil.  February saw the release of the first Silver Age Daredevil omnibus and the first week of March gave us this collection of the first half (almost exactly to the issue) of Mark Waid's run that began in 2011.  By the middle of the year, reprints of the two omnibi collecting the Ed Brubaker/Michael Lark run will have also been released.  Fortunately for my wallet, I already have those two collections from their original printing a few years ago.

Old news to anyone that has ever read my blog: Daredevil is my favorite character.  I also love the omnibus format, which collects large chunks/runs in one place.  They also look really good on the bookshelf. Many omnibus collections of classic material can be so large that they are a bit unwieldy and difficult to handle for reading, but omnibi collecting more modern material tend to be split into multiple volumes and thus much more manageable.  I have picked up and read the Daredevil title monthly for years, but I always try to grab the nicest version of the material in collected form as they are better for multiple readings than repeatedly rummaging through single issues.  So of course I picked up both the Silver Age and Mark Waid Vol. 1 editions for my Daredevil shelf.

While I have not yet made my way through the Silver Age collection again (I have read the material in the past), this morning I finished re-reading this first Mark Waid volume and I think I enjoyed it even more this time around.  One of the great things about collected editions is that you can get a chunk of story in one place, uninterrupted.  When I first read Waid's run, I was reading month to month as it came out.  Even then it was obvious that, while taking a different approach to the character, it was an excellently written and illustrated run (thanks to gorgeous artwork from the likes of Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Kano, Khoi Pham, Marco Checchetto, Mike Allred, Javier Rodriguez and last but certainly not least Chris Samnee).  But re-reading the first half of the run again, all together, with no delays, reveals just how well these issues were plotted.

Mark Waid came to the book wanting to do something different than what had become the norm: dark, crime-noir tinged stories that had left Matt Murdock's life in a perpetual state of shambles.  In adopting a brighter, sometimes humorous, swashbuckling take on the character, he not only succeeded in breaking from the norm, but also managed to touch on some pretty dark subject material as well (like my film reviews, I'm going to keep this as spoiler free as possible).  Of course, the visual aid provided by Waid's various artists is integral to this run's success.  Paolo Rivera helped Waid re-launch the title, penciling six of the first ten issues, and while the classic look of his work is amazing, his most important contribution may be his depiction of Daredevil's radar sense.  Rivera portrayed it as though Matt is 'seeing' a topographical map of his surroundings, visualized for the reader in pink and black.  It is an effect that carries on throughout Waid's run and is easily the best representation of the power that we've ever gotten (bear in mind that Daredevil has been around for over fifty years).  Martin, Kano, Pham, Checchetto, and Allred fill in admirably for various issues throughout this volume, but beginning with issue twelve we're introduced to the wonders of Chris Samnee's work.  He pencils the majority of this volume from that point on, and goes on to pencil the overwhelming majority of the second half of Waid's run as well.  Not to be overlooked, is Javier Rodriguez's work on the colors (he colored all but eight of the issues collected here).  They are vibrant without being overwhelming, and help provide the contrast in tone that Waid set out to accomplish.  They also help unify the look of the book across a number of artists.

One could argue that I'm biased considering my feelings for this character (and I wouldn't argue that fact), but this is an excellent take on Matt Murdock/Daredevil and his supporting cast (including the introduction of ADA Kirsten McDuffie, who Waid writes into being one of my favorite secondary DD characters ever).  It reads even better the second time around and I'm now impatient for Marvel to solicit a second volume collecting the rest of this run.  This collection doesn't provide any extras that weren't also collected in the previously released over-sized hard cover volumes (an interview, variant covers, art process and design pages), so if you already have those, there may not be much point in 'trading up'.  However, if you are new to this run, this volume is definitely a great place to start and is well worth picking up.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Review - Logan

Logan (2017), R, 137 minutes - It's hard to believe, but it has been seventeen years since 2000's X-Men introduced Hugh Jackman to the masses as the live action interpretation of one of the most popular comic book characters out there: Wolverine.  Over that time, he has really cemented himself as the physical embodiment of the character and Logan marks his ninth and final turn as the iconic mutant on the big screen.  It is a wonderful, heartfelt send off, even if there are a couple shortcomings.

Jackman's final foray into the mutant world is loosely based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's 'Old Man Logan' story from the comics.  While the overall story differs significantly from the source material, key elements that do carry over to the film, including that it takes place in the future (2029 in this case), Logan has aged and doesn't heal the way he used to, and the mutant population in the world has been significantly reduced.

Logan is living under the radar, just across the border in Mexico while working as a chauffeur in Texas in order to make ends meet for himself, Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and a deteriorating Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).  Charles is suffering from an undisclosed neuro-degenerative disease which causes seizures, that due to his telepathic abilities, cause extreme pain for anyone in his proximity. He repeatedly tells Logan that he has had contact with a new mutant, but Logan dismisses it as the crazy rumblings of an old man.  As it would turn out, a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) enters their lives, whose mutant abilities are uncannily similar to Logan's.  Charles insists that they help the girl, but Logan is hesitant until a Transigen security detail led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) shows up looking for Laura, prepared to take her by force.  Logan, Laura, and Charles escape Pierce's detail, and begin a journey for Eden, a supposed mutant safe haven in North Dakota.  Along their road trip, we learn more about Laura, her origins, and her connection to Logan.

Director James Mangold (returning after helming 2013's The Wolverine), wastes little time in showing why this film received its R rating.  There may be more adamantium claw induced bloodshed in the first scene than in all of the prior X-Men films combined (not to mention an f-bomb or two).  The opening scene sets a precedent for things to come, as the action sequences throughout the film are well choreographed and appropriate Wolverine-esque levels of violent, especially once Laura is thrown in the mix.

Jackman and Stewart turn in really wonderful performances as Logan and Xavier well beyond their prime respectively in is film.  Logan is trying to disappear and put his past behind him, but is constantly reminded by Charles that since joining the Xavier Institute way back when, he has always looked out for others.  As great as their continued chemistry is, Dafne Keen's turn as Laura cannot be overshadowed.  She's the breakout star of the film, proving to be quite versatile, even while playing a non-speaking role for over half of the film.

I have a couple nit-picky issues that I'll touch on in the spoiler section below, but all in all, I really, really enjoyed Logan.  It is easily the best solo-Wolverine film of the three, and is definitely the most emotionally charged comic book movie that I can think of.  While I would say that it is not necessary to have seen all of the previous X-Men or Wolverine films, I do feel that if you have seen them (or some of them), that the Logan/Charles relationship is that much more powerful.  Logan is not what has come to be known as your typical comic book film.  There are no costumes, there's a ton of violence, there's a good bit of language, and the overall tone of the film is very somber.  This is not a film for the kiddies.  It is a very well made film that gives an alternative look at characters that have become synonymous with the actors portraying them.  In the years since he first popped his claws, Hugh Jackman has become an excellent, highly regarded actor, but he will always be inextricably linked to Wolverine and this was a great end to his run with the character.  Thank you Mr. Jackman, for bringing to life such an iconic character, and making us really care about his journey.  The cinematic X-universe won't be the same without you.    


- Ok, I'm going to get my couple nit-picky things out of the way, because, in the grand scheme of things, they are relatively minor: First, how did the other mutant children make it to the rendezvous point in North Dakota?  We know that they were all aided in their escape from Transigen, but there were no other adults with them when Laura and Logan arrive.  They also all appeared to have arrived unscathed.  So was Laura the only one being hunted?  It doesn't make sense.  Second, it bothers me that we never learn if Eden was a real place or, as Logan thought, just a fairy tale from a comic book.  I understand why they ended the film the way they did, it is primarily Logan's story after all, but after barely surviving Transigen's forces, what happens to all of the mutant kids hiking through the forest?  Maybe after Logan's emotional death, I'm not supposed to think about that but I did.  Lastly, Charles confesses that he 'did something terrible' and was he cause of the mutant race being virtually whipped out.  But what did he do?

- The 'Old Man Logan' story originally appeared in Wolverine (2003) #66-72, and Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant Size (2009) #1.

- The young mutant who appears to be in charge at the North Dakota rendezvous is named Rictor.  In the comics, Rictor is a mutant who has seismic powers (as seen in the final moments of this film), and has been a part of a number of X-groups, primarily X-Factor.

- Caliban and Donald Pierce were also derived from the comics.  Caliban is most notably one of the sewer dwelling Morlocks, and Pierce is a known enemy of the X-Men, often aligned with the anti-mutant group the Reavers (also the name of Pierce's task force in this film).

- In the Old Man Logan story line in the comics, Logan makes a cross country trip with Hawkeye (in an effort to rescue Hawkeye's daughter) across a landscape that has been split up by and ruled over by super villains after defeating the world's super heroes in a future where Logan has become a pacifist because he was responsible for the mutant population being wiped out. 

- Using Laura's X-Men comic books as a source for her belief in Eden and its coordinates was very meta.  I loved that Logan said that the stories were mis-representations of events that had actually occurred.

- The dinner table scene where Logan and Charles refer to each other as father and son and talk about their trip by speaking half truths is really touching and really summarizes their relationship well.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The 89th Annual Academy Awards (2017)

I won't be making any picks this year, due to my lack of viewing of nominated films but I felt as though I should get something up on the blog today ahead of tonight's ceremony.  Most followers of the blog are already aware that I managed to see significantly fewer films over the last eight months of 2016 between the part time job I picked up on the side and the craziness of the holidays.  Since then I've been able to slowly get back to my old habits, but still have not seen nearly as many nominated films as I usually do.

After an at-home double feature yesterday, I have managed to see four of this year's nine Best Picture nominees (Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Manchester by the Sea).  I have not had the opportunity to get thoughts 'on paper' for yesterday's viewing (Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water), but I enjoyed all of these films.  I have held off on La La Land primarily because my wife has expressed an interest, and not being a huge musical fan myself, would prefer to watch that with her.  I've heard great things, and it was nominated for a record-tying 14 nominations.  I have been an Emma Stone fan for quite a while and having not seen any of the Best Actress nominee's films, I am hoping that she wins tonight.  Of the films I have seen, Arrival was easily my favorite and I hope that it manages to take home at least one of the categories that it was nominated for, which may prove difficult as all but one are the same categories that also include La Land.

I haven't decided yet whether or not I'm going to actually stay up to watch the entirety of the Oscars tonight.  As much as I love tuning in, they have always been very slow and drawn out, and with having very little invested in preparation this year, I'm not sure that it would be worth my time.  However, I am quite interested to see how things turn out.  I'm sure that based upon the results that I'll have a few more films to add to my 'need to watch' list.  Good luck to all of tonight's nominees!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rental Review - Arrival

Arrival (2016), PG-13, 116 minutes - Despite being very intrigued by the trailer last fall, I missed this film in theaters due to the craziness of trying to prepare for the holidays.  Having seen that it was nominated for a number of Academy Awards this year, my wife and I picked it up from Redbox last weekend and were both really impressed with what we saw.

The film begins with flashbacks of expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) with her daughter, who we are shown passes away from an unspecified ailment (presumably cancer of some sort).  We then shift to the present and where Louise is beginning a lecture for a University class she teaches.  Class is interrupted by the news that twelve extraterrestrial ships have appeared across the globe.  Shortly thereafter, Louise is visited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).  She had helped the military with some translations in the past and still had an acceptable security clearance level.  She politely turns down the Colonel's request for her consultation, but also implies that the man next on the Colonel's list isn't as qualified.  After reaching that same conclusion, the Colonel returns and is able to convince Louise to become a part of his team.  Along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she is tasked with determining the purpose of extraterrestrial's appearance.  She shows the Colonel that in order to properly get an accurate answer to that quesion, they first need to develop a way to communicate with the visitors on the most basic levels.  After all, English is a complex language that is foreign to them.  This is a much slower process than the Colonel (or the governments researching the other various landing sites for that matter) would like, but Louise and Ian prove to make progress.  Unfortunately, their timeline is cut short when China decides to take military action (a decision that causes other countries to follow suit).      

I'm afraid to get into much more detail as I don't want to give away the very nice twist that takes place.  It is really well done, really makes you think, and adds to the already emotional impact of the film.  Adams, Renner, and Whitaker are all strong in this film and director Denis Villeneuve (known previously for thrillers such as Prisoners and Sicario) proves worthy of his Oscar nomination this year for Best Achievement in Directing.

I haven't seen as many Academy Award nominees this year as I have in the past, but Arrival has become my favorite of those I have seen.  With nominations in eight categories this year (mostly in technical categories), I hope that it manages to take home some hardware when tomorrow night's ceremony has come to a close.

Rental Review - The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train (2016), R, 112 minutes - As many probably already know, The Girl on the Train is based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins.  I have not had the opportunity to read the book yet, but my wife has so we decided to go ahead and rent the movie from Redbox last weekend.

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller that is presented from Rachel's (Emily Blunt) point of view, beginning with her daily commute into the city and her observations of those that she sees from the train along the way. What is originally presented as being a completely third party observation driven by imagination, is revealed to be a bit of obsessiveness on Rachel's part with her old neighborhood.  The two houses that draw her attention the most are her former home, now inhabited by her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby, and another couple a few houses down the street - Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett) - that Rachel believes lead the perfect lives.  After it is reported that Megan has gone missing, Rachel interjects herself into the investigation as a witness of sorts (keep in mind that she doesn't know Megan and has only observed her from the train).  We quickly learn that The Girl on the Train is a perfect example of 'not everything is as it seems'.  Rachel's involvement in the case leads Detective Riley (Allison Janney) to investigate Megan's therapist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez), then Scott, and then even Rachel herself.  As Rachel gets more and more involved, making a mess of the lives of all involved, the truth behind Megan's disappearance comes to light.

The Girl on the Train is a good thriller that shifts its focus often enough to keep you on your toes, but not so much as to become convoluted or confusing.  My wife said that the film relies a bit more on sex in the portrayal of a couple characters than the novel did, but all in all we both enjoyed this film.  I'm looking forward to reading my wife's copy of the book as I'm now curious to see how it plays out compared to the film.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review - John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), R, 122 minutes - I may have been overly excited for this film due to finally having seen the first John Wick just last weekend, but John Wick: Chapter 2 definitely didn't disappoint.

There's a bit more going on in this second installment, but it works well, fleshing out more details of the underground hitman network introduced in the first film.  Director Chad Stahelski wastes little time jumping into the action, kicking the film off with John (Keanu Reeves) charging into a Russian chop shop run by Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare) - brother of Viggo, uncle of Iosef from the first film - in search of his stolen 1969 Mustang.  After calling a truce with the Russian and retrieving his car (albeit virtually totaled), John returns home to what he thinks will be the quiet life of retirement.  Shortly thereafter, he is visited by Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who is calling in a marker on John (a blood-sworn debt).  We learn that John owes the debt because D'Antonio was instrumental in John's retirement to settle down with his wife Helen (now deceased).  The cashing in of the marker holds John over an impossible barrel.  If he honors it, it means that the quiet, retired life he is trying to lead is over, and if he denies the request, he insures that he will be hunted for the rest of his life.  After initially rejecting the request he decides to honor the marker, thinking that if he repays the debt, he'll be free and clear to live his life however he wants.  I think we all know that in stories like this, it is never that simple.

The film takes John's prepping for the job to illustrate more details of the hitman underworld: tailors that create suits lined with body armor, a weaponeer at the Continental known as The Sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz), international branches of the Continental (specifically Rome), and an organization known as the High Table (a place in which is the cause behind D'Antonio calling in the marker).  Just as in the first film, there is an abundance of familiar faces and badassery.  This time around we see John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Ian McShane (Winston), and Lance Reddick (Charon) reprising their roles, along with Ruby Rose (Ares), Common (Cassian), and even Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King) in what I believe to be his first on screen appearance with Keanu Reeves since The Matrix trilogy.  The Bowery King even has a line about having not worked with John in years, a comment that has a very meta feel to it considering those involved in the conversation.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a very enjoyable follow up.  It lives up to, and possibly even exceeds expectations with its world building and continued top-notch action sequences (oh yeah, there's also no animal violence this time around).  It provides satisfying closure to this chapter, while at the same time leaving John in a very intriguing predicament, virtually guaranteeing that there will be a third installment.  If and when that time comes, I'll be there on opening weekend for sure.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Most Anticipated Films of 2017

I'm a little bit later in compiling this list than I have been in years past, but fortunately only one film on it has already been released (and that was just last weekend).  No need to ramble on here, so without further ado, my most anticipated films of 2017 are:

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order): Blade Runner 2049 (October 6)The Dark Tower (July 28)Ghost in the Shell (March 31), Justice League (November 17), Pitch Perfect 3 (December 22), Thor: Ragnarok (November 3)

10) John Wick: Chapter 2 (February 10) -This is an extremely last minute addition to my list this year.  I've been working on this post off and on for a couple of weeks now and in that time I finally had the chance to see the first John Wick and I really dug it.  I'm very excited to check out this sequel, but since it has already been released (last weekend), I couldn't bring myself to place it any higher on this list.  I may be caught up in the moment, but I did feel the need to include it here and bump Blade Runner 2049 to the Honorable Mention list.  Hopefully I can find the time to check this out this weekend.

9) Beauty and the Beast (2017) (March 17) - I really haven't been all that excited about any of Disney's live action adaptations of their animated classics, however for me, Beauty and the Beast is right at the top of my list of favorite animated Disney films along with Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid, that was the era of my youth after all.

8) War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14) - This will be the third film since the Planet of the Apes reboot a few years ago, and they've been really well done so far.  I grew up watching the originals and this updated take on the franchise has been a lot of fun so far.

7) Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) - The title is a little wonky, but a 'homecoming' of sorts is exactly what we're getting as this marks the first Spider-Man solo film to take place in the MCU thanks to the co-production deal that Sony and Marvel struck a couple of years ago.  Tom Holland proved to be an excellent Peter Parker/Spidey in last year's Captain America: Civil War and it will be interesting to see how he does carrying his own film.  Added bonus: Michael Keaton takes on the role of the villain in the guise of the Vulture.

6) Alien: Covenant (May 19) - Taking place after the events of 2012's Prometheus, this is the next installment in Ridley Scott's Alien franchise.  It looks to focus on the most intriguing aspect of Prometheus: Michael Fassbender's android David.  I also like the inclusion of Danny McBride and really hope that he has a Bill Paxton-like roll from Aliens.  That just seems like a good fit to me.  The trailer also appears to get back to what one would expect from an Alien film, which is very exciting.

5) Dunkirk (July 21) - A film from Christopher Nolan set during World War II?  Even after seeing just the trailer below, Dunkirk as about as much of a 'must see' in my book as it could be.  Boasting a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance certainly doesn't hurt either.  It'll be interesting to see a World War II film with a differing point of view (i.e. not America's).  

4) Logan (March 3) - Loosely based on the Old Man Logan story line by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven in the comics, Logan is (supposedly) Hugh Jackman's final turn as everyone's favorite Adamantium clawed, healing factor-laced mutant Wolverine.  This film is already getting a lot of advance praise and, after receiving an R rating, looks to be brutally violent, just the way Wolverine should be.  We also get Patrick Stewart reprising his long standing role as Professor X, and the introduction of X-23.  I really enjoyed director James Mangold's work on 2013's The Wolverine, and this looks like it could be even better.

3) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5) - James Gunn's first turn with the Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far, and if the trailer for Vol. 2 is any indication, we're in for another wonderfully fun ride.

2) Wonder Woman (June 2) - Gal Gadot's limited screen time as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman was the best thing about last year's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in my opinion. I'll admit, that having grown up with Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, I questioned whether or not Gadot would be a good fit for the character when she was first announced in the role (my only previous exposure to her had been the Fast and the Furious films), but she won me over in BvS and the trailers for her solo film this summer look awesome.  The DC/WB track record hasn't been so hot thus far, but I am hoping that with script work from Allan Heinberg and Geoff Johns, with Patty Jenkins behind the camera, and the likes of Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen in front of it that things will change.  It appears as though we'll be getting a period piece/origin story similar to what Marvel did with Captain America: The First Avenger.  At least that's what I'm hoping for, and that could prove to be a winning combination.

1) Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (December 15) - It's too early for a trailer for this bad boy yet, but placing it at the top of my list (or is that bottom?) is really a no-brainer.  Episode VII - The Force Awakens was a wonderful extension of the Star Wars universe following the events of the original trilogy and it will be great to see what comes next for the likes of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, and most importantly Luke Skywalker.  It will also be interesting to see how Leia is handled in the franchise moving forward after Carrie Fisher's passing in December.  

Review - The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie (2017), PG, 104 minutes - Do you like Batman?  Did you like 2014's The Lego Movie?  If you answered 'yes' to either of those questions, you will love this flick!

The Lego Batman Movie accomplishes something that, on paper seems virtually impossible: it strips down the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Will Arnett) to the basics while at the same time cleverly and seamlessly referencing every era of the character's history from both film and print.

Lego Batman is used to being the solo hero of Gotham.  No problem is too tough to handle on his own and he thrives on the city's adulation.  What he's quick to deny though, is that he is lonely and that his solitary existence at Wayne Manor/Island is beginning to weigh on him.  The more light-hearted nature of the Lego-based movies allows for the sometimes-over-the-top exploration of his relationships, not just with allies such as Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Dick Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera), and new Gotham Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), but even with his arch-nemesis The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) in ways that would feel out of place in a live action Batman film.  It really is amazing sometimes just how deep so-called "kid's movies" can be.

Ask anyone from my generation who's voice they hear when they think animated Batman, and ninety nine times out of a hundred the answer will be Kevin Conroy (as well it should be).  That being said, with his take on Bruce Wayne/Batman in these Lego movies, Will Arnett is putting an excellent stamp on the character and is making Lego Batman one of my favorite incarnations of a legendary character that seems to thrive in just about any situation (not including a couple mid to late '90s live action films that have proven to be the exception of course).

I know this review was short and sweet, but there are just too many fun references (and villains - many from other properties) in this film to count and, despite getting surprisingly deep at times (which isn't a bad thing), the plot is pretty simple.  It all boils down to Batman once again saving the day, this time with a little help from his friends.