Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Daredevil S02 E07: Semper Fidelis

The trial of the People of New York v. Frank Castle is on, and we open the pre-credit sequence with jury selection. It's hard, because everyone has an opinion on Frank Castle, many of them both mirroring and polarizing my own, but as the judge so succinctly says, "This is New York, everyone has an opinion about everything." Let the trial begin.

So, courtroom drama. This is kinda what I have always hoped "Daredevil" would not be about. I know that lawyer shows are popular, always have been, but despite Matt Murdock's calling, this is a superhero show. I want to see superhero stuff. Yes, it is intriguing to put the Punisher on trial, but come on, less suits and more tights please.

I shouldn't really worry however, as the dry lawyer stuff is counterbalanced by Matt playing hooky with Elektra. As with their relationship a decade before, now she is still exerting a bad influence on our horned hero. What is done to the professor who translates the Roxxon ledger is not much better than what the bad guys might have done. Daredevil and Elektra might as well have been mob enforcers.

Later when they pursue a shipment learned of from the ledger, the violence is extreme. It is almost as if Daredevil doesn't care how he's hurting his opponents and that Elektra has forgotten her promise not to kill. I enjoyed the scar discussion and was glad it didn't go where I thought it would, you know, Jaws territory. It was actually more like foreplay with no pay off.

Of course Matt's late night shenanigans with Elektra make him late for the opening remarks in the Punisher trial. Foggy has to step in, and as Elden Henson has throughout this series, supports the more powerful players. Where's his Emmy? When Elektra doesn't like being sidelined by Matt's day job, she tampers with a witness, bringing the brewing hostility between Matt and Foggy to a head.

The fight between Foggy and Matt is intense, and has been simmering since this show started. Now it threatens Matt's relationship with Karen. Matt brings all this anger to Elektra as Daredevil, and to the pseudo-Yakuza. As if to divert our attention from the emotional drama going on, Daredevil and Elektra discover the Yakuza are guarding a hole, with no bottom. Cue end credits.

Not my favorite episode, more of a placeholder really, the bane of binge-watching, but at least the story moved, character was revealed, and significant stuff happened. I just wanted more from it.

Next: Guilty as Sin!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

La La Land

La La Land ~ Already garnering awards and attention from critics since its soft release over the holidays, this is not only one of the best films of the year, quite possibly one of the best in quite a while. When I saw this recently with The Bride, we were literally smiling as we watched. When was the last time any of us saw a film that legitimately brought us joy? This is that movie. We laugh when they want us to laugh, and we cry when they want us to cry, and yet, we don't feel manipulated. The feeling is sincere.

First of all, this is not a traditional movie as we know it. La La Land is a throwback to the Hollywood musicals of old, yet taking place today, with now characters and now sensibilities. Emma Stone (who I usually do not like) and Ryan Gosling play an aspiring actress and musician couple in a love story with ups and downs, song and dance, and charmed me almost immediately. John Legend also impresses with an economy of screen time.

The film has a jazz vibe that will make fans and non-fans of the art form love jazz again or for the first time, and you will never hear "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls the same way ever again. The music is so important and so wonderful here. Draped in vibrant color and unassuming three dimensions, should you choose to see it like that, this is a mesmerizing spectacle of sight and sound and emotion. Funny, sad, bittersweet, and uplifting, La La Land is the movie of the year. See it, just see it, highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Daredevil S02 E06: Regrets Only

We open this episode of "Daredevil" in Quentin Tarantino style reminiscent of Kill Bill as motorcycled Yakuza drag through the streets on their way to take on Daredevil and Elektra to the sound of "Date with the Night" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Cliche and apropos, but I loved it. Great opening. Too bad our 'heroes' make short work of them. The horrifying part is at the end where Elektra, clearly enjoying herself, wants to go out for a bite.

As we know from the last episode, Elektra is more than an adrenaline junkie, she's a sociopath. At the diner sucking down soda and inhaling French fries she matter of factly tells Matt she knows all about Daredevil and even though he wears a mask, "you can't mask that ass, I'd know it anywhere." Another secret identity out the window.

A deal is struck, no killing, and Daredevil will help Elektra with the Yakuza. And if you think that's an unholy alliance, things get more interesting when Nelson and Murdock decide to take DA Reyes on head to head. To keep the Punisher from getting the death penalty, they're going to defend him. I don't like the Punisher, but I like when this show surprises me, and this is one of those times.

The Matt and Karen relationship is moving along wonderfully, as long as you remove the factors from the equation that ruin it all - the Punisher and Elektra. This dishonesty just flushes all the fun and sincerity of Matt and Karen's sweet innocence right down the toilet. It's like a magician doing tricks when you can see the wires and mirrors. Not fun, and not cool.

Karen is pulled deeper into the Punisher's past when he gives a hospital bed confession of his secret origin to her, and her alone. The fact that she knew about his family allows him to trust her. In this way, the Karen/Castle relationship is just a bit more pure than hers with Matt, and it's a shame. Still, even bound to a bed, Jon Bernthal shines in this role.

Meanwhile, Matt and Elektra attend a ritzy Roxxon/Yakuza party. The heist vibe is strong and it's interesting how Daredevil's powers are put to use in this situation. I'd like to see more of this. They get away with something called the Roxxon ledger while a pseudo-reveal is made that this isn't the Yakuza. The Hand, perhaps?

It gets worse. Though convinced to plead guilty, when he gets in front of the judge, Frank Castle pleads not guilty. That means it going to trial. Matt may have to choose between Elektra and the case now. A good episode, more linking than anything else, but good just the same.

Next: Semper Fidelis!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Daredevil S02 E05: Kinbaku

At the end of the last episode of "Daredevil," the Punisher had been apprehended and Elektra had made her first appearance, however momentary, in the series. Like it or not, we probably haven't seen the last of either of them.

Now as one of the few people on Earth who actually liked the 2003 movie and Jennifer Garner as Elektra (heck, comics continuity aside, I even thought her solo film was kinda fun in a wacky way), I have to confess, that much like the Punisher, I don't like the comics character.

In my opinion Frank Miller's work at both DC Comics with The Dark Knight Returns, and at Marvel Comics with Daredevil and the Elektra saga brought on a dark age of grim and gritty violence that comics still haven't recovered from. I respect the genius of the work itself, but the bleed over into the rest of the industry is simply tragic. This type of garbage still resonates, not just in the comics, but the films based on those characters as well. Superman should not be grim and gritty, case in point: Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Seriously, wtf? So there's that, I'm not a fan of Elektra.

"Kinbaku" opens ten years ago as Matt and Foggy try to crash a high class party. When Elektra catches Matt's attention and saves him from being ejected from the party, it is a beautifully framed moment, with bracelets clacking and sound vibrating from fingers on wine glass rim. Props go to Floria Sigismondi, a photographer and music video director, perhaps best known for The Runaways, who directed this episode.

After the title sequence however we are jolted back to reality, and the present, with Elektra's comment that Matt's German beer tastes like piss. Quite a contrast. Elektra Natchios is played by Elodie Yung, whose willowy body and proper British accent take a moment to get used to in the role.

Elektra is back in town for Matt's legal help, and perhaps to rekindle their old romance. Matt is having none of it, even when she goes into an extended exposition on the Roxxon Corporation. She has a business meeting with them and wants his expertise. She makes it seem innocent but also seems game for playtime as well. Matt gives the impression that their time together was a mistake he doesn't want to step in again. All things considered, she's exactly the kind of personality who would make s good assassin.

Back at work, the subplot ruse of Matt being an alcoholic to explain his disappearances is getting old. Speaking of old, Karen seems to be still obsessed with the Punisher, the authorities are keeping things covered up about him. Reyes wants all of the firm's files on the Punisher. And then there's that kiss between Karen and Matt. Oh, the webs we weave.

I loved the Indian restaurant where Matt and Karen's date eventually ends up. So cool with all the neon chili peppers, I'd like to eat there. It's just too bad that the date is colored by both Karen's obsession with the Punisher and Matt's obsession with Elektra. Any goodness there could be is ruined by subtext. As in the comics, I think this relationship is surely doomed before it even begins.

The story jumps back and forth between the decade ago flashback and now, telling the tale of Matt and Elektra. The fight/sex scene in the boxing ring after Elektra suspects Matt isn't blind is so well done, cray-cray, and reminiscent of the playground duel/foreplay scene in the 2003 movie. And of course as the episode goes on we learn what a dangerous sociopath she can be.

We see another date, this time in the home of Roscoe Sweeney, the man who long ago killed Matt's father. Perhaps it's time to discuss the title of the episode. Kinbaku is a particularly tight and nasty type of Japanese bondage. It's not only how Elektra binds Sweeney in the flashback, but the kind of grip she seems to have on Matt, tight and nasty. She still has that grip, as she has brought the Yakuza to her penthouse, and Matt there as well. She knows he's Daredevil, and wants to play.

Next: Regrets Only!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D

Creature from the Black Lagoon ~ One of the most awesome things about doing the TCM Classic Cruise is the surprises that pop up when you get on board and finally see the schedule (often the movies being shown are kept secret until the last moment). One such surprise was the showing of Creature from the Black Lagoon, not just on the big screen, but in the original 3-D as it was originally shown.

The last of the Universal monsters, the Gill Man only appeared in three films, two of them in 3-D. This original was directed by Jack Arnold, an old pro at the time with 1950s 3-D after his It Came from Outer Space (not to mention 2-D scifi horror classics like Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man), and he brought the legend of the South American lizard man to life to round out the Universal monsters with one of its most memorable members.

After finding fossils of a possible missing link, an expedition up the Amazon searches for the legendary Gill Man, and unfortunately he finds them. In the Black Lagoon, the Gill Man traps the team, picking them off one by one. It's good fun, with real scares, and the 3-D is rather impressive too. Not too much of the typical campy 'comin'-at-ya' stuff, but more like what's done today, adding depth etc. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than I could have imagined.

There are flaws, but unintentionally funny ones so they're forgivable. Every time the Creature is on screen, except for one scene, his blaring sinister theme plays. It got to be so much fun that we wandered the ship afterward, putting out our hands like claws and going dum-dum-daaah. Also after a while the pissing contest between Richard Denning and Richard Carlson over Julia Adams becomes absolutely ridiculous. And let's not get into what goes on over the bandaged body of one poor victim.

The journey of the Rita down to the Black Lagoon to hunt the Gill Man, and his subsequent hunt for them is classic horror, and so much more fun in 3-D and on the big screen. See it like that if you get the chance, and if not, still see it, it rocks. Recommended.