Aug 242016
two reels

Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is on the run, keeping his head down in Harlem, but when a friend is killed, he feels he must get involved. Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) rules the criminal underground from his music club and he… Wait. Wait. Scratch that. After getting to know Cottonmouth really well, it turns out he doesn’t count. OK, lets try that again. Corrupt politician Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) has plans to rebuild Harlem her way and doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way. She… Damn. Wait. That’s wrong again. We just spent a lot of time with her but she’s a sidekick. Let’s try this one more time. Over-the-top, comic book villain, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) eventually shows up with some plan to sell weapons that I sure don’t care about. He also wants to hurt Luke Cage and just run around and be crazy. Yup, he’s the guy they settled with. For their gritty realistic show…Diamondback. The guy with less subtlety than Ronan. OK. Anyway, Luke has to stop him.

I’d like to say that representation isn’t the only important thing about Luke Cage, but it is. The superhero genre is very White. Asians hardly exist and (discounting Steel, as one should) the only Blacks are a couple of sidekicks. So finally we get representation for Black characters and Black culture and it is welcome. Just as story is secondary to showing what abuse is like in Jessica Jones, so story is secondary to Black representation in Luke Cage.

Cage himself is less engaging than he was as a secondary character in Jessica Jones, but that is the fate of the MCU Netflix lead. As a lead he’s now the guy who makes speeches. Lots of time is spent with him but little of it brings up anything new. He repeats himself. We see him doing what he has done before, just a lot more of it. In Jessica Jones, Cage was defined by his loss, by the death of his wife. Here he’s defined by a never-ending debate on the responsibilities of a hero. To slow down the series—and like its predecessors, it moves slowly—Cage spends a good deal of the show changing his mind on if he will fight or run.

I applaud the nods to old blacksplitation cinema. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those watching miss that—you have to be a fan of the old films. But someone involved in making the show sure knew those films. The music is reminiscent of the past, as are many of the background characters, and shots. We even see Cage in his old blacksploitation costume from the comics, although that lasts only a moment.

Once we get past the diversity and Black culture, we are stuck with the plot and it is, like that of the others, not that interesting. There’s enough for four episodes, maybe more, but nowhere near thirteen. The story is far too predictable. We know who’s going to die before they do, and what that death will motivate. We know who will be a traitor—the same person in every other series and movie. We know how everyone will react.

The only surprise is the swapping of villains, and it isn’t a welcome one. The three villains are connected by a henchman, which is just the start of a string of coincedences. Cottonmouth is a red herring villain. At least he is fully realized, even if it doesn’t matter and he comes to nothing. Dillard is a corrupt politician and her scenes during the protracted time when Cage is missing belong in the TV show Scandal and as far away from a superhero show as possible. The third is Diamondback, a crazy guy who acts crazy just to be crazy. Worse—far, far worse—he is coincidentally connected to Cage in a way that reminds me of the worst excesses of Bond’s Spectre. I guess everyone in Georgia ends up in Harlem at some point. The show runs on coincidences. The main henchman just happens to have been in prison with Cage, and happens to have beat him, and happens to have been involved in a secret fight ring with him.

By the end, stupid is ruling everything. One gang decides to hit the big bad, but instead of just shooting, as might happen in the supposedly real world the show pretends to be showing, they monologue. No one is making decisions that approach reality, or sense, or are in any way interesting.

This is a series with a point that matters containing a story that does not matter. Who cares if Luke wins or loses? If Dillard wins it probably is better for Harlem then if she loses. If Cottonmouth had won, well, things would have been about the same, though with less street violence. And Diamondback’s plans pretty much just involve Luke Cage. I suppose the point is displayed there: For Blacks in the city—in America—all the fights and crime change nothing. The police are not your friends. The system is not your friend. White America is not your friend. That’s an important theme, but one that’s hard to make into an interesting story, and Luke Cage doesn’t manage it.

It’s not all bad and I might sound harsh, but mainly because so many are overlooking the show’s many, many problems. Mike Colter is handsome and charismatic. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who is in all four shows, is at her best here. Shades (Theo Rossi), the henchman, is fun and pulled me in whenever he popped up. He’s evil, but somehow he is also likable, which is true of all the best villains. There’s a few nice Black power moments. Method Man’s radio interview is memorable and gets to the heart of the show: a bulletproof Black man.

As for the climax, it is best to forget it.

Luke Cage, like Jessica Jones before it, gets many accolades for doing what other shows haven’t, and should have. But due to that, no one seems to be talking about if it is actually good at what it is doing. Well, when you are starving, then bread and water is a feast. When pop culture is where it should be with regard to race, Luke Cage will be seen as tasteless and chewy, but for the moment, it’s a feast.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Aug 202016
three reels

Kirk, tiring of the coolest job in the universe, and Spock, planning to help breed new Vulcans, are interrupted from their angst by the survivor of a crashed ship. Their rescue mission turns out to be a trap as a bland villain with a “must destroy everything for no good reason” plan takes much of the crew prisoner. Naturally they must be saved by a majority of the bridge crew who just happen to be the ones not captured.

This third film in the reboot series is much like the second (which will be coming up shortly) in that it is loud, and fast, and flashy, and quite dumb. It is different in that it gives the characters a chance to be characters while also dialing down the most grievously annoying traits that Abrams added to Kirk and Spock.

Primarily, this is an action film with few pauses between explosions, crashes, phaser blasts, punches, kicks, motorcycle riding (I wish I was kidding on that one), falling, sliding, and all the running. All that activity is filmed well and looks good, though it is empty. None of it matters, but if you like lots of movement and special effects, then you’ll get all you could desire.

In the occasional lulls, the film does better, though not in plotting, but in conversations between the crew. This is the first time in the Abrams-verse that any of them feel like the characters I loved from the old show. They are witty, sometimes funny, and pleasant to listen to. McCoy is the standout, more so as this is the first chance he’s had to be more than window dressing. Star Trek Beyond would have been massively improved by cutting twenty minutes of fighting and replacing it with character interaction.

The villain is weak, which is saying something for a modern Star Trek film. He has little personality and a motivation that made me roll my eyes. The film suggests a great mystery but doesn’t deliver and his magic bio weapon is an insignificant McGuffin; a standard bomb would have been far more effective. He’s the creation of lazy plotting. The climax is both meaningless and particularly high on the stupid scale as none of it would have happened if anyone realized, “Hey, we have transporters.”

Since so little time or thought is given to any of the personal problems (Kirk being bored with outer space, Spock feeling responsible for his species, the female-add on character of the week’s upset over her dead family, Spock and Uhura’s relationship issues, the villain’s loss of purpose) I cannot figure why they were scripted at all. Dropping most to give some weight to one is scriptwriting 101. As is, nothing feels earned, be it humans blurting out life decisions or yet another destruction of the Enterprise. Kirk’s ennui is the silliest as it paints him as a whiny entitled fool—it’s like the many superhero flicks that try to make us feel sorry for people with extraordinary abilities because, gosh, they just want to be normal.

So, it is pretty, with some nice chatting between characters.

My ranking of all Star Trek movies is here.

Aug 032016
  August 3, 2016

justice league

To mark the recent release of The Killing Joke, and the soon-to-be release of Suicide Squad, I’m going to rank the DC Animated films. But I’m keeping this to a top 13 instead of ranking them all as there’s a large number that come out as equally so-so, and not worth my time to rewatch or yours to seek out. None of those are horrible (though some have some horrible moments); they just aren’t very good. So, I’ll group those altogether in a great big 14th place where they all aren’t worth paying for, but if they show up free, they are OK to keep on in the background. Also, I’m ignoring the videos that were essentially part of an animated TV series. (Updated for Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay)


First, Dishonorable mention: Batman: The Killing Joke

This one is a step below the rest. The Killing Joke was not a great comic, which made it not the greatest source material for a film. Yes, something big happens, but that doesn’t make it good. And what they added for the film does not help. The Killing Joke is uncomfortably sexist, not like focusing on hot Harley (which I think of as very comfortable sexism), but in that it is filled with sad stereotypes of weak women and cold men. If the story was better, that would be less of a problem, but it isn’t. It is cruel and dark, just for the sake of cruelty. It doesn’t say anything with that cruelty. It doesn’t do anything. It’s cruelty porn with a sexism chaser.
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