Thursday, October 27, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK




The Quick of It -
We have here a failure to communicate.  Well… not really. 

Jack is back.  Based on Lee Child’s novel, ‘Never Go Back’, Reacher finds himself caught up in a government conspiracy.  Tom Cruise is the driving force behind these films and I appreciate his efforts.  He may not meet the height requirements to compare to Reacher in the novels, but he does a fair enough job to make it worthwhile.


Director Edward Zwick, of THE SIEGE, DEFIANCE, and THE LAST SAMURAI, helms the second film.  He brings that similar atmosphere as the first, which was definitely required.  With Child’s material, he comes through with a respectable product.  But… I think Child’s material also gets in the way.

This film does struggle with certain character qualities.  Codie Smulders (of THE AVENGERS series and “How I Met Your Mother”) plays Major Turner who now fills Reacher’s last post with the US Army Military Police.  Child likes leading ladies with a strong personality, pushing towards gender equality and peer acceptance.  But this script goes a little too far.  She comes off as a blowhard and pushing her authority around in the oddest ways, something that you would not see in the service, making for awkward moments.  This could be the result of Child, or actually Jim Grant as he is known to the real world, having never served, so is not completely familiar with those pushy officers types.


Then you have the ***spoiler, stop now*** introduction of a possible Reacher-spawn.  Yes, he may have a daughter, Samantha, who has suffered through hard times.  She is played by Danika Yarosh, of “Heroes Reborn” and “Shameless” notoriety.  She also carries the equality-torch for ladies, and results in a way-over-the-top performance.  The dialogue is rough and she suddenly has all the solutions with her four or so years of experience being a part of the streets, to prove she is a worthy and a contributing individual. 


Seeing these writing flaws makes me feel upset as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a bastard when it comes to equality (to a certain degree) in the military.  Physically, women as a norm are not as capable as men.  I have seen a number of times when tasks are not equally shared while certain (not all) females will still scream at the top of their lungs for equality.  Example, you say?  How about when in the field and ruck marching (carrying an ass ton of gear on your back and walking for miles).  The radio is a shared responsibility when training.  It will add an extra 10 pounds, or so, and should be passed around each day among the soldiers (as well as other shared equipment).  I have seen plenty of cases where women are looked over to carry this added burden, and other similar physically taxing jobs.  Equality means equal to all tasks a job requires, ALL.  This is only truer when bullets are flying overhead.  To end my little rant, I have no problem with accepting that not all things can be equal, and women are very capable.  There are also female soldiers who can handle the physical strain, and welcome them with open arms.  But we must all realize not everything can be ‘equal’ for everyone.  


Back to Reacher.  This is only a fun film to watch, not on the level of the first.  The main threat, The Hunter played by Patrick Heusinger (of FRANCES HA, BLACK SWAN, SWEET LAND), gives Reacher a run for his money.  He is calculating and skilled, providing a challenging nemesis.  But with the two female leads having so much face-time and being a little distracting, he is but a small blip.  You almost root for him… this could be a tragic story, instead.  NEVER GO BACK maybe a wait for… video… or whatever, but you will miss the great New Orleans rooftop fight on the large screen.

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

“Blu-ray or Bust” - SWISS ARMY MAN


“Blu-ray or Bust”
SWISS ARMY MAN (2016, R, 97 minutes, A24/COLD IRON PICTURES)


If I were asked to describe the plot of this film in ten words or less, I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t even want to try.

This quirky, imaginative little gem was written and directed by two guys named “Daniel”, and stars Paul Dano and (almost-excessive Daniel alert!) Daniel Radcliff. Paul is “Hank”, a guy that has been stranded on a tiny, deserted island in the Pacific. As he balances atop a cooler, a noose tied around his neck, on the cusp of stepping off and ending his dismal life, Harry Potter washes up on shore. And Harry (actually his name in this film is “Manny”, but he is kinda magical) has gas.


What progresses from there is a film about survival, death, friendship, hopelessness, fire, sex, a dancing boner/compass, “Jurassic Park”, excessive crying, an angry bear, trash, anatomy, and, ultimately, farts. It is all that, and so much more. Now, pay close attention to this part, because it is important: if you don’t like quirky, if you do not appreciate the fine art of snark and tongue-in-cheek cinema, DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM. You will not appreciate it. However… for anyone that is a fan of all things Terry Gilliam, or films like AMELIE, BIG FISH, and/or THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, this is your movie.

In the Daniels’s vision, the human body does things it shouldn’t (there are several wonderful scenes of Hank using Manny for many practical uses—hence the title), the laws of physics kind of takes a holiday, and sound becomes just as important as the visuals. If this film can be pigeonholed as a film about farts, it can also be classified as one of the best uses of sound and sound editing that you are likely to (hear) this year. From the score, to the effects, to Dano and Radcliff doing the theme to the aforementioned dinosaur movie, it is easy to see this being nominated for at least one Oscar come February.


The special features include an hour long Q&A with the filmmakers and the sound guys—hosted, of course, by a guy that works for Dolby. If you can ignore the shameful plugs, it provides more info than you thought you would ever need concerning sound as an art. But with SWISS, it is. There is also a behind-the-scenes doc showing how they built the wonderful sets, how they got Dano to ride Radcliff “like a jet ski”, and how they made the dancing wiener.


This is the first major production by The Danielses. The fact that they attracted two rather talented actors to this project is promising; not many first feature directors get the talent that they did to perform what is so obviously a close-knit production. Bravo to all those involved, and let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t brush you guys off. There is talent here—as much behind the camera as there is in front.

Film Grade: A
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: Most definitely (it is totally necessary JUST FOR THE SOUND)

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: THE ACCOUNTANT


The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on THE ACCOUNTANT (2016, 128 minutes, R)


The Quick of It -
This unassuming action film is what the doctor ordered while waiting for the next JOHN WICK.  I say this knowing that WICK had to overcome a few action films released just prior, forcing it to offer superior violence and a well-thought-out story.  A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES and THE EQUALIZER can hold their own, but WICK is just that much better.  And THE ACCOUNTANT hits closer to the level of WICK than you would guess.


Writer Bill Dubuque (of THE JUDGE) and director Gavin O’Connor (of WARRIOR, PRIDE AND GLORY, and MIRACLE), also an unassuming pair, pull together a story that keeps you invested.  THE ACCOUNTANT is about a high-functioning autistic boy who grows up to be an accountant for some notorious individuals, and is his way of interacting with the outside world, which is still very complicated.  The opening scene shows the father and mother talking to a specialist who maintains a home for similar children, teaching them how to adapt to the ‘normal’ world and lead a ‘normal’ life.  From that point, you get glimpses of his father becoming the driving force that melds this boy into an extraordinary man.


The casting for this film is significant to making this project work.  Ben Affleck (BATMAN) plays Christian Wolff.  He must endure a routine of that continually exhibits this modified characterization of Wolff for this role, to keep the fa├žade believable.  Anna Kendrick (of PITCH PERFECT, UP IN THE AIR, and TWILIGHT) balances between a talented number cruncher and an endearing character, a bridge between the audience and Wolff, and his later motivation.  J.K. Simmons (OF WHIPLASH, SPIDER-MAN, and “The Closer”) will always carry a torch for the underappreciated, he adds so much even when called to do so little.  He still commands your attention with the simplest of roles.  Jon Bernthal (THE PUNISHER) does a fair job, but once the dots are connecting, he kind of lost me.  This isn’t to lay all blame on him.  The script and writers probably felt the need for his brash personality but it was not needed and never seeded.


The one slight problem I had was with the culmination of everything, the final wrap-up.  It seemed too quick and forced.  This maybe due to a number of reasons but surely was not necessary.  The patience you were given at the start seemed lost by the end, taking from the amazing pacing and story development you were treated to.  

Although you may briefly scan the poster on the theater’s wall or have a quick watch of the trailer, as curiosity got the best of you, don’t be so quick to dismiss.  This was an impressive filler during the quieter time of the year, well past the summer blockbusters.  The action is quick and forceful, a dance of guns and fists, reminiscent of the WICK times. 

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Blu-ray or Bust” - X-MEN: APOCALYPSE


“Blu-ray or Bust”
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016, PG-13, 144 minutes, MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT/20TH CENTURY FOX)


Every franchise is going to have a misstep. Famous turds include the fourth ALIEN film, JAWS 3 and 4, STAR TREK V, and, my favorite movie to hate, THOR: THE TURD WORLD.

Brian Singer’s X-MEN: APOCALYPSE isn’t so much of a misstep as it is a slight stumble. It doesn’t have any Ewok moments, or a T-Rex loose in Los Angeles, but it does have a wee bit of an issue when it comes to its bad guy. Don’t misunderstand me—Oscar Isaac plays “Apocalypse” rather well. But his presence isn’t as overbearing as it should be. He is a fine actor, but he never really pulls off intimidating all that well. We see that the threat is real (there is a butt-ton of special effects to prove it to us), but his normal talking voice…well, it’s a normal talking voice.


Even Bane sounded better than this, and he sounded like he was talking into a Dixie cup the entire time. At least the regulars are back—plus, we get some fresh faces to the series. By re-introducing us to characters like “Cyclops”, “Storm”, and “Jean”, Singer is playing to the hearts of X-fans worldwide. And, by bringing back the regular main players, and the heroes we met in the last chapter of the franchise, he is insuring us a competent and familiar ride.


And that’s another part of the problem. Some of it almost feels like a given, like “I’m including this bit ‘cause the kids’ll love it”. Certain plot points and character actions aren’t all that new. And what’s worse is that some of the special effects aren’t all that special. Some of them seem rather haphazard, almost unfinished. And then there are others that prove where most of the money is going: Quicksilver racing through an explosion to save a mansion full of kids, and Jean Gray getting her “Phoenix” on are the two best sequences of the film. Yet the Quicksilver bit isn’t as refreshing as it was in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST; yes, Evan Peters is awesome in the role, adding a heavy dose of humor to the proceedings not just with his actions, but also with his facial expressions. But Singer tries too hard to out-do that infamous kitchen scene from the last film.

The Phoenix Incident, however, is almost worth the entire price of admission.  Well, that, and my now four-year man crush, Michael Fassbender. His “Magneto” is, at times, breathtaking to watch. For a director to still pull in the first-class actors that Singer has, and for so many times now, is proof that these people believe not just in the characters, but the director’s plans for them.


And therein lies my final issue, and segues nicely into the part where I tell you about the special features (an hour long behind-the-scenes doc, trailers, a pretty darn funny gag reel); with the deleted and extended scenes, it is important that you watch the one about Magneto and Apocalypse. This is an extension of Magneto’s re-birth, and a cut scene, which shows Apocalypse waking up in an alley. I’m rather perturbed that this sequence was cut from the film, partly due to the fact that both are necessary, more so because: MICHAEL FREAKING FASSBENDER.

You have that good of an actor, that pulls off an amazing scene of emotional transition and you cut it out of the film?!? Singer needs to take a vacation. Seriously. What Fassbender does in thirty seconds is nothing short of artistic. In the hands of any other actor, it would have come off as heavy handed, but his is screen presence which dares you to doubt what he is sharing with you. And it pisses me off that it was cut.


So, ultimately, the film isn’t horrible, so much as it is an acidic burp after a really good pizza. Not quite vomit-inducing, but it still leaves a bit of a burn. Singer’s next project involves bringing another faction of the X-Men universe to the small screen in 2017. Which, with the budgetary constraints of television, should be interesting to see if they find themselves having to rely more on great acting than on great effects. Be careful what you edit, Mr. Singer.

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Yes…and no…let’s just go with “kinda”.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: SHIN GODZILLA

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on SHIN GODZILLA (2016, 120 minutes, PG-13)


The Quick of It -
Welcome to the new Japanese age of Godzilla productions.  Directors Hideaki Anno (of anime "Evangelion" series) and Shinji Higuchi (of ATTACK ON TITAN: PART 1 and THE FLOATING CASTLE) bring us a revamped but still harkening to the predecessor Godzilla.  Japan faces an unexpected threat as it comes from the seabed of Tokyo Bay.  And yes, it is subtitled.

This is not your Mama’s Godzilla!  Oh wait… it sort is…


Things I cannot comment on since I only had the opportunity to see it once.  The acting.  I was too busy going between the shots and the subtitles, but seemed deserving.  The Japanese traditional etiquette still resounds in the script.  Supporting roles did have their own flavors, so you can get a chance to expect certain reactions and contributions, knowing who those characters are to the film. 

I will not comment on Godzilla him/herself.  They held to the customary creature build, which is fine for us, old schoolers.  The results still felt epic.  I would have liked to see him blink, though.  That did bug the crap out of me.  We are spoiled with technology, so it is in poor taste to say they didn’t use what is available.  This project is meant to be a reflection of the past Godzilla films.
 


This film is shot with a mixed style; parts are filmed similar to a documentary, and then supplemented with found footage segments, which is then used to enhance the final, complete narrative.   The result is very different from the Hollywood norm.  This also makes it a bit dry with the pacing, as they regale you with political maneuvering and policy issues throughout.  The Japanese perspective and political relationships does add an interesting perspective as an American getting to look behind the curtain of Japanese government, and will probably be lost on most audience members.  The action is there in spurts, and you get a few surprises along the way.  I don’t know if there is enough to keep the rest of the world audience happy with this final product.  Only the Japanese will fully appreciate the cinematic experience.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: INTO THE FOREST



The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on INTO THE FOREST (2016, 101 minutes, R)


The Quick of It -
INTO THE FOREST is not your typical post apocalyptic film.  It's about two sisters who must survive in their remote, woodland home after a massive power outage.  This takes place in the near future when the U.S. has become highly dependent on electricity, thus the event shuts everything down... everything.  The story opens with the onset of the outage, and briefly sets us up with the locals quickly descending into lawlessness.  But this movie is far more than it seems.


The screenplay is based on the book written by Jean Hegland.  Director Patricia Rozema (of MANSLIELD PARK and WHEN NIGHT IS FALLING) brings this adaptation to the silver screen and does so with a raw elegance.  Instead of a thrilling MAD MAX or a overly-depressing THE ROAD, you get something a little closer to the heart and a sense of realism that keeps you engaged.  And with my being of the male persuasion, and this story told from a female's perspective with such depth, I am given a special treat beyond the norm. 

 
The father is played by Callum Keith Rennie (of “Californication”, “Battlestar Galactica”, and MEMENTO).  He meets an untimely end, happening in the most unexpected way.  This is the true beginning to his daughters’ survival mode and we begin to wait for everything to be pulled out from underneath them.  It doesn't really come, and that's not a bad thing.  Don't get me wrong, horrible things happen as you would expect (and slightly predict), but it isn't at the cost of throwing the pacing off with wild circumstances or a guitarist strapped to the front of a wrecker.  Everything that happens feels grounded and only focuses on the relationships being forged and tested.  Much of this story is told through emotion rather than dialogue.  That has to be one of the greatest achievements I can think of for a director.


The two lead actors are Ellen Page (of INCEPTION, JUNO, and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST) and Evan Rachel Wood (of THE WRESTLER, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and THE IDES OF MARCH).  They do a fantastic job verbally, physically, and emotionally.  Without their outstanding performances, the illusion of isolation and sisterhood would have been broken, leaving you with a fumbling about drama.  Instead, you are pulled into their lives and suffer through their experiences as they learn to adapt to the new world.
 

INTO THE FOREST offers a new slant to the post apocalyptic genre.  You find it in the woodland setting and camera shots highlighting this sense of lonesomeness.  To pull things together, there is one particular inclusion in the story that becomes essential to the undertone - ballet.   It feels that there is attention given to each significant frame, the accompanying soundtrack during their struggles, and the content that fills the story.  The result is a visual ballet that tells a unique tale, something not to be missed. 

Grade: B+

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN


The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016, 127 minutes, PG-13)


The Quick of It -

Director Tim Burton loves to find those ‘peculiar’ projects.  His filmography is filled with them, and there are plenty more out there to be had.  This particular one fits right in with the rest.  The first inception of this young adult book by Ransom Riggs was to be a collection of unique photos he had gathered over the years.  But he was talked into adding a narrative to connect the images, resulting in this fantastic tale.  In theory, it may have worked for the book, but for the film... 

Now I don’t know who is to blame, but I was disappointed that the full potential for this story was never realized, being that this is a fully financed production.  The runtime shows Burton and any attached ‘clip happy’ editors are given plenty of leeway.  Over two hours of screen time should give most films a chance to build a story properly.  In some ways, this could easily be overkill considering most studio standards.  Not for MISS PEREGRINE.


MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDERN is about a boy (Asa Butterfield, of HUGO, ENDER’S GAME) who enters into a hidden world of ‘peculiar’ kids after his grandfather, played by the very capable Terence Stamp (the original General Zod of SUPERMAN II), is abruptly taken from him.  He soon finds out his grandfather, believed to have had dementia, is more than he seemed and his bedtime stories are far from fiction.  You have to remember, this is a young adult movie, and this is established from the point of view given.  There are also plenty of dark moments, humor and visuals, to get a fair sense of the original material from Riggs. 

The problems I encountered are with the dialogue and sputtering scenes.  You could almost believe that the photos are the core thought to each character and location, but the continuity is shoddy.  It isn’t that you get lost along the way on what is happening, it comes from the emotional attachments falling to the wayside as they try to progress the plot, making their impact less meaningful.  You are inundated by a good number of complex and simple relationships with storyline subplots that seem to become more important than others by the way they are presented, until they try to remind you of the previous attachments, now trying to overshadow the new.  It is hard to believe that Tim Burton is the director and would allow for these stumbles to happen. 


The highlights of the film, as with most Burton films, are the creepy elements and the heightened importance of a complimentary soundtrack.  The music by Michael Highman, notably connected to other Danny Elfman projects, does a wonderful job.  And you can’t go wrong with having Florence and the Machine involved.  These aspects helped to keep with the Burton tradition, even if the story struggled.


MISS PEREGRINE’S will be touted as a ‘must see’ but you have fair warning.  Burton has not been as successful in recent years, reference the ALICE projects and DARK SHADOWS, but my faith continues in his skills and his ability to make unusual films.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

“Blu-ray or Bust” - THE SHALLOWS


“Blu-ray or Bust”
THE SHALLOWS (2016, PG-13, 86 minutes, COLUMBIA PICTURES/OMBRA FILMS)


It is hard for me to figure out who is luckier: Blake Lively, or Ryan Reynolds.
Seriously—she’s married to Deadpool, for Pete-the-Dragon’s sake. He’s snarky, badass, and sexy. He, on the other hand, is married to Nancy—badass surfer girl who fights a shark. Has Deadpool fought a shark? Nope. Battled jellyfish? Uh-uh. Been in a life or death situation—WITH HERMIT CRABS?!? You see my dilemma?


THE SHALLOWS is a survivor thriller/slasher movie that is required watching. Seriously—go watch this movie before you talk to me again. Lively stars as “Nancy”, a surfer/med student that finds herself stranded on an itty-bitty rock a few hundred yards from shore. Between her and the beautiful sandy beach is one pissed off great white shark. It seems Nancy has stumbled onto its feeding grounds, and, like me at a buffet featuring fried okra and shrimp. Lord help anyone that gets in the way. In this case, the shark is protecting its rights to a dead whale, not an aluminum tray full of fried okra (although I’m pretty sure the okra tastes better).

Nancy is a resilient, persistent character; she doesn’t want to kill the shark, she just wants to go back home, opposed to being an appetizer (don’t we all…). And not since JAWS has a film shown this much respect and horrifying realism to that particular alpha predator. The majority of the creature itself might be CGI’d, but it is damn fine and realistic artwork.

This film is entirely necessary on Blu-ray—I would tell you this even if the locations and artistry of the film weren’t so dang lovely to look at. The scenes of Nancy diving under the waves is worth the price of admission alone, not to mention the scene with the jellyfish… Most importantly, and, most obviously, I would tell you to get this on Blu-ray because it stars BLAKE I’M SUPER GORGEOUS LIVELY.


The special features include a few short (five to seven minute) docs on filming in the ocean, finding the perfect beach, and the difficulties of making practical use of both locations. There are also deleted scenes, and a conversation with a shark attack survivor and a professor that tries to scoff at the film but cannot because it could actually happen. Just like JAWS.


If you are looking for a good thriller for Halloween, this is a must-see. It has all the elements of your classic horror films, and one heck of a finale. And Deadpool’s wife is in it. If you don’t watch it, he might hurt you.

Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely


-- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

“Jessica Jones’s Booty Call: What You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”


“Jessica Jones’s Booty Call: What You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”

LUKE CAGE (2016, TV-MA, 13 episodes approx. 1 hour each, NETFLIX ORIGINALS/MARVEL TELEVISION)


Up to now, Netflix has made a strong showing, taking over the superhero TV genre. The first two seasons of “Daredevil” felt grittier than any other “televised” iteration of not just the Marvel Universe, but threatened to topple the DC Universe’s hold on all things “TV”.

The first season of “Jessica Jones”, while not as successful as its predecessor, proved a worthy addition to the Netflix game plan. By focusing on a strong female lead, it opened up the opportunity to explore other lesser-known characters—one of those being “Luke Cage”, the handsome, indestructible bartender with a heart of gold. Played by the likeable and, quite honestly, the badass Mike Colter (“The Following”, “American Horror Story”), Cage seemed a worthy character to expand the Netflix vision, which will culminate in the crossover event called “The Defenders” (slated for release next year).


At first glance, Netflix’s decision to go with the characters they were allowed to play with seemed doubtful when it came to overall success. Seriously; Jones never had a long run in the comics from which she was borne, and Cage never enjoyed the success of mainstays like Captain America, Iron Man, etc. He even went through more name changes during his comic’s career than “Game of Thrones” goes through characters. Besides Daredevil and The Punisher (also to be released next year), those of us not fully vested in every single character in the Marvel were left scratching our heads. I could not have been the only geek reading the press releases and going: “Wait, Jessica who?!? And who the hell is Iron Fist (uh…yeah, his show debuts next year, too…)?!?!”

So here we have the inaugural season of “Luke Cage”—a promising character with a more streetwise demeanor than the blind attorney crime fighter and the intoxicated private eye. What did Netflix get right with this one? That, kids, is a difficult question to answer…

It takes a few episodes to get used to the dialogue. I mean, I know that I’m watching what is basically a drama wrapped around some action scenes involving an indestructible man, but seriously? The dialogue is almost stolen from every cheesy actioner ever produced. Some of the conversations are so predictable, they appear blatantly obvious to the viewer. Like filler to stretch this to an unnecessary thirteen episodes. Listening to people talk in this show is almost a chore at first—never mind the fact that Cage sounded a whole lot smarter in “Jessica Jones” than he does here. And there is, to me, to someone that abhors the word, an excessive use of the n-word that nearly borders on Tarantino-like gratuitousness.


It also takes a few episodes for the threat to come into play. You meet the bad guy pretty early on, and you know he is a brutal, doesn’t-think-he’s-evil-which-makes-him-all-the-more-dangerous man. Mahershala Ali does an excellent job as Cornell Stokes (aka, “Cottonmouth”), but, like Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk from the “Daredevil” series, he isn’t a super-powered menace. He is just a violent hustler with a shaky empire built upon greed and his pervasive fists. At least “Jones” had a baddie that could control minds; this guy just wants to control Harlem. But he isn’t the only evildoer in town; he is backed by his cousin, the deliciously vile Alfre Woodard as Stokes’ cousin “Mariah”, and the comically (and not in a good way) scripture quoting “Diamondback”, who is hell bent on exacting his revenge and wrath upon our hero with a sketchy past.

The season kicks into gear with episode four; that, and episode five, are the real launchings for the show, but the strongest is the one centering on the villainous cousin’s flashback arc in the seventh episode. This is where things come to a head, so to speak, and the performances by Woodard and Ali prove to be the glue holding this long tale together. They and Theo Rossi (as “Shades”, a shifty snake of a “gangster consultant”) are the standouts.


By the last episode, however, you are ready for the show to end. Even seeing Rosario Dawson’s “Nurse Claire”, who seems to tie all of these series together, showing up for the latter half of the first season, isn’t enough to keep this afloat. And it isn’t because of the performances, not by a long shot. Colter is perfectly cast, Ali is the most memorable of the antagonists, and even the bit players do a fine job.


It’s the writing by Cheo Hodari Coker in the first two episodes that bog this series down. I hate to beat a dead horse (honestly, why would you beat a dead horse, anyways? Sounds kinda weird…), but I cannot get past that horrible dialogue. And this series has plenty of writers; the best are Akela Cooper (ep. 7), Charles Murray (ep. 4), and Jason Horwitch (ep. 5). It isn’t until the last third of the season that we get one consistent writer, and even then the story looks too seamless and drawn out.


It is a shame that Netflix’s strongest (literally) character in the MCU cannon makes for its weakest season. Yes, there are bright, shiny moments. Yes, there are episodes which re-invigorate the series. There are even clever nods to TV and movies from previous eras which all centered around strong black leads. But it isn’t enough to leave you wanting a whole lot more. The characters deserve better, and the viewers do, too.

Series Grade: C

-- T.S.Kummelman


Remember, kiddies, if there is a genre you want a nice, shiny example from, let us know. Otherwise, I’ll just keep watching whatever the heck I want to. Which means I win. You don’t really want me winning all of the time, do you?...