Netflix/Marvel Studios 2017 IRON FIST Episode #1 Review!






Iron Fist Movie Poster

The last of the long awaited DEFENDERS heroes, IRON FiST breaks on the Netflix shores this Weekend, and my opinion? Well After Loving the first season of DAREDEVIL with some minor hiccups in the later episodes, Really enjoying JESSICA JONES, being Lukewarm on the 2nd season of DAREDEVIL, and LOVING Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE: POWERMAN, I find the first episode of IRON FIST… underwhelming.

 

The trailers were the first hiccup as I found them tedious rather than exciting, and tedium is not what you expect from what should be a Martial Arts rich show. The action looked unimpressive, and the casting, especially of the protagonist gave me cause for concern. He looked unimpressive rather than what he should be… a living weapon.

But trailers can steer you wrong, and hoping to be proven wrong I watch the first episode of IRON FIST. What hits you is the opening sequence, one thing all the Marvel/Netflix collaborations have gotten right is an absolutely great opening/credit sequence. The IRON FIST opening sequence by comparison looks like an unfinished product, a bad joke. An unfocused concept that they simply ran out of time and ended up just throwing something together.

 

 

Getting beyond the disappointment of the Credit Sequence, I like the opening shot of the barefoot hero in New York, a shout out to the Master of Kung Fu Comic’s of the 70s.

 

Quirky but in reality do you know how impossibly disgusting it would be to walk around the streets of New York or any major city in your bare feet?! There are things I fear to step on, even with shoes on. But again it’s a harmless if ludicrous call back to the comics of yesteryear.

 

What immediately impresses me is how much better Finn Jones is as Danny Rand, than the trailers hinted at. He has a likable and commanding presence, that is at the heart of the character, and he is choreographed to move with an effortless balletic grace that speaks volumes of his character and journey.

 

Iron Fist Movie Poster

 

Indeed, Jones as Danny Rand is pretty much, contrary to my thoughts on the trailer, rather than being the weakest thing about the show, in this episode he is the strongest thing. He is very affable, which above all is the saving grace of his character, and in many ways distances him from the other more brooding members of the Defenders.

With the exception of Luke Cage, who beneath his bullet proof skin has, like Danny Rand, the heart of an optimist and a poet. Unlike the bone breaking Daredevil or the oft alcoholic and fatalist Jessica Jones, Power Man and Iron Fist don’t want to hurt their fellow man, they want to help them, make them better; Even, if possible, their villains. It’s why those two work so well as a duo in the comics. Particularly the wonderful David Walker and Sanford Green POWERMAN AND IRONFIST comics that started in 2016.

 

Finn Jones gets the character of Danny Rand, The Iron Fist. Underneath the affable nature of Jones portrayal, there is something you see in his first closeup (when he is trying to get in to be seen) a core of steel, something unyielding that completely sells him in a way the trailer did not.

So the Danny Rand portion of the first episode works well, it is a lot of setup, and I don’t mind setup, if it is done well, and written well, and brought across well, I thought the first two epiosdes of LUKE CAGE, which some considered talky, I felt were two of the finest written hours of television of 2016.

ASIDE ON  LUKE CAGE SERIES AND COLOR CODED TELEVISION

(I’m about to get deep into media bias, particularly as it relates to ethnicity, so feel free to skip the following aside, the ending of it is marked, and continue on with the Iron Fist review)

 

Coker’s LUKE CAGE said wonderful truths that you usually don’t get with ethnic characters, because mostly ethnic characters on television are nothing more than Black faces spouting and reaffirming White messages . Messages which whether BUFFY or SUPERGIRL Season 2 or DOCTOR WHO or NEXT GENERATION all tend to be some variation on the wish fulfillment of its writers or worse the unconscious coded messages that they unknowing have accepted as truths, namely White female initially falls for Ethnic Character than comes to her senses and dumps him for a White character.
If that plotline plays out in one show, that’s fine, that’s life, stuff happens. However, if that plot-line plays out in every single show where a white female is romantically tied to a man of color, then that is no longer sharp, inventive writing, or originality, it is programming, played over and over again until we stop seeing it, but keep believing it.
In Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE you got writing that was shorn of that very racist programming that makes up 90% of the shows we see on TV, and the output of even our best writers. By no measure do I think Joss Whedon is racist, however he reuses the above pattern of racial politics when it comes to the romantic lives of the men of color he scripts from FIREFLY to BUFFY to AGENTS OF SHIELD to AGENT CARTER. At some point any romantic light he casts the men of color he scripts, any momentum to a healthy heterosexual relationship, particularly with a female of another ethnicity has to be derailed. Their identification as a sexual alpha, derailed. Mac on AGENTS OF SHIELD becomes comedy relief, rather than what he should be on that show… the Mac.
And like I said you would be hard pressed to not see this very strange repetition of sexual marginalization and symbolic castration (fit to be comedy relief or the non-threatening buddy or father figure but not the romantic interest) occur over and over to men of color in just about every dramatic show you can name, particularly the action oriented ones. Whether BUFFY, AGENT CARTER, AGENTS OF SHIELD, NEXT GENERATION, ER, ROSEWOOD, SUPERGIRL, FIREFLY.  Such bias extends even to our news and ‘reality programming’, the fact that over 20 years later the media is still lynching OJ Simpson (A famous Black man accused of murdering a white woman) while in the intervening years there has been no shortage of murdered spouses. However this particular case accomplishes familiar goals of America, the tearing down of idols, the vilification of the other, and a platform to use an individual act, to try to send a message to a whole mass of people. It’s a lynching, writ large, 20th and 21st century style.
And by contrasts it has been envogue for the last 20 years to pair White Males successfully with women of color, pair being perhaps too equal a term, more like have the woman of color fling herself at the White Male, whether that’s FLASH, JAMES BOND, WALKING DEAD, TAKEN, EMERALD CITY, and again a couple of times it is just original storytelling, but for this pattern to be a constant over the last 20 years, then that is something else, that is programming.

 

So I’m always drawn to the shows that eschew these programming ploys, these repeated coded messages. So that is why I hold shows like LUKE CAGE in such high regard. A show where a man of color, a Black man, can be a hero and get the girl, full stop. It’s a rare concept in a mass media that is so racist it is not aware of how rare they have by design, made that concept.
Name me ten Dramatic shows (not comedies) on TV right now where a lead character of color, is in a successful healthy relationship with a female, particularly of another ethnic group. You’d be hard pressed to name 2. But you can name dozens upon dozens of shows that are cast and written the other way. Even though statistics tell us there are far more Black Male/White female relationships than White Male/Black Female relationships.
So why would the fiction of mass media be so contrary and completely out of sync with the realities of the populations watching those fictions? Because invariably the writers, who mostly are white males, propagate their limited definitions of diversity while also crafting their wish fulfillment, which usually breaks down to our White Hero is ‘so enlightened’ because he deigns to have a Black girlfriend, and the Black Girlfriend who has to throw herself at him.
Like I said, once or twice, it is original, however all the time, the same way, it is programming and it is insulting.

 

END OF ASIDE

Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE : POWER MAN brilliantly gave us something more than the programming we have been used to, showed us Netflix as a channel where more original and more truly DIVERSE stories could be told.

It left big foot prints for the next show, IRON FIST, to follow in.

And without expecting IRON FIST to be ground breaking, or anti- stereotype and ANTI programming, I did expect it to be good.

Unfortunately the first episode of IRON FIST suffers because its lack of action is not compensated for by rich and compelling characters, or evocative acting. Case in point… Ward and his father.

There is nothing more derailing to a narrative, than a weak antagonist, and unfortunately in Ward and his Father you have two very boring and uninteresting and cookie cutter antagonists. Ward came off as just a petulant child, a whiner, and whiners do not make for great TV.

The scene with Ward and his Dad discussing Danny Rand, rather than riveting is the definition of tedious. I had to look at the clock, to see how much time was left before I could watch something else.

That is never what you want to be doing when watching a show, looking at your clock.

So,  between the pacing issues, and the casting issues, and the uninteresting bad guys, I’m solidly unexcited to move on to the next episode. And that’s not an issue I have had with the previous shows.

I hope to work my way through the series and all the way to the end, and I hope I can report it gets great, but for the first episode all I can give it is a …

Grade: C-

 

Iron Fist Movie Poster

MUST LISTEN Audio Books for BLACK HISTORY Month and every other month! :) Part 2 of 2

The 2nd must listen audio book for Black History Month or any month is the mind breaking MUMBO JUMBO by the great Ishmael Reed.

Ishmael Reed, who was honored with the MacArthur “genius” award, is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and two-time nominee for the National Book Award. Mumbo Jumbo, a literary masterpiece, is an ironic and unconventional detectivestory infused with African-American cultural heritage. A strange psychic epidemic called “Jes Grew” is spreading through the country, affecting millions. PaPa LaBas, a HooDoo detective, is trying to find the origins of the JesGrew – not because he wants to cure it, but because he’s ready for a new kind of society.

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Composed of the memorable personalities and the little remembered tragedies and triumphs of the roaring 20s, MUMBO JUMBO weaves these truths into an overarching fictional narrative that goes from the beginning of civilization to the fall of man.

But the fiction is so peppered with essential truths, like the best of all fiction, that it will change fundamentally how you look at everything, from museums to curse words to bull fights. If MIDDLE PASSAGE is my favorite audio book, MUMBO JUMBO  I think , in opposition to its name, is the most enlightening and powerful audio book I’ve ever listened to, for the  way it opened up my mind to… broader definitions of history and broader definitions of ourselves. Magnificent.

Version:

Unabridged
Author: Ishmael Reed
Narrator: J. D. Jackson
Genres: Fiction & Literature
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published In: July 2005
# of Units: 8 CDs
Length: 8 hours, 30 minutes

Get your copy here:

 

Mumbo Jumbo

Music Video of the Day??? Yep. Roku Vimeo Streaming VOD Style!

While the heyday of the music video was arguably 30 years ago, people are still cranking them out.  And without further ado here is one that I stumbled across today that is awesomely fun.

You can use the link below. Or, the better way to watch… If you have a streaming system such as Roku or Amazon Fire TV and the free Vimeo channel you can watch this on your big screen right now.

Strongly Recommended!

 

https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/614284207.jpg?mw=300&mh=168

SHY LUV – SHOCK HORROR feat Jones on Vimeo

 

Black Butter Records

Directed by bif
Produced by Riff Raff and Mill+

 

TV REVIEW : Netflix’s LUKE CAGE Season 1 Episode 1-13 by Cheo Hodari Coker

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Well I’ve just finished watching the 13th episode of Netflix/Marvel Studios LUKE CAGE, and I have to say… I loved it. Full stop. Show runner Cheo Hodari Coker manages to in many ways do the impossible, and take a character already spotlighted in the JESSICA JONES series, and whose origins are the milieu of the Black Action or Black Agency film of the late 60s and 70s (mislabeled under the derogatory misnomer of Blaxploitation) and with him tell a rich, evocative, exciting, deeply layered cultural and historical and prescient love letter, to a place, Harlem, New York, and to an idea of local determination, and local agency, and self love, and colored love, and Black love in the age of Ferguson.

 

 

Or you can just look at it as a great action/drama series, set in the wonderfully expansive universe of Marvel shared superhero universe. :).

 

 

But what has exemplified the Netflix/Marvel collaborations to date is how grounded they are in a world not so dissimilar from our own. The gritty street level nature of DAREDEVIL’s 1st season, and ground breaking fight choreography, and fantastic writing made for a justifiably lauded 13 hours of television. (lost a bit in its less cohesive and interesting 2nd season)

 

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LUKE CAGE takes that to another level, in being a show that is as much about cultural signposts and idioms that define us, as it is the ‘A’ story of conflict and resolution. The literary and historical and musical references are not just littered throughout the story, they help define the scope of the character and the scope of the neighborhood that this story takes place in. A man is the things he loves, the things he reads, the things he listens to, the heroes that inspired, the places that mattered, and immediately in one episode Coker defines LUKE CAGE the character and the series in broad strokes, that for me reverberate deeply.

 

 

The first two episodes floored me in how good and rich and beautiful, they are. Coker here hitting, for me, the conversations I have in my soul and my head, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Denis LeHane, George Pelecanos, Donald Goines??? Come’ on Son!!! Kenyatta??? Those few strokes and I knew this was a writer with a deep love and understanding of genre fiction, and those who make it.

 

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But it’s more than name dropping, our influences define us, and define our world, and define who we care for, so immediately they make us part and parcel of this story that Coker and his team of writers tell. It’s a beautifully structured 13 hours of television, in that the first 6 episodes are very much their own chapter. You could bundle those 6 episodes up and have a great season.

 

Episode 7 feels like a swerve, very much like a start over, so if you rush into it, not recognizing that peak at the end of 6, that culmination, it’s going to feel stretched out. One of the possible dangers of binge TV… you have to pace yourself.

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Take a break after episode 6, let that sink in. It is very much, in comic book terms, the end of the first trade paperback or story arc. Episode 7 begins the 2nd story arc, so you have to go into it not rushing to a conclusion, but gearing up for the start, because start it does. As everything from the first arc gets turned on its head, and new major players break on the scene. It’s a jarring ride, but once it hits episode 9 its has picked up steam and by 10 is on a full sprint to the finish. Episodes 11, 12 and 13 are Brilliant.

 

There is a saying out there that ‘it’s not how you begin, but how you end that matters’; that saying is wrong. All of it matters. It is about how you begin, how you endure, and how you end. Cheo Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE does the extremely unlikely, in doing all three exceptionally well.

 

 

I want a Blu-Ray of this show, complete with Director’s and cast commentary, like yesterday. It is that good, and replete with episodes you want to go back to and know more about.

 

 

And I have to say it’s wonderful to see here in 2016, that TV is making great strides to not be exploitative, and to have shows where you can have more than a token number of characters of color.

 

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One thing I love about LUKE CAGE, particularly about the 2nd half (I love the first half as well) is it is so wonderful to see 6 beautiful women of color in major speaking parts, taking center stage in moments of strength and weakness, and owning the stage. It’s so rare to see a three shot of powerful, beautiful Black women in uplifting, exciting, dramatic, heroic material. It’s non-existent in Hollywood but thankfully, through great show-runners of color, and the success of shows such as BEING MARY JANE and EMPIRE is becoming finally available on the small screen. And the same love extends to being able to see multiple men of color in powerful, uplifting, heroic roles.

 

 

And the appearance of Method Man, and that song… Amazing. This series in addition to a DVD/Blu-Ray, must release a sound track, because in addition to the songs, the score for some of the episodes… is stunning.

 

 

I’ve recently become addicted to listening and purchasing scores, and LUKE CAGE has a world class score.

 

 

Now, is the series perfect ? No. I thought episode 3, they had a real opportunity to do an action sequence as talked about as DAREDEVIL’s hallway fight, but the director/fight coordinator wasn’t up to it. You’ll know the scene when you see it, it’s perfectly fine, but never rises above fine, when it should have been spectacular. And it’s a different show from DAREDEVIL , so the action will be different, I get that, but you can still do different and STUNNING.

 

Also, my problem with a character like Luke Cage, is the same one I have with a character like Wolverine, just because you can stand there and take being shot by a hail of bullets, doesn’t mean you want to or have to.

 

 

Luke Cage’s character (minor spoiler ahead) is revealed as a former police officer, former Recon soldier, former Prison MMA Fighting champ, former Boxer, all this to say… HE CAN FIGHT. So speed the dude up! Rather than standing there and waiting for someone to unload a clip on you, he should be disarming them and wrapping the gun around their necks before they can get off a shot. Especially since ricochets can kill just as well as any other bullet. I understand visually it’s an exciting thing to depict, but it should be the exception for talented filmmakers, not the rule. When he is shielding people from gunfire, sure… let the bullets fly. But in combat mode he should be disarming these guys before they get a shot off. Particularly later in the season that attitude would have made for exciting sequences.

 

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So that was another issue I had. However, the sequences do improve as the series progresses. Plus it’s not a show that is about fisticuffs like DAREDEVIL, as much as it is about the fight for a soul of a neighborhood. And that tale it tells expertly.

 

 

It is a superlative 13 hours of television, and all involved should take a bow. Cheo Hodari Coker has made not just a great Netflix series, but a great television show, and the one to beat as my favorite show of 2016.

 

Marvel's Luke Cage

Marvel’s Luke Cage

And among the Netflix shows so far where do I rank it? It’s much better than DAREDEVIL Season 2, which was good, but not great, it edges out JESSICA JONES, which was great, and it battles it out with DAREDEVIL Season 1 for the top spot. DAREDEVIL Season 1 which was clearly the best show of 2015, outdoes it in terms of action, a definite A of a show.

 

 

However I have minor quibbles with it, like I didn’t like the loss of Ben Urich, I found the character of Karen page annoying through most of it, the character of Matt Murdock was a bit unlikable, and the last episode it failed to stick the landing with an unimpressive looking costume, and just a bit of a dour ending. So those nitpicks, are the reason LUKE CAGE edges it out, and gets a big A+ grade from me. It possesses a story and characters that I want to revisit… often.

 

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Final Verdict: Seminal, Must Watch TV! Will appeal to fans of mystery novels, especially fans of Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, or fans of movies such as TROUBLE MAN.

 

If you are not a fan or are made uncomfortable or nervous or have unexamined issues with women of color, you probably will have an issue with the later episodes.

 

‘The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Brother, it always does. :).

 

But for the rest of us who watch the series, LUKE CAGE is phenomenal television at its best.

 

Boycott the Academy Awards /Oscars?


So the web is all abuzz regarding the Academy Awards being biased and unabashedly lacking in the pigmentation department. And people are calling for a Boycott of the Awards, which is their right.

However as someone who sees the Academy Awards as having always been a vehicle for an insular, largely affluent, largely white, small group, to define for the mass of the world, what films are worth not just recognizing in one year, but immortalizing for future years; boycotting seems an insufficient response.

As someone who puts no value in the Academy awards, and finds its selections politically motivated at best, and bigoted and demeaning at worst I have had for decades no interest in watching or caring about these Awards.

They have always been, while paying lip-service to liberalism, a very pointedly bigoted organization, with an end goal to reinforce the status quo. Particularly notable is that when the Academy “recognizes” Black Artists or Themed films, is how they are really recognizing stereotypes they enjoy or are comfortable with.

Examples? MONSTERS BALL wins an Academy Award?? Really? In what effing world? DRIVING MISS DAISY, GONE WITH THE WIND, TRAINING DAY, PRECIOUS are not bad movies, but I don’t think they are great movies, or the performances are particularly memorable. But they are roles that reinforce stereotypes that make some people comfortable.

Black women as the White Man’s maid or the White Man’s whore or having debilitating image issues. Black Men as Butlers or violent sociopaths. These are the Black performances the Academy sees fit to not just recognize, but immortalize, and by so doing move out of the limelight films that show Black Actors or Black themes that transcend stereotypes.

COURAGE UNDER FIRE, GLORY, LILIES OF THE FIELD, MAN ON FIRE, CREED, arguably any of these performances are award worthy for Best Actor, but they don’t get nominated by an Academy filled with non-Black decision makers, who seek to recognize only the demeaning when it comes to characters and creators of color.

The answer to me, is not to try to seek concessions from a biased and historically bigoted organization, but rather realizing this, invest your time and energy into creating your own awards show, wherein diversity can be more than lip-service or a weapon. Or supporting Awards shows that already do that.

Boycott The Academy Awards? That is given them more thought, and more concern then they merit. I don’t notice them enough to care. Create instead the Muni Awards, or the Vanguard Awards, and staff it with judges whose acting you admire.

The Academy Awards is an outdated vehicle, for an outdated Minstrel Show type Hollywood. Those calling for a Boycott that’s their right, but personally I think that energy would be better served by building something new and proactive, than pleading concessions from the stagnating old.

The Answer to FERGUSON

The answer to Feguson’s latest headline making descent into a Jim Crow south is the same as it was to that first headline. The answer is not simply protesting or marching or, worse, just taking to the streets as a mob.

No, the answer has to be something… better.

The answer is economics married to a good memory of the people in positions of authority in Ferguson, who have abused that authority. Ferguson is an overwhelmingly Black township. So this population speaking with their wallets and purses, boycotting any business that does not sign a petition calling for an immediate censure and removal of those involved (from officer, commanding officer, prosecuting attorney, presiding judge, mayor, and up) will elicit change that no amount of lipservice or tirades will.

And it’s about that population stepping up and once they have defined an economic base, forging a political base. The young people have to be the law enforcement, and the fire fighters, and the lawyers, and the politicians, because someone must hold the line, and if you would not have it be your enemy then you must fill those positions with yourself and your peers.

If you want to change the person always on one end of the gun, you must change the person… on the other.

Reprisals of a financial and political order.

Where Ferguson does your local Walmart, or McDonalds, or KFC, or mass transit or auto-shop or grocery… stand on this latest injustice? Find out, and boycott the ones not with you, and let the rest of America know and boycott with you.

Let them know… this far, no further.

Here beginneth the lesson.

Streaming Movie of the Day : Paul D. Hannah’s THE LAST LETTER [2013]

Streaming Movie of the Day : Paul D. Hannah’s THE LAST LETTER [2013]

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The film initially showed promise. A solid cast, well photographed, passionately performed, but unfortunately it’s sabotaged by a script and character actions that are insultingly stupid. I could choose a more elegant word, but stupid and idiotic and nonsensical sums up the problems with this script.

Well before halfway, the brain dead actions of everyone involved, and the complete unlike-ability of every one involved completely eradicates any interest in the movie or concern for the characters. And a movie where you have lost interest in all the characters is the definition of boring and a waste of time.

And it’s a shame because I do applaud Paul Hannah’s attempt to broaden the Black cinematic experience beyond the ghetto of dramas, comedies, relationship bashing, or Gospel/Christian/message movies they unfortunately tend to be relegated to.

Black themed films desperately need more action films and thrillers and horror movies and scifi and fantasy, however they need to be good. And unfortunately THE LAST LETTER isn’t. However with a better script (it would be hard to be worse) there’s potential for future Hannah thrillers to be better.

Grade: D-

Available to view this month on Netflix Streaming.