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.

 

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Netflix Movie of the Day: BEYOND THE LIGHTS

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What we watch in cinema, if you ask a thousand people, you may get a thousand answers. But what we want from cinema? I think that answer is simpler.

We want cinema even at its most fantastic to tell us something true. To tell us something about ourself, and how we can aspire to be better than ourself. And that is what the best cinema does, for the fleeting time we share our attention with it, whether in a darkened theater or a light lit living room, we want to aspire to more than we are, to be better than we are.

Whether inspired to, if only in our dreams, be nicer, or more caring, or more concerned, or more heroic, or more… humane. That’s a rare gift, in a dire age, for cinema for a fleeting moment to have us believe in being better.

That is what BEYOND THE LIGHTS does. With a stellar cast of new faces and seasoned pros, Gina Prince-Bythewood of LOVE AND BASKETBALL and THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES here with her third feature film, creates inarguably her best film, and one that will become a perennial classic in households everywhere. But particularly households of color, in an America that increasingly is more ethnically diverse, our cinema and media is, doggedly and obstinately it would seem, ever more dismissive and marginalizing and denigrating, to characters of color or stories of color, that do not fit into narrow, nonthreatening, and tired stereotypes.

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That’s why Gina Prince-Bythewood as writer and director is so important, and BEYOND THE LIGHTS should be so heralded. In an America where Urban Love is often defined for young people in terms of players and hos, or in terms of its absence, it is so rewarding and refreshing to see a movie with intelligent Black Characters (ie more than one or two token characters) and healthy Black relationships, between Black Men and Black women, that does not fall into tired rhetoric, or bashing, or talk show idiocy.

 

Korean media and cinema is filled with such loving positive interplay, as is Japanese, or Thai, or Russian, or Dutch, or Indian, or Spanish. But somehow when it comes to the broad and diverse ethnic group called Black (African-American being a marginalizing appellation, misapplied and removed from the inclusive, unifying bridge it was meant, but failed to be. Defining an ethnic group, using a nationalistic descriptor being the height of stupidity), positive loving images are in drastic shortage.

As Black Men are increasingly invisible or the sexless , funny sidekick or cross dressing Enuchs in mass media, and Black women increasingly the hor, or the pining 2nd choice for the White Knight of American mass media. Or they are self-hating thugs, raised and bedded on ignorance.

With such a table, and such rotten food to feed young and old alike on, when someone brings to the table a fine steak or beautiful trout, you realize just how empty you had been, and for how long.

BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a great film, that makes you feel better for having seen it. Makes you feel better. What a concept.

Hopefully we can look forward to more such filmmakers and more such films. Highly Recommended!

Try it for free on Netflix, but only long enough to realize you really want to own this film in Blu-Ray. Get your copy here:

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Beyond the Lights [Blu-ray]

TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

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This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. 🙂

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” 🙂 .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —

WEDNESDAYS WORDS

OKay, I don’t know what is going on with this segment of WEDNESDAYS WORDS, but in my defense all I can say is interesting titles, regardless of genre, if they catch my eye, can end up featured here.

So this ‘testosterone lacking’ episode of WEDNESDAYS WORDS (with the exception of the Tim Vigil art book and Blacksad Graphic Novel) is for all my female readers and uhh husbands and boyfriends of females. 🙂 Wow that’s a nicely put together sentence… NOT.

Anyhow, yeah, wacky books for the woman in your life… enjoy. 🙂

WEDNESDAYS WORDS is a new weekly installment that ranks the most interesting, intriguing books of the week (old, new, reissues, digital, etc). Contributors represent a variety of genres and sources. Each book includes Title and publisher blurb.

Blacksad: A Silent Hell [Hardcover]
Juan Diaz Canales (Author), Juanjo Guarnido (Author)

Book Description
Publication Date: July 24, 2012 | Series: Blacksad
Detective John Blacksad returns, with a new case that takes him to a 1950s New Orleans filled with hot jazz and cold-blooded murder! Hired to discover the fate of a celebrated pianist, Blacksad finds his most dangerous mystery yet in the midst of drugs, voodoo, the rollicking atmosphere of Mardi Gras, and the dark underbelly that it hides!

Product Details

Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse (July 24, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595829318
ISBN-13: 978-1595829313
Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 8.6 x 0.6 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds

“The strip puts forth a dark dirty-realist style. The artwork uses clean, realistic lines. Very detailed watercolor drawings, including real-life places and cities, contribute to the realism and arresting (no pun intended) nature of the series… The knowledge of US culture and New York design is stunning. Neither creator is old enough to remember it. They are nothing short of brilliant. And subtle. I love this series.”– Noel Hynd

Blacksad: A Silent Hell


Tim Vigil Artworks 1976-1990 [Paperback] [Paperback]
Tim Vigil (Author)
Book Description
Publication Date: 1991
The best unseen works from early in his career
Tim Vigil Artworks 1976-1990 [Paperback]


Keeping Score [Paperback]
Regina Hart (Author)

Book Description
Publication Date: July 3, 2012
To be a pro b-ball champion takes endless drive and passion. But being a winner on the court can often mean losing off the court. . .

He’s an NBA legend, considered the best of the best. Now veteran player Warrick Evans is determined to lead his team all the way to the championship. It’s his last shot before he retires, but the media can’t get enough of his story–and all the attention is turning his teammates against him, not to mention his wife. . .

Dr. Marilyn Devry-Evans has always stood by her man, even when it meant standing in his shadow. Now she wants to focus on her own career, and on scoring her own dream job. But with the spotlight bearing down on them, Marilyn is reaching her breaking point. Especially when a secret comes to light–one that could destroy not only her career, but her marriage.
Keeping Score


Skinny Bitching: A thirty-something woman mouths off about age angst, pregnancy pressure, and the dieting battles you’ll never win [Paperback]
Jenny Lee (Author)

Book Description
Publication Date: October 25, 2005
In her acclaimed books I Do. I Did. Now What?! and What Wendell Wants, Jenny Lee hilariously chronicled the milestones of getting married and getting a dog. Now she takes on the most terrifying milestone of all: getting older.

Tackling everything from the peer pressure to have children to resisting the siren call of suburbia, Skinny Bitching delivers unsparingly witty commentary on:

• What to do when you actually start breaking out again like you did in junior high school (how is that even possible?)

• Saying good-bye to going to bars, seeing bands, and generally being cool

• Finally facing the fact that those extra ten pounds are never coming off

• Dealing with the fact that just when you finally know what you want out of a husband, it’s too late to exchange him

In a hilarious and poignant homage to thirty-something women everywhere, Jenny Lee lets us in on her most intimate secrets as she transforms her modern-day angst into something timeless, moving, and unfailingly funny.

Skinny Bitching: A thirty-something woman mouths off about age angst, pregnancy pressure, and the dieting battles you’ll never win


The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color [Paperback]
Iman (Author)

Book Description
Publication Date: September 5, 2006
The first beauty and make-up book to address skin tones from across the spectrum-including Latina, black, Asian, Indian, Native American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern, as well as multiple ethnicities – The Beauty of Color features:

Skin care basics with specialized beauty regimens for skin of color
Makeup 101 – what you really need for every skin tone
How to create ten amazing make-up looks with easy step-by-step instructions and photos
Famous beauties, including Salma Hayek, Tyra Banks, Eva Mendes, Venus and Serena Williams, Eve, Rosario Dawson, Padma Lakshmi, Jade Jagger, Alicia Keys, and Kimora Lee Simmons

The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color

Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics! [Paperback]
Grant Geissman (Author)
Book Description
Publication Date: April 5, 2005
Legendary publisher Bill Gaines is perhaps best remembered as the founder of MAD Magazine, but in the opinion of many dedicated comic book fans, his greatest achievement was E.C. Comics, a line of adventure, horror, and science-fiction comics whose influence on American graphic novels is undeniable, even today. Foul Play! is the perfect book for anyone wanting to understand the special place E.C. holds in the comic fan’s heart — or who just wants to read some real good comics!

Foul Play! celebrates the fan-favorite creators of E.C. Comics, profiling their artists — a veritable who’s who of mid-20th century popular illustration — and describing how they came to work with Bill Gaines and how their careers evolved after E.C.. Among the comics art legends profiled are Al Feldstein; Harvey Kurtzman; Johnny Craig; Jack Davis; Graham Ingels; Jack Kamen; Wallace Wood; Joe Orlando; Will Elder; John Severin; George Evans; Al Williamson; Reed Crandall; Bernie Krigstein; and more! Plus, the book includes a special bonus: a lost E.C. Comics story “Wanted for Murder!” originally intended to be published in 1956 but forgotten and unseen until now

Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics!


The WEDNESDAYS WORDS column is a new blog feature, appearing (you guessed it!) every Wednesday. Come back next week to see which books make the list!

If you’re a publisher, writer, or other creative representative looking to submit items for WEDNESDAYS WORDS, just leave a comment on this post with your email/contact info, comments don’t get posted they come right to me, and I’ll reach out to you with the snail mail details.

And as far as readers, if you see items on WEDNESDAYS WORDS you’re considering purchasing then, if you are able and would like to support this blog, please utilize the attached links.

Your helpful purchases through those links, generates much appreciated pennies to keep this blog running. Your feedback and support… just way cool, and way appreciated. Thanks!

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