First Great Theatrical Experience of 2017 — KONG : SKULL ISLAND in 3D!

It takes a lot to get me out to the theater these days. 2016 was one of my most anemic theater going years. Having only seen a couple movies in the theater (among them the excellent CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR).

The slow movie going year could be linked to several reasons, some personal and singular, and some endemic of larger more encompassing perspectives.

The rise of Netflix and Streaming options has brought cinema quality programming to your living room or bedroom, around your schedule. So no trying to make your schedule fit around a movie showing, and all the baggage of parking, and seats, and annoying crowds, and of course the expense.

So for those reasons and others the theater wasn’t top on my list in 2016.

2017 and I’m incentivized to see quite a few movies in the theater. One reason is the reopening of one of my favorite regional movie theaters, as an upscale adults only dinner and a movie venue.

Perfect for couples or close friends, I decided to check out a matinee showing of KONG : SKULL ISLAND over other available options at this theater (such as LOGAN and JOHN WICK II and GET OUT, all of which I intend to see) for the main reason I wanted to test out the spectacle and 3D quality of this new theater, and what better way than a loud, explosive, monster movie.

So I reserved my seats, picking the perfect seats of course, and quite impressed with their meal and drink menu. Forget the overpriced artery clogging Popcorn and Hotdogs and Candy that comprises the fare of your typical theater, this theater offered a full and quite impressive meal and drink menu, brought to your spacious clean, well kept seats, no less. We had the crabcakes, bistro burger, korean wings, with a Berry Blast drink for me and a Mocha Latte for her. And did I mention the excellent attentive service.

So we are planted in front our huge curved screen, it’s a matinee showing so not only do we have our whole row free, we have our whole section free, with probably a total of less than 20 people in the large yet intimate theater. Meaning the theater and screen is large, but the number of seats are few.

So that’s the setup. What about the movie?

The best part of the Peter Jackson 2005 KING KONG movie, was the one hour period on the island (once we get past Peter Jackson’s annoying portrayal of Native Life as monstrous, evil and subhuman), that one hour was fantastic sequences of monster and Kong Mayhem, and should have been the whole movie.

Once that movie leaves the island it loses all interest and excitement, crawling toward a tepid ending.

KONG:SKULL ISLAND, 12 years after Peter Jackson’s mistake, learns admirably from the flaws of his film, crafting an entire movie on Kong’s home, the Island of Monsters, Skull Island, and it is absolutely kick-ass!

The idea to set it in 1973, at a pivotal time for America and the World, I thought was a stroke of genius and gives real motivation to Samuel L. Jackson’s Ahab inclined character, who see’s in the monster of Kong, this fight, a chance to win the war that he was denied, to change shame into glory. I like the opening, the setup to the actual Mayhem that is Kong, quite a bit, which says a lot about the quality of the filmmaker and the film.

Usually the least interesting part of any monster movie, is the prelude to the appearance of the Monster, when you have to endure boring cardboard characters killing time. That was the issue with the GODZILLA movie by the producers of this film, it was mostly setup and concentration on the human drama, but the humans and the human drama in that movie was as of much interest as watching paint dry.

Here, the setup and the characters feel fleshed out and earned, and part of that is grounding these soldiers in 1973. Survivors, but somehow not victors. Going from one barely war abroad, to a frightening barely understood war at home awaiting them, Skull Island, is very much a reprieve to Jackson’s Colonel. And the men under him, caught in the machinations of dreams of Glory, well they are understood to.

And all the characters are quickly enlisted for this obscure mission, all powerful, compelling actors, not a Jack Black insight. But actors all who can compel and own their time onscreen… their closeups. So I’m thoroughly entertained and into the movie, before Kong goes Ape, so to speak. And when he does go Ape… it is… EPIC!!!

This is why Theaters have value in an age of Netflix and Home Theaters, because a home theater is no match for a commercial theater when you have no annoying audience to deal with, this was the fury of Kong unleashed… this was spectacle, this was Blockbuster, and this was worth every penny paid!

Should you see it in 3D? I typically find 3D is a wasted expense in most situations. I think it is expertly done here, and is really the type of movie that cries out for really good 3D. KONG is really good use of 3D, and I think like AVATAR is a must see in 3D!

KONG is only the second feature film of Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, nothing in his filmography would indicate he could handle a big budget blockbuster of a monster movie, but much like the Russo Brothers of CAPTAIN AMERICA fame (who also came out of feature film obscurity) Roberts rises to the occasion, shattering expectations.

I loved this movie from beginning to end. It blows away recent failures such as GODZILLA and the aforementioned KING KONG, and bodes well for future films. Stay past the trailer for a nice Marvel style Easter Egg.

Grade: A solid and easy B+!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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BLU-RAY Movie of the Day : Antoine Fuqua’s EQUALIZER

“Progress. Not perfection.”

The Equalizer Movie Poster

I know in this day of streaming it’s all the rage to herald the death of physical media.

Allow me to be the voice of dissent.

Streaming is fine for sampling things, and trying things, but for things you love, and intend to watch again, revisit again, give me that feature rich DVD or BLU-RAY any-day, and twice on Sunday.

I love film. And I love cast and Director’s commentary. For films I love, after I consume the film, I like to go back and hear about the process, the experience of making the film.

For a beloved film, it just adds to the enjoyment.

And for cinephiles or hopefuls one day looking to work in some capacity crafting these once celluloid marvels, a commentary by Michael Mann or Ridley Scott or the late great Tony Scott is like being part of the best film school in the world.  It’s enjoyable AND informative.

My favorite movies I might get introduced to on streaming, but providing they have that commentary and special features, I will always buy in Blu-ray/DVD format.

The Equalizer Movie Poster

Antoine Fuqua’s THE EQUALIZER is one of those movies. First the Blu-Ray picture and sound quality is stellar. No buffering issues, or making sure you haven’t gone over broadband quota issues, or weather related or ‘time of day’ issues that can all affect your enjoyment with streaming. No the Blu-Ray, as long as you have your player and power, will be there for you, in the same spectacular quality.

Now moving on to the film itself, while I liked the TV show well enough, I too was incredulous when i heard about a remake. Add to that the odd choice of Denzel Washington to helm a big screen version of a mid-tier show, best known for the Britishness of its protagonist.

But I’m happy to say AntoinE Fuqua and the writers and Denzel Washington do the impossible in making this 80s small screen show, into galvanizing big screen entertainment. From the first frame the story is told, of a man of regimented routine, of  necessary order. Peace, found in the adherence to the space between seconds. A dragon allowed to sleep. Until one day something shatters that routine, that peace, and the dragon must wake.

Fuqua is a director, whose first couple of efforts left me cold, but I have to say he has grown into a great Director. There is such a beautiful patience in this film, that it makes the action scenes when they come, so much more devastating. And a large part of that is Denzel Washington, he brings a laconic, measured weight to the doors he steps through, a gravitas, that really sells the moments he must… wake.

Coming out the same time frame as JOHN WICK, both films share a common theme of men of extreme skillsets being forced back into using those skills. It’s lovely how the same theme of vengeance can be handled so differently, and so well in those differences.

JOHN WICK is a balls to the wall, action extravaganza,  EQUALIZER offers a bit more measured approach, but somehow manages to make every person’s fall more personal for that measured response. Fuqua’s EQUALIZER takes the time to watch the light go out of a man’s eyes. And there is something sobering and frightening about that. I love JOHN WICK, and looking forward to JOHN WICK II, but I love EQUALIZER just as much. The only misstep to EQUALIZER is the poor choice of a rap song for the closing credits, but other than that a home-run of a film.

It is a phenomenal film. Made even more so by the VENGEANCE MODE that the Blu-Ray offers. All in all a grade ‘A’ film, well deserving of owning in Blu-Ray.

 

Get your copy at the link below:

The Equalizer [Blu-ray]

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.

 

7 Best Podcasts of Jan 2016!

7 Best Podcasts of Jan 2016!

Knifepoint-HorrorKNIFEPOINT HORROR ‘These tales of supernatural suspense by Soren Narnia adhere to the most primal element of storytelling: a single human voice describing events exactly as it experienced them. The stories, stripped of even proper titles, spill forward as taut, uninterrupted confessions. Knifepoint Horror leaves nothing but the story’s riveting spine to compel and chill you to the core. Music by Kevin MacLeod.’

bookriotBOOK RIOT‘Book Riot – The Podcast is a weekly news and talk show about what’s new, cool, and worth talking about in the world of books and reading, brought to you by the editors of Book Riot.’

wtf_logoWTF

11oclock11’OCLOCK COMICS ‘VinceB, David Price, and Jason Wood talk comics and stuff.’

bmc960-37kB-MOVIE CAST ‘The B-Movie Cast is a website podcast and forum devoted all things B-movie and cult move related.’

blacktapesTHE BLACK TAPES PODCAST ‘The Black Tapes is a weekly podcast from Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale, and is hosted by Alex Reagan. The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.’

cgsCOMIC GEEK SPEAK ‘Comic Geek Speak (CGS) was started in March, 2005 when Bryan and Peter decided to try their hand at the then-new world of podcasting. They quickly invited their friends to join them and then the show was complete.

CGS is far more than just a few friends in a room with microphones. CGS is now a worldwide community of comic fans that helps to foster and grow the love of comics that is vital to the industry’s success.’

MOST INTRIGUING BOOKS READ in 2015!

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THE TROOP- “The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick puppies, it’s a perfect gift for a winter.” –Stephen King. Stephen King is asked to give a lot of blurbs, and he gives a lot of cover blurbs, not all of which I agree with. This quote… I agree with. Short, choppy chapters makes the book easy and compulsive reading. Strongly Recommended.The Troop

darkcompanions DARK COMPANIONS- A simply essential 2012 compilation of the best horror stories of one of the best writers of the horrific and strange… Ramsey Campbell. Not all the stories are homeruns, NAPIER COURT in particular is a disappointment, but the successes of this collection outweigh the false notes. Stories such as MACKINTOSH WILLY, DOWN THERE, HEADING HOME,PROXY,OUT OF COPYRIGHT, THE INVOCATION, THE PATTERN, THE COMPANION are well worth the price of admission.

murderatcapethreepointsMURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS (A DARKO DAWSON Mystery)- Kwi Quartey’s Ghana based mystery is a welcome change from the Swedish and Norwegian Noir that’s arguably over saturated the American market.Murder at Cape Three Points (A Darko Dawson Mystery)

TRASHED – by Derf Backderf is a biting, quirky, slightly deranged and beautifully drawn graphic novel, about a slacker who stumbles into the job of trashman. Trashed

BLACK COOL ONE THOUSAND STREAMS OF BLACKNESS -a collection of disarming essays about the varied experiences and definitions of Blackness. Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness

beatthereaperBEAT THE REAPER – Josh Bazell’s debut novel from 2009 is one of the most brilliant and enjoyable things I read in 2015. Alternatitely funny, and action packed. Beat the Reaper: A Novel

HOW BEST TO AVOID DYING – Owen Egerton’s story collection is an assortment of odd, weird, and deeply strange tales of characters at the far edges of precarious places. Delightly disturbed stories. How Best To Avoid Dying: Stories

watsonandholmesWATSON AND HOLMES A STUDY IN BLACK – A graphic novel riff on Doyle’s Holmes and Watson by Karl Boilers, Brandon Perlow, Paul Mendoza, Rick Leonardi, and Larry Stroman. Very entertaining pastiche to the Holmes mythos. Watson and Holmes – A Study In Black

halfaninchHALF AN INCH OF WATER – 2015 saw the release of this long awaited follow-up short story collection by prolific and superlative writer Percival Everett. Half an Inch of Water: Stories

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FOREIGN GODS- Nigerian born writer Okey Ndibe’s FOREIGN GODS, INC quickly found a place among my must owns of 2015. Foreign Gods, Inc.

Currently Reading: NELSON by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix

Currently Reading: NELSON by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix

 

Last week I was hunting for new podcasts to add to my subscriptions for next year, and one I tried (and subsequently added) was MAKE IT THEN TELL EVERYONE.  They had a podcast interview with a writer/artist/cartoonist Woodrow Phoenix, who I unfortunately was not familiar with.

But listening to the podcasts, and viewing snippets of his work online, I quickly ascertained that this was a creator to become familiar with asap.

I immediately ordered his acclaimed books NELSON and RUMBLE STRIP.

NELSON just came in and, yep I was right to rush out and purchase it. A bit of an experimental graphic novel, as 54 writers come together to tell something of a jam-piece of a story.

 

The back cover describes it as such :

“NELSON is a 250-page collaboration between 54 of the UK’s most exciting comic creators. It is an unprecedented experiment to create one complete story [from 54 distinct visions] -a collective graphic novel.”

Each artists gets to illustrate one day, one piece of a day in a character’s life, then it jumps one year, and the next writer has to pick up the threads of these characters.  As it goes on through all 54 artists, 54 years of a person’s life are revealed.

It’s a genius idea by Editor Rob Davis, and turned from idea to reality by co-editors Woodrow Phoenix and Rob Davis. As someone who grew up loving CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE style books as well as the WILDCARDS style books, NELSON’s experimental and experiential nature plays to my loves and my joys. A few pages in and I’m loving it.

 

Get your copy here:

 

Nelson. Edited by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix