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

2015 Podcasts the Year in Review: Old Favorites ended and New ones discovered

 

Looking back over the ten year history of this blog I’ve praised my share of podcasts, and seen quite a few shuffle off this mortal coil.

2015 seemed to be a volatile year, with many of my long standing podcast favorites either no longer releasing episodes on a regular schedule or hanging up their mics.

Among some of the great ones that seem to be on hiatus or done are:

 

  • HORROR ETC
  • SIDEBAR

 

 

All of these shows are and were great, and will be missed. And join other great departed podcasts such as:

 

  • INDIE SPINNER RACK
  • GEEK SYNDICATE
  • MONDO MOVIE
  • FREQUENCY OF FEAR

 

But I completely understand, these podcast and blogs, while dearly loved, require HUGE expenditures of time and energy, and sometimes… life gets in the way. And considering most of these podcasts are not a revenue stream, it is understandable that when the effort exceeds the rewards… it’s time to stop doing it. What is amazing is that some of these shows have gone as long as they have.

All that said, you may or may not still find old episodes online. I recommend grabbing them if you can. SIDEBAR particularly interviewed some great artists, and for those interviews to be not easily accessible, seems… a loss.

INDIE SPINNER RACK  had the best interviews with both Alan Moore (One of the greatest and most influential writers in the comics/graphic novel medium – it is a crime that companies, marvel and dc, are releasing books missing his name , and shorn of his insightful interviews. the reasons for this are both well documented and trivial. yes, alan moore can be something of a bridge burner, but his brilliance makes him worth the effort to mend those fences. when he passes off this mortal coil, as we all must, no one wants to be remembered as the company that stole his characters, and froze him out of work. pay alan moore and get him at least authorizing director’s cut versions or writer approved versions of his most celebrated works. it’s one of the reasons i will not part with my swamp thing paperbacks, it is because later introductions are devoid of his introductions, which are as entertaining and informative as his stories. )

and Stephen Bissette (Who remains to this day, with his run on swamp thing, one of the greatest and most influential artists to work in the medium).

 

So the above are the podcasts lost in 2015. Here are some select podcasts enjoyed in 2015:

 

Head over to the German Music Magazine GROOVE and pick up two of the best mix tapes of 2015:

 

DECONSTRUCTING COMICS – anytime you get the chance to hear Stephen Bissette speak, take it. Not only one of the great superstar artists of the 80s with his game changing work on Swamp Thing, but simply an informed, erudite speaker on a number of topics.. including the history of horror and cinema. This Sept 2015 podcast is a recommended listen. They also have an episode of huge interest to any fan of either Edgar Allen Poe or Richard Corben. They also offer a Transformers episode that offers reviews on recent transformer comics.

 

 

THE DOLLAR BIN (Also a show that appears to be on indefinite hiatus) had a couple intriguing episodes in 2015, one covering HIP HOP FAMILY TREE, and one with Golden Age artist Allen Bellman:

 

And if these guys really are  done producing new shows, some of their classic shows that you want to get, while avaiilable, are:

I grew up on Steve Englehart comics and you don’t get today’s sophisticated comics, without first going through him. One of the first to help transition comics from kids entertainment to college and beyond entertainment.

Not one, but two interviews with one of the most elusive, and one of the most talented and innovative writers in comics, Christopher Priest (His SPIDERMAN VS WOLVERINE remains one of the joys of my collection, as well as his excellent run on BLACK PANTHER and QUANTUM AND WOODY).

 

A Bob McLeod interview (Made important because Bob McLeod’s work on the NEW MUTANTS is burned into my brain. That fight with the New Mutants and the Sentinels in a mall, blew my mind as a kid. And as an adult, those images still define for me what great artwork and storytelling should be.)

So quite a few of my favorite podcasts slowed down or completely stopped in 2015. However when one door closes another, as they say, opens.

So some podcasts I started listening to in 2015, and have added to my subscriptions are:

 

  • THE COMICS ALTERNATIVE- Their monthly preview episodes helped me all last year put in my monthly comics order
  • INKSTUDS- Interviews with Comic Book  Creators… some really indispensable interviews.
  • READING LIVES- Interviews with Writers… LOVE IT.
  • WTF- I think without argument the most listened to and successful podcast, with guests from  comedians, musicians, actors, and now a sitting president, Marc Maron out of his garage has created podcast as both high art, and passionate conversation.
  • FILMSPOTTING:SVU- Reviews for the streaming age
  • GILBERT GODFREY PODCAST – I do not find Gilbert Gottfried funny, but his knowledge and love for classic film and television, means he interviews people I want to hear, and he has had some GREAT gustd this year. Thankfully co-host Frank is there to get the podcast back on track when Gilbert starts amusing himself and no one else
  • FAT MAN ON BATMAN- Kevin Smith’s love for the creative process and all things Batman… is an addictive listen
  • HOUSE TO ASTONISH – A comic book podcast from across the pond

AND WRAPPING UP MY 2015 REVIEW, WANT TO GIVE ACCOLADES TO SOME OF MY FAVORITE, AND LONGEST RUNNING PODCASTS THAT ARE STILL GOING STRONG. ALL AWARD WINNING PODCASTS (they all won my Welles Award a few years back, and in my mind have been award winners every year since):

  • CGS – Comic Geek Speak -one of the oldest podcasts, and with great losses, and welcome additions, still an eagerly awaited listen
  • 11′ OCLOCK- One of the most informative and jam-packed and fun of any podcast. The chemistry these three have… works.
  • B-MOVIE CAST – Love this podcast on classic, crazy, genre cinema. Wonderful chemistry between the hosts.

Well folks, that is the podcast scene here as 2015 ends and 2016 takes the stage. Please use this list to see what was special about those shows we lost, and to jump aboard and support those we still have.

Thanks for reading and be well!

FAVORITE (and least) Netflix and Amazon Shows Discovered or Watched in 2015!!

GREAT

 

  1. DAREDEVIL
  2. RIPPER STREET Season 1,2
  3. AGENTS OF SHIELD Seasons 1, 2
  4. HOUSE OF CARDS Season 1,2,3
  5. STRIKEBACK Seasons 1,2
  6. WALLANDER
  7. ARROW
  8. FLASH
  9. CHOPPED
  10. IRON CHEF AMERICA
  11. TOP GEAR
  12. LONGMIRE
  13. PENNY DREADFUL
  14. HEMLOCK GROVE
  15. AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM (Season 2 of the series works in a way that Season 1 and 3 does not)
  16. PERSON OF INTEREST SEASONS 1-3 (The mid season break, episodes 9 to 11 of Season 3 are great television, with the preamble to Episode 11 being one of the great moments of tv I saw this year. On Par with BABYLON 5’s NO HIDING PLACE and HELL AND BACK’s )
  17. GRIMM SEASONS 1-4
  18. JESSICA JONES
  19. ROSEWOOD
  20. THE PLAYER
  21. BLACK LIST
  22. THE GOOD WIFE
  23. ALONE (This History Channel story is one of the few ‘Reality’ shows that I considered must watch TV in 2015)
  24. KEY AND PEELE
  25. CLONE WARS
  26. SMALL SPACE BIG STYLE
  27. MARON
  28. SHARK TANK

GOOD

 

  1. SUPERNATURAL SEASONS 1-10 (Seasons 6 -onward, lose steam and are in the solidly Don’t Care for Pile)
  2. ZOO
  3. TRANSPORTER Season 1 -2
  4. BANSHEE
  5. MARY JANE
  6. HELL ON WHEELS (1ST 3 seasons are great, 4th season isnt)
  7. DOOMSDAY PREPPERS
  8. STAN LEE’S SUPER HUMANS
  9. RECTIFY
  10. AMERICA’S GOT TALENT

 

DIDNT CARE FOR

 

  1. SENSE8
  2. BITTEN
  3. CONTINUUM
  4. PARALLELS
  5. JUSTIFIED – I have tried to like this show, but it just fails to captivate in any way

    A painting is always quite moral when it is tragic and it gives the horror of the things it depicts.

    – Barbey d’Aurevilly, opening caption, Les Diaboliques

  6. VIKINGS– The above quote sums up my moralistic  issue with shows like VIKINGS and HANNIBAL and DEXTER that want to retrofit horrendous monsters as heroes. The VIKINGS  sent drugged to the gills raiding parties to rape and pillage and impale and enslave anything they found. They would bash childrens heads againt walls, so they were very not nice people.  So to have a show that white washes this and paints the vikings as in touch with their feelings, profeminist superteam good guys, is an issue for me.  Akin to having a show called NAZIS, that paints them as a band of people you should root for. The filmmaker in doing this thing, this prettifying of monsters, fail’s the test of Barbey’s definition of morality… they fail to give the horror of the things it depicts.
  7. HANNIBAL – I love Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, it is the first and best of the many cinematic Thomas Harris adaptations, and the rare movie that transcends the book.  SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was a worthy follow-up, but the films went down hill from there. And now we have the TV show. Like Vikings it is visually stunning, but like Vikings it is morally untenable.

 

Shows in GREEN I watched via Netflix, in Orange AMAZON PRIME and in Purple via Free Digital Antenna or applicable free Roku Channel!