Netflix Marvel’s Punisher Episode One “3am” Spoiler Free Review

Netflix Marvel’s Punisher  Episode One “3am” Netflix Punisher Poster

Action, Adventure, Comic Book

TV-MA: Strong Violence and Language

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

This is a spoiler free review of the premier episode of Netflix and Marvel’s “Punisher”

The Punisher has always been one of the darker comics in Marvel’s compendium.  Frank Castle also known as the Punisher first appeared in an issue of “The Amazing Spiderman” in 1974.  In that issue Castle was portrayed as a rogue mercenary who takes a contract to kill Spiderman.  The Punisher appeared in other comics teaming up with other Marvel heroes until being given his own comic series “The Punisher” which ran from 1987 to 1995.

In ’95 Marvel ended “The Punisher” comics due to poor sales but did see a revival in a 12 issue mini series during the early 2000’s.  He then got a continuing series in 2004 as part of Marvel’s more mature MAX line of comics.  Over the years The Punisher has largely been seen taking on organized crime from the Mafia to the Yakuza.  He’s known for going after villains the law can’t touch with deadly force.

Theatrically the character of the Punisher has had three feature films.  The first was in 1989 in which Frank Castle was portrayed by Dolph Lundgren.  The second was released in 2004 and stared Thomas Jane as the titular character.  The Third “Punisher War Zone” was a sequel of sorts but saw Castle recast with “Black Sails” actor Ray Stevenson.  None of these films fared particularly well critically With the 2004 “Punisher” coming in at 29% on Rotten Tomatoes.  “War Zone” fared a little worse coming in at 27%.  Though Punisher has featured in a number of Marvel animated shows and films, none of them were huge commercial successes.  Thus adaptations of “The Punisher “ have had a somewhat troubled history to date.  However, we seemed to hit a turning point last year when the Punisher joined season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil series.  This time the character was played by “Walking Dead” veteran Jon Bernthal.  This inclusion turned out to be a popular and widely celebrated aspect of the season.  So it was no surprise that Netflix would build on the popularity of this new incarnation with a stand alone series focused on Frank Castle.

“Marvel’s Punisher” premiered on Friday November 16th leading off with the first episode “3am”.  This first episode takes place after the events of Daredevil Season 2 and finds Frank Castle attempting to hide out under an alias quietly working a construction job.  It seems then that this season will continue building on the story of Castle’s evolution into the Punisher rather then just jumping to a point after he took on that mantle.  Castle continues to be tortured by the ghosts of his past even after finding vengeance for the deaths of his family.  However, an emerging situation among some of Castle’s rowdy co-workers pulls him out of his stupor.  Elsewhere the show introduces a new character, Dinah Madani, played by Amber Rose Revah (“The Bible” Mini-series).  Dinah is a federal investigator recently returned to the states from Afghanistan.  Dinah is obsessed with finding answers in relation to an American military operation that took place there, which may connect to Frank Castle.  They may be setting up Dinah as an early antagonist, someone who will pursue Castle in her search for answers but I suspect at some point she will become an ally.

Punisher pic
John Bernthal as Frank Castle the Punisher (Image from Netflix)

There’s no getting around the fact that “3am” is a series of set ups.  There’s nothing wrong with this per se, indeed the first episode of any show has to carry some exposition and set up the series.  However, this is best when folded into a narrative that exemplifies what the show will be like.  “3am” falters a bit because it doesn’t give enough of a sense of how the events connect to whats coming next.  That said the dialog and acting are passible with Bernthal anchoring the cast.  He doesn’t have a ton of dialog and much of his performance rests on his mannerisms and physical presents.  Though Bernthal is up to the task and conveys Castle’s mental state perfectly.

The main nitpick I have is the cinematography.  It’s just a little too bland and uninteresting. “Daredevil” established the Marvel Netflix shows as a formidable force when it came to visual style.  The “hallway fight” from the second episode in season one, which used a single unbroken camera take, added something unique and beautiful to the dark and gritty world in which the show took place.  “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” continued this trend.  In contrast “Punisher” offers a desaturated color pallet and grey tones which do add to the bleak oppressive atmosphere but it’s been done so often that it holds the first episode back from having any distinct personality.

The Punisher “3am” has some interesting elements and it’s good to see them spend some time in the aftermath of what happened in “Daredevil”.  There’s plenty of potential and “Punisher” could join the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, but unless they do more to lift it from its generic start it may devolve into a bland try hard similar to “Iron Fist”.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

For more on the ratings see our ABOUT page.

Advertisements

Justice League Review

Justice League

Action, Adventure, Comic BookJustice League Poster

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Fair or not “Justice League” had a lot to prove.  “Batman V Superman” currently stands at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and “Suicide Squad” is one point lower at 26% indicating a bad trend for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).  “Wonder Woman” broke the trend as it rose to “92%”.  The question has been is “Wonder Woman” a change in direction or a blip on the radar.  It puts a lot of weight on “Justice League” to prove the DCEU can continue to do better; to raise the bar and show they can take critical and fan response to heart.

However, news surrounding “Justice League’s” troubled production shed plenty of doubt on whether this was possible.  At the center of the troubling news was Zack Snyder’s very public exit from the project as he and his wife took leave to deal with a family tragedy.  Joss Whedon who was at Warner Brothers developing a stand alone Batgirl film stepped into the gap left by Snyder’s absence.  Whedon didn’t only oversee the postproduction on the film but wrote a number of new scenes and directed several reshoots and additional footage.  The change in leadership as well as some erroneous reports about the films quality simply built a atmosphere of ambivalence around “Justice League”.  As much as people wanted it to be good there was a lot of doubt.  Having finally seen it, I can say some of these fears are founded while others have been happily avoided.

“Justice League” picks up a few months after the events of “Batman V Superman.”  The world at large still mourns the death of Superman while crime, conflict, and war are on the rise.  The film opens on Batman as he hunts winged monsters called Para-demons.  Batman believes they are scouts who are harbingers for some evil power intent on coming to Earth.  Thus Batman is gathering people with special abilities to form a team that could combat this growing threat.  Meanwhile  Diana Prince, Wonder Woman, is trying to keep a low profile but occasionally still pops up to help (as in an opening scene in which she thwarts a terrorist attack by a group of militant luddites).  When it becomes evident that something is big is happening she joins Batman again.  Together they recruit others such as Berry Allen aka the Flash, Arthur Curry the Aquaman and Victor Stone a human robot hybrid known as Cyborg.  While the Flash is somewhat enthusiastic to join up, Aquaman and Cyborg take a bit of convincing.  Ample motivation is provided by Steppenwolf an alien overlord intent on conquering and destroying the planet.  Steppenwolf has an army of Para-demons behind him and seems unstoppable in his first couple appearances.  In desperation Batman concocts a plan to bring back a fallen hero who may be able to turn the tide.

justice league

First I feel I should give credit where credit is due, “Justice League” does mark an impressive change in pace.  It ditches the dark, brooding tone of “Batman V Superman” and instead adopts a much lighter humor tinged style which more resembles Marvel’s formula.  Those who have preferred something markedly different from Marvel may not rejoice over these changes, but I believe it is an improvement for the DCEU.  Additionally there are some improvements when it comes to the films pacing and plot.  “Justice League” moves at a good pace with a story that builds more effectively without losing the audience.  For the most part the writers do an adequate job of offering believable motivations for what the characters are doing.  Gal Gadot turns in another compelling performance as Wonder Woman supported by Ben Affleck’s Batman.  Amy Adams and Dian Lane are also good but under utilized.  One of the stand out performances to me is Ezra Miller as Berry Allen.  Miller plays a young Flash who has dabbled with helping people but hasn’t taken up the super hero banner.  Miller plays the manic self possessed character with an appropriate quirkiness and carries much of the films comic relief.

Justice League is heavy with action, replete with Snyder’s trademark slow motion and CG spectacle that’s been the norm for all the DCEU films.  Sometimes this works really well as with The Flash’s running effects.  Other times the overuse of CG and green screen comes across fake taking you out of the film at crucial points.  This is most exemplified in the films villain Steppenwolf who is an entirely CG creature.  It’s an odd choice since a significant portion of Steppenwolf could have been done practically, which would have helped ground the character.  As it is he resides too far into the uncanny valley and doesn’t have the on screen presence he needs to be appropriately threatening.

The other places the film falters is in the character and world building departments.  While some of the characters are well done others simply aren’t given enough development or motivation.  Cyborg and Aquaman are present but are sadly one demential heroes playing on archetypes.  There’s an attempt to build them up through expositional dialog but these moments fall flat with characters we don’t know talking about events we never witnessed.  The truth is DC / WB backed themselves into a corner rushing “Justice League” to screen.  They have to lay a lot of ground work even as they try to tell a full story.  It ends up being a little like trying to lay track in front of a train while it’s already moving.

The pacing is better then in past DCEU films but only just. The first half flies by at Berry Allen speed as they gather the pieces needed to set up the central conflict.  The second half is weighed down a bit by a lot of bombastic action.  When WB announced “Justice League” would only run 2 hours (their shortest film to date) I thought it was purely an economic decision.  A shorter runtime meant theaters can screen the film more times in a day leading to more ticket sales and more money.  However, I now believe there is another reason.  The film is so inundated with CG action that if the movie had dragged on any longer it would have become overbearing much the way “Batman V Superman” and “Man of Steel” are.

“Justice League” had a lot of hurtles to overcome due to problems created by past DCEU films.  It clears a lot of these obstacles surprisingly well but it stumbles over others resulting in a fun but imbalanced adventure.  “Justice League” is a step in the right direction, but it lacks an emotional core which keeps it from having the staying power it should have.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

You can find some more of my thoughts on Shared Universe franchises and why Marvel has been more successful than others in a past article Here.

For more on the ratings see our ABOUT page.

Stranger Things Season 2 “Chapter 2: Trick or Treat, Freak” Review

Stranger Things Season 2Stranger Things Season 2

“Chapter 2: Trick or Treat, Freak”

Fantasy, Horror, Drama

TV – 14: For Violence and some language

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

This review does contain Spoilers for the second episode “Trick or Treat, Freak”.

At the end of the first episode they revealed Eleven has actually been staying with Jim Hopper for an unknown period of time.  I noted in my review that though the reveal was well done it didn’t explain how she came to stay with Hawkins chief of police.  Picking up this thread episode two backtracks a bit to answer that very question showing Eleven waking up in the Upside Down after defeating the Demigorgan monster.  Though she isn’t stuck there long as she uses a portal to cross back to our world.  Seeing Eleven race to Mike’s house only to discover it swarming with agents and realizing she can’t re-enter his life, is somewhat heart breaking.  However, it nicely loops around to the ending of the first season with Eleven finding the Eggo waffles Hopper left  and beautifully sets up that Eleven and Hopper would cross paths.  With the information from the first season about Hopper’s daughter it make sense that he would become a surrogate father figure. It helps add another dimension to his character and David Harbour deals excellently with the material.  There’s also some fun glimpses into some shared history he has with Joyce.  Hearing about their childhood exploits explains a lot about how they relate to each other and potentially hints that their could be more than just friendship between them.

This episode also delves more into Will’s situation as it follows the group of boys as they Trick or Treat, during which Will has another vision of the Upside Down.  It’s a good progression especially the scene in which Joyce finds the drawing of the shadowy entity.  Will’s refusal to own up to it as being from his visions feels like something a kid would do.  It seemingly sets up what will be an important aspect of this season.  Will obviously just wants to be a kid again and that desire may keep him from accepting the danger he is in.

Meanwhile in the episode, Max played a bigger roll becoming a source of conflict between Dustin and Lucas as both boys are smitten with her and start a game of brinksmanship over her attention.  Some of these interactions are an endearing slice of life but if this is going to be a major subplot then it threatens to create a forced melodramatic dynamic much the way the Nancy – Steve relationship did in the first season.

Speaking of Nancy and Steve this episode attempts to build some drama and answer fans by continuing to play out the repercussions of Barb’s death.  Nancy thinking she sees Barb in the library only to realize it’s another girl is effective to communicate the mental state she’s in.  Unfortunately a later scene at a party in which a drunken Nancy has a fight with Steve introduces an entirely forced moment that isn’t as well handled.  With as much as they’ve built into Steve it’s hard to imagine Nancy’s drunk rant would end with him storming out.  However, with the revelation that Jonathan took Nancy home from the party it’s clear the writers want to separate Nancy and Steve so they can make room for a sub plot that will involve her and Jonathan.  I’m guessing they have future plans for Steve too going from the trailer in which Dustin was hanging out with him.

Episode 2 has some great strengths and a few weaknesses, but over all it is a good continuation.  I can’t help but feel a few elements are being forced possibly a side effect of the fast paced storytelling and short season length.  I will say though I am glad they didn’t draw out the revelations about what happened to Eleven, getting it out of the way early so they can push forward saves a lot of unneeded angst that could have dragged the show down.  For more on season two of “Stranger Things” stay tuned to The Glitch.  You can also find my spoiler free review of the premier episode here.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

For more on the ratings see our ABOUT page.

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor: Ragnarok

Comic book | action

Rated PG-13: For  intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material

Written by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Thor Ragnorok poster

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the third Thor film to be released and the fifth film in Marvel’s Phase 3.  It is directed by Taika Waititi an indy filmmaker known for his 2014 vampire film “What We do in the Shadows” which Waititi co-wrote and co-directed.  Handling script duties is Craig Kyle, writer on several Marvel animated films and series, Eric Pearson who’s worked on Marvel’s “Agent Carter”  and Christopher Yost who has also worked on animated shows such as “Star Wars Rebels” and “X-Men: Evolution.”

It stars the returning cast of Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall, and Mark Ruffalo as Hulk.  “Thor: Ragnorok” adds a number of new faces such as Cate Blanchett as Hela, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, Karl Urban as Skurge and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.  Once again Marvel proves their commitment to casting strong actors in their rolls even if they aren’t always used to their fullest potential.

It’s been four years since “Thor: The Dark World” in Phase Two back in 2013 which ended with the revelation that Loki was impersonating Odin, sitting on the throne of Asgard.  “Ragnorok” picks up after a while after the events of “Age of Ultron” and sees Thor on a quest to stop Ragnorok, the end of Asgard at the hands of Surtur, and an ancient monster.  However, Surtur isn’t the only enemy as Hela, the so call goddess of death,  is unleashed and set on subjecting Asgard to her will.  Unable to match her on his own Thor must gather allies to stop her.

Phase Three of Marvel has been a mixed bag, “Doctor Strange” and “Spiderman: Homecoming” were strong entries while “Captain America: Civil War” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” had some significant issues.  With this 50/50 success rate it seemed a toss up as to whether “Ragnorok” would be successful.  From the trailers it’s been obvious that the film would have a new unique aesthetic.  Thor with short hair and a new leaner more talkative Hulk.  These changes are well motivated and do a lot to further the characters and the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  It’s also fun to see Thor and Hulk paired up giving a similar feeling to some of the famous team ups from the comics.  Loki’s return and Tom Hiddleston’s performance is again one of the strongest elements of this film.  It advances his character and the dynamic between Thor and Loki in a much needed and satisfying way.

True to the other Thor films the otherworldly qualities of the world are done with enough self awareness to keep from dragging the film down.  There is also plenty of humor which is more significant if you’ve been following the past films in the MCU.  The most note worthy thing about “Thor: Ragnorok” though is the art direction and cinematography.  There are several moments which look like a piece of fantasy art come to life.  Javier Aguirresarobe, known for “The Others” and The Road” does a magnificent job giving each world and location its own character.  This effect is bolstered by the film’s soundtrack which features songs by Led Zeppelin and a stellar score to back it up.  This film also provides one of the strongest villains in Hela

joining the ranks of Loki and Vulture.  There is enough characterization to help her stand out and give her sufficient cause for who she is and why she is does what she does.

The pacing slows down a little in the second act in which Thor attempts to build his team before returning to Asgard to face Hela but for the most part the film’s two hour and ten minute run time moves along at a good enough pace as not to feel too long.  All of this; the acting, the art design, the sheer air of fun the film exudes, works incredibly well.

It is not however flawless.  At the top “Thor: Ragnorok” continues Marvel’s bad habit of having characters explain the plot to you.  “Ragnorok” does this on a couple occasions which is a shame because the first Thor film did an excellent job of allowing its plot to progress naturally.  As I mentioned there is some pacing problems in the second act which slows down a little too much.  Lastly, “Thor: Ragnorok” engages in a lot of humor.  Much of it is appropriate and helps lighten the darker parts of the film but there are a few times when the humor is forced, unnecessary and overbearing to the point of unbalancing the film.

Despite some minor flaws “Thor: Ragnorok” ranks with the best, not only of Phase 3, but among the best in the MCU thus far.  It’s visual aesthetic, acting  and advancement of the overall world set a new bar and do a lot to set up the end of Phase Three as we barrel toward “Avengers: Infinity War” next summer.

 

New 4 stars
Final Score: 4 Stars

For more information about our ratings please see the ABOUT page.

The Last of Us Part 2 PGW Trailer Analysis

Gaming | Analysis | Opinion

By Benjamin Ferrarini

Sony held a press conference at the Paris Game Week on Monday October 30th.  Going in Playstation promised “the second half” of their E3 presentation.  This as it turns out was not an exaggeration.   Sony announced“Ghost of Tsushima” a new game  from “Infamous” and “Sly Cooper” developer Sucker Punch.  Sony also showcased an impressive list of Indy games and updates for games that were absent from the E3 stage.  This included “Detroit: Become Human” which got a new trailer and a release window of next year.  Bluepoint’s remaster of “Shadow of the Colossus” also got a beautiful new trailer with some gameplay and a release date of February of 2017.  However, perhaps most stunning was the way Sony ended their conference, a new cinematic trailer for “The Last of Us Part 2”

LastofUs

There has been virtually no new information about Naughty Dog’s follow up to their highly acclaimed 2013 masterpiece since its initial reveal at E3 in 2016.  The first trailer depicted Joel, one of the protagonist of the first game, walking through a blood soaked house littered with corpses while hearing Ellie strum on a guitar, singing a rendition of Shawn James’ “Through the Valley”.  When she finishes the song Joel asks Ellie what she’s up to… whether she will actually go through with her plan.  Ellie turns toward the camera and declares “I’m going to find and I’m going to kill every one of them.”  This was a very simple announcement trailer but it was enough to set the gaming community ablaze with rabid speculation.  After E3 Naughty Dog concentrated on promoting Uncharted Lost Legacy while going relatively dark on “Last of Us Part 2”.  With “Lost Legacy” on the market creative director Neil Druckmann has stated the the entire studio is now working on “Last of Us Part 2” which is in full production.  Thus it is fitting they brought out a new trailer to showcase the games advancements and to maintain the hype for the title.  Still there are a couple noticeable things about this trailer that I want to point out.

This is  a cinematic trailer with no game play evident but Druckmann was careful to point out the trailer was designed to showcase the newest build of their game engine.  The graphical capability when rendering muscle tone, rain, fire and facial animations.  All of this was impressive bolstered by the power of Sony’s PS4 Pro.  However, Naughty Dog is renowned for the art direction of their games and their talent of pushing the frontier of the Playstation’s graphics.  The first thing that really stands out in this new trailer is that it features neither Joel or Ellie.  It opens on a pair of hooded figures dragging someone through the mud.  At first it’s easy to assume the hooded figures are Joel and Ellie, but as they throw their bound victim to the ground the hoods come off and we see two people we’ve never met before.  Likewise the women they’ve captured aren’t a familiar face either.  A grizzly set of interactions follow with the captors attempting to hang their victim only to be interrupted by yet another new face, a woman who is quickly subdued and has one of her arms broken with a hammer.  But the women manage to turn the table on and kill their captors before facing of with a pack of Clickers.  It’s is at this point the trailer abruptly cuts out.  There is nothing to ground this set of events in the world we know aside from the emergence of the Clickers at the very end.  None of the characters are familiar, their purpose and their connection to Joel and Ellie is a mystery.  However, there are a few clues that give enough information for me to make a bit of a prediction.

In a video that accompanied the new trailer Neal Drukmann briefly talks about the trailer but says he’ll leave who the characters are, where it happens and when it happens up to the gamers to figure out.  It’s the last bit “when” the events of the trailer happen that is a big clue.  The rest of the clues come from the trailer.   When one of the captors strings up the woman she threatens her with a knife muttering something about the woman being “nested with sin”.  The blade is pressed against the woman’s abdomen before the other woman, Yara, distracts them.  This gives the strong implication that the woman who is to be hanged is pregnant.  When the order is given to break Yara’s arms the sadistic capture tells her counterpart to “clip her wings” which could very well be a reference to Yara being a member of the paramilitary group the Fireflies.  These two elements combined with Druckmann’s hitting that this tailer may have a “when” component offers a startling suggestion.

LastofUs2

It is possible that “The Last of Us Part 2” will take place at more then one point in time.  Following events in the past and present, filling in back story and giving a new perspective on characters and events we know from the first game.  Specifically I am talking about Ellie’s mother… that’s right I believe the woman who is almost hanged is Ellie’s mom Anna and that we will see or perhaps even play through a sequence of events that led into the first game.

Toward the end of the first game playing as Joel you manage to uncover some back story about Anna her connection to the Fireflies, and their leader Marlene.  This was all revealed through finding old documents and audio recordings. It wouldn’t be surprising if Naughty Dog wanted to explore this story a bit more.  It also isn’t unprecedented as both Uncharted 3 and 4 both contain playable “flashback” sequences.  Beyond this Naughty Dog has released the names of the actors who voice the characters seen in the new trailer but noticeably the name of the character in question (voiced by veteran actor Laura Bailey) has her name redacted.  This suggests Bailey’s character has a special significance Naughty Dog is unwilling to reveal yet.

If indeed the mystery woman is Anna then there may be more to her and Ellie then any of us know.  Is it possible Ellie’s immunity to the cordyceps fungus isn’t accidental?  Could what happened between Anna and the Fireflies in the past play apart of Ellie’s violent journey in the present?  This is, of course, all speculation and may come to naught with future information.  When Naughty Dog does release more you’ll find reaction and analysis right here on The Glitch!

Here’s the new trailer but be warned it’s not for the faint of heart.

 

If you have any thoughts, comments or questions please leave a comment below.

Stranger Things Season 2 Chapter 1 “MadMax” Review

Stranger Things Season 2

Chapter 1 “MadMax” Stranger Things Season 2

“Stranger Things” was one of Netflix’s breakout hits when it premiered in July of 2016.  Drawing heavy inspiration from Stephen King and 1980’s supernatural thrillers the short 8 episode season told the story of four friends in Hawkins, Indiana set in the mid 1980’s.  The first season was concerned with the disappearance of a young boy, Will Byers, the arrival of a mysterious girl, 11 and a malevolent force that is stalking the towns inhabitants.  Developed by Mat and Ross Duffer responsible for some low budget horror films and writers on Fox’s “Wayward Pines”.

The first season featured a strong ensemble cast including impressive performances from a number of child actors such as Millie Bobby Brown (Intruders), Finn Wolfhard (IT), Caleb McLaughlin (Blue Bloods).  Winona Ryder and David Harbour also turned in powerful and nuanced performances.  Overall “Stranger Things” provided a great mix of drama, thrills and heart.  After a review period that seemed lengthier then necessary Netflix announced there would be a season 2 set for Halloween of 2018.  Season 2 finally released on October 27th with 9 new episodes.

At the end of Season 1 Will was finally recovered from the alternate reality known as the Upside Down and Eleven managed to destroy the monster plaguing the town but in so doing disappeared without a trace.  In the last scene there is a hint that Will isn’t quite right.  Standing in a small bathroom Will saw a flash of the Upside Down before coughing up some kind of slimy worm like creature that immediately slithered down the sink drain.  Season 2 picks up nearly a year later as the citizens of Hawkins are still trying to get back to normal.  But the events of the first season still very much haunt everyone from Will who continues to see visions of the Upside Down to Nancy who continues to struggle with the death of her friend Barb.  All of them are in some way frozen by the NDA they have been sworn to.

Stranger Things still 1
From left to right: Finn Wolfhard as Mike, Noah Schnapp as Will, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin

The first episode “MadMax” does a brilliant job of settling us back into the world of “Stranger Things” catching up with each of the characters.  It also introduces some new ones such as Bob (Sean Astin) the new boyfriend of Will’s mom Joyce.  Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) the new head of the Hawkins Laboratory and Max (Sadie Sink) a new girl in school who immediately catches the attention of the group of boys.  The show does an excellent job of depicting how things have changed and yet how they’ve stayed the same with utterly believable performances being turned in by both main and supporting casts.  Joyce is dating but remains over protective of Will having a hard time letting him out of her sight.  She and Will are also forced to regularly return to the Hawkins Labs for check ups.  Season 2 wastes no time showing how Will is struggling with the continued effects of the Upside Down.  In an early scene the boys are playing at an arcade when, in a flash, Will finds himself back in the Upside Down as if in a waking dream only to be pulled back into the real world.  All of this plays well and gives a strong place to jump off from.  Also the writers show again that though the season is only 9 episodes they aren’t afraid to take their time building the story.  One of the biggest questions left hanging at the end of season 1 was, what happened to Eleven?  Season 2 holds the reveal of this until the very end of the episode.  Even then it leaves off some of the explanation and only shows where she is now, not how she got there.

The cinematography for the first episode is furnished by Tim Ives known for his work on shows such as “House of Cards”, “Mr. Robot”, and HBO’s “Girls”.  Ives’ work here is exemplary as is the stellar production design by Chris Trujillo.  The look and feel continue on the strengths of season 1 placing you in a little piece of the ‘80s.  Of note here too is the soundtrack which features a few prominent songs from the time period which further saturates it with nostalgia for those of us who remember it.

There maybe be one or two drawbacks here as well.  The sub plot involving Nancy and her boyfriend Steve which, while believable, hints that we’re not done with some of the teen drama that was the weakest element of the first season.  Also the handling of Finn Wolfhard’s Mike is a bit uneven.  We’re told he’s been acting out and getting into trouble, were given enough insight to see this is likely the result of the loss of Eleven, however it’s not as strong as some of the other elements.  Likewise the introduction of the new character Max and what appears to be her older brother is an element that feels a bit forced.  That is to say the characters are present to push along certain plot elements rather then something more organic.

Still, “MadMax” is a great way to kick off the second season of “Stranger Things”. It regrounds us in the world and hooks us with just enough hints at where this season may be going.  If you haven’t already check out the first season on Netflix and feel free to comment with your thoughts on “Stranger Things” and this first episode of season 2.

 

 

New 4 stars
Final Score: 4 Stars

 

For more about our review scores please see our ABOUT page.

Let’s Talk About the new Justice League Trailer

Film | News | Opinion

By: Benjamin Ferrarini

I’ve got some thoughts on the new Justice League trailer that was released at New York Comic Con this past weekend.  As of this writing the official Warner Brothers trailer has twelve  million views on YouTube.  There  has been quite a lot of buzz around this trailer and much of it is positive.

justice league

The new trailer opens on Lois Lane finding Clark Kent standing in a field outside his families farm house.  As she approaches Clark he smiles and mentions she’s wearing the engagement ring so she must have said “yes”.  Suddenly Clark is gone and instead Lois is holding a wad of dirt in her ringed fist, poised as if to drop it on Clark’s coffin.  Then it seems Lois wakes up as if what we just saw was a dream.  After that is a collection of scenes some new some recycled with voice over of Batman talking about the threat which he believes is coming.  It is likely the most polished trailer we’ve gotten so far and my guess is that it also includes some footage from the now infamous reshoots.  It showed a little more of Steppenwolf’s army and a ton of hero shots.  At it’s best the new trailer solidifies just how visually stunning “Justice League” will be.  It is definitely more diverse in terms of the aesthetics.  However, this is just affirmation on something we already knew.  At the same time there are a couple of things that have me concerned.

This is the fourth trailer we’ve gotten and still have almost no plot details.  We get that Bruce and Diana are gathering more heroes and we know the villain Steppenwolf attacks with an army of flying creatures.  But we have no context for any of this.  This has been true of some of the other DCEU films most notable “Batman V Superman” and “Suicide Squad” both of which suffered in the story department.  Thus it is hard to tell if a lack of details on “Justice League” is just Warner Brothers keeping their cards close to their chest or if it foretells some serious problems.

The second concern is the differences in tone.  There is a couple humorous moments that are reminiscent of what you’d find in a Marvel movie.  For instance one clip sees Barry Allen, Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne are standing around when the Bat Symbol appears in the sky.  Berry starts to geek out telling Bruce his symbol just appeared in the sky only to realize they are in their normal personas.  This moment is mixed in with plenty of shots of “Batman V Superman” style action and destruction.  With the knowledge of the Joss Whedon directed reshoots and additional footage there’s enough reason to be concerned about a clash of styles here.  “Justice League” could very easily fall victim to heavy tonal shifts as it tries to balance two directors, the studio and the perceived wishes from the fan base.  It obviously has Snyder’s visual flair, it has the big bombastic action/destruction DC is known for and is also attempting Marvel-esque humor.  Whether it can bring all these elements together with a strong plot and strong characterization is yet to be seen.  They proved a lot with “Wonder Woman” though that film’s success doesn’t really mean anything for “Justice League” as they were in production at the same time.  WB hasn’t had enough time to take the lessons we hoped they learned from “Wonder Woman” to apply them to “Justice League”. They are also so different that what made “Wonder Woman” work just wouldn’t translate.

Wonder Woman Poster

One thing we can say for sure is that Warner Brothers has done an admirable job of turning around the perceptions of the DCEU.  After the bad press and negative reviews from “Batman V Superman” and “Suicide Squad” many were less than optimistic about “Justice League”.  The overwhelmingly positive reception of “Wonder Woman” helped breathe some much-needed life back into the DCEU, but still a lot of pessimism remained as evidenced by the largely discredited Batman-on-Film report back in August that an early cut of “Justice League” was “unwatchable” before the reshoots.  Still with the newest NYCC (New York Comic Con) trailer a high amount of positive buzz is carrying this film into its release.

Stay tuned to The Glitch for more on “Justice League” and a review when it releases on November 17.  If you have any thoughts on the film or the new trailer leave a comment below.

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Blade Runner 2049

Sci-fi, Action, Thriler

Rated R: for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Blade Runner 2049 poster

The original “Blade Runner” is a classic sci-fi masterpiece.  It was released in 1982 and was directed by Riddly Scott.  It’s considered by many to be one of the best sci-fi films ever made, that also heavy influenced what later became known the Cyber Punk genre.  It’s story, themes and special effects hold up incredibly well even today.  “Blade Runner” is a formative film that grew my appreciation of the artistry and power possible in the medium.  Because of this I hold the original  (and by original I mean Riddly’s director’s cut without Deckard’s voice over) I approached “Blade Runner 2049” with a healthy dose of skepticism.  After all, films that get sequels many years after the original don’t have a great track record.  Nonetheless here comes the first sequel to Blade Runner after 35 years.

“Blade Runner 2049” is directed by Denis Villeneuve who came to prominence after last years highly lauded “Arrival”.  However, Villeneuve is also known for his indy thriller  “Enemy” in 2013 and his 2015 action, crime drama “Sicario”.  In other words Villeneuve is one of the few directors who has the proven chops to take on the Blade Runner franchise.  It’s written by Hampton Fancher who worked on the first “Blade Runner” and Michael Green who worked on “Logan” and Star’s series “American Gods”.  The cinematography is done by the legendary Roger Deakins who is known for such films as “Shawshank Redemption”, “No Country for Old Men”, and “A Beautiful Mind”.  It stars Ryan Gosling as K, Robin Wright as K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi, Jared Leto as Niander Wallace, and of course Harrison Ford returns to reprise his role as Rick Deckard.

As the name suggests the film takes place in 2049, thirty years after the events of the first film.  In the interim Tyrell Corporation folded and Replicants were briefly outlawed.  In this vacuum stepped Niander Wallace who bought up all the old Replicant technology and created a new generation that promised to be far more obedient then the older generation.  The new Replicants were welcomed and became ubiquitous.  Of course some older Nexis 8 models who are in hiding so there is a new generation of Blade Runners who’s primary responsibility is to hunt down and retire the older models.   The story centers on Gosling’s Agent K, one of these new Blade Runners who stumbles upon a mystery in during a routine mission.  I won’t go into any more specifics to avoid spoilers, accept to say the plot does directly related to the first film.

Visually “Blade Runner 2049” is a beautiful film.  The cinematography and art design are brilliantly executed paying homage to the original film while also updating it and taking full advantage of modern special effects.  This film looks similar enough to feel like “Blade Runner”yet with just enough difference to set it apart so it avoids being just a copy.  For instance Los Angeles is still a dark rain, soaked dystopia only now instead of giant animated billboards the city is spotted with mile high holograms that sell everything from personal electronics to digital girlfriends.  This film also does a decent job of matching the pacing of the original with long, brooding scenes that take their time to develop.  As K walks through an old abandoned city choked with yellow radioactive dust you get the sense of what the place used to be before some tragedy turned it into a ghost town.

Thankfully the cast is up to playing in these spaces carrying long quiet moments, the emotion of sentimental moments and the frantic energy of the action.  Each member of the cast handles some rather complicated material with ease.  Hampton Fancher’s presents can be felt throughout as the tight sparse dialog is what you would expect from “Blade Runner”.  Taken all together “Blade Runner 2049” is immensely successful to carrying on the banner of the original, to a degree that both surprised and delighted me.

With all this it pains me to point out some areas in which “Blade Runner 2049” stumbles.  Ryan Gosling’s K is not as dynamic a protagonist as Deckard.  While there are a few sparse attempts to build his character Gosling’s stoic exterior doesn’t curry the charisma Harrison Ford does.  As a result K just isn’t as interesting to watch and some of his pull has more to do with the story then something organic that comes from his character.  The film also spends quite a bit of time on some subplots that don’t fully resolve leaving you to wonder why they were there in the first place.  It’s entirely possible the filmmakers are hoping to make further sequels with a plan to make use of  these dangling elements.  However, even then it means a lot of the films runtime is padded with sequel bait.  Lastly, and this is a bit of a nitpick, “Blade Runner 2049” isn’t as deep or philosophical as it’s predecessor.  If “Blade Runner” is a poem then “2049” is a puzzle box, simple and straight forward in what it is and what it’s trying to do.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing just a little disappointing considering how heavily the original relied on philosophical musings.

“Blade Runner 2049” is beautiful and at times awe inspiring, I can’t say enough how many times this film gave me a similar feeling to the one I got from the original.  It feels like “Blade Runner” and that in and of itself is an amazing feat.  However, as much as I could talk about the things I liked about the film there are a few flaws that do mar what is one of the best films of this year.

 

 

New 4 1:2 stars
Final Score: 4 1/2 Stars

 

For more on the ratings see our ABOUT page.

American Made Review

American Made

Action, Biography, Comedy

Rated R:  For language throughout and some sexuality/nudity

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

american made poster 2

 

American Made is based on the true story of Barry Seal, a commercial airline pilot who begins working as a currier for the CIA in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  It’s directed by Doug Liman known for “Borne Identity”, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, and “Edge of Tomorrow” also known as “Live Die Repeat”.  It is written by Gary Spinelli a relatively new writer with only one prior credit to his name.  It stars Tom Cruise (“The Mummy”), Domhnall Gleeson (“Ex Machina”), and Sarah Wright (“Marry Me”).

 

Seal, played by Cruise, is a talented pilot who occasionally smuggles things like cuban cigars into the country for friends.  Seal is approached by Domhnall Gleeson’s Schafer a CIA agent who wants to recruit Seal to take aerial reconnaissance photos of communist insurgents in central America.  As time goes on Seal takes on more jobs for the CIA drawing the attention of Pablo Escobar and his emerging drug cartel.  Escobar wants Seal to use his new found job and resources to smuggle drugs into the United States.  Not exactly in a position to refuse, Seal starts playing both sides flirting with the authorities and making a ton of cash in the process.

American Made weaves an impressive web of history, espionage, action and drama with a surprising amount of humor to lighten up what is a rather dark story.  It has some solid writing which keeps the film moving.  This is a good thing as the story covers a large span of time.  The transitions between time periods is handled well and helps keep context for each stage of Seal’s story.  The acting is also well done with Cruise giving one of his best performances since 2008’s “Valkyrie”.  The supporting cast also does a good job especially, Glesson who expertly plays off Cruise with a healthy measure of ambiguity.  It’s Glesson’s most naturalistic role since Ex Machina.  The production design sets and grounds the film in each time period.  The film is shot with a subjective style bordering on mocumentary.  For most of the film the cinematography is made to make you feel as if you are following the characters with a camera watching events play out.  This third person perspective works well enough keeping the perspective grounded, dispensing with flashy camera movement and editing that would have felt out of place given the context.

American Made still
Domhnall Gleeson (right) and Tom Cruise (left) in American Made

“American Made” does play fast and loose with the real history of Barry Seal, at times making it more fiction then fact though the filmmakers do seem intent on representing Seal’s story even if it normalizes some of the more sensational events.  However, the biggest let down is a lack of a human element.  Seal is married with two children during the course of the film and his work flying all over central and north America takes him away from home quite a bit.  Unfortunately we don’t see the toll this takes on his family.   Instead Seal’s wife and family play in the periphery and don’t factor into the film as much as they should.  Instead “American Made” spends far too much time on Seal’s lifestyle.  Things he buys, parties he attends, people he rubs shoulders with.  There are several montages showing off the excess of Seal’s ill-gotten wealth that it becomes redundant.  It would have helped to have a better picture on Seal’s personal life, to understand the dynamics and feel the cost of his actions on his family.  Without it there’s a lot of sensationalism without enough heart to carry much emotion.  Additionally the moral ambiguity the film treats Seal’s character with is a problem.  Seal is portrayed as neither hero nor villain, he isn’t a patriot or a traitor, but just a regular guy in over his head as he’s used as a pawn by more powerful people.  It’s obvious the filmmakers are attempting to depict Seal’s story without any baked in judgement and while this has it’s merits it can make it hard to root for a man who gleefully helps to deliver huge shipments of cocaine to America while selling shipments of military assault rifles to the Columbian cartel.  It leaves the awkward question of why you should root for Seal, why would you want to see him succeed at all?  As such there is simply an air of ambivalence over Seals character which takes some of the power the film could have had.

“American Made” is a well written and acted take on a little known story following a significant sequence of events in American history.  It marks high points for both Doug Liman, and Tom Cruise.  However, the absents of a human element and the dubious morality of the main character make the film uneven and lacking in an emotional core.

 

 

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

For more information on the ratings see our ABOUT page.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Action, Adventure, Comedy

Rated: R for Sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Kingsman the golden circle poster

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” was released in 2014, based on a comic by Mark Miller and David Gibbons.  It garnered a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and played well with audiences earning a B+ Cinema Score.  It was primarily a satirization of the spy film genre with a particular focus on the James Bond franchise.  It took many of the elements of spy/action movies, violence, sexuality, and product placements and turned them all to eleven.  It’s interesting we now have a sequel given the niche  “Kingsman” operated within.   The prevailing question I had going in was, where could they take “Kingsman” that would keep it from imploding in on itself?  Is there enough material to keep it from becoming a redundant retread?  The answer is yes and no.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is directed by Matthew Vaughn and is written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman who collaborated with Vaughn on “Kick Ass” and “X-Men First Class”.  It brings back much of the original cast including Taron Egerton as Eggsy, Mark Strong as Merlin, and Sophie Cookson as Roxy.  It also brings in several new faces such as Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore as the films manic villain Poppy.  “Golden Circle” picks up a couple years after the first one ended.  Eggsy has stepped into Harry Hart’s position in Kingsman and has developed a committed relationship with Princess Tide who Eggsy rescued at the end of the first film.  His positive trajectory is derailed when the charismatic hyper Poppy launches an attack which all but wipes out the Kingsman.  Eggsy and Merlin then travel to America to team up with their bigger and more advanced cousin organization Statesman.  But, time is ticking as they try to discover Poppy’s end game and attempt to stop her.

Kingsman the golden circle still
Julianne Moore as Poppy in Kingsman: The Golden Circle

“The Golden Circle” is exactly what you’d expect from Matthew Vaughn.  It’s loud, violent, and crass.  This is showcased early on as Poppy demonstrates how she disposes of disloyal henchman and let’s just say it involves a meat grinder and burger patties.  Like the first film “Golden Circle” revels in the ridiculous overindulgence of these elements with glee.  Each member of the cast does a good job with the material, Egerton especially has a wider range portraying a slightly older and more mature Eggsy.  The Statesman cast works well playing against Egerton and Strong but some of them like Jeff Bridges just aren’t in the film enough.  I thought Moore did an decent job with a character that was simply over the top in terms of how mirthfully deranged she is.

The action pushes the stunts and visuals from the first film to another level utilizing a ton of CG camera moves and perspective changes.  There isn’t anything that quite rivals the church scene from the first film but there is a rather stunning sequence in a high-tech mountain gondola.  For the most part the action works but the artificial camera moves do get old and don’t quite feel real enough to have much impact.  Likewise “Golden Circle” doesn’t really deliver on the promise of the premise from the trailers… the proper British agents of Kingsman clashing with the good old southern boys of American Statesman.  There are a few moments of cultural humor to be had but as a whole the dynamic isn’t used to its fullest potential.  Perhaps the most controversial element is one that was also spoiled in the trailers and that is the return of Colin Firth as Harry Hart.  Back from the dead courtesy of some hyper advanced medical tech Statesman used.  This buyback of Harry’s death from the first movie has its charm but also robs “The Secrete Service” of one of its most emotionally impactful moments.

The problem with “Golden Circle” is that it doesn’t really do anything the first film didn’t do.  The plots of both are ridiculous, the villains caricatures of Bond baddies, the violence over the top.  Yes, it works in some commentary on drug use and American politics with the satire but not to the same effect the first film did.  While “Golden Circle” shifts what it makes fun of it does feel a bit redundant.  Thus while taken on its own terms the film is a fun and over-the-top action spy film.  As a sequel it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself.  Like a joke that becomes less funny the more you hear it this film just doesn’t work as well.  If you enjoy Matthew Vaughn’s style of films, and you liked the first “Kingsman” then “Golden Circle” is right up your alley.  However, if you find Vaughn’s style offensive or if you didn’t like the first film then there is nothing here that’s likely to change your perceptions.

 

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars