Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil season 2 continues with the last season left off. The flaws of the previous season are not all gone, Eldon Henson as Matt Murdock's friend becomes particularly intolerable here, though he's not helped by the whiny material they give his character. Nevertheless Henson's performance still is on the same level as his work in the Mighty Ducks. This season benefits greatly from a first half though that features Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle aka The Punisher, launching his far more deadly crusade for justice in the series. Bernthal is amazing the role, and every scene he is in works in some way. The conflict over killing between him and daredevil, with Cox delivering some of his best work, is incredibly effective. The material thankfully does not get hung up with Punisher as his story moves at a strong pace as we unfold from a villain, to slowly understanding what motivates this man. His story absolutely works, beyond on central problematic coincidence within the plot. That's all great though. The season though is sort of broken off into two halves the second half being the return of Murdock's old girlfriend, and naturally trained assassin, Elektra played by Elodie Yung. Although this version of the character is a major step up from the horrible rendition in the Daredevil film, it fails to capture the full potential of the role. A part of this does come from Yung's performance that is often one note in portraying just a general modern femme fatale. She doesn't find enough nuance there, and additionally her chemistry with Cox is lacking. This side though suffers from excessive repetition of the theme again with scene after scene of Matt saying Elektra brings out the worst of him, him trying to change her, her doing something bad, and repeat until we reach the last episode. The side of the story is not all bad, thanks mostly due to the return of Scott Glenn as Matt's mentor Stick, but it suffers similair problems seen in the first season. The Punisher side on the other hand is quite strong throughout, with even D'Onofrio returning far more effectively as Fisk, and once again the action certainly delivers. This again is not a great season, but it is a good one that is a proper upgrade over the first season.

Daredevil Season 1

Daredevil is the first of Marvel's Netflix series, that are a grittier take on supposedly the same universe as their movies. Far grittier in terms of content anyways, but this is also compared to superheroes series in general which have been pretty light in the past. This also stands in contrast to the downright terrible Daredevil solo film, that did no justice to the material. This is considerably better than that film, and is far more faithful to the source material. I think though that has given the series far too much credit overall though. Not that this is a terrible series but it is deeply flawed one at times. Watching so many shows these days, unlike many in the past, you just assume there will be at the very good performances to watch. Well that's not quite the case. There are many amateurish performances throughout and not just in side roles. Both Deborah Ann Woll and especially Eldon Henson leave much to be desired in their pivotal roles as Daredevil aka Matt Murdock's closest confidants. Now Murdock himself is reasonably well played by Cox, though I will say his performance works best depending on who he shares with. The series most lauded performance was Vincent D'Onofrio aka Wilson Fisk, though I found his mannerism got tired quickly and felt his work lacked the needed menace. There are good performances though, again Cox as well as Vondie Curtis-Hall and Scott Glenn, but it really isn't norm. Now an element that is impressive is the action, particularly within budget, and those scenes work well. What strings them together though stumbles often in its plotting that involves characters repetitious going over their individual conflicts again and again, sometimes through clunky dialogue, with the occasional terrible comedic moment thrown in now again. That isn't every scene or episode though, there is decent writing to be found but never great. It does at least deliver Frank Miller's Daredevil more or less from the comics, the action is very good, it is considerably better than some of its predecessors, but that does not make it a great series. 


11.22.63 although a mini-series is structured a very long film. It is not about episodes, but a single multi-faceted story though at its core it is that essential fascinating question of going back in time to change history. This series taking on the idea of saving Kennedy from assassination. Now with television you can almost take things for granted now but it is outstanding how impressive this series is in a mere technical sense. It has a film level production, even though it is a television series, which is really essentially as it so effectively creates both the needed cinematic enhancement to the story, along with the creation of the 1950's/1960's setting. Now the series as it begins with that central idea which brings you right in through a particularly strong performance by Chris Cooper who sets up the time travel idea. The fun of the idea is realized and the series hooks you with that right away. Although that aspects remains fascinating and entertaining throughout it is not the only facet nor is that facet simplified. The idea of time is nothing slight whether it is the series way of showing it lashes back when one tries to change it, but the series goes further in pondering what that idea really means when acted upon. Again but a facet as it also takes the idea of being a person in this different life through the story of hero Jake as portrayed by James Franco in a career best performance. Franco, who I am not usually a fan of as an actor, brings an old-school charisma though with enough of a modern bent to essentially still be from the future. The series leads to is greatest surprise when it introduces the school teacher Sadie, played to perfection by Sarah Gadon, after Franco's Jake takes on a teaching job. A romance can so easily feel tacked on, especially in a story like this, but rather than being tacked on this is actually strongest aspect of a great series. Franco and Gadon share some of the best chemistry in recent memory and make their romance truly something special, and in the end truly something heartbreaking. The series manages to create such an investment in the story past the plot, which while never becomes secondary, everything else with it adds such a powerful weight to the quest. This leads to such a series of devastating and poignant moments in really every episode, from the opening story of a murder, to Jake's attempt to stop that murder, the revelation with the yellow card man and of course the final scene which is one of the most moving scenes in the history of television.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Better Call Saul Season 2

Better Call Saul Season 2 picks up right where the previous season left off, but that's part of the problem. The repetition found in the previous season is found again. We see Saul turn down the new job, take the job, want to leave the job, decides to keep it, decides to leave it, told he can't without losing money, decides a new way. In that we get several scenes of various cons that take a long time yet aren't all that entertaining. Then we have his relationship with his brother where Saul undermines Chuck, Chuck undermines Saul, they come back together, and repeat for the rest of the season, thankfully that does get somewhere in season 3, this season though is just a whole lot of wheel turning. Mike's side, where Jonathan Banks is more co-lead, is effective though technically be directly evoking Breaking Bad right down to the return of several characters. It's good though, and that's the important thing. Of course the other half isn't truly bad, there is some bad supporting acting again, yet the main players including Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Banks and especially Michael McKean, the visual directing also is on point. I will say it successfully set up a great third season. Its progression though would've probably been handled in less than half a season on Breaking Bad, and it is not as though it is so much richer in character or entertainment value, quite the opposite.

Better Call Saul Season 1

Better Call Saul comes out the seasons swinging from its bleak black and white epilogue after Breaking Bad, to its opening that evokes that original seasons so effectively. Yes there is a bit of style change even the first few episodes yet it is fairly light made out from the far less intense protagonist at the center. Saul's just trying to find his way to success, there is nothing hanging over his head as there was for Walter White. Using this though it leads to a somewhat more humorous, though Breaking Bad often was rather amusing itself, series. Again the first two episode are great amplified by the return of an old foe from that earlier series, yet it does successfully set up this alternate plight of Saul, or Jimmy,  here amplified so well by Bob Odenkirk's performance. The series though loses that earlier steam. Now it has strong elements throughout including Odenkirk but also some of the new additions particularly Michael McKean and the return of Jonathan Banks as the fixer Mike. The series though suffers though from some of the bit players, never really a problem with the original series, who are outright bad playing living cartoons. The story though also suffers from an excessive amount of repetition in its storytelling through false leads in Saul's career and con after con. Certain revelations are often obvious and underwhelming particularly the revelation of Mike's background. The strengths of the series are evident and consistent, in the performances, and the visual direction, yet it struggles to find its own path away from its properly lauded predecessor.

Narcos Season 1

Narcos Season 1 focuses upon the life of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his various wildly outrageous, but true, exploits during 1970's and 1980's. It frames the story though through the exploits of two DEA agents working with the U.S. government with the Columbian government. In one way the series is often, well, a series of fascinating anecdotes about the war drugs and Escobar's personal ridiculousness. Whether it is a particular method of trafficking, Escobar's insane acolytes, or the terrorist acts by Escobar trying to keep the government off his back. It attempts more personal stories with the DEA agents but these at best are only mildly interesting. Their arc of becoming more morally compromised is also fairly thin. The more interesting character lawful character is the ground level Colonel Carillo, as his personal battle with Escobar is often the series at its most intense and compelling. The most engaging aspect overall is Escobar played Wagner Moura. He is a consistently fascinating character but the show also manages to create an emotional investment in his story despite in no way hiding his ill-deeds. His performance is captivating as are the almost unbelievable, if they weren't true, details regarding his exploits whether it is trying to become the president of Columbia or his assassination of any one who stands up to him. Escobar's story carries the season, and though the overall series is not quite great the character study around him is.