Quickie Reviews #23

Luke Cage – Season One
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It took me a lot longer to finish Luke Cage than I intended, and that’s really because I just wasn’t all that into it. No one is more disappointed then me, especially after how much I hated Jessica Jones. I really wanted Luke Cage to be great, but I had concerns about the main actor. He felt very flat in Jessica Jones, and I wasn’t sure he could carry a show all by himself. Unfortunately, I was right. He isn’t aggressively bad, just very boring. Luke largely just stands around looking tough, only occasionally showing emotion, and it’s in those few moments that Mike Colter shows his weakness as an actor. Everything feels very forced. The supporting cast is also all over the place in terms of quality. I was surprised with how poor some of the day player roles were performed. Those kinds of one or two line roles should be mostly forgotten by a viewer, but they stood out to me with how bad they were.

As for the story itself, it’s fairly straightforward. For all its flaws, Jessica Jones at least crafted a unique tale, with plenty of different turns. Most of those turns didn’t feel justified, but that’s a separate argument. Luke Cage, on the other hand, just feels like yet another gangster show with a cool vibe. There are really no interesting twists of note, and the ones that do exist feel completely unjustified, like they were only included for shock value. It takes characters acting completely against how they’ve been developed for things to happen. There’s a particular moment with Mariah Dillard that completely comes out of nowhere. And I have to say, Misty Knight is the absolute worst detective I’ve ever seen. She’s completely oblivious to obvious things that are happening, constantly runs in head first even though it never works out for her, and ignores common sense at every possible opportunity. I don’t care if she has some weird ability to psychically recreate crime scenes, she’s a moron.

Surprisingly, the show is very light on action. I understand that watching a super strong, bulletproof dude wailing on bad guys could get boring quickly, but the show went too far in the other direction. On the antagonist side of things, Mariah Dillard and Cottonmouth are interesting enough villains, but they both make so many unforced errors that it’s hard to take them seriously. The real villain, Diamondback, is introduced in the latter half of the season and he couldn’t be more one dimensional. The resolution is also underwhelming, though thankfully we do get a knockdown, drag out brawl. There are just so many important bad guys in this show that the focus gets pulled in too many directions. You never know what the real threat is supposed to be, and I don’t mean that in the “interesting mystery” kind of way. I mean it in the “this show feels poorly written and overly drawn out” kind of way.

There are some things to like, however. The Harlem vibe in Luke Cage is obvious, and I dig it. Jazz and hip-hop music plays constantly in the background, and is featured prominently in several episodes as transitions and montages. Rosario Dawson is fantastic in her return performance. She was a great pick to help tie all of the Marvel shows together, and makes the most of her increase in screen time here. It’s just a shame that she ends up feeling pretty shoehorned in, with no real story of her own to pursue. The humor can feel extremely cheesy and kind of lame at times, but a lot of that is on purpose and does help to give the show a distinct feel. There’s also a heavy presence of African American culture and history throughout the show. As a middle-class white dude, a lot of this is lost on me, but that’s okay. It’s important for a show like this to exist, especially starring a black superhero. Luke Cage offers a different perspective on the greater Marvel universe, and I like that. I just wish the show itself was better.

6.6/10

Grizzly Man
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I had heard of Grizzly Man many times from many people. And since I’ve been on a documentary kick, this seemed like the right time to check it out. And boy, it was nothing like what I expected. I knew it was the story of a man that lived with bears in the wilderness who sadly lost his life to one of those bears, and that he had documented most of his summers, including his final one. Well, after his untimely death, phenomenal documentarian Werner Herzog got a hold of the footage and put together a sort of character study of the late Timothy Treadwell. It was hardly even about the bears, and more about the man. And on an even deeper level, it was about the human condition, and the lengths we as people go to feel a sense of belonging.

Timothy Treadwell never connected much with people, finding a greater sense of peace in the wilds of Canada with his favorite animal, the grizzly bear. He spent summer after summer there, recording his experiences “protecting” the bears (even though the place that he stayed was already a federally protected nature preserve). He was clearly a complicated man, and Herzog did a fantastic job of not just painting Treadwell as some hippie nature nutter. The group of people that Treadwell considered friends also appeared in the film, highlighting different elements of his personality and passions. Each one of them was more interesting than the last. For a film called Grizzly Man, it’s hardly the bears that are the focus. And the story was even more fascinating for that fact.

9.0/10

Mascots
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I’ve always been a big fan of Christopher Guest’s movies. Best in Show is one of my absolute favorites, and Waiting for Guffman and This is Spinal Tap are brilliant, as well. He hasn’t put out a movie like this since 2006’s For Your Consideration, so for me, there was a lot of hype going into Mascots — especially considering that it was a collaboration with Netflix. Well, I have to be honest and say that Mascots isn’t that great. It just doesn’t have the same magic that was present in Guest’s earlier work.

The movie is about exactly what the title suggests: sports team mascots. The structure follows something very close to Best in Show, where it’s a bunch of finalist mascots competing to be named “the best.” Most of the humor comes in watching the interactions amongst the mascots, and in their individual performances. The majority of Guest’s regular cast members are present, but it’s mostly new people that take the lead roles. That’s where I think the biggest issue comes. Not only are Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, and Michael McKean not in the movie at all, but comedic geniuses like Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, and John Michael Higgins play much smaller roles than they have in the past.

Instead, it’s widely a new cast that drives the movie, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some people, like Zach Woods and Sarah Baker, are predictably great, but others just don’t seem to have the comedic chops to carry something like this. It’s especially noticeable when they’re interacting with the old guard; the improv skills are very one-sided.

There’s still plenty of comedy to be had, and I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions. But there were just as many (if not more) times where I found myself disappointed because a certain joke didn’t land, knowing one of the original actors could have done it better. If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest’s stuff, you’ll still want to check this one out. But don’t expect it to be a return to form for him.

7.5/10

The Nice Guys
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The Nice Guys started off very well. That sentence is usually a good indication that something doesn’t end particularly well, and unfortunately, that’s the case here. I was really digging the characters and the story set up, and there was a great tongue in cheek sense of humor. Ryan Gosling was especially funny throughout, and while I enjoyed Russell Crowe’s character as a foil for Gosling’s, the two lacked the necessary chemistry to heighten the comedy. Both of them worked better when alone or with other characters, which kind of takes away the point of this buddy action/comedy.

The story was a fairly simple crime “mystery,” where it’s obvious from the introduction of a certain character who the real villain is. There aren’t really any surprising twists along the way, and there’s even something that happens towards the end of act two that makes the rest of the movie feel significantly less important. And it’s after this scene that things really start to fall apart for the movie. Up until that point, it was a fun action movie that felt relatively real, or at least as real as you’d expect from a movie like this. But building up to the climactic scene of the movie, things suddenly take a turn for the “over the top,” with more than a few sequences that had me scratching my head and saying “there’s no way they would have survived that.” Now, I’m not one to usually struggle with suspending my disbelief, but the latter half of The Nice Guys felt tonally like a completely different movie.

And taking away the main villain, there’s another bad guy that’s introduced far too late into the movie after plenty of foreboding reference being made to how badass he is. And he most definitely is badass, unless he’s fighting our anti-heroes. Seriously, the guy is like a freaking gun-fu wielding ninja that turns into a stormtrooper whenever he’s shooting at Gosling or Crowe. It’s pretty infuriating and makes the bad guy seem not nearly as capable as he’s supposed to be. There’s also a random, bizarre dream sequence towards the end of the movie that is too long, completely unnecessary, and worst of all, not funny in the slightest. ┬áThe ending is predictable, too. I was very disappointed in this movie, especially considering how strong the first act was.

7.3/10

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