Article: The Victors & Victims of Game of Thrones


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Article: The Victors & Victims of Game of Thrones

 

Daredevil – Season 2 Review: Red & Black


Creators: Doug Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal

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Genre: Action, Crime-drama, Superhero

Premiere: March 18th, 2016

Country: USA


4½/5

Best part: Jon Bernthal.

Worst part: A few too many episodes.

Last year, Netflix and Marvel’s first collaboration, Daredevil, set the bar for superheroes on the small screen. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War taking over the big screen in 2016, Marvel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. continue their ongoing war for supremacy and positive reviews in our homes. Eclipsing The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, and Arrow, Daredevil – Season 2 is the best superhero show and one of contemporary TV’s biggest surprises to date.

Daredevil – Season 2 kicks off acknowledging the back-breaking, bone-crunching events of Season 1. With Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) behind bars, Law firm Nelson and Murdock, held up by colleagues/best friends Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), is – despite sending Fisk to the slammer – facing a swift tumble down the plughole. Murdock, donning the red, leather Daredevil costume every night, is forced to decide between a quaint existence alongside Nelson and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and ongoing vigilante/saviour responsibilities.

Of course, topping the quality and events of the previous season, Daredevil’s second outing introduces higher stakes and several alluring new characters. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a man driven to the edge of sanity by the death of his wife and child. With Hell’s Kitchen gangs hunted down one by one, the public soon turns against Castle and Murdock’s forms of citizen justice. Castle, depicted in several lacklustre big-screen iterations previously, is treated with respect here. Like his comic-book counterpart, this version is a cunning, thought-provoking anti-hero unafraid to twist the knife. Their action sequences provide that ‘dark & gritty’ aura most blockbusters fumble, informing each character’s persona and the show’s hyperkinetic atmosphere.

Daredevil and Castle’s conflict provides the psychological and thematic backbone other superhero adaptations typically lack. Castle provides a no-holes-barred approach, eviscerating criminals with military precision whilst making sure they never get back up. Daredevil, however, beats people to a pulp but leaves them for the police to put behind bars – eventually facing the consequences of their actions. From the scintillating courtroom sequences to thunderous set-pieces, this debate adds new layers to the genre whilst keeping the audience guessing.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) slinks out of the darkness to give our favourite blind lawyer/vigilante, and her old boyfriend, a run for his money. A significant part of the season’s second half, the character is too given an honourable treatment compared to previous iterations (Sorry, Jennifer Garner). Utilising her sex appeal, tenacity, and ferociousness to her advantage, her persona pulls Murdock into a befuddling world of ninjas, scheming villains, and spiritual awakenings. She, balancing out Castle’s impact on the narrative, is a force to be reckoned with and worthy of a spin-off before joining The Defenders.

Most importantly, Cox provides a delightful, multi-layered performance as the Devil (angel) of Hell’s Kitchen. Similarly to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, the performer creates a unique, nuanced divide between superhero and alter ego. Creating a physical specimen and vulnerable everyday citizen, the creators, writers, directors, and Cox combine to develop an arresting lead character – carrying all 13 episodes with ease. With Murdock facing off against physical threats, Nelson and Page aptly balance the warfare with wit and flair throughout their all-important sub-plots.

Sitting comfortably alongside Season 1 and Jessica Jones, Daredevil – Season 2 is a tight, taut continuation of one of TV’s best shows and the Marvel Television/Cinematic Universe.

Verdict: A major notch above Season 1.

Jessica Jones Season 1 Review: A Small-Screen Marvel


Creator: Melissa Rosenberg

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval

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Genres: Action, Detective, Drama, Neo-noir, Superhero

Premiere: November 20th, 2015

Country: USA


4/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: Not enough Luke Cage.

In 2015, the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut showed no sign of slowing down. The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man were fun, edge-of-your-seat thrill-rides performing on their own whilst setting up future installments. In addition, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD gained traction, responded valiantly to the events of the aforementioned blockbusters, and gained a bigger audience. However, the best Marvel properties belonged to Netflix, proving just how far the online streaming service has come this year.

Daredevil Season 1 expertly combined The Dark Knight Trilogy‘s ‘dark and gritty’ crime-thriller style/vision with tension-inducing chills and subdued performances. As The Wire meets Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the series became a binge-watcher’s dream for 13 straight hours. Its follow-up, Jessica Jones, took many significant leaps of faith. The show, pulling an obscure character out of the shadows, sets up its unique tone and establishes itself in the darker New York/MCU world.

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a private investigator with a cynical edge and lust for vengeance. Infidelity and harmful actions are good for business, accentuating her status as one of few effective freelance PI offices left in Manhattan. After putting an end to her superhero career, she leaves her powers to roughing up thugs and lowlifes coming through her door at Alias Investigations. Witnessing university hopeful Hope Shlottmann (Erin Moriarty) murder her own parents, Jones is convinced her supervillainous arch nemesis/ex-boyfriend, Kilgrave (David Tennant), has returned to destroy her.

This mash-up of detective, neo-noir, superhero, and psychological-thriller tropes is one of 2015’s most transformative shows. Developed effectively by Melissa Rosenberg, the series provides a fresh, inspired take on drama narrative and socially relevant themes on screen. The first three episodes (AKA Ladies Night, AKA Crush Syndrome, AKA It’s Called Whiskey), in particular, apply neo-noir’s sickening atmosphere and aesthetic to its arresting character study elements. The show highlights each detail of Jones’ investigation, efficiently setting up the pieces before knocking them down spectacularly.

Jessica Jones, predictably labelled ‘feminist’ by people who don’t know any better, provides balanced versions of both genders. Unlike many superhero films/series’ etc., the female characters are given depth beyond their abilities. Jones is a survivor, brought to her knees by everything and everyone throughout her life. The lead is the series’ best asset – a well-rounded being succumbing to temptation (booze, sex etc.) and emotional connections realistically. On the other side of the conflict, Kilgrave is the MCU’s most enthralling antagonist. As an obsessive ex-boyfriend type, he preys on Jones’ issues (post traumatic stress disorder, assault etc.) with fearsome tenacity. Diverting from the urban, predator-prey dynamic of preceding episodes, AKA You’re A Winner! peels back the layers of Jones and Kilgrave’s pasts.

The supporting characters, throughout the confronting, visceral run, succinctly off-set Jones’ sickening, ever-increasing aura. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is a well-natured, charming character with scores to settle of his own. Sadly, however, after several gruelling twists and turns, the character takes an extended hiatus. Jones’ friend/sidekick Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) is a force of personality, utilising her sarcastic wit and personal quarrels to significant effect. Her on-again/off-again dynamic with Will Simpson (Wil Traval) sizzles during the show’s more intimate moments. Carrie Ann Moss gives a strong turn as the lesbian attorney stuck in Jones’ circle of hell.

Despite the exhaustive number of episodes, Jessica Jones is a detective-thriller and superhero-action smackdown in equal measure. Despite the focus on darkness, violence, and heavy subject matter, the show’s performances, tone, and intricate attention to detail establish its merits as a stand-alone series and extension of the MCU.

Verdict: ‘Dark and gritty’ done right.

Ballers Ep. 1 (Pilot) Review: Scraping In


Creator: Steve Levinson

Channel: HBO

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Omar Benson Miller, John David Washington, Rob Corddry

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In 2004, HBO franchise Entourage delivered the ultimate frat-boy, rags-to-riches fantasy. The show, delivering vicarious thrills via babes and big houses, became a trendsetter of gargantuan proportions. Today, with equality the aim of the Hollywood game, the show and movie have become a sad indictment of mid-2000s idiocy and greed. Sadly, for Dwayne Johnson more than anyone, HBO sports-dramedy Ballers simply cannot escape Entourage‘s soul-sucking shadow. However, thanks to its charismatic lead actor, it still has enough potential to step up with all guns blazing.

Ballers, despite significant flaws early on, has enough potential to become one of the year’s most entertaining shows. The pilot sets up season 1’s intriguing premise, but fumbles before reaching the end zone. American Football is now drenched in controversy. The NFL, refusing to take responsibility, has seen some of its biggest stars commit atrocities including rape and domestic violence. Less importantly, on-field incidents including Deflategate have made NFL a laughing stock. Stuck between Any Given Sunday and Jerry Maguire, the series focuses on former player turned sports agent Spencer Strasmore (Johnson), pushed by financial advisor Joe (Rob Corddry) to “monetise” his ‘friendships’. His early retirement, at the hands of crippling concussion, has affected his health, psychology, and finances.

Like Maguire, Ballers covers a handful of ego-driven superstars on the brink of wasting such unequivocal potential. Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), leading a debaucherous lifestyle, may soon lose his roster spot for the upcoming season. Vernon, however, cannot help but throw money at family members and friends. Meanwhile, similarly to Spencer, Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) is a nice-guy former athlete searching high and (painfully) low for his future career path. The pilot gave us a taste of future conflicts, with top-tier sports agent Jason (Troy Garity) and Miami Dolphins executive Larry (Dule Hill) popping up at opportune moments.

The pilot attempts an out-there fusion of over-the-top bromantic dramedy (Entourage) and in-depth character study (Jerry Maguire). Despite the bright, fun imagery and cool cast, the episode’s tonal shifts leave cause for concern. Its oil-and-water trajectory – between brash comedic moments and maudlin soul-searching – hit like a defensive lineman. However, even on shaky ground, its core ingredients make 30 minutes fly like Russell Wilson. Spencer, crushed by his former teammate’s death, is more likeable than most HBO anti-heroes. Balancing out the sex and pill popping, his guile and charm elevate the show’s slower moments.

ballers02Mainstream hot-shot Peter Berg, having worked with Johnson on Welcome to the Jungle over a decade ago, revels in the high-class lifestyle the show’s lead characters take for granted. The pilots run-time is packed with sex scenes, nightclub sequences, and stilted camerawork gazing longingly at multi-million dollar mansions. However, Berg never forgets to highlight professional sport’s indestructible dark side. The episode’s many ups and downs, from Jerret’s out-of-control behaviour to Spencer’s first few successful meetings, illuminate one key aspect – humanity is essential to any industry.

Ballers‘ first episode, though an awkward kick off, showcases enough potential to deliver one of contemporary TV’s most lively and enjoyable dramedies. Johnson and Berg, overcoming Entourage‘s suffocating and dated allure, provide solid groundwork to get their latest creation off and running.

True Detective S2, Ep.1Review: Truest Grit


Creator: Nic Pizzolatto

Channel: HBO

Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Vince Vaughn

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Last Year, crime-thriller TV series True Detective became a pop-culture staple of epic proportions. Beyond Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s insatiable charisma, lines including “Time is a flat circle” were uttered more than anything the big screen offered up. Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto’s neo-noir masterpiece, despite a few bumps along the way, rightfully sat atop many Best of… lists. So, with HBO and its rock-solid fan base looking over his shoulder, how could Pizzolatto ever top Season 1’s serving of blood, balls, and brains? Season 2’s first episode, The Western Book of the Dead, promises a more conventional, but still groundbreaking and energetic, detective-thriller anthology.

The Western Book of the Dead follows four major characters prone to jumping between both sides of the law. Our central ‘protagonist’, Detective Raymond Velcoro (Colin Farrell), still reels over his ex-wife’s rape. Shifting through the Vinci Police Department’s jurisdiction, Velcoro’s loyalties lay with criminal and entrepreneur Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Semyon, whose business partner Ben Caprese has mysteriously disappeared, must prematurely present his light rail plans in front of his wife Jordyn (Kelly Reilly), city representatives, and varying mob connections. Meanwhile, Detective Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides, neck-deep in a missing person’s case, stumbles across her sister Athena and father Eliot’s misgivings.

This episode resembles the four main characters – as slimy, retched, and enthralling with too much to keep track of. The characters, writhing in the grit and despair their professions entail, rarely display empathetic or endearing traits. Pizzolatto, in an effort to ‘dark and gritty’ his creation to an unholy extent, develops loud, brash ciphers of Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart. Their antics and emotional flip-outs border on parody. Velcoro, threatening his son and his son’s bully before eviscerating the bully’s father, has already become a mindless creature. The thinnest plot-thread, surrounding physically and psychologically damaged war veteran/California Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh, adds nothing but silly, overwrought stylistic interludes.

TDBar640Pizzolatto’s blunt, pulpy screenplay delivers several confusing one-liners. Lines like “If you ever bully or hurt anybody again, I’ll come back and butt fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn” land with a deafening thud. Unlike Season 1, Season 2 has been handed to multiple filmmakers. Director Justin Lin, attempting to kick off a new season and live up to mind-numbing expectations, adapts to the anthology format efficiently. Lin, fusing his blockbuster-driven style with the series’ vulnerable sensibilities, is a valiant successor to Season 1’s Cary Fukunaga. Lin, however, never stretches beyond the conventional HBO-crime-thriller aesthetic. His handheld camerawork and attention to detail adds to the series’ immense thirst for nihilism and dread. The climax and resolution will leave its audience yearning for the next episode.

Though slightly disappointing and wildly all over the place, The Western Book of the Dead might not hold up on its own. However, as a “Welcome home” special, it makes for an intensifying first chapter for Pizzolatto’s beloved creation.

The next episode, Night Finds You, will air on June 28th.

Greenfield (Web Series) Review: Always Greener


Directors: Julius Telmer, Jevgeni Nicolai Busk

Writers: Jevgeni Nicolai Busk, Morten Pape, Julius Telmer, Daniel James Tenni

Stars: Ethan Thomas, Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Liam Graham, Claudia Cirillo

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4½/5

Review: GREENFIELD

Daredevil Episodes 1-2 Reviews: Marvel-lous Crime-Drama


Creator: Drew Goddard

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio

Episode 1: Into the Ring 

Daredevil_PosterMarvel’s latest TV venture, and Netflix’s first superhero franchise, is a masterclass in small-screen action and suspense. As a crafty concoction of Law and Order and Dark Angel, Daredevil provides justice the popular comic-book character after that disastrous 2003, Ben Affleck-starring joke. This series, forced to win people over from its opening frame, accomplishes this monstrous task with room to spare. Into the Ring provides an immaculate introduction for newbies and a fun re-introduction for aficionados. I, aching for Daredevil to come into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, got everything I asked for.

Though I was not asking for too much, the show, by the divine powers of onomatopoeia, is the darkest form of TV neo-noir imaginable. This version of Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) trusts everyone as far as he can throw them. Creator/head writer Drew Goddard, along with Hawkeye-d producer Steven S. DeKnight (see what I did there?), hurls us into a Batman Begins-esque dockside sequence. The criminals are worse than bad and Daredevil is meaner than mean. Thankfully, the all-black costume fits this version of the Daredevil mythology. This universe is nothing anything Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America have contended with thus far. In fact, Tony Stark would not dare step anywhere near this side of Manhattan. Thankfully, Matt’s business partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), provides enough wit to balance out the dread and destruction.

The opening episode establishes a post-alien invasion version of the Big Apple. After the “incident”, seen in The Avengers, the city’s moguls and mobsters bought up broken apartment blocks from Brooklyn to Harlem and Beyond. Daredevil, facing off against the Chinese, Yakuza, and Russian Mafia, must prove himself as The Man Without Fear. His chance hits head-on after secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is accused of her co-worker’s brutal murder, the brave blind lawyer comes to her aid. From there, the reveal of a pension embezzlement scheme threatens to tear the underworld to shreds faster than Murdock’s flip-kicks. From the break-neck action to the gruelling, edge-of-your-seat tone, this episode breaks the ice, and bones, with raw, unrelenting power. Despite several ‘trade negotiation’-like sub-plot details, Into the Ring delivers enough blood, sweat, and cheers to rise to the occasion.

Episode 2: Cut Man

20150428182739!Daredevil-televisonCut Man is as dark, visceral, and confronting as ten Man of Steel and one Mean Streets thrown into a blender. Picking up immediately after the first episode, an innocent boy is kidnapped whilst his father is horrifically beaten by mobsters. They want what New York’s best assassin’s have failed to claim or conquer – the Man in the Mask. Having fought off one of the city’s deadliest killers, Murdock, dying from his wounds in a dumpster, is found by emergency ward nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). The second episode is a sprawling, touching ode to Daredevil’s comic-book origins. Though this episode never breaks the mould, it proves the core ingredients  make all the difference.

From the bright, shiny opening credits, the second episode feels assured as some of the MCU’s best features. Via flashback, Murdock tells the haunting tale of his boxer father’s rise and fall in the underground fighting rings. The story, coinciding with Matt’s accident as a child, compares Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen with that of his old man’s. The episode’s emotional arc, though derivative and predictable, is handled with more grace and prestige than recent cinematic origins (Spider-Man, in particular). Grappling with secret identities and trust, the episode’s thematic arc never takes its audience for granted. Nor does it spoon feed the answers. As one of Marvel’s B-grade characters, the Daredevil origin story needed to be told. Thankfully, it never feels like a slog through ‘been there, done that’ territory. Temple’s sarcastic tone and honesty makes her the audience avatar. Indeed, his story and powers do resemble a grab-bag of silly abilities.

Again, Foggy and Karen’s cute dynamic provides enough balance to counteract dreariness or dourness. Their night on the town showcases a fair bond between the supporting cast. Henson and Ann Woll’s chemistry teases what may be an on-again/off-again romance throughout future episodes or seasons. However, I cannot end the review without discussing one of contemporary TV’s most exhilarating sequence. It’s a sequence overpowering the already stirring action sequences seen before. I am, of course, referring to the hallway fist fight. Constructing a more faithful and interesting Oldboy homage than the Oldboy remake, this sequence showcases small-screen prowess without any self-indulgence or gratuity. Each kick, punch, and grapple, heightened by crunches and cracks, pushes the boundaries. More so, the single-take style becomes a more mature form of immersion.

Daredevil is available on Netflix. Tune in for more reviews – Episodes 4 and 5.