What I thought of Daredevil season 3

I didn’t mid season 2 of Daredevil. Yes, it did die off after the first half of the season and ended in a terrible final episode designed more to set up The Defenders that provide good storytelling. Also the Marvel series on Netflix are overlong, with some episodes being glacially slow or just there to pad out the season. Daredevil season 3 is as good as the Marvel Netflix universe gets. It never feels padded out, there’s no filler episodes and the story moves to a satisfying ending that essentially would have set up future seasons had Netflix not cancelled the series,With Marvel/Disney being coy as to whether this cast returns.

Season 3 picks up after The Defenders with Matt Murdock (still played wonderfully by Charlie Cox) battered and broken being cared for by Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley reminding us that she’s still a talent) while Foggy and Karen carry out their own fight against the Kingpin (a fantastic Vincent D’Onofrio). 

Season 3 also throws in Bullseye, though he’s never referred to as that name, it very definitely is that character and he gets a backstory too where he’s either a broken child or vicious bastard depending on your point of view. And this moral nuance is embedded throughout the season as characters aren’t black and white, but various shades of grey. Even the Kingpin isn’t a total bastard as there’s some humanity there but overall he’s still a monster, as well as Marvel’s best cinematic villain. Forget Thanos or Loki, Wilson Fisk is magnificent with how evil his corrupting influence is being the slow burn of his evil this season as Fisk uses one good man to his own needs.

That good man is Agent Nadeem played by Jay Ali. Nadeem is a good man working in the FBI trying to do what’s right, but desperate for money after paying for his sister-in-law’s cancer treatment so he pushes himself into a position that places him next to the Kingpin and Matt Murdock/Daredevil. This season Daredevil sheds his red costume for the plain black one he started out with, as Matt struggles with himself trying to work out who and what he is.

There’s a lot going on this season, which means there’s no padding, or filler episodes. Indeed one episode which could have been a filler (Karen) gives us essential background on Karen Page plus it allows Deborah Ann Wolf to show us what she can do. Overall all the main players get their moment, the introduction of Bullseye means we’ve got an equal in fighting ability to Matt which also means plenty of scenes where Daredevil takes a beating, in fact there’s a lot of fight scenes where various protagonists take a hellish beating.

Daredevil season 3 is the best thing Marvel’s done for Netflix. It’s an almost perfect crime/superhero drama that uses the potential for these characters while utilising the comics history of them to tell new stories. After the cludgy second seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (not seen the second season of Iron Fist & probably won’t) this shows how things are done just in time for it to get cancelled as Marvel/Disney pull as much of their intellectual property back in-house. Whether Disney/Marvel will have the creative bollocks to do something like this season of Daredevil in-house remains to be seen (and I’m wary they will) but this will stand as testament to what can be done when creators work together to do something good.

What I thought of Star Trek: Discovery season 2 episode 1

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery contrary to what some fans said, wasn’t actually bad as it tried to do something different with the Star Trek formula, though the season was let down by a staggeringly awful final episode which wrapped everything up so poorly that it undid much of the good work the season did though the last shot tease of the Enterprise was a nice touch.

Then comes this first episode which in one fell swoop brushes away many of the criticisms of the first, so the overall tone isn’t as grim, supporting characters suddenly have names, and although it takes much of its tone from the 2009 J.J Abrams reboot though buried in what is a pretty action packed episode is something akin to Star Trek.in the what is the season’s overall arc which is finding out what the strange red bursts happening across the galaxy are..

Sonequa Martin-Green returns as Michael Burnham, while Anson Mount débuts as Captain Pike, the first captain of the Enterprise who plays it like the the film version of Pike rather than the original series. These two are clearly the main two protagonists but it feels slightly more of an ensemble piece that last year so all is good right? Not everything. It feels slight and there’s not enough in it to detract from the feeling it’d rather be about the action that anything else. As a whole though the series kicks off well; it’s fast paced action with a touch of fun missing from the first season that seems to be intent on taking us on an adventure rather than just tread the grounds of the first year.

So good start, let’s see where it goes from here.

What I thought of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

A day ago Netflix announced a new Black Mirror film called Bandersnatch with zero previous publicity. A Bandersnatch comes from the works of Lewis Carroll and that knowledge should provide a clue as to what this new bit of Black Mirror is all about, and if you’ve played a ‘choose your own adventure’ type game back in the day either with a book or work like The Hobbit for the ZX Spectrum.

See this is a story set in the mid 80’s and as a period piece is almost perfect. I especially liked the old shit-brown livery of the W.H Smith branch Stefan (the main character) goes into at one point, as well as a perfect reconstruction of the stock it had in it. Stefan is a programmer working on adapting a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, Bandersnatch, into a computer game.So far this is prime Charlie Brooker, and the scenes in the game company office seem ripped from his days as a games journalist.

The thing is the version of Bandersnatch I watched will be different to the version you watch as it too is a ‘choose your own adventure’ story but the difference here is that Stefan as well as Colin, his idol in the games world, are aware they live in a story but have no control over their own destinies. but in thinking you as a viewer have power, you suddenly realise you’re being manipulated by the programme makers in making certain choices. Essentially this is a giant work of meta-fiction influenced by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock and especially Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man. Issue five’s The Coyote Gospel especially with it sort of being referenced into the film itself.

Does it work? On the whole yes but at times it does fall into itself as it shows off how clever it’s being, with one ending (there’s five main endings and loads of other lead-ins) that references Netflix itself and the technical prowess needed to make such a film, which to be honest, is just distracting wankery.  The story is what’s important and although well acted and directed (the vastly underrated David Slade directs) it suffers from being stilted at times, plus if you opt out of the end the first time, you lose the sense of being trapped in a never-ending hell.

As an experiment and episode of Black Mirror, it works fine. The performances are good, the script is fine and the direction is excellent and while all the meta-textual stuff is good, there’s always this feeling with Brooker that he’s sharing an in-joke but that this time the viewer is the object of that joke which is of course, the entire point. We’re the victims of modern technology and we’re not in control of it.

What I thought of ‘Outlaw King’

The first thing to get over in David MacKenzie’s Outlaw King is that it’s a de facto Braveheart sequel. It’ll never admit to being so officially and while director and cast alike do refer to Mel Gibson’s film there’s nothing official to say it is, except for the fact that you need to have the knowledge of the story of William Wallace before entering this film.

What the film does do is tell the story of Robert the Bruce who fought the invading English army in the First War of Scottish Independence and in particular the story of the Bruce. Indeed for the first half hour or so it strives for historical accuracy as much as possible, barring a obviously telegraphed Chekov’s gun (well, more of a swordfight) in the first reel that pays off in the end. The first half hour is also tediously slow and dull with some of the only fun being when Chris Pine’s accent (which on the whole is fine) slips into his own, or some hybrid accent with a tough of William Shatner thrown in.

Then about half an hour in, Outlaw King kicks into gear, forgets about being a historical drama and decides to become a gore-soaked exploitation film as Pine’s Bruce starts his bloody war against the English, who also become less nuanced and more like the slaughtering, raping baddies the story needs them to be because we don’t want nuance, just leering baddies who we cheer being sliced graphically in half by a sword. In fact the best way Outlaw King works are the scenes where Robert’s forces are fighting superior numbers and winning because the film isn’t about history, but telling the myth.

Outlaw King also looks astonishing on a reasonably big telly, so it’ll look even better on a cinema screen. It uses the landscape of Scotland so well that it becomes it’s own character as it supports Robert on his struggle which ends here not at Bannockburn as those aware of their history may expect, but at the battle of Louden Hill (I assume just in case there’s enough demand for a sequel) is presented here as a muddy, bloody swamp of death and the aforementioned Chekov’s Sword is brought into play.

Overall Outlaw King isn’t the film it couldn’t have been. It tries hard not to do a Braveheart, but dips liberally from that film, and when it tries to be political (at several times it’s quite clearly speaking to the audience in a 21st century post 2014 context) it doesn’t have that clarity of vision Gibson’s film did which may have been simplistic, but was also effective. What the legacy of Outlaw King may be I don’t know as it’s too early, but as an effective action/adventure/exploitation film flying the Netflix banner it’s a flawed, sometimes dreary bit of entertainment that doesn’t fly til it shrugs loose it’s chains and then it repays your faith in the film in steel and blood.

Netflix’s intrusive ads

One of the great things about streaming media in the year 2018 is that it allows you to catch up with films, TV, etc you’ve always been meaning to, in some cases you’re able to watch something you’ve had on a list for decades. One of those films in the Robin Williams 1998 film, What Dreams May Come.

I’d always kind of avoided the film as it looked like one of those films Robin Williams did for the cash, but the director Vincent Ward, isn’t an ordinary director. Somehow though the film fell through cracks and up until the other day I’d never sat down to see it which is a pity as it really is a fantastic film with a very quiet, restrained, performance from Williams who isn’t allowed to go off the rails. As a film it deals mainly with death, including suicide. It’s a pretty unique Hollywood film not without faults especially in the third reel when it becomes Orpheus in the Underworld.

It ends on a pretty strong emotional note and you expect as a viewer to sit there watching the credits roll so you can digest the film at your own speed, but this is Netflix so you’re given a trailer for ‘something you may like’ the millisecond the film ends. No chance of letting the film end and rest in you head before Netflix attempts to keep you watching.

Films made in an era where streaming media wasn’t even a dream or barely thought of suffer because of this urge to keep you binging until you burst, but some films need time to let them sink in. All Netflix is doing is ruining the end of films & they need to slow down their ads.

Next time on First World Problems, why does WiFi on trains have to be such a pain to log into…

About the Star Trek: Discovery finale…

I’ve mentioned previously how much I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery and how against a core of fan’s howling at the moon, it has managed to actually do something different with the Star trek formula. This week was the final episode of the first season and from here in there’s spoilers.

The last half of the first season has been superb. Based in Star Trek’s Mirror Universe where baddies are goodies and vice versa, this allowed the writers to play with the idea of what is Starfleet and what are the principles of the Federation. Plus it had Michelle Yeoh fighting…

That kick Yeoh does at 1.22 is, well, more than impressive for someone of 55. Anyhow, everything was set for a fantastic finale then I saw Akiva Goldsman’s name smeared over the credits like dripping phlegm. Goldman is the man who brought us Batman and Robin, and who’s writing C.V is peppered with shite. Shite which makes Hollywood money so he’s managed to get into a position beyond his actual talent and thus was the finale of Discovery placed into his hands.

It was to be utterly nice; average. If I was being honest I’d say I was utterly let down by it mainly because it was badly written. The main plotline of the Klingon War was finished too quickly and characters barely had time to breathe as the episode tripped and stumbled to a close which didn’t feel earned. We’ve followed these characters (And I think what Discovery has been great at is introducing new characters into Star Trek that are more than variations on a theme, plus in Stamets and Tilly they have a pair of fantastic characters to build on, while Doug Jones is doing tremendous work as Suru.) through hell, and them *poof* everything’s solved and we’re onto the cliffhanger.

Before I get to that cliffhanger I can’t make it clear how much of a shame this was. It could have been better as opposed to alright at best but now they’ve told the big over-arcing storyline in the first season I hope they learn from their mistakes in their second. Build on the characters more and give the bridge crew more to do than just look over their shoulders at Suru but that cliffhanger. Again, spoilers, but if you’ve read this far you probably don’t care by now.

At some point they would have to deal with being in the same era as when Pike captained the Enterprise, but to my surprise they’re going right into it now and isn’t that a lovely looking Enterprise?

So with the promise of big things in season 2 Discovery I hope improves, learns from mistakes made and becomes better because we need a good, positive bit of Star Trek so now we’ve got over the grim war, we can build up the positive vision of the future we could all do with dreaming about.

What I thought of The Cloverfield Paradox

A decade ago Cloverfield came out having had one of the best marketing campaigns for a film I’ve ever seen having built up an air of mystery about a film which was and is, something hard to achieve. I love the first film because it is the giant monster film I’ve had in my head since being a teenager, and although its sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane is patchy, it works as a claustrophobic thriller before the end gubbins. A third film has been coming which was originally promised last year, and was expected in the spring before suddenly dropping after the Superbowl on Netflix worldwide.

From here on in lies SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!

Directed by Julius Onah and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw who has fully recovered from having Bonekickers on her C.V and here frankly holds the entire thing together which is good because at times The Cloverfield Paradox is a tedious mess of technobabble and stuff we’ve seen in the likes of Event Horizon.

Mbatha-Raw plays Ava, an astronaut on Cloverfield Station in orbit round an Earth dying through a lack of energy resources which amount in this film to some blackouts not to mention the world’s superpowers squaring off against each other. The station is the one last chance to solve Earth’s problems peacefully as the multinational crew use an experimental particle accelerator to create unlimited free energy for the planet. As you’d expect, something goes wrong and the crew find themselves stranded having lost Earth with increasingly strange happenings occurring on the station.

The plot is pretty routine but the script is appalling. Characters spout clichés, or when faced with horror make quips that sap the scene of any tension. There’s one scene especially with Chris O’Dowd’s character that could have been a highlight of creepy body horror but ends up played for giggles then there’s the climatic fight scene that is welded on badly to the end. This for me is the problem with The Cloverfield Paradox in that is doesn’t know what it’s trying to be and I’ll be blunt, Life trod this sort of ground pretty recently and better. It does manage to explain the events of the two previous films, and I assume future films as there’s at least one more Cloverfield film coming in the next year but take the Cloverfield name and the last 90 seconds off this film and it really is the sort of film you’d watch on Netflix if there was nothing left on your list. The last 60 seconds do lift the film and make it worthwhile though it teases the prospect of a sequel that should be made but probably won’t be.

What is interesting is how Netflix and Abrams decided to release this. It could have had a release in cinemas and made a decent amount of money, but releasing it this way without any notice on Netflix suggests this is an experiment. If this film is deemed successful (and it will be as the Cloverfield name, and the last 60 seconds guarantee it)  then we’re likely to see more films dropping with no notice and that would be a good thing. After all it means then that at least for a day or two we’ll be forced to make our own minds up but hopefully if this sort of thing is done again it’s done better than this.