First Impressions of Daredevil

Watched the first episode last night. Thoughts:

I really liked it.

The intro is a bit strange. At first, I thought maybe it was blood, but it looks too bright. So if not blood, then I guess it's... just red paint? Red candle wax? Not sure why they wanted to go that route.

Hell's Kitchen feels just bright and fresh and Sam Raimi's NYC-esque in the daytime. That's a very good choice. But at night, they seem to have gone for a toned down Punisher Warzone take, with lots of harsh yellow lighting. I'll have to see more, but I think it's a good look. From the spectrum of tv superhero shows I've watched, I'd say Flash has the most naturalistic looking city, while Daredevil is skewing towards the more exaggerated feel of Gotham, but not quite going as far. Again, I'll need to see more, but I'd say they've found a good balance.

Of the three leads, I've been really happy with Foggy and Karen Page. I'm quite familiar with the actor playing Foggy. He's been in the great indie "Cheats" as well as Ashton Kutcher's "The Butterfly Effect" and Denzel's "Deja Vu." The guy is just naturally charismatic and his chemistry with Matt is on point. You really feel for the guy, knowing that he's going to eventually be a third wheel with Matt and Karen (if they go down that comic storyline route). Not as familiar with Karen Page's actress, cause I sure as hell didn't watch Tru Blood, but she really impressed me. It really helps that she doesn't have a smidge of that annoying, cloying quality that seems to infest all of the female love interests on the CW's superhero shows (Lana, Laurel, Iris). The real genuineness of Karen Page here and her interactions with these two green lawyers is so damn refreshing and welcome to my jaded eyes. There aren't any lovey dovey eyes or anything, it feels like how realistic people would behave.

And then there's Matt Murdock. The actor playing him obviously doesn't have the strong heroic chin of a Ben Affleck, so I feel like he's playing up more of the nerdy legal side of Matt so far. That's the impression I'm getting. There's also the inherent challenge of the role, being as most actors' best tool to work with are their eyes. Here, this is pretty much taken away since we're dealing with a blind guy. So right from the start, the poor guy's handicapped in what he can convey. I think he's doing a good job, but overall my reaction is... just not really completely blown away like I was with the other two.

The action scenes are great and exactly what you'd want in a Daredevil show. They aren't quite up there with what we've seen in movies like The Raid and Winter Soldier, but for a tv show, it's pretty much as good as you can hope for. Unlike some portrayals of Batman, the young DD here does not take guys out without suffering a single hit. You feel every punch landing on Matt and it helps humanize the guy.

Of the other characters shown, I think the most important one is going to be the Kingpin's lackey. He seems much more assertive than Wesley in the comics, so perhaps he's not actually Wesley? But he kinda looks like Wesley, with the glasses and all. Wesley always had this meek and mouse-like quality in the comics, which was a striking contrast to the horrors he could unleash with just a simple phone call. The guy playing the role here is much more of a confident and sinister taskmaster, which probably allows for more story possibilities down the road for the show.

Overall, I think it's off to a great start. The delight of getting a true origin story for Daredevil's universe is definitely here, as opposed to Affleck's film. These aren't bigtime lawyers yet, they're straight out of law school in a dinky little apartment, and you even get to see the handwritten office sign which is just fun. You can see how they're going to gradually put all the pieces together and it feels fresh and rewarding. In Manohla Dargis's review for Batman Begins, she ends with describing how the movie "invites us to watch Bruce Wayne quietly piecing together his Batman identity, to become a secret sharer to a legend, just as we did once upon a time when we read our first comic." That's the same sense I get with this show.

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Review: Her

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for these sorts of sci-fi stories. I really enjoyed WALL-E and Robot and Frank and Moon’s GERTY. I suppose I’m just attracted to stories where you can find real humanity in inhuman constructs? To be able to convey that level of depth and natural essence from a robot just strikes me as an impressive achievement. And Samantha in Her is no exception. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is completely natural and expressive, while communicating a distinctive otherworldly nature that feels both intimidating and enticing. You fully buy into the idea of Theodore falling for her because of her performance, and the great rapport between them makes the movie come alive. Spike Jonze invests the story and dialogue with a lot of heart and truth.

And that’s really what shines about this movie, the truth within it. Jonze manages to verbalize and convey all those feelings and emotions we’ve ever had about a relationship and the aftermath of a breakup. “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt.” Who among us hasn’t felt that way and related to what Theodore is going through? I know I have.

Through simple cuts and edits, we get to see the subtle observations that Jonze has about love and life. Take the sleazy and clumsy audio booty call in the beginning of the film, where Theodore chats up random strangers on his earpiece. It's simple lust that's driving him. But later, he has a similar scene with Samantha, only it's imbued with quite a different emotional state. Two ostensibly identical actions, coming from different places and with vastly different results. It's the little things that define our meaning in life.

Most sci-fi futures tend to be dominated by steely cold blues and grays and you sense that humanity is being drained away by the uprise of technology. Her smartly steers away from this aesthetic in favor of warm pink and orange hues that are welcoming and inviting and feel suitably human-centered. The optimists haven’t all died out in the future, it turns out. The entire setting feels lived in and grounded, which lends believability to a movie premise that already requires the audience to take a leap.

The movie does present us with this wonderful and imaginative speculative fiction to think and ponder on, but it never feels like it’s taking over. Her is very much of the same school as WALL-E in its structure. WALL-E had these big heady science fiction ideas and concepts that it played with, yet at the end of the day it was at its core a simple love story, between two robots. Her is modeled in the same way, in that it depicts this near future civilization with expressive AIs and people sinking deeper and deeper into isolation through technology… yet Jonze keeps his eye focused on what the true heart of the story is, which is Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. Some people have voiced their view in how they wanted the entire movie to purely be a meditation on this larger technological revolution and the implications of such, in the grand tradition of speculative fiction, but I definitely prefer the approach that Jonze took here. He melded together the larger canvass of a thoughtful, intriguing sci-fi future with a small, intimate love story, and in my eyes it felt seemingly effortless.

As much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, relationships are rarely as simple as two beings melding seamlessly into one. All too often, we find ourselves trying to get through the little hiccups along the road. No, it’s rarely that huge, bombastic fight that we see in some movies… more often it’s simply two humans who are trying to fit together an imperfect jigsaw. Watching the movie, I felt myself completely entranced by the small scenes, like when Theodore is sitting on a sidewalk, asking why Samantha audibly breathes while she’s talking. These little moments feel so genuine and raw and refreshing because they are the unfortunate aspects of relationships we all have to encounter and get through, and yet never quite see depicted onscreen in other movies.

The movie ends with a mildly optimistic conclusion, but it’s not a typical Hollywood happy ending. Jonze doesn’t go for a slam dunk finish, but leaves it open ended for your imagination. Where does Theodore go from here? It’s up to the audience to decide for themselves. Much like real life, we’re left to simply… move on and continue. To grow and form new connections. Just as Samantha had to grow and evolve and form new connections, so must we in our lives. The journey continues, and as one stage of it ends, another must begin. Theodore’s previous failure to connect with his ex-wife led him to Samantha, and her loss has now propelled him forward into another opportunity for growth. Theodore’s uncertain future is simply a new stage of his life, and I appreciated Jonze’s restraint in ending on an open question mark.

Just as Theodore fell in love with Samantha, so did I with this tender, sincere, expertly-crafted gem. It’s the rare film that leaves you feeling rewarded, respected, and reinvigorated with life.

10/10

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NECA 1/4 scale Gipsy Danger

Finally got the 18 inch NECA Gipsy Danger. And I gotta say, this thing is way better in functionality than the NECA Iron Man Mk 7. It's got great articulation and actually holds pretty complex poses without any fuss. This was the biggest problem with the Iron Man figure. The feet are ratcheted, come in two separate sections, and feel solid and reliable. Even with a pose leaning backwards like in the last photo, there's no danger of tipping over. Joints on limbs aren't overly loose or super tight, they're just about right.

The swords that you can attach to the arms are made out of flexible vinyl and don't hold a straight shape, so you'll see some curvature. I don't mind it too much, but I suspect over time gravity will make them droop even more. The hands are molded into fists, so you don't actually have the ability to give him open hand poses. A second set of switchable hands would've been appreciated, but it's no big deal.

The sculpt obviously looks great, since NECA probably just went and used the CGI model files straight from the movie. All the exposed hydraulic and shiny metallic sections on the robot actually do look metallic, which is a great feat, considering they're primarily vinyl.

The most problematic aspect of the figure is probably the weathered look they gave it. NECA did not go and make a clean, fresh-from-the-factory representation of Gipsy Danger. Instead, they wanted to make it look mildly weathered and dirtied up, from years of fighting Kaiju. While that's admirable, the result is not exactly all that convincing when you lean in and pay close attention. A lot of the scuffs and scrap marks look like some careless Chinese factory worker just haphazardly slapped them on with a paint pen, which is probably exactly what happened. It's not something noticeably lackluster at a distance, but the effect just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased, considering I picked it up on clearance for about 70 bucks. This is absolutely the best version of Gipsy Danger to get and the articulation is excellent considering the sheer size of the thing. I can't wait to see how many different battle poses this thing can put on.

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Diamond Select's Enterprise-D Refit

The Enterprise D refit from the TNG episode "All Good Things..." on top of my rotating display stand. This is pretty much Diamond Select taking their regular Ent D and gluing a bunch of crap onto it. And it looks awesome, I gotta say. They're all really accurate to the attachments on the show version. The big ass phaser cannon on the bottom of the saucer is partitioned, so you can still perform the saucer separation like you could with the regular version. The only real issue I've found is that there is a very annoying seam at the bottom of the strut for the third nacelle, where the two pieces of the strut meet together. You can actually see it in the photo, it's a big gap. Seems like they just didn't bother screwing or gluing the two sections together. This can easily be fixed with some krazy glue though. The additions that look the best and fit most organically with the original hull are the three phaser strip attachments on top of the warp nacelles. They fit quite seamlessly and look natural.

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NECA 1/4 scale Iron Man Mk 7

Picked up NECA's 1/4 scale Iron Man Mark 7.

For the price (80-90 bucks), it's not bad. The paint is nice and glossy, as you'd want for Iron Man. I believe the shoulder pads are actually a bit further out from the torso then on the actual suit, but I think NECA sacrificed accuracy for the added articulation.

The articulation in general is okay, but my favorite pieces are the air brakes/flaps on his back. You can actually get 3 individual flaps on each side. There's a large lower flap, an upper flap, and then a smaller gray flap on the upper flap that you can flip out. You can have them all fully opened, or even pose them in mid-deployment, like a lotus opening up.

The figure comes with two sets of hands, open repulsor-ready, or closed fists. I switched them to the fists cause that's what I prefer. But a warning, those hands really require some strength to fit all the way into the sockets. I tried my hardest and you can still see some gap between the hands and the rest of the arm. As for the hand covers, those are actually made out of flexible vinyl, so no need to worry about those getting damaged.

There's also light-up features for the eyes, chest reactor, and hands. The lit up eyes look really good in the dark:

Personally, I prefer to have just the eyes lit up, because the chest light is actually pretty damn bright and a bit overpowering.

Now, are there problems? Well, yeah... the quality control on this figure is pretty shocking. The two main problems I found on my figure are shown here:

1) The back of the helmet has chipped off and exposed the plastic. It's not just some paint that's gone either, there's some chunk of the actual helmet missing. Obviously not that noticeable when you're displaying the figure from the front, but still.

2) Look at the lower torso. Why are there three yellow strips on one side, but only two on the other side? Because the entire torso assembly is crooked. My Iron Man figure arrived with scoliosis of the spine. I've tried to straighten it out but nope, it doesn't seem to be an articulation. The torso's stuck in this curved position. Now, that doesn't mean it's that bad of a pose, as my pics show, but it would be nice to be able to have him in some other poses. As it is, my Iron Man is stuck as more of a statue.

Outside of those glaring quality control problems, the figure is hard to keep from falling. The legs and feet aren't weighted at all, so the whole thing is just top heavy and inevitably leads to the falling. The joints in the feet aren't very strong or ratcheted so they can give out and cause the torso to gradually lean forward, where the weight brings it falling down. It's already fallen down twice since I've gotten it and scraped some gold paint off of the top of the helmet. NECA probably would've been wise to have included a stand in the box.

It's a nice shiny display figure for the price you're paying, but with all the issues I've noticed... probably not one of NECA's better 1/4 scale figures.

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Masterpiece Soundwave

Finally got a used Masterpiece Soundwave for a semi-decent price on ebay. Didn't come with all the cassettes or accessories but that's okay.

Laserbeak is definitely the best of the cassette designs. The way it snaps together and forms into the exact same Laserbeak from the cartoon is incredibly satisfying. I've got him perched up on Soundwave's shoulder right now but he'll probably end up on his arm soon. There's a little transparent tab on the arms that Laserbeak's feet can stick on to hold firm. Ravage on the other hand feels very delicate and his feet are super loose. And really, probably the least accurate translation from the cartoon.

Soundwave himself is really blocky and weighty, with diecast feet giving good stability for poses. My biggest gripe is probably just the fact that Hasbro went and gave him a yellow visor. G1 cartoon Soundwave is supposed to have red eyes and that's what the Japanese release had, but when it made it over here to American toy stores, they needlessly changed the eyes so now it's not accurate to the cartoon. A real shame.

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Update: Burning Godzilla 95 with the tail attached

Finally cleared out some room to display Burning Godzilla 1995 with the tail attached. While he's about 18 inches wide and 18.5 inches tall, the tail actually makes it 34 inches long. That's... a lot of room taken up.

Here I've got him positioned right in front of the poster for the movie he's from, Godzilla vs Destroyah.

This is his final resting spot, right next to the smaller 12 inch Godzilla 1989.

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Review: American Sniper

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." -George S. Patton

"Unfocused" is the best word I'd choose to describe American Sniper. The movie just really lacks the singular vision and tight cohesion of something like The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty. As a character study of a man, we don't get any great insight that I can tell. Who Chris Kyle is at the beginning of the film is basically the same man that we see at the end of the film. Eastwood's movie Kyle has almost no character arc or progression, which is perfectly fine for a real person, but problematic in a storytelling narrative.

At the beginning, we see Kyle's father instill in him a guiding ethos: "There are 3 kinds of people in this world. Wolves. Sheep. And sheepdogs. Be the sheepdog." Basically his Uncle Ben moment, if you will. And that's pretty much what Kyle does for the remainder of the film. He's the sheepdog, protecting the sheep from the wolves. He does it as a child, protecting his brother from schoolyard bullies. And he does it throughout his tours in Iraq. Throughout the film, Kyle is the stalwart, patriotic, God-fearing, terrorist-hating American sniper. And that's great if that's how Chris Kyle really was in real life, to have that kind of devotion and principled life. But it's not terribly compelling to watch this unchanging, perfected hero for two hours.

I'm not one of those critics demanding that the movie give me a Chris Kyle who turns out to be some bleeding-heart liberal, but there should've been some real wrinkles to dig into. As it is, the movie matter of factly rolls along on a very standard chain of tours of duty in Iraq, periodically punctuated by brief half-hearted scenes at home that leave very little impression. These breaks from the dramatic war sequences should have been great opportunities to deliver some emotion and add dimension to the movie. Unfortunately, it ends up feeling rather flat. And we know Eastwood is a director who can give a very distinct and powerful vision to his films. "Letters from Iwo Jima" is a fantastic war film that shows off some real truths about war. Here, I get the sense that Eastwood might have wanted to go in some direction like that, but felt constrained by the duty to honor Kyle's memory. And we end up with a film that's just unfocused and doesn't have anything to say.

Bradley Cooper does a great performance as Kyle, but that's to be expected of him these days. He first blew me away with Silver Linings Playbook and has never stopped honing his craft. Sienna Miller is a good actor, but here she's given the thankless role of the cliched war-weary military spouse. She does the best she can but there's not much there for her talents. There's the tired predictable scene of her demanding that he either quit the military or she's leaving. It's just a well-worn, cliched role that we've seen countless times. She's about the only real person in Kyle's home life as well. The movie strangely drops subplots left and right that I thought were actually leading somewhere. After all, the first person Kyle protects is his brother, and we do see him later on in life joining the Marines. Later, there's a scene where he meets his brother coming back from Iraq clearly suffering from PTSD. And... that's the last we see of him. Nothing afterwards about him. That entire plotline is dropped and forgotten about. I suppose we're to assume Kyle just shrugged and dismissed him from his life. It's bizarre and feels like scenes were cut out.

Now, I do think Eastwood does a good job of portraying the Iraq combat scenes. They're about on par with those of The Hurt Locker and that's what I was most reminded of while watching. Like Bigelow, Eastwood doesn't shy away from showing the dirty, horrific, unspoken atrocities of war that mainstream audiences are often shielded from. There's one especially cringeworthy scene involving a boy with a screwdriver that still makes me wince just from memory. You really feel the horror of the moment and it just goes to show that barbaric acts in Iraq didn't just start with the rise of ISIS. Kudos to Eastwood for having an unblinking eye and daring to go there. It also does then make sense to the audience why Kyle calls the insurgents savages and animals. It's not because Kyle was some racist redneck... it's because that's how any rational human being would react to such acts.

Now, with that being said, I have to say that I didn't care for the final battle scene of the film, which takes place during a tremendous sand storm. Everything becomes a sea of yellow sand and haze and you can't really see anything. I guess Clint was going for a very chaotic and disorienting look for the battle, but it was so hard to see anything that I just felt frustrated and gave up. It may someday be possible to shoot a war scene in an intense sand storm and look beautiful and coherent, but that day has not yet arrived.

Throughout the film, Kyle keeps going back to Iraq. He says he feels the impulse to protect his fellow soldiers and SEALs. It's this compulsion, almost. But then we get to the final battle and Kyle finally kills Mufasa, the elite insurgent sniper who's been haunting his unit deployments. And after killing him, Kyle finally phones home to his wife and says he's ready to come home. Now, this fell completely flat for me. And obviously, I don't think it was supposed to. I suspect it was meant to be an emotional and cathartic moment. After all, he's been compelled to go back time and time again. Now he kills this one sniper and it all changes? It doesn't make sense to me. The death of the sniper is... I mean, from a simplistic revenge standpoint, that's good. He avenged the deaths of his friends. But this drive to be in Iraq, that seemed like it was meant to represent something deeper within Kyle's character, and I never felt that the death of the sniper satisfactorily resolved that. And so that phone home to his wife just felt strange and bewildering. It's meant to signify something huge, that the past two hours have been leading up to, but the enemy sniper never seemed like he represented all that much.

Also, I get the sense that Eastwood was a great admirer of the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, cause he used at least three of the main cast in this film, including Godfather. It gets to the point where it's slightly distracting having those familiar faces show up.

Chris Kyle accumulated over 160 kills over four tours of duty in Iraq. He achieved this through a great deal of skill, patience, and focus. I just wish this film had that same amount of focus.

6/10

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Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis

Yeah... this was kinda bullshit.

It's great that they gave Mera more of an active role, whereas I've mostly known her as Aquaman's gf for most of my life. But it's fucking hard to root for her and their budding relationship when she's suddenly switched on into a bloodthirsty mass murderer, decapitating people left and right or shooting icicles into their skulls. That's just way too far. And these are HER people! Holy shit.

I don't care for Superman's new outfit. The high collar and weird armor look and black S symbol on the cape are incredibly off-putting. They also gave him a neck thicker then his head, which looks ridiculous. Wonder Woman's outfit is also pretty damn bad. I'm not even sure why they're going with this look, when she has a very different outfit in the New 52 comics.

Overall, I'm alright with the art style, though in some shots and angles the noses appear huge. Not a fan of that big nose look, they could tone that down quite a bit.

Green Lantern... my god, I can't fucking stand this interpretation of Green Lantern. What were they smoking when they came up with this? Since when is Hal Jordan a fratboy douchebag? Uttering cringeworthy lines like "Bro, I caught them!" This is Hal Jordan? That's not any Hal Jordan I'm familiar with. I mean, even Kyle Raynor at his most derpy noobish self never sank this low. Horrible, horrid character.

The opening scene with Arthur has him causing a huge bar brawl. Which wouldn't be terrible, except... it seems to go on for ten minutes, with waves of big burly men repeatedly throwing themselves at Arthur, when it's been demonstrated repeatedly that he's some kind of superpowered freak. Why do they keep fighting him? It makes zero sense. Now, you look at Arnold's intro in Terminator 2, and that's what a scene like that should've been like. Realistic people reacting to an inhuman intruder. They get scared, and back off. Not just continuing to fight like idiots when the guy keeps effortlessly beating your skulls in. Just awful nonsense.

So... they capture a Virginia class attack submarine for its missiles? But a Virginia's Tomahawk cruise missiles fly in the air. That's odd, when they then clearly shoot torpedoes underwater at Atlanteans. Why did they mention the missiles, when they used the torpedoes? Were they really too afraid to say "torpedoes" in case it'd confuse the audience? This is perplexing. Of course, I was also completely thunderstruck at the image of poor Atlanteans being burned to death in huge fires... while UNDERWATER. Seriously, how do you have these torpedoes causing raging fires while at the bottom of the ocean?

The production value in certain sequences of this animated film are simply atrocious. The initial intro with Batman chasing some of Crane's henchmen is probably the most glaring example of this. What do we get? Crane's henchmen in a getaway car, driving down completely empty, deserted streets while Batman chases in his plane, flying past sterile, CGI buildings. This is the sort of low rent bullshit that got Beware the Batman canceled. Here, see for yourself:

Look at that. Just embarrassing.

Why would the US army rush to face... a tsunami? This made no sense. Was there a scene missing or cut out? There's clearly a tremendous tsunami heading for the East Coast, but the response is to send out M1 Abrams main battle tanks and soldiers with M-16s? Pointing their rifles at a giant wall of water? Huh?

Arthur finally learns he can communicate with animals in the ocean. Which is his trademark ability, so sure... they had to stick it in. And it's fine, except that... well, you've gotta wonder why he didn't use it to communicate with the Cthulhu monster that Superman's beating up. Why does it only seem to work on sharks and whales and fish? You're expecting Arthur to bring Cthulhu over to his side and fight for the JLA, but nope... Superman's just gotta pound it. It's never explained.

What does this do well? Well... it does work as an origin story for Aquaman, sure. As an introduction to Aquaman's world and resuscitating his image in the mainstream, yeah this worked. But it doesn't do nearly as well as the Wonder Woman animated film, which really hit all the right notes and made you fall in love with the character. That's still the finest animated movie WB has put out, in my humble opinion. I can tell they're trying for the same endgoal with this film, but the execution's lacking. You're kinda maybe rooting for Arthur and him getting the girl (Mera) but you're also a little traumatized after seeing her bisect multiple people with ice daggers. There are plenty of bizarre choices made in the production of this film.

4/10

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