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Marvel and Netflix’s The Punisher (Review)

Given how Iron Fist turned out, The Punisher could have been a catastrophic misfire.

Iron Fist was a show that landed at the wrong cultural moment, a tale of thoughtless cultural appropriation landing right at the moment when pop culture was engaging with tough questions about the tendency of western entertainment to co opt foreign culture for its own amusement. Of course, Iron Fist was also a terrible television series on its own terms, with a variety of fundamental problems; an awkward lead, a convoluted plot, flat action sequences. The film’s clumsy blundering into the middle of that larger culture discussion was icing on the proverbial cake.

“The only person you’re punishing is yourself.”
Yes, the first episode includes this line. Completely unironically.

On paper, The Punisher seems ready to wade into a similar debate. By its nature, The Punisher is the story of an angry white man with a gun, and it will arrive on Netflix forty-seven days after what was arguably the bloodiest mass shooting in recent history and twelve days after another recent massacre. More than that, The Punisher arrives at a point in time when there are larger debates about the use of force in dealing with suspected criminals, and the lack of consequences for law enforcement representatives who have shot and killed minorities. This is a minefield for The Punisher to navigate.

The good news is that The Punisher (largely) avoids this potential minefield. The bad news is that The Punisher does this by largely not being a show about The Punisher.

Skullduggery.

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Non-Review Review: Justice League

The Parademons, the monstrous zombie bugs at the heart of Justice League, smell fear. It is a lucky thing that they don’ smell desperation, because otherwise they’d eat the movie alive.

Justice League is not a movie so much as a two-hour attempt at atonement. It is an extended apology from Warner Brothers to the most vocal internet denizens, an obvious attempt to backpedal away from the controversial and divisive (and provocative) attempts to jump-start their shared comic book universe with Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman. Richard Donner’s Superman inspired audiences to believe that a man could fly; Justice League serves as evidence that a film franchise can grovel.

The Just Us League.

Justice League is contrite and submissive. Anything resembling a jagged edge has been carefully sanded down, anything resembling a unique identity stripped from the film. Justice League has listened to the internet’s overblown criticisms of Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman, and decided that the best response is to offer something generic and appeasing. Justice League has the feeling of a studio mandated checklist captured on celluloid, a list comprised primarily of “don’t”s; don’t run over two hours, don’t be so dark, don’t be pretentious, don’t be political.

The result is a movie that feels defined by what it isn’t, an empty space much larger than that created by the absence of Superman. It is a movie without any ambition or any personality. It wants so desperately to be loved, but ultimate feels hollow.

Out of their League.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #34 (Pusher/Teso Dos Bichos)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episode.

And now it’s getting twice as fast. With the new season of The X-Files dropping in very early January, the podwatch will be releasing two episodes per day. Starting with this one. So, no pressure, then.

My second appearance of the third season is covering the episodes Pusher and Teso Dos Bichos with Clara Cook. One of those episodes I adore and the other… I don’t. Guess which is which. Go on. This is my first episode with Clara, although we do a couple more before the end of the run. So keep your ears open for those.

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Non-Review Review: Daddy’s Home 2

Daddy’s Home 2 is awkward and broad, with too few laughs and too much dead air.

As the title suggests, Daddy’s Home 2 is the sequel to the similarly uninspired Daddy’s Home, in which Will Ferrell finds himself competing for the affection of his stepchildren with their biological father, played by Mark Wahlberg. Daddy’s Home 2 seeks to add some extra excitement into the mix by bringing another generation into the mix; John Lithgow joins the cast as father to Will Ferrell’s character, while Mel Gibson is cast in the role of withholding parent to Mark Wahlberg’s emotionally stunted adult.

Bad dads.

Daddy’s Home 2 largely tries to coast on the charm of these four male leads, bouncing scenarios and concepts off them. Some of these jokes are diverting, but Daddy’s Home 2 is largely free from big belly laughs. Outside of a couple of very effective set pieces, Daddy’s Home 2 sets itself the bar of “reasonably diverting.” The film occasionally stumbles past that, but there is never a sense of Daddy’s Home 2 has been honed or crafted. Even at ninety-six minutes, the movie feels bloated and over-extended.

Daddy’s Home 2 tries to paper over its weaknesses with an emphasis on the charm of its four leading performers, most shamelessly in its final act when Will Ferrell all but addresses the audience directly as he sings the praises of the cinema as a communal experience in which people might be alone with everybody. Daddy’s Home 2 is a film that never pushes itself too hard, content to wallow in its own mediocrity.

It’s not that funny.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #32 (Syzygy/Grotesque)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episode. I’m honoured to be a part of it.

My first appearance of the third season is covering the episodes Syzygy and Grotesque with the always charming Zach Moore. Arriving at a point when the third season was firing on all cylinders, these episodes have everything. Keystone cops! Gargoyles! Kurtwood Smith! Glass blowing! se7en homages! Baby Ryan Reynolds! Listen and enjoy.

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Non-Review Review: Suburbicon

Suburbicon is a disjointed mess of a feature film. It is a gonzo black comedy that never quite coalesces, but sustains itself with enough energy that it never completely falls apart.

Suburbicon is a bizarre hybrid. Watching the movie, one gets a sense that the film has been stitched together from two core stories. Indeed, this was very much the case; the central plot of Suburbicon was original written by the Coen Brothers as a grotesque comedy of murder and mayhem, while the movie’s prominent subplot was grafted on later by director George Clooney and collaborator Grant Heslov to add a sense of social realism to this late fifties Americana. These two elements never quite cohere, which means Suburbicon never feels truly focused.

Stress testing.

There is a telling moment around half-way through the film, when an insurance investigator has stopped by the family residence at the heart of the story. Investigating a suspicious claim, the gentleman is clearly fishing. “In the end,” he reflects philosophically, “it all comes down to one word.” Without any elaboration, he allows his mind to wonder and the conversation to drift. He only returns to that  train of thought when guided by his interviewee. “What is it?” they ask. He is lost. “What?” They clarify, “The word?” The investigator takes a moment to get back on track.

That small conversational aside captures what is most appealing and most infuriating about Suburbicon, a movie that lacks a strong core and finds itself caught between two very different stories without any strong focus on either. Suburbicon is never boring, packed with strange turns and driven by a pitch black sense of humour. However, it never seems entire sure of what it is.

Cycles of violence.

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New Podcast! Standard Orbit #196 – “Star Trek Origins: Season 3”

I was thrilled to be invited to join the great Zach Moore on Standard Orbit, a Star Trek: The Original Series podcast hosted over at Trek FM.

Zach very kindly asked me on to talk about an aspect of the original Star Trek that I thought was overlooked, so I suggested the rather unlikely shadow that the third season of Star Trek casts over the rest of the Star Trek franchise. These episodes have developed a reputation as the worst episodes of the original run, coming at a point when the production team was exhausted, the budget had been cut, and the series was in its death throes. With all of that in mind, it is interesting how many core attributes of the Star Trek franchise can be traced back to these twenty-four (relatively) unloved episodes.

Kirk as a lothario, Klingons as honourable, the Federation as a utopia, the Romulans and the Klingons as entities that have lives outside of the Federation.

Zach was, as ever, a very gracious host. You can hear the full discussion below or visit the episode page here.