Saturday, April 18, 2015

Marvel Zombies Philippines podcast Episode 3: On the new Star Wars trailer, Netflix' Daredevil and more

Marvel Zombies Philippines Podcast #3

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The 10 Best Scenes from Netflix’ Daredevil

The 10 Best Scenes from Netflix’ Daredevil
By Rick Olivares

Since Netflix released the entire 13-episode first season run of Daredevil on the Internet, the response has been positively overwhelming. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported a 97% approval rating; a far better cry than the Ben Affleck film that came out in 2003.

This drama, legal, and action series is one of the surprise break out hits of this year (very much like Marvel’s film of Guardians of the Galaxy). And here are my 10 best scenes from the first season.

1. Hallway Fight scene (Episode 2)
Vigilante Matt Murdock takes on the Russian mob in a single-take hallway fight scene eerily reminiscent of Korean film, Oldboy. In this fight scene, I love how it shows that Matt is just an ordinary Joe who doesn’t have superhuman strength or any powers. He gets his share of beatings and… gets tired. Have you ever seen this in another fight scene anywhere else?

2. Wilson Fisk brutally beats Russian mobster Anatoly to death then cracks his head open like a melon by crushing him with a car door.  (Episode 4)
Bloody hell.

3. Foggy tells off Marcy at the building lobby (Episode 5)
Marci Stahl, a former classmate of Matt and Foggy's who works for a firm that represents the Kingpin tells Foggy and Karen Page that their client (Mrs. Elena Cardenas and her co-tenants) they can take a pay off or leave without taking them. Foggy’s riposte is highly quotable: “See you in court where I will  absolutely dismantle you (Marci) from the top of your salon blowout to the bottom of your over priced pumps.”

Whoever said that Foggy Nelson is here for comedy relief or some buffoonish sidekick to Matt Murdock?

4. Matt lays the smackdown on four crooked cops who have been sent to eliminate Vladimir.
He throws one cop down face first knocking out some teeth. (Episode 6)

5. Eating ice cream with Stick in the park (Episode 7)
Casting Scott Glenn is a home run out of the park for this. Been a fan of Glenn since I saw him in Wild Geese. He’s got that gruff attitude of Stick down pat. It’s like Frank Miller’s creation emerged from the comic book page. This scene where he puts Matt’s heightened senses in its proper perspective is just awesome.

6. Wilson Fisk beats his father to death with a hammer (Episode 8)
Fisk’s first murder is different in filmdom as opposed to comics continuity. In the four-colored pages, Fisk fights off one of the bookies with a hammer and the sparks in an otherwise delicate location set off some sparks that light a fire and burn the baddie to death. As Fisk said in Last Rites (written by Dan Chichester and drawn by Lee Weeks in Daredevil #297-300) that is some sort of sequel to Frank Miller’s DD tour de force in the “Born Again” saga, “when a little blood on one’s hands was the mark of success.” In the Netflix version, he goes hammertime on his abusive father who is beating up Wilson’s mother.

7. Matt’s battle with Nobu. Lears to use his billy club when fighting (Episode 9)
Nobu. Black Sky. Stick. Could the Hand be far behind once this series resumes? Love the battle as Matt finally uses his sticks (later on his billy club) to ricochet at certain angles.

8. Foggy unmasks Matt and they verbally spar for a long time (Episode 10)
The avocados at law (an in-joke that you will have to watch to understand) argue after Foggy learns the truth about Matt’s dual life. It threatens to unmake their burgeoning law firm. But you know the saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

9. A morose Fisk sits next to the corpse of his lieutenant Wesley then kisses him on the forehead. (Episode 12)
The web series succeeded in some way that the comic book could never get me to do – feel a tad sympathetic to Fisk. It’s a surreal moment when Fisk sits next to the bullet-riddled body of his closest confidante and “friend.” He beats up Francis, one of Wesley’s “men” after he followed orders and allowed the Kingpin’s lieutenant to go off on his own. Then Fisk kisses Wesley on the forehead.

10. The final battle between Matt – now wearing his Daredevil garb as made by Melvin Potter (the Gladiator) and Fisk. (Episode 13)
A brutal battle ensues when Matt seeks to collar the Kingpin who is making a run for it after his hired goons spring him from police custody. Matt returns the favor after the beatdown he received from the Kingpin in Episode 9. The resulting tete-a-tete is sumptuous at the climax of the battle shows the two characters’ battle for turf:

Matt/Daredevil: This is my city. My family.

Fisk: Do you think one man in a silly little costume will make a difference?

Matt kicks Fisk’s teeth in.

And to the arresting Officer Mahoney: I told you before Sergeant, I am not the bad guy.

3 reasons why Marvel's Daredevil (on Netflix) is a winner

3 reasons why Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix is a winner
By Rick Olivares

Like it did for comic books in the 1960s, Marvel is showing the way in the modern film and television versions of its superheroes.

Daredevil, a web television series venture between Marvel and Netflix, the on-demand Internet streaming media site, straddles the line between a compelling drama, legal, and action thriller that is incidentally a superhero series.

The 13 one-hour episodes stays true to Daredevil’s comic book origins as a grim and gritty epic that pre-dated the supposed purveyors angst-ridden and tortured souls that populated Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns that came several years later. Furthermore, the series is a pronounced departure from the polished sheen and grandeur of the big boys who comprise the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The creative team on Daredevil is able to greatly expound on the story of Matt Murdock as he goes through a life changing experience as laid out first by the creative teams of Stan Lee and Bill Everett and later by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

Boy losses sight to an accident. His others senses are fired up and greatly compensate for his disability. His father is murdered for refusing to throw a fight. Murdock becomes a top-notch lawyer but dispenses vigilante justice when the law fails. Goes up against a crime cartel led by the Kingpin.

End of story?

Nah. In between there are all sorts of moral dilemmas – to kill or not to kill, to keep a secret or not, and to go all the way in pursuit of the truth. People get beaten up and are killed in the most gruesome ways.

And that has been the secret to the success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe – a screen treatment of its real life heroes where the suit doesn’t make the man. It is the other way around.

Check out Tony Stark. Even out of his Iron Man armor, he is just as if not more compelling. Ditto with Steve Rogers as Captain America. Even without the uniform, he torpedoes into action ten steps ahead of everyone.

So how different is Charlie Cox’s Matthew Murdock from Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey in the Death Wish series of films?

Revenge may be a dish best served cold but Murdock doesn’t kill (hey, Zack Snyder you understand that?).

Now here is in my opinion what makes Daredevil – to borrow words from Roger Ebert – two billy clubs up!

The Cast
The casting of British actor Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock is a pleasant surprise. He showed that viciousness as Owen Slater in Boardwalk Empire so he mixes that penchant for violence with his more honorable role of Tristan Thorn in the film Stardust while playing Murdock’s blind man very well.

Elden Henson is brilliant as Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. If my view of the all-grown up Henson is the rough and tumble Fulton Reed of The Mighty Ducks, it is good to see him add a lot of depth to Nelson who I always thought was a goofball. While Henson brings a “dude” characterization to Murdock’s partner it isn’t overboard that you won’t take him seriously. In fact, he holds his own without being the token comic relief of the cast.

The vivacious Deborah Ann Woll plays Karen Page, who in comic book lore, becomes Murdock’s star-crossed lover, is a presence and like Henson’s Nelson, has a lot more depth. If Murdock reigns in his emotions, Nelson and Page are more passionate and demonstrative. Plus, Woll cuts a statuesque figure (at 5’10”) amongst the male cast.

Perhaps outside Cox, the other member of the cast who really makes his presence felt is Vincent D’ Onofrio who plays Wilson Fisk, the kingpin of crime. D’Onofrio is a highly flexible actor adept at playing diverse roles. In fact, he steals the character of the Kingpin away from Michael Clarke Duncan’s poor portrayal of the classic DD villain in the film version starring Ben Affleck. Like Loki from Thor, he becomes interesting if not sympathetic. And now, like any other top actor with iconic roles, D’Onofrio can add Fisk to his portrayal of Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket and Detective Robert Goren of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The producers hit a home run with the casting of Scott Glenn as Stick; Murdock’s sensei. Glenn’s gruff exterior is perfect for the bad ass Stick whose world can be broken down into black and white with nothing in between.

The alluring Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer plays a very strong Vanessa Marriana, the love the Kingpin’s life (she eventually becomes Mrs. Fisk). In Netflix’s DD, Vanessa takes a 180-degree turn from the comics version where she is frail and against her husband’s illicit activities. In the Netflix version, not only is she is strong willed but she understands, accepts, and supports Fisk’s vision for Hell’s Kitchen not to mention New York.

Personally, I am a fan of diversity but not at the expense of a classic characters who have become pegged in the mind of fandom. So I was kind of taken aback when reporter Ben Urich is played by African American actor Vondie Curtis-Hall. Like Henson’s Foggy Nelson who is now multi-dimensional, Curtis-Hall belies the frail comic book version of his character by depicting a driven man who temporarily wavers in his convictions but still rises to the occasion.

The lovely Rosario Dawson has a recurring role as Claire Temple, a nurse who first becomes Murdock’s confidant.

It doesn’t feel like a superhero story
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still borders on the fantastic even if it is supposed to be a cloak and dagger series. Netflix’s Daredevil feels like a gritty cop/vigilante thriller with a death wish minus Charles’ Bronson’s coup de grace. Executive Producer Steven DeKnight says the series took inspiration from “The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, and The Wire.”

Daredevil has this noir with elements of the Russian mob, Yakuza, the Chinese Triad and good old American gangsters thrown in with even the antagonists facing all sorts of problems.

Murdock does not need to put on spandex to become a hero. As the Masked Man – to borrow the words of Foggy Nelson -- he runs around like a moron beating people up.

Yet Murdock not only dishes out punishment but he too takes an inordinate amount of pain as well. Furthermore, heightened senses aside, he gets tired as well.

To wit, the hallway fight scene in Episode Two: “Cut Man,” an ode to Park Chan-Wook’s film, Oldboy (an adaption of the hit manga series by the same name), shot in a single take is stupendous. And that fight defines the series -- man without fear goes up against mollifying odds, man takes a beating but keeps on ticking, man triumphs at the very end.

As I mentioned earlier, Daredevil is like a drama, legal, and action series. It is fraught with tension and conflict and presents an interesting dichotomy of the key characters’ raison d’etre – Matt is a lawyer who seeks to uphold the laws yet takes matters into his own hands as a vigilante. Wilson presents himself to be a respectable businessman with his city’s best interests in mind yet his methods are hardly the acts of someone noble. Yet his relationship with Vanessa is just as fascinating. Are Wilson and Vanessa the superhero genre’s version of Mickey and Mallory Know (from Natural Born Killers)?

Central to Daredevil are his heightened senses where he makes use of an innate radar to detect and read things that happen around him. Here, we don’t see any pinging sound effects but rather, the clever if not simple use of what a person can hear. This reminds me of Joss Whedon’s clever use of Hawkeye in the Avengers film as someone with incredible vision and periphery akin to an eye in the sky or a sniper. The use of Cox’s Murdock and his senses pays great respect to the characters’ comic book creators.

Now there are powerful messages of rejection and the choices one makes.

When Matt gives Stick a bracelet made out of the ice cream wrapper when they first met, the Sensei ditches his pupil because he thinks he is looking for a father and not a teacher. Instead of being bitter about his difficult childhood, Matt chooses to tread the upright path.

Wilson Fisk rejects his father and beats him to death. He could have chosen to done right, but instead, he welcomes his father’s culture of violence. And speaking of the dichotomy, sometimes, Fisk borders on the sympathetic. He looks so calm and composed in his Italian suits but his emotional quotient is so poor that he readily gives in to anger.

The moody approach
I love how the production team has made excellent use of light and shadow. In the hallway fight scene, only the available light was used. There were times I wished I could see all the action but because of the darkness, it was difficult to see what was going on. Then again, the production team tried to keep it as realistic as possible.

Having lived in New York City, the old Hell’s Kitchen has been gentrified and today looks posh and chic. The set designers brought back to life an old part of New York City where Serpico (Al Pacino’s 1973 character in a film) would feel right at home. The team behind Daredevil shot on location in parts of Brooklyn and Long Island City where certain areas still look much like they came out of a 1970s time warp.

And that attention to detail along with the excellent casting, the pacing, the cinematography, and the fight choreography make for a memorable viewing.

When Netflix uploaded all 13 episodes for fans to decide if they wanted to savor watching them at a slow pace or on a one-night marathon binge, you couldn’t help but sit down and finish it all. After all, it is riveting as it leaves one hanging and thinking and rewinding back to certain scenes. A marvelous concept if might say (pun intended).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: Avengers Rage of Ultron (comics)

Raging about the Rage of Ultron
by rick olivares

The synopsis: The genocidal android, Ultron, has been shot into outer space never to return. Or so the Avengers thought. Years later, Ultron has returned after taking over the moon of Titan, home to the Eternals and the Avengers’ old foe, Thanos. Except he finds an almost entirely different crew of Earth’s Mightiest Defenders. And Ultron’s “father”, Hank Pym, is confronted with issues and a solution that will no doubt reverberate for years to come.

Avengers: Rage of Ultron, the new original graphic novel from Marvel and in time to whet one’s appetite before Avengers: Age of Ultron film will go down as one of the best in the history between the protagonists and their nefarious robotic villain.

The Avengers have always had some dangerous villains. I’d say Thanos is tops followed by Ultron and Magneto. Kang the Conqueror would be fourth, then Loki, the Skrulls, and the Masters of Evil. My reason for the first three – they have zero qualms about eliminating life. That is something the other foes aren’t too keen on as they are after power. They still need people to subjugate.

Ultron… like Thanos… is frightening. And it gets even more difficult to defeat him because it comes back in the worst way possible. And having said that… Avengers: Rage of Ultron, written by Rick Remender and drawn mostly by Filipino wunderkind Jerome Opeña, has its hits and misses that prevents it from topping the best of the Avengers-Ultron stories.

First off, the cover. It features Hank Pym, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. But save for Pym and the Vision, the others appear only in the first 23 pages of this 99-page graphic novel. In the remainder of the book, it is the new squad led by the Falcon with the female Thor, Sabertooth, Spider-Man, Vision, Wasp, and Quicksilver with a guest appearance by Starfox.

I wish that new team should have been on the cover. Was Marvel concerned there’d be a lack of sales without its original heavy hitters on the cover?

Second, it looks like Marvel rushed the release of the graphic novel. Jerome Opeña’s art is one of the draws of the story but he clearly needed an assist as Pepe Larraz pitched in at least 18 pages including the epilogue. This reminds me of the time when Bryan Hitch did the first five issues of Age of Ultron only to turn it over to Brandon Peterson. Uh uh. Uncool! I totally hate it when they change artists midway. That means either someone was late or they moved the artist to something that demands equal attention.

And if you ask me, because of that, it is a major downer because Opeña is the lead artist. Remember when Marvel first teased about this graphic novel months ago with some Opeña art? It was so awesome. And it is rather disappointing that he didn’t get to finish this graphic novel.

Moving on… at the crux of the story is what is the solution to rogue Artificial Intelligence? Pym shuts down the Descendants who first appeared in writer Rick Remender’s stint on Uncanny X-Force (along with Opeña) and that brings him into conflict with the rest of the Avengers most notably, the Vision, who argue that the androids are sentient and shutting them down is akin to murder.

I am surprised this is still an issue with the team. Putting the kibosh on foes has been a major issue for the Avengers ever since Operation: Galactic Storm when the Iron Man-led faction of earth’s mightiest heroes decided to put to death the Kree Supreme Intelligence who engineered the nuking of his people with the Nega Bomb in hopes of – re-starting their evolution as a species.

These deeply-rooted differences once more reared its ugly head during the Civil War, and now it’s a hotly debated topic among the current crop of heroes when Planet Ultron returns with its final solution to the problem of humanity.

Speaking of deeply rooted differences, former Avengers writer Kurt Busiek, who provides the intro to this graphic novel, put it best when he wrote that Ultron not only suffers from an overblown Oedipal complex but his issues cross bloodlines from Hank Pym, who created him, to the Wasp, to the Vision, Wonder Man, Jocasta, Mockingbird, Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, and Quick Silver. Talk about a blood feud.

And there are even more fundamental flaws in the team’s membership. I have always been against Wolverine on the team because he is a killer, pure and simple. And now Sabertooth, a reformed version, is on the team?

It’s like this is being rammed down fans’ throats because it sells. And that is why I feel this was rushed (again, Opeña wasn’t able to finish everything on time) ahead of the coming Avengers film (its worldwide premier takes place on April 13 in Los Angeles). To delay the printing of Rage of Ultron means it will miss the pre-film hype altogether.

I am sorry but I am not crazy about Larraz’ art that reminds me of a darker Terry Dodson. Hey, I love Opeña’s art but his Steve Rogers’ Captain America looks like it had the Super Soldier Serum beaten out of him. But other than that… I think he’s the new Marc Silvestri/Andy Kubert.

Remender supposedly is best with sci-fi genre stories but he flubs it when Planet Ultron enters earth space. Theoretically, that should have caused tidal waves and whatnot. Instead, the danger comes when Ultron tries to infect every human with spores turning them into his soldiers (much like he did in Ultron Unlimited in Avengers #19-22 from the team of Kurt Busiek and George Perez).

As a Remender fan, I love how he throws curves in the plotlines that you don’t see coming; hence, the ending. Some may quibble that graphic novels are supposed to be self-contained stories. And they should. But the ending reminds me of Mike W. Barr’s Son of the Bat that had one hell of a cliffhanger.

Rage of Ultron leaves you with a similar one although it will leave you with your stomach churning not because it’s terrible story-wise but because it sets up all sorts of other stories in this never-ending battle against Ultron.

Look. My gripes aside, it is still a heckuva story. I had high hopes it would top Ultron Unlimited or Age of Ultron; both killer stories. This however leapfrogs The Bride of Ultron and The Ultron Initiative.

Now… will the film version of Age of Ultron top them all?