Jessica Jones (TV Review)

Jessica Jones (TV Review)

I am in the minority that found that the Netflix-original series Daredevil was dull, repetitive, and overrated. Therefore, I was somewhat leery to delve into Jessica Jones, another comic-book adaptation that exists in the same universe as Daredevil.

This one is one worth watching.

The titular character is a Private Eye with some unique powers, including super strength and the ability to jump/almost fly. One thing right off the bat that I liked about this TV series is that the superpowers aspect isn’t really thrown in your face too much, and it plays a subtle part of the story line.

The central conflict of the series is that Jessica is forced to deal with her past, and a powerful nemesis who has the ability to control minds. Kilgrave is a very cool villain, and he is definitely evil. His controlling of minds knows few bounds, and he isn’t cursed with something like a conscience to slow him down. His elaborate scheme is to do what it takes so that he can reunite with Jessica, the one that got away, as he once had her under his control. It makes for a compelling battle, between the two of them, and provides a full seasons worth of entertainment. His abilities play with the conscience and morality of Jessica, and he is always able to fight off her attempts to eliminate him by putting “failsafes” in place, just to be sure she doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want her to. Jessica Jones provides us with a fresh look at how mind-control can be used for the powers of evil, while at the same time making him a very difficult villain to best.

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Another strength of the show are the side plots. Oftentimes, the secondary story lines are dull or uninteresting, simply there to provide viewers with moments they wish they could fast forward until they got back to the good stuff. In Jessica Jones, all the stories are pretty interesting, including the love story with Luke, the sister relationship with former child star Trish, and the divorce story of Hogarth, the tough lawyer that Jessica works for on occasion. All of them blend together nicely, not making them frivolous side stories that get lost in the shuffle.

There is some cool fighting in the show, and thanks to the powers of Kilgrave, there are some pretty interesting deaths and ways that people are controlled, essentially torturing themselves, such as not blinking for hours because they have been told to do so.

Any show is defined by its acting, and Jessica Jones does a pretty good job of it. From all of the strong secondary characters, including a very good performance by Rachael Taylor as Trish, right up to the central protagonist and antagonist, the acting is pretty good and believable. There are a few slips here and there, and some clunky dialogue at points, but as the show gets rolling, it seems as though the writers really found their stride, and were able to provide something that we, as the audience, could buy into.

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Jessica Jones is definitely worth watching. For the many people who were fans of Daredevil, it is a cool continuation of that universe, where the two actually exist together. There is even a little bit of a cross-over later in the season, for those who are really into it. It is a dark, entertaining show, about troubled people just trying to be somewhat decent, and it is fun to watch.

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos is the TV series that we have all been secretly waiting for ever since Vincent Chase took the risk to make Medellin on Entourage.

Here we are provided with an excellent 10 episodes of historical drama that outlines the life and times of Pablo Escobar, perhaps the richest, and greatest, criminal of his time, if not all time, as told through the view of the DEA agent that helped play a role in his hunt and capture.

narcos4To put it mildly, Narcos is fantastic entertainment.

From the very beginning, the Netflix original show provides grit and drama, taking us from the humble beginnings of the man that would become the greatest, and most feared, man on the planet, the most wanted man on earth. It truly is an incredible story, how one man developed the idea of exporting cocaine, a relatively new drug at the time, to Miami, and how he was- for better or worse- able to change the world.

Escobar went through many changes in his life as a crime lord. He began humbly, but incredible vision allowed him to create the largest drug empire the world has ever seen, where he was making upwards of $60 million per day, actually having more money than he knew what to do with. It got to a point where he literally gave money away to the poor of Columbia, trying to improve their lives with the exorbitant amounts of cash that he knew he would be unable to launder. He even buried money all over the country, creating for himself millions of dollars in an actual treasure map, just trying to hide the endless flow of money that was coming in to him from the cocaine trafficking trade. Eventually, he craved more power, even taking a brief turn in the Colombian house of representatives as an elected official, starting off a time of butting heads with the government that would last for the rest of his life.

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The story of Pablo Escobar speaks for itself, and stories like that manage to just write themselves. Sometimes the truth really is more interesting than any fiction that can be invented. His story is unbelievable, but it is always thrilling to watch. We get to see as he becomes more paranoid, as the law closes in on him, yet we continually see his genius, especially when it comes to creating the deal that would lead to turning himself in. What other criminal in the history of the world got a deal where he could build his own prison for himself, and ensure that government officials weren’t allowed within three miles of the place? Only Escobar.

The story itself provides 10 hours of great entertainment.

Narcos is such a strong show, and not only for the reasons of the story that was already there, ready to be told. It is a show buoyed by strong acting performances throughout, starting with the portrayal of Escobar himself by Wagner Moura. He embodies the man, making him the likable monster that he was in real life. He manages to create a sympathetic character in Pablo, despite the numerous atrocities that he commits over the course of his life of crime. He brings out the man of the people, and the family man, behind the killer who would be willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives in blowing up a plane just to kill one man, or start an all-out civil war on the streets of Bogota, just to ensure his power is maintained, and the fear of him is constantly on the minds of all Colombians.

narcos5A successful element of Narcos is that we get to see the story from both sides. This is not a pro-American show, where the good guys from the States come riding in to save the day in a poor country gripped in the ravages of a drug war from an all-evil man. We see the views of the cops being run out of the US Embassy, the Colombian military, Escobar and his confidantes, his enemies, and his partners. Narcos provides us with many views, which helps us to understand the story that much better. It really does give us insight in to not only the characters of the story, but the story itself, by providing these alternate viewpoints.

This is a very well-written and well-directed series, from start to finish. It is also mostly in Spanish, which helps in not taking away from the dialogue by having actors struggle through a second language, or having American actors put on weak Spanish accents. It contributes to the grittiness, and the reality, of the story. And it never feels cumbersome, having to read a good portion of what is being said over the course of the series.

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I instantly fell in love with Narcos, and can’t wait for there to be a second season in order to conclude the story that they have started here. The story of Pablo Escobar is so unreal, that it warrants more than a fake movie from an HBO series: it warrants its own TV series, where it can take its time in developing all the intricacies of the plot, and the many characters who in reality, brought to life the story of Escobar, and his virtual ruling of the world during the 1980’s. I would say that Narcos goes beyond a strongly recommended series, to one that is basically a must see. One of the best that Netflix has produced.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film Review)

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film Review)

This documentary had been sitting in my Netflix queue for quite some time, and I finally got around to watching the film made about a Class-A baseball team that started playing in Portland, Oregon, during the 1970’s.

And boy, was I glad I did finally watch it.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is an exceptional documentary about baseball, about the minor leagues, about one man’s baseball dreams, a city embracing the ultimate underdogs, taking on the system, and having fun playing a game. It is definitely worth watching.

Bing Russell managing the Portland Mavericks in the Battered Bastards of Baseball documentaryWhen the Portland Beavers left for Spokane, the city had lost its AAA baseball team, and the sport was essentially dead in the Oregon town. But one man, actor Bing Russell (father of Kurt), decided that he wanted to bring baseball back to Oregon, in the form of an independent Single-A team, which he named the Portland Mavericks.

Russell was obsessed with baseball, and had spent his youth around the famous New York Yankee teams of Lefty Grove and Joe DiMaggio, and had spent some time playing in the minor leagues himself. He was a true student of the game, analyzing it to death, and going to far as to make baseball documentaries that would teach others how to play the game the right way. He wrote about how to play in every possible situation.

This was not some actor trying to recapture his youth, it was an actor with a baseball dream, and one that he understood incredibly well.

Buying an expansion franchise for a miniscule price, he held open tryouts for the Mavericks, which led to the team being stocked with a bunch of no-names and men whose dreams of baseball had seemingly died when they were never drafted or signed by a big-league club and allowed to play in their massive farm systems.

By being an independent team, meaning there was no affiliation with a major league club, meant that the Mavericks were going to be playing against developing major league players, and the bonus babies that the big teams had down in the minors, to learn the game. They would always play with a chip on their shoulder.

And the Mavericks made the big league teams look bad. Because they were good. Russell assembled a team that would win, playing their hearts out to prove that teams made mistakes in not drafting them at some point during their careers. They weren’t all pimply-faced college kids, as many A teams are, but a mixture of youth and veterans. But they all held one thing in common: they all loved baseball, and they just wanted to play.

Since there was no MLB affiliation, Russell had to foot the bill for everything himself. And it took some time to build up a fan base in Portland, but when they did, they set records. The city began to truly embrace their gang of miscreants, the team that would go out on the field, play the game the right way, and have a ton of fun doing it.

battered3The Mavericks didn’t play for long in Portland, because the Pacific Coast League, the largest AAA league in baseball, eventually decided that they wanted back into Portland after seeing the massive crowds that were attending the Mav games. Due to baseball legislation, they were allowed to do this, and they simply had to buy back the territory owned by the Mavericks. This lead to a court battle based on the price they needed to pay, and here we see Russell standing up to the PCL, because he had built up something incredible for the low minors, and they just wanted to take it away from him.

The return of the PCL signaled the end of the Mavericks, but their legend can now be seen by everyone. They set attendance records for A ball, the team had winning records that were unmatched, and some of the players from the team went on to do big things (including an Oscar-nominated bat boy, and of course actor Kurt Russell, who was a player on the team, the inventor of Big League Chew, and a pitcher who made it back to the majors). The Mavericks proved that even as the only non-affiliated minor league team in the country at the time, they could make it work, and they could play the game that they loved.

The story is told through interviews with some former players, the commissioner of the league, the bat boy, and others, and they all look back fondly at their time with the Mavericks. Their individual stories are great and compelling, as are the results of some of their lives.

This is an excellent documentary, and a definite must-see for any baseball fan. It shows the possibility of the love of the game, and has a great us-versus-everyone storyline that is undeniable. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is well worth the time to check out.

Orange is the New Black Season 2 (TV Review)

Orange is the New Black Season 2 (TV Review)

After a seemingly endless wait, the second season of the hit Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, has been released to the streaming service in its entirety. This show was heavily hyped during its first run, and rightfully so. The story of Piper Chapman, a yuppie woman sent to prison for 15 months for smuggling drugs for her girlfriend nearly a year before, was a highly entertaining season.

The release of the second season is one of the more hyped ones in the history of Netflix and their original programming. After coming out on Friday, this weekend would spell a lot of binge watching by fans of the show. I can’t see tons of people pacing themselves with this one, since they have been waiting for it for so long.

orangeThe season begins with Piper being shuffled off to another prison, after the incident that concluded the first season. Apparently, beating another girl to a pulp gets you in some more trouble. Or so we are lead to believe.

In all honesty, Orange is the New Black Season 2 starts pretty slowly. There are even a couple of episodes near the beginning that barely has Piper appear in them, as the show continues its original path on focusing on one or two characters per episode, and showing their back story. But the show really is about Piper and her struggle in a world that is not hers, and when she isn’t in much of the episode, I feel that the episode was lacking. Not that the secondary characters are bad, or aren’t good for the show. In fact, they were so helpful in making the first season such a success.

A few episodes into the new season, the show begin to hits its stride once again. There are new characters that come in to the prison, including the cute, but annoying, Soso. She is a younger girl, a political activist, who talks incessantly. I assume she is there to be a humorous character, but she is quite annoying to begin with. Eventually, like the season, she settles in, and becomes a better, funnier, more interesting character. Her desire to protest everything, including showering, makes her far more interesting than the nattering mess she began as. Even during her sex scene, she manages to talk non-stop, which is one of her funnier moments. By the end of the year, Soso becomes a very likable character, and another strong addition to the show.

We are also introduced to Vee, a tough-as-nails drug dealer with connections to Taystee and Red from the past. She comes in and tries to re-arrange the pecking order in the prison, causing some of the major conflicts of the season.

In the end, the show remains about the journey that Piper is undertaking. Once the first few episodes are sorted out, we get back to her troubles, both inside the prison, and with her crumbling life outside of it. She has gone through changes, continuing on her path of toughness that she began in the first year. No longer is she the passive, nerdy, fish out of water, but she is starting to show that prison is a place that she sort of belongs. She has made a home for herself there, despite the numerous issues that keep arising for her. We as viewers spent the first season believing that she never really belonged in that place, but by Season 2, we start to wonder if that really is where she belongs. There is an anger that has bubbled to the surface with Piper, and it is fun to watch her character develop.

Inside the prison walls, the stories that we started to learn about in the first season continue on, so we aren’t left hanging with what happened to the women we started to care about. There are some new back stories that reveal a lot about the characters. There are also heightened tensions between the racial divisions and groups in the prison, which causes backbone to the season.

In all, perhaps the second season doesn’t live up to the hype of the first. It was massive, and would have been difficult to live up to. But, Orange is the New Black remains an excellent show, and the second season is eventually very entertaining. Once the fun returns to the show, it is an enjoyable look into the quirkiness, problems, personal struggles, and deeper societal issues with a minimum security person.

From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (TV Review)

From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (TV Review)

Netflix has been pretty consistent in delivering original TV series that are well worth our attention. Shows like Orange is the New Black, and House of Cards have been excellent examples of what the streaming company is able to do with television. Provide viewers with fresh, original series, while giving it to us one entire season at a time, so that we can devour it as quickly as we choose.

The latest effort from Netflix is a little different, in that episodes were released on a weekly basis, so someone would have to wait each week if they began the series at the very beginning. The newest series is a TV adaptation of the Robert Rodriguez cult movie, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, which originally starred George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, and Salma Hayek, among others. The basic film plot revolved around a pair of criminals who kidnap a family in order to get across the border to Mexico. Once there, they stop at a bar which turns out to be a haunt for vampires. Fighting ensues.

duskAs for the TV show, the plot (to the point in the series I have reached, at least) is fairly consistent with the movie. However, it is much more detailed, as it has taken several episodes for the brothers to even get to the border. This has allowed for more in-depth character and plot development, which is an added benefit that the time a TV series has to offer.

Not all of it works, however. The show does use an interesting time frame, as there are flashbacks and overlapping scenes in order to tell the complete story, often from the perspectives of multiple characters. There are some parts that don’t work too well, and some of the writing and acting is definitely questionable.

And some of it is simply awful.

Part of the point of the film version was to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the TV show tends to take itself too seriously.

One of the brothers, Richie, has visions of evil laying all around him. He sees the beastly, or demonic, side of people, and this leads him to murder. Many of his thoughts are guided by the beautiful Santanico Pandemonium (the role that was brought to life by Salma Hayek in the film- who can forget her famous introductory dance with the snake in the movie ?), as she wants to be found, or saved, or something (I haven’t got to that part yet).

dusk2The film was a campy adventure that was full of blood and gore, and the TV series has its moments of the same. It is definitely bloody, but it is missing the cheese of the original work. However, I have still found this to be a watchable series, and even though I pretty much know what is going to happen, it is a bit of a fun adventure on how we are getting there. Despite the many negatives of the series, it is not enough to ruin it for me. It is still something that I will complete, as I am nearing the end of the first season.

For fans of the movie, it is worth watching From Dusk ‘Till Dawn. It is different enough to keep you entertained, and provides enough new material if you wanted more from the film. And if you don’t take the whole thing too seriously, it can be a pretty fun ride.