Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Sep 19 2014

Looking Forward with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Published by under Reviews,Television

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by Brian Hadsell

To hear everybody tell it a year ago, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a terrible show.  Clark Gregg – a balding, middle-aged bit-player from Marvel’s Phase 1 – was too old to headline his own action-packed weekly series.  The premise of following around S.H.I.E.L.D. – a spy organization that did little more than post-credit cameos with Nick Fury – was something that nobody would really care about.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe was built from blockbusters and A-listers, not Tuesday nights and weekly syndication.

I never really understood the reasoning of this argument.  Nobody complained when fifty-two-year-old Bryan Cranston began cooking Meth and single-handedly eliminating the competition in Breaking Bad.  Nobody seems to be complaining now that the Flash is getting his own spinoff from Arrow.  For whatever reason, people simply overlooked that the show easily one of the best things to watch on television.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins in the wake of the Battle of New York.  The world has become a far more interesting place than it used to be.  Instead of going to bed thinking that the weirdest thing in the world was a Batman wanna-be in a robotic suit, people know for a fact that their world is populated with gods, monsters and super-powered legends from the past.  Agent Phil Coulson, who survived his supposed death in The Avengers, has assembled a mobile response team to investigate and contain technology that the world simply isn’t ready to deal with yet.  Routine missions and by-the-books protocol are quickly set aside, however, as a mysterious villain known only as The Clairvoyant begins unraveling everything that Coulson has lived – and died – to defend.

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The reason why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of 2013’s breakout series is that it knows exactly what it is: Marvel-brand Fringe.  Like Fringe, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s premise allows to plumb the depths of science fiction, free to explore technologies that society is simply safer without: gamma radiation, extra-dimensional wormholes, anti-gravity bombs, cybernetic upgrades, Asgardian sorcery and Project Centipede’s super soldiers.  With TV-veteran Joss Whedon’s continued oversight, the show adopted the light-hearted, action-comedy blend and dramatic underpinnings that made The Avengers a billion dollar box-office success, as well as a dynamic cast of distinctly-rendered characters that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly household names.

While it has been argued that the series cheapens the MCU by retconning Agent Coulson’s sacrifice into a mere team-building exercise, its playful, back-and-forth development between each week’s episode and the latest Phase 2 film to hit theaters greatly broadens the scope of the franchise.  Premiering shortly after the release of Iron Man 3, it immediately dealt with the next phase of Extremis’ development: being combined with Gamma Radiation and what little was recovered of Erskine’s SSR formula in order to create a new breed of super soldiers.  Following Thor’s victory over Malaketh’s Dark Elves, Coulson’s team helps sort through the Greenwich wreckage for trace bits of alien tech, deals with a Fight Club-inspired group of neo-Pagan anarchists who have recovered an ancient Asgardian weapon and assists Lady Sif recover an Asgardian fugitive who escaped in the aftermath of the assault on Asgard.

The series gives a broader and more complete timeline of Hydra’s insurgence, only a part of which was the battle above the Triskelion during The Winter Soldier.  Agent Jasper Sitwell is introduced here before his big-screen debut, develops over several appearances and then suddenly departs for duties aboard the Lemurian Star – upon which we first see him in The Winter Soldier.  Agent Coulson’s attempts to contact Fury are met with constant dead ends and redirections, which we understand are because Fury has faked his death and has gone underground.  As Coulson’s team attempts to retake “The Hub” from Hydra sleeper agents, they begin to understand the scope of the uprising: the slaughter of faculty and students at the S.H.I.E.L.D. academies, the assassination of all high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (only one of which was Fury) and the raid on “The Fridge” for weapons, artifacts and prisoners acquired over the course of the series.  We watch the United States government label S.H.I.E.L.D. a terrorist organization and understand that Maria Hill defected to Stark Industries not for the steady paycheck, but for its legal team’s protection against government action.

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Clark Gregg is perfect in his role of the soul-searching Agent Coulson: a true believer of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission who is increasingly troubled by its clandestine inner workings.  Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge bring out the emotional cores of Agents Fitz and Simmons, characters who could have otherwise been presented as interchangeable cogs in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s scientific machinations.  Despite her character’s inherent impassivity, Ming-Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May is seething with the subtle rage of a good person who can never seem to find forgiveness from the one person who truly counts: herself.  Chloe Bennet’s search for what happened to her family as Skye  is both more desperate and more earnest than many more-veteran actors have been able to pull off on the big screen (such as Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man).  Brett Dalton shifts easily between Agent Ward of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Ward of Hydra: caught between his loyalty to the greater good and to the man that saved him from the worst in himself.

It’s hard to even find any real faults in the show, since everything that I could mention was sorted out in the first quarter of its first season.  While Skye does begin as a counter-point to S.H.I.E.L.D. – a character so obviously beyond the scope of the agency that her primary function seems to be to remind the audience that “normal” people exist – she soon finds her place both within the team and as a character.  Although initially bland and out-of-place amongst the myriad of colorful cast members, Agent Ward’s complexity quickly becomes apparent when the story allows him to open up to the rest of the team.  Despite sitting sideline in the early episodes to allow Agents Ward and May to command the action scenes, Agents Fitz and Simmons swiftly begin commanding scenes both in and out of the field in their own right.

If it wasn’t for Game of Thrones, I would go so far as to say that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is far-and-away the best show on television.  It’s as intriguing as Fringe, as smart as Firefly and as fun as anything that Marvel has put on the big screen.  Its first season was the perfect confluence of action, drama and Whedon’s golden touch.  Overall, I would give it a solid 9 out of 10, with plenty of room to grow in its coming seasons.

5 responses so far


Sep 18 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham Reminds Us that Villains Can Be Cooler than Heroes

Published by under Comics,Movies,Reviews

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I’m sure everyone’s aware by now that DC puts out excellent animated straight-to-DVD films on the regular, and I’m assuming you’ve watched every last one. Why wouldn’t you? They’re awesome. Go do that if you haven’t. Wikipedia’s count is twenty one of these gems –twenty five if you count the Batman: The Animated Series features- without a genuine stinker among them. That’s an exceptional accomplishment any way you look at it.

So by now the big question is which one is your favorite? I was noticing a slight downturn in quality in the recent films. Justice League: War kicked off DC’s New 52 in the animated realm and left a bad taste in my mouth with its meatheaded Superman, comedically naïve Wonder Woman, and Michael Bay take on Darkseid. Son of Batman wasn’t really my cup of tea either. Neither film were terrible, but I just am not a fan of those storylines or the way they were handled.

I wasn’t expecting too much from Batman: Assault on Arkham, but any trip to the fictional sanitarium is one worth taking and who doesn’t love the concept of the Suicide Squad? Not only did this film -which takes place in the universe of the beloved Arkham video game series and follows the exploits of a team of villains- kick every kind of ass, but it may actually be my favorite out of all of DC’s current run of animated films. Score one for the bad guys. Continue Reading »

6 responses so far


Sep 12 2014

The Implications of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Published by under Editorials,Movies,Reviews

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by Brian Hadsell

 

I’ll admit it.  I was completely blindsided by this, too focused on the September 9th release date to see what was really going on with it.  Before I knew what was happening, I had bought it, watched it and reviewed it.  Then came Thursday, and I realized that this was no coincidence.  You don’t release a movie whose hero literally wears the American flag as a uniform this close to September 11th without making a political statement.  But when you stop and think about it – and I mean really think about it – it’s probably not the statement that you’d expect it to be.

Captain Rogers has been busy since the Avengers saved New York from the Chitauri invasion.  He’s been working as a covert S.H.I.E.L.D. operative with Black Widow, leading the agency’s counter-terrorism strike force and making the world a safer place for democracy.  But when Nick Fury stumbles upon a secret that could shake the world to its foundations, he’s assassinated for it.  Now Steve and Natasha are on the run from both S.H.I.E.L.D. and a cybernetic assassin known only as The Winter Soldier as they attempt to solve a mystery that’s sixty-eight years in the making. Continue Reading »

4 responses so far


Sep 11 2014

Berserk: Still the Dark Fantasy Anime of Choice

Published by under Movies,Reviews,Television

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Have the Game of Thrones off-season blues got you down? Do you love your sex, violence, political intrigue, deception, seduction, and tales of comradery, ambition, and brotherhood with horror elements all trussed up in an epic medieval fantasy story about mercenaries making their own destinies in a hostile world where they can’t trust anything but their own blade? If so, consider going Berserk.

This series and I go a long way back. The original anime adaptation of the popular manga aired in 1997 and inevitably found its way to my DVD player. At the time, there was nothing else like it. It was like the fantasy series I always wanted but had never found; something that treated the genre as adult entertainment, taking place in a world that is corrupt at its very core and never shying away from the horrors of violence or the deceitfulness of human nature. Berserk was almost like a more linear and action-oriented anime equivalent of George R.R. Martin’s work years before it ever found its way to television.

Continue Reading »

16 responses so far


Sep 05 2014

Looking Back on Captain America: The First Avenger

Published by under Movies,Reviews

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 by Brian Hadsell

It’s easy to forget, with Guardians of the Galaxy currently burning up the box office for going on its fifth week, that the other Marvel success story of the year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is being released on BluRay and DVD on the 9th.  A sequel to both the first Captain America film and The Avengers, it boldly struck forth into new, uncharted territory for the MCU with the same devil-may-care attitude that fueled the game-changing reveals in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.  Looking back at Phase 1, however, it quickly becomes apparent that Marvel’s biggest pre-Avengers game-changer – bigger than Nick Fury’s recruitment for The Avengers Initiative, bigger than alien gods from other dimensions starting a street brawl in New Mexico and even bigger than the Hulk’s biceps – was Captain America: The First Avenger: a quaint, old-timey war movie with Depression-era spunk and something to prove.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a thin, sickly asthmatic, is continually rejected from enlisting in the army due to his laundry list of physical infirmities.  Adamant that “there are men laying down their lives [and he has] no right to do any less than them,” he is eventually selected for Dr. Abraham Erksine’s (Stanley Tucci) super soldier program and transformed into Captain America: a patriotic champion against the Axis Powers.  Although initially sidelined as a War Bonds salesman, he proves to be the Allies’ greatest weapon against Hydra – the Nazi deep-science division – and its megalomaniacal leader, The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

The reason why Captain America works so well is because it was written as a period war drama first and a superhero action film as a distant second.  Rather than Thor’s mysticism or Iron Man’s next-gen engineering, Captain America is rooted in the historical  realism of World War II.  Yes, the Tesseract (the magical blue cube from The Avengers) allows The Red Skull (whose superhuman abilities are derived from Erksine’s super soldier serum) to create futuristic death rays in order to overwhelm both the Axis and Allied forces, but that’s just Marvel brand ornamentation.  It supplements, rather than defines, a film that more closely resembles Saving Private Ryan than it does Man of Steel. Continue Reading »

4 responses so far


Sep 04 2014

Netflix It – From Dusk till Dawn: The Series

Published by under Reviews,Television

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It’s a rare thing for a creator to revisit and expand upon their existing work. We’re accustomed to the slew of modern remakes and reboots of cult films by now, but to have a director decide he wants to expand his own classic film into a full television series? That’s a special kind of idea.

I was pretty excited when I heard Robert Rodriguez had started his own cable channel, El Rey, in order to bring even more of his Mexican-American flavored brand of tongue-in-cheek action entertainment to the public. Last week, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For inspired me to take a look at Frank Miller, and this week it’s co-director Rodriguez’s turn. My current cable package sadly doesn’t carry El Rey, but -as it so often does- Netflix has my back on this one and I got to enjoy the televisation of one of the most unique and badass vampire films of all time this week. The Titty Twister bar is back open for business and the Gecko brothers ride again. Let’s see how it went. Continue Reading »

2 responses so far


Aug 26 2014

You Really Should Give A Listen To…Volume 3

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It’s time to deepen your ear holes, Unrealtors! I’m going to be talking about three podcasts you may not have heard yet but you really should give a listen to. Fire up your iPods—since, presumably, you’re a time traveler visiting from 2004—and get your ears in gears. Continue Reading »

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Aug 07 2014

Breaking Down Guardians of the Galaxy

Published by under Movies,Reviews

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Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the best movie of this year … so far.

(if you don’t consider the last 45 minutes of Godzilla)

I’m not saying that it will definitely be the best movie of the year when considering the Oscars or anything like that. I’m just saying that it is the only movie that has made going to the theater worth every penny. Granted I’ve not seen Planet of the Apes yet, and people keep telling me that it was amazing, so there’s that. (I’ll probably try and get a viewing of that in this weekend with my Mom – shout out to the best mom ever – HI MOM!) I’d say that this review might be spoiler free, but really, if you’ve seen most of the trailers, and understand how comic books work, then not much that I will write about will ruin anything. So I guess that’s kind of your warning…?

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2 responses so far


Aug 06 2014

The Five Most Entertaining and Informative Critical Reviewers Online

Published by under Lists,Reviews

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We live in a media-obsessed culture. It’s not enough to merely watch, play, or read something anymore; now you have to live-tweet about it while you upload fanart to tumblr and videos to youtube.

As someone of extreme journalistic integrity, I am going to avoid the pitfall of a media review this week. Instead, I am going to write a review of some reviewers. Total legitimacy.

The truth is: sometimes content that leans heavily on existing media is able to paradoxically stand out on its own. So, in recognition of some of the very best pieces of critical entertainment, here are some of the more talented reviewers that maintain a privileged spot on my bookmark menu… Continue Reading »

2 responses so far


Jul 29 2014

Drop Everything and Go Read The Martian

Published by under Books,Reviews

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“Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be ‘in command’ if I were the only remaining person. What do you know? I’m in command.”

I assume you guys are all caught up on Paul’s latest books, and looking for some solid reading material to help finish out the last month or so of summer. Well, look no further than Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian. It’s not often that I find myself discovering great books the same year they come out, but… well, I did this time. So I’m passing the knowledge onto you.

The Martian is a rare find. It’s basically a near-future science fiction thriller. More plausible than most; it’s unsurprising to discover its author is a professional software engineer and an amateur science expert. Despite the hard science pedigree, it’s also INSANELY compelling reading material. For someone who spent his teen years reading classic Michael Crichton, this was a total home run.

Meet me after the jump for some more convincing. And don’t worry; this review is spoiler free!

Continue Reading »

One response so far


Jul 15 2014

Yeah, True Detective is a Masterpiece

Published by under Reviews,Television

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Yes, I’m late to the party. I don’t have cable, okay? I’ve spent the last several months dodging spoilers, which is like the exact opposite of an easy task. Worth it in the end, though. A few weeks ago, my hard work paid off and I started digging into one of the most talked-about television shows of recent years. My verdict? Holy moly, what a freakin’ show. Like, we’re talking “instant classic” material.

So imagine my disappointment when I started digging through backlogs of what people were writing a few months ago and discovered way too much off-topic debate over stuff that the show really just isn’t about. Complaints of a disappointing finale, of unresolved mystery, of lame character turns.

Well, better late than never. Let’s dive into spoiler-infested waters and suss out what it was that launched True Detective high into the ranks of my favorite shows of all time.

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far


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